Revisiting what worked to get me started writing again

My hiatus after my last book is stretching out into a third month now and I’m not too happy about that, so I’ve decided to revisit something that worked in the past to get me started writing again: a temporary schedule.

The one thing that I won’t be doing is revisiting the timers. I am confident in saying that I really am done with timing my writing. It didn’t make a difference in my output in the long-run and it stole some of the joy of writing from me. My monthly word counts might have fallen over the last couple of months, but that is pretty clearly because of the funk that came on after finishing and publishing my last book.

This is the getting started again phase and I’m obviously still having troubles with that.

One day I’ll conquer it. Until then, I’ll keep trying whatever it takes to get me writing again.

11 am to 5 pm is going to be my daily writing time for a while. And if I like it and can stick with it, maybe for a little longer than a while.*

I’ve just about decided that perfectionism is the reason I hate schedules. I made a note about this in my catch-all journal. Let me see if I can dig it up.

Found it! I’m just going to quote the whole bit I typed into OneNote so I can finish this post quickly (I’m practicing that too). I highlighted the part that really resonated with me the most when I read back through it.

Type up my thoughts from last night about discipline and a plan and how I don’t have to let perfection hold me back from having a plan.

Maybe, just maybe, I have to stop believing that anything anyone else has to say about how to work has nothing to do with me and no bearing on my life.

What do I want for myself? And stop thinking an inability to be perfect at whatever it is means it can’t or won’t work.

When I imagine myself going through my ideal day, the routine is very schedule-like. I get up, get coffee, do stuff, sit down and write, then do other stuff. I can picture it all really clearly. Having a writing day all broken up and spread out is not the ideal.

My days are calm and split into parts. Reading and writing and leisure and TV and some other work. Maybe a project or two sometimes but always this core routine. So that’s what I should do—for me, my way. Whatever time(s) of day I like best.

This was the point at which I decided 11 am to 5 pm was best for me. I’ve been having sleep cycle issues and getting up later and later, and 11 am keeps me from stressing about what time I get up in an effort to “stick to the schedule”.

This schedule is a little more ambitious than the one I used last time because it blocks out six hours a day for writing time, although I’m not expecting myself to actually write nonstop for the duration, just do as much writing and thinking about writing as I can around necessary, and hopefully short, breaks.

The most important thing I realized was that sometimes I just get stressed because I can’t stick to the schedule, but the reality is that there’s not ever going to be a schedule I can stick with better than any other. It’s all about accepting that I won’t stick to it some days but that some days I really will—and those are the days that will add up over time and keep me working and keep my word counts going up and keep me from having excessively long stretches where I fall into the habit of not writing.

*Update

I’ve since adjusted this to 11 am to 3 pm and some days I do move it later in the day instead of strictly enforcing the start time as 11 am. This works because I can’t stand the idea of missing the time just because I’ve decided I have to start at 11 and end at 3. That feels too much like a straitjacket and very detrimental to my long-term success with the schedule. But I do try not to change things every day and I do try to start at 11 as often as I can.

Writing nonfiction is a pain in the ass

I don’t know if it’s because of the way I think or something else, but I always struggle when I try to write anything meaningful for this blog.

With fiction, I do spend a lot of time rereading my sentences, paragraphs, and scenes as I write so that I don’t confuse myself, but I can string a story along well enough. I manage to earn my living so I do okay.

Not so for nonfiction.

That’s why I mostly ramble here on this site. Anytime I try to put together a more complete post, it usually starts to fall apart about halfway through and veers into something else entirely.

Or I run out of steam and just don’t want to finish what I started. That happens too.

All that was just to say that I suck at writing nonfiction and essays and I never did well with school papers. I can write a review but only if I stick to how I feel and don’t start trying to do any kind of critical analysis of the thing.

I’d blame my teachers but that wouldn’t be honest. They tried to teach me. I just couldn’t seem to learn it. Which is pretty ironic looking back, because I tested out of Comp I in college, so I didn’t even have to take that class. I probably really needed it. :-)

I think it’s a common misconception that all writers must be able to write all things. But that’s certainly not true for me. I absolutely despise trying to write anything nonfiction that isn’t pure rambling. Even this piece seems to have lost its way.

On that note, I’ll end this to go work on my book.

