Me — My Love for Brainstorming

So, even with my conspicuously missing spark of inspiration, and my consequential lack of fiction writing, there is quite a lot of aspects to stories I do enjoy, which is why I’m so confident I’ll find my career somewhere in this giant field. I’m pretty good at editing when I’m really doubling down on it, and I’d say I have a pretty solid grasp on story structure.

What’s weird is that as much as I dislike outlining stories I plan on writing, I love outlining and brainstorming stories. A friend and I have been working on the plot to a story for a few months (totaling to about two and a half real discussions), and the outline is coming together very well.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, listen to an episode of Rocket Jump’s podcast Story Break. For those of you that don’t want to take the time to do that, I’d describe it very simply as taking a simple idea and fleshing it out into a story, randomly spitballing until you get that spark of “Oh, that’s cool”, and then writing that down and spitballing again until you find something that thematically ties in to what you’ve already got. You repeat this process over and over and by the time you’re done you should have a full story plot complete with strong themes, recurring symbols, and dynamic characters. Or at least it looks like you do on paper. Then you write the first draft and it turns out to be crap.

But that part’s an altogether different story. Right now I’m just talking about being in the headspace of brainstorming. The mental office in which you have no clutter, no restrictions, no rules, no anything. You just have a blank piece of paper and a giant bowl of primordial essence with which you can create this masterpiece. Plus, since it’s all just in your head, it’s automatically perfect. Converting concept to product is never as simple as fun. At least, not for me. When I’m creating something new I don’t want to spend time thinking anything other than what’s cool and shooting for that.

And you know, the funny thing about writing blog posts like this is that you sometimes discover things about yourself. I often tell people that creativity is the ability to justify things under constraints, and that it’s pretty much just a muscle that you need to train (you know, just like literally everything in life). But writing about this now has me realizing that the thing I love most about creating something new is the lack of restrictions other than the ones I impose on myself.

With most larger concepts I start with the one idea I like and then throw in the opposite of it. “The Cool” and “The But”, as I’ve begun to call them. (Maybe I should do a dedicated post on finding the Cool and the But sometime in the near future.) Once I have those two things, I spend the rest of the time marrying them in a way that looks like they were meant to be together from the start, and often I’ll find some neat things along the way.

So, I don’t know if there’s any occupation that is literally just brainstorming, be it plots, scripts, worlds, whatever, but if there is, I could totally see myself doing that all day every day for a living.

Me — Temporal Issues

I’ve been dealing with a number of personal problems lately, each on a different level of magnitude. I won’t talk about the specifics of any of them here, but I will say that they are all, in their own sense, simply temporal.

I’m a problem solver by nature. I think about everything going on in my life so often that organizing and recalibrating everything is, in a lot of ways, who I am. So when I have problems, there is a reason—and that reason is probably because it isn’t within my power to fix. I’ve thought about every feasible solution, and have either tried it or otherwise deemed why it should fail.

That said, I’d say I’m pretty good at finding solutions to the day-to-day things that bother me. Lately, though, the things I’ve been dealing with are all things that just need time. For example, I’d like to move out of Southern California, but that just isn’t in the cards for me right now. I’d like to find my spark of inspiration so I can start writing cool stuff again, but I can’t simply manifest it, I have to wait for it to come back. Things like this.

I won’t lie. It is pretty frustrating to have issues that are not within, well, anyone’s power to fix. Sure, I suppose it’s possible that I’ve misdiagnosed the roots of my issues and I could find ways around them that I haven’t discovered, and I certainly don’t claim to know everything about my life situation or my psyche, but as I perceive things to be now, a lot of the problems I’m currently having in life will simply go away given time. (Of course, by that time I expect new problems will arise, but that’s a separate issue.)

Having spoken to a friend about this recently, he gave me very encouraging words in that he noted how positively I talk about my problems. I mean, blog posts like this are basically exactly how I talk in real life (which is why it’s so easy for me to churn posts like this out), so when he said that he could tell how upset I was based on my phrasing and general language use, but still noticed I was optimistic, I really felt good about that. It made me realize just how much it takes for me to get taken down to a level where I would be considered sad or angry. So good job, me.

