Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Alpha Readers, Beta Readers, and Writing Groups (or: How I Got Published, Part 7)

Happy Tuesday ya’ll! It’s time for another #HIGP post, and this one’s all about getting outside help.

I mentioned last week that an essential part of my revision process is getting input from other people. “What people?” you may ask. Well, lemme tell you. Today I’m going to talk about the three main types of readers I’ve had for my stuff, and Duskfall in particular: Alpha Readers, Beta Readers, and Writing Groups.

Alpha Readers

Alpha Readers are, basically, the very first people who will look at my manuscript besides yours truly. Personally, I like Alpha Readers to point out global issues about my manuscript: are there gaping holes in the plot? do character motivations, actions, and decisions make sense? does the magic system make sense, or is it over/underexplained? do characters change drastically halfway through the novel? did you see the twists coming, or did they seem completely out of the blue (in a bad way)? These are the sorts of questions I prep my ARs with, because, if I don’t, I tend to get feedback that focuses more on grammar and typos than actual story issues.

Because I’m looking for specific issues with story and craft, I generally have a few requirements for ARs:
  1. Some experience in story/plot/characters is essential. This does not mean, however, that they have to be fellow writers. They can be phenomenal readers, not have written a scrap, and still be very effective at helping me recognize where my manuscript is going wrong.
  2. They have to be able to give honest feedback. Family members, for the most part, do not perform very well as ARs.* Professionals, or people very experienced at giving writing feedback, are usually ideal in this scenario, but they aren’t the only people who can give honest feedback. You may have a close friend, someone in your writing group, a classmate, or someone you’ve met online whose honest opinion you respect. That’s what you’re looking for.
  3. Variety. If I have an epic fantasy manuscript, I don’t necessarily want three epic fantasy authors to be my ARs. I find it helps far more to have maybe one epic fantasy person as an AR, and to look in other genres, or even look for non-writers (keeping in mind #1, of course), to fill some of the other slots.

I think between 3-5 ARs is kind of the ideal number for me. More than that and the feedback gets a bit overwhelming, and less than that doesn’t seem quite diverse enough.

I mentioned in my last post that I actually don’t pay attention to a large percentage of the feedback I receive (I usually only take from 10-50% of the feedback, depending on the source), and that is as true for ARs as it is for anyone else. I take their feedback a bit more seriously, so I think for ARs the percentage is closer to 30-50%, but I still need to be judicious about what I do and do not consider. It’s still my story, after all.

Basically, Alpha Readers are my first line of defense for my manuscript. They are people I trust, who have experience in story and character, and who can be honest with me.**

Beta Readers

Beta Readers, at least for me, perform a very different role than Alpha Readers. Beta Readers are the second group of people to whom I send my manuscript for feedback, and my goals with them are different. While I ask many of the same questions I asked my Alpha Readers, I make things a bit more specific here, particularly regarding the magic system, setting, prose, pacing, etc. I’m also a bit more open to grammatical/typographical stuff at this stage, although it still isn’t super helpful to me.***

My requirements for Beta Readers are a lot less stringent, too. While having a couple people who are very experienced is writing, plot, character, etc. is still helpful, my main objective is variety. I view Beta Readers as more of a focus group, a sampling of different types of people who can give me different perspectives on my manuscript. I usually draw on a number of different friends for BRs, and I have significantly more BRs than I do ARs—anywhere from five to twenty. Family members are more kosher here, too; their potential bias is less dangerous at this stage, and can sometimes even be helpful, even for just a slight ego boost :-).

Because the sampling is so much wider, I usually take less feedback from my Beta Readers seriously, percentage-wise—around 0-30% (yes, sometimes I don't take any of someone's feedback, and that's totally fine), again depending on the person.

Writing Groups

While Alpha and Beta Readers are related—two different stages in a similar process—Writing Groups are an entirely different thing. A Writing Group, basically, is a group of writers who get together periodically to critique one another’s work. I’ve been involved in four or five writing groups, more than that if you count the critique groups I had during my MFA program, so I’ve got some experience on a number of levels in this area.

For some people, WGs are fantastic. They’re motivational (you basically have “deadlines” you need to keep, and that peer pressure can force some great productivity), they’re helpful (they are, in one sense, a group of Alpha Readers giving you feedback), and they’re a great way to network.

All of this is true for me, especially in the beginning. My first writing group was a part of Brandon Sanderson’s SF/F writing course at BYU, and having a deadline was probably the single most helpful thing that writing group did for me. A close second were the people I met in the group—I’m still friends with most of them, and still hang out with a few of them at writing conferences and conventions (and one of them in particular was instrumental in getting my agent to look at Duskfall—but more about that in a later post).

That first writing group taught me some other things, too: that I’m a discovery writer, for one, and that discovery writing doesn’t always go super well with submitting work to a writing group, or at least not in the way I submitted it that first time around. Because of the whole deadline thing, many people who participate in writing groups submit stuff they have just wrote, often without revising it at all (or at least that’s how I did it that first time). That’s not as much an issue for outliners, because they already have their story planned out. For discovery writers like me, however, that can be problematic; I’m already making up the story as I go along, and the feedback I get from WGs can often make me want to change my writing in mid-manuscript, which isn’t the best strategy for me to write my novel.

I’ve also tried submitting work to a WG that’s on it’s second revision (where I’ve fixed a lot of the holes I knew were there): I’ve already written the first draft, and I’ll revise the portion I’m submitting before I give it to the group. That works infinitely better for me—it lets me get out the kinks in the first draft and get a better idea of where I want the story to go, so I’m not so malleable and easily distracted when I get critiques.

So, some tips for writing groups, based on my experience:
  1. The person being critiqued should not defend their work. In fact, it’s best if they not speak at all while being critiqued, and instead just focus on taking notes. If someone didn’t get something about your work, there’s no point in explaining it—they didn’t get it. That means take their input, think about how you can write it better, and go do that thing!
  2. People should generally be courteous about giving their feedback—if they are insulting you as a person or as a writer, they don’t belong in a writing group. If they’re insulting your writing, that’s less problematic—their critiques can still be helpful—but still uncool on their part. If they’re giving you harsh and honest feedback, that’s fantastic, and you should accept it with gratitude that someone is willing to be honest with you. Trust me, we all need harsh feedback every once in a while.
  3. Depending on whether you’re a discovery writer or an outliner, I’d suggest you think seriously about what you’ll be submitting to your group, whether it’s first-draft stuff or revised stuff (if even slightly revised).
  4. Diversify your writing group—again, if everyone’s a straight white single dude from 23-29 years old writing space opera, your critiques won’t be as, um, holistic as they could be. So it’s good to include different types of people and different types of writers, if possible, to maximize the experience.

