Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

The Pros and Cons of Tracking Words Per Day

Way back in March of 2010 I asked the question how long should it take to write a novel? The idea was that if you stick to a consistent writing pace, producing so many words per day, then after some finite amount of time you'd have a finished manuscript.

Assuming the industry standard estimate of 250 words per page, my own estimate of 20 words per sentence, and that a complete novel is 100,000 words total, if you wrote 1,000 words per day you'd have a complete first draft in 100 days or just over 3 months. Authors gauge progress towards this goal by tracking words per day.

What are some of the benefits of tracking words per day?

1. Allows a writer to gauge progress

This is the most obvious. It allows an author to monitor progress, letting him or her know when they're on track, ahead of the game, or, most importantly, falling behind.

2. It's a motivating factor

Having a daily writing goal is a great motivator. It can also have the opposite effect if one consistently misses the goal. But as long as you set a realistic goal based on your situation it can be a great motivating force.

3. It lifts a weight from you

If a writer has met their daily goal and it's still early in the day he or she may have other things they need to get to. I've found that knowing I've already accomplished my writing objective for the day lifts a weight from me. Sometimes it even helps me write even more as the pressure is essentially off at that point.

Now that I've started the weekly writing update thing again I'm keeping track of my words written. Instead of doing it on a daily basis, though, I'm going to start with keeping track of it on a weekly basis. I've done daily before and it had some downsides. Which brings me to the next question.

What are some of the negatives of tracking words per day?

1. It takes time

Not much, but it is something else a writer has to do each day.

2. It can be a demoralizing factor

This is especially so if an author begins to consistently miss one's daily goal. One failure piles onto another and pretty soon they're so far behind they're having thoughts of throwing in the towel.

3. Sometimes it just doesn't fit

There are days where instead of actually writing I realize I need to spend some quality time with my outline or working up some character profiles or other worldbuilding tasks. These things may be necessary, but they impact the daily writing goal.

Summary

You'll find many professional writers have a daily word count they meet before they'll step away from the computer. It really is the best way to maintain consistency and to know when you're falling behind. As a self-published author, I don't really have deadlines. I know I have readers who are waiting for the next book, though, so that helps keep me motivated. But in order to keep making progress I need to know where I'm at on any given day. Tracking words written is the best way to do that.

Blogging Every Day, Part 3: What to Blog Every Day

I'm blogging every day. Here's a short series on the why, how, and what's of it.

  1. Why Blog Every Day
  2. How to Blog Every Day
  3. What to Blog Every Day (this post)

So far I've talked about the reasons I've started blogging every day as well as how I'm going about doing it. Now I want to dive into what I intend to blog about every day.

Coming up with content—ideas, really—isn't easy. But there are some general rules I'm setting up for structuring those ideas.

1. Sometimes write long, sometimes write short

I'm not holding myself to writing lengthy posts every day. Hopefully the shorter ones will still have some relevance, but there is a realistic limit to how much I can blog about as well as how much time I have to spend on it. My first priority remains my current novel-in-progress.

2. I won't shy away from reusing my own content

I have 2 novels, 2 short stories, and nearly 500 blog posts out there. That's a lot of content that I'm not going to shy away from re-using to fit my needs. I might take an excerpt out of my novels and post that. Or a favorite quote by a character. Or make a list highlighting posts on a particular topic which I feel might deserve a shout-out.

3. Take advantage of guest posts

I see this a lot on the blogs of others. Having someone else do the heavy lifting is a great way to keep the streak alive, get some fresh content, and build community spirit. In fact, I recently posted my very first featured guest post.

4. Break long posts into multi-part series

I don't like reading overly long blog posts. However, sometimes a topic requires such length. Those times I'll break the really long post into several smaller ones. Just like I'm doing with this one.

5. Make use of simple content

My Word of the Day posts are a good example of this. I find them relevant because I'm picking words I like or think are interesting or even pertinent to the fantasy genre and, let's face it, I'm not doing a whole lot of work. Wordnik picks the words and provides the definitions. I use their content and always credit them. I'd like to expand on this idea, though, and break into maybe a fantasy term or definition of the week sort of thing. This is something I need to explore some more.

