Category Archives: ghost raven

Post-stocktake audit

Hey folks!

So last update was a bit downbeat, even if I tried to look on the positive at the end. (I’m a regular Pollyanna like that.)

Things haven’t substantially changed since then, but my mood is better and I’m even more inclined to accentuate the positive. So on that note, and because I can’t think of anything too substantial to talk about this week, let’s talk about some Things What Are Pretty Good.

Freelance work

I’m getting a fair bit of it! And people have actually started paying their invoices this week, which is awfully nice.

I also worked last Saturday at the election, spending the day issuing declaration ballots at a local polling centre. That was kind of fun and interesting for a large part of the day – you get to chat to people and get a feel for their character when you’re asking them where they live and finding their voting papers. Once the polls closed and we had to spend almost seven freakin’ hours reconciling paperwork, counting votes and sorting the gigantic Senate ballots into messy piles (above the line, below the line, informal, drawings of penises and angry screeds)… that part was less fun. And very tiring, which is why I didn’t post anything last weekend.

I have stories I could share about that experience, but I think I’m legally prohibited from doing so publicly. If you see me in person, buy me a beer and I’ll explain to you how awful democracy is, and why it took a week to work out a government.

Writing work

Still not a huge amount of progress on this lately, since overlapping freelance gigs have taken up a lot of my headspace, and I gotta make that cheddar somehow. Still, I’ve been working on tweaking the dialogue in Raven’s Blood to make it a little less archaic for some of the characters. I was trying to invoke a bit of Elizabethan manner and idiosyncrasy in the characters’ speech patterns (especially swearing), but on reflection it’s more important to keep dialogue accessible and immediate, at least for the viewpoint characters. (Plus it lets me show immediate contrasts between them and more mannered, formal characters.)

Once I do the dialogue revision, the next thing is to get this book in the hands of a few agents and go the hard sell on the series. I’ve been researching appropriate agents for this kind of work, and I’m pulling together a query letter and book/series pitches into a package. Soon I’ll be releasing it into the wild – or at least emailing the names in my spreadsheet.

Yeah, I got a spreadsheet. That’s how you know I’m serious.

Books

I’m still trying to improve my reading practice and schedule reading time; some days I’m better at it than others.

Right now I’m most of the way through The Squared Circle, David Shoemaker’s history of professional wrestling in the 20th century. Specifically, looking at that history through stories of dead wrestlers. That sounds grim, and it is terribly sad in places, but Shoemaker’s writing is both intelligent and compassionate; he uses the stories of the dead to show how they shaped (and still shape) the land of the living.

There are also piledrivers.

I’ve also been reading Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook, a really fascinating writing guide that focuses more on inspiring and shaping imagination than it does on rules of grammar, plot construction or time management. (Although those are in there too.) Beautifully illustrated, engaging written and at times appallingly irritating, I don’t agree with everything in it but I want to keep reading it. Sadly it’s back at the library now, but I’m going to overcome my cheapskate impulses once I get another freelance cheque and buy it (along with Vandermeer’s more prosaic Booklife, which is about effective practice) for some sustained deep reading.

Music

I just keep listening to Grimes’ Art Angels over and over again.

You know how it is.

Games

I’m about to start running a short game of the World Wide Wrestling RPG, as I continue falling back into the world of pro wrestling I left a decade ago. However, this game is set in a haunted RSL, with wrestlers that include a werewolf, a glitter-addicted alien and a puppy summoner, so I think it will be less tragic than mid-00s WWE.

I’ve also been playing a bit of Pillars of Eternity, a CRPG that I’ve been wanting to play for a while and that was finally on sale. It’s a modern game in its own setting that reuses the style (and most of the systems) of old D&D CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate. It’s an interesting one, and there’s a lot to like in its plotting and development; it’s a great lesson in how to draw multiple stories, characters and situations out of a tight set of consistent themes and motifs. It’s also a great lesson in how execution can undercut mood, and how catering to the whims of 70 000 Kickstarter patrons can damage both story and gameplay.

Hmm. Might write more about it when I finish. Probably in a few months.

MY POKEMANS LET ME SHOW YOU THEM

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Um, I mean… the local wildlife is kinda weird in this suburb.

So anyhoo, that’s what I’m up to.

Check back soon and see whether I have anything interesting to say.

It’s gotta happen eventually.

Transmission resumed

…and we’re back.

