Sunday 14 June 2015

Tinkering (and thoughts on not writing)

Both real life (TM) and a couple endless computer games are taking up my time - Dragon Age: Inquisition was eventually beaten senseless by The Witcher: Wild Hunt. While DA:I is kinda pretty and I've built a very gorgeous if somewhat clueless inquisitor, the Witcher is just so much prettier, and I love the Slavic slant to the whole thing. It's also much, much better written.

If anything, both would make me want to write fantasy or something with magic, except that my block's still here. I've done some writing exercises and enlisted a colleague at work (we'll be working our way through a book with writing exercises together), but the thought of sitting down to write gives me a feeling of vertigo. Like I'm supposed to fling myself off a cliff without wings. And I'm no good with heights. Never have been.

One of the writing exercises was to write 10 first sentences, for example, and I could only complete the exercise when I looked at my spreadsheet - all the unwritten novels that exist as pure ideas at the moment. There wasn't a new story among any of them. Though I did it, and of the 10, 7 are workable, and of those, 5 are pretty compelling. But still that sense of "what the fuck am I doing here", that I never used to have.

There's some new stuff - in 2013, Lori and I wrote most (70%) of a historical romance novel together, and we wrote the missing bits a couple months ago. Right now, I'm trying to beat the historical parts of it into shape - I've reached the point of exasperation where nothing seems to fit and I have to go back and hit the research books and find a way to make its internal timeline work. It's much more in the vein of Unhinge the Universe than Nightingale, and one of my favourite co-writes with Lori. I still try to wrap that process by 1 July.


It does feel like I need to reinvent myself in some way, do things differently, but I'm not getting any answers in what way, shape or form. Holding the course and waiting for things to change hasn't worked during the last two years. So the search continues.

I should probably make a list of everything that I feel is impeding my creativity, and then separate those into factors I can control (targets, goals) and the factors I can't control (low sales/expectations/the whole publishing process/rights/sub-rights). I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I don't get the same pleasure out of writing that I used to. The problem might be simply that everything that happens *after* the writing (the editing, the marketing, the publishing, the selling, the reviews, the "industry") has become entwined with the creative process. I used to enjoy all that - but now it all looks like endless drudgery. I still enjoy interacting with readers, but the whole rest of the process could go to hell as far I as care.

So it looks like I'm in danger of turning into the very thing I used to sneer at - the writer who's living in their garret and wants to "only write". (That same writer is usually in danger of selling everything to an agent or publisher when they promise him, "We'll deal with the business, don't worry your pretty little head, and go write" - which is usually a disastrous decision as they run away with rights, money and all control.) And how can I can be that writer if I have zero motivation/urge to write?

I've turned and twisted this around several times over. I could start a new pseudonym and write something else  - one way to escape the aspects of the "industry" that I find increasingly oppressive. It does mean to start over from zero, in a field where I'm a nobody, and I can't fall back on any of my old contacts. Say, if I were to self-publish with that new pseudonym, I'd need to really keep that a secret to avoid the whole thing catching up with me again - new editors, new cover artists, new formatters, etc. Not that I think people couldn't keep a secret, and more for a clean break away.

And how fair is that to the readers who tell me, "I'd read the phone book if you'd written it"? The people who are there for my voice and less for what I'm writing about? I'd leave those behind as well.

And there's no way I could support another "me" - website, blog, Twitter, social media presence. Not to sell, mind you, but to connect to those readers, too. I'm already doing a pretty lousy job just being two people.

I've been looking at a few mainstream ideas, and maybe they'll happen. Both of them are ideas that require months of research - possibly years, considering how little time I have these days.

And starting again anywhere new GLBTQ fiction - that's the problem. My voice is its own thing. I've spent 25 years cultivating my "voice". Readers tell me at conferences, "you sound exactly like in your book/blog/twitter". There's power in authentic, from-the-heart speech. By my voice people will recognize me, regardless of the name on the cover. All those years I've written about things that are close to me and therefore revealed a lot about myself. I can't write under a "mask", as it were. Suppressing "voice" once you got it is damn near impossible, at least for me.

