Days 14-20 on the Writing Challenge

It’s week three and although we haven’t gone through the numbers yet, it’s safe to say that not only did I not meet my goal, I went below my original baseline.

There is a couple reasons for this. The first is that this week was probably the hardest week of all for me yet. I had no internet in my house until Wednesday and even then I had to fight with Verizon FIOS to get it installed correctly. To say that it took an act of god was an understatement.

Next the movers came with my stuff on Wednesday. I literally did not sit down until midnight on Wednesday. I managed to pump out a little more than 750 words (786 to be exact), but they were all total crap.

Then on Thursday I did the unthinkable. I forgot to write. In fact it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that I did not do my writing for yesterday. Again, this was mostly due to the headache but also I just wasn’t really thinking about it. My house was a complete wreck and writing was the last thing on my brain. I can’t write in clutter. My mind won’t allow me to achieve even the simplest of flow states to write coherently.

Which leads me to believe that writing everyday is hard. Maybe that’s what you should aim for, but don’t become discouraged if you can’t do it everyday. Life happens. Stuff happens and most of all, even if you do manage to write everyday, some days are going to be crap. That is unless you plan your writing out in advance.

I’ll talk more about that in a minute but for now here are the numbers:

  • Average words per day (June 14-20) – 668
  • Average minutes to get to 750 words – 66
  • Average words per minute – 11
  • Total words (June 14-20) – 4,676
  • Best day (June 16) – 843 words

Work Generated

  • Book chapter — 1,000 words
  • Total Work Generated – 1,000 words
  • Percentage effectiveness – 21%

21% effective! That is poor and quite frankly embarrassing. Even though I feel like I have good reasons, still, this sucks.

Here is my game plan for next week.

1. Plan out my work — I need to set a daily goal of what I want to write. So for example, Monday I plan to finish Chapter 17 of my book. Tuesday I plan to finish Chapter 18 and so on and so forth.

2. I need to rest more — I’ve been very busy trying to settle in to my groove in my new job and new house. I need to ensure I am getting enough sleep to write effectively.

3. I need to create my writing space — I need my own space to write. My husband wants us to share an office, but this is not working for me. So I’m taking over the sunroom and making it my space. To accomplish this, this weekend I’m headed to IKEA to look for a desk and some other office organizing equipment.

I think this game plan will get me back on track and ready to rock next weeks number. Goal for next week is to go back to the baseline of week one, which was 72% effectiveness.

Until then, let me know what you think of the challenge thus far. Is this help you? What else do you want me to talk about.

Days 7-13 on the Writing Challenge

It’s been a tough week for me to write creatively. On Monday, I was dynamite but I believe that was because I planned out my time. The rest of the week was sort of crappy because I was finishing up the drive across country, moving into the new house and realizing that it takes a week for Verizon FIOS to even get to your house, much. In short, being in transition is really hard on my creativity.

The second thing is not having wireless. I have bought countless cups of coffee (this was no hardship actually) in the quest to get to 750words.com. In truth, I could just write my 750 words on a word document and then just post my progress or take a picture, but there is something about seeing a chain of X’s across my screen that just compels me to keep going. It’s sort of crazy actually, but I like it. And on top of that it feels like my reward at the end of my writing session.

So let’s talk about what happened this week and what the takeaways are:

1. Planning is essential to creativity. When I made a deliberate plan to write my chapters this week for both of my books, I produced an astounding 4,586 words. I planned even to the point of visualizing each of my scenes for both chapters. I believe that knowing what you are going to write is critical to increasing your word count and getting your book out of you faster.

2. Writing in the midst of transition is habit forming at best. I’m writing everyday and while the experiment will be continued for the next two weeks, there is a difference between writing everyday to form a habit and writing to produce an actual product.

To produce quickly, you have to plan. It appears that writing just to write will rarely produce work that is useable on a consistent basis. If you tell me you are one in a million that doesn’t have to plan, I would ask you to show me a completed first draft. If you have one, we can talk, but I would venture to say that if you write one book and you are serious about becoming an author, one book is probably not enough, especially if you plan to self publish.

