Me — Where to Go After the First Draft?

As you may or may not know, I’m putting together my second short story anthology, which will be collected stories from three established universes as well as several standalone shorts. I’ve been bringing a few of these into my writer’s group, and depending on the story, I’m getting lots of varying types of feedback. What I mean by that is, I’ve heard everything from “this is perfect, don’t change a word” to “it’s a solid concept, but it needs a lot more polishing before it’s ready” (which is a nice way of saying it’s terrible).

When you’re getting lots of feedback that wildly contradicts one another, it can be difficult to know what you should think. It’s easy to agree with the person who loves it and simply move on to the next story, but it can also be soul-wrenching to hear that somebody doesn’t like the thing you’ve worked so hard putting together. It might even be enough to make you want to throw it in the garbage and start over completely.

And maybe that’s what the story needs, but I’m of the opinion that you should never destroy your work. Instead of deleting the file where you keep your first draft, if you must start over from scratch, why not simply make a new file titled “second draft”?

That being said, how are you supposed to know when a story needs to be rewritten completely, or if it simply needs some edits?

As with virtually any writing advice you receive, what comes next is going to be hearsay, so take it with a grain of salt.

In my experience, when I go to my writer’s group I will already know if a story needs to be rewritten from scratch, but it all depends on what I’m trying to do with that piece versus what it actually does.

For example, I wrote a short story in my Spear Gate universe that was essentially written for the atmosphere and the scene. I fell in love with the crazy weird locale the story was set in, so I wanted to make it about the locale. This meant thorough descriptions and a narrative style that matches the mood of the setting. But what ended up being written was a story about a mom with a robot butler worried about her son, and the mom happened to live in a weird place with odd descriptions. The difference is the focus of the story. Instead of writing about Neda and how anxious she was that the sun was setting and her son was supposed to be home by now, I should have written about the cold steel of the walkway she sat on, and the warm cup of coffee doing little to stave off the chilly breeze.

This is a flaw that edits would not fix. Or rather they could, but the wording would have been altered so drastically that it would become a ship of Theseus. If you have to change every sentence, is it really the same old story? In this case, it’s clearly better to simply rewrite it. So I did, and as you might imagine, I think it works much better than it did.

If, however, the story is accomplishing your basic goals, whether it is an interesting character, or a cool plot twist, etc., then more than likely the only thing you’ll need to change is how well the story accomplishes those goals. Maybe the plot twist could be better if it was more subtly foreshadowed, or the interesting character needs a longer interaction to really shine. In this case, you don’t have to tear the whole scaffolding apart, you just need to go back and reinforce what’s already there.

Now this is a huge topic, so I might discuss it more thoroughly later, but the main point here is that you’re the author, so you’re the deciding factor on what the story needs. Don’t let somebody tell you your story sucks if your character simply needs clearer motivations. But if they have good points and you agree that your character simply isn’t interesting enough to be the protagonist, maybe a rewrite is in order. Just think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your story and look at how critical the flaws are, and woven into the story those flaws happen to be.

Me — May ’19 Update

My free time has been getting shoveled out the window the past few weeks, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The last time I got home and was able to just relax before 7pm (including weekends) was last Thursday, and even then I got home at about 7 and had work the next morning, so it wasn’t as though I could sleep in.

I’m not complaining, though. According to my happiness chart things have actually been getting slightly better (probably because I’m too busy to be stressed or lonely). It does mean that I forced myself to get up at 5am to write this, though.

So, that said, I’m adding something to the monthly topics: work. Because of that, I’m changing the order by moving things around a bit. Here it is:

Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

Despite my lack of time (and the fact that I didn’t post anything this past Tuesday), I’m not making any changes to the blog. I don’t want to take another break because any period of time where I don’t hold myself accountable for updates and posts gives me a tiny source of stress. I don’t like having that little voice in the back of my head that asks when I’m going to start writing posts again. Plus, I think two posts a week is a nice goal. It requires me to keep writing without having to be on my thoughts each and every day.

do have writing plans, which makes me very excited. Over the summer, I’m going to write the second half of the Lisa play I started back in February. I don’t know what I’ll do with it afterwards, but it is definitely still a first draft. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to find time to write a short story for the passion project (which for now is still nameless). The thing is, neither that story nor the Lisa play are ever likely to find their way onto the blog, unfortunately. Play format isn’t conducive to blog posts, and the audience of the short story is written for the other people on the project, so it isn’t very inclusive. Still, I’m optimistic about my writing situation, (plus, I have a few inklings of crazy weird things I want to try out, but that won’t be for several, several months).

