lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-10-22 11:50 am
Entry tags:

Time Management for Writers

I've been contemplating time management lately. Or rather, I've been thinking that I need to contemplate time management, but I don't have time to do it.

Finding time to write is always a challenge for writers. The only way I've ever found to get significant writing done is to make writing the top priority, and let everything else go. All right, except feeding the cats. But everything else. This works. It works really well, as far as the writing goes. Then one day you wake up and you can't get out of bed because of the mountain of laundry, and you're in serious danger of having to bulldoze the house due to all the minor repairs that have been left to turn into major problems, and everything around you is chaos sheathed in dust. And you have to start digging yourself out, and it takes far longer than just keeping up on it all would have in the first place.

So I've compromised by taking some days and declaring them Writing Days, where nothing else is allowed to claim priority. (Except, of course, the cats.) And other days are House Project Days, or Day Job days, or whatever. This works... less well, though it staggers along. I've never met a house project that didn't extend far beyond the time allotted. The nascent organization I've ended up in charge of doesn't demand much time, except when it suddenly does, and then it can eat days without even a burp. And so on. And suddenly it's been a week since I've had a Writing Day, and that's no way to get writing done.

And it's not just that. If I take a day for writing, is it for actual writing? Or is it for querying, or submitting short stories? The actual writing is inarguably vital to this whole being-a-writer thing. But querying's important too; it doesn't matter how finished the novel is if nobody ever sees it. The same goes for short stories. Researching markets is a huge time-sink, and researching agents can demolish hours in what feels like seconds; it's like web-surfing with justification to keep going.

So I've been trying to time-share days. I can only write for so long; when I've wrung the word-reservoir dry, I can work on that house project, or mow the lawn, or maybe even clean something. (Or maybe not.) But some house projects need an all-day commitment. Or I'll try to tuck the other thing in first, for the sense of accomplishment or to get it out of the way so it doesn't loom distractingly, and suddenly the day's gone and I haven't even turned on the laptop yet. The Day Job has its merits, but it's physically exhausting; not a lot's going to happen after I get home from work. (I try to squeeze exercising in before work, and it sort of works, but it's not the greatest combination with a demanding shift and I'm perpetually running late.) Querying and writing require very different mind-sets, and I find it extremely difficult to switch from one to the other in the same day. And splitting days up like that courts the constant feeling that whatever I'm doing, I should be doing something else.

And that's just the current load. There are things I'd really like to do, but the idea of taking on another obligation has about as much appeal as grabbing a hot stove element. I keep plotting ideas for starting a writers group. I'd really like to get back to regular martial arts training. But I Don't. Have. Time.

So I'm looking for time management suggestions, though I know going in that nothing's going to give me the ten days I week I feel like I need. And it's 2:30 in the morning as I type this, so I'm going to save it to post later and FFS get some sleep.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-10-18 10:11 pm
Entry tags:

Your confusion confuses me

Similar to something I posted about previously, but it's a concept worth revisiting. Yeah, I don't get how writers could get their characters mixed up, either. I mean, I'm not likely to mistake Kerr Avon for Jack O'Neill, now am I? And I know a great deal more about my own characters.
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
2017-10-17 09:56 pm
Entry tags:

Queryitis Relapse!

I sent two queries today!

ETA: Make that three! Three queries!

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-10-12 02:39 pm
Entry tags:

Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Cinnamon, Cayenne & Cherries

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Cinnamon, Cayenne & Cherries

Where bought: Foods For Living

Aroma: Ahhhhh.

Texture: Solid, chomps well.

Taste: Cayenne bites the tongue before anything else even registers. And keeps on biting. A little zing in chocolate can be fun, but this is napalm. It's overwhelming every other flavor -- I think the cherries are trying to fight through, but they're not making it -- and my mouth is still burning ten minutes later.

Overall: Actively unpleasant. Would *not* buy again, and may not finish bar.

ETA: I tried another piece a few days later, hoping the flavor balance would have improved with time; if anything, the cayenne's even worse. Tossing the remainder.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-10-02 11:11 pm

September Word Count

Falling From Ground: 3238

And that was it for September. (Could've sworn I'd worked on Green Ring, but apparently that was last month.) I was hoping for more, but there were a couple of week-long stretches of no writing, so I really should be glad it's as good as it is. And it ain't bad, really.

More consistency would give better results, however. Already working on that, having written at least a little bit today.

