On Revision: Paying Attention

erasing
Yeah, that’s gonna need to go.  [Source, Makoto Shinkai (of course), The Garden of Words.]
While on our little weekend trip up to Mendocino this weekend, I chose to bring my tablet along and read what I have so far of In My Blue World.  I haven’t done this since I started writing this version back in… *checks date* early April.  So far I’ve found a few things worth noting:

–The first entry needs work.  A LOT of work.  Interestingly the very next day’s work is just fine and pretty close to what I was aiming for.  So perhaps that means that I’m getting better at openings!  Heh.
–It remains in the eldest sister’s point of view for most of the first third until I suddenly go into multiple first-person POV.  [They have their own chapter or scene, so I can easily slap a chapter header on there to help the reader.] Which is fine, because I did that on purpose.  I’d written multiple partial scenes before starting this draft which are in other POVs.  I purposely left gaps in this section to insert them in.
–As expected, many characters aren’t quite nailed down until about a quarter of the way in.  [For instance, I had Zuze’s sister Trischa be younger and weaker in the opening, but later on she’s older and more of a badass.]  Thankfully this too is easy to fix, with a bit of revision and rewriting.  Nothing that will ultimately unravel the story for me.
–I need to nail down the rules of magic just a bit more, as they seem a bit too bendy for my tastes at the moment.  They make sense for the most part, though there are a few moments where they kind of drift into MacGuffin territory.  Again, easily fixed.
–I have exactly two characters that started out with promising fates, and I kind of forgot about following through.  That tends to happen a lot when I have far too much fun writing the other characters!  Again, easily fixed.
–The Antagonist/Evil Overlord/Bad Guy needs to be reined in just a tad bit.  This one might be tricky, as his character is very much a reactive, calm-but-insane sort of dude.  The balance here is to show him acting in what he fully believes is logical and right, but others seeing him as completely batshit dangerous.  The good thing is that I have him nailed down already, so I just need to work backwards to fix his earlier scenes.
–Secondary Antagonist needs to have her backstory straightened out.  She too is nailed down at this point, so it’s just her earlier scenes I need to revise.

Thankfully, that’s all I found (so far) that needs work.  I don’t plan on doing any of this revision just yet, as I’d like take the next few weeks to finish the novel.  All the revision, cleanup and post-production will take place in July, and maybe into August if it’s needed.  I’m thinking the drop date at this point will be mid-September.

The tricky part here is paying attention.

I call it such, because whenever I do a ‘read what I have so far’ session, I try to remember all the fiddly bits that might need work.  It’s a mix of self-critique and a line edit.  I pay attention to my reaction to certain passages.  I see a scene and remember how it’ll tie in with another scene further on.  I’ll also think about the story as a whole.  It’s kind of a giant jigsaw puzzle where I keep tabs on the image shown on every single piece.  What seems weak or out of place will get the revision.

I should probably add that I do the copy-edit and the proofread during the e-book formatting sessions.  That’s where I’ll distance myself from the story a bit more and look at it as a reader than a writer.  That’s usually when the formatting and editing errors pop up, and those are the easiest to fix.  And once I’m happy all around, that’s when I’ll upload it to the publishing site and set a drop date.

So yeah… being a self-published author who wishes to do everything himself, there’s a lot of hats to wear.  I have to be vigilant and professional while working on a hell of a lot of different moving parts.  It’s definitely not for everyone, and I would not blame you for not wanting to take the insane route I chose.  But it can be done.

A lot of it really is about paying attention.

Planning Ahead

tenor
I’m usually not this bad, folks.

I know it’s only mid-June, but I’m already thinking two months ahead to August, specifically Worldcon weekend.  [Okay, I’m also thinking about our week-and-a-half vacation to London just before it, and about how I’ll be a walking zombie by the time the con is over, but that’s another blog entry altogether.]

At present, I can safely say that I’m nearing the climax to In My Blue World.  If I time this right, I should have this draft done by the end of June, leaving me the entirety of July to revise it and ready it for self-publication.  I may or may not have it ready in time for the con, but I’m not too worried about it.  If I’m successful, I may be able to snag a reading panel then to read from it.

I’ve done this for pretty much all my books so far…once I know I’m nearing the end of the first draft, that’s time for me to start working on the post-production things.  I’ll start playing around with book cover images.  I’ll start thinking about promotion items and platforms.  Working out the final release schedule.  Those sorts of fiddly things.

I work on those things very early on and in a piecemeal fashion so I’m not crushed under the weight of doing it all at once at the end.  It’s also so I can give myself time to make final decisions or if I should go in a different direction.  And also, these fiddly things are often quite enjoyable to me when they’re not breathing down my neck!

As a self-published writer, I find that I often have to plan out my post-production work in very much the same way I plan out my novels.  I need to think about the overall plot and how each scene and sequence fits together to form the whole.  Or in this case, plan out where I’m going to be when, and what needs to be done to make it all happen.  There’s a lot of multitasking going on, but if I spread it out a bit, I can handle it.

My plan is to do a reading at the con, and if I don’t have the book available, I’ll at least have postcards to give away with the book cover image.  I’d like to have the book out into the wild by September, at least in e-book form.  [I’m also thinking of other platforms for physical copies, but that’s another long term project and another post entirely.]

