Flexibility

At the end of last year, I talked about my plans for productivity in 2020. Today I want to talk about something just as important. Flexibility.

The simple fact is, writing calls for a lot of it.

So, your book, “the one”, didn’t land you that agent, or a book deal. You may need to shelve it. Cue anger, sadness, grief, despair. Shelving something has the connotation of putting something away that can never see the light of day, and will slowly grow old and moldy until you throw it out once the misery has mellowed. I don’t like thinking about it that way. Never have.

I prefer to think of it as that book that you just couldn’t finish, weren’t ready for, or the read that everyone loved but it’s just not for you right now. Too long. Too short. Too hard—some books need the depth of emotion that comes from certain events in life, and maybe some emotions were too raw, too incomprehensible, or needed more of your soul than you could impart. It’s just not for “now”.

And that’s where flexibility comes in. Are you ready to put down one thing and take up something new? Can you adopt a new path if that’s what’s needed for you and your work as a whole? It’s something to think about.

Being able to pivot in your course isn’t easy, particularly when it’s expected that a good dose of the stubborns is needed to succeed in writing. But there’s also a need for adaptability, a willingness to have multiple ideas, multiple goals, and multiple stories, and to be able to shift from one to another.

You just never know when you might have to change directions!

Fearless First Drafts

My week off was interesting. I didn’t handle it very well.  A day in, I got bored.

I decided to paint to relieve that boredom. I ran through about eight tubes of watercolor in four days. But I completed a piece or two, and did a few practice pieces that definitely challenged me to not be afraid of the paint, and to let myself go as dark as I needed to go on the first pass if possible. Why? Because there’s a saturation point at which paint is at its most vibrant. Keep layering to achieve the depth and you risk muddying your colors. It pays to be bold and dynamic from the outset, to be fearless.

Not that much different from writing a first draft.

I don’t hold to the opinion that all first drafts are crap, and that’s why we rewrite. Rather, we rewrite to add a few more layers of paint to places where we didn’t lay down the pigment as well as we might. Because there’s a learning curve, it’s not uncommon to end up picking at it so much in the revision process that we end up with mud, have to scrap it, and start over with a new draft of the same story. Still not crap, and definitely not wasted time.

I’ve done all of those things at one point or another—rewrites to add depth, add emotional quality, add stronger motivations and more conflict. I’ve taken stories that lacked stakes and redrafted them to make them darker and more dramatic. It’s part of becoming a writer, just like making truly horrendous mistakes with the paint and paper is part of learning how to paint.

But the more I paint, the bolder I’ve become. No more poking around in tiny pools of paint for me. Bring on the deep wells! Order the 21ml tubes! Forget the tiny brushes! Gimme a big brush! Big paper! Dangerous subjects! Gimme! I can mess up. I’m not afraid. If I can’t fix it, I’ll turn over the page, sketch it afresh, and paint on the back.

That same thing is beginning to happen in my writing. Frankly, I love it. My latest WIP, FLIPPING, is a perfect example of that increasing confidence. While I largely believe that the voice of my protagonist, Charley Dalton, was simply his way of expressing himself, I was amazed at how deep he wanted to get into his motivations, emotions, and beliefs about himself and others from the very beginning. Instead of backing off, and muting his colors, he flaunted them on every page.

As for dangerous subjects? I had no idea that he wanted to dig so deeply into territory that I’ve never explored, feelings I found almost unnerving in their complexity. He wanted to address social concerns that will require more research on my part. And the magic system is like nothing I’ve written before.

It’s going to be advanced project for me in revisions. I’m not certain I’m up to it. But, like painting, being bolder and more open to mistakes really made the first draft something very special. Here’s to hoping my revision will be just as bold, dramatic, and absolutely fearless.

 

End of the Year: Looking Forward

New Year’s Resolutions: The Eternal Quest of Self-Improvement

 

It’s that time again. I wrote out my great and grandiose plan for next year.

 

Ironsfork Trilogy Line edits, rewrite sequel, and draft book 3—sequel is in second draft form. If I have time, finish a spin-off that needs another 50K to complete.

