Category Archives: Behind-the-Scenes

Doubt Creeps In

But it’s not what you think.

Of course I have the I’m not going to hit my goal doubt. Hell writing a novel is fraught with the I’m not going to finish variety to begin with (and of course it’s cousin, the why did I want to do this in the first place). To be clear, I have had doubts that I could hit my word total since before I started. That’s part of what makes it a good goal. If I had no doubt I wouldn’t be asking enough of myself. So that doubt is there and it increases and decreases proportionally with my productivity.

But I am talking about a totally different animal. What I am doubting is my creativity. Now wait, before you gasp or pooh-pooh me, allow me to explain.

You see during my feedback night, the main critical theme was that my readers wanted me to do more with my characters and world. Not because they found it lacking, but because they found it intriguing. <<Yes, I fully acknowledge that that is an awesome criticism.>>

So my readers have asked me to push my envelope. Since their critique is about my main characters and my world, all of which are in Book 2, it applies to said book as well. As I am writing Book 2, I am attempting to push my envelope and I am having distinct moments where I am feeling and thinking, “Damn, I’m just not creative enough for this.” You know, as I write this it strikes me that there is something really ironically amusing about a writer who feels that he is not creative enough for his own creation. I wonder if Dr. Frankenstein felt like he wasn’t a good enough surgeon to put his monster together after it was already together? Even though I could quite fittingly extend the exploration of that allusion, I shall forthwith discontinue  unless popular sentiment argues otherwise.

What’s most interesting to me about this doubt is that it is really just the newest side of the blank page syndrome. BTW, I just made that up, so what I mean by that is that as a writer you constantly have to battle with staring at a blank page and struggling to put something down. Often I deal with this by simply writing (remember, writers write). I will often start including details about my environment if I’m drawing a blank, anything to get me going. In fact, this afternoon I’ve managed to churn out a measly 108 words while my son is with a friend and I’m dealing with blank page syndrome by blogging (see writers write). But where I’m going with this is that there is always something to get in the way — blank page, doubt, a desire to edit the last sentence instead of writing the next, the wrong light, the committee arguing about what’s not working. And in my case its most recent manifestation, doubt that I am creative enough to improve my own creation. Pesky stuffed rabbits and readers!

So far how I’ve dealt with this is to work in odd random details. This usually leads to a cascade of odd character/environment details. Interesting, but hard to tell of its effect until another human being reads it. So we’ve got months to go before seeing the full impact of that one. That said, I also realize that novel writing is a lot like brushing your hair – you keep running the brush through it and it gets a little nicer each time. I also see it as a lot like creating layers, but I don’t have a good metaphor for that. Perhaps I need to take up baking with Phyllo. Put down one good layer, then improve it with the next layer, and then the next. Eventually, you end up with an intricately creative work. That’s how it has been working for me so far.

Now I feel like I can write! So instead of editing this and making it all pretty and wordsmithed-nice, I am going to go back to my novel and see if I can get some words done before my son reappears.

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Snafu’s at the Start

And of course there will be many along the way.

In a rather ironic twist of fate, as I sit down to write this entry, I am suddenly puzzled by how I can write it without creating a spoiler.  Hmmm.  I suspect that I am either about to get really creative or talk quite obliquely about the problem  Either way, should be entertaining.

So the problem is that, . . . wow this is really tough to do without just giving away the plot.  I don’t always personally mind spoilers since I think half the fun is how you get there, but I hate to be the one providing a spoiler for my own novel.  That just seems wrong.  The problem is right around the central plot twist.  But I guess this is what happens when you begin to work out a new plot and the plot for this one is starting out a little more complicated than the last book.

Let’s try this again.  <oblique> There has been a murder, makes sense since I’m writing a series of murder mysteries.  The murder is supposed to implicate someone, but as I sat down to start I actually didn’t have a link between the murder and the someone.  </oblique>  There that’s better.

Part of the reason I’m writing about this is simply to note that I didn’t expect such a large problem right at the beginning (this actually showed up on Day 1 of the outlining process.  Obviously I’ve pushed past it at this point).  The other reason is to note that what I find particularly tough is the trail of clues.  I can create decent characters, with a full rich backstory, and I think that I’ve got a pretty interesting world going.  I also have a good main character with a rich set of helpers.  I absolutely understand how the crime was done and why.  So I’ve got all of the right elements.

But for me figuring out the trail of clues that my main character follows to find the bad guy is difficult.  I think it may be the toughest part for me in writing a murder mystery.  In the earlier drafts of AH1, I had some really lame clues, which I entirely blame on my own lack of creativity.  With AH2, I think I’ve been a little better at developing nonlame clues, but at the same time I have struggled on and off with how to progress the investigation from A–>B–>C and having some misdirection actually makes it worse!

As always with the process, I have had some slow difficult days working on the outline and I have had some days where how to progress the story has just clicked.  Sometimes those just clicking parts were the most creative and fun.  I guess that’s the final irony — at times I’m just staring at how to move from one step to the next and I say, “I don’t know, just pick something so that you can move on.”  And that works.

