So Trying to Write Non-Linear Was a Mistake

What’s funny about our writing process is that somehow it always changes. Even if you have a consistent, comfortable way of working, every project is different, which means sometimes you’ll tweak your process. I haven’t written every short story the same way. Sometimes I need to do a bunch of outlining before I start draft 1. Sometimes I write a bit then realize I have to go back and prep more. My flash fiction tends to come out in one go, whereas even a 2000-word story will sometimes take weeks to draft.

For longer fiction, though, I think I might have finally figured out one thing for sure: I have to write linear.

For this novella-to-novel project, I started off making a bunch of notes on what flashback scenes to add, where I can expand my “A” plot, some character sketch work on things I hadn’t considered, and then spent time trying to figure out where to start. Since I’m not entirely sure where each of my flashback scenes will fit, I figured I could write those first, then expand my “A” plot, and then I’d know the right places to add the flashbacks in. So I picked a flashback scene I thought I knew really well, which will end up becoming one of the emotional tent poles for the novel, and started drafting.

Those 7000 words are done now, but fuck me they were a slog to write. Which was weird, because I know my characters, I know how this moment in the past affected them, and I had an outline for what happened in that moment. But finding the heart of that scene in those 7000 words was really hard, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Naturally I spiraled a little bit afterward, with the usual thoughts like Was taking on this project a huge mistake? and Maybe I’m just a hack and I should stick to short fiction. I had no idea what scene to write next, since none of them were speaking to me. But I need to keep working on this thing, so I decided to go back to page one and start reading, to see if something jumped out at me. No joke, I get partway through my old Chapter 2 and realize exactly what scene needs to be added there (not a flashback). I write that scene, and I keep reading, and sure enough at the end of Chapter 3 my gut tells me exactly what flashback needs to go in there, which is what I started writing next.

There are a bunch of cliched metaphors to describe this process I’ve gone through, but the important thing is that I finally figured out how to write this gorram novel. I figure by the end of this new first draft I’ll have to go back and pad things – I don’t like overly long descriptions in fantasy, which is sometimes a problem when you’re trying to hit a certain word count – but for now, I’ve got a path and procedure to move forward.

No one ever let me try to write non-linear again.

What I did this week:

  • Finished a press release for True Balance (comic) and started sending out
  • Recorded two episodes for Broadcasts from the Wasteland Season 2, including the fabled #BatmanDuel
  • Edited and uploaded a previous Season 2 episode
  • About 2500 words on the novella-to-novel project, not including outline notes

Shout-Out of the Week

Guess who has a new book out? It’s Marie Bilodeau! Her second Guild of Shadows book, Hell Bent, dropped on Amazon and elsewhere as a fancy new eBook. The series centers on a devilish assassin named Tira as she navigates a world that’s largely out to kill her, and her own impulse to make poor life choices. (Wait, that might be Marie’s D&D character…) If this whole series is news to you, learn more about book one, Hell Born, in the link above.

Holidays for the Beleaguered

The holiday season is funny for me. In my case it’s Christmas (the zero-religious kind) and enjoying hangouts, good food, gift-giving and whatnot. But if I’m being one hundred percent honest, as I like to be on this blog, this time of year is tricky for me because my ideal holiday pretty much involves seeing no one whatsoever.

To be clear: I love my family and enjoy spending time with them. And I’m not just saying that because they might read this. I’m also lucky in that the holiday season isn’t the only time I see them in a year. But those non-holiday visits are automatically different than Christmas, because Christmas generally involves a lot of running around, trying to organize events, making sure you see everyone you want to spend time with and balancing your time fairly. There’s an extra layer of complication and therefore an expenditure of energy you don’t get when you just take a weekend in the summer to go back to your hometown. Or at least, that’s what I find. And so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little exhausted by Boxing Day, and ready to flip my settings back to introvert and hide for a day or seven.

