Monday Musings: Trials of an Anxious Planner

I’ve spent the last several weeks coordinating this post. There’s a draft of this post written that I am right now in the process of revising. I don’t like the first draft so I’m trying something different. I’m trying to give you a glimpse into my thought process.

Since I didn’t think the post was up to snuff, I set it down to let it rest in the draft section. I busied myself with other projects. I have a major fiction project with a very involved outline. My chapters have bullet points and side notes of things to keep in mind. It’s so obsessive about the details that, after a certain point, it’s hard to look at because of how busy it is. I reference it for broad strokes and then write. New details pop up unaccounted for in the outline. I have to retroactively think about how this impacts the narrative.

I step away from writing. I start thinking about dinner: the food in the cupboards, the food in the fridge, and how do I make these things into a meal? But dinner is a long way off. There are work responsibilities, family responsibilities, and self-care responsibilities. I sketch out all these things into a planner that I sometimes adhere to.

I can spend minutes, hours, days, and weeks, silently thinking about things. I’ve made it an art form. From the mundane like waking up wondering what I’ll eat for dinner to the particulars of work training to my very own fiction outlining strategy—I plan.

I see my dedication to detail as an admirable trait most days but my tendency to perfectionism means most projects stop short. I get really excited about something and then drown in the details. Previous to this year, it’s what killed many a project I’ve been excited about. I consider what it’ll take to make something “perfect,” try to sketch out a plan, and lose steam because of how anxious I get considering the avalanche of minutiae.

Thoughtful planning can be the driver of creation but getting caught up in it can also suck the fun out of the very thing you’re trying to create. I’m in the valley between the peaks right now. I’ve spent so much time and energy planning things that the execution already has me exhausted.

And that’s okay. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I truly believe it but that driver to create makes me feel guilty for not wanting to do so.

I’m trying to slow down and roam the valley. The work isn’t going anywhere.

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.

WIPs and Tricks: What Do You Write?

“You’re a writer? What do you write?”

Ah…that’s definitely a question….

Historically, I’ve been really bad at talking about my stories. I’ve avoided proclaiming myself a writer in my daily life in fear of the question that comes after: What do you write?

The question is fraught with pitfalls. First, my mind goes blank. What do I write again? Do I write? My first thought is a little bit of everything. I like to experiment sometimes. My next ready answer is something vague like speculative fiction but that hardly encompasses everything.  

In college, it was “real life” with a twist! Something that fell into an uncanny space dealing with disjointed perception or some existential horror a character couldn’t name. I’m still very much into these types of stories, especially for exploring interesting concepts. My biggest project of this era of writing was “Noise in the Room Upstairs” which was a story about an ordinary guy whose TV happens to talk to him, his upstairs neighbor’s noise drives him to homicide, and he’s not insane—no, definitely not insane! I’ve been thinking of revitalizing this project and actually finishing it in some capacity for several years now. First, that means coming up with an ending and doing some major edits.

Since 2017, I’ve been really drawn towards horror and fantasy writing starting with the Hollow Grove projects. These stories are about the fictional town of Hollow Grove, home to several supernatural creatures and a dark history. The contemporary Festival of Shadows story centered on the characters of a newspaper office who want to solve the mystery of strange disappearances that take place during the first week of the year. The Grim Hollow series is set in the 1850s, several years after the town’s founding when long-buried secrets start clawing their way to the surface. The latter of these stories deals more with the horror side of the fantasy than its contemporary cousin. There were other parts of the timeline I’ve been meaning to explore, but as of right now, this project has been benched in favor of the Divided Loyalties project.

Divided Loyalties is a spin-off of a sister project that’s been over a decade in the making. Back when I was a baby writer in middle school, I came up with “The Chronicles of Enishi.” It coincided with my introduction to anime and its influence is readily apparent in its construction. The basic plot was that a young boy named Haru, a prince of some faraway dragon dimension, after being imprisoned for the whole of his 12 years gets sprung from the joint by his absent father, Jalmekion. His father ditches him on earth, after which he meets Jamie, a hotheaded martial artist fighter (who is also 12) and her group of friends, who were a jumble of character tropes and comic relief.

