tl;dr Applying the principle of interval training to my writing will allow for a nearly 50% increase in output while still giving me time to keep current on technology relevant to my daily (non-writing) work.
I’m doing a little (or large, I guess) experiment this year. Initially it started as a way to balance my writing output with what I repeatedly hear is an important part of a mid-list writer’s life: The Day Job.
So in order to allow myself periods where I focus intensely on writing, editing, learning about writing, reading fiction for inspiration, and not feeling guilty about dedicating more time to writing than to professional development, I adapted a technique I learned in high school cross country training.
Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training.
The idea of interval training is probably more familiar than that of continuous training since it’s used in a lot of popular workout programs. It involves doing periods of high-intensity reps with a short rest in between. Fartleking (sp?) is like interval training but instead of resting, you just don’t run as hard you had been. That’s an important analog for my plan because I don’t want to try to write a whole bunch over a short period and then not write for a while. I think just about any writer will tell you that’s basically asking for failure.
For the last 6 months of 2013, I worked on a schedule that I broke down by days and then morphed to a weekly set of goals that allowed a little more freedom in terms of what I did on a given day.
But then in November, I did NaNoWriMo. (And even though I didn’t win, aren’t we all winners?) I realized that I could definitely push myself to write more than I had been in the months leading up to November. But instead of trying for 50,000 words per month (or even 27,000 like I did in November), I compromised on a schedule that would allow me to balance professional development in the workplace with development of my writing skills. By fartlekking my writing, I get to push my writing muscles past where they would normally go, but then I pull back give myself some time to recover from the exertion and mental fatigue that comes with the focus it takes to push those muscles. During that recovery, I continue to “run” but I also engage a different set of muscles (though muscle confusion is a whole different training philosophy).
Starting with a slow warm-up in December, I had my first push in January and am now backing off again for February. January yielded just over 18,000 words, which is double what I averaged per month in 2013. So, if I can do that much in my sprint months and then fall back to my average of 9,000 in off months, I’ll have about a 47% increase over last year. And assuming all goes to plan, I’ll still have a day job (with the all-important health insurance).
The only writing instruction you’ll ever really need from Hugh Howey. This blockquote probably violates fair use or something… but this is the core of the post with the preface stripped away.
No excuse is good enough to NOT WRITE. Being on book tour? Not a good enough excuse. Having a day job, a family and house to take care of, meals to cook, a dog to walk and exercise? Not good enough excuses. The people who make this work find the time. I told myself, even knowing that my days were blocked up with interviews and bookstore events, that I would find the time.
SAND was written on trains and in airports. It was written in Finland at five in the morning before I went to the Helsinki Book Fair. It was written on the stoop of my hotel while I waited in the freezing cold for my publicist to pick me up. It was written in the back of the cab on the way to the fair. It was written at the fair while I waited on interviewers and while between interviews. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about the plot, my characters, having conversations, making notes in my cell phone.
I flew to Amsterdam where I wrote more. Every day, I wrote at least 2,000 words. I had a few 3,000 and even 5,000 word days. These were crucial, because my mother was meeting me in Italy to spend 10 days of my book tour on vacation with me. When she arrived, it meant getting up a little earlier every day and writing before we set out to see the sights. It meant writing at night before I went to bed. I wrote in a laundromat in Venice while I refreshed my single carry-on of clothes. When I got to 50,000, my mom and I toasted with glasses of wine and had a nice meal. And then I powered on, knowing this wasn’t enough.
I’m very tempted to take this as a soul-crushing defeat because I’ve struggled just to get to an average of 755 so far in 2014 (and yet am proud of that average). But, I am not a full-time writer like Hugh, so instead, I should probably take it as inspiration. Or maybe a challenge. A New Year’s Resolution, perhaps?
I do: Write on trains, think about the plot, characters, conversations, and make notes in my cell phone. I do: Get up a little early to write. I do: Write in airports and on airplanes the one or two times a year when I’m in an airport or on an airplane.
