The Lasting Legacy of Fiction: How The X-Files Shaped My Life

For writers, it’s sometimes hard to see why we are doing all of this. “What’s the point?” we ask, when we hit writer’s block or some other obstacle. It’s not always obvious why our stories matter. I want to tell you that your stories do matter. They matter a lot, to people you don’t even know.

The X-Files is my favorite show of all time. I have been in love with this series since fall 1996, when I started regularly watching the show during its fourth season. I still remember the first episode I saw (“2Shy” – it was a summer repeat), and I still remember the episode that hooked me (“Unruhe” – so creepy).

But The X-Files was more than just a hobby for me, as an 11 year old. It was an obsession. I became enthralled with stories, with characters, with mythology. The X-Files wasn’t just a show that I watched – it invaded every part of my life. I had every book ever published on this series. Every season recap, every nitpicker’s guide, every biography on the actors – I had them. When we got the internet in 1997, I used every available second of that dial-up to look up X-Files websites and message boards. I got mIRC for the sole purpose of finding X-Files groups, and I soaked up all the fan-fiction I could. To say that it was part of my life is an understatement.

I’m currently in the middle of a rewatch. I think this is the fifth or sixth time that I’ve watched the series the whole way through. I was trying to explain this to my husband, and I realized something: the X-Files wasn’t just my favorite TV show. It changed me.

I was in sixth grade, middle school, when I became obsessed with this show. My fandom solidly pushed me out of any “popular” group in school and pushed me to the weird periphery. I had various taglines written on my Trapper Keeper in White-Out. My fandom was obvious and excessive. And yes, this isolated me. It wasn’t cool to be obsessed with a sci-fi show when I was 11. I had maybe 3 friends (one of whom is still my best friend – thanks, Ashley, for dealing with me!).

But I didn’t back down. I stuck to my show. I stuck to these stories, even when I knew that people thought I was weird or when I was called the dreaded word: a “loser.” That decision – to be the weird kid – has been with me through my whole life. I was never part of a “clique.” I’ve always been more introverted. The choices I made in middle school carried through high school and then into my “real” life. I’m an adult now, obviously, but I think that the way we are in our early stages of life profoundly impacts how we approach life as an adult. I thought, as I spoke to my husband, what if there was no The X-Files? Would I have still been that weird kid? Maybe so, but maybe not as obviously. Maybe I could have passed for one of the cool kids. But what would that have done to my creativity? To my self-sufficiency? Would my love of story-telling be different? Would I still love science fiction as much?

My point is this: as creators of fiction, we have no idea what impact our stories will have. Your story could impact someone for the rest of his or her life. It could set someone on a trajectory that he or she had never anticipated. Sure, most fiction doesn’t impact us in this way. We absorb so many stories, and they slip out of our minds, without any effect. But you never know what story will stick in someone’s heart, or what story will change the way someone looks at the world. Value your work. Value your fiction. To someone out there, right now, it’s changing their course.

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Project Update: Let the review process begin

I’m excited to announce that my latest project, now titled The Travelers, has a finished first draft. It’s rough. The ending is still all messed up. But it’s a complete story. It’s about 95,000 words, which is less than I anticipated, but still more than I have ever written before.

Now, I’m beginning the daunting phase of editing. Everyone is different, but my general editing schedule is this: first, I read the draft, as if I’m just reading a novel. I don’t make line edits or other changes, though I jot down things that I feel need improvement as I go along. This is really just a pass for me to get a feel for the story. What works, what doesn’t. Where are there holes? What can I cut out? I’m currently in the middle of that phase. It’s hard for me to read the whole thing in one pass, and I was in the middle of reading a great book (Red Rising!), so I put it aside for a moment.

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(The view on my Kindle. It looks so pretty.)

I discovered with my last novel that you can send Word documents to your Kindle, and it is essentially just like reading a “real” book, even though it’s a work in progress. This is really beneficial for me, because I’m able to approach the story as a reader and not just as the creator. If you haven’t done this with your works in progress, I highly recommend it. I actually went back and re-read my three major works in progress (all under 60,000 words, so much easier to do it in a short period of time), and it got me really energized to go back to those projects.

After I complete this draft, I’ll go back and rework “big picture” ideas. I’ll work on characterization, plot holes, fleshing out awkward scenes, etc. While I do this, I’ll line edit as needed, but I won’t be looking for that. Then, I’ll read it again and do a very cursory pass for line editing.

