Writing with the Spiders


Blond woman holds out spider. Eew!

This week, the weather in Washington DC finally decided it wanted to be spring.  We started out in 60 on Monday, it went to 70 on Tuesday, 80 on Wednesday…and then we’re veering in what might be summer weather with the 90s.

But good for going outside at lunch and doing some writing.  I have a Surface with a keyboard, which is very good for something like this.  There’s a nice picnic table by a pond, so I get the sound of the water and the gorgeous blue sky.

And the spiders.

I think they must come from the trees.  They’re gray and small–smaller than my thumbnail. And they LOVE my Surface.  They’ll be on this otherwise empty picnic table, and the minute I sit down, one of the spiders will want to crawl all over the Surface.  If I see them coming and move, they make a beeline for the Surface.

Spider sabotage!

I started “The May Project,” a mystery on May 1 and have a total of about 3,000 words so far.  I did about 300 and 400 respectively at lunch and the rest in the evening, after work.

I thought I picked a good main character name, but into the first chapter, I was mixing him up with his father’s name.  Oh dear.  The father’s name clearly feels better than the main character’s name.  So I’m still writing with a placeholder name.  Have a last name though…saw it on a real estate sign.  Plucking the names out of empty air.

And there’s the usual chaos and panic of starting a new story.  I know zip when I start, and the idea for this one was: Private Eye> Hollywood > 1940s – Mystery.  New clue what the crime is yet.  No idea how it’s going to end.  No idea what happens next.

Elephant on a tightrope
This is what pantsing is sometimes like.

Sometimes it feels like walking across a tightrope.  It can be really scary.  So I’m trying to ignore the critical side that’s now panicking, going, “Ack!  I don’t know where this going!  How do you expect me to work with it?! Ack!”

Dave Farland had this tip out this week, which kind of spoke to me:

Others . . . well, maybe you just want to work on your writing. But guess what? That comfort zone includes writing. Are you comfortable writing only one kind of story, or writing in one style? The truth is that you’ll be more valuable as a writer if you learn to write in several genres and in various styles.

 I’ve got spiders.  He’s got hermit crabs.

On to lurk with the spiders again today.

Interview over at Sherry Ramsey’s Site


My short story Watcher Ghost is in a bundle called Short Flights (of the Imagination).  You can find more details at this link about the bundle.  Story bundles like this are pretty cool because you can buy one book and get a bunch of different writers.  I bought one last year and found a series that I had to buy all the books for because it was so good.  So it’s a great way to find new books to read.

Sherry’s got up an interview with me on her site.  It was fun to do, so drop by and take a look.

Writing Guides


I thought I would never do any writing guides, because I feel like I still don’t know enough yet to do one. But sometimes there’s so little information on a topic that it calls to a writer, and both of these did that. Links to blurbs are still being updated.

Writer's Guide to Military Culture
This started as a class for Forward Motion.  It was quite challenging…how do you explain the military to people who aren’t in the military?

 

Cover for Pantser's Guide to Writing showing a lightbulb over a book
This grew out of my frustration at how little there is on writing for people who don’t outline.  When I wrote this there were only 2 others on the topic ever published.  Now there are 4.

 

 

Writing without an Outline like Minesweeper


I ran across this video that compares Writing without an outline to being like Minesweeper.  Or, I suppose, since I like submarines, those early days of submarining where danger was potentially all around them.

I’m glad to see some real topics coming out of about this at last instead of “You’re doing it wrong, and your story will be broken.  Come away from the Dark Side.”

 

Nano Day 14 & Pantsing 101


Unbelievably crazy day at work.  I was amazed I came home and didn’t just not want to deal with anything.  But I got some writing in anyway.  Did a little at lunchtime, too–I was thinking of grabbing more than that, but a friend joined me, and we had an interesting talk about the aftermath of the election.  Not on who won, but speculation on strategies we might see.  In DC, the new President always affects everything everyone does here.  Sort of like when I was in the military.  Get a new company commander and now we do things differently.  So we shall see what happens.

Downtown is already starting to build all the stands for the inauguration.  They started that the day before the election.   Might see if I can go downtown on the weekend and see what they’re doing, take a few pictures.

