January 2015 (writing) recap

I figured I’d better put something up here so folks haven’t think I’ve died or otherwise slipped off the planet. While it may seem – from the non-existence of posts on this blog since the end of 2014 – that I haven’t been doing any writing, I’ve actually been doing a fair share of it, over on my other blog, The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens, my ongoing chronicle of my 2014 NaNoWriMo story universe. Here are the post updates to prove it:

Jan 2015 Writing UpdatesI’m one of those fools who gets anxious when I haven’t updated a particular social media outlet or blog in a while, someone who thinks that makes me less of a person writer. But, seventeen story updates for January isn’t too shabby. (One of them doesn’t count, as it’s just a music video link.) It’s not a popular journey in terms of audience size, but I’m having too much fun with this story and these mostly-new characters to care much about that part of it.

Over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve also been working on a massive edit/rewrite of my homo-erotic space western opera story, From Hell: A Love Story. It’s been both interesting and enlightening to see this one evolve from a mishmash of sci-fi and romance ideas designed to cater to a fan fiction audience, to a tighter story of love and acceptance that satisfies my own inner reader. Through this process, I’ve come closer to understanding what my tastes really are, and where my stronger skills lie. I’m sure it will also affect my edits for my waiting-in-the-wings stories, “Finding Mister Wright” and Fearless, both of which I’d like to put through the same wringer starting this year. But, first, I’m working with Scrivener (finally!) to put From Hell: A Love Story together as a real book (courtesy CreateSpace, which awarded two free hardcopies of a book to each NaNo 2014 winner).

Of course, no writer – even a self-proclaimed one – should go too many days without reading something for the fun of it. I continue to enjoy Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series of classic detective novels, in the hopes of someday writing my own detective story. But, that’s a post for another day.

Twitter friend Moyabomb asked if I’d share my experiences with my publishing exercise as regards Scrivener, CreateSpace, editing, and artistry, so I’ll have to do a post about that coming up. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your own reading and writing journeys!

The chicken or the egg?

The title of today’s post comes from the age-old question: which came first? But, it’s not what came first that concerns me this time around, but what’s coming next. For me, it’s…NaNoWriMo 2014!

I know, I know: NaNoWriMo – or, National Novel Writing Month, that month-long free-write extravaganza, for those of you unfamiliar with that strange pseudo-acronym – isn’t really a test of my ability, as I’ve competed and “won” this not-competition five times, now. But, I just came off a few finished stories, and I want to give my brain a bit of a rest for a month. I still want to write, though, because I love the rush that comes with putting new ideas to paper. Since my proposed murder mystery/police procedural/love triangle story demands a more precise plot than my free-wheeling NaNo ways, I’ve decided to shelve ex-Detective-Sergeant Stenhall and the rest for a little while and instead write a yippee-kai-yay loosey-goosey continuation (of sorts) of my recently-completed Borderlands story. It focuses mostly on a group of original misfit characters that I’ve been itching to use for a long time, now, and even just my story prep has gotten me excited about writing this one.

So, for the next five weekly updates, I’ll likely be talking about word count and progress and stress-writing crap, as that’s usually what takes over my brain during NaNo. If you are participating this year, as well, why don’t you join me? Feel free to list your NaNoWriMo user ID in the comments section, here. I’m happy to have a friend in NaNo madness! My username is bonusparts.

For those of you not interested at all in my NaNo endeavors, I’ll leave you with this collage of photos from my recent trip to Japan, where I road lots of trains, ate lots of sushi, got sunburnt at my little nephews’ undoukai, visited the Suntory brewery factory, drank some great Japanese craft beer, and watched some little ninjas chase after a samurai at Toei Film Studios.

Japan2014What are your plans – writing or otherwise – for the rest of 2014?

“The End” is only the Beginning

On Friday, May 9, 2014, I finished the last chapter of Fearless. 167,000+ words, two-and-a-half years, and countless dreams, tears, and laughs later, it’s done. The first draft, that is. Which means it’s really just the beginning. Now, the manuscript (holy $%*&, I can really call it a manuscript!) can go to beta, then to editing, then to revision. Then, it goes to beta, editing, and revision again. I’m not sure how many passes this story will require to make it the best it can be before I die. For the moment, though, I think I’m going to take a deep breath, sit back, and let Ross and Amber rest a while. They deserve it.

