Tag Archives: Writing process

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Ohara
“Bullfinch on Flowering Plum” by Ohara Koson

Hi all! Patrick Wong, author of Balancer, invited me to participate in The Writing Process Blog Tour.  For those unfamiliar with a blog tour, they are chained posts where authors answer a few questions and then tag other authors to keep up the chain the next week. For those unfamiliar with Patrick, he writes Young Adult fiction with a paranormal twist.  His debut novel, Balancer is about a teenager who has the power to balance Life. You can find Balancer on Amazon here.

And with that… here we go.

What am I working on?

I’m currently working on the follow-up to The Butterfly Crest. This will be the second book in The Protogenoi Series. It has a title already, but I’m going to wait a little while longer before revealing it (just in case). I’m three chapters into Book Two (as we’ll affectionately call it for now), and I’m waking up early in the mornings to get a few hours of writing in before I have to go into the office.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

The Butterfly Crest is an epic fantasy set in modern times. Its storyline is heavy on mythology; different world mythologies in particular. What sets it apart from other works in the fantasy genre is its treatment of those mythologies. The story follows Elena, a human woman who suddenly finds herself in the middle of a Greek myth, in a world where human belief can create or alter the divine. It is a world where all faiths (past and present) are real, and their mythologies are weaved into one mythos.

My plan (and I sometimes deviate from plans, so please don’t hold me to this later) is to include at least three major mythologies in each book. In The Butterfly Crest, you meet the yōkai of Japanese myth, post-modern Greek deities, and the Tuatha Dé Danann. The appearance of yōkai in American fiction is pretty sparse, so including them as a major part of the story was one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing the book.

Why do I write what I do?

My characters compel me to.

How does my writing process work?

This one is a loaded question for the obvious reasons, but also because my writing process has changed from Book One to Book Two. I wrote The Butterfly Crest while I was on hiatus from my legal career. After doing the initial research and preparing a pretty detailed outline, I started to write. I would wake up every morning, dress comfortably, prepare my writing nook and make myself a pot of tea. I would then write for at least 8 hours. If I was having trouble, if Mr. Muse abandoned me, I would sit and stare at the screen until it came. I did this every day of the week. I took the weekends off in the beginning, but towards the end the writing started bleeding into my weekends.

Writing Book Two has been completely different. I’m juggling writing with managing my own law practice, so I can’t dedicate 8 hours a day, 5+ days a week to writing. Now, I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. and write until 7:30 a.m. I have an outline, but not nearly as detailed as the one I had for Book One. The process is much looser this time around, since all the groundwork has already been laid, but the allotted time slots bring their own brand of problems (you can read about my disgruntled writing elves here). Being “in the mood” to write wasn’t an issue before because I had the luxury of time, but now, if Mr. Muse acts up and his mood lasts more than two and a half hours, there goes my writing for the day. Stopping mid-scene (because of the allotted time) has taken some getting used to. The process is slow going, but I’m having a ball with it (when the writing elves are happy).

And with that, I’m passing the torch to author Ben Starling, an Oxford grad who is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both of which are central themes in his upcoming novel. He is currently Writer in Residence for Mirthquake Ltd., a production company that advocates for ocean health and welfare. Check out Ben’s blog next Monday, July 7th!

Happy Reading!


This week’s image is “Bullfinch on Flowering Plum” by Ohara Koson. Ohara was a Japanese painter and printmaker of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and part of the shin-hanga (“new prints”) movement.

On abstract and out-of-context glimpses

The Heron Maiden by Tsunetomi, ca. 1925

It has been a very busy past two weeks, and I’m happy to report that I have, after much effort, found a rhythm that works (for now *fingers crossed*). I have been waking up to write at 5:00 a.m. every morning, come rain or shine (or protests from the part of my brain/body that continues to hold out). I get up, make a pot of tea, take a seat in my not-so-comfortable chair, and don’t get back up again until after 7:00 a.m. (when I switch hats to day-job-mode).

