Keeping Score: June 7, 2019

980 words written so far this week. If I can steal an extra hour or so for writing this weekend, I’m on track to hit 1,500 words, which I’ve decided to keep as my weekly goal, for the novel at least.

Why? Two things: First, I’ve been sick for…it feels like a month now. And I’m still not well. Without going into details, I’ve developed this wonderful case of burning, stinging pain everytime I move my head. But I’ve got to keep making progress on this book, or I’ll never finish it. Sick or not.

Second, this piece by Chuck Wendig made me re-think my approach to my writing goal. I recommend reading the whole thing, but for me it boiled down to this passage:

It is a kindness to yourself. Don’t expect to run a mile out of the gate. Don’t demand you write the next bestseller. See the increments. Break it up. Find safe, sane, kind limits for yourself — and then you will find it increasingly easy to exceed them. To embrace a little and relish the success instead of always trying to conquer the whole damn lot — and falling short every damn time.

In other words, it’s ok to set your goal at the bare minimum. When you meet it, you feel good because you made progress. When you exceed it, you feel great.

Given everything else that’s going on, I definitely don’t want to make my writing into a chore. I don’t want to set my word count goal so high that I’m going to feel like a failure every day.

But I do want to make progress. So here’s the deal I’m making with myself: 300 words of progress on the novel, every week-day, adding up to 1,500 words a week total. If I go past that, great! But if I just hit it, that’s ok too.

And once I’ve hit my goal for the day, or the week, I’m free to work on other things: outline a new novel, edit a short story, etc. My thinking is this will make me feel less trapped in the current book, like I can’t work on anything else until it’s done.

We’ll see if that turns out to be the case. Wish me luck.

Writers Coffeehouse: June 2019

Peter Clines ran the Coffeehouse this month (on his birthday weekend no less!). We had a free-form discussion this time, covering everything from good twists in fiction to outlining techniques.

I had to leave early because I wasn’t feeling well, but I’ve captured my notes below.

Thanks again to Peter for running the show, and to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting!

  • at different points in your career, different writing techniques will work for you; that’s ok, it’s normal for your process to change over time
  • second sunday of each month: LA writers coffeehouse in burbank at dark delicacies at noon, then dystopian bookclub that night at last bookstore downtown
  • good twist: needs to make logical sense, should change your perceptions of everything that came before
  • empathy critical to being a writer; that’s why it’s important to go out to talk to people, experience things, to maintain that empathy
  • remember that people (and thus your characters) are different around different groups and in different situations; give your characters a chance to show different sides of their lives (think killer on phone with family while finishing off a hit)
  • expectations are a real constraint; we will let a comedy get away with different things than a drama; and genre (horror, scifi, etc) always comes with expectations
  • one way to get away with blending genres: hang a lantern on it from the get-go; ex: i am not a serial killer, predator, where they broach the topic of monsters early on, and then go into the other genre for a while before coming back to the monsters
  • clive custler’s rule: no chapters longer than 5 pages (potato-chip chapters)
  • stephen king: any word you need to go to a thesaurus for is the wrong word; meaning *not* that only blue collar words are worth using, but that reaching for a word you’re not familiar with is wrong, write in your own vocabulary and it’ll sound more natural
  • transitions: in written fiction, we can’t be as choppy as in tv or movies, where they jump from place to place instantaneously; we need more connective tissue, or it starts to feel episodic

Keeping Score: May 31, 2019

This week has been a total bust, writing-wise.

I started getting sick Sunday evening. By Monday, I had a fever and chills, coupled with an incredible rate of snot generation. That’s morphed into a lovely cough with a bonus sinus headache.

So instead of using Memorial Day to sprint through my word count for the week, I spent it trying not to move from underneath the covers. And every day since, I’ve spent what little energy I have at the day job, leaving me nothing for the novel.

And I’m still not well. Dammit.

I’m angry and I’m frustrated. I feel like a week of work has been stolen from me.

But I’m trying not to be angry at myself. I tell myself that illness is going to happen. And I can either rail at myself for taking it easy, or accept that there are times when I’m not going to be able to do everything.

It feels like an excuse, to be honest. But I also know that after a day of coughing and sneezing and headaches and working to keep the roof over my head, my brain is mush.

So I have to give it time. For now.

Keeping Score: May 24, 2019

So I messed up.

I’ve been hitting my 1,500 word goal each week, like clockwork. But it’s not enough.

Based on where I am now, I’d need to write (or edit) something like 8,000 words a week in order to hit my self-imposed deadline of the end of June.

That kind of pace is…unlikely, to say the least. Possible, sure, but unlikely, given my schedule.

Earlier this week, I thought about going for it. Staying up later, getting up earlier, pushing to finish on time.

