Category Archives: writing plans

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #7

Yes, a progress report on Princess of Stars, something that hasn’t happened in over a year.  That’s because, effectively, there has been no progress.  To be precise, I have written, re-wrttten, cut, deleted, re-purposed, re-arranged, laid the story down in the despair, hovered on the edge of deleting everything and un-publishing the first four Divine Lotus novels, considered giving up writing entirely, written some more and deleted that– with the net effect being that I have been more-or-less cycling around the same point in the story for more than twelve months.  Throw in some clinical depression and about three major life-changes (which are still all working themselves out) and completing this novel has been a goal that has seemed far, far out of reach.

What has changed?  Nothing seismic. There’s been no epic epiphany, nor sea-change in my writing.  Just a couple of small things that seem to be helping me get unstuck.

Firstly, I think I have hit upon a means to finesse some of my inability to get past my blockage.  In my flibbertigibbet way of doing drafts, I normally write passages out-of-sequence, working on later or earlier passages in the narrative when I’m stuck somewhere.  Knitting it all together into a coherent story is what happens in the second draft.  This time around, however, I am doing something a little different; I am writing the story with the intention of not necessarily adhering to a linear timeline for the action– and, in the process, I am not worrying my pointy little noggin too much about connecting passages and such what.  It seems to be helping.  The finished product may look quite different from the other Divine Lotus novels, but the whole point of this is to get to a finished product, and I’m getting kinda ruthless in pursuit of that result.

Secondly, I think I’ve finally reached the acceptance stage of grief over my writing.

When I started, rather late in life, to write in a serious way I thought that I was pretty good.  The process since then has been a slow coming to terms with the fact that I will never be anything more than mediocre.  There’s a reason why no editors ever accepted any of my over-the-transom submissions, nor any agent ever took me on.  I’m just not that good.

It’s been hard for me to get to this place.  I spent a long, long time in the denial stage (ain’t just a river in Egypt, folks).  I think I passed through anger and bargaining pretty quickly, and then spent a very long time in depression.  It didn’t help that my depression wasn’t just about my writing, either.  The last twenty or so years have been hard in many ways, lightened here and there by friendships and the arrival of my daughter (make that the glorious and splendid arrival of my daughter, but I digress…..).

I may- may-be coming out of that stage.  As I mentioned, there have been some serious life-changes, and those may be helping.  The jury is still out.  But I believe I’m done with illusions about myself and my writing.

I will never have much of an audience; I will never make much money at this; and it’s very doubtful anyone will ever make a movie out of any of my works.  If any of this were to happen, I would be pleasantly surprised and give God the glory– but I have to stop holding my breath over it.  I’ve been getting dizzy….

Having said that, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to finish this story and the others still in my head, for my sake and for the story itself.  It’s not going to be great literature and it’s not going to wow the masses.  But I think the story is worth completing.

So– 49,000 words out of a projected 150,000, not quite one-third.  I am finally on the verge of getting Kathy on the road in pursuit of the Lady Rose Adamant– yes, the core action is a chase– and hopefully I will be able to report solid progress from here on out.  Not that there won’t be missteps and recalculations– knowing me, it’s pretty much guaranteed.  But I think I see a path forward, and that’s progress.

Later.

Oh, and PS– I got to use the word selbstgefällig today in the story.  I am so jazzed…..

 

 

 

Been gone so long….

No one is likely to have noticed, but for the last several months I have been largely disconnected from my blog– a couple of movie reviews, a few short political rants, but nothing about the core reason I created this blog in the first place, which was to share my writing experiences and struggles.

I won’t go into graphic detail about why.  My writing efforts tend to go through cycles of enthusiasm and despondency as it is, but for the last few months I have been particularly disconnected from my major projects, and could only doodle away at other pieces that have no hope of being published any time soon.  More than that, I came perilously close to closing out and discarding the Divine Lotus series of novels altogether, and had to be talked out of it, to a large extent, by an old friend whose enthusiasm for the books exceeds my own.

