Category Archives: writing

Response Times, Rejectomancy, and Other Excuses to Avoid Writing

Back in my early days as a writer, I used to spend waste time poring over entries in the Writer’s Marketplace (this was before the Internet) to see how long it took a magazine to respond. I would carefully track all of my submissions, and then spend time calculating average response times. And when I got rejection slips, I’d ponder over the meaning of every word trying to find some hint of meaning in an otherwise bland form letter.

I don’t do this any more. Part of the reason is that I now better understand the markets to which I submit today. Part of the reason is because the majority of my writing these days is solicited. And part of the reason is that if I want to spend my time writing, I can’t afford to spend it pondering over the meaning of a word on a rejection slip.

Response times

As a data junkie, and quantified selfer, you’d think I’d be really into the measurements that surround the submission and publication process. And perhaps, in a loose way, I am. I track all of my submissions in a Google Spreadsheet (a template of which is freely available to anyone who wants to use it). But I find that these day, I don’t spend much time looking at the data, or putting it to significant use. In part, I think that’s because I’ve learned there really isn’t much that I can control in the process, and data is most helpful for things which we have control over.

Some of this comes from experience. Let’s say that a magazine’s average response time, according to my data, is 33 days. I submit a story to them. What is the point of checking on the story any time before 33 days? Given that the average response is 33 days, I’m kind of wasting my time expecting something before then. If I get a response sooner, great. But instead of checking and worrying and wondering if my story has been received and read, I feel like my energy is better spent working the next story.

After 33 days has past, then what? Well, what can I really do about it? An editor will get to my story when they get to it. That 33 days is just an average. Trying to guess when the response will come in seems needlessly worrisome to me today. What if the story hits 66 days? Well, I’ve probably written two or three other items during that time, maybe more if I’m not constantly worrying about the ones out on submission.

Then, too, my 33 days average is based on a pretty small sample. I’ve never been into the crowd-sourcing tools for submissions, like Duotrope, not because they charge money, but because I’m dubious of the data quality. My idea of a high data-quality service would be one where the magazines are supplying realtime response rates to the service. You’d get much more granular and probably more accurate response rates that way. Then, too, whether or not we like to admit it, editors jump around in their reading piles. I’ve had stories accepted at magazines 4 hours after submitting, that normally take 2-3 months to respond. Context plays a role in the response time process.

The bottom line, for me, is that the bulk of my enjoyment is in writing stories and articles. And nothing prevents me from writing more of them once others have been submitted–unless I get bogged down into constantly checking the status of my submissions. Thankfully, I’ve grown out of this phase.

Rejectomancy

Rejectomancy is another time-killer in a writer’s life. “Rejectomancy,” for those unfamiliar with the term, is the fine art of reading into rejection slips. That is, pondering over every word and trying to decide what it says about your story. Consider this:

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Life in the Writer’s Clubhouse

I have always had a fascination for what goes on behind the scenes. It doesn’t matter if it is actors on a TV show or movie, or baseball players chatting with one another at first base or in the clubhouse. It seemed to me that those were the moments when you saw the real people, the ones behind the superstars, the ones that were always slightly hidden from view.

I’ve wondered the same thing about writers, too. And I had a kind of revelation earlier this week. I was in New York for the annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America reception. I had to be in the city early because I was also being interviewed for a feature on productivity that Forbes is doing. After that interview, I headed up to Port Authority to meet one of my writer-friends coming into town for the reception. We headed to a place nearby for lunch.

Sitting at that lunch, I realized that this was what goes on behind the scenes for writers. It’s probably also very similar to what goes on behind the scenes for actors, and baseball players. We sat in the restaurant, and we talked. We talked about baseball and football, but we also talked shop. In talking shop, I noticed something interesting. Before I was published, talking shop generally centered around things like telling each other all about the stories we were writing. In great detail. Or it centered around what is euphemistically known as “rejectomancy”: that is, trying to parse out meaning from form letter rejection slips. Occasionally, it went into wild day-dreams, like what it would be like to have a story in Analog!

