Ivy Ngeow invited me to be interviewed for her blog segment called “The Writing Life” after I interviewed her for Hello, Author, which is my interview newsletter and website.
I haven’t written anything since August. Partly because I haven’t really had any blogging ideas and partly because when I have tried to write something timely, I’ve received error messages making me unable to complete or publish a post. I’m hoping that I can actually write and publish what I want to today. I’m using my work computer to draft this which, while not ideal, might help me pin down the origin of the error message (it seems like it might be my computer).Find the perfect 2021 planner on Amazon
Since I last updated, novel writing went super well . . . until it didn’t. I think the culprit was stress related to the U.S. election. Whatever the cause, by the end of fall my writing felt distracted and the amount I managed to pen during my writing hours seemed like a drip from a faucet that had previously been on full flow. I carried on, holding out my creative cup to catch the paltry sustenance. And I’m glad I did because I needed to be ready for when the water was turned back on.
I can say it feels like a dam of pent up creative ideas has burst. And I’m going to ride this wave because my career depends on it. Remember how my last post was on prioritizing your core life goals? Well, I’ve felt quite the shift in my goals. Maybe it’s a realization that the publishing industry wants to publish people who are more than just writers, so I need something substantial beyond writing books and blog posts. But, really, I think it’s the zeal I get from interacting with other writers online, be they denizens of the Authortube sphere or fellow Lit Fic authors in my Facebook group. The social isolation has likely shaped this realization. Though a similar realization was likely to arise even without the pandemic-imposed isolation.
There are various projects in the works. I don’t want to dump all of them here at once, so I’ll be drippling them out over the next several weeks. What I want to address is how this post and my last post aren’t contradictory even though I’m adding enough stuff to my plate that I’m going to need an hourly planner.
My life goal is to be a writer. But I need to be a writer in 2020’s, not the 1980’s or even 90’s. The field has changed, the reality is that the markers of success have evolved. Traditional publishing isn’t everything. And while I’ve already dipped my toes into the various aspects of the defining feature of today’s world (THE INTERNET), I haven’t committed to it in a way that has done anything more than brought me some limited exposure. I want to build something. Something for writers and readers. Something that I can call a central part of my career.
I’m sort of in love with my ideas. Infatuated with the work I’ve set before myself. It aligns with my core life goals because those goals have shifted . . . just a little bit. I no longer feel like I’m in survival mode, but I feel like I’ve shifted to a “Let’s get thriving” mode. And what I’m setting up to create is something I can take with me anywhere, even if other large and life-changing events should come along. In fact, being that what I’m building will be a core part of my career, it might make any changes or unexpected additions to my life easier. I’ll have a sustainable core that is a part of my writing and the writing community even when changes in life’s circumstances inevitably happen. And that’s just awesome.
Do tell me how you’ve been surviving, thriving, and what your plans for 2021 look like.
Until next time, write on.
All photos from Pixabay unless otherwise stated.
It seems that a lot of people are finding life hard right now. They’re stuck at home, can’t socialize, and many have other worries (lost jobs, long lines at food banks, bored children who can’t hang with their friends). This event—caused by the novel coronavirus, a biological entity spreading as a sickness known to the world by the name of COVID-19—as a sociological phenomena has affected me mildly. So I’ve been putting off writing anything about it here on my website (though my personal journal is full of reflections).
One of the things that social distancing has taught me is that I don’t socialize. It really hasn’t changed my social life whatsoever. The biggest social difference is that I’m no longer meeting up with Mike for our working meetings (we’re creating scripts for a literary YouTube channel we hope to get off the ground at some point). Although this itself doesn’t feel odd, since we only started doing them about 3 weeks before #SocialDistancing became a thing.
My wife, however, has been feeling the changes more acutely than I. She’s a school teacher, so she’s been working from home, doing Zoom video meetings regularly.
Iowa law does not currently allow virtual learning to count toward minimum hours required each school year. So my wife’s district has been creating voluntary homework. It’ll be corrected, but not graded, for those students who choose to do it (AKA for those kids whose parents make them do it).
I must say, having Libby at home has been generally nice. While different, it does not feel particularly novel. After all, she is home pretty much all day during the summer. Summer just came early, while snow still kept repeatedly gracing the ground with its annoying clinginess. #FuckSnow #MeltAlready
We also happen to live in one of the few states without a mandatory stay-at-home order (and I work in Nebraska, which also lacks blanket pandemic measures). So things don’t feel as locked down as they probably do elsewhere in the country. The hotel I work at has slowed down quite a lot; it seemed the summer construction season was ramping up early before the virus appeared on our shores. Nevertheless, we’ve been holding our own. Also, because of our status as a housing facility, I think we’re considered essential business, so it’s likely that even if Pete Ricketts began implementing draconian measures to help save the lives of citizens under his governorship, our business would continue to operate as long as employees were staying healthy.
