The Empty Nest

For most of my life, I have been striving to become a writer. One day, I thought, I will be a writer. Of course, I know this was wrong thinking. I have constantly been told, “Writers write.” Writers don’t simply begin writing one day when they finally hit the big leagues; they have to put pen to paper for years before anything comes of it.

Armed with this common knowledge, I did just that. Ten years ago, I began developing a science fiction epic. I finished my first draft, entitled Colony, last December. Five years ago, I began a second story. I finished my second draft just this past week.

I thought I was getting busy. I thought I was being preemptive, practicing my craft and preparing for the day when my career would begin.

I was wrong.

As a creative type, I’m not so good at math, but let’s add up my progress so far. In the ten years that I’ve been “committed” to being a writer, I have written two novels. On average, that’s one novel per five years – and 90% of those words were written in the last twelve months. This means I’ve been pretty unproductive for someone who intends to somehow make a living at this.

Well, my two novels are done now. They’re fully birthed. I would like to pat myself on the back for having churned through so many words this year, but the reality is that I have to get much faster at this process.

Ideally, I need to be writing two books per year, and I can’t take five to ten years to conceive of them, which means it’s time to get going on something new. I need to get going yesterday, to be honest!

But there’s something stopping me.

I’ve got a bad case of “Empty Nest Syndrome.” You know what I’m talking about, right? After parents finish raising a family, their children go off into the world, leaving them alone for the first time in twenty years or more. What are these parents supposed to do with themselves? They clutch to their children as long as possible, fearing the separation anxiety they know is just around the corner.

Well, the metaphor only goes so far. I’m not worried about separation anxiety. I am worried, however, that I won’t be able to have any more kids. Do I have another two books in me somewhere? How about four or five? Ten?

A lot of writers have great ideas coming out the yin-yang, but I’m not sure I’m one of them. Most of my writing time has been so obsessed with nursing the babies I have that I haven’t spent much time grooming new prospects for the future.

Well, the future has officially arrived.

I have become a little spoiled. Writing a first draft is fairly easy when you have ten years of background research in hand. However, my new babies are barely embryonic. If I’m going to meet my two-books-per-year goal, I don’t have time to spin my wheels in development.

The question is this: how does one write from a blank slate? How does one develop a workable outline from an idea that’s only partially formulated?

At this point, you might be waiting for me to offer up a sage piece of writing wisdom, some neat and tidy advice to get you on your way if you’re in a similar position.

But that’s not the kind of post this is today. Rather, today’s post is a call to action.

Starting today, I’m going to ignore the blindfold over my eyes that represents my creative uncertainty about the vast terrain of untold and unconceived story laid out before me. Starting today, I plunge forward into the unknown, step by step, word by word.

It’s hard to believe that, in six months’ time, this baby is going to be headed off to college.

Monday Bonus: Scrivener for PC

I contemplated merely commenting on Matt’s 4/18/11 post regarding the Writer’s Software Arsenal, but thought this info might have been lost or overlooked as a comment. And, since Colette already posted a wonderful article today on learning from our mistakes, consider this Bonus Monday Content!

Many Mac users might already be familiar with Scrivener, but as a PC user, I had never heard of it. Most likely because, until now, it hadn’t been available for the PC. Scrivener is currently conducting a public beta test of the PC version which you can download here. I decided to give it a try and have been extremely impressed despite the bugs I’ve come across.

“Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.”

The program has built in templates for Fiction Novels, Novels with Parts, Short Stories, Non-fiction, Poetry & Lyrics, and Screenplays. You can also create your own template to suit your personal needs.

What is so great about Scrivener, at least from the perspective of a speculative fiction novelist, is that it allows you to have everything you need to write your story–outline, character bios, research, glossary, etc.–all in a single “project.” You can even add images and video which can be viewed while you’re writing, easily rearrange scenes/chapters, and then compile everything into a single document for exporting or printing. As someone who has multiple Word docs (glossary, book guide, etc.) and an outline in Excel open at any given time–I worked in cubicle for 10 years and have yet to spend the time to learn wikidpad, what can I say?–having everything centralized in a single location seems like a dream.

The current Beta test runs through May 30th, 2011, and the full program will be available sometime in June. The PC version will cost $40, which is a steal considering how robust the software is. Additionally, if you participated in November’s NaNoWriMo contest and verified your 50k word count, you get 50% off the PC purchase price. You can’t beat that with a stick!

Scrivener for Mac: (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php)
Scrivener PC Public Beta: (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows/)

Mistake Learning

Mistake learning can be interpreted a few ways: to mistake learning for something else, learning about mistakes, learning from mistakes, and I’m sure we could come up with others. I named my post ambiguously in honor of my most recent BIG foul-up. I’m a big believer in learning from other’s mistakes in order to diminish my own, so I’ll offer up my new number one writing rule for your evaluation; Never, EVER, submit a document within twelve hours after making ANY changes without carefully reviewing those changes.

Case in point; I thought my second sentence in my manuscript might sound better if I added in a short action phrase. So, “Greg stopped pacing across the living room carpet and threw up his hands.” Um…yeah. Initially, some people might think this sounds fine, like I did. I have to really watch myself, because I tend toward these types of phrases. Unfortunately, if you approach the words in the same way you can approach this blog title, you might imagine some kid barfing up appendage bits onto the living room carpet. My story just went from an urban fantasy to a fairly twisted and bizarre horror. And yes, I sent that to two prospective agents. No surprise-the rejections showed up in my email within days.

