Tag: Writing (page 2 of 47)

The Dark, Dour Beast of Depression

We blame things outside ourselves for our shortcomings all the time. We’ll blame our busy schedules. We’ll blame the enviroments in which we work. We’ll blame the market, politics, the machination of God or muses or just about anything other than our own shortcomings. Blame the bottle, blame the pills, blame your mother.

Blame your depression.

As far as I know, undertaking most endeavors, especially on one’s own, requires two things: energy and motivation. Your energy is an entirely physiological thing. Brain chemistry, sleep deprivation, spiritual well-being, diet and exercise and all those factors come into your level of energy. Motivation, on the other hand, is all in your head. It’s all about you, who you are, who you want to be and what you love to do. Brain chemistry factors into it, to a degree, but for the most part it’s rooted more in our dreams than our enzymes.

Energy, therefore, is something we only partially have control over. But motivation is all on us.

That’s where depression comes into it.

It can weave a tangled web in your head. Sometimes you won’t even know it’s there until you walk face-first into it. And even after the cobwebs of negativity are sticking your eyeballs shut and creeping up your nose, you might not realize that this external influence is pushing you away from your mental center. Once you do, however, the longer you let yourself push you, the harder it’s going to be to return to where you want to be. Depression lengthens your Shadow. Depression creates obstacles born out of your own fear and self-doubt and failures.

Blame depression for that. Don’t blame it for not overcoming those obstacles.

We do not create anything we cannot destroy. The chemicals in our brains aren’t pumped into our soft tissue with space radiation beamed from Xenu’s invisible invasion fleet. We don’t have direct control over said chemicals, but it’s still taking place entirely within our own system. And since these mental hurdles are constructs of our own minds, we have more power over them than we realize. This means we can defeat depression, if we don’t blame it and do our utmost to resist it.

Do not assume, however, that you can do it entirely on your own.

Some do need medication. Some need doctors. Some need family and friends. Others may need all of the above and more besides.

I’m not a doctor, or a therapist, and I do not intend any of these ramblings to be a how-to guide for kicking the depression-beast in its dour ballsack. Nor do I believe, or wish to give the impression that I believe, that this thing is some sort of early edition AD&D illusion that one can wish away just by disbelieving. This is simply my way of grabbing said beast in my own head by the scruff of its neck and dragging it out of its dark emo corner and into the daylight. Struggling with the job market, facing the prospect of more rejection in writing and the nature of the manuscript I’m editing (not mine) are all things that are giving the beast more power, while my games, my wife and my cats take that power away. However, I can’t just spend time on those things. As much as I enjoy them, they’re not productive.

And if I’m not productive, I’m not going anywhere.

I’m glad I have this blog and people that actually come to read it. It helps me remember that I do, in fact, have a talent worth cultivating and that it does reach people who get something positive out of it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted as a writer. It is my goal, pretty much for life, to have at least one person read what I write, look up from my words and see the world differently, even if for a moment, because of what they read.

I’ll never make it if I don’t write, and to really nail it down I need to write beyond the blog. Every day.

I haven’t been doing that and I feel awful over it, and I will try to be better about it in the future.

Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that sad sack of a beast drooling and grinning in the corner have its way.

A Writer’s To-Do List

Checklist

So last week’s ICFN was delayed. It’s still on hold. I’m waiting to hear back from third parties that were interested in conveying it to a different format. Awaiting correspondence always makes days or weekends feel longer, from responses to job postings to queries about Magic trades.

But while I was waiting I took a look at the various projects I’ve lined up for myself.

There are three things that go against me when I try to sit down and get my writing pants on: I’m always thinking of new ideas, I’m not terribly organized and I’m easily distracted. All it takes is a cat darting across the floor, a ringing phone or a stray thought on something awesome unrelated to the project at hand to force me to refocus my efforts. I do turn off HootSuite and other things when I’m actually writing, but that only addresses the distraction problem.

You can take a look at my desk, my kitchen sink or either basement I have stuff in (here in Lansdale or at the ancestral place in Allentown) as silent testament to my lack of organization and pack-rat nature. This also ties in to my ideas. New ones creep into my brain all the time. An action sequence, a bit of dialog, a new character in an old setting… this stuff floats in and out from time to time. It takes conscious effort to nail it all down. And once I do, I need to get it into some sort of organized sequence.

Obviously I want to finish things I’ve started before I begin anything new, so let’s get some priorities straight here. This is pertaining mostly to my own publishable (eventually) writing, not other projects I’ve taken on (the Vietnam manuscript) and the weekday drivel in this blog.

I feel I should finish Red Hood first. It’s the shortest piece, and with it my collection of mixed-myth stories reaches a total of five. Akuma (Japanese oni in a period slasher story), The Jovian Flight (Greek myth IN SPACE!), The Drifter’s Hand (Norse myth in the Old West) and Miss Weaver’s Lo Mein (Chinese myth as a modern romance) round out the rest. That may be enough for an anthology, but I’m uncertain. I may want to do a sixth story.

