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!

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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!

A Balanced Diet

You can consume or create, but you can’t do both.

I think Kevin Smith is fond of saying that. I’m sure I could look it up, but it doesn’t make the statement any less true.

I’ve found that I get in rhythms where the work comes easy – well, easy enough sometimes, but it’s still work – and then I fall off the wagon where it’s pulling teeth every time. And for me, that’s usually due to outside distractions.

For instance, right now I’m waiting for some feedback and while I wait, I’ve become almost paralyzed. I don’t want to do any writing because I’m too excited and too eager to deal with the work I sent off for scrutiny.

Now, should I be working? YES! Is anything someone says about the other work going to affect my current work? NO!

And yet, I’ve become both incredibly distracted and self-indulgent. I’ve given myself permission more to put off writing like “I deserve this” and “it’s okay.” Everyone deserves a break and a reward, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve come to recognize that’s not what this is. It’s stalling. What I really want is to work on the stuff I sent out.

Every time I decided to put off writing for some video game time or a movie or whatever, I’m not actually doing myself any favors. I’m not recharging the batteries, I’m killing time in the hopes that today will be the day I get that email. But you know what? It hasn’t been that day yet, so why would it be today? It’ll get here when it gets here.

Focus. It’s kind of important.

That’s why I’ve been writing more about my big push to really dive deep into my latest project. I mean it, but it’s also a way to trick myself back into work.

While I’m consuming, I’m not creating. For me, consuming media is like eating candy. It’s delicious and tastes good at the time, but eat too much and I feel icky. Creating media is much more substantial. That’s my well-balanced meal with all the fixings and flavor.

Taking a break is fine, but be honest with yourself.

1 – 1 = 2

“Can’t be too careful these days,” Bridges said, slipping the funds into his coat pocket.

“Can’t be too careful these days.” Bridges slipped the funds into his coat pocket.

See the difference?

Yes, the first one is more immediate. It’s a little more in the present than the second example.

Or is it? Without the “said” in the second example, only the “ed” in “slipped” puts this in the past. So tense-wise, both examples have something present and something past.  Other than flavor, what’s the real difference here?

Well, the second example is exactly one word shorter. How much can one less word really add?

Subtraction is addition, my friends. One less word a hundred times is a hundred less words overall. Do it a thousand times and you’ve trimmed off one percent of a 100,000 word manuscript. Believe me, it matters.

You want the excess fat to just fall away, revealing the meaty bones of your story. I’m seeing stuff like this time and again during my latest revision of an old manuscript. Content I thought was as lean as it could possibly be, with more advanced eyes, is getting hacked off left and right. Sometimes with a butcher’s knife. Sometimes with a scalpel. But in both cases, less is more.

A more focused, more streamlined, and more immersive reading experience.

Sometimes you’ve taken a work as far or as short as it can go. Maybe you really can’t cut anything else out because it’ll fall apart. That’s okay. Or maybe you like the longer phrase. That’s okay too, but be cognizant of what you’re doing.

What kind of book are you writing? Is the reader wanting to spend more time on the flavor of your prose or is it the narrative she’s after?

I used to want to preserve everything, but my new rule of thumb is if its not nailed down – meaning absolutely essential – it’s gone. I’ll throw something away, reread it, and then figure out I guess I needed to keep that sentence after all. Often times, though, if my gut says get rid of it, the story really can survive without it. On the chance that I’ve deprived the reader with some great sentence of exposition, well now I’ve offered her a chance to create something  herself to fill in the gaps which ends up bringing her more into the story anyway.

I’ve taken to labeling my drafts so if I need to come back for anything, thanks to the magic of “Control F” I can find where that spot was in the last version and pull out the bits I chopped away in my hasty housekeeping. That ability and knowledge that the changes aren’t actually permanent are pretty freeing.

Try it out.

NaNoWriMo

I’ve been looking forward to November for a while now. Not for any real reason, but I like fall. I’ve come to the conclusion that 50 degrees F might be my sweet spot. Probably from living in Scotland. Cold enough to bundle up but not too cold. Hence November.

So with all this longing it just now occurred to me that not only is November tomorrow, but it’s also NaNoWriMo!

I like the festive atmosphere  and take the event seriously enough to participate to crank out 50k words, but I write with a purpose. I don’t just churn out text to make text and I don’t write 50k-length novels. I typically see where I’m at with a project and go from there. Turns out, I’m perfectly paced with last year so rather than starting something new, I’ll be using NaNoWriMo as an excuse to finish Altered Egos.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t need some palette cleansers along the way. So for the month of November, I’ll be taking a break from the personal stuff. The only blog posts you’ll see from me will be fiction.

