Monday, November 28, 2011

The right amount of research

I like to learn things. I am creative and curious.

This makes my draw toward writing straight-forward. World creation is some awesome stuff -- even when the world you're creating mostly overlaps with our own.

There are very important reasons to do research. I once started a Podiobook set in the far future which centered on the diamond industry -- specifically slaves forced to mine diamonds. The problem? It was supposed to be a campy light-hearted scifi tale. It succeeded overall in that regard, but I found the whole "diamond mine" premise ridiculous.

We can already manufacture diamonds a higher grade than those that can be mined. Bigger, more perfect diamonds are manufactured, not mined. This is with today's technology. Set it in the far future, and any diamond mine that doesn't lead to a lab where diamonds are churned out just comes across as false. I just couldn't sustain my disbelief.

I value some research as an aid to realism. However, neither I nor you are likely to ever become an expert at all of the technology we're likely to add to our novels. There's a place for research and realism, but there's also an expectation the reader will allow us to get away with some things. Suspension of belief is to be expected, though if you abuse it you lose your audience. It needs to be realistic, but after a certain point you reach a place of diminishing returns.

I've been doing research for the edit phase of "The Creeps". Frankly, I have been getting distracted by it.

I am not expecting my work to be awesome because of the scientific accuracy. It's a zombie novel for goodness sakes. All I need is enough accuracy that it doesn't distract from the characters and story. This is all anyone truly needs.

If NaNoWriMo teaches you anything, it is this: When in doubt make it up. Above all, keep your deadlines. It needs to ship before anyone can complain about it. The first few are usually crap, so move fast so you can start being awesome.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The difference between the 2010 and 2011 NaNoWriMos for me

This was my second NaNoWriMo, and my second success.

There were a lot of differences between the two years for me.

Last year I had one child. This year we have two.

Last year my wife watched the kid while I worked. This year there was none of that, I wrote on the bus and after the kids were in bed.

Last year it was a Fantasy YA with a lot of magic and fae creatures. This year was SciFi/Horror with zombies and a lot of death.

Last year I had a plot and a plan when I began. This year I was totally "pantsing" it, and only realized I could add a plot -- by way of a McGuffin -- after I had written 50k words.

Last year I didn't listen to my intuition when it told me the antagonist should be young -- I acknowledged it after the 50k was written and I am now facing a larger rewrite. This year I can slip the plot in to what I have fairly easily.

Last year I would write a scene and be stuck -- sometimes for the rest of the day. This year things just kept flowing -- I sometimes needed to force myself to stop when it was just getting too late.

Here's the big ones:

Last year it felt like I was a computer guy experimenting with writing a novel. This year I felt like an amateur novelist growing in my craft that just also happens to have techy experience.

Last year, after NaNoWriMo I worked on some other tech-related projects. I never got around to editing the novel -- even though I loved the world, characters and story. This year I have acknowledged I don't have any out-standing techy projects anymore. I am going to finish the 2011 novel, and I am looking forward to editing the 2010 novel.

I used to be concerned I wasn't doing enough to "sharpen the saw" in my spare time. Now writing and editing are seen as "sharpening the saw" -- just the "author" saw and not the "computer guy" saw.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Hello. My name is Steven. My name is common enough that I spent some time searching for a usable pseudonym. (Really, I've been to parties -- not family parties mind you -- where I wasn't the only Steven Black on the guest list.)

I am an amateur writer. I like to write. I have a day job. I would like writing to be my day job, but I am willing to wait until I can write my stories for my day job before I leave my current job.

I've settled on using the name "S. W. Black" for my writing. I don't know that I'm happy with it. I don't know that I'll actually end up using that name for all my writing. It is what I'm using for now, though. We'll see whether I use it when it gets time to actually publish something. Considering my past two NaNoWriMo novels have been a YA Fantasy (with fairies and magic) and a SciFi/Horror (with zombies) it may make sense to draw some separation between some of my work.

I am a polytheist and this will come through in my writing. Not preachy, mind you, (I don't pretend to have any particular answers), but my characters are non-homogenous. They're not all straight, they're not all the same ethnic background, they're not all the same religion, etc. The goal is to be varied and realistic. Whether I succeed or not on that account makes the difference between whether I write crap with mostly (or totally) stale lifeless characters or whether every character comes to life for the reader. I won't know my success on that account until I get something edited to a point I can start looking to get it published.

I try to be realistic. Once I think I have something edited to the point I can start shopping it around (since both novels I've written so far have been for NaNoWriMo they need serious editing) I expect to get a lot of rejection slips. I'm hoping I can get 100 or more a year for the first book, then move on to shopping around the second book.

Specifically, the order is:
  1. Edit a book to a point I feel comfortable shopping it around. This means one required rewrite, followed by a brief friends/family read and some additional edits. Included in this, any NaNoWriMo novel meant for an adult market needs a wordcount bumped up to at least 75K (from the NaNoWriMo "winning" count of 50K).
  2. Start shopping the novel around. Shop one novel a year. Try to get 100 rejections or more in a year. Once I get to this stage, perhaps I can find someone else who is about to start shopping their novel around, then we can see who can get the most rejections in a year.
  3. File and ignore most of the rejections. When someone mentions specific advice that makes sense take that advice -- but in the next novel. Unless someone wants to buy the novel currently being shopped around it gets no additional edits. Previous novels never get additional work -- unless someone wants to buy them.
  4. While shopping the last novel, work on a new novel. Get it rewriten and edited. That will become the novel being shopped around the following year.
  5. There are no sequels until the first in the series is bought. Until someone bites on the first of a series, any work on a sequel is a waste of time.
  6. At any time if I need I break I can write a short story. The caveat is that the short story needs to tie in to either the novel currently being shopped around or the current work-in-progress. The short story becomes a method to bring people in to an existing world of mine. The short story becomes a marketing tool and has value even when given away for free.
  7. Don't spend too long shopping short stories around. If they don't have buyers give them away, either as text or read-aloud.
  8. Keep it up. Write every day and work on increasing the rejection count.
  9. I should expect it to take at least five years of solid writing before any of my novels are actually sellable. It might be less. It might be more. Maybe the fifth novel I write won't suck. Maybe I'll actually be a real paid novelist before I get my 475th rejection letter. We shall see.
 That is my plan. It incorporates advice I've heard from a number of places over the years. I think it is realistic.