Days Writing: 7 New Words: 1303 New Chapters: 0.75
Total Word-count: 72,605 Total Chapters: 21
May was a funny month for my novel. I had great success with my 500-words-per-day minimum in April, and stated that it was my intention to maintain that pattern through May, though with more days of work. On the one hand, I did maintain my 500-words-per-day expectation, but I certainly did not increase my number of days at work.
I realize that 1303 words divided by 7 days may not look like I did 500 words each day, but I only wrote new material for 2.5 of those days (the 1303 words), and the rest of the time was spent reading through and revising Chapter 21, and each of those days I revised 500 words or more of what had originally been written.
To be fair, these numbers don’t give the full picture of the work that I did either. I may not have had much time for With the Beast, but halfway through the month I decided to revise my approach to the novel entirely. I realized I was being too casual about the whole thing and wanted to treat it more like a serious business. I conducted a number of board meetings with myself, where I reviewed all the different projects I am working on, evaluated whether they were worthy of continued effort, created a regular work schedule for my writing, and addressed likely obstacles to keeping that schedule. All of which I hope will lay the foundation for increased performance in my writing, though at the expense of much of my writing time for this particular month.
I am very excited about the new schedule, though. It will take discipline, but if I am able to follow it I will have 7.5-10 hours each week to work exclusively on With the Beast. Given my average rate of writing, that would be about 2000 words written and revised each week, or 8000 each month. Not bad at all!…if I can keep myself on task.
That will be the challenge and the hope. I do believe that I could finish this novel at the same crawl I have been moving at lately, but I am not content with that. I need this process to go faster! I’ll let you know if I’m able to obtain that with my next update.
And as always, here’s a small snippet from what I wrote this month.
Of course some days an entirely new situation arises that Clara has never seen before, such as when she finds a cluster of tiny, golden eggs on the underside of the tomato leaves. She brings them to her mother for analysis.
“Yes, it’s some sort of insect,” Eleanor sighs wearily. “They’ll eat the leaves as soon as they hatch.”
“What do I do?”
“Two things. First you must check every leaf daily and scrape off any eggs that you find. Next you must take a board of wood and lay it at the foot of the plants. Turn it over every morning, before the sun is fully up, and crush any bugs that are sleeping under it.”
Clara follows both steps to the letter, and the next morning she nearly screams when she turns over the board and is met by a mass of dark beetles scurrying all about! She presses a fist to her mouth to suppress the shout, but paces back and forth uncertainly, not wanting to follow through with the last of her mother’s directions.
But she knows that everyone is counting on her…what can she do but follow through? So she screws her eyes shut and stomps her foot down on the mass. Then again and again, peeking every now and again until the deed is done.
And each morning faithful Clara continues to squelch out their number and scrape off their eggs until their numbers finally diminish and the crops are saved.
Days Writing: 16 New Words: 4173 New Chapters: 1.25
Total Word-count: 75,955 Total Chapters: 20.25
In April I wanted to prioritize my story above all other hobbies and to write or edit 500 words each day. To the first matter I didn’t have very much success. I worked on my novel for only half of the days this month and there certainly were times where I didn’t prioritize it as highly as I could have.
But as for the second point I found some real success! I wrote or edited 500 words for all but one of the days that I worked on the novel, and on several days I wrote quite a bit more. The result of is that April showed more progress than any other month in the last year!
So of course the 500-word minimums is going to remain moving forward! I have always heard the importance of never having a 0% day, the advice that you must always work just a little bit on your personal projects, even if it is only the tiniest of contributions. And I do believe that that is good advice. Regular consistence in even a small effort will eventually build up to something substantial.
However I also feel that that piece of advice needs to be paired with another, which is that you don’t build up inertia until you put in enough effort to overcome friction. If I write so little each day that I can’t even feel the progress, then quickly I stop seeing the point in it and I stop. I may not have to write thousands and thousands of words, but I do need to write enough that the experience feels rewarding. For me that seems to be right around the 500 word mark.
Now let’s just see if I can pair that 500-word minimum with more days at work. Imagine how much I might have written with 20 days, or 25! That’s what I’ll be striving for in May and I’ll let you know in a month how it turned out. In the meantime, here’s a little snippet from my work this month.
