Journaling as an Author

Hand Writing by djking from FlickrIf you Google journaling, as I just did because auto-correct insists it is not a word, you come up with tons of sites discussing how much journaling can help your inner peace.

How, exactly, it helps one’s inner peace is a little up in the air. I only skimmed the search results, but I’m not sure I found anything I’d deem too scientific. There’s also a lot of different definitions for what journaling even is. Is it a photograph of your day in words? Is it a page of rambling? Is it a structured rendering of your conscious thoughts on paper?

I guess these are all true, but when I talk about journaling, I’m talking about the middle example. The page of rambling.

When I decide to journal I open a blank page in a notebook, put my pen to paper, and I write non-stop until the page is full. My handwriting is atrocious and what I create is basically illegible, but that’s okay. I never intend to reread it anyway.

No, the key concept is forcing myself through an entire, college-lined sheet of paper.

It’s weird. The times that I perform best at writing are the times when I’m not thinking about it at all. Most of my best ideas, if not all, have come about when I’m nowhere near my keyboard. My best ideas often come when I’m cooking, or walking, or in the shower. I’ll be doing something else and then *KAPLOOOF* I’ll suddenly know exactly how to work out a tricky plot point.

The problem is, how do you seek these moments actively? How do you get those ideas lurking in the back of your head to come out? If you try to focus on them they hide even deeper. And it isn’t very practical to stand in the shower for hours on end, hoping for a breakthrough.

Well it may not be a perfect answer, but sitting down and forcing out a page of freehand writing seems to capture those thoughts, or at least clumsy replicas of them.

I’ll start by writing about the problems I can’t resolve in my current project, and then my plans for the weekend get mashed in and a bill I need to pay get written about, after all I can’t stop my pen. And then back to the problem and then I debate how I write the letter Q and then back to the problem and then I’m writing a possible solution to the problem only it’s pretty stupid but what if I took that first part of the solution and tied it in to that scene I didn’t really like from earlier…and so on and so on. For an entire page.

My hand hurts like hell when I’m done but my brain feels clearer. Sometimes I come up with very real answers to the questions I’m forcing myself to think about, but that’s rare. What does always happen, though, is that I come away with some directions I can head off in when I next sit down to write.

It’s a strange mix of absurd pressure and complete freedom. The pen has to keep moving, but I’m never going to read what I’m writing so my thoughts feel that it’s safe to come tumbling out.

Now I’ve had bouts of journaling where I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing. But that’s because, like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Some effort has to be made to address your current problems, but after that it’s just a free for all.

Too often I hear authors worrying about proper outlining ,or structuring, or knowing exactly where everything is going to go before writing. But what if you’re trying to outline something and you don’t have all the pieces?

Maybe take the opposite approach and let your pen go completely nuts for one whole page. You’d be surprised how many somethings you can produce out of nothing.

Watching Empire Strikes Back with My Nieces

The Empire Will Strike Back - in a just moment by Kalexanderson from FlickrOver the weekend I trekked out to my sister’s place for a movie night. It was a big deal. For the first time ever, my two nieces were going to watch The Empire Strikes Back.

It’s difficult to convey exactly what this movie means to me. I might go so far as to say it’s impossible to get that across. Either it has the same niche in your life that it does in mine, or you’ll never get it.

I’m not saying that to be snooty. I’m saying that because for me, this movie came out at exactly the right time. My big brother was a teenager when the original came out. We had just brought a brand new technological marvel known as the VCR into our home. And HBO had moved from an eight hour broadcast day to running around the clock, showing a new array of popular movies.

That was the landing pad that the original Star Wars movies had access to.

My brother’s influence, the ability to watch movies at home at your leisure, and the ability to record a movie off of the TV? It was a powerful combination. I can still remember the HBO logo presentation from that era vividly because it was at the beginning of our recording of Star Wars, and I watched that recording an uncountable number of times.

In fact, watching Star Wars was so ingrained in my gray matter that I have memories of seeing the actors perform their stunts on my family’s television and thinking, “You know it’s really impressive. No matter how many times I put this movie on, they always manage to make the same shots when they fire at the Stormtroopers, and they fly the exact same way in their ships, and Luke and Leia always swing across that broken bridge in the Death Star and never miss.”

