Category Archives: writing failure

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #7

Yes, a progress report on Princess of Stars, something that hasn’t happened in over a year.  That’s because, effectively, there has been no progress.  To be precise, I have written, re-wrttten, cut, deleted, re-purposed, re-arranged, laid the story down in the despair, hovered on the edge of deleting everything and un-publishing the first four Divine Lotus novels, considered giving up writing entirely, written some more and deleted that– with the net effect being that I have been more-or-less cycling around the same point in the story for more than twelve months.  Throw in some clinical depression and about three major life-changes (which are still all working themselves out) and completing this novel has been a goal that has seemed far, far out of reach.

What has changed?  Nothing seismic. There’s been no epic epiphany, nor sea-change in my writing.  Just a couple of small things that seem to be helping me get unstuck.

Firstly, I think I have hit upon a means to finesse some of my inability to get past my blockage.  In my flibbertigibbet way of doing drafts, I normally write passages out-of-sequence, working on later or earlier passages in the narrative when I’m stuck somewhere.  Knitting it all together into a coherent story is what happens in the second draft.  This time around, however, I am doing something a little different; I am writing the story with the intention of not necessarily adhering to a linear timeline for the action– and, in the process, I am not worrying my pointy little noggin too much about connecting passages and such what.  It seems to be helping.  The finished product may look quite different from the other Divine Lotus novels, but the whole point of this is to get to a finished product, and I’m getting kinda ruthless in pursuit of that result.

Secondly, I think I’ve finally reached the acceptance stage of grief over my writing.

When I started, rather late in life, to write in a serious way I thought that I was pretty good.  The process since then has been a slow coming to terms with the fact that I will never be anything more than mediocre.  There’s a reason why no editors ever accepted any of my over-the-transom submissions, nor any agent ever took me on.  I’m just not that good.

It’s been hard for me to get to this place.  I spent a long, long time in the denial stage (ain’t just a river in Egypt, folks).  I think I passed through anger and bargaining pretty quickly, and then spent a very long time in depression.  It didn’t help that my depression wasn’t just about my writing, either.  The last twenty or so years have been hard in many ways, lightened here and there by friendships and the arrival of my daughter (make that the glorious and splendid arrival of my daughter, but I digress…..).

I may- may-be coming out of that stage.  As I mentioned, there have been some serious life-changes, and those may be helping.  The jury is still out.  But I believe I’m done with illusions about myself and my writing.

I will never have much of an audience; I will never make much money at this; and it’s very doubtful anyone will ever make a movie out of any of my works.  If any of this were to happen, I would be pleasantly surprised and give God the glory– but I have to stop holding my breath over it.  I’ve been getting dizzy….

Having said that, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to finish this story and the others still in my head, for my sake and for the story itself.  It’s not going to be great literature and it’s not going to wow the masses.  But I think the story is worth completing.

So– 49,000 words out of a projected 150,000, not quite one-third.  I am finally on the verge of getting Kathy on the road in pursuit of the Lady Rose Adamant– yes, the core action is a chase– and hopefully I will be able to report solid progress from here on out.  Not that there won’t be missteps and recalculations– knowing me, it’s pretty much guaranteed.  But I think I see a path forward, and that’s progress.

Later.

Oh, and PS– I got to use the word selbstgefällig today in the story.  I am so jazzed…..

 

 

 

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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.

There will now be a brief hitch in the get-along….

Stop the presses.

Princess of Fire has hit a snag– several, in fact. My fourth read-through has turned out to be a little interesting than I thought it would be. So much so, in fact, that I’ve told my remaining two beta-readers not to bother reading the version I sent them. I’m not quite going back to the drawing-board, but publication has shifted from possibly this week-end to some time later this month.

I am not going to go into more detail than that. When I’ve tried to write about it I have consistently slipped over into some pretty wretched whining. I’ll spare you. Suffice to say that, at this moment if I were to assess myself as a writer, I would say that I am a third-rate word-mangler who occasionally rises to the level of second-rate mediocrity.

But…there is nothing for it. Time to pick myself up, scrape off the mud and resume digging.

The daily routine of a man newly unemployed (warning– may involve some whining….)

