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Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

Update on NaNo and Life

One of my classes got way behind due to teacher illness.  This meant that week before this last one I had free time!  In which I got to chapter 13 and just over 45,000 words in my novel draft.

Then said teacher decided to load us down with work to try to catch us up.  Result of that?  I’ve gotten no further in my draft, in fact, it’s been about 9 days since I did anything on it.  I intend to remedy that this weekend and to make a push for 60,000 words before Tuesday.  There are only two weeks of classes before finals and I have papers to write and a lot of extra translating to get done, so we’ll see if that last 40,000 is feasible in only a week and a bit (this novel will, however, be finished by the end of December no matter what that takes).

I also found out that one of my writing instructors next term is the author of “How to Make an American Quilt”  which I think I read as a teenager.  I know it was made into a movie, but I don’t remember if I saw the movie.  Hopefully her workshop will be better run than the one I’m taking this term.  No more poetry workshops for me, no sir, not at this college anyway.

So that’s where things stand.  On the plus side, my Casimir Hypogean characters are chattering in the back of my mind again, though the scenes seem to be working their way back towards the beginning of the story.  Hopefully by January they’ll be at the point I quit writing so I can pick up the threads and move it along.  We’re only a few chapters away now with the current mutterings in my brain.  Maybe I just needed to take a break and let the story get back to me.  We’ll see.

In Our Darkest Hour

I’m stuck on Casimir Hypogean.  Not like before, either.  Truly and fubar sort of stuck.   I’m not enjoying the slog, I don’t like what I do manage to get done, and the whole project is sinking my mood.

I find that the most effective of epiphanies are usually the things that seem stupidly obvious in retrospect.  Those head-slapping moments of “why the hell didn’t I think of that weeks ago?”

I didn’t think of it weeks ago.  In fact, I’m not sure I thought of it at all.  The solution stumbled upon me more or less by accident.

I don’t have a deadline with this novel.  Just because it was the first novel rough draft I’ve ever written doesn’t mean it needs to be the first final product.  There is nothing, as long as I don’t give up on it forever, preventing me from moving on and working on something I’ll enjoy.  Clearly Casimir Hypogean needs to get back burnered.  The ideas aren’t flowing like they could, the images just aren’t there.  I don’t see any need to keep forcing myself.

I have other projects.  It was one of these projects that cast the light on this path.  I was sitting here at the keyboard, grinding out another couple hundred words that I would most likely just erase tomorrow, when images came to me in my despair.  Out of the negative self-talk I love so much started to emerge a character I’d thought of over a year ago.  Someone who also is full of negative feelings about himself, someone who leaves his life up to others because he just can’t trust his own decisions.

I quit out of the novel and opened a fresh page. A couple hours and 3444 words later, and I have two chapters of whatever this story is.  I don’t think it will be novel length.  I’m guessing it will be novella at best.  I’m hoping for about 30k words, I think that will be enough to tell the story.

In some ways I’m in the infancy of my writing life.  The writing I did in grade school and high school, it was the baby steps.  I was fitting shapes into other shapes.  Now I’m a toddler, learning to walk. Learning that there is a whole huge world outside myself and figuring out how to relate to it.

I get to be a child again.  I don’t have to decide right now what works and what doesn’t.  I’m a freshman in this world.  I’m still in that stage where I can be anything.  I’m reborn, remade.

In the desperate race to get something done so I can start the submission/publishing phase of life, I’ve been ignoring the gift that is this time of being an infant, of being unknown, unvetted.  I don’t have to do one thing or the other.

I just have to write.

Seems stupidly obvious now, doesn’t it?

The First Cuts

There’s an anecdotal story about Michelangelo’s David which goes something like the artist spent 15 months just staring at the marble before he ever cut into it.

I feel that way about this novel. An awful lot of staring is going on and not so much is happening with the cutting (writing). It’s the damn plot. I’ve constructed it in a way that for the next 4-5 chapters the whole rest of the book is set up. This is the climb towards the crest of the rollercoaster. And if I go off the track now, the whole thing will fail. I want to get this right. Which means I’ve been stabbing at the same couple paragraphs for the last week and a half.

