Wednesday, May 30, 2007

banging rocks together

I’m having a large dramasode with the end of my first chapter. I’ve been more and more unhappy with the way things are going. Or, rather, I know where the story is supposed to go, I just can’t get it there. Every time I sit down to write, I’m overwhelmed with angry apathy. I feel like I can’t do it, that I’d rather be doing anything else, that I’m failing my great dream. And always, there’s the clock. I’m not writing enough words per hour, I’m not writing enough words per day, OMG I’M NEVER GOING TO FINISH.

As I said, major deeeeerama.

But this morning, after a lot of flopping around in bed and being unhappy, angry driving while being unhappy, and desperate unhappy internet searching, I began to figure it out.

It’s no secret that I suck at grammar. I can’t explain why a sentence is the way it is, or why a phrase is incorrect, but I’ve read well enough and extensively enough that I can feel my way along 95% of the time. The trouble is, I’ve extended this to the actual writing part of writing. I don’t know why things happen, or why characters make decisions, I just know that it feels like they should. Every scene I write is like banging rocks together in the dark and hoping for a spark to see by, yet not knowing WHY the fire sparks the way it does.

Sticking to the outline and muddling through isn’t good enough anymore.

I have to get inside each scene. I have to know why it has to be written that way, and what I’m going to get out of it. I have to remember that my characters AREN’T ME, I can’t look at their situations and then have them do what I would do. Who’s the POV for the scene? Who’s head am I in? Why should I do it this way?

This means I have to know my world, my story, my plot, and my characters better than I know them now. I have to be able to ask a character WHY they acted as they did, and expect a response. I laid the ground work, created the world, but now I have to let the people who live in it tell me the story of what happens. I can’t worry about “will it sell” or “who will like it.” I have to write for the story, and edit for the reader.

It’s time for writing to be fun again.

Monday, May 28, 2007

day jobs vs. real jobs

I have a job that pays the bills pretty well doing work I generally enjoy. There’s good potential for promotion, and the company is growing. Since I have no plans to leave any time soon, I guess this could be called my career.

I don’t think of it like that. I work a day job. My REAL job is what I do on the lap top in the mornings, at night, and on the weekends. I work for money, I write because it’s what I want to do.

I could work a lot more hours than I do and make a lot more money. It’s a well documented fact that more money = more better, but I refuse to cut into my writing time.

This is a very stupid thing to do. I’ve been writing at least 5-10 hours per week for the better part of three years now. Now, I have yet to see one red cent from any creative writing I’ve done, so that’s well over 1000 hours of unpaid work. If my writing were an actual business, I’d be so far in the red by this point I’d never get out.

This is why you don’t get into writing for the money.

But this is the career I was born to, and even if I never manage not to suck at it, even if I never make enough money to support myself, I’ll keep doing it. There’s just no way I could stop.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

still alive...

Getting over some major sickitude, but I also did a little bit of writing.

So, after trying my bold new plan of trying to write to plot points, I discovered a few things.

1. The plot points are always farther away than you think.
2. It's very hard to start and very easy to become distracted when you don't have a concrete daily goal.
3. Only writing 200-300 words in 2 hours is not the way to write a novel in any realistic ammount of time.

SO, I'm back to daily word counts. Will this cause bloat? Oh sure, but at least I'm getting something done.

Maybe what I REALLY need to do is become a better editor. I know I can write, if I can learn to edit, then maybe I can become a novelist for real this time.

Friday, May 18, 2007


The problem: Been sick, been writing nothing. Already off schedule.

The solution: Stay late and get some writing done. Trust my voice and stop double guessing. Just tell the story, it's that simple.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

God help us

In 9th grade, I was introduced to the concept that, within the world of the story, the write is all powerful and omnipotent. This is may be true, but it does not stop the characters from talking back, sulking, and sometimes digging their heels in and refusing to move until you agree to do it their way.

Of course, considering their god is easily distracted from weaving the fabric of creation by videogames and snarky blogs, it's probably good that SOMEONE around here is keeping things on track...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I hope someday someone writes a review like this about me


One quote that really got me was

It's rare to find an author who dares to put so much humanity in a fictional character. Fantasy authors in particular tend to follow a nasty trend of distancing themselves from their protagonists in order to focus on developing a world, or to avoid developing their characters via realistic (and thus, horrifying complex) emotions and relationships.

I always have this problem with distance. My characters are just players in the world I have. But with Nathan and the Periana, it HAS to be more human. This is all about bucking authority and the right way of doing things in order to save what you didn't know you loved until you lost it. Nathan has to be as proud as he is genius, and his love for Lira and the Periana has to be real and startling.

I have to get Nathan to talk to me before I can begin.

Monday, May 14, 2007

today was not my best day

I'm angry and tired and hungry and I haven't written anything of value. But, even so, I learned something interesting today.

While spacing out on my drive to work, I try to let my brain jump from story to story, filling in the gaps. It isn’t serious world building by any stretch, but it's where I get some of my best ideas - the ones that make me forget that it's 30 minutes to the office and I'm already 20 minutes late.

But today I thought to myself "what will you do if Novel 2 doesn't sell?" The answer came right on top of the question, "I'll write another one."

And if that one doesn't sell?

I'll write another one.