But at that lunch, we didn’t talk about any of those things. We didn’t go into elaborate detail describing our latest stories to one another. Instead, we said things like, “I’m working on another baseball alternate history.” We didn’t really talk about rejections at all, in part because they are a much more infrequent thing than they used to be. And when they come these days, we just accept them as a story not working for a particular editor. And as we’ve both been published in Analog (and other places) numerous times, the discussion tended to go more toward how far behind we were in keeping up with the stories in the magazine1, or what things the editor has commissioned us to write for him.

I had dinner with the editor of Analog and the editorial assistant for the magazine that evening at the Union Square Cafe, and that was another example of being behind the scenes, instead of wondering what it was like to be there. It doesn’t seem much different than any other dinner–except every once-in-a-while, when I realize that I day-dreamed about such things when I was starting out 20 years ago. Probably half of the table discussion centered around writing, and the other half around food, or drinks, or other subjects entirely.

I sometimes get to hear stories that I might not hear if I wasn’t a writer. At the SFWA reception, I talked with a few people who told some pretty hilarious stories about the early years of the reception. On the other hand, Steven Silver and I swapped a subgenre of travel stories–namely, airport stories. I talked to Myke Cole about his day job. And my brother-in-law, who came to the event with me, discovered that his former neighbors were in attendance.

Probably the best part of events like this–and perhaps the best part of what happens behind the scenes–is the introductions. When I was starting out, a lot of people–Michael Burstein, Allen Steele, Bill Lawhorn, Bud Sparhawk to name just a few–went out of their way to introduce me to people. I try to do the same and an event like the SFWA reception is a good place to do it. I was particularly pleased to be able to introduce my Launch Pad pal, Jenn Brissett (whose debut novel, Elysium, comes out next month) to SFWA president Steven Gould.

I’ve been to enough of these kind of events and chatted with enough writers over the years (some of them heroes of mine since I was half my current age) to know that this is pretty much what it is like behind the scenes. I imagine it’s not much different in baseball, or the acting world. You hang out with other ball player, or actors, because that is the world you know. When you’re on first base, the first baseman might say something to you like, “A bunch of us are going to Gus’s Steakhouse after the game, if you want to come.” No different than when the moderator of a panel you were just on turns to you after the panel and said, “There’s a party going on tonight in room so-and-so for a book release. You should stop by.”

What was most revealing to me about this revelation was that I’d been in the middle of it for some time, I’d been behind the scenes, and it was only now that I started to recognize it.

Notes

  1. I think I am close to 2 years behind.

The People Behind the Story

One of the biggest thrills as a writer is that first time you see your name in the table of contents for a magazine or anthology, or on the cover of a book. When I sold my first story, back in 2007, it was like making it to the big leagues. I knew I’d never be a major league baseball player, but I’d done something of the equivalent (in my eyes) as a writer. Seeing my byline along with my story was a joy.

As writers, we are the public face of our stories, book and articles. Credit for success accrues to us, as does criticism for faults and failures. That is fair, and as it should be. If we have the audacity to think our words might be enjoyed by others, we have to be able to handle the results, good and bad.

They say writing is a lonely business, and when the writer is sitting down pounding out words, that is mostly true. But the road from idea to publication, at least for me, is anything but lonely.  Behind every story that sees publication are people besides the writer who help to make it happen. These people are often in the background, and their names rarely appear on the byline along with the author’s. But without them, I couldn’t do what I do. Who are these people? They probably vary for every writer, but for me, they include 5 groups.

Other writers

I find it hard to talk about the process of writing (and the struggles therein) with my family and my non-writer friends. I think there are two reasons for this. First and foremost, I don’t want to bore my family and friends with writerly problems that probably seem esoteric to anyone but another writing. Second, unless you are a writer, it is hard to understand the struggles. My experience has been that non-writers generally fall into two groups: (a) people who think writing must be easy, and if they turned their hand to it, could churn out a best-seller between cups of coffee. And (2) people who don’t write because they find it daunting and terrifying.

