I’m committed to getting this novel down correctly before I venture too far and end up frustrated again. I know exactly what’s been wrong with the Apartment Complex story: not enough action. I do have future scenes with action in them, sure, but I’m just not nailing the landing at all yet. I’m screwing up on the pacing; it’s far too slow. I’m focusing too much on the mood and not enough on the plot. So instead of deleting it all and throwing the outtakes into the compost bin, I gave it a good long think-over during vacation.
Specifically, I thought about what I needed to do during the five-hour flights to Honolulu and back. And during the return flight, I pulled out my index cards and proceeded to do some heavy-duty additional outlining. I added at least six more scenes to the start of Act I (to be interspersed between the scenes I already have) that will help me get back to where I need to be. I realized this was the same outlining style I used for the trilogy, where I focused primarily on the handful of scenes I’d be working on in the immediate future. It worked then, so I see no reason why it wouldn’t work again now.
I’m usually never this stubborn about nailing the beginning, I’ll admit. But sometimes it’s gotta be done, especially if I already believe in the story as a whole. It might take me a few tries to get it right, but once I do, the rest of it should flow just as I want it.
One of the biggest changes to my writing schedule that I’d been looking forward to once I signed off on the trilogy was being able to multi-task. I love working on a main project, but working on the same one for a long time (especially as long as that one) can definitely be detrimental. I often find myself itching to work on something different now and again, and that certainly comes to the fore when I’m doing major revision work.
When I decided to write outtakes for Meet the Lidwells while working on the trilogy revision, it gave me a much-needed creative outlet to keep my Writer Brain going in a way that my blog entries and other outlets couldn’t. If I hadn’t done that, it would have taken a lot longer for me to start a new project. I’d have had to spend some time thinking about what to write, how to write it, and not really know if I have a viable story or a trunkable one until I’ve invested a lot of time on it. Multi-tasking projects lets me cut out a lot of that possible wasted time. The daily-words outtakes put the story idea to the test to see if I can graduate it to Main Project status.
This process worked so well for me that I’ve kept it going with the newer projects, and I’ll keep it going until it doesn’t work for me anymore.
Granted, it is a process that’s kind of tough to maintain if you’re juggling all this with a Day Job. There are days when I’m amazed I can get anything done when the DJ kicks my ass. The trick is to make it happen. Find slow moments where you can write a few hundred quick words. Use your work breaks and lunch if you can. Worst case scenario, schedule out your writing days; one day for revision, another for new words, and so on.
It’s not a process you need to take if you don’t want to, but it works well if you have a lot of projects you’d like to work on, and you’d like a quick turnaround. YMMV, of course!
Creating the backgrounds for characters can be both fun and excruciating when you’re starting out a new project. You can come up with interesting, unique people to write about, give them all sorts of back stories — their background, their culture, their quirks, their powers and their weaknesses — but at the same time, they don’t exist in a vacuum. You need to also remember that they’re also there to interact with your other characters and the story itself. Otherwise they’re just placeholders, or worse, redshirts — the throwaway characters put there for the sole purpose of getting rid of them later on.
I’ve been dealing with this quite a bit for the last few weeks, with both the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World. A lot of the central characters are springing forth rather easily, and that’s because I already have fully-planned purposes for them. A few of the other characters, on the other hand, are still a bit vague and need more research and planning. I only have vague purposes for them. By vague, I mean that they support some of the main characters, but other than that, they’re kind of inconsequential.
Granted, both projects are still in their rough draft iterations and haven’t gotten the MS Word transcription/revision yet. I’m not giving up on them just yet. They’ll shine on their own eventually, once I flesh out the story and get a clearer picture of who they are and why they’re there. I just have to be a bit patient about it sometimes!
So how do I know if I can trust this character to blossom during a later draft? Or will they end up being a redshirt that I’ll have to edit out later? Good question. Often times I don’t. The point here is to let them give the old college try. I put there for a reason, so I just need to figure them out. I’ll give them just that little bit more TLC when I’m revising; I’ll think a bit more about their relationship to the story and the others within it.
Eventually, they’ll become part of the main entourage instead of a throwaway.
