Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why the Year didn't Completely Suck (for Me)

I haven't seen a single person talk about 2016 being a good year.

It seems like the past twelve months have been a long-running parade of awful for much of the world, and I don't remember the last time I saw so many people talk about how glad they were for this year to be over.  It hasn't been an easy year for me.  Confronting and dealing with my depression was necessary but has never been something I've enjoyed, and the anxiety issues that come with it make life more difficult.  A lot of this year's writing has been rough for me as well - I went through a period where I genuinely lost faith in my own work, and I've spent more time than I want to admit wishing I could quit.

Not that I could quit, not really.  I'd declare it and then I'd be back here in less than a month, talking about how wrong I was and hopefully enduring some good-natured but well-deserved mockery.  :P

This has also been a year of trying things that didn't work.  Part of my frustration came from trying to plot things and having them fall apart, even more than usual.  I'm still struggling with something I so very much want to write, but I can't figure out what's wrong with the world I've established that doesn't suit the story and it's driving me batty.

But something good did happen this year: I wrote STARWIND.  This was my third try at writing an interplanar adventure story; my previous attempts were varied and mediocre, though one involved someone wielding Mj√∂lnir and that was fun and I'd like to do it again someday.  I plotted STARWIND back in 2014 and sat on it for nearly two years because I couldn't figure out why it didn't quite work.  It took me until late 2015 to figure out that the main characters' genders were wrong, and even then, I didn't think I was ready to write it until April of this year.

I enjoyed the hell out of writing this book, and response to it has been more positive than I could have possibly imagined.  So many people I've told about it say it sounds interesting, even if it's not their usual genre.  The feedback from my beta-readers has been both encouraging and tremendously helpful.  And of course, there was the thing on the writing cruise where I got to give my pitch to an actual agent and he generally liked it.

So I'm ending the year with a book that's nearly ready for querying, a book I'm feeling really damn good about, despite how hard I thought it would be to find an audience for this book.  It seems like I was seriously wrong about that - judging by peoples' reactions, the best way to find an audience for STARWIND is just to tell people about it.  Bizarre.

My other plotting work hasn't all been frustration, either.  Earlier today, I dug up a plot I worked on before writing STARWIND, something I hadn't looked at since April.  And you know what?  It's good.  Really good.  I'm glad I remember working on it, else I'd think it wasn't mine.  :P  Plotting STARWIND's sequel is also going well, and it's good to feel confident enough about the book to think I'm going to need to have a sequel plotted.

It's a good thing, I think, to look beyond such a bad year with some hope for the future.  I'm not looking forward to querying (or writing the query letter and synopsis, which I still need to do), but I am looking forward to seeing how it goes, as it doesn't seem like this book is going to be as hard a sell as I thought.  And if I can go into that with hope, that's half the battle right there.

So that's how I'm choosing to go into 2017: with enough hope to keep going, and enough behind that hope to not feel like it's foolish.  I hope you all can do the same, if not better.

Next week: IWSG.  Hopefully I'll actually be able to do the entry I've been meaning to for the past two months.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Late-December Link Listing

I'm having another one of those "you're not getting an actual blog entry out of me" days.  Nothing too bad, just lots of work stress and me feeling glum about damn near everything.  -_-

So I thought I'd try to do something helpful.  The following is a short list of writing resources that I've found to be useful in one way or another.

Writing Excuses: yes, it's the podcast that did the writing workshop/cruise I went on earlier this year.  Yes, I'm linking to it again, because it's both full of good advice and constantly entertaining.  Plus, the fact that each episode is only 15-20 minutes long means you can either listen to it when you've just got a few minutes or binge on it when you have plenty of time.  I still have half a year's worth of episodes that I need to listen to, some of which I was present for, so... yeah.  Binging for me.

The 2016 Sanderson Lectures: I know I talk about Brandon Sanderson's work a lot here, and it's for good reason.  He's not only really damn good, but tremendously successful, so listening to him share his knowledge about writing seems like a very good idea.  I haven't made the time to listen to these myself, but I plan to change that during my upcoming vacation, since I aim to do a lot of writing work anyway.

Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit: the start of a simple but well-done series of story structure mini-lessons.  Coming up with a bunch of cool stuff but being unable to turn it into an actual story is still an issue for me, so I go back to these every once in a while to attempt to put things into a working order.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but there's something to be said for basic guidelines.

Manuscript Wish List: for when you're done with the actual story and want to find someone who loves it as much as you do, here's a boatload of agents saying what they're looking for.  I noted down one agent here for STARWIND because they specifically said they wanted something like Guardians of the Galaxy.  So the site is definitely worth searching, whether it works for me or not.

How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis: something I'll be making use of soon.  I hate the idea of trying to condense an entire book into a single page.  But this?  This is a brilliant guide that not only makes it look easy but uses an example that most (if not all) of my readers will know, thus making it clear just how the whole thing is supposed to work.  I was incredibly happy to find this and I hope it helps someone.

Next week: 2016 in review.  ...just for me personally in regards to writing, not the year in general, because damn, that would be depressing.  O_o

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Getting Personal, Part 2

It's been nearly two years since I last used this blog to talk just about myself.  It is somewhat comforting to look back on that and see how well everything worked out with the move to the Seattle area.  However, after last week's entry, I felt there was something I needed to address.  To put it simply:

Hello, my name is Mason, and I have major depressive disorder.

I've mentioned being in therapy a time or two before; this is why.  This is something I've been dealing with all my life, though it's only been over the past decade or so my depressive episodes happened frequently enough for me to realize what they were, and only over the past year have they reached a point where they can be called cyclical.  I started seeing a therapist in May, and that's been very, very helpful.

Learning how to battle my depression has also led to anxiety, which my therapist says can be a sort of side-effect because not having to fight depression so much means I have the energy to be anxious, but really, what can you do.

Depression, for me, usually manifests as feeling absolutely worthless.  I feel that nothing I do matters, I feel unworthy of love or attention or even being noticed, and I am fully convinced that I amount to nothing and will continue to do so.  I do not speak unless it's necessary; I've gone days without saying a word to anyone, despite continuing to go to work and otherwise pretending to be a functional human being.  Sometimes there's anger to go along with it, wanting to lash out at the world but feeling like nothing I do will matter and hating myself for not being able to make a change.

Part of the problem is that, as a writer, I've become very good at believing what comes out of my own head.  So it's hard for me to fight it when there's that automatic response to everything I think that tells me how worthless I am.  This is why saying "depression lies" doesn't work for me; I've also heard that so often it doesn't mean anything anymore.

As some of you might have noticed, these are the times when I make the blog posts that read like an Eeyore monologue.  When I told my dad I had depression and was seeing a therapist, he said he'd wondered if that was the case after reading some of my entries.  How my depression works with my writing, though, is interesting.

