30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 5: Not According to Plan

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.5.14Where I Wrote: Just a crawl of bad writing spots (not intentionally, of course). I began on the Central Park side of the water fountain on the northeast corner of 59th and Central Park West. Then Whole Foods in the Time Warner Center.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: I did make the tough writing decision from the end of yesterday’s session, but I didn’t get far beyond that. I am honestly bummed by how little I got done today and the honest fact that Memory definitely isn’t going to be 50,000 words (I always planned for it to be a roughly 100 page novella, written as a break between bigger projects) isn’t much comfort. I really want to be up to par on my daily words–even if it means finishing Memory before NaNoWriMo ends.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Victorious; before leaving my place, I settled a nagging financial issue and I came up with an awesome answer to the above-mentioned plot question.

And yet…

The Experience:

???: “Hi there.” <sits down directly across the table from Louis>

Louis: <if his eyes aren’t wide with surprise on the outside, they absolutely are on the inside. across from him sits a completely normal person, who whips out a tablet and chats amiably and comfortably about it. and about how he’s a writer and blogger. he works in a joke that genuinely makes Louis laugh. and Louis, being Louis, struggles not to wail a Lemongrab-esque, “UNCOMFORTABLEEEEE!!” in his face, out of nowhere>

Confession–I am really, really bad at talking. Very, very bad at it. Not bad enough that I completely ignored this fellow blogger when he approached, but bad enough that I could not, for the life of me, think of anything to say to him. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, it was not the stranger’s fault–he really seemed like a nice guy. But being sociable is not on my set of skills. Not with strangers, at least; with my friends, of course, I’m least likely to stop talking. Maybe there are situations when I go public-mute because I’m trying to figure out an uncertain social element, but during hang outs with friends, the jokes come easy. Maybe even too easy.

But the thing is those public-mute moments; I require an observation period to figure out if I like someone/something or not (I’m weird–have I ever clarified that I’m really weird?). Otherwise, I’ll just assume someone’s a great person, an assumption that’s burned me enough times that there’s no comfortable side of a random “Hi there.”

To make matters worse, my entire day was oddly… weighted, I suppose you could say. Scripted, maybe? I woke up trying desperately to fix a financial issue and come up with a major plot choice, which meant instant pressure all morning. Those issues were resolved before I even left the apartment, thankfully.

But then I headed to Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center, my original choice for the day’s writing session (the entire intent to be coming somewhere familiar and easy so I wouldn’t have to look for a place to write). Only… I’ve worked in the Time Warner Center, which made going there to write feel exactly like going to a job that used to really stress me out. Bouchon was also packed when I got there, so I walked out to the fountain on the southwestern side of Central Park (not the Columbus Circle fountain–the one across the street, to the northeast of it). Only it turns out, the spot on the fountain where I used to have lunch wasn’t any better on my old man back than the rough rock steps in Bronx Park. I stood at the fountain just long enough to implement that big writing decision I’d made earlier.

But then I had to stretch my legs and move inside to another old lunch spot–the cafeteria in Whole Foods, the bowels of the Time Warner Center. And that’s when Paul sat down–after maybe a half hour more of writing.

I was determined to not be completely anti-social. Really I was. I tried to chat back because he genuinely didn’t seem like a bad person. But, in the end, clamming up won the day; I eventually drifted off into a silent stare at my tablet, determined, at least, to actually keep writing (“Be comfortable, damn you!”). I only succeeded in getting out another line or two.

Again, I don’t want to make it sound like it was his fault (even now, hours later, I don’t want to be the dick who’s all, “I can’t write with you being all friendly, bro.”). I honestly also hit the end of my initial outline, meaning I had to actually plan what was coming up, something that I was incredibly reluctant to just free write.

So I waited until I was at least in the mindset to write again and certain that, no, I’m not just leaving because I’m afraid of talking to someone (serious progress, for me). When I was sure that I couldn’t write more because I just didn’t want to force the next few pages (which always goes poorly for me), I packed up, bid Paul farewell, and walked outside.

And determined, instantly, to try and be better about my plans. Obviously, that meant planning my story more actively (I already have my idea for the next plot point and I’m going to continue polishing it up for tomorrow). But, more acutely for me, it meant being able to deal with a break in my personal plans; I could never possibly have planned for someone to just sit down and talk to me. In all honesty, I’m weird enough that I forget I’m in public when I’m in public–that people can engage me (a solid year of sedentary work-from-home can change a man). But I want to be able, specifically, to deal with random social engagements when they happen. To invite them, even.

The next time someone engages me, I will–probably very awkwardly–engage them right back. I swear I will.

And the next time I know I’m reaching the end of what I have planned for a book, I’ll make sure to plot out the next part of it ahead of time.

And, of course, never again will I choose a writing spot associated with “stress” and “work.” I’m sure I could’ve prevailed anyway… but why? I’ve already chosen to be a writer; why make my life harder?

Why not make the first step of every writing session, “Find a comfortable seat in a place you love?”

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 4: Maintenance

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.4.14Where I Wrote: Bronx Park, just a short walk from one of the entrances to the Bronx Zoo.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good. I was actually confused by how much I got out and how quickly it happened (from just before sunset to just after). It’s enough to balance the fact that I was a bit below quota.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Eager.

The Experience: It was around 4PM when the electrician got here.

I’ll explain, but, before I do, I wanted to throw that time out there to show how late of a start I got; it’s Fall here in New York, which means sunset is around 5PM. Not actually late, but about… 5 or 6 hours after I usually like to head out.

But it was necessary; I’ve tweeted about the spooky wiring in my room, the light turning on and off on its own. That was only pretend-enjoyable until November 1st; at exactly 12AM, it wasn’t festive anymore.