Tree Gods Quartet  Revise Tree Gods pending Beta feedback, rewrite sequel—all of this series is already in first draft form.

Rewrite Flipping Completed the first draft on 12/29. Hope to pick this one back up late March or April.

Draft Dark Water (just a concept, light character work, and a query letter at this point)

Work on a short story every week. Goal is a finished one about every month or so.

Work through 4 craft books, doing all the exercises

Read 52 fantasy books. I set no limits on non-fiction, other genres, Beta reads, or graphic novels. I can read as many or few of those as I want.

Take one week off of writing every four months.

 

I don’t know how much of that will happen. I know that sometime in January, most likely, I’ll get my eagerly-awaited line edits to work on, and then I’ll be rescheduling all of the above. Yes, I already have a schedule in mind, and even have a month off in there to do some character work and goof off. I can do this! But that last one I’m having trouble with.

Short of anesthesia and a few sick days, I haven’t taken a day off of writing in around ten years. I don’t like going a day without writing. If I’m not drafting or revising, I’m composing a poem, writing in my journal, interacting with the writing community on Twitter, or chatting craft with some of my writing buddies on Slack.

This year, I’m going to try to take one solid week off of writing every four months. That includes Twitter. Gasp. And blogging. Crud. And writing short stories, novels, poems, non-fiction essays, journals, and to-do lists. Argh. But sometimes you have to schedule rest for your own, introverted self, or you’ll never do it. So, here goes.

There will be no blog post from me on January 6, 2020. I’m on a writing vacation. When I get back, I’ll talk about the project I finished before the break, FLIPPING. See you on the other side!

End of the Year: Looking Back

Yesterday, I spent about a half hour reading over stories and poems I wrote last year and the year before. Among them was a legend that one of my characters told to a character who is never named, but hinted at in Dwyn’s backstory during Ironsfork. The entire story is a fun one, but I don’t want to give away too much of the “other character” because I have a feeling I may meet her soon in preparation for drafting the third book of that series as a first draft later this year.

But the legend is interesting, and very seasonal at the darkest point of the year for my dwarves. Enjoy!

The First Dh’Morda: Legends of Ironsfork

Once, the dwarfs were a folk of great magic, complete in ourselves, and there were no children.

We came from the mountain: born of the stone, of the fire in the earth, the wind that caressed the mountaintop, the earth that made the fertile soil, the water that gave life to the valleys below. Men and women both came from the stone. We were never the same as the goblins say they were in the beginning, and never coupled the way the humans say they did in the beginning. No. To our men, the mountain gave the magic of finding and making beautiful things, we took delight in creating. To our women, the mountain gave the magic of strength and cunning, and they delighted in conquest and battle. And so we were sundered—because men will fight for their treasure, and women for their land, and the mountains flowed red with blood.

Mother Mountain, from whom all magic begins and ends, feared for the lives of her warlike children, and so she tried to speak, to reason with them. But the men were too occupied with making things of her flesh and blood, and the women too occupied with warring over her body and bones, and of all the folk, only two dwarfs heard and made the quest to the holy caverns of Rigah Tarn where her voice was strongest.

The woman arrived first. She laid aside her weapons, and in obedience to the mother, she let down her hair and unbraided her beard, and removed all of the armor she wore to be in union with Mother Mountain. And Mother Mountain showed her the mysteries of magic, and so we say that the getting of magic comes from our mothers.

Then the man came, and when he found himself in the presence of Mother Mountain, he spread the treasures he had brought as a gift at her doorway, and he danced for the joy that was in him. He did not see the woman was already there, and had won the mysteries for her sex. But Mother Mountain loved him, and she blessed him, because he was no mighty fighter like the woman, nor a great crafter of his folk, but a man who could lay down all his wealth and occupations to answer her call. And so we say that the understanding of magic comes from our fathers.

