Why I Had A Breakdown Over My Novel

August 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

I won’t try to relate this to a theoretical writer today.

Many of these posts are aimed at the readers. Well, whoever those are that might benefit from reading them. Sometimes they’re sounding boards – I’ll speak to the unspecified collection of writers, but in truth I’m writing it at myself, and often about whatever stage I’m at. Today is different.

It’s not that people won’t relate. While I’m convinced the vast majority will read this post and think “Dude, really?“, there’s a possibility some might go through and think “Wow. I had a moment like that.

The Thing with Writing

Writing is fraught with its own things, and one of the common situations is that you’ll find someone that’s written, loves what they’ve written, but wouldn’t ever dream of sharing it with someone. I was like that for a long time, but it’s hard to reconcile that mentality when the aspiration always leads to letting others enter your world, seeing it in print, and doing it until you’ve no more words or breath left in you.

Whether it’s self-publishing, traditional, or just circulating print-outs and pdfs amongst friends, eventually you have to lay it out on the table. It might be bad. There might be mistakes. It’s not enough to just guess that they’re there and attempt to hide from them. You can’t overcome them if they’re never recognised, or never given light. I still struggle with this aspect. My first reaction after getting critical feedback is “No… but I thought I was good. Isn’t this what I want to produce with my life? It can’t be crap.

Boo fricking hoo. Everything’s crap until it’s not. It takes me some time to see where things fall through because I’m too close to the fire, but when I do, it’s as clear to me as it was to the people who said so. There’s some mental and emotional gymnastics required, because you need to accept that your particular arrangement of words is not as good as you originally thought, but still believe in it enough that you try to salvage it.

Same old story, no news here.

A Critical Point

As yesterday’s post said, I’m working on the rewrite of my current novel, For More Than Earthly Ends. It’s approaching a critical point in the story. The underlying structure of the story is that there’s an event that happens in the story’s past, which has a profound effect on a half-dozen characters. Those characters go off to live their separate lives, each in one of three story threads. The critical point is because one of those story-threads is about to veer off and bump into the other two threads, and change the course of each.

The draft I shared with a few people had issues, and in working on ways to resolve them, I found lots more I wanted to change. Whether or not the things I’m changing would be seen as broken or not, I really can’t say, however I do believe everything is better because of it. I mean, really, really believe it. And believe in it.

There’s a few stereotypes when it comes to writers, particularly with choice of beverage. Coffee has been a very common one, but I’ve not really had much in the way of alcohol in a long time. Exceptions were made last night. Lots. Maybe that’s the contributing factor, but I’ve always thought I get around the buffers in my head when inebriated. If I’ve been down on myself, the buffer of thought that demands perfection withers away, and I get glimpses of a thought that says “hey, I’m not so bad.

Just glimpses, mind you.

The Actual Incident

One thing I have to say is that you shouldn’t feel sorry for me. What followed was a very emotional experience for me, but one that was also cathartic.

It was a little after 11:30pm. Might have been cold, but owing to a certain liquid, my limbs were numb to any concerns over temperatures. I’d gotten off the train and started my walk home, all while listening to bits and pieces of my writing playlist. There’s a lot of songs in the playlist, but the core theme always comes back to an amalgamation of four – this is a weird thing where in my imagination, the three very different songs blur together at different parts, forming some special theme song. If I had an ounce of musical talent I’d consider trying to mix them proper, but the mind does well enough. The main piece to take from that is I was listening to one of the most emotionally laden tunes that relates to my novel. And yep, drunk. And thinking about my novel.

I thought about the progress I’d made. The improvements. I thought about how I was walking past a building I’d already pictured as the central point of one of the story threads, while listening to a song. I wasn’t quite there in the story, but I was traipsing along its borders.

It was too much for me to hold inside, but once you know it’s coming, what else can you do? My throat was already pulsing, and I knew that sharp ache beneath my eyes was just a warning that tears were on their way.

I didn’t understand it at first. Was it just the song, the place, and the drink? Stupid me, get it together. I could’ve skipped to a different song. I considered it, but didn’t. Whatever was happening, I needed it to happen. I needed to dig into this raw torrent and let it unsettle me, ravage my composure, and serve whatever had to be given.