I’ll be honest, I’m not used to writing this rough of a draft. I usually start the the first draft straight to MS Word and fix it as I go along — quite often I’ll draft and revise at the same time. So why am I still slogging away with some of the most randomly disjointed writing I’ve done in quite some time?
Well, one reason is that this is the only time I can afford it at the moment, considering I’m still working on the Lidwells final revision and prep for release. Another is that while I do have a lot of outtakes from the daily warmup words, there’s a lot of in-between work that I still haven’t quite worked through yet. This disjointedness is being done on purpose, to dive a little deeper with this story and its characters. Once I have a better grasp of them, the plot and character evolution gets tighter.
Normally this happens during my initial MS Word draft, quite often around chapter five or so, when I’ve finally figured out who everyone is and what I can do with them. The rest of this draft then ends up being pretty tight and straightforward with not that much major revision needed. The downside to this is that I then need to do said major revision to the first four or five chapters. This can be harder than it sounds, because not only am I creating the opening to a story, I must also make sure that I plant enough seeds of ideas that will show up later in the book.
As I’d mentioned many times earlier, writing longhand is how I wrote the pre-trilogy Bridgetown story The Phoenix Effect. It wasn’t just about ease of writing anywhere I wanted to, though. I did a lot of making-it-up-as-I-go for quite a bit before I finally figured out the story. The final version of that story is quite different in many ways to the original longhand.
This is precisely why I’m still digging through the longhand of the Apartment Complex story. Once more time opens up for me in the evenings, I’ll be able to do the same exact thing once more: rough draft during the day, and transcription/revision at night. The longhand is there for me to write down the ideas; the revision is there to make those ideas work, and work better.
I had a vague plan that I’d do a bit of writing on the weekend, even if it was just a page or so. I figured we’d go out, spend the day at Disneyland, have our fun, and then we’d get back to the hotel and I’d do some work. I even packed the Apartment Complex story notebook. If I wasn’t doing my daily words or my blog posts or anything else, I’d at least do something. Right?
Yeah, we all know how that was going to go, even before we boarded the plane down to Orange County. Heh. I didn’t do a damn thing. I didn’t even take it out of my bag.
But you know, I’m okay with that! I’ve finally made peace with the fact that I’m due a few days off now and again. I’d been writing for eleven days straight on not just that project, but on daily words, scheduled blogs, and whatever else I’ve been working on — on top of the Day Job. But that’s not why I took the days off. I wasn’t exactly exhausted mentally or physically. I could have easily kept going with it if I wanted. And the moment I admit to myself that I should take days off, I’m going to abuse that and not get anything done on time.
No, this was basically to accept that part of the process of writing is not writing. I’ve gotta let myself just think about the story instead of trying to bleed it out of my brain. I can instead listen to an album on the flight (The Sound of Arrows’ Stay Free, if you’re playing along) and think not about the story but about the characters in general.
That said, physically I’m still exhausted from the 8.6 miles we walked on Saturday and 7.7 miles on Sunday (plus the two today, thanks to travel through airports and whatnot), but mentally I’m ready to go come Tuesday. Everything will be back to normal.
So yeah, I’m not too worried about not missing out on writing this past weekend.
PS – This seemed to be a perfect song for this post. It’s also a melody that keeps on popping into my head while writing the Apartment Complex story.
The last few days at the Day Job have been ridiculously busy for some reason, and it’s all I could do to juggle that with my writing. I’ve been using my work breaks and the occasional slow moment to get some daily words or revision or blog entries done. (As it happens, I’m writing this during my afternoon break on Thursday.) It seems that right off the bat my Day Job wants to scupper all my Best Laid Plans.
Well, not this time.
Instead of saying hell with it and chalking it up as another lost day, I’m going in the exact opposite direction. Easier said than done, of course, but it can be done if I put my mind to it.
One thing I noticed was that trying to write longhand during the day wasn’t quite working out, as it was too much of a mental whiplash from the number crunching I get paid for. So that’s been moved to the evening, and my former evening work — the final revision of Lidwells — was moved to the afternoons. I saw a huge improvement almost immediately on both projects, as I don’t need as much concentration for revision as I do for writing new prose. I may change it back once things settle down, but we shall see.
And as for the blogging and the daily words and whatnot…well, those are still floating around under the banner of ‘whenever I happen to have a few spare minutes’. Sometimes I’ll write these during those slow Day Job moments, sometimes I’ll squeeze them in just before I start my evening work. But they’re getting done regardless.