I don’t: Go to the Helsinki Book Fair, or wait on the stoop of my hotel for my publicist. I don’t: Get interviewed. Though I do interview someone else about once a month, but when I’m waiting for those interviews, I’m usually doing work for my day job. I don’t: Fly to Amsterdam. I don’t: Ever write 3,000 or even 5, 000 words in a single day. I don’t: Write in a laundromat in Venice, or any other laundromat. I think the last time I was even at a laundromat was nine and a half years ago. I don’t: Write at night before I go to bed. I usually follow Tim Ferriss’s advice to have Fat and Fiction before bed. A bit of fat to keep the blood sugar up and the fiction to disconnect the thinking part of the brain. (It’ll be even better when I get my Kindle Paperwhite)
If I can somehow manage to maintain that average of 755, I’ll be at 275,000+ words for the year. That would be almost 100,000 more than what I tallied in 2012 (my previous best year*). My actual goal is 210,000 which is only 575 per day, so I’ve got a something of a buffer right now (yes, that’s a bit sarcastic; we’re barely 2 weeks in to the year!).
But whether you take it as an admonition, a guilt shaming, or a guantlet in the dirt, Hugh provides one last piece of advice to go with his tale of extraordinary, overwhelming production:
The only wrong system of writing is to not write.
* Since I started keeping track
or: Where I Come Up With A Really Pretentious Sounding Title That Actually Somewhat Contradicts The Content Of The Post
So there’s a book I wanted to read. I’m not sure why, because it’s not that great a book. I think I wanted to study the magic system a bit, but now that I’m reading it, the whole magic system is just kind of… magic… The rest of the book contains many things I feel like I can learn from though, so probably still worth it… except that…
I am a cheap ass bastard and didn’t want to shell out $5.99 for (the Kindle version of) a book that I wasn’t really sure I was going to like in the first place (turns out to be a great decision in this case). But the problem with being a cheap ass bastard is that I get books from the library. Now, the library, for it’s part, has done a wonderful, remarkable job of making books available in electronic forms (both eBooks and audio downloads). This particular book, however, was not available in any electronic forms. Just paper.
In order to read this book while waiting for something or someone, I have to carry it around with me. I can’t just take out my phone and load up my Kindle (or other eReading) app and have it sync my location with my iPad and my actual Kindle (soon to be a Kindle Paperwhite). I can’t read it in bed at night (or in the morning since it’s still dark when I wake up in the winter). Soon I’ll have three different ways to read eBooks without any lights.
Plus, it’s just one book. The whole “read anywhere” thing is probably the most common reason that people say they love eBooks. But when you’re like me and pretty much constantly reading: 1) fiction book, 2) tech/programming book, and 3) non-fiction book, only having a single book in a form that takes up as much (or more) space and weight than a reading device that has all three options (and more) feels very encumbered.
It’s only 274 pages, so that’s a relief… But I’m not gonna lie, after this, I’m tempted to download the eBook version of any paperback books I own just to be able to read them more quickly and easily and pleasurably*. I know that’s technically illegal and I haven’t actually done it yet, so don’t come after me right now… but in those cases, I have already bought (or was given) a hard copy, so the author (and publisher) is getting their money. I’m sure if you asked the authors, they’d be happy to let me read whichever version was best for me (in fact, I’ve seen and heard a couple others say basically that when asked what the best way to buy their book is. “Buy whatever version is best for you. Then buy whatever version is best for your friends. *wink*wink* *laugh*”)
Finally, the promised contradictory message contained in the title of the post: Obviously, since I’m still using a device that exists in the physical world, then there isn’t really a way to get away from reading books in the physical world, even if the content is contained on sheets of transistors instead of sheets of paper. So really, the physical world is manifesting itself no matter how I choose to read. It’s just the paper part that’s the annoyance.
* Did anyone else immediately think of a 50 Shades joke there?
Some of these will certainly be a bit glib, but beneath that veneer of humor slash sarcasm lies nuggets of truth that helped me to get to 27,113 words this year during November’s NaNoWriMo. It’s not 50,000 I know. Not even really that close (not even a passing grade unless there’s a curve). But it is the highest total for any given 30 day period for me this year. So, there you go.
