My Writing Process — 2022

One of the goals of Words Deferred has always been to open up my writing process for everyone to see. I don’t claim to have the perfect process, and I think the best way to write will ultimately be different for each writer. However, there’s surprisingly little talk among writers about the day-to-day details of what writing is like, and I want to do my small part to change that.

As the end of the year approaches, I thought it would be interesting to look at the writing I’m doing and the tools I’m using in 2022. Then I can look back on this next year and see how things have changed, or if they’ve stayed the same.


Writers are known for carrying little notebooks and jotting down ideas whenever and wherever they appear. In the past, I’ve carried pocket-sized notebooks, but I went entirely digital several years ago.

My digital notebook of choice is Microsoft OneNote. I have separate tabs for general brainstorms and ideas, short stories, novels, blog posts, lists of books I might eventually read, and more. When I need to take notes on the go, I just jot them down on my phone. OneNote synchronizes automatically between phone and laptop, with only occasional weird formatting issues.

My OneNote. There are a lot of pages hidden under those headings…

Novel Writing

For novels, when I’m ready to go beyond the idea-gathering stage, I move all my notes from OneNote into Scrivener.

As far as I am concerned, Scrivener is the best novel-writing application out there. Where it really shines is in the way it lets me split a big project into nested parts. I split Razor Mountain into folders for each act, then split out each chapter into its own document under those folders. I have separate sections for major characters, locations and other research notes.

With a click of a button, I can look at the chapter summaries on a cork-board view, and I can drag-and-drop chapters in the document tree to rearrange them, something that has been really convenient as I’ve merged and moved chapters in Act II. Scrivener also has built-in support for “snapshots,” which I use to save each revision of each chapter. I typically save at least a rough draft, a second draft after some editing, and a third draft once I’ve gotten reader feedback.

To ensure that my work is fully backed up, I save my Scrivener files to Dropbox, which copies them across my computers and my phone for safe-keeping. I do have the mobile version of Scrivener, but I almost never use it. I love taking notes on my phone, but I do not enjoy long-form writing on that tiny keyboard.

Serial Publishing

I’m publishing Razor Mountain as a serial in three places: here on the blog, on Wattpad, and on Tapas. I chose to do this so that I could get a feel for the different platforms, and to try to increase the visibility. However, I haven’t done much to promote the Tapas or Wattpad versions, so pretty much all of my regular readership is on WordPress. I keep telling myself that I’ll eventually put some love into Tapas and Wattpad, and that may actually happen at some point. Either way, I’ll continue on all three until Razor Mountain is finished.

Because I’m posting to three platforms, my process for this is a little bit insane. It goes something like:

  1. Write the first draft and first round of edits in Scrivener.
  2. Copy it to Google Docs for easy beta reader feedback. Fix the formatting that doesn’t transfer nicely.
  3. Make changes based on feedback in Scrivener, and decide how to split the chapter into multiple posts.
  4. Copy it to a OneNote template with the brief description at the top and links to previous/home/next at the bottom.
  5. Copy from OneNote to WordPress. Schedule the posts.
  6. Copy from OneNote to Wattpad. Fix all the formatting that doesn’t transfer nicely. (Wattpad has no way to schedule posts.)
  7. Copy from OneNote to Tapas. Fix the formatting that doesn’t transfer nicely. Schedule the posts.
  8. On the scheduled day, chapter parts automatically post to WordPress and Tapas.
  9. I have to manually post the saved draft to Wattpad. I also have to update the previous/next links in the WordPress post, and I need to add links to the Razor Mountain home page. Depending on how busy I am, I sometimes forget to do these things, and I typically don’t catch it until I start posting the next chapter.

Some of this complexity comes from posting in three places, each with their own idiosyncrasies. It’s obnoxious how often copy/pasting between tools and websites causes the formatting to be lost. It’s doubly obnoxious that Wattpad doesn’t let me schedule posts.

I suspect there is probably a way to add WordPress links (previous/next and home page) that point to a scheduled post and only work once the post is “live.” I haven’t spent the time to figure it out though.

Short Stories

The majority of my writing time this year went toward Razor Mountain and the blog, but I have managed to sneak in a few short stories.

For microfiction, drabbles, and flash fiction, I often just work in OneNote. Unlike novel writing, I sometimes do work on short short stories on my phone, and I typically do not need organizing features or formatting more complex than italics and bold.

For longer stories, I usually use Microsoft Word on the laptop. Oddly, I copy to Google Docs for easy beta reader feedback, but I never really write in it. I’ve been using Word for years and I’m comfortable with it.

For all of my stories, I save everything to Dropbox to make sure it’s backed up. When it comes time to find places to submit stories, I use Duotrope.


My blogging schedule has fluctuated over time, but these days I try to post Razor Mountain chapters every other week.

