Oh hey! I’m back again. Sorry about the delay. So what’s been going on in the writing world for me lately, anyway?
Glad you asked! Because I’d been getting rather annoyed with myself because nothing was going on. I mean, I have been doing my daily words for the most part, but I really wasn’t getting anywhere with it. It’s all fine that I was using this time to write something just out of necessity — in this case, a few holiday-themed experiments in the Mendaihu Universe (which I may or may not expand on at some point) and quite a few outtakes for an as-yet-unnamed college campus story set in the Diwa & Kaffi universe. I even played around a bit with a few older ideas…but nothing seemed to be sticking. I was either getting bored with it, or there really was no story there to begin with.
To put it bluntly: I’m itching to start a new project. And none of these outtakes were calling out to me.
That is, until I decided to try a different approach: one day last week, I wrote out a few detailed paragraphs of various story tropes that I’ve positively gravitated towards, both past and present. Nothing specific, just working out what kind of stories resonate with me at this time. In the process, I let my imagination go wild: how would I go about writing these stories, anyway? Would I be able to expand on this, make it a novel or some other format? Not that I was about to write one then and there — this was just to expand my mind a bit. This is exactly how I’d approached my last three novels, and the process worked pretty damn well.
In all honesty, this was EXACTLY what I’d needed to do. Because now I have a few Possible New Projects worth looking into. Again, I’m not going to look at these as Big Epic Undertakings… I’m just going to let them evolve.
And hopefully something new and exciting will come out of it.
The downside to using 750Words for my daily* writing exercise platform is that I don’t always get around to making offline copies of them. And I’ve been using the site for quite a few years, so I’m not entirely sure what I have out there right now.
[* It hasn’t actually been daily for a while now due to other projects and responsibilities that I’ve been working on. But hopefully I can get back into the habit soon enough.]
Last night I read a temporary project I did save was something I’d called The Hurleys. It was an idea in the Mendaihu Universe that took place in the current day instead of far into the future; its central characters were three adult siblings living in midwestern Massachusetts (go with what you know) who are some of the very few who are awakened to the fact that they’re connected to the Mendaihu. I didn’t get too far with it other than maybe five or six entries, but I gave it enough life and detail that it’s something I could possibly expand on.
I know I’ve written quite a few of these over the years I’ve used 750Words. My last three novels all grew out of these. And now I’m curious as to how many others are out there on my account, just waiting to be picked up and expanded upon. Thankfully it’s an easy enough thing to do, as the site keeps everything no matter how old, and I’m the only one who can access it.
Perhaps within the next month or so I’ll take a bit of time and do a deep dive. Maybe I’ll find my next novel idea!
It’s the question that nags at every writer at some point: what should I write next?
I’ve got two, maybe three projects idling in the background, and I’m not entirely sure which ones I want to start first. I’m not making a solid decision just yet, as I’m still heavily focused on this current revision phase of Diwa & Kaffi. If I’m going to do any prep work for any of these at this time, it’ll just be a few notes here and there or some practice words.
Each new project starts off a bit differently from the previous one, I’ve noticed. Meet the Lidwells started out as an enjoyable diversion while trudging through the massive prep work for the Bridgetown Trilogy releases. In My Blue World started out as a light adventure, and Diwa & Kaffi started as a serious approach at YA. I really have no idea how these two or three possibles are going to kick off.
And once I start them, who knows if they’ll see completion? Between the those three books and the Trilogy, there are at least three or four more projects that I’d started but eventually trunked. That’s always a frustrating decision, but sometimes it’s got to be done. [There are many red flags that will tell me when a story needs trunking, but the biggest one for me is when it truly feels like I’m wasting my time.]
The most I can do as a writer is just DO it, and hope for the best. I doubt I’ll ever truly run out of ideas. I might have a dry spell, sure — I had one of those about ten years ago — but something else will come along eventually. And when it does, I’ll do my best to see it through. And if that fails, well…onto the next project.
As of Thursday, one major chapter in my ongoing Spare Oom Cleanup Project has finally come to a close with the final sorting and filing of my writing! Everything’s in binders (or in some case, boxes) now and and in its own specific place.
Early, finished and trunked projects are over on the bottom shelf of the (Formerly) Forgotten Bookshelf, with journals and poetry notebooks on the top shelf with easy access from Fancy New Chair. All my artwork, maps and Murph doodles are finally in one place. Numerous dead pens have been given a proper sendoff along with disintegrating manila folders and Crap I Really Don’t Need to Save.
