Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Seven Days into a Break.

This is the first thing I've written since my last blog entry.

First and foremost, thank you all for the helpful comments and kind words on that entry.  I can be a very... driven sort of person about the things that mean the most to me, and writing is and has been the only thing I've ever wanted to do with my life for longer than I can remember.  With that in mind, and considering my determination to keep pressing forward, it took someone else suggesting I take a break for me to really consider the idea.

It sounds insane to me now that I actually write it out, but I've never claimed to be a wholly rational being.  Actually, I think I lost any claim to be a wholly rational being when I started saying "I keep universes in my head" when people ask me why I remember so many things.

But yes.  I realized that y'all were right, and put myself on a much-needed break; I will resume writing on February first.  This has been a very strange week.  For the first few days, I didn't know what to do with myself when my usual writing time came around and I had to make myself not try to work on something.  I've taken days off before, but that's different.

Taking the break, though, has given me some mental space and distance, so I've been able to take a better look at how I work and see how I could do things better.  And yes, I've seen some things about myself that I don't like.  >_<

For instance, I have real trouble letting go of ideas.  As I sort of said in the last entry, a lot of the frustration I've been dealing with comes from trying to find ways to make things work.  While I love it when a story or character just shows up in my head fully-formed, that doesn't happen nearly often enough, so most of my plotting time is spent trying to get the images and character bits and snatches of plot to come together into an actual story.  And I have a major tendency to think of something new and immediately try to slap something or someone that already exists in my head into that new idea.

This is why I've written Shiloh & Alexi in so many books and in so many different incarnations.  Also because I love them and love writing them, but that's different.

I also give up on things too easily.  (I know this seems like the opposite of what I just said.  Trust me, it's not.)  This is something I knew, but my thoughts during this break have only made it more clear.  Part of it is the usual frustration with the query process, especially as rejections for BoLR continue to pile up.  I've been querying it for about two and a half months, and part of me already wants to set it aside and make something new.  I mean, I'm planning on writing new stuff this year, don't get me wrong, but I intend to do that and keep querying.  Not writing has shown me how eager I can be to give up on something in hopes that the next project will be the one that works.

After fourteen books, I know that I'll have to set some things aside to make any progress, but seriously?  I've queried fifty-five agents so far and heard back from thirty-three.  Neither of those numbers is nearly high enough to give this one up.  And I haven't even started looking into small presses yet.

Anyway.  My brain has, of course, not been completely idle; I've been taking down notes on something new but keeping myself from developing them further.  And when I start working again, I am going to try working on some smaller stuff, as Rena suggested.  I'll see how it goes.  It's all a little intimidating, especially considering where I left off.  There's always the fear that I'll end up right where I began.

But I'll give it another try, and another, and another.  Because despite everything, I still think I'll make it someday.

"Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now."  --Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When Nothing Works.

Sadly, this is not an existential post about the benefits of doing nothing.  This is a post I wish I had no reason to write, and one better suited for IWSG, but this is all that I've got this week.

Yes, my writing problems have even begun to affect my blog.  >_<

Since early or mid-December, when I sit down to write for the evening, to work on plots and all that comes with them, I freeze up.  I open up documents and stare at them, never adding anything new, hardly reading what's there.  Just staring.  Sometimes, I look at stuff I've written and see if I can find some way to make it work better, but I draw nothing but blanks.  When I try to think of new approaches to things that didn't work, I can't come up with anything, and even when I do, it all sounds stupid.

Simply put, when I sit down to write, nothing works.  I get nothing done.  And I end up closing the documents feeling horrible about everything.

On the few occasions when it does work, when I can actually get something done, I don't like it at all when I look at it again.  Stuff I like enough to tweet about one night is stuff I roll my eyes at the next day.  I've been doing revisions of revisions of revisions, trying new twists and turns on barely-there plots and characters who are hardly more than names and faces and roles in would-be stories.  One theoretical story in particular, the dragon-based one I've rambled about here on and off for years, working on that now feels like going back to an ex-girlfriend; I know nothing good will come of it because nothing ever has, but there's a part of me that wants it to work so badly that I have to give it another try.  The damn thing is on its eighth version and I've never written a page of it.

In other words (because clearly I need other words since I can't do a thing with the ones I have), it feels like I've forgotten how to write.  As much as I know that's an exaggeration, I'm sure I don't need to describe the deep bloody terror that thought strikes in me.

So, because it's in my nature to think too much and over-analyze everything, I try to figure out where this comes from.  Am I bouncing around to too many different plots?  Certainly possible, as I have a ton of stuff I'd like to write, but I'm having the same problem with all of it.  Am I trying to write stories in worlds I haven't developed enough?  Probably, but I've always developed the basic story before delving into the world work, then gone back and forth, to make plotting and world-building serve each other.  Am I trying to work with characters I don't know well enough?  Also probably, as my cast lists seem to change very quickly these days, and I've had a hard time really getting a hold of most of them.

I'm trying what everyone says works - I'm trying to write what I well and truly want to write, trying to just find the story and the characters.  I'm trying to not think of anything but what matters most.  I'm trying to just write.  But nothing's working.

I know that some of this might be stress from moving.  Yes, I'm moving again - just a few miles this time, to a nicer apartment up the hill.  Only the large stuff remains here, because I hauled over all the really important stuff this past weekend.  But what happens if I move fully into my new place and still can't get a damn thing done?

This is, of course, the part where I ask for advice, because I clearly need it.  >_<  Much as I hope that no one else has ever dealt with this, I don't think for a second that's the case.  I'd appreciate any help y'all can offer.

