Might be time for a break

So, I think I have the thousand-foot view? That’s been the problem with this novel the whole time. I can’t keep anything in my head for any amount of time.

I spent most of August and close to 7k words brainstorming and writing down notes, but even after all that time, I don’t have everything I worked out memorized. But I am confident I must have worked it out, since I started drafting again a couple days ago. I’m still trying to find my rhythm again. I have a clear idea what needs to happen (and more importantly why) in the next few chapters but I’m still having problem getting going, building narrative momentum.

I think part of the issue is, I have a streak going all the way back to early 2020 of working on writing every day. That’s over a year long, which is great. But now I’m starting to think, a break might be in order. I have lots of other things outside of writing that vie for my attention, such that, lately, it feels like I come to my writing time as a box to check, rather than a period of fun to have. This is most notable when as soon as I hit the designated word count for that day, I often stop and move on to something else.

Not sure what to do about that. On the one hand, I have the streak and I hate losing momentum. On the other hand, I don’t really have momentum right now. Should probably take a break ….  Now to see if I can actually force myself to do that.

Grinding Along

Writing is hard.

The novel hasn’t quite ground to a halt, but the gears are definitely giving a horrible screeching as it lurches it ahead. The second half of the second act is usually the hardest part for me to write, or at least takes the longest as I try to piece everything together. But I’m running into that problem in the first half of the second act with this novel.

The reason is pretty clear, from a series perspective, this novel is where everything in the previous four books needs to come together, so it’s equivalent to the second part of the second in a novel. There are a lot of threads to tie together that need to be self-consistent with the previous novels. Even though I reread those novels before starting, I finished writing book 4 almost four years ago (and I wrote all four in row) and it’s been difficult to keep all the threads in my head all this time later.

This has resulted in at least one continuity error that needed to be clipped out and smoothed over, and a sputtering pace where I figure out a sequence for a couple chapters and then have to switch to brainstorming to figure out where to go next.

And now I’m currently at the point right before the midpoint, which is an important part of the novel. It’s the part where a big event launches the characters into the second half of the novel, where they switch from trying to figure out what’s going on, to actively solving the problem. So, to write the midpoint properly, I need to know where to launch them to.

I actually have a strong idea of the midpoint, but I need to have a better handle on the bigger picture to layer things properly. So, I’ve stepped back and started outlining from the thousand-foot view. I don’t know how long this detour will take, but I am determined to stay in this phase as long as it takes. The novel is currently sitting at 30k, which I estimate is about 40% of the way through. I’m hoping once I have the thousand-foot view outline, the pace will pick back up and be done by end of the year or shortly after.

Reality Check on SCC5

Well, reality set in much faster on Sunken City Capers Book 5 (SCC5) than I was expecting. Drafting speed has slowed down to a more normal pace, but the real hiccup was I made a continuity error that I didn’t catch for three chapters. This is the equivalent of having a character sprinting in chapter five while having broken a leg in chapter four.

Oh, well.

Good thing I tend to alternate between editing and drafting, so at least I caught it before the book was done drafting. The fix forced me to reevaluate the plot and what I thought was the midpoint, I think would be better served as the third plot point (75% mark in a novel).

I ended up having to edit two of those chapters and throw one completely away. But I’m sitting at 21k, which I guesstimate is about one third of the way through. I have a very clear idea of the next sequence and a good idea of the midpoint, so I think drafting speed will pick up again in July.

My target is to write up to or start the midpoint sequence by the end of July, which would be about another 10k. I expect things to slow then as I figure out how to get from the midpoint to the third plot point. That part of the novel always tends to be the slowest for me to draft.

Now that reality has set in, I think the end of September for finishing the zero draft may be aggressive, but not yet out of the realm of possibility.

Drafting Sunken City Capers Book 5

I started drafting in mid-May the fifth and final book the current arc in Sunken City Capers. It’s been oddly therapeutic to write it, like it’s been this unfinished thing hanging over my head for years.

Drafting speed is pretty high right now and I’m sitting at ~15k words in about three weeks. I guesstimate that 15k is about 25% of the novel. I suspect this rate of drafting to continue to about the 50% mark (since I have a clear idea of the midpoint), but then it will probably slow down as I step back and figure out how to close out the rest of the novel.

Taking all that into account, I think I’ll finish the zero draft by the end of September. After that, I’m not sure when it’ll be ready to publish. I will have to edit (which I think will take a two to three months), but then I have line up all the publishing gears which is unpredictable this far out based on other people’s availability.

My best guess would be sometime in 2022 Q2 or Q3 for the final Sunken City Capers to hit the market. I can’t wait for it to be done!

Submitting once again

April was a month of surprises for me—good ones. First, I finished both short stories in the MK1 world. Second, both short stories came in under 5k words. This is huge for me. I have a terrible time writing short and almost everything I write ends up longer than I expected. Novelette (7.5-18k) seems a more natural length for me. So, to have two stories below 5k to submit is amazing.

