A New Phase of Writing: Life After the Streak

I did my first post-streak writing at lunch today. It was the first time in about 10 days that I’d written anything, after having spent the previous 825 days writing every day. Everything about the writing today was new. Driving home from work a few days ago, I realized that I had entered a new phase in my writing life.

Subconsciously, I needed a break from the old ways. I say “subconsciously” because, although my actions were conscious, I don’t think I realized what I was doing until I sat down to write. Several things were new.

1. I have a brand new keyboard, a das keyboard, the first mechanical keyboard I’ve ever had for one of my Macs, and I love it. I love the feel of it, and the clackity-clack of the keys are reminiscent of a typewriter. It feels different from what I’d been using for the past several years, and that alone made today’s writing a new experience for me.

2. I used Scrivener for my writing. After using Google Docs (and my Google Docs Writing Tracker) for the last 2-1/2 years, I wanted something new. I’d used Scrivener before, and it was nice to use it again. It was like playing ball in an old, but familiar ball field. I especially enjoyed the combination of Scrivener’s distraction-free mode combined with the clackity-clack of the keys on my new keyboard.

3. I started a brand new story writing in a style that I haven’t tried before. It was a a refreshing change, and while I didn’t write much–I didn’t have much time–it felt good.

4. I no longer cared about the stats. Today wasn’t about trying to get in the writing. It wasn’t about word counts. It was about doing something that felt good. It was like stretching my legs by taking a long walk in the woods. I wrote without the streak hanging over my head for the first time in over 2 years, and it was a completely different experience.

“Back it up,” I hear you saying, “you didn’t use your Google Docs Writing Tracker? Are you sick? What’s going on?”

With a little bit of distance, I realize now that writing every day had been phase of my writing career, one that is now over. It was an incredibly valuable phase. Among other things, I learned:

  • That I can write every day.
  • That I don’t need large blocks of time. Ten or twenty minutes will do.
  • That I don’t need preparation. I can start cold, and quickly.
  • That I can work at any time in the day when time is available.
  • That I can write in just about any circumstances. I don’t need quiet.

The streak also served to solidify my own writing process, whereby I write a draft for me, and then a draft for audience. That process has helped me produce more published stories than other process I’ve tried.

The Google Docs Writing Tracker served me well in this regard, because it was wired up to track everything automatically. All I had to do was write. The data that the writing tracker produced from my daily writing was useful to me in the same way experimental results are useful to a scientist studying a problem. I have enough data, and I’ve learned all the lessons I can learn from it. I no longer see a need for me to track things at that level.

At the same time, a new phase deserves a change. A new school year always started with new school clothes for me. The new keyboard and a different writing tool are the new clothes I needed to begin the next phase of my writing education.

Still, there are some aspects of my automation that I am not quite willing to give up. One thing my Google Docs Writing Tracker did was keep track of what I wrote each day: what I added, changed, or deleted from each piece. I like having the evolutionary history of the things that I write, and I didn’t want to lose that. But I also didn’t want to spent rewriting the Google Docs Writing Tracker to support my own personal quirks for Scrivener. So I went in a different direction.

After each writing session, I am now checking my work into Github (in a private repository, of course). Doing this allows me to see the changes I make each time I write, and I can use simple Git commands to see the history of anything I write, if I am interested. This captures the history of my creation in more-or-less realtime, and that is good enough for me.


I no longer feel like I need to know how much I’ve written each day. I know now that when I feel like writing, I can write, and it doesn’t matter if I write for 10 minutes or write only 150 words. The accumulation gets the job done. If there is a new coin of the realm it is how many things I can complete, and publish. But I’m not quite there yet. In this new phase of my writing, I am focusing on improving my craft–quality, not quantity. With everything I’ve learned over the last few years, and without the strain of the streak over my head, can I write better stories?

The idea that I no longer need to know how much I write is surprisingly liberating. Instead of the word, I’m free to focus on a different scale: the story.



