To become a slave to the story

Sometimes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. My intentions are to write, to write well, to produce a story other people would find at least entertaining, inspiring at best.

Writing a story is hard work. It is more than simply sitting down and typing random letters and words. What storybuilding is is an impossible mesh of rigid planning and most chaotic improvization.

Hard work is all you need to make your ambitions into reality. Who hasn’t heard this one before? What they forgot to tell you is that it takes something else as well, something I’ve learned the hard way.

December 31st, 2015. The deadline I set for my current WIP novel, Tribes Asunder. It looked to be an easy goal in the middle of the year. It looked doable even in November. And by December 30th, it felt like I did it. Then all it would take was a month or two of proof-reading and that would be it.

The lies we tell ourselves and believe.

True, the writing part was done. That didn’t mean the process was finished or even close to completion. The story was finished but the manuscript was a mess. I understood what was written on it but others would not. Getting the story on paper was just the first part.

Not that I’ve never been here before. I’ve finished stories before. I’ve editted them before. But it feels as if for each project I learn the same rules anew. In a way, this is a good thing. It means I’m not wading into too familiar waters which would make it familiar and boring. and the process is always fresh. Each story is its own endeavour. Sometimes, having a gold-fish memory is a blessing. With each story, I felt like I’m writing my first and only piece.

So January 2016 came and I happily went into editting mode, ticking the editted scenes away.

Around April, the going became slow. I thought I was just getting lazy so I pushed myself harder. But this time, the cheerful abandon wasn’t working. My social life began to suffer as well. I found it harder to stand being in people’s company while at the same time yearning more for it.

I’ve been in this place before but I failed to recognize it. That bloody gold-fish memory again.

Short winter days, crapy weather, laborious day job and spending the last reserve of mental energy on editting, a wholly ungrateful process where progress can’t be measured in word count… All this led to full-fledged depression.

It took a friend to point out how tired I seemed and how uninterested I was in just about everything. He suggested a trip and the moment I heard him say the words, I knew it was something I had to do. So I went to Vienna and spent four days doing nothing but walking through a new city, speaking a language I barely knew. By the time I’d returned home, I realized how exhausted I truly was. It took another music concert and a dancing festival to begin to appreciate human company again.

I’ve overestimated myself. I believed hard work would be enough. But I’m not a machine, no matter how much I want it. Even the most dilligent people need time to recuperate.

When I look back, it seems perfectly clear. But it wasn’t clear at the time. It was as if the story had put me in a trance. It stopped being an inspirational project. Instead, it turned into an energy parasite and it had slowly drained the creative juice from every other part of my life.

The story should have been my project. Instead, I became its project.

I’d become a slave to the story.

Realizing this, my first reaction was anger. I felt like I’ve wasted precious time, wasted a portion of my life.

Well, not entirely wasted. Against the Tribe, a novella that serves as a companion to the already finished Tribes Asunder, is finished. There will be corrections, of course, adding bits, taking some away, the usual mop-up, but it’s there.

So no, it wasn’t a waste of time after all. Through it all, I’ve learned much about myself. I realized there are limits, that I’m not as perfect as I would like to be. This year, I’ve worked on developing a healthier social life. I lowered my expectations of people. I was too harsh with everyone, including myself. Finishing a story takes time, I shouldn’t be taking that personally.

What is the lesson in all of this? Don’t fall into the trap of believing your story is more important than your life. Always take time for family, friends and pursuits other than writing. As with everything, you must set up your boundaries and refuse to relent when temptation comes knocking. How can you hope to benefit from your story if you cracked your psychie like a glass of water in the process?

Novels. Short stories. Pick your poison.

In my youth (yes, I’m 29, but you know what I mean), I only read novels or novellas, never short stories. I am convinced that this is mainly due to the culture I grew up in. In western countries, attention spans of readers are shorter so they need shorter stories. Reading is a hobby, it should be fun. In my country, reading is a life style. Acquiring stacks of books in one’s living room may not be the norm anymore (it certainly was in the time of my grandparents) but we still take books seriosuly. Very seriously. Too seriously, to be honest. I’ve been given novels to read since the day I could read. Yes, I learned to read from comic books (about two years before we officially learned letters in grammar school) but I switched very quickly to 100-page books (for a five-year-old, those were novels; I think it took me two weeks to get through one; I usually read more than one at the same time.) It wasn’t long until I was reading the classics: Jack London, Jules Verne, Karl May (maybe I was 10 before I delved into the Vinetou monster), basically everything that I found translated to my native tongue.

