I have a new schedule. My assistant/manager/wife and I worked it out recently, and right before I was to start the schedule, I got sick. I think what I had was allergy related, but while I didn’t feel horrible, I felt terrible. I couldn’t focus, and I slept an inordinate amount of time. I didn’t write a lick. I’m just not that disciplined yet. On my new schedule, Tuesdays are supposed to be when one of two blog posts per week drop. The post that I would have posted today should have been written written last week and edited yesterday, but that didn’t happen because … well the schedule wasn’t yet in place.
So I’m going throw something together really quickly and call it done. Congratulations, you’re here for my version of a flashback episode.
WEAVING A DREAM or HOW I GOT STARTED AND WHERE I LANGUISHED
Several years ago, around 2010, I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time. It was a staggering flop. I wrote maybe 15,000 words. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing or where I was going to go with what I wanted to do with the writing. Plus I have to admit that I’m just not as disciplined as one really needs to be to complete 50,000 words in thirty days. Plus I’m ridiculed with self doubt and a really negative inner voice. “You always sucked in English class.” “You have a hard time sitting down to read for more than a minute.” “You are untrained and unskilled.” Honestly, I’m a fucking asshole to myself.
I tried NaNoWriMo again in 2011 or 2012 with an even worse record, so I shelved the idea, the dream. I mean really? Who was I to think I could write a book? If I did, it certainly wouldn’t be any good.
But I’m a glutton for punishment.
I am usually the DM for my D&D games, and I love coming up with complex scenarios and interesting and unexpected surprises for my players. So I always kept looking for helpful hints and perhaps classes that could teach me the fine art of creative writing if for no other reason to help me with my gaming, but honestly I wanted to “legitimately” ‘learn’ how to be an effective writer. Nothing ever fit however. Every option was too formal, or too intimidating, or too … whatever. Then I stumbled upon writeaboutdragons.com, a website constructed by a student of Brandon Sanderson’s 2013 creative writing class at Brigham Young University. The student recorded the entire lecture, and I watched the complete set of videos multiple times – often while playing Minecraft.
For me the class was everything I was looking for because frankly, I fucking love Brandon Sanderson. And the cool thing is he’s a giant nerd too. He plays Magic the Gathering and writes really neat fiction. He’s kind of goofy and really nice. He was in the band in high school. I like to think of him as ME if I hadn’t let anyone tell me what to do in college on my first go around. Sorry. You have to forgive my grandiose dreams. I do love my fiction, but the similarities between him and me are pretty convincing. I mean I *do* play Magic (well used to). And I *am* kind of goofy (No qualifiers, it’s true). And I *am* a really nice guy (even if I am a real asshole to myself and have a horrible sense of what one should and should not say in polite conversation). And I was even in my high school band. The similarities are almost endless!
So I started to write again, but this time I tried to do some of the things that Brandon outlined in his class that I had never done, namely come up with a full plot first. I wasn’t successful with my next attempt – well not at completing the book … yet, but I did craft a pretty nice little story for myself. It was the first thing that I’ve written that people asked for more of. I finally thought, “Hey I might actually be able to do this. Some. Maybe.” My friends and family were there pushing me on, and that was really nice, but what do they know?
SITTING DOWN TO SEW FOR THE FIRST TIME or WHERE AND WHEN I REALLY STARTED
In 2014 I wrote a short story to be read at the Writer’s Symposium being held at GenCon 2014. My fabulous friends and family were encouraging me to write more. So being both horrified at the idea and delightedly giddy, I wrote a short story, revised it several times, and read a portion of it in front of four complete strangers, all accomplished editors. It scared the crap out of me. They gave me honest if lengthy critiques, and I was happy for it, but I wanted to go further than just that. I needed a full review of the work by someone in the know, not just friends and family.
The San Antonio Writer’s Guild short story competition was accepting entries shortly after my GenCon adventure. I took my short story, applied the critique I received at the panel, and revised it once more. I submitted the story. The first round of judging was performed by two separate individuals. These two judges were very different. The first really liked what I had done and gave me very high marks across the board. I think this individual was exactly the kind of person for whom I should write horror. The second judge … well based on the second judge’s grading, I felt like I had re-encountered my most stringent grammarian high school teacher. Not the one who “got me” and wanted to encourage my creativity, but the one who wore a mask of WTF while reading my work. Most of the marks were high, but a few were very low. Regardless, the two combined scores were enough to get my entry into the second round of judging. (Yay, thank you judge who got me!).
The second round of judging in the horror category was done by Joe McKinney. He said some very nice things about my ability to creep a reader out, which was my goal, but suggested that my story fell short in that because the story was told by a dead protagonist and the ending suggested that there was more after, it could really only end up being a revenge tale. I disagreed, but if I didn’t get across what I intended to get across, then I didn’t do my job as a writer. So it doesn’t matter if I disagreed or not. I framed Mr. McKinney’s judgement and I have it hanging above my writing desk. I count it as a win, even if I lost the contest.
