Keeping Score: September 17, 2018

2,306 words written this week!

I’m trying to let go a little more this week. As in, stop worrying so much about what would be realistic and worry more about what’d be interesting. To approach the new scenes and descriptions thinking “what would be cool?” rather than “what would be expected?”

Again, I don’t know if this approach will make the book any better. No way to tell until it’s done. But it is making it both more challenging (I have to think things through a bit more) and more fun (anything goes! so long as I can describe whatever it is).

I’m heading into the final stretch of the novel, so I’m giving myself more liberty to experiment. Since I know where I’m going now, and who’s taking me there, I guess I feel more free to play around.

I’ll probably just end up making more problems for myself down the line, but for now, I’m just enjoying flexing my wings a little bit.

Keeping Score: September 10, 2018

I did it! Hit the new word count goal: 2,285 words written last week!

Again, I wrote most of them on the weekend. Mornings last week were consumed with vacation planning, as the trip we’re taking to Ireland in October is coming up fast. Had to get everything booked before it sells out, so that took priority over my writing during the week.

But I still got it done!

Pushing closer to the climax. Even this close to being done, though, I’m still finding things that I wrote earlier that I’ll need to change.

For example, while writing one scene, I realized the character I’d planned to have in it to do a certain thing couldn’t be there, because he wouldn’t do that thing; it just wouldn’t make sense for his character. So I had to change the scene mid-stream, as it were, and finish it out with a different character in mind (and even a different action, so the plot’s changing, too).

I suppose I should expect this by now, though. The book isn’t going to be right the first time, and I’m going to have to go back over it multiple times until it is right. I suppose I should be grateful I’m able to see any mistakes now, instead of having to wait for them to be pointed out to me by beta readers later (though I’m sure they’ll find more when they go through it).

So I’m keeping the higher weekly word count for now. Not sure what I’ll do when it comes time for the Ireland trip. Either take some time off, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll be done before then?

Keeping Score: September 3, 2018

2,050 words written this week!

That’s five weeks in a row of hitting my goal of 2,000 words. I’m consistently churning out 400 – 500 words a day, 5 days a week.

Hard to believe I was having trouble with just 250 words a day only a few months back.

So it’s time to up my goal once again. I’m targeting 2,250 words this week. Just an extra 50 words a day, but it’ll get me to the end of this first draft that much faster.

Speaking of which, I’m closing in on the tentpole event that will set off the last act of the book. I got the idea from Jim Butcher’s excellent post on how to handle the mushy middle, and it’s really helped me focus on something other than the climax to keep the book on track.

I’m also trying to embrace Peter Clines’ advice to accept that the first draft will suck. It’s still hard for me to turn off me inner editor, but I’m trying to give myself more freedom to play in this draft.

If I’ll have to go back and fix it anyway, why not have some fun with it first?

Keeping Score: August 27, 2018

Wrote 2,023 words this week!

This means I not only met my goal, but the book’s crossed over 40K words!

It’s an arbitrary number, but since I’m estimating the final count’s going to be somewhere between 50K and 60K, it feels like I’m in the home stretch.

Of course, I keep noticing mistakes I’ve made, earlier in the draft. This week I realized I’d gotten the geometry of the setting completely wrong. I’ll need to do an editing pass (once this draft is done) just to fix the blocking, movement, and descriptions of the place.

But I’m sticking to the advice I got from the Writers’ Coffeehouse: to keep writing as if I’ve fixed the issues, and just keep notes for what I should rewrite later. It’s helped me keep moving forward, and kept me from getting discouraged.

Conservative Arguments

Among the many feelings I have about American politics recently, a recurring one is disappointment.

I’m disappointed that so many who call themselves conservatives have thrown their principles away for a tribal loyalty. Disappointed because when the people on the other side of the issue abandon their own logic, there’s no debate you can have with them anymore.

You can’t find common ground, if the other side doesn’t have any ground to stand on.

So I’ve been thinking about what a principled conservative would have to say about the issues of our day: health care, abortion, etc. What arguments would they make, if they chose ideals over loyalty?

The Roots of Conservatism

Modern European conservatism arose as a reaction to the French Revolution. Edmund Burke led the charge in England, writing multiple essays against the both the goals and the methods of the Revolutionaries.

Arguing against the intellectual inheritors of the French Revolution – everything from the Independence movements of the Americas (North, South, and Central) to the Bolsheviks in Russia – is how the conservative movement defined itself over the next two hundred years.

