So, I won NaNoWriMo (or as I like to think of it, successfully completed the challenge, since everyone who validates 50,000 words or more "wins") for the 6th year in a row :-D The result is the rough draft of The Source-Fixer (working title, or possibly the permanent title if I can't think of anything better) and three accompanying short stories giving the backstory on the main characters. Like a lot of my books, this was based on yet another old unfinished story fragment I was stuck on. I decided to go a different direction with the characters, which I'll write about another time, and, as so often happens when I take a fresh look at the characters, this is what got me un-stuck.
I also printed out my very first novel ever, Prince of the Trozdozh (another meh working title, I suck at thinking of titles) and its sequel (untitled, the one with Travarac and Kilahra). I think there's hope for them, I started reading the sequel while I was printing it out and couldn't stop.
So the pile of manuscripts awaiting revision grows even bigger.
Also in November, Beneath the Canyons had a fantastic release. Thank you, everyone, for your support! Book 2, Bad Hunting, is now under revision.
On the A-Z reading challenge, I'm still on D (Darkmage, by M.L. Spencer). It's very long, and I'm also dividing my reading time with The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M. Ross, a lovely author I've gotten to know on Goodreads and Google+.
Besides Christmas, the main focus in December will be on continuing with the revision and editing of Bad Hunting, aiming for a release hopefully in the first part of January. Between NaNoWriMo and Thanksgiving, I didn't get as far with this as I wanted to in November, so it doesn't look like I'll be able to get it out this month. I'm writing a lot of new material for the book, filling out some things that needed to be filled out, and so far I've added over 5,000 words.
I've also started revising the fanfiction I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2013. Now that the big, heavy first revision on Daughter of the Wildings is done, I have time for a side-project, and some of my fanfic readers have been asking about it. So it's time to get it finished and posted.
Which leads into the big dilemma I'm having right now. I've got lots of stories I want to write, and lots of things awaiting revision (including but not limited to books 2-6 of Daughter of the Wildings). The more time I spend writing new stuff the less time I have to spend on revising, but, as always happens during a NaNo event, I'm reminded again of the importance of writing every day, to improve my craft and stay in practice. So it's a matter of trying to figure out how to allocate my time and, more importantly, mental and physical energy. Right now I'm thinking maybe 30 minutes a day of planning (if the project is still in the planning stage) or a daily writing target of 1000 words (which takes me about 30 minutes to do) will fit into my schedule and energy limitations, with the remaining 2-3 hours of writing time spent on revisions.
Also on the to-do list is to finish the paperback edition of Beneath the Canyons and do some work on the website. My list of books is getting too long to display them all individually in the sidebar (not that I'm complaining!), so I'm looking at some other ways of letting website visitors know about my books. Weebly (my site hosting service) has a nifty slideshow widget, so I'm thinking I'll put my first six books into that and have the Daughter of the Wildings books separately as the current and upcoming releases. (I started my first website in Jan. 2001, and I've been a happy website-fiddler ever since).
For the A-Z reading challenge, I think I need to start choosing shorter books. Will not finish by the end of the year.
Finally, there's another special blog hop event coming up Dec. 19-22, the Winter Warm-Up romance blog hop.
This should be enough to keep me out of trouble for another month.
In addition to Thanksgiving and my birthday, for me November means National Novel Writing Month. And since no one can procrastinate like a writer on a deadline, November also often means finding new and creative ways to put off having to commit words to paper (or the screen). This year, the way I came up with to procrastinate was counting my lifetime output of words.
Many writers have a strange obsession with word count. In the days of using typewriters, you gauged how much you accomplished by how many pages you had written. Now that most writers use computers, pages are irrelevant and productivity is measured by the number of words you wrote. National Novel Writing Month requires 50,000 words to complete the challenge. Agents and publishers specify the number of words manuscripts need to have to be considered for publication. Writers set goals of 1000 or 2000 or 5000 words per day.
And there's a bit of common writerly wisdom that it takes a million words to get good at writing (or, alternatively, "the first million words are crap"). Like most common wisdom, there's some truth to this, but it isn't entirely true. It is true that writing is something you get better at the more you do it. But the measure of a million words seems kind of arbitrary. Someone who is an avid reader and/or got good grades in English (or whatever language they're writing in) is probably going to start out ahead, quality-wise, of someone who's never read a book or who doesn't know how to put understandable sentences together. Granted, some people have a natural instinct for storytelling that transcends proper writing mechanics, so they're ahead as far as that goes, but writing is communication and it doesn't matter how good your story is if you can't communicate it in a way that your readers will understand.
On the other hand, other people might have a gift for writing beautiful prose but no sense of how to put together an exciting, entertaining story. So they have a lot of work to do, too. (I, for one, would rather read an entertaining, engaging story that is written in inexpert prose than something that's beautifully written but boring.)
