I Have No Idea

Standard

I’m at that point in my story where I question every decision I’ve made and feel like it will never be finished. It is usually at this point that I start to think I must be crazy to ever write a novel. Every reason to NOT write sucks the life out of my ambitions and pulls me into a vortex of apathy and despair. I imagine painful reviews stacking up on Amazon, book signings where I sit alone for hours while the store owner sympathetically brings me soda, and email treatises on everything wrong with my story filling my inbox. But mostly I take a sideways glance at tumblr and shudder.

Tumblr is a website devoted to SuperWhoLock, shipping, anime I’ve never heard of, and gifs of aggressive chicken dancers. And other stuff. I refuse to get a tumblr page even though John Green has one. As much as I amuse myself with “best of tumblr” collections on Pinterest, the Potterheads, “We have a gif for that” Supernatural fans, and night bloggers scare me. I think they should scare anyone hoping to publish a book (especially John Green).

The climate of tumblr tends to be one of intense scrutiny, immediate ridicule, and infamy peddled for notes. It’s also one of extreme political correctness, trigger warnings, and assumed microaggression. Tumblr is a series of “Am I the only one who thinks this?” propositions followed by beatific ardor or death threats, often over innocuous topics.

There are a lot of good questions being shouted down and a lot of bad questions being celebrated. And there is a lot of obsession. Popular television shows, movies, books, and web series are summarized in photo strips and gifs, distilled into fan art, and expanded into “head canon”.

(Head canon is just weird to me. But I also don’t like fan fiction. See this post for why.)

Then the discussion begins. Every sentence from an author’s work is dissected and debated in increasingly bizarre fashion as if a manic Salvador Dali were teaching Literature 101. The discussion takes on a life of its own until the fans begin to act as if they know the work better than the author (and if we’re being truthful, they just might).

This maelstrom of obsessive curiosity prowls on my shoulder like a hungry gargoyle as I write my novel. Do I really want to poke my head above the wall and say, “I HAVE AN OPINION!” It would always be an invitation to hit me with rotten fruit or toss roses at my feet, but multiply that audience by the billions and remove any real consequences for appalling verbal abuse by hiding them all behind computer screens. I imagine the manic Dali holding my novel over a rabid pit of bloggers with dripping red pens and scissors for teeth, eager for plot holes to probe. After they finish with my book, they start in on ME.

I don’t really know where this post was going. I guess I should go back to writing my novel. Consider this the closest thing to a “stream of consciousness” post this blog will ever see. It took me roughly two months.

The Book That Haunts Me

Standard

When I was seven or so I took a creative writing class at a summer day camp, and while helping my parents clean out their house last year, I happened to find the storybook I wrote for the class. Though I hadn’t thought about the class in years, it is still vivid in my mind.

Everyone was tasked with writing a complete story by the end of the class. We were allowed to illustrate it if we wanted to. At the end the teacher printed and bound the stories into little cardboard-cover books. My friend wrote a mystery story about the Titanic. Another student wrote a family memoir. And then there’s me.

I wouldn’t have admitted this at the time (and I wouldn’t have been able to articulate my reasoning either), but I didn’t try. I drew a bunch of pictures of houses and labeled them: “This is an igloo. This is a mansion.” It wasn’t really a story at all. It wasn’t even totally finished when I turned it in. Worst of all, I had hundreds of crazy ideas stored in my brain that I could have written but didn’t.

Don’t try to tell me I’m being hard on myself because I remember my young self and the weird and wonderful ideas that I dreamed up on a daily basis. I could have written about the American revolution, traveling to the moon, or hobbits, but I deliberately created something that did not reflect my talents or interests. When the time came to present our projects, I refused to read mine. As the teacher read the book to the class, I remember feeling sick to my stomach and wishing I had written something else. Anything else! I was ashamed of that book. I knew I could do better and deliberately didn’t.

I’m thirty years old, and I still do this.

I would rather avoid, quit, or deliberately sabotage my own work than complete a project to the very best of my ability and find out it isn’t any good. The more important something is to me, the more likely I am to procrastinate or quit because I am terrified of failing.

I have spent the last year trying to come to terms with this fear. If I give my absolute best on my novel, it might not be enough. Failing on something that matters so much could honestly break me. I’ve realized this is why five unfinished novels sit on a flashdrive in my desk. As long as they are incomplete, no one can read them and tell me I’m a failure. I know many people will say that not finishing is a failure in itself, but I would rather never know whether I’m bad or good than know that I’m not good enough.

I have creative ways of justifying this bizarre self-destruction. I said the storybook was for my baby sister. I say the plot has a massive hole in it. I complain that I don’t know enough about forensics. I claim I don’t have enough time. The truth is it all amounts to a mental gymnastics routine on the level of Cirque du Soleil.

I need to learn how to fail without dying a little inside, but I haven’t the slightest idea how to do that. So here I sit, facing down an empty page as one would a firing squad, and that little storybook hovers over my shoulder, simultaneously mocking my paralysis and reminding me I can always give up like every chance I’ve had before.

I desperately want to prove myself wrong.

15,000 Words And Counting

Standard

I’m up to 15,000 words on the new project. It’s a totally different experience than any other book I’ve started. It’s a different genre (contemporary speculative/literary fiction vs. my usual science fiction) and a different target audience (adult vs. YA). It’s set in a normal American city with a normal young mother as the main character, so it requires no research beyond a quick trip to the Social Security list of the most common names for people born in the 1970’s and 80’s. It’s just easier and more fun than anything I’ve tried to write so far.

There’s one little thing about it though.