Spider-manBackInBlackSti

NEWSFLASH: House-hunting and moving are THE WORST. Like, worse than leprosy.

Okay, maybe not, but they’re sure as hell time-consuming. The last two months have locked me into a space where all I did was a) look at houses on real estate apps, b) text real estate app listings to my wife, often while she was sitting next to me, c) look at houses and be disappointed, and finally d) put everything we owned into boxes into a feverish yet determined rush. That left me no time for writing books, writing blog posts, writing emails or even getting drunk.

And come on, I can get drunk ANYTIME.

1182775-homer_drunk_on_couch

But the great national nightmare is over, and we are living in a new house. It’s a bit more off-the-beaten-track than we used to be, with fewer bars and cafes within walking distance, and yeah, I miss being able to go to the cinema on 90 seconds’ notice, whether or not I ever used that dread power.

On the other hand we have a library room, the tram isn’t far away, and there’s a back yard that the dog is slowly realising is there for him to roll around in.

Also? I HAVE A WRITING SHED.

…okay, technically it’s a writing bungalow. And the writing part is currently playing second fiddle to the storing-boxes-full-of-stuff part. But damnit, I now have a detached office where I can go to write books, complain about the cold and scowl artistically, so suck it Wendig, you’re not so special.

Ahem.

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I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but once we move some boxes, install a coffee plunger and hook up the smoke machine it’ll be so rad, bro.

As for what I’m doing in my shed?

Not a huge amount just yet, as there’s still a lot of unpacking and furniture assemblage that needs doing. But once we have some bookcases out and can cram them full of stuff, I’ll have enough physical and mental space to get back to work properly.

First job? Taking another revision pass through Raven’s Blood, because it’s not quite where it needs to be just yet, and I could do about 50% more with it if it was about 5% better. Once I finish doing that, it’s back to work on Raven’s Bones, and seeing if I can fit more fantasy superhero action into the story without all the seams bursting.

On top of that, blog posts! Honest. It’s time to get back on the regular posting wagon, and I swear to you, my adoring (or at least patient) public, that the long and terrible silence is finally over.

…but not right now, ‘cos I have to put together a futon.

Ciao for now.

SHED.

Falls the shadow

So a month ago I came back from GenreCon all fired up with big ideas and focused ambitions. No more writing at random! I was going to GET SERIOUS. I was going to follow a PLAN. I was going to put together AN OUTLINE and then probably FOLLOW IT.

I mean, this was some GROWN-UP SHIT, MOFOS.

So how did that work out?

Well.

Or as TS Eliot put it:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

I had a lot of big ideas and ambitions, but in the end my mouth was writing cheques that my arse couldn’t cash, and that’s a metaphor you probably didn’t need and I’m sorry.

See, here’s the thing: you need to do more than say ‘I need a plan’. You actually have to make a plan and follow it, which is the point where I’ve come unstuck. Instead I’ve been sitting at the computer most nights, saying ‘I think plans are swell!’ and then smacking my face into the keyboard in the hopes that it would somehow turn into a 6-figure advance for Raven’s Bones.

End result: I’ve written like a page and a half. And the half is shaky.

It turns out wanting a plan isn’t enough; you actually have to create and follow one for it to work. Which is, god, so hard you guys. That requires actual planning and thinking instead of just pie-in-the-sky tweeting and six hours of Saints Row IV.

At this point I should probably say ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ but uuuggghhh *makes jerk-off motion* no thanks. That’s a bridge too far.

Look, I meant well. I still believe that I need to have a coherent plan and direction for my work. I need to have structures, processes, benchmarks; I need to treat this like a job, because that’s what it is. And I totally intended to follow up on that.

The key thing is, good intentions don’t count for shit.

 

Right now, I don’t have the time or energy for much more than good intentions. Between a demanding day job, Brisbane-style summertime (WTF MELBOURNE) and a shameful need to interact with other people on a regular basis, I don’t have enough in the tank most nights for more than a few hundred words – hell, a few dozen. I want to treat writing like work – and sometimes work is hard. Harder than I can manage.

So what’s the alternative? What can I do with what I do have in the tank (we’re just shitting the bed on metaphors tonight, sorry) and where can good intentions actually be useful?

The answer, I think, is preparation. And making December into a month where I actually prepare, organise and yes, even plan for a better 2016. One free from false starts, self-recrimination and flesh-eating viruses.

