Tag Archives: writing process

(Writing) The View From 10,000 Feet

Self Improvement 150There are a few things that are preventing me from finishing up stories on a consistent basis: a general lack of self-discipline, toxic perfectionism, time management skills, and an inability to stick through the end of a project. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about how my brain works, I’ve realized that developing a process for these things is probably the way to go. By breaking down each story into a series of actionable steps, the focus becomes about getting to the next part — not this free-floating, vague goal to eventually finish a short story some day.

Now that I’m nearly done with the editing pass for “Stable Love,” this monstrous commission that I had taken on years ago, I’m ready to move on to new stories — which is an excellent time to take a step back to develop some basic framework for how to move through writing them. This will be a work in progress, no doubt; I also realize that not every story is going to take to the same basic process, and some modifications will be needed from time to time. Still, we have to start somewhere, so let’s call this the beta version of my story-writing process, meant to take me from idea-generating to a story ready for submission or publication.

Since my big weakness is structure, I’ll need to take care that I pay attention to that in both the pre-writing and editing stages. With pre-writing, I’m hoping I can use character, setting and scene summaries to dive deep into the things that excite me most about the story, refining the core kernel so that it extends through pretty much everything else. What am I really doing with this story? What do I want to communicate to the reader? What do I want the audience to feel once they’ve finished? Answering those questions up front will give me something of a ‘north star’ to guide my decisions in writing and editing after that.

Pre-Writing. This is obviously the first step. I’m a bit of a pantser, mostly because attempts to plot my stories ahead of time don’t go so well. Main characters fight the plot, with some previously undiscovered trait or desire. I’ll think about a scene or direction for the story and decide that some other thing is way more exciting. Usually, the story is unrecognizable halfway through my planned outline because various changes add up.

So there has to be a better way to outline. In pre-writing, thinking about the kind of story I want to write, the effect I’d like it to have, and what the journey of the main character will be like is essential. Everything extends out from that, right? Especially in a short story, where there’s limited space to get the job done, you pretty much have to have that north star guiding every decision you make.

So: step one is figuring out the theme/purpose of the story — even if it’s just to titillate or have fun. After that, writing up the main character, the arc of their journey, and the conflict they need to deal with is the thing to do. From there, brainstorming other characters, situations and ideas to support that main theme should round things out from there.

When I’m done with pre-writing, I should have the main theme, the main character, the primary conflict and resolution, supporting characters, setting, and a rough skeleton of how things should go. For now, I’d like to stick to ‘tentpole’ plot points — the things that NEED to happen in order for the story to work — so I can forge a path towards them however the characters dictate.

First Draft. Now that I have a general direction for the story, the first draft is the pass with only one goal. FINISH. No editing, no doubling back, no overthinking. I’ve got the plan; stick to the plan. FINISH. There will be time for editing and revision later, but the most important thing is getting to write “THE END”. Once that’s done, chances are I’ll let the story marinate in its own juices for a few days to clear my head a bit and get the chance to look at it with fresh eyes.

Second Draft. After a few days’ rest for the story, I’d like to take it out of the drawer and read it over to see how much of it works. Here is where the bulk of the revisions will come. If there’s a better idea for getting the effect I want, or if the characters decide to take the story in a different direction, here is where that will happen. This draft, I think, will be the one where I look at all of the major stuff — theme, setting, character — to see if these aspects are consistent, interesting, and hold up well.

To be honest, I think this step will be the most difficult for me. It’s hard for me to read my own work, especially with a critical eye, and feel like I can actually work with it. I don’t know how many other writers have this problem, but I really hate reading my own stories — things will come off lame, or repetitive, or just boring. It’s much easier to just write something and throw it out there, forgetting about it once it’s been thrown up.

But honestly, that’s a form of cowardice and certainly no way to get better. Being able to take a hard look at your own work with an eye towards making it better is essential if I’m going to expect to get better as a writer. It’s also a way to encourage self-awareness, which might be the reason I have such a hard time with it. Right now, writing is a sensitive area for me, and most of us don’t like working with the parts of ourselves that get hurt easily.

Beta Read. Once the second draft is done, I’d like to submit the story to a few folks for a beta read. Depending on the story, the beta readers could be anyone from my writing group, a few close friends, or the patrons who are encouraging me to write more and write better. The feedback that I get from this group will help me know how close I’ve hit the target and which scenes, characters, or themes I should work on moving forward. It’s important to know that the story isn’t complete here; that it’s still a work-in-progress, but at this point it’s a good idea to show it to others for additional perspective.

Third Draft. This is where the final version of the story takes shape, more or less. Armed with the feedback of my beta readers and a clearer sense of what the actual North Star for my story should be, I can take a hard look at the pieces of the story — scenes, characters, transitions — and figure out how to make them strong and lean. Things that I like but don’t quite serve the story are excised here, and the basic structure of the narrative is set. This is also where I can settle in and try a new thing or two, planting seeds in early scenes that will bear fruit later. Since I know where the story is going, I can look for opportunities to plant signposts with that knowledge.

