Killing My Darlings (Also: Putting Them in the Freezer for Later)

Still adjusting to the new work schedule, but things are finally starting to shape up. I’m working about 50 hours a week on the day job, and am slowly working in time for about 40 hours of writing each week. Realistically it will probably be closer to 30-35, since it takes an hour or so for me to shift gears from working to writing. Maybe my brain just needs to relax for a bit or something, but that first hour is always so inefficient that I might as well not count it.

Anyway, along with this schedule adjustment comes a major change in my writing plans for the year. Well, a couple of changes, but chief amongst them is my decision to switch to a new novel, and it pains me to do so. The Wendigo novel is something I’ve been planning for years, off and on. It’s a universe and concept that’s very near and dear to me, and it’s something I want to get absolutely right.

That’s paralyzing.

I’ve written a short story about it. I then brainstormed/outlined how I could expand it into a novel. After that I wrote the rough draft of the novel, which was a very illuminating experience. Though I never went and edited it I learned a lot about pacing and story structure as well as what I was missing from my earlier outline. There were a lot of gaps in the world-building, from the magic to the history to even the geography. I knew where Points A, B, C, and D were, but what was between them? Pfft, who cares, right?

Right.

I’ve since outlined and re-outlined it, working in new characters and taking out old ones that just didn’t work anymore. I’ve most recently gone back to the drawing board on the magic system, and I did this just as I was sitting down to finish my outline and start writing the second rough draft of it. And then there was-

Starting to see the pattern here? I’m throwing up roadblocks, slowing and ruining what forward momentum I had. It’s fear of getting it wrong, of failing at something I’ve spent so much time on.

pizza-rollsSo, I’ve killed the story for the time being. Killed it, sliced it up, put it into food saver bags, and placed onto a prominent shelf on the freezer. It’s not stuffed away somewhere so I’ll forget about it. I very much want to write this story, this series. But, not today.

Who gave me this idea? Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler over at Writing Excuses. (I have yet to get to the seasons where Mary Robinette Kowal becomes a regular, but her discussion on puppetry and how it relates to storytelling is amazing. Go listen to it!)  My day work involves a lot of mindless data entry. That means plenty of time to listen to writing podcasts. In the last week and a half I’ve burned through the first three seasons (20+ hours) and have amassed 42 pages of detailed notes. A lot of the writing principles covered are things I’m aware of, but much of it’s been eye-opening.

In several of the episodes they discuss getting stuck on pet projects and ultimately getting dragged down by it. Their advice?

You guessed it. Shelve it and try something completely new, and not something else that’s been sitting for years and years and has lots of excess baggage.

That’s exactly what I’m doing.

No sooner did I make this decision on Tuesday morning (And it was a tough one, believe me) that new ideas started coming to me, and from all over the place! A new world, new characters, and new conflicts. I’m overflowing with ideas for a brand new book. In just an hour after the first ideas came to me I already had 8 pages of notes. Since Tuesday I’ve doubled that count, and as soon as I finish this post I’m diving headfirst back into the brainstorming process.

It’s such a liberating feeling, even if it is a little bit frightening and frustrating at the same time. I have this huge blank slate to start working with, and I have to realize that I’m now a month behind on any kind of novel writing schedule. I will either have to pick up the pace on this novel, or scale back my realistic expectations for the year. I’m going to hope for the former and prepare for the latter. It’s just how I operate. Always plan for 200%, then when you only get half accomplished you can still say you did it all.

With all that said, I need to be careful of two things on opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • Jumping into the drafting process before the brainstorming/outlining is finished (In too soon)
  • Succumbing to the alluring temptation of World-Builders Disease (In too late)

There’s a fine balancing act to be had here. Start too soon and I’ll be writing in white space and make dumb plot decisions that won’t hold up inside a well-crafted setting with well-planned characters. Start too late and I’ll never get any writing done. To avoid this I’ll judge how progress is going over the next few days and determine a hard deadline for the ending of brainstorming and the beginning of outlining. The outlining process itself I want to take no more than a month, once more following Karen Wiesner’s “First Draft in 30 Days” format. This format really helped me with the Wendigo outline. With a fresh start I expect this will be even more invaluable.

