Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Buried Books

Do I have a terrifying tale of a Horribly Written Novel.

Of course.

I have a drawer full of stories that will not likely ever see the light of day. I peek in there every once in a while, then gaze up at the spines of my paperbacks. It's like those before and after pictures on ever diet-craze ad ever. If I'm ever feeling low about where I'm at...yeah. At least I'm not there anymore. I learned. I improved. I set a goal and I worked my ass off.

I have a lion-man as sensei to a young attractive female. (Surely not inspired by tvs Beauty and the Beast.)

I have another vampire book unrelated to my Seph series...

I have an epic 150,000 word sword and sorcery...

I have 60,000 of an feisty elemental inside a goofy chick and their wild antics and trouble-finding days...

I don't mind these failures. They are badges to show I did my work, learning the building blocks of story. I put my backside in the chair and I wrote. And I wrote and I wrote. Beginning to end, over and over, learning more about the craft each time. 

Eventually, it paid off. :) Yippee!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Travesty of a Romance Novel

The first big ass, horribly written, should never have gone on submission, I'm so sorry agents novel was... a paranormal romance with roughly thirteen points of view.  Any shifter race one could imagine made an appearance. The protagonists didn't meet until chapter eight. When they finally had a chapter or two alone how they ended up there was highly improbable (which, for paranormal takes some doing).  There might maybe have been a scene or two that danced too close to the lines of bestiality (ew). Oh, and the word count? 150k.

I know. I know. I know.

I'm not proud.

The root concept I still like. The protagonists I still like. Heck, even a few of the shenanigans scenes are redeemable. The story... erm... When "It's too complicated" was the nicest bit of feedback CPs could muster, it finally penetrated my thick skull that it was time to bury that puppy and never allow it to be bazombified again.

Contrary to popular perception, a good romance is pretty freakin' hard to write.

Pretty much every romance novel I've ever penned (all of ten or so) languishes in the dark ether of a digital file cabinet backed up to a thumb drive hanging from a lanyard in my office. Will any part(s) of them ever be resurrected?  Ehhhhmmmm, mebbe.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Burying the Dead

Buried books. Shelved manuscripts. Filed for a Rainy Day. All are evil, undead things and should be resurrected.

When I was 14 or so, I sat down one summer to write a novel. This was when dinosaurs fled the earth, and there was no computer involved. Instead, there was a Selectric Electric Typewriter that has has long since been lost and there was a ream of paper.

I believe I managed 316 double spaced manuscript pages of what can only be called, in all kindness, fecal matter.

I mean, it was BAD. There were dimensional portals, dragons, armor made from dragon scales, griffins, evil sorceresses...if there was a trope, I found it and I used it.

Know what I forgot? Anything that vaguely resembled a plot.

I kept that manuscript for around four years, in an old box that was sealed by rubber bands. Now and then when I wanted to torture myself, I pulled that bad boy out and read a portion of it as a cautionary tale against ever trying to write anything again.

And then, when I moved into an apartment with friends for the first time I threw that manuscript into the dumpster, careful to open the box and scatter the pages much as a vampire hunter might the ashes of the departed and vanquished.

That is as close to a buried book as I have.

The rest of what I have written, with the sole expression of a novel manuscript that rose to the towering height of 40,000 words before I lost it for all time (ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR WORK, PEOPLE!!!!!) has been published. It might take me a while to finish a manuscript, but to date I've sold everything I've finished. I might have sold it for a nickel, but, damn it, I sold it.

There are a few stories out there I try to forget I wrote. They could have used, oh, so much work. But I wrote them, and I sold them.

I don't know if it's talent or mere tenacity. Whichever the case, the skeletons in my filing cabinet have all been aired or destroyed beyond all repair.

Have a little faith in yourself. If it's good, you'll sell it.

Of course, you have to finish it first....

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dr. Frankenstein's Novel - Why I Have No Buried Books

Last week, just as the sun set and a rainstorm passed through, a perfect rainbow formed to the east of our house. I stood barefoot on our front porch and took this with the panorama function on my phone. It makes it clear how the rainbow is the rim of a big lens, focusing light. So unearthly, too. Perfect for our blog of assorted spec fic types.

This week's topic in the Bordello is The Book You Buried: The Terrifying Tale of Your Horribly Written Novel.

You have to give KAK props for her Halloween slant.

So, you all know the old saw this references. How all writers have a book or ten or twenty "under the bed" lurking like the formless monsters of our youths, muttering darkly to themselves and destined never to see the light of day.

Except me.

I don't really have a book that's buried and I've been thinking about why that is. I think some of it has to do with this story.

Way back, Oh Best Beloved, when I was first struck with the awesome, glitteringly huge, transporting and terrifying dream of becoming a writer, I entered a writing contest. As you do. Now, I have never been one to put in my bio that I've "been writing stories since I first picked up a crayon." I wrote stories as a kid, yes. I tend to think all kids do. I also drew pictures and made embroidered silk saddle blankets for my model horses. Which says a lot about childhood hobbies and future occupations right there, I think. I won a poetry contest when I was 12 and contributed angsty anonymous poems to the high school literary magazine. My AP English teacher taught me I didn't know how to write my senior year and I became much better at it but, though I got a 5 on the exam - a high score that let me test out of Freshman Comp in colleg e and put me in a special lit course - it never really occurred to me to be a writer. I was going to be doctor, then a scientist.

