Sunday, April 22, 2018

Restart

2018 Goal Update
Books read: 30
Words on BRUSHSTROKES: 250/ ?
Words on UNTITLED: 750/?

Starting new projects is always a little weird for me. It think it's rough for everyone, honestly. You're basically going from a near-finished product that you've been polishing for ages to a place where you're pretty much throwing words at a page to see if they stick--like checking to see if pasta is done. First drafts always start pretty slow for me because I can't stop comparing the new thing to the old thing. I get past it eventually, but it makes getting off the ground rough.

I expected these issues when I started BRUSHSTROKES, so I wasn't terribly surprised when I decided to scrap the 5000 plus words I had and start over.

I love the idea for BRUSHSTROKES. I think it'll be a pretty great book when I sit down to write it.

But I'm starting to think maybe now isn't the right time for me to work on it.

I'm in sort of a weird place. CANUS has taken up so much of my creative space over the last couple of years. I've worked on other things, sure, but not in what I think of as my usual way. Each time I've switched to a new project, I've gone in with a pitch, a contract, and a deadline. There was more structure to my writing. Now, I'm a little normless. I want to write another novel--it's time to write another novel--but there's no outside timeline. There's no prepared pitch.

It's been difficult to focus on much of anything in the last two weeks, but BRUSHSTROKES has been a particular nightmare. I can't get deep enough into the POV. I can't organize the scenes. I thought it was the usual new-project-slow start.

But a couple nights ago, I got caught up in another idea. I jotted down a couple paragraphs of a summary. Yesterday, I sat down and put some words on paper. They weren't great--first drafts and all--but they felt good.

So, for now, I'm going to work on the project that feels good. Or at least, feels better. First drafts are generally a hellscape for me, but I think I might be able to get this one on the page.

And that's the important part.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Cool Down

2018 Goal Update
Books read: 27
Words on BRUSHSTROKES: 5900/? (probably 80-85K)

Remember that last week of March when I wrote about 5,000 words in that one week?

Yeah, that didn't happen in the last couple weeks. I didn't even manage to get in last week's blog post (um... sorry about that).

I expect productivity to fluctuate. I know some weeks I'll get more done than others. There are natural dips.

That's not what's been going on.

I've mentioned before that I'm in the process of switching jobs. Adjunct life has been interesting, but it's time for me to move on to work that's more reliable (and comes with better pay and benefits--I love you, academia, but you've got to pay your workers what they're worth). I found a new job that's pretty great and that's willing to wait until the end of the semester to bring me on full-time, so long as I work part-time hours until then.

It's a good deal. Except for one thing: it means that I, right now, have four part-time jobs.

It's been an exhausting couple of weeks. I'm not great at the whole work-life balance thing to begin with, and adding another job to the mix has taken its toll. I've been burning the candle at every conceivable end, and it's drained my writing mojo.

This four-job situation is temporary--at the end of the semester, just a couple of weeks from now, my three teaching jobs end and I'll be down to one full-time job with normal hours. A few low-productivity writing weeks isn't so bad a trade off in the long run. Predictable hours and a decrease in the emotional labor I'll have to do on a daily basis will free up more brain space for creative work. In light of that, a few low-productivity writing weeks aren't a bad trade.

But, oh man, do I feel awful about it.

I'm sort of a slow-producer when it comes to words. Sure, I can crank out over a thousand on a day when I'm on a deadline, but in general it's a slower process for me. Since most of my writer friends are more prolific, I'm pretty insecure about my tiny daily wordcounts under the best of circumstances. It's not as bad when I'm able to squeeze in several writing days in a week. The cumulative wordcount lessens the feeling of inadequacy.

The past two weeks, though, I've been lucky to get in a single 250 word day. A two-week wordcount of fewer than 500 words is a gut-punch.

One of the ways that my brain lies to me is that it constantly tells me that I'm lazy. No matter how much I get done or how many hours of work I put in, there's a voice in my head that's telling me I'm not trying hard enough. I know that this is objectively not true, but it's hard to ignore that voice in times like this when I'm not getting words on the page.

It's a struggle to keep my expectations reasonable this week. There's only so much time in a day, and I only have so much mental space. If my productivity is low now, that's not so bad. This overwhelming situation is temporary, and once things settle, I should be able to get back on my feet--maybe not back to that end-of-March-I-had-a-whole-week-off level, but to somewhere reasonable.