Life changes and personal failures contributed to my malaise.  I have been actively depressed, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, to the degree that it was hard to see a point in my writing.  A sense of futility often made it hard for me to even get my hands to the keyboard.

I cannot say that is all over and done with.  I’ve taken certain steps to redirect my life, but it is unclear at this hour whether these steps will be effective.  I have, however, resumed writing Princess of Stars.  The Horseman (a terrible title, but it’s only tentative) is also in the pipeline.

The truth is, I am not a very good writer, and I never will be.  My writing is mediocre, at best, and it was that sense of dissatisfaction that nearly caused me to dump the Divine Lotus novels.  I’m also never going to make any serious money at this.  That’s become more and more apparent to me, as well, but I think that I have recovered enough from my depression to simply want to see the stories completed for the sake of being completed. That seems a worthy and sufficient goal in itself.

Hopefully this new resolution will hold, and I will be posting more often in the coming months.  In addition to talking about my progress on my projects, I’d like to get back to doing more movie and book reviews.  I might even once more take up the cudgel of flash fiction challenges, but I make no promises.

Of course, this all assumes that a certain bloviating blowhard is denied access to the nuclear codes and doesn’t thereby blow us all to hell.

But that’s another post.

Later.

 

 

 

Princess of Stars Update #6– Crawling back into the sunshine….

Princess of Stars is now at 30,000 words, one-fifth of my rough estimate of 150,000 words. In the unlikely event anyone has noticed, it has been about six weeks since my last update, largely because I spent most of that time not writing Princess of Stars. Kinda logical, when you think about it….

Why I wasn’t writing is complex. Chiefly I was going through one of my periodic funks in which I find it hard to exercise the daily discipline of getting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Usually I get through it, but this spell took a little longer than normal to run its course.

Why was I finding it hard to write? That’s where the complexity comes in. A new, physically demanding temp job, personal life issues, and financial worries all contributed. The biggest factor, though, was an emotional certainty that my writing really doesn’t matter. I’ve blogged about this before, and it’s something with which I have often struggled. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming, at least for a while, and I just grind to a halt. It becomes a deal easier to play a computer game or watch a movie than it is to get words down.

In a way, writing is a bit like faith. Sometimes, you just have to practice it, no matter how you’re feeling at the moment. Yes, it is a discipline, and being disciplined about it is usually the hallmark of a professional. By that standard, it’s pretty obvious that I still have things to learn about the craft. No surprise there….

Along with that, I think it’s helpful to pay heed to the work of others you find inspiring. Personally I can hardly watch any halfway decent production of Shakespeare without feeling inspired and motivated about my own work. In this particular case, I think it was a movie that helped recharge my batteries– sadly, not Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two. That, and listening to James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for the picture. Music has always been an important aid to my writing, sometimes helping me (I think) to a higher level. The soundtrack for Mockingjay Part Two captures its epic proportions, and reflects something of what I’m trying to do with Princess of Stars. That sort of resonance is priceless.

It is also helped when I remembered that I am, at bottom, doing this for myself– not an audience (which I don’t have) and certainly not for any critics. I’m not looking for the approval of editors or literary gatekeepers. I want this story told, and only I can tell it. However imperfect or inconsequential it may be, I still want to complete it.

So, once again, back to work. Like faith, the writing process has its mountain-top moments and its long trudges through the dark valleys. Bring your persistence, and your favorite music.

Later.

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #5– It’s a strange business we’re in….

Princess of Fire is now at 22,000 words and change. If I had maintained my desired pace over the last few days that total might have been a couple of thousand words higher. One of the odd things about having so much time on my hands is that I hardly ever get anything done with it. Yesterday was particularly hard– I spent most of the day playing PC games, when I wasn’t sitting down for a Skype interview or preparing for an adult education class I’m leading. Whatever was happening with my mind-set, it made it seem almost physically impossible to drag myself to my writing, although it would have only meant logging off the computer game and starting Word. It wasn’t until just before bed-time that I managed to get a few hundred words down, even as I was nodding off over my keyboard.

