Tag: planning

NaNoWriMo 2018 Decisioning

Just a quick update on my decision-making about what to write for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

In the end, I found more than half a dozen ideas I could plausibly work on, including another attempt at the Kissiltur books and a new story about space-faring dragonflies. All of these sound great (even the Kissiltur one, although it’s not really a NaNo project) but I can only pick one.

And the one I have picked is the second book of Song, currently called Some Cinnamon Harmonies*. I will be thinking about that story as I continue work on third pass edits on the first book, then start prep in earnest in October.

I’m excited. The second story line in the original book was a lot of fun to write, and I am looking forward to reworking it into a full length novel.

[*] of course, as soon as I made this decision I started coming up with plot ideas for a second Livia book along with several others, but ’twas ever thus. They are captured and boxed for now.

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Literary Frenzy Awaits

It’s early September which means it must be time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo, right?

I will be doing a series of posts on NaNo prep in October, following my own prep of whatever story I decide to work on. I have two probable ideas:

  1. the second Song book. The zeroth draft of Song turned out to be two books smooshed together. What I am nearing completion on now is the first book expanded out to make an entire story, but I want to have the second book written at some point too.
  2. rewrite Livia. As I mentioned in the wake of the Willamette Writers Conference, I am planning on reissuing Livia as a better book then continuing that series into the other parts of the world that Rome interacts with.

Unlike when I first wrote Livia, the answer to this question is not “both” because I would rather write one 80-100k book than two 50-60k books. At this point I am leaning pretty hard towards Song II (Cinnamon Harmonies, perhaps?) but I should make a formal selection.

My process for choosing which story to do (assuming I have several ideas and need to make a choice) is to write up a short treatment on each, then read them back the next day to see which one engages me more. This has been very helpful in the past when I’ve had several competing ideas, and the one I thought I was going to do beforehand turned out to be the least engaging story!

Do you have plans for NaNoWriMo this year? How will you choose what to write?

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Thinking About the Future

I met a lot of neat people at this year’s Willamette Writers Conference and I learned a lot about craft, but I think the biggest impact on me was in making me think more about where I want to take this writing thing next.

My plan of record was to push Song through the trad pub route, and work on short stories on the side (particularly Boundary Shock Quarterly of course). The other thing was to produce Livia as an audiobook.

Those elements still stand, but I am also thinking that I want to rework Livia into a more substantial starting point for a series that I would self-pub. I remain proud of Livia, but it is an odd bird in my stable and I am doubtful that trad pub would have much interest in it. But it’s also a setting I like a lot, and writing a new book in that setting would be an entertaining thing to do. I just (!) need to figure out how to make it worth the time.

Early days yet, of course, but that’s what I am working towards.

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November Looms

it is, you know

it is, you know

It is almost time for National Novel Writing Month. This will be my thirteenth go at it, and although I no longer need it in order to write, this frenzied month is still when I do most of my initial drafting.

But what to write? And how to prepare?

This Year’s Story

The novel I am writing for 2016 is a story that I have tried to write before, a story about superhumans and the end of the world. I last tackled this story in 2006 and it was very close to being a disaster: that’s the year I came closest to not finishing*, and the result was bad. Not all the way through, of course: there are scenes and fragments in there that are worthwhile still, but the total assembly of words was awful.

It was still a story I wanted to tell, though. I began one alternate approach to it as a bedtime story for my oldest, although it never got more than a few scenes in and I didn’t write it down at the time. I’ve also been pottering about with superhumans in my roleplaying setting A New Dawn, and as I restarted that again I realised I wanted to have another go at the abandoned novel.

So here I am, turning over the soil, looking for the bones of the story.

This Year’s Prep

Last year I took part in a trial outing for a NaNoWriMo prep course being run by Kim at MuseCraft. I’ve been using those same steps this year, since they seemed to help before.

I have to admit, however, that I only began these steps after a couple of false starts.

The first thing I tried was to capture the opening scenes from my bedtime retelling of the story, which led me into the same traps as the original failed novel since it was freighted with many of the same issues (I also couldn’t remember all that much except that there were a couple of things I definitely did not want to use). The second thing I did was to build a character network using the Fiasco method, which works a lot better when the characters have some direct connections at the start of the story. Then, finally, I remembered the successes of last year’s prep exercises and fell back into those.

But all of this has been helpful in uncovering the story I want to tell and the way I want to tell it. There are no wasted words**.

I’m getting into the plot part of the prep next and then it’s time for chapter outlines.

This Year’s Enthusiasm

Two weeks to go. I’m going to be ready. Are you?

[*] there is a thing in NaNoWriMo culture that the second year is the hardest, but for me it was the third.

[**] … as I say to myself when justifying abandoning eight years of work.

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Time and Tide

I have been using a system of log files for time planning and tracking for a while. It’s an established system, but I’m not sure I am getting as much done as I would like.