The rewrite of Citizen in the Wilds must come next. I’ve started outlining the new opening, and will track the appearances and growth of characters to ensure they’re consistent and sympathetic, two problems pointed out by at least one review on Book Country. The problem with the way it opened before was I was cramming too much exposition into the first few pages and not giving the characters enough time to develop and establish connections with each other and the reader – in other words, I opened too late. So I’m starting a bit earlier. Giving these people more breathing room. You know, before I kill most of them.

I have an idea for a Magic: the Gathering piece but as it may be nothing more than fan fiction and Wizards has better things to do than entertain the notions of a relatively unknown hack like myself (as opposed to known hacks like Robert Wintermute), I’ll try not to devote too much time to it.

Once I finish up with the other stuff I’ll go back to Cold Iron. I plan on taking this lean, mean and well-intentioned supernatural noir thing I threw together during my commutes of the last few months and putting it through the prescribed Wendig cycle of editing my shit. The Wendig cycle, by the way, has little to do with Wagner’s cycle. More whiskey and profanity, less large sopranos and Norse symbolism.

Meantime, the blog will keep the writing-wheels greased. More Westeros fiction for the Honor & Blood crowd. More flash fiction challenges. Reviews of movies, games and books. Ruminations on trying not to suck as a writer.

And Guild Wars 2 stuff, because that MMO looks pretty damn awesome, not to mention damn pretty.

Stay tuned. I may be down, but I ain’t licked yet.

Take A Walk

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

Writers: when was the last time you went for a walk?

Some of you may do it every day. Some of you might go to a gym so what do you need a walk for? Others? Pfft, that’s what I bought a car for, son. Pedestrians are bonus points to me. I decorate the grille of my Audi with the finger bones of hippies too stupid to get a vehicle themselves.

Probably not that last one so much, but the point is walking is something we all do and are all capable of. Also? It’s one way to meander right past so-called “writer’s block.”

This is especially true if you live near a major city. There’s some saying about there being a thousand stories in it. Feeling stuck in your current narrative or unsure of how to start one? Go find one of those stories.

It could be anything. A gaggle of tourists. A toothless hobo. Some trendy gal in jogging shorts pulling a small yappy dog along at the end of a leash signed by every cast member of the Jersey Shore. A bunch of guys at a halal food truck. The old church on the corner unruffled by the ultra-modern apartments next to it. A street that suddenly changes from macadam to cobblestones. Inspiration can come from any of these things. Or all of them.

Maybe the tourists get jumped by a werewolf. Maybe that hobo is the werewolf. Or maybe it’s Miss Trendy, and she dreams of going furry on The Situation next time he pops a girl in the mouth. The church on the corner my house a weathered by deadly monster hunter and those cobblestones stay there because it’s holy ground.

That’s just an example. But none of these ideas would have come to fruition if it hadn’t been for the stroll you’d taken.

So what are you waiting for? Grab some tunes, some water, an umbrella if it’s raining. Walk a few blocks, or just around yours. As the body moves of its own accord, the mind’s free to do whatever it wants. Let it. You’re only as fettered to your limitations as you choose to be, and if being in your chair feels limiting, get the hell out of it.

How I Met Morgan

Courtesy LionsGate Entertainment
I like my female protagonists to kick a little ass, too.

“I finished the first draft of a novel.”

I feel bad that I say those words with bittersweetness instead of a sense of accomplishment. I finished a novel. It should be a major accomplishment. A milestone I’ve kicked in the face on my rampant rise to superstardom. Instead I feel like I just made it to base camp on the slopes of Everest and I’m staring at the rest of the big cold bastard I’m going to be climbing inch by excruciating inch for the forseeable future.

It’s also probably not as bleak as I’m making it out to be, but I’m trying to be realistic about this.

There was a time when I didn’t know a thing about writing properly. Oh, I could write, sure. And I did. So much so that when I was in seventh grade I wrote a novel. It was a spy novel and it was, looking back, pretty awful. I’d filled it with cliches, nonsensical turns in the plot and a protagonist who was so idiotically perfect I wonder today how I managed to make something so absolutely putrid. Then I remember that I was about thirteen at the time and still figuring out how to talk to girls when all they wanted to do was get closer to the football players.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because I’ve talked about it before. More than once. Let an old man ramble, I’ve got a point to make.

Anyway, I realized not long after that my story was frought with problems. So I looked through it and realized that I liked things about the protagonist but there wasn’t enough bad crap happening to him. It occured to me that part of the problem might be that he was male. So I flipped the gender switch, called down some lightning to reanimate the thing’s rancid corpse, and out of it popped the character of Morgan Everson.

Now, she still needed work. And my first attempt at putting her through a novel, while better, still wasn’t all that great. I managed to finish it in my mid-twenties. A lot of bad shit happened that had me a little pre-occupied, and when I finally circled back again, I realized that while the novel was completely different, it still wasn’t terribly good. Oh, I’d written some good characters in addition to Morgan, but the story was still a little too contrived, a little too cliche, a little too amateur. By then, however, I’d happened upon the world of Acradea in my mental wanderings, so I spent a little time there instead.

