Day 4: Still surviving

It is nearly received knowledge among writers that it is better to overwrite than underwrite. It’s usually easier to trim, say, two scenes that don’t illustrate a certain character or event as well as a third one does, than it is to add stuff in post-production. I’m clinging to that in my own project, even though that means that I might not type “The End” on 28 February. But if I do type ‘240’ on my last page of writing that day, that means I wrote 60 pages a week, which is pretty good, in addition to being 240 pages more than I had last Thursday.

Already, I’m halfway through Chapter Two, and I know that I’ve essentially said the same thing about one character three times. That’s fine for now. Once I go through the MS as a whole, I’ll be able (hopefully) to decide which one works best and axe the others, trimming my novel down to a lean version of my story.

The other thing I have to do is stop worrying about overwriting. The whole reason I decided to write this as a short novel was to explore the characters a little more. So I can have conflict on the first page, but readers need to know who the characters are, what they want, and what they have to lose, by the time the action starts. I’m allowed to indulge myself by spending a page describing why one of my protagonists is disgusted by another one; later, when I look at the whole thing, I will be able to pick out the details that describe his feelings best, along with the ones that react best against what the other protagonist thinks about him. Conflict can and should be between all the characters in a story, even the ones that work together.

In other news today, I’m reading The Magic of Recluce, which is one of those books I’d wanted to read since the mid-90s. As I read it now, I really, really wish I had. The conflict between Order and Chaos, and especially the idea that something good done for a bad reason is still bad, would have been a good lesson to have laid out for me when I was young and dumb (as opposed to old and unwise, like I am now). I’m only halfway through, but I have all my tasks done for the day, and I have a lot of tea, so maybe I’ll be able to finish it soon.

And, this: This poster is going in my office once I’m settled in Michigan. Considering I was weathering a Michigan winter when I first read The Lord of the Rings, I almost have to. (Art by Lindsey Naylor; I couldn’t find a link to an artist page, but if anyone has one, send it my way.)


Day 2… Still not too hard, is something wrong?

Well, I’m at 10 pages, now, and after spending a half-page on describing one of my two main characters, they’ve both become vividly drawn in my head. Maybe a little too vivid…

… In other words, I had a pleasant drive to work this morning, and notes and info about characters and potential subplots are pouring out of me. A week or so ago, I vowed to pull this writer’s block out of my head; apparently, it was the keystone to a dam.

I have one more day of writing only 5 pages, and then I have a few days off, which means I get to write 10-12 pages a day, every day, right around the time I’m past the easy part. But I have faith that I can keep this controlled schizophrenia producing for me.

Day T-1: The Calm Before the Crapstorm

This morning, my head ran through about a thousand excuses why I should put off writing this new book in February… I need to write/ sell more stories, I need to put more freelance queries out there, I need to do things like eat and sleep… but for some reason, I didn’t like any of them. (Perhaps I liked the ‘eating and sleeping’ part a little, but I’m a Navy vet… I once went two months consuming nothing but fresh coffee, burned coffee, and re-re-reheated instant potatoes, so I’m already acclimated.) That means today, I have to plan everything and get ready to write tomorrow morning.

Stories are perhaps as difficult to craft as a novel, even if they don’t take as much time to write, but the easy part of a story is that there only needs to be one big question in the plot… what if a card magician is suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and performing his last show, but wants to pull off a flawless version of his daughter’s favorite trick? What if the delusions that mental health patients see are real, and need their own place to stay when their person completes therapy? What if cars became too prohibitively expensive to buy but are now being sold on a ‘micropurchase’ plan? Those are all questions that can be handled in a handful of pages. Maybe a long story can get away with only one central ‘what if,’ if it’s a complicated one. But a novel needs to answer each ‘what if’ with a few ‘what nows.’ And that’s what I’m scrambling for today. I have about six or seven active folders in my new Scrivener project with about a paragraph or three each, and every time I add one character or idea in there, I have to think of two or three things that can go wrong with that. Meanwhile, while I’m typing on one idea, my Muse is pulling out another seventeen, and I should actually be working on those documents and outline scraps instead of typing this, but I had to send a short note out to the real world first.

