Revision: Rewriting by Another Name

2021 was the first year I participated officially in NaNoWriMo. It was a fantastic experience and I ended up completing the first draft of my novel, “Divided Loyalties.” Towards the end of it, I started looking into resources on how to keep the momentum going and start the revision process.

I’m good at completing first drafts. Just before starting my current project, I finished a whole other 90,000+ draft of a sister story. There were highs and lows, but the initial outlining and drafting are my favorite parts of the writing process, when an idea is so new and full of potential. I trip up when looking back because that shiny, new idea wasn’t as polished as I initially thought. Confronted with the enormity of what it’ll take to make it a cohesive story, my motivation quickly fritters away until the next shiny new thing comes along.

I believe all writers can relate to this struggle.

I wanted to take a more steady and thoughtful approach to revision. Here are some takeaways from my (ongoing) journey.

  • Let it Rest

Upon finishing Divided Loyalties, it was locked in the furthest depths of my hard drive for at least two weeks before I touched it again. My heart was still emotionally tied up in the story. I knew it needed improvements. I knew a lot about it needed to change but it was still the perfect story to me. I needed some time away from it so that I could develop a more objective perspective.  

  • Then I read it. Oh God, I read it.

This was a very painful process, but it needed to be done. While I read, I took notes and highlighted passages that needed expanding or complete revising. I broke possible expansions down to character development, plot development, world-building, action scenes, and repetitive details that may need clarification or excising.

  • Rewrite it, don’t revise

I heard often enough that for the second draft, rather than opening and editing within the document, it’s better to open up another blank document and rewrite the whole thing from the beginning. After reading completely through the first draft and making extensive notes, I saw the wisdom of this.

The story was rather bare-bones. That couldn’t be helped as a first draft. The thematic elements didn’t present themselves really until closer to the end when I had a better idea of what I wanted to tell. I knew a part of the revision process would be weaving this throughout the story in the second draft. To work harder at making the story a story, rather than a series of events that happen to the characters.

Keying in on these issues, I employed a more disciplined revision strategy. Rather than writing another detailed outline from beginning to end and then drafting (like I did for Grim Hollow), I decided to break up the process in several narrative chunks (ie, the end of the war chapters, the travel chapters, etc).

In these chunks, I zeroed in on character development and plot threads. In first drafts, I’m bad about making my main characters passive in their own story. Again, events happen to them to get them to one narrative point to the other. Though Jalmekion was conceptualized as a man of action, a lot still happens to him rather than him affecting the plot. He goes from a prince to a prisoner so it’s understandable to a point, but I needed to do more to center his actions in the story.

The first narrative chunk I’ve tackled are the Sumar chapters. The story starts with a siege of  Loryn’s capitol, Sumar. This is the climax of a war between the Satinos and Simaya kingdoms, a war that’s taken place for the last 10 years and a good portion of Jalmekion’s childhood.

Here are my principal goals for the Sumar chapters:

  1. Flesh out Jalmekion Simaya’s character and his relationship with others, namely his parents, his betrothed and the people he fights alongside
    1. To establish Sumar as more of a place
    1. To introduce Aerula’s magic system
    1. Coordinating action scenes
    1. To offer some version of the history of the Simaya family and the road that led to this point

Writing Inspiration:

Gang of Youths was hugely influential in conceptualizing Jalmekion’s character throughout the writing process. This was one of the songs I played whenever I needed to think through his emotional journey.

Creative Quarterly Goals: First Quarter

Yep! I’m going quarterly!

I wrote a lot in the last few months of 2021. I finished the first draft of a very old project given new life and nearly completed another. As of writing this, I’ll be finishing up the last chapter of the latter. Needless to say, I’ve been a writing speed demon. I’ve scared myself in how many words I’ve managed to throw on a page compared to the creative nadir that was 2019-2020. Guess I was storing it up.

But I’ll be honest. First drafts are easy for me, second only to the initial outlining phases. It’s during the revision process where writing projects lose a lot of steam. I’m determined to be more thoughtful in how to approach it this time around so that doesn’t happen. To do that, I’m putting the infrastructure in place to keep my mind focused on the task.

