When the Last Story is Told

Four days until NaNoWriMo starts, and I’m not sure yet if I’m excited or intimidated.

I was introduced to NaNoWriMo back in 2010, but I didn’t start participating until the following year. To date, I have yet to complete the 50,000 word goal. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, though. As of this moment, my “Writings” file on my computer takes up just under 1.3 GB of space and contains 893 files. Of course, some of those files are cover art and some are plot/character/world notes, but I’d still say the writing takes up a notable portion of that number. Of the things I’ve actually tallied, I’ve written roughly 680,000 words since 2006. (And that doesn’t include the blogs, outlines, world lore, hand-written stories, and research papers that I’ve written over the years). And on top of that, I have a list of “want-to-finish” books that literally, if I were to finish one every 12 months (completely not realistic for the severely ADD me), I would still be 61 years old by the time I finished writing the last one. (And that would be dependent on a guarantee I wouldn’t come up with any other stories during that length of time).

As I’ve been mulling over this information, along with the thought of starting a brand new project when I already have three big ones I haven’t finished yet, the question came to me: When does a writer decide that they have told their last story?

I’ve heard it said that a writer is merely a person who has a story to tell. And though I definitely feel like I have stories to tell, I haven’t really been coming up with anything new recently. Maybe this isn’t a big deal to most people, but it’s a strange feeling to me, the person who, even just a few years, would tell a family member or friend, “Guess what,” and would immediately get the response, “You came up with a new story.”

It’s made me wonder, do writers run out of stories? Or is it merely because I have an overload of story ideas right now that I’m just too overwhelmed to come up with something new?

I don’t really have an answer, but I wonder if I’m the only one who has ever pondered this, or if it’s a more common question than I realized.

On the upside, there have been several highly successful authors who published their major works after the age of 40, so maybe this dry spell is just a chance for me to catch up and weed out all the ideas that would just fall flat on their faces. And in the meantime, I’ll probably use NaNoWriMo as a chance to propel those projects forward.

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It’s All Uphill Till the End

Currently listening to “Desire” by Do As Infinity.

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Today I had the pleasure of eating lunch with the library director for my undergrad university’s library, who was my supervisor during the four-ish years I worked in the library and is a personal friend of mine now. She had come to Austin for a librarian’s convention, and since I missed seeing her the last time I was in her “neck of the woods,” I definitely wasn’t going to miss the chance to see her while she was in my own hometown.

While waiting for our food to arrive, she told me about the convention and some of the things that were going on at the library, and I told her about my school and work. Somewhere along the way, we got to talking about writing, and she mentioned that she was considering trying her hand at creative writing. She then asked me what I considered to be the hardest part of the writing process.

I had to think about this one for a moment. Even for those of us who have an unhealthy addiction to writing, there are always times when we feel like the end product isn’t worth the struggle put into it. At least, I have yet to meet an author who has never had at least one day where he or she felt like it was a struggle just to get a sentence completed. What an author considers to be the “hardest part” of writing, however, varies widely from person to person and moment to moment.

After some thought, I told her that I thought probably the middle was the hardest part for me. And usually, it is. For me, I’m really good at coming up with ideas. I can concoct an explosive intro or a climactic and dramatic ending in my sleep, but that middle part…that’s where it gets me. And once I get to that middle part, writing begins to feel less like a hobby and more like a chore.

For a writer like me, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by that invisible mountain peak which is the middle of my story, all the details and intricacies that have to be crafted just right to smoothly transition from that grand beginning into that dramatic ending and somehow compel my audience to keep reading the whole way through. It is something that can easily become overwhelming.

I think that what keeps writers like me going forward through all of that, though, is the thought of how good we know it will feel when we finally finish that middle mountain peak and begin rolling like a freight train toward the end. The feeling of accomplishment when I finally hold that book in my hands makes all those hours of sweat and tears worth the effort, even though I inevitably forget how much effort goes into writing a quality piece when I start the next project and wonder, “Am I gonna ever get through this?”

So if you’re like me and struggling through the middle of your project right now, just remember that the end result will be well worth the effort put into it now. Also know that you’re not alone. Just keep moving forward until you see the other side.

Life Lens

Currently listening to “Lord of the Dance” by Cu Chulainn.

When I was a kid, it seemed that everything was a potential story. I could look at a cloud and see a unicorn or a dolphin take form in the rise and fall of the billowing white. I could drag a little wagon in circles around my grandparents’ house and imagine I was travelling the Oregon Trail. I could even pick up a couple of sticks and imagine that they were antlers that belonged to super magical talking deer. (Yeah, I was a special child…). Back then, there was nothing that seemed too silly…except for my older cousin’s logic, but more on that another day.

