30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 14: Before the Storm

Today was another easy writing session. Mind you, I left it for the absolute worst time of the day, when I’m least likely to write–in the evening, around bedtime. Not an ideal time to aim for, of course, but alright for training. Important for training actually . . .

Because that busy season I mentioned, coming up at work . . . it starts in two days.

And once it starts, writing around 8-10PM while totally exhausted, is going to become the norm.

So, even though part of me thinks, “Take the luxury of not having to deal with that immediately!” the other party of me is like, “Figure it out now.”

Of course, the solution continues to be, “Just think of it as work and force yourself to start,” but the real test is going to be coming home at 11PM after working an 8:30AM-10PM shift, which is totally a thing at my job.

Part of me is all, “OMFG, go out tomorrow and walk around Manhattan for 13.5 hours, then try to write at 11! Figure it out!” But the other half of me is all, “Ughaslkhjaiwawuiaoeuhwua . . . I just want to sleep.”

I’m going to go buy a jacket tomorrow. Going to at least do that and then train myself to write first thing when I walk in (instead of relaxing).

If that doesn’t work . . . it’s going to just be hiding during lunch breaks at work, trying to knock out a few hundred words in my tiny notepad.

Uahodaojkmflkwaooqajdklajapfjcxzkjf . . .

Words for the Day: 798

NaNoWriMo Total: 6,062

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 13: Back in the Comfort Zone

So, I want to talk about something I realized yesterday. Could’ve talked about it then, but I felt like it deserved its own post.

After my toaster refused to work, after narrowing my eyes at birds ripping leaves off of the tree by my window, I decided to head out and buy actual food–a wholesome breakfast of literally-just-bread wasn’t going to cut it.

On the walk, I found myself wondering why I was struggling so much with the start of the book. Why I couldn’t quite figure out how to write this happy kid’s exposition.

And then it hit me. While walking outside, I smiled and chuckled at myself.

“I’m having a hard time writing this happy kid’s exposition . . . because he’s happy.”

Before it sounds like I’m being a bitter, emotional asshole, let me explain. What I’m definitely not trying to say is, “Meeeeh! This character’s happy and I’m not, so fuck him!”

What I am trying to say is . . . emotionally compromised, fucked up characters are really, really my comfort zone.

Aixa Silva is this complicated, traumatized mess. Kole Buchanan is a massively beat down guy who has spent his whole life trying to survive, a reflex he’s forced to fight. Eli Brunner, from a short story I’m still tweaking, man, he is all kinds of damaged. Lethe Dega is probably insane. Edin Attenborough is . . . ugh; I don’t even know where to begin with her.

And that’s the part that I laughed at. “All of my protagonists are fucked up! Modis is the first ever who doesn’t start off damaged! Of course!

“But he eventually becomes damaged, so phew!”

Cause, ya know, that’s a thing to celebrate.

Sarcasm aside, I finished the exposition yesterday and presented Modis with the major conflict of the story. Today, I followed up with a scene full of upset people. Both sessions were incredibly easy–even today’s, which I intentionally left for late at night, wanting to write in the midst of just-got-home-from-work-wanna-relax time.

I know that, when I edit, I’ll need to have prep for the exposition by meditating on the good parts of my childhood, trying to remember what it was like to be an energetic 10-ish year old. Because, of course, getting that feeling right is another challenge I can’t turn down.

But for right now, I’m just glad to have two sessions go really well with minimal stress.

Words for the Day: 892

NaNoWriMo Total: 5,249

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 7: Nearly Perfect

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.7.14Where I Wrote: Another crawl (these are becoming the norm). I tried the City Bakery first but they were full. From there, I found a few spots on the High Line and then ended in Chelsea Market (that is, not in one of the restaurants in Chelsea Market, but a spot in the market’s main strip).

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Good. Today was a bit of filler, but not bad filler; I cleaned up and then finished a time transition that could’ve been awkward. I also made a few decisions that led me to a solid, weird idea for Chapter 4, which I’m really excited to start tomorrow.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Pleased. I was glad to be out again. I was particularly excited to try the City Bakery and the High Line.

The Experience: Cold. So cold.

So, the only bad part about NaNoWriMo is that it’s in November. I didn’t realize this was a draw back until earlier today. Not when I went out and found that it was a bit chilly; that was fine because it meant I could finally justify a long-drooled-over return to the City Bakery (not really though, because their amazing hot chocolate is seriously $7 [I don’t know how I forgot that, but one thing’s for sure–I still bought that hot chocolate and enjoyed the hell out of it]). So, no, the slight chill was fine, I thought.

But then, after finding the City Bakery jam packed, I decided to try the High Line. And, holy shit. I’ve been to the High Line before, but never to look for writing spots. What did I find?

The High Line…

11.7.14-WhereIWrote1

… is lousy…

11.7.14-WhereIWrote5

… with writing spots.

The problem is, these spots are obviously opened to the air, and, today, that meant they were pretty frigid. My first spot was not so bad:

11.7.14-WhereIWrote2

The theater on 17th is recessed enough that there was no wind. Sitting down at the foot of the very bottom step, the view out of those large windows was also pretty awesome:

11.7.14-WhereIWrote4

It was very–very–nearly perfect.

But then the rain started. I don’t want to make that sound like a disaster because it did not kill the session. It did mean I had to migrate south on the High Line until I reached an underpass where vendors are usually set up. There are two levels on that underpass, and near the southern end of the bottom level, there’s this ridiculous, scenic seating area that would have been amazing.

