Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Well, That Didn't Work.

This week's blog entry being a day late is brought to you by me spending most of Tuesday night running dungeons with my World of Warcraft guildmates.  Totally worth it.

The title says everything, and the comments on last week's entry were all correct: my experiment with working just on one thing for a month didn't work out, and the best thing was to set it aside and do other things.  Thanks to everyone who commented, by the way; it's a lot easier for me to realize I've made a mistake when every single person who comments suggests I stop what I'm doing.  :P

I don't mean any of that in a bad way, though, and I'm not upset, despite how dismal that opening paragraph sounds.  (It's my usual self-deprecating humor, I swear.)  In retrospect, I really should have known it would turn out this way - many of my problems with writing come from wanting to work on something that I just can't figure out.  When I say I'm only going to work on one thing for a month, that one thing needs to be in something better than the early plotting stages.

Hell, that one thing needs to be a novel that I'm ready to start writing.

I'm not entirely sure why I feel the need to jump between projects so often.  There are times when it feels like I'm not doing much of any real development on anything, but I know that's likely my constant feeling that I'm never doing enough.  These things take time to develop, and while I might have days where all I do is take down a few character notes and add in a new thing or two about the setting, I know it all adds up.  And some of the plots I've taken the longest to fully develop are the ones that turned into the best stories. that I think about it, I've blogged before about having to let ideas sit for a while before getting anything good out of them.  I'd really like to have the writing process involve a little less of me having to re-learn things over and over again, but surely remembering that I've learned this before counts for something.

So, yes.  I've set aside the project known as T3F, and things have been going better since then.  I've been spending some time with one of my crazier ideas, abbreviated as TPoN, and while I'm not even at the point where I can start to hash out the plot, I'm getting glimpses and discovering new things about it along the way, and I hope that I can capture the madness I see in this thing and properly get it on the page.  I've also been working on the sequel to STARWIND (tentatively titled TEMPLE; that will change), which is its own weird thing and deserves a blog entry someday.

I also got my first beta reader feedback on STARWIND, which has opened up some new ideas and led to about two pages' worth of notes for me.  Soon I'll be diving back into that book, cackling with glee at getting these people into even more trouble.

Thus concludes the progress (or lack thereof) report from the experiment I started at the beginning of this month.  I wish it had gone better, but at least I've learned one more thing that doesn't work.  And that'll save me time in the future, unless I forget it and try it again a few years from now and end up writing another blog entry remarkably similar to this one.

Next week: IWSG.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Back to the Beginning

I wanted to start with a clip of Inigo from "The Princess Bride" delivering his drunken line about Vizzini telling him to go back to the beginning, but I couldn't find one.  But I'm pretty sure most of my readers have seen "The Princess Bride", so y'all can imagine it.


I'm a bit over two weeks into my experiment for this month and it's been a giant pain in the ass.  The entire thing has proven to be a study in one step forward, two steps back, and I'm lucky if it's only two steps.  I spent most of the first week trying to hammer things out only to realize that everything I had planned came to a screeching halt at the end of Act 1.

Simply put, the story's meant to be about the three main characters dealing with what pulls them together whether they like it or not, and I didn't have a single damn idea how it was supposed to play out after they realize what's happened to them.

I also thought I'd done well by creating a three-part magic system, which led to an over-arching villain who seemed like they'd be a really interesting character.  However, that led to a new problem.  When the magic system works in a way that means everyone's born with control over one aspect of magic, and the main villain was born with control over magic, well....  It's hard to plot when every realistic scenario ends with "And then the bad guy has Our Heroes brought to them and takes away their magic."

While I don't know where the story's going, I do know it's not meant to have such a downer ending.

So I set aside most of what I'd done, and went back to my original notes, thinking that going back to my first idea would help me figure it all out.  I developed the original ideas and came up with some new stuff, some of which I really liked.  I spent a lot of time this past Saturday hashing out how the changes would affect the characters and the world, and managed to patch a major plot hole along the way.

And then I stopped when I was in the middle of defining some new kingdoms, because it didn't feel like it mattered.

Two weeks in, and I feel like this is going to turn out just like so many other things I try to plot.  I'll come up with revision upon revision, yanking everything apart and trying to reassemble it in a different way, hoping I somehow find one that works.  I'm running into the exact same problems I always have - no good villain, stakes either too high or too low, everything turning into a there-and-back-again journey.  I keep coming up with new ways to have the story play out, but they all sound stupid, and I still can't get past Act 1.  And I'm starting to feel like I don't care enough about these characters to tell their story.

I don't know if this is depression, or if I'm putting too much pressure on myself to make this work, or if forcing myself to work on one thing for a month was just a bad idea.  But I am starting to feel like this whole thing was a mistake, which I probably should have figured, since I always described the story as an excuse for something.  And I found a quote tonight that speaks a little too well to that:

"Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it."  --Unknown

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Quotable, Part 2.