Polishing Draft. After a few more days in a drawer, it’s time to take out the story and polish it up. The plan is for this to be the final draft; knowing that the bulk of the story is where I want it to be, I can spend some energy “punching up” scenes, descriptions and characters so that they pop in ways that make the story as enjoyable as possible while also emphasizing the things that I really want to lean into. Once the story goes through it’s polished fourth draft, it’s ready to be submitted to a website or publication with the hope that it’ll be selected for something neat.

I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to write a story under this process; if I outline a week for each draft, that would make it a month for each one. I’m sure that’ll get faster as I become more confident and capable as a writer, and I really don’t mind the long gestation for the story. A story that makes slow progress towards publication is better than what I have been doing.

I read a blog entry on another site — I forget which or else I would link to it — that likened editing/drafting passes as hitting one circle closer to the bull’s eye each time, and I like that. That first draft, unless it’s a total disaster, should hit the outer ring of the target. Each edit should feel like a better shot, until at last you hit exactly where you’re aiming. As a young writer, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to settle for a more generous definition of the bull’s eye, but that’s OK. Getting closer with each story will almost certainly happen, and there’s simply no such thing as a perfect story.

Hopefully thinking of my writing process this way will encourage me to push through the difficulty of finishing up the draft as well as the humbling experience of reading over it and picking it apart. I know it’s silly to not want to read my own work while simultaneously hoping other people will (and like it), so that’s definitely an impulse I’ll have to get over.

What do you think, dear readers? Is this a fairly decent plan, or have I missed something? What are YOUR writing processes like? I’m really curious!


Posted by on June 12, 2017 in Self-Reflection, Writing


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(Writing) Marvels of Character

Entertainment 150One of the benefits of holding myself to a regular writing schedule is being able to quickly identify the things I should be working on. The first couple of chapters of THE CULT OF MAXIMUS feel a little boring to me, and that’s mostly because my main character — Officer Thomas Beck — is so inert as a protagonist. I had initially envisioned him as someone who was “Indiana nice,” to steal a phrase from a friend — polite to a fault, treating the “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” adage as a life-or-death value, but being fairly judgemental inside his own head. The events of the story would identify that as a problem and force him to speak up about the things he felt; he’d then have to actually engage with the world, become a part of it in a way he mistakenly believes he shouldn’t in order to be a good police officer. In some ways, it’s a lesson that’s top of mind for me right now.

But in the first couple of chapters, Thomas is a little…quiet and reactive. He’s observant, but writing the act of observation doesn’t really offer us any insight into his character — how he thinks and feels. It’s something that I’ve been focusing on in chapter three, and when I rewrite the first two for general consumption that is definitely the thing that I’ll be focusing on; that and seeding themes and events happening later in the story here.

It’s clear to me now that the “discovery” style of writing didn’t quite work for this story — that isn’t to say I won’t try it for another, but with a long-form project like this you have to at least have *something* pinned down. If not your character, then the plot, and if not your plot, then a solid world, or a theme, or something you really want to say.

Since characterization has emerged as a big deal for me, I’ve been paying closer attention to it in the stories I’m reading or watching, too. It’s struck me that Marvel comics and their cinematic universe excel at this — being able to create, communicate and maintain distinct and engaging characters across the board.

The husband and I recently finished the first season of Daredevil, the first entry into their “Hell’s Kitchen” corner of the shared universe with Netflix. It’s an astonishing series that draws a dangerous and shadowy world over thirteen episodes, fully populated with wonderful, mesmerizing characters. My favorite TV shows are often a series of conversations between two people with distinct points of view and a sharp wit; Daredevil‘s characters may not be the lightest in the world, but oh man are they earnest. Every single one of them enter a scene with clearly-drawn desires, and the stakes for them are increasingly high through each episode. They’re earnest, good at communicating, and incredibly strong-willed. Looking at them, you understand who they are and why they want the things they do.

This treatment doesn’t stop at the heroes — Matt Murdock, his partner Foggy Nelson and their assistant Karen Page. Wilson Fisk has emerged as one of the best villains I’ve seen on television in a long time, thanks to the incredible attention paid to his inner world by the writers’ room. Vincent D’Onofrio gives a hell of a performance, too. His character journey is utterly fascinating as we learn who he is, how he made himself from who he was, and who he thinks himself to be. He’s a truly tragic figure who is also incredibly dangerous.

Daredevil has taught me a lot about how characters are shaped by what they say, what they do, and how they say and do it. I love it for that, and I can’t wait to take that lesson to my writing.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is about to wrap up their third season later this month and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of that as well. I know a lot of folks sampled it through a comparatively slow first twelve or thirteen episodes, but the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier kick-started it into a higher gear that it hasn’t slowed from for the remainder of its run. The series is now focused on the Inhuman corner of the Marvel cinematic universe, all while constantly reshuffling the deck when it comes to SHIELD and its nemesis organization, HYDRA.

What Agents does particularly well is balancing a pretty brisk plot with deep characterization, making really effective use of limited screen time for its massive cast. Each scene between its characters does multiple things — often expanding, progressing or revealing a character’s motivation while also establishing another link in the plot’s chain. When someone makes a choice, you understand what it means for them to do that AND know how it’s been forced by circumstances AND wonder how it changes the direction of consequences for everyone involved. The sense of forward momentum creates this complex, unpredictable world that’s forever evolving; you see how Coulson and his crew are forced to change in order to keep up, and the toll that takes on everyone. Even more impressive, the protagonists aren’t solely reactive; their experiences give them this drive to enact these missions or change their views enough that they make pro-active (or rash) choices that are understandable, even relatable, but clearly mistakes.

