Tag Archives: the process

Writing Wednesdays – Idols

For me, there is a difference between storytelling and writing. Some authors are excellent storytellers, others are excellent writers, and some are both. I am not a fan of JK Rowling’s writing style but she is one of my favorite storytellers. The same can be said of Lovecraft – but I think some of that is situational, given his contemporaries. I can’t think of writers who write better than their stories would allow off the top of my head because, for me, the story is the more important part but I know I’ve thought it while reading.

There are a lot of writers I’d like to grow up to be like. Gibson, Dick, King, Roberts, Arakawa, Harris. I could go on forever actually – I really love books and writers. Of all of them though, I think Harris and Gibson are probably the most balanced between storyteller and writer. I’m not saying the others are bad writers, they aren’t by any stretch, but I think for me, they’re storytelling skills are stronger.

When I think about my all-time favorite stories, whether because of skill or plot, the one thing they have in common are well written, complete characters. Hannibal Lecter is far and above my favorite villain – he is the most fully realized villain, he’s wicked, wicked smart, crafty, seriously broken, and deliciously horrible. And if you get to the end of his story, all that he does, all that he is, makes sense. And Harris makes it all make sense without once excusing any of it. Hannibal is absolutely a terrible person, even if it makes sense why he might be, it isn’t used to negate his evil. That’s a talent.

I think villains speak to me a little more loudly than heroes. Yes, I love Dallas, Charlie, the Elric brothers, Case and Molly, but they just don’t resonate with me quite as much. I think it’s more that a good villain is so hard to find, relatively speaking. It’s hard to write broken and evil and irredeemable and still have people care one whit about them. Good villains are charismatic, unapologetic, and understandable.

Good characters and good writing aside, one can be a passable writer and still succeed, if the story is strong enough. They say there is only a finite number of stories one can tell and, that may be true, but there are infinite ways of telling that story. Don’t look at whether or not something has been done before – a case can nearly always be made that it has – focus on writing your version of that story in a way no one else can.

How many stories about kids going to magical schools are there? Harry Potter, Ms. Peregrin, the Magicians, and there are probably a solid hundred more out there. Write another one, make it yours, make it amazing. Hidden realms are everywhere – including my own books. Monster hunters, chosen ones, witches, wizards, nothing is off limits.

Apparently, I’m having a scatterbrained sort of writing day – I’d meant this post to be entirely about writers I want to grow up to be and I completely veered off topic. I’m letting it stay that way because I don’t think another pass at it would make it better.


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Writing Wednesday – Zero Drafts

First things first: Happy Valentine’s day! If you do stuff, I hope you enjoy it. If not, don’t forget, there’s usually a sale on chocolate tomorrow (I’m a sucker for good chocolate).

The other day, a relatively new to the game writer asked me about my personal process, especially as it relates to outlines. Outlines seem to be everyone’s go-to suggestion for writers but they do not work for me at all. When I outline a project, it pretty well never gets written. My process looks a little like this: Project A: Zero Draft. Project B: Zero Draft. Choose which project is the priority and which project is the treat. Rewriting to the first draft of Project A, and if I meet the minimum daily word count, I can work on Project B’s rewrite to the first draft. When the First draft of Project A is done, it gets sent to Beta readers while I work on finishing Project B’s rewrite and potentially working on Project C’s zero draft. And so on and so forth forever.

The concept of the zero draft was something I read about on Eugie Foster’s blog forever ago. Before that, I’d considered my first stage as a splat draft – both names work and are the same thing but Zero Draft sounds more professional and appealing to me so that’s what I’ve called it since then. For me, it is a start to finish, throw everything at the story, no idea is bad, point A to point Z, just the plots now story. Oftentimes, it ends up being a words only storyboard, chopped up by scene, the basic ideas conveyed but very sparse on pretty details and anything that requires detailed research. Sometimes they’re really short, 25,000 words or so and other times, they’re more or less complete novels that just need a little tweaking and come in closer to 60,000 words. The two projects I’m working on now started out on the lower word count step.

Sometimes, it feels a little like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks but it works for me. I don’t need a lot of structure or really work well with structure when I’m writing anyway – it always made for tricky work when outlines and such were part of the assignment. I tended to do it backward, write the story first then write the outline to turn in. It usually meant extra work for one week and none at all the next, when they wanted the first draft.

I am a pantser at heart. I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t know where it’s going, where it will end, or who will survive to see the end. It’s only been with this first sequel I’ve ever written that I’ve ever had any idea where my characters have been. Zero drafts are for ideas, inspiration, and a couple of plot holes. Rewrites are for smoothing it all out and actually making sure things make sense. My process doesn’t work for everyone, in fact, it doesn’t work for most people, but it works pretty well for me.

