S. J. Kelley

On Writing Words (OWW!)

Getting back on the train

I’m not one for excuses, but when I’m looking over this blog I want to know the type of things that tend to set me back. My last post was in May. May. That’s not to say that I stopped working toward my goal. During that time I devoured information about the indie publishing market. I’ve read many, many nonfiction books on the topic. I also started listening to the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, with Simon Whistler, and it has been absolutely fabulous.

My in-laws visited for about three weeks, so things were a wash during that period, but since then I’ve been trying to get back into a regular routine. I still waiver between wanting to stay up late at night, and getting up early. During the day, I’m energetic, and think it won’t be any trouble to stay up late, after all I did it all through university. At nighttime, as soon as the kids are down, I may be able to make it for a half an hour or an hour or so before my eyelids start closing on their own. And I say to myself, “well, just get up early!” And yet when the alarm clock tolls the dawn of a new day (and I set it so that the new day starts before the actual dawn), I have become a zombie.

So I printed off a sheet for Monday through Sunday, when I would wake up, work on the novel, have leisure time, and sleep. I entered a period of optimization. I realized that I am not a robot. You would think that would be immediately apparent, butt it’s not. I love to read. I’ll often start a book at night when the kids are in bed, and because it is so good I will read until 2 o’clock in the morning and therefore be a zombie for several days. Yet when I was trying to maximize the amount of time I would spend writing, I essentially eliminated all leisure time. This does not work for me. I’ve also realized that I need more than the standard eight hours of sleep a night, and benefit from occasionally getting extended periods of sleep. Thus, I bring you my new schedule:

Day Wake-up Shower Write Leisure Sleep
Monday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Tuesday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am n/a 8 pm / 9 hrs
Wednesday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Thursday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Friday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9:30 pm 9:30 pm / 8.5 hrs
Saturday 6 am Later! 6-7:30 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 9 hrs
Sunday 6 am Later! 6-7:30 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs

Week of May 4, 2015: Cannot find simple floor plan software to help me visualize my world

Stat summary for the last two weeks can be found here.

I think it’s good that I’m starting to track how much time I spend on the business side of indie publishing and how much I spend on actual writing. For the week of April 27, 2015 I spent a total of 13:25 on the author career, and 9:41 of that was used on business related things (learning the business, trends, advice, etc). This is not an acceptable ratio!

I got my butt in gear the next week but came to a point in the novel where my Main character is exploring the school, and I realized I needed a clear picture of the school in my mind. I tried program after program to draw a “simple” floor plan of the school so I could orient myself. It was a major block; I couldn’t keep going unless I knew where I was. Going through the motions made me realize that the space I had envisioned was physically impossible because I had huge rooms next to ones that were very small, but for the plot they had to be similar in size. It was a mess.

I spent 26:07 last week on this career, and used 15:17 for trying to come up with a good map. I’m still not there. That said, the exercise was not entirely fruitless. I added more groups inside the school, and came up with their past histories, which groups conflict on a number of different controversial topics, and how the groups work together. Lots of this will be important to the plot, and I feel I have a much better grip on who these people are. I started an excel sheet to lay out what the different groups think about various things (I’m being intentionally vague).

That said, I still do want to make a floor plan. I tried several software programs. I just want one that lets me edit the walls with a snap feature, and let’s me copy floors for multi-level buildings, and maybe see the floor beneath. Just something simple to let me draw boxes and stick windows and furniture in them! Here’s a quick summary of the software that fell short:

  • Sweet Home 3D was nice, and let me see the floor beneath, but the interface wasn’t great, and it was slow. Amazingly, they had no pan ability in the 3D view. The only way to get around it was to do a “virtual tour” and make the person 20 feet tall. The walls wouldn’t line up well, but at least I could copy them.
  • Room Arranger was the best I think; it had a nice guide feature, but you had to edit the walls separately from the contents of the room (including windows and doors), and there was no easy way to copy a bunch of walls to make multiple storeys. I did the most work in this program, but in the end it took almost a whole day to plan out the first floor of a dorm and the bathrooms. o_O’
  • I tried Home Designer but it wouldn’t run under my Windows XP Virtual Machine.
  • EZBluePrint 3D seemed ok, but lacked a grid and the interface was just plan odd, but the snapping feature was one of the best.
  • I even watched some video tutorials on Google SketchUp, but you have to make things like windows and doors from basic shapes and that’s way too time consuming.
There seemed to be quite a selection of online options, but I have to make a massive building and grounds, and don’t trust that my information won’t go piff. I like having things as files that I can put on Dropbox and my external hard drive.
I don’t yet have an answer to this issue, except maybe drawing everything by hand. I think it would go faster that way, but my space perception is about as good as a one-eyed newborn kitten’s. Software programs let you add furniture to the room so you I can say things like, “gee, when I put everything I need in that room I only ill 20% of the space… it must be the size of a football field!” To draw it by hand I’d have to lookup the normal sizes of things for scale, and I couldn’t just drag a wall smaller to get it to fit.
Next week I’ll probably come in here with my head between my legs and say I drew the damn thing by hand, and spent the whole week doing it… at least it gets me thinking about the world.
Oh I just thought of something! I’ll ask the folks on KBoards! Stay tuned…

Headset for Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5

I’ve been dictating for the past few weeks, and while I like it, I’m still getting used to it. One thing I know for certain is that I’ll need to upgrade from the headset supplied with the software. It’s killing my ears! I went on the Dragon website and looked at all the headsets rated at 6 Dragons (the top compatibility rating) and decided on the Andrea NC-250V Circumaural Stereo PC Headset. Buying it is on my to-do list. Right after new glasses 🙂

Modeling my world

I met the point in my book were my main character is exploring the “New World,” which in this case is a school complex. I realized I couldn’t write about what he was seeing unless I had a good understanding of the space myself. I started off drawing the school grounds free hand, but my skills and proportion are extremely lacking. Then I tried redrawing everything on graph paper, but I kept making mistakes, a racing lines over and over, and then having to start over from the beginning.

I thought there must be a way to do this electronically, but I didn’t want to waste a lot of time learning specialty floor plan software. It turns out that there is a free software program available that is very intuitive to use. It’s called Sweet Home 3D and it runs in Java, which means it will work on Windows, Mac, and Linux. I’ve installed it and I have to say, it’s impressive. It even lets you do a 3D mock-up and walk through the room. All this in less than ten minutes. Needless to say, I’m laying out the whole school so that I always have consistency in what my characters are seeing.

Weekly Progress

I’m a new writer who’s still trying to work out how to be productive and write faster. I also love data, and track my output in a spreadsheet. Here I just wanted a place where I could post the weekly totals that I discuss in my Sunday updates, so I could see everything at a glance. I’ll be updating this every week.

This form of progress tracking replaces the one I used previously, which didn’t differentiate between editing and writing, and as a result the words per hour calculation wasn’t accurate. I also realized that I was spending a lot of my time on the business aspect of self-publishing, such as reading about marketing and promotion on KBoards, but I wasn’t tracking this at all. So when I would look back on the total amount of time I spent each week on developing this side career, it looked quite low. My old way was like tracking the production line, but paying no attention to the hours logged by the marketing division or the research and development team. This new way of tracking truly captures how much time I am spending on launching my writing career.

Key: W/E = Writing and Editing; B = Business (learning, production, marketing, management); O = Other (learning craft, outlining); WPH-W/E = Average words per Hour when writing/editing.

Wk Week start W/E B O TOTAL WPH-W WPH-E  Net words 
W-1 Jan 26, ’15 6:15 n/a n/a 6:15 273 1,707
W-2 Feb 2, ’15 10:10 n/a n/a 10:10 236 2,533
W-3 Feb 9, ’15 8:05 n/a n/a 8:05 364 2,365
W-4 Feb 16, ’15 9:22 n/a n/a 9:22 375 3,435
W-5 Feb 23, ’15 10:25 n/a n/a 10:25 295 2,768
W-6 Mar 2, ’15 11:16 n/a n/a 11:16 446 4,367
W-7 Mar 9, ’15 10:19 n/a n/a 10:19 450 4,955
W-8 Mar 16, ’15 n/a 6:36 6:36 735
W-9 Mar 23, ’15 2:31 n/a 1:20 3:51 413 n/a
W-10 Mar 30, ’15 n/a 0
W-11 Apr 6, ’15 n/a 0
W-12 Apr 13, ’15 3:02 n/a 3:02 572 2,239
W-13 Apr 20, ’15 9:42 n/a 9:42 475 2,099 476
W-14 Apr 27, ’15 3:44 9:41 13:25 2,735 50
W-15 May 4, ’15 5:33 5:17 15:17 26:07 530 4,004 1,584

Week of March 9, 2015: Best week yet, but writing takes so long… getting discouraged.

