I’m struggling at the moment. Struggling with time and with motivation. I’ve been banging music reviews out at quite a rate, I enjoy doing them. I like to get busy with the hyperbole and oddly enough, writing factually gets my brain working in a creative sense. My mind is a live with all sorts of threads and I have a couple of short stories I know how to finish. I’m just struggling to find the motivation to complete them. I really want to complete them and show them to you, but I can’t find the zone. Anyone have any pointers?
One thing that always runs through my mind is, am I over- or under-describing? I want to keep the intrigue and suspense, but I also want to demonstrate how well I’ve built my world. So where is the balance? One rule I always keep in my mind is that old chestnut, “show don’t tell.” So we want to be able to allow the reader to experience the world we build rather than tell them what happened. This is the power of written fiction to me really as opposed to say film or even comics, where the action is all presented to you. I don’t mean it’s better, or even that there is no room for interpretation in film, I just mean that in written format, everyone experiences it differently. What does Sherlock Holmes actually look like? Arthur Conan Doyle describes his appearance in great detail, but my mind interpreted that and thus my Holmes is unique in my own mind. Of course, making the reader do all of the work is unfair and there are situations where you may want to break out of a certain idiom for ease of narrative or flow.
In showing though there are various degrees of narrative to which one can subscribe. There are plenty of examples of fiction where, after finishing, I’ve felt like I haven’t really grasped what was going on. Now that can be a good thing, leaving questions unanswered, or it can be detrimental to the feel of the piece. A nice example of a story that doesn’t give too much away is a short story I recently read in Clarkesworld magazine by Aliette de Bodard entitled “Scattered Along the River of Heaven”. I shan’t spoil it for you but it just does enough to tickle the fancy and leave you wanting to know more about the world. I like that approach, especially in short fiction.
Conversely, I have recently finished reading all of the current “Song of Fire and Ice” series by George R. R. Martin, where Martin takes the opposite approach. Over the course of these five mammoth tomes, Martin attempts to describe his lands of Westeros and Essos in such minute detail, sometimes it takes a lot of effort to follow the plots. This started to get a bit tiresome for me by the fourth book, but I think the world he has crafted is done justice by the approach. Concentrating on one character at a time for each chapter means he’s ended up with something like thirty, very well crafted characters. Somehow though, he’s still left enough room for manoeuvre and uncertainty for the reader to make up their own mind about them. Hats off for that. It’s certainly something I aspire to be able to do as I develop.
I’m currently struggling however, with a Robert Jordan book, “The Eye of the World.” I love the world he has created again, and the mythology is deeply textured and rich. However, he has an awful habit – at least thus far – of reiterating character traits to absolute distraction for me. The book, so far, has concentrated on a group of seven individuals, who’s characteristics were initially very well described and they are now set in my mind, and yet a quarter of the way into the book, he’s still hammering home things that could have been implied, without the extra explanation. It’s like he’ll show you something, then explain what it was then clarify why he did it, all in two sentences and it can get very tiring. Tolkien does the same sort of thing. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing by any means, just that it tires me out a bit. I guess this is an extreme example though of what I mean.
So, what have I concluded? Not a lot. Just to pay extra attention to how much I give away and when. Don’t overwhelm the reader with heavy visuals, let them piece it together themselves. Oh, and trust my readers, yes this is my baby, but I need to let them see it through their own eyes, not mine.
Another thing I’ve come to realise recently is that it’s very easy to frustrate oneself. Several times now I’ve sat down and thought “I’m going to do some writing,” only to sit staring at a half finished sentence and a flashing cursor. I’ve written some drivel, deleted it, looked over notes, stared again and achieved nothing for two hours. You could be using those two hours productively. Researching, reading, cooking a spectacular dinner for a loved one, shaving the giraffe, endless things.
My advice, and take it or leave it, is have a goal. Decide what you want for this session. You don’t have to stick to it, but without a clear idea of what you want to achieve, you’ll find it difficult to focus. It might be that you want to wrap up that section where the fish steals the tractor, or just push a bit more back story out of your narrative. Set yourself a time limit as well. Not so much, “I am going to write things for one hour,” more like, “I’m going to attempt to do something constructive for an hour, if I haven’t got anywhere, I’m going to get a choc-ice and a copy of Dune and veg in front of Thundercats.” That way, if you’re on a roll and the narrative is flowing like a good merlot, you probably won’t notice the time. However, if you really aren’t getting anywhere, you can walk away, do something constructive and not get frustrated about your lack of productivity.
The way I see it, if I haven’t got an idea of what I’m going to do next, I probably won’t achieve anything useful. Most of the work is done in your noggin, not on the keyboard so if your noggin is empty, you’ll find it difficult to press the keys in a lucid order.
I’m sure many people more experienced than me will disagree and of course, all of us are individuals with different ways of ticking and tackling writing. This works for me though as a person with an overwhelming sense of guilt for not achieving something all the time. I get guilty playing computer games or watching TV for very long because I feel I could be doing something more productive. This for me, means I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time.
