Tag Archives: writing process

Changing Focus

So…these past six months or so I’ve been really struggling with discouragement in regards to my writing.  This is in large part due to the growing suspicion that what I really want to write isn’t something that editors are going to want to buy/license.  The acquiring markets are really specific in what sort of stories and lengths and styles they’re looking for.  Most short fiction markets, for example, want stories within the range of 5k, and the stories must be standalone, must have a certain kind of hook in the beginning, and so on.  Novels, too, have to be in a certain range, with a certain set of criteria to hit, and that criteria may change per editor but tends to be about the same on the whole.

But what interests me are slower-build stories with multiple layers, connected as a part of a series with repeating characters and growth over the whole series, depth, beauty, wonder, sorrow, the battle between hope and fear, as well as action and adventure and humor and bantering and… of an indeterminate and varied length.

One of the things I hate most about where I am in my writing is that I feel very much alone.  I don’t have anyone I can really turn to and hand over my writing and say, Tell me truly, am I deluding myself, is this good enough? Is this bad storytelling, am I not ‘there yet’?  Or am I running into all these roadblocks because what I like and want is so niche and I shouldn’t worry about whether or not it’s “good enough” and just strike out on my own?

On the other hand, I do know I’m not the only one with this question.  Pat Rothfuss recently posted about his 30k short fiction foray into a story about Auri, which sounds like the same conundrum I’m in, minus the fact that his story is part of an already-established series and he has people he can consult for their opinions and an editor already attached.

I also feel akin to Andrea K. Host’s post about writing the Touchstone Trilogy, and am beginning to admire how she withdrew completely from the submission grind and just wrote and didn’t share her work with anyone rather than deal with the stress and what ifs and so on.

Part of my problem is that with my chronic illness, I don’t have a lot of energy to find readers who might like my style of story and writing and gain feedback.  I have a hard enough time maintaining friendships and doing things with and for people as it is.  I don’t have a lot of money or energy to afford or attend classes or workshops.  I also am not able to write much in a given year.  So, writing a story or two per year and setting that out into the world to be rejected over and over has become disheartening when I know I have learned a lot and my storytelling chops have improved since I started this blog and process 3 years ago.  I’ve been doing the best I can.  I hate it when that best isn’t good enough, though, especially when whats a “good story” is so subjective and I’m not sure what to make of the increasingly varied responses I’m getting.

I’ve also made the mistake(?) of telling a few people about the stories I’m excited about, developing and researching–and gotten the polite, closed-off expression full of misgiving that only has added to my self-doubt.

Another struggle I’m facing is that with my chronic illness, I have a really hard time developing characters and worlds, not to mention I have a really hard time slogging through the muck in my brain to put down words on paper.  Creating just takes so much time and energy, I feel like if I want to be able to do this, to work towards a steady career in writing, that every story I work on must count towards something I could use or could be publishable.

However, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s post on abandoning the preciousness of time and art is something to keep in mind.  If I think only in terms of “I should only write publishable material” that’s putting a lot of pressure on myself.  Pressure I really don’t need.  I’m not saying that what I do shouldn’t be important to me personally, but…I do think I’m happier when I’m not thinking about whether or not what I write will be acceptable to others or whether or not this story will break into community-approved markets.

That’s the other thing.  I’m currently working on a self-pubbed project, to be unveiled later this year, and it’s been a real eye-opener about how just how little money I currently have available for the self-pub route.  See again: disability and a lot of recent medical expenses.

So, if my work isn’t going to be acceptable at more traditionally-minded markets and if I don’t have the resources for self-publishing, what do I do?

I guess…the answer is obvious.  Keep writing what I want to write, stop worrying about publication all together for now.  Pull an Andrea K. Host and write in my bubble for a while since the submission grind is starting to get to me.  Work on improving my craft for myself, with whatever resources I have available to me.  Focus on my health and getting better.  Assume to myself I’ll find a part-time job when I recover and reevaluate at that point.

But I want to write, that’s not going to change.  I am bereft and easily depressed when I don’t.  Stories are who I am.

So, if I’m not going to be writing towards publication for a while, what do I do with this blog?  When I first started this blog, it was a great motivator.  It helped me combat my depression when I was first diagnosed and trying to sort myself out, what I could hope for and expect from myself and the new version of my body.  This blog still gives me an open book to work through ideas and thoughts, so I’m not going to close it, but I do think my focus will be changing.  To what, exactly, I don’t know.

