Keeping Momentum

IMG_0163This blog was once intended as a practical, “behind-the-scenes” view of the writing process.  It has, I’ll admit, morphed away from that intent.  I still, however, do have that underlying urge to occasionally share my own hard-won experience and advice in writing.

Today’s IWSG topic gives me an excuse to play to that (occasional) urge: “What steps have you taken to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?”

To tackle this one, I have to — with more than a hint of sad revulsion — briefly put on my big-boy pants and flash back to my days as a sales and marketing monkey.

In the old days, when I used to manage staff and projects, I would create timelines and plans with all kinds of measurables and delivery dates.  I knew, every time I checked that schedule, exactly where any project stood at any particular moment.  I also knew, within reason, when any element, major or minor, was going to be finished.

I do something similar with the writing.  Err, I try to do something similar.

At the end of my normal prep process, I have a detailed timeline and a list of all the scenes in that particular story.  That list includes the day/date of the scene, the setting and the characters involved, as well as notes on things like tone, perspective, and some background on what has gone before.

After I create that plan, however, the schedule is…well…the schedule can pretty much kiss my ass.  Hey, I left the world of cubicles and meetings and schedules for a reason, goddammit!

I write whatever scene strikes my fancy at any particular moment.  I’ve found that jumping around the story like the caffeine-addled squirrel that I am allows me to match the scene to my mood and inclination.

As strange as it may sound, that little tic actually makes the entire project go faster.  Recently, I tried forcing myself to write things in order, and it turned out to be a serious failure.  A failure from which I am still trying to recover, I might add.  Writing a fight scene when I was feeling mellow and laid back…writing a love scene after a bad day…writing exposition and setup when there was chaos around me…these things were not a recipe for success.

Now, the above is pretty idiosyncratic to me, but there is something in there that can apply to almost any writer: don’t write to your word-count, write to your story.

If your plan is solely to write 1000 (or 2000, or 5000) words a day, then that is exactly what you are going to do…write words.  Whether or not you advance the story is another thing entirely.

It is far too easy — and far too common — to get so caught up in the “measurables” that you lose sight of just what those those measurable really represent.  Call it the writer’s version of “forest for the trees.”

Thinking of my story in terms of scenes, however, is something that works quite well.  Each scene is (roughly) a day’s worth of writing, and represents a discreet and significant unit of the story itself.  If I stick to the plan of writing one scene a day, I am certain to advance the story…and to get my necessary work done.

Honestly, it also plays into psychology…or at least into my particular psychology: finishing a scene provides a more significant sense of accomplishment than simply ending the day with 2,500 more words written.

My last bit of advice on this, and perhaps the more important one, is this: momentum is king.  Writing — again, at least for me — is very much a game of momentum.  A regular rhythm of producing at least one scene per day builds not just your story, but also your confidence and the flow of your words.  Break that momentum?  Stop that flow?  Not only do bad things happen, but you make it vastly harder to start again.

Look, for most of us writing isn’t all that different from pushing the Sisyphean boulder up the hill. Take a break and that damned rock can roll right over you on its way back down.  But if you keep pushing…

…if you keep pushing, you find the next hill.  And the next hill, like the next story, is always better.

2017: More Right Than Wrong

IMG_0163“Regret is a part of life.  But keep it a small part.”

Blakes 7, 1980, BBC

Regrets…

Specifically, anything I regret from 2017?  The actual question was: is there anything I would do over, do differently?

I try to avoid things like that, if only because…well…where do you stop?  There are always regrets, always things you would rather have done differently.  But, really, would you?  Should you?  As trite as it is, we really are made from our experiences.  Do things over, do things differently, and you start changing just who you are today.

Besides…as not-good as parts of 2017 were for me, there were others that were very, very good.  Those good things are what color the entire year as I look back. Let’s be honest: it’s hard to be too full of regrets when you’ve spent half the year living in the middle of Yellowstone.

No, I didn’t write as much as I should.  No, I didn’t break any new creative ground.  And, no, I definitely didn’t make shit for money (or did make shit for money, as the case may be!).  But what I did do was renew myself, and rediscover certain parts of me that I thought I had lost.

If February and March were low points, well…they were that bleak moment, that point of despair, in the story before the protagonist starts to pull it together.  They made the next bits all that much better.

Now, if I leave aside my life and just focus on the writing…

Well, there are always things to change, things that could and should have been done differently.  I could have played with the tone of Silence earlier.  I could have thought more about the fragile mental state of my protagonist.  I could have planned and anticipated better the swings and changes, and the evolution, of the story I wanted to tell.

Most of all, I guess, I damned well should have changed back from writing sequentially to writing the scenes in the order I chose.  My outline is there to serve and help my writing, not the other way around!

But all of that is ancillary.  All is merely detail.  If I were the hero of my own story, as the old writing exercise goes, the choices I made may not have been optimal, but damn if I didn’t advance the plot!

So, instead of looking back, I have to look forward.  And, looking forward, I have to, above all, write more.  I have to be more intentional about the work, and about the goals and milestones I set for myself.  I also have to rediscover that voice, and that focus, that is so important to making my (current) stories work.

