50k on the WIP

Yesterday, I passed the 50,000 word mark in my standalone cyberpunk novel work-in-progress. 50k always feels like the most significant milestone in the drafting process, for some reason. I’m not sure why.

In my head, if not necessarily in physical reality, 30k is 100 pages; 60k is a novel, although not a particularly robust one. So why is 50k such a big deal?

I cruised right past without noticing this time around, and when I sat back at the end of the session I found myself a bit over 51,000. Nice feeling. In the normal course of writing a book, the closer I get to this point, the more frequently I check my word count. It becomes a major distraction. Like watching the clock at work, waiting for 5 o’clock. Only the hands can’t move while your eyes are on them; the hands only move when you not only stop paying attention, but start typing and move the damn things yourself.

The target I set for this book, at the beginning, is 75,000 words. I anticipate going over. I almost always do. The first Voidstrider book was projected at 60k and ended up at 66,000. The second, planned for 65k, was nearly 71k. And the third volume, planned at 70, tickled the underside of 80. (I’ve set a tentative target for volume four at 85,000. The mind wilts.)

I expect the current WIP to clock around 80k, maybe 82. There’s quite a bit of story remaining: I have a twist and a half yet to reveal, two major set pieces and a final confrontation with deeply meaningful personal struggle … I’m about halfway through the “story,” and maybe 3/5 through the plot, but somehow it feels like I’m 80% done with the actual task of writing. It’s hard to say how many words will be required for the remaining bits; as many as it takes. 30,000 seems about right.

It is at this point I acquire the maddening itch to begin revision.

I ignore the rules and edit as I write, to an extent. I go back and add or delete, a ‘graph here or there. Tweak a line or two, alter some dialogue to fit what I’m drafting in the current chapter.

But now I want to race ahead to the real revisions.

So in a way this last section will be harder, not easier. I have temptations to resist, you see.

Anyway: I’m off to tweak dialogue from yesterday’s session, and hopefully get a good chunk of this next bit drafted out. It’s about a big fella with technologically enhanced musculature who really enjoys driving.

Considering Novellas

Novellas are a form I haven’t given enough thought.

I’m generally not great with short stories. My mind wants to make things too complex to be constrained to 8,000 words or less. The ideas I typically get are just too big for the format. Any ideas I have which would fit tend to be less than stellar. There have been a couple exceptions … “Dreaming the Life” might be the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s a rare example.

Novels take time, though. Given a good enough idea, I can write a story like “Dreaming the Life” in five or six days, and polish it up on the seventh. But a novel? Worse yet, a series of novels? (Then again, when I started work on the Voidstrider books, writing was my only job and I had so much more time to work on it than I do now.)

I think one reason I never really thought much about novellas, specifically the writing thereof, is that I just hadn’t read very many. I’ve read shorts, and I’ve read novels, and I’ve read series. But other than the occasional anchor for a collection — say, a novella with two or three accompanying shorts — I hadn’t much exposure to the form.

Then, of course, came Murderbot. Man, those are good. I devoured some Murderbot during the lockdown.

And, thinking about it, there are of course novellas in most issues of magazines like Asimov’s and Analog, both of which I pick up semi-regularly. I think maybe I never really considered those in the right light, until I read a couple novellas that were self-contained, in-and-of-themselves, standing alone, marketed to me as a singular thing rather than an entry on a table of contents. Maybe? I dunno. Whatever.

So the thing is this: 5,000 – 8,000 words usually doesn’t give me enough room to stretch my bones; 60,000 – 90,000 takes me about a year, anymore, although I could once manage it in about 6 months. But 20,000 – 40,000? Hmmmmm, that’s a different beast, now, isn’t it?

This was a lot of words to say not much, and if I were to revise this post it’d probably end up being a paragraph, but the wisdom is that I’m going to give some serious consideration to the novella form. I’m already kicking around an idea or two, which I may pick up when I finish the cyberpunk book.

Getting Into an Expensive New Hobby

There’s the joke about men turning 35 and having to pick between becoming obsessed with Civil War history or smoking meats.

Growing up in the American South afforded sufficient opportunity to visit Civil War museums and battlefields ad nauseum, and I work in the food service industry. So those are out. But, as I will be 40 in just over 5 weeks, it seems I was overdue for an expensive hobby to carry me through the waning years. Or something to that effect.

