Good news, bad news, and NaNo News

It’s a mixed bag today, folks!

First:

good news everyone

STARDANCER received a really nice review from the book blog Tea and Titles. Check it out: Four Things I Loved About STARDANCER!

The world is Stardancer is hugely detailed, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Kelly has thought of everything from food to customs to games, and none of it feels overdone or irrelevant. There’s this really beautiful scene where two of the characters are teaching each other their language—it’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever read. The best thing is that it’s very easy follow. Sci-Fi can be quite confusing at times, but I didn’t get lost in all the details here.

Read the whole thing, and then, if you haven’t read STARDANCER yourself, well, I think it’s time you started questioning your life choices!

That’s the good news. Next we have the not so great:

glass case of emotion

Sadly, Amongst the Stars (The Song of Forgotten Stars, Book III) is not going to be out in November. I simply have not been able to get the work done. I’m hoping for December, but January is looking more likely. I apologize to you all. I really want my readers to finally learn what’s been going on since we last left Princesses Tariana and Margeth and their trusty navigator, Lt. Rasharri!

Stay tuned, folks — the wait will be worth it, I promise!

(Now, why is the book delayed? Well, I hate to admit it, but I think that John Scalzi is on to something here….)

And in NaNo News….

via GIPHY

My current WIP, the kayaking-meets-Greek-tragedy horror novel, has spun a wee bit longer than I expected at first, so I’m likely to spend the first part of NaNoWriMo finishing that. Then I will be onto my new space opera novel, which will be followed by Forgotten Stars IV, and then, way down the road, the second half of Seaflame!. So at least I know what I’m writing for a while. Also, I’m hoping to have the first John Lazarus novel (still trying to nail down a title) ready for release sometime next summer.

So that’s where we are for right now. If you haven’t read STARDANCER or THE WISDOMFOLD PATH, now would be a great time! AMONGST THE STARS is coming soon, folks! Just not quite so soon as I’d hoped. But soon!

Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!

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It’s NaNoWriMo time!

via GIPHY

Yes, that’s right: NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) is just around the corner! It’s that wonderful time of year when thousands of writers around the world spend their Novembers chasing the goal of averaging 1,667 words a day. I will be participating for my FIFTH consecutive year. My record is two-and-two (I made a game effort last year, but I fell short due to our NYC trip at the end of the month, and I have a lot of trouble feeling guilty about that). I wrote this post for Byzantium’s Shores a couple of years back, conveying my advice for achieving NaNoWriMo success, and while certain facts in the post have changed (i.e., what I’m working on this year), the advice has not, so here it is! I’ve edited it a little to reflect where I am this year.

National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” as it’s usually called, starts on November 1. This will be my fifth time doing it, and I can’t wait! My project this year is a science fiction, space-opera novel I’m not-actually-calling Lightning Bug. My project’s official NaNoWriMo description is as follows:

The all-female ragtag crew of the spaceship-for-hire Orion’s Huntress seems to always find a way to bite off more then they can chew, or get in over their heads, or find themselves up the creek without a paddle…and yet, with pluck and guile and a bit of blaster-fire, they manage to keep flying! In this story, they take on an urgent job and a mysterious passenger with her own agenda….

This is the first novel set in a new series that takes place in the same universe as my Forgotten Stars novels (the third of which to be published this December).

NaNoWriMo isn’t really about finishing. It can be, but my experience is that it’s more about the work. It’s about setting a high goal and working toward it, relentlessly, and with some camaraderie that can’t always be found in real life. Fifty thousand words in one month is absolutely doable, but it’s also not the easiest target to reach if you’re not used to it, and it’s particularly devilish that the challenge comes in a month with only 30 days and one of the major holidays of our year. (Well, for now, anyway, since we seem hell-bent as a culture on making Thanksgiving about as relevant a holiday as Columbus Day, but that’s a rant for another time.) NaNoWriMo is about producing a big chunk of work, regardless of worrying about if it’s good or not. So, in that vein, if you’re considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year, here are my thoughts on how to best approach it for success:

1. Know what you’re going to write.

Have your mind made up so as soon as you sit down at the keyboard on November 1, you can charge out of drydock, thrusters on full. Don’t sit down at the keyboard and then try to decide what story you’re going to tell.

Now, “Know what you’re going to write” has some wiggle-room. I’m the type of writer called a “pantser”, meaning, I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t outline entire novels prior to writing, and if I do any outlining at all, it’s merely a scene or two in advance just so I can work out the timing and sequence of events in my head in the very near term. Other than that, I rarely have any great idea where the story is going.

Perhaps, however, you’re an outliner. You like to have a detailed outline ready to go, or maybe you like to figure out your characters in gory detail prior to writing. Lots of writers spend lots of time doing this kind of prep work — outlines, character sketches, that sort of thing — and if you’re one of them, have as much of that done as possible before November 1. November is not a time for prep work, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo.

2. Choose your style, and the simpler, the better.

Remember, NaNoWriMo is about producing a lot of words in a specific timeframe. Therefore, it’s not really the best time in the world for experimenting with your literary style. If your default style is toward the florid but you’ve had a hankering for writing a crime novel in a kind of Dashiell Hammett style, maybe November isn’t the right time. Likewise, NaNoWriMo really is not the time to write your near-future dystopian tragedy in rhyming Iambic pentameter.