Playing Shroud of the Avatar and Thoughts on MMORPGs

One of the things I’ve been doing while I take a break from writing is playing early releases of Shroud of the Avatar. For those who don’t know, SotA is a crowdfunded MMORPG run by Richard Garriott (a.k.a Lord British) and Starr Long. It is a direct descendant of the Ultima games of my teens. I was an early supporter of the game and so I have access to the monthly releases that they do. They are currently on R23, but until now, I haven’t played much because my free time was consumed by writing.

I think I was in 7th or 8th grade when I first encountered an Ultima game. It was probably Ultima IV: The Quest of the Avatar. The game came out in 1985, and I remember being fascinated by it. For one thing, it was very much like a Dungeons & Dragons game. For another, it was the first game I ever encountered where your moral and ethical behavior within the game mattered, and had an impact on the outcome. I loved playing the game, and when I finally completed it, it felt like a real triumph. I went on to play Ultima V, and Ultima VI. Year later, after college, I played Ultima IX, which by then, had become a first-person perspective game.

Part of what fascinates me about games like Ultima, and Shroud of the Avatar is the complexity of the game. Part of it is the mechanics. As a software developer, I have a keen interest in knowing how things work. Car enthusiasts know about engines. I am fascinated by the internal mechanics of a game as complex as Shroud of the Avatar. That is a big part of why I am so impressed by the open development they are doing. The game is still in pre-Alpha, but backers get monthly updates like clockwork. Backers become the QA for the game. The community appears to be strong, and opinionated, but that gets the job done. The folks at Portalarium–Richard Garriott’s company that is making the game–are just opinionated and just as quick at providing fixes and patches to issues as the community is to report them.

The forums and posts made my the development team provide a fascinating insight into the process of how the game is made. In one forum, the notes from the daily standing meetings are posted. You can see who is working on what part of the game, what, if anything, is blocking them. The video chats they do are insightful, and provide a glimpse of just how complex the game is under the hood. For someone like me, this is like candy on Halloween.

Playing the game has been fun, too. While I really like the top-down game view of the old Ultima IV and Ultima V, the sense of immersion you get from the dazzling graphics and animation of Shroud of the Avatar makes it seem more real than any game I’ve played before it. The conscientiousness that has gone into each aspect of the look and feel of the game comes through strongly. Things like the way water behaves in the game–a seemingly small detail–adds an exponential level of realism to the game.

Shroud of the Avatar

The quality of light that is used, the reflection of light in water, even the textures of the mountains in the distance make it appears as through you really there in the imagined world:

Shroud of the Avatar 2

My playing partner

I’ve been playing Shroud of the Avatar with the Little Man. I remember how much I loved Ultima when I was younger, and I thought he might enjoy it, too. Of course, he is younger than I was when I played, but I didn’t have a guide to help explain things. So we have been playing together and it has been fun. What’s fascinating to me is how much he gets into the game, and how much he understands of the mechanics of the game. And he remembers everything, although sometimes, incorrectly. For instance, at one point we were attached by thugs–they were called thugs in the game, anyway. A day or two later, we were talking about the game and the Little Man proposed a strategy.

“Daddy,” he said, “next time we encounter the snugs, I think we should…”

Snugs? He meant “thugs” of course, but now we both call them snugs, because it was too funny not to.

After completing one of the early quests over the weekend, we had enough gold to improve some of our skills. So we began developing skills in the “Subterfuge” skill tree. I explained to the Little Man what “subterfuge” meant, and he understood. For the rest of the day, it seemed, I’d hear him say to Kelly, “Mom, do you know subterfuge is? Well, we have a skill that will allow us to…”

He will no doubt impress his friends, and quite possibly his teacher, with his new-found vocabulary.

One thing that is great about the Ultima games, and Shroud of the Avatar is no exception, is that the avatars moral character is a big part of the game. In the original game, there were three principles–truth, love, and courage–that are made up of eight virtues: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. These virtues carry through to Shroud of the Avatar. That means that game isn’t just about fighting monsters and getting gold. There are moral situations in which the decisions you make affect your (moral) character and that in turn affects the outcome of the game. It provides a very large gray area where it isn’t always clear what the right thing to do is, and in those situations (only one or two of which we have encountered so far) I’ll turn to the Little Man and we’ll discuss what we think the best option is, and why.