But the more I thought about it, the more stressed I became. It was harder to get started writing in the morning, because I knew I’d need to write four times my usual word count just to keep up.

I actually thought about quitting the novel altogether. Just dropping it and going back to working on some short story ideas. I’ve got plenty of them; I could keep busy with shorter fiction for the rest of the year.

Instead, I’ve decided to get rid of the source of my stress and doubts: I’m scrapping the deadline.

I’m definitely going to up my weekly word count, though, starting next week. 1,500 words is just not cutting it, in terms of finishing in a timely fashion. I don’t want to be still working on this draft next year. And I do have short stories I want to work on, stories that will take time to get right. Time I’ll have to earn by finishing this novel draft.

Wish me luck.

Writers Coffeehouse, May 2019

After missing last month’s, I finally made it back to the Coffeehouse yesterday.

Peter Clines stepped in for Jonathan Maberry to run it this time, with Henry Herz providing some useful counterpoints throughout.

We had more of a free-form discussion than usual, which ranged from “What’s going on with the WGA and their agents?” to “How do I write characters of other backgrounds and ethnicities without stepping into cultural appropriation?”

Many thanks to Clines and Herz for sharing their wisdom while keeping the discussion flowing, and to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting!

My notes:

  • henry: you can pants your story, but don’t pants your career
  • peter: know what you want to get out of it, be honest about what you want, and go for it
  • in tv, producers have more power than directors; directors can change every week, but producers stay and control the story arcs
  • upcoming events:
    • may 11th: san diego writers workshop
    • september: central coast writers conference
    • peter: phoenix comic fest has great writers track, con runs until midnight every night; it’s next weekend, but something to think about for next year
    • early august: scbwi annual conference in LA
    • june 20-22, historical novel society, in maryland, good program
    • mythcon is in san diego this year; run by mythopoetic society
    • new york pitch fest: 4 days in june, pitching to agents and editors in manhattan
  • black hare publishing: soliciting submissions for two anthologies; small press, but looks professional; drabble fiction (200 words)
  • contract reviews? join the author’s guild, they’ll review contracts for members
  • arbitration: wga takes all the people that did drafts of a movie or dialog polishes, etc and decides who gets credit for the movie
  • pierce brown wrote screenplay for red rising specifically to get paid screenwriting credits via wga arbitration; more important to him than the control over the screenplay
  • 95% of the time, when they option your book, they’ll ask if you want to write the screenplay; they’ll throw it in the trash, but they’ll ask anyway, just to stave off any future tantrums
  • watch the balance between plot and story; if the story finishes but the plot keeps going (moonlighting syndrome) it’s going to feel flat and boring
  • peter: when revising, will do a draft just for one character, following their thread all the way through; helps catch inconsistencies in appearance, name, and their story arc (did i do anything with this plot of her conflict with her boss?)
  • k.m. weyland: creating character arcs
  • aeon timeline: interacts with scrivener, can help visualize the timeline of your story
  • henry’s doing picture book writing pt 2 later this month; send first draft to him ahead of time, they’ll critique it in the class; compliment to the first class, but not necessary to have taken it
  • lookup robert smalls, escaped slave

Keeping Score: May 3, 2019

Only 1,147 words so far this week.

I seem to be perpetually hovering around 1/3 of the final word count of the novel, between 15,000 and 18,000 words. My total word count will start to climb, as I add new scenes, but then plunge when I delete old ones that no longer fit.

And I’ve still got that deadline of the end of June to hit.

I shouldn’t be worried, I suppose. If I finish another third this month, and then the final third in June, I’ll hit my target.

But what if I’m only halfway through by the end of May? What am I going to give up in order to get back on track?

Because I need to hit my June deadline. I’m already looking at writing conferences in the fall, ones where you can get pitch sessions with agents and editors. Spending all that money to go will be a waste if I don’t have a finished book to pitch.

So I need to finish this editing pass by the end of June, so I can send it off to beta readers for feedback, and have time to do some polishing passes before October.

October. Damn, I don’t want to still be working on this book by then.

I’d better get back to writing.

Keeping Score: April 26, 2019

1,594 words written this week.

Those words have been pulled out of me, letter by letter. I have to open Scrivener and start reading the previous days’ work as soon as I sit down to breakfast. If I wait till after I’ve finished, and let myself sink into Twitter or reading blog posts or magazines, I never get started.

Even once I’ve started, I keep checking my word count. “Am I done yet? No? How about now? Now? This time?”

I both can’t wait to be done with this rewrite, so I can move onto to the next project, and I don’t want to do the work necessary to finish it. It’s grinding, boring work, and — because I know even this draft is going to be imperfect — terrifying at the same time.

Why am I doing this, again?