I always get this happy-sad feeling when I finish a story, especially a big one. Fearless was my 2011 NaNoWriMo project, and it went through plenty of ups and downs before I typed those final words. I rather love that part of writing, though: the adventure of the first draft. It’s often imprecise and messy, but it’s full of such raw, untamed emotion! Revision requires analysis and skill, and it’s a necessary part of building a better story. It’s nothing like that rush of first draft, though. Not for me, anyway.

As an online reader, my experience is with works in progress. Friends and fellow storycrafters will post scenes or chapters as they’re made, and there’s a real sense of accomplishment to seeing a story come together organically in that way. But so many times, potential authors lose steam in their stories, and plots and characters are simply abandoned. It’s trite to say, but that makes me sad.

Clip Art by Ericlemerdy, shared via Clker

Clip Art by Ericlemerdy, shared via Clker

A story that is given time to grow and evolve becomes like a thing alive. When we let a story fall by the wayside, its world dies. I completely sympathize with writers or artists who start a project but then quickly realize this won’t work or that isn’t what it should be. But I really can’t understand artists who can devote huge chunks of their lives – like, years! – to a project, only to let it wither and fade when the going gets too rough or, heaven forfend, they move on to newer, shinier worlds.

I had a writer friend who told me, “Always finish the story, even if the ending is crap. You can always go back and fix it. But a finished story, no matter how crappy it is, is a real story, with a beginning, middle, and end. If you can finish, that puts you above at least half of all the other writers out there.” Now, I don’t know if his numbers were accurate, but his words have always stuck with me. And, every time I’ve started a story, I’ve wanted to make it “real”. Yes, some of the endings are crap. Some of the endings I wrote simply to get to the ending, so I wouldn’t have to look at that world any longer. But for every story I’ve written since I got that advice oh-so many years ago, I’ve given an ending. And, honestly, I think it has made me a better writer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m due for a break…at least until the next story comes calling.

What do you do when you finish a story? Do you celebrate or put your nose back to the grindstone? And, would you like to join me for a celebratory beer? (Sure, I’ll buy!)

SchneiderAventinus

A Schneider Aventinus poured right. Photo by bonusparts

My NaNo Retrospective

It’s November, and some of you out there are writing fiendishly for National Novel Writing Month. Despite my earlier expressed excitement, I decided at the last minute that I should instead concentrate on some works in progress rather than on a completely (well, mostly completely) new story. Rob and Paige’s story isn’t going in the bin; I’m just holding off on them a bit longer. They deserve a fuller telling, anyway.

2013 NaNoWriMo logo

NaNoWriMo is a celebration of writing, deadlines, creativity, and support, all important aspects of becoming a storyteller. Even though I won’t be running the race, this year, I don’t consider that a failure. In fact, NaNo has given me at least five stories of which I’m pretty proud:

anywhere_but_here-wp2012’s NaNo – “Anywhere but Here” – is a dystopian science fiction story, about four runaways and the Hounds tracking them down. In my delusion, I thought I could possibly push that one to publishable status, so I sent the first 1000 words to editor Kate Johnston. Kate had some great comments…but I was too shamed to send her the rest for a real job; I wanted to make the draft the best I could make it, and I knew that first pass wasn’t good enough. So, I’m working on that in bits and bobs.
On a side note, I believe Kate is still offering a great deal on a free critique of 1000 words, over at Musefly Writing Studio. Check out the link for more details!

fearless_graffiti_wp2011’s NaNo – Fearless – is still in progress, around 160K in first draft form. (I know: edit, edit, edit.) It’s a romance drama, one I’d once hoped to publish some day. As the story has become longer and more convoluted, though, that possibility has become ever more doubtful. I don’t mind. Once it’s done, I will print it up, bind it, and put it on my shelf. Because the story is so much a part of me, now. I’ve learned the most through writing it, and the depths of its beauty, sadness, and humanity I don’t think I’ll ever approach again.