If I’m not going to be pursuing publication for a while, do I really need an empty bibliography?  If I’m going to be reevaluating what stories to pursue or keeping them a secret, do I really need my Storybox?

(Yes, you can see that whatever thick skin I had a few years ago, is currently, strangely missing.)

I think I need a sandbox period.  I just need to play and figure things out and have fun.  I need to go into a mental space with no pressure, no rejections filtering into  my inbox, no criticisms from friends or strangers about how I’m doing everything wrong, no looks of misgiving, no judgments about how they don’t like what I’m doing, no confusion about who I should believe or what my stories are worth.

I have a short story that I’m writing/have written for an anthology I’m excited for, but that’s it.  Am going to draw a line in the sand and say, that’s enough. It’s play time!

ETA:  When this post goes live, I’ll have been sitting on this decision for a month.  So far, it’s made me a LOT happier.

I did backtrack to test the decision, though, to see if it was one I really want to do.  I submitted twice more.  One rejection was very nice,  quite cool and made me happy, the other rejection was extremely disheartening…and, to be frank, rejection isn’t really something I want to deal with right now.  Especially since the previous few weeks of sandbox had been fun and freeing.  So my decision stands, I’m going into sandbox fun mode.  No worries, no cares, no pressure.  Just experimenting and exploring and having fun and shaping worlds and having character adventures.  I know this won’t affect anyone but me and my own mental framework, but hey, you’re welcome to join me if you want.  It’s time to start taking everything a little less seriously.

ETA Again! Hah. I just found this blog post by Robin LaFevers on Surviving Nearly There, which pretty much sums up where I am and reaffirms the decisions I’ve made. It’s… rather uncanny.

Queen 3.0

Continuing to write up a draft log until Queen is either accepted for publication or else put into a drawer, since I’m finding the process both enlightening and useful.  (I’d hate to say “trunked” since I may still pull it back out again later, who knows with this one.)

September 2013.

Sent Queen off to a handful of readers who volunteered after my post requesting help.  Even though this is not a novel but a novella, I was not confident I’d hear back or that those who read it would like it, considering the story matter.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I then distracted myself by writing the rough draft of a 7.5k short story in 2 weeks, completely surprising myself that I managed to pull that one off.  I really needed it, though, both the story and the success in writing it so quickly.  (It was also short-listed in October which made me so happy. I am so grateful for that, too.)

November-December 2013.

November, I heard back from the one reader who ended up sending me feedback.  In December over the holidays I questioned the family members who had also read it for second opinions about how certain things played out, just so I could get some rough sketch about what direction to take revisions in.

I’m not going to lie, I got really discouraged.  And it wasn’t so much the idea that there were still revisions to do that was discouraging as the realization that I would have very little help or feedback to revise with.  With so little interest in the story or follow-through from the volunteers, I had to decide whether it was worth pursuing this story, dumping more of my resources into finding help for it, or calling it off.  While trying to decide, I took advantage of #Pitmas to learn how to write better pitches.  I didn’t place, but I did learn more about pitching, thanks to Amanda C. Davis‘ help.  (If you haven’t read any of her stories, you’re missing out.  She’s a fantastic person and superb writer.)

It’s also worth noting that I was EXTREMELY burnt out from churning out 50k of non-fiction in November on top of my chronic illness.  That was an incredibly unwise grind I put myself through, but like all folly-filled experiences, I learned a lot from it.   Still, not very happy months, writing-wise.

January 2014.

I tried to revise Queen for about a week, the second week of January after returning home from the holidays.  I was still so burnt-out and exhausted, though, that I gave that up after a week of very little progress and even more discouragement to show for it.  I realized that I can’t edit/revise on an empty well.  The next week I started drafting a follow-up story to the short story I wrote in September, and instantly felt better and became happier.  I modified my goals to writing a little bit each day, resting and recovering from burn-out.

February 2014.