Work is getting rough. As I wrote about recently, my job used to have me, who is part time, and somebody else who was full time. Even in recent weeks he and I had been struggling to get everything done one time, and then he left. I can’t just start working full time again because I have school, which means I’m driving to work immediately after school, hence the not getting home until ~8pm most days. Luckily I’ve been getting some help from other people so my work load hasn’t been as daunting as it might be, and I’ll be looking forward to being able to start saving money again, so we’ll see.

That said, finals week is really soon. I have to have a lot of things done by next Thursday for one of my classes, and I’m worried that there will not be enough time in the day to finish it the way I want to. The solace I do have is that as far as school is concerned, this is the only thing I’m worried about, as all of my other classes are relatively laid back. If my project does turn out the way I’m hoping, maybe I’ll even make a post about it and include some pictures.

The Aleor D&D campaign is going great. We just had a surprise boss fight-ish in the streets of Craydon, and this was the first real session we’ve had since they finished a dungeon. This fight took two hours and had so many pieces. I should have taken pictures, I had three books open, 70% of my miniatures were on the mat, there were 4 allied parties (not including the players) and 4 different types of enemies. The session ended up being 5 hours long (and our usual is 3). I’m gearing them towards some major story arcs because up until now they’ve been flailing around at low level doing random, insignificant stuff. Mostly I can’t wait to write about this scene in the campaign diaries when I get to them.

Video games? Who has time for those? Well, recently I downloaded Magic the Gathering: Arena, which I may or may not have mentioned on the blog. It took several hours to start enjoying, but it’s slowly starting to feel like just another card game which is nice. I don’t really have any time to play it, which means I don’t play often enough to acquire my own custom deck, but the decks that the game gives you are at least halfway decent/fun.

I’ve been falling behind a bit on Critical Role, which as I’ve stated before is 50% of the media I consume, so that feels a bit bad. I do like being a week’s behind because then I don’t feel obligated to watch the stream on Thursday (as usually I should be getting work done if that time slot is free), but at this point I’m multiple episodes behind so I’m no longer safe browsing the subreddit and looking at fanart and whatnot. Oh well.

The only other thing I have is that I’ve started to go to my writer’s group again. It feels somewhat like a waste of my time because I don’t have any writing to present, but if nothing else it’s nice to see a lot of those people again. Maybe I’ll start bringing stuff I’ve already written and start editing it.

That’s all, folks! Next update should be interesting because with the end of the Spring semester my schedule should have calmed down quite a bit. I’ll be working full time, be done by 5pm, and if I don’t have something to do that night (like writer’s group), then I can go home and just relax/get work done! Never a moment’s rest, but maybe that’s the way I like it.

Me — Writer’s Block

I’m always excited about having extra time to work on personal projects, but I feel like every time that day arrives, I get nothing done and it just makes me upset.

I can’t articulate why, but my writer’s block has gotten so bad that putting any words on the page has become nearly impossible when it’s a personal project. Homework assignments being the exception, I’ve written one short story since July, and the shorts of that point and a few months prior were all meaningless little trifles.

It’s become a constant source of frustration. I have 5 things on my to-do list for this weekend, and the short story is my top priority, but instead of getting that done I’m taking infinite breaks and just being sad. I can’t relax and play games because I have stuff to do but I can’t just get that stuff done, so the days where I have no school or work end up being cycles of self-loathing.

I wrote the Act One to a full length play for homework in basically a month, and that was because I was told what to write and given very strict rules on what to do (write a scene where X and Y happens in one hour, GO.) I won’t say it was easy, but I ended up with 50 pages of content (that was actually not bad, all things considered!) that never would have existed otherwise.