Then, it’s off to beta readers. I need to find some this time around, but I’ll get to that eventually. After the beta readers, it’ll be ready for some legit, professional editing.

So, that’s what’s new with me. I might be posting a little less frequently, since I would like to seriously work on editing The Travelers while trying to finish at least one of my other three works in progress. And in just a couple weeks, it’s July, and you know what that means – NaNoWriMo. So much writing. So little time.

Writers, what’s your revising schedule? Do you ship it straight to beta readers? Am I crazy for reading a first draft like a real book? Leave your comments below.

June is Looming

You all know by now that I love writing challenges. I love structure, I love logging my word counts, and I love watching the little bars track my progress. So, naturally, when I heard that there is an organized writing challenge for June, or JuNoWriMo, I thought, “Great! I’ll definitely do that!”

Now, I can’t stop wondering if I’m a little bit crazy.

April was productive but exhausting. I know that in the past, when I’ve gone full speed during writing challenge months, the month after tends to be behind in productivity (for instance, December 2013 when I did NOTHING). And thus, the problem: July is Camp NaNoWriMo. If I participate in a June writing challenge, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to continue that momentum into Camp NaNoWriMo.

Here’s my other concern: I need to wrap up my current story (which has a very, very tentative working title of Repetitions), but I don’t have another 50,000 words in me for that one. I just don’t. I think I’ll have another 25-30ish. So, if I use that project for June, it means likely “failing” in the sense that I won’t hit 50K. Then again, if I start a new project, I need to push off finishing that story again. I started writing this project in April 2014, and then I almost completely neglected it until April 2015. I think I wrote 1,000 in January 2015. It’s been “in progress” for awhile.

My original plan was to spend May and June finishing Repetitions and then dive into something new or return to one of the three serious Works in Progress that I have.

Here are my options as I see them:

  • Continue with original plan. Finish Repetitions by end of June, tackle something else during Camp NaNoWriMo.
  • Work on Repetitions until the end of May, then switch to a new project for JuNoWriMo, and then continue that project or switch again for Camp NaNoWriMo in July. Finish Repetitions in August.
  • Work on Repetitions until the end of May. Participate in JuNoWriMo, but don’t participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. Finish Repetitions in July.

Writers, readers: Thoughts? Suggestions? Alternate plans that I don’t have listed? I know an obvious choice is to just work on two projects, but that’s very hard for me to do. One project always takes over and commands my attention while the other slips into the back of my head.

Writing Struggles: Why am I doing this?

I hit a wall last night. I made it to 70,000 words on this project, and I just stopped for a moment, staring at my computer.

“Is this any good?”

I think the answer with most rough drafts is, no, but it could be. I try to repeat that to myself often. Rough drafts aren’t about finesse and perfection; they’re about throwing ideas on paper and seeing what sticks. There’s time to take scenes or sentences out in the editing phase.

Rationally, I know all of that. But as I look at my draft now, all I see are my flaws – I’m using the same descriptive words too much, I’m not fleshing out my villain enough, I’m not giving my minor characters enough to do, and my biggest fear, there’s just too much going on.

“Ugh,” I groaned to my husband. “This is just stretching out so much. I’m barely at the halfway point. I can’t imagine writing another 70,000 words.”

“What does it matter?” he asked, shrugging. “It’s not like you have a firm deadline.”

He’s right – there’s no one tracking me to make sure I get this done. I don’t have an agent or a publishing company breathing down my back, demanding that the story is done by a certain date. But I had set a date for myself of June 30th. It’s arbitrary, but that would have given me three full months to work on it, along with the sporadic times I worked on it last year when I started it. As Stephen King taught us, a first draft should be done in three months.

As I thought about my lack of a deadline, my mind leaped to another question: why are you even doing this? I don’t have to. This isn’t my real job. I’m not going to make money off of it. And, as we established above, it’s probably terrible.

So, what answer did I come up with? As you may remember from previous posts, I really struggle with the idea of calling myself a “writer.” I think a lot of self-published authors do. Maybe I’ll never consider myself an “author.” But I am a writer – I can’t imagine not writing (pardon the double negative). I have so many stories in my head, so many characters, so many scenes. I kept all of my ideas tucked away in my mind for years, until I write The Historian. Now that I’ve experienced the catharsis in the process of creating a story, I don’t know how I could ever go back.

Maybe it’s crap. Maybe I won’t sell a single copy. Maybe one of my beta readers will review it and say, “Not your best work.” But I have to keep writing.  I’m not doing because other people are telling me that I should or I have to – I’m doing this for myself.

