Write-a-Thon Midpoint Progress Report

As part of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I’ve been writing the second draft of my current work-in-progress novel, tentatively titled Noah’s Dragon. You can track my chapter-by-chapter progress in the Write-a-thon tab. Overall, I’m pretty happy with where I am– I’ve managed to stay on track with my goal of editing five chapters a week.

It hasn’t been perfectly smooth sailing, though. Some chapters are very easy to edit, while others require more work than writing them in the first place. So as I’ve worked, I’ve made a list of “Third Draft Changes”– things which I don’t have time to do now, but that I want to work on in the third draft. These may be scenes that need to be add, or overall things (like foreshadowing and explaining the magic system) that I’m working on now, but may need to be improved with an overall look in the third draft.

However, I’ve decided that this week I’m going to pause and essentially “backfill” by taking care of some of the items on that list now. I want to shore up what I’ve got of the second draft so I can finish strongly– I suspect the second half is probably going to require more work than the first half.

This is a shortened week, anyway. Starting on Thursday, and continuing through Sunday, I’ll be at the Cascade Writers Workshop, so my usual writing time this week is cut in half– which makes it a good time to pause in my chapter-by-chapter progress and shore up what I have, rather than rush through another five chapters this week.

There are 23 chapters total, so at five chapters per week in a six week write-a-thon, I had an extra week and a half in there anyway. Using this week to shore things up means I’m still on track to finish all 23 chapters by the end of the write-a-thon, and it’ll hopefully be a stronger effort for taking this extra time.

Meanwhile, at the Cascade Writers Workshop, I’ll be workshopping Chapter 1 of the novel, so I’ll hopefully walk away from this weekend with some more ideas of where to go as I finish up the second draft and for when I start the third. And of course, it’ll be a fun four days of hanging out with writers and hopefully recharging my creative batteries a bit. I’ll also have the chance to practice my book pitch in front of an agent, which is something I haven’t done before. I’m looking forward to it!

A Few Writing Updates

I haven’t blogged much about my writing lately, but it’s not because I haven’t been working on it. If anything, I’ve been afraid that by blogging about what I’m doing, I’ll jinx what’s been an otherwise productive few months. It seems like everytime I blog about a current project, I lose momentum on it… although that could also just be my paranoid writer self.

Anyway, I do have a few updates that I wanted to share:

1) I finished the rough draft of a new novel.

I’ve already posted this on Twitter and Facebook, so if you’ve already seen it there, I apologize for the repeat. But here I can actually go into a bit more detail. I started writing the rough draft of a new novel at the Rainforest Writers Retreat this year, and on June 15, I finished it. The draft is 70,180 words long, and was written in about three and a half months… which I’m pretty pleased with, considering I went through spells of multiple weeks where I didn’t work on it.

Of the three novel-length pieces I’ve finished, this is the one I’m happiest with, without a doubt. I’ll be workshopping Chapter 1 at the Cascade Writers Conference in July, and I’m looking forward to that. But in the meantime, I need to revise the rest of the novel, which brings me to the next item on the list.

2) I’ll be participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

The Clarion West season is upon us, which means lots of author readings, writer socials, and of course the Write-a-thon, Clarion West’s big fundraiser and a good motivation to get some writing done. My goal will be to edit one full chapter a day, and a minimum of five per week. This is the summer, after all… have to save some room for hiking! (On that note, if you want to see photos from my hikes and various summer trips, check out my photoblog.)

But for the Write-a-thon, I’ll be trying to edit five chapters a week. The novel has 23 chapters, so it should take me just under five weeks to get through the whole thing. Any extra time, I’ll use for revision and cleanup of the overall work. People who’ve done a lot of editing might think I’m doing this backward, that I should do large-scale, overall edits and then go chapter-by-chapter… but I actually think the chapter-by-chapter process is going to work better for me personally. We’ll see how it goes. Despite the fact that this is my third novel-length piece that I’ve written, this is the first novel-length piece that I’ve edited, so I’ll be aiming to find the best process for me, and hopefully learning a lot in the process.

