Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

PBWQ14 Week Four Update

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

As I write this, there are about three days and nine hours left of Week Four and, by definition, Month One of PBWQ14. This will be a quick update. You ever have one of those moments where you're looking all over for your keys only to realize they've been in your pocket the whole time? It's so easy to miss the obvious sometimes if your brain is in the wrong place.

So it was with me. As I watched this week's deadline approach, I was starting to feel pretty good about my progress. The backstory and prep work had picked up the last few days and I was starting to think, "You know, I might get this all done by Friday." That's when it hit me. I would be done with the backstory work. Not the story story.

At midnight Friday, the calendar would flip over to November 1, and I would sit there with a really good idea of what happens in my story from 120 million years ago up until 1864 or so and have NO idea what happens after my opening, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

And now I'm back in panic mode.

At least I found my keys, though.

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Three Update

Friday, October 24th, 2014

I'm not going to lie, I'm nervous. I'm nowhere near as far along as I'd hoped to be by October 24. I have no idea where this last week went (though, to be fair, I know that some of it definitely went here). I have three things today: a progress report, an explanation, and a soliloquy of sorts.

Progress Report

Things came together a week ago, in a big way, for the over-arching story. It wasn't until a couple days ago, that I finally zeroed in on what I'm supposed to be doing right now: planning the immediate outline/synopsis for book one. It's picking up speed a bit, but where I am now is where I should have been last Friday.

An Explanation

I was looking through old blog posts here, specifically in the Progress category, trying to remember which book I was working on each NaNoWriMo season. My first one was in 2009 (which I've won) and I've tried (and died) every year since then.

Anyway, what struck me was how cryptic my posts were. I seemed to go waaaaay out of my way to actually talk about what I was working on. There are reasons, I suppose: spoilers, protecting my intellectual property, general embarrassment. But as a historical archive, they suck. So I'm going to fix that.

I still won't post spoilers. But I really don't care about my IP being stolen because: 1) nobody visits the blog and 2) there's nothing worth stealing anyway. And being embarrassed from time to time is just part of life. I'd rather share too much and have something enjoyable to look back on in the future than end up with more of what I've done so far.

So, here it is in plain language. My current project is part of something I'm (for now) calling The Underhaven Trilogy. The first book is called Elsewhither (yes, the same name as this here blog.)

It's 1864. The story begins in London. It's about a twelve-year old girl who, until recently, lived in a wonderful orphanage. The home lost its sole benefactor and consequently she's been turned out onto the streets. She runs into an old blind woman in a horse-drawn carriage who takes her in. The carriage pulls away and the two begin to talk. Upon arriving at the old woman's estate, the girl is chased off as "riff raff." In spite of the old woman's objections, servants send dogs after the girl. She spies an odd shack while running and makes for it. The shack contains what looks like a manhole cover. She heads below for safety. While below, she realizes that she may have stumbled into an opportunity to find buried treasure: treasure that could be used to restore her home. She moves forward and eventually encounters an ancient subterranean world where all sorts of adventures await. Does she ever find her treasure? How should I know! I haven't written the stupid book yet.

A Soliloquy

I've made it no secret that I've been at this (not this particular story but "this" in general) for over two decades and I have yet to accomplish anything. Sure, I spat out several "how to" books on video editing. I wrote that diet book. I've authored hundreds of blog posts (a fair number of them pretty good, if I do say so myself). I've released three major versions of my pet project Timekeeper. I've written some music. I've drawn a few pictures. I've carved a lot of pumpkins. But I still have yet to write that Mediocre American Novel.

I'm not sure why I'm still at it either. Part of it is momentum. I've spent (literally) thousands of hours on backstory, world-building, invented languages, research and development, and so on. Apart from The Underhaven Trilogy, I have Tenner Heed, Winter's Gate, and Ronald all in various stages of development.

It's not like the world NEEDS another book. In fact, I'm pretty sure we've crossed the point where, for the first time in history, there are now more people writing books than reading them. Plus, I still have my music and art interests waiting for attention. So why do I keep clinging to this notion that I've got some sort of story in my head that I need to put onto paper when all the evidence? Why do I keep at this?

The answer is simple. In fact, it's so simple, that it's only one word: because.

Okay, that's a bit too simple. Here's more words: because it's me. It's just what I do. Some people are compelled to photograph everything, others to weave baskets, others to plant trees, and still others to make peanut butter (for which I'm forever grateful). I firmly believe we don't get a say in this. The one hundred billion cells that make up your organic central processing unit make that call for you. There's a layer of consciousness in there which is aware of the decisions they're making, but that's about as far as our control goes.

