Changes

[NOTE: This is a slightly updated repost from the original Dreamwidth entry from Wednesday night.]

I’ve been thinking long and hard about my writing lately, especially in regards to what processes have been working and what have not, and how to minimize the latter.

One thing in particular that had been bothering me was the fact that I had two projects in a row — the Apartment Complex story and now Can’t Find My Way Home — stutter to a halt, and both for the same reason.  And that reason being that it just didn’t feel right.  I know, I know…that sounds a bit silly and I’m probably talking out of my ass, but at the same time, the last two projects — Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World — did feel right to me.  Instinctively it felt like I was doing the right things, going in the direction the story needed to go.

Now, I knew it wasn’t just because of the story I was writing.  Both ideas have a created world that I could have a lot of fun with.  And I’ve definitely had my moments of the Don’t Wanna’s and the Oh God This Sucks with every project I’ve ever worked on, good and bad.  But there’s so much less drama with those two well-behaved kids.  So I had to really think about it — WHY was I having drama with the AC and CFMWH?

And then it occurred to me:  maybe I need a change of platform.

Yes, I know, on the face of it, that sounds like one of the worst and lamest excuses I could come up with, but hear me out.

As you all know, Bob, I’ve been writing the first rough drafts of the successful stories in short bouts on 750Words.  And all the rough outtakes of the AC that were well-behaved came from there as well.  They were working well for many reasons:

–I’m always writing at a specific time.
–With each session, I’m writing a complete or almost-complete scene arc, which also sets up the next scene arc that I’ll write during the next session.
–I’m focusing only on the scene at hand.  The novel-as-whole is secondary here.
–I’m allowing minor editing as I go, when I know that I can write something better.
–Each scene or partial is on its own screen; I can only access the other scenes by backing out of the one I’m currently on.
–I need to hit at least 750 words before I can call the session done for the day.
–These sessions are often very productive, as well as fast.  And quite enjoyable nearly every single time.

And then I realized: This is the exact same process I used when I wrote The Persistence of Memories, which I consider a personal benchmark.  Slightly different platforms, but the process was the same.  It was enjoyable and exhilarating to write because I’d laid all those ground rules and stuck to them.

So I thought:  what if I set up another 750Words account?  I’d follow the same leads as above with whatever second project I happen to have going.  This can be my evening writing session.  MS Word would only be used for localized save points, revision, rewriting, formatting, and other post-production work.

So that’s what I’ve done, starting it Wednesday night.

And I started it with another trial run of the Apartment Complex novel.  Despite my frustration with it over the past few months, my brain returned to it at least once a day.  I took that as a sign that I should definitely return to it as part of this newly-implemented process.  No giant outline, but just enough pre-planning to know where I need to go for the next couple of scenes.

One entry at a time, enjoying the moment.

Here’s to hoping this works!

My daily writing process, told in anime gifs

Trying to think through the scene I’m about to write:

anime-thinking-sasuke

What the inside of my head looks like at that very moment:

naruto screaming

What I probably look like at the same time when A. walks into Spare Oom to see what I’m up to:

anime blank eyes

When I suddenly decide maybe I need some brain food if I’m going to get anywhere:

spike spiegel eating

Post-snack, back to thinking about what I should be writing:

anime thinking smoke ears

SUDDENLY: An idea emerges!

fullmetal idea

And now I write.

umaru-kawaii

That moment when A. decides to come in and check up on me again:

anime blink blink

Kicking ass and banging that scene into shape:

anime ergo proxy

Getting into the groove and hitting a damn fine word count:

naruto killer bee

Almost forgetting to save my work. ALMOST.:

anime shocked

Realizing I’ve been working for an hour and a half straight with no break:

tired panda

Calling it a day, heading to bed:
anime-tired

On Calling It

cat throw away
Source: spoon-tamago.com

I’ve been frustrated with my work on the Apartment Complex story for the last few weeks.  Not the prose itself; that’s actually been pretty good.  What I am producing is stuff I can work with and revise.  I’m talking about the overall production.  It’s too scattershot.  There are too many gaping holes where I hung a cardboard sign saying ‘put something here later’.  I think I’ve proven to myself that I’m not good at writing out of order; I’m definitely more of a linear writer.

In short, I don’t think my longhand idea is quite panning out the way I wanted.  It feels like I’m wasting time.

I didn’t plan it out as well as I thought I did, and I’m paying the price for it.  I don’t necessarily think I need to revisit the outline; more that I need to be more immersed in the story.  It’s the writing style I’m used to and the style I’m good at.  By writing in a linear fashion and immersing myself into the story and the characters, I begin to understand what is needed and what I should avoid.  I’m also able to pay attention to minor details that I could use further down the line.

