Phases of a Book

I’d say I’m just about done with the brainstorming phase of my new book. To give you some perspective, when I write a novel, it usually goes down something like this.

Brainstorming Phase: This is usually about a month. Sometimes longer. I’m always jotting random ideas down and doing the occasional research about something, but this phase is the hardcore focus of all my mental energy on something new. This is also where I do my more targeted researching.

Structure Phase: Once I’ve got a pretty good idea of the world and what I want to say, I make a one page document for pacing. This is really the narrative framework in which the entire thing hangs. I identify the plot points, the hook, changes in narrative phases, etc. It’s not super robust, but I need to know how the story unfolds and where I need to fill getting from A to B. This takes maybe a week or a week and a half. Often times, I go back and do some final fiddling with brainstorming and concurrent research as I build it out.

Outlining Phase: I then turn that one page document into a 16-20 page outline depending on the scope of the novel. I try and break it down into what I think will be the chapters with bullet points telling me what’s going to happen in each one. I also include notes to myself, lines of dialog I’ve already written, and all the must haves and put them where they need to go. It’ll take me maybe two to three weeks to get this whole thing together.

I try not to leave anything blank. I’ll be vague at times in a bullet like “hero gets in a fight and the villain gets away” and when I get there in the manuscript, I’ll have a better idea of what that fight will be, but I don’t like to have an entire protochapter look like:

  • They storm the base
  • big fight ensues
  • they’re about to catch the bad guy, but the tables are turned.

And that’s it. No further details. No reminder of what’s at stake or notes about development. I’ve found that I ALWAYS run into trouble when it’s that vague. Looking at you cough Partners in Crime cough. So I need to iron that out which is why it takes me extra time to get all of that in order.

Writing Phase: The meat and potatoes. It takes me anywhere from 4-5 months to write a first draft. I go through the ole outline and get my words in for the day. Rinse and Repeat. You know how this part works.

Waiting Phase: Another couple months where I distract myself with something else to let the dust settle and the ideas gel from the first draft.

Editing Phase: Another 4+ months of grueling fine tuning and rewriting to make that pile of words into something that someone would actually want to read.

So there you have it. I’m just about finished brainstorming so it’ll be soon onto the structure phase. I’ve written eight novels by now and this is the process I’ve developed for myself. I would like to do more works concurrently: edit one work while brainstorming another, etc. and I’ve done that to some extent, but seeing as I’m not a full time writer, I only have so much time to devote to a project so I’m going laser focused again. Onward to novel number nine!

What I’m Reading: (see, told you I’d bring these back …) Just finished Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red about a, I suppose its technically a cyborg, who calls itself Murderbot and loves serialized media. It was just the right length for the writing style. A strong voice but also sparse on the details which makes sense since its in first person or first bot or whatever … which I imagine would get old for an entire novel. That said, I’m definitely going to read a followup in the near future.

As that was so short, I started John Connolly’s The White Road. For those of you who’ve been reading my blog, I’ve really come around on Connolly. I didn’t care for his first novel, but that last two were pretty great. And you want to talk about voice? They tell you as writer that you should read wide and look for lessons about craft in other peoples’ work. Whether its a duck flying over a salt marsh or the description of a crime scene, imagery in Connolly’s books is just awesome. I don’t mean super cool, I mean awe-inspiring. I’m definitely taking notes.

What I’m Watching: The Imagineering Story on Disney +. Love or loathe Disney, this documentary series is still incredible. To see how they pulled off some engineering marvels is just fascinating. It also serves as a great lesson for anyone interested in customer service and really the value of a product. You can see where they’ve designed a complete user experience and where they were just phoning it in. Each episode is only an hour, but my wife and I keep pausing it to comment and marvel so it takes us twice as long to get through them.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

My posts have been pretty inconsistent lately. There’s been some illness in the family – I’m actually writing this sick in bed at the moment, lots of editing work that needed doing, and pressures from the day job all vying for attention so this ole blog is just getting the short end of the stick time after time. What that’s telling me is that I need to write these things in advance. I suppose that’s the smart thing to do, but now why would anybody do something responsible like that?

On to writing … I’ve been battling a mini internal crisis lately. See, I poured a lot of myself into Land of Sky and Blood. I learned new techniques, even took a class, and really tried to make that book as rich as I could make it. Then I went ahead and wrote Partners in Crime (well got about three quarters of the way through anyway) and I discovered that … let’s say LoSaB is hearty stew … it’s got a bunch of complementary flavors, some fresh ingredients, a few old favorites, and it’s all balanced so you’re getting the combined effect of the entire recipe. Well, if LoSaB is a stew, then Partners in Crime is just broth. It’s simple and felt like after everything I’d learned, I was actually taking a step backward in writing it.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t figured out the ending yet either, so that ground me to a halt, but still, I knew something was wrong for a while but pressed on anyway. I hate not having it finished. “Always finish what you start” was rule number 10 in my Tae Kwon Do studio growing up and all these years later, I still hear Master Gladwell and Master Kim’s gruff disapproval in me for not finishing that damned book. I need to get around to finishing it. I mean, I even finished Ghost Hunting and that book is a train wreck!

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about Ghost Hunting before. All writers have trunk novels, right? Well GH deserves to live in the trunk in a secret compartment so cleverly disguised you’ll never find it again. That book was just awful! It’s the only novel I’ve ever written that I’ve never even tried to edit before. It did teach me a few things like balancing character voices and not to dive into a story before doing all your research, though. The novel had an emphasis on sailing and let me tell you, I don’t know the first thing about boats. I was nowhere near ready to write that book, but the takeaway was that I finished it. Knowing Partners in Crime remains unfinished is like sleeping with sand in my bed. I hate it.

But I can’t give it my full attention just yet. I’ve since moved on to the new shiny thing. After living and breathing LoSaB for a year and a half, I’m ready to move onto the next project. It’s still in the brainstorming phase right now, but I’m getting a handle on the story. There are a lot more component parts to this one and it’s definitely more stew than broth. Maybe when I finally sit down to start that first draft, I can allow myself to knock out Partners in Crime at the same time as a brain break. But right now, I only have so much time to write and if I don’t feel like it’s a constructive use of my time.

The Hustle

I’ve been a little lax on the ole blog here, so sorry about that. First I was busy and then got sick. Every time I wasn’t wrapped up with something, I was doing the final read through which turned out was followed by a second FINAL final read through of Land of Sky and Blood. So my eyes were pretty much spent every day and couldn’t stare at a computer screen anymore. I’ve poured so much time and attention into finishing the manuscript that I actually broke my own rule and abandoned Partners in Crime. I’m maybe 20K words away from finished that novel, but haven’t touched it since December. It’s weird. I’ve never just stopped a work like that before. I do plan to finish it. And soon. I hope. But hey, I’m done. Land of Sky and Blood is done!

Now comes the pitching …

I told myself that I was going to take my time with this one and I think I did for the most part. My usual schedule has been to both write a book and query a book within the same year. That’s just the way my pacing has seemed to be going. While I’m querying the last work, I’m simultaneously working on the new one. When the new one is query ready, the old one cycles out and I start the next manuscript. That’s what I’ve been doing for seven years more or less.

That all stopped in 2019. Land of Sky and Blood was too large and just wasn’t ready. So instead of rushing, I wanted to take my time and I like to think that it paid off. I ended up with the most ambitious thing I’ve ever written. But now its time to make the rounds.

Just like I’ve been more deliberate with my writing choices, I’m more deliberate with who I’m contacting in the publishing industry this time. I’m really only approaching those who I think would enjoy the work rather than throw spaghetti at the wall to see what’ll stick.

But it’s still nerve wracking, right? Rejection is never fun. Whether its from an agent or an editor or a bad review. As an author, you’ve poured your heart and soul into a project you believe in, so it hurts when someone else doesn’t share your same vision. It’s counter intuitive if you think about it. The best authors are probably sensitive, creative people. You’d have to be to dig into the art part of writing and really form a connection with your reader. Yet these are the same people who are also supposed to have thick skin and just shrug off rejection. It takes time and is definitely a learned skill.

Like I said, I’ve been writing now for over seven years. There were times when I’d see rejection in my inbox on a weekly basis. And rightly so, I might add. Some of those manuscripts weren’t actually all that good. So how do you handle something like that?

During the low times, I try and remind myself why I’m passionate about the work in the first place. Often, I wrote the novel because an idea was just burning in my brain. It was something I wanted to read but it didn’t exist so in a way, I was the first fan. Just because somebody else didn’t connect with the material doesn’t mean that no one will. It’s already got a fan, remember? Me. So I tell myself not to lose heart. In a planet of seven billion people, I can’t be the only one who would like it either. That’s just simple probability. There’s got to be others out there who’d feel the same way. Maybe they won’t see it. Maybe the vehicle I chose was wrong. Who knows? Maybe the work will stall and get shuffled aside as I try and sell my next shiny obsession. It doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth reading.

Just remember, if something doesn’t sell, it doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. Yeah, we all have trunk novels, but there might be a couple of gems in there too. Maybe you can sell it later. Or maybe you can rewrite it or reuse an idea for a future project. Nobody knows you’re stealing from yourself. I’ve reused character names, plot points, and thematic elements.

At the end of the day, I see every novel as a learning experience at the very least. I’ve learned or practiced something new with each one. There was no way I could have written Land of Sky and Blood without writing all of those other novels before it. I hadn’t leveled up as a writer yet.

So I’m going to start querying and hustling and pitching and everything that entails, but the book already has a fan. I’m proud to have written it and thankful for the experience regardless of what happens. My sights are already set on the future.

Well, maybe after I go back and knock the abandoned Partners in Crime first …

New Year New Problems

Long time no see!

It’s been a while as you can clearly tell.

I was pretty swamped with both writing and work deadlines for the first two weeks of December and then we were traveling the last two weeks of the month, so this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down at the old website and see what’s what. I had to blow off a layer of dust to even write this post.

Writing for Partners in Crime has stalled for the final edits of Land of Sky and Blood. I know I said I was going to work on them simultaneously and that worked for a while, but I’ve only got so many soccer balls to kick. My enthusiasm for LoSaB is completely overshadowing all other projects right now. And with two weeks away from writing, I’m not just champing at the bit, I’m a slavering, chewing, frenzied beast ready for the gate to open, the bridle to snap, or both! I’m so excited to get going again.

How were your holidays? Any New Years resolutions?

I don’t make far fetched promises and never end up seeing them through. Not anymore. There usually isn’t an end goal for me, more like a continued, enhanced state of being. A couple years ago it was to take my writing seriously. Last year it was to be a good dad. As both of those years are, of course, over, my positions on those goals hasn’t changed. I still take my writing seriously and I’m always trying to be a good dad. Even when I fail. So for me, the resolutions are more like an additive effect. I think for this year it’s going to be write something that’ll be published.

Granted, I wrote an article back in December for a local magazine that should be coming out in a week or so which means that goal is pretty much already met. But instead of an end state, I’m taking this new task like a mantra to continue writing serious enough and good enough that my work ends up in a printed, published format whether I’m the one who does said publishing or someone else.

I think the spoiler alert here is that these are all resolutions I was going to do anyway, I just like to solidify something in my mind, I guess.

Now that I’m back in the saddle, you’ll be seeing regular posts from me again. Wait. I was the horse before. Now I’m the rider? … Whatever. You get it.

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!

Running the Numbers

Not going to be a big post this week. NaNoWriMo is this Friday and I’m getting into the headspace to take a fifty thousand word bite out of Partners in Crime. It’s madness, I know.

I love taking part in this community event and I’m looking forward to it more this year because we’re not going anywhere for Thanksgiving. You might not think that’s a big deal, but it’s hard to write 1700 word a day as it is. Maybe you have have little kids at home like I do and don’t always get to write on the weekend. OK, that means instead of 1700 words a day, I’m looking at around 2,380 words every week day instead. A little harder, sure, but not impossible. Now, factor in a week of Thanksgiving vacation? Leaving for the holiday creates a 12,000 word deficit on top of the weekend issues.

So yeah, that Thanksgiving week can really make or break the event for me. Case in point, we visited family last year and I wasn’t able to finish the event and instead did my own in February. This year, I’m going to knock it out in November as intended.

The contest? Competition? Event … just wants you to crank out 50K words, but I give myself the following rules:

  1. All writing must be fiction. Blog posts do not count.
  2. There shall be no filler writing. All writing must create or advance a story in some way. Writing words for words’ sake is pointless.
  3. The fifty thousand words don’t have to be in the same manuscript. I’ll often write the bulk of them in the manuscript I’m working on but then write other flash pieces or short stories keep my creativity fresh. As long as I’m producing content, that’s okay.

That’s about it. I look forward to taking part and if you’re also doing the challenge, I’m always looking for more writing buddies. You can find me under dmelnick.

Happy writing, everyone!

Soccer Practice

Coming at “this whole writing thing” with a more professional attitude means that I have more on my plate than ever. I’m working on the rough draft of Partners in Crime, I have edits yet to do on Land of Sky and Blood, and the brainstorming/prewriting/outlining phase for Altered Egos (Tentatively titled Basalt City Series) book 3. That’s a lot of back and forth. And while the idea of working on so many projects just gets me all twitterpated, its exhausting.

I was listening to a Creative Penn podcast a while ago — I don’t remember who the guest was, I know, what a great start to a story — but they were talking about juggling tasks. The guest had this great metaphor about how to handle that work load in your head. Think of everything you have to do like soccer balls. You ultimately want to get them in the goal. Yeah, you can give little taps to each of them but you’re not going to make a lot of progress any time soon. You can’t kick all of them either, there just isn’t the time. So with five soccer balls, say, you get only two kicks. Which ones are you going to kick? How are you going to spend your energy?

I want to work on more, but I find myself coming back to this analogy. Never one to give in and a stickler who’ll do anything for spite, I’m going to kick three soccer balls, darn it! But just like writing, I need to build up my multitasking muscles.

There isn’t a lot of time either. NaNoWriMo is a week and a half away. Already? I feel like I was just talking about using NaNo as an excuse to take a chunk out of Land of Sky and Blood. A year has passed already? But I can feel like lurking out there. Waiting. Ready to gobble me up like a hungry dragon.

Whenever I participate, I don’t ever write filler just for the sake of word count. I follow an outline with every book I write so I always know what comes next. Writing for NaNoWriMo just gives me an excuse to go hog wild for a month and crank out fifty thousand words at a go. I wouldn’t even say I write any faster either. At least I haven’t noticed a quality dip during those portions of the book. Instead, I just adjust my usual markers a couple thousand words higher up and when I feel like I’ve done enough for the day, remind myself to keep going.

I still hope to tackle edits and brainstorming for the other books, but man I’m gonna kick the crap out of Partners in Crime. I’m gonna drill it from my own half straight into the opposing net. Soccer metaphor! At least, that’s the plan. I’m hitting fifty thousand words regardless and I refuse to let the other books suffer in the mean time. I’m either going to get better at this or go crazy trying. Let’s find out.

The Process

I typically experience some growing pains when I start a new project. I need to ease into it. “It” being both the habit of contributing daily words to a document and the ability to hold a new world and all its complexities in my head. I give myself a couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things, but with Partners in Crime, I was off to the races from day one. Getting back into the head and world of Elias, The Architect, supervillain extraordinaire of Altered Egos was like riding a bike. That’s saying something because I never learned how to ride a bike. Don’t look at me like that. I grew up on this steep hill with lots of woods all around. It was a whole thing.

Anyway, I guess this means I really “get” this character which is good, I suppose, since I fully intend on him leading a series. This is the first time in like eight years to have shifted my writing time table so much. I typically start a manuscript around June or July and take about four months to finish a book. Then I spend the rest of the year revising and polishing that book. By the time I’m happy with it, it’s next June or July and while I’m pitching the old one, I’m starting a new one. There was no real rhyme or reason as to why the summer was my go to start date. That just tended to be my writing habit and schedule time after time, creating a cycle. That all changed thanks to the size of Land of Blood and Sky.

Starting later in the year than usual means that I’m actively looking forward to NaNoWriMo this year. I relish the excuse to crank out 50k words in a month and put a sizable dent in the book. Now, I suppose, I could just do that now. I mean if you remember, I didn’t get a chance to really participate last year thanks to family obligations so I held my own NaNoWriMo in February. I could make my own again, starting today even, voluntarily sitting out NaNo, or do two back to back, but the idea of cranking out 100K words in sixty days … well, it doesn’t quite scare me, it’s more like just thinking about it is making me tired and I’m already exhausted thanks to little kid with the sniffles who didn’t sleep last night. I’d hate to burn out so quickly.

