Category Archives: writing persistence

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…..

 

 

 

Advertisements

Been gone so long….

No one is likely to have noticed, but for the last several months I have been largely disconnected from my blog– a couple of movie reviews, a few short political rants, but nothing about the core reason I created this blog in the first place, which was to share my writing experiences and struggles.

I won’t go into graphic detail about why.  My writing efforts tend to go through cycles of enthusiasm and despondency as it is, but for the last few months I have been particularly disconnected from my major projects, and could only doodle away at other pieces that have no hope of being published any time soon.  More than that, I came perilously close to closing out and discarding the Divine Lotus series of novels altogether, and had to be talked out of it, to a large extent, by an old friend whose enthusiasm for the books exceeds my own.

Life changes and personal failures contributed to my malaise.  I have been actively depressed, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, to the degree that it was hard to see a point in my writing.  A sense of futility often made it hard for me to even get my hands to the keyboard.

I cannot say that is all over and done with.  I’ve taken certain steps to redirect my life, but it is unclear at this hour whether these steps will be effective.  I have, however, resumed writing Princess of Stars.  The Horseman (a terrible title, but it’s only tentative) is also in the pipeline.

The truth is, I am not a very good writer, and I never will be.  My writing is mediocre, at best, and it was that sense of dissatisfaction that nearly caused me to dump the Divine Lotus novels.  I’m also never going to make any serious money at this.  That’s become more and more apparent to me, as well, but I think that I have recovered enough from my depression to simply want to see the stories completed for the sake of being completed. That seems a worthy and sufficient goal in itself.

Hopefully this new resolution will hold, and I will be posting more often in the coming months.  In addition to talking about my progress on my projects, I’d like to get back to doing more movie and book reviews.  I might even once more take up the cudgel of flash fiction challenges, but I make no promises.

Of course, this all assumes that a certain bloviating blowhard is denied access to the nuclear codes and doesn’t thereby blow us all to hell.

But that’s another post.

Later.

 

 

 

Princess of Stars Update #6– Crawling back into the sunshine….

Princess of Stars is now at 30,000 words, one-fifth of my rough estimate of 150,000 words. In the unlikely event anyone has noticed, it has been about six weeks since my last update, largely because I spent most of that time not writing Princess of Stars. Kinda logical, when you think about it….

Why I wasn’t writing is complex. Chiefly I was going through one of my periodic funks in which I find it hard to exercise the daily discipline of getting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Usually I get through it, but this spell took a little longer than normal to run its course.

Why was I finding it hard to write? That’s where the complexity comes in. A new, physically demanding temp job, personal life issues, and financial worries all contributed. The biggest factor, though, was an emotional certainty that my writing really doesn’t matter. I’ve blogged about this before, and it’s something with which I have often struggled. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming, at least for a while, and I just grind to a halt. It becomes a deal easier to play a computer game or watch a movie than it is to get words down.

In a way, writing is a bit like faith. Sometimes, you just have to practice it, no matter how you’re feeling at the moment. Yes, it is a discipline, and being disciplined about it is usually the hallmark of a professional. By that standard, it’s pretty obvious that I still have things to learn about the craft. No surprise there….

Along with that, I think it’s helpful to pay heed to the work of others you find inspiring. Personally I can hardly watch any halfway decent production of Shakespeare without feeling inspired and motivated about my own work. In this particular case, I think it was a movie that helped recharge my batteries– sadly, not Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two. That, and listening to James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for the picture. Music has always been an important aid to my writing, sometimes helping me (I think) to a higher level. The soundtrack for Mockingjay Part Two captures its epic proportions, and reflects something of what I’m trying to do with Princess of Stars. That sort of resonance is priceless.

It is also helped when I remembered that I am, at bottom, doing this for myself– not an audience (which I don’t have) and certainly not for any critics. I’m not looking for the approval of editors or literary gatekeepers. I want this story told, and only I can tell it. However imperfect or inconsequential it may be, I still want to complete it.

So, once again, back to work. Like faith, the writing process has its mountain-top moments and its long trudges through the dark valleys. Bring your persistence, and your favorite music.

Later.

Time to shed the purple funkies….

Since I’ve published Princess of Fire, I’ve kinda felt like Bill the Cat on a bad day–

bill-the-cat2

I’ve doodled away on four or five different projects, none of which have much prospect of seeing the light of day anytime soon, when I haven’t been collapsed in a purple funk. I was briefly cheered by an small uptick in my book sales on Amazon, but the warm fuzzies didn’t last (said uptick shows every sign of being over).

