Moving Forward

Well, this is the second week in a row I rolled into the weekend without an idea of what to write about. Hopefully this is not a trend.

Again, I’m facing a bit of inertia, as I once wrote about. The situation is that I am, in a sense, in between projects. There has been more than a bit of uncertainty for me for at least the past two years. Unfortunately, the work I did to get my first novel out stalled over the past two years due to both the COVID situation and my moving away to a new location. I’ve been trying to find my footing ever since.

Also, the uncertainty over what I was going to be doing this fall (teaching or not teaching) was sort of weighing on me. I’ll be honest, I sort of bugged out between June 4 and July 4 of this year after I finished up the school year. I was looking forward to actually getting things done… but, as I detailed, I have to admit that I didn’t use that time wisely. i think last year in the classroom, for many reasons, was very tough for me. I was prepared not to teach full-time and instead to tread water as a substitute (and substitute teachers are in big demand throughout the state, especially due to COVID absences). However, I managed to find a job at a small school district near my home… and I’m enjoying the classroom this year. I think it is a good environment and that is good, although once again I am back in the teaching bubble where I end up noticing little but the classroom and everything supporting that work. Working as a teacher and commuting to work can quickly dominate your life, but things are still much better for me now.

Now, I have to consider what is next for me. There are a few things I am facing.

  • You may remember that I have a project that longer readers of my blog, or readers willing to go back and read my older work, might remember as Project A. This has been written, revised, and professionally proofread. With the lone exception of one last small revision and some slight editing on one issue, this is ready to go.
    • I like the project very much. I have at least two other ideas to make this into a trilogy. But, as I’m considering whether to submit it to any publishers – I’m just dreading the long, drawn-out process. And, I’m seriously wondering whether I shouldn’t just try and go the self-publishing route, which I have long considered but I have never tried.
    • Right now, I’m sick of my inertia on this. I just need to get moving on seeing what it would take to get this published on my own because I’m really tired of calling myself a writer and I’ve only done one book that has been published.
  • For the past couple of years, I have been concentrating on fan fiction projects. This has been something that has revived my interest in writing and has been an irreplaceable experience. I’ve connected with so many readers and fellow writers, and discovered so much great fiction that isn’t in traditional publishing. I’ve really been amazed with the response that readers have given my work, and I will always treasure the opportunity I have taken.
    • However, I do think I need to give some more priority to my original content (OC). I am hoping that after I finish up some parts of the series I am working on, I will reduce the amount of time I am working on those projects. I am planning on continuing to write some stuff on AO3 (the main fanfiction site I use), but it will not be my main creative focus. I do think that the particular fanfiction I have been working on (A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones) has given me a strong interest in producing some of my own fantasy writing.
    • I also need to finish reading Lord of the Rings. I started that early during the pandemic and I let that fall through the cracks. Maybe I need to add it/adapt it to my podcast that I just started.
  • Also, I need to release some more episodes of that podcast on a regular basis, similar to what I am (trying) to do with the blog. I need to sort that out, but at least I have plenty of old blogs that would be great to build up some material.
  • I need to do some research into building some email lists and how that can help with promoting my writing. That I need to do more work on.

There’s plenty of stuff I can be doing… but I’ve learned the hard way that trying to get too many things done in too short of time is a recipe for a disaster. So, I think I will concentrate on getting the writing journal done, writing one article about my experience with the legendary Alphasmart, and another about what I might be thinking of regarding a mailing list.

That would be a great start, I think.

Writing When You Don’t Feel Like Writing

I call myself a writer. I am a writer, in the past, now, and in the future. But there are days when I really don’t feel like writing.

There were years in times past where I never wrote anything except news articles and the odd lesson plan. Those memories of the old days make me always a bit guilty when I go a day without writing.

I’m a little irritated that I haven’t done a new podcast recently. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since it’s not like I’m trying to monetize it (yet) or that I’m that experienced at it. But if I consider myself a creative person, I need to create and hustle, right?

It’s sort of like some aspects of teaching for me. There are times when I have fun in the classroom, especially teaching writing. (That likely will be worthy of at least a few later posts). However, I can take or leave having to sit down and grade stuff.

The point is that there always are things that you can take or leave about any job or any passion. Sometimes you get in the groove and can write for hours and hours. And there’s other times that I can stare at that screen and want to do anything else.

There’s times when I just need to get distracted, to be honest. Today I wanted to just relax before getting back into the groove of the teaching week. (Last year in the classroom was massively stressful for me. I’m feeling much more comfortable in my new district.)

So, I sat down for the day. I checked out the Italian Grand Prix, as I’ve started to get into Formula One this year. I watched Liverpool beat Leeds today 3-0 and saw poor Harry Wilson get his ankle done in. I saw Aaron Rodgers and the Packers get whipped, and now I’ve got Football Night In America on.

