Monday, January 21, 2013

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and Writing 2,000 words a day

Time elapsed since restarting the novel: almost 13 months
Current word count: around 38,000 words

When 2013 came along, I finally got around to typing all the stuff I wrote in 2012. It wasn't a lot, but it turned out to be more than I thought. I wrote two graphic novel scripts, a couple of (long) short stories, and – to my surprise and delight – half a book. I'm getting somewhere!

Yes, I posted that word count up above with pride. I now know I'll finish the book this year, or at least the first chunk of 60,000 words, the first story arc, the Fellowship of the Ring in my Lord of the Rings, hahaha. It's just a matter of continuing to plug away at it.

(It must be said that reaching your target word count or finishing the book is like finishing the top floor of a building: there's still a lot of work to be done. You have to work on the interiors, the elevator, the electricals, the plumbing, you have to get that damn crane down, and you have the sell units. The same is true for a book.)

My word count smugness got shattered when I came across a link from Amazon: The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Hit the link for more, or don't; it basically says that they're accepting submissions. The winner will be given a publishing deal and a $50,000 advance on royalties, while four more winners will be given a $15,000 advance.

I thought to myself, "Hey! Assuming I win, this sure beats the publishing options here. And I'm only 20,000 words away. (Amazon considers a novel to be any work that is 50,000 words or more.)

Then I saw the deadline for submissions: January 27. That meant that I have to finish 20,000 words in 10 days. In a panic, I began my gruelling writing schedule (2,000 words a day is tough for any writer.) After day 3, I've written 6,000 words, which means I'm on schedule.

It's a strange thing. It's like climbing a mountain everyday. Working at such a pace, writing has become more athletic, like a sport. You don't have time to think about it, plan, plot or evaluate: you just do it. You have to trust in your training and believe that you know what you're doing when the truth is, you have no bloody clue. It's like picking up a guitar and doing jazz improv every night. While running a marathon. On zero sleep.

I've gotten off to a good start, but I don't think I'll make it. Today, for example, I have some deadlines, so I have to get those jobs out of the way first. And even if I do reach 50,000 words, I will have no time to edit. 

I'll still try to reach that word count though. And that means I'll have a book by next week. Wait, wow, that was fast.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I finished something

I don't have a final word count yet, but I think it's either a novella or a very long short story. Something in the ballpark of 15,000 words. It started out as a short story idea, and I was thinking I'd submit it to this collection of speculative fiction that they publish every year. But it kept going and going. And now it's just too long for that collection. (Their limit is 5,000 words.) 

So now I'm thinking of publishing it as a book. I just need three more "short" stories of the same length and it's a thin, 60,000 word novel. The good news is that I'm in the middle of another short story that looks like it will be just as long. The bad news is if I finish that story soon, I'm only halfway done.

I've got mixed feelings about short story collections. They're hard to sell in this day and age. People really go for novels. That strikes me as strange because in today's short attention span age, you think people would welcome a story that they can finish in one sitting. Meanwhile I myself prefer novels. So I really don't know what to do with this story.

Anyway, the new story is called "The Writing Table," and it's a horror story. Or I hope it's a horror story. I don't like dancing around genres and classifications. I really hope this story will freak people out.

Here's an excerpt:

They visited me on the first night. They were just whisperings in the darkness, disembodied voices coming from somewhere beyond my bed, I couldn’t tell from where. On other nights they would become more real, but on that first night, in that strange, unfamiliar house, on that old bed with the stiff sheets, they were just voices.

They welcomed me. Or I thought they welcomed me because they spoke in a dialect that I couldn’t speak. Still, some of the words were familiar, and their tone was reassuring even though their voices were not. They spoke formally, like grownups – no, that wasn’t quite right. They spoke like old people. Even Papa didn’t speak like that. Lolo and Lola spoke that way, when they were still alive. These voices had the harsh, rasping, commanding voices of the old, yet their voices were very small, the way she imagined cats or rabbits would talk if they could. 

There were two voices. One sounded almost male, the other almost female. Those distinctions didn’t seem to fit, but it was as close as I could get to the things I heard. After listening to them for five minutes, I realized that they had the voices of beasts. 

I first caught them speaking to each other as I drifted off to sleep in my new room in the old house. I fought off sleep and strained to hear them better when they stopped and the beast-woman said in a cat voice, “Shh, she hears us.”

