Writing blog posts doesn’t actually take very much time

Longtime blog readers probably know that I am a huge fan of personal metrics of various sorts. I spent years upon years tracking all kinds of shit about myself, including how many hours I wrote, how many I read, how many steps I took, how many words I wrote, number of rejections I got, times I exercised, blog posts I wrote, and on and on and on, even extending into some really weird and arcane stuff (when I was first trying to expand my social media presence, for instance, I gave myself a point for each day that I posted a comment on somebody else’s Facebook post).

Sometime last year this all became way too daunting and meaningless. The amount of data being collected was so much that I had no idea how to use it effectively, and I eventually ended the entire logging endeavor (archiving something like twelve years of data in the process!)

But obviously I’m still the same nerdy guy underneath, so lately I’ve been approaching logging in a different way. The study of one person is obviously never going to be rigorous or scientific, but it also doesn’t need to be. The point of all this logging and goal-setting is simply for me to feel more comfortable in myself. So lately I’ve been passively gathering data in the form of a daily time-use log. Each day I record it whenever I start a new activity or stop another activity.

On days when I’m out and about, the log is obviously pretty sketchy. For instance I might write down (6 PM to 12 PM – Party!!!) But in an ordinary day it’ll mostly be a mix of writing, reading, paid work, TV or computer gaming, and, in the afternoons and evenings, socializing. It’s been interesting to see how I work when I’m just observing myself, without any goals or strictures.

For instance, for years I’ve been dieting (I lost 110 pounds from January 2012 to January 2015), and throughout that time I generally tried to eat around 1600 calories a day. In the last year however, with the tumult of traveling and the book launch and of my wedding, I’ve gained 20 pounds. Now this is in part a totally normal thing. Ninety-five percent of dieters regain their lost weight within five years. I’m actually significantly ahead of the curve in that I’ve kept most of it off for more than five years. However, the body does strike back against what it perceives as a period of extended starvation.

In any case, in the last few weeks I’ve tried to reassert order, but in a gentle way. Rather than alternating between having zero sweets and having cheat days where I binged on them, I now allow everything, so long as it gets logged. Unsurprisingly, this has reduced the binging. It’s interesting to see that my calorie consumption has tended to be closer to 1900-2100 in reality (I’m 240 pounds, so that’s still a level at which I’d lose weight). I’ve also felt less desire to binge now that I know nothing will ever be off-limits. I don’t know, probably this scheme will fall apart eventually too, but nothing lasts forever.

Other interesting data: I write much more than I think I do. For years I struggled to have more than two hours of writing time in a day. But I think relaxing and allowing myself to write during all the odd moments when it occurs to me has been a good thing. In the last week I’ve averaged almost 3.7 hours of writing per day. And that’s real writing time. I’m not just counting time in front of the computer. Whenever I switch over to a distraction (computer games, often), I mark that.

Writing time does however include the hours spent doodling in the notebook or staring into space or just sitting poised in front of the keyboard. I’m trying at the moment to think of an idea for a novel for adults. I very much want to write a book for adults, but nothing has ever yet gelled for me in the way that Enter Title Here or It’s Probably Just A Phase had. I think though that the aimless time is actually very productive. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the extensive periods of writer’s block in my life, it’s that the right character is a necessity. The write character–someone who’s strong and larger-than-life and animated by deeply-held yearnings–can make small talk in the kitchen seem like it’s of riveting, earth-shattering importance. Conversely, the wrong character can make impending nuclear war seem dull. So right now I’m spending a lot of time just listening for the right character. Again, not sure if this effort will bear fruit.

Oh, and one more insight, which is the original reason I came here to write this post, is that writing blog posts only takes fifteen minutes!

Usually I put off blog writing because it seems time-consuming, but it’s not. Only fifteen minutes. Sheesh. Probably it’d take longer if I did more editing of these posts, but who’s got the time?

Sent out IT’S PROBABLY JUST A PHASE for what I hope is the last time

Well I’ve spent the last two weeks revising what I hope’ll be my second YA novel: It’s Probably Just A Phase (formerly known as Tell Em They’re Amazing). I just sent the book off to Robert, my new agent, and I don’t think there’s going to be any more rounds of revision (though we’ll see). So if you never hear about the book again, that means that it didn’t sell!

I reread the whole thing today just to make sure that it was internally consistent (when you revise, sometimes you forget to line up all the little bits and pieces), and I found myself thinking, “This book is pretty effing good.”

This was not something I always felt. When I first began the book in April of 2014, I was like, well, okay, there’s something here. It’s got a nice voice and all. But the whole thing was a mess, both narratively and structurally, and as I worked on it I was consistently telling myself, okay so it’s not as good as Enter Title Here, but it’s probably good enough to sell.

The book has gone through round and round of revision (most of them instigated and directed by my own intuition) and with each round the book has improved, but each time I’ve also been like…well…it’s better, but it’s still not as good as Enter Title Here.

