Progress on Writing Goals

It’s March already! At the start of the year, I outlined my (modest) writing targets here. Writing Sunken City Capers Book 4 is kicking my butt at the moment, but I’m currently killing it on my reading target. My reading target for the year was 10 fiction and 10 nonfiction books. I’ve currently read 8 fiction books and 2 nonfiction books.

My favorite books so far:

  • The Green Mile by Stephen King (man that guy can write)
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (more on that below)
  • Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

I highly recommend each of these books. The Green Mile is a good read for its storytelling and voice, but what really appealed to me about is it’s high level of writing craft. There’s a joy to watching a master work, humbling and inspiring at the same time. There were several parts I reread to try and understand how he did what he did.

I think I’m late to the party on Ready Player One. It’s just an awesome fun read chocked full of 80’s references. I was born in the early 80’s so I get a number of references and the I know the feel  of the decade, but I missed quite a few references too. It’s also a standalone novel which is nice. And I inhaled it in six days while I was super busy at work (this may or may not be related to the slow progress on book 4).

I enjoyed Out the Silent Planet more than I thought I would, so much so, that I checkout out the second book from my local library. It’s written as a milieu story, which generally aren’t my favorite to read, and the writing style is definitely dated (still beautifully and expertly written though), but it ended in such an interesting way that I didn’t see coming that I want to read at least the second book to see how it develops.

So progress made on the writing targets! And I’m a much happier writer having started to read again.

Goodbye Old Friend

Not much writing got done these past two weeks—one part not sure how to bridge gap between the second and third acts, nine parts work and family stress. Watson, our beloved basset hound of ten years, was diagnosed two years ago with long words I can never remember, but it can be summed up with that one insidious word: cancer. He made it longer than anyone thought, but this past Thursday February 16, 2017 was long enough.

At first, Watson was an idea, a fulfillment of that most innocent of childhood dreams: the desire for a companion that loves you for you without the ability to speak and cause hurt. But as many fulfilled dreams do, idealizations quickly gave way to reality.

We picked Watson up as a 12 week old puppy in the summer of 2007 after completing graduate school at Penn State. We had him all of 2-3 days before we bundled him up and drove cross country with him from New York (where we had been staying with my parents) all the way to Texas. He used to be small enough to sit on my lap while my wife was driving. I’d hold his oversized paws and he’d sit erect and alert like a giant misplaced hood ornament. The nights in hotels were not restful.

Once in Texas, we quickly settled into life and we’re inseparable. We played, went for walks, trained, destroyed things. There were many items scarified to Watson’s puppyhood: drywall (really), wife’s sweater, my glasses, at least two television remotes, books, an entire couch,  and several items I’m sure I’m missing.

He never really did take to that training thing unless he decided it was in his best interest–stubborn that one. And shrewd when food was involved. He loved to put his front paws up on the dishwasher to lick the plates and runoff when I was loading it. Since this was not a desirable behavior I opted for a “creative” solution and put hot sauce on one of the plates. Watson licked the entire plate clean except for that dab of hot sauce. I should’ve known better when one of his favorite activities was to shove that beautiful nose of his deep into shoes and inhale as deeply as he could. Oh, and an unattended water glass was always suspect forever after.

Despite his stubbornness we learned the rhythms of each other, and he learned the rules of the house. He even learned to ring a bell by the back door when he wanted to go out. Of course, he took his training a step further and learned to ring it more than once when he didn’t get the level of service he felt was commensurate with his standard of living, 4 a.m. be damned.

He was our first kid and we doted on him, planned playdates, found restaurants and businesses that allowed dogs. He had the softest fur you ever felt—perfect for cuddling. It was super soft even at the end.

By the time our first daughter was born, Watson was already middle aged and moving slower. White was starting to show around his eyes. He slept more. But he loved those girls. In particular, he loved the thrown food—he would come running from wherever he was in the house when it was time for the girls to eat. This was the opposite when one of the girls was pitching a fit. Then he would meander out of the room in a slow swaying walk to find a quieter place to nap—I envied him greatly in those moments.

Then the lump on his throat came. Surgery. Diagnosis. Shock. They gave him months to live. He lived two more years. Stubborn that one. And a damn good dog. Goodbye old friend. No doubt you’ve already retrained the angels on how best to scratch your belly.

Sunken City Capers Book 4 Progress

Progress on book 4 had been humming along nicely up until I hit a wall near the end of December. No worries though, I’ve faced walls before and knew how to climb over it: BIC. Butt. In. Chair. Just sit down and write through it. So that’s what I did, trusting in the process.

Well … the process let me down this time. I plowed ahead, somewhat listlessly, and eventually found myself writing terrible, forced dialog. It was awful. I think I may have even wrote “This is awful,” in there in digust. I had gone astray. My characters weren’t acting like themselves, they had no agency in the plot, they were just kinda there and it wasn’t clear where the plot was going. It was boring. Boring to read, boring to write. I had to stop, go back and figure out where things had stopped working.