So yes…even though I’m wrapping up another novel, I’m just getting started on the post-production, which should keep me busy for a few months longer.

*

And for those curious, here’s a very rough draft outtake for the cover of In My Blue World.  This is by no means the final cover, of course, but it’s along the lines of what I’m aiming for.

050418 shutterstock outtake 1

Keeping Busy

makoto shinkai tgow2
Source: Makoto Shinkai, The Garden of Words

Despite possibly overburdening myself a bit lately and falling prey to exhaustion and sore throat for a day or so, my latest writing regimen seems to be paying off.  I’ve been consistently been hitting an average of 900 words per project Monday through Friday, with the occasional run on the weekend as well if time and inclination lets it happen.  Add the four blog entries and other small things to the mix, and I’m probably averaging around 11k words a week.

That’s a LOT of words.

Mind you, it’s not all at once, and I’ve got it down to a strict schedule.  The Monday-Tuesday blog entries are written on Sunday afternoon, and the Thursday-Friday entries on Wednesday.  In My Blue World is written during my Day Job afternoon break, and the Apartment Complex story during the evening sessions.  I keep the creative writing separate from the clinical writing Day Job.  And I let myself have a breather every couple of hours a day so I don’t run myself ragged.

So yeah, I’ve been keeping busy.  Writing two novels at the same time is definitely a trip, and not for the faint-hearted.  More than once I’ve opened up one of the project pages and sat there for a minute, trying to remember if this was the magical girl story page or the boy and his alien friend story page.

How do I keep two completely different and unrelated projects straight in my head?  Good question.  I’m not sure myself.  I just manage to keep them separate because I work on them at different times of the day.  Since both sessions are in the latter half of the day, this gives me most of the day to come up with a general idea of what I want to write.  I also try to write complete scenes, or scenes that will be completed in the next session.  Again, this is almost exactly like my process when I wrote the trilogy; I would prep myself during the day so no evening session time would be wasted.

Will I keep this going on the next projects?  Who knows.  I’d like to, but if I have to adjust it along the way, so be it.  As long as I’m going in the right direction.

Clarity and Action

edward-elric-gif-13
Source: Fullmetal Alchemist.  Edward Elric provides me with a Damn, wish I’d written that! moment.

I try thinking about new ways I can play around with storytelling.  I’ve often said that the stories that inspire me the most are the ones that have moments of brilliance.  I’m not talking award-winning prose here… I’m talking about moments of damn, I wish I’d written that!

Like the above gif, from Fullmetal Alchemist, where Edward Elric uses his alchemical powers (major character trait) to not just pull the atoms of metal from the nearby pipes (major ability) but to reshape it (another major ability) into a rod that he can use for fighting.  Moments where three or four separate character traits come together in creative and sometimes unexpected ways, and propel both character and story forward. It’s both a moment of clarity for the viewer (‘aha, that’s right, he can do that!’) and a moment of action for the story (‘oh man, he’s about to beat someone’s ass, isn’t he?’) and it’s all threaded together beautifully in one five-second moment.

I try to work those kinds of moments into my stories when I can.  I try to put a spin on them as well, by not always relying on expectations.  That way when these seemingly different points come together, it’s often unexpected.  Those are my favorite moments to read and watch, and they’re definitely my favorite to write.

Mind you, the story doesn’t have to have wall-to-wall moments like that.  But they’re certainly one of my favorite weapons in my writing arsenal.

When Distraction Is a GOOD Thing…?

anime-pull-yourself-together

The downside to having a full schedule, especially when multiple social events are added to it, is that physical and mental exhaustion (and maybe illness) can sometimes kick in, screwing things up even worse.  Right now I’m trying to fight off a sore throat and exhaustion from too many things going on over the last few week.

That’s probably the best time for me to remind myself: It’s okay to take a day or two off from writing, you know.   Or even more importantly:  It’s also okay to call in sick to the Day Job now and again…that’s what your sick days are for.  Between my stubborn will to keep to my writing schedule and my Catholic guilt for not letting my coworkers down, I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

Sometimes all I want to do is play an entire afternoon of PC card games, watch silly cat videos, and noodle around with my mp3 collection.  Is that too much to ask?

Well, no, not really.  I’m not on a strict writing deadline.  I can afford a day off from the Day Job now and again.  As long as I don’t make it a habit.  I can — and should — take a day or two off from reality now and again.  I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m jealous of those people who spend the entire afternoon binge-watching TV series or playing video games.  Why shouldn’t I be able to take a day off as well?

As long as I get back on track once I’m recharged, right?

anime sleeping
COME ON LAZYBUTT, WAKE UP YOU’VE GOT WRITING TO DO

Carving Out Time

girl who leapt through time
Source: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

I’ve been thinking about time lately.  Well — part of it is due to my work on In My Blue World, but also because I’ve been running all over the place lately, trying to squeeze in as much as I can into a short amount of time during the day.  If I look at my social calendar it starts looking far too busy, but if I take it day by day, it’s a little easier to work with.

