Almost there…

Image courtesy of Polar Bear Café

It’s been…a long work week. Six straight days of working noonish-to-midevening shifts at the shop, including both weekend days. Today’s the sixth day and hopefully I will not be walking home feeling like a zombie. I have tomorrow off, and I’d really like to use that day to get caught up on things. Thankfully I’m only there until 7:45 this time, so I won’t be too wiped out. It’s not that they’re overly long shifts — they’re roughly all eight hours long — it’s just that they’re during multiple busy times and that is what’s exhausting me.

Anyhoo. I have now worked out how I need to approach this next scene in Theadia. You could see it as the culmination of Act I, in which our heroes have taken stock in what’s going on in their universe and have chosen to take action. The original version reads a lot like a detailed “STUFF GOES HERE” moment and we can’t have that, can we?

Unfortunately these last few days haven’t given me much time or energy to focus too much on it, so hopefully my day off and the following morning shifts (the ones I love that leave my afternoons and evenings wide open) for the rest of the week will give me a lot more ability to catch up.

Here’s to hoping, anyway…!

Making notes

I don’t make longhand notes on my novel projects as much as I used to, but I’ll still rely on it when it’s needed. For example, this current scene in Theadia that I’m revising has a lot of intricate interweaving of story threads that need to go together in just the right way that I’ve broken out the small legal pad at my desk to work through how it needs to go.

I do still have a small pad in my back pocket after all these years, something I’ve done since high school. These days it’s mostly for shopping lists instead of music release dates or story ideas. It was probably the candle warehouse job where my writing notes graduated from that pad to folded-up pieces of printer paper.

Somedays I think about that: why is it that I need certain kinds or sizes of paper to work on certain projects? Maybe it’s that back-pocket-pad paper is small, cramped and easily torn, while printer paper is stronger and provides a larger ‘canvas’ to work on. I have some of it folded up and in my pocket that I bring to the Current Day Job. [Not that I have the best time to work on that sort of thing there what with the constant interruptions, but one can hope.] But there’s also that small legal pad I just mentioned — which I’ve been using a lot while working in Spare Oom for working things out. It’s almost like my penchant for the specific spiral notebooks I used to buy for my longhand writing: always a three-subject wide-ruled notebook. Because a five-subject notebook is too big and college-ruled gives the appearance that I’ve hardly written a thing. I know, it’s kind of silly, but so it goes.

Anyway — all this is to remind myself that it’s okay not to get any new words or revised words finished, especially when that time is instead spent figuring things out longhand on paper first.

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.

There’s a World Outside

Image courtesy of Your Name

I’ve been spending a lot of time at work noticing there’s a world outside Spare Oom’s one window.

I mean, I know there’s a world out there, and I’m not talking about the unseen lands past the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. I’m talking about people in my neighborhood. The teens attending the nearby schools. The families in the neighboring houses and apartments in the Richmond District. The dog walkers, the late-shifters stopping in the store at 10pm to buy tomorrow’s lunch, the retirees stocking up for the week or buying that one ingredient they’re out of.

I’ve known they’re out there, but I’d kept them at a very long distance over the years. Part of it was the need to figure myself out without all the outside distraction and influence. And with the Former Day Job, my connection with others was mostly Other Businesses where there’s always that bit of enforced professional distance. I got along with my coworkers there but was never a close friend. But somewhere along the line that became the norm: I just didn’t people all that much.

When I started this retail job, I went in thinking one thing: If I’m going to deal with people, I’m not going to think of them as faceless Clients or Customers. That was a Former Day Job thing. I’m going to think of them as my neighbors and people I could get to know. Same with my coworkers; I may be old enough to be some of my coworkers’ parent (and young enough to be a whippersnapper to the older coworkers), but that shouldn’t keep me from getting to know them, learning a bit about who they are.

