🖋️ To silence the devil of Should.

Last night, desperate to meet a deadline I couldn’t put off anymore, I started writing again. Why, why, why did I let fear and performance anxiety block me up for two months. Writing is such a life-giving exercise, and getting back to my story and characters was like CPR to the soul. The fear dissolved and was replaced by joy and flow and energy. Why did I think a break was a good idea?

I revised 4 pages at the beginning of the story. Amidst that joy, I kept hearing the malicious whisper. Revising? Again? Unproductive! Why are you going over old territory when the best thing to do is finishing the novel? You are LATE, Vega. Two months late. You need to catch up and meet your goals.

Silence! Ah, not listening to that devil of Should who cracks the Whip of Expectations. I can’t listen to it anymore, because it sucks away the joy and leaves paralysis. I am amidst my stories and characters again, and that’s all that matters.

I jumped into my story at around 6pm. When I looked up, it was 2am. Four pages only, but four more than yesterday.

One day at a time.

What I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016.

As stated in my previous post, I began NaNoWriMo 2016 having done some character development, some world-building, and a rough outline of the first half of the planned story.  I trusted that I could figure out the rest of the story as I went.

I’ve learned a lot from this NaNo experience.

Continue reading What I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016.

On the road to NaNo 2016, preparations.

October is typically “prep month” for NaNoWriMo.  Because I was finishing my latest draft of Strange Music, I didn’t start “prepping” for my NaNo novel until about two weeks before NaNo commenced.  So I had quite a bit to do in a hurry!

NaNo 2016 novel is A Long Gaze of Fire, and I decided to tackle a type of story I haven’t tried before: an epic fantasy.

All my previous stories have been small-scale affairs: the novellas (~25k words) Strange Music and A Dirge for the Amphiptere are, for all intents and purposes, one-room dramas with tight focus on character and where the MCs’ incompatible goals and inner struggles are the main sources of conflict.  My NaNo novels, Dragon Within (which I’ve written about on this blog) and Highland Story, have external conflicts but are also largely concerned with the MCs’ personal struggles.  Long Gaze would have a substantially larger scope: a big external conflict, bigger stakes, and a much larger cast with more complex interaction.

So, an epic fantasy is something quite out of my experience.  So, how does one prepare or plot out such a large-scale story?
Continue reading On the road to NaNo 2016, preparations.

On the road to NaNo 2016, lessons from July Camp.

NaNoWriMo 2016 is in full swing, and this year I am participating again.  So far, staying ahead of the curve, having a ball, and learning a ton!

I plan to write some posts about what I’m learning so far for NaNo 2016, but before that…

I did Camp NaNoWriMo in July, writing a 25,000 word novella titled A Dirge for the Amphiptere.  (I really should make a subpage on this blog with all the names of my stories…) Having plotted for NaNo 2014 and pantsed for NaNo 2015 and gotten similar results on both fronts (a semi-coherent story that stalled at the start of the climax), I decided to “pants” again for Camp NaNo 2016.  I did the most rudimentary prep — a little bit of character development, a little bit of plotting — before diving right in.  I hit my 25k word goal, but once again, stalled right at the climax. Currently, the manuscript is cooling in that almost-finished state, but I plan to pull it out after NaNoNovel 2016 is finished, and work it into a second draft.

Yes, I hit the wall again at the same place.  But in the course of drafting Dirge, I think I’ve figured out why that was the case. Continue reading On the road to NaNo 2016, lessons from July Camp.

First steps towards editing a novel.

Jan and Feb are the “Now What?” months of novel editing in the NaNoWriMo calendar.  No time to wait: I’ve already started!

Highland Story (NaNo ’15) is effectively finished! I had planned to write it completely, as I was about 2/3rds of the way through the story at the end of NaNo. But I got distracted, and by the time I resumed right after Christmas, I’d lost all writing momentum. I managed another 1200 words, then decided to write a super-detailed outline of the events of Act Three all the way to The End, and shelve it. A consolation prize to my initial grand plan, but it’s done for now. Time to cool it for a year.

Now I’ve picked up Dragon Within (NaNo ’14). It’s been on the shelf for a year, but now I’m ready and excited to be diving into it. I extensively documented my NaNo experience here and here, and now’s the time to figure out how to solve the problems I raised in those posts!

Continue reading First steps towards editing a novel.

NaNoWriMo 2015.

I didn’t expect to join, let alone win, NaNoWriMo this year — but I did.

This year has been a drought for creative writing, because I was spending most of it writing massive essays and assignments. The Camp NaNos passed me by, and when NaNo season rolled around I initially didn’t want to join, because didn’t think I’d be up to doing yet more writing, even for fun.

But I joined in the end, because I wanted to tell a Highland Story.

Continue reading NaNoWriMo 2015.

(Post-)NaNoWriMo: Week Five.

NaNo has taken me to about 50-60% of the way through the story, and there’s still a good ways to go.

Now that I’m less focused on word count and more on finishing the story, I’m finding myself stalling. Zuhal’s story has been remarkably smooth going and I’ve just about written all of it up to the plot convergence, but I’m getting bogged down in Nonide’s story. This is a problem, because the main plot and inciting external events all revolve around her. The more I write her story, the less coherent it seems, the more structural weaknesses appear, to the point where I’m not sure that the scene progression and the overarching logic makes sense anymore. Truth be told, I deliberately stopped my pre-NaNo storyboarding right after the convergence, and told myself that I would figure it out when I get there. Well, here I am, and still clueless.