Only later, in my mid-twenties and while I was buried in getting my PhD in Neurophysiology, did I have the epiphany that being a writer would be my perfect life. I cut bait on the PhD, took my Masters, got a job as an editor/writer with a petroleum research group and starting playing with what the hell I wanted to write. One morning in my office, NPR told me over the airwaves about a contest sponsored by the Wyoming Arts Council. There were two and I don't recall which this was. They had a Fellowship for Literature that rotated each year between Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry, and the Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award for an outstanding woman writer in any genre.

You must understand that, not only did I not have a book written at this point, I barely had a concept. However - and this is an enormous caveat - I had fragments and a vague idea along with this shiny newly formed ambition. Though I should have been reasonably mature at that point, especially carrying the battle scars of grad school with a bipolar Hungarian for an adviser, my enthusiasm and hopeful faith in myself so exceeded the strictures of reality that I submitted a page and a half to this contest.

I know.

Do I need mention they asked for 25 pages? Yeah.

You're all wincing for me, I hope. I'm so embarrassed for myself that it took me YEARS to tell anyone this story.

What was I thinking? That's the worst part. I had this idea, this utter hubris, that my page and a half was SO FUCKING BRILLIANT that any judge would see in one glance that my talent was one to be nurtured. And yes, I still have that page and a half from so long ago. Needless to say, brilliant it ain't.

But I learned. I learned to write more and longer. To stick with and refine an idea. I went on in later years to win both the Fellowship and the Doubleday award, along with a Fellowship to the Ucross Foundation and other, really wonderful nods that told me, yes, mine was a talent they believed should be nurtured. Once I'd applied enough discipline to actually exercise it.

Thus, one point of this whole story is that, when newbie writers ask for advice and I say that you have to get disciplined, write every day, write a lot and finish the damn book, I know whereof I speak. I know how damn hard that simple advice is to take and implement. It's also the only way it happens. No one wins awards with a page and a half, brilliant or not.

I feel like I should note at this point, the debt I owe to the Wyoming Arts Council. Those contests did exactly what they were designed to do in encouraging aspiring writers. Not by awarding me accolades in recognition of my incipient, as-yet-unrecognized, as-yet-nonexistent ability, but by denying me and making me understand I had to work for it.

The other point, the one that applies to the topic at hand, is that I have no under-the-bed books because I took those early fragments and constantly cannibalized, reworked, recast and revised until I had a book that deserved to see the light of day. That page and a half? Much transformed and revised - perhaps unrecognizably so - is one of the core elements of my Covenant of Thorns trilogy.

Perhaps this makes me more of a Dr. Frankenstein, stitching together and reanimating what seems to be dead or dying. I have no buried novels because I tore them apart before they were done. I do have a lot of fragments in cold storage, waiting for that bolt of lightning and a bit of attention to be brought back to life.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Managing Time Before It Flies Away

Time management? Pardon me while I laugh hysterically...I do this the same way I do everything else, by the seat of the pants. No spreadsheets, no color-coded calendar, little to no system...

Well, ok, let's back up. My mother always said if you arrived on time, you were already late. Hence I show up at meetings 10 minutes early. Sometimes the most interesting conversations can be had before the meeting actually begins, as it turns out. To be fair, I'll admit that at the day job, I do have a color coded calendar app.

I'm one of those people who was born with the ability to tell myself when to wake up. If I need to be up at 4:30 AM, I'll wake up at 4:28AM. If I can only have a 17 minute nap, then that's how long I'll be asleep. My Dad was the same so I figure I inherited the knack from him. I always wonder why my ancestors evolved this skill in the absence of the concept of clocks. "Must go kill saber-tooth tigers" doesn't seem to require a very exact timeline, does it?

When it comes to writing, I'm on my own schedule since I'm self publishing these days. I have a goal of how many books I want to get released this year, and I had to book my editors, cover artist and formatter a few months ahead. So I have big chunks of time in mind when it comes to the books, rather than specific dates. Can I have that cover in September? Do you have time to edit this 80K novel in November? No formatting services over the holidays? OK then, guess the new book will hit the ebook stores in late January!

The things I have to do on deadline, like these posts at Word Whores, or my USA Today/HEA column, I try to write a day or two ahead of the submission date. I like to let the drafts percolate, conduct a review and revise as necessary before I hit send or publish, as the case may be. (Although pretty much every week I'm doing the WW post the night before. Hmmm.) In the case of  USAT/HEA, I also need to allow time for Joyce Lamb, my Editor, to read the piece and request any changes she might want.

I do keep my Outlook Calendar updated on posts, guest posts, contest deadlines, ads and things of that nature...

I usually write out a massive To Do List at the start of a weekend, so I know all the things I need to get done before Monday morning rolls around. I know I won't get to them all, but seeing them written down helps me triage which are the top two or three that I absolutely must do, followed by the ones that would be sweet to accomplish if there's time. And then of course the ones that never seem to get done, like dusting the knickknack collection in the living room.

