Tag Archives: writing process

Bad Advice and knowing what’s coming next

blogtriteim1Seems to me that I’m spending all my writing time working to get over and unlearn all the bad advice from years (decades) of well-intentioned suggestions, poorly considered courses and lengthy apparently learned blog posts.
One thing that I just remembered was a piece of advice which went something like “Finish a writing session at a point where you know what comes next” and associated with that was one like “Stop halfway through a sentence. That way when you sit down again, you just carry on with that sentence”. The reason I remembered was because I finished up a writing session knowing absolutely nothing about what was going to come next.
Not a thing.
I realize that I’ve been doing this for awhile now. Stopping the writing session when I don’t know what comes next. Frankly, my writing is a whole lot more fun too. I remind myself that it’s no special jewel or flower. It’s just a story. Entertainment. And the first person I’m entertaining is myself.
Looking back, I’ve tried the ‘knowing what comes next’ thing and just found myself actually struggling to remember what it was I’d thought of when I sit down at the next session. What was it? She was running toward something, and what’s-his-name was doing that other thing, but what was the whole point? Or something like that.
And a half a sentence? Sheesh. I’ve always ended up just deleting the half and starting a new sentence.
Somehow, after years of angst with this, I’ve finally reached a point of just stopping. Stopping when I don’t know what next. Often times that ends up being the end of a chapter. I might type in “Chapter Twenty Three” ready to go for the next session.
Not one idea what that’s going to be.
I also realize that this does not exist in isolation. It’s paired with a whole lot of other things I’ve been learning, as I fill those gaps of unlearning.
One is cycling. I read back through the work as I go. That’s enough for a post of its own.
Another is ‘being there’. I spotted this in a short essay by James Patterson (at least that’s where I thought I’d seen it, looking back now, the essay I was thinking of doesn’t mention this). Reading through, that is, cycling back, I play at putting myself in my character’s situation. Attempting to ‘be there’. What’s her experience of the place? What’s his reaction to that last thing?
It turns out my subconscious is ready and raring to go. Those next lines and next events show up. I get out of my own way, entertain myself and let the story grow.
I don’t know what’s coming next, and the writing is a whole lot more fun.

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Learning to trust my sub-conscious

Deuterium Shine POD cover3I’m deep in the heart of a writing a novel at the moment. Tritium Blaze, book two of The Jupiter Files series (Deuterium Shine, the first book should be out later in the year, then book two sometime next year. Cover image by Philcold | Dreamstime).

I write into the dark, as in, I have no outline (see Dean Wesley Smith’s take on this).

Smith talks about how the sub-conscious, having been exposed to ‘story’ since childhood, knows how story works. If a writer lets the sub-conscious out to play, it knows where the story is going. Even if the conscious mind doesn’t.

It seems, even, that it’s useful to get the conscious mind well out of the way. It can be a know-nothing spoiler. Even a saboteur.

I’ve written into the dark for many years now. Sometimes that means I have to go back in earlier in the story and add something. You know, if a character knows how to fly a jet, but it hasn’t been mentioned yet. A sentence or two in an earlier chapter can do wonders.

Now with this novel I’ve had to smile. Without giving too many spoilers, my character’s spacehip has been in dry-dock getting refurbished from the outset. Now that’s kind of odd, since this is hard science-fiction and my characters need their ship to, you know, do space stuff.

And then, last night, as I’m writing–40,000 words into something that will probably be about 60,000–the reason became apparent and clear and absolutely serving the story.

I am so looking forward to writing the next chapters.

My sub-conscious set it up from the very outset. It’s taken years of training my conscious mind to keep out of the way and last night I really felt like I’d made another little step toward that.

 

Trusty old submissions tracking book.

trusty tracking booktrusty tracking book interior pageEver since I’ve been writing and submitting manuscripts to publishers, I’ve needed a way to keep track of those submissions. I’ve been around long enough that those first submissions went as a printed manuscript, inside a full-sized envelope, with postage on a slightly smaller envelope inside. To match the very physical nature of this, my tracking system also exploited the benefits of paper and ink. An accounting book, to be precise. And mostly pencil, since it lends itself to updates more readily than ink.

I’ve continued the practice into the present day. I’ve just come to the last page of my second book.

I do subscribe to Duotrope, which has a built-in tracking system for stories. That might be the way to go. But I do have another blank book all set. Starting next week, when my latest story will be ready to venture out into the wilds.

