Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Passion Projects.

Before I start this week's entry, I'd like to remind y'all that last week's was my query letter for STARWIND.  If you have a moment to take a look, I could always use a few extra eyes on it before I start sending it out and playing the "PLEASE LOVE ME!" game again.  Thanks.

So, I've been thinking.  (This is a process that never stops as long as I'm aware that I'm awake.)  I've been working on quite a few different things recently, as I'm in that wonderful stage of plot preparation where I try to figure out what works and what doesn't.  There are a lot of ups and downs in this part of the process, and a lot of sound and fury, if by 'sound' you mean the rapid-fire rattling of my keyboard as I try to type out ideas as fast as I can before I lose them and if by 'fury' you mean my rapid-onset dismay when things fall apart for one reason or another.

Through all of this, I've started to notice a pattern: the ideas that hit me the hardest, the ones that beg to be written, are rarely the ones that pan out.

I've gone through a few different iterations of something I thought was going to be deep and dark and amazing, one of the most personal stories I've ever told.  After so many strong emotions invested in the creation of the characters and setting, I have no idea what to do with it and have set it aside several times already.  Hell, I even spun something else off of it, thinking it was going to be new iteration and realizing it was a completely separate project, and that one's in a state of "I have notes and a plot outline, and no longer want to work on it."  Something about this strikes me as off - if it's a story I'm so passionate about, shouldn't I be driven as all hell to tell it?

And then there's the flipside, a little book I've mentioned here a time or two: STARWIND.  This was not a passion project.  I wanted to tell a "crew on a ship" sort of story, I liked the idea of traveling between all kinds of worlds, so I put together a bunch of things I thought would be cool and figured out how to make a story out of them.  Not only has that turned out to be one of the best things I've written in a long time, I have a full draft of the plot for the sequel, and it worked out better than I thought it would.

This is the part where I stare at my monitor with my hands clenched in writerly fury, and shout/whine "Whyyyyyyy. . . .", and never get an answer.  -_-  I know some people say not to question the process, but no, I'm going to question the hell out of this.

It's possible that I'm having trouble with passion projects because I get too emotionally invested in them.  Thinking about how amazing something's going to be when it's a scattered collection of images in my head seems like a really good way to make myself choke when it's time to turn those images into a story.  Whereas the other stories come to me as more of a "what if" or "how would that work" sort of thing - more wondering than realization.  The emotional investment comes from working on the story and figuring it out, rather than from getting smacked upside the head with a supposedly brilliant idea.

I don't know if this is something I can change, but it is something I can watch out for.  I can try to develop the sudden ideas more slowly, and not put so much mental weight on them.  With this, I can try to understand that if there really is a good story there, I'll figure it out as I work on it.  And I can try to hold onto the stories I want to tell the most, rather than just the ones I could work out.

Does anyone else have this problem?  If not, have you seen any pattern in what you can make work for you and what you can't?  Either way, how do you deal with it?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Query Check, STARWIND Version

...it's that time again. >_<  Much as I'd love to say otherwise, the query check is nothing new to this blog.  But I know I need feedback to get even a little bit closer to a query that actually works, so here I am again, with my current query letter for STARWIND.  I'd appreciate any advice y'all can give me.

Thank you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWSG: People Need Your Stories

I've been trying to make this post for two months, and it took the turn of the new year for me to feel like I could.

I think we all know what happened here in the US about two months ago - a racist, sexist failed businessman rode into the highest office in the land on a wave of hate and fear and ignorance.  But I'm not here to talk about him.  I'm here to talk about all the people who aren't like him, all the people who his campaign made out to be lesser, and why what we writers do is important to people like them.

Because if I've learned anything since the election, it's that these people need your stories.

Growing up, most of the stories I read were about me and people like me.  I'm a straight cis white man, and I know it's a lot harder to find stories that don't star someone like that than ones that do.  It was different when it came to my writing, though.  I've always liked writing women more than men; every single book I've written has a female POV character, and in many of them, there are only female POV characters.  Also, I've been writing characters who aren't straight since high school, partly because standard boy/girl relationship stuff bores me and partly because I'm really bad at writing people as attracted to men.

I never thought there was anything unusual about any of this, though, or that it would make much of a difference.  Then I started reading about how rarely people who weren't like me saw themselves as heroes in whatever they were reading, or watching, or what-have-you.  I read about the damage it does to see those they identify with turned into villains or killed off; tropes like Black Dude Dies First and Bury Your Gays can hurt in ways that don't occur to people who don't see themselves in those characters.  And yet, I've seen countless examples of how much these people love it when those narratives change - when they get to see themselves as the leads, the heroes, the ones who get to win.  There are countless examples of this, but here's one I just found yesterday.

