Posts Tagged ‘amwriting’

This month, I completed and published my first novel, Bay City Runaway, and last week I dusted off an older project and began writing it.  It’s a different kind of novel–more of a mystery and perhaps less emotionally intense.  Bay City was rather dark and moody–like me sometimes. I constructed a scant three-act outline for Bay City and jumped right in because it was primarily a character-driven novel, I gave myself a lot of freedom with it, loosely aiming for the outline.  I feel good about the results, but this new book is a different animal.

I feel like writing a mystery has to be tighter, so I’m taking a more structured approach.  I wrote succinct character descriptions and fleshed out a much more detailed outline–chapter-by-chapter.  I have some qualms about doing it this way.  I don’t want to over-plan.  I want room for spontaneity and organic development, but I have more pieces motion in order to make it the ending pop like a good mystery.

In some ways, it’s easier to write with such thorough planning.  I take a peek at the chapter description (usually a couple of sentences) and begin typing with the goal in mind.  But I leave plenty of room to surprise myself. For me, writing fiction is strongly akin to reading fiction.  It’s true that I have a very strong idea about what’s going to happen, but I don’t know exactly how that will translate into words and scenes.  I get to enjoy it as it unfolds.  I get to be the very first reader!

A book has a life of its own.  It’s easy to say, “Well, David. You’re the author you have total control over everything that happens.  You’re the God of this world.”  In a sense, that is true, but that’s not my understanding of God.  Yes, I believe God can do whatever the hell he or she wants, but that doesn’t mean he does it.  God gives us free will and watches our lives unfold, sometimes working closely with us, sometimes just along for the ride.  I feel that my characters have some level of freedom to do what makes sense for them.  I can’t always make them do what I want because I don’t really know entirely who they are when I begin writing.  A common remark from my small circle of readers is that the characters feel so real.  Perhaps that is part of it.

Another thing I’m doing differently is formatting a bit more as I write.  I’m writing in MS Word, which is how I format and produce a file for Amazon KDP, but in the past, I’ve written in Google Docs.  The problem with Google Docs, for me, was that it was so much work to take a Google document and format it for print and Kindle. I’m hoping to save some time and formatting errors by doing it this way; the risk is that it will pull me out of the creative flow.

I’m also not in a feverish rush.  I wrote Bay City in a manic fever, perhaps worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish it.  But I’ve done it now!  I know I can write a novel!  I’m taking a steady, relaxed pace–enjoying myself!  I have no deadline and very little riding on this…

except for my hopes and dreams, of course.

shutterstock_1704911602Writers and would-be writers may dream of making a full-time career of writing, but that is becoming an increasingly rare option. Traditionally-published authors are not getting the kinds of advances they used to receive and independently published authors often spend more money than they make, so we must have day jobs to support ourselves and our families.

Although I’ve been writing for over twenty years, I am fairly new to professional writing, and I am an indie writer at the moment. I’m successful in that I’ve written and published five books. Am I earning a living at it? No. Do I make enough money to take my wife out to dinner from time to time? (Laughing) Yes! Is my writing good enough to read? Hell yes! Quick aside. I don’t like the term “self-published.” Many equate it to “vanity publishing” which, as we all know, is a monstrous abomination (see sarcasm.) Heaven forbid someone invest money to produce and share their art. Remember when labels and radio stations got to decide what would like to listen to? What music is good or bad? At that time, we had no idea what we were missing. Now we have an infinite world of music to try out. We, the consumers of art, should get to decide what is good whether it be music, painting, dance, or writing. If you’re reading this and are an indie writer, know that you are a writer. PERIOD. Ok, aside over.

And so, I must balance my writing and my day job. Here’s what I’ve learned, given my circumstances. My current job has a rather strict shift schedule, which is unusual for my career as a software engineer, but it’s what I have, and it’s too good a job to care either way.

I start at 8 am. I get a fifteen-minute break at 9:45, a forty-five-minute lunch break at 11:30, a fifteen-minute break at 2:45, and I get off at 4:45 and then write for an hour in the evenings. I can write as much as I want on the weekend–usually around two hours. That’s an average of 92 minutes a day. How did I write the first draft of my last book, Bay City Runaway (84,000 words), in five weeks with that schedule? That’s around 2,400 words a day, or 29 words a minute.

1.    I’m a better-than-average typist, thanks to Keyboarding I and II in high school.

2.    I have Bipolar Affective Disorder, which many writers have. Even medicated, I can ride a solid six weeks of hypo-mania (mild elevated, productive mood), and that’s when I do a lot of my writing.

3.    I don’t stop to edit, reread, or do a lot of planning. I construct a very scant outline at the beginning of the project (or not at all) and shoot for the main points as I write, permitting myself to break my plan. I know that I can fill in gaps, descriptions, themes, etc. in subsequent drafts.

4.    This is the most important key to productivity with writing: It takes a lot of courage, but I think it’s the reason most would-be writers don’t write anything or why writer’s block occurs. BE WILLING TO WRITE UTTER CRAP; otherwise, you will likely never complete a project.

This method of short writing spurts probably only works with a daily writing discipline. If I wait for days, weeks, or months to write, I lose the flow. I forget all the little seeds of suspense I had planted. It just doesn’t work! There are days when I only write 200 words. There are days when I write 4000 words. It averages out over time.

