On the Run

anime music listening

Oops!  I seem to have forgotten to prepare a post for today!  Sorry about that, and thanks for waiting!

We’ll be on vacation next week, and I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether I should write posts or fly-bys.  I could easily write them tomorrow if need be, but at the same time I shouldn’t feel guilty if I post a fly-by instead.  Except that I do.  Writing can be like that.

As always, I spend a bit of vacation prep debating what writing-related things to bring with me.  Sometimes, like our recent Disney trip, I won’t touch it at all.  Other times, like our previous London trip, I’ll actually get work done.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’ve learned not to overpack like I used to.  I never bring my laptop anymore, though I might bring my tablet, especially when I want to do a bit of revision or reading of what I have so far.  For this trip, that’ll most likely be it, aside from the notebook and a few printouts for the Apartment Complex story.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to this break.  It’s been an unexpectedly busy first quarter so far at the Day Job, which means continual and very annoying interruptions from my work by the client reps, asking when my work will be done.  Eesh.  I just want a week to not think about much of anything at all except the next time we head over to Rainbow for more loco moco or kalua pork.

Is it 4pm yet?

 

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.

On Multi-Tasking

anime busy

One of the biggest changes to my writing schedule that I’d been looking forward to once I signed off on the trilogy was being able to multi-task.  I love working on a main project, but working on the same one for a long time (especially as long as that one) can definitely be detrimental.  I often find myself itching to work on something different now and again, and that certainly comes to the fore when I’m doing major revision work.

When I decided to write outtakes for Meet the Lidwells while working on the trilogy revision, it gave me a much-needed creative outlet to keep my Writer Brain going in a way that my blog entries and other outlets couldn’t.  If I hadn’t done that, it would have taken a lot longer for me to start a new project.  I’d have had to spend some time thinking about what to write, how to write it, and not really know if I have a viable story or a trunkable one until I’ve invested a lot of time on it.  Multi-tasking projects lets me cut out a lot of that possible wasted time.  The daily-words outtakes put the story idea to the test to see if I can graduate it to Main Project status.

This process worked so well for me that I’ve kept it going with the newer projects, and I’ll keep it going until it doesn’t work for me anymore.

Granted, it is a process that’s kind of tough to maintain if you’re juggling all this with a Day Job.  There are days when I’m amazed I can get anything done when the DJ kicks my ass.  The trick is to make it happen.  Find slow moments where you can write a few hundred quick words.  Use your work breaks and lunch if you can.  Worst case scenario, schedule out your writing days; one day for revision, another for new words, and so on.

It’s not a process you need to take if you don’t want to, but it works well if you have a lot of projects you’d like to work on, and you’d like a quick turnaround.  YMMV, of course!

On Character Development

polar bear cafe wolf tiger
Source: Polar Bear Café

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

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

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

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

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

Influences and Impressions

bookworm monterey
The SF room, Book Worm Bookstore, Monterey CA

With the recent passing of genre giant Ursula K Le Guin, and the hundreds of remembrances of fans and fellow authors who were introduced to science fiction and fantasy via her novels and short stories, I got to thinking… I don’t think I’ve ever read any of her work!  I do now own one of her recent short story collections, The Unreal and the Real, that I’ve yet to crack open.  I’m well familiar with the titles, of course.  She’s one of the list of authors I will almost always find in bulk at used book stores.

So what did I read when I was first starting out as a teenage writer?  Well, that’s a good question.  I tried and failed at reading The Lord of the Rings in junior high because I had little patience for it.  I read some YA here and there, a lot of music books and magazines.  Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine was one of the few reading assignments I adored.  My freshman year I devoured Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.  I went through a short spell reading Vonnegut and Asimov.  Some comics.  But that was about it.  I spent more time enthralled by radio and records, as well as visual outlets like MTV, Miami Vice and the various movies we’d rent on the weekends.

And it kind of stayed that way, to be honest.  I read books here and there, but not nearly as voraciously as I do now.  I went through a Stephen King spell in the early 90s, maybe a few other authors here and there.  Douglas Coupland was probably the only mainstay for me then.  Instead I watched a lot of movies (and anime, whenever I could find it).  It wasn’t until maybe the late 90s, right about the same time that I started taking my writing a hell of a lot more seriously, that I decided that maybe I should start reading more, especially in my genre.

Occasionally I’d head to a book store and pick up one or two paperbacks.  By 2000 (right about the time I switched jobs and started the trilogy), my visits to Barnes & Noble and other book stores were becoming more frequent.  For a good couple of years I’d do a run to Leominster (about 30 miles east of my home town) that started at Newbury Comics for a cd run, and ended with a three-hour browse at the B&N up the road.  That was when I finally started finding my own literary influences; Kate Elliott, CJ Cherryh, Richard Paul Russo, Lyda Morehouse, Anne McCaffrey, and so on.  Interestingly, a lot of female genre writers and not that many male writers.  I looked for writers that jumped out at me, that did something unique that fascinated me in some way.

I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until around 2007, to be honest.  And I finally read Neuromancer around the same time.  I still don’t think I’ve read any Philip K Dick, Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Brian Aldiss or many of the old-school classics, many of whom had movies made from their books by that time.  Some, but not nearly that many as others.

