alexandraerin: (Default)
So, several weeks back I had the realization that if I could steal time to write 500 words a day I'd have 2000 words of Tales of MU every posting day, what I consider to be the bare minimum for a chapter. Bare minimum chapters aren't great and I'm never satisfied with bare minimum, but sometimes... bare minimum happens. When conditions are slightly better, having 1,5000 words going into a posting day gives me a lot to work with. When conditions are much better, there's no reason to limit myself to 500 words a day.

Twice since then I've postponed a chapter anyway, because I'm still forming the habit for this new part of my process and the sort of circumstances it's meant to deal with just piled up. But I'm already refining it.

500 words is a minimum, a floor. Now, context is everything. If there's nothing else around it to fix it is as below, then a floor might as well be a ceiling. I don't want to put a ceiling on my productivity, but I need to set a number above it.

Day one of the four day cycle, 500 words is fine. That's my whole goal, day one is the "conceptual" day anyway. It's when I start figuring out what the chapter's about. If I write something on day one, it's the most likely thing to be thrown out or written over anyway.

Day two of the four day cycle is when I look for an opening to the story, an angle of approach for it. The "beginning" phase. It's not necessarily when I write the opening lines, it's when I write the part that's going to lead to me writing the rest of it. 500's still the floor, but the goal is a thousand words.

Day three of the four day cycle is when, theoretically, I "write the chapter". I look at what I have and start writing in earnest. The body of the chapter should be done by this day, if things are going well. It might have some placeholders, it might be lacking a true beginning or ending, but it should be basically done. As often as not, this ends up happening on day 4. That's why the goal for day three is going to be 1,500 words.

So if I'm hitting the floor on every day, I start day four with 1,500 words and end it with 2,000 words. If I'm hitting the target, I go into day four with 3,000 words... my ultimate target for a chapter. If I feel there's more to be said I can keep going. If it needs work I can work on it. If it's well and truly done I can jump into day one of the next time around.

All this is based on how things tend to work out when they're going moderately well... when they're going awesome I can sit down and bang out two or three thousand words and it's pretty coherent and better written then when I'm piecing together 500 word efforts, but you can't exactly manufacture awesome, though I base my processes on the idea that you can coax out some good.
alexandraerin: (Default)
When I was a little kid, I liked to run.

Running around all over the places comes more easily to small children than it does to adults. I imagine the square-cube law comes into it somehow; their bodies may be less well developed, but they have to do so much less work propelling themselves from place to place. Then there are differences in the energy metabolisms of an explosively growing body and a sedentary adult one. Then there's the simple matter of social inhibitions that grown-ups are more prone to.

Whatever the full explanation, even the most athletic grown-ups can't help but know that they're paying a price when they run. The pleasure of running is even tied to this. You feel the burn. You get a runner's high. You push yourself to the limit, you pay the price for doing so, and you work towards a pay-off. If you're not moving fast enough to cost you anything, then you're not trying hard enough.

Little kids, meanwhile, run around all over the place like it's free. Like it costs them nothing. Like it's a joyous thing to do in and of themselves. They don't have to push themselves to do it. They probably haven't developed the skills to push themselves. They just cut loose.

When I was a little kid, I liked to run. I imagined that I was running really, really fast. How fast? Well, I ran faster than I could walk. I could sort of feel the air moving around my body when I did it, which to me suggested that I was on the verge of tapping into some kind of superpower or something. Ultimately I didn't have any kind of benchmark or frame of reference beyond "fast" and "slow".

Running was fast. I ran. Therefore, I ran fast.

I suppose when I started school I might have acquired some additional data points, if I'd been inclined to pay attention to my peers during P.E. and recess. But like Calvin, I had always been more interested in my own interior world. When we ran a lap around the gym, I was chasing or being chased by creatures unseen by the eyes of others, not measuring my progress against anyone in particular.

Then came a day sometime in the first half of my elementary school career when I became aware of a dispute between some of my classmates. They had been playing touch football or something and were arguing over who was the worst player in the group... not the sort of thing that I'd ever found very interesting. One of the contenders for the bottom spot pulled my attention all the way over, though, by responding to a claim about his slowness by saying, "At least I'm faster than Alex."

My first response was something along the lines of, "What a weird, completely random thing to say.", but then there was a chorus of agreement.

Yes, it was agreed.

At least he's not as slow as Alex.

No one is as slow as Alex.

Alex is the slowest.

And then the whole conversation migrated over to the jungle gym where I was hanging out to make sure that I knew this.

I disagreed at first, not because I thought I was the fastest but because the comparison didn't make sense to me. It wasn't how I thought, how I saw the world. I couldn't think of "slowest" as a thing to be. Didn't different people finish first all the time when we ran laps? So fastest and slowest weren't really things, were they?

Except, it was pointed out to me, I almost always finished last. Almost always. Different people were the fastest, but I was the slowest, and this was a significant fact. It mattered. A lot.

The conversation didn't open my eyes so much as it pointed them in a new and different direction, one where the point of running wasn't to be faster than walking, but to be faster than the next person, to be faster than as many people as possible. There was no longer any joy in simply feeling fast and free. I didn't understand running as a fun thing that it was possible to do with a pair of legs in moderate working order, but as a competitive endeavor that demanded one to work as hard as possible to be as good as possible, and if one could not measure up no matter how much effort one exerted, one might as well not bother.

And here we come to the point of this post, which actually has little to do with my lack of athletic ability or social awareness as a child and everything to do with running around all over the place with a childlike sense of abandon.

I see this attitude popping up a lot in the areas of writing and other forms of artistic expression, that one must be above a certain aptitude level in order for the exercise of creativity to be meaningful or useful or have any point... that if you can't do it professionally, it's not worth it, or if you can't impress the right people it's not worth it, or if you can't do it all day every day it's not worth it.

I think we probably all had moments in our childhood or young adulthood where we learned that it's not enough for an activity to be fun, that if we're not achieving or competing then we're not working hard enough. As I see it, there are three profoundly negative side effects to this.

One is that the fear of not being very good at something stops us from doing the work we need to get better. I know so many people who show some talent for art or writing, but who shy away from developing it because exercising that undeveloped talent... it almost embarrasses them. They think it's only worth it to create things if they are Great Things... merely good or decent or acceptable things aren't acceptable, and the risk of creating terrible or substandard or poor or rough things on the way to decent ones is just too great a risk to be borne.

It's basically the equivalent of not wanting to get dressed because to reach for a dresser drawer is to admit that you're naked.

Two is the fact that even if we don't all have it in us to do great things or even good things creatively (or in any other arena), that doesn't change the fact that exercise is good for us. It's a good thing to stretch, whether it's the body or the mind. And it's fun to cut loose.

See, I was never going to be the fastest runner in my class. There are reasons that I was the slowest, reasons that I couldn't have trained around or powered through. I could have maybe been faster than I was, but even if the difference between how I was performing and what I had the potential to become was immeasurably slight... even if I had never gotten better at all... I might have kept running for fun at my natural pace, and I think I probably would have been better for it.

Three is an outgrowth of both one and two: that because of these things, we end up seeing the world as divided into categories: runners and people who don't run, writers and people who don't write, artists and people who don't create. Don't get me wrong, there are people who can't run; as an adult with bad joints and mitochondria that can't keep up with my adult-sized body, I am for all intents and purposes one of them. But I can move and find joy in movement. I lack the coordination and visual processing necessary to ever be a brilliant visual artist, but I can enjoy physical crafts. I can enjoy and have enjoyed messing around with paints even while I'll never be anything like a painter.

