Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

Why You Should Avoid Pissing Off Writers

So I am planning to do NaNoWriMo again this year and instead of just trying to get 50,000 words down in 30 days I hope to get a completed story out of it as well. I will have to plot this out (blech!) and see where the target word count lands (initial projections have it at 60k or 2,000 words per day). I seriously have to get limbered up. Seeing as I haven’t blogged since the summer I plan on getting back to my once a week post schedule. Also, I’m going to polish two chapters of my 2012 NaNo book (which is in editing mode still) and get them off to an editor in the next couple weeks, as well as get through the rest of that book looking for plot holes (chasms in some cases) and major crapola.

For this year’s NaNo story I’m going a different direction and it’s going to be quite a challenge. My biggest concern is how I am going to generate enough conflict to make it interesting. The good news is, my MC is a total dick so putting him through the wringer and seeing if he comes out the other end better off for it should be quite doable.

My MC doesn’t exist. He is no one person. He’s the embodiment of several people that I’ve interacted with over the past twenty years who have left a sour impression for one reason or another, and the MC is going to get his comeuppance for each and every one of those transgressions to which I’ve born witness.

This is why you should avoid pissing off writers.

We will come up with some of the wildest and most insane punishments you can imagine. Oh sure, we’ll put that fancy disclaimer at the beginning of the book: “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person alive or dead is purely coincidental” but once you start reading the book you’ll recognize the crap you pulled and know instantly that when the character was getting his face eaten from the inside out by a colony of fire ants that the author was thinking of you.

So, if you’re a gigantic asshole, writers everywhere thank you. Conflict is what makes a novel go ’round and without your “contributions” to society the well we dip into for this stuff would be a lot shallower.

You might be saying, “This may be all well and good for fiction, but what about the real world? You can’t just go all Spy vs. Spy on every single person that grates your cheese”, and you’d be right. The concept of us versus them is not a new one. Since the dawn of time conflict has been a part of the human race. Let’s define things as follows: “us” and “we” can be just one person, a group, collection of like-minded folks, organization, community, tribe, race, or nation. If you fit this definition I want you to listen and listen carefully:

There will always those with whom we don’t get along. If they offend our sensibilities, wrong us in some way, marginalize us, oppress us, or harm us, I humbly request that we don’t ever sink to their level. Even if we have all the education, skills, money, power, and support in the world behind us, especially if we have all those things, don’t do it. Don’t sink. If we can’t find another way, a better way than them, then it’s up to us to seek out help in finding one. If we won’t find another way, a better way; if we outright refuse to do this one thing that makes us different than them, then we have become them and we should be ashamed. Find better ways.

~ Andrew

You Are Getting Sleeeeeepy…

I have suffered from insomnia for about four years now. If anyone out there has even gone a few nights without a good night’s sleep you know how debilitating it can be. I spent the greater part of 18 months without more than a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep each night and I was basically a high functioning zombie.

There was no shortage of people willing to impart their advice on the situation either:

Have you tried this?
Yes, it did not work.

Have you tried that?
Yes, it did not work.

Have you been to a sleep study?
Yes, twice. They prescribed me medication. It sort of worked but I had to take two pills every day.

Yes, hmm indeed.

I sleep really well. Always have. I can sleep anytime anywhere. It’s awesome.
I’m sure it is. I’ve even gone to a six week information/instructional on how to sleep!

Really? They have classes for that?
Yes, and I fell asleep in the last lecture.

Now that’s irony at its finest.

Have you tried…

Well, you get the idea by now I’m sure. At any rate, what does this have to do with anything? I’ll meander y’all to the point in just a second, I promise.

The key to sleep in humans is melatonin. The only word to describe this stuff is “magical”, so naturally one of the things I tried was some melatonin supplements. I tried 0.5mg and later 0.25mg and I might have well been taking sugar pills. My non-expert opinion was that this was because it wasn’t naturally occurring. You see, tryptophan metabolizes into seratonin; and if it’s dark out it’s further metabolized into melatonin, and that’s the stuff that promotes sleep. Just plunking the melatonin in directly didn’t seem to be working.