I get depressed when what I'm working on isn't working, yes; that's easily one of my main triggers.  But nothing conquers depression for me better than working on something.  For the month I wrote STARWIND's first draft, I didn't have a single down day.  When I have a good plotting day, or get in some good editing time, I feel calm and at ease again.  My therapist says that doing something - anything, really - is often the best way to counter depression.  I know a lot of writers say their work is the only thing that keeps them sane, but most of the time, my work's the only thing that keeps my mind where it needs to be.

Things have been going well lately, I'm glad to say; mostly editing for my next round of beta-readers and preparing sequel/series notes.  I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to querying again, but I am about ready to give it another go.  Soon.

Thanks for listening.  See you next week.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

IWSG: The Other Shoe

This isn't the post I'd planned to make.  But I don't have it in me right now to be hopeful or encouraging.

STARWIND has easily received the most positive feedback out of any book I've written.  My beta-readers have been encouraging and helpful.  I'd love to embrace this, but I can't bring myself to.

Because I have absolutely zero doubt that once I start querying this thing, I'll be right back where I've been with every single other book I've tried to get published.  The rejections, and the silence, will hurt all the more for having so damn much buildup to let me think this book could be it.

What's really messed-up is that it'd be easier if people didn't like it so much.  If I could feel like I was going to prove something by getting this book published.  That might give me something to build on, instead of just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Odds are good by June of next year I'll be wondering why I even bothered.

I wonder that a lot these days.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Sequence of Events

There are a lot of people out there who think all a writer needs is an idea, and then they're good to go.  They believe once a writer has that idea, the hard part's done, and then they can settle in and write the story since clearly they've got the most important thing.

None of these people are writers.

A lot of this comes from what I talked about two weeks ago.  The idea is what starts you off, and you need to make sure you put the parts of the idea that made you want to write it into the story itself.  But what gets you there?  What takes you from a disparate mishmash of scenes and characters and bits of dialogue floating about in your head to an actual story?

Ask a dozen different writers this question, and you'll probably get at least forty-two different answers.  What's been working for me lately is something I figured out when I was attempting to plot STARWIND.  I call it the sequence of events.

Just like its name, the sequence of events is boring and practical.  But it's very effective.

When I was trying to plan STARWIND, I knew mostly what I wanted to happen.  (Mostly.)  I knew it was a race/scavenger hunt covering half a dozen different worlds.  I knew where the crew was going and what they were going to find there.  I knew someone would betray them along the way.  But I didn't know how it was all going to fit together.  My usual plotting method was to just start writing an outline, paragraph by paragraph, figuring it out along the way.  It wasn't working - I couldn't even figure out how the story started.

So, instead of after agonizing over it for a bit a few months, I decided to write out the order in which everything happened.  No paragraphs, no details, no description; just a sentence or two saying "They go here and this happens."  It was the most minimalist plotting I'd ever done.  But with so many places to go and so many things happening along the way, I needed to fit the the story into those very basic steps to get it to go anywhere at all.

It worked.

"Story starts here.  Crew flies here.  They try this, it fails, they try something crazier and more dangerous and it works.  Crew flies here.  Thing happens.  Crew flies here.  Crew runs from fight.  Crew flies here.  Someone gets set on fire.  Horrible betrayal ensues.  Crew flies here.  Crew attacks other crew with giant monster.  Crew goes here.  Unexpected thing happens.  Crew flies to finish line.  End."

That is, of course, a very simple version of what I did (yet it's longer than the sequence I typed up last week), but it did what it needed to do.  Once I'd figured out the order of things, I could hash out the real plot and fill in all the details that made the story what I wanted it to be.  And I never would have gotten that far if I hadn't set aside my usual process and tried something new.

I've applied the sequence of events to everything I've tried to plot since, with a reasonable amount of success.  And I have more hope for STARWIND than I have for anything I've written in a long time.  Time will tell if this change was exactly what I needed.

Next week: IWSG: People Need Your Stories.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Back in the Pilot's Seat

I haven't tried to write a sequel for two and a half years.  That was three books ago.  A lot's happened since then.

When I was working on STARWIND, I knew there was more to the story.  The plot itself was self-contained and easy to fit into one book, as I try for with anything that could be a first published book.  But I had ideas for where things would go afterward.  The story's events aren't limited to just the race between worlds, and while the ending is designed to be a good moment of closure, it's also blatantly made to lead into further adventures.

In query letters, they refer to this as "series potential", and it's what you say so you don't scare off an agent with "I have a seven-book series planned for this thing."  Because yes, I have a seven-book series planned for this thing.

Do I think I'll ever get to write all those books?  I have no idea.  I'll be happy if I ever have reason to write the second one.

Anyway, yes, I'm currently deep into plotting the sequel to STARWIND.  I made an official document for it a few days ago, and it's now up to twelve pages long.  No, I haven't typed up twelve pages of material in a few days; I've been keeping plans for the entire series at the end of my original plotting document, but that got too messy when it became time to plot a separate book.  But it's going well so far.  I have character arcs planned for all the returning crew, and a lot of work to do on some new people so they all get reasonable arcs of their own.  I have new worlds to create, and I'm already having a lot of fun with that.  And I have a plot that has some of the same basic story structure while not feeling repetitive, with a lot more going on than just "we have a race to win."

It's been interesting to build on what's come before.  I feel like a lot of the heavy lifting is done, all the establishment of setting and locations and main characters, so I can do more delving into new stuff and not worry about if some things are going to work.  Some things already have worked, which is a tremendous help.  It feels oddly comfortable to go back to working with these people, planning out their next adventure now that I know them so well.  And yet I have to avoid repeating myself, or making the story seem like too much of a rehash of the first book.

If I ever write this, I'm sure someone somewhere will give me crap for writing another story where the heroes have to go visit different worlds and gather what they find there while dealing with all kinds of exotic hazards.  But if all goes according to plan, the next three books will have three distinctly different structures.

Yes, I'm talking about it like it's going to happen, because even I sometimes get tired of my own self-depreciation.  I know this plot is just like any other I've written - there's no way to know if it'll ever actually become a book.  But I feel really good about STARWIND.  I'm hoping this one will do well, and actually looking forward to querying it and seeing what happens.

And because of that, working on a sequel doesn't feel like a waste of time, which is tremendously gratifying in and of itself.

Next week: the SEQUENCE OF EVENTS.  It's in caps for a reason.  :P

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Boom and Break

No, neither the boom nor the break are about bad things happening, not really.  Neither is this about everything that happened last Tuesday; I'll cover that in next month's IWSG.  This is yet another entry about a part of the creative process that I've finally figured out well enough to make it work for me.

