Feel the Burn(out)

Well, it’s week two of NaNoWriMo. So far progress is going pretty well. I’m ahead of schedule and I plan on keeping it that way as the week around Thanksgiving is kind of a black hole. Historically that week alone makes or breaks my entire month of NaNoWriMo. This year, my plan is to front load my words so much that if I miss a day or two — or end up with a lighter word count — I’ll still be in the clear. What that means is right now is that I’m writing. Writing a lot. And boy are my writing muscles feeling it.

You know this segues perfectly into my real theory about working out. This applies to when you are either just starting out or you’ve taken significant time off and are getting back into your old regimen Anyway, it goes something like this …

Make it to Week Three and you’ll be fine. Week One is hard, yes, but its still new so you’re kind of energized and can keep pushing yourself. Week Two is hard. Just hard. It’s like February. You’ve come so far, but there’s still too much more to go. Your muscles are tired and you don’t have the practiced stamina to know how to live like that as your new normal. This is when people are most likely to give up. Week Three then is when the new habit becomes routine. You’re much more likely to be able to work through the bad days and the stuff that was so insurmountable only a week before doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

I think that works for writing too. Well, it probably works for any new thing actually. My usual word count is a thousand words a day. Obviously, for November, I’m increasing that number and since I’m trying to potentially finish early, I’m really putting on those weights. So, yeah, if I can just make it to Week Three I’ll be okay.

In other news, I played Mario Kart on the Switch with my five-year-olds for the first time the other day and it was so much fun. Good old Nintendo has family fun figured out, so I was able to turn on automatic racing and the inability to leave the track and basically just hand the controllers to my kids. I even turned off all computer opponents for safe measure too. Picking the character and car is like half the fun for them, but being able to race as well … they felt like they were playing video games with daddy. A good time was had by all. My son even figured out how to use his items and now asks me almost daily if we can play again. I think that’s a pretty good problem to have.

What I’ve Been Watching: Well, when there wasn’t new TV for a while, my wife and I have been rewatching How I Met Your Mother. We were big fans of the show the first time around and I think it still holds up. The first season was a little rougher than a remembered and I feel like no way would anyone get away with a Barney Stinson character in today’s climate, but he becomes so over the top, it’s like South Park or something and he’s just a parody of a parody.

What I’ve Been Reading: I tried getting into Wool by Hugh Howey and just couldn’t. I think that’s because I didn’t know the “book” is a collection of novellas. So I liked the beginning, but then when it changed novellas but didn’t restart the chapter count, I felt like it had lost all tension. Because it had. So I never ended up finishing it.

I did read Soulsmith by Will Wight and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a much tighter story this time around so it felt like I read it in no time at all.

I’m currently reading Adventurers, Assassins, and Samurai; Shoguns and Emperors by Christopher Glen about the Meiji Restoration. I get the sense that it isn’t the most academic work on the subject matter, that’s kind of why I like it. I’d been reading a very academic work and at times felt myself getting a little lost in the minutia. I think Glen does a good job of laying out the bare bones so to speak with the side effect of enhancing my knowledge of the movie The Last Samurai with what they got right and more often than not, what they didn’t.

The Over Under on Overwriting

Hi all, it’s time for another infrequent blog post! I jest. I mean, well it is time, but I’m hoping that these will become less and less infrequent. After all of the topsy turviness in life, I’m finally settling into something of a routine. It’s only taken … counts on fingers … seven months? Oh, is that all?

Anyhoo, today I want to talk about underwriting versus overwriting.

I’d say that I was primarily an overwriter in the beginning as I tried to describe every little thing to help set the scene. But then I did some work, read some articles, and tried to really just put down all that was necessary. That seemed to work for a while until I read some more articles and did even more work to hone craft and that latter practice stressed the addition of concrete images and sensory details. You know, stuff to really set the scene … wait…. Isn’t that where I started?

Yes and no. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but usually, in the beginning of our writing careers we’re all overwriters. We list every little thing in the room to help with layout, we double explain just about everything, and at least I was (am), an exposition overwriter where we really want to make sure the reader gets what the character is feeling right now. All of that leads to long, drawn out paragraphs and slows down the pace.

So back to my original question, if less is more, then why are we adding more again? Well, it comes down to those concrete sensory images. We still need to hear sounds, smell smells, and see what your characters are looking at, but rather than catalog the contents like a museum, why don’t you just give me the highlights instead?

I had a book return from a publisher recently that was generally well received, but had the note that it was overwritten. I was confused at first because it had started off at 133K and I’d trimmed it to 119K before they got their hands on it. How was it still too wordy?

