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 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.

Clarion West Write-a-thon: Complete!

Back in mid-June, I signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-thon, and set myself a goal: add at least 1,000 words a day to my novel. Now, 41 days later, I’ve added 41,653 words, for an average of 1,016 words a day. Success! There were a few individual days where I fell short of 1,000, but it averaged out to over 1,000 a day– plus, every day, the thousands digit of my word count ticked up by 1, according to my daily tracker. All in all, I’m calling it a win.

I did not, unfortunately, meet my secondary goal, which was to finish and submit a short story for the Writers of the Future contest at the end of June. That story just needed more brainstorming. As I wrote in my last Write-a-thon status update, it may yet become my NaNoWriMo novel… or maybe not. I have a hankering to write an urban fantasy this year. Anyway…

As for my current novel, the total word count now stands at 163,772– almost 600 double-spaced pages in Microsoft Word. What makes me even happier is that I think I can finish the entire first draft before I go to WorldCon in August! I’ve actually written all the way to the end; now I’m going back now and filling in a couple of holes in the story which I skipped over earlier. A couple weeks from now, I hope to post a blog entry saying that the first draft is, indeed, done. At which point I can start on the second draft. But that’s another story (no pun intended).

Writing these 41,000 words over 41 days has actually been harder, I think, than the 60,000 words in 30 days that I wrote when I originally started this novel for NaNoWriMo 2009. Starting fresh in NaNoWriMo, it’s easier to be flexible, and change things up if you get stuck– here, I more or less had a set path that I needed to follow, and if I got stuck, I had no choice but to power through whatever scene was holding me up. I still did get stuck once– namely, in the climax, which needs some judicious editing. I was reluctant to tackle that during Write-a-thon, since editing 3,000 words out of the climax would have meant I’d need to write 4,000 more words that day in order to keep my word count up.

But now that Write-a-thon is over, I can delete and revise to my heart’s content. That said, I do plan to keep up one part of Write-a-thon: namely, I plan to continue writing at least 1,000 new words every day. I can edit all I want, but I still have to write 1,000 new words– whether on the novel, or a new short story, or a mix of both. Luckily, I tend to have 4 or 5 projects going at once, so if I get stuck on one and need to spend time brainstorming, there’s still almost always another story that I can still write 1,000 words for. One thousand words also seems to be a good number because it’s substantial, but not overwhelming. If it’s 1 am and I’m sitting at my computer in a zombie-like trance, I can still usually bang out 1,000 words before bed, even if they’ll need substantial editing later.

That, perhaps, will be my biggest takeaway from Write-a-thon: confidence that I can write consistently over a sustained period, and make good progress, without feeling pressure to hit NaNoWriMo-like levels of word count (2000+ a day).

Also, thanks to everyone who donated! It’s not too late to sponsor me (or any other author)– click here to go to my Clarion West author’s page, or click here to see the full list of participating authors.

It’s been a fun experience, and so have the weekly author readings. Next year I’m planning to apply to the Clarion West Workshop itself, which would entail one of the most awesome and educational six weeks ever. There’s a great line-up of teachers next year– they announced the full list at the final author reading of 2011, and while I wasn’t able to write fast enough to get them all down, two names stuck out in my mind: Connie Willis and George R.R. Martin. Next year’s gonna be an awesome Clarion West.

Congrats to all the other Write-a-thon participants, and of course, the workshop graduates! I’m looking forward to meeting y’all at cons and workshops and author signings to come.

Clarion West Write-a-Thon Midterm Report

I’ve gotten through twenty-one days of the Clarion West Write-a-thon– precisely halfway. It’s been mostly successful: after 21 days, I’m sitting at 21,199 words, which means that so far I’ve hit my goal of 1,000 words a day. I’ve dropped below 1,000 on a few individual days (see the Write-a-thon tab for daily progress), but as long as I can maintain that 1,000 word average I’ll call it a win.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make my secondary goal, which was to submit a fantasy short story to the Writers of the Future contest. I think that particular story needs more time to simmer in my head. I false-started writing it about six times, mainly because I wasn’t sure how to get from the beginning to the really cool ending I had envisioned. I like the setting, but the characters and the plot were a little threadbare, and I could never make everything mesh the way I wanted to. The setting is complex enough that I think it could support a novel, so that story may yet become my NaNoWriMo novel this year.

