The Answer Has Always Been Dragon.

If you could choose to be anything… There are a lot of t-shirts that start like this. I have one that says to choose to be yourself, unless you can be a mermaid. My daughter has one to be a unicorn. How I don’t have one that proclaims to be a dragon yet is beyond me, but I’m sure it’ll happen one day.

In our myths, we find things we love and fear and everything in between. Many proclaim affinity to one type or another, and we bring in all kinds of fictional worlds to also represent those facets of us.

Some of us are looking for magic and what’s unexpected from the average, normal day. We cannot all be contained within the mundane world. Magic exists as we see it, as we expect something or not. It isn’t always in a magician’s tricks, though it can be. How much do you want to see magic, versus understanding the process behind it?

I found a poem called Expecting Dragons in a copy of Lyrical Iowa. The poet saw wings, and she expected a dragon. It turned out to be an eagle, but despite the beauty of the sight, she was still waiting for the dragons.

But I would choose a dragon. It might be a light at the end of the tunnel. And then someone asked if it was a train. No, it’s a dragon. It’s always a dragon. I’ve been expecting dragons since I read that poem, and I look for the signs in the air. It might just be an eagle, but no one knows until we get there.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up off a shelf because of the word dragon in the title. Many of them I’ve brought home to enjoy.

Dragons exist. But only if you allow them to take up the space. One problem is they’re huge. They take up a lot more room than mermaids and unicorns and faeries. Yet no one else knows what to do with these things that are not true but exist in our minds.

Rarely do you see dragons as beasts. Most often they’re very intelligent, extremely capable

Witches and goblins might be a thing, but though some aspire to be witches, none seem to aspire to be goblins or gremlins. I often wonder why. One of the oldest forms of tag I remember playing was Witches and Goblins. I think I was six and the ringleader of the group’s activities. But we had fun.

Dragons are in my head. Dragons fill my dreams. Dragons carry me to different heights. Dragons might be tiny and intelligent. They might be huge and stupid. They might fill the skies or the seas or the mountains or the underground spaces.

As humans, we lose so much time doing what we’re supposed to do, saying what we’re supposed to say, and fulfilling expectations. Can you imagine a dragon taking that as an answer? My lovely imagination says no. The dragon would choose to be its own being, and it would be free to do as it chose.

A world without magic becomes boring. It may not be a dragon, but allowing that magic in the world makes me smile, and it keeps me writing. That might be one reason why my heart is set on speculative fiction. And yes, I’ve been writing something with a dragon lately. No answer on when I’ll finish it, but coming back to writing – after such a long time not pursuing much fiction during 2020, is nice. I’m reminded of the morning pages when she said she wrote and just waited to see what would show up. I’ve been writing, and a dragon showed up one day.

Impossible Goals

I’ve always been fond of the movie What About Bob? and partly because it has that great theory of baby steps. Of course Bob makes it hilarious-  Baby Stepping out the door. Baby stepping into the elevator. But the truth of that theory has worked for me. I don’t like to set big New Year’s Resolutions because it feels like too much to take on at once. I prefer the method of adding on something small to medium-sized and re-evaluating at the end of a month and the beginning of the next.

It’s how I combat procrastination – I spent how many hours playing video games this month? (Okay, that was a couple years ago- I don’t do it much now.) I’ve turned much of that time into more productive activities toward my goals.

So when someone close to me rattled off a median income for writers as “$70 000 a year,” I almost fell off my chair. And I was belted into a car. Median is supposedly the middle of all the writers out there, so while a straight average might take into account the big earners like Patterson and King and Rowling, the middle would be where the 50% percentile earner had income.

I’m skeptical. I want proof. I couldn’t get it, and I’d like to see where that kind of number comes from. There are so many writers out there, some of whom only send out one book and self-publish, some of whom have one book and traditionally publish, and some of whom keep sending out book after book. Some of these make great money, and others struggle along without much notice.

That median supposedly takes into account all writers, nonfiction and television and tech writers and fiction. If that had any truth, wouldn’t more of us be attempting to be writers?

Mostly, the part that makes me sad is when I think about that as a goal, as an answer to when I’ll be successful is when I hit the median of “writers,” it feels impossible. I don’t rise to impossible overnight. I like small goals. Like, how about, make more money this year than I pay out? And try to do that a couple years running?

