Hello friends and welcome to an on topic edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
Whilst fumbling around for a topic this week, I turned to last year’s January posts for inspiration. How was I feeling at this time last year? I had promised to blog once a week, just like I have this year, and I must have been motivated, right?
Funnily enough, it’s almost been a year to the day that I shelved Border Towns.
I didn’t know I was shelving it at the time, though. Back then, I had only just realized the fatal flaw of the novel and was optimistic that, with a little revision, the third draft would be an excellent launch point for eventually querying.
And then the bulk of 2020 hit and utterly drained my muse of it’s life force, and the revisions that I once held so much hope for instead withered on the vine. No matter how many times I convinced myself I would come back and finish that damn book, the spark for it just never materialized.
Coming to the conclusion that it had to be shelved was a laborious, at times even emotional process, but I later came to accept that it was for the best. In the months since, my creativity has blossomed once again, whereas every time I sat down to brain storm Border Towns revisions, I felt smothered. Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a surprise – this is, after all, the second time I’ve had to trunk a project I had pinned a lot of hopes on.
Yet, that fact alone, in turn gives me pause. Am I really the kind of person who can’t revise? Who comes up against flawed but fixable stories and just… folds? Do I have any creative willpower at all?
Logically, I know that many, even most, writers have a stack of unfinished or unrevised novels underneath all of their published and perfectly good ones. So, logically, I’m right on pace. But, still, it doesn’t feel good to leave projects I once felt held so much promise, and still do feel could be whipped into shape given the right motivation, languishing in the trunk.
That being said, I’m not gonna let myself dwell on that too much. I have a new project to shed blood, sweat, and tears over, after all, and besides, if I’ve learned nothing else these last few years of trying to be a writer, it’s that you’ve gotta take whatever stories come your way and roll with the punches they deal you.
Nothing ever goes according to plan. Isn’t that what makes writing so much fun?
That’s all from me this week, thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back next time with another look into the life of a struggling writer. Until then may your writing be plenty and your own struggles be few.
Hello friends, and welcome to a special New Year’s Eve edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
Well. 2020, huh?
I’m not gonna harp too long on it. Suffice it to say: I did not meet a single one of my writing goals this year. Not one.
Some of that can be blamed on the pandemic (failing to attend critique group, for example), but most of them were just me giving up. It’d be easy to say “Well, 2020, give yourself a break,” and I am in some ways. But I want to be a professional writer, and that means holding myself to account when I let that goal drink itself stupid and pass out in the back seat of my car.
One thing I did start this year that I’m really proud to have kept up is journaling. It’s been a major boon to my mental health and it has really helped me kind of examine in a semi-external way the particular turns of my mind that leads me down certain paths. Which is an overly verbose way of saying, I think I know why I fail at so many resolutions, year after year.
First, and it so ding dang obvious now that I’ve thought about it, is that I get so amped up for the potential new lifestyle I’m about to embark on that I just get too ambitious. Like last year, I said I wanted to dabble in podcasting. I mean… even just dabbling in something like podcasting means a monumental amount of effort, that even if 2020 hadn’t been a complete trashcan would have totally eaten up spoons I frankly just don’t have. Or even something simple like starting an Instagram account. If I’d given it more than a moment’s consideration I would have realized that I have no use for an Instagram account. The idea of having pictures out there in the ether of my personal space pings my anxiety like nobody’s business.
Last year I listed eight (8) resolutions and failed every single one of them. This year, I’m scaling down. I only have three. They are ambitious in their own ways, but very achievable and much more in my time and mental energy budget. They are:
Finish the first draft of The Nexus by July 31st
Review the 22 books currently in my TBR list
Resume the blogging schedule I outlined in August (with minor alterations)
Simple, really, and yet things I have struggled with in the past: reading and writing on a consistent basis when I don’t have the deadline of NaNo whipping me along. These things are habits that I need to form, not just goals I would like to achieve. So, the real question is: how do I, someone notoriously resistant to change, go about altering my everyday behavior? Because, honestly, simply wanting to hasn’t been enough.
