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Black Gate 4

Writing Thoughts

So today I stole a half hour to write from what I should have used as lunch time. I ended up writing for 45 minutes and getting quite hungry later, but the prose result left me feeling both satisfied and muddled.

Here's the thing. On the novel WIP I am lucky to get a few hundred words every time I sit down to write, be it for an hour or two hours or three. Every sentence or so I stop to look at e-mail, or check up something pointless on Wikipedia, or what have you. But when I sat down to write today, I did none of that. I was in the zone. It was like taking dictation from my first person narrator. In that 45 minutes I wrote 1421 words, which I have just caculated up to be something like 31.6 words a minute. I was pleased. I can't keep all of those words; some must be replaced and others must be expanded upon, but I will keep most of them. It's a solid first draft, seven pages, and I am eager to write more.

This is what writing is supposed to feel like. I remember this. I had forgotten. So my experience begs the question -- am I writing the right thing, or should I switch over to this? Working with certain characters, for me, is just like taking dictation. Should I stick with them? See, I'm muddled, but pleased.

I keep not having time to post my final thoughts on Universe R.

Hey, looks like I'm going to be interviewed Thursday night on a radio show! I'll post on that Wednesday. Just finished some paper grading, now I must kitchen clean.

What are your thoughts on this whole writing quandry I find myself in? Might it be that I'm just weary of a long process (novel 2 in a sequence) or that I really am writing the wrong thing? How many of you find yourselves in the same or similar place? Life is short, no one's jumping up and down to buy these mist novels, perhaps I should simply write about Dabir and Asim in novel form. They're the only thing I write that sells to multiple markets...




Hi Howard,

I read your blog regularly and always find your comments interesting. I have you to thank for me discovering Harold Lamb. :D

I have much sympathy for you on the writing process vs writing product dilemma. I think that writers experience the process far more than the product, while for readers it's much the reverse (except when the process is flawed like a writer failing to revise).

For me at least, there's no clear correlation between ease of creative process and quality of product. Enough revision seems to make anything readable, but it seems to be the story concerns and design that make for quality - not my pleasure in the process.

I've had days when I've written 1800 words in a few hours and maybe they're even halfway good words, but that doesn't mean that the story itself is one of my better stories.

Alas, but I haven't read anything you've written yet (you're on my list!) so I can't give you informed advice - just mumble principles at you.

My principle is to chase challenge and passion. That means my process is often painfully stop-start (cos challenge seldom goes smoothly), but at least grows me for my pains. The passion side means that at least I'll commit to putting my best ideas into my stories... and will sustain the effort needed.

I do know that on novel-length works, passion flags and challenge seems to get insurmountable for me. Taking a break on something small can help, but also it can help to repitch the original idea to myself. Or sometimes I ask Mrs Draba to pitch my idea back to me so I can gain some perspective and passion again.

If you want someone else to pitch your story idea back at you, I'm sure that you know someone who can (Eric maybe?). But if not, ignorant as I am I'd be happy to try. Feel free to email ruvdrabathotmaildotcom.

Either way, good luck and enjoy your interview!

That's very kind of you, Ruv. I'm not sure I'm ready to repitch the idea. Right now I'm just needing a vacation. Yesterday in a half hour's time I had another strong flow of writing.

I'd agree with you that just because you're writing fast it doesn't mean that you're writing well... except that when you are writing fast and it sounds good, you ought to tap into it. I once wrote a 5000 k short story dictated by this very narrator in one sitting, and it was publshed in only a slightly tweaked format. Even ended up getting an honorable mention in a Year's Best Fantasy volume. With me at least, some characters are easier to listen to than others.


I understand, Howard. It can't be easy editing and writing too. In some ways I'm lucky. My regular paying work is nothing like writing fiction. It makes me twitch to get back into it. On the other hand, I bet your work is giving you far better experience. Garth Nix is an old roleplaying bud of mine whom I've known for 20+ years. He's spent all that time in one part or another of the lit biz and the benefits really show.

Tapping into a high volume flow of quality writing. I drool with envy! It never works that way for me. I get quality or quantity. Probably it's that experience thang again. :D

Hope you get a vacation soon.

Oh, speaking of vacations have you been following the Age of Conan (http://www.ageofconan.com/) game franchise? They're trying to do Hyboria authentically (as opposed to Tolkienising it). I'll be interested to see how they go.


I don't figure I'm a good model for a productive writer, but I usually have several projects going and I work on the one that seems to work. On the other hand, there comes a time when one thing just wants to be done and I have to work on that until it reaches some stage of completion. I'm sure that's (not) a lot of help.

With all that out of the way, what I really want to say is: a Dabir and Asim novel would be killer-great. In multiple senses.
I'm impressed that you can keep several projects going at once. I used to be able to do that. I guess I'm not as flexible these days.