If you’d like more tips on Writing Groups, check out the Writing Excuses Podcast. I’ll link to a couple great episodes here, but they actually have a lot of great episodes on just about everything I’m talking about here and then some, so if you want more information, that’s the first place I’d send you.

So What About Duskfall?

I actually tried all three of these things at some point in the process as I wrote DF.

The very very first draft of DF was my project for Brandon Sanderson’s class, so that went through that first writing group as well as one or two others. Some of those writing group experiences were better than others. That first one was great because, as I mentioned earlier, it taught me about deadlines and introduced me to some really cool people that became fast friends. Later groups were helpful in teaching me how I wrote (mainly that I’m a discovery writer), helping me define what I wanted to do with later drafts of DF, and of course helping me retain friendships as well as make new ones.

I had a professional thriller writer, a creative nonfiction writer, and my wife as Alpha Readers for DF after I’d finished my second first draft (I never finished that first first draft that went through the writing groups). Their feedback was phenomenal, and I’m really happy with the draft that emerged because of their suggestions.

A few months later I sent DF out to some Beta Readers consisting of some close family members and about a dozen of my friends. Each one of them had something unique to contribute, and helped DF develop in their own way.


Here’s what’s important for me: I need outside feedback in order for my writing to progress. If I want to be better, I need people to tell me what I’m doing wrong, because I can rarely catch that stuff on my own. Alpha Readers, Beta Readers, and Writing Groups are the best ways I’ve found to do that, and I definitely think I’m a better writer because of it. I plan to continue using them, and to continue getting better—hopefully!

Oh, and next week I’m going to talk about something a bit different in this series: education, and why it is (and isn’t) important in the process of getting published. So, there’s that to look forward to :-).

* Of course, there are exceptions to this, my wife being one of them. My wife has a reputation for being brutally honest, at work, in life in general, and in our marriage, too—that’s one of the things I love about her. She was one of my Alpha Readers for DF, and she was extremely effective. That said, however, I personally would never have any family member other than my wife as an AR—and certainly no more than one family member as an AR at any given time.

** I imagine that from this point on my Alpha Readers will actually just consist of my agent, my editor, and perhaps my wife and/or one other trusted friend. They’re exactly the type of people whose feedback I’m looking for, and they do it professionally, so it should work out pretty well.

*** Actually, what I usually do is have sort of two stages of Beta Readers (I guess you could call them “Beta Readers” and “Delta” or “Gamma Readers” or something, but I don’t. Just Beta Readers.): the first is the stage I describe above, but the second is a lot more focused on sentence-level stuff: grammar, typos, spelling, etc.

Monday, April 27, 2015


ICYMI, I changed the layout of the blog pretty significantly a few weeks back, and I'm digging it so far. Also, I've got two new pages up:

"Appearances," where you can check out some cool places I'll be and when, and

"How I Got Published," which is just a dedicated page for the ongoing series I'm writing on, well, exactly that. (You can find the first post here.)

Also, you'll notice I've changed the names of my pages from my "Yeahbuwha," "Yeahbuwho," etc. to more professional-y things. No comment.

Finally, you may also see that the progress bar for Dark Immolation is getting miiiiighty close to 100%. I think I am actually very close to finishing the book, just a few weeks out, perhaps. The progress bar may be a bit deceiving, though, because it tracks my progress towards my word count goal of 225K words--and I think I'm going to overshoot that by just a bit. (My original word count goal for DI was 150K. Yikes.) But I'm getting very close, and I'm very happy about that.

Of course, once I finish the first draft, I'm going to need to take another pass at it before I send it out, but all things in due time, my friends.

I'll also need to get one more draft of Duskfall hammered out before my deadline (hey! I have a deadline!), but that shouldn't be too difficult. Just some minor changes, fixing some language issues, etc. on that front.

So that's what's going on lately! Should be another #HIGP post up tomorrow. Until then, folks!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015



Maybe I’m the only one that’s been waiting for this moment, but still. It’s a fun moment. In case you can’t tell, I’m totally fanboying out about all of this Buffy stuff. Let me bask.

Okay, I’m basked.*


10. Season 6, Episode 17: “Normal Again”

What, you think this isn’t real just because of all the vampires, and demons, and ex-vengeance demons, and the sister that used to be a big ball of universe-destroying energy? (Xander)

While you can find a lot of the episodes from my list on just about any run-of-the-mill Buffy Top Ten ranking, I have a few unique favorites, and I think this is one of them. “Normal Again” is Buffy’s existential crisis: she is poisoned by a demon that convinces her she’s a patient in a psych hospital, that she’s basically been having one long psychotic break/schizophrenic episode since Season 1 (and, given the extremely creepy ending to the episode, we’re almost led to believe that Buffy’s sudden doubts about her reality may not be entirely wrong—it’s awesomely terrifying).

But what timing makes this episode truly effective; it comes at a point in Buffy’s life where it seems most plausible. Everything seems off to Buffy, out-of-sync, especially since her resurrection from death (which is explained brilliantly on the psych ward side of things as a summer in remission)—the “big bads” of the season are three nerds she knew from high school, her love current love interest is Spike of all people(/demons), and Buffy literally wishes she were dead. She’s in a bad place, disillusioned with her life. Not only that, but no one else is happy around her, either. Willow and Tara have broken up (and Willow’s been having some serious magic issues), Xander just left Anya at the altar, Giles is away in England, and Dawn is…well, Dawn. Basically, the episode chronicles very effectively one of the lowest points in Buffy’s life.