And writing?

Okay, I have a little bit of skill there. But this is the main point I want to bring to this post. I see people rebutting the idea that ebooks and pop lit are going to bring about the downfall of civilization by saying "At least people are reading." But you know what I never hear people say?

"At least people are writing."

Even people who would be so-called real writers according to any metric anyone might care to name... when they see examples of what they consider great writing, they're more apt to say things about how it makes them feel like a fraud or wonder why they bother than to say something like This. This is why I became a writer.

I've always regarded this as a matter of straight-up impostor syndrome, and I think it is, but I can't help thinking that this is something that we do to ourselves, because as a society we don't value running around aimlessly and pointlessly like small children. We don't value doing things for fun. And when I say "we", I especially mean writers, and I especially mean writing. The feeling of dread we get when we look at a blank page and wonder how we dare think we can improve on it, the feeling of inadequacy we get when we look at those skill and artistry we admire... that's the hurricane we reap when we sow the seeds of doubt in the direction of people who write for fun without investing the same level of work into it, at the unskilled and untrained and untried, or even the undeservingly successful.

Writing is writing. I'm not saying there isn't such a thing as writing that is better than other writing (though I will say that there are "multiple betters", in the same way that there are multiple intelligences, and that our ideas of what constitute "better" are going to be biased in all the same ways that we are), but I am saying that our response to the people who drabble out bits of fanfic or who can really only write dialogues or sketch out a story in the broadest terms... it shouldn't be, "They'll never be a writer." but "Well, at least they're writing."

I know some writers who fret about anything that makes writing seem like something anyone can do, as they see it as a threat to their livelihood. I'm not aware of any instance of someone taking up jogging in the morning and then deciding that the Olympics are a load of B.S. after a week, though. This isn't about devaluing good writing as a product, but valuing the act of writing as an act worth doing in and of itself.

Or more generally, it's about valuing the act of doing anything for fun or for its own sake... about valuing the act of doing.

I don't think we can be a people who really admire good writers and good writing if we aren't a people who love the act of writing itself. I'm not saying that it's impossible for someone who never writes to appreciate the written word, or that it's impossible for someone who deplores amateur writing to honestly appreciate professional writing.

What I'm saying is that if one has, say, a nation of three hundred million people and one wants as many of those people as possible to have a positive love affair with the written word, then it behooves one to celebrate (or at least not disdain) the engagement of those people with the written word. I'm saying that people will love writing more enthusiastically if they are able to celebrate it with a childlike sense of glee.

And if you are yourself a writer, or someone who wants to write, or someone who likes to write even if you don't think of yourself as particularly good at it: remember when you were a child. Remember when you did something with abandon. Remember a time when you were able to cut loose and let go and act without restraint... and then do that, on an empty page.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I have two hours of writing under my belt for today and 2,400 words to show for it. I started writing what's either one or two new erotica stories. I say "one or two" because I started with one story idea but now I'm not sure that the set-up I wrote goes with the action. It might either be thrown out, or grow into something else.

The part I'm definitely keeping is an expansion of my flash story "The Quick Brown Fox", which is something I've meant to do since I wrote it. In fact, as a vignette that revolves around the sudden and mysterious appearance of a naked woman, it was meant to be erotica before it was meant to be a flash story. The fact that I write a series with "adult" elements and am somewhat notorious for my stance that "porn" is not the opposite of "plot", erotica has long been one of the more difficult things in the world for me to actually sit down and write. That's one of the reasons I've been writing so much of it lately.

I've long taken the stance that writer's block--not the state of not knowing what to write but the maddening state of being unable to write for no real reason--is pretty much a matter of inhibitions. I've gone on record as saying that being a writer requires the arrogance to look at a blank page and say "I can do better than that." But you know, I'm starting to come around to the idea that arrogance isn't the only approach that works. One can look at the same blank page and say "It doesn't matter if I do better as long as I do something." or "I can make this mine."

And in the long run, I think that's the better way to go. I mean, it's okay to keep a critical eye towards your own work once it's out and done. You can always improve a story after it's written, but you can't edit what doesn't exist. You can't even really give it a fair appraisal. And if you're taking a too critical approach to your own work, you end up never doing anything with it. Ultimately that's the thing that keeps me from doing more with more of my work... why I've never put anything up on Smashwords, for instance, or any of the other online stores beyond Amazon, the one I first dipped my toes into. Why I keep stalling out when it comes to collecting the Tales of MU chapters into books.

I avoid talking about the quality of writing as an absolute, not because I think there is no such thing as a difference in quality but because I think it's overemphasized in our society to the point that matters of style and taste are taken as markers of something objective. But I think when it comes to sexually-charged writing, the Dunning-Kruger effect applies doubly. People who are confident and competent writers are more apt to be aware of the pitfalls of writing about sex, and people who would otherwise have little confidence in their writing abilities end up gauging their success by how hot they make themselves writing about things that turn them on. Some of the stuff I'm writing as warm-ups these days undoubtedly falls more into the "good only in the sense that it hits my buttons" way, but getting that stuff done and out of the way still helps. It's not all completely self-indulgent, either, and there is money in good erotica.

Coming up this afternoon I'm going to be kind of easing my way from writing random erotica to writing Tales of MU by writing some "mature" MUniverse stories. Like the quick fox story, this is something I have long been planning on doing... it's something I know there's a market for and I know where the market is, so it's pretty much a no-brainer... but sitting down and actually writing it has always just resulted in a serious case of Blank Page Syndrome. I'll keep you posted on how it goes today.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I'm in favor of authors owning their digital rights to new works, and of taking charge of one's back catalogue of things where the rights have lapsed to them. Digital publishing lets you turn those works into a revenue stream and keep them accessible to new readers.

But what about those "odd" pieces that don't really fit in anywhere? Maybe you write poetry but not frequently enough to sell a collection. Maybe you like to write vignettes or character studies or short-short fiction, but again, without enough works with the same medium or motif to form a collection.

I have some thoughts in this area, and I'm interested in hearing what others think.

One of my first impulses is to say that these make good freebies... things to give away to maybe snag on passersby and get them interested in your work, get your name in their head. If you have enough pieces that don't fit anywhere else you could make them into omnibus that's unified only by the author, try to curate them into some sort of shape or order. If you produce a steady enough stream of odds and ends, they could be "syndicated" as a blog. Fantasy In Miniature is something of an attempt to do this, with varying levels of success.

But talking about this with others has led me to another thought: the chapbook. This term gets used in a few overlapping ways in modern publishing, but the basic idea is a small, inexpensive booklet. The original chapbooks were "ephemera" - the category of media that is assumed to be used and disposed of, like periodicals. (For this reason, they can also be serious collectors' items.) My friend Google tells me that there are several print-on-demand companies that specialize in producing latter-day chapbooks, but that strikes me as somewhat wasteful and inefficient. In a digital age, it seems like ephemera should be digital.

As I write this, it strikes me that "bits of ephemera" is not a bad way to describe the odds and ends of an author's output, the things that never found a permanent place to land.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. Anyone else have any to share, or any relevant experiences?
alexandraerin: (Jammy Dodgers)
So, my Informal Internet Straw Poll (i.e., me looking at my flists) tells me that a number of people who hated "Let's Kill Hitler" loved "Night Terrors". It's pretty easy to see why. I have more nice things to say about LKH than most people seem to, but its flaws are pretty gaping, and "Night Terrors" is... well, Mark Gatiss can write, but this is a great episode even for him.