3. Give your internal editor the month off.

Again, you’re looking to cover a lot of ground in November. You can edit later. There just isn’t time for revision, unless you realize that your story has gone well-and-truly off the rails and that you simply must backtrack to Albuquerque so you can take that left turn you missed. If you have to do this, fine, but don’t delete the work you’ve done. Leave it in there. Move it to the end of the file, past a couple of page breaks, but those words are still work you did. When it comes time to verify your wordcount at the end of the month, all Na NoWriMo will do is count your words. Nobody is going to read your work to make sure it’s coherent.

So: if you really have made a story error, by all means, go back and take another stab at it, without deleting what you’ve already produced. Generally, though, NaNoWriMo is not the time to try and make every sentence sing and put every word in its exact place.

4. Know when you are going to write.

This might actually be the most important thing. If you’ve been noodling around with writing for a long time but new to the crunch of NaNoWriMo, you’ll likely be very surprised at the amount of work and time involved in producing 1667 words in one day, much less every day for thirty days. Plan your writing time, right from Day One. It’s important. Know when you are going to write. If you normally get up at 7:00 every morning, maybe get up at 6:15 and write until seven. If there’s usually an hour after dinner when you’re unoccupied, set that aside for writing. On Sundays, maybe join the football game in progress after 2:00 instead of insisting on watching the whole thing. You have to budget your time, because while the NaNoWriMo goal of 50000 words in thirty days is doable, falling behind is also very doable, and getting caught up once you’re behind by even a day or two is a lot less doable. Make every effort to start the month ahead, so that if you need to take a day or two later on to produce less than 1667 words, you can afford it.
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It’s good that this year NaNoWriMo starts on a Saturday (unless, of course, your job doesn’t give you Saturdays off). Getting off to a strong start is essential, and with two weekend days to launch, the schedule is quite conducive to it. Take advantage! Don’t tell yourself that you can make it up with a couple of 5000 word marathon sessions at some point, because quite frankly, you won’t.

What NaNoWriMo really helps is to train the brain — mindhack, if you will — to see writing as a job that can be approached in discrete chunks, as opposed to some mystical process driven by the capricious magic of some Muse. Believe me, there’s enough magic and mystery in writing already, so it can also be seen as a job where a daily word count is similar to a pro painter’s “Get this many square feet of the wall painted today”.

5. Have some music preselected and ready to go.

If you’re the type of writer who likes music as you work, figure out what your music is going to be. Make your playlist. Select some albums. I write to music, and I like to pair my work to my listening. Writing a fantasy swashbuckler? Here are some suggestions! I’ll also be producing a post at some point about music for writing space operas.

And make sure your music is accessible. Figure out what’s available on Google Play or whatever streaming service you use. Figure out what’s available on YouTube. Load some music onto your phone, for if you’re writing someplace without an Internet connection. If you’re old school, make a stack of CDs or vinyl. It’s all part of creating your writing mood, and getting in that mood quickly.

6. Don’t let friends and family guilt you about your focus this month.

Luckily, this has never been a problem for me, but I know it has for others (there’s a long thread about it on one of the NaNoWriMo message boards). If anyone gives you shit about writing, be firm in claiming this time for yourself. If they press, tell them that you have set a personal goal for yourself and you are working toward it. Would they guilt you if the goal you set was, say, running a marathon and you were doing a lot of training? I’m guessing not. Well, it’s the same thing. A personal goal that needs met is still a personal goal, no matter what. And if the other person is mocking of your personal goal? Well…I can’t really offer advice there, except to note that mocking someone’s goals, dreams, and efforts to make those things come true isn’t really something that should be endured from a “loved” one.

7. Interact with other people pursuing the same goal!

NaNoWriMo is a fairly big deal. The website has a lot of separate forums, from genre forums to forums for people of similar age groups to regional forums so you can connect with people in your area. Some areas even have “meet-ups”, where you can actually go and hang out with other writers who are having their own sessions. I’ve never done that (in this area, the meet-ups always seem to be held in the Northtowns, which is a bummer), but I wouldn’t mind someday. Find NaNoWriMo people on whatever social media you use — Twitter and Instagram have a lot of them — and share thoughts and success stories and kudos and cheers and vexing frustrations. Writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.

8. Don’t lose the story.

It’s about telling a story, after all. So go ahead and tell it!

(Oh, and my user name is Jaquandor, for those who want to “buddy up” or whatever it is they call it.)

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Plotting? Never! (And other stuff)

Hey there, folks! Time for a few thoughts on…stuff. (Wow, I is articulate.)

:: In the current WIP, I have reached what I think is roughly the halfway point. I hope so, anyway — I would really like to be able to finish this work in October and get right onto the next thing in November for NaNoWriMo.

At the halfway point of the WIP, I am outlining the rest. #amwriting

To that end, I am shifting from my “pantsing” approach to “plotting”. I have noticed, during the last several WIPs, that I’m slowly adopting a hybrid approach to the age-old question of whether I plot things out or write by the seat of my pants. It seems that I start off writing by the seat of my pants, merrily getting my characters into a bit of a pickle, and then I step back and start plotting as I figure out how they get out of said pickle. This seems to be paying the most dividends as I write.

When I get to the plotting stage, this is when I step away from the computer and whip out the pads and pens. Plotting on paper feels good, and the act of writing longhand a bit — even if it’s notes and rough-sketch stuff — lends a different feel to the proceedings. I’m a big fan of changing up the routine a bit, once in a while. It keeps the entire enterprise fresh.

And if anyone’s wondering, there’s a reason the word in caps in my notes above is DEATH. This particular story does not turn out well for most of the participants.

