Roughing It

Image courtesy of Haibane Renmei

One thing I’ve learned this week while following through with my Ramping Things Up plan with my writing is that I’m being a hell of a lot less nitpicky about my rough drafts.

Which is actually a GOOD thing, because I’ve always had a habit of taking far too long trying to bash out the Perfect Manuscript on the first try. I’m no longer spending three hours barely making 500 words and expecting poetry. This does NOT mean I’m being super lazy and writing nonsensical crap and lorem ipsum, of course. It just means I’ve stopped hyperfocusing on something that doesn’t need hyperfocusing right that moment. I don’t need to revise that terrible sentence right now, I can always do it in revision later on. I don’t need to fix the continuity, I can just leave a ‘FIX THIS’ note for later. If I know I’m just rambling in this scene, I can always just stop there, leave another ‘FIX THIS’ note for later, and move onto the next scene. In essence, I’m finally letting myself be rough with the rough draft.

Disconnecting from a hell of a lot of distractions is helping as well, no big surprise.

It’s part of a larger personal project, I suppose. I’m still working on finally allowing myself to be imperfect in general. Nothing wrong with that, is there? I’m allowed to trip up on my words, make mistakes and learn from them, and not set such super high expectations upon myself. [Mind you, this has nothing to do with how my choices/thoughts/etc affect others. This is merely about realizing I don’t need to be The Perfect Person from the get-go. No one is like that, no matter what we might think or believe. And I’ve had a terrible habit of hyperfocusing on that, much to my detriment.]

So what do my rough drafts look like so far? Per my full outline on Project A, I think I’m about 2/3rds of the way through, which is Not Bad At All. That one’s gonna need some TLC in regards to details and continuity, but I’m happy with where I stand with it at the moment. Project B is finally out of the Rewriting Older Scenes haze and is now heading forward with All New Words. Woo! And Project C is already headlong into Chapter 2. They’re all definitely rough as they come, but I’m liking what I have so far. And I’ve even managed to get a lot of minor things achieved: blog entries, Shutterstock uploads, poetry, and more.

I suppose one could say I’m getting my shit together, heh. But really, it’s more about finally laying out a plan that works. It’s me saying ‘okay, it’s time for me to work on [x] now, so let’s get started’ and then doing it. It’s setting me in the right direction, and I have no complaints about that.

Keeping It Up

So how am I doing a week after stating that I’m ramping up my writing schedule? Not bad at all, actually! I’m averaging around 1000 words each on all three projects, and staying on top of the other things such as daily drawings, personal journal entries, and these here blogs. It keeps me reasonably busy for most of the day with some extra time to catch up on non-writing writing biz things when need be. Quite happy about that.

So how am I pulling this off? By sticking to my daily schedule, closing browsers, and having a bit of a rough outline of the current scene(s) I’m working on. I’m writing Project 1 by 9am, starting work on Project 2 by 11, finishing that off after lunch and working on Project 3 by 2pm. I give myself about two solid mostly uninterrupted hours with minimal distraction other than perhaps acquiring more coffee.

I’m also making it into an immediate-errand-completion-success process in my head. That in itself is important, as that was now I managed to teach myself to get my schoolwork done on time back in the day. I’ll open up only the Word docs I need, and focus only on that until I feel I’ve done a decent amount of work on it for the day. Sometimes it’s around 700 words, other times it’s 1200, but as long as I’m happy with what I’ve completed and left off at, that’s what really matters.

And what about off days? Well, I took Tuesday off from everything for the sole purpose of celebrating A’s birthday and going out for a bit (we went to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was a super fun film!) and I ensured that I didn’t feel guilty or twitchy about not working. I didn’t even write a journal entry! That’s the other important thing: it’s totally fine for me to take a personal day off from the writing! Taking the day off isn’t the problem for me…it’s trying to shake the feeling that I’m procrastinating and feeling guilty about it. It never quite goes away, but I’ve learned to ignore it.

I have no idea how long this schedule will last, nor do I want to know, because the point is not to think about things like that. The point is also to keep doing it until further notice!

Ramping it up

Meryl and Milly from Trigun

A new month, a fresh start, a reworked white board calendar, multiple self-assigned work items, a third novel project, follow-up on recent submissions, research into and follow-up on temporary remote work…is all of this at the same time such a good idea? Will this all end in tears? Will I burn out and fade away?

Actually, for the time being, no. I need this. I need to ramp things up. It’s the level of busy I’m used to, and the level that makes me feel productive. It’s what inspires me to keep going. It’s my own version of crunch, I suppose, but I’m not doing it at the expense of my health and sanity. I love having a high level of creativity on any given day.

I might not be the best at immediate multitasking as I can get easily distracted that way (e.g., attempting to focus on an assignment while thinking about doing the dishes while we’re binge-watching a TV show), I am extremely good at compartmentalizing my daily schedule so that I hit all the beats I assign myself (e.g., the morning journal, then doing my morning stretches, then 1000 words on Project A, then having lunch, then 1000 words on Project B, and so on). This is why I can say with conviction that I can definitely plan for high productivity if I assign a specific time frame for it.

