Adventures of a Hybrid Writer–Hitting the Wall

Between weather, summer obligations, and other things going on, I haven’t been getting much writing done lately. Late summer harvest needs, life needs, preparing to go back to the part-time day jobbe needs…everything clustered about and combined with politics, horrible heat, and all, I just couldn’t get the words down on the screen. Oh, I did get some words down for a possible side project, but other than that? Nothing on either book.

That said, I did get some reading done, and I’ve worked a little bit on promotion. But otherwise, it’s been a lot of other stuff happening and going on, and I see the prospect of a lot more of it ahead because, well, August, and August is somewhat nuts. You’d think I would remember that from year-to-year. Of course I don’t.

Looking at my overall word counts, too, I realize that working on two books might end up slowing down my actual long-term production. I’m not entirely positive about that yet, but we shall see how it flows. But coping with the dog days of summer, the heat, the urgency with which I realize we have to use these long days of sunlight for other purposes…well, alas, the writing isn’t going as well as it should.

But that will change. I know it will. The temps are going down. Soon the smoke will go away. I’ll be able to breathe better, and I’ll be able to do more.

I hope.

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Adventures of a Hybrid Writer–Word Count

Hi. My name is Joyce and I used to be a diligent word count tracker. Back when I got serious again about writing, I started keeping a daily word count to keep myself honest–I think I was influenced both by Nanowrimo and by the trend at the time amongst many of my writer friends to keep counts. I admit, there was probably a bit of competitiveness about it.

So I kept count of words by project on a daily basis, and used to break out my writing by type–not blog posts, but I tracked novel vs short stories. Then I started hitting the wall, and realized that I was focusing on quantity, not quality, and fell away from the practice.

But I still think it is and was a good thing. Why? Well, for one thing, tracking my words helped me think about where I was in a project. While this isn’t such a priority if you are writing short stories and essays, if you are creating book-length works, then it’s helpful to know if you’re in the first third or the last third, or if you’re flailing around in the middle. It gave me perspective enough to know that “okay, I’m on track,” or “Crud, I need to do something different” when working on a book. Tracking also gives me the ability to notice the difference between pacing of short stories vs novels. At this point, if I’m working on one project, I don’t really need to be tracking things. But if I do something different….

Which is why I’m tracking words again this summer. I am doing something different, working on two novels at once. Though I was well into Challenges when I started tracking, and had an existing start on Klone’s as well, I wanted to see if either project suffered.

So far, it hasn’t. The count is roughly 2x Challenges to Klone’s. But both books are at about the same place in the story. The difference is that I am shooting for Klone’s to be a shorter book than Challenges. I’m learning the pacing for that shorter book, and counting is helping with that. Plus the word count helps me realize that having two different projects at once might actually be useful for productivity because I can still run with more words out of the day if I switch projects. That’s good to know.

The other factor for summer counting is so that I can quantify how different factors may interfere with production–travel, conferences, stuff like that.

The thing to keep in mind is that word count is an analytical tool and not the end-all, be-all. If you’re using word count to quantify what you are doing and not using it as a means to analyze your production process, you’re not fully exploiting the possibilities that tracking your word count can do. That tracker can tell you a lot about your process–if you let it.

And with that, I’m off to rack up some words for the day. Tomorrow is a travel day.

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Adventures of a hybrid writer–working on two books at once

I hadn’t really planned on writing two books at once this summer. Originally, my goal was to just work on Challenges of Honor. But I had about 15k words in on Klone’s Folly, and since I wanted to have it as a short novel to shop around to various presses…I decided that perhaps it was different enough from Challenges that I could work on Klone as a break from Challenges. Klone has also suffered from being put aside for other projects and I simply wanted to get the dang thing off of the hard drive and out into the world, whether as a submission project or a self-publication project. If I clear it off of the schedule, then I can get to more projects on the list.

I also wanted to find out if it was possible for me to do this sort of writing multi-tasking.