The value of persistence

IMG_20180420_072542So I’m posting here a photo of my Sir Julius Vogel award. It’s cool, and I guess I’m bragging a bit. But see those three folders underneath? Those are my rejection slips. You know, the letter you get from a publisher who for one reason or another isn’t taking your story. Gathered over more years than I care to admit.

I think there are about two thousand. I have a feeling I’ve lost some over the years.

Most of them are form rejections. Some are very nice personal rejections. One is a disappointingly rude personal rejection (I haven’t submitted to that magazine since).

And there, standing on the shoulders of all those rejections, is an award. To me this is the value of persistence. I mean this to be encouraging. Keep at it. Keep going. Pursue what you love doing. It’s not about the award (though that’s nice), it’s about loving doing it.

The Map Maker of Morgenfeld

The Map Maker of Morgenfeld thumb

I have a new novel out, and this one has a bunch of intriguing things about it. Intriguing to me, anyway.

First, it’s a fantasy, which I don’t often write. That said, there are no wizards or magic or dragons, no vast armies of conquest, no hero smiting demons with a terrible swift sword. This novel grows out of my younger self’s love of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series (I even shamelessly bastardized the name).
My style is very different from Peake’s. Well, of course, writing has changed over the years, and while Peake wrote some wonderful books, they are a product of their period. I like to think I’ve captured something of their essence in my own world.

Secondly, I wrote the novel while traveling. In April and May of 2017 we had a fabulous voyage to Santiago, Easter Island, the Atacama Desert, Quito and the Galapagos Islands. Almost six weeks away.

I wrote every day. Usually stolen moments in the evenings, at kitchen tables, or in dining rooms. Once or twice in noisy cafes.

The trip was awesome. But it was cool to maintain that writing momentum throughout. Especially with the focus on a project. I suppose elements of South American culture and lifestyle may well be wrapped up somewhere in the book.
Thirdly, or perhaps this should be my first item, I wrote the novel on a phone. We traveled light. Carry-on luggage only. Taking a laptop, with a bulky charger, would have been a nuisance. I discovered the cool little Rapoo bluetooth keyboard. I bought the Docs2go app, which allowed me to format the document nicely as I went, and also to track my word count.

I designed and 3D-printed a stand for the phone. I bought a travel wallet, one intended for money and cards and documents, and used that to create a neat little package for the keyboard, stand and phone so they could all just drop into my backpack easily.

All of those elements make The Map Maker of Morgenfeld perhaps my most unusual novel so far. I’m sure that traveling influenced the writing. I’m sure that the restriction of the phone influenced the writing.

I hope it all worked out into a readable, enjoyable book.
The cover illustration is near-perfect for me anyway. By Grandfailure | Dreamstime. It really shows the clutter and maze of Morgenfeld better than I’d pictured it.

Available all over, in print ($12.99), and as an ebook ($5.99), KindleSmashwords, and so on.

Q&A with me at Asimov’s From Earth to the Stars editor’s blog

asimovs march april 2018I neglected to give anything more than a passing mention that I got interviewed at the Asimov’s blog, specifically about my story in the March April 2018 issue.

The interview is here. I talk with the editors about my process for creating “The Billows of Sarto”, and my general writing process, and a few other things.

Check out the other interviews on the site too. You’ll build up a pretty good picture of authors writing for Asimov’s today.

 

Failing to success

 

Low memory small

Low Memory – image by Luca Oleastri

After writing about a novel a month for three months as part of Dean Wesley Smith’s challenge, I thought why not try for one more novel in the following month. With the challenge, there was some flexibility, in that up to half of the novel could be written in the previous month. The challenge  ran through June, July and August. I began the first novel on May 18th, and wrote about 14,000 words by May 30th. Less than half the novel. I finished the last of the three novels on August 22nd. So it took a bit over three months to complete the three.

 

I decided to have a go at writing a novel within a calendar month (yes I know about nanowrimo). I started Low Memory on September 1st. Come September 30th, I hadn’t finished. I’d written 53,000 words and the novel wasn’t finished. It feels like the story wants to be longer, so I’ll continue to the end. All three of the challenge novels were 50,000 words or under.

So I failed. Failed to write a novel in a calendar month. But guess what? There’s success in there. It feels like the novel will come to an end in the next few days. Probably close to 60,000 words. So, even though I didn’t write a novel in a month, I will have written a novel in around 35 days.

I’ll call that a success.