So with that said, please sponsor me! Clarion West is an awesome workshop for aspiring writers, and a great benefit to the writing community. But it’s expensive to run, and tuition isn’t cheap. It’d be nice to keep student costs down and increase the scholarship opportunities, and in that regard, every dollar helps. Think of it as a down payment toward the next generation of awesome science fiction & fantasy books.

3) I have a new short story coming out later in 2014.

Because of all the novel work I’ve been doing this year, my short stories have suffered. Nevertheless, I have written a couple– one of which I’m currently waiting to hear back from on its latest submission– but by and large I’m not writing or submitting short stories this year.

That said, it’s not entirely quiet on that front. I do have a short story, The Gatebuilders’ Daughter, which is due to appear in the magazine Stupefying Stories later this year. It may be a few months yet, but I’ll let you know when that appears.

So that’s about it for now, but I’ll let you know as more news comes. Between writing, photography, and hiking, it’s going to be a busy summer. I’m looking forward to it.

And on that note, Happy Solstice, everybody!

Clarion West Write-a-thon Wrapup

On August 3, Clarion West 2013– and with it the Clarion West Write-a-thon– came to an end. Ultimately, I didn’t quite make my word count goal. My final tally was 36,247 words; my goal had been 42,000. I’m not disappointed, though. I got off to a good start on a novel that I’m still planning to finish by the end of October, and I learned a lot about the plotting of a novel, and about my own writing process.

From the beginning, my goal was not just to write 42,000 words, but 42,000 reasonably good words. I know I can write thousands of words of dreck quickly; I’ve done it before (my 2011 NaNoWriMo novel was 50,000 words of me fumbling around looking for a plot), so when I began to slow down near the end of the Write-a-thon I decided not to spend time writing a bunch of words that I was just going to have to go back and delete. I’m no longer interested in merely finishing a novel; I wanted to finish a novel that I can be proud of– even if it takes a few passes of revision to reach that point.

It wasn’t so much writer’s block that slowed me down, it was writer’s fatigue. Writing 1,000 words a day on top of keeping up with the dayjob, gym, and more than anything, suffering from frequent bouts of insomnia meant that I spent weeks barely managing to drag myself through the day. It was not unlike what I imagine new parents taking care of a baby feel like– a continued inability to get enough sleep to function. The insomnia itself was probably brought on by three things: (1)my apartment isn’t air conditioned, which meant even here in Seattle I was often too warm to comfortably fall asleep; (2)insomnia is a side effect of taking Zoloft (as of this week I’m actually switching meds); and (3)engaging my creative brain late at night often meant that the gears of my brain would still be churning for an hour or two after I left the computer.

Around the time I hit 35,000 words I began to feel like the draft was broken. Not seriously– mostly I felt like I was writing just to pad word count, taking the characters to uninteresting places so they could ramble. And I had several ideas of how to fix that, but doing so would have meant doing a lot of revising at a time when I was trying to make positive word count. And I was already exhausted enough that I just couldn’t try to maintain the 1,000 word a day pace and do revisions on top of that. Perhaps if I were less neurotic, I could have just kept going with a mental note to fix it later, but as stated before, I don’t need to prove to myself that I can churn out dreck. I know I can do that.

So caught between a rock and a hard place, I stepped away from the Write-a-thon and caught up on sleep. It’s a decision I don’t regret.

With the Write-a-thon over now, I plan to go back and revise the draft a bit– try to keep up better momentum, add a couple interesting twists to the plot, and rid it a bit of “Word Count Padding Syndrome”– then continue onward. I really like this idea and this world, so I want to keep the writing fun. If I feel bogged down, I’m going to listen to my gut and try to figure out where I went wrong. It’s possible that this approach will backfire, but I feel like it’s important for me to try it, for the sake of improving my novel-writing craft, and so I can learn what works and what doesn’t for me.

Thanks to everyone who supported me over the course of the Write-a-thon. For everyone else, it’s not too late to make a last minute donation and support the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Even though I wasn’t attending the workshop this year, I still had a blast attending the weekly readings and various social events, meeting the Clarion participants, and getting a chance to hang out with awesome folks. Maybe attending the workshop itself will be in the cards for me next year.

First, though, there’s a novel to finish. Onward!