Enter amateur astronomy and, should the budget allow, astrophotography. Meaning, if things work out reasonably well, you’ll be seeing annoyingly blurred and grainy photographs of, like, the Moon. Or whatever. Coming soon!

In seriousness: my starting set-up is basic and frustratingly lacking in stability. But, I have managed some excellent views of the Moon. As well as some dismaying views of retail site product pages with large numbers on them.

Last night (pictured above), I built myself a little fire and poured some wine and sat out for about an hour fiddling and twisting and shivering. I managed some distant sightings of Jupiter and Mars, was unable to pinpoint Uranus although it should have been directly overhead, brought out more stars in the sky over our house than are visible with the naked eye, and by chance spotted a couple of satellites whisking overhead. Ooh, tantalizing.


Want to help me afford this absurdity? I do write books, you know: Click on that Shop link up above, or, if you’re viewing this on a mobile, click right here.

2023

Once again, we find ourselves in that special place of thinking maybe this year will be different, maybe this year will be better. I despise this manner of thinking, though I still fall prey to it somewhat. A rounded rock covered with water and air corkscrews through endless night like spiraling down a toilet’s drain, chasing endlessly in the wake of a massive ball of nuclear fire, and we pick some arbitrary point in its orbit to call a turning point. There is no turning, no angles or corners, only the spiral.

Anyway, I’m not seasonally depressed or anything. No, truly. I’m always this much fun at parties.

What’ll I do this year? I expect I’ll finish up my Vorkosigan re-read sometime in February. I’ve currently just started Memory, which (if memory serves, ha) marks a major turning point in the saga and the end of the military-sf focus. So I’m in some kind of home stretch. Still very much enjoying each book as I tear through them. Six to go after the current read.

I also expect to finish my cyberpunk novel starring Serotonin Overload and Random Access. It’s currently sitting at 47,000 words. The finished draft should clock in somewhere around 85,000. The story is standalone, albeit set in the same universe as my Voidstrider books.

I’ve been toying the last few days with an idea for some serialized storytelling, also set in the Voidstrider worlds. Might fuck around with Kindle Vella for that, might not. The idea I keep coming back to is sort of “biography of a space pirate,” probably starring Voidstrider background character Fang Covarrubias.

At the risk of yelling “squirrel!” this is too good not to share: a squirrel just jumped from the tree outside my window to the window ledge, quite a startling noise upon impact. I look up and this guy is staring back at me through the glass with a most un-squirrel-like intensity. Aggressive little bugger. I gave him the finger and he reared up and made squirrel noises at me before finally scampering off.

I think I’ll take a cue, then.

Soundtrack

I write to music, always. I must have Noise.

For a number of years, I’ve leaned toward instrumental music. Anything from classical (with a preference for the baroque) to drum and bass, so long as there isn’t a voice human or synthetic worming its way through my earholes and into my precious thought jelly with someone else’s words.

So when it comes to writing soundtracks, which is a thing I see other writers talking about fairly often, well … I tend to select a mood, and just go with whatever vocals-free genre of music seems to fit that. Drafting the first 100 pages or so of my cyberpunk novel in progress, I listened to a lot of ambient, trance, drum and bass, and occasionally house. It’s difficult to find house music with zero vocals, though.

I’m not sure why, maybe because none of the stations I fiddled with ever quite hit the spot, but recently I said fuck all that and started working on a writing playlist. The first one I’ve made in, like, decades that didn’t avoid vocals like some kind of … what’s that thing everyone avoids? The word’s on the tip of my fingers … Man, why can’t I think of that thing that people avoid things like? Hrrrrm.

Anyway, I was thinking about how I used to write twenty years ago. Picture the cramped dorm room with the shitty heater under the too small windows and the beds built into the wall and the tiny wardrobe and the built-in desks and about ten square feet of empty space between it all, and there’s a fresh faced young man, collegiate type, All American, he’s pledged the biggest frat on campus, he’s taking 18 hours this semester, he’s got this beautiful girlfriend, and most importantly he’s not me, see, he’s my roommate.

