Only 140 words today. Still, I got my butt in the chair, so I get a silver star. Tomorrow I’ll do better.
I’m finding these days that when I’m free-thinking about my writing, my mind rotates between four current projects. It can be difficult to keep my undisciplined mind focused on one of those projects for more than a couple of weeks. Since I’m not making major progress with any of them, I’m okay at the moment working for a week on one of them then jumping to another and making a week’s worth of progress there. Eventually, I hope one of the grabs me and makes me focus on it. If that doesn’t happen, I’m going to need to find the discipline to focus without that particular inspiration. I’m not in a hurry, though, because each time I jump from one to the other, I’m finding new depth, new details that make the story more alive and vibrant. I’m an unabashed planner, not a pantser, but sometimes it’s hard to sit down and plan out the level of detail necessary to make the work three-dimensional. By having several balls in the air as I juggle the stories, I feel I’m allowing the muse that typically drives pantsers to do it’s magic.
For posterity’s sake, here is a brief run down of my current WIPs:
- “ACoS” – A fantasy story in the mold of many gritty yet epic fantasies, this one is the furthest along. I actually have a full draft completed, but as I was writing it, I was aware that there are major problems with the plot, and not enough going on in the background to satisfy me. This one is intentionally set aside for a while to let my subconscious percolate on it for a while.
- “P!” – Unabashed space opera, and one that’s been fluttering around in the back of my head for a while. I have the overall arc of the story understood, but each time I go back to it, I find more nuances and details that I want to capture. The characters are evolving and deepening with each pass over the skeleton of the work, and if I focus on anything soon, this will probably be the one I work on.
- “TAaM” – Originally intended to be the script for a web comic, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to make it work in that format. (It probably could work, I just don’t have the skill to make it work.) However, it’s coming along well as a novel. It’s a contemporary work with a lot of gay overtones. It could work well as a YA novel, but I’m not going to pigeonhole it before it has had a chance to fully germinate.
- “FP” – My foray into murder mysteries, but with a burly gay male protagonist. This was today’s focus, as I realized some details about the victim and how he ties in with other characters in the work. Mysteries need a certain level of convolution, and should be filled with a certain level of misdirection. This is challenging for me, since I tend to be a straightforward writer. However, it’s a good challenge. If I can write a good mystery with fully believable characters, many of which could be the killer, it will help deepen my writing in my other works.
So, four different works, in several different genres.
I’m kinda crazy, aren’t I?
I have some totally unsolicited advice for all those who are setting out to do NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve participated for many years, successfully completed most of them, so I feel somewhat qualified to dispense advice. Of course, my advice works for me and it may not work for you. Caveat emptor and all that.
1. Plan on NaNoWriMo being a big disruption in your life. You have to write 50,000 words in 30 days (or 720 hours). Unless you are a writing speed demon, it’s going to take you quite a bit of focused time. Make sure you have a support team in place to handle the daily chores and other household commitments for which you are responsible. Spouses, housemates, and children can be very helpful in your success if they are willing to work with you. If you spring it on them half-way through November, they probably won’t be.
2. Pick a daily writing target and make sure you hit it each day before you head off to bed. Most people pick 1667 words, but I would urge you to pick 2000 instead. It’s a nice round number, it’s not too much more than 1667, and it gives you a bit of a buffer for those days when words are more difficult.
3. When you can, write more. Frequently on weekends, I would get two writing sessions in, each of 2000 words. Sometimes I’d even get 5000 words in on a weekend day. This will allow you some breathing room as the month rolls steadily towards Thanksgiving and the semi-obligatory family time.
4. Words will sometimes be difficult. This is okay and expected. If you’re ahead on your word-count, it’s okay to take an occasional day where you don’t hit your writing target. Just don’t do that when you’re behind, since that will only put you further behind.