Agents of SHIELD is a great marriage of character work and tight plotting in an ensemble cast. There’s almost no weak link in the show, and that’s really impressive for a story of its scope. I can take that lesson to THE CULT OF MAXIMUS, too — now that we’re nearly finished with the establishment of the characters and the world, I can use the show as something of a template for how the action moves forward, and how it’s formed by the inextricable threads of character and plot.

I’m genuinely grateful to be living in this Golden Age of Television — learning how to tell engaging, complicated stories in an episodic format has developed into a really great art, and watching the work of people who are really good at it helps me with my personal storytelling development.

How about you lovely writers? Are there shows that have storytelling aspects that have influenced you bunches? Which stories have you used for inspiration or lessons in how to deepen your own craft?


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Buddhism 150There’s a Zen story that goes something like this: a Buddhist scholar comes to a Zen master and asks him for teaching. The scholar then proceeds to establish his credentials, talking about how long he’s studied, the doctorate he’s received, the professors he’s associated with, the whole thing. The master listens while pouring the scholar some tea. He keeps pouring, and pouring, and pouring until the scholar’s cup runs over.

“Stop!” the scholar says. “The cup is spilling!”

The master nodded. “You are like this cup. You are so full of ideas about Buddhism that I cannot put anything else in. Before I can teach you, you will have to empty your cup.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that parable lately. What does it mean for me to empty my cup? In some contexts, it could mean that I am trying to stuff myself too full of activities — when I try to fill every moment of my life with meaningful effort, some stuff is bound to be spilled; I’ll miss a deadline or drop a project I had meant to run full steam ahead on. In others, it could mean that I have so many ideas about, well, everything — how we should treat each other, how stories should be told, how I should be telling stories — that it’s that much more difficult to be open to new experiences and experiments. Lately I’ve been feeling full, and while in many ways that’s very good, it also means that there is simply no room in my life for much else; for surprises, or new interests, or much of new anything.

I know I wrote a big long post last week on all the stuff that I was planning to do this month; taking advantage of National Novel Writing Month to make meaningful progress on a number of short stories and projects is still in the plan. But I’ve traditionally had problems finding the edges of my cup, and before I know it I’m spilling again; I have to empty it in order to figure out just what I can hold.

That’s the balance I’m trying to find right now. How many things can I do and be only…two-thirds full? What kinds of ideas can I loosen to make room for the new? It feels like so much of growing older is figuring out how not to calcify, how not to fill your life to the brim so that there’s no room for anything else. The world is changing around us, constantly, and in order to be a part of it we must adapt to those changes, accept them as they come, figure out how to shift ourselves to make room for them. It’s difficult work, and ceaseless; it’s Sisyphus and his rock up the hill. But it can happy work.

Last week, I didn’t get nearly as much writing done as I would have liked. I’m not sure if my time management wasn’t up to snuff, or if I was simply too full. Work is still demanding a lot of brain power, and there’s just not a whole lot of it left in the evenings when I get home. I don’t think that makes me lazy or deficient — it takes effort to roll with the changes, and these are big changes that will take me a long time to adapt to. There are some parts of myself that have calcified quite a bit (read: the thought that I AM NOT TECHNICAL), and softening them will require repeated and sustained effort. Is that all I have room for in my cup?

We’ll see. I also ran three times last week; caught up on reading comics that I’m getting into once again; started in on Kindred by Octavia Butler, which I’m sure will be kind of a difficult read; and I’m trying to keep up on housework and cooking a bit more than I have been. Life has a way of…piling these things on top of one another in ways you don’t notice until you sit back and take stock of what you’ve been doing.

These are formless thoughts. I suppose I’m talking through why I haven’t been writing or reading as much as I’d like. That’s what I’ve sat down here to think about; and when I think about it, I’ve been doing a lot. Growing into a role at work that requires more of my mental space than I realized; exercising; changing my diet; keeping the burrow a little neater. Writing and reading keep being pushed off a bit for more immediate concerns. Is that acceptable? Can I ease up on that in order to take care of what’s in front of me?

Hmm. We’re taught as writers that in order to be the writer you want to be, you must MAKE time to write AND to read; that anything else is unacceptable, that if you don’t do this you can’t really call yourself a writer because you simply don’t want it badly enough. But I don’t think that’s quite true. I would love to build a habit of writing, and in many ways I have. It’s not a daily habit, but it’s often enough that I start to get that itch when I haven’t done it in a little while. Maybe, for now, that’s often enough.


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Lessons of the 2015 Clarion Write-A-Thon

Writing 150The Clarion Write-A-Thon is over for another year. This year, I wrote 40,570 words and raised just a hair over $400 for the Clarion Workshop! I didn’t quite manage to hit my word count or fundraising goal, but I did finish two short stories, gotten well underway on a third, post a series of extensive essays about something I care very much about, and refine a few of my fundraising techniques. All in all, it was a successful year in so many ways.

