Friday, January 31, 2014

Punch doubt in the face

As I write this now, I have three short stories in process. I’ve found some online publications that take submissions based on specific themes for each issue. These are what amounts to writing prompts only less specific. They are fairly open. “This month is about Superheroes,” one said (I’m paraphrasing). So it’s something to bounce ideas off of, but not shackling you to a specific idea.

I think that personally, I write better when there is something there to start with. My brain craves some parameters, some kind of structure to play with. When what I could write is wide the hell open, I get all ADD and can’t stick to a single idea. My aforementioned NaNo from 2011 was one of these. It started off as a kind of anime-tropey western, that then mutated and evolved into a dystopian post-apocalyptic nightmare with zombies and mad scientists and whatever the f$%& else I could throw in. I chased every plot bunny down every rabbit hole. When it was finished, I looked at my frankenstein of a story, I looked it right in its puppy dog eyes, I looked at it and promptly buried it in a folder deep in the bowels of an 8-gig memory stick that I no longer use. I put it out to pasture.

Don’t look at me like that. You know what you did.

I think when it came down to it, I doubted. I doubted my own voice. I doubted my ability. I doubted myself. I pulled from everything else that interested me and mashed it all together, and what I saw, I hated. Because what I created wasn’t mine, it was a hodgepodge cobbling-together of other ideas, because when it came down to it, my ideas were so all over the place that I couldn’t listen to any of them. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

When I look back on that story, I know there are good ideas in there. I know that the work I did was not wasted because I learned from it. I will never write that poorly again because I’ve already done it and seen it for what it was. I can glean from it some of the good ideas and use those as a starting point, as some parameters for works in the future. Probably not the zombie ones though. They weren’t even good for zombies.

You suck, zombie.

When it comes right down to it, I’ve got to work past my doubts. Even with these short stories I’m working on, I’ve got doubts. I wrote one that I am super excited about. It is currently marinating, and will get final edits this month. I wrote it in a flash. 3500 words in a manner of days. I wrote downhill. Ideas were quick and plentiful, and I wrote with swagger coming off a contest win from January. My doubts were specks in the rear-view mirror. I love this thing, and whether it’s published or not, I am proud of it. (if it is published, I’ll be sure to shout about it on here.)

Successes like that are a double-edged sword, because as I found out, it won’t always be like that. Not even close.

I see you back there.

The one I’m writing now has me doubting again. I’ve changed the beginning three times. I’ve changed my main character twice. I’m looking back. I'm second guessing. It’s an uphill battle this time. But, I’m doing it. I’m putting one word in front of the other. Even if I only write 200 words in a night, it’s getting there.

The other night I had a panic attack. What am I doing? Why does this story suck so hard? Is this even worth it? So rather than change it and keep changing it and freak out, I stopped. I moved my cursor to the end of the story. I picked up the pieces and started putting one word in front of the other again. I wrote for awhile, calmed down, pushed the laptop away, watched a show, and went to bed. When I woke up, it wasn’t so bad anymore. Since then, I’m still doing just that. I’m putting one word in front of the other. And you know what? I shoved doubt into the mud. I gave my doubt a shoving that it won’t soon forget.

As Neil Gaiman said in an interview, no one will read your first draft. It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. It can be fixed. Just get it down however you can.

And as I say now, punch your doubts in the face.

Here’s a condensed version of that Gaiman interview

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Finding Purpose

I've been thinking about this a lot, and I think the reason that my blog never lived very long in the past is because it lacked purpose. It lacked focus. It lacked reason. It lacked any kind of anything. Having seen a lot of other author's blogs out there, it seems like the most successful ones really have a lot to say, and a lot of people to say it to. Chuck Wendig's for example is one of the best out there. If I can cultivate a blog one quarter as good as his, I'll be doing pretty well.

Now, there is in my mind a kind of chicken or the egg thing going on here. I don't really know what came first, the audience or the blog. It probably differs from situation to situation. Anyway, without either of those things (a message and an audience) I floundered.

Which is it anyway? Come on, science.

And so, I came to the conclusion that, since I don't have a ready made audience, I should at least have something to say.

But what to say?

Let me back up a little bit.

This last fall, when it came to writing, I had no direction. I have been writing fiction only a short time. Somewhere around 2009 I started writing what was basically fan fiction. I felt like it was pretty good as fan fiction goes. All the main characters all have sex with each other. That's how you do that, right? I kid. I don't want to shit on the fan fiction crowd. They are passionate about what they do and I can't fault them for it. But I have this itch to do more than just play in other people's sandboxes. I want to make my own box and put in my own sand.

I've always felt like I was pretty good at writing. I did well in school, and tested out of freshman level English in college. I had never written fiction before. I fell in love with it immediately. Since I started, I have written tons of MMO related roleplay fiction for character backstory, and stories involving my characters and my friends' characters. I've also attempted NaNoWriMo a few times, as I think I mentioned before. I "won" in 2011, meaning I wrote more than 50,000 words, but what I actually wrote was a mess. It was a mish-mosh of anime tropes and post-apocalyptic old west zombiepocalypse madness that went nowhere. But it was all mine. I consider it a learning experience and leave it at that.

Yeah, it's kind of like that.

What is my point? Do I have one? Does anyone care?

