Sunday, March 29, 2015

And Done

Twelve chapters, and a bit over 40,000 words, ending in a cliffhanger.

As I predicted, the climax was fast and mostly wrote itself. My notes for the chapter were very short. Maybe an inch or two high.

I'm already looking forward to going back and editing this pile of chaos into something someone might actually want to read. It's quite a bit more focused than my previous book. No real rambling, just a direct line from point A to point B. I can't think of anything over the length of a paragraph that I feel the need to trim. Maybe some stretches which need to be flat-out rewritten, but everything here on out is going to be a matter of expansion rather than reduction, which is the easier way to do editing.

Good times. I have no idea what I'm going to do next. Maybe some stories, maybe another book. Take what I learned about writing this book and put it into practice. Maybe revisit my last book but with my current writing strategy.

Whatever I do, I'm going to need a bit of time to recharge my mental batteries. My writing style was getting somewhat strained at the end, and I feel Llerg had lost his voice a bit as the book ground on. Part of my focus for the next round of edits will be to restore the Llergness of the narrative, add more fun digressions and science fiction color to the setting, start layering in imagery and subtext, weave connections through the piece. Make the dialogue snappier, the descriptions more surprising, that kind of thing.

But first, some time off from writing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

First And Second

It just hit me, really hit me, that I'm wrapping up my second book this weekend.

Very weird. When this happened on my first book, I felt like throwing a ticker tape parade, cornering every single person I encountered on the street, letting them know the news. Maybe standing on top of the highest building in town, naked, covered in blue paint like something from Braveheart while wailing out a sweet bagpipe solo. Or something.

I was pretty stoked.

This time around? About the same charge I get when I finish a longer short story. I guess it's fair enough. After all, a novel's really nothing but a bunch of stories stitched together into a longer narrative. Words, followed by more words, connected by likely punctuation. That's it.

Now that I know I can do it, that it's simply a matter of organization and sitting your ass down regularly, maybe the initial charge has worn off. I have ridden the bicycle down to the end of the block and back and now I have farther neighborhoods in mind to explore.

Something like that. Don't get me wrong, it feels great, sort of like that feeling you got back in school when spring break would hit, but I've cut that notch in my belt. I have bigger milestones in mind. I wonder if more experienced authors ever stop and think about this?

I think my enthusiasm's cut a little by knowing that I'm going to have to put a lot more work into this draft before it enters a state of publishability. Screw you Chrome autocorrect, "publishability" is totally a word. I even used it in a sentence.

Anyway, there's that feeling of "good job, but you're only halfway through the race, bub," tempered by an additional feeling of "what's next?"

It'll feel good to stick a fork in this bad boy, at least for a bit, though. Everybody's got at least one book in them. Hitting numero dos is still pretty significant, it takes me out of the one-book club at least.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Going To Eleven

...and finishing up the obligatory Spinal Tap reference.

Chapter eleven is down and only one more left to go.

...leaving the question of what, exactly, I'm going to do next: definitely going to do one or two short stories before I dive into another book. Maybe even ones worth shopping around. I'm thinking I might want to get back into horror--I've been getting that itch lately. Revisit the sort of tense and charged end of the spectrum, like that story I wrote about the killer tree.

This chapter went quickly, as chapters with a ton of action tend to do.

Twelve will probably go fast, as well--climaxes tend to write themselves, particularly ones which end on cliffhangers.

I'm already itching a little about getting into the editing process. There's a hell of a lot of tightening up and rewriting I want to do. Get everybody's dialogue squared away. Start layering in setting detail. There's added scenes which will definitely need to be integrated to make the story more logical. There's also a lot of subplot that needs to be added in, since it all feels a little arbitrary at the moment.

In other words, good times.

My next book may actually be another revisit of the Cam book. I had one of those "oh ho!" moments where I literally jumped out of bed to take notes. The revision I came up with completely solves at least two, maybe even three of the problems I had with the first draft's plot. Namely, that of extraneous characters and a villain who's more of a placemarker on a map than anything that the protagonists need to worry about.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ghosts

I've been stalling out on my writing rate lately. I still hit my chapter a week mark, but sometimes it's a little close.

