Life — Writing Mode

Over a month ago I had plans for what I was going to do over the summer. With no school or job, I have pretty much free 24/7. So, I decided to utilize it to implement Stage Three of the “Productive Me®”. After Stage One and Two (overhauling my work space and my physical appearance), Stage Three was to be a full, set in stone schedule I would adhere to day by day. It included set times in which I would be eating as well as specific break times in between a six hour writing session. I had everything planned.

And I had the self discipline to adhere to it exactly one day.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated with myself, but I’m not surprised. The heat always makes it difficult to be productive, and while I don’t want to diffuse the blame from my own lack of willpower, I really do feel like I could be doing more than what I am if I were in a different situation.

I’m not trying to make excuses and say “Woe is me, I would be great if only…”, but rather I think the way I’m forcing it isn’t right. That isn’t to say I’ve learned what does work, because I wouldn’t be having any issue of I did, but I’m still missing something.

I think about this a lot. I go to bed and wake up later than I’d like. I’m a morning person, but I rarely have any mornings because I don’t go to bed before 2 am. I’d go to bed sooner, only my room is loud and that path isn’t likely to bear fruitful results.

If I had the means, I would move. I’d find an apartment or condo in northern California or Oregon where the heat isn’t so oppressive, and just existing isn’t quite as expensive as it is here. Somewhere where things aren’t so busy.

Am I lazy? I would argue against that. So much of my thought process is driven by my desire and need for independence. Every time I need help in anything it weighs down on my soul, and so I strive to be the best at anything I do.

So when I can’t find the strength to sit down and write, even when I know I’ll feel great when I’m done, I’m at an impasse. I sit there staring at the blank screen for over an hour. Maybe a few paragraphs, but “Writing Mode” never comes. That elusive trance where the minutes float away as I’m lost in thought writing. I can’t force it, no matter how hard I try. But I know the conditions when it comes the easiest. And those conditions aren’t easily accessible at the moment.

It’s times like this that I wonder. Is this a writer’s problem? Or a human problem? Perhaps it’s something unique to creators, but I can’t help but feel like every day that I let slip without writing a substantial amount of fiction is a failure. What am I worth if I can’t even muster up the willpower to sit down and stare at a computer?

Story — My Superpower

“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” We’re asked this question often enough to merit a prepared response. The same sort of preparation that goes with “What would you do with a million dollars?” or “What’s your favorite color?”

I’m not one for open ended questions like that. I tell people my favorite color is blue. But sometimes, it’s green. It depends on the shade and the context. I like forest green, but if we’re painting the walls or the cars with it, I’d rather use something more plain. There are pros and cons to everything. I love different movies for opposing reasons. I can’t compare the two because there are too many factors to consider.

But when I’m asked what my preferred superpower is, I smile to myself. I smile because the thing I would choose is something I already have. It isn’t unique. There aren’t any superheroes featured on the front cover of any comic books for this ability. It isn’t anything as ‘Flashy’ as super speed or as ‘Mystical’ as shape-shifting.

In fact nearly everyone I know has it. It’s the ability to write.

Writing is so much more than putting words on a page. It’s magic. Crafting worlds and creating living, breathing people with full lives and histories. It’s also telepathy. I can craft any world, and person, and any idea, and implant it from my brain to yours. This telepathy transcends all physical boundaries. Even time.

Think about it. Every word you have ever read was written in the past. It may not be as dramatic as Shakespeare or Plato speaking to their readers hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. If we think of time as distance, everything lines up. Very few things have survived the journey of thousands of years past, but what little we do have allows us to see what life was like back then, almost as if we’re looking back on another world through a telescope.

It’s also incredibly complex. Minute differences lead to drastic changes in the message. If you consider all of the paganistic rituals (mostly in the fiction I’ve read or watched, probably,) then everything has to be absolutely perfect. If you draw a circle with that chalk, you better make sure that that circle is flawless because if it isn’t, you’re not going to summon that genie or demon.

It’s the same thing with words. Not only are the specific keystrokes important, but the size is, as well. A missing line and a ‘T’ becomes an ‘l’. If your circle isn’t full, your ‘o’ might become an ‘e’. InCreaSing the SiZe Of SOme letterS ChangeS even slightly makes everything look wrong, even though the way the letters are shaped isn’t affected.