There are three major writing projects in the works and they’re all related to each other. The first is the still vaguely titled “Story 1” which is a young adult urban? fantasy novel and it is supposed to be the first in a series of indeterminate length. The latter is called “Divided Loyalties” (a better title than the former but I still kind of hate it) which is a dark fantasy that’s more adult in its leanings. It’s a prequel to Story 1. “Divided Loyalties” is getting two parts. I’m nearly finished with the first draft of part 1 and I want to begin the initial drafting stages of part 2. It’s the project that I’m focusing on currently.

I made a list of what I hope to tackle before my March 31st deadline. Not all of them are novel-related. I won’t finish all of these in 3 months but I hope to make significant progress. This will hopefully keep me on track!

  1. Finishing Part 1 of Divided Loyalties and begin drafting Part 2
  2. Starting the first round of revisions for both Story 1 and Divided Loyalties Part 1
    1. Come up with a better book title than Story 1
    1. Make a Wordbuilding rag for Divided Loyalties.
  3. Some sort of outline for Story 1 Part 2
  4. Having a consistent schedule of 2 blog posts per week (1 for writing, 1 for fun!)
  5. Maintaining an active social media presence for WordPress and Twitter
  6. Come up with 1 short story every 2 months
  7. Study your favorite books for why you like them and research writing genres
    1. Writing Genres:
      1. Dark Fantasy*
      1. Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction
      1. Young Adult

Writing Update: Art through the Chaos

Last week has been a chaotic one. Putting aside world events (like that whole mess at the Capitol) there’s been a lot of things that hit a lot closer to home. Things like Covid, paranoia, and living in the world.

Due to that, I freely admit that this hasn’t been the most productive week. How could I? How could any of us honestly?

Regardless, I did manage to make some progress. I made it a bit farther in my revision. My characters are coming along nicely and they’re also getting snarkier. The most surprising is my character Tanner Williams. When I reintroduced him in the revision, he had a lot more to say and couldn’t care less about anyone, especially his boss.

As things settle, I plan on setting up routines and quarterly goals. I hope to share those this time next week.

Happy Monday Everyone!

Writing Update: What am I working on exactly…?

So in my quest to be more “literature-ly” accountable, I offer myself to the eyes before me and recount my writing deeds for this past week.

I’m tackling the revision of my Hunger & The Hanging Tree arc of my Grim Lore of Hollow Grove story. What do I mean by arc and what is this story I’ve been hinting at for the last, oh, two maybe three years?

First off, Grim & Hollow is very tentative title for the overall story. To make a very long story short, the main gist is that my man, Sebastian Calderon, in the alternative year of our Lord 185X, decides to take up a job in a small town called Hollow Grove where he meets interesting characters and learns about the darkness that haunts the place there. I’m taking more of a serial format for the story. I plan to have five arcs that tell their own interlocking story. The first has to do with Hunger and Hanging Trees.

I’ve been fortunate to be granted a three day weekend for my job due to New Years. Somehow between watching movies, compulsive cleaning, and experimenting with breakfast recipes, I made some headway with the revision. The best way I know to tackle this is to write the whole thing over again on a blank document and retyping past drafts. My main sticking point with this former draft is that it read really stale with my characters doing one thing then another until they have to do something else. I’m attempting to make my characters less agents of plot and more people with thoughts and feelings. It’s a bit tedious but it’s the only way I know how to tackle this project at the moment.

At this very moment which is Sunday at 3:24pm with Natalia Lafourcade singing in the background, I’ve written 2,474 words for the current draft. A most noticeable improvement from the 150-word presses I did maybe two or three times a week in week’s past.

In related news, I have managed to write some really rough drafts of short stories that I’ll be tackling when I can’t look at the former project anymore.

That’s all I have to report. Thanks for reading.

The Monday Review: History, Pride Month & A Little Steven Universe

Hey Friends! 

Monday is here again. I wish you all luck in this week’s endeavors. 

Last week I’ve been consumed in reading and digesting histories. The 1619 podcast, Code Switch, Planet Money, and the Youtube channel Overly Sarcastic Productions with their summaries of history and mythology. Due to that, my focus in writing has shifted in that direction. I’ve been journaling more and finding ways to engage in it here. 