Unless a chapter is around a thousand words or less, I will break it into 2-3 parts of about a thousand words each. I’ve read that 500-1000 words is the sweet spot for keeping readers’ attention for blogs, and a slim majority of my WordPress readers are on mobile, where a post of that size feels bigger on the page than it does on a full-size monitor or tablet. Tapas and Wattpad don’t have that kind of detailed dashboard for writers, but they do say that most of their readers are also on mobile.

Along with the chapters themselves, I write a development journal for each Razor Mountain chapter. Sometimes I post the chapter parts earlier in a week (e.g. Wednesday and Thursday), and the development journal on Friday. If I have three parts in a chapter or get a little behind, I will sometimes post the development journal the following Monday. I used to worry about maintaining an exact schedule, but nowadays I just aim for a schedule and adjust as needed.

I write blog posts unrelated to Razor Mountain on the “off” weeks, and sometimes for the Monday of Razor Mountain weeks as well. I’ve been blogging long enough now that I have a few ongoing series of posts, so I will often mix one of those posts with something stand-alone in a given week.

I’ve gotten in the habit of posting reblogs every other Wednesday. Writing three blog posts in a week is too much for me, and reblogs are low-effort (while hopefully still interesting content). They occasionally result in some cross-pollination with the other blog’s readership. Their main purpose is to serve as a good motivation for me to regularly read other writing blogs. I maintain a list of interesting articles and blog posts in my OneNote, and trawl through them for these reblogs.

For the header images on my posts, I use Pexels. I don’t usually do any picture editing apart from cropping. If I have a really difficult time finding an image that I’m happy with, I will occasionally check Unsplash. Both of these sites offer pictures that are free to use and do not require specific license language to be displayed.

(If you’re blogging, please do yourself a favor and always check the licensing and make sure you’re attributing correctly. There are trolls out there who will sue you for hundreds of dollars, even for such non-crimes as using the incorrect version of Creative Commons. And if the image isn’t licensed for your use, don’t use it!)

I make it easy on myself and always use the same cover image for Razor Mountain chapters, and pictures of mountains for development journals. For all other posts, I just search for terms vaguely related to the content.

I always write my blog posts in OneNote, do an editing pass, and then copy/paste them into WordPress. I almost never publish a post immediately. Instead, I schedule them for 7:00am CST on a subsequent day—usually Monday, Wednesday or Friday.


My latest endeavor is to try to get a better understanding of how I’m using my writing time. Lately, I’ve been using ClickUp. I like it for charting “deadlines,” even if they’re entirely self-imposed, and laying out a schedule of things I intend to write.

And even though I’ve explicitly said in the past that I don’t want to end up tracking things in Microsoft Excel, I’ve been doing a little bit of tracking in Excel. I haven’t found a great way to roll up the time spent on different projects in ClickUp in a way I like. Excel makes it dead simple to make a few columns and track days, projects and half-hour increments. It’s all compact and easy to eyeball, and there’s always an easily searched website that will tell you how to translate a few columns into an interesting graph, even if Excel formulas make me feel a little dirty.

This tracking stuff is still in flux, and I expect it to change. In every other respect I am an old man, set in my ways. It’ll be interesting to check back in next year, and see if anything is different.

This post is already much longer than I planned, so I’ll end it here. Hopefully it was interesting to see how another writer works. If you’re an author who writes about your own process, I’d love to read about how you’re working. Leave a comment or a link to a post of your own.

New Year, New Look

Welcome to the new, slightly more spiffy Words Deferred!

Since I have a little end-of-year vacation time, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to update the site design. The old layout felt a little too “Geocities” for modern times, and I’ve been thinking about changing it for a while.

If you’re reading this in a subscription email or the WordPress Reader view where the content is stripped from the layout, you may not have noticed anything different. If you actually still visit the site, I hope you find it to be a much cleaner experience.

If anyone is curious, the old theme was Syntax, very slightly customized. The new theme, somewhat confusingly, is named Twenty Sixteen.

The Syntax theme didn’t have a sidebar, so I ended up throwing a jumbled mess of stuff onto the Words Deferred home page in somewhat random sequence. I suspect it didn’t provide the greatest first impression to new visitors. Of course, you hope that people won’t judge a book by its cover, but you also know that at least some amount of cover-book-judging is inevitable. Now, I’ve moved all the navigational content to the sidebar, freeing up the home page to be much more focused.

The one other big thing that annoyed me about the Syntax theme was the menu. It was weirdly hidden by default. I liked that it stayed out of the way of the main content, and was always accessible, but I missed having a static menu. The Twenty Sixteen theme has a static menu up-top, where it’s still out of the way of the content. It’s no longer accessible when you’re scrolled down the page, but I can live with that.

If you’re a reader who actually visits the site, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think about the changes. If you only read via email, WordPress Reader, RSS, etc., and this makes no difference to you, I’d be interested to hear about that too.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 21

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

Anchor Scenes

When it comes to writing, I am a planner. To a lot of people, that just means having an outline rather than writing and seeing what comes out. However, there are really several phases to planning, especially when it comes to a big project like a novel.

