Friday, January 23, 2015

Lurching from the Head of Zeus

Readers like the intimacy of a story being told so well that they are not conscious of the act of reading but are instead immersed in the world of the writer's imagination.  The illusion of effortlessness that comes from a well made story results from an ease with which the words flow so smoothly. It is the imaginative development of plot and characters that can lead a reader to imagine that the story was created as it reads, each phrase or scene leading inevitably to the next.

It is all illusion.  Seldom does a story spring as Athena, fully formed and perfect in all aspects, from my writer's brain.   Instead the ideas lurch out in small, imperfect increments; a drop of character here, a drip of plot there, and in between a desolate wasteland waiting to be filled from the wellspring of my  imagination.  Instead of said imagination being a crystal spring of knowledge from which I could draw the story elements it is a murky puddle that has nothing to do with the (potentially) great idea that appeared more like  a fetid turd in rising in a cesspool than a glorious pearl of wisdom.

Usually, undaunted by previous attempts to ignore these formless lumps, I bungle on, throwing down a sentence here, dotting the pages with endless TBD's, and rattling on as if I was pursuing some grant plan but in fact simply writing so I don't have to think about where it is going.

Somewhere along the line the sheer mass of the draft generates enough heat that a structure begins to manifest. This event strikes fear in my lazy heart because I know with certainty that pounding this draft into salable shape is going to take a lot of hard work.

That captivating opening line, that brilliant scene, and wise denouement are creatures of hard work crafted from endless revisions of poorly structured narrative and inelegantly presented dialogues. Mu first drafts are always crude approximations of what is to come.  The second draft might improve the plot or characters, or pump up the narrative or dialogue. A third, fourth or umpty-ninth draft might, just might, be worthy of submission.

It is struggling through, finding the true path, and creating something worthy that all the struggles, self doubt, and worries slide away.  The final version is a glorious creation.

That is, after just one little change......


Friday, January 16, 2015


I have a problem with concentration, admittedly from the ADD that plagued my college years, caused  many a misstep after, and was unfortunately passed on to some of my children.  ADD has also affected my ability to write as much as I'd like, or for as long.  Dedicating yourself to writing for long stretches of time, pounding out a measured cadence of words that paces itself with your racing mind takes concentration and to an ADD sufferer, that is difficult.

Nevertheless there is a zone I fall into when constructing the story in my head.  At first I am very conscious of the physicality of the effort, ; the movement of fingers on the keyboard or pushing a pen across the paper.  I am conscious of my surroundings, particularly the movement of daily life around me.  After a time, different for every writer, I become detached - a thing of air that dances with the muse.  The words flow effortlessly as I surrender conscious control of my fingers.  As if awakening, the relationships among my created characters begin to grow as I struggle to maintain multiple, possibly alternative plot lines.  At the same time as this intensive creation occurs I feel a joy that is indescribable for those who do not write. I can  maintain this fugue state until something - anything - intrudes, the bubble of illusion vanishes, and the real world rushes in with all of its confusion.

The level of distraction needed to wrest me from the sublime state of creative passion is minimal, which is why I do not write in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, or anywhere something else is going on.  No, I sit alone in an otherwise dark room to minimize interruptions.  The possible intrusions are endless - hydraulic pressure forces me from the chair to the bathroom, the need for food (i.e. coffee) manifests itself, the damned cats insist on attention, or a unwelcome phone call, email, tweet, or FB chime assaults my ears.  Most miserably, it is a loved one who wants "just" a moment's attention.

After the interruption my creative reverie cannot be easily regained.  The skien of my earlier thoughts lie tangled and must be reassembled.  This restart process takes less time to achieve than before, but still I have to struggle to find that state once  more.  Worse is the sinking feeling that I might have lost a bit of detail, some idea that I had wanted to follow and whose trail is now lost forever.  Sometimes I can never get back, never reenter the fugue state, and never achieve that brilliant insight that was lurking in the shadows at the edge of realization.

I wish there was a solution.  Aside from getting rid of cats, phones, computers (bad idea), or my wife, is there some sacred place where I could create without being interrupted?


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Playing Whack-a-Mole

Writing spec fiction is like playing one of those carnival games where the little gopher heads randomly pop up only to snap away when you try to hit them. Worse, when between projects, there seems to be an endless supply of moles to whack.

Case in point: No sooner than my latest submission hit the mail than a crying need to choose the next draft rose to the fore, releasing all the self-doubt and fears that I spoke about in Demons back in September 2011.  Before I could open any of the five short story drafts that needed attention --not to mention the damn long Plotland novel still awaiting a bit of polish (i.e. finishing the damn thing!)-- I  had to jot down a couple of ideas that had popped into head as the printer was doing its little dance, always on the edge of disaster, quitting at awkward places, and running out of paper midway, making me realize that procrastination had prevented me from taking the trouble to buy another ream or two.*

Also, my writers group meets only  week from now and I have nothing I'm willing to present. This forces a decision: Do I grab one of the shorter pieces to work on or hit the top unfinished draft?  There's only a week and we'll have company at the house for two of them, not to mention a few football games.  The need for  decision is itself paralyzing.  What to do? What to do?  Whack the first mole that pops up or wait for one particular one to present itself. Maybe I should try something new to kickstart the process.  Yeah, like that's really worked in the past!

And while I dither time is passing  at a hundred words an hour.  While I debate each choice I lose another page or two of production.  Make a decision, for God's sake, my muse all but screams.  Pick SOMETHING and just finish it!  It doesn't HAVE to be good enough...

Right, as if that's going to happen.

*Having printing paper close to hand seems unnecessary in the era of e-submissions.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bud's 2014 Annual Review

Soon after the turn of the year, as in other Januaries, I've updated my archive files, cleaned out the messes I've created, and look at the various pieces I've been working on during the past year.  I've been doing this assessment since I started writing again in 1991, partly to see how far I've come and partly to torture myself with the realization that I could have done better. Sometimes this causes me to reassess what I am doing and change my writing objectives.  The past year I've focused on finishing at least one of the novels, finalizing a "make-up" novel/collection (due out in April,) and continuing to work on whatever crosses my ADD-afflicted mind.

The number of pieces I count in a given year is the gross number of files, so novels get the same weight as novellas, novelettes, short stories and articles.  I do not count the number of multiple drafts, edits, and crap I threw away in frustration at my fickle muse.  Some of my friends obsessively count and report their word production (see Jamie Todd Rubin's record for an example.)  He suggests that I really ought to keep track of total words or megabytes instead of a simple count of file, but even for me the resulting number would be too horrifyingly large with ratios of written words to words sold at  millions to one.

2014 in Review
The chart at right shows the arc - the blue representing the cumulative number of files worked on and the red the cumulative number of files sold year by year (I don't count sales of reprints, audio productions, or donated stories.)  The total number of unique sales is 110 and the cumulative number of file is just  under 500. This puts my "lifetime" sales average just under 24%. The green line is the ratio of sales to work each year, which disappointingly declines as the number or works increases.

The lesson I've taken from this compilations is that you have to kiss a lot of frogs, among other things, to succeed.

The chart shows the ups and downs of my working/writing career. Strangely the years I had problems with my day job turned out to be the most productive for writing.  In my peak years I sold almost as many as I wrote, the bad news being that I didn't write very much in those years.  The chart also shows the decline of the novella markets, which was my first love, and which I continue to pursue against all reason.  It was only after I'd relearned how to write short, that my sales increased. Periods spent attempting novels also meant a lower production count, much to my regret.

So, looking back on 2014 I have to say I've not done badly.