And of course I saved the best for last, and it took me a few days to go through it: The Mendaihu Universe Library! Heh. This is every scrap of paper, every story idea I scribbled down during a day job, every character reference, every outtake (longhand and typed), every chapter printout with revision notes, and One Clean Full Printout of every related project, from its humble 1993 beginnings all the way to the 2015 prep for self-publication. And let me tell you, there’s a lot less of it than there used to be! Many clean printouts have been sent to the shredder over the years, and I’ve finally managed to get them down to one single box full of them.
I really enjoyed going through all those folders and documents and getting them into chronological order. For a project that lasted 22 years (!!), it was quite interesting to see how it evolved from one version to the next. It started off as a science fictional re-imagining of my Infamous War Novel (which in 1993 was already nine years old!) but quickly took on a life of its own with all kinds of detours, rewrites and re-imaginings along the way.
I even managed to get some clarity on how it evolved from 1997-8 with The Phoenix Effect to 2001 with the start of A Division of Souls. I knew I’d tried submitting TPE, attempted to rewrite it, and also write a sequel to it, but I couldn’t quite remember the path all that clearly. Come to find out, a lot of it lines up with my day jobs shifting — leaving HMV in September 2000, starting second shift at Yankee Candle, and moving to first shift in April 2001. That last date pretty much coincides with the time I’d decided to nuke TPE and start from scratch with ADoS.
But the best part is that I was able to recalibrate my thoughts on the Mendaihu Universe and future plans for a Book Four. There will be a Book Four, no doubt about it…I’ve been planning to write one for ages, I just had to finish off all the other projects first.
And now I finally have the time and the inspiration for it!
Granted, I still need to finish off the final revision for Diwa and Kaffi and get that one submitted; that of course comes first. But this also means I can start playing around with story ideas, character development, and more. (And yes, there will be more Songs from the Eden Cycle mix tapes. Volume 5 was created last October, with more on the way.)
Yeah, I should know better than to announce my next project, as inevitably it crashes and burns, I ragequit it a few times, and put it on the back burner for a few more years. I’m not promising anything…so let’s just say that I’m willing to push this one pretty hard to keep it active this time out.
After many years of threatening to do so, I’ve decided to start 2018 and the Apartment Complex story by writing it longhand. Though I’ve done rough outtakes of various stories with paper and pen in the past, the last one I’d completed in this manner was The Phoenix Effect back in the late 90s.
I can usually write three to five handwritten pages in an hour. I don’t rightly remember how much that comes out to in terms of word count (as you can see above, I write pretty small compared to others), but last I remember, it would work out to about 300 to 500 words. And since I’ll be editing/revising as I transcribe it to Word at a slightly later time, that’ll add even more. So all told, I’m not gaining or losing word count, it’s just getting spread out differently.
[Yes, I still put a start timestamp (and whatever I happen to be listening to) in the left margin. No particular reason other than to keep track of my words and soundtrack. It’s been a habit of mine since the 80s.]
So how will this one be any different from the rough outtakes and incomplete stories? Well, for starters, I have this one almost fully outlined — yet another relatively new process for me, pantser that I usually am — so I don’t think I’ll be flailing as much as I normally would. It also makes me more mobile, and less susceptible to internet and musical distractions. And most importantly, I’m already dedicated to the story, having written outtakes on the 750 earlier in 2017. I’ve been looking forward to writing this one for a few months now.
As expected, I’ve spent the morning switching things over. Calendars to put up (Hokusai prints), whiteboard schedule to lay out (see above), plans to put into motion (ditto). I said I was going to have a busy 2018, and I wasn’t planning on spending Day One being a lazy ass. Wouldn’t make a good precedent.
There’s not too much different on the whiteboard, as you can see. The blog update schedule will remain as is. I decided to put the Dreamwidth blog (DW) up there on Sundays and Wednesdays, as I consider that my personal (non-writing or music) site and I really should be a bit more social there. It’s also time to reinstate the daily words (750) to get me back up to creative speed. Lastly, I reinstated the Art, Poetry and Music beats to the schedule, more as a ‘get back into the habit’ than an assignment prompt or deadline. The only two things I don’t have listed are my personal longhand journal — which I always write during my morning break on weekdays anyway — and whatever Main Project(s) I happen to be working on, which don’t need reminding.
[Out of shot to the left, which you may have seen from my Christmas picture, is the clipboard that has a more detailed, long-term To-Do list that I will be working on over the course of the year. And yes, it takes up a few pages.]
I’ve also decided this morning that I’m going to change up my morning routine as well. I’m not entirely sure what this will entail, but we’ll see where it goes. My normal routine at present isn’t anything I have to do right then — email, Twitter, webcomics, usually in that order — and it’s not as if I’m really wasting time, but I’m curious to see if I can utilize that time better with other things. Maybe a bit of longhand work? Or stretches/exercise? This is less about me being economical with my time and more about mixing it up to keep from getting bored or stuck in a rut. This sort of thing tends to change every couple of years for me, and it’s about that time now.
