Revisions & “Project 2012”

I’m still outlining my current novel project.  But some of you out there are revising novels.  The first quarter of 2012 is already almost half over, but if that “revising a novel” thing describes you, then you might still find this to be of interest.

Writer Merrilee Faber has launched on her blog what she calls “Project 2012”: a one-year plan to revise an existing first draft and start and finish a new first draft for a new book during the 2012 calendar year.  She’s got a pretty tight program for how to achieve those two concurrent goals, and a few interesting tools to help along the way.  So if this sounds interesting to you, maybe you should check it out.

What follows are some links to some of the first few interesting posts she’s put up on the project:

http://notenoughwords.wordpress.com/category/project-2012/

http://notenoughwords.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/project-2012-from-first-draft-to-submission/

http://notenoughwords.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/project-2012-program-outline/

http://notenoughwords.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/project-2012-and-a-plan-with-a-capital-p/

http://notenoughwords.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/project-2012-starting-your-revision-step-1-the-read-through/

Plus, here’s another tool that one writer – Kerryn Angell, a particpant of Merrilee’s “Project 2012” – built off of Merrilee’s tools:

http://www.kerrynangell.com/2012/01/project-2012-starting-your-revision/

Of course… as I said, I’m not revising.  I’m still plotting and hopefully soon writing my first draft.  So what I’m really doing  here is posting these links up for my own personal future reference, come that time when I am finally revising (Project 2013?  2014? Somewhere in-between?)… But hey, if you are revising, it doesn’t hurt if this helps you out, too.

Missed One

As I was doing a quick bit of “research” on my personal writing history – to make sure I got some of the details right on my right on my recent posts of the same topic – I made a discovery in my notebook.  When I wrote up my entry about my various novel and story projects, I’d missed a potential “back-burner” item for a novel concept I came up with following some of my personal set-backs.  I’ve amended the “Note on Novel Nomenclature” entry with the missing project, called “Book of C”.

“Book of C”, like most of the other back-burner projects, currently exists only as an entry of approximately 500 to 1000 words or so in my notebook.  That’s the same state that you’ll find “Book of J” in.  “Book of M” differentiates itself by having about a half-dozen such entries at this point (which is barely anything at all compared to more than a hundred entries in my journal about “Project SOA”).

I describe “Book of C” as a genre mash-up, in a sense.  Part of the idea behind it is to combine tropes and conventions from multiple genres.  Unlike “Book of M” and “Book of J”, which are conceptually stand-alones (at least for now), “Book of C” is conceptually the first in a trilogy.  It centers on three  characters who are brought together in unlikely circumstances in spite of their “differences”, and find they must rely on each other if they’re to escape the powers that hunt them.  In all honesty, though, I’ve not fleshed this one out significantly, even as compared to “Book of J” (which had the benefit of having most of its major plot points laid out for me in a dream).

Still, the initial idea seemed fun, so I’ll definitely be giving it thought in the future to see if I can put some meat on its bones, someday.

A Note on Novel Nomenclature

So, I’ve written in the past about “the novel that I’ve been working on since forever” (and also often used the term “blather” when referring to it) and I’ve mentioned the new novel that I intend to start writing (just as soon as I have time to write).

I’ve come to find these long descriptive phrases to be unwieldy.  And, from the perspective of you, the reader, they’re not entirely useful or meaningful.  Because those long, unwieldy descriptions don’t tell you anything about the book itself but instead tell you about my temporal relationship with the book.

This ends now.  Inasmuch as I may continue to refer to either or both of these books – or even inasmuch as I might refer to any of my writing projects – I intend to start referring to those works and projects either by their titles (in the fullness of time) or by code-titles (in the beginning).  Eventually, therefore, I may be able to add word count meters and write in blog posts about my various projects and what I’m doing in them, and it will be easier to you, the reader, to understand what I mean rather than having to parse some long-and-not-altogether-useful-phrase like “that novel that I’ve been working on since forever”.

