Getting back on the horse

cat on horse
Yeah, I’m not sure, either.

After all the frustration of the last couple of weeks, I’m glad to say I’ve got my writing back under control.  I’m back to getting my daily practice words working on a rough draft of the next project, while spending my evening sessions working on attempt number four of the Apartment Complex story.  I’ve given that project a lot of thought over the last couple of days, figured out (I hope) what works and what didn’t, revised how I’m going to approach it, and I’m just going to go ahead and write the damn thing without any reservations.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered numerous false starts, and I know it won’t be the last.  That’s part and parcel of the writing biz, unfortunately.  All I can do is soldier on, one way or another.

Getting back on the horse can be frustrating in itself, especially when your brain wants you to be running full tilt from the beginning.  That rarely works out though.  Sometimes you just have to be patient and relearn the process to fit the kind of story you want to write.  Take it as it comes, and eventually you’ll suddenly notice you’re back up to your normal processing speed.

[Yeah, I know… I’m going a bit overboard with all the idioms in this post.  Sorry about that.]

ANYWAY!  The good thing about all of this is that I’m going in the right direction, and that’s the most important part.

Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again

One of the worst habits I have as a writer?

Trying to convince myself that my current project is going okay and just needs a bit of TLC and revision…when in reality it needs to be completely tossed and restarted.

I’ve been trying to convince myself — and you, the blog readers, when I mention my progress here — that the Apartment Complex story is just suffering from growing pains.  It was far from my best work, but I said that all my beginnings are crap, and I’ll eventually nail it a few chapters in.  I said that maybe I was just looking at it from the wrong angle, that maybe I was writing in one format when I should be writing another.  I said that I’ll fix it in rewrite.

Yeah, that’s all bullshit, and it’s about time I owned up to it.

I don’t hate this story, far from it.  I believe in it, and I’ve got some great things to say with it.  So I’m going to start over — AGAIN.

Which of course begs the question: am I trying to convince myself this is a story worth saving when it actually isn’t?  Well, no.  Most all of the outtakes I’ve written for this project using 750Words are of infinitely better quality, so I’ve already proved to myself that this story is worth writing.

I know exactly what’s wrong with it, and it’s what I call my ‘let’s go out for some hamburgers’ mistake.  [It’s named after an embarrassing story attempt I wrote in fifth grade.]  It’s a problem of static characters: I have great characters that I know I’ll have fun writing, but all they’re doing is standing around talking.  What little action there is, is forced and pointless.  I’m trying to steer this story in a direction it does not and should not go, and that’s a big problem indeed.

That’s not how fiction works, and it’s really not a fun way to write it, either.  When it happens, I’m hit with a feeling of disappointment almost immediately, that I’m just wasting my time and words.  It feels like there’s a big freaking gap in the plot between the opening and the second half.  I’m not doing my story justice, and to continue in this manner is folly.

So.

Time to start over.  Again.

Either that, or put this aside for a little longer and start writing a different project, like In My Blue World.

I’ll keep you posted.

*

Credit where credit’s due: Victoria Schwab’s recent tweet that she’d completely rewritten her latest project, Vengeful, was the impetus for this decision.  She’d originally written it last fall, only to come to the same conclusion I have about mine: this is not how I want the story to go.  She tossed that version and restarted it on January 10, and finished it 116k words later just the other day.  Kudos to her!

I’m not looking to hit that same insane goal in that short of a time, mind you.  I’m just looking to write this story the right way!

[Also: Yes, this is one of the reasons I took last week off from blogging.  I wanted to have a good long think about it first before I made my decision.]

Writing without a net

sw tfa jb

After three attempts at starting the Apartment Complex story, I think I finally have it under control.  I’ve nailed down the introduction of the characters, established the setting, and started them down Main Plot Line Boulevard.

That was a hell of a lot tougher than I expected.  Now for the fun part of writing the rest of it!