Between rewrites of the novel that would become Citizen in the Wilds, I took a few stabs at reviving Morgan while shifting the story into territory that was, quite frankly, pising me off. If I’m thankful to Twilight about anything, it’s making me aware of the fact that there was a need for good supernatural modern fiction with a female protagonist who wasn’t a doormat. All of my attempts to get the novel off the ground that were variations of Morgan as a member of the BPRD (or my analog thereof) went nowhere. This pissed me off even more, and I channeled that anger into the last rewrite of Citizen (which, while decent, still needs some working. Get to that in a moment).

I had ideas born from sessions of World of Darkness tabletopping, notes scribbled about my take on a world beyond our own right under our noses, and Morgan waiting patiently for me to do something with her. It took some mental chasing of my tail, but I finally figured out that what was missing was a common element. I puzzled out the particulars, gave the guy a name, and tossed him into the woodchipper with Morgan hot on his heels.

The result is the first draft of Cold Iron.

I guess some of the bittersweetness comes from the long, hard road I’ve been on trying to get something decent to come out of all of this ambulatory grammatical masturbation. And I’m closer than I’ve ever been. I’m wary, however, that upon reflection I’ll realize that it’s too short, still a bit contrived and too much in a hurry to be awesome that it skips important moments in the lives of its characters. I want to look at it without disgust and with a minimum of mental fatigue (like that’ll happen) and prejudice born of other works. That way, when I tear it apart, it’s nothing personal.

My plan is to finish reading Ghost Story, finish writing the two (maybe three) stories for an anthology of ancient-myth-and-legend-in-varying-genres I’ve been planning (more on that tomorrow) and put Citizen through another rewrite. Once those things are done, I’m circling back to Cold Iron. Not a month or a year after that point, right away. I want to put more writerly irons in the fire. I need to push out more content. I’m not going to go anywhere other than another cubicle in another office if I don’t stay on top of this and keep my ass writing.

I’m looking forward to you all meeting Morgan. I think she’s pretty cool. But I’m not going to slap makeup on her, strap her into a skimpy outfit and kick her onstage to dance to hair metal. I owe her, and you, better than that. I feel exhausted because this is not the first time I’ve chased this woman around a plot structure, and I know it won’t be the last. But when I do finally hammer out a story that’s worthy of her, the idea is that I won’t feel exhausted or bittersweet or pissed off about it. The idea is that I (and, I pray, some of you out there) will consider it worth the wait.

Literary Crimes Against Gaming

Courtesy Jason Chan & Wizards of the Coast
I feel like Karn some days. And not just from lack of coffee.

Bad writing can be just as influential and inspirational as good writing.

That may seem to be an incongruous statement. But in my experience, there have been some instances where I’ve been reading a novel, a story or a post, and have wanted nothing more than to blow the author out of the water, literarily speaking. I find this to be the case especially in writing related to gaming, which makes me twice as angry. It’s one thing to write badly, but to degrade a setting or concept I like through that bad writing should be a hanging offense.

That’s my opinion, at least.

Take, for example, the Quest for Karn. I’ve been looking for a good Magic: the Gathering novel ever since Arena, which is still the best if you ask me. The planeswalkers that Wizards of the Coast have put together are an interesting bunch, but I feel like there’s more that could be done with them, territory in the human experience and the permutations of their powers that remains unexplored. And when you present these characters in as bland a way possible, with no real characterization and a plot apparently paced to make The Lord of the Rings look like a jaunty sprint by comparison, you leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth, instead of making them hungry for more.

I must confess, however, that doing this to the likes of Venser and Elspeth is pretty harmless, considering what could have been done. As far as I’m aware, Wizards has yet to acquire the services of someone like Richard A. Knaak, who misses the point of characters like a champ. Consider Stormrage. In Warcraft III, we learn that Tyrande Whisperwind is a confident, driven and inspiring leader of her people, a warrior-priestess with thousands of years of experience in doing what she says and making decisions without regret. By Knaak’s hand, however, she’s transformed into someone who never grew out of being a teenager, an immature and insecure person who fears the judgement of her peers and might just be cribbing notes from Bella Swan. There’s no growth in Knaak’s characters. If they’re great, they’re always great as well as flawless. If they’re flighty, uncertain and relatively weak, they’re a girl.

I had to pause for a cleansing breath, there.

Gaming books outside of novels suffer as well. Mage is probably my all-time favorite permutation of the World of Darkness, but the core book for Ascension feels unnecessarily huge. There’s great stuff in there for storytellers and players a like, but it can take a little sifting. The prose passages feel ponderous more often than not, with some overwrought language and long-winded anecdotes that are likely aimed at increasing the book’s gravitas while taking away from the essential information gamers are looking for. I still love the book, don’t get me wrong. It’s gorgeous, the new mythology tickles my fancy and the new spheres of magic are very well thought out. It’s just fluffier than I’d like.

In addition to wrapping up the first draft of one manuscript, rewriting another and editing a third, I think it would behoove me to investigate more deeply the ways and means people find their way into gaming material, from source books to novels. I’ve had great experiences working with Machine Age Productions and I hope I can take that experience to other gaming houses in the future. Writing for and about gaming isn’t just something I want to do, after all; it’s something worth doing right.

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