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.

2018 Lessons Learned and 2019 targets

Happy new year!

I was a little nervous to look back at my 2018 targets because I didn’t feel like I had a very good writing year. But it turns out, I did better than I thought I had!

The 2018 targets were:
1) Learn and apply marketing
– Well, I’m giving myself a C on this one. I definitely learned several things, but I couldn’t manage to generate a positive return on investment (ROI). I was getting close near the end, but eventually, I ran out of money and had to pull the plug. It was disheartening, but not unexpected, to watch sales taper off. I actually feel reasonably good about applying lessons learned from this to future books, so there’s that.

2) Spend at least 10 hours a week on writing (including drafting, editing, and marketing)
– Ha, ha, ha, ha! Oh, right, that was serious. I have no idea whether I hit this or not, as I didn’t find any consistent way to track that. I suspect I might be close though, since I spent most of the spring and summer doing research for a new novel and prepping the Alternate history steampunk novel for submission, and then starting a new novel in the fall.

3) Polish, write supporting material, Book 1 in alternate history steampunk series and start submitting it
– Done!

4) Outline book 2 in alternate history steampunk series
– Eh. I didn’t write an outline for book 2, but I have a pretty good idea where it needs to go. I’m still declaring victory on this one, since I did work out and plan a new novel with what I consider a difficult concept. I spent a ton of time reading and researching the new novel, and came up with the setting, characters, and plot (see next target).

5) Write 50% of Book 2 in alternate history steampunk series (may not do this, since book 1 on submission)
– Again, I’m declaring victory on this one, even though I didn’t write a word of book 2. I decided it was a bad idea to write book 2 while book 1 was on submission in case a publisher wanted some revisions. Instead, I started writing book 1 in a new series and wrote most of act 1 before the new year. I’m pretty pleased with the progress, as well as cracking the difficulties I was having with the concept, so again, I’m declaring victory here.

6) Read 10 fiction books
– Smashed! I read 23! 19 of which were audio books.

7) Read 10 non-fiction books
– Surpassed! I read 14! 3 of which were audio books. There definitely seems to be a trend with how I use audio books.

With all that in mind, my 2019 targets are:

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

My priority in 2019 is to finish the zero draft of my current novel. I’ll give a more detailed update on that next time, but for now, I’m really excited about this project. I need to have it finished, since there’s a workshop I would like to go to in 2020, but you have to apply. So I need have the novel finished to then be able to put together an application.

While my marketing efforts in 2018 weren’t out-of-the-park successful, I did learn some things and I need to do some promotions for my current novels. So, I’m aiming to lineup and plan at least two major promotions. The first one should be in the first quarter of 2019. I’ll see how that performs and come up with a plan for the second one at that point.

Since the discovery of audio books, I don’t feel like I need a reading goal anymore. I originally started a reading goal because I had gotten away from reading and I missed it. That’s no longer case. I do still think I need a non-fiction goal, otherwise I think I would default to reading all fiction. Non-fiction is great for research and mining story, character, setting ideas, so I don’t want that to drop off.

So there you have it! Personally, I like the way 2019 is shaping up (spend all year writing [not editing or business stuff]? Yes, please!).

Picking Up the Pace

Well, I think this novel has legs—which is kinda surprising to me. I’m still writing the opening act, so I’m a long way off from the second act doldrums that normally hit me in the middle of a novel. But I’m reasonably confident I’m going to see this one through—I already have plans for the finished product. And, I’m really starting to enjoy writing it.

Writing is a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it is. Conversely, if you let it atrophy, when you come back to it, it can take some time to warm up. I had a ridiculously low goal of 100 words a day between now and the end of the year to put the word count at 8100 words to get warmed up to writing again. Well, as of this post I’m at 11k and averaging three times that amount on a much more consistent schedule.

So, I’m kicking my writing goals up a notch to the next level. New target is 10k written in December (323 words a day), with an eye to increase that for January. I want to wait to get the first act done to then be able to estimate the novel length before settling on a monthly target to complete it in a reasonable amount of time. And even though it’s too early to tell, I’m estimating it’ll be about 80-100k and it’ll take through the end of August 2019 to complete the zero draft. I generally like to stop and tidy things up a bit (edit) after I complete major sections, so that timeline accounts for me cycling back a couple times.

Oh! Another thing I’ve fallen in love with is the privacy screen for my laptop. I bought it to be able to work on a plane without feeling like the person sitting next to me was reading and judging my crappy zero-draft prose (no one has ever done that, but it’s still an inhibiting feeling). Anyway, the screen cuts down the blue light, and I had no idea how much it tired my eyes out. It’s a completely different feeling writing with it on. I use it around the house now all the time. I was impressed how much I was able to tell a difference right away.