December is when I’ll spend time genuinely planning this book like a proper project, with milestones, metrics and timelines. (I’ve taken the advice of several friends and started reading Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative, which is apparently good for this sort of thing.)  December is when I’ll write more world-building notes – time to flesh out the Lunar Pantheon, name more districts and neighbourhoods of Crosswater, update my maps and character sketches and setting history. And December is when I’ll fine tune my outline, do more research and kick the kinks out of my plot. (All this and Christmas too.)

These things don’t need to be polished, they don’t need to be understandable to others, they don’t even need to be ‘good’. They just need to work. And as a long-time GM, I know all about making shaky, unintelligible, borderline-incoherent notes that nonetheless are enough to maintain a campaign for months or even years.

So there’s something for y’all to look forward to when this book finishes.

And with that, enough self-flagellation; I need bacon and sleep.

Not at the same time.

Getting to work – Raven’s Bones

As discussed last week, I’ve had a change of plan – or, more accurately, I actually have a plan for once.

That plan is to put Sick Beats aside for a while to write Raven’s Bones, the next in the Ghost Raven series, and to do so in a reasonable timeframe – six months rather than three years. That’s a totally reachable target – it boils down to about 4000 words or two chapters a week, and I can definitely manage that if I actually work rather than just faffing about.

So what the hell is Raven’s Bones anyway?

Without getting into spoiler territory for a book that only half-a-dozen people have read, Bones (like Blood) is a YA superhero fantasy novel set in a sorta-kinda-Elizabethan world of magic, artifice, gods, refugees, racial tension and occasional masked adventurers. It’s the next chapter in the story of Kember Arrowsmith, angry young woman with a need for justice, and the Ghost Raven, long-lost hero of the city of Crosswater.

Set a few months after Blood, it shows Kember dealing with new responsibilities, new relationships and new dangers, and having trouble with all of them. She’ll encounter figures from the past along with brand new threats, she’ll hurt everyone she cares about and she’ll punch a lot of people right in the face. Bad people. Probably.

And yes, it involves actual bones. Entire skeletons-worth, in fact. Along with super-villains, dwarves, sulky gods and a giant mechanical spider in a Dracula cape.

Google Image Search, you have failed me

But just sitting down at the keyboard and saying ‘Punching! Feelings! Capes!’ isn’t a plan or a coherent direction. So I’m writing an outline – for the first time ever – to give myself more of a roadmap at the start. I may end up following it, I may end up ignoring it, but it’s there to keep me focused.

I’ve also written myself a list of questions, which I need to answer before or during (probably a mix of both) the process of writing Bones:

  • What are the core themes of this book? How are they different to those of Raven’s Blood?
  • What new regions of the setting do I want to explore? What new concepts and elements?
  • What characters are coming over from Raven’s Blood? What new characters are coming on board?
  • How will this book raise the stakes from Raven’s Blood?
  • What will be Kember’s arc over the course of the book?
  • What does Kember want to achieve over the course of the book?
  • Who gets punched? Like, a lot?

These, along with the outline, a variety of notes and as much visual/creative idea fodder as I can find, are going up on the wall behind my computer to be the first thing I see every time I sit down at the desk. A constant reminder that hey, stop playing Pillars of Eternity (which I don’t have yet but totally need to get) and hit your goddamn targets for the week.

Do the work. Follow the plan. Focus on the mountain, as Neil Gaiman apparently said (according to this kick-arse blog post from Peter Ball, which I interpret as a whip specifically and personally aimed at my back).

Will it work?

Gonna find out.

First chapter is due this weekend.

Let’s do this.

Post-Con tactical assessment

So GenreCon 2015. That was a thing.

A good thing, at that. A really great chance to meet other genre writers, discuss craft and practice with new and established talents, catch up with old friends in Brisbane, drink excessive amounts of beer and bust out ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ at karaoke once again.

Good times. Great times. Very much worth the trip. Definitely heading back in 2017 for the next one.

But mostly it’s made me think about what I’m doing wrong.

I don’t mean that in terms of my writing per se, or my general level of craft. While I’ve lots of room to improve there (as does pretty much every writer), I’m reasonably happy with where I currently am on that learning curve. (Hopefully you folks are too.)