So, not every writer starts out at the same level of crappiness. Then there's the factor of how hard they work at improving their craft. If you write a lot, you're almost bound to get better at it without even trying. But if you read good books to learn how prose and storytelling work, and seek out good writing advice and really work on applying it, you're going to get better even faster.
But even with all these qualifiers, some writers (or me, at least) are curious about how far along they are on that fabled million words or how long ago they passed it by. So, in the spirit of NaNo-ly procrastination, I totaled up my lifetime word count (as an adult; I didn't count the stories and plays I wrote in elementary school :-D).
First, for non-writers, numbers of words might not really mean anything. How much is 50,000 words? How much is 1000 words, a million words? Here are some examples to give some idea of scale, of word counts of famous novels (from this site):
Harry Potter and the Philospher's/Sorcerer's Stone: 77,325
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 198,227
The Hobbit: 95,022
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 30,644
Nineteen Eighty-Four: 88,942
To Kill a Mockingbird: 99,121
Fahrenheit 451: 46,118
Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 455,125
A Game of Thrones: 284,000 (from here)
Brave New World: 63,766
Methodology: first I looked up how to add columns in a spreadsheet. (More procrastination; plus I'm pretty clueless about spreadsheets.) I only counted the latest version of each work, instead of earlier drafts, so there are a lot of cut scenes that didn't get counted. In cases where I re-wrote something from scratch, I did count both the earlier, abandoned version and the new version. I counted novels, novellas, short stories, and story fragments, but not my handful of poems because writing poetry is a completely different discipline from writing prose fiction. Also, it isn't that many words. And I am most definitely not a poet. :-P
So, counting that way, my lifetime word count between 1990 and 2013 is 1,614,156 (counting the novel I wrote in November; I added it in when it was done). Well past the million-word mark, you'll notice.
Broken down further:
1990-2000: 444,095 words
2000-2008 (when I began writing fanfiction through the last year before I seriously did NaNoWriMo for the first time): 405,878
2009-2013 (when I got a big creative kick from completing NaNo for the first time through the present): 632,176.
If you're adding along with me, you'll notice I passed 1,000,000 words sometime in 2010. As for when my writing graduated from "crap" to "not crap," I like to think it happened (if I say so myself, if it doesn't seem like I'm being arrogant to assume that my writing has made that shift) sometime in the early 2000s, when I was turning out large quantities of fanfiction on a regular basis. Lots of writing in a short period of time with close attention to quality will elevate the level of your writing, no matter where it starts out.
This year, 2013, has been my best writing year ever, with 271,303 words. 195,927 of those words are books 2-6 of the Daughter of the Wildings series. I expect to add quite a few words when I revise (I generally tend to "write short" and then fill out details in revision), so my lifetime word count will go up by the time that series is ready for publication.
Fanfiction got me back into writing at a time when I had lost heart for writing for a few years, and from 2000-2003 I wrote a great deal of fanfic. 405,878 words of it. I also wrote the original version of Chosen of Azara during this time, about 70,000 words, but I counted that in my 2009-2013 output because I re-wrote it pretty extensively this year and last year and extended it to 81,000 words. My lifetime fanfiction total is 632,176 words and original fiction total is 981,980. All those words of fanfiction were a significant factor in reaching the first million words, and I think I improved a lot as a writer while writing them. My experience with fanfiction is another post for another time, but I will say that, even though I keep my fanfic writer identity separate from my identity here, writing all that fic helped make me the writer I am today. (For whatever that's worth!)
Among the pre-2000 output are my first two complete novels; the second one is actually a sequel to the first and I had totally forgotten that I had finished it. So that was an interesting surprise to come across! I plan on evaluating them to see if they're worth revising and publishing; I think they probably are. There are also some fragments of novels set in the same world as Chosen of Azara, that I'm looking forward to developing and completing. Once Daughter of the Wildings is into the final revision stages and being released, sometime next year, I'll start on those.
On to two million!
(Image credit: Zsuzsanna Kilian, stock.xchng)
The Lost Book of Anggird has been out for about a week now, and I've been really happy with the response! It's been my most successful novel launch yet, and the feedback from readers has been very positive :) I extended the introductory price of $.99 through this weekend (Nov. 3), so there's still a day or two left to get it at that special low price at Amazon and Smashwords.
It's amazing to think that Lost Book is finally finished and available for readers to buy. I started writing it about 15 or 16 years ago, in a spiral notebook in pencil. I have no idea why. I got up to what is now about the 55% mark, and it was just getting weirder and weirder and I really had no idea what I was doing with it. So I stopped writing it. But the characters wouldn't leave me alone, and I finally realized I had them all wrong. In the original version, Roric was truly insufferable, instead of just, um, let's say "idiosyncratic," and Perarre really was in love with the guy back home, which qualified her as TSTL (too stupid to live; one of those technical writing terms :)) And the relationship between them took a *lot* longer to get off the ground.