So, enter in this stuff called ZenBev®. Sounds like new age hippy juice, right? Well it sort of is. I call it my magic pumpkin powder. It’s basically powdered tryptophan made from pumpkin seed flour. The myth of the tryptophan loaded turkey dinner is partially true, only turkey has about as much of it as any other meat and three times less than dried egg white and about half as much as dried pumpkin seeds (if you care, the winner by a mile is Alaskan sea lion).

Sea Lions Up Close courtesy Liz Noffsinger at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net 

Again, you may be asking, what does this have to do with anything? Fine, I’ll get right to it then. Thanks for sticking with me so far (hopefully still awake, though after first re-read of this post I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve nodded off).

I tried ZenBev® and I immediately started sleeping better. Not more, but better. Same number of hours of sleep at night but I wasn’t falling asleep at my desk at 3:00 every afternoon. The really awesome part though was that I started dreaming again. I’ve probably had less than a handful of dreams in the last four years and after two weeks on this magic pumpkin powder I’m dreaming five or six nights a week, and let me tell you, after going so long without recognizing that I’d had a dream this current influx has me discombobulated to say the least. It’s not quite Jacob’s Ladder crazy, but I have got to say it’s really something.

After a couple weeks of getting some better sleep I’ve felt the urge to be creative again. November was a bit crazy with NaNoWriMo and a work project is bringing some high stress moments at my day job so the first week of December wasn’t much from a creativity standpoint. A couple weeks of dreaming though and my brain itching for creation again, and that’s a good thing. I’m also starting to figure out what The Beatles were talking about in their song I Am The Walrus.

I am the egg man.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sc0L1UoO1M?rel=0]

~ Andrew

Now What?

The anatomy of a NaNoWriMo journey and what lies beyond

It’s somewhat convenient that December 1st falls on a Sunday this year as it allows me the opportunity to provide a post-NaNoWriMo analysis while it’s still fresh in my mind.

For starters, I won!

Not everyone did, however, but that’s okay. Unlike those techie jerks on Linux forums who berate and belittle those who don’t “get it” I am equally as proud of everyone who tried and didn’t make it to the 50,000 word mark as I am those who did. There were some truly inspirational stories this year to be sure, not the least of which is Cate, a high school girl in Ottawa who wrote 16,000 words on the last day to claim victory. Now that’s impressive on so many levels.

Cate’s Graph. Check out days 10, 12, 19 and 30!

What it takes for one person to meet the target is different for everyone. Notice I used the phrase “meet the target” instead of the word “success”? That’s because success is different for everyone as well. Success for me was getting 50,000 words written on a new novel while tying up a few loose ends on the novel I started last year. Yes, it was considered “done” but there were a couple gaps that needed filling and I wasn’t happy with it as it was. Not happy enough to say that I had finally written my first book, at least.

Regardless of what the measure of success is, if you were simply trying to hit a target (50,000 words or some other number) or if you were trying to polish off that long forgotten manuscript, or if you were simply trying to see what you were realistically capable of stringing together in the time you weren’t being a mom/dad/student/employee/vampire/zombie/werewolf/wizard/husband/wife/friend/hobbit/daughter/son; there are a few things that you’ll need if you’re going to pull it off:

  1. Desire
  2. Commitment
  3. Support

Much like any other journey, it starts with desire. Desire to see something, see someone, accomplish something, make a difference… In a nutshell, you have to want to get off your ass in the first place (or in the case of writing, sit your ass down).

Just starting isn’t enough, though. You have to continue. You must persist. You have to be more than dedicated. You have to be committed. You have to be a pig. Say what?! This is a common analogy in the Agile software development world. Think of your journey as breakfast. Who would you rather be, the chicken or the pig? The chicken is dedicated. The chicken will wake up every morning with the sun and give you an egg. The pig, however, the pig is committed. The pig quite literally has skin in the game. The pig is committed, and you need to be as well (if not as you go then quite possibly – though in a different sense – after).

