Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A New Year? Let’s Start With...

Welcome back. Glad to see you all successfully made the transition to 2021. Crap, I mean 2022. Anyway, for me, it's been new year, new computer. Which really meant two days setting up said computer after two weeks of stressing over a new word processing program.

But that's all in the past now.

Normally I’d post this start-o’-the-year ramble (or any other post) on Thursday. But that’s one of the things I want to change up this year (more on that below). Plus there’s a chance tomorrow might be a little chaotic this year (and that chaos could come in many forms and/or directions), so I figured I’d get this out a little early.

And what is this, you ask?


Well, the ranty blog’s about writing advice. It used to be a lot more ranty, but I’ve tried to mellow out over the years. I always wanted this to be a more positive place for aspiring writers and I’m always trying to bend things that way. Less “don’t do that” and more “try to do this,” if that makes sense? A lot of times I’ll revisit a topic just so I can do it from that angle.

In the past, the majority of the posts were writing advice. Not publishing, but writing as the art of stringing words together into a narrative that will connect with an audience. That was the original point of this, to make up for the lack of basic writing advice out there. But over the past two years, with everything going on, people have asked questions about the business side of things and the greater writing meta-verse, so to speak, and I’ve been trying to help out by answering those.

The ranty blog’s also about a little bit about motivation. Helping you to sit down and get those words out. Maybe suggesting some easier ways to do something. Maybe giving you a little challenge or a tip or a trick to play with when your brain’s stuck on whatever. I’ve tried to do this a few times and a few different ways. For a lot of folks, the biggest, toughest part of writing is actually sitting down and writing, so I’m here to give you the occasional firm kick in the butt. Or a gentle one. Whatever works best for you.

Finally, if I’m doing this right, I’m giving you a little reassurance. There’s so much information flying around out there. We can go looking for it or just get smacked in the face with it on social media. How fast and productive this person is. What a great deal they got. How easy this was for them. It's easy to see something like this and feel like I must be doing something wrong. I mean, if I'm not writing 3000 words a day and I struggle with dialogue and I don't understand structure at all... maybe this just isn't for me? Hell, I only wrote 15,000 words for NaNoWriMo last year, so I must be screwing this up somehow...

If any of this sounds familiar... don't worry about it. Seriously. Hopefully I can convince you you're not wrong, you haven't screwed up, and you should definitely keep at this. Again, everybody approaches this a little differently, and just because somebody's faster or finds this part easier or accomplished that quicker doesn't necessarily mean we need to change how we're doing things.

I suppose at this point it's also fair to say I use this space for self promotion. Not a lot--I don't want to be that guy shoving a book in your face every five minutes--but when the time comes, we do what we need to do. And, y'know, I do have a new book coming out in a few weeks so.... be prepared for that.

(The Broken Room, available this spring at your favorite local bookstore, chain bookstore, or monolithic online retailer)

And if you've made it this far, a couple changes in the weeks ahead. I'm probably going to be posting a bit more... well, erratically. Still at least once a week, but it won't always be on Thursday. That was just kind of an arbitrary day and more than a few times I've felt kind of stuck and that a few things stumbled because of it. So watch for posts, y'know, whenever. Still probably a lot on Thursday, but other days, too.

Also... I may finally be migrating the ranty blog over to my own webpage-- PeterClines.Com . It's just kind of been sitting there for years and I want to get better about keeping it updated and making it somewhere for people to actually visit, y'know. Plus, that way the ranty blog's a little more under my own control and not subject to the whim of some corporation. I'll make sure you all know if it happens.

And I think that's everything. Any questions? Comments? Requests?

Next time I'm probably going to talk about the people driving this thing.

Until then... go write.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2021: The Accounting

Well, it’s that time again. Last few days of the year, holidays have flown past, the new year is looming and we’re all looking back on the past twelve months and figuring out what we got done. Was it a productive year? Was it good creatively? Mentally?

I think it’s good to do this sort of thing, personally. It’s hard to tell if I’m improving at something if I don’t keep records and establish some sort of baseline, even if it’s just being able to compare this year to last year. So I like adding all this stuff up so I can remind myself that, yeah, I really do work at this a lot. It’ a nice reminder when the imposter syndrome kicks in late at night.

Plus, let’s face it. This year, like 2020, was rough on productivity. In a lot of ways, it was much better than last year. At the same time... wow, 2021 started rough and felt like it never really got its footing. We all tried to go back to normal and for so many reasons... we couldn’t. There’s just been this lurking unease all year, about so many things—covid, politics, the supply chain. It’s like we know the killer’s somewhere in the house with us, but we’re not sure if we should bolt for the door or just stay quietly hidden here in the living room. I mean, nothing bad’s happened to us but there was some shouting and then a scream from upstairs where Randi was but she’s probably okay?  And maybe we could try opening the window and getting out that way but is it worth the risk? That window really squeaks sometimes. Maybe we’d get out, yeah, but maybe it’d be one of those things where we’ve got one leg and an arm and our head out the window and then something YANKS us back inside.

