Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Writing

When is it “finished?”


As of Friday, Book One is done. And yet it’s not really “finished,” per se. It’s sitting quietly on my harddrive, resting and dreaming, before I slog through it for one last read-through, then it’ll be off to my editor who may (or may not) tear it apart and declare it an abomination. Either way, there will be more edits.

Which made me wonder why I felt like I could label it as it is, done. A big part of it is definitely a feeling, a big sigh of relief, a rush of pride. Yet I have been here before with books I’ve written, only to turn around and completely rewrite them 2 months or 2 years down the line.

So what does done mean?

For me, at least now, at least in this moment and for this project, it appears to mean that it’s at a point where I’m comfortable sharing without caveats. When I gave it to my betas at the end of May, I also gave them a ton of caveats. I was as far as I could get on my own at the time, but I also knew there were still problems, could feel them even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on them. So I told them that, told them to expect that it wouldn’t be perfect, and that it definitely had problems, and to please help me find what those problems were.

Now… it still has problems. It will never be perfect. But I feel like I can hand it off without caveats. That it can stand on its own. Within all those words is a complete story with a full character arc and logical consequences and big stakes, and minimal, if any, plot holes.

Again, there might still be things I’ve missed, things I’m blind to. I’m going to read through it one last time and then other, fresher eyes will have a go at it. But for now, Book One is as done as I can make it.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Work In Progress, Writing

#amediting – Make it Bleed

The best decision I’ve made so far with this round of edits – aside from, you know, doing them – was to turn on Track Changes. Now whenever I feel like I’m treading water and getting nowhere, all I have to do is flip to “show all markup” and see just how much I’ve done.


Of course, all that red doesn’t say anything about the quality of the edits, but it sure is pretty to look at.

T minus 10 days and counting and I’m finally starting to feel like I’m going to make it, and not just at the last second. 60-ish pages left to edit, 2-ish scenes let to (re)write. I’m starting to get it into my head that I’ll have time for another read through. But let’s not get too cocky – something is bound to happen and eat up all my soft deadline cushioning.

But I’m already starting to plan what I’m gonna do when this is off my desk. Sleep. Read. Buy a chocolate cake. Eat it all. And then start writing the next book. Which I am SUPER excite about, FYI.

In the meantime, I’ve still got 10 days, so here’s current progress on Book One, working title Redacted, the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who’s more than just a little tired of this shit. Now with more! raucous gambling, mythology tweaking, and polite civic discourse.

Chapters: 25 chapters out of 33 edited

Current word count: 94,090 out of 90,000

Fun Google searches this week: “Does a camel chew cud?”

Draft Zero, Life, OIBM, Writing



I had every intention to get in on the one-a-day thankful meme, but then it was mid-November and, well. But I firmly believe it’s never too late to be thankful, so I’ve compiled my list for Thanksgiving itself. 26 things because this year, Thanksgiving fell on the 26th.

26 Things I’m Thankful For:
(or: A Thanksgiving Thankstravaganza)

26) Tucson and it’s gloriously wonderful chaotic weather.
25) Our fuzzy furry crazy cats.
24) Gainful employment.
23) BPAL and other good scents.
22) Happy twinkle lights.
21) Standing desks.
20) My overall good health.
19) Deadlifts and squats and everything they’ve taught me about true strength.
18) The local Thanksgiving 5k.
17) The inspiration that comes during a good run.
16) Zombies, Run!
15) All the amazing musicians who keep making music and life.
14) All the amazing authors who keep writing.
13) Living during a time when we have access to such a variety and depth of great arts and music and books.
12) My agent.
11) Coffee.
10) The opportunities that I’ve worked for and stumbled across.
9) Writing and the purpose it has given my life.
8) The Internet.
7) This blogging community.
6) Being able to cross the world in a matter of hours.
5) Growing older and all the experiences and wisdom that comes along.
4) Financial stability.
3) Family – chosen and blood-related.
2) My friends.
1) My wife.


