Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Crowns Threnody Diaries: Accidental Unification, Carving the Sculpture, and the Need vs. the Work

Salutations, internauts and seekers of wisdom! I fear you latter may have come to the wrong place, but you can stay if you like.

As I've been working on outlining, building the skeleton of the story, I've found something curious happening: the themes of the story are assembling themselves. Every time I come up with an idea, when I get down to the core of it, I find that it's already neatly paralleled with the over-arching thrust and intention of the tale. This unbidden focus is just one more thing that's keeping me interested in writing this series.

The brief period of frustration in which I was feeling stuck and less interested in the story has passed (or rather, I've pushed through it), and I'm back to feeling good about the whole effort. When ideas don't come easily, or you hit a wall, it's easy to get discouraged, but the solution to that is some good old-fashioned 'ass in chair, hands on keyboard' work.

I feel like the process of writing a novel/series is very similar to that of carving a sculpture. Right now, in the world-building/character definition/outlining stages, I'm picking out a block of stone and cutting away the pieces that won't be used, beginning to define a general shape. The first draft is where it begins to resemble the final product, and the edits and rewrites will be where the details and polishing finally come in.

Terry Pratchett, the brilliant author and satirist responsible for the Discworld series, once said "Too many people want to have written." The process of writing itself is slow and difficult. It's also deeply fulfilling and endlessly enjoyable, but like any kind of work, creative or otherwise, it can become something of a grind. Certainly a better grind than, say, an office job or burger-flipping, haha, but I know a lot of people who want to have written in the way Pratchett means. They have ideas, maybe even great ones. They write sporadically, and probably have a project that's been halfway done for years. What they lack (whether it's drive, ambition, or just the necessary time and discipline) is the core of the process of writing. You have to put in the time. You have to get frustrated and scrap five thousand words every once in a while when it's not working, and you have to have the strength to not be discouraged by that. You have to recognize that everything you screw up is practice, and the more words you pour out, the better you get. You have to be able to step back and try to put yourself outside of your story so you can perceive what it looks like to someone who doesn't know your universe, especially in the realms of sci-fi and fantasy. You may have to sit in front of a white page for three hours, failing to find anything to type as the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings plays in your ears, and you may have to write for three more hours once the ideas start flowing even if sleep is calling you, apologizing for the things it said and saying you can be a family again. You may have to get called away from an important thought and carry heavy things up stairs, only to return to your chair and find that the thought is gone. You may have to learn the hard way that in the morning, you absolutely will not remember that idea you had just on the fringe of slumber if you don't haul your lazy ass out of bed and go write it down or type it up NOW.

Writing is HARD. John Scalzi said that he got into writing because everything was hard and writing was easy, and later found out that writing is hard too, and that's a truth you have to stumble into for yourself no matter how many times you hear it from others, haha. You won't be convinced until you've experienced for yourself the sensation of slipping towards the ragged edges of mindbending, wild-eyed, sleep-deprived, coffee-drenched madness; staring sightlessly into miles and miles of magic-eye whitespace until snowblindness begins to set in. If, at that point, you keep struggling instead of giving up and going to do something else, you will know you have the writer's gene; a particular kind of insanity (most likely a neural defect of some kind) that insists that you do this. You HAVE to do this. You can't NOT do it, or you'll go crazy. If you possess the need to create in the same way you have the need to breathe, you may have what it takes to become one who has written.

I have a tendency to procrastinate. I push things further and further back so I can finish whatever I'm doing. Of course, along the way, I find new things that need finishing before I can WORK. But when I finally run out of excuses and sit down to write, I lock myself into hyperfocus and try not to let anything else get through the barriers. I close my browser (almost ritually), crank up some music, open Scrivener (oh, how I love my Scrivener; there will likely be a post on that topic in the coming weeks), and dive in. It becomes very difficult to distract me, and heaven help you if you do. Seriously, if you want to incite ire in a man, just let him actively focus on something and then interrupt him. I am not responsible for any axe murder that may ensue.

That's basically this week's post. Sorry it's a bit abrupt; I have too much to do and I can't use this blog to procrastinate any more. I'm afraid I have to push back my first draft launch deadline; there's simply too much plotting and world-building left to be done in ten days. I suspect drafting will begin either mid-April or early May, depending on how quickly I work over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Crowns Threnody Diaries: The Love and the Fear

If there is any downside to my enthusiasm for the story I want to tell, it's the knowledge that I'm creating this without any prior experience. This is, after all, my first novel. Some part of me is tempted to put it aside and save it for later, when I've had more practice, because the stereotype is that the first novel is never publishable. In fact, the first FIVE may not be publishable; a writer has to learn the ropes, and the only way to do that is with blood, sweat, tears, and practice.

