Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Beginnings

...and I've done the last 500 word write-up. This one is about Spirals & Triangles, the detective story about a sentient coral reef, his adopted telepathic niece, and an extreme sports outpost at the edge of a particularly dangerous sector of space. Sexbots, clones, melting alien faces, abandoned battle fleets and the trash heap of the universe may also feature.

I'd forgotten how awesome the characters in that story were and the chemistry between Llerg and Neah. Great fun. Also, it's in the same universe as the Down & Out stories, and that's always pretty great.

At this point, I'm leaning towards doing this one, because it seems like the most fun, although the diesel punk one is still a strong contender. I'll see how I feel tomorrow morning after I've had a chance to sleep on it.

Good times.

I've suddenly acquired a heck of a lot more free time recently, so I'm tempted to up the limit in the writing challenge from 500 to 1000 words, at least once I get to the point when I start writing this next book, whatever it is, instead of the outline/background stuff.

Hopefully, at this rate, I'll be able to crank it out in about two or three months, instead of the thirteen *cough* eighteen or so it took for me to do my last one.

Before I get balls-deep into the writing, though, I might do a short story or two, since it's been awhile.

Also, I need to allow a chance for ideas to simmer deep down in my gut. That's the thing about writing. That first idea, that moment of fist-shaking hell-yeah inspiration? That's...usually crap. The second idea you get isn't so good either. The third? Third ideas are usually a bit better.

The reason for this is, that first idea you get? That's a conditioned response from all the media you've seen and people you've spoken to. It's not bad, occasionally, but if it's a off-the-cuff response for you, it's probably an off-the-cuff response for a lot of people. It's why when you're in a writing class, you tend to see the same stories. Over. And over. And over.

A good idea grows through negotiation. You pull it out, stare at it and then you ask it uncomfortable questions. Turn it upside down. Spank it a little.

One author once said a great way to upturn conventional wisdom is to find the thing you least want to happen--the most shocking thing you can do, throw caution to the wind type stuff--and ask why you shouldn't do it. At the very least, taking the notion seriously and saying "why not?" and "how about this?" will be illuminating.

Get silly, get weird, get argumentative, be a mean bastard. All steps in the brainstorming process. And to get that with the book I'm writing, I'm going to have to let it simmer for a bit. Maximize the amount of "ah ha! Eureka!" moments when I'm doing something else.

Not stellar progress here because I've got a lot on my mind and I'm still brainstorming a good direction for the next book.

Totals:  545, 552, 536, 786, 601, 529 and 523.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Novelty

The theme for this week is "What the fuck am I going to write next?"

Each day this week, I've been writing out a quick five hundred word summary about a different potential book: one-sentence pitch, basic plot, setting, themes/conflicts, that kind of thing. And then I just do a brain-dump on the topic for the rest of the duration. Interesting set pieces. Things I might have to or could deal with during the course of the book. Considerations I'll need to ponder before I start writing. And so on. But the idea is to have a one-page treatment of the book when I'm done. One different treatment per day, until I have four or five possible books to write.

Once I get enough, I'll read them over in the cold light of some objective morning and decide which one to do next. Maybe I'll just throw a dart at the pile or print them all out and throw them down a flight of stairs, see which one goes the farthest. Feed them to a dog and see which one passes through his digestive track in the most complete state.

It's actually pretty fun: you get to pretend you're writing novels without actually have to do any of the real work. Until you realize that, yes, you're really going to have to do the work once you've made up your mind. Crap.

I've got three so far and plan on doing another one or two before I make the call. The first one's a pulpy diesel-punk take on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, another's a light comedy about people who have to deal with living in a world full of superheroes. The last one proposes blowing my clone stories up into a book.

I'm thinking my next write-up tomorrow morning will be my Upper Peninsula paranormal investigation detective series (based on the Argyle story for anyone who's paying attention). Who knows what number five will be, or if the fifth will even be necessary. Maybe something completely new, maybe blow up that weird Lovecraftian/Dark Tower-ish cowboy thing I wrote last year.

Each one would be challenging to write for different reasons.

