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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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Writing process thoughts

If you had asked me a couple of years ago whether I was a pantser or a plotter when it comes to writing novels, I probably would have leaned more toward the pantser side of things. Yes, I had some rough outlines and ideas about where the books were going, but I also wasn’t about to tie myself down to the limitations of detailed plot planning. Nope. My process worked just okayfine for me without resorting to spending a lot of time on plotting. Worldbuilding, yeah. I had this concept that building the world and the characters would be enough–the plot would come.

Well, that worked for what I was doing at the time, when I was spending most of my time in one location, maybe writing a novel a year along with assorted short stories. Certainly I wasn’t working on anything book-wise that I needed to keep track of continuity of in earlier works. Plus I was working part-time and didn’t have the mental energy to spend working through detailed plotting exercises…or so I thought.

And then I decided I wanted to amp up the writing schedule. I needed to get two books a year cranked out, if not more, in order to get what I wanted to say down on paper. Plus I was facing a complex book, Netwalk’s Children,  part of a series where I had a LOT of stuff going on in a very short time frame. Added to the complexity was the reality that I was writing this first draft of a book I’d been struggling with during a long-distance move of most of our household to our second home in Enterprise. I couldn’t just putz around with editing and easing my way into the story every day before heading off to work. I needed to be able to snatch an hour here and there between packing and loading without doing any special invocations of the Muse to get back into the flow of the story.

What to do, what to do?

About this time, someone published a link to the matrices that J.K. Rowling created to track her characters. I looked at that matrix, and decided that something similar would fit my needs. Enter the Plot Matrix. For the Netwalk books (Netwalk’s Children and Netwalking Space) that meant I listed the major characters down the short side of a yellow legal pad. Then I went through the story pretty much scene-by-scene, noting what each character was doing at the time at this scene, color-coding by pen color to indicate which of the three POV characters was on stage.

It worked that first time. Not perfectly–I ended up tearing it apart and rewriting it about halfway through Children. That was a tough book to write in many ways, but having the matrix handy was priceless for drafting on the fly when I had the moments to write, and when I had to tear things apart midbook? It saved my rear.

The Plot Matrix was followed by the Scene Matrix for the rewrite. I sat down and created a similar document on the computer, landscape layout, where I started by listing page numbers for each scene, identifying viewpoint character, location, other characters in scene, scene summary, and rewrite notes as I went through the creation of the Scene Matrix.

OMG. The Scene Matrix was priceless for continuity rewrites. It gave me an understanding of the book that I had previously lacked.

Of course, next I decided to prove to myself that I didn’t need to use matrices for the next work. Beyond Honor was conceived as a short novel or novella and I didn’t think I would need the matrix for it. Ulp. I spent far too much time scrolling back-and-forth trying to keep track of things in that book, and I swore never again would I avoid the matrix.

So. Next up was Netwalking Space. Four POVs. Fast-paced story. I did the full-blown plot matrix for it–and guess what?

To start with, I somehow managed to avoid the muddle in the middle. I started work on the first draft on July 31st and finished it in early September. I was able to maintain a daily word count of 300-3000 words without killing myself over it. Disruptions didn’t mess up the work flow. Then I let it sit for a week before going back to create the Scene Matrix. Rewrites were relatively simple and it’s out to beta readers right now with a projected publication date in January.

And here I now go again. I have a short urban fantasy novel start that kind of petered out about halfway through 2015. I’d started it after Netwalk’s Children but before I got the rights back to Pledges of Honor, then dropped it when I got the Pledges rights back. One problem with Welcome to Klone’s Folly was that I didn’t have a clear picture of where I was going with the story. I had a rough idea of what I might want to do, but no details.

Well, that’s fixed. I sat down with what I have of Folly, and over the past week have hammered out a plot matrix for the darn thing. It was a bit harder than either Netwalk book because different characters, a standalone book, somewhat different genre. I might end up tearing this matrix apart in about 30,000 words…or not. It will be a good way to find out if this particular method works for a single POV urban fantasy or not. In any case, after I wrote the matrix, I found it easy to write the blurb/pitch/whatever.

It will be interesting to see if the method continues to work.

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Cracked 25k on Netwalking Space…another snippet

I promise, there will be non-Netwalking Space posts soon. Just pounding away trying to hit 50k before September strikes. So here’s a piece from today’s writing…

*************

“What are you doing?” Melanie asked, slipping in a small compulsion tone as she spoke.

Gupta grimaced in reaction to her tone. “We’re sending a communication probe toward the incoming fleet. Based on observations and trials with the Gizmo, we’ve managed to create a welcoming message.”

“Are you out of your everloving minds?” It was all she could do to keep from screaming at Gupta and the other Exec members. She’d thought Zhao could keep a better rein on their impulses! Maybe we should have risked Mom’s proximity to the gadget and left her here to keep them in line. Sending her out to DIR1 sure didn’t stop bad things from happening!

