Changing Modes

DSCN2859b small Last night I finished the draft of my first novel of the year.

That’s change mode number one. For the previous twelve-plus months I’ve been focusing on short stories so have mostly been writing in the 3000 to 10,000 word range.

Writing a sustained story that’s 60,000 words long takes a different kind of process. Glad I did Dean Wesley Smith’s Pacing Workshop (non-affiliate link!) over summer. That gave me a whole new way to approach a novel.

Change mode two: once I finished the novel I got started on a literary short story. Each year in New Zealand there are a couple of big literary contests and I make sure I enter both. One of them has a prize of $10,000 – seriously! I guess my chances are about 1/10,000, but that’s better than that Lotto thing and I still get to send off my story to other markets when it doesn’t win (one of last year’s entries has just been accepted for Takahe, a NZ literary magazine, yay).

So I went from the validation at the end of that sixty thousand word hard sci-fi novel to the opening of what will be a 3000 word piece focused on language and character more than action and wonder. I hope I can pull it off.

And, yes. I got started on the story as soon as I finished the novel. I saved the file called “pirates 25 2 2014” and created a new file called “the accident 25 2 2014” and began typing. Some writers apparently take a week off after finishing a novel. Nice for some, I guess. I want to capitalise on that momentum and carry on with writing. Anyway, I have a daily word count goal to hit.

Oh, that busy bee in the sunflower? Just last week in the garden. Summer is really giving us a scorcher for the moment. I know most of you are practically snowbound at the moment – I hope the pic gives you some cheer.

Writing well and writing badly

As I progress through my “year of writing pulp”, I’m certainly learning a lot about myself as a writer. As with any writer, I have ups and downs and I have stories that are more successful (in the storytelling sense) than others. Sometimes it’s easy to feel down when a story isn’t working out. I begin to wonder if I’ll ever have another decent story in me. I guess I’m always measuring against my last best story. And that may be two or three (or more?) stories back.

The reality is that (as with most writers again) I feel like I’m getting better in general. See the graph of story quality here, with the zero to one hundred as the quality measure and the left to right as progress over time. In the early days most (ie, all) of my stories were lousy (say, a fifteen on the quality scale – at least they had reasonable grammar), but over time I’m getting better at the process of storytelling. Sometimes I stumble a little and drop down the quality line, but the general trend seems to be towards the upper end. (You understand, of course, that the ‘quality’ graph here is a purely arbitrary thing, for the sake of illustration. It’s not something I can measure in a scientific way).

This thought perhaps comes out of struggling with a chapter of my new novel that felt dead and lifeless and was a struggle to write; and then going into the next chapter which almost burned up my keyboard it was coming out so fast and easily. A novel is different to a story (that dull-ish chapter has a place in terms of pace and the mindset of the character), though I can see how some of my stories might have been dullish in places (or right through).

Pace is still something I’m learning about – recent rejection letter feedback suggested that one of my longer stories, while very good, did “drag quite a bit in quite a few places”. That’s kind of the opposite to some other feedback on another story (an accepted one – “Pan Am 617 Heavy”, which you can read here at Bewildering Stories) that pointed out (rightly) that the story was “somewhat relentless: the action is non-stop and neither the characters, nor the reader, seem to get a moment to breathe” (I’m paraphrasing those comments here). That kind of feedback certainly informa how I’m looking at my action/pulp stories now: time to breathe without dragging. It seems like good writing advice all around.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to improving on my last best story.

So I get the goofball award, but at least it got me writing with focus…

In my last post, I bleated on about my best story not even making the long list of a competition (when a slightly weaker story had made the shortlist in another round of the same contest). Well, it turns out I was reading the wrong list. I was reading the (just published) list for the just previous round of the contest, where I’d entered a much weaker story. In fact, they’d already been polite enough to personally email me and let me know that my (not especially very good) story for that round hadn’t made the finals (no surprise there).

This means three things. First: my current best story ever is theoretically still “live” – since it’s in the contest’s current round, not lost from the list they’d published.

Second: I was being a goofball and I need to keep better track of things.

Third: thinking I need to just write better is a great motivator. I completed a new story over the weekend, and have begun yet another one. Talk about motivated. I felt like I was writing with fire. Now I don’t know that either of these stories is better than that other one, but I raged into the writing of them and I think they’re up there with my best. Good enough, in fact, to enter into those next rounds of the contest, when those submissions open up.

January

I’ve been fortunate through January, with several days with no other commitments – work, family, etc. – where I’ve been able to focus on writing, so my word count goal has been achieved. Actually, more than achieved. Turns out that I’ve written this year’s first novel. I started on January first (after writing the last few scenes from a novella started in late December), and finished the last two chapters and epilogue this morning before heading to work (this morning being February first). 63,000 words – a couple of thousand a day through January. That’s pretty good, but I’d say I’m unlikely to keep that pace up – still, it’s a good start towards the aim of 300,000 words this year.

Being a pulp fiction writer now (from reading Dean Wesley Smith’s blog), it’s now on to proof-reading before I decide what to do with it – publish right away as an ebook and POD, or submit to a publisher.

Given how impatient I’m feeling at the moment, self-publishing is looking more likely. At the moment I have just two novels available as ebooks and it feels like it would be useful to support those with a few more.

I don’t have a title for the novel yet, but I’m sure that will come in my first round of proofing before I get someone else to proof it. It’s an adventure story set on a jungle on a distant planet with a lead character with artificial eyes. It was fun to write, and I hope it will be fun to read. I’ve created a rough for the cover, but we’ll see what I end up doing with it in a couple of weeks anyway.

Now, on to writing a short story (an entry for a New Zealand literary competition), another sci-fi story (Writer’s of the Future entry) and another novella under a pen name. Then I’m going to write another literary novel for the New Zealand market. It’s good to feel the plan outlined and have a feel for the way ahead.