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Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

Now that it’s all over, and I’ve had a few days (not enough) to think about it, what data can be culled from the research project called The Scent of Death?

Well, for one thing, it still doesn’t seem real. I have now written my tenth novel, and it doesn’t feel any different from when I finished the ninth; in fact, there is less of a sense of accomplishment. This is hardly surprising, since I put in only one-sixth of the time; TSD did not occupy a full year of my life, so I don’t feel so invested in it. (Oh no! One of my children is not as good as the rest! I am a bad parent, er, writer.) I suspect that after I’ve commissioned a cover and start taking pre-orders, that will change.

Second thing: When you write that much, that fast, it’s hard to turn off. I’m already in the pre- pre-planning stages of the next book, no. 3 in the Captain Swashbuckle series, entitled Dr. Scar. (I like “Dr.,” but it could be “Doctor,” if public sentiment swings that way.) Dr. Scar is intended to be a recurring villain, a really bad person whom Eric (for very good reasons) thought was dead. But then, Dr. Scar thought the same about him, so everybody’s gonna be surprised.

Third thing: As I’ve alluded to before, this newfound ability to write quickly may have a profound effect on my plans. I usually alternate between novels and short stories, for economic as well as practical reasons. But now the world is turned upside-down, the practical reasons have dwindled, and they may have dragged the economic ones with them. (This last, of course, remains to be seen.) Everything I’ve read, however (and I have seriously researched this question) tells me that you have to put in some heavy lifting, as in, you have to write several books, before you can see if you’re getting any traction. I have two, and Dr. Scar would make three. If I can keep a schedule, I figure I can be up to five by this time next year. If sales warrant it, I will keep going. If they don’t, well…next year’s an election year and maybe I’ll just run for office.

Putting all this data together, I have reached a conclusion: If you buy my books, and tell all of your friends to buy my books, I won’t have to run for office. Believe me, we will all be happier.

#SFWApro

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As you are aware, by this point in the proceedings, the plan was to have reached 40,000 words, the putative 2/3 mark of this monument to one man’s ambition. However, as you are also aware, from having read the title of this post, things this week did not go entirely as planned.

Through a combination of events largely out of my control, I couldn’t keep up the pace this week. Apparently, 32,000 words per month is my limit. (Already the experiment is yielding valuable data.) Even before Life took precedence, I had decided that 2000 words per day, even working only four days a week, was just too much. It was eating up all of my “free time,” and this gig doesn’t pay well enough for that. (Doubtful that it ever could.) So I ratcheted my goal back to 1500 words per night, which will extend the time it takes to finish, but not as much as you might think, since I’m so far into it already. I’m thinking ten weeks instead of eight. This should still leave enough time to make my September 15 deadline. (And if it doesn’t, I-the-publisher can fight me-the-writer over it.)

For the record, I am at 37,418 words. Since I already gave myself permission to slack off, however, this means I am only about 1100 words behind schedule on the sequel to The Choking Rain, which will now with 90% certainty be called The Scent of Death. Our Heroes, having hied themselves to an Asian kingdom where they don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, and which is threatened by both revolution from within and invasion from without, have been attacked by a mob in the market square, resulting in becoming separated from their guide, the princess they’re protecting, and one of their own gang. Add to this a mysterious method of assassination, a gallery of untrustworthy high officials, and a couple of “allies” with their own secret agendas, and it’s all pretty much business as usual.*

And that’s all I can tell you. Fortunately, as part of the outlining process, I know who’s who and who’s not. Unless you count this character, who just kind of showed up and introduced himself, and that guy who’s not what I thought he was, and the other fellow who’s now…

I’m telling you, this would all be a lot easier if the characters would just read the outline first.

*And that’s not including the fact that their fearless leader has taken on a new identity so secret he won’t even tell them.

#SFWApro

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Yep, I’m still at it. Tonight marks the start of Week 4 of the “Write a Novel in Eight Weeks” experiment. At this point, I am at 23,737 words, a sliver short of the 24,000 target. It turns out that there is a little more to outlining than I anticipated; you need to have the basic facts underlying your plot straight, or you may find yourself in trouble. I discovered that I was really wrong on one basic fact and nearly had to scrap the last third of the story, which would have ruined any chance of bringing it in in less than two months, but the beauty of fiction is that the author in totally in charge, and instead of changing the manuscript, I changed the facts. The story works just as well, and I stay on schedule (more or less).

As tonight’s session starts with a big action scene, I have a good chance of making up the lost ground. Action scenes tend to write themselves.

Speaking of action scenes (he said, congratulating himself on his subtle segue), my entire oeuvre is currently on sale at Smashwords, and The Invisible City is available for free. This is a classic adventure story, with noble heroes, dastardly villains, damsels in distress, damsels getting themselves out of distress, loyalty, treachery, betrayal, friendship, and lots of cliffhangers and hairsbreadth-escapes. (The only thing it’s missing is a dog. The hero should have had a dog. I apologize.) It’s a lot of fun, and if there is a kid in your life you’re looking to turn on to reading, you could do worse.

Now, back to planning that big action scene. Do you think fifty bandits is too many?

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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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Yes, you are “supposed” to write every day. Of all the “rules” (in quotes because the only rule everyone can agree on is that all the rules can be broken), this seems to be the most common. But there are days when you just can’t. Maybe you’re tied up with inescapable family business. Maybe you’re in surgery. And maybe you just can’t muster the time/energy/inspiration to write. Some days it just won’t happen. The only people who deny that writer’s block exists are people who haven’t experienced it.

