Let’s Try That Again, Shall We?

high fidelity bruce

Best Laid Plans were once again thwarted, and I’m pretty sure it was because they weren’t Best Laid after all.  I seem to have forgotten to take into account vacation days off, busy Day Job days, and other events.  But that’s okay!  I’m back, we have nothing of import on the schedule for the next few weeks — in fact, I have today off and other than going around the corner to go see Napping Princess at the 4-Star, I have the entire day to get caught up on things.  Sounds good to me!

[Update: My movie plan was not so much thwarted but delayed today.  As you may have heard, there are currently some nasty wildfires burning north of us, and late last night much smoke drifted our way.  This caused me to barely get any sleep, so I wasn’t really up to seeing a film today.  Perhaps next weekend if it’s still there!]

One good thing that’s come out of this sort of thing is that I no longer feel like a failure.  Sure, the frustration of going past deadline and not hitting my goals as quickly as I’d like is still there, but Everything Is Not Ruined Forever.  Just gotta get up, brush myself off, and start again.

I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Meet the Lidwells and I hope to get it done by the end of this month, at which time I’ll start revisions.  I’m not sure how long that’ll be, but hopefully I can give it a quick turnaround (there won’t be nearly as much triage as I had with the trilogy) and get it out by the end of the year.  Here’s to hoping!

Onward and upward.  Only way to go!

On Writing ‘Regular’ (non-genre) Fiction

snoopy short and to the point

I’ve been writing genre fiction — that is, some kind of science fiction, fantasy, or one of its many mutations — so consistently and for so long that writing non-genre fiction (or as I’ve been calling it, “regular fiction”, no snarky meaning intended) feels a bit weird to me.

This is the issue I’ve been having with writing Meet the Lidwells over the last few months.  It’s still a made-up world that I’m writing about, but I’m trying not to confuse ‘bad writing’ with ‘a style I’m not used to’.  I don’t think MtL is a bad piece of work, even at this rough draft level.  It’s just that my creative brain keeps complaining that there’s no epicness or high drama going on.

But this is not a Michael Bay action film.  This isn’t the novel for that.  It’s a simple story about a family of musicians.  Their epic moments are about topping the charts, going on tour, and recording a new album.  Their high drama is having to deal with family to such a close extent both in private and public life.

To be honest, this is exactly one of the many reasons I chose to write this novel.  After finishing off the epic drama of the Bridgetown trilogy, I wanted — no, I needed to dial it back.  I wanted to make sure I could still write a story with a much lower volume, so to speak.  I needed to know I could write a story that resonated on a personal level rather than on a visceral one.  And lastly, I needed to know I could write something short and concise, perhaps closer to 70k words rather than the 100k-plus of the trilogy books.

So far I think I’ve pulled it off.  In fact, in the process I’ve figured out how I can write further non-genre novels, if I choose to.  My reading habits have definitely helped me figure most of it out, as has the daily practice words.  Will I write more non-genre in the future?  I’m pretty sure I will, given the subject and inclination.  It’s already affected my SFF writing style in positive ways, to be honest.  It’s the kind of ongoing metamorphosis that I believe is not only healthy but vital.

Once I’m finished with MtL, I’ll be jumping into the Secret Next Project (aka the Apartment Complex story), so it’ll be back to genre…and now I’m curious to see how MtL‘s style affects that one.  We shall see…!

Current Status: Almost There

sw almost there
TFW you’re writing Act III of your novel.

As I may have mentioned earlier, I’ve just started Act III of Meet the Lidwells.  This of course means that it’s that point of the story where I start bringing all the plot threads together, winding up the tale I’ve been telling, and wrapping everything up at the end.

Having either written novels piecemeal over the course of a long spread of time (thanks to homework, social life, or other priorities), or working on the same project for years on end (the trilogy), it feels quite strange to be completing a novel in roughly a half a year.  I’m not used to this speed.  There’s also the fact that this is a relatively short novel for me — I’m currently at 55k, and I’m expecting the finished project to be around 70k.

