Category Archives: Writing Process

World Building, or How I Always Seem To Fail at NaNoWriMo.

Like thousands of writers across the country, I participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month. It’s an event that happens every November where writers dedicate themselves to beginning and finishing an entire novel. The general target is 50,000 words or more.

Also like thousands of writers across the country, I came nowhere near finishing the novel I started.

That’s life. But that doesn’t mean I’m stopping.

I’ve had this particular story in my head for several years now. It originally began as an outlet to write about a few of my roleplaying characters and get back into their heads when I lived two and a half hours from the nearest game. But it evolved into something much bigger as I outlined it, scrapped it, outlined it again, trashed it, completely revisited its story, outlined it again, pushed it to the back burner, dusted it off, changed the characters, and outlined it one more time.

Starting this past November, I picked it up again. The past year has mostly been spent writing and submitting short stories (five of them are still circulating out there, just waiting to be picked up), so I figured it was a good time to work on something a little bit longer.

I finished the outline within the first few days of November. This book, the first part of my fantasy series, was going to be a 33-chapter story, including prologue. Figuring an average of around 2,000 words per chapter, that would put this book at around 66,000 words. Certainly not the longest, but it seemed like a decent target for a first try.

Yeah, I didn’t finish the manuscript. Honestly, I barely even started it.

I started writing the prologue for the story on the first or second day of the month; I can’t remember exactly. I even marked the occasion with a rare Instagram post:

So it begins. #NaNoWriMo #amwriting #prologue #writersofinstagram #fantasywriter

A post shared by Ryan L. Haddock (@wordsbyryan) on

 

That image is no longer accurate, unfortunately. Within a few days of starting the prologue, I had an idea for a completely different start to the book — one that I liked much better than the one I was writing. So I did what I always do: completely scrap it and start over from the beginning.

So typical.

I’m a few pages into Chapter One now, and things are going much better. I adjusted the outline to accommodate the new prologue, and everything kind of fell into place from there. I have more confidence in the story I’m trying to tell. My cast of characters is larger and more diverse, and individual characters are more well-rounded than they were in my previous effort. There is more symmetry to the story, and it feels a little more complete on its own. Though it is the first part in a series, I want it to also be its own self-contained story. It may be asking a lot, but I envision the same thing for every entry in this series. It will continue the story that came before it while still telling one all in its own. Theoretically, a new reader could pick up the second or third book and still enjoy it without feeling like they were missing anything.

Chapter One of this story is mostly spent establishing the protagonist’s “ordinary world” — the daily life he experiences before I absolutely destroy it in Chapter Two and really get the story going. Since the first chapter is mostly setup for the rest of the story, it’s a great opportunity for world-building. This is where I get to weave in all those little details that make the world of this story seem more… real. It’s the background of the movie that’s playing in my head as I write it. No worries, I don’t go crazy with description. I keep it fairly simple. What I see when I’m writing it is probably slightly different than what someone else will see when they’re reading it, and I want to allow for that. It’s why I’ll never describe exactly what characters look like or what clothes they’re wearing unless it is distinct and unique or somehow integral to the plot. Maybe one or two vague adjectives, but that will be it. I love learning how other people interpret things.

As I was writing the other night, an image appeared in my mind. I was describing where the protagonist and his father live, a small hovel outside of a large, walled city, when I began to see shipwrecks. Dozens of shipwrecks. Airships a thousand feet long once crewed by hundreds of men, crashed and partially buried in the sand dunes of the desert outside this great city. The image stayed with me, and it became a part of the story. The first of the crashed ships were remnants of a war that occurred hundreds of years before the main story. Latter additions were castoffs from a more recent war, one referenced in the story itself that took place just a decade before. The empire at the heart of the story began to use that land for an airship graveyard, and even the wall of the city behind it was constructed partially from materials recovered from the shipwrecks, giving it a distinct look that makes it instantly recognizable to seasoned travelers. It also served as a wonderful base of operations for my protagonist and his father, a retired engineer and shipwright who loves to tinker.

It began as me simply describing the terrain. It ended with me creating a small bit of history for this boy and his family, as well as for the country and the world around them.

This is why I love writing so much. I might begin a story, but it often ends up telling itself. I just choose the words.

Carefully.

Probably a bit too carefully.

Which explains why it took me a month to finish a 2,500-word prologue. Oh well. Less time spent on editing, at least.


The Byline

You may be unaware of this, but when I started this blog six years ago, I wanted it to be a writing blog. As a matter of fact, the blog’s byline is “From writer to published author . . . and the long, winding road between.”

Over the years, though, I’ve written less about writing and more about pretty much everything else. That is for two distinct reasons:

First, my writing life hasn’t been all that interesting. I’ve written a handful of short stories here and there, and I’ve made progress in outlining a few novels. Outside of that, though, there really hasn’t been much to tell. I’ve been writing this entire time, but I haven’t done a thing with any of it. And that’s mostly because of the next reason.