This is also an ideal time to introduce a theme recurring in many of my favorite episodes: Buffy’s loneliness. In “Normal Again,” Buffy has the opportunity to shirk that inevitable solitude that comes from being the Slayer—her friends make her life easier, of course, but they can never really help her with that responsibility, and in this episode it’s no wonder Buffy has second thoughts about staying in her “Slayer” reality.

The big conflict of the episode comes from Buffy’s increasing desire to “snap out” of her delusion; she wants to live a normal life, where her parents are still alive and not divorced. She is tired; she wants to give up the mantle of Slaying and be coddled, become her parents’ daughter once more and let them “take care of her.” Her desire is hardly surprising, given the choices Buffy has had to make as the Slayer (choices I’ll talk about a lot in the following episodes). Ironically, it’s psych-ward Joyce’s admonishment that Buffy believe in herself that gives Buffy the impetus to stay in her “delusion”—or, if we’re being positive, to continue being a hero.

As Buffy herself says: “Cause what’s more real? A sick girl in an institution…or some kind of supergirl chosen to fight demons and save the world? That’s ridiculous.”

9. Season 1, Episode 12: “Prophecy Girl”

Giles, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t want to die. (Buffy)

The first season of Buffy, as many people say and I will reluctantly agree, is not the greatest. It’s choppy, the actors and writers are still exploring the roles of the characters, and yeah, it’s totally campy. But this episode ties the season together. All of the characters come into their own. It’s the first apocalypse Buffy ever faces, and sets a precedent that remains true throughout the series: Buffy would be dead in the water without her friends (see what I did there?). But, at the same time, there’s an interesting qualifier to that truth: Buffy carries a mantle that no one else can bear. She is the Slayer, and it’s her responsibility and hers alone, and that responsibility necessitates loneliness (see what I mean with the recurring theme?). So, while Buffy needs her friends to stay alive—and to save the world—she can never quite be one of them. The dilemma courses through the entire series, and it’s heartbreaking. 

“Prophecy Girl” establishes something else that remains constant throughout the series: Buffy’s courage. She goes to face the Master knowing she’s going to die. She makes the decision no one else can make, because she knows it’s what she needs to do. She does it without friends, without family, without her boyfriend. She does it herself. And yet this is the hardest decision she has had to make, and will ever have to make in some ways, because it’s the first one. She chooses to sacrifice herself, and many things and people she loves, in subsequent episodes and apocalypses. But this is the first time that decision is forced upon her, and the weight of it is clear.

Oh—and the theme song. I think this is the only episode where the theme song is used for anything other than the opening credits, and here it’s used twice to great effect. Nerf Herder, you rock.

8. Season 5, Episode 22: “The Gift”

She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us. (Giles)

Glory is probably the single most powerful foe Buffy ever faces, so this episode is bound to be epic in nature, and it does not disappoint. It’s the only other episode besides “Prophecy Girl” in which Buffy chooses to sacrifice, literally, all she has for her friends, Sunnydale, and for the world. So, epic times two.

How gratifying is it to see Buffy finally beat the living hell out of Glory, though? And almost as gratifying (in a nasty, sort of horrible way) to see Giles kill Ben, and therefore kill Glory, when Buffy chooses not to—hence the quote at the beginning of this section—only emphasizing further the widening gap between Buffy and her friends. See? Loneliness.

“The hardest thing in this world is to live in it,” Buffy says to Dawn, at the end. “Be brave. Live.” Buffy knows, because she has lived in the world as the Slayer for more than five years, and made some incredibly difficult decisions in the process. In a way, Buffy’s death is not only a “gift” (“Death is your gift”) to her friends, and to the world, but to herself: she is finally relieving herself of her immense duty, fulfilling her measure and reaching her highest potential. She’s finally letting go of that solitude.

7. Season 2, Episodes 13 & 14: “Surprise”/“Innocence”

Angelus: “You can’t do it. You can’t kill me.”
Buffy: “Give me time.”

“Surprise” and “Innocence” are where Joss Whedon’s use of metaphor really takes off in the series. A few episodes in the first season (“Nightmares” and “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” come to…mind…) and “Ted” from the second do a fair job of it. But “Surprise” and “Innocence” are masterful. They take the idea of a boyfriend spurning his lover after finally getting her to have sex with him beyond a whole new level. I think that’s really one of the strengths of the early seasons of Buffy: the show manages to express regular teenage experiences through supernatural metaphors, and in the process opens up those experiences to all different types of people.

This two-parter has some great moments, what with the fantasy elements and heroics: it’s Angelus reuniting with Spike and Drusilla (and the introduction of Angelus, a truly despicable specimen and a perfectly horrifying foil to Angel is awesome in and of itself), it’s the Judge getting bloweded up by a rocket launcher, etc.

But the best parts of “Surprise”/“Innocence” are where things get real: it’s Buffy coming home after the night she spent with Angel and having that awkward encounter with her mom (“I don’t know, you just look…” W hat, Joyce? How does Buffy look??); it’s Angelus being absolutely awful to Buffy, insulting her love and affection in the worst way possible; it’s Buffy crying on her bed because of what’s happened; it’s Oz and Willow and Xander and Cordelia having relatively functional relationships when Buffy’s world is crashing down around her (Oh, and it’s Oz being about the coolest guy on the planet: “See, in my fantasy when I’m kissing you…you’re kissing me.” Oz, thou art the man.); it’s Buffy and Angel, together, finally—and then, oh so suddenly, not. And it’s Buffy and her mom watching a movie in their pajamas together, at home, after everything is over: “You look the same to me,” Joyce says, rebutting her line from earlier in the episode, reassuring Buffy that she is still Joyce’s daughter, the same girl she has always been—even if she is a bit older, a bit wiser, a bit less innocent, and a bit more inclined to kill her boyfriend.

6. Season 7, Episode 5: “Selfless”

Xander, you can’t help me. I’m not even sure there’s a me to help. (Anya)

I originally thought “Selfless” would be a lot lower on my list, around the nine or ten slot, but in watching these episodes again…I just really really love this episode. It isn’t one I see on many Buffy top ten lists, but it definitely belongs on mine. In case you haven’t caught on yet, Anya is one of my favorite characters of the series. And “Selfless” belongs to Anya  (Or should I say Aud?).

