Tag Archives: Making the Sausage

Starting Points

Struggling a bit for a topic this week, so you’re going to get something from Evan’s Barrel of Random Writing Thoughts. Enjoy?

Anyway, I read some conversations talking about the starting point for a new story. A lot of very good points were made about starting with the protagonist, what they want, and how they’re going to get it. Or a character, their challenge, and how they feel about it. You establish those things, and then you can start writing. And it makes perfect sense, and is perfectly sound.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever followed that process. The story that became The King in Darkness started with the ending scene. I had that ending in mind, and built the rest of the story backwards from there. What characters do I need, and what circumstances can construct the path that gets us to that point? Very different process.

For the story I’m working on now (for some values of ‘working on’), my starting point was an article I read on the BBC website talking about how FTL travel is not only impossible with current technology, and current ideas about technology, but is probably just straight-out impossible, even allowing for tech we haven’t thought of yet. ‘Well that’s no fun,’ I thought, and then proceeded to think about how well, if it can’t be done with science, how could it be done? Magic, obviously. That idea, and my hard SF-writing friend’s probable reaction to it, made me smile, and I created all the rest of what I’ve got from there. There’s dragons now. Very different process. As far as I can recall, I don’t think I’ve ever started from the starting point a lot of authors I respect agreed was their baseline for being ready to write. Man, creativity is endlessly fascinating.

And look, none of this is to say that I’m doing it right, or that I’m clearly doing something wrong. The main reason I mention this is just as yet another piece of evidence in the growing case that there is no Correct process for writing, or even a Correct part of the writing process. There’s only what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you, and even that may change from project to project. There’s certainly something to be said for modelling what other artists do, especially if you admire their work or if you feel like you don’t know how to proceed. At the same time, there’s no need to feel constrained by what other artists do, or to feel bad about your own process if it’s different. In the end, all that matters is that the creation happens.

God, that’s perilously close to advice. We’ll stop here. Thanks for reading.

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New Project!

This blog started out as a public accountability component to my stated intention to complete my first novel. In other words, I figured saying I was going to do it publicly would help shame me into sticking with the project even when I didn’t necessarily feel like it. I’ve decided to engage that function of the blog again this week, as I get set to seriously begin my next WIP.

Now, astute readers will know that I did already start working on another piece during the summer, and no, this is not that. That project got back-burnered when I had editing to do on Heretic Blood, and now I have another idea I’m a bit more excited by. It may not be exactly Best Practices to switch over like that, but if I have learned anything about my writing process it’s that I do best when I’m working on an idea that I’m excited by in the moment. I still like that other story, and I expect I will get back to it in time, but right now I’ve got this other idea burning a hole in my imagination and I sort of want to jump on it while the excitement holds.

It also makes starting to learn Scrivener a touch easier if I’m starting fresh with a new project instead of working out how to import an existing document into this new program. So, hopefully, I can sort of accomplish two objectives at once. Of course, that depends on ruthlessly carving out the time to really give this new project significant attention, because If I’ve learned a second thing about my writing process, it’s that if I leave a project for a while, I lose that elusive ember of excitement, and then it takes a while to stoke it up again. So if I’m going to do this, I need to attack it consistently, which is what I did with King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures and even (mostly) with Heretic Blood.

I hope that this will start tomorrow; I’m meeting a friend in the morning for a writing session of the sort that gave me the final push through to finishing Heretic Blood and bashing it into shape to start sending out into the world. I’m pretty excited to see how this story goes; it will be quite different from anything I’ve written in a long time.

I haven’t written a lot so far, but (unconventionally for me) I did start at the beginning, so here’s a little taste. I’d love to hear what you think.

We were nearly cornered by armed goons and whether any of us lived through the next few minutes depended entirely on whether the old guy in the filthy coveralls was the right kind of crazy. And look, instead of ‘armed goons’, some people would insist I should be saying ‘law enforcement officers’, sure. And the old man, yes, he might theoretically be one of the most valuable people in any system. But so far, we’d had to basically drag him up three flights of stairs and down a whole bunch of corridors, and his main contribution had been to scream at the top of his lungs and make sure everyone knew exactly where we were. I’ve had relationships get off to better starts. And as situations go, well, I had my gun, and I had my ship, and usually that’s enough. But this was not great.

