Weekly Report: On Vacation

…from work, that is. It’s actually been a fairly productive week.

First, I’ve finished revising Book the First. Still need to punch in my revisions (and this includes rewriting a problematic scene) but it’s one big, daunting task removed from my to-do list.

I’ve also started on drawing up my final-try for agents for Book the First. I want to get fifteen names on that list… and I’m at four. But that’s for later anyway.

I’m also working on my writing tools: I want to try and write more efficiently now that free time isn’t as available as I’d like. I want to try the method suggested by Karen Wiesner in First Draft in 30 Days. Unfortunately, that means reproducing an awful lot of worksheets – a fantastic task when I’m feeling mentally exhausted.

I’ve also taken the edge off the worst of my fatigue, but honestly right now I’m not in a great place for writing. It’s really hard to get the serenity I need, but it seems like that’s going to get better too.

We’ll see!

Weekly Report: Progress

Not much to say, or to complain about lately. I’m progressing on editing, on writing, I’ve got a solid lead on a major life improvement… the works.

It’s all positive… but the kind of positive that’s a bit of a mental challenge. Everything’s going well from a process point of view, but of course there’re no results to show for it. An unfortunate consequence of long-term projects.

Still, I have no right to complain. So let’s keep going, shall we?

Some Thoughts on a Writing Career

I’ve spent some time thinking about my not-budding writing career in the last few days.

The fact is I wrote Book the First in large part to see if I could, then began querying agents to see if it was good enough, and then kept writing and doing this blog and re-editing because in a vaguely defined future it’d get me to being a full-time writer.

That hasn’t worked out so far.

So I’m looking at plausible paths to the future I want.

Option 1 is simple: I could quit, focus on getting a marginally better job, and just have the job-family-leisure lifestyle most people seem content with. This isn’t a dig at anyone, by the way: if anything, it’s probably the realistic, grounded choice.

Option 2 is simply keeping at it: in other words, keep juggling job, family, fun and writing, and hoping that an agent eventually falls in love with my book, and then that we find a publisher, and then that the book actually sells well so that I can finally maybe justify freeing more of my time to write.

There are a three interrelated problems with that plan. First, the whole “finding an agent” bit is… not working so well so far. But it’s a more complex issue: this plan relies, effectively, on lots of things I can’t control. I might very well never find an interested agent, regardless of the quality of the works I pitch.

Second, even if I do get the book published, that doesn’t mean I’ll make enough money to justify switching from a full-time to a part-time (or no-time) job.

Finally, even if I do find success… it may not happen in a timely manner. Sure, I’ll eventually reach retirement and have more time to write. At least, I hope so. But the point is to improve my quality of life by doing what I love to live. And that means doing it as early as possible.

And then there’s Option 3: self-publishing.

Three years ago, I hesitated a good, long while before trying to look for an agent. It wasn’t entirely clear which path was the best. Three years later, the arguments for writing e-books only got significantly stronger… meaning I’m rapidly reaching the point when the whole agent search feels like a waste of time.

Really, at this point going the traditionnal route means two things: somebody else will pay for professionally editing my book, and I get to have physical copies of my work on store shelves (in all likelihood, spine out on the second-to-last shelf.) The price I pay for that: significantly lower royalties on what I sell.

So I do have to do some thinking…

Weekly Report: Poor Showing

Well, it’s not as bad as during my early-year hiatus, but I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked in the last few days.

Editing Book the First is on target. Reading is progressing faster than expected.

But I’ve missed several writing goals, and that’s what bothers me. I did all the easy stuff, but whiffed on the tougher objectives.

I have good excuses but it’s really just a case of not finding the serenity I need to write. I really need an hour completely of interruption-free fucking around (and the guarantee that I’m not going to be bothered afterward) to get into the writing zone. Lately that has been a bit harder.

But hopefully that’s temporary. We’ll see. And I’ve still hammered out a significant amount of words this week, just not as much as I’d like. Onwards!

Just My Opinion: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is the first book in a “gigantic pile of doorstoppers” fantasy series. Which is kind of strange because Sanderson tends to be a more concise, efficient writer.

Then again, I want to try new things as a writer, so I shouldn’t complain when somebody else does.

First, let’s be clear: I enjoyed the book overall, enough to get started on the sequel right away.

But it’s way too long for its content. At first, I thought it was an editing problem, but it’s actually something more insidious: it’s an overload of characterization and worldbuilding.

