writing process

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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When Characters Make Up Characters

I’m not sure if this is the sign of a horribly fractured psyche or what, but my characters not only help me with my creative process, but they’ve even been known to make up their own characters. I mean, it’s pretty routine to hear authors talk about characters “taking on a life of their own,” but this is at a whole different level.

Best example is probably Otto, resident geek and aspiring technomage of The Dream World Collective. Partway through the story it became evident that he has a “consortium of highly skilled gremlin and gremlinoid adventurers” that he consults and/or bickers with from time to time. Funny thing is still get them mixed up—Griphook and Grumbles and Tickleback and…I think there’s another one—but Otto has a live and vibrant relationship with them. He does know that they’re imaginary, though. That’s key. (Intriguingly, so do they.)

The part that really interested me was when Otto’s characters took on a life of their own. In one chapter Otto finds out that Grumbles is married. Otto didn’t know it, and I certainly didn’t. It really took me by surprise, though I suppose it stands to reason that if a character can develop an independent identity to the extent that he’s making up characters, those characters could do the same.

So that’s all fun, but where it becomes useful is in letting those characters who have developed a rich independent identity start pulling their weight in the creative process. I’ve done this in various ways. Sometimes I interview characters to learn more about them and get insight into where their story is headed. Lately I’ve been experimenting with character improv, where I just give two characters a prompt and let them play off each other—this has been a ton of fun and I’ve started releasing some of these as patron perks.

One of my favorites, though, has been holding board meetings with my characters. I basically imagine a boardroom with all of us in it, provide and/or ask around for agenda items, and let the discussion unfold sort of like I would when writing a scene or dialogue. With richly-developed characters it can result in surprisingly productive discussions.

In fact, early on in the development of The Dream World Collective there was a character named Max. During a board meeting he started being a jerk, and we realized we didn’t want him in the story. I think he came to the same conclusion and left. Then we held auditions to fill his spot, and that’s how Alex joined the book.

Fun fact: Max makes a cameo in Episode 1.

DWC 46-51 Text Art