On Starting A New Project

I’m always worried wen I start a new writing project, especially during the initial world building sessions and the writing of the first couple of chapters. Is this going to keep going, or is it going to crash and burn? I’ve worked on enough of them to the point where I should be used to this, but it still happens. And I won’t know either way unless I get started on them.

Over the years I’ve found that the most important signal to watch for when starting a project is resonance. Do I resonate with the story? And I totally mean that in a KonMari way: does it spark joy? It’s been said so many times that if writing the story feels more like a chore and you no longer feel happy about writing it, it’s time to trunk it. [Yes, I know… I keep threatening to un-trunk a lot of those ideas when the mood strikes, but by the end of the day I’ll put them back when I remember why the previous attempts didn’t work. I should invest in a padlock, shouldn’t I?] I’ve started so many ideas that had good intentions that died on the vine for one reason or another.

But what if it keeps resonating? Well, by all means, go for it! Keep working and have fun with it! There’s really no reason to second-guess yourself, at least not at this early stage. Don’t put up obstacles you’ll only end up breaking down. Just keep going with it.*

[* – As a caveat, you should at least have some kind of conscious reminder at this point of how your readers will react to the story. It’s hard to explain this without resorting to tired phrases like ‘political correctness’ — which, by the way, was a lazy and ignorant conservative-minded complaint about getting called out back in the early 90s as it is today — but you should at least be aware that if you’re going to consciously write a subject matter or in a style that someone might find insulting to their culture or lifestyle, you’re going to receive some noise complaints.]

I’ve approached each new project in different ways as well. Sometimes they have a long gestation, a small germ of an idea that I put aside for a length of time before I decide to dedicate time to them. Sometimes they’re a riff on a dream or a thought that popped into my head. Or as with this current project of mine, sometimes it’s the product of desperation, a need to get something down on the page before I drive myself crazy, and the outcome being an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

Whatever works. And if it works, don’t question it. Just keep going!

Changing Things Up

As I’ve said before, having to go back into the office has definitely shaken things up for me. Sometimes for the worse: I’m doing a lot of shuffling of priorities within a very narrow window of time now. But sometimes for the better: it was far past time for me to get used to being part of a larger crowd again after years of hiding in Spare Oom.

But it’s not just about the Day Job, though… I’ve been trying to break out of a lot of old habits over the last few years, and while it’s been easy to let go of some things, it’s been like pulling teeth for other things. Some days I’ll revel in trying out new things and thinking about things in different ways, and some days I’ll slip back and get caught in those old feedback loops and forget I was trying to change myself.

Still — sometimes it’s the most mundane things that help in changing things up. Like changing the wallpaper of my PC (I just changed it from a pen-themed slide show provided by Microsoft to a Year of the Rat-themed picture from a webcomic I currently read. I’ve stopped wearing so many silly tee-shirts and changed to simple colored tees from Old Navy. Every now and again I’ll do a mass cleaning of Spare Oom and rearrange a few things here and there. Like I said…mundane, but it keeps things interesting.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I suppose it ties in with the current thing I’m working on with my daily words. After spending most of January flustered and flailing, I figured I may as well change things up by playing around with a new idea, just for the fun of it. No concrete ideas or plans, just something to work on. And I’ve done this with my music and writing as well: trying out a new playing or drawing style, listening to new bands that I wouldn’t have listened to in the past, reading new comics for inspiration. It clears the slate a bit, blowing away the dust of old ideas and giving me new things to focus on.

It’s hard work, and I’ll still slide back into old habits and forget the new ways I’ve been approaching things, but eventually I’ll catch myself and continue again.

On Using and Avoiding Tropes

Tropes can be your friend, especially if you’re trying to use them as a guideline for a project. Recently I’d been frustrated by my lack of fresh story ideas and decided the only way to break out of that block was to come up with a list of SF tropes that I’d enjoyed over the years and play around with them a bit. For example, I’d long had an idea about a group of young adults living on either a generation ship or a space waystation, and purposely created a list of plot tropes and characters with classic traits, just to see where it went. I let myself go much further than I usually would with the characters; rather than creating each one organically like I usually do, I came up with a list of five Classic Characters, each with the usual personalities one would expect from them. The Uplifter, The Popular One, The Misfit, and so on. I took a page from a lot of my favorite recent anime and manga series and created people I’d want to write about.

