Early January musings

Nothing much has happened in my head or on paper, story-wise, in the last few weeks. i spent a lot of time with family, read out loud to my husband, and bought several books on writing. i have even read bits of a few of those books. But nothing much has happened.

That’s to be expected during December and early January. Christmas and New Year’s and traveling and, for that matter, coming down from Nano, all mean i don’t get much done during the holiday season. That changes on Monday.

Just saying that is a little scary.

Like many creatives, i tend to binge when my muse shows up and look at cats on the internet when she doesn’t. But writing, i realize, is a craft. It’s something that takes time and effort to develop, and time and effort mean intentionality and planning. So i am planning to write, starting Monday.

One day while we were out of town, i spent a few minutes at my in-laws’ kitchen table thinking of strategies. i thought, if i could set a word count goal, it would help me tremendously. Nothing like Nano—maybe a third of that pace. If i can plan for around 4000 words per week, that means i’ll get not quite 50K in before April, when Camp Nano starts. It means i’ll be making progress—tangible progress, not just thinking about thinking. The thinking side of writing is very important—but the actual writing needs to happen, and i don’t always get there. And setting a weekly rather than a daily goal allows me to be a bit more flexible.

So now, i have a weekly writing journal where i can jot down goals, ideas, and actual progress. i’ll seek out writing challenges, work on year 5 of Rixi’s letters, and start feeling good about sitting down and writing.

Today, i spent about twenty minutes  working on a poem in between floor-mopping and bathroom-cleaning. Alas, i can’t count; the meter ended up a little wonky. But i put words on paper, and that felt good. (The poem is a sehnsuchty one for me; i knew it would take a few tries and it doesn’t bother me at all that i was right.)

So, we’ll see what Monday brings. For now, time to dance.

Professional musicianship research

i have spent the better part of the afternoon deciding how much money a professional vocal ensemblist should make in Galadven (the capital of Nirth).

The answer: It depends.

The particular ensemble that interests me is called Linnor (a Sindarin word which means, simply, “Singer”). i have decided that in order to keep my character at a reasonable level of wealth considering his age and other pursuits (schooling), i will have a two-tiered pay scale. The lower end of the scale is for junior or “visiting” vocalists, and the higher end is for senior or “permanent members.” That way i can balance the sense of prestige associated with this ensemble with the need for not making this kid extra rich out of nowhere. It is a really good opportunity—but there’s no real reason for everyone to make the same amount of money anyway. (Actually, it only occurred to me this morning that this would be a paid gig, despite having decided to invite said character to join about, oh, a year and a half or more ago. How prestigious can it be if members must hold day jobs?)

i think that the majority of the ensemblists will likely hold day jobs, though, because as i was researching orchestra rehearsal schedules it looks like they won’t be required to rehearse daily until the week leading up to each concert, and much of the time they won’t have more than one rehearsal a week. So this might stop making sense after awhile. On the other hand, according to the Handbook on Nirthian Wealth, characters earning either salary amount will fall somewhere between “average” and “wealthy,” so they won’t need to find another job, and their own private rehearsal time will certainly take up a chunk of each day regardless of group rehearsals. So this might make sense again.

At any rate, here’s what Linnor members will make:

Junior vocalist: 5 hammer (about $5) per rehearsal, 3 horn (about $30) per smaller concert, and 9 horn (about $90) for the year-end concert.

Senior vocalist: Exactly double that—so, 1 horn (about $1) per rehearsal, 6 horn (about $60) per smaller concert, and 18 horn (about $180) for the year-end concert.

There are three of these smaller concerts, and 17 rehearsals leading up to each. There are 33 rehearsals leading up to the year-end concert. The ensemble gets a week off prior to beginning each new concert cycle, and an extra week off at the end of the year. For the first 4 (8) weeks, there is a single rehearsal each week; this is increased to 3/week for the next 2 (6) weeks, and then the ensemble rehearses each weeknight (7/week) for the final week leading up to the concert.