There's a temptation to compare yourself to others. Chuck Wendig writes two or three thousand words per day. Stephen King brain-dumps two thousand fully-formed novels per day. My fictional friend Bob (who totally owns a unicorn) writes fifteen hundred every morning before running a marathon.

You get the idea. Whenever you do anything, especially something you pride yourself as being good at--or at least want to be good at--you tend to compare yourself to others. A lot.

Nothing wrong with that. It never hurts to see where you are in relation to other people. It's just that it's the ultimate cosmic apples to oranges comparison. You have a full-time job. Professional writers write for their full-time work. They have way more time to devote to output. And Bob? Sure, he doesn't write full-time, but maybe his output is mostly garbage and he has to edit out 80% post-production. Your writing conditions are not their writing conditions.

I see this sort of thing all the time in physical fitness. People trying to impress other people in the gym. They show up, they look around and they immediately begin to compete in some imaginary fucked-up arena which exists solely in their head. They cardio harder than everybody else, lift more than the guy next to them. They make more noise. Then they get hurt.

Thing is, nobody at the gym really gives a shit about you--they're wrapped up in their own routines and daily concerns. A lot of them are there just to blow off steam from their own work day. You're just someone else in the background to them. If you're fat, out of shape, really buff, really intense...they really don't care.

So you compete with some imaginary figure in your head which you've constructed out of jealousy, vanity and pixie dust. You take risks you wouldn't normally take, possibly leading to injury. And more importantly, you make yourself miserable for no real reason. You're making a thing out of nothing. You're responding to ghosts.

The really important thing is that you're in there regularly, doing SOMETHING. And that something you're doing is better than the something you did last time you tried. And that you go back and do that something again at some point in the near future. That's it. You mess up, have a good cry, dust yourself up and get back on the horse. You do good, pat yourself on the back and then get back on the horse. Just get on the damn horse.

I've got two chapters left and a fuck-pile* of editing to do. I have a bit of angst I have to deal with occasionally about how my chapter lengths are a bit short. Or maybe how I didn't write anything at all this week and now I have two days on the weekend to write a chapter, along with doing all the other bullshit I normally do on weekends (hookers and blow, man) in order to please some arbitrary goal I've set myself.

And it's not like anybody else in the world really knows or care. I have no deadlines to hit or readers to pester me with email. I picture a future version of me who's watching my progress and is either mildly disappointed, regretful, happy or pleased. The fact that I'm cranking out a chapter a week in my free time is awesome and I'm glad I'm doing it but there's no real impact to spacing out on a deadline except to my self-esteem.

It's too easy to make comparisons, though. I think back on the week and total up all the free time I had which I could've been "making progress" and it eats my brain a little. Or I think about all the more productive weeks during my short-story-a-year challenge and shake my head at how I cranked out 14,000 words in one week when now I'm impressed if I hit 4,000.

But it's definitely apples-to-oranges. I've got a lot going on right now en la vida Mike, most of which is non-writing-related.

On top of that, there's a world of difference between writing a long short story and wrapping up a novel--I might only write 3,000 words, but those are 3,000 words which tie into a previous 40,000 words and have to make sense within the context of the next 6,000.

Besides that, I never intended to publish any of those really long-ass short stories I cranked out. This book, I intend to eventually shop around once it's been through the meat grinder a few times. So they're a lot less sloppy because I know I'm going to have to revisit them at some point and make them suck less.

It's going to feel good to have that book done, though. One of my primary goals for this one was simply to get to a point where I can reasonably crank out multiple books per year in my spare time and it looks like it's happening.

* ...which should totally be a real scientific unit of measurement.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ten Down, Two To Go

Chapter ten is finished. I have a good feeling about the next two chapters. I think the book is coming to a strong finale--plenty of energy, things still make sense, not boring.

The editing process is going to be amusing, though. I'm writing this fast and loose, so there's some really brain-dead moments in it, character names that change from paragraph to paragraph, monologues which are nothing more than placeholders. Bits of setting and design that aren't what most people would traditionally call "consistent." When I'm in the thick of laying down words, I don't always have the inclination to take time out to look things up.

So, yeah, I'm definitely going to have to go back and nitpick the hell out of all of this. But the bones of the story feel right and that's more important to a rough draft, I think.