11.7.14-WhereIWrote6

Would have been if it wasn’t freezing. That’s why I wish NaNoWriMo wasn’t in November. To immediately clarify, I don’t blame NaNoWriMo–I think the challenge is amazing and I’m really glad I’m a part of it. More to the point, my decision to find writing spots outside for NaNoWriMo was my decision alone, not theirs, so I really am not criticizing.

In fact, I’m completely acknowledging how unrealistic my need was to write on that insane balcony, with the clouds and the sun shining behind them. And an almost comically dramatic American flag waving in the background. I mean, come on… Man do I wish I could’ve written there. But that’s what Summer ’15 is for, I suppose.

Still, the session was not over and at no point did I consider just giving up; I’ve thrown in the towel on other days because I didn’t want to burn straight through a handful of potential spots in a row to no avail. But today, having seriously spent more time taking pictures than writing at this point, I had to head indoors to Chelsea Market.

I didn’t take any pictures there (it was way too crowded and would’ve been crazy awkward), but Chelsea Market was today’s winning spot. There are public bathrooms there and restaurants all around for when the inevitable thirst and hunger crop up. But, most importantly for writers, there was free seating. Everywhere. Somehow I hadn’t realized it before, but there’s free seating in front of many of the Market’s shops. And it’s oddly easy to nab one of those seats; the milling crowds paid way less attention to them than I expected.

I passed through once and easily nabbed a seat in front of a clothing shop. And there, I wrote until I felt I had to stop again, the endless murmuring of the crowds a comfortable background noise.

Somewhere, I’m pleased at finding such a good spot in a place that I wasn’t expecting; Chelsea Market was absolutely an after thought when I headed out earlier–a place I would head to if I needed coffee maybe. And yet, I did nearly all of my work there. There’s a part of me that sees that irony and understands it and determines to be more open and accepting of what I perceive as lesser writing spots–to not play up and deify places I know will be awesome.

But at the same time, seriously with that American flag already! Are you kidding me!?

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 6: Breaking the Ritual

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.6.14Where I Wrote: The laundromat down the street. And then, home. I immediately feel bad for not hitting somewhere interesting today, but I’ll explain.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Fantastic. Today saw the moment where the last piece of the plot fell into place; I now have a full plot for Memory. And, thankfully, it all fit together smoothly (there was only one loose element from an older version of the plot that had to be cut).

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Restless, but ultimately accepting; I wanted to reclaim the West side of Manhattan after yesterday’s fiasco, but there was no denying that I needed to take care of a few things today.

The Experience: I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it yet, but I didn’t plan to do any of this. I know that in my first post, I mentioned how I was considering trying daily posts, but I have to reiterate that, until the end of last month, that was only the vaguest of ideas. On October 30th, I found out about NaNoWriMo. On October 31st, I decided to take the challenge. On November 1st, I decided to post about it daily.

So I hope that it’s not surprising to hear that I woke up today, looked at my selection of clothing and realized,

“I don’t… There’s nothing here for me to wear.” And then I stare for a moment and, “Huh.” And I mean “huh” like “weird.” As if my clothes are just supposed to be clean for weeks and weeks (again, the sedentary, stay-at-home lifestyle, folks).

Still, I’m all, “I’ll just go out today, then get up early tomorrow and go out tomorrow too–no big.”

And then I looked out the window. Saw the rain. Sighed. “Fine. You win,” I told… the world, I guess?

Even so, that definitely did not mean I wasn’t writing. But I absolutely was not going to return to Bronx Park or the Barnes & Noble Cafe from Day 1 because Bronx Park would’ve been a total nightmare in the rain and Barnes & Noble didn’t feel worth it.

So where do I write? How do I take care of laundry and not just write at home–definitely the most uninspired possible place. I was not writing at the laundromat–that was for sure. That place is a loud nightmare–they show kids’ shows and music videos at the same time. It’s obnoxiously loud, and if there’s one place I can’t write, it’s somewhere with noi–ohhhhh. Wait. There it is. That’s where I’ll write–somewhere I’ve never written before.

In a loud nightmare, with kids’ shows and music videos playing at the same time. The way I immediately thought of it, I was going to “break the ritual,” as my friend Justine Manzano put it in a guest post on Scarlett Van Dijk’s blog back in September.

The thing is… I wish I could ham up the experience more for you. I wish I could tell you of the pure strife I had to endure to belt out the pages that I wrote there.

But the only difficult thing about it was how quickly my clothes were done. There was a fair bit of me saying, “Really?” incredulously and too loud–at laundry machines–because I couldn’t believe my clothes were already washed and then dried. I do not know if the last five days were enough to change me, but what was once impossible was now so easy that it made me shout at laundry machines. I managed to write a scene introducing my villain before coming home and determinedly finishing up a second scene that I knew I could finish (instead of reflexively putting it off for tomorrow).

I absolutely will get to go out tomorrow–to actually go somewhere and (hopefully) find some place new and amazing for writing; I’ve been restless enough for another win that I have a short list of potential candidates in mind.

But, in some really weird way, today was amazing and empowering for me. I used to be the kind of writer who threw up his hands if he wasn’t writing in total silence.

Now I’m the kind who finds his own silence, even when it seems impossible.

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.

~~~

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!