The first beta versions of the game aren’t scheduled to be released until sometime next year. For now, we are just trying to learn the intricacies of the game. Combat, magic, skill sets, crafting, property ownership, interacting with NPCs and other players, weather, experience, the maps of the world, and much more.

I have a glimmer of where games like these are going. Looking at the graphics and visual effects, it is not hard to see that the game is looking more and more like a deeply interactive movie. I imagine that the ultimate effect is for the game not to feel game-like at all, but instead, to be immersed in a virtual world that looks like a real world. There have been places where we paused to watch, for instance, and amazing sunrise over the ocean. It looked just as real as any sunrise I’ve ever seen. Walking through the woods at night with mist hanging low in the trees, you can almost feel the cold air, despite the comfortable temperatures within the house.

Interactive fiction is nothing new, but the folks at Portalarium are taking it to new heights. Shroud of the Avatar has a strong story backbone, to say nothing of the legacy of all of the games that came before it. I am looking forward to continuing to follow its development.

Driving home from a hike in the woods yesterday, the Little Man asked, “Daddy, when the game comes out, do we have to buy it or do we already have it.”

I explained, “Well, as early backers, we’ve already paid for the game, so when the final release comes out, we’ll get it and be able to play it together.”

He seemed very happy about this.


Considering Becoming a Patron of the Functional Nerds Podcast

Allow me a moment to plug a Patreon campaign for a really fantastic science fiction/fantasy podcast: The Functional Nerds. The podcast is hosted by musician extraordinaire, John Anealio (@johnanealio), and Patrick Hester (@atfmb), a podcast grandmaster. In the course of 250 episodes (as of this writing) they have interviewed practically everyone in the science fiction/fantasy/horror world. They even interviewed me, back in Episode 226. The interviews are always great, often funny, and the people that they have on are fascinating. Binge-listening to the Functional Nerds is like getting a master’s degree in the genre.

The time and effort it takes to put together these shows is enormous. I’ve witnessed it firsthand, both as a guest, and as a person trying to locate Patrick at a Worldcon. It was tough; his schedule was filled with wall-to-wall interviews for the show. John and Patrick have started a Patreon Campaign to help support the show and introduce improvements along the way.

If you enjoy their podcast, consider becoming a patron. If you’ve never listened to their podcast and are interested in what it’s like, go check it out (and why not start with yours truly in Episode 226?).

Thoughts on My 825 Day Writing Streak, and Why I Voluntarily Ended It

I always knew that when I started my writing streak, it would have to come to an end. I voluntarily ended my 825-consecutive-day writing streak on Sunday, bringing to an end more than 2-1/3 years of writing every day.

I ended the streak because it felt like it was the right time to end it. But that seems like a fuzzy answer, so I tried to put together a chart that shows several factors that went into the decision.

825 Day Writing Streak

The x-axis is time, the y-axis represents different things, but the higher on the axis the more of something it represents. There are 4 colored lines:

  1. Difficulty in establishing and maintaining the habit of writing every day (red).
  2. A relative amount of time each day that I had available for writing (blue).
  3. A relative measure of my writing productivity (green)
  4. A measure of the overall mental strain of the streak (yellow)

For me, the mental strain of the streak was a linear function. It increased slightly each day, but I didn’t really notice it until it had really built up steam. It probably began to creep into my consciousness at around the 600-day mark. This presented itself in many ways, most commonly, “Uh, I’ve got to find time to get the writing in today.”

The difficulty of establishing the habit hit its peak in the first 100-200 days. After that, it was easy to do, even though I didn’t always feel like doing it. After 200 days, I’d encountered every type of obstacle and had come up with strategies for dealing with those obstacles.

The amount of time I had to write each day gradually increased from about 30 minutes to about 42 minutes, after which it began to decrease again, mostly as other activities crowded out my writing time: school activities with the kids, work projects, sports with the kids, and other things.

Finally my productivity was a steadily diminishing curve, not because I wasn’t writing every day, but because I got into a rut where I was forcing myself to try to get stories right, and doing far more re-writing than I might otherwise do.