A little annoying to have to wait that long after my Anxious Hearts moment yesterday; I wanted to get out and find anywhere new.

But it just wasn’t in the cards; not if I wanted to get any writing done, get back home to post this, and get a good amount of work done.

So I settled for Bronx Park, a place I’m familiar with. And a place that’s pretty horrible for writing. In direct contrast to the miracle that was Pier 15, Bronx Park only has rough, public benches–not the worst offense…

… unless you’re a writer who gets there, looks around, and immediately goes wide-eyed as they wonder, possibly aloud, “Where the hell are the picnic tables?” I wound up sitting on a set of rough rock steps just off the main path. That lasted until nightfall, at which point my back started protesting. From there, it was on to a small set of bleachers. I had to sit on them backwards, using one of the lower foot rests as a seat, the actual bench above it serving as a makeshift table.

Improvisational. Utilitarian. A no frills arrangement engaged just to get some work done before going home and getting more work done.

And man did the pages fly there. I left around 4PM and, when I hit a point where I felt I had to stop (Chapter 2 ends in a plot choice I refused to make willy nilly), I was certain the time on my tablet was wrong. 5 and change? Seriously? I’d only been writing for about an hour?… What?

I don’t know how that works. Maybe it’s because there were no distractions–only people playing sports I don’t care about and, when night fell, only a small handful idling around.

Or maybe it was watching the electrician when he got to my apartment, taking about twenty minutes to fix three problems that I assumed would take hours.

Either way, I’ll take days like today. Straight forward. Fast and devoid of glamour.  Maintenance, done in hours less than I expected.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 3: Catching Up

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.3.14Where I Wrote: Pier 15 at South Street Seaport.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really awesome. At worst, a tiny bit worried that I’m being too indulgent with my main characters in Memory.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Really, really good.

The Experience: I got out early today, just as I’d planned after the fiasco that was Day 2.

My start was a little stunted, me stumbling with a handful of word processing apps. To accurately summarize, I spent enough time testing them earlier today that the copy of my story that I bounced between them eventually turned into a mash of wingdings and nonsense code.

When I finally found an app that worked well enough (WPS Office by Kingsoft), I set out with absolutely no plan and the possibility that WPS Office would quit on me and destroy Day 3.

But that did not happen. I had no plan, of course, so there was a bit of, “I should get off this train… Right?… Yes!” and then equal parts of, “Shit. I shouldn’t have gotten off that train.” But, in the end, I wound up here:

20141103_150730

Did you… Did you know there are adirondack chairs set up for the general public at Pier 15? There’s a cruise line office there, but built on top of it, there’s an outdoor, waterfront longue… with adirondak chairs. I could not have asked for a better writing spot to stumble upon. To be completely honest, I sat on one of the large, wooden steps nearby for a good hour first before wandering up, curious, and finding these; they’re that tucked away–up a ramp and all the way at the end of the elevated portion of the pier. I’d already written a good amount but when I found this spot, I immediately hunkered down and went over quota.

I didn’t make up all of the ground I lost on Day 2; only because it got really cold as the day drew on. I left hoping to find coffee nearby and a bathroom. Although I didn’t find the former, the latter was also–to my surprise–public access (just a short walk away on Front St.–just off of Fulton). Considering that there has to be coffee somewhere nearby that I missed, I’m really excited for round 2 at Pier 15.

Oddly though, the most intense part of this experience for me was when my futile search for coffee led me north to the Brooklyn Bridge. I know this will sound incredibly nerdy to non-gamers and incredibly fanboy-ish to nerds, but reaching the bridge and looking up turned Anxious Hearts on in my head–like a switch. Instantaneous. The sight of dirty, metal scaffolding and old concrete over head and I’m a kid again, staring in awe, thinking about the countless places that exist that I’ve never seen–that I won’t see. I know that may sound strange, but it’s something that I think of from time to time.

And, of course, it made me a little sad, as the combination of those thoughts and that song often does. Not defeated–not a sting of loss. More like the pressure of yearning; I can’t help thinking that if I’d started sooner–if I hadn’t waited to start these strange, short quests of mine–I’d have found so many more of those unseen places. In a strange way, it made me as sad as it made me hopeful; there’s always a time to start. There are always places to see and things to do, just waiting. All it takes to see them is the desire to find them.

And, in our case, as writers, the desire to put those places that don’t exist–our places–on paper for others to find.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 2: Baby Steps

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.2.14Where I Wrote: A Barnes & Noble Cafe in the Bronx.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Aside from not getting enough done, I actually feel great about what I wrote.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Really good.

The Experience: Well, today was absolutely a collection of lessons.

Lesson 1: I’m fine with rejection letters at this point. Literally the first thing I did after rolling out of bed was find a brand new rejection letter for “The Drowned God of the Silent Realm.” After the last two rejections, this one barely stung at all. Getting outside and heading to a random destination to work on Memory was enough to get a smile out of me again.

Lesson 2: However… it turns out that tablets really aren’t the best for writing outside. At the very least, Polaris Office just… absolutely loves to unexpectedly quit. With a short, unsatisfying apology too: “Unfortunately, Polaris Office stopped working,” it says, as if Polaris Office is shrugging it’s shoulders like, “What’s with that fucking program anyway? Pfft.” Like Polaris itself felt my sarcastic discontent when it shut itself down when I tried to write the sentence, “Not in the breath it took before lightning struck again,” for the sixth time. One thing’s for sure: Polaris Office didn’t understand my exhausted discontent when it shut down for the very first time, taking two pages of work with it.

