That Time Again: Reading What I Have So Far

Yup, it’s time once again for me to read what I have so far of my projects. The other night I finished reading Project A, and I’m now on the second chapter of Project B. So what do I have to say for myself?

Well, Project A has a lot of…gaps. It’s not horrible work, but I think I can add a few more scenes in between what I do have to make the story that much richer. These will essentially do two things: one, it’ll show the two main characters interacting with the different worlds they find themselves in, and two, it will expand on a few of the secondary characters that will become important later on. This one has been coming along really well and I’m quite proud of what I have so far — it’s sort of a distant cousin of In My Blue World in that it’s a Parallel World fantasy, and I find that I’m really enjoying writing that kind of thing. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with more of them soon enough!

As for Project B? Well…you can definitely tell I had a bad case of the First Chapter Flails here. Or first chapters, really. By the time I got to maybe Chapter Four I had a better idea of where it’s all going. I can salvage a lot of it by way of snipping out some of the extraneous dead ends and insert a few things that I came up with much later in the story as a mirror plot point. The other day I was in bed reading this one and made myself get up to add four words — just a half-sentence that now makes a vague hint at an extremely important plot point much later in the book. That’s mainly what I need to do with this one: go back and realign the beginning stuff so it works with the ending stuff. I think I might be done with this one by sometime mid-November if I keep up, so I’m already looking forward to working on this one!

As for Project C…? Well, I’ve been bad with that one the last week or so, but that’s because I’ve been working on the outline instead. I should probably be back on that one by next week. I haven’t reread that one in a while, but I think I’ll do that after I finish reading Project B. We shall see…

In the meantime, I’ve also been sneaking in quick doodles for Inktober all this month and I’m proud to say that this is probably the first year I’ve been able to do it this consistently all the way to the end. (You can see my drawings on my Twitter and my Instagram.) I guess this experiment of mine of being super-involved with daily scheduling is working out better than I thought! Woo!

Distraction

The (in)famous Distraction Dance from Fleeing the Complex

Okay, I’ll admit it. I still get distracted, even when I’m on a roll with my writing. Some days it’s not bad…I’ll hear a song on the radio and temporarily stop what I’m doing to look it up and add to my shopping list, or I’ll take a quick peek on social media when I happen to slowly sludging my way through a scene. And yeah, I’ll also have those worse days when I Just Don’t Wanna and I’ll slide into a Twitter thread for a half hour.

I still get through them, though. I’ve gotten a lot better at saying No, you REALLY need to hit your daily goal, preferably before lunch/before you go to bed. I have my workarounds. Part of is that I’ve made sure I’m always conscious of the fact that I really do enjoy these current projects I’m working on, even if it’s taking me forever to get through them. I’ve also made sure I don’t overthink any problems I might encounter. Hell, one of the projects has multiple [FIX THIS LATER] notes all over the place. And that is something I’ve never done in the past, at least not before writing Diwa & Kaffi, and that one was added during revision when I realized I’d left out a major scene that tripped up the flow.

Still, today’s Friday and of course I’ll be heavily distracted because it’s New Music Release day. But I’ve gotten better at that as well. I’m no longer completely focused on the music; I’ll give it all a listen while I work, because I’ve prioritized work first. It works most of the time.

Distraction is no longer my enemy, I suppose. It’s just another sensory input that I’ve finally figured out how to manage.

Juggling different stories

GIF source unknown, but it’s amazing animation, isn’t it?

So, what’s it like writing three novels at the same time?

Good question. To borrow my ‘homework’ description from the previous post, it’s a lot like that. Each project gets a certain amount of focus time during the day. Just like doing math homework, then doing some foreign language exercises, then reading a chapter for English class, and so on.

And yes, just like my school days, there are times when I Just Don’t Wanna, but I need to do it anyway or else I’m going to get a terrible grade. Or in this case, I’ll just be one day behind and be angry with myself for being a lazy whiny brat. Thankfully those days are few and far between, and I do allow myself a day off now and again.

