On Starting A New Project

I’m always worried wen I start a new writing project, especially during the initial world building sessions and the writing of the first couple of chapters. Is this going to keep going, or is it going to crash and burn? I’ve worked on enough of them to the point where I should be used to this, but it still happens. And I won’t know either way unless I get started on them.

Over the years I’ve found that the most important signal to watch for when starting a project is resonance. Do I resonate with the story? And I totally mean that in a KonMari way: does it spark joy? It’s been said so many times that if writing the story feels more like a chore and you no longer feel happy about writing it, it’s time to trunk it. [Yes, I know… I keep threatening to un-trunk a lot of those ideas when the mood strikes, but by the end of the day I’ll put them back when I remember why the previous attempts didn’t work. I should invest in a padlock, shouldn’t I?] I’ve started so many ideas that had good intentions that died on the vine for one reason or another.

But what if it keeps resonating? Well, by all means, go for it! Keep working and have fun with it! There’s really no reason to second-guess yourself, at least not at this early stage. Don’t put up obstacles you’ll only end up breaking down. Just keep going with it.*

[* – As a caveat, you should at least have some kind of conscious reminder at this point of how your readers will react to the story. It’s hard to explain this without resorting to tired phrases like ‘political correctness’ — which, by the way, was a lazy and ignorant conservative-minded complaint about getting called out back in the early 90s as it is today — but you should at least be aware that if you’re going to consciously write a subject matter or in a style that someone might find insulting to their culture or lifestyle, you’re going to receive some noise complaints.]

I’ve approached each new project in different ways as well. Sometimes they have a long gestation, a small germ of an idea that I put aside for a length of time before I decide to dedicate time to them. Sometimes they’re a riff on a dream or a thought that popped into my head. Or as with this current project of mine, sometimes it’s the product of desperation, a need to get something down on the page before I drive myself crazy, and the outcome being an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

Whatever works. And if it works, don’t question it. Just keep going!

Changing Things Up

As I’ve said before, having to go back into the office has definitely shaken things up for me. Sometimes for the worse: I’m doing a lot of shuffling of priorities within a very narrow window of time now. But sometimes for the better: it was far past time for me to get used to being part of a larger crowd again after years of hiding in Spare Oom.

But it’s not just about the Day Job, though… I’ve been trying to break out of a lot of old habits over the last few years, and while it’s been easy to let go of some things, it’s been like pulling teeth for other things. Some days I’ll revel in trying out new things and thinking about things in different ways, and some days I’ll slip back and get caught in those old feedback loops and forget I was trying to change myself.

Still — sometimes it’s the most mundane things that help in changing things up. Like changing the wallpaper of my PC (I just changed it from a pen-themed slide show provided by Microsoft to a Year of the Rat-themed picture from a webcomic I currently read. I’ve stopped wearing so many silly tee-shirts and changed to simple colored tees from Old Navy. Every now and again I’ll do a mass cleaning of Spare Oom and rearrange a few things here and there. Like I said…mundane, but it keeps things interesting.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I suppose it ties in with the current thing I’m working on with my daily words. After spending most of January flustered and flailing, I figured I may as well change things up by playing around with a new idea, just for the fun of it. No concrete ideas or plans, just something to work on. And I’ve done this with my music and writing as well: trying out a new playing or drawing style, listening to new bands that I wouldn’t have listened to in the past, reading new comics for inspiration. It clears the slate a bit, blowing away the dust of old ideas and giving me new things to focus on.

It’s hard work, and I’ll still slide back into old habits and forget the new ways I’ve been approaching things, but eventually I’ll catch myself and continue again.

On Using and Avoiding Tropes

Tropes can be your friend, especially if you’re trying to use them as a guideline for a project. Recently I’d been frustrated by my lack of fresh story ideas and decided the only way to break out of that block was to come up with a list of SF tropes that I’d enjoyed over the years and play around with them a bit. For example, I’d long had an idea about a group of young adults living on either a generation ship or a space waystation, and purposely created a list of plot tropes and characters with classic traits, just to see where it went. I let myself go much further than I usually would with the characters; rather than creating each one organically like I usually do, I came up with a list of five Classic Characters, each with the usual personalities one would expect from them. The Uplifter, The Popular One, The Misfit, and so on. I took a page from a lot of my favorite recent anime and manga series and created people I’d want to write about.

The trick here was to take those tropes and twist them a little to make them unique. For instance, the Overly Positive Character With a Dark Secret became an extrovert and the group’s ringleader not out of a need for attention, but because she’s terrified that when they do go their separate ways, there’s a good chance not all of them will ever come back; she’s desperate to keep them together for as long as she can. She’s genuinely worried about their futures.

On the other hand, tropes can also be a crutch that you might lean on far too much. I could have stayed with this Overly Positive Character and actually given her a Dark Secret, such as her having some kind of physical or mental handicap. Not that that’s inherently wrong in and of itself, of course*. What I’m saying here is that, at least for me, using that idea on a shallow surface level seems like Doing the Least Amount of Work. It would be like just labeling her as anorexic but not actually focusing on why she’s anorexic and how it would tie in with the story, if at all. Just giving her that quirk isn’t enough for me; I need it to be directly or indirectly connected to the story somehow.

[* – Speaking of handicaps, this was something I had to keep in mind when I wrote the character of Cole Caine for Diwa & Kaffi. He’s a humanoid psychic vampire with what I named Steiner-Hedraac Syndrome; essentially it’s a disorder unique to his kind where, when he’s passively feeding off the physical and psychic energies of those around him, there’s a chance it could escalate sort of like a feedback loop and he’d be unable to dislodge himself. I went through great lengths throughout the story to a) explain what the disorder is and how it affects him, b) show that he accepts that he has it and has to live with it, and that his friends are aware of it, c) show or at least mention moments where the syndrome kicks in to show how it can affect his life, and d) it is never used as a trope plot point, i.e. ‘he overcomes it and it never returns’ or ‘everyone is inspired by his strength which boosts their own success’. To me those two tropes feel like an easy out for my writing and not true to the character at all. I like my characters a lot more nuanced than that.]

Either way, I do what I can to avoid being overly dependable on tropes. They’re good as guidelines, but that’s really all they should be; what changes them to strong stories and characters is the added humanity and depth we as writers need to put into them.

Breaking Past the Barriers

Source: Hisone to Masotan (aka Dragon Pilot)

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.

Forgotten outtakes

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!

Decisions, Decisions…

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.

Cleaning Up Spare Oom and Revisiting the Mendaihu Universe

Continuing the Great KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom…

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.

A return to longhand writing

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A return to longhand writing with the first chapter of the new project

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.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Day One, 2018

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The Spare Oom Whiteboard, 2018 Edition

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.

Bring it on, 2018.  I’m ready to go!

Looking Forward to 2018

bleach fireworks
Credit: Bleach

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.