Somewhere around the 650-700 day mark things converged. The mental strain of writing every day was compounded by less time to write, and less productivity. That the streak continued for another 150 days or so was out of sheer will-power. I thought I could brute-force my way through the tough part. This just added to the strain.

Knowing that the streak would end at some point, I decided to end it voluntarily, rather than find myself mentally exhausted one day, and feel disheartened simply because I couldn’t get in my writing.

The 825-day streak by the numbers

In the course of 825 days, I wrote 687,907 words. Of that, all but 25,000 words were fiction. That comes to an average of 833 words per day. In terms of time, I spent about 42 minutes per day writing over the course of the streak. That comes to 24 solid days of writing time over the course of 2-1/3 years. I published 14 pieces of fiction nonfiction during the streak.

Was it valuable?

Absolutely! I learned that I can write under just about any condition. During the 2 years I taught myself to be able to start writing without any warmup. I learned to be more efficient with my writing, and I honed my overall process for writing stories, working through drafts in a way that makes sense to me.

Of course, I will continue to write. But I no longer need to prove to myself that I can do it every day. I know I can, and now, when I write, I will be much less-focused on the numbers. The numbers have done their part.

A mental rest period

But first, I need some rest. I have not written since Saturday, and it feels pretty good not to have that streak hanging over my shoulders. What have I done? Well, I’ve played video games, something I rare did over the last 2-1/3 years. My days feel a little easier knowing that I don’t have to find time to write. When I feel rested, and idea strikes me, I’ll start writing again, but with a focus on finishing each story, rather than trying to break my record.

In case, it was absolutely worth doing for me, and if I had to do it all over, I don’t think I’d change anything. The experience was invaluable in many ways. Now, I’m just looking forward to enjoying some time without having to worry about getting any writing done.

No Writing for the Last 2 Days

I voluntarily ended my 825-consecutive-day writing streak 2 days ago, and for the last two days, I have taken a break from writing. When I have a few more minutes I’ll post more details about why I decided to end the streak.

So if I haven’t been writing, what have I been doing? Well, in addition to re-reading A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, I’ve been playing video games–specifically, R22 of Shroud of the AvatarAnd I’m having a blast!

How Much I Wrote During Last Weekend’s Writing Retreat

It occurred to me that I never reported back on just how much I ended up writing on last weekend’s writing retreat. I was originally supposed to get together with 2 other writers, but one had to beg off at the last-minute for very good reasons. So there was just two of us. We had a great townhouse in Richmond, Virginia to ourselves for the weekend.

When I guessed at how much I could write in a day, I put my estimate at somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 words. I fell a little short, producing about 17,000 words over the course of the three-day retreat. Considering I generally write around 800 words/day, producing 2,400 words over a 3-day period, 17,000 words is pretty amazing. It also makes my 30-day rotating chart look kind of funny:

Writing retreat chart

I also set a new single-day word-count record of 7,700 words. My previous record, set back in February was 7,100 words. Here is what that looks like for all-time (going back to July 2013):

All time record

I wrote those 17,000 words in just under 10 hours of total writing time. I use RescueTime to automatically capture how I spend time on the computer. When I filter this data for the retreat weekend, here is the hour-by-hour breakdown each day for when I was writing during the retreat.

Writing Time, October 16

Writing Time, October 17

Writing Time, October 18

We did our writing together, at a table in the kitchen of the house we had, and so Friday was spent catching up while we wrote. After the first full hour of writing, you can see that my time spent writing drops off a bit, so that maybe 30-40 minutes of each subsequent hour was spent writing.

On Saturday, I spent the better part of the first four hours writing, after which, I got a little mentally tired. I’d take a break, then write, then take a break, then write. I pushed myself to get the one-day record before we broke for the evening to watch baseball.

Sunday morning, I got in about two hours of writing time before getting into the car for the drive home.