Oh, yeah: because this story can’t be told without me. If I don’t write it, no one will know about Marcus, or Julia, or Franklin. No one will feel their pain, their fear, as I have. No one will rejoice at their triumphs.

I owe it to them to finish. So that’s what I’ll do.

Keeping Score: April 19, 2019

1,086 words this week, all for the novel edit, this time.

Though I suppose calling what I’m doing a second draft would be more accurate. I’m not just reading through chapters, tweaking phrases and dialog. I’m rewriting some chapters wholesale, others I’m stitching together from bits and pieces of the previous draft like a linguistic version of Frankenstein’s monster.

It’s hard to ignore that previous draft, sometimes, even when I know it’s wrong. Not just bad — though the writing certainly deserves the name vomit draft — but wrong. Wrong for the story, wrong for the characters, wrong for the book. And yet, the fact that its words are done, written there on the page, makes it tempting to use them. Even when I know I shouldn’t.

So it’s easier to delete them, get them out of the way. Of course, then I’m staring at a blank page, that intimidating spotless thing. Who am I to rubbish it up, especially when I know this won’t be the last draft? These revisions will need revisions, and those will need tweaks, and those will need a polish.

I resort to tricks, at that point. Lie to myself. “Just 50 words,” I’ll say, “and then you can go back to Twitter.” Or: “Just describe what this character feels right now. You’ll cut it later, but get it done now, just in case some of it’s good.”

And once I’m going, it’s hard to stop. Even when the clock reminds me that it’s time to close up shop and head to the day job, to earn the money I use to keep my hobby — my art — going.

Every day a new trick. A new lie. But every day the word count grows. The work takes shape. The story comes alive.

Keeping Score: April 12, 2019

1,134 words written so far this week. So I’ve got some catchup work to do this weekend.

About half of those words are from revising the flash fiction story I wrote at WonderCon. I tried to do it right this time: I put it aside for a week, sent it out to some very kind friends who were willing to read it, and then started working on it after I’d had a few days to digest their feedback.

I feel like this second draft is orders of magnitude better than the first. Though even calling it a second draft is somewhat disingenuous; I’ve written three other drafts of the same idea (different characters) before, neither of which really worked. So in some ways I’ve been working on this story for just two weeks. In other ways, I’ve been working on it for (checks date on Scrivener) almost a year.

Ye gods.

Found another gem on Twitter this week, from writer A Lee Martinez, that I’d like to share. It pushed me to re-examine my own dialog tags, and tighten things up a bit in that short story I’m working on.

The whole thread is good, but this is the bit that resonated with me:

It’s like this:

“I don’t know.” He turned to her. “I don’t.”

VS.

He turned to her. “I don’t know.”

Even something as minor as that can turn a sentence, turning a scene, turning a chapter, turning a whole book. It’s not that every word matters, but the ones that do, really do

I realized I tend to do the former a lot, particularly when I’m trying to mimic the cadence of real speech. But his tweet made me realize my writing would be stronger if I stopped using dialog tags and other interruptions as crutches, and just let the dialog speak for itself. True, that might mean changing the dialog. But the writing will be better for it.

What about you? What piece of writing advice has made you change something, however minor, in your own writing?

Keeping Score: April 5, 2019

Written 1,014 words so far this week. That’s a little short of my 1,500-word goal, but given I ended up with 3,805 words for last week, I’m going to give myself a bit of a break.

I hit that awesome word count last week because of WorldCon. Partly because it was so inspiring. Partly because I had more time alone in which to write.

But it was more than that. WonderCon made me feel like a writer.

For maybe the first time, my imposter syndrome was flipped. I started seeing myself the way one of the panelists said we should see ourselves: that like superheroes, the day job is our secret identity, but in truth we’re writers.

And I finally felt that way. Not only did I feel like a writer, I felt like myself. That it isn’t shameful to not be published yet, because everyone starts out unpublished. That it isn’t bad or a barrier to have a day job, because everyone needs a way to pay the bills.

I even got to share this feeling. In the last panel, on “Writing the First Draft,” Jonathan Butler gave us all homework: to turn to the person sitting next to us, introduce ourselves, and build our support network of fellow writers.

But when I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said “So, you’re a writer?”, she looked down and said, “What makes someone a writer?”

I told her what Jonathan Maberry has told us at every Writers Coffeehouse, something I’m not sure I really believed until that moment: “Writers write. If you write, you’re a writer.”

She smiled, and started telling me about the screenplay she’s working on.

I might never see her again, but for that moment, I felt like we were friends, peers, fellow writers making our way along the path.

It was an incredible moment, and for that feeling alone, that feeling of being at the same time an authentic writer and my real self, it was worth it to go to WonderCon.

What about you? What moments have inspired you as a writer, or made you feel comfortable calling yourself a writer?