The answer I keep coming back to is accountability. I need the spectre of embarrassment from failing to spur me on. I need a structure to work within and deadlines to meet. And while I can’t ask someone to care about my writing as much as me enough to push me when I won’t push myself, I can publically announce my intentions and imagine for myself a crowd of people who would be let down if I don’t follow through. So here we go. I’m not just going to vaguely say I’m going to meet these goals. I’m going to detail how and when I’m going to do that.
As for drafting the Nexus. I have a total of 6 story paths, one already drafted during November and three more outlined. So I’m giving myself seven months to plot, outline, and write the remaining paths. The path I drafted for NaNo was ostensibly the longest, so it’s not outside the realm of plausibility that I can draft one path a month. Having the first draft completely done will give me time to think through the revisions and outline draft 2 so I can start drafting that in November. Easy peasy.
Note that my second goal for 2021 was to review the 22 books in my TBR. Not necessarily finish. I’m actually giving myself the mental space to DNF some of them. Fortunately, I have a blog series specifically for these kinds of books, so even if I don’t read as much as I’d like… I can still get some content out of it. Further, after giving it some thought, I realized it would really help me stay on target if I actually named the books I plan to read (and review) and in what order. That way, if inspiration fails me or if the depression monster diverts me off track, I have a roadmap to find my way back. So without further ado: Just Another Struggling Writer’s book review schedule!
January The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
February Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
March The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart The Throne of the Five Winds by S.C. Emmett
April A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan
May The Bone Ships by RJ Barker Radiance by Grace Draven
June We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
July Red Sister by Mark Lawrence Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
August Jade City by Fonda Lee The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter
September Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward
October An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso
(Break for NaNoWriMo)
December Nocturne by Kat Ross Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Yes, before you ask, I’ve never read any of these, despite their fame and popularity, particularly within the genre. I’m also a little bit ahead of the game and pleased to say that I’ll most likely have the first review done as soon as Tuesday as I’m more than halfway through The Obelisk Gate and plan to spend my holiday weekend finishing it up. As I’ve mentioned before, my book reviews tend to get a surprising amount of traffic and I’m looking forward to bringing you all more of them in the coming year.
And speaking of the blog schedule… Look, 52 solid weeks of blogging is a lot. I very much doubt that I’m going to be able to keep up with that kind of production consistently. That said, I’m gonna do my best, but I’m also not gonna beat myself up about it if I don’t manage it. I also am planning to have Short But Sweet Sundays make a comeback. I’m still really enamored with that story and that setting, and it’ll be nice to have a break from the Nexus every once and a while. It won’t be weekly, but the last Sunday of the month please look forward to a little vignette in the Pillar-verse.
See? Simple! She said sarcastically.
In all seriousness, after the trainwreck of 2020 I’m not sweating even these modest goals. Really, on a micro level, if I’m reading and writing every day then it’s a win and that’s all I have to say about that.
So, that’s it from me for this week. I’ll be back on Tuesday for a YMMV review of The Obelisk Gate and then on Thursday to check in and see how that whole writing-every-day thing is going. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!
Wow okay so it’s been a minute. I had intended on doing a pre-NaNo check in post before I dove headfirst into hell month but I frankly just ran out of time. Then I thought maybe I’ll do a mid-month check in and, well, didn’t have time for that either. In the past I had managed to get a lot of my writing done during the day at my day job, but this year that just wasn’t possible and so my evenings were spent making word counts.
That being said…
I actually think this year was the easiest NaNo ever came to me. Maybe it was because I was tackling something totally fresh, or that I was going into the project with a freer perspective than I had in the past, or because I just knew what to expect and what I was capable of. Even with all that, it was kind of remarkable to me how little stress I felt throughout the month. I never fell behind, and at some points got far enough ahead that I was able to take mental health breaks as needed.
Or maybe it’s just because this is what I’m supposed to be working on right now. Wouldn’t that be nice? To feel connected to the work beyond a sense of obligation? Or maybe it just feels that way right now because it’s new.
I don’t know, but for the first time since I started doing NaNo I almost had fun with it. It was still a lot of work that meant I had 0 time for leisure on my writing days, but I was enjoying the process of discovery. And for that reason alone, regardless of my completion status, I can call it a win.