Purging out the fungus takes a toll on the field. It is a matter of weeks until the last traces of it have disappeared, and during that time entire sections are carved out and burned, leaving ugly scars of desolation scattered all around.
But to William’s great relief, at last the crop is showing signs of healing. An entire week passes without a single new infected stalk, and those that remain of the crop are all thriving wonderfully.
The stalks are now so tall that they reach higher than any of the family members’ heads. They are thick, too, each as wide as two of William’s fingers. Individually they are impressive, but gathered in their legion they are completely tremendous! Three thousand stalks, straight, tall and slender, all of them reaching out green arms to salute one other, all of them standing faithfully in their rows and columns. One cannot help but feel that they are viewing a great army of satyrs!
All combined this great battalion weighs nearly five tons, a truly staggering mass, especially when one considers how it was sucked out of the earth by the finest of straws. Through a bed of threads has grown a city of giants.
“I believe we are in the clear,” Eleanor says to William as they look over the field at the close of day. “I was thinking to return to the gardens with Clara tomorrow.”
“Yes, I’ll be able to manage from here,” William asserts. “They’re too great to fail now, just look at them all!”
Eleanor lefts her arm around her husband’s shoulders and strokes his curly hair. Silently the proud parents watch over their tremendous brood.
Three years of consistent writing feels pretty good. More and more I have the sense that this really is my work. Not the work that I do for pay and not the work that I do for duty. The work that I freely choose for myself because I love it.
116 new posts were added to my tally this year, divided across 12 updates to my novel, 7 short stories, 50 essays, and a review of my first 50 short stories. The main trend that stands out to me is how much longer these “short” stories have been becoming! In my first year my writing produced 27 short stories and in the second it produced 19. This year it produced only 7?! That is an incredibly small number, but is it any wonder when three of them were Raise the Black Sun and the two variations on The Favored Son?
Altogether I added 203,000 words to my blog, bringing my three-year total to 619,407. Obviously not all of those words are in the form of a story, but more than half of them are.
The first draft for my novel With the Beast is at 74,000 total words, up from 42,500 a year ago. Clearly the progress there has slowed considerably, though I am still faithfully plugging away at it.
Years 1 and 2 had around 88 new followers each, but this year I was able to add 117, bringing my total to 293! Also 8 new countries read my blog for the first time, bringing the total there to 72.
It’s become something of a tradition for me to revise my approach to this blog at the beginning of each new year and I will be doing so again this time around. I’m not changing things just for the sake of changing things, though, this is all meant to help me in my growth as a writer.
The change that I am going to make is to introduce a new series for this blog, one where I take my previous work and revise it to its most ideal form. The intention is that at the end of this process my work would be worthy of professional publishing. Here are the reasons why I am making this change:
First and foremost is to help me achieve a higher level of quality as a writer. I am now two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my novel and I want to be well-rehearsed when it comes time to start its refining process. I’ve had plenty of practice at coming up with new ideas and hashing out a rough first draft, but I’m still lacking skills in the revision process and I don’t want to wait until the last second to begin developing those.
The second reason is because it just feels wrong to away from my short stories that show high potential. I can almost hear them begging me to take them up to the next level, but I’ve always been divided between that and a desire to keep seeding new ideas. At long last I think I’ve figured out a way that I can continue to cultivate my ideas to see which ones show the most promise, and then start polishing those promising ones until they reach their full potential. To be clear, not every one of my short stories will be getting this refinement process, only the ones that I feel are my absolute best work.
And lastly I get so sick of looking back at my old work and seeing all manner of typos and awkward phrases. I mean I churn these stories out on a pretty tight deadline, so I understand how all those errors get in there, but I don’t want to leave you all thinking that that is the best work I am capable of! I know I can do better and I intend to show it.
So how am I going to make time for this new refining series? I’m going to pull back the reins on my story series a little bit.
Currently each of my weekly story posts weighs in at about 2,500 words while my essays are only 1,000 words. I am now going to make three posts a week, all of them at the same 1,000 word quota. So on Monday you’ll see my 1,000-word essay, on Wednesday you’ll get the 1,000-word story chapter, and on Friday I’ll finish the week with a 1,000-word refinement. These numbers might adjust as I find the right balance, but you’ll see this plan go into effect starting this next week.
And Thank You)
At the end of each year I’ve paused to ask myself “so do I want to go another year?” And as before the answer this year is a resounding yes! This is the most rewarding hobby I have ever had and I don’t see me quitting it anytime soon.
