Writing Month in Review – April – August 2020

Okay so I didn’t mean to fall off the wagon, but sometimes things happen…

Number of Writing Weeks: 14 out of 22

Total Word Count: 9,288 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 422 words

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: between 33% – 168%

Other Stats: From 0.5 to 2 Writing Days per Week

So April through June were kind of lost months. Hardly any writing at all, and looking back I can’t exactly say why that happened. Life stuff, I guess. Those writing challenges, obviously, extended to my reporting on it here. Thus, here I am, playing catch-up and reporting on the past several months all in one go.

As it turns out, July and August were pretty healthy rebuilding months – I actually got quite a lot of writing done overall. The caveat being: I’ve started splitting my writing time between the novel and another project that has recaptured a lot of my creative energy after a few years of dormancy. That being a role-playing game design that I’ve been wrestling with on-and-off for well over a decade – in fact, much longer than I’ve been working on The Book of M.

In the not-extremely-distant future I hope to start sharing some thoughts on that RPG design effort: my goals for the design, a little retrospective on how it all started and how it’s evolved, and a little insight into my current thinking on it. But that’s for later. I’m not ready to spend a lot of time blogging my game design process just yet. Rather… let’s just ease back into reporting on my writing and the progress on my novel first before I get too ambitious with this blog.

Speaking of the progress on my novel: how about those numbers? 116,000+ words and counting. Not a short novel, and as the that progress bar on the main blog page indicates, I’m still only somewhere in the neighborhood of just shy of half-way. I continue to remain excited about the way things are going – even if the details of the events are a little more, umm, detailed than my original outline calls for.

Turns out, less than 70 words of plot outline can balloon into more than 14,000 words of actual fiction! And I’m not even all the way to the end of that bullet on my outline. In fact, this one outline bullet accounts for in the neighborhood of 70% of all my novel writing for the whole year-to-date. That’s impressive, I think, for seventy little words worth of outline. So what am I to make of an outline that’s over 13,000 words by itself?

Luckily, different parts of my outline vary a great deal in the level of detail. Some sections go into a lot of detail on what’s happening, and others, like the section I’m working on now, gloss over a series of significant events very quickly. So I don’t think this 200:1 ratio is meaningful in terms of the size of the book getting out of control. I still think that 250,000 words is a realistic upper-bound on the length of the book. And if I do go over that, I should probably be looking for ways to cut a lot when it comes time to edit.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First draft first, thank you very much. Editing… after I give the dust from finished draft some time to settle.


Looking forward, what’s my timeline for finishing this behemoth? Well, realistically I’ve been at this for years now, working in fits-and-starts as life demands and energy levels come and go. Right now I’m working with a goal of 24,000 words of writing for the year 2020 – of which I’ve now written over 20,000 to-date, with the vast majority of that in the novel. (I haven’t kept very good track of my writing on my RPG design project, as I’ve gone back and forth about whether to even count that as writing…) If I can maintain that pace, which – let’s be honest, is truly a snail’s pace in terms of writing – then I can look forward, finally, to a finished first draft sometime in 2026!

Putting it in black-and-white like that… makes me sad. That’s not how I always envisioned my writing life going. What’s worse, consider how long it takes to edit and revise and rewrite! I’d wage any well-established professional author will tell you that writing the first draft is less than half the work involved in bringing into fruition a publishable final draft. Finishing that first draft: that’s table stakes. That’s the first step of a marathon.


If you’d asked me ten years ago where I’d be in my writing career by 2020, I know I’d have said I’d be somewhere between “I’ve officially sold my first novel” to “I’m getting started on my second/third/fourth book under contract”. I’d never have predicted that I wouldn’t even be done with the first draft of my first book. But that’s reality.

It’s a reality that’s absolutely depressing. It’s a reality that whispers to me: you’ll never actually get a book published; you’re just too slow; you’re just not good enough.

I don’t want to wait until 2026 to see a finished first draft of Book of M. Maybe that’s what’s realistic. Maybe that’s what’s actually going to happen. But I need to set a more ambitious goal for myself. I need to believe I can do better at writing than I have heretofore. Though the world around us is on the doorsteps of the Apocalypse, on the very cusp of self-immolation, yet I still need to believe that I can do this. Whatever happens over the next few years, I’ve got to try to be the person – the author – I truly believe I was always meant to be.

