1000 Days to Master-hood

So, this week while pecking away at the rag-bag of quilt pieces that is pretending to be my manuscript, I decided, much out of the blue, that next year I did NOT want to do this anymore.

Oh, I’ll still be writing, but next year I want a break from Novelling.

Plus, I’m sure that I’ll still have a lot to edit on this project next year. So. What to do? I’m looking at another 9 months of pushing this baby novel down the hill and hoping I roll it into a readable shape by then. (To all my veteran authors who can poop out a clean first draft on their first 90 days, I both hate you and want to come live in your pocket, ok.)

Anyway, I’m going to take on the Ray Bradbury Challenge this year AND start on the 52 short stories in 52 weeks in 2017.

(But April, It’s still March. Isn’t it a little early to come up with a New Years Resolution?)

Well parenthesized reader, this is true, it is early. But part of my growth as a writer has been to begin outlining a project before I start it and 52 plots are a lot of work. So I’ve been pre-planning this year between poking my book forward.

ALSO, the reason this is relevant now instead of later is that I’m also going to be doing the 1000 Short Story, Poems and Essay Challenge in a public way to continue improving my brain for future scribbling.

I’ve been trying to figure out the best method to talk about these things and for now, I’m going to put out blog posts on different works that I like a lot, however with Periscope being a new medium in the world, I’m also probably going to schedule some of those as well because I think it’ll be faster.

I’m working on creating a page that will be a current documentation of my progress. Right now I’m working my way through the following:
Poems.com has a daily poem on their website, so I’ll be just reading that daily.

Essays are currently coming from The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

Short stories are coming from A Manuel for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

On Day 1 I read “Carousel” by Zachary Schomburg as my poem, Essay was Hemon’s “The Story of Others” and my short story was “Angel’s Laundromat” by Berlin.

Room at the Table

So I am sitting here, 28 years old, turning 29 this year, and I have been trying to finish a book since I was, I dunno, 16? 17? And still. Haven’t succeeded.

I’ve written stories here and there, Maybe three or four? Class projects and a couple of contest entries.

Now, to some of my readers, this is just a sign of my constant growing, a sign of me following the normal way of things. My mentors and other writers have told me that I’m doing what I need to be doing. But I don’t always FEEL that way. I don’t feel like I’m improving, I feel frustrated. Not about my actions in the last four months, but just the last several years. I feel like I have wasted all this time in my life, years that I could have been achieving my dreams and goals. The time has passed and I didn’t put in that work. And now, here I am, almost 30 and I still wonder if I’m ever going to do it, or if, just like all the other times, I’ll fizzle out and fall down one more time.

Yet, underneath it all, is a deeper terror.

The fear of success.

I’m afraid that once I finally write my book(s), when I finally get good enough to join the table, the writers I want to be around, won’t have room. I’m afraid that when I finally put myself forward, there won’t be a place for me. What I put out will have been done before and better by other people. I’ve read a theory that we can only meet about 150 people at a time and once that quota has been met, that’s it. Too bad for you, you’ll never get to be the peers of the people you admire.

Then, there is the nagging worry that if I DO manage to publish and get my stories out, I’ll never have people who want to listen or read about the worlds I create and the people who I birthed in my head.

These fears? These worries? They’re ridiculous. Intellectually I know this. If this were true then we’d have stopped caring about literature after our first books came out in the days of the past. It’s not true because people are evolving and changing and they hunger for stories to change and evolve with them. There is plenty of room in the world for new stories and I know that I’m worth listening to because why else would I pop words in this space every three to five days? But there is an inevitable narssicm to being an artist of any type. If you’re a singer, you must trust that you are worth listening to. If you are a painter, you must put that work in daily and just accept that it must exist. Dancers and actors and video game developers…creators of all kinds. We must believe within ourselves that what we do and say has meaning, that we can be another voice in the sea and be heard.

Still, knowing all that, I’ve been struck by this fear, this idea that I might not be putting out anything worthwhile and I cope.

I cope by doing the following:
I write.
I write the characters.
I bury myself in the story.
I sketch out scenes.
I re-examine my outlines.
I skim pictures of potential cover ideas.
I write some more.
I skim pictures of places I’ve never been but am putting in my book
And then…I write some more.

I sit and I write and I work and I craft because while I might be scared of not being good enough, I might as well be scared while I’m learning how to get there instead of sitting still and being miserable.

If you feel like this, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you friend.