For the later part of the day, I’ve had my son back home for the day after he moved to Des Moines for a new job. I enjoyed watching the games with him and dinner, even if he snoozed through a good part of it.

And, all this time I thought I didn’t really have anything to write about. Maybe this wasn’t the perfect post, but at least I wrote something.

Sometimes that is good enough.

Writing Gear: Notebooks

OK, finally getting to this. If there was someone actually waiting me to write this throughout all Labor Day today you have my deepest sympathies. (Joke.)

I might have mentioned previously that I was probably a member of the last generation of Americans not to have access to a computer or the Internet growing up. When I first started to get ideas for writing, I put them down into what I had – notebooks. Basically, collections of paper with a waxed cardboard or maybe a leather cover if someone is lucky that you can use to write down ideas with.

The ones I had access to and made use of were the same spiral-bound, 8.5 by 11-inch notebooks kids buy every year for school and which I still see in my own classroom. Most of the abortive tries I made at fiction now reside in several such notebooks tucked away in plastic totes for safe-keeping.

For me, it was just what I had available. If I was able to get my hands on a typewriter for my room, I would have been all over that. I remember reading about L. Ron Hubbard using two electric typewriters at once to write a book and he would be using one while the other went to the typewriter shop for maintenance. (That was years before I knew anything about Scientology. And no, this is not going to turn into a Writer’s Biography piece.)

Anyways, that was just what I had, so I used it. It would be many years before I started getting desktop computers and laptops to finally start putting my writing together. I eventually strayed away from the pen world, except for when I used to take notes during my journalism days. Occasionally, I would use a small spiral-bound notebook similar in construction to those old school notebooks, although unlike them, they could fit into a hand. With that and two pens or mechanical pencils, I was set.

Occasionally I would work for an organization that would provide their own journalist notebooks that were double the size of the regular ones. They were steady, but a bit unwieldy to carry around with you. Of course there were tape recordings or digital recordings, but you never wanted to rely only on technology to carry you through in the field. If you could get it down on the page, you were safe and not have to worry about missing information.

Years after those journalism days I started wandering through a Barnes and Noble when I found Moleskine notebooks and fell in love with them. Shoot, if they were Earnest Hemmingway’s favorite notebooks, I didn’t see why they couldn’t be mine. I loved the construction of their leather covers, those nice little ribbons you could use for page-holders, and the elastic that kept them closed. Just good enough for a minor writing snob like me (a Moleskine devotee but one who is more into genre writing and sci-fi/fantasy than “mainstream” literature).

I guess I like the classic design best, but I’m also a fan of the really small ones they make as well. Those I can tuck into my pants pockets or even the breast pocket of my shirts or t-shirts. That makes it really convenient to use.

Of course, I don’t write novels with those notebooks, but I often write down ideas for those stories, or on the rare occasions that poems come to mind. Despite my love for new technology (I like the idea of making multiple copies of my works and words) it is nice to have something not reliant on electricity to make it work. So, I have those options always available for me.

That is, when I don’t get on my phone. I’ve got an iPhone 11 mini right now. That one fits in my pockets well, too.

What I Write With: Software (MS Word, Google, or None of the Above?)

I talked a little last week about my writing gear. I wanted to get a bit more into detail regarding writing software, and some of the choices I’ve made in the past and present regarding this.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is not quite what I started writing stuff on.

When I first got started with serious writing, it was likely in college. I went to the University of Iowa for my undergraduate studies. (Yes, it is the University of Iowa that has the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop that Hannah briefly attended in Girls. No, I sadly never got into the Workshop, which is quite competitive. I eventually decided on more of a journalism track. OK, enough of that before this turns into another Writer’s Biography piece.)

Anyway, I was probably the last college student in the USA to not have an email address, or I didn’t use it that much. Me and my future wife were exchanging actual letters, not emails and not much on the phone because this was back when long-distance calling was an actual service rather than a commodity that is virtually free now.

The point was, computers back then were a novel thing. I was strictly a pen/pencil and paper guy until I got to college. Not everyone had a desktop computer or – even fancier – a laptop. Computer labs were the big thing – our dorm had one with maybe a couple dozen late 1980’s model Macs for our use from 8 a.m to 12 a.m. or something like that.

I think they looked like this if I recall correctly.

Back then years ago, I used MacWrite. It was the first word processing program I can ever remember using. During that time many people still were nostalgic for typewriters.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As for me, whatever itch I used to have for my own typewriter disappeared the first time I fired up one of those Macs and got MacWrite working. I could format my documents, choose different fonts with a click of a mouse, and I think it even allowed me to spellcheck. I also loved the fact that, unlike with paper, it was easy and cost-effective to make however many copies of my writing that I wanted and store it in separate places. (With how often computers or external hard drives have died on me, this has been an invaluable tool.)

