Those Liebster Awards again

I have once again been nominated for a Liebster Award, this time by Janna Kaixer. I thank you for the nomination, but I have particular feelings about the Liebster Awards and I should write something about that on my About Me page.

However, I am grateful for the thought and I will answer your questions here, Janna.

1. Why do you write?

I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember, and I feel an immense gratification in getting them down on paper and having other people read them. Apart from creative writing, I also journal to sort out all the crazy in my head so I can regain my grip on reality.

2. What do you hope to achieve with your writing? (E.g. raise awareness of something, tell a story, teach a lesson…)

I’m in it for the stories. I couldn’t agree more with Neil Gaiman’s, “We owe it to each other to tell stories.”

3. If you could go back in time and give yourself some writing advice what would it be?

“Don’t stop writing for anything. Yes, your university courseload is heavy, yes you work a part-time job, but you owe it to yourself to write and write often. Daily. At any chance you can get. Also, don’t wait until you’re 26 to give NaNoWriMo a shot.”

4. Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what sort of music?

I tend to listen to my current obsession, though I noticed a trend toward more electronic-themed music as I worked on Climbing Yggdrasil where I lean more toward ethereal vocals for fantasy writing. There was a time when I would listen to Of Monsters and Men’s “My Head is an Animal” every time I sat down to work on Project: Destiny.

5. Where do you get your ideas from?

Questions, mostly. The main idea for Climbing Yggdrasil came when I was watching Firefly and wondered, “How does the Cortex work? How do they transmit data quickly across all that space?” I read about Ursula K. LeGuin’s ansible and how it got adopted into sci-fi lore by many authors, but I wanted something more sinister and came up with synchronizers.

6. What is your writing process? Are you a pantser, a plotter or a mixture?

I used to be a pantser, but I would inevitably get stuck and lose hope, then start over. I decided to plot last year before NaNoWriMo; I wrote chapter outlines for what I now consider to be Part Two of Climbing Yggdrasil, then I went back and plotted Parts One and Three. I like having an outline to guide me, but I’m not afraid to deviate and plot anew.

7. Where do you write best? (E.g. at your desk, in bed, in a cafe…)

I don’t really have a specific place, they all have certain advantages. Home is nice because it’s comfortable and I don’t need headphones to listen to music. A café is nice because it doesn’t have all the distractions I have at home. I can say that I do my worst writing in bed, as I can’t get comfortable and have to keep shifting as I write.

8. Is there anyone that keeps you writing despite struggles? If so, who?

During NaNoWriMo last year, my husband was very good about telling me to go write when he could see I hadn’t done any writing that day. In the past few months, I’ve been good at pushing myself, though I need to get back on track, my writing has slowed dramatically in the past few weeks.

9. If you could meet any Author who would it be?

I’d love to meet Neil Gaiman, and I’m absolutely certain I would be starstruck and bashful and unable to discuss anything worthwhile.

10. What is your favourite book of all time?

Sabriel by Garth Nix. I reread it once a year on average. It was this book that taught me that magic must make sense and have rules, even if the reader does not know all of them. I also love Death as it appears in that world.

Cover art and self publishing

I have uploaded my first draft of Climbing Yggdrasil to CreateSpace, designed a cover, and ordered proof copies for scribbling in. They’ve estimated I should have them by June 2, in time for me to start a second read-through looking for problems to correct. The book is not as frighteningly bad as I expected it to be, I actually came up with some good stuff somehow! I was most concerned about the end, because I kind of rushed through the last few chapters. The chapters themselves don’t feel rushed, but it’s clear there ought to be more chapters between the ones I have to flesh certain things out so that the reader doesn’t think, “Wait, when did that happen?”

climbing yggdrasil

This generic cover won’t do for final publication; I’ve done some looking into professional cover designers and really liked what I saw over at Creative Digital Studios, but it comes down to being able to justify paying for it. There are other avenues to pursue, and I believe I’m still early enough in the editing process that I shouldn’t be rushing to have a nicer cover done just yet.

