End of May/June/Q2/First-half Update

CalendarObliqueGolly, I’ve been quiet here lately. Mostly I’ve been heads-down, focusing on this new job. It’s not that it took all my time, but it definitely left me scrambling about, trying to find new ways to manufacture writing time. (FWIW, the answer is at least partly “additional child care”.) Anyway, something had to go, and when it came down to blogging vs. working on new novels, blogging got put down like a rabid dog.

Hmm, my brain apparently thinks it still has fictional people to kill.

Anyway, I have been making progress on fiction. Today I finally finished the draft to Oaths of My Fathers, which is book 3 of the Father Chessman saga. I always like to write the sequel to a book before I do my final edits, so that means I can now go back to work on Debts of My Fathers, which a number of fans have been… well, pleasantly insistent that I finish off and get into their hands. So, that’s coming. I’ve missed three announced release estimates in the past, so I’m holding off on dates for the moment.

Anyway, let’s look at the numbers. In May and June, my writing rate was down significantly. In May, I wrote only 20,918 words, and in June, only 33,443 words. This is down from around 50,000 words a month towards the earlier parts of the year. For the year, I’m at 239,682 words, which now has me on a track to come in under 500,000 words. Again, blame the job. On the other hand, my autistic kids now have good health insurance, so yay!

The words were split similarly to earlier in the year, except that I’m doing more private journaling. It’s not that I’m having lots of deep thoughts. Rather, I’ve found it’s a good way to warm-up my brain for writing narrative. I can do free-form writing for five to ten minutes, and then I’m up to speed on turning thoughts into written words. If I go straight into the narrative, that can sometimes take twenty to thirty minutes, and lately, twenty to thirty minutes is all I can grab in one slice.

So, I’ve thought about trying some blogging here as part of that warm-up rather than strictly doing private journaling, but I cannot do the kind of blogging I used to do in that format. Specifically, I had been doing defined slots. Monday was an article about something in the SF/F genre. Wednesday was usually writing-related, even if it was just to say that I was neck-deep in bloody edits. Friday was reviews. As you can see, I haven’t been managing that very well this year.

So I’m giving serious thought to going free-form. There are a number of things I could talk about, but I frequently don’t. Either they didn’t fit into a slot, or they touched on the unholy trinity of blogging flame: politics, religion, or … Hmmm, I can seem to remember the third. It seems like there should be three. Anyway, rather than dash something off, I’d spent almost as much time convincing myself not to write it, or at least not write it for the blog.

That may be changing soon.

I’ve long been a fan of John Scalzi’s blog, “Whatever”. First, he does have good content, but mostly I admire his willingness to blog about, well, whatever. So, when I say I might be looking to his blog for inspiration, it’s not that I want to copy his style or his topics. It’s that I want to feel more free to blog about whatever strikes my fancy and not censor myself so much.

I do this knowing that I’m more likely to attract some annoying flame-puppies or haters, but I’m all right with this. I’ve long been a believer that blogs are different from shared public forums. They are not the town square. Blogs are the author’s living room, and I have always believed that in my house, it’s my rules. So I won’t have Scalzi’s Mallet of Loving Correction, I have no qualms about using the tools at my disposal. Hopefully, such incidents will be mercifully rare.

So that’s it for now. There will still be articles on things in the SF/F genres and writing/publishing news, and I will continue to post reviews. But they’ll be mixed in with a bit more what’s happening in the world around me.

End of February Update

CalendarObliqueI’m two months into the year and doing that accountability thing against my goals for the year. Also, by coincidence, this is my first real post for the relocated blog.

So, for the big writing/publishing goals, it’s been a so-so month. In February, I wrote 55,192 words and “published” 15,826 of them. Let’s break it down.

Email/journaling/private: 3755 words. This was mostly email, but it did include the notes for an award presentation I did back at the beginning of the month.

Blogging/social media: 15,826 words. The bulk of this was over on Google+. The blog here had a lot of downtime while I managed the move. Part of this was that I didn’t want to stack up a lot of “scheduled” articles when I wasn’t sure when the move was actually going to occur, but mostly it was just that blogging fell off the priority list.