Other writers, however, are a different story. While I may not always discuss the specifics of every story I write with other writers, I often will talk to them about the struggles I happen to be having. For me, my writer friends often take on the role of a hitting coach or fielding coach in baseball. Instead of helping with footwork, or batting mechanics, they help get me out of my head, and approach things from a new angle. On more than one occasion, a conversation with another writer about the mechanics of the job have helped me move a story forward. That is a big help, and often goes unacknowledged. You don’t see these writers’ names on the byline, although I do try to acknowledge them elsewhere. If it wasn’t for there help, I might have never made it through the struggle.

A small group of my writer-friends, and occasionally, my writer’s group also act as my beta-readers. The feedback I get from them on my stories is invaluable. Every story that I’ve written that has gone through beta readers has come out of the other side of the process far better because of the keen eyes looking over my work and making useful suggestions.

Editors

I’d say that 40% of my stories accepted for publication have required work with the editor to get them into shape to really make them publication worthy. This includes my first story, as well as later stories. For instance, my story, “Flipping the Switch,” which appeared in the original anthology Beyond the Sun (edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt) last summer required quite a bit of work with Bryan to make it publication worthy. The result was a story that I think was much better than the one that I turned in

Sometimes editors suggestions are small, but make me, as the writer, look better. The first story I sold to Analog, “Take One for the Road” (June 2011) had a reference to “night owls” which then editor Stan Schmidt suggested I changed simply to “owls” as the phrase “night owls” was redundant. A small change, but an improvement.

Not long ago I had an article published at 99U called “How I Kept a 373-Day Productivity Streak Unbroken1” My editor at 99U, Sean Blanda made a key suggestion–generalizing some of the points in the article and calling them out explicitly–which vastly improved the article. Indeed, that article became the most-shared article I’ve ever written with something like 5,000 shares on social media. The feedback I received for it was overwhelmingly positive. And I credit that all to Sean’s suggestion.

And let’s not forget the copyeditors who catch the small typos, spelling errors, and who find inconsistencies in usage in the manuscripts and cleans them up so that the finished product looks professional. No matter how many times I proofread, I miss things, and I’ve come to believe that there is diminishing returns to this. But the copyeditors make sure that I look good, despite myself.

Artists

I have been fortunate to have artists render scenes from three of my stories. I am always blown away by the results. Artists are acknowledged for their work, but I still think they become part of the team that make the story better. They provide a unique window into the story that my words alone can’t do. For that, I am grateful to each artist who has taken more words and turned them into something amazing.

Production people

Readers see the results of the work of many people: the writer, the editor, the artist being the three most visible. Behind the scenes there are a lot more people helping to bring the stories to life. There are editorial assistants (like Emily Hockaday at Analog and Asimovs) who walk newbie writers through the process of reviewing galleys. There are managing editors and people in contract departments who handle the business end of the process, issuing contracts and payments.

There are the production people who layout the magazine, or the book, who make it available in various online formats, who merge in the artwork, and in short, who make it look like what you see on the bookshelf, newsstand, or how it appears when you download it to your e-reader device.


Without any of these people to help out along the way, none of my stories would see the light of day. Writing might seem like a lonely business, and certainly, sitting at the keyboard and getting the words down can be lonely at times, but I tend to find I am surrounded by vast team of people all of whom are cheering along for my success, encouraging me, making me and my words look good. They all deserve credit in the process. They are the people behind the stories, and without whom there would be no stories.

As the public face of the stories, it is the writers who receive fan mail, or criticisms along the way. I think it is important to acknowledge to readers and fans that there are a lot more people behind the scenes that just the writer. The best qualities of the story are because of this team of people behind the story.

Notes

  1. As of today, that streak stands at 425 days.

The First Draft of My Novella, “Strays” is Complete

Immediately after work this afternoon, I finished the first draft of my novella, “Strays.” As other writers (or artists) probably know, there is nothing quite like the feeling of finishing something. Robert Heinlein’s second rule of writing fiction is to “Finish what you start” and it is still the most difficult rule for me to follow. But it does feel good when I finish something, and in particular, something as big and troublesome as this novella.

How big?

The first draft came in at 20,727 words. I believe it is the longest piece of “short fiction” I have ever written, although I’m not 100 percent certain of this. For people who think in terms of pages instead of words, the story comes to somewhere between 80-100 manuscript pages.

How troublesome?

