With my Sort of Secret Next Project taking up my daily practice words, I’ve been tearing down some of the boundaries I’ve had set up for ages. I suppose you could say it’s part of the ‘own it’ mantra I’ve been using lately…instead of trying to find reasons not to write a certain scene for whatever reason, I’m forging ahead and writing it anyway.
These are passages that work within the context of Secret Next Project, of course. It’s not so much about pantsing the writing as I’m letting myself come up with things that I would normally not write. Here’s the thing: when I’m writing a character, I have to have at least some connection with them, whether mentally or emotionally. I get inside their head and see how they tick. This is all well and good, but there is the tendency to write samey characters, or worse, write Jonc Personality #483.
I tried (and I think mostly succeeded) writing this way for the trilogy, especially when I had to get inside the head of characters like Denni and Amna, who were major players with a hell of a lot of stressful issues going on. I think this is also partly why I trunked some of my earlier novels, because I’d failed.
The Secret Next Project involves quite the menagerie of characters, so I definitely need to stretch my boundaries there. In writing my daily practice words, I’ve been doing my best to set as few boundaries as possible. In the process, over the last couple of days I found myself writing some passages that surprised even me! And I like that feeling. It means I’m doing something right.
…That said, it also means I still need to focus mostly on Meet the Lidwells. Which means the Secret Next Project is currently also the I’d Rather Be Working On This Fun New Project Instead Project.
If I’ve learned anything over the last week, it’s that the downside to coming up with a secondary project to play around with while working on Meet the Lidwells is the temptation to fall prey to the “ooh shiny!” of the newer project, leaving the original one undone. I love the apartment complex idea at the moment, and I’m quite sure it’s because I’m still in the world-building phase of that one. Two daily-words entries and I’ve already come up with some neat ideas that I’d like to play with.
BUT! I really need to focus on my other story! The one that’s been on my mind over the last few years. The one I can FINALLY devote my time to. The last thing I need right now is another distraction!
So how to handle this sort of thing? All writers fall prey to it sooner or later…the rogue new idea that tempts you and won’t leave you alone, and you know damn well that if you don’t write it down RIGHT NOW it’ll be lost forever. Often to the detriment of any other deadlines you might be working on at that moment.
Well…I’ve learned that there’s got to be a bit of balance. From past experience, the worst thing I can do with a completely new idea is to try to create an entire novel out of it. I definitely don’t have the whole story and its universe in my head at that point. The end result will be a lot of making stuff up as I go along, thus needing a hell of a lot of revision on the back end. It’s one of the reasons the trilogy project took so damn long.
I wrote outtakes of Meet the Lidwells via my daily practice words, and I knew that wasn’t going to be the final version. And I wrote it while I was rewriting and revising the trilogy, so I put just enough into it to keep it alive until it came time for it to be my main project.
I’m doing the same with this new story idea. Right now I’m looking at it from a workshop level, throwing stuff at it to see what works. Coming up with characters, names, settings, and other background details that I can reference a little later. And I’m sure sometime within the next few months I might even draw a layout of the main setting, maybe even some of the characters. Bits will change along the way. It’s all up in the air right now, malleable.
And that’s just for fun, at the moment.
The heavy work is on Lidwells, and that’s where it’ll remain until it’s done. That’s my evening writing work, the stuff I’ll treat more seriously. Attending to details, focusing on the feel of the story in my head, contemplating what needs work and what needs excision. And besides…this one has a deadline that I don’t want to break. If I have to put New Shiny Idea aside to devote more time to Lidwells to get it done on time, so be it.
Finding that balance is a bit of crazy work, but I believe I can get it done.
For your enjoyment…something I wrote Thursday afternoon for my daily 750 Words. It’s a rough draft of an idea I’ve had for the past month or so. The setting is an apartment complex in a suburb of a sprawling mega-city, where its tenants are of all kinds: humans, aliens, monsters, mythical beasts. It’s a Studio Ghibli-inspired story about a young kid living at this complex (whose family owns and runs it) and his adventures meeting all kinds of beings, getting to know their lives, eccentricities, and maybe even starting a few friendships in the process.
