In which I think aloud for a few paragraphs… pardon the navel gazing.
The burden of words. It’s quite something, I tell you. And at the moment I’m finding it to be on the verge of utterly overwhelming. I have all these stories, all these books and novels and ideas, and instead of a calm, steady stream (the way I’ve written for the better part of the last five years) it’s a frozen lake. A frozen lake filled with strange faces and whispers under the icy surface, all jumbled together, staring at me, challenging me.
And I’ve got analysis paralysis. I have too much to work on, so much so that I just don’t know what to write. Those ideas, all frozen there beneath the surface, they taunt me. Snippets of one story, the challenge of another, the feeling that I don’t want to abandon this one or that one. I can’t call it writer’s block, because it certainly isn’t that I have nothing to write. It’s the entire opposite. I have a glut of words and possibilities and I just don’t know what the heck to do. The noise of it all is intense.
Glassmere was supposed to be my focus. Working full time instead of freelance has changed my writing habits, but not that much; I’ve always been an evening writer, though those evenings are shorter than they used to be. Time isn’t my problem. Brain noise and the challenge of this book is. Glassmere is very personal, and for that reason it’s very hard to write, and I keep wondering if I’m just not up for the challenge of it, if it’s not yet time for me to write it. I want the story to be told, but so far it’s been something like 15,000 words of writing and rewriting, and I’m tired of trying to wrestle it into submission. It’s honestly exhausting.
Then there’s Indigo & Ink. I have to rewrite the whole thing. The. Whole. Thing. There’s just no way around it, and I have to admit my pride has been shaken in this instance. While I was writing it I really thought it was The Best Thing Ever. But now, after other eyes have seen it and I’ve had a chance to go through it, all I see is where it’s lacking, wanting.
Its cousin, The Ward of the Rose is the sequel to The Aldersgate. But this is problematic twofold. I want to revise The Aldersgate, and I can’t finish Ward until it’s revised and fixed. I wouldn’t even be considering revising The Aldersgate if it hadn’t been for a bunch of folks stumbling upon my podcast and demanding the sequel (nicely). I should have written the second book a long time ago, but well, you’ve already heard that saga.
Which is all not to mention other books prickling at the back of my mind. Heroic fantasy, Arthurian re-tellings. Finished books, in those two cases, but also in need of revision like whoa. And that’s not even to talk about Herald of the Morn, the sequel to Pilgrim of the Sky which is, basically, candy and easy to write and, in general, makes me feel guilty because I have so many unfinished things I should be working on. Or, also, The Gnome and the Necromancer which is decent for YA, and is also a candy book.
I know I’m not perfect. I’m acutely aware of my shortcomings as a writer, as I think we all must be in order to improve. But for some reason in the last few months I’ve felt as if the wind has gone out of my sails in terms of my own confidence. I’m thinking way too much about what I’m writing (whether it’s a period piece and I’m freaking out about language, fashion, and culture, or it’s a secondary world and I’m freaking out about pacing and style and magic). I wrote about confidence before, but I thought I had a handle on it. Yet the word count for the year tells me otherwise. The magic of previous years just isn’t there right now, and I know 90% of it is totally me.
So these are my questions I’ve been asking. Because at this point, I’ve got to dig deeper than prose. I’ve got to go ice fishing in this freezing lake and see what bites, what takes hold, and ultimately what ends up a meal, not a long day of sitting and waiting.
What makes most sense to work on from a “career” standpoint? Well, clearly Herald of the Morn is a book that’s a followup to something that’s actually being published. So, that sounds pretty smart. However, it’s a sequel and that assumes a certain amount of audience participation across the board, and that’s all risky. Gnome is definitely the most marketable (UF, YA), but is it me? No clear answer there.
What do I want to write the most? I keep telling myself that Glassmere is that answer, but I think the water’s too murky in this case. I’m exceptionally self-conscious as I write this. Wharton-influenced manor house “through the lookinglass” fantasy? Yes, absolutely I want to read this book. This is the sort of book I would love to read. But will anyone else give a crap? So even though the answer is clear on that count, I’m not sure it’s the best decision.