Thanks to the eleven people who donated to the cause for me, and the many, many others who signal-boosted my tweets and Facebook posts, offered encouragement and feedback, and kept me motivated through the last six weeks. I really appreciate all of you; this summer has been so amazing in terms of connecting with people, cultivating different facets of myself, and pushing myself to do more and be more, and you folks have been really inspiring through all of it!

I’ve learned a few things about my writing process through the Write-A-Thon, of course. It’s hard to do something like this and not learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t as far as your writing process goes. I’m planning to take these lessons to heart through the fall and winter; it would be a shame to lose the momentum I’ve built here through failing to put what I’ve learned to use. What were those lessons, you say?

MY BEST WORK IS DONE IN THE MORNINGS. I’ve long known this, but it really bore out over the past few weeks. It’s really easy for me to roll out of bed, and provided I have enough time, work up a really good head of steam before heading out for work. This isn’t true every day; sometimes if I’m anticipating a busy day or I’ve had a late night it’s better for me to get in some reading before work.

This encourages me to keep up with the schedule I’ve adopted this summer, waking up at 6 AM, meditating and preparing for the day, then writing or reading for 30 minutes before I head out the door. It feels great to already have something done before you even leave home, and sets a great productive tone for the rest of the day.

I MAY NOT BE A SHORT STORY WRITER. One of the things I’ve learned about the way I tell stories is that my natural inclination tends towards longer-form fiction. What really excites me about an idea or setting is something that I feel requires a deeper dive, and to be honest I just love having the space to really examine each piece that’s on the board, crawling into the skin so that I know the bones of the thing intimately. That kind of close exploration doesn’t lend itself to short stories, so it might be time to start thinking in terms of novels or serialized fiction.

One of the reasons I wanted to cut my teeth on short stories is to make sure I’m as efficient as possible with my writing. There’s not a whole lot of real estate when you’re telling a single story in, say five or ten thousand words. Each sentence, each paragraph works best when it’s doing two or three things. I know that I’m not careful enough in my writing to achieve that level of consistent strength, but if there’s any form out there that lends itself to developing those muscles, it’s short stories and poetry. For now, though, I think the idea that I need to learn how to write short fiction *before* getting to what I really want to do is holding me back. I’ll rush headlong into longer form stuff, and double back towards short stories if I have an idea that can be told within that space.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO SYNC A BIRDS-EYE VIEW WITH THE ONE FROM THE TRENCHES. I usually go into a story with a solid idea of what I’m going to write about and how the plot will move along. I have a basic understanding of my characters and what they’re like, and why they do the things they do to drive the plot. With stories that feel a bit more complicated, I like to do a little prep work by exploring the characters in detail or writing an outline of how the scenes will flow into one another.

When I’m writing the actual story, however, things almost never turn out the way I think they will. This has been a barrier for me for a long time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to reconcile why the plan falls apart when I’m down in the trenches building the story brick-by-brick. Are the characters simply far different from what I’ve imagined them to be? What happens between plan and execution that makes the story go so far astray? I’m genuinely curious, because when I’m writing a lot of the time I don’t actually feel in control — I feel like a medium, briefly possessed by…something else that is telling the story through me. I know how strange that sounds, but that’s the closest description I can come up with.

I’m sure this will continue to be a thing when I’m writing longer-form stories, so I have to make room in my process for surprise and discovery. Characters will take on a life of their own and start to do things I had not planned for. A story that I think is about one thing will be about something else entirely.

Part of the reason this concerns me isn’t necessarily a need for control in what I write (though that’s a part of it, too). It disturbs me that there’s some…unknown recess of my mind that bubbles up these things, a void that I have no idea how to reach other than writing. What else is in there? What else does it influence? How much should I give myself over to it?

These are questions that will only be answered once I settle in to a consistent writing practice. In addition to the short stories I’ll be working on this month, I’ll be doing prep work on “Beast: Wild Genius” and “The Big Game”, two long-gestating ideas that are perfect for the serialized fiction I would like to tell.

Now that I’m all finished up with the Write-A-Thon, I can turn my attention to all of the other projects that have been laying fallow as well: The Furry Mental Health Podcast (Mindfurly?), continuing work on New Fables (!!), working on articles for [adjective][species] and Claw and Quill, making sure my Pathfinder game doesn’t go off the rails, and learning about project management, the technical ins and outs of my job, and the French language.

Never a dull moment for this rabbit. Onward!

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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Self-Reflection, Writing


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The Clarion Write-A-Thon, Week 4

Writing 150We’re halfway through the Clarion Write-A-Thon, and I’ve been fairly remiss with hitting my goals consistently up until now. I’m up to 14,535 words now, 7K short of the 21,500 that I wanted to have by now. I’m still working on my second short story, but Civil Engineering should be done today or tomorrow. Still, what gives? Why am I having such consistently slow weeks?

There were a few personal things that made it difficult to be consistent with my writing practice. There are the social engagements, of course, but I can see those coming for the most part and plan around them. I think it mostly has to do with my preferred writing schedule and the incompatibility of that with my life right now.

I do my best work in the mornings, no question. I’ve always been a morning person; I love getting up early and getting a lot of stuff done before noon. If I were able to set my own schedule, it would probably look something like this — wake up at 5 AM, meditate, coffee, writing, exercise, shower, breakfast, writing, lunch, then light organizational stuff through the afternoon. Work would become more social through the afternoon, until the evening where I’d hang with friends and/or read. That’s the way I would live my life if I won the lottery.

