Another One in the Can

I finished manuscript number 7 this morning. I’ve only had one other novel ever reach this length and that was after a whole bunch of revisions. I can’t believe its finally over. I feel both excited and relieved!

I originally thought it would be something like 100,000 words at most. It was pretty clear to me that I was nowhere near close enough on my estimate when I was about 80,000 words in and just then hitting the midpoint. Rather than despair, I pushed on.

It was actually pretty liberating knowing that I’m going to cut at least a third of what I’ve written. At least I’m guessing it’ll be a third. Honestly, I have no idea. I just know there’s some fat in here that needs trimming.

Even though I feel like I’ve accomplished telling the story I wanted to tell, I don’t think I want the book to be this long. It’s ballooning because I’m balancing four different character stories that all intersect, but I know I can pare it down. Cut out all that fat and just streamline the hell out of it.

I remember listening to an interview with Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness fame a couple years ago about his Ash Versus the Evil Dead TV series when it was first coming out. The way he described each episode was that they’d filmed for your standard hours’ worth of programming, but then cut them all down to twenty-two minutes. All that boring middle stuff was just gone. That way they never waste the viewer’s time or spend too long on needless downtime.

That’s kind of how I’m approaching this new work. I wrote the words needed and then, like Edward Scissorhands, make something beautiful out of that tangled mess. Well, I hope it’ll be beautiful, but you know what I mean.

My THINGS TO FIX list of changes and edits for draft two is like four pages long, but I wouldn’t let myself touch it until I was finished. Well, now I am. But I’m gonna need to rest on these laurels for a bit and let my mind drift so I can come back with a fresher perspective.

The greatest piece of writing advice I think I ever received was from a GA back in college. She said something along the lines of “Just finish it. Once the story is told, you’re done. You’ve succeeded in writing that story. Finish the work and then go back and make it look good.”

Michael Creighton put it much more elegantly when he said, “Great books aren’t written. They’re re-written.”

So that’s what I did. I kept trucking along, checking things off my outline as I go, knowing full well there’s a whole heap of stuff that needs to be fixed in post. I don’t see any of this as a failure, but a learning exercise. It’s practice for a whole variety of things.

This is my third fantasy manuscript. As a fantasy reader, I thought I wanted to write fantasy, but my first two turned out to be duds. In fact, one of them is my Voldemort of manuscripts – he who shall not be named – and is never talked about. As a newly-realizing science fiction author, I’m stuck with it, though. I had my doubts a third of the way in, but wouldn’t you know it, but the darned thing has grown on me. I think there’s something worth salvaging here.

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Week 4

Since my personal National Novel Writing Month ended yesterday, I thought I’d just wait the two days before posting my final update.

I did it!

Fifty thousand words in thirty days. What a ride. Honestly, it feels stupendous.

I’ve successfully completed NaNoWriMo once before. But it’s been a couple years since then. Last year I ran out of book and this year I ran out of writing time. So I honestly wasn’t sure if it was going to happen.

The thing I’m most pleased with is that I’m so close to the end of the manuscript now that I can taste it. I just need to get everyone out of danger and hit that juicy denouement and I’m home free. I’ve said it before, but this novel is taking so much longer than I expected to write. I’ve never looked forward to the editing process more, but that’s for later.

Okay, so some takeaways:

First, WriteTrack is awesome! I’ve never been someone who needed the external motivation to write. If you want to be a writer, then write. I love writing. I’m honestly miserable when I don’t write. That said, there’s something fun about watching bar graphs go up. But if you do need that external motivation or something to keep you honest, this is it.

Second, fifty thousand words is hard to do on the fly. I have an outline, sure, but every time I sit down I need to have done some mental prewriting first. And since I have a full time job, I never had a chance to sit down and crank out three thousand words all at once. On the days where I created some padding for myself, that usually meant sitting down in three smaller chunks to reach the total. Because I need all that prewriting, it pretty much meant I was eating and breathing my novel for the past month as I was always thinking about it. That’s pretty great. I feel more in tuned with the world and characters than ever before.