Week Week start date Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH (avg) WPH (writing)
W-7 Mar 9, 2015 6 4969 12:31 397 449

Re: Scheduling

So this is the end of my second week of early mornings, and it’s working out fairly well. I fall asleep quite easily between 8:30 and 9:30, but still have a bit of trouble hauling myself out of bed. Also I’ve noticed that when I first started this I used to start writing right away, but now that I’m getting used to the schedule I spend time “waking up” with email checks just like I used to do in the evenings, so even though I get up 2 hours earlier, I only get about 1h20 of writing time in. And I hate when I’m on a roll and have to stop because I have to go to the real job.

This of course makes me flip flop back to ‘why not just go back to nights?’ If I’m going to ‘waste’ 40 minutes, I rather use that time to ‘wake up’ with a jog after the kids are in bed and then plow away with writing. That would also mean my social schedule gets less perturbed, and if I was on a roll I could run with it and push through work on less sleep, going to bed early to catch up. That inconsistent sleep schedule is bad for your overall health though. And my husband says I’m less cranky when I get up early, and less dead when I come home from work, heh. It’s what I’ve been doing all my life though, so I feel myself gravitating to it.

Re: The long, long road…

This week was also the first major discrepancy between what I wrote and what I kept. So even though I wrote 4969, only 4550 remain. That stung.

I should be happy that I’m up to almost 5k a week. In the beginning that seemed like something I would never reach, but I still feel like it’s not enough. Right now a lot of my weekly count is happening on the Tuesdays and Thursdays I have free. That’s going to end, and then what? Back to the 1500-2000 words a week? Can’t happen; I need to meet my goals. I’m impatient! The end of the road looks so far away, and then there’s editing, and cover design, and marketing, and business stuff, and mailing lists, and figuring out how to stay anonymous.

I read somewhere that whenever you tackle a long task that you should visualize yourself a year from now, and looking back would you have wanted to start in on it earlier, even if it was just a little bit every day? And of course the answer would be yes. Even if I only have half a book the answer will be yes. But once I’ve got my mind into something I just want to dive right into it and burn through it until it’s done. The fact that I can’t because of my job is killing me.

I used to love my current job; I even proclaimed that it was the best job in the world, and I really did feel that way. Now every tiny little thing is getting to me, even if 90% of the time things are good, the 10% eats at my brain. And it comes down to the fact that I still work for someone else.

That’s never really fit with me.

I started a dog walking business when I was 9. I did desktop publishing layouts in high school and early university but I felt more like a contractor. In my current part-time teaching job I feel like I’m in my own game, me and the students. I have a Department Head, but s/he doesn’t tell me what to do; I just give him/her the grades. There’s a freedom there. But in my bread-and-butter job I have a clear boss who I report to every week (and my new boss manages very differently than the old one. I used to feel like a team member whose ideas were appreciated; now I feel like a cog in the wheel who should just shut up and do the work.) While I enjoy the work and feel like I’m making a difference, the fact that it’s employment won’t change, and the environment is so very dependent on the personality of the person I report to. It’s the fatal flaw that’s gnawing at me, and making me quite unhappy with what most people would fall head over heels for.

I was reading on KBoards that there’s no need to try to advance in two careers at the same time, and it hit me that that’s really what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get a promotion at work (largely so I only need to work one job to make ends meet instead of a full-time job plus a part-time job), and I’m trying to make this writing thing viable. I need to not give so much of myself to my day-job. I put in many hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime a year (I’m salaried, so it’s expected), but I need to start delegating and protecting my time. Something has to give, and I can’t expect my little boys to be the ones who have to go without their mommy. Sadly, that has been the case during peak periods at work, when they’d be heading to bed when I came home. That lasts 4-6 months. Brutal.

