Writing Journal 8.18.2021: A better week than the numbers might suggest

As I get closer to the start of the school year (whatever that looks like due to the Delta version of COVID), I’m quite curious about what affect it will have on my writing and work outside of my day job. I get the feeling that I might be more productive that I was during the summer. We will have to see.

As for this week, it might seem a drop from last week… but not exactly. Let me explain with the numbers.

Writing statistics for the week ending 8.14.2021:
+1,584 words written.
Days writing: 3 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 3 of 7 for 105 total minutes.
Daily WGM (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 5 of 7 days.

The week before last week, I wrote 3,986 words but spent no time revising or planning. Remember, every 30 minutes I spend revising/planning is the equivalent for me of 500 words. So, with that math, the 105 minutes I spent doing that last week is the equivalent of 1,750 words, which would give me an equivalent word count from last week of 3,334. That’s not more than last week, of course, but it is not a massive drop-off, either.

So, I will see how things go next week. So far, it looks like I’m making a good start of it, but we’ll see by next week, lol. Later.

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.

But Wait…

…I’m working on a post regarding writing software that I’ve been toying around with for a bit. I don’t think I’ll get it finished before late night tonight, so I’ll release it… twelve noon tomorrow? I’ll see if I can make it work.

I honestly think I am doing a little better trying to be more consistent with my writing on the blog and more productive. It will be interesting to see how things go two weeks from now when I am back at school – it’s my suspicion that my productivity will actually increase.

Anyway, see you tomorrow.

Writing Journal 8.11.2021: Slower but still steady as I get ready for school

Not much to discuss, so I will keep it short.

I never thought I would say this, but for once this week I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t need to have something else going on in my life to get me motivated.

In this case, it is the fact that I was returning to teaching in a couple weeks. Last year was not the best for me, but I am hoping that the new district will be a good professional home. That’s likely all that I will say about that here, but I am interested in getting back to work.

My production last week was down from the really good one I had, but I would say it was still a slightly above average week. Remember, I try to average at least 500 words per day and/or 30 minutes per day revising/planning work.

I’m trying to dedicate more to this blog as well, and was glad I had a good weekend post, although I am hoping to post on either Friday or Saturday. I’m trying to see what are the best times to get some engagement on here. It’s not something that is going to break my heart if it doesn’t happen right away… but I want to keep thinking about it.

Anyway, the stats are below. I’ve got one or two ideas for the weekend, so I’ll start working on those next. Take care everyone.

Writing Statistics for the week ending 8.7.2021:
+3,986 words written.
Days writing: 5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 4 of 7 days.

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.

Coming Up…

I got tied up, but I am planning on writing a piece to be released tomorrow (Sunday). It’ll be a quick talk about what equipment I actually use to write and could lead into some more posts getting into more detail.

As before, I could have just blown it off, but I want to hold myself more accountable. Plus, who knows, maybe people are actually waiting for me to write something.

See you then.

Writing Journal 8.4.2021: Great finish to July

I’m not going to keep you long, because I have been putting out some new post recently. However, I will have some new items to post on Friday and/or Saturday.

Well, this week was a massive improvement over the previous week. Part of it was me picking up my blogging while getting back to work on that one fan fiction project that seems to have taken over my writing life, lol. Hopefully I can continue down this path even after school restarts for me later next month.

Anyway, here’s the stats for last week. Take care, everyone.

Writing statistics for the week ending 7.31.2021:
+6,903 words written.
Days writing: 6 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 6 of 7 days.

Wow, It Has Been Four Years Since I Started This Blog

Another stylized self-pic because I hate taking selfies and this looks cooler.

Although technically, I started this blog in late June 2017, I always consider this post on 7.2.2017 as the official start of this blog. Since then, it has been my home base on the Internet.

I apologize if I mentioned this sometime in the past, but I did try this blogging thing for the first time about… not quite 20 years ago, back sometime in the mid-Aughts. I know that blogging was the cool thing to do and I had just heard about a new browser called Mozilla Firefox. I decided to join the other anonymous keyboard warriors and put up my own personal blog on Blogger (I think Google had just acquired that company by that point).

I designed it myself, wrote under an alias and wrote about everything – politics, culture, anything that caught my fancy. That was back in the days when I had plenty of great ideas but hadn’t even begun to sort out how I would consistently bring them to life.