For me, the first phase of planning is really just collecting ideas. There has to be some set of ideas that get me excited enough to say, “Yeah, I want to put hundreds of hours of effort into making this book.” Often, these ideas aren’t enough to provide a start-to-finish synopsis of the story, but they are important moments, so they tend to be the things that cluster around the beginning, the end, or act breaks. Occasionally, they’re just something cool that happens in the middle, and that’s fine too.

That collection of exciting ideas are like mountain peaks in the fog. They’re moments in an incomplete story. To make a real story, I have to figure out all the obscured parts—I have to blow away all that fog in between.

Before I really start to put together a proper outline (and even while I’m outlining), I tend to act out those scenes in my head and think about what the characters might do and say. Sometimes I come back to the same scene over and over and discover new details or different directions they could go.

For Razor Mountain, these were things like Christopher waking up alone on the plane and the moments leading up to jumping out; his journey into the wilderness, and facing the choice of going back to safety or continuing on without any certainty of success; or God-Speaker falling down into the depths of the glacier and discovering that the stone god is broken and he is utterly alone.

A lot of the ideas in this chapter came to me later in the process, but it still feels like one of those anchor scenes. When I first conceived this book, I didn’t know about Chris Meadows yet. I didn’t have a complete understanding of Razor Mountain, and I didn’t know exactly how Christopher would get there. What I did know was that Christopher would have to be broken down completely. He doesn’t know it yet, but this is the experience that allows him to really change.

The rest of the story will be about him figuring out why he is who he is, and whether he wants to do something to change that.

Capturing Dreaminess

I got to play around with style a little bit in this chapter. Christopher is in a dreamlike state, sleep-deprived and tortured on top of everything else that has happened to him since the beginning of the book.

I wanted parts of this chapter to feel more concrete, as though we’re with him in the room, and parts to be more dreamlike, to the point where it’s not entirely clear what is real and what is hallucination, what is memory, and what is happening in the moment.

To make time feel disjointed, I added an unusual number of narrative breaks within the chapter. The story jumps back and forth between (what we can assume to be) multiple interviews with Sergeant Meadows and descriptions of Christopher’s mental state and thoughts. I also used an unusual number of short sentences and sentence fragments in the dialogue and descriptions to show how unfocused and disjointed his thoughts are. A side-effect of this is that longer sentences stand out, and I used that to draw attention to one or two things.

The third trick I used was substituting italics for quotes in some of the dialogue. I think this makes Christopher’s quoted dialogue feel more immediate, while Meadows’s italicized dialogue makes him seem more distant. It also has the side-effect that it’s much easier to follow the back-and forth without any dialogue tags. There’s no description in these parts either—just two disembodied voices—and that also adds to the dreamlike quality.

Finally, I added a section where I switch to first-person for the first time in the book. Honestly, I suspect I wouldn’t have had the guts to try something like this if I hadn’t read and analyzed The Martian and seen how many times Andy Weir jumped between perspectives and tenses, and how seamless it all felt.

I initially tried the change in perspective to untangle some gnarly sentences where it just wasn’t clear which person the pronouns were referring to. However, I kept it because it puts the reader deep into Christopher’s perspective at the exact moment when he is most vulnerable. This is a big reveal of something only lightly hinted at, a key piece of Christopher’s background.

With any stylistic experiments there’s a risk of failure, but I’m happy with how this chapter turned out. I think the experiments paid off.

Next Time

In chapter 22, we’re coming back to God-Speaker, once again leaping ahead through history. We’ll see a formative time in his life, and a little more information about Razor Mountain, the mysterious voices within, and their powers.

Razor Mountain — Chapter 21.3

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Is there a difference between thinking and speaking? I’m not sure. Sometimes I only think, and the words come out into the air. Meadows can hear the thoughts. He answers them. Asks more questions. There are always more questions, even if a lot of the time they’re the same questions.

He’s lying. He doesn’t know anything. He’s just hoping that if he pushes me enough I’ll say something that will prove he was right all along.

Is he lying? He knew things about my job, about my family. Things I didn’t tell him.

Did I think them? He can hear the thoughts.

I’m sitting at the table, and then I’m sitting in my cell. They make me get up and run around the halls. Endless, empty gray hallways. But then I’m jogging in my cell.

I eat something, but I don’t know what it is.

Have you ever killed someone?


Tell me.

“We used to go to the beach on these family trips. It was a long car ride. He wouldn’t shut up. I was so sick of him by the time we got there.”


“My brother.”

Does he have a name?



“I think I was mad, too, because I wasn’t a very good swimmer. I took swim lessons, but I still wasn’t very good. He was a natural. He could swim circles around me, literally. It’s hard, the first time you realize your younger brother is better at something than you are.”

You were jealous.

“Maybe. I was too young to really examine how I felt.”

What happened?