Now that I’m getting used to the schedule, everything else is falling into place. Every day it gets easier to get up and slip back into writer-mode. Those first few days were very entertaining (for me, at least), with one foot in book world and the other in the real world. At this point, I’m plotting in my sleep. I got some much-needed research done (on cross-cultural similarities for a certain type of myth), perfected (and outlined) my sub-plot, and got a good amount of writing done.

Contrary to what happened two weeks ago (see previous post), I didn’t have any meltdowns. I’ve tried to write without going back to revise, but it’s just impossible for me. If something isn’t flowing right, it sticks out like a sore thumb and I can’t move forward until I smooth the edges out (to illustrate my point, this post is now going on 25+ revisions and counting). I know the second I read it that something isn’t quite right, but trying to fix the problem can be an odyssey in and of itself. The most recent example of this little quirk is my newest prologue for Book Two, and I say “newest” because it is now in its third iteration (and hopefully its last).

But before I get into that, let me give you a little background.

The prologue for Book One wasn’t “written” until I was finished with the book. I had written a prologue initially, but I always knew it wasn’t going to work. (If you’re curious about the details, check out my previous entries on the subject: here and here). I knew that whatever I would write needed to be abstract, yet somehow capture the essence of the book. It needed to be Magic; to give the reader a glimpse of the world they would be stepping into. It turned out in the end that I had already written the perfect prologue, half way through the book (I just didn’t realize it until the end).

With that in mind, I wanted the prologue for Book Two to tell the same kind of out-of-context, abstract-but-essential story. I don’t know why I tried to write it at the beginning of the process (in spite of previous lessons), but I’m going to chalk it up to the glitches in my brain. For whatever reason, every time I sat down to write I kept going back to the empty space between the prologue and chapter one, and felt the need to fill it.

I had about two false starts.

The first attempt is saved on my computer for future use. The second attempt was far better. I was actually really attached to it, so much so that I forced kept it for months (until last week). I knew from the second I reread it that it wasn’t right, but I was having trouble letting it go. It had everything I wanted (third-person omniscient perspective, the right tone and feel, excellent flow), but it didn’t have that temporal element; that abstract, out-of-context glimpse into the essence of the book. So, what did I do? I ignored the issue. I figured I’d do what I did last time; wait for it to magically appear in the middle of the book.

As tends to be the case with most of my writing process, things didn’t go as planned. The prologue magically appeared some time in the middle of last week. One minute there was nothing, the next a well-formed abstract, out-of-context glimpse. It’s only 622 words long (shorter than this post), but it took me days to get just right. Of course, it came to me just when I’d decided to let the issue go, but I’m glad it did; it has done a lot for me process-wise.

For starters, it reminded me that the writing process is always evolving. What might have worked for me two years ago may not necessarily work for me now. The method will be different for everyone, and it shouldn’t be static. I kept comparing my process now to what it had been then, and got in the way of my own progress. I was also reminded to follow my instinct, especially if that instinct happens to be different the second time around; how else can your process evolve? More importantly, the new prologue gave me something to latch onto as I continue to write, because it gave me an exciting glimpse of the world I would be stepping into (as I hope it will for my readers).

Like I’ve said before, I know where the story begins and where it will end, but I have no idea where the journey in between will take me (true of writing and prologues alike).

Regarding the image above, it is a print of The Heron Maiden by the artist Tsunetomi.  The Heron Maiden is a Japenese folk-tale and well known dance role in Kabuki. You can read about the story here. It is the kind of story and imagery that constantly fuels my imagination.

 

On rare moments of free time

cherryblossomsbynight
“Cherry Blossom in the Night” by Katsushika Oi (1800-1866)

Very rarely these days do I get a chunk of free time to dedicate exclusively to my writing. Even rarer still is the instance when that serendipitous chunk of free time is devoid of interruption. This morning was meant to be one of those rarest of rare moments. The planets magically aligned and for at least four hours I would have the house all to myself, without any pressing issues that spilled over from the week or housework looming over my head. It was the perfect opportunity.

After seeing the hubby off, I excitedly got down to business. I cleaned up my work space. Turned on the computer. Changed into more comfortable clothes. Prepared my tea. Opened the window shades for light (but not wide enough to be a distraction). Sat down. Found the file on the computer, opened it and began to read. (I usually reread the chapter I’m on before I start writing, if I’ve left it partway through).