I ran through the possible causes. Was it insecurity? Maybe. I thought about what I’m writing, and pulled out a thought. What if I’m wasting my time? What if it’s not good at all? There was an easy out for this fractured emotional state; the one I’d been telling myself over 20+ years of concerted efforts to write, the one I’d clung to whenever someone told me it was good, even while I balanced a belief that I had sufficient talent with regard to writing. I’ll be the first to tell someone I’m confident in my ability to write, and the first again to tell them how terrible my writing actually is. If you go for the astrology thing, no surprises I’m a gemini, but I think it’s just a severe case of cognitive dissonance.

It wasn’t the easy answer. The “I’m bad and everything I do is bad” response didn’t have the grounds. I could think the words, but it wasn’t belief.

A thought came back to me. This thing that I’m writing? It’s not terrible. It’s not even average.

It

Is

Good

Huh?

It is good. My novel, the one I started planning a year ago. The one I began writing in November. The one I’m rewriting. It is good.

It was one of the most terrifying thoughts I’ve ever had. That is the ridiculous truth. When I go to my core, when I shake away the halfway words and modesty and doubt, the novel that I’m working on is good and it scares me. I’m not even halfway through my current rewrite, still a long way from being finished, but I recognise now that I’m working on something I’ve been dreaming of for so long. There is accomplishment in it.

I’m closer to a finish line than I’ve ever been, but I know it’s not a waste and that is scary. The potential of success, scary.

It’s not like I’ve only one story in me. There’s more than I could ever write. I’m won’t finish this and say “Well, life mission accomplished. I can go die now”

Others have told me I can do this. Others have told me I write well or that my ideas are good or that they love my characters. I still had a part of me that suspected they were either being nice or plain wrong, but now, no. My world-view has shattered and instead of this dream of mine being this impossible thing, it is something I am capable of. I’m actually doing it.

What matters more is that I believe I’m doing it well, and I can’t wait to take you all through it. Even more so now that it feels like it will do justice to what I imagined.

For a long time, I’ve said that writing was my passion. I’ve hoped that it was what I was meant to do. I’ve defined myself by it. The difference now is knowing. If the same or a comparable situation came to you, after years of doubt and uncertainty and untenable hope, you had this moment, wouldn’t you cry too?

Fifteen

August 7, 2014 § 1 Comment

That's somewhere around chapter five

What a beautiful neat number.

It’s right there. A number that makes me want to punch the air with elation.

Overall, it’s not a big improvement. I’m not even halfway done with the rewrite, but it is continuing. Rewrites are strange. I guess it’s not really editing if you’re moving bits and around and rewriting almost everything. The scenes are more or less true to their original versions, though the outcomes are different. A solid example of that would be the chapter I’m currently on, number five.

There was no stated history between two of the major characters in my original draft. RE and MW were due to meet later, but there was no visible reason for RE to a) know to look for MW, and b) where to find MW. With the additions brought about by the new prologue introduction, point A has been settled, while point B now has avenues. It’s important to me that whatever the surprises thrown before the reader might be, they’re shown to be as they are for good reason. I think it’s a complicated ride that I take people on with this novel, and I want to make sure that every reader is right there with me when I get to the end.

I don’t mean that I want them to keep reading. That can be assumed.

I don’t want them to be lost.

I may want to drop the floor beneath them and make them question what the hell has been going on throughout the entire sequence but I want them to see what’s going on and understand it’s all been leading, possibly foreshadowed, and most of all, hopefully not happened in a predictable manner. Maybe it will be, but it’s all about balance.

It’s for that reason that I’m going through such a widespread rewrite process, and yep, killing darlings all over the place. There’s sequences I liked in the original draft that haven’t had a place this time around. Little details, like a character scrunching up a ball of paper and throwing it past the head of another the way reasonable adults don’t. There’s fine-tuning of characters. One of the characters is also now more emotional, more affected by something that happened in the past, resulting in a kind of plot-blindness to him.

