Getting close to something amazing

Last year, through perseverance, I caught the attention of an agent with the publisher of some of my favourite authors. He rejected two queries from me, but he suggested I rewrite one, Legacy of the Destroyer, and trim about 20,000 words from a 120,000 draft. That would leave me a leaner, meaner, fighting book.

I’d just finished rewriting a different book, so launching into another serious rewrite wasn’t actually what I wanted to be doing. On the other hand, I recognised that he was likely right and that I could probably trim the book significantly. That was a project that took me almost up until KRH was born (that was my self-imposed deadline.) I fired it off to said agent, and waited.

Waiting, I’m told, is a major part of writing and publishing. I consider myself fairly patient, which is a good thing. I only recently received a reply. The agent in question told me that my sample pages zipped alone, that my voice was “solid,” and he liked the premise. However, he had to decline because it was similar to an existing client’s project, because it didn’t speak to him, and because although my writing was good, there was nothing that spoke to him in terms of it being something only I could write.

I don’t like to talk much about interactions with agents, because it feels unprofessional. Also, I firmly believe in being cautious about what’s repeated out of a private email conversation. Still, I wanted to talk about this.

Anyone who’s queried probably knows that an agent has to love your work in order to offer representation. There are a lot of good books out there, but good isn’t enough for publication. It needs to be great, and it needs to speak to the agent in question. Still, the agent signed off by telling me he thought I was close to “something amazing.”

I find this somewhere between encouraging and discouraging. I happen to think both the books I’m currently querying are hecking great (or else I wouldn’t be querying them). But I nurse the fear that they’re not amazing. Unfortunately, the results of my querying so far is that agents agree. So I do find it discouraging that, after all this work, the best I can do is pretty good.

On the other hand, I have received some insincere praise in response to queries, and I don’t believe this was that at all. So if this agent things I’m close to something amazing, then maybe I am. I’m not sure how to get there yet, but I can work toward that as a goal. I will get there. I don’t intend to stop until I do.

Write like you’re on vacation

My wife and I are lucky enough to get to vacation once a year. This year’s destination was Cancun, Mexico. Previous vacations have been pretty good; a lot of time writing, some sun, some good food, a few drinks. Paradise for me.

This is exactly how I pictured my time in Mexico. In fact, I took this picture on the last day while rushing to get ready to go to the airport.

When I have time off work, I like to work. No, really. For me, a vacation is an opportunity to spend time doing things I really enjoy, even if that thing is writing really hard. I see vacations as an opportunity to really get some thing accomplished.

Or, I used to. Christmas, when I intended to make a big end-of-year push to get some work done, turned out to be anything but when the whole family got sick, I was worn out, and it was KRH’s first festive season. But this vacation would be different, I told myself. KRH was 5 months old, not 3. We were going with my wife’s parents, who would babysit! I would get up early before everyone did, so I could get my words in and still spend lots of time with my family.

You can probably guess how that went, huh?

It’s not to say I didn’t get anything done. But we arrived in Cancun already exhausted, because preparing for the first vacation was a lot more work than we expected. The plane trip was good and KRH turned out to be an excellent traveller, but it was still a long day and trip. And between the heat, the new experiences, and us adapting to a vacation schedule with a baby, it turns out I actually got very little accomplished at all.

He is both an exceptionally good and an exceptionally cute traveller.

It wasn’t exactly for lack of trying. I did drag myself out of bed early about half the time. But it was sure tough to put finger to keyboard. And once the day got going? Good luck. There was food to eat, and swimming to do. For a nine day trip, we lost two to travel, one on a tour to Isla Mujeres, and the others sure went fast. And you know what? I don’t regret it at all.

Here’s the thing. This is probably going to be the new pattern of vacations. For a while, they’re not going to be free writing sojourns anymore. Instead, they’re going to be about spending time with KRH and his hypothetical future siblings. That’s not a thing I’ve gotten the opportunity to do enough.

NOW NOW NOW is an ethos I’ve embraced for a long time when it comes to writing. As silly as it is, I feel like my window is slipping away, or that I’m somehow missing my chance to achieve my goals. I worry I’ve already wasted too much time and that my goals are getting further away as I get older, not closer. I fear that I’m falling behind others, no matter that it’s neither a race nor a competition. So a vacation, a solid week to write, is always a treasured opportunity. And although losing that is going to be hard and I won’t stop trying to write while I’m off work, what I will do is stop thinking of them as writing priority weeks. Now, they’ll be parenting priority weeks. We need to have that sometimes, right?

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
42% Complete
37,836 of 90,000 words

The process alone was enough

A little while ago, during an AMA, I asked author Kameron Hurley about becoming tough. A few days later, Brandon Sanderson stopped in for an AMA as well. In terms of both craft and persistence (he wrote a lot of books before he got published), Sanderson is the writer I want to be like the most. I asked him much the same question. “How did you develop the toughness to keep at your craft, when I’m sure there must have been times you despaired about ever being published?” I didn’t get an immediate answer and figured my question had already been answered, so I didn’t lose any sleep over not getting it answered.

However, kudos to Brandon, about 25 days later he got to my question. Here’s his reply.

