Writing Year In Review: 2021

Number of Writing Weeks: 33 out of 52

Total Word Count: 41,896 words out of a goal of 48,000

Average Word Count Per Week: 806

% of Annual Word Count Goal: 87%

Other Stats: 75 Writing Days

Who’s sad to be looking at 2021 through the rear-view mirror? Anyone? Hey, it’s okay. I certainly understand. 2021: well… it was a year wasn’t it? We can all breathe a sigh of relief now that that’s over.

Honestly, though, in spite of everything: the ongoing global pandemic, my own (thankfully unrelated) ever-present health problems, family and work commitments, and spending an inordinate amount of time with other, non-writing-related hobbies/obsessions, I have to look back at 2021 with a certain sense of satisfaction.

Did I hit my, frankly, modest goal for the year? No. No I did not. But I got kind of close. And realistically, it was the third-best year of writing productivity that I’ve had since I started tracking my writing back in 2012. It’s not where I’d need to be if I want to make it into the professional leagues, no. But it shows that in spite of everything I’ve struggled with, it’s within my grasp to make this push, if I just focus.

Which is why 2022 is going to be my year. I went into 2021 with what I knew was an achievable goal: I’d just done even more than 48,000 words in a single year’s worth of writing already. And despite falling short this year, I’m getting ready to really stretch my ambitions. But I’m re-framing my goal, this year. I won’t be setting a goal in terms of number of words on the page.

You’ll notice in my other stats this year that I actually sat down and wrote fiction on just seventy-five days out of the year in 2021. That means on average I physically put my hands on the keyboard and strung words together a little over once a week (not counting any blogging time). Some weeks I wrote two or three times in a single week. Many weeks I wrote none at all. At the end of the day, though: that’s a poor enough result for someone who aspires to be a professional author. I need to do better.

That’s why, in 2022, I’m setting a goal for the total number of times I will actually sit down and write – in any amount of words. And what is that goal? 120 days of writing productivity, in total. Broken down into weekly chunks that comes to just over two writing sessions per week. But I’m planning on giving myself some padding, and building in free weeks (because some weeks I definitely will not be writing coughhellovacationcough). I’m framing the goal as 3 writing days per week, every week, for 40 weeks in the year. That gives me 12 free weeks.

The way I see it, I can generally put down probably about 500 words per hour, if I’m prepped and ready and in the right headspace to write. If a writing session lasts, on average, maybe about an hour or so, then 120 days of writing in 2022 would translate to approximately 60,000 words of new fiction. It’s a stretch for me. I’ve never written that much in a single year. I’ve never had the stamina, the dedication, the consistency, or, frankly, consistently cooperative and fair health to make that achievable. But I’m going to do it. I’ve got to do it. One-hundred-twenty days of writing. I’ve got this.

Are you ready 2022? I’m about to grab you by the horns and take you down. And when I’m done with you, “The Book of M” is probably going to pass the 200,000-word mark, and be looking pretty good for me to write the words “The End” sometime hopefully in 2023!

So that’s the goal. But I’m going to need help to get there. Including regular accountability. I’ve been struggling to maintain this blog on a monthly cadence. But I’ve also got to do better with that. So here’s the blog plan. I want to really stretch here. I want to report on my writing goal on a semi-weekly basis. I’m going to aim to update you all – that’s right, all 1.25 of you – at least once every two weeks with my current progress toward my 120-day goal.

Who’s with me? Who’s excited to see me draw incrementally closer to crossing the finish line on “The Book of M”? Okay, let’s be real, probably not the 1.25 of you who accidentally stumbled on this blog while googling something completely unrelated, but this guy? I am so on this!


Writing Month In Review: September 2021

Number of Writing Weeks: 3 out of 4

Total Word Count: 1,461 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 365

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 37%

Other Stats: 5 Writing Days

Well that didn’t go quite as planned, now did it?

September was kind of a train wreck in terms of writing consistently. Once again my health – with respect to my tendency to be too physically exhausted by the end of the day – left me struggling to find opportunities to write. I did my level best to put words on the page, but it just didn’t amount to very much. And yet – better I wrote over 1,400 words than I wrote none at all. Got to keep putting one foot in front of the other and all that.

I actually don’t really have much to say about the writing this month. Things kind of hit a slow-down in terms of progressing the story when I stopped writing in the actual book to fill out my background notes with details about the religions and mythologies and beliefs of the different peoples of this world. I did that in part because I planned for the characters to have a brief but enlightening discussion about their comparative religious ideologies.

