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Archive for the ‘Novel Plans’ Category

Rinse, Repeat

Writing is a whole lot of doing the same sort of thing over and over and hoping for different results.  It’s a lot of starting over, trying something slightly different (or radically different).  Over and over.

Just got another rejection with more nice comments saying how the editor enjoyed the story but it wasn’t right and they hope I’ll submit something else and wished me luck placing this story somewhere else.  Which is nice to hear, and I’ll definitely submit something else to them, but man, I’d really like “we loved this story, here’s your check”.  I’ve had quite a few “nice” rejections now.  They in fact far outbalance the form letters (and my one “mean” rejection).   I know, objectively, that this is good.  My writing is improving, people like it, it’s only a matter of time, etc…  But inside, it still hurts.  What am I missing? What can I do to push past this “good but not good enough” point?  Keep writing. Try something else.  Rinse, repeat.

In other news, I accidently started another novel.  These things happen, I guess.  One minute I’m laying awake at 3am wishing this month long bout of insomnia would go the hell away and the next I’ve got a teenage girl’s voice talking to me about how she doesn’t want to join the military and quoting Sun Tzu and *bam* suddenly there’s shapeshifters and an alternate realm and all sorts of plot-filled worldbuilding goodness pouring into my head.  Next thing I know it’s two hours later and I have three strong main characters, an adversary, and a rough sketch of the world that is slowly getting populated.  Don’t have an outline yet, still working on the characters and worldbuilding, but this novel is going to be a tiny bit epic I think.  The scenes already in my head are pretty grusome and horrific, with a few that are painfully tender.  I hadn’t intended to start another novel until Jan at the earliest, and the next one was supposed to be another project (which is already outlined, damnit!), but hey, I’m hardly going to argue with the muse.

I figure once I’ve got the world set up and a decent working outline, this novel won’t take more than a couple months to write (though the start will be slow because I have to take lots of time in December to edit my other novel).  That’s the benefit of being able to churn out 3-5k words a day once I’m in a groove I guess.  Hopefully someday if (when?) I’m a working writer that ability will stand me in good stead.  For now I’ll just keep developing good habits I guess.

Full of Fail

So between real life fun like car accidents, new car shopping, and illness (mmm colds are so much fun, really), I’ve gotten just about nothing done writing-wise.  I think I’m going to just write November off as a lost month, though I suppose two short stories isn’t the worst outcome.  I’m working on another one, but the science part of it is tripping me up.  I’m not a hard sci/fi writer, but this story really wants to be a hard sci/fi story.  I solved one problem, theoretically, now I have to figure out how to solve one other sciencey issue and then maybe I can write the damn story.

I’m looking ahead at workshops and WoTF submissions.  I have a novella planned that is supposed to be my first quarter submission, but if I don’t get it written in the next couple weeks, I’ll have to do something else, since I need a week or two break between writing and editing things.

The bad news is that with the car stuff, I might not be applying to any of the big three workshops this year.  We had to clean out our funds to replace the car about a year sooner than we were planning to (it was a very old car, so we were going to replace it, but not for a year when our savings had been built up for it).  So the money that was getting put away for the workshops has been used on a car.  That’s life though, sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan.

I might sign up for one of Dean Wesley Smith’s weekend workshops instead.  They’d be easy enough to get to and I’ve heard good things about them.  Mostly I’m looking around for ways to really take my writing to the next level.  I’m getting plenty of “positive” rejections, which tells me that while my writing is good, something might be missing.  I want to figure out how to push past the “good but no thanks” stage and get to the “here’s your check” stage.  I know it’s not a perfect science and that even famous writers get rejections, but I want to get at least my first sale someday.  I need a little push, I think.  Something.

For now I’ve been reading books on fiction editing and selling a novel.  Gearing up to revise my novel and get my submission package ready to go to my chosen agents.  I’ve got a top 5 list put together, so hopefully by January I’ll be ready to go on that.  First though comes the hard part, the actual revising of something that is many thousands of words long.  I’ll just tackle it the same way I wrote it; one page at a time.  One page at a time.

