That’s my Secret

I’m tired, first of all. Secondly, I’m always tired. And finally, that means that when I’m writing, I’m writing through a fog of fatigue. This is… not always true. Sometimes, briefly, I am not feeling tired and I am usually dictating in my car on the way to work when that happens. I have to make time this weekend to train Dragon Naturally with a persona that has road noise. Because it’s that, or spend precious time and energy cleaning up transcriptions at the end of the day. I’m a bit flinchy about that, as I have a few thousand words of dirty manuscript to clean this weekend and it’s not going to be fun.

So if it’s not the writing, it’s the editing and revising. I am faced with a lot of that. I have not been making good progress on The East Witch, which means I will not get that novel out in early November as planned. And I finished The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack (small pop of confetti! Woo!) which means I have not one, but two, novels in need of editing and revision on my plate. Add to that a pair of shorts in progress, and a pair of novels in progress, and I’m feeling a tad overwhelmed.

It’s a good problem? I have no end of ideas coming out of me. I just can’t possibly write, edit, and market fast enough. I mean, I’m also planning another book (ok, two) of art. I’ve promised a ‘sketchbook’ published after October, with my N’inktober drawings in it. That won’t be a terrible amount of time and effort at the end, as most of the work will be done incrementally through the month while I am doing the daily art. Although I do want to clean up or add detail to some of the day’s prompts. If you’d like to follow along, my instagram feed shows up on my personal blog, or you can join the facebook group (if you FB, and I know not everyone does, which is why I go the other route as well).

At least with art, the steps from concept to completion are fast! Writing takes a much more sustained effort, and then there is editing. I keep tripping over that part. It used to be that I wrote a fairly clean manuscript (ok, editors have given me a hard time over my tendency to mix and match British and American spelling, and I can’t get through my thick head its, it’s or what?) and if I was able to write a novel in a quick burst, I usually didn’t have major plot holes. The East Witch took me three years to write, two of those sitting on the mental shelf untouched. The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack was intended to be a short story prompt response that ballooned into full novel, buoyed by weekly prompts. It is a patchwork quilt of a book.

As a matter of fact, with the current WIP I am deliberately quilting. Tanager’s Flight is the first time I have with purpose and forethought plotted out. I’m using a fairly classic action plot for it, and running it through Plottr. My idea was that I’ve had to put it on hold for so long, this will help me keep the beats on pacing as I pick it up after a week or more of ignoring it. I didn’t do a major outline. Just a thumbnail sketch – a cartoon, if you will – of where the thing was going to go. I still have to figure out how to get the characters, and the ship, into those predicaments. Which makes my muse happy. In the past I’d learned that outlining satisfied the curiosity of the muse sufficiently to cause her to wander off and never return. So I don’t outline. But I may be evolving past full pantser into something else. We shall see how this book comes out! Which it won’t unless I go clean it up and figure out where I’m at.

This has been a year of stitching together writing projects. I’ve been hugely productive, when I look back at my stats. July was the peak, but I had a whole week off and just writing in July, because the day job shut down for maintenance. The beginning of this month with a writing marathon was pretty good – 17K words in three days. And even if I haven’t had a novel out, there’s the anthologies I’ve been in: When Valor Must Hold (my story was sword and sorcery), Cracked! (my contribution was chickens loose on a space station), Hearts’ Enchantment (I retell a Russian fairytale romance), and Supernatural Streets (fans of Amaya Lombard will really want to get this one). Still, I have work to do and releases planned for 2020.

But first, more coffee. Maybe a nap. And there are errands to be run… Sigh. I’m going to be tired when I get back to the writing, aren’t I?

24 thoughts on “That’s my Secret

  1. — In the past I’d learned that outlining satisfied the curiosity of the muse sufficiently to cause her to wander off and never return. So I don’t outline. —

    Now that’s interesting. Your muse is content with an outline? She reads it and goes back to her knitting? Mine is enraged by an outline, or a synopsis, or any unreasonable facsimile. She immediately insists that I’ve strayed from the One True Faith and starts forcing changes on me. After sixteen novels, not one has developed nor ended anywhere near where my original outline / synopsis / performance specification intended it.