And once again I want to thank you for being a part of this adventure with me. I’ve gone to some pretty strange and exciting places in these stories and I’m grateful to have not made the trip alone. As I’ve said before, these aren’t just stories to me, they are the way I process and express my own self. They are the journal of my soul. I take very seriously the kindness you show when you listen to the thoughts of my heart.
Days Writing: 22 New Words: 1525 New Chapters: 0.25
Total Word-count: 71,186 Total Chapters: 19
My goal for March was to work on the novel every single day. Even if I accomplished very little, I just wanted to learn how to be consistent in having some daily effort. And so far as that’s concerned, this month was a fair success. In all I worked on my novel for 22 days. Not my best ever, but certainly better than any months of late.
Obviously the 1,525 words written isn’t anything special, though. I only finished writing chapter 19, did an edit on all of it, and wrote a small piece of chapter 20. This continues a depressing trend in my performance. During the second year of working on this novel I have accomplished far, far less than I did during the first. Much of the time I feel like I am only scratching out the story a single grain at a time, and this feeling leads to a negative cycle. I feel dissatisfied from accomplishing so little, which makes me less motivated to put more time into it, which obviously makes me accomplish even less.
One of my major problems is that there are so many other things I want to fill my free time with. I want to have relaxation and recreation, just like everyone else, and I also struggle with more hobbies than I know what to do with. With these two forces combined it is a very hard thing to just say “no, write your book instead.”
I’ve been thinking about this, though, and there’s an experiment I’d like to try. While I might find it impossible to close the door on all my other ventures until this novel is finished, I don’t mind temporarily scaling them back. During the month of April I want to work on my novel every day, and I want to write or edit 500 words at least on each of those days. And so long I haven’t met that quota, I won’t do any of my other side activities during that same day.
I’ll still go to work just as much, I’ll still spend quality just as much time with my family, I’ll still take care of all my errands…there just won’t be any of my other personal treats until the novel has been cared for. And it might be that this excessive, and it might not even be sustainable…but that’s alright, because I can always recalibrate at the start of May.
I’ll let you know how this experiment goes next month, and in the meantime here’s one of the new pieces I wrote this month. Enjoy!
“Unless you want to take your chances, you should give the woodworker a drawing of exactly what sort of mirror to make,” John explains.
“Like how it should be shaped and all that?”
“Yes, exactly. Here, stand on this stool and look at what I’ve got laid out on my table: schematics.”
“No. Schematics. Drawings are fanciful and imaginative, but schematics are technical, shown to scale, giving the exact dimensions so that anyone can create the thing you want to perfect detail.”
“So for my mirror…”
“The woodworker wouldn’t only know how it should generally look, but the exact size and shape of it as well.”
“Alright, how do I make one?”
“I will help you with that. Let me get a fresh sheet ready. Alright then, how tall should it be?”
Clara lays two hands on the paper and John makes a mark at top and bottom.
“And where should the handle come to? Very good. And how wide at the widest part? Excellent. Mind you, we can alter this as we go along if it doesn’t come out quite how you wanted, this is just to get us started. Now tell me exactly you wanted this to look, and let me know any time I start to go wrong with it…”
An hour later and the schematic is complete.
“Do you like it?” John asks Clara.
“It’s wonderful! I just wish I could hold it!”
“Not a bad idea. Better to look at a physical model than just a drawing–“
“Yes, a schematic. Go look for something that’s the same size as this handle and see if it feels right in your hand.”
Days Writing: 12 New Words: 2867 New Chapters: .75
Total Word-count: 69,756 Total Chapters: 18.75
I consider February to be a more successful month than January. Not just because I was able to actually work on new material, but because my mind was more dedicated to the work…sometimes.
The fact is my performance for February was still very low. I seem to have found my way into the doldrums lately, and I’m having a hard time getting back out of it.
Of late I’ve had the goal to just write something every day. As you can see, I still missed on that very lax requirement for more than half of the days this last month. And on the days that I did write, I didn’t strive to do more than the bare minimum. My average wordcount on the days that I wrote was just shy of 240, hardly anything at all
I’ve tried a few different ways to get out of this slump, and frankly none of them have lasted more than a month. That’s alright. I’ll keep trying new ideas until either I find something that sticks or I get this novel out the long way.
