Editing Check-In #3

Hey Blogland,

I didn’t expect this post to take so long to get to. The last time I talked about this project was at the end of May; that’s how long it took me to write less than five thousand words on The Steel Armada. Yikes.

So, what’s the state of the book?

As of right now, The Steel Armada sits at 20,042 words. That includes the first two chapters, which will not be in the final cut of this story. Those chapters were really me finding my feet in this new world I’d built. So, I know right now that I’ll cut about 5,500 words when I get to editing.

I’ve started chapter 7, as of yet untitled, but I’ve got at least another 2k words to write for it.  Then there will be at least one more chapter, maybe two. So, that should put the final word count somewhere around 26k. Then subtract the two starting chapters… and it’s definitely a novella.

Now, here are my thoughts on this:

I’m focusing on one character’s specific storyline. There are more stories to be told, and who knows? They could all come together and form a novel, but as of right now there is no larger, over-arcing plot that connects them. But, I have the world and I have the people and the more I get to know both, the more stories will come. But, for right now? I’m just focusing on Val and her experiences in this relatively small arc.

There are some nebulous ideas swirling in my brain that take place in Exodus (the world I’ve built). I have a slew of characters (Val, Ethan, Mac, Reema, Marcus, Dorver, Mickey, Dean, Richard Elder, Mei, Cleric Richings, Moira… I think that’s everyone so far) and they all have the potential to have stories of their own. I think I will end up spending a lot of time in Exodus over the next few years, really getting to know them all.

This is the part where I feel the need to hammer out a plan, mainly because that’s my nature. I really like lists and plans. I want to have an executable course of action for any and every possible scenario. Type A personality, right here. But, writing doesn’t always fit the plan, and I don’t want to hedge myself in too much with my own desperate need to set expectations.

The (tentative) Plan

  • Finish Val’s Story
    • Madhu and I set a deadline of August 1st, to have our manuscripts complete and sent to one another for feedback. Once we’ve edited and incorporated each other’s thoughts, we’ll send them to Tim the Agent™.procrastinator
  • Figure out Exodus
    • This is a vague bullet point that really umbrellas a lot of stuff. This will be creating the organization for the project as a whole, outlining future story ideas, fleshing out characters and the world, etc. This also includes deciding if there is a novel in there somewhere, or just collections of novellas and short stories.
  • Prioritize
    • Once the above is done, it’s time to figure out what comes next. Do I continue in Exodus? Do I move on to my second novel, another giant rewrite project? Do I finish From the Quorum? Do I start something new? That’s a lot of question marks, which makes me nervous, but ultimately I’m excited. The Steel Armada has dogged my steps for five years; I’m ready to move on.

And that’s where I’m at right now. I’ve got just over two weeks to get these last few chapters done and get to the end of this story. I’d like to get it done sooner so I can do a few edits before I send it to Madhu, so… two weeks. Which means I really need to get writing.

The next time you hear from me about this project will be after I write “The End” on it. I’ll come back to do a sort of Project Wrap Up post, hopefully by the end of the month.

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ

 

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Editing Check-In #2

Bloggos!

As promised, now that I’ve crossed the 10k word mark in my new draft of The Steel Armada, I’m back to discuss my progress.

The biggest takeaway for me so far is that rewriting is much, much harder than I expected. Not for the lack of words or ideas, because there’s no shortage of that. But, there’s so much sudden freedom and so many options for how I want to tell this story that I sometimes find myself uncertain how best to proceed.

This last week in particular I made a point to really hash out what it is I want to accomplish with this story. What story do I want to tell? Is my main character the best character to accomplish that? And so on and so forth.

The Good

The new manuscript is just shy of 15k words and it’s been a very illuminating process. I have completely re-imagined the world, and I like it much better. It makes more sense to me and to the characters, and feels so much more alive than my previous attempt. I’ve added a ton of technology, establishing my main character’s interests and what her every day life looks like.

