Writing!

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 04:51 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Managed a little over 400 words last night, which is pretty good for my first day back. \o/

Writing got dropped along with everything else non-essential during the kitten crisis, and that along with my natural procrastinatory tendencies made it hard to pick back up again. An earlier attempt yesterday, on the same story I'd done so well on the morning before the kitten disappeared, netted all of one word (and that one that I'm probably going to change). But because I really wanted to start the new year off a little better than that, I gave it another go before bed, this time on The Green Ring. The hundred-word rule stood me in good stead; the first seventy or so were like pulling teeth, but then the pump finally primed and I managed a decent chunk with relatively little difficulty.

I still feel like I've got the writing brain only about half booted up, but that mostly just needs plugging away at it. (And the bit where I discovered I'd written two mutually-contradictory ways for young Teb to join up with the mail carriage was done some time ago, so I can't blame that on this. ;-)  )
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I wrote 1105 words this morning! Yes, if I'm not entirely consumed with tearing the house apart, I can still do this. Good to know.

Getting Into It

Friday, August 8th, 2014 09:26 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Back when I was writing Highway of Mirrors, my characters pretty much took over my brain. I was living, breathing, and sleeping in their head-spaces, to the point that I started taking my coffee the way they take theirs. (This wasn't so bad with the character who drinks hers the way I always took mine anyway, but it was a bit jarring when I suddenly switched to the fellow who takes his with milk, no sugar -- yuck! Except it wasn't yuck; it tasted just right. To this day, I can't answer coherently when a waitress asks me if I want cream and/or sugar with my coffee, because I don't know until I taste it who's mind-set I'm drinking it from.) This was occasionally entertaining to watch, I'm told, and more than a little disconcerting from the inside, but it meant that when I sat down to write, I could drop into the character's point of view completely and effortlessly with no preparation whatsoever.

And I realized recently that that's what's not happening with Falling From Ground. I've been spending a lot of time with the world-building; Mars is shaping up to be a fun place, for definitions of "fun" that include a certain amount of evil writer cackling. But I haven't been getting into the main character's head-space at all, to the point that I'd even lost sight of one of his major characteristics that, while it becomes a major focus later, needs to be at least hovering around the edges right from the start.

There are reasons for this. Not least is that his head-space isn't a very pleasant place to be. I like to think that I've achieved some contentment with my life in the last couple of years, and I'm going to have to shatter that to really get inside this guy's head. Bluntly, I don't want to go there. But as one of my favorite exchanges about writing puts it:
"It would hurt like hell."

"What would that matter, if it made a good book?"

There are other reasons. I'm effin' tired, and emotional engagement takes energy. There's the usual new-novel inertia; the same force that pushes for completion with 60,000 words behind it makes getting started a challenging proposition. And there's probably the fact that I've been taking a caffeine break for the past two weeks (it was either detox, or start buying Red Bull in larger cans). That last, at least, will be over in a few more days, and it may be that this effort will have to wait until I've had that first, sweet, much-desired mocha.

But as for the rest of it... the only way out is through. I'll just have to suck it up and do it, and warn everyone around me not to take any weird mood changes personally for the next few days. And do my best to compartmentalize it all, of course, so that I can step back out as needed, which will be an interesting exercise given that writing a novel is pretty much a road-map for obsession. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if I Don't Wanna; there's a book that needs to be written.

So, there was July

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 01:55 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Falling From Ground: 252
bakery story: 2158
Total new words in July: 2410

Better!

Non-numerically speaking, the bakery story ("Rising to the Occasion", yes I tried to resist, but there it is) is finished, beta-read, and basically ready to go. I'm very pleased with it; there's a lot of things going on below the surface, as 'twere, there's some clever world-building that justifies my back-brain's insistence on certain features, and I even managed some subtle character stuff that my beta-reader picked right up on!

Also: Contacted somebody about the research I need before starting Financial Wizardry. Haven't gotten the information back yet, but at least I've started the ball rolling.

I had more or less resigned myself to back-burnering Falling From Ground, as it seemed to need to compost more. No sooner had I done so, however, than I recognized what's probably the major thing holding me up. Haven't addressed it yet, for reasons I'll explain elsewhere, but the diagnosis has moved it back up to a front burner again.


So, what's on for August?

- Do the head-work I've got to do to get Falling From Ground moving properly.

- Get back to querying Highway of Mirrors. I've collected another little list of potential agents; I should at least burn through that, AAR database or no.