3. Time of day matters — I’m not talking about night or day. I am talking about your energy level. If you are writing at a low energy time, you are just not going to produce as much as you would during your high-energy times. However, you can compensate for that with planning. This is why knowing what you are going to write helps immensely. Without it your mind will wander on the page and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not helpful if you are trying to produce work at a consistent pace.

With that here are my numbers:

Ok and now with the stats:

  • Average words per day (June 7- 13) – 1173
  • Average minutes to get to 750 words – 70
  • Average words per minute – 24
  • Total words (June 7-13) – 9,456
  • Best day (June 9) — 4,586 words

Work Generated

  • Book chapter  — 3,700 words
  • Book chapter — 2,734 words
  • Blog Post in progress – 622 words
  • Blog Post in progress – 435 words
  • Total Work Generated – 7,491 words
  • Percentage effectiveness – 79%

 

In other words 79% of my time writing was spent on creating content, while 21 percent of my time was writing gibberish.

This is 7% points higher than last week. My goal was to improve by 5% points so I am very happy with this number. Again, planning out what you are going to write seems to be a critical component to getting more work done with regards to your book. For next week, my goal will be on trying to increase that number by 3% points. I believe this means I will have to actively try to plan for more than one day, which I believe will be possible since I will no longer be driving across the country.

If you are taking the challenge with me, let me know by sending me an email. I read each and every one and I always respond back with advice.

June 1-6 Writing Stats

I’ve completed the first week of the Scribe Hacker 30 day challenge. It was difficult as I was in a different city every night of the week. We drove for 13 to 14 hours some days and one morning, I did not have access to 750words.com to write my daily word count. But I still managed to get it done everyday thus far. Before I give out my numbers I want to share a few insights thus far into the experiment:

1. I write better in the morning. Words just flow faster before 9 am. In fact, the average of my words

2. I can only write if I am not anxious about other stuff. I tend to workout in the morning. I despise working out more than doing my daily word count. So I have taken to making the daily word count my reward for finishing my workout. This is probably going to change once I report to work because there simply won’t be enough time for both in the morning, unless I start waking up at 3:30. (This is a possibility as I most productive in the morning).

3. I need a warm up. I can’t just start writing my book. It doesn’t work that way. I need to start by writing about whatever. This gets my brain warmed up and then I am able to move over to my book. I notice that it usually takes me 10 minutes of writing time to get warmed up. Writing cold is sort of hard for me. Because of this observation, I am considering an experiment where I adjust my writing style to write about nothing in particular for the first ten minutes and then start working on my book for the last 20. This is because I want to see if I will actually produce more work this way in a smaller amount of time.

4. Social pressure works. I can’t just stop doing this experiment. There are at least four people who are definitely following me right now and I owe it to them to finish and report the results. Knowing this makes me get up and write each and every morning. Feeling the pressure of someone else’s expectations is a surprisingly good motivator.

Ok and now with the stats: 

  • Average words per day (June 1- 6) – 1075
  • Average minutes to get to 750 words – 32
  • Average words per minute – 24
  • Total words (June 1-6) – 5, 949

Work Generated

  • Book chapter  — 1,893 words
  • Blog Post in progress – 760 words
  • Blog Post in progress – 323 words
  • Blog Post in progress – 1,333 words
  • Total Work Generated – 4,309 words
  • Percentage effectiveness – 72%

In other words 72% of my time writing was spent on creating content, while 28 percent of my time was writing absolute garbage.

I would say for now this is a baseline. I am happy that I am more effective than not but I think I’d like that percentage to be more like 90% effective, 10% garbage. This is because I believe you can’t be 100% effective all of the time. Your brain needs time to work through the snarl of information it’s trying to process. But I think I can definitely do better than 72%. For next week, my goal will be on trying to increase that number by 5% points. This means I either have to get more focused or I need to produce more words.

I’ll report back next Friday on my stats, and what measures I took to increase my effectiveness. If you are doing the challenge with me, share your stats in the comments.

 

On the road…and writing

Thus far, I am five days into a road trip. And damn, it’s been hard to get enough sleep, much less write. I find that no matter how well you plan, unexpected things happen. For example, one night we stayed with relatives and after a wonderful dinner and dessert, we stayed up talking until 1 a.m. Now I don’t know about you after 12 hours of straight driving and a filling dinner, but I can’t write my name, let alone think about writing 750 words.

