Sunday, November 19, 2017

Demons Abound

 Every writer has their imps, demons, and vexing monsters.

Many are the little ear imps that whisper discouragement whenever you begin to write.  They cajole and criticize every sentence written, they distain every word selected and scoff at attempts to  replace it with a more precise one. They pester you with niggling thoughts of other ways you could have chosen to twist the plot.  All of these ever-present voices are irritating in the same way as mosquito bites; ever present and absolutely impossible to ignore, although not enough to interrupt your creative flow.

The demons speak of somewhat larger irritants; concerns about where your recently submitted  piece sits in the editor's queue, if you are going to make a (usually self-imposed) deadline, and how you are going to extricate the protagonist from this or that dilemma.  Other concerns are that you've just sent off a piece that could have used a bit more polish, or that your most recent attempt did not measure up to your earlier works. Being lost in the mail used to be a concern, but now that only applies to missing royalty checks.

The hulking monsters that straddle you and dig their spurs into your psyche are evil beings who create daily nightmares with their black thoughts. The greatest of these is Self-Doubt which seizes on every disappointment, every failed attempt to think of the proper word, every mistake in the drafts as clear evidence that you are a fraud, a failure, and one who only accidentally acquired what little name recognition  you may imagine you have.  Its companion,  Jealousy is the most insidious monster and as capable of crippling your art as the others; everyone you read writes better than the drivel you produce - they are more articulate, their plots more realistic, and backgrounds are more vivid than any you could write.  Then there is the deadly Procrastination that always tugs on the reins of desire, and prevents you from progressing.  This monster is ever offering more pleasant alternatives to sitting at the writing anvil: reading, having lunch with friends, taking a drink of two, just putting things aside, sleeping, or writing meaningless blog posts.





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Monday, November 6, 2017

Writing Time

Back when I was grinding hours away on corporate and client matters I always put aside time to write, that is after dinner, walking the dogs, attending to family matters, etc, which usually left damn few hours. When I retired from being paid for my time I volunteered to become the financial guy at SFWA, little knowing that it would last for almost ten years and consume almost as many hours as a regular job.  Needless to say, my writing suffered, going from grinding out two novellas and some shorts a year to only writing short stories and pieces of novels. The aperiodic nature of accounting and dealing with associates who have day jobs across the time zones and companies that demanded more time than I could afford left me almost too exhausted to write very much.

But  think other factors have contributed to slowing my writing production, including that dark shadow that life casts upon anyone approaching the average mortality age for male citizens of the USA. At eighty, I no longer have the energy that once infused me despite a rigorous program to keep the joints lubricated and range of motion exercised.  Suddenly every cough, every bodily pain foretells the time when it changes from being nothing much to becoming the sound of dark shadow's footsteps.

Reading the obituaries of younger people makes me wonder daily when my heart attack will hit, when a stroke will occur, or when some disability will a strike. Every morning I idly wonder, when I try to move my aching bones and stiff muscles, that maybe not getting up would be a better choice.

Then there's the gradual clouding of my writer's mind, the flood of ideas has become a trickle, my draft plots becoming Gordian knots of confusion, and I find the proper words no longer become easily accessible.  During my dismal periods*  I wonder if my loss of interest in overcoming a problem might be a forewarning of  dementia or worse.  Worst of all, from my perspective is how it is becoming all too easy to just put things aside for later; a later that never seems to come.

And the clock ticks away the remaining time I struggle to finish writing those novels, finish drafting the short stories I've started, start a new story, or attack that stack of books and  magazines I never seem to have time to read.  It's a bitch, this growing older.

But that doesn't stop me from writing.

*When I should be writing comedy.




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Monday, October 30, 2017

Trunk Diving for Fun & Profit

Whenever I get an anthology request or opportunity my first reaction is to open my trunk and sort through the never-accepted-yet stories and incomplete drafts to see if any of them might be close to the requestor's guidelines. If so I then try to figure out why that piece remains in the trunk and, if possible edit it to bend the story nearer the guidelines.  This does not always result in a new sale, but it does give me another opportunity to run this refreshed piece through other editors.  Once or twice this strategy has worked, and in both cases.

Is it dishonest to pass off rejected (but edited) works as new? I think not.  Neither do I think editing a first draft is dishonest:  Both are refinements of original work, albeit in the one case it is a part of a continuous process and in the former a process interrupted by a few months or, in most cases, years. I feel no shame in admitting this. The market is fickle and sometimes the time just wasn't right.

