Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Slight Hitch in the Process.

This is not what I'd planned to be working on right now.  I'd planned to work on Project K, to take it from a handful of pages in my idea file and put it into an actual plotting document, so I could work on turning it into a full story.  But right now, I can't bring myself to do it.

Because it feels like my plotting documents are where my stories go to die.

I've talked about some of this before.  Part of my process is scribbling down things in my idea file, and adding more and more to that as I come up with it.  But I can't do all my work in that one file - the thing's up to nearly eighty pages again, I have to take stuff out of it once in a while.  Unfortunately, I've noticed a pattern over the past few years.

Every single time I take my notes out of the idea file and give them a plotting file of their own, I'll keep working on that story for a little while, and then it falls apart.  I've covered the multitude of reasons why this happens over the past few years, because that's what's happened every single time, and I don't need to go over them yet again.  But it keeps happening.

I've talked about this with my therapist, as it's something that's troubled me ever since I realized it.  It feels like there's something about giving a story its own file that creates some kind of commitment to it - it stops being just an idea, and becomes something I'm going to dedicate time and energy to making it become an actual book.  And that's when the problems start.  I lose interest, or I find something wrong with the original concept and try to rework it, or any number of other things that I just said I wasn't going to talk about again.  The end result is the same.

This has already happened to Project H, which is the one that brought me out of my long writing funk in the first place.  I've completely redone the second act and changed a huge chunk of the story's setting in doing so; the new stuff works better but I haven't felt like touching the story since I did that.  And I've already done some major revisions on Project K to begin with - this past weekend, I made some changes to the setting that work really well but mean I have to rethink a lot of things about the story.

So when I sat down to put Project K into its own file, I couldn't make myself do it.  Because I really like this story, and I don't want to see it die.

I know it's possible (maybe even likely) that I'm thinking on this too hard, as per usual.  The fact that I have an idea file that's more than seventy pages long means that I have a lot of things I've written down and not done any more work on.  And my main writing folder is filled with things that didn't work out, that's nothing new.  But this consistent pattern of creating story files and then having them crash and burn... it scares the hell out of me.

I'm a plotter.  I know this because I've tried writing without a plot and it's never gone well.  I need to know where a story's going to (theoretically) write anything worth a damn.  So when every single time I try to create the very document I need in order to write a book, it leads to that story going nowhere....

What the hell am I supposed to do?

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.