Third, its great to have goals. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Even then, what’s your mark of success? The completed manuscript? Getting an agent? Getting it published (traditional or otherwise)? So having something like this challenge definitely spiced up the day to day, so even though I’ve finished, I can’t break the habit of recording my daily word count in a spreadsheet. I did that very thing this morning.

So there you have it. It wasn’t the easiest thing, but it was totally doable.

Great time. Would do again.

Week 3

Still going steady.

Other times I’ve done this, I’ve written in fits and spurts. Three thousand words here, a thousand words there … This time I seem to be trucking along with about two thousand words a day and half that pace on the weekends. That’s pretty good. I’ve got nine days left and twenty-thousand words to go. It’ll happen.

My THINGS TO FIX list is growing especially long. It’s like a friend wearing a Halloween mask. It only looks scary, but ultimately it’s going to make the book better in the end. It’s also going to be a heck of a lot of work. But that’s a still a problem for Future Dan, though the rate I’m going Future Dan is going to be Present Dan pretty soon.

There’s a whole bunch of worldbuilding that needs clarification, but one of the big issues I know I need to fix is my naming conventions. I’ve had this idea for a while now and this manuscript is the first time I’ve got a chance to test it out.

It goes something like this …

Places tend to be permanent so they get very descriptive, albeit dull names. Those mountains are gray, well then they’re the Gray Mountains. Or your city is close to the shore, then you live in Nearshore. They’re supposed to be self-descriptive.

Now people, that’s where it gets interesting. People change. Places don’t. In this world, people are given a name at birth and then earn or are assigned names later by authority figures. These names are usually descriptive of the person’s deed or actions at a certain point in time. So someone might be born with the name Round Like Acorn, then later be named First of Snowfall, and even later earn the name Cheats At Cards. That’s three different names for one person and totally confusing. Especially when you have dozens of characters running around.

So I tried adding some consistency, by making the noun static. That would make my example:

Round Like Acorn

Round Of Snowfall

Round Cheats At Cards

So, even if you don’t remember everything, at least “Round” stays the same and that becomes the character’s name and nickname for the reader. But I’ve already broken my own rule because in “Round like Acorn,” the noun subject is actually the implied “You”. I mean it works, kind of, but it sometimes feels like putting a circle in a square shaped hole when you’re writing something like, “Round kicked off the wall and flipped into the water.” It’s awkward.

If that wasn’t enough, there are noble families in the story who play an important role in the narrative and the world. I also wanted to incorporate them into a person’s name so that as a reader if you’ve never met a character before, one look at his or her name and you’d know what family they belonged to.

It’s funny. Writing it all out like this feels like I’m giving away a secret recipe or something. I’m all right with it though. Last night, I think I finally cracked it. It’ll probably still be confusing, but I’ve simplified some of it and with enough explanations on my part to remind the reader, I hope it actually pulls people into the world instead of kicking them out.

We’ll see, though. Getting it into the hands of some beta readers will be the ultimate test. Gotta hurry up and finish it first before that even happens.

Week 2

The second week of MyNaNoWriMo continues to go well. I’ve slowed down a little thanks to some work commitments, but there’s still time to catch back up. I don’t know if I’d be as optimistic if it wasn’t for WriteTrack. The program continues to impress. I love watching my daily word count goals change based on my current writing habits.

My latest work in progress is in the home stretch now. I just entered the start of the Resolution phase a couple thousand words ago. Meaning, that we’re on our way to the climax, actual resolution, and denouement.

I’m an outliner. I need structure and story beats to know where I’m going. I can trim and edit later, but if I don’t have these sections laid out then I find that my stories just fall apart. So finally getting past Plot Point 2 was a huge deal for me. It was the signal to shift it into the next gear. Plus, the switch came after what ended up being a twenty-one thousand word battle scene. So there’s that. I don’t think of myself as much of an action writer, but this a fantasy leading towards the epic fantasy. If there aren’t battles and combat every once and a while, then it’d be a pretty boring book.