I think one of the reasons I have enjoyed the current series of Doctor Who more than many of my peers seem to is because I take it to heart that I am watching a generally shoddy show, made out of fishing wire and duct tape and held together by a sonic screwdriver and wishing really hard.

I see the same basic sentiment being thrown around multiple places: "Just because it's a kids/family show doesn't mean we shouldn't demand some level of narrative coherence/quality from it.", and I don't disagree that an all-ages show can deliver that... I'm just not sure how it's relevant to this show, where the narrative is propped up and patched up using the same sort of spackle that props up the special effects, the science, and the history.

And it's always been like that. It takes a serious level of nostalgia filter to pretend otherwise. There was some great writing in Classic Who (they couldn't help it, they had some great writers) but there is some great writing in the current series. The best description for the overall quality is "wibbly-wobbly", both because it's pretty uneven and because it tends to rely on the same handwavy/don't-question-just-nod stuff that the fake science does.

And this is no astonishing coincidence because the fake science is being written by the same people as the narrative, with the same goals: to move the story forward to a predetermined point, to sound plausible or agreeable enough to keep the audience there, and to look/sound cool.

Nobody's trying to write Shakespeare, folks.

Although I'm not sure why Shakespeare would be the go-to example for narrative coherence, rather than being the example for clever one-liners and witty banter and throwing in cool shit to keep the audience interested... okay, maybe they are writing Shakespeare.

Gareth Roberts certainly did so.

But I digress*. The point is that the most despised episodes have some great writing in them. And the best-loved episodes depend on narrative leaps and willing suspension of disbelief, not so much of the "Let's pretend phone box time travel is real." variety but of the "Let's overlook the plotholes because the Doctor ran and shouted some stuff."

(Classic Who tended to rely more on staid declamation than New Who does, but the principle was the same.)

Maybe some of the complaints about narrative coherence are being made from a standpoint of maturing sensibilities... i.e., people who realize that it's always been this way but who think it could/should be better... but a lot of it reminds me of the phenomenon of Simpsons viewers who only really notice the "where Springfield really is" running jokes for the first time in some later-day episode and then fixate on the point where they noticed it as if it's particularly significant, believing they've unraveled the mystery.

I don't think it's random where people notice the "narrative fail" for the first time. For some people it was tied to the departure of a favored actor. The show only works as long as we're willing to make it work, after all, and if you loved Ten/nant, that's half the job done. For some people it's tied to episodes that disappoint in other ways. It doesn't change my opinion of the show, but I'm certainly more aware of the narrative problems in episodes that are something of a let-down to me.

(Notably "Day of the Moon" and "Let's Kill Hitler"... "Curse of the Black Spot" being a rare example of an episode I otherwise loved where the narrative problems were so prominent that I couldn't help downgrading the episode over them.)

My point here isn't that we shouldn't critique the narrative. I do have a part 2 post of my review of "Let's Kill Hitler" focusing on some of the problems inherent in the character of Mels and her use (term chosen very deliberately) in the narrative. But on some levels, picking apart the narrative of a Doctor Who story is like picking apart the science: sure, you can pull apart a ball of fluff, but all that proves is it was made of fluff. If you want to make a point about the particular type of fluff in this ball compared to that ball, well and good, but if your point is to show that it's not the sort of material you'd build a bridge out of or use to armor-plate a tank I'm not sure why you'd start with fluff.

Even that isn't really my point, though, it's preamble to my point... which is that if we were to round up a list of the most disappointing episodes, the most hated and generally-agreed-to-be-low-quality episodes, we'd probably end up with a lot of season finales on that list. And a lot of the resolutions to "epic two-parters". And comparatively few monster-of-the-week/magical-adventures-in-space episodes.

Not saying there haven't been some stinkers in the latter category. I don't think I've ever encountered anyone who liked "Fear Her", and a lot of people are less conflicted about "Curse of the Black Spot" than I am, with good reason. But how many of the finales have there been that anyone would call an out-of-the-park home run? I'm tempted to say "The Big Bang" because it's my favorite, but I'm afraid that's my bias talking. My suspicion is that if there were a fandom wide survey where everyone picked the worst season-ender, "Parting of the Ways" would end up reigning as the least hated one, but it would probably have a hard time winning any survey phrased as "pick the best". I can't imagine it being anyone's favorites. There's nothing special about it. It didn't try as hard as everything that came after, so it didn't fail as hard.

So here's my Immodest Proposal:

What if it were all magical adventures in space? What if it were all running around and sexy fish vampires? What if it were monsters for breakfast, lunch, and tea?

Would anybody really mind if the myth arcs were relegated to the realm of the occasional references and incidental plot advancements that happen along the way instead of 90% of them being crammed into Event!Episodes that never quite manage to deliver on their promises?

I mean, how many people loved River Song the ongoing enigma, the Special Guest Character whose "plot" advances only by winks and nods but whose real point as a character is the character rather than the story... and also hate River Song The Storyline, as revealed in the current series of Doctor Who? I think this is a fandom that relishes apocrypha more than apocalypse, and the show is certainly better at handling the former than it is the latter.

And that's not at all surprising. The most recent episodeminor spoilers ) aside, the phenomenon of The Very Scary Door (that whatever is behind the door can't possibly be as scary to the general audience as the scary door itself) is hard to get away from. The same principle applies to interesting enigmas, like the Doctor's personal history or the nature of life, the universe, and everything. It's hard to make the answer as intriguing as the question.

I'm not saying ditch the mythology completely. Look at Neil Gaiman's "The Doctor's Wife". Look at how much that one-off episode managed to add to the tapestry of the Whoniverse, to the history and character of the Doctor and his one and only Constant Companion. And that's basically how it went in the old days. Oh, they had myth arcs. They had an entire series that was a single serial. There was the (thankfully) aborted "Cartmel masterplan". But mostly they got by on winks and nods, in-jokes and dangling threads for other writers to pick up.

Things like the bizarre, fanon-like excesses of the Cartmel masterplan, the way the mopiness over Rose colored all of David Tennant's run, and the progression of increasingly over-the-top season finales... they all demonstrate what happens when the show puts an ongoing narrative about the Doctor over the immediacy of telling a good story with the Doctor in it.

Refocusing the show on the monster-of-the-week/magical-adventures-in-space wouldn't turn every episode into "The Doctor's Wife" or "Night Terrors" (if only because not every writer would be Neil Gaiman or Mark Gatiss). It wouldn't fix the issues leading to the egregious misuse of Freema Agyeman and Nina Toussaint-White in roles that are treated as placeholders by the writers. It wouldn't answer the critiques of Moffat's writing of female characters. It wouldn't fix everything that's wrong with the show, and it certainly wouldn't elevate its overall writing above that of a (sometimes brilliant) pulp novel, strip-a-day adventure comic, or film serial.

But it would recontextualize that kind of cracky, wibbly-wobbly, wildly varying writing in a way that would make the ongoing lack of coherence less noticeable and less important.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Aaaargh. I have a distinct memory of having written up a description of Eloise Desjardins's background, originally as a blog post but then I ended up not posting it because I thought it would make a good Random MU Bit for the newsletter... then the newsletter was delayed and delayed and now here I am set to work it into the story and I can't remember some of the names I'd come up with because I didn't save the text anywhere, I just figured I'd type it up again for the newsletter.