So, just for fun, here’s some of my NaNoWriMo stats:
(Handwritten) Pages: 57 and change
Pens killed: 14
Non-writing days: 8
Story paths completed: 1
Highest single day word count: 4740
I’m excited to get back to being a regular every day writer rather than an ALL OUT BLITZING writer with no time for chores, reading, leisure time, or anything else really. I took a few days off and then dove into outlining the next story path, which I’m very excited and even more nervous about since I’m genre blending with horror, an area I have no expertise in at all.
I was going to try and get a book read, too, so I can get back to my regular blog schedule but it wasn’t in the cards this week.
That all being said, I’m gonna spend some time brain storming some future blog posts and ideas for the blog going into 2021. New beginnings are my favorite after all.
Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Hello and welcome to a creatively frustrated and mildly indulgent edition of Just Another struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
I know it’s only been a few short weeks since I lamented the very real, exceedingly likely possibility that I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but already I am starting think about scrambling something together. It’s not so much that I really want to exhaust and stress myself out for 30 days straight the third year running, it’s more that I just really miss being in the weeds of a writing project.
(No disrespect meant to my Short But Sweet Pillar-verse, of course, but there’s a reason I’m not presently drafting it as a novel, after all.)
Last week I thought I might be ready to try my hand a wildly different version of Border Towns, but after a bit of sleep and a maelstrom of brainstorming, I realized that though that reimagined draft may come to fruition one day, that day is nowhere near at hand. Border Towns, loathe though I may be to admit it, has to go back in the ground as a seed, just as it was 5 years ago when I first conceived of it.
But that itch it write, to create, to commiserate and celebrate with fellow writers about the pitfalls and successes, to pour out my mind and my heart and my soul onto the page, to edit and refine, to be a writer again, that never went away. It never goes away, as I’m sure many you can attest. And it’s all becoming a bit more than I can handle, frankly. I have reached a kind of critical mass where I either explode into a fit of unbridled creativity or I collapse in on myself like a dying star and give up completely on the dream of ever seeing my writing published.
The anxiety-brain, always: anything you write now would be forced and chaotic since it hasn’t had time to develop, therefore it would be a phenomenal waste of time to put any amount of energy into a new project, and you’re only going to hate it, and yourself, later, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And the thing is, all of that might be true. Except the part about it being a waste of time. Because… what I’m doing now is already a waste of time. Waiting for the AHA moment that may never come is a waste of time. Procrastinating putting in real effort into developing myself as a writer by drafting new novels, even if they are destined for the trunk, is a waste of time. Writing, for a writer, could never be a waste of time.
So, I tempt fate. What’s the worst that could happen?
Yesterday I posted a poll to my Twitter: if I wanted to say screw it and start writing again, which new project should it be? It got exactly three votes. One for each of the suggestions. Cue the facepalming. But, this morning I made the decision for myself. I know which project I’m tackling next. I would say I’m hyped but I’m actually still pretty nervous. That anxiety-brain aint quiet. But I don’t care. I’ve made a decision and that, for me, is always one of the biggest hurdles.
Next week I’ll introduce the working title and concepts of the new project. This week, though, I’ve gotta figure out… what those are. Until next time friends, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Oop, almost forgot the Short But Sweet Prompt:
She was absolutely sure she would be weeping all night.
Hello and welcome to another rambling, existential, content-packed edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
Today I’m going to unveil the NEW CONTENT that you can expect to see on the blog going forward, but before I get into that I first want to talk a little bit about what I hope to achieve with these additions and why I’m making the change in the first place.
When I started this blog – yikes, almost two years ago – I had two goals: the first was to establish a place where I could scream into the void about all the parts about writing a novel that weren’t sunshine and rainbows (okay, so like 90% of it). I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on that, even if the screaming has been sporadic. The second goal was to, maybe, possibly, hopefully, form friendships or a community of fellow writers who were like me: near to the very beginning of their author journeys, and having to fight tooth and nail for every tiny success.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at making connections. I’m shy, riddled with anxiety, and possessed of fluctuating mental health that often times means I’m a bit of a flake. So, that’s on me. With that said, I’m ready to make a change, not just to my own internal mindset and habits, but my exterior activities as well. So, while these additions to the blog were first conceived of with the goal of getting myself engaged in the writing community even when I’m between projects, the more I thought about it the more I realized that it can use this newfound desire for growth to forward along that original ambition, the one where I’m no longer just another struggling writer, but Just Another Struggling Writer.
