Category Archives: writing process

Princess of Stars– sort of a progress report

Wanted to share this– the hard-copy line edit– as always, helping to keep red pen manufacturers in the black–

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Part of what you’re seeing on this page is the fact this portion of the story was cobbled together of out maybe three different versions of the same scene.  Being a pantser is sometimes a very messy business.

As always, I do hope that by the time I finish the edit I will still be able to read my corrections; my hen-scratching does seem to be getting more and more problematic as I get older.  Oh, well.

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Just a note….

Just a note, to note, in passing, something that happened last night.  Last night I completed a first draft for Princess of Stars.  The progress bar over there on the side reads “100% done”, which, over the last three years, is something I frequently despaired of ever seeing.

The breakthrough came in the first week of May, when I dumped thousands of words that were just…not…working, rethought the action of the middle third of the book, changing it essentially from a chase to a quest, and gave myself wholly over to writing while striving to ignore the ever-circling harpies of judgment.  This last week I pushed on despite developing a touch of carpal tunnel, and finished at about 9:15 PM yesterday.

The whole process for this novel was far more rocky for me than usual.  There were a lot of reasons for that, some of which I’m not really ready to talk about.  It wasn’t just that I found this novel hard– there were times when I was ready to chuck the whole writing thing altogether, and other times when I just couldn’t get my hands to the keyboard to do anything productive.  Some days it was just easier to watch YouTube videos.

By the grace of God and some hard thinking about what I was trying to do, I managed to get this first, and most essential, task done.  I’ve mentioned in other posts that once I have a draft in hand, I know I have the basic problem of any novel licked.  Like Aristotle’s ‘beginning, middle, end’, it sounds trite to say it, but it’s true– the most important thing you have to do when writing a story is to finish it.

Of course, having said that, there are weeks of work ahead.  I tend to see all my first drafts as narrative horrors, but this one is particularly scaly and gruesome.  I’m going to be a while getting everything ironed out and reconciled.  But that’s a normal part of my writing process; it was the inability to get to that first draft that log-jammed me for months and months on end and caused me to doubt whether I’m cut out for the writing life.

Well, truth to tell, I still have doubts, but with this novel, the completion of the Divine Lotus series, out of the way, I can move on to other projects and test the proposition in fresh fields.  Hopefully ones not filled with stuff that makes me sneeze.  I hate that.

Is the story any good?  Beats the crap out of me.  I’ll have to rely on others to make that judgment, because mostly I can only see the flaws.  But just finishing this, after so long a struggle, is a win, and a sure sign that final victory is in sight.

Later.

 

 

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…..

 

 

 

And now, on a completely different note, a few words about “The Horseman”

In case there’s anyone out there who cares, I missed last week’s installment of The Horseman, and I will probably miss this week’s.  The reason has to do with how I do first drafts.

I keep hearing about writers who outline everything about a story ahead of time, who know what’s going to happen to each character, who understand where each beat and turn of the the story will fall.  People for whom– allegedly– the writing of a story is merely a process of fleshing out the action.

That ain’t me.

My process is, quite simply, discovery of the story by writing it.  Usually, I have a general idea of the story’s action, some of the characters, and almost always how the story ends, but writing to get to that ending is typically a long process, often involving many doubts, much second-guessing, detours, re-routes and reboots.  Writer’s block is a familiar, if unwelcome, companion.  This is a major reason Princess of Stars has not progressed; I have been essentially stuck at one point in the narrative for about a year, until recently unable to understand how Kathy gets to a particular, but essential, change in attitude.  I may– may— have figured out in the last few days a way to finesse the problem.  We’ll see.

This is, frankly, not a particularly rational process.  I feel my way through an unlit cavern to discover the shape of my story, and wrong turns are common.  I have at times gone five thousand, ten thousand, fifteen thousand words down a path, only to realize it’s not working– the action is wrong for the character, or it doesn’t make sense, or it negates something else I’ve already written, or intend to write and which feels essential.  I have novels for which I have thrown away nearly as much as I have kept.

This is where I am at with The Horseman.  In attempting to push on past Part Eight I realized that how I handled Parts Seven and Eight did not ring true.  If I were doing this first draft properly, in private far from the tender eyes of readers, I could quietly eighty-six the failed passages and redirect the narrative.  Since I am committing the sin of presenting raw story, the uglier aspects of the process are, of necessity, laid bare as well.  Basically, Parts Seven and Eight must be retconned.  I am working on the changes at this moment.  But it will be a little while before I can re-post the parts and resume my forward progress.  For the time-being, The Horseman is on hold.

The silver-lining on this, of course, is that out of all the problems facing the world at the moment, the delay of this story is just about Number 178,289,129,367.  It’s good to keep things in perspective.

Later.

 

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 #3– My handicap as a writer…

Well, so far my intended posting schedule has turned to be more like an optional guideline. Here I am, two days late with my Princess of Stars update. I am either a lazy bum or I’ve been very busy. I have had quite a number of things to take care of this week, but I also spent too much time playing World of Tanks to honestly claim I was too busy to blog.

Princess of Stars is currently at 13,000 words. I am pushing through the initial setup and will soon be into the action. In this process I think managed to finesse, at least enough for the first draft, a particularly tricky section in which I was especially challenged.

I’m talking about Kathy’s love life. In dealing with this part of the narrative I suffer from a particularly acute handicap — I’ve never been a woman. Yes, I’m just a square that way.

In the first instance, I try to finesse this sort of thing by relating to the commonalities of people’s love lives– we all have the same emotional needs, no matter our culture or individual personalities. When that technique can’t carry me any further, I do research. I ask my wife and daughter.

