One more time for luck

Hopefully this go-round will not be as stressful…

SO! The other night I finally finished the latest revision go-round for Diwa & Kaffi and I think I did a pretty good job. So now what?

Now I read it again.

Yeah, writing a novel and prepping it for submission or publication (self or otherwise) does in fact include multiple rereads of the same damn words you’ve been reading over the last few months. It’s no wonder some of us start questioning if our work is worth anything or just a pile of crap.

The last round was to fix some major prose issues I’d had (and to write that ‘scene goes here’ scene, natch) and anything that stood out that needed work. This current round is going to be the Nitpicky Grammar and Word Choice Round, and I’m hoping it’ll be much smoother and quicker. Things like verb tenses, pronouns, repetitions, and so on. Spot-fixes.

Oh — and I need to see if I can find someone to check my Tagalog. I use it sparingly and there’s about 25 or so phrases or sentences out of two hundred some-odd pages, so it’s more about just making sure I used the best word choice and didn’t just hazard a guess by using Google Translate. [Which, y’know, I actually did as a placeholder until I get someone to help.]

Then I can finally submit it!

Meanwhile…

I have about five more chapters’ worth of revision to go before I can call this second go-round of Diwa & Kaffi done. I’m still on schedule, hitting about one chapter per evening while we watch British gardening shows. [They’re quite soothing after a long day at work, and perfect background noise for my writing sessions…although I do get occasionally distracted!]

I know I’ve talked about what The Next Project will be, but right now I’m not thinking too much about it. All my focus has been on revision, and the next step will be submission research. Right now if feels right for me to dedicated as much time and attention on this project.

In the past this would have bothered me…the fears of running out of ideas and falling out of practice, mainly. Over the years, though, I’ve realized that these fears will only manifest if I let them. I’ve cleared the table of nearly every story I’d put in backburner status, holding onto maybe two or three. They’ll be there when I come back to them. And if they no longer hold my interest, well…I’ll come up with something else eventually. I’m not worried.

Part of this comes with having done a reread of My Work to Date. I’ve reread all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy as well as Meet the Lidwells over the last few months. It does kind of blow my mind that I’ve already self-published five books and I’m about to submit my sixth to a publisher, all within the space of four years. That’s a hell of a lot more productivity than I ever thought I’d have, to be honest.

So if I have a bit of a dry spell after D&K is out and away, I’m not going to worry too much. As long as I practice.

On Submitting Instead of Self-Publishing

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been contemplating submitting Diwa and Kaffi to agents and/or publishers. I haven’t taken this route since probably 2013, when I submitted A Division of Souls out to a few publishers. I’ve self-published everything since then.

So why go the submission route this time out? Well, my first and most important reason is that I have high expectations for this particular novel. I’m quite proud of how it’s come out; it’s quite possibly my best work since I started self-releasing my work. And to be honest, I really don’t want this one to fall into a void like my other books have tended to do. [That’s partially my own fault, but that’s for another post.] I want Diwa and Kaffi to get the best cover, the best production, the best editing, the best everything. While I could find an artist to commission for a great cover, and while I could do my damnedest to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible, I also know that going the ‘pro’ route would provide me with better chances than I could ever give myself.

Which means I need to start researching for agents and publishers for the first time in ages. I’m aware that the process and the field has changed considerably over the last ten or so years since I last researched it, so I’m going in knowing full well that I may need to relearn it all. I’m totally down with that, considering I’ve been in this writing gig for pretty much my entire life. I’ve read all the Writer’s Digest articles. I’ve read the how-to books. I’ve talked to the panelists at conventions. I know where to look and who to ask.

So what’s different for me this time out? On a personal level, I’m going into the submission process with a bit of context and experience. I’m not mailing these printouts passively into the wind and hoping they graduate past the slush pile. I’m not looking at the process with rose-tinted glasses and getting my feelings hurt when I get rejection letters back. And most importantly: I understand why those past submissions failed as they did. I learned how to read my own work clinically so I could see why they were rejected. I was able to understand that changing my style or my process or whatever had no bearing on me personally; there’s going against the grain and then there’s just using that as an excuse for sloppy work.

