Tag Archives: drafts

Too Many Pots

Or maybe too many stoves.

With our brand new son in daycare, the days have become pretty hectic, and after a dormant period of easy maintenance, my work really took off last month with a number of high-profile projects, alongside some training… it’s been a mouthful. Did I just go from cutlery, to stoves, to food? Ah, well.

Regardless, I was able to squeeze in the time and finish the second half of my writing for that contract work I mentioned last time. It was similar in that there was a hard word limit and structure that I had to conform to, but it kept it focused again, I couldn’t meander on and had to remain on point. I really think contract writing is good for me, it’s teaching me to look at what I’m writing and examine it.

I recently organized my documents to better manage the short fiction side of things, and know what I should be working on and where. I think that’s a broader conversation I need to have, about how structure – not just in writing, but in organizing the things around the writing process itself – has been helping me… but probably later. Anyway, I came across a story I’d finished some time ago, but always felt strange about it, it felt a bit exploitative and I thought I could do better.

So, I took it out and began to read it and it surprised me how much I overwrote. I don’t know if it’s just a reaction from this really strict writing I just did, but I think in the last year or two I’ve really changed focus to examining what I’m writing and why it belongs in a story. That I like it isn’t enough, if I want to sell it. There’s pleasure in indulgent writing, I enjoy writing in a way that lets me sprawl, that lets me really stretch and let the words pour out faster than I can type… but it isn’t conducive to fiction, and it really isn’t good for trying to write anything that you want to sell.

For the last week, I’ve been picking this story apart, thread by thread, and I wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to rewrite it entirely. But there are good bones in there, scenes that make me flinch in the sudden light or scenes that vibrate like bass strings in the dark.

Telling myself that I don’t have time, or that I’m too tired, or whatever else isn’t really an option anymore. I’ve been outlining new story ideas and setting them aside after a few hundred words and all of them are clamoring for attention. Some of them might even be good! And I can never keep the call of a novel at bay for long. Sadly, it’ll have to go unheeded till I’m at a place where I can be confident that isn’t going to just sit in my hard drive for all of eternity like my last book. I want to be good enough to write a book.

For now, these six to eight thousand word stories are where my focus is, and I’m building a structure around it, so that no matter how much food I’m eating while cooking on multiple pots in various kitchens, I can still sit down and write a couple of thousand words a day. It’s been a good year so far, I want it to continue.

An Unexpected Kickstart

A friend of mine is working on a game project that looks quite fun, but was suspended in need of some writing. I, meanwhile, was suspended in my own dead space, colliding with blocks and depression left and right, till there was nothing left to say or do except to stare the cursor blinking on and off in a white screen. Regardless, hearing him talk about his needs made me – impulsively – offer my services.

We talked about what he wanted, I threw out some ideas I had based on his description of the kind of game and world he wanted to create, and offered suggestions on altering the antagonist’s motivation, create more of a meta-plot to bind together the various groups he was describing, and an overarching narrative rather than distinct stories. He agreed to give me a shot, and I began to pound out words.

The writing had to be very structured due to the nature of the project – there were eleven settings that had to be outlined, within about 450 words each. Each outline was broken down into four segment – a brief overview of an area and then three spots of interest within them. I created more structure by organizing the three spots into a friendly area, the area of the enemy’s strength, and an adventuring node.

I also went through the various geographies and assigned each some kind of setting flavor – whether Arthurian, Arabian, French Military, Medieval, Germanic Fairy Tales – you get the idea. In the end, this didn’t help me very much, as the themes were more muted, but it was a good starting point and it put the right visuals in my mind. To organize this in space, I sketched out a very rough, circular map that helped me arrange things a bit better.

The first draft was laborious, and then my son was born. I took some time off from the project, while I handed it in for notes. When I got back to it a week later, I had some feedback to work off of. The second draft was much cleaner, I revised considerably, and rewrote a few sections entirely.

I tend to overwrite and my word-bloat grows quickly. Here, I was arrested by the structure. Further, the project wasn’t mine – there was no ego involved here, I was writing to please someone else. These factors played a considerable part in allowing me to write quickly and efficiently, and while the writing went a week or two past the deadline, what I turned in was pretty good. It even got me a second project from him, which I’m working on now – taking the various characters and settings and combining them together to form story devices for the players to hook into for their own games.

Even better, the writing finally got me through the years long block I’ve been struggling with, and for the first time in ages, I’m thinking of new ideas. Last week, I finished the first draft of a story, with some nine thousand words that needs to be pared down by a thousand or two words, and right after I finished that first draft, I began another, entirely new story with the opening paragraphs of a third also thrown out during lunch this week.

And I have this contract writing to thank for this renewed energy. Finishing things is such a motivation and inspiration, that it doesn’t matter what it is that you finish – it could be anything, even contract writing. I don’t mean to diminish the writing I did for this game – it’s good, and I enjoyed it, but it’s still not my personal writing, so there’s always a separation there.

I can’t wait to see where this current burst of inspiration takes me.

Revision Bloat

I know better.

Revise after you finish. It’s the most basic of laws in writing. Don’t falter your momentum, keep pushing through the word count and scenes till you get to the end. But somehow, I always start at the beginning and work through, every time I sit down to write. And when you only have an hour after dinner, a break at work, or whatever, most of that time is eaten up fiddling with this sentence or that. I could spend days just working a single scene over and over till I have it just right, and leave the rest of the story unfinished.

Because, if the opening, or that one transition scene, or that one conversation, or whatever, isn’t exactly perfect, well, what incentive does the reader have to continue? Flawless logic, my dear, insecure ego. And whilst I fumble about the limbo of revision bloat, the ending remains unwritten, and so long as the story isn’t finished, I can’t be bothered to submit, can I? It’s a vicious, cruel trap I’ve set.

Catching myself red-handed doesn’t help as much as it should. It just makes things more awkward and uncomfortable, as I continue to do the thing I’m not supposed to, after it’s been pointed out to me, right in front of the person shaking their head, no!

That’s really my biggest problem right now, without deadlines of any consequence, projects can drag on endlessly, bloated with edit after edit, draft after draft. And eventually, an overworked, fussed-up story looses any grit and grain, become as smooth and uninteresting as baby-food and then it’s natural to let it go because whatever potency it once had is now sapped.

Some people benefit incredibly from a prolonged and extensive draft period. I feel my work is the opposite – the most successful stories have been ones I revised maybe once or twice, and then let them go, usually due to deadlines for contests or submission dates. The more I fuss, the less likely I am to let it go.

After years of silently thinking about writing, jotting notes about ideas that led nowhere, starting stories that faltered less than a thousand words in, this is the first, completely new story that I’ve never thought about before. It’s so easy to keep going back to old ideas that didn’t really get their due the first time around. And you have a starting point there, things already written, that you can borrow or steal to pad out the writing. It’s a cushion.

I didn’t want that security this time – I wanted something completely new, an idea and a culture and a setting I hadn’t explored at all. That’s what I’m churning out now and maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m being so fussy.

It’s been a long, and difficult labor already, but I know where to go, and what to do. I just need to pull the trigger on the last couple of scenes.

I can’t wait to finish.