Now What?

No basking in the afterglow?  I think that sums up how I feel.

Last night, after getting the 3rd draft (of my perpetually unnamed novel) in the can and despite a very stuffy head/nose and fatigue, I felt juiced.  I felt chatty.  Briefly talked to a friend on FB, wanted to talk to others.

This morning, after I put my son on the school bus, I was like, so now what?  Normally that’s the time I write when I don’t have meetings first thing for work.  But my draft was done.  My son was gone.  It was just me and a sunbeam on my couch with my coffee.  I felt empty.  Not empty in the sense of sadness, loneliness, or loss.  Empty in the sense of “huh.”

I literally sat there for 30 minutes, coffee long finished, feeling empty.  And not knowing what to do with my self.  I would like to say that I felt complete, but that’s not true.  I had a sense of wanting to celebrate my accomplishment, but in a limited fashion since it is just a (significant) milestone in a larger project.  I also had a sense of wanting to share my success, but not really having anyone to share it with.  So I sat down and started typing this entry as a way to share.

From here, I have a vague sketch of a plan.  🙂  My immediate focus as I said last night, is pushing it out to the people who have agreed to read the 3rd draft and picking up a couple more volunteers.    I suspect that I will have that all wrapped up by tomorrow.  I hope to get feedback from most of my readers the first weekend in April and from the Stylish Ladies on April 20th.

The next thing is to take a month off from the novel.  I find the separation does me some good.  Although I am amazed at the details I can work with and manage when I am heavily engaged with the novel, at the same time I recognize that a little time off gives me some fresh perspective when I go back to it.  So the goal for the next month is not to work on it.  If things go to plan with my readers, I will probably start chipping away at the 4th draft the second week of April.

In the meantime, I am going to start on the sequel.  I already have the basic concept in mind and the malfeasant.  I need to finish writing the background for my next bad guy and plot the 2nd book.  I feel confident that I can get both of those things done in the next month.  The outline might not be very good, but it will be a first draft so that’s fine.

Oh, for those of you wondering why I don’t take a month completely off — well, I’ve done that before and what I have discovered is that after a month off it takes me at least another month to get back into a consistent groove with writing, so I end up loosing two months.  Besides which, I already have the idea for the next one.

Today Begins My Week

Chap 5 2013.02.23 4

I have taken this coming week off in order to work on my novel.  But I’ve decided to spend today, all day, working on it.  I’m doing this for two reasons.  First, I absolutely want to get a a running start on the week.  What better way to go into a week’s worth of writing than with a head of steam from a weekend’s worth of writing.  The second reason is that I am actually within striking distance of finishing the draft by the end of the week, but I need a good day today to make it.

I’ve got approximately 44 chapters to go.  I say approximate because in editing the 3rd draft I’ve inserted two new chapters, but with all of the inserts and moves I may end up collapsing some chapters back together.  We’ll see.  There are 365 pages left, but I’m trying to work in discreet units of chapters at this point.  All of that said, I need to do 7 chapters a day or 60 pages.

My original goal for today was 6 chapters, which seems easy since it’s not even 8 am as I write this post.  That said, I feel a little anxious because I know even when I’m moving fast, these things always take longer than planned.  I am also anxious because I feel a certain tension between getting it done in the week I set aside and doing it well.  What I mean by that is that I feel fairly confident that I can get all the way through the draft in the next six days if I am diligent and disciplined.  What I am not confident in is if I will do it well — really improve the work as best I can.

This idea of how much I can improve the work is interesting for two reasons (I must be setting up dichotomies in my mind today).  The first is that I really want to have a decent book for the stylish ladies to read.  Yes, I am actually feeling the pressure of a readership.  For me, even though I have had a non-writer friend explain it to me twice (what can I say I’m thick), I have trouble getting my brain around why someone would volunteer to read my book and give me feedback.  It seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through, particularly if it’s not a good book.  That’s the crux of it, if I can make the book better then it won’t be a bad experience for them and it might be worth their effort.  I know the book is decent, I’ve been told that.  I know that it can be better.  I just hope that it’s good enough to give them a positive experience.

I haven’t gotten to the second reason that “how much to improve it” is interesting.  I think I will save that for another post, it is now a few minutes past 8 and I’ve got 7 chapters to edit today.

Feeling A Little Stuck

No it’s not writer’s block.  I generally don’t have a problem with that, I just push on.  The issue is what to do next in my drafting process.

So here’s where I am:  I have made all of the minor changes I planned.  I have made most of the major changes.  The ones that I have not made are all changes that I feel I need to make as a read through the novel.  I have dabbled with thematic elements, but those I had planned to do as I reread the novel.  Although this morning I realize that I could use keyword searches to dip in here and there to make thematic changes to one of the settings.