So after about a month of doing this, I’m finding the results to be…interesting. As I anticipated, when I hit a writing wall in one book, switching to the other gets me another 500-1000 words before I’m done for the day. Working on two books doesn’t seem to negatively impact my overall writing totals–I’m averaging about 2x the amount of work on Challenges that I am in Klone, but am roughly at about the same point in the book in both places. I’m shooting for a rough draft of about 60k-80k with Klone and about 90k-100k with Challenges.

Meanwhile, I am finding that yes, with two different types of books, it is possible for me to multi-task like this. Klone is a first person POV, somewhat of an urban fantasy in a rural setting. My current quick summary is that it is Frankenstein’s Monster meets Jane Eyre in contemporary NE Oregon with Sasquatch and other supernaturals and music festivals (though the opening is the only music festival piece so far; I may need to throw another one in). I’ve been going back and forth as to whether it slides into a romance, and I think it might, which would lead to the music festival reprise. My main character Reeni has just revealed herself to be a fire elemental. Hijinks ensue.

Challenges is straightforward epic fantasy, with two third person leads who are strong females with kids–and dealing with Gods, magic gone awry, a dying strong female elder, and all sorts of slight-of-hand political games involving the Gods, an ambitious colonial empire that wants to recapture a rebel colony, and all sorts of stuff. I’m writing a lot of active female leads, not so many men. Hey, it’s a self-pub project–part of my Goddess’s Honor series–and a direct sequel to Pledges of Honor. There is a market for it, albeit not a huge one. My Goddess’s Honor books and short stories keep selling at a decent rate, which makes me happy.

Both books seem to be nourishing each other. I hit the wall on one, and find that winding down with the other book seems to free up my mind to work on the first book reasonably well the next day. It also appears to be less mentally fatiguing than devoting the same amount of time and word count to just one book. Most typically, I’ll get in about 2k on Challenges, then swap over to Klone and get in 500-1000 words for the day without flogging myself along. The switch also seems to work well for summer writing, where I might be breaking up my writing day to do horse things or other outdoor stuff early on in the day, then writing during the heat of the day. I’m also finding it easier to write after dark and later into the evening.

But most of all, I don’t feel as hammered as I would if I were working on both books.

Interestingly, too, both books have seriously jumped the rails with regard to my detailed outlines. In a good way, as I’m throwing in more complications and shoring up plot holes in the process.

Will I do it again? Well, I have other, older projects that need to be dusted off. Now that I’ve finished the Netwalk Sequence, I need to get to these other ideas that have been sitting around. At last count I had about 9 book-level projects I wanted to work on. I don’t know if this concept will work on two books that I’m starting from scratch as it really helped that I was picking up on Klone after I’d gotten some work done on it already.

But that may be the next adventure of a hybrid writer.

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Starting a series of writing process blogs, or, adventures of a hybrid writer

One of the resolutions I made for myself after this past week at the Fishtrap Summer Gathering was to start working on a series of writing process blogs. This got inspired by a gathering organized by Kim Stafford the next-to-the-last day of the conference where we were to bring books that inspired us as writers. I went looking for some of my writing books and rediscovered Jay Lake’s Process of Writing: 2005-2010. As I thumbed through the book, I remembered how much I enjoyed reading Jay’s writing blogs–but I also realized that the earliest blog posts were written when Jay was at a similar place in his career as I am now.

The thing is, though, Jay wasn’t setting out to establish himself as a writing expert. He was analyzing and recording his growth and process as a writer. Because of the type of Day Jobbe work Jay did, that involved a lot of metrics. Word count. Time it took for him to turn out a book from first draft to publication, broken down into each step. Other analyses using data and stats to look at how he was progressing as a writer.

But that wasn’t all. Jay talked about voice, about rewriting, about looking at his overall writing process. He discussed themes and how political issues impacted his writing. If you’ve read any of Jay’s works, you realize that he was a very literary, slipstream speculative fiction writer who was just coming into his own when cancer took him. Jay wasn’t just a writing machine; he was a mindful writer seeking to improve his work’s quality as well as the quantity of his production.