I made two and a half books with these characters. They’re terrible, but I’m still proud of them for existing. Around high school, I started to revise the stories but tabled it quickly for moodier projects.

Last year, the stars must have aligned because I was able to approach this project again and write a draft for the first story. I ditched the title and now goes by the vague name of “Story 1.” I’ll go more in depth about this project once I take it off the backburner.

Right after finishing “Story 1,” I wanted to write something for NaNoWriMo and the idea came to me to write a story about Haru’s father, Jalmekion. It’s a fantasy romance about how he met Haru’s mom, Uraya, and from that humble premise, it exploded into an epic about family divisions, the consequences of colonialism, and the ultimate fall of Aerula, their home dimension. Right now, I’m in the middle of getting through the second draft of this project and it’s a long, tedious, fun, and exciting process.

I promise to go into more detail about the bigger projects as part of this series. It might get easier to talk about my stories if I talk about my stories. I’ve poured thousands—for Divided Loyalties, a good 100,000– into these projects.

Stay tuned for more chaos.

This Week’s Inspiration:

Usually music that inspired something in a story.

The More You Ignore Me…

There’s a man in the distance.

I noticed him first on the desert sands of Arizona two years back. He was a dot on the horizon who shimmered like a mirage in the heat. I didn’t think he was real at first but his faceless shape became a constant in my life.

He followed me to my hometown. Across the long mall parking lots and the over-watered golf fields to the rooftops of my parents’ neighbors’ houses, he was standing there watching me. In the course of our long distanced staring contest, he gained a forgettable face that imprinted itself more sharply on my memory the further along it went.

He stood too casually. His hands deep in his pockets, hip and head cocked slightly to the side. His lips in a perpetual smirk.

Did I know him? Yearbook combing and Facebook searches yielded nothing. I tried walking towards him to get answers. Those were the only times he turned his back towards me. I continued to move in his direction but the gap between us never closed. But he hadn’t moved. Not a step, not even a lean. I called out to him but he didn’t acknowledge me.

I pointed him out to a few friends.

No one else saw him.

After a while and a few concerned whispers, I dropped it. Even as his presence began haunting my darkest dreams where I would wake suddenly and there he’d be looming, hands tightening around my throat. 

Even as I grew to be afraid to be alone with him in a sea of people.

Even when my parents asked me why I was in a hurry to move away just to escape him.

But I should’ve known that even state lines couldn’t sever the distance between us.

His outline appeared in my rearview as I sped down the interstate. He was at the pit stops, the dive bars, the bones of Midwestern barns and the wide-open cornfields.

And he was getting closer.

When I moved into an apartment in the city’s beating heart, he was there. My first night there, I looked down at the streets below and he was there smirking.

I did the only thing I thought would bring me peace. I closed the curtains and refused to look at me. Refused to think about him and move on with my life.

The days rolled on uneventfully for a while. I woke up and he’s outside my window but I somehow forgot. He became another face to ignore and I was able to go on.

Until one night in front of my living room television where there was a knock on the door.

Continue reading “The More You Ignore Me…”

FYI: Fantasy Writers’ Week

I wanted to spread the word about an event that I learned about this morning!

ProWritingAid is hosting a week long Webinar series for Fantasy writers from February 28th to March 3rd. Two of my favorite authors, Tomi Adeyemi and Jenna Moreci, are participating in it and I’m so excited to learn about the craft from them!

If you want to save your seat to this free event, you should go to https://go.prowritingaid.com/fantasy/ to sign up.

I’m not quite sure if this is necessary (seeing as I’m small potatoes in the blogosphere and this isn’t Instagram or YouTube) but this isn’t sponsored. I’m just a fantasy writing nerd trying to reach out to other fantasy writing nerds!

Monday Musings: Writing on Empty

I love writing. It’s an essential part of my daily life and my life would be incomplete without it.

At the same time, it burns me out.

Starting in late September, I’ve experienced a writing high that I haven’t experienced in years. I had my mojo back. In between then and January, I completed two novel-length projects and started revisions on one.

That hasn’t been the case these last few weeks. There’s a frenetic energy that accompanies a first draft. You get caught up in a story first written, get excited by its potential, and it’s a precious thing that gives you purpose every day. The initial drafting is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.