Fiction: 35,611 words. This was entirely work on Oaths of My Fathers, which is now just shy of 53,000 words and is quite thoroughly behind schedule. My original deadline was February 24th, and then I pushed that out to March 6th, but I can’t see how I’m going to hit that one either. Missing that one is going to be very problematic, because then I slide into spring break with the kids. So, I’m still pushing on this one, but it’s getting hard.

Overall, I’m at just over 98,000 words for the year, but I should be closer to 165,000. I went into February behind because of time spent editing Debts of My Fathers, and I had hoped to catch up with the drafting time on Oaths of My Fathers. Unfortunately, that’s been slow going. The one comfort is that the problems have not been book-specific issues. That is, I’m not floundering. I know where the book is headed, and I’m not running into any big problems on the way.

No, the problems have mostly centered around some health problems with me and my kids. As I’ve said before, I have special needs kids, and this month has been more trying than most for the oldest boy. That has been quite stressful for me and has negatively impacted my own health. Anyway, everyone is seeing the doctors they’re supposed to be seeing, so hopefully we’re on the right track, but it meant there were about ten or twelve days in February where I hardly wrote anything at all, let alone whacking off 3000-4000 words on the new novel. For what it’s worth, though, three of the beta readers have finished Debts of My Fathers, and I’m trying to schedule time to get their feedback.

Published: This is the 15,826 words mentioned up top, and it’s all been social media and blogging. It meets the “get it out there” requirements of my annual goal, but it’s not the kind of publishing that pays the bills. But Debts is moving along and hopefully Hell Bent will be right on its heels, so by summer, I should be much closer to my goal.

Meet up with other writers I know online: I haven’t done much on this one this month, but I did go to ConDFW and spoke with another indie writer who is local but that I had not really talked to much before. He’s further down the road than I am with about ten books out, but he’s gotten them out in the last few years, not the last few decades. In other words, he’s had the productivity that I have not yet managed. I’m also making some progress in getting the rest of my local writing group onto Google+, which is almost this goal in reverse, but hey, it’s something.

Beef up the website: Hey, actual progress! It turned out to be about two weeks of research and emails only to discover that the move took only two or three hours of real work. The old website will continue to exist for another year or two to keep old inbound links alive, but no new contact will be posted there. Now that I’m here, I can get started on some of the improvements, including a mailing list to let you folks know when books finally get out the door.

This has been holding up a surprising number of other tasks, actually. More than just the mailing list, I’ve been waiting on this for a number of other publishing issues. Specifically, I have held off on spreading my books to the Nook and Kobo because the books link back to my website, and I didn’t want to put them out with a soon-to-be-old link. It’s also held off an updated cover to Beneath the Sky, again for the same reason. And believe it or not, it was going to hold up the release of Debts of My Fathers and Hell Bent if I hadn’t gotten it done by May. So, with this big item checked off, hopefully a lot more tasks will start moving.

Improve my health: Well, shit. If anything, I’ve gone backwards on this one. However, I’m trying a couple of new medications with my doctor as well as some other changes. I also found a new chiropractor who is a lot cheaper and much easier to get in to see. After three visits, my back and ribs and giving me a lot less pain, which is amazing given that I reinjured them this month in a kid-related incident.

So that was it for February. We actually started to get some spring weather, but the occasional cold snap have kept me from reseeding the yard just yet. Hopefully, March will be warm, wet, and quiet.

Poor Progress

Wow, that week went fast, and I have very little to show for it.  The blog move is still in progress, and it was a crap week for writing.  It’s day 30 of Oaths of My Fathers, and I’m really only about halfway through it, maybe even a little shy of that.

Home life with the kids has been… well, scatological.

But still, I’m plugging along.

Mid-Month Updates and Bloggy News

I tried to come up with a more generic and boring title for this and utterly failed. So be it.