I’m actually getting started on it again, after having a lot of trouble getting myself back to it, and I’m up to chapter three in an editing read-through meant to get me back on track with the story. I’m reading it as an HTML file on my phone after using my little batch file to convert it with pandoc and save it in Dropbox. :-)

I’ve discovered pandoc

I have discovered pandoc. Oh dear.

It has garnered an immediate place in my backup routine and has filled a gap that my switch from Microsoft Word to LibreOffice Writer created in my editing and proofreading routine.

And I’ve discovered that I like reading the HTML version of my document better than the EPUB when I’m proofreading because paragraphs are spaced automatically instead of appearing in book form and that makes for really easy reading to pick out mistakes.

It’s also super easy to open an HTML file from Dropbox on my phone and tablets.

So, here’s how I made it work for me, in my routine. Maybe you’ll get a few ideas from this that’ll work for you.

First I installed pandoc. It is a command line tool so that’s a big deal for me. I don’t do command line work. I can, if I have to, but only if I’m looking at a cheat sheet. I have no advanced knowledge of command line stuff so what I present here is what I found in the pandoc documentation that worked for me.

One thing I do know how to do is create a .bat file for windows. I know only a few things about that, though, too.

That said, I know just enough to know it would be possible to do the thing I wanted to do once I realized how cool pandoc was.

So, let me start again: I installed pandoc. https://pandoc.org/

I followed the super easy installation method. I downloaded the windows installation file and ran it. :-)

The pandoc website is super easy to browse and I browsed right through the About, Installing, and Getting started pages. I skimmed the Demos and searched a bit of the Documenation at points too, but pandoc is really easy to use if you can just get the command line stuff right.

So here’s a cheat sheet. :D

It’s nothing special, but maybe seeing it will give you ideas.

I store my working files in a structure like this:

\users\myusername\files\publishing\works\series-name\01-book-title\

I do it that way so all my book folders are in the order I wrote them and not in some other random order.

I don’t even bother with the command line / terminal. I put my stuff in a .bat file that I created in notepad. Seriously.

I knew about .bat files and have used them for backing up files in the past. So I combined that with the stuff I discovered about pandoc and made a file that will generate a format for me and save it somewhere just by me clicking the file and “opening” it. .bat files don’t really open so much as they “run” so that’s what’s actually happening.

I click the file to open it and it runs. :D

Oh, and just to note, I’m using Windows 7. I don’t use Windows 10 so I have no idea if this stuff is just as easy there or not.

Once pandoc is installed, just right click in the folder where you store your book file and choose New Text Document from the context menu.

Here are supporting pictures to show me walking through what I did last night but in a dummy folder this time.

I made a new text file.

I named it “formats.bat”.

The file tries to default to “formats.bat.txt,” but I just deleted .txt so that the file is a .bat file. You’ll get a warning. Tell it you know what you’re doing and to rename the file extension.

Since I didn’t want to have to type up a crazy long file path, I had to make sure my file was actually in the directory where I put the .bat file.

If I’d been using one of my real book files like I did last night, this wouldn’t have been necessary because the file would have already been there. But that’s the problem wtih dummy folders. You’ve got to fill them with dummy files. :-)

Now I edit the file and put the pandoc command line stuff in it so that it’ll generate a couple of alternate formats and spit them out.

Here’s what’s in that file for easy copying and pasting:

pandoc book-title.odt -s -o book-title-draft.epub --metadata title="Book Title draft" --metadata author="Your Name"
pandoc book-title.odt -s -o book-title-draft.html --metadata title="Book Title draft" --metadata author="Your Name"

It won’t ask about overwriting files. So BE SURE you don’t mess up those file names and that you don’t mind having the files overwritten.

Just swap out “book-title.odt” for your file name.

Pandoc does handle .docx files too so you could start from that rather than an .odt file like I do. Also swap out the “book-title-draft.epub” (and .html) file for whatever name you’d like. Finally, the –metadata stuff is only relevant to certain file types so it isn’t needed for all conversions, say book-title.odt to book-title.txt. :-)

I use this to generate backup formats for my book, including a plain .txt file, and I actually have the EPUB and HTML files saved to my Dropbox folder instead of the directory it’s in so that I can open that file on my phone and do my editing read-through there or on a tablet.

These will be basic files, nothing fancy, but they are perfect for me to do my editing read-throughs that I do as I go, or as backup formats.

