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.

Plodding Along

I am internally debating the wisdom of taking a break from the novel to take notes and break down The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. I am only halfway and I’ve already taken about 20k words worth of notes. If the back half holds up, that will put the notes around 40k and over a hundred pages. I might then need to create a cliff notes of the notes. It’s getting a bit ridiculous and is taking a lot longer than I thought it would. I’ve already revised by time estimates, and now I’m not sure I’m going to be in a position to apply to the workshop I wanted to.

The problem is, the notes are so dang useful. I keep my novel open and jot down notes and ideas while I’m breaking down The Anatomy of Story. There’s no question it’s helping the novel, but now I kinda wished I finished the novel first, then did this. It’d be awesome in a revision/rewrite. I stopped the novel right before the midpoint, so the note taking is super helpful for the front half, but the back half hasn’t been fully formed yet in my mind so … blah. That about sums up how feel about it all.

At any rate, I continue plodding along. I’m hoping to be done with the note taking by start of September, get back into the novel during September by doing the exercises in the book, and drafting again by October.

On a personal note, I didn’t post in July because I was stupidly-lucky enough to tag along with my wife to a conference in Crete, Greece. I got to spend 5 days in Crete, hanging out on my own at the beach and going into the main city to see the sights, and then my wife and I flew to Paris for four days. It was amazing. I don’t think we ever stopped moving in Paris and we still didn’t come close to seeing everything. I would happily go back! It was a very restful time, which unfortunately was immediately overshadowed by some problems at work when I returned. But ignorance was, indeed, bliss.

The fort is in Heraklion the main city on Crete. And the beach is Matala on the southern side of Crete. The picture was taken from a Roman cemetery carved into the hills. It was neat to climb over and into it. Apparently hippies used to live the caves, kinda creepy to sleep where they laid dead people, but it had a beautiful view!

We walked around the Notre-dame, but could not get close as they were already rebuilding after the first in April. The last picture was the of the catacombs below Paris which was super interesting to learn about, but I didn’t find it that creepy or as claustrophobic as I was expecting.

It was an amazing trip, but my feet were tired! We had several days of 30k+ steps.

Change of Plans

Well, technically I would’ve begun drafting again by the end of June as I originally planned in the last post (I’m done editing the section I set out to tidy up), except I happen to be reading The Anatomy of Story by John Truby right now.

I read writing craft books often, but it’s rare that one challenges me enough to slow down my reading and really take it in. The Anatomy of Story is getting me to think of storytelling in a whole new way, and helping me step back and see not only the forest from the trees, but seeing the forest from the planet as well.

As I read it, I kept thinking “Man, I should be taking notes,” and “I should do these exercises with my current novel.” Except I hate breaking momentum once I’ve begun drafting, and I have (now had) a target to finish the novel before the end of the year. But the casual insights gained into my novel and characters from a casual reading have forced me to reevaluate my plans. I’m convinced if I slow down, take notes and do these exercises the novel will be ten times better than it would’ve been otherwise. So that’s what I’m going to do.

So now my plan is to finish the casual reading before the end of June and start rereading it to take notes and work on the exercises in July. I don’t have a good idea of how long those exercises and brainstorming sessions will take, so my new target is to have 75% of the novel drafted before December 1 (I estimate I’m at 35-40% now). That will give me time to put together a submission package to the workshop I’d like to go to and submit that before the end of December.

Clean Up Editing

Future grumbling Jeffrey has become present day Jeffrey—I’ve switched to doing some clean up editing.

I had a great April in terms of wordcount. I was targeting a wordcount of 10k, but finished the month at 18k and I estimate that I’m about 60-70% of the way through the first half of the second act. But all that progress as come at a cost.

I view drafting the same as riding a motorcycle, things are more stable the faster you go. I try not to stop drafting once I start, so that means not letting small pesky details get in the way. So, like naming a space station or a key medicine will get treated like this: “They arrived at (name) space station where the next dose of (stuff) was waiting for them.”

The problem, of course, is eventually after 20k+ words like that, there are a lot of parentheses that need to be filled in. Some are more important than others, but the cumulative effect as I plow on is a growing sense of: oh man, that’s gonna suck. Plus, I find myself less anchored in the world when things like that aren’t named. And that was the real problem. Things need to come together in the second half of the second act, and those seeds are really developed in the first half of the second act. So, I need to detail those things to get a firm grasp on them.

I switched to doing an editing pass yesterday with an eye to clean stuff up and fill in those details. I’m not going to do a character or plot analysis yet of this section–I’ll wait until after I write the midpoint for that. I’m targeting this clean up editing to take about three weeks and I hope to be back to drafting again before June.

Into the second act crawl

Well, I just barely made my goal of starting to draft again in March—I started drafting Act II at the start of last full week. And like much of my writing process, I got sick of editing and outlining and decided to just start writing, hoping I’d figure it out along the way.

I estimate I’m about 25% of the way through of the first half of the second act (I break the second act into two parts structurally in my mind). The drafting is going fast, but I’m having a lot of word wastage. Meaning for every 1000 words I write I only keep on average 800 of them which, I’ve decided, is due to the nature of the second act.