That’s not to say that I’ll never work this way again…I actually enjoy writing longhand.  It’s more relaxing, for starters.  I’m not focusing on a screen for hours at a time, for another.  Not to mention I get to write anytime and anywhere.  I just have to remember next time to start it when it needs starting, and not sooner.

That said… I’ve called it this past Wednesday.  I’m starting the Apartment Complex story over and trying again, this time straight to PC, as linearly as possible.  I haven’t gotten too far in the story, so I should probably be back up to speed by the end of the month if I keep up the same speed and dedication.

‘Calling it’ has to be one of the hardest things a writer has to do sometimes.  It’s definitely not a decision that comes lightly.  The biggest weight is the bitter truth that we’ve just wasted all that time on something that isn’t working for us.  Well, maybe not wasted per se, but it certainly feels that way.  There’s also the frustration of having to decide whether to continue or restart the project in what feels like the correct way, or to put it aside and start something else.  It causes us to take a good hard look at our project and make the decision whether it’s truly worth following through or trunking.

I’m already dedicated to the Apartment Complex story; I’ve been looking forward to writing it since I was in the middle of writing Lidwells. [I’m feeling the same exact way about In My Blue World, to be honest, and that one’s further down the road.]  I’ve decided I can salvage what I’ve done over the last month, and I can turn this around.

But it’s still one hell of a hard decision.

Sometimes changing it up works too.

pbc impulse
Source: Polar Bear Café.

The last few days at the Day Job have been ridiculously busy for some reason, and it’s all I could do to juggle that with my writing.  I’ve been using my work breaks and the occasional slow moment to get some daily words or revision or blog entries done.  (As it happens, I’m writing this during my afternoon break on Thursday.)  It seems that right off the bat my Day Job wants to scupper all my Best Laid Plans.

Well, not this time.

Instead of saying hell with it and chalking it up as another lost day, I’m going in the exact opposite direction.  Easier said than done, of course, but it can be done if I put my mind to it.

One thing I noticed was that trying to write longhand during the day wasn’t quite working out, as it was too much of a mental whiplash from the number crunching I get paid for.  So that’s been moved to the evening, and my former evening work — the final revision of Lidwells — was moved to the afternoons.  I saw a huge improvement almost immediately on both projects, as I don’t need as much concentration for revision as I do for writing new prose.  I may change it back once things settle down, but we shall see.

And as for the blogging and the daily words and whatnot…well, those are still floating around under the banner of ‘whenever I happen to have a few spare minutes’.  Sometimes I’ll write these during those slow Day Job moments, sometimes I’ll squeeze them in just before I start my evening work.  But they’re getting done regardless.

Point being, I’ve learned — remembered, really — that sometimes I have to get a little creative if I want to Write All The Things.  I say ‘remember’ because this is the exact process I used during the Belfry years.  Now as then, it’s a matter of committing myself to it and carving out the time.  If that means sneaking in a quick 300-word blog post during office hours, I’m fine with that.  That work email can wait another fifteen minutes before I get back to it.  I consider this a brief and healthy mental distraction so I can get back to Day Job work with a bit more clarity.

Germination

fullmetal idea
Never a good sign when Edward gets an idea.

Coming up with ideas really isn’t all that hard.  It’s the latching onto one, getting it to germinate, that’s the hard part.  I’ve got to have some connection to it, otherwise it’s just a single scene that doesn’t belong anywhere.  And I’ve got an old trunk full of those already.

Sometimes those ideas take a hell of a long time to germinate, and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.  Meet the Lidwells! came to me nearly two years ago, and I’m only working on it now.  That was primarily due to the trilogy project taking precedence, but I also wanted to give it a good planning-in-my-head before moving forward with it.

I’ve got a few backburner projects as well, ones that have been simmering for quite a few years.  Those are ideas with merit but I wasn’t ready to work on them just yet for one reason or another.  I’ve got a few new and fresh ideas as well, ones that I may play around with via 750 Words (like I did with Lidwells) until something concrete comes about.

Is it frustrating, having these stories in various points of stasis?  Well, yeah, of course it is!  But I’d like to think I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer feel like I MUST WRITE ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW. Once I cleared the table of the Trilogy Project, I found it…actually pretty empty.  I’d trunked numerous story ideas over the past fifteen years; ideas that didn’t work, that I’d lost interest in, or just led nowhere.  Others I’d turned into blog series.  I had maybe three or four Possible Next Projects, tops.

Which also meant that I could afford to come up with a few new possible seeds of ideas that I could nurture down the road.  I could let myself play around with the tiniest inklings that passed by.  I have to relish when that happens now, because I haven’t had that feeling in a long time.  Writers love coming up with scraps and seeing where they go.