The Skype interview probably didn’t leave me in a very good mood. It was with a rep from a placement company, and, somehow, it very quickly went from “We’ve got a hot prospect we need to fill now” to “We’ll put your name in our pool and see if we can find something that fits you.” It’s probably an unworthy, paranoid thought that the shift came when the very young rep saw the gray hair and baggy eyes looking back at him in the Skype window. I have to avoid assuming my age is the central reason I haven’t landed a day job yet– if you go down that road, then every disappointment becomes a conspiracy. That way lies ruin.

In any event, it took me a while to gin up enough energy to write even a few words. Hopefully I can get back in the groove soon (did I just date myself? Oh, well….).

As for Princess of Stars itself, I realized that one piece of business I just put down will not work– Kathy has to meet with a delegation of Val come to Earth, and the way I got them there (in the face of what could be some pretty fierce political opposition) is more than a little cockamamie. I will have to come up with a better excuse/rationale before the final draft.

I would be far from the first person to observe that writers are engaged in a strange business– the detailed depiction of the lives of people who, for the most part, don’t exist and never will. Even historical and ‘autobiographical’ novels to some degree or another fictionalize their characters. It’s one of the reasons why writers are sometimes looked askance by non-writers.

A corollary to the essential non-existence of our characters is the difficulty we face in making their lives logical. This is particularly acute when writing genre fiction, romance, mystery or detective fiction, science-fiction or fantasy– the more elaborate the plot, and the further we get from the everyday, linear storyline of most lives– “She is born. She loves. She dies.”– the harder it becomes to create a internally consistent and logical narrative. Even great literature sometimes contains logical flaws, moments when the reader is at risk of being stopped in their tracks and wondering, “How does that make sense?” or “Why did they do that?” There are whole Youtube channels (for example, here and here) that are largely devoted to pointing out the logical flaws of movies.

Now, some authors and film directors, frankly, do not give a rat’s effluvial emission about logical consistency (Michael Bay comes to mind). These are writers and directors whose works are obviously about the spectacle or action, for whom logical consistency would simply gum up the works. Most of us, however, do care to at least some degree or another about getting the logic of the story right, simply because we want our creations and characters to have verisimilitude, and because we want to avoid throwing the reader or the viewer out of the story and make them start to say, “Wait! Stop– what?” All-too-often, that disruption is a kiss of death for a book or movie.

Now, if there’s a golden rule on how to do this, I don’t know what it is. All I do is rely on my sense of the story as a reader to tell me whether something makes sense, and then my skill (ha!) as a writer to correct it. This is not always easy; correcting one logical flaw may entail restructuring and rewriting the story in major ways. This is why ‘tightly plotted’ is usually a high compliment in genre fiction. It’s a skill at least as important as characterization.

It’s just too bad some people ignore it. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, Mr. Bay….

Lookit, Lookit!

I finally figured out (thanks to information I gleaned from the WordPress forums) how to add a word count progress bar to my posts. I’m so jazzed I’m willing to publicly admit that it took me three years to figure out how to do something a fourteen year-old could probably have done in fifteen minutes. Ten thousand words out of 150,000 is about 6.6%, which is a start, if nothing else….

Of course, now that I know how to do it the temptation is to throw progress bars up for other projects, but I am going to try to stay focused on my main work-in-progress. Really. I mean it.

Oh, and I am working on some fiction to post for this week, but my planned schedule took a bit of a beating today because of a long road trip we took, in order to allow my daughter to tour a college she’s interested in. Which is a bit of a head-trip; I could swear she just started kindergarten a little while ago….