I think I’m going to call it Spacebender, and I think it’s going to drive my friend Derek Kunsken insane. I’m excited to get started with it, and I’m already looking forward to sharing more of it with you.

Thanks for reading.

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Beginning/Finishing

Couple of quick-fire topics tonight, as Can*Con approaches and I increasingly feel as though my head may be on fire.

This past weekend we saw the first episode of Doctor Who with the new actor portraying the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. I’m not going to get too in-depth, partly because ‘spoilers’ and partly because ‘head on fire’ but in short: I thought it was really fun.

Whittaker was great and seemed very comfortable in the role. It will be interesting to see how much of her manic energy level will be a temporary artifact of the regeneration process and how much will be a permanent element of the character. Either way, it was a treat to watch, I thought the new cast looked like they will be fun and bring a variety of different perspectives on travelling around with an itinerant mad scientist.

I have seen some criticisms of the episode arguing that it was an overly simple plot and not grand enough for the introduction of a new Doctor. I agree that it was a pretty basic story, but I applaud the decision for a couple reasons. First, although I have enjoyed the last few seasons of the show, it is also true that I have found the increasingly labyrinthine and obscure season-long puzzle arcs to be less and less charming. A season that isn’t trying quite so hard to weave an intricate mystery out of a bunch of enigmatic hints and just has some straight-ahead tales will be very welcome.

I also think it was a wise move on the part of the writers, because it would have been reasonable to anticipate a bunch of new viewers tuning in for this one. You want something accessible, not something that requires exhaustive knowledge of years and years of Doctor Who lore to appreciate. You could tune into this with very little background at all, understand what was going on, and jump on the ride.

It looks like it’s going to be a good one.

—-

Also, as Can*Con approaches, I achieved one wee little goal I had set for myself. I had planned to finish the third revision of Heretic Blood in time for the convention, in part so that it was ready to pitch to a couple people who I’m hoping to have a chance to talk to, and also because (as I’ve mentioned), I like a deadline. We are juuuuust under the wire, but I can say: Mission Accomplished.

All of the revisions so far have been fairly significant, and although that’s not always easy (what do you mean it wasn’t perfect the first time?), I think each rewrite has made the story significantly better. Right now, I have a story I’m quite proud of, that I will be pleased to share with a wider audience, and that I know not everyone is going to like.

That’s ok. There is probably some Platonic ideal story out there that will please every reader. I haven’t created it yet, and I haven’t read it yet. I think Heretic Blood has its strengths, and I feel confident that people will read it and like it. Some people will find it not their cup of tea, and I’m all right with that. I think the story needs to be the way it is. Pushing it to be something else might eventually work, but then it would be a different story than the one I wrote, and although it might then appeal to people it wouldn’t in its current form, we’d probably lose some of the people who might like it as it is currently written.

You can, I think, chase the broadest possible appeal forever. I think Heretic Blood is pretty darn close to being exactly the story that I want it to be. (It isn’t, by the way, the story I thought it would be when I set out to write, but that’s also more than fine.) At a certain point, a piece of art is what it is going to be, and you have to send it out into the world and let it try to find its audience.

I hope to do that soon.

Thanks for reading.

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Pots

Just a bit of a progress report-y entry this week. As I’ve mentioned a couple times recently, I (relatively) recently finished a complete draft of Heretic Blood, which I hope will become my next book, and have been working away on revisions and edits. It’s going ok, as I continue to get invaluable feedback from the Eager Volunteers, but it’s also true to say that I find editing to be less fun than creating something new (I think most people do) so my brain keeps straying away to what the next project should be.