If I'm having a super stressful day, I pick the one task that's stressing me most and if I can accomplish it, then I declare victory. Make an appointment to talk to my CPA? Done! Time to watch the NFL, or Say Yes To The Dress or The Walking Dead. I might choose to tackle another item on the list if I'm really on a roll, but the stress is gone because I nailed that top item.

Yup, this is me, folks, and that's how I roll. Now I think it's time to get back to the WIP!

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?
Dr. Seuss

Friday, October 24, 2014

When the Devil is in the Schedule

I just came back from a local writers' conference put on by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. One of the speakers is a writing coach who did a series of workshops on our exact topic this week: Schedules, writing time, and how to get back on track when you get derailed. (Check out Lindsay's website if you're interested in learning more about his coaching offerings.) I won't steal all of Lindsey's thunder - which, frankly - I doubt he gave us in full measure in a couple of one hour workshops, but here's what stuck with me.

1. Know where your time goes. Before you get into any kind of emergency situation with a writing project, know what you're doing and when you're doing it. He suggested taking a full week, declaring it a judgment free zone and noting down everything you do (to the 15 minute mark) for the week, including watching TV, surfing the net, FB, Twitter, whatever it is. This is not to be used as a cudgel to beat yourself up with once you have it. It is a tool meant to offer you some choices about when and how you allocate time for writing and for emergency crunch modes should you absolutely have to have them.  (The point really is to prevent crunch modes.)
2. Set word minimums for yourself. Yes. You read that correctly. Minimums. And set them low. Lindsay suggested starting with 200 words a day. Not even a page. His reasoning went like this: Most writers have word count goals. 1k a day. 2k a day. That's a 20 foot ceiling in a big room that you have to fill up with words and when you do, you've only just been good enough. By setting a low minimum, chances are very, very good that you're going to blow past it. And then, you've exceeded your goal and gotten your brain high on the success. Even on days when everything has gone to hell in a hand basket, you can probably manage 200 words. It's just a few lines. But then, you get to word 200 and you're in the middle of a sentence. So you finish it. But then, you're in the middle of a paragraph. Might as well finish that. Presto. You've blown past your minimum and given your brain a shot of endorphins. Your brain gets addicted to that stuff pretty quickly and that, my friend, is going to drive you back to the page. Now. You aren't always going to have a 200 word minimum. At the end of each week, analyze how you did. If you consistently wrote past 200 words, raise your minimum by 100 words. If you only barely made those 200 words, or kept stalling at one hundred something, lower your minimum by 100 words for that week. This gives you a flexible way to accommodate that sightseeing trips through hell we all seem to take from time to time.
3. Run to the writing. This one really resonated for me. There's a story Lindsay told that I won't tell here, but the summary was him going to a professor and confessing that he'd stopped writing and didn't know when he'd start again. She told him that he had two choices. He could run away from his writing, or he could run to his writing. Writing, she said, wasn't the problem. It was the solution.

All of this is lovely stuff, but doesn't speak to crunch mode. Crunch modes happen because reasons. But unless you live entirely alone and have no friends or family, crunch mode affects everyone around you, not just you. So I argue for avoiding it by all means humanly possible. I say this after having to spend way too many days writing 8k a day in order to make a deadline that was an extension of the original deadline. That one wasn't life keeping me from writing - I'd been writing. It was the book not coming together the way I wanted. I swear I wrote that story three times over. Still. The book came out better than I'd hoped it could. The problem was that my family paid the price and that's not fair. Thus, expending my energy now on doing everything in my power NOT to get into a crunch like that again. That means learning about my production rhythm and managing my projects accordingly.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Perils of the Writer: Deadlines and Schedules

I'm a big believer in a regular writing schedule.  Find a time of day that works best for you, carve that time out, and affix yourself to a chair and get it done.  It's not always easy or fun, but that's how one gets it done. 

Now, fortunately, so far, I've not had much of a problem with deadlines.  The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages were essentially complete manuscripts when they sold.  Editing work was required, but the time I was given to get that done was ample.  On top of that, as soon as I signed the Thorn contract I started to put my nose to the grindstone on Thorn II

That doesn't mean I'm immune to things blowing up in my face.  A disruption to my life can throw everything out of sync.  A few weeks ago my wife was in a car accident.  Fortunately her injuries were relatively minor, but the car was totaled.  So the process of dealing with things like insurance, car rental, and so forth is time and energy out of my day, and that has to come from somewhere, and "somewhere" more often than not turns out to be writing. Or sleep.  Or the dishes pile up.  Those last two tend to come to a head far sooner than the writing, though. 

Since my deadlines are relatively self-imposed at this point (i.e., when I want to get something done is sooner than other people are asking for it), getting back on track is mostly a matter of readjusting my expectations and going back to the grind.  I've learned from experience that trying to do things like double my output or "catch up" usually results in things going even further off the rails.

Not to be all tortoise-and-the-hare, but slow and steady, getting back on task and doing the work each day is really the only thing you can do.  But it does help that my personal deadlines give me enough breathing room to account for things going wrong.