So how, you ask, can writing be like not-writing? Is this some Zen thing? No, it’s just…well assuming I can come up with enough similarities, you’ll see. If I don’t, you won’t see, which will prove my point.*

  1. It’s frustrating. Writing is frustrating because it’s slow, and difficult to get anywhere. Not writing is frustrating because you’re at a dead stop, which also makes it difficult to get anywhere.
  2. It tends toward futility. If you don’t write, you don’t sell. If you do write, often you still don’t sell, at least not for some time.
  3. It’s time-consuming. Writing a story takes time, then editing takes more time. Not writing a story takes time away from writing, then noodling around on the Internet in the name of “research” takes more time.
  4. It’s hard work. Until you’ve written a story (or a novel!), you don’t know how tough it is. And until you can’t write, you don’t know how tough it is.
  5. It expands your mind. When you write, you open the way to your unconscious and allows you to say things you didn’t know you had in you.** When you don’t write, you open the way to reading sponsored articles for things you didn’t know you cared about. (See my Internet comment in #3.)
  6. It leads to writing. When you write, you write more. You limber up those mental muscles and they become easier to use. When you don’t write, you feel the need to write more. You bounce around trying to loosen up those mental muscles until you come up with a blog post, at least.

So we come down to it. The Secret. It is simple: If you are a writer, you will write. You may write blogs. You may write children’s books. You may write movies. What you write is up to you, but you will have no choice but to write.

Or not to write. It’s all the same.

 

*That may be zen, but I really don’t know. Or do I? Would I know if I did?

**Like how two opposing concepts are the actually the same thing.

#SFWApro

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I just finished writing about 500 words. I should have written more, but I’m writing longhand, and you can only go so long before you have to take a break. Besides, I’m up to the point where I have to make a point, and I’m not sure how I’m going to do it. But I will.

When you’re really going, writing seems almost automatic. You don’t really have to pay attention to what you’re doing. It’s like driving, where  you can watch the road and listen to the radio and think about what you’re going to do when you get to work, all at the same time. (And like driving, you can’t write while you’re on the phone.)

I don’t think I had noticed that before tonight. At the same time the words were unspooling, I was able to look at them almost objectively (never totally objectively). As I watched myself scribble them (and scribble is the right word, believe me), I marveled at (a) how they arranged themselves so neatly, and (b) how good they looked. Not that I claim to be Shakespeare by any means; it’s just that I can still recall how I used to write years ago, and the difference is profound. But I wonder if the real miracle isn’t either of those things, but rather how I was able to separate my brain into two parts, one writing and one watching. Usually when you write, your brain is separated into “writer” and “editor,” and the toughest part is stuffing a sock into the editor’s mouth so the writer can work. This wasn’t that. The observer did make a few cogent suggestions, which were followed, but mostly he let the writer work. It was he who found the whole process amazing. (The writer was too busy to care.)

Oddly enough, now that I’m blogging, the two halves seem more in partnership. I stop and edit more, and the writer doesn’t mind having the editor peer over his shoulder. It’s a funny thing.

It’s a funny way to live, if you think about it. Writer vs. Editor. And then there’s Marketing Manager… Thank goodness they’ve got him locked in the closet for the duration.

#SFWApro

 

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“Kill your darlings.” That’s what they tell you in Writing 101. Don’t hesitate to cut sentences, even paragraphs, no matter how much you love them, if they don’t serve the story. Take your writing scalpel and remove them from the body of your work.

In a recent survey of market opportunities cross-referenced with the stories I have available for submission, I came across a pro-rate paying magazine whose guidelines immediately put me in mind of a certain story.*

Now, this is one of my favorites. I have held onto it, refusing to submit it to less than pro-rate markets, knowing in my heart that it is good enough to pull down top money—despite the fact that all of the top markets so far have rejected it (even if one did request a rewrite). New markets pop up with some frequency, however, so I’ve been living in the hope that it would find that one editor who would believe in it as I did.

I didn’t recall, though, sending it to that market. “Is it possible I never subbed that story to that magazine?” I wondered. “How could I not?” But in checking my files, I saw that no, I never had. Why? Because a second review of the guidelines showed that their maximum length was 4000 words, and my story was 4500.

I immediately thought, “Five hundred words? How am I going to cut 500 words from a 4500-word story?” I live by the rule that after you’ve drafted and polished a story, you should go back and cut another 10%. I had already done that. But I bent to the task, intending to try to identify some scene that could be excised, much as I believed it impossible. Every scene was absolutely crucial!

It took exactly one pass to remove 450 words.

The rest fell quickly after. There were unwieldy constructions and unnecessary exposition. I even added a few words at one point to make a critical scene clearer, and still managed to reach my goal. The whole process took less than an hour.

What’s the take-away here? Should I change the 10% rule to 20%? I don’t think so. You don’t want to compile so many rules about how to write that you forget just to write. Truthfully, when I started this essay I didn’t know myself where it was going. But the answer was in front of me almost from the beginning: You can’t set a story on a pedestal. Sure, when it’s published, out in the world, it’s set. But until then, it can always be improved, no matter how much store you set by it.

Kill your darlings with a scalpel? Sure. Except when a machine gun will do the job better.

*According to SFWA guidelines, “pro” rates start at $0.06/word.

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