On Writing: Point of Viewpoint, Or Different Mindsets for Different Styles

You’ve heard me (and other writers) talk about being ‘in the mood’ or ‘in the right mindset’ to write whatever projects they’re working on.  In the past it’s ended up being a crutch; I’d waste a good twenty minutes digging through my music collection trying to find the perfect album to listen to for a particular writing session.  I used to be really bad with that, but I’ve gotten better.  Most of the time now I listen to whatever newer release I happen to have close at hand, or if a specific album if I want to give that one another listen.

Actually, this post isn’t about that.  It’s about something I was subconsciously aware of for years, but just recently started monitoring, and it’s kind of interesting.  At least to me, anyway.

This one’s about where my mind is while working on whatever project I have in front of me.  At present I’m letting my imagination run rampant within the confines of my created world for the new Mendaihu Universe story…I picture novels as one long story of character evolution, where the the only rules are that nothing remains static and that consequences just as important as the actions.  I tend to let myself get well and truly lost in my created world; that is, ‘lost’ in the sense that if my brain suddenly and unexpectedly comes up with a doozy of a plot twist and I know it’ll work as part of the whole, I’ll let it take center stage and not hold back.  I think of it as writing for an audience of myself, though with full expectation that others will want to read and understand it as well.

Writing nonfiction is somewhat similar, only the boundaries are much tighter…at least that’s been my experience with Walk in Silence.  The focus is on the subject matter’s evolution within the confines of reality…thus imagination is reined in considerably, only given to the prose itself.  This is also true with my blog posts.  Not counting the more personal entries over at my LJ where my writing is more freestyle, I try to give my writing at least a little bit of professionalism.  When I’m writing nonfiction, I’m writing for an audience other than myself.

Poetry and song lyrics are a different beast, where I tend to be more emotional with my style.  I started writing poetry and songs back in my late teens as a release, but also as a playground for words, where I’d let myself come up with odd metaphors and weird imagery.  There’s really no rules here…I just riff it from start to finish.  This stuff is totally a personal indulgence, though I’ve been told by listeners that my Flying Bohemians and jeb! lyrics were pretty cool, so I’m fine with that.

The fascinating thing is that, now that I’m working on the new MU story, writing blog entries and (soon) working on Walk in Silence again, I find myself conscious of how my mind will shift from one style to another.  It can be tricky, especially if you have a lot of disparate writing ideas milling about in your head, but after all these years I’ve managed to make it work.  I think part of it is what I call the ‘going in’ phase of the session.  For instance, if I’m about to write the MU story, even before I put pen to paper I’ll start thinking about the characters, get in their heads and emotions for a few minutes to remember where I was.

[Noted, this is where the writing session soundtrack often comes in, and why I’m often a sucker for a certain mood in the songs.  The music helps me set the tone of the section I’m writing.  This is also true for nonfiction, or at least with Walk in Silence; for that I’m actually listening to the music I’m writing about so I can connect with the subject more clearly and emotionally.]

I think now that I’ve made sense of how my creative mind shifts from project to project, I’ve become better at giving each project a tighter focus.  I know how I’m doing it, so I’m less worried about whether or not I’m doing it right…as long as I’m doing it my own logical way, then that’s all that matters.

On Worldbuilding: Down the Rabbit Hole Willingly

It’s often said that the downside to worldbuilding is that sometimes we writers get caught up in it, to the detriment of the actual writing.  I’ll freely admit that creating a fictitious world is a never-ending source of fun.  The Mendaihu Universe has grown and evolved over the course of two decades, and even as the Bridgetown trilogy enters Submission Phase this year, I’m still coming up with new avenues, new details for it.  Just yesterday I started playing around with another MU story set on Mannaka, an outpost world mentioned on the periphery in the BTown trilogy.  For the love of my own sanity, why am I doing this?

