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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Year in Review: What the Fuck was That?

I know I'm not the only one out there who had a rough 2017.  But this is my blog.  :P  And most of what I have to say about this year is summed up right there in the title.

I have never had such a hard time with goddamn everything as I've had this year.  I've never wanted to quit more than this year - and that entry was back in March.  Things went bad for another eight months after that.  There were times when I came close to writing an "I Still Want to Quit" post, not only because it was how I felt but because things were going so bad that I had nothing else to say.

There are a lot of reasons I could point to for this.  The current political/world climate is one, to be sure; I don't want to get into that here but I will say that the way the world's going right now is not exactly conducive to me being a happy and productive artist.

Another reason is the multi-layered hell that is the querying process.  I started querying STARWIND this year, though barely - I only sent out thirty-two queries because it all started to feel pointless.  Getting rejected for this book hit me harder than any other.  A lot of that is because it feels like no one's looking for the sort of story it is.  As I said in my "I Want to Quit" post, the book's weird and finding an agent who wants it will be a struggle, and if I was writing anything but what I want to write, odds are good I'd be getting better results.

Then again, if I was writing something I didn't want to write, it probably wouldn't be worth reading, so then I'd have written shit and be getting rejected for it.  So I'm better off getting rejected for writing what I want, as depressing as that is.

To add to all of it, I've spent most of this year trying everything I could to get a plot that works.  For most of the year, nothing did.  Back in February, I plotted out the sequel to STARWIND, which is largely wishful thinking and won't do me any good unless the first book sells.  So that felt even more futile than my usual attempts.  I then spent the rest of the year making my usual attempts and watching every single thing fall apart.

This is the heart of why I felt like quitting.  There's something staggering about watching a dream fall apart and feeling like every new attempt makes it worse.

Among everything else, I was ready to quit blogging here too.  I'd mentally prepared my last entry - it was going to be this one, and this paragraph was going to say that I couldn't keep struggling to find something to talk about and I felt like people didn't want to read my constant litany of failures.  I would end it by saying I'd be back if things got better, but not to wait up.

Thankfully, things turned around for me earlier this month, and I don't have to make that entry.

It's scary to think of how bad things got, knowing they can fall that far again.  But it's been a good December.  I've been switching between the two plots I'm working on, spending about a week on each before going back.  I put one of them into its own planning document last night and did some good character work, fleshing out both the main character and figuring out the antagonist's plans.  So many times, stories start to die when they get their own plotting docs, so I'm glad this one's still alive and kicking.

And so it goes, hopefully up from here.  I'll start querying STARWIND again next year; I still believe in it and I don't want to give it up yet.  With time and work, I should be able to get at least one of the plots ready to become a book; I'd love to have both.

Here's hoping next year is a great deal better, for me and for all of you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Magnificent

This is the part where I ignore all those other writers who say not to talk about what you're working on.  :P  I figured that, after ending last week's entry with the premise for what I'm hoping will be my next book, I might as well talk about it, especially since I spent so much time this year wondering if I was ever going to have a next book.

Anyway.

The basic premise for this book actually comes from an old "Pinky and the Brain" bit, wherein Pinky responds to "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" with "I think so, Brain, but who wants to see Snow White and the Seven Samurai?"  I heard this many years ago, and as much as it stuck with me, it took me a long time to develop it into something I wanted to write - I first started talking about doing this more than three years ago.  I totally thought I had it figured out back then.  (Spoiler alert: I did not have it figured out back then.)

To make one thing clear: this will not actually feature any samurai.  What I'm doing is taking the fairy tale trappings of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" and applying the plot structure known as The Magnificent Seven Samurai.  I do, of course, have to bend things to make the two fit together - it's less "assemble the crew to save the village" and more "learn who you truly are and return with those who trained you to save your home kingdom from a dragon."

Yes, of course there's a dragon.  What kind of writer do you think I am?

There's also the magic mirror, because you don't do a Snow White story without one, and an evil stepmother, which I almost wish didn't work because I did good character stuff with Snow's mother and having to kill her off makes me sad.  Snow herself is determined to step up and do what must be done and would never just wait around for her prince; much of the story is her journey and how she deals with the blood curse put on her before she was even born.  I've never liked the idea of the passive princess, and she's got some real surprises ahead of her.