However, by the time I was an upperclassman at Iowa, MacWrite was on the way out and Windows 95 was about to dominate the computing universe. With that came Microsoft Word, the word processing program that I ended up using more or less exclusively for two decades.

I have enjoyed using MS Word. It basically fulfills all of the needs I have for a word processing program. You can alter it for paragraph formatting, you can keep track of your word count, and I loved it when it added the grammar feature. Anything an aspiring writer might have need of, MS Word could provide.

For a while, I had been hearing that Google was coming up with some online equivalents to the Microsoft Office Suite. I was a little nervous about relying on the Internet for access to my writings. It’s similar to the current arguments about streaming – do you really own something that you couldn’t immediately access and hold in your hand (albeit in a flash drive)?

It wasn’t until about six years ago, when I began to teach special education, that I began to experiment with Google Docs as a classroom teaching tool. They days when they carted a single computer around elementary school classrooms so everyone could get a chance to use it were long gone – ever since I began special education teaching students each have their own laptop or chromebook.

In using Google Docs, I was impressed with the ability to instantly save files, download files if needed, and everything that MS Word had done for me for years. As a teacher, I was also impressed with the ability for more than one user to access and edit a document. This wound up being an excellent way to help students revise, edit, and otherwise improve their writing. The main disadvantage, of course, is that it requires Internet access for you to get to your files.

My most recent writing set-up, although I have a Dell laptop now instead of an HP.

As of right now, MS Word is still my primary writing tool. It’s worked well for the past couple decades, and I’ve not really seen a need to change. However, I am continuing to utilize Google Docs for my writing as well. It is especially helpful for helping to back up my files, and I occasionally find myself doing first drafts of my fiction on the system.

There are other electronic tools I have made use of over the years. I used to love the Alphasmart company. Their word processors were portable, not connected to the Internet, simple and so easy to use (simple on-off switch, save as you type, and the ability to download to conventional computers). I used to have an Alphasmart Neo in my possession for years, but it eventually died on me. It’s a shame the company has stopped production of them nearly a decade ago, but I am in the hunt for a used one.

Alphasmart Neo

I’ve used some other programs to help develop my writing, taking notes, collecting other media like images and other things. Microsoft OneNote has been helpful, but again, I prefer to use the version that I can save those files on my computer. Scrivener I have experimented with, and I like the “cork board” way that you can organize notes, but I never got into using it as a pure word processing program like some writers have. It just doesn’t have as natural of a feel of a word processor as MS Word or even Google Docs.

I have heard of another suite of planning software called Campfire Blaze. I may take a look at that and see if it might fit my needs, and there might be a review of that software in the future if I go for it.

That’s it for now; stay safe everyone and all the writers keep writing.

What I Write With

There was a brief time in my youth that, obsessed with the legendary Canadian rock group Rush and Geddy Lee, and bored with just playing baritone horn in band, I fancied myself a bassist. I got myself a grey Ibenez bass and played around for a few years. I still have that bass, even though it’s been a long time since I played.

During that time, I had the opportunity to read a number of magazines devoted to the craft of guitar playing, such as Guitar World and Bass Player. At a certain point in these interviews with musicians, the conversations would inevitably turn towards what gear they used. For the guitar itself, that talk centered on what brands they preferred, whether they had a hand in helping design their guitars (like Eddie Van Halen did, for example), the types of pickups and strings they used, and the wood they liked to use in their guitars. Then they would get into the types of amps they used, what effects and digital processing equipment they used. (Steve Vai, who played with Frank Zappa, the number two electric guitarist of all time, and David Lee Roth, was known to be pretty excessive in his day with such things.)

I loved learning a bit about guitars were made and the whole reasoning behind their design. (I always liked the story of how Leo Fender created the modern electric bass guitar.)

Of course, with my interest in writing, I also would read articles about writers discussing their craft. Usually they were quite informative about the creative process, building plot and characters, and the importance of revisions and editing. They never habitually ever got into any similar “gear” talk about writing that guitarists slipped into. What type of pens do you use? Do you have a favorite word processor? None of that was really touched on.

I’ve thought about it for a while and I think it might be fun and possibly, remotely, informative to do a bit of gear talk here. I’m going to talk about that gear in general terms in this article, while I will go into further detail in later posts.

My Rig

Like I said, my rig.

You don’t need all that much to write, to be honest. I prefer laptops for the flexibility and size savings. I’m not going to need a gaming PC any time soon. You also don’t tend to need a massive desk. You just need a good flat space to put your laptop and maybe a few items to make a good desk. As you can see from the photo, I don’t have too much space but the desk I have works all right for it and fits in the space I have very well.

Software

Ever since college, I have been a Microsoft Word man. This was back in the days when Microsoft ruled the world, and it remains my preferred writing program to this day. I prefer to keep actual copies of what I write in places I can access without having to rely on the Internet.