To continue the stream of unrelated and piss-poor metaphors: this is probably the writing equivalent to opening the oven door every two minutes to check on the cookies. I know I need to stop obsessing and apply word to page. Let the whole thing sort itself out later. If I break it, I break it. That’s what editing is for, right?

The only problem is that once again I’m faced with the paralyzing fear that I’ll break this draft as badly as the first one and have to rewrite the novel in its entirety again. And again. I deeply respect and admire authors who are able to run through five or six or more completely different drafts of the same novel. I really do. I’m just not sure I have the fortitude to be one of them. We all have our own styles, our own ways of writing and working. I don’t think I’m a gazillion draft writer. Or maybe I am and I haven’t accepted my fate. Who knows?

I think I’m going to just try to press on. If the novel ends up broken in a way that small scene rewrites and repairs won’t solve I think I’ll be done with this book for a while. I’ll stick it in the proverbial drawer and move on to the next novel. Lessons learned. I can’t take another rewrite, this one is hard enough. Hopefully my future first drafts won’t be quite as broken as this one was. I have a feeling writing the thing on a bet in 19 days pretty much doomed me there.

I also think my next project will be fantasy. Probably the Welsh fairytale novel. It will require minimal research and have nothing to do with science. Making the world believable and constructing the pseudo-science is one of the things slowing my current novel project down a great deal. The next novel that requires research will definitely get better research done before I write it.

Of course, the next novel that will take lots of research will likely be my thesis project. I’m hoping I can do the War Witches idea as my thesis. That novel is slowly percolating and building in my mind and would be perfect for a MA thesis. Lots of research, lots of history, lots of texture, and plenty of Important Themes to explore.

All right. Back to hacking up the stone. Which really feels a lot like trying to gnaw the David out of titanium. With my teeth.

Tasty.

Little by Little

I’m well into chapter 3 now. The set up is going slowly. I can’t wait for this part to be over. Another three or four chapters and the plot will have taken shape. From there it will be just writing my characters running headlong into peril after peril. That part I’m looking forward to. The setup? Not as much. I’m working hard on the characterizations and descriptions. Which means I’ll likely have to cull a great deal from this in the later edits, but for now I’d rather include the kitchen sink (and its five paragraph description) than wonder what I’m missing later.

In the last week I’ve had no less than three people ask me what I’m doing for a living now. It feels awkward to say “writing” because I’m not exactly making money at it yet. If you count my editing and freelance writing work from the past, I’ve technically made money doing it, however, so it sort of counts, right? And I am writing now with the goal of publication and monies in the future. I’ve no other paid work at the moment. So I nervously answered “writing” to all of them. No one questioned it. Which probably means I should stop questioning it too.

However, my trying to write full time led to a fight with a sibling. She was in town and so I took a day off to see her. She then wanted me to take another day and drive her some places (which would have taken the whole day). I refused. Driving for hours at a time eats a lot of energy. I knew that if I did this, it would mean no writing got done that day. I’ve been working hard to make sure I spend at least a few hours everyday working on the novel. This is my job now. If I’m going to have a draft done by the time classes start, I can’t really put off writing too much. There are already many things scheduled (like PAX 2008 this weekend) that will take away writing days.

I tried to explain this to my sister. I carefully explained that I had to work. She didn’t get it. She figured I could just take whatever time I wanted since I’m unemployed. Eventually I gave up trying to explain how I wasn’t really unemployed, just self-employed (which is how I see it, despite the no incoming money yet thing). It didn’t end so well.

I have a feeling this is only the first in a line of battles to guard my time and have my writing life taken seriously to the people around me. Once I’m published, perhaps, they’ll truly understand. But I’m not sure they can, being non-writers, understand the sheer volume of work that is writing a good novel. It’s hard. It’s really fucking hard. Maybe it isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. Writing takes a great deal of mental energy and lots of time. I can spend ten hours working on something and end up with only a couple hundred usable words. And unlike most jobs where you have bosses and coworkers and such, if I don’t do the work, it doesn’t get done. No one is going to write my novel for me. The more time I spend not writing, the longer it will be until I can expect any kind of compensation. This is how it works, for me.

