Category Archives: pantsing

A Writer’s Doldrums, or the Poison of Doubt

It’s probably some sort of literary postpartum depression thingie, but since publishing Princess of Fire I haven’t had much energy for writing. At most I’ve doodled a few hundred words here and there on different projects, none of which have yet gelled. Somewhere in the distance looms Princess of Stars, for which I absolutely have no energy at the moment. On top of that, real-life has been handing me a few tasks of an urgent nature, which means even less time and energy for scribbling.

Publishing always causes me to reflect on my writing, i.e., it engenders doubts about whether I know what the hell I’m doing. With Princess of Fire the self-doubt was especially sharp and bitter– I stumbled through the book’s four drafts and had to finish with a extra-hard push to redeem a host of lingering crimes. Then typically, in my exhaustion, I make the mistake of reading really good writers, like Hilary Mantel or Patrick O’Brian, and the distance between my feeble efforts and the prose of those who are real writers wraps itself around me and threatens to squeeze the life out of me like some anaconda of inadequacy. Cognitively I know that comparing yourself to other writers is one of the worst things you can do; nevertheless, I do it a lot.

Somehow, though, my sense of inadequacy never quite quashes my need to write. There are those who view the need to write as an addiction, and I can see some truth in the idea. Fortunately, it is generally a positive addiction, if there can be such a thing. So, eventually, I am sure I will once more crank up the narrative machine and feed my need.

And maybe– just maybe– I will someday write something decent.

Later.

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A hasty note on my works in progress, quickly done, without any sort of delay or obfuscation…really, right now…I mean it…

As I push ahead with Princess of Fire, I am probably going to be putting Horse Tamer on something of a hiatus, and likewise with most flash fiction (well, I might do one or two now and then, if the inspiration really strikes). I want to focus as much as I can on PoF.

I have another reason to hold off for the moment on Horse Tamer, however. Like a wave building off-shore, I can feel a retcon coming. And it’s big one.

I have to change Crisonia– not so much her motivation, but her status and her position, her relationship with certain other characters in the cast, and, most particularly, the means at her disposal for accomplishing what is supposed to be her devoutly desired revenge. I’ve mentioned before that I knew I had left the young woman in an impoverished box, out of which she was having difficulty climbing. This impoverishment made sense in one way in the story, but it’s made other aspects difficult. I could have some third party intervene, but then Crisonia would not be the independent actor she needs to be to move the story along. I think it’s better for her to have resources and connections at hand she can use, or manipulate. Figuring out what those should be, and how to place them in the story, however, will take a little time.

And this is in addition to the fact that I have a burning need to get Ana back into the narrative. I am even less sure what I should do with her, but it’s evident that it needs to happen. Yet more writerly-noodling will be required to sort this out.

In addition to Crisonia and Ana, I may take the opportunity to adjust some of the other characters, as well, although I am not looking to make this into a general re-write of the whole novel, especially considering the novel is far from complete. But all of this reveals a truth about my writing process.

I don’t know if this holds true for very many other writers, but for me the creation of the first draft is usually the place where I not only get to know the characters– particularly if they’re new– it’s also where I often, substantially, figure out the story itself. If that sounds bass-ackward to you, well, then, you’re probably a plotter. As a pantser, when I plunge into a new novel, I will generally have an idea of the chief characters, some idea of the action, some specific scenes in mind, and, almost always, a pretty clear picture of how the novel ends. For example, I know exactly how the entire Divine Lotus series is going to end, right down to the last line of dialogue (what is it? Nope, not going to tell you…). Otherwise, I am often totally making it up as I go, with major character motivations, plot points and narrative logic actually emerging in the process of writing the story. That’s why my first drafts are often unholy messes, with major elements shifting and changing from one chapter to another.

But (sputters the plotting writer), why don’t I just plot this all out ahead of time and spare myself the pain of having to go back and fix so much of my first draft? Well, the answer is pretty simple.

The stories won’t let me.

I mean, I have tried at different times to plot things out, but the outlines I develop always– always— melt away when they come into actual contact with the page. Time and again I’ve had the experience of typing along and suddenly a piece of action or a character will come out of nowhere and demand inclusion in the tale. My prime example of this in the Divine Lotus series is the character of Wolfson, aka Drusa, aka Amar. When I started Princess of Wonders he did not exist; in no way, shape or form was he part of my original concept. But suddenly, about four chapters in, there he was, demanding his page time– and his arrival, all at once, kicked the narrative up to a higher level. The story needed Wolfson, and it imposed him on me.

(What’s Wolfson’s importance to the story? Oh, you need to read the novels for that… 🙂 )

And so it is with Horse Tamer— I am discovering things about the story I did not know when I started it– and yes, the new bits will, and do, demand revisions. Sometimes painful revisions, detailed reworkings– but I have generally found this process very worthwhile. Quite aside from the fact that I have no choice….