Anyway, the blog has been kind of quiet the last week or two. Partly this is because I’ve been putting a lot of writing time into Oaths of My Fathers. It’s currently about 40,000 words long, but I’m behind schedule on it. I want to get it wrapped up in the next couple of weeks as I start getting beta-reader feedback for Debts of My Fathers. For the curious, it’s a continuity thing. Before I do the final edits to a book, I like to draft its sequel. That way, if there’s anything I need to set up beforehand, there’s still a chance to put it in.

Debts of My Fathers is vaguely on track for a May release, but a lot of that depends on the beta reader feedback. My insecure writer’s ego is terrified that the book actually sucks, that the beta readers will confirm it, and that it will require extensive rewrites. But I feel this way pretty much whenever my beta readers are reading one of my books, so it’s probably not a legitimate reason to worry. Still, it’s hard to nail down exact schedules until I get that feedback.

Hell Bent and the draft to Stone Killer are pretty much on hold. I’m focused on getting Debts/Oaths done, but once Debts goes to the copy editor, I’ll pick up on that series again until it’s time to format and publish Debts.

But it’s also been quiet because it’s been a rough couple of weeks with my kids. I don’t talk much about them, but they’re special needs kids, and it’s just been harder than usual lately. There’s some sign of improvement two or three months down the road, but unfortunately, it is predicted to be one of those times where it will likely get worse before it gets better. So, in the meantime I’m trying to look upon it as a plot twist aimed at upping the stakes before our protagonist ultimately emerges victorious.

I’m also taking a little time to move this blog to a new domain. That’s right. As part of my goals for the year, Making It Up As I Go is making way for something with a bit more of a plan. Specifically, I am attempting to migrate the whole thing, archives, comments, and all over to DanThompsonWrites.com. At the moment, that domain simply forwards back over to here, but when I’m all done the reverse will be true. I’m still working out a few kinks, but I’m hoping it will go live in the coming week. In the meantime, I’ve been hesitant to get a bunch of entries queued up – hence the quiet.

Once that’s done, I have a laundry list of little blog improvements to do that have been building up. I didn’t want to do them pre-move, so once that’s done, several of them should show up promptly with a few more dribbling in afterwards. As such, there might be a few bumps along the way, but in the long-run, it should be better.

Also, I do plan on being in Dallas for ConDFW next weekend (Feb 21-23), but I’m not signed up for any programming. I haven’t tried to get on any panels, but the general word is that it’s hard for indies to make that jump. Maybe later in the year when I have another 2-3 titles out. (Crossing my fingers…) Still, if you’re going to be there, look for the long-haired, red-bearded, kilt-wearing Scotsman. We’re only slightly less-common than a Slave Leia at DragonCon.

So, that’s it for now. See you all on the other side of the domain move.

Oaths of My Fathers, Day 10

Alas, I fell woefully behind over the weekend. It was a packed weekend, and with my kids, I don’t get a lot of sane time on the weekends. I actually did get some writing done, but it was for a completely different project – I was presenting something of an award on Saturday night and wrote up a couple of pages for it. But other than that, zero new words on Oaths. I did hit the word mines again today, and while my numbers were not earth-shattering, they were almost respectable. Well, no, they weren’t actually, but they were better than the weekend.

However, in a flash of inspiration, I did work out a problem for the end of book 5. I don’t exactly have these planned out in detail, but I knew mostly how I wanted the climax to go down. No spoilers here, but it was of the form: after A happens, we get to do The Big Thing. The only problem was that I had never quite worked out how A was going to happen in such a way that The Big Thing was not only possible but not a leap of incredulity. Well, now I know how it’s going to happen, and I was able to jot down about 750 words to help me remember it when the time comes at last.

It’s time to head for bed, but I might manage a bit more on my laptop before lights-out. I’ve got a plumber coming in the morning, so I might not be in full swing until the afternoon, but I am making progress.

One distraction, though, is that my upper back is really hurting these days.  And by “really hurting”, I mean screw-my-eyes-shut-and-cry hurting.  I suspect it’s partly from poor sitting posture at my desk, but I think I also strained something wrestling with the eldest boy last week. This isn’t the part of the back that the treadmill seems to help much, but I’ll at least be giving it a shot tomorrow.

