Yes I still blog, yes I’m still alive, yes I’m still playing with my imaginary friends and writing about it. And yes, I still read what other authors are going through in their own journeys in hopes that it helps me through mine, and I hope that my scribblings might at least encourage a few others to keep going.
Today’s topic: In Search of the Unknown. (+10 Internet Awesome Points to anyone who gets that reference without using a search engine.) A little backstory is, like in most good fantasy novels, necessary. Last December, I began writing an epic fantasy trilogy, after writing eight or nine mostly modern fantasy books that never went anywhere past my desk. I began the process by sitting with my notebook, visualizing The Writer, The Muse, and three or four actor-characters on an empty stage, discussing what project they were going to come up with next. And even though I had a lot of fun with this method, I finally lowered the curtain, took their notes, and began writing Part One, Book One, of a projected three or four book epic. Sorry, E.P.I.C. There would be competing systems of magic. There would be an old religion and an upstart. There would be Knights and young men and women and armies and riots, all caught in a string of events beyond their control. And most of all, there would be a Dragon, unlike any I had ever read about before. And so, pen and laptop in hand, I charged on in, writing 2000 or more words a day, with just about as much of an outline as what I’ve given you already.
I finished Part One at around 100 pages or so, took a breather for a day, and charged on to Part Two. By this point, the cracks were already showing up in the edifice that I’d tried to build on my ideas, but I was nothing if not determined to finish this. When I wasn’t writing, I would daydream in numbers… 60,000 words a month, 360,000 words in half a year, maybe a little more, then editing, revising, and finishing before the same date rolled around a year later. So what if I didn’t know WHY things were happening in my world? or WHY certain religions had issues with each other? or WHY the government was trying to consolidate its power, or what the Knights were doing, or what my three young protagonists were to do next after being pulled adrift in the seas of fate? I was a writer! I could push through and fix it later! I was…
Yeah, I was stuck. Hard. I fell into the type of writer’s block that resulted from me overwriting my plans and imagination, and refusing to stop and ask for directions, or to plot out a new path. Part Three sputtered and faltered a few times, and I finally found myself spending the spring and summer working on another project. The few times I looked back at Parts One and Two, I could tell that there were serious issues in my story from Day One. I felt like a traveler on the side of the road, wondering why his car just broke down in the middle of a road trip, and ignoring the fact that he had never changed the oil, checked the tires, or paid attention to the warning lights and unusual handling or shaking or braking of the vehicle for the entire trip. Yet the story, like the concept the driver had of the cross-country road trip, would not leave me alone. My characters felt like they had spent a lot of time making up the story for me, and they weren’t going to let me off the hook.
So I decided to back up and start over, something that is ten times harder for me than starting in the first place. I was inspired by either a Tweet or a Facebook Post by my writer-friend Davide Mana (link goes to his blog, though I highly recommend his books, which you can and should buy on Amazon) in which he said he was committing to writing a 100,000 word novel between September and the end of the year. He even pointed out that he would be able to write it at less than 1000 words a day to hit that goal. And the whole time I’m thinking, “Book One of my Trilogy is supposed to be 100-120,000 words… hell, I could do this. I should do this!” And that was why, after a few days of reorganizing my Scrivener folder into a Draft, an Old Draft, and a World Book, I set off on 20 September 2017, along the old pathways but heading for unknown country.
I made the decision to type everything from scratch (Scrivener’s split-window worked really well for this), which was difficult, but I think essential… copy-editing would have left all the problems I had noticed when I reread the thing, and these problems were ones that went down to the very foundation. The other decision I made, perhaps the hardest one, was to only write 1000 words a day. Understand… I wrote my first novel at that speed, my second at 1500, and from then on, 2000-2500 words a day, so it took me a little while to get used to that snail’s pace. And it took me even longer to get over the irrational conviction that I was failing by writing too slowly, or not writing the way I knew I should be writing. That took a lot more time and mental energy than I’d like to admit.
Once I saw the snail leading my book along take its time to step around all the obstacles and dead ends in my book, though, I fell in love with this new writing regimen. On the days when I had the time and inclination to write more (which was usually five or six days a week) I spent that time in my World Book, writing about the characters, their cities, their culture. My model was the World Building Leviathan from KittySpace, but my energy came from a drive to tell my story and a need to have more material to work with. I still had dark memories of not knowing why things in my complex fantasy world worked the way they did, or stumbling in the middle of a scene because I didn’t know what was inside my characters’ heads, or especially what the supporting characters (NPCs for you fellow gamers out there) were up to, and that made me plan and outline and write background information like never before.
That brings me up to this weekend. My rewrite, up until now, has added more depth to my story, along with at least 10,000 more words, but after this last chapter, I will be at the point where my story stalled before. And even though I have a rough outline of the entire trilogy, and a five-page synopsis/ outline of this book, I feel like one of my own characters, clutching a scrawled map in one hand, a guttering torch in the other, and facing the dark, impenetrable forest that stymied my efforts at crossing it once before. I know that this time, I’m better prepared, though I’m still concerned that all of the gear in my backpack is stuff I’ll use once over the month-long journey ahead, and the stuff I really need is back at the base camp. And I can see things in the dark trees and undergrowth, the scrub jungle, telling me to walk around, or maybe travel another day.
But, my team of adventurers behind me depends on me to forge a path, and write about it. Hopefully, I do it in such a way that makes them proud.
Good luck with your weekend, and the next few weeks, everybody.
READING: Two books… finishing up David Copperfield (which is decent, but really testing my commitment to being a hardcore Dickens fan… I might have to go back and reread Bleak House as a present to myself, afterward), and a Victorian Ghost Novel called The Uninhabited House. The latter is not frightening at all (indeed, I suspect it wasn’t written to be frightening), but the characters are fascinating and enjoyable. This book I also tried to set down after 25 pages or so, but they (especially Miss Blake) kept stepping into my head and telling me to read the rest of their story. I’ll be back with full reports once I finish them.