I don't consciously decide that I love peanut butter and hate mushrooms. I don't sit down with a spreadsheet and think, "Hmmm, now let's list all the pros and cons of something, assign a score and weight to each attribute, then exclaim: It's official! I'm not a fan of The Godfather. Whew, glad I finally got THAT worked out." There's no logic or active thought process that says, "I like onions. I hate spiders. I love beer. I can't stand the color yellow." These things just is.

And so too with this writing thing. It just is. It's not whether or not the world needs another book. Or if I'm trying to cross something off some stupid bucket list. Or just spending a bit of free time noodling around with a hobby. Nope, my brain is wired in such a way that I always have to be producing something. I'm not happy if I'm not producing. I possess a modicum of talent in a few creative areas and if I'm not spitting something out, then I actually experience something approaching internal torment. So sure, it'd be nice to finish a novel someday. (Heck, I'll start with just one.) And it'd be nice if someone bought it. And even more nice if someone enjoyed it. But in the end, it's really just about me. And my sanity.

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Posted in Musings, Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Two Update

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

I know it's only been three days since the Week One update. However, that update was late and Week Two officially ends tomorrow, October 17. Sure, I could wait until after tomorrow to post an update, but there's no point because I've already peaked. And I mean that in a good way.

So here's the scoop. I'm still working on the long timeline. This timeline includes key dates (years, actually) for both the backstory leading up to the main stories as well as key milestones within the stories themselves. The timeline begins at a point 120 million years ago. Yeah, yeah. This is pretty far back for a three-volume story that begins in 1864. But it's important to me.

Now, I'm not sure which definition of "it's important to me" I should use here. There are two:

1. Exploring the geography and geology all the way back to its (relevant) inception provides the author with key details and clues that will ultimately shape the story and improve it in ways that couldn't be accomplished by just "winging it."

2. I have to touch the light switch seven times with my right hand and five times with my left hand before entering a room.

History will be the judge.

Anyway, back to today's breakthrough. I got to a point in the timeline (specifically, 6,200 years BCE) where three different things all came together. And it was wonderful. I can probably describe this experience best with an analogy.

It's like I had spent a great deal of time crafting the letter "D". I worked on it, and poked and prodded it, and made it just the way I wanted it. On the side, a few years ago, I was also working on "E". I dusted that one off, cleaned it up, and made it presentable. Then I had an "R" going as well. Suddenly today I lined them up and said, "Whoa, I can spell RED with this!"

The uninterested observer standing over my shoulder would have seen this a long time ago. This observer would be highly unimpressed by my epiphany. But I'd been working on the individual trees for so long, the forest was effectively invisible.

But just like that, in a flash, I tied the three stories together in a very small but potentially significant way.

I'm still behind overall in my October plan. But this goes a long way to me not caring. 🙂

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Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week One Update

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Just a very quick update now that the first week of PBWQ is behind us.

"Week? Today is the thirteenth!" you say.

Yeah, yeah. But I'm breaking up October into four weeks for psychological reasons. The first week went from October 1 to October 10. The second, third and fourth weeks end on each subsequent Friday. So, the first week is done and we're now just into the second week.


I've noticed the past few years that my PBWQ posts have gone like this:

Post #1, before it starts: IT'S TIME! IMA GONNA DO IT! YAY ME!!!

Post #2, after it's over: I failed. I suck. I'm never going to do anything.

So I vowed that this year will be different. This year I shall post at least four times between "IT'S TIME!!!" and "I failed." It's a whole new me.


The update is that things are going mostly well. I set a first-week goal for myself of having all my way, way backstory done: the part that lays the foundation for the stories to build on. I think I'm close, maybe another day or so. But it's all progress. I haven't missed a day yet working on this stuff. And that's saying a lot.

Posted in Progress |

PerBoWriQua 2014

Monday, September 29th, 2014

It's hard to believe this time is upon us again. I have no idea where all the years are slipping away to, but I don't like it. Especially in light of the severe lack of progress I've demonstrated over the last two decades.

For the uninitiated, PBWQ is my version of NaNoWriMo. But instead of the National Novel Writing Month, it's the Personal Book Writing Quarter. The idea is that you spend the month of October doing research and planning. You spend November writing (conveniently overlapping NaNoWriMo). You then spend December revising.

In short, it's exactly what you should be doing before, during, and after NaNoWriMo anyway. I'm just formalizing it and turning it into a logo.

My personal relationship with my own personal book writing quarter has been spotty at best. The two of you who read this blog know that. However, it feels different this year. Things are different for me: in many areas of my life. And I can't stop thinking about the backstory of this whole Trilogy idea. In short, I'm fired up.

And believe me, that's saying a lot.

Posted in Progress |


Monday, July 7th, 2014

Pop quiz! What could be worse than having five never-to-be-finished novels in the works? Answer: six never-to-be-finished novels in the works. That's right, I now have six of 'em hanging over my head for (presumably) the rest of my days. You might think things couldn't get worse for this frustrated wannabe author, but fret not. I'm about to spin this into a good thing.