5. When words are being difficult, surprise them by doing something totally unexpected. Have ninjas arrive and fight with your characters, especially if it’s not particularly appropriate for your chosen genre. Or have thugs bust the door down and open fire. Doing something completely unexpected for your story will give your brain a break from pounding on your planned story and can be just the jolt of fun you need to get unstuck. You can always remove that scene in December.
6. Don’t edit. Don’t edit in your mind before you write, and especially don’t edit your words *after* they’re on paper. It’s okay to go back and fix the occasional misspelling (I hate those red squiggly lines that most word processors use these days), but don’t waste your precious writing time “fixing” stuff you’ve written for NaNoWriMo. That’s what December is for.
7. It’s okay to write stuff you know is garbage. NaNoWriMo is all about quantity, not quality. Send your inner censor on a holiday, and just write whatever comes to mind in your story. You will surprise yourself and on a re-read (in December, or later) will find that some of your trashiest moments contain nuggets of awesomeness.
8. Expect life to not take it easy on you. You never know what November can bring. You might get super busy at work. You might get fired and have to look for a new job. Your family may find itself in a crisis when someone gets severely injured and winds up in the hospital. It’s okay to set your NaNoWriMo aside and deal with life. (On the other hand, if you are suddenly unemployed and use the time to write your 50K and more, enjoy the victory-flavored lemonade you’ve made of life’s lemons!)
9. Be aware of, and get comfortable with the thought that you might not complete your 50,000 words in November. And that’s okay. Even if you have no interruptions, and no real-life crises to deal with, the words might just not flow, or your novel idea may just not work out as well as you had hoped. If you don’t hit your 50K, revel in the knowledge that you tried, which is much more than most other “wannabe” writers have done.
10. I strongly urge all NaNoWriMo participants to NOT write the book they’ve always wanted to write. There are many reasons for this. First is, to get through the month and hit your targets, you will often write garbage. Knowing your “great American novel” is full of garbage can be discouraging for when you think about getting it into shape for publication. Secondly, you might fail to complete NaNoWriMo. While it failing to complete NaNoWriMo should not be a big deal, some people attach negative feelings to it. You don’t want your deam project to be associated with something you feel bad about, so why risk it? Especially if this is your first time writing a project of this size, write something you won’t care that much about when the month is over. Have fun, chew up the scenery, swing from the metaphorical chandelier, but avoid the temptation to write that book you’ve always hoped you could. Save that book for December or later once you have proven to yourself that you can write a lot of words.
Good luck, and most of all, have fun!
Got more writing done today. My time at the keyboard isn’t as consistent as I want it to be thanks to work and personal issues. I’m finding, naturally, that the more infrequent my writing is, the harder it is to get started when I sit down at the writing desk. Today was certainly no exception. Still, earned a silver star. That’s something.
At any rate, I’m still writing just sample bits from the new work, trying on characters to see how they speak to me, and trying to get back into the grove of the genre style (in this case, a bit of space opera). There is still a veritable metaphorical ton of planning still to do (half of my characters don’t even have names yet!) but I was starting to feel stalled there. Writing bits of scenes with some of the characters often will help encourage forward motion on the planning. There’s probably some subconscious process that needs more input before settling into place. I won’t have time for more planning for the next couple of days, but should be able to get more writing time the next few mornings assuming that life, work, and family cooperate.
So, I started a new job at my company of employment in May, voluntarily getting tossed into the deep end of a very large and fast-paced project. I worked every day for a month and a half taking only a single Saturday off. I’ve put more hours into this job than I have in any previous job. And I’ve loved it.
However, one of the consequences of this has been my writing. I’ve not been devoting much time to it at all. I’ve played around with some thoughts for a contemporary murder mystery, some character sketches, and a lot of noodling, but no real writing.
As kids these days say, I am disappoint.
The pages drop from my calendar like leaves in fall, and I see that November is not too far away, so naturally my thoughts turn to NaNoWriMo. I’m expecting I won’t compete this year, but even just knowing it’s coming stirs my writerly juices.