(and right now why am I hearing Jay’s voice saying “Joyce, stop canonizing me!“? Gotcha, Jay)

In any case, I realized that one way to revive this blog posting habit of mine as well as perhaps help myself and maybe some other writers is to commit myself to writing a regular analysis and commentary about the process of writing. I am no Jay Lake. I know that. I aspire to high levels, but instead of soaring with the eagles, I’m pecking around on the ground with the finch fledglings (like the hordes that have descended upon our bird feeders). But I deal with some situations that may be unique to me–or not. I change locations pretty regularly, splitting my time between three places. I appear to be plodding along acquiring more readers over the past year and a half. I occasionally sell a short story. I’m trying to get the rights back to a cozy apocalyptic novella that I want to expand and self-publish. I’m preparing to edit my first anthology (I hope…haven’t seen any submissions yet, and it’s a closed group).

I also want to take my self-publishing to the next level, with a completed science fiction series and a fantasy series in progress. At the same time, I am working on an urban fantasy novel that I hope will be saleable to a mid-level small press publisher. I’m getting ready to shift gears to some Western-themed fantasy and science fiction work.

But most of all, I want to increase my accountability–and if doing that means I have to write about my writing at least twice a month, then that’s what I will do. It’s likely that I’ll have a flurry of posts in the next month or so, because I want to write about the lessons I learned at Fishtrap. Mood management. Marketing thoughts. With any luck, that’ll be enough to prime the pump and keep me going.

And oh yeah. Feel free to ask me questions. That’s good for both me and the asker of questions.

Onward.

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Writing short vs long

One thing I’ve really noticed about my writing process this year is the difference between writing short and writing long. When I write a short story, it seems as if it’s a struggle to wrest 500-1000 words out of my brain and onto the page. I end up making a lot of erasures, eliminate pieces, and often can’t see my way through to the end of the story in one sitting.

On the other hand, when I’m working on a novel, I can easily go through 1000-2000 words a day. Right now my current goal is to get 2000 words down on one novel, 1000 words on a second one. If I have several hours to work, it’s doable. When I’m working on a novel, it’s usually in 700-1000 word scene chunks and it just seems to unfold much more easily.

In part this is because my natural writing length is that of a novelist. Many of my short stories start out reading like the first chapter of a novel and need a LOT of pruning to eliminate that aspect of the story. I like complex plots with lots of twists and turns, but…you can’t do a lot of that in a short story (note the phrasing there; short story complexity often is not plot-driven but theme and character-driven).

Additionally, the novel can sprawl while every word in a short story has a purpose–sometimes even multiple purposes.

This year I’ve written four short pieces and am working on a novel. Of those shorts, one is a 6k word self-published short (Inconvenient Truths) tied into my Netwalk Sequence world and coming out on July 4th. Truths was intended to be a submission for one of the many new anthologies out there reacting to Donald Trump’s election. It didn’t fit (well, I thought it did, but I’m not the editors) and, since it was a Netwalk Sequence story, I decided that it could go out on its own.

(We won’t talk about why I’m finding it extremely difficult to write political fiction without placing it in the Netwalk Sequence world and evoking Sarah Stephens. Let’s just say that it’s my head thing and leave it. I could write several–many–political stories, but that would be violating the trust of people I know. The perils of being an ex-activist….)

Needless to say, I hadn’t really planned for Truths to happen, though it illustrates a crucial turning point in the Netwalk universe.

Another story, Exile’s Honor, is a Goddess’s Honor novelette that was somewhat planned for, and lays a foundation for elements within the current Goddess’s Honor novel, Challenges of Honor. I tend to use short stories as means to explore the series I’m writing, and Exile looked at an important development in Goddess’s Honor.

But then there are the other stories. Both are somewhat solicited, in that they’re aimed at anthologies that I was invited to participate in. One’s somewhat goofy and not at all political; the other has political elements but doesn’t move into territory that makes me want to revert to the Netwalk Sequence. Still, I agonized over both of them, and the goofy story requires more attention from me before I send it out. 500 words a day was the best I could do on either story.