So if there’s financial hardship headed my family’s way, we’ve yet to see it. With the stimulus check landing in our savings account last week, we’re actually coming out ahead.
I think the most stressing part of all this (outside of the copious amount of hand sanitizer and bleach water I’m using while at work) is seeing the president attempt to rewrite history, push conspiracy theories, cut off funding from WHO, and (most recently) make a call for citizens to rise up against state governments (specifically of Democrat governors; Republican led states doing the same thing aren’t the target of his presidential tweets).
This is highly distressing. It simply boggles my mind how such a horrible human being and incompetent “leader” can possibly be in charge right now. With another weak Democratic candidate as the only option left (well, I guess we’ll see if the unofficial write-in-Bernie movement gets serious by the time November rolls around) I’m afraid it’ll be four more years of the Orange Buffoon. Hopefully his transparent ploy to save the economy by duping people into thinking it’s okay to get back to normal before the transmission rate gets close to zero (the Fed guidelines are only asking for a 2-week downward trend, which isn’t what health officials had suggested as a sign for reopening the economy). Of course, without adequate testing, there’s no way to know for sure if any place is ready. Is the trend really down or are our testing supplies in such inadequately short supply that we’re guessing based on wholly incomplete data? But the Liar in Chief continues to think the public and reporters are too dumb to realize that we don’t have enough tests. Only his ardent cult followers believe him and whatever tumbles out of the screen from Fox News (#fauxnews).
And by the time this scheduled post goes up, who knows what other insane set of alternative facts or devastating decisions that Trump, the Great American Traitor, will let issue forth from his frog’s mouth.
Politics were slightly less stressful for me the first three weeks of social distancing at the beginning of March because I didn’t have time to catch more than a handful of soundbites on the radio. Why? because I was writing. Yes, I was actually writing quite a lot. I found a publisher for a piece called Christ Abyss and so began the process of taking a draft, adding and editing until it turned into a short novella or novelette. I sent it in to the transgressive publisher on the 31st, though I suspect it could have been better (a beta reader got back to me only recently with some great suggestions), but that was the deadline. I don’t know if you’d term it a dark fantasy or horror fantasy or an anti-heaven tourism novel, but it’s not written for righteous among us.
Whatever it is, it had my full attention for those three weeks—despite being just about done with draft 1 of my novel and having just downloaded new software for editing the video footage I filmed for a “Write with Me” style YouTube video.
Order of events: I wrote the damned novella, took a week off from everything except our new Nintendo Switch (okay, this is the other biggest change that the coronavirus has thus far brought to our lives; I haven’t owned a gaming system since 2005), and then finally finished draft 1 of the novel last Thursday. Yes siree, the zero draft I completed on December 3rd has finally been fully transferred into an edited digital first draft.
My goal was to write a sorta bigger book (no Moby Dick, but hopefully something bigger than the standard 80K). I thought I would probably hit somewhere between 120 to 126 thousand words for my first draft. My hope was to then expand this during my edits, adding scenes, better detail, etc. Then, in all likelihood, I would see it trimmed back down to about the original length after my future publisher’s editor got done
hacking it to pieces revising it.
My final word count came to 173,499 words. That’s over 47 thousand more words than I expected to get. And I’d love to see this word count even higher when I get to work on draft 2. I don’t think I will see it rise more than 5 or 10 thousand words, but if for some reason I managed to add enough to get my #FutureMasterpiece above the 200K word mark, I’ll treat myself to a fancy steakhouse dinner (assuming the local steakhouses find the means and meat to reopen after America gets its herd immunity—I mean its mass vaccinations).
My next task is to dive back into the remainder of my unedited dialogues. I’m sure that I’m waaay behind where I should have been with these, but that’s the writing life for ya. You get creatively distracted. You get bogged down by life or lifted away into a book (when will I learn that I can’t read fiction in the mornings if I want to get any writing done?). Your muse sometimes says you must muster your writerly might for more material matters (for example: an alliterative blog post).
I also don’t know how attentive I’ll be on my AuthorTube channel; whatever pleasure and practical gains I get from it can’t compare to the simple act of writing & creating story. On top of that, it begins to look nice enough out for sitting around outdoors in the evenings with a book. Maybe I’ll make a goal of one video a month for now (though don’t hold me to it). Other than putting off the unessential, I’ve also taken some stabs at starting a new novel. The proper way to begin is eluding me. What I think I need to do is actually sit down and plot this book. I’ve never plotted before. And since my attempts at not plotting this thing have petered out, it’s time I take the plunge into the twisty waters of plotting. Wish me the best of luck! #WriteOn
Please stay healthy, happy, & word-nerdy, Bookworms.
[An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that requiring online education was illegal in Iowa. This post was updated to reflect more accurate language around virtual education in this state.]
