2020. Man, who thought this year
would turn out the way it has. All the conventions cancelled, Books and Beer on
hiatus, plans disrupted, then burned, then buried in a bog. Just…wow.
Earlier this year, when I found
myself facing furlough, I promised myself I wouldn’t just let it pass me by. It
was going to be an opportunity to get stuff done. I was going to write so many
books, and lose so much weight, and just get so much done.
Of course, that’s not what
happened. I got some writing done, but no where near the tsunami of publishable
materials I thought I might get done. I actually did a NANOWRIMO challenge in
July to write a science fiction novel, a way to force myself to relearn how to
write at home. And as I’m back to work, I can get some writing done there. My
coffee shop is still pick-up only, but I’m hopeful for the future.
What I’m Writing
I’ve got a couple of projects
going. The main one is re-writing a fantasy novel to prepare it for publishing.
I’ve got some good feedback on the story from some alpha readers, and I might
make it a November Writing Challenge to rewrite the thing.
I’ve got the July SciFi story,
which is a very rough draft. It’ll need some significant work to get it ready,
but it’s doable. Book 3 of the Renaissance Army series is getting picked at; I’ve
worked out some timeline and story concerns that were bugging me, now I’m
writing some scenes, storyboarding and researching. Always researching.
Working on short stories. Have a
couple it might be fun to send to magazines or the like. We’ll see if that
What I’m Reading
Right now I’m working through ‘The
Complete Novels of Jane Austen’, which is one ebook with nine Jane Austen
books. Before I’d seen the movies of Sense and Sensibility and Pride
and Prejudice¸ and I really enjoyed reading those stories. Whomever made
the movies did a good job of consolidating characters and trimming the
plotlines. The confusion I found in the books weren’t in the films.
The rest of the stories I’m
reading cold, which makes for a bit of a challenge as I’m two centuries removed
from Jane Austen’s time. I’m sure there are things I’m missing. But I’m still
enjoying the dialogue. It on a level all of its own.
I don’t know how 2021 will look.
I’m guessing it’ll be a slow slog back to normal, or what will pass for normal
after all this. I won’t have a book out this year, that’s for sure, but next
year I hope to publish at least one.
The Tales of the Templars is a collection of short stories I’m working on. The idea comes from my second book, Templar Scholar, in which Sasha Small joins the Templar Project, a group of young men and women being trained by the Renaissance Army as leaders of the new Renaissance. Including Sasha, there are twelve Templars, each with their own stories and backgrounds.
The Tales of the Templars will include stories that follow Templars other than Sasha. It will allow me to explore not only new characters, but aspects of the world that Sasha has not experienced. One character grew up stealing to survive; how did he end up a Templar? Another character fought in a battle Sasha only watched from afar. What was that battle like to those involved?
I have sixteen potential stories, with each of the eleven Templars involved in at least one. Some of them are pre-Templar Stories, which is to say they occur before the beginning of Templar Scholar, some of them during the events of Renaissance Calling. Others are Templar Stories, which take place during Templar Scholar.
Will Tales of the Templars include all sixteen stories? No. And here’s where my readers come in. I have a page on my website (linked here) where readers can vote for their favorite story ideas. Each of the sixteen stories is listed with a synopsis, and at the bottom you can vote for up to five of the stories you want to read.
If you’ve read Templar Scholar you’ll know the characters and some of the events, and you’ll probably have characters you want to know more about. If you haven’t read the book, then hopefully some of the stories sound good anyway. And if you want to buy the book, you can do so here.
When I was younger, I heard someone say that an artist is never satisfied with their work. They know what was in their mind when they began, and they see the final project, and it always falls flat in one aspect or another. It’s just something that all artists feel.
That saying has been on my mind as I’m working through the final stages of Book 2. As publishing gets closer and closer, I find myself battling anxiety about what is in the book and what is not. Have I stressed this point enough? Does this relationship get enough space? Will the reader take away what I want them to, or am I too vague?
There’s no way to get rid of these anxieties. They can even be helpful. The anxiety forces me as a writer to keep working, to pay attention to what is bothering me. Rewrite, research, revise, and continue.
