Trapped by Details: an Epiphany

One of the side effects of a medication I’ve been taking for a couple of months is insomnia — serious lack of sleep. There are moments when I think this could be a good thing because the hazy state between sleeping and waking is often the source of ideas and insights — and there has been a lot of hazy state . Alas, those ideas and insights seldom carry over into the daylight hours. If I could just lie there in the dark and dictate into a recorder, who knows what marvels of novelistic fiction I could create. Well, that’s never going to happen, but once in a while, something worth pursuing does survive until morning and daylight.

A recent night was one of those frustrating on/off sleep/wake stretches that had me wanting to just get up, wander around the apartment, find something to do, and forget about sleep altogether. But I stuck it out and let my mind do the wandering. And what happened was that I had a sort of vision. I haven’t been able to write at all for the last two or three months, so part of the night’s mental meandering is often about trying to select the ongoing WIP most likely to have a chance of sucking me in and getting my fingers back on the keyboard. Gift of the Ancien is always one of those being considering — and discarded.

But last night, I saw that novel in an entirely new way. It was as if I was standing off from an actual, physical construct, and seeing it as an object independent of details like voice or characterization, and stripped of my personal interest in and attachment to it. I can’t regain much of the feelings I had about this new view, but the image itself is still fairly clear in my mind — and its meaning. Although I can’t reconstruct or explain how I came to it, the meaning of the image is that this particular novel (and several others), has been a challenging puzzle to work out, and that challenge is completely independent of the novel’s importance to me. In other words, I’ve been sucked into an ongoing attempt to solve a puzzle (or a handful of puzzles), fascinated by the challenge just as certainly as any game player. It’s the intricacies of that particular story that I’m attempting to work out, without any consideration of whether it has enough value to me to justify the time and energy I’m putting into it.

I also had brief glimpses of a couple of the other WIPs being bounced around as possible ways out of the black hole of wordlessness. Most of the insights are gone, damn it, but there was the sense, however vaguely I can see or express it now, that those WIPs had value apart from the details. Their value — their meaning — to me, personally, was more important than the puzzles they represent, or the working out of the puzzles. Ancien, on the other hand, even though it would have value as a published novel, and possibly of more value than the others, has no other value to me.

On a superficial level, this all boils down to the question of why I write: for money, or for myself. But now I can see it isn’t that at all. The real question is: is this a story I really care about, for its own sake, or is it just a container for intriguing puzzles? I turns out that anything I write for myself has a boundary far beyond me. It’s an idea or collection of ideas, that I hope will draw readers looking for more than entertainment. Of course, every novel is a series of puzzles to work out; maybe that’s a big part of the appeal for writers, especially writers who aren’t particularly successful in the fame and fortune arena.

I still haven’t settled on a WIP to drag me out of the creativity black hole, but at least I have a better basis for making that selection. Ancien, as strongly as its puzzles fascinate me, needs to be put aside where it can’t tempt and distract me. The same is true of several other WIPs in various stages of development. Maybe if I can get them shoved under the carpet and use the imagery from my vision, I’ll find the piece that will inspire me to get back to writing.

 

 

The Gratitude Attitude

There’s one thing that I can truly appreciate about Christmas: the day before, the day, and the day after, and how real life comes to a screeching halt. If I have anything that I seriously want to attend to during that period, there’s little to distract me. Most of my life is spent in front of my computer and on the internet, so when the web quiets down and removes the temptation to surf instead of work, that’s something to be grateful for. And I am.

I’ll be staying home tomorrow, as I usually do, working on one of my major WIPs, Bentham’s Dream. I don’t know how long my mind will stay free of the paralysis that’s gripped it ever since November 8, but I don’t plan to let the opportunity slip, if I can help it. I just finished a read-through of the first-draft 25,000 pages, to refresh my memory, and it’s easy to see what needs work. It’s very rough, of course, but not so bad that I’ll have to throw away much material.

