motivation

Writing Mission Generator: My Latest Motivation Tool

This isn’t very polished, but it’s fun and it nearly doubled my writing speed on the spot and I wanted to share it with any authors out there who get into this kind of thing. It’s a writing mission generator. You give it an amount of time, and it will give you a word count target, and you see if you can beat the target.

The clever bit is that it will slowly nudge you faster and faster while adjusting to your actual performance. The target words per minute (WPM) it picks is a random number between 80% and 130% of your average WPM so far. So sometimes you get a break and sometimes it really pushes you, but on average it’s making your target pace 5% faster than last round.

Here’s the Microsoft Excel file: Writing Mission Generator

Writing Mission Generator

It’s simple to use, though, as I warned above, I made it in about 4 minutes and it’s not very polished. I didn’t put in any protections, so I recommend storing a blank backup copy just in case you write over the wrong cell accidentally.

The blue cells are the only ones you should enter values in. Enter the amount of time for your next writing burst under Min and Seconds – I usually use the length of the next song on my playlist. It will generate a target WPM, and you’ll need to enter the same number in the same cell so that it doesn’t keep regenerating new numbers and screw up your stats. This also gives you a chance to manually tweak your target if you want to. So if it puts a 22 under target WPM, go to the cell that says 22 and type 22. (Like I said, not polished. Sorry.)

Then get writing! Write as quickly as you can, and when your time is up enter your total word count under Actual Total. Note that this is a cumulative total, not the number of words you wrote in the latest burst. (If you find it easier to think in single-burst word counts, you can use the Target Session and Actual Session columns.) Day Start is just for reference, so I can see my starting word count for the day.

Once you enter your new total, it will show your session stats, your actual WPM for that session, and how far above or below target WPM you were. Then move down a line and repeat. Since I use songs, I do this in 3-5 minute increments and it really gets rather addictive. Here’s the workflow I’ve settled on as my favorite – Spotify at the bottom so I can immediately see how much time I have left and how much to enter for each session, Excel at the far right–I duplicated the Actual Total column at the far right for easy reference–and Scrivener front and center. (Forgot to include it in the screenshot, but I’ll also hit Ctrl-Comma in Scrivener to show my project stats, including overall word count.)

Writing Mission Generator - Sample Workflow

At the end of the session I flip to Excel (Alt-Tab), enter my new total word count, go to the next line and enter the length of the next song and confirm the WPM target, and flip back to Scrivener to keep writing. It takes me about three seconds so I don’t lose much momentum, and it’s one of the most reliable ways I’ve discovered yet of getting into the groove.

Final note: I’ve found I actually don’t do much stat-tracking with this. I just use it as an ephemeral tool. I don’t save it, and I just open a fresh copy each day. If you want to use it to actually track your writing stats over time it will probably need some modifications to optimize it.

If there’s enough interest I’m definitely up for making a tidier or otherwise improved version of this. Just let me know how it works for you and what would make it better.

Cheers!

—Ben

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March In Review + April Goals!

Happy Spring! I’m back after a delicious Easter weekend where my community friends had not one but two homemade feasts–Eggs Benedict brunch on Saturday and four-course lamb dinner on Sunday. Illnesses and complications notwithstanding, we took the time to get together, share delicious food, and enjoy the new life God has given us. It is good to live in community.

No, no. Goals. Post.

I also enjoyed a bit of a break from my blog-per-weekday challenge. But I missed you. It’s fun to be back.

Now, on to business. My March goals post turned out to be revolutionary. It gave me so much clarity and motivation. I’m definitely making this a regular practice.

March Goals + Accomplishments

  1. The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher – Wrote 7,555 words. Didn’t hit my minimum goal of 12,000.
  2. The Dream World Collective – Released 2 sections on Patreon. Reached minimum goal.
  3. The Stone and the Song – Completed initial design and received my first paperback proof from CreateSpace! The print quality was low enough that I’m going to try another service, but I’m happy to have a sample of their work and I consider this good progress toward my target. I knew going in that CS might not meet my standards, but I wanted to get a look at their work in person. Target goal was “Release paperback.” I count this as exceeded the minimum, didn’t hit the target.
  4. Hubris Towers – Sketched characters, setting, Season 1 overall arc, and an overview of all eight episodes of Season 1. And wrote 6,627 words of Episode 1! Stretch goal was to do all that planning plus write a “partial episode,” by which I meant 250-500 words. Massively exceeded my goals!
  5. Write a blog post every day. Done.