My other concern when an opportunity arrises is spinning a new story that adheres to the guidelines but is in a universe I've created for another series.  I see no conflict unless the original series editor has also asked for a new story, in which case loyalty comes in to play:  I simply won't abandon an editor simply because another market has a better offer.  I just write something else.

But diving in my trunk sometimes reveals a piece long forgotten (and multiply rejected) but still has a conceit I think is worth preserving.  When I can find no grievous errors or amateurish phrasing I might do a little polish and send it on the rounds again.  Sometimes this finds a receptive editor and at others even more rejections that sink it back into the trunk.

I often kid myself that I write more for my post-mortum anthology than any piece that might appear in my lifetime*.  But that is simply rationalization; most writers I know produce much more text than ever is published,which is not bad because each failed story was an opportunity to further hone their craft or try something new.  It seems that the more drafts I produce the better I become as a writer and as a person, often discovering emotional depths I only later realize while doing a reading and having tears fill my eyes as I struggle to chock out the words.  On occasion someone in the audience will join me, but at least they do not laugh at my mawkish behavior.

I guess I inadvertently reveal too much of myself when I write.


*Certainly the number of pieces in my trunk attest to that.


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Saturday, October 21, 2017

One More Week

Another week has passed and my writing proceeds at a glacial pace, grinding my confidence into gravel as the perplexity of what to say next confounds me. I've tried pantsing, diagramming, outlining, and brainstorming none of which informs the plot problems or helps my progress.

When I started this writing business mumble, mumble years agoI had no problem spinning a short story in a weekend, a novelette   in a week or two, and a novella in a few months.  My novels, such as they are, take years to develop and die from the despair of the calendar.  In the past year I've noticed a diminution of the joie de vivre that formerly infused me while composing. Instead I scribble a sentence, change it, change it again, and decide to write something different.  Could this be because I now recognize how poorly I've been writing?  Have I developed taste at long last?  Or is it that I now deliberate more on phrasing, structure, and message than I had before - such is the problem of my increasing (?) skill, but that does not explain my inability to produce on demand.

You'd think that coming up with new story ideas would become easier with practice, that facility with flowing words onto the page would become easier, or that adhering to the tropes of the genre would become second nature.  Instead I find myself burdened with doubts and misgivings.  Scattered portions of poorly thought out scenes litter my writing files, awaiting some magical pass that will gather them into a coherent structure from which I could wrest into something that wouldn't embarrass me.

So another week has passed and I've done a little work on two short stories, laid out the possible slot  structure to finish a novel in progress, started a possible novella, read four novels, and two magazines -- oh look! the new Analog and Asimov's have arrived* -- tried to debate the wisdom of opening a Patreon account and wondering what I might offer that would be worth anything.  And yet here I sit, writing this screed instead of working on one of my unfinished projects.

Who knew writing could be so hard?

*There goes another day at least!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Wall

When I sit before the keyboard, even when I do so with intent, I am never certain of what will come.  Sometimes ideas for stories arrive in bunches, all trying to shout loudest to gain the attention of that part of my brain that starts composting and composing (I often confuse the two since both require the ferment of everything I can recall.)  Sometimes I need to be working on a story on X subject that my mind, like an eager puppy, jumped on.  Other times I intend to deal with a completely different subject that screams so loudly for attention that I MUST try to write it.

And there's the rub. In the fervor  of enthusiasm I sometimes hastily begin to compose the masterpiece while the story idea is still fresh and will continue until exhaustion forces me to stop. Sometimes enough  residual energy remains that I am energized to continue to expand and enrich the draft when I next face the keyboard, but sadly, not always and, to be completely honest, hardly ever.

Yet when I touch the keys and begin seeking words equal to those that followed that initial burst of creativity I discover that they, more times than not, come hard.  Even when I fight to wrest every word that will propel the story forward I still fail.  Even attacking the draft from a different direction is to no avail. I am unable to recover that spark that made me so hastily write more words than I am now willing to abandon.  I question if I burned the candle of creativity too fiercely?  Should I have written for another hour or two?  Did I simply not think through the task I faced or fail to define the path the story had to take? No matter how much I try I cannot move the story forward yet am unwilling to admit defeat.

So the piece is shelved, trunked, or simply set aside, waiting for my return.... someday.

However, and often enough to feed my writing addiction, the words flow golden from my mind to the keyboard, each sentence perfectly formed and fraught with meaning. The prose created is crystal clear,  unambiguous, and well-defined. On these rare occasions, no matter how long I am away from it, I can return and continue to the very end.*  When it is finally submitted days after, I bask in the glow of a work well done.

But then comes another morning when I sit down to write.  Before I touch the keyboard I ask myself which will happen; will I face that impenetrable wall or not?