So, that’s enough for now. Expect tidbits about the forts of the west and perhaps English and German mythology over the next few days, because my book sits at the intersection of them.

Quote for the day:


It’s splendid to be a great writer, to put men into the frying pan of your imagination and make them pop like chestnuts.
– Gustave Flaubert

Siege the Moment

It’s hard to be a writer if one doesn’t write. I’ve known this in theory since around the time I pasted a printout of WordPerfect 5.1 codes on the inside cover of my notebook and began typing out my stories and poems during down time out to sea. But from time to time I forget that and either get stuck on writing a piece that isn’t working or that I’m not ready for yet, or get caught up in a depressive positive feedback loop (Day 1: You suck, don’t write; Day 3: You didn’t write for three days… you really can’t write; rinse, repeat) and go for days without writing anything. So far this year, I’ve done alright, squeezing out at least five hundred words a day, but often hitting a thousand or even more. But that’s not good enough for what I want to do, so I’ve decided to deliver myself a mainline shot straight to the frontal lobes and stun, shock, or otherwise confuse my body into getting another work finished and ready to send out into the world. I made that decision in a moment of pique and unfortunately wrote it down, so now I have to do it or my Muse will get mad and quite possibly make good her threats to leave my head.

Add into this mix my difficulty in writing a new story. Over a month ago I set aside one of my short Weird Westerns and started playing with an idea I had about a group of soldiers and civilian fighters holding out in the Wyoming foothills against a mass of Ogres bent on overrunning them and avenging the death of one of their own. The idea was vivid, painted with the beautiful and dangerous landscape of the Rockies and the bold and vicious colors of the Ogres and the Human soldiers, but my three attempts at the story failed after just a page or three, no matter where I tried to enter the story or how I tried to tell it. So, I decided that perhaps a novella was way to go.

And for a while, this worked. I pushed through the part that had been blocking me and got about 27 pages typed out. I liked the direction of the story and the conflict seemed to be tight enough to push the action forward. Unfortunately, the characters came alive for me. Yes, that’s normally a good thing, but this time, two of them strode into my head and started telling me everything else I had to add. And to top it off, I realized that I had rushed the beginning, and I needed more characters for people to realize about besides the two or three that are enough for a story. Quickly sketching an outline of everything I wanted to include told me that my 30-page story would easily fill 200 pages, and maybe more. I quickly titled the outline “Craptactular Crapticles” and tried to toss it into the trash, but it was too late… my Muse and the stable of writers and typers she keeps in my head had already seen it, and they liked the idea.

So here I am. And because there’s no plan in the world that can’t be made even more frustrating and brain-chilling than adding a deadline, I’ve decided to make daily posts about my progress, with a goal of being finished with the rough by 28 Feb. That’s faster than ‘NaNoWriMo’ times. Oh, and I also work for six-seven hours a day for three days on the weekend, along with a seventy-minute drive there and back. And I haven’t written a novel-length manuscript in well over a year. Yippee.

Starting Friday, I’ll be complaining writing about my new journey. I won’t be posting the entire thing because it will most likely still be shite donkey shite fossilized donkey shite unrefined at first, but I’ll share excerpts and things that come to mind while writing my Precinct Thirteen Ripoff homage to great westerns and action films like Seven Samurai, Zulu, Dawn of the Dead, and Rio Bravo. Wish me luck.

And if you’re spending the bitter cold of the winter trying to keep your brain warm, share what you’re working on, too. Misery loves company. Err, I mean, writers work well with a good support network.

NEW YEAR, OLD HABITS

It’s a bright sunny morning in Florida, and I’m procrastinating. I swear I’ll get to my writing soon, but I’m only on my first cup of tea and breakfast is almost ready. Since I did learn how to type one-handed after an ill-advised experiment in which I learned that my collarbone was not as tough as a brick wall, I can say what I need to say to myself and the world and then go on (hopefully) about the business of the day.

