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When to Walk Away

I recently began giving my manuscript for the Bardsworth novel (which, frustratingly, still doesn’t have a title) another round of rewrites and edits. When I had last finished doing that, I had made a few notes of things to go back in and fix at the last minute, but had otherwise resolved to call it quits. But then I let the manuscript sit for a long time, untouched. And that’s a bad sign.

When I finally got around to taking another look at it and was about to make those handful of final changes, I realized that I had let the thing sit for so long because I wasn’t happy with it yet. And I can’t finalize something that I’m not at least 80% happy with.

Why 80%? To be honest, it’s just a figure of speech for me meaning that I need to be mostly happy with my work. Why not 100%? Why not totally happy? Because writers are creatives, and creatives are never 100% happy with their work (and if you claim you’ve ever been totally happy with something you created, you’re a big liar with pants aflame).

I remember having a conversation with someone long ago on old blogging platform about when to pull the plug on a writing project. She kept insisting that she never knew when to just stop fiddling with something, and that she was scared that if she did she’d be putting out something that wasn’t good enough. I insisted that it was just an intuition you build up over the years. You have to realize that nothing you do is ever going to be perfect, but that if you feel you’ve put in the best effort that you could, the work will stand on its own after you back away and wash your hands of it.

But it is a fine line between making sure that you don’t spend more time than necessary on a project and just throwing something out into the public that could definitely have used one or two more rewrites or editing sessions. I don’t think there’s any definite answer as to how to make sure that your decision is a right one. It really comes to whether or not you believe it’s a right decision.

As for me, I just don’t want to get caught in an endless loop of changing the adjectives I use to describe something minor. And it does happen if I’m not aware. As my favorite cooking guru, Alton Brown, likes to say when advising not to over-mix something: “Just walk away.”

"Just walk away."

“Just walk away.”

In Another Life Maybe…

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Telling stories was what I did when I was younger, whether it was on paper, or playing pretend with my brother, or creating worlds with my Legos (at an age when I probably should have been doing other things like, I dunno, finding a girlfriend). And even though I’m not now what I once thought I’d be at this point – a published writer with works sitting on the shelves at Barnes & Noble amongst books by my favorite writers – I am technically a professional writer.  Goal achieved.

There’s another thing I always wanted to be, though. And unfortunately I don’t see it happening anytime soon, or ever, really. And that’s being a voice actor.

I never really wanted to be an actor actor. Being on screen or on stage never appealed to me all that much (I did briefly consider doing drama when I was in high school, but never followed through on it). But I always loved cartoons, and I still do. I love them so much that I would follow voice actors from cartoon to cartoon. In the days before the internet and Wikipedia, I would exclaim, “Hey, that’s the guy who does the voice of [character] from [show]!” Then I would wait until the credits to learn the names of the voice actors.

I have a knowledge base of voice actors and what they’ve done, and it’s definitely a topic that not many people I know care about. So it’s really been mostly of a personal passion of mine. Voice actors are becoming more and more well-known now, with some doing podcasts and many making appearances at conventions, but it’s still a pretty niche obsession for the most part.

Recently, I watched the documentary I Know That Voice which was produced by John DiMaggio (of Futurama and Adventure Time fame). And after watching it, I have to say that while I don’t have many regrets in life, one of those regrets, and the biggest one I can think of, is not ever pursuing my dream of being a voice actor. While no one does it for the money, it seems like a job full of people that I would love to work with, doing work that I would love.

Maybe it could still happen. Many voice actors admitted that they didn’t start until their late 30s or 40s. Perhaps if my writing doesn’t pan out by that point in my life, I’ll get myself a microphone and start putting together a demo reel.

In the meantime, though, I’ll continue watching my cartoons and putting my stories on paper. But I’ll still be talking to myself in silly voices.

My Television Habits

I’ve found that over the years my television watching has gravitated far more to story-based shows, even when it comes to comedy. There will always be a place in my heart for some straight-up sitcoms like Cheers and Seinfeld and News  Radio. But of late I can’t get enough of shows like Community and Parks and Recreation. Why is that?

The latter two shows are comedically well-written, there’s no doubt about that. But what really hooks me about them is the character development which leads into character-driven stories, which have impacts on the future stories and the shows’ directions. It’s not “Point A to Point B” one week and then “Point A to Point B” again the following week. It’s “Point A to Point B” one week and then “Point B to Point C” the next.

