February Status Report

Continuing work on my post-apocalyptic novel, slowly but… surely?

Perhaps if I update my blog more often, it will inspire me to do more writing, so that I’ll have more to talk about in my blog. So…

As February begins, I’m still working on my post-apocalyptic novel that I started in NaNoWriMo 2014. I’m up to about 70,000 words, so you can probably figure out that I’m not writing very fast–typically I only put down about 500 words a night, somewhere around four a five nights out of a week. (I went from 50,000 words in one month to 20,000 words in three two months.)

On the plus side, I’ve discovered that 500 words is a very good “session size” for me. Sitting down to write 500 words does not feel daunting to me, even if I have nothing in mind to write. I can usually knock it out in a half hour, more or less. And by the time I’ve written 500 words, mentally I’m usually ready for a break. So chalk up another self-discovery finding there. For the next NaNoWriMo I participate in, I think it will go better if I plan to try to write three 555 word sessions per day, instead of one 1667 word session per day.

I’m pleased to say that I wrote the ending of the novel. By which I mean that I wrote what I think the final scene should be–at least the final one related to the main character. This was a tremendous accomplishment because for most of the lifespan of this novel I’ve had no earthly clue where anything was going. I wasn’t even sure who the main character was. This first draft has basically been a very, very long brainstorming session. I think it would be more appropriate to call it a zeroth draft, actually.

The biggest story problem I have now is somehow connecting where I was in the middle of the novel to the ending, which could be challenging considering that the middle part has nothing to do with the ending. There are still some issues to work out, in other words. I’m not very adept at solving problems like this, either. I think I’m just going to have to put my head down and power through it.

Sovereignty 1000-word Summary Completed

What I learned from writing a 1000-word summary of Sovereignty.

FYI, I completed a 1000-word summary of Sovereignty, but I won’t post it here because it’s filled with spoilers, just in case it turns into a real book some day.

It’s now abundantly clear that there is no place for my original story in the book. Not even as a side plot. One of the original driving forces for this book was: What if there was a culture of people who bred servants in the same way that we breed pets? The original main character was going to be one of those servants.

That aspect of the culture did not make any appearance in the 1000-word summary, so I guess poor Ril won’t make much of an appearance. It’s so absent that I’m not sure I even want it to be in the book.

That issue aside, I have another problem to deal with. Reading the 1000-word summary feels like I’m reading a section of a history book. The events themselves are not particularly unusual. They could have happened (and did happen) in any number of neighboring countries in any of the hundreds of years of medieval Europe. (Or really anywhere that countries disputed territory along their border.)

My point is that the plot itself isn’t that dramatic. Which means that in order to sell this story, I’m really going to have to play up the drama of the characters.

It’s making me think more about my main characters, which appear to be Hayden and Elenora Metherel, son and daughter of the king. (I don’t want to call him a "king," though: I want to think of another non-European-sounding name for the ruler of a country. I was using "sovereign" but that didn’t turn out to work very well.) Why are these people interesting? Why would anyone care about their fates? What makes them different from any other generic medieval fantasy characters?

I will probably need at least one more POV character as well, because Hayden and Elenora aren’t always around to see every part of the story. One might be Garrett Andaloran, and another might be a gangster named Faust.

I also feel like this story would be helped by adding some mystery elements. There is a spy in the story, and I think if I make "finding the spy" a larger part of the story, it would help to draw readers along to see what happens. (It works for me, at least.)

Currently I’m working on writing short 50-100 word summaries of each scene to be put into the book. It’s a bit depressing so far. It’s very disheartening to see how many scenes are brand new. There won’t be much I can import from the first drafts.

(No, I haven’t thought a new country name for Elaheron.)

Writing Plans for 2014

A year-end wrap-up of 2013 and a look ahead to 2014.

The first week after NaNoWriMo I had to force myself not to write a new story draft because it had become such a habit. The second week it was kind of a relief not to have to write anything, and that terrible story had finally left my brain. In the third week I was anxious to get back to planning or writing something, lest I fall into a not-writing habit. Then came the holidays and the end of the year, and I predictably fell out of the writing habit.

