To celebrate the release of Crooked Vol. 2: A Sci-Fi Crime Anthology, I’m going to be hanging out live with some of my fellow authors on December 7th for a live Zoom reading! Join me and my fellow sci-fi crime authors Andrew Sweet, Mark Niemann Ross, Greg Dragon and William Burton McCormick to hear some delightfully dastardly tales, shoot the breeze about science fiction and crime stories, and maybe discover a new author you’ll love.
I’m excited to announce a new page feature on the Expansion Front, the Galaxy Gallery! Check out the page and the first gallery entry at the link, or read on for more context on the project.
I’ve long been a fan of sci fi art and artistic imaginings of aliens such as those represented in the art of Wayne D. Barlowe and other talented sci fi artists. After many reader requests for illustrations of the aliens featured in the Expansion series, I decided it’s high time to embark on an artistic collaboration that will give life to the Expansion Universe through the lens of sci-fi art.
I will be commissioning diverse artists to create both sketches and full-color illustrations of the major species populating the Expansion Universe. I will announce when new entries are up on the site via this blog and on social media, so make sure to follow me on here or on my social channels below.
For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2020, I redrafted the fourth novel in The Expansion Series. This is the second time I’ve redrafted a novel from scratch. I thought it was time to write about a process few writers talk about, but almost all of us go through at some point in our development.
Writing is hard. Beyond the common examples brought up to support this statement — the mental effort and practice required to develop your prose, character and story into something not just “good enough” but actually good—something other people might actually want to read— there’s another aspect less talked about, for reasons that will be obvious.
The casualties along the way. I don’t just mean your early trunk novels that will never see the light of day. I mean the earlier drafts of novels that you fully intend to publish.
I mean the total redrafts.
Total redraft — are there any two words more likely to send a shiver up writers’ spines?
My editor is also one of the people I love most in the world. That’s probably a contributing factor as to why, when he recommended I redraft my third novel, I didn’t recommend he jump head first into a lake. But I was tempted.
I’d thought my third novel was okay: I just had to tighten the structure, update some characterizations; how much had I really changed/grown as a writer in the intervening years since I’d finished it?
A lot, as it turned out. Enough that my “okay” draft had become a soggy, tedious mess. And I was faced with a decision. Which brings me to:
How do you know when to abandon a project, and when to redraft?
Hindsight can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes you look back at a project that needs to be redone from scratch and realize it’s not worth doing. Maybe it doesn’t work because the premise is too flawed, you’re not the right person to tell it, or your interests and concerns have changed from when you wrote it.
But what if, like me, you are still invested? What if you care about the story and believe it’s worth telling?
Then it’s time to buckle up, because this is where writing gets hard.
What redrafting asks of you
I recently read Dean Wesley Smith’s short book Stages of a Fiction Writer, in which he attempts to describe the four stages fiction writers go through as they develop in their careers. I didn’t agree with all his points, but one thing stuck out that felt true in my own experience: as a writer develops their craft, they go from caring about the prose— the actual words on the page—to caring about the story those words convey.
This might strike the average reader (or reader-writer) as odd. After all, isn’t the prose the lifeblood of written fiction, the medium through which the writer constructs the story?
To which I say, yes — but focusing on writing good prose without building a solid story structure to hold it up is like building a skyscraper without a foundation. The result in either case is disaster.
Redrafting forces you to look past the actual words you wrote to the supporting structure (or lack thereof) underneath. To successfully redraft a novel, you need to understand its structure: what works in the story, what doesn’t, and how to fix it. Redrafting is what finally made me understand that revising a scene doesn’t mean fiddling with the prose until it reads prettily. It means knocking out a wall, adding a new window, sometimes ripping down the entire building.
Words in this metaphor are your materials: you used them to build the first version of the scene, but to make it stand you have to demolish them and rebuild with new materials. There will always be more words.
Redrafting also makes you reimagine what the story could be on a macro level. Writers often talk of the terror or the blank page, but writer’s block can attack just as fiercely when staring at the full page. It’s easy to get hung up on the previous version of a novel as the way it “should be”, because that’s the draft that currently exists.
I sometimes call this “but that’s how the story goes” syndrome. The way I combat it is to think of the earlier draft as practice or proof of concept and tell myself nothing is set in stone. The book isn’t published; it isn’t even a book yet. It’s a drafting board, a playground where I’m free to bounce ideas off each other and discover a new life for the story.
That’s the final point I want to make. Redrafting your novel gives you freedom. It can be incredibly freeing to let go of the old draft, of “how the story goes”, and begin afresh.
You might just find a whole new novel waiting for you.
I want to hear from you! Have you ever redrafted a novel, or are you redrafting one right now? If you participated in NaNoWriMo this year, how did it go?
mohamed Hassan from Pixabay” width=”300″ height=”259″>It’s that time of year again when thousands of writers worldwide try to crank out 50,000 words (sometimes an entire novel, sometimes a solid foundation for one) in 30 days. I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year because I’m not at the drafting part of my writing cycle. I participated in NaNoWriMo 2018, and it’s that experience I’m going to write about, because it was the first year I won NaNoWriMo while working full time.
