300 Pages and Counting

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At a certain point, when we defy our own notion of success, we stop and take stock of our achievements. Today I hit a milestone that I was certain would not be coming anytime soon: 300 pages.

When I hit 200 pages on a separate manuscript last year, it was one of the most memorable accomplishments in my career as a writer. Never, not once before, had I achieved such a monumental goal. With 300 pages under my belt, I now turn my gaze to 400 and wonder, inevitably, how the hell I’m going to get there?

Thank you to everyone who has supported my creative process; I truly hope to have good news somewhere in the nearby future!

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270 Pages Later

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This week marks several milestones. A birthday, a wedding, and now a page-count record breaker! This evening I reached 270 pages on my current manuscript, a number that surpasses the previous record-holder (my last manuscript was 256 pages) by a healthy 14 pages. What’s even more exciting is that I’m not finished with the current manuscript; checking my location against my roadmap for this manuscript suggests to me that I’m around 2/3 complete, overall.

I expect this current manuscript to be finished near the 350 page mark, if I’m lucky! That would be such an amazing feat, especially since I originally thought that this project wouldn’t be more than 250 pages long—and that was back when I also thought the first manuscript would be around 200 pages instead of the 256 pages it eventually became. Looking back, I can’t help but appreciate that this has all been accomplished in a little over 17 months.

To offer some perspective, I was struck by inspiration for this project in the wake of publishing SOMEONE TO REMEMBER ME last February. I wanted to create a very strong, very opinionated female lead and the notion more or less fell into place with another idea that I had been kicking around for ages: to write a more contemporary, more dangerous book that blended fiction and nonfiction, as well as the possibilities of fantasy with the starkness of reality.

I wanted to tackle terrorism and fanaticism; the dangers of the police state and the risks of the unbridled revolution. And the current project went from being planned to being written. Quite abruptly I began writing about Sarah al Villete, the terrorist waging a war against the world’s last government on the world’s last habitable continent. More for her personal lust for revenge rather than the benefit of humanity. Hundreds of pages later, I’m regularly examining the weary questions of war and faith—of what happens when belief clashes with the unwieldy nature of reality.

Originally, I wanted just one big book. I tend to go on a rant against the saturation of the Fantasy and Science-Fiction genres by series. It felt, to me, that whenever I picked up a book in that aisle it was always book three or four in the this-or-that series. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good series as much as anybody but sometimes you want one great, mind-blowing book. Not three or four. Just every once in a while, you know?

So I endeavored to write that type of book and, unsurprisingly, it turned into a total beast on its own. So here I am on part two of a three part mega-book that currently sits at 526 pages and 293,622 words. And it’s worth mentioning that those aren’t book pages—they’re freaking single-spaced, 8 and 1/2 by 11 pages which is sooo much more impressive than those tiny little double-spaced pages you get in normal books. Seriously, go take a peek in that book on your desk—I guarantee you that sucker is at least 1.5 or double space font.

But I digress.

This is a week of milestones, today included. I’m glad that this goes out to at least a handful of people who can appreciate the steady and onward march of creative progress. May your projects continue as swimmingly as mine have.

The Ecstasy of Creation

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“On the evening of October 1st, 2012—I completed the largest manuscript that I’ve ever written. At 257 single-spaced pages, at 146,322 words, this is the most ambitious project that I’ve ever executed. After almost 7.5 months it is finally finished, and while there’s still so much work to do (editing, revising, editing again), I’m so grateful to everyone who’s asked about the process and posted encouraging comments to Facebook when it seemed like each of my posts was an update on page numbers and word count. Tonight, I rest. And then tomorrow? Back to work.”

 

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The Next Big Thing

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Shortly after the release of “Someone to Remember Me” I went through the writer’s equivalent of postpartum depression. My baby was out in the world, warmly received by friends and family—though not monstrously successful in that “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” kind of way. In retrospect, I could’ve been a little more generous with the vampires. I pushed out an update back in April that addressed the most glaring editorial shortcomings and I have more planned…eventually. For all intents and purposes, I continued forward in my writing and considered where to go from there. “Someone” marked the first time I’d ever actually finished a project from draft to publication and I was enormously proud of it. I was lost in the immediacy of it’s release and subsequent update. What next? Did I go back to former, existing projects and force them through to completion? I took stock of what was on the drawing board for a few days and nearly went back to work on my space-opera that’s been sitting at the 50 page mark for two years. If any of you are reading this and we’ve had this discussion before, I apologize for the repetition but 50 pages is my personal kiss of death. It’s where the writing typically gets real; where the sheen on the original idea wears off and I have to figure out how to fully, fairly, and enjoyably realize the entire project without losing interest. I don’t know if any other writers have this problem with their manuscripts but I do.

