Writing Buddies

I finished the Prelude of A Clean Slate tonight.  I edited what I’d done last week, and I wrote a little more than 700 words.  It’s more than last week, though still less than I’d like to be adding in a writing session.

I want to talk for a moment about writing sessions.  Specifically, Wednesday evenings.

I said in my last post that I’m going to post word counts here, and I meant it.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had any word counts to post until tonight.  That’s been one of the great things about having a set night: no matter what else is going on in my life, I’ve got this block of time set aside for writing, and I haven’t wavered.  I’ve been keeping my weekly writing appointment.

Having Michael present has helped.  It’s like having a work-out buddy.  We don’t usually talk much about what we’re writing, but just having a buddy there to help keep me honest is invaluable.

For the foreseeable future, Wednesday evenings won’t be available for Michael.  I found out just before driving out to Starbuck’s tonight, and I wanted to cry.  Michael’s going to be teaching writing.  I’m really happy for him, and I think it’s going to be good for him, just as teaching programming has been good for me.  But it is a change, and all of the crazy, neurotic fears I have around writing pressed against my defenses when I heard the news.

If scheduling doesn’t work out, and we’re not able to keep meeting, will I be able to keep going on my own?

The answer is: “Yes, of course.” Actually, that’s the abbreviated answer.  The full answer is, “Yes, of course.  Quit being a melodramatic idiot, Brian.  Write more than once a week, and it won’t be a problem.”

When I ask myself these questions, I can be both wise and a dick at the same time.

I’ll keep writing.  It’s just going to be a little bit harder.

I think I’m going to commit to my March plan.  31,000 words in 31 days.  A mini NaNoWriMo.  Anyone want to join me?  If one writing buddy was good, how much better would it be to have many writing buddies?



A Clean Slate, Take 2

I’m about to pack up and leave Starbuck’s, and I feel pretty good.

Ever since I tried to reread A Clean Slate, I’ve been dreading the idea of starting again.  I knew that it was necessary.  The previous incarnation was bad enough that any attempt to fix it was going to be a complete rewrite.  It is easier and quicker just to dump the previous prose and start fresh.  Start A Clean Slate with a clean slate.

It wasn’t easy.  I managed to put it off last week by doing a bunch of outlining.  The outlining was necessary, but it also felt like I was procrastinating.  It felt like I was putting the scary part off for another day.

Why is it so scary?  Why does a brand new document fill me with so much dread?  It’s fear, for sure.  But why must I torture myself with all of this fear before I’ve even started?

I opened the new document tonight, selected the manuscript template, and filled in my name and the title of the story.  Then I procrastinated a little bit more, by taking to twitter and participating in #GenreChat.

Opening the new document was like riding a roller coaster to the very top, where everything slows down before the mad rush.  All of the anticipation is there, as well as the fear of crashing and burning.

#GenreChat finished, and I took the plunge.  I started slowly, picking up a little bit more speed as the setting started to solidify in my mind.  It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t torturous, either.  Self-doubt tells me that it might be torturous to my readers, but to hell with self-doubt.

I’m a little more than 500 words into the prelude, and that seems pretty good for now.  It’s a start.  More importantly, it’s another place where I faced my fears head-on and succeeded.

Tonight was a good night.


Dundracon and Blogged Writing Advice

This weekend I attended Dundracon.  It was the first one I’d been to since ’98.  It was at the same hotel, and used the same rooms.  When I attended DundraCon before, I was a lot younger, and much hungrier for games.  Also, my trips to DundraCon were as much about seeing my friend David as they were about roleplaying games.

I expected to be one of the older guys this year.  Twenty years ago, I remember everyone being roughly my age, with a handful of older guys joining in games.  I thought I was going to be one of those older guys.  Instead, most everyone was… my age.  There were younger folk in attendance, but I didn’t feel like I was out of place.

How did I enjoy the con?  Well, I only played in two games.  I think that if I’d stayed in the hotel, I might have tried to participate more.  Since the con was only about an hour and a half away, I slept in my bed each night.