Accordingly, I know I need to set – and keep – a far more ambitious goal for 2021 and beyond. For 2020: once I’ve officially met my goal of 24,000 words, which still looks achievable, I’ll start adding on personal stretch goals, 2,000 words at a time. But after this year, I need to ramp up dramatically. My 2021 goal is going to be double my 2020 goal. I aim to write over 48,000 words in 2021. If I can meet it in 2021, then my goal for 2022 will stretch even further, until I’ve got myself in such a pattern that I can reliably produce a completed novel draft in less than two years. If I’m ever going to break the barrier between me and professional publication, I have to prove to myself that I can do that. One completed novel every two years, and maybe I have a shot at becoming who I know I was meant to be. Maybe. That is, if the world doesn’t end in an abrupt and devastating cataclysm. (To which, well, I’m not holding my breath on that count, let me tell you. But that’s an entirely different topic of conversation, isn’t it?)

So there you have it. I am going to beat my 24,000 word goal this year. I’m doing it, and I won’t let myself off the hook for it. And I’m going to push that boundary farther and farther every chance I get, month-after-month, year-after-year, to prove myself worthy of the epithet of author, come what may. And when I cross that line: I hope it finds its audience, that maybe that audience is you, and that you’ll enjoy what I’ve created.

See you here again, next month.

Writing Month in Review – March 2020

March turned out to be a really great month for writing! I’m super-pleased with my results:

Number of Writing Weeks: 4 out of 4

Total Word Count: 4,836 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 1,209 words

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 241.8%

Other Stats: 3 Writing Days per Week

Now things are really chugging along. Not that they weren’t before, mind you. But, put this in terms of the Hero’s Journey: we’re now crossing a second Threshold, initiating a new round of Tests, with new Allies, Enemies, and Rivals to be revealed.

In fact, my protagonist has just now met the deuteragonist, a character who serves as something of a foil. Both characters are, I believe, necessary to provide multiple perspectives on the main issues that drive the plot. Shortly, within the next chapter or two that I write, these two will come into conflict – neither yet fully aware of the antagonist‘s ultimate aims.

All I can say is: I hope somebody reads and enjoys it once it’s done.

Writing Month In Review – February 2020

I thought January went pretty well – I got super-close to my goal for the month. But what I could really use in my writing life is more months like February.

Number of Writing Weeks: 5 out of 5

Total Word Count: 4,125 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 825 words

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 206.25%

Other Stats: 2.6 Writing Days per Week (I had a lot less consistency on which days of the week I actually sat down to write: four times on a Sunday, twice on a Monday, once on a Wednesday, twice on a Thursday, three times on a Friday, and once on a Saturday – overall Sundays were my most consistent writing day for February, followed by Fridays.)

Taken altogether, February was an excellent month for my writing. Not only did a write a bunch – by my historically anemic standards – but I also crossed a very meaningful threshold. February was the month in which I crossed the 100,000-word-mark in my novel. That’s a HUGE symbolic milestone for me. I’ve got something real going on here: it’s a big story, and I’ve got the words to prove it.

Story-wise this was a pretty big landmark, too. While I now expect that 100,000 words will prove to be somewhat less than the halfway mark for the finished novel (as reflected in the revised word count totals shown in the right hand sidebar), I’ve nonetheless reached something akin to the book’s spiritual halfway mark. Based on the remaining outline for the book, I’m thiiiiiiiiiissss close to the point where the heroine’s journey shifts gears, where she experiences a sort of mini-epiphany and really takes charge of her story.

Up to this point, I’ve thrown a lot of evil stuff at her, tossing her from one unfortunate circumstance to the next, and never letting her catch her breath. This is not to say her character wasn’t an important driver of the plot. But her goals were small and personal, while the world around her was demanding something more of her. In terms of the Hero’s Journey, she’s been resisting the “Call” for most of the first half of the book, even as circumstances dragged her kicking and screaming into the world of adventure. But now? This week, or possibly the next, I will write the moment when she stops resisting her destiny, and comes to embrace it.

