The purpose of this blog is to provide a place for me to express the stories that boil out of me. Feel free to comment, critique, congratulate, or hate. To create is to live.

September 16, 2015

The Process - The World Building Trap

I write science fiction and horror.

I love it, I really do. Inventing worlds, creating monsters, and portraying the fantastic. These things are pure joy.

That said, it’s a freakin trap!

What do I mean?

Well, it’s seductive. It’s much easier to write background material than to actually write a story. After all, the only audience is you so why the hell waste time on polish, presentation, or coherence when you can just type away? These documents are your personal notes so it doesn’t really matter. That’s why there’s a certain comfort in creating encyclopedic write-ups on obscure and “super cool” things that you’ve come up with.

Hours, days, months, even years can be spent down this rabbit hole of invention all before you get the first paragraph of a real story penned.

That’s when the true horror of the trap reveals itself. You can spend so much time exploring your fascinating invention that you have no more stories to tell. You wrote all this background history where crazy awesome things happened but you resolved the conflicts before your story started. Or, perhaps worse, you were so in love with exploration that you didn’t write inherent conflicts and story hooks that would create an actual narrative.

By the time you feel you’re “ready” to start your actual story there’s nothing left in the tank.

So if that’s the danger, why bother with world building at all? Why not seat of the pants the whole setting while you tell your story? Why not boldly plumb the depths of your imagination while in the grips of your daring tale?

Some people do that very thing and it CAN work for them. However that creates a couple of different potential traps that, in my experience, are a just as deadly. You can write yourself into a story ending corner or you can be paralyzed out of a flow state because you can’t think of what’s around the next bend when the characters are doing their natural thing.

The truth is that you will always need to invent stuff for your world and it will burn mental cycles. It’s part of the whole telling a story thing. Given my focus on trying to stay in a flow state I’d much rather burn those cycles when I don’t have to stay in the moment. I’d rather know how the nanites in the protagonist’s blood work before the bad guy hacks them. However that leaves me vulnerable to the trap and that cannot stand.

The solution, like for most things, is probably in following a middle of the road approach. For a specific idea I’ll do a small amount of world building or world refining along with structure work before starting the actual story. However I start writing the story when I’m only 20-50% through the building bit. That way I can work on tone, mood, and voice without falling into the endless building trap and actually generate content in the process.

I just can’t do a seat of the pants story to completion. I’ve tried. Anything more than say 500 words needs some outlining and building before I can get it into a reliably complete-able state.

Silver lining though if you have fallen into the world building trap: All that stuff you built? You can strip mine the hell out of it to make other stories so the effort isn’t totally lost.

September 14, 2015

The Process - Just Write!

Over the last year I’ve taken my writing much more seriously. First I worked on the process, drilling down into what motivates me to create, trying to narrow down the things that get me into a good flow state, and separating out the things that pull me out. I read more. I listened to more podcasts. I communicated with other writers more. I did a lot of things but the process improvements are what have really stuck.

The best piece of advice I got was “just fucking write.” That sounds ludicrously stupid I know. After all, if you’re having a hard time writing, how the hell can you just do it?

Turns out it’s the anxiety and the pressure that’s the problem for me. If you are trying to create perfect prose every time you sit down at the computer you will only type out what you think is perfect. You will lose precious time and creative energy stressing about just the right turn of phrase when you should just be getting your ideas on the page as rapidly as possible.

There are many methods to help with this kind of thing and I tried several to figure out what would work. I tried to have a more efficient computer. I tried typing on portable options like my iPad. What ended up working consistently though was about the lowest tech and cheapest approach I could find.

It turned out that handwriting IN PEN in a composition book was the best way to get stuff out of my head and onto the page at a good clip. With pen there’s no chance to edit, well no easy chance, and you are forced to move on instead of getting stuck trying to make things perfect. I ended up generating and finishing stories at a rapid pace because I was writing every day without anxiety or worry. My notebook also lacked distractions like Facebook or video games.

The trouble of course was digitizing my handwriting later. I can’t afford to do much in terms of scanning, voice recognition, or otherwise letting a computer do the work. I had to manually enter the text I’d written. That forced me to face the horror of my handwriting especially if I’d put off digitizing for a few days and what I’d written wasn’t super fresh in my mind.

This is the writing process. This is what’s let me get to the point of actually submitting work to various markets. This is, hopefully, the path that will get me finishing my novel.

Luckily editing is comparatively easy for me once it’s in the computer and I can do it without needing to be in a flow state. Now I must figure out how to push through the fatigue and keep that state going even when I want to stop and do something else.