Reflections and Going Forward

I’ve now been writing full-time for over a year, technically. I say technically because this time last year, I’d just started graduate school, and it was eating my life while I sat confused and miserable wondering how something that had seemed like such a good idea at the time could go so wrong.  In the end, I determined the program I was in wasn’t a good fit for me.  I gave it a year, and thought about pushing through the final year.  However, I wanted to know if I could actually get a decent amount of writing done without grad school, since my production while in it was pretty poor (about as bad as when I was working 70 hours a week, really).

So I quit.  This summer was full of moving, vacations, family obligations, and Worldcon.  Even so, in the last four months I’ve managed to write two short stories, get all 10 short stories currently on submission polished as best I’m able, and finish a novel.  It’s not been the smoothest going, nor the easiest thing ever.  There are days when the rejections stream in (today there were two more…) and everything I do feels like it’ll never amount to anything at all.  I even start scanning the job listings wondering if anyone will hire someone who has been out of work a year and has two pretty useless degrees (unless you need some Anglo Saxon translated?).

Then something happens to remind me, to nudge me back onto the path.  Some days it’s schadenfreude, I’ll be honest.  I read a forum post, or a workshop story post, or I’m talking to someone, or occasionally see something in a magazine and think “god, that’s stupid/terrible/sad, I’m totally not that clueless/bad/pathetic.”  Some days it’s seeing how far I’ve come, the days when I read over a line or a paragraph and think “hey, that kinda works, what I did there.  I think I understand foreshadowing now!”   Some days it’s other people like my first readers who read my stuff and tell me they like this or that, or that they can really see improvement.  And some days, the best days, it’s the writing itself, when it grabs me by the brains and I race along the story with every piece falling into place like a master level Go game on fast forward.

And looking ahead, I think I can keep going.  I’ve got a novel done, and three people have already finished reading it for me, with two more due to finish in the next week or two.  They’re compiling lots of information and commentary for me to sift through so I can make it the best it can be.  And reading about the market right now, I’m sort of happy I decided to work on this novel, which is a fantasy with pretty strong romantic elements, instead of trying to finish Casimir Hypogean.  Debut science fiction seems like it’s a tough sell right now, so breaking in with a fantasy novel might be easier.  Of course, there’s no way to know if Chwedl will even sell.  But I’m glad I’m making this the first effort the world might see and saving the more complex stuff for later.

Novel project 2 will have to start in a couple months, as soon as Chwedl’s query is out the door to agents.  I’m not sure what to do.  Part of me really wants to finish Casimir Hypogean to polished draft and then do roughs of the other two novels in the series just so I have them done enough that if by some chance the first sells, I won’t be coming back years later and tackling that world cold.  However, while I think the novels have great potential, I think in some ways the steampunk mysteries I want to write might be an easier pitch.  Local alternate history, alchemy, airships, murder, clockwork cats, and quirky characters?  I mean, how can I lose?  The Casimir story is in my head right now, however.  It’s been coalescing for a few years now, ever since I wrote that terrible rough draft.  I’m not sure how the third book ends, but I know how the second one goes, and how the third begins.  I figure by the time I get there, it’ll be clear how it has to go.  The steampunk book will take a lot of research, the Casimir books almost none (and what research there is I can keep doing as I go).

So I have some thinking to do.  Meanwhile, I’ve been researching and doing rough quasi-outlines/notes for stories for my crazy short story month plans.  It’s definitely time to start thinking about the workshop applications too.  I want to apply early this year to all of them, get it out of the way.  In some ways, I’m stressing about it more this year than I was last.  Last year I really wanted to go, but it was mostly because I wanted to work with the people at CW.  This year, I want to go for me.  I think that either the Clarions or Odyssey could help push my writing to the next level.  I’m clearly on the threshold, if my “nice” rejection stack means anything.  I want to get past the personal rejections and make a sale, to write the kinds of stories that editors can’t put down.  I think the workshops could help with this, could help me find out what I need to learn or practice to get closer to where I want to be as a writer.

I’ll likely be posting very boring somewhat daily updates during November about my short story mission.  Stay tuned for the crazy!