There’s a lot to unpack in all of that, of course – it seems the first half of my novel goes against conventional wisdom that the hero character should be the primary driver of the plot, rather than letting plot happen to them. But I feel this is critical for her journey. In the end, however, it will be reactions from test readers – assuming I can find some when I finally reach “The End” – that will determine whether this approach works for this story, and whether the first half stays engaging despite my heroine’s staunch refusal to accept her role as protagonist. But one step before the next: before I can worry about that, I have to finish the first draft! 2020 may not be the year I do that, but if can repeat February a few times, I’ll start to make some satisfying progress toward that years-long goal.

Writing Month In Review – January 2020

First a quick note about how I’m reporting my stats month-to-month.

The writing progress stats tracker I built (in Google Sheets), first, treats a week as running from Sunday to the following Saturday – nothing weird there. Using that definition of a week, it derives weekly writing stats for me. Then it looks at monthly writing stats.

Because calendar months don’t align neatly with actual weeks, I built a work-around to better align the two. Instead of each month ending on the last calendar date of the month, my stats tracker ends it on the last Saturday of the calendar month (with the next month officially beginning on the Sunday after). This neatly ties my month-to-month stats to my week-to-week stats – with the slightly weird artifact, naturally, that some months have 4 weeks and some months have 5.

January was a 4-week month in this system (running an even 28 days, from December 29th to January 25th).

The peculiarities of my tracking system dispensed with, it’s time for my first self-report on my writing progress for January 2020:

Number of Writing Weeks: 3 out of 4

Total Word Count: 1,957 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 489 words (652 on weeks where writing occurred)

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 97.85%

Other Stats: 2 Writing Days per Week when writing occurred (primarily on Fridays and Saturdays)

January was actually a decent month to start my Year Of Writing off with, all things considered. My annual writing goals for 2020 aren’t overly aggressive – but they’re more aggressive than in recent years. Translated to monthly progress goals, I’m expecting to do 2,000 words a month. And I’m as close to almost-on-the-mark-but-falling-short as you can be. The one week that I didn’t write was expected. (My oldest and I had a weekend trip to go to Space Camp with the rest of his Cub Scout den; seeing as how my writing is predominantly on Fridays and Saturdays, it simply wasn’t possible to put any words down under the circumstances. Regardless: it was a Fatherhood Win!)

All in all, in spite of falling juuuuuuust short of my goal for the month, I’m still pretty happy with the results. I feel I’ve set myself up for a year of success, and I’m ready to take the second half of this novel on and wrestle it into a workable first draft!

What to Expect When…

…You’re Reading the Undiscovered Author

Last week I posted for the first time literally in four years, and I mentioned that I would be blogging again more regularly as a means of staying honest about my writing progress as I try to get back into my groove and really focus myself on my lifelong goal of becoming a professional author.

So, what does that mean in real terms for the blog? How often will I be posting, and what will I be posting?

For starters: I plan to post regularly once a month. Other odd posts may creep in here or there, but the plan is once, early in the new month to report on the previous month’s writing activity. I haven’t thought out yet how much detail I’ll share – probably just the total wordcount, maybe the actual number of days in which I actually sat down to write, that sort of things.

I’ll probably test how I feel about sharing snippets of what happened in my life during that month as well. But I’ll do my best to keep it all short and sweet. Realistically, I want to save most of my writing mojo for whatever fiction I’m working on at the time – right now that’s still my code-named “Book of M” project.

As a sample, here’s a quick recap of my writing activity in 2019:

  • Total Wordcount: 11,448 Words Written
  • Writing Days: 23 Days
  • Average Wordcount Per Writing Day: 498

Not super-productive by any means. 2020 WILL BE DIFFERENT.


The Writing Rules & Rewards

I also want to be clear about my approach to writing – the “rules” I’ll try to follow, as it were. Writing is intended to take priority over a lot of ways that I could spend my time… but not over every activity.

Accordingly: activities with my wife and family – including playing board games, and rarely also including watching movies or TV with them – will always take a higher priority. Writing, on the other hand, takes priority over just watching TV.