1. Wake up at an unnecessarily early hour.
2. Get up about an hour later.
3. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
4. Take daughter to school. Don’t get out of the car, because you’re still in your pajamas.
5. Get dressed.
6. Walk two miles to Safeway to buy a bear-claw.
7. Walk home.
8. Shower.
9. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
10. Sit down to edit current novel-in-progress.
11. Fall asleep over current novel-in-progress.
12. Wake up.
13. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
14. Eat lunch.
15. Check state job boards, Monster, Linked-in, Indeed.com, Dice, Ziprecruiter, Siemens, Volt, Kforce, and about a dozen other job sites.
16. Submit one resume.
17. Watch forty to fifty Youtube videos about cats and World of Tanks and guys ranting about movies, most of which you’ve never seen.
18. Go to library.
19. Check out a book.
20. While at library, try not to get depressed looking at all the other people’s books that got published.
21. Go home.
22. Think about doing a blog post.
23. Fall asleep thinking about doing a blog post.
24. Eat dinner.
25. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
26. Play World of Tanks.
27. Watch Youtube cat video to make yourself feel better about the pummeling you just received on World of Tanks.
28. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
29. Go to bed.

(repeat)

Princess of Fire– A light has dawned, a weight has been lifted….

The second draft of Princess of Fire, both Pass One and Pass Two, is finished. It is now a complete story, without major gaps or substantial narrative inconsistencies. One or two minor timeline issues remain, a couple of small pieces of business need to be added, and the location of a particular minor character in the narrative needs to be resolved. But this is the point at which (I think) a reader could go through the whole story and not be thrown out of the narrative by gaps or incongruities. To put it another way, I would not terribly shy about letting an editor see it in this state. That is, if I had an editor. All I’ve really got is me.

Is the story ready for publication? Not on your dog-eared copy of Strunk and White (at least, I hope you have a dog-eared copy of Strunk and White). Now comes the very close and intensive line edit, which I do with a hard copy. This is where I cut the extraneous and resolve the little consistencies and stupidities– for example, the fact that a character is named George in Chapter 2 and Fred in Chapter 5. The hard copy line edit is where I screw down my prose those last few millimeters. It’s where I will catch those pesky “felt”‘s and other bits of vague language, as well as sentence structures that would leave a Byzantine confused.

Will Princess of Fire be ready when the line edit is complete? Negatory. I have a couple of more filters to run the novel through, including my beta-readers, before I call it finalized. But I’m a long step closer now.

Now that I can see the definite outline of the book’s final form, a question comes to mind– is the novel any good? After all this long, long struggle, is it readable, enjoyable, decent?

Beats the crap out of me.

Writers are generally not the best critics of their own work. We understand the gap between what was in our head and what is on the page. Sometimes that gap is considerable. Hardly anyone ever gets 100% of their original concept on paper.

Princess of Fire, at the moment, feels to be about 55 to 60% of what I originally had in mind. There do seem to be some pretty good bits here, but I can’t judge how engaging it will be to a reader who isn’t me. Maybe I can tweak this puppy up another 5 to 10%. But it’s a truism that even successful novels are, to some degree, imperfect.

One thing that I will not try to do, however, is attempt to leverage the story toward perfection. That way lies bankruptcy and madness. Just one example– George Lucas came close to destroying the original Star Wars trilogy with his special and super-special editions, which basically boiled down to him second-guessing himself. The end result was weaker, not stronger, than the original.

At some point, a writer has to call a halt. Someone (and I’ve seen this attributed to several different individuals) said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. At some point I will stop tweaking Princess of Fire and publish, and then move on to another imperfect project. This is just the way it is.

Not yet, however– there’s lots of work left to do. But this book is definitely, by the grace of God, coming together.

Later.

Horse Tamer– time to end the pain….

I’ve been struggling with this for a little while now, but I’ve decided to pull the trigger. From this point on I will post no further chapters of Horse Tamer here, and I will soon remove the chapters I have already published. I have a number of reasons for doing so (not in exact order of importance)–

1. Posting the draft chapter by chapter on my blog seems to have inflamed my already undisciplined style of creating a first draft, to the point that, after more than 60,000 words, I am nowhere near getting even to the middle of the story and bringing all my characters on-stage, never mind introducing the main plot-line. The open-ended nature of blogging has allowed me to blather on, piling prose upon prose, and essentially getting nowhere.

2. I think the basic indecency of posting a draft for all to see has finally caught up with me. I really shouldn’t be doing this in public. Children might be reading this.

3. As often happens with my drafts, I’ve gotten a ways into the story and realized that there is a better way to do it. I have already whinged at length about poor Crisonia, and wrung my hands over poor, lost Ana, but now I’ve realized that Mankin himself needs to be retconned. I’ve written him too bland and safe, for all my attempts to portray him as a suffering soul; I need to bring him back closer to my original conception. So, instead of massive retcons for all, I intend to start again. Call it First Draft 1.1. And I will not be posting it online, but doing it in private, where it belongs, until it’s ready.