The big breakthrough came when I finally got a handle on Roric and Perarre's true characters. It's funny how it works with characters. For me, and a lot of authors (not saying this is true for all), you don't just assign a name, an age, a gender, and a menu list of phyical characteristics and personality traits. My characters come to me as an already-existing entity, and then it's up to me to discover who they are. So I listened to Roric and Perarre and let them tell me about themselves instead of trying to impose my own ideas on them, and learned that they were very different people from what I thought at first. Especially Roric; when he told me about his past, I was shocked. But it all made perfect sense, and really explained why he was the way he was and why he did the things he did. Oh, and by the way, he and Perarre felt like the relationship needed to move along a little faster.
After that, everything started to fall into place. I had to figure out exactly how the magic in the story worked, since that's a major element of the plot, but once I had a clear idea about the characters I could see their world a lot more clearly too.
And then it was time to write. At first I had tried typing out my old handwritten version, but quickly gave up on it since 1) it was so eye-gougingly bad and 2) there was very little of it I was going to be able to re-use. So, instead, I rewrote the whole thing from scratch. It took probably 3 or 4 months (slow for me, for a first draft, especially since I started doing NaNoWriMo), and just kept getting longer and longer as I tried to find the right ending. The original ending, with Roric and Perarre returning in triumph after totally #&%$ing up the world's magic, made no sense at all. Finally, though, I found my ending.
Then I took my 139,000 word manuscript and started revising. And revising, and revising, and revising. Some of the revising made it much better, and some of it made it worse. I got it down to 105,000 words, then realized I'd taken out a lot of stuff I actually wanted to keep, so I added a bunch back in. Then, when it came back from the test readers, I had another heart-sinking realization - the writing had been "polished" into bland, boring mush. So a couple more rounds of revision, fixing some problems the test readers had pointed out and "un-revising" the prose into something (hopefully) more lively and interesting to read.
Then the proofreads (where I was still actually adding in some significant things I'd left out/taken out earlier) and then finally I decided that was it. It was done. The final version is about 130,000 words. The formatting and putting up on Amazon and Smashwords only took a couple of days (the paperback version is now also done and waiting my approval of the proof copy), and now it's done. It's hard to believe, after all those years and all that wrestling with it and all the seemingly-endless rounds of revision, it's done, and out there, and people are buying it and reading it and liking it.
So, what's next? I'm getting the feedback on Sarya's Song back from the test readers, so as soon as I finish the draft of Book 6 of Daughter of the Wildings I'll start on that revision. Sarya's Song will be my next novel coming out; I'm aiming for Feb. 2014, though it could be March instead. Overall reaction to the book is positive, but it does need a lot of work. In the meantime, during November I'm also doing National Novel Writing Month. I'm writing fanfiction (another post for another time), which I haven't done in a couple of years. December is when I'll start on the big gigantic revision of Daughter of the Wildings. Also in the meantime, I've got a couple of stories loosely related to Chosen of Azara that are kind of halfway through being revised, that I'll finish and put up for sale.
Lots more stories to come! To stay informed of new releases and special offers, sign up for my email alerts. No spam, I promise!
So I finished the first draft of Book 4 of Daughter of the Wildings and was planning Book 5, when one night it came to me, as I was brushing my teeth, that there needs to be a sixth book in the series.
I panicked, wondering if there was enough story left to make up a whole other book. But as I thought about it that night (I usually lay awake late at night working out plots and story problems in my mind) and sat down and did a bunch of scene brainstorming and story development the next day, I realized that yes, there does have to be a sixth book, and there's plenty of story for two books instead of one. So a Book 6 there will be.
I think I've known, way deep down, for a long time that it would take another book to finish off the series properly. For a long time I had envisioned the events of Book 5, which moves the story from the frontier - the Wildings - into the civilized land of Granadaia, as being the climactic events of the series. But that just didn't seem right. The series is called Daughter of the Wildings, and it's about that uncivilized frontier land, its unique magic, and the connection between Lainie Banfrey (the Daughter in the series) and the land and its magic. Finishing it off in Granadaia without coming back to what is the heart of the series would be an unsatisfactory ending that doesn't fit with what the series is about. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the events in Granadaia are the leadup to the climactic events, and not the actual climax themselves. The story has to come back to the Wildings, to the threats to the land and the people that have been building up through all the other books, and to the real significance of Lainie's unique power and her relationship to the land, and also integrate Silas fully into that relationship, in order to tie everything together and bring the story to a meaningful and satisfying conclusion.
As I thought this through, I thought that maybe the Granadaia part and the return to the Wildings part could just be two halves of the same book. But the more I developed the storyline, the more it became clear that the two halves of the book are also two totally different story lines, each with its own central story problem, instigating events, development, and conclusion. I aso realized that if the book was going to be an equivalent length with the previous books in the series, I was going to have to skim over or leave out a lot of important stuff, or else the book was going to be twice as long as the other books.