After receiving my scores and review for the short story, I was delighted because I knew that I could do this writing thing. I had only written a couple partial novel attempts, and I canned them all while I wrote the short story. They remain canned for the time being as I started a novel based on my short story which was a diary entry of a young French woman living in 19th century Paris – who gets killed by ghouls. My novel would include additional diary entries which would be discovered and translated by a man in the 1980s. I have almost a dozen rough, first drafts of novel entries of this young woman / ghoul as she tries to pass as normal while fighting off her hunger and discovering her supernatural powers. It’s fun.
Since the contest, I’ve attended several day and half-day long writing classes through The Writers’ League of Texas. I’ve watched many Writer’s Digest Tutorial videos. I’ve been on a week long retreat in Alpine, Texas, and I even took a two day class in Houston under Dave Wolverton. Without that one short story, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do any of those things. It is almost sad in a way that I could have missed all those wonder opportunities had I never gone to GenCon or had my story been judged differently in the contest, so I’m very grateful for that success.
SEAMS PULL LOOSE or SHIT HAPPENS
One thing I really desire as a writer is a writing group, a group of people going through the same process as me and needing the same kind of encouragement that I need. That would be cool. I almost had an online group, but people started dropping out pretty quickly. I am now a member of a couple different Facebook groups, but that’s not the same. Not having someone that can read my stuff, knows what I’m struggling with, and holding me accountable when I slack off has been frustrating. In San Antonio there is the San Antonio Writer’s Guild (SAWG) which seems awesome … in the same way that the Library of Congress is awesome. I’m certain that there’s a metric shit ton of talented writers with a plethora of experience in SAWG, but I doubt (logically and emotionally) that my style or genre of writing and my neophyte status would be properly appreciated. And I have to admit, I’m not a big group kind of guy … not for this kind of thing. I want a dedicated group of about 4 to 8 writers who all love fantasy and horror. I want it. I want it. I want it. [babycrying.gif] Anyway, I don’t feel comfortable at the SAWG meetings. I feel … like an angry pimple, ugly and unwanted, ready to burst. I may not be true, but truth is irrelevant here. To make matters worse, SAWG seems to swallow up any smaller groups that are lacking leadership or structure in the San Antonio area. This may be for the best for those groups, but in my mind it already makes a monolithic group that’s already too big for me just that much larger.
Since I couldn’t have my complete way with writing groups, and since Destiny (the video game – don’t play it, it’s too good even when it is bad) has dominated most of my time, I haven’t written more than about ten thousand words in the last several months. I did cross the threshold of actual novel in my word count, which delights me, but I’ve been sitting on that spot for weeks. Longer even. My writing habit has been pulling apart at the seams, and I was simply letting it.
Have you ever simply sat back and watched a facet of your life crumble knowing you had the power, but not the drive, to change it? Well if you haven’t then let me tell you this. It sucks. In situations like this I often feel like if I cannot fix this thing that is falling apart, and fix it perfectly, then I shouldn’t even bother trying. THIS IS BULLSHIT! and I know it, but sometimes that’s not enough. So I sit and watch. Then occasionally I think to myself, “Hey jackass! Why not just pull the seam strings a little and at least slow things down a bit?” Occasionally I actually get off my ass and do exactly that. Sometimes I do more. I’m now trying to do more.
PULLING THINGS BACK TOGETHER or PULLING THINGS BACK TOGETHER
There’s something about this time of year, after all the hectic holidays are over, that makes me want to write. Plus Lent is upon us, and I am tasked with trying to come up with things I can do or things I can give up that will help make me a better person and the world a better place. I haven’t figured out the world so much, so I usually work on the ‘me’ part. Maybe one day, my example will help the world in some small way. Who knows? But it does bring me to now, the schedule, and my determination to make myself a more disciplined person, a more skilled person, and a more successful person who, perhaps, isn’t such a dick to himself.
I’ve written one short story and posted it to my site, “Draug Counts to Ten.” My first draft was over two thousand words. I cut it down to under fifteen hundred, but honestly I think some of the revisions took out a lot of the soul of the story. Lesson learned. I have couple more short stories about Draug coming in the future. I have another short story that everyone wants to think was inspired by American Gods except that I haven’t read that work yet. I’m currently revising that one. I just need to ensure I don’t lose the soul of the story in the process. Finally I have a fantasy story that involves another monk, though this one is a lizard man. I’m trying to go with a pulp fiction style of story with him. We’ll see how that goes.
So basically when it all comes down to it, it seems like I’m actually making some progress. I sure hope so. I just have to be sure to continue without quitting forever. I started blogging years ago. I didn’t post often though. If I had maybe I’d be further down the road, but I can tell that my writing in general continues to improve. If you are like me, if you doubt your very dream, if you don’t think you are worthy of the very goal you are attempting to pursue, then join me in standing up and saying, “Ya know, maybe all this self doubt is pointless … and maybe, just maybe, that little voice in my head should just go fuck off.”
And you know what? Even if you can’t say that right here and right now. That’s OK. Tomorrow is a new day. While you’re waiting on tomorrow to come though, why don’t you go ahead and just jot some ideas down in a notebook? Perhaps one day you’ll look back and inspire yourself with the genius hiding inside.
© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.