Princess of Stars Update #2– The Productivity Question

I am now over 8000 words on Princess of Stars. No immediate issues have yet become evident– I’ve tentatively dealt with the story logic problem revealed by my synopsis. My productivity is about the only question mark at the moment– I essentially added five thousand words in nine days, or about 550 words a day. That is not a blistering pace, but it is fairly typical for me.

I stand in awe of those writers who can do one thousand or two thousand words a day, day after day. In his autobiography Fred Pohl stated that he wrote 2000 words a day, every day, even when he was traveling or having dental surgery. Obviously, this was critical to making him, in his day, one of the most productive writers in science fiction.

For some reason– laziness? lack of intellectual staying power? poor self-esteem?– I rarely can achieve as much as 1000 words a day, and I can never sustain it. My natural daily word count seems to fall somewhere in the range of 500 to 700 words (tonight I did about 750, woo-hoo). If I am right about this novel running to around 150,000 words (a pure guess at this point), then that would mean the first draft of Princess of Stars will be complete sometime around the middle of August, 2016. That’s not so bad.

The awful part is that I know that target date is sure to slip, because many other factors reduce my effective daily word count– real-life distractions (flu shots and bills and forms to be taken to my daughter’s school), my lack of a personal work-space (I need a man-cave sooo bad), wasting time doodling on other projects, and so on. And then…then there is the time lost to those days– sometimes weeks with Princess of Fire— when the essential futility and wretchedness of my writing oppresses me and I lie in a puddle of self-pity, unable to lift my hands to the keyboard. I am not one of those authors who are breezily confident in their own writing. It’s too easy for me to see my own flaws, and note the (large) gap between conception and execution. Perhaps the miracle with Princess of Fire is that it only took twenty months to complete.

I’ve said it before– perseverance is one of the cardinal virtues of a writer. Fortunately, I am very stubborn person. And, come what may, I am on the road.

More reports to follow.

A MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT OF EARTH-SHATTERING IMPORTANCE!

Well, not really.

All I really wanted to do is to call attention to a change in the way I blog.

For the last three or four years I have blogged when I’ve felt like it. I started this blog as a stimulus to my own writing efforts; over time it evolved into, not just a place to talk about my progress on my current work-in-progress, but also a space in which to vent, to bloviate, to express my opinions on books or movies, and, perhaps most importantly, to experiment with fiction, short and long. I’ve written more short fiction, flash and otherwise, on this blog than I’ve ever done anywhere before. I wrote 60,000 words of a fantasy novel for which, unfortunately, I could not in the end find a resolution, and which has joined my (many) other trunk novels on the Great Backup Disk of Oblivion. I’ve actually committed written poetry.

But it has all been more-or-less random, with me being my typically undisciplined self. That’s the part I’ve decided to change. I am introducing a schedule for this blog.

There are three weekly flash fiction challenges I’ve followed in the past– Sunday Photo Fiction, Mondays Finish the Story, and Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge, which typically appears on Fridays. Not every one of these challenges sparks my interest every week (this week’s from Chuck is a horror mash-up. Sorry, don’t do horror, nope, uh-uh, call me Mr. Wussy, I don’t care), but between the three of them I should probably be able to figure out something short fiction-wise to post weekly on Monday. If not, I can post a story fragment, similar to The Golem or one of my abandoned story pieces, such as Northern Lights.

Each Wednesday or thereabouts I intend to post a short update on my WIP, which at this time is Princess of Stars (note– I passed 5000 words today. Probably about 1/30th of the final total. Maybe. The road stretches away, toward the far-distant hills….).

On Fridays I want to start posting a weekly review of a movie or a book, similar to my review of Station Eleven, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Some of these may be new books and first-run movies, but many will be classic works that have influenced me one way or the other. Since I did a review of The Curse of Chalion yesterday, I’m giving myself a pass for this week.