To help me build characters, I will start up again with Michael A Stackpole’s “21 Days To a Novel“. I love this book. There’s so much to learn from it.

So, that’s the big update for the moment. Lots of work to do, with the focus shifting mostly to novel writing for the foreseeable future. I still want to write short stories, but I do not think I will be writing them at the pace I intended to. Same goes for reading. I wanted to read two books a week, but I don’t know that there will be time for that. On the plus side these craft podcasts can sort of count as nonfiction book reading, but what about my fiction reading? I need my epic fantasy!

I think my posts from here on may go more into the nuts and bolts of my writing process, from brainstorming to outlining to drafting to editing. I’m hoping to have the first and possibly edited draft of the book ready by sometime in April, so I will be a month behind my original plan for the year. Let’s shoot for that, and see where it takes us!

WIPika Fridays: What Draft Is This Again?

Another week, another bit of productivity.

First on the block is the editing for “The Lone Blue Strand” for Fictionvale. I received the edits on Sunday night, and have spent an hour or so every day this week working on it. There’s still a little bit left to do tomorrow, but for all intents and purposes it’s finished. I’ll send it off tomorrow morning and wait for the second round of edits to come back my way.

Second accomplishment has been the short story codenamed “Evaporated Ocean.” It’s actually a rewrite of a short story I wrote back in 2012 that didn’t go anywhere with publishers. Looking back on it, I understand why: it’s unreadable! There are aspects of it that are neat (Such as the setting), but the characterization and plot were blah. Not coherent in any way, shape, or form. The core setting is largely the same, but the characters and plot have been changed almost completely. I’ve completed three outlines of it, and have started on what could be the second/third draft of it. I plan to finish that tomorrow, and then Sunday work on heavy edits for it.

First line from it:

Jisan paced along the dry ocean floor.

The name of the story will have nothing to do with evaporated anything, so I hope the idea of the ocean floor being anything other than wet will stand out to readers and make them want to continue on. I try to start my stories either with a conflict, or with a strange premise that grabs them. Don’t know that I succeed at it, but I know I’m a lot better than I used to be.

That’s something I should post up one day. A list of story first lines, from my earliest works to now. Should be amusing for somebody, at least.

The novel outlining has had its ups and downs this week. I’ve completed more than I probably would have had I not been on any sort of schedule, but I’ve officially gotten behind. I don’t know that I’ll be able to make up any time Saturday, but Sunday I will have to put my nose to the grindstone and get caught up. Even if it takes all afternoon and evening, it’ll have to get done! Fortunately we have leftover pizza that we made last week, so dinner’s sorted.

Where reading’s concerned, I’m also behind. I had hoped to finish with Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson before the weekend, but that’s just not happening. Same goes with Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. I want to take my time with them and really read them, so it’s taking longer than expected. Alas.

Still, not bad for the second full week of adjusting to a new writing schedule. I need to hold onto this level of productivity, and ratchet it up. As long as I don’t slide backward, it’s all good from here.

WIPika Fridays: Novels and Shorts, Oh Me, Oh My

Today is the first full week of 2015, and it’s been a fairly productive one.

As of this afternoon two and a half drafts of a fantasy short story have been finished. The story is, at the moment, called “Snowmelt” (Or “Viking Irrigation”) and is consistently coming in at around 3,000 – 4,000 words or so. Not sure what the final count will be, but I doubt it will be much larger than 4,500 words. I may even be able to shave some out of it.

So, what is the story about? Well, it’s set in the Wendigo universe, and follows a 15 year old shieldmaiden who has just been field-promoted to Jarl (Lord) of her land after her father was killed prior to the story’s beginning. She has also survived an assassination attempt by her uncle and his illegitimate son. Men loyal to her killed her Uncle, but she had to personally take down her cousin. They grew up together, and his death traumatized her.

So, how do you salve this hurt in her soul? Well, if we want to be nice to the character we spend the whole story putting her in situations where she can cope, grieve, and recover. But, we’re not going to do that.

Instead, she’s thrown right into the fire. The first place she visits in the story is the farm that her cousin owned, to break the news to his widow.

The following is from the third draft, so it’s subject to change. Also, the names are placeholders at the moment:

Blood pooled on the blackwood tabletop. Ayla raised the wet knife. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you.”

