I’m Free… I Mean Finished!

The major promised rewrite of StoneDragon is finally done. Whoo-hoo! After a couple of years of delays, disruptions, and scraping up the bottom of the well for motivation, I picked up speed in the last 2-3 months and finished with a flurry on my holidays. I finished last night, realized that the formatting was a mess when I compiled it out of Scrivener, cleaned it up in Word, and have something that now resembles a manuscript. What a great feeling. It won’t hit the world yet, I want to run it past some new eyes to make sure it’s clean and polished (probably OWW and a copy editor at some point) and I also want to add some illustrations, many of which I’ll likely share here. But we’re now closer the end than the beginning and at least it’s not an incoherent mess that I couldn’t actually share with someone anymore.

On the personal front, my lovely wife has allowed me much writing time on our vacation (partly from being sick and going to bed early a lot, but let’s not split hairs!). We’re in Miami now, on the beach, and the day is beautiful. There are worse places to be!!!

May this be a wonderful 2017 for all of us…

There’s only one book that matters to an unpublished writer – the first

(and I’m not talking about their own).

This could also be titled: a first time writer needs different skills than an established one. The first time writers need to prove themselves, and they haven’t earned any goodwill that might cushion missteps. The first boring section, a slow start, or an uninteresting section of dialogue, and the new author risks losing their audience and likely not getting them back, especially if they are not being published by a large traditional publisher with glowing reviews (which might by them cushion for one or two mistakes).

Established authors admittedly are generally more polished writers, but they’ve also earned a loyalty in their followers that will buy them at least a few pages of grace. They are likely more focused on the end of a book, of the spine of a longer series, of emotional payoff and drawing readers back when the book is over. All of which is important, but they can probably relax a little more on the opening few pages. This is almost the reverse for the new author. They have to intensely scrutinize the first pages, and may have no-one ever reach the end of their book.

So what is the practical take-away from this? For those trying to break in, and studying how to clamber over the barbed and electrified wall of publishing, when you are looking at established authors and what they did right, there is only one book you should focus on and try to emulate: their first. When they were in the same boat as you.

After you’re published, you can learn all sorts of things from their later books, but the author is then working in a new place, with new benefits and drawbacks. For better or worse, they’ve got their footprint in the sand, created expectations, establishing a certain audience and set of expectations. Sometimes that footprint in the sand may be aimed in the wrong direction, and that sucks, but one way or another it’s something that got them noticed, and it’s sometimes good to keep that in mind when listening to established professionals give advice. What they are focused on and struggling with for their tenth book may be absolutely the wrong piece of advice for your first…

Here’s to all our firsts! :)

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We moved recently and I haven’t unpacked the art stuff, so this image is an oldie but goodie. I’ve gained a tiny bit of steam on the StoneDragon manuscript, maybe 25% rewritten now, and picking up speed. I’ve decided that much of the original writing was actually reasonable and in places, all I have to do is change the pronouns from first person to third. Where I’m adding new POVs takes a bit longer, but again, it’s more about finding motivation to ‘chop wood and carry water’ without much in the way of creative reward, that’s slowing things down. Chop, slosh, chop!

Woot, woot!

Another honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest, this time for ‘the Test’, the story that I mentioned I’d quite liked and been disappointed it wasn’t picked up for the anthology it was written for. Nice to get a bit of writing encouragement in a period of ‘mucky middle’ writing! (for StoneDragon)

I also just finished the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown and found myself incredibly inspired. What a great series, and a wonderful afterword in the third book where he compares writing to building a skyscraper, with all the hard work and angst involved, and then tells writers that the world needs their skyscrapers.

I don’t know if the world needs mine, but it certainly encourages me to keep building. Thanks Pierce!

