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Tag Archives: writing process

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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Bringing Up The Rear: Clarion Week 3

Writing 150We’re at the beginning of Week 3 in the Clarion Write-a-Thon, and so far I’ve finished just one short story. I’m very nearly at the end of my second — which is a bit of fluff that I’m planning to “publish” on Weasyl and SoFurry. I won’t spend too much time describing it, but let’s just say it’s the first of an experiment. I want to build a shared universe in which various characters get up to shenanigans, floating into and out of one another’s stories. They’re meant to be palate-cleansers between larger projects, more or less, just quick and dirty things.

What’s interesting to me is that the closer I get to the end of a particular story, the slower the writing becomes. I have a big problem with endings — there’s generally a strong idea of the closing sentences, but it’s the bridging of the story from the post-climax to the coda that I generally have trouble with. You want that sense of movement, of things winding down. Personally, I find endings at their most satisfying when you see the collection of order from chaos, when the characters are beginning to piece together the lessons they’ve learned through their experience.

But that’s tough to do in a non-expository way. You don’t want to sit your protagonist down with a cup of tea and give readers a play-by-play of their internal monologue. And it’s hard to have a conversation with another character about it without being a bit too on-the-nose. So I’m still figuring out that part of the story, the part that goes downhill. It’s fun to come upon these gaps in my experience, where I’m forced to confront my ignorance about a basic part of the writing process. Up until now, it would have discouraged or frightened me.

The charity portion has been a success, and I thank each and every one of you who’s donated from the bottom of my heart. So far we’ve raised $371 in donations and $100 in pledges — the pledges have really provided me with incentive to reach my word count goal; if I don’t write enough, I don’t get the money. So far, I’ve logged 10K out of 50K, so there’ll be a lot of catching up to do.

In addition to a metric ton of writing this week, I’ll be trying to update the writing desk a bit more regularly with thoughts about process, snippets of what I’m working on, and (hopefully) the Citizen Kane review at long last. I’ll be heading to Disney Land (!!) on Friday, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t see something from me there, too.

If you’d like to donate money to my Clarion Write-A-Thon, or pledge an amount to motivate me towards completing my word count, visit my author page here. I’m nearly at my $500 goal; I just need a generous donation of $30 more. Once I’ve crossed the finish line, I’ll need to come up with incentives of some sort for “stretch goals”.

In the meantime, I hope you guys are living great stories. I’ll see you here tomorrow!

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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