2016 Year End Wrap-Up

Well, it’s that time of year again, the time to look back on what’s done and look forward to the year to come. Poetic enough, I suppose, although 2016 was anything but pretty.

Looking back at my year-end post from 2015, I had high hopes for 2016. I’d planned on writing a half-million words, but instead I came up short at just over a quarter million. All in all, not a bad way to fail, but that’s still only 50% of my goal.

What happened? The first distraction came with my day job. The company I worked for was sold and that didn’t work out well for me, so I found myself back on the job market for the first time in nine years. It was a lot of stress and a big distraction. I have a new job now that’s going pretty well, so that distraction is gone.

The second problem was not having a good system in place to edit and proofread the work after I completed a first draft. After adopting Chris Fox’s sprinting technique, I started producing new words faster than I could proof them. As a result, I got way behind and sacrificed a lot of time writing new words in order to get caught up. I now have a good end-to-end system in place for proofing and publishing those manuscripts, so that bottleneck is gone too.

And thirdly, I let self-doubt cloud my creativity and I floundered for a while trying to get inspired to work on projects. Combined with the work problems, this stopped me cold.

Combined, these distractions cost me about a quarter million words.

That said, I did use this down time to work on other book-related tasks. I created paperback editions for all my novels, something I’d been way behind on. Now all my novels in eBook format also have paperback counterparts. In doing so, I streamlined the process, allowing me to release books in both paper and eBook at the same time going forward.

I also revamped my website, brianjjarrett.com, improving the aesthetics, simplifying the navigation, and reorganizing the content. It’s much improved now and I’m very proud of it.

So while I might have missed out on getting a few new books to market, at least I didn’t let the time go to to waste. I have something tangible to show for those hours and my business is further ahead than it was last year.

I published five new books this year so far, with one more coming out at the end of this month. I’m ecstatic about that. I completed all the major projects I’d planned on. So while a lot of bad things happened in 2016, I still came out of it with something to show for it.

So what’s in store for 2017?

I have a half-finished “creature feature” novel called Kryptos that should see the light of day next year.

I also have a completed Badlands novel manuscript written and in need of only an edit. I plan to release that one before 2017 year’s end. Speaking of Badlands, I think there’s more to come in this story world. I plan to flesh out some of those ideas by the end of next year. Stay tuned.

I started a few projects in 2016 that I plan to finish up next year: a crime novel, a short story collection, and a zombie book. Look for at least one more Tom Miller book too.

I have a vague idea for a book centered around dreams and perceptions of reality. I feel like that one will make it into the 2017 release schedule.

And then there’s a secret project that I’m not ready to talk about yet.

Ambitious? Sure, but doable, I think. Mostly because I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work and how to avoid the latter while focusing on the former. Will I hit a half-million words in 2017? Hard to say, but I feel more prepared this time around.

Either way, I’m glad 2016 is nearly behind me. I’m super excited about 2017. I feel like it’s going to be a fantastic year. I hope you guys come along for the ride.

A Year of Sprinting

I’ve been using Chris Fox’s technique of sprints for about a year now, and the results are pretty impressive. Since August of last year, I’ve published five books with another unpublished manuscript waiting in the wings. I’m a quarter of the way through a new manuscript that I’ll publish before year’s end too. Plus I have a bunch of finished short stories that I’m gathering up for release sometime down the road; once I have enough to put into a collection.

I’ve written more than 380,000 new words since I started. Compare that with my old rate of production, which netted me around 80,000 words annually. Maybe 100,000 words on a good year.

That’s a huge productivity increase.

But sprints are only half of the story. I also adopted Dean Wesley Smith’s method of “cycling” and not rewriting which allowed me time to edit, proofread, and publish all those words.

I’ve had a ton of fun writing all these books this year, and I’ve learned a lot by doing. I even crossed the million word written mark, a huge achievement for me.

I’m looking forward to another great year of writing even more books. Hopefully, you’ll come along with me for the ride.