When I write a draft, I use a numbering system similar to software revisions at the end of my file name. So my first attempt at the first draft of “Strays” was titled:

Strays – 1.0

When I run into problems, and in particular in the first draft, when I find the story moving in the wrong direction, or using the wrong point of view character, I generally start over. I’ll create a new document and increment my “revision” number by one. So my second attempt at the first draft of “Strays” would be titled:

Strays – 1.1

Over time, the number of the draft becomes an indicator of how difficult a story is for me. The lower the number the easier it goes. For short fiction, I rarely go about 1.2 or 1.3 in the first draft. The version of the story that I finished today was titled as follows:

Strays – 1.13

That’s not a typo. This was my 13th attempt at getting the story right. I’d guess that the preview 12 attempts added up to at least 20,000 words worth of writing, and quite likely more. So that I wrote a total of 40 – 50,000 words to get a complete first draft of 20,000 words.

But I am also pleased with my discipline in this case. Often, when I come up against a thorny application development problem, I sit down at the computer and tell myself that I’m not getting up until I have it solved. This works surprisingly well, and I tried it with 1.13. I told myself that this was it. If I couldn’t make it work in this draft, I was giving up on the story. I made it work.

I started draft 1.13 on August 7, 2014 and I finished it today, September 3, 2014.

What else can I say about the story

All I will say is that this is a contemporary baseball alternate history story. With a twist.

What’s next?

I plan on setting the story aside for a while. I don’t generally do this with short fiction. Usually, I start right up on the second draft, but this is a longer piece and I need some distance from it.

Tomorrow, I plan to start on a new short science fiction story that I want to have finished in time for a meeting with an editor I have in just over a month from now.

But, boy oh boy, it feels good to have finished “Strays.” And I do look forward to working on the second draft.

Upcoming Writing Projects

In the next day or two, I expect to finish the first draft of a novella that I’ve been struggling with for some time1 Usually, when I finish a piece of short fiction, I move right into the second draft. But the novella is not exactly short. I expect the first draft to come in at 21,000 – 23,000 words. For something that long, I think I need a little distance before moving to the second draft.

But that’s okay because I have an idea of what I want to work on next. I have that itch to write a short story. It just so happens that in early October, I will be in New York for a SFWA gathering. While there, I’m meeting with an editor and, as I’ve learned, it’s always a good idea to have something for an editor when you meet with them. My plan, therefore, is to write the complete short story, and have it ready for submission by the time I meet with my editor in early October.

That is about a month (well, 5 weeks) away. Does it really take that long to write a short story? Well, yes, and no. I’ve written short stories faster, but keep in mind that I also have quite a bit of nonfiction writing to do along with my fiction. If I get the story done sooner, great! If it takes the full month, that’s okay, too.

Once the short story is done and submitted, I’ll return to the second draft of the novella and try to make it into something really cool. Then it goes out to beta-readers. I honestly don’t know when this will be. Second drafts tend to go faster for me, so it could be by the end of October, but more than likely, it will be early-to-mid November.

And with that novella out of the way, I just might feel ready to tackle the second draft of the novel, something with which I have really struggled, but which I am sure that I will eventually get a handle on.

That’s the plan for now, anyway. Check back in November to see how things are going.

Notes

  1. “Strays” for those keeping score.

FAQ on My Ongoing Consecutive Day Writing Streak

Last week, 99u published an article of mine entitled “How I Kept a 373-Day Productivity Streak Unbroken.” At the time I wrote the article, the streak was, indeed, at 373 days. On the day the article was published, I think it was up to 393 days. And on Monday of this week, I hit 400 consecutive days of writing. The 99u article has turned out to be, by far, the most popular article I’ve written. As of this morning, it has been shared more than 4,400 times. I don’t know if that counts as viral, but it is both amazing and humbling to me. I have received more feedback on the article than for anything I’ve written before, fiction or nonfiction, and all of it, every last tweet, email, and comment, has been positive. Which, of course, delights me.

One result of all of this is that I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the streak, so this post serves as a place to point people for the most common questions and my answers. Keep in mind that I am writing this post on the 401st day of my consecutive day streak.

You can find the FAQ below.