I'm also mulling over what to do next. I might concentrate on short stories for a few weeks to recharge my batteries. I might also do a completely new book, something that's not in any of my notes and is unrelated to any of the stories I've written. Or I might go with one of the novels I have in the skunk works right now. Who knows.

In other news, I am using the ceramic burr hand grinder now for my coffee grinding.

It's very satisfying. The coffee grind is consistent and the feel of the process is great--when you crank it, you get a sort of visceral purr. You can feel the beans crunching under the burrs and as you roll you can feel the vibration in your hands, a sort of rough crunching tickle as the crank turns.

I've mentioned it before here, but as I get older I'm leaning away from gadgets and electronics wherever possible. There's just something I like about doing mindless chores. There's a bit of zen to the process if you do them the hard, slow way. You tune out and lose yourself a little, your mind drifts as you do something that's not quite important, but not quite frivolous.

You can load the dish-washing machine and your dishes will get washed, yes. Sometimes work is just work, after all. You have better things to do with that time. But you miss out on all the sensations of washing dishes--the warm water, the soap, the feel of the dishes. Washing, rinsing and drying each plate, one after another. It's work, yes, but it's also a good time to slow down and reflect. There's a certain ritual element to manually washing dishes which feels nice to indulge in.

My coffee-making is already a small ritual. It's a nice way to kick off a morning, because there's a level of skill required when you use the Chemex and grinding your beans the hard way. It's just fiddly enough you can't space out while doing it, but not enough that you can go on autopilot. Like any good chore, it's an island of stability in the day, a moment of flow which sets the tone for the morning.

I think of it as round two after my morning meditation, except it culminates in really f'ing great coffee.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Morning Grind

It kills me that my new burr grinder is here and I don't have time to use it to make coffee until the weekend. Instead, I can only stare sadly at it while using my inferior old Mr. Coffee blade grinder.

Not that burr grinders are particularly complicated--operating this one's a matter of loading it up, dialing it in, and then cranking until magic happens. Nothing more complex than that.

It's more a matter of process. One of the downsides of having to work is that time is a commodity in the morning. You spend a minute and that's a minute you can't get back. You have to budget it like you would your paycheck. Use your time in the morning senselessly and without heed and you'll find yourself rushing through things, which sets a bad tone for the day.

So that's why I spend more than a little time thinking about routine. I like to have my mornings have a bit of a ritualistic nature, for a few reasons.

One, it's just nice to start out to some sort of routine, particularly a pleasant one. Two, it's calming. Three, you get more done. And four...(you can tell this is the important one, because I used an ellipsis there)...starting out the day with a solid routine you enjoy gives you a sense of balance which carries with you through the rest of the day. Poise, I guess, would be a good word to use here.

I used to wake up at the last possible minute before work--just hop in the shower, throw on random clothes and head out. It's really a lousy way to start a day off. I mean, yes, theoretically it means you sleep more, get to stay up later, but it's at the cost of your morning. You seem to spend the first two hours of the day just playing mental catch-up. Screw that noise.

I'm going to spend some quality time with the grinder this weekend. It's somewhat lower capacity than the Mr. Coffee so I'll have to load it in smaller batches. I'm not sure how much of a pain this will be. I'm guessing it'll be fine. The grind process has a bit of a pleasant tactile feel to it, so I think it'll work out well. Also, consistency. That's pretty key.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Prettiness

Just wrapped up chapter 10.

It's one of those pieces where the plot just came together, like a snowflake forming out of moisture, temperature differential and air. There's a lot going on here, metaphorically. I didn't plan any of this at all, but it's one of those "oh, of course this had to happen this way" moments, when a lot of decisions I made earlier about what the main character is, how he acts and lives, suddenly make a lot of sense, and on several levels.

And of course once it all wraps up, there's going to be a lot of ass-kicking and carnage coming around the bend, and justifiably so.

In other words, I'm coming to the end of the novel and I'm hitting it with a full head of steam, albeit with fewer final words than I was expecting. Looks like the rough draft is going to come in at around 40k words, which is about 10k-20k fewer than I was expecting.

That's okay, though. Much easier to add missing stuff than to take out excess fat. There's a ton of things I want to add or revise before this book sees the light of day. I think the broad structure of the novel works, though, and that's the important thing.