However, this was before my June 1st deadline.

I’ve been treating the June 1st deadline like it was a day to start a diet; planning how I would get my word count in despite being on the road and wondering how I am going to find time to write while bumping along in the back seat. But hey, if Jack Kerorac did it, I can at least make an attempt.

At this point, I’ve been writing about my feelings; what I see along the road trip, my thoughts about new books, one off scenes from the book I am currently writing, and potential blog post ideas for a blog I sometimes contribute to in my spare time called Task and Purpose (see goal list for why).

I am finding that while I am in the car, it is difficult for me to be intensely creative. I believe that part of the problem is that I am listening to the radio and trying to ignore conversations between my husband and sister in law, while also balancing a computer on my lap. It’s just harder to write out scenes from my book while in this environment.

I’ve experimented once with writing right before I went to bed and found I was so tired that all I wrote about was what happened that day.

It seems like the best time that I am able to accomplish actually productive writing is in the morning, before we take off for the day’s driving. I suppose this is because I am well rested and my mind is not clouded with the day’s activities.

So here are some key takeaways that I have gathered based on a few days of data:

  1. Morning seems to be the most productive time for writing. Words flow out of my fingers at a rapid pace. I easily hit 750 words within 30 minutes time and often can go past that. I believe this is due to the fact that it’s very quiet in the morning, everyone else is sleeping, and I can be alone with my thoughts. It allows me to really get into the flow of my story (more coming up this month on what flow is and how to achieve it).
  2. Writing everyday is difficult. It’s hard to make this a priority because it’s so easy to put off until later. And later usually turns into tomorrow. This is why it’s best to just knock it out first thing in the morning.
  3. Sometimes odd thoughts will flow when you are exhausted. While writing in the morning is most productive, I have found that writing while tired has produced some of the most interesting and odd thoughts thus far. Ideas for books I never would have considered or thought of have come up during this time. Maybe because my brain is too tired to be critical?
  4. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Writing everyday is like starting a workout plan. Something is better than nothing. The act of pulling out your computer or notebook and forcing yourself is training for your brain. Even when you are tired you can produce, although your production will be vastly different. But that’s good too. Those unexpected thoughts are like little gems.
  5. You can do it in spurts. No one says you have to write all 750 words in one sitting. Just get out what you can. The only problem I have found is, it takes me longer to get into the groove if I am actually writing a project. It’s easier to bang out a chapter if I do it all in one sitting. If I’m just free writing to rack up my word count, then breaking it up throughout the day is fine.

So that’s how things are going for now. Expect a big update next Friday on my actual word count starting from June 1st onward as well as more observations of how things are going.

 

Challenge One: Write Every Day

Write every day.

This is the recipe for success. Established authors often give this advice to those who wish to follow in their footsteps: Write each and every day. But is this really the best approach? Is it truly necessary to write every day in order to produce one’s best work? Or is this recommended dosage simply a way of encouraging the writing habit?

I will attempt to put this advice into practice. I’d like to find out exactly what it is about writing every day that makes one a better writer.

THE ORIGIN OF WRITE EVERY DAY

Many of the greats wrote every day. Alexandre Dumas wrote all day and all night, often pushing himself to the point of exhaustion and sickness. Yet he managed to produce nearly three hundred volumes of work. Honore de Balzac lived in an attic apartment and spent his days crafting his novels. And Victor Hugo had his clothes hidden, in order to discourage him from leaving the house. He wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame wearing only a gray, knitted shawl.

Stephen King produces ten pages per day, no matter what, and no matter how long it takes. The newly crowned superstar Hugh Howey also implores self-published writers to make a habit of writing every day.

There seems to be an established precedent, throughout history, of successful writers pumping out words on an almost-daily basis. This would seem to prove the validity of the advice to write every day. But the real question is: Does writing every day make you a better writer?

THE CHALLENGE

Starting on June 1st, I will attempt to write every day for thirty days. Bear in mind, this sounds easier than it’s actually going to be, because I have a lot of potential excuses not to write. To give you a better idea of what will be happening while I take on this challenge, let me share with you a brief description of what the month of June holds in store for me.