One of the things to remember when setting goals is that less is more. If I want more productivity, then I take more off my plate rather than add to it whilst budgeting my time into complex micro-amounts in an attempt to tackle it all. With this said, last year was a year of focusing on my novel. This year I want so much more. We’ll see if I can have a lot more without breaking my goal-setting rule of less is more.
My goals for this year include editing my completed novel, editing my dialogues, and to work on two new novels.
Whoa, Randal, that’s way too much. When you said you wanted “so much more,” we didn’t expect your “more” to be that much more than last year.
Okay, yes, I admit this doesn’t look like a run-of-the-mill full plate, but an over-the-top heaping plate. However, I have a plan.
I intend to tackle all of my writing goals this year by splitting my weekdays into two manageable chunks.
I really wanted to work on editing my dialogues last year, but I rarely got around to touching them. I think this is largely due to the fact that I intended to make evenings my editing time. These intentions were thwarted by my enjoyment of evening reading, chores, and spending time with my wonderful wife. So now I know that if I want to actually edit what I’ve written, I need to edit during the day.
The daily routine will consist of half writing and then half editing. I’ll spend half the time working on a new novel and then the other half of the day editing, using lunch as a mental reset button.
Starting next week, I’ll begin outlining a new novel. And, yes, I said outlining. I know what I want my next novel to be, and it’s going to require a little more plotting than the last two novels. We’ll see how this goes. I’m a little leery of plotting since I feel that the weakest parts of my last novel were the ones I most heavily outlined. In the end I may just plunge into composition, but I’m going to try and start with a framework if possible.
For editing, my priority is to finish typing up the hand-written zero draft of my recently completed novel. Once I’ve done that, I will set it aside and work on my dialogues, both so I can actually finish editing them and so that I can come back to my novel with fresh eyes.
I don’t always utilize weekends to their full advantage. I have a weekend job that—while not exactly a sinecure—gives me a lot of free time to devote to whatever I want. What I want most of the time is to binge YouTube. However, I also read, socialize, and even write during this time. In fact, everything I’ve ever written at work was published within days. So quality doesn’t seem to suffer. Still, the easier pleasure is YouTube, and I have freely indulged.
Adjusting how I use my weekends is perhaps my biggest 2020 author goal. The adjustment to my daily routine is simply a matter of learning to shift focus. Changing how I spend my time while at work on weekends is not just a shift of focus, but will be a total shift in behavior. I’ve trained myself pretty well at seeing weekends as a time to plug into the internet. Outside of livestreaming my writing, I pretty much avoid being online during the weekdays. If I avoid going online at home, I can avoid going online at work, right? Well, we’re about to find out how easy it is to retrain this lazy habit I’ve built for myself.
So what am I going to be doing with my weekends? Answer: I want to try an experiment.
You may have noticed that in my writing goals above I mentioned working on two novels. The experiment involves one of these.
An idea popped into my head shortly before Christmas for an experimental novel built around a refrain. This book is really calling to me to be written. I do feel it’s important to write something a bit more accessible, which is what my weekday novel will be; yet, I don’t think I should ignore this pull I feel towards this strange narrative. So in order to make sure I’m not just writing hard-to-sell experimental works, but also not ignoring my creative impulses, I’ll be working on the refrain book during the weekends.
The experimental part of this weekend project isn’t just the fact that it’s an “experimental” book. I am kind of comfortable with experimental writing at this point. For me, the experiment is to try and write a novel solely on the weekends and to also try and write the zero draft on my work computer, using something like Google Docs perhaps. I’m going digital on this one for convenience’ sake (no lugging my laptop, no forgetting a physical manuscript or flash drive).
To stream or not to stream, that is the question.
Okay, so I finished writing my latest novel while livestreaming, which was really cool. But I’m not sure I want to continue to stream while I write.
Here’s what I like about streaming while writing:
1) It’s totally motivating to get in as many hours at the desk as possible.
2) I take shorter coffee breaks because I have an audience to entertain.
3) It’s a pretty unique thing to do.
4) By watching me write for hours and hours, I can hopefully inspire other creatives to devote time productively, helping them to quit their own procrastination by joining me while I write.
Here’s what I don’t like about streaming while writing:
1) I haven’t found a feasible way to use my standing desk while livestreaming, though this certainly isn’t an insurmountable problem, just a technical one.
2) The quality of my writing goes down due to distraction from my viewers.
3) While I am grateful for the viewers, especially my regulars, I am not actually reaching the audience of creatives (especially fellow writers) I am specifically creating content for, which in the ends means I am doing more chatting and much less actual writing than I’d like.
4) By far this is the biggest issue: I am struggling to get into the flow or the zone. I don’t think flow is necessary for writing—even good writing. However, flow not only feels good, it is a sign that one is in a state of intense concentration and growth. In some sense, it is necessary to be striving toward flow because this is the main signal of overcoming the obstacles of the kind of striving that makes you grow as a person. I believe that achieving this kind of flow is necessary to living well. But with people dropping by to chat and ask questions (and maybe even to donate a dollar or two), that flow state isn’t reached for me. If I’m not reaching a state of flow ever, it’s possible I’m failing to grow as an author and as a person.