I have several ideas, which is another kind of challenge. First, I need to keep as on-task as I can editing Heretic Blood so that it’s good enough to try to find a home for. Second, if I’m going to do anything useful on new work, I need to pick one new project and focus on that. Having multiple ideas is certainly not the worst problem to have, but I’ve already learned that trying to write more than one thing at once doesn’t really work for me. So, I’m somewhat waiting to see which idea I end up having some real sustained interest in; that can then become the next new piece of work while I continue making Heretic Blood presentable to the world at large.

I am also in the midst of rereading (after many, many years) the Prydain stories by Lloyd Alexander, and enjoying them a great deal. I had forgotten just how charming they were and I may write about that some other week. However, I’ve also just gotten to the part (in Taran Wanderer) where Taran discovers that a) he really likes making pottery but b) he’s not skilled enough to make a living at it.

From time to time I wonder, as I imagine a lot of creatives might, if I’m in the same sort of position with my writing. I really enjoy but, but maybe I’m not quite good enough for it to ever be more than a hobby. I suppose that a) the jury may still be out but also b) at some point you have to decide how much that matters – is it worth creating the art because you love it, even if it never really becomes much beyond that?

I have my moments of doubt about it all, but I know that when I’m able to get some stillness and put the world away for a while that I decided this long ago. I’m gonna keep making pots.

Thanks for reading.

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Back to It

Just a very quick note this week as I don’t really have a great topic idea while also getting a bit busy with the impending start of the fall term and doing some programming work for Can*Con. I also just got home from a vacation up north a bit where I was able to spend some time tending a fire again. As I’ve written about before, I find that deeply satisfying and it was a very nice break. Now back to it.

Primarily right now, “it” is doing revisions of Heretic Blood to get ready to try to find a home. I always find it a strange experience going over my own work. I wrote all of it (honest!) but I will find mistakes that I absolutely cannot believe I made that make me cringe (discovered today: three consecutive ‘Chapter Seven’s) along with word choices and phrases that strike me as awful. I can’t believe I wrote that, yet I indisputably did.

I will also find those parts that make me smile, I’ll read a turn of phrase and think it clever, and every once in a while I will read something that gives me a little chill or flare of excitement. I can’t always believe I wrote those bits either, yet I indisputably did.

Part of this is just to say how important it is to revise thoroughly and find a process for it that works for you. When I sent out the first ‘complete’ draft to my Eager Volunteers, I thought it had most of the rough edges knocked off it, but both they and I have found really glaring errors. They’re in there. Edit your stuff.

Part of it is also what is for me a helpful reminder that even though all the missteps, large and small, are in there, the good stuff really is in there too. Finding a flaw in the work isn’t a sign that it needs to be abandoned, or burned to the ground and started over. It just needs more work.

Revising is not nearly as fun for me as creating something fresh, but it’s at least as important if I’m going to end up with something that people actually want to read. If ‘being there’ is a significant factor in success, so is being willing to do the grind. Most any field that I have any experience with whatsoever has some kind of grind associated with it, and if you want to work in that field, you gotta do the grind eventually. Put it the work, get it done, and that’s how you get back to the fun parts. And it is satisfying, in its own way, to look back at what you were just able to grind on through, know that you took care of that, and did it the best you could.

I have comments in from another Eager Volunteer. Back to it.

Thanks for reading.

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Not Insane

From time to time I meet up with some other local authors and we sit in a place (it varies) and do some writing. It’s very slightly social (the idea is not to talk to each other the whole time) but mostly the idea is to be productive. I find doing it in a group useful mostly from an accountability standpoint, i.e. I will feel guilty if the others see me goofing off on Twitter instead of writing the thing I’m meant to be writing. Also, going to a different place to work from time to time (although I deeply value my Writing Deck time) is useful because it stops me wandering off to do laundry or pet the cats instead of staying on task.

So the group writing sessions are very useful. I got refocused and back on track with the first draft of Heretic Blood by going to a bunch of them, and today I got a nice little bit of the new project hammered out by just going to a room with some other writers and sitting there and getting shit done. Well worth getting out of my pjs for.