My Weekly Schedule

I'm going to consistantly blog on a Mon-Sat schedule. For each day, I'll be focusing on the following:

  1. Monday: Word of the Day
  2. Tuesday: Substantial post of some sort
  3. Wednesday: Shout-out, either of one of my posts or series or maybe someone else's. This might alternate with author interviews or guest posts.
  4. Thursday: Substantial post of some sort
  5. Friday: Focus on some aspect of the World of Uhl where my novels are set or something else from the content of my writing. For ex., character profiles, info on places or races, maybe even some writing samples.
  6. Saturday: Writing progress for the week

Conclusion

Those are just some of the ways I intend to keep coming up with something to post. The danger is that it becomes wholly about the posting itself and not about the content. As soon as the content begins to suffer then I need to back away from blogging every day or make some serious adjustments if I intend to keep doing it. To tell you the truth, I don't know how long I'll keep this up. I imagine I'll get tired of it eventually. But if you stick around you'll get to see how far I go and where it takes me.

More Reading

Blogging Every Day, Part 2: How to Blog Every Day

I'm blogging every day. Here's a short series on the why, how, and what's of it.

  1. Why Blog Every Day
  2. How to Blog Every Day (this post)
  3. What to Blog Every Day

I'm blogging every day. Or trying to, anyway.

Blogging—writing, really—on a regular schedule isn't easy. There are always outside influences throwing a wrench into the best laid plans. In order to minimize these disruptions from impacting my blogging schedule I'm not only planning out my posts at least a week in advance but also writing them that far in advance as well.

Here's how I've been organizing this:

1. Add post topics to a calendar

By having my posts listed out on a calendar I have a clear picture of what gets posted when, and I know how much content I need to produce in order to stay ahead of the posting schedule. I use Yahoo Calendar because I'm still a My Yahoo user and the calendar is right there. I like that I can easily see my entries on my phone or tablet, also.

2. Use Windows Live Writer in conjunction with Dropbox

The ability to save drafts in Windows Live Writer is great. I've found that by changing the default drafts location to point to a folder I created in Dropbox that I can then have my drafts synchronized amongst multiple computers. Because I have separate laptops for personal (writing) and business (day job) use, whenever I can carve out a little time it doesn't matter which computer I have in front of me since the drafts are always there in their latest form and I can get right to work.

So how do I plan to keep this going for the long term?

That's a good question and one which I'm not entirely sure how to answer right now. Taking inspiration from those who have come before me, though, I have these tips:

1. Stay focused

Writing isn't easy. But if you treat it like a job it will get done.

2. Keep ideas flowing

Places like Alltop are a great way to see what's buzzing. Find inspiration from what others are writing about. Take notes. Save links. Keep an ongoing journal of possible topics. Whatever works.

3. Allow for some breaks

I'm taking Sundays off without question. Holidays are another time to reset and recharge. I know some writers write every day. I don't. I need some time to do other things and let my mind rest. I think with guest posts I'll let them stay front and center for more than a single day as a courtesy.

4. Maintain realistic expectations

No one's going to die if I miss a day of blogging. Neither am I going to lose any followers. Fact is, most people won't even notice given the sheer noise out there in the blogging and social media world. My goals will therefore remain realistic. Other things come up, so missing 1 or 2 days out of 365 isn't the end of the world or the end of this experiment.

5. Don't get discouraged

If I do miss a day I'm going to do my best to get back on the saddle and make it right the next day.

Next post in the series I'll talk about what I intend to blog about moving forward.

More Reading

Blogging Every Day, Part 1: Why Blog Every Day

I'm blogging every day. Here's a short series on the why, how, and what's of it.

  1. Why Blog Every Day (this post)
  2. How to Blog Every Day
  3. What to Blog Every Day

Back in 2008, I asked the question how much time should professional writers spend blogging? The answer to that became my mantra. Which is to say writing novels always took precedence over blogging, or to think of it another way, any time spent writing blog posts is time better spent working on my novels instead.

Recently, though, I decided to try something new: Blogging every day.

I'm not removing the emphasis from the work on my novels (progress on the second book in The Alchemancer series is going quite well, by the way), but I'm also re-emphasizing the importance of my blog by taking up this regime. I won't literally be writing a new blog post every day--I'm giving myself Sunday off as well as holidays. But, so far, I've been going strong since October 26 when I blogged about my Smashwords eBook sale. By the time this post makes it out I'll be over 30 days straight (minus days off as mentioned). While this is a great pace for this little experiment of mine, I don't know that it's sustainable. It seems like eventually I'll run out of ideas or time or simple desire to keep up with it. But, for now, I'm all in.

