Are you a morning person? Or a night owl? Does your job work your creative mind? Or is it mindless? I held a retail job for four years that did not engage my mind the way that writing did. Because of this, I found I needed creative outlet in the evening, and could write until the wee-hours of the night. When the second child came, the sleep I was losing holding babies doubled, and I found I could no longer stay up very late. But, the need for creative outlet was still very strong, and I found myself going to bed early, and waking early. Many sleep cycle shifted entirely. I got up the hour before the rest of the family and wrote for one hour. It wasn’t enough. But this was a good thing. It got my juices flowing, and by the time a break rolled around at work, I found that I HAD to spend the hour lunch break writing. And lo and behold, a second hour of work. I was writing about 500 words an hour at the time, so two hours of work often meant I wasn’t finishing a chapter in that time. Often I would write a chapter every two days. However, you do the math, that meant I only had about 2000 words. Where did the least 1500 words come from? The need to finish what I started. After dinner and after the kids went to sleep, an extra hour of work found it’s way in every few days, and I was off to the races. Let’s speed forward to now. 

The job I currently have is mentally exhausting. Add to this the kids are older and demand attention I’m happy to give them. Plus, we’re all locked at home with Covid-Restrictions. And here I am, sitting on the couch at 5am, writing. My sleep schedule shifted once again. I absolutely cannot write after dinner. My brain is fried from work, home, and the loneliness of 2020 (so that means few evenings I can get away to hang out with friends and do some gaming.) Thus, my outlet is jumping out of bed and writing for two hours before the rest of my house wakes up.

We all have different schedules. We might have a long commute in a car, or a bus. We might have no commute but suffer insomnia (Brandon Sanderson has worked his extreme insomnia into an asset. He writes from 10pm until 6am every day, sleeps the morning away, and then spends the afternoon with his family. If you ever wondered why he was so prolific, imagine the uninterrupted writing time he has in the wee hours.)

You know your schedule. And only you can designate what works best for you. That might be a random writing time. Or it might be designated. It might be that you need to start practicing dictating your first drafts, since we have better technology today than we did a couple years ago.

In the end, you need to find out that best time to write that works for you, and note it down. Your writing is living in your mind rent free if you don’t find the time to put pen to paper. So, it might be time to start looking for that time.

~ Andrew

When I wrote those five short stories I mentioned in my last post, I inadvertently discovered something about myself. I tend to switch beats every thousand words. Admittedly, a story beat is vague terminology. (And I think it is entirely different for every writer.) Those with history in the theater will say a beat is a “scene change” and a scene change is not designated by the script, but by when a new character enters, or exits—it occurs when the environment shifts. Other designations might be “when an answer to a question occurs.” I base my own “Beats” on “Something that can be written out in a Bullet.” And that bullet has to be something defining. Take the following beats of chapter one of my upcoming novel, Thrice.

  • Jovan beats man senseless
  • Jovan escorted to holding cell to await judgement.
  • Jovan confronts Medicae who didn’t save his sisters life.

The above chapter is 3000 words long. And each of those beats take up about 1000 words of the chapter. It has three beats.

I mentioned those short stories. They were each seven thousand words long. And each had seven beats, or turns. When I discover this, I was then able to better outline the novel I was ramping myself up for. I also discovered that my chapter lengths in long form (in this case epic fantasy) tended to run between 3500-5000 a chapter. (5000 word chapters were rare, and often edited down. But they too had 1000 word beats.)

Because of this, I was then able to look back and map out the total beats of that first draft I had written. I looked at which beats counted as “conflict” such as a fight, argument, or some other form of tension. In doing so, I also noticed where my story was lagging. Adding in a beat of tension to a few chapters where I felt more was needed, was easier to do.

I discovered I could go a step further. When I set about to challenge myself with the writing of Thrice, I made the conscious decision to write it as a much faster paced book than the Epic I had completed. I wanted a book that sat on the shortest edges of fantasy (70k words) that was paced more like a commercial beach read, like Dresden Files, or a suspense novel. This meant I had to challenge myself to write shorter chapters. I was going to write chapters that averaged 2500 words. And what did I find? By choosing to write shorter, I tended to be more concise. When I got long winded in a chapter, it might push up against 3500 words. And each beat still sat about 1000 words total. This meant I was able to create two long beats, and one short “drop” at the end of each chapter that kept the pacing of the book falling forward. 

Now, why are these beats so important? For one, if you can chart your own beats, you can better outline your work. It helps you plan out how things will go down, and helps you look at the story from a birds eye view and better break down where your story is lacking. The second reason is as a means of keeping your readers interested. With my 2500 worked chapters ,with a short “drop” at the end, chances are, I’m going to hold the attention of a reader. After two beats, they might say “I could put a bookmark in the book now and comeback later.” But then they leaf a couple pages to discover they’re only five minutes from finishing the chapter? They’re probably going to go that far, at least. I’d love for them to keep reading, but even if they stop, it’s much easier to pick a book back up and start at the top of a chapter. And if they forgot their bookmark, they can find the chapter by memory. 

