Monday Muse: 2013-09-30

From time to time, my muse rears her head and talks to me. I’ve managed to capture some of these conversations and am sharing them with you. I will warn you that my muse is a potty-mouth. I have no control over what she tells me. Sorry.

Muse: It’s about fucking time you listened to me.

Me: I always listen to you!

Muse: *scoffs* Yeah right.

Me: Fine. Fine. I’ve been busy with other things.

Muse: Have those other things been more important than your writing?

Me: *ponders for a second* Yeah!

Muse: Bullshit. How do you figure that?

Me: I’ve been writing the web app for The Zebulon. It’s for the betterment-

Muse: The betterment of what? Your coding skills?

Me: Shut up for a minute and let me explain. I’ve been heads down coding things for PPW because it improves our writing community. The proposal portal helps PPW keep things organized and keeps all of our presenters happy because we’re not losing their ideas and suggestions. The writing contest portal has been there to make it easier for PPW to run the contest and bring writers together with the contest. I did this for the benefit of the community. Sure, I didn’t write much the past few months, but you can back off. I did this because it’s what I wanted to do. I’ll always return to you, your ideas, and my writing. I just need to take a break from the writing from time-to-time for more important things.

Muse: *silently looks at her feet*

Me: Now that we’re past that, I want to know what you think of the outline I’ve written for Egan & Stiles. Any input?

Muse: You took my guidance quite well. It’s a solid outline that you can turn into an incredible story… if you listen to me.

Me: Don’t worry. My focus is back on my writing for the time being. We’ll get through this and make a wonderful tale. We’ll just have to work together to do it.

Muse: *with a wry grin on her face* What will do you if my guidance pulls you away from the outline you’ve written?

Me: The same thing I always do. I check out both, figure out which I think is better, and then run with the best course of action for the story. Now I need to get back to the prose. I’ve not written a single word of the story now that the outline is done. It’s time for me to get back to Scrivener.

Muse: Good idea. I’ll check in with you later. *fades into the darkness*

Deadline #1 — CRUSHED!

I had set a deadline of Sept. 30th for finishing the map for the Egan & Stiles stories. As of last night, it’s done.

You can see a small version of my efforts below. Click the image to enlarge.

Map of Mesnick
Map of the City of Mesnick

You’ll probably notice that there aren’t many labels, street names, etc.. I’m leaving most of that open for my imagination to run wild with as I develop the stories. As I nail down locations, I’ll mark them on the map and move on.

I expect this to be a living document that evolves as the stories evolve.

… Now to start the process of outlining the story. I think I have enough ideas to chain together and make an 85,000 to 95,000 word novel out of things. Though, if it comes in shorter, I’m cool with that. Just so long as it’s north of the 75k mark.

I’m sure some folks will ask me how I made the map. I’ll go ahead and divulge that now.

I started with an art pad measuring 18″ x 12″. I used a regular old mechanical pencil to create the river, cliff, and buildings. Yeah. I had to use the eraser quite a bit as well. I didn’t explicitly draw roads. I just gapped out the buildings so there would be a place to flood fill the road patterns in later.

Then I took some photos (my scanner is smaller than the paper size) of the photo. I tried and tried and tried to convert the pencil drawing to black and white, but it failed miserably because the pencil lines just didn’t show up well enough to GIMP to be converted to black lines. Even with the help of my wonderful wife (who is a photographer and knows how to manipulate images), I couldn’t get a B&W image.

Instead of throwing the map out and starting over on a smaller, scannable sheet of paper, I spent the time with an ultra-fine-point Sharpie to ink the entire map. That was almost as hard as drawing it in the first place, but I got it done.

More photos and image editing based on the training my wife had given me, and I had a B&W image of the map I’d drawn. With a little clean-up around the edges, I was in business.

Then I added tons of layers to the map. Some for the red points (they’re shrines), some for the walls, some for the paved roads, and some for the dirt roads. Oh. There are some for the swamps, farms, warrens, and graveyard as well.

Then I started with a stencil tool to add the swamp, farmland, warrens, and graveyard symbols. Then I used the lasso select tool to select by hand the various areas for paved roads and dirt roads. Then I did a flood fill with a pattern to fill in the areas.

Then came the walls and cliff face. Those were easier to select with the magic wand and fill in. Then I had to select each shrine (they were originally black dots) with the magic wand and flood fill them with the red dots you see on the map.

Then I labeled a few areas/locations with some text, and called it good.

The whole process was probably 50 hours of work spread out over a few months.

Now I’m really glad I set a deadline. I should have had this done in a few weeks instead of a few months. Ah well. Such is life.

Now to get to some serious outlining!

Scapple

I’ve used many different mind-mapping tools in the past. I’d try to list them, but you’d get bored after the fifteenth entry, and I’d probably miss a few of them.

The problem with all of the mind-mapping tools I’ve used in the past is that they don’t work with my mind. I have to remap my mind to fit into the constraints set by the software. Basically, the software gets in the way of me trying to map my thoughts and ideas. That gets in the way of my creative flow, and I just walk away.