Three paragraphs in, I found a little something I wanted to edit; a single (arguably insignificant) word. I’d read the passage plenty of times before without ever concerning myself with it, but for some reason today my brain got stuck on that one word. I changed it back and forth several times, read it out loud once or twice, and then went ahead and committed (after all, I needed to get through another 4,952 words before I could pick up my writing where I left off).

Moving along, I read paragraph four without a problem (cue false sense of security here). In paragraph five, my brain got stuck on comma placement; I decided to leave it alone. In paragraph seven, my sentences started to sound too wordy (a sure sign I was not in my right mind). In paragraph eight, I questioned a descriptor I had painstakingly considered and chosen before for the sake of my narrative voice. By the time I got halfway through paragraph nine (and my brain got stuck again, this time on using the proper name for an important place), I realized something was off (me) and decided it would be best to walk away.

In less than a half hour, my perfect opportunity had been squandered away.

Suffice to say, I’m just a little bit frustrated. Four hours of ideal solitude and I can’t write (I can’t even get past re-reading). Normally, I would advise sitting in front of the blank screen until the words come, but there are times when you can’t do that. I know that if I continue today, I’ll massacre the progress I’ve already made. So I decided to use the free time to write this post instead. Now that it’s done, I think I’m going to do a little gardening. The weather is cooperating (somewhat), and it’ll help clear my mind.

I might not have a rare chunk of free time later, but I’ll be fine with a little inspiration.

On the image for the post, it’s by Katsushika Oi, one of the few female woodblock ukiyo-e painters of the Edo Period. She was the daughter of the artist Katsushika Hokusai. Her identity, of course, is inspiring, but so is the image itself.  A large part of Book One takes place in Japan, and the feeling invoked by the painting reminds me of the setting.

On completing appendices and hoping for spring

Yoshida_Kameidô3
Drum bridge at Kameidô shrine Tokyo, woodblock print by Yoshida Hiroshi.

I am thrilled to report that, after much work, I am at the tail end of completing my appendix. It is far more detailed than I ever considered making it, but I’m happy to say that most of the issues I raised in my last post worked themselves out on their own.

Contrary to my original intent, I did not divide the list by culture or pantheon. Doing so would have required the reader to know in what section to look, which might not always be the easiest task (especially with a ‘miscellaneous’ section). I did, however, compile the list in the divided format, since it made the task much easier for me to keep track of and revise.

The appendix itself ended up being much more detailed than I anticipated, since I decided to be as inclusive as I could rather than just focus on main characters and important places. The most recent draft includes minor characters, terms essential to the storyline (for quick reference), and definitions of non-English words.  I could have chosen to make it a little less comprehensive (middle ground?), but I felt it was important to include anything that would come to bear on the series as a whole later on. Character descriptions were a bit of a toss up; some with only a basic explanation of who/what they are, and others with important details on appearance and personality (surprisingly, the choice came down to pantheon). I’m still on the fence regarding the family tree(s), but I’m leaning more toward adding them from the second book onward (for purposes of not giving anything away).

Right now I’m in the middle of revising and editing. That means I’ll pour over it a million times before handing it off to my husband for the final round. The last decision I’ll have to make will be the page set-up, aesthetically speaking. Seven months after moving, my books are finally out of their boxes and up on their respective shelves (just in time for me to pour over them as reference). I spent most of the weekend looking through a good portion of my book collection to see how they presented their appendices.

If all goes as planned, I should have everything ready to go (and sent off) in the next few weeks. On a side note, Facebook remains on my “to do” list for now (and will stay there until after I send the book off for publishing). My Pinterest account, on the other hand, is alive and well. Since my last post, I’ve created Pin boards for the first three major pantheons in the series and two more characters. I’m currently working on a board for a supernatural character that’s proving difficult to channel (he’s lived for centuries and hasn’t completely assimilated with the modern world), so stay tuned; his board should turn out fun because he can be a little cheeky.