While I’m only at the 15% mark of what the previous draft was, chapter five itself is an important one. It represents the first moment when the three concurrent stories begin to converge. This didn’t really happen until much later in the previous draft, which led to the emergence of a villain being fraught with confusion, and a revelation in the ending that was understated and obscure.

The feedback I have so far on the rewrite (the limited bits I’ve shared) are that it explains things better and more gradually, the relationships between characters are better, and there is more balance to the characters besides.

All that said, I’m keen to finish this chapter. Getting through this one lets me return to the next storythread that has had a bit of a shakedown, plus once I finish chapter five I’ll type up what I have written so far and send it through to my alpha reader, and get all excited to be able to discuss it.

The biggest struggle is not getting impatient. Need to take the time to get it all as good as I can for this draft, so that there’s less chance of structural changes in any drafts that follow, and I’ll be in a position where I might consider it good enough to submit to an agent or publisher or whoever else handles that kind of thing.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from all this is that I need to plan more. I’ve gone from overplanning to negligible levels of plandom, and balance is needed. The main area that needs planning? Structure. Pacing. The WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FINAL THIRD. Sometime soon I’ll start planning for my November (which will also represent a break from FMTEE), but hope to get it solid enough that any rewrites of the next novel do not involve shuffling things around.

But yeah, greatly looking forward to ending chapter five, hitting 20%, and then anticipating the next round of milestones.

The First Village (poem)

August 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Going back to an older piece of something, this is a poem from 2009. It’s based on a fantasy story that I used to work on, and that has its roots in a separate story I started in my teenhood. I haven’t touched that particular story in a long time, though through working on another fantasy story, realised they take place in the same land, separated by a great many years.

I tried attacking the poem source in more recent years. Back when Script Frenzy was still a thing, I made plans to rewrite the entire thing as a script, and hopefully use it as a jumping point into a full-blown novel. Didn’t happen.

I have no idea if I’ll ever write the attached story, though do have plans on that more recent story. Regardless, this is mine.

The First Village

The steely roar of shiny spears

thrust skyward, up into the air
cry over brazen shouts of brave men’s fears
and beckon death’s dark dead stare.

A man at the front calls out words of instruction,
“Hold your weapon, be steady, be cautious.
I have no desire for blatant destruction
there is no lamb to slaughter before us.”

He holds his blade up, thrusted into the sky,
and gives the final word to begin.
He knows not who, nor how many will die,
which faces will fall for his master’s sin.

The lieutenant rides first, on an ill-tempered steed,
“You heard the General! Onward to the village!”
The sense of restraint was not in his creed,
but instead a desire to murder and pillage.

It was the flames that came first, rained down from above
filling the air with screams and with smoke.
Encircling the village like a well-tailored glove,
ready for all the blood it would soak.

The second the March, like the clatter of coins.
Their spears finding those not yet dead from the fire.
Even the children, the last of past loins
had no escape from this murky quagmire.

The General came last, through the scorched rubble.
His eyes reddened by soot and despair.
The stench of burnt flesh wrought by the trouble,
suffocating each single breath he drew there.

Then quickly a figure lifts from a pile of ashes
A dagger in hand and eyes darting knives
Faster toward the general he dashes
ready to take his, for all the lost lives.

Why NaNoWriMo?

August 5, 2014 § 5 Comments

Why What?

In eighty-eight days, it will be the first of November. Novembero Uno. When that first second ticks from Halloween into All Saints Day, people will start writing. With every hour that passes, and each timezone enters the beginning of a new month, more and more people will join in. Ones, tens, hundreds and then thousands. Last year there were 598,009 participants, all striving to write 50,000 words within a month.

Welcome to the phenomenon that is National Novel Writing Month. Aka, NaNoWriMo.

You can go through all the history and other related minutiae on the site linked above, so instead I’ll address my title.

My Problem

When I first learned about it, it seemed insane. It’s not as though I didn’t know that one weird trick all the pros use to get their novels written. I knew you had to get through the first draft before you could begin to make it better, but it was one of those pieces of knowledge you know only as a fact, as you’ve not yet learned it through experience. Life has a lot of facts like that, like not slamming the brakes when your car fishtails. It defies instinct. Ditto with writing your first draft – here’s this thing you KNOW can or could be brilliant, but the instinct is to spend more time with it when first putting it down, so you can get it as good as possible now.