In other words, I didn’t even realize what a movie was by the time I had watched this movie enough to have parts of it memorized.

(note: I have absolutely no idea what the hell I thought I was watching, like if I thought the actors were miniaturized in my family’s TV or what…I just know that I have memories of thinking those thoughts)

Getting to share these movies with my nieces was a powerful thing. And with Empire being my favorite of the trilogy, well it was an exciting night all around. I mean, my nine-year-old (9YO) and six-year-old (6YO) nieces found out who Luke Skywalker’s father was last Saturday.

That’s mind blowing.

This information was entirely new to almost half the viewing audience. How often does that situation arise? When Vader delivered his devastating news to Luke I got the chills. My brother-in-law gasped dramatically at 6YO. My sister poked 9YO asking, “Can you believe it?! Darth Vader is Luke’s father!”

9YO nodded and said that she had already sort of guessed that.

Which is hilarious on a whole other level.

Included with all this nostalgia, though, were a few interesting things going on from the perspective of a storyteller.

9YO was fidgeting most of the movie. She kept looking for more popcorn in other people’s bowls, she would randomly shift positions on the couch in very dramatic ways, and occasionally she would opt to play with her feet rather than look at the screen.

This was trying.

I’ve explained the overall love the adults in the room had for Empire. Plus we were well aware of how monumental a moment we wanted this viewing to be. The girls were watching Empire for freak’s sake.

And one of them was fidgety.

Was she bored? Was she unable to follow the plot? Or was she just acting like a nine-year-old?

And did any of that even matter?

I mean, as I just said, my early viewings of these movies were so over my head that I didn’t even know that I was watching a movie. And I still loved them. So how much needed to be getting across to 9YO for her to really share in the moment? Again, I didn’t even understand the concept of a movie and my early viewings are looked back on with fondness. How much of any story do we actually take in when we first hear it?

Then there is the notion that trying to make sure that 9YO was paying attention had a downside: she would try to pay too much attention. Her questions became less and less about keeping up with the general plot, and more and more about details that didn’t matter. “Why does that guy have headphones? Why is Chewbacca yelling? Where did Luke just fall to?”

They weren’t bad questions by any means, but they weren’t  integral questions either. She was so concerned about understanding each scene that she would ask questions before the movie even had a chance to answer them.

Now I don’t mean to say she didn’t enjoy herself, or that we stressed her out to a crazy extent. This is all me looking back on this and pondering. But the fact is, you really aren’t supposed to understand everything you’re seeing in a movie as you’re seeing it. An awful lot of the time, while taking in a story, you sit there confused. Scenes introduce elements that aren’t explained yet. Characters have discussions hinting at back stories that you don’t know. Emotions are expressed, giving whiffs of conflict that you aren’t familiar with.

It’s really pretty amazing if you stop to think about it.

C-3PO wanders away from the group in Cloud City and gets blown up for no reason by people we don’t see. Yoda hides who he really is and acts like a crazy person when he first contacts Luke. Han flies into an asteroid field while everyone on the Falcon is screaming at him not to.

Almost every scene in a movie does it’s best to confuse the audience, and then later it unravels that confusion.

Later, Chewbacca replays C-3PO’s memory and we learn that C-3PO had stumbled onto where the Imperial Troops were hiding and they blasted him. Later, we come to realize that Yoda was testing Luke’s patience and feeling him out before introducing himself. Later, we watch Han maneuver the Falcon through the asteroids while the lesser Imperial pilots fail and crash one by one.

And that’s how good stories are told.

I get worried a lot that I’m not getting across enough story, that the details I’m putting in are overwhelming, or that my readers won’t like the fact that I’m teasing them with information.

But it turns out that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. The whole object is to snag your reader on hooks. They’ll roll right along with it as long as you take them off of that hook at some later point in a satisfactory manner.

Until then?

Well it turns out you can skewer them any way you want to.

Hehehe…

Happy hunting.