That being said, however, I do like Google Docs and would likely rely on them if I was beginning my writing career today. There are so many opportunities to safe instantaneously and collaborate with others (maybe being more helpful as a teacher than a writer, but still…)

Also, you need to save your stuff in at least three different places if you want to guarantee not to lose written material. It’s electronic information, you can make as many copies as you want, chowder-head.

Pen/Pencil and Papery

I like decent pens that work, but I like mechanical pencils that are precise and that I can erase. I prefer using 0.7 mm lead because it usually doesn’t snap all the time and it is easy to get.

If I’m writing a lot of stuff but don’t have to worry about carting it around, I like yellow legal pads to get a lot of information down. If I want a notebook that you can carry along easily, I like Moleskin notebooks, the kind that Ernest Hemingway and many other writing artists used. (Yes, this probably means I am at least slightly pretentious.) My personal preference is for the really little notebooks that you can fit in the pocket of a pocket T-shirt. (PROTIP: You always need at least two writing utensils when you are out and about. This stems from the good old days when I was a reporter and you always needed to take good notes when the occasion called for it.)

Like I said, I will talk in more detail about my preferences and the reasons for them in later blog posts. I’m always looking for new writing topics to talk about.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 6: The importance of writing groups

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: My deepest apologies for releasing this blog Monday rather than sometime civilized on Saturday. Still getting used to the new schedule.

[SECOND AUTHOR’S NOTE: OK, it’s at 12:10 p.m. rather than 12:00 p.m. Still pretty close to what I promised, right?

[PHOTO NOTE: This is not my actual writing group, past or present. This is the first image that popped up when I did a Pexel search for “writing group.” And, there you go.

If you would, permit me to make a small detour into the world of politics.

It was in the middle of running for his second term as president in 2012 when Barack Obama got into a minor controversy over a statement he made on the campaign trail. At a campaign stop in Virginia, he was trying to make the point that rich people don’t become rich just because of their own efforts, but from the help of others, the help of government, and good fortune. He said in part:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Barack Obama

I bring up this statement not to debate its value (I personally agree with it) nor to explain why it is so. I wanted to compare this idea with another idea that has long been popular – the idea of a writer as a singular artist.

This is an idea that, if it cannot quite be classified as a cliche, maybe could be considered more like a trope. I can remember so many scenes in films, television, and (yes) books as well, scenes of serious, dedicated writers hunched over hand-held notebooks, legal pads, typewriters, or word processors. They’re always so serious, aren’t they, their isolated rooms echoing with the scritch scratch of pens or pencils, the slamming thunk thunk of typewriter keys or the tiki-tak tiki-tak of word processors. Those scenes burned into my brains so much I’ve worn out keyboards for the past 25-plus years. Wasn’t it Sean Connery in Finding Forrester who said “Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” Oh, I lived that idea for many years. It is the reason that all of my spacebars on my keyboards have some worn-off parts, as well as a few other keys.

A writer lends a person so well to being a solitary artist. Not quite sure an idea is going to work out, or if somebody else likes it? Who cares, nobody is going to stop you, right? You are the final say over your story except for those sorry brothers who agree to collaborate with one or more writers. No worries about how much it would cost to render a scene for your reader, no worries about filming budgets or payrolls for actors and crew – you can build any world you want, any characters you want, for the cost of your imagination, your time imagining, and the cost of a workable computer or typewriter if you have a real 20th Century mentality. Especially if you have a nice little writing space, you can shut everyone out and everything out except you and your imagination. You would be the classic, mythical rugged individualist as artist.

However, as Barack said at the start of all this, “You didn’t build that.” Sure, you did build those worlds, those fascinating characters, those wonderful stories. Those are your words on the screen or the page. But, you didn’t get to that point on your own.

If we look into ourselves and understand the real writing process, the real ins and outs of how literature comes to be, we know that we are not just lone gunmen spewing our stories into the ether. There were so many that got us to the point where we were able to tell our stories and share them with the world.

There were other people that helped us to be able to share these stories, these writings, with the rest of the world. It is the same for all you writers out there just as much as it was for me. For me, I admit, I relied on my fellow writers to get me to where I have gotten to today.

I specifically remember the late Aughts of 2007 or so in regards to myself. I was returning to my hometown (Muscatine, Iowa) after a 10-year stay in Clinton, Iowa, and what felt like an equally long hiatus from writing. (I was writing off and on, but in no way consistently at all). In fact, initially I just sat and stewed for a while, which I might have attributed to entering the teaching profession and getting adjusted to that. But another part of that was the fact that I was writing in a vacuum, with nobody I could turn to for advice or guidance.

It was then that I remembered a local writing group called Writers on the Avenue. There were many differences between me and the other members. I was generally younger than most of them. Many of them preferred to work in poetry or mainstream literature, and I was the crazy kid writing thrillers or sci-fi/fantasy. We had differences of opinion on a lot of things about life. But we all had writing in common.

