Archive for the ‘The Business of Writing’ Category

Summer Madness: Week 2

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cn_participant180x180So, this is a couple days early, but I’m not intending to write again this week. This week went really well, with hitting my 3k minimum each day, and a couple days when I went 500-1k past that. Total words written this week: 16869. And I’ve totally strayed off my outline but am now in the process of veering back to it. I like the detour though, so it will stay in the next draft. Things are trucking along nicely.

Now that I’ve got a significant start on this project, it’s time for word meters again:

28398 / 120000

At least I’m hoping that it won’t go much over 120k. In my last (failed) manuscript, I was very concerned about even getting to 100k (I don’t think I did in the second draft; in fact, if I remember right, I was down in the upper 80’s). This time though I don’t think there will be any issues hitting 120k, maybe even more. Preferably more since I write pretty loose in first drafts and always have to cut.

Anyway, instead of writing this weekend, I’ll be spending my time reading. I’m worried I won’t finish the book (Wolf Hall) in time, not because it’s difficult or boring, but because it’s a huge book, and with it being NaNo time, I’m spending more time writing than reading. We’re halfway through the month and I’m only 25% of the way through the book. Will have to make a big push today and tomorrow and hopefully get at least 15% done (hopefully 25%, so I don’t have to spend as much time reading during the week). I’ve joined a reading club with some friends (I definitely need to read more) and we will chat about the book at the beginning of next month, and I’m determined to not go two months in a row without finishing the book we’re reading.

Summer Madness, Week 1

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cn_participant180x180I came in just under 9.5k for the first week, not as much done as I’d hoped to get done, but I had one day where I didn’t work at all and a second day where I only made it halfway to my target word count. So right now I’m a bit below the curve, by about 5k. I’m intending to make it up this week though. My target word count per day is 3k, though I did 3.4k yesterday. A couple more days of that and I’ll get caught up again. I don’t write on weekends though, so to keep up I’m probably going to have some 5-6k days, completely possible when things just start to flow.

Summer Madness!

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cn_participant180x180I’m once again embarking on some novel writing madness. The NaNoWriMo folks are running a series of summer camps, in June and August, and this couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me. I’ve just finished outlining a new novel and have started work on the first draft, and I always do really well with NaNo-style challenges. I wrote several drafts of Bone Flower Throne during the November NaNo sessions over a few years and have never failed to meet the 50k quota, so I’m hoping that between June and August, I can crank out a first draft of this novel. I’m not quite 5k in yet, but after struggling a bit to find my pace the first couple days of work, my first official day of Camp NaNoWriMo saw over 2k of words committed to the page. When I’m really in the zone, 4-5k a day isn’t outside the realm of possibility, but I’m aiming for a pace of 3k a day, which should get me close to 70k for the month of June (I don’t work on weekends. That’s family time.). Click the picture to go visit the Camp NaNoWriMo website and join the fun!

The camp set up a slightly different than the normal NaNoWriMo. There no way to friend your writing buddies and follow them from your own profile, but they’ve set up an automated cabin system, with 4-6 writers per cabin, and you can request to be in a cabin with your buddies, or if none of your friends are participating, you can request to be sorted by age or the genre of your book. It might be a bit late now to start the June camp (unless you’re a really prolific writer), but you can sign up now for August.

I’ll try to post once a week, to report how well the words are flowing.

When the Novel Fails, Listen to Your Muse

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So it’s been a while since I last posted, mostly because I’ve been working hard on the next novel while my agent is still trying to sell the other one. However, things have gone less than smoothly this time around and thought it might make an interesting blog post.

I started working on this second novel while I was shopping for an agent, though I didn’t pick up any significant momentum on it until well into summer of last year. I’d outlined it, just as I’d done for previous novels, so I knew where I was going, but pretty much I was letting the muse guide me. After finishing a section, I decided that I’d started the novel too late into the narrative and so went back and added another section at the beginning. It was working out to be a piecemeal of several different stories I’d written and either failed to sell or never made an effort to sell to magazines. I wanted to write a book in the same universe as “The Hearts of Men” but decided I didn’t want to use Mextli as a POV character. I’d written a novelette that I kind of liked from the POV of Xolotl, the servant of Lord Death, which revealed how Mextli and the other gods came to be reborn and I thought that he would make an interesting POV character. I also wanted to take a step back from my comfort zone and try using 3rd person this time rather than 1st. I did start off writing it in 1st, but halfway through I realized that certain plot elements required the use of 3rd, so I switched.

So I worked on this for most of the year, and I set multiple deadlines for getting the first draft done, but each one came and went and I still wasn’t finished. I often felt as if writing this story was really work and not any fun; with the previous novel, despite taking as long as it did, I never had the feeling that I was doing a job I had to do, but rather I was doing something I love and had a lot fun doing it, even when the critiques came back with frustrating results. I never felt the desire to give up on that book (or the second part, which I haven’t rewritten yet, but will if I can sell the first book). This one, however, I felt often that I would rather be doing something else; the days spent working on it felt tedious and often the narrative wandered away from the close 3rd with Xolotl to a more general omniscient. My impulse was to follow Mextli–who was an important but secondary character–and not Xolotl, and I kept having to wrangle myself back on track. I knew where I wanted to be at the end of it, but getting there turned into a meandering, disjointed mess, with me throwing in any new idea that seemed cool. I added in sub-plots that came out of nowhere and really contributed nothing, and introduced characters that became a drag on the plot events. Even after doing a rewrite that cut 20k words of plot, I still had a tremendous mess on my hands, but wanted to believe that it wasn’t as terrible as I thought.

