30 December, 2021

Good DAY to you, 2021. I said--GOOD DAY!

Right, so--the year began with an insurrection and it's ending with Omicron, but in between there was a lot of writing--and teaching; I have a day job, and will for the foreseeable future--but I'm here to talk about the writing. I don't usually; there are writers out there who do, and do it well, and I usually figure I don't have too much to say that they haven't already. Also, the day job is teaching writing, so I do a lot of talking about the writing process, just not my own. But really, truth: I think "I can write about writing here on this blog, or I can, you know, go write." And I usually go write. 

Not that this blog isn't writing, but--oh, you know what I mean.

Anyway. My writing. My fiction. And 2021. 

I had a book come out: NIGHTWATCH ON THE HINTERLANDS, in October. It's a good book. I enjoyed the hell out of writing it. It's related to the RORY THORNE books--same multiverse, same arithmancy--but a different cast and a very different tone. 

Anyway. 2020 was a hard year for most of us, publishing and publishers included, and though NIGHTWATCH made its pub date on time, there were some bumps along the road. 

While we navigated those bumps, I drafted a set of proposals and accompanying sample chapters for what I thought would be the next set of books I'd be writing. Then the bumps became pits and mountains. The two books meant to follow NIGHTWATCH became one proposed sequel, and the third book was abandoned. (Not because it sucks or it got rejected--it never got submitted--but because I don't really want to write it anymore. I have other ideas that are more interesting.)

And here's where I start talking process

I don't outline. I don't plot. I get a couple characters with distinct personalities, I present them with a problem, a situation, and I set them loose to solve it. I have ideas, but no set path forward, no sequence of events that must happen. This is how I run my D&D campaigns, and this is how I write my novels. Character-directed. If I get stuck--I have this brain full of plot devices up there, so many tools in the box--and one of those will work. A misdirection. An explosion! Something unexpected. Whatever. 

Now, NIGHTWATCH is already a little unusual; I actually had a plot in mind. It's a murder mystery, see, among other things. The basic structure was already there, even if the details weren't. I even had signpost events along the way--this encounter, this discovery--because in a murder mystery, you need those.

So. 2021. With the sequel to NIGHTWATCH (let's call it WINDSCAR), I started with not one, but two synopses already written. Book two was meant to be more SF-horror, claustrophobic and harrowing. Book three was going to be the more epic battley one. And I had to condense  these into one synopsis, which I did. Which looked good, it made sense, and the publisher bought it. Huzzah! 

Now I just had to write it. And here is where I got cocky: this time, I had a synopsis before the zero draft. I had a map. A plan. I thought it would be easy. Write what's in the synopsis. It's right fucking there

So I did. I had a brutal drafting schedule. I had to write this whole book over the summer, June-September, because I wanted the zero draft done before fall quarter started so I could revise before sending the first real draft to Lisa. 

Fortunately no one had any travel plans this summer, and I am a natural workaholic. (It's my coping mechanism--when the world is a hot mess of shit and trashfires, and I can control almost none of it--I control what I can, and that's work. Anyway.)

I drafted. And drafted. And it was like breaking bones, that drafting, but I hit the marks on the synopsis and I even finished the zero draft of WINDSCAR early, beginning of August. I took a week off, but I already knew it was a hot mess. It felt forced, it felt contrived, it was too compressed and the pacing was crap--

Then I figured out why.

First, the synopsis that had looked good on paper was too much for any one book, unless I wanted to write 250K, which I did not. Which I could not, if I wanted to hit the deadlines. (It's due to my editor March 1, pub date October. It's already tight.)

Second, and more importantly: I'd been hitting my synopsis marks, but I hadn't given the characters any reasons to hit those marks with me. Their motivation was underdetermined, and even more underwritten. I typically draft as if I am experiencing the action along with the characters--what does X think? How is she feeling? What makes sense for her to do now? I think she should go--nope, no, she wants to go here instead  For WINDSCAR, I wrote more like I was a director. Go here! Go there! Do a thing! Feel this way! And it wasn't working. 

So there, now at mid-August, I was looking at 120K and throwing about 50, 60, maybe 70K away and rewriting the back half to two-thirds, and the summer was more than halfway over.

So...I did. I revised. I rewrote. Partway through that, my word processor crashed. As in stopped working. As in erase and reinstall. I decided I could lose a day (or more, if the reinstall failed for some reason) or I could just... use a different word processor, the one built into my OS. So I did that, and I kept to my schedule.

I finished draft 0.2 in September, just before school began. Essentially I NANOWRIMO'ed twice. The second draft was better, I could feel that, but it was also not quite done. 

But I was. 

I revised one more time, so that Lisa didn't have to look at my frankensteined horror of a draft. There was no time for my beta reader, so I sent it to Lisa in November, knowing it was missing an actual end, but also knowing I needed confirmation that the story held together enough to warrant an ending. And also knowing I needed a goddamned break from the thing, because at that point I was calling it That Fucking Book. 

I reinstalled the word processor. It went fine. I taught my classes. I baked, I knit, I cooked. I gamed--finished a long-running campaign I'd been DMing, made a new character for one that's starting in 2022. 

Lisa got WINDSCAR back to me in December, well ahead of our original schedule--which is great! Because I have about 15K more to write (she guesses 20K. I am in firm denial). I have spent the holiday break writing like it's summer all over again, although at least this time, I really am revising. And I would always, always rather revise than draft. 

So I guess the point of all this is... I don't write well to synopses. I am not likely to be a plotter. I suppose there could be a book someday where I am a plotter, but it's not my preferred headspace. 

I learned that I can write fucking fast when I have to. And when I am not trying to hit marks on a synopsis, I can write pretty well at that speed. I always underwrite, so the speed of production does not appear to affect that at all. I also learned that I hate to write that fast. It's not a long-term sustainable pace, even when there isn't a day job tugging my sleeve and demanding attention.

So I will start 2022 actually finishing WINDSCAR, writing that ending, and hopefully getting Lisa's eyes on it one more time before it's due. And after that...after that, I have nothing under contract to anyone. 

And I have an idea. I even have notes on how it starts. We'll see where it goes.

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