Ylva sat stock-still, her hands pressed to her sides. She kept her voice level, matter-of-fact. “I am your next of kin, and your Jarl.”

Ayla snorted.

And you don’t want your children raised by the woman who bereft them of father and mother.” Ylva’s hand strayed to her side and touched the hilt of her misericorde, the mercy dagger. The weapon she had killed her own cousin with.

Ayla’s eyes narrowed and her fair face flushed. She slammed the knife down. Its keen edge bit into the cut of goat meat.

Ylva kept her features smooth, but her insides roiled with nauseating guilt. Ayla, how can you ever forgive me?

Ayla sawed at the meat. “How did Sindri die?”

In other news, progress is being made on the Wendigo novel front. It will not feature any of the characters in this particular short story, except indirectly. It will be focused on the happenings of the mainland continent to the east of where this story takes place. No actual draft writing was accomplished, nor will it be until February. But, the outline is progressing very smoothly. The goal is to finish it by January 31st, but I would love to get it done beforehand, if possible.

Allowing Yourself to Read, But to a Point and for a Point

I don’t know if other writers have this problem, but allowing myself to read has been difficult of late. Reading novels and short stories used to be one of my favorite pastimes, and it needs to become so again. Yet, when I find I have the time to read I worry that I should be writing, or at least brainstorming or doing research.

The problem is I can’t reconcile in my head that reading the particular genre I wish to write in does count as research, and it can aid in the brainstorming process. Ultimately, reading is what makes us better writers. At the very least it serves as inspiration, for most of us turn to writing after reading something particularly profound. For me I had always liked to write here and there, but it wasn’t until I played a game called Betrayal at Krondor and then picked up the newly-released Serpentwar Saga by Raymond Feist that I realized writing was what I wanted to do. I was 11 at the time, and suddenly found myself burning through the 382 page Shadow of a Dark Queen. I went on to read all of Feist’s Midkemia-based work that was out at the time, then moved on to Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, Haydon’s Symphony of Ages, etc. In all these cases I could not put the books down and kept reading well into the wee hours of the morning just to see what happened next.

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to read a series as enthralling as these, but that could be where my fear lies. While there’s nothing wrong in reading for an hour or two a day before, during, or after the daily writing quota has been accomplished, it’s altogether another thing if you get sucked in to the point of losing productivity. On some subconscious level I must be worried that will happen the moment I start reading a story longer than 30 or 40 pages, and yet my goal is to ultimately write novel-length stories, and then novel-length stories in a series. If I wish to do this I need to go back and reread the series that got me into fantasy and science fiction in the first place, only this time with a writer’s eye. With the techniques that I am learning in David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing I want to see which of these – if any – were employed in the series I love, to see how effective they are in practice.

With that said, I’ll be starting up my weekly goals in the next day or two, and I plan to update those goals as they are completed during the week. Reading both short stories and novels will be on that list, in addition to writing. The novels may have to wait for a couple of weeks, but I will at least narrow down which series I want to begin rereading, and then we’ll go from there.

For short stories, I need to broaden my horizons. I’ve been reading Daily Science Fiction a lot lately, but there are so many other great ezines out there (Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, to name just a few) that all need some attention, especially if they are places I wish to submit to. Before doing that, though, I think I will finish reading through my Writers of the Future anthologies that I’ve picked up here and there. Over the next few months I have several novelettes I wish to produce, and that tends to be what is accepted for that contest. If I’m going to write at that length, I should study the best available.

Writing in Public: Day 03, Month 02

No, you are not reading the title wrong.  This is the first entry in the Writing in Public Challenge, Month 2.  I wasn’t feeling the best over the weekend, so I spent much of it resting up, brainstorming ideas without committing anything to paper, and getting some of my goals for the month organized.  Today was the official start to the month.

Starting this month I’m breaking up fiction writing into two subcategories: short story writing and novel writing, which will be combined into the total amount for the month and year.

