Keeping Score: April 9, 2021

Writing this past week has been…well, difficult is too small a word for it. When my motivation for even getting out of bed has been snuffed out, it’s impossible to convince myself that the words I’m setting down are worth anything.

And yet they must be written. Because who knows how long this funk will last, and in the meantime the novel needs to be completed. Need to get this draft done, this junk draft, so that I’ll have something to edit later. Not that I’m looking forward to later, exactly, but I know it’s coming.

Thank goodness I stopped being an inspiration writer — that is, someone who writes only when inspired to — a good while ago. Because at the moment, inspiration isn’t just hard to summon for me, it’s completely gone. I’m writing like someone re-learning how to walk: laying down one word at a time, till a sentence is formed, and then moving on to the next. Word by word, line by line. Till my daily word count is reached, and I close the laptop.

I’m not blocked. I’m not afraid of the scene I’m working on. I’m just depressed.

I’m trying different things to lighten my mood, of course. I started walking in the mornings again, and I can now vouch for the runner’s high as a way to trick my body’s chemistry into lifting the sadness for a bit. It’s doesn’t last, but for a little while I feel…not normal, but I stop feeling like crying all the time.

Crying is a constant danger at the moment. Anytime I’m left with my thoughts for too long, I start to tear up. Which makes writing dangerous, in a way; I’ve got to think to put these words together, but every time I start to imagine the scene before me, my thoughts will veer into taking an inventory of all the reasons I’m worthless and unneeded, and I break down again. I know it’s my brain inventing reasons for my sadness, but still. It’s surprisingly good at it!

And trying to do the opposite — take inventory of all the things I have to be happy about — doesn’t help, either, because it just gives me a list of reasons I’m an ungrateful wretch for daring to be sad.

There’s no winning here. There’s just endurance, and a hope that it will pass. I’ve had dark moods before — never this bad, but still — and they’ve all come and gone like clouds in a thunderstorm. This one will, too, given time. I hope.

Keeping Score: March 19, 2021

Ye gods, the Daylight Savings Time switch walloped me this week. It’s like I was finally adapting to 2021 — working on the novel, editing short stories, plotting out a new story — and then DST yanks an hour out from under me, robbing me of just enough energy that I’ve been struggling just to hit my daily word count.

I’ve basically been slow-motion jet-lagged all week. I really wish we would stop doing this to ourselves.

The good news is that (thanks to beta readers) I now have not one, but two stories under submission. Just waiting for their little pink slips of rejection to come back 😅

I kid, but really, it feels good to have them out there. Statistically, they will get rejected from each magazine I send them to, which is how I steel myself for it. But I like these stories. I believe in these stories. There’s a market for them, somewhere, and the only way I can find it is by sending them out.

Meanwhile, the novel’s climbed to 36,789 words. I’m starting to connect up the snippets of dialog I’ve written for the ending scenes of this section, which means I’m having to actually worry about things like “How would they have treated this wound in this time period?” and “How badly injured is the protagonist, anyway?”

I am definitely getting some of these details wrong. I do not know enough about wounds, or medical care on the Central Asian steppe in the 18th century, or early modern firearms, or…really, so much. But I know enough to write something down, something I can come back and fix later, so that’s what I’m doing.

It helps for me to think of this not as the first draft, but as the trash draft. The draft I know I’m going to mess up on, and revise extensively later. No one’s going to see this draft but me. I’m going to finish it, and then do the research needed to get each section right. Hell, some of these scenes I’m flubbing might not even be needed, and so they’ll get cut. Which would make taking the time to get them exactly right now a waste.

So it’s onward! Screwing up as I go, laying down the raw material I’ll shape into something better via editing.

Keeping Score: March 9, 2018

I did it again! 1,488 words written this week. The streak continues!

The iPad continues to earn its keep, letting me write on my last day in Tahoe and while on the road back to San Diego. Even discovered Scrivener for iOS’ hidden word-count tracking feature (hint: tap the displayed word count for a scene while having it open for editing) and used it to make sure I hit my daily targets.

New novel’s at ~8,500 words total, most of those written under the new scoring system. I think I’ll keep it 🙂

As for music, last week I ended up snagging Ladytron’s Light + Magic, another older album from a band that I’d never listened to before (yes, I rely on the AVClub for a lot of my music recommendations. don’t judge me). This week I’m thinking of picking up the Black Panther soundtrack, since I just saw — and thoroughly enjoyed — the movie.

Notes from Writers Coffeehouse, Feb 2018

Attended my first Writers Coffeehouse in a few months yesterday. I’m glad I did; I came away feeling more like a “real” writer, connected to a community of fellow writers, than I have in a long while.

