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Posts Tagged ‘the cosmic city’

I’ve always been what they call a “pantser,” which is to say I write by the seat of my pants. Now, I know, from one experience in writing in someone else’s universe, that outlining can increase my output dramatically, but it never seemed to work for me. I tried it to a degree in The Cosmic City, and it helped keep me moving, but it didn’t achieve the results a true outline can bring. And so far as writing short stories is concerned…forget it.

But I’ve been blocked lately from writing much of anything, so much that when a couple of my friends asked me, a week apart, if I was writing anything I had to admit that, no, nothing specific at the moment. (Although yes, I was and am still writing.)* Okay, I thought, I was going to concentrate on shorts this year, but if you’re not writing, you’re not writing. Even writing something that may never turn a dime is better than sitting around feeling like a lump.

So I grabbed an old idea I had, a sequel to The Choking Rain, and I started noodling with it. I thought, outlining is easy, and it counts as writing. If I get stuck or inspired by something else, it’s easy to put aside. On the other hand, if I could create an outline in say, eight weeks, I could probably have a book written before Halloween. That’s about half what it usually takes. Not a bad use of my time whatever happens, and I can still spend the last two months of the year writing short stories (which have a better chance of selling).

An outline for a 60,000-word novel means (given my typical chapter length), setting up 40 chapters. If I were shooting for an eight-week schedule, that would average five chapters a week, or one a day. (I don’t work weekends.)

In two days’ work, I have outlined eight chapters.

Now, they will get harder. I haven’t created any real characters yet, only cut-outs, and characters are hard. But then again, they don’t need to be fleshed-out at this point. And if I can even approach four chapters a day, I can finish the outline in two weeks.

That means I could be writing a new novel by the end of the month, and finished before Labor Day. My previous record is just over a year (albeit that was 85,000 words).

I’d better start designing a cover.

 

*Why do people who have known you for decades, and have always known you as a writer, ask if you’re “still writing”?

#SFWApro

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It’s one of those times when the ideas just won’t come. I finished The Cosmic City a few weeks ago and gave myself some time off (well, I edited and formatted and published and promoted it, if that’s what they mean by time off). Then I tried to get back into writing, and I wrote a little vignette and immediately shelved it because it wasn’t really what I was trying to say. So I rewrote it as a completely new story over a couple of days, and now it’s incubating before submission.

So now what to do? I’m happiest when I have a project, a direction to go. (That’s the nice part about writing novels, but then you only have one product to sell, and if it doesn’t, you’re out of luck.) I thought this story would give me a direction for a few days, but it wrote itself too darned fast and now I’m afloat again. And it’s hard.

It’s hard because I’m hard on myself. I’m in the “you should write every day,” camp, but I don’t. Even the waiter at dinner tonight at our favorite hang-out was talking about how he’s worked on his screenplays for 50 days straight. Fifty days in a row of at least three pages. I admire him. I envy him. I want to slap him. (Lousy so-and-so, how dare he make me feel so bad?) I left him a big tip.

The truth is, sometimes you can’t write. Sometimes you have to extend that vacation a while. If the ideas aren’t there, they just aren’t. (I actually have a couple, but they’re so embryonic I have to leave them in the neonatal ICU until they’re stronger.) And until then, or until something else comes along, you need to do something different, change your routine: you need to relax.

Finishing and publishing The Cosmic City–the conclusion of a trilogy, no less–was a peak. You can’t jump from peak to peak. You have to cross the valley between them first. There will always be another peak to climb, even if right now it’s hidden by the clouds.

#SFWApro

 

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Before The Cosmic City, the third volume in the Stolen Future trilogy, hits the virtual shelves, I have posted the first chapter here. Stay tuned for the pre-sale announcement and cover reveal! (And if you’re new to my work, the first chapter of volume one, The Invisible City, can be found here.)

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Before I go any further, I want to make it plain that, regardless of things things turned out, I am very grateful to Jon Mollison, whose enthusiastic support for The Invisible City made it all possible. It is actually a compliment that Jon was so overwhelmed by the book that he forgot to check one small fact before doing me a great favor. So, thanks, Jon. I owe you a drink (of whatever sort you prefer).

By this point, of course, you are wondering, “What the heck is he talking about?” But then, if that is a new sensation, you haven’t been reading this blog very long. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me ‘splain.”

For the space of a few minutes today, I was nominated for the first time ever for a literary award.

The Planetary Awards, initiated in 2015, are “an award where nominations and votes are only open to book bloggers / podcasters / booktubers.” Voting is open to bloggers of all stripes. The categories are short story and novel, and The Invisible City was placed in nomination this year in the novel category. Unfortunately, the book came out in 2013. I regretfully pointed this out to Jon, who notified the administrator, and The Invisible City was disqualified.

Still, I can’t deny that the thrill of seeing my name on the list (however briefly) was wonderful. Beware, world! He has seen the Promised Land! (And The Cosmic City will be eligible in 2017.)

You’ve been warned.

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While the excitement of finally bringing a new novel into the world is energizing, it tends to fade a little while you’re waiting for it actually to come out, and in the case of an e-book, that means while you’re formatting and prepping and ordering the cover, etc., etc. This means that at some point, even though you’re not really finished with your massive project, an unwanted thought is going to invade your brain like an insidious virus sent from your Overmind:

What Am I Going To Do Next?

