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Gak! I have been attacked, sneak attacked at that.

I've been pushing on so many things that my life has come to resemble a tornado, touching down on one project just long enough to leave disaster in its wake before bouncing off to find another victim. To counter this, and give me space to do what I need to teach a class starting August 3rd that'll run for 6 weeks...I declared once I finish Molly, that's it. I'm not starting another novel (meaning writing, not prep work) until NaNo. This is a blessing because it means I won't be scrambling to finish a novel before November 1st, especially since after the class, I'm teaching another at Muse Online (remember registration closes on August 1st) and going down to World Fantasy 2009 in San Jose (meaning I won't even be here for the start of NaNo).

And those are just the big external things. I'm currently critting a novel with another in the queue, I let my Selkie edit fall to the wayside when I got overwhelmed, and I'm supposed to be editing and submitting short stories which means getting and receiving crits...and acting on them.

Do I sound frantic enough? And that's not even considering my computer work, my kids, my hubby, and plans to go on vacation a lot in the remaining days of summer.

The last thing I needed was an article on self-publishing and the concept of having to explain your life's story on a first date to cross my plate.

What do these two things have in common? Well, absolutely nothing to any reasonable person. But when have I ever claimed to be reasonable.

Enter Let Me Tell You All About Myself.

The idea crossed my mind early this morning. I wanted to pass it to a friend because it was funny, but she wasn't around. I figured I'd have forgotten it by the time she got back, and went about my business. Bad move.

That gave the story a hook into my memory because I wanted to tell it to someone. And with that hook, it wiggled its way through the barriers to that swamp I call my idea generator and started shuffling through the mud, stirring up an unholy mess.

No, this isn't an urban fantasy, science fiction, or even a romance. I can't even claim this as a crossover mainstream like Coma Wedding. Let Me Tell is a psychological mainstream novel about expectation and delusion. About building up an image that becomes so real that you start to question whether reality can compete. (Okay, I forgot about the article talking about a man whose girlfriend is a body pillow stamped with an anime character, which might have had a slight hand in this mess too.)

The closest genre to something I've completed before is a romance, but it's certainly not conforming to the genre requirements since we only meet her through her self-published autobiography. However, because of that, I'll need to come up with entries that are sweet, funny, endearing, and positively wonderful (oh and I don't do funny well :p). But mainly it's the story of a guy who finds his perfect mate between the covers of a book, and the struggle between wanting to find the reality and fearing it won't measure up.

And to make matters oh so much better (not :p), because the idea burst in upon me with such weight, it already has an almost complete initial synopsis and a handful of scene suggestions. This makes it worthless as my "work alongside" idea for the August workshop, which is From Ideas to Outline. I still have to find an idea for that...but maybe I shouldn't look too hard until the 1st has come and gone :p.
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Wow, it's been a bit since I've posted to my LJ. The absence was far from planned, but is as it is. The writing front has been a bit up and down for me through June and July, though I'm hoping to see that turn around.

I've been writing a bit of non-fiction for Vision ( and finally critting again, but on the home front, there hasn't been much fiction going on.

Molly stands about 15k from the end. It's not her fault. A combination of family stuff and a serious, knock me on my back, cold put an end to creativity for a bit. As much as I'd like to blame Molly, so I could move on to something else, it's not her fault. There's also the chance that with things so crazy, the hormone replacement isn't doing its job, a lovely thought considering that some day I'll have to go through ending the medication. But since this is affecting my creativity across the board, Molly is not to blame.

Neither is Selkie, another project currently in limbo. I had started collecting action points and possible reworks as I went through all the wonderful crits, but hit that same wall. This isn't a writer's block as much as a creativity amputation. The good news is that it's starting to fade...I'll admit needing 10+ hours of sleep a night has been a part of this mess.

Oh, and it's even affected my reading. I'm halfway through my very first issue of Neo-Opsis. I was enjoying it a lot, but just haven't read any. I started an issue of Discover magazine... The one thing I am reading is Steven Barnes' Lion's Blood, which I was thinking was too slow and I couldn't find the story and and... Until I realized that it's an epic. It's not about a specific tale. It's about a world and its people and how they interact and how their lives are intertwined. It's exactly the type of novel I love...or used to. So I'm adding this to the pile of missing creativity because all I can read right now easily are short, sweet things that don't ask for much.

Oh, and I need to do something with my hands all the time. I went to a wonderful acapella singing group with my sister and had a wonderful time, but if she hadn't given me some string to weave (okay, crochet without a hook and no, the results weren't pretty) I'd have lost it.

So...that's my update (note the extensive use of ellipses because my mind trails off all the time), and join me in the hope that it's coming to an end. For two days I slept a normal amount and had at least a couple hours of productivity, including sending Shadows of the Sun out to agents. Today was a little rough, but still some useful moments. Here's hoping to find a trend in the right direction.