Is it hard to do? It can be if you’re not used to it. These are three different stories in different created universes, so often times I need to prepare myself a little bit before I even write a word. Project A is written in a fairy tale sort of way and has a full outline, so for that one it’s a matter of knowing what scene I’m at and what style I need to use. Project B also has a full outline but the style is much looser on purpose, so I let myself be more playful and irreverent here. Project C doesn’t have a full outline (which needs to be rectified very soon) but is set in a previously written universe so I can slide into it quite easily.

Like I said previously, the trick is to always view them as separate things with a reasonable and finite goal. Instead of thinking of it as three thousand words per day, I think of it as three one-thousand-word exercises spread throughout the day. Most times I’ll hit it, but some day’s I won’t. And that’s fine too! I missed getting any words for Project C on Wednesday because I had some non-writing things I had to tend to.

Is this going to be the norm for me? I doubt it. I’m doing it now because I still have the time and the inclination. Eventually I’ll have something else come up and I’ll probably go back to one or two projects. I’m simply doing it because I know I can and because I want to. Doing this now, by the way, gives me some extra works to reserve for submission. If one doesn’t work, I can send another. (And alternately, I’ll have enough backlog to upload to Smashwords if I decide to continue down that road.)

Either way, I’m doing what I love and doing my best to make it work.

Counting On It

September’s writing work: 57,111 words across three novels, twenty personal journal entries, eighteen blog posts (including this one, written last night), and eighteen rough-draft poems. And having enough time left to send out a few resumes, upload pictures to a stock photo site, occasionally play (and retune) my guitar, and do fifteen quick sketches in preparation for Inktober.

It’s been a super busy month, but this is exactly how I want it.

I’ve always noted my word count in some kind of moleskine pocket calendar. I’ve done it since the Belfry days. I’ve never used it for self-defeating purposes — you know, the ‘I only got 1000 words today, why couldn’t I make 2000?’ — because that never works. It’s more about figuring out my personal metrics, really. What word count am I comfortable with? What count do I think is good but could be a lot better? Which days are my worst, and which are best? Where can I do better, and when am I just phoning it in? I’m curious about these things.

About halfway through September I said to myself, okay: let’s try to make at LEAST a thousand words each for the three novel projects. I noticed, thanks to my word count notes, that I was hitting about 800 for Project A (which I’m doing on the 750Words site), roughly the same for Project B, but lagging on Project C at around 500. I knew it wasn’t because of burnout, though. It was because it was midafternoon and I’d start getting distracted. Whether it was comics, social media, cat gifs, or whatever, the problem with Project C was that I just wasn’t taking it completely seriously. And the last thing I wanted to do was let that one fall by the wayside. Or any of them for that matter.

So instead of saying okay let’s hit three thousand words today, I said let’s hit one thousand for each project. Very big difference there. It forced me to think that no, I wasn’t trying to Do All The Writing. I had three assignments due that day, all of them with specific word count. As soon as I hit one, I’d take a break (writing a blog post, sketching, practicing guitar, etc), then jump onto the next one. And if I didn’t quite hit it, then I could use some post-dinner time to catch up. And as for the journal, poem and sketch: all three notebooks for those are across the room on the (Not So) Hidden Bookshelf and I do all three in one go, taking no more than maybe a half hour at most. I don’t take them entirely seriously, and that in itself is part of another goal: stop trying to be so f***ing perfect from the get-go. And all of this is finely scheduled for most of the day.

See? There is a method to my madness! Heh.

Anyway — I’m quite happy that I managed to get that many words done this month, and I hope to do more. I’ll continue the journal entries, poems, sketches (it being Inktober and all). Keep up my daily creativity, and expand and elaborate on it. Reach out further with submission and freelance.

Let’s see where this goes.