    If there’s a Muses’ Union, perhaps we could petition for a copy of their guild rules. Surely either yours or mine has been playing fast and loose with us!

    1. My muse hacks at outlines with his sword and then gets drunk on Single Malt. 😀 I don’t think he ever was a member of any guild.

      I tried oulining once. Didn’t work at all. I’m a pantser who writes out of order on top of it.

      1. Writing out of order is a useful technique. I’d guess that many excellent books are as good as they are because the author imagined a really smashing climax, wrote those scenes first, and then aimed the rest of the tale at them!

        1. I got some core scenes, though not the final climax. And I keep catching new characters and subplots every Nano. 😉 Well, it’s going to be a multi-volume epic Fantasy with Everything and the Kitchen Sink anyway. 😀

    2. Oh, yes. Outlines are “the story is now done, even though you haven’t even worked out a plot and have just put down a blob of story idea.” And the problem is that working on an outline in my head also gets rid of any story impulse.

      Sometimes I can manage to do index cards, but honestly I like to read a lot more than I like to write.

      But yeah, I need to just learn to work tired, because I actually feel more tired on my days off than on my days when I’m working.

      1. Agreed. I have a massive outline for a fic, still sitting in a folder years later. Argh.

        I need a start scene, an end scene, characters and world, and a few Big Events in the book. Outlining too much beyond that kills the “what comes next?” That I need to keep writing. I wish it weren’t so, it’d make things a lot easier. But you have to work with how your brain works.

    3. Like Cedar, if I do a detailed outline, my backbrain is happy I’ve solved the story puzzle, and promptly wants nothing to do with it ever again.

      I have managed to do an outline that was… four major scenes I knew I wanted to hit. In bullet points, with less than 4 words per bullet point. The rest had to be pants on how to get there. Anything more than that? The computer is littered with cast-off husks of stories, started and dead when I made a plot.

    4. I’ve never figured out how people who can’t write a first draft because they outlined ever manage to revise a draft.

      1. Editing is a different skill, and a different mindset, than writing. So if by “revise” you mean the line edits, continuity edits, copyedits – those are no problem.

        If on the other hand, you mean the “rewrite completely from almost-scratch, tossing out and re-doing thousands of words here and there” sort of “revise”, well, no clue. I don’t do those. If it needs entirely too much work because of great gaping story problem, massive plothole undiscovered until finished, changing from 1st person to 3rd person, etc… I toss those into the scraps heap, and write something new and better instead of trying to revise and wasting lots of time and frustration.

        1. — If on the other hand, you mean the “rewrite completely from almost-scratch, tossing out and re-doing thousands of words here and there” sort of “revise”, well, no clue. I don’t do those. —

          Does anyone? In this, the Age of the Word Processor, it would seem unwise and unnecessary under any imaginable circumstances. If we were still rolling 20 lb. bond into a typewriter, well, maybe in really rare cases.

          In the interesting case of changing from first to third person narration, an awful lot of rewriting would be necessary, though it would still fall short of “redo it all.” But I’ll bet you that some enterprising fellow has developed a set of MS Word macros that would automate most of that, too. And there’s another interesting question: Has anyone composed any Word macros that you find particularly helpful in your writing?

  2. Outline? If I have any idea of where it’s going it sputters out. Apparently I write to entertain an audience of one.

    Except one book. Which is terrible, and the ending’s a mess, and it doesn’t work. And it’s ripped apart across fifteen files and I’ve worked off and on over more than a decade trying to put it back together.
    But it has a theme and a plot and a ‘The End’ and almost all the stuff in between . . . even if it’s very badly done.

    Which is why I’m not a writer but a wannabe, and y’all are, because finishing is essential and not there. If I could just type faster than I think or figure out why that one would keep going . . . I mean, I have hundreds of files in the two-to-hundred pages range.

    1. *I* am the audience I write to entertain. If others enjoy it too, great! if not, they’re not my audience.

