Tag Archives: writing

Sometimes you have to go forward, to go backwards, to go forwards

So I’ve got an idea for a book.

Okay, I’ve got oodles of ideas for books… for those of you who have writer friends and you want to tell them an idea you had that they could write about?  They’ve got plenty of ideas.  Ideas are the easy part.  But we’ll set that aside for now.

So, the problem I have with the idea that I want to write about right now is that it isn’t a FULL idea.  I don’t have all of the pieces.  I have an idea that I think will work well to hook the audience in, and which will force me to be more creative in the way I address certain things.  I have ideas for characters that I like.  They’re complicated, three dimensional (well, most of them) and well flawed.

The story itself I’m still working on, but that isn’t the hard part…

The hard part is the world building.

Please… don’t give me any advice, I’ve built worlds before.  Plenty of them.  I know tricks and tropes and techniques and… and… stuff.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is that I’ve got a fairly vast world, to which I have made a number of deep changes.  The way time is measured is somewhat different than what we’re used to. The kinds of currency that are used is different.  Certain expressions are very different.

All of which would be fine if I were writing this more traditionally, but I’m doing something a little bit different with perspective I’m writing this from.  In order to introduce the narrator correctly, I sort of have to ask the reader to take a couple of leaps of faith with me.

But you can only ask for so many leaps of faith.  You have to give the reader a place to start, a foundation from which to understand the story.

In the end I realized that the only way I could figure out where to begin, was to start in the wrong spot, go as far as I could go, then look back and figure out where I should have started instead.

It’s kind of frustrating.  I’m going to write three or four chapters that will all be thrown out just as soon as I figure out what I need to figure out here.  But it’s exciting too.  I can really go for it, I don’t have to worry about making everything comprehensible, or getting the terms just right.  I just have to pick up the bat and swing for the fences.

Go forward, so I can go backwards, so I can go forwards.  Maybe I’m biting off more than I’m ready to chew, with this project.  Maybe if I waited a couple of years and tried again it would flow perfectly and easily.

Then again, you never make progress if you only do what’s easy.  The more you struggle with a project, the more you have to wrestle all the details into place, the more you learn and the better you are when you start something new.  Right?

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Training your muse

One of the interesting bits of trying to become a professional writer seems to be figuring out how to train my muse.

I remember, when I was much younger, back when I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but had my entire lifetime to figure out what that actually meant, I would go days, weeks, sometimes even months, without getting any real writing done.  Sometimes I tried to force myself because I knew how much pleasure it gave me to sit down and watch the words roll out onto the page, but if the muse wasn’t whispering into my ear, nothing happened.

At a certain point, however, I realized that if I wanted to write professionally, I needed to be able write regularly as well.  Figuring out how to pull that off was a long, hard process.  And I mean long and hard.  Like that was of my major focuses for over a decade.

It can be done, as it turns out, you can teach yourself to write every day, although I have to admit that there are some days when I have to carve the words onto the page with a poorly balanced chisel and a two ton mallet, and other days when I seem to be able to splash chapters into place without breaking a sweat.

But as I try to make this transition, from amateur to pro, I find myself butting heads with the muse over something else altogether.

Content.

When I was a kid I had a bitch of a time actually finishing a story.  Oh, I had ideas.  I had oodles and oodles of idea.  I had ideas about aliens and machines and magicians and spaceships and other dimensions and superheroes and… well, for the sake of brevity I suppose we can stop there.

I had ideas a-plenty, so when I sat down in front of the computer, and when the muse was willing to lend me her time, I just let her pick the topic.  And off we would go!  A whirlwind adventure describing some alien planet or the strange laws that would exist a hundred years in the future.  Eventually I would find myself in front of a wall that I couldn’t see an easy way around, so I’d save the document and start a new one.  Round and round and round we went.  There were times, growing up, when I had a hundred plus stories started, and not one of them finished.  And that was fine, because what was I going to do with them if I finished them anyways?

Now, unfortunately, I have people who are waiting for things.

Ideally, it won’t be long until those people are my adoring public.  Or maybe my friendly public.  Or mildly interested public. But for now, it’s my beta readers, editors, an the people who want to work on projects with me.