So, ultimately, I had a good 20 minutes worth of writing, a solid 30 minutes of trying to figure out a way to continue writing without Polaris, and then, upon finding no work around, reading a bit more Alloy of Law and heading home.

When I got home, I started to investigate other apps to write with. But, of course, getting home presented another problem.

Lesson 3: Organizing your schedule with work and writing is just… really important. I’ve always known this, of course. I knew that going out to write would cut it close with work (I have a weekly quota of hours to put in, thus my settling for a writing location in the Bronx instead of heading to Manhattan, where I always want to write). What I somehow didn’t expect was that getting those last three hours would somehow take six hours of real time (it’s a strange, strange stay-at-home job). The solution: learning to roll out of bed, get directly into the shower, and leave home without trying (and repeatedly failing) to beat 6-3 in Dracula’s Curse (I will not get started about how much I love and equally hate Dracula’s Curse).

So, in the end, today was a single, long struggle to get a lot done with way too little time. I really, really wanted to put this post off until way later, finishing the scene I was working on outside, but that felt like cheating; I planned poorly and missed my writing goal by a huge margin.

But, at the same time, I learned a ton about being an active writer. Baby steps.

The Traits of the Working Writer – Part 3: Understanding and Awareness

Here we are—the end of this series on the Traits of the Working Writer. And I’m glad; I’ve been getting way too metaphysical with these articles and I’m eager to get back to casual stuff; articles about Star Wars and video games.

But there’s no reason I can’t be casual, direct, and practical about this last set of Traits, so, in that spirit, let’s get right to it.

These last two Traits are at odds, just like the first two pairs. I saved this pair for last, however, because one of these traits… is something most writers are lacking—even professionals.

I’ll get to the Understanding that not everyone will love your work.

But first, I want to talk about…

The Awareness that You Might Be Infatuated with Your Work…

A young writer comes up with an idea. And they know it’s a good idea. They totally love it and that’s cool; why would anyone not love their work? Why would any writer not love their characters? After all, if they didn’t, how could their readers possibly love them? No, a writer’s love of their characters, their setting, their world isn’t the problem.

The problem comes when a writer isn’t Aware… how much they love their work. Because there are, of course, degrees to how big of a crush a writer can have on their projects. A writer may really like an idea but relegate it to a short story because they know they won’t be able to carry it as a full novel. A writer may create something they love enough to dedicate one novel to it. One may love an idea so much that they decide to make a series out of it. And, of course, all of that is totally fine.

But someone may also love a single idea, detail, concept or—even—a sentence so much that it’s destructive. To say it directly, a writer can be totally infatuated with their writing to the point where they have absolutely no gauge for what makes it good anymore. Or, more painfully, they have no way to tell if it’s actually good at all. And that is totally, totally horrible. And sad. Bulletball horrible and sad. And if you don’t know what Bulletball is, don’t look it up. Just understand that it’s really, seriously, very sad!

Suffice it to say, you need to be Aware of how into your stories you are. All writers need to be Aware that they can take that love too far, particularly because it’s easy to become infatuated with any part of your work at any time. On the plot level, you may be so in love with an event that you refuse to get rid of it no matter how little it serves your story. On the character level (and I’ve already talked about this as a Fiction Sin), it’s incredibly easy to shove your favorite character into scenes they shouldn’t be in because you want to see them there—to the extent that it becomes incredibly cloying when you, inevitably, start wedging them into every moment of the story. And, as I mentioned before, on just the level of execution, a writer can be so in love with a sentence—no, we’re taking this a step further—so in love with a slight nuance in gesture (“He shook his head with rare disapproval.”) that they would sacrifice the strength of their voice and the flow of their prose for it (instead of just, “He shook his head no,” and letting the character’s penchant for agreeing speak through his previous actions).

Any of these degrees of infatuation can strike at any moment. But not if you’re Aware that they might. Not if you give your work to fellow writers and actually read their comments. It is, of course, a slippery slope because some people just really, really suck at reading your work (other writers in particular, so go with someone you trust), but unless someone’s a total douchebag, their comments will always be based on an honest reflex. That is to say, if you suspect you’re infatuated with your work, the best way to find out is to give your work to someone else who you know will actually read it and actually criticize it. If when it comes back, you find yourself refuting absolutely everything they said, you’re probably infatuated. Because, I promise, there’s always something wrong with a work in progress. Even published works have mistakes.

And even outside of mistakes—even if your reader is just expressing a difference in preferences—there’s also something to learn from that. Namely…

… the Understanding that Not Everyone Will Love Your Work.

So, one of my friends is a man of many talents; he just naturally picks up hobbies and, somehow, does all of them well. I have no idea why or how, but the point is, one of his main hobbies when I met him was Fantasy writing. We eventually got to shopping work to each other, and he quickly warned, “I’m going to write every thought that comes to mind when I read your stuff. It’s just the way I do it.”

And man was he totally not lying. At first, it was really defeating; I’d already started to accept that my writing wasn’t perfect at that point, but this friend of mine was the one of the few to not resort to the “What manuscript?” Shuffle (Step 1: Give Friend Manuscript – Step 2: Meet Up with Friend and Watch Them Talk About Everything Under the Sun Except for Your Manuscript). So, getting pages back that were, symbolically, all red, was totally defeating. That was, of course, an extremely helpful experience though (I’m here writing this article, once again being insanely open about how bad of a writer I was, because his critiques made me honest [and actually, seriously, led me to stop being infatuated with the first version of my book]). But, there was something else that I realized in his critiques.