The beast-man went on in a lizard hiss, saying some things I didn’t understand, and then he seemed to address me directly. I caught the words “welcome” and “happy you’ve come to live here.” He said many other things that I couldn’t make out. Then the beast-woman said something, just one sentence, but I understood it in its entirety: “It’s been so long since there have been children in the house.” They said no more. The two voices were silent for the rest of the night. I lay in bed for hours, wide awake.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How I got my writing groove back

"Isn't that what we're all trying to do? Go back to our old selves?"
- Cat Power (Chan Marshall)

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”
-Neil Gaiman

I used to be a journalist, so to me, there's no such thing as a writing groove or being in the mood for writing or being visited by (please don't say it, oh please don't say it) the muse. Other journalists I know will agree. You write the damn story. You reach that word count. You make your deadlines.

Since I started writing full-time, I've tried to write 1,000 words per day except for the four months when I was on a self-imposed vacation and the first two months since my second son was born. Sometimes I succeed; most of the time I don't. But I write almost every day.

I used to write on my computer, a MacBook that's getting long in the tooth. Pages was my word processor of choice. I'd place Pages on Desktop 2 and hide my browser on Desktop 1 so it wouldn't bother me as I wrote. Something was wrong though. My back would hurt from writing at the computer. My eyes would get strained. I would always get distracted. Inexplicably, writing at my computer would put me under stress. I felt like someone was watching all the time. I was constantly thinking that I needed to hurry up. Worst of all, the writing felt forced.

Recently, I returned to the way I wrote when I was young. In bed. On a notebook. With a pen. I was pretentious when I was young, so I wrote with a fountain pen. It took a while to get used to it, but once I did, I was hooked. Ever since I returned to writing this way, the words have come – not easily because words are never easy – they've come without too much of a fuss. They've landed on the pages of my notebook regularly and in large numbers and they brought friends. These friends were good ones, the kind that you'd be happy your kids had if they brought them home one day.

In the last few weeks I finished a short story and wrote a chunk of the book. Most of it was pretty good, I think. Still a lot of work to be done, but I'm happy with the progress.

This is me at work. I'm in a good place.

The importance of proofreading

You're looking at a book I wrote that was published in 2004. It is getting reprinted, along with the two other books in the series, so I took the opportunity to proofread it because I remember the first edition had many typos and errors. (In our defense, we were new at making books, publishing is much faster than most people think, and there is never enough time or budget. Not making excuses, just telling you how it is.) How many typos and errors? This picture shows a post-it flag for each thing that needs correcting.

Proofreading is a dying/dead craft. In fact, this book hit the presses without proofreading. It was edited. Twice. But not proofread. So in its current shape, the book is filled with enough orphans to fill an orphanage. And much more.

A proofreader who knows what he is doing can help not just spot typos but improve the flow of text by eliminating orphans and widows (not to mention orphaned lines and orphaned windows) as well as correct inconsistencies that the editor – who is chiefly concerned with grammar and language – may have missed. If you think that's trivial, you can join the rest of the human race as well as many publishing companies that don't employ proofreaders. But these people are wrong. Just take another look at the picture above.

Monday, June 4, 2012

So what have I done so far?

Time elapsed since restarting the writing of the novel: 6 months
Word Count: Approximately 20,000 words

You'll have noticed in my little counter that six months has passed since I wrote the first post in this blog. That's a long time. What have I accomplished? What have I been up to?  It's simple:

Not writing the book.

Quite predictably, I've been busy with other things.

I've finished two comic book scripts, each one approximately 100 comic book pages long, which as anyone who has ever read a comic book script before will know is not equal to 100 book pages. They can be shorter, or longer, depending on how much you like to describe things. (Mine tend to be shorter.)

Comic Book #1
The first comic book, or graphic novel, that I finished is called Pinoy Zombie. I was just watching The Walking Dead one day, which is an awesome comic book series as well as a TV show, and I thought to myself, "The zombie apocalypse would be a barrel of laughs in the Philippines." Then I began writing it because the story wanted to get written. 17,000 words later, it was done.

Comic Book #2
The second comic book script was one that I began with my old friend GP who wanted to illustrate a comic book when I was fresh out of college (he was still in school back then). We never got beyond a few pages of the script and a few sketches of the characters. Life happened to us, and we both found real jobs, but the story stuck with me for some reason. The story was cobbled together from movies we thought were cool, but there was something I liked about it. 15 years or so later, I finally finished it. The first draft clocks in at 19,000 words. Right now, it is a weird little thing, like a kitten someone sat on and somehow survived, and the kitten is now unlike any cat you've seen before, ugly and beautiful all at the same time. I have no idea if the story is good, bad, or what. That is either a good thing or death.