Besides, my brother wants to participate this year. He’s a writing appreciator and has dabbled with some stories over the year but doesn’t have the time to spare. A big part of NaNoWriMo is the community aspect, so it would be fun to have a writing buddy again.

So yeah, while the timing of Partners in Crime throws me, it’s actually a refreshing change of pace. I’m excited to be back in Basalt City and I’m eager to get into the manuscript so I can try this whole full time novel writing thing I’m attempting to do. My beta readers should have their notes of Land of Sky and Blood back to me by October and the goal is to not drop the ball on Partners in Crime while I edit LoSaB at the same time.

Normally I don’t ping pong back and forth like that between projects, I’m too eager to get one finished for pitching, but this time around I’m eager for the work. Change can be good.

MMMMM …. Is Good Yes?… Pleeaase.

Did you hear a metaphorical shovel striking earth this morning? I certainly did. Partners in Crime, the sequel to Altered Egos is officially started. I realize that doesn’t mean a whole lot to you all as you can’t read either of them right now, though. My goal is to finish the first three novels of the series before the first one, Altered Egos, comes out to help with rollout momentum.

Speaking of momentum, I also decided to do something different this time. Because writing isn’t a full time job for me, I’ve only ever worked on one project at a time with something akin to metaphysical horse blinders on pretty much all the time. Things get a little more muddled when I’m waiting or editing one work – I’ll usually get started on some aspect of another, but I still try to keep them all compartmentalized. That means there are some lulls for me throughout the year and definite times when I’m not writing.

This just won’t do anymore. So while I’m writing PIC, I’m also doing prewriting for Altered Egos 3. Usually, I would wait until PIC is all wrapped up to hit the prewriting phase for the next project, but I’m trying to flow from one to the next as seamlessly as possible now. It should definitely speed up my output – so hopefully you won’t be waiting too long to read these books I keep talking about – and it’ll also make the material more related to each other as I’ll be better positioned to make changes along multiple points in the series.

In other news, my wife and I have been watching The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Netflix and I gotta say, I’m just blown away every episode! I remember when they announced the series and the internet was pretty excited about it and then it was released and … nothing. As far as I know, we are the only two people on the planet watching this show! Okay, that’s not true obviously. A simple Google search will tell me otherwise, but I don’t want to do that in fear of spoiling something for myself.

But seriously, the care and detail in this show is staggering. I used to say “It’s like a fantasy movie that just happens to be filmed with puppets” but it’s more than that. It’s a cinematic fantasy movie that just happens to be filmed with puppets! I’m sure the script just has characters doing things as if they were actors and to the benefit of the show, if they can achieve the desired action practically, they’re going to do it it! There’s some CGI to smooth things over that often enhances the visuals. Except when it doesn’t – looking at you Skeksis tongues. But usually, it’s pretty good. Great even! Even though its a Netflix show, I want physical DVDs with the hope that said DVDs would come with behind the scenes making of featurettes like the Lord of the Rings.

You could be cynical and propose this was all a cash grab praying on our collective nostalgia. And maybe it is, but that doesn’t take away from the tremendous amount of work they put into it. I watched The Dark Crystal as a kid, but I wouldn’t show Age of Resistance to my kids until they were older. (Not that they could follow the current plot anyway. Even I have a hard time telling the Gelfling characters apart sometimes.) It’s a little violent. Somebody gets their eye eaten away while they’re still alive and I now know the color of Gelfling blood. I suppose Netflix knows their audience and target demographic well. We liked the movie when we were kids, but we’re all grown up now.

When my wife and I started watching the show, I couldn’t stop grinning. Nostalgia is just that strong. But at some point, it stopped being about my love of what was and became a love for what is. I am thoroughly invested in this show now. If my desk could support any more tchotchkes, it would probably have a line of all ten Skeksis right now, but alas.

I was going to be on board with this thing no matter what, but I knew they had something special when my wife turned to me at the midpoint of the season and said “Okay. They got me.”

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?