As of a few minutes ago, I typed the last period at the end of the last chapter of the first draft of Fatal Blade (Decker’s War – Book 3). I’ll now take a well deserved week-long break before embarking on the first re-write, instead of taking the week-long break knowing I’ve got a chapter or two left to write when it’s over. Am I pleased? Picture a middle-aged, bearded guy doing the happy dance. I didn’t think I could get it done by March 31st, but the last four or five days have been extraordinarily productive. My Tai Chi instructor was telling us the other day to feel the energy in our fingertips. Silly him – I’m a writer. I feel words in my fingertips. And soon, Decker fans will have his newest adventure at their fingertips.
Once again, as I’m in the home stretch of a first draft, I find myself writing more and more frantically every day. I noticed the phenomenon with my last two books as well. For weeks, even months, progress would be measured at the rate of maybe 1,000 words a day – a few pages, if that – then once I get near the 75% mark, my daily productivity shoots up to 2,500-3,000 words a day, which is pretty much a full chapter for the current Zack Decker adventure. Of course, the downside is that I get so hyper after 5-6 hours of sustained work that I need most of the evening to calm down. Thank God for Netflix and mindless binge-watching. Last night, I hit the 100,000 word mark on Fatal Blade at the exact moment I decided to pack it in for the night (it was almost midnight by then!) and today is another day that’ll see me ten to fifteen pages closer to the climax by the time our Easter turkey makes its appearance on the supper table.
Even though I’m now writing seven days a week, the routine I’m slowly settling into is a heck of a pleasant change from the corporate lifestyle. I’ve even begun to take Tai Chi sessions in the morning and they do wonders to not only loosen up my body but also my creative brain. Come May, I’ll no doubt be playing the odd nine holes of golf before I settle down in front of my keyboard to finish Like Stars in Heaven. I think this career switch was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Mrs Thomson certainly finds me a happier, more pleasant and all round more cheerful man than I was a few months ago, and yet I’m working harder than ever.
Going from full-time employment in a demented office setting to the solitary life of a writer working at home has had a few well-intentioned people telling me to make sure I get out among other humans regularly, lest I become a semi-feral hermit, now that I no longer have to deal with colleagues, clients and superiors. I suppose some fear that I might end up holding lengthy conversations with my dog during the daytime, when Mrs Thomson is away. That’s not to say the dog isn’t a good listener. He is, but he’s not the talkative kind so an observer might think that I’m just a little off kilter if I do it too often. It got me to thinking about the introvert versus the extrovert. By natural inclination, I’m the former, but during my working career, I’ve had to pass as the latter if only so I could seem to be someone who might actually be enthusiastic and motivated about the job. So many people in my former line of business tend to be on the extrovert end of the scale that getting along meant going against some of my own instincts. Working as a writer at home, I no longer have to pretend and that notion comes as a relief after decades of putting on a façade for the world. I stumbled across an amusing article earlier today that compares introverts and extroverts and figured I’d share it. Take a look and see if you recognize yourself. I know I did.
The first draft of Fatal Blade (Decker’s War – Book 3) is past the three-quarters mark and things are heating up for Decker. In the last week, I’ve been able to write a full chapter, ten pages or so, a day and while it won’t be done quite as per the schedule I’d set myself, i.e. by the first of April, it won’t take much longer after that. Then, it’ll be the rounds of re-writing, editing, proofreading, etc. I’ve told my editor to clear her calendar for mid-April and I hope to be able to send her the manuscript by then. In the meantime, though Spring has sprung, we’re battening down for a last snowstorm due tomorrow. Since I’m now on pre-retirement leave, I can thank my lucky stars I don’t have to live the messy commute that comes with every little weather hiccup. Listening to the traffic report on the radio is quite enough.
And some days I’m the home renovator. The snow is melting at high speed in our part of the Great White North and last weekend, Mrs Thomson interrupted my deep communion with Zack Decker to inform me of a growing puddle of water in the back part of the basement. Sigh.
Check to see if it was coming through around the basement windows (window wells were full of snow). Nope. Was it coming through the dryer vent. Nope. Oh no… do we have a crack in the foundation? I started to remove part of the ancient wall paneling (likely dating back to the early 1980s) to see if I would find beads of water running down the wall. By the time I stopped tearing away stuff without finding anything, I’d discovered that whoever owned the house about thirty years ago and had finished the basement hadn’t even taken the building code as a suggestion, let alone followed it. Big sigh.
I’ve known for a while that I’d eventually have to refinish those two rooms (my workshop and the laundry room), but it seems that events have forced me to do it this year, more specifically before next fall because I need to re-insulate both rooms.