Clarion Write-a-thon Midpoint (3 Days Ago) Update

As of today, we’re on Day 24 of 42 in the Clarion West Write-a-thon, and I’m pleased to say that so far I’m on track to meet my goal. In 23 days, I’ve written 23,356 words, just over my 1,000-words-per-day target. And I’m pleased to report the new novel is shaping up pretty well, too. I’ve been working hard to make sure that I’m not just putting down 1,000 words, but 1,000 reasonably good words. And so far I think I’m doing a decent job of it. This will be the fourth novel I’ve worked on, and so far I feel like it’s coming together quite a bit better than any of the previous three. *knocks on wood*

I’m hoping that the novel will end up around 70-80 thousand words long, which obviously will take me until well past the end of the Write-a-thon. Therefore, my current plan is to actually continue my 1,000-words-a-day pace beyond the actual end of the Write-a-thon, and hopefully have the complete first draft of the novel wrapped up by the time I go to WorldCon, over Labor Day weekend. It’s going to be difficult, but doable, I think.

The working title of the novel is The Koskinen Protocols. It’s a YA science fiction novel, taking place in and around Manila, capital of the Philippines, about 100 years in the future. I present to you the first two paragraphs, in which you can tell that genetic modification is going to be a major theme:

Tanya Castillo stood on her tiptoes just as a shopper almost bowled her over, each of the woman’s four arms loaded down with shopping bags, hurrying through the crowd. She staggered, straightening and brushing herself off just as the green-haired woman spun her head one hundred eighty degrees to glare straight backward at her. “Watch it, kid!”

Tanya scowled at the woman’s back, which was already disappearing into the motley crowd. She walked at an angle to the flow of people, trying to escape the congestion. Light on her feet, she dodged families pushing strollers; a geisha in her ornate, flowering kimono whose face and hands gleamed whiter than steamed rice; a blue-skinned man dressed in a dapper suit who must have towered a solid three meters tall. “Excuse me,” he muttered in a deep voice as he stepped past her with a surprising grace in his step.

If you feel like supporting me in this endeavor, please considering making a donation to the Clarion Write-a-thon via this page:

Andrew S. Williams’ Official Write-a-thon Page

Clarion West is a fantastic workshop– I’m hoping to attend myself next year– and they need financial support. Plus, if you donate $5 or more, I’ll add you to the novel, and given that it’s a novel about genetic modification, you can decide what your character will look like! Most likely you’ll just make a brief appearance on screen, but if you donate $20 or more I will endeavor to give you a speaking part (no promises). Note: On the Write-a-thon page, it stays as a fundraising goal that I will kill your character on-screen, but there’s not going to be nearly as much death as there was in the novel I worked on last year, so I can’t promise that this year. Sorry. But it’s a worthy cause nonetheless!

Let the Write-a-Thon Commence (3 Days Ago)

It’s that magical time of year: when you can go outside in Seattle in shorts, when days are actually more likely to be sunny than not, and when the locals start complaining about the heat anytime the temperature flirts with the mid-70s for more than two days in a row. But it’s also that magical time of year when aspiring sci-fi/fantasy writers descend on Seattle for six weeks of writing abandon, and the local writing community becomes even more active than usual, with nerds and geeks congregating multiple times a week to socialize, listen to stories, and maybe even get a bit of writing done.

I’m talking, of course, about the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. I am not attending the workshop– I’ve not yet had the opportunity to take six weeks off work in the middle of summer– though tentative, long-distance plans suggest I might be able to next year. For now, I plan to enjoy the community that Clarion West fosters, and to work on my next novel. It’s been a while since I embarked on a serious novel project. I dabbled with a concept for the past year or so that never really took off, but I have a much better shape of this one in my head.

I’ve also started putting together a plan for a non-fiction retrospective of my Mom’s life. That’s a project that’s very close to my heart– and one that I’m not sure if I’m physically capable of writing yet– but in case I need a change of pace from my novel, I may work on a few scenes from that piece as well.

I’ll be tracking my progress on a separate “Write-a-thon” page, available via the links up top. Also, if you’d like to donate to Clarion West and help more writers attend, you can do so via my official Write-a-thon bio. The fundraising goals on that page are actually from last year, but the same thing applies this year. If you donate $5, a character named after you will show up in my novel. It’s a novel with a lot of genetic alteration in it, so if you’d like your character to have green skin or three eyes or be four meters tall, I shall do my best to accommodate.