Asim thanks you and won't shut up. He's all ready to tell me what happens next. I'll be sitting down to take notes from him later this morning.
It sounds to me as if you are not setting up enough conflict to drive the story - and you - forward. If you glance back at my analysis of Sharpe, Cornwall mostly seems to have 3-4 parallel by interelated threads going. This gets around the boring setup scenes.
Thanks -- I'm actually thinking it's the reverse and that there's TOO MUCH going on. Feels like there's no breathing room. Or maybe I just need a breather, or some kind of movement.


Well, I'm no one to be giving advice, but I find your statements interesting. Why do you write? To tell a story that simply must be told, enjoyment, to make some money? It seems Dabir and Asim have the potential to provide all those things. From the enthusiasm of the post when discussing your recent writing session, it sounds like you really had a good time, writing about familiar and enjoyable characters that have successfully sold to multiple markets...sounds pretty good to me. You said yourself no one is jumping up and down to buy the current wips. Perhaps switching to a different project might help put the current wip in perspective, rekindle some of that fire, and if not...then you still might have a wonderful D&A novel to show. I'm not advocating abandoning something just because it becomes difficult, but stepping away can sometimes provide a much needed, fresh perspective and help you find/re-discover your way.
In any case, best of luck to you on whatever you choose to do. Jason
Thanks, Jason. Good advice. That's exactly what I've decided to do.
I would say if a character's giving you dictation, take it. The character is ready for that story to hatch now. A month from now the character may not be so enthusiastic (or you as the writer may have figured the whole story out and lost some of the zeal that comes from discovery in the moment). It might be that your longer WIP is not the wrong thing but needs a breather to ferment. You may need a task that offers the satisfaction of more immediate completion.

I'd say write the shorts, especially if there's already an established audience for them.

I offer this advice with of course all the authority of someone with zero publications. ;) Good luck!
Thanks -- also good advice. In recent years I've gotten so busy that when I get a brainstorm or lie awake at night and hash out an entire short story form, instead of setting it down, I just go back to whatever I'm working on currently. Disciplined? Writers need discipline. But maybe I haven't been leaping on inspiration when it strikes. When I was a kid I used to start and stop projects and never come back. I learned to buckle down. I wonder if I lost some flexibility?

Re: newguyadvice?

Thanks, Dave. It's hard to know. I think each instance needs to be evalutated. Right now it seems like the wip was a cross to bear, whereas this new thing has me chomping at the bit to work on it.


In general, if I find I'm "muddling" through something, then I can expect the reader to feel the same way. In that case, I think you have to find some way to either deal with the "muddling" very quickly, or just get rid of it. I guess this translates into "what's boring for the writer is boring for the reader".

Re: muddled

Exactly. If I'm not enjoying writing the scene, who the heck is going to enjoy reading it?
Probably, I shouldn't even mention this but

I am lucky to get a few hundred pages every time I sit down to write, be it for an hour or two hours or three.

I think any writer would be very lucky to get a few hundred pages in three hours or less. Pact with the Devil? On the other hand I remember a Ret Marut (sp?) story about an author who published a book with only one word per page.

Now back to your regularly scheduled writers' discussion ....
....yikes. That, obviously, should be WORDS. Man. I'll just go change that right now, but I'll send you a good old-fashioned Marvel comics no-prize for noticing that...


I say: Go where the words are. Maybe you just need a break, a chance to play, or some time for your unconscious to solve an upcoming story problem in the WIP.

Personally, I write short stories in between novel drafts, and occasionally when I'm stalled in the middle of a novel draft (like now). I always come back to the novels refreshed, enthusiastic, and with a whole bunch of great ideas I didn't have before.

Thanks; I agree. I also like to mix things up. Maybe that's the problem. I finished cleaning up draft of wip 1 and rather than diving into a short story, as I usually do between novel drafts, I went straight into wip 2.

Maybe it will change if some of these novel projects ever come to light. Right now I just have a discard box that's getting more and more full of paper.


Aha . . . finally a topic I have a small bit of experience in :) Though it didn't used to be the case, I am now a firm believer in the notion that if you find yourself having to force the words out, or if despite your best efforts the words seem lifeless and flat, then you might be working on the wrong project. This happened to me, but I was under contract at the time. I tried and tried to work this particular novel into shape but only really succeeded in making myself miserable. After quite a bit of soul-searching (and more than a few sleepless nights), I decided to cancel the project, pay back the advance, and work on something in a whole different genre.

And, like magic, the words returned. I think as writers we have to know our limitations well enough -- and not be afraid of them -- in order to produce something memorable. I say give it a shot; explore something novel-length where Dabir and Asim are concerned. Even if it goes nowhere, it might give you needed perspective on the second Mist novel.

My 2 shekels ;)

Scott Oden
Thanks, Scott. I appreciate you sharing that.


It sounds like you have a good handle on this, actually. But in case it helps, I find some projects take a lot more brain-space than others, and are just plain harder going, even if everything else in life is going smoothly. I relate to what Ruv said in the first comment, that there doesn't seem to be much correlation between how difficult the writing is and how successful the finished story is. I've had easy writing times that resulted in decent stories, and tough writing times that resulted in lame ones, but also vice versa. Good luck with it, whichever one it is today.

--Chris W.