3: On Commitment

Three more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

Looking back over the posts I’ve made this year, I see that one of my most common themes, especially in the first half of the year, was determination versus knowing when to give up.

Near the start of the year, I found myself floundering multiple times while writing the Apartment Complex story. I ragequit writing it at least three times within the span of a few months. It frustrated the hell out of me, because I knew exactly what I was doing wrong, but I didn’t quite know how to fix it. I just kept going in the wrong direction over and over again. I tried starting over on MS Word. I tried writing out a full outline beforehand. I tried — twice — to write it longhand. Eventually I took a short hiatus from it. Instead I focused on releasing Meet the Lidwells and working on In My Blue World.

When I eventually came back to it, I did what I’d done for the last few projects: I wrote it a single scene at a time using 750Words. Instead of trying to push myself through, I let it grow organically. I knew where the story needed to go, but I let the story tell me how it wanted to get there. More importantly, I let its characters tell me — they all had specific goals they needed to reach by the end of the novel, so I built the main part of the story around the four main characters intertwining with each other.

I learned a few things over the course of writing the novel, things that utterly changed how I look at my writing now:

–Breaking down self-made barriers when the story demands it. The relationship between the two main characters is unconventional and I realized the best way to handle this was to just let it all happen naturally. If there was a hint of romance, so be it. If there wasn’t, no loss, because the love they have for each other is the most important part of it. I had to be true to the characters, no matter what.

–Trusting myself on a much deeper level. I had a vague framework of where I wanted this story to go, and certain beats I wanted to hit, but I wouldn’t know how exactly to get there until I got there. I knew my failed attempts were because I’d been forcing it to go in a direction it didn’t want or need to go in. And again with the main characters’ relationship: I had to learn to trust myself that I’d do a good job portraying their love for each other without resorting to tropes and manufactured drama and conflict. Trusting my characters was a leap of faith.

–Resonating with the story on multiple levels. This story wasn’t about dialing up the tension little by little like I did with the trilogy, or surfing the rise and fall of fame like I did with Lidwells. This story was about understanding different people, cultures and emotions, and figuring out how they were all interwoven in some way.

Anyway, my point here is that I’m glad that I decided to keep returning to the Apartment Complex story despite all the frustrations I faced when I started out. I remained committed to it. I truly believed in the story, that it had something important to say, and that if I remained dedicated to it despite all the frustration, it would be worth it in the end. The result is that I’m super proud of this project and I can’t wait to share it with all of you later in 2019.

4: On Keeping Busy

Four more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

It’s been a hell of a busy year. I did that by design, to be honest, and I’m glad I went through with it. It proved a lot of different things:

–I can multitask. I wrote two novels in tandem this year, using two different sign-ons at 750Words. One during work breaks and one in the evening. Both are roughly 75k words, which is actually quite economic for me, and I think a better word count goal. Out of this I learned to be more concise with my writing.

–I self-published a completely new novel that had nothing to do with any years-long project, proving that I can reach a quick deadline and turnaround.

–Writing four blog entries a week, with only the occasional fly-by or short hiatus. Some days it was hard to come up with a subject to write about, but I think I pulled it off for the most part.

–Writing some new(ish) melodies on my guitar and recording demos for them for future Drunken Owl projects. Continuing to expand my guitar playing by learning new styles and reaching for different moods.

–Taking better care of myself healthwise. I’ve lost a bit of weight, especially over the last few months since I’ve started doing morning exercises, and being or proactive about heading to the gym a few days a week, or going for walks in the neighborhood. Eating healthier, cutting down on the snacking and the junk food.

…and all of this while still holding down a Day Job. There’s been a bit of temporary shake-up there as well as a ridiculously long stretch of time dealing with unnaturally heavy volume of work, which only recently has started to decrease.

I don’t feel exhausted, far from it. I’ll have my days where I just want to say hell with it, log off and take a nap, sure, but for the most part, I’m impressed that I got through it all with only one or two sick days the entire time. I actually like to keep busy with multiple things going on, as it keeps me occupied, preoccupied, and creative. (It’s only when it’s too busy that I start getting cranky and sloppy.)

