Taking stock of my writing activities

Mandarin duck, possibly. Tasks for writing fiction fantasy

Writing a novel involves a lot more than just drafting and editing. Here I enumerate my writing activities and try to figure out why I never have time for them all.

It struck me recently that I have all these writing-related activities that I don’t do as often as I’d like or have stopped doing entirely. When I did them I thought they were valuable, but now it’s hard to find time.

Which is crazy because I’m literally working 20 hours a week from my living room chair (by the fire because it’s cold).

I should have time to do everything I want, so why don’t I?

In an effort to (begin to) answer this question, I thought I’d enumerate what these writing-related activities are. Then maybe I’ll discover some of them aren’t important. Or that I’m really lazy.

I guess we’re about to find out.

1. Drafting, editing, or researching for my primary WIP

What

I have one novel that’s my current work in progress (WIP). It’s almost old enough to have started school, but is still at an age where it eats the crayons and occasionally has an accident in bed.

To grow into a fully fledged adult capable of doing the dishes every day and paying the power bill on time, it needs editing, research, more editing to incorporate the research, and probably more editing so anyone will care.

At some point it will need to be queried (assuming I go that route) and everything that goes along with that.

Bottom line, I have and will always (I hope) have a main WIP that requires a lot of time to draft, edit, sell, and promote.

Why

The value of this is self-evident: if I stop writing the pixies get mad and steal my socks.

I lie.

I bribed the pixies with milk (and a bit of scotch) and now they’re happy as long as they have something to drink.

I write because I love it, and writing novels is my favourite type of writing because novels are my favourite thing to read. Sure, I plan to publish and hope throngs of readers will adore my characters as much as I do, but that’s not why I do it.

Writing my WIP is important because it’s the reason for all the rest of it.

How much

I don’t write every day. I tried that, and the quality of my writing went down the longdrop to the point I had to delete that section and start over.

But I do work on my WIP every day, usually for several hours.

I’d like to do more, but if I stuck at this I’d be happy.

Writing activities, or flying ducks, depending on how you look at it.
Fly, my pretties. Or write. Whatever gets you going.

2. Reading fiction

What

Um, you know, reading novels.

Why

Because reading is relaxing, fun, and enriching, and it counts as research. Plus it’s a way I can support the writing community (the non-hashtag version).

I don’t think you can write a book that appeals to the modern audience if you haven’t read a lot of books that appeal to them. Though I’m open to being proven wrong.

Reading broadens my experience and deepens my empathy.

And I get to fight dragons.

How much

At a minimum, I read for about 10 minutes each morning and 20 to 60 minutes each evening. I could read all day if I didn’t have to do other things, like shower.

3. Blogging

What

I’m sure I don’t need to explain my blogging–you’re reading the result of it now.

Why

The why of blogging is harder, and my reasons for doing it have changed with experience.

When I started out, it was because I’d read writers need to blog to build a platform to sell books, and they need to start before they have books to sell.

I still don’t have books to sell, so three years ago was the perfect time to start blogging.

But the more I blogged the more I discovered its unexpected rewards. My blog is my cosy cabin in the big internet wilds, where my good friends (current or future) come for a cup of tea and a laugh, or sometimes even an intelligent conversation.

Plus blogging is fun, and a nice record of my writing life in a way I wouldn’t bother recording were it just for myself.

How much

When I started blogging I committed to blogging twice a week for a year, and I succeeded. Then things fell apart.

When I picked it up again, I thought I’d try once a week.

It didn’t work. My brain wandered into the forest for too long between posts and writing them was a stress.

So I went back to twice a week. I miss the occasional post if the world is too hectic, and I’m happy with that. While this works for me I’ll keep doing it.

I exist solely to be cute.

4. Beta reading

What

In short, beta reading is reading an early version of a book to provide feedback to the author on what does and doesn’t work so they can improve it. I wrote a whole post on this once, which you can find here.

Why

There are selfish and selfless reasons for beta reading.

Selfishly, it’s easier to spot things that do and don’t work in someone else’s book than in your own, so beta reading improves your writing craft.

Also selfishly, betaing for other people is the main way writers get other people to beta for them.

Selflessly, it’s helpful for the person whose story it is. Which makes you feel good, so maybe that’s selfish after all.

