The Twelve Stages of Writing

Thoughts on a novelist’s life as they cope with conceiving, writing, revising, and publishing a novel.

  1. Jubilation! What a great idea! I must start thinking about this and writing. This is brilliant! Coffee, quick!
  2. Doubts. Wait…what was it about? I don’t know…that’s more complicated than I realized, and derivative as hell. What the hell…why would those characters do that? What’s their motivation? Man, I need some caffeine just to make sense of this. Better go get some coffee.
  3. Bargaining. Look, let me play a computer game and then get through just one day, just one hundred words, just one scene, just one paragraph today, and I promise that I’ll write more tomorrow and catch up. Give me some coffee.
  4. Denial. Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t have what it takes. I’m not smart enough or talented enough. I’m such an idiot! Why did I ever think that I could write a novel? Let me just finish my coffee and go.
  5. Acceptance. Well, I’ve gone this far. Might as well finish the damn thing. Then, maybe I’ll set it aside for a century, and take a look later, see if I can edit and revise it, and make something out of it. I need a fresh cup of coffee.
  6. Jubilation! Hey, this isn’t so bad. This is pretty good. It just needs some work. It’s all coming together. Give me some coffee.
  7. Doubts. I don’t know…what was I thinking when I wrote that? I don’t even remember writing that part. Who is that character? I don’t remember them. I have never seen so many typos in my life. Even the coffee tastes bad. What a waste.
  8. Bargaining. Listen, self. If I can just finish reading and editing this part and sleep on it, I know that I’ll find a way to make this all work, and then I’ll take a break from it all. More coffee, please.
  9. Denial. Who am I kidding? This is absolute garbage. I’ll never make it as a writer. I can’t even type. Even if I finish this, who will ever read it? Maybe I should work on something else. I need more coffee.
  10. Acceptance. No, you’ve come this far. You owe it to yourself to at least finish it. Maybe more coffee will help. Come on, you can do it. What’s the saying? Just open any vein. Sure. Give me some coffee.
  11. Jubilation! This is pretty damn good. Now all I need to do is find someone to publish it. Let me hunt for an agent. But first, some coffee.
  12. Doubts. I’ll never find an agent or a publisher. Maybe I should self-publish. But then I’d need to have a cover made, hire a copy-editor, and then do all the marketing once I publish it. Let me drink a cup of coffee and think about it…

How ’bout you, writers? Any thoughts on the stages of coping with your writing efforts?

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Building By Deleting

I’m continuing to work on the novel-in-progress, April Showers 1921. Its challenges remain remaining and satisfying with a few dips into frustrating.

I’ve recently re-discovered the joy of deleting to build and improve the tale. When I began with the concept, it had a bajillion directions that it could take. I wrote about half of them, writing two to three thousand word chapters about the directions, exploring the characters, plot, and arcs. That resulted in a complex novel with a complicated plot, and extensive raw material. As I neared completion of the first draft, I met the muses at a crossroads. We agreed that some matters needed clarified and changed.

With mostly their guidance, I went through, exploring that first mess. Sometimes I attempted to work something into the mix, mostly because I enjoyed the passage. But, as often noted, sometimes killing favorite scenes help. As I deleted them (putting them into another documented that was a collection of these things…just in case…), I discovered how much the process sharpened my insights into the characters, situation, storylines, plots, and arc. With more focused insights, my writing and story-telling became crisper. My direction was better defined; I had more understanding of the final destination.

All of this wasn’t done overnight, but through several days of frequently frustrating searching and thinking. Sometimes I went backwards and then had to retrace my steps.

Now I’ve gone on into thinking of this mass as more like a giant piece, waiting to be sculpted molded, or carved. Unlike working in clay, wood, stone, or other hard, substantial materials, the novel’s characteristics change, depending upon how, where, and why they fit. Some pieces of the novel are solid. Only fine chiseling and polishing are needed. Other sections are thick, and I carve whole chunks away. Some are softer and more pliable, demanding shaping to improve coherency, pacing, motivation, and story-telling.

The process of writing and thinking about writing a novel often intrigues me as much as the novel-in-progress. As every novel is unique, so is the process used to write it.

Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Negotiations

Thinking about my writing process this morning, I think I may have left people with the impression that my muses just dictate to me. That’s a false impression. I write about it in that vernacular a lot because of how the entire process ends up happening, but it’s more involved than that. I’m sure most understand that, but as I’m overly bent toward being pedantic and over-analytical, I’m going to enlarge on my process.

