The community of 500 words

As a writer, I am fortunate to have a best friend who happens to be a wonderful author. She reads my stuff, gives me notes, helps me see clearly my story, and listens to my whining when I’m stuck. And I do the same for her. And this helps make the solitary endeavor of writing a bit less lonely.

Beyond her, however, I have had no writing colleagues with whom to share. I’ve lost touch with everyone I knew in college and grad school, and moved too many times to maintain the threads of most of what ended up being long-distance friendships (which mayhaps says something about the quality of those friendships). I’ve even forgotten most of the names of classmates from the myriad writing workshops. Much life has happened since those days of yore.

This month, I joined a few writing groups on, of all places, Facebook. One of these groups has a specific focus: Writing at least 500 new words a day. This is a community endeavor organized by Jeff Goins, who laid out the guidelines in a blog post:

  • Write 500 words per day, every day during the month of January.
  • You can write more if you want, but 500 words is the minimum.
  • Don’t edit. Just write.
  • If you miss a day, pick up where you left off. Don’t make up for lost days.
  • Encourage, don’t criticize unless explicitly invited to do so.
  • Blogging counts, but email does not.
  • All of this is completely free.

via My 500 words: A Writing Challenge | Goins, Writer.

Participating in this group has been relatively easy, because the focus is on the process of writing, not what we’re writing (though we get into that, too). There’s no pressure to post your words, and if you do, there’s no unsolicited advice. This has lent the group the feeling of being a safe place for sharing. And I feel like I’ve found some writing peers, perhaps even new friends, with whom I can share, and whose writing I admire and wish to support however I can.

The bottom line for me, however, is that thanks in part to this collective endeavor, this year to date (not counting today) I’ve written over 33,000 words on two books. (I haven’t been counting outlining or blogging, and certainly not emails.) Even though I started the year with the firm intention of getting at least one of my partial novels completed, I really don’t think I’d be so far along now, were it not for this small little promise made collectively, by each of us to ourselves, to write at least 500 words a day, every day.

I’m thankful to have found this community, and grateful for the encouragement from my new friends and colleagues. Credit goes to Jeff Goins for having herded us cats together to do this. I hope this group continues. I think it will, because even new habits can be hard to break.

Writing and editing status: 1 January 2014

I thought I’d document what non-blog writing projects I have been working on sporadically this past year, where they stand now, and where they might be going. Please forgive me, my one and only reader, for using acronyms—they reference working titles only, for my own use. The final titles, which for me always come last, are TBD.

Fiction writing

  • RTFT—A scifi/fantasy/comedy that I started four days ago, this is an adaptation of a very silly farcical screenplay about aliens visiting Earth I wrote back when computers still had floppy drives (with the floppy disks that were truly floppy). Its being an adaption has made writing the book a breeze so far, but I think I’ve gotten through the easy part; the screenplay has story problems towards the end of the second act, which means I’m at the point where the adaptation stops and the greenfields writing begins. (11,132 words of probably a novella.)
  • HTS—This is a more serious science fiction story about a woman newly promoted to command a ship in a tense political environment, when she’s confronted with first contact with a species that’s vastly more technologically advanced. I’m feeling a great deal of attachment to this universe, and the main character. This story is epic, with political intrigue, cold war, gender politics, family conflicts, personal crises, sexual awakening—and it scares the crap out of me. (5,592 words.)
  • TCM—A present-day comedy about a young woman with a shiny new Ph.D. in English who can’t find a job in her field, and takes a “day job” that ends up taking over her life in ways that are quite spectacular. This one is proving to be a lot of fun for me. So far, I have the voice, I have the character, I have the meta-plot concept, but I don’t have an outline, so I’m still pecking at discovering that. This may end up being a novel in the chick lit genre, which has been my rare guilty pleasure reading-wise. (1,398 words.)
  • S—This is another screenplay I wrote a while ago that I want to adapt. I haven’t started on this one yet, but I have the script sitting there in a folder, waiting for me, so I’m tossing it into this post with the hope that a year from now I’ll have made some progress on it. One of the fun aspects of this one is that it’s a mystery thriller that unfolds non-linearly—we see the same events happen from different points of view, each time learning something new. And the characters are vivid. (0 words.)

Obviously I need to pick one and get a draft done. As much as I love writing, I love even more finishing something I created (even if that can be a nerve-wracking experience).

Fiction editing

I had the distinct pleasure of working with Katherine M. Lawrence, who is writing a wonderful series of books set in 12th-century Japan. Here are a few:

  • Cold Saké—This novelette introduces Yamabuki, a woman samurai in ancient Japan. In this tale, she’s only 17 and on her own when she arrives at a mysterious inn out in the middle of nowhere. That night she discovers that all is not what it seems. It’s currently available on Kindle. We intend to make it available as a paperback as well.
  • Ôbon: Festival of the Dead [working title]—This novel is really a kind of preamble to the next book listed below. A young couple leaves their seaside village seeking better fortunes elsewhere, and encounter violence, disillusionment, sacrifice and friendship. This is in a final edits stage, and we hope to get it out by end of the month.
  • Haru (Spring) [working title]—This is the first novel of The Pillow Book of a Samurai, and includes characters we meet in Obon. It’s now several years since the events in Cold Saké, and Yamabuki, on an intelligence-gathering mission for the Imperial Palace, finds herself caught in the middle of tumultuous events. We’ll talk about this soon.

Non-Fiction writing

No bullet points here, just a mention of two books that relate more to my design/tech work. I have a bit of material so far, so in between fiction writing I may try working this up into a short book or two. (12,284 words.)

Words are not the thing

Many writers like to add up their word counts and consider them meaningful, but for me words don’t count for anything unless and until they’re combined into something readers can enjoy (even if I’m the only reader). That said, I do see a value in velocity in general, and word counts can measure that; you can see how fast you’ve been going, even if you can’t see, just from this number, whether you got anywhere.

Adding up these numbers above, I get 18,122 words in fiction, 12,284 words in non-fiction, zero books finished or published. That’s it. That’s all. Anemic numbers, I know! I didn’t even blog very much in 2013. I expect to be doing better this year. (And here I am with my 2nd post on day 1.)