One of the YouTube channels I follow is Basic Filmmaker. He does lots of interesting and digestible videos on filmmaking, but he posted one yesterday about managing time –

Thinking about this while making my tea this morning, I wondered about whether I needed to apply a more scheduled form to my day plan. Having some kind of plan certainly seems to help me – would more plan be better?

While that seems initially attractive, I also remember that this is something I have tried before and it didn’t take.

There are two broad categories of tasks I work on: things that can be measurably finished, and things that can’t*. One of the reasons I think that the detailed planning approach didn’t take before is that much of my work is in the measurable completion category – the plans I make aren’t just setting aside slots for things to be worked on, they are encoding estimates of how long I think a task will take.

To take an example, I might be working on fixing a bug in some application code – the task isn’t done until the bug is fixed. Or I might be adding a feature to a script, and the task isn’t done until the feature is operating. When a task like that takes longer than expected (and the time required to fix bugs in particular is something that can explode) then the whole plan for the day is blown.

The other side of this is that many of the open-ended things I work on should probably be declared done before I stop working on them. I mentioned shims last time – I’m trying to make the book better, but so much of what I’m learning in writing Livia is that “good enough” can be enough.

Still, it’s something to think about, and I am going to try a more structured approach since there are a lot of things that need to happen in the next few weeks.

[*] there is also a third category of maintenance tasks, but I’m treating those as completable but repeating.

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Run and Games

I was waiting to complete this planning post until I saw if I managed to get my arse out the door for a run yesterday, because I have been having trouble actually exercising this last week or two. But, that said…

Just like last year, this is a significant year for my running since I have a spot on my day job’s Hood To Coast team.

My race schedule leading up to Hood To Coast is a bit this this year. I have a big race lined up early in the season – the Shamrock Run this year has a half marathon distance – but I don’t have any other races lined up yet. I’m going to focus instead on variety in my training.

Having a significant early season race is something I can only do having managed to retain most of my fitness base during November’s literary frenzy. I am not yet ready to run thirteen miles (I arguably wasn’t ready for that in September, either) but I am ready when not suffering some debilitating illness to run five or seven hilly miles. I could not have said that in January two years ago – at least not with a straight face.

Unfortunately, I have been suffering from mild but debilitating illnesses: I’ve contracted a series of colds and similar ailments*: I had a crushing cold over Christmas which took weeks to dissipate, and now I’m stumbling my way through some kind of sore throat thing which is making me miserable and undermining my will and ability to exercise.

But: I did exercise yesterday, and I’ve stuck to my 10k steps per day goal, so all is not lost.

The plan for this year is:

  • Shamrock Half Marathon, 15-Mar-2015 – eight weeks from now I need to run thirteen miles. The Shamrock half marathon is tough, because – like the 15K route – it has a long and steep hill in the second half of the race. Fortunately, it’s Terwilliger, and I like Terwilliger: I run it all the time, so I know its curves and the timing of its slopes very well indeed.
    Still – time to ramp up for this.
  • weight – I am still carrying something north of twenty pounds more lard than I would like to be. Curiously enough, it is now nine years since I started Weightwatchers as a necessary reaction to my being the heaviest I have ever been. I am still well down from that peak weight, but losing even another ten pounds will help my running and my joints.
  • speed – I used to have two main fitness goals: to maintain a level of fitness where I would be able to cycle fifty miles without planning it; and to run eight minute miles as a matter of course. Neither of those goals is in sight at the moment, but running nine minute miles as my baseline is in reach.
  • Hood to Coast, 28-Aug-2015 – still more than seven months away. I will start training for this once I’ve recovered from the Shamrock.

This the last of my series of planning posts. My writing goal is simple enough that a structured plan does not seem necessary.

[*] when I was a kid, I would basically have a cold for the entire winter. I don’t get that any more, but colds really knock me flat.

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Shaping in 2015

My 2013 NaNovel Shapes of Chance is my Other Book at the moment – it’s not as high priority as Song because I don’t think it’s as close to being publishable, but it is interesting and worth pursuing. Basically, it’s what I am going to work on when Song is resting.

With that, here is my 2015 plan for Shapes.

  1. complete detailed outline – made a good start on this, but need to finish the other 84% of it.
  2. play with some ideas – try out the things that I want to try out on the outline. I’ll write more about those ideas at the time, perhaps.
  3. complete outline – the end especially is incomplete, with the rush to finish in November hacking out large chunks of story that are actually needed, but there’s a few spots where the story is a bit off.
  4. second draft – make existing material match outline; add new material

I’m expecting to get to the point where I am ready to write the second draft rather than to have completed it, but we’ll see how things go there.

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Song Stress

This plan looks an awful lot like last year’s plan… I’m looking forward to reading the second draft that is maturing in its drawer right now.

