You don’t sand a tree to get a table (Priorities)

My first job was in a woodworking company, which made custom cabinets and furniture. We lived in a small town and I was fifteen and wanted to save up for a car, so I walked around town, handing out my carefully thought out CV (grass-cutting for allowance money, etc). The family-run woodworking shop must have had the same cutting edge attitude as I did, because they said ‘sure’, and put me to work right away—literally. I dressed up for what I thought was an interview in a nice sweater and they put me to work on a big belt-sanding machine right away. At the end of my efforts, they hesitantly told me to dress more appropriately for the next shift.

So what has this got to do with writing? Well, what I quickly learned was that you do things in a certain order. The company would get great big sheets of wood, then plan what the pieces they would need to cut out, cut it on a great ban saw (I saw that saw fling a chair across the room once, when someone wasn’t holding on properly, so cool), sand it, dowel it, seal, and stain or lacquer it. And that sequence never changed. Because it would be a waste of time or materials to do it any other way. You measured and planned what pieces you needed first, so you didn’t waste the great sheets and people’s time experimenting with different sizes and seeing how they looked. You cut the wood down before sanding, because why would you sand what you never planned on using? And in fact, I once got in trouble for sanding a part of a table that no-one would ever see or touch. Why waste the time they were paying me for to do that? It was a waste of money and time. No-one would ever know the difference.

It’s taken me a while, but it’s finally sinking in that it’s the same with writing. It’s very tempting to write the chapter of a first draft, then go back and polish the language. Make the dialogue better, correct the grammar, tighten words. It makes me happy. But it’s also wasting time. My time has an opportunity cost. If I was paying me by the hour, like my old woodworking boss did, I’d be livid. Because the scenes are not yet cut to size, or attached in the right order. It’s like I’m cutting down a tree, giving it a few swipes of sandpaper, then taking out the chain saw. It’s the wrong order. It doesn’t hurt the project, but why on Earth am I wasting the energy and time? There are better uses for it.

So when you’re writing: plan, write, do big picture edits (chopping, resizing, shuffling things around) and THEN polish. Tighten your words, dialogue, and shine at the end, not the beginning.

And if you do get an interview at a small woodworking shop, you may not want to wear your nicest sweater. 🙂

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An oldie but goodie image. I like this little dragon a lot. If I had more time, I’d do more art like this (posed more dramatically), but work is very consuming right now, as I may have mentioned. Not that it’s bad, just a lot to manage, so I’m struggling even to keep my StoneDragon edit going. Art has unfortunately taken a backseat. Hopefully that will change at some point…

 

 

Arrows in the River (Giving the Reader Time to Absorb)

I think I might be going too fast in the beginning. There I said it.

I read other short stories in the ‘Improbable Truth’ anthology and compared them to mine. Then I skimmed the old opening of the original StoneDragon draft, the last full version I wrote, and I found fast dialogue and action, but not a lot of setting, backstory, or context, at least in the first few pages. I dropped the reader into a fast moving stream and expected them to start swimming, without help. And maybe with a few arrows falling around their head (my featured image was boring until I added the arrow, which I have to tie in somehow!).

But seriously, I think I need to aim for slightly longer paragraphs early on, of adding something that isn’t fast moving action or dialogue, at least in the first few pages. Setting, mood, detail. Something to allow my reader’s mind to settle in, pick up the point of an individual paragraph and absorb it, before being assaulted by a new and completely different idea, every sentence or two. Or at least not until the pacing is intended to pick up and the reader is comfortably ensconced in the scene.

I should probably note that this flaw is probably better than the reverse: being too slow and predictable, which is the kiss of death, but I still have to write down my flaws when I see them–and I think I see one.

Hopefully, I’m not be as bad as I used to be when I first wrote that early StoneDragon draft, and I definitely don’t want to swing completely to the other side of the pendulum, and have a pedantically boring opening, but I think that I will probably add this question to my checklist of items when I’m editing a story. I’m still going to try having an opening that grabs you, but hopefully not at a speed where you are lost.