It makes them so happy.  And I want to be the kind of writer who does that for them.

If the election has done anything for me (more stress and more white hairs aside), it's inspired me to keep going, to try harder to get published and get my stories where the people who need them can see them.  I can't change the world on my own.  But if I can make things a little bit better for the people who now need it more than ever, I'll feel like all the effort is worth it.

I encourage all of you to do the same, in whatever way you can.  Art always has the power to change the world, but at the worst of times, it can be what one person needs to change their life.

It's a new year.  There's a lot we can do.  Let's get to work.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why the Year didn't Completely Suck (for Me)

I haven't seen a single person talk about 2016 being a good year.

It seems like the past twelve months have been a long-running parade of awful for much of the world, and I don't remember the last time I saw so many people talk about how glad they were for this year to be over.  It hasn't been an easy year for me.  Confronting and dealing with my depression was necessary but has never been something I've enjoyed, and the anxiety issues that come with it make life more difficult.  A lot of this year's writing has been rough for me as well - I went through a period where I genuinely lost faith in my own work, and I've spent more time than I want to admit wishing I could quit.

Not that I could quit, not really.  I'd declare it and then I'd be back here in less than a month, talking about how wrong I was and hopefully enduring some good-natured but well-deserved mockery.  :P

This has also been a year of trying things that didn't work.  Part of my frustration came from trying to plot things and having them fall apart, even more than usual.  I'm still struggling with something I so very much want to write, but I can't figure out what's wrong with the world I've established that doesn't suit the story and it's driving me batty.

But something good did happen this year: I wrote STARWIND.  This was my third try at writing an interplanar adventure story; my previous attempts were varied and mediocre, though one involved someone wielding Mj√∂lnir and that was fun and I'd like to do it again someday.  I plotted STARWIND back in 2014 and sat on it for nearly two years because I couldn't figure out why it didn't quite work.  It took me until late 2015 to figure out that the main characters' genders were wrong, and even then, I didn't think I was ready to write it until April of this year.

I enjoyed the hell out of writing this book, and response to it has been more positive than I could have possibly imagined.  So many people I've told about it say it sounds interesting, even if it's not their usual genre.  The feedback from my beta-readers has been both encouraging and tremendously helpful.  And of course, there was the thing on the writing cruise where I got to give my pitch to an actual agent and he generally liked it.

So I'm ending the year with a book that's nearly ready for querying, a book I'm feeling really damn good about, despite how hard I thought it would be to find an audience for this book.  It seems like I was seriously wrong about that - judging by peoples' reactions, the best way to find an audience for STARWIND is just to tell people about it.  Bizarre.

My other plotting work hasn't all been frustration, either.  Earlier today, I dug up a plot I worked on before writing STARWIND, something I hadn't looked at since April.  And you know what?  It's good.  Really good.  I'm glad I remember working on it, else I'd think it wasn't mine.  :P  Plotting STARWIND's sequel is also going well, and it's good to feel confident enough about the book to think I'm going to need to have a sequel plotted.

It's a good thing, I think, to look beyond such a bad year with some hope for the future.  I'm not looking forward to querying (or writing the query letter and synopsis, which I still need to do), but I am looking forward to seeing how it goes, as it doesn't seem like this book is going to be as hard a sell as I thought.  And if I can go into that with hope, that's half the battle right there.

So that's how I'm choosing to go into 2017: with enough hope to keep going, and enough behind that hope to not feel like it's foolish.  I hope you all can do the same, if not better.

Next week: IWSG.  Hopefully I'll actually be able to do the entry I've been meaning to for the past two months.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Late-December Link Listing

I'm having another one of those "you're not getting an actual blog entry out of me" days.  Nothing too bad, just lots of work stress and me feeling glum about damn near everything.  -_-

So I thought I'd try to do something helpful.  The following is a short list of writing resources that I've found to be useful in one way or another.

Writing Excuses: yes, it's the podcast that did the writing workshop/cruise I went on earlier this year.  Yes, I'm linking to it again, because it's both full of good advice and constantly entertaining.  Plus, the fact that each episode is only 15-20 minutes long means you can either listen to it when you've just got a few minutes or binge on it when you have plenty of time.  I still have half a year's worth of episodes that I need to listen to, some of which I was present for, so... yeah.  Binging for me.

