Monday, January 2, 2012

Space Available: Post-Mortem.

So, the year 2011 has come and gone, and my experiment with writing a complete novel on Twitter--a book called Space Available, FYI--is now finished. Here's what I learned:

The level of difficulty was way harder than I anticipated.
I had no idea how hard it would be to tell a rich, layered story in 140-character bursts. I think I went into this whole experiment a little naively, because I've told stories before--lots of them--so I just assumed it would be a matter of adapting my storytelling process to the Twitter format.

What I wasn't counting on was the complete interruption of the flow of thinking that comes from having to mind your character count and click "Tweet" every few words. I found it to be much more disruptive than I'd originally figured on. Twitter works very well as a medium for sharing interesting links, or for expressing an opinion in a succinct way (this is why so many comedians have latched on to it--Twitter is the perfect one-liner delivery system).

But hashtag-free thoughts that run the length of more than a few tweets get bogged down easily in the type-count-tweet/type-count-tweet mechanism that is Twitter. In retrospect, I wish I'd made it more of a performance-art kind of thing, Cloverfield-style, like I was live-tweeting the story as opposed to writing my novel down on Twitter. Maybe that would've been just as difficult, but it would have fit the medium better.

I am an enthusiastic dreamer... until life gets in the way.
I started this project like I start all my projects: with a zest and passion for it, knowing that I am going to knock it out of the park. This is mostly the anticipation part, leading up to it. I announced it last December and was ready to hit the ground with my engines revving.

I started out with a darn fine first sentence, and that was all I wrote on day one. Then I had a good burst for a couple of weeks until my daughter was born, and then I took a couple of days off, and then I started back, and then I had other writing projects due, and then I was finding it difficult to work on the book, and then I got a corporate job, and then my family was the victim of a home invasion, and then I got let go from that corporate job, and then...

You see what I'm saying. The writing process was so difficult that any old excuse for not writing would do, and 2011 provided me with plenty of them--most of them not so fun.

Feedback helps.
I found a surprising amount of desire to push through the difficulties of writing anytime someone gave me feedback on it. Even something as simple as a mention at a social function that they were "enjoying" the story was enough to make me think, "Okay, time to do some more work on it."

And I do have to say, there is an unmitigated champion in this regard, and his name is Andrew Joyce, and I knew I could count on a tweet or two in my direction from @authorandrew, almost every time complimentary. There were many times where I felt like I was writing just to this guy. Seriously: a champ.

I do some of my best writing late at night.
There were many, many occasions where I'd think, "Oh, yes! I know exactly what to do next! I will go do that right now!" or, failing that, I would just have an urge to work on the book, and then I would look and see that it was midnight, or past midnight, or 5:00 in the morning.

But then I would realize that, of the 157 people following me, many of them who do so (or at least those who tell me they enjoy reading it) are doing it on their phone. If I send out a tweet, their phone buzzes to let them know it's there. And I don't want to disrupt any sort of sleeping that they might be doing, and so I, being a fairly nice person, would hold off on cranking out my awesome idea for a decent hour of the day.

And then I would forget to do it.

Cliffhangers are crazy-fun.
That said, one really fun development I did not anticipate was the rhythm of my writing output lending itself to an almost serialized feel to the story. I wound up feeling like a day of writing shouldn't be finished until I'd built to some sort of cliffhanger that I could pay off next time.

This was where I started finding the real pleasure in telling this particular story, and I really started to sympathize with the writers for the television show "LOST," because ending a story beat with a cliffhanger is really fun (and kind of easy), but paying it off later on is hard. That show loved it's cliffhanger-y endings ("We gotta go back, Kate! We gotta go back!" remains an all-time favorite television moment for me), and for the most part managed to address those cliffhangers later on (though they never wound up putting together that stupid army in season two).

It's okay to succeed only halfway.
This is the biggest lesson I learned, and it was also the hardest one. With about four or five months left in the year, I started to realize that, unless I really kicked on the afterburners, I was not going to finish strong. And that's when the whole project began to feel like a giant weight on my shoulders. I was already battling depression (it's a thing I deal with), and the added stress of feeling like a massive failure was almost debilitating.

