Very Comfortably Insane

2013-(white)WarofExilesUpdateC

Not to be a downer, but at the time of this posting, I still don’t feel it.

It’s been a week now. A week since I finished my rewrite of my first novel. And somehow, I still don’t really feel it. There were moments when I almost did–moments when I wrote to a friend about finishing the book and perked up, excited at the thought of moving on to the sequel and other, shorter projects. But every time, the near rush always cut short with a monotone, “Nope. That didn’t do it either–still not excited.”

I don’t want this to sound super dramatic; I’m not numb or in shock. I’m just… unfazed. It’s disappointing, really, because the first time I finished this book, I was out of my mind with joy; I’d finished a book and, oh man, I still had to edit it, but, oh geez–oh man–it was done!

This time, I typed the last sentence. Stared at it. Smirked… And then immediately admitted that I hated the last sentence. I changed it quickly to something I really liked and backed up the finished first (technically sixth) draft. And then I just sat at my computer for a while, aware that now, not only could I do something else with my day… but I had to do something else–even though, this time, I knew the story wasn’t actually done–because it was the next step in my writing plan. In the slow, determinedly celebratory and lazy way of humans, I wound up convincing myself to do all of the things I usually do when I achieve a solid milestone–I played some video games without caring about how much time I wasted that day (ultimately a few hours that felt like far, far too long without the banter of a friend over Xbox Live). I also had a decent lunch. I may have actually bought myself a cookie.

The thing is… I’m much, much different from the 20-something year old who blissfully typed, “The End,” and spent a month celebrating afterward (a month of down time that turned into months of carelessness). Past-Louis thought he was almost done–that the Content Edit and Line Edit would be easy. That he’d finished something great.

Present-Louis, however, has already moved on to another story because he kind of had to. Because Present-Louis knows now that it’s time for the Big Push. The Long Halloween. The Whatever You Want to Call It. This is the year where I keep going and move on to another story with my insane, custom-made, self-taught, monster outlines and try to refine them while learning more about writing; about establishing a flow of projects and trying out my approach for Growing Outlines.

Essentially, now is the time when I actually level up as a writer, again. And it’s terrifying! Maybe because I’ve already finished this same book once without knowing it was terrible.  Or maybe it’s because I have almost no outside opinions on my extremely personal techniques–no other writer to look in and say, “Do you really need to list the clothing your characters are wearing?” or “You should make an extra part in your outlines for [this]. [This] is super important and you’re missing it.”

Or maybe it’s because of that moment in front of my computer, staring at the monitor–at that last line–and realizing that I was nothing without the ability to tell stories. I’ve moved on to a new outline of a standalone idea, deeply revised from the super vague, over-excited concept I had in high school (forged from listening to the heartsick intro music from Chrono Cross), and I’m clinging to that outline for dear life. Because I’m not the kind of writer who can take breaks anymore. I’m the kind of writer that’s too far gone, who’s only real fear is the imagined point when I have no more stories to tell.

Well, that and the impending rejection letters. You hear that, slight inkling of victory? Reality’s a-comin’ for ye!

To put all drama and preemptive bitterness aside though, I am… content. Yes, everything is a challenge right now. But, for writers, toiling away, constructing worlds that may never, ever reach readers, everything is a challenge. I’m glad to have found new ones, but they’re still challenges and they’re still daunting.

