Keeping Score: March 22, 2019

Only 751 words written so far this week. Seems I’ll be playing catch-up again this weekend.

I’ve had some trouble writing the new scenes, particularly dialog. I want to be sure to capture each character’s unique way of speaking, along with their thoughts and feelings in the moment, all the while maintaining the right intensity level for the scene.

It leads to doubt, which leads to feeling blocked. Which means no words.

To unblock me, I’m trying something new: let them swing for the fences. As in, instead of internalizing something like:

I wanted to tell him to go to hell. But I knew I shouldn’t, because that might set him off again. Get me in trouble with the Warden.

I go ahead and let the characters say what they want to say:

“Go to hell,” I blurted. “You’ve wanted my job for years, and you’re just looking for an excuse to take it. But I’ll be damned if you’ll get it without a fight.”

…and then, sure, they get in trouble. But it’s more interesting to write, it’s easier to write, actually, and hopefully it’s more interesting to read.

What about you? How do you get over the fear and doubt that come from staring at a blank page?

Tracking the Books

I need to find a replacement for Goodreads, because I hate using it.

Its UI is terrible. It looks like something I would’ve designed back in high school, and I’m a color-blind back-end developer that wouldn’t know a good font choice if there was only one to pick.

The performance of the site is terrible. Searching for books takes too long, and (and!) if you type too much of the book’s title into the search bar, the one you want will go whizzing by, replaced by books that are nothing like the one you’re looking for.

Even when you finally do locate the exact book you want to add to one of your shelves, if you later want to, say, find a list of all the books you’ve read this past year (as I tried to do back in January), you’ll find that Goodreads does not fill in the date every time you mark a book as read. I think somewhere between a quarter and a third of all the books on my “read” shelf have no dates attached to them, so they end up in a jumble at the bottom of the list, no rhyme or reason to them.

But what choice do I have? I have a few hundred books in hard copy in my house. Another two hundred or so scattered across various ebook formats: Kindle (follies of youth), Nook (ditto), Kobo (simply the best), and iBooks (don’t judge me). All of which I need to keep track of, if only to keep myself from buying a book I already own. Goodreads, for all its flaws, at least lets me do that.

I suppose as a developer I’m supposed to build my own solution. And I’ve thought about it; I could write an importer to take the xml junk Goodreads’ api barfs out, clean it up, and then shove it into a text search engine (probably Elasticsearch) for easy retrieval later.

But that’s a fair-sized project, and if I can, I’d rather take advantage of someone else’s work (and pay them for it, gladly).

So: Are there other, better, apps out there for tracking a personal library? If you use one, which one, and why?

Keeping Score: March 15, 2019

Wrote 971 words this week towards the second draft.

That’s short of the 1,500 words I’d like to produce by the end of the week, so I’ll have to do some catch-up work this weekend.

I’m not too worried though. Even though I’m terrified of sucking every time I sit down to write, once I get over my fears and actually do it, everything flows. It’s like I know who these characters are, I know where and when everything is taking place. I finally have a solid grasp of what their story is and where it’s going.

I’m hoping this won’t turn into a complete rewrite. Not that I can’t do it — I feel like I actually could, no question — but I don’t know that I could do it in time to meet my self-imposed June deadline.

I don’t think that’ll have to happen, though. I’m writing new scenes now, but later on I should be able to take scenes I’ve got and just tweak them a bit to make them match the new story beats.

How do you choose which parts to keep and which parts to re-work completely when editing something? Do you lean more towards keeping what’s there, or are you more inclined to tear it up and start over?

Keeping Score: March 8, 2019

Finally getting back to the good part: the writing.

Or rather, the re-writing.

Finished off the sequential outline earlier this week, after going back through the workbook outline and my manuscript to slot in missing scenes.

Then I took all the scenes from the first draft and shoved them into a single folder, marked “Original.” That way I can keep them around for reference, and pull what I need from them, without them being in the way of the scenes I need to completely rewrite.

Starting with the opening sequence.

Early feedback on those scenes said they lacked tension, and they were right. Thankfully, after going through the workbook, I’ve got much better ideas for them. I’m going to introduce some antagonists earlier than before, and tie the bigger conflict arc to their early conflicts with the protagonist.

I will, most likely, eff up these scene drafts, too. But they’ll be better than before. And hopefully, if I get the story beats at least down correctly, I can work more on language and dialog later.

Writers Coffeehouse: March 2019

Henry Herz was kind enough to take on hosting duties this month, giving us more insight into both the children’s book markets and indie (adult) publishing.

My notes from the meeting are below. Thanks again to Mysterious Galaxy for the space, and to Henry for hosting a lively and informative meeting!

