Posts Tagged ‘writing life’
While my work computer suffers from a brain hemorrhage (is that spelled right?), I’m going to take the opportunity, rare for me any more, to sit and ramble about a topic that’s been on my mind lately. And I’m going to start with what may be the most puffed-up, hubristic (is that a real word?) thing I’ve ever said:
I think I’m as good a writer as Neil Gaiman.
Not always; I mean, when I’m having a good day and he’s having a bad one, that kind of thing. The point is, in terms of my quality of prose, I’m in his league.
But of course, he’s a famous, respected, professional author who makes a living (and one assumes a pretty good one) with his craft, whereas I’m this guy on the internet, y’know? So what’s the difference?
My theory, at least at the moment, is volume. Neil Gaiman writes a metric buttload of stuff, all the time, and he sells it to anybody and everybody willing to pay. The sun comes up, he sneezes out a short story and sells it to some magazine, then he works on a novel for a few hours, goes to lunch and finds a Doctor Who script in his back pocket he’s been meaning to send off, then comes back home and works on his Ted talk.
He’s creating, all the time. He’s always got more stories to tell. This is where I break down.
I don’t feel like I’ve got lots of stories to tell. I’ve talked before about having tons of characters and settings but no plot: this is what I mean. This is the giant broken part of my writing craft that I’ve struggled with since forever. I’m working right now on a story idea that should flow from me like a rushing river, as it combines many things that I love dearly. Think “Jeeves, Wooster, and horrible monsters,” and you’ll get a glimmering of the notion. I should be all over that, right?
I’m not. I have no idea what happens. The characters are sitting around a table staring at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. I keep shouting at them, “How should I know? Telling me what you do is your job!” and they just keep on staring.
This is why Neil is Neil, and I’m me.
But writing and making art is what I’m here for; one of the reasons I’ve been so horribly depressed lately is that I’m not doing what it is I’m supposed to do. (Pony fans: insert a reference to ‘What My Cutie Mark Is Telling Me’ here. ‘cos I ain’t gonna do it. ;P) So if the difference between Neil Gaiman and me is volume, volume, volume, that means I need to start creating more. Anything more.
To that end, I’ve been instituting a “make something every day” policy. It doesn’t have to be a finished piece every day (and in fact, there’s no way I could do that kind of volume in the 15-45 minute increments I’ve got to work with), but it has to be some kind of progress. Obviously, more is better, but as little as a sketch or a paragraph counts. The key is that no day goes by without at least a tiny dot on the progress bar.
I think there have been results already: yesterday’s Fictionlet (the first in months) was well-received, I’ve got the beginnings of an art piece that I’m looking forward to seeing the end of, and some creative thoughts regarding my new comic idea have bubbled to the surface.
It’s agonizing, glacially-slow progress, but even that is more than the no progress I was making, say, this time last month. Here’s hoping that it snowballs.
I’m halfway through my life. I don’t have time to “hope for better things in the future” any more. I’m in my future. If it doesn’t get better now, it’s not going to.
For all my skill at prose, I always have a problem with plot. I want something that’s a bit more sophisticated than “Triangle Man hates Particle Man, they have a fight, Triangle wins!” … but when it comes to actually think up what happens, I tend to just stare at the screen (or paper) and go “Uuuuuhh… I like pie.”
This is why I like to come up with an “elevator pitch” for my stories, especially episodic things like comics– so that if I get stuck, I have a roadmap of what’s important to the story and what I should be talking about. Unfortunately, it’s very often not until you’ve got a significant amount of stuff already written on an item that the themes really start to become visible. Alas, that’s not much help when you get stuck near the beginning!
So at the beginning, or at least in the rough draft stage, it’s often handy to lean on an already-established plot, or even just lift some other story whole cloth. “Um… so we’ve got these lions, and… uh… what do they do? We know we want to have some kind of thing with the hero and his father– I’ve got it! Let’s riff off Hamlet!” But I always have trouble letting go and doing that, I think at least partially because my studies in English lit have enabled me to spot it being done so often everywhere else! And my ego resists.
But y’know, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to use an existing idea as a framework. I know my new comic has a kind of “Mad Max meets Alice In Wonderland” vibe going on, so why not use that to my advantage? Could my comic benefit from a Cheshire Cat analog? How about a Red Queen or a Mad Hatter? (And have you ever noticed the parallels between Alice In Wonderland and Wizard of Oz?)
These are things I think about when I’m noodling around, fishing for plot ideas. Sometimes it helps! Sometimes it just makes my ideas even murkier. But if nothing else, at least it keeps my thoughts moving and prevents my brain from going into the vapor-lock it always leans towards at this stage.
It’s been a rough day, and it’s only just started.
Admittedly, the roughness started last night; I was already cruising toward a fatigue crash last night when I discovered a non-me person getting a paid gig with work annoyingly close to mine, but that just sealed the deal. Unfortunately, I made what appears to have been a critical error last night by switching back to Zyrtec, hoping it would help clear up the nastiness in my throat and lungs.
Not much luck there, but it has left me feeling like a doped-up yak stumbling around in a stupor this morning, as I return back to the office after a two-week absence. I thought having the moose-like stagger was bad… it’s nothing like the doped-up yak stupor-stumble. On the way in to the office (oh, hey, I get kitchen duty today!) I stopped at Starbucks for breakfast, figuring a white mocha and coffee cake would at least take some of the sting out of it all.
And then my coffee exploded. All over my left hand.
They apparently got in a shipment of defective cups which, in the presence of hot liquid and pressure from the outside (in the form of a hand holding them) collapse suddenly in upon themselves. This causes the lid to go “POP!” and fly off, as well as the top half of the drink to come bursting out in a fountain of delicious scalding near-steam. All over, as I say, my left hand.
