Scrivener vs. The Inner Critic

And you thought you were rid of me for the whole month!
No such luck. Besides, I have something kinda cool to share.
I’ve been struggling with keeping track of multiple projects. It seems I like to jump around from project to project, a characteristic of the Muse I’ve come to love and accept. This does however lead to a very convoluted to-do list, especially because every time I change course I have to rearrange the list. Not only is it hard to measure progress spread across so many places, but it is also difficult to keep track of where I left off with each project. Worst of all, every time I take the top item off the list to replace it with something else my self-esteem takes a hit.
And my Inner Critic screams, “Failure!”
Just for fun, I opened a Scrivener document on my To-Do file and tried to list every single thing I want to work on in the next year or so: All the stories I want to write, the stories I want to revise, the works in progress, the chapters I want to post for critique, the books I want to read (and I like switch off between several at once; doesn’t everyone do that?) and even little projects like fixing up Ye Olde Blogge. Everything.Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng
The list was twenty-one items long.
As I stared at it, I was struck by an idea.
How about treating each project as its own Scrivener document, turning it into an index card and keeping track of progress inside the document? And then how about color coding each one according to project?
The Muse loves colors!
CategoriesI decided blue would be good for The Tempest’s Serenade (my revised novel), yellow for The Dragon’s Milk Chronicles, red for my other first draft stories, purple for writing craft stuff, orange for reading.
It didn’t take long before I had a pretty cork board with everything I want to do spread out in neat color-coded rows. I’ve sorted them into the order I want to work on things, starting at the top left corner. First: Finish posting chapters of The Tempest’s Serenade at Critique Circle. After that: Finish the first draft of The Way of Wolves.
I can keep track of where I’m at on the document part of the card and I can add images or links there as well. Making a new project is easy too. When I decided that I really don’t want to work on something as epic as the third book of my trilogy for NaNoWriMo, and work on a lighthearted romantic comedy called Karma’s Dragon set in the real world instead, I just make a new card and slide it into the queue in the order I want to do it.
No failure here. Just a rearrangement of priorities.Scrivener Index Cards
How about you? How do you appease the Inner Critic? And do you read one book at a time, or switch off between several?

Colored hearts image courtesy of Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng

Serenity Owwww …

Image Courtesy of 'MPMthe1' @ stock.xchngWhen one of my writing buddies suggested I write some posts about the origins of my latest WIP, I thought at first that I had no idea where this story came from. It seemed that it had always been there, sprung from nothing, unearthed with shovels and then toothbrushes from the tomb of my subconscious. But, since she’d prodded me to blog about it, I dug a little deeper and found some answers, curiously enough right from my own life.

It started with an outrageous doctor’s bill for a routine test. An innocuous envelope, that when opened revealed a bill quadruple what it should be. I know how much it costs because I’ve been having this test done for years at the same place by the same doctor, and since it’s under the deductible for my health insurance, I pay for the entire amount out-of-pocket. I was shocked and, thinking this must be a mistake, I made a few calls.

It went down something like this. Of course, the phone call was being recorded, just not by me, so I paraphrase.

Gathering up my gentlest inside voice, I asked, “But tell me, why does an ‘outpatient’ facility cost so much more than an ‘office’ facility?”

“Because it’s a hospital,” came the disinterested reply.

“Okay.” I breathed deeply. Serenity now. “So why does a ‘hospital’ cost more than an ‘office’ facility?”

“There are more costs associated with a hospital.”

“But it’s exactly the same place. Why does it cost more now?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“I would understand. I work in a laboratory. What kind of costs? Accreditations? Quality control?”

“It’s now affiliated with the hospital. So it costs more.”

“You already told me that. Why does being affiliated with a hospital cost more?”

“Because we can only use one chargemaster, so the rates have to be the same as at a hospital.”

“Fine. So the rates have to be the same.” (Cleansing breaths here.) “But, what I’m asking is why the rates are four times, FOUR TIMES, what they were six months ago for the same test, on the same patient, by the same technician, at the same facility?”

“I don’t know.” By now customer service was getting testy. “I don’t ever worry about that. I just get my stuff done through my insurance.”

Huh? Really?

Why do people not see the complete idiocy in this? Where is the money going? Why is nobody honest anymore? Why are we are tearing our country apart with crap like this?