Other potential mistakes to watch for:

*Don’t take too seriously a review of your manuscript from someone who doesn’t read any of the same books as you-Take criticism, but use discernment.

*Be nice to everyone everywhere you go. I once met one of Baen’s acquiring editors in an elevator, but even when he told me he was an editor I didn’t realize he had so much clout. Thankfully, when I met him through an introduction the next day, I could mention having met in the elevator without embarrassment. I’d been nice, polite, and hadn’t tried to shove a manuscript into his hand.

*Don’t get drunk at a convention, at least not when you have a book to pitch. I watched a man trying to apologize the next day after his over-zealous, drunken pitch to an agent at the party the night before. She was gracious in accepting his apology, but I guarantee you his book didn’t stand much of a chance unless it was incredibly brilliant. He’d already left a bad first impression.

Of course, there are many more. Feel free to post comments and add to the list.

 

UBI’s: Current Reading: Paper- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare; Ipad- Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson; Educational-Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Upcoming events: LepreCon May 6-8 in Tempe, AZ http://leprecon.org/lep37/, WorldCon Aug. 17-21 in Reno, Nevada http://www.renovationsf.org/

www.colettevernon.com

 

It’s Okay to Talk to Yourself.

Don’t mind the stuttering, the staring. Forget everyone that’s around you. One of the biggest complaints I hear from aspiring writers or envious onlookers is that “there’s never enough time to write.”

Truth is, there’s always time to write. Especially if you think outside the glowing metal box. I had the honor of hearing Kevin J. Anderson speak, and that’s when I learned his dirty little secret.

Kevin talks to himself. So did Upton Sinclair. In Sinclair’s prime, he was turning out 8,000 words a day, seven days a week. That was enough for him to employ two stenographers full time while he dictated his stories. The ending to the sprawling epic “Wheel of Time” was dictated to eager ears and hungry tape recorders on Jordan’s death bed.

I never believed it could work. I tried several times, and after stuttering and stopping three words in, I said to myself: “Screw it.”

After six months of beating myself up because “the words just won’t come”, I decided that this needed to end. I had the whole of Golden Hills’ first draft written, the only thing I was missing had been this one niggling scene that was beginning to drive me insane. It was supposed to be the fun scene, the epic battle where the good guys win and the bad guys get ground into bonemeal. But, why wouldn’t it come to me?

I had been so wrapped up in perfectionism and staring at the blinking black cursor that it was giving me a headache. I’d sit down with every intention to write one word, maybe two. And so I would be there and slowly start typing: “This is my awesome ending.” Backspace, this isn’t good enough. So, I’d try again: “Your head will explode from how awesome this scene is.” Delete. Still not good enough.

And so it would go for days, weeks, six months at a time. It was terrible, all I’d do was wrestle with semantics. Nothing was good enough, nothing ever was.

Frustration really started to settle in. Around this time, there were discussions going on in a message board about Kevin’s dictation methods. Other writers were debating the usefulness, the awkwardness and all that good stuff. Figured I’d give it a go, jump on the band wagon. I dusted off my Sony digital recorder. And I spoke. To myself.

Much awkwardness ensued. “The round went high and wide.” Pause. Repeat. You sound stupid, try again. And so it went for about two weeks. I’d talk to myself in the car, get a few sentences in and feel even dumber than when I began. So I’d quit and go back to my music, my audiobook, flipping off the knucklehead that just cut me off, whatever.

Weeks became months and the frustration really started to amp up. I went back to talking to Kevin about camping and hiking. I’d talk to other friends about what was and wasn’t working on the draft. I came back and decided to rewrite a whole subplot, create a bunch more scenes that were unnecessary, and delete whole chapters. All for the first draft.

Finally, I said the heck with it. I went out into the swamp with my Reader and my digital tape recorder. I stopped at the river and reread the last chapter that I had written [it was the original first draft, with a scene I had since deleted] and something happened. I don’t know what. But something happened. I got that funky lightheaded feeling that only comes from perfect mental clarity.

And then I pushed record. As I rounded the ravine, stepped in some mud, and ruined a perfectly good pair of socks, I did not push stop. Except for when the trail took me under the interstate, and then I couldn’t hear myself think. Soon as I got through the bridge, I hit record again. An hour gave me a little over 4,000 words. Words that needed to be said. It didn’t matter how terrible they were, because there was no backspace key. There was only one way to go, and that was forward.

While orating is not my preferred style (Scrivener, Chai Lattes, and New Age Music, for those who were curious), I found that it works wonders when you need to knock the cobwebs out of your head.

Prior to finishing Golden Hills, I had come off a six month slump where I just couldn’t find the time, didn’t listen to the muse, whatever. You name it, I used it as an excuse.

But there’s a saying I learned which does not bear repeating in polite company [excuses are like a certain unnamed body part every living creature has] and once I wrapped my head around that and took a walk in the woods…I found out that my excuses were nothing more than simple excuses.

Or distractions.

But that’s a matter for another post.