:: I’m starting to get notes back from Beta Readers and proofreaders for FORGOTTEN STARS III, so Huzzah!!! I don’t think I’m going to have the book out as early as I’ve had the last two out, but it will be out by mid-December at the latest. I’d like to be ready by November, but I’m not sure. We’ll see. So much time and so little to do — wait, scratch that. Reverse it.

:: Ksenia Anske on making sentences “turn”:

I was going to write you a whole whiny post on how I can’t sleep, and how writers and sleep are enemies, but my brain decided otherwise. I keep discovering new things every day, it seems, and this particular one helped me today in writing killer sentences. So of course I had to share it with you. Remember the post on having every sentence turn? Well, it’s even deeper than that. Turns out, a sentence can turn three ways, and it’s up to you which way you want to turn it, and according to the way you turn it, you can either rope your reader into suspense or have them relax. This is scary stuff. Scary powerful, I mean. It teaches you how to manipulate your reader, which of course is what we writers do. But I had no idea about this! And now that I know, I can’t write the way I used to anymore. I see it everywhere.

Very much worth reading! I confess that I do not understand all of it.

:: Sara Letorneau on doubt:

No writer (or anyone pursuing their dreams) is immune to the monsters of doubt. At any time during our process, we might lose faith in our story, our characters, even our own abilities. And when we do, the effects can cripple us, sometimes to the point of giving up.

I tend to…well, I can’t ignore doubt, but I note its presence and tell it to sit in the corner while I work. Mainly it’s because I genuinely don’t know how to do anything other than write.

:: Briana Mae Morgan on carving out time to write:

The thing about writing is that it’s almost never convenient. You never have time to write. Even when I worked from home, I found about a thousand other things to do besides writing. You do have to make time to write if you want to get serious about writing. Although the word “make” bothers me, because it’s more about finding the time. In today’s post, I’m sharing how I learned to use pockets of time to meet my daily writing goals.

I note that she references the new mobile version of Scrivener for iPhone and iPad devices. I gotta say…look, I’m a Scrivener fan and I use it faithfully now, but the fact that the Apple users get the really good stuff, despite being outnumbered by both Windows and Android users, kind of irritates me. Scrivener is not a huge project being developed by a company with deep pockets. I get it…but still. I want the good stuff, too!

:: John Scalzi on how we present ourselves in real life versus how we do so online:

Over on Facebook, a person who claims to have met and interacted with me (and he may have! I meet and interact with a lot of people) suggests that he wouldn’t want to associate with me because, among other things, there’s a difference between how I present myself online and how I present myself offline, which this fellow takes to mean that I say things here, that I wouldn’t say there. Which means, apparently, that I’m false/dissembling/a coward and so on.

Interesting. I wrote some months ago about my approach to social media, and I do find that I “present” differently in various spaces, owing more (I think) to the way the different communities function than out of any intent to mask aspects of my character or whatever. I mean, it’s pretty easy to follow some links and see other aspects of my character at play. I swear more on Twitter these days than I used to, and I’m unlikely to geek out in this space about Star Wars or my eternal fascination with bib overalls and/or pie throwing, but hey, that stuff is out there if you look around. Anyway….

:: Finally, I turned 45 the other day! Why not celebrate by buying a book?

If a writer can't push their books on their birthday, why have birthdays! #amwriting #indiebooksbeseen #indiebooks #sciencefiction #spaceopera

See you around the Galaxy!

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Taking Stock: August 2016

So August is done and September is here! So where am I, especially in light of the goals I’ve espoused for the next chunk of time?

Well, in August I wrote 32,474 words for an average output of 1047 words a day. That ain’t bad, especially considering that I had several days of very low output and one outright zero-words day (owing to an overnight trip we took to attend the Sterling Renaissance Festival and to go to the Erie County Fair). There were also some struggle-days as I wrestled with the climax of Through the Pale Door, but I eventually figured most of that out and got the thing finished. So I had set my deadline to finish that draft at August 31, and I just made it. Huzzah! I even had time to leave myself some editing notes, because this draft is, shall we say, lumpy. It’s going to need some heavy lifting at edit-time to get it seaworthy. But that’s OK.

With two-thirds of the year gone, and with my favorite time of year stepping up to the plate, where am I for 2016? Well, as of August 31 I have written over 241,000 words of fiction (not including blogging, tweeting, Facebook babbling, and stuff on Tumblr), and I have written the words “THE END” twice, which is nice. It’s good that I’ve found the one area of life where I can be considered a workaholic, I suppose.

So what’s next? Well, the next “big” thing I want to do is the first book in my new space opera series (which doesn’t have a title, or even a Not-the-actual-title, yet). I don’t have enough of the background work done on that book yet, though, to get into it, and in any event, I kind of want to save that project for this year’s NaNoWriMo, in which I will attempt to break past my .500 record for the last four years. (I opened my NaNo career with wins in 2012 and 2013, but I lost in 2014 and 2015.) However, I don’t want to draft nothing at all in the two-month meantime (and I’m still waiting for beta-reads and editing notes to come back on Amongst the Stars), so…I’m trying something different.

[ASIDE: Hey, as of RIGHT NOW AS I WRITE THIS, I’ve come up with the Not-the-Actual-Title for the new space opera book. It will be code-named Lightning Bug, for reasons that are totally NOT obvious in ANY way. Uh-uh.]

Or I’m returning to something old. Depends on which way you look at it.