When I finally got back to the story, that discussion didn’t unfold quite as I’d planned. And that’s okay. The key, I realized, was that the story itself keep moving, and keep readers engaged. And if that means that there’s less “comparative religion” in the story than I’d intended, but the final result keeps up the pace, then so be it. Certainly, I don’t want to bring the story to a halt and bore the readers.

In fact, this discussion was planned to occur at a point in the story where there’s a bit of a lull in the action, immediately after a (hopefully tense and engaging) action set piece. What happened then is the characters who survived the action scene think they’re getting a moment of rest, but I ended up introducing what I hope was a good amount of tension as their religious differences came to the fore.

And that’s where I am, now. Next up: my main character is set to learn more about the other characters, which hopefully drives her to make some crucial decisions.

Until next time! Keep writing, keep reading, keep living!

Writing Months In Review: May – August 2021

Number of Writing Weeks: 11 out of 19

Total Word Count: 15,053 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 792

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 94%

Other Stats: 26 Writing Days

I have not been good about keeping a monthly cadence to my writing updates, have I?

It’s been a on-again, off-again few months, really a roller-coaster ride of writing. Lots of times when I was able to buckle down and really crank out the word count. And lots of times when I succumbed to the various vagaries of health and other such limitations and just… didn’t write. Most of the time… if I didn’t write at least once during the week, it’s because I hit a wall of fatigue in the evening hours when I typically do my writing and JUST. COULD. NOT. STAY. AWAKE. I don’t usually like writing about my health. Maybe it’s because I’m a private person. (I’m an introvert.) And maybe it’s because I prefer to pretend that things are fine. (They aren’t.) But, it is a health issue – among many that I struggle with – and it’s one of the hardest on my writing, not least of which is because it’s been nigh impossible to properly diagnose, and therefore the hardest to treat and manage. In the end, I strongly suspect that some of the medicines I take for other health problems are having a soporific side-effect that has proven extremely difficult to treat and manage. But this isn’t a health blog. It’s a writing blog.

As I write this I’m currently sitting at about 14,200 words for the four-month period of May through August – a mix of writing in the Novel and writing notes and supporting documentation on my RPG game design – and with a few days left to go in the latter month. I’m still hopeful that I’ll be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get some writing in during these last few sultry days of August.

I’m not overly or unrealistically optimistic, mind you, seeing as that chronic fatigue issue has been especially prevalent of late; but the fatigue comes and goes sometimes without rhyme or reason. It doesn’t generally respond to or correlate with the amount of sleep I get. Instead, it seems to strike at random and over prolonged periods during which I regularly “crash” every evening, having lost any capacity to contemplate any activity other than sleep. Then, just as mysteriously, it’ll clear up for a time and my ability to push through and engage in any activity – not always writing – improves. The good times usually give me an extra hour, maaaaybe two each evening. So, it’s entirely possible that the remaining days of the month will mysteriously turn out better on the fatigue front than it has been lately.

On the bad days, I begin to despair of ever even finishing just this one book, much less the dozens of other ideas I have for novels, short stories, series, and so on. How I reason, can I ever even hope to finish all this work if I can’t stay awake long enough to put in at least some writing time on a regular basis? Never-mind that I ever get even the first thing published in this state. It’s a hard fact. The health problems aren’t going anywhere, and even the doctors are left scratching their heads and shrugging and throwing drugs at the wall to see what sticks and what bounces off.

In my dayjob I’ve been given this amazing opportunity to participate in series of Coaching sessions on building personal resilience. Of course, the first and primary reason for the opportunity is that a resilient and emotionally stable and engaged employee is, in fact, a more productive, creative, and useful worker. But the benefits of personal resilience can have ameliorative and salutary effects in one’s personal life too. Until I get published and writing becomes my actual career (or, at least, a secondary career) my personal life includes writing (and game design!).

Applying the lessons learned (thus far), one of my immediate goals is to be able to identify negative thought patterns that fall under the general umbrella of “Cognitive Distortions”, to label them, and to shift the thought pattern toward a more fact-based foundation. In this case, it goes like this:

My thoughts:

Because of my health problems I can’t write. Because I can’t write now, that means I’ll never finish. If I never finish, I’ll never get published. If I never get published, then I am a failure at the one thing that is most important to me personally (outside of my family). If I fail at that, then I am a failure as a person.