Part of it involves world-building and technology (the “science” part of the science fantasy), which is still somewhat in flux. I might have to actually nail down the world-building and be satisfied with it, before I can resolve these plot problems. Ugh, I’ve never had my world-building form the foundation for a story, so this is a new discomfort to stress-test it and find that it isn’t quite holding up!

I’m very tempted to pause the draft and rework my plot issues before continuing, but I’m also worried that when I stop, I’ll never pick it up again. Dilemma, dilemma. But for now, I’m determined to push through to The End, plot holes be hanged. But my writing is falling back into really lousy mediocrity. Argh, I need to finish this thing! What to do…


…turns out that the thing to do was to take a step back. After angsting about this for a day, I had a time out and listed all the scenes I’d yet to write, and made a discovery: most of them were subplots, and practically all of them were in Nonide’s storyline. Yes, they are important subplots and are directly related to character growth, but none of them are strictly necessary to push the main plot forward. Furthermore, now I recognized them as the culprits bogging down N’s story!

At this stage, I’m tired of subplots and just want to get to the end, darnnit. So as strange as it feels to me, I’m going to ditch all the remaining subplots for now, and just hammer away at the main plot. The subplots have been very well mapped and I don’t think I’ll have a problem with writing them in later. And I think it’s imperative that I finish the main plot now, because it’s the most problematic part of the novel and hasn’t been outlined; if I stopped it now I doubt I’d be able to pick up all the threads again. So I’ve already triggered the endgame (yes, I was able to jump straight to that scene immediately!), and everything is now flowing towards the climax!

Lessons learnt:
I always knew that DW was a complex, multi-layered story, but I didn’t realize how challenging it was to organize and write. When I was prepping DW for NaNo, I made the outline by brainstorming a pile of scenes, sorting through the pile, and putting all the scenes on a chronology, but without regard to which plotline they were part of. I have been writing straight through N and Z’s storylines without regard of how they will play into each other, and while this has been good for my sanity, I got a little bit lost and didn’t notice that I was mired in subplot until recently — and after the NaNo writing frenzy wore off.

In the midst of this stepping-back process to find a clear path to follow, I worked out an outlining method that may help with this, which I’ll have to test one day. Essentially, it’s like grafting the branches of subplots onto the trunk of the main plot. For every scene in a subplot, ask: how is it relevant to the main plot, and how does it drive progression in the main plot along? I’ll have to test this new outlining strategy eventually. Maybe when revising DW.

World building on ruins.

About 5 years after I destroyed my manuscript of the Homeworld Codex for complex reasons that I won’t talk about, I am world building again.

–Not that I stopped imagining in the meantime. Homeworld has always remained in my head, but because I ceased externalizing my ideas, its growth stagnated. One day I might attempt to rebuild this codex. But I don’t think I will. Too much has been lost in time, and I’m a different creator now. I can’t go back anymore to that time and space and person I used to be.

Nevertheless, not all is lost. The world that “Killing the Dragon” and Strange Music are set in is growing at a rapid pace and looks to be the descendant of the old world. Codex Savi is definitely not identical: it’s smaller in breadth and scope but greater in granular detail, but I can see similar thought processes undergirding its formation. In fact, I think it is the application and logical outcome of the broad, theoretical concepts I’d written about in Homeworld Codex.

Building Codex Savi has been very enjoyable, especially since I’m doing it concurrently while plotting out “Killing the Dragon” and developing its characters. (Weaving details and links in the characters and their relationships has been a whole exercise in itself… if this trend continues, the story is going to be much more complex than initially anticipated. And that is fantastic.) Haven’t had such fun for a long time. The NaNoWriMo discussion forums have been quite stimulating in this regard, and writing Strange Music has also prompted much thinking.

Wonderful. I don’t want to stop. And most of all, this world-building and storying could stimulate my art back into life. I know the answer is just as simple as writing for NaNoWriMo: just sit down and start drawing. Ahh, that is hard, but no excuses. If I can world-build and write again after 5 years, and to the same degree if not greater, surely I can pick up my art again!

NaNoWriMo in July: post mortem.

Things I’ve noticed through the writing process.

  • Once I get started, I can’t stop. Good thing NaNo is confined to set times, so I can confine my own writing. RL right now is too busy for me to be writing throughout the year. I think my “serious” stories like “Killing the Dragon” will be during NaNo. “Old Man’s Journey”, which is much more casual, will be the daily/weekly/monthly exercise.
  • Writing requires formidable discipline. Just like everything else. I have a pretty scattered attention span about EVERYTHING, but if I put my mind to it I can focus like a laser. Setting a timer helps. 15 minute sprints help. Break the time down into small chunks.
  • I’m not a fast writer, even though I am a fast typist. I can’t really word-vomit. I have to mull over things, and make it all count. And this is not because of inner editor. I have to distill down the 3-d imagery, the sensorium, into linear sentences, which is not an easy thing to do. (I’ve written about how hard this is for me before on LJ.) So I’m a bit uncertain whether I can reach full NaNo daily levels unless I have a serious plan and know what is roughly ahead at every step. I know the point is not necessarily to win NaNo, just to write… but I’d like to see whether I can win it.
  • Writing stamina still needs to develop. I have hit 1000+ words/day for several days, but I go through swings and dips. (Partly because of RL schedule.) Writing in fits and starts while riding PT, in lunch breaks, is not too conducive to flow, those were generally the low days. I need 3-4 hours at a stretch to hit my stride and make it to 1000+ / day.
  • So… what next with Strange Music manuscript? I think I’ll take a stab at traditional/small press publishing. I mean, why not. Aim for the highest thing out there (in my case, small press would be amazing). If that fails, there’s still self publishing route.