Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Moving the Spirit

Posted: October 30, 2013 in Uncategorized
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It’s been a good five weeks since I’ve done any writing, and closer to two months since writing anything meaningful. I can’t attribute this span of nothingness to any one thing. Several things all happened in a series of events that led to a long withdrawal from all but the most necessary social interactions.

I can definitely say it started with the completion of Broken. Not the novel itself, that I’m still proud of. If I ever had a bucket list, “write a novel” would be at the top. The editing process, however, was a grind. It left me feeling nothing much beyond, “Damn, I’m glad that’s done.” Once the novel was done and in the process of getting published, I did my level best not to rest on my meager laurels. Being a writer had become a real thing and I didn’t want to stop. But I know me too well.

There were other projects to work on, and for the first couple of weeks I picked up the one I most wanted to do. I drafted an outline, worked out some background and bio information, opened up what I’d already written for the project and… hit a wall. The plan was to expand on what I had previously written as a short into a full novel. And while I was pleased with the short (as were several others, who wanted to me to expand on it as well) every attempt I made at expanding the short into a full chapter I was just plain unhappy with. I made the decision to start over from scratch.

But before I could get going on that, V brought up the possibility of picking up one of our back-burner projects for another collaborative. I was all for the idea. We had a nice, long conversation about it, drafted an outline, took copious notes, and…

And I’m still not sure what happened. I just lost all ambition to write. I kept at it for awhile, but the drive was gone. Not even the Magic Spreadsheet (All Hail the Magic Spreadsheet) could keep the fire burning. That’s when I all but fell off the face of the Internet. I wanted almost nothing to do with social media. I did my ‘day job’, then spent the rest of the time doing anything but writing. Yes, I had broken the number one rule of writing, and I simply didn’t care.

A couple of weeks into this, I got sick as a dog. I’ll spare you the details. It wasn’t pretty.

Then, slowly but surely, I started to de-hermit. I got back in touch with folks that I needed to get in touch with.  I put out a single twit to let people know I wasn’t dead. But my head wasn’t quite back in the game. It’s still not 100% there, but it’s a lot further that it was.

There’s a few things that contributed to this. First, there was V. The first thing she did, after assuring me that she was only concerned that I was all right, was ask, “What can I do to help?” Just asking was enough to give me a boost in the right direction. Second is the guy I know as Wilhelm. I’ve know him and the rest of the MOOMellow crew almost my entire adult life. A few days ago, the conversation drifted towards my writing. Wilhelm commented that he’d read all of my published works, and then added, “You should write more.” And you know what? He’s right. I totally should.

The third boost, believe it or not, was the approach of NaNoWriMo. I’ve made a couple of aborted attempts at it before, and I still don’t know if it’s something I can accomplish. But there’s still that little voice in the back of my head that says, “You can’t do it if you don’t try.” That little voice is absolutely right, too. I am going to try it again, and regardless of whether or not I succeed at 100,000 words, every word I do get down is one more word I didn’t have before.

The latest boost came just a couple of days ago, in the form of another invitation to contribute to an anthology. The editor and primary author/creator have both been a joy to work with in the past, and I gladly accepted. This will be a short I’ll have to do some heavy research for, but I want to give it my absolute best.

I sat back and tried to glean something from all of this, weighing my past performances and self-expectations against this new path as a “real” writer. I realize that I don’t owe anyone another word. I have nothing that says one novel isn’t enough. It’s not mandatory for me try to get back into my lost groove. But I know I would disappoint a lot of people if I didn’t. More importantly, I want to do it. Even if it’s not something I want to do every day.

Many years ago, someone shared with me a quote about writing attributed to Terry C. Johnston: “You can’t always wait for the spirit to move you. Sometimes you have to move the spirit.” I’ve held onto that over the years, and while I do still hold to it most of the time, it’s been my experience that sometimes you can’t move the spirit no matter how hard you try. Sometimes it behaves like a stubborn child that refuses to pick itself up off the floor; all you can do is sit there and wait for it to get the tantrum out of its system and start moving again. Still other times call for a ‘stone soup’ approach, coaxing it into life with a little bit of this and a touch of that. That’s where all of those ‘boosts’ above came in. Any one by itself wouldn’t have been enough to get me to want to start writing again.  But they added up, and now I’m well on my way to getting back into doing what I love doing.