With Apologies to Chuck Wendig

Year Two Day 81 Waking up Screaming by Bryan Gosline from flickrOver at terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig has published another guide to finishing your novel. The latest installment is titled: HOW TO KARATE YOUR NOVEL AND EDIT THAT MOTHERFUCKER HARD: A NO-FOOLIN’ FIX-THAT-SHIT EDITING PLAN TO FINISH THE GODDAMN JOB.

Capitals are original to the author. As you might be able to tell, Mister Wendig and I have slightly different writing styles. I’ve never read any of his work, there are a few of his titles on my to-read pile, but the point of this isn’t to discuss style. He’s found his voice, he’s working that voice, and he’s a terrific advocate of independent authors with one of the largest online databases of how-to articles and helpful tips for authors just starting off. Good for him I say.

No, the point of this post is to provide an alternate stance to the many how-to-write-your-book posts that Mister Wendig has on his site.

First, though, I want mention that there are plenty of things I agree with from Mister Wendig’s overall philosophy. A couple of quotes of his will illustrate this:

– “A finished first draft. That is the brass ring, the crown jewels, the Cup of the Dead Hippie God.”

–  “And that is our goal: to defeat the specter of Nothing.”

Basically what he wants to instill in his readers is that you have to actually write your god-damned book if you want to write your god-damned book. Otherwise you are just someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about a book. And that isn’t quite the same thing. There are a lot of people who sit around thinking about being football players or ballerinas or winning the lottery and, in the end, that does not result in them becoming what they are trying to attain.

This is very sound advice.

But there are plenty of times when I would suggest that you ignore it.

In the end, the goal shouldn’t be to finish books, the goal should be to come into your own as a writer. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s the truth. You have to learn to teach yourself with respect, to acknowledge that you have a voice, to grasp how it is that you tell stories. That’s what writing is all about and doing nothing but ordering yourself to hammer at the keyboard year after year doesn’t allow much room to converse with yourself, to take note of who you are and how far you’ve come.

It’s just your hands on the keyboard and a drill instructor in your brain.

That doesn’t allow much room for growth.

Every so often, it’s good to ask yourself why you’re doing this. Why do you write? What is it that you want to produce? Maybe you want to try something different from what you’ve been forcing yourself to hammer out. Trust me. It happens.

I just mentioned the concept of a mental drill instructor and that brings me to another point I’d like to make. Again, I’ve had plenty of books that were finished with the help of that mental drill instructor. It’s a good tool, but it’s not the only tool. And it has plenty of downside. I’ve spent a lot of time, way too much of my life, beating myself up for not writing enough. I’ve piled on anxiety and stress and self-loathing because I wasn’t meeting my word count. Yes, it helped me to finish some of my earlier books, but I’m not entirely sure it was worth the costs. Especially because, and I can not stress this enough, there are other ways to write. You can take breaks from your word count and not beat yourself up over it. You can sit and type without adrenaline or pressure. You can step away from your book and not instantly consider it a failed effort. That’s allowed.

I honestly find myself wondering these days if my earlier books would have been finished in roughly the same time-frame even without that mental drill instructor. Whether they would have slowly been typed and edited if I hadn’t applied tremendous pressure on myself to finish them, if I had had a little self-respect and let myself be at peace while I was away from them. Part of me thinks that I would have worked my way back to the keyboard at about the same time whenever I took a break, and the books would have come out of me either way, I just would have been less riddled with anxiety.

And that anxiety adds up. It can leave you hating your keyboard, slogging through your books, loathing every step. I mean, if that’s the goal…well maybe that shouldn’t be the goal is all I’m trying to say.

Mister Wendig’s philosophy also seems to overlook the fact that writing will change for you over time. I hinted at this earlier but what writing is, what it means to you, why you do it, and how you do it…that’s all up in the air. It probably doesn’t seem like it now, but life lasts a pretty long time and you won’t write your fifth book the same way you write your first. You’ll acquire new tools, old tools will go blunt, you’ll experience new authors and art that will effect what you’re trying to create. And, most importantly, you’ll continue through your life. You’ll change as a person. And that should come to be reflected in your process. Which means that your process should change as well.

I know a lot of authors who have written some impressive things but continue to flog themselves along on the drill instructor’s path.