- I think it's time to get back to quota-land. So: 2500 words, on FFG, FinWiz, short stories, or any combination. That's a nice warm-up amount, should be doable if I only apply myself.


(Admin note: Have I never properly introduced Financial Wizardry, a.k.a. Will Wallace, financial advisor to wizards? I came up with it at that local writers conference a couple years ago (the only useful thing to come out of that conference), but I can't seem to find a tag for it. Well, it's got one now.)

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Starting a new novel only to get stuck on the third freakin' paragraph is not my idea of a good time. ;-P

I am unstuck now, having worked out a blend between graceful writing and world-building info-dump. Something that could be construed as a scene has been produced. I am finding my thoughts focused more and more on this character and his world, which implies that the usual new-novel obsession should be forthcoming. And the next scene I have clear in my head is probably a week into the action, and needs a chapter or two of lead-in if it's not to be a pacing train-wreck.

C'mon, brain! Beginnings are supposed to be the fun part!
lizvogel: Run and find out, with cute kitten. (Run and Find Out)
After I fed the cats at 6:00 this morning (a time established by my housemate, not by me, I assure you), I stayed up so I could get in a run before it got too ridiculously hot. And then I had to choose between getting out and running as early as possible, or booting up the laptop to do something with the words in my brain. Finally settled for a quick half hour to tap in another hundred words or so on the bakery story, then went running. And promptly came up with an excellent near-end line, which I had to keep repeating to myself through most of my 22-minute run so it would still be there when I got back.

Good problems to have.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I had planned to take the next couple of months off, or at least easy, writing-wise. Haley was by far the hardest thing I've written in a lot of ways, and I figured I'd be a lot better off with some recovery time before tackling another novel's complexities.

I started Falling From Ground on Wednesday.

Having figured out the name issue, words leapt into my head, and kept insisting on themselves in that "We're not leaving until you write us down" way. It's always a sign when that happens, so I scrambled about and started typing. I've jotted down other snippets and things, but this one went into an official file named CHAPTER.01, so the novel really is begun.

That snippet did bring other snippets with it, but they kept not quite fitting together and side-tracking and.... I've said before that I'm an intuitive writer, and having to stop every couple of sentences to Figure Something Out is not the way I write. Except when it is, which was far too much of the last novel. I don't like it. It's not fun. And one of the reasons I wanted some time off is that I really wanted to get some space between me and that way of working, in hopes that it would go away and not come back and I could return to just transcribing my back-brain's product. So even though I got a respectable chunk (for me) done, I was not entirely happy with it.

In fact, I was funking out a bit about how this might be the new normal. It didn't help that the short-story idea I've been letting percolate hasn't been coming together, and it seemed to need me to sit down and brainstorm, up in the front of the brain and deliberately, something about the MC. Which, I just, NO.

Somewhere in the process of whining about all this to my housemate, it occurred to me that I might be trying to figure things out in advance not because that's what this story needs, but because I was so disconcerted about the surprise additional 15,000 words on the first book, and I so disliked the constant brick-walling on the third one as some new problem reared its head, that I've been over-compensating to try to avoid that. Maybe what I should do is just sit down and see what words happen.

As soon as I said that, the MC promptly named herself. And the snippet of words that had the seed of the story idea came back sounding like an opportunity and not a wall.

And I did sit down, and several hundred words flowed out of my fingers as if somebody's finally turned on the faucet. And when I thought I'd hit a good stopping point, and was on the verge of shutting down for the night, more words appeared. And more words, and more.... I think I did the final save-and-backup four or five times before my brain stopped giving me oh-just-one-bit-more. I've got an MC and a SC and a bunch of world-building and I didn't have to plan out one bit of it in advance.

So it's follow the short story and see where it leads. And for FFG, it's maybe get some sleep so you can keep the X in mind that Y is wending toward, but otherwise, stop stopping and trying to figure things out; you had an idea before, self, just roll with it. Your back-brain doesn't generally steer you wrong, so stop roadblocking it, already.

Sometimes you need to check the road map. But sometimes, you just need to get in the car and drive.

A rose by any other OMG

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 04:23 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I've been hesitating a bit on starting Falling From Ground (the Mars colony spy novel), and one of the reasons has been trying to settle on the main character's name. I've liked and discarded several, and finally figured on going with the one that came with words attached to it. I figured that, like naming a pet, it would come to feel inevitable with use. But it's never fully established itself in my brain, and some of the discards still called to me.