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     There are places in the world where it’s hard to imagine anything is wrong.  It’s merely an illusion and only the foolish would think otherwise.  But even more foolish are the people that cling to that illusion as if it were reality. They are the ones that stand to lose the most when the illusion fades, like so many stars in the morning sky.

When I think back on it, these words were the catalyst for everything that’s happened in the past year. They’re not from some lofty intellectual or philosopher or anyone famous in any way. They’re my own, written in a burst of… well, I really can’t call it creativity or inspiration. They just kind of happened. And for a long time afterward, nothing happened at all after them.

Veronica has been one of my biggest fans for some time now. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everything I’ve done creatively for at least the past three years (and a good deal before that) was because of her. She has this ‘push without pushing’ way about her when it comes to motivation. Anyway, up until two years ago, we’d talked about doing various real—and by real, I mean published, non fan fiction—writing projects together. We even got started on one, which is sitting on a back burner. But it got put on the back burner for a project we got more enthusiastic about pursuing.  If you have been following Veronica at all, you’ll know that the work is titled Broken, a full-length novel we’ve been laboring on.

But for a good deal of time, V was doing most of the laboring. We’d talk about what we wanted to do, had an outline partially drafted, and experimented with different software platforms for collaborative writing. V had two or three chapters written. I had nothing. I procrastinated all day every day, but V never pushed. She waited patiently for me to do what she believes I can do, which is be a brilliant writer.

When I finally decided to make an attempt at Broken, I got as far as the paragraph at the top and got completely, thoroughly stuck. I knew where I wanted to go with the thought, but I’d blown all four tires as soon as I’d hopped in. But it wasn’t all for nothing. I showed them to V anyway.  For whatever combinations of reasons that day, those four sentences made her day.  This was, as I said, the catalyst for things to come. That catalyst would remain dormant for some time to come, though.

In the mean time, I put out a short story. I’ve been friends with Mercedes Lackey for a few years now, and she invited me to write for an Elemental Masters anthology she was putting together. It was a bit of a risk, including a complete unknown, but in the end I like to think I didn’t disappoint. My piece was accepted, the book went to print in December of last year, and there hasn’t been any overtly negative reviews of my contribution.

But getting back to Broken. It was still going nowhere fast. Then V introduced me to the Magic Spreadsheet. I’ve talked about it before, so I won’t go into it in detail here. Suffice it to say, it has worked its magic. I got started on the Magic Spreadsheet, and the first thing I did was go back to that paragraph and knuckle down. Three months and change later, what had been nothing more than a couple of chapters from V’s hand and my one paragraph has become twenty-ish chapters and over 60,000 words… and we’re only just now starting on the final chapters. Last night, we had a two-hour Skype call (the first we’ve talked directly in a long, long time) about the direction we wanted to take the finale in. I won’t go so far as to call it epic or groundbreaking, but it’s definitely something we will both be sinking our teeth into.

Yesterday (June 8th) also marked a huge milestone. Because of the Magic Spreadsheet, I have written something every day for the past 100 days. 57,600 words, over twice of the minimum word count that the Magic Spreadsheet encourages for that amount of time. Over 30,000 of those have gone into Broken. It wasn’t easy; the last half of May I was dragging myself along, most days just barely getting the minimum. But I did it.

And this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more to come. In those 100 days, I’ve written for and been accepted for a second Elemental Masters anthology. That should be out sometime in November or early December. I’ve also joined a writer’s community called Writer’s Carnival, and entered into a sponsored contest for Dark Futures. The response I got from that piece was unexpected, and has inspired me to expand it into a full series. I’m still working on the details, but there will more than likely be a podcast to go along with it. Then there’s the back burner project I mentioned. V has been busy starting some novels that will serve as a backbone for that ‘verse, and I’ve got the seeds planted for my own as well. There’s also the seeds for another novel in my head, also thanks to years of collaboration with V, that will take place in the same ‘verse as Broken.

I have no idea what will happen after that, but these alone is enough to keep me busy for some time to come. I can’t guarantee when you’ll actually get to see any of it, but you will get to see it. As Magic Spreadsheet as my witness, you will see it.