I’ll be moving across the country, and will spend the first two weeks of June driving across America. After my road trip, I’ll be starting a new job in a fast-paced office. I’ll be expected to work 50-hour weeks, plus some weekends, and will be caring for a relative (who is quite ill) in my home. On weekdays, I will be getting up at four in the morning to fit in my workout. Oh, and I’ll have to do meal prep to support my diet and exercise regime, as I have to lose ten pounds for my military standards.

Just writing all of that makes me feel like I must be crazy even to attempt this. But hey, I’ve always been the type that says go big or go home.

Every Friday, I will update you on my weekly word count. I will write about the struggles I’ve run into, and any challenges I’ve faced, and I will tell you how I overcame them (or how I tried to overcome them).

My goal is to write at least 750 words a day. What’s so magical about this number? Well, first of all, 750 words is the equivalent of three pages in a paperback book. It’s also the premise behind the website 750words.com, and I rather enjoy using that site. I won’t always have Internet access—the horror! I know—so I’ll be taking photos to prove that I am keeping my word.

Second, it’s a way to gauge my progress. It’s similar to working out. Unless I have a standard by which to measure myself, how will I know if I am getting better? I want to be able to double my capacity to write a lot, while producing relatively useful material. So that’s why I decided to set a baseline.

For this challenge, there is no limit on the kind of writing I will do. I just need to produce words, hopefully some that will make sense. The reason for this is simple. In an experiment, you should only alter one variable at a time. I want to know whether the act of writing will make me a better writer or whether there is some other factor that we might need to take into consideration.

I predict that I will get faster at writing and that my confidence will increase as the month progresses. However, I am unsure how much better at writing I will become.

Why don’t you join me in the challenge? You can drop me a line in the comments section—I’d love to hear about what you’re trying to accomplish, and how crazy your month is going to be. And check out my writing goal list to see all the types of writing I’ll be doing and inviting you to do with me.

Finally, make sure you subscribe to my e-mail list, so that you don’t miss out on any challenge updates.

Thanks for reading, and see you on the other side.

 

 

How Wattpad helps me write my book

The commonly given piece of advice, “write a little bit every day” has never worked for me. Inevitably, I start out with the best of intentions. I schedule my time and get up extra early to get a start on my creativity. But after a week or so of gung ho euphoria, I inevitably get distracted, or something comes up, and within another week or so I have given up completely. The truth is, I allow myself to skip out on writing because there are no consequences, especially since I don’t get paid to do it, and no one is going to yell at me if I don’t achieve my goal.

But I really wanted to write a book. So to hack my own brain, I decided I needed to change my methods.

ENTER WATTPAD

A year ago, I discovered the social reading site Wattpad. I found a large collection of readers tearing through material as fast as authors could write it. In case you haven’t heard, Wattpad is a writing community that allows users to post stories and poems on the website in their own profile. The site’s content includes work by both amateur and published writers like Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and Margaret Atwood.

Wattpad is a wonderful community, especially for those of us who write young adult fiction, because the majority of users are teenagers that are located in various locations around the world.

THE CARROT OF HAVING AN AUDIENCE

There is something about knowing that other people are waiting on my work that makes me feel as though I write faster. Writing a novel can be such lonely work at times, and the self-doubt that comes from wondering if what you are writing is any good makes many writers abandon the cause before it’s finished.

With Wattpad, if your story is good, you will get readers. Quite possibly the most awesome thing about that is you can get immediate feedback on your work. You get the chance to tap into the mind of thousands of readers.

The most important thing that Wattpad does for you is that it forces you to produce. Once you start posting and people get into your story, they want to know what happens next, and if you don’t complete it, you get dozens of fans posting to your page asking you to update. As far as rockstar writing goes, that feels pretty freaking awesome.

With Wattpad as my motivator, instead of writing a certain number of words a day, I commit to writing a chapter a week. This goal is more achievable for me because it allows me to measure real progress. Instead of a word count, I have an actual deliverable piece of work. And because I have to give the chapter to an editor, I am forced to complete it.