Believe me, actually running a passage past people who can completely relate to it and spot its inadequacies is essential. And if you can’t do that by reading your writing to your spouse while she’s trying to watch The View, or describing the passage to your daughter while you’re driving her to school (captive audiences are pre-disposed to be critical), find beta readers who can help you out. In writing Kathy, a teenage to twenty-something young woman, I’ve found having beta readers who are all women invaluable. They’ve caught me in any number of errors and implausibilities.

With Princess of Stars this sort of backup is going to be especially essential– in the course of the next 137,000 words (or thereabouts) I’m going to put Kathy through some serious twists and turns, in which she’s going to have to confront issues she’s never dealt with before. Hopefully I will bring some verisimilitude to her reactions. At least, I can be sure I’ve got a network of first readers who will let me know if I go off course. And that’s the sort of support every writer needs.

Further bulletins to follow.

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–

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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

Some Words of Encouragement….

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Years and years and years ago, when I could still be considered a young man, my wife and I moved from California to Washington State so I could go to graduate school. One of my good friends in California gave me a going-away present. She was also an aspiring writer, and we briefly collaborated on some stories. Her gift was a handmade poster with encouraging quotes from notable authors about writing– frankly, one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. It was entitled “Some Words of Encouragement”, and it hung on the wall of most of my work-areas for the next decade. Eventually, however, we moved into a house with severe space issues, so it was stored away.

This weekend I started clearing our garage, possibly in preparation to sell that same space-challenged house, and I found the poster. It brought back good memories, but more than that, the quotes were still pertinent to my writing process, and I suppose they would be to anyone else’s, too. It seemed a good idea to share them, and here they are.

Note– since I received these quotes second-hand, I cannot wholly vouch for their accuracy. But my friend was pretty careful and precise in most of her dealings, so I have no reason to think they are wildly off the mark. Also, the advice dates from the Dinosaurian Age, when there was only Traditional Publishing (and typewriters!), and self-publishing meant handing out mimeographed copies of your work on street corners. Because of that, some of the quotes should be taken with a grain of salt– but they’re still fun.

Lastly, I’ve tried to keep transcription errors to a minimum.

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SOME WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

“Tell the readers a STORY! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.”

— Anne McCaffrey

“You are not your writing. That is, people can love you and hate your work. Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.”

— Ron Goulart

“Be persistent. Editors change; editorial tastes change; markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.”

— John Jakes

“Study the writers magazines and pound the hell out of the typewriter.”

— Erle Stanley Gardner

Any advice, ideas or suggestions about writing from people not in the creative world should be staunchly ignored and the damaging mental vibrations quelled with a good hot fudge sundae.”

— Nancy Winslow Parker

“Always make sure you get paid.”

— Ron Goulart

“Ray Bradbury told me to put a sign on my typewriter: DON’T THINK! It works miracles. I suggest one above that: HAVE FUN.”

— Richard Bach

“Preserve time each day for absolute quiet and privacy, whether you’re writing or not. It is, after all, the inner life that alone nourishes the writer’s real senses.”

— Donald Spoto

“The ideas that at first seem most outrageous, even ludicrous, are often our best and/or most creative ones – they just seem strange because we have gotten beneath the level of cliche in reaching them.”

— Rosemary Daniell

“You are your own person. You do not have to see things the way others do– in fact it will probably bode better for your writing if you do not.”

— Valerie Sherwood

“Write it and send it in. The most crucial thing a writer does is produce.”

— Robert B. Parker

“Life is a short run – milk it. Write what you really want to.”

— Ralph G. Martin

“The beginning writer needs talent, application and aspirin. If he wants to write just to make money, he is not a writer.”

— James Thurber

“The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He’s entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.”

— Larry Niven

“Don’t think and then write it down. Think on paper.”

— Harry Kamelman

“It takes most of us writers a long time to learn our craft. So keep at it. Don’t give up.”

— Jacqueline Briskin

“Don’t write what you know – what you know may bore you, and thus your readers. Write about what interests you – and interests you deeply – and your readers will catch fire at your words.”

— Valerie Sherwood

A Writer’s Doldrums, or the Poison of Doubt

It’s probably some sort of literary postpartum depression thingie, but since publishing Princess of Fire I haven’t had much energy for writing. At most I’ve doodled a few hundred words here and there on different projects, none of which have yet gelled. Somewhere in the distance looms Princess of Stars, for which I absolutely have no energy at the moment. On top of that, real-life has been handing me a few tasks of an urgent nature, which means even less time and energy for scribbling.

Publishing always causes me to reflect on my writing, i.e., it engenders doubts about whether I know what the hell I’m doing. With Princess of Fire the self-doubt was especially sharp and bitter– I stumbled through the book’s four drafts and had to finish with a extra-hard push to redeem a host of lingering crimes. Then typically, in my exhaustion, I make the mistake of reading really good writers, like Hilary Mantel or Patrick O’Brian, and the distance between my feeble efforts and the prose of those who are real writers wraps itself around me and threatens to squeeze the life out of me like some anaconda of inadequacy. Cognitively I know that comparing yourself to other writers is one of the worst things you can do; nevertheless, I do it a lot.

Somehow, though, my sense of inadequacy never quite quashes my need to write. There are those who view the need to write as an addiction, and I can see some truth in the idea. Fortunately, it is generally a positive addiction, if there can be such a thing. So, eventually, I am sure I will once more crank up the narrative machine and feed my need.

And maybe– just maybe– I will someday write something decent.

Later.