From Anya’s flashbacks to her quirky honesty and raging capitalism, “Selfless” crown-bejewels her character wonderfully. (Confession: there’s a part of me that wishes she would actually die at the end of this episode, just because it would make that beautifully jarring transition at the end that much more powerful. But I acknowledge she does have a role to play in the season, and that’s okay. It still works incredibly well.) This episode chronicles Anya’s entire character arc: Aud, the humble village weirdo and, apparently, communist —> Anyanka, the fierce Vengeance Demon who lives only for her work —> Mrs. Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins Harris (or Mrs. Anya Lame-ass Made-up Maiden-name Harris, whichever you prefer—that song is so perfect), the raging capitalist who defines herself completely by her boyfriend and friends —> just Anya, who realizes she still has a lot to figure out about herself. Ugh. It’s so good.

“Selfless” also has some interesting conflict in the Xander-Willow-Buffy arena (“I am the law”), going back to my theme of Buffy’s loneliness vs. her relationships with her friends. This episode, too, isolates her even further. When Buffy finds out Anya has gone back to her Vengeance Demon ways with a…er, well, with a vengeance, Buffy knows she has to kill Anya. Xander, and Willow, to an extent, vehemently opposes this decision. But in many ways, Buffy is right, as she (almost) always has been—like when she gave up her life (twice!), or when she had to kill Angel. This episode, and much of Season 7 in general, throws Buffy’s morality into doubt, but I really think she’s justified, and, as always, is willing to make the decisions that no one else can even fathom.

And man, that transition at the end, from Anya’s singing (a great throwback to “Once More, With Feeling”) to…well, you know what I mean. And if you don’t, you need to watch this episode.

5. Season 6, Episode 7: “Once More, With Feeling”

All those secrets you’ve been concealin’—say you’re happy now, once more with feelin’. (Sweet)

In contrast to “Selfless,” “Once More, With Feeling” actually ranked sightly lower than I thought it would. I thought the famed musical episode might be 2 or 3 on the list, but here it is at a solid five. Of course, being #5 of 144 episodes ain’t nothin’. Anyway, there is so much to love about this episode. It’s the MUSICAL episode, for crying out loud! Buffy and Spike’s kiss, Alyson Hannigan totally failing at singing, Tony Head and Amber Benison totally succeeding at it. But the great thing about this episode is that, while it is fun and musical and a complete change from the norm (and the complete opposite of the #3 episode on my Top Ten list in many ways, but that’s a whole other can of very interesting worms), it still does what Joss Whedon does best: gives us amazing characters.

“Once More, With Feeling” is all about revelations. Every character—and couple—get a spike in conflict from this episode: Tara discovers that Willow is manipulating her—and with magic, no less; Anya and Xander realize they both are having second thoughts about the whole wedding thing; Dawn’s kleptomania goes public; Giles decides Buffy is relying on him too much, and chooses to leave to allow her to grow; Spike doesn’t want to be around Buffy if she can’t reciprocate his feelings just as Buffy proves to him that she may actually be thinking about some semblance of reciprocation in the feelings department; and, of course, Buffy reveals to her friends that they did not in fact pull her out of hell, but rather, heaven. (In a lot of ways this episode marks the beginning of the downward spiral that leads to “Normal Again.”) And all of this is done through some really great songs! This is where Joss Whedon shines: escalating conflict in strange, unexpected, and fascinating ways. “Once More, With Feeling” does that so wonderfully.

And, as long as I’m keeping with my “Buffy = lonely” theme, the song “Walk Through The Fire” is yet another example of Buffy’s inevitably isolation, despite what her friends do or do not do to the contrary. “Understand we’ll go hand in hand, but we’ll walk alone in fear.” That’s Buffy’s theme throughout the series: her friends are always close, are always helping, but Buffy is the Slayer. No one can take that from her, or do it for her.

Oh, and for the record, I’m on board with Anya about the bunnies—what do they need such good eyesight for, anyway?

4. Season 7, Episode 22: “Chosen”

In every generation, one slayer is born—because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule…. I say we change the rule. I say my power…should be our power….From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power; can stand up, will stand up…every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong? (Buffy)

This episode just has all the feels. I know a lot of people aren’t in love with the final episode of the series, but I guess I am. From Buffy’s cookie dough spiel—

Ok, I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m—…enjoy warm delicious cookie me, that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.

—to her final, beautiful speech about power; from the Angel-face drawn on Spike’s punching bag to Anya’s horrible, sudden death scene; from to Buffy’s loneliness, emphasized by the First—

There’s that word again—what you are, how you’ll die. Alone.

—to the fact that Buffy can finally share her power in order to save the world, this episode is an incredible climax to the series. And, really, that might be my favorite thing about the series finale: Buffy’s loneliness finally shatters. She’s no longer alone in her power or her responsibility. She is still the first among Slayers in many ways, of course, but that loneliness that plagued her throughout the series, the loneliness that her friends only barely keep at bay (and if they hadn’t been there, it’s easy to see that Buffy’s life would have ended long ago—back in “Prophecy Girl,” if not earlier), fades. After a horrible death at the end of Season 5 and being ripped from heaven in Season 6, Buffy finally finds her place, and connects with the world and with her friends.

And Buffy’s smile, at the end…it’s wonderful.

3. Season 4, Episode 10: “Hush”

Can’t even shout,
can’t even cry,
the Gentlemen are coming by.
Looking in windows,
knocking on doors,
They need to take seven
and they might take yours…
Can’t call to mom,
can’t say a word,
you’re gonna die screaming
but you won’t be heard. (Girl in Buffy’s dream)

I have a lot of Buffy t-shirts, and two of them are actually inspired by this episode, so that alone makes it pretty awesome. “Hush” is a bright spot during one of the less interesting seasons of Buffy (that said, a “less-interesting” season of Buffy is still pretty damn good television IMO). The Gentlemen may be the most horrifying baddies to ever grace the Buffy screen. That line, “Can’t call to Mom, can’t say a word, you’re gonna die screaming and you won’t be heard,” is genuinely frightening. That loss of control, that lack of ability to connect with others, it’s horrifying, and this episode plays on that fear beautifully.