If I were just throwing names onto places I could just do that again, but as is often the case there are important parallels referenced in the etymology involved. So it's back to the net to try to work my way backwards from the real-world things I'm referencing and try to find, if not the exact names that I came up with before, then ones that work well enough.
alexandraerin: (Default)
As part of getting the logjam in my head unjammed, I spent a lot of time yesterday and today just writing whatever came into my head. It's a useful technique for getting past writer's block (and writer's overwhelming sense of self-doubt, a much more common and worrisome problem than writer's block), especially as it sometimes turns out usable stuff.

In my case, I got about 6,200 words of Star Harbor Nights stories in the past two days that I'm pretty pleased with. I've been planning on revisiting the Harborverse towards the end of this summer, but... well, plans, you know? Of all my plans that got derailed this month, my plan to not write new Star Harbor stuff right now is one I'm okay with failing.

Unfortunately those 6,200 words don't add up to anything finished, because they make up parts of two different things. But they're a good start on those things. The first one... what I wrote yesterday, when I was just basically spitballing, is part of a series of ~1,000 word vignettes that are meant to form a combination teaser/introduction/refresher for the Harborverse. It's a sort of round-robin mosaic story designed to get people up to speed. As with Tales of MU, I'm employing a bit of a time jump to give myself a cleaner slate for writing on (and allowing both old and new readers an easier starting point, given how much real world time has passed), so the vignettes will hopefully help people get the lay of the land.

It's a good reintroduction for me, too, since I haven't written much in that universe for almost two years now.

After that preliminary story, I'm going to be working in a very different format. Star Harbor Nights started off using a chapter/sub-chapter structure... six sequential or closely related stories forming a chapter. Given the sprawling nature of the setting and the expansive cast (SHN being my attempts to tell stories within the equivalent of a decades-old comic book universe), having this structure helped. But it also had its problems, so I abandoned it and then came back to it a few times.

I think ultimately the fact is that a completely open-ended serial is just a bad choice here. With no one main character and no single narrow setting to focus on, that's just too much openness. So the resurrected Star Harbor Nights is going to be more focused and self-contained. Sort of. I'm not permanently anointing one character or team as the main character, or focusing exclusively on one of the cities, or anything like that.

Instead, I'm going to be writing stories in what I'm calling an "episodic" format. I don't mean that in relationship to each other... one following another. I mean I'm going to be writing them in a format that somewhat mimics the act structure of an episode of a TV show. A brief scene to set things up (the before the credits teaser scene), threeish acts of things building, climaxing, and concluding, and then a brief after-the-last-break wrap-up. A more deliberately structured version of the chapter/sub-chapter thing, with the whole chapter being released all at once.

The individual episodes will fit into a larger "season" with a definite beginning and end. This way I can mix an ongoing story that builds through the episodes with one shots and side stories. I'm borrowing quite a lot from how TV shows that follow a mix of monster/villain/problem-of-the-week with a "myth arc" that builds through multiple episodes in how I approach this.

To extend the TV metaphor further, right now I've commissioned a pilot and if it works I'll put in an order with myself for a seven episode season. Start small and build, right? If it works I'll order more episodes.

I'm finding this approach has a lot of advantages. Like when I was writing the pilot episode (title: "MISRULE"), I realized that a scene with Clever Claire doing her own investigation didn't fit with the rest of the episode. It involves the same events and would be happening at the same time, but it has a very different tone and takes away from the rest. If I were doing this my old classic "fire-and-forget" serial posting style, I'd just be posting snippets with Claire in between the others and then the whole thing would get away from me because I'd be trying to tell two very different stories on top of each other. Now I can see how it doesn't fit and excise that scene... to put in its own Claire-centric episode later on, probably showing other events from throughout the season from her viewpoint.

Doing things this way is a little more demanding, but it's also pretty rewarding. It also makes it a lot easier to tell a superhero story the way I tend to tell it, with dialogue used more frequently than action. And just as a note of clarification because I know somebody will ask this if I don't specify, these will still be prose stories... I'm not going to be writing them in script format or dropping in gratuitous stage directions.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, today I sat down and wrote 4,000 words. (That's two Stephen Kings). It wasn't the Tales of MU chapter I've been stuck on... but that's the point, I was getting myself unstuck. The only part of it that's ready for public consumption is a new flash story on Fantasy in Miniature. The rest was groundwork for Star Harbor Nights relaunch. The point is that I wrote, and it felt good.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Got a question on my Twitter the other day, in response (I believe) to one of my "prepping" tweets:

I have several "rituals" I do before sitting down to write; these help my subconscious muse get ready. What is your process?


Well, to answer that: I don't have a lot of "rituals", per se. My habits are too protean in nature... I acquire them quickly and drop them just as quickly.

But here's what I generally do. If I get up earlyish (between 7 and 9), I spend some time in the morning checking all the websites I would be wont to check during the day... comics, Cracked, blogs, etc. If I run out of stuff to do but it's still not time to "clock in" and write (I like to start things on the hour or failing that the half hour, because it makes it easy to keep track of stuff) then I might blog or I might put on something relaxing and just lean back for a while.

Then when it's time to get to work, I... do nothing for an hour.

This is what I call "prep time". Prep time might be spent brainstorming, it might be spent basically clearing my mind, it might be spent imagining in minute detail the conversation or narration I'm going to write. It all depends on which way the wind is blowing in my head... if I have ideas coming hot and fast a million miles a minute, I need the prep time to explore that so that when I sit down to write I can focus, and that's when I brainstorm. If I have other things on my mind, I need to clear it. When the stars are perfectly aligned and all my neurons are lining up to complete their appointed tasks, then I spend an hour thinking about what I'm going to write in my first hour of work... because I've found the results of doing that are better than sitting down and writing for two hours straight.

After prep time, I write for an hour. My writing posture would probably make some people giggle. I recline my chair and put my feet up on a footstool, and put the keyboard (and sometimes the mouse) on a lapdesk. I usually put on my headphones when I'm writing. What I listen to is going to be one of the following:

1. A single song on repeat. (Right now that's most likely going to be "Rolling In The Deep" by Adele, but I go through phases.)
2. Relaxation/meditation music, often with masked binaural effects or alleged subliminal messages. Placebo effect or not, I like these things.
3. Unmasked binaural tones. Again, maybe it's the placebo effect but they work for me... and they're also great for blocking out outside noises.

During my prep time I may be at my computer in this position and listening to similar music, or I may be lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, or I may be up moving around, usually fidgeting with something or throwing and catching it. Sometimes my brain works best when my body is being distracted. Sometimes I take a bath during prep. The important thing is that I find something that works for my state of mind, whatever it is at the moment. Trying to do the same thing all the time doesn't work.

Often during one prep period (this one, today) I just take a break completely and piddle around on the internet, blog, have lunch, etc. Sometimes when my "break" is over I find that I'm ready to sit down and start writing immediately, other times I find I need a proper prep period. A lot of the time it's the former case... when I'm on a roll even if I'm turning my conscious attention to other things bits of story still flash behind my eyes.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, in the most recent chapter of Tales of MU, I put some mouseover text and links to help explain some of the references. The use of the term "Universal Temple" has caused confusion before... the reference feels obvious to me, being 1) an adult child of what was a Catholic family and 2) an etymology nerd, but some people have thought it was a reference to something like the Universalist Unitarians, and other people seemed to take it as a sign that the worship of Khersis was absolutely monolithic and unified... if there's a Universal sect, how can there be any others? So I linked the mention of the Universal Temple to the dictionary definition of "catholic", just to clear it up.

