Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Taking In A Lot During My Break

Thanks for the comments to my last post. Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels the need for a break every now and again. I think it's important to replenish the soul, restore the energy. Don't want to drain the creative well too much, but let it refill itself and then carry on. I'm certainly committed to my efforts as a writer and am not wavering on that in any way, but I've been very tired lately, aggregate stress mostly, and working too many hours every week. The break is helping.

During this time, though, I'm not exactly kicking back. Since I downloaded the Google books, now around 1.6 gigabytes worth, I've been reading about history, philosophy, culture, and language, and exploring a whole range of new-to-me sites about conlangs on the internet. I'm creating a few conlangs. I had already created one (the secret language of the Mystics), and it appears in my current novel. One of the new ones will appear now as a second conlang in my current novel (the language of the villagers, including the hero). The other new conlangs will go in future novels. I'm developing cultures with them, and ideas for future novels. Integrating lots and lots of ideas I've accumulated over the past several years.

So, I'm officially "on break" yet still I am working. The work I'm doing now, certainly still very creative, isn't the same kind as writing/editing. With all the reading I'm doing, and the sense of creating just for the joy of it, I'm replenishing my soul, and rekindling my enthusiasm, so much so that I do wonder whether I might really want to focus on being a fantasy writer, rather than a "gay/lesbian" writer by category, who happens to write a variety of types of fiction (fantasy, real-world suspense and drama, possibly mystery). I know we're supposed to pick one thing and stick to it, but that's hard to do for some of us who have serious interests in more than one area.

Anyway, I'm still on break, and am keeping my novel in mind, too, just not trying to push myself on it right now so I don't burn out. I still have another major push ahead of me to finish the complete revision, and I sense I'm resting up now so I'll be refreshed and ready to launch into it in the coming weeks. I may end up doing a complete rewrite with a shorter word count (ca. 70,000 words, instead of the current 120,000 words). I know the story very well by now, and have learned a lot in the past year of working on it, so much so that I think a rewrite might improve it in ways that editing can't. Whichever way I proceed, I want to be gung-ho and ready when I get back to work on it, and push forward at that time with a strong momentum and a rapid pace, a dash toward the finish line.

Happy Autumn,

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Taking A "Creative Break"

I've been feeling a bit drained creatively the past few weeks, a gradual slide downhill. I think the many months I have been working on this novel are wearing on me. I think of Frodo trying to get that darned ring to Mount Doom. It's a long journey. I started working on it in October last year. It's almost been a year now. That's a long, sustained effort, for sure. I've only taken one real break during that time, when I finished the completed manuscript, to let it "cool" before I started editing it. Even then I pressed on, trying to start another novel. For the time being, I think my creative juices have run low and I need a "creative break", a break from trying to be so darned creative all the time, and also a chance to take something in, to replenish the well. A time to feed my creativity, nurture it along, rekindle the fire and passion, which are certainly still there, but which need a little nurturing right now.

Since I discovered Google Books I've downloaded over a gigabyte of information from them. I've been like a kid in a candy shop, as my last posting shows. It's been a real joy discovering all the stuff I can download for free that it is so very interesting to me. The books I've downloaded have even inspired me to come up with a non-fiction book I want to write. I have already created a basic outline for it, and a detailed outline of the first four (of eight) chapters. This is more creating, I know, when I feel I want a break from creating, but I couldn't resist. I can definitely see completing that book and feel it would be very marketable. Special interest, not a big seller, but a valuable book for its intended audience. I won't say any more about it, but I know it's a great idea and one I have the expertise to write. I think I'll keep working at this non-fiction book, and continue to work on it even as I return to editing and completing my Fantasy novel.

I also want to take time to read some of the books I've downloaded, and others I have on my list (current fiction titles). I need to take in ideas and information right now, feed my heart and soul, and give my novel more time to sit as I contemplate how I want the remaining chapters to go as I continue the edit. I can see turning it into two very different novels depending on which direction I want to take as I finish editing it. One would be pure fantasy, the other fantasy that is closer to historical fiction. It is certainly not historical fiction by any means, but I could create a more realistic sense of actual history, or change the names and continue with the fantasy aura. I've thought about this several times over the past months, and always decided to go with "fantasy that is based very loosely on history". I'll probably stay with it, but while I'm exploring this in greater depth right now at the very least I will be getting ideas of how to anchor future novels in a more historical context.

Anyway, I'm officially on a "creative break" for a short time, maybe 2-3 weeks, not long considering the many months involved in this novel-writing project. I look forward to blasting back into it with the fervor of a zealot once again, but only after taking time to feed my writer's soul.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Google Books & Story Note

First, a comment that I've "discovered" Google Books -- and I have been absolutely elated, on Cloud Nine, in Seventh Heaven, I've died and gone to Valhalla, I've ascended and become a new life form, I've decided to give up smoking and I didn't even smoke to begin with, I -- I -- I -- well, you get the picture.