When I started the Pinterest account for the series, I never imagined it would inspire me as much as it has. Pinning as my characters has become another form of expression and exploration. I’m learning things about them that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Evius, for example, can’t resist Pinning images of animals that his wife or child would like. Mr. Muse is drawn to ceramics. Cataline loves Pinning photos of the artists whose work she just Pinned, and Bryce loves anything fashion oriented and just a little macabre. The easiest board, of course, has been Elena’s, which is where the artwork above has come from. Like me, she’s hoping for spring.

On the perpetuity of my endeavor

Beauty Walking on a Snowy Day, woodblock print by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (Japan, Edo, 1786-1865), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Writing and publishing a book (be it through traditional or self-publishing means) is a perpetually arduous task. It is not as simple a process as just writing, editing, and publishing. It is a multi-layered beast that is ever-changing and exhausting…”

When I wrote those words last month, I was certain that by this point in January I would finally be ready to pull the trigger. The editing was done. The book cover agreed upon (albeit with much less ceremony than I had anticipated). The blog was on its way. Pinterest was becoming addictive. All I needed was a few finishing touches and away we go.

Give or take a holiday or two, and I now find myself knee-deep in constructing an appendix (not at all a simple task) and trying to navigate the inconspicuously convoluted reality that is creating a Facebook presence for authors.

I am a good ⅔ into my appendix, and I’m still not certain how it’s going to ultimately look. Do I divide it by culture/pantheon or make one large list? Do I set it up as a table or in outline form? Do I include definitions of non-English words or just focus on characters and names of important places? Regarding the characters themselves, do I keep the description at a basic explanation of who/what they are or do I add details (about appearance and/or personality)? What about family trees; do I add them and, if so, how far do I go with that (pagan pantheons can be extremely convoluted)? I’d like to think I’ll be done with it soon, but I have a sneaking suspicion this might take a while.

As for Facebook, I left this task for last because I figured it wouldn’t take long to create a page (it took me a half an hour to create the business page for my private practice, not to mention how quickly I set up my personal account years and years ago). I thought I would create the page, send it to everyone I know, and voila! Between that and linking the page to the blog, everything should fall neatly into place, right? Wrong. While creating a page might be easy, choosing the right option for you is not (“What do you mean, I have options?” my brain screams in protest). An author profile vs. a book page vs. an author page vs. everything else I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around, plus the added stress of accommodating the use of a pseudonym (not easy when initially relying on social networking built on your personal identity). I’ll admit that after reading a few blog posts/articles on the subject, I filed it away in my ever-growing “to do” file. We’ll leave that little round of stress for later.

For now, I’ll keep focusing on constructing a kick-ass appendix, getting in a few more blog posts than usual, keeping my Pinterest addiction at a reasonable level (I’ve added new character boards!), and going back to writing Book Two. At least once the appendix is finally done, I’ll be ready to hand over the reigns… I hope.

On end-of-year reflections

Chrysanthemums_by_a_stream_with_rocks
Chrysanthemums by a stream, with rocks. By Itō Jakachū. Part of the series Doshoku sai-e.

It’s the end of the year, the time of year that inevitably brings with it much reflection. For me, specifically, it’s the time of year I finished the first major round of editing on The Butterfly Crest and began considering what to do next. I also happen to have just completed a another substantial step in that journey. So, it’s only natural that I currently find myself obsessively preoccupied with evaluating my progress.

Looking back at the past year, one thought constantly rises above the others:

Every step of the process, no matter how large or small, is equally as important and laborious as the last.

I started out this journey thinking (naively, I admit) that writing the book itself would be the hardest part and that everything after that would be, in a sense, “down hill”. Having finished the book, I felt that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. That was almost three years ago. I am done with writing. I am now (thank the gods) done with editing. My list of things to do, however, has only gotten bigger, and the road has become no less uneven.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

The editing process, for me, turned out to be a three year endeavor, after first thinking that I was done in just a couple of months. I can’t tell you how many times I looked back thinking, Okay, this is it, and then it wasn’t.

I finished the book back in 2011. The first round of editing took four months. Once that was done, I thought I was ready to roll; next up was publishing! With that in mind, I started looking into my options; traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to explore both, so that opened up several avenues of exploration (literary agents, query letters, the torture art of a well written synopsis, submissions, social media, platform building, etc). With exploration came many realizations, several of which started the editing process all over again.