My point is that, until last fall, despite a love for writing, I had very little to show for it save a few good friends from MMOs that enjoy writing as much if not more than I do. We mentor and cheerlead each other, and one of us has actually gotten a deal for one of her novellas. I would mention her by name, but I don't want to embarrass her. She'll probably read this anyway. You know who you are.

I'm rambling again, but my point is that I hadn't finished anything. I didn't have a reason to. Then, I remembered an independent publisher called Bards and Sages had an annual writing competition. I had a short story that was close to complete that would be perfect. So I checked the rules and everything and set about completing, editing, getting some readers' critiques, editing some more, until I had something I could be proud of. I had a goal. I had something to shoot for. I submitted it last October.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that, I am a new author, but I AM an author. I authored something and I sent it out into the world. I've created. I started with nothing, and made a new story, and people read it, and enjoyed it. Isn't that really what this is all about? Is it? IS IT!? BETTER SAY YES, DAMMIT...

Ahem... sorry.

So anyway, the best thing that I can think of when it comes to giving this blog a purpose is to chronicle my journey. This is for those out there who are just starting out, who are raw, green, wet behind the ears, however you want to put it. I think a lot of us can share in the experiences of others, and to take heart that there are other people out there that are doing this thing. You can see where I stumble, where I succeed. Maybe you can learn a little something from it. Maybe you've been there and you can teach me something. I don't know. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that I have no idea what I'm doing. But, I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway.

At this point it's all I've got.

Oh, and my story. I took third place in that contest, and they are publishing my short story in their anthology available this summer. Turns out maybe I am sort of good at this. Now I need to build on that success.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Self-Aware Story of a Blog

So here we are again.

This is the story about a blog, this blog, a blog that comes from a rich pedigree of abandoned projects and waning interest. When I say rich pedigree, I mean that I've had *thinks for a second* three other blogs come before it. This is my fourth. Why have a blog at all? Well, a new Twitter acquaintance of mine, @TabKey (hey I just got that joke) posted about writers having, nay, needing a web presence. It made a lot of sense. This got me to thinking, "I've had blogs before but didn't really know what to do with them." And so, I decided to gather my focus (for you MMO Hunters out there) and try again.

I don't exactly have a good track record, but what the hey?

First, I began what I named The Nerdery. It was supposed to be a celebration of the niche interests that one can be obsessed with. Just general nerdiness like Star Trek, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, that sort of thing. This was, admittedly, much too broad of a subject for just one person to cover.

Secondly, or rather, concurrently, there was my blog of Middle Earth Stories. This was meant to be a showcase for my fan fiction and Lord of the Rings Online Roleplaying writings. This, too fell by the wayside from lack of interest on my part, and complete lack of audience. Having a Blog when you are a regular puke with nothing in particular to say is a lot like standing on your roof shouting things. Someone may wander by and hear you once in awhile, but they probably aren't going to go out of their way to come back.

My third attempt was a little more focused, and I almost made it last. Part of the reason was that I was unemployed and having a buttload of time on my hands. Part of it was that I had decided that I'm a writer and writing is what I want to do. So I posted story bits and some of my limited experiences in writing, in NaNoWriMo, or just general opinions that I felt strongly enough to write about. I even linked it to my Facebook and Twitter, and I was getting a few hits here and there. Then, a thing happened. I got a job and went back to work.

A short time ago, for reasons I can't remember, I got frustrated with social networks and online things in general. I scrubbed my presence from the internet. I wanted to start over. My blog, my Twitter, my useless timesink on Tumblr, and several other things that I wasn't using at all were deleted. I even tried to delete my Facebook, but let me tell you, good luck with that. Have you ever seen a tree that grew from a sapling right next to a chain-link fence, and the tree flesh absorbs the fence into it? Well, that fence is what Facebook is. Good luck removing it. Also it's linked to Spotify, and I love Spotify.

So that pretty much brings me to now. Three days ago, I recreated my Twitter (@Ian_E_Smith) and it happened to come right before a #pitmad. For anyone who doesn't know what this is, it is an event wherein writers can use the space allowed by a tweet to pitch their finished manuscripts in Twitter, and agents and editors look on, and pick and choose tweet-sized pitches to request a full query from the poster. I think it stands for "Pitch Madness." It was very interesting. I was kind of bummed I don't have a finished manuscript.

Where was I? I've gotten off track. Oh yeah, so this blog. I read @TabKey's post and decided it was time to give this another go. But what to name it? The Nerdery, Middle Earth Stories, and Smitty's Dreams are the names of my previous failures. I decided to go with something a little more ambiguous. I thought first of "Third Time's a Charm," but then remembered that my third blog is so much empty space on Wordpress. So, okay, what's one more than three? "Fourth Time's a Charm" sounded good at first, but as I tried various permutations of the url (all of which were taken) I fell out of love with that whole deal. Then (since I'm over-explaining my thoughts already as it is) I thought about how I don't really have a specific genre of fiction that I write. So keeping with the number four, I thought of "Genre is a Four-Letter Word." Only it isn't. It has five letters. So after five whole minutes of careful thought, I just decided with the "Fifth Letter". It's fun and just meaningless enough.

So that's this Blog's origin story. Here's hoping it lasts this time.