Making plans–then scrapping them within a week or two–seems to have been my primary pastime in 2013, especially the second half of the year. And not just for writing and publishing. For The Journal, for my tabletop wargaming hobby, for home improvements and repairs, and more. If I can make a plan involving it, I probably have–and then promptly scrapped that plan.
Since I keep a somewhat detailed journal, I *could* count all the plans I’ve made and scrapped this year, but it would be depressing. And I’m trying to avoid “depressing” right now.
Traditionally I spend December planning the next year. I pick goals and write them up real pretty in a new entry in The Journal (for easy tracking).
I think I might be scrapping that this year, as well.
I mean, sure, I’m doing a lot of thinking and pondering right now. About this year and next year, about The Journal and novels and series and short stories and whether I want to buy a 12-inch cast iron skillet or a new tea kettle that works better on my shiny new cooktop, but I’m kinda tiptoeing around making actual *plans*. I’m avoiding specific *goals*.
I had 2013 pretty well mapped out last December.
That map was balled up and tossed by January 10th.
I’ve been making plans and scrapping them ever since.
I have actually accomplished stuff this year–including stuff I had planned for the year. But it’s hard to see it clearly through the smoking wreckage of dozens of plans, all scrapped almost as soon as they were minted.
There is some self doubt involved in all this scrapping, but I suspect most of it comes from my struggling to deal with how my life and work have evolved over the past few years. From the addition of a new child in 2011 (who spent this year as a very active toddler) to the persistent decline in sales of The Journal (caused by the recession? caused by tablets? caused by cranky space aliens?) to the slow growth of book sales as I attempt to move to a more writing-and-publishing “day job” to turning 45 (tomorrow), all of it has combined to create, in the words of Sir Topham Hatt (the toddler is a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine), “confusion and delay.”
There’s a lot of change–and chaos–swirling around me, and trying to choose a path forward feels a lot like navigating the living room in the dark. Not only am I trying to avoid tripping over the furniture, but the floor has been mined with vicious Lego Duplos…
As I said earlier, though, I have made progress this year. It hasn’t all been flailing about. Looking back over the past couple months, I can see that the vortex of chaos is swirling slower now, the result of decisions made (and maintained) and growing accustomed to a new normal, and when I look forward, the murky darkness is paler.
So there’s hope for the next year. But no real plan as yet.
What Always Works (for Me)
- Outlining novels 
- Writing first thing 
What Has Worked (for Me), And Might Need to Be in the First List
- Brainstorming short stories
- Also writing (some) on weekends, not just weekdays, during a project
What Used to Work (for Me), But Might Not Work Any Longer (for Me)
- Tracking new words daily 
What Doesn’t Work (for Me)
- The opposite of the stuff on the first list (e.g., *not* writing first thing)
What made me think of making these lists was realizing that I had been doing a lot of experimenting with my writing process over the past few years. And maybe it was time to stop and take stock. See what has worked, and what hasn’t, so I can do more of the former and less of the latter. And record it all for future reference.
I decided not to get too nuts-and-bolts in my lists. For example, I didn’t add “Writing in The Journal” or “Writing at my desk” or even “Listening to albums on Rhapsody while writing (instead of stations on Pandora)” to the What Always Works (for Me) list, because those are more preferences than requirements. They aren’t lessons I’ve learned about myself and how I do my best work.
I don’t think my writing process has stopped evolving, of course, and I’m sure I’ll do more experiments in the future. Right now, though, I need to focus on what I know works.
 I’ve talked before about how I outline, including how even though I don’t start writing a novel until I have an outline I like *and* how the outline continues to evolve *during* the actual writing.
 “First thing” doesn’t mean “as soon as I get up”. Instead, it’s the first “real work” I do on a normal weekday (after breakfast, workout and shower, before checking email/FB/anything else).
 Key word there is “daily”. Because I like to know, I’ll still be tracking new words on a weekly basis.
Tiger Girl Run, the new preteen/middle-grade thriller, sequel to New Fairy Moon and Living Ghost Time, is now available!
Lupe Garcia has never heard of the Red Moon Faire. All she knows is her dream of being a dog and chasing rabbits around Spring Hollow has turned out to be all too real. She has no idea how to change back into her normal girl shape, and now the ghost of a saber-toothed tiger with only one tusk is chasing her through the sleeping neighborhood, roaring at her to return his missing tooth.
Eluding the ghost, Lupe stumbles into the Overlap and the Faire. She’s still a dog, but the Faire doesn’t care. Everyone–and everything–is welcome at the Red Moon Faire: six-foot-tall intelligent rabbits, tiny Elvs, lizardmen in business suits, and much more.