It’s been like that. For me, anyway. Maybe it wasn’t as bad for you. But if it was, you weren’t alone. This is my full time job and for the past two years... it’s been tough to focus on being creative.

Anyway... what did I do this year?

Right off the bat, it just struck me that I didn’t have a single thing come out in 2021. No novels or short stories or anything. Been a couple years since that happened.

I finished The Broken Room in January, then ended up doing another pass on it based off some talks with my agent (which actually led to a whole new chapter and some big tweaks to a few others). Then there were all the story edits and copyedits with Blackstone. Maybe worth adding in that I chipped in some creative thoughts on the marketing and cover art, even if all of those thoughts were wisely ignored. I mean, I still did that work, so we should count it. And this is the point where I shamelessly say, hey, you can preorder The Broken Room right now from your favorite local bookstore, Indiebound, or any monolithic online superstore named after a South American river.

I also did a massive outline for a six book series I’ve wanted to do for a while now. Like, a whole beginning-to-end hexalogy. Some of you may have heard me talk about it  here or there. The entire combined thing was just shy of 44K words. I also used that to make a trimmed down, 10K word pitch document for my agent, who I’d also been talking about this with for a few years.

And, hey, then I sat down and wrote the first draft of book one of said series, which came in at a terse 73K words. Like a lot of my first drafts, it had some holes and some bits I skimmed over. I just wanted to finish it because...

(dramatic break)

While my agent really liked the six book series, he also admitted it’d be a tough sell at this point. Just because of the state of the industry, the point my own career is at, and so on. We had a couple conversation about it—the kind of conversations the artistic side doesn’t’ like, but the business side knows you need to have—and, well, after finishing that first draft of Book One, I sat down and worked out  pair of outlines for two different, stand-alone books that had been tickling my brain for a while. So that was another 17k words scribbled out.

And after we talked about those two outlines, David pretty enthusiastically said I should focus on one of them. And I’m currently about 35K words into that as we speak. Hoping to have a first draft done by Valentine’s Day, maybe?

And on top of all that...

I scribbled up 52 blog posts this year, counting this one. Granted, three or four of those were cartoons, so I didn’t have to put much effort in past, y’know, posting them. But hopefully still enough that one or two of you found something useful here. Seriously, I’m never sure if this is more useful for you or therapeutic for me...

Speaking of therapy, so many Saturday geekery threads. At least forty. A lot of B-movies dissected in real time. Most bad, but some good ones, too.

I also jotted a few thousand words (maybe eight or nine) down for a geekery side project I’ll probably be launching this year. Nothing spectacular, don’t get too excited. Well, some of you may end up very excited, some will be willing to try it, and a few of you will greet this with a resounding “huh.”

And I read a lot, too. Nowhere near as much as I would’ve liked (never as much as I would’ve liked). I think I’m looking at ending the year with twenty-six novels under my belt, plus one or two non-fiction books and a ton of articles (an actual metric ton). Weirdly enough, very few comics this past year. Covid isolated me from my regular shop in LA (The House of Secrets) for most of last year, and this year I was hesitant about going to find a new place because, y’know, the killer’s somewhere here in the house.

So that’s more or less where I am.

How about you? Did you get some cool stuff done this year? Don’t worry about how much—did you get anything done? Did you carve out a little time and manage to  do something in your chosen field of creativity?

Again, don’t beat yourself up over what you didn’t do. There’s a lot of stuff we all didn’t do. This is about celebrating what we did. Taking note of it. Figuring out what we need to do so we can improve next time.

And speaking of next time...

When next we meet it’ll be 2022. I’ve got a couple topics I plan to blather on about. Was going to talk about plot and character a bit, perhaps touch on how long things can take to write (or how long it can take to get a career going), maybe talk a bit about making things up. And maybe some of that will sound interesting to you. Or maybe you’ve got something that’s been gnawing at you and you’d like to hear me blather on about. If that’s the case, drop a comment down below or over on Twitter or Instagram.

So until next time, please have a safe and happy New Year, please get your shots if you haven’t already, and please please please...

Go write.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Going With It

Holy crap how is this year almost over? Why is time moving so fast? What did all of you do? Who touched the red button?!?!

