This is the year when I became a big fan of experimentation. I’m hanging out in the Library with the Bloggess, giving myself permission to screw up, and embracing the possibility of failure by making smart mistakes. The big thing is, I’ve finally been able to give up these paralyzing ideas about how “perfect” something has to be before I release it upon the world – and it’s opened the door for a lot of experimentation.
Don’t get me wrong; I still pretty much fall into the camp of ‘perfectionist’. I’m certainly not advocating what horse people call “barn blindness,” where it’s impossible for you to see faults in your work simply because it’s yours. But I have found that I really can’t judge my own work when I put it down and declare it finally done. I can come back to it a year or two later and see it with a fresh eye – and am often surprised by lovely things I didn’t realize were there – but right then, I’m usually way to close to give it any critical analysis. And sick and tired of the whole thing to boot.
I had to learn to just let it go. And to put the work out there, as opposed to putting it back on the shelf, because the perspective you get from other people’s opinions is invaluable.
This is just a long-winded pontification to explain why I decided to write some experiments in sci-fi serial fiction. I have two WIPs right now that might be classed as “literary fantasy” – they’re not about the story, per se, they’re more about the people in the story (hence the addition of the ‘literary’ tag). They’re going to be stand-alone books and I want to do them up right and proper – which, for me, means starting at about $1500 each for a developmental edit from an editor I’ve found whom I truly want to work with. I also want to have some support networks in place in terms of marketing experience and the dreaded ‘author platform,’ so I have maybe a tiny bit of reach when they finally do launch. (HI TWITTER, I LOVE YOU.)
In addition to the novels, I’m slowly plugging away at a picture book I’ve had in the drawer, like, forever. (Since 2005, at least). It’s not a quick project. Each illustration takes from 6 to 20 hours to finish, and there are 12 of them in total. Plus cover. Plus hand-drawn type pages. I’m done exactly one and a half illustrations right now.
I kind of realized that even though I’ve got some movement on the ‘doing work and putting it out there’ front, I’m still falling short in a few areas:
- Most successful e-book (genre) authors recommend having at least one series on the go. A series can really put the power of free promos to work for you, and I’ve seen more than one author say their career didn’t really take off until they had around 6 to 10 books out.
- Finding my plot can go very slowly because I’m a died-in-the-wool pantser. I need to work on this. And I have to work on it with a fun, almost throw-away project, because if it’s something I start to care too much about, I go down the labyrinthine path of “not good enough, do it over again” instead of sprinting for the finish line.
- Other writing experiments. I wanted a framework (read: world-building) that I could use for short stories, for serial fiction, for segments with different points of view, or to follow different character’s stories. Something that might appeal to a wide audience. Hugh Howey’s WOOL and some of Neil Gaiman’s short stories were inspirations in this area, as were television series such as The Twilight Zone and serial pulp fiction (detective novels and such) from the early 20th century.
- Cash. I make a pretty good living as a freelance designer/writer/editor but we’ve got a kid on the way so I can’t pull $1500 from general resources right now to pay for a developmental edit. I want to put something out that I can practice selling, and maybe make some money with, which could go towards creating more books.
So, back in February, I broke out of ‘long story/serious writer’ mode and wrote a short story, “Room 202“, which I posted on Wattpad and which has been accepted by BlackHeartMagazine.com (pending publication on their website). Then I started writing.
Thus far, I must say, I am fairly pleased with the results. I started with a formula I found in The Fiction Factory by John Milton Edwards (aka William Wallace Cook). Edwards was a pulp serial writer who wrote fiction under various pen names for magazines in the early 1900′s. The formula he relates is: 16 chapters, 5 pages per chapter (serial novels being published one chapter at a time), and three such ‘nickel novels’ (each complete in itself) combined to make one full novel which sold for 10 cents.
Using this formula I banged out a series of three plot lines which could each be released individually as novellas, or combined later to make one omnibus novel. Although I’m not quite hopeless at following a plot outline, I still add a lot as I write. This will probably never change, but I’m learning to refine my process.
Once I have the bones down, I write a chapter out in full and then ‘brainstorm’ questions about the part that comes next. Mostly it has to do with better defining my character motivations and trying to plug plot holes – ie, if X is true in the framework of my story, then why didn’t they do Y at this point? Writing by hand is perfect for this function – it’s sort of a free association session and I tend to generate a lot of new ideas during it. Because, honestly? The first plots I come up with are really pretty boring. I think that’s why plotting was just not working for me before – it was so boring I ended up not wanting to write the book. But as a bare-bones starting point, well, I can live with that. Once I get excited about what I’m brainstorming, I write another chapter out in full and repeat.
The premise is turning out to be kind of fun – for some reason I decided to do ‘soft’ science fiction, with a slight horror twist á la Lovecraft. It’s set in the nearish future (give or take 100 years) and it all takes place inside a building that is also an interface for a modified version of time travel. I’m creating excerpts of classified files, code snippets, and agent manuals for brief exposition at the beginning of each chapter.
It’s called The Framework Codex and I’ll be posting chapters on Wattpad as they’re written. I hope you’ll join me there. I have a pretty healthy attitude towards criticism (I like to think so, anyway), so feel free to tell me if it sucks. And if it doesn’t suck, feel free to share it with a friend
Here’s to my little experiment. *Clink*. What are YOU working on right now?