Queries sent: 4

And 4 other agents crossed off (and two more that I spent ages researching, only to go with another at the same agency). Not as much as I need to do, but it's still progress.

For October: More of the same. Work on writing more consistently, which will get the word count up. Get more queries out. And it wouldn't hurt to have another go at the short stories; most of them are back in the stable, and should go out again.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-09-19 07:22 pm
Entry tags:

Social media: For when you're not actually very social

Feeling like more engagement with my fellow writers today, so spent the afternoon hunting up websites/blogs/whatever of various cool people I miss from 4th Street and bookmarking them. Didn't actually go so far as to contact anybody, but at least I have the list for future use (or browsing and non-use, as the case may be).

(Not sure I should ever read anybody's Twitter feed, but that's another matter.)

If any of said people are reading this and are better at flipping the "outgoing" switch than I am today, FYI, comments are welcome.
lizvogel: Earth gate symbol: Mostly Harmless (Earth: Mostly Harmless)
2017-09-18 09:10 am
Entry tags:

All wisdom is contained in otters?

I am tempted to turn this into a t-shirt. It's feeling pointedly poignant for the world these days.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-09-12 12:43 pm

That's one way to do it

Just shy of 1100 words yesterday!

It took me something like six hours to do it, which since I was writing in bed at night means that it was about 4:30 am when I finally added the last one-more-bit and shut down the laptop. On a morning when I had to get up early, of course.

I'd figured out what order to put two things in, you see; it'd make things much harder on my character if they happened at the same time, so that's an obvious win. It didn't come out as tortuous as I'd envisioned, but it did keep him from pursuing the thing he wanted to do because of the thing he had to do. And I've got something planned for later in the scene that should mess him up nicely. ;-)

Eventually the caffeine will wear off and I will plummet like a sheep. But still, nearly 1100 words!
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-09-04 09:05 pm
Entry tags:

August Word Count

Falling From Ground = 3969
Green Ring = 560

Total new words in August = 4529

Not bad! That's much more the sort of thing. Amazing how much easier it is to do the reveal-bits when you know what it is you're revealing.

Also: I have queried! Sent 2 queries in August, plus one agent researched and crossed off, and two researched that I would have queried if they were still open.

No short stories submitted; I only have one left out there in slush-land. So that's not great, but still, queried!

For September: Keep writing, keep querying, and perhaps fling a few shorts back out into the world.
lizvogel: Chicory flowers (Landscapin')
2017-08-21 08:59 pm
Entry tags:


Saw the eclipse. It was cool.

We're in about the 80% band up here. Part of me was wishing I'd had my act together enough to head down to view the totality, but the rest of me looked at the anticipated crowds and decided the backyard was just fine. And it was. My homemade eclipse glasses (a couple welding filters, some cardboard and duct tape) worked very well; I could even slide one filter out for viewing through clouds and then back in for unobstructed sun. And there were some clouds, especially earlier on, but there was more than enough clear for decent viewing.

My favorite part: The sun, looking like nothing more than a crescent moon, gliding behind just enough cloud cover to be comfortably viewed with the naked eye.

Atmospheric dispersion is impressive; even at 80% eclipse, the light level was no less than that of a mildly cloudy day. There was an odd quality to the light, though I'm not sure it was enough to call attention to itself if I hadn't already been considering it.

So I had a good time weeding flower beds and hanging out with the cats, and checking the eclipse every few minutes. At the very end, just as the last little nibble at the edge of the sun's disc was rounding out, the keyhole in the clouds closed in, as though drawing a curtain on the show.
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
2017-08-17 12:24 pm

Pitch Epiphany

In my efforts to get back in the query trenches, I'm looking at an agent who has a long and unnecessarily-detailed (yet oddly appealing) submission form. One of the several things she wants, in addition to query and synopsis, is a one-line pitch.

Now, I've never had a good short pitch for Highway of Mirrors. The plot is highly dependent on a lot of character and backstory stuff, and it doesn't reduce down to a sound-bite in a coherent and appealing way. It would be much easier if I was pitching ...And The Kitchen Sink, which I've been known to describe as "a rollicking space-opera adventure filled with everything from ninjas to grues to a cyborg platypus." I'm fond of that pitch; it gives you a good idea right up front of what kind of book you're looking at, and if you want more details, you can always ask.