Therefore, the obvious answer, which waited for that brainless and bored moment of brushing my teeth to hit me upside the head, is to split "Book 5" into two books.
I think I'm about ready to start writing the last two books. As with the other books so far in the series, there's this feeling of jumping into the deep end without really knowing how deep the water is or what's waiting in there. I know where the books start, and where they end, and have a general idea of what happens in between, but very few of the details are clear. But so far it's worked out well, so I just have to make that leap of faith two more times. I think I'll just write straight through, without stopping between books 5 and 6, since I'd already been planning them as a single unit. With hard work and a minimum of interruptions, I hope to finish the drafts of both books by October.
So, yay! More time with Silas and Lainie! And none of this is even taking into consideration my idea for a possible follow-up series.
Note on the story blurbs for Daughter of the Wildings: All six are up. I apologize for any cheesiness, especially in the last few. Writing blurbs is hard, especially if you're trying not to give away any spoilers. And I want to stipulate that in my books, suggesting that the hero and heroine end up together is not a spoiler. In addition to being fantasy, my books are also romance, and to be a proper romance (as opposed to more general love story), you have to have the Happily (even if things aren't easy) Ever After. It's expected, as a hallmark of the genre. (Plus I hate unhappy endings.) The question isn't if they end up together, but how.
In the meantime, edits on The Lost Book of Anggird are progressing apace (I'm planning a blog post on the worst writing advice ever and how it nearly killed Lost Book), along with the first major revision of Sarya's Song. Maybe I'll do a post on that too, how I struggled with it for years, then applied some very helpful story-planning techniques, and now have the least-broken first draft I think I've ever written.
Earlier this month, I got an email from an old college friend asking if my books are suitable for a couple of teenage girls in her life. I also had the opportunity to lend my proof copy of Urdaisunia to a good friend of mine, who also happens to be the wife of our current clergyman (in our church, the leaders of the congregation are drawn from the membership and rotated about every 5-7 years). These incidents, along with a discussion on my Goodreads group about content and age appropriateness got me thinking that I should do a post about content and age appropriateness of my books, as a guide for anyone who might be concerned about that.
To establish some context, I'll start by saying that when I was growing up, my parents told me that none of the books in the house were off-limits to me, and if I had any questions about anything I read I was welcome to bring it up with them. I think I was about 11 or 12 at the time. Of course, being the upright, church-going people that they are, my parents didn't have any pornography or anything like that in the house, but they did buy a regular supply of the current best-sellers, with all that entails. The first book I read with my newly-granted freedom (or maybe this was the book that inspired that conversation) was The Poseidon Adventure. The original movie had come out not long before, and the theme song from the movie was a big hit on Top 40 radio, so I was curious. Anyway, I grew up with the idea that, with proper parental involvement, teens should have few if any restrictions placed on what they read.
Of course, now, erotica and books with very explicit sex scenes are a lot more mainstream than they used to be, and I wouldn't be wild about the idea of my own teens reading those. So I'll agree that parents, and anyone who doesn't care to read explicit material, need to exercise more caution now than maybe they used to.
Sex isn't the only concern in deciding the appropriateness of reading material. Graphic violence is something that many parents and readers are concerned about; along with, at least for me, the cause served by the violence. I'm less bothered by reading about a villain being graphically and colorfully disposed of than I would be if the same methods were used against a hero, innocent bystander, child, or animal. Strong language bothers some people. Readers and parents might also object to what they consider sacrilegious content. A handful of f-bombs in a book doesn't bother me, but I've been known to put a book down because of light or disrespectful treatment of matters that are sacred to me. Some people might not like to see people of certain genders or races portrayed in certain ways. Some people might object to a specific political slant. The exact definition of what's offensive or inappropriate is different for everyone. As another example, I'm presently reading a fantasy novel that I believe is generally considered "clean," although it contains at least one fairly intense scene of near-rape, and I'm left wondering why near-rape is considered less objectionable than consummated lovemaking, just because the act isn't completed.
Anyway, the list goes on and on, and the consensus among writers is that you can't please everyone, you're bound to end up offending someone, and the best and only thing a writer can do is to write as honestly as he/she can.
So, to the point. How would I rate my books as far as age-appropriateness and offensive content?
My books feature adult characters, with adult lives and concerns, and contain "mature themes and situations," including sex and relationships, earning a living, death, war, sacrifice, and the struggle against evil forces that disrupt their world. A principle I try to follow in my writing is that everything in the story is there because it's needed. (I'm not perfect at this, but it's what I aspire to.) The corollary to that is, if something needs to be in the story, I put it in. If some important story or character development requires a sex scene, I put in a sex scene, though I leave out any description that isn't important to the point I'm trying to make. However, if some detail of the act is important, I'll include that - but still in the least graphic manner that still gets the job done. My aim is never to titillate the reader - I don't want the reader to be pulled out of the story by thinking about their own reaction to what I've written, I want them to be engrossed in what's happening with the characters (this applies to everything I write, not just sex scenes). On the other hand, if the important character and story business take place before the sex scene, I'll draw the curtain. In Urdaisunia, we don't need to know what Prince Eruz does with his three concubines (no, seriously, we don't); what we need to know is the desperate state of mind he's in that drives him to seek comfort that way.
