Thursday, April 28, 2016

On the Road

Instead of continuing to blather endlessly about my self-referential angst I am going on the road to seek enlightenment and inspiration,  starting with RavenCon in Williamsburg, VA where I am on a few panels, will talk about SFWA, and do a reading* as well as talk to all my old friends and new.  Then we'll take a short trip to Albermarle to visit family, returning home for a day before going to Huddleston VA for my baby brother's wedding, after which we return home to our pissed-off cats for a day or two before heading to Chicago IL for five days at the Nebula Weekend and Awards.  A week after returning I'll be at BaltiCon in Baltimore MD to participate in writers seminars and panels and, a month later at ReaderCon in Boston MA, to work on the Fiscal Year close, speak at panels, and try to talk to everyone attending.  A few weeks later I'll be going to Confluence in Pittsburgh PA, **and finally CapClave in Gaithersburg MD.  By God and all that's holy, if I can't get an idea from all that I  need to hang up my scribbling hobby for good.

Needless to say, my posts to this blog might be few and far between in the next few  months.

*Out loud, of course

** Late addition: WORLDCON, 
how the hell could I forget  
Worldcon in Kansas City!


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Unrequited Love

I've written a lot of short stories and even managed to sell some. I've also abandoned stories that just didn't feel right for any market or because I just got tired of dealing with them.  My hard drive is littered with these latter fragmentary attempts.  They reside nestled among the layers of early drafts of their better brothers and sisters. There are even, down there among the buried dead, abandoned, and rejected, stories that I love beyond all measure, stories that excited my emotions, or which satisfied some literary need.  Well written (IMHO) for the most part but sadly unable to find a market.

What is one to do with the stories that receive rejection upon rejection despite the massive effort it took to craft them?  I could follow the advice of my peers and keep sending them around until the electrons wear off or some hapless editor decides to take it, if only to prevent seeing it again and again. On the other hand I could put it on the web to see what happens, but my past experiences with web publishing have come to naught.

So, do I keep sending it out to the same editors or submit to some unsuspecting innocent who might, just might, have the discerning taste to appreciate the craftsmanship or just embrace the point of the story? These are the questions that haunt my dreams and, when those visitations become unbearable,  I select one and submit, fearing further disappointment.   Is it stupid to believe in and love a piece so much despite the rejection of every editor?  Must I resign myself and think only of how great these will look in my post-mortem collections?

I wish I knew.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Working the Seam

Coal deposits exist far below ground and require considerable effort to extract.  Finding where to dig often means exploring unremarkable territory before finding where coal is located.  Mining then begins only after a tunnel has been dug/drilled through layers of accumulated rock and shale to reach the seam. The danger of exploration is that you may not be able to find a productive seam and must move on to try again, and again, again, again......

Such has been my painful experience for weeks now.  My seam of creativity appeared to have petered out, producing few new ideas that could be extracted from the empty mine. To find a new seam of ideas I have wandered afar, virtually tunneling in my files and through the deposits of previous ideas, discovering dangerous shales of discarded drafts, or only the wet sand of weak plots.  In my metaphoric search for renewal I cursed the empty page, the failed outlines, the truncated attempts to spark fire before the idea fizzled out barely a parragraph out of the gate.*

Then something marvelous happened as I paged through the failed stories, the piles of rejected attempts, and the rough drafts that never matured into a salable form. In a sense I was seeking placer coal, the remnants of mining that did not produce sufficient output for the effort involved. It was my last recourse as a desperate writer; to self plagiarize my younger, brasher, and smarter self.  I threw pride aside and shamelessly exposed material that lay dormant for years.

Among the dreck I found a few things whose problems were obvious to my more practiced eye, some that lacked only a bit of spit and polish to be renewed, and others that, while not worth pillaging, nevertheless contained concepts I'd never expanded upon.  In the end I had a wheelbarrow of things that might prove useful in overcoming my block.  Perhaps some newer ideas will come of the exercise.

At least I'm writing again.

*At this point I ran out of analogies, similes, and metaphors.


Friday, April 8, 2016

What do you do when the lights go out?

Week four or five of the dreaded block during which I've started at least a dozen stories and abandoned them within the first thousand words.  Some fell by the wayside because the initial idea didn't pan out, others because the absurdity of the motivation got to me, and even more were killed for my lack of interest in pushing the story any further.  I haven't finished a story for nearly a month and even editing unpublished material has no appeal.

Where once my active imagination rested, there is now an empty seat.  I remember feeling a rush of excitement at the start of a piece, hardly able to type fast enough to pour out the story.  I recall thinking ahead and laying out a strategy for completion, lacking only the exact wording of the denouement.  At night my mind would come up with the next story, the next chapter, the next bit of business and in the morning I could hardly wait to type and capture it all.

Now, I face the empty screen with trepidation; fearing that I will be unable to craft the words that launch the tale, frozen with fear that whatever I do will be trash.*  Why won't the words come? What happened that turned off my story-telling spigot?  Why, Holy Heinlein, have you deserted me?

 But no answer comes as the question echoes through my empty cranium, not once encountering a single useful thought that I might turn to advantage.  Outlines don't help and pantsing for the sake of pantsing produces reams meaningless words.  I can still peal out the words, but telling a story isn't just command of the language; it's a matter of imparting meaning, emotion, and a sense of direction and all are sadly lacking.

I have four conventions coming up at which I will be the poor son-of-a-bitch waxing passionately at the bar about writer's block instead of the scoffing listener absolutely positive that such a thing will never happen to him. I

t's a bitter pill to swallow.

* As different from what I usually write, that is.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Writer's Block

It happens, so others tell me unconvincingly, at a bar at some con or other.  Then they relate their harrowing tale of being unable to write, lacking ideas, failing to craft a first line, or think of a gripping ending for whatever nascent tale they insist they are unable to write.

To all of these I've given an incredulous ear, doubting that any pro writer would ever fail to come up with an idea for a story, that they would not be able to craft concrete reality from the fluff of dreams and hone it to their liking. I likened their talk of blocks and mental fatigue to a form of bragging; something to disarm the claims of successes of whomever they are addressing.  I had never lacked for a story idea, a hook, a perfect ending line, an engaging plot, or interesting characters.

Such was my foolish belief for too many blessed years.

That is, until the dreaded block finally struck.  It's just exhaustion, I told myself after a year of intense work on three (3!) novels and eight or nine short stories, some of which actually sold.  Maybe it's just burnout, I imagined.  Give your mind a rest, I said and started delving into the backlog of books-to-be-read on my shelf and Kindle, blazing through the Nebula list and then the Kindle's, occasionally opening an actual book for the novelty of turning pages.  Three weeks of that and I felt ready to face the deadly blank screen once again.

But what to write?  My fingers hesitated over the keyboard, unable to decide which one to press.  Is it fear that I could not possibly equal the writing skills of those I'd just read.  No way I could craft such engaging plots.  Nor could I expect to breathe life into my characters in such an elegant way.  My basic writing style has been plodding, not soaring to elegant heights of description.  The best I can do is write more or less transparent sentences that have little complexity or nuance.  Accepting my limitations I applied myself to the task of pressing that first key that would open the door to my story.

Only I had no idea of how to start, or even what my subject would be.  Am I destined to become one of those writers who complains about writer's block at bars?

I hope not.