As mentioned in the blog title, the Write-a-thon actually started Sunday, on the same day as the Clarion workshop itself. Yesterday evening was also the first public reading by a Clarion West teacher– every week, the guest instructor for that week holds a reading, and this week’s instructor is Elizabeth Hand. She was a fantastic reader– one of the best I’ve ever heard.

So all in all, this six weeks is off to a good start. Happy writing, everyone!

The Next Big Thing: My Current Project and Three Awesome New Writers

I’ve now written two stories for Eric J. Guignard‘s fantastic anthologies, and so last week when he invited me to take part in The Next Big Thing, I immediately said yes. It’s a simple exercise, really, just a fun little combination of a questionnaire, self-promotion, and promotion of others, too.

To start off, I’ll answer ten questions about my current project. Then, I’ll tag three other up-and-coming authors, folks who I think you’ll be hearing more from in the next few years. All of them have plenty of novels and short stories under their belts, and may very well end up becoming The Next Big Thing.

I’ve written a fair amount about my first novel, which is on hold pending editing (and coming up with a better pitch). My second novel was largely written as a lark during last year’s NaNoWriMo, so today I’m discussing my third novel, which is my favorite concept yet. It’s still in the early stages of planning and writing, but the ending is stuck in my head, which bodes well for me actually finishing it.

So to start off, some Q & A:

1) What is the working title of your next book?


2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came at the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat last March. I was doing some brainstorming, when the idea came to me of a siren (a la the ancient, mesmerizing singers of old) living amidst the ruins of a post-apocalyptic world. But as I fleshed out various characters, I realized the origin story of the siren was more interesting, and from there it sort of lost the siren part entirely (although maybe it’ll reappear in a sequel).

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Post-apocalyptic Science Fiction, with an eye toward the Young Adult audience.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Fallon Ravensong: Isabelle Fuhrman

Regulus: Idris Elba

Ezra: Dakota Goyo

Antares: Vinnie Jones

Warlord Staern: Ben Kingsley

Fallon’s Mother: Charlize Theron

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a bid to gain her freedom from the court of a post-apocalyptic warlord, Fallon flees South across the harsh landscape of a dead America, encountering fellow survivors as she flees for her life and chases stories of a place known only as The Green.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ll be exploring options, but my preference would be to find an agency.

7) How long will it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I false-started on the original draft, and have been doing some additional planning in order to find a better beginning and overall arc. In the New Year, I’ll be hitting the first draft hard and hope to finish it within a few months. At which point it will have been… a little over a year since I came up with the original idea. Here’s hoping I can stick to plan.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My uber-short pitch for this novel is that it’s The Wizard of Oz meets The Road.

It’s in the same genre (and shooting for the same target audience) as The Hunger Games, but that’s about all they have in common.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Well, the original story was the result of a fairly straightforward brainstorming session. I pictured an interesting character, in an interesting situation, then tried to imagine how she got to where she was. That in turn led me chasing down a tangled web of ideas and themes until I ended up in a comfortable little nook that bore only a vague resemblance to my original starting point.

There are other inspirations, too. I love ravens and crows– they’re some of the most intelligent birds out there, despite the fact that they often get cast as minions of evil or bad omens. So I wanted the main character’s loyal companion to be a raven. Hence the name of the book (and Fallon’s last name, which she earns in the course of events).

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Even though it’s post-apocalyptic, I want this story to be optimistic, to speak to the ability of people to help each other out even in dark times. My goal is to write a story that combines an epic physical journey with an epic emotional one, and to tell the story of a girl who finds her place in a world that seems as if it has no place for anyone.

If all goes well, it will be the first book in a trilogy. Fallon’s scattered family, and the rest of the world, play a bigger role in the later books.

My Three Tagged Authors:

Luna Lindsey

Mark Andrew Edwards

Stephanie Herman

Look for their entries around Wednesday of next week, when they’ll answer the same ten questions about their own upcoming projects.

The Clarion West Write-a-thon, Year 2: Now with Rewards!

That is, Year 2 of me participating in it. Not Year 2 of the Write-a-thon. It’s been going on for a quite a bit longer than that.