Accepting the imperfection of my work is a part of the process. I really like Book 2. There are plenty of things I wish I could put in, but size constraints and the flow of the story keep me from doing so, and that’s okay. No story tells everything.
And when the anxiety and worry starts to grow, I remind myself that I’ve had six people read through the various drafts. All of them said they liked the book. If I trust them to advise me on editorial matters, I should trust them to tell me the truth on the quality of the book. An outside viewpoint carries weight against an inside doubt.
Ultimately, I will always feel that anything I’ve written is imperfect, and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough that I feel comfortable with other people reading it. The stories I tell are of imperfect people in an imperfect world. Imperfection is part of the game.
As a resolution for New Years, I challenged myself to record at least 500 words day in writing. I could have gone for more, but I wanted a nice, comfortable goal, since there are days when I have little time to actually write, and there are days where I don’t feel like writing. So, I set the goal at 500 words.
It turns out its usually a bit easier than I worried. I’m at a coffee shop most morning a little after 6 AM, starting my day off hitting the goal. Some days, I exceed a thousand words, and sometimes even two thousand.
There are off days, of course. There have been days where I’ve just pushed myself to get 500 words total, writing obvious crap, saying ‘a rough draft is just words on the page’ and I’ll fix it when I revise. But I’ve made the 500 words every day.
A benefit during revisions
It’s come in handy. As Book 2 of the Renaissance Army series has gone through revisions and out to some Alpha readers, writing 500 words a day on other projects has kept my creative juices flowing while I’ve been dealing with the mechanical and stylistic issues that revisions include. And it’s advanced a few projects from ‘neat idea’ to ‘words are on the page’. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and it’s good that I’m getting to them, even if they are of secondary or tertiary importance.
So, even as I get stuck on some matter in the revision, I at least make some headway on another project. So I feel I’ve gotten something done every day.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at the words I’ve recorded in yWriter. Now, there are things I’ve written that aren’t recorded in yWriter, but I didn’t want to spend hours finding every single word I’d typed and adding it, so this is just a rough, quick calculation.
Since New Years, I have written 98,909 words in eight different projects. The vast majority went to Book 2 (58,000+), and with a fantasy book taking second place (29,000+). Book 3 was begun, with just shy of 3,500 words. Which means, over 106 days (as of writing), I’ve averaged 933.1 words a day. Well above my goal.
If you’re a writer, try it out! Setting a simple, low goal and sticking to it is the way to accomplish a lot of goals, and with writing it helps to bull rush your way through the writers block and doubts and just get words on the page. Because once they’re on there, they mean something.
This last weekend I finished a rough, rough draft of Book 2, my sequel to Renaissance Calling. It took a lot longer to finish than I expected, in part because I had to learn how to write a book in a non-sequential fashion. Between the length of time Book 2 covers (a year as opposed to two and a half months) and the need to fit fourteen backer-created characters into the story, writing the story from start to finish wouldn’t work, unless I was willing to write out a 300,000 word monster of a rough draft. So I started jumping around, writing scenes as I had them and working from both ends towards the middle.
It was interesting and frustrating, with a lot of false starts and dead ends, but ultimately it got me to the end of the rough draft and into revisions. As I move on with both this book and other projects, I want to take a moment and share with you some lessons about non-sequential writing I’ve taken from the experience.
Start at both ends and work to the middle
Starting at both ends and working towards the middle was the first thing I started doing. It made sense, since I knew how the story began and ended. Working from both directions, I can approach any problem I came across from either the front or the back. Sometimes I had to solve problems by writing the solution first, and building up to it.
Keep an eye out for lessons the protagonist needs to learn
By writing the end I gained a huge advantage; I figured out what the character needs to experience to have the impact I need her to have at the climax of the story. That helped me figure out what I needed to show the reader, versus what I could tell the reader. It’s a huge benefit to non-sequential writing to know what you don’t have to write.