It feels great to be fully creating again after years of editing and revision work.  It feels even better to let my brain come up with these seeds of ideas and know that I won’t have to wait for ages to get to them.

wile e coyote idea
Granted, it’s never good when Wile E Coyote gets an idea, either.

(Not so) Great Starts

snoopygreatstart

The upside is that I’ve already gotten a good couple thousand words in on Meet the Lidwells!  Most of the text is coming straight from the very rough draft I wrote a few years back, of course, but it’s going in the right direction.

The downside is that I can already see where I’m going wrong.  Thankfully I know exactly what it is that’s wrong, and how to fix it.

I’ll be honest — the beginnings of my novels are always a mess.  I spend the first couple of chapters knowing what I want to write, but I haven’t quite grasped how I want it to play out.  The prose is all over the place as I try out all kinds of different styles on the fly.  I’ll plant the seeds of one or two minor plot points that may or may not survive the end result.  I may even get a few of the details mixed up.

But hey, that’s what revision and editing is for, right?  Once I do figure it all out (which is usually around two or three chapters in), then I have a solid platform for the rest of the novel, and I can clean everything up in those two or three sketchy first scenes.   A Division of Souls had at least three wildly different openings before I put all the pieces together and figured out which one works the best.  I had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to start The Balance of Light the way I wanted it.  Lidwells is no different; once I get into the groove, I’ll be able to build a more solid opening.

Do I wish I could write a perfect opening?  Nah.  Doing it the way I do is actually part of the fun!  It helps me connect with the story on an emotional level; once I’ve done that, then I can reshape the opening to fit that mood.  I don’t see it as wasting time and words; I see it as part of the whole exercise.  As long as I’m going in the right direction…that’s all that really matters.

It’s not a race

kakashi-guy-2

One thing I always need to remind myself is that I’m not in a race with other writers to get my work out.  Sure, I had that feeling way back in the day, back when I as naive enough to think that my manuscripts were good enough to warrant attention.  I thought the turnaround was super-quick, that I’d have my byline and my comp copies in my palms within a few weeks.  [Reality hit me pretty quick and hard, then.]  And I still get that twitch of envy when I see writers I know personally or online, releasing new works while I’m still languishing.

Every writer gets that feeling.  You want to be in the same race as everyone else, wanting to keep up and be One of the Gang.  But everyone in that gang is already miles ahead of you, already known to readers, physical copies of books in hand, doing the signings and the readings at the conventions and book stores.  It’s enough to make you wonder if you’ll ever catch up.

kakashi-guy-1

Well, here’s the thing:  it’s not a race.  Not unless you want it to be.  You might give yourself a hard deadline like I did, to get that book out and away by a specific date, to have that physical copy in your hand  (even if it is a galley or an ARC).  But you’re not racing the other writers.  Far from it.

They’re running just as hard as you are, tripping up at the same points you are, maybe even making it up as they go along like you are.  Their race is not about who gets there first across the finish line, or who gets there the fastest.  Their race is about finishing the race.  To them — and indeed, should be to you as well — this race is a marathon.  Running those twenty-six-point-two miles of hard work, revisions, edits, re-edits, re-revisions, meetings, sales plans, working on other projects in the interim, and aiming for that final goal of completion.

kakashi-guy-3

In the end, the only race in writing and publishing that a writer should be concerned with is a deadline.  I had to remind myself of this for quite a long time, and once I finally got over that, I no longer felt frustrated that I was getting left behind, or annoyed that I was taking far too long to get my own work done.

One of the best ways I learned that is to take part in the writing community.  I’m still a solitary writer that hasn’t joined a local writer’s group (and I kind of feel more comfortable that way — that avenue is completely up to you whether you want to follow it or not)…but I talk with other writers online all the time, I’ve met up and become friends with writers both beginner and pro.  Once I came to the conclusion that we’re all in the same boat, that we’re all slightly frazzled and overworked but still loving what we’re doing, none of us are truly left behind.  A lot of us support each other at all levels, because we know just how hard the job can get.

kakashi-guy-4

We’re all running, but we’re all running together.

 

[Images courtesy of Naruto, of course!]

Point of No Return

While doing the Big Edits and the galley edits of my trilogy, I noticed that with each book, I set the main plot’s Point of No Return in the exact middle of the story.  Not that it’s necessarily where the one Act ends and another starts; it’s merely a concrete point in the story where enough has happened and the only way out is forward.  It’s the point where one or many of the characters face the No Turning Back Now part of their arc.

I don’t even try to do it consciously.  I’m aware that it’s one spike of many in the story arc, just like they all are, but I don’t always plan it to be the most important one.  Most of the time, it just ends up that way.

