How deep is that drawer?

I was trying to work on a post about creativity for the blog. It had graphics, and memes, and was really a deep introspective on how I struggle to manage creativity in a life of interruptions, peppered with the observation that as I get older I am finding my creative mojo time is getting earlier and earlier in the day. Where once I was a night owl, now I’m more of a “let’s see if I can get up and get some things done before anyone else wakes up and realizes I’m awake. Starting with the dog…”

Guess I don’t need to write that post since my summary is more than most people will get out of it. But I did like this graphic I was going to use for those times when the creativity faucet is set to max.

But surprise, we’re still going to talk about writing. One of the pieces of advice you often hear is that when you finish a piece, you should put it in a drawer. The time recommended varies, and really, it varies because no two people are alike. I’d wager not even identical twins who both happen to be writers in the same niche genre would have the same habits or techniques.

I thought I understood the advice. I dutifully put a story aside when I finish it, set a timer for three months, then come back to it later. Usually. OK, I’m not so great at that, namely because three months later I’m either not in the same mental space, or I try but it just doesn’t sit with me at the moment.

Well, today I found the box under the box where I hid the boxes under the boxes. I found some stories I wrote not three months ago, not three years ago, but over five to ten years ago.

And let me tell you, they are crap.

I remembered the salient points of these stories. I’ve even referred to them in notes for ideas as “I wrote about this thing once and it was cool!” But today I actually found those stories, and to sum up:

They are at best incoherent. And that’s being generous. I picked them up wondering how much work would be needed to make them usable. I put them down wondering how I could ever have written these.

I am not despairing, and neither should you. I think if you have the means to look at things you wrote years ago, you should. If nothing else it’s a great study in how you’ve improved. In my case, it was a reminder that it’s better to start fresh with the “talent” (ie, practice and hard work) that I’ve accumulated over the intervening years. Because when I look at these stories, although I see the gem of what I was trying to do, I also recognize that this isn’t how I would write them today. My voice has improved, my storytelling has developed.

Maybe at some future point, I’ll post those old stories – along with a critique of where I think they went wrong (is there that much red font in the universe?). Or maybe I’ll post that other blog post, the one about how do you find the creativity faucet when everyone keeps siphoning your time.

Books and writing, oh my!

Sometimes, even I forget that I’ve self published a few books. A little honest background will help explain that.

My first book, A Scent of Roses, was a fabulously fun book to write. I wrote it with a solid Hammer film, B-movie vibe in my head. I tried to keep it coherent, but I gave my imagination complete free rein on the project. “Go where you want,” I told it, “and I’ll just follow along and make sure the pieces almost fit together.” And me and I muse did just that. When I finished, I was staring at this novel, just sitting on my hard drive, and got to thinking – even if it only made a few bucks self-published, that was more than it was making collecting digital dust on my computer.

For a book with no real editing and no publicity, it did (to me) surprising well. Well enough that when I finished Chrysalis, the first chapter in a series I’d been messing with for a while, I went all in. I got an editor, spent money on banner ads, the whole nine yards. And it sank. Or stank. Either way, it didn’t do nearly as well as that first effort. Even on KDP, where you earn money for people just turning some pages (at least when it was first put on there), I never made enough to get something on the dollar menu.

And then, a few weeks ago, I decided (quietly) to pull it off of KDP, set the price on both books to 0.99, and push it out with Draft2Digital to all ebook venues that would take it.

Meanwhile, back at the castle…

When I finished Chrysalis, I actually started – and finished – the first draft of the sequel. But then Chrysalis bombed so badly, and then life, that funny beast, rose up and made itself very intrusive. Writing, even revision work, wasn’t on the list. The few times I tried, either to write new or revise The Mermaid’s Tears, I got interrupted just enough to lose what steam I had.

At about the same time I moved my books to D2D, I also started feeling like now might be a good time to finally put some work into Tears, a book that needed a lot of polish and attention, but in a lot of ways was already written, at least to some degree. Any lingering doubts I had were dismissed when I checked my sales report on D2D. Granted, I’m selling my books at $0.99, but I also haven’t done much to point people their way. AND YET- I’ve made some sales. Kid’s menu meal once a month sales so far, but it’s enough to fill my sails with a bit of wind.

I am happy to say that I am finally working on both revisions to Mermaid’s Tears, as well as another full length novel. And it feels good. For the first time in a long time, I am actually feeling like I can call myself a writer again. Maybe not successful, maybe not popular, but a writer.

Now if I could figure out how to blog more often.

Outlining progress in a novel

Outlining. It’s something I know would help me, but I always run into a cognitive blockade translating the vision in my head into something sensible. In my head? It’s a three dimensional tapestry of interlocking pieces that converge to tell a story. On paper? It’s a mishmash of words that are fairly incoherent, volatile, and likely to be incomplete and therefore abandoned early.

“It’s all right,” I always tell myself. “I’ll fix the outline later. For now, let’s just get some writing done!” And I do. Often times a solid 30,000+ words. The problem is that although I bristle at the thought of following a guideline – who am I to tell me what to write?!? – the resulting story is often far more coherent in the parts where I did sit down ahead of time and map something out.

The problem that has always plagued me, I think, is the thought that it has to be a written outline. Bear with me on this one.

I was watching a Brandon Sanderson video on plotting the other day and in a not quite roundabout way, it led me to drawing out a map of the WIP I want to be working on (but refuse to put any solid words towards until there is an outline).

A funny thing happened. As I drew out the map, marking points where things needed to happen in the story, even where they should happen, I found myself doing more. Part worldbuilding, part storybuilding, I began making notes of things that had to happen here*, before this* or that*. And that’s when I realized, as I was drawing this map to frame the progress of the story with, I was also drawing an outline.

I still have a ways to go. Right now I have these pages in a small Field Notes notebook, and some poor attempts at digitizing the maps I’ve created. (Side note: it doesn’t seem like the same creative neurons are triggered drawing with a mouse on screen as with a pen and paper. Some are fired, but not the same ones.) But it’s progress on an outline, and I’ll take it.

Of course, that said, I’m getting antsy. There is only so much thinking I can do about a story before I need to dig in and start writing. I began this blog post a week ago. I’ve done little to alter the map since then, an indicator (to me) that the next creative step is to actually start putting words down. I’ve a rough outline, grounded with the map. I expect I will stray from the outline at times, but with the map in hand I hope to remain consistent no matter what.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Although my blog is setup to post across multiple platforms, I don’t actually go to Facebook more than once a month or so, Tumblr even less so. Thanks for visiting!