I’ve had plenty of time over the last few months, to work out plot points, and how to revise what  needs to be revised. The story only has two characters, so it’s very much a talking heads kind of thing. How to liven it up, and what POV to use have been the major problems. I think I have them licked, so I hope I can now say “full speed ahead.”

I still intend for it to be the anchor in a story collection, so whatever plans I have for expanding it, I want it to remain no longer than novella length. Considering that I originally saw it as a short story, that’s quite a change.

It would be nice to have two pieces ready to publish early next year, Bentham’s Dream and Camp Expendable, but that depends on how long my ambitious mood holds out. My fingers are crossed.

A No-Writing Day, But Still Productive

If I don’t get my butt in gear, this will be two days without any work on Camp Expendable. Except — I did find the graphics for the cover. It will be a photo of a razor wire fence against a faded background of desert vegetation. It will involve slicing the fence photo into three pieces, so that will be a new bit of manipulation I’ll have to learn.

The fence photo came from Canva, a site that helps you design your own covers, flyers, etc. Anything graphic. All I wanted was a decent photo, but when I have the time, I’ll be looking at some of their design tutorials. It’s a good place to start learning if you plan to design your own book covers.  The fence photo was $1.00, but the desert pic came from Pixabay, a site for free public domain graphics.

Also paid for Yojimbo today, even though I have close to a month left of the free trial. It didn’t take long to be convinced this is the perfect organizer for me. I started to write a blog post about it this morning, but after I inserted a graphic, I somehow managed to erase half of what I’d written. WordPress’s Media and I don’t get along. Tomorrow, maybe?

Books, books, books. Bought three of the books on my Amazon wish list: Facing the Death Penalty, Stein on Writing, and The Death House. The wish list is a good place to store books that I’m not sure I’ll want, or that are too expensive right now. And of course, those that I plan to buy soon. The Death House is one that I considered just too expensive, so I jumped on it today when it went on sale for $1.99, down from either $6.99 or $7.99. I don’t remember which. This one happened to be in the Daily Deals today, but I sometimes find books reduced when I skim through my wish list.

Also tracked down the title and author of a book I need to replace eventually. I was only able to rescue about 1/4 of my books when I moved, and every so often, I remember one that I didn’t really want to lose.

Added a new page to the sidebar: Work in Progress. It has a little bit about each of the six writing projects I’ll be giving most of my attention for the next few months. I might include a snippet from each, when I can get around to it.

Successes, Fails, and Other Stuff

By 10:15 this morning, my Kindle had finished recharging, a loaf of bread was just getting started in the bread machine (fresh, hot bread for lunch – maybe a grilled cheese sandwich), did more detective work trying to find the file that ProWritingAid’s Scrivener beta will not let go of. So, two successes and a failure. I guess I’ll give up on the detective work and turn it over to PWA’s staff. Maybe someone there knows a secret place where deleted files go to hide.

A bigger failure was my second attempt to do the social/promotion thing on Amazon’s Write On. Maybe I just hadn’t tried hard enough or had enough patience the first time around. But posting work-in-progress doesn’t have much chance of generating sales down the line if you write the kind of stuff that doesn’t attract very many readers. It’s nice that the few people who do read enjoy it, but it takes more time than I can spare. To be noticed at all, you have to read and comment on stories that others have posted. Finding something that doesn’t make me hit the back button on the first page is like looking for the needle in that old haystack.

Amazon, in their well-meaning but clumsy way, tipped me over to the Quit side of the fence I was sitting on. The site gives you a feed of updates from the stories you’re following, and comments from people you follow. The new front page design is so obnoxious that the majority of people commenting on it on the forum hated it. There are times when I like to hang around just to find out “what happens next,” but this wasn’t one of them. Goodbye, Amazon. I tried. I really did.

Which leaves me with Google+, which I’ve been neglecting, and this blog. It’s a truism that only other writers read writing blogs, and they aren’t your potential buyers. Some say yes when it comes to posting work-in-progress, and others say no. I say maybe. It worked for me when I posted my first novel on my Live Journal blog, as it was being written. But that was several years ago. You can’t count of doing the same thing twice and winning.