Finally, you need support. I wrote back in January that while writing seems like a solitary practice it’s actually not. It requires interaction and support from a variety of people. Surrounding yourself with people that understand and appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish is absolutely necessary. A support network of people who have a genuine interest in what you’re doing is absolutely invaluable. This year I leaned heavily on my wife, kids, and a couple Facebook groups of like-minded crazy people and it was absolutely instrumental to my success.

So now what?

If your novel is done, take some time off and distance yourself from it. Stat revisions and edits in the new year sometime. If it’s not done then set a schedule and finish it. Me? Well, I’m shelving the novel that’s complete, hitting pause on the 60% of one I just wrote, and trying my hand at writing a screenplay. After the screenplay is done then this year’s novel will be finished and then I’ll start revising novel #1.

Whatever’s next up on your agenda, I wish you all the best with it. I can’t help you with the first two items on the list but I can definitely help you with the third one. Find me here, or on Facebook or Twitter anytime, and I wish you all good writing.

~ Andrew

The End is Nigh

Do you hear that?

What do you mean, “no”?
You sure you can’t hear that?
Listen carefully. Listen very carefully.
There! Do you hear that?
Of course you do. It’s unmistakable. 
That, my friends, is the sound of The End, and it’s coming for you.
Well, not for you specifically, but rather for your NaNoWriMo story. 
Depending on what part of the world you’re in there is anywhere between 5 and 6 days left to pound the keyboard and get the remainder of your 50,000 words down on the page. Some of you will be checking your graph on the NaNoWriMo site and doing some quick math:

Arithmetic at its finest

As we discussed last week, quitting is not an option. Quitting is for uh… quitters. More importantly, you don’t gain a damn thing from throwing in the towel. You don’t gain experience, your story certainly gain anything, and you sure has hell don’t gain any knowledge. You do learn a little something about yourself in that process though, and you might be okay with what you uncover. If that’s the case then you probably won’t want to keep reading this post because I’m about to try to get all inspirational and stuff.

Take this from a guy that has about a dozen other half finished pieces of writing sitting in a folder. Quitting is a habit. A bad one; and to kick the habit you first have to want to kick the habit. If you’re still reading this after I suggested you stop a paragraph ago I’m going to assume that you at least have a modicum of desire to press on. An excellent first step.


Now, the next step is an equally important one: GO!

“Huh… wha…?” you just muttered, possibly with an expletive.

You heard me, the next step is the one you’ve been doing on-and-off for the past 24 days. My guess is that if you’re surprised by this step that your writing has been more off than it has been on. I’m here to tell you that that’s okay. The reality is that you might not get your 50,000 words in by the end of the week, but, and this is a big but (I cannot lie), every word you write now will get you one word closer to finishing your story. It’s going to take as many as it takes to finish it and if any are missing a week from now, a month from now, or even a year from now it’s going to be a lot harder to fill them in later than it will be to fill them in now.

I know of what I speak. My 50,000 from last year’s NaNo got hacked up into 20,000 words for a “Book 2” and 30,000 words for the book I started. At the time, it was March and I had only 60% of what I had the previous December. So I started writing. Then I stopped writing. Then I started again. Then I took a break. Well, you get the idea. Now I’m about 5,000 words from cracking a bottle to celebrate. The only problem is November rolled around again.


That’s why I’m so intent on staying three or four days ahead of this thing because my goal for NaNo this year is the 50,000 words I set out to write PLUS the 5,000 I’m still missing from last year. The point being, had I just written those words last year, or the year before – when I quit – I wouldn’t have this guy hassling me all the time:

R.B. Wood’s Kickstarter has just 6 days left too. #justsayin

In summary: 
Just keep writing. Not just for the next 6 days, but for the 1,667 after that.
Your characters will thank you. Your future fans will thank you.
You’ll thank you (and I won’t have to give R.B. your phone number).