Then near the end when I got to the geography lesson... something I put in specifically due to multiple readers' requests... I was feeling particularly pleased with the double-layered reference in the name of the Ardan Sea (Mediterranean Sea ~= Sea of Middle Earth ~= Sea of Arda), and so instead of linking to or explaining the reference I added mouseover text challenging someone to do so in comments.

What followed was... baffling, and kind of frustrating. Most of the readers who responded to the challenge seemed to miss that it was a sea at all, acting like the nature of this geographical feature was completely unspecified and they had nothing to go on but the name. I had to go back and check to make sure the word "sea" didn't get dropped out of the story somehow. It didn't. It wasn't right next to the word "Ardan", but the sentence was pretty clearly specifying that the thing Hart had just named and was drawing was a sea. I could see someone skimming the story missing that, but these were people who accepted the challenge and were trying to solve it. It didn't make sense to me that they'd overlook that clue.

Also, some of the people who were trying to solve the riddle seemed to miss other details of that paragraph. Again, I wouldn't expect everyone to pick up all the details, but I would have expected someone who was engaged with the riddle to do so.

It was almost like the people most interested in the riddle where paying the least attention...

And that's where I think I made the mistake: by attaching the riddle to that one word, I ended up taking them out of the flow of the story, or at least the immediate paragraph. The indentification of the Ardan as a sea happens on the same line of text where it's named, but by that point they already have a goal besides simply taking the story in.

My other uses of hypertext were intended to further the understanding of the story; this one had a different purpose, and it ended up lessening that understanding.

So the lesson here isn't so much "Don't issue riddles or challenges," because I think the fact that so many people were so distracted by it shows that it's something that can be enjoyable. The lesson is to not interrupt the story to do so, even in such an unobtrusive way. Better to put the challenge at the end of the story, as I have occasionally done in the past.

That little stumbling block aside, I'm pretty happy with how the chapter came out. As I explained in comments, it's a happy accident that this chapter came about... I wasn't able to fit some essential information into the preceding chapter due to my heat exhaustion, and so I decided to spend another chapter on the class and fill it with reader-suggested questions to make it worth another chapter. I don't believe there's anything I can do that will make everyone happy, but if I want to do something as a treat for the most readers at once then some extended class time is a pretty good bet. Adding the audience participation just sweetens the pot.

Musings.

Apr. 28th, 2011 01:32 pm
alexandraerin: (Default)
I'm really glad I decided not to push myself for three chapters this week. As things stand chapter 10 is not jelling as easily as some of the past chapters (for instance, the ones with Callahan) have. One of the reasons I liked having a cushion of written-ahead material is the ability to step back and look at it and see what's working great and what's not working so well. The problem with doing that on a three-times-a-week schedule is that it quickly erodes the cushion.

Anyway, as I consider the problems of this chapter I'm considering experimenting with viewpoint a little bit more; giving some chapters a short introduction that is either third person omniscient or a fragment of an in-universe source. The latter would probably be more interesting but the former is more flexible. For instance, the information I want to convey about "the Arch" at the start of the chapter could be rewritten to be more of a guidebook style instead of trying to convey it exclusively through Mackenzie's impressions. Ah, well, on the subject of flexibility there's no reason I'd have to limit myself exclusively to guidebook or narrator.

I don't think I'm going to jump into that with this chapter, though... conversation is probably a better solution there. Mackenzie herself can stand as the guide as she's already been there and her friends haven't. That way, not all the insights on elven and dwarven and other culture that I want to work in have to come from her. If I put Hazel in the scene I can have a secondhand source for dwarven stuff, and actually get her "on camera" since she's been talked about so much. That will also give me a way to anchor Two into the conversation... mentally, she's "there" in the scene but as she hasn't contributed to the conversation at all she might as well not be.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, originally the chapter that just went up was to cover one of Mackenzie's classes in about 1,000 words. Well, no originally it was going to be mostly one of her classes, but then I decided that the story shouldn't focus equally on each of her classes... the spellbinding for enchantment class is the most important one of the day for her, it's the one that's most central to her major and her plans, and it gives her the most cool shit that she can play with. So it got a full chapter of in-class stuff, plus a good portion of this one.

But then I came up with a really awesome idea. So I've dumped the class that Mackenzie would have had... it would have filled a similar narrative role to her logic class in the previous volume... she goes there, sometimes there's some info on what she's doing, but it was never terribly important except as a way to make her path intersect with Sooni's. In point of fact, I cycled through three very different and separate ideas for what her second class of the day would have been. But all of them had the same problem of not being very gripping.

Here is the problem as I saw it: in order to keep things moving at all, Mackenzie cannot be absorbed by all of her classes. She needs classes she cares about and classes that she shows up for.

But at some point last week when I was working on this chapter, I hit upon the seed of an idea for how to make the "filler" class interesting to the readers, if not Mackenzie. The fact that she's not passionately invested in the subject material means that the narrative can gloss over it when it needs to, but I'll still be able to work in interesting tidbits when the narrative touches on it, and it allows me to bring back a well-regarded character who might otherwise fade into obscurity.

To make a long story short*, the chapter that I write for Wednesday is something that was completely unplanned. I just had an idea that I thought was too compelling to be ignored. I think a lot of the readers will agree when they read it.

Of course, with all of these decisions taken in total, Mackenzie's first day back in class has already grown by at least one chapter compared to my initial outline for it, which hearkens back to what I said in the comments on chapter one of the new volume, when asked the question: "Will we have a more even flow of time in the sophomore year?"

My response to that was:


That’s the plan.
It was also the plan for volume I.
Draw your own conclusions about the future freely.


Pacing and plotting-wise, my only really specific goal for Volume 2 is that it's always going to be going somewhere. I'm always going to be writing towards something. As I've said before, there are limits to how fast I can make this go. Even if at a three-chapters-a-week pace, it would take half a month to get through two days of classes if I gave each class its own chapter (Callahan, of course, would be double-dipping because her class would meet both days).

So maybe an "even pace" is not a phrase I should embrace. What I meant when I said "That's the plan." is specifically that I wasn't planning on spending four years of real time to write the story of about two months' worth of story time and then skip ahead ten months.

What I'm aiming for, rather, is an appropriately flexible pace. A weekend will take a dozen chapters if it warrants it, or it might be skipped over with a sentence or two if that's what it warrants.
alexandraerin: (Default)
The more I think about the way I approach storytelling, the more I see a parallel between the way I write and the way my father (who likes to respond to discussion of gimmicky investment strategies with lines like, "So we've found something that works better than 'Buy low, sell high', then?") does his business.

The goal here is to tell an interesting story. You want to keep the audience engaged, you want to keep them coming back (in a venture like mine)... you want to keep them interested, so you want the story to be interesting.

There are tools that people have formulated for doing this, but these tools by themselves don't make the story interesting, and a story can be interesting in the absence of them.

I mean, nobody ever says, "You know what I'd love to read? A drama in five acts. Four would not be enough parts to adequately attract, sustain, and resolve my interest. Six would be a bit too much. Seven would just be right out. Yeah, a story with a dramatic arc that precisely encompasses exposition, rising action, a climax, falling action, and a denouement is exactly what I need right now."

People have put a book aside because it failed to keep them interested, but it takes a very rare and specialized breed of academically-minded reader to put a book aside saying, "Ugh! What was the writer thinking? This book doesn't have nearly enough motifs!"