~Me, following the train of thought from it’s impetus to what seems like its logical conclusion.

I can identify and label that thought as a cognitive distortion of the “overgeneralizing”, “all-or-nothing” variety. To reframe it and shift it, I could look at the situation a little more dispassionately, thus:

My health problems are preventing me from writing in this moment. The health problem does not define me, and over time it can be managed, at least some of the time. Maybe it’s not managed today, but tomorrow is a new day. I can still finish this novel, even if it takes me a few more years. And if I finish this novel, I still have a shot at trying to get it published. And even if I never get published, I’ve only ever truly failed if I give up.

~Me, pushing myself to reframe my thoughts despite a very strong inclination to prefer the prior thought pattern as being more consistent with reality.

This is, in fact, an excellent example of what it means to capture and reframe these negative thought patterns and cognitive distortions. In the short term, I don’t know that I really believe the reframed thought. But, with time, it may be enough simply to think it and to repeat it as something of a mantra or an affirmation. By capturing the negative thoughts and forcibly reframing them, regardless of whether I’m feeling it at an emotional level, I hope to train my conscious mind (and, through practice, my unconscious mind) to automatically favor the more positive and edifying trains of thought.

And, because I’m a writer and I think best when I’m writing… I’ll probably be doing some of that here in this blog. I’m putting this out in the open. I may struggle with multiple, often difficult to manage health deficiencies. But that does not define me. It’s legitimately hard to take a positive view sometimes. But I’m counting on being able to change this with practice. Because I need this, for me.

Still to come on this blog: hopefully more positive and edifying reframing of my often negative thought patterns. More learning about resilience. More about my writing: what I’m currently writing, what I plan to write someday, and so on. And more about my game designs. I have plans to share snippets of my first draft work-in-progress on my novel. Snippets of short stories I’ve written. Musings about tabletop game design and game mechanics. And more consistent updates on my writing progress. It’s time I reframe this blog and turn it around from a ghost town overrun by gale-tossed tumbleweeds and build up more clear, more focused picture of me and my writing life. Sometimes with the warts, sometimes with a little cognitive “photoshopping” and reframing. But always the truth. Until next time!

Writing Months in Review: March & April 2021

Number of Writing Weeks: 5 out of 8

Total Word Count: 10,407 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 2,390 words (March) vs. 212 (April)

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 239.0% (March) vs. 21.2% (April)

Other Stats: 18 Writing Days

A Tale of Two Writing Months

It was the best of writing months. It was the worst of writing months. It was the epoch of great productivity. It was the epoch of great writer’s block. It’s weird because in the end these two months end up averaging out to something more or less just an edge better than “meh”. Which is to say that despite basically not writing at all for the entire month of April, still come out ahead of my monthly word count goals year-to-date. There’s just one teensy little caveat.

You see, despite writing more than two month’s worth of word count in March… I didn’t write a word of fiction. Nothing in my novel. Nothing in my worldbuilding and background notes. It was all, 100%, game design writing.

That’s just what I felt the desire to write, anyway. I was feeling mildly blocked with the worldbuilding stuff, and the game design stuff was just calling to me fiercely. It was the path of least resistance, and I just ran down that path like an Olympic sprinter. Well, at least, more like an Olympic sprinter than my usual writing speed.

April was another story. Physical exhaustion and other complications set in, and I started to feel blocked with the game design efforts, and I just didn’t have neither the time nor the energy to push through the two blocks. So both works sat fallow for pretty much the whole month.

Things are getting a little better so far in May. And the good news for my novel: I started to find my voice again, and started filling up my worldbuilding notes with more of the details that I’m going to need for the upcoming scenes in the novel. On the other hand, with respect to the game design efforts, I’m still more blocked than not. Plus, it’s at a stage where I need to figure out some game mechanisms and think about the moving parts and how not to make it all so complicated that it’s unplayable. Streamline, streamline, streamline. Still, both efforts have a long, long, long way to go.

I just can’t think about that part. That way lies worry and fretting and depression, and that’s not good for the word count. Sure, yes, it’s going to take me years to finish either or both of these two projects. That’s just reality. But I can’t dwell on it. I just have to keep pushing ahead the best I know how.