It’s mainly due to the last point that I feel that my experiment with livestreaming while writing on Twitch is probably over. Nonetheless, I am entertaining an attempt at livestreaming on YouTube. The audience may be more receptive of things that failed to garner positive attention on Twitch, such as my silent writing streams. However, even with an audience of authors, I’ll still have an audience to engage with, meaning that flow isn’t likely going to be achieved.
Speaking of YouTube, I still want to keep making YouTube videos (aka: AuthorTube videos). It’s the addition of these kinds of social media projects that start to make my plate feel full. Luckily, I don’t feel like I’ll ever consider my main job to be creating video content, meaning that this can be done on an as-I-desire-to basis.
Mondays are usually a day off for me when it comes to writing. So I think that if I want to make a video, Monday will be great for recording and/or editing. I have a long way to go when it comes to creating good looking and sounding videos. Strangely, the YouTube video I uploaded looks and sounds fine when I play it on my laptop. But it doesn’t seem nearly as good when I play it on my work computer. So I have some more adjustments to make before I do my next recording. And while I don’t expect perfection of myself, I’m hoping that with each new video, the quality will continue to increase.
And, while I’m trying not to overdo it, I’m also still working on an educational YouTube concept. We have multiple people involved in this project, including an amateur filmmaker, so quality won’t be the issue it is with my personal videos. The biggest hurdle we have had is in the script writing.
We started out writing scripts for one conception for the show. The concept was fine, but as we continued to talk, the idea grew and became something else. Me and the other script writer were not satisfied with what we wrote for the new concept, so we tabled the idea for a long while. Well, I recently revamped the idea once again and will be writing a new script and presenting it sometime this month. There’s no guarantee that we’ll all like it and agree to green light the project, but I’m hopeful.
Like I said, this is possibly too much for my little mantra, but at the same time it’s something my best friend and I have wanted to do for a long time, and I can’t pass up the opportunity for collaboration—a rarity for book authors like me.
Let’s see, editing two completed books, writing two new novels, plus creating content for two YouTube channels . . . Less is more. But more is also more. I’m giving you four books and (hopefully) some AuthorTube content. And I’m giving myself a reasonable schedule, which is why less is more is still my motto for productivity.
Please do let me know your 2020 author (or creative) goals. How do you manage your time? Have you been successful at reaching your goals in the past? Does the concept of less is more ring true for you? Let me know in the comments.
I think I’m in the home stretch. But I’m not sure. It’s takes me months sometimes to write a chapter. Technically I’ve been working on this book for years. I haven’t always had the luxury of being able to build a daily writing habit. Nor have I always utilized the writing time I have for working on my novel. But even when I am writing daily, I find it takes me a long time to finish a chapter. And I’m only on chapter 11 of a planned 15 chapters. Yet, despite the evidence of the past, I really feel like I’m in the home stretch.
The number one reason I should not feel this way is that I am moving to a new home. That’s right, my wife and I are moving out of our rental and are buying our very first house together. In a month and a few days, I’m going to be a bona fide homeowner. This week we began packing.
Trying to finish a book while also getting ready to move is probably not wise. But you know what I think is even more foolish? Not writing.
There’s a time to write and a time to rest. Right now, it’s not a time to rest, but a time to use the changes in my life as a catalyst to finishing the first draft of this book. I figure that if a normal person only gets to pack in the evenings after work or on weekends, then I can just pack after I’m done writing for the day.
I won’t be finished with this book by moving day (Oct. 12!). Still, the feeling of crunch time is helping motivate me to get this novel done. I might get burned-out with packing our whole house into boxes, but I don’t think I’ll be getting burned-out on writing the book. There’s too much excitement there for me. Especially since I have a self-imposed deadline of October 31st.
Why Halloween? Only because I want to do NaNoWriMo, so I will ideally be done on or even before the deadline. Hopefully I’m not setting myself up to fail in November (or to fail to even participate) by cutting things so close. Nevertheless, I think it would be nice to just set the novel aside in November and let my creative side jump into something completely different.
I won’t go into my evolving thoughts on NaNoWriMo or into the piece I hope to write for it because it’s not yet being written and this is work-in-progress Wednesday. All of that will come later—if at all. I will, however, share a photo of a note from my wife I found on the back of one of my as yet unpublished stories while sorting through papers that needed filing.
In summary, I think the rest of chapter 11 and the subsequent chapters will be written faster than all the parts of the book that came before. I’m in the home stretch. Let’s just hope that my move doesn’t stretch me beyond my limits, creatively or otherwise.