Fundamentally, I’m talking about my treatment of writing as a career or a professional practice; hell, even as a job. About taking myself seriously as a working writer, who has a plan and is actively striving to meet goals, rather than a hobbyist or dilettante who flits from project to project, randomly ‘experimenting’ and then giving up when it’s too hard. Because flailing about at new things, rather than picking one target and shooting for it, is getting me nowhere.

In other words, I’m talking about planning and strategy.

Which is tricky. I’m not a planner by nature, not much of a one for strategy. I’m okay with setting short-term goals and direction, but medium- or long-term? Not my strength. I’m better as a problem-solver, a fixer, a tactician – someone who copes with change and can overcome immediate obstacles quickly and with minimal stress.

But just as my day job is demanding more strategic thinking and coordination from me these days (and giving me some PD around that, which is nice), so too is my night job. Writing a novel every three years, or a novella every 18 months, doesn’t make for any kind of sustainable career. Even if I look at non-financial definitions of ‘success’ – and I think writers should think about more than just dollars-in-pocket when deciding for themselves what success looks like – I’m still only making haphazard progress, and towards goals that are ill-defined.

A defined, coherent strategy is well overdue. And bloody hard for me to think about.

Is there a middle ground? Well, maybe. I discussed this with a couple of folks over the weekend, and they got me thinking about whether I can lend my tactical sensibilities/strengths to my writing practice. In other words, approaching projects as a series of short-term goals and obstacles that collectively create a medium-term success (i.e. a finished book), and that in turn contribute to a coherent long-term goal. To fight a series of self-contained battles, and in doing so win the war.

You know, just like in D&D.

So what’s this all mean in real terms? Not sure yet. These notions of ‘tactical writing practice’ and ‘a problem-solving approach’ are just words right now, and it’s going to take some more thinking before I can turn them into meaningful goals, plans and praxis. Once I manage that, I’ll talk about it more here.

In terms of concrete, short-term things though, the main one is that I’m putting aside the Sick Beats horror novel concept for a while. Not dropping it, not at all, but prioritising it for later (and taking some time to do fuller research for it). And I did sketch a quick theme/motif mind map for it yesterday to keep me going:

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(It makes sense to me, honest.)

Similarly, while I have some thoughts on a third (and final) Obituarist novella, that’s not on the cards for now.

Instead, what I’m going to focus on next, and stay focused on, is the next Ghost Raven novel, Raven’s Bones, and after that Raven’s Ashes. To continue with what I’ve started and develop the entire trilogy as a package now, rather than later on when momentum and direction is lost. I’m writing up an outline for Bones right now – the first time I’ve ever written an outline, and it’s kinda hard – and one that’s done, I’ll try to develop some intermediary goals and milestones that I can set as problems to be overcome while moving towards the end-state of a finished book that fits into a greater series framework.

This is all very Project Management 101, I know. But I do so love re-inventing the wheel.

Anyway, stories of radio pus and dubstep horror will return. Right now, I’m filling my head with masked adventurers, problematic teenage romance, angry punching and a major supporting character that’s a giant robot spider in a Dracula cape.

…see, I’m good at the imagination part. No-one can take that from me.

Hey, remember me?

Tum te tum te tum…

…I’m sure there was something else I was meant to be doing…

…hey, what’s this note on my calendar…

OH MY GOD I FORGOT TO UPDATE MY BLOG FOR SIX WEEKS

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Okay, it’s not so much ‘forgot’ as ‘couldn’t spare the time’. The last six weeks have been heavily focused on doing my Raven’s Blood rewrites, which took significantly more time and energy than I expected.

But once I got past the first half-dozen chapters, which required the most work, I started picking up speed. The last two weekends? CRUSHED IT. Just blitzing through chapters, either because I’m so damn good at this or because the second half of the book was stronger than the first.

(Or because I just stopped trying HAHAHA no it wasn’t that.)

As a result of upping that focus through October, with only occasional breaks for roleplaying and getting drunk, the Raven’s Blood revisions are DONE. The book is DONE. My liver is DONE. A tan or grey-gold colour is DUN and okay I’ll stop now.

Anyway, that book is finished. It’s off being considered and read by TOP PEOPLE and we’ll see what happens with that. Hopefully it’s good news and I haven’t wasted three years and 85 000 words.