- Use “///” instead of “###” for “Do or change this later”. One of the keys to NaNoWriMo is to just keep putting words down. That was one of the reasons I wanted to actually try to Win this year instead of just saying “Yeah, sure, I’ll give it a try.” One of the things that allows me to keep putting words down is to be able to stop my Inner Editor* by simply telling him: “We’ll come back to this, okay? I know it sucks, but right now, we’re just trying to get the words down and then we can revise and make the prose sing like Tom Bombadil.” I used to use “###” because once upon a time I saw somewhere that some other writer used that. In doing NaNoWriMo, though, I realized that “///” only requires one finger to type (as opposed to Shift + 3 for a #) and is just as recognizable as something that would never actually appear in a manuscript. Jason Hough uses Scrivener’s Comments to achieve a To Do List like functionality, which is a great idea, but takes even more time than “###”. I will be using that in the future for larger actual To Do-like items, but for quick notes while you’re trying to stay in the flow, I think some key sequence that can be easily seen when looking at a paragraph or easily found using Ctrl + F is the best way to go. The final nail in the coffin for “###” is that when writing on an iPad virtual keyboard (which was a key component of my NaNoWriMo strategy), the “#” takes three taps (switch to non-letters, then switch to alternate non-letters) while “/” takes only two. I was writing 200-800 words per weekday on my iPad, and using probably 10-20 “///”s per 200-800 words, so that half second saved me 5-10 seconds per writing session. Now that I actually calculate the time saved, it doesn’t sound like much, but over 20 or so writing sessions, that’s close to three minutes (hmmmmm… still not impressive). I will also argue that since it takes less thinking to only make one keyboard switch, my brain was able to continue writing faster on the iPad after a “///” than with a “###”. And since now I’m feeling the need to justify it, I think that re-reading something with a “///” is much less jarring to the eye than the “###” so it makes it faster when I look over what I just wrote to see if I need to add anything more to clarify or expand.
- When you’re at 1,400 words for the day and each word feels like tearing out a fingernail, start a new scene. Yeah, it’s kind of cheating, but NaNoWriMo is about getting words down. It doesn’t matter if they all come in order. You could write sixteen chapters 100 words at a time for 30 days…
Anyway: I found that getting 267 words when starting a new scene was easy compared to trying to fight through a scene that started with 0 words at the beginning of the day. I then found myself coming back to the existing scene the next day (or a few days later) and having new, fresh ideas to put into it to throw additional words in there. I realize this shows some lack of “writing endurance” on my part, which I will wholeheartedly cop to. I think it also leads into my next point, though…
- Outline. I thought I’d be cute and just dive into an idea I’ve had for a while and see where it led. I’ll tell you where it led: to a lot of unanswered questions that I had to spend time thinking about. It led to a lot of “where is this scene going?” questions.
I was about a week in when I decided to entirely shift the focus of the story from “kicking off at one point in time, slamming through to set up something bigger, and then continuing that storyline” to “the slam is now the late-middle part of the store with different plot lines at the beginning to wrap up at the end after that middle section.” It actually allowed me to write a lot more since I was fairly stuck at where to go when using that middle part as the beginning, but it would have been nice to have a better idea of where I was going.
The more I listen to author interviews, the more I realize that there is less of a difference between the so-called Outlines and Pantsers than the number of queries about it out there would lead you to believe. I’m perfectly happy with the “bit of an outline and fill in the rest” middle ground. The fact that this styled is used/approved by authors like Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Wendig, and Jason Hough doesn’t mean it’s the one true way, but it does make me feel good about myself since I’m comfortable using this approach.
- Get a good playlist before November 1st. I create (and then morph) a playlist as I go through the process of writing a book. It doesn’t have to be a specific theme or anything, but just songs I like that go in a general vibe with what I feel like I want to write. I don’t spend too long on the initial creation… but a half hour here and there starts to add up when you’re trying to get 1,667 words per day. Since I was just trying to power through words, I generally just put on a “radio” station either in Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes with a seed that fit what was I going for. The next time I do NaNoWriMo, I’m going to work on my playlist while I’m working on my outline in October.
