Words Dragon learned from my memoir

I’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software, and I recently found that I had to re-train it after a reinstall of Windows. I had it look at the text of my almost-finished memoir about grad school, and here are some of the words it learned:


Bloody Marys


Not sure what this says about me, my memoir, or Dragon, but I found it interesting.

January writing update: Bleghhh!

Here’s an update on my quest to write a million words in 2015.

The goal for January was to write 84,932 words. I fell well short at 34,132.

Now, this is still a decent number of words if you think about it, but it’s around/less than half of the goal.

The good news is that I wrote something creative every single day in January. This may very well be the first time in my life that I can say I wrote every day in a month. So that is definitely good news. I actually drafted this 3 days before the end of the month, and then got sick and didn’t write for many days. Oh well.

The bad news is I missed my goal and now have to adjust my word goal upwards for subsequent months.

I can’t tell you how depressing it is to watch the “At this rate, you need to write xxx words/day to reach your goal” bar go up and up and up as I fail each day to reach the daily goal. Luckily, I can put this behind me and work on the next month.

2015-02-09 12_59_07-Word Tracker 2015 - Steampunk - Excel

A reality check. I spent much of December not doing a darn thing. I started this project on January 1, basically attempting to start at a full sprint from a complete stop. I was prepared, in a way, to fail. I also figured that, if I’m to complete this goal, I will probably write a fair amount in January-May, but write a whole heck of a lot from the end of May through August, when my teaching load slows down. The idea then would be to make up for lost time in the beginning of the year and bank some extra words for the usually tumultuous Fall semester. I can’t count on that super-productivity in summer, though, and I have to up my game sooner if I’m to reach a million words. This month was priming, getting ready for the increased productivity of the rest of the year. I hope.

So, what was I writing in January? Honestly, I think what I was writing might have been part of the problem. At the beginning of January, I was working on a series of short stories that I may publish under a pseudonym. They went quickly, but need editing. Then, for several days (1/8-1/11), I wrote about 7,000 words in what will be an email series of excuses people use to avoid finishing or publishing work (if you’re interested in this, you can sign up for my email list at the top of the screen). Then I got a little lost. I started a new science fiction short story, and then started hating it the next day, when I came up with an awesome idea for a new novel, replete with conspiracies, hacking, jihadist groups and all kinds of excitement. I sketched it out over the course of a day, and then went on to write an essay about disappointment for two days. When I was done with that, I started another super-secret project for kids. That lasted three days before I decided to write the new novel in earnest for three days (1/23-1/25). I ended up with maybe 5000 words, but then something happened in Scrivener, and I lost the previous days’ work. Actually, I thought I had lost it all, but I found Scrivener’s backup files, so I didn’t lose that much. Here’s the thing, though: when I thought I had lost it, a part of me was relieved, which told me something. I still love the idea, but I don’t think I’m ready to write it. I have too much other stuff I want to do, and unfinished projects that need editing and publishing.

Upon realizing that, I wrote some more on the memoir and the novel, Disorder, that I’ve had sitting on the hard drive for months now. Interspersed through all this were blog entries, a Medium essay, and other miscellaneous stuff.

On the one hand, I wrote a lot on some diverse projects. I got some pretty good starts on a few different things, and I have some material that will come out in various forms (blog, Medium, email list) pretty soon. On the other hand, having so many projects going means I don’t know what to work on at a given time. I open the word processor and stare at the screen. At least the word processor is open, though, right? At least I’ve written every day in January. That is definitely something.

I think my goal for February will be to write consistently on one primary project, interspersing some blog entries, and spending the rest of the time editing.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Start something new or finish something started?

I just came up with a great idea for a novel, one rife with conspiracies and action and cool tech stuff and hackers. It’s going to be so fun to write. It’s a novel I would totally read, which make the best novels. The way I’ve got it planned, it should be about 100,000 words, which, if I work exclusively on it, and stick to my 1 million word/year pace, should take a little over a month to draft.

That’s a lot of ifs. So far, I have not been writing at the 1 million/year pace. At my current pace, it might take two months or more to finish a draft of this novel, which is still not so bad. The harder problem is to keep interested in the project for the whole time it takes to write it. I have a bad habit of getting excited about an idea and then losing interest before starting it, or worse, losing steam as I write it.

Here are some other projects I have started but not yet finished:

  • I have a beginning of a novel I started for NaNoWriMo 2013. It’s a gritty detective story with a bit of a twist. It’s dark and depressing, brooding and obsessive.  The detective is down-and-out, alcoholic or damn close. He’s on a mission that turns into an obsession, and he’s not even sure what he’s looking for. I’m maybe 10,000 words into that, which is really only the very beginning, and I haven’t looked at it in over a year.
  • I have 50,000 words or so of a short novel about a tech-savvy  young man who forges a connection with his more or less Luddite female professor, which leads him into a strange rabbit hole of conspiracy and weirdness involving the pharmaceutical industry. It is more or less finished, but I need to make a final revision, which I keep putting off.
  • I have this grad school memoir I keep talking about that needs editing.

