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Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

It isn’t easy being a writer. Or any kind of creative person. If it were, everyone would do it, and the world would be an even more beautiful place. But it isn’t, for reasons that most people could come up with if they were to bother: How do you get ideas? How do you stretch those ideas out to cover several thousand (or several hundred thousand) words? How do you find the time? The list goes on.

If you’re a writer, however, you’ve already come up with answers to these questions. (Well, all but the last three…) But even then, there’s the problem of persistence. Not the persistence it takes to submit and re-submit the same story to various markets maybe four dozen times with no reason it will succeed. (I think my record for rejections before a sale is 44.) That’s a long-term sort of persistence; I’m talking about the day-to-day, the persistence it takes to complete a single project, especially a novel.

2017 was a very hard time for writers (at least liberal writers). The year was a socio-political mess (no matter whose side you’re on), and outside events kept getting in the way. This doesn’t count all of the large and small personal crises and problems that nip at your available time (the kids are sick, your boss was mean today, a death in the family). Maintaining your focus in the face of these events is hard. They make you not want to write; they slow you down. What’s the point of creating a fantasy world when the real world is so screwed up?

And maybe that is the point. When we’re writing, when we’re creating, we have control. Our worlds are only as screwed up as we want them to be–and we can fix them (or not). I’m not saying that we should concentrate on our stories to the exclusion of the real world, but perhaps being able to exert some control in here will help us feel we can exert some control out there.

So we can’t feel guilty about focusing. At the same time, feeling guilty about not focusing just makes it worse. This is a hard life we’ve chosen, but then, Life is hard. And we get through it every day.

Just remember, your characters have it even worse than you do.

#SFWApro

 

 

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There are a lot of “rules” associated with writing, most of which are deceptively simple in form and exceedingly difficult in practice, like: “Write what you know.” How many of us have actually had to deal with the kinds of travails found in most literary novels, let alone destroyed a space station or carried the One Ring? Or my favorite: “Show, don’t tell.” It took me years to figure out what that meant, and now I spend so much time trying to follow it, it slows the whole process. And then, of course, there is the school of thought that says the rules are only there for when you’re starting out, but when you’re established, you can break them. This never made much sense to me; in what other field of endeavor do you succeed so you can get worse?*

But there’s one rule that stands out, not because it’s confusing, but because it’s hard. I believe it’s the Number One rule, the One Ring of rules, if you will, because if you can master it you can throw the rest into a volcano…

“Write what hurts.”

Yeah, that. Think about it. All you have to do to succeed in this business is to put down on paper for the world to read the most excruciating experiences you can imagine. (Again, write what you know.) If you can do that , if you can grab onto to your feelings from these moments and express them with brutal honesty, readers will not be able to help devouring your work. You will grab them by the heart and not let go. You will sell and take home awards and be admired.

And of course you will have dredged up everything in your life that you’ve been trying to forget since you were 13 years old. That’s gonna hurt. It has to hurt, or you’re not doing it right.

Now no one says you have to follow that route. Lots of writers make perfectly comfortable careers out of books whose plots and characters are no thicker than the pages upon which they appear. Writing as pure entertainment is not only lucrative, but necessary, and requires no soul-baring. If that’s your path, follow it, as far and as long as you can.

But if you want to write something Deep, and Meaningful, then you can’t skirt this rule. You have to obey it, or at least try, as slow and messy and painful as that journey will be. And unlike therapy, it’s hard to do lying down.

Still, I guess it’s cheaper.

 

*Other than politics, of course.

#SFWApro

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I have been given my tentative panel assignments for Loscon, at the LAX Marriott November 24-26, and as I know that my appearances have long (well, since last year) been a highlight of the early holiday season, I wanted to list them here. They are, of course, subject to change, but if they do, I’ll let you know. (We don’t want a repeat of last year’s near-riot at the Star Trek panel when I didn’t show up!)*

I self-published my first book, and I didn’t die! (11/24, 5:30pm) I believe this panel was specifically named to exclude posthumous-American indie authors from attending. I will be taking this up with the committee on behalf of all of my writer colleagues who feel like zombies (which is pretty much all of them).