Concert tickets: Unlike traveling musicians, whose tickets are available without cost to community members based on a lottery system, Linnor and other such groups in Galadven charge for admittance and anyone is welcome to attend assuming they can afford to do so. Prior to each concert, there is one open rehearsal (or two before the year-end concert), and tickets for those are half off. Smaller concerts cost 3 horn ($30) and the year-end concert costs 6-10 horn ($60-100) depending on the seat (tickets are much more in demand for the year-end concert, and additional seating is opened to accommodate this).

While researching, i also ran across a tidbit of orchestra member contract policy that hadn’t occurred to me before: Missed rehearsals. The one page i saw that mentioned this allowed for up to two excused absences per concert cycle or five per year, and some rehearsals are of course mandatory. Something like that would have to be in place for Linnor as well, but i don’t know how best to map the guideline above with the Linnor concert cycle. And it doesn’t really matter, because that’ll be one of the fine details that Rixi hears about but which doesn’t affect her. If it came up at all it’d be an offhand comment acknowledging that one could “only get so many” absences or something like that, and who knows if it’d even come up.

The grand total of all of this is that, assuming no missed rehearsals, a junior vocalist would earn exactly 60 horn per year ($600), and a senior vocalist would earn double that. Assuming the arrangement i have in mind persists for the next few years, this character will have acquired some wealth beyond what the average 16-year-old deteer would have amassed while in school, but not nearly so much as he will in full-time patrolling (spoils of war yield a nice profit), and chances are good he’ll have given some to his parents and otherwise spread much of it around. i’m thinking it might be a good idea to have the bulk of his income go into a trust which he receives upon graduation. He has next to zero living expenses while at Duathos. It’ll cost him more than his first year’s salary to buy a beautiful, world-class mandolin, which sounds like a worthy expense that won’t unbalance things  at all. (He splits his time between mandolin and singing, and although this particular appointment is for voice, a grown-up or even fancy instrument to replace his student-use one would be really nice.)

This is the sort minutia that i really enjoy despite it not furthering the story one iota. (Although i was considering again the description that this ensemble is given in the letters already written, and wondering if i needed to rethink it. i think i overdid the rethinking, but i do feel much better when my details are in place and i don’t have to worry as much about whether i’ve forgotten something that will turn out to be crucial later on.)

So, there. This is the financial accounting and concert/rehearsal schedule of the Linnor Ensemble of Galadven, Nirth. Details aside, you really want to hear them sing… they are incredible.

***Addendum***

After i told Jonathan all about the above research and conclusions, he made a great suggestion: Cut that junior rate in half and call it an internship. It’s honestly an amazing experience for him. He will learn and grow a lot, and he doesn’t have any living expenses. Plus, if he’s receiving an internship salary rather than a regular salary (junior or senior), i don’t have to worry at all about whether his income will be out of balance with what he should be able to afford as a new Black Robe in a few years. If he is paid a junior salary his first year in Linnor, i will have to wrassle with the question of when he becomes a permanent member and starts receiving the higher salary, which i just don’t want to give him, but if there is a pay band specifically for students, i will never have to worry about that. He’ll make 30 horn ($300) each year, and will therefore have made 120 horn total ($1200) by the end of his last year, and that is not unreasonable. He will have made a little money adventuring, too, as will his classmates, so having a job while in school will result in more money at the outset—but not nearly as much as if he had been receiving a junior or senior salary with Linnor.

Done.

But that’s just the bookkeeping. Aside from that, a Linnor concert is breathtaking. You might want to buy your tickets early!

Year 4 is done!

Today i finalized the letters of 568 Nirth. Thank goodness. It has been a long, arduous, crazy-making two years.

You know how last week i posted that i had come up with a solution, which required an outline but it would probably be worth it? Well, later the same day i discarded that idea entirely.