Same thing with violence. Prince Eruz has to execute some people. The important thing is what's going on inside Eruz's head as he is forced to carry out these executions, not graphic descriptions of the actual deaths, so that's where the focus is in the writing. In Lost Book of Anggird, a couple of reprehensible people are killed in a particularly grisly way as punishment for their misdeeds; the act of carrying out the killings is cathartic to the person who does it, as well as demonstrating the extreme state of mind that character is in, so I focus on that in the writing and not on the (literally) gory details.
Language: I try to use restraint in the use of strong or offensive language, because it loses its impact if it's overused. (A personal line for me is not to use religious oaths that apply in our world; on the other hand, characters in an invented world using oaths that reference invented gods aren't a problem for me.) Again, if it's necessary to communicate what the character is experiencing, or if the use of strong language is appropriate to how the character would speak in a given situation, I'll put in just what's necessary. There's a bit of language in Urdaisunia that's rougher than I would normally use, but it's coming from a thoroughly bad person who is purposely being as insulting and offensive as possible. Anything milder in that situation would have sounded silly.
And so on. In general, I try to put in what the story requires to be told honestly and completely, without going overboard, and certainly without any intent to purposely shock, offend, or titillate.
If you want something more concrete, here is where I rate my books on a couple of different scales:
On the All-Romance Ebooks Heat Rating scale, from 1 - 5 flames, I rate my books a 2: "some [consummated] love scenes. These will be more sensual than graphic and will mostly rely on euphemism." Some parts might edge up just a bit to a low 3, with slightly more graphic description. My short stories run from 0 - 1 flame.
Alternatively, here's a rating scale I devised for fanfiction (another post for another time):
G: Nothing offensive, possibly some slight angst
PG: Occasional mild language, sexual references, mild violence, angsty
PG-13: More frequent language, strongly implied or "on-camera" (non-explicit) sex, more violence, intense angst
R: Strong language, more descriptive (but still non-explicit) sex, semi-graphic violence
M: extreme foul language, explicit sexual description, graphic violence.
On this scale, my books run PG-13 - R. (Short stories G - PG-13).
As far as age recommendations go, my books are definitely not for children. Also not for young teens. As far as older teens go, my books don't fit into the currently-popular Young Adult category, mainly because they have adult rather than teenage main characters and address adult concerns rather than the typical coming-of-age themes usually addressed in YA books, and also may have somewhat more graphic content (though my understanding is that there are plenty of YA books with intense and disturbing content, that address serious issues of sex, drugs, abuse, and so on). Based on my own experience at that age - there wasn't a YA category back then, or if there was it wasn't nearly as prevalent as it is now, and when you were in high school you went from reading middle grade/young teen books to adult books - I think my books are suitable for ages 16 and up. I wouldn't have a problem with my 17-year-old reading them (aside from the embarrassment factor of kid reading love scenes written by his mom!) I mean, really, I'm not exactly writing 50 Shades here.
But, ultimately, the appropriateness of my books is not a decision I'm qualified to make for other parents - or any other reader, period. I hope the information in this post will give readers and parents the information they need to make the right decision for themselves.
I mentioned before (on my blog, and in comments on a couple of other blogs) that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I've had it for nearly six years now, and finally, after years of doctors dancing around the subject and not knowing what was wrong with me (I knew; it was obvious; you look up Chronic Fatigue Syndrome on any website dedicated to the subject and I'm a textbook case) I got a diagnosis a year ago. As much as you can get a definitive diagnosis for this: they take a complete history, take down all of your symptoms, do all the tests to rule out anything else that could be causing the fatigue and other symptoms, then if your history and symptoms are consistent with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and they can't find anything else going on, then you most likely have CFS. It's a frustrating condition; there's no definitive medical test, no effective medical treatment, no cure. And a lot of doctors don't really even believe it exists. I've dealt with that way more than I should have to, and before I start ranting, I'll just move on with this post.
The only thing you can really do about CFS is to manage it with lifestyle management techniques. I was going to call this post "Living and Writing with CFS," but I still haven't got the "living" part down yet. I do have a program I'm supposed to be following - Mediterranean diet for its anti-inflammatory properties (I hate fish :( ), carefully managed exercise (with CFS, more exercise does not give you more energy; more exercise leaves you unable to get out of bed for a week), plenty of bed rest, supplements recommended by my doctor, and some other things I want to try. But it's hard to follow a program when you're stumbling around in a fog of exhaustion all the time, so I've got a lot of work to do on that. I'm not the person to be giving other people advice on living with and managing CFS.