Still, my original plan was to submit Queen to World Weaver Press during its open submission period in February.  I wasn’t going to let my discouragement stop me completely.  Besides, I’m never going to get better at writing queries if I don’t practice writing queries.  So, fully expecting not to actually pass the query phase, I retooled my query for the third and  fourth time, sent it to a friend who helped me get it into its fifth form, and smacked on the requested first 5k and sent it off.  And now as I write this, I’ve just received an e-mail saying they would like to see the full manuscript plus a synopsis.  Like pitches and queries, the last synopsis I wrote was about 7 years ago and it was absolutely terrible.   So now I get to finish revising and draft a passable synopsis (hopefully not a terrible one) in a reasonable amount of time.  Hopefully by the end of this week.

If nothing else comes of this, I am glad of two things: One, I wrote a query that squeaked me by into the next stage, which I was completely not expecting to pull off, considering how terrible my query started out; Two, that this novella is getting read, even if by only a few, and that it is teaching me how to pitch and write queries, how to write then revise a full story rather than just individual chapters.  I have learned and am learning a lot.  And even if this story does not make it into public readership for whatever reason, I needed to write it and I’m glad I did.

ETA: I used writing my synopsis as a tool to also help me revise for draft 3.0.  I’ve heard of people using outlines to revise and I think this is on the same lines.   It was like being able to take step back a few feet to look at a painting from far away rather than close up.   So that was encouraging.  I probably could have–or should have–taken more time to revise, but I wanted to get this submission package out by the end of this week rather than keep them waiting forever and my energy is not limitless and I did burn myself out working on this on Monday, oops.

April 2014.

Just got a very nice rejection for the story, and one that is perfectly understandable.  She liked my writing, the characters and the setting, but the plot and story structure wasn’t the kind she liked.  So, from here I’m going to do what I said I would.  I don’t have the means to self-publish QUEEN, and I need a break from it anyway, so I’m shelving it for now rather than continue to hunt down both a publisher that takes unsolicited novellas and one I’d want to work with.  From here, I’m going to focus my efforts somewhere else.

I won’t say much more, but I will say I’m glad I did this. I’ve learned a lot from the journey of crafting this story and recording my thoughts about it.  I’m also glad I wrote QUEEN how and when I did.  QUEEN is one of the stories I needed to write, but just because I needed to write it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be enjoyed or liked by all and sundry.  Is life, that’s just how it goes. 🙂

Until next time!

Queen 1.0 Draft COMPLETE

So, I finished Draft 1.0 of Queen of the Eight Banners yesterday.  It was rather…anticlimactic since I know I’m going straight back into revisions either today or tomorrow.  Yet I’ll admit I’m also rather in awe since I’ve been working on and off on this “novella” since July 2011.  Did I really do it? Did I really finish? …Are you sure? Haha.

I thought I’d give a brief history of this draft, for my benefit–and perhaps yours.

July 31, 2011: First inklings of the story. Copied from my idea doc: “A queen falls ill, perhaps from biowarfare, and she must learn how to cope/survive/save her people that way.  Could a story about someone ill actually work?”

August 2011:  Story solidifies–at least I thought so at this time.  This is also the month a friend and I roadtrip and attend WorldCON in Reno, Nevada.  Energies are low, coincidentally.  I declare my intention to work on this story on the blog. 1k written.

September 2011:  I begin drafting in a Composition notebook long-hand rather than work on the computer, due to frustrations with that method.  I have very little idea what I’m doing or how to go about writing this story. It’s giving me so much trouble that I just start drafting scenes as they come to me rather than worry about how to write this thing in chronological order.  When I get stuck, I complain about it in my story notebook, and I see what I can do to untangle all the plot tangles via written brainstorming/complaining.

Otherwise, I’m doing a lot of research and trying to figure out how the balance works between history fact and fiction, research and imagination with historical fiction, particularly historical fantasy. I also realize that I don’t know the characters well enough yet and go back to the drawing board, both literally and figuratively. 3k written.

October 2011: 7k written.  I believe I’ve returned to the computer by this point, typing up what I’ve drafted by hand and arranging it in a Scrivener project before adding new content.

November-December 2011: Nothing written, but I haven’t stopped working/braining on it.

January 2012: 4k written. Here’s a slice from my life this month.  I continue to struggle with the story, its structure, its direction (how to get from point A towards the ending I have in mind), the balance of research and imagination, when to do research upfront, when to leave it for “fix it in post,” etc.

February 2012: 1k added.  A lot was happening this month, including Month of Letters.