I’ll be here a lot more than before, seeing as how I’m turning off Facebook and possibly my other social media accounts. Fortunately (I had to fight the urge to not add an ‘un’ there) that means I have to be more mindful about what I post and share… sure, I can copy and paste and post, but that requires a little more effort. And because my friends will have to actually navigate to this page to read what I have to say, I’ll want to share something that they will actually enjoy reading.

Awareness is a good thing, though, and it’s something I need to have in my daily life. My few resolutions are to improve my Spanish studies to the point where I can write a few detailed and complex entries in that language, and to focus on my fitness and get at least within spitting distance of my bodily condition when I left the Navy. The best way to do both of those things is to be aware about what I do every day. Rather than just shovel Doritos into my gullet because I need something to do while working, I have to think about what I’m eating, and also what and why. Rather than mindlessly click on a website while I’m trying to think of what to write next (something I almost did twice while writing this paragraph) I need to be aware of what I’m doing, and consider why I’m doing it. There are so many minutes in the day that I can turn into reading time, or study time, and the trick, I suspect, is to catch those minutes and put them to good use before they get pulled away from you. When I post a meme, or a picture, or a comment, it’s going to be because I saw it and wanted my friends to be happy. When I eat, it’s going to be because I need nutrition. My goal is to do neither of those things just because I got bored or frustrated… something I’ve had a serious problem with, myself, for the last year or so. Maybe this will work for me, maybe it won’t. But I’ll try.

Alright, time to write. Today’s agenda sees me editing an old book, and starting a short one which I hope to have roughed out by the end of the month or so. I need to finish one book I’m reading for encouragement and research. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have time to play a game or two in the evening, and not because I don’t know what else to do, or I’m putting off what I know I should be doing.

  • READING: The Last of the Renshai, Mickey Zucker Reichert
  • ALSO READING, WHEN THE LIGHT ISN’T SO GOOD: Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee
  • READING WHILE DOING ERRANDS, IF YOU COUNT AUDIOBOOKS: Murder Past Due, Miranda James
  • WRITING: A weird western novella, and an outline for a cozy mystery

Good Morning!

Taking a break from working on a new novella to say ‘hi’ to anyone coming here for the first time. I’m in the process of disestablishing all of my non-professional social media accounts, and I will be spending a lot more time here. If you’re just coming here for the first time, you can browse old posts (starting with posts I made last December and stretching back to the early parts of the decade) or look at a few free stories that I’ve put up over the years. Or just make a comment, leave a picture, or say “HI!”

For now, I’ll just leave you with this picture from the Stark Writing Mad Historical Archives.

Here Be Dragons, And Bookworms

Yes I still blog, yes I’m still alive, yes I’m still playing with my imaginary friends and writing about it. And yes, I still read what other authors are going through in their own journeys in hopes that it helps me through mine, and I hope that my scribblings might at least encourage a few others to keep going.

Today’s topic: In Search of the Unknown. (+10 Internet Awesome Points to anyone who gets that reference without using a search engine.) A little backstory is, like in most good fantasy novels, necessary. Last December, I began writing an epic fantasy trilogy, after writing eight or nine mostly modern fantasy books that never went anywhere past my desk. I began the process by sitting with my notebook, visualizing The Writer, The Muse, and three or four actor-characters on an empty stage, discussing what project they were going to come up with next. And even though I had a lot of fun with this method, I finally lowered the curtain, took their notes, and began writing Part One, Book One, of a projected three or four book epic. Sorry, E.P.I.C. There would be competing systems of magic. There would be an old religion and an upstart. There would be Knights and young men and women and armies and riots, all caught in a string of events beyond their control. And most of all, there would be a Dragon, unlike any I had ever read about before. And so, pen and laptop in hand, I charged on in, writing 2000 or more words a day, with just about as much of an outline as what I’ve given you already.

