How can someone so young sing words so sad?

So the original idea came to me after reading multiple romcoms in a row: what about an older woman who, after a successful career in the late 80s and early 90s as a young pop singer and an adulthood stuck in terrible relationships and bad business decisions, has a meet-cute with an equally jaded John Cusack type of guy who runs a record store in the small town she escapes to?

I bring this up as I’m feeling incredibly burned out from my work on Theadia and Queen Ophelia, both of which probably need complete rewrites. As I said to a friend this morning, there comes a time when it feels more like I’m shoveling mud than actually making a sculpture, y’know? It’s obvious that my writing sessions for both are becoming infrequent enough and hardly any work is being done (cat-sitting aside) that it’s obvious that I’m not happy with the stories at all. Added to that, I do nightly rereads of passages as part of my revision process, and lately it’s felt like I’d rather be reading something else. I don’t hate these projects, they’re just not where I need them to be right now, and I’m not ready to devote even more time and brainspace for it. I need to take a break.

That said…the possibility of me writing a meet-cute romcom filled with 80s and 90s easter eggs, music references and other goofy things is something I think might work. And here I thought Meet the Lidwells was my nerdiest story idea…

(Image courtesy of K-On!, by the way. I really need to start watching that series.)

On Trying a New Genre

I do so love the feeling of coming up with a completely new story out of nowhere.

That happened to me last March when a half-coherent waking dream grew into a surge of ideas, which in turn grew into a complete outline later that morning, which eventually grew into Queen Ophelia. It happened yet again Sunday morning when I woke up with an idea for a meet-cute romcom. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll write it, but I’ll at least give myself time to write an outline to see if it’s a workable story.

I suppose it might surprise you to read that I’ve taken a turn into romance, but hell, why not? It’s the same thing I did in ’93 when I pivoted into science fiction. It’s a genre I’ve been fascinated by but rarely gotten around to reading, writing or even understanding until much later in my years. And as it happens, the genre is in a really good place right now, even as it continues to be one of the strongest selling genres ever. Head to that section of your local book store and you’ll see quite a lot of different styles within the genre. In particular there’s been a fresh wave of romcoms with fun titles and colorful cartoony covers. As a self-publisher that does their own covers, I really love the looks of those; they’re eye-catching and they’re great at letting you know they’re going to be an enjoyable and funny read.

I also suppose one might be worried that I have no idea what I’m getting into. I mean, that’s par for the course for most writers anyway, but that’s part of the fun of being a writer. There’s a lot of resonance going on; I’ve always taken notice when a story just hits me the right way and inspires me to write something similar. And with the books that I’ve been reading lately, I can definitely feel that. Again, writing Diwa & Kaffi is partly to blame when I learned that not every conflict in my stories need to be high stakes. And I do love to write different kinds of relationships…it’s one thing I realize I can do really well, especially if it’s important to the overall plot.

You could probably say I’m writing out of my depth here, but I’m willing to take the challenge. After all, Theadia is a space opera and I’ve never written one of those before, either. All of these new projects are telling me one thing: writing in a new genre isn’t just an exercise for me, it’s something I need to do to break out of my safety net. I’m always willing to challenge myself on a story, especially if it resonates with me as much as these have. Part of the adventure here is figuring out how to work past the obstacles and make it work.

The other part is proving to myself that I can do it in the first place. That’s always been a major part of my writing career, and I’m not about to rest on my laurels now.

On Trying New Settings

Image courtesy of Orange

Writing Theadia has definitely been an interesting exercise, to say the least. One reason I’ve mentioned before; I’m purposely writing it in extremely rough-draft form with little revision-as-I-go. Some days it drives me crazy, as I’m used to working it out in my head and choosing the best words I can at that moment. Writing loose like this has given me a lot more breathing room, and has also let me explore the characters a lot deeper than I normally do. Writing Althea and Claudia (and their cat) has been so much fun because of that.

Another reason is that this is essentially a non-military space opera. Well — there are military characters and subplots involved and some subspace gate travel, but it’s not the main plot. It’s all about the two loveable goofball leads and their (and their family’s and friends’) connection to the military plot stuff. The novel also takes place partly on a large space station and partly on its related planet. I’ve only ever hinted at that once, with the setting of the Bridgetown Trilogy, but never to this extent. I’ve done my best to adhere to the general rules of science and physics so it remains believable, but I’ve kept the focus mostly on the day-to-day of civilian life on planet and station. Think of it as more Carole & Tuesday than Robotech. It’s very inspired by Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer stories. The conflict focuses more on how a possible war affects those civilians, and how frustrating it can be when it feels like no one in charge is doing their job correctly.

I’ve always wanted to write a space-themed novel, but figuring out how to write it always eluded me. I didn’t want a story about a generation ship suffering from entropy, or a grimdark Expanse story of possibly dangerous aliens, or even a rebels-win story where every main lead is hyperknowledgeable about tech. I wanted an everyday story, just set in an extraordinary setting. [I find myself really enjoying writing that sort of thing lately.] Earlier this year I finally figured out what I wanted from Theadia and set about writing the outline and then the story itself. I’d continue to build the worlds around them, setting the rules as I go.