Ironically, when it comes to publishing, short stories fill most of my traditional credits. Part of that reality is market-driven. Even in today’s tight publishing market, there are still more options to sell short stories to a legitimate publisher than there are novels. That’s just the way things work. The shorts may not earn me a lot of money, but they do earn something, which is what the novels (except for Pledges of Honor) don’t exactly do. On the other hand, given the amount of time it takes to produce a short story (especially on spec, where it can take anywhere from 2 months to 10 years to sell), I’m better off working on the longer works. For whatever reason, I find that the older short stories in my portfolio are the ones who sell.

So it is a puzzlement at times. Short stories earn me visibility and a shot at higher recognition. But they require a lot of energy, attention, sweat, and blood for me to make them work. Really, I need to write them, then shove them in a closet to marinate and mature before I send them out. I can’t count on them to be easily saleable, especially when writing a spec story instead of a solicited story.

Novels, on the other hand, are a lovely unfolding of a story, a pleasant ramble through the tale (even when I’m trudging through the midpoint of the novel). I can get them written, put them aside for a few weeks, then spend another month in revisions which creates a clean usable draft for editing purposes. It takes me about six months to turn out a decent 90,000-100,000 word novel from rough draft to final independent publication. But given the realities of today’s novel market, I’m better off marketing them directly to the reader (which requires production, cover work, editing work, and a lot more effort) rather than to publishers.

That said, one reason I’m working on two stories at once right now is that I am crafting one novel to send out to small and mid-level publishers. It’s a high-concept idea that has a nice little tagline and quick elevator pitch, and it might just be quirky enough to fit the demands of today’s market–or not, depending on what Marketing thinks. There’s only one way to find out, though, and that’s to send it out. I’m not planning to hit the Big Five with this one because I don’t feel like wasting my time waiting for it to take two to five years to work its way through the slush pile. But I would like to find a decent mid-to-small press where I could market some of the quirky standalone ideas I have.

The series stories? Not ready to market those elsewhere yet, especially since I want the freedom to be able to sell related short stories and the like. But the quirky standalone books? Oh yeah, if I could find a market for those…that would be a different tale.

So we shall see where this takes me.

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Lots of stuff going on….

As usual, June is flying by. Between MisCon and 4th of July, it always seems like I’m flying around getting things wrapped up for the end of the school year and then jumping into summer stuff. It’s no different now that I’m working online instead of in a classroom. OTOH, I’m less tired from working online, so that’s a win.

The late spring meant we’ve been dragging on getting the garden running and getting in the wood. But at last, we got the garden finished off in early June and it is happily growing at our friend S’s place in Clatskanie. This past week in Enterprise, we did get two loads of wood hauled, plus horse show stuff…

But there’s so much to blog about and I keep putting it off because, well, who wants to spam the linkage? I’m thinking now that I need to write some things but just not publish them. The alternative is not blogging at all…and I am discovering that I really don’t like that option, either.

So yeah. Time to start writing blog posts and timing them. I will post one soon talking about the two short pieces I have available on preorder right now. I also want to post about politics, because I’m contemplating a few things. I also want to write and post something about a few things I’ve been considering about writing process that has solidified to some extent by now. And then I also want to blog about the horse.

Meanwhile, I’m putting this one up. Hopefully we’ll see a flurry of posting soon.

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Musing on horse training–“bitting up”

Over the past week I’ve had a few moments of horse training awareness where I gained a new perspective on my past experiences and the training tools in my toolbox. One of those is a semi-controversial technique known as “bitting up.” Years ago, “bitting up” was often used to introduce the young horse to a bit. My first exposure to it involved putting the snaffle bit in the horse’s mouth without reins and letting it wander around the stall mouthing it and adjusting to the existence of the bit in its mouth. The three horses who got their first bits at my hands started that way. I also used this technique to introduce my first Quarter Horse, Sparkle, to her curb bit.