Unfortunately, that just can’t happen. I work for a living; I wake up at 6 AM needing to be out the door by 7. I have to meditate, groom, prepare breakfast and lunch before that happens. If I play my cards just right, I have maybe 20 minutes to get some writing in. Work is…work; I take 30 minute lunches so I can go home earlier and try to beat the traffic, so getting some words in there isn’t really an option. And once I’m in there’s a laundry list of things to be done — cleaning the burrow, cooking dinner, getting some exercise in, and spending time with my beloved husband. I tend to start turning into a pumpkin at 9 PM; it gets more difficult to concentrate and my willpower is mostly spent.

That was before my ADHD diagnosis, though; with the medication and organizational skills I’ll learn in a six-week course, things might be a bit easier. That’ll take six weeks though, and the Write-A-Thon will be over by then. For now, it looks like I’ll be doing my best to wake up early, prepare for the day as efficiently as possible and get in as much writing as I can in the mornings.

My preferred writing time tends to work much better during the weekends, so I’m finding that I do the bulk of my writing then. It might be that once this is over I’ll focus on getting as much work done on the weekends as I can; writing every day just might not be possible for me, and the stress of trying to maintain that schedule would do more harm (as in, causes me stress) than good.

Anyway — for the next three weeks I’ll really need to step it up. The daily goal for the rest of the Write-A-Thon is around 1,700 words, and by gum I’ll get them by hook or by crook! With that kind of output, I should be able to finish “Civil Engineering” fairly quickly and move right into “A Stable Love”. I’ve been really itching to get started on my Beast (of the X-Men) fan-fiction as well, sketching out character profiles for Hank, his allies and rogue’s gallery, determining the themes and stories I’d really like to play with, seeing where the arc is going to go for the first “year” of “issues”.

So that’s my plan, folks — write my ass off through week 4, find a way to prioritize getting my words in over just about everything else in the time I have available. I’ve raised $380 for the Clarion Workshop so far; thanks so much to the ten people who have donated so far. You are amazing, and I really do appreciate your generosity!

My goal for this week is to write 12,000 words; that’ll put me up to 26,500 by this time next week. I would love to have $450 raised for the Clarion Workshop by next Monday as well. “Civil Engineering” will be done with a quick editing pass being done, “A Stable Love” will be much closer to finished, and I’ll be doing the preliminary work on Beast: Wild Genius.

To all of my friends coming back from Anthro-Con 2015, welcome back to the real world! I hope the convention was as amazing as it sounded on Twitter and there’s no con crud this year. Fellow writers, what projects are you working on this week? I’m always curious about how others manage to juggle their writing practice with the rest of their lives. Any pointers for me?

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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Self-Reflection, Writing


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What Are You Working On?

Fandom 150Well, thanks for asking, me! I thought you would never ask! Here are a few of the things I’m hoping to make progress on this week:

A Stable Love. This is a story that was commissioned by a friend, way back last year when I was toying with the idea of maybe offering commission slots for stories — just to see if I could develop a project process that would let me work fast enough to do them. Spoiler: I haven’t been able to crack this at all.

Part of it is the scope of what I’ve tried to do with this. The story as it stands is a bit stuffed, but that’s my own doing. Here’s the blurb — a shy, lonely hired hand feeds his horses a mix that mysteriously appeared in his barn one day and suddenly the three stallions he’s in charge of take charge of him! Each one teaches him a lesson in how to let go of the inhibitions holding him back while dealing with the impossible changes they’re going through. Will the guidances of the horses — and his faithful German shepherd companion — be enough to set him down the path of being a better man?

I’ve outlined the plot, how the three horses (and one dog) strip away one problem aspect at a time, how this changes him through the course of the story, and where he should be once it’s all said and done. The problem is (naturally) the beginning, where I’m trying to establish the main character’s personality, his relationship to the butler (who he’s secretly pining for), the horses, his dog — all while introducing the supernatural element that serves as the engine for the narrative. This introduction alone is about seven pages long, and I’m not sure that it needs to be so big to establish what needs to be in place before we start rolling. I’m sure there’s a more elegant way to set the table but it’s a bit beyond my reach at the moment.

Anyway, I’m through the weeds of that, and now that things have been set up and we’re into the main part of the action I’m hoping the writing will come more easily. I don’t really have a good timetable for when the first draft will be finished, but for the first time in a year or so, I can actually see myself seeing this through to the end. So that’s progress?

Backburner Stuff. I have this idea for a bit of fan-fiction. It’s embarrassing, but I’m going to lay it out anyway. Beast of the X-Men has been getting little love for years now, even though he’s done a few things under Bendis’ run that have set his story in motion all number of ways. I haven’t been caught up on the current state of Marvel for a while now, but if I understand correctly he might have hastened the death of the Marvel comics multiverse with a few of his actions.

Even still, there hasn’t been a whole lot of attention drawn to Beast as a *character*, and the particular problems that come with his baggage. While I admit that a LOT of my interest in him is prurient, I think there’s a great deal of story potential with him that’s being missed. So I thought I’d do something about that.