So my plan for September, as it stands, is to spend most of my time reaching a higher level of productivity that I’d still be comfortable with. I’ve already retrofitted any days off — weekend trips, the occasional unproductive day, health issues, whatever — so I’m not going into this demanding that I hit every single beat every single day going forward. I’m merely immersing myself a little deeper in my creative careers and taking further steps as necessary. And if it works out for the best, perhaps I’ll keep going!

Not quite used to this

Current Project A has been going in a very interesting direction as of late. For the most part it’s going exactly how I want it to, and I’m averaging around 800 to 1000 daily words on it — words that are coming fast and quick, just like they did with In My Blue World a while back. But that’s not what’s making me nervous…if the prose wants to slide out onto the screen with minimal fuss, who am I to complain or worry, right?

What’s making me nervous is that I am way out of my comfort zone with this one. I mean, I did that on purpose, but still…I really don’t want to eff this one up. It’s not really a space opera, considering I’m not going for the StarWarsy dogfight angle…it’s more like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series in that it’s about regular people living out there in the universe. It’s partly inspired by the need for process and compliance inherent within a few of my former day jobs as well as the times when those things can hinder more than help, but it’s more than that; it’s also a personal story about doing what’s right versus doing what’s necessary, and that part’s inspired by American politics of the last six years. And I didn’t want it to be about the upper management or the higher classes, either…I wanted to write this about the citizens that live in this story’s universe. But I don’t want this to be preachy, either. Nor do I want it to be cynical or nihilistic or paranoid, either. Those are the last things I ever want with my stories.

I’m not afraid to write this story, I just want to do it right. I’m taking each scene as it comes, and paying attention to how they unfold. I never make them overly dramatic, as that’s not the angle I’m going for. The main characters handle computer and communications issues like they would at their jobs; stressed out and annoyed, but never for a moment thinking that they’re trying to save the universe. One of the military pilots is defecting out of desperation and fear rather than for nefarious reasons. Another character constantly worries about getting caught. I’m not aiming for gritty realism, though…I’m just writing the story as if these characters were you or I; just your regular imperfect citizens trying to survive on a daily basis.

This is why I’ve yet to give up on it or feel that oh god this is all CRAP feeling just yet. It’s messy. There are a lot of trouble spots that will definitely need revision. But it’s going in the right direction, and right now, that’s all that matters.

When it sounds right

Image courtesy of Big Hero 6

I’ll be honest, even though I might have created an outline for whatever WIP I’m working on, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m not leaning hard on it, and still trusting myself with whatever sounds right. It’s not the same as pantsing it; that would basically mean I’m sort of making it up as I go along with only a mental map with the barest of details. It’s more like I’ve worked out several levels of what resonates with me.

Put it this way: the outlines/synopses I’ve drawn out for Current Projects A and B were created by thinking of how I want the book as a whole to play out. With Project A, for instance, the focus starts only on one character, Althea, but by the end of the story it focuses on a lot of people, and that’s for a reason: the theme of the story is “when personal events become so much bigger than ourselves”. Having laid that part out in the synopsis, then I start going micro: the events of each successive chapter/scene needs to become bigger somehow (this could be in scope, but also in conflict, or in action, or in how said conflict affects the characters at that point in time). And often I’ll go one or two levels deeper by the end of that scene or chapter: perhaps an event will affect a major character and drive them to action…and their action will in turn affect someone or something else.

It’s this sort of interplay that’s always in the back of my mind whenever I write a novel, and thus is why I often say I go with what sounds “right” to me. It’s how I know when the prose is strained, or that I’ve focused far too long on a small detail, or I’m using the wrong person’s POV, and so on.

And then, interestingly, I’ll do the exact opposite when I’m doing a reread or a revision: instead of focusing on the construction and the architecture that went into making the story, I’ll look at the finished (or in-progress) piece and see how it’s holding up. Am I making these levels of detail sturdy enough? Could this section be shored up and strengthened? Would an added scene work here, and would it make the story even stronger?

The weird thing, on top of all that, though…is that I don’t always know if I’m really pulling it off while I’m writing it. Project A feels a bit like that lately. It’s partly because I’m writing in a setting I’ve never written in before, but I think I’m pulling off to a decent degree because the story itself doesn’t need micro-details to make it work. All I can say is that the story itself seems to be working well so far in rough draft form. It sounds right to me.

And for a rough draft, that’s all I really ask for, to be honest.

Decisions

Luffy from One Piece

Sometimes the problem isn’t hiding somewhere deep in the background and avoiding detection, leaving you spending far too much time focusing on where you think it might be rather than where it lies. Why are my characters not doing anything? Is it because they’re boring? Or that I don’t know what I want them to do? Or that I’ve just jumped into this project with a hell of a lot less preparation than I thought?