Ultimately, I hope that one day this blog will stop being “the lamentations of yet another person struggling to write a novel” and start being a rallying point, a safe haven, a creative sounding board for those of us who just can’t do this thing alone. More than anything, I hope you join me on that journey.
So, without further ado, behold the new content schedule for Just Another Struggling Writer.
Tuesdays: Your Mileage May Vary or Reasons I DNF This Book.
Guilty confession #1: I am not a great reader. I am slow, easily distracted, and tend to put off reading for other leisure activities, a bad habit I am desperately trying to correct.
Guilty confession #2: I am also really discerning when I read. Actually, that’s too charitable a word. I am fucking picky. I don’t even know why. All I know is most books tend to turn me off by the second act, and even the ones I end up binge-reading to the end don’t really stay with me. Doesn’t mean they’re not good, of course. Just that… well, I’m evidently really hard to please. Sorry.
So, in an effort to broaden my library (and maybe figure out whatever the hell my taste in books is), on alternating Tuesdays I will post book reviews of different persuasions.
The first, Your Mileage May Vary, will cover books that I read to the end, loved or hated. Take these reviews with a grain of salt; because I’m thinly read I honestly haven’t the faintest clue how to write a “proper” book review. Most of the time, I imagine, I’ll probably just be word vomiting my thoughts and feelings without direction or structure. Please look forward to it.
In Reasons I DNF This Book I will dive into specific moments that turned me off of a novel. Whether it’s due to my inner editor not shutting up and letting me enjoy something, or a protagonist I just don’t get along with, or a cringey awkward moment that forces me to put it aside until the second hand embarrassment subsides, these posts will explore what makes a picky reader (me) so damn picky.
Thursdays: Your Regular Weekly Blog Post
Thursdays you can expect to remain pretty much the same, with random topics and thoughts on the struggle that is being a writer. In the past I talked about the progress of my manuscript, and revelations I was having along the way, but now that I am (at least for the moment) project-free, the discussion might trend more toward current issues in the book world. This is the least “content” like of my three planned weekly posts, and mostly will just be a continuing chronicle of my experience in the writing community. One thing I do plan to do every week is include a one-sentence writing prompt for….
Sundays: Short But Sweet Sunday, flash fiction or vignettes
Well, I couldn’t go this whole time without doing a little bit of fiction writing. Can’t let these razor sharp skills get rusty, can I? Now where did I put that sarcasm font? Anyway, at the end of my weekly Thursday posts I will include a one-sentence prompt, and on Sunday I will post my answer to that prompt. All pieces will be less than 1000 words and I intend to limit them all to the same setting and group of characters, which I am tentatively calling the Pillar-verse. The Pillar-verse was once an old fantasy novel idea of mine that was undoubtedly destined for the trunk, and though I still think it is too unfocused a concept to be drafted and revised, I would still like to share it in some way. (Hell, maybe if I dabble in it often enough I’ll get that spark I need to actually write the damn thing.) But going beyond that, I hope that others might eventually partake in Short But Sweet with their own takes on the prompt.
In addition to the extra content, I also will be doing a bit of site maintenance, including adding a page for writerly resources. Most of these will trend toward fantasy writing, since… that’s what I do and all, but hopefully writers of any persuasion will find them useful. Be on the lookout for those updates in the next day or two.
One last thing before I go. That’s right, OUR VERY FIRST SHORT BUT SWEET PROMPT. A reminder: the goal is to write some flash fiction or a vignette, less than 1000 words, and post it Sunday for all to enjoy. It can take place in a world you already created, or it can be something entirely new. If you decide to participate, please feel free to tag #shortbutsweetsunday on Twitter, or even just drop the link to your own post in a comment here. However you get it out there, the goal is just to boost your creativity with some extracurricular words. Hope to see lots of great pieces on Sunday!