Blending mystery and speculative fiction. (11/25, 5:30pm) As far as I’m concerned, everything was speculative when I was trying to become a published author. It’s how I did that which remains a mystery.

Writing & Intuition: What happens next? (11/26, 2:30pm) As faithful readers of my blog know, it’s really the characters who write the story and the author simply takes the credit. So I’m going to allow one of my characters to sit on this panel for me–as soon as I can find one who lives in this century…

Given my schedule, I should be around for most of the con. Look me up and ask me to autograph your e-book. I’ll sign a piece of paper and you can tape it to your Kindle.

 

*Oh, wait, there was nearly a riot at the panel because I did show up. If I’d realized Star Trek was that popular, I wouldn’t have said those things…

#SFWApro

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Although I have famously said about ideas, “It’s not where they come from that matters. It’s where they go,” this has inexplicably failed to stem the tide of people asking authors, “Where do your ideas come from?” (I know, I can’t explain it either.) Normally, I would avoid this subject, or simply admit that no one really knows, but…

Ideas come from the oddest places. Sometimes they are not even fully-formed ideas, but simply notions that come to mind and are written down, possibly to be re-examined and combined with other notions that together compile an idea. Case in point: The other morning I woke up and said to my wife, “There are no baristas in Hell.”

Being far too experienced to be fazed by anything I say, particularly first thing in the morning, she simply replied: “That means you can’t get a latte.” Which, as need not be said, is pretty much the definition of Hell in a nutshell.

Interestingly, I took the phrase to mean that baristas (like nurses) are too good to go to Hell. She took it to mean that there’s no way to get a good coffee drink there (although she said she could easily see my point, as baristas are paragons of patience). Both are valid interpretations, and either may be useful someday, whether alone or combined.

I believe there are two conclusions to be drawn here: One, ideas come, often as not, from your subconscious, which explains why no one can answer the question. And two, it is more important where they go, because two people can take the same notion and drag it into two completely directions. This is why Shakespeare was able to steal so many ideas and make them work. This why all of us emulate Shakespeare, at least in this one respect.

Where will this notion go? Will it go anywhere at all? Beats me, all I know is this:

There are no good story ideas in Hell.

Run with it.

#SFWApro

 

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Whence to Where

I recently tweeted something I thought was a tad clever: “People ask where you get your ideas. It’s not where they come from, it’s where they go that counts.” That’s why it’s ironic that I know where this post came from, but I have no idea where it’s going. But then, no one knows where the story is going when they start.

It’s true that some authors see the ending first, but this presumes that the story won’t take over and write itself. And the ending in itself is not “where the story goes.” That concept encompasses the entire structure, from beginning to end, and perhaps most importantly, the middle.

“What’s that?” you say. “The middle?” And I say, “Yes, the middle.” And there’s a reason I say that (aside from the fact that this is the middle part of this post). It’s simple: Beginnings are tough, but you can start anywhere. Endings are formed by everything that has gone before. Middles, on the other hand, have to carry the beginning and the ending. They have to connect them. They have to be interesting and further the plot without resolving it (or they become endings). They are the most vulnerable to wandering aimlessly. Parallels to middle children are left to the reader’s imagination and experience.

So how do you know where an idea is going to go? That, unfortunately, is not a question anyone can answer completely. Most ideas go nowhere. Every writer has a notebook full of ideas that will never leave that notebook. As for the others, where they go and how the writer determines that, depends on the writer. I favor an organic approach, where each part is like an ending in that it is dictated by what went before. This results in a linear narrative. Other writers may favor a less straightforward approach. To each his own.

Hey, what do you know? Here we are at the ending. And you know, it really doesn’t matter how we got here. It only matters that the journey is complete.

