Category Archives: The Process

Things you’re supposed to do

For once, my natural procrastination and laziness dovetailed with something you’re actually supposed to do: to put down a draft when it’s done and let it drain out of your brain for a while before you edit. A couple of days ago I realized I had a batch of songs stuck in my head that I often listened to while working on the draft, and I decided to take that as a sign from my subconscious that it was time to start again. Was it? Probably not. But why not.

Besides, I’d developed a habit of practicing ukulele and then writing, and when I finished the latter I stopped doing the former. Which isn’t great. Kind of lost the calluses, mostly. But I can still play, so that’s nice.

I’m embarrassed about taking up an instrument when I did, i.e. late April 2020. It seems like a facile, grind-culture / productivity-hack thing to do, and that is absolutely not why I did it. But I can’t prove that, and it still looks bad from the outside. Which is unfortunate. It was interesting to learn a stringed instrument, and I really enjoy it. If, someday, I can actually play and sing “(Nothing But) Flowers” at the same time, I’ll feel like it was an endeavor worth not being embarrassed about. Not there yet. Someday.

Meanwhile, I spent most of my leisure hours on a new version of an old-school time-suck, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town on the Switch. Harvest Moon / Story of Seasons is an old favorite, and I’ve enjoyed this installment so far. It’s cute. The script is well translated. There’s enough to do, and no plot railroading the player along. Not perfect, of course; it’s Inventory Management: The Game, and the whole maker-machine thing is goofy. (Did I not just get tired of that mechanic in the first two-thirds of My Time at Portia? I believe I did.) And whyyyyy can I not clip through my farm animals COME ON. But it still has that advancement loop that sucks my brain in and wraps it up like a Thundershirt, much like all the other games of its ilk that I’ve played for coming up on 20 years. It works on me. It just does.

(Someday I might write myself a big long rant about farming sim games and the kind of pastoral fantasy they often end up espousing — “city bad country good”, etc. — and how it feels like my work can slip into that mode even though I don’t intend for it to, and my many issues with that kind of polarized thinking and why I Love Cities Actually… but not today.)

And now it’s time to scale back the games and get on with editing the draft of book 3, now that book 3 is no longer playing in a loop in the back of my head. The beta readers have it, and Godspeed to them; it’s at least shorter than the second one. We’ll see what they say, and in the meantime I’ll work on line edits, my favorite (zero sarcasm).

We’re still here. I’m glad of that. Back to it.

There’s a reason the tag is still “Book 3”

Progress!

Step 1a: fix formatting messiness like smart/flat quotes, tabs, headings, blahblah (trying out a Google Drive plug-in for some of this)

Step 1b: decide on a cover, buy it, hope the title designer still has any of those fonts from lo these many years ago; get that ball rolling -> Not yet, because I can’t commit to a title. However, I ought to at least shop for covers. There are dozens of very lovely “gauzy nature + writing implements” cover blanks out there, and I enjoy looking at them.

Step 2a: crack into my running list of Words I Use Too Often / though I think “smile” is still used too often. You’re supposed to torture your characters, oh no

Step 2b: describe more things, geez! / Tried!

Step 3a: reread everything, streamline sentences, look out for dropped plot threads and fix them

Step 3b: repeat (Note: Do not take 2 years for this step) -> About to do this, via exporting to my e-reader

Step 4a: turn over to beta readers -> DONE! <3

Step 4b: pivot to extras for Books 1 and 2 -> this is daunting! It should be fun, but it’s also daunting. Giving myself free rein to write bits outside the main narrative has resulted in a) spinning off into an entirely separate universe in a different genre b) an excessively dark Nessinian historical short about an assassin and c) a goofy flash-forward based on a fanfic prompt that turned out to be kind of useful in an indirect way.

(It’ll get done, I just need to think about it)

But hey. The draft is done. I don’t know what to do with my life from approximately 8-10 p.m. every day. All of *waves above* this, I suppose. Time to get to it.

Phase 2: Things exist, say something about them

We have passed the easy part of the edit where I search and destroy/replace some of my over-used words (but, moment, forehead) and have entered the part of the edit where I go through and try to describe more things, because my natural tendency is toward scenes that apparently take place in blank white voids, starring beings of pure energy. You want to fix that before you reach the final.

This part of the edit is slow going, but it’s important.

Pictured: one good boy, not helping. A nearly daily occurrence. I don’t make the rules.

An unimpressed tabby cat blocks 60% of a monitor that is covered in Meeples and paint-and-take minis, showing a blurry view of Google Docs

Back to it.

Now the work begins.

* One chapter and an epilogue. So now the draft is done.