In the meantime, I guess I have to take some time. Allow myself to recharge. Write what I can, when I can, but not get caught up in the numbers.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Uncharted

2018 Goals Update
Books read: 25 (my original goal was 50...I think I'm gonna make it)
Words on BRUSHSTROKES: 5,506/?

My Spring Break, such as it is, is drawing to a close. All three schools had their break on the same week this year, for once, so I actually did have a full week away from my day jobs. But I wouldn't exactly call it a week off.

Even with classes not in session, there were still emails from students to field. I did all the pre-screenings and onboarding paperwork for my new day job, which starts on a part-time basis next week. I'll shift to full-time when the semester ends, and my days as an adjunct will be over.

In spite of the flurry of activity, I managed to have some pretty productive writing days. I wrote to keep my mind off of waiting for Author Mentor Match results, and I wrote to distract myself from the disappointment when I didn't get chosen. But mostly, I wrote because this idea won't let go of me.

The beginning of a project is always weird. You go from looking at something that you've trimmed the fat from and polished and smoothed to looking at the rambling, incoherent slop that is a first draft.

My favorite part of writing is revision. I like tinkering with the story once it's down, looking at the bits and pieces and doing a diagnostic. Working and reworking the sections. I like the part where the shambling mess of a manuscript starts to look like an actual book.

Which means that writing a first draft can be a reeeeeeal challenge. First drafts are, by nature, imperfect. And, when it comes to my writing, I have a tendency to be a perfectionist.


Not all first drafts are alike. Not even all of my first drafts are alike. Some are..draftier, for lack of a better word. Some are more polished. But they're all kinda bad.

Most of my first drafts are solid stories. My tendency to outline serves me pretty well in that way.

But this story is different.

I don't have a plan for BRUSHSTROKES in the way that I had one for CANUS. I have a couple of paragraphs of a summary and a list of the major characters. I know, sort of, where the story will eventually go. I have a pretty solid idea of what the first handful of chapters look like. And that's pretty much it.

Not having a plan has definitely made the process more stressful. There's nothing for me to look to if I get stuck or lose the thread of the story. It makes things feel messy.

Phoebe, my main character in the new MS is messy. She's complicated. And this MS requires a close perspective--BRUSHSTROKES is my first real attempt at first person narration.

I'm hoping that the lack of form, the lack of my usual structure will let me dig a little deeper into Phoebe. It'll mean more revision on the back end, I'm sure, but if I can find her voice, I think it'll be worth it.

But boy, is the process ugly. I'm trying to embrace the crap. I'm really trying.

Long term, I can't say how this experiment will work out. It's certainly let me put a lot of words on the page pretty quickly, but that might have more to do with the week off than anything. We'll see if the wordcount keeps up next week.

When's the last time you shook up your process or wrote something out of your comfort zone? How did it go? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Building the World: Language

2018 Goals Update
Books read: 23
Words on LIBRARIUM: 4,646/4,646 (It's finally dONE THANK GOODNESS)
Words on BRUSHSTROKES: 1,020/? (probably around 80-85K)

I finally feel like I'm back in the saddle as far as writing goes. The last couple of weeks have been lackluster as far as my creative work--day job stuff has taken up more of my time and I've, frankly, been lazy and distractable.

One of the things I've been doing while not getting words on the page is playing Dragon Age: Inquisition (which is my least favorite of the DA games, but we no longer have a working controller for our Xbox 360, so it's the only option right now).

For those unfamiliar, Dragon Age is a series of fantasy role playing games (we know how I love my RPGS) set on the fictional continent of Thedas. This is, in general, a meticulously crafted world. The various nations each have their own history and sets of relationships and political structures. Each location has its own architectural style and fashion, its own set of norms and hobbies. It really is spectacularly well thought-out.

Except for one thing.


Language is one of the aspects of world building that I don't think gets the attention it deserves. And I guess, in some ways, I get it. Not all of us are Tolkien. Most of us don't particularly want to sit down and create an entire fictional language (you don't actually have to do that to have quality language world building--but I'll get to that later).

It's pretty easy to wave away language in settings that involve multiple countries or planets by saying that everyone speaks "Common"--I mean, that's the one language that your character automatically knows D&D. But just saying that there's a shared tongue ignores the way that language intertwines with history and politics.

Basically, a language doesn't just become common. It's a process that's wrapped up in economic and colonial relationships.

Allow me to get sociological for a minute.

What are some of the situations where a language becomes widespread? Which of our fictional nations' languages would be the one most likely to be picked up and used in other countries?

The languages of colonial powers tend to be more widespread. English is spoken around the world in no small part because for a while the English national pass-time was sailing around the world, conquering nations and making the native peoples speak and behave in an Anglicized manner. England's not the only example--the story of how Spanish became the dominant language in so many Central and South American nations is pretty similar. What nations or world in your fictional setting have the itch to claim land in other nations or on other planets? The colonized often have to learn the language of their colonizers. Which language is "common" will in some ways be a matter of which nation has power.

