Writing – Whassup with me!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a terrible commercial where people said “Whassuuup” to each other over and over, and this commercial had nothing to do with writing.  But…. I’m gonna use it as an excuse to update you on my writing anyway! Mwuhahaha!

First, I’m writing again. Yay!!! And for 143 days in a row!  Double yayyyy!!!

My minimum is 1 sentence, and many days I get less than 100 words. But word count per day has been getting bigger, and my last session I hit 2,300+ words. Triple YAYYY!!!

If you want to know what I’m up to, I’m doing my own version of the mini habits system by Stephen Guise. Basically, it’s a really low-bar checklist so I don’t wimp out. Here’s the book that got me started, and it’s working for me:

good writing habits!
Yes, this an affiliate link! But it’s a really good book about he started writing.

Getting stronger after hell

My writing muscles are building back up, and my prose quality is going up. I have better control over the pacing and emotional beats of my scenes, as well. Basically, I’m getting all those skills back that I lost after my Three Years of Hell (TM), where my mother died,  grandfathers died, my house burned down, and I almost died and lost a lot of mental sharpness because of a surgery gone wrong.

Writing novels only for now

Writing wise, I’ve been working exclusively on novels. Honestly, I don’t have the time or the emotional fortitude to submit my short stories, so no sales there.

I’ve currently got two projects in the works:

  1. A rewrite of novel (first book in a series)
  2. A new novel (second book in said series)

I work on both every day, minimum 1 sentence each, and I also work on outlines (minimum one step/spreadsheet cell) or scene sketches (minimum three bullets) every day. Them’s the rules, and they’re working for me.

The daily grind!

The rewrites on the first book are soaking up most of my word count. It was a particularly hard book to edit, and I edited it 3.5 times line-by-line before I figured out what was wrong: The writing just isn’t up to my standards, and a simple edit will never fix it. Normally I’d trunk it and move on, but the structure is strong, and there are some really kick-ass scenes, and I like the characters. Complicating matters is that I’m about 22,000 words into the second book of the same series.

So I’m currently in the process of taking scene sketches and rewriting the entire book 1 from scratch. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a rewrite from scratch, and it scared the hell out of me at first. Honestly, it’s not terribly hard. It’s just loooooooong. It takes a lot of time because you’re doing double work, scene sketches, then writing. I know someone’s going to say I don’t need the sketches, but I think I do; I need the buffer so the bad writing of the earlier drafts doesn’t “infect” this one.

Results for my Writing

The results so far have been fantastic. It’s gone from a book that I couldn’t say enough bad things about to one I’m actually satisfied with. Quadruple YAAAAAY!

I know I know, you still have one more question: What ELSE am I doing (because I can’t possibly be busy enough)? Well…

한국어 배우고 었으습니다. I’m learning Korean!

NOW…. Whassup with you? C’mon… WHASSSSSSUUUUUUUP with you?

I have quite a few articles  on  writing. If you’re interested in them, may I suggest you start here with “The Path to Mastery”.

Project Resurrwrite!

So what have I been doing? Writing! Very slowly… But slow is better than no.

My brain feels rehabbed, my writing is getting stronger again. I no longer look at my old stories and feel like that kind of writing is impossible. But I’m a different person now. Less dark, less brooding. And that is reflected in my writing. And that’s fine.

my habit was DEAD ASLEEP

But I had a problem- my writing habit was dead asleep. I could do a week in a row, but then I would always miss a day, and some days 250 words seemed outright impossible. Eventually I kept giving up.

So right now I’m focusing on rebuilding the never-miss-a-day rhythm I used to have. How? By avoiding procrastination. How, you ask again? (Because avoiding procrastination is everyone’s problem.)

I avoid procrastination by removing all the road blocks. I have a super-easy goal of one new sentence every day. Even if I’m sick or crazy with work, I can still hit it, but usually I blow it out of the water.  Almost never do I feel resistance for this habit, and even when I do, I tell myself — remember, one sentence and you can bail.

