Mar 31, 2010 Daily Writing
I’ve spent the past day stewing over the decision of what to write next, and in the quiet of the moment I took a look back over the past three months (being a real life corporate type, I figure it’s time for my quarterly review).
The results, you ask:
Overall, not bad: six new short works and a novel rewrite, though I have to admit the first short was started in late December, so it shouldn’t really count…but if I’m going corporate for this post, I’ve decided I’m a results-oriented outfit, so I’ll credit myself for whan the work finished. So six stories in Q1 of 2010 [grin].
On to Q2, and back to the decision of what to write next.
Lisa finished her reading of the last story I completed, and the results are a mixed bag.
First, there were relatively few typos and basic copy-editing errors, which is always good (hey, the place isn’t called “The Typosphere” for nothing). But she asked a couple great questions about the story itself which I could answer inside my head, but that I admit I hadn’t addressed particularly well in the manuscript.
Hey, it happens.
So I’ve spent the morning going back through the piece and making certain things very clear. I’ll set it aside now, and come back to it this evening for another read-through to see if I think I’ve gone overboard or not.
Mar 27, 2010 Daily Writing
The last two days have been business days, meaning I’ve put submissions together and got things in the mail. This also includes some final work on tax paperwork I needed to prepare that was not related to writing in any way. Always much fun.
I tend to batch my business days like this rather than do them a little at a time–though I’ll say that the prevalence of publications that accept electronic submissions has helped this quite a bit. I can do the business end when my creative side is tired, or in other words while I’m perched on the couch in front of the TV at night.
But I digress a bit.
I’ve mentioned that Lisa and I are going to the health club quite a bit, and that I’ve been podcasting-out while treadmilling and lifting and doing all sorts of other physical damage to my body. My latest dwelling spot is a collection of Don Swaim’s interviews on the Wired for Words website. These interviews had been broadcast as part of CBS’s Book Beat. Nothing better than listening to hundreds of writers talk about … well … about stuff.
I worked my way through the second draft at lunch yesterday, though I suppose it would be more accurate to call it draft 1.5. I did this work on paper, marking up a draft with many (many, many) ink-scrawlings. I left three problems behind that I marked in big pink highlighter.
This morning, I went through and added in all my edits, as well as fixed two of the three fundamental problems. The astute will realize that three minus two equals one, which happens then to be the number of issues I have yet to resolve.
The issue here is a matter where I’m unhappy with the method I’ve chosen to report a integral fact of behind the story. The draft today does it in a workmanlike fashion, so technically it’s “fine.” I’m looking for better than fine, though. My guess is that I need to plant a seed someplace upstream to hang the information on at the key point. But honesty forces me to admit that at this moment I’m not 100% positive where that hook ought be planted. So I think I’m going to let this sit for the afternoon and come back to it with a different brain on.
Yes, I know. That sounds like it might hurt a bit.
Hey, it’s a tough life.
The latest tale is drawing to its end. I have a couple items I need to research to make sure I’m getting things right, and I think the last scene still feels kind of tagged on. But it should be done in the next day or two. I think.
This is the story I spoke of last post, where I went back and plotted everything. It worked well, but then the characters still took over, and it went a few places I wasn’t expecting. I think this is good, of course (you would expect me to say something else?). My buddy John took me to task for the “plan it” approach, and rightly so since that’s not how he does it. But the thing this does for me is that it removes the abject fear that when I sit down in the morning nothing will come out.
When I understand the basic concept of the story I’m working on I know I can create words.
A key thing to John’s mindset that I thought was interesting, though, was that he finds the first “loose” draft done in free-writing style to be the most fun. Perhaps this is why we collaborate so well. Because I find the second draft to be the best. The first draft is exploratory, it tells me what the story really is. It’s scary because I don’t really know what I’m doing. Sometimes a first draft is like pulling teeth.
The second draft is where I’m really creating. The second draft is great fun. It’s where all the pieces come together and I can fix all the stupid mistakes I made in the first draft.
Sometimes the third draft is a blast, too.
But eventually the editing and rewriting part becomes no fun.
And that means, for me, the story is done. [grin]
Okay, so I’ve been talking about how I’ve been writing these days by basically just showing up at the keyboard and starting to type, that I pick up the virtual phone and listen to the character, and let the thing happen however it happens. And, yes, I’ve been pretty happy with the results.
