New Plan of Attack: Writing Work Days and Beyond!

I haven’t been posting about my writing work days of late. Namely because, in short, I haven’t been writing. I’m not going to list a litany of excuses: I know my mind, I know what’s valid and what isn’t, and I know that some of the time has been spent prepping for actual writing.

But I also have realized that writing one day a week isn’t going to cut it. I need some kind of momentum, even if I’m not writing every day. Today, I came up with a plan of attack:

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Writing Work Day #2

After a rather odd February, March has arrived, which means consecutive Writing Work Days will be had! For a refresher, here was the progress report from last official writing work day, and here’s the last progress report (Con Nooga doesn’t count since I wasn’t actively working on something).

So, a reminder, where am I in my official plan?

3) Use notes and questions to determine what changes need to be made to the current draft of Codename: Telepathic Soulmates. Ultimate goal: reduce word count from 132,000 to around 115,000 words, if possible. Consider:

  • Does it need a total rewrite?
  • Does it need a partial rewrite?
  • A very surgical rewrite?
  • Or just a super-hard final polish?

Deadline: tentatively, Sunday, April 5th. Deadline dependent on what kind of rewrite/polish the draft really needs.

I’d decided that in order to do this, and while waiting on feedback from my two readers, that I would go ahead and sit down and read Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days book as a means to narrow my focus on Codename: Telepathic Soulmates, because before I start cranking out revisions, I want to make sure I know what I actually want for the novel. That way, if/when I get conflicting advice from my readers (which has happened long before now), I know what direction to lean towards.

So after some errands this morning, I settled down and did a few things differently:

1) I moved myself into my husband’s office. I thought it would be good to work in a place where I’m not used to messing around on the internet, or where I watch television, or read, or get sleepy. So that was was useful.

2) I usually listen to the Writing Excuses podcast during the week in my car, and this week was no different. However, this week some of the advice (episode 10.9: Where is My Story Coming From?) I wanted to hear again and take notes, so I think in the future, I’ll hold off listening to the podcast and start off my writing work days by listening to it. I know I’ve missed out on REALLY internalizing good advice because I’m not in a position to take notes when I listen, so this should be a positive change.

3) The BIG thing I wanted to do today was start character sketches. Now, mind you, I’ve already written this novel. The idea for character sketches is to make sure I understand at least my main three POV characters and make sure their character arcs through the book MAKE SENSE. Wiesner’s book starts with an introduction and then proceeds to glorify outlines. I’m not sold on that part yet, because I’m more of the Writing Excuses way of thinking, which is that outlining is a spectrum, and most writers do SOME form of outlining, but not necessarily the full-blown, rigid method we all think of when we hear the word “outlining.” But after all of that, the book settled down and talked about character sketches and things to fill in. Fortunately, I’d been informed that Scrivener’s 2.0 version offered these near-exact templates, so I started filling stuff in for my three POV characters. I’ll admit: some of this involved looking up pictures of models for my characters, and I have no shame in admitting it’s fun to look at the pretty.

But how useful was the act itself? Useful…. but not in a tangible way, not yet. In the past few weeks since my first official writing work day, my brain has settled down and I feel mostly confident that I need to do a very deliberate, very surgical rewrite. I need to make sure each scene is performing on all cylinders and doing the best it can for the overall story and themes. As a result of this, my brain’s been storming all over the place and I’ve been taking notes on things I can feather in, and I used those notes to help with the character sketches today. But sketching is different than actually breaking everything down chapter-by-chapter and making sure everything is operating at peak efficiency, you know?

So what does this mean for next week? I want to fill in what I can for the other secondary and tertiary characters in the novel to make sure I’m not missing something useful or obvious, so I think this character-sketching thing may take at least one more, if not two more weeks. Then it’s on to setting and plot, where I intend to break the book down chapter my chapter and really map it out and make sure it’s working the way I want. By then, I suspect I’ll have all of my feedback from my two readers and will have had ample time to pick their brains.

From there? Surgical rewriting, yo!

I will say, I didn’t get started as early as I wanted today due to early morning errands. That being said, I started around 11:00-11:30, and I found the day moved surprisingly slowly. Not in a “I’m bored!” way, but in a way that just surprised me. I suspect my sense of time will change depending on what I’m doing in the process, and when I get to a phase where I’m actually writing, I suspect if I’m in the groove, I’ll lose all sense of time and will need an alarm to remind me to eat. I’d tell the cat to remind me, but I don’t think he’s very dependable in such matters, unless he’s the one wanting to eat.