What this post IS about is writing with CFS. Someone who saw my comment on CFS and productivity on another blog (Dean Wesley Smith's, I think) wrote to me and asked if I'd written about my difficulties with being productive while having CFS. I hadn't, but I am now. The thing is, I've been pleasantly surprised by how productive I'm able to be considering my condition.
The thing about CFS is it doesn't just cause physical fatigue. It also causes, among myriad other symptoms, mental fatigue, known as "brain fog." Memory problems, confusion, and difficulty concentrating are all part of this. Which, as you can imagine, makes any sort of sustained mental/intellectual work kind of difficult. But for a long time now, I've been able to maintain a writing schedule of about two hours a day nearly every day, which, considering the levels of exhaustion I have, is pretty good. And in recent months, I've seen that time creeping up to three hours a day. Not that I've been feeling better overall - I haven't - but I seem to have fallen into some habits that have helped increase my productivity. When I got that question last week, I started thinking about how I've managed to become more productive in spite of CFS, and came up with some ideas.
1. It really helps to break my writing hours up into smaller chunks of time, maybe 30-45 minutes or so, instead of working for two hours straight. As with physical activity, I've found that working in shorter periods of time and then taking a break actually allows me to be active a greater total number of hours. Also, find the times of day that work best for you, and protect these times as much as possible.
2. Find the writing process that works easiest and most naturally for you. Planner? Not a planner? Some of each? Write straight through or edit as you go? Writing software (another post for another time), Word, pen and paper? Concentrate on one project at a time or have a couple of different things you're working on? Whatever comes most easily to you, whatever makes you not have to burn energy fighting to follow the process, is the way you should write, no matter what way anyone else says is best. And be willing to change your process as you feel you need to, and as your current project demands.
3. Find ways to streamline the writing/editing process. Again, this is personal, but if you're going to produce books on any kind of schedule, you don't want to be taking a year or two to write a novel and another year or two to revise and edit it. Figure out the writing process that will help you get words written on a regular basis, and then if you revise and edit (some people don't; some people do their editing the first time around), find ways to cut down on the number of editing passes you need, which will cut revising/editing time from many months to a lot fewer months. I've recommended this before, and I will again: Holly Lisle's How To Revise Your Novel course is a great approach to adressing the major issues in your manuscript in one go and and getting that book out the door a lot faster. Don't "polish till it gleams" as the saying goes; this takes forever and has the tendency to strip away everything that's interesting and unique and YOU about the book. And don't go twenty rounds with your critique group on it, because then you end up with THEIR book written by committee (bleh) instead of YOUR book. My general philosophy on making shorter work of revising and editing is don't revise the story to death, and don't waste time revising to other people's rules or ideas of what your story should be. Get it good and get it out the door, and get to work on the next one.
4. Know when to call it quits for the day. There comes a time when the brain fog is thickening and most of what's coming out on the page (or the screen) is blathering. You're not doing any good, so even if you still have words or pages or time left to go on your daily quota, pack it in and get some rest. (This is also a REALLY GOOD TIME to get off the Internet, before you embarrass yourself. Which I sometimes have trouble remembering :-P)
5. Take care of yourself in general. Do what you can to follow your management program, if you have one. Get that few minutes of exercise. Get enough bed rest. Sleep is a big problem with CFS. A lot of time you don't sleep well, and even if you do, you wake up feeling like you didn't sleep at all. But being in bed resting is still better than being up, even if you can't sleep. I do best with ten hours a night of bed rest, whether I'm asleep or lying in bed reading. To figure out how much bed rest you need, go to bed at night then don't get up in the morning until you can do so without feeling like you're dragging a mountain out of bed with you. See how many hours that was; if you can do that every night, it does help. I also feel better if I'm eating a high fiber, fresh, fairly light diet and am careful not to overeat. (Another big IF; with so little energy, it's hard to cook like that on a daily basis.)
6. Stress burns a lot of energy, so find ways to manage stress. Meditation, or just letting your mind go blank while you listen to relaxing music; I've heard the yoga and tai chi are good but haven't tried them (mean to, just haven't gotten the spark of energy to try something new and different), eliminate unnecessary stress. Especially, don't spend energy comparing yourself and your productivity levels to other writers, and don't spend energy trying to do things that don't work for you. Find what works best for you, and be grateful you can do anything at all, because there's always someone even worse off.
