Yeah. I’m one. Chances are, if you’re a writer, so are you. You, too, have that Beast within. It says things like “Yeah yeah yeah, you can write a sentence. No shit, asshole; you teach English. But can you tell a story? No! You’re shit! Just fucking turn off the computer, and go play on the X-Box or watch a fucking movie or something, because YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO PUBLISH A GODDAMNED THING, NEVER MIND THAT STUPID BOOK!
The trick is to let that inner voice rage. Let it tell you how your rejections will always be numerous whlie you never, ever get an acceptance. Let it assure you that your ideas are trite, your prose hackneyed, your future tech ridiculously stupid, your characters flat, and your title dumb. Let it remind you that you’ve been doing this for years and never gotten where you want to be. Let it tell you that you suck.
Then kick it in the fucking teeth. Lock it back in the mental basement where it belongs, along with your childhood fear of Nazis (thank you, childhood watching Wonder Woman) and your belief that you were an alien secreted on Earth by your real parents to protect you (thank you, Powers of Matthew Star).
Some days, it’s easy. The voice is stupid. It’s just fear talking. Other days, it’s harder. The voice is the Voice of Reality, come to rid you of your delusions of literary adequacy.
Ignore it. it’s a stupid voice. It doesn’t know anything.
Sit down. Keep writing.
So, I finally got that sleep I’ve been needing. And I’ve been writing. Around 40,000 words now.
I realized yesterday, however, that I have a secondary character who needs to go. Poor Takeshi comes on the page for a few statements, then disappears for chapters even though he’s in the same fairly small starship. I thought about beefing him up, inserting him a bit, but the fact is he’s superfluous. He’s an unimportant character who, in this version of the story, serves no purpose.
He used to have a purpose, but that subplot got removed, as it A) was too maudlin, and B) undercut the protagonist’s likability. But once I’d removed the plot, I had nothing for him to do. I suspect he needs to be cut. But I haven’t got time to look back, so I’m going to keep working forward, and if I’ve got a place for him I’ll use it, and beef up his appearances in the first half. If not, I’ll excise him in the editing phase.
I’m also concerned about one of the other secondaries; he serves a purpose but I’m not sure having him where he is serves that purpose. And that I need to figure out before I get to the next chapter, because he’s much more important to the plot and I’m not sure I’m using him right. But maybe. Wait… processing… processing… oh. Yes, that’s what I’ll do with him. Excellent; thanks for the help, people!
I don’t usually like to complain here. This isn’t a “personal journal,” but a “writer persona” journal–in other words, this place isn’t the unfiltered me, but the carefully-considered me, which is why I rarely write on controversy here–I’ll only do it if I can do it without rancorous language. But this one touches on writing, so:
My six year old has apparently decided to be the antithesis of the perfect child for a while. She will not sleep through the night; waking four or five times on some nights (this after months of sleeping through the night). She won’t just roll over, either–no, she’s got to get up, come to my room, and wake me (because my wife sleeps right through it; don’t get me started) to get me to take her back to her bed, where she falls asleep almost immediately OR lies awake for an hour or more.
Ok, I’m an insomniac. Did it have to hit her, too?
This process makes her tired and cranky, and it makes ME tired and cranky, so much so that I’ve caught myself snapping at her over very silly things that don’t deserve censure. Then I feel like a bad father and have to struggle not to “make it up to her” by overcompensating. Then I get up at six o’fuck in the morning, get myself ready to work, then get her up and dressed and out the door by 6:40. This is why I won’t be teaching a zero-period class next year; I need more time in the morning.
Here’s the part where it affects writing: I haven’t slept well in weeks. I cannot seem to get anything written that doesn’t immediately make me roll my eyes at myself. I wrote a scene last night: 342 words. All of them horrible junior-high melodrama. I was disgusted when I looked at them this morning. I deleted all that didn’t work, leaving me with a net word count of FIVE WORDS. This is not how one finishes a novel.
I know what’s supposed to happen, I just can’t get it written.
A scene in This Damn Book has been kicking my ass all week. It’s a space battle, and I just couldn’t make it work. It was BORING. But I kept plugging away, and thinking, in non-writing spare moments, about the scene.
Last night it came to me what I needed. I got into the scene, and with a combination of removing some words, rearranging some others, and writing about 450 new words, I’m pretty sure I fixed the scene.
Now, this doesn’t mean an editor, should I ever be so fortunate as to publish the thing, won’t say “Dude. This is broken. Fix it.” Or, hopefully, say “This could be better, here are some suggestions, go to work.” But for now? It’s at least not boring, and it does what the scene needed to do.
Next up, Chapter 8: A long walk, Anasazi ruins, and Big Revelations.
One of the things they tell you at Viable Paradise (get those applications in, folks! Deadline is June 15th!) is that much of what you learn there will take time to settle into your brain and become useable. The figure quoted was from three to six months.
As a veteran teacher who is used to hearing nonsense passed off as Truth in teacher trainings, I was certain that that was exaggeration. But damn if VP didn’t prove correct again. Those people know what they’re talking about. As Elizabeth Bear said, “You have to give brains time to spin.”
Lately, as I write, problems that had seemed unsolvable suddenly present solutions. Nine times out of ten, the solution can be traced back to something I learned about plot, or dialogue, or how to get unstuck, or any number of other things I heard that week, from the VP instructors and staff.
It’s kind of awesome, really. That niggling plot hole I wasn’t sure how to plug? Not only plugged, but eradicated by changing one of the core assumptions about the antagonists. The question of why something couldn’t be done to the protagonist a second time? Solved. The problem wherein some of the secondary plot threads weren’t being set up very well? Solved by a dinner scene (thank you, Steven Brust!). The niggling problem of Character X? Well, he’s dead now, and his death sets up all sorts of things that could come back in Book 2, Universe Willing.
Anyway, if you found this page because you’re wondering if VP is worth it, the answer is that yes, it really is. All that stuff you read on various blogs about how VP staff removed our brains, rearranged them, and put them back? Yep. It’s pretty accurate.
34,389 words. Not bad. Chapter seven is nearly finished; chapter eight is the Big Revelation.
Now I am very tired, and I am going to watch a sitcom to let my brain stop working, then I’m going to bed.