Yesterday, I wrote a poignant reflection for this blog, a far deeper and more moving piece than I than I normally post – every writer will identify with the experience and depth of feeling – As it came out very late compared to my normal posting, and because I’m going out today and have nothing else prepared, I will point back there so that those who might have missed out may see it.
It’s been a long time since reams of the finished product has been seen spewing from your printer, that wondrous machine of sound and light once upon a time delivering the majesty of your work into physical form, now sitting there, dormant, silent, a black box with no mystery at all about it anymore – a layer of dust speaking of a lack of appreciation or, worse, contempt.
Your desk has been abandoned. Not tidy, mind, never that – just left, as though you got up one day meaning to return and just… didn’t. Your chair sits there waiting. A cat or two might take your place for awhile, but it’s not the same thing. The writer is gone.
Where are you now? For certain it’s not anywhere in this world. Your eyes are glazed, unfocused, your mind as far from the concerns of the flesh as your hands are from that keyboard at your desk.
Yet you breathe. Gently, to be sure, with no strain – but also with no hope, no heart. Why did you ever try so hard? It’s no easy path, being a writer.
A friend comes by and comments lightly, “Hey, you’re not at your desk, you’re not working.” And this is someone who knows you, who cares, one of the Good Guys, one of the few who understands.
Not working? Oh really?
You fade out again, staring at the sky or the wall. Maybe the TV grabs your attention for a time, but that’s just fake, you’re not really there at all, just going through the motions. You eat – do you remember what it was? You sleep, but not well. You wash, you dress, you go out when you need to. For what? Is it important? No. Nothing’s important. You do whatever you have to do and come home again. But not to your desk.
When the creative juices are flowing, any time is a good time to write, but there are layers of this creativity that will dictate whether I get out of bed at 2:00 a.m. or stay in cozy-mode, thinking and plotting – it’s the words that are the deciding factor for me – It helps if I am awake or waking up at the time, but that’s secondary to getting those words down pat.
General ideas, plot structuring and solutions to problems all can leave me snug in bed. I usually have a notepad and pen next to the bed, but I also use a mental blackboard where I’ll write key words, usually in multilayered, multicolored chalk – white, then pink, then yellow, then blue, then white again, overwriting each word in a new color to lock it down into memory. That works well for single words, short lists and short phrases. With that, I can drift back to sleep and I’ll retain that information quite comfortably.
The detailed layer, however – the one that comes with the exact words you’ve been looking for – drags me out of bed no matter how sleepy I am, because writing on a mental blackboard or even in a notepad isn’t enough and I know that immediately. This is the layer that expands as I catch it word by word. What starts off as a small paragraph turns into three or four pages or more of wonderfully detailed prose, exactly what I want. If you’ve ever thought of a great sentence and lost it again before you got it recorded somewhere, you know the frustration of that. You ‘ll do anything to catch what’s running through your mind right at that moment now that the floodgates are open, even if it is the middle of the night.
It was one of those trees that if you got to the highest spot first, you staked that position as your own and no one could top it because there was simply no place higher – so of course all the kids scampered up the tree and raced for that position – I made it, though, but then I’d called the let’s-get-up-the-tree challenge while already halfway up the main trunk (well, some of those younger kids could climb like monkeys and you had to think quick to stay ahead of them – and I had a plan).
With much screaming and scrambling, the gang of 8 to 11 year-olds, about eight of us, made it into the leafy heights, me leading the way. As I had climbed higher up the tree than anybody else, I loudly proclaimed that I was Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise and, in true Star Trek fashion, we could boldly go where no tree had gone before.
I was delighted when no one argued with me for possession of the Captain Kirk role – and then I found out why. Forget Scottie or Bones or anyone else, the entire mob of them wanted to be Spock. I chuckled as they fought it out amongst themselves – I never wanted to be Spock, even though he was depicted as alien, super smart and with some great scenes where Bones would clash with him over his inability to see a joke. But something was definitely wrong with his lack of humor.
When I published my first book and realized that I’d have to – you know – actually get out there and introduce myself to the world, the notion was alien – When you’re used to living quietly (or actively) in your own imagination, coping with the physical world on autopilot and channeling every experience into your work and into your characters, the idea of putting yourself forward and talking about – gulp – yourself is pretty daunting.
The book came out a year ago this month, on the 2nd of October 2012. It took me the rest of that month to research “blogging” and put together my own site, which I launched on the last day of that same month.
Everything was pretty new. Getting the technical side of things sorted out was actually not too bad, it was the “What will I write about?” that was much harder. I felt that there were only so many ways I could say, “Hi, I’m a writer.” I thought it would be hard work. Worse than that, I thought it would get in the way of writing.