I ended up paying the bill, with a reduction for prompt payment. But I was still outraged. This seemed unconscionable to me. I’m lucky. I’m healthy and (still) pay about a fifth of my take home pay for health insurance. What about people who can’t pay four times as much as they used to for a routine test? What about people who have conditions that preclude them from having health insurance at any cost?

My subconscious has been stewing over this. Is it right that some people are free to live their lives with the security of health insurance and others live in fear that the next doctor visit will force them into bankruptcy or worse? Who chooses which people get treated and which don’t? What kind of system charges obscene rates to those people least able to afford them? (Read this Time magazine article for more insight on these questions. It’s non-partisan, like me.)

My stories always seem to start with ‘what if’ questions. What if our elected officials handed down arbitrary guidelines about who lives and who dies? How would those sentenced to die react to such a policy?

My Muse had the answer: Vampires.Image courtesy of diego medrano @ stock.xchng

“What? That’s silly,” I replied.

But I’ve learned to listen to that silly voice. It said. “You know, like immortals that pay a high price for their immortality.”

“But, vampires?” I protested. “Does anybody read about vampires any more?”

His soft laugh told me I was onto something though.“They can be sinister,” he suggested. “And dystopian. I know how you love to play with the question of who is worse: the person who chooses evil to survive, or the person who makes him choose.”

And thus my dystopian vampires story was born.

How do your stories reveal themselves? Have you ever written a story because your were outraged? And does anybody still read about vampires?

Blood image courtesy of ‘MPMthe1’, mosquito image courtesy of diego medrano, both @ stock.xchng

IWSG: A Bridge Between Clouds

InsecureWritersSupportGroupWelcome to this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post! On the first Wednesday of every month hundreds of writers all over the world-wide web gather to share our insecurities and support and encourage each others’ writing endeavors. For more info, check out Alex J. Cavanaugh’s website, where you’ll find the linky for our little blog hop.

This month I discovered an interesting facet of being an insecure writer as I learned the real reason behind my reluctance to make scene cards to guide me through my novel drafts.

I’ve come to think of writing a story as crossing a very large and often treacherous body of water. Here I sit on the shore of my beginning, and, if I squint real hard, I can see the end on the other side. There are rocks and rapids and sharks in the water, but my scene cards are like a bridge to keep me above all that–because I really don’t want to swim. It’s too easy to get off course when you’re fighting just to stay above water!

My scene cards look sort of like this:Screen shot The Whole of the Moon

Looks nice and organized doesn’t it? But in reality, all the words on my virtual corkboard look a lot more like this:Image courtesy of Enrico Nunziat@ stock.xchngi

Trusting my Muse to fill in the missing pieces, I start across despite the rickety construction. I’m more of a discovery writer and so I’m not afraid of building scenes as I find out more about my story. Often, my bridge even starts heading to a different part of shore. I’ve heard that’s normal and okay for a first draft. But what to do with those obsolete scene cards? And what does this have to do with being insecure?

For an insecure writer like me, discarding scene cards might be the psychological equivalent of building the Image courtesy of Marco Michelini @ stock.xchngwrong bridge. When I show up with my new improved story blueprint, my Inner Editor turned engineer-math-whiz project manager glares at me from under her hard hat and barks, “Don’t you know you’re wasting precious time and resources with this change in plans? Who told you that you should attempt to write a story? Give up and let a real writer do the storytelling around here!”

I know. The resources in my case are pixels and paper, but my Inner Editor eagerly pounces on anything that could possibly represent failure.

Maybe the analogy between building stories and building bridges can only take me so far. Maybe stories aren’t really rivers and bays, but are more like clouds and planets. They shift in position; they can even change shape for no apparent reason. I can try to build bridges and plan roads between their beginnings and endings, but imaginary roads can easily change direction. All I need to do is note things down. I can even chart a new course again in revision. It’s all part of the journey.Image courtesy of Piotr Koczab @ stock.xchng

Is your Inner Editor a math whiz? Does your insecurity micromanage your writing schematics?

Jetty image courtesy of Enrico Nunziat, hard hat image courtesy of Marco Michelini, bridge into fog courtesy of Piotr Koczab, all @ stock.xchng

Of Feathers, Stars, and Melodies

Image courtesy of Steven Iodice @ stock.xchngWings, rain, dreams, starlight, footprints, silver and songs —these are some of the spices in my Muse’s cupboard, and with every story I brew up, I find the same flavors mixed up in different ways. A bit of moonshine, a dark melody, a flutter of wings and before I know it, my story sizzles with a different seasoning, but one that hints of previous endeavors.