So, let’s get started. Continue reading

Review: Wheel of Time Books 1 thru 12

So, over the holiday weekend, I finally finished The Gathering Storm, the twelfth book in the “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan.  I’d mentioned some time ago that when I finish this book, I’d do a review of the series up to this point.  My reasoning for doing a review of the series, and not of just this book, is that by this point fans of the series are likely to know whether or not they want to read the next book, whereas people who’ve never read these books are more likely to want to start from the beginning.  So, a review is of little worth to the former (especially some ten months after the book’s release) and the latter will be more interested to know if the series as a whole is worth investing in.  So, here’s my review: the good, the bad, and the ugly of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.

(I will try to keep this review spoiler-light, as it is intended for those who’ve never read the books, but I can’t promise I won’t mistakenly slip one in here or there.) Continue reading

First Hint of a Novel

I was a bit excited about this, so I wanted to share it with you all.

I’d been struggling for some time with the notion that maybe I”m not quite ready to write that novel I’ve been working on since forever.  Anyway, I’m focusing on short stories for now, because that’s all I can fit in the little slices of time I currently have.  But what I really want to write is  novels.

And when it comes to writing novels, there’s that epic novel I’ve been working on since forever, as previously alluded to.

But I love the idea of that novel too much to leave it in the hands of the unskilled self that I am now.  I want that novel to be something great.  But I cannot write great fiction, as yet.  I need to know first that I can even write very good fiction.  But I can write something else.

So, at some point in the recent past (and I may have mentioned here) I decided to shift gears.  I decided that when I get into writing a novel, I will not start by writing this epic behemoth of a thing.  I will write something else instead.  After all, I had three or four different ideas for very different, other novels to write.  So I thought about the ideas, and I felt out which one I felt I could actually start to develop.  And one of them I kept coming back to as the idea that just felt right.

I’ll admit, though, I was afraid.  What if I could only do that one novel idea, the one I’d been working on since forever already?  What if I didn’t have what it takes to even attempt to write something else?  What if I couldn’t think of enough good ideas – to flesh out characters and world and plot – to make this other idea work?

I don’t know why I worried so much.  All I had to do was think about it for a while.  And I did.  And as I did, ideas started popping up in my head.  Oh, well, this is what happens in the first chapter.  But then this happens in the second.  This is the inciting incident, the thing that gets the main character started on her journey.

I only have the barest of details yet figured out.  Some of the first bases of the world-building that I sketched out a few years ago when the idea first came to me.  The first sketches of a few characters.  And now the first sketches of how the story opens.  I’m still working on the plot – as in, what is the overarching plot, and what does the main character want, and what is the course of the overall journey?  But I was delighted to find myself adding a couple new handwritten entries in my little notebook (I call it my Book of Ideas), and that these new entries, their not just for the same old book I’ve been working on since forever.  They’re for a new book idea.

The former book, I’ll still be working on it.  I can’t abandon it.  I’ll still write ideas for it down.  I’ll build up my little project file on my computer with notes and articles and ideas and worldbuilding and characters. But my overall focus, slowly, is going to shift in this new direction.

Happy writing.

Writing Quote: Demanding to Be Written

Time is short these days, and I don’t get much time for writing, except here on my blog (and it looks like I’ll be cutting back on that for a little while).  But for almost as long as I’ve thought of myself as a writer, I’ve been working on, to some degree or another, the same book.  While I started the book when I was a kid, it’s grown and evolved with me, becoming more complex, more mature, and to my mind more entertaining.

For the past couple years, due to various circumstances, I haven’t really worked on my book in any significant way.  Sure, I’ve made notes here and there about ideas and plot points and characters, and historical background.  I’ve got a notebook where I make those notes, and sometimes I type them up into my computer.  But I make a new note on average once every two or three weeks, and then its usually only a few short thoughts.