I went off and on between not participating in the group to at one point serving as club secretary. However, the feedback I got from them all about writing was invaluable.

They helped shape what eventually became my first published novel, The Holy Fool. They also provided critiques of my other novel projects as well. It was through them that I was able to network and get in contact with groups such as the Midwest Writing Center, where I learned a lot from the seminars and critique groups they had. I was able to network with other writers and get ideas about expressing myself through writing that eventually led me from repurposing an old Facebook page I had used as part of my past journalism career to creating the blog that you see here. I even got into poetry because I kept listening to their work and finally decided to try my hand at it. Some of those poems you can find here.

One of the real downsides of moving to South Central Iowa (Chariton, to be exact), is that I’m not able to meet with those groups on a regular basis. I’m glad now that I have started to settle in and get to be part of groups such as the Iowa Writer’s Corner. I’m hoping to get together with some other writers in the Des Moines area and continue my progress as a writer.

And who knows? Since Zoom has become such a thing, maybe I can get together with some of my old Eastern Iowa writing friends without burning too much gas.

2020: A writing year in review – by the numbers

So, it’s been a while since you heard from me.

I have been writing since I went radio silent at the end of December. I will likely do a three-week recap of what I wrote next weekend.

In the meantime, I went over the numbers for this year. I also compared them to the first two full years that I have data regarding my writing output. Basically, I took a slight step back.

You already saw my first half of the year stats. Here are the second half of the year stats and end of year stats for 2020. Just as a reminder, the daily writing goals met (DWGM) percentages are the times where I met my writing quota for a particular day (either 500 or more words written or 30 minutes worth of revisions or planning). They are:

  • Jul:
    • Words: 22,905
    • Revise/Plan: 90 minutes
    • DWGM: 48%
  • Aug:
    • Words: 14,693
    • Revise/Plan: 120
    • DWGM: 46%
  • Sep:
    • Words: 20,324
    • Revise/Plan: 420
    • DWGM: 77%
  • Oct:
    • Words: 10,399
    • Revise/Plan: 480
    • DWGM: 50%
  • Nov:
    • Words: 16,966
    • Revise/Plan: 360
    • DWGM: 68%
  • Dec:
    • Words: 9,173
    • Revise/Plan: 480
    • DWGM: 57%
  • 2nd:
    • Words (total): 94,460
    • Words (avg.) 15,743
    • Revise/Plan (total): 1,950
    • Revise/Plan (avg.) 325
    • DWGM (avg.): 58%
  • 2020:
    • Words (total): 208.919
    • Words (avg.): 17,410
    • Revise/Plan (total): 4,290
    • Revise/Plan (avg.): 358
    • DWGM (avg.): 62%

It’s a bit of a fall-off from the first part of the year.

Now, the year-by-year count:

  • 2020:
    • Words (total): 208.919
    • Words (avg.): 17,410
    • Revise/Plan (total): 4,290
    • Revise/Plan (avg.): 358
    • DWGM (avg.): 62%
  • 2019:
    • Words (total): 193,881
    • Words (avg.) 16,157
    • Revise/Plan (total):  8,865
    • Revise/Plan (avg.): 739
    • DWGM (avg.): 78%
  • 2018:
    • Words (total): 53,878
    • Words (avg.): 4,490
    • Revisions (total): 8,955
    • Revisions (avg.): 746
    • DWGM (avg.): 52%

So, 2020 is the leader among all years for total words. It is lower than 2018 and 2019 in revisions and planning. It is considerably better than 2018 in meeting my quotas, but it fell off from the 2019 averages.

What might be the reasons for that? To be honest, my move this year might have caused some disruptions. Lately, I’ve been ambivalent about blogging and putting things out – I wonder if I’m getting too repetitive or considering it more of a grind than something that gives me a sense of accomplishment. The fact that I’ve been doing a blog for more than three years is an accomplishment in and of itself, considering how I would start and then abandon writing projects repeatedly as a younger person.

I think that the only thing that I can do is to try and be more consistent at writing and keeping track of it. As I said at the start of this process, I’m doing this for me, to improve myself as a writer and to keep myself accountable to myself. If I want to call myself a writer, I have to write, no matter how many JD Salingers and Harper Lees there have been out there. I don’t want to pass away and not have contributed something, regardless of whether I become a world-famous writer (hehe) or not.

I have made progress toward that goal, but as the numbers tell you, I can do a lot better. That’s my wish for 2021 going forward.

All you writers keep writing and everyone keep safe.

What I’m Working On: Start of 2020 edition

If there is one thing that I don’t have a problem with, it’s ideas about what to write about, at least from a fiction perspective.

