400 Words

I've been thinking about "workflow" a lot this year. It's something I spend a lot of time trying not to think about, because it feels like bringing my day job home with me,[1] but this year I decided I had to bite the bullet and get serious about thinking about workflow because I was getting behind on publishing Curveball, which is published monthly. I mean, I try not to compare myself to guys like Wildbow[2][3][4][5][6][7] but when I can't even update monthly it's time to examine what I'm doing and do something else.

I mostly sort of fixed the Curveball thing, I think. But The Points Between still hasn't updated since November, and it really needs to. And I have other projects I want to work on, and there's no way to fit them in, at the moment.

So I thought back to every NaNoWriMo I've ever done to try to figure it out. NaNoWriMo isn't a good way to plan your day-to-day workflow, but it's a great way to figure out when you choke. I have a problem with beginnings, but I gather momentum when I see myself reaching the end of my goal, and usually I get to the point where I can surpass that goal, once it's in sight. Not always, but usually.

Then I thought about my publication period. The Points Between is supposed to update weekly--one chapter a week. Curveball updates monthly--four parts a month, which essentially also works out to one chapter a week, just queued up to come out in one burst.

So that's essentially two chapters (for different stories) a week.

In NaNoWriMo terms, I could do that in three days. At 1667 words per day (minimum), I'd hit 5000 words in three days, or 2500 words per chapter, which is roughly around what I strive for (I prefer to have 2-3K words in a chapter, most of the time, with exceptions). But trying to get the 1667 words in a day can be difficult[8] in between your day job, demanding daughter who wants Daddy to take her to the park every day, wife, dog, etc. More specifically, the difficulty I have is trying to think in a complete arc in one sitting.

So then I thought "what if you don't think in a complete arc?"

Which is how I came up with 400 words a day.

Instead of trying to reach 2500 words in one sitting and watching it take weeks to get there, I'm going to try to hit 400 words in one sitting per project. Once I hit 400 words in one project I switch over to another project (i.e., The Points Between and Curveball) and then I can stop and do whatever I want. Like play video games. Or clean the house.[9] After five days of 400 words I'll have 2000 words per group. If the "momentum hypothesis" I developed during NaNoWriMo holds true I'll actually have more than 400 words a day, so more than 2000 words after days, and anything I manage on the weekend will be cushioning.

I have to focus on finishing up Curveball Issue Ten, because it's getting uncomfortably close to that time, but as soon as it's out the door I'm going to switch to the 400 word plan and see how it works out. Come November I think instead of doing NaNoWriMo I'm going to use the 400 word plan but divide it among 4 projects (1600 words a day total) and call it "NaNoWTF."


[1] I'm a technical writer 9 to 5. It's a very workflow-oriented job.

[2] Because he's not human.

[3] No, I'm just kidding. He's probably human.

[4] The big jerk.

[5] He's not really a jerk, he's just astoundingly prolific, which makes me want him to be a jerk.

[6] Seriously, dude, you're not human.

[7] OK I'll stop now!

[8] UNLESS YOU ARE WILDBOW WHO WRITES THAT MUCH IN TEN SECONDS ok seriously I swear I'm going to stop

[9] Pretty sure "video games" will win that one.

My problem with the 400 words model is that I have a hard time keeping the flow going if I stop three -five times in a chapter. If I can write 3000 words in one sitting (typical chapter for me) then I have a solid unit of writing when I get up and walk away. If I break that up, then I need time to re-read, get into the flow and start writing again. That's even more challenging when a single fiction has multiple POV's that I am trying to manage as I go. So for Bastion I have to first get into the head space for that chapter, then I can write.

I just wish that work wasn't kicking my backside so much lately too. By the time I get a chance to sit and write I'm so drained that I don't feel the umfph needed to get quality words on the page. Most of my writing tends to fall on the weekends now which is equally problematic.

I may have to start making "Movie Night" into "Dad buys pizza, gets the baby in bed and gets the heck out of the house to write Night"

I would say, push to 400 words, but don't make it a sharp stop. If its still coming, let it go till a stopping point.

and no, wildbow is not human! Thinker 3 at least.

Personally, I've been doing the "write for six hours on the night the post is due" thing for a while now.

I'd like to say that it works for me, but I'm thinking that what I did earlier in my serial's history (when I wrote each day for an hour or so) would be the better choice. It certainly would make it more likely for me to go to bed on time on update nights.

With regards to Wildbow, I'm pretty sure I recall reading in the comment section of his story that he puts in 45 hours or so a week writing.

It's considerably more than my twelve.

indeeed, im lucky to get 2 these days. (hence lack of updates)

*gets out calculator*

Let's see. After the day job, parenting-small-child duties, commuting and basic health stuff (exercise, washing, preparing food and cooking it, etc), I have one hour a day to write. Two if I push it and stay up past my bedtime.