Roughing It

Image courtesy of Haibane Renmei

One thing I’ve learned this week while following through with my Ramping Things Up plan with my writing is that I’m being a hell of a lot less nitpicky about my rough drafts.

Which is actually a GOOD thing, because I’ve always had a habit of taking far too long trying to bash out the Perfect Manuscript on the first try. I’m no longer spending three hours barely making 500 words and expecting poetry. This does NOT mean I’m being super lazy and writing nonsensical crap and lorem ipsum, of course. It just means I’ve stopped hyperfocusing on something that doesn’t need hyperfocusing right that moment. I don’t need to revise that terrible sentence right now, I can always do it in revision later on. I don’t need to fix the continuity, I can just leave a ‘FIX THIS’ note for later. If I know I’m just rambling in this scene, I can always just stop there, leave another ‘FIX THIS’ note for later, and move onto the next scene. In essence, I’m finally letting myself be rough with the rough draft.

Disconnecting from a hell of a lot of distractions is helping as well, no big surprise.

It’s part of a larger personal project, I suppose. I’m still working on finally allowing myself to be imperfect in general. Nothing wrong with that, is there? I’m allowed to trip up on my words, make mistakes and learn from them, and not set such super high expectations upon myself. [Mind you, this has nothing to do with how my choices/thoughts/etc affect others. This is merely about realizing I don’t need to be The Perfect Person from the get-go. No one is like that, no matter what we might think or believe. And I’ve had a terrible habit of hyperfocusing on that, much to my detriment.]

So what do my rough drafts look like so far? Per my full outline on Project A, I think I’m about 2/3rds of the way through, which is Not Bad At All. That one’s gonna need some TLC in regards to details and continuity, but I’m happy with where I stand with it at the moment. Project B is finally out of the Rewriting Older Scenes haze and is now heading forward with All New Words. Woo! And Project C is already headlong into Chapter 2. They’re all definitely rough as they come, but I’m liking what I have so far. And I’ve even managed to get a lot of minor things achieved: blog entries, Shutterstock uploads, poetry, and more.

I suppose one could say I’m getting my shit together, heh. But really, it’s more about finally laying out a plan that works. It’s me saying ‘okay, it’s time for me to work on [x] now, so let’s get started’ and then doing it. It’s setting me in the right direction, and I have no complaints about that.

Keeping It Up

So how am I doing a week after stating that I’m ramping up my writing schedule? Not bad at all, actually! I’m averaging around 1000 words each on all three projects, and staying on top of the other things such as daily drawings, personal journal entries, and these here blogs. It keeps me reasonably busy for most of the day with some extra time to catch up on non-writing writing biz things when need be. Quite happy about that.

So how am I pulling this off? By sticking to my daily schedule, closing browsers, and having a bit of a rough outline of the current scene(s) I’m working on. I’m writing Project 1 by 9am, starting work on Project 2 by 11, finishing that off after lunch and working on Project 3 by 2pm. I give myself about two solid mostly uninterrupted hours with minimal distraction other than perhaps acquiring more coffee.

I’m also making it into an immediate-errand-completion-success process in my head. That in itself is important, as that was now I managed to teach myself to get my schoolwork done on time back in the day. I’ll open up only the Word docs I need, and focus only on that until I feel I’ve done a decent amount of work on it for the day. Sometimes it’s around 700 words, other times it’s 1200, but as long as I’m happy with what I’ve completed and left off at, that’s what really matters.

And what about off days? Well, I took Tuesday off from everything for the sole purpose of celebrating A’s birthday and going out for a bit (we went to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was a super fun film!) and I ensured that I didn’t feel guilty or twitchy about not working. I didn’t even write a journal entry! That’s the other important thing: it’s totally fine for me to take a personal day off from the writing! Taking the day off isn’t the problem for me…it’s trying to shake the feeling that I’m procrastinating and feeling guilty about it. It never quite goes away, but I’ve learned to ignore it.

