"You must keep writing, because you are a writer."

You know those writers who say, "I really need to get back into writing," and then two weeks later they're still saying that? Guess who's become one of them.

Well, not that guy. Me. I'm one of them.

You may be familiar with some of my reasons. Drafting is my least favorite part of the process, and with two unpaid novels in the hopper, and a yes-paid job, my motivation for doing the sucky part has been sapped.

And you know what? My reasons are good reasons. I'm doing creative work for my dream job and excelling at it, and I've got novels on the submission train. My priorities are right where they should be. This is what 99.9% of my friends tell me when I bring up the fact that I've written an average of 1,000 words/month lately.

They're absolutely right. Everything's cool. I don't have to write.

But there was that 0.1%, that one friend (I have exactly 1,000 friends; prove I don't), who had to go and say something different that stabbed me right in the gut because it was exactly what I needed to hear. The wonderful and not-at-all maniacal Authoress grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "You must keep writing, because you are a writer."

Ow! OwowowowowieowieOWow.

It's absolutely true that when push comes to shove, the paid job wins (actually the family wins, but they get on a timeout when they shove me, so . . .). But I've been tackling every single day like my job was in crunch time. I am a game designer. But I'm also a writer. If I can't figure out a way to do both, then . . .

Well, I just have to figure out a way to do both.

I know it can be done. I know because I find time to tweet, read, play chess online, and even draw. I don't have to write a lot (see the aforementioned priorities), but if I can't find time to squeeze out even 250 words in a day? That qualifies as pathetic.

Well, pathetic for me. You make your own goals.

What are your goals? How's your writing going?

You Get One Debut... But That's Not All You Get

My friend and former query twin* Krista Van Dolzer wrote this excellent post for authors trying to get published.
There have been a few exceptions...but for the most part, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Stated another way, you can only be a variable when you're actually a variable. If you don't have a sales record, publishers have to rely on a set of complicated formulas--and possibly their tea leaves--to determine how much your book is worth...

But once you have a sales record, it will follow you around for the rest of your career. Publishers no longer have to guess how much your books are worth; your sales figures will tell them.
Her point (which I totally agree with) is that you should be careful how you debut and whom you debut with. Don't jump at the first small press or self-publishing option you get without really thinking about it. People generally put more value in unknown potential than they do in someone who has a record we can look at. Publishers and the reading market are not immune to this. (This has recently become an additional reason for me not to jump onto Kickstarter with my beloved-but-rejected novels. Not yet, anyway.)

However, I would submit that you're more likely to write a bestseller in your 3rd or 4th or 10th book than you are in your first. I'm basing this on the fact that many of the bestselling novels I know and love were not debut novels:
  • Orson Scott Card. Best known for Ender's Game (1985). It was his 8th published novel.
  • Suzanne Collins. Best known for Hunger Games (2008). It was her 8th published novel.
  • Scott Westerfeld. Best known for Uglies (2005) and Leviathan (2009). Uglies was his 8th published novel (dang, a trend!).
  • Brandon Sanderson. Best known for Mistborn (2006) and his contributions to the Wheel of Time series (2009+). Mistborn was his 2nd published novel.
  • Neil Gaiman. Best known for Sandman (1989+), Neverwhere (1996) and a bunch of other stuff. But his first published novel was co-written in 1990 and he'd been writing graphic novels since 1987.
  • Chuck Palahniuk. Best known for Fight Club (1996). This actually was his first novel, but according to Chuck it "was a huge failure" and the film (released three years later) "was a flop."
Of course we know plenty of debut success stories: J.K. Rowling, Pat Rothfuss, Kiersten White, Stephanie Meyer. But I hypothesize that they are the exceptions. (I admit I could be totally wrong about this, of course. I would love to see some data on this :-). Most of the big authors I've seen have worked and failed** and worked hard again until FINALLY they had something that hit that elusive golden snitch of a nerve that every publisher is looking for.

My point is that, yes, your debut is something special that you should take care of. Don't squander it the first chance you get. BUT if selling stories is something you really want, don't stop writing. Ever. No matter how you debut, no matter what publishers or the market thinks of you, there will always be a way for you to get new words to your readers. There will always be a chance that the next thing you write could be The One.