So the plan going forward? I want to make meaningful progress on both these projects. But instead of going full steam on one then hitting a block and switching to the other, I’m going to start proactively switching between the two projects periodically. A day or two writing stuff for the novel. A day or two writing stuff for the game. That way I start to feel like I’m making progress on both projects. And that will make me a happy writer.

That’s all there is to say for now. Time to get back to writing.

Writing Month in Review: February 2021

Number of Writing Weeks: 4 out of 4

Total Word Count: 3,190 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 798 words

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 79.8%

Other Stats: 10 Writing Days

February was kind of an odd month. I wrote something every week in February. I wrote on more days total than I did in January. And yet I wrote less in total than I did in January, and fell a bit short of my monthly goal. Looking back on the month, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happened and what the overarching theme was, but I do have a thought or two about what might have happened to me. I won’t belabor the blog with lurid tales of my health struggles; for certain I’ve mostly been as well as I ever have lately, with one notable exception. Suffice to say that I’ve struggled with aspects of maintaining my wakefulness and energy levels even when I’m otherwise quite well. Which is to say: I was too tired to write much most evenings in February.

The other big theme of February: my mentally switching gears from my novel and backstory drafting to game design stuff. I didn’t intend to lose track of my novel and its backstory. But I guess after you’ve written profiles for some dozen-ish imaginary deities in the story, the mind starts to want to move on to something new. I’m not done with the mythology, cosmology, and religious dogma yet – not by a long shot. But I think I needed a rest from writing the dating profiles of the gods. (“Likes long walks along the firmament of the heavens and conceiving whole galaxies.”)

Which means the latter half of the month, where maybe two-thirds of my writing happened, were almost all spent drafting up stuff related to a long, long, long-gestating tabletop roleplaying game design I’ve been tinkering with. That may not be a great use of my time… I lack a traditional tabletop roleplaying group on whom to test out these design efforts of mine. There are the munchkins, who do love RPGs, but of the more kid-oriented variety. B.T., the elder, has recently started in with D&D with a group of students from school, so there’s that. But I don’t expect to be testing out my “Serious RPG Creation” (tm) on the little guys any time soon.

Speaking of that half-baked RPG idea of mine, well… whadayasay we talk about it a little more. I’m currently code-naming it the “ERA System”, where ERA is an acronym for: “Epic Roleplaying Adventures”. Yes, I know. Super, like, deep and catchy and pithy and all that. It does have a real name, but I’m happy enough calling it “ERA System” in public for the time being.

So what is the ERA System? It’s a beautiful mishmash of RPG game ideas I’ve culled from exposure to a variety of new (to me) and exciting, possibly even cutting-edge RPG concepts that first appeared in a variety of other games but which, to my knowledge, have never before been joined together into a single game. Talking about it in any more concrete terms – to an audience not already familiar with the massive world of RPGs outside of D&D – would require me to do a bit of a dive into the recent-ish history of independently published games. I might try to do so, but not in this post. All you need to know for know: ERA System is being designed with one goal in mind, and that is to emulate as accurately as possible the feel and experience of reading an epic fantasy novel captured in game form. By which I mean, the continuity of literary genre that encapsulates both great-grandfather Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, through and including more modern fare such as the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, and about a hundred other books that I’ve yet to read as my to-read pile grows so precariously large as to utterly engulf me. (Seriously. Check out my Goodreads profile…) The tropes and archetypes of the genre are my guiding light with this project.

Anyway, a part of me knows I need to get back to the novel if I’m going to meet my long-term goals of finishing this behemoth. Another part of me says you have to write what kindles your passion in the moment, what your muse is coaxing out of you presently. In which case: continue working on the game until I get to an impasse and grow sufficiently frustrated, and my longing to write the novel grows ever stronger and I feel drawn back to it. Which could be next week. Or could be in three months.

What do you do, friends? Stay steady, focused, committed, and resolute on a single goal – and a single project – at a time? Or hop from project to project and back again as the muse moves you? I can’t decide for myself which is better.

And besides that, is there any interest, in my meager, anemic following in discussing more of this ERA project and its antecedents to which I’ve alluded?

Sound off in the comments. I commandeth Thee!

Writing Month in Review: January 2021

Number of Writing Weeks: 3 out of 5

Total Word Count: 3,985 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 797 words

% of Monthly Word Count Goal: 99.6%

Other Stats: 5 Writing Days

Not a bad start to the year, don’t you think? Not actually 100% on goal, but as close as can be! And considering that I can literally count the number of days I wrote in January on one hand… well, I can’t argue with the final numbers for the month.

