Monthly Archives: January 2014

Exeunt, Pursued by a Bear

I said I was going to be sharing something every day in my prepping for the novel I’ve had bouncing around in my head, the one I intended to write this past National Novel Writing Month. And yet, I haven’t posted anything in four weeks.

“What happened?” you may be asking, unless you actually have things in your life that are occupying your mind and time.

What’s happened is this: I ran out of one of my psych meds earlier this month and spent a week with very off-kilter brain chemistry. I missed some work, I couldn’t focus on much of anything, and I could brain well enough to put words on paper–or even make notes for putting words on paper. After I got back on my meds and got my back on track, I continued to put off doing much prep and avoided posting anything here. Last week, I realized that the pressure I was putting on myself to prove to everyone that I could be and was a goddamn novelist, forcing myself to hold myself publicly accountable, was making me loathe writing at all. I had a list of novels and short stories I absolutely had to read¬†and TV shows and movies I absolutely had to watch as prep for this novel, regardless of whether or not I felt like reading or watching them. Every minute I wasn’t reading or watching from the required list or making notes for the novel was time I was wasting. And every day I didn’t post something on this blog was another reminder of what a failure I am. Giving myself the label “Writer” was depressing me. This blog was starting to feel like a stone weight around my neck.

I’m 44 years old and I’m tired of thinking of myself as a failure. The real waste of time is not doing what gives me joy and beating myself up for failing to live up to imaginary expectations. If I never get to be a published author, so fucking what? If I’m never considered a “real writer” by myself or anyone else, so fucking what? When I’m lying in my death bed and looking back over my life, I want to be happy about the time I spent doing things that bring me real joy. I want to read whatever the hell I feel like reading at the time. I want to watch whatever the hell I feel like watching at the time. I want to daydream, plan, plot, scheme, write, sketch, doodle, and play as the whim hits me. If I want to share these things with other people, that’s cool. If I want to keep them to myself, that’s cool, too. As much as I’ve wanted to be a Writer, a Novelist, a Poet, what I really, really want to be is Happy.

I don’t know what this means for this site. I’ve had the goblin-cartoons domain for over 10 years. I love the term “goblin cartoons” and still think it’s the best name for the kinds of things I like to create. But right now, I don’t particularly feel up to sharing my writing with the public or pressuring myself to produce more than I feel capable of producing. I think a Real Writer is someone who writes whether they feel inspired or not. At this point, I’m not sure I care about being a Real Writer. If being a Real Writer is showing up and doing the work, well, I’d rather wander around and play.

And I’m more than OK with that.

Begin the Begin

When I was a college undergrad, this is how I wrote the majority of papers for my liberal arts classes (which I took a lot of, being a liberal arts kind of guy):

1) get up at the crack of dawn (or just before the dawn had begun to crack) of the day my paper was due and walk to the main computer cluster on campus (because I didn’t own a computer of my own);

2) sit down at a computer with a general idea in my head of what I wanted to write about;

3) write down the words and images that were currently stuck in my head, regardless of how directly they applied to the topic of the paper (if at all), write down synonyms and homonyms of the words, come up with puns and associations that played off of the words and images;

4) skip the introduction and start writing the meat of the essay, making it up as I go based on my general topic, dancing the prose around the words and images I’d sketched out;

5) go back and write the introduction, then write the conclusion of the essay;

6) print that sucker out, run to class, turn it in. (For the record, I usually got Bs and As on those papers.)

For my fellow tabletop RPG nerds out there, here’s how I generally prepare to run a role-playing game:

1) pick the setting and game mechanic bits I like the most;

2) write down words and images that are floating around in my head, things I’d like to throw into the game;

3) write up a bunch of NPCs with strong emotions and dire needs and goals, people who will want to either try to enlist the PCs or do their best to oppose the PCs;

4) tie in the setting and NPCs into the words, images, and general themes I have in mind;

5) get the players together to make characters;

6) throw conflict at the PCs and improvise wildly.

No, I’m not a plotter, I’m a pantser. My brain just doesn’t work well with planning. When I tried planning out essays in college (or even writing them well before they were due), I got bored to the point where I couldn’t motivate myself to write them. When I tried planning and plotting role-playing games I was going to run, they turned out to be not much fun for myself or the players (while the games where I’ve improvised wildly have usually turned out to be the most fun for everyone involved). No, not everything I’ve created by the seat of my pants has been brilliant–or even pretty good–but it’s the only way I know how to create and maintain my enthusiasm.

So as I get ready to write a novel, I’m not doing much in the way of plotting it out in advance. I have a general idea of the overarching plot, an idea of where we’re going to end up, but not how we’ll get there. I’ve got a few characters broadly sketched out, but I need to develop them more and come up with a few more characters before I’ll feel ready to throw them into each other and let the story happen. I need to sketch out the setting some more, having only very vague ideas of what the setting is like. And just as important, I need to write out the words, images, and tropes I want to throw in. (I’m a huge fan of TVTropes and a big believer that Tropes Are Not Bad.) I will probably not start writing with the beginning of the story but jump in at some point in media res, then go back and write the opening of the story when I have a better feel for how I want it to begin. My brain rarely goes from point A to point B to point C and on and on to point Z in a linear fashion, so why should I try to make myself write fiction (and prep for writing fiction) in a linear way?