Refocusing. Again. Maybe. I hope.

I have a blog? Oh. Yeah. I suppose I do. I haven’t written here in more than a year and a half. I suppose I should sit here and make all sorts of excuses as as traditionally been my wont, but I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to tell you what I’m hoping to do between now and the end of the year. It won’t suprise me if I don’t accomplish much (read: any) of this, but I’m going to put it out here anyway in an attempt to force some semblance of accountability.

NaNoWriMo is coming in about a month and a half. I finished NaNo last year with a story that was over 50,000 words but was nowhere near being done. Of course in grand Sam tradition I’ve done nothing with it since then. I’ve had vague thoughts of making this year’s story a later story set in the same world. Not a direct sequel, not even the same characters; just set in the same world. I’d like to finish last year’s story, though, before I do anything new.

To that end I’m going to try very had to get last year’s story done between now and the end of October. Is that too ambitious a goal? Probably. But I’m putting it out there anyway.

The story is a YA Alternate History called Red Skies At Night set in the present day in a world in which the USSR put an astronaut on the moon in 1968 and the USA never got there at all. I was consciously trying to write within a three-act structure. I got about halfway through the second act during NaNo and had a pretty good idea of where I wanted the story to go from there. However, I’ve been thinking about it off and on all year and decided that I don’t really like the way Act II was shaping up.

My instinctive reaction was to go back to the end of the first act (somewhere around word 22,000), throw all of Act II out, and start over. I don’t think that’s going to be necessary, though. I went back last week and re-read it for the first time in months and have decided that it isn’t as bad as I’d thought. I do want to make some changes and there’s quite a bit that is going to get thrown out, but it doesn’t have to be a total loss. That should make it easier to get the story through to an end.

If you’ve been around here at all over the years you may remember that I’ve always struggled with taking the time to write. I’ve had an idea of what I can do to schedule my time now, though, and I’m going to try and make a go of it and see what happens. I’m going to get back into the “hour at a time” approach that was working for me a couple of years ago. We’ll see. I’m not optimistic, but that’s probably just five years worth of making plans and letting them wither talking. If I can get into the habit during September and October, NaNo will be a breeze.

If I do get into it I’m going to blog my process differently then I have in the past. I won’t blog every day. I figure that post after post of “I wrote for an hour! 1,500 words! W00t!” gets old. I’ll blog once a week or so and put thoughts about how it’s going and how the process is working out. If it works out the way I want it to I should finish last year’s story sometime in late October and have a few days to brainstorm the new one before November 1.

I’m not optimistic. I’ve said that a few times here. I want to write and I’m feeling fairly motivated, but I’ve been there before and did nothing with the motivation. I’ll believe I’m going to do it this time when I actually see myself doing it. Wish me luck. We’ll see what happens.

My year gets glasses

Isn’t that what happens when your vision is blurry? You get glasses and everything clears right up. You hope.

Okay, So I’m not whining or complaining or getting angsty or anything. I did that a few weeks ago and it has sparked a near month-long period of reflection. I thought I had it all worked out when I wrote my last post, but that wasn’t entirely true and I haven’t written much at all in February as I tried to get it all figured out. I’m not sure I have it all worked out even now, but I’m going to try.

I have been stubborn and mule-headed and have kept posting goals that, had I chosen to be realistic about it, I would have known I had no chance of fulfilling. I am accepting that reality now. I’m going to let you in on the secret as well. Are you ready? Here it is:

I’m not Robert Jordan or Brandon Sanderson.

Here’s another one:

I never will be.

It will never be possible for me to write a 150,000 word story. I just can’t do it. I’m not capable of it. I have to accept that, and I have to realize that I’ll be lucky to ever even get to 80K. I have to therefore set my goals and strategy accordingly.

I have obsessed over word count in the past. I’ve tried to tell myself not to worry about count and not to stress over how long a story is. Good advice, but a bit shortsighted, in my opinion. See, to an extent, I have to worry about word count. I have to be aware of it, even as I try to not obsess over it. If I ever hope to get a novel published, it has to be at least a certain length to even have a hope of being considered.