One thing that I’ve noticed as well is that things are always way easier to deal with when you’re too busy to even think about it. Working full time has helped with that a lot, because I noticed that when the weekend hits, I get very tired and down simply because I’m (sort of) alone with my thoughts. Somehow, I can enjoy myself more coming home after work on a weeknight than I can having two full days to myself.

So while I am honestly doing okay, things bother me just like every other normal human person on the planet. I wish they didn’t, but if I’m right, this too shall pass.

Me — Am I a Writer?

I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. Admittedly, not that long, compared to most people, but that’s… oh gosh, that’s almost half my life at this point. Point is I’ve always loved medieval fantasy and the games and stories that surround that genre. From high school onward I was uncommon in the fact that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

A lot of people go through college and change majors and just struggle with their own identity until they’re in their late 20’s and suddenly discover who they are. I feel like I’m sort of the opposite in that I used to have such a solid idea of who I was until very recently.

I haven’t gotten excited about any new story in months. Actually, the first revamped Lisa Stenton short was the last thing I could hype myself up for before I wrote, and that was January. Everything after that was written because I required it of myself, and I don’t know if you can feel that while you read it, but I can remember feeling it in my heart just by reading the title to those stories.

It’s not that I’m having a panic attack, or any dramatic crisis or anything, just that I’ve… lost interest. I’m working full time, and when I get home I don’t want to write of all things, I just want to relax and play video games with my brothers/friends.

One thing I’ve noticed about this is that it can be very difficult to judge the line between discipline and overworking oneself. I think that for me, that line was crossed these past few months as soon as writing became a chore. It seems ridiculous to write stories and expect people to enjoy them when I forced myself to create them in the first place. And yet, I’m hyperproductive, so requiring one flash fiction piece a week doesn’t seem too bad, and hey, even if I’m forcing myself to write them, nobody’s forcing you to read them. I just don’t like the idea of twiddling my thumbs for months having nothing to show for the passage of time.

I’ve been told I need to branch out more, like take up drawing or pottery or something. I still don’t know how to feel about that, but honestly that doesn’t sit well with me. Even if I could, theoretically, pursue my passion of medieval fantasy through writing, I know that drawing isn’t the way my life is going to go.

I can take solace in the fact that I’m content in my current emotional state. I want to move out of SoCal, and I still have other personal troubles, but things are fine. I think I’m mostly satisfied in the fact that I’m always busy with school, work, and other commitments, so any time to myself I do have playing video games is earned, not wasted.

If I were to make a prediction as to what the near future of my life looks like, I would say that I’ll somehow find that spark of writing again, whether it be months from now or years. Hopefully I won’t live here anymore, but I hope to have a steady job (like the one I have now) and am enjoying writing on the side in an apartment or something in Oregon or Washington.

The future. Hindsight. You know, whatever. The questions I’m struggling with are basically just problems for future me, so it’s not a big deal.

Me — Overcoming Doubt

I know the everyone gets moments of doubt. That feeling of uncertainty where you don’t know if the choices you’ve made are right, and you don’t know what you can possibly do to keep moving. I’m lucky in that those moments are rare for me. I consider my being a writer a given, and that someday, somehow, I’ll be making a living telling stories.

But after watching The Wind Rises, I had that terrible thought. “How can I be so arrogant as to even attempt to construct something to rival this?” The movie gave me ideas—amazing ideas I’m very interested in exploring—but ideas that end up being shadows of their origin.

It really makes me wonder. If people like Hayao Miyazaki exist, why bother? Even if I end up writing something amazing that is on par with the greats, the world will still be the same. It basically doesn’t matter in the slightest whether or not I do write anything worth experiencing. There’s no hole that needs filling—there’s no shortage of great writers, and it would be ridiculous of me to assume that I would be the person to fill it if there was a hole.