I’ve told this story before, but the biggest moment for me came right before I wrote The Way of Kings. I was unpublished, with a dozen (as you’ve mentioned) books under my belt–books nobody in the business seemed to want to buy.

The decision to go was very personal. It was an acknowledgement that the process alone was enough for me. I wanted publication, I wanted to do this as a living, but even if I never obtained that, I loved the writing process enough to keep going.

I wrote, and write, primarily for myself. I realize this is cold comfort when I’m able to make a living, and you haven’t yet reached that point. However, my decision was this: If I reached the end of my life with seventy unpublished manuscripts, that would be a better life lived than if I’d stopped writing.

Just like I needed that last reply, I also needed this one. I’ve been slogging on a book that is probably, at my current pace, 10-12 months away. I’m really unhappy with that speed, but I’m not certain how to improve on it with the time available to me with KRH around. I’m also continuing to get a trickle of query rejections (when I even receive those). So a reminder as to why I do this is timely. A life spent in the pursuit of publication is a life I prefer one one where I don’t even try. A life telling stories isn’t a bad one, even if I’m my only audience.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
36% Complete
32,746 of 90,000 words

February’s fuel

Ah, February. It is probably my least favourite month. Cold, snow, dark; it all makes me want to hide inside. Despite that, I found myself with remarkably less time for charging my batteries than I’d hoped. Still, I found some time for some things. Here they are.

Voltron: Legendary Defender: I listed this last month. I’m listing it again because, hey, I’m still watching it. In a minor miracle for my TV habits, I’m now caught up to the end of season 2, which ended on a fun cliffhanger. It hasn’t been a perfect show, but it has been about the most fun I’ve had watching TV right now. If you’re looking for something that’s light-hearted but a little deep, this is probably your speed.

The Lego Batman Movie: I saw this one with my wife. I enjoyed the Lego Movie far more than I expected, so I went to this one with my expectations moderately high. They were mostly filled, because it was a good movie, packed with more Batman references than any one mediocre fan like myself could count. My biggest criticism was maybe that it was too full, and quite often I found it difficult to catch bits of dialogue or details because things were moving too fast. Overall, the movie was cute and fun, but not as good as the first Lego movie.

Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart: This was a fun read. Set in a fantasy world where divine gods touch most things (and aren’t afraid to intervene), 5 refugees come together to survive, have to face their pasts, and end up part of a larger future. In some ways I found the writing very spare, but that kept the story moving well and ensured that the story never bogged down. Dolkart did a great job of switching between his characters, and I felt their pain when they were faced with trials.

 

I continue to plug along on Cloudbreakers. Still going slower than I might like, but I’ve hit and passed the quarter mark. Still a lot of work to do but when isn’t there? I haven’t had a lot of luck building consistency yet. Another thing to work on.

 

 

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
33% Complete
29,823 of 90,000 words

 

Growth

There are a few kinds of growth. One is the kind KRH is enjoying. He’s still gaining weight and, according to his doctor, is in the 90th percentile for babies his age. That’s pretty good! He is now immensely chubby compared to when he first joined us, but that’s good. Babies are supposed to be chubby. Both my wife and I have, at various times, had awfully sore shoulders, backs and necks from carrying him. He’s also on the cusp of rolling over, and can usually be relied on to wiggle around out of anywhere you leave him. He’s growing and I couldn’t be happier about that.

A different kind of growth is the progression of skills. That’s the kind of growth I’m not feeling lately. Now, not all of writing is about growth. But I think the act of writing each book or project should teach me something and provide an opportunity to advance my skills.

The problem lately, I feel like, isn’t a lack of growth. It’s a lack of grit. And sure, this is the same thing I’ve been struggling with all through February. Consistency is a big problem, and its impacting most things i’m doing. I’m not going to the gym as regularly as I was. I’m not making a regular time to write. And while I’m not making no progress, I’m clearly suffering from it.

James Clear recently wrote about grit, which I think is the thing I’m currently lacking. And rather than merely relying on willpower, he suggests the best way to build it is through consistency and habit. So March is going to be about establishing habits.

As it turns out, there’s one thing I can do to get most of my goals on track. Reliably get up in the morning to write. It works for a couple of reasons. If I hustle, I can get in an hour of writing. If I consistency get up at the right time, eventually my bed time will shift earlier (because I’ve been going to bed and lying there awake because I’m not tired). I write on the treadmill, so that gets me some activity as well. My days run better with these things done early.

What’s likely to get in the way of this habit? Short nights where I don’t sleep much have been the biggest problem so far. I’m going to try and focus on ways to keep myself out of bed after my alarm goes off, like moving my phone farther away from bed (so I don’t grab it and go back). We’ll see if that helps.

In the last week, I made some fair progress on Cloudbreakers. There’s a bit of a pause midway through the first act, so I have some work to do to iron that out. Also, I’m pretty far behind where I wanted to be by the end of February, so without some progress on that I’m going to fall behind my goals for the year. That’s not the end of the year, but it’s my goal to get this book done, so I gotta get on with it.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
22% Complete
19,557 of 90,000 words