The diesel-punk story is fast-moving, action-filled and has all the plot points necessary to be a tight and fast write...but it's in a very strong voice (think Lori Petty from Tank Girl). As I recall from the test story, after about five thousand words, I started to speak like the main character all the time, if I didn't stop myself.

There's also a great deal of crunch: social commentary, class stratification, weird technology and alt-history, resistance movements and playing with expectations, a rather unreliable narrator. Lots of things to dig into.

The superhero story will be hard to write because a) I have to keep up the comedy for an entire book and b) multiple POV hell. It's going to be a twisty little bastard to write, almost Dirk Gently-ish, but should be fun.

The third is a full novel based on my clone stories. The stories pretty much write themselves and I think the book will be no different. The main issue here is that the setting material is so damn dense and hard to keep track of: it's like an entire world made of tongue twisters. There's a logic which lies beneath all the jokey Office Space-gone-wrong stuff and it's a little tricky keeping it all straight in your head.

Finally the UP book: it's a mystery/detective novel, much like the story it's based on, and each character has a very distinct voice. The fictional world it's set in is slightly different than the real world, so that's an additional angle to keep track of--situating all the made-up stuff amongst all the real parts of the UP. That's actually part of the fun--the true things are always harder to believe than the things I make up.

On top of that, I have to treat the area with respect because, well, I do have to visit there every once in awhile and I'd rather not have anyone key my car while up north. But it was a fun story and I have no doubt that the book would be a blast to write, too.

So there's that. Brainstorming on WHAT to write this week. Then I make my choice next week and start making sausage again. Keeping up the 500 word per day thing is going to be key in getting this next bad boy out in a reasonable time frame. I'm hoping I'll be writing it fast enough that it doesn't go off the rails like the last book almost did.

Have I mentioned before that novel-writing is hard? It's hard.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Finished!

And we're done. The rough draft of the book lies finished, at about 107,000 words.

It is seriously time to think about something else. Anything else.

It feels like a bit of an anticlimax, like wrapping up a race to find no one at the end, just your car and maybe a ticket on the windshield. But it's done.

I'm going to set it aside now, for a few months or whenever, let it lie fallow. Or just take the traditional advice and go bury it in the backyard. Whatever: milestones are cool. Feels good to have at least one book under my belt, even if it's one I might not bother trying to publish.

The theme for this week, mostly likely: brainstorming and outlining/plotting for my next book., I have yet to decide what, exactly, it's going to be. The only criteria is that it NOT be crime-fighting kids or modern fantasy.

Today's totals: 670, 917, 605, 906, 1226, and 1345.

Bonus statistics: first story, written back in March last year. Time spent between the first story and now: 18 months.

Total time spent working on the book, counting the other stories, but taking out the months I took off during the one-year one-story-per-week challenge: 13 months. Not bad for something I only do at ass-crack o'clock in the morning and during odd points of time on the weekends.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wrapping Up

And here we go, the final 7 days of my 100 Day Write More Than 500 Words Every Damn Day Unless I've Got A Real Good Excuse Challenge:

534, 539, 687, 797, 845, 670, and 520.

Average amount of words per day: 727. Median: 694.

Good to see the average and the median matching up. My blog entries tend to skew the totals a bit, since I tend to, uh, ramble on quite a bit.

Next up? Same old thing. Archived the old spreadsheet and started up another 100 days. It seems to work for me. Even though I think of it as a challenge, it's more of an accountability thing. Kind of like that Seinfeld don't-break-the-chain thing you hear lifehacker types rattle on about every once in a while.

For some reason, adding that number next to today's date is more important than actually sitting down and getting the writing done. I feel real stress when I can't make a given day's entry. Weird how that works. It's not like I'm being graded or anything.

My daily totals are pretty long this time around. I'm not sure if it's the fact that I spent a week recharging, or if it's that I'm really close to the end of my book or if it's simply what I'm writing: action sequences tend to go fast and there's a lot of action where I am right now. Book-wise, that is. Not in my real life.

But they're trending pretty large for the moment. I suspect this will go back down when I start the next book. Outlining and brainstorming aren't tremendously formal, so there's nothing really limiting my writing speed, but it's pretty hard to wrack up large word counts on them while still remaining productive.