I can do that, you know. I'm a frustrated wannabe author after all.

The reason I believe this to be a good thing is that the sixth novel is actually going to take two of the other never-to-be-finished novels and tie them into a trilogy. Even stranger is that until very recently, these two novels had absolutely nothing to do with one another.

"Wait just a darned a second!" you cry. "How can anyone just out of the blue take two stories with nothing in common and suddenly add roll them into a trilogy? Everyone knows that a trilogy is a hit book, followed by all of the characters coming back for a second book, followed by all of the characters returning for a third. Everyone knows that a trilogy is a book plus two sequels that get turned into four films. This is crazy talk."

"That may be the popular definition of a trilogy," I respond. "But not all trilogies follow that pattern."

"True," you say, after a moment of brow-furrowing. "The Lord of the Rings isn't four films."

"The Lord of the Rings isn't a trilogy either."

"Yes it is."

"No, it isn't. It's a single story, divided into six books, and published in three volumes for economic reasons."


"Never mind. Can we get back to this blog post?"

"Oh. Oh, sure. Sorry, do continue."

A trilogy in its most general sense is a set of three related works. That's it. It's not a book or movie and its two sequels. It's what your literature professors deem as being thematically or otherwise related. And it's what two of my previously unrelated works-in-progress have suddenly become, giving rise to a third which (chronologically) lands smack in between them.

I feel pretty good about it too: better than I have in a long while.

"That's great," you interrupt again. "So what's it going to be about?"

"I'm sorry, I was driving through a tunnel and you broke up."

"I said, what's this new story going to be about? How does it tie the other two together?"

"Um. Well, it's. Uhhh. Oh my word, look at the time. Gotta run."

Posted in Progress |

NaNoWriMo 2013

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Although at the time of this writing, there's still technically about fifteen hours left of NaNoWriMo, I actually finished my first draft yesterday. However, at only thirty one thousand words, I didn't (technically) win this year's contest. (And no, I'm not going to try and write nineteen thousand words today.)

Although I didn't win at NaNo, I did win at life. Because my goal wasn't to just barf fifty thousand words into a word processor. My goal was to finish a rough draft of my latest novel. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But it also has a lot of "insert stuff here" or "jump ahead to the next plot point there". The goal was never to create anything that anyone could read and enjoy. The goal was to write an extremely long and detailed synopsis. If I liked that, then I would take the time to write a proper draft of the story.

My current guess is the manuscript will double in size (so, around sixty-two thousand words) and the next draft will take about three months. The goal of the second draft is to fix plot and pacing problems, not to mention filling in all those "content goes here" notes. The third draft will be the polish pass and I'll call it done.

I think I may have something here. Stay tuned.

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Posted in Progress |

Reading is Fundamental

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The purpose of this blog was to give me an outlet to talk about something other than dieting, and to that end, it had to be about writing. So I ramble from time to time about the non-progress of my one or two or five novels-in-progress. I bemoan in a most self-deprecating fashion how I just can't seem to get anywhere. I occasionally discuss the publishing industry itself. But until literally just now (and I mean "literally" literally) I realized: I never talk about reading.

Reading is, of course, the whole point. While I'm sure there are some who enjoy writing and never care that a single soul ever read their words, the vast majority of writers intend to be read.

Further, for those of us who do write (or at least try to) we surround ourselves with other writers. We have friends who write. We've personally friended three hundred and thirty seven thousand other NaNoWriMo participants. It's easy to forget that the Readers still (thankfully) outnumber the Writers by at least a couple orders of magnitude.

But beyond the desire to be read and the large Reader:Writer ratio, what makes reading so important to writers? I hope the answer is obvious. This is our craft. And to perfect one's craft means studying the work of one's peers. Think of a painter who never visits and art gallery. A chef who never eats out. A musician who never illegally downloads MP3s.

It expands your mind and simply makes you a better you.

There's also one additional side benefit. It helps you find out what's already been written. I learned this the hard way after spending nineteen years writing a seven-volume story of a young, orphaned boy who discovers he's a wizard and must defeat the greatest dark wizard ever. Think of what I could have done with all that time instead of writing The Magical Adventures of Henry Porter.

And please enjoy the continuing adventures of Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half. I can only dream of what it might be like to create such an incredible meme as the image above.

Posted in Musings |

The Relationship

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

You didn't expect it to happen, but it happened. You met. And at that moment you knew something special was about to transpire. You flirted. You spent time together. You touched. And at that point you knew. You knew you were about to embark on a life-long relationship.