My first NaNoWriMo project was a supernatural adventure story involving a doomed kayaking expedition to a legendarily impossible-to-run river in the northern Yukon. While I got about 70,000 words written of it, I had to set it aside after a while because I wasn’t sure where it was going and I was up against the need to edit Stardancer, which I was on the verge of releasing – or maybe I felt the need to get going on The Wisdomfold Path – hmmm, I’m not really sure, maybe it was both. Anyway, this story never got finished, so I’m taking another whack at it right now, with an eye to keeping it short. Or at least, short for me.

Between September and October, I have sixty-one days to work with, because on November 1 I will be starting Lightning Bug (not the actual title), and I’d like to not have another unfinished version of the same story sitting out there. So my goal is to bring this story in under 60,000 words. At my usual 1000 words/day quota, I should have just enough time to pull this off. I usually don’t worry so much about word-count goals, but this is a new challenge, and new challenges are pretty cool, aren’t they?

It helps that I have the previous draft to use as reference. I am reworking quite a bit of it, albeit typing it anew rather than trying to edit the old. Once this is done, well, who knows. But it’ll be another story of mine in the hopper, awaiting a future engagement.

And just think, someday you lucky folks will be able to read all this stuff! That’s why I’m doing all this.

So, if you’ll excuse me….

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Looking ahead: setting goals for the rest of 2016 and into 2017!

As we head into the final third of 2016, it’s worth looking ahead, both to the conclusion of this year but into the next. So here’s what I hope to get done over the next sixteen months and change!

via GIPHY

:: Publish Amongst the Stars (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book III). This is a no-brainer. This book has to get out there! I hope readers will enjoy what’s in store for Tariana, Margeth, Lt. Rasharri, and their friends this time out. The series does not end with this book, but we do reach the end of the larger story’s first act.

Sadly, there will almost certainly not be a Forgotten Stars book in 2017. I haven’t even started drafting Forgotten Stars IV (although I do have some notes and some ideas for what happens in it), and I’m not sure how soon I’ll be getting there.

:: NaNoWriMo: my project this year will be my new space opera series! I’ve been doing a lot of background work and brainstorming for this one, since it’ll be a more character-driven series and more episodic in nature than the Forgotten Stars books. I’ll also be writing in a more adult tone for this one, which I’m looking forward to doing.

:: Signed copies of all existing books. This is something I’ve meant to do ever since I released Stardancer, and I’m frustrated that I haven’t got there yet. I really truly mean to do it soon! Hopefully in the next few months, once I get a chance to restock my supply of my own books. Stay tuned for details, but if you’ve ever wanted a signed copy of one of my books, you’ll soon be able to have precisely that.

:: Publish GhostCop and start editing its sequel. I had originally planned to get GhostCop out this year, but I decided to push it to 2017, because otherwise I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything ready for release next year, and I don’t want to go more than an entire year without anything coming out. Since I’m not sure when the next Forgotten Stars book will be on the docket, this looks to be my best bet.

As for the sequel? As of this writing I am now wrestling with that book’s climax and I have high hopes for making my deadline to finish the first draft by August 31. Yay! After that, I will let the manuscript lie fallow until March 1, 2017, at the earliest. (I am a staunch believer in letting manuscripts sit for a long time before attempting edits.)

:: Lighthouse Boy. Ahhh, now here’s a bit of a problem: I’m still not sure where I’m going with this one. The problem is the structure of the entire project: it’s one large book, kinda-sorta split in two. (The framing device is that the book is a autobiographical manuscript left behind by Our Hero later in life, which has just been found in two parts by an academic dude who leaves annotations and stuff all over the manuscript.)

So while I have the first draft of the first half done, I’m waffling currently on whether I write the second part and then edit the entire thing en masse, or edit the first part and then write the second. For various reasons, I’m leaning toward the former – mainly because if I need to change anything in Part One to reflect and/or anticipate the events of Part Two, I can’t do that if I’ve already edited and released the first one.

I am also really considering serializing this book, once it’s done, on Wattpad prior to publishing the entire thing, or maybe as a series of chapbooks. We’ll see. In any event, if I go the way I’m leaning, I won’t start drafting Book Two of Lighthouse Boy until some time next year, and then return to Forgotten Stars after that.

:: Attend local cons! I need to do more of this. Buffalo Comic-Con is coming up in September, and I’ll be in attendance, albeit as a ticket-buying fan. But I’ll be there, sizing things up and hopefully doing some interacting. Next year, once I have four books out, I’d love to be able to set up a dealer table of my own. We’ll see.

Locally, there are a surprising number of cons right now. Buffalo Comic-Con has been growing for several years, and this year it was joined by a new one, Nickel City Con, which was just held last weekend but next year apparently shifts to May. There are also UBCon and EerieCon, neither of which I’ve yet attended. (I can’t attend EerieCon this year because its dates coincide with an annual getaway trip The Wife and I take every year.) I do wonder if the Buffalo con scene is getting a little oversaturated, but as long as they all exist, I’ll try to attend as many as I can.

:: Short fiction. I’ve been thinking that it might be time to start writing some short fiction again. Right now I don’t really have any ideas ready to go, but that’s never a problem. I can walk down the street and spot ideas to write. What would I do with short fiction? I’m not sure. If nothing else, I can post it all on Wattpad, which I’ve already started doing with some of my older stories.

So there are some of my “stretch goals” for the next year-and-change. Will I make them all? Maybe, maybe not…but I’m going to have a hell of a time trying! Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!

Because in my head I'm still twelve. #AmWriting #overalls

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How to Kill Your Darlings

After “Show, don’t tell!”, “Read a lot and write a lot”, and “Never fight a land war in Asia”, the most common bit of writing advice may well be “Kill your darlings.” This means that sometimes there will be things in your writing that you really really really love, passages that sing to you every time you read them, passages which make you think that maybe you’re actually good enough for this writing business after all…but which you must remove from your book or story because the story itself is better without it.

