Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

On Trying a New Genre

I do so love the feeling of coming up with a completely new story out of nowhere.

That happened to me last March when a half-coherent waking dream grew into a surge of ideas, which in turn grew into a complete outline later that morning, which eventually grew into Queen Ophelia. It happened yet again Sunday morning when I woke up with an idea for a meet-cute romcom. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll write it, but I’ll at least give myself time to write an outline to see if it’s a workable story.

I suppose it might surprise you to read that I’ve taken a turn into romance, but hell, why not? It’s the same thing I did in ’93 when I pivoted into science fiction. It’s a genre I’ve been fascinated by but rarely gotten around to reading, writing or even understanding until much later in my years. And as it happens, the genre is in a really good place right now, even as it continues to be one of the strongest selling genres ever. Head to that section of your local book store and you’ll see quite a lot of different styles within the genre. In particular there’s been a fresh wave of romcoms with fun titles and colorful cartoony covers. As a self-publisher that does their own covers, I really love the looks of those; they’re eye-catching and they’re great at letting you know they’re going to be an enjoyable and funny read.

I also suppose one might be worried that I have no idea what I’m getting into. I mean, that’s par for the course for most writers anyway, but that’s part of the fun of being a writer. There’s a lot of resonance going on; I’ve always taken notice when a story just hits me the right way and inspires me to write something similar. And with the books that I’ve been reading lately, I can definitely feel that. Again, writing Diwa & Kaffi is partly to blame when I learned that not every conflict in my stories need to be high stakes. And I do love to write different kinds of relationships…it’s one thing I realize I can do really well, especially if it’s important to the overall plot.

You could probably say I’m writing out of my depth here, but I’m willing to take the challenge. After all, Theadia is a space opera and I’ve never written one of those before, either. All of these new projects are telling me one thing: writing in a new genre isn’t just an exercise for me, it’s something I need to do to break out of my safety net. I’m always willing to challenge myself on a story, especially if it resonates with me as much as these have. Part of the adventure here is figuring out how to work past the obstacles and make it work.

The other part is proving to myself that I can do it in the first place. That’s always been a major part of my writing career, and I’m not about to rest on my laurels now.

On Trying New Settings

Image courtesy of Orange

Writing Theadia has definitely been an interesting exercise, to say the least. One reason I’ve mentioned before; I’m purposely writing it in extremely rough-draft form with little revision-as-I-go. Some days it drives me crazy, as I’m used to working it out in my head and choosing the best words I can at that moment. Writing loose like this has given me a lot more breathing room, and has also let me explore the characters a lot deeper than I normally do. Writing Althea and Claudia (and their cat) has been so much fun because of that.

Another reason is that this is essentially a non-military space opera. Well — there are military characters and subplots involved and some subspace gate travel, but it’s not the main plot. It’s all about the two loveable goofball leads and their (and their family’s and friends’) connection to the military plot stuff. The novel also takes place partly on a large space station and partly on its related planet. I’ve only ever hinted at that once, with the setting of the Bridgetown Trilogy, but never to this extent. I’ve done my best to adhere to the general rules of science and physics so it remains believable, but I’ve kept the focus mostly on the day-to-day of civilian life on planet and station. Think of it as more Carole & Tuesday than Robotech. It’s very inspired by Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer stories. The conflict focuses more on how a possible war affects those civilians, and how frustrating it can be when it feels like no one in charge is doing their job correctly.

I’ve always wanted to write a space-themed novel, but figuring out how to write it always eluded me. I didn’t want a story about a generation ship suffering from entropy, or a grimdark Expanse story of possibly dangerous aliens, or even a rebels-win story where every main lead is hyperknowledgeable about tech. I wanted an everyday story, just set in an extraordinary setting. [I find myself really enjoying writing that sort of thing lately.] Earlier this year I finally figured out what I wanted from Theadia and set about writing the outline and then the story itself. I’d continue to build the worlds around them, setting the rules as I go.

It still needs a lot of work, but what I have so far is probably the furthest I’ve ever pushed myself in terms of setting and story. And strangely enough, I’ve been finding it incredibly enjoyable!

Not All Words Are New

Every now and again I have to remind myself that not all word counts I get on any given day have to be new words. Sometimes they can be revision or ‘Do This Later’ notes.

The other day I found I didn’t have enough time to work on Theadia due to other errands and concerns, so instead of worrying about failing to get anything done at all, I figured that what I could do instead was do some note insertion over the last several chapters instead. What ended up being a quick twenty-minute session actually produced some much-needed revision notes over several chapters explaining what I need to add in order to improve the story. They were only a paragraph or two long, but I hit as many concerns as I could that had come up during recent read-what-I-have-so-far sessions. Most of them were related to the overall story arc rather than the scene itself — background events that aren’t the main focus but help drive it further regardless.

I’ve noticed that over the course of writing this (and Queen Ophelia), my writing processes have definitely evolved and/or changed over the years. My pacing has become tighter and I’ve become better at inserting the “early fiddly bits” that are supposed to affect the story further down the line. At the same time, my writing sessions have become much looser — never mind grinding gears to find the perfect word or phrase, just get the idea down first — and my productivity has sped up in tandem with that. Theadia is a longish book (it’s currently at 112k but will most likely be put on a word diet in revision) but I’m still shocked that I’ve gotten this far in so short a time.

Especially since I’ve been letting myself have those occasional no-new-words days more often than in the past.