In retrospect, I don’t think I had as much of a problem when I was more of a pantser writer.  Probably because I didn’t really pay too much attention to such things as weak openings and so on.  I just riffed until I got the hang of it and fixed it later.  I’ve been trying to move away from that ever since, and let me tell you, it’s harder than it sounds.  I’m learning to trust my instincts more, instead of freaking out and getting nowhere.

The irony is that this is exactly what my characters are going through as well.  One of the biggest themes of this story is learning to trust someone completely and without any second-guessing.  In writing this story so far, I’ve been fighting the Writer Demon — you know the one, the ‘OH GOD THIS IS ALL CRAP’ Demon that wants you to purge all these words and take up golf or something.  But I’ve also been fighting it with self-trust.  I believe in the story, I know I’ve built up a strong plot and strong characters, so all I need to do is shut that demon down and forge ahead.

This is what I mean by writing without a net.  For me it used to mean writing in my old pantsing ways, but now it’s about moving forward despite all my doubts and worries.  It’s about trusting that I’ll pull this off, one way or another, and I’ll be proud of the result.

It’s stressful as hell sometimes, but the payoff is almost always worth it.

 

annette funicello
A NET.  I SAID ‘A NET’.  STOP THAT.

Take Three: On Rewriting (Again)

8-Winnie-the-Pooh-quotes

RIGHT.  Let’s try this one more time.

I’m committed to getting this novel down correctly before I venture too far and end up frustrated again.  I know exactly what’s been wrong with the Apartment Complex story: not enough action.  I do have future scenes with action in them, sure, but I’m just not nailing the landing at all yet.  I’m screwing up on the pacing; it’s far too slow.  I’m focusing too much on the mood and not enough on the plot.  So instead of deleting it all and throwing the outtakes into the compost bin, I gave it a good long think-over during vacation.

Specifically, I thought about what I needed to do during the five-hour flights to Honolulu and back.  And during the return flight, I pulled out my index cards and proceeded to do some heavy-duty additional outlining.  I added at least six more scenes to the start of Act I (to be interspersed between the scenes I already have) that will help me get back to where I need to be.  I realized this was the same outlining style I used for the trilogy, where I focused primarily on the handful of scenes I’d be working on in the immediate future.  It worked then, so I see no reason why it wouldn’t work again now.

I’m usually never this stubborn about nailing the beginning, I’ll admit.  But sometimes it’s gotta be done, especially if I already believe in the story as a whole.  It might take me a few tries to get it right, but once I do, the rest of it should flow just as I want it.

On Calling It

cat throw away
Source: spoon-tamago.com

I’ve been frustrated with my work on the Apartment Complex story for the last few weeks.  Not the prose itself; that’s actually been pretty good.  What I am producing is stuff I can work with and revise.  I’m talking about the overall production.  It’s too scattershot.  There are too many gaping holes where I hung a cardboard sign saying ‘put something here later’.  I think I’ve proven to myself that I’m not good at writing out of order; I’m definitely more of a linear writer.

In short, I don’t think my longhand idea is quite panning out the way I wanted.  It feels like I’m wasting time.

I didn’t plan it out as well as I thought I did, and I’m paying the price for it.  I don’t necessarily think I need to revisit the outline; more that I need to be more immersed in the story.  It’s the writing style I’m used to and the style I’m good at.  By writing in a linear fashion and immersing myself into the story and the characters, I begin to understand what is needed and what I should avoid.  I’m also able to pay attention to minor details that I could use further down the line.

That’s not to say that I’ll never work this way again…I actually enjoy writing longhand.  It’s more relaxing, for starters.  I’m not focusing on a screen for hours at a time, for another.  Not to mention I get to write anytime and anywhere.  I just have to remember next time to start it when it needs starting, and not sooner.

That said… I’ve called it this past Wednesday.  I’m starting the Apartment Complex story over and trying again, this time straight to PC, as linearly as possible.  I haven’t gotten too far in the story, so I should probably be back up to speed by the end of the month if I keep up the same speed and dedication.