And then, when one chooses to be a writer, one must look deeper. Simple word accuracy is no longer enough. You have to find the right words in the perfect context and, when necessary, apply the appropriate typeface. You have to carefully structure your sentences to convey proper pacing. Otherwise, they’re abrupt. Sporadic. Scatterbrained, even.

One must learn all these things to master the art. It may not be a superpower to some, but with practice, one can transcend time and space itself.

Life — Chapter One. Again.

One thing about my writing career that has always frustrated me, and that I cannot seem to train myself out of, is the fact that I get bored. It has happened every time I try to write one continuous story, usually around the ten-thousand word mark. When I was actually trying to write a novel I would press on after that, but often when it hit that point it became a chore, something that writing should never be. “Only write what you love” is advice I get a lot. So I adhere to it.

It’s ended up creating this sort of bizarre paradox in my writing. My passion is worldbuilding. I love grabbing huge ideas and making societies out of them. “What would a culture of people with no eyes be like?” or “How could a people scared of the nighttime survive, and how would it shape their lives?” I end up with original cultures, nations, and religions in crazy fantasy settings. But those details are never fleshed out onto the page because I never get that far.

If it’s one thing I do, it’s write great Chapter One’s. I’m constantly writing short stories that sound like they are the first chapter in a novel. It’s because they are. But I don’t want to keep writing because I don’t want to stop liking that character and their story. Sometimes, I won’t even know what comes next.

This has been my plight. I know I can write great hooks. It’s all I do, for one thing, so I get a lot of practice in, but I don’t want to be a short story author. I want to be a novelist. In short stories, I can only tease at the societies and the worlds I’ve created. I never have time to flesh them out.

One of the big reasons why all of this is a big problem for me is because I’m actually really bad at both character and plot development. At least, I think I am. Plot is especially hard for me, because trying to piece one together has never felt good to me. It always feels fake, and I don’t know exactly why it seems so artificial. I’m better with characters, but I feel like I only have a few dozen, and the only thing that changes is their name as I put them in different settings.

I’ve tried outlining. I’ve made character sheets and framing the plot structure chapter by chapter. But taking any meaningful time to do that saps the enjoyment from the story, so when I do try to write a novel, most of the time I wing it, with the only preparation being a few loose ideas I have in my head. This is often called “discovery writing” in the community, but this also feels wrong to me. I have such a technical and organized mind. I like to plan. Except when it comes to writing.

None of it makes sense, so I stick to what I know. “Chapter One”.

Life — Writing Several Projects

Lately I’ve been tackling lots of separate unrelated writing ideas, and it’s left me a little overwhelmed with the things I want to be doing. With the onset of summer, I’ve wanted to challenge myself by setting blocks of writing time throughout a work day, like many professional authors have. It’ll be the first time I’ll have a time goal rather than a word goal, so it’s a little daunting, but it does beg the question, what should I be writing?

Regardless of the things going on around me, I’ve basically always had the philosophy of working on the most exciting project at any given point in time, within reason. (If something new sounds cool, I at least hold off until I’m finished with what my current project is.) But lately, I’ve been getting so many good ideas that I’m a bit overwhelmed on where to begin. There’s the newest world-scale project I’ve been working on from recent weeks, that I’ve tentatively titled the ‘Spear Gate System’. But I’ve also had the premise for a new book involving a chess game of gods that I’ve been interested in writing. I would have started it already if it hadn’t been for the Spear Gate idea. Still, I have older ideas that I haven’t finished. Rise of the Riftguard is still a long way from being even close to a finished first draft, and I never got around to starting the new Spark story I had been thinking about. And recently I started a new short series documenting the history of Nacre Then: The Writings of Toreshide.

This leaves five projects, and this doesn’t even bring up the fact that I’m still going to be writing at least five hundred words per day on the blog. The smallest of these projects I could finish in a day, sure, but I can’t focus on all of them at once. It is a nice problem to have, though. Years ago I would have been astounded at all the things the current me is trying to juggle. And I think setting a time to write will help with this a lot. I can be writing the ‘Chess of Gods’ book one hour, and then for a small half hour break I can kick back and write some more Toreshide pieces. On one hand, this will allow time to refresh my own head space, but since I’m still just speculating, it could completely burn me out.