Regardless, and because I want even this post to be somewhat constructive, the attack plan is as follows:

  1. Spend March away from War of Exiles before beginning my Content Edit. In that time, I’ll take the month to work on a sparse Chapter Outline for the new story I mentioned, The Hand and the Tempest (expect to see it temporarily replace War of Exiles in my Project Progress bar at the top of the page [although its bar will be stranger, as the goal is to progressively build on the outline until it goes from ‘Short Story’ to ‘Novella’ to (maybe) ‘Full Length, Stand-Alone Novel’–this being the purpose of my “Growing Outline”)]).
  2. When April hits, all outlining for The Hand and the Tempest stops as I return to WoE for the Content Edit and, after using The Hand and the Tempest for practice, begin writing a Chapter Outline for War of Masks, the sequel to War of Exiles.
  3. From there, it’s moving on to a Line Edit for WoE while Chapter Outlining the third book in the series (currently unnamed).
  4. After that, when my submission packet is finished, I’ll review the outline for The Hand and the Tempest, and write it as I submit WoE.
  5. And after that, it’s off to work on an outline for another standalone story–I have another in mind.
  6. And all while, I’ll be staring at the intimidating mountain of information that is my actual, main series–my magnum opus that terrifies me as much as it excites me.

This, it turns out, is what being a devoted, aspiring novelist is like; poor and terrified. Unrealistically devoted and absolutely proud of it (if you’re here with me on this obnoxiously lonely, writers’ path, hi there. Let’s revel in our wildly unstable, conflicting emotions together).

To put it simply, being an aspiring author means that you’re very comfortably insane.

Brand New Day – Week 13 – Things Unsaid

Last night, I decided to delete a chapter and a new character from the book.

Don’t freak out! Doing this hasn’t set me back at all. To the contrary, getting rid of an entire chapter and a new character who wasn’t exactly helping is incredibly healthy. Particularly for a first time writer who intends to submit to agents with strict guidelines for manuscript length; part of the reason I’m rewriting War of Exiles in the first place is that the original version was over 100 pages too long.

That wasn’t the entire problem though; it was too long and there were so many unnecessary plot points that I didn’t know what to delete and what to leave in. It was like looking at a tower of bricks loosely stacked on a tangle of wooden chairs and being told that you had to pull out half the bricks and chairs without bringing down the tower. In contrast, deleting Chapter 4 when I’m only up to Chapter 7? Getting rid of Ozi entirely? Saving him for a short story? Completely worth it.

In retrospect, the inability to make this kind of cut is what left me with a 461 page, bricks-and-chairs-golem of a first novel. And to me, it’s one of the things that separates an amateur from a writer who really wants to improve—the ability to be your own worst critic. You can sit back and judge everything else until your face turns blue (which most amateur writers do all the time anyway), but until you can do the same thing with your own work, you’re just wasting your own time.

And this is true for every kind and level of writing; after being a college tutor for nigh on seven years, I can tell you that the major flaw of students is a very common inability to pass judgment on their own work or deal with it from others. The amount of times I’ve had students get impatient with me because they didn’t want to acknowledge a grammatical error as a mistake is absolutely uncanny.

But really, nearly everyone is guilty of this crime. No one wants to accept criticism, particularly because half of the writers out there, who all seem like worthy readers, are usually waiting to shit on your work so they can feel better about themselves; I’ve actually had a trusted writer chuckle as he dismissed a short sample—of my outline. I remember sending it to him and thinking, “Do I even need to add ‘it’s an outline and I’m sending it to you because I need real, constructive criticism, or else why the hell would I send it in the first place; this isn’t to show off at all—I need help, not a snap and a headroll?’ No. He’s a good writer. He’s actually going to help, not take this tiniest opportunity to be a shithead.”

Lesson learned? All writers are readers, but not all writers are good editors. And, also, some writers are such amateurs that they’re absolutely in love with passing judgment because it makes them feel special. More important lesson learned? I’ve been that asshole reader. And, to the person whose manuscript I read, I’m sorry you had to deal with me being a total amateur.

Getting back on topic though, an inability to proofread and copy edit is only the basest facet of the amateur writer’s folly. A more mature form is the inability to trim; despite what many people think, the important difference between “we will have been there ten times” and “we’ve gone ten times” isn’t the subtle nuance of tense that imparts a delicate nugget of specific meaning. No, the important difference here is that “we will have been there ten times” wastes the reader’s time and bores the crap out of them. In my experience, there has almost never been a time where a flowery phrase couldn’t be reworded and trimmed into something far more engaging.