A fast moving stream can shock you, wake you up, and get your heart rate racing. All good things for a chapter. But if the water’s too fast and deep, you’re just going to drown…

Especially if you get shot by arrows. 😉

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A new sketch for the post. I also have a hockey injury tonight: a slapshot to the little finger. A lot of blood and the nail is mottled black. So not much extra typing going on. 😉 Most of this post was done beforehand. Before ‘hand’, he he. Okay, maybe a bit light headed from blood loss and a single beer. Hope your night went better!

On the WIP front, I’m finally shockingly happy with the outline and am cleaning up my world-building references into organized files in Scrivener before tackling the rewrite. Which will be followed by a paid edit and possibly a copy edit. So still quite a ways from complete. But I’m getting excited by it again, which is a nice change!

PS, I have a guest blog coming soon, which is a first for the blog and pretty exciting, And which will also hopefully give the little finger a chance to recover! 🙂

I’m not dead, just on vacation

Wow, this is the first time I’ve nearly exceeded my minimum one post a month guideline. Yikes. So instead of a craft post, you’re going to get a personal one. Tune out now if you want. 🙂

We went to the West Coast to visit some inlaws, and North to take a Disney cruise around Alaska with the kids. Alaska is wonderful, beautiful… and it rains a lot. Beautiful indeed. But rains. A lot. Or at least it did the week we were there. We saw whales, seals, and wild black bears–not caged, and not twelve feet away. I was ready to take that mamma bear on, for the sake of the kids, which I’m sure wouldn’t have ended well for me. 🙂 Luckily we were in good hands on a guided tour with a guide who stated confidently at the beginning that she would protect us. And then admitted quietly to me–no idea why–after the bear had wandered off that she hoped she actually knew how to use the sulphur flare she wore on her belt, which was her last line of defence after assorted puffing up and yelling tactics. Yikes!

The kids thought it was all great fun.

The whale-watching boat tour was fun too (non-Disney related, just to be clear)… Well, it was until the girl threw up in the upper deck anyway, and the smell chased us all downstairs. I know, I know, people keep asking me, why didn’t she throw up over the side? The answer: because the upper deck was glass-enclosed.

Did I mention it rains in Alaska?

Then we visited the mother in law, who has a small dog. Which was entertaining, as my smallest boy has a fear of dogs, despite us having owned one when he was one (he’s three now, and doesn’t remember at all). Lots of tears and clutching at Daddy’s neck when we forgot to manage the situation. But amazingly enough, guess who didn’t want to leave the dog at the end of the week? It was very cute.

Okay, that’s it from the world of my vacation. To repeat my big news, I am not dead.

Despite my adventures with bears. 🙂

 

Oh, PS, I got lots of writing down on a new short story when I was on the boat. Because, you know, I love writing on boats!! (see here)

Silly Flash Fiction

Done for a twitter contest I stumbled across, and a lighter tone than most of my novel writing (more MG-flavored, which much of my more humorous writing is), but a fun detour for half an hour. Enjoy.

I may delete later, if I wake up tomorrow and wonder what the hell I was thinking. 🙂

Contest: http://shortstoryflashfictionsociety.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/friday-flash-fiction-contest-2/

It’s a Flash Fiction with a cool photo prompt, an old house waist deep in sand (inside the house), as if a desert flowed through.

http://www.nature-places.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/most-amazing-ghost-towns-07.jpg

The story (237 words):

The Hour Glass House.

My sister has powers. So do I.

My parents left us at home alone and told us to be good. They’re optimists.

When my sister wouldn’t pass the remote, I made the TV screen show her face smudged on a fat man’s butt. She glued the couch to my ass. Scratchy. And harder to accomplish than you might think. I unlocked her diary to figure out how she’d done it. She caught me, and wasn’t happy. Like I care about Dreamy Jeremy’s eyebrows?