Second, my non-writing life got a little too interesting. My family and I spent years living in crisis mode. First, there was Liam’s birth and its many complications. Then there was the time that it looked like our marriage might come to an early and unexpected end. We made it through, but we were anything but unscathed. We thought that escape was our only option, so I packed up my family and moved us all to Nashville to chase a job opportunity and a fresh start.

While we were there, I continued writing, determined to use the extra time I had to really make something of it. That didn’t happen. It wasn’t the happiest of times for us. I was constantly stressed about money, and the addition of Dexter meant we were adjusting to having a new baby again. Almost all of our weekends were spent traveling to visit friends and family, leaving little time for anything else.

There were times when we felt like we were drowning. Still, we kept on. 

It wasn’t all bad memories and longing, though; that’s just how I remember it most days. I am nothing if not an unreliable narrator.

I started writing about Rory’s birth on this blog last year, and I intend to complete that story, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Nevertheless, he brought us home.

Becoming a published author just wasn’t the priority it once was for me. I was too busy surviving. I was taking things day by day.

One of my many faults is that I tend to be a short term thinker. I make plans for here and now without much regard for the future. I solve the problems that are in front of me, not the ones that could potentially come up months or years from now. This kind of thinking has both caused me problems and served me well. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge that I should plan for the future; it’s more that I trust in my ability to solve problems as they arise rather than work them out with a detailed plan ahead of time. This is funny to me because I am also someone who relies on routines and checklists to keep my daily life straight. In addition to being an unreliable narrator, it seems I am also a walking contradiction. Surprise, surprise.

But we are in a comfortable place now. We’re back home in the city we love. I have a job that is both reassuring and fulfilling. We aren’t in the financial straits of yesteryear.

Things are good. The pendulum swung back.

So now it’s time for me to get serious about this whole “published author” thing.

A little over a year ago, I started submitting short stories to literary journals and fiction magazines. The first one I submitted, a novella titled “It Starts and Ends with You,” was rejected by the first lit journal I submitted it to. (And the second. And the third. But that’s another story.) The thing is, it took almost six months to get that rejection. If I was going to be published some time in the next thirty years, I was going to have to change my submission strategy.

A year later, I am still an as-yet-to-published author. But now I have no less than five short stories out for submission at a time while I work on something a little larger. Plus, I always keep an eye out for short story contests and calls for submissions to serve as writing prompts. Even if I don’t make the deadlines, I still end up with the story.

My byline suggests that I am on my way to becoming a published author. After a long sabbatical, I can finally say that is true again.


That Sinking Feeling.

Let’s just start from the beginning:

While outlining my Christmas story (which will obviously have to be for Christmas 2014 now, but that’s another matter), I decided that it would have four parts. Part one would include everything I had written previously, and parts two through four would progress it exactly the way I had originally planned. I figured that it would be somewhere in the 20,000-word range, making it my first official novella.

Then it happened.

I had a sinking feeling. A feeling that I was overwriting and over-explaining—something I tend to do in first drafts. A feeling that maybe things could be a little bit simpler than they were—that the story might be better if it was a little more concise.

The feeling that the 25 pages I had just finished writing might better serve the story as a paragraph, possibly two.

Sigh.

It’s been a few days since I had that epiphany, and I still haven’t decided exactly what I want to do yet. I don’t want to cut the entire thing out since there is quite a bit of character development in there and I’m not sure I can put it elsewhere in the story without it just feeling shoehorned in. However, after reading through the entire first part, it’s repetitive and predictable.

Would it be entirely unwriterly of me to flip a coin and go from there? #firstdraftproblems


The Laundromat.

Every author has their special writing space. For some, it is a quaint coffee shop just outside of downtown—a place where a dozen hopeful authors come every Saturday afternoon to bang out another three to four pages between sips of their overpriced yet decidedly mediocre chai tea latte. For others, it is a special room in their home where the only interruptions come in the form of Facebook updates and dogs that simply can’t wait a minute longer to go outside and fertilize the lawn. Some writing spaces are remarkable areas—a solid oak desk and an overstuffed chair surrounded by shelves and shelves of first editions. Others, less so.

Mine, of late, has been the latter.

Our apartment has a laundry facility on site, but there is no way in hell I will ever use it. It’s in the basement of one of the apartment buildings, and if there are any lights in the room, they don’t seem to be functioning. Only half of the machines work at any given time, and I believe they were probably manufactured sometime between the two world wars. I have had experience with laundromats before, but never as a sole means of doing laundry. Even when we didn’t have a washer and dryer, it was always easy to take a load over to my parents’ house whenever they would have us over for dinner. But, alas, a year ago we moved two hours away from our nearest family members; popping over to wash some clothes wasn’t really an option anymore.