Point being, I’ve learned — remembered, really — that sometimes I have to get a little creative if I want to Write All The Things. I say ‘remember’ because this is the exact process I used during the Belfry years. Now as then, it’s a matter of committing myself to it and carving out the time. If that means sneaking in a quick 300-word blog post during office hours, I’m fine with that. That work email can wait another fifteen minutes before I get back to it. I consider this a brief and healthy mental distraction so I can get back to Day Job work with a bit more clarity.
If anything, I’m sure I’m going to need to study some basic anatomy if I’m going to try to visualize my characters like this. These images aren’t necessarily going to be in the book…they’re just reference for myself, so I can at least get the basics right.
Kaffi up above is a teenage alien tintrite (pronounced TIN-treet), one of the many different beings that live in the apartment complex that comprises the main setting for my new project. He’s kind of a dragon/lizard hybrid, long and sleek but also muscly and winged. He’s an excellent flier, but he’s also reckless. Teenage immaturity seems to be a universal constant in this world. Anyway, he’s one of two main characters, the other being his human BFF, Diwa.*
*Note – I had to do a bit of homework to get Diwa’s name right, which is a rarity for me. Diwa is mixed-race — his father is Caucasian and his mother is Filipino — and I wanted a Filipino name that was a) gender neutral, and b) kind of unique and unexpected. It means ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’. I hadn’t expected to find one that fit so nicely with the story, but I’m not complaining!
It’s mainly Kaffi and Diwa’s story (and it’s an enjoyable one about love, friendship and trust), though there are other characters who’ll pop up throughout. There are humans, mandossi (tallish sleek aliens that are built for running), hedraac (humanoid vampiric aliens), minotaur-ish beings (I haven’t got a name for them yet), and I’m sure I’ll come up with more as the story unfolds.
My idea here was that I wanted to have a world where humans coexist peacefully with all kinds of different beings, so the conflicts in the story weren’t about sentient-versus-sentient but more mundane. Teenagers trying to figure out who the hell they are and what they want to do when they grow up. Old men worried about the new generation coming in and taking over. And how much energy, creativity, and dedication it takes to keep a community active and healthy. [See, there’s a reason why I keep calling it ‘my Studio Ghibli story’!]
So yeah, you could say I’m having a fun time with this project so far! Now if I can only come up with a decent title for it…
I’ve got a busy 2018 ahead of me, that’s for sure.
A good busy, though. I’ve given myself a lot of goals to hit, and I’m sure I can hit most if not all of them. A few will be harder than others. Some will most likely roll into 2019. A majority of them will take most of the year. And I’ll be juggling it all with the Day Job, of course. But I think I can pull it off.
The trick here is to have a long-term schedule going, which I’ve been playing around with over the last few days. It’s a little like how I write novels: multiple threads going at the same time, fully aware of how to orchestrate them, put them in order, and make them flow. It’s only taken me how long to figure out that I can (and should) do this with the non-writing part of my writing career? Sheesh.
Anyway…I’ve got a novel to prep for self-publishing (Meet the Lidwells!), a new novel to start writing (untitled Apartment Complex story) and one, maybe two others to outline when I have the time. I’ll be going to three conventions, with the plan of being on a few panels and possibly a few readings. I’ll be resuming my photography for book cover and image library purposes. I desperately need to do restart the document scanning (it’s something I’ve put off for far too long). I’d like to record some more mp3 demos, maybe pull them together into full completed tracks. And most importantly, I need to move forward with the Mendaihu Press entity, using it as an umbrella for both my self-published novels and cover artwork.
This is going to be a very complex symphony to orchestrate, and I’m quite sure I’ll hit all the typical obstacles along the way, but I’m in it for the long haul and I’m too stubborn to quit easily.
This coming year is going to be one hell of a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.
It’s been an interesting year, I’ll say that much. Personally we’ve all had one hell of a bumpy ride. I’ve certainly had my highs and lows. And somehow I persevered.
Anyway, looking back over the past twelve months, I’m proud to say I went a hell of a lot further in my writing career than I ever thought I would. A project that I started in all seriousness twenty years ago was finally signed off as complete. I started not one but two completely new projects and sowed the seed for even more ideas. I kept a solid blogging schedule. I took part in panels on two different local science fiction conventions. All while still holding a Day Job.