I can’t tell you exactly how I settled on what I’m working on now, which is a wholly new project, but if I had to take a guess I would say that it came as a result of Eight, the lead female character from “Someone to Remember Me.” Eight’s most telling line in the whole book is when she shouts “I’m nobody’s slave!” at the top of her lungs near the book’s end. (Kudos to my stepdad for slogging it through the end. Good on you, champ.) And in the days after letting her into the wild an image of a woman with a gun and a sword popped into my head and I knew she was going to make a ton of trouble for someone. That was the genesis of Sarah al Villete, the main character of my newest book. Unlike so many of the other characters I’ve written, Sarah is an anti-hero in the extreme. She is what we would classify as a terrorist, a person committing hit-and-run attacks against the standing government. In a nutshell, she gets stranded with a bunch of innocent people who are wrongly accused of being her accomplices. So it’s her choice to let them be captured and killed or to take responsibility for them. The best “book blurb” I’ve written is the following:

For two thousand years the Union of Man’s rule has gone uncontested, but now the unthinkable has happened. Sarah al Villete is leading a crusade of revenge against humanity’s last government, and the authorities are desperate to capture her.

When her latest act of terrorism goes awry, Sarah becomes the reluctant steward of innocent fugitives. Fleeing the Union’s overwhelming might, Sarah and her companions are confronted with the mysteries of the Union—secrets that could help Sarah topple an already frail civilization.

I outlined this story with a level of detail that I’ve never attempted before. I created a rough outline of “essential” events in a chronological order. Then I beefed it up with cool and interesting scenes and ideas that occurred to at the time. In the first week alone back in March I wrote 30 pages. About a month later (after the surgery to remove the golf-ball sized cyst from my right wrist) I slammed through the 50 page mark. By May I was at the 80 page mark. That was where I hit my writer’s block that usually occurs around page 50. For whatever reason my creative impulses ground to a halt, none of it seemed interesting anymore, and I wondered what I was doing and if I could make this work. I blame vacation and reading for getting me out of that funk, because here we are at the start of July and I just crossed the 150 page threshold. By comparison, my first novel Someone to Remember Me is close to 110 pages with lots of extra dead/empty space in single space, 12 point Times New Roman font in my manuscript file. (In the ebook format it comes in around 240 pages.)

For this novel I’m experimenting with new formatting. Read as: I don’t use chapter numbers or names, and there is no break in the narrative except for the name of the character in bold that the narrative switches to. I’m describing this book as a crossover between the Game of Throne multi-POV narrative structure and the revenge-centric plot from V for Vendetta in a book that is ultimately a tragedy scifi/fantasy novel. Though, atmospherically it is a much more modern novel than anything else I’ve written, since there are cars and cities and cellphones.

That about does it for this particular update. My blog has been upsettingly empty as of late, so I hope this post kindles some renewed interest on the part of any readers lingering in the shadows. That’s all for now, I’m off to Comic-Con 2012 tomorrow. Pictures, maybe? Definitely.

5 Tips to Get Your Writing Started

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Writing, believe it or not, is easy. Are the first words that hit the paper automatic gold? Nope. Far from it. But like any other talent or skill, writing is something you get better at the more you try and fail at it. Today’s post is about the planning stage—the things you can do before you sit down to write your next book that will help it hit the top of the New York Times Bestseller List twice as fast. (Editor’s Note: This is hyperbole. I’ve never been to the top of that particular list, so results will vary.) These are a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the past year that I think make a big difference in my writing that add to my overall feelings of accomplishment when I finish a project.

1. Pick Your Poison

In my experience there are two ways to begin the process and these are to either a) plan nothing or b) plan everything. This is a gross oversimplification but it gets the general point across extremely well. Chances are that you, as a writer, will bounce between these two as you grow and experiment with your own style. Speaking personally, I used to hate planning my books. Or I would plan only a fraction of the work as a whole, as I tried to allow the spirit of the story to guide my process. As I undertook more ambitious projects, which were namely books in a series, planning became increasingly crucial to the long-term viability of the books. What I’ve discovered is that, like building a house with many rooms, you need detailed blueprints for a book. Without them, the whole undertaking falls apart leaving behind an absolute mess.