Statistically, the more you write, the better that chance gets.

* Krista and I were on surprisingly parallel querying-agent-submission paths for about a year or two, before she got a book deal and I got a job.

** Maybe not "failed" so much as "didn't hit it ridiculously big."

Status of the Update

For those of you who don't read every single one of my Facebook posts (it's cool; even my wife doesn't read them), here's a quick rundown of what's going on and where.

I sent Ninjas off to my agent. You probably know this. She's still reading it, but I'm naively hoping she likes it and wants to start submitting like really, really soon. Cuz getting published (and paid) would be rad.

I went to California. I spoke at my church, had meals with a quarter bazillion people, played and occasionally acquired new games, and then spent a week at inXile HQ where...

I got promoted to Torment's Design Lead. That does not mean I'm in charge of the whole thing (thank God; Colin's still Creative Lead (making sure the story, characters, writing, etc. are awesome) and Kevin's still the Project Lead (making sure the game actually gets done)). It does mean I'm in charge of the game's rules, systems, interfaces, and other designy tidbits. It's pretty much the same stuff I was doing before, except with higher expectations and less ability to blame others when things go wrong. Should be fun.

I watched like 8 movies/shows on the plane trip back. And I have determined that Disney's The Lone Ranger is stupid. BBC's Sherlock, however, is intelligently awesome.

I got home. Wherein I've played a bunch of games with the boys, given out cheap American candy, seen Catching Fire with the wife, and done very little work (except the work of getting over jet lag, which is ongoing).

Tomorrow I plan to play Wasteland 2, write >= 500 words (I've lowered my standards, for reasons), and entertain a 3-year-old tyrant. Among other things.

What have you been up to?

Coming Up with a Book Title

I am preparing, finally, to send Post-Apoc Ninjas to my agent. "Post-Apoc Ninjas" is the title I use for it online, short for Post-Apocalyptic, Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!). While that title is perfectly descriptive of what's in the book, it isn't quite the right tone for the novel.

I have another working title for the novel, which is The Con of War. It's meant to be a play on Sun Tzu's The Ancient Art of War, but (a) I don't think it really comes across and (b) it's just not cool enough. The thing is, I usually just go with whatever title comes to me. Turns out that doesn't always work (shocker!).

So instead I came up with a process (super shocker!).

STEP #1: What does a winner look like?
I thought about what the above titles were lacking in, and what I thought a good title should do. I came up with four general categories. Note that these were just my categories. You may have your own (you should probably look at titles you particularly like or something; I was too lazy):
  1. Tone and Feel: A measure of how well the title hints at what is to come. For my novel, this meant as many of the following as possible: an Asian feel, ninjas, dragons, mechs, post-apocalyptic setting, con game, and war.
  2. Multiple Meanings: A measure of how many ways the title can be interpreted (the more, the better), and the relevance of those interpretations to the novel.
  3. Use in the Novel: A measure of whether the title is a phrase from the prose itself and how relevant that phrase is to the novel's theme(s). Is it an important phrase? Repeated? Does it have special meaning, or is it a throwaway term?
  4. Overall Coolness: A measure of how cool the title might sound to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the story.
STEP #2: Enter the contestants.
Brainstorm. Just make up titles out of whatever. Scan or all-out read the novel looking for metaphors, themes, and cool turns of phrase. Write them all down. I ended up with twenty entrants (including the two contenders above). It helped that I was reading through the novel for a final revision and writing down anything that sounded remotely title-worthy.

STEP #3: Battle Royale. Fight!
Stick them in a table (or an Excel sheet, or Post-Its, whatever floats you) and judge them. Come up with a scale for your categories (I rated all categories from 1 to 3, because I don't need or like a lot of granularity).  Try to be objective. Try to judge them without comparing one to another. Hire someone to clean up the blood and teeth afterwards.

STEP #4: Semi-Finals.
Now that all of your contestants have been judged, determine your criteria for moving on. It might be an objective look at the totals across categories. Maybe you require that one of the categories have a certain score. Maybe you give a special pass to ones you like. Copy only the winners of the Battle Royale to a new place, so you can see them against each other, without the losers cluttering them up.