The woman raised her hand to strike down the man, but she had laid her weapons down in return for the magic. Mother Mountain touched the hand of her daughter, and said, “If you would know why I have blessed him, dance with him and share his joy.” And so she danced, and he danced. For four weeks, they stayed together in the lap of the Mother, dancing in the ways she taught them. When the time was over, they gathered their clothes, armor, and the magic they had learned, and left for their homes. They soon forgot the wisdom of the Mother in their pursuit of war and craft.

Then came the season of war; and the mountain of women came upon the mountain of men, and the slaughter was great, until the woman who had danced for the Mother found the man who had danced with her. She raised her sword to kill him. As she drove her weapon down upon him, he took up a shield to defend himself and in doing so, he looked and saw her belly was swollen under her armor, and he remembered her, and threw his shield aside. But she, a warrior in her blood, cut him, deep into his shoulder, and when his blood flowed there, she knew him also. We say this is why all dwarfs must bleed to overcome the struggle against our mates. We must throw away the shields in our bodies and allow our blood to run.

Then Mother Mountain raised her voice, and earthquakes shook the minds of the men and the women, and they ceased all fighting, and they looked into the faces of their enemies, and saw their mates.

The child born of the first man and the first woman to know Dh’Morda was Heldasa the Hero. And ever after, when the sun hides, and the winter drives our folk deep to mate, the dance of Dh’Morda begins again. It is both a dance and a battle, for it was forged in the belly of war.

 

 

End of the Year Review: Success

Last week I talked about productivity, and why word count isn’t always the best way for a writer to measure productive writing time. Moving forward is the best way for me to think of productivity. Sometimes that translates to word count. Sometimes it doesn’t.

This past week was more or less a “doesn’t”.

Don’t get me wrong. I wrote over 10,000 words in four days and not all of them were bad. But I’ve been working most of the week, and keeping up is like trying to juggle a lot of raw eggs. Sometimes I drop one or more of them. This week, I dropped the attitude one. I was so grouchy and irritated with everything! However, the ensuing grumpiness as I tried to work, keep up with the house, make sure my children were not educated by wolves, were fed, clothed, and happy, kept up with my drafting, character work, and reading, I did have some time to reflect on success in writing.

Like productivity, I think writers can define success in ways that are less than helpful. At one point or another, many writers fall into the trap of thinking in terms of “if/whens”.

If/when I finish my first draft, I will be successful. If/when I get an agent, I will be successful. If/when I get published, I will be successful. Personally, I find the “if/when” game self-defeating.

Bottom line, none of those things are necessarily achievable. First drafts—well, some stories take about three drafts to get them to the story they were meant to be. (And don’t start on me about all stories being perfect if you plot them first. I know that’s a fallacy.) Getting an agent is largely a gamble of getting a good story in front of the right person at the right time. Publishing means finding a place that wants your story which means they have to see the market for it. Do I really want to tie my idea of success to variables outside my influence? I might want all those things to come true, and work hard to make them come true, but realistically, most of the if/whens are out of my control.

Some years ago, I decided that I was a writer. I write stories because they are mine to tell, and because I like telling them. Because I like telling stories, I want to tell as many as I can as well as I can. Success is getting better at what I do, one story at a time.

I can control that. I can influence that. I can study my craft. I can practice by writing as much as I can, getting feedback, and then rewriting, revising, and even shelving a story that simply isn’t holding up because of a concept flaw or too many plot improbabilities. I can rewrite whole stories multiple times until they say exactly what I want it to say. Every day becomes one more stepping stone on a road to a successful year.

Changing the definition of success to reflect improvement rather than achievement is also an excellent tonic for impostor syndrome, too. So what if I don’t sell a book as fast as one of my writing friends? So what if I don’t get an agent with my first book? So what if I have to rewrite my debut twenty-five times? So what if I have to shelve a book because it just isn’t strong enough to hold up to the intense process of writing-revising-rewriting-revising-revising again? So what if I can’t sell that short story? None of those things reflect failure. They are simply situations. How I react to them is up to me. They don’t change my success.

I would challenge any writer struggling with a defeated outlook this year to give up the if/when game if that’s holding you back. Change your view to look at yourself and how you have grown as a writer over the last year. See if that isn’t a better way to both give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back and challenge yourself to go further in the next year. After all—this kind of success you own!

