On Writing Transitions

I’m currently at the final quarter of this recent revision go-round for Diwa & Kaffi, which means that hopefully within the next couple of weeks, I’ll be able to get back to my new writing projects again. Yes! I am definitely looking forward to it!

The transition between Writer Brain work (that is, creating new words and ideas from scratch) and Editor Brain work (revision and rewriting words and ideas that already exist) can be tough sometimes, especially when I’ve been doing one or the other for an extended period of time. The transition between the multiyear process of revising, prepping and self-publishing the Bridgetown Trilogy and the start of a completely new project (in this case, Meet the Lidwells!), took a lot of time for me to get used to.

My original plan after releasing The Balance of Light was actually to write the next book in the Mendaihu Universe, but after several false starts, I realized that what I really wanted to do was try my hand at writing shorter standalone stories. The trilogy books are doorstoppers, I’ll admit, so I wanted to learn how to write econo, to borrow a Minutemen phrase. I tried starting up a few other stories and even untrunking a few older ideas, but none of them stuck. This is why I turned to 750Words.com — I needed to force myself to think about writing something clear and compact instead of sprawling and superheavy on the worldbuilding. It forced me to stop looking at my writing in Big Picture format and start looking at each chapter or scene on its own, as part of a larger project. That kept me from a) feeling overwhelmed by it, and b) taught me to dial it all back a bit…each scene didn’t necessarily need to be cranked up to ten every single time.

And when I finished Lidwells, I immediately started working not one but two standalones — In My Blue World and Diwa & Kaffi — on 750Words, while doing revision work at the end of the day. That’s where I realized that the best way to deal with the Writer/Editor Brains issue was not to hyperfocus on one or the other for extended lengths of time. I could spend some time during the day creating a world and some time during the evening tidying up another one. You can definitely sense it in my books I’ve written so far: the Trilogy is quite intense in numerous places, compared to the lightness of Lidwells and the dreamlike quality of In My Blue World. You can even see it in Diwa & Kaffi (whenever it finally becomes available to you!), which I’ve described as “a small story in a much bigger world”.

There is no one single way to transition between the two brain settings, to be honest…it’s whatever works for the writer themselves. I’ve learned that daily multitasking in microbursts is the best for me. I find fresh word count during the day makes me feel productive, making the evening revision work enjoyable and less like a chore.

Comes and goes

Madara coutesy of Naruto

The other day I was thinking about how my list of active story and project ideas seems to fluctuate. This time last year I felt kind of frustrated and empty-headed for various personal reasons and trying to write anything felt like an absolute chore, but now I’m champing at the bit to get multiple projects up and running!

A lot of the time it can be a reflection of what’s going on with me in real life. This can be on the macro-level — such as my frustrations with the former Day Job — but it can also be on the micro-level as well, and it’s the latter I don’t often talk about. I do have days now and again where I just can’t get my shit together mentally, and working past that can be hard. Sometimes it’s because I’m heavily distracted, whether it’s by simple fun things or by lack of focus. I try to soldier on regardless, even if it feels like an uphill battle at times, but by the end of the day I might end up having completed a hell of a lot more than I expected.

The few times I’ve actually had nothing on my plate — or having cleared off a majority portion, such as when I’d finished and released the Bridgetown Trilogy — can feel a bit unnerving. With the trilogy done and away by 2017 (just in time for a twentieth anniversary of its creation), it took me a long time to get used to not having a major epic project constantly in the works. This was precisely why I chose to write multiple shorter and self-contained stories…I knew if I tried writing another large-scale project right away I would burn myself out and fail. But that initial time of a year or so, when I’d started playing around with Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World and Diwa & Kaffi, I focused on smaller projects. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to see them through, to be honest. All I could do is just keep going, day by day. Rewire my writing brain and create new styles and processes. In the end, I was extremely proud of all three.

Right now I’m actively writing two novels in tandem*, which I know I can do, having done it with IMBW and D&K. In addition to that, I have two further book projects I want to work on that are in pre-production mode (notes and ideas, maybe a few outtakes and a mixtape, but no major writing just yet). So right now I’m in a good place — consistently busy working.