~ Andrew

“Sprinter Getting Ready to Start the Race” courtesy stockimages at http://freedigitalphotos.net

Eddie… I Want Half

Back in 1989 I was all of fifteen years old. My family had a VCR but mom and dad got to pick the movies so there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that either one of them would let me rent the critically acclaimed box office hit Raw starring none other than Eddie Murphy. Fortunately for me I worked at a video store and had a friend nearby who shared my particular interest in seeing this movie.

One afternoon with his parents out and my shift complete at the video store I walked over to my friend’s house and we sat there and watched Eddie Murphy sling cuss words for into a microphone for 90 minutes in front of a packed house in New York City. It was awesome! One particular bit that he did caught my attention, and that was the piece he referred to as half.

  Me imitating Eddie Murphy  imitating Johnny Carson after he gave up half.  

This is a topical bit for the time in which it was written (1987). Johnny Carson had just gone through a divorce in which his now ex-wife had received a ton of money in the settlement (FYI, it wasn’t half)[1]. Murphy does a good five minute bit on half. I won’t get into the details here but if you want to check out the bit on YouTube you can go right ahead. It’s not nearly as funny as a 39 year old as it was almost a quarter century ago, but the basic gist of the story is simple: half is a lot.

Skipping ahead five half decades we’ve just past the mid-way point of this NaNoWriMo adventure and what you should have figured out by now is… half is a lot.

Last week I wrote about the importance of getting ahead early and maintaining the momentum. At this stage, if you’ve fallen behind it’s going to be an uphill climb for sure but the good news is there’s still a lot of time left. I have had a couple off days but have managed to build on my two day buffer from a week ago and am now sitting on a three day buffer. My philosophy has been simple: if I can write 1,667 words then I can write 2,000.

If you haven’t reached the 28,333 words required to date to maintain the pace through the first seventeen days then do not fret. You still have just about half the time left to reach your goal. Through thirteen days I had written 25,868 words and that included a slow start on day one and close to a goose=egg on day seven.

“But I’ve only written 15,00 words so far. There’s no way I can finish in time!”

I call B.S. on that right here and now. A friend of mine got behind and said that he was going to have to start setting his sights lower. My first comment to him was that he should be taking the exact opposite approach. He should aim higher.

Let’s use my hypothetical from above. Let’s say you’re only 15k into this thing and you’re sitting on your couch reading this blog post sometime during the day of November 17. You’ve got thirteen writing days left to finish 35,000 words. Round that sucker up to 39,000 words (to make the math jive with my OCD) and divide by thirteen. That’s 3,000 words a day.

Will that be difficult? Yes.

Is it impossible? Absolutely not.

Find yourself some writing buddies online and run some sprints. Sprints are a great way to force a good half hour block of words. If you normally like to sit and read the news in the morning use that time to write instead. Fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there and the words start adding up. Record those shows and watch them in December. Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert will still be funny in a couple weeks, I promise.

The important thing to take away from this is don’t give up. Two years ago I fell into a funk around day ten and it looked irrecoverable. By day twelve I crawled back up to the break even point, but it took a 4,000 word day to get there and I was spent. I didn’t think I had enough gas in the tank to sustain any sort of pace and I knew some slow days were ahead. They’d put me in the hole again and I’d have to pull out another 4k miracle to get back up. So I just gave up.

Here’s what that graph looks like:

It looks really crappy, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. It’s a crappy, depressing, shameful graph. Even if the brown bars didn’t end up reaching the grey line on day 30 it still would have looked like a better graph than this flat line piece of garbage.

The takeaway here? Don’t give up. You don’t want to have to stare at a graph like this every time you log into the NaNoWriMo site in October to register that year’s book. Instead, why don’t you take a good hard look at my graph, acknowledge it’s crappiness, agree that you don’t need one that looks similar, stop reading this blog post (tell your friends to read first), and go write something!

May the words be with you.