  1. Read second draft – read for readability and typoes.
  2. Apply corrections from draft read.
  3. Give it to my wife to read – if she is interested, anyway, since this is a rewrite of an existing story which she read only three years ago.
  4. Revise that second draft – figure out breakages in the plot, improve characterisation. This may involve making a detailed outline as I am for Shapes at the moment, but we’ll see how broken the current structure is.
  5. Polish the draft to improve word choice and so on.
  6. Make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Just keeping on keeping on, here.

I will be clear to read the manuscript this weekend, on 10th or 11th January.

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Song Burred

the pretty one of the Portland freeway bridges

the pretty one of the Portland freeway bridges

I’ve just finished reading the first act of A Turquoise Song, second draft, which I was writing earlier in the year but abandoned when other things crowded it out.

When I was writing it, it felt awful – sluggish and uninteresting – but it doesn’t seem to actually like that at all: the pacing is pretty reasonable, and the showing rather than telling seems to be pretty well-balanced. Parts of it are even good, to my eyes.

Let that be a lesson in not making judgements from too close to the text.

The next thing, then, is to formulate a plan for finishing it.

There were two reasons to read this first act: to remind myself of what I had, and to figure out if what I had was worth continuing with. Since what I have actually seems to be OK, I think I will continue with the Song plan I had before – it’s got me this far!

This list takes out the completed items from the original plan, and rephrases some of the others as appropriate. It also adds a step for polishing.

  1. To complete the outline.
  2. To complete the second draft in line with the outline.
  3. Edit that second draft. Repeat (2) and (3) for subsequent drafts as necessary.
  4. Make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Next up will be reading the initial draft of Shapes, my 2013 NaNoWriMo project. We’ll see what that looks like in a week or two.

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Planning to Write

Following up on goal #4 in my Janus post, I need to figure out a way to do more writing, by which I mean writing of fiction.

What things are stopping me from writing fiction?

  • blogging – I like doing this, but it occupies a lot of writing time.
  • roleplaying – specifically running roleplaying games. Again, this is something I enjoy but it soaks up huge amounts of writing time both in the prep and in writing up session notes.
  • social media – this is not as bad as it has been: curiously enough, adding Twitter to the mix has actually reduced my overall usage. Still, it does sometimes end up using time I should be employing for writing.
  • day job – I like my job and this is how I pay the bills, but the day job occupies the majority of my most creative time.

So what can I do? These are some ideas I could try.

  • blog differently – this blog has value (to me at least), but I may need to refocus it.
    • post less frequently – rejig the schedule to twice a week perhaps? Even once a week? A reduced schedule would probably be in addition to goals posts, rather than incorporating the goals posts into the normal schedule.
    • post more frequently – but with a hard word limit. Split larger ideas across many short posts.
    • change the content – I’ve been writing advice, goals and book notes, avoiding actual story. Maybe include some short fiction in the mix?
  • role-play differently
    • stop running games – I don’t like this option, although I’ve mentioned it before. Having said that, the other primary GM and I are basically tag-teaming on a 6-8 week turnaround which makes for a more manageable schedule. I hope this more episodic style of play is sustainable.
    • stop writing session notes – I delegated writing session notes for the last Dawn session on 01-Nov-2013 – I could hand out some kind of ephemeral but meaningful reward for the note takers.
  • social media
    • write first – get the work done before checking social media at all. This is a tough one to enforce just because I use the same computer for everything. Consider working in a notebook first thing?
    • focus on task – sometimes I am in the stream to do a particular thing. Make a note of the task, do it, and get out.
    • use as a reward – social media time is what I get when something else is done (although see the hierarchy of rewards below).
    • time-box it – related to focus on task, but sometimes I just need a break. Keep the break constrained in its length. Use a timer.
  • day job – when I am in the office, work always wins, but I might be able to engineer things differently.
    • use writing as break time.
    • swap creative time – do some writing during the day in exchange for some work time in the evening or morning.
    • go somewhere else to write – particularly relevant at lunchtime because if I write at my desk then I am effectively available.

That’s changing what I do, but I might also try to manage my time differently.

  • hierarchy of rewards – something that Howard Tayler mentioned on a recent Writing Excuses (Q&A w Mercedes Lackey) was a hierarchy of rewards: do the things you want to work on as a reward for getting the stuff you don’t especially want to do done.
    • example hierarchy
      • do work first – it pays the bills
      • do essential chores next – they’re essential for a reason
      • write
      • other fun time
    • two problems with this:
      • the definition of “essential chores” – maybe I just have low standards, but there always seem to be more chores to do than time available. Sometimes the principle of doing the long term work first is better.
      • not having that much control over my time – I have a good deal of flexibility at work, but I still need to be in the office which makes work win to a distressing degree.
  • time striping – something which worked well in the week running up to NaNo was the assignment of particular tasks to particular times of day. Try to apply this more generally.
  • read a book – this week’s Writing Excuses features Mette Ivie Harrison and her book 21 Reasons You Don’t Think You Have Time To Write. More ideas in there, for sure.

So, those are my thoughts. How do you stay focussed on your writing when there are so many other demands on your time?

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