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Uncle Josh Checks in on the Goodreads Challenge

I challenged myself to read 50 books in 2018 and checked in with GoodReads and it has me down for 20 books already read and I’m a few hours away from number 21. I’m surprised I’ve read that much. It doesn’t even track the short fiction I’m trying to keep up with because I’m supposed to be writing and submitting short fiction but I have to admit I haven’t written much in the past couple of years. Constant rejection is a bit of a burnout and every time I try to explain it to myself I begin to sound like a crybaby MRA and so I tell myself to shut up about it. Write or don’t, but quit bitching about past failures.

Another part of the challenge this year has been to read a more diverse group of authors. The breakdowns so far

  • Men/Women ratio: 12 to 8 (I reread all of Ken Scholes’ magnum opus, so author-wise it’s 8 and 8)
  • White/Not White ratio: 17 to 3 (Again, Ken is 5 of that thirteen, so 12 to 3) – I’m not sure how some of these authors would qualify

And Apparently there was one missing by a white male author that was a novelette. It didn’t get marked as read but it came out in January, so there’s a skew to the numbers again (and even more stuff read than I thought imaginable).

The highlight of year so far is Devon Monk’s Scissor Kisses simply because I love these characters and how the interact. It’s been pure joy reading the Ordinary Magic books and stories. I finally read The Great Gatsby because why not get a classic in the cycle but honestly I didn’t know what to make of that book. There’s nothing likable about any of the characters but at least John Green set me right on my opinion of the book. I read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of The Force Awakens in an airport.

The books that I had greater hopes for were a book 2 in a series where I really enjoyed book 1 but really, by the end of it, there was too much drama and assholing to really enjoy the central mystery of the book, so I decided to stop. Right after that was another book that looked good and had promise but the first person POV was a underdeveloped Han Solo knockoff and he grated on my nerves, so there’s another series not happening.

And here’s where the trouble may begin. I do not fully understand the non-binary gender thing and gender fluidity and gender as a social construct thing. I don’t get it. Being a man is vital to who I am as a person. I want to understand more so I decided to try some fiction to help explain it to me. Several years ago I read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and the constant use of female pronouns confused me more than anything else. Ada Palmer’s Too Like The Lightning managed a better job of it by poking a little fun at me as a reader (on this and a whole lot of other topics) but didn’t bring about any revelations. So I turned to a YA book from the  James Tiptree, Jr. Honor List and basically learned that there are no good men, nothing good about being a boy or a man, and men are lecherous, manipulative, or completely useless. That doesn’t make me want to continue that series either.

I am looking for recommendations. If Robin Bates has taught me nothing else, he has taught me that fiction can teach me anything.

Uncle Josh Checks in on the Goodreads Challenge was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Thursday was a bad day, and I ended up writing for half an hour later in the evening and that made the prospect of getting out of bed Friday morning to continue writing a little too much to bear, so I didn’t. I didn’t write during my lunch hour and I didn’t write Friday evening. I decided against it. I gave myself a day off.

This can be a dangerous thing to do. An hour a day on a novel is not too much to ask of myself or to schedule but I needed a day off, so I took on. I also plan on writing two or three hour-long sessions today and maybe two tomorrow, so that will make up for lost time.

According to my wordcount, despite skipping yesterday I’m still ahead of the game and I’m on pace to write 50K assuming I actually have that much material. I have a feeling that despite my carefully balanced plotting to pantsing ratio will still not leave me enough material. I’m also thinking “novella” here so 35K-40K is more reasonable length. I’m overwriting in my head to give myself plenty of room to cut down. I have learned over the years that not every word I put in a file is important. Dumping wordcount is healthy. Loving your words, especially those first-draft pre-coffee words, can be dangerous. The more words I add, the more gems I’ll have and hopefully less re-writing when February rolls around.

Uncle Josh Breathes a Sigh of Relief was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Averts Disaster

Today did not start well. I didn’t want to wake up and didn’t get out of bed until six or seven minutes after the hour. By the time I got to my desk, tea in hand, I found my computer had decided to take a break from reality and I got a pink screen of death. Then after waiting for the long reboot I launched my novel to find … 0 words. 0 bytes. Nothing. Nada. Not an electronic sausage.