Short and most obvious reason?  More stories!  Ever since the aborted True Faith novel, I’ve always planned on setting a number of books in the same universe.  Not always in the same fixed spot in the timeline, of course…the timeline for yesterday’s brainstorming is up to question, but it would be a few millennia either before or after the BTown events.  This was partially inspired by Anne McCaffrey’s Pern universe–I liked the idea of writing multiple stories in my own created universe.  Each story would stand on its own, but there would always be a reminder somewhere (either up front or in the periphery) of the spiritual evolution story that’s central to the Mendaihu Universe.

And I spent a lot of time between 1994 and 1997, the years before I started The Phoenix Effect, just playing around with the universe, coming up with various story ideas and plot points in the timeline.  I remember a lot of slow afternoons in the ticket booth at the theater (and later at the radio station) where I’d lay the ground rules for my universe, such as major world events, evolutionary steps, and so on.  Just enough to give me anchors for future projects.

I can understand when worldbuilding can be a writer’s downfall, of course; spending too much time on the minutiae and not enough on the prose, focusing too much on the history and not enough on the present.  Or worse, giving into the joy of worldbuilding so completely that doing the actual writing becomes less than exciting.  It becomes like Charles Foster Kane, focusing on building the empire and home, changing it and morphing it as time and whim permits, but never quite finishing it.

The trick is to balance it out…I can have a lush background history, but I have to do something with it.  I can create a sprawling city-province like Bridgetown, but I have to have something happen there in particular.  I can create various characters to act out my story, but I have to have them do something inherently them in the process.   And after all of that, while I’m writing the story, I have a background I can work with–I can put these characters through a historical event that will affect them in one way or another, which will in turn cause them to evolve somehow.

I learned this when I realized I could no longer get away with ‘making it up as I go along’.  I learned it with The Phoenix Effect, when I realized that there were way too many divergent plot points and “I’ll revise it later” moments caused by immediate worldbuilding, all of which caused the story to be full of holes and inconsistencies.  When I restarted with A Division of Souls I forced myself to focus on the created history I had, and if new points of reference came up I would make a concerted effort to ensure they made sense in the overall story.  [A great example of this is in Chapter 2, when Assistant Director Dylan Farraway states “…this certainly isn’t a Second Coming…” to which Alec Poe responds with an offhanded “Ninth, sir.”  It was a complete throwaway line at the time I wrote it, but as I continued writing, the Ninth Coming of the One of All Sacred became the most important plot point of the entire trilogy.]

Working with your worldbuilding is definitely a tricky business.  You have to make copious notes.  You have to have a very sharp memory of what you’ve written.  You have to make sure you don’t get lost in it.  But once you’ve found a way to successfully manage it and make your way through it, it’s quite possibly the most enjoyable part of the writing process.

On Writing: Determination and Distraction

Some of you may have seen my Twitter pic or my LiveJournal post last night regarding “the Return of the Whiteboard Writing Schedule.”  A few years back I bought one of those erasable whiteboards that has a calendar grid on it and stuck it on the wall, eye-level, in front of my desk.  I used to have one of these in the Belfry years ago as well, which I used as a way to remind me of due dates and deadlines.  It worked out pretty well then, and figured it would be good to have again.

When I first put it up, I came up with the idea of giving myself a strict writing schedule.  Two reasons for this: my writing time is not as concrete as it used to be, and I find that I’m more productive when I give myself a specific schedule in which to do things.  This was proven during the Belfry years when I consistently hit a high word count working in the early evenings every day.  I also had one project going at the time–the Bridgetown Trilogy–so as long as I stayed true to it, I was fine.

I’ve used this schedule since around 2011.  I’ve changed it up a few times, moved things around, dropped a few projects, but for the most part it’s worked.  I chose to drop it for a time earlier this year, but for a good reason: I was doing a major revision of the Trilogy and wanted to devote all my writing time solely to that.  Now that that’s done and that I’ve anchored myself to a new writing project, it’s time to return.  I reused the January 2013 schedule I’d come up with that had served me well; the new project takes up the weekday, with Walk in Silence taking up the weekends.  I’ve also peppered in some offline/personal projects such as poetry, art, and music practice.  I’m also returning to my morning 750 Words, which I’ll sneak in during my work hours alongside my daily journaling. 