So what’s next? First up, GenreCon – I head up to Brisbane on Friday morning for a weekend of panels, networking and drunken karaoke, as well as catching up with a few of the friends I left behind when I moved to Melbourne lo these ten years ago. If you’re coming to GC, I’m the tall bloke with short hair and an occasional limp; feel free to stop me and berate me for being slack all the time. Or come to the two panels I’m on – ‘Indie tools for established authors’ (chair) and ‘True tales of indie publishing’ (panelist). That might be more fun.

Second, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Gods, Memes and Monsters, the new anthology out these last few weeks from Stone Skin Press. I have a story (sort of) in this 21st century bestiary, along with a wide and exciting variety of authors that I’m really pleased to be part of. Want to see what gorgons, manticores and (my contribution) the catoblepas are up to these days? Want to learn about modern creatures like meme mosquitoes and trashsquatches? This is the book for you. Read and be AMAZED.

Third thing… oh yeah, this blog (sigh). I know I’ve been slack – not just this last couple of months, but all year. Time has not been on my side, and the demands of my day job don’t always leave me with much energy in the tank come blogging night. But with two books finished this year – that’s right, you all forgot about The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data, but I didn’t – I’ve got some downtime coming back, and I’m gonna use it to jumpstart this here thing and yes I know that’s a mixed metaphor BACK OFF YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD

And finally – what’s next? What am I going to do once I come back from Brisbane, finish schmoozing and get through Silent Hill Downpour?

Start a new book, obviously.

This one’s a horror novel about a few things. Mad science, disease, audio engineering, bad romance, the layers of history, 19th century patriarchy, the consequences of bad decisions and my local dog park.

Here’s an image to inspire me (and you), courtesy of artist Simon Stålenhag.

And here’s the (provisional) first few sentences, which suggests a little something about the narrative voice:

Question: Do peacocks like dubstep?

Experiment: BAAAWWWWW WUBWUBWUBWUBWUB SQUAAWCK EH EH EH EH EH

Answer: I guess not.

It’s called Sick Beats, and I’ll keep you posted as it progresses.

Hopefully this one won’t take three goddamned years to knock over.

Back next week.

Honest.

Abel Wackets is a Jackanapes

As I revise, rewrite and generally tinker with the new draft of Raven’s Blood, one thing I’m paying particular attention to is the language – not my language, but the way my fantasy characters speak.

Okay, mostly the way they swear.

Raven’s Blood is set in a world that’s a bit like Elizabethan England with some more contemporary elements thrown in – plus magic and and superheroes and golem cyborgs and stuff – and so I’m using some sources of period language to add resonance, name items/activities and give the characters terrible things to say to each other. And tonight I wanted to share some of the best offenders with you folks.

I’ve drawn Elizabethan terms from a number of places, in particular Lisa Picard’s fantastic Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan England – but for the slang terms and dirty words, I’ve relied on this excellent website from the University of Tulsa. Here are some favourites from that source:

  • Apple-squire: Pimp
  • Bing a waste!: Bugger off!
  • Bousing ken: An ale-house
  • Clapperdudgeon: Chief beggar; a term of reproach
  • Pillicock: Penis; a vulgar term for a boy
  • Doddypol: A foolish person
  • Cocklorel: An insult of moral character
  • Jackanapes: A bestial insult
  • Eater of broken meats: An insult of social position
  • Hundred-pound: An insult of social position
  • One-trunk-inheriting: An insult of social position
  • Worsted-stocking: An insult of social position

The insults of social position are amazing.

My other major source of words is not Elizabethan but it is historical – Francis Grose’s 1811 hit The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, available on Amazon and also as a free text file from Project Gutenberg. This guide to early 19th century British slang is massive, engaging and filled with every word for prostitute you could ever desire, as well as a staggering number of slang terms for the vagina (referred to throughout as ‘the monosyllable’).

As it happens, I don’t have much need in my story of teenage female heroics and face-punching for either of those kinds of terms, but I do have a number of other favourite phrases and activities that I use in this book (and that I’ve dropped into other projects in the past, such as The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport):

  • Autem cackletub: A conventicle or meeting-house for dissenters
  • Bear-garden jaw: Rude, vulgar language
  • Deadly nevergreen: The gallows, the tree that bears fruit all the year round
  • Galimaufrey: A hodgepodge made up of the remnants and scraps of the larder
  • Grinagog, or the cat’s uncle: A foolish grinning fellow, one who grins without reason
  • Paper scull: A thin-scull’d foolish fellow
  • Sword racket: To enlist in different regiments, and on  receiving the bounty to desert immediately.
  • Word grubbers: Verbal critics, and also persons who use hard words in common discourse
  • Barking irons: Pistols
  • Abel-wackets: Blows given on the palm of the hand with a twisted handkerchief

There’s so much to love in The Vulgar Tongue, assuming you can get past all the casual misogyny and talk about arses.