That’s the silver lining in all this– the time and energy I expended on Horse Tamer is not going to go to waste. I’m convinced the Venian Empire and its world are the setting Mankin needs to take off and fly. Now that I am into the second draft of Princess of Fire, I can at least get Horse Tamer 1.1 (working title, don’t worry) started, while I also work on stories for traditional publication.

Yes, I’m going to be busy. And that feels really, really good right now.

Whadda-ching bowie ding bada zingo!!!

Some readers of this blog may recall that, months and months ago, I related my determination to once again begin submitting stories for traditional publication, with an eye toward becoming one of that new breed of authors, the hybrid (trad and self-published). Partly, this is because SFWA membership is an item on my bucket list (and, yeah, I know SFWA will soon start accepting self-published authors, but I don’t meet the criteria for that option, either). While I was struggling with (or, depending on your point of view, despairing over) Princess of Fire, I didn’t feel as if I had the energy to launch this new effort. Now that I’m on the second draft, though, I feel I’m a little more at liberty to crank this puppy up and get it going.

So thinking, this past week I submitted three short pieces to an online venue (and, oh, brother, is that change from the days when the US Postal Service and I were on a first-name basis). I thought the pieces were pretty strong, although I admit that I am still shaky about my short, short fiction. These were basically my first over-the-transom submissions in perhaps ten years.

All three were rejected in less than forty-eight hours (another night-and-day change from the old days). Three neat little emails saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Rejections. Man, I’d kinda forgotten how much those little suckers sting. Makes a flu shot feel like a hickey.

Sigh. I’m okay. This is far, far from my first stroll down Rejection Lane. In fact, it’s more like numbers 102, 103 and 104, or thereabouts. I can’t be entirely accurate about those numbers, unfortunately– complete records are unavailable, partly because I didn’t keep some of my earliest rejections (the first of which date back to the 1970’s), and partly because some of my ‘rejections’ (particularly from agents) consist of resounding silences. The point is, however, that I will be all right.

And more than all right. I learned a long time ago how to take a rejection, shake it off (sometimes with the assistance of dark chocolate), and move on. This is, in fact, just the first step in what I anticipate will be a long campaign. And as someone once told me, persistence is one of the most important habits a writer can have. Too many novices get a rejection and wither away. If you can paper a wall with rejection slips and still keep going, you will succeed at some point. Or, to put it another way, if you quit, you will never know whether that next story would have hit the jackpot.

So, onward. I plan to review the SFWA qualifying markets list and pick another outlet for the stories. And longer stories are ready to go on the assembly line. I will keep everyone posted.

Later.

Boy, I’m slow….a brief note on Princess of Fire

I have cleared 110,000 words on Princess of Fire, a mark I should have reached days and days ago. Frankly, at times it’s been a lot more fun to write Horse Tamer (yes, writing two novels at the same time is stupid, but I stubbornly persist– it must be the Scots in me…). I originally thought the two stories would not compete for space in my head, but, as with many things in my life, I have been proven wrong.

But another drag on my progress on PoF has been the fact that I have been slogging through a lot of technical details, setting up the scientific background for the story, as well as establishing the main action that occupies the middle of the book (think Dunkirk with trains). All of that seemed so very necessary, but at the same time deadly thick and exhausting. At times it’s been hard to gin up enthusiasm.

However, today, while I was chiseling out a few hundred more words, it began to dawn on me– slowly, like a sunrise through thick clouds– that I have done enough, and probably more than enough, to establish the action and background. Now, this very moment, might just be the time to really start messing with Kathy and her efforts.

Back in 2013, when I passed Princess of Shadows to my beta-readers, one of them said she liked the book very much, but wondered at times how many things could go wrong for Kathy while she struggled to get to safety. I knew I had succeeded at that point, because I had intended Kathy’s journey to be a serious struggle. And that’s what I want with Princess of Fire.

It is monkey-wrench time.

Time to screw things up, insert catastrophes, create interference, cause problems, to stir the pot. Time to force Kathy to confront crises, and to overcome them. To take the plan she has in mind and turn it inside out, and make her pick up the pieces.

To put it another way, it’s past time for me to apply the Whedon Principle— the concept that you must make your characters’ struggle and suffer, often just when it looks like they’re in the clear. Joss Whedon is a master of this, and it’s a principle I learned at his feet (metaphorically speaking).

