Liza Shulyayeva

Fiction writing updates

Just some updates on my fiction writing “adventures”.

Writing pace and schedule

My writing pace and schedule have not been very reliable since I started. I went through several months of failed draft attempts, in which nothing got published. What finally kicked me into gear was a story I committed to for an anthology. I drafted that story almost entirely on my AlphaSmart Neo last year, while visiting Glastonbury Tor. I wrote from the hill and it really got my creative juices flowing again.

AlphaSmart Neo on Tor in Glastonbury

Since then, I also wrote the sequel to that story, attended a virtual writing workshop, and started drafting a new story. I am chomping at the bit with a couple of things written and not published yet, but it also feels good to have work piling up. It would be nice to build up a backlog of things to put out.

Story lengths

My stories have gotten longer. I started out with short stories, the novellas, all spread across a few pen names. I was too impatient and jumpy to write longer, resulting in bad, abrupt endings. Slowly, though, as I got more practice, my lengths began to increase. From 25k, to 30k, to 60k for the latest story. I’m not sure how long this new draft I’m working on will be, but the plot itself (though I only know the roughest of outlines for it, in my head) feels big and I think it might need more length.

Drafting and editing process

Not sure if I already mentioned it on the blog before, but I began investing in some peripheral services. I started out editing and designing all my covers myself. Eventually, when the books themselves could pay for it, I decided it was time to take the next step and hire a copy editor. Then, I found a cover designer. For the latest finished book, the process looked like this:

  1. First draft
  2. First self-edit/second draft
  3. Send off to developmental editor
  4. Second self-edit addressing dev edit feedback
  5. Send off to copy editor
  6. Third self-edit addressing copy edit feedback

So as you can see, I now have five edit passes on the book (three of them by me, two by a professional editor). My self-editing is slow. The fastest self-edit is the last one, which is mostly just applying suggested changes from the copy edit. The second self-edit (after the professional developmental edit) took me a long time because it was writing brand new scenes, fleshing out character motivations, changing the timeline in some places, etc.

Cover process

I was afraid to get the cover designer to start until after my first self-edit. Once the book was in the hands of the developmental editor, I placed my cover order.

Because my timeline and motivation to finish the book are still so unreliable (I quit two projects already), I did not want to pay for a cover until I knew I had made enough progress to follow through. I am still evaluating this approach, because for some people having to pay for a cover or book a specific editor date actually provides some external motivation to finish the darn thing. I’m not sure if that would work for me, but I might try it one day.

The cover went through one major revision and a couple of minor ones.

Writing process and tools

I’ve been experimenting with this since I started. I wrote some stories entirely on my laptop, others on my AlphaSmart Neo. The AlphaSmart Neo was a great introduction to “distraction-free” writing tools, but there were two things that I didn’t like about it:

  1. The fact that the keyboard was always exposed. If I put it in my bag, buttons would be pressed. I later learned that you could set it to only turn on if two keys are pressed at the same time, which would have helped a lot, but it would have still been a negative for me to have the device sloshing around getting pressed in my bag. If I was intending to keep using it, I would have eventually gotten a hard case for it.
  2. The bigger issue for me was the angle of the screen. Note: not the size, but the angle, and the fact that you could not change it. I like to write in different places and positions, and the immovable angle made that very uncomfortable at times.

Pomera DM250

Recently, I got a Pomera DM250. I had to import it from Japan and the import fees were egregious, but so far it’s been worth it. I have used it in the following situations with success:

Writing at sunset in Tenerife using Pomera DM250

I think part of what makes it practical for me to write in all these different locations (especially the tram) is that I’ve been doing that with coding for so long. I have spent so many train rides with noise all around me, hacking away on some project. I’ve habituated myself to focusing quickly in noisy, time-limited environments.

The fact that The Pomera DM250 comes with a lid, is overall smaller than the AlphaSmart Neo, and has a modifiable screen angle have made it more practical for my use case. One negative is that the keyboard is smaller than normal, about netbook-sized. It took some getting used to, and is still not ideal when I have my nails a bit long, but I manage to get a good WPM on it. Because I only use it for drafting and not editing, I’ve made myself learn not to care about typos so much. The point is to get words down on paper and edit them later.

Every few days or couple of weeks I transfer what I’ve written from the Pomera DM250 to Scrivener, and do an edit pass on the first content. This is different from the last couple of books, where I wrote the whole vomit-draft first, then edited the whole thing from scratch. Now, I’m writing a few chapters at a time and doing a first edit pass on them after transferring them to the computer. I’m not sure yet if I’ll stick with this process.

One thing I wasn’t expecting, which I like, is not having my word count at a glance. The DM250 only offers character count on the screen. I’m estimating about 5.5 characters per word, so I can get a rough word count if I want to. But most of the time I don’t bother, and also use the Pomera in “full screen” mode where even the character count isn’t really visible. It isn’t until I transfer the file to Scrivener that I get an actual count of words I have in the project so far. I kind of like that! Upon doing a transfer today, I realized I’ve already written way more words than I thought.

I got a lamp. Not a practical lamp, but a “shadow lamp” that projects the Tree of Life on my walls. This was an attempt to build a cozy writing office to get into “the zone” in. It does feel like I’m sitting in a tiny fairytale when the lamp is on in the dark room. Not a necessity, but I like it.

Wooden Tree of Life lamp

Project choices

Any self-published author (at least in my genre) will tell you: writing series is where it’s at. Readers in my genre love series. I tried. I really did. But my brain is just all over the place. New ideas come all the time, and writing in the same world gets old. I got a couple of in-series books written, and when trying to write a third it just was not working despite starting over twice.

So I gave up and started working on the project that’s really been in my head. Different world, different characters, different POV. It’s going so much better than my attempt to force book 3 of my series.

The current books are standalones, making a complete story arc. So I decided it’s fine to leave it for something different. Maybe after a breather in a totally new world, I’ll have the drive to come back and put out the next book in the series.

I am taking this seriously: that’s part of the fun. I try to write regularly, putting in full days on weekends. With the Pomera, I’ve also taken to writing on tram rides to/from the city. But I decided that there are some things I’ll go against established-practice on. And trying to twist my brain into writing Story A when what it really wants is Story B is one of them.

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