Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Brief Hiatus.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and after last week's entry, I decided it was time: I'm going to take a quasi-break from writing for the rest of May, and I will not be updating my blog during that time.

The lack of blog updates is the less obvious one, so I'll address that first.  I've been updating this thing regularly(-ish) for five years.  Lately, I've started to feel like I'm just repeating myself - most of my recent entries are variants on "I'm having this issue", "I learned something", and "everything is horrible", with occasional forays into "things are actually going well" and "I liked this book".  This will only get worse if I'm on a break.

So, this will be my last blog update until June 7th, for the next IWSG.

As for taking a break, I know people have been advising me to do that since at least March.  I've resisted it because I didn't think it would make any difference.  The last time I took a break, when I came back from it, it didn't seem that anything had changed.  Like I said in that entry, I'm a miserable fuck without writing, but I'm a miserable fuck with it, so really, what's the difference?  But I'd rather not be miserable, so I sat down and spent some time thinking about taking a break, to see if it was really something I should do.

Then it hit me: I have not come up with anything that works for more than an entire year.

Having ideas crash and burn is nothing new for me.  That's been happening since pretty much forever.  But spending an entire year fumbling at plots, at throwing every idea I've had against the wall and not making any of them stick?  That's new.  And that's not good, to say the absolute least.

In short, I'm utterly and completely burned out on the one thing in life that truly makes me happy.

So I need to take some time to figure out what's gone so wrong for me and see if I can either get back to where I used to be or move on to something better than where I am now.  I don't mean for this to be a complete break; I'll still write down things as they come to me and hopefully that will go well.  But I'll do my best to not put pressure on myself to get work done.  I definitely won't open my word processor and stare at the blank page for a good half-hour, hating myself the entire time.  I'll write what I want when I want to, and hopefully it'll work out, though I'll settle for it just not being bad.

That's where I am right now.  Writing this has been depressing as all hell, since I think the odds are good this won't matter much in the end.  But I've been wrong before.  I'll see how this one goes.

See y'all in about a month.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

IWSG: I Don't Know What I'm Doing.

Yes, yes, I know the joke.  None of us actually know what we're doing.  But with everything that I haven't been able to make happen for myself and all that hasn't been working, I'm starting to feel like if there's a way to know less than nothing about all of this, that's where I am.

I'd say something about what started me feeling like this or how I got here, but really, this me in the same place I've been for the entire past year, ever since I finished STARWIND.  Everything I try to work on still falls apart.  Every single time I try to develop something from an idea into an actual story, I still can't figure out how it's supposed to go, or I lose interest in it after a few pages' worth of development, or something else happens.  The thing I'm working on now, I sit down and work on it for maybe ten to fifteen minutes, enough to hash out a page or two of character stuff, before it all seems pointless.  In the past year, the only plot I've managed to finish and get into workable condition is the sequel to STARWIND, which doesn't matter because odds are good I'll never have reason to write it.

It's gotten to the point that I'm not even writing things down anymore.  For all the times I've talked about how I write down all my ideas, in case I can use them someday, I haven't bothered with that recently.  Because it feels like it doesn't matter.  Because it feels like no matter what I do, everything's going to turn out the same.  It'll either be a few lines in my idea file that never develops beyond that, or something that crashes and burns or just goes *pfft* at some point when I attempt actual development.  So really, what's the point.

And to make this all worse (because of course it can get worse) I don't know how to do things any differently.  I've tried to write stories without knowing how they go from the start, and that only leads to me writing shit.  I don't want to do short fiction because I don't like it and I already wasted years trying to make it work for me, to no avail.  So here I am with the one damn thing I want out of life and I don't know how to make it work.

As per fucking usual.  I'd think I'd be used to this by now.  Not that being used to it would change anything, or make it any easier.

To make things yet still worse, this is all on me.  Nobody is keeping me from figuring my stories out.  Nobody is making me lose interest in something that once fascinated me.  Simply put, I am the problem, and I am the reason it's not working out.

And I don't know how to fix me.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Don't Have to Save the World.

I tend to think big in my writing.  A glance at last week's entry can confirm that - my first genuine attempt at a novel resulted in nearly 302,000 words of what can charitably be called epic fantasy.  I like to create stories in worlds that have real history, tales that go to interesting places and have big things happening and end with something major going on.

But it's easy to go too far.

Looking back at last week's list, I can count which books revolved around saving the entire world.  Hell, book #7 happened because the world had been destroyed, and the entire story was about the gods' failsafe making her way to where she needed to be (which meant traveling through the internal layers of a moon until she reached the surface; long story) so she could put the world back together.  And it was only after I finished it that I realized, holy shit, how am I supposed to follow that?