Plus, our host, Scott Sigler, gave us a system for tracking our progress week by week that I think will help me with my current novel.

Many thanks to Scott Sigler for hosting, and to Mysterious Galaxy for letting us hold it in their (frankly awesome) store!

My notes from the Coffeehouse:

  • sports in stories: do enough research that you can color in the character; less detail is more: more detail is more chances to screw it up for people that know it; be specific, but drop it in and move on
  • vocal tick, physical mannerism, first name last name: stephen king’s technique; uses for secondary characters as a flag or anchor for readers; establishes it all in one paragraph, then uses throughout
  • the scorecard: set a weekly goal, meet it, challenging but doable, set consequences if you don’t make it (scott loses a bass from his collection for two months)
  • not sure what to do? write a short story. you’ll accomplish something, and if your brain is distracted by something, that’s what you should work on next
  • scott sigler: “how to write your first novel” on youtube: unorthodox writing advice
  • his scoring system is based on a page: 250 words.
  • when writing first draft, it’s pure words produced
  • second draft: each word counts for half, so double the word count goal and achieve that
  • third draft: each word only counts one third
  • calls with editor, agent, etc: counts for half (ex: 1,000 words an hour means a half hour phone call counts as one page)
  • what about research? doesn’t count. research doesn’t pay the bills
  • characters, relationships, conflict: all that matters. do just enough research to enable the writing. that’s it
  • research trick: find and read a kid’s book on it; they’ve distilled it all for you
  • outlines? depends on how much you use them. if you do: single-spaced, count each page of outline as a page, timebox the work (ex: 2 weeks to get the outline done)
  • another reason to put off your research: sometimes only when you get to the end do you know what you need to research (backspackling the grenade needed in chapter 30)
  • query letters? that’s business, so half-count; set a reasonable goal, like one query letter per week (that’s twelve queries in a quarter, not too shabby)
  • and track what you’ve done: on paper, or todo lists, or however, but record your daily work, and total it at the end of the week
  • when you make it: celebrate it!
  • beta-readers? prefers finding serious readers, not writers. why? TWILIGHT
  • best reader is you. take the book, let it sit for six months, come back and read it. you’ll see what you really wrote instead of what you thought you wrote
  • reedsy.com: site for finding freelance editors; sigler uses it (but do your research, interview them, etc)
  • POV shifts: helps show different aspects of the characters, by giving insights from one pov character about another
  • tension: a daily chore that if not done causes trouble (the shining: he has to release the pressure from the boiler every day; lost: they have to go down and push the button every day or else); good way to put a ticking clock in your story
  • prisonfall: have the characters in danger from the start, use dealing with that as a way to do your world-building
  • muse gone? go write a shitty short story; go write some fan fiction; do something else and come back to itp
  • recommends putting first book of a series out for free to start out, to get it in the hands of readers, so you can find your audience
  • save the cat: great screenplay writing book, woth chapters about elevator pitches
  • attendee recommends donald maas’ workshop; went last week in irvine, learned a lot
  • don’t be afraid to say no when you get a contract from a publisher; hold onto all the merchandising, film, etc rights you can

Scorecard: Second Week

Two weeks in. Had a holiday in the middle of this one, so…how’d I do?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Mostly check. 5 days out of 7 isn’t too bad.
  • Write a new short story each week: Done. First draft of “Wednesday” is complete and ready to submit to litreactor. Draft of second story is coming together.
  • Critique two stories each week: Check. This has become the easiest one to do.
  • Find a new agent to query each week: Nope again. I might need to drop this one, till the editing is done.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: On track. Hope to get feedback on “Wednesday” soon, and then will revise and start submitting. Also got a rejection back for one of the stories I’d submitted, so I need to send it out again this week.

Going for the Goal

My wife’s in Arkansas for the next few weeks, visiting her mother for her annual pay-off-the-guilt-from-moving-to-California visit.

Normally, this is a time I tell myself I’m going to get a lot of writing done, hermit-in-the-woods style, but instead end up staring at the keyboard, trying to dig up inspiration.

So this time, I’m setting goals. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals:

  • Final-pass edit one chapter in the first novel every day.
  • Write a draft of a new short story every week.
  • Critique two stories submitted to litreactor (the online writer’s workshop) every week.
  • Find a new agent to query every week.
  • Polish and submit a new story to a new market every month.

I’ve decided to go with submitting the first novel to agents. However, I’ve also joined Publisher’s Marketplace, so I can be selective about which agents I query. Less of a shotgun approach, and more of a laser.

I’m hoping the explicit, bite-sized goals will keep me focused. Who knows? They might become new habits.