~ Andrew

One Third

Thirty days has September; April, June, and November…

That would mean that on the tenth day (or rather at the end of it), if one were participating in say… a novel writing competition or a moustache growing charity event, that one would be one third of the way through. As it turns out I am doing both of those things, and a good many of you out there are doing so as well.

Based on my last post on NaNoWriMovember many of the dudes out there have opted not to grow the ‘stache for various reasons; choosing to donate cash money to the cause instead. Hey, whatever tickles your fancy, it’s your chiselled visage not mine.

Before we get to the writers portion of this post, feel free to click the badass snake moustache if you want to donate something in support of the wonderful Movember funding programs:

Now, on to the writing! You are all writing, right? I mean, you can’t crank out 1,667 words a day every day for thirty days and not do a little writing. In actual fact it’s more than a little writing, as many of you with additional jobs beyond penmonkey can attest. This is my third year attempting NaNoWriMo and for the second time in a row I’ve passed what I consider to be the hardest part of the journey: the 10,000 to 15,000 word slog-fest.

This is the fabulous time where you’ve been going at it for several days straight and even though you’re well into the foothills you take a look up, and you keep looking, up, up, up and you realize that at 10,000 words you’re only one fifth of the way there – and you’re already exhausted. Cue the self-doubt, anxiety, and depression.

But don’t fire the Sherpa just yet. You can do this. How do I know? I just know. Now stop asking questions, you should be writing. And therein lies the key: stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop researching, stop wondering about this, and thinking about that. Just stop.

If you’re one of those fancy plotters who has an outline then just follow the outline and write. If you’re a pantser and letting your characters lead the way, then let them lead. It’s not your job to question what they’re doing, or if that phrase in Latin actually means what you want it to mean. Your characters are like that hard assed teacher you had in middle school. The one who was adamant, and wrong, about just about everything. Your job now, just as it was then, is to smile and politely write down 1 + 1 = 3.

Image courtesy Ohmmy3d at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Finally, find yourself a friend or two. If you’re on a roll then they’ll help you roll faster. If you’re stuck and ready to pack it in they’ll pull you out of the mud. Whether it’s on Twitter using the #NaNoWriMo hashtag or on Facebook with one of the many NaNo groups out there, find a support group and use it (join my NaNoWriMo 2013 group if you want).

There is nothing quite like screaming into the wind when there are a bunch of random people there with some fabulous WIND BUFFING MECHANISMS that will allow your screams to be heard (see what I did there?)

~ Andrew

NaNoWriMovember 2013

If you read my last post you know that I’m taking on NaNoWriMo again this year. It’s been a little more than two full days at this point and I’m already ahead of the curve; building up at least a day’s worth of buffer.

There are various strategies for tackling NaNo but the one that appears to work the best is: hit it early and put up some big numbers, then maintain a steady stream throughout. Use the words you’ve built up to have an off day and recharge the batteries every so often – and then finish strong.

Having failed in 2011 and succeeded in 2012 I can speak to the fact that it’s a gruelling contest and at the very least you need to be insanely prepared. Or just prepared. Or just insane.

My stats after two days of NaNoWriMo

If you haven’t guessed already, for the next four weeks I’ll be focusing on my journey through NaNo and sharing any interesting nuggets I find along the way. It also means that my posts will be a little shorter than usual simply due to the fact that I need those words in my novel. It doesn’t matter they’ll get edited out later; that’s a problem for December.

Writing isn’t the only thing I’ll be doing in November. It’s also the month where I get to listen to my family complain about my facial hair as I don a moustache to help raise awareness for men’s health. Movember is an annual event were men from around the world attempt to go all Tom Selleck in an effort to get people to ask, “Why the hell are you growing that sorry-ass moustache?” and then donate money. It’s been working out pretty well for the last few years and I’m proud to be a supporter.

I know, I know, the resemblance is uncanny.

So to recap:
  • If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year try to get ahead early; 
  • use any buffer you can build to take a few breaks; and 
  • finish strong.