Sixes-and-Sevens2007’s story was Sixes and Sevens, romance from an interracial angle, set circa 1997. Why that year? I remember being at a sleepover and waking up to news of Diana Spencer’s death, and talking with my friends about it, how we take the most important parts of life for granted. That, and the music from 1997 was pretty rockin’. 😀

In 2006, I wrote “The Daughters of Krull,” based on the high fantasy film from the 1980s (don’t judge me). While a fantasy, the main plot dealt mostly with fathers and daughters. I took three supporting characters from the film – a middle-aged man, a younger man in his physical prime, and a boy – and used them to examine their relationships with the women in their lives. It was actually a lot of fun to write, if not terribly popular with my usual readers.

through_green_eyes-wpAnd, all the way back in 2005, for my first NaNo, I wrote “Through Green Eyes,” a coming-of-age story of four siblings in colonial Japan, seen through the eyes of the family cat. This is probably the roughest and simplest of my NaNo ventures, but it’s also one of my favorites. It rekindled a love of my personal heritage I hadn’t felt in a long time. And, writing a cat was fun.

Whether you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or not, take a moment to reflect on some of the stories you’ve written over the years. What are your favorites? Feel free to leave a link with your comment, too: because NaNo is just as much about sharing and inspiration as anything else. Tally ho!

Na-Nonsense: Ready for 2013?

October is usually when I decide if I can and/or will participate in National Novel Writing Month. I like to have a vague idea of a story already in my head by that time, so I can use October to do the basics of my research. But, I have to know my starting point.

My first NaNo, all the way back in 2005, came from an idea to write about my ancestral homeland, Japan, through the eyes of the family cat. 2007 was the year I picked up a bass for the first time, and became obsessed with classic rock band The Who, and so based the story around music. My 2011 idea sprung from a conversation between a couple on a beach. In 2012, I totally pantsed my way through the story of my space-age runaways and the hounds on their tail. For 2013 – if I do participate – I’ve got a fairly rough outline already in mind, quoted below.

I guess you shouldn’t read the idea flow if you think you’ll read the finished product- BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, oh, I had a good laugh at that one! Of course, no one is gonna wanna read this tripe!

Laughing Cat from I Can Haz Cheezburger

Oh, come on. You laughed. I know you did.

But, here you go, a glimpse into my process:

Flashback: Paige

Present day: New possibilities

Rob and coffee (or a beer) (You’re no good at this)

Goodbye at the stoop/Take things slow/The kiss

Dinners and dates (Do you like him? Or, do you like like him?)

Serena (Blow-up at the restaurant)

The past – Rob and Serena

Love for the first time

The morning after (Sleepover rules)

Days pass

Serena’s fight (unfit for duty)

Paige always comes first (“She has to.”)

Goodbyes (You belong with her)

He’s not the same, without you (Mia, maybe)

Daddy?

Resolutions, reversals, and revolutions

Generally speaking, this is what a rough first outline looks like, for me. (Well, I usually start with character names and some sketches for appearance, but I didn’t think a bunch of random names and profile scribbles would have been interesting for a blog post.) The story may change from these initial flecks of grey matter – it often does! – but even in that case, I find I write much more easily and fluidly if I have some prepped ideas ready.

In 2012, I came to the game much later than I usually do – November 1, in fact – and I spent the first two days just writing a story flow outline. I got my highs and lows so early in the process, because I was writing great big chunks of dialogue to feed my plot brain. The remainder of the month was mostly just filling in the blanks of those dialogue blocks. Of course, it strayed in parts, but the basic story remained the same. I had a great time writing it, but I wonder if I did myself or the story an injustice because of the way it came together. An editor’s notes on the first chapter of that story showed me I hadn’t committed myself to the fullness of what that story could be. In some ways, I didn’t care, because it was a NaNo story and I was simply glad I’d gotten through it before November 30. But a more serious-minded, critical part of me thought I should have taken more of that time not merely filling in the spaces between the dialogue, but actually putting effort into building that world.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IG8texwyYA&w=560&h=315]
(Not this sort of pantsing)

I’m still building that world. I don’t know if it will ever get to the point where I’d want to send it off again, but it gave me a lot to think about. That stories, the ones we love, deserve our full efforts.

I can’t say I’ll do any better with my 2013 story than I did with my 2012 one (or any of the others, for that matter), but part of the reason I like NaNo is that it makes me push myself to write, and write hard.

What do you think, based on the above? You think I should give single dad Rob and daughter Paige a chance?
How do you approach NaNo (if you do)?