Word Counts: The Ultimate Procrastination Tool

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Setting a word count goal is a massively useful tool for chronic procrastinators. I set a word count goal and immediately accomplished several chores I’ve been putting off. There’s just something about having a concrete measure that encourages me to say “I can make it up after I (fill in the blank) .”

The writing program “Scrivener” has a couple of ways of tracking your word count. So if the session goal isn’t enough for you to finish your chores, you can go back and check your entire manuscript word count for that extra boost you need to clean the cat box.

Not only do you gain the benefit of having an extra-clean house, by setting a word count goal, you finally have proof that your inner negativity can point to to justify all your “I suck at the writing” urges. Why is this good? I’ll tell you. It allows you to later rebel against THE MAN by spending time creating bad writing.

Imagine! Just one tool can give you an extra-clean house, a way to satisfy those masochistic “I suck” urges, AND stick it to THE MAN. How cool is that?

All joking aside, though. Having a word count goal is an excellent way to concretely measure your productivity. It’s a great way to counter the “you can’t measure creativity” arguments. Aside from that, there’s always something satisfying about crossing a finish line. The Tour-de-France is not raced all at once, it’s a series of successive races. Writing a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, is much the same. It’s not written all at one sitting; it is written in a series of sessions.

Even if you consistently fail to meet your word count goal, just having it means you have something to reach for. Just as with weight lifting, you keep trying, building strength in increasing weights until you can lift your goal consistently. Consistently is the key, not ease of doing it. Once you have consistent success, then you increase your word count goal per session.

I have my word count goal as 2,000 words per day. Lately, I’ve barely been able to get 1,000. But I know there are times when those 1,000 words are all that’s necessary to say what needs to be said.

(BTW: The word count for this blog, including this message is: 385)

Writing: A Matter of Place

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Common images of writers include someone hunched over a piece of parchment with a quill pen and scribbling madly in the light of a candle, a person typing feverishly at an old fashioned typewriter, a man scratching out verse in a notebook, a woman sitting at a computer filling the screen with words. Yes, some of the images are true. But more often than not, a writer’s most often observable action is sitting and staring into space. A writer staring into space is usually in the throes of feverishly trying to tie two plot points together, or coming up with two plot points to tie together.

Leaving aside the issues of outlining versus not outlining, quite often the easiest part is the actual putting down of words onto paper, real or virtual. Sure there may be a brief struggle to find the exact word you want to convey an idea, but on the whole, by the time words start appearing in a concrete fashion, the hardest part is done: formulating a coherent message or story or idea that will (hopefully) interest other people enough to purchase said message, story, or idea.

One of the greatest challenges in writing seems to be finding a time and place where people do not assume you are doing nothing when you are gazing into the middle distance. I know many writers with families have to remind those in the house that they are working and not necessarily available. Personally I find it easiest to write when not in the house…unless there’s something very distracting going on at the location I’m writing. (Lesson learned from last night: do not try to write while supporting friends in a volleyball tournament.) Libraries are good, as are bookstores. Amusingly enough, I find fast food restaurants fairly easy to write in.

My advice for those who say they want to do some writing, whether journaling for personal enjoyment or writing something for publication: don’t write at home. You’ll get more done if you write away from people who will not only distract you, but actively disturb you.

Helpless writing?

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I thought about doing a blog on learned helplessness, but I’ll save it for a day when I’m more depressed. Seriously, check it out. Since that’s not on my problem list for today, I’ll just leave that link in place and move on.

I thought I’d outlined the next story. Turns out it needs so much overhauling, I might as well start from square one. One of the things I’m doing on the revision is to use more than one view point. My last book was entirely from one perspective. That was fine. It had enough stuff to make a full length book on its own. This new one, though…. According to the outline, I had like 20 chapters. That’s, at most, 50,000 words. (I calculate based on averaging 2,500 words per chapter.) Not enough for a book that can be shopped around to agents.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve fallen into the trap of: two-viewpoints-isn’t-complicated-enough-so-I’ll-use-three. As if matching timelines and the like between two characters wasn’t enough, now I have three characters to match to a timeline. It’s a good thing I like puzzles. On the other hand, maybe it’s too hard. After all, I’m writing a blog about it rather than actually doing it. Hmmm. Can you actually procrastinate with no deadline?