I’ll adding a Work-in-Progress page to the sidebar as soon as I decide what I want to include. And I’ll be posting chapters now and then, but not entire novels. I might serialize shorter works when I get to them.

I’m still playing with Yojimbo and liking it more all the time. It’s so easy to drop stuff in there, that would otherwise be cluttering up my desktop. I got around to reading the manual yesterday and discovered that you can drag a picture onto a folder, the same way you can change your Apple folders. The first graphics I tried didn’t show up very well, so I went on a hunt at Pixabay this morning and fancied up some of my Yojimbo Collections, which is a fancy name for folders.

Another small success was reconstructing how I’d managed to send a photo from my phone to my computer way back when I was still trying to figure out how to live with a mobile. Bluetooth doesn’t work, which would have been the easy way. But it’s done now, and here you see the results — a rather uninspiring photo of my paper note board. I’m about 99% digital but laying out scribbled notes still have some advantages for my visual comprehension. This is random notes for Set Me Free.

Paper notes

 

 

 

 

 

The bread is smelling great, and it’s barely started rising. Grilled cheese on homemade bread. Go ahead and drool.

500 Words a Day?

500 words a day shouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve written as much as 3,000 a day during NaNoWriMo, but I’ve also gone for weeks without writing a single word. Problem is, I get bored easily, and have so many WIPs that it’s way too easy to jump from one to another when I hit a tough spot that I don’t want to deal with. The net result is that I wind up frustrated with having too many things to work on, and end up unable to write at all.

Scrivener has been largely responsible for my becoming a writer at all, so now I’m hoping that one of its features will keep me from giving up altogether. I’ve never been one to set a daily word count goal, except during NaNo. Even then, it took being motivated to get to that 50,000 word pot of gold to keep me at it. And a big part of that was the stats page, which gave me a visual picture of how I was doing.

Scrivener’s stats aren’t as extensive as NaNo’s, but it does have a “target” feature that sets a daily count and shows a progress bar that gradually shifts from red to deep green. With the negative-count feature set, it keeps the count up to date even when I delete material. Leaving that little box on-screen is a nice motivator. I just hope that it’s a sufficient one. I started with a goal of 250 words Tuesday. Pretty pathetic, but a big step after a long dry spell. I ended the day with a little over 500 words, so Wednesday, I pulled up my writer pants, set the goal at 500 words and pushed a little beyond. Today’s goal is still 500 words, and I’m going to stick with that for a while, and try to get into a solid writing groove before upping the count any further.

The WIP that I’m dealing with right now is a short story that I’m expanding into a novella. Revision is just as mind-straining as editing, so I’m hoping that the color bar will be enough to keep me from jumping to another project to relieve the pressure. I’m also thinking about serializing it, either here or on my website, to add an extra bit of motivational push. Self-discipline isn’t one of my top characteristics, so I need all the help I can get.

This and That

It’s a week and a half to NaNoWriMo, and I’ve done about as much getting ready as I can. I plan to write at least seven stories, with three more as backups if the seven don’t come to 50,000 words. But I think they will. One is a spin-off from a novel that I started, but if the story comes off well, maybe I won’t bother with the novel. After all, it isn’t as if I don’t have enough projects hanging.

Like last year, I’m approaching NaNo without either excitement or nerves. After four successful years, I know how to do it with the least amount of stress, so I’ll keep working on other projects throughout the month. For a little while, I was thinking about ditching the story collection, leaving it until December or January, and picking up on an idea I’d sketched out a few years ago and had started to write. But the stories are higher priority.

The other idea has “ripened,” a process that seems to be the way my writing projects develop. It’s ready to be written, one of those rare ones that’s so clearly laid out in my mind that I know everything that’s going to happen and how it will end. Considering that I almost discarded it completely at one point, that ripeness is a gift. So I’ve been plugging away at it the last few days and making slow but respectable progress. 5,000 words so far.

I’m still working at expanding A Perfect Slave, and have made notes for a sequel, An Imperfect Slave.