“What part of an invading force armed with strength we can’t match don’t you understand?” Gupta shot back. “Why alienate them if we can defang potential hostilities?”

<He does have a point. We don’t know whether the gadget is representative of its kind,> Will speeched.

<Not you too!> Melanie snapped. “And how do we know that your probe isn’t being co-opted by the device to provide a booster link to the incoming fleet so that it can get free? Can you guarantee that?”

“No,” Tessa Chandler said. “But we can certainly take precautions. With your help, we hope.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Melanie sighed, sinking back in her chair. “I think this is a supremely stupid move. I can’t talk you out of it?”

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Today’s snippet

Nearly 20,000 words in, and things are getting difficult….

***************

“Mom, don’t.” Raw fear echoed from Andrew. “Don’t do anything you regret.”

“I’ve done plenty to regret,” Diana retorted. “Now I’m going to make amends for my past choices.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Diana turned coy. “You’ll find out soon enough. I never thought I’d live to see the end of days, but it looks like it may be my privilege to bring it.”

“Mother, please. Don’t do this, whatever it is you’re going to do. You have problems with us. Come deal with us directly. Don’t take it out on the rest of humanity!”

“Humanity has been contaminated by Netwalk,” Diana said, her voice falling into a rote pattern as if she were repeating words she had been coached to say. “Humanity needs to be cleansed and purged.”

“Mother, no.

“Say your prayers, Andrew. Maybe you can be saved. Acknowledge your abomination before God.”

Melanie gulped back a sob of her own. She tapped out a message to Alex, Nik, and Bess as Andrew continued to try to reason with their mother, only the occasional crack in his voice revealing his emotion.

Assume Diana Landreth to be dangerous and hostile. Stop her no matter what it takes.

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Another Netwalking Space snippet

Just wrote this; closing in on maybe hitting 18k words on Netwalking Space today. Just a little bit from Diana’s second person perspective….

*********************

You are cursed, you and your descendants. Abominations. Unnatural. What if your father really wasn’t Dan Andrews? What if, like Peter, you are his daughter?

You can’t trust Sarah, the lying bitch. Which means you can’t trust her current Netwalk host, your granddaughter. And you can’t trust your daughter, who sides with Sarah more often than not. Can you trust your son? You don’t know. Perhaps you can bring him over to the awareness that the whole family is an abomination that should end. If you could rip that Netwalk chip out of your head that Sarah fouled for all those years, you would. Maybe after you do what needs to be done at Stephens Observatory.

Right now, the only thing you can trust is that datathread. The only thing you will trust is that datathread.

You don’t think about Will. The Will you loved died years ago, when Netwalker Sarah killed him. Once he became a Netwalker, he crossed the line into abomination.

Netwalk must end. Netwalk must die. Death needs to mean dead, not just physically but in the digital world.

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New Netwalk Sequence short up on Wattpad

Facing the aftermath cover

Got an outtake from the end of Netwalk’s Children up on Wattpad. I decided to write it as part of the prep for plotting Netwalking Space. Caution: spoilers for Children in the story itself. But if you want to find out what the Netwalk Sequence is about…check it out.

https://www.wattpad.com/user/joycemocha

 

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Progress on Beyond Honor

I’m closing in on the finish of Beyond Honor. Gods, this has been a difficult novella to write. Geez, how many years have I been struggling to write this portion of the whole Goddess’s Honor mythos? Thirty, maybe?

For whatever reason, each time I’ve started to write about how Alicira comes to Keldara has been a struggle. It was actually easier to write Pledges of Honor as an indirect approach to the whole mythos through an apparently unrelated character…except then it turns out that Katerin is related. Some of this is due to a bit of stereotypic conflict building. Alicira was abused by the usurper Zauril, with the explicit intention on his part of using her magic to advance his own power to elevate himself to godhood. She escapes, but she’s pregnant with his child. Trying to write her as a powerful character with agency even when all her options are narrowing and she has little choice has been the struggle.

And then there’s the magic. BIG SIGH. One effect of the growth of gaming these days, especially for a non-gaming writer like me, is trying to figure out a magical system that holds together and makes sense. I don’t think you can easily do a handwavium magic system any more, just because there are so many readers out there who build systems as part of their gaming. That’s a good thing, really, but it requires more work on the worldbuilding. So that means figuring out the rules of the sort of magic that’s going on…which is part of the ongoing struggle with this story.

Following that is the meshing of Alicira, Heinmyets, and Inharise as a family triad who shares leadership and magic.

All of this is to say that this book is going to need some massive rewrite, I suspect. But at least I’ve laid down the bones. Much as I’d like to get it out by May, I don’t know that I can do it. On the other hand, as I work through the elements in this book, it will make working on the next book simpler.

At least that’s what I hope.

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