The thing that sucks is that I obviously can’t impose those rules on myself, because there’s no consequence to me failing. If I take a break and go on Facebook or Instagram, nobody will be breathing down my neck, because the only thing I’m losing is my time (and my sanity, but who needs that?)

I did manage to get nearly 500 words of a short story done for the passion project I’m working on, but I hate it. Looking back on it I’m realizing it’s because none of my characters have established reasons for doing anything, and the story is just uninteresting overall. Which, unfortunately for me, means I need to scrap it and start from scratch.

People in my writer’s group often talk about how much they loved writing a scene or a character, and it never ceases to amaze me that people can just sit down and enjoy the process, because every time I look at the screen I just sigh and internally beg to be doing anything else. Luckily (or unluckily, as the case may be), I’m on a computer where all of my favorite time sinks are.

If anything, I think this is the proof that I’m never going to make a career out of writing books. (I almost said why I’m never going to be a published author, but given the fact that I already am, that would be dumb to say.) I can talk about worldbuilding and story structure all day, but sitting down and actually writing scenes and dialogue attributions and character motivations is just a nightmare.

How do you people do it?!

Me — My Persistent Problem with Pretty Projects

I admire people that can just write because they enjoy it, and churn out books because they like telling stories, whether or not those stories are good or will ever see the light of day. I’ve never been like that, and to this day, I would consider myself to have only ever finished a complete draft of one novel. This was almost six years ago, and I was in high school at the time.

Ever since then, it’s been the same exact process. A new idea starts to interest me, and I mull it over for a few weeks. I may or may not outline it, but whether or not I do is always a conscious decision. After that I get to work, and about a quarter of the way through, the idea is no longer interesting. I start getting bored until it gets harder and harder to push myself to write, until one day I say it’s not worth it anymore. By then, I may have another new idea to jump onto, but not always.

Soldier of Nadu‘s second draft. White Tower/Kitsuki’s EmissaryDreamscapeRise of the Riftguard. The Lisa Stenton anthology. Spear Gate.

I’ve tried everything. From extensively outlining to no planning whatsoever, to writing a collection of short stories rather than a full book. It just doesn’t work.

And now I’ve got the Xelfure project churning over in my head. The more I think of it the more it’s starting to sound like the prequel to the central book series of Nacre Then. But when I first started thinking about it it was barely a short story. A novelette at most. But I thought, while I was dabbling in Nacre Then, why not throw in characters I was already familiar with? And take the opportunity to flesh out characters that didn’t have a solid place in the lore? Well, the idea has entirely outgrown the original framework of the story I had set up—a two layer narrative of past and future is now simply a novel with typical flashbacks, and I will openly admit I don’t like the sound of that. It’s just not what I want for this story, not to mention the size of such a project will never get finished given how I’ve tackled writing the past several years.

I don’t really know what my problem is, but I would hazard to guess that I worry too much about perfection right off the bat. I write good first drafts, I won’t short change myself on that, but rarely do I go back and edit, and I think the way that I write and the things I want to write are completely incompatible. I can only write a good first draft if that story is short, because if it’s too long the pieces I’m juggling get too hard to handle on one pass, and since I don’t know how to go back and make changes I simply lose heart and stop.

I do think that I just need to be okay with writing for writing’s sake. Very rarely have I ever had that mindset. Even the weekly short stories aren’t for me, it’s because I feel obligated as a writer to have an output and having something to show for myself. I don’t think that that’s inherently a bad thing, but it does mean I’m not enjoying what I could.

I’ll say it again—I don’t know how anyone can enjoy writing, but I respect anyone that does. I don’t like writing, I just like having written. It’s a subtle difference, but a big one.