Still, I’ve found my influences in my own way to get where I am today, and I’m still discovering more.  Haruki Murakami is a big current favorite of mine, for instance.  I’m fascinated by storytelling from different angles and avenues, different cultures and points of view.  Just like my avid movie watching back in the day, it’s all about a story that makes me stop in my tracks and think two things: How the hell did they make that work?, and Okay, I need to get back to my computer RIGHT NOW and start writing!  Whether it’s a movie, a book, a manga or an anime, if it moves me just the right way, I’m hooked and inspired.

On Longhand: The Very, VERY Rough Draft

parks rec no idea

I’ll be honest, I’m not used to writing this rough of a draft.  I usually start the the first draft straight to MS Word and fix it as I go along — quite often I’ll draft and revise at the same time.  So why am I still slogging away with some of the most randomly disjointed writing I’ve done in quite some time?

Well, one reason is that this is the only time I can afford it at the moment, considering I’m still working on the Lidwells final revision and prep for release.  Another is that while I do have a lot of outtakes from the daily warmup words, there’s a lot of in-between work that I still haven’t quite worked through yet.  This disjointedness is being done on purpose, to dive a little deeper with this story and its characters.  Once I have a better grasp of them, the plot and character evolution gets tighter.

Normally this happens during my initial MS Word draft, quite often around chapter five or so, when I’ve finally figured out who everyone is and what I can do with them.  The rest of this draft then ends up being pretty tight and straightforward with not that much major revision needed.  The downside to this is that I then need to do said major revision to the first four or five chapters.  This can be harder than it sounds, because not only am I creating the opening to a story, I must also make sure that I plant enough seeds of ideas that will show up later in the book.

As I’d mentioned many times earlier, writing longhand is how I wrote the pre-trilogy Bridgetown story The Phoenix Effect.  It wasn’t just about ease of writing anywhere I wanted to, though.  I did a lot of making-it-up-as-I-go for quite a bit before I finally figured out the story.  The final version of that story is quite different in many ways to the original longhand.

This is precisely why I’m still digging through the longhand of the Apartment Complex story.  Once more time opens up for me in the evenings, I’ll be able to do the same exact thing once more: rough draft during the day, and transcription/revision at night.  The longhand is there for me to write down the ideas; the revision is there to make those ideas work, and work better.

Outtake: Magical Girl story

Somehow I’ve roped myself into working on three different projects at the same time.  I’m revising Meet the Lidwells and writing the Apartment Complex story, and now I’m writing outtakes of my Magical Girl story for my warmup words (while listening to ELO, no less).  Go figure.

Here’s an outtake I wrote Thursday evening.  Hope you enjoy!

*

[Story so far: a group of college kids are on a camping vacation in the wilderness and witness a girl, clad in armor and wielding a glowing broadsword, tearing a hole in reality and jumping through to escape an unseen evil presence.  The girl closes the hole, but faints.  The kids bring the girl to their rented cabin to nurse her wounds, and a few days later she reawakens, though stricken with amnesia.]

*

Zuzanna stepped out onto the porch of the cabin and once again tried to remember who the hell she was. She was a solider, yes. Zuze was definitely her name, weird as it was. She was apparently a badass — Katie’s description, at least. She remembered ripping a hole in the fabric of time and squeezing through to get away from… who? Someone named Krozarr? A vague emotion stirred whenever she thought of that name, and she wasn’t sure why. This amnesia ate at her, frustrated her to no end. She needed to know who she was and where — and when — she was from, damn it all! And she knew she needed to get back and finish what she’d started.

But how?

“Hi, Zuze,” she heard off to her right. Katie was sitting in one of the wicker rocking chairs, kicking back and relaxing, enjoying the morning. “You doing okay today?”

Zuze hummed in response. She still wasn’t sure how to talk to this young girl who, in an odd way, reminded her of herself. Zuze had never had a quiet childhood, and her teenage years had been fraught with noise and stress and worse. Again — she knew the memories were there, but she could not quite connect with them.

“Frustrated,” she said. “And hungry.”

“I hear you,” Katie said, smiling at her. “The boys should have come back with more food and supplies by now. I don’t know what’s taking them so long.” She pulled the blanket closer around her legs, despite it being not all that cold. She seemed distracted, looking out into the front garden and down the pathway, wanting to say something but holding back.

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Zuze asked, pointing to the other chair.

Katie blinked, the question unexpected. “S-sure, go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” she said, and sat down. She didn’t feel all that cold… in fact, she felt too warm. The others had been grousing about a cold snap earlier, but she alone hadn’t noticed. She wondered if she was just used to the climate back where she was from that this current one felt like bliss. She looked out across the garden as well, past the treeline at a large lake off in the distance. That body of water definitely looked familiar. Of course she couldn’t remember the name. She still couldn’t remember a lot of things.

“Zuze, can I ask you a questions?”

Zuze glanced over at the girl. “Sure.”

Katie frowned, thinking of what she wanted to say before she spoke. “You’re from the future, right?”

“I…I believe I am, yes.”