      Howeeeever… if you’re still ripping on it ten years later, it’s not entertaining you, and likely by now it’s more gravel than bricks. It needs cement, not more sledgehammering. You might want to try Holly Lisle’s “How to revise your novel” class — it’s basically a method of organizing the mess for the OCD/ADD author, so you can get the durn thing DONE once and for all. (It does not work for me, but I don’t work like that, at all. But it does teach a certain organizational method that can help the scatterplotted author.)

      For a taste, start with the free class, “How to write flash fiction that doesn’t suck” — it’s the same core methods in a very small nutshell.

  3. Y’all with “tired/sleepy all the time syndrome” especially if you’re over 50…. do I gotta rant about thyroid again?? Remember when you were 20 and could bounce back every day, no matter how busy you were? That’s normal. This is not, no matter how many “reasons” you can find for it. Voice of experience, or why I’m doing better at 65 than I was at 45.

    And… there were supposed to be pants?? My muse runs naked and wild, randomly dropping scenes that aren’t even in the same book, and woe betide any story that even *thinks* about an outline, let alone an orderly progression. Outline is what we do afterward, to remind us where we went and what we discovered; obviously if the map exists, the territory has already been explored.

    OTOH, it refuses to create anything needless and does not chase shiny; it knows exactly where it’s going, even if it can’t be arsed to tell me. Every “orphan” scene goes somewhere critical. One word narrowly begets the next, so editing is done on the fly, and while detail may need to be added or summaries expanded, there’s never any need for discarding or revising. It looks chaotic, but it’s actually very efficient. It’s rather like discovering a buried bas relief by carefully blowing away the sand, then refinishing as needed.

    Silly author… Pants, ha.

    Maybe diapers…


  4. Important note on outlines and plotting: just because I can’t (currently) do it, doesn’t mean I don’t spend time deliberately learning about it. In fact, I’ve spent time researching and reading several different how-to courses on plotting and writing to outline.
    You see, I know my brain likes to pull out all sorts of facts and apply them to other things, and by synthesis, accretion, and other learning methods, often takes what I’ve done, and applies it elsewhere. Even if it’s not consciously, it often is useful later… even if it’s learning scene/sequel format means that I can read the work to date where I’m blocking, and go “I need action next, as it’s been slow. I also need to balance the character arcs, so… Which character haven’t I checked in on lately? What’s the worst thing that could happen to them at this point?”
    It’s not so much plotting as using the same tools to unblock.

  5. All you commenters work in fascinatingly different ways.
    It’s encouraging!
    I guess the right way is the way that gets you to ‘the end’ with a coherent narrative, however long it may be.

    I will also add that the better I sleep, the better I write. Not enough sleep and I can’t focus and I’m way, way too tired to get much of anything accomplished.

  6. i know what you mean with the tired. Sometimes i just can’t write thru the fog, and then suddenly i burp up 1500 words…

  7. I’m going to start reading some more about the Puritans, and pre-modern magic (academic book, not “witches held secret knowledge the Church suppressed . . . .”) for a story idea that’s been floating around. Why? I need brain space. I’ve been so up to my ears with Day Job complications and the like that, while I’ve gotten a few words put in on L-Familiar and the salt book, they’re bogging. I need a reminder of light at the end of the academic tunnel.

    I second (or is it fourth) the fatigue thing. In my case it is technology and allergy induced, along with a family member having minor-major surgery last week. Said person is much better, but it’s still wearing.

    1. Little known magical history of the United States but not ‘witches held secret knowledge’?

      Have I got the series for you.
      John Michael Greer (the Archdruid) has been writing a history of magic in America. Here’s a link to a sample post about Jonathan Brewster, of the Mayflower Brewsters. He arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1621 onboard the Fortune and became one of America’s first practicing alchemists.

      Here’s the link:

      Greer expects you to read carefully and thoroughly so, at least for me, I have to read carefully and then reread to digest everything he’s saying. The comments are worth reading too, as he answers every question asked.

      This post is fairly early in the sequence. To date, he’s just past Madame Blavatsky and what an amazing career she had.

      1. (seriously, though, if you need a “double-check names and locations and second set of eyes to spot egregious grammar/spelling errors” I am available)

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