And what is this, you ask?
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
Tuesday, December 28, 2021
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.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...
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.”
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.
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...
Monday, December 20, 2021
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.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?
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.
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.