HOW THIS CAN WORK FOR YOU

You should realize that this style of writing works best if you have a general outline of where you plan to take your novel. One of the scariest parts about writing and publishing each week is that I am committing myself to a certain path in the book before I am really sure about it. Each chapter must build on the last one and show continuity or your readers will call you out. For those who think this is living dangerously…it is. But this style of writing is not unusual. TV screenwriters have a general idea of how they will write television shows by season. Rather than plan out every detail of what will happen, they ask themselves, “What is the purpose of this episode and what does it need to do in order to advance the story?” I do the same thing with my chapters and thus far, I’ve been able to write myself out of a corner without resulting to using Deux Ex Machinas.

So with that introduction, here are five tips that will help you get started with Wattpad:

  1. Be social, not spammy. Joining Wattpad is like showing up to your first day of high school. There are groups and there are rules, both written and unwritten. Screw up and you eat lunch by yourself. Before you start posting, take a few days to get to know the site. You’ll learn quickly what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. For example, spamming a bunch of readers on the chat boards and asking them to read your book is an instant ban. But commenting in chat boards, reading and commenting on other books you find interesting, and getting involved in some of the clubs will start to gain you reads and followers.
  2. Give before receiving. For my first month on Wattpad, I faithfully posted my story, put up advertisements in the designated section, and posted an ad in the critiques area offering reviews. This got more eyes on my profile, which led to people reading my book. Then after a while, I stopped having to do that because I had enough followers who liked the book and were pushing it into the top ten on Wattpad.
  3. Pretty covers get lots of reads. When I first started on Wattpad, I had no idea how to make a cover. I jumped on the forums and learned about PicMonkey, which is a Photoshop-like program for those of us who have no design skills whatsoever. Following design specs posted on the chat boards and Googling helped me to find the sizes I needed to make a decent cover. Some folks might think this is a waste of time, but it’s actually a very important exercise, especially for those taking the self-publishing route. Making a cover is important because it’s part of learning how to market your book. If you can’t get people interested in your cover on Wattpad, chances are they won’t take a second look on Amazon.
  4. Set a schedule for your readers. Readers will follow your work if you update quickly and often. Again, this is why Wattpad is such a great tool for forcing you to write. The more you write, the more fans you gain, the more feedback you get on your book, and the more you are inspired to write. And you have to stick to the schedule because fans will start to complain if you don’t keep up.
  5. Realize it’s a work in progress. Wattpad is forgiving. The first two stories that I posted were not very good. I got feedback in the form of the number of reads and some disparaging comments that hurt like crazy at the time. What I thought was awesome just wasn’t registering the same to my readers. But it was great because it forced me to start writing in a way that actually pleased the reader. It forced me to get better and it forced me to get faster.

I definitely recommend Wattpad, especially if you are having trouble sticking to your writing commitment. Let me know if you are a Wattpad user and tell me about your experience with the site. You can also friend me on Wattpad under my pen name Nicki Syler.

 

 

The Summer of My Transformation into a Badass Writer

One year I had the great fortune of working with a best-selling author on a series of presentations. While in the middle of that work I confessed that I had often wanted to write a book, but felt like I could not because I didn’t have the willpower. He just smiled, looked back at me from the front seat of the car and said, ‘Everybody has at least one book in them somewhere.’

THIS OBSTACLE CALLED WRITING 

According to author and book critic Joseph Epstein, 81% of Americans believe that they can and should write a book. Unfortunately for most people, the belief never translates into execution.

Why is that? Why can’t someone who has an idea for a story sit down in front of their computer and just type it up? Why is it that so few of us can muster up the grit to pull that book out of us? Or even more basic, why is the act of writing just so damned hard to pull off, especially when so many of us have the desire to do it?

A former boss of mine once told me that the best way to prove my worth to my superiors was to become a strong writer. So that’s what I set out to do.

I made a point to take classes in both professional and creative writing. I read countless books on how to write a book (very meta, I know) and I dutifully completed every creative writing exercise I could in order to build up my writing muscle.

But for all my practice all it would take is some paltry little life event and I would lose my momentum, leaving me feeling ashamed, frustrated and deeply disappointment in myself for not being able to finish projects that I had started.

What I grew to realize is that all of the advice out there on being a productive writer was too generic. Like advice on losing weight, there are dozens of articles giving everything from five quick tips to the hard core writer that sneers while telling you to just suck it up, to whole books on how to speed up your progress; there really is a ton of advice.