But there are also shadows at the Faire, and snares for the unwary. And a prisoner desperate to escape–even if the attempt puts Lupe in harm’s way…
- Bowl big enough (about 2 qts or more) that is microwave safe
- 13×9 pan (or similar), sprayed with oil
- 1/2 stick butter (unsalted, you philistine)
- 10-oz bag of marshmallows (I like Jet-Puf)
- 6 cups of Rice Krispies (or similar cereal)
- Sheet of wax paper big enough to cover the 13×9 pan
Melt the butter *completely* in the bowl.
Dump marshmallows in the bowl and *toss* them to coat the marshmallows in melted butter. Resist the urge to eat a buttery marshmallow.
Put the bowl with buttery marshmallows back in the microwave for about 90 seconds. Let the marshmallows get all swelled up. Laugh at them because they do look funny. Don’t melt the marshmallows completely, though. That way lies madness–and treats tough enough to scour copper pots.
Use a silicon spatula to whip the mostly-melted marshmallows into a smooth cream. This is very important.
Stir in the 6 cups of Rice Krispies. If you’re not careful, this *will* make a mess. Enjoy it, I say.
Dump the mix into the pan. Spread with spatula. Let your favorite child have the bowl and spatula since you don’t need them any more. Tell them, “When you start tasting plastic, you have scraped too far.”
Take the sheet of wax paper. Spray one side with oil. Use the sheet of wax paper, oiled side down, to press the mixture until firm and level. This is also very important.
Let cool for awhile.
Slice into oversized squares and enjoy. Maybe even share.
I mean, sure, I’m a guy and all. And my friend who has the “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” tee-shirt will probably roll her eyes just a little as I say it. But I am.
I believe in equal rights for women. Equal pay. Equal opportunity. Equal freedom from oppression and violence.
Before my daughter was born, I was largely oblivious to the staggering inequalities that still exist even in this supposedly post-feminist age.
I still have some blind spots, but I’m working on them (on my own, and with the help of my friend in the tee-shirt).
I don’t know that I have a lot to add to the global discussion of women’s rights, but I wanted everyone to know which side I’m on.
…you can work on only one thing at a time. Multitasking is great for multi-core CPU’s, but for us humans with one brain and limited attention/focus bandwidth, switching from one task to another can be less than smooth.
Depending on the particular projects, I can often put in time on both writing and programming in a single workday, usually with a before-lunch/after-lunch split. I can use lunch as a clutch/buffer to prevent grinding gears. But then there are projects that soak up too many mental resources and I’m constantly pondering them, consciously or subconsciously. When one of these happens, I’m pretty much limited to a single train of thought. Launching a new software project is like this. So is publishing a novel (which includes all the editing, copyediting, formatting, and so on). Once a software project is underway (that is, most of the concentrated design work is out of the way and I’m mostly implementing), or once the novel is released, I have some untapped mental resources that can be reallocated.
Hmm. Now I think of it, I’d probably take less than 2-3 weeks to outline a novel if I focused on it full time rather than in 1-2 hour “slices”.
…everything has an opportunity cost. Since you can only work on one thing at a time, choosing what you work on means you’ve just chosen *not* to work on a whole host of other possibilities.
While I can sometimes write on a novel at the same time as I’m working on a software project, I’m not going to try to write two novels at the same time. Grinding gears switching back and forth would be too distracting. Same thing with trying to work on multiple software projects on the same day. I’ve *done* it, but I’m not convinced it was a good idea. Most of the time, I’m working on one thing at a time. Which means that even though I can see how I could benefit from making a client-server version of The Journal, I’ve already chosen to work on an Android version. Then an Ipad version. Then maybe a Mac version or maybe I pick up the client-server idea. Did I choose “wisely”? I don’t know. I think I’ve made the best choice I can *right now*, and I’ll stick to it. Because I have to. I can’t work on two things at the same time, and if I constantly shift back and forth nothing gets finished.
I admit it: I’m human.
Right now I’m focused on getting GoSH3 (which I think has finally found a title: Tiger Trouble) published. Yesterday I finished the final edit. Today I’ll start copyediting. Then formatting and the rest. The book won’t be available before the end of September as I had originally planned, but coming out in October isn’t too bad.
Once I get GoSH3 out the door, I’ll be focused on getting The Journal for Android project up and running. Once I’m out of the initial design/learning Java stages, I expect I’ll be able to pick up Gunwitch3 and continue writing it. It’s impossible to know for certain when that will be, but it will happen.