 

I always had writing ideas, some good, some rubbish, that I’d play with in my head, work out, prewrite a couple years before committing them to an electronic file or paper. That and a lot of other hangups led me to a lot of procrastination.

At the start of this blog, I let readers know some of the things I’ve been working on. I think that it would be helpful to keep anyone reading this blog up to date about those projects, but it also helps me organize what’s going on with me, as well.

These projects cover several different genres and subjects. I have to say that I’ve always considered myself more of a genre writer than literary (and if anyone can let me know what makes a novel “literary,” I’d appreciate a definition because I have no idea what it is). Actually, I always worried about telling a good story more than playing around with words or whatever.

My Current Projects

  • Project A: This is a book about a young man who is a football player and the son of a famous college football coach who is also obsessed with soccer. I first got the idea to write about what I thought the first American Lionel Messi might be like and it turned into one of the richest characters I’ve ever written about.
    STATUS: Revised, proofread, and now ready to be shopped around.
  • Project B: This is a short novel about a young teen who shoots two of his classmates during a psychotic break. After five years imprisonment, he is looking to rebuild his life with the help of his brother, but former high school classmates start turning up dead around him…
    A former NaNoWriMo project, this is one of the shortest books I’ve written, around 50,000 words. I want to make this one nice and tight, not much longer than it is now, which I think will be a good plan for a thriller.
    STATUS: In the process of a major revision/”second rough draft.”
  • Project C: For someone who never messed around with poetry, the idea of me putting together a poetry collection is a real trip. The poetry enthusiasts of Writers On The Avenue in Muscatine were so much into poetry that I decided, starting around 2010 or so, to give it a whirl as well.
    This has led me into some interesting areas, and has been a way for me to connect to where I grew up. A big theme in this collection is the Mississippi River, how I’ve experienced it, and what it means to me. I first got the idea of this project well before I knew I was going to eventually leave the Mississippi River area, but I think it’s going to have more significance for me as I move on to other places. I don’t know if I’ll ever return to a town on the Mississippi, but I’d love to move near a big river or lake again some time. (People leaving their homes for various reasons appears to be a reoccurring theme in a lot of my work).
    I had originally decided to try to put this out as a whole project, but some recent advice from a poet I’ve met has convinced me to try and get some of these out individually. So I’m going to start looking into those markets, with the intention of getting those poems published and thus generating interest in the larger collection.
    STATUS: A full collection is only one-half to two-thirds finished.
  • Project F: This is the fantasy project I was inspired to write based on my Game of Thrones obsession. The basic theme that I’ve been playing around with is this: So, I started thinking of a scenario, of a new fantasy world, where civilizations representing the concepts of magic, chivalry, and science and progress would clash and face each other. The more that I’ve watched Game of Thrones and what they’ve done right and wrong, the more this idea of writing fantasy intrigues me, and it’s the genre that really has my undivided attention at the moment. I’ve started to look over fantasy map building sites and think about what these civilizations would be like.
    STATUS: Early planning stages.
  • Project D: This is the second fanfiction project I took on inspired by the debacle over the last season of Game of Thrones. I’m basically rewriting the entire eighth season to how I think it should have gone. I’m well over 100,000 words on the project and close to halfway through what I think the story will be as of this writing. Obviously I have no interest in monetizing this whatsoever. One of these days I’ll have to think more about why this story snagged my attention. Maybe it’s been keeping me sane with all of the changes I’ve been facing this past year.
    If you want to read what I’ve done so far, you can read this project here on Archive Of Our Own (AO3). My profile name on AO3 is librarysquatter.
    STATUS: Writing in progress.

Here’s two other projects that I am calling inactive due to my attention on the previous projects and my blog, but I’m still listing them.

  • Project R: A story of a fictional indie rock band and its history from the early 1980’s to the early/mid-1990’s, my love letter, so to speak, of the indie rock that caught my ear so many years ago. This will likely turn out to be a trilogy.
  • Project W: A thriller, just the germ of an idea. But, it’s pretty intense, pretty heavy material. This might wind up simmering for a while.

I set a lot of lofty goals for myself last year, but those crashed and burned for the most part. As I look back on the goals I set last summer, I completed one out of my six goals. I’m writing, but it’s tough getting things done otherwise. I’ll be moving to a new community soon and wrapping up my affairs in the old one, so there’s no telling what I will be able to What I think I need to do is make my goals longer term and more realistic for both what I want to accomplish, what I can get accomplished in the time I have, and frankly, what my track record is in getting things accomplished with my writing up to this point.

  • So, my goals:
  • Project A: Begin querying agents and publishers: Sometime during 2020, hopefully beginning in spring/summer/fall 2020.
  • Project B: Finish major redrafting of the rough draft (more of a second rough draft rather than a more focused revision): ?
  • Project C: None at this time.
  • Project F: None at this time, but I would like planning for this to continue when I have the chance.
  • Project D: Finish by summer 2020.
  • Project R: None at this time
  • Project W: None at this time

Also, remember that I already have a book out if you want to read my fiction.