There’s much more life on the page. The world exists beyond my main character, there’s movement in the background. There’s technology, food, religion, an economy. There’s so much more happening and it’s really just the beginning. I’m still exploring this world I’m creating, and though I’m sure not every detail will make it to the page (as they shouldn’t), it can’t hurt for me to know them.

Characters are much better developed. This is probably because I already knew them to some extent from the last draft, but they all feel much more real to me even in so few pages. I also like them all more in their current roles and settings. I’ve also created new characters. Some of them are critical to the story as it is now, and some of them aren’t, so there’s some work to be done in that area, but that’s okay. It makes sense that there would be characters in the world that might not make it into the final version of the book. As the world grows, so will the number of characters that come to life.

Which leads me to:

The Problematic

I have to figure out what the heck is going on in this book. By changing the world I effectively killed my original plot. That was a scary moment, let me tell you. Nothing like writing a book and literally have NO IDEA where its’s going.

But, I trusted the characters to take me where I needed to go. I wrote my way through until I came upon a story. It’s not as grandiose as the original plot, not so grand and ambitious. But, much closer to the types of stories I tell in my short fiction.

Which led me down an even scarier rabbit hole: Am I still writing a novel?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. I’m leaning toward a novella, at the moment, but have decided to ultimately take Madhu’s advice and put the concern on the back burner for now. Her words were, “Write the story, worry about the length when it’s done.” That’s some damn good advice, so I’m going with it. For now, I’m writing Val’s story, whatever that turns out to be.

(I just happen to think it’s going to be a novella)

Another big concern is that I’m going to have a lot of excess words. This is such an exploratory process, with rampant world building and characters popping into my mind like freaking daisies. Not all of it will make it to the final version, which means there will be a lot of editing in my future, all over again.

mushu daisies

But, that’s all right. Ultimately, I want this story to be the best possible version of itself. That was my goal for this year, Finish The Steel Armada. So, I just need to buckle down and figure out what that means. And to do that I just have to keep writing. The story will come, the editing will happen and eventually I can put Val’s story behind me and move on to whatever comes next.

Some Stats

  • added 9,798 words since last Check-In
  • decided on story themes and general plot
  • outlined three chapters ahead
  • considerable world-building and character development
  • lots of fun new tech
  • came up with some quality alternate title ideas

I need to write another 2k words by Thursday night to make my writing goals for the month, which will put me over the 15,500 word mark. Which means I’ll be back in a few weeks with my third check in, once I cross the 20k word threshold!

Hopefully another 7k words will offer some clarity in direction and let me set my sights on the ending of this story.

Until then Blogland,

 

BZ

The Recap – April 2018

Bloggos! Where has this year gone? It can’t be May already, can it? That means we’re almost halfway through the year! Nope, nope, nope. This is not okay.

What were April’s Goals?

  • Edit 4 chapters of The Steel Armada
  • Continue submitting short stories
  • Build a backlog of 5 chapters of Sanctuary
  • Keep reading

How’d it go?

  • Edit 4 chapters of The Steel Armada
    • Close! 3.5/4. This project has been a lot harder than I anticipated. I have thoughts I’ll share later this week in my editing-centric post.
  • Continue submitting short stories
    • Done! Both Lifelike and The Cost of Rain are out for submission right now.
  • Build a backlog of 5 chapters of Sanctuary
    • Nope. Didn’t even finish chapter 3. This is both good and bad. Bad, because I need to get this project done and off my plate. Good, because that means my focus was on original content and not fanfic.
  • Keep reading
    • Sure did! I finished twelve titles in April! Ten graphic novels, one audiobook, and three novellas.

Total April Word Count: 10,431

April was mostly me blinking bleary eyes at my ancient MacBook screen and cursing my life. The revisions on The Steel Armada have been… trying at best. I proved my stubbornness to myself, my determination to see a project through. I’m proud of the work I’ve accomplished so far, but it’s time to admit that this book needs more than I’m giving it. More on that later this week.