If you're treating my blog as a drinking game, and you're not taking a drink for "Mason figures out something about the creative process" entries, you're doing it wrong.

I think we're all familiar with the concept of the shiny new idea.  When I start getting ideas for a new project, I see a lot of the big things and important events that happen in the story like I'm watching a movie trailer, flashes of awesome that are going to happen in what will surely be the greatest thing I've ever written.  A ship flies through an endless mass of raw magic.  A mountain picks a fight with a golem the size of a city.  A young deity's hair changes into something that is distinctly not hair.  It's all one big boom of ideas, bits and pieces that I somehow know must happen in this story-to-be.  Sometimes they're more about new characters suddenly being born in my head, or about the way a world works, but there's always this knowledge that there's a story in there somewhere and I'm only seeing the beginning of it.

It's easy to get really, really excited about these bursts of idea.  What's not always easy is figuring out the rest of the story.  This is where the break part comes in, as it's far too common that I scribble down all of the new ideas and can't figure out how they're supposed to work.

And so, I get frustrated.  I look at all the cool things that are supposed to happen and see no way to connect them, or worse, I start thinking that they're not how the story is supposed to go.  This is what leads to my endless series of plot revisions and restarts, to fifty-page planning documents that still manage to not have a complete story anywhere in them.

Somewhere along the way, I forget that those awesome moments are the basis of the story, and I need to build everything around them.  I need to keep them in the plot, to make sure the parts that got me wanting to work on the story in the first place are still there when I finally do start writing the book.  I need to make it so every other thing that happens, every part of the world, every facet of the characters' past and present, works toward those moments.  Whether they're action set pieces or crucial character pieces or mind-blowing lore pieces, everything should build to include that story's first big boom.

Like everything else about the creative process, this seems like something I should have figured out long ago.  Maybe I did, but just couldn't put it into words.  But it's easy to forget.  It's easy to lose sight of the awesome when you're trying to figure out the everything else.  I've seen writers talk about just putting one word down after another, even when it's not thrilling or exciting.  It seems that applies to plotting as well.  There are long sequences of just getting it done.

A story can't be just the movie trailer, at least not the sort of stuff I want to write.  The story has to be the entire movie and then some.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Recommended Reading: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

If the title alone doesn't make you want to read this book, I don't know what to tell you.

For a long time, I avoided sci-fi because I expected it to be too heavy on the science side of things to really hold my interest.  Give me fantasy, I said, because anything involving magic has to be more interesting.  I've been making an effort to branch out more over the years, and I've found some sci-fi books that I've enjoyed along the way.

And then along comes a book like this, which makes me wonder how much I've been missing all this time.

Planet (no, I'm not typing out the whole title every time) is about the crew of a spaceship called the Wayfarer, which is a borer ship - it makes wormholes through the universe, essentially creating hyperspace paths for other ships to follow.  The book is, sort of, the story of what happens when the crew gets a big job to tunnel to a place near the galactic core, to open up an massive new route.

I say "sort of" because while that's the story, that's not what the book is about.  The book is about the Wayfarer's crew, a diverse and interesting and often hilarious mixed group of humans and members of other species.  We meet most of the crew in the first thirty pages, and by then, I knew I was going to love this book.  I wanted to spend time getting to know every single one of these people.

And thanks to the book's structure, I got that.  Each chapter or two feels more like an episode of a TV series, focusing on a smaller story or situation, rather than part of a standard ongoing storyline.  This works perfectly.  All of the crew members have a part in the larger story, but it's the smaller things that happen over the course of their journey that really matter.  We get to learn so much about all of them, and it's written in a way that makes it feel like we're in the ship along with these people, like when we close the book we could go hang out with all of them.

It's been a while since I was genuinely sad that a book was over when it was done, because there wasn't any more.  But it happened with this one.  Though I did just learn that there's a sequel on the way next year, which makes me happy.

Planet contains a whole lot of things I love in a story - diverse characters, fascinating places, excellent dialogue, interspecies relationships, non-human characters that are utterly relateable, and a world and setting that feels like it could actually exist.  It also has the distinction of being the book with the longest title I've read this year, barely beating out Patrick Rothfuss's The Slow Regard of Silent Things.  Planet is well-worthy of the quirks and oddities of its title, though, and I'd be hard-pressed to find a better thing to call this book.

Unless that thing is "on your bookshelf".  :P  It has a place on mine now, and I'll continue recommending the hell out of it to anyone who likes sci-fi.  Or who likes books, really.  I'm sure it's not the first book to do what it does, but it's all the little things scattered through the story's pages that make it so good and so worth reading.

Next week: Boom and Break.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

IWSG: "Make Good Art"

There's not a word worth reading coming out of me today, not with the day/week/October I've had.  So instead of more of my whining, for this month's IWSG, you get wise words from someone who's better at this writing thing than I'll ever be.




I'll try to do/be better next time.

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.

...now 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.

Anyway.

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

...no 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.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

IWSG: When to Let Go

This isn't the first time I've talked about this sort of thing, and it won't be the last.

As much as I don't like blanket statements, I think it's safe to say that we writers get attached to the things we're working on.  (Unless we're just doing it for the money, in which case we're attached to getting paid, and there's nothing wrong with that.)  That attachment can come in many forms; for me, it's always been the characters and who they are together that gets me hooked.  I've struggled more with finding stories for characters to exist in than any other part of the writing process.  It's far too easy to love these people who show up in my head and get fixated on telling their story above everything else.

Which too often makes it very difficult to recognize when their story just isn't working.

I've talked here about a plot-in-progress that was incredibly personal, something that could turn out to be deeper and darker than anything I've worked on before.  I devoted a lot of time (and a few off-kilter tweets) to working on this.  The plotting document for it is seventeen pages long, including cut text.  It's one of those things that came pouring out of my head in the early planning stages, complete with two characters showing up and saying no, the story was about them.

It's the sort of thing I hope for as a plotter, which is why it crushed me when everything started to fall apart.  The book was a way for me to tell the kind of tale I've wanted to tell for a long time - a school story.  It started off being about the teachers, but it was two students who took it over.  I spent a great deal of time trying to bend it into shape, making myself more and more miserable with every attempt.

I should have known when I sat down to write and could hardly make myself open up the document that it was time to set the story aside.  But I was so determined to get it right.  I wanted it so much.  But it was driving me mad.

It took spending most of a therapy session talking about the trouble I was having with that plot to get me to realize just how badly it was affecting me.  I hadn't felt genuinely depressed for weeks, but that plot brought me right the hell down.  So that night, I took one last look through it, and accepted that it was time to let it go.  It wasn't easy, but when something I'm plotting has me so torn up that I can't even read it, I'm defeating my own purpose by trying to make it work.  Call me crazy, but I think it's hard to be a writer when your own work keeps you from writing.