Looking back over the totals for the last hundred days, I can actually remember some of the sessions (I occasionally leave notes next to the numbers).

Weird how mood and your actual ability to write aren't related. I've had days where I've drug myself kicking and screaming into a writing session, started ten minutes later than usual. Maybe I'm sick, maybe I didn't get very good sleep. And...I crank out a cool thousand awesome words with no problem at all and find myself not wanting to stop. I start late, no idea what I'm going to put down other than the bare minimum of what's next on the outline and...magic happens.

Other days I'm full of energy and ready to go. Fire shooting out of my nostrils. The righteous fist of God clenched down tight upon my medulla oblongata. I'm having full-on prophetic visions of all the incredible things my characters are doing. Words are trickling out of my ears. I sit down...and barely squeeze out a mere 500 words of sheer crap. I can hear a palpable whiffing noise coming from the keyboard. It's awful. I come in the next day, laugh contemptuously, delete half of it and then rewrite the rest.

If I were ten percent more of a math nerd, I'd actually track the perceived quality of work versus word length versus level of procrastination/perceived enthusiasm. It would come out looking a bit like one of those biorhythm charts you used to see a lot of back in the 80's: colored sine waves which don't mean diddly squat. But I could probably pull out a lot of spurious correlated facts (like how the price of bananas in Madagascar are linked to the global stock market). Maybe correlate my daily writing ability with the number of times people on Twitter say the word "armadillo."

Anyway.

Progress is great. Back on track. The simple fact that I had a week off and now I'm drinking awesome coffee again is doing wonders for my energy levels. Onward and downward.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mission (Nearly) Accomplished

...and now I'm back from vacation. Seven days in Denver lie behind me and I'm recharged. Full of vim. Possessed of an unusually mountainous amount of vigor. Ready to kick ass, take names, disinclined to take prisoners, enemies will be crushed, women's lamentations will be heard and, hopefully, a book will be wrapped up shortly.

Weird feeling, that. I've only got two and a half (short) chapters to go. They're already plotted and should be fun to write.

Still no idea what my next one will be, but I'm sure of one thing: I'll probably spend way more time working on the plot and outline this time around. I won't get too detailed because I like to be able to wander around a bit during the act, but I need to get better at keeping things tight and to the point.

I'm going to write this one very structured and fast. I don't really want to spend more than a few months on it, because I tend to go off track, badly, when I take longer than that. So I'm going in like a commando raid. But I'm not going to be going commando while doing it, because ew, gross.

Anyway.

Denver was fun. Always great seeing relatives and it's a cool part of the country to visit.

The bit at the beginning where our parents were hanging out took us to some cool locations: a train museum, a car museum, some interesting restaurants. Lots of quality time spent just hanging out and shooting the shit with an abnormally high number of Berkeys under one roof.

Straight out of Fallout 3, folks.

The second part of the vacation (without the parents) was longer than usual and my brother and I took full advantage.

Some highlights:

St. Mary's glacier, in the mountains above Boulder.

Saw some glaciers, did a hell of a lot of wandering about in the mountains, went hiking through El Dorado canyon in a cold drizzle. We visited three to five breweries a day, including Epic, TRVE, Mountain Toad, Black Sky, Boulder Brewing, Big Beaver (penis jokes galore), and many, many others.

El Dorado Canyon. The mist was slightly miserable to experience, but made for great photography.

It was pretty busy. I'm exhausted but happy.

My drunken-louting was pretty moderate this time around. I think we've both perfected multi-day brewery-crawling to an art form. The key thing is to mix up the heavy beers with lighter ones and stick to 10 oz glasses. If you do that, you get to experience lots of different beer without getting horrifically loaded, which is a pretty counterproductive way to experience beer. It's hard to really distinguish flavors and texture when you're beyond a certain point of inebriation.

The only real black mark on the vacation was my smartphone finally deciding to give up the ghost after three years (or so). Instead of just crashing, it steadfastly decided to be just irritating enough to continue using, but not so irritating I'd chuck it off a cliff. As the week progressed it got crazier and more insane, like an older relative who spent most of his working career making hats in a Victorian sweatshop. At the beginning of the week: it was happy with simply rebooting with no warning once or twice a day. By the middle of the week, a few times per hour, usually while in public so that all around me could hear the thundering glory of the Sprint startup jingle.