If you’re the type that prefers to start with something other than a blank document, you can take the EPUB or HTML into Sigil or Jutoh and tweak it there at the end if need be. I prefer to import my formatted word processing file for that into Jutoh, but it’s something I might look at just to see about when I get that far with my current book. :-)

It’s a one-click document generation and backup solution.

It is so easy. I love it. :D

Pencil, paper, and a few questions answered

I’m trying to get back into a writing groove but nothing has been working to reignite my interest in this story. I make plans every day (and sometimes the day before) and I keep not following through.

So I sat down today with a pencil and cheap spiral tablet and asked myself some questions about my current book and realized—

Maybe the real problem is that I took a wrong turn in the story and my subconscious mind doesn’t want me to continue.

If that’s possible, where might I have made the wrong turn?

The answer to that was me writing down a few options, working my way backward. I wrote down three possible turning points worth taking a look at.

A little while later, I turned to my manuscript to see if I could pinpoint a good spot to shift directions, and found—

[START HERE – not sure I even like this. Why does xxxxxxx jump to this conclusion? Or mention it, at any rate?]

This note to myself was buried about 1,500 words from where I left off.

So now I think my subconscious has probably been trying to tell me something for a while.

I haven’t deleted anything yet, but I’m ready to go back to the book and see what needs to be done.

I guess I’ll figure that out when I start.

But it feels like progress, so I’ll take it and run.

That didn’t last

I made plans before I finished my last book not to start the next in that series until I’d written the book that I already have in progress. I’m attempting to keep my enthusiasm for my projects high by managing them better. It’s easy to lose enthusiasm when I write a few thousand words and then move to something else for months at a time before I get back to it.

The last book I finished? I wrote about that delay. I also wrote about how much more of a chore writing is when I have delays like that because I get bored and lose interest in what I started and have difficulties getting that interest back.

To be technical about it, writing that last book took me from March 2017 to November 2018. That’s more than a year, and that’s a long time to try to keep up interest in writing one story.

That said, my plans to avoid doing that again aren’t working out—which is a total bummer. :-|

I got an awesome idea this morning for the direction I want to go in the series I finished that last book for. At the same time, I’ve had no ideas for the series and book I’m currently supposed to be writing. I haven’t had much interest at all in finishing this book—the same one I was flying through just months ago while still trying to finish the other book.

I wrote down the idea for the series and my thoughts about it, or some of them anyway, and I went ahead and started the document for the next book in that series. I haven’t gone so far as to write words for that book yet, but it is calling to me something fierce. The idea for the opening scene is right there in my brain and it wouldn’t take any effort at all to just let myself explore it a little.

It doesn’t pay to ignore the muse, but I’m trying.

It’s a conundrum. Miss out on harnessing the enthusiasm I have for the one series to struggle with the other book instead? Or write what I want while the little bit of enthusiasm I still have for the other book continues to wane?

The only right choice seems to be to let go and allow myself to work on two books at a time again. Or to make myself. Call it what you will.

But hey, it worked for the last book.

Sort of.

I finally finished it, at any rate, and I enjoyed doing it, and I broke through to a 6,000 word day. I didn’t push myself to do it, either. It just happened.

I was all set to be a rebel and then I realized I don’t have time

I wrote a long post about how I was abandoning WordPress a few days ago, and then I started the process by creating some HTML5 templates for one of my websites (the easiest to convert), but after two days of fiddling, it hit me hard that I don’t really have time for this. I am as much a perfectionist with the websites as I am with the writing and what should take one hour takes ten. Not my favorite confession. But—

1. I plan to finish a book this month. And by gosh I’m doing it.
2. The classic editor plugin isn’t going anywhere for a while, so for me nothing’s changed. If it changes suddenly, well, then, I can start moving on this project again (make no mistake, it’s a project for the future, because I am going to do it eventually)
3. The time will come, but maybe jumping right into it right now when I’m actively looking for things to tear me away from writing (but shouldn’t be!) isn’t what I need to do.
4. It feels like an obsession in the making. It took all day yesterday of doing other things and distracting myself to not think obsessively about it. I feel like I’m borderline this morning. A stray thought here or there could pull me right back in. So I’m going to have to do something this morning that is distracting in itself. Writing fits that bill. And since I need to write to finish that book this month, yep, that’s the one I’m going to aim for, right after I do a little morning reading (there’s a fan fiction story for Psych calling my name).