To increase the chances of capturing an agent’s interest, I had to make changes to the beginning of the book. Then I shared the book with a few trusted friends/relatives for feedback; that inevitably led to round three of editing (much more in-depth than the last). After that, I got the insane idea that I could read the book completely, and enjoy it like any reader should. Not so much; that seemingly innocent goal led to the most extensive round of editing. At the same time, I was building up my newly-opened practice, executing a limited foray into submissions to literary agents, reading up on the world of self-publishing (which has changed quite a bit since then), and starting my (mis)adventures in social media and platform-building.

You can see how something I thought I had finished in early 2012 ended up taking me until November 2013 to complete.

I remember thinking to myself these past few months, Okay, this is it, after this it’s smooth sailing (sound familiar?). Once again, I was wrong. Now, while continuing to work on the social media/platform-building aspect (here’s looking at you, Pinterest), I’ve decided to revisit my book cover, something I thought I had finished in mid 2012 (around the same time I started sharing the book with friends and family). The past week alone has given birth to two new covers, and still counting; I might just end up posting them here for comment, to see what y’all think.

That all being said, I hope this little exercise in reflection hasn’t discouraged anyone, because that certainly wasn’t my intent. I just felt the need to share a little of what the process has revealed to me this time around. Writing and publishing a book (be it through traditional or self-publishing means) is a perpetually arduous task. It is not as simple a process as just writing, editing, and publishing. It is a multi-layered beast that is ever-changing and exhausting, and which for me is now impossible to live without.

On allotted time slots, unexpected attachments and disgruntled writing elves

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Jigoku dayū, Hell Courtesan, ukiyo-e print by Kawanabe Kyosai.

It’s been over two and a half years since the first time I sat down to write The Butterfly Crest. It took me five months to complete the manuscript, before I handed it off to my husband for slaughter editing (trust me, that first round of editing, while invaluable, was a thoroughly torturous experience).

Back then, I wasn’t keeping track of my daily word count or writing on strictly allotted slivers of time. I would prepare my tea (in three cup batches), settle into my comfortable little nook, and spend a minimum of eight hours letting the story tell itself. While hardly leisurely, the overall experience lacked any real element of stress (relatively speaking).

Not so, this time around.

Never mind the obsession with meeting my daily word count goals, the stress of having to stop mid-scene because my allotted writing time has ominously arrived, or conveniently forgetting that writing at night makes it absolutely impossible for me to fall asleep at a decent hour in order to be able to wake up the next morning for work. What surprised me today, a day I’m finally able to sit down and dedicate a full day of writing to, is my unexpected attachment to ritual.

Having happily decided this morning to be free of my usual two-hour, heavily constricted time slot, I started to set up shop for a fun-filled day of writing. That’s about the time my brain got in the way.

First, I couldn’t find my tea kettle (it took me a second to remember that it’s at the office), and apparently my mind can’t switch to ‘full-day writing mode’ unless I have three cups of hot tea waiting for me on the sidelines. Next, the writing elves in my brain went on strike because the chair I’m sitting in isn’t very comfortable (looks like they really liked my old writing nook, one I no longer have access to since I’ve moved). My old reference books are nowhere to be found (mind you, I don’t need them for today’s scene, and probably not for this book at all). The dining room table (which has taken the place of my old writing nook) has been deemed too empty and sub-par. The phone rings and I am compelled to answer it; even though I know it’s most likely going to be work related and will destroy any inspiration I might still have at this point. By the time I handle the phone call, Mr. Muse has officially left the building and the two-hour, heavily constricted time slots are beginning to look like pure gold.

That’s when I decided it would be best for everyone involved (disgruntled writing elves included) to switch gears and write this post. Now that reflection time is over (and trust me, seeing in black and white just how ridiculous I was being really helped), I can finally go back to today’s intended purpose (and preparing more tea).

If you’re wondering what the ukiyo-e print above has to do with this post, it’s the image I’ve had up on my browser for several days now, as I write the scene I’m working on.