Today’s session was also useful in a different kind of way: during one of our ‘get more coffee’ intermissions, we got to talking about how we work and I mentioned that thing I do (which I have written about here several times) where I write the first draft of my stories out of order. I think I’ve also mentioned that when I explain this process to other people, I get a strong feeling that it sounds insane.

Today though, one of the people I was writing with, who happens to be a thoroughly legitimate professional (and, in fact, I suspect that after a few more years go by, people won’t believe me if I claim to know him) said that he does the same thing, for many of the same reasons. I don’t mention this to argue that this means I am doing things Right (I still don’t believe that there is a Right way to do things), but because it was really very validating to have another writer say that yes, they do things that way too.

I think it’s very easy to convince ourselves (especially those of us prone to Impostor Syndrome) that however we do things is a massive ongoing disaster and that people will think we’re insane for doing it. So it’s almost a relief to hear that yes, other people use the same methods. I would go so far as to speculate, in fact, that no matter what method any individual writer is using to get the words on the page and their stuff completed, there’s a whole bunch doing the same thing. Because it works for them.

So what I’m doing isn’t insane (or at least no more insane than the endeavour of ‘creative writing’ is as a whole), what any of you reading may be doing also isn’t insane, and what matters is that the shit gets done.

Man, that’s dangerously close to advice again. We’ll call it there.

Thanks for reading.

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Plan?

Revisions are underway for the first draft of Heretic Blood, which I hope will become my third novel. I had one set of notes from an Eager Volunteer already, and have done one editing pass/rewrite based on those, and I’m waiting a bit for others to come in. I will do my own revision as well at some stage but I’m giving myself a little distance from the the thing before I do. Given the mistakes I missed in composing the first draft, I think this is for the best.

While Heretic Blood is on temporary pause, I’ve started the groundwork for what will be the next WIP. Unusually for me, I’ve spent reasonable chunk of time planning without really beginning to write. (Ok, yes, fine, I’ve already written the first and last paragraphs, leaving only all that tricky stuff in between to do.) With the other books, I largely just started writing the bits of the story I had clear in my mind, and worked out how it was all going to fit together, and what the other bits needed to be, as I went along.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m approaching it differently this time. Partly it’s because the story (as I imagine it now) will have a more complex structure than the ones I’ve written before, with flashbacks interwoven with the main narrative. I feel like I need to figure out what all of those are going to be before I start my work.

And that’s really the key thing – I feel like I need to spend some time planning this one. I can’t clearly say why, but it has been very clear to me that I need to hammer some stuff out before I’m ready to write. Perhaps this is because the WIP is a story I began once before, and ditched – I need to understand what I’m changing, and what I’m keeping, and get it relatively straight in my head before I start writing.

The reason I mention it is that, whatever the reason may be why I feel like I need to plan this time before I write, it serves as a really good example of how there is no One True Way to writing a story. I’m doing this one very differently than the last time. I can’t say for sure that it’s going to work equally well (for me), but there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to try it and see. Maybe it’ll be fantastic and I’ll plan from now on. Maybe it somehow is particular to this idea and I’ll never plan again.

The point is you gotta try and see what works for your process. Stuff that works, keep doing. Stuff that doesn’t help you, don’t worry about.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading.

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(Not actually) Finished

I’m pleased to have as my topic for this week’s blog that I finished a complete draft of Heretic Blood today. I’ve been working away at it, at varying rates and to varying degrees of success, for what feels like a very long time. There have been numerous challenges (many moaned about here on the blog) and I think this book may well be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written.

It changed, or at least my impression of what it needed to be changed, at least twice as I was writing, requiring some extensive rejigging of things both already done and yet to be created. There are also some challenging things in it (that I’m not entirely ready to spoil just yet) that go beyond what I’ve tried to grapple with in my fiction before. In the end I have something that (even reasonably deep in the Statler and Waldorf process) I think is reasonably good and should only get better as I begin the next phase of the job, editing and revising.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I wrote this book just as I pleased. I picked the words I wanted to pick, wrote each sentence the way I wanted it, and gave more or less zero thought to any of the rules of writing that you’ll encounter on any typical cruise around the internet. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure there really are rules, or at least (as one writer put it on Twitter recently) not in the sense that there are rules for how to assemble an engine. There are, of course, principles that will work somewhat more often than they won’t, and approaches that have succeeded for a great many writers. When it comes down to it, though, what you’re left with is you, the page, and getting words on it. You have to do what works for you, and you’ve got to make it your story. That’s what I think I’ve done with Heretic Blood, which may or may not be an unreadable mess, but it’s my unreadable mess, and I like that.