Now it’s the beginning of a new year and a chance to start anew.

But first, a year-end wrap-up of 2013. In 2012, I was convinced that I could write three first draft manuscripts a year and had a schedule laid out to do just that. It started out great when I hammered out the Sovereign of Tel at the beginning of 2012. Then along came Curses which I abandoned. Then along came Airworld which dragged and dragged. Then NaNoWriMo came around and I kept working on Airworld. Then 2013 came around, and I was supposed to start a new manuscript, but I just kept stubbornly plugging away at Airworld until I finally gave up long after I should have. Then I started and abandoned a couple of drafts. Then I wrote something vaguely resembling a manuscript for NaNoWriMo 2013. To make a long story short, I wrote 1.5 manuscripts in 2012 and 1.5 manuscripts in 2013, for a grand total of one potentially usable manuscript over two years (The Sovereign of Tel).

Wah wah.

Okay, not the greatest two-year cycle ever. The sure-fire "become a best-selling author" retirement plan is looking a bit grim right now. Particularly since I have yet to come up with a single thing to send to an agent.

That seems like a problem. I’m never going to get anywhere if I keep writing first drafts. At some point I’ll need to polish something and send it out. And hey, guess what? I have a bunch of first drafts I can polish.

So that’s what 2014 will be: The year of polish.

Yet I cannot stop writing first drafts, either, so I should plan to keep writing those, or at least planning them. But perhaps three-a-year is a little ambitious. Perhaps this year I will plan to write one or two first drafts, while the rest of my time is spent revising at least two other manuscripts. (Probably Tel and Kubak Outpost.)

I also have an idea that I will pursue some freelance writing this year. The biggest problem with that is finding something that pays a meaningful amount of money without over-committing myself to writing, say, 25 blog posts a week. (That is a real number that I saw.) If I could pull in around $100 a week from freelance writing I would call that a success. That would be enough for me to think, "This might have a real chance of becoming a full-time income if I quit my day job."

A Typical Day In The Life Of NaNoWriMo 2013

Last night I once again stared at a blank document, wondering how I could possibly write 1,667 words of a story that has no outline.

Last night I once again approached my NaNoWriMo writing at about 9:00, which is the absolute latest I can possibly start writing with any expectation of getting anything done. Once again I stared at a blank document, not even looking at the previous day’s writing, wondering how on earth I could possibly come up with 1,667 words to write of a story that has no outline. Not just 1,667 words either. I actually need slightly more than 2,000 words a day to catch up again.

Based on my enthusiasm level, my expectation each night is that I will sit with the blank page for a while thinking about how much I’d rather be doing something else, then I’ll write a couple of hundred terrible words, and then I’ll give up. "Well, I tried," I’ll think. "At least I got a few hundred words down."

That was a common scenario in the first two weeks of NaNoWriMo. (I fully recognize it to be an extremely lame effort at "trying.") Now, however, I can’t skip a day and realistically expect to make it up another day. Now I really have to write. Now there’s a deadline looming up ahead, ready to crush me beneath its iron fist. Now is when "real writers" must shrug off the surly bonds of indifference and trudge forward through the mud.

So I’m pulling out every trick I can think of. I typically start off writing something along the lines of, "I don’t want to write." I try to morph that into something related to the story. "Diana didn’t know what to do next." If that doesn’t work, I’ve invented a story demon who comes along and randomly interjects himself from time to time to inform the characters that they need to get moving, or do something dramatic, or resolve something. He also points out all of the plot holes and things that would never work. I’ve also inserted a wererat character from a totally different story idea to give soliloquies on the many ways that society treats him with disdain. My last trick was changing the tense of the story from past to present. I usually disdain present tense as a gimmick, but it actually felt much easier to write that way, so I kept it up with a tiny bit of enthusiasm.

Eventually I made it to around 1800 words before 10:00 and called it quits. I would guess that fully 75% of those words would get thrown out in even the mildest of revisions, which seems about average for this manuscript so far.