Unfortunately my muse is loathe to give up her ability to channel surf in my brain.  Yes, I need to get a copy of book two to my editor, yes I have a friend in hawaii who wants to see the first couple pages of that project we’ve been talking about.  Yes, I have a lot on my plate.  But she just had an idea for that superhero story we’d been playing around with a few years back.  Let’s focus on THAT!

Well, what’s a boy to do, except lock the door, drink a bunch of caffeine, and start trying to train his muse all over again.  Stupid muse.  God I love her.

Character Building

So, one of my favorite parts of being a writer is creating characters.  When I was younger, pretty much all the characters I wrote were based on me.  I’ve tried to get away from that more as my writing matured, but if I’m honest about it, I put more than a little bit of myself into most of the people I write.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.  The thing that’s on my mind is how one goes about building a character.

Specifically, I’m interested in what goes into the core of a character.  One of the things that fascinates me when I get into conversations with real people, is how they identify themselves.  What it is about themselves that they consider to be something that they do, and what it is about themselves that they consider to be who they are.  One of my favorite examples is sexuality.  I’ve had friends who were straight, gay, bi… I don’t think I ever had a friend who was pansexual, but, frankly, I haven’t had deep discussions on sexuality with everyone I’ve ever been friends with, so who knows.

But the thing that I cannot wrap my mind around is why we consider sexuality to be so closely linked to who we are.  And there are many instances where a persons declared sexuality is not entirely in line with their behavior.  There are women who have had sex with more women than I have who consider themselves to be straight.  There are men who have had sex with more women than I have who consider themselves to be gay.  Now, that is partly because I haven’t had sex with a lot of women, but it also has a lot to do with this thing that has embedded itself in us that tells us that sexuality is related to identity, not behavior.

I heard once, from someone who used to perform surveys about sexual behavior, that they are very precise on their terminology when they make those things.  They don’t refer to someone as gay, but as a ‘man who has sex with men.’  They have to, because they’re trying to deal with the medical realities associated with sexual behavior, but people will answer the question based on their perception of who they are.

I wonder what the world would be like if we looked at more things that way.  If the genres I read were part of ‘who’ I considered myself to be.

Me?  I’m scifi/fantasy.  I mean, sure, I experimented with mysteries when I was younger, and once I had this thing with, well, it’s embarrassing to admit it now, but I followed this non-fiction writer for a while.  I know, I know, it was crazy.  What’s the dirtiest thing I’ve ever done?  Oh, wow, uh, that’s a bit personal, but…I used to go into the library, only in the middle of the week when most people were in classes, and I’d wait until I knew nobody else was on the floor with me and… I’d read military thrillers.  Oh god!  don’t look at me like that!  I was in college, you’re supposed to try weird stuff in college!

It isn’t an exact parallel, obviously, but that’s the thing about sexuality, nothing is an exact parallel.  Finding analogies and different ways of looking at these things is part of what it means to be a writer, I think.

An introduction

I guess I have to start somewhere with this, and the place that makes the most sense, I think is with me.

Please allow me to introduce myself.  I’m a man without wealth or taste.  I hope some day to have wealth, but as for taste, I could do without it, I think.

The most important thing that I can tell you about myself is that I am mentally ill.  Specifically, I’ve got depression and anxiety.  I strongly suspect that there’s more to it than just that, but those are the ones I’ve been diagnosed with.  Well, sort of.  Diagnoses related to mental problems are a bit different than diagnoses related to physical problems.  Basically I just told a shrink that I spend a lot of time depressed for no discernible reason, but I don’t have any periods where I partake in excessive risks or think I’m immortal and she goes ‘yeah, that’s depression.’  I don’t know exactly what I expected, to have to pee on a stick or get some blood drawn or something.  Honestly, I think it’s the word ‘diagnosed’ that through me off.  I spent years thinking ‘hey, I’m anxious a lot.  maybe I have an anxiety disorder?  But I shouldn’t say that for sure until I’ve talked to a doctor.’  Then when I do they just go, ‘oh, yeah, anxiety for no reason?  Okay, I can give you something for that.’

Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent.  Just something that always felt weird to me.

Anyhow, I’m currently medicated for the depression, and sort of medicated for the anxiety, which has helped me more than I can express.  I mean, it has literally been years since I’ve laid in bed, crying, praying that I’d die before I woke up.  That sucked.