“I think I just wanted to get away for a while. But it was stupid. I went out into the water, like he wouldn’t be able to get me, out there.

“When he came out, he was worried about me, and that made it even worse. I was tired and bad at treading water, but I didn’t want to admit it. I was too far out. By the time I realized that, I couldn’t make it back by myself. I was so damn ashamed that I needed his help.”

You wanted to get him back for that?

“No. I was only ashamed at first, and then something clicked in my head, the kind of thing that our parents were always telling us when we fought, about how we should rely on each other. I thought if we could just get back, things would be different. We could help each other instead of just fighting all the time.”

What happened?

“We didn’t make it back. He was too small to carry me. He shouldn’t have had to.”

I asked you if you’ve ever killed someone.

“It was my fault. I was just a kid. I didn’t know things like that could happen in real life.”

Are you kidding me? Do you think this is a joke?

“No. Do you?”

The stainless steel table was in the snow now. They must have moved it.

It was cold, but it felt good to be outside again. The harsh wind was cut by the bright sunshine. Christopher felt the warmth of it on his face. It was hot, actually. Hot, and running down his cheeks. He touched it gingerly.

Blood. Sticky on his hands. Blood running down his face from his ears.

He opened his eyes. He was sitting in the corner of the cell. The banging sound pounded him like a physical force. He held up his hands. They were clean.

They’re arguing again, downstairs in the kitchen. The voices rise and fall, one male, one female. Why do they think he can’t hear them?

Of course, he’s withdrawn. What do you expect when he goes through something like this?

It’s a formative point in his life. He just needs time. Jesus, we all do.

What if he needs more than just time?

Like what?

He opens his eyes and sees his own fists pounding against the bars. They fall to his sides and he sinks down. The stone floor is so cold.

There’s an engine deep in his chest that is slowing down. It’s been running his whole life, and he never noticed it until now.

Maybe it’s okay to just stop, to let go. Maybe dying would be a relief. No more pressure, no more fighting.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad, what happened. It’s just something that happens. It’s peaceful.

Christopher lay down on the floor of the cell. This time, he didn’t black out. He felt a velvety darkness enveloping him. It was a warm blanket. Whatever happened, everything would be okay.


Razor Mountain — Chapter 21.2

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Time frayed at the edges. Sometimes Christopher thought it was day or night, but there was no evidence one way or the other. His body was desperate for some semblance of normalcy. It felt like night when the air was so cold that frost started to form on the metal bed. It felt like day when the lights were so bright that he had to press his hands over his eyes and hope that he wouldn’t go blind.

He entered a new state of exhaustion. He didn’t sleep, he simply lost time. His brain shut down. The banging noise didn’t matter, the light didn’t matter. His body simply did it. It could have been seconds or hours that he was unconscious. He had no way to know.

A soldier brought him a plastic tray of food that he ate without tasting. Reconstituted mashed potatoes? A rubbery piece of meat that might be chicken? It was hard to remember. He ate it all with his bare hands. A half-size plastic bottle of water, swallowed in a single gulp, and still not enough to quench his thirst.

“You came here with two brothers, the deserters. How did you meet them?”

It was a tricky question. The exiles in that old, ruined building were afraid of Razor Mountain. Christopher remembered that. He held no ill will for most of them, although the brothers hadn’t done him any favors.

“I was just trying to find any other people out here,” Christopher said. “I had a map, from the bunker. It showed other buildings. So I tried to hike to them. But I ended up lost and low on supplies.”

Meadows touched the back of his pen to his chin. “And they took you in?”

“They decided to use me as a bargaining chip,” Christopher said. “At least Garrett did, and Harold went along with it.”

“You didn’t want to come here?” Meadows asked.

“You can see how well it’s working out for me,” Christopher said. A staccato squawk of a laugh came, unbidden, out of his mouth.

“You said you wanted to get back home,” Meadows said.

Christopher nodded. “And if anyone out here can make that happen, I guess it’s you. But they seemed afraid of Razor Mountain.”

“They are deserters,” Meadows said. “They have to face the consequences of their actions.”

“Garrett decided he wanted back in,” Christopher said, “and he seemed to think that bringing me as a peace offering would make it all okay.”

“Did he really?”

Christopher thought about it.

“Maybe not. Harold said that he didn’t think it would work. I think Garrett was just desperate and clinging to whatever hope he could find.”

“What about the others?” Meadows asked. “The brothers weren’t alone.”

Christopher took a deep breath. He realized that his eyes were wide. His face betrayed him. His body was a thing not entirely under his control any more.

“You’re protecting them,” Meadows said. “Is that really the strategy you want to take here? Providing cover for traitors?”

“They gave me shelter and food. I’d be dead if they hadn’t.”

“That doesn’t absolve them of their crimes. It’s not your responsibility to defend them.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Christopher said. “I don’t know where they are. It was someplace abandoned. Underground. I’m sure Garrett and Harold could tell you more.”