What I found as I undertook more and more ambitious projects (specifically books in a series) is that I would lose track of the many things I wanted to explore. Character interactions, particular scenes, powerful events…all those little details that kindled my original interest in that project. Since then I’ve moved closer to the planning side of things, though I try to leave room for a lot of spontaneity.

2. Outline. Brainstorm. Outline Again. (Repeat as Necessary)

Planning has some serious benefits. It allows you to document what you want to explore. Character interactions, major events, minor details…all the elements that kindled your initial interest in that project. Going back to our analogy, outlining your story is equivalent to creating a blueprint of your book. I accomplish this by listing major plot points, punctuating them with character development and world building. When you read the term ‘world building’ you might say, ‘well I’m not writing the next Game of Thrones–or fantasy for that matter–so I can assume people know all about my world.’

Tell them anyways. When you take for granted that people know what grass looks like, or what the beach smells like, or how the mist feels, you’re only hurting yourself. Take the opportunity of outlining to include the details that interest you, the scenes that you want to write. Forget plot for five minutes and write something you don’t think is exactly necessary but would be fun to include. I recently wrote a scene where two characters sit outside a barn and gaze at the stars. Does it bring them any closer to the climax of the novel? No. Does it advance the plot? Not really. Was it something that screamed at me to write it for a week? Heck yes. You, as the writer, are the first and most importance member of your audience. Write to yourself first and to others second.

Dare to stray from your outline. While a major advantage of planning is that I get all of my thoughts into one document, keep in mind that this reference document is a living, breathing entity. In life, few things go strictly according to plan. Let your literature reflect that. Allow your outline to reflect that. Add the unexpected, the dangerous, and the frightening as it occurs to you. Keep what works, remove what doesn’t. I often dare myself to stray from my outline. To push the boundaries of my story in creative and exciting ways. I invite you to do the same.

3. Create Characters Who Don’t Always Get Along.

Coming back to the realities of the world, you won’t always get along with everyone you meet. It’s an unfortunate but wonderful truth that you can apply to your writing. If you’re writing six books and a movie and your characters get along from day one, how the hell are you going to fill all those empty pages with meaningful, witty, and emotional text? Remember how Hermione didn’t get along with Harry and Ron until they saved her from a mountain troll? I call this Mountain Troll Rule. Relationships take work, since the most important ones usually start off on the wrong foot.

Giving characters oppositional attitudes and dispositions means you’ve given them something to squabble over. Divisions to impede their ability to work together. Differences they’ll have to work past in order to win at the end of the book. Reflecting the complexities of interpersonal communications in the men and women you create makes for good reading, so pile on the dysfunction.

I often purposefully design oppositional characters. For instance, I wrote an ultra-religious character specifically to conflict with with another character who is, at best, a pessimistic agnostic. Or, another time, I wrote a very duty-bound character in opposition to a flippant opportunist. Life and literature are regularly filled with binaries since people rarely trust one another at first sight, and would sooner argue rather than consider the opposing viewpoint. I try to reflect this in my writing as often as possible. In my experience, I’ve found that it adds multiple layers to the ending my stories, whether they end in the highest triumph or the lowest defeat.

4. Take Breaks. Lots of Them.

Know when you need a break from writing. I believe that being exhausted is the kiss of death to your creativity, so learn to recognize when you need to take a step back and do other things for a while. During these breaks I highly recommend daydreaming. Seriously, I don’t know how I’d survive if I couldn’t daydream. I let my creative impulses go on safari for a few minutes, brainstorming all the stuff I’ve yet to try but long for the opportunity to do so. Oddly enough, this tip relates directly to the first, which was to plan. Keep in mind that planning is great and all, but remember that an idea that just pops into your head is worth as much as one that you’ve already written down.

5. Have Fun.

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. There will be times when you write something that you don’t like. It’ll feel clunky and awkward. Your general opinion of it will be that you don’t like it but it’s necessary to the plot, to the characters, or to some other broader excuse. It took me a long time to figure out a good answer to these conundrums, but I’m proud of my simple-yet-amazing solution: toss it out.

If you don’t like what you’ve written you need to rework it. Revise it. Redo it. Rewrite it. Do whatever it takes to make what you’re writing something to be proud of. Something you can’t wait to share. Readers can spot passages and chapters that the author obviously felt the need to grind through. Don’t let that happen to you. I’m not saying it doesn’t still happen to me, but the sooner you get comfortable with trashing something you don’t like, the sooner you’re writing something you love.

As always, I appreciate your attention and readership. Feel free to drop me a line or post in the comments with any questions!

Brendan