Confessions From The Writer’s Hard Drive

Somewhere, in the deep, dark depths of my hard drive, I have a mostly-complete manuscript of a prurient nature. Well, it really, really wants to be prurient, anyway. I’m not sure it quite makes it, since I don’t really have the attention span for other people’s sex lives… no, not even if they’re my own figments’ sex lives. Because, uhm… **plot bunny** and suddenly, there’s a series of explosions I have to deal with.

I do, however, go through a fairly regular phase of creative despair in which I’m absolutely positive my stories suck, and I should just turn to writing for the erotica of the month club.

In general, something usually kicks in and saves me before I get too far into Butch Billionaire Bad Boys in Space. But the knowledge that whatever I’m working on doesn’t have to be good is usually a pretty good way of kick-starting the creative juices, particularly on days when I’m not sure I’m capable of being good.

If I were going to write a romance, let’s be honest… it would probably include the words “And then he standardized her spelling, cut out sixty-two percent of her commas, and did some structural things with subplot B that somehow made the whole thing work. Also, he remembered to drop those books off at the library before she got fined. The End.”

Well, the closest I ever got is this manuscript. That lives on my hard drive. 89,000 words. That I will probably never revise, and that… well, let’s be honest… if it’s grounded in the real world (it is) and nobody dies (they don’t) I probably will never figure out quite what to do with it.

I can actually tell you why it was useful to write, though. It helped me to pin down exactly what it is that my stories tend to have in common. I tend to write about complex relationships–between individuals and cultures–and it doesn’t really matter whether I’m writing science fiction, or a romance, or a murder mystery, that will be there.

I think knowing that helps me to skim over the writers’ block phase faster. You know… what are the weirdest people I can possibly put in the same space ship? Right now, I’m moving on to something sorta different, but still the same. It’s a strange sort of thing.

I also think writing a lot without necessarily intending to keep everything has helped me get to a point where I can make more objective decisions about what’s worth revising, and when it’s time to move on.

That Morning Non-Routine

I am awake and staring at a blinking cursor. I’ve had breakfast, and I’ve remembered to put my laundry in the clothes dryer so it will be dry in time for me to go to work. I have checked in on the giraffe that is supposed to be having a baby, live-streamed from the whichever zoo it is. (No baby.)

This is what happens, by the way, when people inform the older generation about live streaming video… hundreds of hours of giraffe. Now live in a computer near me.

I have checked in on the forum where I’m a moderator, and answered a couple of questions. This is one of my bigger morning activities. Something I really do need to do on a regular basis. It’s a good forum. One of the best I’ve seen for writers.

And I have checked the news, the email, and a couple of ads, featuring things I didn’t know existed, but now desperately want. Especially at the fabulous prices listed. Closing and deleting.

Part of this is, of course, that I get up early. It was before 3 this morning, when I finally decided it was time to give up on that last chunk of sleep. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that, or to the idea that sleeping til 5 is “sleeping in.” I’m sitting under an electric light, pretending that it is not completely dark outside, and more or less bracing for the day.

If I had my creative, write when I feel like it choice, I’d probably be writing all night, and then going to bed… well, right about now. Last night, I wrote until that MUST be in bed moment, and then finally did go to sleep.

52 Index Card Pickup

I’m slowly sinking back into my revision, after an absurdly long time away from it. Life happens, and last year, it happened to me. I got a lot of other things done–for instance, that blogging regularly goal, and quite a few new words–but the revision, and the focus that takes were just not one of them.

I just finished cutting away the excess. I don’t want to revise every single wandering train of thought that choo-choo-ed its way through my mind, and that was a lot of bulk. I think that process took away half of the raw words off the bat.

Now, I’m working on figuring out just how many words I have left, and how I want to use those words.

I have about 40,000 words I’m good with. The first chunk of the novel has already been organized and revised, and it’s… well, either breathtakingly brilliant or mind-boggling awful, depending on how I’m feeling at any given moment. Anyway, it’s pretty much done.