—C

I’d like to talk for a moment about J.R.R. Tolkien. If you don’t know who he is, what planet are you from and are you the vanguard of an invasion? Because that would be totally awesome. Not the death and suffering at the hands of our new alien overlords part, just the part that there are alien overlords.

Anyway, like many people, Tolkien was an inspiration. When he created Middle Earth, he didn’t do it half- assed. Not only did he pen a very complex history, the dude invented a couple of languages along the way. Now that’s dedication.

There’s been much debate over the years as to what Tolkien’s intentions were for creating The Lord of the Rings. Some say that it was a tribute to brothers-in-arms of the Great War. Other contend that he was trying to create a mythology for England. Still others insist that he was secretly gay and that he laid the groundwork for future generations of elf-on-dwarf manlove fiction. All I know for certain is that I totally made that last one up.

Regardless of what people think his intentions were, there’s no denying that what Tolkien did do was create a lush and vivid world. He used his words to paint a picture of a world and its people so detailed that it has inspired generations of authors and nerds with dice to create their own worlds, and essentially created the fantasy genre.

Reading his words for the first time, you instantly have a clear picture in your head of what Middle Earth is. You can see the hills of Hobbiton, the plains of Rohan, the ethereal beauty of Lothlorien and the twisted hellscape of Mordor as if you’ve been there yourself. You get a clear and distinct idea of what elves, dwarves, hobbits and orcs look like (the last three being words he even invented himself—the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. Tolkien used a v to differentiate them from human dwarfs).

This serves to illustrate my point. Tolkien never skimped on the details, and the details are what drove the narrative. When it comes time for the characters to actually do something, it doesn’t take long for them, in terms of word count, to get it done. The example of this that I often use is this: in The Fellowship of the Ring, there’s a good half a chapter devoted to describing the town of Bree, the hobbits entering it and getting into the Prancing Pony inn before they even meet Aragorn.   Skip ahead a few chapters to Moria and the iconic fight with the goblins and troll in the Tomb of Balin, beginning to end, takes a total of two and a half pages.

This is what I have come to call the Tolkien Effect. So far, everyone knows exactly what I mean when I use that term. It’s also how I describe my own writing style. Now, I’m not trying to be conceited and say that my writing is as good as Tolkien’s—just ask anyone I’ve ever worked with on a writing project, I’m the first (and usually only) person to say what I do sucks. I’m simply using ‘the Tolkien Effect’ to describe how I write, because in many ways it’s the same. I’ll take a huge paragraph or three to describe someone entering a room, the reaction of his senses, the way he holds himself and the thoughts going through his head… and then end it with ‘and then he pulled out a gun and shot someone.’

I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a huge challenge to me as a writer to write actions scenes that I’m 100% satisfied with. I always feel like there’s something lacking. My partner in crime V recently told me that she absolutely adores the way that I write introspective narrative, and that I “make it look so effortless.” I’ll agree with that last part. It is pretty effortless for me but I often worry that it borders on purple prose and the reader is saying, “Get on with it!”  In contrast, I’ve been working on a fight scene for our collaborative novel for almost a week now. I’ve reached a point where I’m so close to the end but nothing I get out satisfies me. If I were doing this with a typewriter, I’d have an overflowing wastebasket of paper balls.

I also hit this stumbling block rather recently on my latest short story. There was a 6,000-word limit, and I spent a good 5,000 of those leading up to the climactic scene. I would have been crushed by my editor’s first response of, “The ending feels very rushed” if I hadn’t completely agreed with him. I spent a good two days going back and trying to trim up my word count so I could squeeze in even a few more paragraphs to the ending before I even sent in the first draft. I succeeded in that, but I wasn’t satisfied with it and in the end fired it off to the editor in the hopes he could help (he did, by the way. His red pen is mighty vicious, but his suggestions were simple yet amazing in getting the story I wanted to tell onto paper).

At the very least, I recognize my shortcomings of the Tolkien Effect on my style of writing and strive to make it better. It’s something I know I can improve upon and not just a self-criticism of a problem that doesn’t really exist. I have a healthy respect—and just a hint of jealousy—for writers that can seamlessly blend description and action. And I hope that some day I can find a balance between the two in my writing style that satisfies both the reader and me.