The trick here was to take those tropes and twist them a little to make them unique. For instance, the Overly Positive Character With a Dark Secret became an extrovert and the group’s ringleader not out of a need for attention, but because she’s terrified that when they do go their separate ways, there’s a good chance not all of them will ever come back; she’s desperate to keep them together for as long as she can. She’s genuinely worried about their futures.

On the other hand, tropes can also be a crutch that you might lean on far too much. I could have stayed with this Overly Positive Character and actually given her a Dark Secret, such as her having some kind of physical or mental handicap. Not that that’s inherently wrong in and of itself, of course*. What I’m saying here is that, at least for me, using that idea on a shallow surface level seems like Doing the Least Amount of Work. It would be like just labeling her as anorexic but not actually focusing on why she’s anorexic and how it would tie in with the story, if at all. Just giving her that quirk isn’t enough for me; I need it to be directly or indirectly connected to the story somehow.

[* – Speaking of handicaps, this was something I had to keep in mind when I wrote the character of Cole Caine for Diwa & Kaffi. He’s a humanoid psychic vampire with what I named Steiner-Hedraac Syndrome; essentially it’s a disorder unique to his kind where, when he’s passively feeding off the physical and psychic energies of those around him, there’s a chance it could escalate sort of like a feedback loop and he’d be unable to dislodge himself. I went through great lengths throughout the story to a) explain what the disorder is and how it affects him, b) show that he accepts that he has it and has to live with it, and that his friends are aware of it, c) show or at least mention moments where the syndrome kicks in to show how it can affect his life, and d) it is never used as a trope plot point, i.e. ‘he overcomes it and it never returns’ or ‘everyone is inspired by his strength which boosts their own success’. To me those two tropes feel like an easy out for my writing and not true to the character at all. I like my characters a lot more nuanced than that.]

Either way, I do what I can to avoid being overly dependable on tropes. They’re good as guidelines, but that’s really all they should be; what changes them to strong stories and characters is the added humanity and depth we as writers need to put into them.

Breaking Past the Barriers

Source: Hisone to Masotan (aka Dragon Pilot)

Oh hey! I’m back again. Sorry about the delay. So what’s been going on in the writing world for me lately, anyway?

Glad you asked! Because I’d been getting rather annoyed with myself because nothing was going on. I mean, I have been doing my daily words for the most part, but I really wasn’t getting anywhere with it. It’s all fine that I was using this time to write something just out of necessity — in this case, a few holiday-themed experiments in the Mendaihu Universe (which I may or may not expand on at some point) and quite a few outtakes for an as-yet-unnamed college campus story set in the Diwa & Kaffi universe. I even played around a bit with a few older ideas…but nothing seemed to be sticking. I was either getting bored with it, or there really was no story there to begin with.

To put it bluntly: I’m itching to start a new project. And none of these outtakes were calling out to me.

That is, until I decided to try a different approach: one day last week, I wrote out a few detailed paragraphs of various story tropes that I’ve positively gravitated towards, both past and present. Nothing specific, just working out what kind of stories resonate with me at this time. In the process, I let my imagination go wild: how would I go about writing these stories, anyway? Would I be able to expand on this, make it a novel or some other format? Not that I was about to write one then and there — this was just to expand my mind a bit. This is exactly how I’d approached my last three novels, and the process worked pretty damn well.

In all honesty, this was EXACTLY what I’d needed to do. Because now I have a few Possible New Projects worth looking into. Again, I’m not going to look at these as Big Epic Undertakings… I’m just going to let them evolve.

And hopefully something new and exciting will come out of it.

That one story that just won’t go away

I believe I came up with the story for Can’t Find My Way Home back in…2007 or so? I know it wasn’t that long after we moved out to San Francisco, and it was right about when I’d finished writing that vampire novel I’d soon trunk. I’ve done some work on it here and there, even trunked it multiple times, but every now and again I have this urge to revive it and try again.