I’ve submitted two short stories this month, and both are still pending. That’s a good thing. The longer the stories are out, the better my chances. I’ve received two rejections so far this year, one form and one personal. I used the feedback in the personal rejection to tweak The Cost of Rain and look forward to seeing how it does this round. Submitting is nerve-wracking work, but it gets less so the more I do it.

Sanctuary has become something I work on when I have time to spare, which is exactly how it should be. I add a few lines at a time, a paragraph here and there. It’s a fun little escape and a good place to get the writing day started. I still like it, and definitely am committed to finishing it, but it is not my top priority.

Binti-Trilogy-nnedi-okorafor-e1511508509714

I read a lot of graphic novels in April, as well as the Binti novellas. Lots of quick and small stories to get me through the month and pad my reading challenge.

Honorable Mentions?

I posted thirteen blog posts this month. Three book reviews, five goals summaries,  one monthly recap, and four miscellaneous posts. The blog is seeing the most traffic ever, with April getting the most views in a single month in the seven year history of To Write These Words Down…

That feels good. So thank you all for visiting this site and reading along on my adventures in writing!

April was also a month of adventure! Madhu and I attended the OWC Writers Conference, which you can read all about. I learned that she’s a “Walk ‘n’ Talker”, as we went for a walk on the beach and shouted over the wind to discuss our stories. I took risks and networked. I met people, which is like one of my biggest social anxieties so, yeah. I did that.

the audient void no 5The Audient Void published its fifth issue, and opened submissions for issue #6. You can purchase a copy or submit now!

I’m proud of April’s word count. It’s not as stellar as March or even January, but it’s the reflection of solid, difficult work. That makes me happy.

So, Now What?

  • Write 500 words/day for The Steel Armada
  • Write 2 chapters for Sanctuary
  • Continue short story submissions
  • Keep reading

Madhu and I took a walk in a local park this morning to discuss our plans and goals for our manuscripts in the coming months. It was nice. I don’t get outdoors often enough, which was made apparent by my shortness of breath as we climbed a modest hill. And now that the weather is clearing up (maybe), I hope to take more walks.

So, what I’ve been hedging around and still won’t get into too much detail about here, is that I am going to do a complete rewrite of The Steel Armada. It’s what’s best for the book, no matter how much it scares me. The fact that I’m so daunted by the prospect of rewriting is another good reason to do it.

Basically, this was the very first manuscript I ever finished which is amazing in an of itself. But, the story can be so much better, can become so much more, if I take the bones of what I have and build something entirely new out of them.

At least, that’s what I think. That’s what I feel. What I know is that I cannot continue to work on the book the way it is now. There is no light at the end of its tunnel. And I do not want to put all this effort into something that is ultimately a dead end.

So, I’m starting fresh. A lot of material can stay, all of the characters I’ve built will remain, but the world and how they live in it has to change. And for the first time, I’m really excited about those changes.

Again, I’ll really hash out these details in my Editing Check-in post later this week, but I couldn’t really talk about May goals without sharing this decision.

Writing Sanctuary is going to be my treat to myself. If I’m meeting my The Steel Armada goals, then I can work on fanfic where there is much less pressure. Plus, it’s just fun to write. It’s self-indulgent and judgment free. I need a project that doesn’t feel like life and death.

Short story submissions are on track and I will be sure to update the blog as soon as I hear anything. I’ve got a good list of potential markets to submit to after this round, and I plan to write a post about this process later in the month. I also have some new short stories I’m slowly drafting, though I have no plans to work on them at all this month. I want to get Sanctuary and The Steel Armada done before I really focus on any new content.

Reading is still a priority, but I have a nice cushion in my reading challenge, so I’m going to revert back to a more leisurely reading pace and focus more on writing in May than I have this year so far. Expect book reviews to slow down this month.blackfish city

Right now I’m reading Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, which is super interesting so far. It’s definitely the right book to read while I dig into this rewrite as it has a very similar vibe as what I’d like to have in The Steel Armada.

So, that’s May. It’s daunting. There’s a lot of work to get done, starting today. I have to write 500 words of a new version of a book I wrote in 2013. It sounds scary, but 500 words?