Tomorrow, we start again.

#SFWApro

 

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It’s one of those times when the ideas just won’t come. I finished The Cosmic City a few weeks ago and gave myself some time off (well, I edited and formatted and published and promoted it, if that’s what they mean by time off). Then I tried to get back into writing, and I wrote a little vignette and immediately shelved it because it wasn’t really what I was trying to say. So I rewrote it as a completely new story over a couple of days, and now it’s incubating before submission.

So now what to do? I’m happiest when I have a project, a direction to go. (That’s the nice part about writing novels, but then you only have one product to sell, and if it doesn’t, you’re out of luck.) I thought this story would give me a direction for a few days, but it wrote itself too darned fast and now I’m afloat again. And it’s hard.

It’s hard because I’m hard on myself. I’m in the “you should write every day,” camp, but I don’t. Even the waiter at dinner tonight at our favorite hang-out was talking about how he’s worked on his screenplays for 50 days straight. Fifty days in a row of at least three pages. I admire him. I envy him. I want to slap him. (Lousy so-and-so, how dare he make me feel so bad?) I left him a big tip.

The truth is, sometimes you can’t write. Sometimes you have to extend that vacation a while. If the ideas aren’t there, they just aren’t. (I actually have a couple, but they’re so embryonic I have to leave them in the neonatal ICU until they’re stronger.) And until then, or until something else comes along, you need to do something different, change your routine: you need to relax.

Finishing and publishing The Cosmic City–the conclusion of a trilogy, no less–was a peak. You can’t jump from peak to peak. You have to cross the valley between them first. There will always be another peak to climb, even if right now it’s hidden by the clouds.

#SFWApro

 

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While the excitement of finally bringing a new novel into the world is energizing, it tends to fade a little while you’re waiting for it actually to come out, and in the case of an e-book, that means while you’re formatting and prepping and ordering the cover, etc., etc. This means that at some point, even though you’re not really finished with your massive project, an unwanted thought is going to invade your brain like an insidious virus sent from your Overmind:

What Am I Going To Do Next?

For some, this is not an issue. Some writers routinely juggle two or three projects at once; for them, finishing one simply means focussing on another (and maybe starting something new, but there’s always a list of those). For others of us, though, starting a new project is a daunting task. We can postpone it by saying, “Oh, I’m still editing,” or “While that cover is on order I’ll make sure my e-book is formatted,” or even the time-honored “I deserve a vacation,” but eventually the Overmind rears its massive head and thunders: “You Have To Think Of Something To Write.” (Yes, the Overmind always speaks in capitals.)

Guess where I am in the process?

Often when in this bind, I have taken the coward’s way out, and simply started another novel. Novels are easier: You have only one story to tell, and it takes a long time, so starting something new is a problem you can put off for months. But I have consciously decided to concentrate on short stories for 2017, so that option is barred. And now I am almost done with formatting The Cosmic City, so that’s no help, either. What’s boy to do?

Well, to start, he can write a blog post so he feels like he’s being creative…

The world right now is ripe with subjects that lend themselves to a science-fictional slant, problems that can be addressed through a speculative lens, making them seem less political because they aren’t happening in the here-and-now. I’ve done it before. But it’s very easy to become pedantic and transparent, which in turn makes the work hard to sell. I was hoping to focus more inwardly, touching universal truths by exploring personal truths. This, however, involves much spilling of blood all over your screen (or page, if you’re a Neanderthal like me), and we just vacuumed the carpets. So there’s that.

In the end, this is a question that I’ve faced (and answered) many times. I have developed various mechanisms over the years to deal with the issue. Most involve reading–a pastime which has suffered greatly of late–but all involve sitting down in a chair and writing.

You know, the kind of thing I’m doing right now, Mr. Overmind! This is over 400 words right here! And then there’s my tweets, they count, and I still haven’t finished formatting my book…

#SFWApro

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