Productivity Boost

Now that I seem to have gotten my mojo back, the words are flowing again and I’m back on track with my quotas. While I’m happy to be back in the saddle, I’ve been thinking about my current rate of production.

Currently, I produce about 40,000 words per month and I’ve been doing it for almost a year. I write for two, thirty-minute sprints each day. That nets me about 1,400 words per day, on average.

I started thinking about how I might improve upon that while still avoiding burnout. I landed on the idea of adding a half-sprint (15 minutes) to each day.

Look at the numbers: Take 1,400 words per hour, divide it by 4 and you get 350 words. Now, take 350 words and multiply that by 365 days; that’s more than 127k words per year, just by adding a single 15-minute sprint to the daily quota.

Even adjusting it down to say, 250 extra words then multiplying that by 300 days (assuming I have some off days) that’s more than 100k words by year’s end.

That’s more than enough words for an entire novel.

Do the math…it’s not about speed. It’s about consistency. Fifteen minutes a day nets me an extra novel per year and without so much extra work that it’ll burn me out (I’m a full-time programmer with a wife and kids, so I have to watch my time closely). But fifteen minutes? It’s a no-brainer. I started today and I got my extra sprint in easily.

So if you like my books, you’re in luck; there’ll now be an extra one for you each year.

A Milestone Day

I had a milestone day yesterday:

 

 

  • 100,000 new words written in 2016
  • 300,000 new words written since adopting Chris Fox’s “sprinting” method
  • 1,000,000 new words written since I started writing in 1992

That last number is 1 million, by the way; total word count since my very first short story ever written.

Time to get started on the next million words. 🙂

Weekly Digest, Episode 6

  • 1/31: 179 words
  • 2/1: 675 words
  • 2/2: 1,172 words
  • 2/3: 1,643 words
  • 2/4: 1,627 words
  • 2/5: 1,513 words
  • 2/6: 552 words
  • Weekly Total: 7,361 words

I’ll add in some other stats that might be useful if you’re looking for some inspiration to get your word counts up. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve written 45,191 words. Since I started using Chris Fox’s sprinting method back in August, I’ve written 245,446 words.

And as of 2/6, my total lifetime fiction words written sits at 946,065.

That last number is important because a million words is typically touted as kind of a magic number. In other words, many writers claim they started to really hit their stride at this point. As I approach my tenth novel and a million words, I’m feeling it too. I think I’m telling some of the best stories I ever have, in my own voice and with a confidence I didn’t have before.

As of 2/6 I’ve written for 81 days without a miss. You’ll notice above that on 1/31 I only wrote 179 words; that’s the day I spent nine hours revising Badlands #3. I did a fifteen-minute sprint that day on new words solely to keep the streak going. Streaks are like that; once you get one started you don’t want to break it.

Lately, I’m averaging about 1,500 words per hour and roughly 1,400 words per day. My weird western brought my average down since it seemed to take longer to write. Not sure why. My average speed is coming back up again on this new book, even without an outline. No two books are ever the same experience, so I suppose there’ll be some variance across them.

Familiar Lies, the new murder mystery I’m currently writing, is chugging right along. I’ve been working on it for 29 days now and expect to finish on time. And now that I’m proofreading as I go, I won’t have to revise the entire manuscript after the last scene is written. That’s been another game changer for me. Most I’ll do is read it one time through, full speed, before it goes off to the editor. That’s easy.

I’m still working without an outline and learning exactly what happened right alongside the protagonist. Will I go back to using outlines on future books? I don’t know. I think maybe I needed them earlier in the game, when I wasn’t confident I could finish a story. I don’t know that I need an outline as a crutch anymore. I suppose I think of outlines these days as tools that I might use, but don’t have to use.

Good week. I’ll be back after this week is over to tell you how it went.

Weekly Digest, Episode 5

Familiar Lies. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 1/24: 1,219 words
  • 1/25: 1,667 words
  • 1/26: 1,214 words
  • 1/27: 1,140 words
  • 1/28: 1,104 words
  • 1/29: 458 words
  • 1/30: 1,357 words
  • Total new words: 8,159

Sunday’s word counts aren’t included here (my weeks “start” on Sunday), but I only wrote enough to keep my streak going (maybe 150 words). Instead, I spent nearly nine hours revising Out of the Badlands so that I could get it out the door and off to my editor.