If you boil it down, the first half of the novel is about fear. The main character spends much of the first half of the book progressing from slightly anxious to paralyzed in terror. Since the story is written in first-person, it makes me jumpy to work on it. Typically I’m sitting alone in the kitchen writing. Late at night. With a window at my back. And wind chimes hanging outside of the aforementioned window. In Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains. And yes, I’ve seen Signs. 

It’s basically a recipe for panic attacks at 1am.

Despite the insomnia-inducing feelings of paranoia late at night, this book is a joy to work on. The characters are so real to me that they take no effort to write. Even the house the main character lives in and the church she goes to are vivid in my mind in a way that the settings on Mars never were. Even though the plot is insanely complicated to explain (to the point that I’ve given up trying to explain it even to my husband), to me it is straightforward and makes perfect sense. When I sit down to work on it, I know exactly where I’m going and how it will all connect in the end. Best of all I don’t have the urge to edit anything yet. I just want to write new scenes! If you’ve followed my writing posts at all, you know this is the complete opposite of my typical feelings about my first draft. I’m usually frustrated, lost, and scraping the bottom of the bucket for ideas. Instead I’m looking for excuses to write and lying awake creating plot twists.

Maybe this is the story where everything “clicks.” I hope so.

I’m thinking about posting a few snippets of scenes just to see what people think, so please comment if you’re interested in that. I need to get back to writing.

Beginning My Return Voyage After Eight Months

Standard

I revisited my Mars novel. The process involved the novel on a pdf on our e-reader, a composition notebook, and a pen. I read what I wrote and jotted notes on what needed to be fixed. I got to chapter 8 before I simply had to fix the mistakes and started editing. I am glad for the self-imposed time off from writing and editing. I’m glad I left Mars in its own orbit while I entertained other flights of fancy. I needed the brain break.

If you recall my post from a few months ago, I imagine you may be wondering, “Did you fix your plot problem?!?”

Yes, but my husband gets all the credit.

Caleb is deeply invested in me finishing this story because a) he is tired of me complaining that I’m not done writing it, and b) he really wants to know my finalized ending. He knows the plot about as well as I do. He’s seen my notes and knows the back stories of the characters and the history of the world I’m creating. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he suggested the solution to my thorny plot problem. It was obvious and simple. Brilliant, really. It saved my favorite character from extinction and kept his back story 99.99% intact.

It took me several weeks to warm up to the solution because I didn’t want to make that return flight to Mars. I acknowledged it was a lovely idea, but I just did not want to write. I was content to make notes about anoxic zones and species of fish in the Gulf of Mexico. I hadn’t written a word since October last year, and I was fine with continuing that trend. It wasn’t until Caleb pushed me to read through my novel “just to remember where you were” that I wanted to fix the book. I wanted to start writing again.

Life is very busy right now and will only get busier. I don’t expect to finish it soon. It might be another five years. It might be six months. But I know I can finish it. I want to finish it. That is huge.

Prayers for discipline and inspiration would be appreciated.

Heavy Lifting

Standard

I’ve discovered that fan fiction is a topic that I feel very strongly about, but I had no idea I cared until last week. I don’t write fan fiction. I don’t read it. It was only about a year ago that I discovered fan fiction existed, and I was not interested in the slightest.

A few days ago I read this post by Victoria Schwab, author of The Archived. I recommend you read the post and the comments, [EDIT: Apparently Ms. Schwab deleted the post on her site, so I’ve changed the link to the cached page from google.] but the gist is a fan asked Ms. Schwab if she would be okay with someone taking her characters and writing new stories about them to sell. She said, “I hope the story will feel done. And in the end, those are *my* characters. I’m happy for people to write fan fiction, but I wouldn’t want to see it on shelves.” I admire her diplomatic answer.

But for me, diplomacy wasn’t even on my radar. I was furious. I gripped my computer with the jealous claws of Gollum clutching his Preciousss and said, “Not my characters, you won’t!” And I’m not even published!

When I got past the fury and down to the heart of the matter, I realized this is less about fan fiction (someone rewriting an author’s story purely for fun and to amuse fellow fans) and more about plagiarism (someone rewriting an author’s story, changing names and identifying details, and passing it off to a publisher as their own creation). As an admin in a large liberal arts college for three years, I was well-acquainted with the rampant problem of plagiarism. This is not just a problem in education but in publishingjournalism, and scientific research. No one seems to think it matters that you write your own words any more (or as the case may be, your own characters, setting, or plot).

It matters.

I spent five years researching Mars for my shelved sci-fi trilogy. I learned about environmental engineering, aeroponic and hydroponic farming, and underground architecture styles. I studied the effects of reduced gravity, longer day/night cycles, and increased radiation on the human body. I bought books about the Mars rover, colonizing Mars, and space exploration. I spent countless hours reading articles from NASA and the Mars Society about plans for Martian colonization. I mapped out all the locations from my book on a map of Mars and calculated how long it would take to get from place to place by car or by rocket plane. I made my own soymilk!

That work matters.

Trying to publish fiction based on something someone else wrote is the same as saying, “I don’t need to do all that work. See, I can write your characters just like you!” No, you can’t. Even if the writing style is bad, the world-building is lacking, and the characters don’t feel real, you can’t rewrite a story and call it your own. Once in awhile I read a novel and think, “I could do this so much better than this author. This is awful writing.” Then I slap myself. Sure, I could edit or ghost-write a story, but I wouldn’t be writing that story. The heavy lifting would be done for me: plot, character development, and setting. And that heavy lifting is what makes a person a writer.

If (and that’s a big if) I ever get published and if (again, a HUGE if) my stories find enough of an audience that people write fan fiction about it, I’ll be flattered. I’ll also cringe inside and think, “Please don’t. Do your own heavy lifting.”