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How Much Time I Spend Writing, Automated and Revisited

About a month ago, I automated the process of capturing how much time I spend writing each day, and incorporated that data into my Google Doc Writing Scripts. Here is how this work:

  • I use RescueTime on all of my computers, home and work.
  • RescueTime tracks how much time I spend in various applications, including specific documents.
  • Using the RescueTime API, I wrote a script that captures how much time I spend in Google Docs each day.
  • That number gets recorded in my writing spreadsheet automatically each night.

This means I no longer have to “clock in” or “clock out” to track my writing time. I just start writing, stop writing, continue later, etc. and all of it captured automatically by my script. With almost a month of this type of data on the books, it’s interesting to look at how my guesses match reality.

Generally, when I’m firing on all cylinders, I can write 6 pages (1,500 word) per hour. Put another way that is about a page every ten minutes. Of course, I don’t always reach this apogee of output. It turns out (with about 30 days worth of data to go on) that the correlation between the time I spend writing and how much I write is pretty strong (0.59). I took the data and ran a scatter plot, with a trendline using that correlation, and here is the results:

Writing Time

It is clear that the more time I spend, the more I write, but it’s not as strong a correlation as you might think. Part of the reason is that sometimes, it takes a while to get things out of my head. Here is what that same set of data looks like plotted individually over time. First the word counts…

30 Days Words

and then the time spent…

30 Days Time

These two charts illustrate that while the correlation is pretty strong, there are times when I clearly get bogged down. August 5 is a good example. I wrote just about 1,200 words, but it took me 79 minutes. And yet on August 7, I wrote 1,600 words and it took me under an hour. This variability is caused by two things:

  1. Concentration. Sometimes, in difficult scenes, I slow way down to think things through and work them out. Remember, I generally don’t plot ahead, so especially in first draft, I’m working out things on the fly.
  2. Interruptions. I’ve talked about how in order to write every day, I’ve had to learn to write with distraction. Sometimes, the kids will need me for something, I’ll step away for 5 or 10 minutes with no progress on the document, and then return and write more. That clearly shows up as slower.

But that red trendline in the first chart is pretty accurate, and comes close to my intuitive guesses. I have said that I wrote about 500 words in 20 minutes. That’s 1,000 words in 40 minutes. If you look at the 1,000 word-mark on that first chart, and then go up to where the red trendline crosses the 1,000 word-mark, it’s right about the 40-45 minute mark. My intuition is pretty accurate! You’ll also note that 1,500 words crosses at right about the 60 minute mark.

I have less than 30 days of the time data, but as this volume of data increases, I expect the trendline to become more accurate. One thing that is particularly useful about a chart like this is that it can tell you for a given amount of time you have available, how much you can accomplish. Or, flipping it around, if you want to write 1,000 words, how much time will you need to set aside?

Entirely automated

I wanted to call this out one more time. All of the data above is generated automatically. I don’t spend a single instant of my time collecting it. That is perhaps the biggest value. Once I wrote the scripts (which I did spent time on) I get the data without any effort, and this can be used to help me make adjustments down the road.

You can see my realtime data, including how much writing I’ve done at various intervals (my ongoing writing streak, for example) and how much time I’ve spent writing. Head on over to open.jamierubin.net to check it out.

I Have an Article At 99U on My Extended Writing Streak

When I was asked to write an article for 99U, I decided to get a little meta, and write about how I’ve been able to hack my writing streak to ensure that I write every day, even with a fulltime job and family. That article is now online:

How I Kept a 373-Day Productivity Streak Unbroken

At the time I wrote the article, my streak was at 373 days. It’s now 20 days since I wrote the article and my streak continues at 393 days.

In the article, I offer some tips that have worked for me for maintaining the streak, even with a busy and varied schedule. Head on over to 99U to check out the article, if you are so inclined.

How I Use Google Docs for Writing

Since February 2013, I’ve used Google Docs for my writing. I’ve always been a fan of Scrivener, and I still use Scrivener to prepare submission drafts. But for a year and a half now, I use Google Docs exclusively for first, second, and final drafts. I was asked on Twitter recently if I had a post explaining how I used Google Docs for my writing. With nearly 6,000 posts, I’ve written on almost everything, but strangely, I did not have a post on how I use Google Docs for my writing. Now I do.