If i knew where ideas came from i would probably be a billionaire. i don’t. Sometimes, beneath the roiling ocean of conscious thought, an idea forms. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge, a random stimulus—a sight, a sound, a smell, an unrelated concept—to kick that idea to the surface of said roiling ocean. Such a thing happened to me on Wednesday. My husband and i went to see Ender’s Game (which i loved), and partway through the movie (i don’t even remember now what was happening onscreen at the time), i just had this quiet thought: i can do this.

i had been blathering to my poor patient husband off and on while the previews were playing. You know the quote from Winston Churchill: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Well, i must confess that we writers are fanatics of the worst kind, purely obsessed with worlds that exist only in our heads. i for one have a hard time shutting off this constant stream of thought about my people and the world they live in, the stories, the backstories, the minutia, the grand sweeping narratives, their hearts. Everything comes back to my writing. So it is only natural that as we settle down to watch a movie, i am still in Nirth, trying to throw off the reality of one world in order to enter another. i had been working on Rixi all afternoon, and was still neck-deep in her dramas (and the related continuity errors and multiple versions). Thankfully, the theatre we were in was inhabited by exactly and only the two of us. i’m sure i was very obnoxious. But somehow, i settled down.

And then, having engaged the movie, having allowed myself to be transported into another world, this knowledge came to me: i can do this.

The answer was simple: Go back to the beginning. Accept year 4 as it stands. Accept the beginning of year 5 as it stands. Insert little e at the proper time, the end of Menkul, and let the swirling madness that follows do its work. Thirteenth time’s the charm, as they say.

So year 4 is done. i have about a week and a half’s worth of letters to finish to catch Rixi up with “present day” in a related parallel story. Then, swirling madness, and the end, and beginning, of everything.

i can do this.

And, surprisingly, i believe it.

Two sisters, their cousin, and the Art of War

Today is a writing day—thank goodness, and much-needed it is! i had a solution come to my mind yesterday while making cookies (sometimes a different task is the best way to open up the brain and solve a problem), but i wanted to let that simmer for awhile, and talk to Jonathan about it, before jumping right in and putting it in motion. (Also, the kitchen was a wreck after yesterday’s bakesplosion—three batches of cookies.)

So, the plan for today:
1) Start the dishwasher
2) Read a little bit of something i didn’t write—a chapter or so
3) Find a likely writing challenge and complete it (half-hour)
4) Write out yesterday’s solution, and ask J what he thinks of it
5) Implement the solution, or at least get moving on it (it’ll be a many-sessions-long implementation).

So far, i have done 1, 2, and 4. The dishwasher is churning merrily away, and J thinks that my solution is narratively sound, so that’s what i’ll be working on today. It is a variant on the little-e-in-year-four model, for those who have heard me whine about little e and its multitudinous variants.

My preferred method of writing is what is called, in the NaNoWriMo world, “pantsing,” or writing by the seat of one’s pants. i like to make a person, give them a background and discover their personality, and then plop them down and watch them go. Give them some stimuli, some relationships, some conflict, and see how they manage. What solutions do they come up with? What decisions do they make? How do they surprise me, and what does it mean? Then repeat.

This isn’t working for Rixi right now. i got into a terrible muddle about two years ago with a nasty nest of continuity errors, and now i have about a dozen partially-written versions of the events in my head, and they are all simultaneously true. It’s like a forked universe; all possibilities are actually happening in one parallel reality or another, but i am omniscient and am hyper-aware of all of them. They blend together. It’s like a terrible dream, where realities that are unrelated in waking life collide and conspire and conflagrate. So my preferred method—Just Write—isn’t working.

Neither is Just Write’s better-behaved sister, What About, who starts with a specific idea or solution rather than a blank slate. Often, if Just Write doesn’t work, What About will come up with an idea, and that will jump-start a similar organic approach, but from (or to) a particular concept or event. i can plan, and lead up to, or develop away from, something specific, rather than just explore and see what happens. But What About is not working either; that’s where i got the dozen versions that are now all simultaneously true.

What’s left? The sisters’ rigid cousin, Outline. Oh, i hate her. She is uppity and legalistic and joyless. She refuses spontaneity, scowls at discovery. But her cousins are flitting about at random, and i can’t make them behave. Entre Outline, bane of first drafts, and the muse who brought me yesterday’s solution.