Pantsing 101

I had enough that I needed to rearrange the scenes for some semblance of order (we’ll see how that works out).  One of the pieces that popped into a much later scene is now something I’m also bringing in earlier in the book.  If I’d written “straight through” without stopping as “everyone” says is the correct way, that later scene would have come in, but I wouldn’t have been able to see the connection of where I could put it.

At one point during a past project, my creative brain got so tired of writing “straight through,” that when I put a book through Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel (which is for outliners, by the way), I was finding all these things that came in way, way out of order, but were stuck in the story where they were.  Rearranging during the creation process is a like play in itself, like having a big jigsaw puzzle and moving around all the pieces until the right piece fits.

Day 13 Word Count: Collision: 1000

Story Total: 10700

Nano Day 13 & Pantsing 101


It was a gorgeous fall day. The winds died down, so I did a walk at a local historical park that I discovered last year. The leaves are coming down, but a lot of the trees still have them, so another week or two year, I think.

Pantsing 101

I sort of wandered between the scenes I’d already done today, fleshing them out more. Absolutely nothing’s in any kind of order. I pretty much just created a new text file in the Scrivener binder and plopped it in right there. Probably have to rearrange it at some point.

When I’m flying like this, I often use placeholders for character names. There’s a character named XYZ because I couldn’t spare the interruption to come up with a name. I had another guy named SMITH as a placeholder, but he became a hyphenated name because I happened to run across a man who changed his name to a hyphenated name. Why not?

I don’t spend a lot of time coming up with character names. I used to at one point, prior to my Civil War Thriller. I’d laboriously go through my baby name book and pick a handful of names I liked, then go over the list and start crossing off ones for various reasons. But when I hit the Civil War book, that story required so many characters that taking that much time simply was out of the question. Sometimes I change the names in midstream. In The Crying Planet, I named one of the characters Reed, and that name became a problem because it was too similar to the other form of the word. In fact, when I did a search and replace of Reed, I had to weed out replacement typos like Breed for BSmith. Oops!

I usually keep a list of character names. But it doesn’t feel like I need to do that yet. I just do it when I start confusing the characters or having to hunt for a name.

Day 12 Word Count: An additional 500

Day 13 Word Count: Time Management in Chaos: 300 and Collision: 900

Story Total: 9700

Nano Day 12 and Pantsing 101


I’ve been somewhat off my game the last few days. I only got 2,000 words over the last few days for several reasons.  The first is DC weather.  This time of the year is always hard on the sinuses.  The winds kick up and knock the leaves off the trees, and all the dust flies around.  Having problems with sinuses can suck the energy right out.  Today was much better, though I had to stay inside most of the time to keep out of wind.

But the other reason is that I started a–diet is the wrong word–a way of eating that’s different.  It had a detox effect for the first few days, and I was really tired by early evening, as in struggling to stay awake at 6:00.  I’m trying it actually because I don’t want to spend from November to April struggling with my sinuses, and I don’t want to go the drug route.  The plan is in a book called Eat Fat, Get Thin, which I ran across in the Washington Post (in the context of the election of all things!).  I eliminated dairy last year because I’m lactose intolerant and was much improved.  This plan includes eliminating dairy, wheat, and sugar–and eating more fatty items.  It was kind of scary at first because I was eating so much food.  I did a trial run for one day, and the next I went a last time IHOP for pancakes.  For the first time, those pancakes did not taste good!

After only one day.

Pantsing 101

I’m all over the place today.  I’ve always needed to write in order because that’s how my character development progresses.  Because this is a series and I already know the characters from the last book, I’m putting scenes into Scrivener in no particular order and writing them.  My creative side is driving this.

Most of the scenes are not complete, and my critical side is trying to nose its way in by telling me that I should fill out more details.  I’m having to trust that it’s okay not to describe something yet because I’m still processing what the story needs.

Scrivener for Windows is a really good program for this type of writing.  You just put your documents in the binder and move them around as the story realigns.  I remember working in Word and trying to shuffle a chapter.  It was cut the chapter, scroll to the point where it needed to go (hoping the power didn’t go out), and then paste it in.  Okay with a handful of chapters, but clumsy if the book’s over 100 pages.

I worked both on Collision, and a second project called Time Management in Chaos, a non-fiction book.  I’m not an expert on time management, but I have a job that’s chaos.  It’s the one that doesn’t fit any of the molds of time management experts.  Those books often tell me to create systems (theirs, of course) to manage time and email, and I’m so overloaded that I wouldn’t be able to create any of their systems or maintain it.  So, the book, which I will work with on and off.