Since I'm not in a great place either with my plotting or with myself at the moment, I thought I'd throw out another entry of writing quotes.  People seemed to like the last one, so....

"All writers are a little crazy, but if they are any good they have a kind of terrible honesty."  --Raymond Chandler

"Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else."  --C.S. Lewis

"Be courageous and try to write in a way that scares you a little."  --Holley Gerth

"Ideas are like fish.  If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water.  But if you want to catch the big fish, you've got to go deeper.  Down deep the fish are more powerful and more pure.  They're huge and abstract.  And they're very beautiful."  --David Lynch

"Figuring out what the public wants, or even what the public is: that's the job of pollsters and publicists and advertisers. All those people study the marketplace. But the creative artist can change the world. A true writer opens people's ears and eyes, not merely playing to the public, but changing minds and lives. This is sacred work."  --Allegra Goodman

"I’m convinced that a high anxiety level is the novelist’s normal condition."  --Julian Barnes

"If you write, good ideas must come welling up into you so that you have something to write. If good ideas do not come at once, or for a long time, do not be troubled at all. Wait for them. Put down little ideas no matter how insignificant they are. But do not feel, any more, guilty about idleness and solitude."  --Brenda Ueland

"When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation."  --Jorge Luis Borges

"We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write."  --Neil Gaiman

"Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now."  --Ernest Hemingway

And, finally:

"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."  --Bernard Malamud pressure.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

IWSG: This Month's Work.

This isn't the first entry that stems from the Writing Excuses workshop, and it won't be the last.  It is, however, the first time I've made one IWSG entry start the same way as the previous one.

Anyway.  At the workshop, Brandon Sanderson held Q&As at night after dinner, sitting down in the workshop's room and answering whatever people wanted to ask about writing.  (Yes, I'm totally name-dropping Brandon Sanderson, because I can.)  As an extremely prolific writer, he got some questions about how he manages to produce so much.  His answer, as I remember it, was simple: he gives himself a deadline for when he's going to start something, then starts it on that day.

It's one of those little things that makes so much sense and yet seems too simple to actually work.

So, since it clearly is working for him, I tried to see how I could apply this to my own work.  I don't want to give myself deadlines, as that's just a recipe for stressing out and feeling like I've failed.  (I do enough of both of those already, thanks.)  So I thought about what the self-imposed deadline does, and quickly understood:

The deadline creates a time when you say, "I'm going to work on this book now," and forces you to do that.  And I figured out how to make that work for me when I'm plotting.

I have a great, great many book ideas; anyone who's been reading this blog for a while probably knows this.  A major problem I have with getting plot work done is figuring out what I want to work on.  Too often, I fumble around in several plots-in-progress, and don't get any real work done.  So it's time to change that process.

For the month of October, I'm going to work on one specific plot, abbreviated as T3F.  (No, I'm not saying what it stands for, but if you guess it, I'll give you a cameo if I ever write the book.)  This will be the only plot I work on this month, aside from taking down notes on other stuff I think of at work or what-have-you.  I chose this one because it's going well so far, and of all the stuff I'm trying to do, it seems the least likely to crash and burn.

So, yes.  That's my advice this month for anyone struggling on figuring out what to work on or how to get it done: pick a project, pick a month, and focus on that.  With any luck, it'll work out - I've already done some good world-building and character work so far this month, and I haven't had as much time to dedicate to it as I'd like, since I'm also trying to get STARWIND whipped into proper beta-reading shape.  (Side note: I've already disappointed one beta-reader by telling her that Kris and Phoenix don't become a couple.  I'd say I'm sorry, but that would be a lie.)  But we'll see how it goes.  If all goes really well, I'll have a full plot and some great development by the month's end.

If it goes poorly, then I'll have something to write about for next month's IWSG.

(Also: holy crap, this is my 200th entry on this blog.  O_o  I have no idea how I've come up with that much to talk about.  But thanks for listening.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Back From a Week at Sea.

Hello, everyone.  Not only did I manage to survive a week without falling off the boat, but the 2016 Writing Excuses retreat went better than I could have hoped.  There's a lot to unpack here, and since I don't want to ramble on too much, I'll try to sum it up.

First and foremost: everyone there was awesome.  There's something very special about being among an entire group of fellow writers.  I'm too used to having to explain how my mind works when someone brings up a situation and I talk about how something strange could happen, so being around people who not only understood that but built on it was kind of amazing.  The people there who weren't writers - supportive spouses, mostly - were also very cool, and I could tell they were used to the eccentricity that comes with living with a writer.  ^_^

I got to talk to all of the hosts, though some of them only a little, but they were all great people and easy to talk to.  (I also didn't go full fanboy on anyone, which I consider a minor accomplishment.)  Furthermore, I came back with a list of new books to read, two of which are books the hosts have written, so I can get more familiar with their work and read some new stuff from other people I'd never heard of.