My usual editing process involves around a half dozen drafts that are me fiddling with this or that and all the while also chiseling away at the marble to get to the statue inside. There comes a point where I’m happy with the prose, figuring its as slim as can be, but I’m realizing now that I need to take it one step farther. Once I think it’s slimmed down, that means it needs at least one more full pass. Just because I could keep a word, a sentence, a paragraph doesn’t mean I should. I’ve started an experiment where I cut it out and tell myself I can go back and put it in again later if need be. Spoiler alert, after a few seconds of grief, I realize that eh, the scene still works just fine and there’s no need to pad it out again.

So that’s where I’ve come to in my overwriting/underwriting journey. I’m a self-acknowledged overwriter, but as long as I know that, that’s a good thing, right? To switch metaphors on you, I’ve started to treat my prose like a Jenga tower. Once it’s built, I keep removing support blocks to get it as lean as possible … this metaphor doesn’t exactly work because I’m not putting all the blocks back again but you get where I’m going with this … If the tower falls, well I’ve officially broken the story and it’s time to add to some of the support. But nine times out of ten, whatever I remove not only isn’t missed but ask me a few days later and I couldn’t even tell you what I’d cut to begin with.

Still Here

It’s been a while. I’m sure you’ve noticed.

Writing from home during the pandemic has been a lot more difficult than anticipated. Read any book about writing or talk to anyone who helps train other writers and one of the rules they’ll all have is the importance of routine. Set a routine, a designated writing time, and stick to it! Well, thanks to everything going on, my writing routine has not just been interpreted, but ground to a halt.

Both my wife and I have plenty of commitments during the day demanding attention as we try and do our jobs from home. Also, three kids under five don’t exactly look after themselves either. If all of that wasn’t enough, we finally found our new house after years of searching so we ended up moving! Throw in my graduate school work and … well … to say I’ve been busy is the king of all understatements.

Just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I’ve given up, though. I’m using this time to figure out what went wrong with a lot of my older work, do a little editing, and even get about 13K words into a novella. I still have the outline ready to go for my next book, but I don’t want to start that one until I know I’m going to have at least some consistency again. Probably going to wait until August and the start of the school year.

It’s been interesting to say the least. And frustrating. I’m not one to sit still for long. More than that, as someone who’s trying to break into the professional author scene, I always feel like if I’m not producing, well then I don’t have anything worth selling. As my writing fields are growing fallow, I like to think that my creative juices are reinvigorating themselves. So we’ll see how that goes.

For now, most of the writing is going on in my head — I can’t even keep up a weekly blog — but I know it’s not going to last forever. It’s a hard thing to even complain about with people experiencing really dark and scary times out there. So I keep going and plan for the future. My day job is keeping me at home for the foreseeable future and I’ll be looking after the kids when my wife goes back to work in August. But with work comes routine and I know this crazy free for all isn’t going to last forever.

Hope everyone is happy and healthy out there!

NaNoWriMo 1

Not going to be a long post this week. Now that NaNoWriMo is in full swing, every word counts and as per my rules, these posts do not.

So far so good. I’m a little behind, but that’s okay. I can make up a lot of extra words during the week. Chugging along on Partners in Crime and haven’t had to resort to additional content but with only 5k out of 50k completed, the night is still young as they say.

Inspiration actually struck pretty hard on Friday for a new story. Whether that’s a short story, novella, or full on novel, I don’t know yet. I have an idea whose grounds have been tread on before. I feel like I should do some “research” first, meaning read other books like it to see what’s already out there and how I’m going to say something different. But that’s a problem for Future Dan.

Now, it’s back to squeezing out another 500 words today and getting some editing in Land of Blood and Sky done.

Happy writing!

Delirium

Today’s post is going to be short. I was up all last night with a sick kiddo. That’s not hyperbole. I was literally awake from 11pm-5:20am. I slept for a whopping total of two hours. Not even two consecutive hours. So I’m a little out of sorts stringing words together today.

I usually write first thing in the morning as a way of starting my day. I’m most productive in the morning and there’s just something great about getting the writing out of the way so I already feel accomplished well before lunch. Even in my sickest, I can usually power through, but today was one of those rare exceptions. I haven’t been this tired since the twins were born. Even then, I don’t think I ever had an all nighter this bad.

I used to keep a daily total. I’d jot my numbers down along the margins of my outline to record a positive or deficit to my average word count so I always hit my target. The only time I keep such figures anymore is during NaNoWriMo as I’ve become pretty good at averaging out. As you can imagine, writing was skipped today. I’m okay with that. I’ll just hit double the words tomorrow to make up for it.

In case you missed it, I was interviewed on Authors Interviews last week. I’ve been interviewed a couple times before for different things, but this was the first time I’d ever been interviewed as an author so I thought it was pretty cool! Hopefully you will too!

Life Update

Has it really been three weeks since my last post? Wow, well I guess I was being lazy that first week after Land of Sky and Blood edits.