And this still doesn’t even address the elephant that’s always been in the room: getting bored. My single largest shortcoming as a writer is that I still get bored with my ideas way too quickly. The one and only time I wrote a full-scale novel was about five years ago at this point, and I’ve pretty much stuck to short fiction ever since. It isn’t terrible, of course, but I want to be able to consistently write novels. Most of my short stories are really the Chapter One to a book that will never be written.

I think I’m doing fine. My philosophy of only writing what interests me has carried this far, but part of me wonders whether its keeping me from really developing the ability to commit to a longer work.

Life — “Hand versus Eye”

Recently I’ve been bogged down with the fact that I’ve been watching and reading so many masterpieces, it’s been hard to think about how I could possibly compare. Now, I realize that every artist experiences this, so I know it’ll wash off in time, I just hope it goes sooner than later. Watching the film adaptation of Count of Monte Cristo and (unconsciously) comparing Lisa Stenton to the Dresden Files has left me seeing how far I really have to go before I can ever be on any comparable level. I’m making a deliberate effort to steer away from a Dresden Files vibe, but everything I make distinctly different feels like a downgrade rather than a different artistic choice. Maybe this means I’m turning at the wrong junctions.

Through all of this,the concept of “Hand versus Eye” comes to mind. Yesterday, my brothers and I were talking about the inevitable difference between what your hand can create and what they eyes can perceive. I can draw, but I can’t come close to the level of detail Michelangelo could achieve. I can write, but I can’t forge a work of art others in my craft can. If my hand was slightly better than my eye’s ability to perceive greatness, I would never have to deal with this discrepancy.

This all derives from the mind’s drive to compare and find patterns. We like frames of reference, and sometimes all of the easily accessible frames of reference are all way better than you. I imagine learning to pitch a baseball is tough because you want to be in the Major League, so you have to think about how you just can’t throw a 90mph fastball yet. You don’t want to compare yourself to the rest of your team, who is on the same level as you, because they aren’t people you aspire to be.

I could easily browse websites full of awful writing to boost my morale. I know how much better I am than any high-schooler trying their hand at writing their first fanfiction. That was me once upon a time, after all, and I can see how far I’ve come.

And in the end, that’s all that should really matter. “The only person you should compare yourself to is you. Your mission is to become better today than you were yesterday.” A quote whose only credit I could find is to John Maxwell. This is a much safer comparison, really. You can’t compare yourself to people you aren’t. If they’re in the field you want to break into, you may be inclined to think that the comparison is one of pure volume of skill alone, but it isn’t. You’re comparing the volumes of two different liquids, with different densities and properties and everything. There is no fair comparison there.

You’re only going to get disheartened if you keep letting your eye see things way above your hand’s level. Don’t let yourself dwell on who you aren’t. Just look back and make sure you’re happy that you aren’t who you used to be. If you’re an artist, just draw something better today. It doesn’t have to be “Starry Night”, or “The Last Supper”. As long as you can see improvement from the day before, and the month before that, and so on, then you’re on the right track.

Life — Having What it Takes (390)

I’ve been writing since I was around twelve. I had this idea in my head about two friends that were so powerful they could fight an entire army on their own. One was a wizard, the other was a ‘dragon keeper’. I even had a bit of a plot twist set up where it would be revealed that they were literally the same person with different fates and lives, somehow. No, I didn’t figure out how that was supposed to work, but it was an idea I had.

I have been writing more and more in those seven plus years since, but before I started this blog early 2016 you could have read everything I had ever written in two sittings (one, if you spent the day doing it). Nowadays I have a substantial amount of output (several novels worth, if you count my blog in that tally), and I’ve finally gotten into the habit of writing even when I don’t want to. Not to mention the fact that I’m starting to be able to enjoy certain aspects of writing.

But if you had asked me the probability of me becoming a “published novelist” only five months ago, I would have said “at best, fifty percent” (this being an almost direct quote from one of my blog posts). Why? Well, a lot of reasons. Writing is hard, even when it’s fun. It has never been something I do in my spare time, and even now I don’t consider writing time “free” time. Instead, I would liken it to going to the gym with the hopes of being a bodybuilder one day. You don’t get in shape without putting in the work, and it’s the same thing here.

But if you asked me today the chances of me making a living off of my writing one day, I would say over ninety-five percent. Because a few things have finally clicked.

When I was first starting out, I read Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal that he did for aspiring writers. In his parting words, he said something that never really resonated until this moment in my career.