With a revision, however, you’re forced to examine the flaws of the first draft up close and correct them. My process is rewriting whole chapters: expanding scenes, questioning dialogue and character motivation, throwing in more flashbacks, putting a little more effort in worldbuilding, and the like. It’s fun at times, soul-crushing at others.

And these last two weeks, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle with motivation. My work has taken a toll on my energy after an extra-long week and, with the news being the news, my emotional reserves have been uniquely depleted as well. I have a schedule I’m trying to keep to maintain momentum but I’ve fallen behind. But I’m trying to be gracious with myself. I’ve learned that burnout is the mind’s way of telling you that it needs a breather.

Rather than force the issue, I take a break. I try to relax.

It’s easier said than done though. I fear not being able to pick up the pen again. I fear losing the momentum. I haven’t written like this in years (plural with an s!). That fear is always there. Even though I know from experience that a break is the best thing I can do for my creativity. Even though I know some of my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about my story. I recently read a Joan Didion quote that an author’s greatest fear after writing their first book is that they can’t write another and that this fear remains after the second, third, or fortieth book. It was more talking about ideas but I think it’s applicable here as well.

Regardless of my mood, I still try to write. Even on days I wake up and think that writing is the absolute last thing I want to do that day.

So here is what I do. I stick to my routine. I get up to dedicate my weekend mornings to writing. I open my story and see where I left off. I tentatively start writing something, give myself 25 minutes to find a groove. If I get into a rhythm (like on Saturday), I write until 1 and manage to crank out 2000 words (a win!). If I find myself unable to concentrate and looking for distraction (like on Sunday), I put the story away and promise myself I will try a little later after giving my head a rest.

The important thing is I never try to force it anymore. It shows in the work when I’m writing on empty. It’s painful to read and a nightmare to edit.

I’m trying to emphasize being kind to yourself when you lack the motivation or stamina to do things, especially when it comes to things you love. Breaks are a necessary component of the creative process. Never be afraid to indulge in them.

Thank you. I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Monday Musings: Voice in Writing

I spent some time contemplating voice. More specifically, I spent a lot of time contemplating my own voice in writing.

Writing through characters has always been easy for me. When coming up with a story, a character’s voice is the first that comes, then the premise, then how that premise might be executed. It develops the more I write it and evolves in ways I don’t expect. It’s very involved play-acting. The characters are my costumes and I interact with the world as they do.

As I describe this, my mind is brought back to the childhood stories I acted out with my sister. We spent countless hours in the day playing as our favorite Disney characters and inventing wacky scenarios that they had to puzzle their way out of. Writing helped fill that gap when we both grew out of it.

Writing as myself has always been a struggle. I’m a (near) daily diarist but when I push that voice to the public eye, it sounds awkward…not quite right. I’m not used to talking as me or the invented, highly polished version of me that I want to present to the world. Hence, why blogging is such a struggle. The voice stutters and falls flat.

I’ve had the idea, not for the first time, that I should come up with a character for this version of me. Surely, putting some artifice between myself and my writing persona would help me write as myself. It’s already there. After the retooling and editing, it’s baked in. The very act of effortless articulation a façade in its own right. You see that sentence before. I would never say that in real life.

It’s also possible I’m overthinking this like I do with most things. But a fair bit of practice goes into crafting a voice. It’s a patient endeavor. Historically, I’m not a very patient person but I can learn!

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

Music Appreciation: “Hey Moon” by John Maus

I’m 10 years late to the John Maus train but there is something so enchanting about this song. I credit it in planting the first seeds of my “Divided Loyalties” WIP, which has expanded into a hefty fantasy enterprise.

The synth beats that underpin this track are hypnotizing. John Maus’ vocals echo and lull the listener into a trance as he sings his ode to the moon. I like to think of it as a love song. A love song to the night, to dreams, to the slow and sweet passage of time.

A moment bottled and forever relished.

Favorite Lyrics:

Hey moon, it’s just you and me tonight
Everyone else is asleep
Hey moon, if I was to fall
I won’t fall so deep
Though I doubt I’m gonna
You can wake me up if you wanna

I learned while routing for info that this is a cover! Sounds like I got some more music to listen to!

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!