Disciple over Inspiration

The words were hard this morning. I’m working on a detailed outline of my current “work in progress”, and I’m in the “mushy middle” part of the story, the part that is glossed over when come by up with the big idea for the story. It’s the “step two” of the joke with the punchline, “Step three: profit!” And because the words were hard I was more susceptible to distraction than I’d like to be. Watching the pigeons building a nest in the tree right outside the window. Fussing with iTunes trying to get it to sync my iCloud account so it would play music. Fine tuning my “movie scores” channel on Pandora. Analyzing the less-than-happy dream that I recalled when I woke this morning. I’m amazed that I managed to make my word count goal at all, and more so that I barely went over the thirty minutes I have planned for my daily writing.

I read somewhere recently that one should not rely on motivation since motivation is fleeting and not under willful control. One should rely on discipline instead since that is something that one can control. I agree and would include inspiration in the list of things that cannot be relied upon. If I were to rely on inspiration and motivation to bring me to my writing desk, my word count output would be measured in the low four digits per year. It’s discipline that will get me to where I want to be.

February Report

  
Well, I did not do as well in February as I did in January. You can probably guess with a high degree of accuracy the day I left for my eight day vacation, and you can guess it took me a while after the vacation to get my butt back in the chair, but I did eventually return, so yay me!

But the writing isn’t going so well right now. I believe it’s because I don’t have a good handle on the timeline of the novel yet. I’m finding my scenes are coming out lazy and full of directionless dialogue. You know how two friends who have known each other a good long while can chat away for hours without really saying much? That would be my characters. I need to spend some time putting together the timeline for the novel so I know where each scene belongs and know each scene’s purpose. I hope this weekend will afford me that time (if it’s not all eaten up with my prep for FOGcon).

Stumble and Fumble 

My first “gold star” writing day since the cruise. I had a couple silver star days earlier in the week. Part of it comes from not having certainty around the overall plot in the novel, but most of my hesitation around getting back to writing was depression-related. It’s a lot harder to get butt out of bed and right into the chair when I’d rather sleep through the entire day. 

 What got me back to the writing desk? A candle of all things. Part of my “writing ritual” is to light a candle when I sit down to write. (Usually immediately after turning on my light therapy device.) It wasn’t exactly a new candle, but also not really and old one. As I was packing away the holiday decorations I ran across a storage crate full of candles from the previous house. Neither the fact that we had a plastic crate full of candles nor that it hadn’t been opened since we moved eight years ago is at all unusual for me. In this crate was a beautifully decorated glass candle holder I had purchased in New Hope, PA, many years ago. There was also a baggy with the remains of a raspberry scented candle that had burned through the bottom leaving quite a bit of rosy pink wax behind. I like to recycle candles when I can, so I popped a new wick into the holder, melted the wax on a candle warmer, and poured it into the holder. After it had cooled, voilà, a new old candle. The thought of being able to enjoy that Summery scent and see that candle holder gleaming with light was enough to bring me back to that desk. And as long as I was there, I figured I could type a few words into the manuscript… 

January 2016

 January was a pretty good month for writing. 18 gold star day (days with at least 500 words written on the current project) and 3 silver star ones (days with anything accomplished on the project). By the end of the month, I was 10K words into my targeted 80K. Not bad!

February is shorter, and I am on vacation for a week of it, so we shall see how the numbers are for this month. I hope to bring my writing machine with me on the trip, and I intend to spend some time each day working on the project. Check back in a month to see if I followed through on my intention…

And again…

It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up. - Vince Lombardi

This is me, getting back up. 9000 words on a new project….

Getting back into the saddle….

I’ve been managing to sit down at my writing desk for several days over the last couple of weeks. The first couple of days, I merely reviewed what I had done so far on my current WiP (Work in Progress). The next few days were spent brainstorming scenes in the novel. I’m targeting 40 scenes, half of which should deal with the main plot, the rest on supporting plots. (I’m very much a Story Engineer.) Unfortunately, I’m stalling out on details of the main plot, so I decided to take the plunge and start simply writing in one of the scenes I know has to be there. I haven’t written much in a while so my 523 words took me a while longer than usual, but boy did it feel good.

(And yes, I did get some lightbox therapy in at the same time.)

Now if only I could figure out the events of my primary plot, I’ll be a happy guy. Well, “happy” in terms of where my writing is going; no promises in any other aspect of my life. Since the genre I’m writing in requires a well-laid out and integrated plot, I don’t want to try and write by the “seat of my pants”. Besides, I like to have a rough map of where I’m going before I commit words on paper, even if half-way through the journey I stop and draw an entirely new map.

Beginnings: Person-ality

One of the more crucial decisions that needs to be made when starting out working on a novel is to choose what point of view you’re going to use for the work. There are many choices, each of them have strengths and weaknesses.

First Person always seems easiest and most natural for me. However, it does limit me in many ways. The reader can only experience other characters’ emotions and thoughts from the protagonist’s point of view, which isn’t always accurate, and it can be much harder to surprise the reader. If the protagonist does something “off screen,” the reader might rightfully feel cheated. This is especially true in genres in which readers expect to be able to either puzzle out the ending before it arrives, or enjoy looking back and seeing how the ending was inevitable from the first scene.

I never write in Second Person. It’s too weird for anything other than “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and maybe porn.

In Third Person, there are technically several choices, but practically these days, there is only one, namely “Third Person Limited“. Third Person can lack the immediacy of First Person, but in my experience it’s less prone to telling instead of showing. It also allows you the ability to dive into the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. However, to do it right, you need to limit it to a small number of characters (unless it’s one of those million-page epic fantasies), and they each need similar amounts of “screen time” to make it feel balanced. If your antagonist is one of your viewpoints, it can be hard to introduce him or her early and not give away too much of the plot.

(There is, of course, , but that’s really fallen out of favor lately. Books written in that point of view always seem quaint and old to me, like they were written in the time of Charles Dickens or F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s worse when the author takes on a very personal narrative voice, addressing the audience as “Dear reader” and so forth.)

It’s important to give a lot of thought to this choice as you set out with novel planning. If you choose poorly, you could find yourself having to rewrite significant portions of the novel mid-stream. It’s a lot of work, and I’d rather avoid it if I can.

So, day one of a new work, and as I’m writing up my plot point cards, I’m thinking of how I’m going to tell the story. What to choose, what to choose….

Works in Progress

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?

NaNoWriMo Advice

"Writing", 22 November 2008

“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

 

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!

 

Progress

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.

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