extribulum

Archive for May, 2015|Monthly archive page

Reappearing as A Writer

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2015 at 10:00 am

Poof! Like magic. Hey, I’m writing fiction again.

There are two problems with not having written in a while, whether it’s because of writer’s block, or other distractions, or a conscious break you took that may have gotten out of hand.

One is admitting you haven’t written in a while. There’s a lot of shame that’s attached to it, because it’s seen as an essential failure of a creative person to do their job. Creative people don’t contribute tangible, quantifiable value to society; it’s difficult to measure the worth of an emotion, or of a revelation. So if we don’t contribute something — a painting, a piece of music, a book — on a regular basis, then are we worth anything to our society at all? Why should society foster or support us? The creative process can take years to produce work which then can’t be valued easily, but after a year or two of nonproduction, people start to point and whisper.

It’s not like writers don’t do this too. Particularly those who make their living off of writing have very little slack to offer people who take longer to produce less. One of the most popular stereotypes for the creative person in media is the guy who’s “working on a novel” — who’s been working on a novel for seventeen years. The frustrated writer looking for a revelation who hasn’t done any real work since his (invariably his) big one-hit wonder is a popular trope in cinema in particular. Perhaps this is because writers who make their living as writers are immersed in the idea of commodifying creativity, and it twists them up. Perhaps they’re just scared of what happens if the writing goes away, and fear motivates them. It’s not super healthy, but then nobody has ever called writers healthy.

And yeah, it’s a little funny when someone who’s been working on something for a decade plus has little to show for it. But we shrink that time frame and we enlarge what “little” means until it feels like if you don’t write a novel every year, you’re behind on your output. I wrote four novels in four years, and then I didn’t write any novels for two. But that’s still averaging better than a novel every eighteen months, and that’s not chicken feed.

Still, it is hard when someone says, “What are you working on?” and you answer, again, “Nothing.” So, as people who basically tell stories for a living, which are kissing cousins to lies, we temporize. Nothing solid yet. Nothing right now. Got some irons in the fire, waiting to see what pans out. I’m brainstorming. Really cool idea, just not sure where to take it yet.

Admitting you’re not writing, however, is implicit in admitting you’re writing again. Which is the second hard part of reappearing as a writer. It’s a bit like saying you’re quitting smoking or starting a diet; there’s a lot of “Oh, isn’t that nice” with an underlayer of deep skepticism. And you do feel foolish taking the risk; what if you start writing and then can’t get anywhere? Better to wait, right? Keep the pressure off until you’ve got something to show for it. But the positive reinforcement one does get, when other people know you’re writing again, that can be a huge boost to creativity — without it, you might just keep…not writing. So there’s no real good way to play it.

Creativity is a process, and that process includes peaks and valleys, periods of high activity and lulls. I don’t really have a fix for either of these problems; they’re issues I face just like any writer does, especially a writer who is very public about their craft. I just think it’s important to talk about them, not only so people can see their fellow writers deal with it too, but also so that writers who may not have been able to put a name to their worries have a little more data to work with.

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Saddling Up and Building A World

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2015 at 10:00 am

So, what does one do, after a long break from writing, to start again? Honestly, it’s a problem I’ve never had before.

Nor, truthfully, is it really a full problem now, because I’ve been writing in the past two years, it just hasn’t been original work. I’ve done a crapload of fanfic. I’m not starting from scratch, either; I had plenty of beginnings written when I drifted away two years ago. And I won’t lie, one of my favorite things to do is re-read old work and fix it. That’s how I got started again with Nameless, after all, two years after I’d given it up as a bad book.

But it is difficult to get back into the worldbuilding aspect. One of the major differences between fanfic and original fiction is that your audience, in fanfic, has certain touchstones. Everyone knows who the essential characters are, everyone knows the basic rules of the world, and even if you’re messing with those rules, you’re starting out with a foundation to build on. The alternate universe only functions fully when we know what it’s an alternate of. Otherwise it’s just weird.

