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Week Four Recap
When to Draft and When to Build
Before I begin. Thank you for reading these weekly updates as I write through Clarion West’s Write-a-thon. While I write every day, I step it up for the fundraiser. I also step up the newsletters, so I hope you can bear with these last few weeks. Then we’ll return to our regular schedule of quarterly updates on my novel and comic projects, and the podcasts will continue to drop on Tuesdays. A byproduct of my effort here is to help raise money for this writing organization, and that’s where you come in. If you can swing a $10, $20, or more donation, I thank you. Please donate here. All money goes to support underserved voices in the speculative fiction genres. Okay, back to the newsletter.
Like I wrote here last week, I’ve been writing chapter after chapter of villains. This week, I spent the first three days writing about the ones revealed in the first book’s ending. To avoid any details, let’s call them the architects. Till now, they were an insidious apparition, sitting on the bench. Now, I’ve laid out their plan and shown their position as compromised—not absolute. I hope this revelation adds complexity to the network of bad in my tale.
I’ve savored the deep dark flavors from the antagonist menu. Now it’s time to pay these sections off with some complex action. My outline header read, “Space Freighter Section,” with a half dozen sub-heads, nothing more. Book One Me; would have plowed forward with these, feeling my way through, and eventually bashing it into some cogent form. Book Two Me; has an outline for the book, and opted to detail the huge action section before I committed to drafting the action in prose.
It’s only until of recent that I consciously draw upon my skills as a comic book creator. For the last twenty years, I pushed all of that down in order to be a “purer” graphic designer, or writer. The great joke, all those hard-learned abilities were always there, despite my best efforts to be a purist. I can cite myriad examples of how my comic book skills help as a designer, but the crystalizing moment with writing happened when I hit the three-quarter mark in my first novel. I had a cloud of ideas, but no pathway to completion. In a moment of desperation, I fell back on my comic book writing methods. I listed the actions, beat for beat, until I got to the end. Added a few things and repositioning some other bits. Then I had it.
There’s an odd division within novelists. Are you an outline or discovery writer? My perception, and that of many in my circle, was; are you stiff and methodical or do you embrace the romance of creativity? To this I, now, cry, bullshit. It’s all one thing. Many discovery writers do a lot of note collecting and often know their book’s ending. Because you didn’t write it down, doesn’t mean you don’t have an outline. You do.
Fear kept me away from the outline approach. Would writing these points down kill my precious creativity? No. Creators must abandon things that don’t work. If a part of the outline I wrote one, three, six, or twelve months ago doesn’t work; I’ll get rid of it. It’s the writer’s job to come up with things, so rather than feel special because I made something up, I challenge myself to be a pro and do the work.
I witnessed this preciousness in the young Graphic Design and Art Direction students I taught long ago. They fought week after week to get a dead horse of an idea to run. They were new to the world of generations and ideation, so the thought of abandoning an idea meant failure. It was in one of these classes when I connected this observed fear with an old friend who was, and still is, working on the same idea they came up with in high school—in the ‘80s. I told the class, “Holding on to an idea in the river of creativity is like building a dam. The more your do this, the less new ideas come downstream.”
Nobody is perfect, and I’ve held onto to my share of things. But in the world of brand and corporate design, the job is to generate and ideate. And I apply that to my writing as I do my story outlining methods from comic books.
So, when I hit the “Space Freighter Section” line on Thursday, I could have stayed a purist and stuck to drafting, and ground my way through the first scene with no idea where I was going. But I didn’t. Unlike drawing, where I can see the entire piece, mistakes and all as I work. I couldn’t do this as a discovery writer. But using an outline as my sketch, I can. So I dove in and built out a super detailed outline for this section. Now I can move all the pieces around and build the tension and action for all the characters—good and bad—before I draft the prose.
I wrote 12,464 words this week, bringing the four-week total to 46,012 words. At this pace, I’ll hit my 60 thousand word goal, but 70k maybe out of reach. Still, it’s a great beginning, and continuing at a slightly reduced output, I’ll complete the first draft of Ghost Wing this year.
The idea of having the second book in readable form next spring is exciting. A wave of fear rolled over me as I wrote that. All I could see were the unaddressed lines in my outline, taunting me to outdo book one. See, there’s no true footing in this sea of creative quicksand. I’m eager to see where this story goes, and I can’t wait to share it with my readers.
Another pro forma call for donations to Clarion West. Please visit at my Write-a-thon page and consider a donation in my name. So far, it looks like I’ll share reader chapters of Blackfire with donors and some Ghost Wing character sketches.
Major thanks to those who made that possible.
We’re off to see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny by the time many of you read this. Unless you’re reading this late on Saturday. Then bless you. I still remember the sense of wonder and adventure seeing the Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time, and I’m excited to see his last adventure.
We’re movie people. We love going out to the cinema. Then the pandemic broke our rhythm. But with the deluge of big movies and great indie movies out now, we’ve ventured back with some regularity in these last two months.
Tonight, we watched The Northman (2022). We wanted to see it in the theater, and it’s been on our queue for a while. Getting this newsletter written before we started it was a great relief and eased my workaholic nature. Of course, the trippy bloodbath helped.
I’m super excited to see Oppenheimer. I hope we can see it soon. It would be gret to see the 70mm print on an IMAX screen. That necessitates a drive to Charlotte, which I don’t feel I have the time for.
Oh, I’m reading the second half of The Human Target: Volume Two by Tom King, and Greg Smallwood. It’s a stylish superhero crime story. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s some of the best comic book work out there.
How goes the hunt for an agent?
Drafting and client work sucked up all my time this week, so no updates on Blackfire. I’m pretty annoyed with myself for not putting that list of three agents together. I have a couple hours tomorrow morning, here in this hotel, after I assemble this week’s podcast, I’ll get going on that. Look for some movement here next week.
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