Then I started out with G, and learned a bit more about how to use bitting up in part as a means to introduce the horse to carrying the bit and develop a headset. In this mode, still using a snaffle, you tied the reins to the saddle, leaving enough play in the reins so that the horse’s nose was two or three inches in front of the vertical. Then you turned the horse in a pen and let it wander around, playing with the bit and getting comfortable with picking up contact without the interference of a rider. At this point, the horse was learning about giving to the pressure of a bit on its own. The key was that a.) the horse was unrestrained except for that bit contact and b.) the horse was under supervision. This didn’t go on for very long, perhaps 5-10 minutes max. Then, depending on where the horse was in training, you climbed on and did a short ride.

As the horse’s training advanced, then you tightened the reins slightly, still allowing for the nose to be ahead of the vertical. At this point, the horse was worked on a lunge line or in a round pen, working on balance and contact. The key was that the horse learned on its own about yielding to bit pressure without the vagaries of human hands. The idea was that the horse taught itself about bit pressure.

Hold that thought. It becomes important later on here.

One of the things that G said about this type of bitting up was that it not only helped the horse learn on its own, but that it created a habit of discipline. We did this sort of work not only with green horses but horses going through retraining. Horses who lacked respect for the bit. Horses whose mouths were desensitized by heavy-handed riders.

The technique, of course, is one that gets misused. One of the worst versions of it was revealed a few years ago when a trainer in Southern California used it with a curb bit, and tied the reins so tight that the horse threw herself and broke her neck. Unsupervised, to boot. A curb bit is a leverage device, operating not just on the bars of the horse’s mouth (a toothless gum section between incisors and molars) but on the jaw, possibly the roof of the mouth (depending on how high the curved section of the bit is), and on the horse’s poll (a very sensitive area behind the ears). Too much pressure in these places can cause a horse to rear and flip…which is apparently what happened in that case.

But there are other versions of misuse. Using it with the nose cranked to the chest. Doing it for hours on end. Doing it with a thin twisted wire bit. Probably many other variations I don’t really want to think about.

Over the years, I discovered that this tool had other uses. When young Mocha was sparky, I’d bit her up and put her on a lunge line or the round pen. A short period–5-10 minutes, max–and she would switch over from being Ms I Know Everything to Ms Okay I’ll Listen. I started pulling this tool out in the springtime even as she matured and became more steady.

This past week it all came together. She’s out in Big Pasture now, hilly on the end of a long ridge flat, running with the herd. The first day I rode her, she was total Miss Butthead. Nickering at the herd, her attention on the herd, wanting to run and not pay attention to the rider on her back, even with the curb bit in her mouth and some schooling.

(an example of the herd and Big Pasture)

Well, that wasn’t gonna work. So the next time, I brought out the snaffle and the lunge line, and bitted her up. Then we reviewed the concept of listening to the human instead of wondering what the herd was doing, including screaming for them. And whoa. Especially whoa, because she hadn’t been particularly listening to that.

5 minutes later, we had brains reinstalled.

A revisit on the next ride also ensured that Brains Were Installed. Both times we had a pleasant ride, including a stretch of gallop along a flat section of jeep track. Little mare started dancing as we swung around to the starting place, took off as fast as she could once I kissed to her and leaned forward, and–best of all–she eased off and stopped when asked. And our canters away from that stretch of flat, safe place for hard gallop were controlled and quiet. Oh, a couple of times she asked to run, and I said no. But the key was–she listened.

When I go back and look at previous year’s entries (I was looking for a picture that isn’t on this computer), I see many notes about having to do just that at G’s place, at around this time of year. So it’s a normal thing, just a phase of late spring or early summer.

And damn, I’m sure glad I’ve got this tool in my bag of training tricks.

 

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Ski year summary–2017

For the first time I only skied a few times, over about three weeks, similar to what a lot of people do with their ski vacations. I’m–not thrilled with that amount of limitation. That said, I could have gotten more ski time in, including in NE Oregon, if I had been able to get my feet into my boots sooner in the season. But I couldn’t, so there’s no crying now over spilt milk.

We had five ski days in total in late April and early May. That more than brought the cost of our spring ski passes ($118) down to about half of what a regular pass would cost for me and less for the husband at age 65.