I would like them to know that there is more than one way to write.

Maybe take a fresh look at things and see if that isn’t true.

I suppose that’s my over all point. Turn off the drill instructor now and then and take a breath. Please.

Look I’ll put it this way.

Painters are supposed to paint a certain way. They’re supposed to use pencil strokes, or pen strokes, or brush strokes to produce an effect as multiple brush strokes compile. It sounds ludicrous to think that a painter would paint pictures, say, using only one line, that someone might paint a picture by applying pen to paper and not lifting it until their painting was finished.

But that’s painting too. It’s important to recognize that there can be more than one process.

Oh, I know what you’re saying. That’s just silliness, right? I’m making a broad point but it’s pretty facile. Yes, technically drawing one, and only one, line is painting. But no one would ever actually do that. Why would anyone, not to mention an expert, pursue such a method when it’s so obviously not going to create something brilliant or popular or interesting, right?

Right?

picasso one line paintings

Translation Questions

I received an email from a reader, Olga from Poland, today. Olga and I were emailing a lot a few months ago when she first read my books.

She actually won a signed copy for spotting a typo and sent me this photo to let me know that Probability Angels had found a good home.

Probability Angels goes to Poland

During the course of those emails she asked if it would be okay if she were to translate Probability Angels into Polish for practice; translating books is what Olga wants to do for a living.

My response was to jump up and down with excitement like a cartoon because that’s freaking COOL and then reply to her email with a kind, “Yes. And please send me any questions you come across.”

So today she sent me a couple of questions. I found them interesting and I thought I would share.

First question:

“You know, it’s been twenty-two years”, Matthew said, “you think it might be time for you to give me a little credit?” – it sounds silly, but did you mean credit literally – as if he wanted Epp to give him some currency, or credit as trust? I would go for the trust one, but I’m a little confused by Epp’s answer (“The smile disappeared from Epp’s face. “Not a chance”). Sounds kinda harsh if it’s about trust…

I can’t imagine how much trouble synonyms and homonyms and puns and all of that must cause for translators. I guess the larger phrase would be idioms? Words and phrases that have taken on whole new meanings from their original intent are extremely common and they are often used with zero thought given to the phrase’s original meaning. So when someone who is unfamiliar with the phrase hears it…it must just sound bonkers.

This is not an extreme example, Olga understands the nuances of the word credit, but it still got me thinking about idiomatic language.

I constantly try to purge my writing of idioms. They are lazy and they are easily misunderstood and whenever I find one I erase it and say what it means in original and plain language. But it’s difficult. Like I said, many idioms are so fixed in our heads that they don’t even register as idioms anymore.

The one exception here is dialogue. There are no rules for what comes out of a character’s mouth. None. That has always been my philosophy because in the real world there are no rules for what comes out of peoples’ mouths. Spoken communication is a baffling, mysterious, fluid, and amazing thing. I try to respect that.

Anyway, in this case Matthew is not using the word “credit” literally. He just wants some recognition for his 22 years of work. Epp, who knows that Matthew has not even begun working yet (he is still a newbie and not a tester) and who has been working for over 2,000 years, does not opt to give Matthew a whole lot of respect.

Second question:

2. “Epp shrugged, cool eyes never leaving Matthew. “They keep me in Zegna.” Epp extended a hand with the clipboard in it”. I have no idea what’s this Zegna. Couldn’t find it on the net either. Some help, please? 🙂

I’m actually amazed how many people don’t ask about this. I think maybe that Epp is so mysterious at this point that readers gloss right over this, expecting him to talk about things they don’t quite get. Maybe?

That’s all good, too, because I didn’t really mean for most readers to understand this.

These sorts of things, slipping in little bits of dialogue that aren’t meant to be grasped instantly, are one of the ways I entertain myself while writing. I’ve usually read and written and reread and rewritten a book so many times while working on it that I will literally start adding inside jokes with myself.

And with Probability Angels? Well, the incredibly quick pace at which that book was written resulted in some passages that appear astoundingly stark to me when I look them over today. At times I would barely scatter enough clues into a line of dialogue to let the reader know what was being discussed, let alone understand it, and then move on with zero explanation or rehashing of the topic.