She slammed me into my bedroom wall and jammed the door behind. Which pissed me off. I had places to be.

But it’s okay. I’m sneaky, and still one ahead. She’s probably just now realizing that I slipped a snake into her braids, which has been chewing her hair. All day. He he. What’ll Dreamy Jeremy think about that?

Woom. Tinkle.

I think she just flipped the house upside down. There’s sand coming through the windows, like a tipped-over hour glass. Um, that’s probably not good. I’m not sure she’s joking anymore.

Crack.

I’m going to puke spiced meatballs. Flipped again.

My sister has powers. But so do I. And chest deep in sand or not, I’m clutching her diary, reading like a madman. Double pinky lift? Interesting. A smile hurts my sand-scratched face, but I don’t care. Ring the bell. Time for the next round.

I’m not finished yet.

Personal Randomness

A short personal update (there’s been lots of craft posts lately).

I have to admit that I’m a bit overwhelmed with the free time that I’ve suddenly got in the last couple of days, as my Black Diamonds edits are done, the manuscript as ready as I can get it at this point, and nothing else major started yet. Aside, of course, from sick kids (do they ever get healthy?), a crazy job, and keeping the wife happy (in other words, cleaning the house). That’s just normal, right? 🙂 Anyway, given the significant time investment most of my projects take, I wanted to take a couple of days before committing to anything big, despite this unfamiliar spare time.

So, after some thought, I decided that I would:

  • Take part in #PitMad, a twitter pitch contest (look at me, all social media active all of a sudden! He he, find me @AdrianCross15. If I stay active, I may put the link on the site more permanently). I think this will be fun, although my work schedule on Sept 9 is starting to look so hectic that I may not be checking in to the event much while it’s actually on.
  • Waiting for my Black Diamonds synopsis comments to come back, from the recent Writer’s Digest webinar event, which included a critique. Once I have that, I’ll start putting Black Diamonds out into the world. I think it’s ready, but still a daunting thought. Hopefully it’s well received! (if not, oh well, there’s always the next one.)
  • Create a cover image for my shelved manuscript, Broken Detective (probably not the final title), which I think is the next major writing project I’ll tackle. It’s a manuscript with a lot of good stuff in it, but some serious wounds to patch up as well, particularly in the opening scenes. As I’ve mentioned before, my current intention is to re-work it and then send it out into the world as an ebook (unless some agent wants to take a look at it, but the query letter has already made the rounds). As a result, cover art will come in handy when it’s finished. I’m not expecting to start a completely new novel until 2015, although there are lots of ideas in the hopper for when that time comes.
  • Write a fantasy short story (I’ve already got the ‘cool idea’ and am sketching out the rest of it), for submission to OWW (the Online Writer’s Workshop) and maybe to a wider audience, although we’ll see how well received it is at OWW first. I think that a new short story will make a nice change of pace for me, exercising some creative muscles before settling down to hardcore editing again, as I try to patch up Broken Detective.
  • I would also like to do some more site images, but we’ll see how the time goes. I’ve also decided to work on a non-fantasy art project on the side, so any large and polished art projects may stall until that’s finished (ok, I’ll cave and tell, it’s a cool picture book idea that I’ve mulled over for years and finally think is ready to take to the next level, but I don’t do picture book stuff under this site, so you’ll have to hunt elsewhere for that!) 🙂

And that’s the plan. And I have to smile. Because as I’m typing this, I’m also listening to Wiggle Wiggle (Jason Derulo and Snoop Dog) on my headphones and it reminded me of yesterday when I drove the two Hooligans home from daycare. The 2yr old was enthusiastically singing along to this song on the radio:

“Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.”

So inappropriate. And funny.  🙂

The image here is just a cropped version of one I’ve shown earlier. But it reminded me a lot of my two year old, so there you go. 🙂