Two-Week Blitz: What I Learned

on Monday, April 16, 2012
Me, at around 9:15 pm last night. 

So I'm honestly surprised I pulled this off. For a little background on the project (this might be a recap from previous blog posts...bear with me) I was writing A Straight Cut, my YA fantasy canyon book thingy, and something about it was bugging me. It probably just hit that "2/3 mark" blues that always happens with manuscripts, when you start wondering if things will actually come together and if you totally just wasted your time and creative vision. Yeah, that part of the manuscript.

Anyway, it was so bad I couldn't continue and my wordcount was suffering. Rather than slog through it and waste a month whining, I decided to just write something for fun. I'd been wanting to write a book about a half-vampire vampire hunter for a while (probably ever since I watched Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust like freaking ten years ago) so I put A Straight Cut aside, and with no planning or preparation or even a premise (minus a half-vampire vampire hunter) I dove into it.

Two weeks and 80,000 words later, here we are. A complete novel. And you'll have to take my word for it, but I don't think it's that awful. Rough, absolutely, and to be honest I doubt anybody would ever buy it. But for a silly, pulpy read that involves killing vampires along with crazy plot twists and just general B-movie weirdness, I think it works.

Anyway, the experience was actually quite a revelation to me, much like writing Harbinger in three months during the summer of 2009 was (geez, that was three years ago?). For Harbinger, it proved that the first book wasn't a fluke: I could actually write books if I put my mind to it. For Half...well, let me just go down the list.

And apologies in advance if this is long, but I'm hoping you'll be able to glean some helpful information from this regardless.


I (and therefore you) can make time to write every day if we put it as a priority

This was a big one. As stated in previous posts, I had an extremely busy two weeks, and that isn't on the writing end. I worked 6 out of 7 days last week, not counting all the other crap I had to do, and most of my evenings were completely full. When I finally got around to plotting out chapters, my heart sank. I had to write a minimum of two every day, which would be anywhere from 4,000-8,000 words, on days where I was completely booked from 7 am to 10 pm. How on earth was I going to write?

However, because I was determined to accomplish this, I started putting other, less important things aside to give writing priority. I ignored my video game blog. I didn't watch any movies, GiantBomb (my favorite video game video site), YouTube, or do anything past skim my favorite time-wasting websites. I still engaged in social networking, but I've never been very religious on that stuff so it wasn't difficult. The big one was that I ignored the freaking unbelievable draw of Age of Empires Online, which has been consuming my life these past few days. I even bought a new game and got another one in the mail, games I'd been looking forward to for a while (Silent Hill HD Collection) that I still have not played. Until my writing goals were accomplished, it took first spot.

Strangely enough, even after only two weeks this started to become habit. Rather than going home from work looking forward to lounging around, playing games, wasting time, and then maybe writing, every day I came home knowing I had to write, and I was excited about it. Because I just kept doing it and bumped it up on the priority list, it was actually much more fun to go write than to play video games or waste time. It wasn't easy, and it took a few days to fully kick in, but once it did I was actually making excuses to write more. With Harbinger I learned that if I was dedicated I could write every day. With Half, I learned that I could enjoy and look forward to it, and that it really wasn't that hard to make time, even if it was just an hour an evening.


Put book progress first, wordcount second. 

I've never been a planner. Even with Half, I only started plotting it about 1/3 of the way in, and it wasn't until the 2/3 mark that all the bits and pieces I'd been building up and randomly injecting into the story started to piece together to make the ending. But that's for another section; the point of this is chapter outlines.

I rarely use chapter outlines until I'm near the end of a book. This is mostly because I'm scared that outlining every chapter in my book will stifle the creativity of the story. Some of my best scenes and chapters were impromptu and entirely unplanned, the book taking me in a direction I didn't expect and myself as author just going along for the ride. So it's scary when everything feels so set in stone like that. 

With Half I had to do it because I didn't have time to wait for creativity to just randomly hit me mid-sentence. And, oddly enough, my wordcount worked better for it. When I had a chapter list (even if for 90% of the time the last act was just "whatever happens; who knows, maybe four chapters?") I had a clearcut goal to accomplish. Every chapter I finished felt good, like I could check it off a list as I continued my slow march towards completion. Since I had plot progress goals rather than just "write 2,000 words," my scenes were more streamlined right off the bat. Wordcount skyrocketed.

Did I still split chapters? You bet; some days I only had two chapters planned and four spawned out of it. But because I already had an end goal for the day (due to my rather lenient and vague outline) I would just plug forward until I accomplished it. It was a challenge, a mountain to climb, and in tandem with that my number of words a day went up as well. There were certainly days where my goal required only a few words, and then I had the satisfaction of having my evening free. It was weird; I didn't realize how much better this formula works for me, but it does. Having a blanket number can be helpful but also weak. Making actual percent progress in the plot feels like you are actually working towards something. Just food for thought.  


Turn off the personal editor.