I haven’t written television scripts in years, but I think if I were to do so, I would want to emulate the stuff that I’m currently into. Characters are important to me. You’ve heard me say that time and time again, and I’ll keep saying it. I rarely come up with a decent plot before coming up with characters to move it along. So if I were to start writing a TV show, I’d want to come up with characters, the basic premise, and then watch it unfold.

It would almost be like watching a TV show in itself.

Managing My Time

Over the past month I’ve been juggling more than one project, so my writing has been in spurts. Good, productive spurts, but spurts nonetheless. I have a plan that I’m trying to implement that will hopefully increase my writing productivity, though – as well as my frequency of blogging here.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m not very organized. I’ve gotten better since… well, let’s just say since I got married. My wife maaaaaay have had something to do with that. But at the core, I’m a person who abhors sticking to a routine. It probably stems from my disregard for authority. Even when that authority is me.

But I digress. In order to combat my scattered daily routine and to turn my juggling into more of a passing back and forth, I’ve come up with schedules and checklists for myself. It details daily, weekly, and even monthly tasks, with wiggle room for whatever might crop up. Coming up with it was difficult. Sticking with it will be Herculean at best.

At the moment, I’ve scheduled myself at least 30 minutes a day to write. That’s not 30 minutes that I COULD write, that’s 30 minutes that I HAVE TO write. And presently, I’m not forcing the issue with myself on what it has to be. It could be a project, notes for a project, blog posts, even My Little Pony fanfiction. (…What? You know you’re curious to read it.) The point is, I just want to get myself in the habit of writing EVERY DAY. And that’s tough when I have so many other things that I have to focus on doing.

This week I’ve been easing into the schedule, so I haven’t been 100% strict on myself. Next week, however, I’m cracking the whip. And I’ll probably hate myself for it. But in the end, I feel it’s something that needs to be done in order to get myself in line.

Productivity Thwarted

Since 2012, my wife and I have hosting a New Year’s Eve writers retreat at my aunt’s cottage on Lake Ontario. The last few years have been really good, both productivity-wise and creativity-wise. This year, unfortunately, it wasn’t as good.

Although we weathered a series of unfortunate circumstances to get everyone together again, there was one that we just couldn’t fight – the weather. Our friends got trapped by the snow at the last minute, leaving just me, Katie, and my son at the cottage. And while that sounds great because it means less distractions (beyond our son, that is), we were actually less productive.

There’s something about having other creative types around. I wrote about this the first year we did the retreat, so I won’t rehash it. But I will say that the environment in which you try to be creative is crucial to your productivity. Some people thrive on being alone, and sometimes that’s true for me. But it seems that my most productive days are when I’m around other writers and creative types, and we’re all working hard. Maybe it’s the inspiration I feel at watching other people, or maybe there’s some sort of energy that forms around us, but whatever it is we were missing it this year. Still, it was nice to get away from our usual surroundings and work in a more relaxing one.

All that having been said, I did manage to get my first round of rewrites/edits done on the Bardsworth novel. There are a few more spots I want to go back and fix, and then Katie will give it another run-through. And I’ve been in contact with a potential illustrator for the cover, so that’s happening! If all goes well, I may hit my deadline of April for the release of the book.

Oh, and happy belated New Year everyone!

It’s been forever and a day since I did a book review. Between working on my own stuff and other projects, I haven’t had much time to read. But I finally picked up a book that I’d like to talk about!

First of all, there are two seemingly unrelated situations that lead to me finally grabbing this particular book. The first took place years ago, when I was still in the midst of writing my Mystery, Murder, and Magic series (probably about the time I was working on Dames and Diviners). I was in a Barnes & Noble when I came across a book called Hard Magic. I skimmed the back and picked up the keywords of “private eye” and “magic”, and while I really wanted to read it, I was too worried about being influenced while still working on my own hard-boiled fantasy story. So I passed it up.

This past year, I became friends with another fantasy reader who specifically likes non-epic fantasy stuff, which I’ve been getting more and more into (that’s a whole other topic for a blog post). He suggested the series Monster Hunter International, which I took note of because it sounded really interesting.

