Thursday, 24 August 2017

Some thoughts about process and SeptNoWriMo

So, I have this idea that maybe I'm subconsciously discarding processes that work. Not sure why: some kind of weird self-sabotage, most likely. To try to fight back against this, I'm trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work, and I'm starting by looking at my work over the past few years. I've tried a few different processes with varying results.

* I've written five 1000-word stories (Death-stream, Drunk/Goat (untitled), The Goat Man, Alone Together, and Haunting Perfections of the Lightless Void).
* I've written one 9k short story (Swanflight/The Last Dance Before Midnight).
* I've written 40k of a novel or series (The Nightmare Box).

Of those, the most successful would probably be either SSSFFSS or the flash fiction. Or, most worked on would be TNB. Which is the deciding factor: most complete, or most effort? If I go with most effort, that makes me feel more like my spreadsheets are some kind of use, so I'll probably try that for now. So...

2017: TNB is most worked on, TLDBM (SSSFFSS) is most complete.
2016: LOFB is most worked on, TWEOTR (SSSFFSS) is most complete.
2015: Placeholder is most complete. Looks like most worked on is Fire and Ice.
2014: Most complete will be Children of Light (SSSFFSS). Most worked on is either The Artist or Necroverse in general.
2013: Most worked on and most complete is Seeker: second drafts of Doom, Despair, and Desolation.
2012: Most worked on would probably be Doom. Most complete is probably the second draft of Darkness.
2011: Most worked on will be Dispersion. There's no clear contender for most complete as all 12 drafts that year were completed first drafts.

Next question: of the projects listed, which are most indicative of the process I was following that year? If I go by that sort of criteria, it's going to be like this: Dispersion, Doom, probably Doom again, The Artist (although with reference to the interference of the wider Necroverse), Placeholder, LOFB, TNB. Although, if I break out of the thing with years slightly...

Alternative: can I identify a generic set of processes as suggested by these stories?

1. Deadline and wordcount goal, linear pantsed. This is what I was doing in 2010, 2011, and 2012, with 15 first drafts completed in that time.
2. Deadline and wordcount goal, non-linear pantsed. I switched to this in 2013 and although I can reach the wordcount goal within the time, I don't seem to be able to make a coherent story out of it.
3. Wordcount goal but no deadline, linear pantsed. I've tried this off and on from 2013 to the present and it doesn't work, because when there's no reason to keep poking at it I tend to quit at the first major hurdle.
4. No wordcount goal, no deadline, non-linear pantsed. This is the 'take out everything that works and wonder why I'm not getting anywhere' one, which I tend to interweave with #2 in the hope of fixing it.

That's four variations. Looking at that list, I reliably complete drafts when I have both deadline and goal and I write straight through from start to finish. I've finished a couple of shorter things by dropping the linear part, but it doesn't seem to work for longer stuff. And, there really isn't much point starting a project with no constraints. So, based on my own historical data, this is probably what my optimum process looks like :

1. I need a clear idea of the format/wordcount required. E.g. 'novel', 'short story', '50k'.
2. I need a work structure somewhat like NaNoWriMo where I have a daily wordcount goal and a fixed start/finish date. It doesn't have to be the length of NaNo, but needs a certain level of "you can't back out" built into it.
3. I can write random scenes occasionally, but I should mostly focus on producing a linear narrative.

So, I'm thinking of getting back to something like this, which possibly means I need to declare next month a somewhat official SeptNoWriMo.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Some random NaNo Prep thoughts

I had some thoughts about NaNoWriMo preparation while writing a forum post today, so I've decided to expand them into a blog post. Here goes:

My NaNo Prep strategy is to pretend I'm not going to do it until the last possible minute, then make a snap decision that I'm going to take a break from whatever I'm working on to do something fun. The problem with this is that I got kind of obsessed with the thing I started last NaNo and I'm still working on it, so to follow my usual strategy I'd probably have to go back to the thing this project is a distraction from. Or, I could follow my more recent 'usual strategy' and just keep attacking this project until I finally get to the end.

As far as planning vs. pantsing I'm definitely a pantser, so my preparation for NaNo is pretty simple. I make a list of characters I know are going to be in it, write a brief description of them, write down some rough guidelines for the setting, then try to write down what the opening image is without actually starting the story. If I know anything else e.g. I might be setting out to find a different way to develop an older idea, I write that down as well. I don't bother trying to develop plot points or anything like that, because at this stage it would be a list of things that definitely aren't going to happen rather than a useful guide.

Also, you need a title. It serves several functions for me - an expression of theme, a thing to name folders and story files, and of course a necessary part of signing up for NaNoWriMo. The 'expression of theme' thing is sort of by accident. I choose titles that sort of fit the story I'm expecting to write, but they end up being somehow integral. For example, one time I used the title Placeholder because I had no idea what I'm going to write. One of the major characters turned out to be the prototype/guinea pig for an experiment the bad guys were running, and another one became a scapegoat of a less-bad guy's embezzlement scheme. Or another time I decided I definitely didn't want to write about a necromancer, so I used the joke title Hold the Necrosauce. You'll never guess what the story ended up being about.