Please send me a  comment with what you think it takes to be a successful writer – and what the goals are that keep you going on your path.

Yesterday I completed 720 days in a row of writing at least 750 words per day. I also received a rejection for my manuscript from an agent. Today’s task list includes rewriting. I haven’t given up on this writing dream.

Poetry Challenge

One thing I love about poetry is the way you look at words differently. I won’t call myself a poet. I don’t spend nearly enough time on it for that. I know little about forms. Meter and rhyme mostly serve to frustrate me.

But I read this op-ed, and I was thinking. I know some poets. They have beautiful words to share. One thing about those writer groups where you go and take something to read out loud – poetry is perfect for that medium. It’s also easy to print out 20 copies of a poem to share so they can find typos or anything else.

A friend of mine is running a poetry challenge this month, and every day we’re writing a poem. The challenge comes in finding something to say about the prompt – yesterday was Celestial Musings – and not using any of the forbidden words while using all of the required words and it was the first day we had the option of finding a form (any form).

I find it very intimidating to go find a form and just use it. I like it when someone tells me to try a pantoum or a tanka or a jozzonet. There are so many forms out there I’ve never heard of and I’m not sure where to go find them.

When the month is over and I have 30 new poems – because I’m not the kind of person who backs away from a challenge – I’m going back to my novel edits. I’m doing it to look at the words differently. To change how I see them in my head. To alter how they come out while I’m describing things. Wish me luck. I have 17 down and 13 to go.

My Character Took a Turn

While it isn’t my main character, a major character in the book revealed that he had something to do with one of the Bad Events. He seemed neutral at the beginning, a necessary bridge between protagonist and antagonist and someone who worked with both.

I suppose it all started when a different character – who was supposed to remain in the backstory – left traces of herself from the first page and arrived front and center when my protagonist needed an ally.

So much for my outline- except I’m still following the outline. I don’t believe in cornering myself with the details. I discover it as I write it, with the outline more like a street map. And just like my GPS system, every now and then it tells me to take a u-turn at 70 mph through a four-foot concrete barrier. I always choose not to follow that advice. I’m nearly at the destination now, and I know if I keep writing I’ll find my way.

I’m always amazed by well-meaning other writers who don’t know me well. They say “save it for later.” I’m not going to fix this guy. Except to make this reveal seem planned after the rewrite, of course.

Then, I thought, Man, your wife is way too cool for you. But maybe she also knew. I guess I’d better check in with her and see.

I hear it’s good for characters to get lives of their own, but they definitely make my book interesting. I also can’t wait to see how it turns out – even though I am following an outline. I’m not sure I could write this book without some kind of guide. I think I’m 125k words in, and I’m not sure where it will end.

A New Level

I write. Every day. I don’t take off weekends or holidays. I also write at least 750 words each of those days.

As my writing habit has grown stronger, I’ve really missed the days when it hasn’t happened. Part of it is the way I can see 750words.com tell me “You have written x days in a row.” But at the bottom of my statistics, I have a number. That number is 384, which is the most days I had written in a row.

I’ve been very proud of 384. Through that time, I moved twice and had a baby. When I broke that streak (July 2012), it was a regular day that went out of the regular routine. I learned through that it wasn’t the big things I could see coming that breaks my writing; it was the little things that you can’t plan for.

Once the streak was broken, the pressure was off to keep going. I even gave myself a month off (December 2012). Big mistake. I felt off the entire month. Like I hadn’t accomplished anything. Like some part of myself couldn’t be connected.

Today that number changes. Today my longest streak starts picking up again. Today is 385. 

I’m still struggling to put my editing into the same perspective. Maybe I’ll start putting star stickers on my binder and start a new row every time I break a streak. Any ideas?

Project Cycle

Every project begins with an image in someone’s head. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s going to be ten thousand or a hundred thousand when I begin.

The first step is to spew out the rough draft. Sometimes, and with more regularity, an outline takes shape before that. I’ve been learning to get better about running through a draft until it’s done. When I stop things in the middle, I lose my place. I can’t figure out where I’m going. It takes forever to build the momentum back up again.