Introducing my AlphaSmart

I have, since sometime in 2012, been without a laptop computer. This has been extremely limiting for my mobile writing but I’ve gotten used to using Athena, my Massive Gaming Desktop Bohemoth for all my novel writing. While she is great for music, video, gaming and all sorts of other programs, it is very difficult to lug a tower around with you whenever you want to write, and while I adore my office and have found the habit of sitting in the same chair every morning to be very good for productivity and consistency, life doesn’t always allow us those set times. So, in response I’ve been shopping for an alternative.

One of my most googled searches was, “Ideal Writer Setup.”

I was thinking I’d get some sort of recommendation of a good tool for writing on the go. I needed three things: Something I could type on, something that I could limit distractions on, and something portable.

My husband and I skimmed through countless PCs, but we’re cheap and none of the ones we saw really seemed to fit what I had in mind. I was also feeling frustrated about the idea of having to purchase another copy of my beloved Scrivener just so that I could sync up my two projects.

Then, I found it. Exactly what I wanted: the most basic of basic typewriters.

An AlphaSmart Neo2.

Now, some people just use their tablets and to them, I say, “Good. Enjoy that.”

I have an older eReader-style tablet but I’ve never needed one of the bigger tablet PCs. I tried to sync a bluetooth keyboard to it, but the battery life is so poor on my eReader when I’m using it for applications.

When I was in college,tablets were hopelessly out of my student price range and I had a perfect functioning laptop. And now, it still makes my eye twitch to spend a couple hundred dollars on a device that will be so dependent on the internet for syncing and storing. (Though I won’t lie, I’d love to have a Microsoft Surface Pro 4)

Still. My AlphaSmart is better than all of that.

AS_Neo
By KeesvL at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Koman90., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9587860

This device is a Smart Keyboard that was built in 2004. It lets you type, it lets you see four lines of what you type, it runs on 3 AA batteries and saves every keystroke as you make it, making it practically impossible to lose your work. It also calculates word counts.

For me? This is ideal. I spend 35$ and while there are a couple of keys that aren’t as responsive (Specifically the number four for some reason) and I’ve noticed that tapping the corner in an uneven manner will shut the entire system down, making the device difficult to use while moving around or jostling, I’ve found that the lack of distractions make any blocks I’ve had with my writing in the last few weeks completely worth it. And! Even when it turns itself off, I’ve never lost a single word.

Best of all, because it doesn’t require connection to the internet, I can use it ANYWHERE and the long battery life makes it ideal to sit wherever I want in a restaurant or cafe. I’m no longer tied to the power cord.

I won’t say this works for everything. After all, while I wrote this blog post on my Neo2, I still had to do all my editing and formatting on WordPress. I also don’t trust this device for any project that requires a lot of formatting or page previews. But for straight ‘Write The Thing’ effectiveness? It’s fantastic.

I’ve been able to write outside, on the couch, at cafes and most importantly, during my lunch break at work. It’s light and fits in one of my medium sized tote bags.

I was introduced to this device on the NaNoWriMo message boards and there are a lot of people who are fans.

If you are a writer who has to have access to their entire manuscript at all times while writing, this might not be the tool for you. I tend to get bogged down if I focus too much on what I’ve written before and that makes it difficult to move forward. I also am they type of person who takes a lot of notes on paper during the day. The AlphaSmart lets me take those notes directly with a keyboard and then later load them up to the document in question.

You can hold up to 8 files on the AlphaSmart at any given time for a total of about 10k words per file. As I have never in my life written that many words at one time in one sitting, I think the space restrictions will be fine for me.

I’ve designated files 1-7 for Mon-Sun and then file 8 for my notes and misc. Thoughts that needed to be uploaded. After I made a saved copy on Scrivener and Word, I’ve turned around and cleared the file, ready for the next go around.

This isn’t going to replace a laptop or a tablet. There are no apps, there isn’t any access to email and the font is the most basic of basic 90s style tech. Over all, the entire device resembles an overly large calculator. But I’m so pleased.

What sort of methods do you use for your writing? Do you use a tablet or longhand everything? Let me know in the comments below.

Your story is just one more facet

I’ve been thinking this week about Stories and how when they are framed for different mediums, the creators focus on different aspects to emphasis.

When I was in the 3rd Grade we read ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Dahl and watched the 1970s movie staring Gene Wilder. Our teacher asked us what the differences were between the movie and the book, making us think about not just the details, but how in a movie, you have to have the action flowing and in a book, you have to focus on some breaks in the action so your reader can breathe. She was doing it to show us why you can’t usually watch a movie that was based on a book to totally get the impact of a story. Yet, she also inadvertently was exposing me to the truth that no story is set in stone when it comes to adaptation.