In the meantime, I’ve come up with a few new novel ideas for books that I think I may need to write before returning with full attention to that book that’s been with me since forever, if for no other reason than to test and grow my skill as a writer before trying my hand at rewriting my defining saga.

It’s sometimes a melancholy thought, to be apart from this book for so long, to have made no progress in it.  I long to write it.  I yearn to write it.

And for this reason, today’s quote caught my eye, by esteemed African American author Toni Morrison:

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. 

~Toni Morrison

You see, that book of mine: it’s like the fantasy novel version of me.  It’s not a dramatization of my life’s history, or anything so dull as that.  But the book is as though the character of who I am, and of all the little bits of my life, are transformed into this little world, and these characters, and their lives.  It’s a reflection of myself.  And, all the while, I think it’s just a good old-fashioned adventure tale of the good-versus-evil and coming-of-age and finding-yourself and boy-meets-girl and love-conquers-all variety (it’s not a romance by any means – far too much violence in it for that – but like all good stories, there’s a bit of romance on the side).

You know, I think it’s the kind of book I’d like to read.

Writing Quote: When to Plan

The author of today’s writing quote needs no introduction.  She wrote nearly a hundred books in her lifetime and has sold more books than any other author in contemporary times, with a large number of those featuring the famed literary detective Hercule Poirot.  I speak, of course, of Agatha Christie.  So now, I’ll turn it over to Agatha to reveal the secret of when to work on planning that novel you’re working on:

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

~Agatha Christie

I find this to be an interesting quote, especially at a time when I’ve been bogged down with so much busy work, trying to finish up projects, work on final exams, and be supportive of my Dear Wife – all while doing the old day job thing.  It’s pretty busy.

And, as I’ve mentioned, I have several novel project ideas dancing around in the back of my head.  There’s that long-gestating novel, plus several other novel ideas ready to be planted.  I’d really like to start fleshing one of those other ideas out into something that looks more like a book.  But when will I ever have time for that?

Well… whenever!  If I’m busy doing something else that is occupying my hands but not my mind, that’s the time to engage my mind on coming up with interesting characters, fantastic worlds, and engaging plots.

Ideally, to get writing done, you need to follow the BICHOK rule: “Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard”.  In other words, you need to spend some time in a place where you can write.  But we don’t always have that luxury.  That’s when Agatha’s advice comes into play.

Happy Writing.

A Shout Out

So, I’ve been adding plenty of new Author links over on the right sidebar.  I’ve become an avid collector of links to authors’ websites.  But I wanted to call special attention to a link I added on Friday last week.  The link is to Slushlush.com, and it’s the site of Erin M. Evans.

Years ago, I posted the prior draft of my ever-in-progress novel (insert reference to blathering here) up on a fantasy and science-fiction art website called Elfwood.  (The eight-ish chapters and never-ending prologue that I posted are still there, for the adventurous, but they will not remain thus always; at some point I will have to bring them down.  Besides, this is an old version, and nothing like the final direction this novel will be taking, when I sit down to write it again, in earnest.  So it’s not a very good example of what I think I’m capable of.  Okay… I’m bringing this extended parenthetical aside to an end, now.)  Elfwood, obviously, also had a space for writers to post their work (although I do not advise doing so with anything you want to have published in the future; it’s not a terribly good place to get useful critiques, and posting there may constitute prior publication).  One writer there commented on the prologue and first chapter of my novel.  Her comments were insightful, if sometimes difficult to accept.

We entered into a brief period of correspondence in which we did more detailed analyses and critiques of each other work.  We only got through the first couple chapters of each of our books before life and general busyness got in the way on both ends.  Either way, the critiques I got on those first couple chapters were really important.  It eventually became clear to me that I would never sell that manuscript, in its current form.