April Goals

  1. The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher – Current word count: 104,197
    • Minimum: Write 2,000 words
    • Target: Write 4,000 words
    • Stretch: Write 10,000 words
  2. The Dream World Collective
    • Minimum: Release 2 sections on Patreon
    • Target: Release 3 sections and overview remaining rewrites needed before launch
    • Stretch: Release 4 sections and overview
  3. The Stone and the Song
    • Minimum: Reformat for paperback POD through Lulu and order physical proof
    • Target: Release paperback
    • Stretch: Release paperback and audiobook
  4. Hubris Towers
    • Minimum: Finish Episode 1
    • Target: Finish Episode 1 and write 4,000 words of Episode 2
    • Stretch: Finish Episodes 1 and 2
  5. Author platform
    • Minimum: Two blog posts/week
    • Target: And announce Optional Fun Thing Alpha
    • Stretch: Fifteen blog posts in April
  6. Healthy, sustainable, balanced living
    • Minimum: Bike 20 minutes 5 days in April
    • Target: Bike 20 minutes 2 days each week
    • Stretch: Bike 20 minutes 3 days each week

If you want to get a mid-month progress update, plus friendly notes, early access, and exclusive deals, sign up for my email list.

I write fun, infrequent notes and work hard to make it something you’ll genuinely enjoy. Which seems to be working—so far my open and click rates are around triple the industry average, so people seem to be having fun.

No pressure, obviously. But I bet you’ll like it. (Here’s one I sent out recently, if you want an idea of what you’ll be getting.)

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Cheers!

—Ben

The Stone and the Song: Coming Soon In Paperback

Stone and Song Cover 4 - High ResolutionThe physical proof (in two senses) is in the mail. This is my first time through the process, but my best guess is that the paperback edition of The Stone and the Song will be available on Amazon in about a week.

Or you can save yourself a week and save two-thirds of the price if you get the Kindle edition now.

I’ve got an afternoon off and am going to write like the wind. I recently revisited Write Or Die, a motivational tool that’s right up my alley, and had rather astonishingly good results. Even a preliminary attempt had me writing roughly double my normal top speed. Now to see if that’s sustainable. If it is, and if I can maintain sufficient awareness of what’s upcoming in the story, I could be reaching 2,500+ words per hour. If.

Let’s see if I can melt away some goals.

Cheers!

—Ben

PS – If you want a note when the paperback is available, you can sign up for updates and friendly notes.Subscribe Button Red Border 1

Jump-Start Your Writing With Ridiculously Easy Goals

I’m not a firm believer in writer’s block, but I have my tough writing days just like anyone else. Today’s one of them. Or rather, it’s becoming one because I’m forcing myself to work on Frobisher instead of Hubris Towers. Writing Hubris Towers is currently about like eating kettle corn. Once I’ve written a few paragraphs, I can’t help but write a few more. Frobisher, on the other hand, is getting so long and clever and funny and deep that it’s starting to feel like there’s no way I can bring it to a satisfactory fulfillment, and now I’m getting toward the end where I really need to figure out the extra-clever solutions to the very interesting problems I’ve been raising.

And the thing is, if I were to just sit down and write some stuff, it would probably be, on average, just as good as all the other stuff I’ve written, which is currently intimidating the hell out of me. Worst case scenario, it wouldn’t be, and I could delete it and write some more. It’s not like I’m facing bears or razor guns or something.

razor-gun by wiledog via DeviantArt

A razor gun, apparently.

But I managed to get myself into a mindset that’s more focused, I guess, on trying to figure it all out in advance rather than just writing it and giving myself more raw word count to shape into something exceptional. I’m finding every excuse and non-essential task I can find to avoid sitting down and actually writing.

It doesn’t help that my monthly target is looming, with 7,500 words left to write in the next few days (when I usually shoot for 5,000 per week).