I can do that. Like, super-di-duper quick. 500 words is nothing. Which was my point in making it the goal. What’s 500 words? Pffft.

And if those 500 words go well, suddenly it’s 1000. Or 1500. It grows into something bigger than anticipated, leaving me feeling accomplished and energized to get more work done.

So let’s get to it already!

 

BZ

Goals Summary 2018 – Wk 17

Blogland,

It’s Monday, which means it’s time to talk about goals!

 

Last Week

  • Publish 2 blog posts
  • Edit 3 chapters of The Steel Armada
  • Write 500 words of Sanctuary
  • Research more short story markets
  • Review Madhu’s pages

How’d I do?

  • Publish 2 blog posts
  • Edit 3 chapter of The Steel Armada
    • Nope. 1.5 were done. I have more to say about this in a forthcoming post.
  • Write 500 words of Sanctuary
    • Done. Got a whoppin’ 1,476 on this chapter. Feels good.
  • Research more short story markets
    • Yep. I still haven’t heard back from either Fireside nor Flash Fiction Online, so that’s good. But, I’m ready with a whole list of magazines to submit to if/when the time comes.
  • Review Madhu’s pages
    • Duh-doy. It’s the one thing you know I’ll do!

Weekly Word Count: 5,164

This week was a bit of a struggle, editing-wise. I was also in denial for a lot of that struggle, which really only made things more difficult. Again, I’ll get into the details in  post later on this week. That being said, I did write about 1500 words of rewrites on The Steel Armada this week, so nothing to sneeze at.

I also wrote a nice big chunk of chapter 3 of Sanctuary, about half of it, actually. So that feels super good too. I also accepted some last minute Tumblr prompts, and wrote one of them in one session. At just over 2000 words, that felt really good. It’s not related to anything, just a little Dragon Age oneshot, but it was fun to write.

I’ve done a bit of solid research on short story markets, both pro-rate and semi-pro. I’ve got a list and couple websites bookmarked to use as resources. Once I hear back from the two I’ve submitted to, I’ll probably do a “Submissions check-in” post to talk about all of this.

Now What?

  • Publish 2 blog posts
  • Write 500 words/day on The Steel Armada
  • Finish chapter 3 of Sanctuary
  • Finish ma-sulevin Tumblr prompt
  • Get halfway through Blackfish Cityblackfish city

So, that looks super straightforward. Five bullet points? And one of them is just reading? Pffffft. Easy peasy! Oh, except I’m going to write at least 3,500 words this week? What? What’s that all about? Well, Madhu and I have challenged one another to daily word count goals on our respective projects. I couldn’t bring myself to agree to her 1k/day, but I can commit to 500 words. So… I’m doing it.

Someone send help! What have I done?

I’ll be back this week with the April Recap and my Editing Check-in. Until then, Bloggos!

 

BZ

Help?

Hiya Blogland,

I don’t have time to write a full book review today, but I’m feeling antsy about things so here I am.

I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with The Steel Armada before I send the first chapter off to my writing friend, and… woof. I didn’t realize I hadn’t actually done any physical edits for draft #3 on that chapter yet. There’s a lot of description and pacing issues, things that need fleshed out or better explained that I just haven’t managed to do yet.

So now the question is, do I hammer that out this weekend before I send it to her, or do I send it as is and wait to get her feedback before I make further changes?

Also, I was really confused about some discrepancies between copies of my manuscript, and so booted up the old Mac to look at the originals… So I’m typing away at Starbucks on my old computer. It’s sort of nostalgic. I have to say I do like this keyboard more; it feels better and more responsive against my fingertips. But, it’s also got about 10 years of wear to make it so… cozy.

Anyway, what should I do? A part of me just wants to dive in and make the changes. But, the rest of me figures I ought to let her see it the way it is and make sure that her feedback matches my own concerns, else I could be making changes for the wrong reasons, or just making the wrong changes.

Let me know what you suggest!

 

BZ

Editing: On Research

Blogland!

