Andy Haymaker Author

Writing Bitstreams of Hope

I’ve been writing for a long time. Even as an engineering student, most of my electives were in writing. For while, I thought I’d focus on poetry. As I advanced in my software career, I often kept a side project going to try to write novels. Engineering is very creative, but the subject matter is necessarily much narrower than one can express in a book. But I struggled to figure out what story I wanted to tell, and every time I tried to write a novel, it came out much too short or had other fatal flaws. Discouraged, I gave up writing for years at a time. These gaps provided opportunities to study subjects like physics and AI, so they weren’t wasted. But writing kept calling to me.

In 2022, when I decided I wanted to try to take another run at becoming a novelist, I gathered up as much humility as I could muster and admitted that I was clearly lacking some knowledge or skill that successful writers had. In a stroke of fate I’ll always remember, I found Jessica Brody and her Writing Mastery Academy. Being in a structured program provided the context that helped me adopt a beginner’s mind. Before, I had thought I knew enough, from reading books about writing and participating in writer’s critique groups. But clearly I didn’t know enough. WMA provided exactly the information I needed, taught in engaging and relatable way, primarily by Brody herself. The most important addition to my repertoire was the “beat sheet”, a story structure consisting of fifteen “beats” (think musical beats). This additional granularity beyond something like the classic three act structure provided just the scaffolding I needed to overcome my underwriting problem that kept making my novels peter out at half the length they should be. At first I worried that following a story template like this would make my writing feel formulaic, but this fear was unfounded due to the vague, non-specific characteristics of the beats. Designed for screenplays, the beat sheet method is great for producing engaging stories, and leaves more than enough room for creativity to shine. Brody also gave critical advice on how to write the first draft, which should be focused on completion, not perfection. “Invisible revisions” are an indispensable hack. When you decide you need to change something that came before, and you just pretend you already did it and write forward from there. This avoids endless cycles of revision where everything changes multiple times. As Brody says, “future you is the better reviser”, so you always write forward and assume future you will be able to make everything consistent.

Bitstreams of Hope was born from a single embryo sentence: “I want to write a non-dystopian story about how AI could be good for us.” The Notes document that sentence lives in is considerably longer than the novel itself, though it contains a bunch of copy-paste content and ChatGPT output. The brainstorming phase was many months long. At first, I was focused on the far future (The Bitstreams Thread Book 4 timeframe) and I completed multiple detailed beat sheets for a different story with the working title “New Gods”. Eventually, I decided I didn’t like that story and wanted to focus more on the near future and write about our transition to an AI-dominated society.

Once I was grounded in the near future transitional phase, things started to flow more smoothly. Still, stories change very dramatically in the early phases of novel brainstorming. Characters come and go, or get combined. The large scale plot points didn’t come together completely until the third or fourth draft of the novel. The word count grew with each draft, as the beat sheet helped me avoid premature transformation of my heroes. I’m confident my underwriting demons have been permanently slain by this technique. Feedback from beta readers and others made the book much more nuanced and realistic, compared to the naive “AI will magically save us” thoughts I had at first.

I keep learning more at Writing Mastery Academy and from other sources on the internet and YouTube. There will always be more to learn, and I expect my books will get better over time. But I’m pretty happy with Bitstreams of Hope, and I’m getting positive feedback from my editor and beta readers. In fact, I had a couple weeks of psychological paralysis when my editor’s first feedback let me finally accept that the book was good. The universe had finally called my bluff and said, “Okay, go ahead and do this thing you say you want to do.” Since I’m self-publishing, I know for certain the book will be released this year. Now I need to face the daunting possibility of success.

Writing a novel is a journey. Unlike readers, who experience a book as a fully formed, unchanging artifact, authors experience novels as writhing, morphing beasts that they finally wrestle into a domesticated enough state to publish, before walking away with the nagging feeling that there’s still much more they could do to enhance the story even further. But the next book always beckons, so we must finally declare our babies “good enough” and share them with the world. I can’t wait to see what happens.