More on focusing smaller

Yet another gif courtesy of Makoto Shinkai

It’s been a week since my previous post about focusing smaller when it comes to writing, and so far this process seems to be working well for me. Every time I started overthinking the idea I’d been working on that particular day, I stopped myself with the reminder: patience, you’ll get there. The biggest problem I’d been having with Theadia and MU4 over the last few months wasn’t that I was writing crap, it was that I was too eager to get to the goal. And the worst thing I can do is write impatiently.

Some people can write novels out of order. I’ve done it myself a few times…for instance, some of the scenes from Meet the Lidwells were written well in advance as practice sessions at 750Words. And that’s just fine! I’ve been doing precisely that with Theadia lately, just to get the words out and get my brain in the proper mindset for that story. But in the bigger picture, I tend and prefer to write chronologically. I’m a big fan of keeping the Big Story Arc clear in my head so I’m better able to pull all the smaller arcs and characters in the right directions. Thing is, sometimes I let the Big Story Arc thoughts take over, and that’s not good for my writing process.

So what I’ve been doing all this week is focusing on one scene in each project. (As it happens, it’s the opening scene in MU4 and a mid-book scene in Theadia. Perfect example of my occasionally writing out of order.) The main purpose for these exercises was not to convince myself that I was FINALLY working on a new project… it was just to get the creative juices flowing, that’s all.

What’s helping me refocus? Music, of course! Just like the trilogy mixtapes, I’ve been throwing together some interesting mixes for both of the new projects. Theadia‘s mixes have been especially interesting as I’m going out of my way to pick songs I wouldn’t normally choose for this kind of thing. MU4‘s mixes have been similar to the early Eden Cycle mixes of ’97-’98, collecting songs from different genres that evoke a particular mood. I suppose in a way I’m revisiting my old Miami Vice soundtrack style of writing. Hey, whatever works, right?

Another way I’ve been training myself to achieve this new focus is actually a fun project that takes no more than maybe a half hour a day but it’s like a treat for me: storyboarding Diwa & Kaffi! I do one page of six squares a day, just rough visualization sketches in pencil. It’s doing two things for me: One, it’s super fun and something I’ve always wanted to do with my novels, and Two, the daily exercise is helping me get better.

And that, really, is the whole point of this exercise in narrowing focus: getting better.

On Focusing Smaller

Source: Paprika (Satoshi Kon)

I’ve often said that I tend to be a pantser rather than an outliner, but that isn’t entirely true. I’ve done complete outlines before. For example, the outline for Meet the Lidwells! was more or less complete because it was focused on the band’s discography.

On the other hand, I have a few complete outlines for books that I’ve backburnered or trunked. For years I thought the reason for the story’s failure was because I was too hyper-focused on it and gave myself far too many rules and limitations. I’d lose interest because I was trying too hard to make this rigid plan work, even when I constantly told myself it was never set in stone.

A few days ago I was reading someone’s Twitter feed and they happened to mention how, with some creatives with ADHD, they sometimes lose interest in a big project once their brain has solved the problem. That is, they’ve run the whole idea through their head and completed the plot before any work has even been done, leaving the person unable to maintain interest in the creative part of the work.

Suddenly it made sense to me: why do I still feel the pull of some of these backburnered and trunked projects but can never get far with them? Why am I having issues getting anywhere with Theadia and the fourth Mendaihu Universe novel? For years I thought it was because it just wasn’t resonating with me. But why wasn’t it? Disinterest and personal issues don’t seem to be the complete answer, because I’ve felt that with far too many of my completed projects at one point or another.

I had to put it in perspective. Again, with the Bridgetown Trilogy: why did I have almost no problems with that (not including the end of Book 3)? Easy: it was because the bulk of those books — and In My Blue World, Diwa & Kaffi and Lidwells — were written with me only focusing ahead maybe one or two scenes at most. I wrote most of that by sketching out a few ideas during the day job and expanding on those when I got home. [I’ve talked about this process plenty of times, of course.]