This afternoon I spent lunch by myself thinking about the story that started revealing itself to me yesterday morning (and that I added some 700 words to this morning). I looked at each character, and developed the full story frame. Sure, there’s a little more to discover in the details, but I know what I’m going to write when I sit down tomorrow morning. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that.
So here’s what I’ve come to think about myself–I think I’m putting in the time, but not putting in the work. And I think I’m doing that because it’s the easy way out. It’s “working” because I’m a good enough story teller to intuitively stay somewhat in the right ballpark. But I do a lot of backing up or re-writing right now, and it results in taking a lot longer to write stories than it used to.
Now, realize that I’m not trying to run myself down here. I’ve been doing a good job of putting in the time again–which is the biggest deal of all. As a result of this approach I would say I’ve been feeling much more free to let the story go outside the lines, so the writing itself has had more spark to it. But as I left lunch today I came to the conclusion that I need to find a way to get back into my previous mold again–but, of course, keep the sparky parts from my forays into free-form story generation.
We’ll see how things got tomorrow, eh?
It’s been a week, though it didn’t seem like I got all that much done. And, I guess in reality I didn’t. But, of course, I did. [Geez, Ron, why do you have to make yourself sound so danged dense?]
I took the weekend prior “off” to do some tax work, which is certainly done. This is always good, because the IRS can clearly make life unhappy for those who miss their deadlines. Then I spent a couple days wallowing in the mire of a new story that just didn’t want to come together. I wrote a very high-level set of notes about it, then jumped in and wrote a thousand words on it.
They were good words, too. A nice little character study that might be useful someday. But unfortunately, I don’t think they were what I needed for this story. So I was back to square one.
So I set it aside for a day.
Instead, I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which is great, but dense. And I started reading Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, which Lisa wants me to finish. I watched the NCAA brackets.
Then this morning I came downstairs without even really knowing what I would work on, and wonders be, out poured about a thousand words of clarity, loosely aligned to the outline I’ve been kicking around for the last week. This is the story I’ve been looking for. I admit fully I’m not sure where it’s going to end, yet–a feeling I don’t know if I’ll ever really get used to. But the character is very strong inside my brain right now, and I know she’s got a story to tell. So I’m going to hang on and see what she’s got to say.
Brains are funny things, eh?
Finished the read-through of my Book 2 draft. Still like it quite a bit, which doesn’t suck and all that.
The main reason I decided to to a power-read on it was to take a look at the outline. I envision this story to happen over as many as six or eight books now, none of which do I intend to be big old doorstops…and, yes, I know that’s not exactly marketing wisdom speaking, but what the heck. I’ll change my tune when the book contract hits. [grin] Anyway, I felt I needed to read through the draft because I’ve got a sketchy, episodic outline developed to act as a loose guideline for things, and I wanted to see how well the outline was standing up.
The verdict: Well, it needs a little adjustment. Not tons, but a little. In addition, I’m thinking the working title I was using for this book is probably better served to cover what might eventually be book 3. We shall see, though.
Anyway, the main thinking here is that I want to be prepared to respond if/when someone has interest in book 1. Hey, it never hurts to be prepared for success.
And now I am. Well, almost anyway. Just gotta make a few edits to the outline, and then I’ll be there.
I admit to being a bit stalled on the new short story. I think this is a major flaw in the concept of growing stories organically, but what the heck.
So, rather than beat my head against the concrete, I’ve changed course and spent the morning reading the “shitty first draft” of the second book in my sword and sorcery series. It’s got lots of first-draftitis, meaning I can sense gaps and a few places where I rushed things. I see places I can explain a bit more, and maybe compress a couple supporting characters. But overall I am pretty pleased. It’s a story with a much broader scope than the first one, and the writing looks like it will support that. Even better, I think it will take less work than I had originally envisioned to get it where I want it.
All good. All good.
I had a weird thing happen yesterday morning as I was writing. It was one of those little gems that pop themselves up every now and again, and that maybe wind up being nothing or maybe wind up being … well … not nothing.