On this framework I will also tack occasional additional posts about other topics, incidental poems or spontaneous rants. However, there is one topic I intend to avoid– politics. Despite the fact that here in the US we are schlupping our way into the presidential election, despite the fact that so much of what is going on is eminently worthy of satire, and despite the fact that I have opinions (oh, brother, do I have opinions) about so many of the candidates, and the state of our union at this particular moment, I don’t want to devote much time in this blog to discussing the election. I’ve tried to keep this space dedicated to writing and books and movies, and I don’t want to stray too far from that focus. I may set up a Tumblr account devoted to politics, but I also don’t want to take too much time and energy away from my fiction writing. Politics in this country at the moment is a bottomless pit, and I’m not sure my two cents would do anything to illuminate the darkness (yah, a triple mixed metaphor! High-five to myself).

Lastly, I am contemplating trying to serialize more long fiction, but my previous attempts have been mixed at best. And again, I don’t want to take energy away from Princess of Stars. It’s just that I have a lot of ideas, and bits and pieces of different stories written down, and I would like some of these stories to see the light of day, one way or the other. We’ll have to see.

Meanwhile, changes are coming, hopefully positive. Bear with me.

Princess of Stars Update #1 – And so it begins….

I now have a very, very skeletal synopsis for Princess of Stars in hand, and it has already paid for itself in revealing a gobsmackingly huge logic flaw in my initial conception. Some serious rethinking will need to be rethunked before I get too far with the draft.

But the operative word about the synopsis is “skeletal”. In plain truth, there are large sections of the novel in which I do not know what happens. I know the beginning, and I know the end, right down to the last sentence of the book, but most of the rest, nope. I just can’t make it up ahead of time. It’s not in me. I have to discover the novel by writing it. This appears to be an irreducible truth about how I write.

So, this is Day One of what will most likely be another very long process. I have already doodled about 3000 words, including the excerpt I included in Princess of Fire. I am going to try to make this more of a straight-through draft of the story, instead of hopscotching all over the place, as I did with PoF. Maybe I can avoid the chaos of that book. I certainly hope so.

My productivity may vary a good deal, in large part because of real-life issues I’m dealing with. Chief among these is my continued lack of a day job, which is getting pretty critical. That, obviously, will demand a certain amount of attention over the next few weeks, and will doubtless impact my ability to concentrate on the novel. Hopefully, though, that particular problem will be resolved soon.

As I did with Princess of Shadows and Princess of Fire I will post updates at irregular intervals. My one prayer is that I can give Kathy a good concluding chapter. She deserves it.

Later.

Time to shed the purple funkies….

Since I’ve published Princess of Fire, I’ve kinda felt like Bill the Cat on a bad day–

bill-the-cat2

I’ve doodled away on four or five different projects, none of which have much prospect of seeing the light of day anytime soon, when I haven’t been collapsed in a purple funk. I was briefly cheered by an small uptick in my book sales on Amazon, but the warm fuzzies didn’t last (said uptick shows every sign of being over).

In the wake of my struggles with Princess of Fire, I have been afflicted with the certainty that I am a useless putz and a complete hack, enjoying a well-deserved obscurity. My mood has not been lightened by the fact that, in my unemployed state, I have slipped down to the only rung on the ladder of personal despair lower than yard work.

Yes. I have started to clean out the garage. Pray for me.

In the end, though, self-pity palls. You either have to yield to a final dissolution into a puddle of primordial slime, or stand up, buckle on your harness once more, and face the storm– i.e., knock off the whining and get back to writing, dork.

Because, if I’m a miserable hack, at least it’s my miserable hackness…hackiness…hacknicity…whatever. It’s my duty, or doom, to write my stories, and nobody else’s– and, conversely, no one else can write stories that belong to me. I need to tell them, and that’s all there is to it. Whether they ever get read is quite a separate issue.