My idea is something along the lines of a prose version of a weekly “digital comic” — something along the lines of Batman ’66 or Injustice: Gods Among Us. Chapters will be published as a part of an interactive on once a week, and every month or so three or four chapters will be bundled together to make up an “issue” that appears on SoFurry and Weasyl. I have a rough idea of where I’d like the story to go, what the main internal conflict will be, a network of allies and relationships in the greater Marvel universe, and a rogue’s gallery. I’m slowly making progress on story beats; but it’s about time to open up Scrivener and really start nailing things down in an outline. Since I have such a problem with focus, I’m giving A Stable Love most of my attention, but this is something I’m fiddling with in the background, when an idea presents itself.

Acceptance. I’m reading the third and final book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy; it took me a while to get into it, but now the momentum of the plot is picking up. Once you get into it, the first inclination is to devour it, but I get the feeling that Vandermeer is using deceptively simple language to mask something deeper going on in the prose. A lot of the story features a fascination with words and phrases, so there’s really no wording that gets placed by accident. I’ve been slowing down with it, reading and re-reading sentences to feel their place in the story. It’s neat to be a bit more careful with the novel here.

Meanwhile, my “to-read” stack grows and grows. There are short stories, poems and novels from friends to get to; Avatar Tuner and 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights lent to me by a dear friend; Secret Wars is ramping up, and Bendis’ X-Men run is ramping down. Seriously, I’m gonna have to cut out everything but writing and reading to catch up, but that’s not a bad thing!

How about you fine folks out there? What are you writing and reading?


Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Comic Books, Furries, Reading, Writing


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The End is the Most Frightening Part

Self Improvement 150By the time you read this I will have taken my very first behind-the-wheel driver’s test, with the hope of getting my license. Yes, I do realize that I’m pretty old to be getting my license for the first time, but that’s all right. I’m excited by the possibility of getting my license, buying a car and being let loose on the streets of Silicon Valley, but I’m also very, very nervous about the test.

I’m fairly confident about my ability to drive, mind you. But I’ve never been the best test taker. There’s something about the finality of it, the uncompromising focus on results; it doesn’t matter if you’re nervous, or in the middle of a bad day, or maybe just had a bounce of bad luck. If you don’t do well enough, you fail. And that failure is in the books and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

That’s heavy for me to think about. I’m…a bit of a perfectionist, and a lot of the time I would rather just not do something than do something poorly. So the idea of willingly putting myself into any situation where I’ll be judged on performance makes my nerves all jingle-jangle. Yet, at the time of my writing this, that’s precisely the situation I’m facing.

It reminds me a lot of my mental state when I’m writing. When I sit down at a blank page, or I’ve just finished writing a scene, I’m always taken with the sheer amount of potential that my story has. It’s just an idea, and depending on how well I commit that idea to reality it could be something amazing. Yet, by the time I’m closing in on the final sentences of a story I become very reluctant to finish it. Once it’s done, it needs to be put in front of other eyes. I need to willingly offer it up for judgement.

The driving test is almost easier to deal with; if I make a mistake or my nerves get the better of me, I fail and practice some more, then come back and kick ass. But if you write a bad story, that’s it; it’s out there, and though you can try to whip it into shape it’s going to always have those flaws and imperfections hard-coded inside of it. When you have an idea you’re excited about, you really want to do it justice. When you’re writing about themes that are important to you, you want them to be treated with the consideration and respect they deserve.

That can be extraordinarily difficult to pull off. And I’m not comfortable with putting something out there that isn’t perfect. It’s really scary to me to put out something that might be bad. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who wigs out about pouring a whole heap of effort into something that turns out to stink.

So, what do we do when we type “THE END” on a story that we know is no good? Do we send it out to our writing group anyway? Do we put it in a drawer and hope that time makes us a bit more objective when it comes time to edit? Do we cut our losses and abandon the story, hoping to cannibalize a bit of dialogue, or an idea, or a character?

I don’t think there’s any one right answer here, besides the obvious one. If you’re writing something, no matter if you know it to be the worst story this side of “Eye of Argon,” you finish it. Putting a stamp on the experience provides you with closure, which I’ve found to be invaluable with my work. Once I take a deep breath, declare a story “done”, that alone allows me to lay down a huge pile of stress. Sure, I’m not happy with the quality, but that can change through re-writing, editing or abandonment. I can learn the lessons I needed to and move on. That alone is worth the stress of slogging through those last few paragraphs, getting to the point where the character’s story is told. You can always tell it better, of course. But you need to finish it first.

So, that’s my focus these days. To write – and finish – all of my terrible stories, with the hope that with time and practice I can make them better. Even if something is an outright failure, at least it’s a completed one. Sometimes, getting it done is more important than getting it right. Though, by the time you read this, I really hope I’ll have aced my driving test.

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Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing


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Working in the Nooks and Crannies

Writing 150There are still too many projects but not enough time, but I’m beginning to think this is just the way of things as you get older. There are always so many things you want to do, but for some reason there’s just not enough time and/or energy to get to them.

Right now I’m still trying to make writing, reading, eating and exercising a priority though I have to admit I’m not doing the best job of it. I was having a conversation with a friend last week about the problem I have with focus. I can carve out a chunk of time for myself to work on a specific project, but when the time comes to actually sit down and do it my brain just…slides off the task towards something else — anything else, really. I’ll check email, or Facebook, or texts, or Tumblr. As long as it gets me away from the uncomfortable feeling of moving forward on a story, then it’s fair game.