There was a reason I kept wanting to get back to that particular process, and for years I misunderstood that yearning as reminiscence and a longing for how enjoyable that process was.

But once I saw those tweets the other day, it occurred to me that maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe my brain really is telling me that this particular process worked for me, and worked well at that, and maybe it’s time to return to it. I was looking at it wrong; I needed to understand this longing in a clinical sense. I can have a long-term goal with my writing — knowing the direction and final destination of the story — but I have to maintain a much sharper and smaller focus on the scenes in front of me at almost all times.

The reason for that is because when I work out all the moving parts of the entire story and plan it all out ahead of time, I lose interest in it. I’ve already done the brain work and now I’m bored with it. The fact that I keep thinking about these projects, especially when I read older blog posts, notes and outtakes, is because it’s not the story that bores me, but my brain reacting to the idea of the work it involves.

This, by the way, is most likely why my academic years were so damn scattershot.

SO. What this means is that I’ve started adjusting accordingly. My daily words are now focusing on writing short outtakes again. My plans for Theadia, MU4 and other projects are to work on them a little at a time, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Referring to those outlines only as a road map, and only when needed.

I’m very curious to see where this will take me.

Magazines

Time was when I used to subscribe to a number of writing and genre magazines. I didn’t always get around to reading them in a timely manner, and I quite often had a large collection of them that collected dust somewhere for a few years, but I did my best. They kept me busy, informed and entertained.

I subscribed to all the ones you’d expect: The Writer, Poet & Writer, Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, Locus, Asimov’s, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and so on. WD is probably the longest one I’ve stuck with, going back to high school.

Nowadays, however, I find myself never quite getting around to reading any of them, so I’ve let them all lapse. It’s not that I’ve gotten sick of reading them, or felt I’m no longer in need of them…just that I don’t have the time for them. I’ll end up with four or five issues piled up on my printer waiting to be read, and then I’ll spend a Sunday afternoon flying through them all at once. If I feel like resubscribing, I can certainly do so.

I will say that most of those writing magazines did help me tremendously over the years, especially in the 90s when I was learning the craft. I knew it wouldn’t teach me everything — a lot of this craft is about learning by experience and especially by finding what works for me in particular — but they always steered me in the right direction. And I still have a lot to learn, now that I’m making a concerted effort to return to the professional submission process rather than self-publishing. A lot of that is going to be learned via doing it rather than prepping for it with help from magazines.

I definitely suggest reading as many of these as you can, especially if you’re first starting out; they’ll become a stable anchor point for you while you figure out your style, your process, and your dedication level. And they’re also a great way to connect with other writers and readers too!

Do Writers Read Their Own Books?

It’s an honest question. Do we read our own books after they’re out there in the wild? After spending all those hours slaving away at it, pulling it apart and putting it back together, wondering if anyone else out there is ever going to read it…do we want to pick it up again after we call it complete?

We most definitely do, for various reasons. I can’t say if other writers read their own books for the fun of it, but I would not be surprised if some of us do. After all, a good portion of us write these things because these are the kinds of stories we like to read.

Over this past weekend, inspired by finishing off my cleaning and sorting of the Mendaihu Universe papers, I uploaded an epub copy of A Division of Souls to my Nook and started reading it during our relaxing weekend down in Monterey. I haven’t picked up that particular book since I self-published it back in 2015.

I’ve distanced myself from the Bridgetown Trilogy since then, by choice. The major reason being that I had a few unrelated stories I wanted to write and release first. I also wanted that distance so I could look at it with a fresh viewpoint, that way I could reconnect with certain parts of it for the potential Book Four.