“That’s not relevant. I’m here to find out what you know,” Meadows said.

When he first woke, on the plane, he had thought for a moment that he was in a dark cave. Why would he think that? Now he was actually in a cave, or at least underground. It felt like a normal building, except that there were no windows. No sun, no moon, no sky or stars. No time passing. No buzzing of airplane engines in the dark that wasn’t a cave.

How did you get here?

“I told you. It was a business trip. A sales trip. I was selling software.”

Did you actually sell anything?

“It’s a new job. I’m new. I’m not very good at it, yet. At least they were nice about it.”

So no. Who are you working for?

“Peak Electric Solutions.”

Who are you working for?

“Look, I told you.”

Who are you working for?

“What’s the fucking point of this? What do you expect me to say? You want me to just make something up?”

I want you to tell the truth. By the way, you have a little blood there, on your forehead.

“I think I hit my head on the table.”

What’s the most blood you’ve ever seen?


Answer the question.

“I guess, I used to get nosebleeds, pretty bad ones, in the winter when the air is too dry. Sometimes it would just go for five or ten minutes. The wastebasket would just be full of bloody tissues.”

That’s it?

“I think so.”

Have you ever killed someone?

Coming back from a sleep-deprivation blackout wasn’t like waking up. It was like one of those movies where someone overdoses and they inject adrenaline directly into the person’s heart. It was being off, and then being on again.

He sat at the table, both jittery and exhausted. The soldier must have come. Must have taken him from the cell and brought him to sit at the table. He didn’t remember it, but it must have happened.

Meadows sat down in the chair opposite him. Had Meadows come in through the door? When?

“How are you doing today, Chris?”

“Is it day?”

“I’m hoping we can have a productive conversation.”

“Me too.”

“Hey, that’s great. For that to happen, I’m going to need you to tell me the truth.”

“I keep telling you the truth,” Christopher said. “Except maybe about the deserters, at first, because I feel like I owe them. But then I ended up telling you what little I know about them, anyway. At least, I think I told you.”

“You’re not filling me with confidence here,” Meadows said.

“I’m having a real hard time deciding what is actually happening,” Christopher said.

Meadows sighed and set his clipboard down on the table, snapping the pen under the metal clip.

“I can assure you that this is definitely happening,” he said. “I’m trying to help you here, but you’re not making it easy.”

“Look,” Christopher said. “Look. I’m telling you the truth. What answers are you looking for? If you tell me what you actually want, maybe, somehow, I can help.”

“Chris, I’m not going to give you a free pass here. I’m not going to give you a map of where you can lie and where you can’t. I know more about you than you realize. I know you’re lying, and until you tell me the truth, this will only get worse for you.”

Christopher felt his eyes overflowing with tears. He pressed his palms against them until he saw stars.

“I don’t know what you want. I can’t do this anymore.”

Meadows was standing next to the door. Had he stood up?

“I’m sorry to hear that, Chris. If that’s the case, then we’re going to have other questions to discuss. For example, do we put you in permanent storage, or do we line up the firing squad?”


Razor Mountain — Chapter 21.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

The sergeant sat across from Christopher and studied his clipboard silently, flipping between several different pages. Then he looked over the top, into Christopher’s eyes.         

“We have the same name, you know.”

Christopher blinked.

“Excuse me?”

The sergeant lowered the clipboard and used his pen to tap on the name badge. It said “C. MEADOWS” in white engraving on the brown badge.

“Sergeant Chris Meadows,” he said.

Christopher took a deep, slow breath. After being imprisoned and tortured, he had not expected his captors to subject him to tedious small talk.

“I go by Christopher,” he replied at last.

Meadows raised the clipboard again.

“I’ve been chatting with the two deserters who came in with you. I think we both know that they have no idea what’s going on, but I still got some useful information about you out of them. And, of course, I have other means at my disposal for finding things out. I know an awful lot about you Chris, and by the time we’re done here, I will know everything. You can make it simple, or you can make it complicated, but we’ll get there eventually. The only difference will be how unpleasant it is going to be for the both of us. Your level of cooperation will have an impact on what eventually happens to you.”

Meadows waited expectantly.

“Okay,” Christopher said.

“Let’s do a little thought experiment. Take a good look around this room. This could be where you spend the rest of your life. Now, that might not be very long, but it could also be a very, very long time.”

Christopher shook his head. “You don’t need to threaten me. I’ll tell you everything I know. Strap me into the lie detector. Do whatever you need to do.”

Meadows smirked, and it was not a pleasant expression.

“We don’t need your permission, Chris. And I don’t need to threaten you. I work in facts. These are the facts about what is at stake here. If you’re smart, you’ll tell me the facts that I ask of you. I will evaluate what you say against my other sources, and I will determine if you are telling the truth. If you lie or omit things, those will be marks against you. Do you understand?”

Christopher took a deep breath. He felt like his lungs weren’t providing him enough air. The weight of his body was hard to hold up.