Maybe it’s for the best. The short story needed to take a back seat to the novel anyway. I’m still hoping to have the whole first draft of the novel complete by WorldCon, and those 21,199 words (with at least another 21,000 to be added during the rest of the Write-a-Thon) are an important step.

In the course of these 1,000-word-a-day spurts, I’m coming to terms with an important fact: the first draft of this novel is a long, long way from finished. In fact, it’s closer to an outline than a finished novel.

When writing passages for a novel (or any story), there’s a lot to keep in mind: realistic and consistent voice and motivation for each character; a fully-realized, consistent, and deep setting; a plot that’s interesting and complex without being convoluted. You need good dialogue, good descriptions, prose that reflects the pace of the story, among many other things, and it’s easy to get bogged down or overwhelmed.

As I near the end of the first draft, I’ve basically shelved all concerns except for two: (1)figuring out how to progress the plot toward where I want it to go, and (2)examining character motivations. Often this takes the form of long, introspective sequences that have no place in, say, an action scene, but which I need in order to get a grip on what the characters would be thinking and doing in the situation. If I can get the characters feeling right in my head, and ensure that I know what’s going to happen next, then in the next draft I can excise a lot of the rambling, and put in better description, and ensure that all the little setting details are consistent, and make sure that everything I’ve put into the ending is foreshadowed in the beginning, and…

Man, who knew that writing a novel was this hard?

In all seriousness, though, I’m really enjoying the write-a-thon, and I’m hopeful that in addition to bringing me much closer to finishing my first novel, it’ll help me establish a more consistent daily writing routine. If you’d like to sponsor me, for any amount (all funds go to the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop), I’d really appreciate it. Just click on the Paypal link on my Clarion West Writers Page, located here. Or, if you look at the directory of Write-a-thon writers and see any other writers you’d like to sponsor, you can make one donation and split it among multiple writers.


The Clarion West Write-a-Thon

Update: The Write-a-thon has started! Click the “Write-a-thon” tab at the top of the page to see my day-to-day progress.

A few days ago I signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. For those unfamiliar with Clarion West, it’s an intensive six-week workshop during which participants basically eat, live, and breathe writing. During those six weeks, they attend classes taught by well-known professional authors of science fiction and fantasy: in the past, instructors have included Greg Bear, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Cory Doctorow, and China Mieville, among many others.

I won’t be attending the actual workshop. Not this year, anyway (hopefully I’ll be able to attend sometime in the next few years). Instead I’m doing the Write a Thon, which anyone can sign up for, and during which participants set a writing goal and sort of “shadow” the workshop during the six weeks in which in takes place.

This year, Clarion West (and hence the Write-a-Thon) takes place from June 19-July 29. During those six weeks, my goal is to write 1,000 words a day toward the first draft of my novel. Hopefully this will enough for me to actually finish the first draft– if I finish before the six weeks is up, I will consider that a success. Or if I don’t finish, but still manage to add 40,000 words to the novel, that’ll be a success, too.

I have a secondary goal as well, which is to finish the short story that I’ve been poking at for a few weeks and submit it to the Writers of the Future contest by the end of June. That means my writing plate is going to be really full until the end of the month, although things will get easier in July. 1,000 words a day is the pace I set during May, when I was attempting a personal NaNoWriMo, so this is pretty much going to be six weeks of the same thing. If you’re interested in showing your support, and also supporting Clarion West (which is one of a few workshops that helps develop serious talent in the genre), go to my Clarion West Writer’s Page and make a donation via the PayPal link. If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan, then the money’s definitely going to a good cause.

I’ll post to the blog with regular updates on how things are going. And hopefully by the end of it, I’ll have the finished first draft of a novel to show for it.