Little by little. I have to guard my time. Writing is my job, and as such, I have to make sure I take it seriously. I don’t want to dabble. This isn’t a hobby. I want to write for a living and the only way I know how to do it is to actually write.

Perfectionists Ate My Baby

I’m stuck. Yes, again.  I think in some ways the first draft of this novel has broken me.  It is such a mess (hence the total rewrite instead of just editing) that I’m terrified to let the second draft be anything less than perfect.  So I agonize over every word, every concept, until builds into a huge pile of stagnated nothing.

I think I know where I want to go from here. I think I see how to start doing it.  But I can see the little problems that will crop up later, the complications of plot and character that I’m not sure how to write myself free from.  I’m suffering from a desire to get it right the first time, amusingly enough because I didn’t get it right the first time.  I don’t know if I have another total rewrite in me.  I don’t know if I love this story that much.  I feel I owe my first novel a better chance at life than just that one messy draft.  I’m terrified that it will come out just as ugly and misshapen, another monstrosity to expose on the hillside as I tell myself “oh, there there, you’ll have more children.”  What if they are all monsters?

So, I’m stuck.  What’s my plan of attack?

To write.

As they say: here goes nothing.

Thoughts on Rewriting

I’m one chapter into the rewrite of my first novel.  I’m glad I decided to start anew rather than continue trying to fix what came before.  I doubt I’ll use much of the old material beyond the plot, characters, and some ideas.  There are particular challenges, however.  In rewriting I’m essentially constructing another novel from scratch.  This means I have to do most of the work over again.  It would be very easy to overwhelm myself with the concept of “Too Much Work.”

To combat this, I’ve decided on the major large changes and then have narrowed my focus.  I outlined with the major changes.  For this rewrite, however, I’m mainly working on getting the characters motivated.  Looking at the first draft I don’t really feel connected to anyone in the novel.  I feel like I could, maybe, like a couple of the characters, but they aren’t quite there yet for me.  They feel flat.   This is not acceptable.  I read novels 70-80% for the people in them.  I want to write novels that have the same draw.

To do this, I’m plunging in and going (perhaps) a bit overboard.  I’ve done a lot of hand written background brainstorming for everyone.  I’ve made RPG character profiles for a couple of them.  I’ve given them disorders, quirks, interests.  Essentially, I’ve thrown the kitchen sink of character building at my people.  I was in the bath when I realized that I needed to do this.  Before a day or two ago, they weren’t talking to me.  I couldn’t really see the characters as more than wooden dolls in a nice set I’d created.  I don’t want to play with dolls (dolls are creepy. Seriously creepy).

With this focus, now I can continue the rewrite.  Plot and setting can be tweaked.  If I can manage a few compelling, interesting, dare I say memorable characters, the rest can follow.  The rest will follow.

Here’s a list of the changes between drafts one and two.  (In no particular order).

The Dude is now named Ryg.  He’s also agoraphobic and OCD.

Sif talks less.  In fact, she pretty much only talks to Hex.  She’s also far more psychotic and less moral than before.

Sif and Hex are already in a relationship.

Hex is not the jealous type anymore.  He’s now the type to hide his insecurities with sarcasm.  He’s also more accepting of Sif and her issues.

Kadin is a more major character who contributes to a twist.

The setting is quite a bit different.  There are no cars now, just small electric vehicles  and personal transportation.  Stuff is transported on the electric rail system under the city or via carts hooked to the personal vehicles.  I’ve refined and altered the food system as well as government.  The city only has one main street now, the whole thing is a spiral.  The districts are more defined (and in fact can be closed off from each other if necessary).  The setting is much more complex, but also I hope more unique and interesting.  Since I’m focusing on character, not setting as much, I will definitely have to flesh some things out later I think.  That’s what the next bit of editing is for.