Do I know who I want to submit to? I have a few ideas. I look at who’s published my favorite books in the last decade, who the editors were, who their agents are. I’ve met a few of them at cons, or know of them through some of my other writer friends (this is one of the reasons I do enjoy social media).

I know it’ll still be high-stakes. I know the turnaround will be significantly longer. I know it might still get published but not get any promotion whatsoever. I know it might still get rejected. I know it still depends on timing and luck. But I’m willing to try it anyway.

And if all else fails, I can still self-publish it.

More on going through old writings

I’m still going through a lot of my old writings here in Spare Oom when I can carve out an hour or so here and there. It’s much easier for me to go through a small collection of folders than it is to attempt sorting the entire thing; less of a chance for me to feel overwhelmed, and definitely less clutter.

My trick this time out is that I’ve put each project or creation in its own plastic sheet protector, and labeling them with Post-Its noting the assumed dates. That way if I find the occasional misfiled item, I can pull out that plastic and put them in their proper place. Many of these will eventually be bound into report binders once I’m done.

I’m also doing a lot of shredding. Why save school notes from 1991 when all I really want to save is the original artwork or poem I’d written in the margin? Why save printouts of documents I know I still have in .doc files? Why save rejection letters from 1998? I have absolutely no use for any of it, and looking at them only elicits the reaction ‘why do I still have this…?’ so out they go!

And all those spiral notebooks with seven or eight pages (or surprisingly, sixty or seventy) that I haven’t touched in years? Time to tear those pages out, bind them in the plastic folders, and find a new use for the notebooks — or alternately, throw them in recycling. I think I’ve finally shaken off that habit of buying them and rarely using them, thankfully!

Most of my writing has already been sorted sometime back, but there are folders of randomness, most likely created under the guise of ‘I’ll sort it later’ or ‘etc’. Which of course means I’d never remember where it was. This time out, I’m sorting at the micro level. A map that’s actually part of my Murph Universe or the Mendaihu Universe or whatever writing/artwork project will of course go into those writing project binders.

I already know this is going to take a long time, quite possibly a few more months. I’m not rushing it. Keeping each sorting session – and cleaning up after each one – makes it a lot easier to handle. One section, one pile at a time, that’s all I need to do.

All this while working on the revision of Diwa and Kaffi, you ask? Yes! I can still find a few minutes here and there to sort through things. After I log off for the day but before I head out to meet A at the gym. My afternoon break. Slow Sunday afternoons when all my other errands are done. And I’m not doing this out of a sense of wanting to relive the past, or even because I might be looking for old notes and outtakes for a revived project. This is just part of my Tidying Up project.

That said, if I do happen to find some old and useful notes, I’m not going to complain. Something new might come out of it!

Yet More On Editing and Revision

On average, I say I go through about three to five versions of each novel I write before I call it done or ready for submission. I always write chronologically from start to finish, and only rarely do I write a scene ahead of time. I’ll take each completed version and revise the same way. The only difference here is that I’ll also read the entire thing on my e-reader at night, multiple times, during the revision process. I started doing this with my trilogy for a few reasons: one, to connect with the novel as closely as I can, and to become aware of what works, what doesn’t, what’s fine, and what needs adjustment.

However, one of the more interesting things I’ve noticed while editing and revising Diwa and Kaffi is how often I’ve been shifting scenes. It’s rare for me to take a scene from, say, Chapter Twenty-Two and move it back a month earlier in the story chronology to Chapter Seventeen. And I’ve done this at least three times already this time out! This did not happen with Meet the Lidwells and maybe only once with In My Blue World.

This is the magic of editing, same as with filmmaking; a strong scene that’s out of place in one part of the timeline might fit perfectly (with a few minor changes) somewhere else within the story. It’s the part of storytelling where the writer becomes aware of not just the plot but the pace and the flow. Sometimes it’s better to state my point once, strongly, rather than vaguely and repeatedly. I found these misplaced scenes work better as previous scene extensions, primarily because it makes that previous scene stronger and thus more memorable.

