That Time Again: Reading What I Have So Far

Yup, it’s time once again for me to read what I have so far of my projects. The other night I finished reading Project A, and I’m now on the second chapter of Project B. So what do I have to say for myself?

Well, Project A has a lot of…gaps. It’s not horrible work, but I think I can add a few more scenes in between what I do have to make the story that much richer. These will essentially do two things: one, it’ll show the two main characters interacting with the different worlds they find themselves in, and two, it will expand on a few of the secondary characters that will become important later on. This one has been coming along really well and I’m quite proud of what I have so far — it’s sort of a distant cousin of In My Blue World in that it’s a Parallel World fantasy, and I find that I’m really enjoying writing that kind of thing. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with more of them soon enough!

As for Project B? Well…you can definitely tell I had a bad case of the First Chapter Flails here. Or first chapters, really. By the time I got to maybe Chapter Four I had a better idea of where it’s all going. I can salvage a lot of it by way of snipping out some of the extraneous dead ends and insert a few things that I came up with much later in the story as a mirror plot point. The other day I was in bed reading this one and made myself get up to add four words — just a half-sentence that now makes a vague hint at an extremely important plot point much later in the book. That’s mainly what I need to do with this one: go back and realign the beginning stuff so it works with the ending stuff. I think I might be done with this one by sometime mid-November if I keep up, so I’m already looking forward to working on this one!

As for Project C…? Well, I’ve been bad with that one the last week or so, but that’s because I’ve been working on the outline instead. I should probably be back on that one by next week. I haven’t reread that one in a while, but I think I’ll do that after I finish reading Project B. We shall see…

In the meantime, I’ve also been sneaking in quick doodles for Inktober all this month and I’m proud to say that this is probably the first year I’ve been able to do it this consistently all the way to the end. (You can see my drawings on my Twitter and my Instagram.) I guess this experiment of mine of being super-involved with daily scheduling is working out better than I thought! Woo!

Distraction

The (in)famous Distraction Dance from Fleeing the Complex

Okay, I’ll admit it. I still get distracted, even when I’m on a roll with my writing. Some days it’s not bad…I’ll hear a song on the radio and temporarily stop what I’m doing to look it up and add to my shopping list, or I’ll take a quick peek on social media when I happen to slowly sludging my way through a scene. And yeah, I’ll also have those worse days when I Just Don’t Wanna and I’ll slide into a Twitter thread for a half hour.

I still get through them, though. I’ve gotten a lot better at saying No, you REALLY need to hit your daily goal, preferably before lunch/before you go to bed. I have my workarounds. Part of is that I’ve made sure I’m always conscious of the fact that I really do enjoy these current projects I’m working on, even if it’s taking me forever to get through them. I’ve also made sure I don’t overthink any problems I might encounter. Hell, one of the projects has multiple [FIX THIS LATER] notes all over the place. And that is something I’ve never done in the past, at least not before writing Diwa & Kaffi, and that one was added during revision when I realized I’d left out a major scene that tripped up the flow.

Still, today’s Friday and of course I’ll be heavily distracted because it’s New Music Release day. But I’ve gotten better at that as well. I’m no longer completely focused on the music; I’ll give it all a listen while I work, because I’ve prioritized work first. It works most of the time.

Distraction is no longer my enemy, I suppose. It’s just another sensory input that I’ve finally figured out how to manage.

Back to work

Monday morning is here and it’s time for me to get back to writing. So what is it that I do on the weekends, anyway? That is, when we’re not out and about in the neighborhood or going on an afternoon roadtrip?

Well, for the most part I keep it as my catch-up-with-cleaning days, mostly house errands. Sometimes I’ll drive up the street to shop or get our car washed, but for the most part it’s the Sunday laundry and the Saturday walk around the neighborhood.