Trade will also have an impact on what languages people learn. Which nation holds the economic power? Who controls the shipping lines? If you want to make money--if you want to be able to trade with other nations, to expand your markets--you have to learn that nation's language. Again, power is at play. The nation (or group or whatever) that controls the trade lines doesn't need to learn others' languages because they are the folks you have to go through to make money. They're needed and as such they can dictate terms. Learn our language if you want access. Take it or leave it.

It seems like such a little thing, but something as simple as what language is most commonly spoken can add so much detail to a fictional world. Ignoring this part of world building pokes a hole in your world's history.

Now, when it comes to fictional languages--I definitely get the unwillingness to craft an entire language. I know some basic structural things about my alien species' languages in my space opera, but I don't have a dictionary or anything like that. But I don't necessarily need to have one. I wrote the whole book, even scenes that are spoken in one of the fictional languages, in English. With a few hints, the reader can assume what language is being spoken.

Movies do this all the time. US adaptations for Les Miserables, for instance, are typically scripted in English, but we don't assume that all of these 19th century French folks are actually speaking English. The same idea can apply for a fictional language. An author can drop some clues--mention the setting and origins of the characters, say something about the familiarity of a language or if someone struggles to find a word, or even flat out say that someone is speaking in a particular language--to plant the idea of what language is being spoken in the reader's mind. No need to come up with a new language. Unless you just want to.

Every aspect of your world is a chance to make the reader's experience of it more complete. Language is no exception.

So, maybe take some extra time to think about who's speaking what and why.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Personal Narrative

2018 goals update
Books read: 21
Words on LIBRARIUM: 3000/?--5000 maximum (this is more impressive when you consider that I started this week by cutting about 200 words from the story).

It's been a hectic couple of weeks.

I've been trying for the past few months to find a different day job. Adjuncting is stressful and not particularly lucrative, and the balance between how many classes I have to teach to pay my bills and how many classes I can teach effectively...doesn't really work out in my favor. I spruced up my resume and went on the hunt for new work. I finally found it, but some of the advice that I found along the way stuck with me.

I'm in a query mindset--CANUS is so close (*so close*) to being ready to go, so I'm trying to put together a great pitch letter. I'm finding that it's really not unlike looking for a job.

 

The specific piece of advice that's sticking with me is this: your resume should tell a story. Whatever your work has been, you should be able to frame your work history as a story of what you want to achieve and how you hope to achieve it.

This is... complicated.

My work history doesn't make a lot of sense. I've gone from radio and television, to academics, to administration without much of a plan. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Well, I do, but there's not really a set path that leads to "financially independent author." My strategy has always sort of been "do what I have to so I can do what I want to." Helpful for keeping up with writing, but not great for presenting as a purposeful narrative to a potential employer.

You find ways, though. Tying something you witnessed in radio and TV to an academic curiosity; demonstrating the way that teaching experiences prepare you to deal with deadlines and crises in administrating. But it takes some mental acrobatics.

One of the elements in a query is the bio: just a few sentences that give the agent a sense of who you are, what you'd be like to work with, and what business you have telling this particular story.

It's that last part that trips me up--for the same reason as the "your resume should be a narrative" advice. CANUS takes place in the distant future. And in space. With alien species. How can I draw a line from that to my teaching job? How does my experience make me "uniquely qualified" to tell this particular story?

I get why it's important, obviously. You bring yourself to every story that you write. Who you are and what you've experienced shape what stories you tell and how you tell them. But those lines can be tough to draw. Especially when you're writing genre fiction.

There's nothing in my work history that ties to space travel, and I've never met an alien species. But I have studied the way that economic relationships shape power structures. I've studied the ways that access to particular technologies can change daily life and who gets the final say in a conversation over the direction of resources. I've studied relationships between colonized and colonizers. And all of that comes with me to my story, my world, and my characters.

Sometimes it's hard to see how the threads of your own story tie together--even when you spend a considerable amount of your time weaving together the stories of others. But once you see the connection, you can point it out to others. And you can go into your own work knowing why you should tell the story; what you can give that someone else can't.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

#AMMConnect Post

I'm gearing up to try to get a mentor spot in the upcoming round of Author Mentor Match, so my weekly blog post is happening early. Consider this my #AMMConnect profile.

And forgive my overall lack of images. I'm new to the whole "create an aesthetic" thing.

Who am I?