And in turn, this gives me the purpose to reread the whole thing again, once the scenes are in their new places. That particular go-round will not just look for any additional issues I may need to fix, but to make sure the flow and the mood are to my liking.

I suppose this could pull me into a never ending cycle of edit-revise-read-etc., but I think I’ve done this long enough to know when it feels finished to me. When it feels less like a project and more like a book I’m enjoying reading, then I’ve done my job correctly.

On Writing Dialogue

One of my favorite things to do when I’m rewatching movies and tv shows (such as we’re currently doing with Star Wars: Rebels) is to listen to the dialogue. When I watch something for the first time, I’m usually paying more attention to how the plot is unfolding than I am with what’s being said, so I may miss out on a few clues here and there. But that’s okay…the repeated watching is where I pay more attention.

Part of that is because I now know what’s going to happen in the plot. This gives me more time to listen to the nuances of the dialogue. A character that might hint that they’re not who they seem. A line reading that might have been mundane at first listen, but reveals a major clue to a scene that happens later on, maybe even two or three chapters or episodes (or even a full season!) from that point.

Another part of that is I get to listen to the word choice and the delivery, and how it makes each character unique. As with SW:Rebels, Kanan is often gruff, conservative and overly anxious, especially towards Ezra. Ezra, on the other hand, goes through an interesting metamorphosis from a plucky and erratic kid to a cranky and highly irritable teenager. And my all-time favorite character from the show, the pirate Hondo Ohnaka, has a quick and often hilarious wit that keeps everyone slightly off-course:

It took me several years to figure out how to write dialogue correctly. As with most young writers just starting out, I tended to imprint my own voice and mannerisms onto every character, which meant that there were far too many me-isms like bad puns, music references and wild shifting of subjects. It took me some time to realize I was doing it the wrong way: what I had to do was figure out who that particular character was and make their words unique to them.

Now? It’s one of my favorite parts of writing projects and exercises. One fun 750Words exercise of mine is to tell a short story that consists only of dialogue without any dialogue tags. This forces me to think about the story in a different way: how to evoke action and emotion only using someone’s words. Things like word choice, the flow of the dialogue and the delivery are shifted front and center.

When writing Diwa and Kaffi, I knew that each character had to have a unique voice, not only because they’re different in certain ways, but because they’re all different beings. The human Diwa is part Filipino and slips into Tagalog whenever he’s emotional or with his family. The dragon-like tintrite Kaffi speaks in slow, measured sentences but eases up considerably when he talks with Diwa. The bird/reptilian-like Anna-Nassi is often relentlessly happy and often talks too loud. The psychic-vampire Cole talks quietly but his sentences get choppy when he gets anxious or overexcited.

I wanted to let the characters tell me who they were, and I let a lot of these dialogue tics and come naturally. I would give them just a few rules: Cole, for instance, suffers from a kind of syndrome that occasionally affects his energy consumption and retention. A flare-up would cause his speech patterns to seize up. This, in turn, would inform the direction and the pacing of the plot arcs; Cole’s personal arc in this story becomes his learning how to work past this physical handicap, alone and with the help of his friends.

This is the reason why writing dialogue is so much fun for me: I get to learn who these characters are, quite often without any planning ahead of time. In turn, they give me insight on how they would react when I place them in certain situations important to the overall story arc. I’m always pleasantly surprised when this happens, because it makes the story unique, sometimes unexpectedly so.

Going Online

Don’t forget to add *70 to your dial-up settings!

Sometimes it blows my mind that I’ve been connected online for roughly a quarter century. I believe my first AOL account was in the autumn of 1994, using my roommate’s computer, which I used sparingly because I was too damn broke to pay for the subscription or the phone bill half the time. And even then, I mostly stuck to AOL’s chat rooms.

When I moved back home in late ’95 I talked my family into signing up for it. While the subscription and phone bill weren’t as hard to pay, it was reminding my family not to use the phone when I was online. Most of the time they remembered, but every now and again someone would forget, pick up the phone, and start dialing, severing my connection. (Surprisingly, it wouldn’t be until around 2001 or so when we finally got DSL. It just wasn’t available to us out in the sticks of central MA until then.)