I never know until I begin.


*Usually after only four or five edits


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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Achieving Perfection

Lodged deep within the dark recesses of my mind lies the image of Pat, the perfect writer; an imaginary writer against whom I am continually comparing myself.

Pat never lacks for a story idea and executes each with flair, always picking the proper word on the first or second draft, executing a knowledge of the English language with lyrical descriptive passages that somehow do not detract from the execution of a well composed plot. Pat does not spend hours and hours sweating over text but dashes off a few pages before taking a break to converse with agents, editors, and fans and then returns to glance over what has been produced before departing for dinner with friends, leaving an immaculate desktop behind, the computer sleeping while digesting the  portion of a masterpiece it has been fed.

Pat earns enough from writing to pay the bills and never has to take time off to transport spouse or kids to the doctor, market, or some damn PTA thing or other.  Pat's life is orderly and calm so that nothing ever interferes with the hours of pleasurable writing that structure the day.  At night, Pat sleeps soundly and is never beset with nightmares or worse, niggling self-doubts about the passages crafted during the day.

Pat has a wonderful career, with works appearing with great regularity in magazines and thick print novels (in hardback, of course). Pat is sought for panels at all the large conventions where long lines appear at the signing table where Pat never fails to write astonishingly gracious bon mots to accompany the flourishing signature in each and every volume.

I fail to measure up to any of Pat's attributes.  My writing schedule is erratic and the proper words are ever evasive, forcing me to use those of less force or meaning. I lie awake at night worrying about editors taking too long to make decisions, worrying that a magazine will fold before my story ever sees print, worried that the latest piece I sent obviously needed more work so I shouldn't have been so hasty to send it off, worrying that I am not spending enough time on my writing, my family, my job and all of that, all of the foregoing, crashes around my head as I struggle to mold one word after another into something that seems to make sense in draft after draft.

 Yet, despite all the negativity, all the demeaning aspects of writing, I nevertheless find it endlessly fascinating to wrest sense from thought and then to hone that rough nugget of raw draft through repeated edits until the precious jewel within is revealed.

That is why I write despite the niggling image of Pat in my head.



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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Time Hopping

One thing my recent trip to China (Beijing, Shanghai, Chi'an, and Hangzhou) has proven is that I am no longer the long distance traveller of my earlier days. Twenty hours crammed into a coach seat and a twelve + hour time shift each way has given me such a bad case of jet-lag (or is it jet-lead?) that random naps are the only rest one gets.

Needless to say the time spent there was wonderful; great food, wonderful people, and traffic management systems that are beyond belief:  Imagine count-down timers on read and green lights! Six way directional arrows.  Hundreds of electric and manual bikes darting among trucks buses, and cars with hair-thin margins of clearance.  Despite excellent public transportation, the crowded motorways seemed to move at walking speeds.  Impressive masses of hundreds of colorful shared bikes clustered at every subway entrance or bus stop. Of course all this is necessary because of the sheer density of the population.

Shanghai at night
Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, and Chi' an were impressively modern and, at times, I felt I was on the set of Blade Runner.  The architecture was more impressive that Chicago's and I don't doubt that the buildings' architects as well known. On the outskirts of all three cities were tall monoliths of hundreds of apartment buildings marching to the horizon with nary an individual house in sight.  As many new towers were being build as those already in place.  You had to get beyond the big cities to find any classic  architecture.

"Protect your iPhone," we were warned of theft, but  as we went among the crowds we noticed that everyone was using or carrying their own (and mostly more up to date versions than mine) wireless phones. The younger crowd appear to be as addicted to their digital devices as our own.  In fact, more often than not, our pictures were taken with phones than old fashioned cameras.  This occurred mostly at tourist spots where we no doubt appeared strange to people from China's interior region who were unfamiliar with westerners. The more cosmopolitan crowd ignored us.

Everywhere the Chinese were wearing Levi's, Nikes, and tees with English slogans/trademarks. We are truly living in a world culture when you can't tell the natives from the tourists. Which is on point since the Chinese tourist industry appears to be booming.  I imagine their floating tourist population is on par with our own as they visit significant sites from their own thousand years history.

One word about the food.  Three meals a day with at least twelve delicious dishes each and never a repeat (except for the rice, beer and Sprite/Cola) and every dish a delight. Chicken and pork predominated and only once did I find a beef selection. Not a one resembled American "Chinese food."

There were so many story ideas at every turn and the inability to sleep has given me ample time to mentally compose at least two short stories and one more complex piece. Now all I need to do is find the energy to write them.

When I recover, that is.



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