I’m also doing my best to ensure that I carve out enough time to work on my writing projects at some point during the day.  As long as I get a little bit done, then I can rest easy.  Right now I’m working with two mini-sessions a day:  one during the afternoon break of the Day Job, and the other in the evening.  I write my blog entries a few days ahead of time and schedule them.  I’m also prepping ahead of time by at least having a general idea of what I’m going to write before those writing sessions start.

Carving out time to write is one of the most important things I must do as a writer, and I do whatever I can to make it happen.  Even if it’s a half hour where I’m working out story issues.  [I call these ‘blathering’ sessions, but what I’m really doing is voicing what might be bothering me, working out the kinks and rethinking my approach.  These too are essential, because I’ll have a much clearer head for the next prose writing session.]  As long as I’m going in the right direction, that’s all that matters.

Carving out time to write when the days are busy can be hard to do, but it can be done if you dedicate yourself to it.  It might be getting up a half hour earlier, it might be closing down those social media browsers for a while, or it might even be longhand during your commute.  Whatever works, go for it.  Find an hour, write those five hundred words, and try to do it as many times a week as you can.

Because all that short work adds up to a larger finished project.

It’s just fine if your book has a message.

dr who books

Lately there’s been a bit of a dust-up on Twitter (no big surprise) about whether or not books should have an ulterior motive.  More to the point, there are a few complaints out there stating that there’s been an uptick of them, and they bemoan that they’d rather have stories that aren’t all messagey or ‘political’.

Well, recent politics (and politicians) aside, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that kind of thing actually happens with alarming regularity.   During wartime, during peacetime, during revolution and during calm, these sorts of stories pop up all the time.  Either these people are oversensitive to this kind of story, or the supposed ‘agenda’ is right out front and impossible to ignore or pass over.  Sometimes these agendas are there to make you feel uncomfortable.

If anything, I’m sure I have agendas in my novels.  The trick to writing them is not to make them overtly obvious or overbearing.  Novels with Very Obvious Metaphors or Thinly Veiled Critiques are hard to accept for some readers; it’s better to work with nuance instead.  The trilogy’s agenda was all about Doing the Right Thing for Everyone, Not Just Yourself.  I even came out and said that numerous times.  Meet the Lidwells‘ agenda (if there was one) could be Don’t Be an Asshole to Everyone.

I’m well aware of those who see any kind of inclusion as political.  So what if it is, though?  The agenda there is simple, then: I’m Here, So Deal With It.  I’m talking about novels that contain a minority main character or someone with some kind of disability; I’m talking about stories featuring these characters, doing what characters are supposed to do in the context of the story, nothing more.

Agendas are part and parcel of who people are.  They make for good characters, and they make for good stories.  And sometimes they’re fun to write, especially when you need to use it for story conflict.  In the trilogy, the conflicts between Denni and Saisshalé were always a blast to write, because they pushed the limits.  I kept pushing their agendas until it finally got to the point where they both had to stop and say ‘okay, this is getting seriously fucked up, we need to stop this.’  That’s when they both realized that their universe was bigger than just the two of them.

So yes!  Don’t be worried that your novel might have a political underpinning to it.  Chances are good it’s supposed to be there, and that’s a good thing.

 

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!

Creating Rules of Magic

madoka magica homura
Source: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

One of my favorite things so far in writing In My Blue World has been creating the rules of magic in this universe.  It’s very similar to the process I used when I wrote the trilogy, and it asked the following questions:

  1. What kind of magic do I want my characters to use?
  2. Why would they use it?
  3. What are the limits of its use?

Sounds simple, yes?  But the trick here was to remember: every use of magic must have its reason, and it must have its balance.  In the trilogy, every time Denni used some kind of psychic force, she had to do it for a reason (usually to protect others), and it had its balancing effect (Saisshalé would respond in kind).  This was to show that there was always a price to pay for their actions.

For In My Blue World, I essentially follow the same rules: Zuzannah (aka Zuze) comes from a universe where magic is a natural occurrence and is used in everyday life.  What kind of magic do I want her to use?  She uses this magic energy equally as a creative and destructive force; one of her abilities is to make ‘a tear in the weave’ of the multiple universes so she can jump between them, but for every tear, she must also ‘reweave’ it.  Why would she use it?  She uses it to temporarily escape from a stronger foe.  She also uses it to return and face him once more, when she is more prepared.  What are the limits of its use for her?  Weave-tearing is an extremely rare ability and uses up a hell of a lot of power in the process.  She only uses it when absolutely necessary.  The level and process of magic she’d used in her initial escape was so high and unfocused that it rendered her unconscious for two days.

Using these rules helps me focus on how the plot should unfold.  When she’s in the reality of our other characters, her magic is still there but it works differently.  When she returns to her own universe, her original powers return.  The other characters are also given the same rules: they are introduced to this magic as well, but with their own costs specific to them.

This is why I say that this kind of worldbuilding is often my favorite part of writing a novel.  It’s not just about coming up with neat ideas that I can play around with throughout the novel — though that is a major plus and a hell of a lot of fun — it’s about laying the groundwork for how everything works.  It’s a balance in and of itself, and quite often it suggests more of the plot than you initially expect.

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.