With all that said, today was pretty awful for actual fiction written.  I outlined the revision for “Sublease,” but that was about it.  I also spent quite a bit of time reading articles on writing by Rachel Aaron (Of “The Legend of Eli Monpress” fame) and watching a great interview of sci-fi/fantasy author Cat Rambo that .  All of that is no excuse for the lack of words today.  The only thing I can blame – other than general laziness – is my lack of writing over the weekend.  It’s always a mistake when I go cold turkey for even a day or two.  If writing is an addiction it’s about the easiest one to break.  The day job can interfere with writing, but that’s still no excuse.  The time is there.  It just needs to be utilized.

Anyway, here are the lackluster numbers:

  • Nonfiction: 331 + 268
  • Planning and outlining: 794
  • Short Fiction: 000
  • Novel Fiction: 000
  • Salable words: 000

Total Fiction for Month: 000

Total Salable for Month: 000

Total Fiction for Challenge Year: 50,223

Total Salable for Challenge Year: 10,944

Goals for the Week Ending 03-09-14

Writing Goals (Any titles listed are working titles and – thankfully – subject to change):

  • Outline/Rewrite of “Sublease”, a science fiction tale set in the not-too-distant future where all of humanity is tied into a network that makes use of everyone’s unused physical and mental abilities in exchange for paying off the enormous debt a collapsed global economy has placed on everyone.  Think of it as a coal-mining town where the company owns everything, and charges more than you get paid for the necessities.  The hero is someone who wants to break free of that system.  I’m expecting this tale to be around 10,000 words.  This is the story I want to send to the Writers of the Future contest.  The revision for this one story should take the bulk of the week, I’m guessing.
  • Brainstorm/Outline/Rough Draft of “Metamorph,” a short story for Resurrection House‘s XIII Anthology (6,000 words or less).
  • Brainstorm/Outline/Rough Draft of “UnCivil Engineering,” a humorous short story featuring civil engineers in the aftermath of an apocalypse (6,000 words or less).  Aiming this as one of my submissions for the “Unidentified Funny Objects” anthology.
  • Brainstorm/Outline/Rough Draft two or three flash fiction pieces (1,000 words or less each).  I have some ideas jotted down in my brainstorming notebook by the bed.
  • Write outline for the second draft of “Into the Wastes”, a fantasy novel about a company of crusaders sent into their kingdom’s northern hinterlands to deal with one threat, only to discover multiple threats.

Reading Goals:

  • Read each of the five stories that Daily Science Fiction puts out this week.
  • Read Rhapsody, the first of the “Symphony of Ages” series by Elizabeth Haydon.
  • Re-read the prologues and opening chapters for several epic fantasy novels, including King’s Dragon (Kate Elliott), The Green Rider (Kristen Britain), and The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan), amongst others.  I’m doing this as an exercise to see if there is anything common in each book’s opening chapters and how that could benefit the opening chapters to “Into the Wastes.”

Writing in Public: Day 15, Month 01

I had an epiphany about “Into the Wastes” last night that I had to write down before I forget.  Five minutes later I was finished with the beginning of an idea that could help fully half of the story come together better.  I also had Listerine sitting in my mouth for that long.  I didn’t want to get up and spit it out until I was finished.

As with all late night ideas I’m looking at it with an eye of skepticism but also with excitement.  I really think the addition of one more character – or the injection of an already present character into an earlier part of the story – will make some of the chapters flow just a bit better and with a greater sense of urgency.  Anyway, the planning and outlining continues.  My plan is to begin the actual rewrite starting March 1st or 2nd, with a goal of finishing the second draft in 45 days.  The objective is for it to be a much tighter story that leaves room for a sequel but is also definitive in ending the current problem.

On short stories, I spent a good part of the day brainstorming and outlining “Harmonious Bedlam.”  The later afternoon and evening was devoted to writing the rough draft, and I finished about 2,400 words of it.  I’m trying a new experiment with this story in that I’m trying to get a more structured outline in place before the draft process begins.  Usually I just come up with a few basic elements to get a rough idea (Rough, get it?  Ahem, sorry) of what to write, and then I go to town.  This sometimes works, and sometimes results in an inefficient form of writing.  I want to up my daily word count, but I want the ratio of total fiction writing to final, salable writing to shift more in favor of the salable.  The writing is fun, but I’m aiming for a final product that I hope others will enjoy.