End of January Update

CalendarObliqueI hope to be doing monthly status updates on my big goals throughout the year, both to let folks know how I’m doing and to give myself a good kick in the ass. This is the first of those updates.

First, the numbers. In January, I wrote 42,906 words, of which 10,425 saw the light of day and hence fall into my “published” category. That’s roughly half as many as I should have written and about a quarter as many as I should have published. Hmm, trying to get those to 1,000,000 and 500,000 for the year. Am I worried? Not much. The justification is in the details, so here’s the breakdown:

Email/journaling/other-private: 7344 words. Much of this is just the overhead of being engaged with life and community. Nothing much to see here. Still, that’s only about 70% the rate I predicted in my planning calculations. I don’t plan on trying to increase this artificially. These are words I kind of get for free.

Blogging/Social-Media: 12,072 words. This is split pretty much evenly between my blog here and my activity on Google+. I don’t necessarily publish much original content over there, but I tend to post a lot of long comments. This one hit my original estimates pretty much even, though I’m heavier on the social media than I originally estimated.

Fiction: 23,490 words. The bulk of this was on Oaths of My Fathers during the last week or so, currently at about 17,500, and the rest was some back-and-fill on Debts of My Fathers before it went out to beta readers. Here, I’m only at about 40%, but I knew January was going to be a slow month for new words of fiction. My initial focus was to get Debts of My Fathers out the door to beta readers, and while editing can take a lot of time, it does not add many words. In many cases, it actually cuts them down. So, while I did get to add a few words to the total during my edits to Debts, the words-per-hour was abysmal. Still, I’m ripping along through Oaths at a pretty good clip, and if I can keep to the schedule, I will actually wrap it up late in February, and that will put me pretty much on target for new fiction written.

Published: This is the 10,425 words mentioned up top, and it’s woefully lagging behind the pace at about 25% what it should be. But this one is always going to move in ragged jumps with the publication of books. I’ve pushed Debts of My Fathers one step closer to publication, so I feel pretty good here.

WinterSnowAs for the other smaller goals, here’s a quick look…

Meet up with other writers I know online: I haven’t done much here yet, but I have mostly laid out my convention schedule of the year. ConDFW in February is likely but not yet certain. AggieCon is a possibility for the first time in years, though I still have to deal with a conflicting engagement. ApolloCon is proving difficult due to child-care issues, but I think I’ve got that sorted out. ArmadilloCon should be fairly easy, but due to some other conflicts, I may only be able to do one day. FenCon is also pretty much certain but not yet nailed down. I confess that DragonCon is tempting, but I have to wait for a few other things to settle down before I can even seriously contemplate it.

Beef up the website: Nothing is visible yet, but I’ve actually been making good progress here. I will almost certainly be moving the blog within the next month to a new URL. MakingItUpAsIGo.com will forward you to the new one once it’s up and running. I already have the new URL, and I’m looking at a couple of other hosting services to see if I want to switch service providers at the same time as the move.

Improve my health: Meh, this one has gone nowhere. On the other hand, I haven’t exactly backslid either. January was a month of rolling crises here at my house, and I’m afraid to say that self-care like exercise is one of the first things that goes out the door when things get tight. Note to self and others: that’s not a particularly good strategy.

GroundHogSo that’s it for January. Let’s hope the good things continue in February and the bad things disappear like this nasty winter. So someone, please, put a shade structure over that damn groundhog tomorrow. He really needs to not see his shadow.


Day 5 of Oaths of My Fathers

Just a quick progress report.  I’m five days into drafting Oaths of My Fathers, and I’m currently about 11,000 words in, trying to reach 13,500 today.  I’m sort of behind because I started by Day 1 at about 9pm and only got a few hundred words in rather than the 3000 words-per-day target.  However, each day since then, I’ve hit well over 3000, so I am definitely on track to catch up.  Then again, weekends with the kids at home is tough.

But it is underway, and I’ve got a pretty good feel for the plot route I’m taking.  The target size is 90,000 to 100,000 words.  Ships came out to about 86,000, and Debts is currently much longer at 107,000.  My drafts tend to grow during edits as I see things that I left out the first time through, so even if I wrap up at 90,000, Oaths may very well top 100,000 before it goes out the door.