There’s an exception to the above, however: every let’s say 5,000 words I complete in my current project, I am allowed to reward myself by watching an episode – one! – of some of the shows I’d like to watch: catching up on The Mandalorian and Stranger Things, for instance, or checking out Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and The Witcher. Yeah, fact is I don’t actually watch a lot of TV on my own, so I’m way behind on all of these shows that everyone else has already seen… What usually happens, instead, is that I end up vegging out while my wife has one of her shows on – sometimes a show that I enjoy, but sometimes a show that I watch for no better reason than because it’s on. The latter: that’s the kind of thing I want to cut out going forward.


Long story short: 2020 is going to be the year of ME. I’m going to do big things this year, and make major progress on “The Book of M“, on which I’m rapidly approach what I believe to be the halfway point. I’m so excited to be diving back into this story and this world, and I can’t wait to write the scenes that come next – scenes that I’ve been anticipating writing for the better part of the last decade!

Whatever you have planned for the year to come: I wish you good-luck, too! Let’s make it a year to remember!

Getting Back in the Saddle, New Year’s Resolutions (and Other Cliched Metaphors)

Have you ever been away from doing something for so long that doing it again sounds difficult?  Where you’re not even sure if you still can do whatever it is?  Where the prospect of even trying it is actually frightening?

Yeah.

Blogging is that way. Seriously: it’s been literally four years since I last posted here. Basically, it’s just easier not to blog. And yet, here I am, after what feels like forever, dusting this old thing off and actively thinking about regular blogging again. But blogging is not what I’m here to talk about today.

For me, sitting down to write – to really write, to write the fiction I crave to write, that I must write – after a roughly 13-week hiatus brought on by a million-and-one reasons (some good, some bad, but all unfortunately valid) is sometimes one of those scary things.  Sure, like I said, I have reasons.  Many of those reasons I am powerless to alter.  (We could argue the point, I suppose, but I’m also not here to talk about the reasons writers don’t write.)  It doesn’t matter.  Whatever the reasons, they are standing in the way between me and engaging in an activity that is fundamental to who I am.  (I’m not me if I’m not writing.)

(Apparently I’m also not me if I’m not making parenthetical asides.  I jest.  I can totally stop making parenthetical asides anytime I want.  Parenthetical asides aren’t the boss of me.)

I don’t have a magic bullet answer for this.  (This isn’t a writing advice blog.)

I guess… If the opportunity to write presents itself, whatever valid but usually insurmountable reasons I don’t often get to write there are, then I should shut up, put my but in the chair, hands on the keyboard and just, you know, write.


So I have a lot of lofty goals for 2020: get in shape, lose weight, exercise more, eat healthy. The standard list. And I don’t mean to give these short shrift – I hope I can actualize those things in my life. But my true goals live elsewhere: in my heart and soul, I am a writer.

In respect to that, I need 2020 to be the year I start taking my career as a writer seriously. You read that right: my career.

No, I haven’t garnered any publications in the years I’ve been away from this blog. But here’s the thing: I’ve long considered myself to be an aspiring author. Except there’s one thing that’s lacking: I haven’t acted as though I’m seriously pursuing this as an actual career. It’s always just been this little hobby of mine.

On the plus side, treating it like a hobby has insulated me from most of my own self-criticism when it comes to lack of writing. No big deal, I reasoned, It’s just a hobby, and I have other priorities, like my actual career, and my family, and being a homeowner. Sometimes I just don’t have time to write and that’s okay. Well, those things aren’t going anywhere. I’m still a father, still a homeowner, still a corporate desk jockey. So I still have priorities which will often supersede my writing. And when those things are done, I’m still going to need days where I just have a little downtime, when I’m not working.

But I’m changing my perspective. I’m also a writer. And that means I write. That means that when I have have the bandwidth, when I’m presented a choice between spending my “free time” vegging on the couch watching TV, or writing, I will (more often than not) choose writing.

It’s not going to be easy. Those other priorities will mean that sometimes I can’t choose to write. Sometimes, I’ll have a choice, for instance, between playing a boardgame with my wife and writing – and I’m going to choose to play the boardgame, because time with my wife having fun is a priority for me. (Have I mentioned that I’ve gotten the itch to start designing more own boardgames? Yeah. I actually have a prototype game design that I’ve printed up [it’s terrible, mind you, but I made it]. Maybe more on that later.) Sometimes, I’ll have the choice between TV and writing, and I’ll choose TV because I have a deficit of mental energy. These aren’t inherently bad things, obviously.