Over the last few days I’ve done several posts mulling over my recent inability to compel myself to write. There are a lot of factors that can affect a person’s ability to think creatively, and often more than one reason is the culprit. But overall, I’d say life in general is to blame.

Having been in love with writing since my earliest years, I must say that seeing myself slip away from my creative way of thinking has been both frightening and depressing to me. Instead of seeing unicorns and dolphins when I look up at a cloud now, I see visibly condensed moisture. No matter how hard I try, those dolphins and unicorns never take form for me. When I try to daydream, I rarely get very far before my mind tells me, “That’s illogical. That could never happen because of X, Y, and Z.” And eventually, I stop coming up with new material, because all I can see is the most basic and realistic version of what is in front of me.

I was thinking about this earlier today as I went with the youth group I help lead to a lake clean-up out on Lake Travis here in Austin, TX. We arrived early, while it was still relatively cool, (Texas version of cool, mind you), and then set out to comb the lakeshore for trash needing to be picked up.

About halfway into our cleanup, my group and I came across this.

On first glance, it was fairly obvious what this was: a boat that had gotten a bad leak in it and had subsequently been abandoned. I glanced at it and thought, “Well, that’s depressing,” before setting off after the rest of the group. Several feet away, though, I paused.

“Actually, that’s kinda cool,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll take a picture before I keep going.”

I fished around in my bag for my phone to take a picture, and as I began to position the image in my screen, I thought, “What if I used a lens filter? I wonder what this would look like then.”

And that’s when it hit me. To write well is to filter the world through a mental lens.

They say that everyone has a story to tell. It’s just that not everyone is able to filter that story through the lens of inspiration. I think children are able to filter their world more easily than those of us who have lived through years of disappointment, hurt, and struggle. Some writers never lose that sense of wonder, constantly filtering their struggles through a lens of what could be. I admire people like that.

For my part, I was raised in a family where you had to think realistically. Every choice I made came with a litany of questions of why I made the choice and a lecture on why or how I could have done better if I had been more realistic/done something differently. I think there is a very real and necessary place for realistic thinking, but when it becomes the focus, eventually the creative lens gets smudged and it becomes increasingly more difficult to see the world as anything more than a dreary panorama of cold, hard facts.

And so my conclusion on this thought? For those of us who may have been losing our creative way due to all the realistic thinking, it’s about time we take another look at life. That abandoned boat can either be just that – an abandoned machine – or it can be the mysterious and forlorn opening to a mystery of the lonely boat tied to the shoreline, waiting for a master that will never return. It’s all in how you look at it. Also, don’t be afraid every once in a while to tell your brain, “I don’t care if it can happen in the real world. It can, and will, happen in mine.”

I think it’s about time we reclaim that missing lens, before it shatters and ends up gone forever.

Concept: “Write Like You’re Already Famous”

Currently listening to “Still” by AbeMao.

Life has been a roller coaster ride for me for years, but it seems like since leaving college I have been in a series of dizzying spirals, especially when it comes to my writing. (If any of you have ridden Goliath at the San Antonio Six Flags location, you know exactly what I’m talking about).

It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since my last entry here on my blog, and I cannot apologize enough to my readers for that. But hopefully that’s about to change.

This fall I started two new endeavors:

  1. Grad School: I’m doing a Masters in Library Science (hopefully with a focus on either archives, academic, or research libraries).
  2. Freelance writing: I have never had much confidence in my writing abilities, but so far I’ve had no trouble with approvals on the projects I’ve done. More on that later, though.

For a while now I’ve been feeling a stagnation in my writing (I think I’ve written about that before, actually), but today, while working on an assignment for class, I noticed that I had a notification from Twitter. Now, I am, as most people know by now, woefully bad about keeping up with social media, but since getting a smartphone a year ago, the notification system has helped some with that. (Yay, technology!). The notification was telling me that several of the people I followed (a large portion of the people I follow on Twitter are writers like myself) had shared a post about a book called “Write Like You’re Already Famous.” The post contained an image with a quote on it that really struck me.

write like you're already famousView the post here: https://twitter.com/MisterSalesman/status/773109805032566784

I’ve noticed that somewhere in the grand scope of self-publishing, the doubts and stresses of life have slowly crept in. I had considered freelance writing in the past, but doubted that I could ever write anything worth paying for. (Which is silly, I suppose, since I have been paid for articles I’ve written in the past). And somehow that fear of failure has slowly transitioned into my personal writing as well. I believe most people call it “writer’s anxiety.”

