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 | 2 comments

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 | 5 comments

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.

Posted in Progress | Comments Off on NaNoWriMo 2013

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 | 3 comments

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 | One comment

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 | 2 comments

February 6th, 2013

I've been hearing a fair number of wannabe authors lately all asking variations on the question, "How'd that get published?" The typical scenario goes something like this:

  • Author spends an entire day forging breathtaking prose out of white-hot metaphors.
  • Tired, yet satisfied over an honest day's toil, Author decides to take a trip to the bookstore for a hot cup of coffee and a peek at the latest Garfield calendar.
  • A wall in the color of, oh, let's just call it "more than four dozen shades of a color not quite black nor white" smacks Author in the face.
  • Not without a wince, Author picks up one copy, slowly peels it to a random page and reads, "The muscles inside the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion."
  • In utter despair, Author returns home and burns manuscript-in-progress.

It makes sense, of course. After all, if badly written books can not only get published but become — gasp — popular, what hope does someone like Author have?

This sense of frustration is normal. For in spite of piles and piles of evidence to the contrary, we all still believe life is supposed to be "fair." And it's patently NOT fair that someone who only but recently learned how to hold a pen now receives daily FedEx trucks full of money while we — we who type until our fingers bleed, perfecting each loving sentence whilst passion for the written word visibly drips from our under-appreciated pores — can't get the time of day from even the most hard up, entry-level employee in Acquisitions.

What we seemingly forget, in spite of piles and piles of evidence to the contrary, is that there is absolutely no correlation between "level of artistic merit" and "commercial success." None whatsoever. I'm sorry about that, but it's true. Highly related: we also forget that the publishing industry does not solely exist to ensure that only the finest quality writing ever reaches the hallowed shelves of Barnes & Noble. No, the publishing industry is a business, and that isn't a bad thing. It is not run by ignorant, malevolent, money-grubbing primates with nothing but disdain for the fine arts. It is run by people who are responsible for running a responsible business. This means creating products, shipping products, marketing products, and selling products. If they accomplish this monumental task successfully, then they get to pay the tens of thousands of people who make up this supply chain. Plus, as an added bonus, they're allowed to remain in business one more year.

Deep down Author knows this. Yet she remains despondent that crappy books contribute to this business model and can't understand why fine work (such as her own) never sees the light of day. It's easy to forget that fine work does get published. And, yes, it's very easy to forget that for every unexpected hit like Twilight, one hundred thousand equally crappy manuscripts are turned away. It's not as if only crappy books are published.

Author also forgets that "it takes all kinds." These books sell for one and only one reason: because a market exists for them. And it honestly doesn't matter if you personally disagree with the tastes of this market. I'm sure there are aficionados of classical music who simply cannot figure out why anyone would listen to jazz. The jazz devotees cannot figure out why anyone would listen to pop music. The Top Forty fans don't appreciate country music. Country music fans will never, ever figure out heavy metal. And the headbangers can't for the life of them understand why anybody would listen to anything as mind-numbingly boring as classical music.

So what's Author supposed to do? Quit writing? Give up? Chuck her manuscript into the river and never write again? To that I respond with a most emphatic yes. Because that just means MY crappy manuscript has one fewer author to compete against.

Posted in Musings | 2 comments

December 31st, 2012

The plan:

  • October: complete research and planning for "Tuesday Night".
  • November: write the next draft of the novel, in conjunction with NaNoWriMo.
  • December: edit, edit, edit.

The reality:

  • October: did nothing until 10pm on October 31.
  • November: decided at the last minute to work on "Elsewhither" instead.
  • December: made Chex Mix.

All in all, not the disaster it was last year. I only ended up with about eleven thousand words total, but that's eleven thousand more than I had before. Plus, some of them weren't half bad.

Here's to more and better progress in 2013. I can feel it. I was just kidding the previous twenty years. This year will be the one. Really.

Posted in Progress | Comments Off on PerBoWriQua 2012 Ends

October 1st, 2012

Two years ago I came up with the idea of the "Personal Book Writing Quarter". Last year I made a second attempt which ended with a fizzle almost as quickly as it began. Given this downward trend, I'd planned on skipping this year completely.

While I like the idea of a three month project [one month of planning, one month of writing (fortunately coinciding with NaNoWriMo) and one month of revision (unfortunately coinciding with Christmas)] the hard truth is: you can't plan creativity.

Well, maybe you can, but I can't.

That isn't to say I didn't have high hopes for 2012. For whatever reason, in spite of the lack of progress on this front for decades, I thought fer sure this would be the year. But then two things happened. 1) I got sick; and 2) I got stuck. And the latter was far worse than the former, believe me.

Still, I managed to make some progress on the backstory. And I made great progress on the high level story. But when I got down into the details (you know, all those pesky little words that people seem to care about when they read a book) it just got boring and pointless again. I couldn't seem to connect a good high level idea with a low level implementation. (And I'm certainly not alone in that regard. I'm sure this is exactly what plagues millions upon millions of wannabe writers.)

So I decided to follow Neil Gaiman on Twitter for a couple months. That didn't work.

So then I tried focusing on other projects for a while. But I couldn't come up with any.

So as I looked bleakly at the last quarter of 2012 and thought about doing nothing until next year (or even later) it occurred to me: I just need to give this one more good shot. The fact that this thought happened on Day One of Quarter Four is just all the better.

So here I am. This may work or it may fizzle out just as quickly as it did last year. Either way, I'll let you know on December 22, 2012.

If we're all still here then. 🙂

Posted in Progress | 3 comments

June 6th, 2012

Well, it only took 456 days, but I think I finally have this figured out. What's "this", you might ask? (Go head, you can ask it. Don't be shy . . .)

Well, "this" is the model which describes the mechanics of the science upon which the entire story is based. And if I haven't mentioned that before, it's obvious now: my current Work in Progress will be categorized as science fiction.

I won't go into the details here. In fact, I won't even go into the details in the book. Because the details of the model are irrelevant to the story itself. The real purpose is to have a consistent, solid base upon which to build the story, and if I really do my job right, you won't even notice the consistent, solid base. The story will just feel right.

But someday that one over-eager fan will raise his hand at the book talk and ask, "So how did that actually work?" And that's when I whip out my eighty-seven slide PowerPoint presentation and reply, "I'm glad you asked."

Posted in Progress | 3 comments