From what I have read in various articles and blogs, a typical SFF novel comes in at around 100K words. Oh noes! I’ve just said that I would be lucky to ever get to 80K! How will I ever get a novel published, then? Here’s my idea, and, realistically, what might be a worthy strategy for me, given my tendencies: write YA novels.

YA, or young adult, novels are written for and about teens. Many wonderful authors (Scott Westerfeld, James Dashner, Suzanne Collins, Dan Wells, and others that I have enjoyed reading over the last few years) have made hay in the YA field, and others (Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, Brandon Sanderson) have had successful forays into the younger demographic as well.

YA novels tend to be shorter. The articles and blogs I have read say that 85-90K tends to be on the long end for a YA. Westerfeld’s books have traditionally been in the 60′s or 70′s, with the Leviathan trilogy trending longer than that. That’s right in my wheelhouse.

The best thing is, you don’t have to sacrifice story complexity even though the length is shorter. I was afraid that I would find YA stories simplistic. That’s not the case, at least in the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. They aren’t simple at all, they’re just leaner. I’ve found that YA stories tend to be more linear, without the Jordanesque mess of subplots running around. Maybe one or two main plots and a subplot or two, but that seems to be it. Again, right up my alley.

So. What is the plan? I’m going to write YA. Thus, I’m going to throw Morpheus Rising in the trunk and go back to Sov. Yes! Sov! The last thing I have found with YA stories over the years is that they usually seem to revolve around a main character who is a YA themselves. I can do that, too–that’s what Sov has been about, for the most part.

First, I’m going to pull Myron’s story (Everlasting Tunes) out of the trunk I put it in last fall and finish it. Remember–it’s the story of a young bard-in-training getting his start in the world. How YA is that? After that there are two other Sov novels already in the can. Mother’s Daughter features a teenage girl coming of age in the glare of prophecy. It needs to be rewritten, but that’s YA too, yo!

Silvershield isn’t remotely YA in either existing iteration, but over the last few days I’ve been brainstorming ways to make it so. If I can pull that off then my three-novel Sov cycle would be totally YA; probably between 65K-75K each. I can do that, and it’s a realistic goal in terms of the way I write.

I’m not going to push to get all three done this year. That’s not to say it can’t be done. If I can get some good work done on Everlasting Tunes and Silvershield between now and November, I might be able to make a Mother’s Daughter rewrite my 2011 NaNovel. Maybe I could get them all done in 2011. Not gonna push for it, though. Really.

All I want to do in 2011 is finish Everlasting Tunes, write some short stories, and do NaNoWriMo, whatever it turns out to be. I think I can do that. That’s what I’m going to push for: more realistic goals. It’s a big adjustment in my thinking, and I have to stop stressing over not being able to write 150,000 words. YA is my path. It has to be, if I write the way I know I can. Wish me luck, and keep supporting your local novelist!

Writing, research, and rumination

I worked for almost an hour between the commuter van this afternoon and at the dining room table tonight and got just over 1,000 words down on Morpheus Rising. Not too many words added to the overall count, but it’s okay. My van writing was some revision to what I did last time I sat down, so I didn’t add many words there as much as I changed some words around and made them better. I was slowed at home tonight because I stopped a couple of times to do some research as I was writing. I’m not striving for letter-perfect accuracy here, but I figure I do want to get a couple of things right.

I’ve thought it over. After some great discussion the other night, I am looking at my goal-setting for each individual writing session. I’ve been very focused on word count as a goal–how many words did I write tonight? I’m still going to look at word count as an overall measure of my long-term performance and my accomplishments during the year as a whole. I do want to be accountable to a quantitative measure, and word count is the best way I know of, as a writer, to achieve that accountability.