But you know something? Other than two days where I was terribly ill, I’ve never done just the minimum. I always do more, and sometimes way more. Sometimes a thousand or two thousand words.

I’m 15 days in with no misses, and it seems pretty do-able to keep going for a year like this.  That’s my real goal. Resurrect the writing habit. Make writing and the  tiny sub-habits surrounding writing automatic.

Instead of making glorious, insane goals, and then having me and my sun chariot careen drunkenly into Mount Olympus, I’ll just keep plugging away and see how it all works out. One step at a time.

No magic here. No super secrets. Just slow, consistent grind.

The Hallelujah! Booth

So… How am I increasing my productivity? Well, there are several techniques I’m using, but here’s a really simple one to implement…

The Hallelujah! Booth

I get this idea from Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the source of most commercial fiction/movies plot structure as we know it. His idea is that you  a “Sacred Space” and a “Sacred Time” will nurture your creativity.

This is the space you have that is dedicated to you and your creativity. You go here to create and to do. In my experience, this is perhaps the easiest way to start making time for your writing habit, and teaches your brain that there is a time of day to be creative. That said, you don’t HAVE to have one. Jay Lake, one of the most productive writers I ever met, wrote anywhere anytime.

But I do have one.

So what’s my sacred space/time? It’s a specific booth at Chick Fil A that I show up to before work. I put in a solid hour of writing, and sometimes, if i get there early, a little more. The weakness of this is that 1) Weekends as a whole are difficult, since I don’t go to work those days, and 2) Sundays are really hard, since Chick-Fil-A is closed. But I’m learning to work around that. Slowly.

Whether yours is midnight in your closet or mid-day in your car in the parking lot of an Office Max, defining a sacred space and time will get your habit rolling.

Writing lots of words!

So, I mentioned recently that I’ve been researching productivity and how to speed up my writing. Well, it’s been going pretty well. Actually, I’m lying.

I’m bouncing with joy at the results!

–Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics–

Here are my results. As always, statistics should be taken with a grain of salt:

  • 51,780 Total Words for the entire month of January, 2016
  • Writing
    • 26,747 new words
      • all before Jan 16, when rough draft was complete
    •  2578.2 average WPH (words per hour)
  • Editing
    •  22,276 words edited
    •  869.7 average WPH

The remaining words fall into a misclellaneous bucket of brainstorming, plot noodling, etc.

–How Many I Keep–

I keep getting this weird question, over and over: “But how many do you keep?”

This is a weird question, that seems to assume that more productivity is worse productivity. I’ve actually seen a reverse trend. I’m getting out lots of words, and while they might not be perfect, I have, out of 17 scenes written with the process, only tossed half of one in the garbage.

…And that was a really complicated fight scene.

…And what I threw away gave me a much firmer grip on what needed to happen and what order.

So no real words lost. Instead, mostly, I end up expanding the words.

–Some Cold Water–

This is nothing compared to some authors, who get 10k words per day on a consistent, repeatable basis. I can only dream of getting there.

I’m currently at about 3-4k per day for new words, and 700-1.9k for edits.

That said, I’m doing pretty well, a lot better than any time I’ve had before. It’s massively more productive than the 0 words a day I had been getting, that’s for sure!

And, fingers (and toeses and noses) crossed that I’ll get better! Especially on my editing speed!

New Writing Exercise: TV Episode Breakdown

This is a fairly common exercise, but if you haven’t run into it before, here you go:

1) Pick a TV Show you like, or at least that you are interested in learning about
2) Play an episode in a medium where you can pause it
3) take notes on the high level what-happens and the emotions that occur; if there are commercial breaks, mark these, as they are often act breaks.
4) When the show is done, go back through your notes and see if you can identify patterns, structure, and what was good about the episode

Be warned, this can be very enlightening. Too much so.

I did this to an episode of Bleach once, and now all the combat-escalation based Anime are easy to predict.

Back in the House; back to writing

The House

We are back in our house at last, recovering from the house fire. Everything is new and shiny and uncluttered and just about perfect. For the first time in my life I am not surrounded by books in every room, and it’s surreal and unsettling like I’m surrounded by a vacuum and might be pulled in at any moment.