This week’s prompt: It was fall, the season of knowledge, but nobody knew that.
Well, I honestly think I’ve yakked enough for one post. I’ll be back on Sunday with my answer to this week’s Short But Sweet prompt, and again on Tuesday for the first Your Mileage May Vary review, where I plan to discuss City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty. Until then, as always, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Here’s the only thing I will say about the last two months: my family and I, while safe and employed, have had a stressful spring for many of the same reasons as… well, the rest of the world. For me, during this time of uncertainty, self-care was spending my leisure time not writing.
But I feel almost ready to create again, as evidenced by the return of an epic fantasy idea I had put in the percolator over a year ago. I thought for sure that it wouldn’t be ready for development for at least a few more years, but it kept pestering me all these long weeks whilst I was doing my best to keep my brainspace engaged elsewhere. So, I figured since I wasn’t quite ready to dive back into my actual WIP (I still haven’t given up on Border Towns honestly), why not indulge my worst impulse:
Okay, I’m actually really bad at worldbuilding. I find the process to be kind of tedious and my best ideas tend to come when I’m mid-draft. But… unlike most of my other project ideas, this Epic Fantasy will not make it to draft without doing a lot of heavy lifting beforehand. I know this. That’s why I left it alone in the back of my mind as a seed, hoping the ideas would flower in my subconscious on their own.
But here we are.
So, how does someone who doesn’t know how to worldbuild worldbuild?
I started with Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator. I plugged in some few parameters I felt certain I wanted and clicked new map. Then I clicked it again. And again. And again. You get the idea. After about two hours of playing with the settings and saving a few images that I liked, I generated a map that immediately spoke to me. An island off to the west of the main continent was controlled by two major nations. The borders made it look like the larger was a monster that was eating the smaller.
It fit perfectly with a conflict that would serve as one of the POV character’s arcs. I knew this map would be the perfect springboard. I took a long hard look at the map as a whole and wrote down any idea that came to me. That day was the most I’d felt creative since my state shut down in March.
A few days later, I was sitting at my desk at my day job when I realized THIS CERTAIN THING would be the perfect theme or at least a cool bit of flavor to tie my story around. Again, I pulled out my notebook and furiously scribbled notes.
Not long after that I was looking at a wikipedia page of cryptids and read about one I’d never heard of. Then A BOLT OF LIGHTNING. The lore inspired me to create an entire humanoid race based on it. And then… why not do another based on this other one? And another? Once more I made sure I preserved my ideas for posterity in my trusty notebook.
Now here’s a cold hard truth: 90% of these ideas will never get used. Either they are blatant rip offs of other media, they don’t jive with each other or the story I’m trying to tell, or they just flat out suck. But that’s okay. For every bad idea that I write down I’m allowing myself to explore an avenue of thought I hadn’t before, and though it may eventually get rejected, it might open up new lines of thinking. In this way I can generate new ideas in the same way I do when I am drafting.
This epic fantasy, which I have code named Minor Arcana, still has a long ass way to go before I’m ready to outline. I mean… probably a year or more of worldbuilding and percolating. But for the first time I’m actually enjoying this process. Without the (admittedly, entirely internal) pressure of actually getting started on the writing to weigh on me, I can take my time to develop crap ideas and not feel like a total failure about them.
That’s all from me this week. As, I’m sure, we all are, I am still adjusting to the “new normal” around here, so while I can’t promise weekly blog posts I can say that I will try.
Until next time, friends. May your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Well, my New Year’s Resolution to blog every week is officially dead. Lasted longer than I thought. RIP 1/1/2020 – 2/6/2020.
But enough of that, I’m back after a month long mental health break and ready to make an ass of myself by talking about something I have very little knowledge of.
Sometimes, when I’m laboring away over my WIP, but even more often when I’m reading, I wonder if maybe I should have been an editor, rather than a writer.
My writing “career” is young, and largely shaped thus far by fanfiction, but last year I learned how much I enjoy the editing part of writing (and I say that doubting my own understanding of the term “editing”). My favoritest favorite part? Brutal, merciless cuts.