To that end, I’ve dedicated Thursdays to historical topics that I’ve found of particular interest. Since June is Pride Month, I’ve steered towards icons and topics in LGBTQA+ history. Last week I researched ACT UP and their contributions to AIDs awareness. I’m now reading articles and watching documentaries on other possible topics like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormie DeLarverie, and the Mattachine Society. It’s been a ton of fun and I can’t wait to share what I learned on my research journey. 

In fiction news, I have penned a couple of short stories. I hope to share one of these by week’s end. I’m also trying to shift my focus back to my Grim project. After finishing its draft back in March/April, I set it down for a bit which ended up being two months longer than I meant. I just need to get my head right for the revision. 

That’s all I got for this Monday. 

I’ll sign off with a song that’s been my favorite for a few weeks now. I haven’t really divulged this here but I’m a huge fan of Steven Universe. Here’s one of my favorite songs from the 2019 movie. I hope it gives you a little smile:

The Right Brain with Our Writing Status

Oh, writing!

Hmm, funny you should mention that. I think I have someth–wait right here, I’ll definitely find something I’ve been working on. I’ll just… (very inconspicuously climbs out the window and runs into the sunset).

As you can see, the Right Brain has taken off. Ah well, it can’t be helped. She’s a fickle thing that one.

Hi, Left Brain, here.

I’m the rational one who will make no excuses. But like usual, I’m left to pick up the pieces. You see, right brain and I haven’t been on the same page as of late. These last two months, every time I bring her to the table and force a pen in her hands, she hems and haws and sometimes runs away screaming. Other times she babbles, thoughts and feelings going this way and that about the state of the world and writing and the dreadful summer heat that’s settling in.

Don’t judge the right brain too harshly. The fact that she made it here, however briefly, means we’re making a bit of progress.

Otherwise, the progress report is quite bleak, I’m afraid.

Given the state of things, we have nothing to report. Right Brain has been hung up watching cooking channels on Youtube and daydreaming about all the worlds she’s hoped to create.

Execution however…

Well, that’s been lacking these last few months. Heck, she even made us drop the ball with updates here. I can schedule and plan all I want but if there’s no coherent ideas, what good is that?

All this to say is that Right Brain with her other fickle cousin, motivation, is starting to come around.

In the Event of Distraction

In the event of distraction, we prescribe the following: First, barricade yourself in a quiet room. Then, turn off all music, hide your phone, put a pen in your hand and begin writing and pray something good comes out of that brain of yours.

Admittedly, this has been a week of distraction. My life and the life my mind invented has taken up a lot of attention. I work two jobs; both in books, both I love, and both physically and emotionally taxing. And I couldn’t help but let this and a whole bunch of life things suck up 90% of my energy. Writing included.

So what have I done this week? I’ve stared at blank docs and counted the number of times my cursor line blinks on the screen. Mid-week I was able to eke out some words, butcher some dialogue, and hate it passionately. But it was something so it’s a victory. Other times, I imagined what happened next and listened to music to make it more real. I pulled my computer closer, opened Word and then couldn’t summon the energy to act on inspiration. Like they say, the holy trinity of time, energy, and inspiration in art usually step in as a twosome.

Earlier this year, I promised myself that I wouldn’t beat myself up on weeks like these. I highlight the good. This week’s good is finishing one chapter and carving a small path into the other. No matter how I got there or how bad I think it is at the moment, I’ve done something and that’s enough.

Revision, History, and Other Things I’m Trying Not to Think About Right Now

It’s been a pretty productive week for me. Consequently, it’s also been a terrible one for my characters. I managed to push through the spot I was stuck on last week. I’m in the middle of putting the pieces together for the main crux of Grim History’s first arc. They’ve gathered in one place, now I have to keep pushing them along.

The story is rough at the moment. Despite being on my mind since 2017, Grim History is still a first draft. Everything is new, uncharted territory. Often imagined, never dedicated to words. It has a ton of issues. I’m painfully aware of it but I’m resisting the temptation to look back and start editing. The last time I started to do edits before finishing the story, I decided the whole thing needed to be reworked. I started at square one again. I’ve got a nasty habit of throwing the whole thing away when I get hung up on one issue.