So, late last week I was idly googling myself, and after digging far and deep into Google’s listings, I found a link to one of my old chapters up on Elfwood.  I followed it, because apparently I’m a narcissist.  (Note: I don’t think I’m actually a narcissist.)  On that Elfwood page, I saw one of Erin’s comments, and remembered our brief exchange of critiques.  I noticed she didn’t have an Elfwood page anymore.  So, I googled  her name.

And discovered this: http://www.amazon.com/Erin-M.-Evans/e/B0032OJT1C

I dug up the old e-mail I had from her, asked if it was hers, and indeed it was.  So, wow.  How cool is that?  I kind of, sort of, but not really know a published author.  I got her regular site and posted a link here.  But I also want to encourage you readers to check out both her site and her work.  The books on her Amazon page are tie-in novels, so if you have any interest in the D&D “Forgotten Realms” setting, I imagine these will be wonderful reads. 

But what I really hope is that she’s successful enough with these tie-in novels that she’ll eventually make enough of a name for herself that she’ll get some of her original work (i.e. all stuff she made up herself, instead of writing a story set in a world someone else made up) published, as well.  Frankly, I think that would be really cool.  (Plus, she had some unique stuff that was not just bog-standard fantasy, as I recall, and the years can only have made her work even better.)

So, encouraging my few readers here to go check out her work is really the least I can do for the useful critiques she handed my work back several years ago.

Happy reading!

Breaking In (Part 5): My Plan

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little analysis of what I think it takes to get published.  I can’t stress enough, though, that everything I’ve written on the subject comes from the point of view of someone who has yet to be published.  But I’ve read a lot on the subject, including much from writers who already are published, though I realize you’ve got to take it all with a grain of salt.

I wanted to wrap this miniseries up by sharing my own personal plans for Breaking In.  There’s no guarantee my plan will work, or that I know what I’m talking about.  But this is roughly how I plan to pursue my goal of getting published.

The first part of my plan is what I’m not going to do.  Realistically, I don’t have the free time or the money to take part in many writer’s conferences, seminars or workshops.  There is a big, annual Fantasy and Science Fiction convention held in my city which I may attend next year, in 2011, but which I more than likely will not be attending this year – not with a new baby and with MBA career-planning in coming into full swing.  It’s not that I discount the value of being able to mingle with other writers or having the opportunity to attend panel discussions with published writers and editors or to chat with editors and start spreading your name or building your network.  I think those things are potentially very valuable, and I encourage other aspiring writers to attend those where possible.  But for me, it’s just not feasible.  I’m still knee deep in my MBA, I’ll soon have a new baby, and my day-job isn’t getting any easier.  With all of those factors, I can afford neither the time nor the money.  So, I’ll have to do this a different way.

So, I’m hopeful both that I was right about short story markets being one place acquiring editors for novel publishers look for new talent and that I’m good enough to break into the short story market.  You’ll note that I only wrote one article on breaking into short stories; I realize there’s a lot I probably don’t know.  But, my intent is to try to get a few short stories published over the next few years (and accelerate my rate of publication over time).  During this time, I’ll be working on the side on a novel project as well.  That novel project may not be the long-gestating project I occasionally blather about (a quick usage note: whenever you see me use the word “blather”, I”m almost always talking about the same novel project… it’s a quirk, I guess).  Realistically, though, even if I choose to start developing, writing, and shopping a different project first, I’ll always still be working on my original novel project on the side as well.  (I’ve read that successful writers have to be ruthless and able to kill their babies – no, not their human babies; their writing babies – but my particular baby has evolved so much over the course of its “life” that it can hardly be said to be the same juvenile thing I started with.  I suspect, though this is as yet unproven of course, that writers can also be successful if they’re willing to evolve and improve their babies rather than giving up on them.)

So, stage one of breaking in to the novel market involves breaking in to the short story market.  Keep in mind, again, that in both instances I mean the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre equivalent of those markets.  Personally I have very little interest in most mainstream fiction that doesn’t have some element of fantasy or sci-fi, with a few exceptions.  Still, I suspect the process is largely the same in mainstream markets.