Things have been much better since then.  I have two plots I'm working on; one is revealing new depths to me as I delve into how its magic works and how that would affect the people living in that world, while the other is just plain insane and will likely have people accusing me of being on drugs if anyone ever reads it.  Both of them are shaping up to be the sort of stories they're meant to be, and I'm figuring them out a little at a time.

It's slow going sometimes, but I'll take slow going over the full stop.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Trip Through the Idea File, Part 2

Hello, all; happy nearly-the-end-of August.  It's especially happy for me because I'm headed off to DragonCon with some of my best friends in two days!  ...which means I'm frantically making sure I have everything set before the trip, not an easy task when I still have to work and plot and find time to relax and holy crap I need to get to bed soon.  O_O

So, in lieu of an actual entry, I'm going to take a bit from an earlier entry and grab a few interesting bits from my idea file to share with y'all.  These are presented without context or explanation, and especially without editing.  This is a brief glimpse into the inside of my head, or at least, what comes out of my head and gets formed into words.  I promise it'll be weird; I will do my best to keep it interesting.  Let's see...

"The knights find and awaken her, which unseals the great evil – her first words when she awakes are “You idiots”."

"All the past is only legends.  We didn’t rebel because we were now like them.  If you see a dragon, you’ve already lost.  The world is all theirs now, used to be ours but draconic magic changed everything."

"(Note that the slave must be of a species that has people who are also in the empire, showing that it’s not her race that makes her a slave, but her failure to submit.)"

"“How do you steal your own wedding?”"

"Then came the sound of someone knocking on all the doors in his apartment complex, and when he answered, a barbarian woman was there.  And she needed a ride."

"Not sure how the flying thing will happen, but I definitely want to still have her riding the bomb at the start of Act III."

"The magistrate’s daughter has ancient magical formulae tattooed onto herself in an attempt to both understand them and keep them from being lost again.  This will be significant and possibly life-saving at some point."

"At some point, this will involve a stolen gnomish magical autocannon."

And finally, this is from a specific story, but I think it could apply to most of the things I develop enough to start making into stories:

"This is crazy but it might work."

Hope everyone enjoyed this, or at least found it interesting.  :P  I'll be off for a long weekend of running around in costume and generally geeking out and staying up way, way too late.  Good times, of course; there's a reason we do this every year.  Bwa ha ha.

Next week: IWSG: When to Let Go.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Plot Juggling

Before I get started, a quick thought on the comments from last week's entry:
Anyway.

With STARWIND mostly on pause until after the writing workshop, I'm back into plotting again.  I've spent the past few days working my way through the pile of yellow papers covered in scribbles that accumulated while I was editing the book.  There are a total of five different projects I have notes on, all in varying places in the process.

And dealing with this many plots at once is its own kind of highly variable hell.

I have a bunch of notes for a project that feels like it's a wash because I can't for the life of me figure out what the actual story is supposed to be.  Another idea might as well be directed by Michael Bay, as it feels like it's a lot of awesome things but no real substance.  A third could be interesting and unique or it could be just an excuse to try writing a poly relationship.  And the fourth is something I want to write so badly that having it not work out feels like something's going seriously wrong with my life.

The worst of that last one is that it started as something completely different.  I made up two sort-of secondary characters, and they swiftly took over the entire thing and said no, the story was about them.  And now I can't figure out what that story is.  I'm focusing on what needs to happen for these two, but it's like pulling teeth.  What's worse is that I can't help thinking anything that comes out of this plot will be yet another story of mine where I'm utterly fascinated with the characters and the way they interact but no one else gives a damn.  And I've written enough of those already - hell, I spent six months querying one.

The only good thing to come out of all the plotting is the sequel to STARWIND, which is coming along well.  I have an outline of the plot, notes on three new characters with more surely to come, and a scattering of events that need to take place over the course of the story.  I am incredibly thankful for this.  With everything else that's happening (or more precisely, not happening) with all the other plots, it's a huge relief to have something go right that could end up being quite important to have.

Especially if multiple sequential miracles occur and I actually get to do the seven-book series I have planned for this thing.

Next week: IWSG.  Depending on how the next week goes, it'll either be full of gushing encouragement or yet another bitter ramble.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

STARWIND Statistics

First of all: I'm sorry for not making it around to anyone's blogs for the past two weeks.  >_<  I've been ridiculously busy trying to get stuff done and half-melting from the heat (I though I left summers like this behind when I left Albuquerque), so... yeah.  I'll do my best to get back to it this weekend.

In better news, I finished the third round of editing on STARWIND on Sunday.  Yay!  Seeing as how I'm still a little worn out from the whole process and exhausted from work and my brain's otherwise busy feeding me stuff for books I might never get to write, I thought it would be interesting to run down some stats for the book.  Let's see...

First draft word count: 98,356
Current draft word count: 102,101
Chapter count: 26

Uses of the word "Starwind": 140
Uses of the word "gnome": 15
Uses of the word "fuck": 24

Characters wounded: 3
Characters killed: 3
Characters set on fire: 1
Characters whose names spellcheck hates: 9

Hugs: 5
Kisses: 14
Explosions: at least 2

Chekhov's Guns fired: 1
Actual guns fired by main characters: 0
Actual guns fired by everyone else: lots

Number of worlds visited: 7
Number of safe worlds visited: 3
Number of items required for the race: 5
Number of items required for the race the crew outright steals: 3

Fight scenes: 4
Bar scenes: 2
Bar fight scenes: 1
"Run like hell" scenes: 2

I think that's enough for now.  :P  I'm going to set the book aside for a week or so and finally take down all the plot notes I've scribbled over the past three weeks, then polish the hell out of this book in preparation for the writing workshop/cruise.  If all goes as planned with that, I'll have a bunch of people I don't know critiquing the first 2-3 chapters.  Wish me luck.  O_o

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Things All We Writers Know

A while back, I sent one of my co-workers a link to my pre-story for STARWIND, because we'd been chatting about books and stuff and she thought it sounded interesting.  She absolutely loved it, which was both awesome and kind of a relief, since showing my work to someone new is always nerve-wracking.  Yesterday, I sent her the link to STARWIND's first chapter.  While she hasn't had time to read it yet, the look on her face when she got it made my entire damn day.

It made me think, this is something I hope all writers know - what it's like to give a new story to someone who loves our stuff.  It's rewarding like nothing else, and makes a lot of the toil and trouble worth it.  And that got me to thinking, what are some other things all we writers know?