I just now (in the shower, of course) realized why. And it's not a bug, it's a feature.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Yesterday, I took the penultimate scene, previously written and naggingly unsatisfactory, and completely overhauled it, adding emotion and stage business and a practical reason for it to exist in the first place, cutting chunks and changing others and adding half again its length. I think it's better now; at the very least, there's certainly more of it.

This must be how the word-vomit crowd writes. My god, it's exhausting. I can't imagine why anyone would do this to themselves on a regular basis. I'd pushed out the original version of the scene on the grounds that I had to write something, if only so I could have something to fix. And it was the right approach for this scene, this time, but dear lord, I'm glad I don't do it that way all the time.

Also, I figured out what was wrong with the end of the scene. It wasn't any of the things I'd thought of before, and I can't believe I didn't see it sooner.

And today, I just have the last scene to tackle. It's coming incrementally, and slowly, but at least it's coming. So far, anyway. And much of it's coming jigsaw-style, which is a frustrating way to work, but is a damned sight better than nothing and seems to produce just as good results in the end. Onward.
lizvogel: Run and find out, with cute kitten. (Run and Find Out)
Soho Press has a blog, as I have just learned from Gary Corby's blog. And top of the blog-list today is this surprisingly excellent piece on The Dead Scene and what to do about it. I have had that scene, and I've tried those tricks and sometimes they've worked, so naturally I think the writer is an insightful fellow.

Posted here mostly so I can remember to go back and read more later. That article is number 26 in a series, and I don't need to fall down that rabbit hole right now; I've got a con to get ready for.

Also, they do spy fiction. Must have a proper read-through later.

*bash* *bash* ...oh

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 01:54 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Writing: The process of banging your head against a brick wall until one of you falls down, and the blood drops fall in such a way as to form words.


I have figured out that one of the problems with the fighting-me-every-step-of-the-way final chapter is that I didn't know the antagonist's motivation. Specifically, there's an action X that's been bandied about in earlier chapters as a possibility, an action that she does not ultimately take. I know that she doesn't take action X; it would be wrong for the story, and it would be wrong for her character. But why doesn't she take action X? Why doesn't she take action X?

Five minutes after recognizing this question, I had the answer. And shortly after that, I had a small chunk of new dialog, and the necessary bit to make all the other bits of the scene fall into the order they should obviously be in. And not long after that, there was the opening scene of the chapter, neatly done.

As always, it helps a lot to ask the right questions.

The next bit that's being sticky involves two characters having an awkward conversation, which is difficult because awkward conversations are. I already suspect that I will not manage to imply certain characterization-related things as gracefully as I had hoped, but oh well. Forward momentum.

The next sticky bit after that is going to bring me back to the antagonist's motivation again. I know what happens and what kind of scene it's going to be; I know what she does and why. But I don't know what she thinks about it, and I'm going to have to, even if only a fraction of that comes through in the actual writing.

The last time I got stuck like this on an end scene, I tried writing it from the POV of a different character and then re-wrote it to match the POV of the rest of the book, and it helped a lot. I'm not going quite that far this time, but I did run some lines through the brain to clarify how the antagonist is seeing the scene.

And I discovered something interesting, which the end of that last sentence hints at.

The Haley novel is written from the single POV of the protagonist, in close-ish third person past tense. I like it that way, I'm comfortable with it. But if I were to write a scene from the POV of the antagonist, it would have to be in present tense. Because that's the way she thinks. Even though the entire book, as written, is in past tense. Even though I'm generally not keen on present tense, and certainly don't generally write in it. Huh.

There's a wealth of information about the antagonist's mind-set, in this. How she thinks of her role in the world, how she looks at the past and the future and her place in them. How, perhaps, she maintains herself in a very contradictory set of circumstances.

And hopefully, how she's going to get through this last scene, because it needs to get written, dammit.

April Word Count / Goals

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 11:47 am
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Haley novel: 2569
Total new words in April: 2569

Yeah, totally blew my quota. There are excuses; Science Festival at the local university ate several evenings and an entire weekend, and of course there were taxes. But mostly it was because Chapter 14 kept kicking my ass. And 15 is being even more obstreperous.

I am an intuitive writer, and story comes to me as words, not as pictures or movie images or, ghod forbid, an intellectual decision to write something that works like [this]. Ideally, it comes as the first words, following naturally from the scene before. Sometimes it's a chunk from the middle of a scene, a sentence fragment or even a paragraph, but it generally comes attached to enough stuff in my head that I know what the surrounding words will be like. And this works great, about 95% of the time.

