Archive for the ‘Progress’ Category

New Book Progress

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

It's been two months since my last post. I talked about how the fall season really makes me want to hunker down and write more than any other, then bemoaned the fact that I have absolutely no time to do so this season. I didn't sneak in that "15 minutes a day" like I'd hoped. But I also didn't do nothing.

I started a new book earlier this year (between my February and October posts) and never wrote about it here. It's not a novel, which means it has a much, much better chance of getting finished. My track record for fiction is: 0 for 6. My track record for non-fiction is 3 for 3, and this should make it 4 for 4.

I made really good progress in March and April and then dropped it because: well, life. But before November (and NaNo) completely ran out on me, I decided to dust it off and at last put in that fifteen minutes a day.

What I found was a book that was far more complete than I remember. It was always going to be a short one, but I still thought I had further to go to wrap it up. I filled out one or two empty placeholder sections then realized that Draft Zero was happily complete and I could start on the first revision.

The time I have to work on it hasn't increased at all, but I'm still going to shoot for fifteen minutes a day. My best guess at this point: I finish up the move, get settled into the new house, and then publish this thing exactly one year after I had originally hoped to: September 2016.

I know, that feels like forever away.

It's not.

Believe me. It's not.

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Wrap Up

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Although there's still officially more than a week left of this year's effort, I'm planning on spending that week eating and sleeping. So I might as well wrap things up now before I slip into a Chex Mix coma.

I'll keep this short and sweet: this was hands down the best PBWQ season to date. Here's why:

  • The R&D period in October went very well.
  • I officially brought two of my works-in-progress into the same universe.
  • The book has a good beginning, middle, and end.
  • My 50,000 word synopsis is complete.
  • And editing, though going very slowly, is progressing.

My main fear now is just completely getting out of the groove. But, then again, sometimes you just have to get out of the groove for a while. It can make for a much better groove next time.

So, bye for now. See you in 2015. Or as I like to call it, "The Year I Really, Truly, Actually, Finally Write a Complete and Finished Draft of a Book." Hey, the 23rd try's a charm, right?

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Ten Update

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

I'm still struggling with that Level of Detail problem. In that I'm "finalizing" too much on this second pass and not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

"Supposed to" is defined by these three definitions:

  1. Draft Zero: As an author, tell yourself the story.
  2. First Draft: Fix the story.
  3. Second Draft: Fix the language.
  4. Final Draft: Paint the trim.

But I'm kind of doing all three bullet points on what's supposed to just be me fixing the story right now. Because Draft Zero, while a complete story, was in heavy need of some work. And trying to fix too much at once is definitely slowing me down.

And if you thought that was the worst of it, think again. Writing in First Person is proving to be far more of a challenge than I thought. But that's the topic of another post.

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Eight Update

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

The way I like to write (and the way I believe books should be written, in spite of the fact that I'm no authority on this whatsoever) is to build the book up in layers with increasing levels of detail.

The concept of "level of detail" (or LOD for short) comes from the computer graphics industry. In the words of the great and wise philosopher Wick E. Pedia, it "involves decreasing the complexity of a 3D object representation as it moves away from the viewer or according to other metrics such as object importance, viewpoint-relative speed or position."

And here is a graphical representation:

Level of detail visual example

In short: if you can't appreciate the detail, don't waste time and resources creating the detail.

Same thing with a story. Start with a synopsis or an outline. Don't start with a finished manuscript. If you begin with a short version of your complete story then you can see if it's going to be worth spending any more time on. In a thousand words or so, can you see your beginning, middle, and the all-important end? Are your protagonist's motivations clear and believable? Is your antagonist the perfect foil? Do you have conflict? A good climax, twist or reveal to reward your faithful readers for their time invested?

If you don't have all that in the synopsis, it's very unlikely your completed manuscript will magically have them.

So that's what I attempted to do this time. Except instead of writing a one-thousand word synopsis, I wrote a fifty-thousand word synopsis. But it only took ten days, and in truth, the one-thousand word version would have taken about the same amount of time.

But when I started on that second LOD pass, I jumped right to the 60,000 polygon version of Beethoven. I lied to myself saying, "No, this is important. I just have to nail this first chapter in full detail, to properly set the manuscript in motion." And in hindsight, I was both right and wrong. I'm happy I did that, but no, it wasn't necessary.

That being said, I was able to nail down one very, very important decision: the point of view. I began writing the story in third-person limited point of view. However, I finished the last 16,000 words or so in first person. This was a NaNo-related device to help me zoom to the end of the story more quickly. I called it "campfire mode", in that the protagonist, now hypothetically old and sitting around a campfire, recounts her story to a gathering.