Yes I’m cheating a little as they’ll count towards that 50k, but the  bulk of those words will go towards my novel. Scouts’ honor.

You can’t see me, but I just cracked my knuckles. I may have forgotten about it, but I’m ready for the arthritic showdown that is NaNoWriMo.

Bring it on!

Feverish

It’s one of those mornings.

I got about half my words in, but I’m throwing in the towel. Normally, I’m all about the discipline, but we’ve had a sick household all weekend, so I’m giving myself an excuse. My daughter as croup (the croup? I don’t know …) and my son had a temperature of 102. So, as you can imagine, there weren’t a lot of happy campers. I spent most of the last three nights either being woken up every couple hours to help a kid fall back asleep or myself sleeping on the floor of their room because I was too tired to get back into my own bed after holding their hand, stroking their back, etc. And then to top it all off, this morning I woke up with a sore throat and fuzzy head. I’m exhausted.

So, what I’ll leave you with instead of a success story of getting work done, is something of a rant.

I finished Every Dead Thing, the first Charlie Parker novel, by John Connolly over the weekend and its one of those books I need to talk about a little. For good or ill, it’s stuck with me. And not just because of the horrible juxtaposition of reading a book about child-murders and torture while trying to put your own children to sleep every night …

So the good:

I like the story for the most part and I liked the character voice. The world is loaded with a bunch of colorful characters with interesting back stories. Even the premise is cool: catch serial killer guy who murdered your wife and kid. Sure, good ole revenge story. I’m in. Parallel that with another serial killer story. Let’s get on this ride. But after that …

The bad:

I feel like its two books in one. The first half is about catching a child killer and the second is about the Travellin’ Man, the real antagonist. But ultimately, the child killer has NOTHING to do with the story. That’s half of the book literally wasted. Connolly pulls you from place to place, person to person so quickly, it’s hard to care about anything anymore. It’s weird, there’s an interconnectedness to his characters and the world, but not the plot. Even though he tells you there is, but there isn’t.

And the ending? Look, I like the reveal. That was cool. But there was NO explanation. This is coming from a guy who reads comic books. I accept things like “it’s powered by a black hole.” I don’t need much. But this was NOTHING. No explanation of how the killer did anything. Hell, there wasn’t even a second for the protagonist, Charlie Parker, to even have an emotional response to the reveal and resulting confrontation. I’ve never appreciated denouement more because this book didn’t have any.

The book has obviously stuck with me because it had a great setup but I ultimately feel let down. And I’m not the world’s foremost authority on story structure, maybe if I was an international bestselling author too my two cents would mean more, but I can’t help feeling like this one was off.

Aside from the fact that it was too books crammed into one. Aside from the fact that the first half is literally meaningless. There were little things. Like talking about a cop character who may or may not have murdered a criminal, then when you bring up that criminal’s name chapters later, you don’t remind me what that criminal did. Hell, there are so many names and places in this book, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Or instead of a big climax, Connolly spends more time on a shoot out between two criminal mob bosses that, again, ultimately mean nothing, rather than work on a satisfying conclusion.

I’m also not saying that everything needs to be wrapped up in a neat little bow, but there’s not even a soggy, cardboard box.

Just weird choices through and through.

OK. I have some very specific questions and points to rant about. I’ve been trying to keep it pretty spoiler-free so far, but that’s gonna stop. You’ve been warned …

 

Still with me? Let’s do this …

So we had the false climax with the gun fight at Joe Bones’s place. What was the point? Bones knew something. But he never said what it was. If Bones knew who the killer was, he’d be dead. That was the one thing we could always count on. The TM wraps up loose ends.

We were told Remarr knew something too, but, again, he didn’t. It never mattered to the plot. What did Remarr even see?

For that matter, why kill David Fontenot at all? It seemed so out of character to anything the TM was doing.

What was the point of the whole first half of the book? So Modine (that was her name, right?) knew who the TM was?! Why? How? That was just there so Charlie Parker could keep obsessing, but it made no sense whatsoever. What, like Sandman, are there serial killer conventions?

How on earth was TM (W) setting up/controlling Byron? Again, makes no sense. And why? To lure Charlie there? But that’s not what brought Charlie to Louisiana. That was a really weird connection and only worked because the plot said so.