Besides being away from the slopes for two years, the big challenge was that the snow is just plain different in April and May than it is in November/December starting out skiing. Even when there were heavy snowfalls, they were different from the heavy snowfalls earlier in the season…not as dry and cold, for one. And even though we had plenty of cold exposure in NE Oregon over the winter, it wasn’t ski exposure.

I don’t know. There was only one session where I found my flow and rhythm, and skied well. The rest of the time? I struggled more than I like to do. It seemed harder to get back into it than it does at the beginning of the ski season. Maybe it was just the awareness that I only had these few short days or something like that…but whatever it was, it wasn’t working that well. I may have just not been trusting my cranky ankles.

Oh well. Maybe next year.

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Ski day four

A couple of days late, but there was a Day Four on the ski slope!

Since it was the first day of the changeover from warm weather back to cool and wet, we were slow-moving in the morning and debating whether it was worth it. Then hubby looked at the web cams and pointed out that despite the temperatures, it wasn’t raining at Timberline–yet. So we saddled up and went skiing.

I’m glad we did. I hooked into the flow this time, despite a knee locking up on me in the parking lot. Once we started skiing, though, the knee was quiet. I glided from side to side, smoothly curving and transferring weight, just like I wanted to do. No problems with thigh burn or the aches that go along with overcontrolling the skis. Everything was balanced and in control.

One factor was a fresh wax job. The snow was wet and could have been sticky, but with fresh wax on the skis, it wasn’t. I did comment at one point that “I can just feel the wax stripping off of these skis!”

I was right. We got home and I saw that the skis needed another hot waxing.

In any case, we got in two runs on the Mile before it got socked in and we retreated to Norman. Four runs on Norman, two on the mile, for a total of five miles skied. Getting the legs back, getting the flow back…but I’m still not entirely feeling the passion that I did before. Maybe it’s because of the lateness and missing the big seasons. We’re looking at two more sessions at most, for a total of six ski days this season. Not bad, but…at the end of six I’m just getting tuned up.

Oh well. Maybe next year.

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Ski Day Three: Up to the Mile

So Day Three of getting back on the skis was a more typical spring ski day at Timberline–foggy down below, and then breaking through above the clouds once we got to the lodge. The snow was typical Cascade concrete, not even corn snow. I had some problems getting my left binding to catch when first locking in (this will become important later) but finally got it going and we headed back out to Norman.

But something wasn’t right. I kept muttering about having control issues going on. I was having problems with turning and had a couple of bobbles that didn’t go all the way to falls. Still. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t catch the flow, couldn’t find my rhythm, and meanwhile the snow was warming up and turning to slush. After the third run on Norman I suggested we go up to the Mile.

As we got off of the lift to the top of Norman and headed for the cat track that goes to the Mile, I skied out of my left ski. Didn’t fall because we were on the flat, but it just popped off. So I popped it back on, started up again…and off it came. Hubby noticed I had ice on the bottom of my boots, so he helped me scrape it off. I took off and this time everything worked.

Still, coming off the top of the Mile, hips didn’t want to cooperate. It took a few turns, but I was starting to get the feel again–a good long run with no complications. We did a second run and I started feeling the flow again. At that point we called it a day–three runs on Norman, two on the Mile for about 4 and a quarter miles, maybe closer to 5 when you figure the ski out to Norman and then back to the Mile.

The Dalbello boots are much easier to work with than the equally stiff Lange boots were. I start out stiff in the Dalbellos but they start loosening up and getting comfortable after a couple of runs. I’m getting to really like them.

That said, I’m glad I didn’t ski last year. The right ankle I injured in the fall with Mocha in 2015 was aching when we got back to the house, and I can just imagine what it would have been like then. I am feeling better, and stronger, though. It’s easier to get up off the chair than it was the last year I skied. I’ve noticed it’s easier for me to swing a leg over an impatient Mocha when we get ready to ride off as well. Not sure what is bringing that about, unless it’s the hours I’m spending in the saddle…or something. And then tonight, I waxed and scraped the skis without feeling as achy and tired after as I was in the past. Yay?

But something still is missing. I haven’t gotten the joy of skiing back. I don’t know why. It’s improving, but…something’s still missing.

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