That’s what it means: Kill your darlings. If the book is improved by killing something you see as a darling, then you have to smother it in its sleep. Poison its coffee. Push it off the bridge. You get the idea.

Sometimes when writers kill their darlings, the darlings resurface in another way – perhaps as a short story, or the idea gets recycled, or so on. Years ago, fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson issued an anthology of short stories, but it also included a fallen darling of his: a chapter from his book The Illearth War, which he ended up cutting for sound reasons but which he also didn’t want to see gone forever. So darlings don’t have to stay dead.

But how do you know when it’s time to kill a darling?

Well, here’s the thing, for me: All darlings are suspect, and some of them are impostors. So the task isn’t to kill darlings, it’s to kill the things that are not darlings, so that the things that are can shine in all their darling glory. Your darlings are awesome. You don’t want to kill your darlings! You have to lure the non-darlings out into the open, and then you have to strangle them and toss them overboard. No mercy for the non-darlings, folks!

This requires a pretty hard-nosed and blunt approach to one’s own story. You have to see story errors for what they are, and ruthlessly eliminate them. Killing darlings is painful, but killing false darlings? Dragging the impostors outside by their hair and pushing them into a deep pit? That feels great! But since false darlings almost always look like real darlings, what’s a writer to do?

Well, sooner or later, every false darling will start to stand out like a sore thumb. If you have doubts about a certain thing in your story – a character, a subplot, a scene, whatever – then that’s a red flag that the thing you’re looking at is a false darling.

There’s an entire plotline in the first draft of Forgotten Stars III that will never see the light of day, because I recognized it for what it was – a false darling – very soon after I finished writing the first draft. It might have even been within a day or two of writing the words “The End”, and I wrote in my editing notes to delete it. And delete it I have.

Another problem with false darlings isn’t even that they’re disguised as real darlings, it’s that we’re trying desperately not to see them as false darlings, because we’re invested for whatever reason in their survival. These ones are the hardest. That plotline in Forgotten Stars III that I deleted? I tried valiantly to convince myself that it could stay, that it wasn’t too damaging, that I could make it work with some good editing…but eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that the thing had to go.

False darlings don’t want to go. They want to stay. They want to live off the energy of your story. They want to suck down that good energy and live on, ruining things for all time. And if you let them, they will. So kill them.

“But what if I kill an actual darling?” You’ll probably realize it. What can be removed, can be put back. A story isn’t like a game of Jenga…and if you have to put it back, maybe it’ll be even better. I’ve edited out actual darlings only to have to re-insert them before, and when I do, I usually just rewrite tham, and they come out better. So don’t worry about this.

Truthfully, I have yet to find a false darling that I feel bad about excising, and neither should you. And if you’re worried about a “wasted idea”? Don’t! If the idea is that good, it’ll work itself in someplace else. And if not, well…you’ll forget about it eventually, anyway.

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When Real Life Hands You Storybits

Sometimes real life hands you stories, almost fully-formed, and all you have to do is write them down. It’s like taking dictation. This happens, but it doesn’t happen very often, at least not for me. That’s kind of par for the course, when your genres are space opera and fantasy. Real life can’t give me too many stories about space wars or lost princesses. At least not yet, anyway.

But real life does give me a lot of storybits. What are storybits? They’re simply that: bits that can either be the basis for stories, or can serve as parts of stories. You never know where you might end up using a storybit, which is why you, as a writer, simply MUST make it part of your daily routine to recognize storybits and file them away for future reference. You don’t have to use all of your storybits, but the more you have, the easier it will be to do cool stuff in your stories!

Here are some times when I’ve used storybits.

ONE: Years ago, I worked in restaurant management, and one place I worked was a Bob Evans in Jamestown, NY. We had a regular customer named Karl, who was an older gentleman, probably in his late 60s or early 70s. (This was in 1998 or so.) Karl drove a nicely used pickup truck, but he was always very well-dressed when he came in to eat, always by himself. He had a handsome smile, but he was always quiet and always showed up, read the paper while he waited and while he ate, and then he would quietly leave, paying his bill and bidding us all goodbye with a genial nod of his head.

Then one day one of my servers informed me of the headcanon that she and the other servers had cooked up for Karl. I asked what his story was, and if anyone knew anything about him. No one did, so they had all concluded that Karl was one of the Nazi genius scientists that we brought over to the United States after World War II and gave a new identity in exchange for his research on nuclear power or rocketry or whatever.

Karl went on to feature as the creepy antiques dealer in my story “In Longhand” (available on Wattpad!). It’s one of very few times I ever put someone I knew from real life directly into a story, but even there it wasn’t much of a roman a clef. I didn’t know Karl at all other than his visits to Bob Evans, and I never even learned his last name. But he lives in a little in that story.

TWO: This happened in the last year! I thought I took photos, but I can’t find them, so I’m not sure when exactly it happened. My day job is in a large grocery store in a Buffalo suburb, and the Store is located on a heavily-traveled street. Near the front corner of our building, by the street, there is a large steel grate, through which water runs into the storm drainage system for the town. I never thought much about this grate (it’s big, about three feet square), until one day when I saw a bunch of cops standing around it. There were three or four squad cars all in our parking lot, clustered right by that corner near the grate, and then a big police van pulled up on the street, with two other squad cars pulling up in front and behind, to block off the right lane. I naturally wondered what was going on, but I couldn’t get close enough to see. However, I have access to my building’s roof, so up I went!