I’ve had that happen before, where I’ve had to stop, back up, and start over. But usually I lose a couple hundred words when I do that, not entire chapters. This time I ended up tossing close to 4000 words.  Poof. Gone. It was a bit discouraging to be honest. At my current writing speed that’s 7-10 days worth of work.  And I didn’t just lose one week due to this snafu. I ended up spending two weeks brainstorming the plot, writing character profiles, working on setting. In short, figuring out where this book needs to go.

I figured it out, not the whole thing though—that’d be too easy. But enough to start writing again. I estimate I’m about 64% of the way through the zero draft, a bit behind schedule, but the effort to get back on track has been well worth it. Plus, I think I found the title for book 4 from having to back up and figure a way out.

Onward!

2017 Writerly Targets

I have decided 2017 is a recalibration year. Other than that, I don’t have a long series of targets this year. Here are the targets I’ve settled on:

  • Finish and publish Sunken City Capers Book 4
  • Read at least 10 fiction books.
  • Read at least 10 nonfiction books.

That’s it.

Really the focus is on rediscovering my love of reading. I didn’t read much in 2016, or 2015 for that matter, and that made me unhappy. I like to read. A kind of side bonus is that reading also benefits writing. I’ve already read one fiction book and one nonfiction book this year and have my nose in two more. And I’m really excited about the next book on my list so that’s help motivating me to read even faster.

Writing Sunken City Capers Book 4 shouldn’t take me much longer. I’m a little more than halfway through and I have a reasonably clear direction to go in. My current target is a May or June publication date if my writing speed holds and external scheduling is favorable. As for the second half of the year, I’m going to wait until then to get a better read on the situation before making any decisions about what to write next.

So all in all, a pretty relaxed year—which, after 2016, is just the way I want it.

2016 Lessons Learned

Before I list my next year’s goals, I find it more helpful  to write out what the previous year taught me in addition to just listing out how I did trying to meet the previous year’s goals.

First important lesson I learned: daisy-chaining writing sessions together increases writing speed. What I mean by that is, if I have three equal-time writing sessions in a day, the second session will produce more words than the first and the third will produce more words than the second. Like riding a motorcycle the faster and more I wrote the easier it became.

Second thing I learned: self-care is Important with a capital “I”. I love writing. Love. It. But when I make it my sole focus at the exclusion of other important things like quiet time in the morning reading scripture/praying, physical exercise, or opting to stay home to get more words in than spend time with my young children, bad things happen. Like ulcers and gastritis, and so much more stress than is worth it. Writing wasn’t the sole reason for the ulcers, and I would never opt to go through that again, but it helped repriortize my life for the better.

Third thing I learned: rapid-release didn’t work for me. There’s no self-publishing strategy that guarantees success, but there are a number of things that suggest tipping the odds in your favor. One of those is a rapid release schedule, where books in a series are released every 3-4 weeks. I write moderately fast, but not that fast—so I wrote the first three novels of the Sunken City Capers series over 18 months and then released them one a month to try and capitalize on the perks of rapid release. I’m still digesting what happened, and the numbers are still rolling in so it’s still too early to come to any definitive conclusions, but the momentum I hoped for never materialized. On a poor/fair/good/great/unicorn scale, I’d rate the Sunken City Capers series launch a “good,” but I had been hoping for a “great” brought about by the rapid-release magic.

Fourth thing I learned: no video games + not really reading = an unhappy writer. This ties into the self-care lesson. The whole reason I ever wanted to write in the first place was because I Ioved to read and have really enjoyed the narrative direction the video games have taken in the last 5-10 years. It’s important to recharge your creative batteries by consuming new stories for pleasure. It also helps with that whole stress thing.

So those are the lessons learned in 2016. As you might imagine, they will directly influence the goals for 2017, which I will write about next time!

Leverage is live!

Leverage: Sunken City Capers Book 3 released earlier this week!

Leverage wrote really, really quick for me. I wrote the majority of it in six weeks including holing up in a hotel for a weekend where I knocked out almost 20% of it over three days. It was just so much fun to write and I really enjoy spending time with Isa, Puo and Winn and how they interact with each other. They crack me up while I’m writing as well as when I’m editing. I have a strong memory of being in Starbucks working on revision when I read a part I had forgotten about and burst out laughing–that’s how much I enjoy these characters.

Pick up a copy here!

2016 in Review

2016 is rapidly coming to a close and since December is already shaping up to be a busy month, I thought it best to get this post out of the way. Last year I laid out my writing goals as:

2016 Writing Goals:

  1. Write two novels to completion.
  2. Start a third novel with a goal of having 75%+ done before the new year.
  3. Start publishing the Sunken City Capers novel series
  4. Read six fiction novels.

I’m not clear if I met #1 or not (heh). I finished two novels in 2016 (one was started in 2015) which is what I think I meant when I wrote that goal, but it’s not clear. For #2, I did start a third novel, but (if all goes according to plan) I will be about 67% of the way through by Jan 1st, not 75%. But that’s pretty close enough for me to declare victory considering the year I had health wise.

