Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sometimes the amount of time I spend on writing doesn't seem enough.

And yet, I've also learned a light touch is better than being forced.  I mean, I do want to get in at least 1000 words a day, knowing it will probably turn into more. But I don't want to call it "work."

A thousand words is really only about an hour of intermittent typing. Surround that by an hour or so of living in the milieu and maybe another couple of hours of cocooning that creative space, and you're still talking about 4 hours in total.

Could I do more? Probably. I could do two sessions a day, I'm sure. In fact, in the past I've done that. I'm not sure the quality suffered all that much. I did nothing but write for 2 full years, and they were very productive years and I don't regret it at all, but I can't keep up that pace forever.

But even 1000 words a day, done consistently, produces a lot of story. What this type of scheduling allows is for me to do other things.  So the 4 hours a day of actual writing is probably about right.

It just seems a little lazy. Again, it isn't how hard I work, but how smart. I figure that letting my imagination have the first draft is a good thing, even if it seems like I'm getting off lightly.

I've come to terms with re-writing in much the same way. Keeping a light touch, using intuition for changes. Not bearing down, not turning it into mechanics.

So maybe that's why it seems lazy. Because it is such a "click" thing. Here it is, it's evocative or it isn't evocative, but if I think about it critically too much it becomes a mess.

I'm not certain that treating it as "work," laboring over every sentence, will make it better. You can't force insight or poetry or depth. You can come back to it more than once, doing it once over lightly again and again, until it finally takes on a texture.

But it's done with a fine brush, not a paint-roller. It comes through feeling, not thought. The thought leaks through nevertheless, but the more I do this, the more I realize that it all comes from within, it all comes from feel and touch. I can prime that creativity by asking myself intellectual questions, but when it spews out on the page, it's all instinct.

I've learned that too much rewriting doesn't make it better. That there is a time to back off.

I do spend a fair amount of time just daydreaming about the plot, and sometimes something really valuable filters through. Again, it's just a matter of circling back again and again. I try to think about the book when I nap, or shower, or when the house is quiet and I'm just thinking. More often than not, my mind drifts, or I fall asleep, but that's OK-- I wake up and bring myself back to the book, and this may happen a couple hundred times in the course of a few days, and out of all that, I may get only 1 or 2 really good ideas. But those ideas probably would never have come if I hadn't let myself drift that way.

At the end of the day, not working at the store has allowed me to write. I may only actually do the actual typing for a few hours, but I surround it with an atmosphere of creativity. Including this blog, for instance. And talking to myself. "What needs to be done? How can I surprise myself and the reader? What would really intrigue people? Can I get away with that?"

Linda is off at church for a few hours, and I intend to get up after writing this and pace around the house and circle around and around the vague glimmerings of the story, seeing if anything pops up out of nowhere, that one thing that makes me go "YES!!"

May not seem like much, but it all adds up.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

A bit of soul-searching.

I'm having one of those lull periods where nothing much is happening.

As long as I continue quietly writing, it doesn't matter. It is what it is. The main thing is to keep making progress. This is the true test of a writer--that you write without certainty, that you do it in a vacuum, that you do it because you want to. No reward or even feedback for months and months, and minimal reward at the end.

And yet you still do it.

I'll be close to half done with the WIP in the next day or two. I'm pretty sure I can finish a first draft by late April, though it may take a few days longer to go through it quickly and do a bit of touching up before I send it off for editing.

Then I'll go ahead and do something else for awhile, like move into the new house, find new walking spots. Maybe go about publishing "Gargoyle Dreams" and/or "Said the Joker, To the Thief."

I have given up on the latter with Kindle Singles. Really, it's pretty clear I'm not going to get an answer, and every day that passes (17 weeks and counting) merely confirms that. I no longer wake up with the hope...or the fear. I've almost forgotten about it, but not quite--cause here I am writing about it still...blah.