When I began writing Descriptions of Heaven, though I did intend to one day become a novelist, I never intended this narrative to be of book-length. The thing grew from a single scene into a story composed of chapters. It, in fact, unintentionally took the place of a book I was writing about a son dealing with the decline of his mother’s health due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Even with this book published, I had never been quite certain that I legitimately was a novelist, since my first book is what many call a novella. However, I have come across writing just as short as my novella where the publisher calls it a novel in the blurb and foreword. So I was either a novelist who wrote a little novel (novella) or a short story author who wrote a long short story. Either way, my book was published as a standalone piece, just like any novel—big or small. Yet, I still kept asking myself, Am I a novelist?
When asked what I do all day, my default answer is no longer “I’m a writer” or the only sightly less vague “I write books.” Instead, I’m more apt so say “I’m a novelist” (though saying I’m a short story author is equally true, short fiction work isn’t a part of my quotidian practices).
There are two primary reason I’ve embraced the term novelist:
1) Recently, a friend on my Literary Fiction Writers Facebook group, during a discussion about the demarcations between a short story and a novel, pointed out that the real difference isn’t word count, but structure and flow. Novels and short stories are extremely different in that respect. While I’m not willing to discount word count as playing a central role in their difference, I’m apt to agree that rather small word counts can still be structured as novels. Descriptions of Heaven has under 35 thousand words, but it is structured as a novel and does not flow like a short story.
2) I have to admit that in this past six months I’ve become much more focused on my novel-in-progress, spending less time on my short fiction, which I often used to write, edit, and submit in lieu of working on my novel. Not only did my computer go kaput, as I explained in a previous WIP Wednesday post, making this kind of productive “distraction” less available, but I’ve also been spending every free day I have novel-writing for as long as I feasibly can. While it’s often not as much as I want, I can honestly say I am spending large chunks of my weekdays writing a novel.
So, there you have it. I have already written one little novel, and most Tuesdays through Fridays I spend my hours after breakfast until lunch writing my next novel. I am a novelist, both a published and actively working novelist.
Real talk time: I think a lot of novelists suffering from impostor syndrome or whatever, suffer a lot not because their book is too small, but because they don’t write as much as they can. No one should spend all their time writing, and in your life there are likely other things that take precedence over creative work. But a lot of us have the time—have in fact painfully carved out some small hours to focus on creativity—and yet we feel like impostors because we haven’t developed a good writing habit, thus we don’t use the time as we should. Consequently, we don’t feel like writers, let alone novelists.
The truth is, I haven’t developed a consistent habit of getting back to the desk after lunch. I can’t even blame it on a honey-do list, since I don’t let chores distract me anymore. My problem is that writing’s been going so well that I often finish my intended writing goal for the day or complete a long scene before the hours I’ve carved out for myself are used up. So I often stop writing because my brain feels like it needs a reset or some time to think about what’s next (yeah, I’m not a huge plotter).
On the one hand, I don’t mind these breaks because I’ve felt productive and hit my goals. On the other hand, I want to make a living as a writer—as a novelist—and in order to do that, I’ll probably want to be putting out a book every other year. Stopping for scene changes isn’t going to cut it.
Here’s four things I’m doing to try and keep it going:
1) During lunch, I don’t turn on the radio or watch any TV. This lets my mind linger on my work, keeping me in my novelist zone or at least letting me transition back there faster.
2) I just get right back to the desk after my break and write. It’s been years since I’ve had to be in a mood or needed the Muse to write. So why I think I need to be calibrate my brain for the next section of my novel, I don’t know.
3) If I don’t have so much as a bullet point on a sticky note or general idea of what comes next, I’ll let myself go on a walk and think about it. I write when I get back. This isn’t something I want to become a habit since I won’t be going on walks come our long Midwestern winters, so I’ll only go out for a walk after serious creative thought. If nothing comes, I’ll let myself head out into the neighborhood for an hour or so.
4) I’m building a habit by writing every day I can, starting as early as I can and staying at it until 3:00pm if possible. Yet there’s this thing called real life that gets in the way sometimes of that good habit, so I’ve been trying to write daily regardless of the time. If needed, I’ve started at 11:00am, which is really late for me. I’ve even resorted to writing in the evening if I didn’t get a chance to during the day. While it cuts into family and reading time writing so late, it also shows my commitment to making a living from my books, continues to build my writing habit, and literally gets me a few pages closer to my goal.
This book is getting done. And, while I am a novelist, it’s forming the habit of novel-writing that’s going to let me someday be a career novelist (and occasional author of short story collections).
Do you consider yourself a novelist whether you’ve written a novel or not? Or a poet, even if you haven’t made a collection of poetry? What are your writing habits like? Are your habits working or can you improve upon them? Let me know in the comments below.
My computer broke. It became extremely slow of a sudden. I did manage to finish typing up chapter 7 before the thing became unusable, giving me disc error messages when I boot it up.