It’s a lot, but I like having a lot to work on.  It keeps the creative blood flowing.  It also makes me a better writer in the process.  Furthermore, they’re not strict deadlines but guidelines.  This isn’t homework, something I must do, but something to aim for on a weekly basis.

 

So…what’s this about distraction, then?

Well, that would be the forays over to YouTube, the refreshing of the Twitter feed, my longterm project of music cataloging, among other things.  Mostly done during the work day, when things are slow.  All well and good in moderation.  I can allow myself to let the time pass.  Hell, my old timewaster at work when I didn’t have internet access was doing word search games.  It’s a way to relax and keep oneself occupied.

On the other hand, when there’s nothing better to do and no immediate directive involved, it’s easy to fall into the trap of distraction.  Popping onto a website to see the latest posts, read the latest news, keep up-to-the-minute tabs on friends and acquaintances.  We still get fascinated by immediate gratification, and that’s what the internet is all about.  It’s what movies, radio, and TV were all about.  Which means that it’s up to our own selves to know when to turn it off, because no one else will do it for us.

It took me awhile to learn that.  I’ll fully admit that I get easily distracted.  Playing around with my mp3 collection, falling down the Wikipedia or YouTube rabbit holes, playing FreeCell or Solitaire, you know how it is.  I’d stop myself after twenty minutes or so, basically when my conscience would gently prod me and say “Dude, look at the time.  You’re wasting most of it right now.  You’d better get cracking if you want to get anything done tonight.”  And as timing would have it, my wife would walk in about five minutes before that moment and mock me for dicking around so much.  I’d eventually get things done, but later than usual.

This is another reason for the return of the Whiteboard Writing Schedule:  so I’m too busy doing things I enjoy, such as writing, drawing, or playing my guitar, to be distracted by timewasting things such as cat memes and silly gifs.

So.  How to avoid distraction?  Any specific steps?  Any tricks?

Not really.  Just the one step: Be aware that you’re distracting yourself, and do something about it.  Especially when you notice it and not doing anything about it.  You want to be a writer, yes?  Fine.  You want to get some writing done tonight?  Fine–then stop not writing.  You’re well aware of the distractions–it’s up to you to be procative and cut down on them.  Replace them with distractions you enjoy–reading, painting, hiking, what have you.  They may not exactly make you more productive or prolific, but they’re an outlet that inspires you.  And in the process, they may even change your mood so you’re even more creative once you start writing.

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.

On Conlangs in Science Fiction: When Should a Writer Use It?

As you have seen here and here, the Mendaihu Universe has its own constructed language, or conlang. which I’ve chosen to use for the alien Meraladhza race.  Creating this ersatz language was not just a hella nerdy thing to do, but it was a lot of nerdy fun as well.  As noted in that previous blog post, there were two reasons for doing so:

1. To give the aliens their own language, pure and simple.  Once you read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as a writer you can’t help but feel super-conscious about aliens being able to speak your native tongue so easily, and sometimes fluently to the point of using localisms, without thinking it’s a cop-out.  It’s a silly worry, as it’s widely accepted in the genre, expected even, for aliens from other worlds to be able to speak your language, or at least to have some sort of translating device.  Thus Adams’ brilliant sendup using the babel fish–it’s a brilliant satire of the old-school science fiction stories where the aliens somehow knew the Queen’s English upon first contact.