So now I’m taking the original outline and inserting viewpoints between most of the major dots that need to be connected in order to create the story. I’m not actually complaining, because it gives me a way to show how the things the protagonist has to deal with develop. (Wow. Talk about an awkward sentence.) For instance….oh wait. Gotta go write this into the outline. Have a nice day!

Vahlencei Origins Pt. 2

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Debate between the Angels of Free Will and the Angels of Guidance grew heated. First voices were raised to emphasize points of view, then words of the absolute became common, resulting in polarization of the two factions. From discussion to debate to argument, the conflict increased in passion—until fatefully, an angel from the free will group drew his weapon in anger. Yet it was an Angel of Guidance who struck first, lashing out in anger and fear.

Terrible war followed, and Earth was drenched in the aetherial blood of angels. For an age and an age, the factions battled, and as the conflict escalated, The Origin saw Earth soaking up the blood, and knew both viewpoints would be innate in every life place or created on Earth. Further hostilities were no longer necessary.

The Origin stopped the War of Angels, and forbade further direct violence between the sides. His decision had been made. Conscious life would have free will, though the blood of the Angels of Guidance running through the souls meant that they were open to divine guidance. The Origin put a limit on guidance, though, in order to try to stop the angels from using mortals as proxies for their war. Only those who asked for guidance could receive aid.

And yet the ephemeral nature of divine guidance left promptings open to interpretation. To solve this dilemma, The Origin created the Vahlencei. He created one hundred of us, and tasked each with a specific duty. To one was given the responsibility for all of the water creatures. Another received the injunction to watch and guide mammals, another was charged with avians, and so forth.

Seven of the Vahlencei, The Origin set aside to guide the others, and to provide a neutral board to arbitrate disputes. Each of the seven had a specific task: Historian, Judge, Mediator, Messenger, Advocate, Defender, Counselor.

Given that the Vahlencei are spiritual in nature, The Origin gave them certain abilities that would allow them to affect the material world. He also gave them the ability to create others like them from mortal souls, using elements of universal chaos. Yet even though He had given this ability, the souls so altered grew twisted and abhorrent to Him. He turned away from all those so twisted, ashamed at this tool he’d created for the Vahlencei. Universal chaos, however, can only affect those souls attached to a mortal body. At death, when the immortal soul departs the mortal shell, the twisting bonds of chaos fall away, leaving the soul pure in His sight.

Taken as a group, the Vahlencei were tasked with material guidance and manipulation of the elements of His creation. And in the early days of the Earth, the Vahlencei were effective in managing the Earth. As time went by, life spread across the surface, and in the waters, of the Earth. It became too much for the Vahlencei. So the Council of Seven unanimously asked The Origin to create more Vahlencei, and The Origin complied.

One hundred more Vahlencei were created. Equal with the original Vahlencei in all but experience, these new Vahlencei were assigned by the Council of Seven to oversee humanity at a more detailed level than the several who were originally assigned. These new Vahlencai reported to the original set assigned to the humans.

–From Vampiric History by Innastartan, Historian and Archivist of the Vahlencei, the True Vampires

I hope you have enjoyed this origin story. I know I enjoyed writing it.

Vahlencei Origins Pt. 1

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I’m really excited about this new book I’m working on. I already have a decent beginning and a really poignant ending. I definitely think this book is better than my first…and I haven’t even finished it. Since I can’t put anything on the blog that’s actually part of the book, here’s some background stuff I wrote to justify what I’ve done to vampire mythology (i.e. completely re-wrote it).


God, Allah, Chronos, Vishnu—whatever the name used, it always refers to The Origin. That is what we, the Valencei, know Him as. At the risk of sounding elitist, it must be realized that we were created directly by The Origin. Life on Earth propagates itself, and everything living today is hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of generations descended from those initially created, depending on the species. Through the generations, life on Earth became more abundant.

But this Earth is not the first created by The Origin—only the most recent. At first, The Origin put limits on life. Earth was simply a project The Origin worked on as he took time off from more cosmic duties. As time went by, however, it became apparent that life had stagnated. With the limits in place, The Origin realized an artificial environment had been created. An entire world had become, in essence, a zoo. Its inhabitants were safe. No disease thinned the populations; no mating increased the populations. Nothing died to violence or age. What had started as a project to amuse and be enjoyed had become static and dull.