I was too tired to panic but so tired that I couldn’t swear loudly and if I had a neighbor in residence, I would have woken him. (He’s a great guy but he travels a lot.)

I save the file to Google Drive. Should solve the problem. Except Google Drive also showed a 0-byte file where my nascent novel had been.

I must admit at this point I bitched on Facebook and went to back to bed, swearing off NaNoWriMo, writing, or ever achieving anything at all in life because Windows.

After calming down I thought there was a way to view previous versions of the file and I did eventually find them, and salvaged the work that had been lost. There was an official backup of only 7K words compared to the 15K I had actually done… but no. The story was saved but the writing hour was up. I wrote about 900 words in half an hour and gave up to the inevitable “have to go to work” that plagues so many people in today’s world.

After work we went to Fonda Lee’s reading for Jade City, which sounds like incredible fun and I hope both the RPG and movie based on the work do it justice. Fonda presented the origin story of the novel, from initial thoughts to fan casting it, to the point where I realized that I hadn’t actually tracked this stuff myself. The idea for this book has been kicking around my head, according to my earlier posts “for about a year” but I’m not sure it was that long. I did have some notes online about the novel’s origins and they stemmed from a Terry Pratchett line “the natural number of a group of witches is one” from one of the early witch novels, and these may have come along during the summer when I re-read a good chunk of early Pratchett.

My process is unorganized and quite chaotic, and in the past I have caught myself writing two different stories in the same manuscript because the mental pre-writing clouds in my head converged and the result was, well, messy. I do a lot of pre-writing that way, but I think with this book I have come across a process that will let me shape those pre-writing clouds into something that I can finish.

Anyway, I came home tired and gave myself 30 minutes to crank out words, and found 1.300 more for the novel. So that’s a win. I blame Fonda.

Uncle Josh Averts Disaster was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Builds his World

I wanted to write about this on the third, but other things were pressing on my mind when I wrote this. After re-reading my first three posts, it almost sounds like I’m exclusively using one source for “how to write a book” which isn’t the case. Bell’s books are very good, but the great bulk of my world building and basic story was done going through Mark Teppo’s Jump Start Your Novel. It was very helpful to get the parts of my novel sorted out that I normally wouldn’t develop all that well and then peter out mid-way through.

The most important example of this is my antagonist. It’s not a person, it’s a “raw creative force of the world” which was harder to wrap my head around until I forced myself to write out the exercises in Teppo’s book. Now I understand the power structure of the book and how every major character plays into that structure. This has given me a ground work to half-pants the work. I know where I’m going most of the time and I have a built-up sense of everything but so far nothing has constrained me into a plot hole or an impossible situation.

There is still space for that, I will admit. It is possible that in the scenes between my big signpost scenes I’ll find myself sticking thing into plot points from which there is no escape.

Today’s actual writing session was not at 6 AM. I set my alarm for 7 and had a breakfast, then I came home and worked out and then we went to see Thor: Ragnarok and then I sat down to write, unsure about myself and not sure which scene to work on so I did the follow up to Thursday’s work which pushes things past the disturbance and towards the First Door of No Return. I was a little afraid of it and I found myself back in my old writing habits in that I have about 13 pages of pure dialog sitting here now. According to the NaNoWriMo wordcount I did 1,900 words  in that hour. I’m a little shocked that I did that much.

Uncle Josh Builds his World was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Ends the Novella

This morning’s writing session was the end of Bell’s triangle of the story. I wrote the core “what is the character’s main question” bit on the first, then wrote the lead in to that, the “hell no I won’t change” bit, and this morning the resolution, which is pretty much the end of the story. In the first five minutes I realized that I wasn’t quite emotionally prepared to write the ending. I stuttered a bit but pressed on and accepted that it will probably need to be re-written, but then again, practically every thing I write is potentially re-writable by the end of all things. No worries. So I wrote and ended up 25 words shy of the daily goal in an hour.

Another thing that bothered me about writing the ending was there’s a bit of an emotional punch there, and my narrative character and her best friends participate in a ritual among themselves I called “Crying Night” and there were tears of joy and not joy and the catharsis of watching tearjerkers. I wrote it and thought “this is potentially horribly sexist.” I already ask my beta readers to tell me with brutal honesty when my writing goes sexist. I will admit to blind spots in my life.