When NaNoWriMo rolled around last year, I was working a day job – the kind of 9-5, full-time gig I haven’t had in years, and had never seriously tried to write around. I was, honestly, terrified: I’d been hired in May of 2018, and in my first few months on the job had drafted nothing. I’d done no work of any kind on a piece of fiction save for a few small copy edits on Shadow Game, my Expansion Universe novella written the year before. I’d dreamed of the stability and focus that having a reliable paycheck could give me, but at the same time I was wondering if I’d made a devil’s bargain: would working full time permanently sap me of the energy and free time I needed to write?
NaNoWriMo would be the acid test. I was due to start work on the third novel in my Expansion series while Alliance of Exiles was with my developmental editor. If I could manage to write the first 50,000 words of that novel in 30 days while working full time, then having the coveted day job didn’t have to mean putting the brakes on my writing career.
The short version? I did it. I’m going to share three strategies that helped me win NaNoWriMo while working full-time.
1) You have to have a plan. As an organization, NaNoWriMo promotes giving in to your unfettered creativity during the month of November and following your draft wherever it takes you. This is great for brainstorming, but not so great for writing a book–even a first draft. To win NaNoWriMo, especially when work and other responsibilities compete for your attention, you have to have a plan.
I started planning my NaNo novel in October, starting with the very basic plot arcs for each major character, and working my way down to outlining scenes in the rough order I planned to write them. I found Dan Harmon’s story circle to be enormously helpful in developing those plot arcs in a short amount of time.
I also planned around the NaNoWriMo challenge itself: I stocked up on tea and snacks, chose some easy, big-batch recipes so I wouldn’t be stuck cooking when I should be writing, and decided what reward I would get for each 10,000-word milestone. I was introduced to the concept of milestone rewards by author and vlogger Rachael Stephen in her invaluable NaNoWriMo prep series. For every 10,000 words I wrote, I’d get myself a little something: a fancy coffee, a game app, a T-shirt I’d been coveting. It was a surprisingly simple way to keep motivated, on track, and accountable during what can sometimes be an interminable slog.
2) Technology is your friend. Accord of Shadows was the first novel I wrote entirely in Scrivener, an app designed for writing longform works. It’s no exaggeration to say Scrivener’s powerful organizing and time management tools helped make it possible to do NaNoWriMo while working full time.
Scrivener has three levels of granularity: the binder, where individual scenes are organized and which displays your actual draft; the outline; and the corkboard. Both the outline and the corkboard let you look at your entire work in progress from a bird’s-eye view, while the binder displays your notes and synopsis for any currently open scene. You can even open up notes while staying in Focus Mode. If I needed a reminder of my plan for the scene or a detail I didn’t want to omit, I could open the note to remind myself and then keep on writing without exiting the window.
Scrivener also helped me cut down the time I took to start writing. Rather than creating one long continuous document, like Microsoft Word does, Scrivener creates individual documents for each of your scenes and organizes them in a column on the side of the drafting space. You know how when you close and reopen a document in Word, it takes you back to the beginning? Scrivener’s scene binder structure means you can click on the scene you were last working on and take up where you left off–no scrolling required. I also invested in the Scrivener app for iOS, a lean but still robust mobile version that syncs with the desktop program. Getting the sync to work was a bit of a learning curve, but once I figured it out the Scrivener app was a game changer: I’d open it on my phone and write during snippets of free time throughout the day, and then sync that work seamlessly into the draft.
3) You have to be flexible. It helps if you can hold two contradictory thoughts in your brain – plan rigorously, but be willing to change that plan up. You may have to apply this to both your schedule and your draft. I originally planned three writing sprints of 500, 500, and 700 words throughout the day. I was going to get up half an hour early, at 6am, to give myself time in the morning to write, do the next 500 words at lunch, and then the final 600-700 after dinner.
I am not a morning person. After the first 4 days of getting up at 6, I was tired, irritable and having trouble concentrating on both my work and writing. I decided to switch my wake-up schedule back to 6:30 and write more after dinner to make up for losing that initial block of time.
Being flexible can apply to your manuscript, too. I started drafting Accord of Shadows while Alliance of Exiles was still in need of developmental edits. As a result, some of the necessary characterization wasn’t in place for the third volume. My editor had shared with me that a particular character needed to be more antagonistic in both the second and third book, but without having done that work in Alliance of Exiles, it was proving impossible for me to write that character in a way that felt realistic, fluid, and like it agreed with what came before. But rather than stall out on the draft, I put that plot thread on pause and worked only on its parallel thread, where the work that came before felt more solid.
For writers like me who have a day job, NaNoWriMo is all the difficulty of making room for creative work distilled into 30 days of pressure-cooker production. By having a plan, making judicious use of technology, and being flexible when my initial plan warranted, I was able to win NaNoWriMo while working full time, and prove to myself that my day job need not stand in the way of my writing.
Have you participated in NaNoWriMo while working full time? How did it go? What helped you find the time and energy to write? Share your strategies in the comments!