During a recent shower (my most creative time during the day, naturally), a thought floated into my consciousness. The thought crystalized my understanding of the premise and theme of a story that’s been rattling around in the back of my head for a good year or more. It made me see why the original ending of that story just wasn’t working for me, and suggested an entirely different ending that perfectly ties the beginning of the story to its climax. The original ending actually would work better for second story with the same characters. (Yeah, here I go, planning multiple books without having written a single one.)
So, I’m spending time today getting to know the main character, trying on different names to see if anything fits well, and brainstorming the events in the story’s timeline. I know where it begins, I now know where it ends, and I know a few things that have to happen in the middle. Beyond that? Gotta figure that all out.
It will be nice to return to my morning practice. I even got my sweetie to print out a blank tracking calendar for me to use.
I forgot to mention that I managed to complete the first draft of a short story on Saturday morning. I celebrated with an impromptu walk around a local lake followed by meeting with my writers’ group. I’m not planning on editing it, or starting the rewrite for a while. I think I’m going to let it sit for a month or two so I can get some distance from it.
After my writers’ group, I sketched out a few thoughts for the next story that I will start writing tomorrow morning. This one involves the Saturnian moon, Titan. So, with the TV on in the background (with one of my favorite writing inspiration shows, “Castle,” playing), I’m reading up on the interesting geology and chemistry that is found on that far off place. I didn’t get any writing done today due to an early morning meeting with my tax preparer, but I have confidence I’ll get some more words on paper in the morning.
A couple of years ago, I set a goal writing a short story every month. I didn’t know then if that was even possible; I just wanted some kind, any kind of goal. Now I’m beginning to think that it’s possible. Two weeks to write, and then at some date in the future, another two weeks to polish and get ready for critiquing. Of course, this will require me having a backlog of ideas waiting. Good thing I always carry around several different means of taking notes. Hi, Siri!
Sometimes, I find it enjoyable to listen to people talking about writing. Over the years, I have found a few podcasts to be enlightening. (A podcast is a audio, or sometimes video, blog. You can subscribe in iTunes or your favorite RSS reader, or just visit the web site and listen to selected programs.) Since I’m writing in the SF&F genre, most of the podcasts I listen to are from writers in that field, but much of it can be applied in a more general sense.
My favorite is one called Writing Excuses, and features four fairly well known authors in SF&F: Brandon Sanderson , Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler. Each episode is around fifteen minutes and focuses on a particular issue or problem in writing. The topics may be a bit “high brow” at times but they approach things with wit and humor. Unfortunately they don’t tend to keep many of the old episodes on line, and they’re already in their eighth year. You can find this one at http://www.writingexcuses.com
Another one I’ve found useful to varying degrees is one from the Odyssey SF&F Writing Workshops. They excerpt lectures that are given at the workshop and present them in podcast form. Many of the presenters are big names in the field (Gardner Dozois, Robert J. Sawyer, Terry Bisson, Craig Shaw Gardner, Elizabeth Bear, Nancy Kress, etc.), and cover topics from humor in speculative ficiton to writing query letters. In iTunes, I can see episodes dating back to January of 2007. The home page for this podcast lists the lectures and gives you some biographical information on the presenter. It can be found at http://www.sff.net/odyssey/podcasts.html
(I had another writing podcast to recommend, but it has apparently ceased operations. *pouty face*)
And finally, a podcast that isn’t really about writing, but entertaining nonetheless. Escape Pod brings you a complete SF short story each week in an “audio book” format. I’ve only found time to listen to a few of these, but they’ve generally been entertaining if you’re looking for a diversion. Each episode is betwen twenty minutes to an hour in length. (They have “sister” podcasts for Fantasy and Horror, if you’d prefer those genres.) You can find them at http://escapepod.org
As I get back into my routine following my volunteering time with FOGcon, I’m reflecting on the art form that is the short story. Many (though not all) authors in the science-fiction and fantasy genres write short stories. In fact, many of them got their start in this particular form of storytelling, and then eventually move into writing novels. It’s a time-honored traditions.