I have no idea how long this schedule will last, nor do I want to know, because the point is not to think about things like that. The point is also to keep doing it until further notice!

Not quite used to this

Current Project A has been going in a very interesting direction as of late. For the most part it’s going exactly how I want it to, and I’m averaging around 800 to 1000 daily words on it — words that are coming fast and quick, just like they did with In My Blue World a while back. But that’s not what’s making me nervous…if the prose wants to slide out onto the screen with minimal fuss, who am I to complain or worry, right?

What’s making me nervous is that I am way out of my comfort zone with this one. I mean, I did that on purpose, but still…I really don’t want to eff this one up. It’s not really a space opera, considering I’m not going for the StarWarsy dogfight angle…it’s more like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series in that it’s about regular people living out there in the universe. It’s partly inspired by the need for process and compliance inherent within a few of my former day jobs as well as the times when those things can hinder more than help, but it’s more than that; it’s also a personal story about doing what’s right versus doing what’s necessary, and that part’s inspired by American politics of the last six years. And I didn’t want it to be about the upper management or the higher classes, either…I wanted to write this about the citizens that live in this story’s universe. But I don’t want this to be preachy, either. Nor do I want it to be cynical or nihilistic or paranoid, either. Those are the last things I ever want with my stories.

I’m not afraid to write this story, I just want to do it right. I’m taking each scene as it comes, and paying attention to how they unfold. I never make them overly dramatic, as that’s not the angle I’m going for. The main characters handle computer and communications issues like they would at their jobs; stressed out and annoyed, but never for a moment thinking that they’re trying to save the universe. One of the military pilots is defecting out of desperation and fear rather than for nefarious reasons. Another character constantly worries about getting caught. I’m not aiming for gritty realism, though…I’m just writing the story as if these characters were you or I; just your regular imperfect citizens trying to survive on a daily basis.

This is why I’ve yet to give up on it or feel that oh god this is all CRAP feeling just yet. It’s messy. There are a lot of trouble spots that will definitely need revision. But it’s going in the right direction, and right now, that’s all that matters.

When it sounds right

Image courtesy of Big Hero 6

I’ll be honest, even though I might have created an outline for whatever WIP I’m working on, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m not leaning hard on it, and still trusting myself with whatever sounds right. It’s not the same as pantsing it; that would basically mean I’m sort of making it up as I go along with only a mental map with the barest of details. It’s more like I’ve worked out several levels of what resonates with me.

Put it this way: the outlines/synopses I’ve drawn out for Current Projects A and B were created by thinking of how I want the book as a whole to play out. With Project A, for instance, the focus starts only on one character, Althea, but by the end of the story it focuses on a lot of people, and that’s for a reason: the theme of the story is “when personal events become so much bigger than ourselves”. Having laid that part out in the synopsis, then I start going micro: the events of each successive chapter/scene needs to become bigger somehow (this could be in scope, but also in conflict, or in action, or in how said conflict affects the characters at that point in time). And often I’ll go one or two levels deeper by the end of that scene or chapter: perhaps an event will affect a major character and drive them to action…and their action will in turn affect someone or something else.

It’s this sort of interplay that’s always in the back of my mind whenever I write a novel, and thus is why I often say I go with what sounds “right” to me. It’s how I know when the prose is strained, or that I’ve focused far too long on a small detail, or I’m using the wrong person’s POV, and so on.

And then, interestingly, I’ll do the exact opposite when I’m doing a reread or a revision: instead of focusing on the construction and the architecture that went into making the story, I’ll look at the finished (or in-progress) piece and see how it’s holding up. Am I making these levels of detail sturdy enough? Could this section be shored up and strengthened? Would an added scene work here, and would it make the story even stronger?

The weird thing, on top of all that, though…is that I don’t always know if I’m really pulling it off while I’m writing it. Project A feels a bit like that lately. It’s partly because I’m writing in a setting I’ve never written in before, but I think I’m pulling off to a decent degree because the story itself doesn’t need micro-details to make it work. All I can say is that the story itself seems to be working well so far in rough draft form. It sounds right to me.

