I haven’t written a philosophical rant in a while, so I thought I’d indulge. And when I say rant, I really mean it. LOL Sometimes it helps to vent my frustration in written form. I don’t expect it to change the world, but I’m also not willing to change myself to fit the world, or meet it half way. At least on this one point. Read on to see what I mean by that.
Two things I can tell you about writing fiction:
- It’s hard work
- It only gets harder
When I say it’s hard work, I mean it takes far more than just jotting down what your imagination dictates. The greater part of writing is rewriting. There are stories that practically write themselves, and once you get to the end and read it again, the plot is pretty much good as is. But then there are stories you agonize over every step of the way. You rewrite them a million times and when you finally get to the end you realize you need to rewrite it a hundred times more. That’s just the nature of the beast.
The thing about it is you get pickier as you grow. Your first books flow smoothly because you have no expectation of yourself, other than to get the story on paper. But after several rounds of feedback on different stories, you start to see patterns. You see where your weaknesses lie, where you need to improve. You start to doubt yourself more and more, and consider every word more carefully before you commit it to the page. You become your own worst critic and, believe it or not, that right there is what ultimately makes you a better writer. Now you know what you want out of the story. You know what feeling you want to convey, and what message you want your readers to get. You develop strong likes and dislikes in your own writing, and the struggle becomes more intense.
A third thing I can tell you about writing: The struggle is worth it.
It’s worth it if you care about the end result. The stories that end up making you the proudest are the ones you never gave up on. They say to write from the heart. YES! Absolutely. Do that all day long. But writing from the heart isn’t a walk in the park. It literally takes your all. It means you don’t just throw your hands in the air and say, “Oh, well, I guess that’s good enough!” when the going gets tough. You buckle down and work that much harder to smooth out the rough spots, fix plot holes, give your characters depth and a purpose.
As a writer and a reader, it frustrates me when I can tell the author (myself included) takes the easy way out. The curse of being able to see behind the curtain is that now I am much more critical of what I read and write. And the pressure is even more intense when it’s an entire series on the line.
Any writer will tell you the beginnings are easy. You get a fresh new idea, your muse ramps up, and you just go-go-go until your fingers cramp and you fall asleep at your desk. Around the middle part, things get a little dicey. That’s when you need to have your characters well established, and your plot on its way to the main conflict. Once you get over that hurdle, the final one is the actual ending, and that can be the most difficult of all.
Expand that to a series, and your last book now carries the weight of all the previous ones on its back. It has to tie up every loose end and neatly wrap up the story while also standing on its own as a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. No pressure!!
At this moment, I am in the process of writing the last part of the last book in my Dawn of Ragnarok series, and a picnic it is not. I’m now so emotionally invested in these characters that I want to do right by them in every regard. It’s a tricky book in so many different ways and every time I think one part is finished, I wake up in the middle of the night because I realize I’d created (or found) another issue that needs to be fixed. The next day, I open my file and go back yet again to find the problem area and fix it.
Like the title character himself, this story has layers upon layers and they keep shifting and changing with every iteration until the manuscript I have is not remotely what it was five iterations ago–and I don’t even have a complete first draft yet!
But the truth is, I would rather spend three years writing one book and make it the best it can possibly be than phone in three books in one year just to keep myself up in the New Releases on Amazon. But that’s me.
In the end, it comes down to what’s more important to you: Are you in it for the story, or the royalties? Are you writing to write, or to have written? Is this your passion, or your paycheck? None of these are mutually exclusive, by the way. But I still believe the old adage is true. You get out what you put in.
And this leads me to my official writing tip of the day:
You get back what you put in–so don’t ever give up. The struggle is worth it in the end. 🙂
Until next time!
Back in the day, I used to write out “Year in Review” blog posts every New Year’s Eve to document everything I’d accomplished that year. It wasn’t to brag, but rather to show myself I hadn’t wasted a year’s worth of time. I stopped doing it a while back, because I started using book releases as benchmarks of accomplishment. A full novel publication a year (plus the occasional novella) was a good year.
Sadly, it turns out there is a massive flaw with the book release benchmark approach: it ends up devaluing literally everything else I do throughout the year that isn’t a book release.