Ideas for Set Me Free keep coming, but for now, I’m still writing short fragments, and concentrating on the research. I’ve settled on three of the men who will each get their own chapter. I’d like to have four, and I know who I’d like to include, but it’s a complicated situation with no real resolution in sight. It will probably be at least a year before I can consider publication, so maybe it will work itself out before then.

 

Which WIP and Why

A Perfect Slave is in the last stages of readiness for publishing. Nothing but laziness is keeping me from refining the back matter, checking the formatting and doing the conversions to .doc and .mobi. My mind has already moved on to selecting the next WIP to complete. And I’m having a hard time with it.

There are plenty of advantages to having a number of WIPs online, and one big disadvantage: which one to pick next. I’ve kept working on several, off and on, including another story in the hand slaves world. I’ve been back and forth about completing that one or writing any more hand slaves stories at all. And I’ve decided to keep on with it for one reason: they sell better than anything else I’ve written. I suppose that’s a concession to the money mentality, but it has nothing to do with getting rich (will never happen) or even buying more goodies for myself (I’m not much of a goodies victim).

My income is just above the poverty level, and I’ve found that Medicare is more likely not to be there when you need it than it is to do what it’s supposed to. More important, there are causes that I want to support financially since I’m not in a position to volunteer for anything. The money I earn from my writing, as little as it is, gives me the leeway to send a check now and then to one of those causes.

So, I’m doing a read-through of The Warden, but I’m not sure that’s the one I want to work on next. I’m trying to finish up the major WIPs, more or less in the order they appeared, which means that Gift of the Ancien would come next. It’s the most likely of all my WIPs to attract a larger number of readers than I usually get, but the least interesting for me. If I pick something that’s closer to the direction I’m moving in, it would be A Well-Educated Boy, about  the privatization of public schools, and the methods which might be used in the future to ensure students’ conformity and obedience. The chances of that selling well are probably zero.

What I really need is two of me.

Why it’s a Miracle that I Ever Finish Anything

I’m halfway through the final edit of Gift of the Ancien and have been opening it every day for a week or more, and closing it again without even looking at it. It’s time to face reality. I can’t stand the sight of that book right now, and there’s no point driving myself crazy with it. So it’s back to The Warden for a while.

I’ve done four chapters so far today, and even though I don’t expect to finish this draft before November rolls around, it feels good to be working on it again. Enough time has elapsed since I last tackled it, that I have a much clearer vision of what changes need to be made and how to write the ending. Getting far, far away for a while really does make a huge difference.

As usual, a lot of what it needs is fleshing out, more detail, and replacing words that just lie there on the page with words that actually do something. “Looks” gives way to “glares,” “gazes,” “stares,” or whatever will help convey a relevant emotion. Maybe it’s just old age creeping up, but sometimes I feel as if my vocabulary is deteriorating. The thesaurus is my helping hand. Not to find five-dollar words, but to remind me of alternates that my memory can’t seem to dredge up.

39 days more and I’ll have one more WIP to add to the pile.

Works in Progress

New link in the top-of-the-page menu — WIPs. A few things that I’ve been working on, some further along than others. May add other WIPs now and then, and chunks of new text when and if I get around to it.

WIPs and Productivity

This isn’t too well thought out, just a random linking of a couple of ideas. There’s been an article going the rounds about how novelists are being pressured by their publishers to turn out more product. I use “product” deliberately, because books are regarded more and more as disposable entertainment, for which there’s an endless appetite. This view of books is about making money.

Indie authors don’t have publishers breathing down their backs, but there’s lots of noise about not letting your readers forget about you in the too-long intervals between books. So the two situations look very much alike. They aren’t. The trad-published author is under contract and wishes to continue the relationship with their publishers. They also, if they’re being put under that kind of pressure, have a backlist of successful books and an audience waiting for more. Finally, they’re probably accustomed to a leisurely writing schedule (this obviously doesn’t apply to some of the top residents of the best-seller lists), and are now going to have to come up with commercially viable ideas more quickly and turn them out faster.

