Transitional scenes

Image courtesy of Your Name

Lately I feel like all my stories have been stuck in transitional scenes. The main characters aren’t there yet, but they’re on their way….to wherever there is. They know what’s going on and what they need to do, but it feels like they’re spending far too much time planning and not enough time doing. [I am well aware that this somewhat mirrors my life at times, thank you very much. It’s a lifelong habit that’s harder to break than you think.] [ANYWAY.]

The other day it got so bad that I finally called it for the scene I was working on for Project A: it was just taking way too damn long for it all to unfold, so I just stopped the scene cold. And in a move I rarely take, I left bracketed ‘fix it later’ notes, including the exact points I needed to make…and left it as is. I’ve only done a “leave it and fix it later” once before, with Diwa & Kaffi, because I really didn’t want to spend far too much time in the same spot.

Ironically, the next scene I wrote was in fact transitional, but it was short and purposeful. A character needed to report to a higher-up while also pulling off some Furtive Spy-Type Stuff. It was concise, always moving forward, and cleared the way for future events. And it only lasted maybe about three pages. Win!

One reason I sometimes get stuck in these transitional scenes is lack of planning. Sometimes the focus is more on getting daily words done than it is getting the scene done, and that never bodes well, because then what I write is an overthought rambling mess. But it goes the other way, too: sometimes I want to take my time getting to the point I need to hit (for pacing’s sake) and end up taking too much time getting there. I think it was a bit of both this time out.

So, how to combat it? Well, the easiest way is to do what I’d done: [WRITE THIS BIT LATER.] It’ll save me time, brainspace, and avoid frustration later on. Most of the time I have a good idea of what needs to be there, but my brain hasn’t quite achieved how to make it work yet. That’s where my Repeated Reread Process also comes in: I know the problem scene is coming, plus I’ll be able to see what leads up to it, and therefore know how to handle it better.

Right now the beginning chapters of Project A are a terrible mess, but they’re not irredeemable. I just need to make a few fixes and updates is all. And I’ll rewrite all that later, too. Right now I’d rather continue with the path I’d finally corrected and go from there, because that is where my brain needs to be.

That Moment in Writing

Image courtesy of Ocean Waves

Don’t mind me…I’m just stuck in that moment in writing. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where you’ve got a decent amount of work done, and you kind of like the idea…but it all sounds like CRAP. That point where everything sounds so awful and stupid that you’re embarrassed to call yourself a writer.

How do I handle that? Well, I just let it pass, really. If it’s really, truly bad work, then I’ll decide whether or not to trunk it, revise it, or start over. And I don’t think I’m at that point (yet). What I have now is what I always have at the start of a novel project: a lot of flailing, a lot of guesswork, and a considerable absence of continuity. I remind myself that I’m still feeling my way, trying to find what anchors it all together. I’m still trying to find the right voice for it. And the only way to find all that is to keep going. I can fix the terrible parts later on.

So yeah, I’ll be a Grumpypants for a little bit, but it’ll pass. Eventually.

Thinking Big Again

‘Radiance’ by Mami Kawada — opening theme to Starship Operators

So it seems that one of my Current Projects is going to be another epic. I didn’t quite plan it that way, but I didn’t plan on The Bridgetown Trilogy to be the big ol’ books they became, either. I’m not complaining, though…I have a soft spot for writing big books! They give me a chance to really stretch out and have a lot of creative fun.

There’s of course the world building aspect. While I wouldn’t quite say this is a space opera, it does have some elements of it. Most of it takes place either on a waystation near a busy wormhole gate or at its nearby host planet. I’m borrowing some layout ideas from a lot of different anime movies and series I’ve watched over the years (no surprise there) to build up the infrastructure. This one won’t have any conlangs this time out, though, but that’s fine. I’ve got other major details that I need to keep in some semblance of order instead.

The cast might not be as huge as the Bridgetown Trilogy, but it’s close. There are four major characters so far, with many secondary characters already making important appearances, and they’ve all got their assignments via the synopsis I completed for it a few weeks ago. Big ensembles are a lot of fun to write for me, because I love the challenge of keeping them unique as well as ensuring they all have their own important roles to play in the overall story arc. The length ensures that I give them all breathing room to be themselves as well.

And quite importantly: it has not one but three mixtape playlists already made for this particular project. Possibly more in the future.

Does that mean I’m putting shorter length aside? Far from it — a few of the backburner projects are about the same length as In My Blue World. Knowing that I can do both means that I can definitely switch from one to the other without worry. Who knows, I may even have a few short/flash fiction ideas in mind as well…?

Regardless, I’m pleased to state that this particular project is coming along just fine. Sure, I might trip up here and there, but I think I’ve gotten past the rocky beginning I always seem to have when starting a new project, so it should be much smoother sailing from here.

Shifting Gears

Image courtesy of Steins;Gate

So I was working on two different projects over the last moth or so, writing out a synopsis/outline for each with the future plan of starting the writing soon after I felt comfortable with what I had planned out. So what happened?

Well, two other projects kept nagging at me. Two that have been on my back burners even longer than the two I’d been working on. Two that I pretty much knew inside and out already, they just needed sprucing and leveling up to make them better. I kept them at arm’s length for the last couple of weeks of May, focusing on the ones I already had going but letting these two sit a bit and germinate a bit more. I figured, if by the start of June these two other projects refused to go away (or alternately, started hanging out rent-free in my head all day long), then maybe that was a sign that I should focus on these first.