There are a lot more markets to sell short stories to at 5k than at 8k+. Which was another surprise for me. I haven’t submitted a short story to a market in over 5 years. 5 years! I had switched back in 2016 to writing novels (I have written 5 in that time), so it’s not like I’ve been idle or giving up writing. But it did surprise me to realize it had been that long since I had been submitting.

Now with the two 5k stories and the 8k novelette I wrote a couple months back, I have some pieces to put into rotation and I’ve already submitted them to some markets. Should be an interesting few months submitting them around (fingers crossed!).

But now that that’s all wrapped up, I’ve decided to turn my attention back to Sunken City Capers and write book 5 to close out that series. I’ve done a little bit of brainstorming and I have a vague idea of where I want everyone to end up, but no idea how to get there. That’s okay though, when it comes to Isa and Puo, that’s the fun part and they always surprise me. For now, I’m doing a re-read of the series and once that’s done I’ll start brainstorming in earnest with an eye to begin drafting.

Ready for the Cool Down

I just finished the first-pass edits of the 150k beast I’m labeling MK1 for now. I’m pretty pleased with it, but there is a lot of things that still need to be gone back through and filled in. Things I haven’t figured out yet, and likely won’t until the second or third book.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to ignore all common-sense advice and write this series in its entirety before beginning to either seek publishing or publishing it myself. I’m a discovery writer, so it isn’t until something is complete that I can see the forest for the trees and connect everything properly. I’m well aware how this is discouraged if you either want to be traditionally published (eh), or want to write quickly and publish at a regular rate to build up a following (eh, I can’t write that fast anyway with my other life commitments). So, I’m going to take my time and enjoy the process.

For now, I’ve set aside MK1 for a cooling off period. I’ll pick it up again when I start to think about writing book 2, which I’m not sure when that will be. I’m going to transition to writing two short stories set in MK1 world to flush out some events and characters and then I’m seriously toying with picking back up Sunken City Capers and writing book 5, the final one. There’s been some good traction there and growing interest. My only hesitation is then that requires be step away from the MK series for a bit.

But, for once, this is a good writing problem to have, having more than one project you’re excited about to pick what to work on.

MK1 Zero Draft Done!

February turned out to be my best writing month since February 2016, exactly five years ago. I wrote 24k words for the month and finished the zero draft of my current WIP. I started writing this novel in October of 2018. By that count, it took me 2 years and 4 months to complete the zero draft. That’s the longest it has ever taken me to write a story (by a lot), but honestly, seeing the length of time written down—it doesn’t look that long. This novel was a beast to write–it felt like much longer than 2 years and 4 months.

I basked in the accomplishment of finishing for several days and then set about figuring out how best to begin the arduous task of editing the beast. I promptly got overwhelmed. The novel is a 150k words with multiple POV’s with epic scale—it’s a lot for me at this stage of my writing career. I can’t keep the whole novel in my head at once. I began to worry that I would forget things, or get stuck in an endless edit loop where I was constantly editing the back-half without remembering the first-half and then switching, and always having a nagging feeling I’m forgetting something and then switching back ad nauseam.

Eventually, I collated all my edit notes into one document, organized that document and printed that out. I have no doubt I’m going to forget stuff and that I probably have many edits ahead of me before I feel like it’s ready to be set aside for a new project, but the saying by G.K. Chesterton “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,” gave some motivation to get started.

I don’t know how long it edits will take, but I’m hoping by the end of April I can shift to writing the epilogue and some short stories set in that world. But we’ll see!

2021 Writing Targets

I had a pretty solid start to the year writing-wise. I started the third act of my WIP and wrote the first third of it, along with two interlude chapters for about 14k for the month, which is pretty solid for me. I happy with a 10k month when drafting. I also had a Bookbub for The Solid-State Shuffle in mid-January that went better than expected and I’m quite pleased with the results. I have some plans for later in the year to promote Sunken City Capers further.

So, my 2021 targets:
1. Finish current novel (this includes drafting and at least the 1st whole pass novel revision)
2. Write one short-story/novelette set in novel world.
3. Create and maintain a series bible
4. Start either novel #2 in current series or Sunken City Capers #5
5. Read 10 nonfiction books

I think I’ll be done drafting the current novel by the end of March, but I expect revisions to take several months. I want to get it into as close a state as possible to done and then trunk it for a bit to get a fresh perspective on it. That’s part of the purpose of target #2, a bit of a palate cleanser. I like using shorts to flesh out characters and go deeper into the backstory. They may never see the light of day, but they do give much greater depth to the novel.

I expect while working on the edits of the novel, I will start to create and maintain a series bible. When the novel is so large and you expect to have multiple novels, it helps to create a cliff notes version of the series to look up quickly: what color eyes does that character have? When did the main protagonist come into contact with this important object? I already have a large body of work in this area—it’s just an absolute mess. I dumped things in the scrivener research section with only a haphazard attempt at organization. The novel has grown so large, that now it annoys me and I know it’s only going to grow, so I need to impose some structure.