Drafting the Novel: recap

The first novel I’m counting into my 10 novels in 10 years project is now a finished rough draft.  The next step is to hand it out to my first readers and then ignore it for a month or two.  In December I’ll revise it and write a query letter or ten to start the agent hunt in January.  And in Jan I’ll also start novel number 2 in the project (or really, finish it, since I’m 3 chapters into it already from before).

Chwedl came in at 86,560 words.  I was aiming for 100k, and clearly fell short.  I’ve let my first readers know that I’d like to ideally add about 10,000 words to the book and asked them to especially point out places where they feel scenes/descriptions/whathaveyou can be added in a way that will help and not bloat the novel.  87k is a little short, but in the end, if it comes out there, it comes out there and I’ll just have to sell a shorter novel.  At least it isn’t 120k, right?

I learned a lot about my process on this novel.  I like to write in spurts, which I already knew.  I have trouble with middles and tough emotional scenes.  One of the major climax moments in the novel took me nearly two weeks to write of working on it 5-9 hours a day, every weekday.  It’s only about 4k words long.  I was paralyzed with fear that this part wouldn’t come out exactly perfect and thus break the entire ending of the novel which sort of hinges on this moment.  Eventually, I said screw it and made myself stop deleting what I’d drafted and leave it as is.  It’ll need work in the revisions, but that’s what editing is for, after all.

I also made a huge mistake during the writing of this novel that I do not intend to repeat EVER.  I wrote the first half and then promptly got stuck.  Instead of muddling through it as I should have done (and eventually did), I put the novel aside for nearly 8 months.  While I got plenty of work done in that time on short stories and I think greatly improved my writing skills, the novel sat.  By the time I got back to it I’d forgotten a lot of world details and spent a lot of time rereading notes and fixing continuity errors in the new writing (like shoes, how did she lose her shoes? One scene she has them, then for the rest of the time she doesn’t, where did the shoes go? The novel had no idea).  I eventually gave up trying to read back through hundreds of pages of text and started making bracket notes in text where I wasn’t sure about something (which leg did she break before? I’m still not sure…).  I’d lost the tone, the diction, the threads of character.  I’d lost my momentum.

I hope this won’t be a critical mistake, but it definitely means that I’ll have a lot more work during the editing process than I might otherwise.  The only bright point is that I’m fairly sure the writing in the second half of the book is better because I’m a better writer now.  I have a better feel for character and dialogue and I’m working on the whole actually describing things and slowing down for a longer work, where the beginning of the novel is probably written with a lot of skimming on details.  Writing a novel and writing a short story are different things.  Sure, some skills cross over, but it’s still more like the crossover between riding Dressage and riding Jumper.   They take different levels of things, like description.  In a short story, I try to only describe what I absolutely have to and to make any given sentence do as much work for the story as it can.  In novel writing, there’s more leeway to paint the scene (though having things do double duty for character and plot doesn’t hurt, surely).  I have to remember when writing a novel that I’ve got lots of space to build things up and draw out the picture.  I think I got much better at it in the second half of the book.

One of the things I’ll be working on in the revision is slipping in better historical details.  I used ‘fantasy generic’ for things like the clothing and general props.  I have books on early Medieval clothing, and plenty of resources for other details like dishes, everyday implements, and food.  There will definitely be some retrofitting in the descriptions to better reflect the era I’m going for, though I’m claiming this as a re-imagined ancient Wales, not the historic one, so I’m not going to be too anal about it.  But I think details like this will ground a reader better and help make the novel more unique.

But for now I get to battle post-novel-enui.  I have some ideas for how I’m going to do that, which I’ll outline in another post this week.  (I know, two posts in a week, you’ll all be spoiled).

Of course, not helping is the 3rd quarter WotF results that are trickling in.  I’m not in them, you see.  No HM, no for rejection, no semi-finalist notification.  I’m somewhat expecting a form rejection after rereading my story (which I also don’t recommend.  Never reread something out on submission, seriously).  But I’d be psyched with HM.  No news though, this I am not fond of.  The longer I wait, the more my hopes keep trying to creep up.  Not sure why, but somehow the contest makes me far more nervous than the 7 other stories I have out on submission.  Maybe because I know a few people who have won, and they are really going places with their careers.  It sure would be nice to do well in WotF.

