We’ve collectively completed yet another trip ’round the big glowy blob, which means that once again I have acquired the obligation to babble about the voyage. The last few weeks have been a little bit of a journey in their own right – driving 350 miles south, then flying about a thousand out to Pennsylvania, only to do it all backwards a week later – so it seems fitting that I should try to relax and look back, then up ahead.
2017 in Review
I’m not willing to traipse down the rabbit-hole of blog posts in search of last year’s New Year post, but I do recall that my “big” goal was to, right now, have a draft of The Rule of Iron which would be ready for querying (sending out to agents and squeaking “Publish me! Publish me!”).
Clearly, since you’ve heard nothing about Rule for some months now, that has not happened.
Had I even reached the querying stage, there’s no doubt that I would be crowing about the book. It might be awful, but at least it would be a finished product to talk about. As it stands, I haven’t touched Rule since around October, when I stopped so I could try prepping for NaNoWriMo 2017 (which ended up being a debacle in its own right). The simple truth is that I haven’t been able to figure out how to handle large-picture revision.
The way I currently think about it, there’s roughly two “levels” I can look at my work: the chapter or scene level, and the Whole Dang Thing. I can fuss and fiddle with something (relatively) small. I can hold a chapter in my head, or a short story – or whatever – and mull it over, trying to puzzle out how it ticks.
My big challenge is trying to pick up the Whole Dang Thing and examine how those pieces work in the greater context. I consider myself generally successful on the small scale with the work done on Rule. My second draft currently sits at around 15,000 words, and feels solid. I like the way those words work better than the way my first words worked, and that’s not a small thing. However, those words working didn’t contribute a lot to my understanding of the WDT. I pretty much worked through the beginning section I knew was coherent, made it better, and then sort of… fizzled out. I moved a few things here, a few there, tried looking at outlines old and new, but nothing really Clicked.
I don’t know if Rule is going to become a trunk novel (though it’s currently looking that way), but I’m currently not chomping at the bit to go and keep working on that story. After staring at the book on and off for a good six months, I’m still kind of sick of it. I imagine I’ll drag it out at some point in the upcoming year, on impulse, but I’ve currently got no plans to do so.
By and large, 2017 was a kind of stop-go year. I created output – I’ll assess exactly how much in a moment – but my lackluster work on Rule ultimately is parallel to lackluster work elsewhere on long-form projects (aka, novels). I started work on the Age of Heroes, a series derived from historical Mycenae/Mukenai in dialogue with the myths passed down from ancient Greece, but didn’t have adequate preparation to really write the piece. I got about 15,000 words written there, as memory recalls. A section I called “Prolegomena,” or, “the things being said before.” A really, really extended prologue, basically, although it could potentially stand as a novella (with a bit of reworking).
Then in November, I sort of flopped my way through a piece I tentatively called The Wizard Did It. I got 18,000 words in (chugging away with NaNoWriMo) then sort of sputtered out. Once again, the deciding factor felt like I hadn’t done enough pre-writing, enough fleshing out my ideas and thoughts, enough outlining and planning.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) describes writers as two very loose “categories:” pantsers and planners. George R.R. Martin uses a similar terminology, describing writers as architects or gardeners – although most tend to do a little of both.
Going into NaNoWriMo in 2016, I thought of myself as a planner. Coming out of it, I felt like I was much more a pantser. I had gone in with a fair amount of outlining, notes, and so on, but the actual experience of writing a novel felt much more like a discovering process, rather than like I was coloring-in the lines delineated by my notes. As a result, my process while writing over the past year has been much more discovery than construction.
The simple truth is that as a writer of fiction, I am a novice. I presently suspect that I made an error because of how much writing feels like creative discovery. And there is an element of discovery to writing – my notes can say “there’s a castle here,” but until I’ve written the passage, I don’t know well what sort of castle, or how big, how many people live there, and so on. But, discovering description isn’t the same thing as going in blind and discovering plot.
Now, one of my successes this year (I feel) is in discovery-writing short stories. There’s a parallel here to editing; much like how I can coherently look at a chapter, but struggle with the bigger parts of a novel, I’ve found I can hold the loose shape of a story in my mind and then go discovery-write it, in a way that I really can’t do with a novel.
I wrote two complete short stories this year: “How the Thrun Earned His Wings” and “An Early Harvest.” “Thrun” was written entirely by hand, because I was sick of staring at Rule and I needed a break. “Harvest” was written mostly by hand, but I had to speed up – I used it as a class submission – so I typed about the last thousand words. They came out to about 5,000 words and about 3,000 words, respectively.