I can remember when Matthew first asks Epp about being a slave and Epp responds, “My slave name, which I kept, is Epictetus, not Chicken George.”

And that was all I said!

Chicken George (to the best of my memory) is the name given to Kubla Kinte from the book, Roots, when he is first kidnapped from Africa and enslaved by Americans.

My point in this line of dialogue from Epp was to explain to Matthew that he was not an American slave, but a slave from ancient Rome.

This is gone into more later on in the book, but it is not really touched on much again during that initial conversation.

Even the notion that slaves were often renamed by their owners was never explained.

Stark.

So, Zegna. Zegna is Epp referrering to Ermenegildo Zegna, an upscale men’s designer. When I was first creating Epp I wanted him dressed in an absolutely stunning suit. I asked around about who made the best suits in the world and was told about Zegna, and then once I looked at some of his stuff online I knew I had found Epp’s wardrobe.

If you want a sense of the man’s work, go here. Unfortunately it is hard to find photos of his stuff in the real world instead of on the runway. I can assure you, though, that Epp had zero trouble wearing Zegna’s clothes into Central Park and making them look good.

In that sentence Epp is telling Matthew that the work he puts in is enough to earn him very nice clothes. The connection between a tester’s work, their energy, how they can manipulate that energy, and their wardrobe, is gone into in much more detail later on in the books. Frankly, with Epp’s mastery of this world and the work he has put in as a tester, producing a nice suit is probably a trifling for him. But in this scene Epp is treating Matthew as the newbie he is and opts to gloss over the finer points of Matthew’s question and put it into material terms that Matthew will understand.

That was fun. And to think, I hated translating things in high-school…

Progress Without Milestones

ASDA Suede Notebooks - Stacked with Moleskine by pigpogm from FlickrWords continue to pile up for the first draft of book three. A title? That’s nowhere in sight. A notion of how all these stories come together? That’s…well that’s also murky. A clear idea of what happens next? Not so much.

And yet I continue to sit down every day, shut down all distractions, and write. The scene I’m working on unfolds, the next scene is hinted at, and the next day I continue this exercise. And the next. And the next. And, when all of these mysterious bouts of writing are strung together, definite progress is being made.

But it’s really freaking weird.

Every book I’ve written I’ve taken a different approach to. And every time, the approach I chose was a direct result of where I wanted to be with my writing.

I felt I was becoming far too constrained by outlines and planning, and so I started the 26 Stories in 52 Weeks project, which spawned Probability Angels.

I became nervous about my reliance on first-draft readers, so with Persistent Illusions I did not let anyone read anything until well after a first draft was finished.

For this book, though, my notions of how to write are much more informed by my notions of what I want writing to be.

Writing used to be stressful, painful, slave-labor with myself chained to my keyboard. I used to yell at myself for not hitting my word counts and have anxiety attacks that my story wasn’t good enough. I would sit down to write and a voice in my head would yell at me constantly. And if I wasn’t all keyed up then I would worry that I wasn’t “feeling things” enough and I would try to hype myself up with music or caffeine so that I could write dammit.

This book I’m not doing any of that. I do worry about the story, but I also constantly remind myself that my past five books all came together somehow, and that I actually had a proof copy of Persistent Illusions ordered before I knew what the ending was going to be. So I think about the story a lot, but I don’t let myself panic about it.

And I try for a word count every day, but I don’t beat myself up over it. I know that some days will be less and some days will be more. It’s far more important to chip away at it for many days over time than it is to stress one day in particular.

And I don’t need a loud voice in my head yelling at me; I actually aim for the opposite of being keyed up. I flip my phone over and and shut down all distractions on my computer and say to myself, “Okay. You can either write, or you can sit here, but you are not allowed to open any internet pages or look at your phone. There’s the Word document, and that’s it.” And when I say that, I’m calm. And when I hear that, I listen. And I sit and I relax and I do nothing for the first five minutes, and then sure enough I start typing.

Words appear and pages pile up but the hallmarks of progress, all the little goodies I used to savor, like reaching a big exciting scene I was looking forward to or finishing up a section, none of those exist.