This year was particularly tough for me, and unfortunately I didn’t even finish that full-length novel, much less publish it. I know I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs all year long, but I still feel like I haven’t accomplished anything, or at least not as much as I should have, and it’s a crappy feeling to have. So I think it’s time to revive my annual blog tradition to keep myself accountable and knock it off with this self-pity bullshit.
This is very much a personal post, and its only purpose is to close out 2018 on a good note, despite all its problems.
I’m just going to go ahead and get the point across right at the start here: Books are magic. They just are. You can argue all you want, but you won’t convince me otherwise.
Books are magic, and in the hands of a skilled wizard, they change the face of the world–for better or worse, but mostly for the better, I think.
Books show us things we rarely see, or want to see. They open our minds to possibilities we never considered. Science has shown that reading fiction books enhances brain function and increases empathy in readers. Fiction allows us to escape to another place, another life, to live grand adventures and weather terrible tragedies, and experience fated love, all contained within the safety of a book. And whenever it gets overwhelming, we can set it aside for a while, catch our breath, and restore our equilibrium before moving on.
I am an immersive reader. When I read, I forget the outside world exists. I forget to get off the bus at my stop. I don’t feel hunger or thirst. I tune out the cloying noise of the real world, ignore what’s going on around me, and just sink into the story I’m reading. I become an unwritten character in the book, following the heroes’ journey from the shadows, but everything they see, I see. Everything they hear, I hear. The tone of the book sets the tone of my moods, and the characters’ personalities and attitudes affect my own. When I read about a brave hero, I find myself walking a little taller, speaking up a little louder. When I follow a character with a particular speech pattern or accent, it sometimes leaks into what I say and how I say it.
When I read Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, I kid you not, I had to stop a third of the way through because I sank into an existential crisis that made me resent just having to wake up at a set time in the morning to go to work. I was annoyed by everything and everyone that week. I hated my job and imagined quitting on a daily basis. I just didn’t see the point of it, and I hated the fact that I had to report to the office for those set times because they paid me to do it, and the usual bills just won’t go away on their own.
I applaud Mr. Bukowski for the brilliance of what he’s accomplished, but I will never read another of his books again. Not because he isn’t good, but because he’s too good. I read to escape the doldrums of everyday life, and he gleefully drags me back into them and sinks me even deeper, where I can’t see a way out.
But that’s the thing about fiction: When it’s good, it’s transformative. That’s why I prefer stories with happy endings, ones that are uplifting and awe-inspiring, because reading them changes my entire outlook on life and my place in it. It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything, and everything will work out in the end. Don’t scoff. I may put a brave face on it, but when my writing stalls, or when life throws obstacles and disappointments in my way I need a little encouragement.
The worst thing about books is that they end, and when they do, I’m forced to deal with reality again, where animals don’t talk, and Othercreatures don’t hide in the shadows, and people can’t change shape. It annoys me at the best of times, but when I’m interrupted in the middle of an intense scene, it actually jars me quite a bit and it takes me a second to reorient myself to the present.
I’m telling you. Magic. Guided astral projection that turns ordinary people into Seers.
The same phenomenon applies to my writing, too. I don’t make up the story, so much as watch it happen and describe what I see. When I type it out, it’s as if I’m revealing words that already exist on the page, and I become the book’s first reader.
Some writers do their best work when they outline a book and follow its path to the end. That doesn’t work for me. Whenever I write out an outline or summary, it feels as if I’ve already written the story. But it’s an abbreviated version, so I feel cheated out of the richness of the entire novel, but at the same time the impetus to write it out diminishes to almost nothing, because it’s “already done.”
It’s kind of like forcing myself into lucid dreaming. I never understood the appeal of that. The best thing about dreams is that they open doors I never would have thought to open. Why would I ever want to limit that to my conscious mind’s comfort zone? When my drift descends toward the water’s surface, why would I steer the dream into flight? The most amazing wonders could await me at the bottom of an ocean, for all I know.
Why would I ever want to give up the amazement of experiencing magic by reminding myself it’s not real?
My stories are daydreams I translate into words so others can enjoy them, too. I give them structure to make them coherent, but I never pull back or steer them in a particular direction. Even when–especially when–they lead somewhere new and potentially uncomfortable. That would be cheating myself and my readers out of its true potential.
