February 8th, 2020 – 500

500 days of 1K. Over 700,000 words of content by a conservative estimation, and four and a half novels, both handwritten and typed. It’s weird being at this milestone because we’re halfway through WHT. When I hit 200 I finished VOL at as near as makes no difference the same time. 100 was more shrouded in the tough start to 2019 so I don’t have much to show for it. This feels somehow between those two. I’ve had a rough couple months, but I’ve also never been so efficient at turning out content. That’s good, and I am proud of where I am, even though I recognise I have a lot of improvements to make.

The 22nd of June, 2021 is the big one I have my eyes on. That is what I’ve started thinking of as ‘1K-1K’, the 1,000th day of the project. I’ll also be halfway through typing up a book at that point if my schedule holds. That book is The Whispering Rail, and in an odd parallel like WHT, this is a story told a lot of the time in flashback. Two stories about reflecting on the past, at two milestones where, in one case I am, and the other assuredly will be. The 2nd to the 8th of this month has felt in its own way like a kind of celebratory period for me because of all this, and I think in future that week-long stretch is one I’ll celebrate again. It has a nice feel to it.

WHT is now around a hundred words short of 44,000 words, and we’re still not at the halfway point. That means a 90K book minimum unless I make cuts to the earlier sections. I think I probably will do that if only because there’s the fluff I have included to pad out weaker sections in the early chapters. I treat fluff like that as scaffolding. It’s vital to write it so the story holds together, but you take it down when you’re done. The story can and has to stand without it. But that’s a ways off yet. For now, I need a nice restful day after what has been a long grinding week. Catch you later.

February 7th, 2020 – 499

One year ago today, I made a short post on a site that, I believed, I’d abandon by the end of the month. My initial expectations were not high, and amounted to ‘I’ll try this, it won’t work, it’s never worked.’ I have talked in various places about my oldest mantra in life, but to understand this blog I have to signpost it:

“Try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.”

One of my earliest posts was a rant against the word ‘something’, a word I am a little better at using now than I used to be. That’s funny, because the mantra above wouldn’t work without it. The flexibility of trying vague ideas and letting them take form if they’re going to work is the backbone of 1K. 1K itself was a vague notion of ‘how many days can I write a thousand words in a row’ idea once. This blog as envisioned at the start wasn’t even guranteed to be daily.

I’ve talked about my ‘Action, Accountability and Reflection’ model a few times here. I keep saying I’ll write an essay on it, so no time like the present. Not an essay, but a goog way to understand why this blog succeeded where so many I’ve tried in the past failed. For the purposes of this, Action is my thousand words. Reflection is my private journal, and this is my accountability. 

Action is the act we want to do. In my case, it was write more, but despite me saying vague is no sin above, the Action has to be more specific. This is because we have to be able to measure it, hold it accountable, keep it reasonable, and timebound it. Sound familiar? That should, because what I’ve described is a SMART Target. These are the bedrock of any long term change, lifestyle or otherwise. They give you a “quick(er) win”, that can build into something larger. 1K is at its core a series of SMART Targets, but with a twist.

A traditional SMART Target has relfection and accountability built into it. Depending on the acronym you’re using, ‘Accountability’ is a 5th of the point. But this reflection then flows into setting a ‘next step’ target. You do the thing, and then you do the next thing. This is good when it comes to developing skills, learning and habits. But it’s the part I subverted. I instead declared right from the start, that these goalposts would never move. ‘1K is Enough’ became my guiding view. On my best day sure, I can sail over that if I let myself. But on my worst? I can always meet it.

Reflection used to be the third step, but now had moved more often to be the second for me, so I will put it second here. This is where I take some time to reflect on where my head is at in relation to 1K. I do this as a journal entry, which I never said didn’t count towards my thousand words, but I always write after. That way, if I miscounted and wrote 997 words, I hit target either way. Given my problems in the past with paranoia this is a godesend. I use this step, written in a place 100% private, to be honest with myself. There is no point lying in there. I don’t make a habit of lying anywhere, but self censorship is its own form of lying. Some things you can’t write on a blog.

I use my reflective step to take stock. Here, I adjust course if my current habits – of which writing is central – have me on the ropes or the rocks. Then I can leverage this into new ideas. I have to fill a page of my journal, and I give each entry a tile to give it more direction. I show these writings to nobody, and to be blunt, I have no intention to either. There’s nothing that exciting in there, but it means I can write what I want to, or importantly, need to.

