Writing this week: 22nd August 2015

In a bid to both track my work and goals, and keep things ticking over here on the blog, I’m going to start a weekly check-in for how I’ve been going, and what I’m going to try next. (Weekly for now, at least. Everything, of course, is open to renegotiation after the Baby Event takes place and my entire life gets turned on its sticky sleep-deprived ear.)

This week I… largely took a breather. Early on I put in some solid sessions on Notorious Sorcerer to take in some final alterations that had been prompted by discussions with second-round readers, and to smooth out some bad line-by-line habits I’d noticed in my writing, preparatory to sending the manuscript out in response to requests. All the better to engender said requests, I sent out another batch of queries – though of course practically nothing will be happening in spec fic publishing land for this week and probably next, as Sasquan swings into merry and much-watched action. (I’ll be watching the ACO play Mozart and Brahms at Hugos time, which I am absolutely fine with. Especially since every time we go to classical concerts I ponder more on that novel idea I once had with duelling sisters, magic violins and chamber music invocations.)

Having done all that good work, and in the spirit of giving my brain a little time to recover, I largely took the rest of the week off. Off writing, that is. I still had a driving lesson, an antenatal class, an editing workshop class, a date with a double batch of cookies, an appointment to make a will and Friday night drinks-dinner-and-a-movie arrangements. (Gattaca, with a discuss-the-science panel afterwards. Still a great little movie!) But there’s been plenty of time around (and often on the way to and from) those things for napping, reading, pondering, playing and generally letting my brain get its mojo back. So next week, it’s time to have at it.

But have at what? That’s been the other thing I needed to sort out this week: what was I going to be working on next? There’s the YA fantasy with jinni and pirates and craft beer (The House of Truth and Lies) that I rough-drafted for NaNo last year; that needs some major revisions, and plotting for its sequel. I feel pretty good about this one for a lot of reasons, but it’s definitely not a standalone (since it ends on nearly a literal cliffhanger) so I’ve never been sure it’s a sensible thing to work on when I might still be looking at my debut novel. And then there’s the really weird fantasy (Deadlands), with radioactive poisonous magic and a protagonist who’s unapologetic about having been the recently vanquished Evil Overlord’s minion. I was trying to first-draft this for Camp NaNo in July, but various other opportunities delayed my progress, and then I hit a big roadblock in the fourth chapter from having not planned sufficiently beforehand. So I’m currently feeling a little bruised on this one (though I do have a good 12k words already down).

In the end, it came down to timing. Before mid-October (and Baby Event) I can probably manage to finish my planning and get a complete rough draft of Deadlands. Then it’ll go in the drawer anyway, so it won’t matter if I don’t even manage to pick up a pen again until February. But even being optimistic about my working rate, I can’t manage a full round of heavy-lifting revisions on HoT&L before then, and it’ll irritate me no end if I have to start all over again later. And so…

Next week I’m looking to… finish a full scene-by-scene outline for Deadlands. I’ve already got a chapter-level outline, but having already hit one roadblock, that’s obviously not detailed enough, so I’m drilling down another layer of detail. (My scene outline for HoT&L ran to fifteen pages for thirty planned chapters, but it meant I barely paused once in rough-drafting that, and I’d like to avoid my roadblock behaviour – where I flounder around for a few days trying to decide if it might be better to skip this scene and write on in the hopes of figuring out what I need later, but not doing that because I know that’ll just leave me with more holes later. Solve all the problems at the outset, and it’s easier to power through.)

Now, let’s see how I go. :)

NaNoWroteMo. Yo.

That dragon looks mighty afeared!

So, NaNoWriMo is done. And – surprising myself tremendously – I won, and won doubly over. I had planned to write a complete rubbish-summary-half-assed draft of a novel – and not only did I hit the 50k words (on about day 20, good lord!) I completed the draft (at a slightly meatier 68k words) with a couple of days to spare.

I’m basically flabberghasted. I didn’t even know I had this in me.

Looking at it as I was going, and in the immediate aftermath, my conclusion is that my chief weapons were fear and surprise over-the-top planning, and permission to suck.
Continue reading NaNoWroteMo. Yo.