As I do, I console myself with the thought that at least my stuff is better than Fifty Shades of Grey. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

So–

MY IMPORTANT WRITING PLANS–

1. Set up the Createspace print-on-demand version of Princess of Fire. This shouldn’t be particularly arduous, so a week or two should be sufficient to check this item off. No one has yet bought any of my POD editions (which means the three copies I own are completely unique and exist nowhere else in this universe, which is kind of freaky when you think about it), but you never know when some librarian in Ottumwa might decide to give you a shot.

2. Spend a month writing a detailed synopsis for Princess of Stars. I’ve already blogged about my deep and abiding desire to avoid another pantsing disaster, although I have not experienced a sudden conversion to detailed, anal-retentive plotting, and still less outlining (this is writing, people, not engineering). I know where Princess of Stars begins and I know where it ends, but I need to have a clear picture of what happens in-between.

3. Sometime in October-November launch into the first draft of Princess of Stars. God alone knows how long it will take to complete the first pass– I’m planning on allocating at least a year. How some people write full novels in three months puzzles the crap out of me.

4. Pick up the pace of my blogging– who knows, maybe even establish an actual schedule, although I don’t want to go off the deep end. Among other things, there are books and movies out there just waiting to be reviewed, which obviously need my particularly ignorant and completely biased opinion to find their correct place in the artistic inventory of Western civilization. That’s another aspect of my writing only I can commit…um, write.

Note: I previously blogged that I would be spending time on Horse Tamer between Princess of Fire and Princess of Stars. Unfortunately, I have laid it aside. My previous experiment yielded 60,000 words that went nowhere, and I think I finally have to admit that this story-line needs to go back on the shelf, probably permanently. It makes me sad, but I have only so many years left on this Earth, and I can’t spin my wheels forever.

So– once more into the fray, chilluns….

“Ring the alarum-bell!—Blow, wind! Come, wrack!
At least we’ll die with harness on our back.”

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, Page 3

And waiting…a brief Princess of Fire update

This is perhaps the very hardest part of editing a book– waiting for the beta-readers to return their feedback. I’ve gotten a response from one reader on Princess of Fire, and I’m waiting for input from two others. Patience is a virtue, or so I am told….

In the interim I’ve gone ahead and started a fourth reading of my own of a new CreateSpace PDF proof I’ve created. This one is mainly to make sure that my pagination, spacing and page breaks are all in the right places. I assume (hope) that my remaining beta readers will not find anything major at this point, and that there are no important changes left to be made. Still, I’m holding off calling the text finalized, just to make sure.

You may notice that I did not say completed— that’s not a word I use a lot about my books. Over time I’ve come to accept the truth of the saying, which I have seen most recently attributed to Harry Crews, that novels are never finished, only abandoned. There comes a point at which you simply need to stop diddling with the damn thing and either publish it or send it to an agent or editor. That moment is fast approaching for Princess of Fire— in itself, a cause for rejoicing, considering that at times I damn near despaired of ever completing this novel.

In the wake of publishing Princess of Fire I will not immediately start in on writing Princess of Stars. At the moment I know how the book begins, and very precisely how it ends (right down to the last line), but the middle is a largely undiscovered country. After the pantsing disaster of Princess of Fire, I intend to take some time and try to get a better feel for the guts of Princess of Stars— if not a full outline, then probably a pretty detailed synopsis. I anticipate this book will be big and cover a lot of ground, so I want to have a firm foundation before I actually start.

In the interim, I will probably be spending some time expanding the partial draft I have for Horse Tamer, which may need a new title. It’s a story close to my heart, but I don’t anticipate completing it any time soon– when I try to think about a possible word count for it, the number “500,000” keeps coming to mind (don’t scream– there are bigger novels out there).

Beyond that, I plan on expanding my blogging efforts, which have been lagging lately. I have more movies to review and more unsubstantiated opinions to bloviate about. Of course, and hardly least, there is still the nagging need for me to secure a day-job, another project that has been in the doldrums lately.

But I am close, so close, to publishing Princess of Fire. The sense of liberation is going to tremendous. You might want to stand back….

Later.