March 2012: 2k written on Queen, though I wrote another 1k short story this month, as well.  I do finish part 1!  This is more of an achievement when you know that I was writing out of chronological order pretty much until now.  Once I finished part 1, I continue writing chronologically to finish the remaining parts.

April 2012: I break to do a short story. Nothing written.

May 2012: 1k.  I’m interviewed about Queen. I compare drafting a story to watercolor painting and feel better about the process thereby.

June 2012: 5k written and I finish parts 2 & 3. The original plan for the novella was a three-part story, but the more I write the more I realize the story won’t work without abc and xyz, so the story expands into 4 parts.

July-August 2012: I break to do the CFS blog series and I halt all progress on Queen of the Eight Banners.  However, writing non-fiction about CFS relieves a lot of internal pressure to get “everything right” and to write the illness “so it makes sense” in my rough draft.  Thank goodness.

September 2012: Nothing written. I spend my time helping a friend prepare to leave for a 2+ year stint of Peace Corps.  I reread parts 1-3 in preparation to start part 4 and give myself a pat on the back for how much better things are coming together than I thought they were.

October 2012: I believe I start part 4 this month, thinking it will be the last part of the story.  I also decide to try out NaNoWriMo next month with an interactive fiction game set in the same world as my novella.  I spend a lot of time fleshing out the world in preparation, and that worldbuilding gives me a lot of ideas to make part 4 more interesting.  I also watch the Korean drama Arang & The Magistrate and take it as both inspiration and permission to play more openly with with historical/cultural mythologies in a historical fantasy setting.  (American authors get a lot of flack for writing other cultures, and even though I’ve done 2+ years of solid research in this time period, there’s still a lot of hot debate and scorn on our breed.  Watching the k-drama lifts a lot of the external pressure and gives me permission to take the world in more directions.)

I also realize the story is going to have to be five parts in order to work properly. (Cue mental face-palming over the length of my fiction.) 5k written, bringing the rough draft up to 25k.

November 2012: I take a break to do NaNoWriMo and work on the game, Legend of Little Fox, set in the same world.  It helps me get to know the world and two of the characters better.

December 2012: 1k written.  Vacation and health interfere.

January 2013: 3k written.  Most of my energy goes towards projects for others.

February 2013: I finish part 4 after writing 6k, mostly in daily half-hour chunks which is now my standard modus operandi.

March 2013: I reread parts 1-4 and am extremely frustrated by how rough parts 1 & 2 are and how close I am to finishing draft 1.0 but how much work is still left to do to get everything to come together.  There seems to be no real end in sight and I am losing patience. I remember Laini Taylor’s essay on exploratory drafts and give myself a break for doing the best I can way back when I started. Due to other life issues, I only get 2k written.

April 2013: I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo with a goal of 10k.  I write every day for half an hour and finish part 5 on April 15th after writing 5k. The “novella” clocks in at 41k which is much longer than my original goal of 25k (haha, oops?)

Today I’m taking the time to write this out to see how far I’ve come and for future reference when I write other rough drafts.  Then it’s time to revise!

Otherwise, if you’re wondering when I’ll be needing beta-readers, I won’t ask for any until I have draft 2.0 done.  I use an alpha-reader for my first drafts, but she works more as a cheerleader, encouraging me when I get discouraged, reading my drafts to flag confusing parts, and telling me what she likes about what I’ve written.  When draft 2.0 is done, I’m going to need a lot more feedback and fresh perspectives.

– – –

Here are some stats:

44 research documents, including old papers I wrote at university.

5 parts. 29 Scrivener scenes. 40, 762 words.

14 deleted scenes.  (These contribute to low monthly word-counts if I write something then automatically discard it. Half of these were automatic discards, the other half got deleted later along the way.)

Anti-Discouragement Pill

Last year I got really discouraged with my rough-draft writing.  I wanted whatever I was writing to come out exactly the way I wanted it to go on the first try.  In other words, I didn’t want writing to be a process, I wanted it to be the equivalent of spilling a perfect story out onto the page.   Granted, some of my frustration was illness-based.  I have a lot less control over my process now than I used to.