‘Calling it’ has to be one of the hardest things a writer has to do sometimes.  It’s definitely not a decision that comes lightly.  The biggest weight is the bitter truth that we’ve just wasted all that time on something that isn’t working for us.  Well, maybe not wasted per se, but it certainly feels that way.  There’s also the frustration of having to decide whether to continue or restart the project in what feels like the correct way, or to put it aside and start something else.  It causes us to take a good hard look at our project and make the decision whether it’s truly worth following through or trunking.

I’m already dedicated to the Apartment Complex story; I’ve been looking forward to writing it since I was in the middle of writing Lidwells. [I’m feeling the same exact way about In My Blue World, to be honest, and that one’s further down the road.]  I’ve decided I can salvage what I’ve done over the last month, and I can turn this around.

But it’s still one hell of a hard decision.

On Character Development

polar bear cafe wolf tiger
Source: Polar Bear Café

Creating the backgrounds for characters can be both fun and excruciating when you’re starting out a new project.  You can come up with interesting, unique people to write about, give them all sorts of back stories — their background, their culture, their quirks, their powers and their weaknesses — but at the same time, they don’t exist in a vacuum.  You need to also remember that they’re also there to interact with your other characters and the story itself.  Otherwise they’re just placeholders, or worse, redshirts — the throwaway characters put there for the sole purpose of getting rid of them later on.

I’ve been dealing with this quite a bit for the last few weeks, with both the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World.  A lot of the central characters are springing forth rather easily, and that’s because I already have fully-planned purposes for them.  A few of the other characters, on the other hand, are still a bit vague and need more research and planning.  I only have vague purposes for them.  By vague, I mean that they support some of the main characters, but other than that, they’re kind of inconsequential.

Granted, both projects are still in their rough draft iterations and haven’t gotten the MS Word transcription/revision yet.  I’m not giving up on them just yet.  They’ll shine on their own eventually, once I flesh out the story and get a clearer picture of who they are and why they’re there.  I just have to be a bit patient about it sometimes!

So how do I know if I can trust this character to blossom during a later draft?  Or will they end up being a redshirt that I’ll have to edit out later?  Good question.  Often times I don’t. The point here is to let them give the old college try.  I put there for a reason, so I just need to figure them out.  I’ll give them just that little bit more TLC when I’m revising; I’ll think a bit more about their relationship to the story and the others within it.

Eventually, they’ll become part of the main entourage instead of a throwaway.

On Longhand: The Very, VERY Rough Draft

parks rec no idea

I’ll be honest, I’m not used to writing this rough of a draft.  I usually start the the first draft straight to MS Word and fix it as I go along — quite often I’ll draft and revise at the same time.  So why am I still slogging away with some of the most randomly disjointed writing I’ve done in quite some time?

Well, one reason is that this is the only time I can afford it at the moment, considering I’m still working on the Lidwells final revision and prep for release.  Another is that while I do have a lot of outtakes from the daily warmup words, there’s a lot of in-between work that I still haven’t quite worked through yet.  This disjointedness is being done on purpose, to dive a little deeper with this story and its characters.  Once I have a better grasp of them, the plot and character evolution gets tighter.

Normally this happens during my initial MS Word draft, quite often around chapter five or so, when I’ve finally figured out who everyone is and what I can do with them.  The rest of this draft then ends up being pretty tight and straightforward with not that much major revision needed.  The downside to this is that I then need to do said major revision to the first four or five chapters.  This can be harder than it sounds, because not only am I creating the opening to a story, I must also make sure that I plant enough seeds of ideas that will show up later in the book.

As I’d mentioned many times earlier, writing longhand is how I wrote the pre-trilogy Bridgetown story The Phoenix Effect.  It wasn’t just about ease of writing anywhere I wanted to, though.  I did a lot of making-it-up-as-I-go for quite a bit before I finally figured out the story.  The final version of that story is quite different in many ways to the original longhand.