Fortunately, with about six weeks left in the year, I had a good chat with Jeff Gerke, the publisher at Marcher Lord Press about the state of the book and where it could be. I also had a good chat with my wife, who helped me to realize something that I have a hard time owning up to:

Admitting my limitations is not the same thing as admitting defeat.

And one other thing:

Admitting defeat is okay, too.

And when it came to Space Available, I felt defeated. I had gone into it with such high hopes, and it wasn't turning out at all like I'd thought it would. It was way too short, it was scattershot, it was far afield thematically from what I'd set out to do, and it generally felt like a big, giant misfire.

But I was learning to be okay with that. These things happen (even the usually smart Apple released the Mac Cube). I was willing to admit that Space Available had, in a lot of ways, become a misfire, but that was okay. And even if it wasn't where I'd originally wanted it to be, I could give it the ending it deserved, bring some closure, and even leave the door open for a sequel, should the desire arise (though not written through Twitter). In the end, my novel turned into a novella that will be published as an e-book, and I learned a good lesson about biting off more than I could chew and that sometimes cutting bait was preferable to fishing when you're in over your head (and perhaps I could've learned more lessons about mixing metaphors).

All in all, I've come away from the experience a wiser writer and a better person, and that's really all I could hope for. We'll see what the future holds.


michelle said...

You are brave and strong and handsome and sexy and awesome. AND a darn fine writer. So proud of you, babe.

Kelli said...


When you first started the book, I had all your tweets sent to my phone too. I eventually had to turn off mobile notifications, but I was REALLY enjoying the story. I rarely actually go to twitter and read stuff though, so I didn't get back to it. Sorry. :(
Therefore, I can't wait to get the ebook! (Downloadable to kindle would be perfect!)
You and Michelle are such amazing, inspirational people. I know God has awesome things for you this year! Happy 2012!
Kelli James

Ryan Szrama said...

Hey Adam! My wife somehow saw your project and turned me onto it (@ryanszrama). Never thought to interact, as I really just waited around for the dozen tweets to show up and read through them. Perhaps therein lies another limitation of Twitter - an account that exists to "push" walls of tweets wasn't one I naturally considered interacting with like I do my other regular contacts. That said, I really enjoyed the story and wish you good luck on your future projects. : )

Maybe I'll try my hand at a Twitter story next and you can watch me stumble to defeat. ; )

(Also, I'm not a phone twitterer, solely using the web interface b/c I love it. So the walls of text at any hour didn't bother me.)

Anna Mittower said...

I have to second Ryan on this. I never thought to respond since it felt more like a one way conversation. Though, to my defense, I only created a Twitter account (@AnnaMittower) this past December so before then I couldn't have responded. (I began following the story fairly close to the beginning if I recall correctly.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the story though, even with it ending short. Bravo to you for taking a chance with this experiment!

I agree that Twitter isn't conducive to writing that flows. I think the format would encourage shorter sentences and thoughts and also shorter writing periods (as in writing paragraphs instead of pages). But Twitter is quite different from writing in a Word document. Each media/method encourages a different kind of writing.


Andrew J. said...

Thanks for your kind words, Adam.I began to get an inkling that feedback led to more being posted, so I'd shoot you some when the cliffhangers were especially bad and I wanted more. ;-) The cliffhangers were killer, especially when you'd post them and then leave the story for several days. Seriously. Don't do that to us =D But I really enjoyed reading and following the story; thanks for sharing it on a public medium like Twitter.

I can definitely imagine that the medium would be very hard. When I ran across you I have to confess I wodnered if you were crazy. Considering the limitations, you did way better than I was expecting you to, honestly.

So what's next for Space Available? You mentioned on Twitter it probably won't be revised much. Do you anticipate it ever being expanded to full novel-length? I'd love to see the premise expanded upon, maybe in a more traditional medium.