It still needs a lot of work, but what I have so far is probably the furthest I’ve ever pushed myself in terms of setting and story. And strangely enough, I’ve been finding it incredibly enjoyable!

Not All Words Are New

Every now and again I have to remind myself that not all word counts I get on any given day have to be new words. Sometimes they can be revision or ‘Do This Later’ notes.

The other day I found I didn’t have enough time to work on Theadia due to other errands and concerns, so instead of worrying about failing to get anything done at all, I figured that what I could do instead was do some note insertion over the last several chapters instead. What ended up being a quick twenty-minute session actually produced some much-needed revision notes over several chapters explaining what I need to add in order to improve the story. They were only a paragraph or two long, but I hit as many concerns as I could that had come up during recent read-what-I-have-so-far sessions. Most of them were related to the overall story arc rather than the scene itself — background events that aren’t the main focus but help drive it further regardless.

I’ve noticed that over the course of writing this (and Queen Ophelia), my writing processes have definitely evolved and/or changed over the years. My pacing has become tighter and I’ve become better at inserting the “early fiddly bits” that are supposed to affect the story further down the line. At the same time, my writing sessions have become much looser — never mind grinding gears to find the perfect word or phrase, just get the idea down first — and my productivity has sped up in tandem with that. Theadia is a longish book (it’s currently at 112k but will most likely be put on a word diet in revision) but I’m still shocked that I’ve gotten this far in so short a time.

Especially since I’ve been letting myself have those occasional no-new-words days more often than in the past.

Nearing the Finish Line

My first three books — the Bridgetown Trilogy — took so damn long for me to finish, clean up and get out into the world that six years later, it still feels kind of weird when I find myself coming close to the end of new projects in a much shorter span of time. I definitely felt it with Meet the Lidwells! and In My Blue World; how could I have possibly turned these novels around so quickly? I must be doing something wrong! These can’t be good if I worked this fast on them! I tend not to listen to that particular voice all that much, to be honest. Heh.

Diwa & Kaffi took me a bit longer, as I purposely took my time to get that one right, and I’m still shopping that one out. (I promise, I’ll get it out there one way or another.) And two of my current projects are inching closer to their respective ends as well. Have I told you about them? Not really! I’ve been hinting about them for ages, partly because that’s my one quirk: I have a terrible habit of tweeting/blogging/posting about a seemingly great idea that ends up getting trunked or put aside out of frustration…aka my Best Laid Plans stories. After a while I felt it was a bit more professional (and less promise-breaking) if the details remained on the QT until I felt confident enough that they’d see completion and potential publication.

So, what are they? Glad you asked! Because one is fast approaching Act 3 and the other is well into it and nearing its climactic scenes, and my confidence is high on both. Here’s a quick peek:

The one I’ve been referring to as Project A is currently entitled Queen Ophelia. It’s a story about a man who, upon his father’s death, finds that his estranged mother is not the human he was told she’d been: she is in fact a part-demon part-fae queen of a world filled with magic and war. He learns that he has not only inherited her magical blood but must help her defeat an unexpected enemy. During his adventures and travels, he learns more about the demon and fae world than he’d ever expected. This one’s theme is all about finding comfort and acceptance in others, and accepting oneself. This one was inspired by a dream I’d had in May, wrote out the entire outline that next morning, and have been writing on the 750 Words site since September. [Surprisingly, this one does not have a playlist. I may need to rectify that.]

Project B, meanwhile, is currently entitled Theadia, and it’s a story that popped into my head during my last days at the Former Day Job. It’s about two young women coders living on a space waystation who become embroiled in a border war, useless upper management and terrible engineering. As I’d said yesterday on my Twitter feed: “the source of conflict isn’t just an antagonistic world threat. It also includes the conflict of active avoidance: the ‘not my job’, the ‘it has to be this way because reasons’ and ‘it’s too expensive to make better’. [The main characters] refuse to fall into that avoidance trap. Winning because they stepped up, not because they’re superpowered or invincible.” It’s super geeky fun and doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, but it’s right up there with IMBW as one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve written. Oh, and this is the one that features the Maine coon cat, Grizelda!

[There is indeed a Project C, and it’s what I’ve been referring to as MU4, aka the fourth book in the Mendaihu Universe. I’m taking my own sweet time with this one because there’s a ton to do. Suffice it to say, the story takes place in Bridgetown seventy years after the trilogy, and focuses on how belief systems change and evolve, for better or for worse, and how different they become the further they get from their creators’ original plans and intentions. And yes, a few Trilogy characters do show up!]

…so yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to over the last several months. Queen Ophelia and Theadia should be done soon enough, and they both definitely need a lot of revision work, but I’m quite proud of both of them already. It’s been quite the trip and I’ve had a blast writing them all. In the process I’ve taught myself perseverance, better focusing, and alternate ways of problem-solving. And I’m really looking forward to getting these out your way as soon as I can.

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.