2. What if I wanted them to use their language?  In a way, I wanted to play around with the idea that our languages have permeated Anjshé, just as it has permeated ours–which is how a lot of real languages have evolved on Earth, anyway.  This is another reason I chose the aliens to have been among us for at least a few hundred years before the trilogy’s timeline; this would have given time for a bit of cultural bleedover to take place, including language.  The Meraladh would have picked up on various languages, and the Earth humans would have picked up on Anjshé, and both sides would have appropriated a few phrases into their own language at that point.

So if you’ve created a conlang for your novel or your created world, you may need to ask yourself: when is it needed?   In my opinion: when it’s needed within the context of the story.  Think about why you want to use the alien language–I mean, aside from “because it’s cool”, of course.  Give the language a reason for being there.

Say your main character is meeting up with your aliens for the first time, and he or she doesn’t know the language, or doesn’t have a translating device on them.  You could play up the tense moments by having them attempt to converse, never quite sure if they’re being friendly or aggressive.  Some writers have used this as an ongoing plot device, such as CJ Cherryh whenever she has the alien kif speak in her Chanur books.  Even Adams used this idea to amusing effect, having Arthur Dent hear a few moments of the Vogon language before Ford Prefect slams a babel fish into his ear; in the process, we find that the Vogons are not just horrible amoral aliens in general, but their language is so hard on the ears that it has literally caused other aliens to kill themselves rather than listen any further.

Within the trilogy, I use the Anjshé language only where it’s truly needed, specifically when a character is having an extremely emotional or spiritual moment.  It could be passive, such as when Alec Poe spits out the word pashyo (a general exclamation of surprise or frustration) whenever he’s annoyed with the situation.  Or it could be when Caren Johnson humbly apologizes to a Meraladian character with nyhnd’aladh…I am sorry, when she speaks out of turn and inadvertently says something hurtful.  I also use it whenever a character is performing some kind of spiritual action; just before a major ritual begins, I have Denni Johnson speak an entire introduction completely in Anjshé before she repeats it in English.  All these moments not just utilize the conlang to give the moment realism, but I’ve also given it a reason for being there:  as the Meraladians are a very spiritual people, so is their language, which they deem just as important as their actions.

*

As always, one major thing to remember about creating a conlang is to make it pronounceable to the reader.  Unless you’re creating a language that’s deliberately hard on the tongue and/or ears, such as Adams for his Vogons or Cherryh for her kif, you’ll want to voice them out as you create them.  If you can’t pronounce it without tripping over your tongue or your throat seizing on you, chances are good that your reader will have the same problem.

A few other hints to think about:

–Make some ground rules to keep it consistent.  As stated in a previous entry, the most common sounds in Anjshé are “mmh” and “aah”, as they are the sounds of the spirit at rest.  Creating these kinds of rules will show that you put effort into this conlang, that you’re not just making it up as you go along.

–Study up on real foreign languages–or even your own native tongue–as a way to see how and why that culture created its vocabulary.  Anjshé is partly inspired by real languages that create new words through existing shorter words, like some Japanese and German; it’s also partly inspired by the aural flow of Gaelic.  In this process, keep in mind how these new words will affect your characters:  how would they deliver them, and is there a specific reason why they are saying them?

–Create a primer or a glossary that you can always refer to while writing to help you remain consistent in usage as well as in spelling.  You may even want to add these words to your word processor’s dictionary to avoid the auto-correct kicking in.  Additionally, you can use this glossary as part of your novel’s endnotes so the reader can refer to it when necessary.

–Have fun with it and see where it leads you!  Don’t think of it as your boring homework from high school–you’re creating not just new words here, but a new created culture, which you can then integrate into the novel itself.  This  will give your story more depth in the process, even if it’s just a short passage.  Readers will pick up on this and enjoy the reaction it causes.

 

Creating a conlang can be as detailed or as vague as you want and need it to be.  On the whole I believe I only have about seventy or so Anjshé words I created and added to the Bridgetown Trilogy, and used them only when necessary.  I left the door wide open for expansion, of course, and if that is part of your long-term goal, then by all means, go for it!