To me, reading a story should be about becoming a part of that world, getting to know the setting and characters intimately, spending a considerable part of their (and my) life with them. When I finally got my hands on a short story collection, things were different. Yes, they were interesting characters. Yes, they usually involved intriguing situations. But before I could truly immerse myself into that world, the story would be over. Starting a new story, I had to discard everything I have learned about the world and had to start from an empty board. That particular detail was incredibly irritating.

All this leads back to my writing. I find it more fulfilling to write a short story than to read one but still I always find myself checking the word or page count when I do it. I’m paranoid about my short story evolving into a novel if I let my guard down. That’s not the writing I like. It sounds too much like a school project where you had to write a specific number of words to make a cognitive statement. The biggest essay of my high school had to be between 4k and 5k words. To most people, that is pure torture. I barely got warmed up at that point.

I tried (and still do) to write short stories because I’m an adult now and time has become a different thing. But, to be blunt, I suck at it. The only reason I try writing short stories is because it’s finished quicker, editted quicker and can be read quicker. The one short story I finished turned into a novella (Clockworks Warrior) but now I know it’s only a part of a greater story I am obliged to write some day.

Don’t expect short stories and flash fiction from me because you won’t get it. What you will get from me is epic novel series which unfortunately take time. LOTS of it. Speaking of which, it’s time to get back to that particular activity. Ta ta.

Time waisted

Today I woke up and realized I’m 29 years old. No, my birthday was four months ago but today my brain finally processed it. As soon as I knew it, a part of me started to despair because I’ve missed the best part of my life.

Why? Because I didn’t get hammered every weekend? Because I spent most of my days sitting behind a desk, typing down letters and words? True, a lot of that time also went into playing games and watching movies. It’s strange how all of that used to mean so much to me.

So I’ve changed. I know exactly when I’ve changed. I know why I’ve changed too. I was busy getting my own mind under control. If I’d lived anywhere else, I imagine I would have spent my youth on one pill or another. Now that’s a scary thought.

So this is not really a rant about how I missed my twenties and didn’t do what I really wanted to do. No, I did exactly what I wanted to do. It’s just that I don’t like to do that anymore. Not because it was meaningless but because I’m a different person now. Hell, I’m about to be 30. About time I’m a different person.

I know what I want. And I’m going to get it. At least I will know to appreciate it. Twenties gave me that. Is that waisted time?

So much dust

I’m not blogging lately, mainly because my focus is on my Master’s and second because I lack the energy to write my own stories, let alone to come up with an interesting blog post. At the moment, my primary concern is to finish a Master’s and finally get a decent job. My secondary concern is to improve my social life because being in a foreign country means lack of true friendships – you only realize how important they are when you have none to speak of. Way down in the third place is where I have writing at the moment. At this time, writing is one of the excuses why I’m not outside, looking for interesting people to hang out with.

Time to dust this blog and get it back in active mode, neh?

Wrestling with my brain. Brain winning.

I’ve been trying my hand at lucid dreaming again. Trying to access that spring of productivity to increase my visualisation skills.

And you know what? I think my brain is fighting back. It’s like I’m encroaching on a piece of territory that I was never suppose to step in. I’m being harassed by my subconscience for trying to tap resources that are in fact on holy ground.

In the middle of a dream, especially if I’m succeeding in controlling it, without warning I will get these truly gruesome images which make me go “Blech!” and can be enough to jar me out of that dream and I have to start over. No problem except that these dreams tire me and I get up not as rested as I could be. Since I’m working on my research thesis, I think I will give it a rest tonight, get my subconscience a chance to recuperate and repair its ego.

Talk about a drama queen!

Saw Looper. Scared me to death.

Hm. It’s been a while since I last made any post. I’ve put writing aside for a while, been busy with other career oportunities. Bristol is taking a lot of my time and honestly I didn’t have anything that I would write. I’m not a person who writes about their daily lives, about going for coffee. I don’t really understand Facebook and the people’s insatiable desire to dazzle others. I guess it comes from watching TV. Oh, who am I kidding! Who watches TV anymore? It’s all Internet now, isn’t it?

So I will write about something I came across in the new Bruce Willis movie. It had some flaws but Looper was a very interesting film with some good twists. A great time-travel brain teaser. I’m sure there will be people who will criticize it just because there are some decisions taken in a certain way. It needs abit of suspended belief but other than that the movie is great.