When I’m not writing, I’ve been doing some editing of older manuscripts getting them ready for self-publishing. I’m always astounded when I come back to something that I thought was as good as it was ever going to be and then find a way to make it better. Usually that involves substantial cutting and editing.

Case in point, my latest manuscript – Altered Egos – is still making the querying rounds. It’s a science fiction story clocking in a 105k words. I’d done seven drafts up until that point and thought it finished. Then I had an epiphany late one night as I fought the baby back to sleep. I not only knew how to trim some of the fat, but I realized how I could combine two similar scenes into just one and cut down on the redundancy too. The end result trimmed 11k off the final product and its sitting pretty at 94k now. Further proof that works are never finished, just abandoned as the saying goes.

When it comes to writing, I’m not really all that much of a perfectionist. I want to be happy with the final product, but I don’t agonize over the little things. You’re talking to a guy who used to turn in rough drafts in college because he couldn’t be bothered to go back and read a paper even once. So it’s not like I enjoy doing draft after draft after draft. I go until I feel like the work is finished and then it’s time to move on. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be proud of the result, but I don’t often get  hungup.

Lately I’m learning that as I level up as a writer, that some of my earlier works can still use another pass or two proving that they weren’t actually ready for publication in the first place. That’s okay. Now that I’ve decided to release them, I can clean them up one last time so they’re even better.

The thought of publishing my own work used to make me nervous. I kept thinking that what if I wanted to return to this world or idea someday. If I publish it, then I can never make the 2.0 version to sell to a traditional publisher. But then I realized that I haven’t run out of ideas yet. I’m working on finishing my seventh manuscript and they’re all wildly different from each other. I’ve got ideas for book eight primed on the back burner right now and that’s assuming I don’t end up writing a sequel to one of these soon-to-be self-published works instead. So running out of ideas just isn’t going to happen.

Okay, enough of that. Time to get back to writing.

Week 1

Full disclosure, I didn’t give myself that six day handicap after all. I’m a realist. I have three little kids at home so I’m not always going to get time to write on the weekends. So, my personal time frame officially began on Jan 7. And it runs through Feb 6.

Week one of my National Novel Writing Month or – MyNaNoWriMo – is going well. I felt clever writing that, but I’m sure I’m not the first person to use that abbreviation. Also, it’s kind of a pain typing so many alternating capital and lowercase letters. Anyway …

I’ve always like the festive camaraderie surrounding the event, but I think the thing I like most is the data graphs. I mean, I’m going to write anyway, but there’s just something so satisfying about watching that little bar move. Even more so, I love the constant tug of war with myself as I watch my target daily word count fluctuate. Am I going to make it in time? Who knows?! I’m on a wild ride only I care about. And by wild, I mean like put a quarter and ride a pony in the mall kind of wild.

I was prepared to go at it on my own and put all that info into an Excel spreadsheet. That was until I found WriteTrack. Its everything I wanted!

You create your personal goal and set the parameters. I chose fifty thousand words in thirty days, but you can do anything. People struggling in the beginning of the craft can put ten thousand in a month. Whatever. The neat part is not only does it calculate your daily word count so you hit that mark – and update it depending on your progress – but you can assign a weighted value to each day as well. The output looks like a calendar and if I know I need to hit, say, five thousand words today or whatever, I can change the typical value of 100 and crank that sucker up to 1000. It doesn’t actually do anything, but it reminds me to keep on trucking.

In the time I’m not writing, I’m editing some of my other manuscripts. If I’m going to self-publish them after all, they need one final-FINAL read through. I’ve also been fiddling with Altered Egos some more which is still making the querying rounds. I thought it was tight as can be, clocking in at 102 thousand words, but I’ve been able to trim it down to 94K. It’s considerably increased pacing and I found a way to combine two very similar, and now I realize, redundant scenes, into one. I had to kill some darlings, but I’m pretty proud with the outcome so far.