I got out of it by making my goal easier. 7,500 more this month is too much to think about. Let’s start by adding 1,000 today. No, still intimidating. Maybe 500. Better, but that’s like half an hour unless I hit a groove, which isn’t looking likely. 250? Not at all scary, but what would I write? That’s still nearly a page and the whole point is I’m not sure what’s next

Bear in mind, of course, that if I were to just look at the page I’d probably manage to figure out what’s next. But so far I’m just arguing with myself while working on other things.

So I set a goal of 50 words. Seriously. That’s three minutes, one if I’m fast, five if I’m being ridiculous.

And it worked! Or at least it’s working. I’ve gotten moving on the writing, and as usual once I get out of my head and start spilling story it gets the flow going and soon I don’t want to stop.

There are a few reasons this works so well:

  • It cuts out the cost of trying – I can attempt 50 words any time I have a couple minutes to spare
  • It also cuts the cost of failing – who cares if I have to delete 50 words?
  • It gets my logistics in line – once I’ve done my 50 words, I have my tools in place and my Scrivener project open and ready for more
  • It forces me to look at what I’ve got so far, which gets me thinking about the story again
  • It provides an easy win. Once I’ve got 50 words (which is almost immediately), I can go for another 50. Then another. Then why not 100 this time? And by then I’ve finished 250 and that’s a quarter of a day’s production. A few more of those and I’m breaking actual targets.

So that’s what I’m dealing with today. Really am excited to see what I come up with for Frobisher now that the story’s open and growing again, though. In other news, I’m nearing completion on the paperback layout for The Stone and the Song. So much exciting in so little time! Stay tuned.

Cheers!

—Ben

Hubris Towers: My Secret Master Plan, Mk. I

Ok, so writing Hubris Towers is officially getting addictive. This is my first deep fiction collaboration—working with Bill, who blogs here—and it’s so much fun that I want to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at our process, my personal goals, and some fun new things I’m trying with this project.

Before I go further, a caveat: This is all highly speculative and subject to change. Part of the fun of this project is the freedom to try things out and experiment freely.

Serial Structure

Right now we’re planning on writing episodes of 12.5-15k words each—that’s about 35-45 pages—with eight episodes to a season. That lets us bundle each season into a solid, novel-length book, idea being that we could sell the book at a discount to reward loyal readers who know they’ll read the whole season, while also serving everyone who’s eager and likes a steady drip of new stories as they come out.

It wouldn’t be out of the question to release an episode a month, though for now we’re both sustaining day jobs, families, real lives, and other writing projects, so we’ll see. But even with a slightly slower pace that’s a steady output of a full season each year in steady, snackable chunks.

Our Collaborative Process

Bill and I have been friends for decades. We were friends in grade school in Ankara, Turkey, where we would routinely spend the night at each other’s houses on short notice and spend long hours reading and writing and plotting together, and now we live a few blocks apart in Baltimore, where, along with some other friends, our families have dinner together several times a week and we spend long hours sipping whiskey and reading stories and talking philosophy or theology or writing.

So you could say we’ve got an understanding of one another by now. I pray everyone who’s reading this has or will one day have friends like mine—it’s a massive blessing and one of the most fulfilling parts of my life.

Mushiness aside, here’s how we’ve got the collaborative process set up so far.

We met for a couple big-picture brainstorming sessions to lay out the story concept, setting, and characters. At the last of those meetings we sketched out the overall arc of Season 1, then developed it into paragraph-length summaries of each of the eight episodes, along with a few ongoing hooks and interesting ideas that will take us into Season 2.

I’m great with characters and settings, and my prose skills are pretty solid, but I have always found plots a lot harder to develop. Bill is a veritable fountain of brilliant plot turns and devices. I can say something like “We just need these three impossible things to happen. All at once.” And then he’ll think for a second and lay out a plan for how all three of them can happen at once, with this other clever twist developing in the background. So the plotting went pretty quickly with Bill in the room.

Short version: We had a four-hour meeting where we made each other laugh constantly.

Then Bill expanded Episode 1 into a detailed summary of a few thousand words, say a quarter to a third of the total projected length.

