This time last year

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘The Place Promised in Our Early Days’

This time last year, I’d left the (Former) Day Job after what…thirteen or so years?…and took some time off to get my head together. I’ve been thinking about just how frustrated and angry I’d been then, and for how long. The job had effectively cleaved my writing time (and personal time) to almost nil. By the start of 2020 I was barely writing anything worth talking about. I’d fleshed out some story ideas here and there, but I’d barely written any new words at all.

After that time off, I started from the beginning again. I asked myself several questions.

What made me want to write? What stories did I want to tell? What was my writing style? What did I no longer want to write about? Did I really need and want to write what I was currently working on?

And then I just…started writing again. Learning from the beginning again.

It took a few false starts, but I got there eventually. I was aware of my processes now; I knew when something wasn’t working, when something needed more work, when something resonated with me so much that I knew I could see this project to the end. I compared it to other moments in the past: instead of thinking if only I could write like this again, I was thinking this is just like that previous project I enjoyed so much. And I just kept at it.

It’s been a year, and right now I have a full stove with things on many burners: a submission-ready revision of Diwa & Kaffi, the fourth Mendaihu Universe story, a new project based on the work I’d done in those final Day Job Days, and a few possibilities I’m yet to start work on. I’m still working for a replacement Day Job — preferably one in the city that doesn’t maliciously carve away at my cherished writing time — and I’m actively getting in better shape. I’ve been extremely busy, but in a good way. A way that challenges me the way I love to be challenged.

BRB, doing some much-needed revision

So yeah, over the last few days I did a Reread What I Have So Far of my current WIPs, which is something I normally do at various points of their production.

I often do this near the start of every project for a few reasons: one, to see if any of it holds up and holds my attention (which yes, both do, yay!), and two, to get a firm grasp on the story and its many moving parts. This second reason is the more important of the two, as it’s my way of establishing continuity.

And let me tell you, my novels ALWAYS start off with the shittiest continuity ever. This is mainly due to me trying things out just to see where they go. This includes character traits and personalities, extended family and friends, time of day, whatever. I used to say I was ‘flailing’ at this point, but I don’t think that’s a good word for it. More like ‘feeling my way’, honestly. After maybe four or so chapters, I’ll do a Reread What I Have So Far and see what works and what needs work. The end result is that Project A is going in an unexpected but fun direction and I’m quite happy about that, but I definitely need to get its continuity under control. Project B, on the other hand, is going a bit slow but the continuity is just fine. Woo, go me!

Added to that, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend a bit more time doing another revision of Diwa & Kaffi, because I’m taking a writing friend’s suggestion to heart: it needs more description. Not a lot, but after doing a Reread after distancing myself from it a little bit, those bare spots definitely stick out a lot more now. There aren’t going to be any major revision issues with this one, no inserts or deletions…this one’s just to give it a bit more needed meat to it.

So yeah, this is going to be my job in the next couple of weeks. My Writer Brain of course is a bit irritated because I won’t get any new words out for a while, but it’s the price I have to pay. I’ll get back to those new words soon enough.

Updates and whatnot

First on the docket: FREE BOOKS!

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and all five of my ebooks are available for free until the first of January over at Smashwords! Here are the links:

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir
The Mendaihu Universe Book 1: A Division of Souls
The Mendaihu Universe Book 2: The Persistence of Memories
The Mendaihu Universe Book 3: The Balance of Light

All five books are available in multiple formats, so you can read on any PC, laptop, or ereader! Because I like looking out for y’all.

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Second of all: chances are I might not have too much to ramble on about in the next few weeks as I’m most likely going to just keep busy offline with my other projects as well as celebrating the holidays, so if you don’t see any posts in the next few Monday/Friday go-rounds, that’s the reason. It’s not that I’m busy, it’s that I’m enjoying not being busy!

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I’m happy to say that late last night I came up with an idea that could significantly improve the opening of MU4, which I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. As usual, it revolves around my penchant for starting the story at the wrong time! Of course, I’d already logged off, and had even turned off the bedside light to go to sleep when it came to me, but thankfully I was able to remember it this morning, so that will be part of today’s work. Yay for breaking through a block!

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I’m still plowing through my music bios and it looks like I’m down to maybe 15 unread books at this point, which blows my mind. I never thought I’d be that caught up! Speaking of reading, I’ve done a factory reset of my e-reader (somehow the keyboard had stopped working) which wiped a number of apps that I’d had on there that I probably didn’t need and never used, but on the plus side, I’ve filled it up with a number of cheap or free e-books that I plan on hitting next year. My average books-per-year has hovered around 70 or so and I’d like to up that. (Why so low? Primarily because over the last few years I’ve been spending a considerable amount of reading-in-bed time doing project revision, and that can take up to a few weeks at a time. I currently do not have any projects at that level at this point.) I can zip through a good-sized book in a few days so for next year’s GoodReads challenge I think I’ll set it at 100 and see how far I get.

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Speaking of reading, what was my favorite books I read this year? Good question. I’ll need to refer to my GoodReads list and get back to you on that. That could be a good post in itself!

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…and that’s all I have for now. Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas holiday!

More on focusing smaller

Yet another gif courtesy of Makoto Shinkai

It’s been a week since my previous post about focusing smaller when it comes to writing, and so far this process seems to be working well for me. Every time I started overthinking the idea I’d been working on that particular day, I stopped myself with the reminder: patience, you’ll get there. The biggest problem I’d been having with Theadia and MU4 over the last few months wasn’t that I was writing crap, it was that I was too eager to get to the goal. And the worst thing I can do is write impatiently.