So, how productive am I, doing (or trying to do) these things? Well, since last November I've written one full-length novel draft, two novellas, two longer short stories, and three short-shorts. I finished editing and released one novel and one short story collection for sale, have another novel coming up for release in June, am working on edits on a novel that will hopefully be ready for release in October or thereabouts, and have also been getting the short stories edited and ready to post and release for sale. So, basically, I've increased my writing inventory by somewhere upwards of 140,000 words in the last six months and will have released 5 works for sale this year (3 novels and 2 short story collections.) So, not bad, not on the level of some really prolific authors, but enough to be able to start making a career of this. If you can do more than this, awesome. If you can't do this much, that's fine too. Do the best you can, and take satisfaction in knowing that you're doing the best you can, which is all any of us can do and a lot more than a lot of people ever do.
First off today, I'm very pleased to be spotlighted on J.J. DiBenedetto's blog! J.J. also left a very lovely review for Urdaisunia on Goodreads. Go check it out, and also make sure you check out his paranormal suspense "Dream" series.
This just in: I'm also featured on Robin Leigh Morgan's website and blog! Go take a look, and also check out her YA paranormal romance, I Kissed A Ghost.
Some time ago, I promised a post on why there aren't any elves, fairies, or dragons in my stories. The short answer to this question is, because so far I haven't seen any reason to put any in.
The longer, and hopefully more interesting answer is: When I'm reading a novel and come across a character of a fantasy race (elves, fairies, dwarves, etc.) I almost always find myself asking, "Why isn't this character human? What makes this character something besides a human with heightened senses/love of nature/pointy ears/superior attitude or short/has a beard/likes beer/lives underground?" I find humans fascinating. They come in an endless variety of physical types, temperaments, talents, prejudices, emotions, desires, abilities, habitats, backgrounds, beliefs, and so on. I've found enough to write about just with humans as characters (and, ok, gods here and there, but there's good reasons why gods are gods) without adding the artificial differences of designating them as "elves" or "dwarves" or whatever. If there are going to be different races, for me there has to be a significant reason that matters to the story why those characters cannot be any sort of human.
The best example of this I've ever read is the Danae in the Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone duology by Carol Berg. The Danae are an elvish/fae-like race with a superficial resemblance to humans. However, everything from their physiology to their ways of interacting with and affecting their world are completely alien. (Although their biology is close enough to allow them to interbreed with humans.) Their stages of growth are marked by increases in magical abilities, and the appearance of really cool glowing blue tattoo-like markings on their bodies. Their way of getting around their world and ours is not limited by things like physical location and distance but relies more on the resemblances between one place and another. Their magic is based on dance, and their dances have a very real effect on their world and the human world. And the list of fundamental things that make the Danae who they are and not human goes on and on. Their very unhumanness (yes, that's a word, I'm a writer and I used it, that makes it a word) is a pivotal point in the story and has a profound effect on the main character.
Another of my favorite examples of the use of fantasy races is in The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams. I read this a number of years ago and don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do remember that the differences between humans and the various fantasy races in the book went a lot deeper than just name, appearances, and general outlook on life.
If I ever write a story where it's essential to have a character that is non-human on a very deep, fundamental level, that has differences from humans that go beyond the wide variety of characteristics that humans already display, then I'll do that. But so far, just plain old humans have been keeping me plenty busy.
But what about dragons? They're clearly not just humans that are lizard-shaped, scaley, have wings, and breathe fire. But a lot of other people have written about dragons, and written about them far better than I ever could, so I don't really feel like that's something I need to push myself to do. If I ever have a story idea that requires a dragon, I'll use a dragon. But so far I haven't.
My favorite stories with dragons? A Wizard of Earthsea and The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin. Great dragons, not at all pets or just dragony humans, but with their own history and way of looking at life and the world. I also enjoyed Song of the Beast, by Carol Berg. (btw, everything Carol Berg writes is awesome. You should read it.) (also btw, an older edition of A Wizard of Earthsea has one of the worst covers I've ever seen. Go check it out if you dare, but remember, what has been seen cannot be un-seen.)
The CFS (another post for another time) has really been dragging me down the last few days, so it's been slow and painful. But progress is still happening.
4/17 1016 words
4/18 tough day, lost cause
4/19 1533 words
4/20 1411 words
total: 20,789/30,000 words
The revision of Chosen of Azara is coming right along too. It's been tough this week, then I finally realized what was messing everything up: the main secondary character in the Lucie story arc needs a complete personality transplant. The tense relationships between this character and the two main characters is one of the primary conflicts in that section of the book, and it just wasn't happening. I've had a hard time pinning down this character, but I think I've finally got it figured out. I'm also rearranging some of the major scenes at the very end of the book, so once that's done I'll print out the Lucie section and go to work on fixing up that character. I don't want to rush things; I want to get it right, so this most likely isn't going to be a May release; I'm hoping for June, if all goes well once this major surgery is done.
Finally, I want to announce that a friend of mine who's a very talented artist has opened an etsy shop: Motley Apricot Paintworks. Check it out for fabulous artwork, home decor, hand-painted wooden jewelry, and other wonderfully decorative and useful items.