Looking down on this scene, I was able to clearly see that the cops had lifted the grate, exposing the drop into the sewer system below. I couldn’t see from that vantage point how far down it went, but there was a cop in a wet suit standing nearby, and they were lowering a ladder into the drain. Soon, the wet-suit cop went down. I didn’t stick around for him coming back up, but he soon did, and the cops put the grate back in place and then they dispersed.

I later learned that some people had called the police from the neighborhood of The Store, reporting voices in the sewers. The idea was that some kids had got in there, and were making their way through the sewers of the town. Thus search-and-rescue was deployed. I don’t know if anything ever turned up (well, I do know that they didn’t find bodies or anything so horrible), but that stuck in my mind. This incident has just this week found its way into the second John Lazarus novel.

THREE: Storybits don’t even have to be pieces of story. They can be the tiny details you notice as you go through life. It’s details like these that can make your story seem especially real.

One day, I was out driving, running errands. It was a summer day, and there was a sudden thunderstorm that fired up quickly, dumped its rain, and then moved on just as quickly as it had come. When it was gone, the sun came out again, just as bright and brilliant as before, but now everything was wet, including the road.

That was when I noticed that the car in front of me was kicking up spray from its back tires, and the sunlight was making tiny rainbows in the spray. I had never seen that before, and I’ve never seen it since. I think it’s really one of those “right place at the right time” sorts of phenomena that probably happens a lot but no one notices, and it doesn’t happen often to each individual one of us because while there’s always someone out driving in the post-storm sunshine, how often is it us, and how often are we looking down at the tires of the car in front of us, and how often are we driving at the right angle to the sun to see those tiny spray-bows?

Storybits are everywhere. Look for them!

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Finding time

People often talk about “finding” time to write, as if there’s a few minutes to be found under the couch, or “making” time to write, as if by sheer force of will we can make the next hour contain 69 minutes instead of the usual 60. I don’t much care for either notion. There is no more time for you than there is for me, and unless you’re incredibly fortunate, there are likely roughly as many demands on my time as there are on yours.

So no, you don’t “find” or “make” time to write. All you can do is use the time you’ve already got. I wish I had more time to write, but then, so do all who live to see such times. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us. (Seems I’ve heard someone say something very like that before…hmmmm….)

John Scalzi put it all very bluntly a few years back, and I tend to agree strongly with him here:

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

Yes.

But still, lectures like that aren’t always the answer. Specific examples might be helpful, if you’re struggling to somehow pack more writing into your day. All of this involves tradeoffs. It involves concluding that some existing time-sinks in your life need to be adjusted, in terms of their priority, in order to squeeze something else in. In some cases, it might even involve making some painful decisions regarding things that you really like doing, so ultimately it all comes down to the question of just how much you like writing in the first place, and the only person who can answer that is you. These are the things that I did when I decided that it was time to shift from “I wanna write sometime” to “I’m gonna write NOW.” Some of it is about using time for writing; others are about maximizing the quality of my writing time.

1. Get up earlier. Unless you’re a morning person by temperament – and I am not – this one sucks. But I had to do it. I used to get up at 6:00 am to get ready for work (my shift starts at 7:30 most days, and I have a roughly 15-minute commute). I started getting up at 5:30, thus gaining an extra thirty minutes of writing time before work. Does it suck? Yeah, sometimes. I am not, as I note, a morning person. But the time’s gotta come from somewhere, and there are fewer demands on my time early in the day than later, so that’s when I’ve decided that I have to get some of the work done.

2. Write during lunch. In fact, that’s what I’m doing now! As I write this, it’s my lunch period. Now don’t worry, I’m not giving up eating. But what I’ve done is utilize the down time I get at work differently. My job allows me a 15-minute break and a 30-minute lunch period each day. I used to take the break in the morning sometime, and then lunch around 1:00. Now I take the break around noon, during which I eat (because quite frankly, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to eat), and I take the lunch period around 2:00 or 2:30, during which I exclusively write.

It helps that I have my own small work area with my own door, so I can get privacy, and it also helps that I have never much liked the atmosphere of “break rooms”, no matter what job I had. Am I missing out on some social time with coworkers? Maybe, but I get plenty of that anyway.

3. The crockpot is your friend. It really, truly is. Now, you don’t want to overdo it, but several nights a week it falls to me to cook, and sometimes it’s nice to have a meal option that doesn’t involve losing an hour or two to prepping and working over the stove. You can do wonderful things with a slow cooker, and it can really free up some good writing time. (This is also why God invented rotisserie chickens and frozen pizzas.)

4. Set a daily quota. I have been a firm believer in quotas for years, and I plan to go right on being a fan of quotas. Setting real, measurable goals and breaking them down into meaningful chunks is important to me, and it helps me feel like I’m actually making progress when I have those days when, as Stephen King puts it, I only feel like I’m “shoveling shit from a sitting position”. Make your quota high enough to be a challenge (it shouldn’t be easy), but low enough to be attainable.

This is where you have to know yourself and your level of likely useful productivity. Currently I’m enforcing a quota of 1200 words a day, because that’s what I feel I can reasonably achieve in a day while still leaving room for family, meals, showers, dog walks, reading, and other stuff. If you can write more than that with the time you’ve carved out for yourself, great! If less, then that’s fine, too. If you set a quota and find that you’re hitting it every day with ease, raise it. If you’re never hitting it, then lower it. A quota is a goal you set for yourself, and more than that, it’s a tool to help you be productive. A quota is not a stick to beat yourself with.