Well, my novel idea for Egan & Stiles is more complex than my past efforts. Warmaiden/Warmistress/Warmother all had fairly linear plot threads. I tried to keep them simple in concept, so I could focus on improving my execution of the prose. I think I’m past that now, so I’m getting all wild and crazy with plot ideas for the current project.

Of course, to keep track of that, I needed to map out some ideas. I initially thought about scribbling on one of the whiteboards in my office since that really gets my creative juices flowing. Then I realized I probably can’t take the whiteboard with me to Village Inn to write. That would just be awkward.

I sighed and realized it was time to create a mind map using software. I looked at the icons for the five mind-mapping programs I currently have installed and sighed more. I didn’t want to use any of them. They just get in my way.

Then I remembered that Literature and Latte released a mind mapper not too long ago. I’ve been using their Scrivener software for almost two years now. It’s amazing how Scrivener can just get out of the way of the process and allow you to write, organize thoughts, collect notes, and capture ideas. I figured their mind-mapper, known as Scapple, would be on par with Scrivener.

I was right. I downloaded the 30 day trial last night. (Did you see that? A 30 day trial before buying it!) I opened up the software and within 30 seconds, I was mind-mapping. Just like Scrivener gets out of the way and allows you to write, Scapple dodges your mental process and lets you slam your ideas down on the screen.

I think it took me a grand total of 30 minutes to get all of my plot points, thoughts, characters, ideas, and interconnected events down in a mind map. That may sound like a long time, but I ended up with a fairly complex mind map. Very few of those 30 minutes were me messing with Scapple. I’d say out of the 30 minutes, I spent 3 of them fiddling with Scapple (italics, bold, etc.) to see if I liked how different things looked.

What I’m saying is that you’ve tried other mind-mapping tools (like I have) and you’ve come away disgruntled (like I have) and you want something new (like I did) that just gets out of your way and allows you to create… Try Scapple!

Oh. Another sweet point: It’s only $14.99. I’m about $4.99 shy of that in my bank account right now, so come pay day, I’m buying this awesome piece of software.

Mind-mapping, here I come!

Note: While Scrivener will run on OSX, Windows and Linux, Scapple is only for OSX. Sorry Windows/Linux folks.

Deadlines

I think I figured out why I’m in such a writing slump. I’ve not set a deadline for my writing in a long time. Yes, I’ve had Day Job deadlines, and PPW Contest deadlines, but I’ve not had any hard dates set for when I want a piece of prose finished.

There’s something you need to know about me. I’m driven by deadlines. I thrive on them. I kick deadlines in the ass as I cruise past them with a finished product in hand while on my way to the next deadline.

So why haven’t I set a deadline for getting the map of Mesnick done? I don’t know. I think it just slipped my mind that I needed a deadline. Perhaps I was scared to set one knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to meet the deadline without going days on end without sleep.

With this in mind, I’m setting three deadlines for myself with regards to the first Egan & Stiles story.

  1. Finish the map of the city of Mesnick by September 30th, 2013. Yes, that’s only a little over 5 days away. I can do it, though. I already have a vast majority done. I just need to polish up some details. Honestly, they are probably unimportant details, but I want them done for the sake of my sanity.
  2. The second deadline is to finish the first novel telling Egan & Stiles’s story by March 15th, 2014. That’s the Ides of March and my 16th wedding anniversary. I figure it’s as good of a date as any, and will allow me the time I need to get the novel written. This is first draft only, which leads me to my third deadline.
  3. I will have the first Egan & Stiles novel edited by April 23rd, 2014. Why that date? Well, it’s the day before the opening day of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I plan on pitching this new novel to agents and editors at the conference, so it kind of needs to be done and edited by then.

These are reasonable deadlines and goals. I can hit these deadlines. Heck, I might be able to crush these deadlines unless Real Life gets in the way in a serious way that I can’t predict. As it stands, I’m going to press forward and finish the first novel by the date listed above. I’ll keep you updated on my progress as things develop.

Radio Silence

I’m really sorry for the month-long radio silence you’ve had to endure. I’ve been head down in a large project for Pikes Peak Writers. That project has more-or-less come to a close for now. The web site for The Zebulon Writing Contest is now launched, and I can rejuvenate my energy levels with a few days off. I’ve spent those days reading, plotting, fiddling with my map for my Egan and Stiles stories, and playing with my son.

I’ve been feeling the incurable itch to write something for the past two months, and all I’ve managed to squeeze out the time for was a short story (a hair over 4,000 words), and that’s about it. I’ve jotted tons of notes and ideas for Egan and Stiles. I have the basic idea of the first of their stories I want to tell, but it needs to percolate more. I think a little more world building… er… city building will spark the ideas I need to fill in that “swampy middle” of the novel.

I have the opening scene in my head. I have the closing scene in my head. I know of a few key points for the middle that I want to happen. However, I’m know it’s not enough material to make a novel out of. It’s just a matter of letting the ideas coalesce into something coherent and continuous.

I’ve been tempted to throw up a copy of the map I’ve been working on, but since it’s a work in progress, I’m a little shy about doing that. I think I’ll finish off the map and then send it your way, so you can check it out.

Back to the grind of the Day Job. I hope to get some writing/mapping/plotting/planning done this evening!