At the center of their stance was a belief that people cannot be improved through government action. It was deliberately set against the utopias of socialism and communism, which held (among many other things) that you could get an inherently peaceful and conflict-free society if you but organized it differently.

You can see echoes of this in the Western science fiction writing of the mid–20th Century, which often portrayed dystopias as societies that regulated the thoughts and beliefs of their members “for the greater good”, whether through government fiat (1984, Farenheit 451) or chemistry (Brave New World).

Coupled with this was a conviction that the People did not have a right to revolution. Government had a responsibility to use its power in the pursuit of justice, but if a government was unjust, its citizens had no right to take up arms and overthrow it. They did not have to suffer in silence, but they did have to suffer.

American Conservatives found this second principle more problematic, since their own government was formed via revolution. The compromise they came up with was two-fold:

  1. People do not have the right to overthrow a democratically elected government
  2. Workers do not have the right to overthrow their employers

Thus American conservatives had no problem putting down rebellions in the former colonies (Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, etc). As corporations and business leaders grew more powerful, conservatives naturally sided with them against unions.

20th-Century American Conservatism

From those two principles, everything about 20th Century American conservatism flowed.

Anti-communist, because communists wanted to build better people via overthrowing business power and regulating personal beliefs.

Pro-nuclear-family, because socialists, anarchists, and others wanted to break the nuclear family as a social experiment (again in the pursuit of better people).

Anti-regulation, because government has no more business trying to make better corporations than it does better people.

Consequences

Unfortunately, the emphasis on the preservation of the “traditional” family (itself a product of the Industrial Revolution in Europe and elsewhere) and the prerogatives of business put conservatives arguing on the side of injustice for many decades: against the liberation of women, against the emancipation of African-Americans from Jim Crow laws, against the call for corporations to become responsible citizens.

And they stand against similar liberation movements today. They pass laws regulating who can use which bathroom, or restricting a woman’s access to a safe abortion, or surpressing votes that might go to their opponents.

And they keep losing these fights. Fights they should lose. Fights they need to lose.

But instead of re-examining the choices that led them to take on these losing fights, American convervatives have instead double-down on them. Anyone on their side on these fights is an ally, and anyone not on their side is an enemy.

This tribal – not conservative – way of thinking it’s what’s led the Republican Party to choose a twice-divorced sexual predator as its standard bearer for a “moral” society.

They’ve forgotten their roots. You can’t make better people, remember?

A New Conservatism

If American conservatives did let go of their tribal ways and thought through these issues from their own principles, where would we be?

Gay marriage would be legal. Homosexual families means more nuclear families, which conservatives believe are the best way to raise children. Adoption by same-sex couples would be not only legal, it’d be encouraged.

Laws restricting abortion would be lifted. First, because banning it is wielding government power in an attempt to make people “better”, which is anathema to a conservative. Second, because women without access to safe abortions get unsafe ones, which can damage their chances of having children later, which means fewer families, which is bad for a conservative.

Gun ownership by private citizens would be highly regulated. The private ownership of anything more than a hunting rifle can only be meant for either a) murder, or b) overthrowing the lawfully elected government. Neither of those are things a conservative could endorse. For sporting enthusiasts, gun ranges might be legal, but licensed and monitored like any dangerous public service.

Maternity and paternity leave would be paid for by the government, and mandatory. Parents should be encouraged to have children, and to bond with them. That leads to stronger families, which conservatives want.

Health care would be universal and free. Making businesses pick up the tab is an unfair burden on them, and suppresses the ability of all businesses – large and small – to hire. Providing free pre- and post-natal care for mothers encourages having children, as does paying for a child’s health care. And covering health care for working men and women means a) they’re healthier, and so can work more, and b) reduces the financial strain on families in case of accidents, which will help them stay together.

Future Arguments

Even in a world where American conservatives embraced these positions, there’d still be a lot for us to argue about.

We’d argue over the proper way to regulate business, if at all.

We’d argue over military spending.

We’d argue over foreign policy (which I haven’t touched on here).

In short, we’d have a lot to talk about. Without tribal loyalities, we could actually debate these things, secure in the knowledge that we disagreed on principle, not on facts.

Keeping Score: August 20, 2018

Blew past the word count goal this week: 2,133 words written!

I realized yesterday that I’m almost at 40,000 words. Since I expect this novel to be brief (about 50K or so), at my current pace I’ll be done in about five weeks.