I’m getting into the habit of writing down perceived issues in a separate document and then moving on. Maybe a note or two on improvements but not too much else. And trust me, there’s no shortage of them. In the document, they’re broken down into the following categories: Setting, Characters, Plot, and Structure. Pretty self-explanatory, right? I plan on going into more detail about each in other blog posts but “Setting” has been especially on my mind this week.

Though Grim History isn’t strictly a historical fiction, I still want to ground it in a specific time and place in American history. Admittedly, I’m not a puritan for historical accuracy. Historical accuracy is hard to judge in fiction (or media in general) especially as our understanding of the past keeps evolving. And also, that concept violently lunged itself out the window since this particular story is teeming with spirits, vampires, and other supernatural creatures that influence the events on this make-believe historical setting. But I do want enough information that a reader can believe its in a specific time and place. The time is more or less set—the early 1840s–but I’m starting to flip flop on where it takes place.

First draft wise, this isn’t important. The details will come in through revision and tons of research. Two things that I won’t commit to until after the first draft.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I’m currently 15 parts into the story and still going strong. I predict the climax is a good three parts down the line though. My goal is to get Arc 1 finished by mid-July.

We’ll see how that goes.

Floundering in a Sea of What-Ifs

These last few days I’ve been stuck on an issue. The next chapter of my current project, “Hollow Grove: The Grim History,” is when I have to bring a lot of pieces together but I’m getting stuck on how to tell it and who should tell it.

“The Grim History” is a dark fantasy mystery set in Hollow Grove, a town within the Texas Republic in the early 1840s.  Sebastian Calderòn is brought in by the town’s founder, Goodwine Hollow, to become the official record keeper and discovers more about its history and the darkness that hovers about it.

The story will be told from multiple perspectives. Up till this point in the drafting process, there’s been two: Sebastian Calderòn’s (personal journals and eyewitness accounts) and Isadora Lynton’s (private diaries). More will be incorporated as the story progresses and I’ve been toying with the idea of mixed written mediums. The latter is more of a vague concept at this stage but I’m jotting down ideas. Other than the various perspectives, there’ll be official records like census records, death accounts, doctor’s notes,  and first & third person accounts from “unknown” persons. At this moment, I only have a story outline that I’ve deviated a lot from already. The original arc’s 12 chapters are now 17 (and counting).

And now I’m stuck. I’m contemplating how to tell a certain event. I’m at the point of saying screw it all and just writing whatever comes. That’s my normal process. Write whatever and loathe it entirely. The benefit of this approach is that I get a better idea of what I don’t want to do. It’s better than floundering in an endless sea of what-ifs.

The Chaos of Thoughts & A Mountain

I’ve been struck by a bolt of lightning this month. With the rains and flooding happening in my state, it was bound to happen eventually. Now the ghosts of stories’ past visit me in my sleep. And I can’t introduce a topic without metaphor and prose. Tis the tragedy of an addled brain.

But in all seriousness, creatively I’ve hit a bit of a stride. For over a year, the voices in my head refused to speak to me. Mutters and stutters of thought sometimes broke through but what they offered was always disappointing. I wrote but then I looked back on what I wrote and hated it. I carved away chunks–a scene here, some dialogue there, maybe a few chapters and an outline–but I always looked up at the mountain. It was tall, imposing, it’s peak somewhere hidden in the clouds. And knowing what I had to do compared to what was done was disheartening and writing hurt physically.

But these past few weeks have been productive. I’ve been focusing on my Grim History project surrounding the town of Hollow Grove. It’s been through a bunch of name changes. First, “Notes of An Outsider”, to “Dark & Grim Lore of Early Hollow Grove”. I settled on Hollow Grove: A Grim History but that too might change. I’m about 78% okay with it which compared to the others is better.

A part of my malaise was because I had a tendency to chuck chapters wholesale. My revisions became rewriting without referencing the first draft at all outside of major plot beats. So I completely discounted the months of work past me did because present me was pretentious.

Instead of that, when I gave Grim History a second look, I decided to incorporate elements from the multiple drafts of it. Not copying and pasting them wholesale. I had it opened in a second window while I typed what I liked on the other. It allowed me to fill in the holes from the first draft and incorporate ideas that I have now after the story marinated itself in my head for a year and a half. Right now, I’m 12 parts in and still going strong.

I also had to remind myself that what I’m working on doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to exist first.

So that’s the update this week.