And then there’s my Accountability. In the past when I have tried to manufacture habits, I have fallen short because a looming, terrifying, existential question looms:

“Who cares?”

No really, who cares if I don’t write a thousand words a day? Even my closest loved ones don’t get why I do it, because it’s a personal and in its way, private experience. I try to explain to people that building your life around a central habit is the best way to live. I’m not a lone voice on that either, that’s mainstream scientific consensus too. I’ve said this before, but Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is the best resource on this out there. But keeping that going is tough, because when you’re in a rut, a little voice will say those two words again and again and again and again and again. There’s no escaping low points; you can’t always be ok, and trying is self defeating. But with accountability, you can embrace not being ok, and defy it.

No one reads this blog. I’ve been putting these posts up for a year now, and the engagement statistics are abysmal. I’ve never cared. The reason I’ve never cared is because I know psychology, and I know how to subvert it. If you post something on the internet, you will think people are reading it. This is in spite of what simple facts say otherwise. Call it the arrogant human mind. We are the centre of our own worlds, and if we make something and put it out there, of course people will see it. It’s why people post to places like WattPad week after week in spite of having zero reads, and don’t appear to notice. If you want fame, this is your greatest curse. If like me you want a free source of consiquence free accountability, this is your greatest asset.

I post an entry every day on here, and by doing so even if I don’t out and out say it, I am saying “I wrote a thousand words yesterday”. Sometimes I’m saying “I wrote a thousand yesterday and have already written a thousand today.” The point is in my mind, people are watching me to make sure I stick to this, and will notice if I have a gap in my posting on here. Nobody is, but to my brian that appears to be an afterthought. And that is so important I cannot emphasise it enough: I hold myself accountable to imaginary readers. If you want to be successful at anything in life, you have to hold yourself accountable to something. I hold myself accountable to you, even if you don’t exist.

Here’s to a whole year of fantasy accountability, and all the wonders it has done for me. I lost weight. I improved my performance at work. I wrote more. I got more efficiant at writing novels. I socialised more. I recognised faster when I wasn’t doing ok, and reached out sooner. So yes, my imaginary reader, you do not exist. And yet, I owe you everything I have. So thank you. Here’s to many more years ahead.

…Oh and, yes, I wrote 1,000 words of WHT this morning. 

February 6th, 2020 – 498

Keeping this short today as I am going to try and leverage more of my break for anothe project. There is a Flash Fiction competition that closes in 10 days, and it allows multiple entries. Top fifty entries get a publication credit. I am going to try to write three stories, and hone them to the best they can be. I may adapt previous stories or go for something new, I haven’t decided. But credits will give me credibility to an agent. This is the way forward. Wiah me luck. Back to work for now, and on my break, it’s showtime.

February 5th, 2020 – 497

WHT hit 40,000 words this morning. I remember in the past, I used to think that every 10,000 words I would get stuck. With hindsight, I recognise this for what it was: my humbling for hitting a milestone psyching me out. I would get to 40K in VOL and it would knock me for 6. As I’ve become more used to writing novels back to back, I get this less and less. I am testiment to the fact that writing can become as much a habit as brushing your teeth. Writing novels can be a process that flows as elegant as any production line, without sacraficing quality or heart. I do not censor my heart, I let it stream without break each day. 

I am in a pickle though, Today was the 36th day of typing WHT, and I hit 40K. This fits with elegance the “write 10K every 9 days” model I fell into without any artifice. That means I will by March 11th hit 81K~. That’s, not enough. This novel is much longer than that. In fact it’s threatening to become a 110K story. Is that a problem? If I were working full time as a writer of course not. But I’m not, and I can only devote so much time each day to writing. If I want to hit my stretch goal of all 14 books in this series by the end of 2023, it’s a big problem. 

So what can I do? Good question, I have no idea. I mean there is an obvious solution: get published stupid. All well and good, but how do I even go about doing that? I am not arrogant enough to believe I deserve publication in my work’s current form. So do I hire an editor? Maybe, but it makes more sense to bolster my name, get an agent, and then take their advice on editing. Of course should I get beta readers in the meantime I will take their advice, as I have so far. But there is a far bigger problem lingering here.

