So in my starting on this new project, I've done more than my fair share of thrashing around. A lot. Way worse than QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS. I guess the sophomore slump is a real thing. Or I'm letting it be real. Whichever.
This has led me down some sorta dark paths. Some of them have a lot to do with stuff outside the book and me letting that seep in (dangerous -- don't do this). Some of them have to do with the way my laughable career is limping along (ditto). Some of them have to do with my own expectations on the whole process (tritto). Like this thing gets easier the more you do it. Ha ha ha. The problems just mutuate.
In my desire to esqape from the quagmire, I've gone and done some questionable things. Mostly overthinking things.
But I went ahead and gave my own process some thought. In retrospect, this might've been a mistake, ripping open the hood of an engine that I have no real idea how to tinker with. If you've been following me for any length of time, you've probably encountered my whole philosophy of writing. In short, writers serve as a channel or medium or avatar of what is largely an unconscious force. The best stuff is going to happen when you stop thinking about it.
Now that doesn't mean stop practicing. The practice is absolutely essential. You practice everything from touch typing to organizing ideas offline to storing experiences to noting weird connections and holding onto them. You practice this stuff so that you can pull from it without thought. Smash that goddamn ego. It's only getting in your way. Them janks is heavy and you tire carrying them for any length of time.
Granted, this is me. I'm sure other, saner and far more successful writers will tell you that everything I'm saying is not only wrong, but the mark of the unprofessional, etc etc. Fair point. I'm a feral writer. Always have been. Now feral doesn't mean irrational or unthinking, strictly reactive. Wolves plan the hell out of things, work the pack enough so that all the pieces mesh together to make what is in effect a meta-wolf which could do things no single wolf could hope to do. Feral isn't unintelligent. Perhaps un-schooled (which is relatively ironic given that I'm a highly educated feral dude who's far more interested in ethnomethodology than is perhaps healthy.)
So I've been letting ego get in the way. Now, in the pre-writing phase, you want some ego in place. You've got to have a framework to go from, even if it's a loose one. Otherwise you run the risk of trying to do everything. And you can't. Art is about making choices. If you try to do everything, you will end up doing none of it well. You'll just get lost. That's what the pre-writing is for, the thread.
Of course, pre-writing can be a good way to put off writing. That's one of the things that it's real good for. And why do we put things off?
Because we're afraid of them. I'm afraid of them, to sharpen the point some.
Not gonna lie. There's plenty to be afraid of. Reaching for something you can't hope to grasp. Let's just stick with that. Yeah, I'm afraid of the realities of life in the Howling Pit and how books come and go in the blink of an eye and they have about that long to establish an audience, that the long tail really isn't a thing, that I've only barely been able to get arrested in this town. Let's put that aside.
Just being afraid that the last time you did it was a fluke, you know? That you're trying to not even put your arms around a thing, but just put a hand on it and get that jolt of contact and experience, that you're reaching for even that and maybe there's nothing to reach. Maybe you're just gonna get burned. Maybe it's the void, and it wasn't nearly as welcoming as you were told it would be.
"But you've already done it, man. You've published books."
Oh boy, you don't know nothing about nothing. That's the game, that's the joke, that's the fear. For one thing, I'm hoping not to write the same book twice or three times. I might have a few themes that I'm caught in the gravitational pull of; I'll cop to that. That's not the same thing as writing the same book over and over with different wrapping paper on it.
Which gets me to some of the things that I've done in this whole murderous pre-writing slog for this new thing. Namely, reading writing advice books. This is not a thing I should be doing, simply because it inevitably and without fail makes me either sad, angry or depressed. I've said this before, but what lots of people are looking for in these volumes isn't writing advice but success advice. And hell, who wouldn't want that? Damn, if I could just take the lessons of a book and internalize and execute them and have success based on that? I'd do that and pay for the privilege. And it'd be a load off my mind. Believe me. I spend far too much time thinking about what happens (or rather what doesn't happen) to books after they're out there and they make their ripples then disappear to sunken R'lyeh. Well, maybe Dread Cthulhu will at least leave a review on Amazon.
Success advice would be great. It doesn't exist. There's no formula for it.
Hell, there's no formula for telling a story. I mean, sure, there is. There's books filled with 'em. And if you're clever, you can make them work for you. And if you squint, you can reverse engineer just about any book to make these formulas seem to work (hint: movies are a lot easier to do this with, particularly most every movie with any significant budget made any time after 1990 or so.) You'll be beleagured by both structural advice and formulae as well as how to make characters who can be fixed so that their heroic journey can be completed on the page. As an aside, my daughter started watching STAR WARS (the original one, the only one that gets to be called STAR WARS) for high school English. "Oh, hero's journey, right?" I asked. She just sighed and nodded her head. That stuff is ingrained in the culture now. Hero has a flaw; hero goes on journey to fix flaw; hero solves flaw and becomes hero who is needed to win the day; the end.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss five bucks goodbye.
All that this does is feed into the whole meta-genre of Character as Problem to be Solved, which is unfortunately an omnipresent one. You'll be taught how to put the right beats in place so that story will be executed and your promise fufilled. Guaranteed! Gamble a stamp! I can show you how to be a real writer!
Like I said, I don't want to write the same book over and over. Or a seven book series or even a three book series when one will do the job. Besides, that's franchise. That's Anti-Life, the death that seems like life, the stasis that appears as if it is thriving abundance. I know, I only badmouth franchise because I've never come up with anything popular enough to be its own franchise.
Gonna be honest, if I created a franchise, I'd probably hand it off before it became one. Not unless I really needed that much time to tell a story, and I don't think that's gonna happen because that simply isn't the way my stupid brain works. Believe me, it'd be easier to come out with some appealing characters and throw up a backgdrop where things seem to change just enough to keep people interested and just roll things along. That's a hell of a lot less work than having to rebuild the wheel from scratch every time.
But I can't do that. Stupid brain. Or whatever. Stupid thing that I'm channelling from the other side.
Anyways, it's time to start reaching into that, no matter how scary it is. Just think about it, the thing that I'm good at, one of the only few things that I'm good at, isn't even me. It's something else that maybe gets filtered through me, but I doubt I'm the most interesting part of the equation. I just have to hope that it's there when I sit down and reach out for it. You know, do the goddamned work.
Speaking of which, I've cracked the last research volume that I need to skim. After that I just need to dive in and do surgery as I go along. This is not how I usually work. But I suppose it's how I'm going to have to work now if I want to get a damned thing done and not sit around in a pool of my own piss like Phaedrus from ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTAINENCE. Yeah, I don't recall a whole lot of that book from when I read it back in intro to Sociology, but I remember the spiral of analysis that leads to breakdown. And yeah, sure, ride the spiral, but recognize you're riding that spiral so that you can jump off before the recursion loops get so tight that they cut everything else off.