A May Challenge

With April (and therefore this year’s first Camp NaNo) winding down, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing some sort of challenge for next month.  I’ve thought about a writing challenge, but I should be done with my current story soon (perhaps even this week, if I can keep this pace up), and will need some prep time before the next one.  Since I do want to start another novel before too long, that also rules out editing (I have trouble keeping more than one of my stories in my head at once, at least for now).

So, what to do?

A programming challenge!  If I were one of those people who felt like acronym-ing everything to sound like NaNoWriMo, I’d call it MayProMo.  But I’m not.  It’s just my May programming challenge.

The goal, to shamelessly crib NaNo’s goal into my own format, is 50 hours spent programming in the month of May, on one new project.  That’s a couple of hours a day, on average, which probably means a couple of binge sessions during the weekend since at least some of my weeknights will be taken up with other things.  But, really, I’m fine with that.

Why would I take away precious writing time to work on programming?  Well, setting aside the fact that I am a man of many interests (of which writing is a big one, but by no means the only), and that a break from new-words-on-a-story (while still doing writing things) can be nice, I’m going to be working on some writing software for myself.

Those of you who know me from NaNo will know that I have been making successfully more elaborate spreadsheets to track my writing progress, especially during NaNo.  They provide all sorts of useful information, and they help me stay focused and provide feedback on my writing time, so that I can use my time more productively.

And they are wrong.

Not that their formulas are incorrect (after my testing and fixing, which I sometimes don’t get to do enough of), or that they don’t provide me with the right information.  They do.  The problem isn’t with the execution but the idea.

I shouldn’t have a separate spreadsheet, with lots of data entry, to track my progress.  My writing program should do that for me.

What do I hope to gain from this?  Insight into myself as a writer.  Am I more distracted in the morning?  The afternoon?  The evening?  When do I type the fastest?  And take fewest breaks?  After how long does my productivity taper off, both in micro (I slow down after ten minutes) and macro (after two hours I have trouble concentrating and should take a break)?  Am I more productive at my desk, or at a coffee shop?  Or the library?

This requires data, hard numbers, not feelings.  Our brains are bad at this kind of stuff (colored too much by preconceived notions, for one), and a number of writers who have collected the data (as best they can) have found that, even though they thought they concentrated best at home, listening to music, at night, they actually did best when at a coffee shop in the morning.

Not that I expect everything working after a month, but the very tentative goal is something for me to test for the next Camp (in July), and something for selective beta testing in November.

There are lots more plans for this software, if I get around to it/feel like it, but for now, that is enough.  I want feedback to help me be a more efficient writer.  Plus, these kinds of challenges make me a better programmer, and since that is what I do for a living, it’s win-win.

So!  Is anyone else doing a May challenge, programming or no?

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