Saturday, August 22, 2015

Word Count as the Nice Motivational Gift


Scott D. Parker

I’m going to piggy back on Steve’s column from Thursday regarding word counts because I believe, as he does, that it can be a powerful motivating factor to keep us writers going.

I have used a spreadsheet since 2013 to document my word counts on all the things I’ve written. The annual cumulative word count is remarkable. It’s showed me what I produced and gave me a goal the following year to match or exceed.

When I work on a novel, you get the same thing in a microcosm. I’m going to share my August spreadsheet as it was yesterday morning for an example.

NOTE: at this point, I’ll state that my goal every day is to write. I haven’t missed a day this year. Some days were barely 100. Others have been well above that.

I use a modified version of a word count spreadsheet* developed by the SF writer Jamie Todd Rubin. I don’t track everything he tracks (I don’t do time, but I should) and I add a few columns (far right.) Based on Rubin’s desire for automation, this tracker calculates words in a Google subfolder (for the details on how it works, see Rubin’s site). So, every night, when I’m asleep, Google wakes up, adds everything up, and spits out the new number in the spreadsheet. The first thing I get to see every morning at 5am when I write is the word count achieved the previous day (the column with “Title” in the header). It’s a nice kind of parade every morning.

“7-Day Avg” is exactly that. Goal is “500” words/day. When I’m writing short stories, that’s a modest goal. Now that I’m blasting through a fantastic novel, I’m hitting that mark daily. “Difference” is how much below/above my Goal I reached on that day. I have it conditionally formatted to show green if I go 501 or above and red if I only get 499 or below.

The “Notes” column is where I can document various things, like how much I wrote in my car while traveling to and from San Antonio. The “Cumul.” column is for this novel specifically. “Day Avg.” is the daily average for this novel.

So, I’m with Steve on posting good word counts. 15 August was my personal best day not only of this book but of this year. I made a post on that. When I crest 50,000 words (an unofficial NaNoWriMo), I’ll tweet. And, when I’m done with this book, you know I’ll be tweeting the heck outta that accomplishment. After that, the next best thing I’ll be tweeting and posting about is when the book—have no clue as to title—will be available.

If you’ve toyed with the idea of a spreadsheet, I highly recommend you do it. You can use Rubin’s tracker or make your own. you will be amazed at how the word count can add up over time. Think about this: if you write 100 words a day for a year, that’s 356,000 words, or 3 novels! Anything faster than that is gravy. A spreadsheet can help you achieve your goal of writing *and finishing* a book.

*Site of Rubin's word count tracker

Discussion of how it works

LATE MORNING UPDATE! The new novel surpassed 50,000 words!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

On word counts, James, and Playboy magazine

By Steve Weddle

In November, Playboy magazine will publish my story, "South of Bradley." Country Hardball (2013) ended with a ride off into the sunset (headlights). This short story picks up where the book left off.

After I finished that book, I went to work on a longer story, one that moves back and forth between years and families. Part of that longer story became "South of Bradley." Here's how this new story opens:
Roy Alison hadn't killed a man in three years, two months, and four days.
The new book, Broken Prayer, is currently more focused than my original plan, which was to move from present, to the 1950s, to the 1930s, and back and forth. So far, this has been more than I am able to handle. It's likely that I'm not a good enough writer to do that yet. Maybe someday.

While writing, while putting ink to paper, a writer is by necessity solitary. Though I listen to music while I write (Tom Waits for the first book. David Lynch for this one.) I pretty much need the rest of the world to shut up. Maybe I'll have a map of the area in front of me. Maybe I'll have historic photographs. But I need to be shut off from this world, so that I can tune in to that one.

I try to get a page a day in the moleskine. Some days are better than others. You can follow the pages on Instagram if you have the internets where you are.

So, there I am, uploading an image of a page to Instagram. Here's why. I did a thing. I got up, had breakfast, ran or didn't run. Maybe I didn't have breakfast, after all. Maybe I just went right to the desk with a cup of coffee, pulled open the notebook and started writing. But after those couple hundred words get on the page, you know, I sit back and look at this thing I've done. The story is moving. Or maybe it isn't. I have no idea until I put the filled notebook into an envelope and mail it off to World's Best Agent, who then gives it to a typist in Koreatown, and then something something magic, the pages are emailed to me in a Word file. Then I can see what's happened. But, at that moment when I've filled that one page, I've still done a thing.

But there's no one around. Because I've shut the world out, remember? And, yet, at this point I don't want trees falling silently in the forest. Do I want to share this accomplishment of doing the thing? Uh, does the pope shit in the woods? You betcha. So it's off to Instagram.

Some people post word counts each day. I'll see "450/21,874" come acroos my internet screen. Or I'll see someone share a paragraph or a line written that week. Sometimes people will share cover art for an upcoming book.
Now I'm relieved to hear
That you've been to some far-out places.
It's hard to carry on when you feel all alone.

You know what? We do carry on alone. We have to. We're not those people who show up at the coffee shop with laptops and soy lattes so that the others will think we're writers. We are writers. We're up at dawn's crack writing luminous paragraphs. We're struggling, neck-stretched to get another page in before we crash at two in the morning, We're hiding away on our lunch break with a stack of index cards and a workplace pen. We're writers, and we're mostly alone when we're doing the thing we do. 