There’s a lesson here (for me, at least) and that is to not put revisions off until the last minute. My days of making eight or ten passes over a manuscript are behind me, but I still need to do at least one proofreading pass to find typos and make sure what I meant to say is actually what I said. Copy editing, by definition.

These days I do it as I go (something Dean Wesley Smith calls cycling). I’ve mentioned it already, but it bears repeating. Before I start writing for the day, I go back over and proofread what I wrote the day before. Then I get back to writing new words. This eliminates the need to do one massive pass over the entire manuscript after it’s complete.

Well, I have three manuscripts sitting around that haven’t had anything resembling a second pass, so I have my work cut out for me.

I hate revising manuscripts, so I put it off for Out of the Badlands. That bit me in the ass because I had to cram to get it done. Not a good way to do things.

That said, the book is out the door and with my editor, so I don’t have it looming over my head anymore. My other two manuscripts won’t go to the editor for another couple of months, so I’ll have time to proofread those along the way. One bite at a time, like eating an elephant.

With Out of the Badlands out of the way, I can focus again on my current novel. Familiar Lies is coming along nicely. So well, in fact, that I might actually publish it next, before the other books I have currently waiting in the wings. We’ll see.

Twelve Days Into Familiar Lies

I thought it might be effective to show the progress on this novel, mostly to illustrate how an hour a day of consistent work adds up:

 

I’m twelve days in and writing at a respectable but not astonishing pace. Not even two weeks and I’m already 20% into this 75,000 word novel (around 60 pages).

I’m on schedule to finish this one probably mid-March and with my proofread-as-you-go approach, I won’t have any tedious rewriting left on it when the book is finished. I wish I’d started this rewriting approach sooner than halfway through the last novel. Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose.

By the way, this godsend of a technique is due in no small part to this article by Dean Wesley Smith. And a nod to Lawrence Block, who also does it this way.

And now I’m off to watch the new X-Files before bed. 🙂

 

Weekly Digest, Episode 4

Another good week with a lot of progress. As of Saturday I found myself nine days into the new novel, Familiar Lies, and having more fun writing this book than I thought I could have without an outline. I don’t know what Max’s son may or may not have done, I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I surely don’t know how it’s going to end.

And that’s okay.

As I write my tenth novel, I’m starting to feel a confidence level that I haven’t before had. I’m trusting the process and trusting that my subconscious will cook up what I need as I go. I’m familiar enough with good story structure these days to know if the book is going off the rails or not and my style is settling into patterns with which I’m comfortable.

In other words, I think I’m getting the hang of it.

As for the past week, here’s the word count breakdown of January 17th through January 23:

  • Sun: 1,368
  • Mon: 1,668
  • Tue: 811
  • Wed: 1,427
  • Thu: 1,343
  • Fri: 905
  • Sat: 1,350

Total: 8,872 words

On Tuesday I only managed one sprint, so that 811 number is actually a pretty good pace. Friday was exactly the opposite; two sprints netted me only 905 words. That happens.

Averaging it out, I hit 1,267 words per day, a number I’m noticing more often than not these days in my spreadsheet. I think I’m slowing down because I’m being more deliberate with what I put on the page. I’m much more concerned with getting it right the first time now, even if that’s slower. Outside of circling back the next day and giving what I just wrote a quick proofread, I won’t rewrite those words again. This is changing my pace, but ultimately since I’m not rewriting things to death I’m spending less time overall. A net gain in time and I don’t have to suffer through rewriting (which is the worst).

I’m 69 days without a miss as of today, including up through this morning. Writing every day has had a tremendous impact on me, keeping me in the story, allowing the words to accumulate at a pace I’ve never before seen and it has created a habit that I can hardly consider breaking now.

And writing is more fun than ever.