He really did write down every criticism that came to mind. So, naturally, a lot of it… wound up being matters of taste. And, somehow, that was extremely reassuring. Yes, the one short story had an extremely mixed up intro that absolutely confused readers; that was a clear, undeniable mistake that I learned from. But, “I really don’t dig this one character’s name,” was almost… liberating to read. Because, of course he didn’t like that name—dude was totally George R. R. Martin-centric, so of course he didn’t (my character’s name definitely wasn’t sharp, concise, and straight-forward like Martin’s are), but that didn’t mean my character’s name was actually wrong.

And that reinforced an Understanding I’d already come to from the others’ opinions of my early work (particularly in college workshops); you really cannot ever… please everyone. You will try and you will maybe assume that writing the perfect book means that you have to make everyone happy. You will, no matter what you do, reflexively want everyone to love your work and you will possible turn a colder shoulder to people who aren’t interested (maybe [we’re Fantasy writers after all, so you have to be ready for some people to not care about your writing period]).

But regardless of all of those reflexes, it is completely impossible for everyone in the world to love your writing. As I’ve said before, there’s enough dissention between two people to make universal ideas—about anything—absolutely impossible. That’s a little much, but the point is, even fans of your work won’t like a particular event in your story. Some might not like a scene or a character. Some might think one line of dialogue is painful.

The point is, nothing will ever be perfect for anyone.

And that’s not bad!

It sounds like the worst thing in the world, but it is, literally, natural; you will never escape criticism because it is part of how humanity works. That means that you cannot—ever—let the fear of criticism stop you.

This should be another paradox. The Fear Paradox?… I just want to write about Dark Souls. Seriously.

Finding the Balance

So, fuck it. Right? Why not write the story you want to write? There’s seriously nothing holding you back from choosing names and scenes and creating until your ______(s) fall(s) off.

But no! Of course there are. There are the rules of the craft itself. The wit to make tasteful decisions for your story. The devotion to practice. There’s the grace to have reverence for other writers’ work but respect for your own. There’s the need to appease your drive for perfection while also nurturing your ability to be decisive. There’s the ability to be aware when you’re crushing on your own work and the understanding that it will never be loved by everyone.

And, of course, there’s the need to realize that writing is always a give and take; it’s always a battle of balances. There are decisions everywhere—at every step of the process—and they will all impact your work, and the only person who’s qualified to make those decisions is you. A self-consciously confident, manically focused you.