We all know what it's like to get rejected.  I'm not one for absolute truths, but I'm certain there's not a single writer out there who's never known rejection.  Unless they've never tried submitting their work, which seems a little like cheating.  :P

To go with that, I think we all know how personal rejection can feel.  It's never meant to be personal, but damn if it's not a kick in the teeth every time.  I know none of the agents I've submitted to actually hate me, but I've had moments where you'd have trouble convincing me of that.  >_<  Sometimes I can shrug it off, but sometimes I see the name of an agent I really wanted to work with show up in my inbox, and it's never been good news.

We all know what it's like to be unable to recall an idea we had.  And it's always a really good idea, sometimes one of those things you think of right as you're trying to go to sleep, and damn it that could have been an entire book right there. . . .  I've crawled out of bed to write things down before, and I'm sure I will again.

I hope we all know what it's like to reread our work and recognize that we absolutely nailed a scene, or a moment, or an emotion, or (if we're really good) an entire chapter.  I've had that a few times while editing STARWIND, and it makes me smile.  No matter how many things I cross out and scribble over with changes, it's always good to read something and think, no, I got this right the first time.

And to go with that, I think most if not all of us know what it's like to read our own notes and wonder what the hell we were talking about.  I've had times where I can't read what I wrote because I crossed it out three times.  Or when I just write "fix this", because I can tell it needs something more than just a few different words.  I need to switch that to "fix this with _____" and fill in the blank with something useful.

I'm dead certain that we all know what it's like to try to find someone who wants to read our work.  I worry about this because the stuff I'm working on is getting progressively weirder and I never know if what I'm writing will be to anyone's tastes, let alone a beta-reader.  I am so grateful to have four people who've already volunteered to read STARWIND.  ^_^

Speaking of which: I'm delaying the STARWIND beta read until September or October, after I get back from the writing workshop/cruise.  I didn't feel right giving my betas a deadline, and hopefully I'll learn some things at the workshop to make the book even better.

So, as always, your turn.  What are the things you think all we writers know?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

IWSG: Rejecting Yourself

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.  This is also something I've been doing for many, many years.

I have a line I tell people when someone new asks me about my writing.  "I've written fifteen books," I'll say, followed immediately by "Don't be too impressed; most of them sucked."  The joke makes it easy to hide my frustration at spending so much of my life trying to make the one thing I want most happen and getting nowhere.  But there's another side to it, one I didn't realize until I found the above tweet from Mr. Wendig.

By saying that most of what I've written sucks, I'm rejecting myself.  And this has probably kept me from getting anywhere with my writing more than anything else I've done.

Out of those fifteen books, at least five of them I've never shown to anyone.  Books I trunked as soon as I wrote the last sentence, or reread after a month or two and decided they didn't work, or any of a number of other reasons.  And all but one of the rest are stories I gave up on at one point or another.  Maybe I lost faith in them, or got some less-than-positive feedback and decided they sucked, so on and so forth.  There are good reasons to let books go, I think; querying BoLR for six months and ~100 agents showed me that, no, this thing was not going to happen.  But that's the farthest I've gone with any book.

Because there's always a point where I just plain give up.  Where I decide that no, this isn't worth it, this isn't good enough.  I can do better on the next book, I tell myself.  And so I start the same process all over again.

Part of the problem with this is that it makes it much easier to quit and start something new.  Hell, I've had to convince myself multiple times to keep going with STARWIND at least far enough to get it to readers, rather than just shrug it off as another failure and try again.  Getting rejected so many times makes it a lot easier to start doing it to myself.

And as much as I know that won't get me anywhere, it's very hard to stop.

I don't know of any good way to fight against this.  There's only so much positivity I can try to generate, and my reserves of that have been growing lower and lower over the years.  Stubbornness works sometimes, but it's far too easy to slip from that into grumpiness, and that does no good.  Tenacity seems like all I have left sometimes, but even that coin has two sides - "Keep trying with this book" easily flips over to "Try again with a new one".

Thus, we've reached the part where I ask for advice.  Have the rest of y'all dealt with this sort of thing?  How do you handle it?  And how did you overcome it?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

STARWIND: Chapter One

I'm a little nervous about this, but it's either this or another week of me whining about the editing process.  Trust me, I've gone with the more interesting choice.

Anyway.  I've finished the second round of edits on STARWIND, and I've officially started round three, which means adding in all my handwritten notes and making further changes.  Once the book is up to version 1.3, I send it to beta readers.  Which means the first chapter is technically ready for people to see.

So I'm posting it here.

I still think it's a little rough, and gods know it'll go through more changes as I get this thing ready for prime time.  But I've been working on this book, one way or another, since 2014.  I want to share a little of this thing and hope that people will want to see more.

Hope y'all like it.  Here goes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Slightly More Than 12% of a Plan

I had an idea.  In retrospect, this was a bad occurrence as it will only bring me pain and generally make my life more difficult.

...let me start over.

I've been working on yet another book plot, because that part of my brain never stops working and hopefully never will.  It's been difficult for more than the usual reasons - not only have I genuinely figured out how to put these new characters through hell, it's also shaping up in a way that it could be one of the most personal things I've ever written.  The theoretical book also already has a soundtrack in the new Garbage album (which is frickin' awesome and you should listen to it), and some of the songs fit the characters ridiculously well.

During a lull at work last week, I ended up hashing out most of the plot.  I determined that since I knew how it started and how it ended, I could rough out an outline of what happens in between.  Five notepad pages' worth of frantic scribbling later, I thought it sucked, but that's more indicative of my mood last week than the actual plot.  But I wasn't thrilled about it for a very good reason:

Something is still missing.

I don't know how I know this, I just do.  There's a feeling that comes when a plot is working out well, when it's coming together as it should.  There's a different feeling when things aren't the way they're supposed to be.  This feeling is what kept me from writing STARWIND for almost two years, and it only went away when I swapped the main characters' genders.

So, since I really want to write this new book someday, I've been trying to figure out what's missing from the new plot.  (No, I can't swap the main characters' genders in this one.  Trust me.)  I've been going in a bunch of different directions for this, ranging from adjusting the magic system to changing what's happening in the world to swapping out nearly everything about the story and turning it into a novel version of a giant robot fighting anime, but with magic.

...okay, I totally want to write the giant magical robot battle book, but that's not this one.

To be fair to myself (for once), it's hard to come up with new ideas and make them work when I'm in the middle of editing.  STARWIND is taking up most of my writing time these days, and I'm glad to say it's going well.  But my brain's still tagging along on the crew's multiversal travels.  Switching gears to something completely different isn't easy.

I am glad that I finally have a reason to not beat myself up over not being able to get a plot to work, and the reason is that I'm editing a book that does work.  As writer problems go, this isn't bad.