December 1–12 progress

I sat down tonight to write something after another day of not writing anything. I haven’t so far. Instead, here I am writing this, after spending about forty minutes looking at reports, messing with Gmail (I had forgotten you can still access Gmail through the basic HTML link for slow connections, so that was entertaining) and my calendar, and a few other trivialities. Not my best decision, by far. That forty minutes was supposed to be spent writing something for my book.

As a reminder, I pulled up my June 1–15 progress post.

The fact is, I need to start finishing books again. I’ve had way too much time off on the whole over the last couple of years and it’s time for me to start pushing myself again to do more.

I’m worried that I’m falling into the same patterns I seem to fall into after every book I finish lately, where I don’t write, and I start feeling more and more disconnected from the desire to write.

That June progress post is relevant in other ways too, because just this week one of my kids returned from college for the winter break and my routines have been completely upended. The quiet, distraction free environment I seem to need to be able to write is gone. It’ll be three more weeks of in-house disarray before things go back to what passes for normal for me these days.

I’ve written only 1,009 words from December 1 to December 12.

I’d like to take that time off and just say forget it until after the new year but I can’t. I know what will happen, because I saw it happen last year after I released a book. I didn’t write more than a few hundred words for five months. I know it might not happen again, but I don’t want to risk that, and besides, I want new routines. I want to spend my time writing another book. I want to go from one book to the next and not get caught up in this morass of feelings I’m feeling about the struggle to write.

No more struggle.

It’s not real. It’s not worthy of the angst it causes me.

But right now, unfortunately, I’m tired after a couple of really bad nights of sleep, this morning’s interrupted by an earthquake of all things and I’m going to bed instead of write something for my book. That 1,009 words won’t change because of anything I did tonight.

(Yes, a real earthquake. Doors jiggled and stuff rattled downstairs but I didn’t hear much up in my room, just a kind of whoosh after a hard shake. I pulled up the USGS Earthquakes website and just as I did, the earthquake showed up on the list of latest earthquakes.)

I’m falling asleep here, so goodnight.

 

Revisiting a post: The “no timers” thing

I am finally settling into a nice work flow that does not rely on timers to keep me writing. I’m occasionally dipping into more than one story at a time, but I’m surprised at how often I’m staying focused on one book.

It’s obvious to me now that something was wrong then, but isn’t that how it always is?

I can’t remember at this point exactly when I decided I was going to seriously focus on not using timers, because I’d posted about abandoning them, then went back to using them, before deciding to give them up one final time.

On 8/10, I got rid of my time logs and sessions.

In September, I began using timers again.

Sometime in October, I ditched the timers one final time.

On 10/21, I gave up on daily writing.

On 11/14, I had my best one-day word count to date. I broke through the 6,000 words in a day barrier.

My word counts have steadily increased month over month despite (or because of) the changes in my routines.

8/31/18 7,840
9/30/18 13,358
10/31/18 20,602
11/30/18 31,928

I’m writing and I’m enjoying it, and I’m not driven by a timer! It feels wonderful.

November 2018 progress

Despite my apparent failure when it came to NANO this year, November was actually a really solid month of writing. I did better than October. To find a better month when it comes to sheer word count, I have to go all the way back to October 2016.

So yeah, I’m pretty happy with November.

Words written in November: 31,928.

Most of those words were written the first half of the month. It was a strange month, for sure. But I finished a book in November too, so that’s good. It was my first of the year, so I’m especially happy about that.

And another bright note is that even as I finished that first book of 2018, I was getting deep into a second. That second book reached 21,886 words in November.

And! This was the month I finally broke through to a 6,000 word day. I’ve been after that goal for a while and it was nice to finally reach it.

I’m not going to link to the other November progress posts since they’re the NANO posts, but here’s a link to that tag: NANO 2018. (Tags get reordered here a little too often so it’s possible this link will be defunct at some future date, so I’m saying sorry in advance. I love the idea of linking to tags but practically speaking, the links all break the moment I start futzing around with the tags.)

Days 28–30 of NANO 2018

Days 28–30: I wrote 0 words for the NANO book.

I finished out NANO with 20,368 words. I really meant to do better but I got wrapped up in finishing the project I set aside to work on the NANO book and in the end I can’t regret that. Finishing is important.

In fact, finishing is the most important part of being a writer. :)

So… onward to December.