Editing will probably demand a lot of this changes, and that’s good. My hope is that I’m starting from a place that has a strong voice and tells a story the way I would like it told. I’m sure it won’t be for everyone; with luck it will resonate with some audience, of whatever size. I really do look forward to hearing what my Eager Volunteers think of it, and then hopefully what more of you think of it when and if the book gets to you.

I hadn’t expected to finish today. I knew I was reasonably close, but then this morning I was working on rewriting a scene, took a look to see how much more work there was to do it total, and realized that I could just do all of it today. I changed the plan for my afternoon a little bit, pushed on, and got it finished. It was somewhat like that feeling towards the end of a race when you see the finish line and realize you can sprint to the end. Just: wow, yes, we can get this done!

I made a lot of progress in the last couple of weeks. I think a lot of it was having a stretch of days to devote to writing, and really focus on it, to kind of get my legs under me. I hate to continue the running analogy, but there are things I don’t properly realize until I’m doing them. When I’m running, I need to be able to feel the right stride for me to use – the one that feels slower-paced, but with bigger strides that digest the kilometers, not the quicker, shorter one that burns my cardio and ends up a more frantic, slower movement. It really is similar with my writing; I need that block of days to feel myself settle into a good steady rhythm, and then the pages fill themselves.

I think I hit that over the past week, in particular, and now this job (or a phase of it, anyway) is done. I need to carry this momentum on to another project, and I have a couple of ideas.

Finishing is a lovely feeling.

Now to start something new.

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Busting Through

Another short one today, I fear – I am a little pressed for time as (among other things) we get geared up for Can*Con this coming weekend. It has been a lot of work (and I didn’t even do most of it!) but we’re very excited about the con this year and I’m personally very proud of what we’ve put together for our guests this year. I’m really looking forward to it (although I’m gonna be exhausted for Monday) and I will hopefully remember enough of it to write something reasonably coherent about it all afterwards.

For now, though, the main thing I achieved in the past week was finally breaking through the logjam on the WIP. Basically the problem was that I got to a point where I realized there needed to be some pretty major rewrites or at least reworks of even the incomplete first draft that I had done so far. To make the plot work I had to move some things around, create some entirely new material and then figure out where to add it in.

This is more or less the kind of thing you always have to do when working on a story, especially when hammering together the first draft, but the scale of this particular rework was pretty daunting, and the first couple of times I sat down to try to do it (way back in August) I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and ended up just sort of walking away. This happened a couple times, and I would come back to try to write some other parts of the story, but always had the ‘yeah, but you need to do that rewrite’ hanging over me and it never went very well.

I started to think about other stuff that I could write instead. New projects always seem fresh and exciting and it’s often tempting to switch. I got to thinking that maybe this whole project was flawed at its core and that I should just junk it. William Gibson said that the process of writing is, in part, overcoming your revulsion for your own work, and mine got pretty palpable over the past few weeks.

So, basically nothing got written through September, which got me to feeling that the work was Not Going Well, which is kind of discouraging in itself. I tried very hard to remind myself that this happened with Bonhomme Sept-Heures, and it got written, and it really happened with King in Darkness, which I basically did give up on until a friend talked me out of it. So I think this just is a part of the process, or at least my process, and as much as it’s not fun it’s a stage that I need to drag the whole mess through.

This past weekend I had part of an afternoon to myself, and so I told a couple of people that I was going to Solve The Problem (thus committing myself), sat down, and figured out how to make it work. In terms of actual number of words written, it wasn’t a lot for several hours work, but in terms of things moved around and plot restructured it was a successful major surgery. I now know (I’m pretty sure) where all the major pieces need to go and I feel like I can press on creating without the cloud of ‘this is fundamentally a mess’ hanging over me.