I was having fun… for about four months. Then, as with most writing projects in my earlier years, it got abandoned. Procrastination was always an issue for me, but I also think there were two other factors involved. First, there was the fact that I was writing anonymously. I started to get a little nervous about that idea of being too revealing about myself online. The other issue was that the topics I covered were basically a grab bag of what I found interesting, and I didn’t have a good focus about what the blog should be about. Without that focus, I just floundered.

Again, I might be repeating this part of the story, but anyways… the first seed of this web site actually happened around 2014. I had essentially come out of retirement from journalism to work full-time at my hometown newspaper, the Muscatine Journal. During that time, I was making good use of social media to try and keep up to date with readers and generate story ideas. To separate my personal social media and my “professional” social media, I set up a Facebook page to use and interact with people as a journalist. I did the same with a Twitter handle.

All good things come to an end, however, and my brief journalism comeback ended by the fall of 2015 when I returned to teaching as a special education teacher. However, I had these social media accounts, and I felt like I wanted to make use of them. I decided that they would be the focus of my interests in writing – posts about writing, sharing my thoughts about writing, reposting other interesting stuff about writing.

I did that relatively inconsistently for about two years. I still have both of those accounts – I crosspost both all the blogs you see here on both pages as well as some odds and ends I find on the Internet every once in a while. (On the Facebook page, I recently liveblogged watching an episode of the Ernest Hemingway documentary by Ken Burns.) I am particularly ambivalent about Facebook nowadays and if there was a better place to be on and reach people I would shut that down. Currently, however, there is not.

So, I was having some fund with those little posts, when I said to myself, “wait one minute. It would be cool to have something where I could write longer pieces about writing, about myself as a writer. I could even put out the odd poem, story, or excerpt of something I was writing as well. Plus, I might not be tied to a larger company (or at least a megacompany) for my online presence.

Wil Wheaton is a guy that I have admired for a while – we’re of about the same age and I grew up watching him in Stand By Me, Star Trek TNG, and other projects. (He looks a lot better for his age than I do to be honest.) I also really admired how he had gotten into writing and recast himself as a creative person. In looking over his blog back in 2017, I noticed that he was using WordPress as its platform.

I wound up getting an account, started toying around… and the result is what you see here, with a few small modifications to the look and feel of the place.

This was likely the first image I used on this site. In case any of you wondered what it was, this is the Norbert F. Beckey Bridge, which carries Iowa Highway 92 across the Mississippi River in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa.

There’s been a few changes in my life since I started this blog. I continued my career in special education at several school districts, and I will soon be starting at the fifth school district I have ever taught at full-time. My two kids graduated high school, moved out for college and/or full-time work, and promptly moved back in due to COVID/real life stuff. We moved from Muscatine on the mighty Mississippi to the little community of Chariton in South Central Iowa… and it’s a nice little community. After a year of living here myself, I’m starting to get a feel for the place, as well as getting to know fellow writers in the greater Des Moines community.

One of the water towers where I live.

Finally, I wound up becoming a published novelist for the first time in my life. Although sales have been extremely modest to say the least (I think in part due to COVID and having to move), but it has been a tremendous experience that for a long time I did not think that I would ever achieve. It’s made me hungry for more success and more progress along the writing front.

The cover for my book…

So, what is next? I think that I want to continue to develop this blog more, to more consistently produce some good content for my page, and not just report on my writing totals for each week (even though that will continue to be a big part of this site, because it has helped me to stay consistent with writing and increase my general writing productivity). I want to try new techniques to promote this page and do things that might get people interested in it. Even though it will always be a writing blog, I want to get into a variety of writing subjects that I might not have touched on before or not discussed for some time. There might be some other ways to use this page to both promote my past and future writing projects and reach more people.

I’ll leave it at that for now and wish everyone a great weekend. Writers keep writing and everyone keep safe.

Mid-year Review, 2021: Not as bad as I feared, but not progress

So, I’m a bit overdue for an update on how I’ve been doing production-wise for the first part of this year. I have typically finished up a first part of the year review by the beginning of June, but I had to settle for the end of July this time. Oh, well.

If you did not know, I have been keeping track of the productivity of my writing for the past several years – since about 2013. I settled on the format that I currently use for tracking my productivity by 2018. As a result, I now have 3 1/2 years of data to compare with and see how I have been improving (or not) over that time.

What I have to report, essentially, is that I unfortunately did not have as good of a first part of the year as I did last year, which is the best of the four years I have to judge. However, despite my decline, especially in June, it is still the second best first part of the year I have recorded since I began this.