Maybe I'll write a quick story about a Fire-setting Jinn for the cover I paid for. Or finish Mother Sali. I usually don't know until I finish a book what I'm in the mood to do next. 

At some point, theoretically, Gary should be getting back to me about editing the book he bought. Who knows?

What it shows is, when I finish "Deadfall" (the new working title of the WIP) that I'll need to just forget that I ever wrote it. Because bigger publishers have a whole different time frame than I do, years not months.

I could follow up on some of the unfinished business--ask about "Tuskers IV," or ask about "Snaked," or the contract from the new publisher (which was supposed to be headed my way over a month ago.) But I'm a little dispirited about it. Fuck it. These things will happen or they won't, I'm going to go on writing.

Because in the end, that is the only thing I  have ANY control over.

The thing to remember is that there are hundreds of thousands of writers, and tens of millions of books, and how you can stand out in the morass is a real question. It seems impossible. I know that marketing is the key, but I have neither the aptitude nor the appetite to do so, and as long as that is true, nothing is going to happen except by pure luck. I'd be just as likely to hit a powerball win by buying a lottery ticket on the way home every night (actually, MORE likely.)

I put out "Faerie Punk" without any fanfare whatsoever. Fully edited,with a bought cover. It was a test, a sacrificial lamb as to what happens if I just put a book out with nothing more than an announcement. I think  it's a very decent, entertaining book. As good as anything else I've done.

I believe I've sold less than 10 copies.

So why am I spending most of my life writing?

There's no good answer, really. Because sitting at home doing nothing isn't an answer either. At least it gives me purpose. I do enjoy it. I do believe that is a mentally and spiritually nourishing and healthy activity. It's a fun hobby, it's an identity. I'm breaking even on the whole deal, at least as far as expenses are concerned.

Where I'm losing money is by not working at the store, but I was needing to step back from that anyway. I was no longer really helping the store, I was probably hurting it. It makes more sense to have Cameron and others running the store, not only to save my psyche, but also to get the store updated, because I was just losing touch. Burn out was almost inevitable after 37 years of doing it.

So that's been a trade-off.

So the point, I guess, is to keep writing--even if it means I sell 10 copies of a book I worked on for months and which I spent a $1000 producing. Treating it like I would any hobby. Fishing or Hunting or Skiing or Biking or...? Have to buy the gear, right?  It's just a different hobby than most people have.

There is the "familiarity at a distance" of the social media, which I enjoy. I like the other struggling writers, I identify with them. As I said, being a "writer" has become my identity, whether I deserve it or not.

And finally, I actually have had a few encouraging things happen. I've been paid (a little) for a bunch of books by real publishers (small, but real...)  By selling a book to a major publisher, I'm technically in the black as far as expenses. I do believe I'm getting incrementally better. So there is still a chance I could write the "great" book, the "successful book.  So I shouldn't quite give up on the possibility yet.

I just shouldn't depend on it.





Friday, March 24, 2017

I made a bunch of mistakes with my first book back. Ironically, some of them were caused by trying to avoid the mistakes I'd made in my first career.

I gave myself one firm rule. Don't rewrite until the first draft is done. 

The first mistake I made was forcing myself to finish too soon. I wrote about half the book and stalled. After several months, I went on a "writing vacation" to the Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City. Since I'd spent the money and cleared the time, I pretty much made myself write SOMETHING. The book went off in a wild tangent with which I've had trouble with ever since.

The basic idea that I needed to finish the book was correct. It's possible if I hadn't forced the issue I might never have attempted another book--especially since I'd had several books where I'd gotten several chapters in before stopping.

But the book suddenly had a wildly different tone. I'd started off trying to be snarky, but they have a saying on Broadway; Satire is what closes on Saturday night. It's hard to feel for characters who are being smart-assed all the time. Plus if you're going to pull that off for an entire book, you'd better be pretty good.

I hadn't thought through the motivations of the characters. It's hard to go back and do that.