So I was talking with some people over on the National Novel Writing Month boards about doing Camp NaNoWriMo in April. National Novel Writing Month in November is one of my favoritest things ever, and Camp, usually held in the summer, is an easier-going version. I didn't do Camp last year because I was busy with the How To Revise Your Novel course and with revisions on Urdaisunia. But my schedule's a little more open and flexible right now, with time for both revisions and writing new stuff, so I decided to go for it. Since I just finished the draft of Book 2 of Daughter of the Wildings, I wasn't sure I was ready to start on Book 3 yet, so I was thinking maybe I'd tackle a bunch of short stories or possibly write a fanfic. (In another identity, I'm also a fanfic writer. But that's another post for another time.) Then, right after that, while I was eating lunch and perusing the self-publishing blogs, the back cover blurb for Book 3 of DoW just came to me, all at once. It's really cool, with a great western-type scenario that's very adaptable for fantasy, and builds on where Book 2 leaves off, and gets Silas and Lainie to the next place in the overall series story arc. I have a beginning, and know where I want it to end, and a few ideas for the middle, so I'll be writing Book 3 for Camp NaNoWriMo in April! Maybe this one will be easier than Books 1 and 2 were. I hope.
As I've said before, I wrote Book 1, Beneath the Canyons, back in the summer of 2011. As soon as I finished the book and realized it was going to be a series, Silas and Lainie started bugging me to write more of their story. I've had the very ending of the series in mind ever since then, but there were too many other projects in line ahead of it. So it's really exciting to finally be able to work on it, and to finally be getting some cooperation from my muse (if not always from the characters *gives Silas the Evil Eye*).
In the meantime, I'm still developing some short story ideas, with a goal to write one a week for the next three weeks, and to post them here once they're fit for human consumption.
In other news, through tomorrow (March 9) you can get some great deals from Smashwords on ebooks for Read an EBook Week - including a coupon for 50% off Urdaisunia!
So, why does a fantasy writer have a photo of a desert as the header image on her blog? (Gorgeous photo, isn't it? It's of Wadi Rum, or the Valley of the Moon, in Jordan. The photographer, whose work can be seen at stock.xchng, has taken photos of deserts all over the world.) [Update: since replaced with a new picture, but still of the desert.] Where's the enchanted forest, the elves and dragons and fairies?
I've lived almost my whole life in a desert area, and have a love/hate relationship with the desert. On the one hand, I love green and trees and rivers with actual water in them and seasons, and I hate the heat. Hate, hate, hate it. On the other hand, there are green and trees and water and season in the desert, they're just a lot more subtle, and you have to learn how to see them. The desert can be spectacularly beautiful, or spectacularly ugly, at first glance, but as you observe it more, you uncover more layers and depths. Things are hidden here, buried, waiting until conditions are right to come out in the open. We may not get spectacular fall foliage (though if you're down by the wash, you'll see some beautiful yellow cottonwoods), but you can tell it's autumn by the color of the light on the mountains.
Though the desert might look barren, it's actually teeming with unseen layers of life. Plants and animals have adapted to the unforgiving conditions, to take in what's available when it's available and conserve as much as they can, to defend themelves, to wait patiently through the heat and drought until the cool of evening, or the cool of winter, or the rainy season, to come out and show themelves. Humans, also, have managed to survive in the desert for thousands of years. Some civilizations still exist, others lasted for hundreds or thousands of years and then died out or suddenly disappeared.
The desert has secrets, and power, and history, and beauty, which unfold themselves to those who are open to seeing it. Desert scenery varies widely, from endless stretches of sand to thick growths of cacti, desert trees, and wildflowers. The challenges it presents for survival are unique, and the cultures that grow from it are uniquely adapted to the demands of life in the harsh conditions. When you look at it that way, what more magical setting could there be for fantasy? Or one so rich in possibilities? But it doesn't seem to be all that common in fantasy novels, perhaps because a lot of fantasy is still based on a medieval-Europe-type setting. This isn't univerally true, though, and seems to be changing more in recent years. A few novels that I can think of right off hand that take place, at least in part, in a desert setting are The Tombs of Atuan (Book 2 of the Earthsea series) by Ursula K. Leguin (one of my childhood favorites), Empress (Book 1 of the Godspeaker Trilogy) by Karen Miller, and two of the four novels I've read so far in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson: Deadhouse Gates and House of Chains.
In my own writing, I also frequently use desert settings. Urdaisunia is entirely set in a desert land, and significant events in Chosen of Azara and The Lost Book of Anggird also take place in desert areas. I can't envision these events taking place in any other environment. There's just something about them that demands the harsh environment and layers of mystery of the desert. Although not all of my novels feature desert settings, if I had to think of a landscape that most nearly represented my writing, it would be the desert.
Okay. So what about the elves, fairies, and dragons?
Well, for some reason, they never seem to make it into my novels. But that's another blog post for another time.
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