Part of my problem with this comes up in world-building.  I tend to make worlds where seriously bad things have happened in the past, so having those things rear their collective ugly heads makes for a good story.  In theory.  It leads to the problem of facing down a major threat again and, of course, saving the world.

It's an exciting thing, to be sure.  But it's also limiting.  When the world's at stake, there's only so much room for personal issues, so it's easy for characterization and development to get swept aside.  There's also the need to show why it's a world worth saving.  I mean, if the reader decides that the world would be better off burnt to a cinder or erupting into tentacles, it'll be hard to get them to cheer for your characters.  And as I said above, there's always the question of what to do next, for the inevitable sequel.  :P

I'm not sure when I realized this was an issue, but it's something I still deal with when I'm in the plotting phase.  My ideas tend to start with a character doing a thing, so I've had to learn to focus on who the person is and why that leads to them doing that thing, instead of immediately jumping to what the thing is and why it needs to be done.  Because what's more interesting - the reasons behind a character dropping a bomb on a city, or why this character is riding on the bomb as it falls?

(Yes, that's what I'm working on now, and yes, I know the answer.  It's the result of a decision that's going to piss off a lot of people.)

It is comforting to know that I'm getting better about this.  For all the times I tried to make an interplanar story work, it wasn't until I got the first ideas for STARWIND and came up with the race that it actually came together.  And for all the tales I've told about Shiloh and Alexi, the better ones have come from their personal issues, not the world's problems.  So for all the plotting problems I've been having lately, it feels good to say I've largely fixed one of my issues.

Until I get another idea, and I have to make sure not to do this all over again.  >_<

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Word Count

I'm probably going to regret this, but I don't know how it will end.

There are a bunch of different quotes and variants on sayings about how writers need to write a million words before they're any good.  I don't think this is any sort of absolute; there are some writers who seem to have picked it up easily and have good work even from their early days, and some whom I think might need a few million more under their belts.  But for all that I talk about how much I've written and now long I've been at this, I've never actually figured out what my total novel word count is.

Hence the "I'm probably going to regret this."  But I'm short on blog ideas for this week, so why not see where this goes?

So.  Here are the final word counts on the last versions of these books, as well as the last date I worked on them.  Let's see. . . .

1: The Blessed.  June 29, 2001.  301,998 words.  (holy shit)
2: Of Rune and Shadow.  May 5, 2004.  149,163 words.
3: The Captured Gods.  October 18, 2006.  177,621 words.
4. Shattering the Firmament.  January 8, 2010.  201,958 words.
5: The Winds of Limbo, v1.  May 31, 2010.  183,249 words.
6: The Winds of Limbo, v2.  October 10, 2010.  187,550 words.
7: Skyborne.  April 19, 2012.  133,219 words.
8: AMU.  August 21, 2012.  103,761 words.
9: The Winds of Limbo, v3.  January 31, 2013.  100,227 words.
10: Untitled interplanar book .  May 11, 2014.  70,990 words.  (Vague precursor to Starwind, hated upon completion.)
11: The Accidental Warlock.  August 16, 2014.  95,693 words.  (Written in 2013, tried to get published for about a year, trunked.)
12: TGM Untitled.  November 2, 2014.  94,312 words.
13: The crazy dream book.  June 24, 2015.  68,631 words.  (Written after BOLR, but dismissed after first draft for not being weird enough.)
14: The Book of Lost Runes.  November 17, 2015.  83,981 words.
15: Starwind.  April 12, 2017 (most recent draft).  109,975 words.

Word count total: 2,062,328 words.

And that's only counting what I could call finished!  Looking through my old files, I see more than a few drafts, reworkings, files full of cut text, so on and so forth.  To say nothing of books I started and dropped after who knows how long.  I've done at least another 100K in things that aren't showing up on this list.  This also shows me patterns - the time between my third and fourth books I largely spent trying to write short stories and hating every page of it.  The idea for the fourth book came to me as a sudden flash of inspiration on the drive home from work, and I knew it was time to start writing novels again.  And the second two TWOL books are also based on interplanar stuff, an idea I clearly couldn't figure out for quite some time.

Well, this has been sobering.  Now I know what I've been doing with my life for the past sixteen years, eh?  Not much else to say, except that I hope I've gotten better after all this time.

Next week: you don't always have to save the world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Stripped.

Music for today's entry is brought to you by Depeche Mode.

I've talked a lot about having many different versions of an idea, all of which hit some sort of wall and stopped working.  Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've started at least one previous blog entry talking about this very thing.