To break into the Short Story market, therefore, I will be following a few guidelines as well.  First: I will write my best.  That’s a given, perhaps, but it’s imperative.  That means letting my stories rest and get away from them for a little while so I can review them with fresher eyes later.  That means hopefully getting critical feedback from a number of different readers.  The quantity and quality of that feedback are somewhat out of my control, and I’m reluctant to foist my work upon close friends not with the expectation that they enjoy it but that they will do a little work for me for free by giving me that feedback.  Here’s where writer’s groups come in handy – if participants are all engaged in this tit-for-tat process it feels less like getting free work out of someone and instead becomes like for like.  Therefore, at some point, most like after I’ve finished my MBA, I’ll put in a real effort to either locate and join an existing writer’s group or to start up one that works as an ongoing basis.

In the mean time, as soon as I’ve polished a story as much as I possibly can, I’ll begin submitting it to appropriate markets.  How I’ll choose markets will begin first by filtering for genre and tone.  More science-fictional stories will go to markets that publish more science fiction.  More fantastic stories will go to markets that publish more fantasy.  I’ll be starting near the top (based, admittedly, on my own criteria for what constitutes the top) and working my way down.  I’ll be taking into consideration the pay that a market offers as well as my own beliefs about the prestige of a given market.  (There are echoes of my Decision Modeling class here; I’ll have to develop a rigorous approach to how I evaluate “prestige”; I like the approach suggested in this post (and linked word doc) by Tobias Buckell in which he mentions he built a spreadsheet model to rank order which markets he’d submit to, first.)  Tomorrow, I’ll go into more detail about why you should start at the top (or more to the point, and more accurately, why I believe I should start at the top, and why I will be).

So, that’s my plan.  I’m going to try to get some short stories published.  I’m starting with the one I’ve been working on recently.  I have a few more I want to write and a few more that are waiting a new, revised treatment.  Once I start submitting – choosing higher-tiered markets first – I wait for the acceptance or rejection (and start working on the next story, of course).  If I get accepted, Congratulations-to-me, I’ve achieved stage one of my plan.  If not, then I move on to the next market.  At some point during this process, I join and actively participate in a writer’s group.  I repeat this process as often as necessary until I have a dozen or more short stories in pro markets to my name.  At that point, just maybe, I’ll be far enough in my career to start shopping a novel around.  So the goal then will be to finish a novel.

Hope you’ve enjoyed following me on this little journey.  Happy writing!

Back to Part 4: What’s in a Name?

Continue to Part 6 (the final installment): From the Top

Breaking In (Part 2): Writing Novels

On Saturday I talked a bit about what it takes to break into the Short Story market.  But, though I like writing short stories, and hope to get published in that market, what I like even more than writing short stories is writing novel-length works.  I mean, let’s face it: I’m a wordy writer.  I like depth, multiple plot threads, many characters, and a diversity of themes.  I like thinking up all the stuff that eventually will become part of a novel.  I like writing it all down.

There’s just one teensy weensy problem: I don’t know the first thing, really, about what it takes to get published in the novel market.

Oh sure, I’ve read articles on the subject.  I’ve read how-tos.  And those are fine and good, for what they are.  But then there’s advice like this.  The gist of that link: by the time an established writer is, well, established – enough that he or she is in a position to offer advice on how to break in – the market and industry will have changed.  That being the case, you’ll find some of that advice will still be true, and some will most likely be dated and inaccurate, and some will be so specific to a certain author’s personal experience as to be virtually invalid for anyone else.  Standing in the position of someone who has yet to break in, then, there is almost no way to tell the difference.

Still, the path to wisdom begins first by admitting your ignorance.  In that spirit I have read as much as I can to learn as much as I can.  And here, over the next few days, I will share the lessons I have learned on the subject of breaking in to the novel-publishing world.