It’s been a quiet week spent reading for Book Club. I just finished The Paper Magician last night, but won’t be posting the review until next Thursday, after our meeting. But, at least you have that to look forward to!

What I’ve really been focused on this week is research for The Steel Armada. Now, this is the first time I’ve ever actually done full blown research for a book. I’ve done some quick Googling on the spot to get clarity on an issue or scene, but I’ve never sat down with a text and taken notes and built up details and the world from there.

I had my first study session on Monday. For the first time in a long time, I took the manuscript out into the wild (Governor’s Cup, a local coffee shop downtown) and put in my earbuds to bring the din of espresso machines and conversations down to the comforting bustle of business.

It was a nice hour spent pouring over Sailing Ships. As previously mentioned, that book is a gold mine of info, but it’s actually a little advanced for me. It’s giving me terminology and diagrams, but it doesn’t really explain what the various parts of the ships do. So, I know where the mizzen is a on a ship, but I don’t know what function it serves.

20170223_140140
Dammit, Jim! I’m a writer, not an artist!

So, my research is leading to more research. Which is awesome! I’m taking notes, learning new things, and letting those things further develop the world. And when the world develops so do the characters who live in it.

But, I want to talk a little about research in general, in terms of writing fiction.

Those of us who took any Creative Writing courses have heard the “tried and true” advice spoken with finality: Write What You Know.

…Yeah. About that…

Funny thing for Speculative Fiction authors is that this advice falls flat. I’m writing about a desiccated planet and the small fraction of humanity that survived on a flying armada of steel ships above it. I don’t exactly know what that’s like.

But, I know what it’s like to be a seventeen year old girl falling in love with her best friend. I know what it’s like to lose your father figure. And I know what it’s like to demand more from the people and the world around you.

And anything I don’t know, like the architecture of rigged ships, I can research.

Which is really the most important thing I’ve learned so far. Speculative Fiction authors can still write what they know, they just have to know a lot about a ton of different things. The key to great world building is developing the small details that lend your world credibility. Yes, there’s much in Fantasy and even Science Fiction that is made up of things we can never truly know before we set out to write them. But, I can learn as much as I can about the things that are real, or based on reality.

Do giant sailed ships made of steel fly through the air? No. But, those ships of my creation can follow the look and feel of wooden rigged ships from human history. And the more I know about that, the more realistic I can make the ships of my creation.

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be an expert of fully rigged ships after this book is finished. And I doubt I’ll ever try my hand at sailing even the smallest of sailed craft. That actually sounds terrifying to me. But, I will be able to name the parts of a ship with clarity and confidence.

Watch out Jeopardy! I’ll wreck that ship category when the time comes!

(See what I did there? Wreck? Ship? Hah!)

 

aeroponics-vs-hydroponics
I have only the slightest idea of what any of this means…

Another big research topic I’ll be doing soon is Aeroponics versus Hydroponics. These people have food, both plant-based and livestock, which means they grow crops. How? What’s their nutrition like? Their livestock’s nutrition? These are questions that need answered.

Not because they’re vital to the plot. They aren’t. At no point does a potentially under-nourished cow play a critical role in freeing this society from its oppressors. But, if I can lay the foundation of my own understanding, I can address any questions that might come up.

For instance, now that I think about it, goats are a far more believable protein source than cows. They’re way more versatile eaters and take up less space, while providing milk, cheese, meat, and hide.

Goats.jpg
Who doesn’t love goats? Look at ’em!

But, if you haven’t noticed by now, the research spiral can be a dangerous thing. I think it’s why I’ve avoided it so far. Because questions only lead to more questions, and I have a tendency to want them all answered.

Let me tell you now, that is not necessary. You don’t have to answer every single question. Because ultimately you just need enough truth to wrinkle out any doubt from your manuscript.

Of course, it’s not a bad thing to do too much research. You just have to recognize when to rein it in and bring your focus back to what really matters: the manuscript.

