So and Slow It Goes

I’m still on schedule for revising In My Blue World, but MAN does it feel like it’s taking forever.  Some days there’s not too much to fix and I get get a good chunk done, and other days — like yesterday — I have to completely rewrite a major scene.  I’m about halfway through the novel and working off the revision notes I’d made during our UK trip a few months ago.  There are chapters where the notes will say “good — lengthen a bit — tidy up” and others where the notes go on for almost a full page explaining what I need to change.  Such is the writer’s life.

But I’m soldiering through.  I’m not sick of the book (yet) and I’m not at the ‘oh god this sucks’ level yet (which is always a good sign), but I really wish I was a little closer to finishing it up!

Still, I’m still on schedule to release it at Smashwords sometime in February.  The book cover’s already done of course.  I might follow through and do a trade for this one as well, depending on if I can get interest in it.  

In the meantime, as soon as I’m finished with this one, I’ll FINALLY be able to work on the Apartment Complex book!  I might even have a title for it by then!

Letting It Stew

charlotte carrot stew

After four attempts, one ragequit, and still no official title, I finished writing the first draft of the Apartment Complex story!  It’s a little over 79k words (about what I expected and wanted) and has been copied to a single semi-formatted doc file that I can work on.  So now what?

I’m going to let it sit for a little bit.

Wait wait wait, I hear you say.  You’ve been working on this damn thing for six months and talking about it endlessly about how much you loved writing it.  Why are you NOT working on it now??

And that’s a legitimate question, and there are two answers for it.  The short one: I’m about to start revision edits for In My Blue World, which is next on the release schedule.  This one needs my attention the most right now.

The longer answer is that giving it a bit of distance lets me look at it with fresh eyes.  Even though I feel that the AC story is my best work to date, will I feel the same a few months down the road?  Reading this particular novel with rose-tinted glasses might keep me from seeing possible issues that need fixing.  Alternately, I might end up being overcritical and pick it completely apart and ruin any joy I felt with the story.

My days away from my novel projects are also personal; I’ve just finished a six-month, almost-daily slog, so I’m due a few days off to do nothing except goof around.  Play FreeCell.  Fiddle around with my mp3 collection.  Post fly-by blog entries.  Go outside and take walks.  Work on my exercise regimen.  Vacations from writing are great!  You should always take a few now and again, especially when you’ve just finished not one but two projects that both need revision.  Your brain and body will thank you!

The novel will always be there until I come back to it.  And hey, I might even have a title for it by then!

Vacation fly-by: More revision notes

I’m still going through In My Blue World and making notes on what needs fixing. There are two MAJOR fixes to be made: one, that I need to change the POV to omniscient 3rd person, and two, that a number of sequences need to be pasted together. It’ll be a big undertaking that I won’t be able to start for another week or so, which of course is making me twitchy.

On the plus side, the story itself is solid — it’s tight and there aren’t that many holes and continuity issues I need to fix. It’s only the prose (and the first chapter or so) that needs cleaning up. And the cover is already done! I’m still aiming for an October/November release at this time. *crosses fingers*

So…what about the Apartment Complex story? Good question. I’ll still be working on that when I can and take my time, as I purposely haven’t assigned a drop date for it. [There is also the cover art issue, but that’s another post entirely.].

Okay! Back to work…

Working vacation: editing notes

Aah fudge. In My Blue World is gonna need a lot of work after all, isn’t it?

Well– maybe, maybe not. My opening chapters are always a hot mess. It’s definitely going to need a lot of TLC. From what I’ve seen up to about 3/4 through, it gets much better as it goes along.

Also: it’s stupidly HOT here in London. Thankfully our room has great AC!

On Revision: Paying Attention

erasing
Yeah, that’s gonna need to go.  [Source, Makoto Shinkai (of course), The Garden of Words.]
While on our little weekend trip up to Mendocino this weekend, I chose to bring my tablet along and read what I have so far of In My Blue World.  I haven’t done this since I started writing this version back in… *checks date* early April.  So far I’ve found a few things worth noting:

–The first entry needs work.  A LOT of work.  Interestingly the very next day’s work is just fine and pretty close to what I was aiming for.  So perhaps that means that I’m getting better at openings!  Heh.
–It remains in the eldest sister’s point of view for most of the first third until I suddenly go into multiple first-person POV.  [They have their own chapter or scene, so I can easily slap a chapter header on there to help the reader.] Which is fine, because I did that on purpose.  I’d written multiple partial scenes before starting this draft which are in other POVs.  I purposely left gaps in this section to insert them in.
–As expected, many characters aren’t quite nailed down until about a quarter of the way in.  [For instance, I had Zuze’s sister Trischa be younger and weaker in the opening, but later on she’s older and more of a badass.]  Thankfully this too is easy to fix, with a bit of revision and rewriting.  Nothing that will ultimately unravel the story for me.
–I need to nail down the rules of magic just a bit more, as they seem a bit too bendy for my tastes at the moment.  They make sense for the most part, though there are a few moments where they kind of drift into MacGuffin territory.  Again, easily fixed.
–I have exactly two characters that started out with promising fates, and I kind of forgot about following through.  That tends to happen a lot when I have far too much fun writing the other characters!  Again, easily fixed.
–The Antagonist/Evil Overlord/Bad Guy needs to be reined in just a tad bit.  This one might be tricky, as his character is very much a reactive, calm-but-insane sort of dude.  The balance here is to show him acting in what he fully believes is logical and right, but others seeing him as completely batshit dangerous.  The good thing is that I have him nailed down already, so I just need to work backwards to fix his earlier scenes.
–Secondary Antagonist needs to have her backstory straightened out.  She too is nailed down at this point, so it’s just her earlier scenes I need to revise.

Thankfully, that’s all I found (so far) that needs work.  I don’t plan on doing any of this revision just yet, as I’d like take the next few weeks to finish the novel.  All the revision, cleanup and post-production will take place in July, and maybe into August if it’s needed.  I’m thinking the drop date at this point will be mid-September.

The tricky part here is paying attention.

I call it such, because whenever I do a ‘read what I have so far’ session, I try to remember all the fiddly bits that might need work.  It’s a mix of self-critique and a line edit.  I pay attention to my reaction to certain passages.  I see a scene and remember how it’ll tie in with another scene further on.  I’ll also think about the story as a whole.  It’s kind of a giant jigsaw puzzle where I keep tabs on the image shown on every single piece.  What seems weak or out of place will get the revision.

I should probably add that I do the copy-edit and the proofread during the e-book formatting sessions.  That’s where I’ll distance myself from the story a bit more and look at it as a reader than a writer.  That’s usually when the formatting and editing errors pop up, and those are the easiest to fix.  And once I’m happy all around, that’s when I’ll upload it to the publishing site and set a drop date.

So yeah… being a self-published author who wishes to do everything himself, there’s a lot of hats to wear.  I have to be vigilant and professional while working on a hell of a lot of different moving parts.  It’s definitely not for everyone, and I would not blame you for not wanting to take the insane route I chose.  But it can be done.

A lot of it really is about paying attention.

Take Three: On Rewriting (Again)

8-Winnie-the-Pooh-quotes

RIGHT.  Let’s try this one more time.

I’m committed to getting this novel down correctly before I venture too far and end up frustrated again.  I know exactly what’s been wrong with the Apartment Complex story: not enough action.  I do have future scenes with action in them, sure, but I’m just not nailing the landing at all yet.  I’m screwing up on the pacing; it’s far too slow.  I’m focusing too much on the mood and not enough on the plot.  So instead of deleting it all and throwing the outtakes into the compost bin, I gave it a good long think-over during vacation.

Specifically, I thought about what I needed to do during the five-hour flights to Honolulu and back.  And during the return flight, I pulled out my index cards and proceeded to do some heavy-duty additional outlining.  I added at least six more scenes to the start of Act I (to be interspersed between the scenes I already have) that will help me get back to where I need to be.  I realized this was the same outlining style I used for the trilogy, where I focused primarily on the handful of scenes I’d be working on in the immediate future.  It worked then, so I see no reason why it wouldn’t work again now.

I’m usually never this stubborn about nailing the beginning, I’ll admit.  But sometimes it’s gotta be done, especially if I already believe in the story as a whole.  It might take me a few tries to get it right, but once I do, the rest of it should flow just as I want it.

On Character Development

polar bear cafe wolf tiger
Source: Polar Bear Café

Creating the backgrounds for characters can be both fun and excruciating when you’re starting out a new project.  You can come up with interesting, unique people to write about, give them all sorts of back stories — their background, their culture, their quirks, their powers and their weaknesses — but at the same time, they don’t exist in a vacuum.  You need to also remember that they’re also there to interact with your other characters and the story itself.  Otherwise they’re just placeholders, or worse, redshirts — the throwaway characters put there for the sole purpose of getting rid of them later on.