Why Google Docs?

Because I’m sure someone will ask why I use Google Docs, let me get that out of the way first. There are three main reasons.

1. Simplicity

Google Docs is simple. Unlike Microsoft Word, it doesn’t have every feature under the sun. But it has enough for me to easily produce clean copy in standard manuscript format, and that is really all that I require. Too many features weigh an application down, and provide distractions. Google Docs minimizes those things.

2. Accessibility

I work in all kinds of environments. In my home office, I have an iMac. In my work office, I have a Windows laptop. I have Google Chromebook as well. Sometimes, I write on other machines. Google Docs is available to me on all of these platforms. The same feature set, the same version, the same look-and-feel. This is important because it saves me time in having to learn specific ins-and-outs for different platforms.

Google Docs is also always available. Everything is stored in the cloud, and sycned to my computers. On those rare instances when I am offline–say, on a plane without Internet access–I can still access my documents offline.

3. Automation

I never have to remember to save. Google Docs saves as a I type. This has saved me on a couple of occasions when the power has gone out.

Moreover, Google Docs can be customized using Google App Scripting, essentially JavaScripting objects that allow you access to the Docs object model. I’ve created several tools through this automation that have allowed me to automate routine writing processes. That in turn allows me to spend more time writing.

Google Docs isn’t perfect. I’ve written before about what I consider to be the important elements of a word processor for writers. Google Docs has some of those elements, but not all of them. That said, I just like it. It fits me well.

Ingredients

To understand how I use Google Docs for writing, you have to first understand that I have built a small infrastructure within Google Drive to support my writing. The goal of this is to automate everything I can, so that the vast majority of my time is spent writing. I’ve been pretty successful with this. Here are the components to my Google Drive writing infrastructure.

1. My writing template

I have created a writing template that I use in Google Docs. This template contains some automated functions I’ve created. It is the jumping-off point for any new story or article. I have it bookmarked on my Chrome bookmark bar for easy access. Here is an annotated look at my Google Writing Template.

Google Docs Template
Click to enlarge

My “Project” menu allows me to quickly create new blank documents. It has other functions that automate processes for me, like preparing a document for Scrivener (where I do the submission manuscript).

My scripts automatically capture the start date and end date of a draft, as well as the type (fiction or nonfiction). This data gets fed into my Google Docs Writing Tracker.

My template has a deleted scenes section. While I am a strong proponent of cutting scenes and other stuff from my stories, I never throw anything away. In addition to being useful later, seeing what I cut helps me learn and improve.

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Writing Stats for July 2014

Is July already over? I ended July with almost exactly 27,000 words written, not as good as June, but altogether respectable. It also brings my total word count for the year-to-day to 190,000 words, not counting blogging.

With more nonfiction freelance work, I modified my Google Doc Writing Tracker to split my daily word counts into fiction and nonfiction. I didn’t start this until very late in July, so I don’t have a lot of useful data. But next month, I should be able to report on the actual breakdown. I’ve also automated capturing the time I spent doing my writing, taking advantage of the RescueTime API for that. Again, I didn’t start capturing this until late in July so August’s data should be much more interesting.

Normally, I’d post a chart showing my writing for the month, but thanks to the work I’ve done on my experimental analytics site, open.jamierubin.net, you can see live data of my writing for the month of July by heading over there. You can also see my writing since the beginning of the year. The site is growing increasingly interactive, and there should be some improvements to the look and feel in the coming weeks, but for now, I’m just glad I’ve automated the data reporting. It means I have more time to spent on the actual writing.

During July, I had two items published:

  1. The FitBit for Your Car,” The Daily Beast (July 8)
  2. Self-Tracking for N00Bz,” The Daily Beast (July 24)

I expect to see at least three things published in August, and of course, I’ll let you know when they are available.

Open Beta of My Google Docs Writing Tracker Version 2

I have done a major refactoring of my Google Doc Writing Tracker. Several new features have been added, but the biggest change is that the scripts are not data-driven, making them much easier to setup and configure. If you are using the scripts today, or have been wanting to try them out, you are welcome to install the new beta version.

