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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Writing Sucks: It's Okay to Hate Your Art Sometimes

Hello hello!

Now, all the writers I know can anticipate what I'm about to say, but for those who prefer consuming media to making it, it may be a surprise. Art sucks. It's not just that drawing symmetrical eyes is difficult. Sure, there are fandom politics to deal with, as a recent ridiculous blow up in the Steven Universe fandom demonstrated. But sometimes, writing a storyline is just plain brutal.

A good example of this is The Underlighters. Sure, I enjoyed writing it, but sometimes, I didn't. I just had to write it. Same goes for After the Garden. Both of those books have scenes that were just emotionally hard to write. I won't include any spoilers, because of course, I'd prefer that you buy and read them for yourselves, but people who've already read one or both will probably know what I'm talking about.

But why is writing--or art in general--so hard? Well, there are basically three reasons. 

Writing and art can be tedious 

Art takes time. Right now, I'm working on a new productivity method--fifty words a day, fiction or blog, no matter what. My birthday? Halloween? Christmas? Doesn't matter. I will still have to write fifty words, at a minimum, that day. Sometimes I blow past this goal and write five hundred or even two thousand words, and sometimes, I just barely squeak by with the two or three sentences required to make my goal.

I tried higher word counts, and all that did was frustrate me. I tried a 'no zero' method, and that just resulted in a surprising number of zero productivity days. Something about fifty words a day really motivates me. A close pal of mine sets writing time limits. Chuck Wendig recommends three hundred and fifty words per day. Stephen King, as many people know, writes about two thousand words per day (link). I spoke to Emmie Mears recently, and they tend to write several thousand words per day over a very short span, then take long breaks. The point is, you might have to fiddle with your personal minimum, but finding it is the key to productivity.

I used to wait for inspiration, but when it didn't show up, I was lost, and I let my readers down. The funny thing is, once I get the engine going, the muse tends to hop in the car and participate the way I wanted her to in the first place. Using my new limit, I've been able to finish a first draft of The Meaning Wars, the long-awaited third book in the series of the same name.  Which brings me to...

Writing and art can be technically difficult and intricate 

OH GOD, SEQUELS. The writers are nodding and biting their lips and gnashing their teeth right now (hopefully not at the same time, because ow). Readers may be shrugging in confusion. The thing is, in addition to the famous "soggy middle" syndrome, there's a lot of stuff to handle in a sequel.

For The Meaning Wars, I had to advance and entwine character narratives, but I also had to introduce a huge new source of tension. How would my war be fought? It took me a long time to accept that I'm just not a boots-on-the-grouund military sci fi writer, and that traditional ways of describing combat and conflict wouldn't do the trick. Instead, I listened to the news and worked on chapters until the lightning bolt hit.

When I realised that I would have to use legislation and small details to convey the sense of oppression, fear, and restriction my characters would face, I got stuck again. How in the nine Hells was I going to do that without a lot of annoying exposition? Then I realised that even though I was writing in the third person, I could use epistolary techniques like news reports, letters and messages, and announcements or broadcasts. From there, it got a lot easier. I just had to think about specific, frustrating restrictions from the real world, and model obstacles accordingly.

Still, I will be working on book four soon, and after that, Monsters and Fools - the final book in The Nightmare Cycle (see above re: the Underlighters). I'm scared as hell of that sequel because the same problems will be presenting, and I have even more connective tissue to lay down! But I'm still here, still writing a blog post about it, and still refusing to give up. 

Writing can be emotionally demanding and exhausting

One of the projects I recently finished, Bad Things that Happen to Girls, was absolutely brutal. I've been pretty open about having mental illnesses, but referencing feelings from my turbulent youth and early adulthood was very taxing. The story isn't literally biographical, but it's got emotionally autobiographical elements, and that was hard enough. Some of the more vicious scenes of emotional abuse really took it out of me, and you don't even want to know how hard the ending was. But I'd been working on the story since 2006. It had gone through two full rewrites as I struggled to nail down the timeline and events, and then I had to get it edited. Compressing the timeline and wrestling the elements into place was bad enough, but the subject matter left me curled up on the couch more than a few times.

But I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I am so glad I've released these stories into the world, and I have so many more waiting to be set free. I will be in pain, frustrated, swearing, or just slogging away at a blog post in the future, and I can't wait. It's not that suffering makes you an artist--it's that being an artist makes you suffer. Creation can be gruelling and frustrating. And that's okay.

Special thanks to Emmie Mears, Chuck Wendig, and Delilah Dawson, as well as Sarah Dimento and Katie de Long, for letting me peruse their brains!


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1 comment:

As always, be excellent unto others, and don't be a dick.