So, off to the local lumber yard for a ‘Bagster’, i.e. a dumpster in a bag, so I can start disposing of all the wall and ceiling panels, the old insulation, floor tiles and other sundry crap before scrubbing everything down, painting, redoing the wiring properly and according to code, insulating according to code, paneling and, once the laundry room basics are done, adding some shelving.
To add insult to injury, the big puddle started drying out the day after I began looking for the leak, signifying that no more water was coming in. I’m now wondering whether I’ve attributed a foundation leak to some other cause, such as the washer leaking slightly while in operation. The next time we do a load, you can be sure I’ll be watching it like a hawk.
Good thing I’m retiring from my day job. I’ll have all the time I need to fix up the basement over the spring and summer, and not lose ground with my writing. Two or three hours a day working the renos, then write. I finished the basement in our previous house, so this isn’t anything new for me, but it still seems daunting right now and I’ve been procrastinating in terms of moving the tools and workbench out of the workshop to start a full teardown of the old finish, but all it’ll take is that one burst of motivation and then I’ll have a hard time stopping. It’ll be like a bursting dam. When it comes to this kind of work, for me it’s always like a bursting dam. That’s how we procrastinators operate.
When it comes to my stories, I’m not so much a plotter as I am a discoverer. I have a basic premise in mind (a McGuffin), know in broad strokes how it will end and what the major plot points will be, but unlike a lot of writers who break down their stories by chapter and scene, I’m something of an authorly slob. As I’m working on the third installment of Decker’s War, now fast approaching the two-thirds mark, I’m finding my bad habits catching up to me.
Let me explain. I make up planets as I go along – if I don’t stop, my Commonwealth will be a lot bigger than I mean it to be. My editor, trying to maintain continuity, has come up with a compendium of the planets I’ve mentioned in all of my books, so at some point, I’ll have to reuse settings, which means I need to start keeping notes on each of them. Worse yet, I make up characters willy-nilly to advance the story and I’m getting repeat appearances by secondary actors because… well, because. So I need to keep that straight. Same with ship names, etcetera, etcetera.
So, to make my life easier, if only to maintain consistency within a single novel, I’ve plunked down $20 Canuk bucks for a charming little piece of software called Scapple which works just wonderfully for a messy (and, I dare confess, lazy) mind like mind. It’s essentially a electronic version of post-it notes or index cards, but in a format that gives me a single glimpse overview of anything I care to list: characters, ships, planets, major plot points and very importantly, those plot points that I’m not sure about (whether to keep, develop or delete) and those ideas I need to further explore. So far, so good. As a supplement to my memory, it was worth every penny. The storyboard for Fatal Blade has been growing apace as I add notes on various things; remember elements I’d thought about earlier and forgotten and the like. I’ve started one for Like Stars in Heaven as well, so it’ll be waiting for me when I go back to it after sending Fatal Blade to my editor.
Small things can have a multiplier effect that really affects the way one works. This is a case in point, i.e. finally finding something I actually want to use, that’s simple enough so that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time and that I can consult by a simple click of the mouse whenever I have a thought, an idea or a memory lapse.
Getting stuck in an internet vortex is a mightily dangerous thing for an author. I tend to surf the internet while waiting for my brain to come up with the next scene in my current work in progress, mostly to kill time and amuse myself, sometimes to research things, be they out of personal curiosity or related to what I’m writing. The problem is that I’m easily caught in a whirlpool sucking me deeper into the data stream, such as when I visit a Wikipedia page for information, only to navigate from page to page without end (a phenomenon I call a wiki vortex), clicking on interesting links. I’ll emerge hours later, wondering where the time went.
I usually come out of my voyages down the internet vortex somewhat smarter than when I started, but it sucks up a lot of time I should be devoting to advancing my own stories, especially when I’m either procrastinating or stuck after introducing a twist in the story that has me wondering why I did that. Sometimes it takes me two or three days of desultory progress to finally figure out the reason. When that happens, it’s about as close to a ‘Eureka’ moment as I’ll ever come, and I’ve had two of them in the last two days, finally removing the logjam that was keeping me from advancing on the first draft of Fatal Blade. Mind you, the time I didn’t spend writing, I spent getting better acquainted with the world around me, for what that’s worth.
The third installment of Decker’s War has now passed the half-way mark and I’m hoping that progress will accelerate, now that I’ve gotten the first two acts out of the way. Thankfully, winter seems about to release it’s grasp with temperatures forecasted to be above the freezing point from Sunday onwards. Soon, I’ll be able to do my thinking while I’m walking the dog around the neighbourhood. I’m sure he’s looking forward to it as well after three months of confinement. When you’re a five pound Yorkie, snow and ice aren’t your friends.