The Origin could not simply remove the limits. Nothing had been created with the ability to cope with life in its raw form. Reluctantly, The Origin decided the world had to be abandoned. Yet annihilation was not truly in The Origin’s nature, so the world was renamed Oedain, and left in place as a lesson in the dangers of a world whose only flaw was perfection.

The new Earth was created using the framework of Oedain; however, when it came to the creation of life, The Origin paused. Oedain had failed due to the simplicity of its inhabitants, and the system in which they lived. Yet introducing randomness would cause increasing complexity, and that complexity would inevitably lead to self-destruction.

All-knowing though The Origin might be, yet His view is too large. The big picture and the entire sweep of time was available to Him. Yet the fine details of maintaining a balanced system of extreme complexity eluded Him. He realized his view was too large, so he created beings of thought and energy. These, He called ‘angels’, and into each angel He put a piece of himself, duplicated from the original. In the spiritual plane of existence, and only on the spiritual plane, these angels had corporeal bodies.

Once the Host of angels had been completed, The Origin instructed them to discuss and investigate all the details He could not see. In the course of their discussion, the Host split. In one faction, the angels believed that all living beings should have absolute free will. The angels in the other faction believed all living beings should be guided individually.

The first faction, the Angels of Free Will, proposed that only creatures with the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them could create and maintain a system as complicated as Earth. Only the adaptability learned from generations of mistakes and corrections, they believed, would allow the creatures to overcome the inevitable complications that would arise as time progressed.

The Angels of Guidance, as the members of the second faction were called, suggested divine guidance was necessary to overcome difficulties. Such guidance was required because onlyThe Origin could see the vast sweep of time and progress. As such, only The Origin could choose the correct path.

(to be continued…)



ArmadilloCon is one of those conventions that seeps into your blood. It’s not a wild “PartyCon”, nor is it known for outstanding costumes. This is not to say there aren’t any parties, or there are no costumes. On the contrary, there are usually two or three public parties and several private ones. Likewise people do show up in costume. This year, the notable costumes were a Victorian woman (spoiled only by a modern stroller), and a steampunk warrior whose armor seemed to be made from a spray painted set of lacrosse pads. ArmadilloCon definitely falls into the category of “Relax-i-Con”.

Few parties, fewer costumes, and a very relaxed atmosphere; yet I find myself coming back year after year. It is a science fiction/fantasy convention, but unlike most such, the emphasis is on writing rather than visual media. The panels are intimate, and the great majority of panelists are easy to approach. As might be expected at a literature-based convention, there are plenty of readings by authors and book signings. There are also many panels on various aspects on the craft of writing. Some of the panels I attended I would consider my favorites from this year’s lineup include: “The Still Changing Definition of Urban Fantasy”, “Story Ideas I Hope to Never See Again”, “Stump the Panel”, and “Writing Erotic Fiction”.

I find it amusing, though not terribly surprising, that the “Writing Erotic Fiction” panel is always among the funniest, most productive, and most helpful in improving the craft of writing–even in other genres. Maybe it has to do with the types of personality that write such things. Maybe it’s that the panel is held late at night when inhibitions have dropped. Whatever the reason, at every convention I’ve attended that had such a panel, the erotic writing panel has always been among the best. I recommend going, even if you’re not interested in erotic writing per se.

In additionn to the panels, the attendees at ArmadilloCon are friendly and willing to talk about nearly anything. Making new friends is easy, even for rampant introverts. Even shy people might find it easier to approach people here. Ironically, despite me living locally, most of the friends I’ve made this year live a fair distance away–like Oklahoma.

The most memorable thing that happened to me at this year’s con was talking with Elizabeth Moon for half an hour. (Yes, that Elizabeth Moon.) We started off with shooting candy from her miniature replica crossbow and talked about stuff ranging from how she chooses her reading selections to autism to getting to wield the actual Lord of the Rings swords used on the set (i.e. not the backups).

The only thing I regret is the tendency of this Con to sneak up on me. Why do I regret it? There is a writing workshop I would love to participate in. Unfortunately, by the time I’m aware of the approaching Con, it’s long past the deadline for submitting to the workshop. I’d love to get feedback from published authors, editors, and agents.

If you want to attend a convention with wild costumes and wilder parties, go to DragonCon. If you want a relaxed atmosphere, or an introduction to genre literature, or you want to examine and improve your own writing, ArmadilloCon is truly an excellent convention.