So now I’ve written the emotional triangle and I need to start filling in the rest of the story. I’m not sure I’m up to write the opening yet. It hasn’t changed from how I first imagined the hook when I first came up with this story, but I’m not ready. I’ll probably work on some of the other top-tier scenes from Bell’s outline.

But not at six in the morning. I plan on taking the weekends off of the 6 AM writing call and write in the afternoon.

Uncle Josh Ends the Novella was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Begins in the Middle

One thing that stops me, or at least slows me down, is getting the opening right. I had a horrible habit of writing the opening scene and not liking it or not having enough to keep going so I’d write it again and try to get that killer first line that would somehow make the rest of the novel just flow and the plot work like Lily Hevesh in her studio.

So my plan this NaNo was to not write my opening scene. I know what happens. I know where it takes place and I know the key phrases that need to be said, but I’m not writing this novella that way. I am taking the path of James Scott Bell’s Write your Novel from the Middle and I spent day one writing that middle scene, the midpoint Bell describes in his book. I figure when I get to writing the opening scene, I’ll be ready to write it and I won’t second guess myself every sentence.

This morning I worked on the bit Bell calls the Argument Against Change, which sets up the protagonist’s inner transformation.

So tomorrow, by that logic, I should write the transformation, which is pretty much the end of the story. Thankfully I know what happens there as well. It’s really an epilogue sort of thing and that will be nice to write if I choose do write that in the morning.

I’ve also been using Bell’s companion book Super Structure where he fleshes out the ideas from the first book.

So as of today I’m over 4K, which the NaNoWriMo site tells me at this pace I’ll finish by November 25. I’ve seen that before. Life will happen. OryCon will happen. Changes at work will happen.

But for now I am writing again and that’s what I need to do.

Uncle Josh Begins in the Middle was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Writes Again (NaNoWriMo 2017)

I’ve had this idea bouncing around for probably the better part of a year, so the exact source of inspiration is lost to memory, but I’m sure I have the note in some app or file somewhere. I had been thinking about wizards and apprentices and how the progression of knowledge got passed down in some stories. The Sith “Rule of Two” seems to have been the rule. The idea I had turned that around. I had an apprentice who needed to find the wizard, because reasons. I’ve since managed to come up with reasons and call it a back story.

I have not been writing a lot and haven’t submitted a story for a couple of years. I got tired of rejection. I took a break. I played around with a few ideas but nothing has really gelled so this is all about butt-in-chair and getting my fingers moving in manuscript format instead of Python. I purchased a second-hand mechanical keyboard and moved the keys around and it kind of works well except I need a tall wrist pad because my arms got very tired in my first hour-long writing session this morning.

I also tried writing on the train to church and experimented with a qwerty layout and two thumbs and that lasted about five seconds before I got frustrated and went back to my left-handed dvorak layout on my phone. I managed a pretty good clip of about 1,000 words an hour which is what I used to do regularly, so I was satisfied with that. I also managed to salvage the obvious typos. “Yadda yadda yadda” turned into “baccalaureate baccalaureate bocce” for some strange reason that only Google understands.

I did feel good about writing, though. I have a loose outline and a few signposts. It’s looking to be a good NaNo year.

Uncle Josh Writes Again (NaNoWriMo 2017) was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Tries to Plot His Way Out of a Paper Bag

Once again I turn my hand to writing and trying to do something with the stockpile of stories I have unsold and unfinished. Once again I turn to structure templates and books on writing to solve the perennial problem of “what happens next?” Once again I map out plot points and realize I still don’t have enough scenes to make it work.

My latest attempt at re-writing my 2004 NaNoWriMo entry involved reading a couple of books by James Scott Bell that Dale Ivan Smith recommended. His books list 14 structural checkpoints, 5 in Act I, 4 in Act II, and 5 in Act III. I struggle with pacing in all my stories. To have 4 checkpoints in 50-55% of the book and 10 for the remaining 45-50% is frustrating. This is where I fall apart. I need to find other ways to fill this narrative space.

I need scenes. I don’t want to mistake these checkpoints for actual scenes, but my organizational pattern searching brain is trying to map them one-to-one.