Good luck! : D

~~~

Well, that’ll about do it. Thanks for reading this article (double thanks if you read all three [triple thanks if you… I thought I’d have a joke by the time I got here [I didn’t])]). I hope this series has helped and that you enjoyed reading. If you did, drop me a Like. And maybe Subscribe for more content like this… and maybe Share this article. : )

Regardless though, thanks again and, as always, write well!

The Traits of the Working Writer – Part 2: Drive and Decisiveness

Last month, we started talking about what I think of as the Traits of the Working Writer. In case you missed that post, here’s a link . To quickly recap, these Traits are what I consider the cornerstones to being a successful writer; probably not absolutely essential… but still really great personality Traits for any writer to have, I think, and ones that you’ll likely acquire at some point on the long, long road to getting published (if you haven’t acquired them already).

Last time, we opened with Reverence for other writers’ work and Respect for your own. And, although I didn’t really focus on it, I think it was clear in that post how these two Traits are at odds. To put it clearly, Reverence and Respect really butt heads during the editing process, when you want to take influence (critiques) from other writers but also want to stay true to your own style.

The head butting intensifies in this post with the Drive to edit your work to perfection … and the Decisiveness that it takes to stop editing your work to death.

The Drive for Perfection…

Right.

Okay…

I have no idea where to even begin with Drive.

To my knowledge… there is no other Trait in a writer that is both necessary for success and completely and totally defeating. As an old friend once told me, “I thought about writing a novel once… But then I never started because I felt foolish.” It was my first day of training at Borders, and the training supervisor at the time shook his head as he said it, looking away. When I asked him what he meant, he said that he just didn’t feel like he’d be able to get it right—that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to tell the story he wanted to.

Now, that’s an extreme example of the negative side of the Drive for perfection; a well spoken, intelligent old man didn’t even want to start writing his novel. But, Drive is a Trait that is always—always—hyper-active in writers and exists in countless forms on every level of the writing process.

Forms like…

… having the one story you’ve been planning for ages. You’ve cycled through several timelines, magic systems, races, and even general plot ideas, all in the name of making it absolutely perfect. Also, you’ve been doing this, and not actually writing the story, for 20 years. Or…

… having the one story you’ve actually written that you’ve since been editing and editing… and maybe rewriting and editing some more because you just know—you just know—that it can still be better.

I can keep going (straight on through Weird Psychoses Town [I personally cannot stop adding / changing monsters in the world of War of Exiles (because there’s always a cooler monster)]), but I think I’ll just stop here. Because, you get the point, of course. But also…

… because the Drive for perfection is definitely not completely bad or else it wouldn’t be on this list of invaluable Traits. It’s really important to acknowledge how far we can let ourselves go with editing and planning but the alternative is just kinda shrugging. Shrugging and looking down at the pizzas stains on your shirt and being all, “Shu’s good enough. Print it. Don care.”

To say it in a better way… as insane as it probably is for me to keep changing monsters (we’re talking full on, vehemently deleting the original version of a monster because the newer monster’s got like, “Ooooh! Like a bunch of eyes!” which I actually said aloud to myself last night, out of the blue), I do it because I honestly think that the new ideas I’m getting are superior and I always—always—want to put superior ideas in my work. So, the writer who’s tweaking that timeline, changing events, is doing it because they know that the new timeline is better—that the new events are more mature or make more sense. The fine editor waits on that manuscript because they know there’s still something that’s off about it.

And, really, that aspiration for high quality is always awesome. Why would it ever be better to just throw in the towel and shove a collection of first ideas at an editor? (“This is the… Adventure of Garry! I dunno… Look… money now?”) Of course, there are people who can very quickly produce fiction without a problem. But, for most of us… ideas seriously aren’t just perfect… immediately—especially not at the start. Seriously, how many of us are big on place-holder names? How many people have just scrawled in an exhausted, “Fart Town” on their map before taking a night or a week or a month to figure out something better? I’d like to think most of us have… not with “Fart Town” exactly, but… you get it.

The Drive for perfection in one’s work is invaluable to a successful writer.

Just like the ability to not take that Drive too far and actually… make decisions.

… and the Decisiveness Necessary to Move on.

There are three things I can immediately say about Decisiveness.

First, Decisiveness is in direct, heated conflict with Drive at all times. I don’t want to go right back into how bad it is to nurse a story to death because we’ve already talked about it. Suffice it to say, Decisiveness is completely reliant on Drive for its description; Decisiveness is anti-Drive—the ability to let go and let a story be and let characters speak and perhaps accept a particular name (or, ya know, monster—whatever) instead of stubbornly searching for a better one despite finding nothing. Essentially, it’s realizing that there is an end to how healthy Drive can be, and it’s right on the corner of Neuroses and Nit-Pick Way. Decisiveness, put most simply, is the ability to decide on elements in your story and stand by them.

Second, it’s incredibly important to foster Decisiveness so that you can be comfortable with moving on to the next step with your projects (whether it’s from planning to writing, writing to sharing, or sharing to submitting) and actually grow as a writer. Because going in too hard with Drive can happen at every turn in the writing process. It can, and often does, play on a sentence level; I know I’m not alone in just hating one sentence and walking away from my work for hours because I just can’t figure it out. I really, really wish I had a statistic for how many times the solution was going back and just deleting that sentence, scene, or chapter altogether and starting fresh. But the point is, there’s always another entity—a third party in the battle between you and the outline or you and the manuscript. And, in my experience, that third entity is always just a point of view. That point of view should be Decisiveness stepping in and being all, “… You sure that ending isn’t okay?” and, most commonly for me, “If you don’t like this scene, delete it all and start again after you decide the optimal angle to take it from.”

Third,… and most dramatic,… at some point, Acceptance may mean that you just have to call it. Literally, at some point, time may completely run out for you and you may just have to face the music and—just—decide. Not because someone’s holding a gun to your head, but because you’re like me and want to be a novelist first and foremost and you know that the Successful Novelist window is one that absolutely closes. Whether for financial reasons or family reasons or what have you, time eventually just runs out or becomes so narrow and cluttered with everything else in life that it’s way, way less possible to get through it. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be published, but putting out a series of books absolutely requires a large portion of time. And, for us, that really, really means actual writing time—actual years spent punching keys and finishing stories (all the more difficult for us Fantasy writers with our 300-900 page manuscripts). Maybe this sounds over-dramatic, but, to be honest, it’s taken me 9 years to finish the one book. I have 11 more planned at this point. That math doesn’t add up to normal human years.