Okay, enough of that, I need to get back to it. Today’s only weighted at 100, but I lost time over the weekend. Gotta get back to it!

Resolute

Hope everyone had some happy holidays! I know I did. I usually get antsy taking too much time off, but I forced myself to slow down this year. A benefit of working at a university is that the place closes around the holidays. We get a few days, but it’s one of those “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” situations, so you’re encouraged to save up vacation time which meant I’ve had the last two weeks off. Got some great family time and sleep – oh, precious sleep! On top of all that, it gave me time to think long and hard about my writing.

I’ve come to a couple of decisions:

I’m going to self-publish a couple books. I’d wanted – and still do – go the traditional route, but I’m seeing more and more how subjective the industry really is. That isn’t to say I’m giving up on finding an agent or editor. Far from it. I want to self-publish some of my novels that I believe are good, worked really hard on, and absolutely love. There are stories I feel are worth telling and I don’t want them to disappear.

So, I’m going to publish them myself. I’m pretty excited about the prospect and we can talk a lot more about this later as I get further along.

Since the holidays – yes, those same holidays – took me away from NaNoWriMo this year, I’ve decided that January is going to be my personal National Novel Writing Month!

What can I say? I’m a masochist. I missed out on that great love/hate of pushing yourself to hit a huge word count. I can be productive otherwise, but I really want to see if I can do 50,000 words in thirty days again. Okay, so January is actually thirty-one days, but if you want to split hairs here, I haven’t had a chance to get started until today so really we’re talking about 50,000 words in twenty-five days. Does that make you feel better?

My cap needs this feather right now. I also need to finish my current manuscript. Oy vey, this one is ballooning up. Hitting that 50K mark is definitely going to make a dent.

The funny thing is that I don’t consider either of these to be New Year’s Resolutions. I had two weeks off and time to think and came up with them independently. The fact that we had a holiday where people make such evaluations of themselves was a happy coincidence. Again, splitting hairs here, but I’m keeping them distinctive because these aren’t “hey this sounds cool and could still fail because it was made on a whim” decisions, these are lifestyle choices. I’m leveling up again as an author and this is what it’s going to take.

And the third thing I decided was to become more active on social media. How does one decide to become more active you ask? It sounds so structured. But really it’s because my wife is super active, as are many of my friends, and I feel like I’m missing out. I used to post a lot more stuff but I kind of just dropped off over the years.

So bear with me as I get the old Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram machines up and running again. That’ll also most likely be the topic(s) of future posts.

There you have it. Hope the rest of you had some quality rest and relaxation. Did I mention I got to sleep? I had time to think about how to become a better me. Hope you all did as well with or without a holiday prompting you to do so.

Draft 2

This might be a strictly me thing, but there is no aspect I fear so much in all of writing – not even the blank page of a new book – then the beginning of revisions.

Once I finish any manuscript and get to the satisfactory “The End”, I let out an enormous sigh of accomplishment and relief. I did it. The marathon is over. I let myself rest on my laurels for a bit, give myself plenty of pats on the backs, couple more sighs, and allow myself the victory because I know the real work is only just getting started.

As I’m writing, I keep a running list of items that need to be updated, fixed, or changed for the next draft. I so cleverly call this my “THINGS TO FIX” list. It’s in caps so you know it’s important. This list is my new outline of what needs my immediate attention in the early revision stages. Thing is, I can’t even get to that list until I complete what I call Draft 2.

Now all writers have a second draft. Nobody gets it right the first time around. But I’m talking about Draft 2. Capital D. Plenty of writers can just dive back into the guts of his or her story and incorporate the changes outlined in their own THINGS TO FIX list, but not me. I need to go through the whole thing one time, tightening it up along the way, to give the whole book shape in my head. Only then can I go back and put the big changes into Draft 3.

Draft 2 is where all brackets get filled in, word choice is cleaned up, prose isn’t scrubbed so much as shaped. It’s what turns this giant pile of words into a story and it is exhausting. That’s where I confront my failures head on and try and turn them into something worth reading. Let me tell you, it’s a slog. It’s slow going doing all of that fine tuning, but for me it is completely necessary. I need to make the machine before I can go about fixing it.