And for a rough draft, that’s all I really ask for, to be honest.

Decisions

Luffy from One Piece

Sometimes the problem isn’t hiding somewhere deep in the background and avoiding detection, leaving you spending far too much time focusing on where you think it might be rather than where it lies. Why are my characters not doing anything? Is it because they’re boring? Or that I don’t know what I want them to do? Or that I’ve just jumped into this project with a hell of a lot less preparation than I thought?

No, the issue, I find as of late, is my own damn problem. Being afraid to let those characters do what they need to do. I need them to get into trouble. I need them to cause trouble. I need to strip away more of their worries and fears and make them face them all, whether they’re ready for it or not. It’s an issue I’ve had before, really, and it’s usually caused by going from one extreme to another. I’ve reread some of my older work (trunked, private and otherwise) and noticed I go in waves. At some point I’ll have decided my creative outlets will feature as few filters or barriers as possible and those works will have a bit of wildness to them. Then I’ll go the other way, and write characters that work from an area of personal and/or emotional safety.

Now that I think about it, having written Diwa & Kaffi, which is very much the latter, it’s taken me some time to readjust. [Certainly there are a few personal issues at stake too; I wrote that not long before those final extremely stressful months at the Former Day Job. It took me a lot longer than I thought to work my way out of that mental/emotional situation.]

Which I think is why I feel that both Current Projects have finally broken through those barriers. The only way I could do it is to make the decision for both: I shouldn’t give these characters nearly as much protection as I’d been giving them. They need to face more dangers, more uncertainty. Weird things, bad things will happen to them, or to those around them, and they’ll need to process them. It’s what these projects deserve.

That doesn’t mean I won’t write in the ‘safe’ style of Diwa & Kaffi, of course. I just need to remember that each story I write has a different style that needs specific levels of conflict to make them work.

Writing new characters

Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson from Trigun

One of my current projects has had quite the interesting evolution. It had started off in 2019 as a simple light-hearted litfic story that happened to take place on a space station, but after several failed attempts, cast changes, and three mixtapes, it’s turned into something altogether different. The two main characters, BFFs slightly inspired by Meryl and Milly from Trigun among other things, are the only two people that have survived to the current version. Two characters who are just doing their job and get involved in something WAAAAAAAY out of their league, yet it wouldn’t be the same without them. One character is boisterous, kind of silly, but she always has your back; the other is straitlaced and serious, but will often come up with the most unexpected and deeply unstable ideas. That’s Althea and Claudia, the two main characters in my story.

These two goofballs remind me just how often I love creating and writing new characters that just resonate and take on lives of their own. It’s rare, but sometimes I know exactly how these characters would act in any given moment, any given situation. They might be slightly based on or inspired by real people or someone else’s characters, but I’ve made them my own by giving them the exact personalities I expect them to have. I even know that they must have a pet Maine coon cat (I spoke about Grizelda a few weeks ago) and they’re both the biggest nerds ever. They’re not only BFFs from childhood, they love each other dearly and are everything except married at this current point of writing. Writing them together has always been a joy and rarely frustrating.

Mind you, the story itself is in its very rough draft form at the moment — let’s just say there’s an extremely frustrating chapter I stopped a while back and put a big [WRITE THIS LATER] on it — but I’m happy to say that thanks to these two women, I know where it’s all supposed to unfold and what their roles are within it all. They’re sort of Reluctant Heroes, I suppose, but I’m trying not to lean too heavily on any one trope for them. They’re the ones who’ll come up with That Insane Idea That Just Might Work, but they’re also the ones wondering why the hell they got involved in the first place.

So yeah…I could say that I feel like I’m still scrabbling, still trying to find my way and making some of it up as I go along, but with these two goobers as my leads, I think I’m in good hands!