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I set the image to be my brain with an uzi. Cause I haven’t seen it in a while and think it’s funny. :)

Some days the well fills faster than others…

I think I might have posted on this before, but I firmly believe that creativity is a finite well. For creative people, and I count myself among them, the desire to create fills up steadily and itches to be released. That release can be through writing, art, or even work, if you happen to have a job that involves building something with a lot of independence and flexibility. In fact, that is dangerous for writing, as the well can be emptied at work and leave only exhaustion for other creative outlets at the end of the day. I’ve had a number of days like that. Good for those who look for work to fulfil that desire, dangerous for those who wish to write.

So if you have a boring and monotonous job, congratulations! :)

The other challenge with the creative well, is that sometimes going to it too often scrapes the bottom dry. Sometimes it helps to let it fill up, take a break, and then come back later. But this is a dangerous line to walk too, as it can slip into procrastination! And not writing makes sure you get no books into the world, whatever else you’re doing (writing posts like this included, ironically).

When I was learning art, I learned to switch back and forth between drawing new things (outlining) and doing monotonous non-creative work (coloring and shading) to always be able to use time effectively, whether the well was full or not. Maybe I should try to segment my writing better to be able to switch back and forth the same way. Maybe this means having two projects going at the same time, and alternating creativity and editing. It’s an interesting idea.

But one thing I know, the worst thing you can do is try to scrape the well dry. You’re only going to burn out and either come up with an empty bucket (a bad book) or a lack of enthusiasm to go back to the well at all (burning out and not wanting to write at all).

Why am I writing about the Well now? I’m not getting much done and trying to approach that problem in a thoughtful way. Part of my current challenge is priorities (work, kids, and moving), where writing falls a sad fourth, unfortunately. But I also want to make sure that I have the motivation to get back to writing when I have the time. That I don’t burn out the well, or scrape it painfully. I love writing, and want to feel the desire and reward that comes with it. Right now, I’m not sure I have that balance exactly right…

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The image is an oldy, a pencil drawing of a shield in a river. I think the rough water and ominous mood is appropriate here. :)

And on the personal side, we have sold a house, bought a house, and moved in this week. Overwhelming, particularly with my escalating work demands. But I love the new property, which includes a pool, which I’ve never had before, and it’s nice sometimes to shake things up, even if it means muddying up the well. :)

The Beauty of Clean Tight Lines… In a Book

The curve of a sports car.

A silhouetted woman’s form. Or man’s.

A whippet in motion.

Strength, simplicity, power. It comes from tight, focused, and uncluttered composition. It is that wow factor, that comes from seeing something that seems almost effortless, but comes from a lot of behind-the-scenes work, whether that’s Tesla’s engineering department, a person’s well-used running shoes and weights, or the many squirrels that a whippet pursues in its joyful life.

We should aspire such an outcome in our writing too.

I’m not saying I’ve achieved that plateau. Or that it’s easy. In fact, it’s hard. It shouldn’t be so hard, but it takes a lot of polishing to get that kind of effortless perfection. And lots of false starts. Kind of like my early dating life. :)

But as my significant other is small and wonderful, so too should be your paragraphs.

(That should get me in the good books for an hour or two. At least until the mess by the kitchen sink is discovered…)

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This image is a 30 minute doodle while I was watching the Voice. :) Of a whippet obviously, which was the breed of our last dog. They are beautiful to watch in motion.

On the personal life side, I got swamped with house selling and buying and work, to the point little creative stuff was happening, but managed to tidy up an entry for Writers of the Future yesterday, and I also finally finished binge reading Robert Parker’s Spenser series. All 40ish books in about 3-4 months, I think. 😀 So I am hoping to have a bit more creative time this summer, maybe even do some drawing.

I’m a bit torn on StoneDragon, as I’m not feeling much creative drive to work on it, but I do want it finished, in the best shape it can be, or else I’ll feel even worse for leaving it half-finished. So I’ll try to kick my butt into gear on that too… It’s a good story, but I’ve lost perspective on it, and it’s a grueling thing to do so many edits. Oh well, hopefully I look back on it one day as a worthwhile exercise, one way or the other.