Then I realized: I like that. So I experimented by writing two versions of the opening chapter, one in first person, the other in third. At first, first person view slightly edged out third person. But then something struck me I didn't see coming: a prologue. It sat outside the story, in the form of a letter written by the protagonist in her later years, but then it hit me: this was the perfect "cover letter" accompanying a memoir. That sealed the deal: first person it was.

And with that, PBWQ 2014 is now two-thirds done. October went well. November went even better. And, as silly and pointless as it may be, I'm going to post this anyway:

NaNoWriMo 2014 Winner Banner

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Seven Update

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Yep. It's week seven.

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Six Update

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

As far as hours spent and miles put behind me, things took a dive this week, compared to the first ten days of November. For one, I caught a cold, so that slowed me down. To that end, I tried to get some more sleep and that's never a bad thing. For another, I think I kinda knocked myself out creativity-wise. That burst cost me a bit.

As for the book progress, I still made some. I began revision mode. I took "Draft Zero", the fifty thousand word proto-manuscript, and broke it up into scenes (I ended up with ninety-nine). I also printed out a paper copy, because that really helps me wrap my brain around it. And lastly, I began some initial work on "scene sorting." Some scenes are already strong, a fair number are extremely weak, and every once in a while, they're just in the wrong place in the story.

So I broke my rule of "just leave it." In general, it's not good to jump right into revisions. It's better to let the manuscript sit for a while and give your brain a rest. But the thing is, I've been at this for far too long to just rest now (in spite of what I said in the opening paragraph). I've built up a lot of inertia in the last six weeks, and I have to keep it going.

More in a week.

Posted in Progress |


Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

I have to admit I did not see this coming.

Okay, that's a lie. Last Friday I saw it coming, but even then it seemed a real stretch. But I can truly say, "I did not see this coming," if I go all the way back to the beginning of this year's PBWQ. I mean, even now it's hard for me to believe that as I started tapping away at the keyboard at 12:00:01 am on November 1, 2014, I still had no idea what my story was.


"How could you possibly not know what your story was?" you ask incredulously. And you deserve an answer. Normally I would sum up, but today I have time to explain.

When I say I don't know what my story was, that's just shorthand for: I had not yet come up with a detailed, bullet-proof, sensible plot. I knew generally what it was about. I knew who my protagonist was, and the setting, and how the story started and (most importantly) how it ended. But all the important pieces that glued all that together were missing.

Think of it this way. When I set out writing ten days ago, my story looked like this:

  • Restless boy on farm wants to see the universe.
  • Receives a Call to Adventure.
  • Meets an old man who helps him cross the threshold from the Ordinary World to the Special World.
  • Learns that the forces of evil are on the move.
  • He gets by with a little help from his friends.
  • Gains mystical powers along the way.
  • Finally, he uses all his gifts (knowledge, friends, and powers) to defeat evil.

So you see, there's definitely a story there. It's your basic Hero's Journey. But look what it lacks:

  • Why is he on the farm?
  • Why can't he just leave on his own?
  • Who is the old man and how does he help him to cross the threshold?
  • Who or what is working against him?
  • What are these mystical powers? How do they work? Why doesn't everyone have them?

Once you answer questions like these, the story becomes that much more fleshed out. Now you have your goals, your antagonist, your conflict, and climax all well-defined. But you're also not done. Because answering the above only opens up more questions:

  • What does the farm look like? Iowa? A swamp? A jungle? A desert?
  • What does the Threshold look like? Is it a wretched hive of scum and villainy?
  • How exactly does he develop these powers? Does it make sense in the overall story, or do they just magically come into his possession with no plausible explanation?

And as you continue to drill down there are further and further levels of detail:

  • How exactly are the space-clarinets designed and played?
  • Should the band be playing Daft Punk or perhaps something closer to dixieland jazz?
  • How many different species are in this bar and what do they look like?

Let Me Sum Up

So where did I end up on this continuum? In short, I now know everything I need to know about my story to actually turn it into a real, readable manuscript. And that's saying a lot. No, I don't yet know what the space clarinets look like. But I do know that there are space clarinets and what purpose they serve.

All my characters and their backgrounds and their personalities are fleshed out. All the scenes are now defined and in the right order. The story pace is finally apparent. About two thirds of the way through I realized my intended ending would no longer work and now I have one that's twice as good.