* Note: Not the Inner Critic. That guy has to be completely absent for NaNoWriMo if you hope to even come close to getting 50,000 words.
I count 4 out of 10 questions that are not subject to change. And of those, one assumes that you had a childhood pet and another assumes that you have met your spouse.
For a while The Usual Suspects was my favorite movie (and it was long enough ago that I naively thought it would be my favorite movie forever). But now it’s easily Inception. So, if I’d set up my AT&T account before the latter came out, I’d have to remember what my favorite film used to be. Easy enough, I suppose, but the whole notion of having security questions that are subject to change just seems so riddled with holes that no one should actually be doing it any more.
Released first was Frightened Rabbit’s new album Pedestrian Version
More recently: The Airborne Toxic Event’s Such Hot Blood (only $5 at the time of this post!)
I’m not on top of music or anything so I just got both of these albums in July (which comes out to five months late for Frightened Rabbit and a month late for TATE).
I’m sure there are others that I’m not really thinking of that I might have actually gotten when they came out, but so far, these two really hit the “Nels” sweet spot for the kind of almost-poetry/high-school-poetry lyrics and mostly upbeat arrangements. I think I’m not supposed to like the Airborne Toxic Event because Pitchfork gave their first album a 1.6, but the same guy gave the Childish Gambino album a 1.6, so I think that’s really code for “Don’t tell anyone that I actually like this because it would ruin my street cred.”
Sure, a lot of the songs on Such Hot Blood are tailor made for performing in arenas, bombastic anthems that build and swell to something grandiose, but guess what, I like stuff like that.
So, I mean, come on.
It’s rare, very rare indeed, that I actually like all the songs on any given album and can just listen to the album straight through without making a playlist to filter out the lower quality songs. Even those songs on Such Hot Blood are not bad. I’d say ‘True Love’ is my least favorite, but the pseudo-folk-Trampled-By-Turtles thing makes up for the fairly grating chorus and the annoying number of times he says “Cause it’s true love.” ‘The Fifth Day’ gets a little self-involved and over-orchestrated in it’s 6-minute playing time, but the beginning build-up feel so raw and genuine that again, it makes up for my minor quibbles with the middle part of the song.
Now, as for Frightened Rabbit, I feel like their The Midnight Organ Fight and The Winter of Mixed Drinks while both brilliantly titled albums were not wholly consistent in their quality (don’t get me wrong, they’re still really good). (I haven’t heard Sing The Greys or the songs on the EPs, so I can’t speak to that) But Pedestrian Verse is so good that I actually looked up their tour schedule and pretty much immediately bought tickets for their Lollapalooza after show. I go to live concerts even less than I buy music (read: irrationally cheap), so I’m not sure that there’s anything that could speak more highly of an album.
So, at the risk of turning this blog into a full-out “movie” blog… Here’s some more that I didn’t catch in my Summer Movie Preview (and as an update there – I’ve actually seen 2 of the movies on that list, which for me is pretty good because I grew up when movies were $3.25 so paying $9-$12 to see a movie in a theater seems ridiculous). Also not that these aren’t “summer” movies, per se (hence the title referring to Sci-Fi rather than Summer); two of them come out in November bracketing my birthday very nicely.
Pluses: I love Chloe Moretz. She’s awesome. I’ve only ever seen her in 30 Rock and the first Kick Ass and looking at her filmography, I think I might like her less if I were forced to watch the other movies she’s done, but in this context, she’s great. Jim Carrey is pretty much unrecognizable as The Colonel, and it seems like a good role for him. Clark Duke is cool. He was good in The Office and I like his style of humor (from the trailer it almost seems like he’s playing the same guy).