It’s not as if I don’t have it planned out…I actually have a full outline for it, and I have a number of outtakes started, both typed and longhand. I even made a mixtape for it back in 2018. [The version of the title song by Electronic is the one I have in mind as the opening credits for the tv show.] But each time I attempted to revive it, I never got any further than maybe a chapter or two; I was either working on the Bridgetown trilogy or something more exciting came up that I wanted to focus on. In the end, I felt I wasn’t yet prepared to write this kind of story. It was forever put on the back burner until it was trunked once more.

Every now and again, however, I’m tempted to revive it again. It would need a hell of a lot of work and some serious refocusing, that I’m sure of. I recently reread the outline and while there are some really great ideas, there are also some incredibly weak points that would need to go. [Having already written a sort-of-time-travel novel with In My Blue World, I think I can pull off the genre so that’s not too high on my list of concerns.] I know one of the things that keeps bringing me back is that I’m fascinated by its format, inspired by anime shows: twenty-four episodes, many of them standalone at first, but with a long-game story arc pulling it all together.

Will I pick this up once more? Who knows. I’m still dithering on what project to start next, as none of them feel like they’re ready to be written just yet. Maybe I’ll try it out on my Daily Words for a bit and see where it goes.

And then maybe this story idea will stop haunting me!

On Getting Back in Gear

After I finish a major project, I almost always suffer from a severe case of the Don’t Wannas.

It’s different from simple exhaustion and wanting to take a break. I always let myself have those, guilt-free, because I’ve earned them. This is after all that, when I really should be writing again. I have the Daily Words platform up but all I end up doing is rambling about personal stuff. It frustrates me because I’ve already decided that’s what my longhand journal is for; these Daily Words should be part of a creative process. It doesn’t matter if it’s outlining or just riffing on an idea or an actual chapter for a book.

I just…Don’t Wanna. And I know for a fact that I’m just dithering. Putting it off. Like my homework back in my school days, I just don’t want to do it until I have to do it. I let myself believe that I can’t come up with anything worth writing about. And like then, when I do return to it, it feels rushed and half-assed and I get mad at myself.

So how do I combat that? How do I get myself back on the creative track? Good question. I can remind myself to just shut the f*** up and DO IT already; I can assign myself specific things to write on certain days (such as these here blogs); I can just ignore the Don’t Wannas; I can stop making excuses and jump into the deep end with a completely random idea and see where it takes me. Whatever works. Hell, I started three novels on the barest threads of an idea and just…went for it.

Some days I work past it, other days I need that swift kick in the butt. Eventually I get there.

Looking for fresh inspiration

Source: Read Or Die

I’ve been having this itch to do a major book purge. I mean, I’ve done quite a few of these over the years, so this is nothing new. I’ll get rid of books I haven’t read in ages, ones I’m no longer interested in, ones I’ve had for years but never cracked open. Do I need to have these in my life? As I’ve said before, the books are donated to the library and it opens up spaces for new books. Win-win!

I’ve also been having this itch to find new inspiration for my writing. This happens now and again, especially if I spend far too long reading my own stuff for revision purposes — which I’ve been doing the last few months with Diwa & Kaffi. I’ve finished that part of the project, however, so now it’s time for me to read new things again.

But what? My tastes have definitely changed over the years, to the point where I’m not entirely sure what I’m interested in reading at the moment. There’s the manga: the intriguing and unique storytelling such as Nagabe’s Siúil, a Rún: The Girl from the Other Side or Paru Itagaki’s Beastars. There’s the countless music biographies and histories I can catch up on, such as Ed Ward’s The History of Rock and Roll Vol II (the first volume was much more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be), or Prince’s The Beautiful Ones.

But I’m also at a loss when it comes to new titles. I used to find them via Publisher’s Weekly, but I let that subscription lapse some time ago. Sometimes it’s word of mouth, sometimes it’s just a book store browse. But I haven’t really looked for anything completely new in a while now. I’m not sure if I’m just dithering or if I’m just lacking inspiration. Not much is really jumping out at me lately.

I know it’s not the titles themselves or the current trends. I’m just out of the loop and not being very active about my search. I’ve been busy with a lot of things. But now I’m not as busy, and I’m looking for something new.

And I feel like I’m no longer resonating with a lot of my old collection, either. I gave up a lot of titles some time ago, but I think it’s time for another go-round. A KonMari level purging this time: if I’m not going to read it within the next six months, chances are good I won’t be reading it at all. Time for it to go.