Clarion West is a six-week intensive writing workshop for people who want to write science fiction and fantasy professionally. Each week a different established pro comes in and teaches the workshop; the most well-known author this year is George R. R. Martin. It’s also very difficult to get into, and very expensive to attend.

For those of who can’t attend due to personal or financial reasons (both of which apply to me this year), there’s the Clarion West Write-a-thon. The Write-a-thon is a chance to spend six weeks essentially writing along with the workshop, pursuing our own writing goals, as well as raising money to help offset the cost of the workshop and fund a scholarship or two.

Clarion West in Seattle, and its sister workshop, Clarion, in San Diego, count among their graduates some of the top writers in the field. They play a big role in the encouragement and development of new writers, as well as helping foster an awesome community among science fiction fans, writers, and readers in general. So if you want to support good science fiction and fantasy, and look forward to seeing what authors arise over the next ten and twenty, please consider checking out my Writer’s Page and donating.

My goal will be to write at least one chapter from my novel, or one short story, each week for the six weeks of the Write-a-thon, stretching from June 17 to July 27. The novel I’ll be working on is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel– it’s sort of a mix of The Wizard of Oz and The Road. The working title is Ravensong.

Why donate? Well, in addition to helping a good cause, and the general feelings of goodwill you’ll receive, I’ve also decided to offer a couple of more tangible rewards:

-I’m going to need plenty of background characters to populate the world of Ravensong, so for everyone who donates at least $5, I’ll add your name (or a name of your choosing) to a list of names for use with background characters in my novel.

-For everyone who donates at least $20, I will, if you wish, kill off your character on-screen. (Just in case, I’m limiting this one to three. I’m not writing a slasher fic. But if there turns out to be a surprisingly strong response to this, I’ll think of something else to throw in, too.)

Just specify the name of the character (and a brief description if you want– I’ll try to hold to it, but no promises) in the “Special Instructions to Seller” field when you donate via Paypal, or shoot me an e-mail. If you don’t specify a name, I’ll use the name listed with your donation.

I’m hoping this won’t end in me having a book full of characters from an MST3K sketch, but I shall leave that decision in your hands, dear readers.

Here’s my Clarion West Writer’s Page. Also, if any other writers want to sign up and participate, it’s not too late! Sign up here. If 200 writers sign up, they get an automatic $2000 donation. After June 16, it’ll be too late to sign up, but you can donate at any time during the Write-a-thon.

Trekking Through the First Draft

Or, How Everything I Need to Know About Writing I Learned From Backpacking the Appalachian Trail

In 2004, fresh out of college, I hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail. It was a 2,183-mile hike from Georgia to Maine, and it took from March 8th to August 12th. It is, to date, one of the crazier things I’ve ever done. When I tell people about it, they usually don’t comprehend the logistics at first. “Five months of hiking?” they’ll sometimes ask. “How did you stock up on food? Did you ever take a shower? Wash your clothes?”

And the answer is, yes, I did all three relatively easily… just less often than at home. Because the fact is, I didn’t go on a five month hike. Instead, I went on a long string of three-to-four day hikes, strung out in series over five months. Every few days, I’d hitchhike or walk to the nearest town, and buy food, take a break, eat at a restaurant– and almost always take a shower, wash my clothes, and spend the night somewhere marginally more comfortable than my tent. Then I’d hit the trail again, refreshed, rested, and restocked.

Explaining that probably makes it sound less impressive. But still, string 40 or so of those shorter hikes together, and suddenly you can say “I went on a 2,000-mile hike!” And that’s pretty cool to say, no matter how you slice the details.

Writing a novel has a lot in common with that sort of hike. It’s a long and arduous journey, usually over the course of months, and it takes a hell of a lot of willpower to finish the thing. In both cases, a lot of people say, “Someday, I want to do this” and then never get around to actually doing it, just because the size of the task is so intimidating.

Most of the advice you hear for novel writing is along the lines of Just barrel through the first draft. Keep writing. If you make mistakes, you can always fix them afterward. Various motivational tools, like National Novel Writing Month, are geared around this idea: shut off your internal editor, and sprint your way through the words. Just get that first draft out on paper.

Twice now, I’ve written novels by following that school of thought. In both cases, I haven’t been particularly pleased with the result.