The hosts recorded a bunch of podcast episodes while on the cruise, and I went to all of them.  It was very encouraging, as some of the episodes covered working with an ensemble cast, and STARWIND is all about its ensemble.  I listened to them and felt like I'd been doing everything right.

My critique time with a published author went better than I could have hoped.  She read the first three pages of STARWIND and, to my utter and complete surprise, really enjoyed it and didn't suggest anything for me to fix.  We went over the entire plot and she liked where it was going.  She said she could tell I'd been writing for a while, and generally gave me a lot of good feedback and encouraged me to query it when it's ready.  This completely floored me, as I went in there nervous as hell, ready to have my work torn apart.  But it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

At night, my bed was decorated with three different instances of towel origami.

An agent gave a seminar on how to pitch your novel, and had us give our pitches at the end.  I gave my pitch from this tweet, and he said it started great, but got too general toward the end.  He recommended I make it more specific, and I can do that.  He also loved my comparison titles (Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Amazing Race), so I'll definitely query him when that time comes.

I was incredibly nervous about the whole pitch thing, and managed to get through it without screwing up, but I was shaking so bad I tripped myself when I was nearly back to my chair.  Nobody I talked to seemed to remember that, though.  O_o

There were some minor disappointments - two out of the three excursions I went on weren't great due to various circumstances ("Rainbow Reef" was anything but rainbow-ish, and it's hard to have a yacht race with winds at 4-5 MPH), and I still don't do well among large groups of people at parties or similar situations.  And some of the desserts were way too small.  But all the writing-based stuff - everything that really mattered?  That was excellent.

Taking this trip was one of the best decisions I've made since I moved to Washington.  I would highly recommend it for anyone who's looking for an amazing writing workshop and a pretty damn fancy vacation.  Signups for next year start in January, I believe, and they're going to the Mediterranean.

Next week: IWSG: This Month's Work.

PS: If anyone I met on the cruise finds this, hello!  Leave me a link for your blog or Twitter (I don't do Facebook) if you wish.  ^_^

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I'm on a Boat

As I said in last week's entry, I'm currently on the Writing Excuses Out of Excuses 2016 Writing Workshop and Retreat.

See y'all when I get back.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

At This Moment: an Unfiltered Blog Entry

At this moment, I am preparing for the writing workshop/cruise that I'm flying off to on Friday.  My brain is largely scrambled because of everything this involves, so all I'm good for this week is an extended, scattered ramble about everything going through my head right now.  I'll understand if you pass on reading this.

At this moment, I am freaked the hell out because the thing I signed up for means a published author is going to read a little bit of STARWIND and give me advice on it.  I've never heard of this author and haven't read anything they've written; I put them on my list because I thought they sounded like they might like my work.  I have no idea how to handle this.

At this moment, I am fully aware that no matter how long a list I make or how much I try to prepare for the trip, I'm going to forget something or screw something up.

At this moment, I am kicking myself and have been for many days, because I thought we got to sign up for more than one critique thing on the cruise and we only got one.  This is what I get for not reading carefully enough.  I thought I'd get a group/peer critique of book stuff along with the author read.  I was wrong.  I'm not sure which of the two would be more helpful, but it's not like I'll find out now.

At this moment, I am suffering from one of the worst colds I've ever had.  I've been beating it down with medicine since Saturday and I hope it'll go away by the time I have to leave the house on Friday morning.

At this moment, I am wishing I'd never listened to a new song by someone whose music I usually enjoy, because it reminded me of everything I feel when I'm depressed and have completely lost faith in my work and am wishing I could quit writing.  A song shouldn't make me feel like quitting, like all the work I've done will never amount to anything.  But it did.  No, I'm not naming the artist, and I'm damn well not linking the song - I'm trying to forget I ever heard it.

At this moment, I am debating whether to buy the wi-fi package on the cruise ship.  It would be nice to keep a connection, but there's some appeal to being largely unplugged for a week.  But some of the cruise-goers are saying they've found having constant internet access on board to be helpful for communicating and all that, so I probably will.

At this moment, I am deliberately not taking out that piece of small paper that has story notes on a new version of the tale that's been frustrating me for months that I've talked about before.  It's a weird thing to not want to work on a story and still hope it works out somehow.

At this moment, I am really wishing tomorrow's therapy appointment hadn't been canceled.

At this moment, I am trying to figure out a story that started as one thing and developed an entirely new thing as I did some world-building.  I'm wondering if it's all going to end up compatible or if this will be yet another damn plot I end up ditching no matter how much I want to write it because I just couldn't make everything I created work together.

At this moment, I am more than ready to make some tea and then get to bed.  I've been exhausted since I got back from DragonCon and no amount of sleep has helped.

At this moment, I am done with this and wishing I'd come up with something else to write this week.