Write scenes independently; don’t worry about flow
By flow, I mean the attention of the reader as they go from one chapter to another. I quickly stopped paying attention to flow for my rough draft. Scenes begin and end rather abruptly. Annoying, yes, but finishing the overall story was the main goal. Working on the flow is for the revision phase.
Don’t describe a secondary character when you first write him/her:
Jumping back and forth, I had no idea when this character or that character was going to be introduced. The first few times I wrote a character I included a description, but several times I later wrote them in an earlier scene. So I stopped writing descriptions. Instead, I’m saving the description until afterwards, then I’ll add them when I know where their first appearance is.
Keep a list of ‘Bits to Add’
Instead of jumping around to fix things every time they come up, I’ve been keeping a separate document where I write down the ideas I want to return to. The point is to get the side-thoughts out of the way without interrupting the work on whichever scene I’m focusing on at the time. There will be enough time to fix everything later.
I’ve already started applying these lessons to other projects. It’s really helpful to get things moving when something is getting stuck, or simply to just get words down and counted. One project in particular covers almost a decade of time, and already I’m making huge strides in it because of these lessons.
Have any thoughts or tips of you own? Feel free to let me know.
In my recently published book, Renaissance Calling, I have no less than ten fights. These range from one-on-one fisticuffs to small battles. Fighting of one sort or another is prominent in most of the stories I’m working on, so I’ve got some experience in planning and writing fighting and combat scenes.
I’ve been meaning to write an article on this for some time, but there’s so many thoughts and concepts floating around that it’s been hard to organize, so I’m switching playbooks.
Instead of one long article, I’m going to write several, with no expected number planned. I might write about something I’m currently working on, or something I’ve done. One post will be about planning battles from the eyes of the generals, another about what a character might be feeling during combat.
The idea is, instead of trying to shove everything into one article, to focus on one idea per post, and really get into it, allowing each idea to be entertained in depth.
Why Combat? – Because I know it
For a first article, I figured I would discuss the obvious first question: why so much fighting?
I’m a military historian by education, growing up with access to my dad’s Civil War books. I grew from looking at pictures to reading the stories, evolving into an interest in both personal accounts and primary sources on one hand, and the overall philosophy and culture of war on the other.
And of course, I consume a significant amount of fictional media on the subject. Books, movies and video games are plentiful, though I can find as much fault with a lot of them (both in terms of combat and in terms of story-telling) as I can enjoy them. Roleplaying games are also heavily combat oriented, which means on game night, we’re probably going to fight.
So for better or worse, fighting is something that features in almost all of my stories.
Also – Excitement
As a last minute addition to this article, I wanted to say one more thing about writing combat. As I’m working on book two, I’ve had to contend with worrying about keeping the book exciting. Yes, not all drama in a book has to come from battle, but it helps to have the option, if only to vary the source of the drama.
Being in a situation where fighting can happen for various reasons (as I had in Renaissance Calling) allowed me to use combat to control the excitement. A bandit here, a betrayal there, I could count on fighting to give me control over the story. In most of my planned projects this is possible, though I do not want to make it the soul source of excitement.
Anyway, I know this is a short article, but I didn’t want to make it long just for the sake of making it long. This is only an introduction, after all.
I want to take a moment and write about the projects I’m working on. Specifically, about how I decide what projects to focus on and which ones to put on hold.
In preparation for this article, I sat down and worked out every project that I’ve done some work on. This does not include passing ideas that I’ve thought about, only things where I have put something on paper or saved to the cloud. The question was ‘How many books am I trying to write?’
I came up with 29 distinct projects, some organized into larger fictional worlds, while others are standalone books. And while I was coming up with this list, I found that I might be able to condense a number of the fantasy and science fiction projects into fewer projects. But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to continue with the original 29 projects.
12 of those projects I hadn’t done enough work to figure out how many books they might turn into, and two of them are strings of short stories that would probably just be anthologized. So, of the remaining 15 projects, how many books are planned?
That’s quite a lot. That’s more books than years I’ve lived. So I better get writing.