I’m already picking up things I’d like to change with it, of course. Perhaps a bit more editing. A few formatting issues that might have gotten missed. Quicken the pacing a bit more, especially in those first few chapters. But other than that, I’m surprised at how solid it all is despite that. Spending so many years on a single project can sometimes become a desperate fall into a rabbit hole, but I can see I managed to avoid that. It’s very heavy immersion, I’ll grant that. This was my Epic Urban Fantasy project and written that way on purpose. Just like Meet the Lidwells! and In My Blue World were written fast and compact on purpose. Just like Diwa and Kaffi was written in a deliberately even and relaxed pace.

And I’ve reread those books as well! I read MtL for the fun of it because it was such an enjoyable and quick project. I reread IMBW because I wanted to make sure I did a good job on it, a few months after I released it. And I’ve been rereading D&K over and over again lately for revision purposes. A common piece of advice that many authors (and agents and publishers) give is that you’ve got to be able to reread your own work countless times and not get sick of it, and I totally get that.

I’m not planning on doing a New and Improved Edition of the Bridgetown Trilogy because of this current reread. At least not yet, anyway. (I might eventually do one to fix the few very minor issues that I catch, but that’s not going to happen right away. Right now, all I want to do is reread the trilogy and see how it sits with me, and what I can glean from it for later books in the Universe.

Still, it is kind of fun to read these things and get that occasional feeling of pleasant surprise and pride: I wrote this? Daaang! Heh.

Tabula Rasa

Courtesy of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Mamoru Hosada

[Previously posted on my Dreamwidth account a few days ago, sharing it here with minor edits.]

I feel like my writing process is in transition again. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty much running on 90% Editor Brain at the moment, focusing on the Diwa and Kaffi rewrite. [It could also be that the Spring Cleaning bug bit me pretty damn hard this year.] Usually when this happens, I’ll still have a serious itch to get some new writing done on the side, even if it’s just exercise. But lately that itch is nowhere to be seen. Not entirely unsettling, as I’ve had this happen before, and I’m not worried that my Writing Chops have deserted me…just that it feels weird to feel this and not worry about it.

I think one of the shifts in the process might be that I feel like I’ve done enough of scheduling. Now, scheduling is never a bad thing, especially for someone like me who doesn’t always remember when an event is coming up (or a vacation, for that matter), but that’s what my regular monthly calendar is for. I’m talking about what I call strict-scheduling — assigning myself a specific time or a certain project for a particular date, for instance. This is what my whiteboard calendar has been for. It’s something I’ve been depending on for quite a few years now, and I put it there to ensure that I’m working every day.

Now, I’m not so sure I need it anymore. I needed it in the past when I was having trouble getting myself back on track after a long dry spell. I needed it when I was updating my blogs. I needed it as a reminder for specific projects. It was something I’d been using for years to inspire me to get working.

I think I’ve gotten past the needing it at this point. It’s served its purpose quite some time ago and now it’s feeling like a bit of a hindrance. It’s no longer inspiring and feels more like a dreaded homework assignment and drained all the fun out of it.  So I’ve gone and cleared it — wiped all the scheduled items on there. It’s a normal calendar now. If I’m going to use it, I think I’ll use it for reminding myself of long-term deadlines and convention reminders.

Will I come back to use it again? Most likely, but I’m not going to worry about it.

As long as I remember to keep working, that’s all that really matters.

Adjustments

evangelion gendo glasses

As much as I deeply enjoyed working from home full time, alas I will have to give it up in the near future.  The most frustrating thing about this is that it was not my decision, but that of higher-ups at my current job.  [Long story short, they’ve decided to phase out remote working to ‘foster teamwork, social connection,’ blah blah blah.  My teammates are equally as frustrated by this decision.]   There are other things at play that are putting my job at risk as well, which is only adding to my frustration.

Which means that this long and extremely fruitful era of writing session scheduling is coming to an end for now.  I’d be lying if I said this didn’t upset and annoy me to some degree.  I got a hell of a lot done over the years in the pockets of time I was able to use, and not having to deal with a commute.

