The Quick and Dirty

So where have I been and where’s that book I promised you – a year ago?

Truth of the matter is, my dear dedicated reader, that it’s been a long nasty road that I’m not done traveling yet and I can confirm has been seeded liberally with landmines.  The gist of it? I picked up a part time job because editing is expensive. Various important appliances (computers, cars, you know the things I need to live) have broken down and been jury rigged into a state of “please don’t die just yet.” My grandmother has had a stroke, recovered and gone home, had another and resigned herself to hospice care for what will very possibly be the rest of her life. Mom made great strides in her own health that all came crashing down like a castle of cards as soon as her mother got sick and I didn’t help matters much by immediately catching a flu so bad it reminded us both that people can still die from the common cold.

It’s been bad, dear dedicated, and it’s likely nowhere near done being bad just yet. While I’ve been occupied with all of that I’ve gone and let this vital lifeline grow dangerously thin and that’s not helped matters one bit. A writer that isn’t writing is a very unstable and hazardous person indeed. So in the interest of getting healthier (while still recovering from that monster flu) I’m preping “Toxic Ash” for paperback release and working on the rewrites of “Tasting Ash.” It’s slow going, a little like an athlete that’s been out of competition for a long while, gained a bit of a gut and a lot of self hate, before finally starting to train again more for their sanity than for any love of the game itself.

I don’t love editing. Editing is a very special kind of hell that’s only true competition is the dreaded formatting for paperback publication that will come next. But there’s a very special kind of healing magic to be found in reading your old work over again. A kind of wonder and ego boosting pride to read a few pages that aren’t half bad and realize that maybe you don’t suck half as bad as the mangled manuscript you’ve been wrestling with off and on for a year has led you to believe. That maybe, just maybe, you can polish this old turd into a diamond after all. You’re not entirely sure of the exact alchemy you’ll have to perform, to transform turds to diamonds, but there before you is the proof that you’ve done it before and you’ll do it again and again and again.

Probably.

So long as you can just keep with it long enough.

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“Writers Write” Is That Really Too Much To Ask?

I’m in the middle of NaNoWriMo and polishing off a novel I’ve been struggling with for about two years now but something was making the rounds of my independent author feeds the other day that rubbed me such a wrong way I stopped what I was doing and took a minute to reply that turned into an hour and several paragraphs. Ain’t no one got time for that shit in that format so I had to snip it out and bring it here.

Basically it’s the idea that the golden rule of being a writer, the simple life affirming maxim that “writers write,” was just too much. Inspiring guilt and angst in people with *gasp* actual lives and responsibilities outside of their writing.  Because failing to write, every day, every second. Every. Possible. Moment. Brings with it such horrible feelings of guilt and sorrow.

I don’t have any problems with the phrase “writers write.” There’s nothing in that short phrase that sets your potential pace; it simply, succinctly, draws you to put words to paper; again and again, put words to paper.

Your pace is your own, there are some well renowned novelists that couldn’t manage more than a single word a day, maybe a paragraph a month. Do you think they sat in front of their blank pages staring at them constantly for the entirety of that time? No. They lived their lives. They went to work, took care of their families, went to war or walked across the country. Did they feel guilty for every moment that they weren’t putting words on paper? Who knows, most of them are dead now so we can’t ask but I highly doubt that they did.

If the phrase, “writers write” is causing you some distress it’s because of your own issues with how much you write. It means you know you could find time to write a little bit more often but you’re not, hence the guilt. If you’re really doing all you can and truly don’t have the time for your writing, there won’t be room for guilt.

However if you know you could have written but instead you watched another episode of your favorite TV show, read another chapter of someone else’s work or did something else that’s trivial instead of feeding the beast within you that is your writing, then you’ll feel guilty. You’ll feel guilty because you betrayed yourself, that phrase didn’t betray you. “Writers write” didn’t set the bar so high that you couldn’t help but fail to meet it, that would be you doing that. So stop, reevaluate and either put that bar someplace you can actually reach or stretch and make sure you meet your own expectations.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s 5 p.m. and I’ve got two thousand more words to get out of my head and onto paper.