“I understand.”

“That’s fantastic,” Meadows said. “Let’s start with Alaska. How did you come to be here in our fine state?”

Christopher told him about the flight from the small town of Homer, about waking up alone, and the frantic minutes leading up to his terrifying jump. His instinct was to leave out the parts that made no sense, but he didn’t dare. Instead, he told the story exactly as he remembered it, without embellishment or commentary.

Meadows stared across the table intently, occasionally looking down to jot something on his paper, but never showing emotion or commenting. He let Christopher tell the story up until the point where he crawled out of the lake, found the hatch, and somehow guessed the code.

Christopher paused and took a deep breath. The lack of feedback from Meadows was almost worse than immediate skepticism.

“That seems like a good place to stop for the moment,” Meadows said, “as it does answer my initial question. Now think back through your story and tell me if there’s anything you left out.”

“Just the facts?”

“Just the facts.”

Christopher thought.

“When I tried to open the door, I wasn’t thinking very straight. I assumed I was going to die, but I thought I might as well try to guess the code. I was going to enter my birthday, but I fat-fingered it.”

“What’s your birthday?”

“November 11, 1983.”

Meadows shook his head a fraction of an inch.

“The code, I mean.”


“And what did you enter, instead?”

“122199. I wasn’t actually sure what I entered at the time, but I figured it out after a little trial and error later on.”

“Interesting,” Meadows said. “Those numbers are quite different.”

“I was freezing to death,” Christopher said. “My hands were shaking.”

Meadows eyed Christopher.

“You certainly look rough around the edges, but you have all your fingers and toes, don’t you? And your entire nose. I think you weren’t quite so bad off.”

“Well, it felt like it at the time,” Christopher mumbled, trying not to sound petulant.

“Let’s back up,” Meadows said. “Where did you come from, before you came to Alaska? Where do you live?”

“I have an apartment in Minneapolis,” Christopher said. “Or at least, I did.”

“Oh, what happened to it?”

Christopher shrugged.

“I don’t know. I just assumed I’ve been declared dead by now. It’s been weeks.”

“Ah,” Meadows replied, no sympathy in his voice. “You lived alone then?”


“And where did you grow up?”

“Same general area. Suburbs.”


“My parents and my brother.”

“Older, or younger than you?”


For the first time, Meadows face betrayed some hint of emotion, the faintest narrowing of the eyes.

“You hesitated.”

“My brother was three years younger. He was adopted, if that matters.”

Meadows shrugged.

“Does it?”

Christopher wasn’t sure what to say. He shook his head.

Meadows wrote for several seconds.

“You said your job brought you here.”

“Yes. It was supposed to be a sales trip. I just moved into a new position at work. Sales for northern North America.

Mostly Canada, Alaska, and a few of the north-most states.”’

“And where were you going, specifically?”

“Golden Valley Electric Association.”

“Anyone in particular who was expecting you?”

Christopher pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I don’t remember.”

“What about where you came from?”

“I…I stayed at the motel in Homer. I visited Homer Electric. I met a few people. I only really remember first names. There was Phil, Lisa…Sandy, I think.”

Meadows nodded, writing. Then he clicked his pen and stood.

“I think that’s enough to start with,” he said. “Someone will be along shortly to bring you back to your cell.”

Christopher blinked. “That’s it?”

“For now.”

“Look, I’m willing to tell you whatever you need to know.”

Meadows held up a hand.

“Be patient, Chris. We’ll get there, in time.”

“Can I please just sleep?”

“We’ll talk again soon,” Meadows said. He turned sharply on his heel and walked to the door. He didn’t even glance back as the door closed behind him.


Reference Desk #16 — ClickUp

This series is all about tools and resources that are useful for writers. It’s been a while since I added a new entry, because I’ve written about pretty much every tool I use for my writing. However, I recently added a new one to my arsenal: a web-app called ClickUp.

Time Tracking for Writers

Part of the reason I started this blog was to get better at writing frequently and consistently. In that, it has been a success. I don’t write every day, but I do write several times a week. Between my job and family and everything we have going on, I’ve reached the point where I’m mostly happy with the amount of time I’m putting into my writing, and I’m balanced with the rest of my life.

However, ramping up my weekly writing time was an easy way to improve. If I assume that I’m going to maintain my current cadence, I have to find other avenues to increase the quantity or quality of my writing. My next step is to more closely track my writing time and how much of it I spend on different projects. If I can’t spend more time on writing, I have to get more efficient with how I use that time. I read some blog posts by writers who track their writing time, and it seemed like something that might be worthwhile.

If you think tracking your writing time sounds like an awful thing to inflict on yourself, I don’t blame you. It’s a little tedious, and it’s a distraction from the “real” work of actually getting words on the page. However, if you’re the sort of writer that wants to make writing into a full-time job, you might want to consider actually treating it like a job, even if only for a few hours a week—and that may include things like figuring out just how well you’re spending your time.