Nearing the Finish Line

My first three books — the Bridgetown Trilogy — took so damn long for me to finish, clean up and get out into the world that six years later, it still feels kind of weird when I find myself coming close to the end of new projects in a much shorter span of time. I definitely felt it with Meet the Lidwells! and In My Blue World; how could I have possibly turned these novels around so quickly? I must be doing something wrong! These can’t be good if I worked this fast on them! I tend not to listen to that particular voice all that much, to be honest. Heh.

Diwa & Kaffi took me a bit longer, as I purposely took my time to get that one right, and I’m still shopping that one out. (I promise, I’ll get it out there one way or another.) And two of my current projects are inching closer to their respective ends as well. Have I told you about them? Not really! I’ve been hinting about them for ages, partly because that’s my one quirk: I have a terrible habit of tweeting/blogging/posting about a seemingly great idea that ends up getting trunked or put aside out of frustration…aka my Best Laid Plans stories. After a while I felt it was a bit more professional (and less promise-breaking) if the details remained on the QT until I felt confident enough that they’d see completion and potential publication.

So, what are they? Glad you asked! Because one is fast approaching Act 3 and the other is well into it and nearing its climactic scenes, and my confidence is high on both. Here’s a quick peek:

The one I’ve been referring to as Project A is currently entitled Queen Ophelia. It’s a story about a man who, upon his father’s death, finds that his estranged mother is not the human he was told she’d been: she is in fact a part-demon part-fae queen of a world filled with magic and war. He learns that he has not only inherited her magical blood but must help her defeat an unexpected enemy. During his adventures and travels, he learns more about the demon and fae world than he’d ever expected. This one’s theme is all about finding comfort and acceptance in others, and accepting oneself. This one was inspired by a dream I’d had in May, wrote out the entire outline that next morning, and have been writing on the 750 Words site since September. [Surprisingly, this one does not have a playlist. I may need to rectify that.]

Project B, meanwhile, is currently entitled Theadia, and it’s a story that popped into my head during my last days at the Former Day Job. It’s about two young women coders living on a space waystation who become embroiled in a border war, useless upper management and terrible engineering. As I’d said yesterday on my Twitter feed: “the source of conflict isn’t just an antagonistic world threat. It also includes the conflict of active avoidance: the ‘not my job’, the ‘it has to be this way because reasons’ and ‘it’s too expensive to make better’. [The main characters] refuse to fall into that avoidance trap. Winning because they stepped up, not because they’re superpowered or invincible.” It’s super geeky fun and doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, but it’s right up there with IMBW as one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve written. Oh, and this is the one that features the Maine coon cat, Grizelda!

[There is indeed a Project C, and it’s what I’ve been referring to as MU4, aka the fourth book in the Mendaihu Universe. I’m taking my own sweet time with this one because there’s a ton to do. Suffice it to say, the story takes place in Bridgetown seventy years after the trilogy, and focuses on how belief systems change and evolve, for better or for worse, and how different they become the further they get from their creators’ original plans and intentions. And yes, a few Trilogy characters do show up!]

…so yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to over the last several months. Queen Ophelia and Theadia should be done soon enough, and they both definitely need a lot of revision work, but I’m quite proud of both of them already. It’s been quite the trip and I’ve had a blast writing them all. In the process I’ve taught myself perseverance, better focusing, and alternate ways of problem-solving. And I’m really looking forward to getting these out your way as soon as I can.

Counting On It

September’s writing work: 57,111 words across three novels, twenty personal journal entries, eighteen blog posts (including this one, written last night), and eighteen rough-draft poems. And having enough time left to send out a few resumes, upload pictures to a stock photo site, occasionally play (and retune) my guitar, and do fifteen quick sketches in preparation for Inktober.

It’s been a super busy month, but this is exactly how I want it.

I’ve always noted my word count in some kind of moleskine pocket calendar. I’ve done it since the Belfry days. I’ve never used it for self-defeating purposes — you know, the ‘I only got 1000 words today, why couldn’t I make 2000?’ — because that never works. It’s more about figuring out my personal metrics, really. What word count am I comfortable with? What count do I think is good but could be a lot better? Which days are my worst, and which are best? Where can I do better, and when am I just phoning it in? I’m curious about these things.

About halfway through September I said to myself, okay: let’s try to make at LEAST a thousand words each for the three novel projects. I noticed, thanks to my word count notes, that I was hitting about 800 for Project A (which I’m doing on the 750Words site), roughly the same for Project B, but lagging on Project C at around 500. I knew it wasn’t because of burnout, though. It was because it was midafternoon and I’d start getting distracted. Whether it was comics, social media, cat gifs, or whatever, the problem with Project C was that I just wasn’t taking it completely seriously. And the last thing I wanted to do was let that one fall by the wayside. Or any of them for that matter.

So instead of saying okay let’s hit three thousand words today, I said let’s hit one thousand for each project. Very big difference there. It forced me to think that no, I wasn’t trying to Do All The Writing. I had three assignments due that day, all of them with specific word count. As soon as I hit one, I’d take a break (writing a blog post, sketching, practicing guitar, etc), then jump onto the next one. And if I didn’t quite hit it, then I could use some post-dinner time to catch up. And as for the journal, poem and sketch: all three notebooks for those are across the room on the (Not So) Hidden Bookshelf and I do all three in one go, taking no more than maybe a half hour at most. I don’t take them entirely seriously, and that in itself is part of another goal: stop trying to be so f***ing perfect from the get-go. And all of this is finely scheduled for most of the day.

See? There is a method to my madness! Heh.

Anyway — I’m quite happy that I managed to get that many words done this month, and I hope to do more. I’ll continue the journal entries, poems, sketches (it being Inktober and all). Keep up my daily creativity, and expand and elaborate on it. Reach out further with submission and freelance.

Let’s see where this goes.

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.

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.