Word Count Based Writing with SpurtWriter

Creative writing exercises are great for writing and as a general imagination workout. I’ve long been a fan of working with some kind of constraint, which can often help guide creative projects.

Recently, I saw someone on Twitter, talking about how they like to do their writing in 1000-word spurts. The idea is, that you set the goal to what you can realistically do in the allotted time. If you have 15 minutes, maybe aim for 300 words! I wanted to build something around this idea, and SpurtWriter is what I ended up with. It’s a small app specifically for word count based writing. Simply set your word count goal and go!

Presenting SpurtWriter!

To use this app, you must be running Windows. The app itself is free to download and use, and please tell your friends, etc. Install the app from the embedded link. Once it’s up and running, here’s what you do.

  1. Choose a target word count from the dropdown menu.
  2. Start writing. You will notice the word count go down as you get closer to your goal.
  3. When the goal is hit, you can choose to save the result as is, or keep editing.
  4. If you decide to scrap what you have, hit Esc during writing. You can still save what you have.
  5. You can only save your work when the word count is reached, or if you abort the session.

On a sidenote, I have recently breathed new life into the WriMuse twitter account, which features randomly generated writing prompts.

Additional info

  • Depending on your settings, Windows may ask you to confirm the installation due to security. Allow the app to run, if this happens.
  • SpurtWriter saves are RTF files (Rich Text Format), compatible with all major word processors.
  • SpurtWriter is very much a prototype/work-in-progress. Feedback is welcomed. Please send your thoughts and ideas to info@tagunda.com.

The Bitton Lighthouse

This post describes a detailed location in my homespun fantasy setting, Norkol. The illustration was provided by Ethan Myerson, an avid gamer and all round cool dude (he didn’t make me say that, either). If you decide to use the lighthouse in your game, I would love to know about it.

Off the coast of the Bay of Sighs stands a lighthouse. It is a lonely tower, standing on a tiny barren island, about a quarter mile from the Bitton harbor. Every night, the Keeper of the Flame lights the way for ships coming into Bitton, helping them steer away from the shallow waters where jagged rocks loom below the surface.

The lighthouse was constructed more than two centuries ago and is as sad a sight to behold at day, as it is welcome at night. From a distance, it looks like a pile of soot blackened rubble. The fire is lit in a giant stone cauldron with a silver plated steel lid. The cauldron is filled with a slow burning oil and tar mix, the light of which is strengthened by the polished lid. At sunrise the Keeper uses a mechanism of gears and levies to lower the lid and quench the flame, and before relighting it at dusk, he wipes down the silver before once again relighting the fire.

Yarik Eyestar

Yarik Eyestar is a sea captain in his early sixties who lost his leg two decades ago. He lives on the rock by himself. The only people Yarik speaks to, or even sees, is the crew of the supply boat that once a month delivers food and fresh fuel for the fires. Even to these men, Eyestar is terse and unpleasant. Despite their help in ensuring both his survival and the continued operation of the lighthouse, he never speaks more than needed, nor has he ever invited the crew inside the tower for a bite to eat or a taste of ale. Those who have met him speculate that solitude has made taken a toll on his mind, and the loss of his leg made him bitter.

Regardless of his moodiness, Yarik Eyestar is under lord Valharron’s protection as keeper of the lighthouse. Manning the fire is an appointment given in the lord’s name, to protect and guide ships wishing to dock in Bitton harbor, thus providing taxes and trade in lord Valharron’s town. As such, this position is regarded as an honor just short of knighthood.

Though he had an honorable and distinguished career in the lord’s navy, Eyestar is not without his secrets. The details of how he lost his leg have never been clear, and rumors say it was either a kraken that rose up and tore his ship and leg in half, or that he lost it after fighting down a mutiny aboard his last ship, The Purlpe Rose. He keeps detailed logs and journals of his life, but large portions are written in code. It is said the only visitor he ever gets is his old shipmate, Boyd Blackmast, once first mate on the Purple Rose, now an infamous and wanted pirate.

The Tower Interior

The tower has four levels above ground, but only very few windows. The bottom floor is always cold and is mainly used for storage. There is a primitive, tiny kitchen, a stack of three wine barrels and several crates of apples, dried ham and salted fish.