This is precisely why I’m still digging through the longhand of the Apartment Complex story.  Once more time opens up for me in the evenings, I’ll be able to do the same exact thing once more: rough draft during the day, and transcription/revision at night.  The longhand is there for me to write down the ideas; the revision is there to make those ideas work, and work better.

Doin’ a Whole Lotta Nothin’

doing nothing
doot doot just sitting around

I had a vague plan that I’d do a bit of writing on the weekend, even if it was just a page or so.  I figured we’d go out, spend the day at Disneyland, have our fun, and then we’d get back to the hotel and I’d do some work.  I even packed the Apartment Complex story notebook.  If I wasn’t doing my daily words or my blog posts or anything else, I’d at least do something.  Right?

Yeah, we all know how that was going to go, even before we boarded the plane down to Orange County.  Heh.  I didn’t do a damn thing.  I didn’t even take it out of my bag.

But you know, I’m okay with that!  I’ve finally made peace with the fact that I’m due a few days off now and again.  I’d been writing for eleven days straight on not just that project, but on daily words, scheduled blogs, and whatever else I’ve been working on — on top of the Day Job.  But that’s not why I took the days off.  I wasn’t exactly exhausted mentally or physically.  I could have easily kept going with it if I wanted.  And the moment I admit to myself that I should take days off, I’m going to abuse that and not get anything done on time.

No, this was basically to accept that part of the process of writing is not writing.  I’ve gotta let myself just think about the story instead of trying to bleed it out of my brain.  I can instead listen to an album on the flight (The Sound of Arrows’ Stay Free, if you’re playing along) and think not about the story but about the characters in general.

That said, physically I’m still exhausted from the 8.6 miles we walked on Saturday and 7.7 miles on Sunday (plus the two today, thanks to travel through airports and whatnot), but mentally I’m ready to go come Tuesday.  Everything will be back to normal.

So yeah, I’m not too worried about not missing out on writing this past weekend.

PS – This seemed to be a perfect song for this post. It’s also a melody that keeps on popping into my head while writing the Apartment Complex story.

Worldbuilding for the new project

img_20180106_1803486453814687542487755.jpg
Drawing Kaffi the tintrite – not my best work, but better than expected

If anything, I’m sure I’m going to need to study some basic anatomy if I’m going to try to visualize my characters like this.  These images aren’t necessarily going to be in the book…they’re just reference for myself, so I can at least get the basics right.

Kaffi up above is a teenage alien tintrite (pronounced TIN-treet), one of the many different beings that live in the apartment complex that comprises the main setting for my new project.  He’s kind of a dragon/lizard hybrid, long and sleek but also muscly and winged.  He’s an excellent flier, but he’s also reckless.  Teenage immaturity seems to be a universal constant in this world.  Anyway, he’s one of two main characters, the other being his human BFF, Diwa.*

*Note – I had to do a bit of homework to get Diwa’s name right, which is a rarity for me.  Diwa is mixed-race — his father is Caucasian and his mother is Filipino — and I wanted a Filipino name that was a) gender neutral, and b) kind of unique and unexpected.  It means ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’.  I hadn’t expected to find one that fit so nicely with the story, but I’m not complaining!

It’s mainly Kaffi and Diwa’s story (and it’s an enjoyable one about love, friendship and trust), though there are other characters who’ll pop up throughout.  There are humans, mandossi (tallish sleek aliens that are built for running), hedraac (humanoid vampiric aliens), minotaur-ish beings (I haven’t got a name for them yet), and I’m sure I’ll come up with more as the story unfolds.

My idea here was that I wanted to have a world where humans coexist peacefully with all kinds of different beings, so the conflicts in the story weren’t about sentient-versus-sentient but more mundane.  Teenagers trying to figure out who the hell they are and what they want to do when they grow up.  Old men worried about the new generation coming in and taking over.  And how much energy, creativity, and dedication it takes to keep a community active and healthy.  [See, there’s a reason why I keep calling it ‘my Studio Ghibli story’!]

So yeah, you could say I’m having a fun time with this project so far! Now if I can only come up with a decent title for it…