Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Person, not the Thing

It's time for yet another episode of "things I should have realized a long time ago."  :P

A while back, I talked about how many of my ideas start from a single point: a person doing a thing.  I'm not sure which entry that was in - I've talked a lot about how I try to get things to work because most of what I've done for the past two years is trying to get things to work.  Trust me, it's out there.  But like everything else that's part of the writing process, I've learned more about this concept as I've worked with it, and recently I've realized something important about it:

The person is what's important, not the thing they're doing.

I've got a project I've been working on that's going reasonably well.  Let's call it Project H, for reasons that would take too long to explain.  Project H started with one single image - a person of a fantasy race doing something people of that race don't usually do.  Something about it struck me, and I knew I wanted to tell her story.  When I started developing the idea, everything came from that image, and it all led toward the main character doing what she needed to do.

Everything I created was for a world where this character could do the forbidden thing that started her story.  But if I'd decided to develop the world in general terms, without knowing who she was, what she was going to do, and why it was forbidden, I would have come up with something completely different.  And odds are good it wouldn't have worked.

This feels like something elementary.  And yet, if I'd realized this months ago, I probably could have saved myself a lot of heartache.

I like world-building, kind of a lot.  Part of the fun of developing STARWIND was coming up with all the different places the crew would go and what those places were like, what had happened to make them what they were.  But I also know that a lot of the trouble I've been having over the past two years stems from not being able to find the story - from having a whole lot of 'where' and 'what', and nowhere near enough 'who'.  Hell, I have a fifty-something page document that's full of seven different attempts to rework a world that's based around what I thought was a great concept.

Only one or two of those attempts has an actual story anywhere in it.  Because I couldn't create a world worth writing in without anyone to live there.

I have something else I'm working on - let's call it Project K, to prevent confusion - which is the first thing I've done since I realized this.  (I didn't realize it all that long ago.)  There's also all kinds of weird world stuff to do with this one, and to make things even stranger, it's a world that has nothing to do with the main character.  But a lot of the design I've been doing has one goal in mind: what do these places need to be to serve the main character's story?

And I'm pleased to say one thing about Project K: so far, so good.  If I have to keep learning stuff that feels like I should have learned long ago, at least I can do it right.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

IWSG: No More Shiny New Idea


I think it's safe to say that everyone reading this knows the concept of the "shiny new idea".  It's something that happens to we writers when we're supposed to be working on something else and we get this idea out of nowhere that's just so cool.

I know this as well as anyone.  My idea file is seventy-something pages' worth of ideas that once were new with varying levels of shininess.  Most if not all of the blogs I read have had entries about this.  It's one of the things that all writers, regardless of genre or book length or whatever else, seem to share.

And yet, it's something we complain about.

The visual we share of having a shiny new idea tends to be something like the dog from "Up" - it's like we're diligently working on whatever we're supposed to be doing, and then suddenly SQUIRREL! as the new idea appears.  I thought about this for a while, about why it's such a common perception for having a new idea, and I realized what the problem is.

It's not the new idea that's the problem.  It's calling it "shiny", like it's some pointless distraction that only serves to take our attention away from what we need to do.  We act like we've got some sort of pseudo-ADD thing going on, that we can't help but be distracted by something we want to write right now.  But that's not what it is.

Everything we do comes from new ideas.  So why do we mock ourselves for having them?

As you might have noticed if you've been reading this blog for a while, I have a serious tendency to be self-deprecating.  My therapist calls me out for doing this, and my usual response is "But I'm really good at it!"  But as she's told me many times, the way we talk about ourselves and what we do affects us a lot.  What we call things affects how we see them and how we feel about them.

And by mocking our own new ideas as "shiny", we're giving ourselves a negative association with something we writers need.

So here's my bit of advice: don't call it the shiny new idea.  Call it the lovely new idea.  Same number of syllables, even scans the same if you want to write a poem about it, but using nothing but positive words for something that really should be a good thing.

Enjoy your lovely new idea.  Write it down.  And when you have the time, show it the love it needs to grow into what you want it to be.

Next week: it's the Person, not the Thing.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

To Speak or Not to Speak

About a month ago, I started off an entry saying I was going to ignore all that advice about not talking about what I was working on and tell everyone about a plot-in-progress.  I now regret this, and I think it's time I changed how I approach this part of the process.

To put it very kindly, I've been having trouble with my plots.  To put it bluntly, I have not been able to take a single thing from concept to complete plot in a long, long time.  I haven't finished a plot and gotten it ready to write since STARWIND, and that plot was two years in the making.  And I wrote that book in 2016.

