February Status Report

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

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

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 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. 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.