Having finally made a deadline, I turned it in for critique. I also sent the draft to my agent, to get her feedback on what I’d done, in hopes of avoiding an extra draft between my post-crit draft and the final. And she actually got back to me before the crit group did, and the news wasn’t good. But on the other hand, all those doubts I’d been pushing aside to get this thing done were completely vindicated now: this book sucked.

I spent a couple hour depressed about it, but then told myself to knock it off and start thinking about fixes; a bit difficult without having heard back from my crit buddies yet, but by the end of the day, I started thinking of every difficulty I had with the book, and the one that stuck out the most for me was the fact that I’d kept wanting to write more and more about Mextli, and I’d have to remind myself that this wasn’t his story. And when I thought about switching to his POV for the story, that excitement came on strong for the first time. It would mean completely ripping apart the story and reworking it, but if I’m enthusiastic, it could significantly easier than trying to squeeze some blood from this stone I already have.

Still, I held off on committing to anything until I heard back from the crit group. They pretty much reconfirmed all my suspicions about things and backed up my agent’s concerns about the protagonist and offered multiple suggestions on what I could go from there. In the end it was obvious that the book I’d written wasn’t anywhere near good enough, and I didn’t know enough about Xolotl to understand what makes him tick, so I decided to trunk the novel and start all over again, switching to Mextli for the POV and to tell his story.

I know, that sounds depressing, all those months of work gone to waste, but actually, I feel the exact opposite. I’d lost the passion for that novel long ago, probably long before I was even halfway through it, but I made myself go on. The lesson learned here: listen to my muse. He knows what’s going on and I ignore him at my peril. I had new ideas and they made me excited to get to work.

But I was a little gun-shy now and did not want to end up with a jumbled mess again. I typically do general outlining and leave the scene by scene stuff to when I do the actual writing, but this time I decided to plot the whole thing out, character motivations and all. But first, I decided to do something I’ve never done before: character interviews. My biggest issue last time was that I didn’t know my protag very well at all and as a result he seemed to have no compass guiding his actions; he just did stuff to meet the plot rather than his actions moving the plot along. I was determined to not let that happen this time around, and though I think I know Mextli pretty well, I wasn’t too sure about his primary adversary. I downloaded a sheet of questions for a fantasy character interview and used that as a basis to figure out all my primary and secondary characters. I started out with the characters I knew best and found out some interesting–and in some cases very surprising–things about them. But when I came to the villain, whom I knew so little about beyond basics, as soon as I started answering the questions, I started hearing her voice very clearly in my head, and I was really quite taken by her. Her backstory blossomed and it was far more nuanced and intriguing than I’d ever imagined before, and by the time I finished all the character interviews, I knew I wanted to write about her too, since Mextli’s story is so closely interwoven with her own, so I decided a dual narrative was how I wanted to go. I also discovered something new about another character I thought I knew really well and this changed everything on multiple levels. The overall story arc of the universe as I’d envisioned it in the previous draft was no longer viable.

From there I started into a detailed outline, pretty much scene by scene, working out the whole plotline and making sure that things that happened happened because someone made them happen rather than them just happening (my friend Janice Hardy shared this link with me, which is a little discussion from the makers of South Park, about how if you’re saying, “And then this happens”, then you’ve made a wrong turn.). I worked on this outline for about 2 weeks, slowing down and reading some references when I got stuck. When I got to the end, the book turned out way different than I first envisioned it, but it feels fuller and more connected than the previous draft felt at any time.

I don’t know at this point if the plot as I have it worked out right now is a success, for I’m getting feedback on that before starting, so my road map is completely clear, but this time I have the definitely feeling that I’m onto something far better and I’m eager to get started on the actual writing.

So my second novel was a complete failure, but hopefully I can take the lessons from that and make something much better this time around.

The Uber-unglamorous Life of this Writer

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I’m boggled that it’s been over four months since I’ve last posted anything, but sometimes there’s nothing interesting going on. So, what exactly have I been doing since January? Mostly doing the rewrite on the latest novel and getting it ready for my crit group, which has it now. I also took some time to do some reading, something I don’t do nearly enough of. I’ve been trying to work my way through the Song of Ice and Fire series and have made it as far as A Feast For Crows before having to take a break from it. Right now I’m researching for the next novel (which, gasp!, is not Aztec!)

On the sub front, everything’s been pretty quiet, though hope springs eternal. With any luck, I’ll have a new novel making the rounds by June or July.

Other things I’ve been doing these past four months: toilet training my cats, and it’s going surprisingly well. If I’m successful at getting them completely litter-free, I might do a blog entry about the process. We’ve been working on it for just over two months now and we’ve got probably another month worth of work left on it.

So, as you can see, not a whole lot of excitement going on here at Casa de Morganfield. I keep more day-to-day news at my Facebook page if you want to keep more up to date on what I’m doing, so feel free to send me a friend request over there if you wish.