 Finally - and this probably sounds either obvious or silly - I don't think you really have to do anything special or different for NaNo. It's more like the distilled essence of the things that already work for you. If you usually plan things thoroughly, you won't suddenly be able to write a fantastic pantsed draft, and if you're usually a pantser it's quite likely you'd end up dumping any planning you attempt. So, I'd say the first step is to figure out what works (and what doesn't work) for you already. Then, figure out how to adapt the 'what works' list to working at NaNo speed and also probably figure out how to avoid falling into the dangerous territory of the 'what doesn't work' list.

So, conclusion:

  1. You will get attached to your NaNo story even if you start it as a distraction 
  2. You need a title. Your choice of title will probably affect the story even if it's just a joke or placeholder.
  3. Make two lists - 'things that work for me' and 'things that don't work for me'. Use the first list to figure out your NaNo strategy.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Sparks Project (subtitle: looking for something to set me on fire)

Okay, so I'm struggling with short story ideas and I need to be not struggling. I already know that, and I already have a vague idea about trying to write them in existing universes, but that's not really going to solve the problem. The real problem is that I'm on the wrong side of another divide: the one between 'serious writer' and 'muse dust'. The story ideas I've been coming up with for uni are in the 'serious writer' category, which means I'm coming up with things I think I should be writing rather than things I actually want to write. So, in August I'm trying to change this pattern. I'm basically going to work in a cycle of plan-write-reflect and try to settle into the restrictions so I can start playing with them. I don't know if that makes sense, which means it probably doesn't.

The process I'm following is simple:

1. Think of a title.
2. Plan the story.
3. Write the story.
4. Reflect on the story.
5. Start again at #1 with a new idea.

There are only a few rules. Stories should be between 900 words and 1100 words. I'm also aiming to start a new story every second day, although that's not a rule so much as an ambition. If they take longer or I miss a day for some reason, that's okay. Also, it's a semi-rule that the reflection should be written on a different day to the story itself, because if I try to do it straight away I'll miss the things I'd be able to spot after a bit of time.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

August Goals and Plans

August is the month of goats! Also, the shortest 'Daily Goats' on the Blackwood farm since... probably some time in the late 90s? We have only one mother-to-be this year, due on the 22nd. They're most likely going to be solid black with white markings (British Alpine), but could be solid black (Australian Melaan). I'm going to take as many pictures of them as I can, but given my record I guess I'd better not promise anything will appear here...

Writing-wise, I plan to make August a month of flash fiction. I have to write two stories for assessment and I've been wanting to do a bit of world exploration for some of my big projects, so I have this idea about combining the two things and writing flash set in those worlds. I also have a bit of 'alternate universe' stuff I want to do for two (not quite) abandoned characters to see if I can find a world that accommodates their abilities, and I have two sections of my current major project 'The Nightmare Box' that I want to finish rewriting.

Goals for August:

* Write and polish at least 2 flash stories.
* Always Be Writing - constantly have at least 1 flash story in active planning/writing/editing mode.
* Finish editing/rewriting the two sections of TNB.
* Initial plan for revising two of my totally-not-abandoned projects.
* Read 4 books (3 free choice, 1 nonfiction).
* Blog stuff.
* Complete all assessment tasks for uni (1 essay, 1 quiz, 2 short stories + exegesis, 4 sets of forum posts).

I have no idea what to blog about, so at the moment I'm creating redundant rainbow chickens again by posting the same things here as on my Steve PPT. Anyway, this is my August. Flash fiction, some planning, a bit of rewriting, a lot of assessment-related panic. On with the show.

Hmm... August flash/short fiction challenge for Steve? As long as I'm going to be doing it anyway, I might as well put it up as a challenge. That seems to be my basic philosophy for challenges - if you're doing it anyway, post a set of rules so anyone else who wants to can try the same thing. In this case the rules would be really simple, since the only requirement is to write something that's somewhere around the right length. Or should it be a '1000-word chunk' challenge instead so I don't have to feel like I've failed if I end up with something that's really a part of a novel?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 10: Writing is going okay. Everything else... not so great.

I had a run-in with Myron the 100kg buck goat on the 3rd and managed to briefly dislocate my right shoulder. Also lots of bruises on my back and a hoof to the right side of my face. So... yeah, this is going to be a problem. I still can't use my right arm much, so I'm staying away from the computer whenever possible and handwriting for Camp NaNo. This is surprisingly successful - I'm actually slightly ahead at the moment - but it means all that time I spent cleaning my typewriter on Day 1 was wasted effort. While I can use the computer keyboard a bit, the typewriter demands too much shoulder movement.

So, doing okay with writing but not really keeping up with blogging, social media or my cabin-mates. I feel weird about that. Am I having a good month or not?

Thought for today: Write the thing you can't resist.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 1: A bit of a wobble, but a successful start

I didn't start Camp NaNoWriMo at midnight.