At the time, the longest thing I’d written was around 12,000 words long, and it was not in a readable state. It was a hodge-podge of prose, planning, and many versions of the same conversations bundled together as I didn’t know which was best. On and off, that one took me years to write, and I never really felt as though I made progress. Sure, I had an entire plan. Well, two-thirds of a plan and an unclear final third. The point was that if 12,000 words in 2 or so years was a stretch to me, 50,000 in 30 days? It didn’t seem possible.

The first year I knew about it, I forgot until after it had passed. The second time I found word of it, I signed up straight away, forever entwining my fate with this strange word-laden event. At the beginning of November 2009, I joined the fray.

I didn’t do a lot of preparation. Historically, this has rarely been true of my writing. Most of my WIPs from my teen years through to the beginning of NaNo were rife with lots of planning, usually to do with premises, but in a few cases they ran the entire course of the story. Sometimes stories. The more that I planned out, the less actual writing I seemed to do, and forever found myself able to add more details to any plan. I was the stereotype of the wannabe – forever starting, never finishing, and always finding some new story that appealed more than what I was writing.

It couldn’t last.

A New Method

It was the middle of October, and I had no idea what I was doing. I think I’d told some friends I was going to take part. I’d definitely told some colleagues. In truth, I had no idea what I was going to write about, but felt it was too late to give up. One of the core tenets of NaNoWriMo was that you don’t really need a plan to start writing – that you can just start writing and see where it goes, but this was me. I needed to know what I was writing. I needed SOMETHING.

It was around this time that I read an article about science fiction. It’s my stand-out favourite genre, and with occasional exceptions, the one I tend to write in most. I don’t remember the source of the article, nor the precise content, but it was a criticism along the lines of ‘Science Fiction doesn’t/rarely addresses social structure outside of human ones’. Even that might be a mangled version of what it really said, but it got me thinking about what constants there are in our society or place in the world – what was a truth so integral to humanity that we would have blinders around the subject?

The one I came to, is that we’re at the top of a food chain. We aren’t fed upon by some predator, and we certainly don’t have to deal with being picked off just-because. True, you could stretch it so that death itself was a predator, but we don’t treat it as a constant, or a fact of life. We don’t live our day-to-day the best we can, because we see it as the exception to our state, instead of an unalterable truth. Death, the constant looming over all of us, is still an aberration.

The idea came out of that, and I wanted to write a story where members of a society were picked off by a predator with such commonality, that it became an accepted constant. The protagonist would be an outsider, an everyman who saw this state of being as unnatural. Armed with the idea, I wanted to plan. I did recognise that going into detail would possibly detract from the writing process, and I wanted to begin with as much momentum as I could. So I planned out a sequence of ten events that would happen over the course of the novel, and got ready to begin.

By the end of November, I had 53K words… more than three times as long as the previous longest thing I’d ever written.

A One-Shot Deal?

For NaNoWriMo 2010, I was much more nervous than I was in the previous. There were expectations now. I’d proven I was capable of writing 50K in a month, but repeating the feat was another issue. The worst of it was that after an hour into the start of November, I felt like everything I’d written was horrible and that it was a mistake to even consider doing it again. I’d tempted fate and now I’d show the world I had no business being a writer. I stopped at 2am on that first day of November, went to bed, and vowed to try again in the morning. It went better. I even thought it was ‘okay’. By the end of the day, I’d found the momentum again, and was ready to go on creating.

The following two years did not go quite as successfully, to the point that 2011 was a downright failure. I can look at 2012 and see my 25K for that year and think yeah, I made some mistakes but I did alright, all things considered. 2011, no.

With 2013 being my first year as a (co-)Municipal Liaison, and having missed the target of the previous two Novembers, the pressure on getting to 50K was high. Obviously all of that pressure came from myself, but it was high. Let’s skip to the result and yep, I got there. Three out of five isn’t all that bad, but it’s coming up again this November.