I always go through the same stages too. The beginning of the manuscript is often the roughest which makes sense since it was the first part of the story written down. I was still finding character and voice and yet to hit my grove. So, naturally, I think my writing is garbage. Cleaning up all the clunky prose doesn’t help my self-esteem. Somewhere in the process, it gets better. Usually, this is when the story is starting to kick into gear. By the end, I’ve settled with the idea that it’s not all that bad. Not great. Maybe not even good. But not as scum-bucket terrible as I thought it was.

But now I have a story and that’s something I can fix. The next pass puts in the big elements. The pass after that cleans it up yet again. Each time I go through the manuscript, I polish it further and further until at some point I’m legitimately happy with it in its entirety. It transforms from a complete mess to something worth reading.

I’m not even close to that stage yet with my current manuscript. I’m maybe three fifths into it. A little slower than expected. I had other projects vying for my attention. But already, judging by what I’m generating day to day and looking at my THINGS TO FIX list, I know this one is going to be a doozy.

At some point I’m going to come out of the fog, blinking like I haven’t see the light of day in years, and be astonished there’s something good – or at least to me it is – in front of me. It takes a while to get there though, and often involves a lot of self-degradation. So celebrate those victories when you have them. But keep going. The light at the end of the tunnel is a finished book to be proud of.

I just have to get through Draft 2 first.

The Finish Line

The holidays ruined my NaNoWriMo.

I’m only half joking.

Due to travel plans around Thanksgiving to see my wife’s half of the family and then my family coming into town the very next week meant I lost quite a few days being a productive member of my family and not a productive writer. Now, I could have squirreled away somewhere to crank out some words, but we were in Disney World for crying out loud and I couldn’t figure out how to sell to a couple of three year olds why Daddy would rather play on his computer than play with them in freaking Disney World.

I’m not going to hit that fifty-thousand word mark and that’s okay. I write year round, not just November. Sure the challenge of hitting a high word count is fun. So’s the camaraderie during that time period, but truth be told, that stuff happens day in, day out throughout the rest of the year too!

Honestly, the most fun I have with NaNo is inputting all that data and watching a bar graph. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing the estimated day of completion get earlier and earlier. I don’t need a contest to do that. I can do that with Excel. Okay, so the graph might be an extra step, but I’ll manage.

My only real goal this November was to take a nice sized chunk out of my current manuscript and that’s just what I did. So, mission accomplished.

For those of you who’ve hit that fifty thousand word mark, way to go! I’m proud of you.

Writing isn’t a hobby for me or a contest, it’s a lifestyle, so I’m just going to keep on trucking. I won’t always want to write fifty thousand words a month, but I’d like to give it another shot. Maybe February. Sure, it’s short, but there’s nothing going on in February to pull my focus elsewhere.

I don’t rely on a writing app to track my progress, but for the purposes of the monthly data it’s pretty fun. So, if anyone knows of something similar to the NaNoWriMo input, please let me know in the comments. I’d appreciate it!

NaNoWriMo 2018

It’s November 12th, which means we’re in the thick of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. This is my third time participating? … engaging? … being a part of the event. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that it’s something I’ve both been looking forward to and dreading in equal measure.

For those of you who don’t know, the idea of the event is to write fifty thousand words during the month of November alone. For some, that’s no small feat. Other’s that’s just November. For me, I tend to write about a thousand words per day, so that’s a little up there for my daily word count. Things get especially dicey, thanks to Thanksgiving. I always lose days/words thanks to that bird and the vacation my family inevitably tends to take that week each year.

I’ve been seeing some critics of NaNoWriMo this year. People who question the validity of the challenge. Real writers write and don’t need a contest. That kind of thing. While I completely agree with them that you shouldn’t need an internet “holiday” to write your novel, nor should your novel only be fifty thousand words, but I like NaNo.