Mind you, I have to be careful to use this kind of language sparingly; it’s a heavy spice and one that can quickly take you from ‘flavourful’ to ‘incomprehensible’ if applied too generously. Otherwise I’d write passages like this:

‘Ames-ace!’ the scurvy recreant spat as he pawed the bale of bones in the atrium of the bousing ken. ‘I’ll not be taken in by thy inkhorn words, Dibber Dabber. You’ve cogged me, you lily-livered coistril!’

The Upright Man smoothed his commission and toyed with the chive he drew from his farting crackers. ‘So God mend me, no need to cheer so glimfashy, cousin,’ he said. ‘Like you not the dice? Perhaps we could go bat-fowling instead – or I could nap the teize with veney stick, if that’s more to your liking, you spunger.’

If you read that you would think you’d had a stroke. Or that I had.

…although now I really want to know more about those farting crackers.

Anyhoo, that’s what’s amusing me this week – feel free to chime in with your own favourites.

Now back to it.

Revise-wise

I don’t revise my work very much. Wait, scratch that, it makes me sound like a terrible writer. I mean, I revise my work all the time – while I’m writing it. I’m constantly tweaking, polishing, deleting and rewriting my work as I go, which is one of several reasons why it takes me 20-3 freaking years to write a book.

(The other reasons: day job, energy levels, easily distracted by games, drunk all the time.)

But I don’t tend to do a lot of heavy after-the-fact revision – except for right now, when I’m revising both The Obituarist II (due to be published next week!) and Raven’s Blood (due to be published if the fates are kind!). Yes, I’m elbow-deep and mucking out the word-stables in an attempt to clean the horse poop off these drafts, and it’s clear that my metaphors are not yet fit-for-purpose in 2015.

Anyway – yes, I am working on making my writing better. And if you too are trying to do that, and feel the need for some tips and advice from someone with no more claim to authority or expertise than the adorable dog sleeping at the end of his desk, then read on and marvel.

Read it like a virgin

I think the single best way to start a revision is to read your entire draft manuscript, start to finish, as if you were coming to it for the first time, just as your alpha-readers did, just as any reader would if you were foolish enough to upload it to Amazon right now no stop don’t do that. Take a virgin eye to your work, looking for the bits that don’t work (and relishing the bits that do) and being honest about how well it all hangs together. Don’t let yourself think excuses like this confusing scene in chapter 2 will totally make sense after I read chapter 9 or the worldbuilding in these five pages of exposition is utterly vital, because no-one else is going to cut you that slack. Read it, decide whether or not you actually like it, and then get to the business of making it better.

Slice away the weak spots

Pretty much all drafts (mine included) have big problems – dull characters, confusing plots, every single thing being awful – and little problems. Start with the little problems – the repeated phrases, the excessive adjectives, the punctuation errors, the way half the dialogue starts with ‘Well,…’ and yes I am pretty much talking about myself here. These little moments of weakness are pretty easy to fix and they get you into the mindset of revising so that you gain momentum for the more systemic issues. Think of these small victories as the mooks that protect the end-of-level boss, and your revision as a rising swagger of heroic power. That unnecessary comma? DEAD. His friends? DEAD. The flawed book that commanded them? BRING IT.

Re-connect all your pipes

Structuralists and screenwriters talk about ‘laying pipe’ – putting information in one scene that pays off or unfolds in later scenes. It’s about more than just clever foreshadowing; it’s that consistent logic of narrative that means a story makes sense. But pipe isn’t always laid down cleanly and perfectly in the first draft, as you forget about old ideas and introduce new ones that aren’t fully justified yet. The revision process is the time to finally work out the path you want this story to follow, and to backtrack, reorient and trailblaze so that the map is clear all the way from start to finish. That might mean deleting plot bits that didn’t pay off, or inserting new bits of data in the first half to give stuff in the second half a solid foundation. Then all your pipes will connect up, and your book-water will flow cleanly rather than dribble as stinky effluent from cracks in the middle.

