Breaking my blockers

Recently, I’ve been working on breaking out of some old, bad habits – the perpetual “the problem is the tool, not the tool wielder” that seems to have become a rabid infestation in my brain the last few years.

When I started writing, I had a marble notebook. That was all. But even then, I yearned for the freedom and mobility that some upgrade would give me. First it was a Palm Pilot (“To be able to just carry that around!”), then it was a keyboard attachment for my PalmPro (“To use on the VRE during my commute!”), then it was a laptop. Every time I reached my goal, there was always something just out of my reach that would elevate me further.

It is now twenty years later, there are still tools I see that “would make it so much easier to create!” – MS Surface, a newer iPad with mechanical keyboard, etc. – but the truth is, none of that matters.

The only tool I need to write is the one I’ve had all along, the one residing in that chunk of grey matter between my ears. I realize how cliché that sounds, but that’s actually what makes it true.

The other big blocker is that I expect too much of myself when writing. When I sit down to write, I always found it helpful to have goals. “This will be XX pages long” or “I need to write XXXX words a day.” Doing that, though, forced me to stretch or manipulate stories because I felt like they needed to meet a certain criteria for length.

I had, in other words, forgotten the most basic tenant of writing good fiction:

A story should be no longer or shorter than it needs to be to tell its tale.

Someone smart at some point

It makes writing a struggle, I won’t lie, but it’s also somewhat freeing. I’m not trying to “write to market” (What market? What sales?) If my stories never find a home that’s ok – it’s about the writing and telling, not the selling and publishing.

And so I have found myself sitting down every morning for the last week, pulling up an old but trusty writing app and putting down some words. Some days less than a hundred; some days this week, over a thousand. I know where this story is going; I don’t know how long it is yet, or how long it will be, or what the “right” length for it is. I’ll know that when it’s done being written.

D is for Doubt

Let’s face it, at the time of this writing, I’m an unsuccessful writer. If you are reading this blog, chances are good it’s because we know each other in some way. Maybe tangibly – you’re a friend, a coworker, or someone who’s been stuck talking to me. Maybe we just know each other online (I’m intermittently extroverted when I’m not busy clamming up and shutting down). I’ve written a few books, even self-published a few of them, but I can tell you straight up, I have had no secret success as a writer.

And yet, I continue to write. I write for the simplest reason of all – I enjoy trying to tell a story. Now sometimes, I tell a story and others enjoy it. Sometimes, I tell a story and everyone looks at me with a vague, glazed over stare that tells me that the story missed its mark somewhere.

I used to think that when I finished writing a novel, that was it, send it out. Why hold onto it at that point? I think it was that mentality that led me to self-publishing my books, and it was waking up from that mentality that put a pause on publishing.

Take my most recent novel (you’ll need to take my word on it). Titled A King’s Lament, it’s the story of a king who is haunted by the ghost of his lost love. So much so that he forsakes crown and kingdom to track down where she fled to 20 years ago, even though his country is just recovering from a war with the republic that invaded and subjugated the neighboring kingdom. Oh, and his brother is out to get him too, but he doesn’t know that at the start of the story.

Sounds great, right? Wait till you get to the midpoint climax and learn X and Y and realize Z. Then there’s the mad dash to try and avert more war and disaster with the dawning realization that he was set up to fail. And some of the things we thought we understood about the world? Just a misdirection we should have caught on to before.

Don’t worry about that being spoilerly. Even if I were to buckle and publish/submit it someday, that’s the back cover blurb material and doesn’t tell you much about the story.

When I finished the first draft a few months ago, I set it aside. Its something I’m struggling with but accept the value of. Set the story aside for a while, let it fester and ripen, then look at it again. And when I did that, what I found was a bland story. I’d tried to write it in the first person, but what came across was just a boring, haughty king traipsing around. I spent some time lamenting that myself, then decided I’d rewrite it in the third person.

But yeah, that’s when the first doubt started to creep in.

Undeterred, I set off and wrote the first 30k of the revised novel, a third of it new material. Things were going great, or at least, progressing, until the day I needed to take a break. When I came back after a day off, I look at what I had written and despaired. Doubt with a capital and bold D was settling in.

The problem is that the story is still….bland. Luthor isn’t particularly engaging, and what I’ve written feels more like a spicy travelogue than a novel. I find myself doubting this work altogether. This is my second attempt (well….something like my fifth, really, but who’s actually keeping track of all those draft versions besides me and dropbox…) and it still feels…meh.

A past me might have transitioned from Doubt to Despair at this point, but this is a new me. I see where the story is failing. I acknowledge that for whatever reason, now is not my time for telling this story. I have a few other stories incubating at the moment, departures from the kind of story I’ve been telling which in a lot of ways makes them all the more appealing. It’s supposed to be in the 100’s F this weekend- sounds like a great time to catch up on some Harrow County, read some books, and tinker with some ideas while avoiding the inferno outside.

Hello, it’s me.

Hello, it’s me. I know it’s been a while. It feels like years, even though it’s only been a few months. How the world has changed in the three months since my last post.

I should start by saying I didn’t stop blogging because of the soft apocalypse. To be honest, in a lot of ways nothing has changed much in my life because of the lockdown. I worked from home before, I work from home now. I didn’t have a significant out of the house social life before, and that has remained status quo. With only sporadic outings for undeliverables, what I miss most is the freedom to run out and get something. Not enough to risk a contagion, but that’s what I miss.

So why the silent treatment? Well, and if you follow me on twitter (and you probably should, it’s the one platform I’m active on still), this is not surprising news. A few weeks ago, I finished the first draft of The King’s Lament. There is a lot of work to do on it still, starting with rewriting the first six scenes for POV corrections, plus all of the revising and massaging I think the story needs, but I am fairly satisfied with the rough draft. I finished around 60k, which is a meaningless number for now. I know there are scenes and chapters I may yet add, and for every had and still and that I remove, there will be plenty of text stirred in.

I was silent on the blog because I have a bad track record of talking up a story when I’m working on it, then never finishing. I wanted to avoid that this time, so instead I wrote the story first. Novel, I know.

Long time readers – and this takes little effort given how sporadic my posts have been – may recognize the working title. This is actually a book I tried to start writing last Spring before my life was turned upside down. I’ve still not quite recovered if I’m honest. The coming week is the anniversary of my father passing, followed a few days later by my mom. I’m in my mid 40’s, and I won’t lie, I’m still shaken up when I say that. I guess you’re never too old to tremble at the realization your parents have passed.

So there we are. A blog post, to remind the spammers where I am, and an explanation of my absence, which is namely to say “writing.” And sure, I could have blogged about other things besides writing since February, but let’s face it, I can’t keep a secret for more than a few days. Ask my wife.

And since it was the song that came to mind when I started writing this blog post: