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.

The Finish Line

I’d say that my NaNoWriMothis year was a smashing success! I even finished a day early too. This is the fourth time I’ve taken part in the challenge and I think it was also the most diligent – therefore the easiest – it’s ever gone. Only a few days toward the end did I have to really worry about putting in the words and that’s only because I knew I wouldn’t be writing anything on Thanksgiving or the day after. Even then, it was only about three thousand day. The rest of time, I was chugging along nicely. So nicely in fact, that it’s been three days now that I haven’t written a single thing and I’m feeling restless.

The habit is established and now hard to break. There’s about a quarter of my current manuscript left so there are plenty of words left to write, though. I think I’ll dive back on in tomorrow at the pace I’d been going. Even record my progress via spreadsheet. I do so love to compare all of those numbers … If I can finish the thing before the end of the year then I’ll be able to brag that I’ve finished two books this year instead of my customary one.

I’m also feeling restless about getting Land of Sky and Blood out there. I’d told myself to take my time with it and I have been, but the excitement is getting to me. I’ve added some, probably, unnecessary pressure to my life to also get that finished by the first of the year. I don’t like to be bored, I guess.

In the little down time that I have, I’ve been watching some Great British Baking Show with my wife and reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I remember when that book came out and all the of the hullaballoo surrounding it. I’m about halfway through it now and I can honestly say I don’t get it. I like aspects of the book, but I’m feeling a familiar itch to also get that finished. Like the circus the book is about, the story is all flash and awe without any real substance. I feel kind of clever for coming up with that one, but I wonder if some reviewer beat me too it years ago when the novel first came out. That’s not to say I dislike the book. There’s plenty to like, I’m just in the mind for one that moves at a faster pace.

Anyone else do NaNoWriMo? How’d it go?

 

NaNoWriMo 4

We’re in the home stretch! I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday, so I had to make up for it today. I’m now exactly on track to finish by November 30th. I plan to front load my word count over the next couple of days though because…

  1. I don’t want it hanging over my head
  2. I doubt I’ll get much writing done around Thanksgiving.

Not having a chance to write yesterday means I missed out on both my 14 day in a row and my 21 day in a row badges. Honestly, I think the 21 one might have been shot anyway, but 14 was doable. Oh well. I know the badges don’t really mean anything, but I’ve played enough video games in the last ten years to be a fan of achievements.

I’d say I’m a fan for the new NaNoWriMo site and its features. My biggest critique and feature it is sorely lacking in my opinion is that right now you can’t retroactively add to your word count. Say, I did write yesterday but forgot to enter it. Right now there’s no way to do so and tag it for the correct date. It’s all day of input. I assume that’s something they’ll iron out once everything calms down because it seems like a massive UI oversight to me.

Anyway, hope you’re all doing well and we can get back to much longer, more meaningful posts once this is all through.

NaNoWriMo 3

Another short one. I had a couple of goose eggs, but made most of it up last week. As you can see from my current stats, I’m just about on track again.

Word Count Graph

To me, half the fun of NaNoWriMo is watching those little dots climb. I love the stats feature. The bottom graph makes my pace look a lot wigglier than it is. I’ve been shooting for around 2k words a day (hit 2.8k today) to make up for lost days and create a little cushion for future days when I don’t get anything else done.

In other news, I’m almost finished reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I ended up loving The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet so much, I wanted another ride on the Mitchell train. If I thought Thousand Autumns broke what I conceived to be typical narrative structure, hew-boy was I not prepared for Bone Clocks. But I think I like it? 500 plus pages in I better like it. I don’t have time anymore to read books I don’t like. Mitchell’s grasp of character is definitely his strongest feature. I chose The Bone Clocks at random because it sounded cool and I didn’t want to read Cloud Atlas. Apparently, I chose correctly because it and Thousand Autumns are related?! I have so many questions for David Mitchell writer to writer.

I love when that happens, though. I’d read 14 by Peter Clines and absolutely loved it. Maybe a year later, I bought The Fold just to read something new. Even reading the description of the book I was pleasantly surprised to find out the two novels were sidequels.

So that’s twice this has happened to me. It’s like discovering a secret connection of the universe no one else can see. Know what I mean?

That’s enough for today. More writing and editing to do. Hope you’re all having a good event. If you’re still looking for writing buddies, I’m dmelnick.

Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo 2

Another short post this week. In fact, it’s going to be this way the whole way through NaNoWriMo and the month of November. These words don’t count šŸ™‚ But seriously, it’s because I’m just swamped this month. I’m cranking out those 50k words while trying to edit a massive book at the same time.

I’m about three thousand words under where I should be in the event right now. That’s all right. I’m starting to pick up the pace and write more per day.

I’ve never been much of a marathon writer. Even if I know where I’m going, my brain gets tired. I think the most I’ve ever written in one sitting is twenty-five hundred words? Some of you are probably scoffing at the number and rightly so. Usually, on days when I need to make up word count or I want to make a really big push, instead of writing in one long session, I break it up and write in spurts. That’s much more manageable for me.

