My writing plan for 2020 worked really well until about mid-March when Covid-19 became the only topic of conversation with everyone I know. That's when I discovered - or rediscovered - that I don't work very well at home.
Instead of being able to go out and sit in a library or a cafe and work uninterrupted for several hours, I'm at home with all the things I've been avoiding for the last several months. I'm still avoiding all those things. It's just that being at home puts those things in the front of my head. I can't avoid looking at my desk which has several piles of papers and books more than a foot deep. I can't avoid noticing the storages boxes of painting equipment I've left open on my office floor because I might need them for the next project.
Just the thought of having to sort through every single piece of paper is enough to do my head in.
It means I've run away into my head, but not in a productive way. I'm reading. Mostly I'm reading romance, and most of that is MM romance. I've also just begun a biography on a Deputy US Marshall from the 1890s. A fascinating life and a very tough man.
All this means my writing projects are going nowhere quickly.
Morrison & Mackenzie (1930s historical romance): I've created a scene map to check the structure as it isn't working the way it should. That's it. All I need to do is put all the scenes up on my plotting wall and work out where the dips are so I can plan what needs to go there but it hasn't happened yet.
Tangled up in Blue anthology: This is moving forward slowly, mainly because the other authors are relying on me. One of the authors has just completed a continuity check and now we all have lists of things to fix. I'll get that done over the next week. We've also been talking about the cover and working out what we want.
The murder mystery: haven't looked at it. Instead I've been working (intermittently) on another fantasy story, one I started years ago but put aside because it wasn't working. When I picked it up again it was obvious why it wasn't working. I had too many POV characters and I was switching between adult POV and child POV. I've decided to write it as a YA fantasy and remove the adult POV completely. Already it's working better and I've identified missing scenes at the beginning that are needed for the child's POV but were irrelevant from the adult's.
Now Easter is over and my back is beginning to settle, I'm hoping to do more work on these projects. For right now, sending a couple of emails and doing this blog has used up my sitting time for the morning.
My personal life has changed significantly in recent years, specifically with an increase in family responsibilities. This has meant I've had to try to fit my writing in around a lot of things that have felt more demanding.
I have struggled to find balance and finally admitted to myself that I simply didn't have time to do all the things I needed to and wanted to. Not without falling into a screaming heap. Something had to give.
I've made a commitment to reduce my work load. That was the only thing that had any flexibility in it. I'm not going to skimp on the attention my family needs. They always come first.
This year, as a trial, I'll be working four days a week. I'm planning my day off to be focused solely on writing, and I'll factor in another half to one day over the weekend.
My writing goals for 2020 reflect that optimistic plan. I have a LOT to do this year.
My weekly plan looks something like this:
I’ve been working on Memory for Loan for quite a while now. The story has changed a lot from it’s inception a few years ago to now, when I’m working solely on it, rather that fitting it in around other projects that felt more important at the time. It’s still evolving.
I’ve written about one third of the story so far and came to yet another dead-end. I have a plan but, while the plan looks good on paper, it doesn’t always work once I start writing scenes.
The change I’ve had to make today is with Milo, Lonnar’s love interest. It wasn’t working. I’d written Milo in because I thought he’d be a good partner for Lonnar, but they just haven’t clicked. They don’t even feel like they could be friends. Milo is coming across, more and more, like the antagonist.
Today, I figured: why fight it.
I’ve made some notes to changed sections in the early chapters so any hint of a true relationship between Milo and Lonnar is shrouded in suspicion. I’ve decided which character is actually better suited to Lonnar as well.
Changing the love interest will mean Milo’s physical appearance will have to change, Freema (the leader of the underground) will have to become Freeman and change his appearance too (as well as his gender). I also have to work out a way to have Freeman appear in the first third of the book. I have some ideas about how to get him onto Lonnar’s ship and what he’s doing there, but I don’t know how to get him off quickly and back to Tolifax before Lonnar meets him in the swamp. I’ll fix that later.
The change is working. Milo writes much more easily as the bad guy, and Lonnar is writing better now I’m not trying to force him into a relationship that’s all wrong for him.
It means editing is going to be an absolute bitch, but that’s par for the course for my books. I had thought forward planning would reduce the editing but my pantser style of writing is stronger than I’d thought.
It’s a good thing I don’t get bogged down in trying to make the story work to the plan, because that never works. I have to keep myself open to change, even major change, for the story to be the best it can be.
With Dragon God with the editor and Memory for Loan moving ahead, I decided I'd earned a reward, so I bought a book: the first paper book I’ve bought in months.
I’d forgotten how nice it is to hold a book, feel the weight of it in my hands. I can turn the pages and put a bookmark in. I can write notes on sticky notes and place them around the edges of the pages, then close the book and look at all my tags.
Then I come across a date I want to check…
and I stab my finger onto the page to bring up the dictionary and Wikipedia…
It’s been a long time since I’ve bought a paper book.
I thought I’d finished editing Dragon God and it was ready to send to an editor. I’d worked out the theme, the central idea, the inciting incident, the characters’ motivations and conflicts and made sure they were all consistent. Then a friend of mine casually mentioned some of the things they do while they’re editing, and I thought… shit, I’m nowhere near finished.
That’s where I’ve been the last two weeks. Dragon God has been put through the editing wringers again and come out the other side much stronger. It still needs to go to a professional editor, but I’m much happier with where it is now.
The next step, before sending it to the editor, is to convert the music I’ve composed for one of the legends from .pdf to .jpg, and insert it into the document.
I also need to finish the map. I have the map from Warrior Pledge, but I had to incorporate the eastern side of the continent as well as the Lonely Isles in the south. All I need to do now is to add rivers and towns as well as the major norrgel nests. Then I’ll do some shading to make it look real, and I’ll be good to go.