In this latest WIP, I’ve just discovered the name of my male protagonist and one of my Muse’s favorite flavors, feathers and wings, once again played a role in its creation.

Intrigued, I decided to trace the history of our feathered friends through my storytelling evolution.

I guess you could say it started with my NaNoWriMo handle, which is Larkk. I needed the extra ‘k’ because, apparently, Lark is a popular handle amongst writers who try to write fifty thousand words in month!Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 7.51.35 PM

Then, as if pointing the way to future stories I would write, my very first novel draft ended with two birds flying into the darkness. Two revisions later, a dream the protagonist has about doves flying under the full moon led me to the place the story began. My second book seems to have escaped the feathers, (just wait until revision, I say!) but the heroine bears the nickname ‘Nightingale’ because she is the Muse of the protagonist’s dreams.

Birds played an important role in my third story, where the population of a distant world shares a psychic bond with the animal kingdom. The sorcerer overlords imprison all the birds inside their lair because if their subjects could see what birds see, the sorcerers’ secrets would be exposed and their dominion overthrown.

Have you ever flown in your dreams? In my fourth story, Constants, I propose a science fiction reason why all of humanity shares that common dream. The secret project to unearth this reason is named Nightingale. To further tie into the theme of flight, the main character in that story is an aerospace engineer who works at Boeing in Seattle. As you’ll see, I have a thing for rocket scientists.

In my fifth book, A Crown of Thorns, animatronic dragons fly between the moon and the earth, their flight courtesy of the future’s anti-gravity technology.Image courtesy of Asif Akbar @ stock.xchng

My most recent creation, The Whole of the Moon, the prequel to A Crown of Thorns, features another aerospace engineer, who eventually takes the name Swansong, and designs aircraft designed to protect the pilot at all costs. His wife is named Avery, which means Elf Ruler, but also sounds an awful lot like aviary.

Anyway, I suppose it was only a matter of time until the birds made their appearance in this new story. With a nod to Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, and inspired by a favorite line from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I give you: Falcon Cooper.

Do you find recurring themes in your writing? What spices are in your Muse’s cupboard?

Image courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian @ stock.xchng

Geese and moon image courtesy of Steven Iodice, falcon image courtesy of Asif Akbar, spices on spoons image courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian, all @ stock.xchng

What's Up

In which I elaborate on the myriad and sundry reasons for my absence.

For one thing, I’ve been very busy writing! Finally, today, only a few hours ago, I hit send on my very first submission ever. It’s only a short story, the very one I discussed a month ago, but it took a lot to get it finished, revised, critiqued, revised again, polished, formatted … and finally sent. The details of this might make a very long blog post, especially the formatting which nearly put me over the edge, but I’ll save it for another day.

Image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee @stock.xchngWith all those steps to go through for just a short story of exactly 2497 words, I’m beginning to grasp why it’s taking me so long to get through a whole novel!

I’m also beginning to see that all that attention to detail and refusal to settle for anything less than my best is worth it. I’m rather proud of that little story, and now that it is floating in the ether of the world-wide web, I’m no longer worried about it. I’ve done the best I can with it, and the rest is now out of my control. It would be nice to be accepted for the anthology though!

As for what it’s about, I think I mentioned a cat and a mysterious Dr. M, as well as a serious need for inspiration. It’s part of an anthology themed An Adventure in Creating, after all. And there are feathers.

There’s been some travel on my schedule as well. Fortunately, I manage to travel and write (at least a little bit) at the same time, so there’s been some progress on a new draft, though most of my time was spent on, you guessed it, my short  story.

I’ve got a ton of blog posts I’m excited to write and post, so I hope everyone bears with me until I settle back into some kind of normal routine.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this:

Deception Pass, Whidbey Island
Deception Pass, Whidbey Island

We visited Whidbey Island, WA on Tuesday and dined in Coupeville the day before the landslide. It’s reassuring to know that no one was injured in this massive landslide, though the property damage is tragic.

What have you been up to? Have you ever narrowly avoided disaster?

Feathers and rock image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee @stock.xchng, Deception Pass my own shot