I think it was Ray Bradbury who used to say write two sentences six times a day. If worse comes to worst, you’ve got twelve sentences out of the deal but as often happens, you won’t stop writing once you start. Now I can’t write six times a day — I just don’t have the time for that — but I can write through a couple of smaller sessions. I usually try to get around a thousand words out first thing in the morning. That’s when I’m most productive anyway. If I don’t switch gears to something else entirely, I’ll come back to the work and try and write about 500-600 word chunks throughout the day. Everyone is different, but that seems to work for me.

Okay, that’s all the break I get. Hit twenty-five hundred words today (in three sittings) and it’s time to get some editing done. Until next time!

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.

Avoiding Writing is Making Me More Productive

I’m a firm believer that writer’s block isn’t necessarily someone’s inability to write, it’s more about an extenuating circumstance. For me, when I find that I just can’t move forward, it’s usually a sign that there’s something wrong with my story. My subconscious picks up that something is wrong (usually a worldbuilding or plot element), and only once the issue is ironed out, can I then proceed as normal.

The only other time I get blocked is if faced with a mental distraction that impedes my ability to focus. Good news or bad news. Stress. Whatever. But even so, I’m usually really good at just powering through. Even when I’m sick as a dog, I can usually suck it up enough to at least write a couple hundred words. Even if that’s the only work I do all day, I can then my reward myself by being taking the rest of the day off.

But then you get a day like to day …

I was up a lot last night with another sick kid and I just can’t do it. I’m exhausted and can barely focus on anything. What makes matters worse is that I’m currently writing a scene where my protagonist is exiting a storm drain, but I can’t picture what a a pump station looks like. The only two things that can hold me up are working in tandem and doing a heck of a job. During my drive to work this morning, I went through all of my usual prewriting steps but all I ended up doing was staring blankly at the road.

All morning I kept thinking I’d come back to writing. First I’ll just answer some emails or do some work on a project. Lunch has now rolled around and I’m no closer to starting. For every time I could sit down and start writing, I instead wind up working on something else. I may not be doing a lot of writing today, but I’m sure getting a lot of work done. Just like my subconscious brain knows when something is wrong with a story, it also knows that if I fill my day with useless stuff then I have no excuse not to write. But if I’m busy doing actual things of importance, well then I’m just busy.

Yeah, it’s a flimsy blanket, but it’s keep me warm all right?

In fact, I’m going to wrap up this post and then go edit a manuscript. Oh not the one I’m writing right now, a completely different one. Who knows? After that, maybe I’ll look up what a pumping station looks like.

Reading as an Author

For the most part, being an author has only enhanced my ability to enjoy a good book. It also lets me know pretty quickly when I won’t enjoy a story either. I can usually tell how far I am into a book based on what’s happening, guessing what the hook, plot points, midpoint, and climax are as they happen. Sometimes I get so held up on understanding the narrative structure that when the book diverts from that path, it really bothers me. I get too focused on what the story is doing “wrong”, I no longer see what it’s doing right.

I used to review movies back in college. My internal critic got to be so powerful that I eventually had to willingly turn it off. I made the conscious choice before a film that I was just going to sit back and relax. I try and do the same with my reading as well, I mean if you’re into stage magic and you’re at another magician’s show, can you still enjoy it if you know all the tricks?

The answer, apparently, is yes!

I’ve been reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell and I’m just continuously blown away both as a fan and an author.

As a fan, I find the story fascinating. I’m intrigued with the plights of the primary protagonists and it’s scratching the itch Shogun left behind that so far no other book has been able to salve and believe me, I’ve tried a lot!

As an author, I think I appreciate it more!

The descriptions are sparse, but exact while the dialogue is rich and verbose. It’s like reading a play at times. So much worldbuilding comes out through the dialogue its insane. There could be five or six individual references in someone’s speech — so it reads accurate to the time period the novel takes place in (this is historical fiction after all) — but each of those references is easily its own area of research. I haven’t dug into the behind the scenes stuff yet because I don’t want to spoil the ending of the novel for myself by accident, but I’m interested in Mitchell’s research process. I’m surprised something was written at all and he’s not stuck down what has to be many, many rabbit holes.

This play-like style is further reinforced by the narration. The characters speak for themselves, but the exposition is very straightforward for the most part. My favorite, I think was when a nervous Jacob was going to talk to someone about the woman he’s infatuated with. It reads something like:

“Jacob lost his nerve. Jacob regained his nerve.”

Just like that. Back to back. It pulled a chuckle from me as I understand what Mitchell is conveying. In anyone else’s hands, that would have been some internal strife as Jacob came back around to the idea. But it works here in two sentences that definitely tell and don’t show.

Another interesting point is that while the novel is divided into parts, it doesn’t follow a typical seven point structure. That would normally bother me, but Mitchell’s words are enchanting. He presents this world so thoroughly that while my fan-brain is just wide-eyed in wonder at what’s going to happen, my author-brain is taking notes. Except instead of “oh I see how he did that,” it’sĀ  more like “I can’t believe he got away with that!” And he does. Every time.

I’m only halfway through and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is wonderful. Even if it stays on the same emotional plateau and doesn’t escalate in any way, he’s got me to the end.

So I suppose my big takeaways are this: Sometimes you just need to shut it off and let yourself be entertained. Other times, the artist in you is looking for new experiences like a jazz musician soloing with notes that are more difficult than aurally pleasing. And if you find a work that combines the two, then well, you’ve got something special indeed!