This is most likely going to be my next project after Meet the Lidwells, and I’m looking forward to writing and self-pubbing it.
I’ve put the passage under this here cut. Hope you enjoy it.
In contrast to the previous post, where you got to see all the paperwork and whatnot that I accumulated during the writing of the trilogy, the above is pretty much everything I have for my new project, Meet the Lidwells! A print out of the very rough draft I wrote two years ago using 750 Words, and a pile of index cards that I’ll be using to outline the next draft.
That’s it. Well, okay, there’s a few MS Word files of an incomplete outline and a rewrite I wasn’t happy with, and an mp3 playlist I’m slowly building, but other than that…that’s all I have.
I’ve got a nifty idea for a cover in my head (which I’m hoping I can pull off, as I’m not sure if I’m able to do it in Photoshop). I already know what the format’s going to be. And if all works out, this will be one of my fastest project turnarounds ever.
The upside is that I’ve already gotten a good couple thousand words in on Meet the Lidwells! Most of the text is coming straight from the very rough draft I wrote a few years back, of course, but it’s going in the right direction.
The downside is that I can already see where I’m going wrong. Thankfully I know exactly what it is that’s wrong, and how to fix it.
I’ll be honest — the beginnings of my novels are always a mess. I spend the first couple of chapters knowing what I want to write, but I haven’t quite grasped how I want it to play out. The prose is all over the place as I try out all kinds of different styles on the fly. I’ll plant the seeds of one or two minor plot points that may or may not survive the end result. I may even get a few of the details mixed up.
But hey, that’s what revision and editing is for, right? Once I do figure it all out (which is usually around two or three chapters in), then I have a solid platform for the rest of the novel, and I can clean everything up in those two or three sketchy first scenes. A Division of Souls had at least three wildly different openings before I put all the pieces together and figured out which one works the best. I had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to start The Balance of Light the way I wanted it. Lidwells is no different; once I get into the groove, I’ll be able to build a more solid opening.
Do I wish I could write a perfect opening? Nah. Doing it the way I do is actually part of the fun! It helps me connect with the story on an emotional level; once I’ve done that, then I can reshape the opening to fit that mood. I don’t see it as wasting time and words; I see it as part of the whole exercise. As long as I’m going in the right direction…that’s all that really matters.
I’ve got seven chapters left before I’m done with the final edit of The Balance of Light. Once that’s done, it’ll be a week or two of formatting, processing, creating the cover, and releasing it out into the world. It’s looking like that may end up being the first or second week of February at this point.
And then I’m done with the Bridgetown Trilogy.
I mean, aside from my next project, Meet the Lidwells!, which I’ve been sneakily working on now and again during downtime.
Nearly everything I’ve ever worked on is more than five years old already; the Bridgetown story will officially turn twenty (!!) in March. My trunked vampire novel, Love Like Blood, was brainstormed around 2003, written over the course of four years, and finally trunked by 2008. Numerous other ideas, many of which I’ve also trunked or given up on, were created at our old apartment, which we moved out of in 2009. I’ve been focusing so much on the trilogy that I’ve only got maybe two or three solid ideas I could work on — if that.
So what do I have planned, anyway?
Well, the biggest plan I have is to try to see how quickly I can turn a project around. I know I can do it — I’ve written and revised past works in a very limited amount of time. I can definitely work to a deadline.
I also want to try writing something that’s not epic in length. Lidwells is partly an attempt at that. I’d like to write some standalone novels. Not everyone loves a good doorstopper novel, so I’d like to appeal to the quick-reader fans as well. This will not only teach me how to narrow my focus on the plot, it’ll also be a great exercise in concise writing.
I may even try a short story or two. Technically I’ve written only one, and it’s pretty bad. It was my ‘just to see if I could do it’ attempt during a very slow and broke-as-hell summer over twenty years ago.
But do I have any ideas rolling around right now?
