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?

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.

Keeping Score: April 20, 2018

Another blow out week! Wrote 2,519 words (whew!).

Most of them were for the new novel, but, like last week, one of the writing exercises I did turned into a short story I’m going to polish and try to sell. I also did a second draft of the short story from last week, which even though it only counted for half, still added ~400 words to my total.

I didn’t think I could work on multiple pieces at once, but so far it’s not been an issue. If anything, I find I come to the novel work with a more playful attitude, a willingness to experiment, that I didn’t have before. I don’t know if that’s translating into better writing, but I’m enjoying it more, so that’s something 🙂

If I can sustain this pace, and I hope I can, I’ll need to up my weekly goal again. I don’t think I’ll leap all the way up to 2,000 words, though. Going up to 1,750 should be fine.

But let’s see if I can keep up this pace for another week, first.

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

Not what I expected. I’d always thought the Meditations was a set of philosophical aphorisms. Instead, it’s something between a diary and a daily “deep thought”, a recording of a conversation an Emperor of Rome was having with himself.

As such, it’s repetitive and very personal, and yet somehow still relevant, hundreds of years after it was written.

Three things I found useful:

  • Try to learn from everyone, even (especially) the ones you disagree with.
  • If you know someone’s a jerk, don’t expect them to treat you fairly. And definitely don’t get angry with them for it, since you knew who they were from the start.
  • Success and failure happen to everyone, over and over again. So there shouldn’t be pride in the former, or shame in the latter.

The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar

Not what I expected. Written in plain language, as if he wanted to sound trustworthy, so the reader wouldn’t notice the (non-glorious) things he skips over.

Fascinating to read now, after I know more about both what happened to Caesar afterwards and the Gauls he attacked.

Three things I learned:

  • Caesar’s mercy started during the Gaul campaign, when he’d often pardon former enemies that were willing to bend the knee.
  • Caesar justified his attacks on the rest of Gaul and Germany on a domino theory: if the Germans prospered in Gaul, he said, they’d eventually march on Rome itself.
  • The Pullo and Vorenus from HBO’s Rome were based on real people, that Caesar wrote about by name (!)

Augustus by Anthony Everitt

Illuminating. Everitt makes Augustus a sympathetic figure, but without hiding any of his flaws: his hypocritical championing of family values, his slaughtering of competing Roman families, his unforgiving behavior towards his own family and friends. And he shows how Augustus’ life was often a series of serious mistakes followed by lucky victories, not a steady calculated rise to power.

Three things I learned:

  • The idea of having two “co-emperors” of Rome goes back to Augustus. He often had at least one trusted friend or family member invested with equal power and sent to rule different regions of the empire.
  • Augustus’ first official post was religious: his great-uncle Caesar, got him appointed to the College of Pontiffs, who were in charge of performing public sacrifices
  • Augustus was called “Princeps”, not Emperor. He was careful to keep his powers legal, renewed periodically via legislation, and to act humble while in Rome

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

Essential. Maas describes the elements of a “breakout” novel, showing how to make any plot or story more compelling. He pulls examples from recent (well, recent to the year 2000, which is when the book was written) novels to illustrate each of his points, and even has exercises in each chapter you can do for your own novel.

I’m already mixing in his approach as I prepare for NaNoWriMo. It’s given me another set of questions to ask about my characters, plot, and setting, to help me push them to a higher level.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • People have been talking about the death of the mid-list since the 1970s. Don’t let it phase you.
  • Escalating stakes doesn’t mean making the one danger greater. It means adding more, different, dangers for the protagonist.
  • Characters need to be larger-than-life. Find the extraordinary in ordinary people, and bring that to life.

 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Masterful. It’s a classic for a reason: a locked-room mystery on an entire train, that builds slowly through lie after lie until the truth comes rushing out all at once.

Damn, but Christie was good.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Skip over the dialog that doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s enough just to say “so-and-so made a suitable response.”
  • Even adventures that get stumbled into have to be driven by the protagonist’s choices. Poirot doesn’t ask for the mystery, but he deliberately pursues it to the end, because that’s who he is.
  • Put the description at the start of the scene, briefly. If the position of something isn’t important, leave it out. It’s enough to report that “there were pencils and paper,” we don’t always need to know exactly where everything is.

X vs Y by Eve Epstein & Leonora Epstein

A cracking good read. Illuminates the relationship between Gen X and Gen Y, something that’s always felt a little slippery to me (as someone born in 1979, often thrown in with the Millennials but identifying with Gen X).

Filled with moments that made me nod along (the movie list for Gen X), and others that showed me a corner of the 90s I didn’t know existed (Sassy magazine). The book was clearly a work of love for both Eve and Leonora, and it shows.

Three things I learned:

  • Titanic was a huge movie for Gen Y. What I remember as just solid Oscar-bait was apparently perfectly tuned to imprint on young Gen Y brains.
  • Clueless can be read as not just a great adaption of Emma, but also as a love story between Gen Y (Cher) and Gen X (Josh), reflecting the complicated relationship between the two generations.
  • Complaining about the current tech-driven dating scene is common to Gen Y, though none of them would want to go back to the way things were before.