Notes:

  • san diego writers and editors guild: around 40 yrs, offers manuscript review service, meets fourth monday each month, next meeting will be from sd zoo publishing house, also has a marketing support group
  • upcoming events:
    • charlotte huck children’s book festival (all the way up to ya): march 9-10, university of redlands
    • henry teaching class about writing picture books, san diego writers ink, march 10 and 17
    • wondercon in anaheim end of march
    • april 13th: san diego writers festival, downtown library
    • san diego writing workshop: may 11th
    • nebula conference in LA later this year
    • san diego comic fest is next weekend
  • tips for being more efficient in using your limited writing time?
    • david morel (writer of rambo) got up at 4:30 every morning and wrote for two hours before work
    • henry uses spreadsheet to track writing pieces and where he’s submitted them to (or queried, etc)
    • using google calendar to set deadlines and reminders
    • managed flitter: lets you schedule social media posts ahead of time
    • 4thewords.com: gamified rpg that you play by writing (250 words in 15 min to fight a monster, for example)
    • another trick: when stopping for the day, stop mid-paragraph so it’s easier to get back into it the next day
  • scbwi (society of childrens book writers and illustrators) has ad-hoc critique groups that form at their monthly meetings
  • indie author found personal appearances took a lot of time but yielded fewer sales than putting same time in to online marketing (10s of books vs 1,000s of books)
  • indie author uses service to do all the formatting for him, makes it easier but he spends $4,000-$5,000 per book to publish it
  • how do you find an editor?
    • san diego professional editors network
    • reedsy: website with professional editors that have struck out on their own
  • agents don’t usually expect exclusivity when querying, check their guidelines, but usually can send out queries to as many agents as you want at a time
  • if you don’t hear anything after three months, ping them, if still don’t hear back, assume it’s dead
  • another short story marketplace site: “entropy: where to submit”; will show contests, etc coming up for the month
  • childrens books: advice is to avoid inanimate objects as characters, because they’re harder for children to empathize with
  • authors guild: join, if you get a contract but no agent you can hire lawyers through them to review it for you
  • henry’s editing process: edits on own, then sends out to four different critique groups for feedback, multiple iterations with each one, polish off the rough edges

Keeping Score: March 1, 2019

Finished the workbook’s version of the outline. Finally.

Now I’ve just got to take that outline, plus my other notes from the workbook, plus the existing novel, and hash it all together into a regular, scene-by-scene, linear outline.

Easy, right?

Maybe it would be, if I didn’t feel so demotivated all of a sudden. Every time I reach for the outline to work on it, I can feel my shoulders sag. I feel like reading, or doing laundry, or scrolling through Twitter, or even working on one of the short stories I’ve got waiting in the queue. Anything but keep working on that outline.

I’m tempted to skip it, and just dive back into writing. No notes, no plan, just go.

But that’ll end up with me making another messy draft, won’t it? I’ll just have to go back through it and do the same exercises, all over again.

So I plod on. Maybe I’ll give myself some time off next week, reduce my writing days to 2 or 3 instead of 5. Allow myself to work on something else, try to recharge the batteries.

Wish me luck.

Keeping Score: February 22, 2019

I’m two-thirds of the way through the workbook’s version of the outline.

I say workbook’s version, because it’s not linear. It doesn’t go scene by scene by scene. Instead, it groups scenes by their impact on the story: the five most important beats on the way to the resolution of the protagonists’ main problem, etc.

So even once I’m done with it, I’ll need to draw up a second outline, one with everything in order, so I know where and when to drop each of the elements from the workbook’s outline.

This is becoming more work than I thought.

I’m starting to worry if it’s all necessary. If I’m hiding behind the outline, instead of diving in to get the edits done. Certainly outlining feels like work, like good work, brainstorming different ways scenes could go. But it’s not writing the actual book, it’s just prep.

And I must confess I have some trepidation about writing the new scenes. They’re all going to be first drafts, which means they’ll be bad, and need revision later. But those revisions will mean changes to other areas, probably, which’ll mean more edits for the altered scenes.

I worry that I’m looking at a chain of revisions, extending through the rest of the year and beyond.

In some ways, it might be nice to have a deadline, and someone to send it to. Then I could see an end to the chain of editing, or at least a point where I’m forced to hang up my keyboard and say “no more.”

Perhaps I should choose one, then. According to my notes, I started working on the ideas and characters for this book in June of 2017. Two years isn’t too bad a time to spend working on a novel.

So I’ll target being done with these revisions by June 30, and thus having the book ready to go out to beta readers at the very least, if not agents.

There. Now I have to get past the outline stage and get cracking on writing new scenes. I’ve got a deadline to meet.

Keeping Score: February 15, 2019

The novel keeps changing.

I’m trying to pull all the threads from the workbook together, so I know what edits I need to make. I’ve been using the outline template from the workbook, which has been surprisingly helpful.