Is Any Of This Really Why?

Okay, no. All of this so far has been anecdotal experiences about NaNoWriMo, and how it works, or kind of works.

The reason why you should do it, is because it’s a great way to get a first draft out, and quickly.

The combination of the 50,000 words required, and the mere 30 days means you’re writing 1667 words a day. That means you need to be consistent at writing over the course of the month (great habit builder), yet you also don’t have the luxury of spending time to get everything right. The deadline means you have to go through the writing, not think quite as much, and trust that you’re writing something you can finish and improve later.

There are tips and tricks to help you keep your momentum, to keep you on track, and to meet other writers going through the same thing. Believe this – that sharing of pain helps!

The people that NaNoWriMo is especially pertinent for, are those that have been meaning to finish a novel ‘some day’.

Do It Because

Do it because it gives you a deadline.

Do it because it doesn’t expect perfection.

Do it because you’ll have to stop deliberating over the right way to say things, and have to just say them.

Do it because the story you want to write might not be the story you think it is.

Do it because writing a story this way can give you a bounty of surprises in the narrative.

Do it because you’ll meet other writers and be able to talk to them about your story, their story, craft, fandom, and pretty much any topic imaginable.

Do it because you are tired of not finishing what you begin.

Do it because it will start a habit.

Do it because a few months later, you’ll be able to look at this strange story you wrote, and find things you’d forgotten you’d written.

Do it because the word because is starting to look weird to me.

Related Posts

If you’re a long-time reader of Fictioner’s Net, you’ll know it’s not the first time I’ve written about it. There’s a few other posts here, and for the sake of insight, I’ll list them here:

Beyond that, NaNoWriMo 2013 was where I started writing For More Than Earthly Ends, the WIP novel I’m well… working on. It took a little extra to finish the first draft, but after reading through it twice, I started working on a rewrite. So long as you write something you care about, no matter how good or bad your writing is, it’s a worthwhile experience.

Find Your Own Inspiration

August 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

In spite of the way that the evening has become fixed in my imagination, the night of July 14 2014 would not register as significant. While birthdays, inductions, and other commemorative dates are in themselves notable and I’d do nothing to cast a shadow over such things, it’s the reason why it’s keyed to a burst of creativity that is the mystery.

In terms of my city, Sydney, it was a cold night. The Canadians and Americans among by readership here would scoff at what we consider a teeth-chattering low, but I tell you, I shivered outside like everyone else I saw. To a man walking to a parking lot close to midnight, it would be cold. To an idiotic (in the very best of ways) writer with an overactive imagination, I’d stepped out of a hospital, straight into a special version of Antarctica.

Why Antarctica? Obviously, because it’s in my novel (duh)!

I stepped out of a temporary walkway of thin wooden floors and walls laden with shiny foil, into a frozen (though in reality, bereft of ice and snow and the whole freezing bit) world. I was there. There were huge floodlights above, tall buildings in some areas and new construction in others, and all the while, there was a constant buzz that could have been a generator or anti-grav engines.

In some ways, I might be going all out into creative madness to the point where it may not make sense. I think any such aspersions could be tempered by the fact this was also the first place I’d seen a live AGV in my life, and that in itself gives an otherworldly sense of visiting the future.

I’ll admit that sometimes I see my story ideas manifest in the world around me. My 2009 NaNoWriMo had an entity in it that was half-borne from nightmares, feeling something like a tangle of tree trunks and branches encased in wrought iron. While the details did differ, to physically see this sculpture, Roxy Paine’s Neuron as I walked around Circular Quay back whenever it was at the front of the MCA? It was breathtaking. In the evening light, it was there.. something I’d imagined had come into the world, yet it wasn’t the first occasion I’d had to picture its form.

Even walking home after work, I would stare at the crests of trees, imagining that my antagonist had risen before me just as it did in front of my protagonist. I channelled the slow sway and unrelenting scale into the pit of my stomach, until I felt the same drop there as he did.