And if the TM (W) killed “hundreds” what’s the point of his ‘prentice killings in those barrels only a handful of months beforehand. So, if they’re practice killings, does that mean he kills like someone new every day? That makes no sense. Is he killing lots of people and only now deciding to make art out of them?

And ultimately my two biggest greivences:

We don’t have any explanation from TM (W) as to how he carried any of this out. Half the fun of a detective story is the puzzle. Not just who it is, but how he’s doing it. We’re missing out on that latter half. Fine. He’s killing “because he can,” but there needs to be more than that for a satisfying ending. Why toy with Bird all this time just for this?

And speaking of Bird, for a guy obsessed with the TM he certainly has zero feelings once he figures out who the guy is. Not anger, rage, betrayal, anything. It’s like oh here’s some world shattering news. Oh damn. And then, when Rachel’s taken, he never once even worries about her. No wonder she leaves at the end, Bird’s a selfish asshole.

This could have all been forgiven if there was even an attempt to wrap any of this up at the end, but nope … fade to black. Weird epilogue.

I had to get this out of my system because I wanted to like this book so much. Hell, I did for a while, but like Bird, I was betrayed by someone I trusted too …

 

Wrench in the Machine

I’m in the process of writing my sixth novel right now. I’d like to think that with every one of them, I try new things and I learn something every time. This time around, I gave myself a dose of what being a “professional writer” must feel like. Notice I put that in quotes, that’s not to say it wasn’t professional, but more that there’s no single model of what being a professional writer looks like.

After wrapping up my first round of edits on The Red Door, I sent it off to my beta readers which has become my usual practice. I figured I’d have a couple of months before I got anything back. This makes for an equally exciting and terrifying time. Picture it if you will, you spend how long —  Four? Six? — months working on a project you care deeply about and then you hand it off to others, eager to hear what they think about it. It makes me anxious and antsy and other words that start with A. Agitated? I wanted to hear their thoughts now. I didn’t want to wait two months twiddling my thumbs.

I needed something to do. So I gave myself a new project. Enter my next novel, Altered Egos.

Now, I had a pretty good idea Altered Egos would be next on the plate anyway, but I’ve only ever worked on one novel at a time. Purely to distract myself and to keep myself working, I dove right on in with an outline and started writing it in the hiatus. I got about 30k words in before I got all the feedback for The Red Door.

Now, my original plan was to work on both at once. That’s the responsible writer thing to do. But seeing as I’m not working with a publisher (yet, hopefully) I soon realized that the time spent not editing The Red Door meant time longer before I had a finished project. So I switched gears and diverted all focus back to The Red Door to crank it out for querying.

That’s been finished for about a month now and I’m back into working solely on Altered Egos. The problem, my friends? It is a struggle. It’s not just a motivation thing. I’ve long learned that you can’t write only when you’re motivated. Writing is a job. Flexing muscles. You know the metaphor. The works. This is something deeper. As much as I try and remind myself what excited me about the project in the first place, I can’t help daydreaming about The Red Door. It’s out there in the ether. I think the Schrodinger’s cat-nature is what’s killing me. It’s hard to care for a new baby when my other one is out there in the wilds, alone.

So I hit my daily word counts as planned, but I’m working on ways to trick myself back into this new project. It distracted me once, it can do so again. I  just need to fall in love with it all over again. Easy, right?

In the mean time, I’ve added a link to Fate Stitcher over on my Comics page where you can download the entire graphic novel. Free. That’s essentially seven issues of my first baby. All free. I hope you like it.

Let me know what you think and if you have any advice about switching gears and staying invested, I’m all ears!

Oiling the Machine

I’m probably preaching to the already well-educated choir here, but having children is exhausting! Rewarding, sure. But my god am I tired. All. The. Time!

We’ve settled into a good enough routine where I get some sleep to function. As to the to actual level of functionality(?) functionability(?) see I have no idea … well I’ll leave that up to you. I can get to work now with clothes fit for a human being of my profession. I’ve also been able to shave my “dad beard” on occasion. The gym has been long gone. Running’s been pretty much out too even though it kills me. We’ve been having some gorgeous fall mornings lately. When I let the dog out, I can hear the autumnal whisper egging me to come join its crisp embrace.

The only thing from my life before that I’ve been able to dredge up without feeling like I’m shoving a round block into a square-shaped hole, and perhaps the most important thing from life BB (before babies), is that I’ve gotten back to writing. I was about 3/4 of the way through my latest novel before the little dragons were born and I was worried that my enthusiasm for the project would die out during my month away. I’m happy to report that not only have I started writing again, but I’ve been making some serious headway into the project, picking up pretty easily from where I left off.