This is the story of you and your story. At the moment you get serious and enter a committed relationship, the honeymoon begins. You're in that wonderful period where anything and everything goes. The world is full of unlimited possibilities. Everything is exciting. Everything clicks. There are no worries. No plot holes. No vast expanses of frustration as you plod your way from one pivotal scene to the next. In short, you are happy.

Enjoy it while you can because the honeymoon does not last. Very soon you will hit that plot hole and find yourself trying to figure out how your protagonist was in Paris at three o'clock, in Sydney at three thirty, and your story involves no science fiction elements whatsoever.

The frustration builds and builds until you find yourself in that situation you never expected to happen. You'll meet another story. And at that moment, you'll know something special is about to transpire.

Posted in On Writing |

Unhappy Anniversary

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

"It was twenty years ago today . . ."

I like to record things. I keep track of time, I fill journals, and I log spreadsheets. It's quite likely I have millions of words scattered about, chronicling everything I've done, for over thirty years. If I ever make something of myself and some future biographer needs some raw material, there will be no shortage of it.

Which is why I know that twenty years ago today, I wrote this:

Today the itch got to me. I've been feeling like writing a book for some reason, and today I took my first steps towards realizing it. Now I didn't actually write anything today, because, heck, I don't even have a story yet. But I did some housekeeping, and, using MicroSoft Word on my PC, I came up with document templates to use. So now, if an idea hits me, I'll be ready.

I think part of what's making me feel this way is the TBX documentation that I'm just now finishing. It came out to over 400 pages, and it made me realize that I'd like to write something real rather than technical documentation.

If I were the protagonist in some other author's work, he couldn't have created a passage containing any more gems than that one. Just look at it! I say I want to write a book but instead of writing, I just set up templates. (I still get a kick out of the way I wrote "MicroSoft".) I mention not wanting to write technical documentation. Yet between 1996 and 2007, that's about all I did with my Getting Results video editing how-to series. And the most tragic part: I still have this burning desire to write novels and yet I obviously lack the capacity.

Exhibit A

To discuss this in more depth, I give you Exhibit A: Life is Like a MasterCard.

life is like a mastercard logo

The white box represents all of humanity, plus dolphins and mice. Any being in the white area has no ability to do X and no desire to do so either. Any being in the white area is perfectly content. Using me as an example: I have absolutely no ability to understand quantum physics and no desire to do so. I am content. I do not think about quantum physics in the car on the way to work. I don't worry that I'm making no progress in the field. I never fret that I will not be remembered for my achievements in quantum physics. I am content.

The blue area contains the subset of people who have the ability to do something, but no desire. The beings in this box are also perfectly content. If I may offer myself up as a guinea pig a second time: I have the ability to write a word processor. I am a software developer by profession and were I to put my mind to it, I could come up with something more than useable. But I have no desire to do so. The world is pretty well set on word processors. I am content.

The purple area is the subset of people who have the ability to do something as well as the desire. The beings in this box are also content. I myself have the ability and desire to make toast and put peanut butter on it. I do this often. I am content.

Now at this point, you, the dolphins, and all the mice see where this is heading. You can see where the pain lies. It's in that red area. This is where you find the unhappy, the restless, the cursed. I sure would like to write a novel. But I can't. I just can't.

Exhibit B

"Well, not with that attitude!" the ever-helpful optimist points out. "Think positive! You can do anything!" Well, I simply don't believe that. And that's not being a pessimist, that's just being a realist.

My favorite Pixar film is Ratatouille. The food critic Ego constantly demonstrates his disdain for Gusteau's motto, "Anyone Can Cook!" Because, at face value, this appears to be just another twist on the syrupy "Think positive! You can do anything!" mantra. What Ego finally realizes at the end of the film is the truth in what Gusteau meant: "Not anyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." I love that. It sounds positive but at its heart lies realism. That's me in a nutshell.

My Problem

In the last month or so, it finally struck me what my problem is. I have something I call "I Can Do That! Syndrome." I possess a modicum of talent in the fields of writing, art, and music — but only just enough to be a danger to myself.

If I read a book, or see a movie, or look at a painting, or hear a song that I like, my immediate reaction is, "I Can Do That!" Because I know how to write, draw, and play a couple musical instruments. I've done enough of these things. I understand the fundamentals, theory, and have enough practical knowledge that my reaction is always the same: I Can Do That!

For example, I'll look at a pencil drawing like this:

I then set my own pencil to paper and get this:

It's all just a bit frustrating. And even more so now, looking back on a journal entry written twenty years ago by a person who thought he just might take the literary world by storm.

Still, I haven't given up yet. If there's one thing about "desire without ability" it's this: it is, first and foremost, "desire." And I'll keep working on this, if it's the next thing I do. Which it will be if I just click that Publish button and at last get back to work.

Check back on April 20, 2033 for Part Two of this post.

Posted in Musings |