But at the same time, that line of thinking doesn’t help. When moments like this happen, it’s important to remember that you have not just had an epiphany that you’re the worst and will never amount to anything. You’re just not letting the optimistic side of the argument have their say. It can be hard not to give the nihilist the wheel when falling into that pit, because it’s so easy to just think of how much things don’t matter.

You’re right, nihilistic Kollin. The chances of you being successful enough to make any tangible influence on the world are minuscule at the very best. But there are two glaring flaws in your argument. The first is that giving up isn’t an option. It simply isn’t. So entertaining that is silly. You would feel way worse for not trying than you do for trying and failing. The second flaw is that you don’t actually care about making an influence in the world. All you want to do is tell cool stories people love. So really, nihilist Kollin, your entire argument is moot.

Well, somehow I sort of used logic to convince myself to feel a bit better, so that’s good. Good job, optimist Kollin. Thanks… also optimist Kollin? You can go now, me. Argument’s over. You got it, me.

I think everyone’s goal in life is just to be happy, when you boil everything down. What “being happy” means changes from person to person. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I’m satisfied with the stories I’ve told or with the people that have read them. But pursuing that is the only logical thing for me to do right now. Otherwise, I’m just twiddling my thumbs and complaining about how unhappy I am.

You gotta work for it. Don’t let your nihilist steer the wheel, cause he/she will just steer you into calm waters, and there’s no growth or happiness to be found there.

Me — Being an Editor

I know that whatever vocation I end up with, it will be centered around writing. Even if I’m not cut out to be a writer, (or at least a novelist,) I’ll still do something with all the time I’ve put into wordsmithing. Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m just better suited to be an editor.

I can’t stick with long term projects. I get bored after a while. I also can’t really analyze my own writing the same way I seem to be able to do so easily with others. I can read an author’s work and pick out grammar mistakes sure, but I would pride myself in being able to really probe into questions that will make an author’s work stand out. From works I’ve been handed in my writer’s group, I seem to make comments that nobody else does. People will often say things like “this character seems out of place to me”, or “I was confused as to who was talking here, I guess you need to put more dialogue tags or something.”

But I’ll go a step further, and really pick apart in my own head why something isn’t working and how I would fix it. “Cut this character out of the story. Put those emotions into this character instead. You’ll end up with less characters and a more realistic and rounded character, so it’s a win-win.”

I feel as though if I could look at my writing the same way I did others’, I would be able to make something great, but maybe it’s the writing that’s hindering me. This is also why I don’t like working with entry level stuff or with people that don’t know me. I don’t want people to think I’m writing their story for them, but I honestly believe I can often see what they’re trying to do and tell them how to do it better. This isn’t to say I think I’m amazing and that I could write their story better than they can, simply that I have a good pair of eyes for identifying exactly what isn’t working.

I think that’s the core difference between me and many other people in my writing group. They can look at somebody’s writing and describe symptoms that they’re seeing. They understand something is wrong and can point it out. More often than not, I can compile all these symptoms, diagnose it, and prescribe treatment. Whether or not the author takes it is up to them. Plus, this metaphor has the added bonus in that it does not imply I am always right. Doctors misdiagnose all the time, so if I say something the author disagrees with, they are under no obligation to make the changes I suggest. (Nor should they feel obligated! It’s their story, after all.)

Maybe examining one’s own work as an editor is just a muscle that needs practice. The thing that sucks is that I think I can’t train that muscle without writing a novel to its completion first. It’s pretty frustrating. If I am meant to be a novelist, I obviously still have a long way to go.

Me — The Daily Dose Turns Two

The Daily Dose of Derailment turned two years old yesterday, which led me to an interesting realization. If I consider the beginning of my writing career to be the first stories I ever started writing in 7th grade of middle school, the blog now takes up a considerable chunk of how much time I’ve spent as a writer. Roughly 25% of my life spent as a writer has been in conjunction with the blog now.

What’s more, since writing blog posts is considerably easier than writing actual fiction, a good portion of the time I’ve spent writing has been nonfiction at this point. I keep a Google Doc of all the things I’ve ever written and each of their word counts, but admittedly I haven’t updated it since September. It’s simply a lot of maintenance, which is a great problem to have. Even back then, though, over 50% of the words I’ve written have been blog posts, and by now I’m probably well past 500,000 total words published.