One more for the day, as I’m on a roll. I’ve had an embryonic, sci-fi short story in my head for a while and I started to commit it to paper this week. It started off quite well and I’m fairly pleased with it thus far. I’m not so pleased with the progress I’ve made, but that’s for me and me to discuss. I decided however, that I couldn’t convey the depth of the character I wanted to from the perspective I’d written it at. So, I switched my context to that of a first person perspective. I trundled along, rewriting my narrative and enriching the character a little. Then I realised, this would make absolutely no sense whatsoever with the ending I have in mind. And so, I begin re-draft number two from a slightly different perspective.
So, what is my point? Well, I was annoyed at first. Annoyed that I’d have to rewrite what I’d already written. Annoyed that all of that good work (possibly) was to be cast aside. Then I came to realise that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you stop and re-draft. It’s all part of the process. It’s a naïve chap indeed who thinks that he’ll crack out a story without any kind of rewrite anyway, but my point being, don’t wait until the end. Muck about with the context, muck about with the characters while it’s still infantile. Your job will be much easier at the end. For example, one doesn’t go on Masterchef and produce one’s signature dish on the night. One will have practised it many times at home, and probably chucked a few of those tasty omelettes away. Why would anyone think that omelette and strychnine go together?!
I may as well start with a good ‘un. My esteemed friend and actual real author and everything, Jay Stringer, blogged a blog at the venerable “Do Some Damage,” about writing as he often is wont. This blogged contained within it a lovely diatribe on the subject of writer’s block and why he thinks it is a misnomer. It’s something that has resonated very strongly with me. The long and short of it if you’re too lazy to read that very good post (and very good blog in general), is that writing isn’t just the act of committing words to paper, or to word processor, no, it is much more than that. It’s storming, forming, drafting, redrafting, chucking out the crap and keeping the nice bits. A lot of writing is actually typing yes, but most of it is done in your head. Sitting for hours staring at a wall is ok folks, the writing is just happening in your head. Jay puts it beautifully so read it, it’s worth it.
We all have to start somewhere so I’m going to start here. I think the term “aspiring to be a writer” is an interesting one. Anyone who frequents the internet inevitably is a writer to some extent. Although we’ve evolved from purely text-only communication on the web, to the proliferation of podcasts, videos, interactive doohickies and whatnots, the core of the web’s content is text. Again we’ve moved on from the 80s and BBS’s and IRC to the 90s, where everyone had a homepage on Geocities with pictures of their cats and NNTP services, to forums (fora?) to the explosion of blogging and then finally to social media and beyond. All of these are still about and widely used and hopefully will continue to be. The point I’m making though is that everyone, be it the receptionist at some company having a whinge about Deirdre from accounts on her Facebook page to microblogged Tumblr accounts about photography, to 140 character stories on Twitter, to blogs about fishing, whatever, everyone is at it so “aspiring to be a writer” has become too vague. One can be a writer in about four minutes. I just did it, on WordPress, look I’m writing. Someone might even read it.
That’s the difference I guess, what I’m aspiring to be is a writer with an audience. So how does one get an audience? Well, I can only assume as a lifelong reader, that to get me to read what you wrote, it has to be interesting. OK, so to be interesting I’m going to need some insight. I’m not knowledgeable on any particular subject as such. I know a lot about music and drumming in particular, but not enough to be seen as more desirable to read than thousands of other people who are already well established and indeed more knowledgeable than me. I know a lot about loads of different things, but I’d never consider myself a subject expert on anything really. What I do enjoy though is reading fiction. All sorts of fiction but especially science fiction, fantasy, and children’s books based on the same. Now, there’s always call for new stories and I have a head full of bizarre so why not try and pen some of it? I don’t think I can produce a worse insult to literature than Dan Brown for example, and he’s loaded!
So, I want to write fiction that people will read. There’s a short, succinct statement of what I want to do. Nothing glamorous, I don’t want to be snapped up J. K. Rowling style and have money and fame thrust at me, that would be far to narcissistic to even consider. I’d like a couple of people to enjoy some of the ideas that are in my head though, because I have lots, and they’re what I’ve used over the past few years to retreat to in times of stress or pressure and relax, and they’d be nice to share. I imagine they won’t be to many people’s taste but then fiction is such fickle and personal thing that if one can’t accept that fact, they’re destined to madness.
I know very little of writing fiction. I’ve read loads! I know what I like and what I don’t. I’ve not done any courses, I stopped English at GCSE and I have no intend to do any more of either. I’ll make use of the resources that are available to me for free, the internet, friends, etc. and work it out for myself. I’m also going to document it here, not necessarily the actual fruits of my labours, but certainly the lessons I’ve learnt along the way. More as a log of it than anything else, but it’s always nice to share isn’t it? My biggest problem in life is that I’m no completer-finisher. In fact, I struggle to finish anything. I’m hoping to use this as a tool to push myself to get some of this finished instead of procrastinating and being distracted by shiny things.
Wish me luck!