The climax of the story is near the end where it should be, of course…but this isn’t the climax I’m talking about.  It’s the point where the characters may pause and finally get their bearings and finally truly see just how deeply they’ve embedded themselves.  [Out of amusement, I’ve sometimes called it the “oh shit we really are screwed aren’t we” moment.]

And this moment can happen at any time, really.  And it can happen numerous times within the span of a book or a series.  But there’s usually one true Point of No Return moment.  And somehow I’ve figured out where to put it exactly in the middle of my stories!

 

Who Are You

One of the many preparatory steps I’m taking for the upcoming New Project (Nothing to Do with the Trilogy, Honest) is thinking about new characters.  Of the two projects I have on deck, I’ve decided that I’d like to know more about the characters ahead of time, before I get any actual writing done.

I’ve done this before with the trilogy, but for the most part they were in my head.  Considering I pretty much knew a lot about them by the time I wrote the three books, I could get away with that.  However, these new projects are different.  I’d rather not wing it this time.  [I mean, I can if I have to…but I’d rather not.]

In this instance I’ll be creating character sheets.  Nothing too detailed or intensive, just enough for me to use as reference.  I’ve seen many webcomic artists do this; they’ll have an image folder or scrapbook that will have the basic character designs, but will also include fashion photograhy and color palettes (personal styles), celebrity casting (what they look like, facial expressions, different angles, etc), unique physical attributes (hair, piercings, etc), and so on.  I did something similar to this for some of my trilogy characters, adding things like their birthdays, current addresses, and so on.  I rarely had to pull them out for reference, but they were good to have on hand just in case I’d erred in description somewhere.

I also usually add a map or two as well.  I drew a basic layout of Bridgetown early on for reference and it came in quite handy multiple times.  I will most likely do the same for one of the two upcoming projects.

It does sound like I’m purposely limiting the amount of pre-work I do.  It’s true, I don’t like to give my outlines all that much detail, at least not on a long-term basis.  Just enough so I know what to write within the next three or four chapters and a vague idea of the direction of the novel as a whole.  The same goes with the characters; the most I’ll do is create a character sheet that will remind me of the basics so I can remain consistent.  Essentially, something I can anchor the character to.

There are numerous books and articles out there suggesting how to create characters with depth, and I’ve read many of them.  They all have great ideas that will help you create a better novel.  I’ve always tended to uses these suggestions as a baseline rather than concrete directions, and that’s worked just fine.  There’s no right way to do it other than whatever works for you.

STFU

not writing

I came up with a mantra in the spring of 1995 when I realized that if I was going to get any serious writing done, I was going to have to stop making excuses not to.  Or more to the point, I was going to have to stop procrastinating.  I had a lot on my mind that summer…a stagnating long-distance relationship; lots of overdue bills; a really horrible diet of cereal, ice cream, concession stand food, soda, and smokes; jobs that weren’t paying enough for me to actually live on.  It’s quite true that life stress is not conducive to the creative mind. At. All.

But I had the use of my girlfriend’s PC that summer, and a hell of a lot of time on my hands when I wasn’t at my theater job.  I had a few projects milling about in the back of my head.  And I had my radio and my music collection to keep me entertained.  All I needed to do was get myself into the groove somehow.  If I was going to finally jumpstart this writing gig with any seriousness, I was going to have to go all in.  I couldn’t do it half-assed.

Which meant that I had to come up with a daily reminder.  And this reminder was written on two index cards in very large letters — one was posted right above my desk, and the other was next to my bed.  That way I’d see them every single day, whether I wanted to or not.

This is what they said:

Just DO it.  Shut the f*** up and START WRITING ALREADY.

Terse?  Maybe.  But it did the trick.  The only reason for not writing at that time was so I could feel sorry for myself and my pathetic social life and post-college career.  I hated feeling that way, and I hated that I knew I was wasting time feeling that way.  I had to break the cycle somehow.

Even if that meant working on the small, inconsequential stuff like transcribing my writing from the past ten years.  Even if that meant making small notes on scrap pieces of paper while at my job.  The main aim here was to create a daily habit out of it.  I’d worry about results at a later time.  As long as I was doing it and not wishing I was.

*

I’ll be honest, that’s still my writing mantra, twenty-one years later in 2016.  It’s for different reasons, of course.  I say that to myself when I’m having a mean case of the Don’t Wannas, or severely distracting myself online, or whatever.  I still have my moments of self-doubt (what writer doesn’t?) and wonder if the current project I’m on is worth finishing.

Procrastination and self-doubt are still two of my bitterest enemies, and the only way I know how to defeat them is via the same mantra:  just shut the f*** up and DO it.

And you know what?  It still works.