So for March my goal will be to double down on that “write something each day.” All I’m looking for is consistency. I want to find a routine that I can become dependent on every day, even if it only churns out 20 words each time. I will measure my success in number of days and repetition, not in final wordcount. Once I’ve got that, then I’ll look for ways to expand on it.
Come back April 1st to hear how it went. In the meantime here is the piece I have selected to share from my work this month. Enjoy!
It is a very heavy blow to William, it hits even harder than the worm infestation. The first loss had softened him, so now this one is able to strike deep and truly wound.
“I’m sorry, William,” Eleanor can see the heartbreak in her husband’s eyes. “Will we still have enough crops to make enough of a profit back on the mainland?”
“Who’s to know? And even if we do now, then what about after the next problem comes up? Or the next after that?”
Eleanor nods sympathetically. “Things seemed to go much more smoothly during the trial season, didn’t it? Of course we were growing much less, then.”
“Yes, there seems to be much more that can go wrong when there is an entire community of crops.”
“Yes, there is,” Eleanor nods. “I know your original plan was to earn one-fifth of what we initially spent to come out here. If we bring in one-tenth, instead, is that so much worse?”
“Ten years to be successful in our investment?!”
“But we’d still be able to hire at least one or two new hands and expand on the foundation we’ve already set. Why the next year we’d be able to double things up to that one-fifth level. The next year even further. Accelerate the growth, just as you had been saying.”
William nods, but Eleanor can see he isn’t too encouraged.
“But today is still a disappointment, and I certainly wouldn’t sweep that under the rug. I’m truly sorry, darling.” Eleanor rests her hand on her husband’s sunburned arms. “You’ve worked very hard, and you’re not wrong to want to see the fruit of that. I’m sorry.”
Well, as you can see from these numbers, January was a very different sort of month, unlike any that I have worked before. My goal had been to carry on December’s “no back-to-back missed days,” but I didn’t meet that goal at all. And more alarmingly, I didn’t add any new words to my draft, I only refined the previous chapter.
To be perfectly blunt the work of this month was a very difficult slog for me. I had a long, troubled sequence to correct in Chapter 18, and I rewrote it multiple times before I was finally satisfied with the result. It was hard to motivate myself each day to grapple with it again, and that is what led to the low number of days.
I am pleased to say that I have the deed done now, though. There will, of course, be later drafts and refinements, but the sequence in question is at least on the same caliber as the rest of my novel now.
What finally got me over this hurdle was that I wrote the sequence in as verbose of a way as I could manage. I pumped it full of prose and complexity until it was bloated to nearly twice the size of what I wanted in the final product! Then it was a relatively easy task to read through the mass and carve out only the best chunks, chipping away at the sculpture until the proper form emerged from within. Next time I’m having trouble with a piece I’ll have to remember this method try it earlier in the process!
Today I start writing Chapter 19. I’m very excited to get going with the new material and I hope it leads to a more satisfying experience for the month. Come back on March when I’ll give you the next update. Before I go, here’s a section from my work in January. It is, of course, extracted from that large sequence that gave me so much trouble. Enjoy!
Thus, one morning John goes into his favorite grove, cuts down that giant tree, takes the top off, and clears it of every branch until it is ready for the carry.
His cart cannot assist him for the first part of this journey, the ground is much too uneven. He must negotiate the way with his two feet alone, the full weight of the tree upon his back. He knew this, though, and has already fashioned a rope-and-leather harness just for the job.
So he sits against the fallen log and secures it to his back, then rises to his feet in stages. At a few points he is in danger of falling backwards again, but finally he manages to stand erect. However no sooner does he accomplish this than his whole frame starts to shake and he has to drop to his knees to keep from tipping over. It takes some effort to adjust to this massive and very top-heavy load, but gradually he becomes acclimated to it, and then he is steady enough to stand and walk forward.
What follows then is a very deliberate march. Every bump and divot, every tangle of roots, every patch of concealing leaves is a terrible menace, and his eyes constantly scour the tapestry before him, careful not to miss any nuance of the land.