Faye stared at the Dragon Ride and couldn’t help but laugh. The laughter bubbled up from her chest and would not be refused. She knew she was smiling like an idiot and laughing like a madwoman. The smile hurt her cheeks, but it wouldn’t leave. Beside her, Brenna was laughing as well, and holding Norv tight so he wouldn’t scurry away.
The rotten egg smell of sulfur burned Faye’s nose. The chorus of reptilian roars pressed against her eardrums. The wash of the heat that rolled over her made her forehead sweat. But the sight of dragons–real dragons–flying in tight, tethered circles, their leathery wings pumping up and down, their snake-like necks undulating, their wedge-shaped heads with their mouths wide open and breathing plumes of fire into the night sky–she couldn’t have looked away. She wouldn’t look away, not for anything or anyone.
The scales of the dragons shone and glittered from the many lanterns of the Faire, and from their own flames. The dragons were fire red and sunlight yellow, forest green and sky blue, night black and twilight gray. Each dragon had a large saddle on its back. The dragon drivers, wearing leather clothes dyed to match the rainbow hues of their dragons, sat at the front and manipulated a complex set of reins with their hands and their feet. Behind the drivers, half a dozen Faire-goers who had been belted in place held their hands above their heads and screamed as the dragons flew up and down and let loose with mighty fountains of red and yellow flame on their upward arcs.
“I don’t care if this ride takes every token I have,” Faye said, still watching.
“You can borrow some of mine if you need to,” Brenna said. “Unless it takes every token I have.”
As a little girl, Faye had ridden a carnival ride called the Dragon Wagon, a small roller coaster with a colorful dragon’s head. She had ridden that ride many, many times. Enough times to irritate her father. She had imagined, every time, what it would be like to really ride a dragon. Now, finally, she would know…
Fair Warning: This is almost verbatim text scraped from my writing journal’s entry for yesterday. “Almost” because I did fix the worst typos and expanded book titles from my journaling shorthand.
What would it mean to “write for fun”? Have I ever done it? To me, it seems I’ve always taken writing so seriously. Especially the last few years, as I’ve tried to sell what I write.
Of course, that begs the question: Did I ever program for fun? Yes. I did. At one point. But even that became more serious. I programmed toward a specific goal: I wanted to make games. Which later morphed into programming to complete software products like The Journal. These days, most of the “programming for fun” happens when fixing bugs or adding interesting new features to The Journal (or some product that already exists). The completed product provides a sandbox for “fun”. Sorta.
I’ve had fun writing some stories. Novels, though, always seem like work. I guess because of the amount of dedicated effort required.
Door Sky (The Door to the Sky) might be the most fun I’ve had writing a novel. It was short. I was doing odd/cool stuff in every chapter/story. Or at least I thought so.
Gunwitch (Gunwitch: A Tale of the King’s Coven) was fun to write in parts. The big ballroom battle in Gunwitch2 (Gunwitch: The Witch Hunts) was a lot of fun to choreograph and write. I’m looking forward to the battles in Gunwitch3.
I’m not sure Horse Girl (The Girl Who Ran With Horses) was especially “fun” to write. Except for the POV “voice”. I kind of enjoyed writing in the mental voice of a 13-year-old girl.
I *thought* TSF (The Summoning Fire) would be fun to write, and it started out that way. Mostly. But it became a grind to finish it, even as I wrote stuff that was “fun”. Just wasn’t a lot of fun to write the whole thing.
The GOSH books (New Fairy Moon and Living Ghost Time) have had some fun parts, but also some rather challenging parts.
Maybe “fun” just doesn’t have a lot to do with it.
But, really, what would it mean to pick up a writing project in any spare time and just work on it? Didn’t I used to do that? Like in high school? Sure, there were plenty of times I would spin my wheels, but I also got known for going upstairs and pecking away at the typewriter. Most of that, though, was always on the same project. Or retooling/reshaping a similar project over and over.
When I would try to plan during church services (of which there were many, many in my youth) or similar unengaging things, though, I would tend to prefer doing nothing. I don’t recall any “breakthroughs” while at church. Same for when I would try to think about a programming issue while at church. Without the ability to see the original code or run the debugger, there wasn’t much I could do.
Writing isn’t fun when all you can think about is how no one is ever going to enjoy this thing you’re working on. Or pay you for it. Everything comes with such a burden of future rejection. And it’s not even *real* rejection. It’s *imagined*.
Everything requires so much work. Solo work. There is nothing social about doing the work to get stuff done.