I may or may not have been called a cynic and a pessimist in the past (although I prefer the word realist). When it comes to everyday life, I’ve had decades to learn that disappointment is a part of the human existence, and I temper my expectations accordingly. I’m also a control freak who, due to the aforementioned disappointments, has adopted the philosophy that “if you want it done right, do it yourself.”
Books and stories are where I let go of all that. Within the worlds of my imagination, I know that my characters know best. When a new one shows up with an outstretched hand and a twinkle in his eyes, I’m more than happy to follow wherever he decides to lead. No arguments, no complaints.
Some people drink or smoke to “loosen up”, others dance or exercise. I dream.
Hi, my name is Alianne, and I am a shameless dreamaholic. 🙂
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. In my home country, this day is celebrated with appropriate pomp: women get flowers, chocolates, they get acknowledged at work, in school, at home, etc. In America, this day is not even marked on the calendar. It simply does not exist. And when someone brings it up, they get odd looks, condescending smirks, and a brush-off.
Yesterday, I somehow stumbled upon a bunch of TED Talk videos on YouTube on various topics pertaining to women. I was fascinated by these, and spent a good few hours watching them. Many of those messages rang so true for me personally and for what I observe around me every single day. It seemed like such a revelation that these speakers (all of them women) finally managed to put it into the right words, but at the same time it was almost insulting that it had to be put into words for people to acknowledge that it’s real, and it’s happening, and it’s having a massive impact on women all around the world.
Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends wrote a post about how difficult it is to share one’s pride in a personal accomplishment, because it inevitably gets met with a negative response. I had another small revelation while reading that post. It’s true. We’ve become a society where we shower sympathy and attention on people who struggle, who meet with tragedy, who are having a hard time, and somehow take it as a personal insult when people share their achievements, as if those achievements somehow reflect badly on us. Women especially have a hard time with this. Because women are taught to be the peace keepers, not the competitors. They are taught to be quiet, and humble, and inclusive, rather than brave, entrepreneurial, and confident. A confident woman is seen as vain, proud, intimidating, and unattractive.
Part of why I struggle so much with book promotion is that it necessitates a level of confidence and extraversion that I simply don’t possess. I don’t know how to brag about myself, and even when I try, I always end up doing it in a joking, self-deprecating way. Case in point:
This is my attempt at celebrating my achievements. The note says:
This is an Alianne Donnelly book published by Alianne Donnelly.
It’s not bragging if it’s true.
It is printed on the copyright page of every one of my new IngramSpark books. I wanted to do something to acknowledge how much freaking work I did on those books. Those are my books from start to finish. I wrote them. I formatted them. I designed the covers. I set them up on IngramSpark and published them. The only things I didn’t do were the editing and the actual printing/binding/shipping of the physical copies*. The rest is all me.
Eight books I created this way. Eight of them. In a span of three months. That is a massive undertaking, and a huge achievement more confident people would be trumpeting to the stars.
Me? I shared a few posts outlining the workflow, and printed a short little note on the copyright page, which no one except a hardcore bibliophile ever reads.
No, I don’t like to brag. In fact, I hate being the center of attention for any reason. I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of person. I keep the wheels spinning, and let someone else stand out on stage. I’m often overlooked, underestimated, undervalued, or flat-out ignored, and 99% of the time, it doesn’t bother me.
I know that I’m accomplished, and very much capable and, when it comes to this writing and publishing business, I know I can put out a hell of a book. I know, because I’ve already done it. And I know I can do it again.
But saying it out loud still feels wrong. It feels like I’m bragging, and even I argue with myself that all the things I consider awesome are completely subjective, and people will still find fault with them. That stupid doubt laughs at me and say that if I was really that awesome, I would be much farther along by now. I hate that internal voice, because it’s right. It’s the reason I sometimes get writer’s block so bad I don’t write a word for months.
It’s also the reason why I keep going, keep learning, keep improving on everything I do. Yes, the finish line keeps getting pushed farther and farther, but I’m stubborn as hell, and I cling like crazy to the one thing that makes the struggle worth it: the stories.
So, today, belatedly, I celebrate International Women’s Day by proclaiming to the world at large that I am one woman strong. My achievements are real, and tangible, and freaking awesome. They are my contribution to the world and I am proud of them.
*Though, ironically, I have done that, too, for unrelated reasons and projects at my day job.