Category Archives: Planning

Planning

Rediscovering the Process

It’s pretty funny, in an “oh well” sort of way, that I’m having to rediscover my novel-writing process just a few months after finishing the previous novel, and less than two years after starting it.

As you might’ve guessed from the paucity of updates, it’s been a  hard first quarter of the year. I’ve started a half-dozen short stories, and the only one I finished was about 1,200 words and completely unpublishable. I haven’t been able to get back into my NaNoWriMo novel, and I might never do so. And my attempts to start this most recent novel are just now picking up steam, in spite of the first part being done in February.

When I wrote Fugitives from Earth, I took the entire month before I started the novel to sketch bits of setting, character, and plot. I did research. I thought about set pieces I wanted to include. By the time I was actually ready to start writing, I felt like I was about to explode with ideas.

I didn’t do that so much before this most recent NaNoWriMo, just because I was laboring so hard trying to get FfE done in time for OryCon. At the time, this didn’t seem like a major problem–I had a really strong concept of the story–but in retrospect I think it hurt me more than I understood at the time. The way I think about it, it boils down to a subtle but crucial difference: last NaNoWriMo, I had the concept of the story. With Fugitives from Earth, I had the concept of the world, as if it were a real place.

That distinction just came to me a day or two ago. I took a break from writing the story after two failed attempts to continue on from an awesome prologue, and I went back to my setting document. Before, this was about 300 words describing the universe and what I wanted to focus on. Basically, what I would’ve told somebody who asked about it in the line for lunch.

But that didn’t inspire me. I wanted to have a concept of the world of this work in progress as though I lived in it. I wanted to be able to picture people eating dinner, going on dates, flying to other planets, talking to aliens, brushing their teeth, and wasting time. My goal with my own universe is the same as it was with medieval England back in my college history days: I wanted to know what the average person did on a daily basis.

I think it’s helped. Those 300 words are now more like 5,000 and counting. Most of it will never–and seriously, should never–end up in the novel. But I can already feel like I’m getting into the headspace of my characters. Once I know how the world works, I can focus on who my characters are. And once I know that, the story will start to come naturally.

I hope.

A Stiff Shot in the Arm

Jay Lake made me late for work this morning.

This might not be entirely fair. It’s not like he was in my apartment keeping me from showering or eating breakfast. He didn’t call me at a bad time, or send me a Twitter DM, or anything like that. On the other hand, it was entirely his fault that he wrote a fascinating piece of advice for new writers that hit me right where I live. I couldn’t not finish reading. Check it out here, at Shimmer magazine.

Seriously, if you’re into creative activities at all, I’d highly recommend you read it before continuing.

Done? Okay. I’ve been thinking lately about goals. I pretty much have just one right now, which is to finish Fugitives from Earth before OryCon, and then to start on the next novel. That’s all very sustainable, but it’s slow. Very, very slow. And right now, I need to do something, even something emotionally risky, to show myself that I’m making progress on my career.

So I’m going to throw caution to the wind and submit a damned story. I’ve written a full dozen shorts in the last year of varying quality, and a few of them are even what I might call “finished.” But I’ve got too much emotional attachment to those; we’ll just call those practice. What I’m going to do instead is take this weekend as a break from FfE, finish a half-written story that I feel is really workable, and submit it somewhere, anywhere that’ll pay.

It’ll probably get rejected, but that’s the point as much as anything. I feel like there’s a glass ceiling of possible rejection that forcing me to stay close to the ground. Rather than being afraid of the possibility of rejection, I want to feel its certainty and know that it can’t kill me. And like Mr. Lake says, with every rejection, the next one gets easier to take. I want to have that trunkful of rejection slips he mentions, because that means that I’m making progress. I’m still writing, and if I’m challenging myself, I’m probably getting better. And hopefully before that trunk fills up, somebody will decide that one of my pieces is worth buying.

I know that writing probably won’t ever make me much money, but sitting around waiting for the “perfect moment” doesn’t pay much at all. So, time to throw caution to the wind, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Whew!

On a slightly more prosaic note, one reason I feel comfortable doing this is that I’ve been making excellent progress with Fugitives from Earth. I’m probably 15% done at this point, I’d say. I have about 5,000 words to write before Part I is complete, and I expect that Part II will go somewhat more quickly. The last half of the book will be the real sticking point, so I want to build up as much momentum as possible before charging into it. Still, things are going well.

So, 5,000 words to finish my story by this weekend, with the final email going out to some market by Monday night. Wish me luck.