—The Balance of Light e-book and trade release, and completing a long-term project. That was the toughest of the three to revise, so it took me most of 2016 and early 2017 to finish. Even the cover was a bear to get right. But at the same time, overcoming the hurdles I faced on this one made me an even better writer; it taught me to take all the time I needed to get it right before I released it upon the world. It was worth the wait, as that book went from the Troublemaker for a good few years to a novel I’m proud of. And added to that, it truly did feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders when I realized I did not need to work on that project any longer. I still miss it, of course, but I’m definitely glad it’s done. Most importantly, I saw a very long-standing goal to its conclusion and I couldn’t be happier.
–Daily words at 750words.com. I’ve been quite consistent with this as well, much more so than previous years. I trained myself to use this site as a place for playing around with ideas instead of trying to force myself to use prompts (suggested or otherwise). I just went with whatever popped into mind. In 2015 and 2016 I used it to write an extremely rough and incomplete draft of Meet the Lidwells, and in 2017 I used it to plot out most of the project after that. I’ve taken this month off from it for various reasons, but I’ll be picking it up again come January.
—Meet the Lidwells! This one surpassed all of my expectations, to be honest…so much so that I spent the first half of the project questioning whether or not I was doing it right! This project hit a lot of goals: writing a complete outline ahead of time, writing a shorter novel, writing a story that had a personal connection (music), and writing in a minimal amount of time. Because of this I have a minimal amount of post-writing work to do: some minor revision, shooting the cover picture, and prepping it for self-publication. Quite possibly the shortest novel project I’ve had to date.
–Untitled ‘Apartment Complex’ story. Having written out a few key scenes and plot ideas for this story using 750Words, I’m now working on the outline in the same manner that I did MtL. That way when MtL drops, I can immediately focus on writing this one. This too has goals: to see if I can pull off ‘writing econo’ again. I’m using the same process as the previous project, to the extent that I’ll play around with ideas on the project after this one for my daily words.
–Consistent blogging. I wrote two different blogs twice a week for nearly the whole year, with very few lapses. There were moments when it was tough, given that I always wanted to write something of interest and/or purpose, and did my best to avoid the fly-by entries as much as I could. I also wanted to avoid repeating myself whenever possible; I’ll totally cop to writing the same damn nostalgia piece over and over, and I’m doing my best to break out of that rut. And in the process, I’m learning how to expand my palette by expanding my interests.
–Participating in Convention Panels. This was another big one for me. I’ve gone to a number of cons over the years but always as an audience member, but never as a participant. After releasing my books I knew that this would be a great way for me to get connected to the non-writing part of the business. [Mind you, my very first panel was a reading, which went over well but I think could have been better. Once I got past that first one, the jitters were no longer there.] In 2018 I’ll be attending three more cons, and I’ve signed up as a participant at all three.
All told, I’m ecstatic with what I achieved as a writer in 2017. It was an extremely productive and fruitful beginning to my career as a professional self-publisher. There are some goals I wish I’d have hit, but I’m not going to let that bother me. I’m definitely looking forward to reaching those plus many new ones.
D’OH! I seem to have completely forgotten to write and schedule a post for today. It’s been such a weird week that it completely slipped my mind. And being that it’s (hopefully) going to be a quiet day here at the Day Job, hopefully I can take care of other things that slipped my mind and/or didn’t have time for.
Such as making some headway on the Apartment Complex story outline. I finished the initial revision run-through for Meet the Lidwells just the other day, and I’m letting it simmer for a few days before I go through it one more time…so this is the perfect time to kickstart that next project. [I do need to futz with the MtL cover some more, but I think I’ll do that on the weekend when I have more time and space to breathe. I know what I want, I’m just having a hell of a time trying not to make it look like it’s a craptacular botch job finished in five minutes on Photoshop.]
I’m hoping things quiet down on the Day Job from here on in so I can a) relax a bit, and b) sneak in some writing work if needed. Things usually do start winding down post-Thanksgiving (with one last short burst in late December), so this is when I get to unwind and not have to stress out about all that much. And I am so looking forward to that!