Fast forward to last month when I was in B&N again spending some gift cards that had accumulated, and I saw Monster Hunter International. They only had one copy of the first book, though, and it was in poor shape. I have a thing about buying new books, so I passed it up. However, the book next to it was Hard Magic – apparently it was the same author, Larry Correia! So, upon my friend’s recommendation of one of the author’s other series, and my past interest in Hard Magic, I picked it up.

hardmagicNow that the back story is over, let’s move onto the book itself, shall we? My overall summary of the book is this – it’s fantasy + alternate fiction + X-Men + Men in Black. It’s a ridiculous (in a good way) mish-mash of genres that work together to weave a dark, yet occasionally lighthearted, story. The setting is the 1930s in an alternate world where people are being born with magical abilities at an exponential rate. These Actives, as they’re known, have varying types of abilities as well as varying levels of power.

At the beginning, there are two unrelated main stories that switch back and forth. One is of Faye, an innocent and sometimes naive, but not unintelligent, young girl who also happens to be a Traveler. That means she has the magical ability to jump from one place to another instantly. Teleportation, if you will. Her foster father, also a Traveler, is killed by some mysterious and menacing men, leaving her with her foster father’s dying instructions and secrets to uncover.

The other story is of Jake Sullivan, an ex-con who spent much of his time in prison reading up on and experimenting with magic. He’s what’s known as a Heavy, or, as he prefers to be called, a Gravity Spiker. This means he can control the gravitational pull in a given area. A common ability, but the knowledge that he gains of his own powers is what makes him dangerous. In exchange for his parole, he works for the government in tracking down dangerous Actives. While on his last job, he runs into an old flame, Delilah.  She has the ability to make herself super strong (otherwise known as a Brute). But she’s not alone; the group that she’s working with seems to have motives that don’t coincide with what the government tells Jake.

The two stories eventually meet, and the nexus of the two is the Grimnoir Society, a secret group of Actives that works under the radar to keep the world safe. But as the story unfolds, it turns out that what everyone thought was the biggest threat to world was just the beginning.

I loved this book. I loved it so much that I ordered the next two in the series from Amazon before I had even finished it. Because of the interplay of different genres, anything can happen with the turn of a page – a magical battle, a dog fight involving zeppelins and blimps, pirates, ninjas, and even otherworldly encounters. It’s been a long time since I used “page turner” to describe a book, but that’s what Hard Magic is.

One of the letdowns of the book for me – and it’s a minor one – is that there is mention on the back cover and briefly in the book about Jake Sullivan turning to private investigating after being released from prison. And this is what led me to think that it might have some hard-boiled elements to it. But it’s not something that the author decided to go into, and because of that I kind of wish he hadn’t said anything to begin with.

The only other problem I had was that one of the characters (I won’t say which one for fear of spoilers) didn’t feel fully explored by the end of the book, which was a shame because I feel that they would have been much more interesting and given the interactions with other characters a bit more depth.

What I did enjoy greatly was Correia’s consistency of voice with the characters. When he switched back and forth between points of view, each section felt just the way it should from that character’s POV. It was refreshing to get that, when many authors tend to just stick with one voice – their own.

Hard Magic comes very highly recommended by yours truly. It’s fun, it’s intelligent, and I would love to see it turned into a TV series someday. And it definitely makes me want to seek out Monster Hunter International.

More reviews as I finish the rest of the books in the series!

patreon-headerWhile this technically doesn’t have much to do with writing, it sort of does in that it involves my webcomic, for which I write as well as draw.  I recently added my webcomic, Bardsworth, on Patreon and would like to spread the word.  For those of you who don’t know what Patreon is, the simple answer is that it’s a way for creative entrepreneurial folks like myself to make money.  It’s taking the ages-old system of being a patron of the arts and modernizing it by allowing people like you to pledge a certain amount of money towards the art per month.

I’ve been doing my webcomic for over nine years now and I have a lot of loyal fans.  I was hoping that by providing a way for people to show support I could, in time, make it my full-time job.  That’s a long ways away, though.

If you’ve never read Bardsworth, start at the beginning and work your way forward (don’t let the terrible artwork at the beginning fool you; I get much better).  If you like it, think about support it with a few bucks a month.  Or you could pass the information along to someone who might like it.

At the very least, check out some of the other projects on Patreon and consider supporting other creative folks.

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