Now he goes up a small rise in the land, toes digging hard against the slope. Now down the other side, each step planted broadside for better stability. Now descending a rocky outcropping, shoulders rolled so that the edge of the trunk scrapes against the stones for an anchor. Now splashing through a narrow stream, knees bent to absorb the shock of the water’s force. Now picking across the washout of a rockslide, heels crushing loose pebbles and sliding shale underfoot. Now lifting feet high over a series of fallen trees. Now stiffening against winds that pelt down the mouth of a ravine. Now slamming feet to a halt when a rabbit startles out of a bush just ahead. So many little obstacles that normally would not require any special consideration, but today they are all herculean trials!
Coming into December I knew that it is usually a difficult month for writing, given how heavy it is on holiday festivities. I was also afraid that if I started missing multiple days back-to-back it would be all too easy to give up on it entirely until the new year.
So at the start of the month I made a commitment to not have two days back-to-back where I didn’t work on the novel. A lofty goal…and I made it!
The days that I missed were the 6th, 12th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, and 27th. As you can see, at the end I started missing every other day as the festivities ramped up, but I successfully managed to sandwich each absence with at least a little bit of work before and after.
And how about that grand total of 25 days writing?! I believe that is a new record for me, and I do think it was directly due to this idea of no back-to-back days off. 4003 words written means that each of those 25 days was a little light, but that’s still the most I’ve written in a single month since March.
If you’ve been following my progress, then you know I have tried a variety of different routines to get the most out of my writing and some of those have been more successful than others. I’m pretty excited about this new no-back-to-back-misses approach, though, and will certainly be carrying it forward!
So here’s hoping for another great month in January, I’ll let you know in February how it went. As usual I’ll send you off with a piece that I wrote during this month. Enjoy!
Then begins the crafting stage. Of all the phases, this one is the most routine and repetitive. There are many identical pieces and all must be cut to exact length and precisely shaped, so that they may be bolted together in a perfect fit. And as the full quantity of these has already been tabulated, John has a quota for exactly how many pieces to construct each day. Like a machine his arms memorize the movements and repeat them over and over, parts flying off the table in rapid succession until the full tally has been made.
Of course he cannot completely assemble the pieces of the mill at his workstation, for then they would be too heavy to carry down to the river. Thus he forms them into as large of pieces as his little wheelbarrow can bear, then he will carries them down to the river and completes their construction on-site.
This transportation phase requires some adjustments to the wheelbarrow, though. A single wheel and two leg supports has made for a most agile vehicle, but it simply won’t do when supporting massive constructs of lumber. So he gets rid of the legs, adds three more wheels, expands its bed, and raises its walls. Now it is a proper cart.
Then he treks down to the river, one load at a time. It is not easy to haul such large pieces over such a distance. The ground, while relatively flat compared to the rest of the island, is still far from a paved road. Indeed John thinks to himself during the process that he will have to prioritize making some roads during the off-season when he has a spare moment.
But for now there are no spare moments. He is still holding himself to a rigorous schedule and he must make many trips back-and-forth, every single day. By his copious experience he knows full well how much strain is behind every numbered task. He knows the exact amount of work to be accomplished and the amount of pain to be endured, and he does not let his day finish until he has met both quotas.
Days Writing: 13 New Words: 2121 New Chapters: 0.33
Total Word-count: 62,821 Total Chapters: 17
Definitely a quieter month for me compared to October. In fact it was my fewest number of days since July. Those days felt a bit like running in place, too, as most of my time was spent back in my previous chapter, adding in another scene.
November is a big holiday month here in the United States, and that definitely was a large factor in how things went. But December is an even bigger holiday month, and so I am anxious about falling into the same trap.
The hardest thing for me is to have skipped a few days, and then have to get back into the context of where I was the next time I start. It makes it all the more tempting to just skip the next day as well.
To that end, I’m going to take special note whenever a day passes and I haven’t written anything. I will make it a rule that I must write on the next day in that case. I’m far enough ahead on my story blog that I could even afford to take a day off there, if it meant having time to work on the novel.
We’ll see how this approach works. If it’s effective, then the absolute minimum number of days for me will be fifteen, which isn’t great, but still better than what I managed this month.
For now here’s a piece that I wrote during this month, it is part of the scene that I added into Chapter Seventeen. Fair warning, it is rather intense.
“Yes. See how you’ve clenched yourself? All the muscles in your abdomen tight as a rock? That’s no good. Then when it has to drive through that’s–“
A strangled cry emanates from deep in your throat as ‘it’ pierces through with a series of rapid surges, forcibly cutting its way through the muscle on its way towards the surface. You sift your fingers back and forth through the dirt, trying to focus on that sensation, willing it to take your mind off the pain at your belly. You give two sharp inhales, then try to relax your muscles.