This Twitter post, however, struck me. It suggests that in order to become a more successful writer, one should start by writing a 300-word blog post every day. For me, 300 words is not much (actually, I’ve already exceeded the 300-word goal with my rambling today). I don’t know why I never thought to try this before, but I’d say it’s worth a shot as a way of getting myself back into my writing, which I have missed a great deal.

So with that being said, I suppose I should get back to my homework, but I aim to be around here more from now on. To those of you who may be facing the same struggles as myself, I hope this little suggestion will encourage you as much as it has me. And maybe some day soon I’ll be able to do a review of the book as well. For now, best wishes to readers and writers alike. Cheers!

Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

Several years ago, when I went to self-publish my first medieval fantasy novel, I noticed that, when I went to choose the genre category, science fiction and fantasy were lumped together under one tag. It didn’t bother me then, ignorant as I was, but after this evening I’m beginning to wonder whose smart idea it was to think that the two were one and the same.

It’s inevitable. You get a bunch of logic-minded science fiction writers and a bunch of dreamy fantasy writers together and you’re sure to end up in a long debate over something. This evening was a prime example.

The writing group I have been a part of for the extent of my college career, the Rough Writers, began work on a joint fictional world at the beginning of last semester. We’re an interesting mix of people: a steampunk/apocalyptic writer, a couple of medieval fantasy-ish writers, an urban/vampire fantasy writer, a young adult/realist writer, and a new member whose specialty I am unsure about. Recently we have begun to write stories based in our collectively created world. My mentor, Dr. Robinson, and I both brought in stories for the club to look at this evening, and it didn’t take long for us to get into that endless “Science Fiction vs. Fantasy” argument.

For those of you who have been keeping up with my posts, you may have read my story segment entitled “A Coming Storm,” a story featuring a race of people that lives in the ocean. I have a fair amount of dialogue going on in the story, so when it came time to comment, the new member asked, “How are they talking under water?”

“It’s magic,” I answered.

“Well, yes,” he responded, “but you can’t talk underwater. You have to establish rules in a story.”

“Yes,” I nodded, “and the rule is that they can talk under water.”

I won’t try to recreate the whole conversation because I’d probably need several posts to get through it, and honestly we did little more than go in circles as it is. He kept trying to put logic into it. I kept trying to convey the fact that magic defies logic. That’s why it’s magic. I don’t think he ever managed to wrap his head around that concept.

To be honest, I never really thought much about the difference between science fiction and fantasy until very recently. I am, after all, equally fond of The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Narnia, and Star Trek. My video games range from Fable II to Mass Effect, with lots of stuff in between. I never stopped to think about the differences. I am, after all, the sort of person that can accept most things in a story without asking why. (There are exceptions, granted). But when it comes to magic vs. science, I was always able to accept that magic was magic and science was science. You only ask as many questions as the instance requires and, when it comes to magic, you accept that it defies logic (unless the author constantly changes the rules, and then you have a problem).

Of course, there are varying degrees of science and magic in fiction. Think of skeletons, a common enemy/feature in fantasy. How is it that that skeleton in Skyrim, though lacking any semblance of muscles, eyeballs, or brains, can manage to pull back the string of a bow and hit my character from half a mile away while I, with present (though lacking) muscles, functioning eyesight, and a fairly decent brain spend 5 minutes just trying to string my beginner’s bow? Well, it’s magic. I have to accept the fact that this defies logic. (Doesn’t mean I can’t make fun of it though). Then you have The Avengers. The power and technology in there: Is it magic? Is it science? Is it both?

The world that my writing group has created allows for both science and magic to be used liberally, but regardless of that fact, there are those that just can’t seem to get past the logic aspect (or lack there-of, as the case may be). So how do you satisfy both? Is it even possible? I have discovered that just because I’ve written and self-published 5 books means very little. As a writer, as a human in general, I still have a lot to learn. I know it’s not possible to make everyone happy, but it sure would be nice to at least be able to help logic-minded people understand the fantasy point of view. But then, maybe I’m just too much of a dreamer. After all, if it were that simple, the science fiction vs. fantasy debate would have been solved a long time ago.

Talking Owls…and Other Clichés

It’s ironic, really. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog about owls. And here I am again…talking about owls.

I wonder if January at my place is some sort of holiday or pastime for these two. Just like last year, I woke up late last night/early this morning to the hooting of two owls. Only, this time my reaction to them was decidedly different. It’s been over a year now since I moved into my apartment, so what was once a foreign and frightening noise to me has become rather commonplace now. It’s been a while, though, since I’ve heard the owls outside my window, which is probably why I woke to that sound last night.