Scrivener Series: Export Draft

Scrivener-LogoThis is the sixth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener  write entire novel series. Be sure to check out my writing process post for quick links to the currently published posts and a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

In a perfect world (but unfortunately not the current reality) the novel in it’s umpteenth draft is finally complete and I’m ready to move it out of Scrivener for final edits prior to formatting. Why export now and not after the final edits? Two reasons.

Formatting

Ebooks have different formatting needs depending on your method of distribution and print on demand books have even more formatting hells to go through before you can hold your book in your hands. Scrivener is awesome in so very many ways but when it comes to the down and dirty of formatting the ‘nuclear’ option is usually the best possible starting point.

The ‘nuclear’ option is where you take your completed edited and beautiful novel in all it’s glory and strip it of all formatting, before painstakingly reapplying it all in a pre-approved method that works with the distributors guidelines.

Scrivener is an awesome tool and it’ll allow you to customize your formatting as you go and export just as you tell it to – but it only takes one little squiggle of errant coding to get your novel rejected by the distributor for puzzling and seemingly invisible reasons. To cut that headache out before it can grow roots deep into your precious gray matter, a preemptive strike is necessary.

A Different Perspective

It’s the second reason you’re going to export before you edit. Everyone’s editing process is different but many can agree that seeing your novel in a different way really helps you to find those stubborn errors and weed them out before sending things out to your editor. Some prefer to print the novel out in it’s entirety and work with a red pen directly on paper.

I on the other hand, find that a staggering waste of paper and ink. Simply exporting the novel into a different program is usually enough of a fresh view for me.

How To?

This is so wonderfully simple it makes all the formatting to come look like exactly what it is, a rather annoying uphill slog that takes lots and lots of time away from your writing your next novel (so if you’ve got the cash to spend you should totally have someone else do the final formatting for you but you’ll still need to export from Scrivener first).

In your Scrivener document, go to the first scene of the first chapter and look in the general metadata tab. Click the “Inlcude in Compile” option. You’ll have to do that for every scene in your novel. You can do it for every chapter as well but I find that the extra break was not actually useful in the final Word doc.

Once you’ve checked all the scenes in your novel go up to File->Compile. A window will pop up and you’ll have a chance to look over your entire Scrivener project file and make sure you’ve included everything you wanted to in the new document. You’ll see you can also fiddle with formatting and page layout but again I’d just ignore those options at this point. Compile as .doc for a Word compatible document and then hit “compile.”

Easy peasy.

Scrivener Series: Re-outline, Reorder, Rewrite

Scrivener-LogoThis is the fifth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener  write entire novel series. Be sure to check out my writing process post for quick links to the currently published posts and a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

By now I’ve been writing up a storm in the universe of my novel. It’s still a very random storm but it’s starting to coalesce into something nice and terrifying, a molten doom planet of madness.

At this point in the process things are really humming along. I’ve stopped writing random scenes, finished digging up facts and compiling them for easy reference while I write and finished my first chapter, second chapter, maybe my third and fourth. By now I’ve got a pretty sizable word count (say around about 50k) on my hands and I should be sitting on cloud nine knowing that all is write with my world.

But I’m not.

Something is wrong – very, very wrong – with each paragraph, no, with each and every word, the certainty grows. Wrong, all wrong and getting worse fast. Part of me screams that I’m in too deep! There’s no turning back now! If it’s that wrong I’ll have to toss more than half of the book! Despair overwhelms me and my head hits the desk. Repeatedly.

But there’s hope, thanks to Scrivener!

Re-outline

When I wrote my first novel and came to the point where I realized it all just didn’t work, things weren’t flowing properly the pace was stagnant and dead and I couldn’t figure out how to write myself out of the muck I’d made for myself – I tossed the whole thing in a drawer and left it there, for five years. I’d have thrown it out entirely (that came later to my second novel when it hit a similar sticking point) but I still thought that maybe somewhere in the future, maybe when novels were written entirely with software linked directly to our brains, it could be saved. Eventually I came back to it, printed the whole thing out, marked up each page with notes and created a separate document for an entirely new outline while I ripped it apart and tried to put the pieces back together in a way that made more sense than the original. It was a mess, painful, frustrating process that involved many paper cuts and printer ink refills before I was ready to continue with the story again.