I would caution people to make sure their expectations suit their lives. Writing six hours a day should produce six hours' worth of writing, and that's fantastic. But it's completely normal not to have six hours a day, and if you don't and you're not writing 8000 words a day, that's fine too. :)


Lately when I sit down to write I wind up falling asleep instead. Time is not on my side. :)

Plus if you're doing a webfiction you need to allocate time for all the other things to go with it beyond the writing. Posting summaries, table of contents, managing comments, etc etc. I usually spend about a half hour to an hour on the "work" of posting, verifying links, updating posting sites, etc.

Of course I also do things like work in Like button by hand, and other stuff.... things I probably should automate.

Well, I have a fair amount of that automated. TOCs are automatically generated, archives are updated, RSS feeds are updated, etc. And I only get a few comments per post so that's easy to deal with. The writing part is the huge time management issue so far.

Nanowrimo definitely is not a good measure... most people I knew involved with Nano would be ignoring all other things that they have to do when coming home from work... they pretty much joked every year that they ended up resenting Thanksgiving time with family for throwing them off. (And that's just messed up, IMHO.)

I'll also ask why maintain both projects if you're so behind? Why not just focus on one ? And if one, the one you love and would drag yourself to the computer for?

Do both of them equally interest you? Or are they becoming work? Have to ask first, because if any are becoming work and not paying off for you on a personal level, then prioritize that one down :/

BUt let's say you love them both equally and are excited to write them, then... maybe think about the work flow. I don't know about quota-based writing... unless you're a person who thrives on counting words (widgets), it can be self-defeating in the long run. I recall a lot of people complaining on twitter and boards when they missed their "1300 words/day" for Nano and in time, most dropped out. It's like dieting. The more you blow up your calorie count, the more discouraged people usually get.

Well I disagree about NaNoWriMo. It's useful in the same way trying to determine your "limit" is useful when you're training for a marathon. "How long can I sprint before I stop? How much slower do I have to go in order to maintain a steady pace over long periods of time?" NaNo is the "how long can I sprint" part of that.

Anyway, I'm doing them both because I'm doing them both. That's just the way it is. :)

I don't know how you juggle 2 projects like that. I prefer dedicated time per project, ideally for at least an hour, to get something coherent done. If you can do it, kudos to you!

NaNoWriMo is great for showing people what they can achieve if they put the other parts of their lives on hold for a single month of the year. But it's not a good reflection of what's sustainable as a writing habit for the rest of the time (as ubersoft said). It opened my eyes to the fact that I had an hour-long commute that I could use to good effect, but I don't keep up a NaNo pace through the rest of the year (I think I would die if I tried).

It's all about understanding your limits and working with them. Sounds like you've got a good plan there, ubersoft. I'll be interested to hear how it goes for you!

I used to enjoy NaNo a lot, but found it a real drag when I attempted it last year. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the writing I am doing is better than ever, so I'm hoping all this is a good sign. Either that or the idea I was using for that NaNo just sucked (I haven't continued with it).

It is a good way of testdriving an idea quickly though - I might've taken six months otherwise to get that far on a potential novel before deciding it didn't work.

I've thought about this same thing a lot during my long struggles with my fiction. Only recently do I feel as though I've reached a comfortable speed. I decided that making FREQUENT progress was more important to me than making LARGE progress. Frequent progress with frequent deadlines. So I'm publishing posts of ~275 words every day. And while that's not a whole lot, it's been working pretty perfectly for me over the past month or so. It allows me plenty of time to brainstorm and plan ahead (which may be favorite things to do in life ever); and really, ~275 words a day for an entire year is ~100k, which is still pretty dang awesome. What's more, if I ever feel like I'm getting too far ahead of my published posts, I can always up the amount of words per post, or just start posting TWICE daily, instead. So it's flexible.

Perhaps luckily, I'm the kind of writer that doesn't really need to get "in the mood" to write. I say luckily, but now that I think about it, maybe it's not luck at all. I've spent a very long time learning to write when I absolutely do not want to. In fact, I kind of feel like, these days, I'm existing in a perpetual state of writer's block, and rather than actually overcoming it, I just decided to slog through and accept it as my natural state of being. And while it's a bit terrible, I have to say, it does make me feel kind of doggedly proud of myself.

You know what, George Frost? I think you're on target.

I hear a lot of experienced writers say that things like writer's block aren't real - they (like what you say about 'being in the mood' are constructs we create. They have very real effects, but we blow them out of proportion. I think the key thing is to do just what you're doing. Write. Keep writing. Write no matter the excuse.

I don't do 275 words a day, but I do ~8000 to 24000 words a week, across 2-3 updates. And I do that because I keep writing no matter what.

I can't help but wonder how you'd strike a balance, with sufficient exposition, action and bait for readers to return for the next chapter, with only 275 words to write with.

And I do that because I keep writing no matter what.

... and because you aren't human. :D

"I can't help but wonder how you'd strike a balance, with sufficient exposition, action and bait for readers to return for the next chapter, with only 275 words to write with."

I'm not trying to achieve those things on a post-by-post basis. I worry about that on a chapter-by-chapter basis, which consume however many posts they need to. But I do try to keep in mind that, since my posts are so short, extraneous words and fluff text become all the more abominable. So I suppose I do end up trying to be more concise, but that also suits my personal taste fairly well.