Here is my current progress on OIBM, a YA fantasy ruckus about magical girls, the apocalypse, and exactly whose fault it is:

Also known as: DONE.

Yes, I moved my wordcount target down. Yes, it needs about 20k more to be a viable novel. But this is draft zero, aka a very long and convoluted outline, and should come in way under my eventual goal.

Now I’m going to let it sit and ferment and work on something else. I have an older novel to tweak and rewrite in the meantime. I definitely need some time away from this one, because it is missing something crucial and being so close to it has blinded me to what that could be. Distance will give me the perspective I need to fix this beast – I hope.

This weekend, though, I’m going to read and cook and hang out with friends and family and get outside and read and maybe start brainstorming and read.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at chez Doore!

Draft Zero, OIBM, Writing

Just Keep Swimming

The benefit of consistently writing for so many years is that you really get to know your process. Which means knowing what works for you, but also knowing where you struggle.

I’ve come to accept over the years that 1/3rd of the way through a first draft is always where I start losing momentum. The story is starting to come together and I can finally see the shape of the end and am excited to get there – but I still have to stitch together the rest of the plot. I’m an unapologetic pantser and what gets me writing and through (most of) the first draft is needing to know what’s gonna happen. The absolute fastest way for me to kill a fledgling story is to try to plot it before writing.

Of course, 1/3rd to 1/2th the way in, I know pretty much what’s going to happen. And that’s when it becomes work: sitting down and getting those words out every single day.

The only way out is through, so here we go. Nose to grindstone (which always seems like such a terribly painful idea). Writing every day. Get it out, get it written, and get excited again.

Best way to get through this rough bit is to hold myself publicly accountable. So without further do, here is my current progress on OIBM, a YA fantasy ruckus about magical girls, the apocalypse, and exactly whose fault it is:

Fun Recent Google Searches: Exactly how long someone can be unconscious after being knocked out before brain damage is an issue. Answer: not long.

Average Words Per Day This Week: 1700

Numbers of Bears Introduced in Story So Far: 0

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Work In Progress, Writing

WIP Check-In: The Final Draft and Final Countdown, Day 1

I have a week left until my wholly self-imposed deadline of April 1st to finish this final draft of my WIP. I’m a month late already and April Fool’s Day just seems to be an appropriate time to send this beast to my beta readers.

There is an awful lot of restructuring and rewriting to do in these final days and pages, so to keep myself motivated and accountable, I’m going to check in here and update my progress.

Is the final draft done yet?: NO

Current page count: 177/206

Shots of whiskey: 1

Current problems with the manuscript: too much suspicion, not enough relief and surprise.


Other things unrelated to said final draft:

I’m officially doing a second “season” of the Cactopodes tumblr, rather conveniently starting April 2nd. What started as a place to deposit photos of local cacti, namely saguaros, which are all quite individual in nature, quickly devolved into a lovecraftian nightmare about four wayward scientists who got lost in the stygian wasteland of the Sonoran desert.

It’s really quite silly and more of an excuse to be ridiculous – and it is a perfect project to work on once I get this final draft done and out the door. I want to keep writing – it’s never good to take a long break, at least not for me – but I also don’t want to start a new story when I’m trying to query this one. I’ve learned I can’t query and write something entirely new at the same time – it just doesn’t work.

So instead, I’m going to go with nameless, octopoid horrors.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Work In Progress, Writing

This is the WIP That Never Ends

It keeps on going on, my friend.

One person started writing it not knowing when she’d stop.

And she will keep on writing it forever just because –

At least, that’s what it feels like! I had a December deadline to reach 100k words, thinking that would be close enough to finished. That passed by due to holidays and sickness and a death in the family. Then I thought, oh I can get 100k by the end of January – but 100k didn’t look like where my end would be anymore. Maybe closer to 120k.

But I could get 120k by mid-February!