There is, of course, the option to write but not publish and go back to "writing just for myself". But I've usually had at least a few people I shared my stuff with. People I really wanted to read my stuff. People who kept me on track, sometimes, or at least somewhat accountable. People who wanted to know "how the story ends". They certainly weren't the reason to write, but they were part of the reason to write harder - to produce somewhat consistently.

See, I can enjoy the company of my characters simply in my own head. I don't have to "do" anything with them. On any given day, I have Silvio up there and the eagle guy, and sometimes walk-ons, like Franco or recently Armin (the latter is better at snark than Franco). A couple days ago, Martin showed up, just dropped in and told me that he and Francis are doing really well - it was vivid enough that it almost felt like a scene I could write (though it had no plot). I don't need to turn any of that into stories - I'm Legion up in my head, and the guys are keeping me entertained.

So it comes down to - why publish? And, on a deeper level, why write?

I used to say or think, "because I can't not write", but clearly, I can. I have been very successful at not writing for a good 12-18 months now. Many people go through life and never write a word.


  1. For what it's worth, here's my advice. Stop beating yourself up over it. Clearly now is not the time for answers and (in my experience at least) the harder you chase answers when they're not forthcoming, the further they seem to retreat. I have a very hard time imagining you not writing again, but maybe you should give yourself time to really miss it . After all, you may not have been doing a lot of (new) writing recently, you were still involved in finishing books and getting those ready for publication. The withdrawal has not been complete so to speak, and maybe you need to ignore it completely before your heart and mind can decide what to do next. Maybe if you could just leave the question alone for a while the answer will come by itself, probably at a time you least expect and need it :)

    Also, a question: That writing book you're working your way through, is that 'The Author's Way'? I did that years ago and really enjoyed the exercise even if it took me years before I actually sat down to write a story from start to finish.

    What ever happens next I wish you happiness and success.

  2. I completely feel every single word in this post. I've been sitting on this same ledge for months now - wondering whether to keep going or pull back and wait for the pleasure of writing to find me again. Thus far, I've pushed through, but frankly, I know that can't continue.

    Good luck.

  3. Sometimes one needs to take time out & consume rather than produce...

    If I'm struggling with writing but have characters nagging me, I find sometimes indulging in a different form of creativity is the sort of rest my brain needs - sewing, woodwork, and drawing are my usual fall-backs (I'm improving at the first, ok but lacking a workshop with the second & pretty damn shit at the third, but somehow it works)...

    That said, I'm at a completely different point with writing to you & if I've ever suffered true writers block, I can't remember it right now, so *shrugs & hugs*

  4. There's something valuable in the struggling, in the questioning, in the doing and in the abstaining. You have to question to own; it's something I remember from when I went through Confirmation--raised Catholic. I think it leads to understanding, but I've never tried to be a writer. Having read your books, some of the scenes replay in my mind over and over again and I think about the characters and situations. Happens with some other writers' stories too. They make good company.

  5. As a reader, I'd truly mourn the loss of your "voice" in m/m genre. For selfish reasons, I would ask you to not stop, to keep going, keep producing...but again, selfish. I said to you once something along the lines of "find your happy". Be happy. I can't tell you how to navigate through the emotional maze you've got going on, how to clear out the confusion and find a direction; I'm in the stage of writing where I honestly can't NOT write. I get that. So I cannot see a time, from where I'm at now, where I wouldn't want to write. I see what you're going through, and I think in some small way I'm seeing my future. Aleks, I can hear how tired you are, how much you want to escape the bothersome trappings of the writing profession. Maybe stepping back is what you really need, until the day comes when the words flow out of you and bring joy, and no longer feel like a burden. The block may be there because you aren't ready yet. Let the block come down on its own, and enjoy your life. Enjoy happiness, and when the time is right, you'll know.

  6. I hear you. 160 hours later?

    When we meet up in the UK we can talk about DA Inquisition and why The Wild Hunt is so much better. Then we can play a game of Gwent.

    Personally, I made sure he didn't end up with either Yen or Trish. Yeeks!