Which is partly why I’ve decided to take 2019 a little bit easier, at least for the first six months. Cut back on the multiple projects, finish off the ones I’m working on, and give myself some time to enjoy nonwriting endeavors like art and music. I’ll go into a bit more on those future plans for the last post of the year, but for now I’m just glad to say I’m proud of all the work I did this year, and I’m definitely looking forward to giving myself a break from it!

5: On Older Ideas

Five more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

I’ve trunked a lot of my ideas over the years.  It’s no big surprise…it’s par for the course for pretty much every writer.  I still think about them every now and again, maybe even wondering if they could ever be revived now that I’m a better writer (albeit jokingly — I don’t plan on doing this IRL at all).  Depending on when I started them, I pretty much have them collecting dust on a bookshelf or getting forgotten in some folder on my external drive.

When I think of trunked ideas, I think of one of the plot points in Jack London’s Martin Eden, one of the few books assigned to me in school that I truly enjoyed.  He’s a writer who can’t seem to get an even break, but once he does, it snowballs to the point where he’s digging out his older work, revising it, and his readers keep eating it up.  Thing is, he’s not doing all this for himself; he’s trying to impress a girl.  Interestingly, London pulls this idea off by not blaming her disinterest for his downfall, but by having Martin realize he alone is at fault, thinking ‘wow…I really wasted a lot of my life trying to impress everyone and making myself miserable.’

I don’t think I’ve wasted my years with all those failed writing projects.  I knew well enough to give up on them when the time came.  I realized the most common sign is when the writing feels more like a chore than a project.  [Not to be confused with that feeling of failure we writers often get during the revision process — you know, the oh god this sucks why am I still working on it phase.  Truth: I’m going through this with In My Blue World as we speak.  And yet I still have faith in it, and will see it through to its conclusion.]

Sometimes the ideas are little more than moods or images; they won’t or can’t be expanded into novels, or even short stories.  Sometimes the story is a little too uncomfortable to write.  Sometimes I get through the main planning stage, or even the first draft, and realize how much of an unsavable mess it is.  Regardless of what level I get to it, I’ll have to make a decision: keep moving along with it, or file it away and try something else.

I did a lot of this in 2018.  While I released Meet the Lidwells and started work on In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex stories, I had so many other project ideas kicking around that I realized I no longer had any interest in.  I decided it was probably time for me to trunk nearly everything else that was still up in the air; I just did not feel connected to them anymore.  I’d still feel a “hey this might be fun” wave of interest, but that’s all.  And I can’t base an entire project on that.

I think part of it was also completing the Apartment Complex story.  That novel is…different.  Very different from a lot of what I’ve written in the past.  Even the current past.  It resonated with me in a way that none of my previous novels ever did, even the trilogy.  It felt like a gigantic step forward, and a step away from the work I’ve done in the past.  It felt that this was the direction I needed to go in next, and almost none of my backburner projects fit that mold.

In short, I felt I was closing down one part of my life and writing career, and moving on to a newer, better one.  I had to leave the old stories behind.

I’m looking forward to 2019 being part of that newer, better life and career.  And I’m definitely looking forward to the newer stories, whatever they may be.

Letting It Stew

charlotte carrot stew

After four attempts, one ragequit, and still no official title, I finished writing the first draft of the Apartment Complex story!  It’s a little over 79k words (about what I expected and wanted) and has been copied to a single semi-formatted doc file that I can work on.  So now what?

I’m going to let it sit for a little bit.

Wait wait wait, I hear you say.  You’ve been working on this damn thing for six months and talking about it endlessly about how much you loved writing it.  Why are you NOT working on it now??

And that’s a legitimate question, and there are two answers for it.  The short one: I’m about to start revision edits for In My Blue World, which is next on the release schedule.  This one needs my attention the most right now.