Now i have not only a concrete place to start, but a concrete place to go, and sign-posts along the way. Will this steal my joy in the writing? Hardly. i am well beyond first drafts; i am in deep, tempestuous waters. Outline, rigid and demanding though she is, will see me to shore. She will provide a heading. She will, in the final analysis, restore my joy, as i begin to see land ahead through the fog and the lashing rain.

So that is 4 on my list for today.

For Thing 2, i debated for a moment whether i should read something fiction or something nonfiction. i decided on nonfiction, primarily because if i start fiction i will never stop, and because i received a bundle of writing books in the mail yesterday and i am eager to dive into them. They are all by James Scott Bell, who is the Writer’s Digest‘s Instructor of the Month right now. (There was a sale.) The books are Conflict & Suspense, Plot & Structure, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, and The Art of War for Writers. i didn’t feel quite ready to dive into something specific and heavy, so i picked up The Art of War. So far, four maxims in, i can already see that this book will benefit me. Most of what i have read at this point is about diligence and hard work and discipline. Here is one bit that particularly stood out.

Know the difference between a hero and a fool, … and aspire to the heroic. If you want to be a writer, know this: A hero knows it takes hard work and a long time to get published; a fool thinks it should happen immediately, because he thinks he’s a hero already.—The Art of War for Writers, 3 (p 16)

(There were many other insightful contrasts between heroes and fools as well.)

So, i go on to my writing craft—a half-hour challenge to exercise languishing muscles, and then a deep, deep dive into those tempestuous waters. Outline, come to my aid!

How the writer avoids writing by writing

i very nearly gave up this week. And then i didn’t.

In order to keep myself going on the Twiry stories, i finally sat down and mapped out which story ideas would make the cut and then put them in order. Then i wrote a story and a half. i’m now on number seven.

i’m still stuck on the eponymous chapter, however. Part of my problem with Twiry Glitterwing and the Moss Palace has been that i’m not sure i’m getting the tone right—it doesn’t feel like i imagined it would. And part of the problem is that i don’t know for the life of me what the moss palace should be like—where it is or how it looks. i decided that that story should be the last chapter, to sort of end at a high point, where there isn’t anywhere else to go. But if i can’t figure out the moss palace in the next few days i’ll probably be forced to insert another story in the middle somewhere and end with what i meant to be the penultimate chapter—the tea party, where all Twiry’s forest friends are in attendance. i think either story would work as the last in the book (if i could figure out the moss palace itself, that is), and i think the tea party would work either as last or as second to last. So it’ll work out. But if i scrap the moss palace, i’ll have to come up with another story idea and change the name of the book. No big deal, but still, things that’ll need doing.

Meanwhile, since i don’t particularly want to be writing Twiry, i’ve been spending unnecessary mental energy on another book that i have no intention of writing anytime soon and which hadn’t really occurred to me as a real option until halfway through October. i didn’t have time to think out an outline before Nano at that point, and i wasn’t sure which time period it would cover, so i couldn’t get started writing it, but now that i am stuck writing something else, ideas for this other novel keep coming to me.

It’s a vicious cycle.

The other novel that i’m considering writing is centered on Alandros. He’s Rixi’s best friend’s magic tutor. i really like him as a character. The original reason i thought of him as an option at all, though, was the simple fact that he’s in his late 30s and it would give me a chance to write someone closer to my own age. But that he’s also a powerful Deteer in a well-positioned town with a lord who’s very politically important also gives me an opportunity to write a story with high-level intrigue and action. Of course, therein lies one facet of the rub (if that’s a valid metaphor, mixed as it is): i don’t really pay attention to fight choreography in the shows and movies i watch. i know when it looks cool, but i don’t analyze the moves. And i don’t tend to pay very much attention when reading that stuff, either. i get the gist, but i’m not a strategist. So it would be a challenge to learn to write the battle scenes well.

On the other hand, i’m going to have to write scenes like that for the next book in the Lily Cycle, also, so practicing on Alandros may not be a bad idea.

