Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

It’s Revision Time

Image courtesy of The Garden of Words

So for the most part, Queen Ophelia is done — in fact, I’d called it when I realized I’d been overwriting past the actual end for the last week or so — and I’m putting that one aside to simmer for a few weeks while I shift all my focus towards revising Theadia. That’s coming along quite nicely, by the way, as I’ve just started working on Chapter 13, in which our intrepid titular duo are about to embark on a flight from hell. (You know the kind: the delays, the lack of open gates, and the purgatory of waiting for your stuff at baggage claim. Some things never change.)

While I do love revising my work, especially when I’m working on something that excites me, the one side effect is the lack of new words. Right now I’m not worried because I’m actually inserting new scenes and things into the revision, but further down the line, I’m sure I’ll be itching to write something new. What that’ll be I’m not sure, but I’ll focus on that when its time comes.

Revision, at least for me, is kind of like putting the spackle on the nail holes and the grout between the tiles. I write complete rough first drafts to begin with, or as complete as I can get them at any rate. I’ll do most of the hard cleanup on the first couple of chapters — deleting the broken bits and inserting the information that will tie in with later scenes — but for most of the rest of the novel, I’ll be focusing more on spot-cleaning. That’s where I’ll fix wonky grammar, find/replace any changed names, give a bit more detail, and create smoother links between scenes. As I’d mentioned last month, I’m Filling In the Blanks.

Interestingly enough, it’s not until revision time where I finally question what the real theme of the book is. I mean, I kind of have a general idea while I’m writing it for the first time, but this is when I decide what its focus truly is. In Theadia, for instance, I knew the theme in vaguest terms was about personal and societal responsibility. But the real theme expands on that: it becomes a story about questioning who has this responsibility, and finding the strength and initiative to take it on yourself when it’s failing at every other level. I could go into even more detail here, but I think you get the point.

I do love revising, actually. The toughest part — the initial invention and telling of the story — is already over. It’s already a complete entity. I love revision because I’m familiar with the story now, and that gives me the ability to figure out how to make it even better. That’s where I start painting the walls pretty colors and hanging the artwork!

Back to Self-Publishing…?

Image courtesy of Green Apple Books, our local bookstore

I really do miss self-publishing.

There, I said it. Back when I self-released A Division of Souls, I had the vaguest of ideas of what I was doing and mostly trusting my own instincts and relying on my own interpretations of how self-publishing works. I loved the idea of releasing my own books like I was selling my new punk single in Maximumrocknroll. I loved the idea of self-producing it — the editing, the cover art selection and layout — and trusting that I was doing a pretty good job of it. I loved creating and ordering those freebie cards that I could give out during local conventions. I may not have made any significant amounts of money, but I’m okay with that.

Why did it fall by the wayside? Well, a lot of personal stuff happened. The Former Day Job’s killing off of working remotely severely damaged whatever writing time I had. There was the idea of sending Diwa & Kaffi out to agents and publishers that got put on hold because of the pandemic that went on for far too long. Then I took a lot of time off to make some seriously overdue personal changes in my life.

I kept writing, though.

And because of that, I have multiple books waiting to see the light of day: Diwa & Kaffi is completed and ready to be seen by the big bad world. Queen Ophelia and Theadia are almost done. And I’m already thinking of what to work on next.

Which is all fine, but how to re-approach that avenue? I could keep up with what I’m doing, but there’s only so far I can go by just putting it out there. I need to relearn how to promote myself, what I can afford and what I can do on my own. I need to find more avenues to get my stories out there. I still want to aim for the goal of at least one title released per year, so that’s not the problem I need to focus on most. It’s bringing attention to the title. And I’ve read so many different things about how to do it that I’ve come to a temporary conclusion: no one really knows the One True Way towards self-publishing success, because there isn’t one. It’s not so much about following someone else’s directions as it is finding the version that works for you. I’m yet to find that version myself, but I’m still willing to take the time to search for it. Eventually I’ll find that version that fits me best.