My point is: sometimes I won’t write when I have the time, and that’s okay. Recently, however, I’ve just gotten used to not writing. It’s literally been months since I added any real words to my novel. And diving back in is daunting, because I have to reorient myself to what was going on, reread the last five or ten pages, and as often as not that takes up all of whatever free time to write I had. Inertia sets in, and I just don’t even think about it.

That’s not an excuse. And starting now, in 2020, that’s not happening anymore.


What does this mean for my blog?

I’m going to start updating here again. Mostly just to keep myself honest about my writing. How much did I write this month? What did I write about? What did I do if I chose not to write? That sort of thing. Maybe, occasionally, I’ll geek out over something or other.

I’m not going to try to stay abreast of the industry, or comment on ongoing trends in SF&F literature. I’m not going to offer writing advice. There are other sites and blogs that do these things and better than I could ever hope to. Realistically – I’m still learning the ropes same as the rest of you.

If, however, you’re interested in me as a writer, if you’re interested in my writing: then you’ve come to the write place. Err… right place.

Welcome (back) to the Undiscovered Author.

~Sincerely,

Stephen A. Watkins


Header image from: https://pixnio.com/fauna-animals/horses/field-horse-macro-saddle-animal

Lunchbox Napkin Art Day 7: Roger Roger Robot

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Like any right-thinking boy, B.T. thinks robots are pretty cool.  Unfortunately, as young as he is, he doesn’t yet understand that the robots are poised soon to revolt and overthrow the dominion of man, becoming our new and implacable overlords.

But, hey, until the coming day of the bloody robot coup, robots are still pretty cool!

This vintage-inspired robot (with design elements cribbed from Robby the Robot, B-9 from Lost in Space, and Johnny-5) comes flanked by some Star Wars Lego robots that B.T. built yesterday.  B.T. has yet to see any of the Star Wars movies – I’m waiting until he’s just the right age to fully appreciate them – but even without having seen them he intrinsically understands that Star Wars sits at a rare pinnacle of awesome.  I just can’t wait until he finds out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father.

(Oh, yes… of course, as a proper Star Wars-loving father, my children will be introduced to these movies in the proper order: Episodes IV, V, and VI first, followed by Eps I – III.  When they’re a little older we can have long discussions about the flaws and plot holes left by the poorly-scripted and too-often poorly-cast prequels.  But first, I’ll let them enjoy the prequels, only after they’ve first enjoyed the originals.)

So, anyway, yeah… Robots!  Or Droids, if you prefer.

(Alternate titles for today’s post included “These Are the Droids You’re Looking For” and “Danger Will Robinson”.)

Lunchbox Napkin Art Day 6: Magic School

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B.T. got a “magic science” kit for Christmas.  His third such science kit (the first to have a make-your-own magic wand). He loves these things.  From last Christmas he had a wizard hat and a robe his mommy made for him.  He wears those whenever we use the “magic” science (as opposed to the regular science he did before).

So, you know, learning is pretty cool.  So is school. I think I mentioned he loves kindergarten.  Put 2 and 2 together and you get magic school.

Also, someday I expect he’ll want to read Harry Potter.

Lunchbox Napkin Art Day 5: Way Down Deep

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B.T. has a lot of favorite books among which one ought to count “Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea”, in which a young boy dives deep into the ocean and interacts with various sea creatures as he swims to the bottom where he retrieves some sunken pirate treasure for his mommy before being chased to the surface by a shark. The twist: he was taking a bath the whole time, using his imagination, and the sea creatures were his bath toys. It’s a fun kids’ book.

More recently he’s gotten into a game on his new mini tablet, as well as a related show, featuring cartoonified mer-kids and a merdog called Bubble Puppy (the dog’s name, not the show; I don’t know what the show is called).

So, I thought an undersea theme featuring some merpeople might go over well with him. Maybe it’ll go over well with you guys, too.

Lunchbox Napkin Art Day 4: Just a Griffin

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No particular reason.  Just a griffin.  Or a griffon. Or a gryphon. Or, you know, whatever.  Not exactly my best mythical creature, but see my earlier comment about drawing in ink.