Now…this book certainly hasn’t displaced ETH in my heart. Writing ETH was like a religious experience. Reshma appeared so fully-formed in my head, and remarkably little revision was needed in order to sell the book. Moreover, I just identified so strongly with her, and the criticism her character has taken since publication has only made me feel more tenderly about the book.

Buuuuuuut…I do think It’s Probably Just A Phase is the better book. It really took this last revision to tip it over. Everything is finally lined up in a row. The themes and character arcs make sense. Moreover, I finally like all the characters. They feel really alive to me, and I have that sense of tenderness for them that I felt for Reshma. Moreover, I think they’re really messy and honest, but not in a way where I’m just trying to excuse bad plotting or characterization by saying “They’re messy and honest.” The characters have no idea what’s going on, but I, the author, am still in control, and I know what’s up.

The book has truly been a joy to write. I’ve had to learn an amazing amount about how to plot and structure a quieter, more character-based narrative, and that’s something I really needed to learn in order to write the sort of stuff that I plan to write. But, moreover, the experience of writing this book has been useful on a broader level. It’s nice to know that you don’t need to be absolutely one hundred percent in love with a book in order to write it. Sometimes all you need is to love it just enough that you’re willing to keep working on it (which is a pretty high threshold in itself, I might add! I’ve abandoned so many books simply because I couldn’t bear to reread the opening chapter another twenty or thirty times.)

As for what’s next? Well…I have no idea. book_done.gif

Concluded my agent search!

Alright, well that was the most nerve-wracking two weeks of my life. Got a lot of interest in the book, but finally ended up going with the first person who got back to me: Robert Guinsler at Sterling Lord.

Very pleased to be working with Robert. He has an excellent track record, but, more importantly, he really loved and seemed to get my book. Hopefully it’ll sell, but we’ll see. Hmm, now I need to update all the many places on my site where it says who my agent is…

Onward to the next thing

I’ve never felt more definitively “between projects” than I do right now. I mean for the first time in three years I’m neither under contract nor am I currently working on a manuscript. I do have ten thousand words of a literary novel for adults that I’m pretty stoked on, and I think I’ll get back to that later in the summer. But in the meantime there are a few things I’ve wanted to try. I don’t know. These are exciting times. It’s still amazing to me sometimes that I’ve actually written novels. Like these whole huge long things. I’ve written them. One even got published! And didn’t do too poorly either. What a weird, weird thing. I still feel like a total beginner / outsider. Maybe this is what imposter syndrome feels like. I’ve never thought that I suffered from it, but perhaps I do.

And yet I don’t know. Part of it is that I still don’t feel fully grown up or mature or anything like that. I mean I do in my life. In my life I’ve pretty much got everything under control. But in my writing I still feel like I haven’t taken control of my full power. Not exactly sure where or how to do that…but I guess you just have to keep trying.

Every revision has been an exercise in pulling back

Getting extremely close to sending out my book! Very excited. It’ll probably go terribly and turn into a miserable experience, like everything else related to writing and publishing fiction, but right now I am excited. I am particularly excited with the revisions I’ve made. I think this last revision really pulled the book together.

What’s interesting with this book is how in every revision I’ve pulled back and made the book smaller, less plot-focused, and less dramatic. That’s not normally where you go, but in this case it felt right. The core of the story is in the main character’s sense of longing for a particular kind of connection with other people, and that’s a longing which gets blown up when there’re too many high-stakes events going on.

It’s been fun! If no agent picks up the book, it’ll probably be the end of my fifteen months of working on it, but they won’t have been wasted. I do feel much more able now to write the sort of books I want to write. Although I still love science fiction and fantasy, and I think my writing is much more exciting and high-stakes because of it, I do think I’ve needed to unlearn some habits I picked up from writing adventure stories.

Not that I think adventure stories are bad, it’s just that I don’t want (right now) to write them. I want to write books that focus more on the interior and on the prosaic, and you can’t really do that if the police are showing up and people’re being kicked out of school and all this craziness is going down.

Feeling quite anxious about sending out my book

I’m doing line-level edits to It’s Probably Just A Phase. The book is currently at about 78,000 words, and I’ve found that it’s generally possible to reduce a book by at least 10% simply by going through and tightening the language. I am also going to try to inject some beauty into the language.

In general, I’m not an amazing prose stylist. I have an okay ear, but my eye isn’t very good. I can’t see things in a new way, and if you can’t see well, then it’s difficult to write well. However I have come, over the years, to have a better opinion of my own line-level writing, simply because I leave out most of the bullshit that people often put into books when they’re flailing around and trying to write something that sounds like a book ought to sound, rather than relying on their own sense of aesthetics.

I’m not against description. I’m not even against wordiness. My sentences tend to be pretty long, and I think the right detail in the right place is a beautiful thing. Two of my favorite writers are Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust for Christ’s sake. Although it’s not the main thing I enjoy in a book–I prefer books that depict complex social relationships–I do love it when a writer can make me feel like I’m living somebody else’s life: seeing what they see, smelling what they smell, walking where they walk.