I don’t recommend it. All told, from start to finish, that novel (“The Uncertainty of Death”) took seven bloody years to complete. Not nearly fast enough to come close to earning a living as a writer. My second novel (a horror novel I might start again someday) went straight into the trash and when my third (“Ash of Ambitions”) hit a similar, though slightly less throat-slitty, wall I was kind of beside myself with frustration and self loathing.

I began using Scrivener with “In the Absence of Famine” and didn’t hit quite the same wall but with “Toxic Ash” I didn’t just hit it – it fell on me. There was a moment of black panic as the weight of the thousands and thousands of words I’d already written slammed down on me. Then the dust settled and I was able to realize I could fix it, starting with the outline and working my way out.

Old-OutlineFinal-Outline

Pictured above are side by side screens of my outline before the wall and after. Just the first few sections as I rearranged things mostly by manually copy/pasting from one section of my Scrivener document to the other. Sometimes adding in connections that were missing or deleting connections that were present in the previous. The evolution of the outline is obvious though it’s hard to really get a feeling for the flow seeing it this way but these first few sections were also the most heavily reordered. Again, this part was the only manual copy/pasting I really had to do largely thanks to the next section.

Reorder

I believe I’ve covered Scrivener’s handy dandy ability to move notes, scenes and even entire chapters around with a mouse click before. This is only one of many moments where it really shines. My novel’s Scrivener structure is pretty basic: each novel is a folder, with that folder each chapter is another folder, within those folders each scene is a document. In my outlines it averages out that each numbered section is about a chapter and the subsections are scenes (more or less, remember it’s an imprecise map).

So once I’ve edited my outline/map it’s a simple thing to move around the scene/chapters to match. Pretty much click and drag. A far cry from my days with a dozen pens, hundreds of papers and paperclips and a million paper cut/migraine combos.

Since this was my first time trying this method (just encase I decided later that I wanted to go back to the beginning again) I copied everything I had done so far and moved them all to temporary folders within each chapter, then copied those sections so I could play with the order without losing the old order. Not strictly necessary but gives me an easy backup point if I need it. That just leaves one more step.

 Rewrite

This is probably the hardest part. Reading through your reordered chapters and scenes, making connections and transitions, checking for plot holes, sometimes rewriting entirely from scratch. There really isn’t much I can say about this slog except that at least it’s better than editing!

Now you’ve got the most drastic rewrite out of the way and it’s been hard, very hard, but it hasn’t been turn your eyes away from writing for years and years and hate yourself and your work and the gods and anyone else that looks at you cross eyed and asks about that “book” you were “writing” kind of hard. Which is actually almost easy by comparison. So we’ll call it “easy” and wink when we say it.

Next up on my Scrivener Series: exporting the draft!

Don’t forget if you want to skip the extra blather about my writing process and just go to the next book release, you can always sign up for email notification!

Scrivener Series: Final Outline

Scrivener-LogoThis is the fifth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener to write help me write entire novel series. Be sure to check out the previous installments (Bible, Wallowing) or check out my writing process post for a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

At this point I’ve got timelines for everyone new, I know when they were born and what shaped them into the horrible horrible people I know and want my readers to love; I’ve also given every major character and the antagonists in the novel their own outlines for the book. So you’d think I had a pretty good idea of what’s gonna happen when and could just get to writing the thing.

Nothing is ever that simple.

Final Outline

Outline

I’ve said before that the Final Outline is a map of the novel but there’s still room for plenty exploration and getting lost along the way. Before I can even get to the final outline however, I’ve got to get all these headstrong characters’ actions and reactions to merge in a single continuous timeline – and of course they have other ideas.

