So here I am, sitting at my desk, late afternoon sun will soon be shining right in my eyes (no curtains or shades on the window I’m facing) and it’ll be hard to see my computer monitor, so I figured I’d better write something while I can still read what I’m typing. I’m at 68941 words of double-spaced, Times New Roman, font size 12, 206 Word pages worth of Blackfire 3, and I’m in the middle of a scene with Sliss and Ul’ll Uhas that has me stumped. It won’t last forever; in a day or two (or by the time I’m done with this little note) I’ll have an idea and away the story will go, back on the rails and hurtling toward the dynamite planted under the tracks somewhere down the line. Actually, the story isn’t stalled for a lack of ideas, I actually have lots of ideas, just don’t have any ideas I like and that work the way I want them to in order to wrap up the scene.
I’ve never understood or experienced writer’s block as some describe it. Since I started writing I’ve always had something I wanted to say, a story that I wanted to write, so I’ve never lacked for material the way some claim to. I supposed I should be thankful for that. Maybe I have ideas because I write whatever comes to me and don’t confine myself to one genre or another. That could be a bad thing I suppose. An author whom I enjoy and who has written several very long series (only one of which I’ve read) wrote a blog post some time ago that I happened to run across, and his advice was not to genre hop. Stick to one variety, he argued. Jumping from post-apocalyptic action to fantasy to horror will confuse and alienate your audience. Maybe he’s right, maybe not, but I can’t do that. There are countless authors who only write in one genre, and whose work I very much enjoy, and that’s fine. Personally, I have too many ideas for too many different stories to restrict myself that way.
(The sun has finally fallen to the point that its shining in the window at me. I’m having to tilt my head as I try to put a hanging plant between it and my eyes. When its lower I’ll use the trees outside to block it out, although it’s got a ways to go before I can do that; it’s still too far above their lofty tops. But it’s melting the snow – finally!)
And now back to our gently interrupted discussion. Where exactly do stories come from? I can’t speak for others, but for me they just sort of appear. I got the idea for Enders & Associates from a damned wine bottle! Yep, that’s the gawl-darned truth. It was sitting on our kitchen counter; my in-laws had bought it when they’d come for a visit and had left it at our house. (Neither Marcy nor I are big drinkers, and when we do imbibe its usually not wine.) I was still working in the Arctic at the time, and in fact was just about to walk out the door to drive into Anchorage to get on a plane and head up there, and happened to glance at the bottle. I don’t remember the name of the vintner, but it had a picture of a man’s face on the label. He looked like someone from the early part of the twentieth century, such were his clothes, and I remember thinking that was a rather strange image to put on a wine bottle label. But the bigger, more consequential thought that came to me was the story for Enders. Well, not the entire story, but the salient parts of it. I’ve never had a story occur to me in its entirety. Generally, as in this instance, I’ll get a bit of inspiration which could be anything, then build the story around it. My short story Greta’s Got a Bat came about because the title occurred to me. That’s it. The title popped into my head one day, I created a blank Word document, named it with the title of the story, then wrote the thing. I’ve actually had several stories start out as nothing more than titles. A good title frequently proves to be extremely rare and elusive prey, so when I come across one I like, I always make sure to capture it in the form of a Word document. I just name the file whatever the title is, then it sits in a folder on my hard drive until I come up with a story to match it. Not long ago I wrote one called Stuck on Fairview Loop in precisely that manner. A guy I work with said that phrase one day, and I thought it was a great title for a story, so I stole it. Thanks Chris!!! Sorry, no royalties yet. But my larger point is that I had the title for months until a story came to me that matched it.
So what the hell is the point of all this rambling, you might be asking? There isn’t one, other than this: I was reading a bit of BF1 the other day, trying to make sure I didn’t contradict something in the plot with a bit I was working on in BF3. In a work of this scale, with this many characters and plot lines, it’s easy to forget little details. “Did so-and-so tell whoseywhatsit about his/her magic powers?” Shit like that. I have five separate Word documents of notes for BF - characters, places, miscellaneous, plot lines, the shortest of which is five pages, and I still forget things. Sorry, digressed again. Like I said, I was reading through BF1 and realized that my prose was just not very good. Granted it was my first book, my first time writing a piece of fiction really since high school, and I’ve read much worse prose in my life, but if I was writing it now, it would be… hopefully better. Look, I know I’m not Dickens, Hugo or Tolstoy, nor will I ever be, and that’s ok. I write how I write. If you like it - great! If not – there isn’t much I can do about it, (I love the sun but it’s getting tremendously difficult to see, not to mention warm.) so I won’t let it bother me. But I will keep writing, even if it’s only to produce some random thoughts like these. The answer to the question asked at the beginning of the paragraph is this: I want to be a better writer. In order to be one I need to write. So I’m writing this since I don’t have an idea that I like for any of the stories I’m working on. It’s in the action, the doing, that one realizes progress and improvement.
Epilogue: Writing this the day after everything preceding this passage. Thankfully the sun isn’t in my eyes yet. I got past that little blockage in BF3 I mentioned yesterday. Knew I would, it’s always just a matter of when. And here is the really cool thing to me: Getting past it involved creating an entirely new character, a new area of a city I’m fleshing out, and an entirely new plot thread that led to a few new insights into another very enigmatic character who has befuddled me a bit. It only took 500 words, which I wrote in about a half hour, but I spent probably an hour in the imagining. This shit is so much fun! I’ve written before about how I do not plan or outline anything beforehand. I sit down at my computer, put my hands on the keyboard, and write. So I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen in that scene until I imagined and wrote it. I’m discovering this story as I go along, just like anyone reading it will. That, to me, is the truly magical part of all this. What the hell is my demented brain going to spit out next?!
April 3, 2022