Problem is none of the advice seems to be working. If it did, so many more of us would be easily able to produce content with no problem.

A TOUGH JOURNEY WE NEED TO TAKE 

There will be people out there who tell you not to write (usually authors who have gone through the battle and have come out scarred).

Ignore them.

Like acting, writing is filled with both successful and unsuccessful practitioners who have battle scars from wrestling with their books. Their advice is well meaning but it’s also discouragement you just don’t need.

Instead, focus on the good things that writing does for you.

For example, according to Dr. Judy Willis of the Hawn foundation, writing can enhance the brain’s ability to take in, process, retain and retrieve information. In fact, studies have shown that writing boosts long–term memory, allows the brain time for reflection and increases attentiveness to other tasks.

In short, writing is good for your brain.

Furthermore, writing is one of the fastest ways to establish yourself as a credible subject matter expert. John Romanello, celebrity trainer and all around American beefcake once said that to establish his credibility as a trainer he started writing articles on personal training for magazines. Writing, in a sense, helped him to separate himself from the pack.

Like a fitness, writing a book is a mental test of will.

People say all the time, ‘if I had more time, more peace, more ideas, then I would be able to produce my book.’

I’m here to tell you now that you are lying to yourself. The truth is that there is a counterforce within you that is warring against your desires. You want to write a book. But the counterforce resists.

Our bodies are hardwired to be efficient with our energy because back in the day being wasteful with our mental and physical resources could be deadly.

Just like the resistance you feel when you first start to work out, your mind has a similar reaction. It wants to be free to do it wants, to wander, to relax. And your brain is so good at tricking you into wasting time. Mostly because like your biceps, your brain is not in the mood to do heavy lifting.

But that’s about to change.

The truth is yes, like your body, your brain can be trained to finish a book. But even better, your brain can be trained to become prolific at writing.

The trick is in learning to hack your own invisible barriers.

HACKING MY BRAIN 

I’m on a mission to do just that. I’m here to actually be your guinea pig, to test out every method I can find to increase my productivity and the volume of my work.

Because I, like you, am tired of failing myself. I want to get faster and better at producing my work, and I’m tired of reading blog after blog with solutions that don’t apply to me.

I want to know just how fast I can really produce a book. And I don’t want to be told the nebulous advice of ‘just write’ or; ‘write everyday’.

That advice is too vague and doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of the issue: how do you convince yourself to finish a novel? How do you sit down long enough to produce a long form blog post? What makes writing easy on some days and difficult on others? How can I increase my productivity?

LEARNING TO BECOME PROLIFIC 

This is the summer of my transformation into a badass writer, where I dedicate myself to learning how to hack into my own brain in order to increase my productivity.

Each week I’ll be doing a several things:

The first is setting a series of goals for myself, including writing a book in one month, creating long-form blog posts, researching and submitting articles for publication and figuring out how to write an academic literature review in the span of a certain time period.

The purpose of all of these goals is to increase my writing portfolio. As we discussed earlier, writing good material lends you a certain amount of credibility. And the more material you have, the greater opportunity there is to be published.

The second is detailing the process; sharing hacks and psychological techniques I am using to gain mastery over my brain to produce content. Sometimes I will follow advice from writing books, other times I will try things based on research outside of the writing community. Everything from social experiments to crazy hacks will be tried and discussed. I’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t.

The third is I’ll be posting my stats. Word counts, chapters completed, articles written, the stages in which they are in, etc. This is so you can see how much work is actually being produced and also so you can check to see if I am really doing what I say I am doing.

All of this will be done while in the process of moving across the country, maintaining a workout regimen, a full time job and keeping up with a somewhat active social life.

You can do this along with me and see how you do as well; I’ll post the challenges on this blog along with the criteria for successful completion. And I’ll post evidence of my work, whether it’s a submission page to a publication or the actual chapters of my book so you can see my progress.

So sign up for my mailing list to ensure that you don’t miss a challenge or a progress post and to see my tips after each challenge to make your writing more productive and badass.

And comment below on some of the past frustrations you have experienced while trying to finish your book or writing project.