I'd pride myself on my consistency, but y'know, this is something I'd really like to stop.

When I reach a point when something stops working and set it aside, I'll often come back to the same planning document, salvage what I can, and shove all the broken parts to the bottom with the label 'deleted'.  Which, as you might have noticed, means I don't actually delete that stuff.  In theory, I keep it around so I don't lose any good ideas.

But in practice, those things become a giant weight on the planning process, a reminder of everything I tried that didn't work.  I have planning documents where there's more text in the 'deleted' section than anywhere else, because I changed so much as I tried to figure it all out.  And it's far too easy to scroll into that section and remember how much time I've spent chasing a story and not finding it.

As I'm sure you can imagine, this is incredibly discouraging and doesn't help me get anything done.  And a major side effect is a loss of interest in the project.  It's hard to find what got me excited about the idea when that's buried under pages and pages of things I built up around it only to watch them come crashing down.

So, I decided to try something new when one of my projects started getting tangled up in its own previous incarnations.  I stripped the whole thing down to its basic concept, to the idea that made me want to write it in the first place, and started working up again from there.  It's not so much "forget everything you think you know" but more "you told me to go back to the beginning".

Fact: any writing advice you can sum up with a quote from "The Princess Bride" is bound to be helpful.

Better than that, though, is that it's actually working.  For one story, I realized a few weeks ago that I was telling it backwards (long story), but I had to strip it down to its basic idea (Robert E. Howard's "Tangled") and go from there for the new order to work.  For another, I determined that the best way to get a crazy magic-user to the final conflict I saw for her was to make her much more of an anti-authority anti-hero from the start, and reworking things with her has been incredibly fun so far.  Both stories are turning out a lot darker than I thought, and I'm eager to see where they go.

The most important part, though, is that I get to keep working on stuff I worried was either dead or heading that way.  I feel like I've lost so much over the years.  I have three plots-in-progress to work on now, and I'm still feeling a lot of things out, but it's great to have a new start.

Here's hoping I don't end up referencing this post in another few months talking about how nothing ever works.  :P

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

IWSG: The Confidence Rollercoaster

"The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen."
--Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Two weeks ago, my therapist started off our weekly session as she always does, by asking me how I'm doing.  I said, "Mercurial," and she gave me a funny look and said I'd responded like that before.

For the record, funny looks from my therapist are nothing new.  But still.  It's started to hit me recently, with everything that's going on in my life and with my work, that this incredible back-and-forth in how I'm feeling about my writing might actually be the natural state for a writer.  Sometimes I can handle everything I need to, and when the work isn't going well, I can step away and figure it out later.  Sometimes a single thing doesn't work and it ruins me for the night, and I hate myself and everything I've ever done and hiding inside an enormous book fort for the rest of my life sounds like a great idea.

Looking back, I don't know if there's ever been a time when I wasn't all kinds of back-and-forth about how good of a writer I was, or if I was... going to....

Wait.  I just realized.  There was a time when I was always confident in my writing, certain that everyone would love my work and I'd get published right away and my first epic fantasy trilogy would be on every bestseller list ever.  It was when I was writing my first three books.  And you know what?  Every single one of those books was bad.

It took those three tries to make me realize this was going to be harder than I thought.  And as appropriate for IWSG, I've been insecure and questioning about this whole thing ever since.  Spending way too long trying to write short stories only made it worse, as I did well with those maybe once.  Going back to novels only made the rollercoaster's ups and downs more dramatic, as it was (and still is) a lot of investing in one big story with no way to know if it's going to work out or not.

All of my books so far have been in the "or not" category, which is what leads me to posts like last month's IWSG, where I talked about quitting it all.  It's easy to think the ups and downs aren't worth it.  But this is the way this particular ride goes, and I'm still on it.
And if it leads to a writer whose work I enjoy and whom I personally respect using me as an example of how you win?  I must be doing something right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not That Post.

I mentioned last entry that I'd be making a post about editing in an enormous character change.  This is not that post.  Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of talking about STARWIND; I feel like I'm the only one who cares to hear about it at length and I'd rather not babble on about it for yet another entry.  I'm nearly done with the major edits, so soon I'll get it to the Version 2 beta readers and we'll see how that goes.

It does, however, leave me without a topic for this week.

So since I know rejection is something we all have in common, I'll leave y'all with a video Rena linked in the comments to my existential crisis earlier this month.  Hope you like it.



Next week: April's IWSG, which hopefully won't just be a continuation of this month's entry.  That's an entire eight days away, who knows what could happen.