The point of telling you this is that I have unfinished business, work sitting on hard drives that has yet to see the light of day, and here I am starting anew, alighting on another project, getting all excited about a new storyline.

You see why I am worried?

If I were coming to me for advice with the above problem, I would tell myself to shelf the new project and finish those I’ve already started. I would tell me to get those edits done, get those works out into the world before starting something new. If I must, do them simultaneously, if I can find the time and energy, writing in the morning, editing and night.

I think I have the same problem a lot of people do. I start new things before finishing old things, in part to feel like I’m working toward something, so I can pat myself on the back about my daily wordcount, but I don’t finish anything, mainly out of fear. Everything revolves around fear. Or laziness.

Reminds me of one my favorite parts of Waking life, where Louis Mackey asks, “Which is the most universal human characteristic: fear, or laziness?”

Maybe I need to take my own advice, and finish what I start.

Do you have problems finishing projects? Do you start new things before finishing? Let me know about it in the comments below.

I am going to write 1 Million Words in 2015

I am going to attempt to write 1 million words in 2015.

Now, I know I’m not the first to do this. I also will not be the only one to do it in 2015. That’s not the point. The point is that I am going to do it.

What is 1 million words?

1,000,000 words/year is the equivalent of:




If a novel is 100,000 words, that’s 10 novels.

At 75,000 words/novel, it’s 13.

Or 66,000 tweets at 15 words/tweet.

How can I accomplish this?

I write about 1200-1500 words/hour, but I suspect that if I go for three straight hours, that will go down to 1,000, so I am going to say for now that 1,000 words = 1 hour, which means that if I put in 20 hours/week, every week, I should be able to write one million words by the end of the year (thanks to Rob Weldon for helping me with the math).

20 hours a week. A half-time job.


Skill Building. I heard somewhere that you’re no good until after a million words. I figure if I count my dissertation and the few unfinished novels and memoir I have sitting on my hard drive, and then add in seminar papers, articles, blog entries, and even undergrad papers, a conservative estimate might put me at 250,000. I could say I was going to go for 750,000 words this year, but it doesn’t sound as cool as 1 million.

Practice. If I can pull this off, I will have developed not only the skill, but a habit of writing on a regular basis and in a serious way.

Discipline. Again, the habit of writing everyday.

Raw Material. To have a million words of raw material will give me a lot to work with, to turn into something (or many somethings) worthwhile.

What ever happened to quality over quantity?

Are these two things mutually exclusive? Sure, some of the words will suck. If 80% of what I write in 2015 is unusable crap, I still have 200,000 good words. That’s a few books. Not so bad, right? Plus, that’s what editing is for.

What counts towards the goal?

Novel writing. Essay writing. Blog posts. Emails to my mailing list (which you can join above or below).

I will not count social media, personal emails or teaching-related communication.

What challenges do I anticipate?

Inertia. Hopelessness. Running out of ideas.

Seriously, this will necessitate a change in many of my habits:

  • I will have to learn to eliminate or avoid distractions.
  • I will have to come up with solid writing times. If I’m trying for 3 hours/day on average, I have to make that time, which might mean waking up earlier than normal, or writing in the evening, which I don’t currently do.
  • I may have to drink less in order to accommodate a different schedule. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this, but it may.
  • I may have to cut down on social time.

All in all, this will mean I need a mindset that Steven Pressfield calls Turning Pro. In other words, I will have to act like a professional, and treat my writing like a job (but not in the bad way of having a boss and dreading it, I hope. More like a “this is what I do, so I’m going to do it” sort of thing).

What about publishing?

The plan/hope is to publish some of this. The idea is to stop treating my work as precious, tinkering endlessly at the same projects, never releasing anything because it’s not perfect, or good enough. When you write a millions words in a year (I hope), you have to stop treating your work as a masterpiece, or something that has to be a masterpiece. Maybe I will start thinking of it as marketable or shareable products, something people might want to read (and might pay for). When a novel is just one of several you’ve written this year, there has to be less pressure on it. If it’s your one little baby, your precious masterpiece, then it accrues too much importance, carries too much weight.

Want to join me?

Put a comment on this post, or share on social media. The reason I am doing this so publicly is for the accountability and the community. That’s why NaNoWriMo is so great for so many people: the community. Thinking about writing a lot next year? Tell us about it here. Enter into a pact. Declare your intentions.

Join my email list for updates on the project and more.