Five weeks!

Who knows if I’ll actually be finished at 50K, but it’s exciting to think about putting this first draft to rest. Feels like I’ve been working on this novel forever. It’s only been nine months, though, and it’ll be close to a year before I’m done.

Ok, not done exactly, but at least done with the first draft of it.

I’d like to get into a pace where I can finish (as in, draft, revise, stick a fork in it, ship it finished) a novel a year. I’m not quite there yet; if I finish this one by October, I’d only have a month to do all the edits it needs, which likely won’t be enough time.

It’d be better if I could revise one book while writing another. I haven’t been able to master that trick yet; the one book takes up so much head space for me that it’s all I can do to occasionally spit out a short story or two while I’m in the middle of the draft.

Maybe I could find a way to edit on weekends, and work on the new draft during the week? Or vice-versa?

Not sure what’s best. I just know once this draft is done I’ll have four novels that are finished drafts, but not finished pieces. And that’s starting to bug me. I need to be sending these out, trying to land an agent. But that’s hard to do when they’re not in any shape I want a professional to see them in.

Do you revise one book while writing another? How do you do it?

Keeping Score: August 13, 2018

Hit the new goal again this week: 2,016 words written.

Wrote almost 900 of those in a single day: Saturday. Not great to be writing on a weekend, I suppose, but better than having to write both days.

I’ve noticed I seem to need two days off writing, no matter what. Whether that’s Saturday and Sunday, or Monday and Tuesday, there’s always a gap somewhere in the week where I have to accept I won’t get any writing done.

I’m also apparently fairly sensitive to work stress when writing. If the week starts out hard, I’m likely as not going to be playing catch up on my writing over the weekend. Stress at work seems to soak up all the free space in my head, making me feel like I can’t think about anything else.

Not sure if that’s an unhealthy reaction or not. From one perspective: shouldn’t my writing be an escape from what’s going on around me? From another: how can I possibly devote energy and time to being creative when I’m worried about my livelihood?

Keeping Score: August 6, 2018

So: I didn’t make it to this month’s Writers Coffeehouse. Missed seeing everyone, and checking in on how their own writing is going.

But I did hit my new writing goal: 2,033 words this week!

Granted, I wrote most of them on the weekend, writing ~600 words each on Saturday and Sunday. But I tell myself that what matters is that the draft gets written, not when it happens. Progress is progress.

For the novel itself, I seem to have turned a corner in the writing. I’m framing each scene now as a contest between two more characters, and letting the thing spill out from them battling it out (not always with fists).

I don’t know if the writing is better necessarily (this is a first draft, after all), but it’s easier, which means I can relax a bit and have more fun with it.

I also keep getting ideas on how to improve the first novel I wrote, years ago. Once this draft is done, I might have to go back and re-work that older book, just to scratch that itch.

Keeping Score: July 30, 2018

Managed to write 1,784 words last week. I thought I’d get more done, with my wife out of town, and all those empty nights ahead of me, waiting to be filled with words.

But it turned out that with the construction still going on in our house, at the end of the work day I felt like nothing more than curling up on the couch with the pups and binging the last season of Portlandia.

Thankfully my wife’s coming home Tuesday (yay!) and with her here I should be able to get back to a regular writing schedule.

I also noticed I’ve hit my word goal for 6 weeks running now. Time to up the count again.

So I’ve upped it another page, to 2,000 words per week. That means I need to write 400 words a day during the week to hit the goal. Either that, or play catch-up every weekend, which…no thanks. I’d rather have my weekends free 🙂

We’ll see how it goes. I’ve still got that penalty hanging over me if I don’t make it, to push me along when I slow down. I haven’t had to face it yet; I hope I never do.

Alive by Scott Sigler

Intense.

The prose is stripped clean of excess, going down so smooth it injects the story right into your bloodstream. And hot damn, it’s a good one.

I haven’t read a lot of YA, but this is the first one I enjoyed, start to finish.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • First-person, step-by-step, can be brutal: by sitting right inside the character’s head, it’s easy to get sucked in, and then when the shit goes down, you feel every victory and defeat like they’re happening to you.
  • Every group has a jerk. Every group in fiction needs a jerk.
  • One way to handle writing a large group, where each person needs their own personality, is to write scenes in which the group rotates through different configurations. The numbers stay manageable, but the composition of the group in the scene changes, giving each member a chance to shine.