I adore crossing out entire sentences. I love circling paragraphs and jotting in the margins “Is this necessary?” Though I haven’t gotten to this point in revision yet, I already have a handful of scenes in mind that are destined for the axe. And I’m excited.
This mindset, perhaps to my detriment, doesn’t go away when I’m not writing, however. In fact, it seems even more pronounced when I’m consuming other media. I’m going to give you an example.
Warning! Hot takes incoming!
In November, in the throes of NaNoWriMo, I, like many other nerds across the country, sat down after work on a Tuesday evening and watched the premiere episode of Disney’s new Star Wars TV show, the Mandalorian. Spoiler… warning?
About 30 minutes into the episode I remember saying to my partner, “I’m assuming ‘The Asset’ is interesting and important, because otherwise why would I care about this show?”
Turns out, I was right. Baby Yoda, and the conflict it created in the narrative, was what made the show worth watching. Not the titular Mandalorian (at least not him by himself). So, though I found 99% of episode one to be kinda (read: really) dry, I sat down the following Friday for episode two.
Friends. Fellow Star Wars fans. I’m sorry. I hate to be the one to tell you this.
Episode two was a complete waste of time. 30 minutes of pure, unadulterated filler. Filler content. In the second episode. Of an eight episode series.
The more I thought about what I had seen over the course of two episodes, the more dissatisfied I felt. TV is one of my favorite mediums, and Star Wars is a franchise I genuinely love and enjoy (though I wouldn’t pass standard gatekeeping tests), but this series was falling well short of my expectations.
All around me, however, I heard nothing but praise. My (long suffering and supportive partner) even brushed off my criticism as coming in the midst of NaNo and therefore I was in full on critique mode and couldn’t just enjoy things for what they were.
And, well, maybe there is some truth to that. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would have done. What I would have cut, or changed, or moved around to make those first few episodes tighter and, in my opinion, more compelling. But, that inclination didn’t start with the Mandalorian.
A month before, while on a whirlwind weekend vacation out of state for a family wedding, I inhaled a novel that had been in my TBR pile for months. When I say inhaled, I mean I finished at 4AM the day after I started it. Then I set my kindle aside. Laid my head down. And thought to myself, “I wouldn’t have included [certain chapters from secondary character’s POV]. They really slowed down the pace.”
Honestly, it was kind of annoying. It was a good book, good enough that I didn’t bother to put it down even after a long day of air travel and visiting with my in-laws. And yet, I couldn’t just… let it be a good a book. I couldn’t leave it at that.
It’s part of the reason, I’ve realized, that I struggle so much to finish books. It’s not that they’re not good. Because, objectively, they absolutely are. It’s that I can’t turn off the part of my brain that lets me just enjoy things for what they are. It’s always “this sentence doesn’t flow” or “that word isn’t right here” or “the plot is hindered by this sequence.”
Without really knowing what an editor does, I sometimes wonder… if that is what I was meant to do. Maybe that part of me unable to let media go without critique, something that genuinely frustrates me, is actually a calling that I’ve never understood or heeded.
Or, maybe, I’m just a picky ass reader for no real reason.
All I can do is just try to let go when reading, or watching tv, or playing video games, and hope that my inherent inclination to pick things apart will come in useful when its time to turn my eyes on my own work.
This post was literally a month in the making. 2020 has not been treating me kindly and February especially was taxing on my mental health. Thanks to all my lovely friends and followers who are with me on this journey. I hope to be back next week to talk about the decision I made this week to take a break from my WIP.
Until then, my your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Hey! Fellow white writers! Just a reminder! Diversity is good! Write characters that don’t look like you! It’s healthy! But! Don’t! Write! BIPOC’s! Stories! Just! Don’t!
Also, don’t try to prettify human suffering. Just a thought.
Anyway, those of you who are still here, welcome to another week in the life of a struggling writer. This struggling writer, anyway. And, lord, has it been a struggle. As it turns out, deciding mid-draft that your WIP needs a major developmental revision is not something that can be taken care of in a week. My mental pendulum keeps swinging from “excited and energized” to “I’m a terrible writer, all my ideas are laughably banal, and I’m just going to give up on this whole writing thing in general, don’t at me.”