All right, enough angsting.  I’m rewarding myself for finishing the draft by reading a ton of books and playing a ton of video games.  Soon enough the rest of the work will start, but in the meantime, I have to go buy a spaceship and mine some asteroids.

Chwedl Status: DONE

I intend to write up a nice long and thoughtful post about the process of writing this novel.

Since I just finished it in one marathon session, I think that post can wait.

For now, all you get is my YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Done.  Too short, probably a hideous mess that no one will ever want to read, but done.  Done.

Hey, there’s a reason they call it a rough draft, and that editing was invented.

But hey. Done.

Hard Work Ahead

I’ve been reading over all the comments I’ve ever gotten on my writing.  Between the MFA classes, the editor comments on rejections, and the two con workshops I’ve done (not to mention the great help my friends give as well), that’s actually a ton of feedback.  And I see a pattern, a very annoying pattern.

I think I’m weak at plot.   Not that I don’t grasp what plot is, or that my stories exactly lack it, but the kinds of comments I often get involve the structure of how and why things are happening, or my personal favorite (heh) comment that recurs a lot which is “this would make a great chapter of a novel”.  When my plots are strongest, they reach too far and involve too much for the short story frame.  When they aren’t, well, readers are confused by what’s happening or don’t feel that the ending was satisfying or inevitable.

This means I gotta roll up my proverbial sleeves and work on this.  I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue in my novels since the longer form lends itself to plot development (plus I outline constantly with novels).   My short stories need work.  I’m not going to worry too much about the ones already written.  They are what they are and if I can patch them up I will, but going forward with the next few shorts, I’m going to work damn hard on making the structure sound.  There are plenty of formulas for plot out there.  I don’t tend to follow them, instead letting the story develop on its own.  Maybe I’ve strayed too far, however. Clearly something isn’t working because my stories are getting the “close but no” response.  The comments from others hint that it might be plotting issues.

The good news is that this is something I think will be reasonably easy to fix.  It’s just going to take me staying mindful of where a story is going.  I think the next few short stories I’m going to do mini-outlines for, same as I do for my novels just on a smaller scale.   I’ll probably outline scene by scene and see what results. I may also try to fit some of my ideas to plot structures (likable hero overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds, or hero tries, makes it worse, tries and fails even worse, then finally succeeds, or one of those formulas that abound out there for story structure).

It’s weird.  I used to hate writing dialogue and I felt like every character I had sounded the same.  I started working hard to build characters up and get my dialogue to sound normal.  Soon enough, I started getting comments on stories that my dialogue and characterization were great.  Then it was that my beginnings were always rough.  So I started working on beginnings (still am, I think beginnings will always be rough for me since I tend to write my way into the story).   Sometimes I feel like my writing is this monstrous creation.  I poke at the weaker parts and build them up, then realize that other parts are now weaker and my monster is lopsided again.  So I poke at those parts, rinse, repeat.  It looks like plotting is the next weak limb that needs beefing up.

The novel is progressing.  I reread a few chapters (and ended up doing some line editing since eeks I’m wordy in my rough drafts) and am part way into the next chapter.  I’m guessing I’ll finish somewhere close to 100k words, maybe a little over since I’ve got some scenes to add to help weave it all together.  I’m rebuilding my writing momentum and optimistically hope that I can get back up to a chapter a day by the end of the week.  I need to sit down with the outline tomorrow and update it with the new scenes I’m imagining for the end of each of the upcoming chapters.  It’s tough to split the main characters up since the main plot right now only pertains to one of them, but I think as a reader I’d want to know what’s going on with the other two during this time, plus I need to show the passage of time since three years are about to pass but for the main character it’s going to seem more like a few weeks.  I can do this.  I’ve passed the half-way point, deep into the murky middle of the story.  It’s a linear story, no real twists or turns here, just a horrible climax to build to and a bittersweet ending.  Head down, keep writing.

Novel is Stuck!

Another friendly rejection bringing total to 16, 484 left to go.