With original fiction, unless you’re working on a series and you’re past the first book, you have no foundation. You have to build it yourself, and foundations are hard. It’s a lot of explaining. One of the most important things I have to do, pretty much every time I start a novel, is re-train myself to build a world without resorting to cheap exposition or descending into the madness of minutiae. I am a person who loves exploring the ramifications of every rule; if given a set of arbitrary laws, I will immediately explore every aspect of every one of them and usually break quite a few in the process. As a teen I was infamous for my ability to wreck programs and even operating systems in record time. I wasn’t doing it on purpose, I was no kind of hacker, I just had an innate skill for pushing boundaries, and the old Windows and Apple operating systems were a lot less robust than they are now. (I still managed to bust my first iPhone twice within twenty four hours of purchase, but it was an iPhone 1, that almost doesn’t even count).

When you’re building a world, that’s not the time to push boundaries; you have between 200 and 600 pages in your average novel to do that. Learning how to plant the seeds on page one of a revolution on page 209 is still something that I’m working on.

Still, one thing I am good at doing is muttering “I’ll fix it in the second draft” as I tap madly away on a scene I know is probably crap (or worse — boring). Suspending one’s sense of perfectionism is something most writers have to learn, and most don’t learn easily. It’s one of the toughest to acquire but most useful skills a writer can have. You have to be able to say “I’ll fix it later” and not worry about remembering it later or how you’ll fix it. Accepting that you may not remember it later, because it is in fact just fine and you won’t notice it on a re-read, is also hard.

But those are the two big skills I think you need when you come back to writing: how to build the universe of your story, and how to acknowledge that your first try is going to be flawed without freaking out and trying to fix it immediately. They’re not easy, but they are very, very useful.

Back In The Saddle

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2015 at 10:00 am

For about two years now, I haven’t done much original writing.

After a while it seemed a little pointless to bang on here about original writing when I wasn’t doing any. Plus, it’s tough to do a twice-weekly column on writing; there’s only so much to write about. I didn’t want to become one of those blogs that just recycles content or hammers at one specific message.

I wasn’t honestly that concerned about having stopped my original work for a while, even for a long stretch. I’d just been promoted at work, so I was growing my career, and I had two major surgeries in two years, which takes it out of you. My life was a bit of a mess, and it was better for me to focus on other things. And because I’d had a pay raise, I didn’t need to hustle the writing for money in quite the same way I had before. When I was earning thirty thousand dollars a year, writing was a genuine supplementary income. Now that I earn almost twice that, the desperation is gone, and desperation is sometimes one of the greatest drivers of creative instinct. (Sometimes not. It’s always better not to be desperate, I think, but it can be great motivation.)

So yeah, I tended my other gardens and let writing go its own way for a little while. And I wasn’t displeased; I knew it would come back.

And apparently it has, because a few days ago I had a little epiphany. I’m somewhat short of funds this month — not seriously, just not quite as well-cushioned as I like to be — and I was sitting on my couch, thinking that I’d really like to order a pizza but I didn’t really have the money to spare for that this month when I had perfectly good food in the fridge. And literally as I thought that, an email arrived in my inbox, telling me that Lulu.com had deposited my monthly royalties into my paypal account.

Some of y’all were busy book buyers last month, I guess, because it was $42, which is about twice the normal. And well more than enough for a hot pepperoni pizza.

And I thought, well, one, I do miss writing. But I also miss getting that royalties check, not even because royalties are so great but because it’s proof that other people like what I do enough to pay for it. That’s a really delightful feeling. While I don’t like capitalism I was raised within it, and being paid for my work lights up my brain whether I want it to or not.

So I thought, I’m going to write again. And I got started writing.

Mind you, I did decide to ease into it. I’m working on a piece that I had about a quarter finished, and it’s not that far from fanfic. It’s about the Monuments Men, the soldiers during the second world war who followed (sometimes preceded) the Allied troops in order to secure and protect great cultural works endangered by combat, as well as locating and securing art the Nazis looted. It’s a topic close to my heart and one I find easy to write about, so it feels like cheating even when it’s not.

And, honestly, it’s erotica. It’s for my publisher, which in some ways makes it easier, because I’m finally working on something I promised them two years ago, even if no deadlines were discussed. Plus they’ll do all the typesetting and graphic design which, while satisfying, is not always something I look forward to.

So, I’m back to writing, and I’m hoping to do a series here about getting back into writing, and how to work on things that have lain fallow for a while.

Hi, everyone. :)