…except now the end looks closer to 130k, maybe even 140k to be perfectly honest (which I am frequently not with myself). I can do that by March! So somehow, 100k in December is now 135k (split the diff) in March. This is why I am not an event planner, everyone.

It’s getting to feel like Zeno’s paradox up in here – but thankfully there are not an infinite number of words in this WIP, no matter how much it feels like that. Plus, I know I’m getting very close to the end now because I am starting to dislike this WIP, starting to wonder why I would chose such a path, why I’m even bothering to write when no one will read it – and those thoughts only come when I’m almost there. It’s like the last half mile of a 5k, when you’ve put all your effort in and you’ve come a long way but everything hurts and damn if half a mile isn’t still a long way and wouldn’t it be nice to stop running and have a cup of tea under that tree over there?

Only that’s the time to ignore that tree and the pain and what’s left of the race and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other until you can see the finish line and hear the cheering and you realize you’ve got a little left in the proverbial tank.

Neil Gaiman wrote a bit a while back that really struck me – and stuck with me. I come back to this little revelation every time I get to this point in a story – be it draft zero, the first draft, the first rewrite, or the 100th rewrite:

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

So here’s to a mid-February or March 1st deadline, be it 120k words or 140k. It will get done. I am almost there. One foot in front of the other. One word after the next.

Work In Progress, Writing

Achievement Unlocked: 50,000 words


Wouldn’t it be great if – like in a lot of video games these days – every time you reached a major goal in your life a little “achievement unlocked” button would pop up in your vision? Well, assuming they didn’t pop up while you were driving. Even better for writing goals. It would be that much more motivating.

Unfortunately, that’s not (yet) the case. So I’ll just have to make my own for hitting 50k on my draft zero for my current work in progress.

…granted, it’s only draft zero and I still have 40k to go and oh man, is it going to need a thorough rewrite and then a proper edit, plus some fermentation time, and maybe a shake and a dash of salt –

But I’m not going to think about that right now.

50k! Woo!

Work In Progress, Writing

The Writing Process Blog Tour

My awesome writing buddy Lora recently tagged me in the writing process tour. We met a few years ago in this here desert and I never let her go. Lora writes YA novels and literary short stories and is currently working on a sci-fi YA adventure. She just finished her latest draft and I am ridiculously excited for her.

The questions!


What am I currently working on?

A young assassin is forced into an uneasy alliance with a fastidious necromancer when an ancient, malevolent power rises from the sand wastes and threatens to usurp Death itself.

I’ve had the main characters in my mind ever since last October, but no plot to speak of. Three weeks ago I went for a run and returned home with not only a plot, but a culture, a world, and a whole lotta hijinks. I’ve labeled it adventure fantasy in my head, to remind myself that first and foremost this story is supposed to be fun, but we’ll see how it actually ends up; I have a tendency to make things dark. So far it has camels, lesbian romance, a city in the sky, sand demons, and vast amounts of undead.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The story is a confluence of a bunch of things I’ve been wanting to write for some time now, all of which are themes/relationships/settings I would like to, but don’t often, see in high fantasy.

One of which is a non-hetero romance that fits into the story just like a hetero one might, with all the traditional trappings and clichés. Most (all) of the stories I’ve read that include a non-hetero relationship/romance tend to fall into two categories: the relationship happens entirely off-screen or it’s so terribly star-crossed and angsty and painful/wonderful that it wraps the story around itself, instead of the other way around. These stories have their places, of course, and I don’t fault anyone for writing/liking them (I have written my fair share…), but I’m just in a place where I want to write it as normal as I feel it.

The other is having a distinctly non-medieval European setting and culture. My first high fantasy, although less medieval and more ancient Rome, still relied heavily on that typically verdant, quaint, peasanty and white default, complete with a Roman-like pantheon and myths. Granted, I set out with the intention to use my Classics degree while writing it, but this time I wanted to stretch myself and see how far I could get from that typical setting. Now I have vast stretches of open desert, sand demons and wind gods, Monsoon festivals, and city-state politics. I’ve been reading about and borrowing heavily from the cultures living within the Sahara and learning so much about sand dunes.