I’ve started work on Chwedl again and have realized why I quit in the first place.  I’ve written my character into a situation where there are no good outs.  Every solution I can think of involves either a little hand-waving, or her getting outside help.  While it is very in keeping with the fairytale motif to have her helped by ravens or selkies or whatever, I want her to stand out as clever and resourceful.  That means not waiting around for something to present an easy solution for her.

The good news is I opened the question of what to do to my facebook friends (go go gadget internet) and I think I see the underlying problem now.  She wasn’t clever at all at the beginning when she was assigned this task and didn’t ask the right questions.  So… rewriting!  It’s amazing how many of my writing plot issues are solved through going back and fixing earlier stupid.  Now, to think about how to keep the Fey character realistic in her answers since she’s going to be as squirrely as possible but anything she says has to be the truth (though not, of course, the whole truth).

Woo, I think I solved it!  In the process of writing this post I think I came up with a solution that lets everyone be exactly who they are and still makes it tough for my main character without making it impossible or super tedious (who wants to read an entire chapter of a person sorting rocks? I don’t really want to write it either…).

I read an interview with Jay Lake over at SF Signal (full is here) where he mentions that novels take courage.  I totally agree.  I love writing short stories.  I get to jump in and then be done before I have to worry too much about things.  I can tinker with a short story through 10 drafts if I want and it won’t take me years.  Novels are different.  So many threads to hang onto, characters to keep consistent, words to read over…  I’m trying to be brave.  I want to tell this story, to finish this novel and get it right.  This is my second attempt at a novel.  I don’t know if I’ll get it right, but I know at least that I can finish something of length.  It’s a start.

All right, now that I’ve blogged my way unstuck, it’s time to go change stones into boulders and rewrite a conversation.

It may take courage, but damn, my day job doesn’t suck.

WotF and Sadness

Well, I took the plunge and submitted a story to the Writer’s of the Future contest.  Wish me luck.  I have no idea if they’ll like it, but it’s on the longer side and good old science fiction, so maybe it’s to their taste.  It’s my first time. Meep.

In other news, I got yet another rejection in the flavor of “we liked X about this, but it’s not right for us/we can’t use it at this time, submit more”.  I feel so near the top, yet in the end it’s functionally the same as being at the bottom.  No sales. Grr. Argh.  Oh well, head down and sending that story out again.

I’ve been on a very strange sleeping every other day sort of schedule lately for no good reason, so writing has been really sporadic.  I think I might abandon writing cohesive whole chapters for the next couple weeks (we’re packing and moving) and work on editing and writing some more short stories.  I’ve been reading lots of award winning stories lately trying to pick out what makes them tick/win.  I think I’m going to try to get out of my comfort zone and write a few stories using elements I don’t tend to gravitate to, like specifically happy endings and linear, clear plots.  I don’t know. I have some ideas.

Meanwhile I’m trying to avoid reading Clarion West blogs because man, that’s depressing.  I’ve got over half a year to get some stories to the point that I’ll have a chance.  Of course, the story I submitted last year is still one of my all time favorites, so clearly I’m no kind of judge of my own work.  That story has since garnered a near-sale and a few nice comments on rejections, so it can’t be totally bad.  Once it gets back from the latest submission place I might post it in the JBU slush and let the grinder that are those commenters take a stab at it.  Or maybe it’ll get bought, finally.  We’ll see.  So yeah, NOT thinking about Clarion West 4 hours to the north for the next few weeks. Nope. Not at all.

Getting Down to Business

I’m quitting my MFA program.  Though money was partially an issue, in the end it came down to me not enjoying the program and my classes not helping me as a writer.  I think that I’ll be more productive on my own for now.  I have the Online Writing Workshop for my critiquing fix.  So the plan is for me to work on the current novel projects this year and come next year apply to a couple of other MFA programs.  I’m thinking Stone Coast and Seton Hill, since they offer Popular Fiction tracks.

