Odoboros and the 90/10 Problem

Dear 4 to 8 people who read my last two blogs,

It’s been a few weeks. But it’s not because I haven’t been hard at work. I just haven’t written any new posts.

I’ve been cranking away at outlining my book, but I’ve also been a little distracted. In a good way. You may have noticed that this blog has a new name. It’s called Odoboros. And it looks different. That’s because I’ve decided to pivot a little bit.

I’m not going to complete a crap draft by Christmas anymore. Honestly, that was a bad idea. A cool thought, but really not all that executable. Besides, I’ve realized something these last few weeks: I really don’t like the traditional way of writing a novel. It’s me alone in a room with noise canceling headphones on, trying to decide how to torture my characters for a few hundred pages or so.

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Actually, that sounds pretty great. I’m still going to do that. But I don’t like the idea of putting one to two years of work into a project before I get to share any of it. I’ve said before that writing is lonely. Plus, all my future fans, who will love my work, and throw all kinds of money at me to enjoy all this crap I made up… They’re out there waiting. Their lives feel incomplete and they don’t know why. It’s because they haven’t read my non-existent book yet.

Ok. I don’t actually believe any of that. I’m not that conceited. But I do need immediate gratification. Or at least like, pretty-soon-gratification. Plus, it’s 2017 and the idea of a story written only as text on a page or screen… well that’s boring too! (But not actually boring because I still love reading books).

Listen… All I am saying is that I want to try something a little different. And here’s why:

The 90/10 Problem… The Other Part of The Iceberg

So much goes into writing a book. It is literally so damn hard, time-consuming, stress-ridden, and existential-crisis-igniting. And eventual readers only get to experience a tiny bit of it. Any book you read is only 10% of the work that went into creating it. It’s the tip of the iceberg, the visible part. The other 90%, the stuff hidden beneath the waves that makes the visible part possible in the first place, is never experienced except by the writer and maybe a few confidants along the creative journey.

You know what? Eph that!

I want to share that 90% with you. Well… maybe like, 75%. You still need to be surprised by the final product and enjoy it.

This new approach of mine is inspired by the fact that I don’t want to wait two years for you to enjoy pieces of what I am working on, and I don’t want to let 70 to 90% percent of the work I do go to waste.

Thus… Odoboros

So what is Odoboros? It’s the name of a character in this book of mine. And it just sounds cool. It’s also the name of this new project. And it’s not just my project. I’ve teamed up with a lifelong friend who has been honing skills as an illustrator for nigh unto a decade. Nigh unto a decade, I say! That means for about ten years in pretentious a-hole, I think. Anyway, his name is Dallin. And he does art things on a computer.

My plan remains largely the same: Write a book. Do it quickly (if I can). Learn a ton about the craft of writing along the way. And share it with people.

But I’m also sharing the other 75% percent too. And Dallin is going to make it all look cool with fancy art things like visual concepts, sketches, full illustrations, and such. It’s like bonus features on one of those old DVD things… but before the DVD ever comes out!

Dallin and I are also teachers at heart and are always trying to master our crafts and be excellent. So we’re also going to share what we learn… In a big way…

The Goods

Here’s what we’re going to be posting on a regular basis:

I’ll post notes about people, places, historic events, life in this fictional world, and other worldbuilding tidbits that I invent along the way. These may include short stories that don’t fully relate to the main story, excerpts from drafts of the main story, and basically anything I write down for the story that is awesome and will look good as an illustration. I’ll never spoil the plot of the book I am working on though.

Dallin will be creating original artwork to accompany these posts. Artwork will range from quick sketches, to concept art, to full illustrations, and to be honest whatever the hell else he wants to do.

I will be posting regularly about the progress of my book and about the things I am learning about creative writing, staying motivated, being inspired, finding the time, and other topics that keep me pressing forward instead of giving up.

Dallin will post timelapse videos of how he creates some of his best illustrated work.

And the plan is that we also post videos with tips for writing, illustrating, and being creative and inspired. It’s going to be a multimedia extravaganza centered around my grueling experience to write a damn good fantasy novel.

And mark my words… “damn good.”

 

Until next time.

Dan

Week 1 – Minimum Viable Effort

This first week was a short one. I spent half the week at a family reunion, where I didn’t find any time to write. But I did read a little of Brent Week’s Black Prism, which is turning out to be a pretty good book and decent inspiration for writing a fantasy novel. More on that book in a later post… probably.

In the couple days I did have to write I focused on two things. I worked out some of the details of my story’s magic system and I began outlining the major events that take place in the story. A magic system is usually a key element of a fantasy story and is often related to the fantasy world’s culture and history. If the main character is a magic user, the magic system also defines and restricts the character’s motivations, capabilities, and ability to solve problems. So I focused this week on refining the rules of the magic system and using it to outline the story in terms of the main character’s arc.

I wrote just over 1000 words of outline, and I plan on focusing on outlining in greater detail this week. Outlining has been a very rewarding process. In the past, I’d have a cool idea and just sit down and free write a “chapter” or a short story. And it was always great, but the stories never went anywhere because I didn’t know what they should lead into in terms of major plot. So for me, outlining has really helped me define the overall story structure.