The end of this book is being the other 5%. I know what kind of scenes I need, to wrap up the various sub-plots, but for most of it I have NO WORDS. And the words I do have aren't coming with the necessary context attached to them, and what context they do have is... going to take some juggling to make it fit on a purely practical level in-story. So I'm having to sort out on a purely intellectual level what [this] scene will be, and what order it will come in, and what sort of emotional weight it will have, and how much screen time it merits... and that is not how I normally work! So it is coming slowly, and hard.

Having consciously bashed out the approximate shape of the end of the book, I did finally start getting some words yesterday, lines and even one or two paragraphs spread scattershot through the last half-dozen scenes. It's a very jigsaw-puzzle way of working, and it hazards things not fitting once I finally write up to them, but it seems to be what I've got to work with this time. So work I shall.


The query goal was to go through the AAR database, and that... didn't happen. It's still a good idea, and I still intend to do it, but it may have to wait for a little while.



May's goal: finish the book.

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Have approximately finished the penultimate chapter, not counting de-bracketing and the like. Cannot get the I-think-final chapter going.

Am now outlining the end of Memory to try to figure out how she did that -- i.e., managed to have two-and-a-half chapters after the bad guy is dealt with and tie up all those sub-plots with proper due diligence without it dragging or seeming tacked on in the slightest -- in hopes that I can employ similar tactics.
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
There's a recycling & salvage place near us that does a Document Destruction Day (i.e., free mass shredding) every April. Having abbreviated it on my to-do list as Doc Destruction, I now want to write a super-hero story, with the obvious super-villain. ;-)
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
What is it with this novel, that every time I say it's finally going decently, it stalls again? I am well and truly stalled now. Though I did manage a tricky bit of revision, small in terms of wordcount but significant in terms of plot. Yes, people have cell phones. If you want them to not have cell phones -- and there is a sound in-story reason for this, as well as the author-convenience reason -- you have to do something to take their cell phones away.

Now I just need to finish the bloody thing. About another chapter and a half should do it, which I could do in a week if the words would just come. Why won't the words come?!?
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I hesitate to say anything for fear of jinxing it, but this time the lull in posting is due to the writing going better. Not swiftly and well (is "swell" a contraction of that?), but better.

I correctly determined that the "stuck" was the kind of stuck that needs to percolate for a bit, rather than the kind that needs to be pushed through. And the percolating yielded an insight into a character's motivation. It's not much of a change: the same events will still happen, and at most, a couple of lines will get said by a different person, but suddenly now it's writable.

Brains, I swear.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Historically, February has been a bad month for me.

old-mission stories: 86
Haley novel: 6496
Total new words in February: 6582

Queries sent: 5 (and I've lost count of how many potentials researched & crossed off)

Take that, February slump!


Also sent off another short story, and signed the contract (happy dance!) for my first short-story sale.


I shifted the inertia on the Haley novel, and it's been sputtering along decently since. I kind of feel like I've been burning the writing candle in the middle with a blowtorch, but also that it's been going in fits and starts, so I did a little analysis. Turns out that both are sort of right. I wrote on 15 days for a total of 18 sessions (a few two-session days in there), with an average of ~361 words per session. Which is about average for me; the only oddity may be that the days were clumped together a bit more than usual.

Part of all that, I'll admit, was a drive to not have my word-count suck this February, which, hey, hail to that. Part of it was that, having moved the big end-of-book reveal to the middle-third and decided to use that plot twist that I'd set aside & wasn't sure about, my characters now have something to do, which always helps make the words come tumbling out. Opposite that was the fact that I kept writing headlong and getting distracted by clever, exciting plot things, and forgetting to put in the important character thing, which then didn't fit even though I'd started the scene specifically for it. I finally recognized that I needed to step back and let the latest scene percolate for a bit. It's still sludging around in my head, and may not ever be what I originally envisioned it to be, but I should be able to make it work.

I think it's an important development for a writer to learn to recognize the difference between slacking off and needing to let the back-brain chew on something for a bit.


But now, onward to March. Another 5000 words and a query every seven days. Forward momentum, and forward is thataway.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
original short fiction: 1542
Haley novel: 3638
Total new words in January: 5180

Queries sent: 4

Quotas met!