I’d like to apologise for my metaphors. And I wish I could say they’d get better this year.

Kill your darlings, yes, but also birth new ones

Revising is not a time for sentiment. It’s a time for ruthlessness and no weakness, a time to delete (or at least cut-paste into another document) anything that isn’t making your book better. But it’s also a time for creation, because just cutting and flensing is probably going to leave you with a bloody skeleton rather than something readable. Writing small inserts (see above) is just the start; you may need new pages, scenes or whole chapters to make the story better. (Both my works-in-progress needed a new chapter, and Raven’s Blood may end up needing more.) If this is the case, then write them. Duh. Occasionally I hear advice like ‘your final draft should be 10-20% shorter than your first draft’. No, your final draft should be good, and if that means it’s as long or longer as the first draft, but all-killer-no-filler rather than a box full of Hamburger Helper, then you’re doing the job right.

Don’t fix what ain’t broke

And speaking of dumb writing advice – some pundits say that you should rewrite everything, that the first draft is a ‘vomit draft’ or an outlining exercise, and that the second/third/eighth draft should be written from scratch. Good luck to ’em if that works for them, but for my part, fuuuuuuuuuck that. A flawed draft is not a piece of mouldy fruit that is irrevocably riddled with bacteria; it’s a work of craft that can (probably) be improved with time and effort. Your draft has good stuff in it, probably more of it than you thought while writing it, and you should retain that good stuff rather than ditching it. Embrace what works and be proud of it – and then focus on lifting the rest of the work to that high bar you’ve set for yourself.

Next week: BIG IMPORTANT STUFF

DEPENDING ON YOUR DEFINITION OF ‘BIG’

Vision thing

Folks, I have something to show you, and I AM EXCITE

But first, some context.

For as long as I’ve known him, Cam Rogers‘ writing workspace has been the centre of a visual explosion, his walls bedecked with artwork, quotes, photos, magazine covers, nightclub flyers… a whirlwind of hooks and homes for the eye. When I visited him in Helsinki last year I asked about it, and he told me that they’re less about inspiration and more about confirmation – that when he sits down and looks at that space, those images and ideas that speak to him, they engage him and tell him that it’s time to write, time to re-enter the world in his head that those sights inhabit.

I thought about this when I got back from Europe, and also about what Kevin Powe – yeah, I’m just name-dropping my inspirational friends tonight, so sue me – did with the animation series he’s developing, Altered, where he commissioned a separate artist to create images of the major characters well before things got to the production stage, so that he has a visual touchstone to guide and propel his own work and keep him engaged.

Engagement. That’s the ticket.

So with these things on my mind, I got in touch with an artist and commissioned them to do some artwork of the Ghost Raven, one of the two major characters from Raven’s Blood – to create something I could put next to my computer, to look at every night and pull me back into Crosswater and into that story. Sadly that commission didn’t work out, and I forged ahead and finished the book without that visual push.

But recently I contacted another artist, Stacey Richmond, and commissioned her to work on a piece. It arrived at the start of last week, and holy hell y’all it is amazing.

FINAL 1

LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT

Stacey worked directly from a manuscript extract to create this, and it’s pretty much perfect. There are a couple of details that aren’t quite what I imagined, but you know what? I like them better than I like what I’d imagined. I look at this and I want to read this guy’s story – more than that, I want to write his story, even knowing that he… actually, never mind, you can wait to find out that part.

That’s the point of this post, rather than just boasting about the beautiful thing I got – although I’m doing that too. It’s about engagement, about being drawn into just into your story but into your writing, your work itself – it’s about roadmaps and signposts that guide you into the headspace where you need to be. There are lots of reasons why it took me two years to write this foundation draft, but a lot of it comes back to engagement, or a lack thereof. Would I have written the book faster with this glued to my office wall? I think I might.

We all need something to keep us in the zone. Maybe you’ve got that inside you, and good on you if you do – but if you don’t, think about the benefits of some focusing art in your workspace. Images can be your touchstones, your motivators – the pictures that launch a thousand words. I want to do more with those visual spurs that keep me focused, especially once I start revising Raven’s Blood in July.

What will you use? Let me know in the comments.

Also holy crap Stacey did me a second picture OMG:

FINAL2

And if you’re wondering whether you should commission your own art from Stacey – yes, yes you should. But not before I get her to do some pictures of Kember, my heroine. HANDS OFF.