That’s what I love about our world though. A good story usually is universal. Look at all the Superhero movies that we have out in the world right now. All of these stories were based off of comic books and graphic novels cataloging these character’s lives. There is no way a comic would completely work as the only script for a movie. You need to consider lighting, sound, and different shots of action. Then of course, there is the editing, where all the real magic of the story comes together.

When I was in high school I read a ton of Japanese Mangas. I wanted to read Manga all the time because the stories within them were so beautiful and so easy to get through, yet they usually held a lot of emotional and intellectual impact. One of my favorites from high school was a high school Romance story called MARS by Fuyumi Soryo. MARS was about two broken people who wind up making each other stronger and overcome a lot of tragedy and sadness together. It was one of the first times that I had seen a book approach suicide and rape with such a focus on the survivors of those events.

Mars,_Volume_1
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20450557

Now, there has been some decay in it’s message as the work in question is about 26-20 years old. Attitudes and understanding about suicide and rape has changed. But at the time, it was what truly my first encounter with subjects that serious put in such an understandable manner.

I have been a romance junkie since I was a kid, ok. So the romance is beautiful, but what touched me more was the focus on the two people trying to WORK through their problems and coming to terms with what it took to survive and thrive in the real world. That was a story I loved when I was in high school, but what I didn’t know until this week was that Taiwan had actually developed a live-action drama series by the same name in 2004. I wasn’t too sure about that when I first learned of it, but I was curious.

liveaction
Source: http://www.gtv.com.tw/Program/B051420040731U/picture.htm

The only other Asian-Style live action dramas I’ve seen aren’t really dramas. There was a live action Sailor Moon back in the 2000s that I’ve seen, but it was by it’s nature a bit goofy and silly. I was not prepared for the absolute seriousness that the creators of MARS the TW-drama was going to take. Not at all. Because they do. They treated the source material with the greatest respect and went at the entire story with a few interesting changes.

They aged up the characters from being in high school to being in College. As an adult, of course I find that sort of thing easier to relate to. It also made the wildly uneven scheduling and the extreme amount of class-missing that happens with certain characters a lot easier to understand for me. While they do the best they can to focus on the way that Soryo framed her shots and artwork, mirroring many of the scenes from the book, the drama also gives the viewer the experience of feeling what the characters are going through by having their actors focus on their facial expressions, the dynamic change that comes from a character making connections in their head as opposed to the Manga style that allows a reader to hear a character’s thoughts.

It’s why I’ve been taking such care with my current story and work in progress. I want the reading medium to give as much as impact as possible when I finally publish what I’ve working on. So I’ll be over here, polishing the facet of my story until it gleams.

Your Manuscript is a Hawt Mess

Yesterday was a fantastic day for me.

I got up, wrote my way through my current action scene and started the end of Act I of my current manuscript. It felt glorious. I’ve been in the middle of this particular action scene for, oh, weeks. I might have gotten through it sooner but as I generally only have 1 hour a day set aside for writing and working on this book most of the time, I just had to keep pecking at it until I’d failed in enough ways to find the best way to approach it.

This method is very effective for me. However, it leaves a trail of broken paragraphs, half-finished and discarded scenes and general mayhem behind me.

So today, I’m combing through the manuscript that I have and storing all my non-connecting scenes in my ‘scraps’ bin that I keep with all my projects and just focusing on the manuscript flowing smoothly from point A to point B behind me. This is not an edit people. This is still drafting for me. However, if I get tied up later when I’m down by point J, I can go back and skim through what I’m keeping of point H,G, and I to identify where I went off track.

It’s a messy method of novel writing. I have started outlining….sort of.

I am calling it a Tailored Pantsing approach.

In normal pantsing I’d write several hundred unconnected pages without any care for how they all stitch together, then go through in my Editing phase with scissors and a red marker, linking and stitching my novel back together. Then I’d do about a dozen more edits to complete the book.

However I still can’t hold too closely to a tight outline. I feel strangled if all my steps are laid out so cleanly. Instead, I’ve drawn a sort of map that the story is going to follow.

So I have a chart: Opening/Hook -> Inciting Incident -> Act Two with x event and so on until I’ve reached the end.

Now instead of just writing twelve random scenes, I’m writing twelve versions of the scene that I need and then tossing the other 11 into the scrap pile a lot sooner and moving on.

The feeling of trailblazing that I love in writing is still there, but I’m not dangling from cliffs anymore.