[* – These are actually temporarily on hold while I finish the D&K revision, but I’ll have them back up and running in about a month.]

Do I worry about running out of ideas (or fuel, for that matter)? Not really. I’ve worried about that before, but I’ve always bounced back eventually. Something will eventually inspire me to start something new.

This time last year

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘The Place Promised in Our Early Days’

This time last year, I’d left the (Former) Day Job after what…thirteen or so years?…and took some time off to get my head together. I’ve been thinking about just how frustrated and angry I’d been then, and for how long. The job had effectively cleaved my writing time (and personal time) to almost nil. By the start of 2020 I was barely writing anything worth talking about. I’d fleshed out some story ideas here and there, but I’d barely written any new words at all.

After that time off, I started from the beginning again. I asked myself several questions.

What made me want to write? What stories did I want to tell? What was my writing style? What did I no longer want to write about? Did I really need and want to write what I was currently working on?

And then I just…started writing again. Learning from the beginning again.

It took a few false starts, but I got there eventually. I was aware of my processes now; I knew when something wasn’t working, when something needed more work, when something resonated with me so much that I knew I could see this project to the end. I compared it to other moments in the past: instead of thinking if only I could write like this again, I was thinking this is just like that previous project I enjoyed so much. And I just kept at it.

It’s been a year, and right now I have a full stove with things on many burners: a submission-ready revision of Diwa & Kaffi, the fourth Mendaihu Universe story, a new project based on the work I’d done in those final Day Job Days, and a few possibilities I’m yet to start work on. I’m still working for a replacement Day Job — preferably one in the city that doesn’t maliciously carve away at my cherished writing time — and I’m actively getting in better shape. I’ve been extremely busy, but in a good way. A way that challenges me the way I love to be challenged.

Keeping the Pace

Image courtesy of K-On!

I’m usually good at this, but every now and again I get ahead of myself and the result ends up looking like a half-assed mess of a rush job. Which means I need to do some serious revision to calm it down and stretch it out.

This time I’m talking about the pacing of the story. I’m usually quite aware of how fast or slow a scene needs to be when I’m writing it. I visualize it like I’m making a movie, but I also see it like the deliberate pacing of a song or a musical passage. I like a slow dramatic reveal, but I also like a super-dense action sequence, and each of them needs to have a specific pace. Like movies and music, it’s not just the words that tell the story, but how it’s told.

I used this multiple times with In My Blue World for each character. For example, most of Krozarr’s scenes are slow (but not glacial) and extremely deliberate because that’s how his own mind works; he’s been put in a situation he hates but has to endure, so he takes every action and thought at a pace that keeps him from losing control…and this is ends up being his downfall. Allie, on the other hand, is always, always moving, so her scenes are often frenetic — and when she stops, things around her are not good.

I love writing character scenes like this, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun to be able to tell a story with little nonverbal accents like that. It’s got to be done right, though, and it can’t be a constant thing or it’ll be too obvious and detract from the story.

I say this because I’m doing yet another revision of Diwa & Kaffi and the other day I discovered that an extremely important scene, one that changes the course of our two lead characters, was dashed off far too quickly. This is a scene that should have a deliberately slow pace, where they both are hyperaware of each other’s reactions and emotions and do not want to ruin them, and a scene that should end with a bright and happy resolution. Instead, it reads…well, it reads like an outline, really. A zipped-through scene where I mentally made a note to Fix It Later and completely forgot to do so. I’m pretty sure this was a scene where I got overexcited about the idea and forgot to expand on it! I’m a bit embarrassed at how flat the entire scene is, to be honest, so I’m going to need to give it some heavy TLC in the next few days.

This is also why I do multiple rereads when I’m in Revision Mode: I’m not just paying attention to the story or the continuity, I’m also focusing on the pacing. These rereads force me to see where I went too fast, or where I just stumbled and shuffled too slowly. This in turn helps me figure out how I’m going to fix it, whether it’s to rewrite the whole scene, slow it down by expanding it, or deleting the filler to speed it up.

I don’t always catch them right away, but once I do and it’s up to my standards, I’m usually super proud of the result!