I started publishing Sunken City Capers as anticipated and on schedule. Everything is humming along there nicely with book 3 coming out next week (squee!).

Number 4 is where I really fell down. I only read 5 fiction novels to completion this year (I also read a number of non-fiction books and the internet, oh so very much of the internet). The kicker is, I read all five of those books by April. At that point, I thought I was going to read more than six, but alas, a number of things conspired against me. First, getting all three Sunken City Capers books ready to publish, organizing the ARC team, and learning about advertising and hundreds of other smaller things associated with a book launch really sucked down my time in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Second, I’ve had ongoing health issues since June that have really slowed me down, but I’m on the upswing!

So, not too shabby in hitting the 2016 goals. Launching Sunken City Capers was a bright spot this past year, but honestly, due to the health issues, 2016 sucked for me and I’m glad it’s going to be over soon. I’m not quite sure what 2017 is going to look yet in terms of goals, but I might start adding a rest/nap/sleep goal.

ETA 12/17/2016: I read a sixth book! Goal number 4 met!

Book 4 Progress

I started writing book 4 in the Sunken City Capers series at the end of October, which was a little behind my original schedule. I had hoped that working from an outline and having written three previous books in the series would mean that this one would right fast. I was wrong—sort of.

Truth is, I’ve been struggling to write book 4. I’m having a really hard time getting back into the flow of it. Not only are my daily/word counts down, but the individual writing sessions feel like pulling teeth while listening to someone scrape a fork and a knife over a plate. A big part of the problem is my health. Over the past few months, I’ve been dealing with ulcers and gastritis. It sucks. But among the biggest impacts is that the problems are most acute in the morning after I first wake up—which is when I historically get the majority of my writing done. So poof, the majority of my writing time is no longer available and when I do try and write, I’ve been generally pretty miserable.

The only real solution is to let the schedule slide to the right and prioritize getting healthy again, which is what I’m doing and I’m seeing some noticeable improvements. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that writing book 4 was going slow, like slow down to the individual writing sessions. Fortunately, I keep track of my daily word counts, number of sessions, and total minutes spent writing. This lets me get at averages per writing session, words per hour, etc. Out of curiosity, I went back and computed my words per hour for writing book 3, which from my memory wrote fast: 754 words per hour. Then I calculated my words per hour for book 4 (I’m about 25% the way through): 760 words per hour. Boy was I surprised, book 4 is technically writing faster than book 3. The difference? The number of sessions and total number of minutes. It’s due to my health, which has impacted me across the board.

The result of this analysis, is that it restored my optimism for writing book 4. It’s not fundamentally different than writing book 3, it’s just I’m not able to have as many writing sessions as I used to, and that’s okay. Even if I were 100% healthy, I don’t think I’d be having as many writing sessions as I used to. Having this sustained dip in health has helped put a lot of things in perspective, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

The Elgin Deceptions is live!

The Elgin Deceptions: Sunken City Capers Book 2 released earlier this week!

elgin_full

I had such a blast writing this one. I had the good fortune to be able to take  a vacation with my spouse to England right as I was finishing The Solid-State Shuffle: Sunken City Capers Book 1 and we were able to spend several days in London touring around. It. Was. Awesome. That vacation absolutely influenced the writing of book 2. It was a lot of fun to tour various sites like The British Museum and Buckingham Palace and wonder what these places would like underwater and how an intrepid team of ne’er-do-wells would break in to loot them. A lot of that fun and mischievousness made it into The Elgin Deceptions.

Pick up a copy here!

The Solid-State Shuffle is live!

The Solid-State Shuffle: Sunken City Capers Book 1 went live last week! You can click here to check it out on Amazon.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride. Initial sales have so far exceeded my expectations: strong and healthy. Initial reviews are positive (big collective sigh of relief there). In short, things are going well (woot!). It seems ridiculous, but even though the release of The Elgin Deceptions: Sunken City Capers Book 2 is less than three weeks away and Leverage: Sunken city Capers Book 3 is less than seven weeks away, I’m already impatient to share them with everyone. I personally feel like the books get stronger as they go on.

Unfortunately, Book 4 continues to get pushed back due to unexpected publishing tasks popping up, but I should start on it in earnest here in the next week. I’m hoping working from an outline and having gone through the publishing process three times before will help speed the process up. I hope, and yet a part of me doubts. I think book 4 may be on the longer side, similar to The Elgin Deceptions.

Many of you know my day job is as an ocean scientist, and I’ve just started to follow this blog about an acoustic experiment in the Arctic going on right now. Several of my colleagues are on this trip (including my wife) and they’re doing some really cool stuff. So, if you’re interested in ocean science at all, you should check it out!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Solid-State Shuffle by Jeffrey A. Ballard

The Solid-State Shuffle

by Jeffrey A. Ballard

Giveaway ends October 23, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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