So when we get the thing done, when we get a piece of the thing done, hell, when we have an idea about this thing we're going to get done, we're going to share that accomplishment, damn it. Because we made a thing. And you know what? We could use a little encouragement along the way. Because we're writers, we sometimes stagger between the arrogance of creating a thing and the despair of thinking the thing is no good. Some days we're write the greatest sentences of our lives, and some days we can't understand why anyone would want to read this dreck.

I'll sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can't keep
Inside of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour

This is what we do. We're writers. And, some days, we get an email that a story we've written is being bought by top-shelf folks and will be seen by a bazillion people. And some days we email a dumb question to our agent, forgetting that it is Tuesday and she has 19 clients with books out that day, seven others with movie deals just announced, and three glossy magazine interviews with Owen. Never email your agent on Tuesday. (In the time it took me to write this post, Joelle has signed another five-book contract.)

But you know what you can do? Tweet me your word count. Facebook your opening paragraph. Because I bet it's wonderful. Or maybe it sucks. But you know what? You did a thing. While the soy latte, coffee-shop writers were home in bed or matching their trucker caps to their flannel shirts and thick, unnecessary eyeglasses, you were hand-cramping your way through that scene that had been eating at the back of your brain for a week. And you got the damn thing down on paper. Con-friggin-grats.

Post that word count. Share that sentence. Then get your ass back in the chair tomorrow and do it again. Because I'm sitting here with an empty space in my TBR pile and I've been waiting for something wondrous.

Those who find they're touched by madness
Sit down next to me.
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Moderating for Control Freaks

by Holly West

A little birdie told me that the panel assignments for the upcoming Bouchercon in Raleigh have been sent out. Though it's not yet time to announce the specifics of any panel assignments, no doubt some of my friends are on panels, either as participants or moderators, some of you for the first time. I'm looking forward to seeing the finalized schedule.

In the last few years, I've been fortunate enough to appear on a variety of panels. To be honest, I prefer moderating to simply being on a panel because I'm a control freak. Though it requires a bit more preparation, dictating the pace and topics discussed makes the panel more interesting for me and keeps my anxiety at bay.

So with that said, this week, I thought I'd share the introductory letter I usually send to my panelists:

Hello All,
My name is Holly West and I'll be moderating the panel, <Insert Title Here>. To help me prepare, please send me the following, ASAP:
--A brief bio
--The title of the book you'd like me to read and focus on for the panel
If there is any particular topic with regard to your books or yourself you'd like me to touch upon, please let me know. I can't guarantee it will make it into the panel, but I'll do my best.
In the coming weeks, I'll be reading your books and preparing the questions for our panel. To help *you* prepare, I'll be sending everyone a sampling of the questions I plan to ask, likely around <insert date here>.
I look forward to meeting you all. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Short and sweet, but it allows me the space to shape the panel any way I like.

Two suggestions for all of you who are participating on panels but not moderating: Offer to send the moderator a copy (either physical or ebook) of the book you'd like them to read and most importantly, thank your moderator after the panel is finished.

I wrote an expanded article on this topic for the upcoming issue of MWA's newsletter, The Third Degree, so if you're a member, keep an eye out.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hateful 8 and The Revenant

Damn near every time a new, good looking western comes out someone writes a piece about whether the western is making a comeback.  It's not the old days of tons of movie westerns and won't ever be again (do we really want it to be?). A list of the top ten westerns from the last decade is easy to compile because there were only 10 westerns made, you just have to decide how to order them (sarcasm). Jokey bullshitting aside this Christmas looks to be a one good for western fans with two high profile western films coming out. Take a look at the trailers and let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reader Feedback Fun

This post is loosely inspired by a recent post by Meg Gardiner. 
Here is what readers think of my books in a nutshell (as a writer you always have to take the bad with the good when it comes to reviews).

They love me:
I Have Found A New Mystery/Thriller Author to add to my "Must Read" list!
The atmosphere is dark and gritty, and this crime thriller is not for the faint of heart. 

They love me not:
What could have been a penetrating study of the psychology of serial killers doesn't succeed in Blessed Are the Dead. 

They love me:

I lost sleep because of this book. (So worth it.)
Wow, simultaneously disturbing and fascinating, Belcamino's story gives you a peek into the mind of a serial killer. And no, it's not pretty. Not at all.

They love me not: 
Didn't love it. A bit too whiny for my taste and somewhat repetitive. Not bad but I wouldn't look for more on this protagonist.

They love me:
Like the best Law & Order SVU episode you've ever seen...
This is authentic stuff, not the result of Google research and fancy wordplay. So real, in fact, that the suspense will make you glad this is an e-book so you can take it with you everywhere.

They love me not:
Not as good as some of hers
It was okay. Not as good as some of hers.

They love me:
BELCAMINO is consistently GOOD!
In the same vein and in my case, Kristi Belcamino writes books for people who have forgotten how much they LOVE to read! Please keep them coming.

They love me not:
One Star
too much a repeat of the first book, which was actually good

Writers: feel free to share your favorite bad review in the comments section.
Readers: Ditto, feel free to share a bad review you've written!