Also, if you’re a dude, consider growing a moustache and raising some money for men’s health. If that’s not your thing, or you’re a lady looking to support the cause you can find my donation page here: 
Together, we can change the face of men’s health – and write books.
~ Andrew

Tom Selleck image courtesy Georges Biard (via Wikipedia Commons)

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

About ten months ago I wrote something about planning versus pantsing. In this article I was hell-bent-and-determined that I was a pantser and would be forever that’s just the way it is no question about it thank you very much and good night.

To recap, there are two basic camps when it comes to writing: plotters, those who plot out their story ahead of time; and pantsers, those who fly by the seat of their pants and wing it.

Well, since then I’ve managed to write a lot of blog posts (none of them really planned out to any degree before I sat down to write them), written a few odd things here or there that haven’t amounted to anything, and I’ve got within five thousand words (or so) of finishing the first draft of my first novel. What was interesting about the novel is that any progress I made over the summer was entirely due to the fact that I started mapping things out.

Was my obsession with organization and planning spilling over into my writing? It appeared so, but what did it mean? Well, for starters it meant that it’s entirely possible NaNoWriMo wouldn’t be a complete bust this year. Intriguing. But, it also meant that my excuse list for not finishing my first novel was down to a single item: laziness. Hmm.

Let’s focus on National Novel Writing Month (http://nanowrimo.org) instead of the laziness.

NaNoWriMo is upon us and this year I have a plan. Well, I have a plan for a plan. Two NaNos ago I did not even have that much. Life intervened and derailed my writing and I couldn’t get back on track. Last year, I finished but it was an exhausting effort and took more discipline than I thought I had in me. This year, now this year is going to be different. I can feel it. At a minimum I will have all the main points I want to cover written down and in some order. This way, if life intervenes and writing gets derailed at least I’ll have an idea of what’s left so I can start chipping away at it.

Naturally, I started out with the idea that I would map out this book in excruciating detail with oodles of back story and character development and all that fancy stuff, but to be honest it started to feel a lot like work and it started to resemble real life, so I scaled it back. I write because I have stories to tell, and I take a great amount of joy in crafting them on the fly. If I were to map them all out piece by piece I don’t know if I’d enjoy writing them as much as I do. I haven’t missed a week of blogging this entire year and the only plan I had was a few post subjects queued up. After that, each post came together in the moment, and it was a lot of fun.

For another novel though? Well, at least at this point in time I don’t think that’s going to cut it. Not if I want to make thirty days of writing 1,667 words a day a little less manic than it was a year ago. Even if it’s just a few bullet points that read “MC freaks out” or “Antagonist does something antagonizing” at least I’ll have something to work with.

So, whether you’ve mapped out everything for NaNo from start to finish, have no plan at all and are just going to wing it, or if you’re somewhere in between, I wish you good writing! Look for me on Twitter and Facebook for word sprints and support:

~ Andrew

Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images:
  • “Row of hanged blue jeans in a shop” courtesy of foto76
  • “Tired Man” courtesy of graur codrin

Anyone Can Write a Book

So this quote came across my Facebook wall a week or so ago:

“After I had written this book I told several friends. Their response was polite and mild. Later I was able to tell them the book was going to be published. Almost to a man they used the words ‘I am proud of you.’ They were proud of the result but not of the action.” – Hugh Prather

Attached to that post was some additional commentary from the person who posted the quote. He was proud of all his friends for their actions, not the end results. In that moment, I felt very fortunate to know this person and I felt even more fortunate that he was just one of many people in my life who echoed that sentiment. 

You see I have written a short story that was published in an anthology. When I got the email saying that I had made it into the book my wife came up to me and said, “Congratulations, you’re a published author!” On the surface would appear that this was praise attached to the result. That would be true as becoming published is a big deal, however, if we go back not a month earlier I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

NaNo, as it is affectionately known, is a challenge to write a novel in 30 days (a novel being defined as at least 50,000 words). I tried in 2011 and failed miserably, barely squeaking out 21,000 words. In 2012 I also squeaked out a number – 50,000 in 29 days (I took the last day off to celebrate AND grew a moustache for Movember the whole time). As soon as I crossed the 50,000 word plateau I paused and took a moment to soak it all in. My wife wrapped her arms around my neck, kissed me on the cheek and said, “Congratulations, you’re a novelist!” 