A big part of what slowed down Horse Girl was my despair of ever getting published. That and a lot of self doubt. The “ever getting published” bit has been replaced with “ever selling enough to pay back production costs/make a living”. Self doubt still lingers.
So … did I learn anything about “writing for fun”?
Truth is … as I just said to my brother on the phone … when you spend 3 months working on something, you want it to be a masterpiece. And that doesn’t really change if you compress the time from 3 months down to 2 month, or 6 weeks. It’s still a *lot* of work you’ve put in. It’s harder to “dare to be bad” when you have that much investment on the line.
Except … well … at least, when it’s over, you have something to show for the time. You don’t actually *lose* anything. The time was going to pass anyway. This way you have a tangible proof of effort.
Is that “writing for fun”? You put in a bit of time every day, just a small investment, and when you’re done you have this new thing that you’ve created. And it must have been fun. You kept at it. Either for the end result or for the work itself.
I don’t know that I want every novel to be a masterpiece … but I do want them to sell enough to justify the time spent.
Which is the self-defeating part. Because I have little to no control over how many copies will sell.
It’s almost like I need to totally take off my “publisher hat” when I’m writing. As a publisher, I *need* to think about how to sell what I have available. As a writer, though, I need to *not* think about the selling. The value of the work is the work itself. Not how many copies it may or may not sell. And when I think of the books I’ve written, I can’t let their sales (or lack of sales) impact what I think of those books. I’m pretty good about that part. I still like my books. I like my stories. Even the ones that have only sold a handful of copies.
When I’m writing, I need to not be a publisher. No thinking like a publisher while I’m writing. No commercial considerations. No worries about what will or won’t sell.
I’m OK with a slow build in my oeuvre. 1 to 2 novels per year builds up over time. Especially since I publish them as I go.
I’m a programmer still because that pays the bills. I’m a writer because I enjoy it. And it may someday pay the bills.
Stop carrying around weight you don’t need to. Or that doesn’t even exist.
How something will or won’t sell isn’t an issue to dwell on while writing.
How well something you’ve already written is or isn’t selling isn’t something to dwell on when writing.
When writing, write.
Seems so simple, doesn’t it?
I am incredibly sensitive to character motivation. In books. Movies. TV shows. Real life?
Weak, plot-driven character motivation is one of the most common reasons I abandon books (another reason is boring the crap out of me, but I’ve covered that already).
I’m reading/watching/listening, I’m trying to believe in these characters, but it seems the author wants to tell a particular story. And if that means that Character A has to do something radically diferent than anything he’s done before–or has to do something incredibly stupid in spite of being demonstrably not-stupid thus far in the story–just so that particular story can be told, so be it, the author says. And so long, I say. I’m outta here.
If your characters won’t/can’t do what you need to tell your story, maybe you picked the wrong characters. Or the wrong story. Or maybe you can give both a minor adjustment so that the angle of the plot twist required doesn’t send them rolling off the cliff. Or throw the reader right out of the story.
I don’t know that I’m especially good at character motivation in my own stories, but I try to be. It’s one of the areas where I tend to put the most work.
Because I don’t want the story to feel forced. My stories, or the stories I read.
Title Note: That’s a slightly paraphrased King Julian quote from Madagascar 2:Escape to Africa. I have a 2 year old son who *loves* the Madagascar movies.
A recent blog post (though it may have been her post a week before) made me curious how many words did I really write last year?
I know I wrote a somewhat lackluster 119,963 words of fiction last year. That’s new words, written in the first draft of Gunwitch2 and the first third or so of GoSH2. I almost always add ~1% to the total word count of a novel when I edit it for publication, but I never count those words. First draft words only.
But … even ignoring those added-in-editing words, what about all the other words I write? Journal entries? Programming notes? Designing/outlining/brainstorming? What does all of that add up to?
I’ve been keeping a personal journal since 1993 and a professional journal since 1996. And starting in 1999, when I became self-employed, it became hard to tell which was which. Still, I have separate categories for them in The Journal. (And, fortunately, The Journal makes it very easy to count everything.)
- Personal Journaling – 16,600 words
- Professional Journaling – 63,000
- The Journal Newsletter – 4300
- Writing Journal – 24,400
- Writing Brainstorming/Outlining – 51,300
- Blogging – 19,000
- Gaming Notes – 25,700
Total: 204,300 words
And that doesn’t include forum posts, customer support emails for The Journal, and other misc writing that is hard to track.
So, I really wrote about 325,000 – 335,000 words in 2012. Just not all of them fiction.
There. Now I know.
And now you know.
Sadly, I’m not sure what either of us is supposed to glean from this exercise.