“Hush” starts like any normal episode, but from the moment the cast goes silent, things get real. Also, they get awesome. One of the great things about television is that you can do “concept” episodes—you can take risks, do strange things, experiment a bit, and in general get away with it. Film is a less forgiving medium; I don’t think audiences would be nearly as open to an “all-silent” film in this day and age as they would be to a single episode of television (The Artist, of course, is an exception, but at the same time proves my point—the stakes are that much higher in film)—we can endure any kind of episode for forty-five minutes, plus the cost isn’t as up-front as a movie theater. I think this actually makes television the more powerful medium, and we’re seeing the reality of that today with shows like Breaking Bad, Lost, The Good Wife, and Game of Thrones, just to name a few. Anyway, that’s something of a tangent, but “Hush” really succeeds because it’s a risk. That’s the real heart of “Hush” (pun intended—ha!): it’s a concept episode, but it uses the concept of silence to further character and plot. Buffy and Riley, Willow and Tara (Tara! So great to see her in this episode! When she and Willow perform that spell together it’s magical.), Anya and Xander (and Xander thinking Spike was feeding on Anya, and Anya’s suggestion afterward…so good); “Hush enhances each of their character arcs. The silence that takes place in this episode isn’t a fluke or a gimmick, but has real consequences in the world.

Three scenes define the episode, I think:
  1. Buffy and Riley’s “babble-fest” conversation--filled with words but no meaning--at the beginning,
  2. the moment where Buffy and Riley encounter each other, in forced silence, as they’re fighting the Gentlemen’s henchmen in the clock tower, and then
  3. that moment in the end, where they sit across from one another in Buffy’s dorm room, and simply don’t know what to say to one another, despite having their voices restored. Filled with meaning, but no words. Ending with that silence is powerful stuff, and great television.
Also: Giles’ overhead presentation! Delightfully gory, and Buffy’s response to Xander’s question “how do we kill them” is hilarious. In fact that whole presentation might be one of the funnier sequences in the series. Also: BUFFY WILL PATROL TONIGHT. (That’s one of my t-shirts, by the way. The other is the Gentlemen.) 

Anyway, if this episode taught me one thing, it’s this: if I’m ever near a “laryngitis outbreak,” I’m getting as far away from that place as possible.

2. Season 2, Episodes 21 & 22: “Becoming, Parts 1 and 2”

Bottom line is, even if you see ‘em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. that’s when you find out who you are. (Whistler)

Remember my aforementioned recurring theme? Buffy making difficult choices, because of, despite, or sometimes in spite of what her friends may suggest? Yeah, that’s happenign big time in “Becoming.” This entire series is very much about Buffy’s connection with her friends, but there’s almost always a certain point where Buffy transcends her friends and everything boils down to just her. (Two notable exceptions to this are “Primeval” in Season 4 and the end sequence of Season 6, but the theme recurs far more than it doesn’t.) This is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after all, not Buffy and All Her Friends. Her friends can only do so much; in the end, Buffy always has to be the one to make the choice.

And, in “Becoming” (just like in “Prophecy Girl,” and “The Gift”), she makes one hell of a choice. “In the end you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.” Whistler, the random sort-of-good demon whose purpose seems to be exposition and mentor-y stuff, emphasizes Buffy’s loneliness. And, when Buffy goes to face Angel, she really is alone. Xander gets Giles out of there ASAP; Spike and Dru take off; Willow, Oz, and Cordelia are busy spell-casting. In the end, it’s only Buffy. But, in the end—and this is the beauty of these episodes, that’s all she needs. “That’s everything, huh?” Angelus asks, having cornered Buffy, a sword at her throat. “No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what’s left?”

“Me,” Buffy says, in what might be the defining moment of the entire series. And, then, she kicks Angelus’ ass.

1. Season 5, Episode 16: “The Body”

I don’t understand. I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s…there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she can’t just get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid, and, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever. And she’ll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever and no one will explain to me why. (Anya)

Being honest, this episode is the reason it’s taken me a week to write another Buffy post. I’ve been dreading watching it, and when I finally did…yeesh. To say it’s emotionally draining is an understatement.

There is so much I could say about “The Body,” but now that I’m trying to say it, I don’t think I should say any of it. There are some media experiences that capture life in all it’s horror and beauty in the most accurate, painfully perfect ways possible, and this is one of them. The writing, the cinematography, the sound/music (or lack thereof), the incredible acting (spearheaded as always by incredibly performances from SMG, Alyson Hannigan, and Emma Caulfield) all come together for a genuinely moving, beautiful, and haunting episode.

I’ll be up front with the fact that my love of Buffy is completely subjective, dependent on my attachment to the characters and how what they are going through relates to what I was going through at various times when I watched the show. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but you may not, and that’s okay. But I feel absolutely confident in saying that “The Body” is, hands down, the best hour of television ever produced. It’s incredible. It’s worth watching the Buffy series just to get to this episode—which, by the way, is at full effect when you’ve watched all the episodes that lead up to it, so I highly suggest you do that, and not just watch “The Body” on its own. It’s worth it—trust me.

I must’ve seen it five or six times, now, and it still makes me cry.

* If you got that reference, I will love you forever.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Revision (or: How I Got Published, Part 6)

As always, a quick rundown on what I’m doing, here: I’ve begun a little blog series that’s basically my story in a nutshell—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful about my journey to publication.

What I’ve talked about so far:

Today I’m going to jump into revision.

(For the record, I wrote a post about my revision process a few years ago—I’m giving an updated version of that now, but a lot of this info is lifted, with editorial marks, from that post.)

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’m sure I’ll mention it many times from now, but I’m a discovery writer.* Writing organically without the constraint of any real outline is fun, freeing, and allows my mind to explore a lot more, but it has some drawbacks. Namely, my first drafts are complete crap. “Shitty first drafts” is a common adage in the writing world, but mine are downright bad. They would make no sense to anybody except me, because I often cut (or add) characters halfway through, change locations, pursue tangential ideas for a bit until I find my way back to the main plot, etc. Basically, my first draft ends up being one long, glorified outline, written in prose.

Thus, for me, my first revision always happens with the door closed**.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to talk about my revision process with Duskfall specifically because, well, that’s the novel that got me published!