Here’s the real question. If I were really writing for a living, I’m not sure if I would call that writing session a success or not. Almost none of what I wrote was "commercially viable" in any way, so I did not get any closer to a finished novel. In that sense it was a total failure. But I did write, and by the end I had forgotten how much I wanted to do something else, so in that sense it was successful. I also did in fact learn that writing in present tense felt better than writing in past tense, so that was a positive development.

I guess I’m going to mark it down as a success, whether it actually was or not.

Silencing Your Inner Editor

Writing Excuses recently challenged the standard newbie writing advice that you should "silence your inner editor" while writing. Personally I think Mary completely missed the mark on this one.

Writing Excuses recently challenged the standard newbie writing advice that you should "silence your inner editor" while writing. Instead, Mary advised that you need only silence your "inner heckler," while harnessing your "inner editor" to tell you when you need to improve your writing.

Personally I think Mary completely missed the mark on this one. (And I got the sense that Brandon wasn’t on board either.) The "inner editor" as I’ve understood it is not so much a heckler as it is someone who is obsessed with good grammar and who is terrified of making a mistake. Such a person will constantly revise and re-revise and re-re-revise every sentence before moving on to the next one. Listening to this editor will result in never finishing a book or never thinking it’s good enough to release. This is not the kind of thing you want to think about, particularly when you’re writing a first draft.

Even in Mary’s sense of the "inner editor"–that voice that seeks to improve your work–that voice literally always see things to fix and improve. There is never a time in any creative process when you can stop and say, "That’s perfect. It can never be improved." There is always a way to tweak and improve any creative work. If you ever want to finish a work, you have to pick a time to just walk away. Ie. you have to silence your inner editor. At least I do.

http://www.writingexcuses.com/2013/10/20/writing-excuses-8-42-the-internal-heckler-vs-the-internal-editor/

Page of Scribbling Technique

A page of scribbling trying to block out what I thought would be the final 10,000 words or so of Airworld.

AirworldScribblesSmall

Just for posterity, here is a page of scribbling I did trying to block out what I thought would be the final 10,000 words or so of Airworld. What ended up happening is that I raised more questions than I answered, and all the answers started branching off into all these other fairly massive sub-plots. You may also notice there is a whole new, vitally important character in there that was introduced very late in the story. (Just in case I ever do finish the story, I blurred out some spoilers.)

(I’m not really sure if the page-of-scribbling technique actually works for me as a writer.)

A Minor Variation

I had a minor revelation for my Airworld story last night.

With apologies to Billy Joel. I had a minor revelation for my Airworld story last night. It occurred to me that things would work out much better if the location of the Council of Life is known when we start out. For some reason I had set it in stone that Naobi was leaving Motiva to search for the Council of Life. Now she is leaving to visit the Council of Life. With that minor variation, some other things fall into place nicely. Mainly, it removes “finding the Council of Life” as a condition for ending the story. I was having major problems with the ending because it wasn’t symmetrical with the beginning.

Dissecting What Went Wrong

In the continuing saga of what to do with Airworld, I believe I have figured out why I don’t particularly want to continue it.

In the continuing saga of what to do with Airworld, I believe I have figured out why I don’t particularly want to continue it.

Somewhere along the way, the story stopped being fun to write.

It seems pretty obvious in retrospect. If it was fun to write, obviously I’d still be writing it. But what happened? This exact thing was something that Rachel Aaron addressed in her NaNoWriMo question-and-answer thread again and again. She advised not to continue writing something that wasn’t fun. She also advised that you should figure out why it isn’t fun to write, because it probably indicates a problem that needs to be fixed.

So after some thought, I think I know exactly when it stopped being fun: It was November 16, at the precise moment when Falclef rescued Naobi from the trial in Leavon.

I recall thinking at the time that there was something “off” about that rescue. I now realize what the problem was. Up until that point, Naobi was driving the story. She made the decisions that moved the plot along, be they good, bad, or indifferent. But when Falclef came along, she was helplessly carried away into a whole new setting and a whole new situation, getting tangled up with a rebel Order faction fighting a bigger war.