What really helped during the break was that I never really stopped thinking about the book. I literally made myself think about the book at least once a day to keep my thoughts fresh and to remember where and how I left things. It kind of helped that the chapter I left on was one I had the least amount of notes for. My time away served as a hella long brainstorming session.

But it worked! Getting back into the saddle took some effort and personal forgiveness, so I didn’t chastise myself for only making 500 words every now and again, but things are back to being in full swing.

If anything, the added bonus is that I took care of that refresh/re-calibrate time I typically use after every book. Once I finish a novel, I force myself to shelve it for 4-6 weeks and let the dust settle. I come back with a fresh set of eyes and a list three pages long of all the stuff I feel the need to fix. Even though I hadn’t finished my book, that’s basically what I did while I was off learning how to be a parent.

I can’t wait to finish now so I can start tearing it apart. My middle is sluggish and dull. I see that so clearly now. I want to rework how I introduce the main protagonist too. And there’s a named side character I use in the beginning who never gets comeuppance. I demand comeuppance!

So once I finish – I’m down to the final confrontation – I can go back and restructure some stuff. I’m pretty surprised by the length. I’m already hitting 117k and it’ll most likely be closer to 130k by the time I’m done. Granted, this is the rough draft and I just told you about how there will be restructuring involved, but its shaping up a little bit larger than I originally imagined. Hopefully, that’ll work in my favor to create a tight story once I trim all the fat like a T-bone. I’m hoping to have something ready for alpha readers in a month.

How cool would it be if I had human babies and a literary one at the same time?

[Taylor is busy]

I’m still chugging along …

I’ve been writing like a maniac this week through my typical morning sessions, but lately I’m adding a second one in the afternoon to help reach the end of the novel faster. In books past, I used to be able to write on the weekends. Last weekend’s laziness aside, I’ve been pretty busy with the impending arrival of the two babies so that’s been eating up most of my time.

I awoke to a text message from a friend the other day who recommended the iPhone game, Lifeline, to me. As you’ve probably guessed right now, my life isn’t exactly set up for another game to steal my attention, but he convinced me to give it a shot and boy is it nothing how I imagined it being.

Lifeline isn’t a game in the strictest sense. It’s more like an experience. The gist is you get a text message from someone who’s asking for help. This stranger, Taylor, is a science student who snuck aboard a spaceship that’s now crashed on a moon outside Tau Ceti. As the name implies, you’re Taylor’s lifeline. All you do is talk to Taylor and advise him on certain decisions that ultimately affect his life when given the prompt. Usually, he takes that advice and says he’ll get back to you and you get the message [Taylor is busy] while he’s off doing said activity.

IMG_1545

IMG_1544

That’s it.

That’s the game.

But I gotta tell you, I’m completely hooked! It’s a choose your own adventure where you care about the protagonist. Every time he goes off on some venture, I’m always nervous about what’s gonna happen to my new friend without me knowing about it. Last night, he convinced me that he should spend the night in some other wreckage he discovered instead of trekking it all the way back to his original ship. Some wreckage, I might add, that he was pretty sure he spotted some other kind of life form scuttling about …

Lifeline doesn’t demand much from you and occupies more of your thoughts when you’re not playing it, which I find pretty novel. When you turn on the push notifications, you get his messages that pop up in “real time”. It’s to the point now that I’ll stop what I’m doing to check my phone when it buzzes and my wife will ask, “What’s Taylor up to now?”.

There are so many branching paths, that it can’t help but feel like a unique story. My friend who recommended it has already lead his Taylor to destruction, I found out. However,my Taylor, who’s been at it about three days now, is still kicking by his last transmission. He’s on his way to investigate a non-natural pinnacle he spied in the distance at the moment. He’ll text me next time he gets the chance.

As someone who’s fascinated by telling stories to others, this thing gets all the right hooks in me. I’m both voyeur and protagonist, but yet I can’t see anything. I’m helping the story, but he has to describe it to me while my mind fills in the blanks. It’s a fascinating thought experiment about the nature of stories.

I’m hesitant to talk too much to my real friend less something get spoiled, but through the few notes we’ve compared, we’re experiencing too completely different stories. I was genuinely scared when Taylor asked me to look up how many rads it takes to harm someone so he could sleep next to cooling reactor engines. I hope I gave him the right answer. I still worry about what I might have done to him.

Well look at that. There goes my phone. Seems he’s run into a huge crater and needs some advice… Gotta go!