I started*** with the first draft (Duskfall 1.0), where I got the story onto paper (or my computer, as it were). Nothing fancy, just getting the story down. Even back then I’d decided to “write with the door closed”—I wanted to get my idea for the story completely out of my head and onto the page before I allowed anyone else to give me their input.

I then took some time off, did an MFA program, and did not get around to the first revision (DF 2.0) of the novel for a couple years. That time off was important for my process, I think (although I’m sure I did not need to take two years off, it just kind of happened that way—a month or two is more than enough time, in reality). Again, for this first revision, I wrote with the door closed. In Duskfall, characters that were there in the beginning suddenly disappeared halfway through the story, while other characters appeared out of nowhere because I suddenly decided they should. Settings changed in my head, but I didn't change them on paper. Plot twists developed out of nowhere and needed some retroactive foreshadowing. I knew that before I showed DF to outside eyes, there was a lot I needed to fix, and that’s why that first revision was all me. I knew there were things I needed to fix, so I was sure to fix as many of them as I could before I showed the project to anyone else; that way I didn't have people wasting their time (and mine) by telling me things I already knew I needed to change, or things that were going in an opposite direction for the plan I already had for the book.

After that first revision, I finally gave the story to some outside readers. For Duskfall, my wife and two close writer friends had the graciousness to give me that first round of feedback (and now that I’m writing in a more official capacity I imagine this “alpha reader” group might just be my agent and editor). They read the book, gave me basic feedback—not a lot about the grammar or writing on the sentence level, that stuff just wasn’t very useful to me yet, but rather on the more global issues regarding plot and character development, etc. This would be a good place for a note of caution: I was definitely tempted, at this stage, to make the prose as beautiful, concise, and grammatically correct as I could, but I resisted that urge. If you’re like me, you might want to do the same. There was just too much that was going to change in future drafts, and revising on the micro level that early, while surely tempting, seemed like it might be a waste of time. I’m definitely glad I didn’t open that can of worms; focusing on global issues was definitely what I needed to do at that point in time.

So, after receiving this feedback, I jumped into my second major revision (version 3.0). I took the suggestions and feedback that I’d received seriously, but I also took them all with a grain of salt. That, I’ve realized, is one of the most important mentalities I can have in revision: while some people are certainly better at giving feedback than others, I found that even from the best readers I ended up only taking action on maybe a third of their suggestions. And that’s ok, preferable even. It’s my story, after all, and I need to be judgy about which suggestions I take to heart and which I dismiss. I’ll talk more about this next week, but I realized early on, thankfully, that it was really okay if I basically ignored quite a bit of feedback offhand.

At this point I did a more micro-level revision (version 3.n, I cant remember exactly, it depends on how many times I’d read through DF during that second major revision) in which I finally focused on some of the writing itself--using active verbs, eliminating unnecessary words, etc. I knew that I wanted to start sending it out to agents at this point, so I figured I should start paying at least some attention to the language.

I did, indeed, find an agent around this point, and he (along with a number of other gracious folks at JABberwocky) began contributing input to DF, too. Basically, it was the same process as the previous two revisions, only a bit more formal and I ended up taking into consideration a lot more of their suggestions (they are professionals, after all). The third, fourth, and fifth major revisions (DF 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0) came through interactions with my agency and a few other choice readers to whom I sent my manuscript.

One significant revision to note was what I think ended up being DF 5.0. It was, essentially, a line edit in which I cut about 17% of the entire book. I believe that good writing is, in large part, saying the most with the fewest words possible, and because I tend to be a bit of a windbag to begin with, I usually have quite a few words that I end up cutting from my later drafts, so this aspect of revision has become a staple for all of my stories and novels: I like to have an entire revision in which my only goal is to cut at least 10% of the word count. It works for me. It’s also a nice interruption from the more mind-intensive story-revisions.

Incidentally, Duskfall will have one more round of revision before it goes through the gauntlet of publication. Just some minor language things, making the prose as pretty as possible, and a few other marks from my editor. I think I’ll be doing that in the next month or so (basically as soon as I finish Dark Immolation 1.0), and that will mark version 7.0 of Duskfall.

I imagine my revision process for Dark Immolation and for my other future novels will be very similar; the first two drafts of my work still need to be written with the proverbial door closed. I need to work out all the kinks I can on my own, make sure the story is doing what I want it to do, before I send it out to others. But, once I get those first two drafts done, it’s open season, and anyone with a brain has the potential to give me some great, story-altering feedback (although, at this point, most of that will come from my agent and editors).

Another side note: some writers may be opposed to getting feedback on their writing—maybe they think it’ll muddy their process or something. I’m pretty sure I used to have that outlook. Now, I don’t. I’ll talk more about why that is next week.

So: revision for me is a pattern of sending a work out, getting feedback, selectively and judiciously revising, and repeating that process until I (and my agent and editor) feel the work ready, in which case I do move on to the more micro level stuff. Let me offer a few tips in summary:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff, at least in the beginning—grammar, conciseness, and language-oriented edits can wait until later revisions. Focus on the big stuff, character development and plot coherence, first (and tell your readers to do the same).
  2. Seek outside feedback! Again, I’ll talk more about this next week, but it has become an indispensable part of my process.
  3. Be judicious and selective about said feedback. You may give your story to a bunch of smart people, but they don’t know your story like you do. Take what you like, and leave the rest.
  4. Your novel is your own—keep it that way.

That’s how revision worked (and continues to work) for me! Stay tuned for a discussion next week on alpha readers, beta readers, and writing groups.

* That means I prefer not to work from an outline. I start with an idea and/or some characters, put them all together, and see where they take me. This method is also known as “seat-of-your-pants” writing, so I’m aka a “pantser.” Aka “gardener.” You get the picture.

** You’ll hear me talk about “writing with the door closed” and “revising with the door open” a lot in this and the subsequent HIGP post—that’s an idea lifted from Stephen King, specifically from his fantastic memoir, On Writing.

*** It may or may not be helpful to compare these revisions to the timeline I posted last week—just saying.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Buffy: The Honorable Mentions

So, as I mentioned in my post last Friday about Joss Whedon, I’ve been thinking a lot about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, of course, watching some of my favorite episodes. As I’ve been doing so, it seems inevitable that I write a post about my top ten favorite episodes—and that’ll come soon enough.