The support and the support of those around me as I muddle my way through this whole book writing thing is absolutely outstanding. To them, and certainly to me, the journey toward becoming a novelist is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Fast forward to one of the first comments on that Facebook post I started this article with. It read: 

“Anyone can write a book. The trick is writing something good enough to convince a publisher that enough people will find it interesting enough to buy.”

Sitting on my couch reading that comment over and over I went right properly ballistic.

After settling down a bit I re-read it and I guess there’s a certain amount of truth to the statement. In one month, technically, I wrote a book, but his over simplification of the task and his assertion that for your book to be “good” you need to “convince a publisher that enough people will find it interesting enough to buy”, are well… *cough cough* bullshit *cough cough* 

First of all, I suspect that there’s only so much convincing that you (or your agent) can do. At the end of the day content is king. It does need to be interesting, but the idea that if you can’t convince a publisher it will sell that you have nothing to be proud of, or that your book isn’t good,  is completely absurd. Quite frankly, those sound like the words of someone who is never going to write a book.

The first thought that went through my head was actually, Sure anyone can write a book. In the same way that anyone can become an astronaut. This was echoed by my writer friend Gareth Young when I mentioned this Facebook post to him and he replied:

“It’s a little like saying you just have to study and train hard, be a genius level polymath and Olympic level athlete to be an astronaut. Sounds pretty straightforward when you put it like that. Although now anyone can be an astronaut too. All you need is plenty of money and the Russians will strap you into one of their rockets and shoot you into space.”

If we take it a step further, these days anyone can get a book published too. Self publishing is a rapidly growing business and many writers are having a pretty good go with it. So, Mr. Facebook Guy, does this mean that if you self-publish you have nothing to be proud of? Is your book not “good enough”?

Now, because (surprisingly) not everyone has read everything I have ever written on this blog you may not know that back on February 9th I wrote this:

Good ideas are even harder to come by. Those are like the crystal clear double rainbow you see after a short summer rain where you can imagine giant pots of gold at each end and a bevy of leprechauns dancing a jig around them. Oh, and let’s not forget that all this has to be interesting enough for people to read. That’s like trying to describe your rainbow scene in such a way that someone would rather read about it from you than see the photograph of it taken by someone else.

My excerpt was in the context of being a writer – as in, anyone can write but not everyone can write something readable. On the surface you’d think my comment and the Facebook Guy’s were just variations of each other, but there’s a solid distinction to be made. Gareth (this guy is good with words – I mean really good) also had this to say:

“Anyone can write a book but not everyone can be a writer. Writers are a whole different animal from people who just write books.”

Indeed. Anyone can blather 50,000 words onto a page and say “I wrote a book”. I did it, and I’m a giant lazy turd with a day job and a family and more procrastination techniques than anyone I’ve ever met. But that’s not all there is to writing a book – at least not if you want to be a writer. Blathering gibberish onto a page is making a book, not writing a book.

Properly writing a book means a whole lot of research, hard work, patience, and dedication. When you’re done and you’ve got your fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred thousand words down on the page; with all your characters developed, your plot points covered, your beginning, middle, and end all tucked away between the title page at the front and the final punctuation mark at the end you take a break, and then you edit it. You edit the living hell out of it. Then you edit it again, and possibly again. Then, you let someone else read it. Maybe it’s some beta readers, maybe it’s a professional editor, maybe it’s your husband, your wife, your best friend, or your mom. You take this thing that you’ve just invested countless hours on, put your heart and soul into, devoted those precious few free waking moments to, and you hand it to someone – and you wait. You wait and you wait and you wait. You wait for them to tell you… that it’s not good enough.