Fly-By: Coming Soon

Hey there!  Sorry to keep you all waiting for new entries here at Welcome to Bridgetown…I’ve been busy with a number of things both personal and otherwise, so I haven’t had the time to sit down and do some serious writing about the Mendaihu Universe, or about writing in general.

That said, after the Easter holiday, I plan on getting back on the high horse and posting new entries here and at Walk in Silence as well.  Here’s a few offerings I have in store:

–On Spiritualism: the One of All Sacred and other deities in the Mendaihu Universe

–On Language in the Mendaihu Universe:  speaking and innerspeak

–On Faith in the Mendaihu Universe: the Personal and the Religious

–On Dialogue:  Realism versus conversation

–On Conlangs in Fiction: When should a writer use it?

 

Stay tuned! 🙂

On Writing: Letting Ideas Percolate

I’ll be truthful–the Mendaihu Universe has been percolating in my brain for at least twenty years this past winter.

Twenty years. Isn’t that a bit long for me to be sitting on these novels? Shouldn’t they have all been written, published and made into movies by now? Shouldn’t I already be working on the next trilogy in the universe? Well, in a perfect world–yes, of course! And with that, I’d have some nice cash in the bank as well. This, however, is not that perfect world. There are reasons it’s taken me so long to get those beginning scraps of ideas into the shape they’re in now. For one, back in winter 1993-94, I only had the gung-ho to write them but the barest of plots. For another, I had to do more homework in the genre, learn what makes a good SF/F novel that people would enjoy.

But a very large portion of it was the fact that I had to learn how to write in the first place.

I’d been toying with writing science fiction during most of fall 1993, just after I’d graduated college. There were a few pieces of inspiration: Akira, the Gall Force OVAs, other SF/F-themed anime, Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. And there was my music collection as well, to inspire me and keep me company.

The first few ideas popped up most likely that December–I’d finally given up on trying to resurrect one of my earlier novel ideas, and scrapped nearly everything except a single idea: an underground gang who broke the all the rules, but for the right reasons. From there I played around with a few tropes: a multi-planetary setting (created while doing laundry one afternoon on Charles Street), a giant sprawling city (part of my lifelong compulsive habit of map drawing), cyberterrorism (Hi, CompuServe and AOL! Glad to have you around!), politics (Clinton had just entered office) and so on. I hadn’t quite latched onto cyberpunk yet, though I had read a bit of Gibson by then, and within a few years we’d get a short but interesting wave of internet-themed movies (The Net, Hackers, Strange Days, and Johnny Mnemonic for example) that would add fuel to this idea. I was pretty much open to anything at that point.

A number of months later I was writing the first attempt, True Faith. [To spare you the story some of you already know, here’s the short version: TF was an extension of the “Vigil” underground gang idea with all the other inspirations I noted above, plus a twist: I added a bit of spiritual enlightenment, inspired by my then-recent foray into Wicca. It was co-written with my then-girlfriend Diana; it was mostly my idea and my writing, but she came up with a few of the character backgrounds, plot twists and wrote a few passages as well.] This version lasted from summer 1994 to probably late 1996 and was never completed, for various reasons. One of the most important being I just was not happy with the prose.

What was wrong with it, anyway? Well, for one, I think I was focused too much on inner dialogue.  The characters did a lot of thinking and contemplating and not much doing anything afterwards. For another, I’d written a lot of scenes starting something but never quite completing them. And worse, I had a habit of writing what I call “stage directions”: the character did this, he went over there, he got up and tapped a code, he did that, he went there. The end result was that I’d come up with a lot of interesting ideas and scenes, but the execution lacked any kind of oomph.

Come 1997, I chose to start again, almost completely from scratch. This was The Phoenix Effect; it retained the spiritual bent, the underground gang and the cyberpunk ideas, but the focus was now on two new characters, investigators hired to figure out why certain AI units were now becoming more human. That last idea was inspired by my 1996-8 foray into New Age spirituality, infusing the idea that the soul came from elsewhere other than Earth. This novel did get finished, and I even attempted to submit it to a few places, but I was still unhappy with it.