I knew I was in trouble when I gave it to Martha and she said, "All the characters sound like you."

The idea that I shouldn't rewrite was also more or less correct, but I should have allowed myself a few course corrections.

And though I don't outline a book, it's generally a good idea to try to think it through a little. It so easy to write yourself into a corner, and to go back and try to change is more difficult, frankly, than starting a new book.

At the same time I was forcing the book, I was also worried about length, and looked for ways to add, which also created unnecessary problems.

So ironically, I ended up with a mess of a book that was similar to the same messes I'd made 25 years before. Through a dozen or more rewrites, I've finally gotten "Fairylander" close to where it needs to be. I liked the idea and the story enough to try to do that.

I was really lucky to have stumbled upon writing the "fun" book of "Freedy Filkins." I did this for my own amusement: a cyberpunk Hobbit. It got me in the groove, made me remember how to tell a story. Same with "The Reluctant Wizard."

By the time I attempted "Death of an Immortal" I had a process in place that pretty much worked, and I've followed that process ever since, with a few refinements.

In other words, I had to go through the mistakes to get to the solutions.

But of course, I keep making mistakes. Every book has its own problems.

With "Bigfoot Ranch," I created a couple of dilemmas without meaning to.

The first is: I chose to do it in 1st person. I've avoided first person through most of my writing. For one thing, it feels too easy. For another, it restricts how much knowledge and terrain I can cover. It all has to come from one viewpoint, and that limits the scope of the book somewhat.

I've decided to add a second (3rd person) narrator, which will help, but is still somewhat limiting.

The second problem is that I decided to make it a wilderness "chase" book, which was a great idea. But now that I'm writing it I'm realizing that it will be difficult to sustain an entire book. It just isn't credible to write 35 chapters of escape. I've done about 12 chapters, and I can probably do another 8, but even that is stretching it. Add the 1st person narration and it becomes almost impossible to sustain a full book.

So there will be a transition at some point to another setting. Which I think will work fine.

I'm trying not to worry too much about length. I need 80K words minimum, but I often find myself reaching my word goal without any extra efforts. We'll see what happens. I tend to add between 10 and 15% words in the rewrites, since my problem isn't too much but too little.

I just keep telling myself to write the next chapter and it will all come out fine in the end.




Thursday, March 23, 2017

"Bigfoot Ranch" is developing differently than any other book I've written.

I mean, very book is different. Which makes sense. Writing a book is a complicated process-- there are always going to be things that I've never done before.

In "Bigfoot Ranch," I'm spending a fair amount of time going backward and filling in as I go along. Adding locations, descriptions, even characters. Normally, I'd just take notes and try to remember, which is dangerous.

I had a firm rule when I first started writing again. Never, ever rewrite until the first draft is done.

So I've loosened that rule a little. Now the hard and firm rule is "don't change the plot" until the first draft is done.

I distinguish between "change" and "adding and subtracting." Change means that the rest of the book has to change to adopt it--which is almost always a disaster. But sticking to the overall plot as written but simply adding or subtracting--most often adding--that's OK.

It does tend to dissipate a little forward momentum, though, so I have to be careful. But when the wording and the scene develops in my mind's eye, I think it's dangerous to say, "Come back later."

I've got the plot sort of ironed out for the next few chapters. It looks like I'll get thru about 60% of the way through the book with the chase scenes--when it probably should be more like 80% of the book. But I told myself not to worry about length until I'm done. More often than not, length takes care of itself.

The story feels good to me, and that's the most important motivator.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Six mercenaries are chasing Hart. I want to winnow them down, one by one, until there are only two left.

So I have to figure out four different wilderness "tricks" to take them out.

I've thought of two so far, which aren't really wilderness tricks, but common sense. The first one is an outdoor trap, but sort of obvious, but what happens after the trap is sprung hopefully isn't.