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Processes and Projects

I’m routinely getting words on books and this makes me happy in ways I can’t explain. It’s been a long time – longer than I would like to admit – since I was writing with any real regularity. I tried to get back into the swing of things with two separate NaNoWrimos and it sort of almost worked. For a month or so. I’m coming up on a month of tracking my word counts for no one but myself and I’m actually doing quite well. I’ve got my spreadsheet with all its pretty formulas to help me measure down to the word – by project, by day, by week, by month. I love statistics. We’ll see if I’m still doing it in six months… If it gets these two books that are my current priority, I’ll be happy. I would really like it to stick around though – I have so many stories to tell!

Coming up, I’m going to be doing something a bit different. At least on Wednesdays. The other day I had a long discussion with another writer about my own process because she asked and I know I’m a bit of an odd duck in that I’m not an outliner. In any case, I’m going to start running a process spotlight on some Wednesdays I think.

My foot is very unhappy today. And my elbows. The elbows are a little less troublesome but I had to take the cane to get my youngest kid off the bus, as my one foot just feels broken. It isn’t, not even a little and there is no reason for it to feel like all the little bones in my foot are grinding to dust but, hey, yay RA. *sigh* Hopefully tomorrow will be better on that front.

I’ve taken a long enough break and I should get back to writing. I’ve broken the 2500 word mark, I’d like to hit 3k today if I can so I should get back to it.

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Filed under Rheumatoid Arthritis, Writing

Counting begins today

The title is relevant to a couple of things actually when I think about it…

I turned on the MyFitnessPal app again today for the first time since my knee first exploded last year and started me down this road. Really, gaining back 20 lbs after six months of being mostly inactive, Christmas eating, stress eating, and wanting to sleep all the time isn’t so bad. Especially when I remember that some of that was also the prednisone and, as of tomorrow, unless the doc says differently Wednesday, I’m done with that! So, I’m back to counting calories and minutes of activity. It worked very well last time I was consistent with it so I just have to really push to do exactly that. I’m working on some stretching and yoga for now until the hurt knee seems better able to do more than that. Next week, I’ll dig out the fit board and listen to horrible chipper voices tell me how fat I am before reminding me that my weight isn’t balanced right. As if I didn’t know that already!

The other way the title makes sense has nothing to do with weight but with words. My short-term memory is not what it once was. If I don’t set alarms and make lists, things aren’t getting done. I think that’s going to apply to my writing also – I was doing fairly well with word counting during NaNoWriMo and I can set up a spreadsheet with all the things I work on during any given day (and I’m including all writing that’s not my personal handwritten journal) and get back to writing consistently, regardless of the tired, the fingers (which are doing much better with all the things – gloves, braces, balms etc), until I can do 10,000 words per week, 50 weeks out of the year. If I have to count to make this work then that’s what I learn to do.

I’m making weekly to-do lists and trying to do daily schedules and it’s so weird because I never used to need these sorts of things to get stuff done. I’m really not a fan of this part of things. It is what it is. This week, the count will definitely not be that high because part of my list of things to do this week is prep one of my books for the submission process and have it out by next Monday and that’s going to take more time than I’d like because it has to be as perfect as possible.

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Music and Writing

I have been listening to the same handful of songs for about a week. I know there is something in my brain that this particular list speaks to. It’s right there, just beyond my fingertips but it’s coming. The more I listen to the songs, the closer it comes. I don’t know yet exactly what it is but it feels pretty desolate and angry which feels about right for right now. I really don’t think it’s a short story. I think this is a new book brewing and I don’t think it’s related to any of the ones I’ve written before. I see big, sweeping battles amidst a barren landscape full of fire and smoke and I’m pretty sure that’s not Earth’s surface they’re fighting on.

This playlist consists of mostly Black Veil Brides with a little Godsmack, Metallica, and Sisters of Mercy thrown in for good measure. I’m looking for more in that vein right now. I’m open to suggestions if you have them, especially a female lead with a sound/feel somewhere between Otep (a little too aggressive for this project) and Myrkur (a little too ethereal for this project).

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National Novel Writing Month, for those who don’t know. I at least attempt it every year and have since 2008? I think. I don’t remember anymore how many years I’ve done it but it seems like a long time. My youngest was still pretty darn little but not tiny. I don’t “win” every year but I do more often than not and, even when I don’t, at least I was writing daily consistently.

It seems like every year, about this time (starting mid-September through October), my creativity, motivation, and drive crash while my doubts and all the angsty crap that goes with them flourish. Knowing it’s all related and all part of them same thing that happens every year doesn’t change it or stop it from sucking me in.

And every year about this time, I talk myself into Nanowrimo. 50,000 words in the span of 30 days. It is remarkably doable. And, having that goal in a place that sort of holds you accountable make it easier for me. I love deadlines. I work so much better – the writing is cleaner and crisper when I have a deadline. Nearly every year, I finish a rough draft of a novel, meeting the goal word count a few days before Thanksgiving.

