The time has come again for self-reflection. After a year of work (which includes various breaks for revising Aetheria’s Daemon more than once, writing shorts, and various other things), this month I completed the first draft of my third novel (title still pending; I’ve probably mentioned the working title on this blog before if you’re curious enough to dig into it, but no one seems to like it so it’s stuck in limbo at the moment).
When I start a new book, my biggest goal is always to apply the lessons I’ve learned so far so that I keep improving. To that end, at the start I had the idea that this book would be the anti-Aetheria: shorter (only 90k words compared to the 150k that Aetheria turned into), outlined from the start (I only wrote an outline after I was a quarter of the way through Aetheria’s Daemon, and I ended up re-writing that first quarter too many times), with a far more accessible premise (Aetheria, while I think it’s excellent, is weird even by my standards).
The idea this time was to start with an easy-to-understand concept: two siblings, trapped far from their family, trying to find their way home. In their way is a living carpet of nano-tech metallic fibers called strand, which in the distant future has gone “grey goo” and covered a large portion of the Earth’s surface. But the strand is more than just animated metal with various crazy powers; it’s also a network, with sometimes-malevolent artificial intelligences evolving inside it. When one of our protagonists discovers the ability to enter the network through an immersive mind-link, the result is something like post-apocalyptic cyberpunk, or as I call it…well, maybe someone else can figure out what to call it.
In any case, there’s also a bounty hunter with a split personality, a deranged warlord raising a personal army out of abandoned children, and a very ancient, very dangerous intelligence about to declare war in cyberspace, and happy to view the remains of humanity as no more than collateral damage. And so what began as a simple “finding home” story expands into all hell breaking loose…as usual ;P.
But enough about the book itself; the purpose of this post is to reflect on the process of writing it. So, how did I do? Well, I wish it had gone faster, as usual, but as mentioned above I’ve been busy with other projects, and overall I didn’t do too bad considering certain health and family challenges that reared their head in 2014. The opening chapter didn’t come out exactly how I wanted it the first time through; not the end of the world, there are re-writes and re-writing is fine, but too much re-writing gets tedious and I remain jealous of authors who can churn out nearly finished work on the first draft (and yes, they do exist, ahem, Andrea).
Craft-wise I don’t think I made enormous changes to my style, certainly not the amount I did over the course of my previous two novels. Hopefully this is due to me approaching a point of diminishing returns as far as quality of prose is concerned, and my belief that this is the case is backed by the comments I get back when I submit finished drafts of Aetheria’s Daemon. I have made some adjustments; in particular I had a mini-“light bulb” moment when I realized certain bits of character actions I had been using could almost always be cut out, making the text more streamlined, but this was on the order of a few sentences per chapter at most, and is something a casual reader might not even notice.
The biggest thing I struggled with in this book was making believable arcs and getting in touch with the characters emotionally, but I’ve found that sort of stuff comes together much easier in subsequent drafts, when have a better idea of proportionality and where I am in the story, and where because I’m working faster I can better keep in mind the journeys the characters have taken thus far. I also have a simple little trick now for dealing with a character that feels “distant,” but maybe that should wait for another blog post (gotta save some good stuff for later).
Effort-wise, this was definitely the easiest of the three books so far to write, but that was more of a function of the other two being so ridiculously difficult than this one being “easy.” In my experience, writing a novel is never easy. Even with good ideas and meticulous planning, there’s just such a large amount of work that needs to be done consistently over an extended period of time. Major, extreme thanks is due to my writing group friends Martin and Andrea for convincing me to continue when my spirits were low.
On the same theme, I’d like to elaborate on something I learned in the process of writing this novel, which is that I need to focus more on enjoying myself with my work, and less on what other people are going to think. Not that I want to skimp on quality, or that I don’t value others’ feedback, but way back from the beginning I’ve always felt a bit of a cloud hanging over me when I write. Even when I like what I’m producing, I’m thinking ahead to all the agents or editors who might read my work, and going over in my mind the long, tedious process I know I’ll have to endure to submit it. It doesn’t change the decisions I make in terms of content, but over the years it has worn me down, and if I don’t intercede soon it’s going to start wearing down my enthusiasm as well.
So I’m doing a reboot of sorts. Writing whatever I want, whenever I want, without worrying about schedules or markets or what have you. I have a bunch of short story ideas I’m excited about, and I’m four chapters in on another novel which can definitely never be traditionally published, but is by far the most fun thing I’ve ever worked on. I’m working out some kinks on a Jidaigeki/Samurai piece which could be novel-length, and if and when it comes time to write that I’ll probably just interleave it with whatever else is going on, and not feel compelled to finish it as quickly as possible. Because, who cares, right?
Not that I won’t continue to seek publication when it seems appropriate, but I’m convinced that activity needs to be decoupled from the process of writing as much as possible. Essentially I want to spend an hour or less a day with my brain off, just going through the rote mechanical process of writing submission e-mails and reviewing replies, just viewing the packets I’m shipping out and getting back as meaningless bits of data, not products of great effort which I’m emotionally invested in.
At least, that’s the plan. Less worry means a happier me, and maybe better writing, too. Will I pull this off? I guess we’ll find out. In the meantime, I’ll keep you updated on any developments…