However, one day as I was musing over my frustrations, I realized something that has become quite a useful observation for me.  I realized that any form of art never spills perfectly onto the page on the first go. In fact, the process of drawing, painting, or other art forms is just that–a process.  Why should I expect my writing to be any different?  When I draw, first I do a thumbnail sketch, then a preliminary pencil sketch with various amounts of erasing and redrawing. Then I wait a few days or draw something different so I can have a fresh view.  Then I ink, then I apply markers, and so on.  Nothing skips magically from my head onto the sketchbook page.

Writing is the same.  Whether you’re an “outliner” or a “discovery writer”, no rough draft is ever the final draft. Ever.  There is always something to tweak or make better. Sometimes you have to completely erase and “redraw” a section so that it comes closer to how you want it to go, and so on.

As soon as I realized that writing is a cousin to drawing, I instantly felt better. However, I’ve found some difficulty trying to explain my epiphany to others. So, in April when I was working on a watercolor experiment with the help of a friend, I took progress shots, and now I’m sharing them with you.

Here we go!

Step Zero- Initial Idea.

This is all in your mind. Some of it is vague, some of it is crystal clear and longing to be captured “just so”.   You hope, just like every other time, that what you’re able to put on paper will match what’s in your head.

Step One – Thumbnail sketch.

Thumbnails, because they’re vague in parts, detailed in others, tend to capture your Initial Idea better than the steps following it. This can be a subject of frustration.

Step Two – Pencil sketch.

I didn’t take a photo of just the pencils, but you can see them here, lightly drawn, getting the basic shapes of what I want.  Even just this first step took some erasing and redrawing to get the shapes closer to how I wanted them. Already there was some disappointment in how the sketch differed from thumbnail and my Initial Idea, but I kept going.

Thumbnail + Pencil Sketch

Step Three – Basic background.

Sketching with paint, is more like it. Trying to get a feel for how the background should function behind the foreground.

Basic Background

Step Four – More depth.

More Depth

Hesitating, Considering

Step Five – Going All Out & Taking Risks.

I really didn’t know how to go from Step 4 to Step 5. How do you fill in a background with color and shapes so that it will function as a sort of hazy background and not detract from the foreground when it’s a finished piece? Yeah, I didn’t know. I badgered a friend (who knows a lot more than I do) with questions. I hesitated and considered for a long time. Then, gathering all my newly-acquired instructions, I made the plunge with crossed fingers and bated breath. Sometimes, we really don’t know what we’re doing or how to achieve the effects we want. But we try anyway and tell ourselves that if we break it, we can still fix it. The point is not to give up but to keep moving forward–and ask for help.

Fleshed-out Background

Step Six – Color correction.

The background turned out too blue for my liking. I have a huge dislike for blue and pink wildflower fields that certain impressionists have done. So I sought help again and tried a wash of yellow over it. Lines blurred more than I liked, but at least the grass is green again. I also tried my hand at some underpainting on the fairy. I didn’t do it quite right, but there was no harm to my attempt, and now I know better.

A Greener Spring

Step Seven – The Faerie & The Poppy.

More painting, and then I brought out my watercolor pencils  for the foreground, which I enjoy working with.   I ended up spilling orange paint on the wing, however, and was unsuccessful at blotting it all up, so it became an accidental feature of the piece. I freaked out at the time, but besides drifting further away from my Initial Idea, there was no lasting harm or foul, and I adapted the mistake to make it work with the rest of the picture.  (Remember how this can apply to writing?)

The Faerie & The Poppy

Step Eight – Flattening, Inks, Details.

Next, my watercolor paper was curling, so I learned the technique to straighten the paper and did that overnight.  Then I inked the foreground to make it pop more from the background, and added the finer details.  I inked with a migraine at the time, so since I could barely see, my hand strayed many times from where I wanted it to go. Each time I made a mistake, I tried to adapt it so it appeared like something I did on purpose.

Flattening, Inks, Details

Here’s a  close-up:


Summary: The whole process took me about a month from start to finish. I worked on it off and on, weighing each step, trying to figure out how to get the piece closer to how I wanted it to go since most of the time I just didn’t know, and seeking help when I needed it.  The process would have gone much faster if I knew more of what I was doing, but the process itself: the thumbnail sketch, sketching and erasing till I had what I wanted, the layering and tweaking of colors, waiting for things to dry before I moved to the next portion, asking for help and a more professional opinion, the final detail work, and adapting to my many mistakes–this doesn’t change.