But wait! I hear you say. It’s a first draft! It’s not supposed to be good! You’re supposed to take it and then write a better second draft!

Well, yes, but, in both cases I feel like the first draft sort of fell off the rails, and I find myself questioning whether it’s worth it to revise them, or set them aside and try to improve my craft by writing something new. And while I still plan to revise those novels into something better, in the meantime, I can’t help but wonder: Is there a better way of writing a first draft? If I had hiked the Appalachian Trail the way I wrote those first novels, then I would have just charged into the woods and kept running until I keeled over from exhaustion. It’s certainly a strategy, I’m just not sure it’s the best strategy.

When I went to the Rainforest Writers’ Village this year, I had hoped to come up with a few short stories, but instead I came up with an idea for another novel. And I thought, Hmmm… this is the perfect opportunity to try out a different way of writing.

This time, I’m not barreling through the first draft. Instead, I’m looking at the novel the same way I looked at the Appalachian Trail: don’t worry about getting to the very end. Just complete one piece at a time. In the case of the novel, each piece is a chapter. I’m working on one chapter at a time, working on getting it into good shape, then moving on to the next, almost as though each chapter is its own short story, complete with a little mini-arc (which, really, is how a chapter should be anyway).

But wait! I hear. How do you prevent yourself from getting bogged down by the editing? What’s to keep you from spending months nitpicking and perfecting every chapter?

The answer is simple: Writers’ Group. My writers’ group meets every other week, and one of the rules I’m following is that I have to submit a new chapter for every meeting. This will, hopefully, help me keep the pace up.

So this is my Appalachian-Trail-inspired style of novel writing. Slow and steady. One chapter at a time. There will still, of course, be editing to do at the end of it, but I’m hoping the first draft this method produces will be a lot more satisfying, and that maybe I’ll be inspired, rather than intimidated, when it comes to writing a second draft.

I actually think my chapter-by-chapter method would work for both outliners and discovery writers. To go back to the Appalachian Trail analogy, there are two ways to resupply over the course of the five-month hike: one, you can buy food at stores in towns as you go, or two, you can actually plan ahead of time what you’ll need, and mail boxes of supplies to post offices along the way. The first method is nicely analogous to discovery writing, and the second method to outlining. It boils down to a simple question: How much do you plan ahead?

If you’re an outliner, then when you’re ready to start a new chapter, you pull the next piece from your outline and keep going. If you’re a discovery writing, you keep brainstorming your way down the trail. I always resupplied by buying food along the way, making up my menu as I went– I suspect this is why I’m also more of a discovery writer. I have a difficult time keeping to outlines; I’d rather make things up as I go. And while it’s nice to have a final destination (i.e. an ending) in mind, you have to have fun in the journey, too.

Of course, all this works for me, but I don’t necessarily expect it to work for anybody else. And to be honest, I don’t know even know for sure that it works for me yet– I’ve only written a few chapters, but I’m on schedule, and it’s feeling good so far. I’ll let you know how things go.

How Chupacabras Saved My NaNoWriMo Novel

For National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been writing a novel called Ghostrunners. And yesterday, I reached 50,000 words, which means I “won” NaNoWriMo. And as a bonus, I finished the story as well! Admittedly, it’s too short to be publishable– to have a shot at publishing it, I’d probably have to stretch it out to 80,000 words. But there’d be so many changes in a second draft that adding 30,000 words is actually one of my lesser concerns.

My original idea, when I first envisioned the novel, was “Sliders meets Ocean’s Eleven with magic.” I set the story in modern day Seattle, to minimize the worldbuilding I needed to do; I developed some good characters; I came up with the outline of a magic system. But I didn’t come up with a plot that really inspired me.

So when I started NaNoWriMo, I was discovery writing. I knew my characters; I knew the setting; I knew some of the conflicts that the characters were involved in at the start. And from there, I was pretty much inventing stuff from scratch every time I sat down to write. Characters often made decisions for which I had only a marginal idea of the ramifications down the road. And they reacted to each other naturally, without regard for whether it would serve the plot. Heck, I didn’t even know what the plot was.