But the lack of visual clutter and massive to-read piles that I will never actually read: that is relaxing too. Honestly, it’s a relief to be free of all the mess, and of most of the books too. Many I miss, don’t get me wrong; they are treasures beyond compare. But the vast majority were simply self-imposed duties I could not fulfill, weighting down my artistic conscience.

Really, I like the new place. It’s much better than the old place. Minimalistic, with only what we need.

We even have a new fake Christmas tree, and the needles aren’t even melted 😉


After two years of successive tragedies (the death of my mother, my grandfather, and my wife’s grandfather one year; the burning down and rebuilding of my house the next), I am finally crawling back into writing.

All the time I spent exploring plotting seems to have paid off. I am developing a pretty good plot that I love (shock! awe! when did such a thing ever happen before with pre-plotting? Never!). Also, I’m doing some pretty fun world building.

My actual writing skills are quite rusty, and I don’t like the words I am making, but I wonder if I should really worry about that. Once I have the plot, characters, and scenes nailed down, and I iterate through the book, the rust should be mostly gone. Then I can turn around on the rewrite and really polish the style up.

It’s nice to be optimistic again about the writing. I guess it takes a while to get your feet back under you after being bulldozed down so many times.

As the great philosopher Chumbawumba once said, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”



I will be appearing at ConDFW this weekend, 2/19/14-2/21/14

To my (tiny) fan base (and to my much larger group of friends):
I will be appearing at ConDFW this weekend (2/19/14-2/21/14). Come check it out!

My panels:

Friday 6p-7p: The Foot is Mightier than the Pen
– Me and Adrian Simmons show writers what real martial arts looks like.

Saturday 4p-5p: Star Wars vs. Star Trek
-I will be on the Star Wars side.

Sunday 11am-Noon: Mining for New Ideas
– Where to find new iedas for your writing.

Looking without looking, seeing without seeing

When you look at a field, what do you see? Do you see “green” or “grass” or even just “field”? If so, you’re not really looking.

I am looking at one now, and I see at least five to ten different shades of green, at least 3 different shades of tan and brown, and everything bit of grass, living or dead, at a different length. Even grasses of the same species look unique. They clump together, run in strips or curves, and the leave huge open spaces. Fate and randomness has textured like the rind of an orange.

This field was once a building, a vast warehouse, and the foundation of it is still there underneath, and there are tiny bits of rubble just beyond sight. The bulldozers scraped the whole surface clean once, long ago, and so the field always looks like it has been plowed for crops where their teeth dragged and then overgrown even though it has never been plowed before.

But what really amazes me are the bushes. You don’t even see them when you look at this place at first — you look and you see “field” and that’s all, and all the bushes disappear from your eyes because you see a category, a shape, an abstract object instead of the thing itself. It is cruel and heartless dominance of the abstract over the real.

Really, it’s like Plato and Aristotle had it all backward, that the abstract, perfect world of “forms” is not a thing beyond or behind reality, but an instinctive creation of the mind, a simplification that the brain resorts to in order to be able to process all of the data and sort it and organize it in a useful way. The “shadows on the wall of a cave” are not the physical world at all, but the cognitive system of grouping, classification, and ordering that our mind uses to construct meaning.

Reality is always complex, textured, nuanced, with layers of history right there, visible under the surface, between the bushes and the blades of grass, but the mind cannot handle all of this information at once. It is too much. It is not useful, not relevant to survival or thriving, and it is discarded. And that is the way it should be. Usually. But sometimes you need to turn that filter off, and you need to see what is actually HERE.

Because sometimes the “perfect form” is not enough.

Because sometimes you need the truth, with all its various shades.

Because… sometimes… the world is beautiful.

Deliberate Practice Writing Drill: Practicing Compressed Description

Deliberate Practice is the path to mastery: breaking down an art, sport, or craft into individual skills and training each of those skills independently.

Continuing on my Deliberate Practice Drills for Fiction Writing series, I present a drill designed to help focus descriptive powers.

