Monday, April 20, 2015

Time, travel

The first round of edits is done, and I am less sad that it took this long to get into the mix for the fifth book. I used my freshest eyes yet to look at something that was going to be published, and I could better hear the voices of all the confused people that were frustrated by my writing style (a friend recently told me, after years, that sometimes I write "around" ideas). As I've gotten older, I've fallen out of love with being clever and become married to making sense. Doesn't mean I'm any closer to being intelligible, though.

When I put the story down, I had a few conclusions. The first was, again, at how badly I committed to the initial book, not just because it was the most juvenile, but because the first book is the most important. I didn't read Harry Potter, or Twlight, the Hunger Games, or any of the others, but those series, that success, all started from those first books. A delicate amount of responsibility was assigned to them, and evidence shows that they did the work. Looking back on my own initial effort, now that I have gone down the road some and carried with me perspective, I can only shake my head sadly. 

In counter to that self-shaming, I present a glimpse of 2008. The novels were just notes on scraps of paper, conversations with friends, light, light research into various subjects and perspectives. I was watching television, reruns of a show that had long fell into syndication, when I caught up to a terrible moment that fans in previous years had suffered through. As so often does, real life imposed itself on fantasy. An actor left, and writers compensated. Terribly, I thought. I sat down and worked my frustrations out over fanfiction that I didn't even put my name on. I knew it wouldn't be worth anything, or I thought it wouldn't be worth anything. The reviews I got then were like the reviews I get now, slim trickles of cheer from obscure corners of the internet. As fate would have it, I was having a conversation with someone who had tried her own hand at fanfiction. I mentioned mine in an attempt to resonate, and hunted down the links to follow through. 

I found more reviews. Several times more than when I walked away from those stories in the same year. It was a classic flame out. I had come through, slaked my desire, and passed along (I think we all admit that if literature is a healthy, committed relationship then fanfiction is lower than tinder...izing?). It was catharsis. I wanted the story created by those characters to exist like it would if the whims of the actors playing them didn't matter. And once I had fixed that error, I came to realize that it could not be fixed. So, I walked away. 

"Utterly brilliant, I wish you would finish it, the writing is fantastic and I so need to know what will happen, thank you for both stories. Please consider taking up your saga again."

That was posted in March of 2014. When I read it, and others, I blinked in confusion. What came into focus was a younger version of myself swearing that I would never abandon my stories the way some others had. I would make sure they had a healthy diet of brainstorming, strong musculature induced by fearless editing built on a solid skeleton of outlining. Every last one of them. Unbeknownst to that younger ideal, an older me would later grow sardonic and jaded and delete stories I came back to and couldn't remember the reasons for, wake up in the night with the spark of an idea then grumpily go back to sleep. I would call my own words stupid and terrible. 

I had a birthday recently, and I received a few different gifts, on and around the day. I think a lot about what I would go back and tell a younger me. Probably the best present I got this year was a memory of what a younger me would tell me now.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pain, relief

This time I am not going to harp on about how much planning I did, and how little doing. I am less productive, by the year, than what I am realizing was a golden period of flourishing proliferation. It may just be unrealistic to capture all of that again. Or maybe I should be searching for the rocket fuel that propelled me through all of those words and pages those years back.

I have not written a single page on the sci-fi manuscript since last Fall. I went into grad school applications after completing the ten chapters, reached a stopping point, and thought I had laid all the ground work to get right back on that horse after I received all my feedback (read: rejections). And now here I am, a good few months after I finished submitting the last of the paperwork, and not one page.

Instead, I went looking down a dry well, and found some poetry in myself. Going back to that form was sudden, unexpected, and fulfilling. I discussed the phenomenon with a friend who just as occasionally writes music. I am not a poet, is what I decided. I believe, as I told him, that a poet can force it. I believe a poet can wake up every day and find some gem of inspiration in how dawn dew mingles with powdery pollen, or the grim determination of a spider rebuilding its web, ambitiously in the path of more human progress. Me, my poetry is like mid 30s back pain. It comes, sometimes strong sometimes not, and stays, for a day, or maybe part of a season, then, one day I wake up and it's gone off some place else. So, I prefer to say that I have written poetry, implying that it may never happen again, and is often a surprise when it does anew.

I also broke down and committed to some critiques. One writer's group I belonged to, and never attended, closed. Another decided to move all of its infrastructure to social media. We meet, but it seems like we hardly ever do anything productive, however this could be because I go so infrequently. But stories are cropping up on the web page, titles with buttons below them begging to be pushed, preview, download, upload revision. After five or six submissions, one of them my own, I waited for something else to happen, something new. Nothing did. So, I scrolled to the bottom of the list, sighing the entire time, downloaded the first one, read, and critiqued. I reached out to the author to ask about whether they wanted my feedback at all. Then I moved onto the next, and the next. Like I was experiencing that circle again, I recalled my memories in my workshops over the years. It was not unpleasant.

For my own submission, two people not in the group were nice enough to give mine a once over. Well, thrice over. In the beginning they used words like "confusing" with facial expressions that were searching, reaching, then more quickly, "let me read it again." Ultimately, it seems like for the most part, they understood, but there was no confidence in their understanding. "Yeah, that's what I thought was going on," after I explained, then "but" and they paused, and thought, and shook their heads. One of them, even with all of that, used the word fun, and asked to read other things I had written as well. It seems like an objective success, albeit it a mild one, yet I did not come away feeling like what I wanted to transmit was received. I am not sure, thinking back, of what I was hoping for.

And of course, I lied. A friend asked me if I was still writing every day. I said yes, without even pausing. Over the following days I thought about just how big of a lie that was. About what writing was. Did I think about my stories every day? Yes. Did I think about how to improve other stories I had come across every day? Yes. Did I read every day? Yes. And yet, not a single page more.

Rare dinner company reminisced with me about our first meetings with one another. "I did not realize then," he said, "to what extent you were driven to create stories." Early the following week, after ruminating, I asked him if he had meant that as a compliment. "Neutrally," he said. "I meant it as a statement of fact. You wouldn't be you without it." I wouldn't be me, he said.

All of these are like little resolutions, stamped by date and time, cast into the well of infinity to echo at whatever volume. I stood up tall, and made more plans. Then, the first found of edits finally arrived for my fifth book. More excuses. More sighing.