Update: My mom liked it. Honestly, I’d be weirded out if she didn’t. She’s an avid reader and always wants whatever I’m working on and the dutiful son I am, I send them her way. It’s like the adult version of putting my artwork on the fridge I guess.

Then the week after, we had some illness in my house so I was taking care of everyone for a while which meant no post.

Now here we are. So what’s up with you?

I’ve been slowly working on my outline for the Altered Egos sequel Partners in Crime. This step is always exciting and daunting because anything can happen. The rails aren’t there yet and I’m still creating from whole cloth. I’m still nailing down good story beats as I take my pages and pages of brainstorming notes and massage them  into something coherent that someone besides my mother would want to read.

When not doing that, I’m avoiding working on that short story that needs finishing, but I’m reading more. I used to read all the time, but being busy at work and at home has unfortunately slowed me down. I know. A writer who doesn’t read. But I do! I promise!

I’m actually reading Dark Hollow the second Charlie Parker book by John Connolly right now. I didn’t really care for the first one – my writer brain couldn’t get past the Matrix code – but my uncle swears by this series and he’s a pretty great guy so what the heck, I’ll give it another shot. I’m glad I did because this second one is much better than the first in my opinion.

My main gripe with the first book, Every Dead Thing, is that after the setup, its basically divided into two acts except Act 1 has nothing to do with the setup promised. It’s kind of a big waste of time. I get now that for the character, that first act is more meaningful but it feels like I was forced to read a backstory before we got to the novel itself. I just couldn’t get past the structure.

Dark Hollow, though, is much more streamlined and personal (which is a weird way to describe it if you’re familiar with the premise) than the first book so I like it a lot more. Also for whatever plot or pacing problems I think Connolly has, my lord, can that man write some metaphors. His stark yet vivid descriptions are awesome. So at the very least, I feel like I’m in writing class once again looking at that Matrix code, but this time I’m studying it to see how its done.

I don’t know what it is about his writing that does this to me so I can’t just fall in and enjoy the narrative – maybe he jumps around too much – but whether I like ’em or hate ’em, I’m finding Connolly’s books to be educational.

So that’s me, what’s going on with you?

Sooooo Close!

I finished my latest read through of Land of Sky and Blood over the weekend. That’s 561 pages, 163k words, all cleaned up. I still can’t believe it turned out that long. Now all I have to do is rewrite the opening chapter and I’ll be ready to hand it off.

At this point I’m desperate to give it to my beta readers. I thought I’d be cutting things left and right Edward Scissorhands style, but I think I ended up adding to the overall word count! I feel like Cillian Murphy in Sunshine when he’s staring out the spaceship at the sun. I just can’t look at the manuscript anymore. I’m all crispy-skinned and immolated over here and need some outside opinions.

My original goal was to be done by August 1st. I’m giving myself until the end of the week though. Either way, come a week from now, you better be seeing the words: “And it’s sent!” Then maybe I can finally relax.

Keeping the post short and sweet today so I can get back to it. I’ve already pulled myself out of one internet rabbit hole once I started reminiscing about Sunshine — seriously, before me typing that reference, I hadn’t even thought about that movie in like ten years — I can’t afford to fall down another one. That chapter’s not going to rewrite itself!

The Power of Editing

I’m only 410 pages into my 554 page manuscript. This is another polish round, so I’m reading it start to finish and cleaning things up as I find them. It’s faster moving than it was in the beginning, but I’m ready to be finished. The next round I can do some more surgical fixing followed by a line by line polish after that. At this point, I’m ready to get the manuscript in the hands of beta readers. I don’t want make it perfect if the whole thing needs to be reworked. What’s the point?

But all this gets me thinking just how much the story can change as its being edited. I don’t just mean rewriting and cleaning things up either.

So here’s a great example: I have four main POV characters. In the beginning of the book, each character gets his or her own chapter. As these characters come together by the end, the chapters get a bit more muddied as I jump between POVs. Now I can keep them that way because it works thematically — total accident by the way — or I can cut them apart, mixing and matching the whole way through.

Benefit of keeping them as they are: More time in the respective character’s head means more investment from the reader.

Cutting them up: Holds interest longer as more seems to be happening since we’re jumping back and forth. POV changes also create more stopping places for the reader which would be a bad thing if it means putting the book down or a good thing if means people push on for “just one more section”. Who knows?

I feel like I want to cut them up, but I’m on the fence. If you’ve ever read Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy, I think of those books as the gold standard. Each one has only like nine whole chapters, but those chapters are huge. Lots of section breaks and POV switching. Terry Pratchett wrote that way too. Actually, he wrote without chapters and just broke when he felt it necessary.

However, Stranger Things season 3 is warning me otherwise. In the beginning, I liked the cutting back and forth, but it eventually got annoying because I felt like there wasn’t a lot of overall progress. Right when something good started happening in the story we’d cut away leaving me more frustrated than interested. Now, in my opinion, that season had its own problems later on, but this point still stands.