So, not to keep mining the past, but I wanted to talk about one more thing that came up at the SDCC Writers Coffeehouse. During the Q & A someone asked what I generally think of as an “impossible” question—although just looking at that written out I really should find a better term. See, it’s not so much that these questions are impossible to answer, it’s that there’s really only one person who can give a definitive answer. And it’s usually the person asking the question.

Y’see, there are questions that are very specific to my story, and the “correct” answer for me probably isn’t going to be the same correct answer for you. Things like, how many characters should I have in an ensemble? What’s the correct point of view to use? How much sex is too much? How much detail do I really need? See what I mean? There’s no real way to answer that unless I know the whole story, how it’s written, the context things are happening in...

Somebody at the Coffeehouse asked (paraphrasing from memory here) “how many made up words can you have in your first couple pages before an editor stops reading?” And my immediate answer was, well, I couldn’t really answer that. Again, the right answer for me won’t be the right answer for you, and said answer’s going to change from book to book.

But about a week later it struck me there is a way that we, as writers, can at least get a sense of if something’s disruptive or not. And that’s by being aware of the flow of our work. So let’s talk about that a little bit.

I think we’re all aware of flow on one level or another. I first heard the term from a writing coach named Drusilla Campbell, but I knew what she was talking about as she explained it. Paraphrasing a bit more, she described it as why some books you can’t put down and other books make you think about how  the laundry needs folding.

I’d say flow is equal parts pacing, tone, and empathy. It’s about me understanding what’s going to jar my reader, either by nature of structure or material or vocabulary. What’s going to make them pause to remember these are just words on a page and not actual events. It’s about me stepping out of the way and not trying to be seen as the author. Letting people read my story rather than analyzing it. Really simply put, flow is what keeps people in my story instead of, well, knocking them out of it.

And that brings us to using words we’ve made up. Could be a simple portmanteau or clever bit of wordplay. Maybe terms from a technology we made up. Or a secret dark order. Maybe even a whole language. But I have to be careful, because  there’s a good chance I could kawonk someone right out of the story if I’m using a lot of words I’ve made up.

You all see what I did there, right? Or maybe you didn’t. Kawonk is a nonsense pile of letters I threw together, but in context you kind of understood what I was saying with it almost immediately. Some of you may not even have really registered it as a made up word and just read it as a funny onomatopoeic sound effect or something.

But something can only work in context when I understand the context. So the more words I swap out with made up ones, the less chance there is of my readers understanding what I’m trying to say. Like if I told you we needed to kawonk this dreeenil ptoob before we niknik ptar the cheegles. I mean, if we hit a sentence like that we’re going to instinctively stop and start parsing the structure to figure out what this whoa I just broke the flow, didn’t I?

And even if there is plenty of context, it can get annoying to read something where I’ve decided to substitute existing words with made up ones for no real reason. Say, for example, people in my fantasy world all duel with scheevs. Some are cheap and crudely made, some are works of art, but most people have one. You see, a scheev is a narrow, double-edged blade about 24 to 30 inches long (originally iron or bronze, but mostly steel now), with a strong grip, some sort of protective guard or crosspiece between the blade and the grip, and often a small counterweight at the base that also locks the blade in place. And if you’re thinking, wait, did I just spend a whole paragraph describing a sword you are correct.

Except here they’re called scheevs. For... reasons.

And again, imagine how frustrating that paragraph would be if instead of bronze and steel it talked about droker and ogyed, flokks instead of inches, and an oppomass instead of a counterweight. Hopefully I didn’t make up my own numerical system, Think about pausing to dig through all of that and try to glean a meaning out of it and realizing we’re just talking about goddamn swords.

I don’t know about you, but that’d bring things to dead halt for me as I groan and rub my eyes.

‘Cause here’s the thing we always to remember. Weird as it may sound, the words I use don’t really matter. I mean, of course they’re important and they’ll bring nuance to the story. But that’s my point—the story is what matters. The characters matter. The plot matters. The actual words are just a delivery device. They’re the corn chip getting all that delicious salsa and guacamole into or mouths. And if I’m focusing a lot of my time and energy on coming up with a new way to say corn chip, that’s a good sign something’s probably going wrong in my writing.

I’m not saying don’t make up words. I mean, I put squale out there into the world. But there should be a reason for them being in my story, and the reason should be better than “I wanted to make things sound different.” Ultimately, they should be adding to my story, not distracting from it. Definitely not knocking me out of it to diagram sentences, glean meaning, or just grind my teeth in frustration.

Next time...

Okay, this was super late, so next time will be in three days. And I’ll probably be talking about the holidays.

Until then, go write.

Let’s be honest, we’re not going to get a lot more in before 2022, so try to make it count.