With “Toxic Ash” whose final outline is pictured above, I came to the final outline with five individual outlines (Ash, Buddy Jenkins, Caliban & Caine, Helen) and while the main points line up somewhat in each individual outline, timing, reaction, action and when each individual character wants something to happen – don’t line up at all. Usually it’s close. Very very close. Close enough that I’m often tempted to just merge them together like shuffling a deck of cards and trust it’ll all work out.

Unfortunately it’s more like shuffling several different decks of tarot cards, one for each character outline, and that means you’re going to end up with one heck of a muddled reading. Two or more Death cards will appear, two or more Devils, Lovers and Fools; not together probably just far enough out of sync to make deciphering the resultant mess a real headache.

So you start over. From the very first scene, letting the characters outlines inform their actions in each scene (a headache and also a big help, especially in the Eldritch Elysium series which is all mostly from one characters POV). As you go you add other elements from your notes (I keep a color key to remind me to put science fiction elements here, romantic elements there, tie ins from previous books here and a foreshadow of the next there) so all of that time consuming research doesn’t go to waste.

All of that is made easier by being able to keep all my notes and elements open in the same document as I work. Need to see what Caliban gave Ash at the end of book one, it’s a few tabs up, that bit of research on Shub-Niggurath, two tabs down, information on the rest of Helen’s illustrious family, over there highlighted in purple. So much easier than trying to find all the documents and notes I scrawled on bits of paper and tucked into various folders on my various computers! Allowing for ever richer, more complex, stories.

You can also see from the image above how simply I’ve sketched out each scene and chapter. Partial sentences, sometimes just a single word give me a sense of where I’m going but don’t even come close to taking away from the joy of pantsing it – just makes sure I end up lost without a shirt a good deal less likely.

Hopefully some of that will be helpful. Be sure to check out the previous installments (Bible, Wallowing, Timelines & Outlines) or check out my writing process post for a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

And don’t forget if you want to skip the extra blather about my writing process and go straight to the next book release, you can always sign up for email notification!

Scrivener Series: Write The Damn Thing

Scrivener-LogoThis is the fourth installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener to write help me write entire novel series. Be sure to check out the previous installments (Bible, Wallowing, Timelines & Outlines) or check out my writing process post for a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

Alright, now I’ve got my final outline – my map to the novel – and I’m ready to write the damn thing. When I first started writing novels I wanted to be a total pantser, absolutely certain that if I plotted anything out in advance I’d lose all the magic of the story and possibly end up boring myself silly in the process. Indeed there are methods of plotting that are exactly like that but my final outline isn’t.

My final outline is more like having a map on a hiking trip. It keeps me from getting hopelessly lost in the woods but doesn’t ruin the feeling of exploration or wonder at all.

Following the Map

It’s up to you and the way you structured your outline really. Mine is a simple list (I love list) of the characters in the scene, the location and a few key actions that happen there in. Sometimes I manage to pull a chapter title out of that mix as well. Mostly I look at the subsections on my outline, get a general heading of the direction I’m going and then work with my characters to write the scene, one word at a time.

Word Goals and Milestones

Everyone’s actual writing process is different but I find it useful to have an idea of how much ground I can cover in a day and trying to push myself a few extra as well. I average about 2000 words per day (about 8 pages) sometimes I under perform and only manage 1500 and sometimes I have a really great day and manage 5000. Chapters will fall where they need to but a lot of the time they seem to have about 10,000 words in them.

While I’m writing the actual novel I do everything in my power to avoid even the smallest gap in writing. I skip weekends, holidays and invites out with friends or family. There is no such thing as writers block but there is such a thing as having a hard time getting your novelist cap screwed back on and putting the words on the paper, so I avoid the things that make it harder.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable however. When that happens I try working on other aspects of the process like designing the book cover and gathering resources for it.

Still with that kind of word output the novel (mine seem to average around 75,000 words or so) can be written in a little over a month!

Except there’s almost always a hitch.

The Hitch

It just doesn’t work. The flow is off. This bit right here doesn’t have the impact I thought it would. It’s taking too long for this thing to get interesting. Too much blah blah not enough uh huh.