For some, this is not an issue. Some writers routinely juggle two or three projects at once; for them, finishing one simply means focussing on another (and maybe starting something new, but there’s always a list of those). For others of us, though, starting a new project is a daunting task. We can postpone it by saying, “Oh, I’m still editing,” or “While that cover is on order I’ll make sure my e-book is formatted,” or even the time-honored “I deserve a vacation,” but eventually the Overmind rears its massive head and thunders: “You Have To Think Of Something To Write.” (Yes, the Overmind always speaks in capitals.)

Guess where I am in the process?

Often when in this bind, I have taken the coward’s way out, and simply started another novel. Novels are easier: You have only one story to tell, and it takes a long time, so starting something new is a problem you can put off for months. But I have consciously decided to concentrate on short stories for 2017, so that option is barred. And now I am almost done with formatting The Cosmic City, so that’s no help, either. What’s boy to do?

Well, to start, he can write a blog post so he feels like he’s being creative…

The world right now is ripe with subjects that lend themselves to a science-fictional slant, problems that can be addressed through a speculative lens, making them seem less political because they aren’t happening in the here-and-now. I’ve done it before. But it’s very easy to become pedantic and transparent, which in turn makes the work hard to sell. I was hoping to focus more inwardly, touching universal truths by exploring personal truths. This, however, involves much spilling of blood all over your screen (or page, if you’re a Neanderthal like me), and we just vacuumed the carpets. So there’s that.

In the end, this is a question that I’ve faced (and answered) many times. I have developed various mechanisms over the years to deal with the issue. Most involve reading–a pastime which has suffered greatly of late–but all involve sitting down in a chair and writing.

You know, the kind of thing I’m doing right now, Mr. Overmind! This is over 400 words right here! And then there’s my tweets, they count, and I still haven’t finished formatting my book…

#SFWApro

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I have a feeling that this is going to be a fine year, writing-wise. I make that prediction based entirely on the unscientific fact today that I made my first story submission of the year, and I haven’t yet been rejected by anybody. I’m ahead! Woohoo! Call the game! I win!

Well, yeah, no. There are reasons to believe that this year will be different from last, but that’s not one of them. I will be finishing The Cosmic City (this month), and after that I have no plans for writing another novel for a while. (Which has never stopped me before…) I’m really hoping to focus on shorter works this year. There’s one I’ve been working at off and on for some time now, and I think I could finish it if I could just settle down to the job. I have high hopes for that one, but I have to get it right.

It would be easier if I could just write faster, especially in regard to the novels. The funny thing is, I can. I know that if I’m working from a relatively detailed outline, I can easily double my usual daily output. It also happens when I’m near to the end of the book, as I am now. The trouble is I can’t stick to an outline. I have pages of notes for The Cosmic City next to my laptop and I barely look at them. My characters keep doing things I wasn’t expecting. I guess they haven’t read my outline.

As to short stories, I’ve never been able to outline those. For me, the entire process of writing a short story is different from writing a novel, because I can keep the whole thing in my head. Which doesn’t help me write them any faster.

But this is a new year, and the time is ripe for resolutions. I have resolved, for example, that I will spend a significant period (months, if necessary) outlining my next book to try to cut down the writing time. Of course, I’ve also resolved that I’m not going to write any novels for a while, so maybe I’m just getting an early start on 2018.

See? I’m moving faster already.

#SFWApro

 

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I’ve finished that short story I was asking people about a while back. It wasn’t as much work as I’d feared, once I got on the right track. (I had an idea I was excited about, but it turned out to be too much like someone else’s story. I had a bad couple of days before I came up with another idea.) I think it came out pretty well; it’s with beta readers now, and the response has been encouraging. So all in all, a successful detour from my large novel project.

Which I am now trying to get back to. As I feared, returning to a bigger task is not easy. A short story is nimbler, quicker, easier to navigate and to pilot. The novel… I have a lot of notes (for me), and a reasonably detailed idea of how to write it, but putting more words on paper after a break feels more like the high bar of beginning a novel. I expect this will fade as I reread my last few pages and return to that world, but it’s not as easy as that. In my mind, I have that BLANK PAGE feeling.

Short stories versus novels. There are advantages to both: On the one hand there’s speed, the ability to work on several sequential projects in a shorter span; the greater likelihood of publication. On the other hand, there’s money. And recognition, from both colleagues and the reading public.

These are obvious factors, save perhaps the last. But there is no getting around that if you want to be known for your writing, you have to write novels. Unless you’re one of the two or three really fine short story artists out there, they will not get you a seat at the bar. And even then, it takes years (awards only come around so often), whereas even one middling novel will get you credibility with your peers. (I’m talking about SFF, now. Other fields may be different, although I’m pretty sure it’s the same with mysteries.)

So here I am, facing the–let’s face it–fear that is the BLANK PAGE. Even writing a blog post is closer to writing a short story and offers many of the same advantages. But maybe writing this column is a way to ease back into what I should be doing, which is finishing The Cosmic City.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe you’ll get another post tomorrow…

#SFWApro

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