The 2016 Sanderson Lectures: I know I talk about Brandon Sanderson's work a lot here, and it's for good reason.  He's not only really damn good, but tremendously successful, so listening to him share his knowledge about writing seems like a very good idea.  I haven't made the time to listen to these myself, but I plan to change that during my upcoming vacation, since I aim to do a lot of writing work anyway.

Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit: the start of a simple but well-done series of story structure mini-lessons.  Coming up with a bunch of cool stuff but being unable to turn it into an actual story is still an issue for me, so I go back to these every once in a while to attempt to put things into a working order.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but there's something to be said for basic guidelines.

Manuscript Wish List: for when you're done with the actual story and want to find someone who loves it as much as you do, here's a boatload of agents saying what they're looking for.  I noted down one agent here for STARWIND because they specifically said they wanted something like Guardians of the Galaxy.  So the site is definitely worth searching, whether it works for me or not.

How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis: something I'll be making use of soon.  I hate the idea of trying to condense an entire book into a single page.  But this?  This is a brilliant guide that not only makes it look easy but uses an example that most (if not all) of my readers will know, thus making it clear just how the whole thing is supposed to work.  I was incredibly happy to find this and I hope it helps someone.

Next week: 2016 in review.  ...just for me personally in regards to writing, not the year in general, because damn, that would be depressing.  O_o

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Getting Personal, Part 2

It's been nearly two years since I last used this blog to talk just about myself.  It is somewhat comforting to look back on that and see how well everything worked out with the move to the Seattle area.  However, after last week's entry, I felt there was something I needed to address.  To put it simply:

Hello, my name is Mason, and I have major depressive disorder.

I've mentioned being in therapy a time or two before; this is why.  This is something I've been dealing with all my life, though it's only been over the past decade or so my depressive episodes happened frequently enough for me to realize what they were, and only over the past year have they reached a point where they can be called cyclical.  I started seeing a therapist in May, and that's been very, very helpful.

Learning how to battle my depression has also led to anxiety, which my therapist says can be a sort of side-effect because not having to fight depression so much means I have the energy to be anxious, but really, what can you do.

Depression, for me, usually manifests as feeling absolutely worthless.  I feel that nothing I do matters, I feel unworthy of love or attention or even being noticed, and I am fully convinced that I amount to nothing and will continue to do so.  I do not speak unless it's necessary; I've gone days without saying a word to anyone, despite continuing to go to work and otherwise pretending to be a functional human being.  Sometimes there's anger to go along with it, wanting to lash out at the world but feeling like nothing I do will matter and hating myself for not being able to make a change.

Part of the problem is that, as a writer, I've become very good at believing what comes out of my own head.  So it's hard for me to fight it when there's that automatic response to everything I think that tells me how worthless I am.  This is why saying "depression lies" doesn't work for me; I've also heard that so often it doesn't mean anything anymore.

As some of you might have noticed, these are the times when I make the blog posts that read like an Eeyore monologue.  When I told my dad I had depression and was seeing a therapist, he said he'd wondered if that was the case after reading some of my entries.  How my depression works with my writing, though, is interesting.

I get depressed when what I'm working on isn't working, yes; that's easily one of my main triggers.  But nothing conquers depression for me better than working on something.  For the month I wrote STARWIND's first draft, I didn't have a single down day.  When I have a good plotting day, or get in some good editing time, I feel calm and at ease again.  My therapist says that doing something - anything, really - is often the best way to counter depression.  I know a lot of writers say their work is the only thing that keeps them sane, but most of the time, my work's the only thing that keeps my mind where it needs to be.

Things have been going well lately, I'm glad to say; mostly editing for my next round of beta-readers and preparing sequel/series notes.  I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to querying again, but I am about ready to give it another go.  Soon.

Thanks for listening.  See you next week.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

IWSG: The Other Shoe

This isn't the post I'd planned to make.  But I don't have it in me right now to be hopeful or encouraging.

STARWIND has easily received the most positive feedback out of any book I've written.  My beta-readers have been encouraging and helpful.  I'd love to embrace this, but I can't bring myself to.

Because I have absolutely zero doubt that once I start querying this thing, I'll be right back where I've been with every single other book I've tried to get published.  The rejections, and the silence, will hurt all the more for having so damn much buildup to let me think this book could be it.

What's really messed-up is that it'd be easier if people didn't like it so much.  If I could feel like I was going to prove something by getting this book published.  That might give me something to build on, instead of just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Odds are good by June of next year I'll be wondering why I even bothered.

I wonder that a lot these days.