It’s just me and my Word document.

And as I said, it’s pretty strange.

So progress? Progress is being made.

I just have no way of measuring it.

Hydra Headed Problems in Writing

Helsingør, Herkules kæmper mod hydraen by ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN from FlickrHercules was a demi-god…I think. We’re going off of memory here because that’s more fun.

Anyway, Hercules was a demi-god with some rage issues. One day, for reasons I can’t remember, he killed his wife and kids.

This was bad.

He wanted to atone for this bad thing that he had done, or the gods demanded that he atone for it, and so he set off on his labors. The Labors of Hercules. They’re sort of famous in mythology.

He had to kill the lion of Numedia (we’re guessing at names too…but I know he had to kill a lion). He had to capture Cerberus. And he had to clean some stables.

Yes he had to clean some stables. They were the gigantic stables of some horse-crazy land with horse crap caked on three feet deep. Hercules had to divert an entire river just to clean the stables. Big stuff.

He also had to kill the Hydra. Who on earth made up this list of chores is beyond me. One day he’s cleaning stables and the next he’s killing a mythical creature. I guess it was sort of like a decathlon, testing as many different skills and pushing as many buttons as possible.

So anyway, the Hydra. The Hydra was a nine headed monster. That doesn’t sound too bad. I mean Hercules was able to clean that stable by diverting a river so we can assume that monsters are sort in his wheelhouse.

The only problem was that every time you managed to lop off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more would sprout up in its place.

This is a problem. In fact, this is such a common type of problem that it is now known as a hydra headed problem: knock one down and it only serves to introduce two more problems.

This is where I’m at with book three. It feels like I’ve been here for awhile. Every time I figure out a kink in this book it opens up two more ideas that I have to toy with and examine and decide where, or if, they belong.

I began with a fairly basic idea for the plot. The plot is no longer basic. I have story-lines that range from Bartleby’s life as a human to a serial killer causing unrest in the world of the testers to a coup in the Council to Gregor’s rise as leader of the zombies.

It’s possible that I can tie all of these together, most likely weeding a few out, and create a single cohesive book. But right now? Right now it just seems like every step forward I take results in two more paths I have to sniff out and examine. And it’s getting really annoying. I have no idea if this is progress. It feels more like a hamster wheel.

In order to defeat the Hydra, Hercules found a giant log and heated the end and after he sliced off one of the Hydra’s heads he cauterized the wound, cooking it shut by applying the glowing red end of the log to the open cut. No more Hydra heads.

It’s possible that I’m allowing myself too much exploration. It’s possible that it’s time to start cauterizing story lines, that once I figure out one bit I need to start ignoring the inevitable questions that crop up about what else that bit might be hiding.

Or it’s possible that you can beat a hydra by wearing it out, that eventually the stupid thing just runs out of heads.

With the holidays coming up and a massive disrupt to my work schedule bound to happen I’ll probably take that opportunity to step back and more properly assess what the hell I have on my hands right now.

Until then, I’m just glad I’m not cleaning stables.

Writing in Pieces

Puzzle by ellajphillips from FlickrI have never written a book in any other manner than by starting at the beginning and plowing through until I’ve reached the end. Then I stand back and rewrite, occasionally swapping scenes around for better impact and flow, but the overall structure has always been present at the onset.

For my current book I seem to be a very different writer. I sit down for my writing time in the morning and just write. The scenes have been good, very good, and I’m quite happy with them. The problem is I have no idea why I’m writing them. They are, absolutely and utterly, all over the place.

I can’t tell if this is good or not.

This book is different for me, for a lot of reasons, so there’s something to be said for the fact that maybe the writing process should be different.

Likewise, even though I have sat down with an initial structure for all my other books, that structure has morphed and warped drastically during the writing process. It’s just that once a book solidifies in my head, all previous possibilities of how that book might have gone disappear. I look at early notes for my books sometimes and I have no idea what they mean, they refer to things that no longer exist any more, or even have the possibility of existing because the book has been set in print in a different way.

So maybe the notion that I used to start with a set structure is flawed.