No, the issue, I find as of late, is my own damn problem. Being afraid to let those characters do what they need to do. I need them to get into trouble. I need them to cause trouble. I need to strip away more of their worries and fears and make them face them all, whether they’re ready for it or not. It’s an issue I’ve had before, really, and it’s usually caused by going from one extreme to another. I’ve reread some of my older work (trunked, private and otherwise) and noticed I go in waves. At some point I’ll have decided my creative outlets will feature as few filters or barriers as possible and those works will have a bit of wildness to them. Then I’ll go the other way, and write characters that work from an area of personal and/or emotional safety.

Now that I think about it, having written Diwa & Kaffi, which is very much the latter, it’s taken me some time to readjust. [Certainly there are a few personal issues at stake too; I wrote that not long before those final extremely stressful months at the Former Day Job. It took me a lot longer than I thought to work my way out of that mental/emotional situation.]

Which I think is why I feel that both Current Projects have finally broken through those barriers. The only way I could do it is to make the decision for both: I shouldn’t give these characters nearly as much protection as I’d been giving them. They need to face more dangers, more uncertainty. Weird things, bad things will happen to them, or to those around them, and they’ll need to process them. It’s what these projects deserve.

That doesn’t mean I won’t write in the ‘safe’ style of Diwa & Kaffi, of course. I just need to remember that each story I write has a different style that needs specific levels of conflict to make them work.

Writing new characters

Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson from Trigun

One of my current projects has had quite the interesting evolution. It had started off in 2019 as a simple light-hearted litfic story that happened to take place on a space station, but after several failed attempts, cast changes, and three mixtapes, it’s turned into something altogether different. The two main characters, BFFs slightly inspired by Meryl and Milly from Trigun among other things, are the only two people that have survived to the current version. Two characters who are just doing their job and get involved in something WAAAAAAAY out of their league, yet it wouldn’t be the same without them. One character is boisterous, kind of silly, but she always has your back; the other is straitlaced and serious, but will often come up with the most unexpected and deeply unstable ideas. That’s Althea and Claudia, the two main characters in my story.

These two goofballs remind me just how often I love creating and writing new characters that just resonate and take on lives of their own. It’s rare, but sometimes I know exactly how these characters would act in any given moment, any given situation. They might be slightly based on or inspired by real people or someone else’s characters, but I’ve made them my own by giving them the exact personalities I expect them to have. I even know that they must have a pet Maine coon cat (I spoke about Grizelda a few weeks ago) and they’re both the biggest nerds ever. They’re not only BFFs from childhood, they love each other dearly and are everything except married at this current point of writing. Writing them together has always been a joy and rarely frustrating.

Mind you, the story itself is in its very rough draft form at the moment — let’s just say there’s an extremely frustrating chapter I stopped a while back and put a big [WRITE THIS LATER] on it — but I’m happy to say that thanks to these two women, I know where it’s all supposed to unfold and what their roles are within it all. They’re sort of Reluctant Heroes, I suppose, but I’m trying not to lean too heavily on any one trope for them. They’re the ones who’ll come up with That Insane Idea That Just Might Work, but they’re also the ones wondering why the hell they got involved in the first place.

So yeah…I could say that I feel like I’m still scrabbling, still trying to find my way and making some of it up as I go along, but with these two goobers as my leads, I think I’m in good hands!

“Welcome to Bridgetown…”

Surprisingly enough, I never actually used that phrase anywhere in the Mendaihu Universe books until just the other day when I had to have one character welcome another as they landed at the B-Town Nullport. It didn’t even occur to me until just then that I never used it previously! [For those playing along, it comes from a very early version of an MU-themed website back before I knew to how to actually create one…that was to be the first thing you see on the landing page.]

So what’s going on in the Mendaihu Universe, anyway? Yes, I am still working on the fourth book. After numerous false starts, trunked outtakes and varying versions, I think I’ve finally managed to get it under control. There are a few reasons for this: one, my recent visits to the 750Words.com archives are paying off in that I’ve found a few outtakes that work perfectly in this iteration. Another being that my ‘repeated reread’ process of revision/reconnection helped me further nail down the main plot as well as what drives each of the main characters. I’m not getting nearly as much word count on it all — yet — but I’m getting there, because I’ve become a lot more comfortable working on the project.

The trick this time out is that I’m not rewriting the original trilogy story but I am writing about events that are influenced or caused by it. Sure, I have a few literary parallels going on, but it’s not about spiritual evolution…at least not in the awakening sense. This one’s inspired by what happens after those defining events. How believers of a Chosen One choose to interpret their words and deeds, years on from the original defining events. Different interpretations will evolve, different levels of belief. Who’s doing it right? Who’s just borrowing all the best parts for their own version? Does it matter?

It’s taking a lot longer for me to process all of this, I admit. I had over a decade to process the original trilogy before I released the final version. Now, it’s only been six years since I dropped A Division of Souls and half-heartedly played with some longhand outtakes. Right now I’m at the same level as the 2001 iteration of ADoS: a lot of planning, a lot of borrowing from old versions, and doing my best to make it all work. Will I have it ready to go by next year? No idea. Chances are better that I’ll have Project A released (and/or Diwa & Kaffi, depending on how that pans out) by next year first.

Still, I’m having a lot of fun writing in this universe again, and that’s always a good thing.