So now as well as stumbling around like a doped-up yak in a stupor, my left hand has melted off and I have no more breakfast. At least I’m getting a blog post out of it.
So! I’ve been going through some interesting mental gymnastics recently about my creative endeavors, which I will spare you the sordid details of (at least partially because I don’t think think they’re finished and I’m not sure I spotted them all as it is); the net result as of this weekend, however, is that I went out and bought myself a new color printer and a laminator for making artistic stuffery.
I also put together a new price list for the upcoming cons, which ended up being a lot more fun of an activity than I expected. Something about making it, jazzed me up about wanting to do more art, probably at least in part because I tried to pick some of my favorite pieces for putting onto it. Note that I said some of my favorite pieces, not necessarily some of my best pieces.
The reason I say this is because one of the things that’s been getting the way of my creative endeavors lately is the nagging sense that I’m not working on what I “should be” working on. Writing fanfic? I “should be” trying to write a proper novel! Drawing ponies? I “should be” trying to do something more grand or with a broader appeal, etc. And few things kill the joy in art faster than the word “should.”
And without joy, what’s the point of doing art? I mean. Really.
So screw it. I’m going to do the art I want to do, and stop trying to think about what would be “good for my career” or “get a lot of attention” or “broaden my fanbase” or whatever. The goal is to be having fun with it! Anything that adds to fun, is a good thing. Anything that takes away from fun, is doing it wrong.
Bringin’ the Awesome
I also had a little mini-epiphany last night while playing “Draw Something” of all the silly things. I sent a way-more-elaborate-than-it-needed-to-be drawing to another player, who sent back the message “Just a [simple thing] would have been fine.”
I wrote back, “‘Fine’ is fine, but I always try to at least aim for ‘awesome’ if I can!” I meant it as a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. The truth of the matter is, I’m not a particularly good artist– in point of fact, most of the time I’m way out of my depth. But for whatever reason, I keep aiming for awesome, even if I know I’m not likely to hit it. This used to be a constant source of frustration for me, but somehow, lately, it’s become a source of pride and pleasure. I dunno, maybe I’m channeling my inner Soarin?
Whatever it is, I like it. And I want to hold on to it.
Finally, Commission Pre-Announcement
It is widely-known, by the ten or eleven people who know such things, that I almost never do commissions. However! As I need to rustle up a few extra bucks to offset the cost of going to BroNYCon, I’m going to open up some commission slots in the next week or so. The reason I’m telling everyone now before I actually do it, is because there will be limited spaces, and in the past I’ve received flak for the way the slots opened and then closed again before people even had a chance to get one.
I don’t expect it to go that way this time– I’m not the celebrity I used to be– but better safe than sorry. So this is the official word: if you’re interested in a commission, keep your eyes open, because they’ll be opening soon.
That’s all for now! Have an awesome day.
I have finally managed to construct a complete sentence in Elvish! O.o
By which, I mean my own Elvish, not Quenya or Sindarin or any other writer’s Elvish.
Those of you familiar with my previous writing efforts may know that I did create an Elvish language for the fantasy novel I wrote some years ago, but I was never satisfied with it. First of all, it just sounded kinda ugly. Second, it was woefully incomplete, consisting mainly of about fifty vocabulary words, some incomplete cases, and a word order structure.
But real, working languages are complex things with lots of fiddly little bits. “Jane sees Spot run?” Easy. “Jane wishes that Spot would stop barking or else she intends to kick his yappy tail?” A bit more complicated. My Elvish-as-was could handle “Jane sees Spot; Spot is running.” Maybe. My new Elvish isn’t quite to the yappy tail-kicking stage yet, but it’s getting there.
Éncurod dho yrhegil aflif ydangras. Ydwandwin jútlil ulwanaras. Mér iodrad yjanlil!
I believe that the riders have reached the river. They will have crossed it at dawn. Go to them now!
“Great,” you might be saying. “But what is it good for?”
Well, that’s a tougher question to answer. Long story short, I’m doing some worldbuilding. The immediate purpose is my upcoming Pathfinder game, which is looking more and more likely to be a real thing the more I work on it. But in the more long term, well, I think I have a nice, robust world starting to form up, and I will probably begin using it for my fiction.
Is it the most original fantasy setting out there? No, and I won’t pretend otherwise. This is a setting that exists because Middle-earth in not in the public domain. On the other hand, just because the cherry tree in my yard grew from the seed of a cherry tree in the neighbor’s yard, and both trees look very similar, doesn’t mean that my cherry tree isn’t also beautiful and able to have a nifty fort in it.
…Hmm. I lost that one somewhere.
Point is, while I may be emulating the master, I’m not simply copying his work and calling it mine. The stories I have in mind for the setting to support are not the same stories Tolkien told; the issues they explore and the purposes they serve are not the same issues and purposes of Tolkien’s work. But I am using his work as a model for the kind of breadth and depth a setting (and a story) should have.
Anyway, my original idea for the RPG campaign was that I would simply use Welsh as a stand-in for Elvish, care of Google Translate, and I got pretty far into the campaign prep doing that; but as I got further and further into it, I became more and more eager to use the setting for other purposes as well, without wanting to have to go back and yank the Welsh out. And it’d be a lot easier to do that now, while I’m still in the fairly broad sketches, than it would be later, after I’ve already got dozens of maps and pages and pages of background info.
So yeah, I’m creating an Elvish language. I will also do one for dwarves (which will hopefully be easier as I’ll need so much less of it) and may at least dabble in some other regional languages. And if all goes well, this will be investment in something pretty amazing down the line.
PS: Why yes, I am a nerd, why do you ask?