I think in the beginning of this whole adventure, back in November when I realized I would actually make it to 50,000 words and finish a book for once, I wanted to try getting it published through traditional channels. Then one of the winner goodies from NaNoWriMo was a code good for two paperback copies of my book through CreateSpace, so I started checking them out and learned how easy it is to self-publish that way. After a message to customer support, I learned that this code is not valid for proof copies; I would have to submit my book for publication in order to redeem two free copies of the final product. I don’t think I’ll be ready by the time the code expires.

The more I played with CreateSpace, the more attractive the idea of self-publishing my first novel became. This wouldn’t mean I couldn’t try a later book through a publisher; it might even help to have a self-published book floating out there (assuming it gets positive reviews; I’ll have to make sure it’s good enough to do that). I could be entirely wrong, publishers might look at a self-published author as some kind of terrible amateur who has no business trying to gain traction in the world of traditional publishing.

I just want to get my work out there for people to read, though. I’d like to have a final draft polished and ready to go up on CreateSpace by November. I should probably figure out what I’m going to do about a cover in the coming months, then.

Anyone have experience with publishing, self or otherwise? What has that been like for you?


Two books, one year

I was able to get about half of a chapter done last week. I set myself up in a Second Cup downtown, ordered a small chai latte, and plunked down in a chair near a fireplace display. This was another of those writing sessions where I discovered things as I went along, reasons why things work, explanations, etc. I also wrote a major contradiction, but staying true to NaNo rules, I ignored it and told myself it will get fixed in editing. Also, I didn’t want to cross out a whole paragraph of text. On a computer, it’s nice to pretend it never existed, it stays pretty. Here, every mistake shows up as a bar of black ink, or a furious scrawl.

I really enjoyed the latest NaNo mail I got. The beginning of it reads:

I recently met a woman named Ruth who approached me with her head hung low. “I’m sorry, but I failed NaNoWriMo,” she plaintively said. “I only wrote 10,000 words.”

I hate to hear such words. They disturb me like few others.

“You didn’t only do anything,” I replied. “You bravely signed up to make creativity a priority for a month in a busy life. You dreamed up a fantastic novel idea. You wrote thousands of words. You established creative momentum in your life. That’s huge!”

– Grant Faulkner, executive director

I wasn’t beating myself up over not having reached my goal of 50,000 words in one month, but it’s always nice to have reassurance. NaNoWriMo is such a supportive group and I don’t know that I would be working so hard to finish another book right now if I hadn’t participated last year and then again last month. Before NaNo, I was under the illusion that writer’s block was real, that the best time to write was when inspiration struck, that somehow I would find myself flooded with ideas and thousands of words would come pouring out in an afternoon.

Also, their attitude of plunging ahead and never looking back helped me realize that the elements of a rough draft do not have to be perfect. They have to lead from one scene to the next until the end of the story is found. Then the heavy machinery can be brought in to polish and clean and reshape until a scattered mess of points resembles a journey, until the characters are consistent and defined, until a pile of words resembles a book.

By the time this post goes live, I should be applying these lessons over another chai latte, continuing the journey of my characters. As I write this, I’m just shy of 20,000 words. If I continue at this pace, I’ll hit 100,000 by the end of August. I’ll have two rough drafts, or perhaps one rough draft and one second draft, all in the space of one year. It’s hard to believe I could go from having so many unfinished drafts to two complete rough drafts in such short time. All because I decided to try something different and challenge myself. (Okay, because my husband got tired of my whining and told me to do something. Thanks, dear. I really appreciate it.)

Hacking through the wilderness

I deviated from my outline, making another chapter on the list obsolete. I tried to write it anyway, because I liked the neatness of my POV rotation: A B A C A D… etc. However, I found myself writing a chapter that didn’t have a direction, that I didn’t like writing, and that didn’t need to be there.

2014-04-18 16.18.27

So I decided to move on. “I make the rules,” is going to have to become a mantra of mine, because I seem to keep forgetting that as I write. Forcing out a chapter that will end up being crap isn’t worth losing momentum; better to set it aside and keep going. In the unlikely event that this chapter is worth salvaging in some future draft, it will be easier to do that once the bulk of the story is out.