There are a number of reasons for this, and some of them are tougher to deal with than others. There’s the ever-present fear that the mere act of creation is somehow whittling away the potential of a story: instead of something grand, each word I choose makes it something concrete. It’s strange to think that laying the track for a story is also, in its own way, an act of negation. When you’re pushing the story in a different direction, that’s the direction it’s going in. It won’t have the chance to go anywhere else — not really. How can you be sure that your direction is the best one? You can’t. And that’s kind of terrifying. I really care about doing right by my ideas, even though I know I might not have the chops to do that. So what can I do about that? Practice, of course.

I can say that the fear of creation is enough to put me off-track, but I also know that there’s a far more mundane cause. I just haven’t been in the practice of concentrating on one task. Whenever there’s a break in workflow, my mind immediately slips to the half-dozen other things I could be paying attention to in that moment. It’s hard to set those things aside, allow myself to have the break or breath of air, to dive back down immediately.

This week I’d like to try to address that. Whenever there’s a pause at work, or I find myself with a minute or two of downtime, I’ll try my best to be mindful of the opportunity and work on…something productive. Think about a writing project, let myself get a little further piecing together a character and their motivations, noodle around with the themes or ideas in a story I’m reading. Part of the way you get over the fear of something is to confront it head on, to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. I love the idea of opening myself up to the worst that could happen, experiencing it and moving on from it.

Yes, it is quite possible for me to tell a bad story, even an atrocious one. Storytelling is really hard, and there are any number of pitfalls waiting for the unwary teller. Sometimes, all you can do is fall prey to one and try to scramble your way out.

I’m working to do that with the story in my Pathfinder game. I’ve run it for over two years and 35 sessions now, and there are still a number of issues with it; the system is giving me fits, but those wounds are more or less self-inflicted because of a jam I’ve gotten into myself with changing a few things. The Butterfly Effect bit me in the ass, and several levels later I’m still trying to navigate the crosswinds.

I think I’ve focused too much on making the scenario work for the setting in the past, without making sure that the story was engaging enough on its own. I’m resetting things so that I’m focusing on making a story worth telling — one that’s interesting to me and populated with fun characters and interesting settings. I’m certain that not everything is going to work, but hopefully enough will work that the story will find a better footing. And even the failures can be fun.

So that’s what’ll be on my mind while I’m waiting for a process to finish or my bus to come. What are the concepts that I want to play with here? How do I plug that into a big fantasy adventure? And how do I connect those themes to my different players, who all have their own hooks and perspectives? Challenging? Sure. But it’s one I like the idea of leaning in to.

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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing


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Making an Author’s Disaster Recovery Plan

Self Improvement 150One of the constants of my life has been a distinct lack of consistency. I’ll start many projects with the firm belief that I’ve cracked whatever problem has prevented me from seeing something through to completion in the past, lay it all out so that I see the path to victory before me, make a post about it telling people where I’ll be going over the next few months and then…nothing.

What happens is this: Once I switch from a high-level, overall project view back towards the trench-work of the project, it gets really difficult to overcome my inertia. Or, once I’ve managed to do that, to keep productive inertia going. All it takes is one bad day where I come home exhausted, or a spontaneous and fun thing that would wipe out my plans for the evening, and then I’m done. Once I’m off-track, it’s easier to stay off-track. And then, once I’m ready to hop on again the shame of being off the wagon for so long makes it uncomfortable enough that I delay that again. So forth and so on, until it’s months later and I can quietly declare my latest bid for organization and discipline a failure.

It’s a frustrating cycle, to put it mildly. I want to finish things. I want to share those finished things with all of you. I want to be the kind of person who says he’s going to do something and then do it. But for some reason I’m just not and becoming that person feels like a very long road of hard work and reflection away.

One of the things I’m learning about project management is that you have to plan for failure. The longer and more complicated a project is, the more failure points there are — and you have to drill down towards each one and make a contingency plan for it. This is actually really difficult when it comes to figuring out failure points for personal projects, because you have to take a long, hard look at your worst impulses.

For example, what happens to that short story when you decide to spend those two hours scheduled for Saturday work on a movie, dinner and a ton of alcohol instead? What happens to preparation for your Pathfinder game on Tuesday evening when you’re mentally exhausted and spend the hour you’ve set aside for it playing Facebook games instead? What happens with the blog when work swallows up more of your free time and mental energy than you were expecting?

These are pretty difficult questions to ask myself, let alone answer. But you have to if you have a hope of cultivating the discipline and consistency you need in order to be a writer. It makes for a good thought exercise — if the trials of Job were to somehow befall me, how would I find a way to keep creating?

That’s where I am right now, in multiple aspects of my life. I know myself well enough to know the common pitfalls that will derail me, and now I have to step up my game of cat-and-mouse with future, shittier me. I have to find ways to deconstruct every excuse and trap for myself ahead of time, clearing any possible obstructions between myself, my failing resolve and my goal.

What are some of your pitfalls? What do you do to navigate around those?