I finished Part One at around 100 pages or so, took a breather for a day, and charged on to Part Two. By this point, the cracks were already showing up in the edifice that I’d tried to build on my ideas, but I was nothing if not determined to finish this. When I wasn’t writing, I would daydream in numbers… 60,000 words a month, 360,000 words in half a year, maybe a little more, then editing, revising, and finishing before the same date rolled around a year later. So what if I didn’t know WHY things were happening in my world? or WHY certain religions had issues with each other? or WHY the government was trying to consolidate its power, or what the Knights were doing, or what my three young protagonists were to do next after being pulled adrift in the seas of fate? I was a writer! I could push through and fix it later! I was…

Yeah, I was stuck. Hard. I fell into the type of writer’s block that resulted from me overwriting my plans and imagination, and refusing to stop and ask for directions, or to plot out a new path. Part Three sputtered and faltered a few times, and I finally found myself spending the spring and summer working on another project. The few times I looked back at Parts One and Two, I could tell that there were serious issues in my story from Day One. I felt like a traveler on the side of the road, wondering why his car just broke down in the middle of a road trip, and ignoring the fact that he had never changed the oil, checked the tires, or paid attention to the warning lights and unusual handling or shaking or braking of the vehicle for the entire trip. Yet the story, like the concept the driver had of the cross-country road trip, would not leave me alone. My characters felt like they had spent a lot of time making up the story for me, and they weren’t going to let me off the hook.

So I decided to back up and start over, something that is ten times harder for me than starting in the first place. I was inspired by either a Tweet or a Facebook Post by my writer-friend Davide Mana (link goes to his blog, though I highly recommend his books, which you can and should buy on Amazon) in which he said he was committing to writing a 100,000 word novel between September and the end of the year. He even pointed out that he would be able to write it at less than 1000 words a day to hit that goal. And the whole time I’m thinking, “Book One of my Trilogy is supposed to be 100-120,000 words… hell, I could do this. I should do this!” And that was why, after a few days of reorganizing my Scrivener folder into a Draft, an Old Draft, and a World Book, I set off on 20 September 2017, along the old pathways but heading for unknown country.

I made the decision to type everything from scratch (Scrivener’s split-window worked really well for this), which was difficult, but I think essential… copy-editing would have left all the problems I had noticed when I reread the thing, and these problems were ones that went down to the very foundation. The other decision I made, perhaps the hardest one, was to only write 1000 words a day. Understand… I wrote my first novel at that speed, my second at 1500, and from then on, 2000-2500 words a day, so it took me a little while to get used to that snail’s pace. And it took me even longer to get over the irrational conviction that I was failing by writing too slowly, or not writing the way I knew I should be writing. That took a lot more time and mental energy than I’d like to admit.

Once I saw the snail leading my book along take its time to step around all the obstacles and dead ends in my book, though, I fell in love with this new writing regimen. On the days when I had the time and inclination to write more (which was usually five or six days a week) I spent that time in my World Book, writing about the characters, their cities, their culture. My model was the World Building Leviathan from KittySpace, but my energy came from a drive to tell my story and a need to have more material to work with. I still had dark memories of not knowing why things in my complex fantasy world worked the way they did, or stumbling in the middle of a scene because I didn’t know what was inside my characters’ heads, or especially what the supporting characters (NPCs for you fellow gamers out there) were up to, and that made me plan and outline and write background information like never before.

That brings me up to this weekend. My rewrite, up until now, has added more depth to my story, along with at least 10,000 more words, but after this last chapter, I will be at the point where my story stalled before. And even though I have a rough outline of the entire trilogy, and a five-page synopsis/ outline of this book, I feel like one of my own characters, clutching a scrawled map in one hand, a guttering torch in the other, and facing the dark, impenetrable forest that stymied my efforts at crossing it once before. I know that this time, I’m better prepared, though I’m still concerned that all of the gear in my backpack is stuff I’ll use once over the month-long journey ahead, and the stuff I really need is back at the base camp. And I can see things in the dark trees and undergrowth, the scrub jungle, telling me to walk around, or maybe travel another day.

But, my team of adventurers behind me depends on me to forge a path, and write about it. Hopefully, I do it in such a way that makes them proud.

Good luck with your weekend, and the next few weeks, everybody.