I might have more words later this evening, but in case my sinuses go on the fritz, I’m posting this early.

Day 7-11 Word count: 2000

Day 12 Word Count: 1000 (Collision) and 600 (Time Management Chaos)

Story Total: 8000

 

Nano Day 6 & Pantsing 101


I definitely didn’t feel like doing anything today.  I woke up, and did all the usual stuff.  Then I walked down to the farmer’s market to buy my vegetables—and they were still setting up.  Very strange. A couple of us were wandering around trying to figure out what was going on, and we finally realized it was the time change.

Do-ah!

So I got up earlier than I needed, and I’ve been running tired.  It was a gorgeous fall day, though windy and cold—normal for this month.  Tree colors aren’t very good.  I think most of the leaves will turn brown and drop off without changing.

Only two days now until the election!

Pantsing 101

I stepped out of time in the story for this day.  I was a little stuck, which is expected.  The opening of the story is tough for a while, because I’m still feeling out where the story is going.  I don’t always know everything I need until it suddenly pops in and announces itself.  And sometimes the ideas for new things don’t occur in order.  So I jumped ahead to some scenes that will be later and started writing them.

Day 6 Word count: 1250

Story Total: 4400

Nano Day 3 & Pantsing 101


Writing group Thursday night, which was the time I normally write.  I wasn’t planning on writing at all, but managed to grab some words in about 30 minutes at lunch.  I have a Surface, so I can take that with me.  Weather was really nice, so I did it outside on a picnic table.  Surprise, surprise.  We still have a few turtles that haven’t gone into hibernation.

Pantsing 101

One thing I’m loosely keeping track of is the timeline.  I’m not talking about the timeline of the events that happen in the story, which is what everyone usually talks about.  If I let the story flow out organically, the timeline will work like it’s supposed to.  It’s the timeline of past events that get mentioned in the story that I’m tracking.  Those are easy to forget and get wrong!

So it looks something like this:

  • 20 years ago – Space Cruiser built
  • 5 years ago – Space Cruiser visited Planet X
  • 2 years ago – Space Cruiser refitted

It’s nothing fancy.  No complicated spreadsheets or software to do it–that takes time away from writing and makes it harder for me to track it.  My Rule 1 of writing is “Never make more work for myself!” So simple as possible is best.  I created a page in the Research folder in my Scrivener for Windows project, called it timeline, and typed in the first event.

Day 3 Word count: 500

Story Total: 3100

Nanowrimo Day 1 & Pantsing 101


I decided to do Nano this year, for the first time, though informally.  I’m not registering on any of the sites or participating in the social parts of it.  Rather, I’m just using it as a goal to write a completed book in 30 days.

The tool I’m using to write is Scrivener for Windows.  The story has a working title of “Collision,” and is science fiction.  I’m not setting a daily word count goal, and I’m sure I will have days I don’t write (usually Friday).  The last time I tried a novel in 30 days, I was focused solely on getting that word count.  I didn’t get all the way to the end, because I was trying to write straight through (without cycling).  The story warped out of alignment, way out of alignment, and there was a point where I was typing to make word count, but not producing good story.

This is about producing a good story.

Pantsing 101

I came up with this idea while working on the novella I just finished on October 31 (my subconscious clearly knew the story was almost done though my head kept thinking there must be another 10K).

The idea started with an exciting action scene (since the working title is Collision, you can guess what that action scene is).  I spent the last two weeks playing around with it in my head.  Outliners would say that I was outlining in my head, but it’s nothing like that.  It was more like being in a bank and imagining what would happen if it was held up while I was there.

My first instinct was to plop this scene right in the beginning of the story.  But I think that was my critical brain trying to jump right in and muck things up.  It always wants to rush through everything, sort of like a child who races downstairs before everyone is up to open all the Christmas presents.  So I think it’ll be a later in the story.

That’s a change from the last story.  An action scene popped in there, too, in the first third, and I ended up taking it out because it was too soon.  Elements of it ended up in the last third.  Sometimes ideas don’t come in the proper order, and sometimes that order isn’t always obvious. 🙂

Day 1 Word count: 1200