Then I attempt to catch up with my email inboxes. I have a terrible habit of sliding a lot of them in one of many TBR subfolders — I’m organized enough that I’ll have a general TBR for store ads and whatnot, a music-related one (no big surprise there), a creativity-related one (writing, art, and so on), a local one (opera, symphony, museum, etc) and a mailing-list one for the Patreons, Substacks and Kickstarters I follow. For the most part I’m good at keeping on top of them, but every now and again I’ll fall behind and next thing I know I have like thirty or forty piled up and a month old. Most of them I’ll delete as they’re mostly shopping mailing lists and news updates I already know about, but eventually I’ll get around to answering some of them. [So yeah, if I don’t get back to you for a bit, I’m not ignoring or avoiding you. I’m just behind.]

But anyway! Monday morning starts the whole daily schedule off again. I do All The Writing while listening to tunage with the occasional mental break to keep myself from overdoing it (and to shift out of that terrible slouch AGAIN), and by afternoon we’re doing our sort-of-daily walk around the block once we both clock out.

Yeah, I know, this is sort of a boring mundane post, but that’s the life of a writer when we’re not in our heads coming up with all sorts of wild and entertaining things for you to read!

Juggling different stories

GIF source unknown, but it’s amazing animation, isn’t it?

So, what’s it like writing three novels at the same time?

Good question. To borrow my ‘homework’ description from the previous post, it’s a lot like that. Each project gets a certain amount of focus time during the day. Just like doing math homework, then doing some foreign language exercises, then reading a chapter for English class, and so on.

And yes, just like my school days, there are times when I Just Don’t Wanna, but I need to do it anyway or else I’m going to get a terrible grade. Or in this case, I’ll just be one day behind and be angry with myself for being a lazy whiny brat. Thankfully those days are few and far between, and I do allow myself a day off now and again.

Is it hard to do? It can be if you’re not used to it. These are three different stories in different created universes, so often times I need to prepare myself a little bit before I even write a word. Project A is written in a fairy tale sort of way and has a full outline, so for that one it’s a matter of knowing what scene I’m at and what style I need to use. Project B also has a full outline but the style is much looser on purpose, so I let myself be more playful and irreverent here. Project C doesn’t have a full outline (which needs to be rectified very soon) but is set in a previously written universe so I can slide into it quite easily.

Like I said previously, the trick is to always view them as separate things with a reasonable and finite goal. Instead of thinking of it as three thousand words per day, I think of it as three one-thousand-word exercises spread throughout the day. Most times I’ll hit it, but some day’s I won’t. And that’s fine too! I missed getting any words for Project C on Wednesday because I had some non-writing things I had to tend to.

Is this going to be the norm for me? I doubt it. I’m doing it now because I still have the time and the inclination. Eventually I’ll have something else come up and I’ll probably go back to one or two projects. I’m simply doing it because I know I can and because I want to. Doing this now, by the way, gives me some extra works to reserve for submission. If one doesn’t work, I can send another. (And alternately, I’ll have enough backlog to upload to Smashwords if I decide to continue down that road.)

Either way, I’m doing what I love and doing my best to make it work.

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.

Against Perfection

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last couple of months with my writing, my photography and pretty much every other creative outlet I’ve been focusing on lately, is that my worst habit is trying to be perfect from the beginning. There’s no such thing, and I really should f***ing stop trying before I drive myself crazy once again trying to achieve it.

When I was first starting out, it took me a while to realize there’s a difference between professionalism and perfection. Professionalism means many things to me: it can take the social meaning, such as having the patience and the ability to listen to others of different levels and work well with them. Maybe not in sync, but at least understand their levels as much as they (hopefully) understand yours. It can also mean physical (so to speak), such as submitting a clean manuscript and prose that sounds like I devoted a considerable amount of time working on it.

The problem is that when I’m not paying attention, my brain starts thinking that such a clean manuscript and tidied-up prose means it’s perfect prose and product. Which is why we writers cringe when we see our completed and published books out in the wild and suddenly that absolutely terrible typo or horrible use of grammar shows up that absolutely no one, not even the editor, caught. We see an imperfection and Everything Is Ruined Forever.

Lately I’ve been thinking of the title of Adorable’s classic shoegaze record, Against Perfection, and I think it fits perfectly with my recent mindset regarding all this. I’m finding that the only way I can combat this urge to make every single creation of mine an absolutely flawless masterpiece is to actively remind myself: go against perfection. Sure, be as professional as you possibly can, but stop it with the f***ing perfectionism already! Life is messy. Life isn’t precise. It’s full of paradoxes, full of mistakes and misdirections. I’m not saying to submit a terrible manuscript: just stop trying to make every single moment in the story perfect.