It was a stressful, terrifying, and occasionally exhilarating way to write. When things did come together into a genuine emotional moment, it was unplanned, and in those moments, it was almost like I was reading a good book, except I was typing as I read, wanting to see what was going to happen next. But that exhilaration was tapered by the ever-present fear that I would suddenly lock up, run out of ideas, and the words would stop coming.

When Writer’s Block did hit, I put myself in the characters’ shoes, and thought, “Okay, something has to happen next in their lives. What happens next? Write it.” And I did, without much regard as to whether it would make for a readable story or not.

I did, on occasion, resort to the old ninjas-kick-down-the-door trick: once with police, once with chupacabras, and once with rogue Secret Service agents. In every case it made the book better– especially the chupacabras, who more or less saved me at a point where the book was desperately searching for conflict and I felt like the plot wasn’t going anywhere. In a second draft, of course, they probably won’t be chupacabras: they’ll be creatures that wander between realities, for whom I will probably have to think up another name. But for this draft, and in the spirit of NaNoWriMo silliness, they did perfectly well as chupacabras. Lesson One from NaNoWriMo: Sometimes it pays off to just throw in crazy stuff and try to make it work.

My first novel was a massive, wide-ranging epic fantasy; this novel was a fast-paced action story. And my authorial role model for this type of story was Jim Butcher. In the Dresden Files, he drags his characters through serious pain and torment in every book, and doesn’t pull punches– he’s not afraid to make things worse, or pile even more problems on the characters. And if it all comes together at the end, if connections are made that you didn’t expect and the protagonists win despite everything that was thown at them, the result is often a really, really good book. And I tried to do the same thing with Ghostrunners. Lesson Two from NaNoWriMo: Don’t be afraid to throw your characters into the fire.

Ghostrunners is in very rough form right now– there are a few gems, but most of it is just plain old dirt and rock. A second draft would be like mining the diamonds from the ore; all the discovery-written ideas that didn’t work would need to be discarded, and the ones that did would need to be strengthened and polished until they shone. I’d like to do that with this book– and if it ever reaches “final draft” stage, it will probably only bear a passing resemblance to what I have now.

I haven’t decided what my next project is; I’d like to write a short story, and edit another one, and go back to my first novel and start revisions on that. I also had ideas for about five blog posts that I didn’t write in November because I didn’t want to get distracted. So I’m hoping that I can keep up the writing momentum even with the end of NaNoWriMo upon us. Because in the end, to be a professional writer, it’s not enough to write one month of the year– you’ve gotta keep at it year-round.

So it goes.

Prepping for WorldCon

Tomorrow morning I catch a plane from Seattle to Reno for the World Science Fiction Convention— four days of soaking up wisdom from professional writers and editors, meeting lots of cool people, and in general having fun and reveling in pure geekery. I spent some time going through the program, marking off stuff I’d particularly like to do, and came up with over 120 hours of panels, readings, and various other activities I’d like to attend. This makes things interesting, since WorldCon is only 96 hours long. And that 120 hour number isn’t even factoring in time spent at parties, or just hanging out with friends. Or eating. Or sleeping.

It’s gonna be great.

In related news, my main goal prior to WorldCon was to finish the first draft of my novel In a Land of Wind and Sky, and today I did so. The draft is 176,902 words long, and it stretches across 642 pages in Microsoft Word. Since the time I wrote the first word of it (November 1, 2009), it’s been 653 days.

But to be honest, it feels a bit anticlimatic. There’s still a lot of work to do, and the line between where the first draft ends and the second draft starts is kind of arbitrary. For my own purposes, “first draft” means that I’ve built all the plot lines and character arcs from beginning to end. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re consistent. Sometimes the character’s voice changes from scene to scene as I experiment with different styles, or setting details are added midway through the story. Major plot elements are introduced and disappear as I try to decide what should be important and what isn’t, or change my mind about exactly what’s needed in order for different aspects of the story to be resolved.

In the second draft, my task is going to be to go through and make things consistent— support what needs to be supported, emphasize what needs to be emphasized, and take out what needs to be taken out. After the second draft, I think it’ll be ready for alpha readers.

But for now, I can head off to WorldCon, secure in the knowledge that if anyone asks if I’ve written a novel, I can say, “Yes.”

My flight leaves in less than 12 hours. Hmm… I should probably start packing.