This, interestingly enough, has made me rethink how I approach creating new characters for my stories. I think that’s partly why I feel like Theadia is a bit more like the Bridgetown Trilogy than the last couple of novels I’ve written, because I’m giving these characters lives that are inspired or influenced by real life people I’m meeting. And in the process, learning a bit more about myself at a deeper level. Catching myself being who I am in a public setting without defaulting to a malleable People Pleaser every time. And it’s not just eye-opening but incredibly freeing.

Maybe the world outside isn’t as frustrating or stressful as I’d remembered it being.

Getting there

The downside to rewriting and revising is that after working easily through multiple passages and making minor corrections and fixes, I’ll hit a scene that’ll take forever to get through. I’m at one of them right now as I work on Theadia.

The scene is an important point in Act I where several of the main characters finally meet in the same room and choices are made that send the main plot off in its intended direction. This is a scene that I’d purposely skipped because the scenes leading up to it were driving me crazy and I really wanted to move on. [At first I felt the buildup was taking too long, but upon rereading it, it was totally fine and I was just being impatient. So it goes.]

There’s a lot of interweaving of characters-and-plot-so-far going on here, and in trying to do it right without causing more problems, I’m taking my own time with it. I’ve been working on it for at least a week now (and of course I’m getting impatient again), but I know I’m getting close to finishing it. I just need to keep it up.

The good thing is that once this particular trial is done, then I can get back to working on a few more light-and-easy passages again!

Filling in the gaps

The rewrite/revision on Theadia continues apace, sometimes quickly and sometimes at a snail’s pace. It really depends on what I left out in the first draft.

Theadia is definitely the first novel project where I actively chose to let myself use “I’ll write that bit later” more than just once. In pretty much every other novel I’ve written, I’d tried not to skip scenes and always wrote in order. I did this because I’m conscious of the multiple moving parts of a novel and didn’t want to make any horrific continuity errors. I’d done it once or twice in recent novels: one point in Diwa & Kaffi where I knew I had to expand on one thing but I also knew its importance was only to that specific moment in the story and not anything later on. And in In My Blue World I’d had to rewrite a scene due to a major edit that took out an extraneous character I no longer needed. Other than that, I wrote continually from start to finish.

With Theadia, I knew I’d have to give extra focus on one side of the story being told because it was kind of a new area of expertise (I use that term loosely, heh) for me; I knew what I wanted, and I knew that its scenes would complement whatever the main characters were doing. So instead of spending all that extra time trying to get it right the first time, I made a few vague references of what was happening, as well as a few notes at the start of certain chapters explaining what was going on. I did a bit of research in the background while I wrote the scenes I knew I could write easily.

So right now what I’m doing for this project is filling in those gaps. This is working out well for the most part, as I’m doing two things in tandem here: I’m writing those important scenes, but I’m also thinking of how they’ll affect the ones I’ve already written. It’s taking the same amount of time I’d have taken if I’d written it from start to finish, but without the frustrating gaps of nonwriting that I’d have spent focusing on learning more about that new area of expertise.

I still have a long way to go of course, but I’m further along and that makes me happy enough.

Fly-By: Busy, Distracted and Distressed

As you might have no doubt guessed, I’m a bit distressed by the multiple punches of recent news both national and international. I’m busy writing a new insert chapter for Theadia. I’m also a bit distracted as I have a new part-time Day Job lined up and I’m having one of those waves of overthinking worry because they haven’t yet given me a solid start date and schedule and my brain is telling me they did and I just misunderstood or I never received it. So yeah, I don’t have anything planned here today.

On a lighter note, here’s a picture of some recent daffodils we picked up at the grocery store. The light is natural (kitchen window yesterday afternoon) and I’m using a fun and super cheap macro lens that I can clip onto my phone. [You can find it on Amazon here. Thanks to BBC’s Winterwatch for bringing it to my attention!]

Here’s to hoping my brain is on a bit tighter next week.

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!