Step 1a: fix formatting messiness like smart/flat quotes, tabs, headings, blahblah (trying out a Google Drive plug-in for some of this)

Step 1b: decide on a cover, buy it, hope the title designer still has any of those fonts from lo these many years ago; get that ball rolling

Step 2a: crack into my running list of Words I Use Too Often

Step 2b: describe more things, geez!

Step 3a: reread everything, streamline sentences, look out for dropped plot threads and fix them

Step 3b: repeat (Note: Do not take 2 years for this step)

Step 4a: turn over to beta readers

Step 4b: pivot to extras for Books 1 and 2

Step 5a: get betas’ feedback, reread, decide what to implement

Step 5b: same as 3a, plus insight from betas

Step 6a: write synopsis of first two books, plus the blurb / cover copy for this one

I actually love editing, in all seriousness. Editing >> writing >> outlining >>>>>>>>> blurbing. I’m pretty jazzed that we’re finally at this stage. Onward and upward.

Here’s what happened this time.

I write slowly. I think the years between books 1 and 2 bear this out. I’m a hobbyist, really, and a hobbyist without a lot of motivation most of the time. So that’s a factor.

In February 2020, I finished a first(ish) rough draft of book 3. To recap, in book 2 (uh, spoilers, if anyone cares) our protagonists settle down in a small city and work in a charity hospital, one as a magical healer and one as a doctor’s apprentice. Due to the events of book 2, the political landscape in the story is beginning to shift, with the nearby national border becoming more open for travel and trade.

In this early draft of book 3, written largely in 2018-2019, an unusually wet spring causes flooding, particularly in an older area of the city with old infrastructure. And you’re seeing where I’m going with this: not cholera, too grisly, but not far off. A lightly fictionalized version of typhoid fever. It starts to sweep through the city, people start blaming newcomers because people tend to suck, and the protagonists (particularly Agna, the healer) get involved in figuring out where it comes from, since the story-world has not figured out what microorganisms are yet. Basically an echo of real-world shifts in scientific theories in the 1800s, only with magic.

I had just started to edit the draft when I realized it could never see the light of day. Either it would look like a crass cash-grab, or a mawkish attempt to Say Something about the current day – although it was almost entirely written before the COVID-19 pandemic. The plot just could not fly now. End of story.

I am still turning the ship around, working from home at the day job, time no longer has any meaning, the draft now has a different plot, and it’s still in progress. I don’t think I’ve logged into my “writing” email in months, not that it really matters, honestly, but if anyone for some???? reason has tried to get hold of me, apologies. I write every day, and I still love it, but any interactions with the “””professional””” side of this whole thing demoralize the hell out of me. At heart, I still wish I were a fanfic writer in 1999, posting things for free because it was fun.

Meanwhile, even talking about the pandemic feels like a relic of a different time. My country is in a long-overdue upheaval as people demand the rights they should have had for generations. I have no platform, really — I don’t even post on Twitter, though I read it, who knows why — and it seems strange to try to prove my ally bona fides when my voice is the tiniest whisper. If I had any proceeds from my books, I’d donate them. I donate privately, and have already chipped in more than I think I’ve made on the books this year to bail funds and mutual aid societies. But more to the point, I’m listening and educating myself and trying to be a better person. It’s the smallest possible start and an extremely low bar.

Someday, I hope to update with a finished copy of book 3. Until then, know that I’m a human who’s trying to do better, trying to try, trying to see my own faults and fix them. I recommend that path. It’s a good one.

Welcome to the future.

I’ve been writing, well, since c. 1984 if we’re talking pencil and paper, but since 1990 or ’91 regularly. I was a 13-year-old who got a no-kidding stand-alone Brother word processor as a birthday present. Like, a computer that only made text files. Not really for writing schoolwork. For writing fiction, since I’d spent the previous couple of years scribbling in notebooks endlessly. However ornery I may be about my upbringing in some aspects, that was a boss move from my parents.

So it took me until 20omg19 to finally try putting a draft on The Cloud(tm). Not really because of paranoia, because a hacker may as well hack somebody who makes more than coffee money out of writing. I just felt like I had to get my money’s worth out of Scrivener. And I do quite like that program, don’t get me wrong. Still, shifting 70+ files back and forth between PC and laptop every time I want to switch my seat led me to just not work on anything at all. Enter… The Cloud(tm).

I can work on the draft from my desktop! And my laptop! AND MY PHONE! I quickly found that I cannot thumb-type more than a couple of paragraphs without getting frustrated. However, you know what I can do from my phone? Line edits. Correcting word choice. Skimming through to fix continuity. Making notes about what I want to do next. Wheeeeeee. (All that stuff that I spent years doing with Book 1, so yeah, moderation in all things.)

So when I say “hey I’m actually working on the draft I swear,” I am actually working on the draft, I swear.

Or playing Pokemon Go. I’m not made of stone.