In the good news from all this, however, a girl in my workshop who writes pretty delightful regency romance has agreed to do chapter exchanges with me.  So I’ll be emailing her chapters of Chwedl and she’ll give me chapters of her current novel project.  Editing novels is tough partially because they’re so damn long that getting people to read all of it takes some doing.  It’s been my experience so far with the OWW that novel chapters don’t get as many critiques as short stories, plus there’s often no one to look for continuity errors or flow since people might only read a few chapters and not the whole book.  I’m thrilled that this girl and I will be exchanging chapters.  We’ll both get eyes on the whole of our novels.  Not to mention that I’ve read the first couple chapters of her novel and am totally hooked.  Hopefully she’ll feel the same about mine once she sees the first chapters (she’s pretty brave to want to exchange without seeing the novel first, but she has seen two short stories of mine, so I guess that’s something).

I aim to have Chwedl finished by the beginning of July with an edited version ready by the end of August.  At that point I plan to write up a query letter and start the fun and exciting agent hunting part of the writing life.  I have a short list of agents I want to query and it’s my hope that I’ll maybe get to meet and chat with a few at Worldcon, though I intend to keep that informal.  It would be nice to talk to some of the agents I’m considering, however, so I can get a feel for it this project is right for them.  And of course, I have to find a real title for the book since “Welsh word no one can pronounce” probably isn’t going to fly.

Hmm… “Aine and the Hounds”? Nah. “The Hounds of Clun Cadair”? Too Holmes-ripoff.  Grr. I’m not good with titles.  If only I could bribe Elizabeth Bear into thinking up titles for me, hers always rock.

A Bit More About Process

I’m not a seat of the pants kind of writer, even when it comes to short stories.  Now, mind you, I don’t outline for short stories (though I might jot down notes or lines that come to me).  I definitely know where something is going when I sit down to write it.  I do change my mind and write something else to make things make more sense when I have to.  I imagine, however, that anyone watching my short story writing process would think I’m doing it on the fly.

This is because I write short stories in one or two sittings and hardly ever have notes (I usually do research as it comes up, thank you Google).

My short stories don’t start on the page.  They start in my head and sometimes have a very long gestation period.  Novels are the same way, though I tend to write up more notes when thinking about novels due to the sheer amount of stuff going on in my head when it comes to bigger projects.

First, there’s the spark.  Whatever set off my mind with a “hey, this could be a good story”.  From the spark I start to think about what it needs to fill it out, to bring it from cool character/idea/image/line of dialog etc… into being a full story/populated world.  From there I decide if the idea is going to need a novel length to fill it out (ignoring here, for the moment, that one of the most common coments I get on my short stories is “hey, this would make an awesome novel” sigh) or if I can turn it into something shorter.  Frankly, I prefer short stories because I like to just sit down and finish things.  Also, rewriting fifteen pages is far easier than rewriting 300.

But my point is that I spend a great deal of time thinking about everything before it ever sees the page.  I run through potential scenes, characters, what would or would not work in the particular world I’m inventing and why, and other useful questions like that.  I sometimes even start composing in my head and run through different POVs and tenses to feel where I want to start a story.

And then there are the times that I call my version of Writer’s Block.  I never run out of ideas, ever.  However, I occasionally get stalled out because my brain won’t stop with the thinking and focus on something long enough for me to just write something.  It’s why I haven’t been sleeping lately, and why I’ve done nothing but revise things for a few weeks now.  Too many bloody ideas.

So I’m going to have to force-march my brain for now, I think.  No starting or thinking about anything new before I’ve finished the following:

Sparks (fantasy short story), Prince Called Courage (fantasy novella), final edit of Monsters (fantasy short story), two thesis short stories (prewriting for my thesis novel), Chwedl draft (fantasy novel) and the rewrite of Casimir Hypogean (science fiction thriller novel).  The ambitious part of me says I can totally do this by September.  Suuure.

I’m going to do the short stories first, mainly becaues that means I’ll have eight or nine short stories out making the submission rounds while I hunker down to finish the novels.  I want to be done with this all by September since starting my thesis novel early wouldn’t be a bad idea.  Fortunately, ideas are imploding my brains but good when it comes to that novel, so at least it won’t be stalled due to lack of my head working on it.  Which is different from Casimir Hypogean, the bane of my existence.  I’m going to look at it as a learning experience and force myself to finish the rewrite.  If I never touch it again after that, so be it, but I’ve come too far to give up now.  It’ll take about 6-7 weeks of hard work to complete at this point.  I can do it.