Debts of My Fathers goes to Beta

I sent Debts of My Fathers out to my beta readers today.  I’m poking a few other folks to try to line up one additional reader, but it’s in motion.  I’ve asked them for a quick turnaround and hope to be fixing any problems they found in late February.

Which means, in theory at least, I should get started on the sequel tomorrow.  I like to get the N+1 book drafted before the Nth book is finalized, so that means getting it written during the beta-read period.  Of course, since I’ve asked for a fast beta-read turnaround, that means I have to get this next one written fast. For what it’s worth, it’s tentatively titled Oaths of My Fathers and will be the midpoint of the Father Chessman saga.

So, the next four weeks or so are going to be like a double-time NaNoWriMo.  I’ll have about four weeks to write about 80-100,000 words.  Crossing my fingers…  No, that’s not for luck.  I’m just saying that typing that much that fast… well, I’m bound to get my fingers jammed up somewhere along the way.

Heading off to WorldCon and a Few Writing Updates

pocket-programI’m heading off to WorldCon this morning. I haven’t been since 2000 in Chicago, mostly because of the kids and the difficulty of travelling. Now, of course, the kids are older, and this year it’s just down the road in San Antonio. I’m definitely looking forward to it, but at the same time, I have to admit I’m a little disappointed in the programming.

You see, in all my years of going to SF/F conventions, I’ve often attended the writer-centric panels. They tended to be split between the craft itself and a dozen different ways of asking the question, “How do I get published?” I’m still interested in the panels discussing the craft of writing, but I’m no longer interested in the panels on getting published. I chose to go indie, so I’m not particularly interested in tips on crafting an agent query letter.

But I figured that with self-publishing (or indie publishing as the cool kids say) on the rise, there would be some panels talking about that. Well, no, it turns out there aren’t any. The closest it comes is what looks to be a defense of traditional publishing with all the agents, editors, and publishers holding the line and a separate discussion on the transition from print books to e-books, though not about the business changes that represents.

Meanwhile, I have seen estimates that anywhere from 10%- 30% of the SF stories being read today are by independent authors like myself. A quick glance at Amazon’s top 20 SF books shows me that about half of them are from indie authors. Mind you, this is across all SF books, not just SF e-books. Amazon represents about half of the US book market, so even if you cut that ten of twenty in half, you still have about 25% of those top sellers coming from the indie world. (A brief note to statisticians: I realized this is a very rough estimate, but there are no real, solid numbers available on this anywhere.)

Apparently, whoever did the programming for this year’s WorldCon didn’t get the memo. I can’t entirely blame them though. Most of their main guests and headliners come from the ranks of traditional publishing. This is sure to affect their mindset. Then again, with the commercial success of Wool, it might not be that long before an indie shows up on the fan-based Hugo ballot.

Still, there’s plenty to see and do, so I’m looking forward to it.

As for the rest of the writing, August was something of a crap-fest, particularly towards the end. I have special needs children, and their needs became, well… extra special this month. The last Friday before school, we put two and two together and have made a change to one of the medications, and that is already paying some dividends. And of course, they’re now officially back in school, granting me hours of kid-free time each day to do productive work.

And what work have I done so far? I confess much of this week has been spent on catching up on some administrivia that had nothing to do with writing. I sold off an old flatbed trailer. I dealt with some insurance issues for my mother. And quite lamely, I paid the water bill just in time to keep it from being disconnected. But I’m at least gearing up again. Here’s the current state of various projects:

Shattered: Draft done and lying fallow for the next few months.

Stone Killer: I’m about 40% of the way through at 32,000 words. I’m hoping to wrap it up sometime in September.

Hell Bent: I’m still waiting on the rest of my beta feedback. I’ve gotten three out of the six so far, and while it’s generally been good, I’ve got a pacing problem in the first third that I haven’t figured out how to fix yet.