And then it hit me: That pitch for Kitchen Sink says nothing whatsoever about the plot. You can infer a little about the sort of plot from "space-opera adventure", but who does what where to whom? That's for the follow-up discussion, which is what a short pitch is supposed to encourage. And that's okay, because Kitchen Sink is not a plot-driven book. If you enjoy it, you'll enjoy it for the characters and the settings and the jokes about plural nouns. The plot holds up reasonably well, but it's primarily there as a framework to hang all the other stuff on.

And the same goes for Highway of Mirrors. Okay, not the grammar jokes. But it is not a plot-driven book either; what it's really about is the characters, their interactions, and the MC's ethical dilemma. But popular wisdom declares that you have to talk about the PLOT!!!, so every attempt I've made at a short pitch for HoM has been an attempt to summarize the plot in one sentence -- and not only does that tend to come across as confusing and/or stupid, it does nothing to tell you what makes the book worth reading.

So what do I think the point of HoM is? How about: "A spy on the run from her own agency has to compromise her ethics, her marriage, and even her daughter -- to protect her daughter." That could use a little fine-tuning, but it's much closer to why I care about this story in the first place than anything else I've tried. And if you're the right reader for this book, it might just be why you care about it, too.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-08-03 12:26 pm

July Word Count

2015 new words in July, all on Falling From Ground.

Which is not as high as I would've liked, but really is pretty good for getting back in the groove again.

No submissions or queries.

What really matters, though, is that I have come up with a what's-going-on for the novel! It's not the cleverest and most cunning idea ever, but it ticks the necessary boxes and has the right sort of "feel"; my back-brain seems comfortable with it.

And yes, as soon as I came up with it and decided it might just work, I started coming up with ways to work bits of reveal into some of the scenes I know are coming up. It's a lot easier to do reveal when you know what you're revealing!

So what worked?

I did a spiderweb-map of all the characters and their interrelations. Didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but it may have helped get my brain thinking about "who" instead of "what".

I drove around doing errands while listening to unrelated music.

And... I said last month that I had one more trick to try. Since I'm dealing with memory and conflicting memories, a writer-friend suggested that I "follow the smells". Smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory, and conveniently I already had a lot of smell-description in the text. I had envisioned this as a deep-thinking task, laying in a quiet room without interruptions (yeah, right) and immersing myself in sense-impressions, probably for hours. But I was thinking about it while puttering around with something else, contemplating what smell I would start with and how I would progress from there, and all of a sudden the smell of the safe-house connects to the smell of X's office. And damn, there it was; the connection from the memory-events to the causation, and the character that was driving it all.

So then I drove around doing errands and listening to unrelated music some more, and the basic skeleton of the thing blossomed forth into my brain as if of its own accord. I've said all along if I knew who, I'd know what (or vice versa), and yep, as soon as I had X, I had roughly what he was doing and why. I don't know X's name yet, but I know him.

A little grinding and polishing, some very minor backfills to shore up a couple of points, and I've got a workable plot.

The relief is overwhelming.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, going forward:

Now that I've got a plot, it's time to get some words down. This book has been troublesome from the start; I looked back at my records, and the only month I topped 5K was when I was going down the wrong track entirely, headed for a train-wreck. So I'm not going to make pronouncements about high count goals. But let's see some steady progress, eh?

And, as one of my favorite founts of writing wisdom likes to say, editors do not conduct house-to-house searches. Submit, and query.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-07-24 01:30 pm
Entry tags:

Chocolate: Donckels Belgian Truffles Cocoa Dusted

Donckels Belgian Truffles Cocoa Dusted

Where bought: Sam's Club

Oh, my god.

Aroma is subtle; on opening the bag, you don't know what you're in for.

Texture is perfect; firm, but on first bite, the truffle crumbles away under your teeth like the chocolate equivalent of perfectly-tender fish. Enough chew to feel satisfying, but not one iota more effort than necessary between you and exquisitely melty goodness.

Taste: The first ones out of the package are merely good; like other truffles I have known, the flavor gets stronger once they've had a chance to oxidize. But once it does, whoo boy. I've described these elsewhere as utterly deadly killer chocolate, and I stand by it. Slightly bitter bite from the unseasoned cocoa dusting as it first touches your tongue, followed by a mouth-filling intensity of dark-but-sweet chocolate. Damn. It's a good thing just a few are so very satisfying, because otherwise I would happily eat myself sick on them.