There is a need to let a draft sit, but not for too long. That rough draft turns into a pile of words on pages. The half-edited bundle of papers becomes something I have to re-read to connect to each time a long break happens. Yet I also get little tidbits of ideas about projects I haven’t worked on for a couple months. Sometimes those bits fit and sometimes it takes a change in the entire project to encompass the new idea.

How do you overcome that distance? What do you do to make yourself get through to the end without those long, awkward pauses of, ‘oh, yeah, I’m working on that book’? I’m also working through my resistance to editing. Somehow I will make progress.

One Million Words

I’ve only been tracking it on 750words.com since I joined. It took 2 years and almost 8 months: 1 May 2011 to 29 Dec 2013. That also only counts rough words, because I take them out of there when I finish and edit, rewrite, tweak, whatever’s needed elsewhere.

One million words feels huge. But when I count all the writing I’ve done before I joined, there might be a million words there, too. I know it’s hard to translate words into pages, but it would be about 4000. It might be 10 books worth, if it could be organized that way and was worth throwing together.  

My longest streak is 384 days, spanning two moves and having a baby. I’m creeping up there again, currently at 307 days in a row.

I’ve been told that writing a million words is more like an apprenticeship in writing than anything else. That it takes ten years to get good at something, and putting the time in is the only way to get better. I’m not sure I can say I’ve put that time into anything else. But writing, that I do, and I continue to do, every day. I’ve been writing more than ten years- it can be traced back to elementary school, though as I get older I get more dedicated to my craft.

What will the third million teach me that the first two didn’t?

December Brings New Goals

Why? Because it’s just fun to start a new month with new things to do.

NaNoWriMo is always fun. I met new people with the Quad City Writing Guild. New name for them, too, because they’re simply trying to organize the WriMos around the area. They decided it was so much fun, they didn’t just want to meet during November.

I didn’t finish my November novel, and I knew I wouldn’t this year. That’s been a goal for a while, but I knew with that idea it wasn’t going to happen. It’s too big. I’m not sure I have it fully contained. I will keep working on it. Last night I tried to match up the pieces I wrote to the outline boxes. Got interrupted, too, but that just means I will finish it later today.

My new habit for November was getting up super early. Before 5am, local time. I have a writing buddy (in Eastern Time) who writes with me for half an hour, first thing in the morning. I made it every day but two in November. For December, we rolled the back half an hour. I already missed yesterday due to illness in the house, but it’s a nice thing to write when it’s quiet and I will continue the best I can.

For December, also, I’m editing, rewriting, whatever it takes to get some projects ready to be released into the world. Three days in, and I have done some work on Don’t Tell Your Mother each day. I’ve also been keeping up the 750words streak, and I have passed 970k on the site. Will definitely pass the one million words mark this month. I have a short story for an anthology with a deadline of 31 January.

One thing that really keeps me on my toes for DTYM: my main character loves food. Everything revolves around food, it seems, and I struggle with that because as long as I’m not hungry, I don’t think about it much. It’s one reason I have such trouble planning meals in advance. My nose doesn’t smell things the same way everyone else does, so describing the food aromas has been a big challenge. Remind me to try to rein in the next character that goes foodie on me.

Yeah, right, like that will work. Characters! They always have to have it their way.

Margaret Atwood, the CON, and NaNoWriMo

All good things come in November, right? Even my birthday is only two days away.

Margaret Atwood spoke at the Englert Theater in Iowa City last night, which also happened to be her 75th birthday. She’s clever, concise, and funny. I might even have an appreciation for zombies after listening to her. After she spoke, there was a Q&A, then she signed books.

The questions were decent, somewhat – I’m going to ignore the best hockey goalie question because the guy was hunting for something she didn’t want to give. Still. One (expected) question was about advice for aspiring writers. Maybe aspiring writer is a different term to everyone who labels oneself with the term. However, this woman was 53 and had not finished a manuscript. (Ms. Atwood asked.) Her advice? Finish it. Then do something with it. Then write something else. That is a writer. And she’s right, of course. She also said if the writer was an adolescent, wattpad was a good, free opportunity to get words out there. Because, sure, writing for an audience of your teacher about a summer vacation is one thing, but having a real audience to give comments and feedback, even if it is just ‘more, more!’ is something that will make that person dedicated to the craft.