Today’s musical accompaniment was the following:

1) Chasing Ice Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by J. Ralph because the music is so very lovely, haunting, a Philip Glass-esque to my ears. Also, the setting is very close to my heart.
2) [Soul] or [System] by Skytown Riot: I picked up this EP at Con Nooga, and I saw them perform a few years ago when they opened for Filter. I’m officially in love with this band.
3) This Is War by Thirty Seconds to Mars because of course.

Getting Into the Write Frame of Mind

Because last week wasn’t a set of four 10-hour days capped with a Writing Workday, it didn’t really occur to me until now that a progress report is due. I will say that anyone who’s wanting to follow 2015 progress can simply use the Progress Report tag to get the most recent report, or if you just want to hear whatever my rambling thoughts are on writing, especially if I change THE OFFICIAL PLAN, you can use the Writing tag to get the most up-to-date posts on that subject too.

So, for those of you keep track of my progress based on the Official Plan page, I completed items #1 and #2 on time. I’m now in #3:

Use notes and questions to determine what changes need to be made to the current draft of Codename: Telepathic Soulmates. Ultimate goal: reduce word count from 132,000 to around 115,000 words, if possible. Consider:

  • Does it need a total rewrite?
  • Does it need a partial rewrite?
  • A very surgical rewrite?
  • Or just a super-hard final polish?

Deadline: tentatively, Sunday, April 5th. Deadline dependent on what kind of rewrite/polish the draft really needs.

In looking at my goals from this point on, it’s occurred to me that I’ve gotten a little vague. How long am I taking to decide what this book needs? How long am I allowing for writing/rewrite? I can’t determine the latter until I determine the former, and the latter will then determine when I can start item #4.

So the question is this: how am I going to accomplish item #3?

If you’re reading this via email digest or on the main page, I’m putting a cut here, because I have a lot to talk about. If you’re interested, onward! Continue reading

Writing Work Day #1

So I promised weekly progress reports, so here we go: this week’s goal was to do the following:

Read Codename: Telepathic Soulmates. Take notes on world-building, write down any questions that aren’t answered, figure out what, if any, questions should be addressed in a sequel. Deadline: Sunday, February 15th.

Consider it read. Not only did I finish reading today, but I dug out my most recent crits from various people and reimmersed myself with the feedback I’ve received in the past so that I could hopefully focus in on what needs to be fixed before I start agent-shopping.

I have a confession to make: I have no clue.

Let me be real, for a moment: I can write a discovery draft. I can take that discovery draft, figure out what the REAL story is, and then do a kick-ass rewrite. I can do a hard polish when it comes to line-edits. But what comes in between? Figuring out how to surgically revise a piece so scenes are tighter, stronger, move along better, reinforce themes and character development and all that? I don’t know how to do that part yet. And it’s one of the reasons why I’ve put Codename: Telepathic Soulmates on the back burner for so long.

Because one minute, all I think I need is a super hard polish: tighten up the book sentence-by-sentence, and then send it out. Other times I think it just needs a partial revision. Other times, I get overwhelmed and I’m convinced I need a rewrite.

And I’m not kidding about the minute-by-minute stuff. After reading one person’s feedback, I’m like, “Oh yeah, it needs THIS.” And after reading another person’s feedback, I’m convinced, “Oh no, it needs THIS.”

It’s so overwhelming. And it doesn’t help when I get wildly different responses to what works and what doesn’t.

There are a certain set of things I know I must do: I know I need to sit down and consider the use of profanity in my world (sue me, when this was written, I was deeply proud of using profanity whenever, wherever I could). I also know the beginning must, somehow, be tightened. All of my readers admit to being overwhelmed with (albeit necessary) info at the start, which made it harder to keep reading, but once everything came together, they couldn’t put the book down. Sure, some people liked certain scenes more than others, and I have to be aware of who the critique was coming from (a target audience member or someone who’d only read the book just because I was the one who wrote it), but everyone had their own great points to make.

It’s a lot to take in. And I’m trying to look at this book not as the start of a series, which it IS, but rather as a stand-alone. Reason being is that I do know how the business works: if Codename: Telepathic Soulmates doesn’t do well when published, that’s it. I’ll be moving on to a new, unrelated project. So then the question becomes: how to I get this book into the kind of shape that leaves readers wanting more, but in a positive way, not in a maddening way?

The world-building is the book’s greatest strength, but with that strength comes a learning curve, and how to help readers master that without giving them a info-dumpy tutorial is the challenge. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been tempted to split this book in two, even though as it stands, it won’t split easily (if it could, I would already be published — I was offered a contract a few years ago, but it ended up not working out due to word count and we TRIED to figure out a way to split it easily) and would require some serious examination in order to tell not just one strong story, but two. But then I run into the stand-alone issue: if the first doesn’t sell, the second doesn’t have much of a shot, and as it stands, some of the strongest material happens in the final act of the current draft.