Drafting Continues

Drafting continues on the new novel, more in bursts than in a steady drip that I’ve used in the past. I’ve been writing for a day or two and then life forces me away for a couple days, then I mosey on back to it. But according to my new target of writing a 100 words a day, I should have 3100 words as of today. In actuality, I have 3900! So … crushing this new target.


In reality, a 100 words a day is a very low target. It’s hard not to write a 100 words when you sit down to write for more than 10 minutes. Most writers I know of target 250 words as an absolute minimum (which will  translate to a ~90,000 word novel in one year). Annnd it’s NaNoWriMo right now, so there’s lots of writers out there targeting 1667 words a day, but not this guy.

1667 words a day? Madness! Even if I could eek out the time, I don’t have a super tight grasp of the plot right now to do that. I write what I can now, and then spend the rest of the day or several days mulling over where it needs to go next. Which, of course, NaNoWriMo proponents would say is kinda the point, force you out of your head and onto the page without concern for quality (that’s what editing is for). But I’m not up for a marathon right now.

As for the novel itself, I like what I got so far. But already secondary characters are coming alive and becoming interesting and throwing up my early plans into disarray. I’m not too worried about it though, one part I’ve resigned myself to quite a bit of editing work, and one part I’m still dubious this novel with sort itself out. I’m “writing in the dark” as they say, and I’m okay with this novel staying there and never coming out if necessary.

For the moment, it feels good to just be writing again.

Drafting again!

Well, it finally happened. I was wondering when it would. I got sick of outlining and planning and researching and threw up my hands in exasperation and just started drafting.

And after thinking about it awhile, this is exactly like how every one of my other novels has gone. And yet, I expected this time to be different. I really wanted to have a whole outline and clear picture of characters and plot and setting and …. It was going to be easy this time, smooth, not as much editing work. I should’ve known better.

I honestly don’t know why I suffer writing amnesia so much. It really is like after I finish one novel, I never remember what the writing process was like so I’m forced to relearn the same lessons over and over (not sure if that’s a description of hell or insanity, but here we are). Another personal writing fallacy I recently discovered, I’ve always maintained that writing the opening act is always the easiest and most fun part for me. One of the reasons I’ve delayed beginning drafting for so long is I didn’t have a clear picture where to start this beast of a novel. And then I did something crazy, I thought back to writing the openings of my other novels.

I’ve written five novels to date, the openings for two of them went superfast and easy (The Elgin Deceptions and the alternate history steampunk). The other three– The other three were painful, slow and filled with a lot of head holding and questioning of life decisions. So why would I expect this one to be any different? (Followed quickly by, why do I do this? Which I then remembered how much I love it—it’s like a bike, it’s better once you get going.)

At any rate, I’ve begun drafting and truth be told, I’m still a little pessimistic on this one. I’ve decided to target writing 100 new words a day from now until the end of 2018. If that holds, that’ll put me at about 8200 words, which should be about a third to halfway through the first act. That should be enough time for me to really assess whether this novel’s got legs or whether I need face reality and shift to another more fruitful project in the new year.

And yeah, 100 words a day is a far cry from previous targets, but this novel is a beast, and I’ve been removed from the discipline of drafting for a while, so a nice low bar to clear for the moment suits me just fine.

Summer 2018 Update

Whoa, I’ve missed more posts than I thought. Ah, well. Life has seemed to accelerate once again, and time is increasingly scarce. At this point, I’ve accepted that that’s just the pace of life and it will likely get worse before it gets better. As a result, writing and writing related tasks have fallen further into the cracks of my life.

I continue to research a new novel series idea. Taken from a 30,000 foot view, I’ve actually made substantial progress. The novel seed-idea has some inherently difficult storytelling problems (at least from my POV and writing experience) and I’ve worked through them (or have a framework to work through them). I’ve also started an outline with the first few chapters sketched. This is new for me—I’m not normally an outliner, but this new novel series is much bigger in scope than what I’ve typically done before (except for the alternate history steampunk book). It’s a sprawling epic-fantasy/space-opera type of scope and I really rather not do the revision work I normally have to do when I pants it like for the Sunken City Capers books.

Speaking of which, the last and final Sunken City Capers book is going to be my next project. If I’m not drafting book 1 this new novel series by Jan. 1, 2019, I’m going to switch over and write book 5 in the SCC world. Otherwise, I’m going to finish the new novel series book 1 and then switch over to finishing SCC. Either way, I suspect book 5 will hit stores 2020 at the latest (when in 2020 remains to be seen).