I was essentially tying my own hands, thinking, “But… the plan! I have to work within the plan.” I’ve said from the beginning, the outline is meant to be ignored if a better idea comes along. I can work my way back to it, but I shouldn’t go hacking through the wilderness when there might be a more natural path that starts a little further out of the way. I would just get exhausted and make a mess for the sake of a straight line.

Black and white

I have not gotten off to the greatest start with Camp NaNoWriMo, though I have been able to up my writing frequency from semi-daily to daily. I think the main trouble is that where I could spend an hour to an hour and a half during NaNoWriMo typing to get my 1,667 words a day, writing longhand for that amount of time just doesn’t get me that kind of wordage. I have to step it up and devote some evening, at-home time to my writing.

This is infinitely more agreeable because I can write on a nice surface like a desk or a table instead of on my bag on my lap on the train. Also, my apartment tends not to move or curve from left to right like the train does. Big pluses, those.

I started writing Project: Destiny in a spiral-bound notebook and soon rediscovered how annoying it is having those metal wires under my hand. I wanted to buy a nice journal to write in, but didn’t want to commit to copying down what I had already written into it. Then I decided that the prologue could be in the spiral notebook (it takes several years before the story so I won’t likely reference it often) and I could continue with chapter one in a nicer book.

destiny journal

I picked this up at a bookstore downtown. The text on it reads, “Brighten up… life does not always have to be black and white.” The text repeates in French and German. I don’t know that the words are necessarily relevant to the story, though I do like the mention of “black and white” since those are two of the colors of shadecraft. The pages are lined and the spine is bound with two bookmarking ribbons, though they’re joined at the bottom for now.

As of now, I have finished chapter one at an unimpressive 1,993 words. I am getting through this draft by telling myself that things can be cleaned up and expanded upon later. NaNo last year helped me to realize that a large part of my problem with writing is my insistence on getting every little detail right the first time around. That’s what the revision process is for, though. Until the thing is bound and printed and on bookstore shelves, I have the power to change and improve it.

I’m not going to sweat it, I’m going to write a messy first draft and try to turn it into something better once the whole story is out. In this way, I’ll finally finish this project that I’ve been working on (in one form or another) for almost fourteen years.

Camping and deadlines

I have seriously got to get on the ball with this blog.

I have gotten back into the swing of things with reading. I’ve started Life After Life, a book detailing the adventures of Ursula Todd as each time she dies, the clock winds back and gives her a chance to do things differently. She is spurred to action by curious sensations of dread that lead her away from her previous deaths. I’ll wait until I’ve finished the book to say more, but I’m heartily enjoying it.

Not much has been happening on the writing front, which is a large part of why I have decided to devote April to Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m hoping to recreate the experience I had last November with a different story. To that end, I have been reworking my outline for Project: Destiny, bringing my characters to places they’ve never been before, exploring other parts of the world. The journeys in stories are rarely ever straight lines, right?

And the outlines authors lay out are always always strictly adhered to…

I made no such announcement here, but I had made a plan to post once a week. I didn’t do that last week. Maybe it would be easier to stick to this goal if I had a set time. Deadlines have amazing power, don’t they?

Who am I and why am I here?

No, I don’t mean this philosophically; despite having a post titled “Introductions” and an About Me page, I remain something of a stranger here. Let’s have a real introduction, shall we?

My name is Lukas Rowland and I am a writer. I have been making up stories for as long as I can remember. I have scribbled them out on paper, I have typed them up on my mother’s typewriter; we even had a word processor before we had a proper computer. I have always read voraciously as well, especially fantasy, and I began inventing longer stories where heroes saved the world from terrible villains.

In my high school days, I would often come home from school and run upstairs to write for long stretches at a time. I didn’t believe in planning then, I thought that stories had to grow and be discovered as I went along. This approach invariably led to me smacking into walls several chapters into a project. It didn’t help any that I was growing and learning new ways to write, something which frequently caused me to look back on my work with disgust before scrapping everything to start fresh.