In my attempts to outline the rest of the story, I came up with a plot that took Naobi and Cheton away from Koerl and Falclef and that whole faction of rebel Order folk. I was overjoyed to get them back on their own, and now I realize that it’s because the rebel Order war with Dark Horizon is a whole different story.

Whew. Glad I figured that out.

Now I just need to figure out how to fix it.

What Would a Professional Do

So yeah, I’m still stuck on Airworld. The main obstacle I think is my complete lack of confidence in the outline I have sketched out for the rest of the book. It sounds like it will be terrible. Nothing makes sense, nobody is anywhere for a reason, entire plotlines are pointless and stupid. And what’s worse, according to my 3-books-a-year schedule, I should be starting a new book in February. That’s less than a month away, if you’re somehow unable to look at a calendar.

Let’s look at this like a professional writer. Let’s imagine that I’m under contract to deliver the first draft of a book by February 1. What would I do?

Well, I’d finish the book, that’s what. Because if I didn’t, I would develop a reputation as one of those temperamental writers who is hard to work with, and that’s probably not good, particularly for a new author. Seems pretty simple and straightforward.

Does it matter if I deliver a book with a sucky ending? My internal editor screams, “Of course it matters! Your entire life and reputation is riding on this!!” That’s probably not exactly true. But still, as someone who is supposed to be a pro, it’s not ideal. My theoretical publisher is probably expecting something they can sell. But then it’s still a first draft, the worst version of any book. I certainly wouldn’t be the first author to write a lame ending. Perhaps a theoretical editor could provide some tips to make it better. It’s also remotely possible that it’s not as bad as I think. Unlikely, but possible.

Okay, well that was easy. A pro would write the ending, deliver it, and move on.

But now let’s look at it from the view of an aspiring author who’s never published anything. Which is very realistic because that’s what I am.

My business goal right now is enticing an agent to represent me. That means I need to send out query letters. That does NOT mean I need to send out full manuscripts. If an agent is intrigued by a query letter, they will probably want to see only the first few chapters as a sample, NOT the full manuscript. They might also want a summary of the entire book. But if an agent is intrigued they will eventually want the full manuscript, so I should have it finished and ready to deliver, even if it still needs work.

So I still need to write an ending. However, re-writing the first few chapters is far more important at this point. Which means I should hurry up and finish the ending, then spend a little time revising the beginning. Then write queries. Then move on to the next project.

Outlining The Rest of Airworld

I’ve not forgotten about Airworld. I’m outlining the remainder of the story. I find that I can only be a pantser up to a certain point (usually that point is about now, where the story needs to start moving toward a resolution), at which time I really have to sit down and figure out how to resolve things without using magical faery dust.

In this case it’s harder than I might have expected, because Airworld became  rather complex, and there are many threads flying about loose right now. I suppose this is why writers always advise you to know your ending before you start. It’s good advice, but extremely difficult for me. Unless you count something like, “Then they figured everything out. The end.”

Anyway, for those interested in the writing process, I started by writing a synopsis of the story so far, where I wrote roughly a paragraph covering each chapter. This was quite instructional in itself, because it’s the first time I’ve looked at an overhead view of the story since I started. I’ve already identified plenty of places to make revisions just from that.

After that I tried to identify the questions that were raised in each chapter and wrote those questions after the paragraph. I imagined each paragraph to be one of those old-time movie serials, where at the end the narrator says something like, “Will our hero find a way to get out of the boxcar before it plunges off the cliff? Tune in next week to find out!” And it would be in that old-timey over-excited radio voice where they speak ten times too fast. Mine aren’t that dramatic though – more like, “Will Naobi find the Council of Life?” or “Will Garath’s plan work?”

Through trial and error I’ve discovered that questions phrased to give simple yes/no answers seem to provide better focus on the plot. For example, “Will Cheton make it back to the group?” As opposed to, “How will Cheton deal with being separated from the group?” Questions with more open-ended answers leave me with too much room to make up new sections of plot, as opposed to writing along a pre-determined course.

After that I will make another pass through those questions and figure out which ones have already been answered, and which ones still need answers. That will hopefully inform the direction of the rest of the story.