End of the Year Thoughts

It’s that time again. NaNoWriMo is over. For better or worse, so is the writing year. Time to assess, see how it went, and decide if next year needs to be a year of improvement, drawing back, charging forward, or just steadily walking the tightrope between writerly productivity and that thing they talk about, you know, the thing? What normal people do? Where they go out with friends, and do stuff, and take vacations, and…

A life! That’s what they call it. Having a life.

So, how did I do this year? Was it a good year? Was I productive? Did I learn new things? Did I take new risks? Did I have…a life? How does a writer measure productivity when it can mean so many things?

I could go by word count. That’s the quantitative way. Let’s see how I did, November to November.

  • I drafted Tree Gods, and three sequels, completing a first draft of each book in what I hope will be a new fantasy series.
  • I drafted and submitted a handful of short stories, one of which ended up an Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future.
  • I revised Tree Gods from first draft to second draft in six weeks.
  • I revised Tree Gods again into third draft form while revising Ironsfork. I did both in six weeks. It was eight-hour days, seven days a week to get that done. I practically ate every meal in front of the laptop. This would be the third time I revised Ironsfork in one year, too.
  • I wrote queries and synopses for most of the stories I have, including the ones for all the Tree Gods books, and what I hope will be the Ironsfork Trilogy. I drafted queries for two standalone novels, including Flipping, which I hope to finish in first draft form by the end of December.
  • I wrote spin-off novel from the Ironsfork trilogy to discover what happens when the entire world has changed as a result of Ironsfork and all that happens there. It’s halfway finished.

That’s a lot of words. I’m estimating because I’m way too lazy to go look them all up at the moment, but if we just count the novel material, I wrote right around 460,000 new words this year, and I revised two novels three times. Boy, was I ever productive!

What very few people know was just how stressed I was. I write when I’m stressed.

  • I went on sub. Never done that before. I didn’t know many writers on submission. I’d heard it could be a very lonely, devastatingly rejecting sort of place. It wasn’t as bad as all that, but it was scary. I wrote.
  • After a breast cancer scare in January of 2018, in April of 2019 I developed a lump in my shoulder in my right supraclavicular space. Top differential was some sort of lymph node enlargement. I spent most of this summer hoping I didn’t have cancer, and trying to get some sort of diagnosis. Nobody seems to think it’s dangerous now—thank goodness—but they also can’t tell me what it is. If I still don’t have a name for it by the end of December, I’m calling it George. I’ll probably dedicate a book to it. “Many thanks to George who scared the words right out of me.”
  • I parted ways with my first agent. That was one of the hardest decisions and scariest things I’ve ever done. I’m still processing that. I’ll probably be processing it for a while. I wrote.
  • I euthanized two ancient cats two weeks apart in January, including one of the best cats I’ll ever own. I have her graphite portrait that I drew hanging above my desk. It’s hard being both a pet owner and a veterinarian, making that call to let your baby go, and then actually taking that life yourself. That’s one of those inward skewerings of the heart that never fully heals, and probably never should.

Now, how does that productive year sound? And compared to some things that writing friends of mine went through this year, I had it easy.

I’m incredibly grateful to my writing friends who helped me through “George”, who were my sounding boards and advocates through what happened with my writing career this summer, who sympathized with my losses of my pets. I am beyond grateful to my new agent, Naomi Davis, who took a chance on me, my novel, and helped me through that difficult process of changing agents and agencies. Still, all that “productivity” was my form of coping with things that are so hard to articulate they only come out screaming and bleeding on paper.

I’m looking forward to another productive year (hopefully a little less dramatic!), but I’m not looking at word count to quantify that. I didn’t look at it much this year. I just wrote. And that’s all productivity really means to me: going forward in whatever way I can over whatever obstacles are in front of me.