Beta Readers, Away!

Yesterday afternoon, I finally released Fugitives from Earth into the wild lands of the beta readers. Five gentlemen (and one lady) of discretion and class  now hold in their hands my labor of the last two thirds of a year. It’s pretty fulfilling to finally get to this point; I was starting to think I had Zeno’s Curse. On the other hand: terrifying. The novel isn’t good, at least not yet. I know that. I told them that in the email. But still…holy crap. It’s hard to escape the fact that I’ve made myself very, very vulnerable.

Still, I need the criticism badly if the novel is going to succeed. I can only hope that the two to three months between getting the critique back and reaching my deadline are enough to fix whatever it is they find. Crossing my fingers.

So, now that I don’t have to work on FfE for four weeks, it’s short story time! First up is a little piece I’m calling Finagle’s Law, that is being written with an eye for submitting to Machine of Death Vol. 2. I’m intrigued by the concept of the anthology; basically, there’s a machine of some sort that can, with 100% accuracy, determine one’s cause of death from a blood test. It’s not realistic, sure, but it’s a good jumping-off point for stories, and the first volume did pretty well for itself. Here’s hoping!

I want to get the first draft of that story done in a week or less. Hopefully, I can get three full (that is, possibly publishable) stories done over the next month. Certainly, I’m very much looking forward to writing something a little different. Fugitives from Earth is fun, but man cannot live on bread alone, you get what I’m saying?

In future plans, the wife and I are going to Mary Robinette Kowal’s book signing on Wednesday, at the Cedar Mill Powell’s, feature the Oregon Regency Society and a puppet show. I’m really liking all these book signings I’ve been going to; they make me feel more connected to the community.

Finally, the submission deadline for the NIWA anthology is Wednesday! If you want to submit something but haven’t, now’s the time! Better something than nothing, certainly. Tomorrow evening the submission committee is having a short meeting to hash out the review process. I’ve only read about half of the submissions, but don’t tell anyone.

Let’s Go Back to the Beginning

I remember saying, at some point, that I was going to start posting twice a week here. That doesn’t seem to have worked out. I’ll need to put some thought into that.

Now, regarding Fugitives from Earth. I got to within about four scenes of the end and just couldn’t continue. Sound familiar? Turns out that concluding plots, whether the main one or just a subplot, is hard business. This time, though, I’m backing up far, far toward the beginning of the story.

My plan always was to print the second draft off and read it as a reader would, in the hopes that it would make the progression of the plot, and the problems with that progression, a little more clear to me. The only thing I’m doing differently now is not actually writing those last few scenes before changing them. Everything should be a little more tidy that way.

It’s funny how my motivation vacillates between extreme enthusiasm and utter ennui based on how good my story is. To be creative is to be prone to a certain degree of mental strangeness, I suppose, but that doesn’t make it any more fun. It’s not as though I’m some neo-Bohemian channeling my personal psychosis into timeless prose; I just want to tell stories. I can do without my own brain fighting me.

As long as I don’t develop fatal alcoholism, though, fair’s fair.

Another reminder: the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association is accepting open submissions for their first annual short story collection. I’ve submitted mine; don’t you think you should do the same?

I Have Built a Civilization

This is a little worldbuilding exercise for a roleplaying game I’m running next week. Worldbuilding tends to be my favorite part of planning stories, and it’s so easy to get caught up in placing all of the little pieces on my imaginary map that I strictly limit how much I let myself do. Being able to cut loose for a few days has been tremendously enjoyable.

This is incomplete and subject to change, but I felt like sharing it because I rather like how it turned out. There are also a few things that I would probably change if it wasn’t an RPG setting, but whatever. Bonus points if you can figure out which historical civilization it’s based on.

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It’s a Fixer-Upper

Jeez, has it really been five days without an update? I’ve been trying to do them every two or three days but apparently I slipped this time. Allow me to assure you that I’ll never let you go that long without hearing from me again. Unless I’m on vacation. Or exceptionally busy. Or depressed. Or lazy. Continue reading

Knowing is Half the Battle

As I wrote recently, I recently spent an evening plotting out my story all the way to the end, scene by scene. I did this to give myself a feeling of direction and, if I’m honest with myself, to put off writing a draft that seemed interminable.

But I am so freaking glad that I did it. I always hated the idea of doing scene outlines before because it seemed to take all of the joy out of writing. Like, rather than experiencing the story, you were just recording it, and that seemed like work rather than fun. But ooh boy, was I wrong.

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