The plan is to let this plot sit and simmer for a while.  I still haven't even transcribed the notes from last week; they're sitting here on my desk, just another small pile of yellow paper covered with scribbles.  I'll get to it when I'm done editing STARWIND and have sent that one off to beta readers.  And hopefully by then, I'll find or figure out whatever's missing.

So, what about the rest of you?  How do you know if something's missing from what you're working on?  How do you deal with new ideas when you're neck-deep in working with something else?  And if you haven't listened to the new Garbage album, why not?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The First Book

I wasn't sure what to write about this week, until I hit upon something I haven't seen very many of we writers talk about: what was the first book you ever wrote?  Not early stories, not something that started off just for fun and somehow turned into a book along the way, but the first result of you deliberately sitting down to write a book.

My first book had the unfortunate title of THE BLESSED, and if I ever have a writing career, I will credit it with this book never seeing print.

The book itself was classic fantasy.  Heroes with swords and other medieval weapons, lots of riding around on horses, dark forces at play, and dragons.  So many dragons.  Much of the plot (at least as I can remember it) involved both the return of dragons to the lands and the arrival of an unusual kind of magic.  These two were of course linked, largely via a group of dragon-worshipers, and it was up to five heroes (the titular Blessed) gifted with the power of five of the world's gods to track down the source of these happenings and put a stop to them.

This story took me three years to write, and I had no idea what I was doing.

A lot of the plot was inspired by the early Final Fantasy games, which were my favorites back in the days of the NES and Super NES, so the book had kind of a classic RPG feeling to it - building the party over the course of the adventure, everyone with a different elemental power, stuff like that.  It was also an enormous story, easily over 200,000 words judging by the file size.

No, I'm not opening up the file to check.  I don't want to see how bad I really was back then.  Because trust me, I was bad.

I opened the story with the main character waking up from a dream.  The heroes found each other because destiny said so, almost literally.  Every single character had their own POV sections, often swapping from one to the other without warning in the middle of a chapter and swapping back with even less warning.  I had no idea how to decide what scenes belonged in the story and what didn't, so I included everything I thought up.  And not only did the book have five different chosen ones, there was a sixth person who believed he was chosen and went about telling everyone that he was.

I killed that character off at the end of one chapter, having the group's main adversary gut him while the two of them were fighting.  That was the last chapter available at one point when I let Rena read it, which led to her stepping into the middle of a fencing match I was in to threaten my soul for the next chapter.

Maybe I wasn't very good back then, but I did know how to pull off a cliffhanger.

It's been years since I gave this book this much thought, and it is kind of fun to look back.  I tried re-plotting the book once, with a better title and a darker way of going about things, and it worked out all right at the time; I still think of redoing that tale from the antagonist's point of view.  But considering how many stories I have warring for dominance in my head, it's not high on my list.

So!  Your turn.  What was the first book you ever wrote?  What do you remember about it?  How did it go?  And would you ever let anyone read it?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

IWSG: The Things We're Good At

I have even more insecurities than usual this month, something I didn't think was technically possible.  But instead of another round of Why I Suck At This or Why I'll Never Make It, I thought I'd try something different.

It's time to talk about the things we're good at.

I don't have much of an ego, so I'm rarely one to toot my own horn.  But I think we writers need that from time to time.  It helps to look at our work and acknowledge that what we do can be pretty damn awesome.  So let's do that.  I'll start.

I know I'm good at pacing, largely because when I ask my readers about it, the feedback is always positive.  I'm not sure where I picked this up, or even when I started realizing it was a thing.  But I seem to have developed the knack for moving the story along at a speed that works for it, without delaying things or having too many things happen all at once.  My best guess is this came from reading a whole lot of books and subconsciously figuring out how to make it work.

I'm good at non-dramatic romance, which I think largely comes from my dislike of melodramatic romance.  :P  I'm a big fan of characters realizing they're into each other and doing something about it.  Whether I plan to get characters together or it's something that happens while I'm writing (which usually means a round of re-plotting), it's usually a matter of realizing that these people are both awesome and into each other, so they should get together and do awesome things together.  That's it.

Granted, part of why I prefer to avoid romance drama is that my books aren't about that.  My stories are about these people having adventures, and if they find love along the way, cool, it adds to the story.  If not?  STILL AN ADVENTURE.  ^_^

Something I've realized while editing STARWIND is that I'm good at small-but-revealing lore drops.  There's a lot going on out in the multiverse, and I seem to have become skilled at putting enough for the reader to understand things into one or two sentences that the POV character can quickly relay and then get on with the story.  I'll have to keep an eye on this when people are beta-reading, but I'll be happy if I can keep getting across the necessary info without it feeling like an infodump.

On the same note, I think I'm good at small-but-revealing character moments.  Not everything is a big dramatic revelation, and I think things work out well when it's a few lines of dialogue that help us see what's really going on in a character's head.  So much of the first draft is discovering the characters, and I've been pleased while editing this thing to see that a lot of who they are comes out in the smaller moments.

Finally, this one will be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly: I'm good at weird.  I think the following bit from STARWIND is proof of this:

"Kris tapped a few more symbols on her screen, logging onto the Core net now that they were in the Between.  The Core net was basically like the internet back on Earth, only it covered a few hundred different planes and had much weirder porn."

Anyway!  Sound off in the comments if you wish - what do you know you're good at?  If I can spend all this time bragging about myself, so can the rest of you.  :P

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Nine Days of STARWIND

Okay, technically, this is about how I'm nine days into editing STARWIND.  But "Nine Days of Editing STARWIND" isn't nearly as nice a title.

Anyway.

So, yes.  Nine days in, at two chapters a day, which means I'm... a tiny bit over 69% of the way done.  I was really hoping for a rounder number than that, but I'll take it.  Things are going quite fast, and I'm glad for that; this is largely the quick-and-dirty edit wherein I make sure everything works and all the pieces are in place and I don't end up having a character enter the cockpit twice in the same scene.  (Again.)

I've also added about 1500 words and will surely add the remaining 150 or so to bring the book to 100K total, which is kind of awesome.  Yes, I'll cut quite a bit when it comes time to edit the book by hand, as always, but since sci-fi and fantasy books are usually on the longer side, I like the idea of it being a novel of good size.

But enough about the technical aspects.  How's the actual story going?

I'm really pleased with it so far, which makes me happier than I have time to explain.  For the most part, everything is working, and a lot of the stuff I was worried about hasn't happened.  The characters generally come off as who they're supposed to be, though the dialogue will need some work to sound more natural.  I was also concerned that the story itself would seem too... unmoored, I think, might be the best way to put it, since it jumps from world to world every few chapters.  But that doesn't seem to be happening, for one simple reason:

The Starwind itself.