Let’s tackle worldbuilding first: Sanderson sets his novel in a fantasy world that is significantly alien. The flora is weird. Animals are mostly crustaceans. Massive, regularly scheduled superstorms rip across the countryside. And so on and so forth. All of that needs to be described, but Sanderson deliberately avoids infodumps and so he constantly injects small bits of data in the text.

It reads well, but it adds up (to much more than the equivalent infodump would be.) And so far, the relevancy of a lot of the alienness isn’t really relevant. It’s extremely consistent (how would life survive the constant superstorms if it hadn’t evolved specifically for that?) but it does have a disproportionate effect on the length of the novel.

In itself, it’s not too bad. If it was the only issue, I’d be willing to dismiss the criticism. But combined by the overcharacterization… it really does push the novel beyond the wordcount the plot justifies.

Sanderson’s significant character count is relatively low for a novel of this page count. We’re looking at four main point-of-view characters, a few secondary-but-important characters, and maybe ten or so supporting characters. We get more than enough characterization for each of them… and then there’s the flashbacks.

We get the excruciatingly detailed backstory of one of the main characters (judging from book 2, each of the main characters will get their flashbacks throughout the series.) That’s chapter after chapter of background info on one character… which ends up justifying a basic character trait (and a few relationships.)

It’s all relevant information… that would have justified maybe a quarter of the words used to convey it.

The worldbuilding was a bit too much, but it’s within the bounds of discutability. The characterization is just excessive.

The book is still good, and worth reading (particularly if you have a hankering for fantasy.) But it’s also a good example of overwriting stuff. Thankfully, that’s not one of my weaknesses as a writer.


Just My Opinion: The Prince

Machiavelli’s The Prince is one of the seminal works of political theory. I’m eminently unqualified to discuss its importance, apart to mention that it’s honestly worth a read, because it’s ultimately not full of the malevolence and manipulative behaviour the term “Machiavellian” implies nowadays.

In addition, since it’s non-fiction, there aren’t that many lessons I can personnally glean from it for my own writing. But still… writing is writing.

First, some caveats: I don’t read Italian, so I had to read a translation. Which means a lot of the literary flair, for lack of a better word, of the work was lost on me.

I’m also not a history scholar, and the version I read was a bit sparse on annotations and explanations (I’m currently reading a much more detailed analysis of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and it helps a lot.)

That said…

I think that as a literary work, The Prince is a bit too flowery for the content. In other word, there’s a bit too much noise for the signal. In this case, it’s taking relatively simple concepts and discussing them in long-winded passages, with a couple of (often unnecessary) examples to illustrate them.

Now, I’m not saying scholarly works should be short. I’m saying that they should be right length (and one of the strength of The Prince is that it breaks down the art of governance into small, easily digestible chunks… so why bury the small chunks into long diatribes?)

That’s a good lesson to keep in mind for fiction… and one I think I should try to heed. It’s easy to run up a word count with chaff and flowery, adjective-laden language. And, unfortunately, some padding can be unavoidable because of the realities of publishing – if you need an 80,000 word text to be published in your genre, there’s no shame in padding your 78,465 manuscript with an otherwise useless description of a sunset.

But if you have a 24,000 words manuscript…. Maybe pitch it for short story collection instead of as a novel?

Actual Progress

The last week and a half has been something quite rare: it’s been productive.

In part, I think that’s because I switched task management systems, going from ToDoist to Habitica. I won’t pretend the gamification features don’t help (I HATE losing HP) but the real winner for me is the organization (and the fact that missed deadlines don’t necessarily stick around in a Late Queue of Despair.)

Regardless of the reason, I’m actually progressing quite switfly on editing Book the First, I’m slowly adding words to Book the Second, and I’m keeping on top of my other obligations and goals for the year.

It’s not always easy (and in part, I’m succeeding because I’ve set the bar quite low in terms of wordcount-per-day and pages-revised-per-day) but the I’d rather hit easy milestones every day than repeatedly fail at harder ones.

I still have quite a few non-routine challenges on the menu right now, which makes further progress difficult, but I think I’ve finally managed to get some forward momentum going.

So what’s up next? Well, I have a Just my Opinion post ready to be written. I’m probably going to torch all my EU4 saves in order to attempt an easier challenge. And maybe some cool news soon, too. We’ll see.