All first drafts are gross messes though. We make typos and we accidentally forget that we gave our main protagonist a gun the scene before and heck, novels are long and holding such a detailed story in your head for an hour a day over the course of months is tricky. But here we are, machetes in hand, ready to take it on anyway.

 

The rollercoaster

Every morning when I sit down to pound out on my current Work In Progress, I’ve been checking in with where I am in this story.

I am historically terrible when it comes to outlining. As in, I never did it.

Previously, this was how I planned a story:

-Idea, then at some point, This will happen…then thing 2….then thing 3 and…I’ll figure it out from there!

Welcome to the chaos that has been my writing process since, I dunno, forever.

It used to work. I could write 50 or 60 pages on an idea unbroken for days, just me and a piece of paper that I would add to until I was done.

It was always a matter of, “Well, that was fun, what else?” with no real focus on structure or story. The result was that I’d have these long and boring stretches of my characters talking to themselves until I’d come up with an interesting bit of dramatic imagery or action. Then…it would meander until I got frustrated and ran off with a new idea to repeat the same cycle.

My other major barrier has been that after I work on an idea for a few weeks, I’d get frustrated or distracted and quit trying. Then, it would be months before I picked it back up, and what do you know, the cycle continued.

Until this year. Here I sit, over three months of solid work in on the same manuscript. I’m pleased.

So, this month, it seems like I’ve been focusing on learning Structure and How To Outline.

In 2014 at a DragonCon Panel, I asked Jim Butcher, one of my all time favorite writers for pacing, how the heck he did it. How, Mr. Butcher, do you get your scene and sequel to remain to tight in your novels?

He told me that he imagined his story as a rollercoaster, building up on itself, each scene moving the car a little farther up towards the top of the ride, and then just let the momentum and tension push it towards the end, an end that he always has firmly in mind.

So I ask myself when I sit down to do the words, “Where am I on the rollercoaster?”

Click.

Click.

Click.

Focus on the Writing or A Letter to myself in 2010

It’s 2010 and I’m at a writing conference for school.

I’d stayed with a classmate from my writing class and we’re both really excited to be at a Real Writing conference with Real Writers instead of just in a class full of Wannabe Writers. I spent probably 300-400 dollars on the hotel, food, getting there and my admission. I’m around tons of other local writers in Alabama and so stoked.

Except all the information that the conference is giving me? It’s all stuff I just spent 5 months learning in class. It’s all about things that I already…well, have been taught. We don’t do any major work shopping on any of my in progress stuff…or anyone else’s stuff. Well, I figure, I’ll just find out more about the publishing industry in this set of forums and figure out what to do with all these short stories I finished in class.

Except.

We didn’t really talk about publishing at all.

Everyone talks about how you don’t make much writing and how legitimacy is from big publishers but there is this shared grimace when the words ‘Querying’ and ‘Synopsis’ come up. I finally asked a question to one of the presenters about how to go about trying to submit something for publication. Tips, tricks, advice, ect.

He asks me, “Well first of all, do you have a finished Manuscript?”

I said “Not yet, but I’m close to done.”

And he waved his hand and said, “Well, for now, focus on the writing and don’t worry about the publishing.”

I felt so irritated at that. Because he just moved on to the next question without any explanation of WHY.

Sometimes good advice can be given in a shitty way. Which makes it bad advice.

I have since done tons of research on publishing. I’ve been reading blogs and publication guides for years on the process, on what I want to do with my own work, and then taking a good look at my own process. Here is what I’ve determined five years after this brush off.

Dear April from 2010,

Right now you are currently two years away from graduating college. You have finished a handful of short stories but your novel is languishing away because your school papers require more work and are currently more important than the novel-in-progress. Don’t worry about publishing because it will always be there. Don’t lose one bit of focus from your current goal of finishing. Don’t spare one moment of thought on things that will change as soon as you start them. If you want to know you’re next step, this is it: finish the manuscript. Then you keep writing. Because publishing is not the same as creating. Publishing is selling a finished product and without that lovely story all tight and shiny, you ain’t got nothing to sell suga.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look into publishing. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t skim through agents and the prices of self-publishing. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at tax-rates for a self published author or try and decide if you’d rather have the weight of a traditional publishing house behind your baby. It just means that you do those things after you’ve gotten your writing done for the day. You do those things while your brain is recharging from the long marathon of plotting you just did. You do all those things secondary to your drafting and crafting. Focus on the writing because if you don’t have the best novel you can make, it doesn’t matter if you know exactly who to send your baby to, the baby will be plain and boring and they won’t want it.

Sincerely, 2016 April.