I can think of dozens of songs by The Beatles that contain all kinds of mistakes, egregious or otherwise (my favorite being in “Hey Jude”, when Paul swears just before the ‘na-na-na’ coda) and people still think they’re one of the most important rock bands in history. They made their songs as professional-sounding as possible, but the imperfections became part of their charm.

So I need to remember every now and again: it’s okay to have a bit of sloppiness, especially during the rough drafts. Tidy them up in revision. Make it sound great! But there’s no reason for me to make every single sentence spotless and clean. [Hell — this blog post isn’t exactly how I wanted it to sound, but I’m not going to delete it. It gets my point across regardless.]

It’s okay to go against perfection.

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.

Keeping It Up

So how am I doing a week after stating that I’m ramping up my writing schedule? Not bad at all, actually! I’m averaging around 1000 words each on all three projects, and staying on top of the other things such as daily drawings, personal journal entries, and these here blogs. It keeps me reasonably busy for most of the day with some extra time to catch up on non-writing writing biz things when need be. Quite happy about that.

So how am I pulling this off? By sticking to my daily schedule, closing browsers, and having a bit of a rough outline of the current scene(s) I’m working on. I’m writing Project 1 by 9am, starting work on Project 2 by 11, finishing that off after lunch and working on Project 3 by 2pm. I give myself about two solid mostly uninterrupted hours with minimal distraction other than perhaps acquiring more coffee.

I’m also making it into an immediate-errand-completion-success process in my head. That in itself is important, as that was now I managed to teach myself to get my schoolwork done on time back in the day. I’ll open up only the Word docs I need, and focus only on that until I feel I’ve done a decent amount of work on it for the day. Sometimes it’s around 700 words, other times it’s 1200, but as long as I’m happy with what I’ve completed and left off at, that’s what really matters.

And what about off days? Well, I took Tuesday off from everything for the sole purpose of celebrating A’s birthday and going out for a bit (we went to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was a super fun film!) and I ensured that I didn’t feel guilty or twitchy about not working. I didn’t even write a journal entry! That’s the other important thing: it’s totally fine for me to take a personal day off from the writing! Taking the day off isn’t the problem for me…it’s trying to shake the feeling that I’m procrastinating and feeling guilty about it. It never quite goes away, but I’ve learned to ignore it.

I have no idea how long this schedule will last, nor do I want to know, because the point is not to think about things like that. The point is also to keep doing it until further notice!

Ramping it up

Meryl and Milly from Trigun

A new month, a fresh start, a reworked white board calendar, multiple self-assigned work items, a third novel project, follow-up on recent submissions, research into and follow-up on temporary remote work…is all of this at the same time such a good idea? Will this all end in tears? Will I burn out and fade away?

Actually, for the time being, no. I need this. I need to ramp things up. It’s the level of busy I’m used to, and the level that makes me feel productive. It’s what inspires me to keep going. It’s my own version of crunch, I suppose, but I’m not doing it at the expense of my health and sanity. I love having a high level of creativity on any given day.

I might not be the best at immediate multitasking as I can get easily distracted that way (e.g., attempting to focus on an assignment while thinking about doing the dishes while we’re binge-watching a TV show), I am extremely good at compartmentalizing my daily schedule so that I hit all the beats I assign myself (e.g., the morning journal, then doing my morning stretches, then 1000 words on Project A, then having lunch, then 1000 words on Project B, and so on). This is why I can say with conviction that I can definitely plan for high productivity if I assign a specific time frame for it.

So my plan for September, as it stands, is to spend most of my time reaching a higher level of productivity that I’d still be comfortable with. I’ve already retrofitted any days off — weekend trips, the occasional unproductive day, health issues, whatever — so I’m not going into this demanding that I hit every single beat every single day going forward. I’m merely immersing myself a little deeper in my creative careers and taking further steps as necessary. And if it works out for the best, perhaps I’ll keep going!

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.