 

It’s called The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt. It’s a journalism thriller years in the making, inspired by my past career as a journalist (I never did anything like what happens in the book, however, the world of journalism just inspired me), and I’m so happy that I’ve finally gotten it published. Get to the My Work page on this blog for all of the links if you want to find out more about it and (possibly?) buy it. But, there’s other ways you can support it, too.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask.

Writing Statistics for 2019 in review

So, I wound up doing this last year around this time and it was interesting to see those numbers. I also did a first half of the year review back this summer, so I’ll likely review my activity for the second half of the year, the year in it’s entirety, and maybe try and do some comparisons to the last couple of years that I was using similar stats to see if there are any changes.

Second half of 2019:

  • Jul:
    • Words: 3,465
    • Revise/Plan: 1,650
    • DWGM: 80%
  • Aug:
    • Words: 5,258
    • Revise/Plan: 1,290
    • DWGM: 82%
  • Sep:
    • Words: 38,711
    • Revise/Plan: 180
    • DWGM: 100%
  • Oct:
    • Words: 29,405
    • Revise/Plan: 1,260
    • DWGM: 94%
  • Nov:
    • Words: 10,474
    • Revise/Plan: 480
    • DWGM: 94%
  • Dec:
    • Words: 29,530
    • Revise/Plan: 510
    • DWGM: 79%
  • 2nd:
    • Words (total): 117,843
    • Words (avg.): 19,641
    • Revise/Plan (total): 5,370
    • Revise/Plan (avg.) 895
    • DWGM (avg.): 88%

And, the stats from 2019 as a whole:

  • 2019:
    • Words (total): 193,881
    • Words (avg.) 16,157
    • Revise/Plan (total): 8,865
    • Revise/Plan (avg.): 739
    • DWGM (avg.): 78%

So, how does this compare to the totals I saw the past couple of years? It’s definitely an improvement over last year, which was the first year that I used this format to track my progress.

  • 2018:
    • Words (total): 53,878
    • Words (avg.): 4,490
    • Revisions (total): 8,955
    • Revisions (avg.): 746
    • DWGM (avg.): 52%

As you can see, I did a much better job at reaching my writing quotas than last year. I wrote more words overall (even though a good portion of that is fan fiction, it’s still fiction, folks), only had a slight drop in revisions and planning, but, again, I made my quotas on a much more consistent basis than before.

 

So, I felt good about how my work output grew since the beginning of 2018. I might actually start developing some consistency if I don’t look out. 🙂

 

We’ll see how 2020 goes.

Wonderdraft: A Review

When I started to read fantasy and science fiction, I was always fascinated by the maps that would be included as part of the books. I have yet to get through the entire Lord of the Rings series, but I have had several looks at the map Tolkien created of Middle Earth, and it helped keep things straight for me. I saw the map at the beginning of The High King by Lloyd Alexander and I still can’t keep straight where everyone is going – it just seemed like a jumble of symbols stuck around randomly on a sheet of paper. Dune by Frank Herbert had a unique looking map, but if you have the paperback version of this, it looks like he drew it using the smallest commercially manufactured pencil in existence and a magnifying glass to do the job. I think it took me about four years to totally understand it and be able to use it to follow along with the action in the book. (I needed it, too – that’s a book that has an 18-page glossary of terms and terminology because otherwise nobody would be able to keep the dialogue straight.

In classic fantasy/science fiction, the best map I ever came across was George R.R. Martin’s one for A Game of Thrones. As I have exhaustively described in this space, I was obsessed with and then bitterly disappointed with the television series – enough to try fanfiction for the first time in my life – and I have read the first book of GRRM’s series. I’ve been nervous about diving into the rest of the book series – am I going to be disappointed again? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll have to dip into it eventually.

Anyway, I really loved that first map I saw of Westeros. I immediately got a sense of place from it. I sensed the lay of the land, where all of the great events of the book took place, and an idea of the size and scale of those events as well.

The idea of who came up with those maps was something I didn’t think about, and to be honest, when I started writing this, I have to admit I was still in the dark about it. My assumption has always been that either the authors were coming up with those maps themselves, artists created them based off the author’s notes, etc., or some combination of the two. After a quick Google search over a few articles, I was happy to see that my assumptions were more or less on the mark. I was pleasantly surprised, but not overly so, that so many of the classic authors (Tolkien, Stevenson, etc.) did wind up creating their own maps, and doing a decent job of it as well.

That was something that always intimidated me as an author. I have a few talents, but drawing and art were never one of those. My wife and daughter are the members of my family that have a clear artistic talent. I might be able to put  together some squiggly lines and something that might approach the coastline of Europe and/or Africa, but nothing  that would look respectable in a cartography book, or even my own book.