Nothing knew on revisions, but I managed to do at least a little bit in the other three daily goal areas: novel work, short story rough drafts, and short story planning and outlining.

  • Nonfiction: 377
  • Planning and outlining: 880
  • Fiction: 2,400
  • Salable words: 000

Total Fiction for Month: 39,823

Total Salable for Month: 5,944

Goals for the Week Ending 03-02-14

You’ll note that a couple of these goals have been here for a couple of weeks now, and that’s because I keep finding reasons to not get around to them.  Specifically, reviewing and revamping the outline for the second draft of “Into the Wastes” as well as doing some reading research of some of my favorite fantasy books.

Another reading goal that has been added is to read a book each week.  I’ve fallen out of reading novels in favor of short stories over the last year or so, and it’s high time I get back to it.  As stated in an earlier post, reading is just as important a task for writers as writing is.  Reading is what gets most of us interested in writing in the first place, and by reading other authors we can see technique in action and learn from it.  It’s an enjoyable form of research, and it makes me feel a little guilty when I do it.  That’s probably why I keep finding excuses to not do it, but no more!

Writing Goals (Any titles listed are working titles):

  • Revise and submit “Listening Post” (3,500 salable words or less)
  • Revise and submit “Fallout Ariel” (1,000 salable words or less)
  • Revise and submit “Alien Concept” (1,000 salable words or less)
  • Write, revise, and submit “Songs of Fate” (4,000 salable words or less)
  • Write, revise, and submit “Signalmen” (4,000 salable words or less)
  • Revise and submit “Gentle Breeze” (3,500 salable words or less)
  • Finish rough draft of “You Are My Brothers” and get ready to outline it (6,000 more words of rough draft)
  • Outline “Sublease” and get ready for the rewrite.
  • Write outline for the second draft of “Into the Wastes”, a fantasy novel about a company of crusaders sent into their kingdom’s northern hinterlands to deal with one threat, only to discover multiple threats.

Reading Goals:

  • Read each of the five stories that Daily Science Fiction puts out this week.
  • Read Rhapsody, the first of the “Symphony of Ages” series by Elizabeth Haydon.
  • Re-read the prologues and opening chapters for several epic fantasy novels, including King’s Dragon (Kate Elliott), The Green Rider (Kristen Britain), and The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan), amongst others.  I’m doing this as an exercise to see if there is anything common in each book’s opening chapters and how that could benefit the opening chapters to “Into the Wastes.”

 

Words Goal:

Total Fiction: 35,000

Salable: 17,000

Writing in Public: Day 13, Month 01

Yet another bad day for actually getting stuff written.  I was at the keyboard for a number of hours, struggling to get “Listening Post” rewritten.  I’m not sure what the problem was, but the words did not want to come.  It was one of those days that makes a writer think he’s not a writer at all.  It’s not a very complex tale either, which had me both puzzled and frustrated.

Further, it ate into my rough draft time and yet another day passed with little more done on “You Are My Brothers.”  Tomorrow is the start of a new week, and a new set of goals.  And part of those goals will be finishing the rewrites of “Listening Post” and “Fallout Ariel” very early in the week, possibly as early as tomorrow.

  • Nonfiction: 148
  • Planning and outlining: 200
  • Fiction: 1,627
  • Salable words: 000

Total Fiction for Month: 32,549

Total Salable for Month: 1,070

Writing in Public: Day 10, Month 01

Spent a little bit more time tweaking “Amidst the Swirling Sakura Petals” and fired it off to Flash Fiction Online with a total length of around 1,070 words.  If accepted there, it will need to be trimmed down to 1,000 words, but they accept submissions up to 1,100 words with that understanding.  All we can do is wait and see what happens there.

I also started work on the epic fantasy story “You Are My Brothers”, with ten pages and approximately 3,000 words finished at the moment.  Think of this story as a sword-and-sorcery version of the Siege of Bastogne, featuring a mercenary company caught behind enemy lines and the band of all-female knights that come to their aid.  The Order of the Emerald Garland is here to save the day!

  • Nonfiction: 142
  • Planning and outlining: 000
  • Fiction: 3,500
  • Salable words: 000

Total Fiction for Month: 27,719

Total Salable for Month: 1,070