This is not in itself odd or noteworthy. Midnight starts are fun and all, but they're not exactly mandatory. In fact, the only reason I'm mentioning it is that I was awake at midnight and I wasn't writing. Not just in a 'I was doing something else' way, either. I was the 'alone at the desk having a bit of a wobble' kind of 'not writing'. It went like this:

Friday June 30, 11:20pm

I can't start from scratch because I don't have time to plan it out. I can't keep going with... well, anything... because I'm so fucking lost with it all that I wouldn't know where to start. So, the only thing left to do is write about the things I can't do. Somehow that tends to mean the metafictional adventures of Siana and Scott, which as the heading implies seemed like a good idea for about two minutes. I could go on some kind of journey of self-discovery or something - hook up with my old imaginary friends and talk about the utter mess I'm making of my writing career, and maybe regather my strength and build up writing muscle for working on new, serious things.

Then a couple of minutes later I was like "How is that going to help? I should just put on my big girl pants and attack a proper project. Metafiction is just a complete waste of time and effort!"

And... the thing is, I just don't know. Would it help? Ideally, it would be a quiet way to get into my own head - really dig into the things I want to do and the reasons why they're not happening. On the other hand... wait, is there another hand? If it just ends up random hijinks with characters, at least I'm writing something.

The decision basically comes down to 'panicflailrunaroundtheroomwavingmyarmsandnotwriting' or 'try the metafic thing'. I can set constraints, like that maybe I'll only try it for the first week, or like I'll stick to the 500 word thing as a target rather than a minimum, but really...

Saturday July 1, midnight

I can't do this. I'm too scared. Too broken. I. Cannot. Do. This.

So scared. So... I don't know how to explain it. I'm just sitting here trying to put anything at all on the page because I'm so scared there's nothing real in here. I feel defeated. The WIP list will never be conquered, the assessments will never be done, nothing will ever just turn out fine. I want to burn, but I just sit here cold and useless, and I don't know what to do about it.

Two things, Siana: first, switch off the computer. Second, get off the uncomfortable chair and find a spot where your body doesn't hurt so much.

Saturday July 1, 12:30am (transcribed from notebook)

Think about the actual, real, significant problems. Not the ones I'm absorbing and labelling myself with from the web or books. Just the real things that are stopping me.

So, why not the metafic? Not just 'it's not serious or productive'. The real reason.

Because my heart is elsewhere.

Yeah? Where?

In the Nightmare Box with my little necromancer.

So, why not work on that?

I don't know what happens next... and that's silly, because what's this 'next'? If I don't have an immediate idea for what happens next in the riverside training, what about all the other bits that belong in there? Crows and phones, dust and bones, ice and stones...

The thing is, I know that pattern of thought, and once I started writing it down I recognised the pattern and was able to realise that I needed to get myself comfortable and ask that one important question: where is my heart right now?

(Side note: as long as the answer is 'somewhere inside that lump of pain I call an upper back and ribcage', it's a fair bet that no work is going to get done. Ditto if a similar question about my writerly brain gets 'behind eyes that can't focus on something backlit'.)

So, today I cleaned probably something like 40 years of sticky stuff out of my typewriter, tidied my office, and didn't even start the computer until about 11:30pm when I was ready to update my wordcount. Using my now ridiculously soft-touch typewriter, I wrote 1032 words of the story I've been working on since the start of April, which I may or may not be lost in. If I just keep writing, though, I'll probably find my way out.

Also, I got this in my email after updating my wordcount!

Final thought: I don't have to know the whole story right now. It's enough to just keep following my heart.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Sort of a book review: Writing From Start to Finish by Kate Grenville

I've started reading Writing From Start To Finish by Kate Grenville, and it's the first 'how to write' book that's ever even remotely clicked with me so now I'm going to bore everyone who reads this thread by talking about it.

The book follows the entire writing process from initially deciding to write something all the way to giving it the final polish. It focuses on short stories and essays, but also explains how the same process can be applied to any kind of writing. Unusually for a writing book, it doesn't start with planning. Or at least, not the plotting/outlining type of planning. Instead, the fiction-writing section starts with the idea of giving yourself an assignment. For example, "Write a novel about a necromancer, using the theme 'serenade of self-destruction'" would be a description of the 'assignment' for my current main writing project. Then you use the directions and constraints of the assignment as the first steps into generating piles of ideas and information - just sort of wild brainstorming at this stage using various combinations of mind-maps, lists, research, and freewriting. Then once you've generated enough ideas, you sort them into piles depending on how useful they are or how well they fit into the assignment.

Then you start constructing the outline, long after I would have expected to be told to do it.

The thing is, looking at a lot of my 'chaos drafts' I can sort of see that they're right back at that early step of generating ideas and information. The next step isn't for it to magically come together as a complete novel draft - it's sorting all the bits and pieces into what really fits the original 'assignment' and what doesn't. Even then, the outlining stage is constructed on the basis that you'll be adding and changing ideas the whole way through it, and the drafting stage is practically inviting me to write in whatever order I want. Overall, the book is the closest thing I've found to a reference for the writing style I've found myself adopting.

Overall, this book is easy to read and the process it describes is easy to follow, but also easy to adapt if you're someone like me who already has a few established quirks. It's going to be extremely helpful for the coming Camp NaNo month. I only wish I'd bought it a bit earlier so I had more time to get myself sorted out.

I bought it from Booktopia, but I assume it's available from all the usual retailers.