I will admit there have likely been more people who've given up on a story because of a lack of conflict. Part of that is a matter of simple taste. Part of it is that in the absence of conflict there must be something else to keep the reader interested, and conflict is one of the easiest and most obvious ways to accomplish that. But I believe that part of it is that we have been trained, both implicitly and explicitly, to believe that story is drama is conflict.

These things can be valid analytical tools. They can be valid writing tools. But at the end of the day, the goal is to make the story interesting, not to make it a five-part dramatic arc or to give it enough conflict or sufficient themes.

Tell an interesting story. Build it around a five-act structure or a central motif or a protagonist/antagonist dynamic if you want to, if you need to, and/or if it fits. Just don't make mistake the tools that are available for the goal.




Okay, I'm turning off comments on this one. I don't know who linked to this or where, but I've gotten three asshole comments already and only one is from someone I recognize.

Everybody who's getting ticked off by this post? If you literally judge books by counting motifs, with a straightforward thought process of "more motifs = better", then I apologize for doubting your existence and impugning your tastes.

On the other hand, if you just fancy yourself the sort of person who enjoys a complex book with thematic elements but you do not, in fact, rate your reading material by counting discrete dramatic acts and number of motifs, then relax... I did not actually insert a random two-paragraph strawman attack on you hyperbolically comparing your tastes to someone doing such arithmetic in the middle of this post.

Read it again with that understanding and see if you get it now.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, one of my favorite commenters in the whole world dropped by the latest chapter of Tales of MU to let me know that he thinks I'm doing a good job in fleshing things out but he's concerned about the lack of clear antagonists.

Because, you see, you need to have an antagonist to have conflict and you need conflict to have drama and you need drama to have story and you need story to keep people interested. Right? I mean, those are the rules. I didn't make them up. That's just how things are. Right?

...

Okay, let me back this truck up a bit. You see that word up there, "drama"? I used it in the preceding paragraph. The word "drama"... like most words... has a bunchload of different meanings, but all these ideas about storytelling conventions, these rules of thumb that we more or less rely upon... they come from "drama" as a medium or genre of storytelling. That's what I'm talking about here, and there are two things that must be said about it:

1. Drama is important. Very important. Its importance to the development of western literature... of western civilization... cannot be overemphasized and should not be underestimated.

2. It is not the be-all or end-all of storytelling.

That whole "five act structure" thing that if you've had enough literature-related education someone at some point in your life has probably told you all stories follow, or should follow? It was created as a tool for analyzing certain kinds of drama. It can be useful tool for constructing a drama. It's not a necessary prerequisite for telling a story. It's a way of helping to make your drama is interesting, but it's not required for interest.

And not all stories are dramas. For some stories, the five part dramatic arc is just downright cumbersome, if not inappropriate.

The essence of story is not conflict. The essence of drama may be conflict, but the essence of story is ...and then something happened. To be a good story, the events have to be of interest to the reader. The interest can come from drama, yes, but this interest can be rooted in another emotion besides those inspired by conflict and/or suspense. It can be rooted in identification with a character or the events. It can be rooted in humor.

Four years of telling the story of Mackenzie has given a pretty good idea what readers are interested in. I don't think introducing a "villain" to the story in the next three chapters could do more to draw readers in and fire up their excitement than the chapters will already excite all by themselves: a chapter about magic, a chapter about the world, and a chapter with Callahan.

This is where I think our over-reliance on the strictures of structure has misled us, as artists and as audiences. The Harry Potter series told a story about love triumphing over hate, mature embrace of life triumphing over destructive fear of death, etc., but what drew readers in from the start is OMG THE WORLD IS MAGIC AND THERE ARE HIDDEN WIZARDS AND A SCHOOL OF MAGIC.

That's what was interesting, in book 1. That's what got people coming back from book 2. Not to see what happens next with Voldemort, or what villain would take his place if his defeat proved to be permanent... to see what Harry's second year at Hogwarts would be like, what it would bring. Not what puzzle pieces would be slotted into a dramatic structure, what magical things he would learn and do and what insights into the magical world he lived in we would get as readers. Over time the focus shifted more and more to The Conflict, of course, but the early days of the series shows that The Conflict need not be the essential hook of a compelling story.

And the web shows us the same thing, too. Look at how many webcomics with an ongoing story keep people coming back without a clear antagonist. Questionable Content and Girls With Slingshots are two in my mostly-remember-to-check-daily list that fit that. Sure, both strips might be classified as being plot-light or mostly gag-a-day style, but that doesn't weaken my point... it illustrates it.

Humor can keep you coming back. Pathos without external conflict (i.e., people's emotional problems) can keep you coming back. This is a very general "you"... anybody could reply to this saying, "Humor doesn't do it for me without _______." or "Plots based around emotional issues just drive me away." These things aren't universals. Few stories will "work" for everyone.

And that's where and why and how the rules of thumb for drama have come to be seen as the essentials of storytelling... traditional publishing demands works with broad (if not universal) appeal in order to have a chance of paying off, so it expects authors to play it safe with accepted and familiar formulas. A little innovation is good, yes. A little subversion now and then helps you stand out. A little, but not too much.

But those aren't the only stories worth telling, or worth reading. The common denominators (no value judgment as to whether they are high or low) of the mass market are not the only tastes worth appealing to or the only needs worth fulfilling.

And at the end of the day, I would rather be read by people who take my characters as they are than ones who try to shove them into boxes marked "prot" and "ant" and who can only make sense of their actions and motivations and reasons for being in the story in the first place based on something they learned in a high school lit class or from a page on TVTropes.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Okay! Wow, what a day. Even though I modified my immediate goal for the day in terms of chapterage, I still finished in the exact same neck of the woods I'd initially aimed for in terms of word count. I got like 5,000 words of Chapter 4. (I'm guessing the stuff I'm holding back from the public draft are around 200 words) I've got 500ish words of a future encounter that will be worked in somewhere else in this story-week.

I've got 1,400 words of Chapter 5, and boy, did writing those words ever help confirm for me that the slowness in starting Chapter 4 was about negotiating the curves. They flowed. They flew. I am going to have no problem finishing that chapter, I can tell you.

Good day. Productive day. I'm thinking that Chapter 4 can still use another coat of polish, so what I will probably do is wake up tomorrow, look at it with fresh eyes, and hammer out a few bits before I post it. Right now it's very much a chapter of "and then stuff happened". I'm not opposed to "and then stuff happened". I'm a big fan of stuff and happenings, as anyone who reads MU regularly knows. But I want to make the important bits pop a bit more.

To take the "curve" metaphor in a different direction, the first three chapters are the cha-klunk-cha-klunk-cha-klunk up the first big hill of the roller coaster. It's a slow, steady climb and it might not be the most exciting thing but it gives you a nice view and anyway there's no getting around the necessity of it. Chapter four is when it's just cresting the top.

Which is to say, it's all downhill from here...
alexandraerin: (Bovvered)
So, I am getting the feeling as I'm writing today that I'm not going to quite recapture the magic of the past few times I've sat down to write Tales of MU... i.e., I'm not going to end up with two chapters worth of good text. I have a good start in terms of momentum and I can build on that and I could probably finish the day with about 7-8 thousand words, but.... that wouldn't give me two good chapters.