How much

I don’t beta as much as I’d like, perhaps because it takes me so long. On the other hand, I’ve beta’d (how do you even spell this?) for others a lot more than others have beta’d for me, so I don’t feel too terrible about this.

5. Brainstorming for story ideas

I wrote about this at one point. (That post has other waffle in it, but bear with me.) Essentially, I sit down for half an hour and brainstorm ideas for new stories or the sequel to my current story.

I don’t use most of them, but this is where my next book is coming from.

Once I trigger my mind to think of story ideas, it keeps going in the background for about three days, so ideally I’d do this exercise twice a week.

I’d be happy with once a week, though. Currently it’s more like once a month.

6. Brainstorming for blog ideas

It’s easier to write a blog post if you know in advance what you’re writing about.

At one point, I was sitting down once a week to come up with ten potential topics for blog posts, of which I used two.

I should still be doing this. I’m not.

I’m a ruddy shelduck, which apparently is not a rude word.

Studying the craft of writing

I love reading about writing, and it seems like a good way to keep improving my craft. I go through phases of reading writing craft books, and absorb a steady stream of blog posts about craft.

Participating in the online writing community

You’re right, I should say it like it is. I mean playing on Twitter and occasionally commenting on other writers’ blogs. It’s motivating to have other writers to hang and chat with, and a place to share my frustrations and my victories.

A novel is a marathon. It’s so much easier if you don’t go it alone.

I know, I know. I hang out on Twitter too much.

But during lockdown it’s been my main form of socialisation, and I’ve made so many awesome friends.

Yes, I mean you.

Reviewing books I’ve read

I should review books.

Reviews keep the book world spinning. They help out authors, readers, and unicorns alike. Every time you write a book review a fairy gorges itself on chocolate cake, and you know how much fairies love cake.

I review books, just not as often as I mean to.

Planning my next major WIP

One of these days (maybe) I will get to the point of querying my WIP and I’ll need to be working on a new baby to keep from checking email every two minutes.

And because I’ll miss having someone smearing toothpaste on the walls.

I planned my current WIP for six months before I started writing, so I really need to get going on this.

Everyone needs Twitter (or duck) friends.

Other things I might/should do

I like the idea of learning to write short stories, but for that I need to a) read short stories and b) write short stories. These both take time.

I have an email list that should be receiving a monthly summary of my blog posts and some tidbits that are secret enough I don’t put them online, but not so secret I hide them from His Royal Fluffiness. You can join the list at the bottom of my posts. If you’ve done so, you might notice I haven’t sent this summary in… some time.

I think I have a Facebook page somewhere. I should a) figure out where it is and how to log in to it, b) decide whether to tidy or obliterate it, and c) implement the tidying/obliteration.

Since I committed to writing a comedy, I need to study Terry Pratchett.

The verdict

I’d have time to do everything I wanted if I stopped playing on Twitter.

I’m not going to. I might cut back a bit, though.

What writing-related activities do you do or recommend?

You can get all my posts in your inbox, but if you check only the monthly box you might have to wait a while.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

16 thoughts on “Taking stock of my writing activities”

  1. All of these are valid.

    There is a lot to crafting a novel, and until a person tries it, I don’t think they understand it. It might take 6 hours to read a novel, but it takes 200 times that to get one to the point where a person *wants* to read it.

    Much of what you have above figures into my writing process as well. Though, I must confess, my first drafts are a complete train wreck. I spend probably as much time on a second draft (at least) as a first. This is the cost of being a pantser. Which means, I don;t outline 🙂 I have tried and tried to be a plotter, and I have a stack of partially written novels with lovely outlines. However, I have a half dozen completed novels, with a few published. It just means that second draft sucks. A lot. I have made peace with it.

    Blogging has been… hard. I tried blogging 5 days a week. That failed. I tried 3 days. Even finding quality content for that was hard. I have been trying very short blog posts for a time now. It allows for more interaction, then I try to do a weekly bigger post. Then, if I have nothing to say, I still have the shorter “bite size” fiction. Granted, it reduces pressure on me to produce a post, so maybe no so good? Jury is out.