That’s a good question. Technically, no. I only have the Lidwells project, maybe a reboot of Can’t Find My Way Home…and that’s it. As I’ve said, this is why I’m making myself do the daily practice words. I’ve already come up with snippets of scenes, snatches of bigger ideas, and random conversation that may be worth looking into later on.
It’s a bit daunting, to say the least. Yeah, my subconscious occasionally pops in and reminds me that the only thing I can ever write in this lifetime is more Mendaihu Universe tomes, and if I don’t write them, I won’t have anything at all. And that voice I usually ignore. I’ve been in this Clean Slate situation before. It’s completely natural to be nervous.
But hell, if Lidwells can pop up out of nowhere and take on a life of its own, I’m sure I can make that happen again.
It’s a rock memoir. It’s a music biography. It’s fiction. It’s a love story. What the hell is it, anyway?
Meet the Lidwells! is the story of a family band from the 90s — four siblings and two cousins — rocking out at town and county fairs and wherever their parents could book them, until they hit the big time with the insanely catchy hit “Grapevine.” They sign to a major label and become a huge success, selling out on tours, finding their faces plastered in teen magazines…only to burn out fast, lose their way, and go out in a blaze of glory less than a decade later.
And yet, somehow, they manage to keep their love of family (not to mention a ridiculous obsession with music) strong and unbreakable.
Not the final cover, obviously, but you get the idea.
This was a story that came to me out of nowhere while I was working on my daily 750 Words back in early 2015. Okay, maybe not out of nowhere. One of my online friends had casually mentioned family bands at some point, and that led me to think of the Osmonds. [I will freely admit that I loved that band when I was a little kid, well before my obsession with the Beatles. Crazy Horses is still a great album.] At the same time, I’d been reading a lot of music biographies, and was also working on my Walk in Silence project, when it occurred to me that writing a fictional music bio would be a hell of a lot of fun.
And it was! I spent a good couple of weeks utilizing my daily words, coming up with fictional interviews, backstory, and even a discography. Meet the Lidwells! will be my next project once the Bridgetown Trilogy is wrapped up, and I’m totally stoked about completing this one!
Most of the time was spent focusing on releasing the first edition of The Persistence of Memories as well as cleaning up and releasing the next edition of A Division of Souls. And once those were taken care of, I focused solely on the Big Galley Edit of The Balance of Light. As of today I am about one third of the way through transcribing my manual edits to the digital document, which will then be formatted to both e-book and trade paperback.
[Side note: I’m worried that TBoL is still going to be quite a long book, so while it’s going to remain a single e-book, I may have to split it up into two trades just to keep the price and size down. More on that when I get closer to finishing this portion of the project.]
The Persistence of Memories had an official drop date of 15 April of this year, about six months after the first book. I haven’t nailed down a specific release date for The Balance of Light yet, but again, the closer we get to the end of this edit, quicker I’ll be able to do so.
All that said, I had to make do without a few other projects in the interim. I put aside any actual work on future Mendaihu Universe books until this one was finished. I also put aside any non-MU ideas that have been brewing; I haven’t trunked them, they’re just on hiatus. In addition to that, I’d also put a temporary stop on my Daily 750 Words exercises. I wanted to clear my desk and get rid of any extraneous assignments and deadlines so I could focus completely on finishing the Bridgetown Trilogy.
The unprecedented decision, however, was to stop writing poetry. I’d come to the realization that it had stopped being something useful to me some time ago. I’d used poetry as a personal experiment for a good few decades: a creative release for my personal dreams, irritations, ponderings, or whatever. But it hadn’t been that for at least two or three years; it has become less of an outlet and more of a chore, and thus less enjoyable. So I wrote one last long poem, closed that composition notebook, and filed it away. I haven’t written one since. Will I ever pick it up again? Who knows. Maybe, but I think I’d need to put some real thought and dedication into that form and do it right this time, instead of the way I used to write it.
So. What’s up for 2017, then?