A Cross Posting

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Agent of the Dragon has been updated. The part I’ve been posting was originally part of a longer story. When I began looking for an agent (if any are out there and interested, I’m still looking), I realized that this section was mainly world-building and added little to the rest of the story. Nevertheless, it has its own small story arc and so I’m posting it as an extended prologue.

I welcome any and all comments and discussion.

Stream of Consciousness: On Creating

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*Warning: stream of consciousness post. It may or may not be organized…or even understandable.*

The act of creation is an amazing thing. Any kind of creation: woodworking, sculpting, writing, music, whatever. It takes a special kind of crazy to pour heart and soul into a creation knowing there will be people who not only reject it, but tear it down, and in doing so tear you down. Yet for any craftsman or artist, the draw is powerful. Successful or not, expressing your ideas in whatever form is addicting. Many people find that in creating a new piece, they discover more about themselves, more about the world around them. I suspect it is this discovery that draws creators to their work.

Creating something out of ideas and components at hand is hard work. Translating the ephemeral into something other people can grasp takes time and effort and lots of failure before success. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers taking the time. Facing failure after failure before finding success is daunting. It’s that barrier of failures that prevents people from trying. I’ve followed the try-and-fail cycle several times, yet the desire to create is still there.

I’ve never been interested in the physical crafts. My interest is in the aesthetic arenas, specifically writing, though I dabble in improv violin. Finding ways to evoke emotion in other people is rewarding. Making someone laugh or cry through markings on paper is an amazing feeling. I just wish I could actually make a living doing it.

More and more in the aesthetic crafts, it is not enough to be “good” or “very good”, one must be at least “excellent” before attention is paid to what you have to say. Hours and hours of effort can get even marginally talented people to “good” or “very good”. Yet it seems that one must put in not only effort, but must also possess a minimum level of talent. And that minimum seems to be increasing.

Oh well. Time to slay yet another Doubt Beast.

‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Night

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Writing, at best, is difficult. Under “inspiration” it’s easy to get lost in it, but that’s the simple part. Even for stories written under “inspiration,” the steps and tasks required (not recommended, but REQUIRED) to get it into a readable condition are daunting. Many books have been written on writing and getting published. Yet of all the people who try, very few even get a story to the manuscript stage, much less getting it published.

Why do I have “inspiration” in quotes? Because “inspiration” is merely the falling into place a series of thoughts that were already present, though unrecognized as a story. Yes, it makes writing the rough draft easier, but it is not required. The story elements were already in the writer’s mind. The writer’s most difficult creation task is to hunt down, dig out, or otherwise come up with those elements and place them in a pattern that makes sense to anyone else who reads the result.

And yet, the first draft is just that: a FIRST draft. After all that sweat and head-to-desk action, a writer must not only be willing, but should actively search out parts of his precious creation to cut, mutilate, or outright delete. It is this step that balks most would-be authors. It is difficult to first write with sufficient compassion and empathy to draw in a reader, then turn around and be ready to ruthlessly alter or trash some (or even all) of weeks of work. (Granted, the amount of time spent varies with the length of the piece in question.)

Writing is a craft: carving out a story from a mass of ideas (rough draft), cutting away large chunks to reveal the basic form (revisions), using a finer tool to further refine and define the form (editing), and polishing the final piece for viewing (proofreading). Leave out any step, and you end up with a flawed piece.

More and more, writing is becoming like the music industry. It is not enough to be “good” or “very good”. In order to become widely known, you have to be “excellent” at the very least, and “amazing” is even better if you want to compete at the A-list level. This is the value of beta reader. Beta readers provide feedback. Good beta readers provide useful feedback. Having a team of good beta readers can often lift your work one or two levels. But be warned: beta readers and friends are two separate circles. There may be overlap, but not all friends are beta reader material. Likewise, there are some really excellent beta readers who you may not get along with.

I am very fortunate in that the overlap between friends and beta readers is very tight. I have very few beta readers I am not friends with (or at least willing to be friends with). I have more friends who are not beta reader material, though due to lack of interest rather than lack of ability. Even those, in certain circumstances, I would feel comfortable asking to read through a piece for me. In many ways, the difference between a friend and a beta reader is: a friend is someone who cares about you, a beta reader is someone who cares about your writing.

Note to Self

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When recovering from a broken heart, listening to or reading Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love” is a bad idea.

Unfortunately for me, I am almost incapable of NOT finishing a book I started. *reluctantly puts the headphones back on*