If you stay the course and break in, you are going to acquire a ton of absolutely necessary skills. You have to learn to motivate yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it: Discipline. You’re going to have to learn the ropes of the business, and how to work with an editor: Professionalism. You’re going to face what might be years of adversity, facing a monumentally difficult task and you’re going to overcome it: Confidence. You’re going to do it with very little active support, and when you look back at this time in the future, you’re going to know that it was something YOU did all by yourself: Strength.

My brain understood that an author’s path is a hard one, and most walk it alone. But now my heart finally gets what that even means. In the Writing Excuses podcast, Brandon Sanderson mentioned that his editor commented on how young he was for an author. He was twenty-six. For me, that’s another seven years.

I can take that to mean I’ve got a long way to go before I actually sell anything, or I can look at it optimistically. Sanderson was considered young for a published author when he made it. That means that even if I need another seven years of writing practice before I publish, I won’t have lost any time in the professional field. They’ll say I’m young now, and they’ll say I’m young then. (To clarify, this is because a lot of authors looking to publish are retiring people. Comparatively few people start their working class career as aspiring writers.)

I’ve learned so much with this blog and now my writing group in this past year alone, that I’m finally starting to really see how daunting a task becoming a writer really is.

If I get a job offer elsewhere. If I start making a living off of something that isn’t writing, I’m not going to stop. It’s my firm belief that nothing at this point can stop it from happening anymore. The train has left the station, and I don’t know where the next stop is, but I can’t well get off now.

I’m a writer. I’ve made up my mind to walk this path. There’s no turning back now.

 

As a side note, Jim Butcher’s advice is really inspiring, and they’re words I live by at this point. I found a hard time only quoting one chunk earlier because I kept wanting to expand it more and more, so I decided to leave the whole post below. There’s also a link to the LiveJournal itself, if you’re so inclined to read it that way instead. Continue reading “Life — Having What it Takes (390)”

Life — Hunkering Down

These past couple years, I’ve gotten a lot better at really fleshing out my writing career and taking on the persona of a professional writer. I’ve started writing more. I’ve started thinking of myself as a “writer” rather than an “aspiring author”. Heck, I don’t even dress the same anymore. But one thing I still have a huge problem with is turning on Writing Mode.

I don’t know how other writers do it: sit down and just work for hours and hours on end. These blog posts don’t count. I can scratch one out in less than twenty minutes if I really need to. But when I need to write a longer, dedicated fiction piece, I have to rely on being able to be in the mood, and if I’m not, I just can’t do it. I let myself get distracted way too easily. When I have a day off, the day before my mind says “Perfect chance to get ahead of the game: a week’s worth of blog, get some homework in, maybe even write the Sunday short and work on the next D&D session!” But when that day actually comes, I don’t get out of bed until almost noon, and I take two hours to ‘wake up’, eating breakfast and watching videos until it the sun’s made it’s descent. I probably take an hour or two of a video game break in between what little work I actually get done.

I’d love nothing more than to get out of bed at nine, write a blog post or two every hour with a ten minute Hearthstone match in between. Once I get far enough ahead I can take an actual lunch break before I hunker down and write some fiction. But my mind is just never there. My willpower is never strong enough. I wonder why that is. My days yield four thousand words at their strongest, and I’m not saying that’s a small amount, but those are outliers. Those are abnormally productive for me. I want that to be way more normal than it is, but I can’t get my mind to want that enough.

I keep telling myself that it’s just school. I want the semester to be over so I can get more time to write, but I don’t know if it’s just an excuse. Maybe the problem will get even worse because I have more time to write. Obviously a change in mindset is necessary here, I’m just not sure how to accomplish it. In the very least I want some buffer days so that if I’m caught without work, I can publish stuff without having written that day (I say as I write this at almost 3am).

But I don’t know. Am I asking too much of myself? I write on average around five thousand words a week. I could do that in a day. In fact, I could pretty easily write the entire week’s worth of fiction every, say, Friday, and have nothing that needs doing throughout the rest of the week. It sounds a lot more appealing than the “get it done when I want/need to” system I’ve got going, but our brains don’t always pull the strings. Plus, if I’m that productive on Friday, that would open the week up to more fiction writing, which should be my end goal anyway.

In the very least, I do hope this will stop being a problem come the summer, when I’m left with nothing but a laptop on a week-to-week basis. That’ll mean no more video games for me!