So why blog every day in the first place? Here's 3 reasons:

1. It promotes good writing habits

By blogging every day I'm injecting order into my daily routine. I work at home now, which sounds like a panacea (and is at times), but when I've got something going on at the day job that I know is going to consume my day, having other commitments really pushes me to prioritize and do those first. There are all kinds of other distractions too, so having a daily deadline keeps me focused. Also, by having a blogging schedule, I'm committed to writing something. What I write about is not so much as important as the act itself.

2. It pushes me to write better

The only way to become a better writer is to practice. Blogging gives me a medium to explore my skills, take chances, and try new things without anyone criticizing me for it (no one's going to leave a crappy review of one of my posts on Amazon, in other words). You can argue that writing a blog post isn't the same thing as writing a story, which is true. That's why I hope to also start blogging writing samples—short excerpts of what might someday become a tale unto itself. These are the sorts of posts I'm most looking forward to.

3. It provides alternative creative outlets

Blogging allows me to break away from my fantasy world and write about "other things". This is important first and foremost to keep from getting burned out writing the same content all of the time. Second, it pushes me to continue to learn about the craft because the blogging form is so much different from telling a story.

Next post in the series I'll jump into the "how's" of blogging every day.

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It's a New Year: Time to Review Your Backup Strategy

I've talked about backing up your data before. In that discussion, I outlined some of the methods I was using at the time to insure my data was always safe. Chief amongst those were:

  1. Make a new copy of the file in question at regular intervals.
  2. If your application supports a "make backup copy" feature (like Microsoft Word), use it.
  3. Periodically copy your data files to a secondary hard drive or other device.
  4. Make backups to removable media, like a DVD, and take that media to an off-site location.
  5. Use cloud storage.

That was 2008, and here we are in 2012. Fours years might not seem like a lot of time, and, in truth, the methods outlined above still work just fine. I still use most of them, actually. But in my constant quest to become more efficient while not compromising the safety of my data, I've evolved the steps above into a process that is both automatic and most definitely centered around "the cloud" (fun fact: apparently The Cloud is, in fact, a company unto itself, despite the ubiquitous phrase we use in the computing field to denote the collection of data centers a company may have at their disposal).

My new backup strategy looks something like this:

1. Make a new copy of the file in question at regular intervals.

This step hasn't changed. Once a day or, for things not frequently updated, each time I'm about to make changes, I take my current WIP—whether it's my novel-in-progress, one of my already published novels, or even a book cover—make a copy, and prepend the current date to the filename or add the next version number to the end. This way, I've got the previous file, untouched, to fall back on if necessary.

2. If your application supports a "make backup copy" feature (like Microsoft Word), use it.

This should be automatic. Disk space is cheap, so keeping a few backup copies hanging around shouldn't be a big deal.

3. Periodically copy your data files to a secondary hard drive or other device.

4. Make backups to removable media, like a DVD, and take that media to an off-site location.

This is so 2000's. I don't do this anymore.

5. Use cloud storage.

This is where I've made the most changes. I use a combination of Dropbox and Carbonite to keep my files backed up in near real-time. Current WIP's go into Dropbox where I can access them from anywhere, across any of my devices (laptop, desktop, smartphone, tablet). I'm still on the free program, so space is somewhat limited (I have 2.5GB; if you want to try the service out—you start with 2GB—and give me an additional 250MB from the referral, click here). 50GB on Dropbox runs $99/year. Not too bad and something I'm considering upgrading to.

Carbonite, for which I pay a very reasonable $59/year, picks up the slack with respect to storage space: I have roughly 140GB worth of docs, photos, and other data stored in the Carbonite cloud. That's because $59 buys you unlimited storage space. Automatic backups, no limit on space, the ability to access files anywhere from any device (similar to Dropbox, though Dropbox has much better ease-of-access and integration; it appears as just another folder in your system). Carbonite at that price is a steal, IMO.

I like the 1-2 backup and productivity punch Dropbox and Carbonite give me.

With Dropbox, I get tight integration with my devices and the ability to access files seamlessly just like any other file on my system. Also, when I make a change to a file on, say, my personal laptop, it's then auto-sync'ed to the Dropbox folders on my other devices. Since I switch back and forth between a personal and a work laptop, this is very handy.

With Carbonite, I get all of my data—not just my writing—seamlessly backed up off-site, where a house fire isn't going to steal years (decades?) of work and memories from me.

It's a New Year. If you're already got a backup strategy, maybe it's time to give it a quick review. If not, maybe some of the above ideas will give you a jumpstart.