Just to go over the rules I have set myself:

I meet my daily goal if I write at least 500 words per day or plan/revise my work for at least 30 minutes a day. That would be an average of 3,500 words per week (or the equivalent time in planning/revisions, or some combination of the two.
The numbers I will show will include the total words written, the total number of minutes I spent revising/planning, and the percentage of times that I met my daily writing goals (DWGM). I’ll also give the monthly averages for words and minutes, and the DWGM average for the first part of the year as well.

And now, here are the writing statistics for the first part of 2021:

  • Jan:
    • Words: 10,764
    • Revise/Plan: 750 min.
    • DWGM: 67 percent
  • Feb:
    • Words: 17,042
    • Revise/Plan: 450 min.
    • DWGM: 68 percent
  • Mar:
    • Words: 19,396
    • Revise/Plan: 0 min.
    • DWGM: 66 percent
  • Apr:
    • Words: 12,728
    • Revise/Plan: 30 min.
    • DWGM: 54 percent
  • May:
    • Words:  16,931
    • Revise/Plan: 0 min.
    • DWGM: 57 percent
  • Jun:
    • Words: 9,991 words
    • Revise/Plan: 60 min.
    • DWGM: 29 percent
  • 1st half of 2021:
    • Words (total): 86,852
    • Words (avg.) 14,475
    • Revise/Plan (total): 1290
    • Revise/Plan (avg.) 215
    • DWGM (avg.): 57 percent

As you can see, there was a bit of a fall-off in June, and there might be a similar fall-off this month, but we’ll have to see.

Now, I will show the comparisons with previous years:

  • 1st half of 2018:
    • Words (total): 31,683
    • Words (avg.): 5,281
    • Revisions (total): 3,965
    • Revisions (avg.): 661
    • DWGM (avg.): 43%
  • 1st half of 2019:
    • Words (total): 76,038
    • Words (avg.): 12,673
    • Revise/Plan (total): 3,495
    • Revise/Plan (avg.) 583
    • DWGM (avg.): 67%
  • 1st half of 2020:
    • Words (total): 114,459
    • Words (avg.)  19,077
    • Revise/Plan (total): 2,340
    • Revise/Plan (avg.) 390
    • DWGM (avg.): 66%
  • 1st half of 2021:
    • Words (total): 86,852
    • Words (avg.) 14,475
    • Revise/Plan (total): 1290
    • Revise/Plan (avg.) 215
    • DWGM (avg.): 57 percent

I’ve secretly suspected that my tendency is to slack off during times I am on vacation, which frustrates me because I think that I should use that time well if I have it free. Maybe I find it too intimidating? Maybe I just procrastinate. Well, I’m trying to fight that procrastination over the past few days and have been doing well to get some writing done on this blog.

And it turns out that I blew past my four-year anniversary. I’ll talk about that and some other stuff this weekend, too. Thanks for checking in with me, and all of you writers keep writing.

Writing Journal 7.28.2021: Statistics can lie their butts off if you let them

I’ll make this one brief, because there’s not too much to this post.

I will say this, however. Numbers can be spun many different ways. For example, I could say that I wrote three times as many words last week as I did the previous week. I can say that I wrote 50 percent more days than I did the previous week, and I can also say that I doubled the amount of days that I met my daily writing goals. And, I would be 100 percent accurate in all of those statements.

That doesn’t mean I had a good writing week. I managed to get 1,714 words written last week. Now, if I manage to meet my goal of writing 500 words every day, I should be up to at least 3,500 words per week, so you can see the math on that.

(Or, I could make up that if I am doing some planning or revising for my stories, I should be able to include that time in my calculations.
Remember, kids and non-kids, under my current calculations, 30 minutes of planning and/or revisions = 500 words written.)

So, last week wasn’t all bad news. I think I am getting used to my new writing rig, and it gave me an idea – I really haven’t had a “tech talk” about the equipment and software that I use for writing. That might be worth a write-up this week.

And, I got some other ideas, as well. So, I might have one idea, or two, that might come out on Saturday or Sunday. Though actually, the last post I put out on Monday got some good hits. Maybe I save one for then as well? Also, I’ve hit a few milestones that I probably need to address soon, so that will guarantee me some

I don’t want to devote too much time to this blog, but I do want to write regularly and more often. The fact that I’ve actually kept this site going longer than any writing project I’ve ever done is pretty incredible.

Anyway, here are the stats, as always. I think I’m making a comeback this week. Take care, everyone.

Writing statistics for the week ending 7.24.2021:
+1,741 words written.
Days writing: 3 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 2 of 7 days.