It's been nearly two years since I was able to make anything work.

The creative process is a long one, I know this.  And a lot changes along the way.  I've had plenty of ideas grow and twist as I worked on them, to the point that their origins were lost somewhere in their depths or excised completely as I discovered something new within the tale that worked better.  It would be kind of depressing to go through this blog and look at all the plots I've talked about and see what did or didn't happen with them.

But it wasn't until I realized that I was losing the Snow White story that I started to wonder if I should talk about my works-in-progress here.  Oddly enough, it's because people actually said they wanted to read the thing that led to this.  Shortly after I talked about the plot, I lost all enthusiasm for it; I've since realized why, but that's another entry.  And I felt like I was letting people down.

On one hand, I have a story that people want to read just from the basic concept.  But on the other hand, I don't want to write that story, not the way I've plotted it.  I could write it, but with what I have now, it would be crap.  And I will not deliberately write crap.

Considering how much changes over the course of plotting, I've come to realize that I shouldn't talk about what I'm working on when it's still in the early stages.  (Except for the occasional tweet, but I keep those deliberately oblique.)  I think I need to wait until things have developed a great deal more, until I'm at the point where it actually could be a viable plot, when things might not be set in stone but are at least....

I don't have a good way to complete that metaphor, but I'd like to wait to talk about things until I've got the story to the point where I know what it's going to be.  I don't think this will change much about the blog - probably more whining about things not working instead of talking about things that might work, but that's about it.  So if things keep going the way they have, it's not like there will be much of a change.

Anyway.  That's all I've got for this week.  Thanks as usual for listening to me ramble.  I've actually had some reasonable success with recent ideas, which feels good.  Wish me luck on making any of them work.

Next week: IWSG - No More Shiny New Idea.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Week Off/An Off Week

The past week and a half has been pretty hellish, and I don't have anything to say this week that isn't more whining.  >_<  But I didn't want anyone to worry about me if I didn't post, so this is me saying I'm okay, just... weary.  Weary and not much feeling like blogging this week.  Hell, I couldn't even get around to everyone else's blogs last week, and I apologize for that.

But I'm going to try to pull myself out of this and have something worth saying for my next entry.  And hopefully get some good work done between now and then.  Thank you all for the encouragement on last week's entry, and I'll see you next week.

Until then, here's an H.P. Lovecraft poem that someone discovered scans perfectly with Billy Joel's "Piano Man", so of course, they put them together:

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Kicked off the First Step.

I have had the weirdest past few weeks when it comes to querying, but that's over now.

Back in September, I finally heard back from an agent who'd asked me to query her thanks to the July IWSG pitch contest.  To my utter and complete shock, it was good news - the agent wanted my full manuscript.  It took me a while to actually believe that this was happening to me, but I took care of everything and sent her what she wanted.

Then, I accepted that I'd have to wait for a while, and when the answer came in December, it wasn't what I thought it would be.

Querying has a whole lot of "it's not you, it's me" in it as agents tell us (or at least, tell me) over and over again that the writing business is very subjective and just because our work isn't right for them, we should keep trying because it could be right for someone else.  I see this all the time, and now find it odd when a rejection letter doesn't include some variant of that.  But when I heard back from this agent, I didn't actually hear back from this agent.

On December 27th, I got an e-mail from another agent at the same agency, saying the original agent wasn't able to get to my submission due to their workload.  But, this second agent said, they'd read my query and would like to see my manuscript.

If you're getting emotional whiplash from any of this, imagine how I felt.  :P  It's one thing to hear "it's not you, it's me", quite another to hear "it's neither you nor me, it's my workload."

After a significant amount of sputtering at how damn weird my life can get, I sent my book off to that agent as well, and settled in to play the waiting game again.  I've heard that it can take 3-4 months to hear back from a full request, and I didn't get a response from the first one for three months, so I didn't think I'd get word from her anytime soon.

I heard back from her on Monday.  She said no.

When this all started, and I was breathlessly telling people about it, I described the publishing process as like trying to climb a pyramid, and the higher you got, the lower the odds were of you getting any farther.  After fifteen books and hundreds of rejections, this was my first full request ever.  Technically my second one too.  It felt like I had finally climbed onto that first step.

And now, I've been kicked off, and find myself exactly where I was before.

I'd love to say this makes no difference, because it's just another rejection, right?  But it doesn't feel like that.  It feels like one of those "why did I bother hoping" things.  I know I should send more queries, but . . . I don't even want to.  Having finally reached that first step, every time I don't get there is just going to feel worse.

