Content warning: rape, violence, child abuse.
I restarted the story that I have been writing tentatively called “Mystics”. It isn’t that I completely started over again; instead, I have taken what I liked from the first outline and started what I call outline # 2.
I have been trying to do this story a little bit different from previous (failed) attempts at writing. Several times in the past I have outlined a story only to end up with a gigantic, logical outline and absolutely no interest in the story. This time, I am trying to write more by the seat of my pants. There is one problem — at least for me — when I write by the seat of my pants. I have a tendency to have so many changes to what I have already written that I end up wanting to write it all over again.
I have decided to try to use that “write it over again” feeling to my advantage. I have been writing on “Mystics” but keeping notes on what I wanted to change. When there get to be too many things that I want to change, I take out what I like and start writing the story from the beginning again.
I have also been experimenting with using a database to keep track of the writing. So far it has worked very well. The database, however, is a topic for another day.
In my previous post “Story autopsy – The problems” I mentioned that my fourth main problem was about writing style. Essentially, the problem seems to be that I like to outline; but when I get to writing, I often continue by the seat of my pants. That isn’t a problem for everyone. There are plenty of writers that use that particular style successfully. My problem is that mixing styles like that tends to get me lost over time.
When I am in the throes of writing, I might come up with and idea that I just love and seems to fit perfectly with the story. Of course I go with the idea, but hunting down and changing all the entries in the outline to keep it up to date are time consuming. Still, in an effort to keep everything organized, I will do it. But after I do that two or three times, I tend to lose track of what I have changed.
Now I know that it wouldn’t be a problem to lose track of the changes if I were to just reread the outline. After all, I have faithfully kept the outline up to date. The problem then is that the outline is so long that I don’t want to read it unless I need to.
After all, I can’t be so forgetful that I would forget the changes I have made to the story over time.
Oh, never mind. I actually can be that forgetful.
By the afternoon, I can forget what changes I made that morning.
The solution that presents itself is to change the way that I outline.
Perhaps, it should be thought of as doing away with traditional outlining all together. I hope to write more about this in the future; but for now, lets keep the scope on the first solution that I am trying.
I have created a file with three major headings: beginning, middle, and ending. Under each of those headings can be various subheadings. These should form the major points of my story. I am hoping to keep each major heading to only three subheadings. If I go over that number of headings, it won’t be a catastrophe, as long as the entire file is kept short enough to read in just a few minutes.
This solution has been easy to implement using LibreOffice. If you use the title and headings (Heading 1, Heading 2, …, etc.) that are provided with LibreOffice, you will be able to easily find the spot you are looking for by using the “Navigator” function (F5 key or by clicking on the Navigator icon).
Note that this isn’t just a way to organize my outline better. The idea is to replace my working outline with only the major points of the story in a format that can be easily reviewed as often as necessary. That might be several times a day the way my memory works. The idea is to use this short file as a way to keep the story on track so that it doesn’t become several separate, disjointed stories with no connection to one another because there have been too many revisions.
I haven’t been writing for some time now. It has been so long that I have abandoned the story that I was working on. The desire to write, however, has been returning. But before I start to write again, it seems like a good idea to see if there is anything that I can learn from my previous failure.
Problem one: not enough world building.
The first problem seems to be that I didn’t do enough world building. While I like the ideas of having characters that weren’t common to any of the science fiction or fantasy that I was familiar with, I didn’t have a good world for them to operate in. Instead, what I did was essentially use the world as it exists now and expect all these wonderful things to just exist within that framework.
It didn’t work out too well.
Problem two: no one wants to be the bad guy.
I don’t good bad guys. That might sound strange, but it is true. None of the characters that I create are evil for the purpose of being evil. Each of my characters have an idea of how they believe that the world should be. Following their own ideas, they try to change the world for the better. But there is a problem with that. Each of my characters is also a rational person. When they see that some other character has a better solution to the problem, they then follow the other person’s idea. When that happens, the natural conflict that was created in the story collapses.
Problem three: organization.
While not a sexy problem – and not a problem with writing per se – my lack of organization has a profound effect on the story the further the story goes. Characters names, what they were doing, what they were thinking, their intentions and goals; each of these gets lost in the shuffle of writing. By the time I dig through my notes enough to have the character on track, my mind is completely burned out, or consequently, has come up with a better idea.
Problem four: writing style.
The problem could be related to the organization point, but it needs to be highlighted on its own. Much of the background work and world building that I do seems necessary. It seems necessary to the point that I gave it its own category. But when I write, I often use two different writing styles. These styles are loosely referred to as “seat of the pants” writing and plotting.
Plotting: When I write, I need to have at least a basic idea of where the story is going. It helps me tremendously to know where the characters are headed and what “natural” accidents or problems they are going to face in the future. For me, this is what plotting is all about. Knowing the general direction of the story, who is working against whom, which parts will come into conflict over time, and at least a vague idea of how those things will turn out.