Science Fiction and Fantasy novels can be pretty big, but with some guidance from Uncle Google, I see that 100,000 – 115,000 is a good range to aim for. So… subtract my 40,000 words, and I wind up with 60-75 k left to go.

I’m using three different colors of index card here:

  • Green–for the things that are already IN the book.
  • Violet–for the 60,000 words that are well and truely safe.
  • Yellow–for the next 15-20,ooo, which are creeping toward that limit, or possibly over it.

For the new/or yet-to -revise portions of the book, I’m figuring 2,000 words per scene, which works out to 30 violet cards and 10 yellow cards.

Then, I sat down and wrote out lists of all the scenes the book NEEDS. One for my main characters and one for my antagonist/main subplot/whatever we’re calling her. That eats up twenty three of my violet plot cards, and brings the currently planned total somewhere around 86,000 words.

Deep breath, and exhale. I am definitely going to be able to squeeze everything into ONE free-standing book. I was worried about that. Particularly since it definitely isn’t two whole books.

So, now, I’m debating whether I have the willpower to just sit down and write through those cards without tinkering with much of anything on the way.

People Leave So Many Ideas Lying Around!

I was at the movie theater this week, taking in the bargain-basement special. If you get up early enough, tickets cost less, and I’m always up pretty early, anyway. The movie wasn’t bad, or maybe even good.

Somewhere toward the beginning of the movie, my mind latched onto some little detail of the thing that appealed to my Muse. I’m not talking about something like “It should be about a girl who gets caught up in a tornado, and whisked away to a strange land, but instead of OZ, in my book, it’ll be Macy’s.” More like watching Gone With The Wind, and focusing in on “This is set in the south. What a cool idea. My next book’s gonna be set in the south.”

Except, you know… the south on a space-ship, ’cause that’s more my thing.

So, at that point, half my brain goes scooting out along a “Well, what if I did this?” track, while the other half is still sitting in the theater, keeping an eye on the movie and its plot.

It wasn’t a bad movie. It held enough of my attention, even though I’d found a bunny to chase, and maybe that actually makes it a good movie.

But it wasn’t my movie. It wasn’t my story. This other thing–the other train of thought–it was mine.

So, there I am… fiddling with one set of ideas while I’m watching a different set on the screen in front of me. No, I really don’t know how that’s possible.

I’ll tell you about the idea sometime. I’m still building it, right now. I’m about a million miles away from having a plot. Or, you know, characters, conflict, structure, or a name for my spaceship.

 

Valentine’s Day: A Brief History of Disaster

One of the benefits of being a writer is that you wind up looking at your own culture through the eyes of your characters, and you start to see the things that are… well, a little bit weird. Valentine’s Day is… well, let’s be honest… about as weird as they come. It’s a holiday dedicated to romantic love which adults celebrate with booze and lingerie, and which is simultaneously celebrated by grade school children. This, despite very clear cultural taboos against combining romantic love of any kind with children.

Humans are weird.

Valentine’s Day has never been my holiday of choice. As an adult, it’s hard to celebrate, if I’m single, and it always gets me in trouble, if I’m not.  And as a child, mostly, I remember the general stress of finding just the right card to say “The school rules say I have to get you a card, so here.”

Actually… if I could find a card that says “The rules of dating say I have to get you a card… so here,” that would still be appreciated.

So, in honor of a weird holiday, weirdly celebrated, an overview:

  • Second Grade: First Valentine’s Day, and BEST VALENTINE’S DAY EVER: I came down with chickenpox and missed school. Missed the party. Missed the handing out of cards. When I got back, the teacher handed me an enormous bag of candy and cards from my classmates. Also, by then, most of them had already eaten their candy, so whatever I brought was really, really cool.
  • Fifth Grade: First real valentine from a real boy. It opened and closed, and had an envelope and everything. Also two sticks of gum taped very neatly inside the card. Admittedly, he was the kind of boy who got thrown out of movie theaters, and who was later seen bungee jumping his(?) bicycle off a railroad bridge, but he was a boy, and that counts, and I win.
  • Seventh Grade: First invitation to actual dance. He was a geeky friend of mine. (Yes, I do have a few friends who aren’t geeky. Not close friends, but still.) This one had all the makings of a teen movie, except that 1.) I wasn’t allowed to date until I was thirty-two, and 2.) He asked in front of a classmate who looked at him and asked “Why the hell would she want to go out with you?” Boy sinks into the ground. I assume they let him up for air and meals, but maybe they just make him eat earth worms.
  • High School: Let’s be honest… guys loved me for my mind. Yes, I know that’s supposed to be a good thing, but do you have any idea how annoying it is in real life? Most of the phone calls to my house begin with the phrase: “Hey, what did you get for problem 43?”
  • College: Oh, great. We’re moving into that phase where “Marry me and have my babies” is not just an option, it’s encouraged. Me: I got you a Hallmark Card. Him: Marry me and have my babies. Me: It’s a funny card.

So, even though there’s nowhere left to go but up, I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day locked in a convent, with ballistic missiles aimed at the local florist. One inch closer to those carnations, and it’s mutually assured destruction, baby.

Don’t think I’m serious? The last one actually mentioned his and hers matching cemetery plots. However old you have to be for that to be romantic, I’m not there, yet. Not even close.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the brave souls who are willing to risk it. To everybody else… see you when we all crawl out of our bunkers after Armageddon.

The Morning Writing Hour

I woke up at a quarter to three this morning, with the cat staring me in the face, and clearly wondering why I’m not awake and working on my novel. The cat cares.

Well… the cat is a creature of habit. He expects the same thing to happen every single day. If I had the sense to feed him as soon as I get up, I think he’d be pouncing even more enthusiastically, which would probably be good for the novel. Chances are, it would be good for me, too. Less sleeping in, less destruction of my routine.

Later on, when it is summer, I’ll be able to get up and actually go somewhere. Out on the porch, in the fresh air, to write. There might even be daylight by the end of my time.

Right now, though, it is cold. It is dark, and the electric lights are doing nothing to convince me that it is morning. I don’t have a problem getting up an hour early before I go to work, but damn, it’s hard to get up on my days off. My mind refuses to accept that sleeping until seven is sleeping in, and so I do. At which point, the rest of the world has started, and there isn’t any time left to just sit and write.

I’m battling distraction. Do I need to know that the guy who beheaded another guy on a Canadian bus has been released from lock-up? No. Or that Twitter recommends eating spiced pears after sex? Not even slightly. Hate the texture of pears.

I need to wake up and get some work done. I need to feel like I am getting work done, and right now… well, I probably am, but I don’t. Tracking revision progress has always been tough for me.

Maybe I need old-school notebooks, with ink and no eraser.

Celebrating the Little Things

I made it to the end of my pre-revision revision today, and now I have a fairly chronological version of my story with something resembling plot and a hundred thousand (ish) fewer words than the previous version. Yes, I still have word count issues, but they are so much smaller than the ones I was expecting.

Some of those words are things that will go into the next book (if there is one) and some of them are just plain cuts. Some of them are strange new versions of things I already wrote, and some of them don’t fit in with the timeline I finally decided on.

One of my main characters gets arrested–surprise–and that more or less wipes out a whole series of scenes that would happen… if she weren’t in prison. And I cut out a whole lot of love scenes that are… well, mostly just mushy. That’s the biggest area where I’m overwriting. They tend to be a strange combination of “let’s cuddle” and “so, tell me about yourself.” That would be basically me talking to myself, and working out different chunks of story.

I also removed a fairly sizable chunk where I’m working on a different story. Like, contemporary murder mystery popping up right in the middle of my scifi manuscript. Don’t know how that got there.

So, now I’m debating what the next step is. I think it probably involves going over each of my main characters’ timelines, and making sure that everything is there. I have plot-grid dreams. Something to keep everything together and on track.