So it’s decision time. I need to be able to separate legitimate concerns from what Chuck Wendig calls pre-rejection (which is what I feel I’ve been doing for years now). I need to be careful not to let big, re-write ideas take over. I need to really think hard about the draft as is, not the way I’d write it if I were starting from scratch. The hard part is this: I’m not the same person now that I was when I wrote and revised this back in my Seton Hill days.

It’s a scary thing. But here’s hoping by the end of the weekend (which will be Monday for me, since that’s a federal holiday), I’ll have made a decision.

In other news, I suspect getting up early enough to have a full  writing work day is going to be a challenge, if this morning was any indication. I was pretty zonked when my husband woke me up, and I probably wouldn’t have woken up early if I hadn’t asked him to wake me. Then, after working all day (which, for today, was reading and taking notes), I ended up taking a quick 15 minute nap because I was so sleepy. Afterwards, I drowned a 5-hour Energy.

But I do declare the first, official Writing Work Day to be a success. The next one won’t happen until Friday, March 6th, so technically, I should give myself until then to figure out exactly what kind of polish/revision I’m looking at.

For now, I’m going to enjoy Valentine’s Day Eve with my husband, which means curling up to watch either a movie or marathoning some television shows. Isn’t love grand?

A Day Like Today

Thus ends my first week of working four days, ten hours each. Friday is my official Writing Work Day, with a break to get my allergy shot.

How has the new schedule gone? I’ve seen some highs and lows. The week started rather badly, to be quite honest. The doctors think she had a mini-stroke and they discharged her Tuesday evening. I spoke to her Wednesday but wasn’t able to get in touch today, so right now I’m assuming no news is good news. We’re all glad she’s home, but I can’t fight the fact that given her age, she’s probably never going to be at 100% again. The important thing is to keep her as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

But after that, I realized pretty quickly: I like the longer day. Coming in early means I can turn on some music and get some necessary administrative shit done first thing in the morning without any distraction, and staying late means that I can finish whatever projects I’ve got going on without feeling super-rushed or stressed. Yesterday on my way home, I was contemplating how much I liked it, while my brain was heckling me with doubts.

Sure, it says, THIS week was good. But what about two weeks in a row? Three? How’s your body gonna like that?

Only time will tell there.

Okay, fine, my brain says. But what happens if you wake up with a MIGRAINE. Missing any time means either taking a bigger chunk of sick time OR having to divy up your hours and come in on Friday ANYWAY.

Shut up, brain.

So it did. Sort of. Until I woke up at 4:30 am with a migraine. Little bastard. It was an old school migraine, the kind that makes me worship the great porcelain god. How’d I handle it? Vomit once, decide I’ve had enough of this shit, and get ready to go to work. Hot water works wonders, and I took my prescription. Made it to work on time, sans headache, nursed an emergency Coke all day, and got in my ten hours. The day was full and crazy-busy too, but as of now, I’m not kicking myself over the extra time spent there during the day.

Then again, it’s only the first week. And tomorrow’s my first Writing Work Day, though given my current plan, there will be less writing and more reading, analyzing, and thinking about how to whip Codename: Telepathic Soulmates into shape.

In truth, the real test of this four 10-hour day experiment will be in March, because next week has a federal holiday, so I’ll be putting in eight hours a day due to the paid holiday, and then the week after, I’ll be doing four 10s, but instead of writing on Friday, I’ll be hooking up with a dear friend of mine and trekking to Con Nooga for all kinds of crazy shenanigans. But by time March rolls around? I should have a clearer direction for what I’m doing for revision, and that, my friends, is where we’re really see how this experiment works.

In the meantime, today’s blog post comes from Tom McRae’s “A Day Like Today,” from the album Just Like Blood. You can listen to it here.

How Sick We Are

So I’ve been fighting a cold since Tuesday, hence the radio silence. Last week was a busy week with late nights, and it wasn’t even my first week of four 10s. That starts this week.

Hopefully, the cold is on the way out. And I promised progress reports (which I hope to do on Fridays in the future) when I talked about my official plan, so here’s how week one went.

The goal:

Read Codename: LB Prequel. Take notes on world-building, write down questions to get answered in Codename: Telepathic Soulmates. Deadline: Sunday, February 8th.

Consider it done. For a while, the cold was fighting me, but I got caught up.