This is another big one, and one that is hard for lots of people (including me). My biggest issue with A Straight Cut is I hit a point where my internal editor (who is actually a pretty crappy editor, based on my editing abilities) would start screaming at me over every stupid word I'd put to page. And, retroactively, he kept harassing me about all my previous words, making me doubt my previous chapters. "Nobody will buy this!" He'd rave like the douchebag he is. "Who wants to read this crap? You took a good idea and squandered it!"

Half punched the editor in the face, for a few reasons. First, it's a freaking vampire book. I knew this was going to be a pulpy, silly romp when I started it. So who cares if nobody reads it? It was the same thing with The Ashen Destroyer, my Effulgent Corruption fanfic novella. I was writing for myself again, not for some perceived agent, editor, writing group, or audience. I was allowing myself to just get sucked into the story, to love the characters and do whatever crazy stuff I felt like doing. It felt great, and the editor could only bug me about sentence structure and stuff, and even then I had spellcheck turned off (so no red lines) so I would just write words and not stop to worry about it.

I think something a lot of prospective authors forget is the fact that nobody published actually has complete creative freedom. Sure, they can technically write what they want, but eventually that's going to have to go through a writing group, agent, editor, and eventually the harshest critics of all: the fans. Any author worth his or her salt doesn't want to spend the rest of his or her life cleaning the thing up in post, so s/he starts making sure their first drafts are a little better. Which, whether they like it or not, stifles creativity. I'm not saying this is a bad thing; it's a sign of becoming a better writer. But what I am saying is for some people this can be too much, and go too far. Not to cite any examples, but think of authors who take years upon years to just write the next manuscript in a series. Their self-editors are going nuts, and usually when the book comes out it is bland and less creative than the previous entries in the series. It's that damned self-editor, thinking he knows everything, when really he should be kept in check and only used if necessary.

Half was when I turned all my limitations off. It was my first book since Harbinger (and Lacrymosa before it) where I felt like I could just do whatever the hell I wanted and not care about the consequences. I think the book is stronger for it, and it certainly helped me enjoy the story more personally.


You can fix it in post. Or in the middle. Or whenever. 

This kind of ties in with the last two, but it was really brought to the forefront when writing Half. I jumped into this thing headfirst not even knowing if the pool was full of water, jello, or radioactive scorpions. I knew the goal (the other side of the pool) but what I was swimming through to get there was a mystery. I just wrote anyway, thinking of stuff that would be cool and would eventually get me to the other side.

About 1/3 of the way through I figured it out, using what I'd established already to set up the second act of the book. Following that, at the 2/3 mark I completely changed my plans and decided to have the ending escalate in a completely different place, after a completely different incident, and with a totally new climax. Was my book ruined? Did I have to go back and rewrite everything?

Nope. I did have to go back and add a very small section in the middle of a chapter, as well as alter several bits of dialogue to provide proper foreshadowing, but it was about a thirty minute fix at most. Granted, since then I changed it again, so I still have to go back and make sure it is all tight, but the point is that you can fix stuff later. If you have an idea that is just marvelously amazing, just write it in and then fix it later. Granted, this won't work with any idea (it has to be within reason), but the point still stands. Don't stifle your creativity. It can always be fixed after you are done: just focus on getting to the end before examining the journey.


Write what you love, and love it when you write. 

So this title is kind of hokey, but the point still stands: if you want to do this as a living, you have to enjoy it. Art isn't like an office job. In an office job, you can sort of not enjoy what you are doing but it's a grind. You aren't usually required to make something beautiful or artistic as a part of it (unless your office job is creating art, in which case you should probably still enjoy it or else you'll get static shovelware video games), you just do your time and go home. But with writing art, especially if you haven't sold a book, you'd better really like doing it. If it's painful or too difficult or you can't seem to find time for it, maybe you aren't cut out for it. Lots of people really want to write a book, but few people do, and fewer write a second. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but if you really love writing you'll keep doing it. You won't need money or fame or someone bossing you around to go out and do that thing you love. It's just what you do because that's who you are. Or you can grow to love it through practice.

Writing Half was stressful. Very stressful. My self-imposed deadline was killer and it sucked away all my free time. But looking back I had a total blast last week. It was a very hard week in terms of not-writing. I had tons of work, things went bad at work, I was stressed, and I had little time to do what I wanted. But I had something to look forward to after all that was done. I got to dive back into a silly story about a flippant vampire hunter who loved his job. I got to use my imagination to create whatever I wanted every single night, not worrying about what I or other people felt about it. It was fun and a journey, an adventure that only I got to go on with my characters. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, even with all the stress and pain.

So write because you love it, and you'll love your writing. Make it happen.


There was certainly a bit more, but I think that will do for now. Point being that I am very glad I tried this, and gladder still I managed to pull it off. It was a very rewarding experience, and helped me get back into a writing mood for more "serious" projects (though I do plan on editing Half...and if anybody wants to read it I'll gladly send it your direction). 

That's it from me. I hope to start the Game of Thrones HBO series reviews tonight, so stay tuned!


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