In the wake of my struggles with Princess of Fire, I have been afflicted with the certainty that I am a useless putz and a complete hack, enjoying a well-deserved obscurity. My mood has not been lightened by the fact that, in my unemployed state, I have slipped down to the only rung on the ladder of personal despair lower than yard work.

Yes. I have started to clean out the garage. Pray for me.

In the end, though, self-pity palls. You either have to yield to a final dissolution into a puddle of primordial slime, or stand up, buckle on your harness once more, and face the storm– i.e., knock off the whining and get back to writing, dork.

Because, if I’m a miserable hack, at least it’s my miserable hackness…hackiness…hacknicity…whatever. It’s my duty, or doom, to write my stories, and nobody else’s– and, conversely, no one else can write stories that belong to me. I need to tell them, and that’s all there is to it. Whether they ever get read is quite a separate issue.

As I do, I console myself with the thought that at least my stuff is better than Fifty Shades of Grey. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

So–

MY IMPORTANT WRITING PLANS–

1. Set up the Createspace print-on-demand version of Princess of Fire. This shouldn’t be particularly arduous, so a week or two should be sufficient to check this item off. No one has yet bought any of my POD editions (which means the three copies I own are completely unique and exist nowhere else in this universe, which is kind of freaky when you think about it), but you never know when some librarian in Ottumwa might decide to give you a shot.

2. Spend a month writing a detailed synopsis for Princess of Stars. I’ve already blogged about my deep and abiding desire to avoid another pantsing disaster, although I have not experienced a sudden conversion to detailed, anal-retentive plotting, and still less outlining (this is writing, people, not engineering). I know where Princess of Stars begins and I know where it ends, but I need to have a clear picture of what happens in-between.

3. Sometime in October-November launch into the first draft of Princess of Stars. God alone knows how long it will take to complete the first pass– I’m planning on allocating at least a year. How some people write full novels in three months puzzles the crap out of me.

4. Pick up the pace of my blogging– who knows, maybe even establish an actual schedule, although I don’t want to go off the deep end. Among other things, there are books and movies out there just waiting to be reviewed, which obviously need my particularly ignorant and completely biased opinion to find their correct place in the artistic inventory of Western civilization. That’s another aspect of my writing only I can commit…um, write.

Note: I previously blogged that I would be spending time on Horse Tamer between Princess of Fire and Princess of Stars. Unfortunately, I have laid it aside. My previous experiment yielded 60,000 words that went nowhere, and I think I finally have to admit that this story-line needs to go back on the shelf, probably permanently. It makes me sad, but I have only so many years left on this Earth, and I can’t spin my wheels forever.

So– once more into the fray, chilluns….

“Ring the alarum-bell!—Blow, wind! Come, wrack!
At least we’ll die with harness on our back.”

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, Page 3

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.

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.

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.

End of the Year Surge – Day Six

Well, I predicted that Christmas Day would constitute a dead zone in my surge, and I was right– I got nothing done that day except over-eating. But more than that, for the three day period of the 24th, 25th and 26th, I wrote only 2700 words, a little more than my estimated daily average of 700 words, with a total so far of 6200, a little more than half of where I should have been (10,000) if I had stuck to my 2000 words a day goal.

Sigh– the moral here may be that you should never start a special writing project just before the holidays. I may have also picked a goal a few hundred words too far for my personal abilities. I find that after about 1200 to 1300 words in a single day my writing mojo definitely starts to sputter.

Although it’s now fairly certain I won’t reach 20,000 words by midnight Wednesday, I am not ready to call this experiment a failure. Instead, like any good scientist, I will change the parameters of the experiment. Instead of a calendar deadline, I will try to maintain an increased word production until I reach 130,000 words, and then see where that puts me in the narrative. Hopefully, maybe, from that height I will be able to see the Promised Land, aka, a complete first draft.

We shall see.

I’ve got an idea….

After playing hooky from Princess of Fire for a few days, I’m back on task, and thinking about setting myself a goal. Counting today there are ten days left in the year. It would mean not allowing myself the luxury of video games or movies, and maybe going a little short on that sleep stuff, but what if I were to set myself the goal of writing 2000 words a day on PoF until midnight on December 31st? Twenty thousand words before the end of the year– it’s a very nice, round number. Very nice.

Now, in all honesty, twenty thousand words will still probably not allow me to close the gap that remains to be covered in the middle of this novel, but it would almost certainly put me within striking distance. It might even make January 2015 the month I get the first draft done. That’s very, very tempting, considering how much I’ve struggled with this novel over the last year.

It will probably also mean putting Horse Tamer and flash-fiction writing challenges on the far back-burner for the duration, as well as suspending work on the couple of short stories I’ve been pondering for traditional publication. But it would be worth it.

Total focus for ten days– I can do this.

I will keep you posted.