Okay, now what?

So, you’ve finished writing a book –

Really? Me too! What a coincidence!

…sorry. Couldn’t resist.

In my right mind I’d lead things off more strongly, but I’ve spent the last week staring blankly at things and walking into doors while trying to remember how to brain. In the post-Raven’s-Blood-world – a world that’s taken far too long to reach – my head is grey and muzzy, as if I’d dropped all the pills at once and was now trying to climb back out of a serotonin-hole long enough to remember how to write even something as simple as an email or a text message.

But yeah, let’s back it up. I finished my book! And maybe you too have finished writing a book, or a story, or a really satisfying bit of toilet wall graffiti. What to do next?

For me, there are three things on the agenda.

Get someone else to read it

I’ve sent the Raven’s Blood MS to about half-a-dozen alpha readers – and can we just talk about how great a phrase ‘Alpha Reader’ is? That’s a superhero or space adventurer name, that is: Blam! And in a hail of laser fire, Alpha Reader smashed through the enemy barricades, intent on rescuing his beloved editor Lance Commacutter! Much beta than ‘beta reader’, which sounds either like a defunct style of videotape player or some kind of Men’s Rights Activist/Pick-up Artist kind of insult.

But yes, I’ve sent the book to a few people, including established authors and emerging ones, and asked them to beat the living shit out of it. Lovingly, perhaps, but I need to see bloodstains when I get their notes back, because being nice about it isn’t going to help me fix it. There are definite issues with voice, character, dialogue and consistency in the book – and I know about these problems, and I have some ideas on how to fix them, but having someone else back me up on that, or better yet point out failings I don’t realise, will be vital.

If you’ve finished writing a book, ask someone else to read it before you do anything else. Even if you’ve got a contract. Even if you don’t know any other writers. Even if – especially if – you think it’s already perfect. And ask them to be as friendship-shatteringly honest as possible in their notes. Because tough love is the best love.

Write something else

In On Writing, Stephen King advised putting a finished manuscript into a desk drawer and ignoring it for at least six weeks, and in that time starting work on something else. In this, as in so many things that weren’t writing The Tommyknockers, SK is hitting all the correct buttons. The worst possible time to start rewriting a book is the moment you’ve finished it, or anytime while it’s still super-fresh in your mind – because all you’re going to have in your mind is the stuff at the end that you know wasn’t quite right, and you’ll get stuck in a Groundhog Day loop on that while the earlier problems pass by unseen. Shelving it for a while gives you distance; writing something else keeps your word-brain engaged so it can come back to the problems while you sleep or shower or drink all the coffee in the world.

In my case, I’m writing a new short story that was commissioned for an upcoming anthology – yes, that’s right, someone contacted me and asked me to contribute a piece to this project. That’s a nice feeling that never gets old. I need to get that done in the next couple of weeks, after which it’s time to start work on The Obituarist II: The Quickening – because yes, the second half of that story sorted itself out in my brain while I was still wrapping up Raven’s Blood. With any luck I can get the core draft finished by the end of June, which is when I’m hoping to get my RB notes back. Oh, and I’m going to ramp my blogging efforts back up to a regular two posts per week, which I’m sure will make all y’all very happy.

Chain that shit, homes, like you’re summoning Pokemons or sumthin’.

Do nothing

After a burst of frenzied word-humping, you need to take some time off to recharge your grammar-glands, and I’m going to stop this metaphor now before we all regret it.

But yes – downtime. Non-writing time. Coming home and not smacking mtself in the face with a manuscript every night. Doesn’t that sound like fun? My plans include reading some books – because jesus shit, I haven’t read an actual book so far this year – and graphic novels, playing a variety of games – including Lego Marvel Heroes, Netrunner, Dishonored and Sentinels of the Multiverse – and even watching television, a pastime which has mostly eluded me for several years, but I hear True Detective is just too good to miss.

And of course, all this downtime is time when my subconscious can grapple with Raven’s Blood and worry about whether the romance plotline is engaging enough or whether it has enough parkour. That’s what writing brains do when you don’t write – they begin stockpiling their moist and musky word-oozes, and sorry I know I said I’d stop that metaphor I’m sorry I’m sorry.

But yes – one of the best things to do after writing something is to not write something. At least for a while.

And in that spirit, WE BE DONE HERE.