In terms of what I do each day that I sit down, though, I am going to try to focus on the amount of productive time spent writing. Rather than look for, say 1,500 words in a session, I will look for at least one productive hour in a day, whether it is on the van, at home, or split between them as it was today. There is always going to be pressure on me as a writer because my word count goal is always looming ahead of me, but it helps to have that number out there as a guidepost. If I stay productive in my “one hour at a time” approach like I did last summer, I’ll meet my word count goals with ease and hopefully a lot less stress.

For what it’s worth, SF author Jay Lake posted an interesting article on his blog today about word count and his own interest in using it as a performance measure. You can read it here. He feels the same way I do about it, it seems, even if he is more devoted to word count as a day-to-day measure, which I am trying to get away from. It’s a nice article if you give it a read.

That’s it for now. I made some progress and I think I’ve had a bit of an epiphany as far as putting pressure on myself (or not) with realistic daily goals. I’m set up for a productive month, I think. Keep coming by and supporting and let’s see if I can manage to pull it off this time.

A beginning

I started working on the novel tonight. Through my angst-fest of last night I got a lot off my chest and then my wife made me write tonight. I love you, baby! I didn’t write a real long time, but I got almost an hour down and got 1,446 words down on paper. I’m excited by that. It’s a beginning!

About half of what I wrote tonight was repurposing of stuff that I wrote back in 1999. I wrote a short story back then called “Morpheus Rising” that I had always thought might be a prologue for this novel idea if I ever got around to writing it. Well, I’ve gotten around to writing it, so I brought the old short story in to serve as the beginning as I had always intended. I did some editing and put some new stuff into the middle of it and left quite a bit of the ending out, but it helped me get a good start down on paper.

One last note–I changed the name of the book. It is now Morpheus Rising, in honor of the original short story. I think it fits the idea a lot better than The Lotus Eaters did.

I’m going to close this entry out with the two quotes that I put in as epigraphs. They really set the tone for the work, I think, and let you know where it’s heading. Keep coming back for updates as I really get going.

“…Morpheus became fascinated by the way a little corner of man’s mind remained awake in sleep…It seemed to him that these fantastic colored shadows the sleepers painted were the most beautiful, most puzzling things he had ever seen. And he wanted to know more about how they came to be.”

Bernard Evslin, The Adventures Of Ulysses

“To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause…”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3 Scene I

Writeslack…or something else?

I’m not sure what’s going on here. Then again, maybe I’m perfectly sure.

I want to start working on my big goal for the year, my 150K word novel, The Lotus Eaters. I haven’t started yet. Why? Is it a lack of motivation? A lack of confidence in my ability to do it? Are my priority values just out of whack again? Or is it something more serious?

Sometimes I’m not certain that I’m cut out to be a novelist. I have the talent, but I’m not sure about my motivation. I have a hard time with setting my priorities. I’ve talked about it here before. I have a hard time turning off the Internets and the TV and everything else to get even an hour of writing time in at night. I can’t even get motivated to take advantage of the hour I have on the commuter van everyday. I mean, shoot, Peter Brett wrote his first novel on a smartphone during his commute. I can’t even manage it on a laptop? Girl, please.

I don’t know. I do wonder if I have what it takes to do this. I wrote Mother’s Daughter during May-June 2008 while I was unemployed. I’ve done the last three NaNoWriMos. Other than those periods I haven’t really done any extended writing at all, for whatever reason. I wish I could get it together, but I am getting less and less confident in my ability to put my distractions away and write.

This is a real personal crisis, folks. Whether I ever get anything published or not, one of my goals in life has always been to write a “real” novel–something of serious length, more than just a NaNoWriMo novel. I can handle the short story goal, and I know NaNoWriMo won’t be a problem, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to manage to fulfill my extended length novel ambition. It’s killing me, and I don’t know what to do.

Do I try it, most likely fail, and get even more discouraged if I do fail, or do I bail on the idea and the goal and concentrate on shorts and NaNo? I just don’t know. Comments? I’ve been saying it for three years, but your local writer really does need some support and help here. I need to figure out what I want to do. If I want to put in serious effort and complete The Lotus Eaters before NaNoWriMo hits I need to get started ASAP. I need to make a decision. Help meeeeeee!