(minor spoilers ahead)

The movie that scared me to death

The movie does contain a certain scene that shook me to the core. One of the assassins is sent back through time and is supposed to be killed by his younger self. The younger version freezes and lets the older version get away, something the organization cannot afford. So how do they resolve the situation? They grab the younger version and cut a message into his arm. The older version (on the run) suddenly has a message written in scars on his arm. The message was “Be [designated place] at [designated time].” The older version continues to run until he tries to climb a fence and realizes he’s missing a finger on his hand. In a moment two fingers are missing, then three. Next moment he has no nose. It really doesn’t take a genius to figure out what is hapenning with the younger version. The older version jumps into a car, drives like crazy to the location specified. Suddenly the foot that is pushing on the pedal is missing. And on and on…
This was the single most horrifying scene I’ve ever seen in a movie. No slasher could compare with it for one simple reason. If a person gets eviscerated in a slasher, the person would be in physical and mental shock but there wouldn’t be any time to realize the change to the body image. The victim is likely dead before being able to have an emotional crisis.
In the Looper scene, there was no pain, no trauma, simply body parts disappearing. It plays on an entirely different emotional string. The fact is we own our bodies. We relate to our body; we are conscious of our appearance. Our bond with our body is as deep as is crucial to our every day activity. To suddenly not have your body there as it was is a most profound trauma.
Our conscience does not float. It is attached to our body. We are our bodies. Our body image is a fundemental part of our self-awareness. What’s left of that man at the end of that scene… Well, you’ll just have to watch it. Or maybe I’ve done my job and scared you to death.

Happy thoughts.

And going back…

Tomorrow my life begins. This usually means that I should be happy, right?

Why am I not happier? Because there are complications. Imagine if someone told you: “We have a seat available for an expedition to Mars. There’s just one snag: we don’t have enough fuel for a return trip.” Would that make a sane person reconsider? No? How about this? “We don’t have enough fuel to get you there. You will simply have to think of something before you run out.” Still want to go? That’s closer to my situation.

The weirdest thing about going is suddenly a lot people realize they are going to miss me. I was never truly aware that I mean something to anyone.

I’m still going.

I knew the odds when I took this job…

This week, I got two reviews of my novella Clockworks Warrior. The first one came from a fellow Hatracker. He said the story was too tight and needs to be expanded into a novel (not the first time I heard that about my stories). He also said that a certain “deus ex machina” appears in it, solving a really desperate situation with in a too easy way.

I can understand why he got that impression. I also know why it made sense to me. I am prone to creating monstrously large stories. When I try to put it on paper, the only way for me to do that is to cut the story in pieces, writing each in turn. What he called a “deus ex machina” is in fact a connection to the other pieces of the aforementioned monster. The next story in line will reveal the same events from a different point of view. This is where that “deus ex machina” will come into contact.

At this point, I sound like that classic bit of defence rookie writers usually make when someone tells them their story could be written differently. “No, you didn’t understand the point I was trying to make.” No, I’m admitting the fluke, plain and simple, because if I couldn’t persuade one reader what my point was, I didn’t do my job as a writer. So yes, I made a fluke. It happens. At least it wasn’t a plot paradox like the one I found an hour before saying: “OK, now Clockworks is done.”

I mentioned two revies coming in this week. Interesting that my brother-in-law who usually doesn’t read books, let alone books in English, decided to give my story a read. He loved it. He could not stop telling me how much he enjoyed that story. He also commented on that same “deus ex machina” and said he loved that too because it came at just the right moment to relieve the desperate moment and that in the epilogue there is a hint why this salvation came along at all.

Today, I have more confidence to write than I did yesterday. The story doesn’t have to be perfect to entertain and to give someone a good day or two. Or three. And there nothing more satisfying than to have someone tell you with that sparkle of madness in their eyes: “Write another one, quickly!”

Back from Eurocon

Made it back from Zagreb where I experienced my first sci-fi convention. An incredible experience, particularly since sci-fi fandom is something my country simple doesn’t have or is meagre enough to be neglected. Everyone there was in a good mood. Met me an American writer (Tim Powers), a British writer (Charles Stross) and a Russian writer (Dmitry Glukhovsky). I listened their stories with much envy, not because of their success but because they come from an environment that appreciates their efforts and rewarded them accordingly. It’s also amazing how different their lives are and yet all of them live from what I want to live from.
There is something that I miss: company of other writers. No offense to my friends from Hatrack Forum but the forum chit chat is simply not enough for me. Internet is not a substitute for a real-life relationships.
I also had a conversation with a British agent (John Berlyne) and it was refreshing to take a look at the industry from a different viewpoint. All this talk of late of agents being cookie monsters, it was nice to see they are people after all. Yes, they are in the business of making money but aren’t we all?