It is a hard thing, though. For the flesh feels the knife’s edge within, and instinctively flexes itself against it.
“Focus on my voice,” your companion offers. “Make me everything you see, hear, and know. Better to turn away from yourself at this part. Better to make it so you don’t even know what happens.”
The knife-edge pulls back, then lunges forward again. Your somewhat relaxed muscles seize right back up and you cry out again! The knife-edge increases pressure, drives itself at the fibers. You give a long, guttural groan, clenching your fingers on the hard soil, gripping the entire earth for you anchor.
“Press on!” your companion cries. “Press on! You are so near!”
Your long shout goes silent as the last of the air expels from your lungs. You choke silently for a moment, then ‘it’ bursts out of your navel like an arrow.
A strange cry, like that of a wounded animal, warbles out from between your numb lips.
“Yes! Yes! You’ve done it!”
Your whole body trembles as you let your torn muscles slacken. With face on the ground you catch a glimpse of a small gray creature falling to the soil. It drives razor-head into the dirt and scrabbles its feet madly. It disappears into that new womb, churning the soil up in a small cloud as it seeks its collective.
For a moment you feel nothing, and then all at once the entire ground seems to turn beneath you. A single massive force contracts and flows, like a massive underground river. It is the collective welcoming their newest brother.
With a sob you roll onto your back, weep the birth, and try to stop your body from its convulsions.
I am reviewing all fifty of my short stories, ranking them from worst to best. Today I am going over my most favorite entries!
The Top 10)
Believe it or not, having these last two sections be exactly ten entries each was not something I did on purpose. It just so happens that I think these remaining stories really are a tier above the last. A lot of the reason why I feel so is because of personal preference, these ones just speak more directly to me. In any case, these truly are the stories that I am the most proud of having written.
10. The Storm. An old fisherman goes into a storm to bring back a fellow-sailor, which sailor was responsible for a past tragedy. Once again I went with with beaches, the sea, and gray skies! The symbolism of this piece is extremely blunt: two boats tethered together and weathering a storm as soul-breaking confessions are made. Sometimes it’s better to not be subtle, to just wear your themes on your sleeve and see how far you can push it. I enjoyed being able to really lean into the depth of emotions that I wanted to convey.
9. Free Cleaning Service. A detective is trying to track down a serial killer, and in the process invites the murderer to his own home. I was woken up in the middle of the night by a nightmare once. So then I posted it on my blog for everyone else to share. You’re welcome. Grim as this piece is, I also can’t help but be impressed at how well it captures the terror I felt that night. I had to translate unspoken sensations into written words, which would elicit the unspoken sensations in the reader. Not an easy thing to do, but I think I found my way through it.
8. Boat of Three. A captain, a sailor, and a pirate are together in a lifeboat, the most precarious of companions in the struggle to survive. This was yet another example of starting a story in fertile ground, and then just sitting back and letting all sorts of interesting plot developments spring out of it. Although I couldn’t let those ideas grow entirely unhindered, because I already had a strong sense of where I wanted the story to end. Thus I had to steer the herd in the right, general direction, and in the end I felt it was a success. Not only this, I felt it was one my best examples of writing about current issues through allegory.
7. The Soldier’s Last Sleep. A soldier on the frontlines must defend against one wave of the enemy after another in what might be his final stand. This story emerged from a very simple image: a soldier laying down in his bunk after days of fighting, too exhausted to even remove his boots. But where many stories grow forwards from an idea, this one went backwards. I started to ask “well how did he get this way?” which led me to imagine a long sequence of excruciating labors. This piece was actually very satisfying to write, because I permitted myself to flesh out every scene with layer upon layer of prose, resulting in some of my most favorite lines in all my work.
6. The Anther-Child. A race of creatures that live on the anthers of a flower are menaced by a persistent predator. I wanted to write a story that was a true fantasy, where the main characters were not human, nor human-like. I wanted it to be very surreal and strange, featuring a species I have never seen in any other story. And when all was said and done, I would say I succeeded. I simply do not know anything else that feels like the world I setup for this piece, and it’s somewhere I would very much like to spend more time.