Having the ship as the main location of the story, where all the different events start and end, has worked out better than I'd planned.  The ship really comes off as these characters' home, which is what I was going for, and that's tremendously gratifying.

Considering how much I've been racked by doubt and worse over the past few months (or just all my life), it feels really good to go over my work and feel like I've done it well, even more so when things I wasn't even consciously trying for have worked out.  It remains to be seen if readers will feel the same way about it, of course, but I can worry about that later.  Right now, I'm enjoying this initial trip through the story, and I'm looking forward to eventually sharing it with people.

Speaking of that: for anyone who's interested in beta-reading STARWIND, I have a quasi-deadline.  Yes, there's a good reason for this, I swear.  I'm going on the Writing Excuses Out of Excuses 2016 Writing Workshop and Retreat, and that's in mid-September.  I plan to have STARWIND in a readable version by the start of August.  If you want to read the book, and can do so in the month of August and be able to give me feedback by the start of September so I can make any changes I need to before the workshop/cruise, please let me know.  ^_^

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Self-Publishing

With all the talk I've made lately of my trouble with getting my writing anywhere close to publishing, I've had a lot of people point me toward self-publishing.  I don't know if I'd call it the elephant in the room, because usually people don't tug on your sleeve, point, and say "LOOK AT THE ELEPHANT.  LOOK AT IT.  LOOOOOOOOK."

Anyway.

I've never wanted to self-publish, because my writerly dream has always been to be like the people whose books adorn my shelves.  I want the career.  I want writing to be what I do, my entire job, the thing I'm known for if I'm known at all.  I want my books out there, on shelves and in shops, where people can pick them up and read a little and decide to take them home.

This is the part where I can't continue without acknowledging that the world has changed.  I know that digital sales are big and will continue to grow.  I don't know if they'll ever take the place of physical books, but that's beyond me right now.  I know there's generally not a stigma to self-publishing anymore; I know it's no longer the realm of the desperate and the painfully amateurish.

But I have real trouble seeing myself getting what I want out of writing by doing everything myself.

From what I've read about self-publishing, it means being in charge of a whole lot of things that I know nothing about.  I know that, were I to get traditionally published (insert bitter laughter here), my job wouldn't be limited to just writing.  But I know that there would be people whose entire job is to handle aspects of publishing that aren't my job, and I'm good with that.  Hell, I'd much rather have it that way.

Full disclosure: a lot of why I don't want to self-publish is it would feel like giving up.  I know that's ridiculous, but it's what I think.  The whole thing rings of "nobody wants it, so I'll put it out there myself".  And I have enough trouble with the 'nobody wants it' aspect that I know, I know, that if I self-published and it went poorly, it would absolutely crush me.

It's one thing to query agents and hear back "no" or silence.  It's another thing to put your stuff out there and get the same thing back from your would-be audience.

On the other hand, I posted a story series online years ago.  Never promoted it, never advertised it, just threw it onto a fiction-posting site and let people find it.  I posted the final part of those stories almost eight years ago, and they still get hundreds of hits per month from all over the world and have racked up hundreds of reviews, every single one of them positive.  (I didn't think that was possible on the internet.)

So it's entirely possible that I just need to get my work out there.

This is hard for me to consider, since there's no way to know how things are going to go and no way to take something back from being self-published if I go that route and it goes poorly.  For now, I'm going to focus on editing STARWIND (two days in and it doesn't suck, so that's a plus) and see how things go with that.  I have some agents noted down who might be interested, and I have some small presses I'm looking at if that road goes nowhere yet again.

For the future, as per usual, I have no idea.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fifteen Years of the Same Problems

This entry was largely inspired by my last one.  Which is possibly the most depressing inspiration I've ever had.

I started writing my first book in June of 1998, late at night in a dorm room I was soon to move out of.  I finished it three years later, in May of 2001, and for some reason, I thought it had a chance at getting published.  Self-depreciation aside, that's a hell of a thing to look back and see.  I've been trying to get published for fifteen years, been writing books for eighteen years.  And that's not even counting the assload of stuff I wrote, short stories and long stories and random bits and pieces, for years before I finally started on what would actually become a book.

And in all the time since then, it feels like very little has changed.  I'm still sitting here, trying my damnedest to get these ideas and stories out of my head and into actual words, and having a hell of a lot more misses than hits with that.  I'm still struggling to write something that comes out worth a damn and feels like it has a chance at getting published.  I'm still waiting to hear anything but "no" or silence from an agent.

Fifteen years is a long, long time to have the same problems.

I know that comparing ourselves to others in this whole writing thing does no good, and I know there's confirmation bias at work when I feel like everyone else out there is doing better than me.  But it's really damn hard to not do that.  I read an article recently on a blog where an author talked about how they'd started writing around five years ago, and how important it was to not give up, because now they had an agent and had sold two of their books, which were soon to be published.

And I'm sitting here thinking, "You telling me not to give up is like complaining about the phantom pains from your missing finger and the life adjustments you've had to make to account for it, while I'm sitting here with no legs and a plastic bag where my intestines used to be."

I try to make colorful metaphors when I'm angry.  It's a little more productive than yelling.

I know this is all stuff I've talked about before.  It's stuff I'll talk about again during the next attempt at publishing, whether that's with STARWIND or whatever comes next.  (This is the part where I'd hint at things I'm working on, but I'm getting absolutely fucking nowhere with any of them, so I don't even feel like being cryptic.)  That's why last week's entry was an inspiration for this one - it feels like every problem I have to talk about here, it's something I've already talked about.

Where am I going with this?  I have no idea.  I've thought about putting the blog on hiatus, because I'm tired of listening to my own whining.  I don't think that would do any good, though.  It helps to vent a little, and I do appreciate the support from y'all in the comments.  But it's one thing to have the same problems for fifteen years.  It's another thing to keep babbling about them for the few people willing to listen for four years straight.

As usual, I don't know what to do about any of this other than keep trying.  Even if it feels like Sisyphus himself would call me a fool.

Next week: might be thoughts on the start of edits on STARWIND.  Might be a hiatus announcement if the book turns out to suck.  We shall see.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Still Antagonized

Or, "I'm bothered that I'm still having the same sort of problems I had more than a year and a half ago."

I have more ideas for stories than I'll ever be able to write; I long ago accepted that I probably won't live long enough to get every one of them into a viable form and actually write those stories.  But it when I can pull enough of an idea together, see more of it, and figure out what that story is supposed to be, I keep running into the same damn problem, and that's the story's antagonist(s).

Most of my ideas start with someone interesting doing something interesting.  It's a good place to start, yeah?  The problem is that, for a story to work, it can't be about just that.  Okay, it could, but even I would get tired of 90,000+ words of someone just going around being awesome, even if I created the person.  There needs to be someone or something working against that person, some way to create a conflict.

