The noveling process

As a birthday present to myself last week, I worked like a dog and finished Chrysalis – or at least got the draft to a point where I’m not embarrassed to share it with others. The plot is consistent, I think I remembered to foreshadow everything correctly, no stray mantels with stray guns on them. Emboldened, I submitted to Ragnarok.

I doubt I will hear back. They’re a great publisher, and the novel is good, but it was more of a milestone submission than an expectation of success that spurred me on. I don’t think my writing is edgy or gritty enough for Ragnarok. But I did it, and I have no regrets, because working towards this goal got me off my duff and working on a novel again. The weekend before I submitted, I managed to edit/write (it’s a process) over 25k words in 2 days. TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND WORDS folks. Sure, it’s easier to do when you’re rewriting than starting from scratch, but still.

Working on this project has also helped me realize what, exactly, works for me when it comes to writing novels (or at least the last two). Here are my fast and dirty rules for how I’ve written my last few novels. These rules don’t guarantee success, but they’ve at least helped me see a finish line.

  1. Get it out of my head as quickly as possible. It will be dirty, rough, and horribly written. Whatever. Turn off the spell checker, don’t watch the word counts unless I’m in a mood to know (and after a while, I am, because it helps keep me sane), but write it as fast I can.
  2. See 1.
  3. When finished, stuff it somewhere and do something else. Let it mature for at least three months. I will have stray ideas about it in this time. I write them down. They might be useful later. Probably not, but at least I recorded them.
  4. Once the novel is done incubating, pull it out and do a quick read through. Re-familiarize myself with the story, the flow, the ideas. Make serious notes this time, note scenes that need to be moved around, rewritten, added.
  5. This next part varies. Sometimes I will take a scene, stand it up to one side, and then retype it from scratch. I’ve found that doing this, I often make the same word choices, even when I ignore the original and try to write it fresh. Go figure. This usually lasts through the first 1/4 of the novel. Then I start taking whole scenes and just go line by line, fixing errors, embellishing, changing data spews to scenes where necessary. I try to cut most of my “had” and “still” during this process. I sometimes succeed. I make comments when I’m not sure if I remembered to mention something before I suggest we’ve known about it already.
  6. I will do a final read through again, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything obvious. This is when I fix those comments of missing references, verify that this isn’t the first time dear cousin Bill was mentioned as if he’d been there earlier, etc.

Occasionally, I will remember to turn the spell checker on at some point.

Until Chrysalis, that’s usually where the novel has floundered. It remains to be seen if this one will suffer the same fate. I hope not. I’m already working on the sequel.

The Act of Reading

The pixels are still warm on my post about Cummingswrites, and here I am writing about reading. Such is life.

At the start of the new year, I tried a little experiment with my reading habits. Feeling a need to disconnect from the digital, I switched to reading only paper books. There are many reasons to make this switch, but here’s a handful of the ones that I muttered to myself:

  • You cannot escape that when you hold a book, you know you’re holding it. There’s something about that weight in your hands, the visible progress as the pages left begin to thin in comparison to the pages read.
  • Not everything’s digital. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t popularize enough to digitize, or maybe the rights aren’t available. Whatever the reason, there are actually books that aren’t available for downloadable purchase. Shocker.
  • We have a used bookstore nearby. Half-Price books has been wonderful for finding treasures. Granted, it’s not only the closest bookstore, it’s the only bookstore in the area. We live in a desert of brick and mortar books (unless you’re looking for religious tracts or new age manifests, which I am not).

At first, things were grand. I had (and still partially have) a stack of books to read. What could go wrong? As it turns out, I’m spoiled, and that was the beginning of my downfall.

  • The first thing I didn’t anticipate was the weight of it all. Most books I read fall somewhere between 300 and 1,000 pages. When your laptop is already back-breaking, adding the weight of a heavy book along with all of the other trappings of commuting – well, you begin to look for things you can drop from your back. Sitting or standing on the BART is fine, but you also have to carry that for the walk. Bah. I wasn’t up for it is the short of it.
  • I also quickly learned the pain of misplacing a book. As it turned out, it was hidden in my backpack, but not after spending days thinking I’d lost the book. With digital books, I have them synched across most of my devices. Misplace a device? Use another, it’ll pick up right where you left off.
  • A not inconsiderable factor: satisfying the Yearning, that mood, that itch needing scratched, that compels to me to drop whatever I’m reading and pursue something. Eleven at night is not an ideal time to go to a bookstore, if there was one, and if it was even open.  But in this digital age, for all its faults, we can at least download samples to see if a book will satisfy our craving.

And so I ultimately failed the paper only diet. Spoiled, perhaps, but I just can’t forgo using digital books in my life. Wiser friends have pointed out that it’s possible to read both formats – some paper, some digital. I call witchcraft. And concede that that is probably my path too.

For this reading challenge, I challenged the format I read. Next, I think I want to challenge what I’m reading. For too long, my diet has been like the country western bar in Blues Brothers (the original movie – no remakes over here!). I’ve subsisted on a diet of two closely bound genres for too long. It is high time for some exposure, some broadening of the mind.

Some non-fiction.

Yeah, I said it – non-fiction. Books about real things with real people – or at least involving real people, though that won’t always be the case (I can think of a few pure science books that won’t even involve humans except as a footnote). I can’t say whether reading non-fiction will be my only diet – as in the case of trying to read only physical books, the path to success is one tempered in moderation, I suspect. I believe the health nuts call this a balance. Pffft. But we’ll see. New ideas expressed in new ways, about real things? Tell me more.

Because I’m enjoying this writing thing. Sure, I’ve been trying it for over a decade now, but I really feel like I’m starting to settle into my groove with it. But reading (what feels like) the same tropes repeated over and over can only result in fiction inspired to retread the same tropes. The argument that there are only so many stories, and we’re all just retelling the same story in different ways.

But then I look at humanity, and all of the different and fascinating – and horrific, and beautiful, and mesmerizing – things we do, and I figure, there has to be a few more stories out there we haven’t written down yet.

So maybe this post was about writing after all – because reading helps us find the stories that we tell each other.

The Curious Case of the Spare Domain

In a bit of unusual optimism and enthusiasm, I set up a Facebook author’s page last week. Up till now I had resisted the idea, mostly on account of not having actually published anything yet. But with my first story sale appearing in NewMyths,  it seemed like a brilliant time to change that.

I use the word brilliant with a pinch of salt here.

In setting up the page, I had to come up with a unique handle for the URL (i.e., http://www.facebook.com/somethinghere). I thought about using kodermike, which is the online name I use most everywhere, but decided against it because I didn’t want this to be just another copy of the same, but wanted it to be something unique and identifiable for the writing part of my life. It helps I was also doing an interview for a friend last week and one of her questions was whether I had an author page.

So, after a moment of genius (again, irony), I went with “CummingsWrites.” Then my brain did something evil and started thinking ahead, and the next thing you know I own the domain cummingswrites.com.

Only now I don’t know what to do with it. I thought about setting it up as a separate blog, a separate space all together where I could put my writing specific thoughts, observations, news, etc., leaving this blog (datanode.net) as a place where I could just put up my own personal entries. The only problem with that being that when you cut out the writing related posts, there really isn’t that much more to say.

For now, I have cummingswrites.com pointing here. I may eventually opt to swap that – make the blog into cummingswrites.com and just keep datanode pointing here. A lot of this is putting the horse not just ahead of the cart, but about a mile away.

If you have a thought, let me know. I’m very open to suggestion, as anyone that has witnessed me with my girls can attest to.