In a recent post, I noted that my writing process had become different these days, meaning that I’m not doing anywhere near as much pre-plotting these days as I have in the past. I’m starting more and more with a situation, then growing stories more organically from that point. To that point, among several accomplishments I made this morning was that I managed to write a couple hundred words of a new story.
When I was done, I had this little internal dialog with it:
Ron: Okay, that’s interesting. Where are you going?
Ron: What’choo talkin’ ’bout Willis?
Story: I said I’m not going anywhere, and don’t call me Willis.
Ron: This is a problem, dude.
Story: Yes, it is. But, luckily, it’s not _my_ problem.
And so I stewed and thought about it. Why wasn’t it going anywhere? And then one of those little shivers struck me, you know, one of those “hey, that’s weird” zen-yoga things you get when you know something’s right but you just hadn’t seen it that way before.
I realized at that moment that I wasn’t looking at the beginning of a story at all. Instead, what I was looking at was the end of it.
It immediately got me to asking lots and lots of fascinating questions about these characters and the situation–another fact that leads me to believe that I’m right in interpreting this as the back end of a story revealed to me. So now I get to play the game differently the next couple days and figure out what events have conspired to wind up with the little bit that appeared this morning.
As I think Dale Carnegie once advised, I’m beginning with the end in mind.
It’s something new every day, eh?
I feel like I’m in this incredibly strange position. While I’ve never considered myself to have ever really stopped writing, I admit fully that I’ve stepped extremely far from the center of the world I knew previously–though I guess it’s more appropriate to say I stopped moving, and the rest of the world kept right on dancing. I’ve made distance between myself and the SF community by my own inaction. I understand this better than you can guess.
Regardless, it’s just so weird to have an established background but feel so out of touch.
Realizing this, I’ve made it a priority to address the vacuum over the past few months and I’ve been working my tail off to get myself back into the game–or at least to understand where the game is at. If I’ve learned anything at all through all this work it’s that this is one helluva great time to be a new writer.
Of course, I’m not really a new writer, but it kinda feels that way every now and again. Mostly now. Except when it’s again.
Anyway, I mean … wow. It’s a really different world than even ten or fifteen years ago. Back in those grisly old days you had to code your own damned website, blogs were journals, and there weren’t any simple ways to learn anything. The only real way to get real contact with professional writers, or direct understanding of what it took to be a real writer was to drop a couple thousand bucks and go to a Big Name writer’s camp or at least find your way to a convention. Both of these options are still there, of course.
But now. Well.
The material available to the total newbie out here today is immense and really useful. It’s freaking staggering how easy it is to find help now. Forums, websites, podcasts, twitter feeds, social networks. Geez. I can’t imagine how any new writer can possibly go wrong.
My latest approach has been podcasts. I mentioned a few posts back that Lisa and I are spending a lot of time at the health club. We go for an hour after work pretty much every day, and we’ve been doing three hours a day each weekend day. This means I set aside about eleven hours a week to listen to something of value. This doesn’t count the quiet moments around lunch that I can use, or the 10 minute drives to work that I occasionally grab. (Note: none of this is actual writing time, but instead is time I can pull through multi-tasking–nothing better than learning about the field while burning a few calories).
So the iPod has been burning.
I’ve spent some of this time listening to interviews of editors that I was considering sending my book to, which immediately gave me a feel for what they thought and how they approached material. I’ve listened to several what I’ll call “culturally relevant” stories by the Scalzi’s and the Doctorows and the Buckells (hiya, Toby…you go, guy) and several others. I took in James Patrick Kelly’s environment-changing Burn. I’ve experienced NPR and Barnes and Noble interviews of probably 30 writers that range from Anne Lamott to Ken Follett to Niel Gaiman to Laura Lippman. I’ve found Shaun Farrell’s Adventures in Science Fiction Publishing, and Mur Lafferty’s I Should be Writing. And, yeah, those are just a few of the goodies I’ve come across.
I mean, it’s almost impossible to _not_ know at least something about what’s going on in the field as long as you work on it just a little bit. And this is just in Podcast space. I’m not even yet touching on the fact that there appear to be a gazillion solid markets for short fiction now.
It all makes me feel like an old geezer. “In my day and age you had to write uphill both ways…”
So, yeah, it seems like a great time to be a new writer, though I admit I wish I didn’t feel quite so much like one.