It’s very easy for a writer to fall into the habit of looking at a word count and seeing that as the basic measure of productivity. But out of all of those words, the most productive month I had was October 2018, before NaNoWriMo 2018 kicked off my writing year. I wrote only one thing. I wrote 50 pages of character work on Holly Hillwalker. Those 50 pages spawned a new world, a new series, and a forest full of characters I love. I was happy. I wasn’t distressed by health issues. I wasn’t on submission. I wasn’t grieving my pets. I was just being me, and doing what I do best—creating characters and building imaginary worlds.

My goal this writing year? Recreate that feeling I had back in October. Relax more. Read more. Be more. Even if I write less, I may ultimately move further ahead in my writing life. And after all, the only way I should measure productivity is forward progress.

 

Writer In Motion: Week 5

WIM Week 5: Final Thoughts

During this event, I kept track of the time I spent on the story and  blog posts. I wanted to check this statistic for a few reasons.

  • This event took place during NaNoWriMo. My usual NaNoWriMo word count for a month is between 75,000 to 120,000 words.
  • I have become more aware of time as my writing career has developed. I am working toward my eventual goal of being able to put out one new book a year regularly. I’ve been taking notes on how fast I am, and how fast I need to be.
  • I have a goal of writing a short story a week. Now, that’s not editing it and revising it, but I wanted to find out how many hours a week it might eat up from my writing time.

 

These were my results. They don’t reflect time that other participants logged, or anything other than the hard facts of how much time I spent writing for this particular event.

Final Time (Draft to Finished)

0.16 hr rough draft

2.25 hr redrafting

4 hr self-editing/revising

1.5 hr processing general CP feedback/brainstorming

3.5 hr revising based on feedback

2.5 hr revising based on second CP round

You can double that amount when it came to preparing the process notes, blog posts, etc.

 

I spent almost 14 hours on the story, and around 28 hours on the blog posts.

To put that in a little perspective, I draft at the rate of roughly 750 to 1,000 words an hour. Had I used all of that time for my NaNoWriMo project, I might have added 31,500 to 42,000 words to my current draft of 53,000 words. In short, I’d probably have a full first draft of a novel.

Ouch.

So…would I do WIM again? Well, not during NaNoWriMo. But at another time of year? Possibly. Word count isn’t always a good measure of productivity or of time well spent. I got to chat with other writers, do a lot of critiquing, talk craft and process, and develop a habit of putting up a blog post a couple of times a week, which I needed to do. Plus, I needed to spend some time reading and resting after an intense summer and fall of revisions. The jury is still out on whether I do better recharging by drafting a new novel or drafting and revising a short story. The edge goes to the drafting without revision, but I’m such a solitary writer in general, that doesn’t surprise me!

So, what about my idea of a short story a week?

Well, if I look at the time spent for the short story, in practice, I would probably spend 10 to 11 hours. Some of the rounds of feedback would go, and maybe all of them. I don’t often get a CP involved for a short story. Plus, short stories are great places to explore new techniques, try a different genre, mess around with POVs you wouldn’t dare try in longer fiction, not to mention trial things you are personally working on in your longer work. Not to mention they are fun to write. I’m still planning on trying to write a new piece of short fiction every week in the New Year.

Last week, while talking to my art instructor, I asked her to hold me to my New Year’s resolution for painting next year. I feel I’ve been spending too much time on still life paintings and portraits. While I want to continue working on those, I also want to add whole body drawings and paintings, landscapes, and buildings (interior and exterior) to my practice pieces this year. In short, I’m expanding my range. I want to draw and paint pictures of scenes from my novels. I have an idea that they might be nice things to share with readers. It’s just for fun, but if you can’t have fun with your art, why do it?

In the same way, I don’t always need to be writing novels. I need to be writing short stories, flash fiction, and novellas. By experimenting with these various forms of fiction, I may learn what stories are suitable for longer exploration, and what stories are better told in a condensed form. I’m not saying that short stories can’t form the backbone for longer fiction, or that longer fiction won’t have moments that can make a great short story. But the ability to know what form fits a story best is something that comes with practice.

So why not get that practice with short stories? The worst that can happen is that you get to practice your prose. The best that can happen is that stories start flying in and out of your head like a butterfly migration.

I like those odds myself.