This year, I was wandering around Reddit, as is my wont to do during my off-times, and I kept hearing about a computer software program by the name of Wonderdraft. It had been around for a few years, and I kept hearing about how people were using the program to create their own maps for their fantasy novels. (Another big purpose for their maps was to serve as locations for their Dungeons and Dragons or other role-playing-games.) It appeared that this was something that was going to give me the ability to create a map without having any discernible artistic ability whatsoever? I was intrigued.

It was around $30 for a full purchase of the product, which is less than I’ve spent on some games overall, either on PC or mobile. That seemed a good price for me, especially for something that was going to have far more reuse value than most games. So I was sold on it.

Although it took a little bit of time for me to successfully figure out how to download it after my purchase, the Wonderdraft people were really helpful in explaining the process once I got stuck on something. Once you get it downloaded, you can get started pretty much right away.

Getting a map started is fairly easy, and you can find yourself creating maps that have a tremendous amount of detail, like 4K quality pictures. Size can be variable too, which is helpful if you are wanting to try and put together a map covering an entire world. Whatever fits your needs, you can pretty much set up that way.

As a horrific artist, I find the “land wizard” feature pretty helpful. I could always try and freehand land masses on my map, and there are plenty of ways you can do that with a varying size and texture of “brushes.” But that would require me to have an actual talent for brushes, virtual and actual, so for me it’s helpful to just hit the wizard and let the computer do the drawing. The great advantage of that, obviously, is that it draws all of these realistic land masses without much fussing.

Earos 1.0

(My first try after using the land wizard and some land shaping. Be gentle.)

There is quite a variety of ways that you could set up a map. Do you want to go for a more black and white or “antiqued” flavor of map? Wonderdraft offers a variety of styles and varieties that can meet all of those needs. It has both auto and manual color schemes to allow for the coloring of land for either political or geographical (with biomes) purposes. It was hard to keep track of the different colors, so I wound up writing down the color codes I used for jungles, tundra, grasslands, highlands, deserts, etc.   Again, you have the option of having a variety of “brush” sizes and styles for these purposes.

Wonderdraft  gives you the options of using a good variety of symbols for your map, especially a variety of mountain, tree (forest), buildings, and city/town/fort icons. It gives you a default color for these icons, but you can change them if you wish. For some of my maps, I wound up coloring my city/town/fort icons a bright neon color because otherwise, it was difficult for them to show up on a map with more earth tones (pun intended).

I liked the “path” feature, where you are able to draw lines that are paths across your map. You have a variety of designs for those paths (dots, dashes, arrows, horizontal slashes, etc.) and can make them into any color that you wish. As a result, these can serve not only as paths or roads, but for country boundaries, walls, and other purposes. Likewise, the water feature (adding rivers and lakes) was a useful feature, even though I think it’s easier to make lakes in land masses by using the “lowering land” feature in the land section.

Another advantage of Wonderdraft is that you can export or turn smaller sections of your maps into maps that show more detail for those smaller areas. For example, as a fantasy writer, you might want to have those smaller detail maps for locations that have particular significance in your story.

That brings me to another point, which is that I find Wonderdraft to be equally as useful in creating maps of cities and other similar-sized locations as it does larger maps. Creating cities is where the variety of symbols that are available, such as regular buildings, city walls, cliffs/hills, ships/boats and docks, castles, farmland, and similar items come into play. Wonderdraft allows you to use all of these items and modify them for your use, such as make them various sizes, group them into different appearance frequencies, or rotate them to better place them on your map.

Although the program has plenty of interesting symbols, as I mentioned before, I found the game didn’t have that much of a variety of city-type icons, especially those that were designed to be seen from the top down. I usually prefer to lay out a city map, if I have one, from a top down perspective. Thankfully, there are many different sites out there that produce icons for the game. You can download these either for little or no cost at several sites. I used a couple different sources for those assets.

There are a couple of features that I would like to see in this game. For example, the land editor allows you to move selected landmasses to different locations on the map, and also allows you to stretch out or shrink those masses, depending on your taste. It would be really useful to allow you to flip or rotate land masses as well. Sometimes I’ve found that a continent or land mass would look much better on a map if it wasn’t oriented the way it was. As it now stands, I have to get out the landbrush and try and redraw it the way I want, and you know what I said about my artistic ability.

Despite that drawback, and some difficulties I had in properly downloading the program, I was very impressed with what I was able to do with Wonderdraft. I’m able to create a wide variety of maps using different formats and looks, despite the fact that my artistic skills are limited at best. But I was able to use this tool to start organizing the ideas I had in my head onto a page and start making them more real to me. For someone who is trying to create a new world that is significantly different from the real one we live in, being able to visualize that world is an extremely useful tool for writer and reader alike.