Did I mention they come three 1-pound boxes to a package?

These were a seasonal item at Sam's, and boy, do I hope they're back again next year.
lizvogel: A jar of almonds that warns that it contains almonds. (Stupid Planet)
2017-07-16 10:53 am
Entry tags:

Computers *are* run by gremlins.

Yesterday, my laptop's keyboard spontaneously decided it wasn't going to work. At all. Rebooting didn't help, even unplugging and pulling the battery didn't help.

Today, it's spontaneously decided to work just fine again.

Technology, pah!
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-07-03 06:46 pm

June Word Count

I suspected I hadn't done any writing at all in June, and I was very nearly right. 100 words of beta-edits on Falling From Ground, and that's it.

Stories submitted: 5

Contests entered: 1

This is not a surprise. Between coming down off of one con and gearing up for another, the kerfuffle, a number of house projects that were way over schedule (and still are), and several other things which I recall being present but can't bring to mind at the moment, I basically gave myself permission to put writing on hold for the month. And clearly I did so. I'm actually fairly impressed that the sub stats are as good as they are.

This is not, however, an acceptable state of affairs to let continue.

There are two things working against me. One is that the novel is stuck, stuck, horribly stuck, and I really am at the point where I have to figure out what's going on so that my MC can start uncovering it. The other is simple fatigue.

The fatigue I can fix. It involves boring things like going to bed early and exercising regularly, and maybe even remembering to take a vitamin once in a while.

The stuck is another matter. I've tried some new brainstorming techniques recently, but I keep ending up staring at the same blank wall I've been slamming up against all along. I've got one more trick to try, but it's going to require laying still in a quiet room and turning my attention inward without falling asleep, and that's a tall order right now.

Okay, three things. Lack of focus is another obstacle. The house projects and various other undertakings do all need to be done, and they will happily eat every minute of every day without so much as a burp. I need to get back to making writing the top priority, at least some of the time. Which would be a lot easier if I felt like I was getting anywhere with it.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-07-03 09:54 am
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-26 03:24 pm
Entry tags:

Oblique Strategies random phrase generator

Because I couldn't find this when I wanted it, I am now posting it here (and bookmarking it everywhere I thought it ought to be).

Oblique strategies was originally a set of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt used to break deadlocks in creative situations, and is now a website. Each "card" contains a (sometimes cryptic) remark, the pondering of which may help you resolve a creative dilemma.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-20 12:29 pm
Entry tags:

A Point of Order

At closing ceremonies of 4th Street this year, Scott Lynch publicly gave me credit for the Writers Workshop.

This was wrong.

I should have said something at the time, and I wish I had. At first I was too surprised to say anything, and then I was too furious to say anything fit for public consumption. All I did for the workshop was sit in the room and make sure people had pens and coffee. Janet Grouchy did all the heavy lifting that made the workshop happen, right up until the on-site point. And she kept doing it even after she knew that she would no longer be a part of the convention. That deserves a hell of a lot of respect, and a lot more acknowledgment than the nothing it got in closing ceremonies.

Any thank yous or kudos for the workshop should be directed to Janet (and to the panelists, who were awesome), not to me.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-07 12:38 am

At The Foot of Plot

I mentioned in a very previous post that I came up with a way to ask something, and it didn't work.

My idea was this: When people talk about characterization or world-building, they get very detailed on how-to -- and often very mechanical; there's role-playing character sheets, for example, or something like Pat Wrede's worldbuilding guide.* When people talk about plot, however, it's all examples and results but very little how to do it.**

What I need is the kind of granular, how-to equivalent of what people do with character or setting, but I need it for plot.

I thought this was a clear and insightful explanation of what I'm looking for, but I tried it out on two very different groups of people (fellow seminar participants and established pros), and it failed utterly both times. I got some recommendations for the usual plot books, none of which do what I'm talking about; I got a detailed and specific definition of what a plot is, which wasn't wrong, but again wasn't what I was looking for.

Luckily, this was at last year's 4th Street, so I also got a lot of good discussion and further analysis of what I was looking for. Part of the problem is that I'm so at sea when it comes to plot that I'm still trying to find the right way to ask the questions, and we all know that asking the right questions is at least half the battle.