I’ve been dealing with this quite a bit for the last few weeks, with both the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World.  A lot of the central characters are springing forth rather easily, and that’s because I already have fully-planned purposes for them.  A few of the other characters, on the other hand, are still a bit vague and need more research and planning.  I only have vague purposes for them.  By vague, I mean that they support some of the main characters, but other than that, they’re kind of inconsequential.

Granted, both projects are still in their rough draft iterations and haven’t gotten the MS Word transcription/revision yet.  I’m not giving up on them just yet.  They’ll shine on their own eventually, once I flesh out the story and get a clearer picture of who they are and why they’re there.  I just have to be a bit patient about it sometimes!

So how do I know if I can trust this character to blossom during a later draft?  Or will they end up being a redshirt that I’ll have to edit out later?  Good question.  Often times I don’t. The point here is to let them give the old college try.  I put there for a reason, so I just need to figure them out.  I’ll give them just that little bit more TLC when I’m revising; I’ll think a bit more about their relationship to the story and the others within it.

Eventually, they’ll become part of the main entourage instead of a throwaway.

Time is Against Me Now

This always happens, damn it.  I give myself a reasonable, decent timeframe to finish the line edit for The Persistence of Memories, and something comes along and says “OH HEY You need to get this done first, there’s a couple of errands you also need to do outside the house, and oh, by the way, Day Jobbery has been busier than usual, so chances of you sneaking any writing in during the day is slim to nil.  Oh, and remember those blogs that you ignored all weekend because you were too busy shopping and doing housework, and watching the new X-Files episodes?”

Grumble grumble whine whine.

But you know, I’m not going to let it get to me.  This has happened enough times that the most I can do is work around it.  I’ve read too many blog writers and webcomic artists that have this same issue, and that’s all you can do:  soldier on the best way you can.  I say this, as it seems my original schedule has gone a bit wonky.  I’m pushing the release of The Persistence of Memories out a few more weeks, mainly because after this line edit is done, I’m going to need to give it another surgery.  It’s great as it is, but it’s still far too long at nearly 169k words.  That’s actually about 15k more than A Division of Souls.  The response to that book, by the way, has been quite positive, except for the words no writer really wants to hear: it’s too long.  And Book 3 is even longer than Book 2, which is not a good sign at all.

But!  But!  It’s a piece of art!  You’re supposed to savor the pace both when it’s fast and slow!  Why does no one understand my genius?

Heh.  Yeah, right.  More like, “….Oh.  Yeah.  Huh.  You’re right, that bit’s pretty sluggish.  I should definitely speed it up.”

The thing with self-publishing is that you’re going to see it, warts and all.  The original 150k version of ADoS is still out there as an e-book and a trade until I get around to re-editing that.  On the one hand, as a writer, I feel like a failure because I put the book out there well before it was completely ready, and now No One Will Ever Trust Me as an Author Ever Again.

On the other hand, I can just get back on the horse, fix what needs fixing, present it again, and move on.

Whatever works, kids.

 

Granted, I’m also giving myself quite a lot to do in the next six months.  Editing and revising books 2 and 3 in the trilogy, as well as writing Walk in Silence.  My original plan for WiS was to have it released in April, but due to the trilogy editing and re-editing, work has been embarrassingly slow on it (about 2 handwritten pages a day, which really isn’t much).  I’m thinking that one will end up being released during the fall semester.  I’m okay with that…as long as it’s done by some point this year.

And then, maybe, finally, I’ll be able to work on new stuff.  Maybe.

On Writing: Rejection Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

For those of you that have been following along for the last few years (or decade or so) with my grand scheme of getting the Bridgetown Trilogy published, today was an interesting day.

Angry Robot Books has had some kind of “Open Door” special event over the past few years in which they would accept unsolicited submissions* until a set date. As it so happened, I had just finished up a major revision of A Division of Souls, and thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I speedily worked through the rest of the revision and sent it in with about two weeks left to go before the December 31 deadline. You may have heard they had a bit of a business shake-up a few months ago**, which caused a significant delay in the reading and accepting process. I’m fine with that, especially as they took the time to follow up with an email informing us they would still read all the submissions.

This morning, I received an email stating that they have decided to pass on the novel.

Now, I’m well aware that this would most likely be the case, for a few reasons: a) they had over a thousand entries this time out (MUCH higher than previous Open Doors), b) digging through a high number of entries to find that one shining piece of gold is normal in the publishing biz, and c) I’ll readily admit that it could still use work. More on that in a few. The long and short of it is, this is not my first rejection, and will most likely not be my last. This is just part of the game.