To be clear: I have a good time at Christmas. But my ideal holiday (if you speak generally and remove “Christmas” or whatever from the equation) is probably to take a few days and have no contact with anyone. Turn my phone off, don’t touch my email, and spend some days to myself. So much of our lives is spent engaging with people all the time, and a writing career demands a surprising amount of that, but that means that when I’m given a holiday, my instinct is to turtle and talk to no one. Which I feel is a common thing for writers, and something that we can’t do during a holiday like Christmas, since it’s a time meant to be spent with other people, right? And if you say on Christmas afternoon, “Breakfast and gifts were great, but I’m going to see if I can block out the world for an hour and pound out some words, then see you at dinner” odds are you’ll get a look from someone, which then takes all the fun out of keeping to yourself for a bit.

To be clear: apparently I’m using a repetitive device for this post. More importantly, I’m grateful to have loved ones to spend the holidays with, really. But sometimes your mind and body are screeching that they need time away and you can’t do that, and it takes a little bit of a toll that most people don’t talk about, since you don’t want to insult your family or loved ones. But everybody needs a little introvert time, and the holidays can be hard if you’re naturally an introvert, even if you like spending time with your family (and we aren’t all that lucky). The problem is that we usually don’t feel like we can, and I’m as guilty as anyone of not taking the time to myself I know I need, even on December 25. I’m getting better at it, but it’s a work in progress, and maybe I’ll better at it a year from now.

Wherever you are, if you spent the last few days celebrating a holiday, I hope it was a blast. And if you’re like me and you need to space out your time spent with other people, I’ll raise a cup of tea to you later, when I’m hiding from the world 🙂

Last Month of 2018! Look Alive, People!

Good gods, how is it already December? I mean, I understand the normal passage of time and whatnot, but every once in a while I’ll be talking to someone about a thing we did and realize, “Wait, that was how long ago?” Like Can*Con, for example, which feels like yesterday but was two damn months ago almost.

Inevitably in those situations, my brain waffles between thoughts of “Balls, time is flying” and thoughts of “Yeah, but you did a lot in that time.” Although, the other day I compared my 2017 publications to my 2018 publications and the latter seemed a little light – five short stories published in the former (among other work) but only three in 2018, one of which was a reprint. In a sheer numbers game it looks like I was less productive, and maybe I was when it comes to short fiction. But then I remembered I’ve been doing other stuff:

  1. I sold a couple stories earlier this year that coincidentally are coming out in 2019
  2. I spent a lot of 2018 working on my novel Three Coins of Silver and made significant progress on the path to finding a home for it
  3. I also spent a lot of 2018 branching out into other work, including two comics, novella-length experiments, doing more with my Black Gate column, and a totally Secret potentially Audio-related project with my pal Evan May (which you may have seen tweeted about recently)

I went into 2018 thinking that I needed to make sure I had stuff coming out periodically, out of fear of disappearing from the public world of SFF. Which is stupid, because it’s not like I’m Chuck Wendig or something, and novels or similar is what I really want to be doing, which kinda take a lot of time to work on (he said, stating the obvious). And between taking a greater role planning Can*Con, my biweekly column for Black Gate, and contributing to other things in the writing community (oh, like Luna Station Quarterly article by my friend Tracy Townsend! Another thing I did!) among everything listed above, I’ve been pretty busy. So the impostor syndrome whispering “That isn’t enough” can pound sand, basically.

That’s been a really neat part of my writing lately, actually. If you asked me a few years ago what I’d be working on as I round out my twenties, I’d have said something like 80% novels and 20% short fiction. Experimenting with comics was nowhere on my radar – and thinking through storytelling in a short comic is way different than a short story. My primary WIP right now is a novella, and that’s a different animal, too. And as much as we’re told as writers to streamline, I feel like trying out these other forms has been huge for me lately, even if I never go back to them again.

All of this to say: branching out is good for the mind and the soul. Now excuse me as I frenetically try to finish off my Quarterly To-Do List before New Year’s…