I toned down the stage directions, I followed through on the action, and I had the characters doing things instead of just thinking about them. What was wrong this time?

Two further problems: quantity and delivery. The description of scenes and characters was slim to nil, as I’d focused too much on getting the story out on paper. Who were these people in my novel, anyway? Why were they there? Where were they? In my head, to be honest. I had them up here in my cranium–I knew exactly what they looked like, where they were, what they sounded like…but I’d put none of that on paper. I realized part of this was due to having written this longhand–I was focusing on keeping the story moving that pausing for a few seconds to describe something felt like I’d tripped up. I’d expand on these things a little when I transferred it computer, but there was still a lot missing.

Cue the third attempt, right around 2000-1, with A Division of Souls. This would be the first novel I’d write completely on the PC. Fully-expanded, complete scenes? Check. Expanded description of characters and scenery? Check. Expansion of the characters’ backstories? BIG check. Expansion of plot? BIG check. Scenes and plot points were completely rewritten and others totally new. I even plotted ahead a few chapters before writing them, something I rarely did before then. The outcome worked so well that I ended up with not one but three novels, which I wrote well into 2004. I was quite proud of this trilogy. And yet…

What was the problem this time? Well, aside from burning out in late 2004 and never finishing Book 3, I still didn’t quite get what I was doing wrong. I had a great story idea, an extended universe to play in, well-crafted characters, and description galore. So why was I still not quite there yet?

Again: the writing. It took me a long time to figure this part out, and only recently, in the last year or so, did I finally get it. You could see the choppy edits, the “screw it, I’ll fix it later” passages, the subplots that went nowhere. In other words, I had an extremely rough draft, and I’d said “good enough”, and that was the killer. I had the finished product, but I just hadn’t bothered to polish it at all. You see, I wasn’t quite there yet. I still had that final hurdle.

This meant some major review and revision. And I mean major review. So how did I go about it this time? Well, this time out I took all three books (I’d finally finished Book 3 in January of 2010) and put them on my Nook, and proceeded to read them. And read them. And read them. AND READ THEM.

I immersed myself in these three books to the point that I had the entire trilogy arc in my head. Over the course of six months or so, I must have read all three books from start to finish through at least three or four cycles, and each time I made a mental note of what needed fixing, from big things like story arcs to miniscule things like dialogue tags. And starting in 2012, I started the biggest revision I’d ever gone through in my life. I painstakingly went through each chapter and worked the hell out of each one. Some chapters were relatively quick to work through, but those first six or seven chapters in Book 1 were almost completely rewritten from scratch–a lot of those passages hadn’t been properly revised since their 2001 inception.

As of today, I’m on Chapter 10 of Book 3. It’s been one hell of a long trip, but it’s been worth it. I learned a hell of a lot in these past few months, possibly more than I’ve ever done in the last ten years combined, about what makes a decent manuscript and what doesn’t. And most important, I finally learned how to write.

*

Now, should this have taken twenty years?  Who knows. I’ve got other interests aside from writing science fiction, and I’ve had day jobs that took precedence. I’ve had personal events intervene. And yes, just like any other writer, I get distracted easily. Am I fine that it’s taken two decades to get where I am, and I still haven’t gotten these things published? Yes, I am. I’d rather have a complete and professional product out there that I’m proud of, rather than release a half-assed, phoned-in book that I wouldn’t be able to resell, at least not to any publisher. I’ve learned other things on the way too, come up with new ideas for the Mendaihu Universe. I’m not about to write this world off just yet, not when I have more to say about it. As soon as I’m done with this major revision of the first trilogy, I’m going to start working on the next one.

So yes, sometimes it’s a good idea to let ideas percolate. Sometimes the end result is worth the wait.