So, I’m spending a lot of time doing research this round of edits. But, I still feel hopeful about an August finish. I think this round of edits will go by faster because there’s a lot of content creation happening. That’s way more interesting than going through line for line and reworking things.

But, all this content creation means I’ll probably have to do a fourth draft, to clean up the lines I’ve added in order to flesh everything out. Bummer. I still want to have all of that done by August.

I’m going to need an endless supply of coffee and snacks.

 

BZ

 

In Which I Did a Thing…

So, for the first time, in such a long time, I’m posting a “Craft Discussion” post! But first, a confession.

Yesterday, on my ten minute break, a certain famous author with whom I am obsessed tweeted that his literary agent is accepting queries for the first time in years. Several things happened in a very small space of time.

  1. I squealed. I admit it, shamelessly. The opportunity to share my work with one of the best agents in my genre opened up, and I squealed.
  2. Then I read the blog post, outlining the submission requirements. I soon convinced myself that I must write a query letter for Vessels.
  3. I then worked for another two hours, trying not to puke from excitement/nerves.
  4. Then I dashed through the minimum requirements of my homework in order to research and draft my first query letter.

So, I did it. I wrote a query letter for Vessels, which is now going under the title The Steel Armada. I spent the remainder of the evening giddy with the sheer weight of it all. I wrote a query letter! Me! It’s so… professional! And, given the examples I used as a template, and general feedback so far, it’s not a bad query letter.

All that’s left are some tweaks to the hooks, and to slim down my author bio, and I feel good about the letter. But, this agency also wants the first five pages of the manuscript. Initially, this was not a problem. I just finished the first round of edits on the first four chapters, so these pages are pristine and ready to rock.

Then I pasted them into the same space as my letter and read them in the vacuum that would be an email to a person I don’t know from Adam.

And suddenly this new outlook on my novel appeared, and it crushed me. All of the things that my gut said weren’t working became glaring, and stupid omissions. How could I not use such and such words to describe this? This part here doesn’t fit in with the rest. This is awkward. I hate this. Add in the occasional, that’s not bad, and my first five pages were suddenly a daunting workload to be combed over and perfected.

Which leads me to my real conundrum: I cannot, in good conscience, submit The Steel Armada, when I know it still needs so much work. The submission deadline is February 14th, and at first I had myself convinced that I could get most of the manuscript up to snuff by then.

Now…

Now, I’m not so sure.

With school and work, I’m not at all confident that I can make the necessary edits in so short a time. I could get maybe half of it done, and get the other half done while I wait for a response. And really, as much as I know I’m a good writer and that my story is good, it takes ages to get a literary agent. I know I’m not snagging this one right out of the gate. So maybe getting all these tweaks done before someone might ask to see more shouldn’t be such a concern.

But, it feels unfair. If they did ask to see more, I’d only be wasting their time, and shooting myself in the foot. The last thing I want is to present a product that isn’t the best possible representation of my chops as a writer.

So, I’m undecided. I still like the query, and I might just send it as a sort of “Fuck it”. Shrug of the shoulders and a silent plea to the writing gods as I click the intimidating “Send” button. But, I’m hesitant, now that the high of writing the thing has faded.

But, what I really wanted to say is that, if you haven’t written a query letter before, do it! Even if you have no intentions of sending it to anyone anytime soon. Write it. It forces you to boil down your book into the briefest descriptions, and makes you look at your work much more objectively than you might otherwise.

I spent quite a bit of time editing The Steel Armada, and though I knew there was something lacking, it wasn’t until I looked at the novel as a submission that I could hone in on the real problems. Because of this exercise in querying, my novel is going to be that much stronger.

So, in closing, I don’t know if I’ll be querying any agents anytime soon. But I’m glad I took the time to write a query letter and to consider, quite seriously, submitting The Steel Armada. The experience has been most instructive.

If you have experience, thoughts, or advice for my Query Quandary, please feel free to share them!

Anyway, I’ll talk at you all soon. Hopefully Monday, if I can manage to finish Castle in the Air by then. For now, I’m off to do homework, as usual.

 

BZ