Me– Aug ’18 Update

With the onset of the fall semester comes The Wave™, and I’m pretty scared that I’m tackling too much at a time. As I’ve already talked a bit about last week, I’m expecting to count hours of free time in the single digits every week, but I’m thinking of it as setting up for an awesome 2019.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Currently, I’m not planning any blog changes. I expect I’ll be able to churn out blog posts in between classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I’m not that worried about my ability to post nonfiction three times a week. It’s the short stories I’m more concerned about. As it is, I’m already posting them six hours late (usually), and I expect my restrictive schedule to make it even harder to post those on time, if at all. So while I don’t want to stop writing fiction for a few months, it might be an inevitability. Especially considering I’m even going to miss a few months of my writer’s group because of scheduling conflicts, and thus won’t have any real reason to write.

I’m also a bit nervous about writing plans. I won’t get into it now, but for the past few months I feel great about my stories whenever I’m away from my computer. In fact, when I’m in the shower thinking about the story I intend to write in the next 20 minutes, I can’t wait to sit down and get going. But as soon as I stare at the screen, suddenly I need to vacuum or do laundry, or check my email. Anything to get me away from the screen. What’s worse, Xelfure’s story is getting bigger and bigger in my head. What was once a more dedicated short story is now threatening to be the prequel spinoff novel to the Nacre Then trilogy I’ve refused to think about for years, and that terrifies me, especially since I’m going to be the busiest I’ve probably ever been in my life very soon, and thus won’t have time to focus on anything big like that. So, stay tuned for what may or may not ever become a thing.

New video game news, for once. I’ve still been playing lots of Heroes of the Storm, and I have plans for reaching level 10 on every hero by October (though that may be a bit optimistic). But when I have larger chunks of free time I’ve been playing NieR: Automata, and I also recently bought Pyre because it was on sale and I’ve been looking at it ever since it was announced. Haven’t touched it yet, but it is downloaded!

I’ve finished all the audiobooks I’ve had backlogged, and have recently been binging Welcome to Nightvale. It’s a bi-weekly radio broadcast of a fictional town called Nightvale, and the podcast is basically just Lovecraftian horror. Imagine a regular news broadcast of Innsmouth if it was actually a comedy. It’s been interesting, and I intend to review it once I’m caught up. Maybe next week.

Oh boy, school. My semester’s going to be pretty busy, but not as busy as I had anticipated. I found out today (yesterday, as of this posting) that a class that would have taken 16 hours a week is redundant on my schedule, so my weeknights are now mine again. My current tentative schedule has me on campus about 24 hours per week, with me actually in a class for most of that time. If all goes well, I might actually also be directing a short play that I wrote, but that’s a bigger thing, so more on that later. So, with that in mind, I’ll be on campus a lot, so who knows what else that might lead to, time commitment wise. That said, I’m hoping this will be my second-to-last semester, so if that’s the case these super busy fall and spring seasons are almost at an end.

As far as other things go, I don’t have much to say. I’m tentatively hyped for the near future for a lot of reasons, but most of those are tenuous or too distant to be relevant for me to mention now.

Eyes on the horizon folks, and hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll cool down before November.

Me — July ’18 Update

With the onset of summer comes a few disappointments, mostly in plans that didn’t come to fruition. It’s all good, though. The heat wave hasn’t quite reached, (though it’ll be over 100° F next week) so I haven’t yet hit the threshold where it’s too hot to hurt my productivity.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Okay. Minor blog changes! I touched on this a bit ago, but I finally have a plan. Posting all of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday isn’t working for me anymore. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have zero free time to be writing, as I’m either at work, at my writer’s group, or at D&D for basically 100% of those days. I was originally going to rework the schedule entirely, but really it’s only the Wednesday posts that are troublesome, given my lack of free time the night before. So while I’m not going to change the content of what I’ve been putting out, I will be pushing the Wednesday posts to Thursday. That way I can use the free time I have on Wednesday nights to write instead of twiddling my thumbs. That’s it. I also can’t promise I won’t continue being late on the fiction posts. I still don’t have that spark of creativity that makes writing compelling, so it’s hard to actually force myself to write. I will continue to try my best to post fiction every week though.

Speaking of that, it hurts a little bit to have writing plans be one of the main categories of things I talk about in these monthly updates when I have had no writing plans for months. I don’t intend to remove it from the list, though. I think it’s important for it to stay there.