Seriously, though, looking at this list of projects, I’m already sure a lot of them aren’t going to get written. Not because I don’t want to write them, but because I probably just don’t have the time. It’s one of the reasons I try to set a lot of my fantasy and science fiction stories in the same universe; so I can re-use the same geography, politics and mythologies in different stories.
Just for fun, the numbers of projects by genre:
Speculative fiction (3 projects)
Fantasy (10 projects))
Science fiction (9 projects)
Historical Fiction (5 projects)
Other (2 projects)
My main focus right now is on the Renaissance Army series, which counts for three of the projects and ten books (seven main-line books, two short-story anthologies and a prequel). Even then, it wouldn’t surprise me if I find other stories to tell in the world. In fact, I’m almost certain I do, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.
My goal with the seven main-line books is to publish one a year. Now that I’ve got Renaissance Calling under my belt, I feel pretty confident I can get those seven books out. I don’t know that it’ll be one a year, but I mean to give it a go. I’ve been paying attention to my process, figuring out how I can outline better, paying attention to what trips me up or disrupts my process. Basically becoming more proficient.
The Great Fantasy Series
My secondary focus is what I’m calling the Orc-kin series, a set of seven trilogies that follow half-orc characters through the centuries of a fantasy world. I’ve written the first book, and I’m writing the second, with others being aggressively outlined as I go. At the very least I’d like to publish the first trilogy. I might not go so far as to publish all seven trilogies, but outline them all and then only publish the best ones. I don’t know yet.
How do I decide what else to do?
That is the question, ultimately, of this post. I have so many ideas, things I honestly believe are good stories. How do I decide which ones to write?
When I look at the other projects, I imagine all the work I need to do to bring them to fruition, and it can get a little daunting. Though depending on the genre, maybe for different reasons.
With the Fantasy projects, I can get all but one of the projects into the same world, but one of them is going to be stand alone. That certainly makes world-building easier. It’s more likely I’ll publish a fantasy story next.
Science Fiction can be difficult because so much of the science fiction I’ve been reading has been particularly heavy on the science (see David Weber’s Honorverse or Andy Weir’s The Martian). I imagine my own science fiction will have less math in it, and more fiction. Although I have been using the Kerbal Space Program to learn orbital mechanics.
Historical Fiction is one area I know I want to write more on. But it requires so much research to feel comfortable writing a historical book. I know I want to try to get one out, but there’s a lot of research to be done.
You didn’t answer the question: how do I decide what to do?
Oh, you noticed that, did you?
The fact is, I’m not sure which project (other than the Renaissance Army series) I will focus on next. Yes, I’m one book into the first fantasy trilogy, but I want to write the whole thing out before I revise, so I’m two books away from advancing that series. I have a lot of resources for the historical fiction books, but I haven’t gone through them and organized them. And I keep getting worried about the science in my science fiction stories.
So, the answer is, honestly, whatever I end up working on. Other than the Renaissance Army series, I end up jumping from project to project pretty quickly, working when inspiration strikes me. For all I know, I’ll have a burst of insight and speed write a science fiction book for NANOWRIMO. We’ll see.
This last Saturday I had the launch party for Renaissance Calling. It was not a huge shindig, with about thirty guests in attendance. There was food and drink, and good times. I gave a short speech about how I came up with the story (that I’m hoping to get online at some point), and read from the book. I sold a few more copies. It was a good time.
Speaking in public is something I’ve had to work on. I’m part of a writing group that involves reading out loud, which has given me quite a bit of confidence in both what I write and what I sound like. The videos I recorded for the Kickstarter campaign were also helpful. But I thought it went well. I want to keep practicing, but I didn’t panic in front of the crowd.
Into the future
As of this posting, Renaissance Calling has four 5-star reviews on Amazon, and everyone I’ve spoken to has enjoyed the book. Work on Book 2 is already underway, as are several other writing projects.
Later on this month I’ll have a booth at Manti-Con, a sci-fi convention in Bloomington. It will be my first completely public outing as an author. I’m excited, and a bit nervous. If you know anything about having a booth at a similar event, please let me know.
And if you haven’t gotten Renaissance Calling yet, head on over to Amazon. It’s worth your read.