My criteria was at least 8 out of a possible 12 across the categories (although a couple of 7's passed because I liked how they were used in the novel). It cut the field down from 20 to 12, which wasn't much, but when I sorted them by total, I realized that the only ones I really liked were the ones that achieved 9 and up. These three titles became my Semi-Final winners.

STEP #5: Championship.
The next thing I did kinda surprised me. Instead of choosing a winner from among the three (although I did have a favorite at this point). I looked at all three and tried to make them better.

In my case, I realized most of them were a little shy of the Tone and Feel I wanted. I clarified to myself what that feel was (mostly kung-fu), looked up a bunch of related titles (mostly kung-fu movies), and figured out what made those titles sound like they were related (basically became a human kung-fu movie title generator: Way of the Master's Deadly Dragon Fist!).

It was pretty fun.

STEP #6 (Optional): Poll Your Audience.
Because I'm nothing if not shameless (and also I think by this point most of you want to know what my finalists were). Yes, I am serious. No, I won't necessarily use the most-voted as the title. Yes, you may vote whether or not you've read the novel. (If you're reading this from e-mail or a feed reader, you'll have to click through to see the poll):

Feel free to expand upon your vote, say how stupid these are, or even suggest other titles in the comments.

My Boys' First RPG

I've been wanting to try my boys out on an RPG for a while now, but I wasn't really sure how. I'd given away a lot of my sourcebooks, so all I had left was the d20 SRD which, while great, wasn't quite what I wanted.

Then I got this fancy schmancy Numenera corebook in the mail. This system is what I wanted: simple, flexible, and with a heck of a lot of leeway for a GM who wasn't sure how well his players would get things. But the Ninth World can be kinda . . . creepy, at least for 6- and 7-year-olds. I wanted something they could be excited about.

"Why don't you just make something up?" said my wife, ever supportive of even my geekliest dilemmas.

"Are you kidding?" I said. "Do you know how much work that would take? Even if I adapted what I have, I'd still have to make up a bunch of equipment and powers. Though the types would be pretty easy to adapt, I guess. Most of the esoteries are basically Force powers anyway. And the descriptors work okay. . ."

And then I couldn't stop thinking about it.

The next couple of days looked like this:

Now all I have to do is figure out the rules for lightsabers before they earn theirs. . .

Loving What You Write

I've had a hard time writing lately. Oh don't worry, there's still a novel on sub, and another novel ready to go after that one. This page is still up to date (wait, is it up to date? . . . Yes, now it's up to date).

What's been hard is writing something new. Part of that has been RPG crafting systems and dialogue design (who knew two full-time jobs would be so much work, am I right?). Part of it is in that first paragraph: I'm on sub, have another ready to go, and my brain is saying, "Why are you writing more?"

BUT I've figured out something that makes it hard to write no matter how many jobs or kids I have: I'm bored of the book.

It sucks, I know, but it has two very easy fixes:
  1. Find what you love about the book (you did love something, right?) and do that.
  2. If all you're left with is things you don't love, fix them until you do.
For me, that played out in a few ways.

I read ahead in my outline until I hit a scene I was excited about. Once I remembered the cool thing I was working toward, it gave me motivation and ideas for how to get there. SO much better than thinking, "Okay, now I have to write a scene where he goes to school again . . ."

(Obviously if you're Zuko-ing it, you won't have an outline, but you have notes, right? Ideas? You can at least think ahead even if you can't read ahead).

World-building. You may know I love me some world-building. A lot of times when I'm bored it's because the world is boring. So I fix that and add something cool. Like mechs or displacer beasts.

I made up some slang. This is part of world-building, but it's become such a fundamental part of my process (and it was such a fundamental part of me getting unstuck today) that it deserves its own paragraph. I HEART SLANG. I came up with six new words and a system unique to this world for just a couple of pages (which, for you math-minded, means that about 1% of the words on those pages are completely made up).

If those don't work for you, then maybe it's the characters, maybe you need to know what they want or fear. Maybe you need to talk to yourself about the story a while, or maybe you just need to get out.

The important thing is that if you're bored with the story, your readers probably will be too. Find what you love and fill the story with that.