This week’s goal:

Read Codename: Telepathic Soulmates. Take notes on world-building, write down any questions that aren’t answered, figure out what, if any, questions should be addressed in a sequel. Deadline: Sunday, February 15th

I’m actually well on my way of finishing this. Maybe that’s a good thing that I’ve got a head start (I’m on page 317 of 518), because I’ll start the 10 hours days tomorrow, and I’ll likely be pretty zonked by time I get home. So I’m glad that I’ll have Friday free to really focus on the reading.

I don’t have any commentary yet, other than places I’d previously thought I wanted to change for REASONS, I’m second-guessing now. Once I finish reading and start studying the notes, and get off the cold meds, I may have a clearer direction, but for now, I’m still pondering.

So that’s it for a writing update. Today’s blog post title is brought to you from Evanescence’s “Sick” from their self-titled album. You can here the song here.

Do It On Your Own

Short post tonight, because it was a long day tacked on to a longer night. The Super Bowl party was a hit, though half our guests barely caught five minutes of the game. Good food and good company, I suppose?

Today was my last day of physical therapy. I’ve gotten stronger since I started last year, but let’s be honest: I’m not very good about keeping up my exercises at home. I’ve got a long way to go, but at this point, there’s no need to keep making appointments with my PT guy, so I’m officially discharged. It’s just time to buckle down and figure out a way to get my exercises in and do them consistently. That, coupled with my time on the elliptical, is how I’ll get stronger.

And don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I’m still jonesing to take up running like I was last year. Rather, it’s the realization that everything I do between my day job and my hobbies involve me sitting on my ass. I need to get stronger so that there’s less pressure on my joints, which means I’ll be dealing with less pain as I get older. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

That said, I wish there were more hours in the day, or that I was the type of person who really looked forward to exercise of any kind, or barring even that, I wish I was the type of person who was motivated by the benefits of exercise, even if I didn’t like the exercise itself.

I’m not, so it’s a matter of buckling down and doing it.

Today’s headline brought to you from “Invincible” by Muse, from the album Black Holes and Revelations. It’s one of my favorite albums by them, and part of the playlist for my Codename: Telepathic Soulmates project. That’s right…I’m getting in the mood! You can listen to “Invincible” here.

It’s Official: I Have A Plan

I’ve been chewing on a plan. Have been even before announcing My Story Is Not Done. A week or so prior, I had reached out to a handful of people to get some advice, and I received some great feedback and responses. And now, it’s official.

I have a plan.

Only for this year. I’m in the process of outlining and ironing out a five-year plan (I know, crazy, right?), but at the present, I’m going to focus on the here and now.

My Writing Work Days, as I mentioned earlier this week, are an experiment. I’ll have two in February, and four in March, assuming all goes well. So what I’m doing is giving myself a schedule from now until the end of that experiment, and that schedule is accomplish this year’s main goal.

What is that main goal?

To send Codename: Telepathic Soulmates out to agents.

I don’t know how many of you are actually interested in particulars, so I’m going to list these behind a cut. It’s for me and anyone interested in holding me accountable, and don’t worry, I’ll be posting progress reports. Not daily, and you’ll see why once you see the schedule and what it entails, but I’ll definitely be posting them weekly.

And now, without further adieu, my schedule:

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My Story Is Not Done

I’ve been talking for a month now about a BIG! NEW! THING! I’m working out for my day job. Today, we finalized the BIG! NEW! THING! so I’m going to talk about it here, why I’m doing it, and what I hope to get out of it.

What I’m Doing

I’m changing my day job schedule. Currently, I work five days a week, eight hours per day. Starting mid-February, I’m going to work four days a week, ten hours a day. In short, I’m going to give myself a three-day weekend every week. Holidays, vacation days, and sick days allowing, and/or my boss or I decide this just ain’t gonna work.

Why I’m Doing It

My boss floated the idea to me last fall. My first reaction was, “That’s SO not going to work.” I was so convinced that it wasn’t going to work for REASONS that I actually made up a list of pros and cons, and that list ended up being three pages. But for nearly every con, I came up with a solution that turned it into a pro. But I don’t make big decisions quickly or lightly, so I put it on the back burner. There, it simmered and stewed, and I found myself wanting to do it more and more.

Why? Because while I won’t be going to my day job on Fridays, I’m going to go to work. I’m making Fridays my Writing Work Day.