Why do I write what I write?

Because the one time I tried to write something other than fantasy, it still turned into fantasy.  While I enjoy reading almost everything under the sun, but what I really enjoy writing always has fantastical elements.

Otherwise, I write what I want to read, and what I hope others want to read.


How does my Writing Process work?

Character first. Always. An interesting character hits me, sometimes coupled with an equally interesting scene or concept. That will stay with me for a while until the vague promise of a plot beckons. Then I start the first draft or – as I prefer to call it – draft zero. This is my planning and plotting process, where I simply go through and write the whole thing as quickly as possible. I’ve since realized that my draft zero is basically a really long, fleshy outline and discovery process. I try to fly through this part and it usually takes 2-3 months, writing a specified amount every day, rain or shine. When it’s finished, I know everything about my characters and plot. Or, close enough to everything.

Then I let the draft sit for a month or two while I work on something else. After it’s fermented properly, I’ll read it through, making notes as I go. If I’m going to, I usually write an actual outline at this point. Then I completely rewrite it. A lot of the key plot elements often remain, but everything else is up for revision. I typically end up tacking on an additional 20% in words. This round typically takes 3-5 months and I don’t write every day.

Depending on how I feel after I’ve rewritten it, I may beta the story at this point. That means finding a handful of friends, online and off, who are willing to read it through and point at my weaknesses. If I don’t feel like it’s strong enough, I’ll go back through it again from the beginning, taking the time to map out what I feel is wrong and repositioning plot elements as needed.

Either way, after sending it to friends or combing through it again, I let it rest again. Work on something else. When the betas get back, I go at it again. Revise. Rest. Resend.

At some point I will (hopefully) feel like I have done all that I can and the story is complete. If I still like it and feel confident that it’s any good, I’ll write my query and synopsis and begin researching agents. If I don’t, I’ll table it, maybe revisit it in a few years when I’m a stronger writer.


MJ Belko writes children’s books and has (somewhat) recently returned to writing after too many years away. She likes her children’s stories to contain talking animals and rhyme, preferably together. She has a few of them up on her blog for reading if you’re interested. I don’t know her too well, but I’m hoping to know more soon.

Work In Progress, Writing, Writing Tips

My At-Home Writing Retreat

With my wife away at a conference all last week, I decided to put that time to good use and do an at-home writing retreat. I detailed my prep in that post, then went silent for a week. Now that’s it officially over, I have both wins and fails to share.

First, the wins. Cleaning the apartment and getting a bunch of small but niggling projects out of the way was extremely helpful in keeping me on task later in the week. I was never tempted to scrub the bathroom, vacuum the floor, do the laundry, or put away clutter in lieu of writing because it was already done. This gave me both peace of mind and a lovely, clean house in which to lounge about and write, or invite friends over and write, or simply read on the floor.

It also left my HabitRPG wonderfully free of to-do’s, so when I checked in every day to log my dailies and writing, I wasn’t bogged down by a list of other things I should be – or felt I should be – doing.

Writing with friends wasn’t something I’d originally planned for, but it happened often and was wholly refreshing, especially after a long day by myself. Looking back, I’m glad I had all those social writing sessions, even if they weren’t the most productive blocks of time. They helped alleviate the overall loneliness that settles in when my wife is away. I also had a few late nights where we didn’t write, but did talk craft, which for writers is like crack.

With the intention to write as much as possible or read when I didn’t feel like writing firmly in the forefront of my mind, it was much easier to turn away from the internet once I had checked my email and researched a few things via google. It was much easier to come home, change out of my work clothes, and settle onto the couch with a book. My job was to write that week, and write I did.

As for the fails…

There weren’t any large ones, just small things that could be adjusted or outright fixed for next time. Because there will be a next time.