The truth is, January was actually kind of a sad month for writing. Literally only 5 days out of 31 that passed did I sit down to write! That’s not ideal. It’s only by chance that I managed to be sufficiently productive when I did write to get so close to my goal for the month.

As for what I’m writing: you may recall (if you follow this blog for more than the last five minutes) that I was debating what to do about the next chapter in my book. Well… I made a decision. I decided to put a pause on the book itself to focus my writing and creative attention on some of the back story. Not that I don’t have literally thousands of words worth of back story already. But I’d written literally almost nothing about the gods and goddesses worshipped by these people, which is an incredible oversight on my part, considering that the clash of different religious ideologies is one of the central themes of the book.

Pretty much the entirety of what I wrote in January are descriptions of some of the different gods and goddesses of the major pantheons of this world. Next will come some of the various customs, rites, festivals, rules, social structure and other trappings of religious systems. Stuff that should give the text of the novel some much needed depth and life. And something for the characters to argue about.

That was January. With any luck, I’ll finish this new back story stuff some time in February or March, then get back to the novel proper. But that means sitting down and, you know, writing. With that in mind, I bid you adieu as I get my fingers cracking that keyboard with some more back story!

Writing Year in Review: 2020

Well, it’s another year over, and a new one just begun! That means it’s time to look back at my year in writing, and see how I came out against my goals.

Number of Writing Weeks: 38 out of 52

Total Word Count: 49,892 words

Average Word Count Per Week: 959 words

% of (Adjusted) Annual Word Count Goal: 104%

Other Stats: 86 Actual Writing Days in 2020

Against my original goal for the year of 24,000 words, that’s a pretty amazing trick, isn’t it? Not so amazing that I’m anywhere near finishing my novel, but 2020 was a huge leap forward in that direction. I mean, just look a that beautiful progress bar (in the upper-right-hand panel). It’s OVER 50%! For really reals!

Now… it would be even farther along if November and December hadn’t happened the way they did. What happened in November and December, you may ask?

The Board Game Design bug sort of took over. I ended up spending a large amount of my free-time – time I ordinarily would’ve spent writing my novel – digging my creativity into a board game design project. It’s not my first attempt at designing a board game. It’s not even my first time getting really excited about a board game that I was designing. It’s not even the first time I was nearly convinced this was the one that would go all the way to getting published.

But it is the first time I’ve said it out loud.

And it’s the first time I’ve wanted to start talking about game design out in the open… like… on this blog and everything.

So here we are, at the beginning of a New Year. A time when people traditionally set goals for the year ahead. And I want to take this moment to frame my own goals for 2021. My goals for writing, for game design, and for this blog.

First, I want to start reframing this blog. No more am I “Stephen Watkins, aspiring fantasy author”. Instead, I have become “Stephen Watkins, aspiring fantasy author and habitual game designer“! I’m not a deep-think theorist when it comes to game design. But I expect to discuss my designs more openly going forward – be it board game, role-playing game, or what have you.

Second, my writing goals. I intend for 2021 to be another fully productive year of writing even with the game design thing hovering around here. So I’m going pretty aggressive (for me): all the way to 48,000 words at the outset – be it on my novel, or supporting notes, research, and documentation.

Finally, my game design goals. That one’s seemingly pretty straightforward: get Grimm’s Hollow – the game I’m designing – fully out of my head and into a physical prototype that we can get to the table and actually play and see if I’m onto something. I’ve done a lot of prep work for that… but I’ve yet to get all the way to “physical” yet.

There is one little complication here. Two, actually. BT and VR – or Youngling #1 and Youngling #2. Both of my boys are keenly interested in getting their own game design ideas printed and prototyped and played. And, being the kind of father that I am, I’m bound and determined to help get theirs to the table first. That said: their games are their visions, and it’s a careful line to tread between being a helpful father and accidentally taking over for them. Which is to say: if they want to make this happen, they need to put in some elbow grease too.

Working on these other two game designs constrains the time I can spend on my own game. And that’s okay.

So long as I get my writing done.

So look to this space in the coming weeks and months to hear more – not only about Book of M (which I continue to call thus because it lacks a proper title; I’ve yet to come up with a title I feel attached to), but also about Grimm’s Hollow, and game design more generally. Let’s see where these parallel journeys take us!