Debts of My Fathers: It’s still in edits. I found this particularly hard to work on with the kids home in summer. Drafting new words was easier by comparison, because I could do that on my laptop. In fact, much of the new text for Shattered and Stone Killer was written in the early morning, down in the kitchen, while I cooked large batches of my picky son’s favorite food. Alas, I have to edit in my office where I can spread out with my printed copy and hand-written notes. Long-story short: I did not get much good editing time in my office this summer.

Oaths of My Fathers: It’s still in pre-draft limbo. I will attempt to get started on it once I had Debts of My Fathers off to the beta readers, and I will want to finish it before I send Debts to the copyeditor.

You may note that I left the dates off those. Well, they’ve slipped since my original estimates in June – I’m just not sure how much yet. Debts of My Fathers is the priority since I have readers asking for it, and I still hope to get that out around the end of the year or the beginning of 2014. Hell Bent, which is actually further along will very likely wait until after Debts of My Fathers is out the door. As one friend recently said, I’ve primed the pump for chocolate, so I need to deliver more chocolate before I send out the mint.

That’s it for now.

Shattered Complete

shattered_vaseSo… I finished off my fifth novel this morning, or at least the first draft of it. It’s a mystery, tentatively titled Shattered. I wrote it mostly as an experiment, and I did learn several things from it. It will likely see publication sometime next year, but given the genre difference, I will probably publish it under a different author name.

First, the vital stats: It came in short – quite short – at 51,551 words. As I’ve often said regarding NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words is not a novel. Well, at least, it’s not a novel by sci-fi, urban fantasy, or epic fantasy standards. My two published novels are 90k and 85k words long, and even then, they’re on the short end of SF. However, many mysteries tend to be much shorter, in the 60-70k range. This draft is fairly rough – as most of my drafts are – so I expect it to bulk up about 7-10k during my first pass of edits. That’s a typical expansion in actual word count, though obviously it’s a larger percentage. However, this draft has a few notes like “[Whoops, forgot to mention the thing about the ammunition and the lock and the loading procedure. Put that in during edits.]” That’s 500 words right there, and that note is not exactly rare.

What did I learn?

For starters, outlines are still not my thing. It sucked my energy for writing the actual draft, and in the end, I didn’t follow it all that closely. For the 3 days and 5,000 words I put into the outline, it didn’t really help me much at all. I think all I really needed were my destination and waypoints, and once I had those in my head, the rest didn’t really matter.

Then there’s the matter of writing in a completely new genre. Yes, I can do it. I didn’t particularly feel the passion for it, but I was able to sit down pretty much every day and crank out the words. I didn’t need to light the magic candle or wait for the Spirit of the Muse to descend upon me and fill me with her divine inspiration. Nope, it was mostly a matter of putting my butt in the chair and pounding out the words on the keyboard. I think that just comes from the experience of past novels. I did pick up a couple of minor productivity tricks, and I’ll see if they work out again on the next book.

Also, the fact that it was a mystery pointed out a couple of specific lessons I should be able to carry elsewhere. First, character’s motives need to be believable, apparent, but not shouted out at the reader. Apparently some of my background characters have been a little two-dimensional, so I’ll be keeping this in mind going forward. And second, it’s hard but not impossible to spread out all the pieces of the climax to where they’re not obvious and then pull them all together for the big “Aha!” moment. I think I had an intuitive grasp of this already, but doing it in the mystery genre made the act of doing so much more explicit.

But probably my biggest take-away today is that my reaction has been decidedly business-like. I remember the first time I finished off a complete novel draft. I was euphoric for days, but with each novel completed, the emotional reaction had been less. This time, it was pretty much just, “Check that one off the list… what’s next?”

So yeah, what actually is next? I’m finishing off my edits to Debts of My Fathers and getting it off to beta readers. Then I’m doing the post-beta edits to Hell Bent and drafting its sequel, Stone Killer. Then it’s post-beta edits to Debts of My Fathers and drafting Oaths of My Fathers. And somewhere in there, both Hell Bent and Debts of My Fathers will go through copyedits and production to be released late this year.

So, it’s back to the word mines…