Saturday, December 9, 2017

Revelation

Lightning strikes where and when it may.  As you've seen, the agony of a writer (well, me, actually) occasionally turns to ecstasy when something (anything!) is completed.

For the last three months I've been struggling to come up with a concept for a story that would fit an anthology I'd been invited to join. I wrote several outlines and attempted four successive drafts, none of which seemed promising, getting four or five pages down before realizing that the idea wasn't going to be worth the effort, and bemoaning the fact that my creative well of ideas was going dry. Now, this wasn't the only thing I had going: I always seem to have a handful of projects (actually struggles to make sense of a lot of half-baked ideas thatI'd already invested too much time in to abandon) going so this proximate problem commandeered only a small part of my general misery.

Then virtual lightening struck. A germ of an idea came from God-knows-where and I began writing a list of things to be considered which quickly turned into three characters, a plot, and actual scenes.  As quickly as that the entire story came together and, a day later, it was a finished piece.

Now I have no idea of how or why this happened. Some of my friends say its because my subconscious was working on this full time while I screwed around.  Others say it was my muse, that fickle bitch, who decided to embrace me for a time.  Personally I don't give a damn about why it happened, but I care deeply about the how of it.  Why did one sentence build upon another and create something out of whole cloth, the words building a world without forethought?  What magic bends the mind into creative channels and not the prosaic humdrum of reality?  What spell illuminates the joy of words that let you fly to unseen, unknown worlds?

But maybe that's why I struggle to write; just so I can get an occasional ticket to ride that incredible flight.



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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Shortcomings

I'll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing occurs occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity and more often damn, slogging drudge work.  I am also easily distracted (ADD) and not very good on details, a combination that definitely curtails my efforts. Too often I'm distracted by some bright shiny and lose my often tattered thread of plot.  As I've mentioned elsewhere in my blogs, things such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted.* The result is that I carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that should I not write for  a while the magic will go away, never to return.

At the same time I can become extremely focused at times, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach.  These periods come when  my demons uses their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar focus descends when I am captured by a compelling book, so much so that my copy-editing persona stops mentally correcting words,  sentences, or sometimes an entire scenes to the  point that I often miss the author's intent.  I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that slide over outrageous errors of speliing or grammer.

Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away.  I try to capture this as quickly as possible before the next distracting thing pulls me away.  Too often these flashes happen when I am away from the computer, in a meeting, or struggling with another unrelated story. When I attempt to write it down later the result seems only a pale shadow of that revelation.

So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the possibilities that may be scattered along the way as I try to produce stories beyond my skill level.  This tortuous practice of achieving something memorable seems to be both a curse and a blessing.

But it doesn't stop me from  writing.

*I too often have regrets immediately 
after submission because of my PSS**

**See  https://budsparhawk.blogspot.com/2012/02/premature-submission-syndrome-pss.html


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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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