5. Deep Forest. A strange, insect-like creature awakes after eons of sleep, discovering an unfamiliar world that has yet to be awoken. When I said The Anther-Child was unlike any other story, I meant any other story than this one! I wrote this one first, and once again it represents a more pure fantasy, with a main character that defies any semblance of being human-like. It eats dirt and has compound eyes and regurgitates a larva that it places in an inner pod to incubate! I loved the freedom that this approach gave me, and still want to spend more time in this space.
4. The Toymaker. Two toys are brought to life, and set on a path to the Great City. But soon they are waylaid, and must strive to ever find the road again. This piece starts as whimsical and carefree as Winnie-the-Pooh or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but quickly meanders into a grim and harsh world. It strikes an intriguing balance of examining coarse reality, but all through the eyes of un-surrendered innocence. The ending is, I believe, the greatest success I’ve had in sentimentality, and conveys a message that I believe we all could benefit from.
3. Raise the Black Sun. A caravan must bring their wares to a mysterious citadel, weighed down by a sense that they are approaching the end of the world. Yet another story of mine with a slow burn, this one being the longest and slowest of them all. That gradual escalation was the only option for this one, as its purpose was to capture a deep sense of burden and melancholy. Thus there is a heavy weight that permeates every scene, dragging down the tempo, but slowly rising until it bursts out everywhere in the most explosive conclusion I’ve ever written!
2. Revelate. A group of automatons go about their daily lives, falling in love and concocting schemes against one another. This is my most intricate piece to date. Its plot occurs in a complete cycle, where the ending transitions seamlessly back into the beginning. It also features characters that evolve into one another through the course of each cycle, done in a way that I have never seen in any other tale. It is therefore one of my boldest pieces from a technical standpoint, and on top of that also presents a sincere and heartfelt drama.
1. Glimmer. A warrior descends to a planet shrouded in darkness. She has come to restore light and life to it at any cost. This story takes the fight between darkness and light in a very literal sense. The world it presents is stark and barren, with little to distract from the drama at its core. It is another epic in miniature, where the great battle is in the heart of its main protagonist, more than the outer world that she is trying to save. And indeed, her intense earnestness is a very large part of why I like this story so much.
As I said, I’m very proud of these stories, and I could have certainly made a case for any of the top several being my favorite of all time.
Now I know that none of these works aren’t perfect. I’m aware of pacing issues, inconsistencies, and awkward phrasing in even my favorite stories. And I don’t even mean in the sense of “no story is perfect,” I mean I could do better than this if I gave myself more time. This is why I don’t try to pan any of this off as professional work, and I wouldn’t publish any piece as a commercial product without first putting it through extensive rewrites.
But that is simply the nature and intent of this blog. I have an idea, I explore it for a while, and then I move on. The purpose of these exercises is not to make commercial products, it is to sift through the seeds and find which ones would be worthy of a more thorough production later on.
Some of these I’ve discarded and don’t expect I will ever return to, some of them show a bit of promise if I can just figure out a better approach, and some of them are the beginning of something special.
But for as many seedlings as I’ve started, I’m nowhere near ready to stop planting more. The pool of ideas is simply too large to stop processing them. And if I do say so myself, I’ve still got some of my best ideas yet to come. In fact I’ve already queued up a few of them for the next story series I publish.
In closing, thank you for being here with me through this long self-examination. These tales have so very much of me laced through them. I wrote them first and foremost for my own benefit, and am forever awed that there are others of you who seem to enjoy them as well.
I do believe that stories are one of the best ways we have to connect to each other. As we each find a part of ourselves in the same themes of the same story we find our common ground.
I am reviewing all fifty of my short stories, ranking them from worst to best. Today I will bring us to the threshold of my most treasured work.
The following are the stories that I consider to almost be my favorite work. It’s hard for me to quantify what I feel they are missing…quite possibly nothing. I think it’s just down to a matter of personal preference at this point.
20. A Minute at a Time. A young father is trying to care for his chronically ill son, who is in perpetual discomfort. I have written several sentimental stories that did not land as well as I had hoped, but this actually succeeded. And a lot of that has to do with the end. At its conclusion the father does not fix his son’s problems. He does not make the bad situation go away. But he does embrace his son’s struggle, and even admits to his own feelings of powerlessness. And so at the end there is a form of healing, but it is that of emotional closure. That sort of honest, bittersweet conclusion brought this story in where other efforts fell short.