But as I do so, I keep having more ideas, better ideas, that ripple out and change the book. One of my characters has gone from being a Senator, to a corporate auditor, to a DOJ Investigator. The key scene between my protagonist and one of the secondary characters that makes him switch sides, which was weakly motivated before, now has the solid footing of a quid pro quo exchange (tied to one of the protagonists’ plot layers).

Once again, I’m glad I’m taking the time to do this work. I was skeptical of the workbook’s outline at first, but in going through the process, I’m learning a lot about my story and my characters. Some of its seeing how much I really do know about the world, and some of its seeing those connections that I didn’t before.

So it looks like I’ll be lucky to finish the outline by the end of this month. But it’ll be a damn good outline, once it’s done.

Keeping Score: February 8, 2019

I’ve finished the workbook!

Well, finished as much of it as I can. There’s a few exercises that I’ll need to come back to.

One says to take every scene in the book and choose one detail to heighten, which is something I’ll want to do after I’ve written the new scenes and re-arranged the ones I have.

Another had me write a pitch, and then follow-up by coming back to the pitch in a week and winnowing it down some more. That’ll obviously have to wait.

But I’m done with the bulk of the exercises. Now all I have to do is put them into practice.

So next week I’ll be combing through the workbook, pulling notes and scene ideas out and combining them with the notes I have from own first read-through.

There’s going to be a lot of changes, so I’ll need some way to keep track of them all. I think I’ll start by writing out a new outline, sketching out the scenes (new, changed, and existing) in order. That’ll give me something to compare to the novel as it exists now, a guide to what needs to change.

I might also work up a timeline, just to be sure everything’s in place, and maybe even a map of the setting, to fix everything in my mind.

Hopefully I can get all that done in a week, and then start on the edits the following week.

I have no idea how long those’ll take. This is my first time doing this — editing a novel top-to-bottom using more than just my own gut instincts — and I want to do it well, or at least as well as I’m capable of doing it.

If it takes me all year, that’s fine. So long as keep at it, and finish it.

Writers Coffeehouse: Feb 2019

Another great Coffeehouse this month. Jonathan Maberry was out at a conference, so Peter Clines (NYT Bestselling author!) stepped in for hosting duties.

Clines’ style of running the Coffeehouse (he’s been running the one in LA for 4-5 years now) is a little more freeform than Maberry’s, but even without a strong structure, we had a lively, respectful discussion that covered a lot of ground. I even got a couple of my own questions answered, about some things I’ve been struggling with.

I’ve posted my notes below.

Thanks to Clines for hosting, and to Mysterious Galaxy for letting us use their space!

Notes:

  • peter clines has the Conn; he’s been running the LA coffeehouse for 4-5 years; subbing for jonathan while he’s at writer’s festival
  • his method: 1st half writing craft, 2nd half publishing side
  • thinks it’s better to not have a social media account than to have one that looks abandoned or run by bots
  • whatever you do, if anything, it’s critical that you be honest and authentic, even when crafting a public persona
  • small trick: switching the font for third or fourth draft can make different things pop out at you, help you find errors
  • libby hawker: making it in historical fiction
  • also: read wolf hall and see how hillary mantel does her description and world-building
  • random nugget from shane black: plot is what happens outside the characters, story is what happens inside the characters
  • clines: used to follow writing guidance slavishly, reading writers digest, doing what it says; has become more skeptical over time, especially as he’s figured out what works for him, and how that differs from what works for others
  • pantsers: can be very helpful to have a timeline, even after first draft; one writer found 12-yr gap in her book (!)
  • tip from mystery writer: even if you’re not going to have a big “gather the characters together so sleuth can layout the clues” scene, write it anyway; it’ll solidify everything in your head so you can confidently write the mystery itself (with dropped clues, red herrings, etc)
  • chapter to chapter: have something driving the characters from scene to scene, either internal or external, so the reader has a reason to move forward; even placement of flashbacks needs to be driven by the story
  • prologues are fine, but make sure they have a payoff within a few chapters, or cut them altogether
  • relevance is key: even if your planning a series, make the nuggets you put in the first book relevant to that book
  • “start with action” can be a trap: if you begin with volume at 11, you’ve got nowhere to go but down
  • recall the punches of humanity and comedy in the midst of horror or action: the terrorist grabbing a candy bar while setting up in die hard, etc
  • don’t discount the freedom you get by not being published yet; enjoy the fact that you have no deadlines and no pressure to finish
  • beta readers: seek out at least one or two people who read mostly outside your genre, to make sure you don’t have too much inside baseball
  • the 50% rule: half of all submissions can be rejected on pg 1: wrong format, wrong genre, etc; following the rules and sending a polished manuscript to the right people can put you ahead of 50% of others
  • one step beyond read it out loud: have someone else read it out loud to you, and see where they stumble or hesitate or pause
  • short story tips: damon knight’s book on writing short fiction
  • one bit: if you have a first-person story, write it in a different pov and see if the main character vanishes; if so, you don’t have a character you just have a viewpoint