I am plain scared to send my stories off. Understand it’s not fear of rejection, I embrace failure. It’s the best way to learn anything. No my fear of sending my stories off is the same reason it took a month to fix my heating, and why I still cannot handle phonecalls to save my life. I am a shy person. I am far more introverted than I care to admit, and it is stilting my progress in a big way. Yes I might get rejected and there’s no gurantee an agent will want me on their books, but it’s a 0% chance if I don’t try. So what the heck do I do?

The answer is already on my Trello. I have a list called “Writing contests to enter”. There is a flash fiction contest that closes in 9 days, 300 words. I am going to enter it, and all the others on my list too. There’s a BBC one which I’ll enter an edited version of The Rope Broke into. There’s a novel contest for which I will submit Unreachable. Will I win any of these? I doubt it. But if I can even gain some kind of mention, it’s a credit. I need to find story collections to submit to. I don’t care about prize money or awards; I need exposure. If I can get enough of that, it won’t only mean an agent might take more notice. It might give me the confidence to approach one.

Here’s hoping. Back to work.

February 4th, 2020 – 496

Target hit nice and early, WHT is now in spitting distance of 40K typed. Seems this isn’t going to be the half way point so this is a longer novel whetter I like it or not. That’s fine though; people like longer books anyway. Even so it puts March 11th as a due date a little up on the air. It’s doable but I need to bank a few bigger days. All been close to exact 1,000 word days this month so far.

Good news is now I’m hitting target earlier I’m more relaxed at work and getting a lot more done in a shorter space of time. That’s not the goal of productivity but it’s a nice to have outcome of it. I still want to run my Taking Control of Work session again soon to spread this approach around. I need to rewrite it to emphasise ‘Paper is not only ok, it’s sometimes better’ as a message.

Back to work for now, then Stardew later. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have my evenings just for me. Had I bought the winter forage from the travelling cart I could have completed the community centre in Autumn of year one! That’s my goal for the next playthough I think. Wish me luck with work.

February 3rd, 2020 – 495

First booked day off of the year today. This was a weird holiday arrangement this year, with a week I lost in October to illness, a week to the election and 7 days to Common Ground Woodcraft Camp at the end of this year. That last one isn’t a loss of course; I can’t wait! But it did add up to almost all of my holiday allowance between them. That’s less than ideal for my natural rhythm. This isn’t something I like to talk about a lot, but I have some issues when it comes to fatigue.

We have no idea what causes them. I’ve been through my diet, through untangling this weird fatigue from depression – mercifully in the rearview mirror at this point. I exercise more, I eat healthy foods, including enough protein. I sleep in such a regular pattern that I get up at the same time to the minute each morning and get 8 hours of sleep a night. And with all these factors in place for a month now, I have to say: I still get exhausted doing the most minor tasks. The kind of things that shouldn’t knacker you. 20 minute walk? Sure that might knock you a bit. That plus morning prep and a few five-minute jaunts adding up to all my limbs being on fire and my vision going blurry? Less normal.

This was something that held back the writing for years. I could go a week in that blurry state and not register anything within it. A lot of that got exacerbated by bad lifestyle choices, but those now absent, the phantom of that lack of energy still lingers. At some point when money is less tight I’m going to try a gym membership, and in the meantime more exercises at home, but even when I did those things in the past it stuck around. I feel like if I could overcome that hurdle, I could go up to 2K a day without much pain. But that involves solving something that has stuck around for a good 9 or so years now.

WHT to bring it back to writing is going well. 38,000 words in and I am nowhere near the halfway point, so I think this is likely another 100K+ novel before edits. After edits, I am expecting it to be 85K. I am ruthless when it comes to trimming the fat. It’s one of my greatest assets as a writer; told to kill my darlings, I break out the chainsaw. Even so, it does make the March 11th soft deadline a bit tricky if I shoot that far over. That makes ‘End of March’ more plausible, but I can’t finish all 14 books by the end of 2023 if I use up my entire buffer on one project. I have maybe 40 days leeway tops to work with. Again EO-2023 is a soft deadline – it’s not like I have a publisher breathing down my neck. But if I pull this off, it’s a big neon sign saying ‘You can rely on me producing you a lot of content‘ to any agents in the wings.