I don't know what will become of my comic book scripts. My first inquiries to illustrator friends were met with questions about payment, which just broke my heart. I love money maybe too much, but this was never about that. They gave me their reasons for asking for money up front, but I can't shake off the feeling that I must be asking the wrong illustrators. Anyway, I'm sitting on my scripts until I find the right illustrator, someone who'll do it because they think it's cool, or because they like the story, and sure, maybe make some money when all is said and done. Maybe these comic books will never be produced and maybe that's ok. That said, I'm starting to have some confidence in Pinoy Zombie the longer I sit on it. (Maybe it should be a movie!) I still don't know about the other one though…

Short Stories
I've also been working on a couple of short stories which I will submit for publication in the few places that still publish literature in the Philippines, and I hope to finish those within the next two months. These are more literary works while also fantasy genre stories (one is a horror story).

Magazine/Newspaper/Blog Work
Oh yeah, not to forget, I also write regularly for FHM Philippines, dipped my toe in writing for the parenting crowd (more on that some other day), and maintain a tech blog which I try to update a few times a week.

Baby Boy #2
And then there's this guy, who was born this May.

Enough Words To Fill Up A Book
So I've written some, oh I don't know, 60,000 words since December, and if they had all gone to writing the book, I'd be finished by now. You have no idea how much that frustrates me. I tell myself that these other stories needed to get done. They were cluttering my mind. They wanted to be written. I needed the "exercise."

Meanwhile, I estimate 3,000 to 5,000 of those 60,000 words went to the book. The important thing is that the work on the book has officially begun again. And those 3,000 to 5,000 words were good ones.

Excerpt from the book

Time elapsed since restarting the writing of the novel: 6 months
Word Count: Approximately 20,000 words

Before anything else, I wanted to post an excerpt from the book I'm working on. The working title is The Forgotten City. Years ago, I submitted the excerpt for publication in the first issue of Story magazine. That magazine, like many others, isn't being published anymore, which is really a shame. There are precious few out there who carry the torch of Philippine literature. Anyway, you can catch a glimpse of what the novel is about more or less from this 5,000 word snippet. After writing this, I got intimidated by how much more I had left to write and to research. Since this excerpt's publication, the novel has changed quite a bit in my mind. I still think it's a great start though. I won't spoil it anymore. Do check it out

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm writing a book, yeah yeah yeah…

Dudley Moore: I'm writing a book.
Peter Cook: Really? Neither am I.

I don't know what to tell people when they ask me what I'm doing now. The truth is I'm writing a book, but this sounds so much like a delusional fantasy or like a pretentious lie that I hesitate to answer honestly. So I say I'm handling our startup business, which is currently on-hold until we find suppliers who won't cheat us. Or I tell them "pa-raket-raket," which is also true in the same way that it's true that I've taken up photography; I don't call myself a photographer. What I'm really doing -- and I tell this truth to anyone willing to listen to the answer to their question -- is writing a book.

Really? Neither am I.

A more common response is: "So you're writing a book! That's nice…" Something you tell a child who just told you that she's started finger-painting. Or the cynical sort will just zone out and change the subject. "So how about that new iPhone?" 

What most people don't know is that, coming from me, the words "I'm writing a book," isn't surprising, or even noteworthy. After all, I've talked about nothing else since I could put pen to paper.

Also, I've written four books since the year 2000. That’s hardly Stephen King levels of prolific awesomeness, but not bad. (Three of these books were written under a pseudonym, which explains why some people are surprised at all to find out that I'm writing another book.) I’ve been down this road before, and I know what I’m doing. Writing books has always been the dream as well as the actual fact.

And I'm blogging about it.

So I'm writing a book…and blogging about the experience of writing a book. While we're being honest here, I sometimes worry about what I’ll write about in this blog. I can see it now: "Day 267: Wrote five words today..." 

Anyway, I'm doing the blog for a number of reasons:

Reason # 1: Writers will dig it.
There are a lot of writers out there. I hope reading about my efforts on book number five will help/inspire/serve as a warning to other writers. Pick one.

Reason #2: Yes, I’m a writer!
This is also the blog where I can talk about writerly stuff, rant, and chew the cud about writing. If you want to read about cooler stuff, you can read my other blog, also known as the tech journalist hangover one.

Reason # 3: Outing the book helps.
Okay, now that it's on the Internet, there's no turning back now. I have to do this.

Reason # 4: Someone told me this is the future.
Or was it that blogging is so last decade? I forget. Anyway, this blog thing is supposed to be a great way to promote whatever it is I’m trying to peddle here, namely me, myself, my book.

Reason #5: This is my work.
I’ve worked in a number of related industries. I’ve written for advertising. I’ve made magazines. I’ve written books. I have a blog (now two). Over the years, I’ve discovered that everything except the books falls away. Don’t get me wrong. I wildly loved each at one point in my life. I believe each has its value in society, but these values are radically different as well as hopelessly unequal. (More on that some other day.) To me it is simple. Ads are rarely remembered, magazines end up in the trash, blog posts get buried, but books -- the stories and the ideas in them -- those stay. This is what I do. I’m writing a book.