Looking at the 1,300 words I have so far, it's obvious to me that for the rest of my workday I'm going to need to take a more reflective, more considered approach to the material. I'm going to be need to be shaping as much as I'm producing. One really good chapter is within my reach, if I give up the goal of writing two chapters.

So my bold plan to be done writing Tales of MU for the week today will probably not come to pass. But here's where things work out nicely: this leaves me to find one day in the next three to write the next chapter with the same care, if it needs that care. And if it doesn't, I'll finish off the week with a head start on next week again. If it does, I'll be writing Monday's chapter on Monday. Not like I haven't done that before.

I'm not actually modifying my overall plans. I'm not giving up on the idea that days will come... and come with reliable frequency... where I can sit down and write two good-sized chapters' worth of good story at a good clip. But the thing is I need to let them happen, to be ready for them to happen, to make room in my life and my mind for them to happen, and to be ready for when they don't.

Like when I'm writing my Fantasy in Miniature stories... I'm no longer counting on the idea that I'll be able to write one every day. I'm giving one day a week to write as many as will come. So far (that is, twice) it's been more than a week's worth each time, but I'm not counting on that. I'm counting on the times when it is to make up for the times that it's not. If every time I sit down to write Fantasy in Miniature, I sit down and write as many of them as I can instead of aiming for a quota, I'll never suffer for having an off day/week.

Same thing with MU. I have faith that the good days will get me through the decent and even bad days. This isn't a bad day. It could turn into one if I tried to force it to be a good one when it's got the makings of a decent day.

When I look at what I've written already, if I were to think, "Maaaaaaaan, I need to write another 5,000-6,000 on top of this in the next six hours", I'd be... well, either disheartened or frantic. Looking at it and thinking, "I have 6 hours to build on this and polish it and turn it into a finished chapter.", I can see I'm standing on much firmer ground.

The key is that I'm not stressed by this. I'm not anxious. I'm not bothered by it. In the past week and change, I've been coupling my prep periods with exercises in slow, deep, abdominal breathing (thank you, Cracked.com, for letting me know I was doing that wrong) and the results have been phenomenal in helping my control my anxiety, focus better, and exercise self-control in general. It turns everything I do into a much more deliberate act. I don't remember to do it all the time outside of work, but during my writing workdays it's now part of my routine.

I think a good metaphor here for why this is going to be a decent day rather than a good one is that you have to go slow around curves to avoid crashing. The first three chapters were a very straight line progression. Now I'm writing a transitional chapter, Sunday into Monday. Weekend into week. Summer break (for those who had one) into class sessions. At the same time I'm trying to reintroduce old faces and introduce new concepts. It's a very windy road, compared to the past three chapters, and it requires more care to navigate.

The chapters that follow are going to be going back to a linear progression. Class, class, class. New concepts will be introduced (New classes! It's going to be fun.), but I'm going to have the room I need to do it in.

And to close up this ramble: I've just realized that I am mentally doing one suboptimal thing here, and that is that when I adjusted my goal to be to get a really good chapter for Wednesday I did set a quota to hit. My mind put a firm, bright line over starting Friday's chapter. That's the equivalent of saying I'll write five flash stories in my weekly flash writing day because I only need five stories a week. It's entirely possible I'll finish up the day with a head start on Friday's chapter. That's not the goal but it's easily possible, and I'm going to leave myself open to the possibility.

Edit/Update:

I wrote this post in the midst of my second reflectioningary period of the day. I'm now in my third and I've just made the decision to take the part about the thing that's mildly spoilery ) and cut it out, to hold it back for later on. I think this chapter will be better and the chapter that eventually happens in will be better for it, even though the events I'm cutting only arose in the first place because I was thinking back to the parallel scene from last year and trying to make a comparison. Even though the real-world reason I added that bit won't apply any more, it still will make good story when it happens.

Basically, there's more than enough looking backwards in the first half of this chapter. By the time we get to Monday morning, it needs to be looking ahead. This is the sort of thing that taking a more reflective approach to shaping a chapter and working on the story as more than a single unit at a time allows me to do.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Well, I think I made the right call in rearranging stuff. It's not yet 3 in the afternoon and I've got flash stories written for the rest of the week. I'm not done writing, but it's very invigorating to know that anything I write in the next three hours or so is padding for next week. On the other hand if I'd stuck with my initial determination to finish the week's main MU writing today, I'd be "at work" until eight or nine o'clock tonight so instead of feeling a profound sense of accomplishment I'd probably be a little stressed right now.

I'd also have to ignore the comments coming in on the new chapter, which means I wouldn't be making corrections as they come in... it's always easier when I can do that.

The reason for my late start this morning is a late night last night, which was caused by a bit of a disturbance in the neighborhood just before I would have gone upstairs. It left me kind of keyed up and so I got to sleep quite a bit later than I would have liked to.

Even with that I decided to go ahead and announce the Wednesday update today. Why not? Tomorrow I'm planning on writing Wednesday and Friday's update. Think about how many things could go wrong and I'd still be able to nail that. If tomorrow I only write half as much as I expect to, that'll still be Wednesday's update. If I can't write at all tomorrow and I have to do it Wednesday... that will still give me Wednesday's update done on Wednesday. Best case scenario is that I have two chapters done tomorrow and I've got the rest of the week to do other things. But even in the event that I'm only done with Wednesday's update on Wednesday and I still need to write Friday's... well, that's not exactly a worst case scenario but it's the worst one that's worth considering. I believe I can write two chapters tomorrow for Wednesday and Friday, but failing that I have Tuesday and Wednesday to write Wednesday's and Thursday and Friday to write Friday's.

As a long term plan, giving myself two days to write a chapter doesn't work out so well. There's no sense of urgency, so my tasks expand to fit the time available. I come to count on having the two whole days. Also, if I devote my whole week to writing Tales of MU I'm not writing anything else, which is not good in the long run. That's why I plan on getting the chapters done quickly and using the time between updates as a contingency. After this week, of course, I'll have the additional contingency of having a buffer of chapters written in advance.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I've decided I'm not going to be writing the Magisterion XIII half of the OT this weekend as I'd originally planned. This won't cause me to slip from the about-every-other-week schedule I've been achieving on the OTs, and in the long run it will lead to more regularity there.

Trying to keep a schedule for the Other Tales that depends on me writing them on weekends is going to hurt both my personal life and my professional life. My personal life because it means I'll constantly be cutting into my weekend... my time for friends and family and relaxation... to write, and professional life because there will just plain be weekends where there isn't enough stuff I can cut into to muster the time to write.

With my new and evolving approaches to time management and to the act of sitting down and writing during the week, though, this won't be a problem. I mean, I'm going to be done writing the main Tales of MU story for next week in a single day. Consider what an awesome OT story I will be able to give shape to if I give most of a workday over to it, instead of trying to write it in fits and starts over the course of a weekend? The semi self-contained/standalone nature of a lot of the Other Tales has already given rise to some of my best work in the MUniverse. The less often I have to effectively dash one off as an afterthought, the more often that will happen.

I've got some big plans for next week, but the biggest part of it is that they're already basically halfway done and the biggest remaining part of them will be done on Monday.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Eight hour work day.

Four-ish hours of writing.

7,000 words.

That's about 1,700 words an hour per writing-hour. Just under a thousand averaged out over work-hours. I don't have to work to convince myself that 875 words an hour is okay. I know that's good.

Adding it to the 3,000 words I wrote on Tuesday and the almost 6,000 words I wrote on Monday, that works out to about 3,000 words per day for a five day work week, which pleases me because that's what has always seemed to me to be a good average work day. I'm just discovering that it works better to do it as an average than to strive for it every day.