The muses fill me with a concept, general story arc, and the main character. A few other characters and some reveal points follow. This all happens very fast. Ideas constantly bang on my mind to enter the writing realm. Many are rejected outright. Some are briefly entertained about how they can be expanded. Others get a more thorough mind treatment but had deferred until later (which may not ever come).

A few ideas enter the writing hopper where they’re given more writing cogitating time. This is where the muses really enter, tossing ideas about the story and how it can develop. Sometimes, these come on very strong, concrete, and specific. When that triumvirate arises, the writing urge is ignited. It then depends on my schedule and projects that are underway. When I was younger, I split myself between projects. With more experience, I’ve developed a routine of focusing on one project until it reaches some stage of completion. They’re then often edited and revised. After that, they can go in different directions.

Meanwhile, my organic writing-like-crazy process isn’t that straightforward. The muses suggest and I counter suggest. I’ll often consider and present multiple possibilities for character development, story arcs, and how a scene goes. I present them to the muses. They reject, accept, or modify them.

Even then, when I sit down to write, it often doesn’t come out as envisioned. Things take place that I never foresaw. This is the true writing-like-crazy process, and when I give full control to the muses. It comes out and I do my best to type it up without analyzing it or putting it into perspective with the rest of the story, arcs, etc. That comes afterward, when I think about where this piece has taken me and what needs to change, along how it’ll be changed, and why it needs to change.

Of course, the muses and the entire process is mine. There aren’t little elves or gorgeous creatures inhabiting and haunting me, telling me what to write. What I call out as the muses is a deeper subconscious level of thinking and creativity that seems to work at high levels of complexity and speed, and its my intuition. I can’t keep up with that thinking on my conscious levels. I’ve learned to trust that process, not because of great creative or critical success, but because, from that process comes the story-telling, novels, and tales that I enjoy. I write for myself. It saddens me that others don’t enjoy it. I hope that’ll change someday, preferably while I’m alive.

Likewise, when I say that the characters have taken over, I’m using a shorthand to describe a process. The characters were put into a situation. I thought about what could happen and different directions that they might take, and then let it settle into my subconscious mind’s chasms for greater process. Results then spring out when I sit down to write. Sometimes, of course, they spring out beforehand, and sometimes they just explode into my thinking an awareness at awkward moments. Words heard or read, realizations, photographs, a piece of song, a splash of light, a burst of noise…multiple things trigger that explosion.

In the end, my process is all about negotiations, negotiations about how commercial or artistic I’ll let myself flow, the directions I do and don’t want to take, and my acceptance to write like crazy, accept that it needs work, and then keep working on it later, and the intuition to accept this feels right, coupled with the understanding, nothing is permanent. Better ways might emerge. Stay open to them.

Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy. at least one more time.

#AWL

Time for a rant. Are you ready, boys and girls? Point of order, sir, but this is as much a whine as it is a rant.

Okay, point accepted. I’m full of complaints and do a lot of poor, poor, pity poor me first-world blues rants. This is another. That aside, let’s rant.

I’ve written fifteen novels. 

People say, “Fifteen? Really?”

Yes, sure, but that’s a number. There’s a story behind the number. There’s an asterisk beside it.

The first novel, as with many writers, was five-star crap. In the crap world, five-stars means it’s the worse possible crap. There’s no crap that exceeds its crappiness. It was an experience, though, that helped me understand more about my writing process.

Knowing that it needed more attention and focus than I was willing to give it, I printed out the stack, along with editing notes, and put it on disks, and set it aside. Someday, I’ll return to you, I promised it.

“Point of order, sir, but, despite that quantity, maybe you’re not a very good writer.”

Thank you for pointing that out. You’re right. That might be the case. I’m trying to do the best that I can. I keep trying to improve.

“Another point, sir.”

What now?

“Isn’t this really about your laziness and unwillingness to learn?”

Excuse me, but who are you? How did you get in here? Out, out, damn you.

Being obstinate, I proceeded to write five more novels. They were probably three-star and four-star crap. I knew where they had problems and what needed to be fixed. I didn’t want to fix them, because I wanted to write more and I didn’t want to bother with editing and revising. I liked writing, not editing and revising. I promised, someday I’ll edit them, but I knew that model a novel and setting it aside for editing and revising at a date TBA was unsustainable.

The next novel that I wrote, I said, “I must edit and revise this one. I need to learn that discipline.”

So, I did it. Yea, me! Sure. I then sought agents. I followed all of their parameters for submitting to them in hopes of persuading them to represent me, find a publisher, and get the novel published.

After almost a year of dealing with that, going through five agents, I hated that process. Maybe, I convinced myself (without too much difficulty), self-publishing is the way to go.

So I did that.