    I love to create new worlds and characters. I like to research. I hate the social part. I need to spend more time on Twitter, Facebook and the like. As that is the part I like least, that is the part I save for last and so seldom get done 🙂

    1. Oh, I’m not trying to say my first drafts aren’t a wreck despite careful planning. Somehow no matter how well I plan I learn about the story and make connections between disparate parts of it as I write. And you’ve finished a lot of books, so you’ve clearly found a system that works for you. If it involves train wrecks of first drafts, so be it. 🙂

      Wow, I was never ambitious enough to try to blog five times a week. Even three seems like a lot. Each post takes me maybe three hours, so more than two a week would start to chomp up a good fraction of my total writing time. Is there some reason you think blogging so often is the right thing for you? I did a very informal Twitter poll recently, and a common opinion by blog readers was that more than once a week was too much. That’s certainly not universally relevant, but it did suggest overwhelming readers with content is a bigger risk than them forgetting you between posts.

      I expected to hate social media too, but then I started doing it and found it fun. Perhaps it would be different if I felt I had to try to sell a book, because people get annoyed if you’re just there to sell (and it’s no fun). I also stopped trying to do more than one social media site. Have you tried, say, logging in to Twitter for ten minutes every other day, tweeting something a bit personal but on brand (“reading so-and-so a book and I love the mermaids”), and replying to a couple of other people’s tweets (comment on the picture of their cat or their garden, congratulate them on achieving a writing goal, or give your opinion on something they ask)? Once every ten or so original tweets (so not counting replies) you can advertise your books. Connect with people who have real conversations, and you might start having fun. I also get a lot of ideas for blog posts from random Twitter conversations.

  2. Ah, this post so resonates with me . . . I notice that before I began taking myself seriously as a writer (a mistake that, once done, is hard to undo) and start doing all the platform and community-building things you mention, I immediately had less time to write new fiction. I love writing short stories, but it’s been over a year since I penned one because doing all the collateral work around nurturing my novels in the query phase plus blogging, beta reading, learning, reading, connecting, etc., etc., takes up a lot of real estate in my overcrowded brain. Also my novels do tend to regress to the crayon-eating stage when I’m not paying them enough attention. Perhaps the real key to being a writer is time management. I do hope not.

    1. Ah, if only we’d known the cost of taking writing seriously! Sometimes I do wonder if the hermit approach isn’t better: shut out the world, don’t exist online, write your book; then sell your book and repeat. It must leave more time for writing, but I don’t think it would be nearly as much fun.

  3. And now you’ve reminded me that I really, REALLY need to get back to brainstorming blog posts and short stories. For a time there I was really good at it, and even had blogs written and scheduled a month ahead of time.

    Now I do not, and even at only one new blog every other week I still seem to be writing them the day before I post them. Sigh.

    I need to find my organisation again. Have you seen it?

    1. Wow, you ever wrote a post a month in advance? I’m doing well if I start before the day a post is due. (Though that might be because as soon as I finish a post I want to share it.)

      I don’t think you’re allowed to complain about a lack of organisation. You seem to have everything so sorted! 😉 (But have you tried under the couch cushions?)

      1. I have checked under the couch cushions. I suspect the cat of having eaten it, or hidden it somewhere with her stash of my hair ties. One day I shall find them…

  4. I have totally read a book in the shower. On my phone. I don’t know how people read physical books in the shower. But I have found my blog to be a good resource for me. I’ve been able to go back and look up something I’ve forgotten or read one of the pep talks I’d posted for myself. ^_^ Definitely lots of unexpected and understated rewards.

    I don’t beta read very much anymore. I’ve also read WAY more for people, and honestly, it’s exhausting, so I don’t like to even ask, because I don’t want to bother anyone, even though I know there must be people out there who actually like it.

    1. *Admiration!*

      I would totally have read a book in the shower if I’d been able to figure out the paper/water problem. It’s probably lucky I haven’t.

      Yay! I’m glad you find your blog a useful reference too. I’ve used mine to look up all kinds of things – how often I should do brainstorming sessions, questions to ask myself if I’m brainstorming a sequel, you name it. If anyone else finds these posts useful or entertaining that’s just icing on the cake.

      Beta reading is so exhausting! Rewarding, but hard work.

  5. “At some point it will need to be queried”

    I’m confused, do you mean literally sitting down and asking your various characters questions? I suspect not, so what do you mean please?

    1. You’re quite right, I don’t mean ask my characters questions (though that is a technique, just not one I’ve ever had much luck with). What I mean is to send query letters to literary agents with the hope of finding one who will offer to represent my book(s) and who will then sell it to a publisher.

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