In the meantime, I think I’ll just celebrate being done with this part.

 

Early Morning and a Cup of Tea

I get up early to write. Sometimes, I work on new words, and sometimes my revision. If it’s a weird week, and I’m behind, I wind up working on a blog post for the day. Today, I’m working on a blog post.

So about my revision… I have nearly 60 thousand words in my to be cut file, and another 12 thousand in a file of scenes that involve my main characters falling in love. (Some of it’s repetitive, and some of it’ just that the book isn’t supposed to be a romance.)

I have another 29,000 left to put into the neat, tidy order it wasn’t written in, and all together, that brings me to a lot of words for the final product. I’m well above the generally acceptable word count for traditionally published novels, particularly those by a first time author.

There are exceptions, of course, but I don’t really expect to be one of them.

Which means that for every word I put in, I have to remove at least one word from somewhere else. I’m getting a lot more liberal with that machete. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure there are still prime candidates for slashing. It’s just that now, they’re in chronological order.

Ideally, I’d like to have the whole thing finished by April, so–you guessed it–I can go to writers’ conference in the mountains with a manuscript in hand. (Probably the big part of making up my mind about whether to go is will I or won’t I?)

Revision is still a long process for me. It’s not as smooth as I would like it to be, and there are still some **I’m a Pantser** steps that I always feel like I could get rid of, if I just tried harder, and numbered the scenes a little differently in that outline I don’t write before hand.

So, that’s it. My quest to get my WIP in shape and down to a good fighting weight.

IWSG: So, Do I Still Fit In?

Insecure Writers' Support Group logo

The Insecure Writers’ Support Group posts on the first Wednesday of the month. More information and the sign-up can be found here.

The awesome co-hosts for the February 1 posting of the IWSG will be Misha Gericke, LK Hill, Juneta Key, Christy and Joylene Buter!

When I was working on my first novel–the one in my bottom desk drawer–I was working at a bookstore. I was in a writers’ group, and even though my novel wasn’t up everybody’s alley, we all got along. We had fun. It was a community, and I felt like I belonged.

Now, I’m drifting. I’m in a more mundane job, and my real-life creative community? Well, it lacks cohesion. Here and there, I run into people who write. We have a coke, we talk… the structure and routine are missing. And progress? I really don’t know. I guess you can talk about writing whether you’re getting words or not.

I’ve started thinking of going to a writers’ conference. I’m finally at a place where I might be able to afford it, and where it might actually be worth the money. And let’s be honest, the idea of going out and spending a weekend with my own kind doesn’t sound bad, either.

Hello, insecurities!

Absolutely everything, from finishing my revision (I’m not counting it out.) to what I’ll wear, and the general–and terrifying–fact that I won’t know anyone, I’ll get lost on the way to class, and I’ll probably forget my locker combination.

It’s been a long time, and I’m jittery abut the whole thought.

Anybody else in the same boat? When you’ve been away from other creatives for a while, how do you get back in?  Just close your eyes and jump, or wade in carefully? Any tips?

Juggling Timelines and Cutting with Vigor

I’m making progress on putting my manuscript into chronological order. Most of the time, it’s my own stubbornness slowing things down. Oh, yes…. I’m aware that I just cut out that whole timeline, but that scene is so good.

I’m moving things from wherever they happened to fall in the old manuscript file to their places in the new one, and labeling as I go.

I  have 169 pages left in my original disorganized chunk.

I started counting somewhere around 497.

I’m also cutting a lot of words (or at least throwing them into the cut this file. I’m not a barbarian.) And that’s a good thing, because the manuscript is over the limit, and besides, every word I cut is another word I don’t have to revise later.

I’ll have to write new chunks later, to fill in a timeline that was diverted to send a major character to prison.

I’m still on a tight word budget. Mostly, every word I write will have to be cut from somewhere else, or I’ll wind up with a series that doesn’t begin with a stand-alone. But… I’m not as hopelessly over as I was before the organization and machete-ing.

I’m getting there. Slowly.