I apparently spoke too soon about the Haley novel having inertia on its side. I took a little break around Christmas, fair enough, and my alpha reader had not one but two chapters in hand, and there was all that snow shoveling... and suddenly a few weeks had gone by, and a break was threatening to turn into a block. I'd love to blame part of it on the wait for feedback, but while my alpha-reader was definitely not flying at top speed, I knew perfectly well what the next chapter was going to be and wasn't anticipating her coming back with any major alterations (as, in the event, she did not). So nope, this one's all on me.

I tried a little prompt-fic to get the writing muscles limbered up again, and after a few false starts it did the trick nicely. I even got quite a good story out of it; in fact, it's off to a major market right now. And then it was a matter of grabbing myself by the scruff of my neck and throwing myself at the next chapter, and while it never quite got easier, it at least got less hard. I was pushing for word-count right up until the end of the month, but it got done. What I'm fondly referring to as "the giant info-dump conversation chapter" is at the de-bracketing point, and I even figured out (or found; back-brain, did you set that up on purpose?) a reason for the thing I need to not happen until the next chapter to not happen until the next chapter. ;-)

For February: same again; 5000 words, query every seven days. Forward momentum.
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
Another query sent! Done last night, but it's a snail-mail-preferring agent, so it was off to the Post Awful this morning.

It really does take me an astonishingly long time to do one of these things. I like to read everything I can find about an agent, and an 80+ page Absolute Write thread does take some perusing, but even so, sheesh! That ate the whole evening.

(I did manage to write a bit afterward, despite the inevitable foul mood from the inevitable obstreperousness of technology whenever one is preparing something important. V. pleased with myself for that. Most of it wasn't on the chapter I'm supposed to be finishing, of course, but on the next chapter, but still: words. Words good.)

That's query-quota for the month. Now to buckle down and finish word-count quota.

Speaking of words, I sent off another short story on Monday. Almost forgot to mention that, in light of Something Else which I will hopefully be able to post about soon.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
One of the things that discourages me about most writing discussions, podcasts, forum advice, and so on, especially when the dual topics of writing speed and quality come up, is the insistence that "writing is rewriting", i.e., just get something down no matter how bad it is and plan on several nuclear-level revision passes to fix it later.* This just does not work for me. (I hate that phrase, "writing is rewriting". No, it's not; writing is writing. Rewriting is just doing it over because you didn't do it right the first time.) Not only does the spew-word-vomit approach make my writing brain completely lock up -- literally, I've tried it, if I take off-line the part of my brain that makes sure the words I'm making are the right words, I can't make any words at all -- but I've never seen the merit of producing crap at high speeds only to take just as long going back and fixing it as it would have taken to do it right the first time.

Of course, any time I attempt to present this position to someone, I can see them immediately slotting me into the category of prima-donna-who-thinks-her-every-comma-is-golden. (This is probably why I rarely see the do-it-right-the-first-time approach championed elsewhere; any other writers who write that way are doubtless tired of being tarred with that particular brush, too.) Which is just not true; I'm willing enough to revise when necessary. I just don't enjoy it, so it makes sense to get as much right the first time as possible. And since that's the approach that comes naturally to me anyway, why wouldn't I do it that way?

So it made me happy to come across this post on The Secret to Writing Faster by Karen Dionne. She's advocating writing longhand, which I don't entirely agree with -- unlike her, I'm just as capable of making write-os as typos, if not more so -- but I was particularly struck by this bit:

My sentences are also cleaner. Because I write more slowly by hand than I can type, I give more thought to what I’m writing, and am thus more careful about what I put on page.

And that’s the corollary to writing faster. Slow down. Think about the words before you put them to paper, and the words you write are more likely to be ones that will stay.

Now, I don't approach her speed of output, either on computer or on paper. I'm not advocating do-it-right-the-first-time as a speed issue (though I can't help but wonder if it's not faster in the long run, given equal quality of final result). But I certainly do think it's more efficient to produce, as she says, "Good words [...] that didn’t require so much tweaking and polishing." And I like efficiency.

So I'm tucking that article into my little folder of evidence for my side, to be pulled out the next time someone tells me I "have to" spew word-vomit and embrace revision like a religious ritual. I'll just be over here, smiling at my pretty damn good first draft and tweaking as few commas as possible. ;-)

*If the word-vomit method works for you, great, fine, have at it. What matters is the end product, not how you get there. But if it doesn't work for you, or if you're only doing it that way because everybody and their dog keeps insisting that it's the only way to go, consider that there are other approaches.

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