Even for those who aren’t interested in writing as a job, it can be a valuable exercise to actually track what you’re getting done. In my day job, this kind of tracking has opened my eyes to cases where I was spending much more or less time on certain things than my “gut feel” told me I was.

In any case, I decided it would be worth at least trying to track my writing time as an experiment. If I learned something useful, great. If I didn’t, then at least I tried. Thus began the long and painful search for decent project tracking software.

The Nightmare Hellscape of Business Software

Managing projects is big business, and selling software that supposedly makes those projects run more smoothly is therefore big business too. The Google results are packed with ads, and there are literally dozens of different applications that guarantee they will make your job infinitely better.

I’m sure this is obnoxious enough when you’re some middle manager at a Fortune 500 company, but it’s even worse if you’re just a freelancer or individual who just wants a basic solution for personal use. I’m not going to bore you with the list of products I tried. If you do a web search for project management or time tracking web applications, you’ll find them all.

I had a short list of features I wanted:

  • A list view of projects and categories
  • A way to track time spent on each project
  • A Gantt chart that understands dependencies between projects
  • A low price point – preferably free or a one-time charge

That last point, price, is a tough one. Almost all of these products are trying to sell to big business, and they want that recurring revenue stream. After all, they have to maintain their web infrastructure and all of those collaboration tools…that I don’t plan on using.

I was more surprised at how few tools make it easy to attach dates to projects and then see them all lined up on a schedule. This seems like pretty core functionality to me, but a lot of these products just show projects as line items or colorful squares, and don’t seem to understand scheduling. If all I wanted was a Kanban board, I’d just use Trello.


ClickUp ended up being the first tool I tried that actually did what I was looking for and didn’t try to lock me into a monthly contract after a brief trial.

The two views I’ve been using so far are the list and Gantt views. The list provides a set of category buckets that projects can be dropped into. You can set due dates, a priority flag, make comments, and track time. It’s possible to add more columns here, but I haven’t played with any others so I can’t comment on usefulness.

There is also a nice feature that allows association of sub-projects with a parent. I’ve used this to track things like the individual blog posts and development journals for my serial novel, Razor Mountain, or different drafts of a short story.

The Gantt view puts the list on the left side, and a scheduling view on the right. From here, tasks are placed according to their due dates, but the time range is easily adjustable. It is also possible to add dependencies between tasks in the task details and see them as little arrows on the chart. This is a little bit clunky, and I haven’t used it much.

ClickUp list view. (Project names blurred to protect the innocent)
ClickUp Gantt view.

There are a number of other features that I haven’t really used. ClickUp has several views of the same information, including a calendar and Kanban board. It has a chat feature, video embedding, and a document storage/wiki feature as well. The documents might be useful for some writers, but these are features that will eventually fill up the limited storage available to free accounts.

On that note…


One of the key features of ClickUp that makes it work for me is a perpetually free account tier with a reasonable feature set. The only significant limitation is 100MB of storage, which is a good amount, but certainly possible to use up if you start attaching images or video to your projects.

There are several paid plans with various features, but they’re all targeting businesses, and I haven’t felt the need to dig into them. The free tier gives me what I need for my individual tracking.

But is it Useful?

I don’t really know yet. Although I’ve played around in ClickUp enough to decide it’s the tool I want to use for my time tracking experiment, I haven’t been consistently tracking my projects yet. I’ll need to spend some time figuring out my workflow and the features I want to use.

Once I’ve had some time to track my projects and decide if it’s valuable, I’ll write a follow-up post to tell you how it went.

Reblog: Write Small for a Bigger Impact — Joe Ponepinto

Today’s reblog comes from Joe Ponepinto, who reminds us that great fiction often tackles big, heady issues, but it doesn’t necessarily place them front and center. Instead, it forces us to infer that meaning from much smaller details. Fiction is a game of synecdoche, where the minute and the mundane must be representative of bigger, broader ideas.

Writers have to recognize and accept an essential artistic paradox that the more specific and individual things become, the more universal they feel.

That’s from an essay written by Richard Russo a couple of decades ago. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as I read stories in the submission queue, especially those by newer writers. I can tell they want to say something profound in their fiction. Why not? If you can write something that makes readers take notice, that makes them sit up from their reading and say, “Wow, that’s so true,” it could mean publishing success is not far off.

But many writers go about it the wrong way. Since they want to say something big and universal, they tend to write their stories in the universal. They create settings and characters that adopt the traits of universal subjects, which is to say they become flat and generalized, homogenized into composites. Sometimes the characters in such stories seem written to represent a particular side in a philosophical or social discussion. In reality, though, those “big” topics are so complex and nuanced that they can’t be described efficiently and adequately enough in a short story. The result then is a narrative filled with characters and scenes that don’t connect with readers, and a message that sounds artificial and predictable.

Read the rest over at Jane Friedman’s blog…


Last week I passed another little milestone.