But if you can’t do that, don’t try to snow me over. I’m basically talking about any book described as having “lush prose.” To me that just means this book is describing the greek friezes on the lintel, and grandma’s collection of elf dolls on the bookshelf, and the smell of the jacaranda that’s climbing the trellis. God save me from the jacaranda. When a book is really dense and full, nobody describes it as lush. Nobody’s going around saying Virginia Woolf is lush, because prose is lush when it seems excessive or overgrown.

Anyyyyyyways, I’m editing my book. It’s frightening. I mean I haven’t done this in four years! And it seems very possible that nobody is gonna want the stupid thing. I believe so strongly in this book, but that’s not really a guarantee. And I am getting terrifyingly close to the day when I will need to send it out. Because after I do this line-by-line tightening there’s no more revisions left. I’m not gonna go back and rewrite a bunch of scenes. The book at that point is done, at least until an editor or agent has their way with it.

Oh well, better get to it.

Been writing stories again

I forget if I’ve mentioned it on this blog, but I’ve taken to writing short stories again. Honestly I just got tired of trying to write another novel. I figure maybe one of my stories will turn into a novel. Maybe I’m trying to trick myself by telling myself they’re stories. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve been relatively pleased with the stories. They’re fun. Not only fun to write, but fun to read, too. They’ve got a playfulness that feels missing nowadays from my attempts at novels, which all feel doomed and leaden. I think it’s just that before I can clench up and destroy everything, the story is over.

Have sold two stories recently: “A Coward’s Death” to Lightspeed (my second there) and “Weft” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies (also my second). I’m pretty pleased with both of them, but I’ve written others recently that I like even more, and I’m hoping those will also sell eventually.

I do think sometimes that for the last five or six years I’ve been waiting for the moment when “the time” comes. You know, the moment when I find the thing I want to write about and when I produce my mature work. But it’s never felt really felt like that. When I wrote Enter Title Here, I thought, this is fantastic, but I also thought…this is a good start. Now I don’t know. It’s hard to say what comes next. Maybe these stories are my mature work. Maybe this is all there’ll ever be for me.

Oh well! It’s not so bad. Nice at least to write and to have the work out there (and I do sincerely mean that, since I know it’s not something one can take for granted). The rest is up to fate.

It’s amazing how a dirty plate can get in the way of writing

Was thinking the other day about how it’s amazing the way little things can get in the way of writing. Like if you have a dirty plate on your desk, you might say to yourself, “I’m gonna clean this plate, and then I’m gonna write.” But then if you don’t clean that plate, you won’t end up writing, because first you need to clean the plate!

If the plate was a bigger task, it’d be easier to see what you were doing. If you were like, “I’m gonna do my taxes, and then I’m gonna write,” you’d be able to rationally look at it and be like, “Doing my taxes is a big job. I’ll do it later, and I’ll write now.”

But because the plate is such a small job, there’s never a moment at which it makes sense to just give up on it and go ahead and write.

Of course, you could also just go ahead and clean the plate. But…then you’d have to write.

Working on another book idea, this time for adults

Hello precious internets. Last night I came up with a sweet idea for a novel for adults. It’s a sad literary novel: sorry sci-fi / fantasy enthusiasts. It’ll probably fall apart in a few days, or like most of my novels-for-older-adults it’ll end up not being very good, but I suppose it’s something to divert me.

Recently I was about to argue with somebody on Facebook and I had a weird realization. “What does this sound like to the person I’m writing to?” Like…it was so strange. Here I was living out a psycho-drama in my own head, and I suddenly became aware that there was another person involved in this exchange. Ultimately the insight hasn’t had much of an effect on my own life (I still have to live it inside my own head, after all!) but I did forgo posting the comment. And it has made me think a little bit about my novels. What would this sound like to somebody who isn’t me? Why would anyone read this if they didn’t have to? What is there in this that enriches other people’s lives?

Ultimately these are very difficult questions to answer. I think it’s hard to write for anybody except yourself. Just like I post FB comments that amuse me, I also write books that amuse me. One can only hope that one’s own tastes mirror, in some way, the tastes of the population. And yet…one still wonders. How does this all sound to somebody who isn’t me?

My book idea fell apart, as these things tend to do, so now I’m casting about again

I got about fifteen thousand words into my book project, and then it fell apart and I completely lost enthusiasm for it. I’ve learned to pay attention to these feelings. If you don’t even have enough interest to make it through a first draft, there’s no way you’re gonna have enough to make it through the months or years of revision the book is gonna need.

So now I’m back on the prowl for a new novel idea. I wish I was one of those people who had a zillion novel ideas on the back burner. I don’t. In order to write something, I need to not only have a conceit, I also need to have a character who really pulls at me: someone who’s both desperate and heroic. And, at least for me, it’s not easy to come up with someone like that.