It’s time to open up more space on these shelves again. Time to find new inspiration. Time to find new books that will refresh and reinvigorate my creativity.

Time for something new.

I haven’t been writing and I’m okay with that

Courtesy of ‘The Garden of Words’ by Makoto Shinkai

Still here, still plugging away at the final revision pass-through for Diwa & Kaffi, so there’s not too much to report at the moment. However, I think I can safely say that I really haven’t written anything new for quite some time.

And I’m actually okay with that.

It’s not a dry spell, because I have a few projects that I can easily work on. I’ve been continuing to write in my journal and do a bit of small creative things here and there. This is different; this is a moment in my writing career where I can take a break from it and not worry that I’m losing my craft. I’ve proven to myself that I can get it back given time and inclination, I just chose to focus on personal things for a little while.

In retrospect, I think this is actually a good thing, because I haven’t given myself a real break since I started the Great Trilogy Revision back in…2011 or so? That’s a long time. Three years of revising those books, three more years of revising them again to prep them for self-publication, and a few more years of writing three more novels. It’s been an extremely creative and productive decade, that’s for sure.

I think can give myself a bit of a mental break.

What will I focus on? Oh, I have all sorts of things. Finally work on my music and my artwork a little more seriously, for starters. It feels good not to be at full acceleration mode on a daily basis. Get outside more. Get to know more people. See and explore new and different things. Focus a little more on life things instead of creative things.

I have no idea when this hiatus will end, but it sure feels good not to give myself a deadline for the first time in years!

Magazines

Time was when I used to subscribe to a number of writing and genre magazines. I didn’t always get around to reading them in a timely manner, and I quite often had a large collection of them that collected dust somewhere for a few years, but I did my best. They kept me busy, informed and entertained.

I subscribed to all the ones you’d expect: The Writer, Poet & Writer, Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, Locus, Asimov’s, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and so on. WD is probably the longest one I’ve stuck with, going back to high school.

Nowadays, however, I find myself never quite getting around to reading any of them, so I’ve let them all lapse. It’s not that I’ve gotten sick of reading them, or felt I’m no longer in need of them…just that I don’t have the time for them. I’ll end up with four or five issues piled up on my printer waiting to be read, and then I’ll spend a Sunday afternoon flying through them all at once. If I feel like resubscribing, I can certainly do so.

I will say that most of those writing magazines did help me tremendously over the years, especially in the 90s when I was learning the craft. I knew it wouldn’t teach me everything — a lot of this craft is about learning by experience and especially by finding what works for me in particular — but they always steered me in the right direction. And I still have a lot to learn, now that I’m making a concerted effort to return to the professional submission process rather than self-publishing. A lot of that is going to be learned via doing it rather than prepping for it with help from magazines.

I definitely suggest reading as many of these as you can, especially if you’re first starting out; they’ll become a stable anchor point for you while you figure out your style, your process, and your dedication level. And they’re also a great way to connect with other writers and readers too!

Forgotten outtakes

The downside to using 750Words for my daily* writing exercise platform is that I don’t always get around to making offline copies of them. And I’ve been using the site for quite a few years, so I’m not entirely sure what I have out there right now.

[* It hasn’t actually been daily for a while now due to other projects and responsibilities that I’ve been working on. But hopefully I can get back into the habit soon enough.]

Last night I read a temporary project I did save was something I’d called The Hurleys. It was an idea in the Mendaihu Universe that took place in the current day instead of far into the future; its central characters were three adult siblings living in midwestern Massachusetts (go with what you know) who are some of the very few who are awakened to the fact that they’re connected to the Mendaihu. I didn’t get too far with it other than maybe five or six entries, but I gave it enough life and detail that it’s something I could possibly expand on.

I know I’ve written quite a few of these over the years I’ve used 750Words. My last three novels all grew out of these. And now I’m curious as to how many others are out there on my account, just waiting to be picked up and expanded upon. Thankfully it’s an easy enough thing to do, as the site keeps everything no matter how old, and I’m the only one who can access it.

Perhaps within the next month or so I’ll take a bit of time and do a deep dive. Maybe I’ll find my next novel idea!