I’m caught between the idea that my creative well is running dry and I need to take a break and refill it, and the little voice in my head that continually reminds me I took all of December off, I’ve barely done anything creative this month, I keep making excuses not to write.
I’m gonna figure it out. Eventually. I’m gonna strike a balance, and this will get written. Maybe even in my lifetime.
Anyway, one of the things I’m definitely going to have to figure out if I am going to get this book done is how to stop writing so damned thin.
I imagine many writers might say that writing thin is a good problem to have, and I believe that is true for a lot of people. For me, however, it’s a bane. As I’ve mentioned before, I started writing when I was 11, and though I started in original fiction by 13 I had been roped into the magical world of fanfiction. Now, my path is my path, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I learned more than you’d think about craft, but one thing I left behind in those years was the ability to describe literally anything.
I relied on the fact that any readers would already be familiar with the characters and setting, and almost everything I wrote was entirely based on interactions. Conversations, conflict, sex. It was easy.
Now I’m kicking myself, because I find myself falling into that pattern even now that I know I have to set the stage myself.
I just did a read through of my second draft. One of the things I realized is that a major character has only ever been described (once) as “tall.” That’s it. That’s all you know about her. Another character, equally important, hasn’t been physically described at all. Most of my cast are little more than floating, talking heads.
Don’t get me started on worldbuilding. Again. I hate it. I mean, I love it, but, actually, I hate it. I have a perfect image in my head of what my world is, but when it comes to the text of the novel I don’t feel compelled in any way to describe it. “What purpose would mentioning the scenery of the countryside serve?” I ask myself. “Does my made up historical context really have any bearing on this scene?” or “Why slow down the pace and ruin the tension just to remind the reader there is a fully fleshed out world beyond this conversation?”
Most of that is thanks to a piece of writing advice I took and surgically grafted onto my heart, and that is: good storytelling is often about good secret keeping. Don’t give away what you can hold onto until the moment is right. And that is the philosophy I have carried into my fantasy stories: don’t info dump when you can sprinkle in the details as needed.
And, honestly, I still think that is really sound advice, but, in rereading this second draft, I think I may have lost sight of what is too much to hold back. The draft reads like I’m being greedy with my world, or that I’ve forgotten that the readers don’t know what I know. I rush from plot point to plot point without adding critical context, because I already know the background of X and Y characters’ relationship with each other, or where A and B locations are on the map.
At DFWCon I had the chance to sit down with an agent and kind of talk shop (I wasn’t ready to pitch yet, obviously, but I still wanted to get some insight). We got into a discussion about word counts for debut authors, and after hearing that I had just finished a first draft, he asked my word count. 105k, I told him. That’s really good for a debut fantasy, he said. Right in the butter zone. I wish I could have been pleased about that, but I knew, deep in my bones, that the only reason I kept it that low was because the draft wasn’t really complete. I had left so many details on the floor, details that would be inexcusable to leave out of a polished manuscript.
Going into draft 3, I know this is something I’m going to have to be serious about fixing. I need to learn how to take my time and properly build a world that readers will want to crawl into. I need to figure out how the keep the flow going without leaving important information out in the cold. I’ve got to teach myself that it’s okay to do those things, even if it means a 300k word draft.
Because that’s what revision is for.
That’s all from me this week. I hope you enjoyed Captain Kirk coming along for the ride with us. Next week I hope to discuss The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, which I’ve been reading this month. Which means I need to close up and get it finished. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!
Alright, I know I said I was going to talk about writing thin this week, but a curious thing happened to me last night almost the moment I laid my head down to sleep.
I’ve been trying to dive back into my draft since the start of the new year, mostly by going back and transcribing the words I didn’t get around to during NaNo. The very first scene, I thought, was really stellar work, even for a rough draft, and got me excited to once again be working on this project. Sadly, that fervor was short lived as I reached part of the manuscript I was less enthused about.
Which made no sense. This particular plot arc was literally the womb from which this story sprung in the first place. Back when this WIP was just a handful of notes that I jotted down in my purse notebook my very first week at my current job, this series of scenes was all I had.
But it’s been close to five years since those first jolts of inspiration, and the idea has evolved since then. This plot thread had not.