Next Steps

  1. Walk away from it. It has to rest a bit.
  2. Print it out and read it.
  3. Make notes: what worked, what didn't?
  4. Identify darlings. Kill them.
  5. Then begin writing the actual manuscript. Because what I have is definitely not a manuscript. It's all story, but no storytelling. It's all the facts, but without the emotion. It's bereft of scenic details and sweeping descriptions. Some of my characters are actually named So-and-So. Many of my places were given real-world city names until I could come up with proper in-universe names.

If I can even begin #5 by the end of this month, that would be a big win. If I could finish #5 by the end of February, that would be an even bigger win. But for the first time ever, that no longer feels like an impossible pipe dream.

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Five Update

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

On Friday night I went to my first-ever write-in (well, one that also wasn't a kickoff party). After all these years of writing alone in a small box, I decided this year to try and socialize a bit.

I was admittedly hesitant, because (to me anyway) writing is not a social event. It's just me and my brain and everyone and everything else just gets in the way. Further, when I write alone in a small box, there's zero overhead. Write-ins mean traffic and parking and spending money to support the local establishment hosting your write-in and lots of tiny things that all add up to one thing: cutting into my writing time.

But I'm glad I went.

However, let's get on to the real focus of today's update. On Friday morning (yesterday, November 7) I started looking at my numbers and my trajectory and two possibilities became apparent:

  1. Breaking my seven-day word count record was within reach.
  2. I might actually be able to hit 50,000 in ten days.

I was cautiously optimistic about both. Especially the latter, which would mean a 7,500 word Saturday, a 7,500 word Sunday, and nearly 5,000 words on Monday. Anyway, first things first. Breaking that seven day record.

After I got home and took a brief break, I merged my "mobile" document with my primary manuscript, cleaned things up, and checked my word count. 29,846 words. It was around 10:30 pm and I only had an hour and a half to add another 1,871 words. I honestly thought, "No way." You see, I keep a spreadsheet which tracks my progress details: words written, time spent, velocity, and so on. And that spreadsheet told me I'd never written that much in that little time before.

In fact, I actually wasted time working on these calculations and predictions. So it was that I didn't even begin writing until exactly 10:43. But I set my fingers loose and somehow reached and maintained a pace of 1,712.4 words per hour. I not only met my goal but added 2,169 words in that last seventy-six minutes of the day. That's the fastest I've ever moved.

The writing is terrible of course, but it's serving its purpose. The story is growing, and beyond word counts and record-setting paces, that's my true goal this month: to have a fully fleshed out, end-to-end, complete story. And in all the years I've been hacking away at this, that's the one goal that's always eluded me.

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Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Month One

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

That was a FAST month and I'm sad it's over. Because October's my favorite month and Halloween's my favorite holiday and it feels to me like the month only lasted about seventy-two hours.

This is also the first time that I've ever skipped my favorite holiday. No costumes, no trick-or-treating, and (most importantly) no pumpkin carving (which itself means I missed my annual viewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, because I always pop in that movie and put it on repeat while carving pumpkins.

Anyway, in my last update, I recounted my little miscalculation whereby I forgot to do any planning for my book during the month where I had intended to do all the planning for my book. I sure did a good job on everything leading right up to it, but stopped short of getting the immediate task fleshed out.

Time waits for no man and suddenly, and seemingly without warning, I found myself at Dragon's Lair for my very first NaNoWriMo kickoff party. This is my sixth NaNo attempt, but I never went to a kickoff (see above notes about my feelings on Halloween).

NaNoWriMo Kickoff Party, Austin TX, 2014

The evening began at six o'clock with a book signing by Elizabeth Moon. She's had twenty-six more books published than I have, for a grand total of twenty-six books. I bought one and got it signed, which means I can now cross off Item #57 on my Bucket List: "Go to Dragon's Lair on Halloween and get a book signed by an author with twenty-six published books."

At seven o'clock, she gave a talk which was followed by a Q&A session. At eight o'clock I was unable to get my last question in to her, "Are you hungry?" Because everyone else was. Fortunately, that's just when the pot-luck began.

Feeding ended around nine. I had planned on spending that last three hours doing some last-minute planning. But it was more noisy and social than anything, so it just wasn't in the cards. As the clock ticked toward midnight, I actually started getting a little nervous. Probably because I was about to embark on a thirty-day challenge to turn a three-sentence synopsis into a full-length novel.

3... 2... 1...

At midnight everyone shut up and got to work and suddenly I was happy for this event. Because without it, I would probably languish in planning mode for at least another half a year. It's good to just say "good enough" and move on to something else. Do I know every last detail of my story? No. (I barely know every first detail.) Will I get stuck halfway through or even tomorrow? Likely. But none of that matters. Because my goal isn't to write a novel in November. My goal is to write.

And it felt good to just finally start again.

Posted in Progress |

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 |