The longer answer is that giving it a bit of distance lets me look at it with fresh eyes.  Even though I feel that the AC story is my best work to date, will I feel the same a few months down the road?  Reading this particular novel with rose-tinted glasses might keep me from seeing possible issues that need fixing.  Alternately, I might end up being overcritical and pick it completely apart and ruin any joy I felt with the story.

My days away from my novel projects are also personal; I’ve just finished a six-month, almost-daily slog, so I’m due a few days off to do nothing except goof around.  Play FreeCell.  Fiddle around with my mp3 collection.  Post fly-by blog entries.  Go outside and take walks.  Work on my exercise regimen.  Vacations from writing are great!  You should always take a few now and again, especially when you’ve just finished not one but two projects that both need revision.  Your brain and body will thank you!

The novel will always be there until I come back to it.  And hey, I might even have a title for it by then!

Picking Out the Writing Soundtrack

Between the two new projects I’m working on, I’m listening to a lot of newer albums lately. This is quite the change from the older projects I’ve spent tons of time on (such as the trilogy) or ones where I need to focus on a specific time period (such as the 90s and Meet the Lidwells!).  It’s part of returning back to deep immersion with the music.

Mind you, I do give a lot of my purchases a deep listen as it is, or else I wouldn’t be gushing over albums over at Walk in Silence like I have for the past few years. This is about really getting into the meat of the album, and I find I often do that best when I can assign a mnemonic to it.  That way the album will stay with me that much longer.  [This is precisely why albums like Beck’s Sea Change are forever connected not just to the trilogy, but to my writing sessions in the Belfry.]

I’m doing this again with a handful of new albums that have become soundtracks of a sort for the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World:

Beach House, 7. Unlike their more Cocteau Twins-like previous albums, this one ramps up the noise a little bit and sounds more like Slowdive and a bit of My Bloody Valentine as well. The dreamy atmosphere works really well for the otherworldliness of IMBW.

The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart. I keep coming back to this one for the Apartment Complex. TNaF are a much louder band with walls of guitars and soaring melodies, but this ‘stripped’ album takes out the volume and leaves beautifully delicate reimaginings.

Lucy Dacus, Historian. “Addictions” is one of those tracks you hear on the radio and then get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The music is laid back and unassuming, but the melodies go in really interesting places. This one’s been getting plays for both projects lately.

Editors, Violence. I think pretty much every project I’ve ever worked on since 2005 has had Editors playing in the background at some point. They’re just an amazing band with a unique and adventurous sound. This one often gets played when I need to write an exciting action sequence.

Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles. I gushed over this band on the other blog last week, and I still love them to bits. Russian shoegaze is all I need to say, and it’s all kinds of fun. IMBW has been getting most plays of this one, not to mention the rest of their discography!

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star. Same thing — a recent discovery and now I play all of their releases during sessions, mostly for the Apartment Complex. Intriguing jazz sounds that remind me to keep the setting just a little bit on the odd side.

This is the fun part of my writing sessions…I love listening to music while I write, so connecting to a new album while working on a new project makes the sessions — and the albums — that much better for me.

Changes

[NOTE: This is a slightly updated repost from the original Dreamwidth entry from Wednesday night.]

I’ve been thinking long and hard about my writing lately, especially in regards to what processes have been working and what have not, and how to minimize the latter.

One thing in particular that had been bothering me was the fact that I had two projects in a row — the Apartment Complex story and now Can’t Find My Way Home — stutter to a halt, and both for the same reason.  And that reason being that it just didn’t feel right.  I know, I know…that sounds a bit silly and I’m probably talking out of my ass, but at the same time, the last two projects — Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World — did feel right to me.  Instinctively it felt like I was doing the right things, going in the direction the story needed to go.

Now, I knew it wasn’t just because of the story I was writing.  Both ideas have a created world that I could have a lot of fun with.  And I’ve definitely had my moments of the Don’t Wanna’s and the Oh God This Sucks with every project I’ve ever worked on, good and bad.  But there’s so much less drama with those two well-behaved kids.  So I had to really think about it — WHY was I having drama with the AC and CFMWH?