Still, there’s something to be said about reaching the home stretch. I felt this when I picked up The Balance of Light again in 2009-10 to finish it off.  It’s exciting to be wrapping up a story, my writer brain going at a hundred miles an hour as it tries to weave everything together into a coherent ending for me to write, and balancing that with the knowledge that I need to make that ending smooth and well-paced.  No rushing to the last page here, kids.  Even if I know exactly how to finish it, I have to make sure I don’t make a chaotic mad dash to get there.

My original deadline was going to be mid-September (I had a general deadline, not a specific one), and it looks like it might be more like late October, given that I still need to revise it, clean it up, and get it ready for uploading.  I’m fine with that; my ultimate goal here was to write something fast and light — a complete opposite to the trilogy, to be honest — to see if I could do it, and to see if it was something I could be proud of.

So far, so good.  I’m almost there.

Meet the Lidwells: Cover Outtake

Meet the Lidwells Cover B

Keep in mind, yes — this is definitely an outtake.  Not that bad for a first try, though.  I know I’ve got some more work to do on it.  The main focus this time out was for me to figure out the placement of the six main characters and make it look like an album cover.  [In the story, this is actually what the cover of their debut record looks like.]  I have a slightly adjusted version of the six silhouettes so they’re spaced out a lot better and can provide the title as well.  I think I’m going to redo it by putting the image and main title enclosed in a square box to further push that image, and have the bottom segment in black, with the text in white.  I’m still playing around with the fonts as well.

[Keep in mind, I still have the last third of the book to write, but I’ve had this cover idea in my head almost from the beginning.  I’m still hoping to have this one out by late fall, depending on when it get finished and revised.]

What do you think? 🙂

Point of View

jupiter io pov
Timelapse of Jupiter from Io’s POV, December 2013.  Credit: user ‘bubbleweed’ on Reddit

Recently I’ve hit a few tough patches in Meet the Lidwells, where it just feels like I’ve slowed to a crawl and the story’s not going anywhere.  I know what story I need to tell, but for some reason it’s been like slogging through mud trying to get there.  I know this is a problem because when I as an author feel the sluggishness, I know my readers will feel the same thing.  And I don’t want to do that.

So in this instance, I decided that maybe someone else’s point of view would be worth investigating.  Instead of the kids in the band talking through their attempts on a comeback album after taking a much-needed hiatus, I realized that it might be a bit more interesting to tell this struggle from their manager’s point of view.

Why?  I felt their story would be more interesting.  The kids in the band have mostly grown up (the youngest is now 16 and the others are in or approaching their 20s), and from their view, they’re just hoping that the Big Comeback will work out.  On the other hand, their manager has the thankless job of Making That Happen.  Once I got started on that, everything was smooth sailing again.

*

Over the years, changing the POV when I’m stuck has definitely helped when I’m stuck.  More often than not a different witness to the story will bring in a fresh take on the situation, maybe even create some needed conflict in the process by going against what the main characters want and expect.  Even if I end up not using it, or rewriting it again from someone else’s point of view, at least I’ve managed to get myself out of that sluggish spot and back on track.

For me, it’s yet another way to work outside expectations.  Forcing myself to think about something from a different angle almost always produces sometimes helpful but always interesting results.

More on World Building

makoto shinkai yn
Still from the anime Your Name, which you should definitely watch.

Yes, yes, I know.  I love talking about world building.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole process.  And one of the reasons I love it is because it’s always ongoing.  Rarely do writers come up with a complete history of the characters and the world they live in.  And conversely, quite often writers are thrown for a loop when an unplanned but much needed figment of a character’s personality shines through.

Recently while doing some work on the Secret Next Project, one of my main characters suddenly decided to change from snarky and a bit wild, to moody, highly intelligent and deeply caring.  Part of this was due to a later outtake where I had him working with another main character (specifically a moment where they had to trust each other completely) and instead of trying to shoehorn him into my original idea of him, I ran with the new idea instead.  Their connection with each other suddenly became an extremely important plot point, especially as it mirrors their fathers’ history.