It was another process to learn, with as many obstacles and challenges as Ninja Warrior. Yes, the book was published. Yes, I sold some copies, but not nearly as many as hoped. I knew that I would need to market the book.

Oh, boy, more to learn.

I wanted to write; I didn’t want to learn how to market myself and my wares.

I told myself, someday I will. Then I wrote and self-published three more books, with just as little notice and sales, reminding me again and again, you need to market these books.

But…but…but…

Yeah.

Here I am again, this time with a complete series of five novels. Here I am again at the crossroads. Find an agent? Self-publish? Screw it all and just keep writing?

Not wanting to, first, hunt down a cover designer, copy-editor, acquiring an agent drew me. That’s the original dream, to write a novel, find an agent, have the novel published. In a sense, I’m returning home by taking that route.

Yes, I was again easily persuaded because that self-publishing journey had been less than rewarding and satisfying. I’m hoping that this journey will be more so.

I began with the standard search process. Who is out there? What do they want?

Lo, Jane Friedman had a decent article about finding an agent, and pointed toward #MSWL – Manuscript Wish List. That’s helpful, I thought with new gleams of hope.

Hah.

I have such rose-colored glasses, they should be illegal so that we can all save time and energy.

#MSWL has a search engine. What genre do you want? Put it in. Here’s the results. Wow, pages of results. How exciting.

Not after reading a bit more.

I searched for science-fiction. #MSWL’s search results include whenever science-fiction is mentioned. This includes when agents say, “I don’t want to see any science-fiction.” Ah. That was certainly fucking useful.

I spent hours searching #MSWL and PublishersMarketPlace, seeking someone interested in someone like me. I found some promising folks.

Well, it’s the year’s end. Many of those agents aren’t accepting right now. Check back in a few days, weeks, or months, and then they’ll be happy to see your work.

What agents say they want on their website, in their Twitter blurts, in articles and interviews, and in #MSWL do not align. One will say that they’re looking for SFF or some science-fiction variant while the other locations won’t mention it. Yes, and I understand from my efforts that it’s hard updating everything and every place.

YA seems to remain the hot market, judging from the number of agents hunting for YA manuscripts.

Also clear is that most agents will reply to you if they’re interested. They’ll usually respond in two weeks. However, if they’re not interested, you’re not going to hear back from them. Do not, of course, submit multiple submissions or simultaneous submissions, or anything like that, because that’s not far to them, and please don’t follow-up to see what’s going on with your query. They’re busy, you know.

That was the stake through my heart last time, that one-sided dimension to this whole business. Sipping a glass of medicating wine last night, I reflected that I needed to start #AWL – Author’s Wish Lists. But hell, that’s a short list. We want an agent. We want published. We want a painless process. Who doesn’t? Well, I could stipulate that I want an agent who wants me, that I want an agent who will respond to me to tell me, no, thanks.

Yes, before anyone notifies me of the obvious, that this is a competitive business, and yes, I know how many struggling writers are out there trying to find agents and get published, and, yep, I’m aware that others have gone through this, and that agents have limited resources, so they’re very sorry, but that’s what the situation dictates.

Yes, I know.

My muses are awake. They want to write. Do you see how many stories are out there, waiting to be written?

Rant over. Back to whatever.

 

 

 

 

 

Summing It Up

I finished editing and revising An Undying Quest. I didn’t think I’d finish it in 2018 but by ignoring time and doing nothing else, I did, without rushing or being hasty.

The ending satisfied me. I think the five books are sufficient for the Incomplete States series.

I want to write The Final Time. Coming to me as a collateral concept to Incomplete States as I finished writing the first five books, I wanted to explore it, and began writing it. I understand that urge — I write to think, and it was a tantalizing concept, so I wanted to know what I think about it and how it develops– but I now know that the series itself doesn’t need it. I can write it later as a sequel, if I want to do that.

So many collateral stories, tangents and sequels can be written from this series and explored. Because, like other writers have discovered, and I discovered for myself, we take a slice of existence and ideas, explore and populate them, and decide where we begin and end the story, but it’s all bit arbitrary. It’s something that comes to intellectually and emotionally satisfy the urge that prompted me to write it, that now satisfies me as a reader as I finish editing it.

So, I’m done. I have a first draft of the five books of the series. In the rosy afterglow of writing, editing, and revising the books, I feel satisfied with where I’ve gone and where I landed.

Other steps are required for publication, like proper editing. As other writers know, this glorious mess is probably still a bit of a mess. I’ll address them on another day. For now, I’ll relax and rejoice about what I’ve done and what I have.

As a favorite writer’s character once said, “Goodbye and hello, as always.”

That pretty well sums it up.

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