I’m not terribly upset. Yes, I need a computer to type and edit, but I really don’t miss the internet. I’m actually enjoying the extra hour(s) of book reading now that I must wait until a work day (like today; I was called in) to do anything online. I already refuse to own a smartphone. I really don’t want to deal with the constant presence of social media in my pocket. And the computer that went kaput is also the same one that for years didn’t have internet, functioning as just a useful word processor. I was forced to add internet functionality back to it when my tiny laptop with a half-broken screen finally died. The truth is, I’ll probably get the thing fixed come winter. Maybe. The Spring and Summer months are really the worst months to be staring at screens anyway.
I spent over a week typing up chapter 7. I ended up with 71 double spaced pages with 21,577 words. My novel is now past the 100 thousand word mark. Chapter 8 was written before chapter 7, so I took a weeklong break to just read, which corresponded nicely with my computer going to shit.
During this break, I also contemplated what to write next. I thought I knew where I wanted to go. In fact, I still want to go there. But there’s been this character, Kimmie, who has been sitting in my mind since the beginning, and I wasn’t sure if there’d be enough room to squeeze her in and flush her out like I wanted. I’ve toyed with cutting her out altogether. But this book is a “cast of many,” and so I never entirely snipped her out and, in fact, mentioned her in the last chapter, basically daring myself to find a way to give her some page time.
So I was sitting in my library, thinking about how to start the next chapter, and this big old monologue from Wesley formed in my head. I had problems with it though. The first problem was that it simply didn’t feel right for the next chapter. Though maybe it could be slipped in somewhere, I couldn’t imagine where exactly. The second problem was that chapter 8 already had a heavy dialogue-only section toward the end. It would make a good beginning of a chapter, but not a good start to the next chapter.
The idea of Kimmie’s displaced narrative suddenly bumped up against this monologue, and I could see thematic resonance. While I still couldn’t start the next chapter with the monologue, it could certainly follow Kimmie’s section just fine. And once I had set the monologue behind my other character’s story, I realized I had a new chapter—an extra and previously unplanned chapter.
With this extra chapter squeezed in, will my book fall apart under its own weight?
No. I don’t think it will. In fact, Wesley’s monologue will be a great segue into chapter 10. It’s an accident of inspiration, and the novel will adapt to fit it. Just like I’ll adapt to only having access to a computer when at work on the weekends. My experience of the sunny months will be better without a computer in my house. My novel will be better with this extra chapter nestled happily into the middle of the story. Everything will adapt just fine.
It finally happened. I’ve heard of it from other writers, but I’d never had the experience myself before now.
I dreamed my characters.
Not only that, but I was writing them. It was an odd, but thrilling experience.
When we dream, our brain does this thing we call sleep spindles. As tuck.com describes them: “sleep spindles are sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity . . . that occur during stage 2 of light sleep. These brainwaves are called sleep spindles because of how they look when printed out on an EEG reading.”
Scientists have linked these sleep spindles to areas of the brain that have been used during the day. So if you do a task for a prolonged period of the day like sewing, teaching a class, shooting hoops, mindless factory work, or writing then your brain “practices” this activity at night in your sleep, giving you sleep spindles in the exact same area of the brain.
Those who sleep talk are oftentimes acting out their sleep spindles. My wife, for example, is a frequent sleep-talker. She is almost always teaching, admonishing kids to quit goofing around, or gabbing with other educators in her sleep.
I imagine that since I’ve been writing even more each day than last year, that my brain has been spending ample time exercising my writing muscles while I sleep.
Here’s the thing about sleep spindles and your sleep talking dreams: you shouldn’t be able to remember them. It’s only your rapid eye movement (REM sleep) that you remember. These are typically the more exciting dreams where you’re trying to find something, accomplish a task, get somewhere, are maybe flying, or (if it’s a nightmare) trying to get away from something. In fact, when we talk about dreams and dreaming, we’re almost always talking about REM sleep.
So, while I’ve been brain spindling it up with an increase of 2 to 3 more hours a day at the writing desk this year, it’s still surprising to see my characters come to life in my dreams. While it’s most likely that I was in REM sleep, just the manner of my dream makes me wonder if I hadn’t somehow managed to remember a sleep spindle dream. If I did, then my writing sleep spindles look pretty cool.
I won’t give every detail, but here’s the gist of the dream: I was dreaming about two of my characters—the two which are the principle characters of the current chapter I’m writing.
Jazzy and Miles were at a white wrought-iron table in an outdoor cafe, and Jazzy was being offered alcohol. I wasn’t in the dream, but I could hear myself narrating what was happening in exactly the same manner that I hear myself think when I write. The scene had to do with whether Jazzy would accept the alcoholic drink or not due to her Christian beliefs which don’t forbid alcohol but do frown on it in practice.