That’s just a structural thing. Rearranging chapters only changes the presentation of information and not what is being said. Yet it could completely change the feel of the entire book. That’s how important editing can be.

“Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.” Michael Creighton said that I find myself coming back to that again and again like a mantra.

Okay, that’s enough from me. I need at least another forty pages done today to keep on schedule. Happy writing and editing, everyone!

Just a reminder that Fairfax Cleaners is still on sale all of July. As much as a dollar on Amazon or as little as totally free on Apple Books!

Ape Like Me

I fed a gibbon today.

That sounds like a euphemism or something, but I really mean that I fed an honest to god primate. It reached out through the mesh of its cage, I ignored the signs about reaching back, and I gave it a food pellet. I put food in the hand of a gibbon. I gave a gibbon a snack.

I was at this zoo/safari-esque place with my family, so don’t worry, feeding the animals is not only encouraged but part of the experience. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to reach toward the gibbons because of their longer arms. They’re known to take cell phones. It really had nothing to do with food. So yeah, after watching my wife feed a zebra, I wanted to bond with another creature too. Me and the gibbon became good buddies.

There’s probably some deeper metaphors there about the relationship of man with nature and the origin of species, but I was just happy to make that gibbon’s day. At least, I hope so, cause that critter sure as heck made mine. For all I know, he’s pandering for food pellets left and right and I was just an easy mark with gibbon-length arms myself, but I choose to believe that we had — no, have — something special.

We better, because the first time I tried and gave him a carrot. He did not like that at all. Like howling, jumping around the pen, and thrashing around not like. I thought I might have kicked off the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for a second there. Cesar who? But luckily, our food pellet exchange was far more productive.

In other news, my book Fairfax Cleaners is on sale throughout July. The digital copies are anywhere from a whopping $0.99 in some places to absolutely free in others! You can’t do much better than that. So if you were ever on the fence before, why not? Do you like fairies who act like gangsters and swear like sailors? How about a werewolf who rides a motorcycle? Japanese yokai turned spirit assassin do anything for you? And those are just the bad guys. Don’t even get me started on Gus, our hero.

So if you’re looking for something new this summer, I guess what I’m saying is you could do a lot worse. If that doesn’t get you going, what do I gotta do? Get a gibbon for you?

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Fairfax-Cleaners-Dan-M…/…/ref=sr_1_2…

Physical Copy: https://www.amazon.com/Fairfax-Cleaners-Dan-M…/…/ref=sr_1_3…

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/fairfax-cleaners

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/…/1131177773;jsessionid=92E2…

iBooks: https://linkmaker.itunes.apple.com/en-us/details/1459119241…

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/932548

Inspiration

Normally when I’m working on something, I don’t like to read that same genre in fear of cross-contamination. It’s different this time, though. As I’m editing Land of Sky and Blood I only want to read fantasies with an Asian/East-Asian lens. It’s not that I’m hoping to get any of that via osmosis, I think it’s more that I just really like that aesthetic and never really knew how much of it was out there. Now that I’ve tasted it, I want more. Hopefully readers of that material will feel the same way that I do and accept my work as well.

Although, I wouldn’t be mad if one of those books helps me unlock this recurring naming convention problem I’m having. I thought I’d solved it, but I still think its too convoluted and the final effect isn’t quite what I was hoping for. Maybe I’ll get it next draft …

So in light of all that, I thought I’d talk a bit about what I’m currently reading. I realized that topic rarely comes up on my blog which could be odd being a writer and all. I’m maybe 75% through The Prince of Shadow and my ongoing review is that, I don’t hate it? Insert confused face.

Life’s too short for me to keep reading a book I don’t like. I can usually tell if I like a book or not forty pages in. Heck, more like twenty in most cases. But this one … it’s just interesting enough that I think I like the world, but plot-wise kind of boring. Benjamin’s prose is often muddy at times. A whole paragraph will go by and I’ll have to reread it because I’m not sure what he’s trying to say. I also tend to like a protagonist with, you know, agency so a whole book where events are happening too a character and not because of a character are not really my thing. I’m hoping this is just a slow burn and that this is all building up to the end, so who knows?

The beginning of the book must have been more interesting than what I’m reading now to get me this far, otherwise I probably would have dropped it. I’ve also come too far to turn back now. I call that my Wheel of Time Rule. Hooboy. We can talk about that ride later.

Anyway, yeah, so there are some things about The Prince of Shadow that I like and plenty that I don’t. If anything, it’s showing me some new angles to an Asian inspired fantasy world and offers some nice examples of how editing can be your friend, but it’s not what I signed on for.

So yeah, don’t hate it, but already looking forward to the end. I guess it’s part of a trilogy, but at this rate, I don’t have any plans of picking up the other two.