Other facets of the rub are the fact that he’s male, and he is closer to my age than my other characters—and his age would mature the book’s tone significantly. Durom Falls works well as a book about a sixteen year old adult. The tone will have to change (and hopefully not in a histrionic way) as Lily matures and starts dealing with harder things, but Durom Falls itself felt very much like a YA novel to me. That wasn’t what i was going for, but as i said, it works for a sixteen-year-old protagonist. It won’t work when the protagonist is 37. And can i write older prose? i guess we’ll find out. (It’s not like i don’t read enough of it. i just don’t have any characters older than 17 right now.) And the fact that he’s male just puts me outside my comfort zone. i’ve written some snippets with him in them, but not from his perspective, and i’m not used to writing for a male lead. i’m just not sure if i can pull it off believably. (Tana French says that people are just people, and i’ll buy that, but i can’t ignore gender altogether. Men and women just aren’t the same, internally or externally, and while i buy that individuals do not act as stereotypical representations of their class, they do carry at least part of a set of characteristics, even if other parts of the set don’t seem to correspond.)

Anyway: The brilliant idea i got this afternoon was to tell the Alandros story as two parallel stories. One, a present-day struggle (siege or civil war), and the other, his first year or so as a black robe (graduate) Deteer. That would allow me to develop his character more fully—we’ll see what makes him tick and why he ticks that way. It’ll also give me the chance to use my YA voice, while contrasting it with an adult voice for the same character—a fascinating study, and a good writing challenge.

i was talking this over with Jonathan at dinner, and thought up another twist on this idea. i could write the parallel stories as Alandros’ youth and the siege (i understand this might be a very opaque reference), and then write a second book as his experience in the civil war (another opaque reference). The siege is a very simple thing, much easier to do in half a book than it would be to delve into the strained relationships and the morass of motives between the bevy of political players that exists in any civil war. The civil war can hardly be told in half a novel, but it could certainly be told in a full novel (if kept to a single perspective). You know, depending on how things turn out. i am writing living history, after all; not all details are clear yet. And that’s another reason to use the siege, rather than the civil war, for the parallel stories: The siege has already happened. The civil war is only just heating up. So if i used the siege, i could pretty much start writing this book anytime. No waiting, just outlining.

i sort of like the idea of having a book plot in mind for a year before writing it, however. It might be well-formed by next November. Neither Durom Falls nor Twiry were well-formed before i began writing. It’s not a work’s death knell, but “measure twice and cut once” can be applied to any project.

Summary: i made no progress on Twiry today. But i have a lot of great ideas for a completely unrelated project.

Four stories and faltering

When i first came across this quote, my immediate thought was writing. Honestly, stories in general, including many i have not written, but writing in particular. i love storytelling, making people, watching them grow and unravel and grow again. The process, however, is often painful or simply frustrating.

The Twiry stories are not working out like i’d wanted them to. They aren’t bad at all—they just don’t feel like what i’d imagined. And this is the problem with writing in-world artifacts. The stories have a life of their own in Nirth already. i am not trying to write something new, but to find something already well-loved by people in another world.

The concept of sehnsuct is behind much of my love of story, as is the theme of redemption. Haunting beauty. All things made right. The world as it should be, but isn’t. Incarnation: the deep longings of every heart, given form.

i don’t know how to do that, but i desire it deeply. And it kills me. It kills me to read it, it kills me to attempt it, it kills me to achieve it, and—much more often—it kills me to close my hand on air, over and over again, thinking i’m close but finding i’m not.

Give me a few months and i might like Twiry better. i feel fairly desolate right now. But i will press on, because Nano demands it, and because i have made promises. Next time i write a picture book, however, remind me to write it with pictures.

The second thing i’ll be writing this month is part of a longer saga of heartache-in-writing: Rixi, in a critical and wrenching moment that won’t end. Oh, Rixi, why do we hurt each other?

For now, though, i am only 5830 words and four stories behind schedule. And tonight is a write-in. And i will make it, somehow. If writing kills me (and let’s be honest; it won’t), it’ll be because i let it, not because i can’t get up again.