Then my dream switched to a scene with Maha and a more minor character. It’s a parallel scenario with Maha at a wooden table in at a bar and restaurant in the heart of Delhi. In this scene, Maha is having the same issue, except her Islamic beliefs don’t allow her to drink alcohol at all. I again hear my voice narrating the scene and the actions. Like with Jazzy, I can see my character fully, both from a distance and up close. Her face is troubled because she’s in a delicate situation of appearing rude if she doesn’t accept the drink but will be sinning if she does.
Then, suddenly, a line comes to mind that has to do with Miles back at the previous scene. The dream jumps over to Jazzy and Miles who are sitting at the same outdoor table. This one beautiful line flows out of me so intensely that I see it being written in my handwriting at the bottom of the scene below their table. I don’t see my hand, I just see the words appearing in my unique chicken scratch. After this, the dream goes immediately back to Maha’s dilemma, and I wake up right before I’m about to narrate what she decides to do.
Note: neither of these exact scenes appear in my book, but the characters I envisioned do exist in my mind. What was so cool was that they appeared exactly as I picture them. In fact, they seemed even more vivid and lifelike in my dream than they do when I’m writing their story. They looked much more human. The sweat on their brows, the pores on their faces were all clear when the dream was examining them closely.
It was a crazy positive experience that tells me I’m doing something right. And that thing is writing. If I’m writing enough in the day that I spend time writing in my sleep, this means I’m really giving myself over to the thing that I want to do with my life, which is bring a book into existence through words in my mind being transferred onto a page.
Let me know if you’ve ever dreamed about your characters in the comments below.
All photos except the sleep spindle graph are from Pixabay. The graph is from Goodnights.rest
I also want to make it clear that sleep spindles appear to do more than help us learn. We’re actually still learning about them. Sleep has always fascinated me, and I think sleep spindles and the unconscious processes of learning are some of the most amazing aspects of unconsciousness—even more interesting than REM sleep. What I’ve written above is what I remember about sleep spindles. So do your own research to see what’s new and what other studies might have to say in agreement or opposition to sleep spindle learning.
INTRO TO WIP WEDNESDAYS
I’m starting a new blogging segment I’m calling WIP Wednesday. This is WIP Wednesday #1. I don’t plan to post every single Wednesday but occasionally will be writing about my latest work-in-progress on Wednesdays.
This year I’ve been posting weekly about my dialogue challenge, and I’ve found setting a blogging goal related to my creative writing is a great motivator. This isn’t that exactly. Unless I’m doing a weekly post, an occasional update on my next WIP isn’t going to really motive me not to procrastinate if for some reason I am procrastinating. Instead, I hope this new segment will be more topical in nature, letting people know some aspect of what I’m working on as opposed to what I used to do pre-dialogue days, which was only really post when a story of mine was published somewhere.
Since I’ve already been posting like crazy about the dialogues, expect my WIP Wednesday posts to be mostly focused on the novel. Though there will probably be WIP posts about the dialogues once they are ready to be compiled into a short story collection, but I wouldn’t expect any such posts in the near future.
For my first WIP Wednesday, the focus is going to be on word count.
I just did a recount of the latest drafts of all the chapters in my novel-in-progress, and I’ve got 89,191 words typed up. Now I write everything by hand and only a small portion of the chapter I’m working on is actually typed up. Using a conservative estimate, I’m without a doubt over 90 thousand words.
When I began writing I feared that my book would be too short to count as a novel. I worried I didn’t have enough to say—enough words—to tell a novel-length story. After all, I write lots of flash fiction and my debut book was a novella of less than 40 thousand words (at least after my editor got through with it).
The goal for my current WIP was at least 80 thousand words. I tried to focus on just writing—not word count—and repeated the mantra, A story will be as long as it needs to be, whenever anxiety about my novel’s length cropped up. Truth be told, I failed to brush away my worries and instead have been keeping track of my chapter’s lengths. Here’s the current breakdown:
Prologue: 623 words
Chapter 1: 17,082 word
Chapter 2: 10,943 words
Chapter 3: 8,359 words
Chapter 4: 6,404 words
Chapter 5: 10,034 words
Chapter 6: 5,389 words
Chapter 7: 4,647 words typed (This is the chapter I’m currently writing.)
Chapter 8: 25,710 words
Now that I know I’ve reached the magical 80 thousand, I feel relief because I have certainty that this work is long enough and, with more to write, will stay long enough even after editing. I believe I have something like four more full chapters left to write, including the one I’m currently writing. So I can calculate the average of my completed chapters (not the prologue or chapter 7) at 11,989 words. At only 4 more chapters, that’s 47,956 words left to write if I hit that average. Add this predicted total chapter length of the next 4 chapters to my completed chapters and we’ve got a 132,500 word book.