Thanks to everyone for reading, especially my regulars.

One of the goals of this blog is an open writing process, and I include the inner workings of the blog itself in that. I’m not exactly an internet celebrity or SEO expert, but hopefully there’s some value to other bloggers in seeing what my numbers look like.

The progression of these view milestones is interesting to look at:

  • Sept. 2020 – Blog created
  • Nov. 2021 – 1000 views
  • Apr. 2022 – 2000 views
  • Dec. 2022 – 5000 views

As you can see, while starting from small numbers, the progression is more exponential than linear. It took 14 months to get enough readership to get a thousand views. The next thousand took only 6 months, and five thousand came 8 months after that.

A Little Traffic Analysis

Based on the traffic stats, I attribute most of my traffic to a fairly consistent posting schedule and the long tail of search results. Almost none of my traffic in the first year came from external search engines. It was driven almost entirely by regular readers and people who found the blog through the internal search and recommendations.

Once Google picked up some of my posts to rank on the first page of certain niche search terms, the bulk of my traffic started to come in from that. On a typical day, I see hits on my most recent 1-2 posts, hits on my top few posts in Google search, and one or two hits on random old posts. I assume these old posts come up in WordPress search and recommendations or in the “other posts like this” end-cap.

This shows why people chase that sweet, sweet SEO. Having posts that rank high in the Google results gives you a steady stream of traffic, and that traffic can be converted into regulars and get more visitors clicking on your other articles in the end-cap. I haven’t put much effort into SEO, so it typically comes as a surprise to me which articles end up ranking high enough in a niche search to drive traffic.

Smoothing Over Time

It’s worth noting that statistics like this “smooth out” as you look at longer time scales. If you’re a new blogger, please don’t drive yourself crazy looking at daily view counts and other statistics. Especially when your blog is small, there will be a lot of variation from day to day and week to week. Even on a monthly scale, my graphs jump up and down significantly.

This is why I have been doing my own State of the Blog posts every six months. I don’t find the statistics to be all that useful on time scales much smaller than that.

Razor Mountain Development Journal — Chapter 20

This is part of an ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain.

You can find my spoiler-free journals for each chapter, my spoiler-heavy pre-production journals, and the book itself over at the Razor Mountain landing page.

A Long Wait for a Short Chapter

Chapter 20 might be the shortest chapter so far.

I went into Thanksgiving week thinking that I would get a lot of writing done. That didn’t happen. The kids had activities, we helped a family member move, and the actual Turkey Day prep didn’t help either. On top of that, we’ve had some family medical issues lately and multiple home appliances dying. It’s been a lot.

As a serial procrastinator, I have a lot of baggage around making plans and then not getting things done. However, I’m getting a little better at looking at it objectively, and it was pretty reasonable to not get much writing done. I try to chalk it up to life intruding, and adjust my plans accordingly.

I’m taking quite a bit of vacation at the end of December and January, and I’m hoping to really reset and have lots of free time for all my writing projects. I think it will also help if I can finish off Act II and get into Act III of Razor Mountain. I’m feeling some of the mid-book doldrums and I usually get a second wind when the end is in sight.

Approaching the Breaking Point

This latest chapter ended up being yet another short one. Part of that is down to the fact that there’s no dialogue or other characters for Christopher to interact with. Part of it is because I don’t want to spend too long on these scenes where it’s just him in an empty room having a bad time—just enough to set up what will be happening in subsequent chapters.

I wanted to get across the visceral awfulness, and the feeling that Christopher really getting close to his breaking point. He has been through a lot, and he is worn down. At some point it’s going to be too much.

But we’re not quite there yet.

Serial Villains

Razor Mountain doesn’t have a big, bad, ongoing villain throughout the entire story. In terms of high school English conflict definitions, it’s more “man vs. nature” and “man vs. self.”

What it does have is a series of minor villains that cause problems for the main characters. God-Speaker had to deal with  Finds-the-Trail and Strong-Shield. Christopher was kidnapped by Garrett and Harold, and is now imprisoned under the purview of Sergeant Matthews.

It’s challenging to make these villains menacing when most of them are only around for a few chapters. Their main effect on the story is acting as roadblocks that the main characters have to somehow overcome, but they need to feel like an organic part of the story. They need enough character development that their actions make sense and hint that there’s more going on with them than we get to see. They need motivations that put them at odds with the main characters.

A notable effect of chaining villains in this way is that it naturally results in arcs of tension as each conflict ramps up, and then is overcome or superseded by the next conflict. This can be good, because it provides a natural structure of rising and falling action—you need both moments of tension and release to keep the story interesting—but it can also create lulls in the action that I need to make sure aren’t too long or boring.

Next Time

Chapter 21 might just be the straw that breaks Christopher’s back. We’ll get to know our new friend, Sergeant Matthews, the first Razor Mountain authority figure that Christopher has encountered. Things are going to get worse before they get better. If they get better.