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.

Decisions

Luffy from One Piece

Sometimes the problem isn’t hiding somewhere deep in the background and avoiding detection, leaving you spending far too much time focusing on where you think it might be rather than where it lies. Why are my characters not doing anything? Is it because they’re boring? Or that I don’t know what I want them to do? Or that I’ve just jumped into this project with a hell of a lot less preparation than I thought?

No, the issue, I find as of late, is my own damn problem. Being afraid to let those characters do what they need to do. I need them to get into trouble. I need them to cause trouble. I need to strip away more of their worries and fears and make them face them all, whether they’re ready for it or not. It’s an issue I’ve had before, really, and it’s usually caused by going from one extreme to another. I’ve reread some of my older work (trunked, private and otherwise) and noticed I go in waves. At some point I’ll have decided my creative outlets will feature as few filters or barriers as possible and those works will have a bit of wildness to them. Then I’ll go the other way, and write characters that work from an area of personal and/or emotional safety.

Now that I think about it, having written Diwa & Kaffi, which is very much the latter, it’s taken me some time to readjust. [Certainly there are a few personal issues at stake too; I wrote that not long before those final extremely stressful months at the Former Day Job. It took me a lot longer than I thought to work my way out of that mental/emotional situation.]

Which I think is why I feel that both Current Projects have finally broken through those barriers. The only way I could do it is to make the decision for both: I shouldn’t give these characters nearly as much protection as I’d been giving them. They need to face more dangers, more uncertainty. Weird things, bad things will happen to them, or to those around them, and they’ll need to process them. It’s what these projects deserve.

That doesn’t mean I won’t write in the ‘safe’ style of Diwa & Kaffi, of course. I just need to remember that each story I write has a different style that needs specific levels of conflict to make them work.

“Welcome to Bridgetown…”

Surprisingly enough, I never actually used that phrase anywhere in the Mendaihu Universe books until just the other day when I had to have one character welcome another as they landed at the B-Town Nullport. It didn’t even occur to me until just then that I never used it previously! [For those playing along, it comes from a very early version of an MU-themed website back before I knew to how to actually create one…that was to be the first thing you see on the landing page.]

So what’s going on in the Mendaihu Universe, anyway? Yes, I am still working on the fourth book. After numerous false starts, trunked outtakes and varying versions, I think I’ve finally managed to get it under control. There are a few reasons for this: one, my recent visits to the 750Words.com archives are paying off in that I’ve found a few outtakes that work perfectly in this iteration. Another being that my ‘repeated reread’ process of revision/reconnection helped me further nail down the main plot as well as what drives each of the main characters. I’m not getting nearly as much word count on it all — yet — but I’m getting there, because I’ve become a lot more comfortable working on the project.

The trick this time out is that I’m not rewriting the original trilogy story but I am writing about events that are influenced or caused by it. Sure, I have a few literary parallels going on, but it’s not about spiritual evolution…at least not in the awakening sense. This one’s inspired by what happens after those defining events. How believers of a Chosen One choose to interpret their words and deeds, years on from the original defining events. Different interpretations will evolve, different levels of belief. Who’s doing it right? Who’s just borrowing all the best parts for their own version? Does it matter?

It’s taking a lot longer for me to process all of this, I admit. I had over a decade to process the original trilogy before I released the final version. Now, it’s only been six years since I dropped A Division of Souls and half-heartedly played with some longhand outtakes. Right now I’m at the same level as the 2001 iteration of ADoS: a lot of planning, a lot of borrowing from old versions, and doing my best to make it all work. Will I have it ready to go by next year? No idea. Chances are better that I’ll have Project A released (and/or Diwa & Kaffi, depending on how that pans out) by next year first.

Still, I’m having a lot of fun writing in this universe again, and that’s always a good thing.

On the verge of…something

Yeah, okay, still the Grumpypants here. Doing better than a few weeks ago, but still feeling frustrated as hell. I suppose all us writers go through this every now and again, but sometimes it feels like I’ve been going through it for…a year? Maybe more? What’s going on, anyway?

I feel like I’m purposely avoiding writing conflict. I want to write it, I need to write it, but something’s keeping me from actually doing it. [I would not be the least bit surprised if this had something to do with my personal life.] It could also be that my creative brain is still stuck in the Diwa & Kaffi universe, where conflict was less high-stakes; I stayed there for quite a bit after I finished the story when things at the Former Day Job were getting stressful, as it was comforting to write in that universe at the time. Thing is, I’d like to get out of that mindset and get back to writing conflict again. I’m practically twitching to get back into it.

I don’t blame the D&K project (and its related other project that’s currently on a backburner). In fact, I’m still extremely proud of that particular book; I consider it my best one yet. BUT. Right now I feel like I’m waiting…for something. What, I’m not sure. It could be that my unemployed pandemic time gave me a long-needed mental and emotional respite and my subconscious is loath to let go of it just yet. It could be that I’ve spent so much of my life having to wait to do the things I’ve wanted and needed to do for various reasons, many of them out of my control at the time, and I’m not used to not having that barrier anymore. It could be that I’m just afraid to take that first step into the unknown.

Which, of course, is why I have to remind myself occasionally: just shut the f*** up and DO it already.

Anyway. New month, new outlook. Let’s see where this goes.