19. Phisherman. A hacker who enjoys filtering through the lives of others decides to break into a stranger’s home. If there is a common trend in my stories, it is that I tend to avoid ordinary, everyday life. With this story I broke that pattern. It is modern, it has no supernatural elements, and it is an examination of a person that could be totally real. And taking this radically different approach did not compromise the piece at all! I think the quality I enjoy most of this story is that its protagonist is unquestionably doing bad things, and needs to be held accountable for his behavior, yet I can’t help but feel a deep pity for him also.
18. The Last Duty. A hermit with a secret shame is visited by a wanderer, whose arrival might not be as random as assumed. I wanted to write a story that begin with false pretenses. In this piece two characters have their own stories to share, the intersection of which is not made known until a surprise revelation at the end. In addition to the exercise, I also wanted to explore a theme of regretful parenthood and I wanted to explore it to the extreme. The two characters are not merely asking themselves “where did I go wrong,” they are wrestling with the responsibility of having sired the world’s greatest evils!
17. The Noble. A group of medieval slaves find an unlikely savior in the newest member of their chain gang. I admit that this story ends too quickly. At the time I wrote it, I was still concerned with fitting my stories into a specific number of posts, and sometimes that meant cramming too much into the last chapter. I am including it here, though, because in spite of that I am still very proud of its characterizations, themes, and imagery. Most of all, though, I am proud of the unexpected turn of events at the very center, which in the moment seem a soul-crushing defeat, but actually sows the seed of a later redemption.
16. With the Beast. A family lands on an inherited island, excited to build a new future for themselves. There isn’t much of an arc here, this piece is mostly about just setting a tone. And in that it definitely succeeded. There is a goodness and an excitement that emanates from the explorers, but it is set apart by a contrasting tone of regret from the reader. Which brings up another distinct element that I’m proud of. The reader is given a voice in this story, and the whole thing is written in a second-person present tense. I suspected that would be weird and off-putting…but it actually works quite well!
15. Does What He Must. A young man in the old west recalls the larger-than-life feats of his father. I’ve sometimes come into trouble by starting a story without a clear idea of where I wanted to end it. But this piece was an example of how sometimes an expedition into the unknown can turn up gold. All I knew when I started was that I wanted to do a series of scenes that showed the development of a western legend. The fact that it did that, and also came together in an emotional and fitting finale was a wonderful, happy accident!
14. Washed Ashore. Two men wash onto a beach, the lone survivors of a shipwreck, burning with an eternal hatred for each other. Another mood piece and another shoreline. Something I’ve learned about myself and my writing is that I am captivated by the image of a stormy beach. Here I used it as the flat, gray backdrop behind a dramatic escalation. Things begin with a tone that is longing and wistful, but by the end burns with the promise of destruction and never-ending strife.
13. Once Among the Clouds. A patrol of clouds come across a source of infinite growth, and are seduced by the power it represents. Well this was certainly a different piece, and it was so for two different reasons. The first, of course, was the choice of clouds as the cast of characters. Coming up with mechanics that reflect those most whimsical of forms was a fun challenge. The other unique element was trying to write an epic drama in miniature. Which I realize sounds like an oxymoron, but was necessary to capture the extremely majestic, yet extremely transient nature of clouds.
12. To the Great Infinite. A man uses his homemade technology to try and map his way into another dimension. Only my second piece on this blog, and still one of my favorites. I love the sheer creativity of it, particularly the idea of a concrete basement being transformed into a dimension-hopping shuttle. A definite challenge in this was to both invent creative problems for my character to encounter, and then come up with reasonable solutions to them. Perhaps my favorite element, though, was having it cap all that sci-fi extravagance off with a simple moment of leaping into the unknown by pure faith.
11. Slow and Easy, Then Sudden. A sleepy, rural town has a new visitor in town, come to carry out an evil deed. Another thing that I’ve learned from writing these stories is how much I love the slow burn. This piece begins particularly lighthearted, with a cheerful diner and a warm slice of apple pie, then builds to a climax of cold-blooded murder. In between I was particularly focused on the idea of a man having to work up the hate within him, necessary to being able to carry out such an act of violence.
Come back on Thursday where I will conclude this review with my top ten stories!