“You don’t know how far, though? You still don’t remember?”

She shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll… remember it eventually. Pretty sure I will, anyway.”

“Hmm.” Katie shifted herself, still frowning. “You were fighting someone. I don’t think any of us saw his face, but we heard his voice. Sounded like a big bad guy. I…” She drifted off, looking away, and Zuze let the silence linger. This was hard enough for her to comprehend, so it had to be worse for this girl. “I tried looking up his name online. Different versions of it. I couldn’t find a match anywhere. For you to jump through time to get away from someone like that, they have to be pretty evil. And they’d have made the news *somewhere*. So I’m thinking you’re from pretty far ahead.”

Zuze shuddered. “He won’t bother any of you, I promise,” she said a little too quickly.

But Katie smiled instead. “We’re not worried about that, Zuze. We’re worried about you. I’m worried. I want to help you remember. So I figure, if we can’t pin down exact memories, we can at least narrow the scope, right?”

Zuze blushed, equally warmed and embarrassed by her words. “You don’t have to do that, Katie,” she said. “It’ll come to me soon enough.”

But Katie wouldn’t relent. “Don’t you see? We want to help. You’ve dropped into our lives, Zuze. Literally. You ripped a hole in reality and jumped through, and we were all there to catch you. We’re your friends. We want to help.”

Zuze couldn’t believe what this girl was saying. She couldn’t bear to expose these young kids to the evils of her own time! She did not want their lives on her conscience. And yet… she found herself tearing up. She even felt a little cold that moment, and wished she’d brought a blanket of her own.

“I…” she started.

“We’re here for you as long as you need us,” Katie said, and laid a hand on hers. “We can be your safe haven for the time being.”

Zuze wiped the tears away, grinning like an idiot. “Th-thank you, Katie,” she said, her voice just above a whisper.

*

Postscript:  Of course I’m going to give this one an anime-inspired title.  Given that this one has ties to ELO, I’m going to call it In My Blue World for now. 🙂

 

Doin’ a Whole Lotta Nothin’

doing nothing
doot doot just sitting around

I had a vague plan that I’d do a bit of writing on the weekend, even if it was just a page or so.  I figured we’d go out, spend the day at Disneyland, have our fun, and then we’d get back to the hotel and I’d do some work.  I even packed the Apartment Complex story notebook.  If I wasn’t doing my daily words or my blog posts or anything else, I’d at least do something.  Right?

Yeah, we all know how that was going to go, even before we boarded the plane down to Orange County.  Heh.  I didn’t do a damn thing.  I didn’t even take it out of my bag.

But you know, I’m okay with that!  I’ve finally made peace with the fact that I’m due a few days off now and again.  I’d been writing for eleven days straight on not just that project, but on daily words, scheduled blogs, and whatever else I’ve been working on — on top of the Day Job.  But that’s not why I took the days off.  I wasn’t exactly exhausted mentally or physically.  I could have easily kept going with it if I wanted.  And the moment I admit to myself that I should take days off, I’m going to abuse that and not get anything done on time.

No, this was basically to accept that part of the process of writing is not writing.  I’ve gotta let myself just think about the story instead of trying to bleed it out of my brain.  I can instead listen to an album on the flight (The Sound of Arrows’ Stay Free, if you’re playing along) and think not about the story but about the characters in general.

That said, physically I’m still exhausted from the 8.6 miles we walked on Saturday and 7.7 miles on Sunday (plus the two today, thanks to travel through airports and whatnot), but mentally I’m ready to go come Tuesday.  Everything will be back to normal.

So yeah, I’m not too worried about not missing out on writing this past weekend.

PS – This seemed to be a perfect song for this post. It’s also a melody that keeps on popping into my head while writing the Apartment Complex story.

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.

A return to longhand writing

IMG_20180102_092820
A return to longhand writing with the first chapter of the new project

After many years of threatening to do so, I’ve decided to start 2018 and the Apartment Complex story by writing it longhand.  Though I’ve done rough outtakes of various stories with paper and pen in the past, the last one I’d completed in this manner was The Phoenix Effect back in the late 90s.

I can usually write three to five handwritten pages in an hour.  I don’t rightly remember how much that comes out to in terms of word count (as you can see above, I write pretty small compared to others), but last I remember, it would work out to about 300 to 500 words.  And since I’ll be editing/revising as I transcribe it to Word at a slightly later time, that’ll add even more.  So all told, I’m not gaining or losing word count, it’s just getting spread out differently.

[Yes, I still put a start timestamp (and whatever I happen to be listening to) in the left margin.  No particular reason other than to keep track of my words and soundtrack.  It’s been a habit of mine since the 80s.]

So how will this one be any different from the rough outtakes and incomplete stories?  Well, for starters, I have this one almost fully outlined — yet another relatively new process for me, pantser that I usually am — so I don’t think I’ll be flailing as much as I normally would.  It also makes me more mobile, and less susceptible to internet and musical distractions.  And most importantly, I’m already dedicated to the story, having written outtakes on the 750 earlier in 2017.  I’ve been looking forward to writing this one for a few months now.

Wish me luck!