Putting it another way, it’s time for the fun stuff.

Because, quite simply, it is in the struggle against overwhelming odds that the action and the characters become the most interesting, and the author (aka, sadist, but that’s another blog post) can have the most fun writing their story. And that’s the point I now appear to be at. It feels rather like coming up and over the top of a roller-coaster, and now comes the drop, and the screaming….

Poor Kathy….

In haste– a reflection on 2014 before it expires completely

This is not a review of the year 2014, and what I did from January 1st to this moment; still less is it an outline of what I intend to do in 2015. I’m not someone who makes New Year’s resolutions– my problems and questions have deep roots, and facile promises to myself aren’t going to shift any of them.

No, I am taking a brief moment to reflect on what 2014 has meant to me and my writing, before the year goes away completely (here in Seattle, that means I have about half an hour). I feel, somehow, the need to put a frame around it.

2014 was probably not the most difficult year of my life so far. But it is up there.

I won’t bore you with tales of unemployment, under-employment, minor health issues, and relationship problems. No, what stands out most painfully for me is that this year is the year my confidence in my own writing (never monumental in the first place) took perhaps the biggest hit it has ever suffered– a Long Lance torpedo right amidships.

My self-publishing effort is a failure, at least in terms of sales. I started out with self-publishing three years ago, and the whole process since has been one of disillusionment. I no longer hold out much hope of attracting a major audience by this means.

On top of that, I spent most of the year suffering major flailure with Princess of Fire, from which I may only now be recovering. My writing in general this year has seemed flat and amateurish. There were several points at which I had to fight off the urge to un-publish everything I have on Amazon, close this blog and walk away. And just to put a cherry on everything, I announced that I would engage in a year-end writing surge, a project which now strongly resembles an egg dripping down a brick wall.

In the end I didn’t un-publish my stories, and obviously the blog staggers onward. As poor as my writing seems to be, it’s about all I have to offer the world at this point. I firmly believe that if I have any hope of yet accomplishing something with my life, it is intimately tied to my finally learning how to write, and writing things people want to read. It just appears that I will have to keep on trying, and pray for the light to know what to write, and how to write it.

Pray and write. I guess that’s a resolution, after all.

Happy New Year.

A tentative report of a possible, maybe, kind of, breakthrough (perhaps)….?

I don’t want to be premature about this.

I don’t want to jump the gun.

But it is just possible– just within the realm of possibility– that I have (thank God) scored a breakthrough with Princess of Fire.

I previously made a deal with myself to make sure that I wrote at least 500 words a day on PoF before I succumbed to other temptations, such as World of Tanks. I must now tell the truth– in the last few weeks that deal has been honored at least as much in the breach as in the observance. There were days I couldn’t drag myself to my writing. I was more focused on Horse Tamer than Princess of Fire, and altogether too fixated on my personal victory rate in World of Tanks. My lack of overall progress is evident when you consider it took me two months to go from 84,000 words to 91,000.

But then…I wrote a section that served as a piece of connective tissue between two previously written segments– and then it occurred to me that I should move a certain event forward– and then other previously written sections began to fall into place, like blessedly self-organizing puzzle pieces, until suddenly I had connected thirty single-spaced pages into a single, reasonable coherent narrative, which has brought me to the point where I have actually begun writing the missing middle of the novel, the piece that has eluded me for seven months. Along with moving that critical plot point, I think I finally, finally figured out a structure on which to hang that middle– a day-by-day breakdown of the action which hopefully will build tension to the breaking point at the right moment. In retrospect it seems obvious, but I am a very slow person in many ways.

As a result, my production appears to be taking off; in about three days I’ve gone from 91,000 words to over 94,000. And the writing is suddenly fun again, which it hasn’t been in a long while.

Having said all that, I need to exercise some caution. First off, what I’m producing is typical first draft material, with plenty of details that will need to be ironed out later. I haven’t resolved every remaining plot issue, either. But I seem to once again be able to do something I have not been able to in seven months– write a passage, accept that it is imperfect, and move on. It’s not only liberating, it’s much closer to my normal writing process. After months of chasing my tail– or, to use a word I first learned from John Scalzi, ‘flailure’– I suddenly feel as if I am on track once more.

I have grown too cautious to issue any predictions of time-frames for a complete first draft (never mind publication), but my confidence that I will, eventually, finish this novel is seeping back.

More bulletins to follow….