My novel, Guardian of the Gods, started out as a Nano novel. It’s been through a lot of drafts and edits between then and now of course but that’s all part of the process. I have three other novels looking for homes and two of those were also Nano projects (though one has so little left of the original that I’m not sure it counts anymore and one took me well into December to finish). I don’t keep all my nano projects – there are a couple that I’ve scrapped entirely for the time being.

I am, of course, doing it again this year. I don’t plot, outline, or plan much going into Nanowrimo. I’ve got some backstory figured out and a list of characters and that’s pretty much it. I start November 1st with a blank document and see where it takes me. Sometimes the journey is a good one, others not so much, but it is always a good jump start for me after the general blah that sets in every year. Hopefully, this year’s project will be fun and I can manage to write my poor characters into some horrible corner just to see how they weasel out of it – I don’t always keep those interludes in the final product but there is no faster or cleaner way to figure out who the characters really are than to throw them into something nasty and see what happens. I almost feel bad for them.

I’ve got a stronger sense this year of what I want to do – at least tonally. This year is something post-apocalyptic (*sort of). When I wrote Guardian of the Gods, all I had to start with was one sentence: Jaffine monster hunter. Jaffine being Thosha’s (the main character) race. It turned out pretty good in the end and I hope this new one will too. For the time being, I’m calling it Demonborn (unless a better title occurs to me later). I know my main character a little bit and that’s enough for me. I can’t wait to get started but I have a lot of things to do between now and november so I have the time to commit (plus then I won’t want to just get writing already).

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Round and Round We Go

The crazy merry-go-round that is the process of seeking publication continues at strange speeds. For some publications, it is lightning fast, for others it is forming amber slow. And it’s all a bit disconcerting.

I have three novels and maybe a dozen short stories somewhere in the submission process, looking for their forever homes. I’m confident in these stories (especially the novels – so far, what rejections have come in have been personal – from publications that don’t generally do that – and complimentary) but the process is still daunting.

Every publication, publisher, and agent wants everything just differently enough to make preparing the submission or query package time-consuming. From searching through markets, looking for the appropriate ones, reformatting what needs reformatted, crafting the appropriate cover and/or query letters, and waiting for what always feels like forever for responses. It’s no wonder to me why so many are now choosing to self-publish – there’s no waiting period or chance of rejection. If only they would hire editors first.

Today I’m bouncing back and forth between market hunting and drooling over pictures and videos coming out of the San Diego Comic Con. I haven’t gotten much done on the market hunting though as I’ve been busy looking at neat stuff. As far as procrastination devices go, it’s certainly been fun! Bonus: the kids are both pretty interested in most of it too!


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Stories and Soundtracks

Some writers work best in silence. I will never be one of those writers. For me, music and writing go hand in hand. The music I listen to will influence the story I’m working on. I love Pandora because I can tailor a station to suit what I’m aiming for with any particular story.

When I’m writing fantasy, I want sweeping scores, Lindsey Stirling, and rock and roll played by orchestras. Horror will always be accompanied by classical with a little opera and the occasional bit of heavy metal. Science fiction comes from metal, punk, and various electronica. For some reason, any work with an urban fantasy flair comes with classic rock and hairbands. Right now, I’m working on something with a decidedly (I hope) cyberpunk aesthetic. For this, the Juno Reactor station has been just about perfect.

Some stories, even years later, I can remember exactly what song was playing while writing certain parts. I can’t imagine I’m the only one.  What do you write to?

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Current WIPs

I have two novels I’m working on right now. One of them is a complete rough draft and making its way through my critique group. The other is new and I’m working through it a little differently than I usually do.

Usually, I write a zero draft and revise it in its entirety before sending it to my crit group. This one, I’m working chapter by chapter instead of the whole project at once. I’m working now on revising the second chapter so it’s ready to go to my trusty critters.

I very much dislike letting anyone read my zero drafts. They are missing so many elements at that stage. A lot of the detail work, the style and voice come after I make sure the plot is going to work. If the plot doesn’t work, it won’t matter how pretty the writing is and my goal is always looking a few steps ahead of myself at possible publication.

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Not a bad problem to have

My biggest problem with my writing is this: everything wants to be a novel. I have all these great ideas and I so badly want some of them to be short stories. I want for some of these things to be able to be written, rewritten and sent off without having to go through 90,000 some words.

Writer’s block isn’t something I have to deal with very often. When I get stuck, I just change projects. That’s not to say that sometimes I can’t write but it isn’t for lack of ideas but lack of motivation or confidence.

I have this short story that I would love to keep short. Unfortunately, there’s too much story for even 10,000 words without it feeling rushed and full of info-dumps. Humbug. I have too many projects right now so it’s going to get shoved in the Sarah’s Stuck file for the next stumbling block I hit on my current projects.

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