Which means that, for me, the time has come. Decision time.

Finding the Balance

The very best that I can give you when it comes to balancing Drive and Acceptance is a summary of how I decide on things now. Because I have always been crazy about letting ideas mature, but, as I said, I have no time for slow, casual months of idle brainstorming now.

So, for me, there is no more contemplating the pros and cons of a particular name for weeks—no more wondering if maaaaybe I want the one city to look old or swanky. No, it’s down to one shot decision making time based entirely on theme, plot, character, and every other element that makes up a story. It’s down to “What name works with this character’s personality/power/theme?” paired with, “What do I think sounds awesome?” Very often, I find myself looking at something I’m not sure about and bringing Reverence and Respect into it; “Do I not like this because it’s too much like someone else’s work?” or, more often, “Can I live with this being my style, published under my name?”

Whatever decisions are made like this, they’re made in tandem with my editing and are worked in—quickly—where they belong; and, of course, it’s important to note “quickly” because, for me, part of Drive having such a stranglehold on my process was the idea that making whatever finite decisions and subsequent changes would take a ton of work. It doesn’t; the start of my editing session a few days ago was changing the name of one science from Alchemy to Mnemography. Making that change, along with changes for related nouns (“Alchemicals,” “Alchemical Belt,” etc.) took a grand total of two minutes. In total, from realizing “Alchemy” didn’t make sense to deciding that I like “Mnemography” a lot more, I probably spent about ten minutes trying out different names, five minutes looking up “mnemo” to figure out why my brain threw it at me, and twenty minutes shooting an email about it to another writer, during the writing of which I decided I loved it… regardless of asking that other writer for opinions about it (“Which dress do you think I should wear? This one, or thiiiis one?”). Maybe this is cheating, but I also decided all of the related nouns for the science in that email. So, overall, from Drive to Decisiveness and execution, it took about thirty seven minutes. It’s not always this smooth, of course, but the goal is always to have as little time between deliberation and execution as possible.

And on the note of it not always being easy, maybe you noticed that I’m saying all of this after talking about neurotically changing monsters. And, obviously yes, I totally am still Driven to make things perfect, but the key is that I don’t let Drive stop me anymore—I don’t write in a monster that I hate and then get salty about it and ignore my story for a while; I have a full cast of monsters already in the book that I already like, but when an alternative idea for one comes up, I dive in and change it as quickly as I can, or, if the stars align and Escribyr, the Dwarven God of Writing, smiles down on me (up at me?), the monster isn’t actually in my book and I just spend twenty minutes editing one entry in my world glossary file and I’m done.

And I don’t want to keep ranting about this, so, the point is, Drive should never, ever stop a writer, and the way to make sure it doesn’t is to be Decisive.

If you are the kind of writer who second-guesses everything—if you are a slave to Drive like I’ve been—then just know that the decisions you’re considering and the changes you’re putting off making can be done in seconds. Those elements you aren’t sure about that are keeping you from actually writing your story can be sorted out in an afternoon. All it takes is devotion to finding an answer, some Acceptance, a little sprinkle of Respect for your own work on top, and a side of You Don’t Have Forever, Dammit—Write Already.

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By the way, yes, Escribyr does wield a quill pen that has a massive warhammer on its feather end. How does that even work? I’ll let you decide.

As always, thanks for reading! And come back around the middle of the month for the final article in this series, in which I’ll discuss the Understanding that not everyone will love your work… and the Awareness that you might be infatuated with your own story. It’s gonna be good!

If you want to be sure you don’t miss it, Subscribe and you’ll get an email when I publish it! Or just pass by again later in the month and you’ll find it here. As always, Likes and Shares are appreciated, but regardless, thanks again just for showing up and have a good one!

The Traits of the Working Writer – Part 1: Reverence and Respect

June has already been pretty interesting. It’s been rife with me hanging out and talking with other writers, which I suppose is normal for me now. As is my gleaning things from those conversations that I always want to bring back here. Things like that, hey, maybe my protagonist is emo (which, of course, led to an instant freak out [prematurely though, as I remembered that no, Lethe is just really weird]).

But more constructive than that were the casual conversations that led to this series of posts about what I’m calling the Traits of the Working Writer. Now, I can’t tell you exactly which conversation the following ideas came from, but they were ingrained somewhere in the way Justine Manzano agreed that, yes, being an amateur Fantasy writer is brutally ousting. Or maybe it was the way another friend admitted she was down about working on a detail of her world that readers will never actually experience.

Either way, these Traits are what I believe are the foundation of any writer. Some of these come naturally, but some also have to be learned and (oh man, can I tell you) maintained. And although I don’t think it’s impossible to be a writer without having these Traits, I do think it’s harder to be a legitimately good, patient writer without them.

Here, we’ll start with just two (I was originally planning to do all six in one article, but it felt like I was glossing over too much). And we’re doing two because each pair of Traits balance each other out (because, for me, writing is slowly turning into a game of balances [and I’ll endeavor to explain why in the next few weeks, with these posts]).

For now, let’s start with Reverence for other writer’s work but Respect for your own.

Reverence for Other Writers’ Work…

We’re starting off easy here.

I’ve talked about this plenty of times on this site, but I can never say enough that one of the most important Traits of a good writer is Reverence for other writer’s work.

Which, of course, is funny for me to say, because if you knew me from anywhere between… oh… 1982 and 2013, you’d know that maaaaan was I the last person to respect other writer’s work. Actually, to be more accurate about it, I was the first person to complain about everything I watched, read or played.

Do you know that kind of person? You must know that kind of person; the kind who isn’t necessarily wrong when he or she says, “Oh, that scene in that one movie was so stupid!” but who always goes right in with those criticisms so quickly and so… so often that it kind of becomes their thing? You can’t watch a movie with them without being emotionally prepared to listen to a million reasons why it’s horrible or not on par with another movie that they like? And everyone else loves the movie / book / whatever that they’re criticizing regardless, so they eventually feel like they’re on a holy quest to correct everyone’s opinions about everything? Yes. I was that guy. And, in case you’ve never experienced that kind of person (and you’re a gamer) Egoraptor is the best example I can give you of that kind of person (don’t crucify me; I don’t hate him—he’s just immediately, damningly critical of games that are great regardless of their flaws).

And that’s the heart of the problem right there; being that kind of person… means that you’re incredibly, unforgivably critical of everything, no matter how awesome it is. That. Is. A horrible way to live. As a person in general (it’s miserable) and especially dangerous for a writer.

