Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reflections on a Year of Writing

Well, December has arrived once again so it is time to prepare my works for the archive once again.  Each year I amass all the papers surrounding my writing together with a CD of my writing files containing all the drafts and stories, regardless of whether they've sold or not.  There's a LOT of unpublished stories in those files, some good, most bad, although to be honest some of the latter category eventually moved into the sold column - go figure.

Engaging in this preparation forces me to review the past year and assess my progress.  The statistics get messy because a story sold this year might not appear until next, just as those sold in 2014 didn't get published until this year.  Also, how do I account for those Schrodinger drafts in circulation, who might be sold or not, but are as yet undetermined?

Here are the statistics as I count them.  I wrote about a jillion words, counting revisions, and sold just ten short stories, only four of which have been published so far.  At the same time, two stories and an article that were sold in 2014 finally saw print.  Still on my workbench are four novels; two at the 90% point (I hope), one languishing in first-draft, another completed and looking for reviewers, and six short stories varying from three to twenty thousand words, or I should say planned to be that length or maybe they'll turn out that way despite my best intentions. Like the Schrodinger cats in circulation the rest of my workbench is in a perpetual state of disordered foam from which (p)articles appear from time to time. Such as my recently published novel: DISTANT SEAS.

So why do I feel so dissatisfied with my writing? Is all of this effort merely to salve my ego? I certainly don't think I continually hit on some social theme or pound on a political message, but that's up to the critics to remark upon after I am long gone.  It surely isn't the money or acclimation for I get damned little of either in return for the effort.

So, at the end of the year I am at the same place as last - frustrated at my failures and deathly afraid that someone will realize how great an imposter I've become.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Finishing Up

As the end of the year approaches I'm struggling to meet my self-imposed deadlines.  With only three plus weeks remaining and Christmas coming the time is so short I despair of meeting them all.

I did finish one of the short stories as planned two weeks ago and another this week.  Both have been sent it off, leaving about four unfinished shorts on the workbench, but they are not scheduled until next year, which is only a few weeks away, alas.  I did vow to get one of the three WIP novels to a point where it could be reviewed and am pretty close to finish, that is, if there ever is such a thing as "finish" in a writer's lexicon.

Paul Levinson once remarked that novels are more frequently abandoned rather than finished and I now understand what he meant.  I am so sick of one of the one I've nicknamed "Plotland" that I just want to put an end to it. I've tried but then realized that some of the tangled threads needed resolution and had to deal with those, only to find that action introduced further complications, and...  You get the picture - Chinese boxes all the way down.

So in the next three weeks I have to bring another of the novels to a close. Write the final chapter, discover the conclusion to the plot, and resolve the as-yet unresolved subplots. Where did all this complication come from? I set out to write this as a short story, only to find that my muse, that interfering bitch, wanted more, and yet more and I've had no choice but to satisfy her insane desires.
How will I ever get everything done?

I still do not know if this was a good year professionally or not. The middle of December is when I start pulling together material for my archive deposit at NIU and looking at the royalty statements and checks to see if I earned enough at writing during this year.

Maybe enough to order extra fries.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Backstory Issues

In the latest revision of the draft novel I needed to  give the reader a lot of history to explain the importance of a fifteenth century artifact and the forces surrounding its possession through the years until the present day. At first I thought this would be a simple matter, a couple of flashbacks here and there.

In the first draft I put a long explanatory section at the beginning as prelude.  Later, I had to inject yet another bit of history, but rather longer. Then there was the third.... Well, you can see where this is going.

In the second draft I pulled all of the flashback material out and to my amazement discovered that it was a bit over ten thousand words in toto.  That's a big lump of backstory that has to go somewhere, and rather too much to be handled as footnotes.

For the next revision I tried putting little snippets between certain chapters, originally thinking I could make them all less than a thousand words but only later to see that that limit would split the more interesting parts strangely. For continuity some of these intermediaries would be well over the thousand word limit while others would fall woefully short.

I even considered putting the whole backstory in an appendix, but worried that would remove the facts from their relevance. I even considered putting superscripts here and there and keying them to an enumerated appendix, but dismissed that as too confusing for the reader.

So the question that remains is this: Is there a good way to present a lot of backstory that doesn't bore the reader and take them out of the story? Is there a rule I could follow?

And after writing for twenty-five years, this writing business never fails to present new problems. When will I ever learn to do it well?