Making It Work

Image courtesey of Digimon

Okay, I’ll be honest — I’m at a crossroads. Over the last few weeks I’d been contemplating whether or not I should let one or both of the blogs go on an indefinite hiatus, or to go in the opposite direction: to Make It Work. And right now I’m leaning towards the latter, because writing has been a lifelong endeavor. I mean, the last time I went on blogging hiatus was because I needed the mental and emotional vacation, especially after I’d left the Former Day Job. Now? Now it just feels like I’m just avoiding it for no reason.

One of the reasons this came to mind is because of my recent revision/rewrite work on Theadia, and the fact that working on it has felt so similar to working on the Bridgetown Trilogy back in my Belfry days. When the resonance to a project is this strong, I’m not going to dismiss it. Every day I look forward to working on it for a few hours! And I don’t think I’ve felt that in quite some time, probably not since those days, when I would come home from the Day Job and head downstairs every evening, eager to get writing.

It didn’t occur to me how much I’d missed that. That drive and excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I loved writing my last few novels both released and unreleased. But in hindsight I think some of those might have been written more out of necessity than enjoyment. I loved writing them and I’m proud of them, but they didn’t excite me quite like working on the trilogy did. Mind you, I forced myself not to think of it that way at the time because I knew that they were different projects. Theadia feels different. It could be that it’s a much larger epic-sized project (like the trilogy) and those are the ones I love writing the most. It could also just simply be about it being the right time for it. I’m not going to question it, though. I’m just going to enjoy it.

Back to blogging: what I believe I’ve been missing is that same drive. I enjoy posting, and god knows I can talk your ears off about music and writing when given the chance. So why have I been avoiding it off and on over the last couple of years? I’m pretty sure it’s the same as above: I’ve been writing about things I’m not as enthused about as I used to be. [Or alternately, that I’ve talked about things I do obsess over for so long that I’ve been repeating myself and getting frustrated by that. There is a very strong chance that could be the other culprit.]

So how make my blogging work for me again? Well, one of the obvious things is to post about new subjects that I’ve avoided in the past, either for personal reasons or because I’d been too distracted by other subjects. Let’s do an ongoing theme about my obsession with music in the 90s. Let’s post some microfiction I’ve piled up over the years. It’s about that resonance with the subject I want to talk about and share. And it’s also about being fine with writing things that aren’t always of high importance. Have fun with it. Enjoy it. Look forward to writing it, especially when it’s about things that resonate with me.

Sometimes it’s like being the conductor

Image courtesy of Sound! Euphonium

Sometimes when I’m writing a novel, especially when it’s a larger one like Theadia where there’s a lot going on and the cast is extensive, it feels like I’m keeping my eye on several different things at once, and it’s up to me to make sure it sounds like a Tchaikovsky symphony rather than a discordant mess.

For instance, right now I’m writing a brand new chapter that I’m inserting near the beginning that introduces not just a main character (from her own POV) but her own subplot that helps underscore one of the major themes. And to choose where to insert it, I focused on how it would fit musically.

Musically? Well, here’s the thing: I see the writing of my novels like I’m writing a symphony. I’ve got all these themes and motifs and melody repetitions (and even the occasional variation on the theme) that I have to put in a specific order that not only makes sense, but is also brings pleasure in its execution. Which means my brain isn’t just thinking about how this current scene I’m writing will play out…I’m also thinking about how it will affect other scenes further along, how I can use the motif (and the melody, and even the pace) further along in the story as a nod to its original appearance.

So in this new chapter, I couldn’t just insert it at the end of a plot arc, I had to find the best spot for it. In this case, a point where all the main characters I’ve introduced so far have had their initial introduction on the stage and established what their initial roles are going to be. The smaller rise-and-fall arcs of the plot so far have all temporarily settled. This gives the reader a moment to breathe, and a moment for me to bring in some new information that isn’t exactly part of the main plot arc — yet.

All this focus on the right pacing and flow are what makes my stories the way they are. I’ve always said that music is deeply influential in my creativity — there’s a reason I always have some playing when I write — and over the years I’ve learned that writing and music have quite a few similarities in how they come together to form a larger cohesive piece of work.