What an absolutely fantastic resource!

You have probably heard about it, but I'll mention it in case you haven't: through Google Books you can search and find complete online scans of an amazing variety and quantity of public domain books. The complete scans are usually available for free download as Adobe Acrobrat files.

I have downloaded over 100 megabytes already of high quality books from the late 1800's and early 1900's. I couldn't be happier. My smile is brighter, my clothes fit better, people that I don't even know greet me and wish me well, and restaurants seat me at the best tables without my even asking -- all this because I "discovered" Google Books.

And the amazing thing is . . . YOU CAN, TOO! Check it out.

And, a story note regarding my novel. I'm happy I've given myself a little time to rethink the chapters I'm editing, in light of the new scene I added to Chapter 4, and the very important scenes that I'm setting up through these two chapters. I think it's great to have this extra scene, and bring these two characters together to talk and sort some things out, but the way I wrote it, I think now I had them get a little too far ahead of themselves. In fact, a LOT too far (?). I think I need to edit it, rewriting a portion of it, to take out some of the advancements to their relationship and their understanding and acceptance of their situation. I realize that with what went before in previous chapters, the love interest character is not possibly going to react the way I wrote this. I wrote it the way I'd LIKE it to be, but this scene must wait for later. They have to get to that sometime by the end of the book, even in the last chapter. It's too much for them now. Yes, this is new wisdom, and it appears solid. I have a much clearer sense now of the mindset of the love interest character.

As I mentioned previously, while rethinking these things, I've also been "tinkering" with other scenes. I also went so far as to write 5,000 words of another novel in the third person, then go and rewrite all that as a first person narrative. I'm so eager to get the current novel done and work on other stories, I'm finding it hard to keep myself in check, but I am staying the course -- I don't want to allow myself to get too distracted with anything else until the current novel is through this first intensive edit.

I hope to finish adjustments on this one new scene this weekend. The rest of Chapter 4 will still need only minor tweaking and then I can work on that last scene of Chapter 5, which has always been so problematic. I'll be sure to schedule work time along with time to read those wonderful, priceless books I've been able to download from the wonderful Google people.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

You Gotta Check This Out!

My recent link updates included PLOTTERS & MANIPULATORS UNITED, Sherry Thomas' blog. I also previously mentioned a really cool posting she did on the "Great Divide", or what it was like to become a published author. Subsequent to that great posting, she has started a series of postings on rejection, which are fascinating to read. I strongly encourage visitors to my blog to check out Sherry Thomas' blog -- well worth the visit!



For anyone new to my blog, you can check out earlier entries to see what it's about, and catch a sense of the progression of the work. I blog about the process of writing of my current novel, THE REFLECTING STONE, a gay epic fantasy novel which I hope will be published once it is finished. I have already completed the manuscript, and am presently going through it again to edit it. If you want to know what the novel's about, there's a link on the right in the sidebar to a previous posting that gives you a "back-cover blurb" about the story.

I've been tinkering a lot with the chapters under the microscope these days, primarily 4 and 5, but also going back over 1-3. I am still evaluating this significant new addition to chapter 4, whether to go with it, how it impacts the emotional arc, whether what I wrote is really the way these characters would progress at this point. Trying to keep it real. I like what I wrote, but it seems I am needing to take a little time to step back and re-evaluate it in the context of the larger story, and the larger story now in light of this new scene. I'm almost ready to move on and continue the hard-core editing.

While I'm letting this new scene percolate, I took time to rewrite the first scene of Chapter 1. I liked it the way it was, but I wanted to try to get more quickly into the first story question. I edited out about a page and a half worth of entertaining dialogue and managed to get the first story question in by the end of the first page, which is a short page since I skip 8 spaces down then put "CHAPTER 1" then skip another space and then start the chapter text (plus the whole thing is double-spaced). It felt terrible to take out that nice banter, which builds up a sense of the two important characters in the scene, but I do like getting to the first story question sooner. So, I think I'll go with the change.

I also tweaked a few of the lines in the remainder of the scene, which I realized were too conveniently used to give the reader a little backstory. I changed the dialogue rather ingeniously to a way of expressing it that a person would in fact actually say in real conversation. Sometimes we do say what is known, but in a certain context, where there is a point to saying it. I found that context, and brought out a clearer sense of the love interest's personality as well. Getting clever!

All this tinkering, plus reading a variety of writing-related web sites, is helping me keep a focus on writing while I work through that deeper thinking. Can't wait until I sense that inside it's finally "clicking" and I'm ready to move forward again, but I know this "dream time" is important. I'm not just reflecting on the editing of Chapters 4 and 5 right now, but on important scenes later in the novel that these chapters set up. I'm looking before I leap. Doing the thinking work up front helps save time down the road.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Updated Links

This evening I finally updated the links in the sidebar to the right. You will find several new blogs listed by aspiring and published novelists. Also, new sections have been added with links to editors and agents, as well as a literary review blog.