The poison apple won't be a thing, though.  The stepmother in this story does not fuck around with little tricks like that.  Not when she's enacting a decades-long revenge plot.

It's been interesting to work with magic in this plot, as it's different from what I've done before.  I tend to like well-defined magic systems, but fairy tales keep magic mysterious and hard to nail down, so I'm aiming for that.  The people Snow works with are those who try to figure magic out and make it work for them, many of whom were affected by magic themselves.  I can't help comparing them to a fairy tale version of the X-Men, and I'm okay with that.

So, yeah, that's where I'm going with this thing.  I'm still combining the two versions of the plot I've worked on over the past few years, but it's going well so far.  There's a lot of work ahead of me, but really, what else is new?  I'm just glad to have a plot that's working out and characters I want to write.  (Including the one who turns into a bear.)  I'm hoping to continue making progress on this and start writing it next year.

Next entry: 2017 year in review.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dwarves.

I tend to go through several different versions of an idea as I try to make it work.  This past year being what it's been, I've been doing this more than usual; when nothing works, it's easy to try throwing everything away and starting anew.  One story I've been trying to do has its origins in the classic Snow White fairy tale, so when I first tried to figure it out and it didn't work, I thought there was one major thing I'd done wrong:

I hadn't included any dwarves.

Looking back, I'm not sure how I ever thought I could tell a Snow White story without dwarves.  I mean, they're right there in the name.  So when I started to plot a new version of my story, the dwarves were front and center from the beginning.  There would, of course, be seven of them, because that's just how it's supposed to be.  However, the farther along in development I got, the less I liked what I was working with.  It took me months, but I eventually realized that I'd fallen into a trope's trap.

That trope?  Our Dwarves Are All the Same.

Much as I hate to say it, this one's really true.  I'd bet that, when you read this entry's title, you got a mental image of a dwarf that would be about 90% similar to anyone else's mental image.  And I found that, when I tried to develop seven distinct dwarven characters for the story, I had some real trouble getting them to be different from each other.

This is not an issue I've ever had.  I've written a bunch of humans, some elves, some dragons, several cat-people, quite a few demons, so on and so forth.  STARWIND alone contains wargolems, a gnome, a lamia, and a handful of different species I didn't even give names.  Yet somehow it's easier for me to write a small furry creature as the ship's pilot than it is for me to imagine a dwarf who steps outside of the usual dwarven traits.

The weird thing is, this took me out of the story entirely, and I stopped wanting to write it.  The idea of having so many characters who just blended together in my mind had me wondering if it was worth working on or not.  I genuinely don't get it.  What is it about dwarves that makes so many people want to only write them one way?  There are always stereotypes about fantasy races, but for every magical, forest-dwelling, utterly stuck-up elf out there, there are dozens of variations on the race.  So what was wrong with me that I couldn't get this right?

Eventually, I accepted that it wasn't going to work out - I couldn't find an answer that led to me writing the characters as the individuals they should be, not just plain dwarves.  I delved back into my notes for the initial version of the story, and looked up the characters who'd originally played the roles of seven specific people.  Then, I put the two plots into a blender and started mixing.

The result has been overwhelmingly positive so far.  Part classic fairy tale (I even worked in the evil stepmother), part classic movie plot.  I'm starting to think this one's going to work out, and hoping I can get the plot done this year and write it next year.

Because if I'm finally going to do "Snow White and the Seven Samurai", I'm going to get it right.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IWSG: Something from Nothing


This isn't the entry I was going to write.

I had it planned, I really did.  I was going to leave the entire thing blank, except for the IWSG logo, for the length of my usual entry, with a sentence at the end saying the above text consisted of all the writing work I'd gotten done in November.  I might have left it up for all of December, if things continued to go so badly.  Some part of me called it melodramatic, but I thought it would be a good way to show what it felt like to look back at an entire month and see that I'd done nothing.

It was also kind of a riff on John Cage's 4'33", but that's neither here nor there.