The major fail? Not planning well for meals. I made enough for my breakfasts and lunches for the week, but my dinners were kind of on the fly and less than optimal. I may have had cheese and crackers on more than a handful of occasions. Next time I would prepare more food, especially a few treats, like maybe a pizza (with pumpkin sauce), or large and fantastic salads. Not having fulfilling and tasty things immediately on hand to eat led to countless minutes whining about food to the cats while staring into the fridge.

The other fail I had foreseen in advance and might partially couch as a win. My intention had been to avoid internet altogether outside of work, but in practice I did check my email, update HabitRPG, and occasionally get lost on twitter. If this were a pass/fail, I’d definitely have failed. But I think I deserve a C+ for effort. I limited my normal interneting by a great amount and, although I caved and checked my email, I still turned it off after a reasonable amount of time and got back to work.

All in all, though, the numbers don’t lie. I should have written down my starting wordcount, but at least from last Monday and over the course of the following week, I wrote a total of 15,000 words. To put that in context, on an average day I write about 1,000 words, so overall that amount reflects more than double my usual output. I’d say pretty good, considering I was still working full time. And on the days off from work – Friday and Saturday – I wrote more than 3,000 words a day.

What I took from the experience is mostly a greater understanding of my own limitations. As far as writers go, I’ve always known I’m not one of the more prolific ones, but it was something else to have a full day in which to write and only be able to churn out 3k. Granted, this is a first draft and a lot of planning and plotting are still going on, but it was still humbling. Just because I want to write 10k in a weekend, doesn’t mean it’s either feasible or plausible – at least for me.

I’d definitely do an at-home writing retreat again, taking into account my above fails. I would love to actually unplug my home internet for a whole day and see how that affects my productivity. In fact, I’m already looking at my calendar and trying to carve out another week or long weekend in the future. What with my self-imposed deadline of September for this WIP, I’ll take anything I can get.

What about you – would you be interested in doing an at-home retreat of your own?

Work In Progress, Writing, Writing Tips

Planning an At-Home Writing Retreat

tea & cookies


My wife will be at a conference in another state for the next week, so instead of moping about, cuddling cats, and spending entirely too much time on youtube, I thought I might try something different. A friend had brought up the possibility of renting a cabin for a writing retreat over the 4th of July weekend, but that fell through and I was left unexpectedly disappointed. Then I thought – I’m going to have all this time to myself, why not make the retreat for myself? At home?

I can’t exactly take a week off from my day job, but I can turn all the time outside of work into prime retreat fodder. The ideal is alluring: sitting at the table in the morning with a pot of tea and my netbook, dreaming up words. Same scene in the evening, but with a candle and a scone. It’s not quite quiet: I have Cofftivity hooked up to my speakers. When I’m plum out of writing steam, I’ll read books relevant to my current work in progress (WIP). Then on my days off work, I’ll plan and schedule a whole day on the floor, in pajamas, with my netbook and my story.

In reality, I’d have to move mountains to squeeze that kind of focus out of my easily distracted brain. But knowing where I’m most likely to hit snags is the first step towards having an at-home writing retreat. Unlike a “real” retreat out in the woods somewhere or at a hotel with a dozen or so other writers, all your usual comforts and distractions are still within grabbing distance. Cats will still do cute things and/or try to sit on your computer while you type. The internet will still be there, trying to seduce you away. The chores and errands and messes will all be right in front of you, telling you to stop for just a moment and attend them.

So anticipating all those things, here is what I can do to make this next week the best possible environment for an at-home retreat:


1) Anticipate distractions.

The internet – as vast and wondrous as it is – is my biggest distraction and time-suck. I know myself better than anyone else, and I know for a fact that if my computer connects to the internet, I will be checking tumblr and facebook within a heartbeat. As with sugar, I have little to no self control when it comes to the internet. I could use this time to strengthen that self-control. Or I could simply take the easy route and turn off the internet.