Magazines

I used to subscribe to a number of writing magazines all the time, but a few years back I ended up letting them all lapse. I used to get Asimov’s and some of the other fiction digests, as well as the writer-centric ones like Writer, Writer’s Digest and Publishers Weekly. [I also used to get a few music magazines, but it felt like all the ones I liked were either going digital-only or closing down. My music info is mostly via radio, social media and music blogs these days.]

Why did I let them lapse, anyway? Partly because I was overloading myself with too many things at the time. Between balancing the Day Job and writing and self-publishing novels and buying new music and other personal goings-on, I guess I just ran out of brainspace for them. That was about the time I decided it was time to do some high-level life-cleaning and emotional purging, so those were the first to go.

However, recently I’ve been feeling the urge to re-subscribe to some of these titles I enjoyed back in the day. I’ve been feeling very disconnected from the field over the last few months. Not in terms of pandemic hibernation, more like I feel like I’ve fallen out of touch with what’s going on in my chosen long term career field. A personal hibernation, I guess…after I published In My Blue World and did the usual push when and where possible, I disconnected from a lot of things.

I think it’s high time to reconnect. See what’s going on. See where I fit in with the rest of the writing world. Adjust where necessary, learn new things, find out new information. See what jobs are open, freelance and otherwise. Get inspired again. The other week I re-subscribed to Publishers Weekly because I got a lot out of it on a business level. Plus, their book reviews are great, and they have a monthly segment centered around self-publishing called Booklife that’s also given me a lot to work with and think about. I’m also contemplating getting WD and Writer again, and who knows, maybe I’ll go nuts and sample some of the fiction digests again!

BRB, doing some much-needed revision

So yeah, over the last few days I did a Reread What I Have So Far of my current WIPs, which is something I normally do at various points of their production.

I often do this near the start of every project for a few reasons: one, to see if any of it holds up and holds my attention (which yes, both do, yay!), and two, to get a firm grasp on the story and its many moving parts. This second reason is the more important of the two, as it’s my way of establishing continuity.

And let me tell you, my novels ALWAYS start off with the shittiest continuity ever. This is mainly due to me trying things out just to see where they go. This includes character traits and personalities, extended family and friends, time of day, whatever. I used to say I was ‘flailing’ at this point, but I don’t think that’s a good word for it. More like ‘feeling my way’, honestly. After maybe four or so chapters, I’ll do a Reread What I Have So Far and see what works and what needs work. The end result is that Project A is going in an unexpected but fun direction and I’m quite happy about that, but I definitely need to get its continuity under control. Project B, on the other hand, is going a bit slow but the continuity is just fine. Woo, go me!

Added to that, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend a bit more time doing another revision of Diwa & Kaffi, because I’m taking a writing friend’s suggestion to heart: it needs more description. Not a lot, but after doing a Reread after distancing myself from it a little bit, those bare spots definitely stick out a lot more now. There aren’t going to be any major revision issues with this one, no inserts or deletions…this one’s just to give it a bit more needed meat to it.

So yeah, this is going to be my job in the next couple of weeks. My Writer Brain of course is a bit irritated because I won’t get any new words out for a while, but it’s the price I have to pay. I’ll get back to those new words soon enough.

That idea that just won’t go away

Image courtesy of Depeche Mode

I had this idea for a coming-of-age-in-the-80s story back in the 80s, of course. It had numerous titles and unfinished outtakes, one sort-of complete extremely rough draft, and countless attempts at restarts over the years that all ended up in the trunk. Then I posted a short memoir about that time of my life on my LiveJournal. Then I had an idea to write about the music of that era that I loved so much…which has been on the backburner and in the trunk for a good number of years now, even though I named my music blog after it.

And now, thanks to the imminent release of the movie Shoplifters of the World (a ‘one crazy night’ film based on city kids shocked by the breakup of the Smiths in late 1987) and my, shall we say, adverse reaction to the trailer (this is totally not how I remember the 80s being, at least in central Massachusetts at any rate), I’m contemplating reviving the idea AGAIN.