The plot is essentially the same, but with some more challenges and complexities tossed in.  I’ve removed the secret society and am working on making everyone motivated due to character desires rather than using the GM Stick.

On another note: sometimes I think I definitely bit off more than I really should have for this first novel.  I’m writing what boils down to a Political Cyberpunk Adventure/Thriller with medical and fantastical elements.  Couldn’t I have just started out with a nice straightforward quest fantasy or something?  It feels like learning to walk by running a marathon.

Note To Self

Self,

I give you permission to screw up this draft.  I give you permission to write 100,000 words and realize that in the end product you will wind up using only 10.

Self, you also have permission to hate the first few pages.  Or even the first few chapters.  I will understand that sometimes it takes time to get warmed up, time to sink into a world entirely of our own creation.  I give you permission to stumble in your first steps as long as you are able to dust off your skinned sentences, your twisted phrasing, and keep going.  Keep going, Self.

The fact that if you fail entirely, no one will ever see this is not a curse.  This is a gift.  Right now you possess the complete freedom of having nothing to lose.  Self, you have permission to lose the battles you must in order to win your wars.  Today there are no deadlines, no dark clouds, no bad grades.

Scream. Pound your fists on the keyboard.  Break pencils.  Break rules of grammar.  Break the English language if it helps you feel better.  If it keeps you going.  (Caveat: please try not to break the computer…).

Use bribery without shame.

You have my permission to fail, Self.  Use it. Fail it.

Fail epically.

Just, you know, write the damn draft first.

Thank you for your consideration,

Nobu

Lie To Me

Tell me it gets easier after the first one. Tell me that after the months of uphill slogging, the view will be spectacular and that it is all downhill from here.

I’m working my way through the 4th outline of Dangerous. I’m going to change some basic elements of the story. I’ve been reading a great deal now that I’m free and lately one common element of books bugs me. I  get a little annoyed at a story when there is a secret power or society or special character who knows a great deal and pulls the strings behind the scenes too much. It can be done well, but is done so often that it stands out to me as a glaring conceit. Wrapping everything up neatly due to someone coming in and waving some sort of magic wand is too nice, too tidy.  Human situations rarely resolve tidily.

I’m guilty of this. In my first draft there is a secret society that seems to only exist to wrap things up easily and provide loose and convenient motivation for the characters to be together. It reads more like a one shot RPG session than a tightly plotted story. The first couple of outline rewrites moved the society first into a more prominent role with more of a back story, and then the latest has them more understated. The new rewrite? Well, I’m going to get them out of the story entirely. Instead I plan to make some of the characters actually a part of their own group, doing exactly what the idea was for the secret group, only now with a lot more at stake because they’re really more like a sleeper cell of societal activists than just a few criminals who got hired by the right (wrong?) people. This is going to require a lot of intricate introduction and plotting.

I’m starting to both hate and love this novel. I feel like this rewrite will make it something real, a creature I’m proud to have given form instead of a misshapen foundling. I’m not sure how feasible my goal of having a draft down by the end of September really is, however. I’m not only revamping the plot, I’m changing how the city works, how people get around, what they eat, everything. It’s going to barely resemble draft 1. Which is terrifying.

It’s like the first time you run a whole mile. You feel wonderful. Then you realize that you “ran” that mile at a pace most people walk it. Not only that, but you are sore and tired now. And you still have to get up and run it again. And again.

I don’t want to believe that. I want lies. Filthy wonderful lies. I want to write a novel and have that be the end of things, not the beginning. I wrote this, here, take it. I want to run a 3 minute mile without any training. Without pain.

Well, maybe not. But, I’d like to believe in the possibility of it.

Which is probably why I’m a writer and not a runner.