Editing, drafting, developing, getting feedback from beta readers, designing covers, publishing, marketing–these things may take longer and a lot more patience, but at the end of that month or two of steady writing, you have a damn book! Maybe not a good one, but that’s the thing people who want to be writers never get–a book. They plan and plan and tweet and read, but they do not write. They write the first thousand words and then spend the next months posting about it on social media, worrying that it is no good. Did you know that writers used to write entire books without Twitter and Facebook or telling anyone about it at all? The truth is, the WORST book is the book that never was never written.

There are thousands of articles, books, classes, seminars, and podcasts on how to write a book, but eventually, a writer must write–even if it’s terrible! Hopefully, with patience, diligence, practice, courage, and help from other writers, teachers, editors, beta-readers, or maybe even a publishing house, it won’t stay terrible.

There is nothing wrong with having a day job. I prefer the stability and benefits. Many of the great writers had day jobs. Perhaps it even gives you more to write about. You do not have to write eight hours a day or even ninety minutes, but you do have to write! So quit reading this article and write a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, or a whole chapter! Oh and don’t write on your work computer!

Back to the 90s!

Posted: September 6, 2018 in writing
Tags: , , ,

My current project has a lot 1990s backstory.  I went to college and started my career in the nineties, so I know a thing or two about it, but it’s not really about the nineties.  It’s about the relationship between the protagonist and the woman who would become his wife and ultimately the reason he has left Oklahoma in the 2007 timeline.

Getting back into the 90s frame of mind is not exactly easy for me.  My world was very specific.  I spent half the nineties in the School of Music at the University of Oklahoma studying how to be a singer, how to direct a choir, and how to teach people how to sing.  I was not immersed in the times.  I was immersed in a centuries-old art form, studying Western music from the middle ages on.  I knew little of Notorious B.I.G. or fashion.  But I’m piecing it together.  I wasn’t entirely blind.  It was all happening around me.

My protagonist is a computer science major, but he joins the choir and his girlfriend is a voice student.  This allows me to write something a little closer to home even if it’s from an outsider perspective.  I’m a computer programmer myself even though I didn’t study it in college, but much of his college chapters centers around the music school and music majors.

I’m having to deal with language and culture and issues like sexuality in pre-millenial ways.  It’s hard to peal back 20 years of remarkable change in the world.  No cell phones.  The internet barely in place.  The 90s perspective on being gay, especially in regard to being black and gay…which one of my characters is.

I’m writing very steadily right now.  I’m getting in 2-3k a day mostly on breaks at my day job plus a few hours on the weekends.  I have topped 40k words today.  I’m drafting at the moment.  When I draft, I like to think of it like a graphic artist does a comic book.  He/she sketches out the frames.  No color or shading, less detail.  Rough.  There is very little color or style in the book so far.  I just want to tell the story and nail down as much as the dialogue and action as possible.  I’ll color it all in later.  I want a really tight, compelling story.  I can give it beauty and atmosphere and pathos on a second write.  I look very much forward to doing that once I have bones.

Not being a pro, there’s not really any kind of pressure to produce this.  I don’t even know if and when I will publish it.  I have two or three other projects lined up after this, and I might write or draft them before publishing anything.  At least, that’s one self-publishing strategy….to have something ready to go soon after the launch of a book to get readers hooked into my writing.

My readership is tiny right now.  I’ve been honing my craft over the last 15 years or so, waiting for the right time to produce a full-blown novel, and I’ve decided this is the time.  My kids are grown.  My career is settled.  I have more free time.  I have a better idea of how to write something potent and compelling.  I’ve got no place to go but up!

About ten years ago I wrote ten short parts of a web serial called Bay City Runaway.  Here’s a five chapter teaser.  It’s about an alcoholic who has left Oklahoma in the 2000s to live in San Francisco to get away from his old life and the demons that haunt him, and his entanglement with a seventeen-year-old runaway girl.  There is plenty of 90s background story as well.

Once every year or two I’ve gone back and reread this incomplete work and I found it to have some potential, but I could never figure out how to continue it.  Then a year ago, I sat down and wrote a sketch of what it could be if it were a novel and revised the existing writing into a form more suitable for a novel.  Then I put it away again and didn’t think about until I logged into Wattpad a few weeks ago and read some comments.  People had read my original incomplete serial and were asking me to write more, so I did.  I added about 1200 words.  It felt good.  It felt so good that I decided to write ten thousand more.

Now, I feel I have something to work with and the motivation to do it.  So I’ve taken most of it offline and have written about 25k words.  I think this will be my first full-length novel.  I self-published Whiff: A Novella on Amazon, which I’m now publishing as a serial to gain some readership, but I couldn’t get more than 32k out of it.  I believe Bay City Runaway will be more than twice that making it my first complete novel.

I’m writing at a pace of between 2000 and 3000 words a day, mainly on my lunch hour at my day job as a software engineer.  That’s a lot to expect in one hour or even in a day, and I’d be surprised if I could keep that up for long, but it’s very gratifying for now.

Don’t expect anything very soon.  I have a long way to go.  But it is a thrill to be writing again!