March 20th, 2005

There’s been a lot going on in the writing front, which is when I’m least likely to take the time to compose one of my writing about writing posts. Thus the result is often that I relay what I’m thinking about when I’m stuck but remain silent when things are going along less roughly, so that I fear my writing entries tend to be more negative than an objective review of my progress would show. This positive post will also hopefully serve as something to look fondly upon this next week, when Sophia is home on Spring Break and when writing time will be exceedingly hard to come by.

Yonder Wicket Gate, Yonder Shining Light stands at a little over forty thousand words as of Friday (42074, according to wc). That’s not a lot of words, necessarily, so I’m not going to start bragging about how well I’ve done, but it’s not nothing either. It may be half the novel. According to this entry, I first started working on the novel November 30, which was about 15 weeks ago. So that’s, what, ten thousand words a month or so? Ehhh. If the novel ends up being a hundred thousand or so words, which is kind of what I expect, and I can keep up the current pace it should take me about ten months, so I should be done before the end of the year. That would be excellent. Additionally, I have the entire novel outlined now. Well, I wouldn’t really call it an outline so much as a list of scenes that must happen. There may be other scenes, but the ones on the list are the ones I need to have, at minimum. Also included in this is a listing of scenes that have already happened, in which I discovered – much to my amazement – that the novel I thought was just interminably slow and endless scenes of exposition with no plot and boredom heaped upon a lack of tension spiced with nothing happening actually has quite a lot going on and even some white-knuckled moments. That, of course, is very pleasing.

Other rocketing good news : I finally submitted the first part of Yonder Wicket Gate, Yonder Shining Light to the crew at Viable Paradise. This was the impetus for the outline, actually. I normally write blind, so to speak, but I realize now that twenty thousand or thirty thousand words in is a good time for me to outline, and will probably try to do it that way in the future. It does not, as I feared, take away from the mystery of what’s going to happen. There’s still plenty of wiggle room. Instead, it just helps me make sure I don’t forget the things I know are going to happen. Since outlining includes writing up the scenes I’ve already done, it also reminds me of stuff and crystallizes the whole story in my head in a way a simple re-read doesn’t. However, this took me the better part of a dedicated day to do, and I do have to wonder how people write synopses and outlines as proposals for things they haven’t even started on. I mean it’s perfectly alright for me to diverge from an outline that I made and no one else will see, but if an editor expects a certain ending and the story ends a different way, what happens then? I suppose I’ll figure it out when I’m called upon to do it. At any rate, I do see the value of outlining when I’ve already set down a chunk of the novel, and I wonder if my lack of scene listings has caused me to lose focus and give up on things in the past. So if nothing else, I got that useful mechanics tidbit out of having to submit an outline with my prose to VP.

The folks at VP have written me email to say they’ve received my submission and are reviewing it. Of course, I’m on pins and needles about this, and way more invested in it than I should be. I’ve successfully set myself up for a no-win (if they accept me I have to come up with a thousand dollars to go, if they reject me then my stuff is not even good enough to be workshopped, much less published! Oh, the anguish.) So all in all, I’m just trying to put it out of my mind. It took me forever to prep the piece for submission. Kurt is convinced I’m using the wrong tool for formatting (I’m using groff). Still, the practice was worth it, it’s the first time I’ve had to prep and print something to send off. Even going to the post office was pretty exciting, but I imagine that will wear off.

In response to my unease about not having enough material for discards or unworthy stories, I’ve decided to comb through some of my older stuff and polish anything with promise to see if I can’t put a few things from the wayback into my repertoire of candidates for submission. This has led me back to two things : Tatiana and her friends, which I’m sure has no place in the market since everyone is probably tired of reading about vampires, and also back to Cualcotel, a story that I think there’s some real hope for, in a world that I find really interesting. So I’ve adopted Cualcotel as my big editing project, and the one I’m reading at my writer’s group for the foreseeable future. I’ve gotten some good critiques on the opening, and know of lots of places where the language needs to be tightened. I’ve even picked a couple of names for some of the characters that went unnamed for fifty thousand words! I’ve got real hope that when I’m done with a read through it will be manuscripty instead of first drafty. I love this little story, and I really want it to work. Can you imagine getting to the end of the year with two finished novels? That would be sooooooooo cool.