Things didn't seem to be shaping up last week either; I thought I had an idea that would work out, but once I wrote it down, I realized that I didn't want to write it at all.  That was Tuesday.  On Wednesday, I accepted that I didn't feel like trying to get anything done, and pulled up an old e-mail from a friend.  The e-mail is something she copy-pasted and sent to me, titled "falling in love with your story", but that's not really what it's about.  It's a writer talking about finding out what's wrong with your story and figuring out how to fix it.

Something about that must have sunk in, because on Thursday, I started thinking about a project I hadn't worked on since August.  I remembered what the e-mail said, and came to realize what was wrong with the main character that was keeping me from wanting to write her.  I scribbled down notes at work for the first time in I don't know how long.  And later that day, when I was out on my second break, I started having ideas.

No, let me rephrase that: I started having IDEAS.

Do you know that moment, when you put something together in your head for the first time, and it sparks a character and setting, a place and a reason for them to be, and you know you've got something worth pursuing?  I got that.  For the first time in I don't even know how long, I got that.

So, I went home and got to work.  And to my great surprise and relief, everything I worked on actually worked.  I leaned back from my keyboard, thrilled but exhausted, and felt like I'd just woken up after spending most of this year in one long nightmare.

It's been a busy few days since then.  The new idea is still going strong; I've been developing it a little bit at a time and seeing how things play out, letting the actual plot work its way into my head as I develop the world.  As for the project I'm getting back to, it still needs work, as I have the entire thing plotted but something about it still doesn't seem right.  But I have ways to try to fix that.  And even if I can't, then at least I have something that is working.

We'll see where it goes from here.  I know it'll only take another story crashing and burning for me to feel like it was all for nothing.  But I have a place to start from and one to build on.  And it feels good to have hope for my own work again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Combined Problem, Part 2: Love, Suddenly

So this is building on what I talked about in last week's entry, which was based on the two entries before it.  Next week's entry will be about the entirety of five and a half years of blogging here.

No, probably not.

Today I'm talking about what seems like the next level up from arranged marriages: plot devices that give two (or more) characters some sort of unbreakable bond, including but not limited to them falling in love with each other.  This can be instant or build over time, it can be subtle or ridiculously blatant, so on and so forth - there are dozens of variations I can think of right now and I'm sure the rest of you could come up with hundreds more.  This sort of thing has been around since the early days of storytelling and anyone who's heard more than a few fairy tales is surely familiar with it.

And, like arranged marriages, it's a trope I like but have no idea if I actually want to work with it.  Some of my reasoning is the same, largely the part about not forcing characters together.  Yet this concept can lead to so much conflict, meaning it can fuel a great many stories.

It also can make things ridiculously uncomfortable, especially if the bond involves attraction and/or love.  I can see it being played for laughs, but being attracted to someone not because you want to be, but because you're somehow compelled to be?  Up to and including being in love with that person?  Something about that just rubs me wrong.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my last attempt at this didn't go well.  Last year, in an attempt to make one of the too-damn-many things I was working on actually work, I decided to spend a month on one story idea.  The basic idea was that people in that world who bonded with familiars (magical animals) gained additional abilities, so it was a desirable thing.  The plot started with three characters accidentally bonding with each other as familiars.  There are a lot of reasons why it didn't work out, and one of them was that I started feeling more than a little iffy about the relationship between the three main characters.

I thought that bringing the three of them together would lead to interesting conflict and character development, ultimately ending with something fulfilling for them that made their lives better.  Instead, it felt like a glorified plot device that only made them all mad and uncomfortable.

So, yeah.  I'm still not sold on this one, and I doubt I'll use it again, at least not as a driving thing.  But Tonja brought up a good point on last week's entry: if something's important to the story, then it needs to be in the story.  It's one of those things that seems so simple, but it's easy to forget.  While there are things I won't write, just being iffy about an idea shouldn't be why I decide not to put it into a story, especially if the story absolutely needs to have that thing.

This has been a bit more of a ramble than I expected, and I'm not sure if I actually made the point I was hoping for, so I'll cut this off here.  See y'all next week for IWSG.