5. Know which days are good and which aren’t, and feel free to adjust quotas accordingly. Just because you have quotas doesn’t mean that they have to be the same every day. In my own life, with the routine we currently have, it turns out that Tuesdays are really bad for writing. More specifically, Tuesday nights are never good for writing, so if I want to hit quota on Tuesdays, I have to get out of bed and make it happen early. On the flip side I have Saturdays, which are almost always awesome writing days, so I allow myself a quota of 2000 words on Saturdays. Every day is not created equal!

6. When you hit quota, STOP. This is another thing I believe. There are days when it’s grossly tempting to plow past my quota and keep going until I double it, triple it, whatever it. I don’t think that’s a great idea, because I think it can lead me to raising my expectations for each day out, thus magnifying the shittiness of the shitty days, and it can make it easier to blow off a day when I’ve blasted quota to bits the day before. Along with my strong belief in daily quotas is an equally-strong belief in steady, consistent production. Binge-writing, in my experience, leads to days when I write nothing at all, and those days are poison to my writing-loving heart.

There’s an old adage in storytelling: “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Well, I think it applies to writers, too: Always leave yourself wanting more!

7. Leave a note for the next session. This is something I started doing after I read Rachel Aron’s book 2k to 10k. It’s not so much “outlining”, but when I end a session “in the groove”, I always have a good idea of what’s to immediately follow. Since sometimes twenty-four hours can pass before the next session, I find it hard to jump back in with the same enthusiasm with which I finished the day before. I do some hemming and hawing as I try to recapture a thought process that ended a day before, and in this way I lose valuable time.

So when a session ends, I try to leave myself a note – two or three sentences is enough – telling me where I’m going next. It makes hitting the ground running the next day a lot easier, and when time is of the essence, hitting the ground running is pretty important.

Let’s see, what else? Some folks swear by apps that disable their Internet access or other such efforts to make their work distraction-free. I do not do this. I can get distracted by the Internet as much as anyone, but I’m pretty good at cranking away without needing distractions when I get myself going, and my whole writing practice is designed to make it as easy as possible to get into that zone. About the only thing I like to do in terms of reducing distractions is using Scrivener’s fullscreen writing environment, and even that sometimes I eschew, since I like to keep two panes open, one with the manuscript and one with my character notes or some other info file.

So that’s how I maximize the time I have in order to get the most work done. How about you all? Let me know your tricks for getting productive!

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Get thee behind me, June!!!

So June is over and we’re into July, which means it’s time to take a look at the month gone past in terms of writing, and offer some other news items of note, first from my part of the world and then from other writers!

:: Numbers? We got ’em!

Final June #amwriting tally. 'Twas a bit of a rocky month!

The main project was drafting the second “GhostCop” novel, and in those terms, June was productive, but not greatly productive. It was not a bad month from a writing perspective, not bad at all. It wasn’t great, either. I basically made my targets and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that. There were some days when the writing was harder than others, especially one stretch toward the end of the month when external-world concerns piled on to make writing especially difficult. Basically, The Wife had to work a number of very early-in-the-morning shifts, which screwed up everybody’s sleep schedules. I’m not super militant about needing my eight hours a night, but 4.5 to 5 hours for three or four consecutive nights increasingly takes its toll on me. But I soldiered through and still managed to average over 1000 words a day for June.

I also only had one zero-word count day, but on that day I sat down and did some “prep” work, making some notes about characters and ironing out the backstory that comes into play in the book’s third act and generally nailing down what all the various conflicts are in the book. There are more moving parts in this story than I had originally expected, but it should all play out in a pretty explosive way toward the end. At least that’s the current hope! As I write this (July 2, but it will appear on July 5), I have finished drafting the first act of the book and am on to the second. I hope to have the draft done by the end of August.

:: The focus this fall, starting in September, will be the publication prep for GhostCop Book One and Amongst the Stars, both of which will appear this fall. Hooray!

:: But I’ll also be starting another series of space opera adventures! I’ll say more about this as time passes, but it’s set in the Forgotten Stars universe. The stories will likely not intersect in any meaningful way; I’m setting them in the same universe mainly because I want to use the established world-building I already have in place. As Lt. Uhura once pointed out on Star Trek, “It’s a big galaxy!” So I might as well keep playing in it. I ‘ve been doing some plot-noodling and generating information on my characters, because this is going to be a Firefly kind of adventure series, with a spaceship and her intrepid crew having exploits. And I’ve even been sketching the ship! Move over, Millennium Falcon! Take a back seat, Serenity! Meet Orion’s Huntress, soon to be one of the iconic ships in all science fiction!

Spaceship for an upcoming space opera series I plan to write! (The ship's tentative name? Orion's Huntress.) #spaceopera #SpaceshipsAreAwesome #amwriting

:: Nifty blogger and writing cohort Faith Rivens recently read both Stardancer and The Wisdomfold Path, and she graciously reviewed both, here and here, respectively. Check them out! And then read the books, because they’re good! Other people say so!

:: A few months ago I first heard the term “bullet journal”. This has nothing to do with firearms. It’s a specific way of using a journal to enhance your daily like and productivity. Blogger and writer Coryl O’Reilly explains.

:: Ksenia Anske on taking long breaks between drafts. I absolutely believe in doing this. I wait at least three months between first draft and first manuscript markups, and most times I wait even longer than that. Distance makes seeing the flaws easier.

:: It’s required by law that I link this, so here it is: George RR Martin and Stephen King sit down and chat.