A few months ago, I found a laundromat about ten minutes away from our apartment that had longer hours than others that were closer. It is also the only laundromat in the area where many of the machines accept credit/debit cards—rather convenient when you don’t want to carry around ten dollars worth of quarters just to have clean clothes for the week. Add in free Wi-Fi and it becomes a no-brainer.

I started taking my laptop with me when I was working on the first chapter of One Less Hero. Knowing that I would be sitting in one space for two hours with very little to do, I decided to try and use the time for something more productive than attempting to decode what was happening on the Spanish soap opera playing on the TV (though tele-novellas are fascinating, let me tell you). I breezed through the final draft of that chapter, and the same would be true when I started working on the second chapter a couple weeks later. Sitting in that place surrounded by people of all ages from all walks of life, it was easy to tell the story of the little guys who pulled together and took down The Man (from a certain point of view). After I finished that chapter, I decided to keep bringing my laptop and use the time to further my writing ambitions, Frederico and his secret agent mistress be damned.

Lately, I’ve been working on my Christmas story, That Old Silk Hat, while waiting for our clothes to finish. With what I have so far and what I have outlined, I think this will be a novella somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 to 25,000 words. It’s been a lot of fun to write so far. The best way I can describe it is a Christmas story in the tradition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It features a cast of children, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be a bedtime story. This one goes to some pretty dark places, and I’m very excited with how well it’s progressing. Given a few more loads of laundry, it’s possible this one might even be finished when I expect it to be.

As always, however, don’t hold me to that.

After I finish the Christmas story, I have another novella lined up that I started working on a couple years ago but dropped once I went back to school; with the full-time workload, it was difficult to make time to write. This one is a western (a genre I don’t often associate with) with a touch of horror (a bit more familiar with that one). There’s also a story about a 19th century magician whose tricks turn out to be touched with a little something more. What makes it even more fun is that the magician story is loosely tied to That Old Silk Hat. When you build a world, you build a mythology; part of the fun of being a writer is populating that mythology with the stuff of legend.

You know, I just realized I wrote this entire post without once making some kind of correlation between writing and airing one’s dirty laundry. Eh, maybe next time.


The Space Between.

Right now, I am entering what I have just decided to call “The Space Between.” It’s the space between projects, that all-too-short time period between finishing one thing and beginning another. I finally finished the second chapter of One Less Hero, entitled “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and it has made it through my rather ridiculous editing process for the most part unscathed. All that is left is incorporating my edits into the final draft and then publishing the finished product. I’ve set a publication date of Monday, November 11, and I think I’m in a position to keep that deadline. It actually flows pretty well for a draft that contains various pieces from five very different drafts written over the last eight months.

[Note: Not all of the chapters are going to be like that one. I always knew what I wanted to happen in it, but I could never quite figure out exactly how I wanted it to happen. The final version is an amalgamation of several different ideas. Like I said above, I’m slightly amazed at how well it seems to flow considering how it came about. Of course, I could be completely biased and it might be a complete piece of crap that is all over the place thematically. I’ll leave that for the readers to decide.]

So Chapter 2 is finished, and it’s time for me to move onto my next endeavor. Unfortunately for my free time, I’ve already decided what that next endeavor will be. And the holiday season is the perfect time to be writing it.

Last year around this time, I had just moved to Nashville and I was living in a cheap hotel with cable and a spotty wireless connection. I was missing my family, and one of the things I did to fill that time (aside from watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and Restaurant: Impossible—don’t judge) was writing. One Less Hero was one of the projects to come out of that hotel stay, and it heavily influenced a novelette I’m shopping around called It Starts and Ends with You. However, the story I focused on the most while I was actually staying in the hotel room was a Christmas-themed story that started with a retelling of Frosty the Snowman and made a sharp 90-degree turn after that. I’m very excited about it, mostly because a Christmas story is one of those things I never really thought I’d be writing. They always seem too sugary and tired and predictable, but this one is none of those things; it’s very much me. It’s also a little bit someone else, which is another reason why I’m excited to write it.

I’ve made no secret of my love of the work of Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my biggest inspirations as a writer, and I still constantly point anyone and everyone to this commencement speech and dare them not to be floored. The Christmas story I’m about to start working on again is probably the closest I will get to writing a Gaiman story. It’s a little bit real-world, a little bit fantasy, a little bit horror, a little bit heart-wrenching, and a little bit allegory. Gaiman himself has paid tribute to one of his favorite writers, fantasy staple Michael Moorcock, in numerous short stories over his writing career, so I feel no shame in doing the same.

Generally, the Space Between is a pretty short time period for me; sometimes it can be measured in minutes. I think I’m going to give myself a few days for this one, then dive in headfirst. And maybe, just maybe, I can actually finish this story before the holiday that inspired it arrives.


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