Oh, and as a last note, a bunch of my first drafts have been calling of late, pulling me into the morass of new things to edit so I don't have to do the hard work of a final polish. I plan to resist until Selkie's set.
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Through Arcane Rules and Procedures, We Persevere Because We Must

This comes as a spinoff from last week's post. In the comments thread, we had a little chat about how most writing rules aren't actual rules for all that the term is uses. New writers often promote them as absolutes when picking up almost any published book would show that's not true, while the phrase, "you have to know the rules before you can break them" is frequently tossed about. However, if they really were rules, there would be consequences (and fame and fortune from breaking them successfully is not what I mean ;)).

In driving, if you run a red light, the only question is whether you're caught. You are guilty. You have broken a rule. There's no way around that fact.

In cooking, if you substitute salt for sugar just because you feel like it, someone's going to notice, and not in a positive way.

But in writing, that's not true. Some of the experimental fiction works prove even the basics, like punctuation and capitalization, are up for interpretation if you manage to do it well. There are no hard and fast rules in writing. Everything is subjective, with the only requirement for success being that you somehow catch the imagination when you do break the rules.

This is a very difficult concept for writers. Most things work on the basis of rules, not just driving and cooking in the examples above. As you gain knowledge of the rules, you automatically improve whether it's blacksmithing, piano, or the aforementioned driving.

But writing doesn't work that way. The rules are different for each writer, the dangers are different, and techniques that help one person can crush another. Even worse, there's no guarantee that with practice we'll improve. Some writers hit a plateau they can't get beyond and others peak early.

It conflicts with our understanding of life and the way things work.

The whole fear of "writing to a prompt" is based on real life where if I follow the same sewing pattern I'll end up with the same thing you do. But that's not true of writing. If we follow the same pattern, some of us will end up with masterpieces of the genre, others will end up with brilliant outliers, and still others' efforts will result in cardboard cutouts that make a reader cringe.

People scoff at romance and detective novels because they are formulaic. Those people are usually the ones who have not read any, or picked up one and dismissed the whole. Put Nora Roberts next to Holly Lisle next to Lucy Monroe next to Lynn Viehl in romance and you'd be hard pressed to figure out that they're writing the same genre. Take it even closer and choose seven Harlequin Presents novels by different authors. Some will be works of art, some will not. Some authors take the formula as a jumping off point, others stick to it rigidly. Some have a spark; others are decent stories but no more than that.

Writing is not rocket science.

In rocket science, if you put the same ingredients into the same mix, you'll get the same explosion. If you find a rocket design that works, you can replicate that design again and again and it'll still work.

In writing, even with the same author, you put the same ingredients in and get something different each time. I have certain themes that show up frequently in my works. However, the result of those themes varies radically and cross genre lines. It takes literary analysis to recognize the patterns; I know only because I have analyzed my works out of curiosity.

Authors who figure out a winning plot structure can use it again just like the rocket scientist, with one simple difference: no guarantee it'll still work, or even that it'll look the same. Successful writers take the same design and create something new every time. If a writer rubberstamps books though, they soon lose readers who despair of shelling out hard earned cash to read the same book with only the character names changed.

Writing taps into one of those places we do not understand, the hidden underpinnings of humanity that make no sense when brought to the light. When it doesn't reach into the swampy darkness, the writing comes out flat, cardboard, or even worse, bland. When it does, tears drip onto the pages, people stare as the reader bursts into uncontrollable laughter, or readers explain in detail why they hate someone to death, only to reveal that someone exists between the covers of a book.

Creativity is a mystical force. The muse is a mystical creature that none can explain or command. Creativity doesn't require practice as much as it requires nurturing. Muses are fickle and tricky, but can be wooed and bribed. Ultimately, most writers could do almost anything else, including minimum wage jobs, and earn more per hour than by writing. Forget any dreams of low stress, hanging out at pubs, sipping your tea with a finger curled as you scribble down the next masterpiece.

I've been a non-fiction editor/abstractor fulltime, I've run systems departments, and now I write and freelance. Of all of them, the editor/abstractor was the most relaxing. Systems and writing run neck and neck, and I never had to put myself in the place of an abusive, manipulating crime boss in systems ;).

This is one of the biggest struggles. We can't see the end of the trail because there is no trail. There is no promotion path laid out, no promise of an income, much less a raise, and no hopes that anything will ever get easier.

Every writer has to cut their own way, though they can borrow another's machete to make the process a little faster. There's no guarantee of success either in improvement or in accolades. And in the measures of modern industrialized society, all but the very cream of writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are failures with regards to economic status and stability.

So...if we can't measure success by the hours we've put in, by the income we earn, by moving up the writing ladder, just what is it that keeps writers going? What makes us batter our heads against rules that aren't rules, against skills that might actually undermine our progress, and an environment where we have to crawl past the carrion bodies of other writers who couldn't keep going across the desert in hopes of an oasis at the other side?

Because we have to. Because to do anything else would mean denying our true selves. Because that way lies madness as the voices in our heads start breaking out into reality because we don't keep them confined in fiction.

Whether we love it or hate it, writing is a calling as true as any other, and not one that can be ignored.


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Margaret McGaffey Fisk

April 2017

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