And he’s freaked entirely the fuck out by this weird goblin creature that’s infested that dorm room. See, that other side of the room? That’s my side of the room. Bed messy and rarely slept in, because here’s me perched atop my desk chair like some kind of gargoyle, with a cigarette clenched in my teeth and about a thousand butts overflowing the ashtray, dear Christ I think that one’s still burning, and there’s a giant steaming coffee mug and a mostly empty bottle of rum and a full one on the floor, and yes, yes I am on drugs, the kind that make your fingers go fast on the keys.

I’m typing so fast and so hard that you can’t sleep in the same room for the NOISE, I’ve broken two keyboards this semester alone, shattered them with the force of my hands turning thoughts into thousands of words, I haven’t slept in days, but it’s not because of the banging on the keyboard. I can’t hear that because I am blasting heavy music, angry music, rage music. Anything with some serious bpm or a face melting solo, anything where somebody screams and writhes and you can feel it in the sound.

I think I wrote something like a quarter million words that semester. Not including, like, papers for class and shit.

Anyway, I’m a sober person now. Well. Soberish. Soberer? I hardly even drink when I write anymore, and just thinking about drugs makes me need them — except the ones I need are the ones a doctor told me to take when my palms get sweaty.

But boy would I like to be able to pump out a quarter million words in four months. I can barely do that in four years these days. And I’m not going to think too long or look too deeply into whether or not I can, in fact, write 250,000 words in four years anymore.

So what the hell, let’s try out some different music.


The music I’m currently playing too loud (but not near as loud as I used to) while working on my untitled cyberpunk draft:

  • Blood in the Cut .. K.Flay
  • Glitter .. Ghostland Observatory
  • Los Ageless .. St Vincent
  • Silicon Jesus (Break the Screen Mix) .. Psychosonik
  • Push It .. Garbage
  • Ready Steady Go .. Paul Oakenfold
  • We’re No Here .. Mogwai
  • Cop Shoot Cop .. Spiritualized
  • Hunted by a Freak .. Mogwai
  • As Heaven is Wide .. Garbage
  • Silence .. Delirium (feat. Sarah McLachlan)
  • Pay the Man .. The Offspring

It’ll change, tracks coming and going, over the next few months. So far, these tracks are getting me in the headspace I need. The playlist isn’t very long, but if I can get off to a decent start and pick up speed, it’s good for about 500-750 words before I hear the same song twice. And that’s not terrible for a writer’s quickie.

Random Access

Last week I introduced Serotonin Overload, the main protagonist of my still-untitled cyberpunk novel. Since arriving in Cap City, Sera’s been supplementing the Basic by taking on odd jobs — mostly illegal.

This might be as dramatic as hijacking a self-driving cargo truck out in the mostly unpopulated boonies, or as simple as picking up some illicit package and delivering it back. Most of these jobs come from a man who calls him “Random Access,” or Rand for short.

… tall and thin with a narrow face. His hair — long, unkempt, and lank — hung over his face in the front. His skin was rich brown, his eyes dark behind the faint shimmer of implants. His left hand, where it emerged from the stained and tattered sleeve of his coat, was a gleaming metal prosthesis. He perpetually smelled of machine oil and stale perspiration.

Rand presents a shadowy, elusive figure in Sera’s life. He provides her with the jobs and a way to earn digital credits — “didgies.” But he’s never taken her into his confidence, and maybe she prefers to keep it that way. Sera remains wary of him. Or perhaps it’s only her own muddled feelings toward him she’s wary of.

“The dead man had something I need. Five hundred’s what I owed him, so five hundred’s what you get.”
“Five hundred for a retrieval job? What’s the catch?”
“If you’ll just get in the car, I can fill you in on the way.”
“Mama said never to get in cars with strange men.”
“You’ve known me over a year.”
“And yet, you remain strange.”

Random Access and Serotonin Overload

Turns out, 500 didgies is just about exactly what Sera needs when our story opens. She’s got her eye on some new tech, but she needs the scratch. So this latest job opportunity sure is tempting, even when you factor in the dead man and Rand’s damned secretive nature.

How exactly did this other associate get himself “blue-screened,” as Rand puts it? What’s on the thumb drive he asks her to retrieve form the corpse? And how will it thrust her into confrontation with cops, spies, and the Solar System’s most dangerous terrorist?

That’s for Rand to know, and Sera to find out.