So, what happened?
I’ve been jabbering on about Sevi and Va’el so much because I expect them to be loads of fun and absolutely explosive – that is, once ten year-old Va’el, bastard son of a bastard son of an emperor, and a tantrum-throwing brat (Va’el, not the emperor), can figure out how to tackle Sevi, an elite soldier of the Khekarian Imperial Armed Forces, a veritable killing machine with high intelligence and a high level of control – but can she cope with Va’el?
Whoops, there I go again – see how much they distract me and draw my attention? I’m talking about them once more.
Okay, okay. As you know I am working on book three of the Khekarian series (The Bastard Line), and you well know by now that Sevi and Va’el will be a fun combination that, hopefully, you are looking forward to reading. But what else is going on in the story? It’s not just about them, right?
Ever since that mega-sex scene in The Khekarian Threat (you’ll know which sex scene I mean when you get there, there will be no doubt whatsoever), my husband Greg has insisted there be more like it in the following books on the basis that readers will be disappointed if there is not – Not only that, but he claims if I can’t do a thirty-page stint in each and every book, I should at least put in six five-page stints, or some combination that equals that.
Hey, mister, I can’t just put sex scenes in anywhere.
“Why not?” he wants to know.
Because, it’s got to fit into the story, that’s why. It can’t just be added to spice things up and for no other reason – people notice that sort of thing. If you’ve got nothing else but people hopping into bed every other page, there’s not much to be said for plot.
“But six sex scenes in 600 pages is only one scene per hundred,” he reasoned (he’s quite good at that).
Where do characters come from? They don’t all jump out ready made, if they did there would likely be such similarity to them, they would be hard to distinguish one from the other – no, they evolve, every writer knows the process (even if it is not fully understandable), and this is the primary reason I love characters who go their own way and stand out – it’s their evolution happening fast.
This makes the journey an adventure for the writer as well as the reader. If a writer doesn’t have fun writing, they won’t write well or frequently. Often writer’s block will happen if a writer has spent too much time in one area, and staying in that place has become no longer fun.
Characterization is influenced by many things. As we have been talking about Va’el and Sevi, I will use them as examples.
Who the individual is counts. Va’el, for instance, wouldn’t be after a princely crown if he wasn’t the bastard son of a bastard son of an emperor. Take the “bastard” out of the equation, he would already have a crown, he would be prince by birthright. Take away the royal connection and a crown wouldn’t even be a consideration.
It’s the very fact that he’s caught between “should have” and “will never have” that he is so dissatisfied and determined to make his own fate. He knows what he wants. He’s so close to power and it might never be his.
That makes him insecure – and an obnoxious brat is what popped up when I introduced him, aged ten. It surprised me, but it fits, it makes him real.
Achieving recognition is crucial to Va’el. He might even make it – if he doesn’t push his luck and get knocked off first, that is.
Here’s how it works, my day – sort of, sometimes – nothing special, just a typical let’s-get-on-with-it morning, excluding most of the boring bits, such as feeding the cats or doing the laundry.
“Wow, it’s going to be a fantastic day.” That’s a good start to any morning.
Stare at computer screen for a couple of minutes.
Check blog stats and respond to any overnight comments, respond to comments to my comments on other blogs. Get distracted with other blogs. Catch up with political points of interest on yet more blogs.
Contemplate the Universe. Agree with it (it’s always a good idea to agree with the Universe).
It seems like I have a gazillion files laid out when I write a book, I have a file each for most characters, where I put snippets as a character develops in my mind, things I want to remember about them, and even whole scenes that will take place later on – I have several notes files, one for later notes – things somewhere in the distance – and one for immediate notes, and yet another one for dumped notes, which contain things I have discarded but hang onto, just in case I need them after all.
It all sounds very complicated, but it actually enables me to keep my working area clear. It’s very hard to organize something into place when it is surrounded by threads and scenes that, for one reason or another, may have to be shifted. If you don’t watch out, everything becomes entangled with everything else and you can’t move as a writer. Been there, done that, as the saying goes.
I don’t know how it works for you, but I have found that it saves a lot of time and effort if I keep everything separate.
Now, just because I’ve got all those files, it doesn’t mean I have them all open at once. I don’t. I actually work with only two of them, the manuscript itself and my immediate notes. As the time approaches for scenes I have already written to go in, I gather them together. I know who it is about, so I know where to get them from, and they get sent into the immediate file, where things are set out in roughly the right order. I also do most of my preliminary writing in the notes file rather than the manuscript.
From there, it gets lifted and fitted into the manuscript, usually a chunk at a time, then smoothed and polished into place. Whenever I read through my work, it is only the manuscript that I go over because that’s the end product, that’s what readers will be looking at.