And then it occurred to me:  maybe I need a change of platform.

Yes, I know, on the face of it, that sounds like one of the worst and lamest excuses I could come up with, but hear me out.

As you all know, Bob, I’ve been writing the first rough drafts of the successful stories in short bouts on 750Words.  And all the rough outtakes of the AC that were well-behaved came from there as well.  They were working well for many reasons:

–I’m always writing at a specific time.
–With each session, I’m writing a complete or almost-complete scene arc, which also sets up the next scene arc that I’ll write during the next session.
–I’m focusing only on the scene at hand.  The novel-as-whole is secondary here.
–I’m allowing minor editing as I go, when I know that I can write something better.
–Each scene or partial is on its own screen; I can only access the other scenes by backing out of the one I’m currently on.
–I need to hit at least 750 words before I can call the session done for the day.
–These sessions are often very productive, as well as fast.  And quite enjoyable nearly every single time.

And then I realized: This is the exact same process I used when I wrote The Persistence of Memories, which I consider a personal benchmark.  Slightly different platforms, but the process was the same.  It was enjoyable and exhilarating to write because I’d laid all those ground rules and stuck to them.

So I thought:  what if I set up another 750Words account?  I’d follow the same leads as above with whatever second project I happen to have going.  This can be my evening writing session.  MS Word would only be used for localized save points, revision, rewriting, formatting, and other post-production work.

So that’s what I’ve done, starting it Wednesday night.

And I started it with another trial run of the Apartment Complex novel.  Despite my frustration with it over the past few months, my brain returned to it at least once a day.  I took that as a sign that I should definitely return to it as part of this newly-implemented process.  No giant outline, but just enough pre-planning to know where I need to go for the next couple of scenes.

One entry at a time, enjoying the moment.

Here’s to hoping this works!

The Choice Not to Write Longhand

watson typing
No, really, I type fast.  I just don’t know what to write at the moment.  Honest!

Speaking of calling it, I’m putting an end to my ongoing test of whether or not I can write a novel longhand.  It just doesn’t seem to be working out the way I’d like.  I’ve tried it with at least three projects over the past couple of years, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s this:

I write longhand much slower than I type.

I haven’t tested my typing speed, but I know it’s at least 70 wpm, if not faster.  [This doesn’t include my frequent misspellings; apparently the word “available” is the hardest one for me to type fast.  Thanks to my Day Job for pointing that out.]  I’ve never written longhand fast, because if I went any quicker it would be illegible shorthand.

I judge the pace of my novels as I write them.  When I get into a writing flow, I connect with the pace of the story.  I connect with the fast action scenes and the deliberately slow dramatic scenes.  I’ve written novels on the PC for almost twenty years now, so I’ve gotten used to this process.  And because I write longhand so much slower, I have trouble adjusting to the flow of the story.  I’ve attempted this multiple times with a handful of projects, and each time it’s lasted maybe a few months before I give up and restart the whole thing on MS Word.

I’ve been thinking maybe this might be one of the reasons why I’ve been having so much trouble with the Apartment Complex story, and why I’ve been having no trouble at all with In My Blue World.  I started noticing it again when restarted Can’t Find My Way Home the other night.  I was frustrated and straining trying to write it in my notebook, but as soon as I restarted it on Word, everything started flowing seamlessly.

So.  Does this mean I’ll give up longhand?  For novel projects, yes.  I’m still using it for my personal journal and other mini-projects, but for now, my novel writing will remain on the PC or on the laptop.

On Calling It

naruto shikamaru facepalm
I feel your pain, Shikamaru.  I really do.

It’s 8:21pm on Tuesday the 17th, and I’m officially calling it:  The Apartment Complex story is on hiatus.  On the back burner.  Put aside for a bit.

It’s been three and a half months of thinking I could write the damn thing.  I’ll get some really good work done, and it’ll work for about two weeks, and then it’ll crash and burn.  Each and every damn time.