The warm glow of completion (onwards and upwards)

Finishing a first draft means:

  • Being able to help more around the house. (“Hey, I could cook one or two nights this week.”)
  • Catching up on media. (“Hey, we should watch the latest season of Game of Thrones.”)
  • Reading over lunch instead of writing.
  • Socialising again. (“Brunch, or are you still writing all the time?”)
  • Epic Neverwinter sessions. (Except I still haven’t managed to score a party who can defeat Valindra, or had a queue pop for Castle Never.)
  • Playing enough to get somewhere in Sunless Sea! (Killed by the largest crab you ever saw. Again.)
  • Getting to tick off huge to-do items in HabitRPG and get metric fucktons of experience (w00t!)
  • Starting to write the next thing…

And the next thing is NaNoWriMo. (Doing it too? Here I am!)

I’m looking forward to this. One of the biggest kicks I got out of Camp NaNo – which started me off on the four-month productivity bender that finished the draft for me – is: permission to not be perfect. Which is a big thing, and such an enabler (I’ll talk more about this soon) but it does mean that I get to the end of a draft and know that so much of it now needs major rewriting. I’m super happy with the shape of the ending, now I just have to realign the rest of the book to meet that ending. Which is all great, but the fly in the ointment is how long it took me to get the first half. It’s aggravating to have spent so long on material that’s going to need major revision.

It seems to me that the best way around this is to stop taking so long with the first draft. If I can’t really know what shape the story should be until I know how it ends in detail (which seems to be how I roll; it’s been the case for both novels I’ve worked on) then either I need to write ending-first (which has worked for short material, but I don’t think I could do for longer pieces: the ending would lack the necessary complexity) OR I write the first draft even rougher and quicker.

I’m trying the latter for NaNo. I’m not aiming for the first 50k of a novel in relatively coherent prose. I am aiming for a 50k epic-rough quasi-summary draft of the entire novel. I’m anticipating chapters that are a patchy collage of prose and summary and notes to self. I’m anticipating covering a chapter a day in this method. And most of all, I’m anticipating needing to do a fuckton of work once I come back to write it properly – but since I know there’s a fuckton of work needing to be done on the first-draft that took me two years to write, that’s no big deal.

P.S. To add another spanner to my bouquet, I received some really thoughtful feedback on Boralos from a marvellous agent – confirming for me how much I’d love to work with her in the future. As always, new input makes my brain spin on old projects (it’s true: the further you get from a project in time, the more leverage you have to tear it apart and put it back together) but obviously any serious consideration of what to rework next will have to wait until after November.

My enthusiasm has gone down the back of the couch of my subconscious

I'm having a spot of bother with House of Truth and Lies, inasmuch as I've finished the first part, up to my first major candy-bar scene, and maybe I made too much of that scene to myself, because my brain seems to be acting like I've finished the story.

“What?” it's saying. “Those guys? Aren't we done with them? OTHER SHINY IDEAS!”

I thought perhaps it was just doing that because now I had to specific-plot out the second part of the novel. (I have rough plans, but they need fleshing out as I get closer – and I don't like to plan in detail too much because I find that then I do deviate in writing, as though I'm just being contrary. It is me. This is possible.) My psyche is like water, and always seeks the lowest path of least resistance, so I was berating it up the hill of plot-work with a big stick. But now the middle section is all plotted out, and I'm still not really that interested in writing it.

Of course that just won't do. If I'm not enthusiastic about it, no one else will be.

So now I'm trying to think of ways to rediscover my joy and interest and fun. Maybe I need to really settle in with my characters and learn more about them. Maybe I need more world details. Maybe I do need to do something else in the meantime, though that feels fiendishly like letting my brain get away with it.

Any ideas?

In the meantime, I made the “After Dinner Biscuits” from over here… except the Australian is being a fascist about linking to it (I don't have to log-in to see it, why do you have to when I link it?) so I'll C&P the recipe here: Chocolate with chocolate and some chocolate )

PS: Does anyone ever actually have a tablespoon these days? We just turned out house upside down trying to find one I was sure we had. I suppose I could just get a handy tablespoon measure, but it's the principle of the thing.

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