I might also add a few drawings of sea monsters, just because. I probably don’t need the sea monsters—the next book in the series is set in the desert and to the west—but you never know.
The other exciting thing I’ve been doing with Dragon God is the cover. I finally chose a cover and have it available. I’ll wait until I get a bit closer to publication before making the cover public.
I’m taking today away from Dragon God and I’m going to work on writing new words for my next novel, Memory for Loan. I only have about 15000 words of it so far, but I’ve been working on it for a while. Those 15000 words are in their fourth incarnation. I think the story is beginning to work now so I’ll be able to move forward—just as soon as I crash land on a planet.
I began reading science fiction when I was four. I used to sit on my father’s lap as he read, and learned to read along with him. If he was reading E. E. (Doc) Smith or L. Ron Hubbard, he’d change books and we’d read Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke instead. I’m not sure if he considered the content of Smith’s and Hubbard’s books unsuitable for a four year old or if he thought the language was too difficult for me to read. It could have been something as simple as the size of the type.
Either way, science fiction was my first love and, while I read other things, I always return to it. It’s my comfort zone, my safe place.
I’m currently writing a science fiction novel as I do Year of the Novel through QWC. One of the questions I have to answer this month is what comparable books/writers there are to my story. If this was a romance story, I could easily find an answer because romance follows the same tropes. While there are differences with each story, there are always similarities too. Finding a comparable book would be a simple as finding another author with a similar voice or style. Science fiction isn’t that easy.
I don’t write hard science fiction. I don’t have the depth of science background to do it justice so I don’t even try. I also like fantasy stories so my SF, as well as being soft SF, often has fantasy elements. I love space operas, so I often write entire stories where most of the action is aboard ship, with planetary landings being rare and brief. When you add in the romance as well, it’s difficult to find something comparable.
I don’t know of anything similar to my new story, Memory for Loan, and couldn’t find any that combine similar SF features with romance. Some Steampunk novels touch on similar aspects of Victorian England culture and pollution as seen on Tolifax but Memory for Loan isn’t steampunk. I couldn’t find a romantic space opera that had similar elements although the writing of some hard SF authors (Greg Bear, Ralph Kern, Elizabeth Moon) resonates even though the majority of their writing (that I’ve read) is set on-planet.
The inspiration for Memory for Loan came from The Martian (Andy Weir), mixed with Victorian England slums, a concern over global warming and pollution and their affects on the environment, an interest in the idea of terraforming dead planets to make them habitable, melded with a personal background of Star Trek, Dr Who, Isaac Asimov, E. E. (Doc) Smith and Arthur C. Clarke.
The premise of the series is that the planet, Tolifax, has been used as a dump for centuries. The powers on Earth have dumped everything unwanted there, including human beings (especially hardened criminals). The communities on Tolifax are finally beginning to work together and revolt but how can that be successful when the people have no power and the ecology of the planet has been all but destroyed? The rebels set up camp, stage left, taking chunks out of the Galactic Government, centre stage, which fights dirty and for keeps. Enter, stage right, the planet whisperers, and you have the set-up for Memory for Loan.
They say to write what you know. That will give your writing greater depth and believability. It’ll be real. But how far should an author go in the pursuit of authenticity? We can’t all experience every emotion, or every action. For the experiences we haven’t had personally, we can read newspapers, journal articles, research papers. We can talk to people; friends and strangers. One thing we shouldn’t do is groom vulnerable people, make them trust us, then betray them.
It takes a lot of courage for someone who has been hurt to trust again, and even more courage to speak openly about the pain they’ve suffered. For someone to come along and use that courage and vulnerability for their own ends, without permission, is reprehensible.
I don’t usually comment on these things, and certainly not in the heat of the moment. I wait until I calm down and understand clearly what I’m thinking and feeling. I haven’t calmed down with this one; not at all. I am outraged and filled with a deep, all-consuming sorrow.
You don’t need to use and betray others to achieve a feeling of authenticity in your writing. You only need to have compassion and empathy. You only need to respect others and understand their lives are not yours. If you can’t do that, perhaps you’re writing in the wrong genre. If you can’t imagine it, perhaps you’re in the wrong business.
I use writing targets to keep me writing. There are days I struggle to write anything. Sometimes I don’t even open the file and look at it. Sometimes I open it, read the last paragraph and put it away again, with no idea how to move the story forward. These things happen often during the sections of the story that I haven’t visualised the way I have other scenes. Even though I have a basic plot outline, the details aren’t set in my head yet.
There are days I say to myself, I’m writing today, regardless. I set myself a 1000 word target for a writing session and try to write a minimum of 500 words. Sometimes it takes me an hour to write 120 words. Sometimes a half hour will net 500, so I keep going.
I have three writing targets for each writing session:
There are days—like today—where I need to watch each of those targets. These are the days that writing is a struggle so I look at the book target and see I need another 350 words to get to the next 1000. That’s achievable but a bit far away. I move onto the session target and see I’ve written 194 words; 800 shy of my 1000 word target. The chapter I’m writing is one I started a few days ago. It has a target of 4000 and I’m now at 3300, so only 700 short of my chapter target.
I dismiss the session target and the chapter target for now and focus on the book target. There are only 350 words to write to reach the next milestone. I can do that. It’s only a few hundred words. So I write.
Once I hit that target, I look at my session and chapter targets again. My chapter target is now only 350 words from the 4000 words. I can do that. It’s not much to write.
By the time I do that, I’m only 106 short of the session target. Anyone can write 100 words, right?
So that’s how I make it work when I don’t know what to write or don’t feel like writing.
E E Montgomery
About writing, life, and random thoughts.
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