In the meantime, I’m going to stick with what’s worked with me so far as a stable platform, and what I’ve enjoyed the most about it: writing the novels, doing the post-production, and putting it out there in the world for everyone to enjoy.

Year’s End View V

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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I’ve been thinking, along with everything else, about where I want my writing career to go in 2022. I haven’t self-published anything new since In My Blue World in 2019, and I need to catch up on my plan of (at least) one self-pubbed project a year. I’ll give myself a break, though, considering what the pandemic has done to the publishing arena over the last couple of years. My initial plan of submitting Diwa & Kaffi to agents and publishers was put on the sidelines because of it, so I chose to use the ensuing wait time wisely by writing Queen Ophelia and Theadia. One (or both? or all three?) may be released in e-book form sometime next year, depending on where we are in revision and cover art.

Meanwhile, back in November I joked to A that maybe for next year’s NaNoWriMo I should write a Christmas romcom. (A did kind of give me an ‘oookay, where did this come from?’ look, but come on, romances are often a guaranteed seller no matter how much nonbelievers want to make fun of them.) I’ve actually been meaning to read more romances anyway to expand my reading and writing horizons. This in turn kicked off an immersive reading binge of romances and romance/mysteries, and I’m thinking this is indeed a viable avenue for me, not to mention another genre for me to read so I’m not stuck in the same reading groove. We both found Sarah Morganthaler’s Moose Springs, Alaska series really good fun, and it also has excellent doggo content. This kind of setup seems to resonate with my style of humor and plot, so I’m thinking this might be a good start.

This, of course, led to another semi-related conversation about pen names. I tend to think my given name is pretty plain and easy to pronounce (though I’ve heard my last name mangled many times over the years), but I’ve often thought about toying with a pen name anyway. I know of a few writers who’ve used them for one reason or another, whether it’s to revive a flagging career, kickstart a new one, or to keep different styles and genres separate. I do have a few thoughts about this that I may toy with in the new year. In a way I kind of like the idea, considering that I’ve put said career on pause over the last couple years. Starting off fresh across the board does have a certain appeal.

There’s something to be said about creating a new self-image, especially when you’ve been thinking about it over a long period of time and it’s something that’s long overdue. This is another one of the paradoxes in my life: while I might be a creature of comforting habits, there’s also this consistent undercurrent that I need to change things up now and again, especially when it’s desperately needed.

And in my writing career, while I’m happy that I’ve been coming up with these new stories, many that I’m proud of, I still get the feeling that I’m limiting myself somehow. Whether it’s by self-censoring or avoidance, I know when it happens because that’s when I get irritated with my work. Why am I writing all these non-action scenes? Why am I avoiding writing conflict? Why am I finding it so hard to face those scenes? It’s that paradox: I feel comfortable avoiding the conflict, but I know that does not make a good story.

I kind of blame writing Diwa & Kaffi for this, really. That project, while near and dear to my heart, was partly an exercise in writing conflict that specifically wasn’t based on protagonists and antagonists. The conflict in that story is within: learning to trust oneself and others, and learning how to believe in oneself. This in turn kind of skittered my own life into an unexpected direction: I realized these were conflicts I was avoiding in my own life. Writing that kind of story is one thing, but dealing it in reality is quite another. And it took me a while to realize just how badly I was limiting myself, not just as a writer but as a person.

While writing Theadia and Queen Ophelia this year, I chose to face that. I prepped myself by having a relatively strong outline I could work from, but I had to learn to trust myself with these stories. Let them go where they needed to go, even if they went in unexpected directions. This wasn’t just the “steadily increasing the volume” action style I used for the Bridgetown Trilogy…this was about immersing myself in these stories. Putting myself into them, but also letting the characters shine as much as possible. While they’re still a bit of a pre-revision mess, they’re probably the strongest stories and the most realistic characters I’ve written. I trust these stories implicitly enough that revision will only make them shine even brighter.