In my day job, I'm an adjunct instructor (which is basically the teacher version of contract work--hired per class). I teach sociology classes, so I spend a lot of time trying to get my students to connect the dots between structure and individual. How does the way that our society chooses to do things shape what options are available to people at different societal positions? This ends up being a theme I play with in a lot of the work I do; my current WIP is no exception.

I made the decision to actively pursue writing in 2016. That year, I sent a novel I'd trunked to a small press, and it got picked up. Since then, I've had a couple of shorter works picked up by small presses (you can see the stuff I've got out on my website). The manuscript I'm submitting for AMM is a piece that's been in my head since high school, and I think I've finally got it close to where it needs to be.

What is my book?

My book is essentially what you'd get if Mass Effect spent less time on Reapers and more time examining colonialism and gentrification.

CANUS is an upper YA space opera in which humanity's reach has expanded across the galaxy. The Draconin Group is the corporation that made it possible--their faster-than-light technology isn't just the human's gateway to the galaxy; it's how all the species in the galaxy get things done.

Humans might be the powerhouse species in the galaxy, but that doesn't mean that things are sunshine and roses for all of them. AJ, narrator number one, is a human colonist who suspects that Draconin has been up to some shady--and murderous--business to get their hands on more land. Her search for proof lands her on Draconin's most wanted list. She has to run. Luckily for her, she manages to find a ship and a few people who share her interest in putting an end to Draconin's control of the galaxy.

Narrator number two is Hermes, an Arvian (one of my alien species) lives on a planet near the edges of the galaxy--one that desperately needs Draconin's flight tech. His homeworld's economy is collapsing, and the Draconin Group are the only ones offering options for Arvians to improve their standing. Hermes follows his older brother into Draconin's prestigious Hunter program. His assignment: to help capture and bring down AJ.

So: humans, aliens, spaceships, a dangerous colonizing power, complicated sibling relationships, and two people doing their best to navigate a situation where even the best options might end up destroying someone's life.

What's the catch?

Mmmm. Well, I've been through a handful of rounds of revision with this project. It's close, I know. The current draft is good (I've had some fantastic critique partners), but there are a handful of things that aren't clicking along the way that they could.

Why are you doing AMM?

 Honestly, I want some help from a publishing insider. Again, I've had some awesome help getting this far, but my partners have been in the same position I am. I'd like to get some insight from someone who's further on their publication journey, who might have knowledge and resources that I lack.

Graphics

Look, I'll give you a few images here, but this is not a thing I'm good at.





(There is a lot more black in this than I thought. I promise there are colorful things in the MS.)

I'm looking forward to getting to know the other mentee hopefuls. If you want to find me elsewhere online, here's where to find me.

Twitter: @authorascrowder
Instagram: @ascrowder

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Breather

2018 Goal Update
Books read: 18
Words on LIBRARIUM: 1800/? (5000 maximum)
Words on WD Contest story: 200/? (2000 maximum)

This hasn't been the best week for writing. In fact, I haven't actually written a word this week. Some of the lack of productivity has been due to a series of migraines (it's that time of year, I guess). Some of it has been because of the work load at my day jobs--and the work load that goes along with trying to find a different day job. But, if I'm honest, most of it boils down to my needing a break.

This time last week, I had just finished this round of revisions on CANUS. I did a little work on my two smaller projects to round out the week. My brain, though, hasn't been cooperating with me. Going from revisions to a first draft is always disorienting: I've been (re)polishing work for so long that the little things that you're not really supposed to worry about in a first draft scream at me. But I've been working non-stop really since last January, between revisions, short stories, the project that I still can't talk about, and the Mata Hari story ("Lady or the Dagger," which is now available!).

I mentioned in my 2017 reflection post that I wrote fewer words in 2017 than 2016, but that doesn't mean that I did less work. I'm proud of the work that I did, and I'm glad that some of it is now ready to be shared.

I started this blog back in April of 2016, when I decided to seriously pursue writing. Since then, I've been doing just that: devoting frequent time to my writing work (though I'm still not great a sticking to a schedule), pounding out new projects, perfecting larger projects, publishing pieces. I love the work. Even when I hate it, I love it. But we're approaching two years of almost non-stop work.

So I took this week off. On the one hand, I do think the break was earned. Of course, I still felt guilty about it the whole time.

I plan to ease back into work this coming week. It's a good time for it. I'll get feedback from my writing group on my LIBRARIUM story, which should spark some forward movement. And I should have some extra time to play around with the contest story.

I'm hoping the breather has helped me recharge a little. And I'm hoping that I can forgive myself for actually taking a moment to take a break.

Either way, it's time to get back in the saddle. The work won't do itself.