Some take-aways from the weekend:

  1. It didn’t much matter when I wrote, morning or afternoon. I was equally productive. This almost certainly comes from learning how to write anywhere, at any time during my (now) 822-consecutive-day writing streak.
  2. After 4 hours of more-or-less constant writing, I hit a productivity wall. I can still write, but not nearly as much. Things fall off a cliff after 4 hours. What this tells me is that if I was a full-time writer, I could go for about 4 hours each day on new material. For me, that is somewhere between 4,000 – 6,000 words per day. The rest of the day would need to be spent on other writing-related work, revisions, etc.
  3. I can write socially. Usually I write alone, but we sat in the kitchen together, chatting from time-to-time and it didn’t seem to affect my concentration. I sort-of knew this. My kids interrupt me while I write, and I’ve taught myself to be able to stop, and deal with them, and return to what was working on with minimal fuss. I’ve also gotten a feel for this when I write at conventions.
  4. It was fun to have a full weekend to do nothing but write, and I managed to produce 90% of a novella that I’ve been wanting to finish for a while now. But I also missed my family. I feel more comfortable writing when I know they are around.

I was very glad to have the experience, and I’m particularly glad that I was able to push this novella almost to the finish line. Now if I can just get it across that finish line in the next week or so, I can move on to the next story.

Questions about the retreat? Drop them in comments and I will do my best to answer them.

My Meta-fictional Zombie Story, “Meat and Greet” is Free This Month at IGMS

My meta-fictional zombie story, “Meat and Greet,” originally published in Issue 43 of InterGalactic Medicine Show earlier this year is now available for free on IGMS’s site. This is the story that I sold on the basis of a reading I gave at the World Fantasy Convention last year. If you are interested in reading something of mine, go check it out.

The entire Issue 43 is currently free on the site, as are a few other odds and ends, including an interview I did with Ken Liu a few years back. You can find them all on the free issues page.

How Much Can I Write In a Day?

I have this daydream. Not of winning the lottery. No, when I daydream, it’s of becoming a full-time writer. What would it be like not to have to report to a day job? To set my own schedule, and write. Would I be disciplined about it? For the last 815 days I have been writing in 20-40 minute chunks for the most part. Would I be capable of adjusting to a schedule which would allow me to write for hours each day?

Well, I am not a full-time writer, but it is still possible to experiment. And one such experiment is taking place this weekend. Me and couple of other writers are getting together for a “writers retreat.” We have an Airbnb reserved at a point halfway between where I live and where they live, and tomorrow, I’ll drive down and we’ll get started. Roughly 48 hours where I can simulate what it might be like to be a full-time writer.

Actually, it is a poor simulation, since I’ll be away from my family, and away from distraction. It is more isolation than simulation. Still, it is not often where I have two days to nothing but write. And so I wonder: how much can I actually write in 2 days?

Looking at my data over the last 815 consecutive days that I have written, my best day1 came on February 24, 2015 when I wrote just over 7,100 words. I spent nearly 6 hours writing that day. But of course, I had other things to do as well.

Best Writing Day

But beginning tomorrow, I’ll have about 48 hours that is essentially dedicated to writing. How much could I possibly write in that amount of time? Well, assuming that I’ll spend 14-16 hours of that time sleeping, and another 5 hours driving, that takes us down quite a bit, to around 28 hours. Then there is time for meals, which can knock of another chunk of time, but it might be reasonable to assume somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 hours spent writing.

I can write roughly 1,500 words/hour, which means in 20 hours, I could produce 30,000 words. Let’s call that the maximum. Actually, if I could manage to produce 30,000 words this weekend it would be kind of cool, if for no other reason than it would push me to 700,000 words in my consecutive day writing streak:


Realistically, given that there will be other folks there doing the same thing I am doing, I have to expect a slower pace. That said, I know exactly what I am going to try to do this weekend: finish a full draft of a novella that I have been struggling with for well over a year. I know the story well now, as I have written a first draft before. (Although not a good one.) My second drafts are always complete rewrites, and it is the second draft that I plan to produce over the weekend. I expect it to be in the neighborhood of 20,000 words. Producing 20,000 words in 20 hours is 1,000 words/hour. Call that the minimum.

So, somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 words over the course of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Anyone want to guess how much I will actually write? Leave your guesses in the comments, and I will post my results when the weekend retreat is over.