The funny thing, looking back, was the little voice in the back of my head doubting everything for me.  I remember, very specifically, thinking ‘this is it, it can’t get worse than this, I have to see a shrink and get something to help me deal with this.’  And then this little voice in my head goes, ‘but what if there’s nothing wrong with you.  What if this is how everybody feels, and you’re just such a giant pussy that you can’t deal with it like everyone else does.’

I don’t know if there’s a name for that little voice, but there should be.  And he should get his ass kicked.

Well, that was another tangent.  Let’s see, what was it I wanted to talk about?  Oh, right.  So, one of the interesting patterns I’ve seen is that a lot of people with mental illnesses end up working in the arts in one form or another.  A lot of painters, a lot of authors, a lot of sculptors, when you look into them, they were pretty screwed up.  They would maim themselves, kill themselves, go bat-crap crazy.  I’ve felt for a long time that the reason for this is because those of us with mental illnesses find the standard means of communication to be insufficient to encompass what we feel.  People use words like happy and sad, frustrating and invigorating, and we know what those words mean, so when we feel something that seems to press beyond the stifling borders which normal speech allows, we feel that we need to find some way of expressing it.  I remember somebody asking me once what I thought the job of a writer was, and I said, after much consideration, that I thought our job was to help readers experience the full range of human emotion.  Because so many of us don’t experience it.

Perhaps we need to create bizarre scenarios to allow those feelings out, but in the end, I believe that what all of us are trying to do is connect with others, to communicate those things that standard words and pictures don’t seem to quite accomplish.  So we have to reexamine language.  Sometimes that means making up new words, sometimes it means building an entire universe.

That’s what’s on my mind at the moment.  Hope somebody got something out of this.

Absurdly fast!

Things are happening now faster than I ever would have expected!  Usually when someone I know gets a writing contract, things afterwards proceed at a snail’s pace.  The editor looks over their work, makes some suggestions, sends it back to them.  They do a round of edits, send it back to the publisher.  I’m given to understand that this is often repeated over the course of months.  Then there is the cover art and the dedication, this and that and the other.

I’ve been told that between the time that a book is accepted and put out, it’s not uncommon for a year to pass.

I signed my contract about three months ago, and my manuscript will be a book within a few days.

How crazy is that?

To answer my own question, not half as crazy as I am.  As soon as I received the final FINAL draft of the book, I started questioning everything.  Is the book really ready?  Did I correct all of the mistakes?  Did I set up everything I needed to for the future books?

And, of course, most important of all:  Will anyone read this?

I mean, obviously somebody will.  I have friends who owe me favors.  I have relatives.  They have to read it.  They also have to love it, no matter what.  But will anyone else?

Here we go again

This is not the first time I’ve started a blog.  This is not the second time I’ve started a blog.  I would go on, but it may or may not be the third time I’ve started a blog and I don’t want to be inaccurate.  The point I’m getting at is that these things are ubiquitous.  They are everywhere you look.  You can find blogs by models and blogs by athletes, blogs by celebrities and blogs by politicians.  High schoolers have blogs about the video games they play, and bands have blogs about their music.

Everyone is talking as loud as they can, which raises the question: who is listening anymore?  I signed up for twitter a while back, and in very short order I found myself inundated by announcements from writers who were publishing their first book, and businesses who would love to help me reach my audience, for a low fee.

Not once did I find a post by someone looking for something new to read.  Not once did I get a message from somebody who wanted to hear my opinion.  Now, in fairness, I didn’t exactly ask for any opinions myself.  I’m not judging the people who were on there.  But I can’t help how much of a point there is to all of this.

I am a writer.  I have a book that will be coming out soon.  I hope people will read it.  My publisher has informed me that one of the things I need to do is set up a webpage and create a blog.  I need to connect to my audience.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I need to allow my audience the chance to connect with me.  If they want to.  But I can’t help wonder if this is really the way to do it.

Everyone does it, of course, but that’s the problem.  Everyone does it.  I’m sure that there was a time, not that long ago, when a writer setting up a blog was a new and novel thing.  I’m sure that there was a time when readers who went searching online and found something like this were impressed and interested.  What I’m not sure of is that there’s any real reason for it anymore.  Is there really a chance that somebody who comes online looking to know more about an author will find what they’re looking for in one of these?  Or is this something that we simply do because everybody else does it and we don’t want to be missing one of the ‘magic ingredients’ for success?

Sometimes I wonder.