I love it when a major plot line pops out of nowhere like that.  It’s that moment where the larger story as a whole suddenly starts falling into place.  [Mind you, my reaction to this is usually not an emphatic “YES!” but more of a smile, a nod, and a thoughtful yes, that should do nicely.  Then I’ll spend the rest of the evening secretly squeeing on the inside.]

One rule I’ve given myself for Secret Next Project is to not dismiss ideas out of hand.  If I come up with an unexpected leftfield idea, I’ll think it through and see if it’ll fit within the context of the larger picture.  So far it’s worked quite nicely, as the story has taken at least four unexpected turns and has evolved into something much deeper and more complex than I expected.  More to the point, it surprised me that it happened so quickly; I’ve only worked on this for less than a month and already I’ve got almost a full storyline idea.  That never happens that quickly for me.

This also means that it’s clearer and more complete quite early on in the game; another thing that almost never happens for me.  The same thing happened for Meet the Lidwells, to be honest; I already had a pretty solid idea of the entire story by the time I actually started writing it.  I’m not feeling my way in the dark nearly as often as I did with the trilogy.  With the Secret Next Project, I’m yet to work out the complete plot, but I’ve got nearly all the important beats I have to hit already.

To be honest, world building really is a game of balances.  Elaborating versus using what you already have; choosing which fate works best for the character; creating enough to make it realistic but not getting bogged down with details.

There’s more to come, of course, but learning how to balance it all is the best part.  That’s what makes the story, and the storytelling process, interesting.

 

 

 

Lazy

sleepy cat

It wasn’t as if I’d had an energy-draining day at the Day Job on Friday.  In fact, it was smooth sailing for most of the afternoon.  I kept myself busy by catching up on personal emails and listening to some new release tunage.  After work we went for a walk to the Legion of Honor Museum up on the hill (it’s just a little over a mile from our house by foot, uphill 98% of the way) for a sneak preview of their Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millenery Trade exhibit.  A bit tired from the walk but otherwise just fine.

Did I get any writing work done, though?  Not a word.

Nor did I get any work done Saturday, when we went to see a movie at the Opera Plaza (the documentary Letters from Baghdad) and afterwards stopped by Green Apple to buy a few books I’d been looking for.  I did turn on the PC to update a few drivers and software, but spent the rest of the day catching up on webcomics that I’d been backed up on.  [I’m a big fan of webcomics for multiple reasons and will most likely have a future post on them at some point!]

Sunday was shopping day, so hopefully some time tonight I’ll be able to squeeze in some Lidwells work.  If I’m not distracted by other things!  Heh.

It’s not all that often that I’ll take a day or two off without feeling some sort of guilt.  I’m at that point in my writing career where I’m once again comfortable with my processes, that I don’t feel the need to rush to get things done.  [I’ll still kick myself for procrastinating, but that’s more about getting my daily processes started in the first place.]  I can afford a few days off where I’m living a normal life, watching TV and going out into the world and whatnot.

It’s a struggle of many writers, considering many of them are like me, juggling their writing career with their Day Job.  You can’t really decide ‘I’m gonna play hooky from my Day Job, I deserve to do it now and again’, at least not without consequences and/or lost pay.  On the same token, you don’t want to do that with your writing either, because a) that’s admitting your writing is less important (which you do NOT want to admit), and b) that’s one less day you’re moving forward, one more day your story is just sitting there, doing nothing.  It’s also why, when writers do take a day off from writing AND their Day Job, it’s usually for vacation purposes and purposely doing nothing, and STILL feel guilty about it.

Still, it’s a struggle I’ve gotten under control.  I’ve been hitting over 2000 words daily, between blog posts, personal journalling and occasional poetry writing, the 750 practice words on Secret Next Project, and Lidwells.  My deadline stress is light.  My near-future plans are clear.  The docket is a hell of a lot clearer than it was just a few years earlier.  I can afford to take a writing day off…especially if that day is spent reading and watching other people’s creations with an eye on what their own processes were!  [See what I mean about Writer Brain never being completely turned off?]

I can afford to be lazy every now and again, and not feel the least bit guilty.  I just need to remember to enjoy it!

Balancing

Goats-balancing-on-sheet
….yeah, I’m not sure either.