So it is a little terrifying to consider the fact that this story has become so immensely important to me and that I'm approaching it as my first true novel. And I don't want to set it aside, because I can't know that I'd be able to return to it later with the kind of fire and passion I've had over the last few weeks. I just have to trust that even if the first draft is a failure, it's never beyond revisions and rewrites. One of my favorite fantasy novels of recent years, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, was originally written in 2002 or 2003, and Sanderson felt he wasn't ready for that story yet. He rewrote it entirely from scratch later on and it was published in 2010. That's both worrisome and comforting, haha, but even if I have to do the same, I'm willing. Hell, if I have to write the entire series ten times over from scratch in order to create something that will make both publishers and readers sit up and take notice, I'll do it. This story is too close to my heart now for me to allow my own mortal fallibility to get in the way of telling it, haha.

That said, the large scale of Crowns Threnody does make me nervous as a first-time author. I have so much story to tell here, and I don't want to screw it up.

To be honest, the initial wave of enthusiasm has largely passed. As much as I'm excited to tell this story, there were some moments over the last couple of days where I got quite upset that I didn't feel it in the way I wanted to. I wouldn't say the bloom is off the rose, but rather that the reality of the challenge is beginning to set in. I'm trying to construct a very large-scale story here, and the breadth and depth of the world will require a great deal of work that won't always come easily, and I've hit the first real bump (of many, I'm sure).

I will, of course, press forward; I'm too serious about writing now to let myself get discouraged or turned aside by panic and insecurity, haha. I can tell that the energy is still there. It hasn't been dulled or dimmed, it's just gotten slightly buried under a big pile of real-life responsibilities and worries and some inevitable self-questioning. Digging it out every so often is, I suspect, par for the course for me. I feel I have a fair amount of confidence in myself, but I also have the self-critical curse of the creative-obsessive.

Knowing the necessity of practice can't dissuade me from this. I'm going to work on secondary projects alongside it, and I'm going to introduce daily writing exercises into the routine, but I'm going to continue pushing forward with Crowns Threnody as my primary focus.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Crowns Threnody Diaries: Unexpected Beginnings and When the Story Hooks You

Work on my first novel has begun in earnest, and I've decided to document the progress of my endeavors. I'll be making regular posts to this blog each Wednesday about my habits, feelings, and thoughts on the birth pains of a story. There may also be some occasional extra posts if I feel the need come to me between scheduled dates.

As I write this, I'm only weeks away from beginning the prose drafting of what I hope will be my debut novel, the as-yet untitled first book of my first epic fantasy series Crowns Threnody. The thing is, what is now Crowns Threnody was originally conceived under the working title Terminal, and the descriptor 'epic' wasn't really supposed to get anywhere near it. It was supposed to be a short story around 10,000 words in length.

I wanted to do something small-scale and failed. I can't seem to do anything small. I may have a mental disease of some kind.

Terminal began as one of a good number of kernels of fantasy conceptualization scribbled haphazardly in a notebook while I was moderately drunk and listening to Wolves in the Throne Room. I returned to the notebook the next day once sober and crossed off all of these ideas. All but one.

Around that remaining idea, I started building a story. As something interesting started to take shape, I got more and more excited about it. It quickly grew WAY out of the original bounds I had set for it, and the stakes got considerably higher. I kept trying to constrain it (first as a novelette, then a novella, then a single novel), but it casually burst all of the limits I tried to set to hold it in and is presently planned to be a trilogy (with provisions in place for a fourth book if I need the extra space to tell the story properly).

Typically, we as writers try to create hooks in our stories that will grab readers and keep them reading to find out what happens next. In my experience, it's a little rarer that we get caught on our own hooks and dragged into something different than we'd planned, and it's always thoroughly enjoyable when that does happen. It's also helped me maintain enthusiasm for the project, which makes it easier to keep working on it hour after hour, day after day. Some stories fight me while I struggle to drag them kicking and screaming into existence, but this one seems much more like something whole that already exists within me somewhere, and all I have to do is uncover it.

My intention is to begin drafting book 1 by the end of March, and to finish the book by the end of the year (the first draft, at least). I'm actually a little stunned at the amount of momentum I've built up behind this project; it's simultaneously heartening to find myself working this hard so willingly/consistently and a little terrifying to know that I'm responsible for translating this set of ideas into something compelling. It's not hard to have a good idea; the real challenge is in drawing it out of my mind without damaging it and maintaining the spirit and balance of it while still growing it into a satisfying work. There's also a very real feeling of reality to my dedication to this project that I'd never noticed I was lacking in other cases; a sense of weight and purpose and perhaps just a little panic that I'm finally really doing this.

I've talked about writing all my life. As far as I can recall, there's never been a time in my life when I was anything less than certain that this was what I wanted to do. Somehow, though, I never felt ready until now. In spite of all my efforts, it always felt distant. It was always something I'd be doing someday. Now that it's finally happening, it feels very surreal. There's a dreamlike quality to it.

There's also a very deep sensation of relief. I realize now that I should have been doing this all along. I had no idea how much stress I was feeling on a daily basis simply because I wasn't fulfilling my need to write. As much as I've always loved writing, I'd never realized how necessary it is for me.

I'm very excited about these characters, about this world, and about this story, and I can't wait to share them with you.