I think I wasn’t really in the mood.  I still love roleplaying games, but I found that I didn’t have a lot of patience.  Both games I played in had players that really got on my nerves.  They were fine people, and I was as nice to them as I could muster, but there wasn’t much compatibility between the way we gamed.  I’m in it for the collaborative story telling and the character development.  I’m not sure what these other folk were interested in.  Something different.

It was good playing with Pol and Dael, though.  I haven’t played with them in ages.

I was hoping that the long weekend would quiet my inner monster, which has been growling and snarling and pumping acid through my veins.  I’ve been impatient with everything and everyone.  I’ve been having difficulty finding enjoyment in anything.  Writing has been a real struggle.

I read this post by Setsu that suggests that I should find some creative outlet to sooth my strife.  That sounds easier said than done.  I also read this post by Emma Newman where Emma talks about her own inner monsters, and it mirrors the sort of things I’ve been feeling.  Both posts offer interesting insights and opposing action items.  If I follow Setsu’s path, I will grit my teeth and pour myself into my writing until I feel better.  If I follow Emma’s path, I will take a deep breath, relax, and try not to stress myself out while allowing myself time to recharge.

Both arguments appeal to me.  I pushed myself very hard for a protracted period of time.  It might not be that good for me to push myself with my writing.  On the other hand, I haven’t done that much writing, and achieving some success in getting some words on the page might lift my spirits and chase the monsters away.

The night’s still young.  I have time to figure out what I’m going to do.  Tomorrow I’m writing for sure.  Tonight?  We’ll just have to see.



Writing Process Changes

I’ve heard writers described in two different terms:

Pantsers — These are people that write “by the seat of their pants.” They write by discovery.  They’ll craft a strong character and just follow wherever that character will lead them, enjoying the journey as they go.  If they sit down and try to plot everything out in advance, it spoils the story for them, and they don’t enjoy writing it as much.  I’ve known lots of writers that identify in this way.  By his own admission, Dean Wesley Smith is in this category.

Plotters — These people plan everything out in advance.  They create outlines, iterating over their plot diagram to fill in each gap with greater and greater detail.  They are uncomfortable with not knowing where they’re going, and some might scoff at the notion of the character “taking over.” They’re methodical.  I’ve known several writers that fall into this category, too.  Jennifer Brozak describes herself as a plotter.

I used to identify myself as more of a pantser.  When I’d sit down to write, it felt like I was reading, only the words were appearing as if by magic beneath my eyes.  My Arthur Kane stories were written that way, and all of the time I spent on Star Wars MUSH was like that.  My writing process for my last two short stories involved very little plotting in advance.

As I’ve matured, I’ve noticed that the “seat of my pants” approach doesn’t actually work that well for me anymore.  The short stories might be an exception, except that even with those, I gave them a lot of thought in advance before sitting down and putting my hands on the keyboard.  They were short enough that I could do all of the plotting in advance and keep it in my head.

Longer stories, on the other hand, I have to plot out now.  That’s what I spent most of my night doing last night.  I sat in the Starbucks with OneNote open and stylus in hand, and I started listing all of the plot points I want to cover in the first act of A Clean Slate.  I was breaking it down into chapters, and highlighting my purpose for each part of the story.

My process for the Mel Walker story was a little bit different.  I didn’t have the time to plot everything.  I knew how I wanted to start, and I knew the character and some of the things I wanted to happen, but I didn’t have a complete outline.  I wound up with a series of incomplete outlines.  It was like I would stop, shine a light ahead into the dark to see where I was going, write down what I saw from where I was, and then move forward.  When I ran out of notes, my writing would slow down, and I’d have to dig out the flashlight again and take more notes.

I’ve been writing casually for about 25 years, and more seriously for a year and a half, and I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me.  I’m starting to think that I need to use a different process for each story.  I once thought of writing in terms of sculpting, where the shape of the story becomes more and more refined with each draft and edit.  If a sculptor needs different tools for different mediums, maybe I need a different process for different story types.