And I swear, I'll actually stop by everyone's blogs this weekend.  Hauling most of my life up a hill made me miss my usual blog check this week.  Sorry about that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Good Lessons from Bad Writing

This post was inspired by someone trying to pick a fight with me on the internet because I criticized what I feel is bad writing in the "Batman v. Superman" trailer.  Their comment wasn't worthy of a response, but at least now I have something to blog about this week.

Many years ago, I read a bad book, as one does.  One usually does this without meaning to, unless one is a glutton for punishment or runs a "watch me tear bad books apart" sort of blog or is planning to read said bad book dramatically out loud in front of an audience.  I ranted about the book on my old blog, and a friend pointed out two important things:

First, I could learn from this.  Second, those things I was ranting about - did I do them in my own writing?

It hadn't occurred to me at the time to learn from the experience.  The book started out very good, very interesting, with a character who was sympathetic and worked her way to a much better place in life through trickery and manipulation and generally being clever.  Over the course of the story, she lost everything that made her sympathetic and interesting, developing into a screeching jackal of a character who called everyone who disagreed with her stupid and treated everyone around her as horribly as she possibly could, including her own children.

So, if nothing else, this book was a valuable lesson in how to make your reader love a character and then hate them all over the course of the same book.  Looking back on it, I hope that was the author's intent, because it takes some skill to manipulate the reader like that.  If they didn't mean that, well. . . .  I'm not sure what to say about that.

But over the years, I've taken this to heart when I read something I don't like.  I try to figure out why I don't like it, what the author did that led me to feel that way, and how to avoid it in my own work.  I sometimes try to figure out how to replicate it, if I need to recreate something like that for a story.

I don't have any specific examples for this at the moment.  The last book I read that I consider bad, much of the reason I didn't like it was because the entire female cast were either whores, former whores, or whores-to-be, save for one who was a bastion of incorruptible pure pureness (and thus the main character's love interest).  I think all I could learn from that is the importance of complex and diverse woman characters, and I'd like to think I've got that down already.

Which brings me to the second point, one that's often harder to face.  Whenever I don't like something about a book, I ask myself if I do the same thing in my work.  Most of the time the answer is no, but when I can look at my writing and honestly say yes, well . . . it's not a good feeling.  But I think it's easier to accept my own writing flaws when I can see how they would look to someone reading my work.  This means I can work to correct them.

And if it helps make me a better writer, reading the occasional bad book is worth it.  Though I'm still not going to do it on purpose.

So, what about the rest of you?  Have you ever learned something from a book you didn't like, and if so, what?  And did you realize that you did the same thing?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

IWSG: Advice for the New Year.

I always catch myself attaching significance to the first time I do something every year.  This happens despite my best efforts, even though I remind myself over and over that it doesn't actually matter.  Granted, I made sure the first thing I ate in 2016 was a piece of really good chocolate, but still.

As for the first IWSG of 2016, I figured I'd continue my attempts to start the year off right, and share a little advice.  Some of this may be relevant to you, some of it surely will not.  But it beats the hell out of another month of me complaining.  :P  I'll start with something I recently had to re-learn:
  • Find a routine and stick with it.  This routine might vary with different aspects of writing; what you do to get yourself into the right head-space for plotting might not be the same as your preparations for actual writing, and the routine itself might have variations for different books.  But nothing works quite as well to help get things started as starting from a familiar place.  And remember your routine - stick to it when you find one that works.
  • Always be ready to scribble down notes.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I have my best ideas when I'm not sitting here at my monolith of a desk.  I always keep a notepad handy at my desk at work, and I've made great use of the notes function on my phone to make sure I never forget those character and story ideas that occur to me out of the blue.
  • If someone sends you a rejection letter that says your work isn't right for them "at this time", do not reply to ask when the time will be that your work will be right for them, as you'll gladly re-send it then.  I didn't do this, but I thought about it very hard.
  • Remember that it's okay to take days off.  Sometimes the words don't work, sometimes you've had too much shit to deal with and anything creative just isn't happening.  That's fine.  It happens to everyone.  Take a deep breath, let it go, and get back to work tomorrow.  (This might not be great advice if you're on deadline.)
  • Sometimes you know all of how the story goes from the beginning, and sometimes you discover it along the way.  But remember that every story changes in the telling.  I've plotted and re-plotted and re-worked things so many times, and in the end, they're never exactly what I thought they would be when I started.  This is fine.  Don't force yourself to stick with an idea or plot or character that no longer works for the story just because that's what you started with.
  • When sending the same query letter (plus synopsis and/or part of your story) to multiple agents in a short period of time, make very sure to change the agent's name to the correct one before sending it off.  Check at the start, check before you send it, and before you click 'Send', check it again.  While a kind agent might not reject you outright for putting the wrong name on a query, I wouldn't blame any who saw that and just said "Nope".
  • Don't ever be afraid to be weird.  There are dozens of books out there that can be summed up as the same sort of thing, so make sure that when you summarize yours, it sounds interesting and unusual.  Whatever you're writing, make it uniquely yours, and give those ideas from the deeper parts of your mind a fair shake.  A story with something new to offer is, I believe, always better than something too familiar.
  • Finally: whatever you're working on, and however you work on it, finish it.  Because once you know how it ends, once you know how everything happens and how it's changed from your original idea, then you can make the changes from the beginning and all the way through that will make the entire thing that much better.
That's all from me for now.  Hope someone out there finds this useful, at least a little.  ^_^  So, what advice do the rest of you have for the rest of us?