By the end of the week--the day I flew back--I mostly kept the battery pulled when not in use because I couldn't trust the phone to do things that wouldn't get me tasered by the TSA. It also had developed this charming trick of draining 80% of the battery at a moment's notice, even when supposedly asleep. And that's with a completely new battery. Gotta love smartphones.

No totals today because I have no totals to report. I'll have the 100 Day Challenge wrapped up tomorrow morning.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Walking The Bases

I'll be the first to admit I don't know diddly-squat about writing. I'm blogging the process here as I go through it. Any time it appears that I have all the answers, just keep in that I'm making my way through it all myself. I suspect nobody really has any answers, it's all varying levels of people either going through shit or having just gone through shit.

Anyway.

I'm wrapping up two things at the moment: the 100 Day Write At Least 500 Words Per Day Challenge, which is going swimmingly. I have three more days left, but the last two will be after a week hiatus, since I'm heading out to Colorado to be a (moderately!) drunken lout with family for a week.

I would say it has been a pretty resounding success. According to the mathematics, I tend to average over 700 words per day, because usually I hit the 500 word mark and keep on going.

I'll probably do it again, because it's really pushed me to stop procrastinating and get work done. Writing every damn day, rain or shine, really turns you into a productivity machine. Or a basket case. One or the other.

500 words is probably the magic number, though. It's low enough that even on a bad day when I have zero time and energy, I can still make it. On a good day, I can blow past it easily enough in about ten minutes. When you make a challenge, you definitely need a bar to aim for, but you don't want to have that bar set so high you laugh contemptuously at it on a bad day and give it all up in favor of sloth and gluttony.

The other thing I'm wrapping up is the book.

Writing your first book is an eye-opening process. The things you'd expect to be easy are hard. The things you expect to be hard are easy. Banging out a hundred thousand words? Child's play. Making the word count is not even on the top ten list of hard things about writing something big.

The biggest challenge I've had is simply plotting. Before I start writing my next novel...which I'll get into roughly, oh, one or two days after I wrap this one up...I'm going to have to do what amounts to an eighties-style training montage of reading up on plot strategies and advice.

Plot is hard. I'm good at things like close-level descriptions, internal monologues, dialogue, action, chapter-level story stuff. That's all easy. But the macro stuff? Holy hell, that's difficult to keep track of.

Before I even try to launch into something very involved, I'm going to have to figure out some better way of tracking information. One of the problems I've had over the last year with the Clone stories is that, even after only four of those things, there's a huge pile of weird setting info I have to keep consistent. I can't imagine what it'd be like for a really dense science fiction novel.

Another surprise is writing the climactic chapters of a novel. It is an unnervingly underwhelming thing.

I mean, you've been writing towards this point for a year, you'd expect it to come out with thunder and fury and...well, it's a bit of a slog:  a very mechanical process in parts.

Fun, yes. It's nice to see all the pins begin to tumble down, one by one. The characters surprise you. You make last minute changes to the plot or things go differently than you'd expect and it's pretty cool.

But I've been writing this damn thing for a year now and I just want to move along. I hit a point in the outline where I just look at it and it's a bit that needs to get written and really needs to be there, but I'm much more interested in banging out that final period.

So there are parts I'm pretty much writing blow-by-blow. Hitting the high points, sketching out brief character interactions. Putting down stuff that's more than just a placeholder, mind you, but not my strongest work either.

I'll go back and make it better in a later draft...but for now it's all making sausage.

Writing the climax of a novel is a bit like stumbling into the wrong part of a theme park and seeing Goofy taking his head off. As a reader, you get to the end and it rocks your socks off. As a writer, you're punch drunk and swinging wildly by the time you hit that part of your first draft.

What's the next book? Good question. I'm torn between doing something light with superheroes or something heavy, full of diesel punk and social commentary. Or I'll just veer off in a perpendicular direction and get weird.