As a secondary response to my unease with the amount of stuff I have available for submission, I’ve decided that I’m going to try producing more short stories. I have noticed that there are moments when I’m just stuck on the novel, and I’ve realized that it isn’t against the rules if I work on something else simultaneously. I had previously thought that I’d need to just work on one thing at a time, sticking with it until I’m finished with it, but having started a novel has put me in the unpleasant position of working on the same thing for months and months at a time. Why did I think I wouldn’t need a break from that? Right, doesn’t make sense. So my friend Shas sent me to this martial arts guy’s blog. Steven Barnes is some kind judo/karate/yoga practicing writer. He puts the ninja into his writing, I guess. At first I was a little put off by everything about the man and his approach. The guy’s writing advice is a little rigid and – well, militaristic. He calls it his Year-Long Writing Program. The way it works is you follow his instructions for a year and then boom, you have as many black belts as he does. (Kidding, actually his promise is that you’ll be a published writer within the year). Then there’s all this yawntastic stuff about the Hero’s Journey (there’s more than just the one tale, ok?) and mumbo jumbo about using Chakras to write. He tosses out chewy cliches like “the meaning of a story is found in its ending“. And there’s that just keep at it and you will succeed stuff I find so annoying (despite needing to hear it from time to time). It was a little too infomercial and a little too gung-ho. But then I mulled over some of the things he said. That’s me, I’m a muller. I turn and turn and turn things over in my mind. In particular, he suggested an exercise for opening up the well of ideas. Now I’m not open to hopping on board with the year-long program necessarily, but I can give up 30 minutes for an exercise. So the gist of it is this : You sit down with a pen and plenty of paper and for half an hour you don’t move from that spot and you write every single idea that pops into your head down. He recommends trying to get a hundred ideas down, which is about 18 seconds per. So I tried it. And I came no where near getting a hundred ideas. I got about thirty four. So it takes me practically an entire minute to write down an idea for a story. But you know what? When I was done I had thirty four ideas for stories that I didn’t have (or didn’t know I had) when I started. And I had them somewhere other than floating on my back brain. I had them written down. Now I know this will probably have seemed like something obvious to do, but the truth is it hadn’t and wouldn’t have occurred to me. So now when I’m stuck on the novel I can just pick one of the ideas I wrote down and start writing on it. In a month or two, I can do the exercise again and see what else floats to the top. Because a bunch of these ideas are the total suck, but hey, not all of them have to be good, there just have to be enough good ones to keep me busy. And there are enough there, believe me. I had a problem while doing the exercise that kept me returning to like the first four or so ideas I’d written down, desperate to flesh them out. I think I might have worked along faster if I were better at letting go.

The other piece I’m going to try and take away from Barnes’ advice is the writing/submitting cycle. He says to write a story a week (or every two weeks, depending how long it takes you to write a story). And then on the third week (or whenever you get to the third story) you polish and re-edit the first story and mail it out that week. Now for me it may take longer to get through the first three stories because I’m also working on the novel, and it may be that three weeks is too quick for me to try my hand at edits and polishing. However, I like the idea of a fixed cycle, and of having a schedule on which to go back to the first story for edits and submission.

So this week, in addition to doing some words (admittedly not many) on YWGYSL, I wrote a new short story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a title, yet. But hey, new story! I kind of cheated, because I went back to the place where I’d written the only other story I’ve liked recently (“Ennui”). Still, maybe I’m just going with what works instead of being a retread and also yay, shiny, new, finished story. That’s gotta count for something.

One more thing before I close up here. I’ve been looking more closely at my writing, and I’ve noticed a stylistic quirk I have, which is that frequently my characters in monologue ask questions. They think in questions. Often these questions have no answer. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is, and I can’t think offhand of another writer that does this the way I do. If no one else does it, it’s almost certainly a bad thing. I discussed this with Kurt, and he says Stephen King does this with characters sometimes. I’ll have to wait on critiques and reviews, I suppose, before I know whether this is one of those things I’m going to have to unlearn or not. That could be a while. I hope I didn’t just make myself too self-conscious about that particular writing oddity. However, it’s not just a way I’m writing. It’s part of how my brain works too, because almost half my story “ideas” from the Barnes exercise are questions, such as “how does he react?” and “how do they touch?” and “what goes to the moon?” The blog, too, is full of unanswered questions. So is it genuine, a part of my voice, or is it just a weird, bad habit? Is it going to bug readers the way Kiernan‘s unspaced adjectives bugged me? The way some people can’t stand stories in present tense or in the second person?

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