Category Archives: pre-written

Where has all the mojo gone?

Some of you may have noticed (or not) that in my last few posts I haven’t really mentioned much about my current work-in-progress, Princess of Fire. Partly I’ve been spending some of my time trying out flash-fiction, which is kind of a new thing for me. Mainly, however, it’s because I seem to be having serious mojo problems.

Mojonoun: that which allows you to do what you need to do when you need to do it.

(If that definition seems kinda redundant, at least it avoids any sexual connotations. Not going there….)

Since completing my taxes it seems as if the wind that originally filled my sails with Fire (that was actually an accidental double meaning, but I’ll go with it) has dwindled down to a fitful whisper. I’m doing a few hundred words a day, as opposed to about a thousand a day before. I’m above 75,000 words, but it took me about a week or so to get there from 72,000.

It may be that I have exhausted most of the pre-imagined material that has carried me this far. I may also be slowing because I’m facing more difficult core sections. I also am not wholly pleased with a lot of the material I’ve laid down.

On top of all this, there has been some serious chaos in the personal space for the last three weeks, quite aside from the continuing unemployment thingie. The details would bore everyone, and spewing on about them here wouldn’t solve anything. But it’s a banal truth that it is hard to write when you don’t have a certain level of peace and quiet.

At this point I am not sure how to get the mojo back, or even if it’s get-backable. I may have to revert to the level of production I saw while drafting Princess of Shadows. If I have about 40,000 words left (a total guess at this point) that would mean approximately eighty days of first draft still ahead of me. That would mean completing the first draft sometime in May, and about a year between the publication of Shadows and Fire. I could live with that.

And who knows– things might calm down, I might get a job, and maybe Alfonso Cuaron will show up at my front door with an offer to film my novels for a lot of money.

Well, everybody needs a dream….

E. L. Doctorow’s latest novel and thoughts on writing.

Princess of Fire is now at 60,000 words. My best guess at the moment is that this is perhaps halfway through the story. I went back and looked at my progress reports from last year and did some comparisons. With Princess of Shadows it took me approximately six months to go from 26,000 words to 60,000. To cover that distance with Princess of Fire it’s taken me about six weeks. I continue to be amazed at this level of productivity, but I do see some potential trouble down the road. Because I’m writing the easy, pre-written/pre-imagined stuff, some sections still to be written are going to be harder to get down. More than that, because of the way I am writing this novel, I’ve got numerous disconnected sections that will need to be linked up and reconciled. Still, I’m okay with those kind of problems if they’re the price of completing a first draft in jig time.

On NPR this morning I heard an interview with E. L. Doctorow regarding his latest novel, and in the interview are some of Doctorow’s thoughts on the process of writing. One of these is “write in order to find out what you’re writing.” That may not make sense to everyone, but does to me. I thought the interview was worth sharing– let me know what you think.

I’m thinking I need to add some of Doctorow’s titles– probably Ragtime and The March— to my literary bucket list. Jane and Chuck, move over and make room.

Inspiration and the joy of pre-written material.

I am starting to get feedback from my beta-readers on Princess of Shadows, and no one has reported any seriously negative symptoms yet– vomiting, rashes, un-American activities, that sort of thing. Time will tell. The one cautionary response so far is that one reader began to wonder just how many times something was going to get in Kathy’s path back to Crown. That is clearly another way of saying things run a little long, but the reader was not able to mention anything specific they would want to cut. It’s an indication that I need to think hard about cutting, in any event (no surprise).

In my last post I half-jokingly referred to “pre-written” material feeding into my draft of Princess of Fire. Turns out that “pre-writing” (rather than pre-written) is an actual concept, at least enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry–

Very interesting, although in my case I was using pre-written in a somewhat different sense.

My story ideas come from many different places. Sometimes a story comes out of frustration with an existing work– I have a space opera waiting in the wings that, in part, owes its origins to my rage over the Verhoeven Starship Troopers atrocity and my grief over the cancellation of Firefly. Sometimes the inspiration is more direct– the first Mankin story I ever wrote was directly inspired by, God help me, a scene in Sword of Shannara (yes, I once read Sword of Shannara. Give me a break, I was twenty). I can hardly see a professional production of anything Shakespeare without getting inspired, either about my current work in progress or about a new story– in fact, I can trace the ultimate origin of Kathy and the Divine Lotus series to a production of As You Like It I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the 1990’s. Sometimes, even something in my everyday life will actually inspire a story idea, such as a story I have in my files based on my time in the US Army in Germany (unfortunately, it’s another abandoned tale, with a melange of life in the Army, horror and time-travel that never quite worked).

Sometimes the inspiration will express itself as a character or a setting. Many times, however, for me I actually start with nothing more than an image, usually of something happening. That first Mankin story started as an image of a lone man crossing a body-strewn battlefield, in haste and desperation. Often these images lead nowhere– at the moment I have in mind the image of an M1 Abrams tank firing its main battery and the concussion shattering every window in a Regency manor house, ala Jane Austen. It beats the crap out of me how an M1 got to Regency England (although it might indicate I’ve been watching too much Jane Austen), and I rather doubt that any story will ever grow out of it. But that’s the sort of thing my creative side (to the extent I have one) serves up.

And then, sometimes, thinking about a story long enough yields me a tremendous number of interlocking images, to the extent that when I sit down to actually draft the story large sections of it are practically already written in my mind. Of course, if I’ve ruminated long enough, the story ceases to be just images, as characters, dialogue, and conflict attach themselves to the scenes.

This is what I meant by “pre-written”, and it is the happy state I find myself in regarding Princess of Fire. In three days I have taken it from 4000+ words to more than 7000, a thousand words a day, a pace at which I would have finished Princess of Shadows sometime last October. Something about this story is powerfully stimulating to my imagination. I’d like to think it’s not just because there are bigger explosions in this novel than in Shadows, but that doesn’t hurt.

The conclusion I have to come to is that inspiration and imagination are quirky things. More than likely what gets my imagination going would be alien to others. But then, as writers, particularly writers of fiction, we are not exactly engaged in a wholly rational activity in the first place. We spend time with imaginary people in imaginary danger, trying to make them as real as possible. It helps if our imagination does a lot of the work ahead of time.

I don’t know how far my pre-written material will carry me with Fire, but I intend to milk it for all it’s worth.