Then, you suppress your anger, you hide your tears and bite your lip, and you take the comments, one by one, and you learn from them. You make changes and you re-write and you re-work and you polish. You push through the pain and the heartache, and you keep writing. You just keep writing.

Just keep writing.

After you have spent more time editing and re-writing (and crying) than you did writing it in the first place, you finish. Done. You write your acknowledgements and you celebrate, for you have accomplished something great.

It is said that a first novel can take someone years to write. If you still think anyone can do it I dare you to try – just once – give it a try. I’ll check back with you in 2015 and see how you’re making out.

~ Andrew

One Hundred

For my 100th published post here on Potato Chip Math I thought I would delve into the history of my little corner of the blogosphere and speak to why I think it has seen so much success over the past six months.

I had blogged before, way back in the blogging heyday of 2005, but after a few years away I was getting the urge to start putting words out in the universe again. I was finally starting that screenplay I had been meaning to write for the last half decade and life was slipping into a nice little routine. Then, on March 24, 2010 I made a trip to the grocery store to pick up some snacks and uncovered a bit of math involving potato chips that got me thinking, I could blog about this. So I did.

Thanks to Tatiana Hedley
for the perfect pic

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. What started as a random collection of posts, rants, and quirky facts about me started to evolve. In November 2011 I had a revelation after seeing Kevin Smith perform in Kitchener and a few months after that Kevin re-tweeted a link to something I had done. Within  half an hour my blog had more hits on a single day than my total for the previous year. Interesting.

Kev mentions me on Twitter and all hell breaks loose
on my blog (for about half an hour)

I managed to sustain a decent level of interest over the next while by putting a few things out there related to social media, specifically Twitter. Then, in July of 2011 I suffered a concussion. In an effort to work my way through this I started a little thing called 1000 Word Picture and thanks to a few writer friends and a link someone posted to Reddit I was reaching record highs.

Posting a couple times a month on a variety of topics my readership stayed fairly steady and predictable over the next 18 months. I was getting some spikes in traffic when I would comment on other people’s blogs or if I posted something that struck a chord with a lot of people. Then, something happened that would change my outlook and the focus of this blog forever (or at least for the foreseeable future): I won NaNoWriMo.

50,000 words in 30 days
(it’s a lot harder than it sounds)

This was such an amazing experience, not just for my writing, but also in terms of my interactions and relationships with other writers, that I decided I would use this blog for something a little more productive. I would maintain a consistent schedule of posts (something which I had difficulty with in the past) and focus my topics on my experiences and observations as an up-and-coming writer.

Then another funny thing happened on the way to the forum. My blog traffic almost doubled. Pardon? What could I have done to deserve this? Short of over analyzing this I think I can sum it up with one word:


We are barely into June and I’ve already posted more than all of last year. Hell, if I extend that into November of last year we have the fact that in the last six months I have posted 27 times. In the six months prior to that I only posted 11 times and during the same period a year ago only 10 times. That means that in the last six months I’ve posted more than the previous twelve months combined.

Bar Graph!

Probably the most startling statistic is that my monthly readership has increased dramatically. Now, I have been more active in reading other blogs and commenting – which goes a long way towards driving traffic to this site, but the fact remains that once I started delivering a more consistent message on a consistent schedule I started to engage with more readers. Monthly readership of Potato Chip Math has increased 40% over the last six months and more than 50% over the same time period a year ago!

Line Graph!

So there you have it. A look back at the last 99 posts and how a little blog that started about some stupid potato chips became a little bit more. If I am in any position to offer advice I will leave you with the following. Greater blog success can be achieved many ways. Content is key, but so is consistency.

  • Consistent messaging
  • Consistent theme
  • Consistent timing
  • Consistent phrasing

And if you talk to my editor for the Orange Karen short story I wrote, the most important…

  • Consistent verb tenses!

As always, thank you for being here and having read this 😉

~ Andrew