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.

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:

Writing from the shore of Quiddity

Sorry for the long radio silence. To say that real life (vs. this dream of a life we share online) has had to take precedence the last few months is to sell it short. Too much of life lately has been in dealing with the very tangible, leaving little room for thoughts and musings idylically shared online.

For long time readers of this blog, and I know I must have alienated most of you but surely there are a handful left, I _am_ still writing. I think Ramsey Campbell expressed it best in Where Nightmares Come From, a smaller press book on writing with a lot of hidden gems.

I once waited to continue work on a story until I felt inspired, only to burden myself with writer’s block that lasted six months.

Ramsey Campbell, The Process of a Tale, pg 100

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about it, but real life aside, writer’s block has been a huge factor. I’ve been struggling with understanding where my voice as a writer lives. For too long, I think, I’ve been trying to affect a type of writing because it’s what I enjoy reading. But when I break it down, I don’t enjoy writing it. I have beside my desk the first draft of The Mermaid’s Tears. It’s a beast, it’s rough, and there’s a lot about it I loved writing. There’s also bits that stick in my craw.

A month or so ago, I started a new short story. I’ve stumbled a bit the last few weeks on finishing it, though I intend to buckle down and get it out this weekend because I already have starter notes for a few more stories I want to write. It’s a change in direction for my writing, or rather a reversal back to how I used to write before I got it in my head I had to be a great fantasy or science fiction author (I will be neither). I’m writing this one largely by hand, because by hand is how I first started writing before I had laptops and portable technology that made digitizing everything easy. But I can share the first few lines of the first draft:

     In a house by the Sea, there lived a boy. It wasn’t the boy’s house, but it was empty, and it was dry, and for a time, it was safe.
     The boy had nothing in this world but the clothes on his back and a grey metal box. The box had eight sides – the six you can see, and the two you forget. It was covered in carving of ornate vines, cut from the surface of the box.

All of that is likely to change, but it’s the seed that started a story, and that felt good to accomplish. I don’t know how many words I’ve written – my handwriting shifts from tight and neat to sprawling and messy and back again over the course of the pages, making a rough per page count hard. I’ll know it’s done when I finish writing it, I suppose. It’s a gothic, I think, or maybe not. I’ll find out when I get closer to the end. 

Hopefully, I’ll have more to share soon. Just don’t be alarmed by long silences