Reengineering April

As mentioned last month, I’ve been looking into ways of re-organizing the novel in progress, Quicker than Blood. That has borne some frit, but I am still noodling around with it in the midst of a mix of occasional setbacks and successes.

Right now, the most successful looking version of what I want to do involves making good reuse of maybe 60-70% of what’s already been written, and splitting off some of that for use in a standalone novella, covering some events six+ months prior to the novel with some character background material.

Still not 100% sure that’s my plan, but at the moment it’s the one that’s looking the most solid.

If the novella happens, my intent is to put that out for free in oldschool fashion – post it up on all the story archives, my website, all that. Maybe as prelude to the book launch, maybe entirely independently, that I’ll figure out later.

Going over the book itself, the plotline for Quicker than Blood has shifted around some, with some events being collapsed into one or two, a few scenes too good to lose split off for use in eventual sequels or elsewhere, some slower material dropped, and one or two new scenes or variations of previous scenes that I really want to dig my teeth into. Overall, the scene count is significantly lower, which will hopefully make for a quicker book.

Other than that, I spent much of my month looking for software to solve my problems for me.

There is an embarrassing amount of software marketed to writers, offering to solve every problem a writer could have. Scrivener is one of the most popular and best known, but if you go digging, there are literally hundreds of software packages offering everything from virtual corkboards and grid planners to cloud based collaboration and leaderboards.

All of it comes with the promise to somehow elevate our skill, make the work easier, make the work actually happen. But, that assumes your difficulties are the same ones the program was designed to solve, and that the way you need to solve them is the way the program does.

In much the same way as ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’, if all you have to sell is writing software, every writing problem looks like the one your software solves.

Scrivener was great, until I needed to cope with five interlocking subplots that I needed to rearrange beat by beat until I could figure out what overlapped and what didn’t. Causality writer was great, until I needed to run multiple plotlines in parallel with major intersections. Aeon Timeline was great until it devolved into repeated data entry which resulted in something I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the software. Plottr sort of worked while what I was doing was simple (but that wasn’t long), Wavemaker was just a little too stripped back to be useful, and I don’t even remember the rest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite know what my problem looked like – and I think this happens to a lot of writers, when it comes to software as well as advice – leaving me in a place where it was very easy to let someone else tell me what my problem was.

And, let me tell you, whenever we let someone else tell us what our problems are, you can bet that they’re the ones with the solution. The only solution, available for a mere $25 a month.

To be fair, sometimes it does work. A lot of writers who use these software packages, I think, are looking for ways to integrate structure into their writing practice, and the software provides that structure and tools and tutorials to make use of it.

The trouble is that software wasn’t designed for someone who is weaving multiple plotlines in and out of each other and trying to figure out where he can move scene 32 A in which there’s a cool getaway, because he just killed scene 32 B where the getaway arrives somewhere because that location no longer exists and the cool getaway now needs to be connected to a whole different heist, and now a list of vital plot twists necessary for the rest of the story needs to be assembled and shaken up and poured out into a new scene and…

It’s designed for someone assembling a plotline in one of the ways taught by a creative writing course. It’s designed for a structure built around problems and writing practices the software creators understood, and, very often, my mishmash of concepts and practices don’t fit very comfortably in that structure.

I’m pulling from eclectic sources, and half the time when I try and use one software package, I immediately want it to do something from another incompatible piece of software, too, because I need both methods to do what I need to do.

In this case, I settled on (temporarily) using a piece of open source personal knowledge management software called Obsidian, which I installed plugins for and generally customized to my needs, and… it’s also wildly imperfect and limited. But by using the Excalidraw plugin in ways it probably wasn’t meant for, and by-hand arranging things into columns and groups and laboriously copying this bit here and that bit there, I have managed to come up with something that lets me juggle all the things in parallel and by ordering/reordering events in a flexible enough way I can get by and it works.

Or, at least, it worked for me last month. Because I am sure I’ll need to do it in a whole new way next month. And maybe I’ll need to use stacks of paper, or some other software, or something else.

Because, and this is the point of this ramble – the issue that needs to be solved is more important than the solution we find. However, the solutions we find – the tools, the skills, the experiences we previously have of solving our problems – are something we can get hung up on. We turn those solutions into a hammer.

And then we lose sight of what our actual problems are, what the real situation is, and pretty soon we can’t see what the challenge in front of us actually is. We just think it’s all nails.

For me, this month, that was writing. But I’ve seen this pattern in my life with other things, from mental health, relationships, to far more inconsequential things like the way I play strategy video games.

It is important, sometimes even life changing, to recognize that the tools we are being given, sold, the tools we make for ourselves or simply discover, are influencing the way we see the challenges we are trying to solve with them. And that it is vitally important to step back and examine what our problems actually are, and whether or not those tools are actually going to help us.

Sometimes, they will. Sometimes, they’ll provide some help, but make other parts of the process more difficult – and we need to know that so we can adjust accordingly. Once in awhile, our tools will hinder us, and we need to find new ones.

I hope that thought helps, I hope you have a wonderful month ahead of you, and, as ever, thank you so much for your kindness, interest, and support.

Categorized as Patreon

By foozzzball

Malcolm Cross, otherwise known as 'foozzzball', lives in London and enjoys the personal space and privacy that the city is known for. When not misdirecting tourists to nonexistant landmarks and lurking at bus stops, Malcolm enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy with a furry twist.