So that was a good weekend’s work. I mostly write this as a reminder to Future Me when I’m working on whatever the project after this will be that for whatever reason, this is a stage I seem to go through, and that probably the sooner I just grimly push through the apparently insurmountable issue, the better. Possibly some of you reading have similar issues and maybe this will be helpful. I think it’s very easy to get negative about ourselves and our work, and it’s good to remember that the whole thing doesn’t have to flow in an unending effortless torrent of smoothness. Sometimes it’s a struggle, and that doesn’t mean anything other than that writing is hard.

I am reminded of something someone told me about running once (sorry) – if running half-marathons was easy, everyone would do it. It’s not, it’s hard.

If writing novels was easy, everyone would do it.

The important unspoken part of that is that even though it’s hard, we can still do it.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. See you after Can*Con.

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Ramblings in the Halfway House

I struggled a bit to find a topic for this week. I’m somewhere past the half-way point – somewhat behind my notional ‘schedule’ of where I wanted to be at this time, but not bad – of the WIP (now tentatively titled Heretic Blood) and I’ve sent a chunk of it out to the Eager Volunteers for a check through, but ‘still writing’ doesn’t do much for a blog topic. Overall I think it’s going fine, although I’ve already done a couple of reasonably major rewrites as I come to understand the story a bit better.

One of the rewrites was deciding/discovering that a character who I had originally planned on surviving the book should probably get killed. This really wasn’t a fit of bloodthirstiness (well, not only), it was sort of the most logical or plausible conclusion to an accumulation of actions in the story that all seemed reasonably incidental at the time. Then, all of a sudden they added up to the character being quite different than I originally thought they would be, and their death became the most natural conclusion to their art.

It was one of those times when I feel like I’m discovering things about my plot and my characters rather than creating them, although I know on some level that that isn’t true. However, I’m convinced that there are subconscious processes at work and as much as I find it mildly frustrating at times – it would be wonderful to not have to make these ‘discoveries’ which require significant rewrites and just write the damn story

Maybe that’s what you get from more extensive planning than I do. I know some writers have really detailed and extensive plans of their work before they ever begin to write, either in electronic form or big charts with strings and things going on. I have honestly tried it, but there are two problems. One is that (I guess because I’m somewhat disorganized by nature) my plans tend to be kind of a disaster area, and thus more confusing than helpful about 48 hours after I’m done making them.

The other is that I find making plans boring. Writing is interesting, especially at the start of the project when I think everything about the idea is super rad. If I’m excited, I basically want to stop making the plan and start getting some of the ideas on the page. Maybe this a moment where a more professional writer would be disciplined and do the damn plan and then not have to do as much major surgery on their work once they start writing it.

I kind of suspect, though, that this is one of those cases where everyone has to find whatever process they need to Get Stuff Written and then do that. The more I learn about my own writing, talk to other writers about their writing, and read different people’s ideas about how writing works, the more convinced I become that there is no one correct and proper way to do it. There are basically no rules. There may not even be guidelines. There’s just what works for an individual artist, and you gotta figure out what that is and then do it unapologetically.

Which leaves me with my rather arcane and confusing process where I sometimes feel like I’m in a somewhat uneasy state of detente with my own brain, but it works, or at least works better than anything I’ve yet tried, and thus I continue. I do feel ever so slightly bad for my imaginary person who got flipped from survivor to horribly mangled corpse in the course of a morning writing session, though.

Hmmm. I honestly thought this was just going to be a preamble to another topic, but I should probably get back to Heretic Blood and this feels like enough to call an entry now.

I am looking forward to sharing Heretic Blood with you, since it’s really quite different from either of the books I’ve done so far, and even at this point where I’ve been working on it for quite some time, I’m not hearing too much from Statler and Waldorf yet. Which tells me that yes, somewhat incomprehensible process or not, I should keep at it while that continues to be the case.

Thanks for reading.

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