(There was also a Valentine’s Day story I dabbled with early last year, but only reached about 1,000 words.)
I liked “Harvest,” but “Thrun” felt good. Really good. There’s something intoxicating about the creative process when it’s going well, and at the time I was writing “Thrun” I had been missing that sensation. Completing that story, and later completing “Harvest,” are my biggest wins for this past year. It’s very easy for me to think “Oh, that’s a neat idea!” and then never actually complete something, or even get to it. This is part of why 2017’s felt like a bit of a stop-go year for me; a lot of working, but not much completion or following-through.
As I said above, I’m a novice. The biggest thing I try to keep in mind is that with regards to writing, I have so much still to learn. Most of this, near as I can tell, is things I have to sort of bumble my way through by myself. Writers tend to have their own processes which work and which don’t, and I’m still muddling through my options. I spent 2017 trying to discovery-write. I’m going to try something different in 2018.
(Oh, and before I move on: by my very soft estimate, it looks like I wrote about 42,000 words of fiction in 2017; that doesn’t include any of the writing I’ve done for class, or the blog, or the 15,000-ish edited words of Rule. Perhaps not as much as I would have desired of an ideal world, but I am pleased by the final count.)
Looking Forward: 2018
New Year’s Resolutions are dumb, and I don’t like them. I don’t like them for the same reason I don’t like “Bucket lists” or “life-changing events” and so on. All of these things are cliche and, frankly, a bit dull. Perhaps I’m just too much a cynic, but I find they never live up to their grandiose claims.
That being said, goal-setting is excellent. My greatest periods of success have been when I’ve had a clearly defined, stated goal, combined with a describable pathway to achieving that goal. In large part, that’s why I continue to write this blog. It lets me scream my intentions into the abyss of the Internet, and helps hold me accountable to myself.
My goal for 2017 was to be querying The Rule of Iron in 2018. I think this was a decent goal, and should have been achievable. (It definitely would be achievable to someone more practiced at the whole “write books and edit them and don’t smack your head against the wall 10,000 times while doing it” thing.) The biggest flaw was lacking a clear way to execute this goal.
I had never edited a book before, so I had no clue how to go from 1st draft to final(ish) draft.
Now, the whole point of growing and goal-setting and all this malarkey is the process of figuring that out. So, I’d evaluate that goal as kind of so-so; totally achievable, but maybe not achievable for the Austin of January 2017 (and possibly not reasonable for the Austin of January 2018, either).
What do I think a possible, perhaps reasonable goal for 2018? How do I intend to grow and improve as a writer?
I’d like to get paid, please.
I want to start paying more attention to calls for stories, articles, and so on, and writing for those topics. I will be submitting things I write, things I have written, and writing things to submit. By December 31st, 2018 I want to be able to say that I’ve sold a story, or been paid for publishing a piece, or what have you.
That doesn’t mean I expect to have made a living from writing. Just that someone was willing to pay, at some point, for something that started life scribbled on one of my notepads. It’s more for the sake of being able to say “Published in…” than for the sake of cash, in my mind. I want to someday be able to traditionally publish big, fat, fantasy books. Being able to write that query letter to an agent and say, “I have been published in X…” seems like a great place to start.
Apart from that (possibly ridiculous?) goal, I’m intending to focus my creative work on Jiharel. It’s my favorite story idea, one of these great big fantasies that I love. Last year, I mostly tried being a pantser, or a gardener, or a discovery writer. This year, I want to practice being an architect.
This is much more one of those bad “soft” goals, since there’s so much about the coming year that I can’t predict. Overall, I’d like to have a really thorough outline done by the end of 2018, along with notes, maps, and all that sort of scribble. Perhaps some sample chapters – I’ve already dabbled with a few scene experiments which could be used – and in-world written pieces. I want to try getting a really thorough feel for the world and the people before beginning a first draft, this time around.
In a way, this is a project I’ve already begun. Both “Thrun” and “Harvest” are set within this world – currently called Akhelas, this blog’s namesake. They each started as me trying to figure out bits and pieces of setting, which then grew into the seed of a story.
Jiharel is the story I want to tell most. It’s about the prince and princess of the Jihari, and one of the last great Quests undertaken in their world.
I’m looking forward to the new year.