You’ve got to cut it, me said to me, my eyes still adjusting to the dark. It doesn’t fit anymore. It’s contrived, and, worse, it’s boring. You can deliver the same pertinent plot details much better if you just let it go.
Honestly, it felt like a weight was coming off me.
Because, the thing is, I’ve secretly known what dark me was saying all along. Even in the first draft, this particular sequence felt shoehorned in, like I was staying precious to it just because it was where my journey with this novel started. I wouldn’t call it a “darling,” because I actually kind of hated it. It bogged down the middle of the story and was unfun to write (I can only imagine how it would be to read).
So, despite the fact that I now had a gaping hole in my outline that needed to be filled and a lot of my now 60,000 word, half-finished MS would have to be entirely rewritten, I felt so much better about what I hope the end result of this project will be.
Then today, I got up and tried to do some brainstorming about how to fix it, came up with exactly two things (jack and sh…ugar), felt entirely dumb and uncreative, and spent a lot of time moping about it all.
That’s all from me this week! Maybe next week I’ll talk about my problems with writing thin. Or maybe I’ll talk about how perhaps I should have been an editor because I love cutting things. Or maybe I’ll have yet another new WIP crisis to share. Who knows? Not me! Unfortunately, though I’m a plotter in writing, life has to be pantsed.
Well. 2020 didn’t get off at all how I expected. The world is on fire, figuratively and literally, there have been earthquakes and plane crashes and the threat of war, and how in the actual hell does one keep their head down and write their silly little fantasy book with all this going on?
It’s overwhelming, to say the least.
But, I keep on trucking. That’s all I can do, really.
My partner and I recently sat down and consumed Netflix’s The Witcher, as I’m sure so many of you did as well, and I, for one, quite enjoyed it. While I understand the criticism of the interweaving timelines not being properly denoted, I actually found that to be my favorite part. I didn’t particularly want my hand held and I liked that the showrunners knew I would be smart enough to piece it together without their help.
Afterward, I was basking in the glow of a good fantasy, when I made the fatal error of turning my thoughts inward toward my WIP, Border Towns.
I’ve always described Border Towns as a political fantasy, one that heavily favored the political aspect and left the fantasy as sort of a backdrop. There’s no elves or dwarves, there’s no angels, demons, zombies, dragons, there’s not even magic. I’ve always been fine with this, happy to assume it would occupy a cozy little niche in the fantasy market, should it ever have the good fortune of seeing the light of day.
But, after The Witcher, I started to panic. Was my political fantasy fantasy enough?
I posed this conundrum to my excellent partner, listing all the things typical and, perhaps, expected of fantasy books that did not feature in my novel. I love him with all my heart, I do, but he looked at me dead on and said, “Well, then what makes it a fantasy?”
And then I really started to panic.
I spent the next few days in fervent worldbuilding mode, trying to figure out a way to inject some kind of magic system to shore up my fantasy bona fides, without disrupting the story I actually wanted to tell. And here’s another potential shameful confession for an aspiring fantasy writer: I hate worldbuilding.
I do. My roots are in fanfiction, and as such I’ve always been a heavily character driven kind of writer. I could very easily describe my first draft of Border Towns as just a series of conversations with some light context thrown in. I always think I want to worldbuild, but then I get bogged down in it and never start actually writing. Worldbuilding, I feel quite certain, is the leading cause of my previous WIP, that I labored over for almost 10 years without getting more than 10k words into, being on the shelf at the moment.
Needless to say, I was miserable. I came up with some ideas, some that might even add some interesting plot points, but eventually I just sat back and asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”
I didn’t want to have magic in this story. If I did, I would have included it in the first place. So what’s more important? Living up to some preconceived idea of what makes fantasy fantasy or writing the story I actually want to write.
The latter won out. As it always should do.
I went back to some old scenes I hadn’t gotten to transcribe during NaNo and found one I had really enjoyed writing, and weirdly enough, it’s still good! Maybe, just maybe, I can do this after all.
Write the story you want to write, folks. It makes a world of difference.
That’s all from me this week. Next week’s blog post will be about writing thin. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles few!