It’s a grand world out there, Writerfolk!!!

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Sunshine Blogger Award!!!

Oh wow, it’s actually been an entire month since I posted here last, hasn’t it? That’s terrible. Anyway, I’ll have a proper report up on how June went in terms of writing (short version: mixed bag) early next week, but for now, check this out: A fellow writer, Rebecca Chase, nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! Huzzah!!

The rules are as follows:

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a “get to know the writer better” type of blogging exercise, with a couple of rules attached:

1. Answer all 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

2. Nominate eleven bloggers in return and write eleven (possibly fiendish) questions for them to answer.

You know, it’s funny — over on Byzantium’s Shores (my personal blog, for those who only know me through here), I’ve been blogging for so long that I remember when these types of blog-quiz awards were quite common. They’ve really fallen by the wayside with the rise of Facebook and Twitter and the like, but they’re still fun, so I’ll go ahead and answer these, pose my own, and nominate. Here we go!

1. What is your favourite song? Do you have a significant memory attached to a time you listened to it?

Oh heavens, it’s this question. Don’t you just hate when you ask someone this question and they get all dewy-eyed and say something like “Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song!”

Well, guess what? Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song! Although…I can pick a favorite song, just so long as we acknowledge that there are hundreds of others. For now, I’ll note the song “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. Here’s what I wrote on my personal blog about that song on the occasion of Donna Summer’s passing.

2. Where do you love to blog/write the most?

Upstairs, in my library, surrounded by my books.

But I do love writing elsewhere. I can write in cafes and in public libraries perfectly well, and I like to do so once a week, if possible, for the change of pace. I also want to try writing in a public park or something like that, but as of this writing my laptop’s battery is too old to live up to a sustained writing session without a cord. Luckily, though, also as of this writing, I’ve ordered a new battery! I don’t want to buy a new computer for at least another year if I can help it.

3. If you could make up a fear of something what would it be of and what would it be called?

Huh. Interesting. How about Pronunciphobia, which is the fear that you badly mangle a word in spoken conversation because you’ve only ever read it and therefore you don’t know how it’s said? Or Scrabble Expectations Syndrome. This is when people assume that you’re a great word-game player because you’re a writer.

And as a pie-in-the-face fan, I admit to barbasolaphobia. This is an unreasoning hatred of shaving cream. That stuff is terrible, folks!

4. Italian or French? (in whatever context you decide)

French! (We’re going with opera here. I love me some French composers. Hector Berlioz is my favorite composer of all time, and he wrote three wonderful operas. Then you have Bizet, composer of Carmen. Not that the Italians are any slouches, though. Verdi and Puccini are enough to ensure the Italian star in the operatic heavens.)

Oh, and salad dressing? Italian all the way. I’ve never been a big fan of French dressing.

5. What do you think killed the dinosaurs? (can be as creative an answer as you like)

Nothing. There never were any dinosaurs. Their bones were artificially created and seeded around the world by the aliens who put us here. Why? Because they’re jerks.

6. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to research for your writing/blogging?

Huh. I’m not really sure! I recently looked up how boiler explosions happen, because my current WIP features someone who died in one.

7. What can you hear right now? What would you prefer to be listening to?

Right now? Crickets and birds; the wind in the trees; traffic on the big highway that’s a quarter-mile thataway; the clackety-clack of the dog’s feet as he wanders about trying to signal us that he wants to go out for his walk!

8. What do you do when you feel you should be writing but are lacking in inspiration?

I usually grit my teeth and force myself to write. I’m a “Get the job done” kind of person. I don’t have a great deal of use for waiting for The Muse to show up.

9. What is your greatest achievement?

Raising the Daughter; staying married (no, we never came close to breaking, but we did have some pretty serious tests about ten years ago); finishing a book; learning how to use Scrivener (yes, this counts); learning how to format e-books in various formats!

10. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

As long as I can change the toppings in any way I want? Pizza. Or waffles. Or sandwiches, with as broad a definition as possible! I also can’t rule out nachos or burritos. Damn, this question is hard!

11. Who is your favourite author and why?

My favorite living author is Guy Gavriel Kay, whose historical fantasies are deeply emotional and filled with characters who are incredibly real. My favorite nonliving author is JRR Tolkien, because The Lord of the Rings is quite frankly a miracle of a book.

OK, time to tag a few people! And my eleven questions follow. Wheeeee!

Roger
Calvin
SamuraiFrog
Lynn
Briana
Brianna
Sara
AB Keuser
Rae
Faith

 

Questions:

1. What do you value more in a story: dialog or plot?
2. Describe the home planet of Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Come on, that dude ain’t human.)
3. If you enjoy watching any sports at all, which ones would you at least like to try just once?
4. Describe the most recent book to which you gave (or would have given) five stars.
5. Do you finish bad books? Why or why not?
6. How vexed are you when movies don’t match the books?
7. Describe your perfect hot beverage. In detail. I’m talking roast of bean or variety of leaves, additives like spices or squirts of citrus, vessel from which the drink is sipped, where you are sitting as you sip it, who is next to you, what music is playing.
8. Do you watch cooking shows? If so, describe your favorite.
9. Name a place you’ve visited that you thought you’d hate but you didn’t.
10. You know that hobby you had as a younger person that you miss dearly but you know you’ll never do it again? Describe it!
11. On January 20, 2017, the newly inaugurated President of the United States signs a law requiring all Americans to display a coffee-table book prominently in their home. Which one do you put out?

And thanks again, Rebecca, for the award!

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