I’ve taken that summary and am fleshing it out into the full draft. We have very compatible senses of humor and are both being pretty unselfish with the plot, so it’s really turning into the best of both worlds. He’ll put all his best ideas in the summary, then I’ll take those, run with them, and add my own. I suspect it’s going to start turning into a sort of contest of trying to make each other laugh out loud. Certainly that’s where it’s going so far.

A Series That Pays Minimum Wage

This is a little ambitious, but I want to see if we can make this a project that pays minimum wage or better on average. Our plan is to keep it light, fun, and fast, and it occurred to me that I can actually track all the time I spend on it and calculate my overall hourly earnings for the project.

With our collaborative process it’s a pretty speedy production cycle, and I bet the serial structure will help us be efficient with post-production and may even net some economies of scale like, say, repeating cover design elements within seasons or bulk purchase of ISBNs.

My part of the planning for Season 1 is basically done, and took about 4 hours. I’ve since maintained an overall average of 15 words per minute composing the draft. If I can maintain that, writing a season of 100,000 words will total around 111 hours of writing time. Let’s add 20 hours to account for post-production. That may seem optimistic, but I’m only counting my own time here. With Bill’s help my time on editing should be minimal, and I think we can get the compiling and publishing down to a science.

I’m going to assume the average reader (who goes on to finish Season 1) buys one standalone episode then gets the full season. With that assumption and a 50/50 income split, some back-of-envelope calculations indicate we’d need a little under 600 readers for me to make minimum wage on this. And that’s not out of the question by any means. If I can bump my speed up to 25 words per minute the minimum-wage point drops below 400 readers. That’s really not out of the question. The Stone and the Song passed 100 sales in its first month and that was just my very first short, preliminary test run, with no product funnels in place and minimal marketing. Hubris Towers will be building on itself over months and will have both Bill’s network and mine drawing readers.

Anyway, that’s all kind of pie in the sky, but it’s fun to think about.

More to the point, at this stage the writing is cracking me up constantly. It’s so much fun I’m stealing time from other projects, even Frobisher, which I love, to write more of Episode 1. I’ve already written about 10 times as much for it as I meant to this month, to the extent that it’s almost becoming a problem. Except not really, obviously. Glee! I can’t wait to unveil it in all its Wodehouse-y (Wodehouse-ish? Wodehomely?) glory. Patience.

Cheers!

—Ben

Write Like the Wind!

Today is looking really busy. I may not get much time to write, but if I do I want to put it into building word count on books.

But that’s boring, so let’s make it a challenge. My starting goals for the day are:

Minimum: 500 words

Target: 750

Stretch: 2000

I’ll check in in Comments with how it went. If you want to join me in the challenge, reply in comments with your own goal(s) and let’s spur one another on. To victory!

—Ben

100+ Copies Sold, 100,000 Words, and Other Big Round Numbers

The last few weeks have been tons of fun and tons of work. I’ve been putting in so much time and effort on writing and laying infrastructure that it’s almost starting to feel like I have two full-time jobs. But I’m starting to hit early milestones, and it’s exciting verging on addictive.

A couple highlights:

  • I wrote over 4,500 words over the weekend. Almost a full week’s production in one day! (For the non-writers, that’s around 15 papberback pages.)
  • I hit 100,000 words on The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher. Woo! Big round number!
  • I’ve sold over 100 copies of The Stone and the Song and counting!

A few more, converted into various bases1 to help them look like milestones:

  • Hubris Towers has reached over 25,0006 words! (Not only that, but we’ve got the first 1,0002 episodes sketched out. Wow.)
  • I’ve posted over 100,0009 words of The Dream World Collective, and you can read them free here! (For you base 14 types, that’s over D014 pages!)
  • To put a more dramatic spin on it, I’ve sold over 10,0003 copies of The Stone and the Song and counting! Don’t get left out – get your copy now!

Cheers!

—Ben


1Note: In case you are not a math geek like me, these numbers are not as big as they look. For example, 1,0002 equals 8 in regular (base 10) numbers. Don’t be fooled by my cunning mathematical treacheries.