So, what kind of beats do you write in? And how long are they? Look at the first few chapters of your latest draft, and chart out the beats. Write those beats out in bullet form on a sheet of paper. Then get out some color pencils. Highlight those what have tension, or even full conflict with various colors. Does your chapter one or two not have any? If your readers who have given you feedback, have felt the first three chapters didn’t hold their interest like they should, where do you feel could be the best spot to drop a beat in to pick it up? This week, save a draft of your novel, and try to put a beat or two into the work that perhaps wasn’t there before, and then read those chapters, and see if that helped. Let me know in the comments how that went, and how you like to measure your beats. 

~ Andrew

What are your goals? Have you set any benchmarks you want to reach?

“Of course I have. I want to write a book.”

Ok. That’s your goal? You can do better than that. When do you want that first draft done by? When do you want to have that short story ready for submission to a short-story publication? How long do you expect this piece of work will be? 

Goals are daunting. I get it. But if you’re serious about the craft of writing, you’re going to have to set some goals. Even a hobby wood-worker is going to set some goals. “I want to build a rocking horse for my grandson.” “I’m going to build a cabinet.” Those are good goals. They aren’t general “I’m going to do woodwork.” They have the beginning of a plan, and can start the process. That same wood-worker may inform his wife “I’ll be working in the woodworking shop every Saturday from 9am-noon. He does this, and begins to produce. Maybe it’s drafting, or cleaning and sharpening saws and hammers, but he is dedicating that time to his goal.

Some authors set themselves a word count goal. I do that. Although I tend to look at a week at a time. If I am “on a roll” I might set a high goal of 5-10k words for the week. This sounds daunting, but when you take into consideration that once I start writing I can put out 1000-1500 an hour? 5000 is reachable in a couple morning of work. Even if I’m struggling I can probably hit that low weekly goal. But it took me four years of writing to get to that word count goal as a normal standard. I did it by starting small. 

When I started out, I started by setting a goal of 500 words a day. When I was on a roll, I upped that goal to 1000 a day. Here’s the thing: Anyone can write 500 words a day. Chances are you text that many words a day to friends and family (not to include emails you send at work.) But the secret is this: if you write 500 words, chances are you will not have finished your “thought.” You’ll probably keep going. If those 500 words a day are a struggle to get out at times, that’s alright. Because you still hit your goal, and also probably got through a particularly hard-to-write passage. I have a character I write who always turns out well in the end, but she is not based on any part of my own personality. She’s difficult to write. Often, I have trouble even getting through five hundred words in her story, when I can, in the same time, write 2000 words in someone else’s Point-of-View. But every time I go back and edit and work on her passages, it works well, and my readers say the same. The short goal of 500 words lets you look back and say “At least I got my 500 words in. At least I wrote.”

If you wrote 500 words a day, five days a week for a year, you’d have a 130,000 word body of work. That 100K word novel you’re working on? You can do it. 

What goals have you set for yourself? Do word count goals seem daunting? What other goals can you set yourself that are equivalent?

~ Andrew

February 22nd, 2021

It’s a piece of writing advise that often rankles me. An author is asked “What is the best advice you can give a new writer?” And they give the trite answer: Find what works best for you. 

Why does it bother me? Because it doesn’t help a writer. It tosses them into the pool, when they were asking how to learn to doggy-paddle. I’d like to take the next several posts to delve into what this question is asking, and the intention behind the trite answer given far too often, and then we’ll look at ways of actually putting that “advice” into practice. 

To start, the question, while trite, is the answer. As a writer you DO need to find out what works best for you. But what does that even mean?

To get there, I’d like to break down three main aspects that go into being a writer.

Method – Your method is your means to putting words down on the page. It is the make up of tools you have at your disposal, through which your writing is conveyed. In a future series we’ll be looking at Writer Types/Spectrums, which delve into this. They are the tool bench by which you’ll craft your piece.

Voice – Your voice is the style by which you are noticed. There are a handful of artists that I know at a glance. Adrian Smith has a very evocative artistic style/voice. I can look at his early work now and see how his style has always been there, even as it has developed into a much more mature version of what it once was back in 1997 to today. Other “voices” and styles are emulated. You might say a writer is “very Hemingway” or has the lackadaisical voice of PG Wodehouse. A voice is your own flourishing touch to your work. The longer you’ve written for, the more defined it becomes.

Practice – Your Practice is your Workshop. What is the best time of day for you to write? Are you regimented? Or do you find flurries of energy to write for a week, in sprints and pushes, only to burn out and wait for the next burst? If your Method is your self of tools and your Voice your flourish, then the Practice is your Workshop. It is how and where you go to do your writing. I believe that is where the advice of “find what works best for you” falls. If you can develop your practice—your ability to sit down and write—the Method and Voice will finally have a place to grow. If you don’t write, then you’re just a theoretical writer. Finding that space, and setting it aside is what will allow you to grow. 

Let’s take a look at Best Practices for yourself, and see where the road leads us. 

~Andrew