I have no way of knowing right now if I’m going to be spot on, way short, or a lot longer than this guess. At the lowest, my chapters should be 5 thousand words. I’ve read in places that 5K is a good word count for chapters in most books for adults. As you can see, my chapters are all above 5 thousand words. I think 5K is a good chapter length myself, but that’s not how this book decided to structure itself. It’s perfectly possible that I could end up with four 20 thousand word chapters to finish off my book or, much less likely, end the book with four 5 thousand word chapters.
Isn’t over 100K words too long for a novel?
According to this reedsy article, my book is likely to be a little on the long side for literary fiction. 80 to 100 thousand is the sweet spot. And while the sweet spot is a good place to be because it’s more likely to be accepted by agents and publishing houses, it’s also shorter than I hoped my novel would be. You see, while I fretted about reaching that magical 80K, I felt my book needed to be bigger. It might be best to remember that the sweet spot exists for a reason, but it’s also good to remember the mantra, A story will be as long as it needs to be. And I always felt this story needed to be longer than the minimum. Ideally, I really wanted it to be at least 120 thousand words.
Why break the “rules” of novel-length, especially when it’s your first novel?
That’s a great question? The simple answer is the same as my mantra. But it might also have to do with genre; though to be honest, I really don’t know. To me, my book is literary fiction. But a friend of mine said the book I’ve described to him is a systems novel, a genre of both literary and speculative novels.
I don’t know if he’s correct or not, but one trait that some systems novels have is bulk. Word counts in lit fic systems novels are often way larger than my guesstimate of 130K. So if my friend is right, then maybe the word count this thing is bound to be is closer to correct for its genre (though the mantra takes precedence IMO over any other correctness criteria). My friend is smart, so he’s probably right. But whatever the genre, I feel like the more words for this particular book, the better. You can look up articles on systems novels and, after the book out, decide for yourselves if it’s one, and while you’re at it, you’ll probably make a decision on how you feel about the long chapters in my book.
TL;DR Announcing a new blogging segment: WIP Wednesday. I’ll be posting these occasionally. My current WIP, a novel, is at 90K words and could get past 130K words. This is long, but it might be the right word count for the book’s genre, a literary systems novel, if it’s even its actual genre. In the end, A story will be as long as it needs to be.
Share a little about your WIP in the comments and don’t forget to drop a link to your website so we can follow you.
This week (today, actually) I’ve written a Halloween dialogue: Demon Zone.
Mark the doors with the sigils of the moon, of the red red river, of the biting chains. Empty dawn of its fire. Let dusk sink eternally into crepuscular paralyzation—hypnagogic, terrifying.
Thus begins the shouting match of the demons. Blood, horrible sights, and terrifying beings culminate in a conversation of violence where any talk of beauty or peace is muted.
Yeah, I’ll be sending this piece out pronto. Though it might end up getting published as a poem. I say this because for a dialogue it’s awful unconversational. I just couldn’t imagine a bunch of demons who sit around and shoot the shit (well, actually I can imagine that; it’s just not how I was inspired to write this particular dialogue). “Demon Zone” does resemble a prose poem. It’s perhaps more prose than a dialogue like “Insults Two by Two,” but it’s certainly poem-like enough to get published as one. Which is fine. A poetic dialogue. A dialogical poem. Tomato, tomato.
I have enough dialogues (and drafts and drafts of dialogues) that next week I’m breaking out a file box for it all. I don’t need the old drafts, really, as everything is saved in digital form. But I like to keep these as backups and for posterity or whatever.
The only other file box I have like this is full of Descriptions of Heaven stuff. Lots and lots of DoH stuff. Seriously, every draft was like a whole little book. I can’t imagine what my WIP, a novel, will fill. Two? Three file boxes? Yikes! I better invest should I ever see any on sale.
Notable life news: As some of you know, for a while my best friend, Mike, lived with my wife and I. We had a huge combined library and liked to chat about books, physics, and life. Well, we still like to chat, but nowadays we do a lot of that chatting here at the hotel (where I typically do my blog posts). He lives at the hotel now where both he and I work. It’s pretty awesome. For me anyway. Mike doesn’t seem to mind it much either.
One of the reasons he moved in with us was so we could work on a video project together. The project is Mike’s baby. I wrote for it, completing two scripts. While I never expected the same level of output (I write constantly; he writes sparingly), when no scripts were forthcoming from him, the project was pretty much red lighted.
Well, after revisiting the idea and steering our thoughts in a new direction (one which he and I both feel is a better direction) we may be starting the project again. Maybe. We’ll see. I do feel confident enough to actually write about it here because Mike is working on a script. I am in a state of squee about this, since I really think this collaboration could be fun and educational for both of us.
For me, this is a yellow light. I want to see Mike actually complete something for this project before I dive back in. Luckily, I was able to repurpose one of my scripts for a creative nonfiction piece (edited and sent out to potential publishers last week). If Mike manages to stay focused on our project, then come the new year when this dialogue challenge is done, I’ll green light my script writing again.