It wasn’t until a year or two ago that, fed up with never finishing a story I’ve been writing for nearly fourteen years, I first plotted every chapter from start to finish of a fantasy story. I wrote up a short synopsis on index cards, and proudly wrote the date at the top when I finished the rough draft of the chapter. I was moving forward at a steady pace until I finally ran into an excuse to stop writing. Probably something ridiculous like, “I don’t have the time.”

In October, I was venting frustrations to my husband about my writing when he suggested I participate in National Novel Writing Month. I had heard of NaNoWriMo, it was always lurking there when November approached, and I always found excuses not to participate. “I have to work on my main project, I can’t bring that to NaNo. It’s not serious enough for me. I don’t have the time.” Fine excuses, right?

I decided to do it this year. I poked around in the forums, read something about Scrivener and how it had a free trial, learned a bit about it and started outlining the project that would become Climbing Yggdrasil. I got off to a great start, nearly hitting 10,000 words by the end of the first weekend. I devoured every pep talk as it came in, at long last coming to the conclusion that the only thing that kept me from feeling like a proper writer was the fact that I wasn’t making time in my life to write. The more I feel like a writer, the more confidence I have in myself.

I hit the goal on the last day; there were nine days in which I had not written a single word. I worked hard to maintain a steady lead so that if something came up and I couldn’t write, I could take a day off without falling behind. I watched the congratulatory video on the winners’ page and had tears in my eyes. I never thought I couldn’t do it, except those years I didn’t try. But it was so moving to have reached a serious writing goal.

Last month was all about bringing those 50,000 words to a proper ending. This month is about resisting the temptation to start editing. I want to keep going with this momentum I have, but I also want to divorce myself from what I’ve written.

So there you have it, my journey as a writer which has led me to come here and document my adventures. This blog exists primarily as a means to inspire myself to work harder and press on. Its secondary function is to connect me with other people interested in reading and writing, people with whom I can share experiences and words of encouragement. While I view the act of writing itself as a solitary activity, it is very nice to have validation from others going through the same process. A third purpose which I have been afraid to state up until now is to find writers to share work with and receive constructive comments, though I’m a bit far from that at the moment. One day. Soon.


Let’s see, it’s resolutions, is it? Okay.

Ordinarily I would spell out a few things and then hastily proceed to ignore them throughout the year, burying my naïvely optimistic list in shame. I looked at the journal I was writing in last year and found a curious gap between November 2012 and April 2013. Granted, this is a personal journal, but I would like there to be no such massive gap between entries in any of my journals. Therefore…

Resolution #1: Journal more.

Which is completely different and distinct from…

Resolution #2: Write more.

2013 was a good year for me for writing. In addition to getting some solid work done, I renewed my confidence as a writer, and that is invaluable. My love for National Novel Writing Month cannot be described. It turned me from a sorry slob of a man making excuses for not writing into someone who feels a duty to get those imagined worlds out of my head and onto paper.

Resolution #3: Finish what I started.

This one most specifically refers to seeing my NaNo project through to the end and hopefully discovering that I am better at editing than I think and that it isn’t so dauntless a task. Right now I feel like my finished manuscript is a beast sleeping in the corner, lurking and ready to pounce when I open its binder to start eyeing it critically. My hope is that I will find I have all the tools necessary to tame it.

I could go on and make resolutions about health and exercise and eating vegetables, but that’s all very dull and I’m only here to talk about writing. I also feel that these are the resolutions I am most likely to fail at. I will write them in pencil on a scrap of easily-lost paper somewhere and beam with pride if I manage to fulfill them for a short time. Now that I think on it, though, I do have a final book-related resolution…

Resolution #4: Read more.

2013 was a year of ruts for me. I ended up rereading a lot of favorites instead of going out and discovering new material. I barely stepped out of my genre as a reader, which I think is important to do from time to time. I also did not read much from other aspiring authors, though I have been turning this around recently; a friend is writing short stories for her thesis and I have been reading them and providing feedback. So reading more does not just mean published books, but stories and novels that would like to be published.