What do other people want me to write? Success wise I’ve reached more people with The Aldersgate than anything. And I keep getting reminders that people want to read it and its followup.
What makes me happy? Writing makes me happy. Falling in love makes me happy. Falling in love with the world and the characters and the story. Being so wrapped up in the story that the whole world vibrates with it, that every whisper and strain of music takes you there. I had that with Indigo & Ink, due in no small part to the fact that I’m a little in love with Ash Malcom and I do think with some restructuring he can really hold up the majority of the book.
Seriously, I’m almost at the point where I just want to chart all this crap out and CHOOSE SOMETHING. Because my approach for the last few weeks of writing 500-1000 words in any one of these projects and bouncing around is really not going to be good for the long haul.
Wondering if any of you out there have had similar experiences. Little time, lots of words. What helped you get through? What got your mojo back? A few considerations include: getting some readers for one of these projects and promising to keep up with revised/new work (read: accountability), tossing everything out and starting a new project, submitting a few things so at least I don’t think about them for a while, or possibly taking a break and just working on short stories for a while.
It sounds like the pressure has become overwhelming. I went through this and then I realised I was being too hard on myself. Keep working but do a bit at a time. Try not to focus on everything you need to do but what you are in the middle of doing now. Sometimes working full-time can affect the writing process because you become overworked. I’m sure it will sort out soon.
It’s a good point. I ought to stop thinking about it less or trying to. I think it is a matter of overwhelmed/overworked, but since there’s no end of that in sight I have to figure out a better balance. 🙂
I’d suggest focusing on short fiction for the next year and a half, and getting a few more pieces into the public eye. In some ways GLASSMERE is your DHALGREN, and you shouldn’t rush it; by focusing all your energy on that story now, you’d restrict your visibility. (And there are only sixteen months left in your Campbell eligibility period, for what it’s worth. I’d love to see at least one of the locals on the ballot!)
For me, I often sit down and just start writing. Once one story has the upper hand, the others usually get quiet for a while. When you get stuck, work on the next one. It doesn’t matter what one. They often start speaking to you when they are ready. Having too many means, at least to me, you are over thinking.
Just sit and start writing hon. The rest will sort itself out later.
I don’t know how much help I can be; you’re at a different stage of your career, I actually have a lot more freedom.
I write the project that most excites me. If I’m ambivalent, I write what most excites my readers.
But the truth is readers don’t know what they want until they see it. How many Sanderson fans clamored for an ELANTRIS sequel before discovering MISTBORN was even better?
Your opening paragraphs reminded me of an article I wrote in 2009 called “The Writer’s Burden”; authors face a daunting number of decisions, SF/F authors moreso because new worlds have new rules. (Picture the god Atlas with a Galaxy strapped to his back instead of the earth.) But it was more about art than career.
I can only echo greater writers than myself…forget “career” and write what thrills you. Given enough time, every story will find a place. If you try to pigeonhole your decisions into what advances you, you’ll dislike your work, and eventually return to what you wanted anyway.
Take the shortcut now and trust your instincts. Whether you write for a specific market or to satisfy yourself, there is no guarantee of sales, so at least satisfy yourself.
Good advice, Jason. I think at the heart of this, too, is me learning to embrace chaos. Giving myself the license to write a number of things without worrying. Sometimes that sort of spontaneous writing can be freeing, if a little manic. 🙂
“write lots of things” is good advice. As you keep going, some of them will cohere faster than the others and then you can concentrate on getting them done (at least, that’s a lot of how I work). The long-form work that I’ve made the most progress on this year isn’t the one I want to do most, but it’s so close, and I can get it done and cleared out of my head soonest.
Trying to figure out what makes most commercial sense sounds logical but I think it’s hard to predict.