I’m sure it’s different things to different people, but to me it’s a challenge. It’s a way to test my writing mettle and see what I’m made of. It lets me feel like a professional writer for a month with deadlines hanging over my head and all the joy and anxiety that brings.

It’s also a community builder. I assume this is the primary reason most people like it too. Writing is a solitary activity. We often write alone, just you and the computer/notepad/whatever. Even co-writing things, you take turns. The most collaboration you can do is talk about the idea before or after, but still it always comes down to your implementation of the words on the blank page. My suspicion is that’s why we see so many people talking about writing. It’s one of the only ways to share your habit — this lovely hobby or profession — with other people in a meaningful way.

I never want to race through a novel in only 30 days or spit out words just to spit out words, but I like knowing that there are others out there in the struggle. Each pep talk, each motivating email, each mention of the event, really, is a nice reminder that I may be alone with my thoughts and my keyboard, but so are so many others. Will the content produced during November fill our shelves with decade’s worth of masterpieces? Hell no.

I’d honestly be shocked if just one thing written during NaNo was publishable, but that’s not the point. You need to write a million bad words before your first good one. Well, here’s a productive use of your time to get fifty thousand of them out of the way.

I’m using this year’s NaNo to carve a nice chunk out of my manuscript’s overall word count. I’ve been dabbling with some flash pieces as a change of pace to keep the ideas coming, but it’s a nice way of making some great headway towards the end of the book. Last year, I finished my manuscript halfway through November and sat around twiddling my thumbs. I don’t think that’ll be a problem this year.

So if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year like I am, don’t fret. Whatever your reasons for doing it, I think you’re awesome. Keep at it. Hit those daily goals. And happy writing!

Rubber band

I just got back from the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to attend, it’s largely a series of in-depth panels carried out over the course of a couple days. I like to think about it as more theory crafting as opposed to word crafting. It’s a great place for authors, fans, editors, and reviewers to all intermingle and talk about books and the industry we love. Oh, and the occasional agent shows up there too from time to time.

Anyway, I always come out fresh with ideas, brain going a mile a minute. In one panel we talked about monsters and another the role of ports in fantasy settings. So, there’s a pretty broad range there.

So many kernels of stories and characters tend to start bouncing around my brain after each one. I’ve actually written a number of short stories based on ideas from these panels and included many elements into manuscripts I’ve been working on at the time. This was my third WFC so I considered myself old guard by now.

As you can imagine in a convention about writing, tropes are often brought up from panel to panel. More importantly, the inversion of tropes and the tropes to avoid at all cost get brought up a lot. So while I’m buzzing with excitement, I’m also shaking with anxiety. For every idea I want to write, I feel like someone somewhere has some warning of what I should avoid if I go down that route. It becomes a balancing act of trying to do what I want, but then try and make it fresh, while also appealing to the publishing industry at large. So it’s like do what I want, but then don’t do what I want. That’s pretty much the crux of the whole industry, right?

Well, what I decided by the end was that I was worrying too much. Why limit myself at the idea stage already? I’m a career coach by day and I often get students coming to me who’ve cut themselves off from options for whatever reason, usually out of fear of failure. I always tell them to just apply and see what happens. Let the universe give you your choices and then figure out the best path. When those choices are limitless, of course its overwhelming. But say you’ve applied to 20 jobs and 3 of them get back to you for interviews, well then you’re potentially choosing between 1 and 3 as opposed to 1 and 20. That’s much more manageable. I really need to take my own advice.

So yes, there are tropes and characteristics I should avoid if I want my work to stand out, but ultimately, I want to write something I’m excited about. Yes, I want others to like it, but I’m my first reader. If I don’t like it, why would someone else?

I’m going to let those kernels percolate for a while. They’re definitely over the fire. I know my next book is in there somewhere. How about I just apply a little elbow grease to all of those ideas to see what works and then go back and figure out how to make it fresh?

Boy that sounds like a great idea. I wonder who thought of that. He sounds like a pretty smart guy.