If I’ve learned anything over the last week, it’s that the downside to coming up with a secondary project to play around with while working on Meet the Lidwells is the temptation to fall prey to the “ooh shiny!” of the newer project, leaving the original one undone.  I love the apartment complex idea at the moment, and I’m quite sure it’s because I’m still in the world-building phase of that one.  Two daily-words entries and I’ve already come up with some neat ideas that I’d like to play with.

BUT!  I really need to focus on my other story!  The one that’s been on my mind over the last few years.  The one I can FINALLY devote my time to.  The last thing I need right now is another distraction!

So how to handle this sort of thing?  All writers fall prey to it sooner or later…the rogue new idea that tempts you and won’t leave you alone, and you know damn well that if you don’t write it down RIGHT NOW it’ll be lost forever.  Often to the detriment of any other deadlines you might be working on at that moment.

Well…I’ve learned that there’s got to be a bit of balance.  From past experience, the worst thing I can do with a completely new idea is to try to create an entire novel out of it.  I definitely don’t have the whole story and its universe in my head at that point.  The end result will be a lot of making stuff up as I go along, thus needing a hell of a lot of revision on the back end.  It’s one of the reasons the trilogy project took so damn long.

I wrote outtakes of Meet the Lidwells via my daily practice words, and I knew that wasn’t going to be the final version.   And I wrote it while I was rewriting and revising the trilogy, so I put just enough into it to keep it alive until it came time for it to be my main project.

I’m doing the same with this new story idea.  Right now I’m looking at it from a workshop level, throwing stuff at it to see what works.  Coming up with characters, names, settings, and other background details that I can reference a little later.  And I’m sure sometime within the next few months I might even draw a layout of the main setting, maybe even some of the characters.  Bits will change along the way.  It’s all up in the air right now, malleable.

And that’s just for fun, at the moment.

The heavy work is on Lidwells, and that’s where it’ll remain until it’s done.  That’s my evening writing work, the stuff I’ll treat more seriously.  Attending to details, focusing on the feel of the story in my head, contemplating what needs work and what needs excision.  And besides…this one has a deadline that I don’t want to break.  If I have to put New Shiny Idea aside to devote more time to Lidwells to get it done on time, so be it.

Finding that balance is a bit of crazy work, but I believe I can get it done.

 

Germination

fullmetal idea
Never a good sign when Edward gets an idea.

Coming up with ideas really isn’t all that hard.  It’s the latching onto one, getting it to germinate, that’s the hard part.  I’ve got to have some connection to it, otherwise it’s just a single scene that doesn’t belong anywhere.  And I’ve got an old trunk full of those already.

Sometimes those ideas take a hell of a long time to germinate, and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.  Meet the Lidwells! came to me nearly two years ago, and I’m only working on it now.  That was primarily due to the trilogy project taking precedence, but I also wanted to give it a good planning-in-my-head before moving forward with it.

I’ve got a few backburner projects as well, ones that have been simmering for quite a few years.  Those are ideas with merit but I wasn’t ready to work on them just yet for one reason or another.  I’ve got a few new and fresh ideas as well, ones that I may play around with via 750 Words (like I did with Lidwells) until something concrete comes about.

Is it frustrating, having these stories in various points of stasis?  Well, yeah, of course it is!  But I’d like to think I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer feel like I MUST WRITE ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW. Once I cleared the table of the Trilogy Project, I found it…actually pretty empty.  I’d trunked numerous story ideas over the past fifteen years; ideas that didn’t work, that I’d lost interest in, or just led nowhere.  Others I’d turned into blog series.  I had maybe three or four Possible Next Projects, tops.

Which also meant that I could afford to come up with a few new possible seeds of ideas that I could nurture down the road.  I could let myself play around with the tiniest inklings that passed by.  I have to relish when that happens now, because I haven’t had that feeling in a long time.  Writers love coming up with scraps and seeing where they go.

It feels great to be fully creating again after years of editing and revision work.  It feels even better to let my brain come up with these seeds of ideas and know that I won’t have to wait for ages to get to them.

wile e coyote idea
Granted, it’s never good when Wile E Coyote gets an idea, either.