And while my writing output has diminished, my reading output has skyrocketed due almost exclusively to audio books. I took a while to warm up to them, but they just fit so perfectly into the cracks of my life (working out, doing dishes, commuting, etc.) that I’m able to get through quite a bit. I’ve currently read 15 fiction books and 12 nonfiction books to date. My favorite so far is the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, it has a rough opening act in book 1, but it’s so worth it. It’s a rare series where each subsequent book is better than the one before it. It’s a league above the Hunger Games in my opinion (which is its closest comparative).

I’ll try to write more consistently on the monthly schedule going forward, but at this point, no promises.

Back in the (Research) Saddle

Well this past month as been rabbit hole of personal finance. All my writing time had been sucked away reading financial books, building spreadsheets and the general cleaning up of financial house that needs to happen every few years. And while fiction words were not written, nor any progress on the research front, it was a very valuable (heh) experience for me (although not monetarily–despite my hopes, money did not magically appear out of nowhere).

The process of cleaning financial house helped me bring into focus why I enjoy writing, and that in turn helped bring into focus my writing goals. I had been feeling a bit listless this past year, but after this whole experience I feel like the ship has righted and I have a plan. I love plans. I love executing plans and I’ve found over the years, we, as human beings, tend to hit the targets we set for ourselves. So, I’m excited about my new plan and have already started to execute it.

My kid’s schools has flyers up in the hallway about Wildly Important Goals (WIG) that I walk by every day when I drop her off. Clearly, it’s made an impact. I’ve set a WIG and since the goal was made in light of why I enjoy doing something so much, I feel like this WIG has staying power and will help power my writing ship for years to come. Time to execute!

May 2018 Update

Well, I missed April’s blog post. The first Saturday since I dropped to once a month updates, and I missed it—oh, well. I’m going to blame it on playing Horizon Zero Dawn on PS4. I actually got it for Christmas but delayed playing it until I was between writing projects. I thought it would be 10-15 hours of distraction—ha! I should’ve read the reviews more closely. Awesome game though, I’d highly recommend to any gamer that likes sci-fi.

I finished the alternate history steampunk novel, query letter, and synopsis back in March; and I’ve sorted through agents and have started querying—so that’s one 2018 goal done. And with the now regular addition of listening to audio books while working out (I know I previously said they weren’t for me, but they’re just so dang efficient), I’m up to 3 fiction books read and 6 nonfiction books. I’ll have to pick up the pace on the fiction books. I’m currently listening to one I don’t particularly care for, but I’m a little more than halfway and the next book up is one I’m really looking forward to so I’m eager to get through the less than good book.

I’ve begun research on a new novel series. I’m excited about the setting and the central idea, but I need to spend some time to get the setting right. Once the setting has gelled in my head, then I’ll start populating it with conflict and characters and then start drafting. I miss drafting, the thrill of discovering a story. I haven’t the slightest idea when I’ll start drafting again, but I hope it’s soon. I’d like to have most of the novel done before the end of the year. I hope to have a better estimate to when I can start drafting next time, until then!

Nearing Completion on Alternate-History Steampunk Book 1

Prepping the alternate-history steampunk novel for novel submission is done. Like many of my projects, it wrapped up unexpectedly and with much relief. I’m heartened by the fact that every time I read it, that I still like it and think it’s good. A lot of times after the fifth plus read through, I get so sick of a novel it starts to make my head hurt. This novel wasn’t like that. I got tired of it at times for sure, but I still always really liked it. So, I have some hopes.

Now I need to comb through the agent listings to find an agent that will be a good fit for both the book and myself. This does not look to be an enjoyable task, mainly since it’s tedious, boring, mind-numbing work that takes away from actual writing. There are a lot of factors to consider before approaching an agent, and good-ole-fashioned excel seems to be about the only way to get it all down to a manageable amount of data to sort through and rank-order. A quick five-minute search on one website that lists agents listed about 200 agents that might possibly fit the broad parameters I put in to match my book. That’s a lot to get through and only one website.


I also decided at the start of the year, that I’d drop my already sparse blogging schedule from first and third Saturday a month to just the first Saturday. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to dedicate to writing (such that I don’t think I’ve hit the 10 hour a week target once this year so far) and writing a blog post sucks down time much better spent elsewhere. Once a month is as low as I’ll go, since I do like posting at least that much for myself for posterity and goal tracking reasons.

Now all I need to do is decide what the next project is ….