I have good days. I have bad days. I have average days. I think I can count on having two good days a week most weeks, especially if I'm not beating myself up over the bad days and not pushing myself too hard on the average days. I mean, this week I had a brain-fog day on Tuesday and a day when I was absolutely physically incapable of sitting at the computer and working on Wednesday and here I am on Thursday night (Thursday! I guess I got the hang of it after all?) reporting that I've got an average of 3,000 words a day.

There will be weeks when I don't get two good days, of course but if my publishing schedule means two good days gives me a buffer then those weeks will be okay. I mean, right now I've got Friday and Monday's chapters both done-ish (substantially finished, I know me and I know they'll both get some tweaks and filling out before they go up) and I have a start on Wednesday's.

I'll put Friday's chapter up just after midnight. If I end up needing sleep before then (kind of a crapshoot right now), I can still get it in queue and set up the email notification to go out auto-magically.

I'm going to do a little bit more to fill in some details on the first part later on tonight, between the time Jack leaves work and when he gets home. I'm going to restrict myself to that timeframe for work/life balance reasons. The chapter is closed until then. If I had been planning from the start to split the results up into individual chapters I would have given more attention to the opening part to begin with just to make sure it will stand okay on its own. Now that this is the gameplan I'll do that for the future.

Heh. It's funny... at one point in a previous chapter (much previous), I mentioned doing that before: splitting a chapter in half and then taking the opportunity to expand the first half. I considered that to be a good thing, in that the split allowed me to explore something (two things, in fact, because it was now two chapters) in more detail. The explanation I gave ended up being used on TVTropes as evidence of MU's "filleritis". Just goes to show how subjective these things are. Some people will always clamor for more detail about everything. Some people want things to be a little more selective.

I like TVTropes as a website and a diversion, but my feelings about it are somewhat mixed as I have a commenter right now who seems to think it's a playbook or scorecard. It's not so much that he accuses me of Doin It Rong (much, though he has)... it's more like he fails to notice that I'm not doing what his careful study of TVTropes suggests I would/should be doing and reads the story through a lens that's much heavier on things like Conservation of Detail and people learning Aesops. It's frustrating to deal with comments from someone like that. I suppose I really should learn to ignore them, but when someone addresses a question directly to me as author that's founded on completely faulty premises... well, again, I should really learn to ignore it.

But I can only do so much self-improvement at once.

You know, it's funny to me to realize that I haven't kept up the "work day" scheme I was trying since I first posted about it, basically, but somehow it unlocked the concept of thinking of things in terms of work days again in my brain. Monday, Tuesday, and today I've sat down and spent eight solid hours working. Note that some of that work was sitting here listening to music or getting up and tossing around a ball or taking a bath, but that's work. It's necessary to my writing process to pause to reflect and gather my ideas.

The point is that having eight hours allocated for work... it's working. I feel like I did when I was punching a clock, and that's not a bad thing... at my last job I was one of the most productive and happiest people on the floor. When I'm on the clock now, my mind doesn't stray much to other topics during my "down" times. My browser doesn't stray to other sites during my "up" times. And I'm getting stuff done.

Tomorrow's my tech day, belated due to injury on Wednesday. We'll see how well the concept translates. And then Monday I'll be writing for the rest of the week. Again, we'll see how well this all works after a weekend. I think I've got it, though. I'm not going to announce three updates a week unless Monday ends with me having three updates in the bag but it's in sight.

Edit-Dendum:

I just want to add about this whole work day thing... if I felt the slightest bit guilty about taking Wednesday off, the whole thing would fall apart. In the past (especially when I allowed anonymous commenting on my blog) I've had people viciously attack the idea of me having a work ethic when my schedule took a hit from sleep problems or whatever, and as I've said before, it takes a degree of brazen confidence to be a writer. You have to be fairly shameless to look at a blank page or an empty screen and say, "I can do better than that." That, and if you believe you're lazy and shiftless, it's hard to dig in and get to work.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Okay, so I'm about midway through writing the next chapter of Tales of MU. And when I paused for reflection on how to improve and continue it, I realized I really want to expand the beginning part with Ian more. Give him a proper introduction in the volume, give new readers a proper introduction to the sexual and sensual aspects of the story, etc. And I realized that will give a chapter that splits pretty evenly into two segments: Ian, and Amaranth. And I thought, "Well, that's good." Each of Mackenzie's lovers introduced in turn.

But then I thought how weird it's going to be to have a chapter segmented like that, and I thought that with my current plans to have all largish chapters (5,000 words = 20 pages) is going to result in a lot of segmentation.

And then I thought, "If I split it into two chapters, then I'm already looking at 'bloat' to the timeline I wanted to follow for book 1." But my concern there is not about how many chapters it takes to get somewhere... a "chapter" is not a concrete unit of story, time, or space. It's about how much real world time.

But my next thought that followed on the heels of that one was, "But if I already have Monday's chapter done-ish because it's branched off from this one, I can do a chapter on Wednesday and Friday next week and be right back where I was."

And then the lightbulb came on.

I settled on two updates a week because trying to do more consistently introduced too many chances to fail. It's not a matter of volume of words produced. My three-updates-a-week periods generally had around 9,000 words. When I was doing 5 updates a week, the chapters were shorter... maybe around 2,000 words, so 10,000 words total. Two updates of between 4 and 6 thousand words? Right in line with everything else.

The key factor is that it's easier for me to make sure I have two days I can sit and do serious writing in than it is to make sure I have three days or five days.

So here's what I'm thinking now. I'm going to go ahead and write what I'd planned on writing for Friday. But I'm going to post half of it (about 3,000 words... my good ol' standby.) And the other half is going to go up on Monday. Monday I'm going to write another 5 to 6 thousand words. That's Wednesday and Friday's chapter. Some other day next week... Wednesday or Thursday... I'll write another 5 to 6 thousand words. That's next Monday and Wednesday.

If I have an off day? If I have 3,000 word day or even a no thousand word day? Meh. First of all, I only need to be able to muster one and a half heavy writing days per day to keep up with the demand... writing MU heavily two days a week will give me a buffer. I don't expect the buffer to last long because Stuff Happens, but it will be a regenerating buffer. When I've tried building a buffer before it was based on the idea of things like writing four days a week and posting three. It's way too easy to stumble there, and having a break between days when I'm writing MU really helps.

Within a day, the momentum of just working on MU is very helpful. But from day to day, I need to be able to turn my mind towards other things, and to let my mind wander over possibilities without immediately having to write them down.

So, anyway... the chapter breakdowns I talked about for the first book of MU will not work out exactly the way I said. There will be a minimum of three chapters to cover the weekend (possibly four... slightly shorter chapters allows for more gradation of time, which seems to me to be a good thing) instead of two. But in terms of how fast in real time the story moves along and how much space is allotted to various things, I'll be more or less in the same neighborhood.

And while I'm finding that spending a whole day writing on one subject/project works best, this plan is flexible enough that if I have a week that's busy with other things I can spend a few hours each day writing so I don't lose my whole buffer.

This might seem premature but I'm not going to announce a Wednesday update until it's Monday and I have the chapters for the rest of the week done. If that happens... if I have a writing day on next Monday like I've had this Monday and like I'm having today, then I think I'm really on the right track in terms of what I've been doing differently.

That's enough talking about it. Time to get back to writing.

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alexandraerin

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