Lesson One:  Write, write well, and write a lot.  One “theory” holds that a writer needs to write a million words of awful tripe before they will have developed enough as a writer to get published.  At an average of 100,000 words for a decent-sized book, that’s 10 books.  One author I’ve recently been following revealed that he’d written some ten or twelve books before one of his earlier books was picked up by a major publisher. 

Several writers I’ve read about talk about the time of their “apprenticeship” – a time when they wrote prolifically, and practiced a lot, producing work of dubious quality.  Many can even pinpoint the time when their apprenticeship began (with it ending when the author actually gets published).  This leads me to wonder about my own career.  When did I start on my “million words”?  I never had an “aha!” moment when I knew I wanted to be a writer: I’ve known since early childhood that this is what I want to do with my life (and only turned from that path, directly, because of the general advice from one writer that amounted to “don’t quit your day job, kid”).  Did my “million words” start when I was 9 or 10, around the time I first started working on the original draft of that long-unfinished novel of mine?  Did it start in Middle School?  High School?

Honestly, although in theory I’m working on the same book as when I was ten, the story, characters and plot are so different as to be a completely different book, and different world.  So let’s set that aside for a bit.  Now, throughout High School I wrote a lot.  I started working on a collaborative story with an old Middle School buddy in pen-pal fashion – a juvenile sci fi epic in which two boys from Earth are caught up in intergalactic intrigue when they are contacted by two aliens who happen to look exactly like the human boys.  I’d write one chapter, mail it to him, he’d review it, make any corrections he deemed necessary and write the next.  I’d review his and the process would begin anew.  I probably wrote around 10 or 15 thousand words on that story.  I also wrote an alien-invasion novela that borrowed a lot from H. G. WellsWar of the Worlds, television’s “The X-Files” and the biblical Book of Revelation.  That story (and the follow-up that I never finished) totaled somewhere between 20 thousand and 40 thousand.  Throughout High School I also wrote around a half-dozen short stories (and one stage play based on one of those stories) each running between 2,000 and 10,000 words.  That brings my total to around 50 to 80 thousand words.  And then there’s my baby (no, not the human baby that will soon be brought into world – he won’t be using words yet for several years – I mean that novel I keep blathering about).  By the time I quit work on the last “draft” of my novel, I’d written around 140,000 words (and considered the book to be between two-thirds and three-quarters done).  Add to that a few more short stories (each around six to ten thousand words), and I can safely say I’ve written a little over 200,000 words so far in my “apprenticeship”.  But this means I have a long way to go before hammering out my “million words”.  That doesn’t mean I can’t try to get published before I’m done.

But if my first “few” books are likely to be complete garbage, I’ll admit it makes me hesitate to start work again on my life-long novel project.  Why write one more word on it if that word will be crap?  I love this project too much to spend more time writing crap for it!

That angst lasts for about five minutes before I decide “Who Cares?”  I love this project too much not to keep writing it.  But I am thoughtful enough about my “career” as a writer to consider what else is there?  In the time since I first read about how much work it takes to get published, I’ve come up with a couple more ideas for fantasy epics (albeit works of shorter length and less ambition) and I have one space opera concept that I’ve been mulling over since my freshman year of College.  I’m not sure at what point I’m going to turn my attention to these other three ideas and start work on them, or when I might come up with still other ideas for novel-length works.  I wonder sometimes if I should put work on my true novel love on indefinite hiatus and turn my attention more directly to these to finish honing my craft, cleaning them up and getting them ready to try to launch my career, or if I should stick to my guns and keep working on that behemoth of a project.  Until I get out of Grad School and settle into a normal working schedule, it’s not a question I intend to answer, because I don’t have time for either.

In the mean time, I intend to write – as often and as much as I can. 

Stay tuned for Lesson 2 tomorrow.  Happy Writing.

Back to Part 1: Short Stories & Periodicals

Continue to Part 3 (and Lesson 2): Writing Community