This is elementary stuff, and I'm a little embarrassed that I'm sitting here trying to figure it out.  But damn if I don't have trouble making it work.

I didn't have this problem with STARWIND, because the book's about a race/scavenger hunt, which means no matter what's going on, the main characters have someone and something to work against.  They're trying to beat the other racers, they're dealing with whatever's between them and the items they need to gather, so on and so forth.  The book didn't need one specific antagonist because the entire situation was one enormous conflict.  Unfortunately, I don't think I can apply this to every story I want to tell.

Working in various flavors of fantasy as I do, I tend to think of an antagonist in terms of a Big Bad, someone who's working directly against Our Heroes or someone whose work Our Heroes are seeking to thwart.  The people I create for that role are never as interesting or detailed as the heroes, and this is one of the reasons my plots fall apart - there's just not enough opposition, nothing to keep Our Heroes from getting things done.

Or worse, I run into what I think of as the Marvel Movie problem.  I create a villain who has a connection to the hero, is just developed enough to barely be interesting, and then kill them off.  (Yes, as much as I love the Marvel movies, they really need to stop with the disposable villains.)  And then I realize I'm doing that, and close up the plotting document, muttering to myself.

...now I'm thinking back to an assignment in my seventh grade English class, in which we read different works and identified the type of conflict they displayed, and how I could use that to keep myself from falling into the trap of always thinking there has to be a Big Bad.  And now I'm wondering how I could have not thought of this earlier and put it to use in a way that could have solved this very problem.

(This is no longer a blog entry, it's now a therapy session.  Funny, I didn't think I had one of those until Friday.)

Okay!  So... I didn't go into this entry expecting to find the root of my own problem along the way.  But, me being me, I'm sure this won't actually solve everything, it'll just give me more to work with.  So, what about the rest of you?  How do you develop whatever it is that's standing in your characters' way?  And how do you make it work out with the rest of the story?  I would love some advice so I don't fall back into my same old problems yet again.  >_<

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

IWSG: The Post-Book Blues

I thought I finished STARWIND two Mondays ago.  I actually finished it three days after that.  Either way, the first draft is done, and I won't pick it up again and start editing until at least the 19th, possibly until the month's end.

So... now what?

The obvious answer is, of course, work on other stuff.  And believe me, I planned to.  I thought I'd be able to get right back to all the other plots I'd been working on before I started STARWIND.  Hell, I even said that I'd take a short break before getting back to work.

It's a good thing I don't have any problems with admitting I'm wrong, because ye gods, was I wholly mistaken on this one.  I've spent most of my time since finishing the book not working on anything, and hardly able to add more than a few bits here or there when I do.  And it feels very strange.

When I was writing the book, I joked that I didn't have much to say or was having trouble saying things because I was using up all of my words on the book.  I really should know better than to make jokes like that, y'know?  Because that's what it's felt like over the past week and a half - like when I sit down, I'm trying to run on empty.  Like I don't yet have my words back.  I've managed to add a few sentences to something, based on stuff I came up with at work, but that's it.

I don't get this, because I genuinely do want to get back to these things.  There's a six-page rough plot in there somewhere that came from me blending three other ideas together, two half-baked chunks of three pages' worth of ideas that started off as the same story but split from each other in some bizarre sort of textual mitosis, and a short series of early ideas that might be me coming up with how to make something work I've wanted to for years.

And, full disclosure: I'm kind of scared to open any of them, as I'm worried that I'll look at them and think they're crap.  Even thinking about them now, I'm worried that two of them have magic systems that are too similar.  Why I'm worried about that, I don't know, as odds are good I'll only ever write one of them and odds are great very few people, if any, will ever see it, but...

You get the idea.  This is my great insecurity for the month, having almost no drive to work on stuff and worried that I'm going to hate it if I do.  I know there's only one way to deal with it: open up the files and see what's there.

Yet most nights, assuming I even open my word processor, I just stare at the "Open" file box, and don't actually bring anything up.

I know this is something that will pass with time.  I'll give my brain and soul a little more rest and get back to everything when I'm ready.  And when I do open those files again, I'll probably like what I see.  It's just hard to convince myself of that right now.

Maybe I just need to plan for longer recovery times after finishing a book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Troping STARWIND

Warning: the following post is made almost entirely out of links to TV Tropes.  Following these links could result in serious damage to your free time and cause you to fall victim to one of the internet's largest black holes.  Please click responsibly.

Like everything else I've written, I have no idea if STARWIND will ever be published.  This isn't me being self-deprecating, this is me being realistic since I just finished the first draft last week.  With this uncertainty, I also have no idea if the book will ever have its own TV Tropes page.

So, as a way to talk about the book that's not "here's what the book's about", I figured, why not make my own out of this week's blog entry?  Let's see....

Apocalypse How: not one, not two, but three of the planes the crew visits have endured significant destructive events.  One used to be a universe.

Artistic License: Martial Arts/Supernatural Martial Arts: Phoenix and Sarai spar in the subjective gravity of the Between.  Fighting someone gets a lot more interesting when each combatant gets to decide which way is down for them.

Asexuality: Phoenix.  It's even a minor plot point.

Badass Longcoat: Kris's brown coat.  Sometimes I feel like she knows what sort of story she's in.

Barrier Warrior: Sarai, though it's doubtful she'd consider herself a warrior.

Bi the Way: Kris.  Considering that she's dating outside her species, it's possible that another designation might work better, but I'll leave that for other people to argue about.

Chekhov's Gun: played straight with something Kris acquires early on.  Averted entirely with Kris and Phoenix's actual guns, which they carry but never fire.

Cool Ship: the Starwind, of course, as well as the five other ships in the race.

Elemental Powers: Kris prefers water magic, but can use earth when necessary.  Phoenix favors fire, which surprises no one.

Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: the book starts with Kris quite literally inside the mouth of one plane's version of a dragon.

Magitek: crystal datapads, magical ship engines, and an eternal gravity engine as one of the race's required items.  And Captain, who's a sentient wargolem.

Science Fantasy: the story has both a very wide definition of "fantasy" and a lot of (soft) sci-fi trappings all blended together.

The Big Race: the main plot of the story is the Starwind's crew participating in a race/scavenger hunt, which has them gathering five items from across the multiverse.

Train Job: played straight, in both a deliberate shout-out to this book's inspiration and the fact that Kris is a fan of Firefly and decides that if it worked in the TV show...

Unspoken Plan Guarantee: the crew has plans to acquire everything they need for the race.  Nothing goes as planned.

I think I'll stop now, as I've spent way too long on this already and I'm trying to avoid spoilers.  Hope I didn't make any of y'all lose too much time with those links.  :P

Next week: IWSG.