But, for today, I want to talk about some episodes that almost made it into my Top Ten. Some Honorable Mentions, if you will.* I’ll talk about these episodes in chronological order, because I don’t feel like ranking them. Ranking them is for the big leagues—ranking them is for tomorrow. Also, I won’t go into as much detail with these episodes as I will tomorrow, I just figured they were worth mentioning. Honorably. Oh, and SPOILERS FOLLOW, people, you have been warned. So, without further ado…

Season 1, Episode 10: “Nightmares” takes the “High School as Hell” metaphor to a literal level and plays perfectly on the fears of all the main characters (and some not-so-main characters, too). It’s also one of the first great—and successful, for that matter—conceptual/“grand metaphor” episodes**, where a young boy is tormented by, and finally confronts (with the Scoobies’ help), his abuser.

"Bored Now," Part 1...
Season 3, Episodes 9 and 16: “The Wish”/“Doppelgangland” - I kind of combined two relatively separate episodes (Which is kind of cheating I guess, but who cares! It’s Buffy!) because of one common thread: Vamp Willow. She is delightful, and we see far too little of her—and she’s such a great foil to Willow’s actual character at this stage in the series, not to mention the foreshadowing of (1) Willow’s sexuality and (2) her dark turn at the end of Season 6.

Season 3, Episode 13: “The Zeppo” is a special episode in more ways than one, but mainly because it tells the story from Xander’s perspective. He goes off on his own adventure while Buffy and co. fight what would normally be classified as a season-finale-level apocalypse in the background. Seeing things from Xander’s point of view is refreshing, fun, and, well, a bit sad, too. Because he’s Xander.

Buffy Summers: Class Protector
Season 3, Episode 20: “The Prom” - This episode has some solid qualities, but it’s really only on this list for one reason: Buffy getting the “Class Protector” award. Buffy does what she does—she saves the world, a lot—with little to no recognition throughout the series, but this is one of the very few exceptions. That scene makes me feel all the feels and then some. 

Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22: “Graduation Day, Parts 1 and 2” - All of Buffy’s season finales have their qualities, some more than others, but the Graduation Day episodes very nearly made it into my Top Ten list because of Faith alone. Well, Faith and the Mayor. And all the emotions of graduation, moving on, defying the Watcher’s Counsel, the climactic Buffy vs. Faith fight scene, and Angel leaving. Oh, and Anya! So great.

"Because it's wrong."
Season 4, Episodes 15 & 16: “This Year’s Girl”/“Who Are You” - These episodes have more Faith (cue “Faith” by George Michael), and Faith is a reason to put them on the list in and of herself, but Eliza Dushku’s portrayal of Buffy and SMG’s portrayal of Faith in “Who Are You” are stellar and make this two-parter really phenomenal.

Season 5, Episode 7: “Fool for Love” - In “Fool for Love,” we get our first extended glimpse into Spike’s past, and it’s wonderful. Spike goes from almost a throwaway villain at the beginning of Season 3 to becoming one of the most developed characters in the series by the end of Season 7, and seeing him slay the two Slayers provides a lot of insight into his character, especially considering his growing crush on Buffy. We also discover the origin of Spike’s original title, “William the Bloody.” Definitely a turning point in the series for Spike.

...and "Bored Now," Part 2...
The Last 5 Episodes of Season 6: “Entropy,” “Seeing Red,” “Villains,” “Two to Go,” and “Grave” - Okay, I know, I’m really cheating now, but this whole sequence is just…crazy. From Tara’s death to Willow’s murderous rampage (little taciturn shy Willow that Whedon endangered all the time in the early seasons because she was so helpless!), from Giles’ return to Xander Saves Us All, oh, and that little scene between Spike and Buffy that sent an almost-redeemable Spike to a point almost-beyond redemption, these episodes were truly intense. And, of course, who could forget those immortal words: “Bored now.”

Season 7, Episode 7: “Conversations with Dead People” - I think Season 7 rarely gets the credit it’s due, and “Conversations with Dead People” in and of itself is due a lot of credit. The episode is structured well, but the titular “conversations” and how they contrast are the true genius of the thing. Between Buffy’s entertaining—and slightly sad—conversation with Holden, Willow’s foreshadowy and disturbing chat with Tara/Cassie/The First, or Dawn’s horrifying encounter with “Joyce,” there’s a lot to love, and love to hate, about this episode.

A momma's boy at heart.
Season 7, Episode 17: “Lies My Parents Told Me” - “Lies” is sort of Spike’s culminating episode. I’m not a fan of Spike through most of Season 7, but he finally comes back into his own in this episode, and it’s all worth it. Spike has many issues, to be sure, but he has many qualities, too. IMHO, he easily edges Angel out of the “tortured hero” spot. No contest. And who can forget that song…

So there’s the Honorable Mentions, folks! Tomorrow I’ll dive into my top ten Buffy episodes of all time, and on Friday I’ll share some overall thoughts I have about the series. 

* I know what you’re saying—if I talk about ten “honorable mention” episodes, and then do my top ten, aren’t I basically just giving you my top twenty episodes of Buffy?
Yes.  The answer to that is yes.

** While “High School as Hell” is the metaphor that weaves itself throughout the first three seasons, there are some really fantastic episodes that take specific high school “horrors” and turn them into monsters/demons/anything scary. And as the series progresses, these metaphors persist (i.e. the abusive stepfather as robot, cyber boyfriend is actually a cyber demon, etc.). I’ll mention a few of these episodes tomorrow, but “Nightmares” was one of the first successful ones.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Patience 1.0* (or: How I Got Published, Part 5)

The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. (Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art)

For those of you late to the party, I’ve been working on a series of blog posts detailing how I got published—how the process went in general, what I did right, wrong, what might’ve gone better or worse, etc. The idea is that this sort of information might be helpful to other aspiring writers out there. The general process of how things worked was a mystery to me for a lot of the time I spent trying to get published, so why not get some of this stuff out there?

Today, the topic is patience.

What do I mean by patience, you ask? Well, two things come to mind.

Thing 1: The long game.