I mean, it’s not as if any of these have a specific deadline other than a self-made one. I want to get something new done by the end of this year! But no, there’s no agent or publisher chasing me about any of these.

So. June arrived, and I figured, why the hell not? These are two projects that I’ve already done a lot of work on in the past, so it’s not as if I’m starting with a blank Word document here and scratching my head, trying to figure out where to begin. I fired up the 750Words site and did the same thing I’d done with the previous projects: worked out a synopsis, a cast of characters, and the style and mood for Project A. [I say “mood” here because several of the older versions leaned a bit too heavily on the pathos. Which, in retrospect, is precisely why they didn’t work. This version will hopefully avoid that pitfall.] For Project B, I’m going to need to do something a bit different and work out a major outline and piece it all together. Again, most of this has been done several times in the past so the turnaround should be quick and painless.

It’s been only one week, so far it’s been positive forward motion, which is a very good sign indeed. It means these are projects that I’m enjoying, that they cover subjects I’m confident speaking about. Even when I’m stumbling, I don’t (yet) feel like I’m in over my head. Do I feel that way about the former two projects? Well, not entirely. I feel like I’m still flailing a bit on them. Not nearly as much as previously, but my confidence is not as high with them just yet. So I don’t feel bad about shifting them to the rear burners for a bit while I focus on these.

Current Status: Planning Stuff Out

I’ve been focusing on my outlining and synopsis writing with my current and backburner WIPs this past week, and I’m happy to say that it’s working quite nicely. I’ve managed to reach the end of Act I for one of the current stories, and do some major scene rearrangement and rebuilding for another.

The outcome of all of this is that it’s kind of fascinating to see the difference between “all the ideas are in my head and I have a vague idea where it’s headed” and “here’s the roadmap, have at it”. I mean, I’ve done this kind of preproduction many times before (and to varying degrees) and this time is no different. Just that I’m taking this step more seriously this time out.

Am I going to plan out the entirety of my current WIPs? I don’t know. I probably will with the shorter one, because the more preparation I have ahead of time, the quicker the project is finished. If I keep up with what I’m doing, I’ll probably have a complete synopsis in a couple of weeks and will be able to get to the heavy writing without delay. As for the other one…that’s MU4 if you must know, and that’s going to need a lot of planning due to the way its universe runs, so I think I’ll at least get it to where I feel comfortable with being a few chapters ahead plan-wise, just like the previous trilogy. For every prose chapter I finish off, I’ll add another synopsis chapter as I go.

I’m definitely going to keep this process going if I can. I still want to get back to my plan of self-publishing at least one novel a year, and planning stories out like this will definitely keep me well-stocked in future projects! It’ll also help me when I return to the Day Job World…just like I did with the trilogy, I can easily block out a few chapters ahead during slow time/lunch hour at work, dedicating my evening hours solely to cranking out the prose.

In the meantime, I’m thrilled to be where I am at the moment in these projects…I may not actually be getting any prose wordcount done, but this prep work will definitely open up all kinds of time for it later on.

Writing All The Things

A few days ago I woke up super-early in the morning from an amazing dream and had that classic OMG this needs to be story!! moment, so of course I made sure that I remembered it after sliding back into slumber for a few more hours. And yes, somehow I did in fact remember it! So before it went away and before I distracted myself with any other internetty things like comics and social media drama, I logged onto/dusted off the 750 Words site and hopped to it. I’d originally meant to just work out the bare bones of the idea, but before I knew it, I was writing a full-on synopsis and a few hours later I had three thousand words and a full novel plan written out. [Side note: this once and for all proves that I really do need to work more on eliminating distractions.]

Mind you, that NEVER happens, so I didn’t question it…I just kept working at it until I had it done and finished. [And to top it off, I ended that productive day by finishing off the Diwa & Kaffi revision as well. There wasn’t too much I needed to fix, but I was certainly glad to sign that off so I can start submitting it.]

While I basked in my pride for having gotten so much done that day, I started thinking…what if I started doing this on the regular? I’ve only recently started doing synopses and outlines on a semi-regular basis, so maybe it’s time I made it a full-on part of my writing process once and for all. I thought about my other open projects on the various burners and thought, wait…maybe this will work better if I’ve got a map to work with.

So a few days later I opened up the 750 again with a test run for another complete synopsis — this time for a project I’d started/stopped/trunked/revived several times over the years. It’s not an impossible story to write, I’ve just had constant problems figuring out how it should be written. This time out, I just focused on creating a short and tight synopsis, devoid of all the moods, distractions and lingering issues. End result: another success! I figured out why it hadn’t worked in the past, and how I could approach it from a slightly different angle and have success with it. So yay me, another future project!

Which leaves me with the current two front-burner projects, both of which I’m still feeling a bit tetchy about. Neither of them have a synopsis at this time.

The issue with both is, you guessed it: lack of direction. I know where I’m going and even where I want it to end up, but there’s still a high level of flailing on both. And when I flail, the longer it takes for me to get these projects done.

So my plan for the next couple of days is to work them both out with synopses. Sure, I should have done this a long time ago, but considering both of these were started right at the start of the pandemic (and at the end of my Former Day Job) in early 2020, real life and Diwa & Kaffi sort of got in the way and I kind of forgot that this approach does in fact work sometimes (okay, most times). If I can give myself a clearer path for both of these stories, then I’ll be much happier and I won’t be flailing nearly as much.

Will it work? Who knows. I hope it will. I have faith in it now.

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.

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…