Because, for a writer, thinking like this, about everything, makes you the most close-minded person in the world. It makes it impossible for you to expand your concept of what works when it comes to creating or, at least, it seriously narrows your definition of “good” to “not [my personal definition of] terrible,” which is probably insanely strict.

And, of course, it’s not bad to have a discerning taste; I absolutely don’t want anyone to come away from this post thinking that. It’s just ridiculously bad for a writer’s only concept of “good” to be Lord of the Rings and “what I’m writing, because it’s like Lord of the Rings.”

I’ll end here by adding that this… is absolutely one of those Traits you have to maintain. At least it is for me; maybe it’s easier for other writers, but I grew up following this example, so, even though I’m way, way better now about being overly, needlessly critical of things, there are still cases where I just… can’t see the good in something (Avatar). And, that’s okay, but I suppose just remember to always at least acknowledge there is good in any creative endeavor. Try to train yourself to observe what works first. You’ll know you’ve made it when instead of saying, “This movie sucks,” you say, “I liked _______, but this just isn’t my kind of movie.”

Now, as an example (and being dangerously open about past critiques), in The Dark Knight, the Joker’s conversation with Harvey Dent in the hospital is amazing and probably one of my favorite Batman moments on film, ever. That was not hard… even though I definitely don’t think The Dark Knight is nearly as good as everyone said it was (at the very least, it’s very flawed). But that hospital conversation, and, actually, a bunch of other things in that movie were really awesome.

Okay, actually ending now, all I’ll add is, if you have any creative property that you hate, try looking at it and seeing the good in it—first. Especially if it’s extremely popular. Because, if it is really, really popular, realize the obvious: it’s doing something very, very right and, as a writer, you need to at least understand what that is, even if you don’t agree with it.

… But Respect for Your Own Work

Now, while all of this respecting other people’s work and learning from it and broadening your view of “good,” is awesome, there’s a really important counterpoint you have to keep in mind.

If you are not the hyper-critical type mentioned above, great. But if you’re a hyper-loving, super fan, you’re possibly adapting everyone else’s writing style. And that’s bad.

That’s actually… worse than being hyper-critical; because if you only consider one or a handful of things to be good and you mold yourself tightly around that one style, at least you have a composed style (you’re like Tolkien). But, assuming that you see the good in everyone’s work, there’s the possibility that you’ll start pulling ideas and themes and tones from absolutely everywhere and making your stories conflicted, tonal messes.

Now, if you aren’t this kind of person, great. But if you are… don’t freak out, because creating that tonal mess is just part of every writer’s struggle to find a voice. At least it was for me anyway.

I grew up mimicking a lot—borrowing a ton from other creative properties back in what I think of as the Note-Taking Days of my writing. A new movie would come out and I’d think it was cool and “make up” a new scene that was directly inspired by the one fight scene at the end of whatever movie (“And then, Burly Brawl comes on, and my protagonist grabs a candle stand or something and starts whipping it around like a staff!” … It hurt to write that, and I never actually wrote that as any part of any story I ever worked on… but no matter how hard I try, I can’t forget the countless other things I “wrote” that are way worse than that, so, yeah, my heart hurts. Can’t breathe; too much shame in my lungs). But doing that kind of thing is natural and healthy when you’re young.

But, again, when you’re young.

Because there comes a point when it’s essential to step back from everything else—every kind of influence—and consider the story you want to tell not as something you build with the pieces of someone else’s work… but as something that you build—just you—in whatever way you want with pieces that you can create, from scratch.

And, if this sounds strange to you, but there are many reasons why you might adapt from other writers’ work. Maybe it’s just love.

But maybe it’s because you don’t think that your ideas are good enough. Maybe you don’t have faith in your ability to tell a good story. Maybe you don’t respect your ability to write something awesome, even if you think that you do.

And, just in case you think you do respect your own style or maybe just in case you need a guideline to follow away from the adapting trend, just look at a scene in your story that’s just not working—or an event or idea that you just can’t hammer down—and ask yourself, “Is this my work?” Because… maybe it’s not actually part of that story you’re trying to tell; maybe the source material that inspired that scene is just too different in tone? Regardless, the point is, for whatever reason, you’ll feel it when something doesn’t work with your story. And, in direct contrast, even if you’re still in the Note-Taking Phase, you can stop, think of a moment that works perfectly… and see an idea that is beautifully and simply your own or perfectly and completely your story. You’ll know those ideas because they’ll have halos around them; you’ll feel the glow without even trying—the spark that you’ve probably felt for years now. As cheesy as it sounds, those moments will just feel “perfect” because they absolutely are for your story and your style.

That is your work. That is your voice. And that absolutely deserves your Respect. It is the story that you’ve wanted to tell for ages and it does, naturally (in my experience) have the tone and timber you need it to have if you’re just willing to acknowledge it, listen to it, and respect it. I am starting to sound just… dangerously metaphysical right now, but we’re talking about the theoretical ground zero of a writer’s world. Things are gonna be a little metaphysical.

At the very least, getting back to practicalities, you need to Respect your voice as a safe guard against other writers’ critiques. Because, maybe you already know this, but if you don’t, when Writer A reads Writer B’s work, their reflex is to suggest making Writer B’s work “better” by making it more like Writer A’s work. It’s just… natural, especially in a younger writer, to go that route with critiques and it’s equally likely for a younger writer to accept those kinds of critiques (I’ve definitely accepted, “This character should be funnier!” when I absolutely shouldn’t have).

Of course, that turns into a question of balancing critiques, which, in my mind, is ultimately synonymous with balancing these two character Traits in yourself (so metaphysical).

Finding the Balance

So, where do you draw the line between your admiration and Reverence for other writers and your Respect for your own work? This is one of those times when I can’t provide detailed instructions for how to do this (the same way I obviously can’t provide clear cut instructions on how to find your voice). I can tell you, in very simple, basic terms, not to reflexively copy other writer’s work, but I would add to definitely take inspiration from other writers. I can tell you not to automatically accept and adapt content suggestions that other writers make (like the above-mentioned “This character should be funnier!”), but sometimes, other, skilled writers and editors can absolutely make good content suggestions (the same way that, although they’re generally more acceptable, line suggestions [grammar and punctuation] can also absolutely be wrong and detrimental to your work and style).

So, what do I leave you with? A marker for future reference—a milestone that will make it clear that you’ve made it. Here it is:

You’ll know that you’re balancing Reverence and Respect correctly when you’re reading your favorite author’s work and you spot a really great detail that instantly makes you jealous. But then, because the tones don’t match or because your plot is more simple or for countless other possible reasons that you’re totally fine with, you smile, shake your head and say, “But that would never work in my story.”

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Thanks for reading and come back at the beginning of July when I talk about the next two Working Writer Traits, Drive and Decisiveness! If you want to be sure you don’t miss them, you could always… ya know… could Subscribe is all I’m sayin’. But regardless, thanks again and have a good one!

Louis Santiago’s Fantasy Story Stats – Week 3: Tone and Spirit

Welcome to Week 3 of my Fantasy Story Stats. This is another exciting Week as it’s another where I get to go on about one of my own Stats. And really, it’s the statiest of the Stats so far—Spirit. Spirit, which was actually the first of them and the reason these posts exist at all.

But anyway, enough pre-rant. Let’s get to it.

First…

Tone: The Overall Mood of your Work

As per usual with my posts, let’s start off with something familiar that you really don’t need to hear much about—Tone. The weird thing about Tone is that I’ve always heard people mention it, but… always just mention in; I’ve been taught about characterization and narration, plot and settings, but never tone. It was always just the word—Tone.

In part, it’s because it’s obvious. Question: what’s the tone of a story? Answer: it’s the tone of a story. Light, heavy, dark, gritty, tone is obvious within the first few pages of a book and the first few moments of a movie. The very first exchange between Waymar Royce and Gared of the Night’s Watch makes it clear that George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is going to be serious; Will’s observations of Waymar’s armor make it clear that it’s going to be a realistic approach to a genre that often celebrates impractical armor and weapons. To polarize a bit, the intro to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings boldly embraces the fantastic, establishing a much lighter, less realistic Tone. Each story defines their Tone early on and carries it for the whole book, assigning it an emotional weight that’s consistent throughout the entire story.

And, right there, that’s how I classify Tone: the consistent, emotional weight of a story (from Light to Heavy [but with an added, second classification of Fantastic to Realistic that usually coincides directly with Light to Heavy]). Light would be anything emotionally simple or literally light-hearted; something like a fun superhero comic, a more jovial or cool horror movie like The Cabin in the Woods, or a Terry Pratchett Discworld fantasy novel. On the other end of the spectrum, Heavy would be Watchmen, The Walking Dead, or Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

I believe the added classification of Fantastic to Realistic explains itself, but to quickly provide examples, a Light/Fantastic story would be Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, a Medium/Semi story would be Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, and a Heavy/Realistic story would be Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (by fantasy standards… at the beginning, anyway).

Finally, because I feel I have to say it, consistency is an incredibly important part of my definition for Tone. Because I’ve seen a story drastically shift from Medium to super, crazy Light in Tone and it was incredibly jarring. And I don’t usually do this, but (with a quick disclaimer that Stephen King is an established and skilled writer and I totally respect him) I will say that it was the Dreamcatcher movie. If you want a fantastic example of what not to do to your tone, you should watch Dreamcatcher. I don’t want to explain how, but it goes from emotional and personal to “Really!?” in the span of seconds.

Spirit: The Completely Subtle or Absolutely Obvious Playfulness of Your Work

Spirit is my concept and the fast way of describing it is to admit that I thought of it as “Camp” for a while. I felt I needed to change the name because camp has a pretty intensely bad connotation, but the idea persists; Spirit is the degree to which the author engages the reader. And that makes it sound incredibly unwieldy and obvious, doesn’t it? But no—it absolutely isn’t; Spirit can be subtle and silent or it can be ham-fisted and campy.

But to clarify, Spirit is a classification of playfulness. A story with High Spirit actively engages its readers through its elements, its dialogue, and its events.

A fantasy story with High Spirit Elements will feature a Millenial Fair where a kid gets special powers that only he/she can use to banish whatever evil is approaching from the north. In other words, there are elements that the reader knows and can trust that lead to moments a reader expects and welcomes subliminally. An old wizard/mentor will show up to guide the hero into the wild and teach him/ her about their powers, the hero will meet a special someone along the way, etc. And all of this is extremely comfortable for the reader because it’s so familiar.

A story with High Spirit Dialogue would be something written by Joss Whedon; obviously not exclusively, but if you’re a big fan of the Marvel Universe of movies, almost every other line of dialogue on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far has been a reference to previous movies or characters, often with those characters having no knowledge of those characters or their dialogue (“With great power comes a ton of weird crap,” spoken by Skye in the first episode is a fantastic example). This approach is inclusive—you’re in on the joke and you like it (or hate if you want to be like that). In other cases, the dialogue might simply be familiar with fantasy characters using one-liners or variants on Earth-Modern or Fantasy-fandom centric insults (“By Grog’s hairy balls!” or something like that, for example). At its most basic and simple, the ferocious dragon you expect only to breathe fire might instead turn out to be a female dragon who starts talking about how lonely she is, playing with the reader’s expectations and likely getting a laugh from them.

A story with High Spirit Events will follow a comforting plot structure. To put it simply, all sports underdog stories are High Spirit; you go in absolutely knowing that the Mighty Ducks (or whoever) are going to win. More relevantly, you always know that the young hero or heroine with the super rare and exclusive magical powers is absolutely going to kill that evil from the north in the end.

In contrast, stories with Low Spirit aren’t comforting. That’s the difference I want to make here; High Spirit isn’t “campy.” A story with High Spirit is not a bad thing, which I’ve tried to reflect in the examples I provided above. High Spirit stories are friendly. And engaging. And comforting. You enjoy them and they’re an easy choice when you don’t want to experience a completely unpredictable and often Heavy story.

Not to say that Low Spirit is bad either. By my definition, Jonathan Stranger & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark would be Low Spirit. So would Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard, and I enjoyed both of those books. They just had very non-standard, unpredictable elements and plots that were more challenging than comforting. The very fiber of those examples was doing something completely different to great effect.

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That said, I don’t think I can keep going here without running into next week’s stats, Novelty and Concept. If this is your first time reading and you’ve enjoyed, I’d appreciate a Like, Comment, or a Subscription. If you haven’t checked out my other Stats, you can find an introduction here, Week 1 here, and Week 2 here.

And, as always, here’s where I stand on my list of Stats:

War of Exiles

Genre… Fantasy

Subgenre… Dark Fantasy

Theme… Living with loss.

Focus… 1-Character, 2-Plot, 3-Setting

Tone… Medium/Semi

Spirit… Medium