I have a lot to thank the blog for. Most importantly it’s held me accountable for actually writing, even when it’s difficult. One of my friends taught me something the other day, and it really works. To paraphrase his paraphrased quote from I don’t remember who: “Motivation is terrible. It won’t get you anywhere because it’s fueled by emotion rather than need. But discipline can give you results and force you to push yourself to be who you want.” I find that sentiment to be surprisingly valid.

The best part is, I really do feel like I’m growing as a writer. I’ve looked into how to grow your audience so that more people will read your work. It involves a lot of engaging with other communities and bringing them back to your own. Honestly, that doesn’t interest me much. I do it from time to time, but it’s mostly to see how others are holding up with their own work rather than advertising my stuff. So when I see I have well over a hundred followers without actually publicizing my work, I can be relatively confident that it speaks to the quality of what I produce more than anything else.

I’ve recently started thinking a lot about how I personally view myself, and I’m happy to say that I’ve finally started to unconsciously view my self-worth in terms of my writing. That’s good because I honestly feel like I’m, generally speaking, pretty good at it. I have a lot to learn, obviously, but after eight-ish years of writing garbage, I’m slowly gaining respect for the more recent stories I’ve been working on.

Last year I submitted an application for the 2017 Writing Excuses Retreat. Of the three writing samples I submitted, the three things I considered my best works, one was written in 2014, and the other two were written in 2016. I still think that they’re alright, but I don’t think that they can compare to newer stories like, well, any of the short flash fiction stories I’ve written in 2018. It proves I’ve made some progress.

By this time next year, I hope to be working on publishing a Lisa Stenton book, complete with twelve 5,000 word short stories. It wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve published, but it would still be a huge step forward for me. Here’s hoping.

Me — Too Many Ideas

The problem with getting so many good ideas is that you can’t use all of them. Couldn’t even begin to. I’m sure I’m no different from every other creative person in that I have a list of cool ideas I don’t want to lose, but I know half of them (at best) will never see the light of day.

I just thought of a really cool idea for a game, that I could maybe turn into a short story, and then while watching a movie today I caught the tail end of an aesthetic I really enjoyed. I could perhaps marry the two ideas, but in the end, the idea I have is for a game, not a story. I’m not going to say what that idea is (though I will tell you, Dev, next time I get the chance to talk to you in person), but it has a chance of being the story that publishes on Friday. On one hand, this is good. Having good ideas you don’t have time for end up saying a lot about the ideas you do end up putting effort into. But on the other, it’s frustrating.

I had a really cool idea about a novel where the protagonist was one of a million in an army against a small group of (we’ll call them) adventurers. The idea wasn’t so much of putting focus and sympathy into one of the orcs that gets decapitated by Aragorn’s sword, but rather the angle I had presented looked more like “these four people are bad news, and have godlike powers compared to the common man. How can we make the common man have a fighting chance?”

The ten second pitch for the idea was “imagine playing chess where one side only has 16 pawns and the other side has a knight, bishop, rook, and queen”.

I’ve tabled that idea for now, though. Not because I don’t like it or because I ran into problems. Actually, the only reason I haven’t already tried my hand writing that story was because the idea for Spear Gate swooped in while I was putting it together, and it whisked me away. I still plan on visiting it. I even tried framing it into Spear Gate. But in the end, it didn’t work. There’s a lot to the framework of the story that I didn’t explain, and that framework clashed with what I had in mind for Spear Gate. So it’s been on the back-burner for a while.

The worst part is I still haven’t been able to figure out how to hold my personal interest in the novels I’m working on. I resolved to write Spear Gate until I reached the end, but I’m starting to doubt if I can. I really need to get out of the habit of quitting on long projects before I’m even halfway through, but I don’t see how that’s possible when that new cool idea comes along. I would highly doubt this is a rare problem authors face, and yet I’ve never seen or heard any advice on how to tackle it.

Sometimes, new ideas can be a curse.