Considering that I’m already writing two novels, I’m not sure if I have the time or the brainspace for a third — although my brain is of course responding with ‘you never know until you try’. I’m not taking it too seriously right now, but I’m playing around with how I’d properly work on it so it’s a sustainable project and not just another moody roman à clef. I want it to be enjoyable and relatable. I want it to be funny as well as emotional. I want it to show that you can write a story about outsider kids in a small town finding and supporting each other without having to resort to the tired trope of drugs, sex and ennui. And of course I want it to have a killer soundtrack filled with all my favorite college rock favorites and some great obscurities!

It’s one of those ideas that keeps kicking at my shins and demanding attention even when I should be focusing on the other two projects I have going. I’ve already contemplated using the currently-neglected 750Words platform to plan it out (or alternately, going full lo-fi to set the mood by working it out with notebooks and index cards). And I’m even thinking of writing it in tandem with a fourth project: the long-delayed Walk in Silence music book itself. And more to the point, it’s an old project that I’ve always put aside mainly because I’d never quite figured out how to approach it. But now that I have the time and the inclination, it’s tempting me more than ever.

I’m not promising anything, but we’ll see where this takes me…

Writing/Life Balance

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I probably shouldn’t be here in Spare Oom and staring at this screen all day long. Most days I’m good with this; I’ll do some local errands or take the day off to go shopping somewhere. Other days I’ll just sit here and crank out the words all day long (and almost forgetting to get up and stretch). I’ll get frustrated when I take days off from writing, of course, because no one else is going to tell these particular stories and I’d rather not waste more time keeping them hidden.

The balance, I suppose, is allowing myself to get up leave the PC for a length of time. I don’t have to get these words out specifically before noon, yeah? I mean, it’s a good deadline but it’s not set in stone. Today I spent most of the morning doing some non-writing work and then doing our taxes. I’ll give myself a pass in this instance, considering one of them is time-sensitive. That’s why this post is late. Later this week A will have a few days off, which we’ll be spending at the zoo and at one of the local museums. My Writer Brain of course is twitchy because it’s time spent away from the PC, but Reality Brain is already calming WB down (You can always write AFTER we come home, you know.), so I’m not overly concerned.

I’ll get there eventually. It all balances out, really. I have slow days as well as extremely productive days. And if that’s true, I can also have PC days and I can have Real Life Outside days too, yeah?

Getting those words down

Image courtesy of Cowboy Bebop

Sometimes a writing session contains more than just writing or typing things. Sometimes it’s staring into space as I work the scene out in my head first. Sometimes it’s looking up a word or two in the dictionary or online. Sometimes it’s thinking ahead a scene or chapter ahead so I can work my way there. (And sometimes, I admit, it’s looking to see what’s going on in the Twitterverse or what song is currently playing. But we won’t count those.)

I tend to start off a little slow with each session. I’m rereading the last few paragraphs of what I’d previously written, just to refresh my memory. I’m having a snack or sipping my coffee. I’m putting on an album to listen to. Getting into the groove can take time now and again, especially if it’s a tough passage that I’m trying to crack. But once I get going, I can usually get up to a decent speed and power my way through.

That “getting myself going” can be tough sometimes, though. Whether it’s a can’t get my sh*t together day (I have at least one a week) or just that my brain just does NOT want to work on this sort of thing today, all I can do is either power through or chalk it up as a day off. I of course get frustrated when I have those days, but thankfully I don’t have too many.

More often than not, once I’m in the groove, I stay there. It’s a bit like a runner’s high, I suppose. I just manage to reach a moment where I’m coasting through the words and they’re coming fast and easy, and I’ll just ride it until it wanes or until I have to stop for other reasons. I don’t get this as often as I used to back in the Belfry days, but I know when they’re there and I treasure them when I can.

I try not to overthink what I’m writing, especially when I’m in that zone, but sometimes it happens. It often happens when I’m searching for a certain word — not a perfect one, just the right one that fits the meaning of the passage — and that will trip me up momentarily. I give myself a minute or so to either find the right word or just use a close one and move on.

Getting started be a bear. Sometimes I’m just too distracted — that’s when I need to close all my browsers and maybe even not put on any music — and just DO the damn thing. Other days I’ll come in prepared and hit the right pace immediately. Either way, once I’m where I need to be, that’s when I focus on just getting all the words out that I can.