Some people can write novels out of order. I’ve done it myself a few times…for instance, some of the scenes from Meet the Lidwells were written well in advance as practice sessions at 750Words. And that’s just fine! I’ve been doing precisely that with Theadia lately, just to get the words out and get my brain in the proper mindset for that story. But in the bigger picture, I tend and prefer to write chronologically. I’m a big fan of keeping the Big Story Arc clear in my head so I’m better able to pull all the smaller arcs and characters in the right directions. Thing is, sometimes I let the Big Story Arc thoughts take over, and that’s not good for my writing process.

So what I’ve been doing all this week is focusing on one scene in each project. (As it happens, it’s the opening scene in MU4 and a mid-book scene in Theadia. Perfect example of my occasionally writing out of order.) The main purpose for these exercises was not to convince myself that I was FINALLY working on a new project… it was just to get the creative juices flowing, that’s all.

What’s helping me refocus? Music, of course! Just like the trilogy mixtapes, I’ve been throwing together some interesting mixes for both of the new projects. Theadia‘s mixes have been especially interesting as I’m going out of my way to pick songs I wouldn’t normally choose for this kind of thing. MU4‘s mixes have been similar to the early Eden Cycle mixes of ’97-’98, collecting songs from different genres that evoke a particular mood. I suppose in a way I’m revisiting my old Miami Vice soundtrack style of writing. Hey, whatever works, right?

Another way I’ve been training myself to achieve this new focus is actually a fun project that takes no more than maybe a half hour a day but it’s like a treat for me: storyboarding Diwa & Kaffi! I do one page of six squares a day, just rough visualization sketches in pencil. It’s doing two things for me: One, it’s super fun and something I’ve always wanted to do with my novels, and Two, the daily exercise is helping me get better.

And that, really, is the whole point of this exercise in narrowing focus: getting better.

On Focusing Smaller

Source: Paprika (Satoshi Kon)

I’ve often said that I tend to be a pantser rather than an outliner, but that isn’t entirely true. I’ve done complete outlines before. For example, the outline for Meet the Lidwells! was more or less complete because it was focused on the band’s discography.

On the other hand, I have a few complete outlines for books that I’ve backburnered or trunked. For years I thought the reason for the story’s failure was because I was too hyper-focused on it and gave myself far too many rules and limitations. I’d lose interest because I was trying too hard to make this rigid plan work, even when I constantly told myself it was never set in stone.

A few days ago I was reading someone’s Twitter feed and they happened to mention how, with some creatives with ADHD, they sometimes lose interest in a big project once their brain has solved the problem. That is, they’ve run the whole idea through their head and completed the plot before any work has even been done, leaving the person unable to maintain interest in the creative part of the work.

Suddenly it made sense to me: why do I still feel the pull of some of these backburnered and trunked projects but can never get far with them? Why am I having issues getting anywhere with Theadia and the fourth Mendaihu Universe novel? For years I thought it was because it just wasn’t resonating with me. But why wasn’t it? Disinterest and personal issues don’t seem to be the complete answer, because I’ve felt that with far too many of my completed projects at one point or another.

I had to put it in perspective. Again, with the Bridgetown Trilogy: why did I have almost no problems with that (not including the end of Book 3)? Easy: it was because the bulk of those books — and In My Blue World, Diwa & Kaffi and Lidwells — were written with me only focusing ahead maybe one or two scenes at most. I wrote most of that by sketching out a few ideas during the day job and expanding on those when I got home. [I’ve talked about this process plenty of times, of course.]

There was a reason I kept wanting to get back to that particular process, and for years I misunderstood that yearning as reminiscence and a longing for how enjoyable that process was.

But once I saw those tweets the other day, it occurred to me that maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe my brain really is telling me that this particular process worked for me, and worked well at that, and maybe it’s time to return to it. I was looking at it wrong; I needed to understand this longing in a clinical sense. I can have a long-term goal with my writing — knowing the direction and final destination of the story — but I have to maintain a much sharper and smaller focus on the scenes in front of me at almost all times.

The reason for that is because when I work out all the moving parts of the entire story and plan it all out ahead of time, I lose interest in it. I’ve already done the brain work and now I’m bored with it. The fact that I keep thinking about these projects, especially when I read older blog posts, notes and outtakes, is because it’s not the story that bores me, but my brain reacting to the idea of the work it involves.

This, by the way, is most likely why my academic years were so damn scattershot.

SO. What this means is that I’ve started adjusting accordingly. My daily words are now focusing on writing short outtakes again. My plans for Theadia, MU4 and other projects are to work on them a little at a time, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Referring to those outlines only as a road map, and only when needed.

I’m very curious to see where this will take me.

Yeah, no.

If I’ve learned anything about being a writer over the last few decades, I’ve learned to notice when I’m bored with my own work. And unfortunately, Theadia is heading in that direction almost directly out of the gate.

BUT! I’ve also learned that this is a good sign. What this really means is that I’ve just gone in the wrong direction, which is completely normal for me when I start a new project. It almost always takes me three or four tries before I get it right. I just have to keep at it.

Why does this happen so often? Good question. I think it’s because so often I start with a pretty sturdy long-game story arc, but I don’t put enough thought into the short-game subplots as I should. This was exactly why Diwa & Kaffi stuttered to a halt a few times. It’s all part of the process.

So what do I need to do to fix this? Simple: start over. Think of the short-term goals and story arcs that I need to hit first before I can introduce the long-game arc. And if it doesn’t work the second time, try it again from a different angle. Start in medias res if I have to. Effectively what I need to do is raise the stakes a lot more than they’re currently at.

Recently I started thinking about why I’d suffered the same fate with Mendaihu Universe book four, and I can see I made the same mistake there as well. It had nothing to do with the story idea itself…it was that I started it wrong. And I think I know what I can do with that particular project as well, so who knows…maybe I’ll be writing more tandem projects again soon? Heh.

Onward and upward.