All that said, I’m taking this in the best possible way I can by adjusting accordingly.  Should I start bringing my tablet along to work on things during breaks and lunches?  Should I bring books to read for the bus ride?  [I plan on sticking in San Francisco and taking public transportation, thank you.]  Can I squeeze in trips to the gym after work?  What amount of work can I get done, and how?

I’m willing to make adjustments when and where I can.  It’ll be just like when I left the warehouse job and moved down to New Jersey; I’ll lose what’s been one of the best arrangements for me to balance work and writing.  I can figure it out somehow.

But I ain’t gonna stop writing anytime soon, that’s for sure.

Keeping Busy

makoto shinkai tgow2
Source: Makoto Shinkai, The Garden of Words

Despite possibly overburdening myself a bit lately and falling prey to exhaustion and sore throat for a day or so, my latest writing regimen seems to be paying off.  I’ve been consistently been hitting an average of 900 words per project Monday through Friday, with the occasional run on the weekend as well if time and inclination lets it happen.  Add the four blog entries and other small things to the mix, and I’m probably averaging around 11k words a week.

That’s a LOT of words.

Mind you, it’s not all at once, and I’ve got it down to a strict schedule.  The Monday-Tuesday blog entries are written on Sunday afternoon, and the Thursday-Friday entries on Wednesday.  In My Blue World is written during my Day Job afternoon break, and the Apartment Complex story during the evening sessions.  I keep the creative writing separate from the clinical writing Day Job.  And I let myself have a breather every couple of hours a day so I don’t run myself ragged.

So yeah, I’ve been keeping busy.  Writing two novels at the same time is definitely a trip, and not for the faint-hearted.  More than once I’ve opened up one of the project pages and sat there for a minute, trying to remember if this was the magical girl story page or the boy and his alien friend story page.

How do I keep two completely different and unrelated projects straight in my head?  Good question.  I’m not sure myself.  I just manage to keep them separate because I work on them at different times of the day.  Since both sessions are in the latter half of the day, this gives me most of the day to come up with a general idea of what I want to write.  I also try to write complete scenes, or scenes that will be completed in the next session.  Again, this is almost exactly like my process when I wrote the trilogy; I would prep myself during the day so no evening session time would be wasted.

Will I keep this going on the next projects?  Who knows.  I’d like to, but if I have to adjust it along the way, so be it.  As long as I’m going in the right direction.

Carving Out Time

girl who leapt through time
Source: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

I’ve been thinking about time lately.  Well — part of it is due to my work on In My Blue World, but also because I’ve been running all over the place lately, trying to squeeze in as much as I can into a short amount of time during the day.  If I look at my social calendar it starts looking far too busy, but if I take it day by day, it’s a little easier to work with.

I’m also doing my best to ensure that I carve out enough time to work on my writing projects at some point during the day.  As long as I get a little bit done, then I can rest easy.  Right now I’m working with two mini-sessions a day:  one during the afternoon break of the Day Job, and the other in the evening.  I write my blog entries a few days ahead of time and schedule them.  I’m also prepping ahead of time by at least having a general idea of what I’m going to write before those writing sessions start.

Carving out time to write is one of the most important things I must do as a writer, and I do whatever I can to make it happen.  Even if it’s a half hour where I’m working out story issues.  [I call these ‘blathering’ sessions, but what I’m really doing is voicing what might be bothering me, working out the kinks and rethinking my approach.  These too are essential, because I’ll have a much clearer head for the next prose writing session.]  As long as I’m going in the right direction, that’s all that matters.

Carving out time to write when the days are busy can be hard to do, but it can be done if you dedicate yourself to it.  It might be getting up a half hour earlier, it might be closing down those social media browsers for a while, or it might even be longhand during your commute.  Whatever works, go for it.  Find an hour, write those five hundred words, and try to do it as many times a week as you can.

Because all that short work adds up to a larger finished project.

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