At some point in every novel, you’re going to realize something is wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. So far I’ve been graced with not finding anything so wrong that it couldn’t be fixed with a rewrite but sometimes you look at your whole novel and despair, knowing it has to go right in the trash.

When that happens there’s nothing for it but to stop where you are (writing more only makes the problem worse) and re-evaluate your map and everything you’ve done up to that point, figure out where things went wrong and how to fix it.

This is where Scrivener’s ability to quickly move chapters and scenes around in their entirety is an absolute life saver! About 25,000 words into “Toxic Ash” I realized the opening scenes were all wrong, making the plot drag awkwardly and sublimating the most exciting parts till way too late in the story. I had to cut it out, rewrite it and put it in later, move that bit to the beginning, write a new opening scene and restructure all the scenes I’d written so far so that they made sense again – a task so large that if I was working directly in Word I might have half assed it or tossed the whole novel out in despair. It was bad even with Scrivener (seriously you should see my trash folder) but I was able to make  it through and the book proceeded far more smoothly from there (well there were a few more edits but not anymore complete rewrites so – yay!).

Don’t forget if you want to skip the extra blather about my writing process and just go to the next book release, you can always sign up for email notification!

Scrivener Series: Timelines & Outlines

Scrivener-LogoThis is the third installment in my Scrivener Series, which showcases how I use Scrivener to write help me write entire novel series. Be sure to check out the previous installments (Bible, Wallowing) or check out my writing process post for a preview of what I’m going to cover next.

By now I’ve been writing up a storm in the universe of my novel. It’s still a very random storm but it’s starting to coalesce into something nice and terrifying, a molten doom planet of madness.

I’ve started writing actual scenes for the upcoming novel, maybe the one after that or the one after that, I’ve had tea with my antagonist, put my main character on a psychiatrist’s couch and the story is starting to sit on chest in the night, restricting my breath and stealing my nightmares.

It’s time to let all that awesome out in a focused direction.

Timelines

Every important character in my novels gets one, the antagonist, protagonist and recurring side characters with specific weighty roles to play. These can start at different points in the character’s history, Buddy Jenkins starts around about his birth but Helen Raymond’s outline starts when her mother first met Pan, while playing in the woods with Helen the first.

When the outline starts depends on the character and how important or convoluted their history actually is. I find putting it in the form of a timeline allows for the important points to be quickly roughed out so you know when they happened but keeps me from getting too hung up on ‘worthless’ backstory. Without pages upon pages from each character’s past already written out, I find it’s easier to drop the important information in little bites that are easier for the reader to digest and keep them interested, without getting the main story side tracked with long bits of exposition that can really distract from the original novel.

Still, some characters you really need to work their backstories out in depth. Almost everyone in the Eldritch Elysium series has one hell of a convoluted past, Mitei’s history could probably cover a city mile and Ananke’s is so twisty the Gordian Knot was probably less convoluted but – a person is the sum of everything that’s happened to them, filtered through the lenses of their personality, so all that information helps create more interesting characters and infinitely more interesting series.

Outlines

Slightly different from timelines though each character can get one of their own as well, depending on the needs of the series. The Four Horsemen series has alternating perspectives from all four lead characters and Leslie Roth, it helps – a lot – to have separate outlines for each character’s perspective within the novel.

Each outline focuses on what they’re doing but also on what they’re thinking and feeling within each scene, whether it’s happening on camera or off. I find that this helps me to make sure I allow the characters to be themselves and don’t skew their actions just because I want such and such to happen by page 245.

Once I’ve got timelines for any new characters that need one as well as outlines completed up to the end of the novel I start incorporating the outlines into a single whole – which is often easier said than done. Individual outlines follow individual timelines that don’t necessarily lend themselves quickly to a single whole. Some scenes or chapters will need serious restructuring to get everything where it needs to go.

So the very first rewrite will likely happen before you’ve written the first chapter. Yippie!

Don’t forget if you want to skip the extra blather about my writing process and just go to the next book release, you can always sign up for email notification!