Go back further, and it repeats. It’s amazing where a soundtrack, closed eyes, and a strong wind can take you. Two more examples of me losing my real place in the world and pushing an imagined one in? For a long, long time, the room at the back of my parents’ place (an extension put in when I was somewhere between five and seven years old) has always mimicked the form of stables. Take out the walls on one side, put posts in where the windows are divided, and there it is. Previously mentioned it on this post.

Totally a poop deck, right? Also POOP! HAHAHAHA

Totally a poop deck, right? Also POOP! HAHAHAHA

This one’s a bit more recent – this is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which has wood arranged like this in between the two sets of train tracks that cross it. First time I noticed, I immediately thought of the deck of a tall ship, and I picture it every time since. Last night I looked out at the terracotta roofs lit by golden sunlight and it invoked a feeling of Florence.

There’s so much around us, so much depth to the places we already are, that it’s possible to get inspiration anywhere. All you have to do is find it.

Not Dead

August 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

I live!

Well, kinda. I’ve been very sporadic with my blogging over July, and it’s been a similar situation with regard to writing. Now that it’s the start of August, that will hopefully change.
Writers do have a tendency to clutch for excuses to validate why they’re not writing, but I think this time I might have something real. On July 16, my wife gave birth to a baby girl, Octavia.

Princess Tavie

Princess Tavie

Totally worth it. I’m now trying to rebuild a routine, perhaps not the one I had before but still a routine, with the goal of really getting on with the job with my novel. Blog updates will still happen, but maybe more infrequently than they have been prior.

What’s Happening With FMTEE?

The rewrite is continuing. Progress has slowed immensely. I’m trying to push myself back into the old schedule (which in itself was lacking), but nothing is flowing quite as well as it was a month ago. There’s no blockages to speak of. I haven’t suddenly found myself less capable of writing stuff I like, though the gap between then and now has raised some questions over the voice in my writing.
Is it different now? Maybe. In some ways I’m a different person… again.
As I wasn’t really sure, I engaged the services of my ever-reliable beta-reader Kat, and asked her what she thought. There was a difference, but nothing so bold as I thought there might have been. This might be a beneficial thing if it serves to keep the writing fresh through a subtle style change.
As of last bit of work, I’m still rewriting the first scene of chapter five. Previously it was the last scene of chapter two, but it’s since moved to help build plotline B (sh) in a better way, to alter the character dynamic between characters RE and LJ, and to increase the impact of the introduction of character S. Doing that has also given a more specific tie between characters S and YA.
As it was two months ago, it’s these early formative chapters that have the most change. They’re setting the tone for certain characters, streamlining plot progression and removing the leaps of logic. At the same time, it’s possible that the intertwining of events is becoming more complicated, but I also see that as a good thing.
Recent life experiences have also given some inspiration with regard to the writing, but I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Recap?

How was July for your writing life? What are your plans for August?

Writing Talk: I’d Like To Have A Word…

July 10, 2014 § 4 Comments

I ran into an interesting problem just recently – someone asked to see some of my writing! This was a little outside the norm for me because while I’m always talking about it (and yes, actually doing it), it’s usually only once I fish around for someone to look around at my things that people want to see any of it. Today, basically right now, is a little different. I was chatting about an idea/concept that’s prevalent in the fantasy story (/stories) I started in NaNo 2012, and I was asked if I had any samples to show.

I kind of do, but then I also don’t. So while I’m still working on FMTEE, and doing all the other bits and pieces, I think I ought to put it all together in a more accessible format. And have it all linkable from here.

Sure, some of it is around at the moment. There’s a poem, the short story I wrote for my wife, a first draft prologue, some shorter sprints, etc etc… but it’s really not *that* accessible. Maybe the blog posts handle that to some degree, but it’s not really the same as fiction.

I’m definitely going to look into putting some stuff together, and trying to be organised. I don’t know if it’ll be a few sample chapters from WIPs (maybe starting chapters for some of them), or the short stories, or whatever else.

So other writers, here’s today’s question – do you make your writing available beyond either self or traditional publishing? What sort of things do you host (okay, it’s a kind of self-publishing). Is that the kind of thing the WordPress Portfolio (which looks like a new thing) is meant for? Thoughts in general? Even what you’d like to see in terms of written, non-bloggy content.

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