It was Skyler who put her finger on one of the key elements: directing/misdirecting reader attention. I particularly struggle when it comes to writing mysteries, because of course plot is especially important in a mystery story. And a core component of a good mystery is that the reader gets enough clues that the reveal makes sense at the end, but not so many that they figure it out long before the detective does.*** And how do you get those clues in front of the reader in a way that they'll remember them, without going "THIS IS A CLUE, REMEMBER IT"?

Including the clue in a list of other things is one way. If there's a needlepoint cat pillow, a blue teapot, a thread-bare armchair, and a faux-fur rug in a room, and in a later scene a blue teapot's been stolen, the astute reader might connect the two. Another trick is to make the clue mean one thing when introduced, and another later on; there's a couple examples I can think of where something's presented as a formative bit of character backstory, then later it turns out to also be a vital plot element.

There are doubtless many other ways; feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.

Another good suggestion (and I don't remember whose it was) was to outline/flowchart what's happening from the bad guy's POV (assuming you're writing from the good guy's POV, which I generally am). I may have to try that for the fantasy-mystery that's in the queue, laying out the crime and its fallout from the thief's perspective.

So directing and misdirecting reader attention is part of what I'm looking for. This applies to more than just mysteries; in any story, there are things you want the reader to pick up on without hammering it at them, things you want them to have but not notice that they have until it's time to use them.

I think cause-and-effect is another part of it, but I'm not sure I can yet articulate that part in a way that makes sense to anybody else.

I'm still looking for other questions to ask, and better ways to ask them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sometimes I wonder if anybody understands plot, at least in the way I'm trying to.

It may be because most people don't really have plots in their lives. They have a series of events, related chronologically if at all, but that's exactly what you don't want in a novel. Characterization they have: If you want to show your character is lonely and feeling outcast, all you have to do is show a bunch of people sitting at a table in the breakroom, and your character comes in, looks wistfully at them, and then goes to sit at a different table by herself. Anybody who's ever been to high school can relate to that. And of course we're surrounded by setting all the time; one of the classic ways to teach yourself to do setting is just to pay attention to the details of whatever places you find yourself in. Worldbuliding is just setting with more Why behind it; if one doesn't have that already, one can go and read a lot of history and economics to develop the Why muscle. But true plot isn't something that most people directly experience. (I suspect pacing might be equally as hard to teach on the granular level as plot; I wouldn't know, because I'm lucky enough to have been dealt the pacing card and so can generally do it by feel.)

I want the "Look at the room you're in. How would you describe it?" equivalent for plot. But nobody says "Look at the plot you're in, and describe it" for plot practice, and there's a reason for that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

* All of which bounces right off of me, because character and setting/world-building are among the cards I was dealt for free. I can't wrap my head around creating either in such a mechanistic, deliberate way, because my back-brain spits them up fully-formed (or close enough to be going on with) without any conscious effort on my part. Heck, I can't not come up with characters.

** The 4th Street seminar was a prime example of this. The romance writer detailed a very specific set of techniques to show a character progressing through their arc; the mystery writer talked about the effects a plot should have on the reader, and listed several books that did this or that plot-thing well. No dis to the presenters, they were all good, but it was the same disconnect I've run into elsewhere.

*** And not send the reader haring off in some other, completely unintended, direction entirely. This seems to be something I have trouble with. ;-P
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-02 03:15 pm

May Word Count

May was a wash as far as word productivity was concerned. The load of stuff needing to be done around the house was just too heavy, and I pretty much wrote off writing in favor of getting some other things done. (Which mostly still aren't done, but that's another post.)

So, words for May:

Falling From Ground = 114

And that's it. That's net; there was some negative-word-count editing in there, but not enough to make the gross any less embarrassing.

I was not a complete slug all month, however:

stories submitted = 6

Which meant that more than half the available works were out there making their case. So the business side made a decent showing, even if the production side didn't.

June may be another fustercluck, what with a con that may be fraught, and a home improvement project that I'm thoroughly fed up with. On the other hand, I've already started applying the alpha-reader's feedback to the mega-chapter conglomeration, and I think I know where to break it up into reasonable chapter-sized chunks. I really do need to figure out what's going on behind the scenes in FFG, though.

So, goals:

- Let's say 3000 words. Some of which had better be on getting FFG moving, though don't forget that Green Ring and short stories exist.

- Keep subbing stories.

- Get HoM querying happening again. I've already started this, with finalizing the new query, setting up the new email address, etc. Now to put them to use.