I’ve tried writing short stories before, without much success. At one time I would have said that everything I know about crafting stories applies only to longer forms, not the brevity required for a good short story. The couple of times I’ve tried writing a short story have resulted in critiques that generally say, “This is a synopsis of a novel, not a short story.” That said, the stories I build for my church’s Solstice celebrations definitely qualify as “short stories.”
While at FOGcon, I talked with several published authors all of whom write short stories. I also did a little bit of reading on the web from people who write about the structure of a short story. And, of course, I thought a lot about what I’ve always read about the craft of writing. And I’m realizing that many of the short stories I read in magazines don’t follow the rules that I’m told always have to be followed. It’s a bit perplexing, honestly.
I’ve recently read two novellas from an issue of Asimov’s from some time last year, and neither of them really had a central conflict, or if they did, it wasn’t the conflict of the main character. The evident protagonist was an observer while someone (or in one case, something) else went through the conflict development and resolution process. Character development is also rather lacking in the stories I’ve read. So I’m beginning to wonder if my inhibition around writing short stores is self-inflicted by trying to follow all of the advice I’ve heard and read over the years.
With that in mind, I have decided to give writing short stories another try. Playing with a random brainstorming app I found for iOS, I came across a phrase that was interestingly evocative. I struggled for a bit to try and find a conflict, and then tried turning the conflict requirement on its ear like the stories I’ve been reading. And viola! A plot quickly came to mind. The writing is going well, and I have no idea how long this thing will run word count-wise. It’s all a grand experiment yet again.
(If I seem to jump around with my writing practice a lot, it’s true, I do. This week I want to write a novel. That week I want to write short stories. The next week I just want to agonize over worldbuilding. It’s not a good trait, and I want to be more focused. But first I need to know what I want to focus on, and that’s not yet clear to me.)
As I’ve mentioned before, I have a reward system for when I’m actually working on a manuscript. Every day I write any words on the manuscript, I get a silver star on a calendar made expressly for tracking such things. I get a gold star if I write 500 or more words.
But now, I’m not working directly on a manuscript. I’m doing character design, and world building, and plot development. And thus I have not been rewarding myself. But I find I miss doing so. I look at the calendar’s empty spaces and while I know I did work on those days, since I wasn’t writing words in my manuscript, there’s no recognition of that.
Silly, yes. Unhelpful, yes. But I’m a stickler for rules most of the time, so it’s not surprising that I can slavishly follow them even when it doesn’t make sense.
How do I reward myself when I’m not actively working on a manuscript? Well, I could give myself a silver star for any day in which I sit in the chair and write something about the project, whether it’s a character sketch, the laws of the world the story is set on, or even some rough plot cards. Okay, that works. But how do I go about earning a gold star, which really who doesn’t want to be earning gold stars?
How does one set achievable yet challenging goals when one is brainstorming? It’s a good question. I need to brainstorm that…
I’ve stopped work on the project I started at NaNoWriMo last year. I think it’s still a good project, and has a lot of potential, but I’d hit nearly 70K words, and some of the cracks of the foundations were starting to show through. I was writing just to write, and not moving the story forward. I think I need to let that one gestate for a while. There are large sections of the story that were not worked out well enough in advance, and some new directions the story took. It would be good to devote some dedicated world-building time to the project before I continue on with it. I’m a little saddened because I wanted this to be the first full draft of a novel completed. But in the end, I feel it’s better to have made a good start and recognized that it wasn’t going anywhere than it would be to get to some arbitrary word count and claim some kind of victory.
But that’s not the only reason I set it aside. There’s another idea that’s been taking up considerable amounts of brainspace lately. It seems exciting, fresh and new to me. I find myself thinking about it at all hours, especially when I don’t have the time to be working on it. Of course I get that way with all of my projects, so I don’t know if there’s really anything “there” in this one. Time will tell.