Set a five minute timer (or if you’re really fast, two minutes). Look around, pick and object, describe it:

  1. Capture the look of it as fast as you can
  2. If you have to, instead of describing the whole object, focus on one detail
  3. Stories are emotional journeys; every object in fiction should have some emotional impact on the reader, so try to realize some emotional truth, shade the description with an emotive tone, or even personify the object.
  4. Keep it short, one sentence to one paragraph, and definitely no more than three paragraphs even for the most complex scene.
  5. Repeat this at least 3-5 times in one session.


  • This is not about writing a story. You do not need characters, setting, pr any sort of plot… Unless you WANT them 😉 Be true to the paragraph. Don’t hold yourself back.
  • If you get done in time, feel free to go back and tweak it a little. Play with the words. But move on when the timer goes off.
  • It doesn’t have to be good. This is about practice, about learning. About developing skill. My example below I am torn about: Is it good? I don’t know. It is as good as I can get it within the confines of the time limit, but that is all.


He sits at his desk and stares hopelessly at the mousepad. The mousepad is him. Worn, faded, bulging in the middle. He remembers it once bore a Picasso sketch of a bull charging, but every trace of it is gone, worn away by time and stress like the man’s hair.

Advanced Tip

Instead of just doing objects, try doing the whole room or a person.

More to come!

Deliberate Practice Writing Drill: Shading Emotion in Sentences

I said before that I had several Deliberate Practice Drills to share. Well, actually, I’m always coming up with more, so could theoretically post these forever. Here’s one I used the other day, trying to increase control and precision in the emotional content of my sentences:

1) Write a very short, very rudimentary Core Sentence, like, “He was happy,” or even, “She ran.” Subject-Verb or Subject-Verb-Object is best.
2) Write at least ten variations of this Core Sentence. Each variation must contain the Subject, Verb, and (if there is one) Object of the Core Sentence. Remember, the goal of this exercise is EMOTIONAL content.

A) Focus on conveying emotion, especially changes in emotion and subtle shifts in tone. Remember, a story is an emotional journey.
B) Try to keep adjectives and -ly adverb use low. I don’t believe in purging them all, rather I suggest you treat them as your most precious jewels. Save them. Be spare with them. Overusing them just makes your writing gaudy, just as a necklace of huge diamonds, sapphires, and pearls jammed together without though would be gaudy. Rather, string them onto the line of the sentence — really, onto the line of the paragraph — only when they really make it shine.

Example exercise:

Core Sentence: “He was happy.”

  • He thought he was happy.
  • Then, one day, there came a moment where he thought he was happy.
  • For a moment, he thought he was happy.
  • Before the influenza took her, he thought he was happy.
  • Even while she was dead, she wondered if he was happy.
  • She wondered if he was really happy.
  • Was he happy? She wondered.
  • Sure, he was happy.
  • She was happy about being dead, and he was happy for her.
  • She seemed happy, and he told himself he was happy about it.
  • He was happy until night came.
  • He was happy until night came because with the night came the darkness, and with the darkness came the loneliness, and with the loneliness came the rusted, serrated edge of his soul scraping at his heart.
  • Etc.

The goal of this exercise is to drive yourself further and further toward precision, either by subtly changing the emotional tone and meaning of the sentence (ex – “He thought he was happy.”, which contains doubt, regret, perhaps a hint of willful self-delusion), or by expanding on the core sentence (the last example above).

And this is just a simple, passive sentence.

A final tip:
Don’t hold back on these sentences. Turn off your inner editor. What I mean by that is don’t be shy about trying something new, whether subtle, bold, or bombastic. Learning is about failing, and this is where you fail, safely. I’m not sure if the last example above, about the night, is good or absolutely horrible, and I’ll be honest — it doesn’t matter. I wrote it, I pushed myself in a new direction, and that will eventually make me a stronger writer. Also, my sentences are repetitive, some of them tiny or negligibly different from the ones before. That’s natural, especially at the beginning, when you are warming up, but even that is useful — sometimes a subtle, almost invisible shift in tone is exactly what you need.

More to come!