READING:  Two books… finishing up David Copperfield (which is decent, but really testing my commitment to being a hardcore Dickens fan… I might have to go back and reread Bleak House as a present to myself, afterward), and a Victorian Ghost Novel called The Uninhabited House. The latter is not frightening at all (indeed, I suspect it wasn’t written to be frightening), but the characters are fascinating and enjoyable. This book I also tried to set down after 25 pages or so, but they (especially Miss Blake) kept stepping into my head and telling me to read the rest of their story. I’ll be back with full reports once I finish them.

 

Write a Synopsis of Your Novel, in Two Nosebleeds or Less

Today, my desk is filled with two cats, my third mug of tea, a legal pad full mostly of crossed-out lines with a few good ones hanging out here and there, a powered-down phone, and two half-synopses of my Dwarf Airship Espionage novel, trying to find a way to paste the two together and not make it look like it was written at 3:00AM on the last day of vacation, to quote Charlie Brown’s teacher in her assessment of his Gulliver’s Travels book report. So far, things are looking good, but I’d much rather be in the middle of this book or others and actually playing with my imaginary friends, rather than writing an after-action report about their adventures. I remember too many days as a junior leader in the Navy having to stay behind on a Friday afternoon and write reports on what our division did, rather than leave the ship like my junior sailors got to. On the other hand, I remember being treated a little better, by both sides of the Chain of Command, because I wrote the reports well, so here’s hoping my Navy skills have translated properly.

Synopsis writing is an interesting beast. I don’t know how many synopses I’ve written of other books throughout my decades as a reader and writer, but it is so much easier to write about another author’s book rather than my own. In a book report, I’m happy if I illustrate the main conflict, how it relates to the characters, and the general resolution of the plot, maybe dropping in one or two scenes here and there for illustration. Writing about my own? I either feel like I’m skipping way too many details, or I’m getting caught up talking about the witty comments one character made to another and yet skipping the battle going on behind them, just because I happen to really like that line and I want to be sure that any prospective synopsis-reader sees it, because then he or she will know how clever I am, and will offer to buy all of my books, plus ones I haven’t written yet, and will send enough dollars my way to fill up my Currency Jacuzzi in my beach house in Antarctica. (It’s not crowded at all, and once you befriend the penguins, they bring you all the best herring. I call them… my herring aids. Thank you, I’ll just see myself out.)

The best way I’ve found to do this so far is to write a sentence describing each chapter. Though this can be hard for me to do, especially if I want to include something really neat that I included in that chapter, I find that if I have a good solid idea of what the chapter is about, I can usually puzzle out a way to say it in fifteen or twenty words. Then I add a sentence describing the next chapter. Then I add a sentence patching the two together, sometimes two. Then I read it and add another one, if necessary. It’s a time-consuming process but, aside from occasionally wanting to rip out my hair because I can’t decide which modifier best modifies what I’m modifying, but I wind up with a finished product. It might not be as exciting as the novel itself (at least, I hope the novel is more exciting), but it explains the course of the story, and most importantly, shows any agent or publishing representative that I have a completed book and I know enough of the craft to at least look like I know what I’m doing. At least, that’s what I hope I look like. We’ll see.

So far, as I stitch and polish the last part of a submissions package, the one “Lesson Learned” I’ve picked up from this is to write my one-sentence synopsis after every chapter as I first write it, and update it after each rewrite. I think this will make the job of picking out the truly important details a lot easier, especially during a re-write and a re-re-write. At least once on every second draft I’ve wound up deleting something I didn’t think mattered, only to find it explicitly referred to three chapters down the line. When I finish my final draft work and get back to the long novel I’m roughing out (or another story about my haplessly intrepid Dwarf spies) I’ll be able to test it out and see if it works as good as I hope. At any rate, knowing how to tell my story effectively in as few words as possible can’t hurt, even if I then wind up adding more words for protein, good fat content, carbs, and just seasoning.

I apologize. Not only am I polishing a submission package, I’m on Week Two of a new diet plan, and nearly everything I think of somehow relates to food. (Insert “eating his words” pun here…) I’ll be sure to have more news tomorrow from the editing, writing, and dieting fronts for your digestive pleasure.

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