Since I know what my biggest distraction will be, I can plan on how to deter it. Namely, having an absolute internet time out while I’m home. I can cheat and check my email all I want while at work or in  a café, but once I’m home that’s it. This will be most difficult on days where I’m not at work for 8 hours, but I think it will also be most rewarding on those days.


2) Have a goal in mind.

Aimlessness rarely does anyone any good, especially me. So, for this week I’ll have an overall goal and a daily goal. My daily goal will be hitting at least 1,000 words, but preferably 2-3,000 words. My week-long goal, what I most want to get out of this endeavor, is both a substantial amount of words and an overall better understanding of where this story is going. I would also love to be able to just spend a few hours at a time at work, sans distractions and expectations. I want to see what I can really do when I set aside the time for something like this.


3) Acknowledge that it is impossible to write constantly.

I’m not going to write every single free minute I have in the coming week. For one, I know I don’t work that way. For another, that would be kind of insane and definitely counter-productive. So I need to plan for the times I won’t be writing. What could I do that would still be in the spirit of a retreat?

Read, for one. When they took away our only bus route, that cut out a good 40 minutes that I had just for reading each day. I am now sorely behind in the books I want to read and it’s been itching at me. So whenever I truly don’t want to write, I’ll read one of four books I picked up from the library for just such an occasion. Not just any books, mind you – they all tie into the research I’m doing for my new WIP, as well as comp search for the just-finished final draft. If I hadn’t already read most of them, I would have picked up a handful of books on writing itself.

For another, move about. That includes walking, running, biking, swimming, hiking… whatever gets me out of the house and moving. For me, my most creative times are when I’m running, so it’s only natural that this week I’ll set aside extra running time.


4) Plan fun activities.

Reading is fun, but there are other activities that can be equally beneficial that I don’t typically find the time for. I aim to add a bit of meditation to my daily ritual, as well as journaling. But really fun activities are one of a kind. I already have a writing workshop lined up for Monday evening, but I also will have a writing night planned with friends and a bottle of wine, and an evening just for me with popcorn and a writing-related movie.


5) Pretend I’m going out of town.

It’s not really a retreat if you have a bunch of non-writing obligations on your calendar. Schedule yourself free and tell everyone what you’re up to. That way they’ll (hopefully) only call if they want to join in on your writing night.

Additionally, I always thoroughly clean my home and clear out the fridge before going anywhere for more than a day or two. I’ve found it’s wonderful to come home after a trip to a clean house, but in this case it’s a good way to have everything uncluttered and in order before your retreat, so you won’t be tempted to finally clean the bathroom now that you have a little extra time. Like every other writer I know, I will scrub every last inch of the floor before settling down to write.

Pretending that you’re going to be out also forces you to get all your non-negotiable obligations lined up and taken care of, like paying your bills and acquiring sufficient cat food. No errands or chores for me this week. If it has to be done, it can wait until the week is over.


6) Stock up on food and beverages.

One of the fun parts of a retreat – so I hear – is the food. So indulge a bit when it comes to stocking your kitchen for the week. Grab a bottle of wine and a box of cookies. Or, if you’re a little stricter of diet, some fizzy water and dried fruit. Anything that would normally be a treat. Make sure you also stock up on easy-to-make meals, like salads and burgers, then pre-prepare whatever you can.

I also plan to be consuming a fairly steady amount of tea, so I’ve made certain I am well-stocked in that regard.


7) Make a (flexible) schedule.

Last – but definitely not least – I’ve put together a daily schedule for myself, with different activities for each day as well as different expectations. Since this week will span both days I’m working and days I’m not, what I get done and what I get read will vary greatly on a day to day basis. It’s not at all rigid, but more of an idea of what I’d like to accomplish and what kind of additional things I can do instead. It’s a good way to provide a framework so that you don’t flail about with no idea of what to do, but without boxing yourself into a corner.


That’s what I’ve done so far and what I hope will be sufficient in turning what would otherwise be a youtube- and tumblr-filled week into something a wee bit more satisfying and productive. I’ll let you know how it goes.