Minuses: You knew after the first one was a hit, they’d try to do it again… but this time it seems more like a straight up Good-Guy-Bad-Guy type thing as opposed to the kid turning into a superhero and then getting in over his head and having to struggle to be an actual superhero. Lots of other superheroes… could be good, or could suck. Either way, though, it can’t possible be as bad as Super, which I cannot honestly recommend to anyone who doesn’t just absolutely love gratuitous violence. If they’d kept that one to just even a decent level of violence, it could have been as good as Kick Ass (because Rainn Wilson’s character was a unique take on an origin story, and Ellen Page was hilarious as his sidekick). I thought the first Kick Ass was pretty over-the-top, but it almost seemed like Super was made just to be like “No, guys, this is over the top!” KA2 looks like it’s probably more mainstream and therefore will hopefully have a normal amount of unnecessary bloodiness.
Pluses: Low expectations. I don’t think anyone is really expecting this to be a “good” movie… But it should be as entertaining as any Riddick movie. Well, probably not as good as Pitch Black but better than The Chronicles of Riddick, so by “as entertaining as any” I mean: as entertaining as the average Riddick movie.
Minuses: You’re taking a pretty big risk if the the only way to escape an alien planet is to tell everyone who wants to kill you where you are in the hopes of capturing one of their vessels.
Pluses: The book is a Sci-Fi classic and it looks like they’re going to do a good job of adapting. Of course, multiple Academy Award winners and nominees doesn’t guarantee good performances or a good movie, but it can’t hurt. Hopefully they don’t try to big-budget-actionify it…
Minuses: I’m almost afraid to say I want to see it because, yes, Orson Scott Card is totally anti-gay. Even his attempt at getting people to see the movie was half-hearted at best. To summarize: Hey guys, I still think gay sexual behavior is wrong and should be punished, but since the Supreme Court say it’s okay, then my opinion doesn’t really matter, so go see my movie anyway. Thanks dude. On the one hand, all the people who actually made the movie have already been paid, so boycott won’t really hurt them all that much. On the other hand, a boycott is probably only going to show up as a number on an executive’s spreadsheet where it will drag down the average revenue of the “sci-fi” category and make them less likely to want make more. On the third hand (this is sci-fi, right?), look at all the sci-fi movies that are getting made and one flop probably isn’t going to make that much of a difference. I mean, you’ve already got Upside Down dragging things down… So maybe for my birthday I’ll make a choice between…
Thor: The Dark World
Pluses: A cast that reads almost as impressive as Ender’s Game. Obviously there’s less moral elements (in the movie and outside of it), so that’s good for me being able to state my desire to see it but probably less good for the overall quality of the film. It’ll be fun. Probably not as good as The Avengers, but probably as good as the first Thor, which was fun.
Minuses: To be honest, none. As long as you’ve got the appropriate expectations.
Pluses: It’s about time travel. I’m a sucker for that even when it comes in the form of a romantic dramedy (which is actually in Merriam Webster – wow). It’s not a complete carbon copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife (even though it does also have Rachel McAdams her hair is totally different [and much worse, if you ask me]). About Time is a dramedy – even categorized as comedy and drama on Rotten Tomatoes, while TTW was a Romance/Drama (not sure if there’s a combination of those two words). This time, the guy can actually control the time travel, and I like the set up of conflicts this seems to set up (or at least appears to from watching the trailer). It’s from the guy who did Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually, all of which I was far too macho (or just trying to be) to appreciate when they came out, but did enjoy eventually (even in spite of Renee Zellweger’s inability to open her eyes for what seemed like the entire movie; and the fact that Love Actually was a bit over the top and mushy on the romance).
Minuses: If it doesn’t have any sharpness or roughness to it, the movie could easily slide into romantic drivel. Time travel is hard to get right. The lead guy looks a little bit too bumbling and awkward and unattractive… Even with time travel, I’m not sure I’d believe he could end up with Rachel McAdams (at least not as the perfect woman she’s portrayed as in these movies).
So there’s that. I hope to have some non-movie related posts soon, but these are so easy since I only have to spend 2 minutes watching a trailer and then write what I think instead of having to document some technical process or something with screenshots and directions, let alone actually thinking deeply about something…