Of particular note is the Authors' Blogs index, a nice listing to check out if you haven't already. I also wanted to highlight Scott Marlowe's blog, which I came across when searching for more blogs by authors. I was impressed with his hard work and commitment to becoming a published novelist. Finally, JA Giunta's blog is very nicely presented, an attractive layout for a Fantasy writer.



The two books on writing that I've read most recently were both very worthwhile. Over the past few months, it seems almost any book I read on writing is worthwhile. This might be partly due to the progress I've made in my work: as I advance my skills, I get more out of such books, can understand them on a deeper level, can make associations between the ideas they contain and my own experience as well as concepts from other such books. I know not every book on writing is worthwhile, of course, but these two definitely are.

I'll try to keep my review brief (not easy for me) by giving you the most important idea I gleaned from each of these two books, or the main impression that I received.

Terry Brooks' book, SOMETIMES THE MAGIC WORKS, struck me as saying more than anything else that success as an author is due not only to one's talent, but to a significant extent also to GOOD LUCK.

He was in the right place at the right time when he connected with Lester del Ray, who chose his manuscript to use as an example in his own quest to show that Fantasy, as a genre, can sell and sell big (this was back in the 70's when the genre was still seen as something of an oddity).

I did not receive the impression that Mr. Brooks' manuscript was extraordinary by any means. He indicated it needed significant rewriting and revision and that he learned a lot in the process. It is not that he presented them with a polished, finished mansucript that they were able to print "as is" and which was of such high quality that it sold a gazillion copies on its own. The editors helped him transform his writing into a publishable manuscript and also went out of their way to promote it, to create an overnight success.

I am sure Mr. Brooks has learned a great deal about writing over the years and has become a much better writer over time than the one he started out as. I appreciated his openness in sharing these details, which I would otherwise have never known. His experience strikes me as offering hope for others, that you can be less than perfect and somehow still make it, with a little help. Every aspiring writer struggles with self-confidence, so this message is appreciated. I think it is also fair: everyone needs a little help here or there in life.

It also strikes me that so much of this is a matter of chance. An aspiring writer needs to connect with the right editor or agent at the right time. I'm sure it must be so, as this notion has been reflected in so many other books on writing that I've read over the years.

With so much left open to chance, to GOOD LUCK, a very talented writer producing a quality manuscript is not guaranteed it will find its way into print, even though editors and agents typically scream that they are always hungry for a good manuscript. It needs to be not only a good manuscript, but the right one at the right time in the hands of the right person.

I suppose the only remedy to this for an aspiring writer who believes in the quality of his work is to be patient and keep trying, so as to maximize the opportunity of presenting a quality example of his/her work to the right person at the right time. It also reinforces the idea that you have to be willing to do the hard work, to learn and grow, to become a skilled writer if you are not one already. Otherwise, you will be a one-hit wonder with a short writing career.

Mr. Brooks' book does not give a lot of deail on how to do this, compared with THE MARSHALL PLAN, but it does provide a lot of insights into the experiences of one successful author's career, and to the career aspect of writing for those who are otherwise preoccupied with the nitty-gritty details of point of view, developing complications, etc. Mr. Brooks does list 10 rules, and does give some good advice scattered throughout. His best advice deals with the importance of the challenge that the main character faces. For a more in-depth look at how to develop a story, write and edit it, a book such as the following one will be of much more use.

Evan Marshall's book, THE MARSHALL PLAN, struck me as a very solid introduction or review of the principles of good writing. Of particular value in this book were the examples later in the book about how to edit your writing. Mr. Marshall gives specific examples of original text and edited text which illutrate very clearly the types of mistakes that beginners often make, and how they can be corrected. While one can question some of this advice, in general I would say he is 100% correct. Even those points which I thought to question were usually accompanied by a disclaimer specifying when, for example, the rule might be broken.

This material is invaluable and EVERY ASPIRING WRITER SHOULD READ THIS SECTION OF THIS BOOK!!! It will help you tighten up your prose and keep your story moving along quickly without the clutter of unnecessary phrases or words. I could remember being aware of some of these issues when I was writing the complete draft of my current novel, and wondering how I should handle some things. I worked out the best approach I could find, but frankly didn't know what I was doing on some points. After reading Mr. Marshall's book, I was able to go back through my chapters and edit them, removing a lot of unnecessary clutter. It felt liberating, and I had a very solid sense that I KNEW what I was doing was right, that the advice I had picked up from THE MARSHALL PLAN was of the highest quality. The guy knows what he's talking about! (Check below in recent postings on my blog for some examples.)

Back to work, I have editing to do!