I believe I will write these resolutions out and stick them somewhere near my desk where they can mock me if ever I stray from my intended path.

Chapters and scenes

While I was writing Climbing Yggdrasil, I outlined chapters in Scrivener by writing a brief summary and filling in the narrative from that alone. However, the default in Scrivener seems to be filling a chapter with scenes, which I had not considered before.

I finished the broad strokes of the outline for Destiny and thought I could give scenes a shot. It’s sort of like going from mile markers to smaller signs every tenth of a mile. There’s a little voice in my head saying that this will just give me more opportunities to deviate from the outline; I think I get some of my best ideas that way.

For this story, I don’t want to simply outline a sequence of events. I want to write notes about what’s going on inside the characters’ heads, thoughts and feelings that I can allude to through well-placed expressions and subtle behaviors. Yggdrasil was something of a race, with all the pressure of NaNoWriMo, but now I can take the time to get more right on the first attempt. If the characters’ thoughts and desires come through in a suitably subtle way in the first draft, that leaves less for me to polish during the editing process. (By “subtle” here, I mean that I’m not beating the reader over the head with what the character is feeling; some characters, like some people, clearly display every emotion they feel on their face with no subtlety whatsoever.)

I feel like my biggest obstacle with Destiny will be parceling out information properly. I want to tantalize without frustrating the reader. I want to explain without lecturing. Above all, I want to be economic with my explanations. No one wants to read a book where the main character takes up pages and pages of every chapter expounding on the way the world works. It would be far more effective to set up scenarios in which the reader can directly witness forces at work and come up with their own conclusions.

Here’s to hoping that in going deeper and outlining scenes for the story that I discover new ideas and better ways to write it. Something I have to keep reminding myself of is that nothing is set in stone, not even if I stated it in an outline or the rough draft or a later draft. Until a book is published, I can rearrange and change anything that doesn’t work for me. The worst case is that I have to rewrite something and it takes a little more time; a small enough price for getting it right.

January for planning

One of the best ways to set a project aside for a time is to move on to a new one, right? I have begun outlining Project: Destiny, a fantasy story which is one of my oldest ideas. General advice suggested not to bring my baby to NaNoWriMo, so I opted for something newer then. Now that I’ve finished that project, it’s time to return to my roots.

I find that the self-imposed deadline works pretty well for me in lieu of actual deadlines, so I am giving myself until the end of January to outline the story in its entirety. One month seems like plenty of time, and then I’m also giving myself a nice stopping point. Perhaps once a month has passed, I will be ready to set my completed outline aside and return to Climbing Yggdrasil for editing.

In the days leading up to NaNoWriMo, I created a fairly ramshackle outline and ended up adding a fair amount to the beginning and even more to the end. This time around, I want an entire story outlined from start to finish. A nice, solid road to walk on with signs and everything. Naturally, I will find the occasional dirt path leading off to more interesting vistas, and I won’t let prior planning get in the way of these deviations. If a story is willing to take me places, I have to let it if I want to see if those places are any good.

Climbing Yggdrasil features very few points of view. The bulk of the story is told from the third person, from the captain’s POV. This occasionally shifts to other crewmembers from time to time when circumstances force them to split up, but we aren’t regularly in another character’s head. The exception is the synchronizer, who gets a short POV chapter every few chapters or so, told from the first person.

destiny outline

Destiny is different in that it has a larger cast of characters in different geographical locations, so the POV shifts more regularly than it did in Yggdrasil. For this reason, I’m taking advantage of Scrivener’s ability to color code index cards in the corkboard view; each major POV character gets their own color so that it’s easy for me to see if I’ve ignored one of them for too long. I also want to revisit the Scrivener tutorial to see if there are other tools I didn’t use in Yggdrasil that might serve me well in Destiny. There is a lot more history in this story, a lot more notes on the way things work from government to magic. I haven’t been idle all these years, I’ve built up quite a skeleton for this story. Now I have to put some meat on the bones.