As an aside: I’ve never really blogged before I started this one, but man, writing all that stuff out is therapeutic. Reminds me of a study I read that showed that people who journal tend to have a better outlook, almost as much as those who go to therapy. I can see that.

Week of March 1, 2015: I think this schedule is the best so far

Week Week start date Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH
Week 6 Mar 2, 2015 6 4501 11:16 399

My husband was right; I just had to stick it out for more than a few days. During the weekdays there was only one day I didn’t get up at 4:30am, and that was earlier in the week. When I tracked my alertness the first few days were “groggy”, the next “ok” and near the end I said I was “in the zone”, so I think I’m adapting. I’ve hit my weekly word count goal for the first time since I started, so yay! 

That said, there’s still room for improvement. I realized that things will inevitably keep me from going to bed at 8:30 pm; most days it was more like 9 or 9:30 pm before I got in bed, so by the end of the week I had accumulated quite the sleep debt. I paid the price with a migraine Saturday evening, which screwed up Sunday. Can’t afford screw ups like that.

So the new plan is to allow some “sleeping in” until 6:30 am on Saturday, to catch up, because I can’t carry a sleep debt forever. That said, when I did that this week I felt on edge all day because I was used to starting my day writing. I put some time in later in the morning, but my WPH is higher first thing when I wake up (400-500, instead of ~300). 

Last week I projected the book would only be 80k, but now I’m thinking it will be 100k again. I’m at 18,352 and I still have 2 chapters before I break into Act 2a, which will bring me to about 25k per Act (Acts 1, 2a, 2b, and 3).

Week of Feb 23, 2015: New schedule… again.


Week of Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH
Feb 23, 2015 5 3070 10:25 295

My numbers this week aren’t too bad considering I used a lot of time for mundane things. Managed to hire a new therapist for my son and got an eye exam (looks like I need my third pair of glasses in 9 months; hopefully things stabilize before I go blind or broke, oi!). I’m actually surprised that I got so much time in. I was off from my main job on Thursday but used the whole day preparing lectures and meeting with students for my second job, and I thought that would hit my word count hard. I did put in two insanely late nights, so that probably made up for it. I’ve noticed that the 10:30pm-12:30am window has the worst WPH, but the 12:30am-2:30am window is pretty good. Unfortunately the plan I implemented last week to stay up late a few days a week made me feel like a complete zombie.

My husband, bless his dear and patient soul, never laughs at me as I bounce my new scheduling plans off him each week (we have had this routine for many years; I have no idea how he keeps a straight face when I tell him that this week I’ll figure out a schedule that catapults my productivity, heh). This time he had some advice: whatever plan I choose, stick to it for a whole month, not just a few days or a week. I figured that if I stay up late my brain is so dead that I have to put in more time to hit the same word count (yay data collection!), so mornings it is. So *drum roll* SJ’s plan for the next MONTH is:

4:30 am – 5:15 am: Wake up, shower, snack
5:15 am – 7:15 am: WRITE WRITE WRITE
7:15 am – 8:00 am: Breakfast with the kiddos, make lunches, get everyone out the door
8:00 am – 5:30 pm: MWF: Get to work, work, go home from work; TR: Write and/or do lecture prep
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm: Play with kids, have supper
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Kids bedtime routine
8:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Chores
8:30 pm: BED

Estimated writing time: MWF: 2 hrs per day; TR: 3-4 hrs per day.
Total for weekdays: 12 – 14 hours per week.

4:30 am – 5:15 am: Wake up, shower, snack
5:15 am – 7:00 am: WRITE WRITE WRITE
7:00 am – 9:00 am: Hot breakfast with the kiddos, make lunches, get everyone out the door
9:00 am – 12:00 pm: WRITE while kids are at morning activities or with hubby (may or may not be possible depending on domestic chores)
12:00 pm – 7:00 pm: Family time, chores, exercise, etc.
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Kids bedtime routine
8:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Chores
8:30 pm: BED

Estimated writing time: 4h45 per day.
Total for weekends: 4.75 – 9.5 hrs per week.

Total weekly time for writing: 16.75 –  23.5 hrs.