Writers write, as the old saying goes, and in the end I need to remember that.  I used to have a daily goal that I stole from a Chuck Palahniuk piece: put on a good album, and write for the length of it.  If things are working, just put on more music and keep writing.  If things aren’t working…hey, you got in an hour of writing!  It has proven, for me, a better “win-win” system than trying to produce X words per day.  Now, I just need to remember that…

As a last thought on the regrets thing: I want to shout out my thanks to IWSG and the folks I have met, and am meeting, through that group. Y’all are awesome, and joining has been one of those “very, very good things” I mentioned above. Writing is inherently a solitary activity (even when you write in taprooms!), so it’s good to know I’m not doing it alone!

NaNoDrinkMo … Err, Maybe I Just Don’t Get It

IMG_0163Sooo…it’s NaNoWriMo time. Again. Now, maybe I’m the only writer in the world who feels this way, but…really? What the hell is that syllabic mishmash supposed to be?

If I can’t be bothered to write during the other eleven months of the year, why would November be any different?

Shit, November is the last month in which I should be writing seriously. October is home to more beer-focused events and festivals than any other time of the year. And December? Well, what the hell is Christmas except family stress and waaay too much booze? I don’t know about your family, but with mine…well, let’s just say that family harmony starts and ends at the liquor cabinet.

Honestly, November ain’t for writing, it’s for giving my liver a fighting chance to survive.

If I haven’t been clear enough: I barely know NaNoWriMo is a thing, and I certainly have never taken part.

I know, I know, there are a ton of other writers out there who love the damned concept. Giddyup, yippee-ki-yay, have-at-it….I’ll never really get it, but boats are floated by many, many things.

Okay, so enough venting and griping. But…but…NaNoWriMo…really? Why is this a thing?

I can only put this in personal terms: writing is who I am, not what I do. If ever I am not writing, there is a problem. If ever I go more than a few days without keys clicking, or pen in hand, then my life has very much taken a turn for the worst.

I can’t think, can’t process, can’t function, without writing. How the hell could I ever say, “No, let’s wait until November”…? Even in Yellowstone, amidst all that distraction, I wrote better than 25,000 words…more like 35,000 if you count the blog posts and other stuff I wrote up there. And still there is a backlog of stuff in my head — and in my soul.

So, to answer the IWSG question for this month: no, I have never written anything for NaNoWriMo. Or, more accurately, I’ve written a shit-ton in November, but because those stories — those words — demanded to be written, not because some artificial Twitter-drive told me it was time to “buckle down”.

What spurs me to write is, more than anything else, an internal thing. I write for me. If others like my stuff, then I’ll do the happy-danceIMG_0443…but even if I end up exactly as my family expects — and let’s not get started on that particular demon, shall we? — still will I write.

To (mis)quote a song: I don’t stutter when I write.

The thoughts and the words, well, they carry and express themselves…and that is, for me, how it has to be. That is the how and why of writing for me — not because the calendar tells me it is time, but because I simply can’t stop. Not and stay “me”.

Nothing To See Here – Move Along

IMG_0163I know I’ve mentioned IWSG Day before. But, for those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ve never really explained. So, here goes: on the first Wednesday of every month, the idea is to put together a blog post focused specifically on writing. Preferably one that other writers will find interesting and/or useful. An additional part of the challenge is a suggested theme for those posts. Now, for a guy that pretty much writes this blog in the purest stream-of-consciousness, that thematic element is a fun little mini-challenge.

The hard part of the whole thing? It’s that stream-of-consciousness thing. When I write these posts, it is mostly just a short burst of effort to give me a break from whatever else I’m writing or doing. They receive, at best, one editing pass. That’s it, just one. Hell, most of the time I’m having a beer while I write them.

And other writers read them.

Uhh…

Maybe I really am just as nuts as my family thinks.

Ah well, we all have our crosses to bear.

At any rate, today’s theme is about putting yourself into your characters. Specifically, about whether or not you have, either on purpose or by accident, put personal info into your characters.

Umm…ahh…ahem.

No, not me. Not at all. Nope…and I’m just gonna slink away, now, whistling an innocent little tune. Nothing to see here, move along.

For me it’s more than putting myself into the characters. No, for me, the personal things go into the story itself. Even more, they go into the subtext of the story.

To dredge up something from a post I wrote a year or so ago: my favorite character – far and away my favorite! – has not even the slightest bit of me in him. He is, honestly, in no way an element of me, nor of my subconscious.

No, what he is is the most personal character I’ve ever created: he is a collage of the dead, of those friends I have lost. Oz is the face, and the pain, of suicide. To me, he embodies the very real grief and regret of that tragedy…and the very, very real memories.

In Wrath, given the limited POV I chose to use, Oz’s reality – and his power – wasn’t always easy to show…nor was I always successful. In Silence, however…

In Silence, I am playing a great deal more intimately with Oz, and with his relationship with Connor. Some of those bits make me laugh, while others are still strong enough to bring a tear.

The subtext of Silence is very much Connor’s struggle with survivor’s guilt, and with all of the shit that particular demon brings*, but…well…Oz is still my favorite. I may have killed him, but I can’t leave him behind.

*Not that I would know anything about that. Nope, not me, not at all…

And, before you ask: yes, my characters speak to me. That was, honestly, why I put aside everything else in my life to write the stories I am currently working on: Connor and Oz just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I had thought (hoped?) that writing Wrath would quiet them down…

…boy, was I wrong.

And, yes, that does in fact make me officially nuts. Oh well, what the hell; I write sci-fi and fantasy, true sanity was never more than a distant dream, anyway.