The second trick isn't really a wilderness trick, but I'm pretty proud of it. It seems to me that it could actually work, (whereas the first trick, as in all such tricks, depends on things happening in just the right way.) It is actually based on things I know about the Strawberry Mountains and the roads up to them.

I hit 20K words yesterday, and the plot is coming along. I've figured out the contents of the box McGuffin, which I thought was rather simple and yet brilliant. I still have to figure out what deep dark secret Hart has, which Dave suggested because Hart seems too good to be true, and I have to agree.

It's just a matter of writing it.

The walk in the woods every day seems to be the trick. I have 7 spots along the way where I can sit and write some words. That's 14 overall, both ways. I mean, if I had to, I could just say--"sit here until you've written 100 words" at each station and at the end of the walk, I'd have 1400 words. Of course, what really happens is that 100 words turns into 300 words and 300 words turn into 500 words. Usually, the chapter is mostly written in the first half of the walk, upon which I can reflect on the way back and burnish and improve.

It takes a little willpower, I don't always want to do it, but if I can just force myself into the car and start the drive out there, all the rest follows.




Saturday, March 18, 2017

So I have a Facebook friend (Dave Cline) who has been providing some pretty good advice about "Bigfoot Ranch."

I'm not sure I can accommodate all the advice, but I'll need to do something close to what he's
suggesting. I think I can continue to write the book as is, because the advice all has to do with the McGuffin and the main character's motivation, which can change without changing the main character's actions, strangely enough.

Meanwhile, it looks like I might not need any super wilderness tricks after all, that some common sense evasions will be enough. I also don't appear to need any special outdoor journalist knowledge, either. I can look up a lot on Google. I'm going to still ask some people in that world to look at the manuscript and see if they have any advice, but if they can't do it, I think I can move forward anyway.

I may not actually spend as much time on the outdoors scenes as I expected anyway. I'd thought the outdoor part would be 2/3rds the book, but it may end up being more like half the book.

I'm guessing that in order to accommodate the McGuffin and motivation problems that I'm going to have to bring in the 3rd person character narration of the opening chapter throughout the book, with his own problems and adventures. I don't want him to be more than, say, 20% of the book, though.

I'm not going to worry about length. It will turn out all right, I'm pretty sure. I can usually find ways to texture in new material if I need to, and it usually actually helps the book.

It's going to be a little bit of a strange mix of humor and thriller. For instance, I have a scene where the main character is on the run, still wearing his Bigfoot costume for warmth because it has started to snow and an innocent hiker stumbles upon him and Hart jumps up and forgets he's wearing the costume and the guy screams and runs off.

Sort of funny and light. But later, Hart finds the guy dead, so not so funny. That sort of back and forth is there throughout the book. I can't help it. The trick is, I'm not trying to be funny. That would be deadly. The humor just sort of happens.

Meanwhile, my daily walk is the magic elixir for creativity. Over the last few days I've been stumped at the house, stumped in the shower, stumped at my desk, stumped napping on the bed, stumped on the drive out.

I start walking and within a quarter mile, the ideas just start flowing.

Which is both cool and scary. Because I'm afraid I've tied my writing process a little too closely to the walking, which isn't always possible.

Then again, I'm glad it's there!


Friday, March 17, 2017

I need wilderness tricks.

I've got my main character on the run in the woods, pursued by six hardened heavily armed mercenaries. So I need some believable things to happen where he manages to winnow them down one by one.

I've thought of traps, fire, rockfalls, flashfloods, bear dens, crossfire, snowfall, and so on, but whatever I do needs to sound believable.

The next half of the books things need to tighten up more and more for the hero, so that he barely survives, and is driven to more and more desperation. Then there needs to be the moment when he turns the tables on them, begins to take them out, for another third of the book, and then the final denoucement.

So far, the wilderness guide thing hasn't been as much of a hurdle as I expected, because its just been normal deer hunting, and I know how to do that.

Basically, everything from here on out is action, action, and more action.