Aside from releasing The Balance of Light sometime in the early months, who knows. It’ll be the first time in decades where the Mendaihu Universe (and in particular, these three books) won’t be weighing down on me. The slate will be fully clean. For the first time in a LONG time, I’ll be able to fully focus on a completely new project.
I’ll be able to start in on one or more of those Possible Ideas I have on hiatus. A few more stories in the Mendaihu Universe, for starters. I don’t have any concrete plans at the moment, where New Projects are concerned, but once I’m ready, I’ll be planning like a fiend.
I would also like to return to the Daily 750 exercise again. Over the past couple of years it has been a great Word Playground for me, and at least three possible future novel project ideas have come out of it. And of course, I’d like to return to a stable blogging schedule. Those things go out the window for everyone at the end of the year, so I’m not beating myself up too much over them not being timely. Come next year, however, I’m going to make the best effort to stick to it.
I’d also like to practice more on my book cover artwork. As I keep saying, doing the covers for my Trilogy was an unexpected joy for me, to the point that I could see myself doing cover art as a possible career step.
I do have some Big Plans regarding the business side of my writing career. In the next year I’ll be making some very big, very important steps towards raising the bar. [Yes, I know, that’s a business-speak phrase and I can’t stand that kind of talk, but it fits the situation.] I don’t want to share them just yet, but I’ve been thinking about them and planning them in my head for at least a few years now. I’d promised myself that 2017 would be the year they will become a reality. I’ve started giving myself a soft schedule to work with, and will soon be spending some offline time making this business plan work.
And yes, as soon as I’m ready to release these Big Plans upon the world, I’ll let you know!
All told, I think 2016 has been a stellar year for me, creatively. One of the best I’ve ever had. That’s not to say I wish I’d spent more time and dedication learning how to best sell my creative wares online and make money off it, but I’ve certainly reached goals that have been on my bucket list since I was at least ten years old. I’ve rarely looked at my sales numbers, but I’m not taking them too seriously for the moment. I scored a good number of downloads of both books during a month-long sale on Smashwords — a LOT more than I expected to get, to be honest — and while I earned no money, the fact that I did get that many hits meant quite a bit to me. It meant that I was doing something right. It meant I was closer to my goals as a professional author than I’d expected. I now know where I stand, what direction I should head in, and what to expect when I get there.
Which means that 2017 will be the year I step up my game and start making money off of the Dream Job I’ve always wanted since I was a kid.
I don’t think I’ve written more than a dozen or so songs since I moved out here to San Francisco in 2005. Probably much less than that. A few clips of melody, maybe a riff or two, but nothing concrete, not like my last songwriting wave in the early 00s when I was jamming with Bruce and Eric in jeb!. The latest actual song milling about in my head is an instrumental I created using the sound of London’s District Line clacking down the tracks near Earls Court as percussion (which I recorded to my phone); I have not yet had time to lay it down as a demo, though I did get as far as making a very rough loop of the train as a trial run.
Why do I bring this up? Well, it seems my next writing project involves songwriting.
What’s this, you say? Has Jon gone off the deep end in a severely misguided attempt to write a multimedia book? I mean, he’s a pretty decent writer and makes cool covers, but music? What the hell is he thinking?
Well, I blame Wesley Stace for this. Formerly known as John Wesley Harding for you 90s alternative rock people, he wrote a fun novel called Wonderkid about a quirky band that, against all odds, became a huge hit in the 90s, primarily due to having an extremely large preteen audience. It’s a hell of a fun book and worth checking out.
Sometime later, I was chatting online with a friend about the Osmonds (I forget the context), when I came up with an idea of writing a music-based novel myself. Thus the family band The Lidwells were born!
Now that I’m at the point of wanting to do some prep for the Lidwells project, I’m not just thinking about making character sheets and a working discography (yes, I’m going that deep), but may be writing a few of the songs mentioned in the text. All told I’m hoping to write about a dozen or so songs during the course of writing this book.
Added to that, this story takes place in the 90s during the alt.rock boom, so I’m going to have to write music that sounds like it would have fit then. Will I record them as demos and post them here? Yeah, there’s a good chance of that happening.