Which brings me back to the theme of this whole series of posts: I’ve been running in rough draft mode for far too long. Sure, there are moments in my life, professional and personal, where I’ll shine when my strengths are at their peak, but everything else definitely needed a fuckton of work. And that work is what I’d done over the last year and a half during this weird pandemic season. And I think, finally, I’m ready to emerge in a much better edition of myself.

Post-Holiday Readjustment

Image courtesy of One Piece

The extended holiday weekend is over and, depending on how you look at it, things are either going back to normal or ramping up. It’s now officially the Christmas season. Local listen-at-work station KOIT has officially gone 24/7 Holiday Music, as they do every December until New Year’s Day. One of our neighbors got their Christmas tree on Sunday and I know this because there’s a trail of needles heading from the front door to the elevator. We’ve yet to put up our own tree (ours is fake and lives in the back closet most of the year), but I’ll most likely do that this week. And we are so well-stocked on turkey leftovers that we’ve been eating turkey wraps the last few days. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Also, I haven’t written any new words at all since last Tuesday, and I’m really itching to get back to it. I’ve been doing another read-through of Theadia (and will most likely do one of Queen Ophelia after I’m done with that one) the last few days and I can’t wait to get back to work. It’s also that time of year where I start thinking about my year-end music lists and mixtapes (I am woefully behind on mixtapes in general, so I may do a few of those this week as well). And it’s time for me to think about what I want and need to do come 2022, personally and professionally.

So it’s not so much post-holiday readjustment as it is mid-holiday readjustment, I suppose. I’m so used to my Decembers being busy as hell so I see no reason why I shouldn’t be busy creatively while I have the time and ability. With the old Former Day Jobs I’d survive them by hyperfocusing on whatever I need to do at that moment — get the new cd releases security-tagged and price-tagged, lay out the pallets for the 8,374,621 candle boxes that will come down only my lane in the next five minutes, figure out whose UrgentPLZHALP email needs to be looked at first, and so on — so I’ve done the same with my writing projects. That way I can start the new year fresh and already revved up and excited to get going.

Whatever is coming next, I’m ready for it.

Taking Notes

I’m at that point in both Theadia and Queen Ophelia that I’m going to need to start taking revision notes. I’ve come a long way on both of them, and after doing a few reread sessions, I think it’s time I started writing down what I’m going to need to fix/change/rework/etc. in both novels. This is a process I’ve done with all my books after I finish (or get close to finishing) the rough first draft.

My process for this takes place during the rereads. In particular, any moment where I react to the novel — any reaction, such as finding bad grammar or typos, or knowing a scene needs fixing because it affects something else further on, or anything in between — that’s when I take notes. It’s the longhand part of my process, where I use a small legal pad (because it’s easiest to use while reading in bed) to mark it all down.

I already know of several scenes in both books that will need revision; as always, these are the ‘flailing’ first chapters where I’m still trying to feel the book out. I find that it’s just easier to riff with whatever I come up with in the knowledge that something better will go there later. I know some writers completely skip these problem scenes with a trusty old ‘WRITE THIS LATER’ note, but that tends to be a bit too unwieldy for me. I’ll write a rough scene that I think is close to where I want it to go instead. For instance, I know I’m going to need to completely rewrite a scene early in Act I for Queen Ophelia, but I wrote that outtake scene anyway because it was pretty close to what I wanted, if not perfect. There are multiple early points in Theadia where I’ve changed how certain characters meet each other or how they react upon their first meeting.

And why do I write those rough outtakes anyway, even if I know I won’t use them? Because part of my process is about mapping out the flow and the pacing of the novel in my head. I’d rather write a filler to be replaced later so that I can maintain that pace. It works for me because when I finally return to replace it, I know a) exactly how the scene is supposed to flow, and b) I know exactly what I want to replace it with. In the end, the revision of that scene takes a hell of a lot less time. And who doesn’t love a speedy, painless revision session?

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.