This isn’t to say 2018 is going to be All Creativity All the Time. I’ll take nights off to watch movies and anime with A. I want to expand my reading list, and maybe check out more audio books and podcasts. I’d really like to get back into shape so a few days a week at the Y will do me good, as will cutting down on snacks and junk food. And just getting out more, being more social, getting some air and sun. I spent a lot of 2017 in self-imposed hiding for one reason or another, and I’d like to change that.
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.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent new projects, and how much lighter and more positive they are in terms of mood and setting. Not filled with Shiny Happy People, mind you, but neither have I filled them with Miserable Wretches. I’m quite sure this is a personal emotional and mental reaction to things going on In Real Life, but I’m fascinated by this decision nonetheless.
The Infamous War Novel was written a) when I was a moody-ass teenager and b) during the last few years of the Cold War in the 80s, so you can well imagine how much of a funfest that book would have been. Several of my trunked stories from that era and up to the late 90s were written during my high school, college and post-college years when was trying to figure out who the hell I was and what I wanted to do with my life. So a lot of Gen-X whinging going on there.
It wasn’t until the project that became the Bridgetown Trilogy that I forced myself out of that rut and made it a point not to write purely as a reaction to Real Life Stuff.
In a way, though, I haven’t really shaken that off, not completely. I know I’m not the only writer who’s done this. Put it this way: I’m nerely making it a point not to write something pessimistic or grimdark, because that’s not where I want to be right now. I want to write stories that are more positive in some way, to balance that out. Granted, I’m certainly not writing Teletubbies-level harmlessness in reactive response, either.
Meet the Lidwells was an exercise in writing something purely for the fun of it, and for someone to read for the same reason, and I think I’ve pulled it off. There are serious moments in that story, but they’re not High Drama. It’s about the evolution of a band, as well as a family, as they grow from teens to adults.
The next project — the Apartment Complex story — is along the same lines. There’s a reason I’ve been describing it as my Studio Ghibli story; the style is not just about the physical action, but also about the evolution of lives.
It’s kind of hard to describe, because it’s not exactly an American style of storytelling; it’s more inspired by Asian fiction than American. There’s a kind of poetry to this style, where your focus on the physical movement of people is just as important as the movement their internal changes — spiritual, mental and emotional. The pace of the story slows down a little, causing you to pay more attention to the details.
Will I pull this style off? That’s a good question. I’ve read so many books of this style over the last ten or so years that I think I have an understanding of how it works. I hope I pull it off, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
When I start a new story, I don’t really focus too much on character names right away. I’ll give them a placeholder name that I think fits at least for now. If it sticks, it sticks. If it needs changing, well… that’s what Find/Replace is for in MS Word!
I rarely assign a name based on what the name means. Instead, I go with how their name — and sometimes its spelling — resonates with the character that I’m creating. I’ll at least ensure the name fits the character’s culture, but that’s about as far as I’ll take it. The character’s name, in my opinion, should fit their family’s dynamic.
For instance, Caren Johnson from my trilogy: she has a very unexciting, stereotypical last name, as she’s supposed to come from a very blue-collar family that’s been in the police force for ages. And her first name is deliberately spelled with a C and not a K, even though her Mendaihu name starts with a K, to hint that there’s a bit of a rebel in her. She’s someone who doesn’t want to stick out, but she doesn’t exactly want to fit in, either.
Now, did I really think that at the time of creation? To be honest, no. Her name just sort of popped up when I started the book and it sounded right to me. It wasn’t until a few chapters in that I realized that the personality I imagined from the name could be imprinted on the character.
Yeah, I do tend to do a lot of things bassackwards, but hey, if it works…!
For the new project, have the names of about a dozen or so characters. All but one was created in the same way: just a name out of thin air that sounded right to me. I still do this for the same reason, actually. I usually have a basic idea of who the character is and what they’re about, so the name becomes a memetic or an anchor for the idea.
Sometimes the original name I came up with no longer fits and I have to change it. I changed five or six names in the trilogy over the course of writing it, one major change taking place well into the revision period. And that’s okay too. Sometimes the name I come up with is just a placeholder, waiting for me to figure the character out a little more before I can assign a much better fit. I’ve already decided to change the name of one of the main characters in my next project, because I’ve finally figured out his own family background. Thankfully, the only places I’ll need to change this is in my notes, as I haven’t started the first draft yet.
This process of naming characters might not be for everyone, but it seems to work well for me. I like the idea of a character’s name not always being a perfect fit; it reveals part of their personal background and fleshes it out. That background may have nothing to do with the story itself, but it certainly could help reveal why they might act as they do.