Beautiful weather today. Spring is coming on hard. Even though it's still not quite forty out, it's hard to resist the urge to change into shorts and sandals. I've got about three months of cabin fever built up.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Towards A Consistent Grind

Oh no, I'm probably working myself towards a metaphor. It's a sensation not unlike feeling a particularly satisfying dump building up. Everybody else in the room ranges from indifferent to horrified, but it's still something which must be announced.

Onwards and downwards.

I've decided to retire my cheap and cheery $10 Mr. Coffee electric coffee grinder. It's one of those blade-powered dealies which you fill with beans, push down upon and eventually you wind up with a pile of coffee-themed dirt.

It works and does the job, but I think it's time to move on.

The main problem I've had over the last couple years is consistency. Sometimes you grind for 3 seconds and that's enough. Sometimes you grind for 3 and you wind up with dust, which is too fine for proper brewing. Sometimes it comes out too coarse, which causes the steeping to happen too quickly. And sometimes, you just get a hot mess. Some coarse grounds, some grounds which are too fine.

On top of that, you have to go by feel and that's never a good thing at six in the morning. I get distracted, suddenly I'm drinking a pot of dirt-themed vinegar.

So I've decided to upgrade to a manual ceramic burr grinder, a Porlex to be exact, because that's what the hipsters currently recommend and if there's anything that's a little anachronistic and not mainstream, there's sure to be a hipster with an opinion about it and, it's also a truism that hipsters, as a general rule, should be listened to on certain topics. Coffee is one of them.

I'm told there's two benefits to a burr grinder:

One. The beans grind with less friction-induced heat, which has a tendency to smoke some of the aromatics.

Two. Consistent grind. Dial it in and your beans come out the same every time. Over the course of a few days of tweaking the settings, I'll have a more predictable brew, although the brew I wind up with usually tends to be pretty decent ever since I gave up precision and just went with my gut.

There's also a certain appeal to getting rid of another one of my electrical devices. I've mentioned it before, but working in IT has turned me into something of a technophobe in my private life. Yes, I have gadgets: a laptop, a television, stereo, etc, but if one of them dies these days, I just sort of shake my head and ask myself if I need it or if it can be replaced by a simpler alternative.

At this rate, I'll be living in a cave on top of a mountain by the end of the decade.

And I'm mostly to the end of the blog entry without having a metaphor to squeeze out. I suppose I could throw something arbitrary in here about "refining your process", but sometimes a damn good cup of coffee is just a damn good cup of coffee.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Skeletons

...and Google's rescinding its ban on sexiness. Suddenly I hear a sound, like a million nearly-outraged voices being silenced. Sexy has been brought back, it seems.

Enough of that, though.

Finished up chapter eight, a fairly momentous and interesting chapter. There's a creepy alien ship, a sudden bit of rug-pulling. The movers behind the plot are revealed, somewhat.

This time around I'm definitely bringing the idea of "rough" to my rough drafts.

My main concern this go-through is to just get the skeleton of everything down. My chapters are all short and bare-bones--just 2500 words or so, on average.*

Don't get me wrong. Everything's readable. It's going to be recognizably close to the novel's final form. But there are definitely parts I will go back and flesh out later. Replace the placeholder conversations with better, more interesting versions. Description will be rethought. Clues and red herrings will be placed. The Llerg will have more commentary. There might be more chapters. There will definitely be more scenes.

More importantly, I'm just admitting the fact that since I'm writing something that's sort of in the same ballpark as a mystery, I'll have to go back and readjust a lot of what I'm writing to take into account the ending (when I get there). It's a different way to write. In many ways much more relaxed than the pantsing I normally do. I know that I'm going to have to iterate through it a few more times, so there's no hurry to make complete sense in the rough draft, not as much pressure to describe things in as punchy a style as I normally like. Definitely looking forward to going back and tightening things up. It'll be fun to see what this turns into eventually, after some dusting off.

I'm close enough to the end (four chapters left!) that I'm already mulling over what my next book will be. I'm kind of itching to do the Cam book again, tear it apart, stitch it back together in a more focused form. It might be too soon for that. I might do the UP book instead. I'll probably write a few short stories before I begin, just to recharge my batteries a little.

* Median, actually. Shut up.