Writers: Do you struggle with these thoughts? How do you keep yourself motivated to keep working in the face of self-doubt?

Camp NaNoWriMo: April 2015 Winner!

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Hooray! Look at that fancy Winner banner!

I’m happy to say that I hit my goal of 50,000 words this month. As of today, my word count is 52,540. My total word count for the project is around 65,000. Now that I’ve hit my word count goal, I don’t feel the need to writing like a crazy person every night, so I took it easy yesterday, and I may not write much over the next few days.

So, what’s next? Well, now my goal has shifted from just a word count to actually finishing the project. I still have a significant chunk of story to get through, so I can’t just sit around. In November, that’s exactly what happened. I wrote so much during NaNoWriMo that I basically burned out on the story, and then in December, I was just sick of it. I didn’t know where it was going, and I was tired of the characters invading my mind.

This month feels different. I still love my story and (most of) my characters, and I have a clear idea of where the story is going (not to say that there haven’t been a few surprises along the way). My end date for this project is June 30th. That gives me two months to write what will probably be another 50,000 words or so. That means I only have to write about 800 words per day to make that happen–so I have no excuses.

My other goal, moving forward, is to write a little bit every day. I’m giving myself a little bit of leeway here, because I may step away from the project for a few days, up to a week, just to get some distance and clarity. But once I jump back into it, I want to make sure that I put something on paper–even if it’s just one word–every day. I think this is a good practice in general, but I also think it’s crucial in the middle of a project. If I can finish this by the end of June, perhaps beta reading could take place in July and August, editing after that–who knows? Maybe it could be a polished final project by the end of the year (fingers crossed).

To those of you who are still working on your projects: don’t give up now! The finish line is so close, and even if you don’t meet your word count goals, it’s still worthwhile to keep putting words on paper. Good luck to everyone!

Camp NaNoWriMo: Day 24

The end is near.

It’s hard to believe that we only have 7 days left in the month of April. That means that you (yes, you) only have 7 more days to reach your Camp NaNoWriMo goals!

After an embarrassing lag, I came back strong this week. My word count is now 45,809. I hit two records this week: on Tuesday, I wrote 3,120, and yesterday, I wrote 4,450 words. Part of my spurt is due to wanting to hit 50K, but most of it is due to my story. I’ve just written a crucial turning point (that sparks the entire rest of the story), including a grisly scene where half of my characters are unexpectedly killed. It’s been great knowing you guys, but you need to get out of the story in order for this to properly move along.

My total word count on the project is about 56K at this point. As I keep writing, I think the final word count may be around 110K or 120K – those are absurd numbers to me. I’ve never written anything close to that. But I’m finding this time around that the more I write, the more ideas come into my head. As I’m writing a scene, my mind is finding ways to twist the plot to add more tension, set up more obstacles for my protagonists. I’m sure that this will all get narrowed down when I finally edit the completed version, but for now, it’s write, write, write.

I’ve accomplished a huge goal this month in that I think I’m finally letting go off my fear of writing. Sometimes, I’ll write a scene, and I know it’s not great. I know it probably won’t make the final cut. But I want to write it – I want to get those words out, even if they’re not perfect. Even during my first NaNoWriMo, I found myself editing during the writing process, fixing my verb tenses and taking out words that didn’t quite fit. Nope. Not anymore. A first draft should be an idea, fleshed out and on paper (well, on a Word document). It doesn’t need to be pretty.

How are your months going? Anyone else close to their goal? Anyone just giving up?

Days 1 and 2 – NaNoWriMo

It’s official!  November is here!

I stayed up until midnight on the 31st to kick the 1st off right, and so far, I’m off to a strong start – over 5,000 words in the past two days.  I might write a little bit more before I head off to bed tonight.  I’m trying not to applaud myself too much, because I know from last year that these are the easy days.  When the project is fresh and exciting, it’s easier to find the words and the ideas.  I know that soon, I’ll hit that wall of “what do I write now?  what should happen next?”

So far, nothing crazy is happening with my characters – my main character’s mother is a little more intense than I originally planned, and my main character is turning out to be slightly more introverted than I wanted (I tend to write introverts – probably because I am one), so I need to work on that.  Also, found a way to make my prologue creepier than intended – so that’s a win.

I hope everyone is enjoying their writing so far, and I hope you all are meeting your word counts!  Keep typing!