Keeping Score: August 16, 2019

Only 450 words this week.

Instead of working on the novel, I’ve spent my time revising a flash fiction story, the one I wrote at WonderCon back in March.

The first two markets I submitted it to rejected it. I was about to submit it to a third, when I re-read it and saw some things that just…weren’t right.

So I printed it out and took it with me to this week’s Write In. I thought I’d be done with it in the first sprint, but I ended up working on it all night, trimming words here and there, rephrasing dialog, and dropping entire paragraphs.

I think the resulting story is shorter and stronger. The one thing I’m unsure of is it introduces a bit of jargon, a word that the two main characters (who are non-human) use to refer to humanity. I think it fits the world they’re in perfectly, and ties into the story’s ending, but then again, maybe it’s too subtle? Or jarring?

It’s hard to judge. I’ll probably send it out for one more read-through by some friends before submitting it again.

What do you do, when writing other worlds that might have different vocabulary from our own? Do you explain them bit by bit? Minimize it as much as possible? Or embrace the jargon, and count on the story to carry the reader along?

Keeping Score: August 9, 2019

Only wrote 1,263 words this week (so far). But I feel like I accomplished a lot.

I went back to the write-in event this week, and again, having two hours of unbroken writing time is simply fantastic. I finished an editing pass on a short story, helped one of the other writers brainstorm ideas for her story, and wrote two pages on a new scene in the novel I’ve been revising.

I’ve also noticed printing out the text I’m editing seems to help. There’s something about being able to cross things out and scribble notes in the margins that lets me treat what I’ve written as more of a work-in-progress, instead of a delicate glass bird I might shatter if I alter it too much. It’s liberating, and I think I’m going to do that with all my work from now on.

Who knew that buying a home printer (for a totally different purpose) would have such an impact on my writing process?

What about you? What helps you get into editing mode? Is it just time away from the work, or do you do something to force you to see it differently?

Keeping Score: August 2, 2019

(aka Getting Back in the Saddle)

So it turns out what I thought would just be a small writing break while we were on vacation in early July turned into me taking the whole of July off. I wrote a few hundred words here and there, but didn’t make any real progress on the novel.

Which felt great, on the one hand. I got back into learning French, I had a lot more time to read, and my mornings had less time pressure (because I wasn’t trying to squeeze in my writing time on top of everything else). Very relaxing.

But as two weeks became three, then four, I started to worry. Was I ever going to go back to the book? Was I really going to leave it unfinished?

Or worse: was I done writing prose at all? Was four weeks going to become four months, or four years?

I’ve taken a years-long break from writing before. I worried it was happening again.

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case: I wrote 1,833 words this week. All in one night.

I went to a Write In event for the first time this week, joining a group that meets at a coffee shop nearby every Tuesday and Thursday. Over two hours, they use the Pomodoro method: write sprint for 25 minutes, then break for 5, then write for 25, rinse, repeat.

I was skeptical going in, but it really worked for me. Being there with other writers, knowing the clock was ticking, forced me to push through the resistance I always feel when starting to write. And even though by the fourth sprint I was tired, and wanted to quit, I didn’t. I pushed through, and as a result I finished two scenes and added 1,800+ words to the book.

I’ve also started working on a comic book pitch, using an online class to get some guidance on what a comic pitch needs to include. I’m using the idea I had for my next novel; I think it’ll make a better comic than a book, since it’s set in the ancient Mediterranean. Showing the world via comic will be a lot more powerful than just me describing it, I think.

Working on both at once makes me feel like I’m making progress again. Like I’m not going to be stuck editing the novel forever. It’s allowed me to relax a bit, and that coupled with the (good) pressure of the Write In makes me feel like I can still do this, even after a break.

Have any of you ever tried a Write In? Did it work for you?

Keeping Score: June 21, 2019

785 words written this week (so far). I’ve got some catch-up work to do over the weekend.

I’m still bouncing around between scenes. If my word count’s lighter than last week, it’s because I’ve been writing more new scenes, and doing less editing of existing ones.

I still feel non-linear is working for me, though. I finally broke through the blockage on the original scene that made me go non-linear, this week, and knocked out a basic version of it. I’m going back now and adding texture, additional insights into the character’s thoughts and motivations.

I had a slight mini-blockage toward the end of the scene when I couldn’t decide how to properly weave in a bunch of backstory and explanation, so the character’s actions would make sense. In re-reading the scene, to get my bearings, I realized a good chunk of that explanation actually belonged earlier in the scene. And in moving it up there, I freed up the narrative load of the scene’s end, so I can say what I need to say without bringing things to a screeching halt.

I also started thinking about changing the gender of one of the antagonists…But I’m holding off an acting on that, just yet. One set of edits at a time.

How are your projects going? Steady progress, or stuck in a plot swamp?

Keeping Score: June 14, 2019

1,285 words written this week.

The new “just get something done every day” rules are really helping me. I’ve actually spent more time outlining and plotting this week than anything else. That’s allowed me to see the shape of the remaining story better, and that has let me take pieces of my previous draft and slot them in, then edit them into shape, letting me make good progress.

I’ve also been able to see which scenes were missing from my previous outline, and start keeping notes on those.

Which means I’ve also abandoned linearity this week. Instead of working through each scene in order, I’m jumping around, adding a few words here, then editing a chapter from a previous draft to fit the new storyline, then jotting down some notes on a post-climax scene.

I didn’t think I could work this way, but the proof is in the word count: I can. It’s gotten me out of the slump I felt I was falling into, staring at the same scene every day, unable to make progress.

There’s a part of me that’s starting to whisper “you could finish by the end of June after all,” but I’m shushing that part as much as possible. I need to make progress, and I’ll not go pell-mell just to hit a self-imposed deadline (and likely make myself sick again in the process).

What about you? When editing, do you find it easier to go scene-by-scene through the book, or do you hop around?

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