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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing


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What I Learned from the 2014 Clarion Write-A-Thon

Writing 150As I’m sure most of you know by now I participated in the Clarion Write-a-Thon this year with the aim of writing 50,000 words between June 22nd and August 2nd of this year. I’m pleased to announce that I hit my goal (with about 100 words to spare) and raised $600 for the Clarion Workshop, thanks to your help! I really appreciate the generosity of everyone who donated and the support of my friends to keep me motivated and writing. I feel tremendous about being able to hit my word count, and contributing to Clarion in my own way.

I managed to finish three short stories through the Write-A-Thon; I wrote “chapters” to two other short stories and made it pretty deeply into one more. The three finished stories have been put into a drawer where they will next see the light of day only when I’m ready to face the ugly lump of clay I vomited up onto paper. It’ll be exciting, actually — a little time capsule I’ve sent to some future self of the things that interested me months ago. I’m sure I’ll scarcely recognize the writing as mine, for better or for worse.

The “chapters” of the other two stories are up and around the Internet in various haunts, and I plan on collecting and editing those too, once I have enough. It’s a bit more collaborative in nature than straight single-teller fiction, but I doubt there’ll be too many people following my thread. The sixth story that I was writing will be finished and sent off to the person who commissioned it; once that’s been approved and edited, that will end up in other places as well.

I’ve learned quite a bit about my writing process over the summer — it’s hard to write 50,000 words in six weeks and not learn a thing or two about the way you write. The experience has given me the confidence to move forward, while letting me know at the same time that there’s so much more work to be done before I feel like I’m in the same league with the other folks in my writing group, or the people I’ve been fortunate enough to rub elbows with recently. And that’s fine — I like knowing where I’m at, and looking forward to getting better. If nothing else, the Write-a-Thon has shown me that I’m willing to put in the work to do so.

Here are a few of the other things I’ve learned:

I need to read a WHOLE. LOT. MORE. Seriously, there are so many great stories out there being told by an astonishingly vast galaxy of writers with a dizzying breadth of experiences, interests and perspectives. At the same time, there are so many classic stories that I haven’t been exposed to waiting for me to pick up. This is not just true for the sci-fi/fantasy genre — there are a number of black writers I need to visit and revisit, and furry fiction has an interesting history to be mined. A lot of these stories and perspectives will speak to me personally, and a lot more will challenge me from a perspective that I will never quite meet. But it’s all engaging, and exciting, and in order to become a better writer (and a more complete person) I seriously need to get started on all this wonderful stuff that I’ve been neglecting.

I write truly shity first drafts. But that’s OK! I think that being among the writers I talk with has given me weird expectations about my own fiction and process. Ryan is especially lucky in that his first drafts are pretty close to what he submits as a final draft — he has a great way with language, a wonderful wit and sense of humor that translates well to the page. I watch him write, and I think that it should be that easy for me, too — when I sit down, I should be writing near to my finished draft, with only a few minor tweaks here and there.

But that’s just not me. I write long and dirty, with lots of asides and muddled ideas that only bubble up to the surface once I’ve taken a step back and seen it from the long view. Writing first drafts are like digging holes in the weeds, hoping that you’re getting the good, strange stuff you’re striving for. I tend to work extremely close in, paying attention to small details, with not that much regard for how they flow together. Editing, for me, is going to be the process of elimination; clearing away the weeds to cultivate the landscape I know is there. That’s going to be scary, but exciting, and it’ll teach me to look at my writing in a whole new way. I’ll need to be critical, but encouraging. That’s not something I’ve been able to do with my own work, traditionally.

Pre-writing preparation makes telling the story so much easier. For the very long story that I’m still in the process of writing, I went through the trouble of breaking down scenes, themes and characters in Scrivener, and it really helped me to clarify what I wanted to do with it and exactly how to do it. I’ve been getting into the idea of project management lately, and the art there is to take this huge thing and break it down into chunks that allow you to put your nose to the grindstone confident in the knowledge that these small details fit a larger vision in a specific way. I know that a lot of people will just sit down and wing it with their stories, and work magic right off the top of their head. That’s great; I wish I could do that, but I’m not that kind of writer. I need to have a map of where I’m going, if only to take a bit of the anxiety out of the journey.

It feels really good being down in the trenches with fellow writers. I had the extraordinary good luck of visiting Ryan while he was at Clarion this year, talking to his fellow students and the teachers that were there that week. They’re all AWESOME people, holy cats! I also had really great discussions with Kyell Gold and the folks at Sofawolf Press about the business of writing, and the more I learn the more I want in on all parts of it — not just being an author, but being an editor, a curator, a signal-booster, a member of the community. There’s a lot of weirdness and quirks and issues that need to be addressed, but now more than ever I’m convinced that sci-fi/fantasy writers are My People and I’d absolutely love to be among their number forever and ever, amen.

So there we go: I now know that I’m someone who needs a bit of structure in their writing to feel confident about what they’re doing; that my first draft is likely going to suck anyway, and I’ll need to revise heavily in my second draft; and that I’m ready to embrace the SFF community and all of its fiction.

Now I have an entirely too-large stack of books to pore through, so I’ll need to do that next. For now, I’d like to hear from you — what sort of writer do you see yourself as? Are you careful with your words right up front, or do you get it all out in a frenzy and pare it down later? I’m curious.


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