Why? I asked myself, why put so much of yourself into this? Why not give up and play some videogames, read great books, see more movies, clean your house, spend time with your family and friends? Writing makes you so angry sometimes, sometimes it makes you cry with frustration. Why the hell would you want to keep giving your time to something that may never pay off? Even worse, why the hell would you KEEP DOING IT, even after you've failed?

Because I can't not write. As soon as I ask "what will you do?" the answer is definite and instantaneous, "keep writing, keep trying something new."

I just keep thinking up great stories. In all the world, nothing gets me as excited as a great story. And seeing other people's great stories just adds fuel to the fire to get my own down somehow. But I can't draw, and I don't want to share the creation of my story with the multitudes required to make a movie. So I write, because it's all I can do to get the stories out.

And if I never get published I'll be devastated. I'll be crushed and depressed and defeated.

But I'll still keep writing.

The clever rat, once zapped, doesn't touch the electrified panel again.

I guess I am a very stupid rat.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Thus, by knowing my weaknesses, I overcome them

I slashed the surface tension quite well last night, but still only got a few hundred words. This wasn't because I was distracted, focus was good. I attribute the low numbers to my new writing style which focuses on story goals rather than word count goals, and on weekly achievement rather than daily.

On novel 1, I set my goal at 1500 words per day. At first it was hard, but eventually I was able to get 1500 reliably, then I started getting 2k, then 3k, etc. I was exultant, I was a REAL writer! My word count was off the charts!

And that was the problem.

Novel 1 weighed in at 206,000 words. Yeah, she was a porker. But I reassured myself with the promise that I would cut while I did my big edit, so that big count didn't REALLY matter. So I set to cutting, and got the sucker down to 180,000 words...

Yeah, this is when I learned that I SUCK at editing.

See, I'm an extreme case of "can't see the forest for the trees." I couldn't make the big cuts I needed to because I LIKED all the parts of the novel. I'd put so much WORK into them, I couldn't just abandon them. But, like a chronically obese beauty queen, the novel suffered from the extra weight, and I just couldn't get it into shape.

Looking back, I'm convinced this happened because of the goals I set down when I was writing. Now, there were other problems, don't get me wrong. But the most rejectable element of the novel was the flabby writing. This happened because I used a daily wordcount as my benchmark, with no upper ceiling. I'm a verbose person by nature, and I like to exceed expectations. So, when faced with a daily wordcount, it was only natural that I do my best to meet it everyday, even if the words I used to meet it didn't necessarily need to be there. I exceeded my daily goals but failed to meet my ultimate goal of writing a publishable manuscript.

Now, this would have been OK if I was a good editor. Lots of writers follow the “get it all down then chop out the crap” school of novel production. But I’m not a good editor, especially for my own work. It was lose-lose all around.

But, despite my other flaws, I’m too lazy to go repeating the same mistakes over and over. So this time, I’m setting new goals. Instead of daily wordcounts, I’m doing weekly story goals with fixed wordcounts – one chapter a week, 5000 words per chapter, 20 chapters for the book. This shifts the goal from so-many-words-per-day to “I have to get this much story into this small space, how do I do it?”

Of course, this method is starting slowly, it’s a lot harder than my other way of writing. But the results are already better. I’m focusing on tight, precise story telling – fitting the most story into the smallest space – for a taunt, exciting book. Thus, by setting the challenges to work against my flaws rather than accommodating them, I can focus on the real point of this whole adventure: writing a publishable novel. (Because, really, if I wanted to write just for myself, I’d write fanfic and be done.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Surface tension

My greatest daily struggle for writing is just getting started. I set aside time, sit down to write, and suddenly everything in the world is more interesting than writing. It literally takes me 30 minutes of alt tabbing between my document and the internet until I settle down and start really writing. Once I get rolling I'm good, and I wonder why the hell it took me so long. So I resolve that tomorrow, I will get started right away. But, of course, I don't, and I waste another 30 minutes trying to get back into the zone.

I’ve started call this 30 minute buffer my "surface tension." Every time I sit down to write, I have to break through the membrane of thought which separates the real world from the world of my novel. Of course, this little hiccup would be no problem if I had all day to write, but when I’ve got 2 hours to get my goal of 1200 words, 30 minutes is ¼ of my total time wasted, which isn’t something I’m willing to put up with. So my current quest is to find a way to break through faster.

So tonight I’m going to try 2 new things:

1) Eliminate distraction – write on the lap top with the internet turned off, sitting far away from all interesting books.
2) Calm my mind and get into the world while I’m driving home, so I can walk in the door and get started.

We’ll see how these work.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Time to try something new

For Novel 1, I didn't really have a writing focus other than to tell the story. My guiding vision was a clear window that showed the story perfectly to the reader with as few author-opinion wobbles as possible. This was an interesting idea, but it fell flat because transparent prose is nothing prose.

For Novel 2, I'm going to try something new. First, I'm going to try and get down as much as possible as fast as possible. Take a bare bones, just-the-facts-ma'am approach. Hopefully, this will let me get the pacing right the first time and get a better handle on the length, because DAMN, can I be long winded.

After I finish the quick and dirty version, I'm going to go back and add another layer using what I've learned from the story to really round out the world and the characters. Think of it as 2 draft 0.5s merging to make a first draft. Then, I'll set it aside for a month before editing.

Using this method, I hope to build up before I cut down, and come out with a novel that's both structurally and prosaically superior than Novel 1.

So, we'll see how this works. It could fail, or I could fail, flail, and dump it. It's worth a try, though.