Days 24–27 of NANO 2018

Days 24–27: I wrote 0 words for the NANO book.

I have 20,368 words for NANO this year so far. I do think I’ll get a few more because I’m absolutely planning to write today, tomorrow, and Friday. But I ended up finishing up my finished book instead of focusing on the NANO book and I’m glad I did, really.

I think I’m just going to call this done, but I’m still going to post here with my results. I might not bother posting on the NANO website.

Days 20–23 of NANO 2018

I wish it weren’t so, but I have fallen terribly far behind on my NANO goals. All it took was a week and a half of less than good writing days and suddenly I need 29,620 words to finish and I need them in eight days (seven if you don’t count today, and I can’t really, because today I am finally working on proofreading the book I finished last week and don’t expect to have time to write anything, much less the 3,703 words I should be aiming for today on the NANO book).

Days 20–22: I wrote -12 words for the NANO book (yep, I deleted more than I wrote, and I didn’t do much of that to be honest).

This was the week I followed up with my GP doctor and there has been the Thanksgiving holiday, but mostly, my downfall began on the 10th when I started to refocus on finishing the book I set aside to start November strong. Until then, I was still doing okay and staying on top of my word counts.

Day 23: I wrote 0 words for the NANO book (50 words total for all my fiction).

I’ll have to update this one at the end of the day but as of now, I’m pretty sure the NANO count is going to be 0, and the all fiction count is going to be some small number that results from copy edits to my finished book. I’m proofreading today and it’s taking such a long time that it is very unlikely I’ll get anything more than that done. (If even all of that!)

As of right now, I am not on track for a NANO win. But there is such a thing as a miracle, so I’m not calling it a loss until next week.

Day 19 of NANO 2018

Day 19: I wrote 1,109 words for the NANO book (1,299 words total for all my fiction).

I’d talk about the day but really there’s nothing to say. It was a day. I wrote some. I wish I’d been more focused and written more. I also wish I wasn’t dealing with being sick. And that the holidays weren’t already almost upon me. And that my finished book was already proofread.

Day 17 of NANO 2018

Not only did I not have time to write until nearly 4 pm, after that I was sick. Well, I was sick before that, too, but I was also not here and had no opportunity to write before then.

The vertigo returned, probably because of continued sinus and ear problems. All I’m going to say about that is that doctors do not listen. I remember now why it had been since 2010 since I’d gone to my GP.

So I didn’t write even one word of fiction on day 17 of NANO, although I thought about it. Thinking isn’t doing, though, so no prize for that!

Day 17: I wrote 0 words for the NANO book (0 words total for all my fiction).

Day 16 of NANO 2018

I woke up this morning with a big chunk of backstory for the nano book in my head. I also had some bits of scenes that I might want to use for the current part of the story, but we’ll see.

As for now, I’m going to spend the afternoon sitting in front of my sunny window and see how far I can get in making up some of the words I need for the nano book. It’s 11:59 and the days are short so this sun isn’t going to last.

Hm. I didn’t make it nearly as far as I wanted, but I also didn’t do as badly as I could have. Tomorrow I won’t have much time to devote to writing at all.

Day 16: I wrote 1,906 words for the NANO book.

Day 15 of NANO 2018

Day 15: I wrote 496 words for the NANO book (1,569 words total for all my fiction).

I really did plan to write more for the NANO book today after I finished my other book (which I did, so YAY!), but in the end I think I was just too tired after all the writing yesterday and the mad dash this morning to finish.

Unfortunately, this means I’m still behind, and falling further.

I am hoping for a better tomorrow.

Currently, my words per day average for November is 1,861. Let’s see if I can get it up to 2,000 and get this newly finished book ready to publish before the end of the month.

ETA: added a few more words after the fact, so I’ve updated the totals. :)

Day 14 of NANO 2018

Day 14: I wrote 0 words for the NANO book (6,241 words total for all my fiction).

YES! You got that right. I finally broke through that 6,000 words barrier today, breaking my own one-day word count record. For the first time since I started tracking my daily word counts, I have written more than 6,000 words in a day. :-)

But as you can see in the screenshot below, my NANO word counts have suffered quite dramatically because of this focus on ending my other book. However, I do believe I can catch up. The book is still moving along swiftly when I work on it, and I don’t feel any particular anxiety about how things are going. Fingers crossed.