Take something like, “Then, he pivoted to his left, took out his well-sharpened dagger, and lifted it up as he struck!” With something like this, the writer felt it was necessary to give you a lot of extra details. The subject didn’t just pivot, he “pivoted to his left”. His dagger was “well-sharpened”. He “lifted it” as he struck. Fine, but none of those details are necessary. Look at how much more engaging this simple edit is: “He pivoted, drew his dagger, and struck!” There’s no filler to dull down the intensity and slow the action. And all of that nonessential information should be provided by other means anyway; we should know from this character’s personality that his dagger is well-sharpened. We should know that he’s a skilled fighter who would know which way to pivot—and really, in a basic, human way can infer that he pivots in one direction anyway and it really shouldn’t matter which way he chooses regardless. It shouldn’t matter how he lifts his dagger either, for that matter. But sometimes, people fall in love with the very particular scenes and actions they have in mind. And the inability to let go of that, to make scenes simpler and more engaging—the inability to embrace the things unsaid—is the heart of the amateurs’ inability to edit themselves.

And somewhere further down the line, there’s the inability to remove whole chapters, characters, and their plot lines.

Now, am I saying I’m the most epic writer of all time? No. I’m just saying that I’m incredibly glad I cut out Chapter 4 and Ozi. I know I’ve got a long way to go to being an author, but I think I’m getting there.

Brand New Day – Week 1

Last week, on Wednesday, the 14th, I worked my last day at Borders. The rest of that week and the weekend that followed disappeared in a bunch of Borders closing parties (and the hang-overs that followed).

Yesterday, Monday, the 19th, was a brand new day. In short, it was the beginning of my gamble to finish rewriting my first fantasy novel, The War of Exiles, within the next six months. And it began with a few wake up texts from Ronin at Hot Mop Films, asking me what time I’d be in. And, no, it wasn’t that I’d forgotten—I just thought we’d discussed the projects they wanted to recruit me for enough through email (and I also didn’t expect to sleep in ’til 11a.m. [memories of waking up at 4 o’ clock in the morning for Borders shifts that started at 6 are already so distant]).

This, in all honesty, was not how I expected the first day of the rest of my professional life to start, but there are worse ways. The meeting got me up, got me working, and (probably more importantly than I’d like to imagine) got me outside. It was still a little annoying though—not because I’m not excited to work with Hot Mop again, but because I was planning to roll out of bed and get right to work on chapter four of WoE. But now the entire day’s flow was thrown off; I’d get home and someone would be on Xbox Live, or there’d be something to work on for Infinite Ammo. There’d be no time to—

Wait. No. To hell with that.

When I got home, I ate dinner, opened the outline for WoE, and worked from 7p.m. to 5a.m. (allowing for the short breaks that often plague writing [which I hope to siphon out in the next few weeks because, seriously, ten hours?]). Not the amount of work I was expecting, but the amount I had to do because I could (there were at least five more times when that same voice came back with things like, ‘Well, you don’t need to write this character’s bio right now. Leave it for tomorrow! You’ve been at it for like, 8 hours!’ and ‘You don’t need to figure out this cultural detail right now. There’s always tomorrow,’ but each time I fought down the arguments and just didn’t stop]).

Today is Tuesday, the 2oth. And a brand new day.

It started with a wake up text from Chaos Mechanica, asking what stories were ready to post on Infinite Ammo. I spent an hour or two editing two of them and making and assigning images to both. Now, I’m moving on to writing ideas and drafts for Hot Mop.

And I’m also doing “alpha bullets” for chapter five of WoE.

Because the outline for chapter four is finished.

And now, completely unlike Louis from last week, I know I can get it all done by tonight.

Because now, every day is just another, oddly busier work day than I ever knew at Borders. And I’m absolutely loving every second.