Why Speculative Fiction: Attempt #1

Recently, as I was explaining to a friend the plot of one of my novels, the question of why I write speculative works came up.  It is one I’ve been tossing around for a while as I face the scary unknown of Graduate school, a place  not generally known for its tolerance of the pulpier lit.  I think my desire to write science fiction and fantasy stems from a few different reasons.  And I’m not sure I’ve figured all of them out as yet, thus this is only the first attempt to answer the question of why I like to tell the stories I tell.

First, and most obviously, I tend to read science fiction and fantasy by preference.  I like exploring vast worlds and finding out about things I will never encounter outside of vague dreams and dusty mindscapes.  I also look for strong, character driven work and have found that good speculative fiction delves deeply into what it means to be human or alive in ways that ‘reality’ tries to prevent in lit fic.  I like to read it, therefore why shouldn’t I want to write what I enjoy reading?

On another level, I write speculative fiction because I am not a subtle person.  The very best of literary fiction, in my opinion, either has speculative elements to it or else has very subtle explorations of character and place.  My writing is, like its creator, not a subtle thing.  I paint with a wide brush and have learned to let the details present themselves to the readers as needed.  Perhaps this is a weakness, I’m not sure.  I like to make broad strokes of character and to leap into the vastly strange landscapes of my mind without having to worry overly much about whether or not something is real as opposed to just plausible.  Fantasy, especially, gives me that freedom.  I don’t have to over think the details, instead I’m free to wander and dream.

And finally, well, I’m a bit nuts.  I have a very visual/sensory brain.  Everything in my head is either conceptual or else runs like a  constant incoherent movie completely with smells, touch, tastes, sight, and sound.  This constantly bleeds out into the real world around me in the form of hallucinations.  My existence is a constant filtering of real vs not real.  So my writing becomes an outlet, a way to slow down and stop having to run at doublespeed.  This is why I need so much time and space physically and mentally to write.  I have to be able to cut off from the constant and instant decisions of real/not real and turn the senses loose to channel my inner/outer world into something others can share.  Speculative fiction lets me be free to delve into the sometimes alien landscapes of my brain so I can express the oddness of my second senses.  I have no stats for this, so it is a random guess based on author’s blogs I’ve read, but I think that probably highly visual people would be more attracted to science fiction and fantasy (and horror too) than to straight lit fic or something more literal like crime/mystery.   If I had an ounce of artistic talent/ability in me, I’d probably mostly give up writing novels and just write/draw graphic novels.  Or if I were rich, I’d make movies.  But I’m not rich, and I can’t draw well at all. So I write.  And I write the fantastic in all its familiar and imperfect forms as they come to me out of the writhing, crying dark.

Too Many Ideas?

I’m in the middle of a discussion with a friend about being trapped with too many ideas. I have four or five (or six if you count the sequel to one of those) good ideas all outlined and ready to go. I want to write all of them. Right Now. Of course, I don’t have the time or even the multitasking ability to pull that off. I might be able to work on two, maybe. I think the writing might suffer, however.

So what should I do? How do I pick which to work on? I’m inclined towards the Dangerous novel since some interest was garnered from that novel by a major publishing houses’ editor. However, the others are speaking to me as well. I find myself daydreaming entire scenes and character exchanges for the Werewolves in Space novel, or literally dreaming about the quest part of the Welsh fairy tale novel. I watch Handscio and Brynna train together and fight in my head, watch her change from a sickly, overweight selfpitying teen into a resourceful and powerful young fey. I dream of dragons and flying and know that I am Jax from Werewolves in Space, dreaming of the same things. And I see Radiant from Bladebearer raising his new sister and new tribe as they form new songs and evade hunters while his other sister seeks both him and the sword. (Stupid short story that wants to be a novel, sigh). I see also a slave, a holy man, escaping and being rescued during the American Civil War by twin witches in Appalachia. I can feel the mists that they call to confuse the soldiers and lead them away from their lands, I can hear the axe as it goes into the threshold cutting the pain of a childbirth.

They are all there, my stories. Waiting, wanting out, begging exploration.

How to choose? What to write? I have an embarrassment of riches. Where do I begin?