Am I bummed? Of course, but not overly so. You might say I’m actually a bit relieved, as this gives me the freedom to tidy it up a bit more and shop it elsewhere now.*** Given that I’ve been working on this project off and on for way too long (twenty, seventeen, fourteen, or seven years, depending on the version you ask about and whether or not you count interim years of stasis), I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about how I would want to see this book out in the wild. Between those years in the early 00’s where I sent it out to various agents and publishers, and now, where self-publishing has become a viable, more professional and accessible option, my options have actually expanded.

I’m actually kind of happy that Angry Robot took the time not only to read the first four chapters of A Division of Souls, but upon rejection went so far to state that they felt “the dialogue could use work, as it reads as too artificial, not natural enough” as part of the reason.

Honestly? That’s the best thing a publisher has ever said to me in all my years of being a writer.

In all the rejection letters I’ve ever received from both publishers and agents, I’ve only received the variation of the “not for us” form letter. Which is all well and good–I’m okay with those too, because I’m pretty sure they at least took a cursory look at it. But this is the first time I’ve actually received something that says “hey, it’s not for us…but here’s what you might want to fix/focus on in the future.”

To me, that means two things: they took my submission seriously, and that they took the time to let me know what didn’t work, even if it was one out of many possible issues that could be wrong with it. And that makes all the difference.

So what are my future plans for the Bridgetown Trilogy? Am I going to make good with the fake cover I made on the previous post and go self-pub? Am I going to be the stubborn bastard that I am, revise AGAIN and find a new home for it? It’s up in the air, really. I’m keeping my options open. Yet another recent reread has shown that some of the dialogue and prose is indeed a bit stiff, and oddly about halfway through, the default reaction for many characters seem to be that of sighing in frustration. Eesh!

One thing’s for sure, I’m not going to ragequit this writing life. I love it too damn much to give up now.

Learn from mistakes. Listen and process the critiques. And make the best damn piece of art you can.


* – For those unaware, ‘unsolicited submissions’ means that the publisher would accept manuscripts cold, rather than through agents or an agreed-upon offer. I highly suggest studying up on the submission guidelines of various publishers and agents to understand what’s needed–some want specific things and/or in specific formats, others will take printed copies, etc. Following their guidelines makes them happy and makes you look like a pro.

** – Short version: They closed down their YA and Mystery imprints earlier this year, and changed ownership last month. Not holding this against them, and I hope for the best, as they have quite a number of great titles out there that are definitely worth checking out.

*** – I would love to go into detail here about multiple submissions, but I’ll save it for a future entry. Suffice it to say, I purposely waited on this one to force myself to start working on other projects on the interim, which has worked out well so far.

On Writing, Revision, and Recording Music

[Note: I posted this at my LJ back in September 2013, and thought it would be worth reposting here.  Enjoy!]

A short time ago I tweeted something that came to me about the writing and revising processes, and partly how I was finally able to understand what I needed to improve my writing, and also made me understand just how to write and record a song correctly. This came to me while I was doing my Blogging the Beatles posts a few weekends ago, and I’d like to expand on it a bit here.

In short, it occurred to me that revision, for the most part, is very much like how many rock bands record their music. The listener–and with books, the reader–are only given the finished piece: the end result of a long process of composing, noodling, demoing, recording, overdubbing, and final mixing. What the public often does not hear/see is all that work as it unfolds. You don’t hear/see the alternate words, the alternate melodies/plots, the mistakes and the other bits and bobs. And if all this is done correctly, you hardly notice all the tiny flourishes as separate entities of the whole, because you’re not supposed to; they’re supposed to be part of the entire, much larger experience.

For the longest time–probably up until the last two years or so–my writing process has been extremely slipshod and make-it-up-as-I-go-along, and giving myself subconscious reminders for things that would need revising later. I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to remember the story arcs and the random plot twists that I would need to expand on later on in the story, and I’ve made copious notes on the esoterica of my created world. I may have crowed about outlines in the past, but I’ve used them, or at least planned out the plot a few chapters ahead of where I was at that time. Still, after all these years, I’ve come to the realization that while this process may work, it’s time consuming and unorganized.

In the last few years, I’ve been working primarily on the revision of the Bridgetown Trilogy, rarely writing anything completely new. That’s not to say I’m not writing anything at all; there are several passages in this revision project that are either total rewrites of older scenes, or are brand new scenes that replace old ones that don’t work. I’ve been writing a few other things here and there, outtakes for Walk in Silence, posts for Blogging the Beatles, and making notes for both new and old ideas. It may look like I’m getting nothing done, but trust me–I’m doing all the background work right now.