Indie authors, on the other hand (and this applies to most but not all), are in the process of establishing themselves. They don’t have huge audiences yet, so some degree of speed is appropriate in keeping the readers they have and gathering in more. Every new book eventually becomes part of the backlist, which is what new readers are going to want to find when they’ve read and enjoyed the latest one. So, by every practical measure, it makes sense to write as many books as you can, as quickly as you can. But not so quickly that you skip the essentials — good stories, careful editing.

Where are the WIPs in all this? I’m beginning to think of them as a kind of secret weapon, one that established authors may not be able to take advantage of because they have to be so focused and self-disciplined in order to meet publishers’ deadlines. I’ve read complaints about the ideas that these authors have stashed away and that they simply don’t have time for — novels that they want to write for themselves rather than the publisher. I don’t doubt that some of those ideas have been annotated, possibly outlined, and maybe even started. But the publisher calls and the money needs to keep rolling in.

For indies, the only deadlines are the ones we set for ourselves. We’re probably less disciplined because so many of us do get sidetracked by the newest attractive idea instead of sticking to one novel and forgetting everything else until it’s finished. (A late thought — I don’t think I’ve heard of many professional writers talking about their WIPs.)

And then there’s the money. There isn’t enough of it yet for us to become dependent/addicted enough that it’s a strong motivation to stay on track. That’s a disadvantage when it comes to self-discipline, but it’s also an advantage. The advantage is that we have the freedom to experiment, to goof off, make mistakes, and spread ourselves around.

That freedom has risks, of course. You can waste too much time and accomplish nothing, you can keep making the same mistakes because there’s nobody to tell you you’re making them, and you can spread yourself too thin. So maybe we need a rule for WIPs. You can never have too many WIPs, but you can’t let them distract you from finishing one at a time.

How do I define a WIP? It’s an idea that is clear enough in your mind that you’ve made notes about the plot and characters, done some outlining if that’s your thing, and even written parts of some scenes or lines of dialogue.  You can never have too many WIPs because they’re your guarantee that you’ll never be totally at a loss for the next novel or story. They’re your rescuers when you’re temporarily burned out on the current work and need to switch off to something different for a while. Burnout time is wonderful for wandering around your WIPs, adding an insight here and some dialogue there. Then, when the current novel is finished and you’re looking to start the next one, you may be surprised that one or two of the WIPs is far enough along that you actually have a novel-in-progress.

All this came together for me as I was trying to make a decision about Camp NaNo. I realized that 1. the proposed novel still has a lot of unresolved plot points that would hang me up in June. 2. I would have to (for the third or fourth time) stop work on a novel that I very much want to get finished and out of my hair. But — the notes and scene outline for the proposed novel are far enough along that I’ve built up some momentum. This is the WIP that I can keep working on for the next few months whenever I have a spare moment or need a break, and that will be ready for the biggie — November’s NaNoWriMo. And there are others lined up right behind it, waiting their turn.

Like the Making of a Pearl

I just had a very strange idea. I don’t know what inspired it, but it reminds me of the way a pearl is created. A pearl starts with something irritating in the shell of an oyster. Little by little, calcium carbonate is laid down over the irritation until a pearl is formed. At least, that’s the general idea.

My idea was probably born of frustration, which is a kind of irritation. The frustration comes from having so many stories in some stage of incompletion, and knowing that some of them are simply going to languish until I have time to get to them, maybe not for years. That frustration means that every now and then, I’ll jump into one of those languishing stories and add a bit to it. The keyword/expression is “every now and then.” But what if I did that on a regular basis, as part of my normal writing day? What if I devoted half an hour or an hour a day to randomly running through my stories and adding whatever I could? Eventually, one by one, they’d all be complete, maybe much sooner than if they had to wait for my full attention.

The idea fits my grasshopper mind perfectly. Even when I’m in the obsessive throes of working on a major project, my thoughts wander to those WIPs and I feel the frustration that makes me want to allow myself to be sidetracked for a while. I love the notion that I could be creating pearls.