When she signed my book, I said I was also an aspiring author. She asked if I’d finished a manuscript, and of course I said I had. And it has been published. And I keep writing. And she said I’m not aspiring – I’m already there. Again, she’s right. Except I might still be aspiring. I want to reach higher- to find more audiences- and to always, always do better. She has a wonderful attitude, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up: in that I want to write the stories, share them, and have a humorous outlook.

Last weekend was ICON. (I suppose in this way, I’m different than Ms. Atwood. I do mingle with the science fiction community. Whenever I can.) I was so excited to go to Paradise ICON, which was the writer’s workshop piece. I didn’t do much with the CON itself. I did see my band, Wylde Nept, and I’m glad. I caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a few things that are still rattling around in my head trying to makes sense of themselves.

I’m in the midst of making new goals, trying new schedules to be more productive, and getting “out there” more. I’ve told several friends my focus after November will switch to editing. I know I need to force myself to do it, and with constant prodding is the only way I know to start that. (December 1st, hear me people?! Eleven more days!) Going to Paradise ICON helped. I need to spend more time in serious critique mode, too. Luckily I may have a new friend (or more than one) who will allow me to work on that with them. 

And NaNoWriMo! I love the writer energy in the air around this time of year, and I like to take advantage of it to push out a bunch of words. Greg Frost called what I am doing something like a Zero Draft, and I think I love that term. Plus it only emphasizes the amount of work in the future to resurrect it into something usable, sharable, worthy of the original vision in my head. But you can’t fix it until you get it out. I’m not sure how to describe this project, but it’s big. So I’m going to the end, and then I’ll define it. Whether I finish or not by 1 Dec, I will use that date to start editing my lovely pile of projects.

The other thing I will do (but not as much as editing) is put together another new schedule. Self-imposed deadlines. These I will also share, so everyone can keep me on task to make them. When I dream, I dream big. And I know I won’t achieve those dreams if I allow myself to let the deadlines slide too far. Like they have been doing. So thanks in advance for gentle nudges when I stall and encouragement when I falter.

I can and do own the writer label, but there are so many other labels that must be applied before one can become a successful author. So right now I will dream, schedule, plot, and implement until I make it there.

The Trilogy… Progress and Goals

I’ve been working on Book 3 about a month. I’ve written 48,336 words. While I’d planned for 75k, I’m going to change the plan. It isn’t because there are 11 days until NaNoWriMo – or that isn’t the only reason.

The main reason I’m changing the plan is I changed the way I wrote this novel. I started at the end, which I thought was solid. The problem arose during the draft that I had a question that fit within the novel’s conflict that I hadn’t addressed at the end. It became more and more apparent as I continued writing.

Then I stopped writing from the back forward. I started at the beginning and wrote toward where I left off. This was both a blessing and a curse. The question that had been hovering around the narrative took over. Because I started at the end, I lost the feeling of where I was within the book. I feel like there are holes that I haven’t filled in yet. I know my end has changed, because jumping around the way I did brought different pieces to light that needed to be resolved in a little bit different way.

I learned a lot from this experiment. It doesn’t matter how many novels you write – each one teaches you something. My method of discovery works better with an outline, which I have had for each of these novels. I write better when I take a mostly-forward direction from the beginning to the end. I have this picture in my head that changes as I progress through my story world, and the holes become apparent as I near the end, then I skip around again and write the scenes that plug the holes. By the time I reach the end, I generally have to cut off the beginning to find where my story truly starts. But writing that false beginning also gets me within the world and it is real to me.

I wouldn’t know all of this if I hadn’t written so many drafts. I know that I need to print these things off to read them and start editing. If I try to do that digitally, I don’t get anywhere. Next month I’m excited to start a new project.

So my revised goal for the next 11 days is to put the novel in chronological order as it stands, read through it, write the revised ending that finishes the conflict that decided it was going to be the focus of the narrative, and to make notes about where I think the holes are to start editing in December. It’s respectable to say I wrote 113k toward two YA novels in 66 writing days.

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