Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Plodding

I'm having a serious case of secondbookitis at the moment. 41,000 words in, and I can't help thinking this first draft has descended into a quagmire of ideas that sounded so great until I wrote them down. Situations that I was certain would be filled with tension, characters that would definitely leap from the page, backstory and worldbuilding that would grab and entice and inform. All of it has pfffft away like a half inflated balloon.

I'm thankful this experience is, apparently, perfectly normal, even expected. That knowledge has saved my desk from having a large imprint of my head permanently embedded in it, as a monument to my efforts.

On the bright side, I get to meet Garth Nix at a signing on Friday, and have him sign my copy of Abhorsen.

Come to think of it, perhaps I should take along Lirael instead, and ask if he was ever attacked by the curse of the second book. If he shares any gems, I'll be certain to pass them on.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Busy Little Bee

It looks like I've caught the short-story bug. I have no idea how, seeing as I haven't associated with any short-story writers in the last little while, not unless they were short-story writers and they didn't tell me (the rats!). Anyway, I've managed to hammer out two 2,500 word pieces, both of which have made it to the shortlist for ASIM (not that I'm all that hopeful, seeing as only 1 in 20 get from there into print), and I'm also writing something for a Fablecroft anthology on the theme "After the Rain".

Yes, I probably should be working on the contracted book 2 of GPL, but I am getting to do bits and pieces of that through the week (currently sitting at 38,000 words). If I could get one or two of these stories into print some time next year, it would be a good way of getting my name out there in prep for GPL coming out. That's my excuse, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

I'd cross my fingers, but they're too busy typing...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Flashy Fiction

I just found out that a 500 word piece of flash fiction I wrote has been accepted for Antipodean SF, publication date January 2011 (issue 151).

I've been trying to hammer out these short stories for practice, as well as giving me a break from MMA. I'm really stoked to get one in print!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reading Other Fantasy

I mentioned in the last post that I'd been listening to author podcasts from the Sydney Writer's Festival. In the last one, the interviewer mentioned that many authors go out of their way to avoid reading other fantasy while they're writing, out of fear their work might in some way be influenced.


I must confess, I'd never heard an author author say that before, and it got me thinking. My aim this year is to read a book a month, almost all of it fantasy. So far I'm right on track, perhaps even a little ahead. I've read Garth Nix, Cindy Pon, Duncan Lay, Sean Williams, John Flanagan, Alison Goodman, and I've got a whole host of books sitting in a pile waiting for my attention. I've learned something from every one, whether it's some kind of style tip, or something about world-building, or an example of how to build tension or vividly describe a scene. I'm a firm believer that one of the most important aspects of growing as a writer is to soak in the work of the experts, to see how they do it, and emulate what you can.

The tricky thing, of course, is to do this while still maintaining your own unique style and voice, and I think that's where a lot of authors decide it's easiest not to read anything. And I know exactly what they fear. If I look back at some of my earlier drafts of GPL, I can tell you exactly what I was reading at the time. When a bumbling wizard appears on an island, talking about IME's, or Indeterminate Magical Effects, I was reading Harry Potter. When a witch appears, and insists the main evil protagonist plant a kiss on her cheek before she gives away any information, I was reading Discworld. And when Dillen makes a decision that, for all intents and purposes, appears to be a betrayal of his friends, I was reading the Hobbit - specifically the bit where Bilbo gives away the Arkenstone.

I like to think that I've gone past that, however. Surely by now I've put enough words on the paper and sprouted enough gray hairs to be able to recognise when somebody else's style is creeping into my writing. Surely.

But is it still there? What if it is, and I can't see it, and in five years time I'll look back and recognise bits of all the books I'm reading this year and cringe horribly?

And now, I'd be really interested to hear what other people think. Do you avoid reading other works while you're writing? Have you found stuff from your reading creeping into your manuscript unbidden?

Don't be shy! Fire away.

Friday, July 2, 2010

On Outlining (Oh No, Not Again!)

I've been listening to some great author podcasts recently, courtesy of Valerie Khoo and the Sydney Writer's Festival (you can find them on iTunes if you want to check them out). Yesterday, I listened to Fiona Mcintosh, a fellow Adelaidian who has a phenomenal reputation but whose books are yet to reach the top of my burgeoning reading pile. She had some interesting points to make about the writing process, and particularly about the outline vs. writing by the seat of the pants approach (I know, I'm still harping on about this).

I would categorise Fiona as being at the extreme fringe of the anti-outlining faction. When she starts to write, she has no idea about anything - who her characters are, what will happen to them, where it will happen, what the world looks like, and so on. All of this, she insists, leaps out at her as she goes along, and the numerous loose and dangling threads have never failed to order themselves in a semi-miraculous manner, right towards the end of the book.

Now, while I don't subscribe to that approach (see recent posts), she did make one very interesting point. In her view, the main problem with outlining is that when you're outlining, you're not writing, and therefore you're not bringing the story forward. In her opinion, even writing a noodle-soup of dud ideas is better than not writing at all.

The reason this hit such a chord with me is that since I identified my need for an outline, I feel as if the book has ground to a halt. Sure, I've been spending time thinking about it, what happens and the backstory and so on, and I've come up with some interesting thoughts and ideas. But up until the last few days, I haven't written anything. My word count has stopped at 22,000, like a dodgy odometer on an old car.

While this might be good from the point of view of planning, it's not doing a lot for my piece of mind. There's something wonderfully satisfying about churning out the words, not matter how bad they might be. It shows you're progressing, you're actually getting somewhere. It boosts your confidence, particularly when the days are flying past and you have a sneaking suspicion the delivery date of June 2011 will be here before you know it.

So, enough outlining for me. A few days ago I picked up the dog's breakfast of a 22,000 word manuscript and resumed, although my recent planning means the story has a vast discontinuity (I plan on going back and fixing up those 22,000 words last). As of this moment, I'm at 29,000 words, within sight of the half-way mark. And it feels good. I feel like a runner who's had to spend a few weeks recovering from an injury, and can finally get on the track again and blow off the cobwebs.

I think in the end it comes down to balance. It's important to spend time outlining and planning, but you need to learn to recognise when it's time to start writing. It's OK if there are plot points yet to be clarified, or characters who are vague, or you haven't quite nailed down the landscape. All you need is a skeleton, a loose idea that you can build on as you go.

I think I've reached that point. Onwards we go.