Friday, April 24, 2015

Smashing Words


I've been feeling like I'm getting dumber by the year. It's a common feeling. The more you know, the more you notice all the gaps in your knowledge. The more you know, the more you realize how much more there is to know.

And I seem totally unable to keep from adding new fields I try to -- well, "master" is the wrong word. Maybe "Be semi-competent at." I've really been pushing on the props-making this past few years, which has meant learning machining practically from scratch, plus picking up a lot of smaller skills in laser cutting, vacuum forming, 3d printing, PCB layout, etc. Before that, tons of sound/recording stuff and a big hunk of programming. Before that (more or less as I started to get heavily into FOH mixing and theatrical sound design) music theory and arrangement.

And before that was writing.

They say you need to write one million words before the decent ones start to flow. I wrote probably two dozen short-stories in the 10K range before I dared send one out. About another dozen that I did dare send out. And two novels...well, 1.9 novels. The first I stopped a few chapters short of the end of the first draft. Somehow, it wasn't working for me. The next struggled through first draft, second draft, third draft, and I dared send it out, too.

Which kind of burned me out on writing. Both the hard push I did to finish it, but even more, having the novel travel out to publishers over the next three years and thus being unable to let go of it.

I was unable to write for some time. Finally crawled back in with fanfic. Fan fiction exercises the same muscles, but it is like gym climbing to the great outdoors; it feels safer, like less is at stake. ('s a good analogy when I think about it. Fanfic gets you more feedback and less scratches. You aren't risking getting those oh-so-polite rejection slips in the mail, but you are getting the easy accolades of the other guys and gals hanging around the gym.)

But I did send out a few short stories anyhow. Still no publication, but two of the editors gave me personal replies, at least. That's something.

And over a few years the fanfic hit a pretty respectable word count itself. My AU Sailor Moon opus hit 100,000 words (and it hasn't even finished the first season of the TV show!) And my Tomb Raider/Stargate cross-over, with the monster 8K chapter I just crunched out, has now hit 60,000.

Which brings me up somewhere around 800,000. Which with the error bars is, I think, close enough.

When you've done a lot of work of any kind, but especially creative work, it is tough coming back to older work. I don't actually know which is harder; to look back and go, "Man, I can't believe I actually showed this to anyone," or "God, I had some talent then! Where did it all go?"

I do know for sure that my reaction coming back to basically any code I've ever written is "I can't figure out how the hell this thing does what it does!"

The thing that I've been saying for decades is that writing is tough because you have to juggle so many elements at the same time, and a novel is basically impossible because there's no way one human mind can hold everything in it at the same time.

The novel becomes impossible to dissect, difficult to even perform surgery on, because there are bits and pieces in every scene that lead all over the place connecting and tangling with other bits and pieces. In every single scene there are plots being discovered and character arcs progressing and descriptions being developed and progress being made and explanations being given to the reader and taking one scene out makes bricks fall in a dozen different places -- many of them unexpected.


Today I opened the file of that first half-way decent novel and I found I could run my finger down all the anatomy. I could hold the thing in my head, at least well enough. All that practice since, that half-a-million words or so spilled since I tried to publish it, seems to have actually done something.

Yeah, sure, I've forgotten a lot. I'm rusty, too. And worse, I've fallen into habits of expression that are not good and that do not fit the patterns and cadence of that old novel. I use the dash way too often these days. I tend to place things in threes more often than not -- with or without the Oxford Comma.

And not that there aren't problems with the novel. There's a fat-shaming bit that needs to use a different tool for what it is trying to accomplish, and a bit of business in Chapter 16 that totally has to go. And there's a persistent odor of what TVtropes calls "Fangirl Japanese," even though I came by it semi-honestly via Jo Clayton (who made very good use of fragments of various imaginary languages woven into her text with nothing but context to guide the reader in understanding them.)

But right now, as I look at it, I feel I could straighten up the big structural problems (in the early chapters) in less work than it would take to write the next chapter in my current fanfic.

Because right now, that 1,000+ click-thru I hit at fanfiction dot net is sounding really damned good: even at 50% royalties on a cheap Kindle book. And published in ebook is no longer the kiss of death (if I was still worried about that).

And there's good stuff in it. Sure, it only tells the tale. It doesn't do what a really good book does; it doesn't add that extra something that the rest of the tale is simply foundation for. But it does the basics and does them, I think, well. There's poetry in some of the descriptions, bathos here and there, the cultural settings feel real with tantalizing tidbits. The situation is silly but not utterly implausible, and the characters are thin but generally likable.

I've felt for a while it was worth getting on line even if I never made a penny from it. I feel strongly enough that it isn't a waste of time to read. I've just held off because there are bits that bother me too much to let go without editing, and I couldn't face the editing. But now I think I can.

Besides. I almost feel like I could write another novel now. Almost.

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