You can get the files from the beta-version-2 branch on GitHub.

Be sure to read the README as that has been updated to reflect the changes in the system.

New features

  • NEW: A new spreadsheet is available with all of the configuration information built into it. You just fill in the blanks on the Config tab, and the script takes care of the rest. This makes it easier to configure and customize without the need to go into the code.
  • NEW: Option to break down daily word counts into fiction/nonfiction.
  • NEW: Ability to run the scripts in test mode. Allows you to see the results of your configuration in the log without the changes being applied to your spreadsheet.
  • NEW: Ability to customize the order of the columns on the Writing tab.
  • NEW: Ability to customize the names of the tabs in the spreadsheet.
  • NEW: Ability to customize the location and names of the Sandbox and Snapshot (formerly “Earlier”) folders.
  • NEW: Ability to capture time spent writing by integrating with the RescueTime API (experimental).
  • NEW: Ability to generate Daily Almanac summary email that lists stats for the day, and identifies trends and records.
  • NEW: Improved logging in test mode.
  • NEW: Validation of configuration settings.

What I hope to accomplish with the beta

So far, these changes are working very well for me. But I can only really test in my own environment, and because I initially wrote the scripts for me, they may be inadvertently tailored to my environment. In this version, I’ve tried to generalize a lot of the code and make it more flexible and easier to use in other environments.

What I am looking for in this beta is to have people test the scripts in many environments in order to identify any problems, and iron them out before merging this code back into the master branch.

To that end, if you use the scripts I ask that you do 2 things:

  1. Log an issue if you find a problem. Understand that I don’t have a lot of time to work on these scripts. I set aside a chunk of time once a year or so to do a major refactoring like this, but that’s about all I can do. So while I will try to address all of the issues, it may take a while.
  2. If you see a way in which the documentation can be clarified, by all means let me know.

If I do have time, I will try to address the issues as quickly as I can, but that time isn’t guaranteed, and as I say in the README, while I’m making these scripts available to anyone who wants to use them, I don’t have time to support them. You use them at your own risk, so be sure to read the README.

The initial setup can be a little cumbersome and I’ve tried to clarify it in the documentation. Once it is setup, if all goes well, it should just run silently in the background and add to your spreadsheet each day.

If you use the scripts, let me know how they work for you. They work great for me, but of course, they were designed for me and my environment. With this revision, I’m hoping that they work equally well for anyone who chooses to use them.

The Daily Almanac Has Been Added to My Google Writing Tracker

One of the most frequent requests I get regarding my Google Writing Tracker is to make my Daily Almanac available as part of those scripts. The wait is over. Today, I pushed out the Daily Almanac the Google Writing Tracker project on GitHub.

For those who don’t know, my Google Writing Tracker is a set of script that automate the process of tracking what I write every day. Since I do all of my writing in Google Docs, these scripts run automatically each night, look at what I wrote, tally up the stats and record them in a spreadsheet. They also email me a copy of all of my writing for that day, including differences from the previous day.

Along with those scripts, I built another script that I call my Daily Almanac. This script culls that spreadsheet that is populated by my Writing Tracker scripts and gives me a summary report each night. The report tells me how much I wrote that day, and breaks it down for me. It also identifies any streaks I may have set (369 consecutive days of writing as of today) and any records I may have set. (The most words I’ve written in a day, etc.) I set up my Daily Almanac to send the nightly email to Evernote so that I have a nice record there of my day-to-day writing activity. Here is what a typical Daily Almanac entry looks like:

Daily Almanac July 23

The Daily Almanac is now available for anyone who wants to use it with the Google Writing Tracker. I have checked it in to the project on GitHub, and I’ve updated the README file with detailed steps for setting it up.

As always, this is a use-at-your-own-risk thing. I just don’t have the time to support these scripts. The best I can do is make them available for others who want to give them a try, and encourage folks to add to improve upon them. Be sure to read the instructions carefully, and if you do find any bugs, feel free to open up an issue in the GitHub project. I may not fix it any time soon, but at least it will get tracked.