Again–it’s like recording a song.

Over the course of the Blogging the Beatles posts, I’ve done a lot of reading of Mark Lewisohn’s book The Beatles Recording Sessions, which goes into fascinating detail as to when, how, and where their songs were recorded. I’ve read this book countless times in the past, but in the context of my blog series I’ve begun appreciating the crafting of the music, listening to the songs and trying to understand exactly what they did to make it sound that way. In the end it’s also made me think more about my own creative processes, both in writing and music.

The beginning always starts with an idea. It might be something obtuse: John Lennon came up with the vocal melody for “I Am the Walrus” from the up-down tones of police sirens as they passed by his home. It might be something coming from out of nowhere: Paul McCartney was convinced he’d copped the melody to “Yesterday” from somewhere, but it was his own creation. It might be inspired by life: George Harrison wrote “Savoy Truffle” about Eric Clapton’s addiction to sweets. The point being: this is where the idea takes hold. I’ve mentioned in the past that my trilogy came from watching the Gall Force animes.

The next step is the rough draft, the demo. Here’s where a band gets together at someone’s house and hashes out a few ideas that have been brewing over the last few weeks. The Beatles did this in early 1968 when they came back from India, gathering at George’s house for a few days and hammering out a few rough drafts of songs that would eventually show up on The Beatles (aka The White Album), as well as Abbey Road. In writing, this is where you’re writing longhand, maybe doing a bit of outlining and/or plotting, drawing maps, putting up that wall of Post-Its. In essence: here’s where you sit down and riff it, build on that one idea (or multiple ideas) and see what unfolds.

Next is the first draft, Take 1. It’s going to be rough, there are going to be dozens of mistakes and wrong notes and flubbed lyrics. If the demo contains enough ideas that you can continue fleshing out, this is where you start adding a few things here and there, perhaps fleshing out a melody or two that you found captivating. You may even find that a bit that worked in the demo sounds horribly out of place here, and you drop that. Now, unless you’ve been practicing and rehearsing that one demo for quite a long time, you have to remember that this first take is going to sound like crap, no matter what you may think. Rarely does one get a complete finished song at this point. In writing? Same exact points. You’ve got the idea, now it’s time to start molding and shaping it into something better.

Next is the following drafts, the continuous takes. However long it takes to get that one passage right, to fix that lyric or bum note that’s been bugging you all this time. You may even resort to outside influence–your bandmates/your writing group–and ask them to take a listen/read and see if they find something you’ve overlooked. This is the longest and the most frustrating part, because you’re focusing mostly on building the song/plot. You may even drop it for a time and work on something else so you can return to it later, listen/read it with a clear mind.

Eventually, you’ll hit that last draft, that last take of the song. There will be a point, if you’re paying attention, where everything will just click. The song might not be the most perfect one in existence, but it’s exactly how you want it to sound. You’ve fixed those bum notes, you’ve cleaned up the lyrics. You’re at a point where you’re happy with it, maybe even a bit proud of it. In writing, this is where you’ve pretty much tied up all the loose ends of the plots, fixed the grammar and spelling mistakes, gotten it to the point where it looks clean.

This, of course, is not the final result. Not yet. And this is where, for years, I’d stop. I thought I’d be done with the book and send it out to agents and publishers, thinking I had a good shot at getting accepted. This is where I’d also get rejected, of course. There are many and countless reasons for that, which I won’t go into at this time. The point is, it’s not quite finished yet.

This is where the overdubs, the final mixing, and the running order come in. There’s that one point in the middle-eight that sounds just a bit too sparse, so you decide to throw a bit of horns or a solo in there. The vocals are weak here, so you overdub yourself to punch up the strength of the sound. This song sounds quite out of place as the third track on the album, but would sound so much better as the second-to-last track. Translated: this is the final read-through, the point where you pick up the novel as a whole, read it as you would a potential reader instead of its author. This is where you pay attention to how you react to the story. This is where you notice that one character needs more description or action. Where you notice that this subplot leads nowhere. Where you feel that Chapter 5 would make so much more sense chronologically as Chapter 8 instead. Where you threw a deus ex machina or something in there out of laziness, or as an “I’ll fix it later” and promptly forgot about it.

THIS is the final draft: this is where you make the song sound seamless, like you and the band recorded it in one go, without a single blemish. This is where your audience will not see the work you put into it, but only the end result.

Once you hit that point, then it’s time to send it out to the agent and/or publisher.