I’m hoping to have targets 1-3 wrapped up by mid-third quarter and then use the fourth quarter to start the next big project. I’m not sure which project that will be yet. I am encouraged by the traction Sunken City Capers is currently having, and if it continues, it may make sense to move up finishing that series in my queue of projects.

And as before, I need to be intentional about reading non-fiction books. I’m already on track to read three this year, so I don’t think it’ll be too difficult to get to ten if I remain mindful about it.

Here’s to hoping 2021 doesn’t turn out like 2020!

One Year and One Month Later …

Well, things kinda went south for me at the end of 2019 with some health issues. I was forced to slow down and reprioritize some things (like getting healthy again) over keeping up with the blog and some other things. And I’m pretty sure everyone would agree that 2020 didn’t turn out like anyone hoped. But I’m healthy now and ready start keeping up with the blog again.

So, for posterity’s sake, my 2019 targets were:

1) Finish zero draft of current novel.
2) Apply to a workshop with completed novel.
3) Set up at least two promotions for Sunken City Capers.
4) Read 10 non-fiction books

1) and 2) fell victims of my health scare, and honestly 1) was an overambitious goal to start with. The current novel is a sprawling beast of epic awesomeness, but more on that later. I did setup at least two promotions for Sunken City Capers, so that was some low hanging fruit plucked. My notes inform me that I read 18 non-fiction books so I hit 4) as well. 50% success ratio, which given the end of 2019 and the chaos that was 2020, I feel reasonably good about. My notes also inform me that I read 27 fiction books in 2019, and after looking over them the only that stands out to me was The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley. I thought it had excellent writing and storytelling, although it fell apart at the end a bit for me with the politics.

Because of the way 2019 ended for me personally, I had no specific 2020 goals. Once more my notes inform me that I read 32 fiction books and 2 nonfiction books. The skew is not surprising, left to my own devices I’ll always skew toward reading fiction over nonfiction, but I know that nonfiction is a goldmine for story ideas, so I’ll have to correct that going forward.

I read a ton of good books in 2020. A few that stood out were The Three-body Problem trilogy by Cixin Lou, The Sparrow Duology by Mary Doria Russell, and The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.

I also continued to chip away at my current novel in 2020. I just finished the second act earlier this week. It’s sitting at 115k words and is 75% done. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written and it’s still not finished! Oh, oh! I also wrote an 8k novelette set in the same world to better explore the antagonist in the novel. It’s the first story I’ve finished since finishing Sunken City Caper Book 4 back in 2017. I was/am ridiculously proud of myself on finally finishing something. I hadn’t realized I hadn’t finished anything in that long.

This current novel truly is a beast—but I also think it may be the best thing I’ve written to date. I’m an intuitive pantser so writing a sprawling epic is a lot of fun, but a ton of work, since stuff I figure out in the back half needs to be weaved through the first half, etc. Or stuff I thought would be awesome in the front half needs to get clipped out because it turns out it’s just extraneous clutter in an already long novel.

I think I’ll cap this post here for now. I plan on going back to my once-a-month updates, more for myself than anyone as a measure of progress. Next time I’ll layout my 2021 targets.

I’m Still Here

I haven’t written a blog post since August, mostly because those problems at work that appeared when I returned from the summer vacation with the wife grew and multiplied and soon I was in survival mode.

I finished breaking down John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story in August—I took about 38,000 words of notes. So that’s a lot. I then spent rest of August and all of September doing some of the exercises from the book for my current novel when I could find the time and energy to work on it. The exercises are great, and it brought a lot of depth and understanding to my current project, but I had hopes of getting 75% of the novel completed by December 1st so I could apply to a workshop with it. That didn’t happen.

I started drafting again in October, but work was so demanding and stressful I barely squeezed out 2k words for the whole month, a far cry from the 15-20k a month I would need to get near 75%. So I then switched the target to 50% complete by December 1st. Work was supposed to ease up at the end of October so I thought I could get some momentum going and write the midpoint and then apply with that. That didn’t happen.

Work didn’t ease up and at that point the stress was catching up to me physically forcing me to slow down. I had to let go the idea of applying to the workshop. On the one hand that was disappointing, I have been saving up time-off and money for this opportunity and this year was supposed to be that year (assuming I got in). But on the other hand, I get a whole extra year to finish the novel. I had also targeted writing a novel a year from now until either a novel took off or got picked up traditionally. I had to let that go—it was causing too much stress from missed writing time, not making enough progress, etc. So now I’m content with just a short-term target of finishing the current novel by 2021. And then I’ll figure out another short-term target then.

The crazy thing was I started writing in the first place to de-stress. So now I’m trying to find my way back to that place. I’m having some success on that front. I am drafting again and was recently writing a difficult chapter. Part of what I love about writing is discovering the story, and how about the best laid plans often change when characters come alive on the page and have their own agendas. That happened in that difficult chapter, and it was wonderful to see the connections bloom on the page to earlier events that I didn’t even consciously know where there.

Hopefully, things are back to normal and I’ll post again my year-end wrap up next month.