I was still half asleep when I heard a low hooting outside my window, and the first thing that crossed my mind was, “I wonder if it’s sitting in a different tree. Its voice is really low.”

A moment later, a higher-pitched hoot answered the first call.

“Oh,” I thought. “I recognize that voice.”

I laid there for a minute, listening to the owls “talk” to each other, and then a random thought came to me, “I wonder if the one with the higher-pitched voice is the girl and the one with the lower-pitched voice is the boy. Do owls even work like that?”

I had to laugh at myself for the thought, but it did get me to thinking about something else as well: the concept of anthropomorphism and clichés.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, anthropomorphism is when a person, usually a writer, gives human-like qualities to something that isn’t human. The main characters in my book, Random, and Kadin, the talking elvin wolf in my old Star Series, are all examples of this. They talk, smile, laugh, argue, and think – more or less – like humans.

Anthropomorphism is listed as a fantasy cliché on most of the lists I’ve looked at and, while not considered to be as big of a cliché as prophecies and super mega evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil villains, it still isn’t looked on very highly. Not that it’s any less common. Look at Disney. Actually, that may be part of the reason I so often make use of it, but that’s a post for another time.

I’ll be the first to admit that one of my major challenges with writing is that I have the tendency to use clichés…a lot. And anthropomorphism isn’t the only one I’ve been guilty of. My problem is that most clichés don’t even bother me. If I like the characters, that’s all that matters. Even if the plots aren’t that impressive, as long as the characters are loveable, that’s usually good enough for me. Furthermore, I like dragons, I don’t mind the old wizards (unless we’re talking about Gandalf, and then I just want to throw things at him), and the fact that a world can perpetually remain in the feudal era doesn’t bother me in the least. And yes, I like talking animals, too.

With 7 classes, a club, volunteer work, real work, and an honors project to think about, writing for fun hasn’t been at the top of my list of priorities, but I have been giving thought to the rewriting of the Star Series. There was a time when I had a grand plan for these books, but nowadays, all I really want to do for the moment is get the four I’ve already written back up for sale. But that requires addressing the issue of the massive number of clichés found in their pages. And, as you might expect, anthropomorphism is one of the top problems to look at.

I’ve been told, “It doesn’t matter as long as you give it a fresh perspective.”

Knowing how to do that isn’t easy, though. Perhaps it is merely the result of a lifetime of trial and error. I don’t know. I guess, in the end, as long as you do your best, you have to trust that the story has told itself the way it wants to be told. After all, even stories tend to take on a life of their own.

Some clichés are easy to address. Others, such as the problem of anthropomorphism, are much harder, for me at least. It may end up being that I’ll never fully eliminate it from my stories, though, and I think that’s ok. The challenge isn’t so much that I use that cliché as it is in making the problem unobtrusive in the story. Mastering that, I believe, is one of the great marks of literary success.

Ah, the musings that can be inspired by owls…

The Obsession Chapters

obsession

I’ve been writing full-length books for about 7 years now, and over the course of those 7 years I have discovered something about myself: I obsess over the last few chapters of each book I write.

Writing has been a passion of mine for a long time and it is not uncommon for me to sit down and write feverishly for hours on end. But when I get to the last few chapters of a book, I go into full obsession mode where all I want to do is write. I’m not sure if it’s just me or if other writers do this same thing, but when I get to the last few chapters of a book, I can think only of the story. I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to sleep, I don’t want to even move away from my writing medium, and I certainly don’t want to go to class or work on homework…which is the dilemma I now face.

During the summer or when in the middle of a semester, hitting what I call “the obsession chapters” is not a big deal to me. The average workload is manageable and I typically have enough time and energy to devote to my writing. But as I begin to tackle the last 5 chapters of Prism World, I find I do not have as much free time available as I have had for past books. And so I carry around my “Notebook of Randomness”, (more on that later), and write as if my life depended on it during every opportunity, no matter how small.

My desire to complete the obsession chapters in this project, however, is made worse by the fact that I absolutely love this story. I have put more research and effort into this book than I have put into anything else I’ve written. I’ll be sad to see the story end, and I confess I’ve already started making plans for some after-the-fact short stories, but I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Because, after all, no matter how much an author plans the story, there’s still no telling where it will end up.

So far, I’m at about 71,000 words and counting, and with finals coming up and events I’ve been asked to go to, finishing the book will be no small task.

They say that true writers don’t write simply because they want to; they write because they can’t stop doing it.

So here’s to all the true writers out there, and in the mean time we’ll see whether real life or the obsession chapters win out in the end.