But…seriously? This feels crazy different, if not terrifying. Am I just rambling with no point? Or am I a more relaxed writer?

Am I crafting a never ending series of puzzle pieces that will never fit together? Or am I excavating a story, brushing off dirt layer by layer and finding an outcropping and there, but nothing tying it all together yet?

I’m obviously hoping for the latter but I honestly do not recognize the writer who sits down at this keyboard in the morning anymore.

Strange times indeed.

Book Stew

Tomato Soup Stew by ontheflyrecipes from FlickrIt’s been well over a year since I’ve written a book, and I forgot what a strange process this is.

Well, it’s strange at the best of times, but over the past few years I’ve, for various reasons, mellowed out a lot concerning my path as an author and a lot of the stress I used to heap upon myself is no longer present. A couple of weeks ago I even wrote up a contract with my book basically stating that I wasn’t going to let it drive me bonkers.

Which is good…I think. Then again, sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to craft the sorts of books I want to without that stress.

Part of the process of being less self-flagellating while writing was letting myself accept that I know what I’m doing here. I have yet to hit critical mass with my audience, but the readers I do have are absurdly praising, from the Spanish publisher of The Hunger Games to the Prague film student making a film out of one of my short stories…no art holds value for everyone but it’s becoming clear that my art holds value for a nice solid number of people. I just need to market it correctly to those who don’t know it yet.

But accepting that, and then writing with that confidence in mind, is so freaking strange. I’m not used to being calm while I write, to thinking clearly and not panicking. I’m not used to approaching a project with steady nerves. I have no idea how to write like this. And, in my wonderfully stupid meta moments, I wonder if accepting myself as an artist so that I can work in peace removes the fear and stress that I require to work in peace as an artist.

Basically the question on my mind is this: Do I need to suffer to write?

I don’t have an answer to that but I worry at times that I’ll finish this book and think I’ve done some good work but when I release it my readers will say, “Yeah, that was okay, but he’s lost some of his edge.”

Of course there’s always the chance that I’ll be able to write better with a clear head. I mean, I have no clue where my ideas and characters and scene structures come from. They don’t exist one moment and then they do exist the next.

Everything I’ve created has come out of nothing, has popped into my head while walking down the street or while solving my Rubik’s Cube or while banging away at my keyboard.

Ideas don’t exist until they do, but was the stress producing them? Or was it when I was finally able to put my work on the back burner, let it stew, and then go do something else that my brain was finally able to get to work in the background and untie the knots in my manuscripts?

Truth is I have absolutely no idea. And the only way to test this is to write this book while respecting my well being, i.e. not letting it devour me, and see what sort of work I produce.

Which is what I’m doing.

Although it’s going really slow and I’m not exactly sure where I’m going.

*sigh*

But I guess I’ll keep walking, fix everything in the rewrites, and not let it get to me.

(right?)

My Contract With My Book

signatureDear Book,

I love you, I truly do even though I, as of yet, do not know you fully. I love your curves as you move through time, I love your heart as you show me the humanity of the most despicable characters, I love your brain as you teach me about Ancient Rome and the origins of wool.

But we need to talk.

I’ve been through this with some of your siblings before, five of them to be exact, and each of the books that came before you broke my fucking head apart once the honeymoon part of the relationship had ended.

I know you want this to be the whirlwind romance that is needed to write those giddy, mind-blowing scenes that we both sense are coming…but I’m sorry. As an older, wiser, author, I have to insist on some things up front.

1. When I am not working on you, as in not sitting directly at my desk with your Word document open, you are not allowed to gnaw at my brain. When not at my desk I will happily push ideas back and forth with you, or take in landscapes that I drive past and dialogue that I overhear and file them away for you to feast on later. But you do not get to drive my brain while I am off-duty. That is my time. If I want to play video games and drink beer, I will do that and not feel bad about it. You will always be with me, but that does not mean that you get to always haunt me.

Calibration weights

2. You do not get to sit on my shoulders, compressing them with stress, yelling at me that you’re not finished yet and why aren’t you finished yet and you should be finished by now!!!! I have started five books in my life. Do you know how many I have finished? Five.