At my dismal average of ~300 words/hr, I should get in ~5000 – 7000  words per week. That seems mind blowing to me. We’ll see how it goes.

One notable impact is that this will essentially destroy my personal life, since staying up even until midnight will now through my schedule way off. But my social life is basically only seeing my friends once a month, so it should work. Also lacking is any exercise during weekdays. I really want to run for at least 30 minutes every day, but it never happens. If I could get by on 7 hours a night at get up at 3:30 I’d be set, ha! My husband says that I might be able to not feel like a zombie if I get a consistent amount each night (right now I’m on a binge sleep cycle, fluctuating between 4 hours and then several nights of 9 or more). We’ll see. When I went without setting clocks I needed 8.5 consistently. Sigh.

One note for this week: I’ve got 5 chapters in to my book and my spreadsheet calculates that, based on my average chapter length and a plan for 24 chapters, my book will likely be 80,000 words instead of 100,000, so I’ve changed my ticker on the side to 80,000.

Week of Feb 16, 2015: Aiming for stamina + scheduling

Week of Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH
Feb 16, 2015 3 3514 9:22 375

Best week yet in terms of numbers, but still not where I want to be. I’ve been taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off to write and teach (I don’t really get “weekends” with two young kids, I just do the mommy job really). Yet despite having all the day available I seem to only log 3.5 to 4 hours of writing. I have to increase my stamina to be more productive on those days, which should really be my powerhouse days. I’d also love to write every day.

I took some time to come up with yet another schedule to try to fit in my day job, part-time job, and writing, and of course family and exercise (although I have yet to get to that last one; I hope I don’t die young). They say regular sleep is more important than the number of hours, but my normal cycle is to stay up until crazy-o’clock (as in 2am when I have to get up at 6:30am) and then go to bed early the next few nights to catch up. The potential new schedule looked more reasonable because it had a solid 8:15 of sleep each night, but I don’t know how realistic it is. I think I’d do better with longer chunks of time less often, but if Tuesday and Thursday are any indication, maybe not.

I also got thrown a curve ball this week. My son’s therapist is moving on to a higher level position so we have to find someone else within two weeks, which will be challenging if not impossible. Taxes are due and I have a very sizeable bill. And I’ve run out of lectures for my course and have to make more. Fun times.

I got most of the taxes squared away this weekend (earned myself a guilt trip from the kiddos who must think, “don’t disturb mommy, she’s working” is the natural state of things). I thought I’d just do a course prep marathon in the week coming up and take care of that and a bunch of other domestic stuff (hire a therapist for my son, get my eyes checked and new lenses, order a car seat replacement buckle, refute parking tickets, pay life insurance… the List of Boring goes on). At some point I have to replace my 10-year-old hot water boiler before it explodes, but knowing how life is it will probably get ignored until it explodes and we have even bigger problems. 

I’m thinking I should just give into my natural patterns and schedule marathon sessions. Stay up until 2am on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, and take a nap in the middle of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays (plus in bed early Saturday and Sunday). Hmmm. Gonna go work that out and see how it shapes up. =) Maybe at some point I’ll figure out how to get more hours into the day.

Weekly progress chart — OLD VERSION

I am a new writer, still trying to work out how to be productive and how to write faster. I also love data, and track my output in a spreadsheet. Here I just wanted a place where I could post the weekly totals that I discuss in my Sunday updates, so I could see everything at a glance. I’ll be updating this every week.

Note: I have changed this to display 2 WPH: one is the overall average, which includes when I’m editing (a lot slower WPH) or when I’m typing new things (the one that matters).

Week Week start date Days Words written Time used WPH (avg) WPH (writing)
W-1 Jan 26, 2015 4 1707 6:15 273 n/a
W-2 Feb 2, 2015 4 2404 10:10 236 n/a
W-3 Feb 9, 2015 3 2945 8:05 364 n/a
W-4 Feb 16, 2015 3 3514 9:22 375 n/a
W-5 Feb 23, 2015 5 3070 10:25 295 n/a
W-6 Mar 2, 2015 6 4501 11:16 399 469
W-7 Mar 9, 2015 6 4969 12:31 397 449

I have changed the way I track things. See my new post.