It’s not that it’s a story I can’t write.  It’s definitely not that I don’t enjoy the story.

It’s that it’s not yet ready to be written.  There are still far too many gaping holes in it.  I don’t quite know what it needs, and just throwing more words at it isn’t helping.  Nor is trying to restart it again and again.  And trying to make myself believe it’s just a rough patch definitely isn’t helping.

I’ve decided, it’s time to call it.  It’s at the point where I’m just wasting my time now.

So.  Now what?

As it happens, I’m actually doing just fine with In My Blue World, so I’m going to continue with that as my 750Words project.  I’m really enjoying writing that one and I’m having minimal issues with it so far.  I’m glad I started that one, because that one’s saving me from feeling the “OH GOD I SUCK” that every writer gets.

Which gives me the evening writing session to do…what project?

Good question.  I’ll have to think about that.

At least I’m finally starting to go through my spiral-bound notebooks that have been collecting dust.

dbz midle finger
TAKE THAT, AGGRAVATING WRITING PROJECT!

 

 

Breakthrough!

doctor who brilliant

On Tuesday evening I finally had a breakthrough with the Apartment Complex story!

Two, to be exact!  One, I have a title for it!  Though I’m not sharing it just yet… it’s a special word in the conlang of this story that means ‘bonded friend’ and ties in with the main theme of the story.  I’m going to play around with it, tweak the spelling and the pronunciation, double-check it with Google Translate to make sure it isn’t a word in another language, and reveal it when it’s ready.

Secondly, on the same evening, I finally sussed out what style the story needs.  That had been the main hang-up all this time; I knew I was doing it wrong, but it took me multiple tries to figure out which style was right for it.  And ironically, it’s the same style I used in the trilogy — rich in texture, world-building and characterization.  It’s definitely an ensemble piece; given the theme, it kind of has to be.  SO!  Now that I know how to write this damn thing, I can forge ahead!

I have to say, I do love it when I get those breakthrough moments.  Getting to that point can be the biggest pain in the ass ever, but once I hit that moment, it’s worth all that hard work.

Wait, it’s April already?

nichijou calendar
What the year feels like sometimes.  Source: Nichijou, of course.

I think I’ve trained myself to the point where I’m not looking at a calendar and going ‘Wait, it’s April already?  I haven’t done jack!  MY LIFE SUCKS’ anymore.  Well, not as often, anyway.  Right now I just look at every new month as a way to start off fresh with my whiteboard schedule and see how far I can go with it.  I don’t even feel bad when I miss a day for whatever reason (even if that reason is ‘laziness’).  I just do what I can in thirty-odd day increments.

Typing this made me think of something I’d said during a panel at FogCon a few weeks ago, when someone had asked about the ability to get anything done when one already has a full schedule.  I’d told them about my whiteboard calendar, telling them that it’s not a matter of getting everything completed in one go; it was a matter of doing doing a little bit at a time, and that would add up.  Don’t aim for the finish line every single time…sometimes all you need to do is aim for the end of the chapter, or maybe even a few hundred words.  It does indeed add up by the end of it.  That’s how I was able to write 80k words for Meet the Lidwells in such a short amount of time.

I will fall back into the occasional ‘I’m not even close to getting any shit done’ stress-out, of course.  I’ve been fighting it a lot lately, what with my multiple attempts at trying to write/rewrite/restart the Apartment Complex story.  It’s partly why I’m trying out a rough draft of In My Blue World using 750Words; I’m tricking my brain into thinking that I’m being twice as productive instead of spending all that time freaking out over a single project.  [I’m actually kind of surprised it’s working, to be honest.]

So yeah, I’m not too worried that it’s April already.  In fact, I’ve embraced it — it’s getting warmer here in the Bay Area to the point where I have the window open in Spare Oom to let some fresh air in.  It’s also given me the impetus to get my writing work done early so I can get back into the habit of going to the gym after the Day Job!

It’s just a matter of taking it a bit at a time, apparently.  Or in this case, a month at a time.