On one hand, there’s the long-term idea of patience in this business. I didn’t know this when I finished my first novel, but patience was a virtue I had yet to learn. Let me put things into perspective for you with a little timeline.

Jan. 2010 Began Duskfall 1.0.
June 2010 Finished DF 1.0.
Sept 2010 Attempted to revise DF. Failed miserably (thanks grad program).
Aug. 2012 Began revising DF (again).
Feb. 2013 Finished DF 2.0.
May 2013 Began new DF revision.
Aug 2013 Finished DF 3.0. Started talks with my agent.
Oct. 2013 Began new DF revision.
Dec. 2013 Finished DF 4.0.
Jan. 2014 Began new DF revision.
Feb. 2014 Finished DF 5.0. Signed with agent. Agent began sending DF to        publishers.
March 2014 Began new DF revision.
June 2014 Finished DF 6.0.
Sept. 2014 Began talks with publisher.
March 2015 Officially signed with publisher.

Since I finished Duskfall in 2010, it has been about a five-year process to get it published—and it still won’t hit shelves until 2016.** And, from what I’ve heard, my story is kind of on the speedier side. (There are speedier, though—if someone manages to produce a dazzling, near-perfect manuscript on their first or second draft, well, things will go a lot more quickly for them. If you are one of those people, congratulations! You probably don’t need to be reading this.) So, if you’re a writer looking to get published, that’s one of the first things you need to know: stuff take a long time in this business. That’s just how it is.

That doesn’t mean you should get discouraged, though. Because here’s what’s important: that you get things done while you’re waiting. That, however, is a subject for a later post. So, let’s move on to…

Thing 2: Pacing.

There’s another aspect to patience, perhaps best described as pacing.

I’m a runner. I ran track when I was young (Okay, okay, when I was in middle school—I thought about trying out for track in High School, but the idea of doing all that running sounded awful to me, so I didn’t. Thus all of this comes from my middle-school track experience, which, while fun, was, well, in middle-school…so take it for what it’s worth.), and I loved running sprints—the 100-200M distances were the ones I enjoyed most, largely because I could run all-out for those entire races without having to think about pacing. That strategy didn’t work out so well for me in the 400M, however. If anyone has run a 400M race, you know that it’s basically as fun as getting felt up by rhinoceros in studded armor . But, being the ignorant and head-strong kid I was, I figured I would sprint the whole race, because what else would I do? Well, around the 300M mark, something strange happened. My legs turned to rubber. My lungs caught fire. My vision blurred. I finished that first 400M race, but just barely, and if I didn’t throw up at the end (I can’t quite remember), I know that I wanted to, and felt like I was going to die either way.

Well, having learned my lesson, you’d think I’d start pacing my 400M races a bit. That’s what my coaches tried to make me understand. That’s what my parents suggested. You’d think I’d take a hint.

But I didn’t. Because I was young, and stupid, and thought I was fast (I was in the seventh grade, after all), and literally did not know how to turn down my sprint dial. For me, it was 100% or nothing. So, every 400M race after that first one (and there were many, because despite my ridiculous pacing strategy, I wasn’t slow), I did the same thing. I wanted to throw up and die after every race in no particular order, and I hated my coaches for “making” me run the 4, but I was too stupid and stubborn to change my strategy and pace myself. That, I think, is a large part of why I chose not to do track in High School—I’d burned myself out, essentially.

So how does this relate to writing, you ask? Well, writing is a lot like running. Closer to distance running, perhaps, but the idea of pacing still applies: if I don’t pace myself while writing, I risk burning myself out. If I write and write and write I risk getting sick of what it is I’m doing, the project I’m working on, the novel, whatever it is.

Runners are fans of “listening to their bodies”—if their body is starting to hurt, they slow down, or take it easy until the next run. If their body is feeling good, perhaps they run farther than they planned. It’s a good strategy, and one that I think applies to writing. Because while there are certainly times in which I binge on writing, when I “smell the blood in the water” of the ending of my story and can’t stop myself from writing it, there are times where that kind of writing overload would have negative side effects. A lot of this comes back to what I was talking about in my previous post about consistency: going at it day after day is what’s important. But I need to pace myself for that to really work. If I’m feeling like I can pump out another thousand words, then I probably should! If I feel like I’m on the verge of spraining my brainpan, it might be a good idea to step away until tomorrow.

And, trust me, this kind of pacing requires patience. Because sometimes I get so excited about a scene that’s far ahead that I want to burn through everything else until I get there—but that won’t be too productive, because I might short change those in-between parts, or I might burn myself out and lose that desire altogether.

So how do I pace myself? Well, again, consistency is important here, but two specific methods come to mind:
  1. I take breaks between projects. When I finish a novel or a major revision, I’ll usually take a couple days off from writing. (Not altogether, mind you, I might write in my blog or some personal writing of some kind, but from writing fiction.) My max, I’ve decided, is three days, because ultimately if I take off more time than that, the desire fades and fades, and becomes more and more difficult to get back. So three days is kind of the magic number for me—I can rejuvenate a bit, replenish the well, and be ready to get back into a project when the time is up.
  2. Taking a break right after finishing a project is important, but it’s also important for me to spend some time away from that project before I come back to it. When I finish a novel, for example, while my tendency might be to jump right back into it and revise it asap, it’s usually good for me to take some time before I return to it. What that DOES NOT mean is me taking a vacation from writing for a month (believe me, I thought that at one point and it didn’t work out well). What it does mean is me moving on to something else, to another project that I can work on, until my mind is far enough away from my previous project that I can go back to it with fresh eyes.***
So that’s patience, folks. Next week, I’m going to tackle revision.

* PSA: I can pretty much guarantee that this won’t be the only post in this series about patience (hence the 1.0). If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, it’s that things take a looooooooooooooong time in this industry. Patience is key.

** To be fair, DF isn’t the only thing I’ve worked on during these five years—there have been a number of other projects, jobs, an MFA degree, and other things going on—but this is just to give you an idea of how long it took.

*** Of course, having actual editors, agents, and deadlines to adhere to may make this more difficult than it’s been for me in the past, but I suspect the essence of it will remain true. The time I spend away from a project may necessarily become elastic, but the idea of of allowing myself to “refill the well” remains.