I know I am hitting the greatest fault of all would-be writers, in that I’m not writing. I’ve tried pantsing my way through novels and it doesn’t work. I end up hitting a wall where I cannot come up with the  next thing. I’ve tried several plotting methods and those still leave gaps in my second acts.

Maybe, after 14 years of this, I should give up.

Uncle Josh Tries to Plot His Way Out of a Paper Bag was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Limps to the End of NaNoWriMo

This experiment has not been a successful one, but I know the external factors that led up to this failure: The election took a lot of wind out my sails. OryCon slowed me down, but no more than the other days.
The internal failures were consistency: I scheduled a 6-7 am writing hour every day and didn’t follow the schedule for a whole week in despair; and I often didn’t get up on the weekends to write. I didn’t make up that writing time, either.
The other internal failure was tracking my progress. I decided to write this one non-linearly. I had a rough outline of what I needed to write and let my mood for each day dictate which scene I worked on. This made for some good writing sessions and for some good drafts. When I knew what I needed to write and let myself go, I wrote fast. 1,800 words in one hour is pretty good, and rereading that material confirms for me that it’s not crap. I think it will hold up through edits.
The not-so-good sessions happened when I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen in the scene and had to pants it a little too much. I also let the despair of the world invade my space, and the despair of being twelve years into this with six sales for maybe $30 total on my biography. The endless stream of rejections has stopped because I gave up submitting. I have no critique group and no beta readers. I have no feedback community. All of these things came into my morning hour and all of them slowed me down.
Because I wrote this out of sequence, my nightly task was to organize the text in a separate file, already prepared with 18 chapters that just needed to be filled in. I did not review my daily work, copy it to the appropriate channel, and take notes. So while my daily writing practice has been somewhat successful and consistent, it has not been a focused writing review. There has been a loss of intention in the process. The best book to every explain zen to me is Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo. I need to re-read this book to re-connect with the content, but I remember something about focused practice, playing with a focus in mind, and I frequently spent my first few waking minutes deciding what to write that day.
Instead, I should have gone to bed knowing what I was going to write, letting my brain sort out the best phrases and the coolest images. On the days this worked, it worked well. I went to bed trying to sort out a Lovecraftian dream sequence and I was able to get up the next day and crank it out. It is not as pretty as I’d like, but it surprised me.
That is something else that did work this year: I surprised myself by my own writing. I invented a character on day two that has to be there in the in the opening chapters, but she never showed up in the outline. A second character showed up as well, brand new and unnamed (like my first-person narrator) and he needs to exist for world building purposes. I didn’t know he was there, and he’s only in one scene but I think he plays a vital role in shoving my guy through the portal this fantasy deals with.
Overall, I think the non-linear technique worked from an inspiration standpoint. Now I need to focus on the process around my writing hour to keep track of the story as a whole.
I asked several published authors about non-linear writing and none of them do this. They can start at the beginning and work their way through. They’ve also written lots and lots of books and sold or self-pubbed them, so their processes are probably kink-free. I’m still reinventing myself, losing focus on the longer stories in front of me and trying to re-write the longer stories behind me.
So I will keep on with the morning routine, and try to keep the weekends in the routine, and I will work on the evening side of things doing the necessary paperwork.
And one day, maybe, I’ll submit a story for rejection.

Uncle Josh Limps to the End of NaNoWriMo was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Metawrites

At OryCon and getting some good practical stuff on writing and process, and some silly stuff that involved losing a rhyming challenge. Ah well. I have fallen into the trap on not writing fiction, which seems to be a constant in my life but it always has that extra special sting during NaNoWriMo.
This year I am finding inspiration in my simple desire to be a panelist. I have to check myself from kibitzing through panel after panel after panel. It’s worse when I know the real panelists personally. I like to teach and help other people that’s what I think I’m doing when I’m just being that guy who’s going to help you fill out or ConBingo card.
So to mollify my need to pontificate, and to help myself get a framework of my own process for writing and editing, I’m going to work on a series of essays about writing that follow two basic tracks: The Reader’s Journey and The Writer’s Journey.
The Reader’s Journey is the creation of the writer for; the Writer’s Journey is the process of creating that journey.

I’m planning several essays and tying them together. Hopefully this can tie into my old Better Writing Through Reading series.

Hopefully this will help get me writing again.

Uncle Josh Metawrites was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much