Archive for October, 2010

Brilliant New Technique

Monday, October 25th, 2010

A few posts ago I used the term "premature optimization" to describe the condition of making something perfect before you know if you'll actually even need it. A nice concrete example of this happened during a sixth-grade art class of mine. Yes, I'm going back that far, but I think it's worth it.

I had chosen to draw a picture of an animal. It might have been a raccoon, but I don't rightly remember. At any rate, I drew the rough outline of the head and body, then began drawing one of the eyes. This eye was highly detailed. I spent hours and hours on the exact shape, outline, light glint, and the close surrounding features, like the raccoon's fuzzy face.

When the project was complete I had a brilliantly-drawn eye set in the middle of a rough outline of a raccoon's head and body. This is what happens when you ignore (literally, in this case:) the big picture.

I do this with writing all too often: focusing and getting hung up on the most minute details without paying attention to the larger story. I've run otherwise good ideas right into the ground using this technique. This isn't how stories are written (he said, as if he were an expert on story writing). It's more like working in clay: throw a lump down, shape it, take a look, shape it some more. Gradually flesh out the details, evenly, and with the appropriate amount of focus and effort at each stage.

I had a breakthrough this week while writing. Let's say I had three story sections: A, B, and C. Section A was finished. Section C was well-thought-out, but completely unwritten. Section B was needed to bridge the two, but was giving me fits. It was one of those sections that sucks the life out of you, getting hung up in details that are vastly disproportionate to where you are in the writing process.

So I stepped back. I looked at Section B and realized it was really nothing more than: protagonist meets person X, accomplishes task Y, and comes away believing idea Z. In the final book, this may wind up being two paragraphs or six chapters. I don't know yet. And I don't have to know yet. All that matters is that X, Y, and Z happen. I can figure out the rest on the next pass. And, if it does turn out to be two paragraphs, I shant have wasted the time writing six throwaway chapters on it.

As soon as I did that ("insert X, Y, and Z here") everything started flowing quickly again, as it should, and I'm only sorry I didn't do it sooner. In fact, little parts of Section C are also utilizing this technique and I love it. The story is flowing very quickly and all of these little IOUs can be easily paid off once I see how they fit into the bigger picture.

Give it a shot. The time you save just may be your own.

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Posted in On Writing |

Back on Track

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Well, mostly. I'm writing this post on Day 17 of the First Draft. As I mentioned last time, I can't help but compare this month's progress to last year's NaNo progress. Back then, I hit 50,000 words then after just three weeks. This time around, I've had six full zero-count days and at least two more days that were close enough to zero to be zero. By Day 16 I was behind nearly 15,000 words for the month.

But . . . behind what? Some arbitrary and meaningless schedule? Sure, it was a nice plan, but you can't plan creativity, right?

Ah baloney! Of course you can and that's what I did on Day 17 (which, at the time of this writing, isn't over). I had gotten stuck at a real sticky point and decided to solve it by ignoring it. Oh, I'll come back to it later, but the very act of typing "come back to this later" in the manuscript and moving on gave me a psychological boost. My gross word count today (which, at the time of this writing, still isn't over) was 6,723. My net word count was more like 5500 because I deleted a bunch of stuff too.

So here's hoping things keep heading this direction. I doubt I'll finish the first draft by Halloween, but that will just give me something to do during NaNo: namely cheat like I did last year and start the month with a manuscript in progress.

But who's counting?

Posted in Progress |

Some People

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

I think of myself as a halfway intelligent, reasonable, and level-headed person. I respect other people, strive to be polite, and only very rarely throw up at fancy dinner parties. So I'm often befuddled and flummoxed by the behavior of some people. This involves observing said person's behavior, shaking my level-headed head, and saying, "What were they thinking?"

I bring this up now for one single reason: the latest (as of today) entry on Slush Pile Hell:

I received your rejection notice, and I want to let you know that even if you would have offered representation, I would have turned it down. You obviously have no taste in literature and are a hack. I look forward to your failure as the publishing industry goes down in flames.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don't even know where to start. What makes people behave like this? First of all, I'm positive the person is lying. If this agent had offered to represent the book, I highly doubt the response would be, "You have no taste in literature and are a hack." No, this person somehow would have managed to find it in his heart (and yes, I'm assuming it's a "his") to actually thank the agent and move forward with getting that book deal.

Some people!

You know, the worst part of all this is the realization that my book(s), if I ever finish writing it(them) will never get published. Because of this one guy's rejection, the entire publishing industry is going down in flames. What rotten luck for me. Oh well. At least this happened after the seventh Harry Potter book got published.

Posted in Musings |

And the Slump Returns

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

I was looking at a comparison of my writing progress for this month versus where I was during NaNoWriMo last year. What a difference a year makes. And I don't mean that in a good way. Total word count is now 12,694, which isn't bad. But that's over ten thousand words behind this month's pace and less than half my word count during last year's NaNo.

Granted, this means absolutely nothing in the long run. What surprises me is that unlike last year, I actually feel like I have a purpose this time around. Last NaNo I was pantsing it, this year I'm plotting it. Last year I had no idea where the story was going. This year I know exactly where the story is going, and even have the soundtrack music already picked out for the movie's climactic scene.

But that ain't gonna happen if I don't get my behind in gear. These books just don't write themselves, you know! So guess what I'm going to do now as soon as I submit this post? That's right! I'm going straight to bed.


Posted in Progress |

Nearly Back on Track

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Day thirty-eight of PBWQ. Made up for some lost time tonight and the manuscript sits at the delightful word-count of 11,101. I have a feeling this time around it's going to end up around 80,000 words, so it feels strange to be pushing the 15% complete mark. My main goal this time around is to make sure the story doesn't drag. So I should probably stop and read what I've written so far, but that takes time away from the actual writing.

I should be at 14,888 words today. The one big advantage PBWQ has over NNWM is (you guessed it): October is 31 day. That means only 1613 wpd instead of NaNo's blistering 1667 wpd pace.

Have a good weekend.

Posted in Progress |

Fast and Furious

Monday, October 4th, 2010

I'm three days into the fast and furious writing phase. I'm taking a slightly different approach this time too; which I can probably sum up as: "not getting too hung up on every last word." I've done that in the past and it always leads to what we call in the software development world as "premature optimization." In short, it means you're polishing something up before you even know if you'll even need it. I've wasted countless hours on words that will never see the light of day. It's paramount I get the story structure solid first. It's like working in clay: throw a lump on the wheel then begin to shape it gradually. Each pass gets closer and closer to your vision. In no case do you perfect the eyeball first and then figure out what shape the head is going to be.

Hope it helps!

Posted in Progress |

PerBoWriQua 2010: Month Two

Friday, October 1st, 2010

October. OCTOBER! We'll ignore the discussion about how September only lasted about eight days this year and instead focus on the fact that the second month of the first-ever PerBoWriQua begins today. If you're following the traditional pattern (and by "traditional" I mean "the one I just made up at the end of August") then all your outlining, planning, and synopsizing is done and you are ready to begin the first draft of your manuscript today.

If you're like me, you didn't get any of that finished. So today's the day you're going to take your good, yet incomplete, plans, and wing it. That said, I still feel positive, though admittedly a bit nervous. I always get nervous at the beginning of a project. I'm not sure why. I'd love to tell you how I feel at the end of a project because, well . . . my projects never end.

Here's hoping to break tradition.

Posted in Progress |