The one glaring exception is Chap 25.  I can’t figure out what to do there.  Part of me this morning is screaming to cut it.  I think the real answer is to look at the plot as a whole and see how to change it to serve the plot.  In order to do that I need to step back, reread, and update my outline.

I haven’t updated my outline significantly since the first draft.  Part of my plan for this draft was to update the outline as I reread because the plot and what occurs where in the novel has undergone significant changes.  I still think that makes sense since having a summary view of the book is helpful particularly as I contemplate changes in the next couple of drafts.

So essentially my choice comes down to this:

1. Make thematic changes to one of the settings.

2. Reread it only to update the outline.

3. Start the rereading process early (I have taken the week after next off from work to do this), making the remaining changes to plot theme, outline, etc.

Hmmm . . . I think I may need to sleep on this one.

Title, Title, Title

One day last week I found myself watching a presentation that was not particularly interesting.  Needless to say, my laser like attention became fixated on a different topic.  The topic was what title to give my book.  I thought it through for a little bit and actually came up with one that I liked, which I e-mailed off to my readers.  They also liked it, but pointed out that it might draw undue attention to character for whom I do not want undue attention.  Since this was true I pressed on.

I felt determined to get a title.  As I said before, now that I’m actually writing about writing the novel it feels entirely blasé to keep referring to it as “my novel.”  The problem is that my level of discontent doesn’t seem to compensate yet for the difficulty of developing a good title.  I had a lot of fun running through possibilities and even came up with a better description of my book, but I did not manage to generate a title with which I was entirely happy.

One of the two leading contenders was Tourist Hunter.  That one came from a thread centered on the idea that Blade Runner is a really cool term that is both the title of the movie and the main character’s job (it’s also owned by Ridley Scott, so I can’t use it).  So I started trying to think of a term that could describe Kurt’s (my main character’s) job.  Ultimately, I decided against using it as a book title, although I think it’s not a bad idea to have a cool professional title for Kurt and I’ve started working it into the novel.

The other leading contender was Xeno Tracker, which came from a thread that included variations of hunter, tracker, detective, etc. paired with Xenocide.  I was disappointed to discover that I hadn’t coined the term xenocide, but I really don’t mind riding on the very last thread in one Mr. Card’s very long coattails.  That said, I killed Xeno Tracker because one of my friends said, (and I quote) “Well it’s a fine line between badass and video game title, and that’s what “xeno [something]” feels like to me.”  I think she was right.

I also briefly flirted with Xenocide at the Dead Mule, but decided that was too over the top.  So I kept the idea of the murder being at the Dead Mule (moving it from the beach) and ditched the title.

Although I am not opposed to simply using Alien Hunter, I have two and half problems with that.  The first is just a gut reaction that it’s not quite strong enough.  This was validated by something that I read recently about how most people when they are determining if they are interested in a book look at the title first, before the cover.  I thought about my own experience with authors I don’t know and I do that.  I read the title, if it catches me, then I start looking at the front and back cover.  Since I am a currently unknown author, I don’t really have the luxury of my name or the fifth book in the whizbang series grabbing someone’s attention and so that’s the second problem.  I really need a title that can make someone linger long enough to read the description and I don’t see Alien Hunter as being that title.  The half problem is that I don’t think it really fits the book/does it justice.

So for now, I shall linger on in a titleless stasis.  AH1 shall remain my working title for this first book in the series and that’s how I’ll refer to it in my future posts, with the occasional slippage into “my novel.”

New Thoughts on the 3rd Draft

After laying out a nice and tidy four phase plan, I’m thinking of jettisoning it. Well, collapsing is probably more accurate, but it doesn’t carry the same gripping drama as the word jettison.  The last couple of days I have gotten into active editing mode and it is obvious to me that as I go back to make the major changes, it just plain makes sense to slip the minor ones in as well.  So for instance today as I was changing how Kurt (my main character) gets contracted for his work at the beginning of Chapter 2, I just popped into Chapter 1 to add two sentences that hint at the story world not being the world of the every day (one of the minor changes both of my readers suggested).  Easy and I get two checkmarks.  🙂

The other major happening as I adventure along the 3rd Draft is that I am realizing that I may move through this draft really quickly.  I seem to have forgotten that the slowest part is the initial drafting of the novel and that each subsequent draft moves more rapidly.  I’ve found that in an hour’s work, I’ve been able to cover significant ground, which makes sense since I started with a story that didn’t need additions or background.  I guess the hard work I put in upfront is actually paying off now.

What has me really excited is that I think I can get through making the changes in about a month.  My next step after that is to give each chapter a careful working through again, which I’m guessing will take me about a week.  But here’s the cool part — I was thinking of taking the last week of February off to work on the novel and if things line up (they probably won’t, best laid plans you know) that could be right on time for the careful working through and I could have this draft completely done by the beginning of March.

The beginning of March is a month ahead of schedule!  How cool would that be?  So that’s the new target — take the last week of February off and finish the 3rd draft at the beginning of March.  Granted, it’s an aggressive goal, but I work best (some might say, only work) when I have a goal.