Here some additional things I learned this week:

Focus on minimum viable effort

Writing a book is a major goal. It takes some people years to write a book, especially inexperienced, first time writers like myself. It can be extremely difficult to persuade myself to sit down and write when the goal is “I’m going to write a book.” So instead of thinking of it that way, I’ve started setting goals that represent a  minimum viable effort for that day. For example, when I am feeling unmotivated I tell myself to write just one paragraph, or decide on one major plot point and be done for the day. It sounds pointless to set such small goals, but once I am sitting down and doing the work I always end up doing a lot more. The point is to get working. The effort starts to snowball into a lot of time spent doing good work.

My desire to write a book is proportional to my desire to play video games

For some reason, every time I commit to working on a side project of some kind, I also decide that I’m going to play more video games than a normal person should. As soon as I decide to write a book in 5 months, I get it in my head that I need to play every Assassin’s Creed game before the new one comes out in October. That goal might be more of a stretch than my writing goal. It’s my kind of procrastination, I guess. The pressure of deadlines makes me want to ignore them with various forms of entertainment. This is why the minimum viable effort policy is so useful and important.

You can’t hold the whole thing in your head all at once

Maybe the greatest thing I learned this week is that in order to tell a good story, you’ve got to get it out of your head. I’ve been thinking about writing this story for years. I’ve thought up a lot of cool things, scenarios, characters, plot points – many of which have been lost because I never wrote them down. I started outlining this week and put major story events down in bullet-list form. Doing so allowed me to get it out so I could move on to other parts of the story that I haven’t been able to because I had been hung up in my head going over the same beginning and ending ideas. Writing them down allowed me to forget about it so I can make space for other things. During the outlining process, I’ve been able to make more progress in terms of story structure and character development simply because I wrote it down and allowed myself to move on to other major events that need to happen in my story.

I’m going to write a book in five months

I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was 15 years old. After being disgusted when I said I didn’t read much, my uncle gave me an illustrated copy of the Hobbit which I begrudgingly read. I thought I’d hate it. But I couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing in a day. And since then, I’ve had it in my heart to write fantasy adventure stories. I’ve written many short stories, compiled notes, and created outlines during various attempts to write a novel. But I always get distracted, or I can’t make it a habit, or I let my perfectionism get in the way.

So I never got very far writing a novel. I decided to have a family, focus on college, focus on my career as a technical communicator and knowledge manager. Those things take up a lot of time and energy. But over the years, I’ve always come back to that one fantasy adventure I’d been building in my head.

Writing fiction is one of the hardest damn things I’ve ever tried to do. But in my limited experience it’s also the most rewarding. There’s magic in discovering where a single idea goes when you start writing about it. Have you ever read a scene in a book and thought, “That was so amazing! How did they think of that?!” I’ve experienced that a lot reading great fantasy books. But I’ve also experienced that reading back through some of my own short stories. Writing has a way of drawing out unique ideas that I could never have thought of outside of the writing process. It’s hard to explain. You just have to experience it to truly appreciate it.

So if I love writing and storytelling so much, why have I never written a novel? Well, like I said, I’ve been distracted by the life-things. Also, writing is so damn hard. Beyond that, I’m pretty lazy. Video games, movies, and kind of just sitting there are usually my go to forms of leisure. Most of the time I end up depressed because I feel like I’m not being creative enough and not doing anything meaningful.

Writing is also a very lonely process. And with a busy schedule it takes a lot of willpower to make the time and find the energy to just sit down alone and write. There is no one there waiting for me to write something, no one to cheer me on, no one providing immediate feedback.

That’s why I am starting this blog. It’s just one small way to hold myself accountable. I’m committing to writing a book. And I’m going to do it by Christmas. Well, the first draft anyway. And I’m going to document my struggles week by week. My hope is that I will get a handful of people following my progress who will hold me accountable. If you are reading this, please hold me to it. Follow along, check in every week. Tell me I’m a piece of literal garbage if I’m not making progress.

This week, I’m starting an outline. In Brandon Sanderson’s podcast, Writing Excuses, he says that he outlines his novels by starting at the end. He figures out the coolest way possible to end his epic story, and then he reverse engineers the story so all the pieces fit together, making the ending satisfying and believable. I think that will be a good place for me to start.

I’m also going to keep track of how much time I spend, how many words and pages I write, what kind of anguish and joy I experience, what I study to guide me along, what kinds of research I do, and what I read and do for inspiration. If at anytime during this process I surprise us all by writing something that is actually good, maybe I will share an excerpt.

I just want to emphasize a few things. My goal is to write a first draft by Christmas. By its nature as a first draft, I am very confident that it will be, well…. Utter shit. And that’s what I am going for. I get so hung up on the fact that my writing doesn’t come out instantly polished that I quit before I ever really get started. This go round, I’m focusing on structure. The first draft will have the big ideas and events down. In later drafts, I’ll focus on making it good.

Why Christmas? No good reason. It’s a hard deadline. And who doesn’t love the holidays. That gives me 5 months to outline the novel, smooth out the major beats and broad strokes, and discovery write the whole thing from start to finish. I expect it to have gaps, problems with pacing, flat characters, a bland setting, and the worst prose and dialogue ever. And let’s say 75,000 to 100,000 words. That’s roughly a 300-400 page book.

I’ll let you know what kind of progress I make next week.