What I Hope To Get Out Of It

I’ve mentioned it before, but I realized this year that I’m not challenging myself writing-wise. I’ve already proven I can churn out a discovery draft of a novel in a year’s time. So what’s the point of doing that over and over and collecting a bunch of novels that badly need revision? I’ve also mentioned before that 2015 is a big year for me: it’s the ten-year anniversary of my attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop. It’s the ten-year anniversary of my deciding to take my writing seriously. It led to my getting my MA in Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction Program (which now offers an MFA). But I burned out a wee bit after graduation for reasons I won’t get into here, and it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve climbed my out.

It’s time to start taking my fiction to the next level. I want to take my thesis novel from SHU, known here as Codename: Telepathic Soulmates, and start shopping for agents. That requires a lot of work that isn’t churning out new words every day. It requires hard revision, polishing, and research and queries. I want to learn how to manage multiple projects at the same time but in different stages. Why? Because if I ever get published, I’d like to have some good working habits established before I’m thrown in the deep end.

But this is an experiment. Taking a three-day weekend may not always lead to Writing Work Days, but I’m hoping in the bigger picture I’ll start to figure out how to incorporate some of these habits daily and feel productive even if I’m not adding to my daily word count.

We’re trying this through the end of March, and then evaluating the system to see how and if it’s working for my day job. Because if it doesn’t work there, then it doesn’t work and I’m cool with that. Day job comes first, because that’s what’s paying the bills. In the meantime though, maybe I’ll learn something. Maybe I’ll get a new focus and a new motivation.

Maybe this is the year something could happen.

Today’s headline brought to you by Seanan McGuire’s album, Wicked Girls. I can’t find “My Story is Not Done” online, but you can read the lyrics here.

Give Me Something More….

It’s kind of nice to be tackled first thing in the morning with the following question: “Where was your Calico Writes entry from yesterday?” I’ve actually done a crap job updating over the holiday weekend, as I spending lots of time catching up on LOTS of reading. I finally finished the VanderMeer trilogy, and to that end, I’ll say that I want to read the whole trilogy again. The first read is to experience without spoilage. The second, eventual, read will be with a different, more critical eye, now that I have a sense of how the story fits together. If you ask me what it’s about, I still couldn’t tell you specifically: reading the Southern Reach trilogy is an experience, and the comparisons to the television show Lost aren’t unfounded, if you’re someone who likes conspiracies and mystery and crazy science. Whatever faults Lost had, if it inspires more fiction like this, I’ll be a happy camper. A slow reader, mind you, but still happy.

I’m also working on some administrative things relating to my writing. I intend on making BIG CHANGES soon, and those changes will deserve their own special post. In the meantime, I’m pre-planning. One of the results of that is that I’m in the process of shuffling Codename: Magic Twins to the back-burner. Reasons being that it’s a complex world I’m building and I don’t have my arms wrapped around the rules nor all of the characters. It’s something that, while I’ve said it before, I really to to plan out in great detail before I start writing in earnest. I churned out another 495 words over this weekend, but by and large, I think my time will be better spent focusing that energy into a major brainstorming piece: something that breaks down the characters, the magic as I understand it, and then I’ll have some people critique the shit out of it so that I can move forward with a more solid direction in mind.

Besides, the world that Codename: Telepathic Soulmates is in is calling me, and I’ve got some serious work to do.

So I may not be writing every night. Not new fiction or new words, but I solemnly swear I’m up to no good, and I’ll try to keep the blog posted on my progress on a regular basis.

Let’s see, what else? We finished watching the first season of Penny Dreadful over the weekend, and while I enjoyed the hell out of watching it, I couldn’t help but notice some of its more problematic qualities: notably, while the show attempts to empower its female characters sexually, I can’t help but notice those same characters are also thoroughly punished in the narrative. How direct that correlation is depends on the character in question, but for one particular character, the correlation between having sex and BAD SHIT HAPPENING is disturbing. It’s something I’ll be watching with a close eye on when season two premieres, because of course I’ll watch. I heart the werewolf.

I also finally got around to watching Divergent, which was an enjoyable adaptation and makes me want to re-read the trilogy. I almost caved in and watched Beautiful Creatures, because I heard that was also enjoyable, but I promised a friend I’d help on a project, so help I did.

Today was back to the grind at work, and it was definitely a stressful grind. But that’s what happens when there’s a holiday during the workweek, and with any luck, hopefully today was the worst of it.

This post brought to you by a very bruised but healing ankle, an innate distrust of this unseasonably warm and sunny weather, and the sounds of the latest Marilyn Manson album filtering down the hall. Damn, that does not sound like the Manson I heard back in the nineties. It might be sacrilege, but whatever he’s doing now, the sound’s a huge improvement to my ear.

Today’s headline brought to you from Lacuna Coil’s album, Trip the Darkness. You can hear “Give Me Something More…” here.