The first half of the second act the characters are often trying to figure out what’s going on and reacting to the events of the first act. As a result, it often seems listless—sure feels listless writing it. And that’s a problem of perception. When you write in 300-400 word chunks a day and you’re trying to get your characters to the next plot point, this section can feel really really slow. I written pages of trying to get characters certain places or things, only to become disgusted with how long it was taking and backing up and tossing it all out and figuring out a faster way to achieve these things.

The saving grace here is editing. Oh, the editing will definitely suck and it’ll annoy me, but while I’m drafting I can happily plow ahead, knowing future Jeffrey will come in behind me (grumbling) and pick everything up.

I also have major plot points to build toward which is more than I usually have. I have a solid idea of what needs to happen at the midpoint, second/third act break, and at the climax. With those anchor points, it’s easier (note: easier, not easy) to draw the connecting points between them.

I’m hoping to have the first half of the second act drafting done by end of June as a low bar target, and the end of May as a high bar target. My drafting speed is running a bit hot right now so that the May target looks achievable, but I’ve written second acts before and I know all too well how suddenly everything can grind to a halt.

Hopefully, the drafting speed stays high until the next update!

Still Mapping Character Arcs

Well, I’m not quite ready to start drafting again. I had written I wanted to be drafting again by March, and there’s a small chance it might happen before the end of the month, but I’m dubious. I’ve gone back and edited Act 1, filling in all the small world building details, and worked through small continuity issues (like making weather consistent). But I didn’t have any big revelations on where to pick up the plot in Act 2.

I realized part of the problem was that I had a vague idea of the antagonistic forces in the novel, but not concrete characters and actions. So, I switched to crafting the antagonist. And since the best antagonists are built as a hefty counterweight to the protagonist forcing the protagonist to grow, I then switched again to fleshing out my protagonists. In short, mapping out the protagonists’ character arcs.

This is turning out to be a lengthy process that is stretching my abilities (a good thing). But it’s taking up more time than I thought to really think through these things, and then articulate them succinctly. The last part is the toughest and when done properly where the most growth comes from. But as the characters’ flaws and strengths become apparent, the antagonist is slowly coming into view as well on how to attack those flaws and turn those strengths into a weakness. The big midpoint scene and climax is also starting to swirl in the ether–which is exciting. If I can grasp those two scenes, it’s all over. The rest will flow like water out of dam.

I had written a couple months ago, that I hoped to be done with the zero draft by the end of August. I seriously doubt that anymore. At this point, I’ve nearly spent as much time editing the first act and brainstorming the novel than it took to write act 1. If that keeps up, I think it’ll take 4-5 months for every 25% of the novel, which would push me into 2020. But—but! I’m hopeful the effort to map out the character arcs and solidify the antagonist will result in a very clear direction, resulting in a rough outline. If that comes together, the actual drafting of words doesn’t take me too long once I get in the groove.

So, my goal for next month is to have the character arcs finished for the two main protagonists and have  a pretty healthy lead on the antagonist.

Time to Buckle Down

My drafting targets for December and January had me wrap up the first act on the current WIP mid-January. I was prepared to try something new and plow ahead without doing any editing (as I usually do when I finish a major section), but I ran head-first into that oft-encountered writing wall: not knowing where to go next.

I typically have a rough idea of where the next one to three chapters need to go, or a scene or chapter that happens later that I need to build to. But this time I have nada. Zero. There are enough threads opened in the first act to carry the plot forward, I just don’t know where to pick it up again. Immediately after the events of act one, or time jump? Stay with our protagonists or visit the antagonists? Expand the role of a secondary character or tighten the relationship between the two protagonists, or both? Etc.

I do have a pretty good idea of what happen in the interlude chapter, enough to start writing that, but I decided to hold off while I go back and edit the first act. It’s a helpful exercise at this stage. My first edits usually focus around filling in the details that I left blank in the rush of drafting to help deepen the world building; add depth to the prose; and map out character arcs. It’s that last one that usually unlocks the door in the writing wall on where to go next.

Still, editing is never a fun task for me, and I usually try and get through it as fast and efficiently as possible. But I’m approaching a month since I started and I’m probably only half way done. This length of time has less to do with how hard it is to edit and more to do with a confluence of events that cut down my writing time.

First, I got legitimately sick for a weekend where I went away to a men’s retreat with my church. I was planning on getting 50% of the editing done that weekend, and I got 0% done (I lost four pounds in 24 hours). I know I’m sick when I don’t (or can’t) get any writing work done. It’s actually the measure I use when deciding on whether to stay home from the day job: would I work on writing all day if I stayed home? Yes: go to work. No: stay home and rest.

Second, I went away with my wife to Taos Ski Valley for 4 days and went skiing. I love skiing. I had forgotten how much I loved it until last year when I went again for the first time in fifteen years. After that, I vowed I would go skiing every year from now until I physically couldn’t anymore. I brought the novel along and puttered around on it here and there. But mostly I slept in, skied, and enjoyed time with my wife without kids (conversation without being interrupted! Sublime!). It. Was. Awesome.

Third, work was really busy this past week, cutting my writing time down to a 10 to 15 minute chunk per day. So little progress was made (but still a little bit). And finally, tax season is here! Just another life task that I need to make time for which generally eats into my writing time.

So there it is, my whining and excuses. Hence the name of this blog post. Time to buckle down and finish this editing task. My plan is to be at least drafting that interlude chapter by March.