You will get done. I promise you that. I will work on you until you are done. But you are not allowed to put arbitrary time-frames into my head as to when “done” will be. That’s like trying to predict who will be standing next to me a year from now on the bus. It’s just impossible. You have my vow, though: you are officially a Joseph Devon product. You will get finished. But get off of my fucking shoulders.

3. You will be a good book. I’m not even going to acknowledge your sinkhole of doubt regarding whether people will like you or not. You will be good. You will have the fullest devotion of my talent and head and heart while I am at work on you. Your knots will be unravelled. Your mysteries will be revealed. Your problems will be solved.

And, you know what? I have a new tool that I am ready to acknowledge as a major part of the process now: rewriting. You will remember that I am a rewriting machine. You will not freak out because your first draft is a mess.

Don’t believe me? Here. I can show you the first printed version of Persistent Illusions. I had actually ordered a proof copy already because the process was so close to being finished. See the ending? See there? See how it’s still a clusterfuck of a mess even at that late date? But guess what? I rewrote it. And I rewrote it well. And it is now one of my proudest acheivements and one loved by my readers.

I will not quit on you. I will not let you be second-rate. What I mess up the first time through I will work out with sweat and toil during my rewrites. You will be good.

Those are the rules. That is the deal. You have my all, but you do not get to own me.

Agreed?

Shake on it?

Okay.

Good.

Now let’s get to work…

I Think It’s Time to Start Book Three

Oh god I can’t believe I just wrote that blog title. I have so much more research I need to do. Currently I’m halfway through a book on the history of textiles and sewing methods. I have no idea when the book was published, I grabbed it for my Kindle without checking, but it discusses at length how you shouldn’t store your thread next to a fire or heating stove because that can make your thread brittle. So I don’t think it’s the most modern book ever. Nor is it the most exciting. But it’s helped a lot and given me some sense of clothing and its creation that I didn’t have before.

Before that I read a few books about Roman history.

And after I’m done with clothes I want to read about Australian history.

And then something about Romania.

And…on and on and on.

It’d be great if I could read everything about everything before I started writing but, for obvious reasons, I can’t.

And to be honest that really doesn’t matter. Truth is I don’t need to be an expert in a subject in order to write fiction incorporating said subject. I just need to know enough to fake it.

Plus there’s the fact that writing a book isn’t like telling a story.

Telling a story implies that the story is already written. You just have to add your tone, your angles, maybe give the evil witch a spooky voice so that your audience shrieks with delight, but with storytelling you know where you’re going and how you’re getting there.

Writing a book is more like excavating an ancient ruin. You have no idea what you’re going to find. You start digging and when you hit something interesting you slow down and treat it delicately and try to let it lead you to the larger picture that’s still buried.

David (Michelangelo) by Andrea Scollo from FlickrOr sculpting. I imagine sculpting is pretty similar, too. Every sculptor I’ve read about has mentioned that they don’t turn a piece of stone into a statue, they expose the statue that already existed inside the stone.

Anyway, all the research in the world can’t prepare me for the first, “Woah, where did THAT come from,” moment that I’ll hit in book three. And after that first moment hits, all my best laid plans get tossed and it’s hard to say who is in charge anymore, me or the story.

A lot of writers express joy when they get an idea for a new work. But this is my fifth or so book and I know that this isn’t a relationship which will remain in its halcyon honeymoon stage forever.

No. Writing a book is more like shackling myself to a madman for a year in an agreement to follow wherever he goes. Except my agreement doesn’t mean anything because, you know, the shackles are in place regardless.

I am worried about the amount of story that I want to get into this book. It hit me in the shower the other morning how much I’m going to try and tell and I grew afraid.

We won’t be staying in the present, not for the whole thing, that’s for sure. I didn’t read up on Roman history to add background flavor.

And we’ll be revisiting some of the more brushed over bits of tester history. Gregor, for instance, will have his story told in more detail.

And then I have to, you know, close out the entire trilogy in a suitable fashion all the while continuing with my marketing work in a field where there’s no prior models which don’t resemble roulette wheels to me.

Sooooo…yeah.

I’m utterly terrified.

How’s your Wednesday going?