The problem with plotting is that, as I am writing, I come up with better ideas than I had during the plotting stage. These ideas have a tendency to cause rethinking of several plot points. That has the effect of bringing the entire writing process back to the drawing board while I fix the rework the outline that I have been working from.
That wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the problem of then forgetting what it was that I had changed. For instance, if I had an idea for a scene, came up with a better idea, changed it, then went on with my writing; I might forget that I changed it at some point in the future. When that happens, I end up with incompatible ideas warring with each other and one hell of a mess that needs to be straitened out. Now, multiply this problem by every scene that is changed through the course of the story and eventually it becomes easier to abandon the story that it does to fix it.
The dreams, as well as the realities, of being a professional writer seem alien to me. It always seems to be some variation upon a standard theme: writer as rock star.
The standard theme that I hear about a writers life is the dream of writing the next great novel that will be turned into a movie and have all of Hollywood trudging a path to your door. If it isn’t movie material, then it is a novel that will put the writer on all the talk shows to have their interviews broadcast all around the globe. Perhaps it is to spend all of their off time attending lavish parties where people can discuss how great the author is while sipping champagne and eating caviare off served from antique polished silver serving platters. Their writing supplies mansions and entourages and propels them into the stratosphere of popularity.
But this is why I feel left out. None of these things appeal to me. No only do they not appeal to me, they actually terrify me. The only thing I would like to get from my writing is for readers to enjoy it. Sure, I wouldn’t mind a little bit of money, but even money is so far down my list of writing rewards that it is practically nonexistent.
I don’t like crowds, or traveling, or lavish parties, or public speaking, or public appearances. Because of my excessively introverted personality, every time I hear authors (even successful ones) talking about the dream of being a writer, it acts as a deterrent. There is a constant fear that runs in the back of my mind about what would happen if someone really liked my stories. What if I signed a publishing contract then realized that I would have to travel to promote my writing. What if I had to be witty and happy in Twitter and Facebook instead of just being myself. I would have to become a different person, a stranger. I would have to navigate a course diametrically opposed to the course I would choose for my life.
I am not a salesperson. I have no interest in trying to convince other people to read my words. I have no interest in being popular. I nave no interest in creating a following. I have no interest in grooming an audience. All that I want to do is tell stories.
I like my piece and quiet. I enjoy my solitude. I like to let my imagination run wild without considering whether it would please a publisher or fitting into a prepared market niche. I like to play with my cats instead of going to conventions. I like to pet my dogs instead of promoting domestic sales. I like to play the piano instead of calculating optimal pricing options.
I realize that my desire to avoid the public essentially means that I will never be a professional author. I can live with that. The pressure I feel from the profession of being an author actually prevents me from writing anything at all. I would much rather make up stories to scatter into the void. I would rather enjoy my time writing instead of feeling the anxiety of being an author.
I’m on the next to the last scene in the story I have been writing. Now is when some of my worst writing anxieties begin to manifest. What if the ending isn’t worthy of the story? Will the story feel like a letdown? Maybe I should take a break and think of a better story.
Penultimate procrastination is tightly linked to ultimate anxiety; what I feel during the last scene. Taken together, they seem to form a fear of finishing. It is the time when the fun begins to drain out of the story and the worry leaks in taking its place.
Knowing what is happening might be half the battle, but the battle still remains. One thing that I feel I have to change at this point is my strategy. Fears have to be put to the side and fingers have to press forward. Doubt can’t be addressed, uncertainty has to be isolated, and lethargy must be laid aside until the final words are written.
Now is the time to push forward. Now is the time to write the final few thousand words, take a break, and only then worry about the what, if anything, needs to be changed in the story.
I came close to meeting my goals for September. I wrote most days, and even had a good record of writing while I was at home. There was one notable exception to my writing: I missed writing for almost an entire week in the middle of the month.
I remember that week well. There wasn’t any good reason for not writing. The reason was that my mind simply wouldn’t function for me. I hated everything I tried to write, and writing felt like a horrible chore that was making me hate sitting down at a keyboard. Instead of pushing it, I simply took some time away from thinking of stories.
Is there a way to change that? I don’t know. I suspect that would have been one of the places where depression led me to the pit of despair if it weren’t for the medication that I am taking. The medication that I am taking is great, but when my mind tries to crash, it functions as if it were stuffed with cotton.
There is one other thing that will have an effect on October’s writing: I have started writing one of the connected short stories set in the universe that I am creating. I already have many of the signposts worked out on where the story is going, but there is more editing involved.
So, October’s writing goals.
- Keep a word count rounded to the nearest 100.
- Weekly goal of 3,500 words.
- 20 days total writing (same as last month).
- 2 days writing while I am at home (same as last month).
Since I didn’t complete last month’s writing days goal, I am going to keep it unchanged for this month. We’ll have to see how the word count goes.