I’d had various emails over the years and started the joncwriter one around 2001 (I think?), but it probably wasn’t until 2004 when I finally took the plunge into full-time social media with LiveJournal. And things have grown exponentially since then. So many platforms, websites, browsers, apps, and everything in between. I’m amazed I can remember half my passwords.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about how Kids These Days Are Always Online, or How The Internet Was More Fun In My Day. I’ve got other things to think about most of the time. It’s more about how I’ve eased off using the internet over the years.

Sure, I still use it a ton, more than I really should. I go through spells of overindulgence followed by bouts of internet detox. As a writer, though, I can’t completely disconnect. I rely on a lot of internetty things to keep me going. I stream radio stations during the day for entertainment and background noise. I have multiple links to online dictionaries and thesauruses (that’s a legit plural, I just looked it up on Merriam-Webster’s site). I almost exclusively download all my music now. It’s a vital part of my writing career. [Yes, even the music. Heh.] And most importantly, I save all my writing on Dropbox so I can access them at any time, even on my phone.

The trick is to catch myself when I know I’m just wasting time that could be better used elsewhere. Catch myself when I feel I’m getting worked up and caught up in the latest drama. Catch myself when I’m faffing about on YouTube watching viral videos. Easy enough to do, but sometimes it’s embarrassing when I realize how often I catch myself. I’ve had to figure out ways to keep myself from goofing off.

Lately, though, I’ve been doing a lot of logging off, closing the browsers. Not out of desperation or frustration, but just because I want to. Part of it is inspired by some of my pre-internet high school and college friends out there who are surprisingly impossible to find on social media — it’s like they decided that they’d rather have a real life than a digital one.

It’s also been a mental and physical choice. The longer and later I’m online, the harder it is for me to fall asleep at night. And sometimes I just don’t have all that much to say that I haven’t already written or blogged about already. Sometimes I just need to take a break and just use my PC or my laptop for its intended use: my writing and music.

I just recently bought a new laptop to replace an old one (which was dated 2013!!) and I’m once again out in the living room in the evenings, sitting next to A while we stream whatever movie or show we’re currently into, and I can focus on the revision for Diwa and Kaffi. I might pop online and check my email or the latest webcomic update or Twitter, but I’m doing that much less nowadays. And I kind of like that.

I’m not nearly as addicted to the internet as I used to be, which is always a good thing. Life goes on both digitally and IRL, and it’s up to me to find that balance that works best for me.

Something I should probably do more often with my desk PC…

[PS: This entry was partly inspired by a panel I’ll be running at BayCon this year: Strange Days: Hollywood’s Take on the Internet, Hacking, and the Digital World in the 90s. I’m looking forward to this particular one!]

What’s Going On?

That’s a very good question indeed, because I’d like to know myself. I’m kind of hovering at the moment, providing nearly all of my writing focus on the editing and revision of Diwa and Kaffi and doing very little in terms of anything new. I mean, I always want to have a new project going, but I’m purposely not doing that for the reason I just stated.

I’m not going to complain, I’m kind of enjoying this break from Writing All the Things. I’m forcing myself to try new creative avenues, which was part of my plan. I’m picking up my guitar more, thinking about songs to write…hell, I’ve even started noodling around on our keyboard after ages of ignoring it or using it as a temporary storage table! I’ve churned out so many words over the last five years that it’s time for me to give that a break and have some fun.

I don’t plan on making my music a professional thing, as I don’t see myself at that level. Maybe putting stuff out on Bandcamp if I ever get a full song down? Sure, why not? I’d essentially be self-publishing my music and I already have a background on that, so I think that would be groovy.

What about the other avenue, you ask? My art? Good question. I’m winding down a few small projects at the moment and will be finding more time to doodle. I’m not sure what — it could be my usual map drawing, perhaps my Murph comics, maybe trying out new styles. I have the sketchbook and the pens and pencils, I just need to start doing it. I’ve always found drawing to be quite calming, so I’m looking forward to doing that again.

But yeah, the writing, after D&K is out and away? Good question. I have plans there, but they’re not set in stone, and they’re not on any kind of schedule. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m just going to not think about it for a while…