There is a staircase leading up around a central pillar of the tower, which doubles as a chimney. The pillar itself is made of large pieces of granite fitted so perfectly together, that it appears to be one solid pillar of stone. Each floor has a fireplace built into the pillar, but in the last several years only the one in Eyestar’s private quarters has been in use.

The main staircase makes up half the tower’s total height and is lit by torches along the outer wall. At closer examination, these torches are covered in cobwebs, and have not been lit in a long time.

The second floor holds the living quarters of the keeper. This is where Eyestar spends most of his days. The rooms are full of books and old sea charts, some of them his own, some left behind by the keepers that came before him, all of whom were picked from worthy sea captains in lord Valharron’s navy.

Captain Redwind, the keeper who preceded Eyestar was rumored to study the mystical forces of water, and some believe he hid rare spell books in the lighthouse library. Redwind died the same year, he retired from his post. When lighthouse keepers grow too old to do the hard physical labor that is filling the cauldron and polishing its large lid, they traditionally nominate their own successor. No one knows why Redwind picked Eyestar to follow in his footsteps, or how the two might have known each other.

The third floor holds the mechanism to raise and lower the heavy steel lid off the cauldron above. Barrels holding the oil and tar mix used to light the tower are stored nearby. The barrels hold about 10 gallons each, and are quite heavy. A series of chains and pulleys allow the barrels to be hoisted up and emptied into the cauldron. There is access to the roof where the cauldron itself sits.

The stone pot is half the height of a grown man and just as wide. When lit, yellow and orange flames dance lazily on its surface, some reaching as tall as three feet, before fading into the night. Neither water nor wind will extinguish these flames. A full cauldron may burn as long as a week before the fuel is gone, though Eyestar always makes sure to fill it when it reaches the half-way mark, so the flames always stay tall and bright.

Recent Events

Three days ago, and two days after the last shipment of supplies was delivered, the fire failed to light at dusk. That has never happened before. The next night, the fire was out again, and when the same thing happened on the third night, worry began to spread that something might have happened to the surly Keeper of the Flame. To find out, Lord Valharron sent a boat with two men to see what was going on. Dusk fell again, and neither fire nor men were seen. The next morning, another boat was sent to the lighthouse, this time with armed med aboard.

Maybe the keeper found something in one of those old maps, and has left the tower behind without telling anyone. Perhaps he left clues behind in a journal? Maybe there is a secret shaft, hidden beneath a crate of apples, leading down to some sinister place where unspeakable horrors await. Perhaps the shaft leads to an underground cave system, which Yarik decided to explore. Maybe he dug down there himself, or did he merely happen upon it? Is he lost? Is he dead? The party sent to explore will no doubt uncover the truth…

Final Prophecy Update and Finishing Things

The second draft of my fantasy short is done. I’ve written about “The Final Prophecy” before, but I will add that finishing the second draft was tougher than expected. When I got to the last chapter and a half, I stalled. That’s usually a good sign, because the harder it is for me to finish something, the more I’ve loved working on it. So much so, I don’t want it to end. Luckily, I eventually got tired of procrastinating and went back to work.

The next step is more revision. Editing used to scare me, but now I see it as a chance to polish and tweak where needed – and in the worst case scenario spot a dud before I send it out into the world. Finishing the second draft is still a milestone worth mentioning, because this is the part of the process where I involve a few trusted readers. They are the Wise Ones who point out where the holes are, and the inconsistencies as well as the gems and the exciting stuff. Their feedback provide the setup for writing draft three.

There is also inspiration coming from the gaming campaign, I’m running parallel to the writing. We just finished running an adventure set a few years after the events described in “The Final Prophecy”, but in much the same location, and some of the questions posed by the players as part of our game, provided excellent fodder for the story. Details about the daily life, geography and mythology that had not crossed my mind before.

And it doesn’t end there. I recently read two excellent pieces that helped kick me back into writing mode. One is an interview with Stephen King by Neil Gaiman. The insight into King’s process and approach was highly motivating to me. Then I read Second Drafts are a Way of Life by Ryan Macklin, the timing of which could not have been better. Both are recommended reading to any writer.

Now I’m going to take a short break from the story, while I filter it out to the Wise Ones. And in the meantime, I hope to ride the wave of finishing things, and get my arcade iPhone game – Nebula Rescue – done and out the door.