I swear, if I had any other story that was actually working and might become a book someday, I would have trunked STARWIND by now.  But I've got nothing else.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Stumbling.

This feels like the kind of entry I should have made last year.  No, wait.  This is the kind of entry I would have made last year if I'd been able to actually work on anything.

Anyway.

Plotting-wise, I'm having a few difficulties.  I have two different plots that I'm actively working on, at least in theory.  One is the Snow White one I talked about a few entries ago and haven't touched since.  The other is a plot I've told I think one person about and am keeping largely quiet until I'm sure it'll work.  And then there's last week's shiny new idea, which I haven't done anything with since I first wrote it down.

To put it simply, I'm having a hard time drumming up the energy to work on much of anything, even though I want to.  All of these stories have a great deal that I need to do on them, and it's getting to the point where I'm mentally exhausted just thinking about all I need to develop.

...I swear, this didn't sound so whiny when it was just in my head.

I know that writing is work.  It wears me out sometimes, even on an physical level - when I'm working on a book, I usually finish the night's writing session exhausted.  Hammering out 2000+ words over the course of one CD will do that.  But this is the first time that even getting things to the point where I can make them into books is just as tiring.

There's a part of me that wants to blame it all on work - y'know, the job that pays me so I can afford to sit here and whine about my writing problems.  :P  We've been dealing with a massive amount of stuff to do since July, mandatory overtime included.  There's a constant level of stress as we continuously get more work in than we can do.  So a lot of the time, all I want to do when I get home is sit down and relax, not try to hash out a plot and a world and all of that.

On the plus side, when I have felt like working on writing stuff, I've been doing more.  Over the long weekends for the holidays, I tried doing a midday writing shift.  Most weekend days, I have this period around 11AM where I find myself wondering what I should do next, so I figured I might as well try to get some plotting done instead of saving it all for the evening.

It worked really well.  I got a lot done over those long weekends, and while I didn't pull two writing shifts every day, I did it enough that it's something I can try for every weekend.

Of course, me being me, now I get on my own case when I don't do two writing shifts on weekend days, and doing more leaves me, you guessed it, even more tired.

I'm sure I'll eventually figure out the best way to handle all this.  It's just that, after last year's doldrums, I'd been hoping to dive right into this year with a fresh start and go forth and kick ass at everything.  But as if being worn out wasn't enough, it's hard to get past the fear of things not working out, and I have to fight that off every single time I sit down to work.

All I can do is keep trying.  And try to get more sleep.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

IWSG: Start Over


Every single year, on January first, I pay way too much attention to what I'm doing for the first time that year.  I recognize my first meal of the year, my first reading of the year, so on and so forth, and try not to attach any symbolic importance to all of it.  (I usually fail at that.)  I think the new year triggers some weird part of what I call "writer brain", and prompts me to think that everything's significant just because the calendar rolled over.

But this got me thinking: if I'm going to be a little bit neurotic about the new year, there has to be some way for me to use it to my advantage, to get something good out of it.  I looked back at how my attempts at writing went in 2017, and at all the time I spent trying to make things work when they just plain wouldn't.

And I realized that the new year is the best time to start over.

I think a lot of the problems I had with making stories work was that I kept trying to build on what I'd already done, or take a few elements that I thought worked and put them into something else, stuff like that.  Most of the ideas I worked on were things I'd been messing with for quite a while.  To be fair, that doesn't mean none of those older ideas could work - as I said a few entries ago, one of my current projects is something I first started working on in 2014.  But I think that one's an exception.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that I would have had a much easier time last year if I'd been willing to just start things over - to let go of what I'd done before and come at it completely fresh.  You can build up a tremendous amount of baggage around a story idea that won't work.  I know this very well; there's a story file somewhere on my computer that's more than fifty pages long and doesn't have a single complete plot or reasonably-developed character anywhere in it, because I kept trying to find a new angle on the same idea instead of just dropping it and starting over.

Hell, my idea file has three or four variants on an idea from 2016 that I never could get to work.  Some of those notes include sarcastic comments about how I'm still trying.  And saying mean things to myself in my idea file kind of says it all about last year.

Anyway.  I'm sure that everyone who reads this has different processes for going from idea to finished story.  But I know I'm not the only one to try to build a new story on the broken bones of another.  So this is me giving advice in IWSG for the first time in I don't know how long:

Stop that.  Start over.  Start anew.  Build your story without looking back.  Because I think you've got a better shot at finding what the story's supposed to be if you're not trying to keep pieces from what it's not.  One of my two plots-in-progress is something completely new for me, and it's the one that's going really well.

So I hope that, in the new year, starting anew will work well for you too.