Video games are also pretty simple: I’m still playing Heroes of the Storm almost exclusively, but in all honesty I don’t have a whole lot of time to be playing video games right now. Working full time means that when I do finally get home I’m super tired and I either have to write or go do something else. As much as I’d like to be playing stuff, it just doesn’t have priority. Not to say that that’s a bad thing.

When I do have free time, I’ve been listening to a new podcast I’m not sure I’ve mentioned on the blog before: No Such Thing as a Fish. It’s a weekly British podcast where all the hosts each bring a fact on any topic, and then they each spend ten minutes talking about things tangential to that fact before moving on to the next topic. The useless information is interesting, and their commentary can be really funny. As a side note, I’ve also been watching West Wing with a friend. We just finished the first season, and I might do a review (on just the first season) soon.

Also, some unfortunate news about school. My summer semester class was cancelled, and since I was taking a big fall semester, I was planning on graduating at the end of the fall. Without that class I needed, I’m going to need to take another spring semester—something I was trying pretty hard to avoid. But, when all’s said and done, it’s only a few extra months. So, not currently in school, but hope to be mostly out of it soon.

Other things. Well, the only other thing I have to talk about is D&D and all my plans that never happened. I intended to run a new campaign just over the course of the summer. One with super weak commoner characters, but that never happened. I do have an entirely new idea for a campaign, but this inkling is small and needs time to grow. I also intended to write a weekly journal of my character’s adventures in this new campaign, but in all honesty that would be a lot of writing I’m not all that interested in. Instead, I think I’ll keep the tales of Taldarrin of the Twiceborn in my back pocket until I have some good ones to share.

P.S. When looking for the picture to post with these monthly updates, I always just type in the month name and find the first picture without words I like. With July, though, it’s all America and fireworks. Did the USA single-handedly commandeer the month of July because of one national holiday, or do search engines base searches off of country?

Me — Writing at the Last Minute

I’ll admit it. To the surprise of nobody, I’ve never been amazing at writing these posts in advance. There have been occasions where I wrote the next week’s worth of post all on Sunday, but the last time that happened was (I don’t know how many) months ago. In fact, for the past two weeks or more, every single post has been written at most 6 hours before it’s scheduled to post, and multiple times I’ve been late on posts entirely.

Probably, the fact that I’m working full time is to blame. I’m not home and showered before 6pm, and usually not settled before 7. By that time, I’ve been out and about for nearly 12 hours and writing is not the first thing on my mind. I want to unwind and take a break, and this ostensibly leads to me relaxing for the next 4 hours and suddenly I need to go to bed and haven’t written yet.

It sort of sucks because this means that all of my posts have been “Oh my gosh I want to go to bed but I need to churn out 500 words”. Not all of them have been bad, of course, but with these normal blog posts especially I don’t usually even know what I’m going to write until I write it. Free form isn’t bad, necessarily, but I do think it leaves the quality of my work at a tier below that which I expect of myself.

With posts like this, I don’t mind so much. I mean, this post is my 635th on the blog (remembered when I tagged them in multiples of 5? Yeesh.) So with all the subcategories and these random, general posts being the most common, there are 3/400 like it. What I don’t like is that, for the Sunday fiction posts, I usually don’t write those until Saturday night, and even then I probably don’t get started until past midnight because I’ve been up playing games with friends. It’s really hard for me to commit to writing a longer piece (even if it’s only 1,000 words) the morning after a long week of hard work.

What this tells me is that a reorganizing of the blog schedule is in order. Especially since Wednesday posts are tough—with my writer’s group I rarely get home before 9pm, and at that point I still need to shower and eat. It’s doable, sure, but I just wish my schedule would gain some consistency and that all the weekly things I want to be doing all happen at the same times every week! (The troubles of being a working college student, I’m afraid. You take the classes you need at the times you can afford.)

I’ll try to give all this some serious thought before Monday, when the monthly update posts. I don’t like making bigger changes outside of those posts if I can help it, especially if they occur near the beginning of the month. So, stay tuned. I don’t expect my post frequency to change, but maybe I’ll take a look at my fall semester and figure out a neater blog schedule that doesn’t frontload my work week and can be consistent for the rest of the year.