  1. Best meaning most words written in this instance.

Back From Vacation

I have been mostly off the radar for the last week, attending a family reunion in New York, which was a lot of fun. I got to see people and places that I haven’t seen in a very long time. One of those places was Bear Mountain. It was a great time of year to visit, too, with the fall colors just starting to spread over the hills.

Bear Mountain

It was relaxing, and fun, and now, I am back. Here are a few things I wanted to mention:

  1. I am behind in reading email. If you send me email over the last week, I will be catching up over the next few days, but expect a delayed response.
  2. Part 3 of my Building a Writer’s Toolkit series on Medium is also delayed. I was hoping to get it out last Thursday, but vacation had priority. I’m hoping to have it out before the end of the week, although I don’t know exactly when yet.
  3. I am slowly making my way through Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and enjoying it. First new SF book that I have read in quite some time.
  4. On the recommendation of a friend, I started watching Gotham while on vacation. It’s pretty good.
  5. I will likely be offline much of this weekend. I am scheduled to participate in a writers retreat, although there is a possibility that schedule will change.

Also, it is fall! It’s starting to cool off here. I can’t believe how quickly the summer passed.

No Capclave for Me This Year

I always look forward to this weekend in October because it means that Capclave is here. Capclave is my local science fiction convention, and it is the convention that I’ve been to most often since I started going to conventions back in 2007. I have only missed Capclave a few times. Unfortunately, this year is one of those times. We are having a big family reunion up in New York, and so I won’t make it to Capclave. On the other hand, I will see my brother, sister-in-law, and their 5 kids some of whom I have never met before. It has been an unlikely 5 years since I last saw my brother, so I am looking forward to seeing him at the reunion.

If you are local to the metro Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia area (or surrounding regions), and are interested in attending a good convention, centered around written science fiction and fantasy, you should check out Capclave. It is a lot of fun, and populated by lots and lots of good people. I’m sorry to miss it this year.

Earlier Tonight on Twitter I Revealed My Secret to Drafts

I was overcome, earlier today, with the sudden desire to reveal my closely held secret, as a writer, to what I really mean when I talk about draft.

So there you have it. When I talk about drafts and writer, know you know what I really mean.

3 Vignettes: Parenting 4 and 6 Year-Olds

1. When the kids make a declaration of some sort, I find myself using the same stock responses I heard growing up.

The Little Miss will walk over and whine, “Daddy, I’m hungry.”

“Hi, Hungry,” I say, “I’m Daddy. Pleased to meetcha.”

2. The kids have a strong tendency to repeat themselves over and over again when they want sometime. Like if they repeat the word enough times magic happens.

“Mom!” the Little Man says.

No response.

“Mom! Mommy? Mom! MOM! MOM! MOM! Hey MOM!

“I think she’s all the way down stairs on the elliptical, buddy,” I say.

A short times passes.

“Mom! Mommy? Mom! MOM! MOM! MOM! Hey MOM!” Pause. “Mom, are you still all the way downstairs on the elliptical?”

No response. A short time passes.

“Mom! Mommy? Momma! MOMMA!”

Kelly comes walking up the stairs, “What is it buddy?”

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

And from within my office, I hear myself shouting across the house, “Hi Hungry. I’m Daddy, nice to meetcha!”

3. I seem to fail authority checks every now and then.

“Daddy, can I have a snack?” the Little Miss says.

“Didn’t you just have a piece of cheese?” I reply.

“Yes, but I’m still hungry.

In my head, I think, Hi Still Hungry, I’m Daddy. Nice to meetcha. But I don’t say it out loud this time. “But before the cheese, didn’t you have yogurt?”


“One, or two?”


“Maybe you should wait a little while to let the food settle so that you won’t feel hungry.” I have no idea if this suggestion has any basis in science whatsoever, but I also make the suggestion.

“But I want a snack now. I’m still hungry.”

“I think you should wait,” I say.

“I’m going to ask mommy.” Pause. “Mom! Mommy? Mom! MOM! MOM! MOM! Hey MOM!