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?

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Finally…

No, I don’t write the blog as often as I used to. At least I have a good reason for it.

 

Tribal Wars: Episode 1

 

The wordcount will jump a notch when I inevitably add some words of description but the main text is finished.

Next step: finding beta readers.

How about a little experiment?

Recently, I saw the trailer for the continuation of the movie “300” called “300, Rise of an empire”. The first movie was good (not great, since I am a history nut) and after seeing the trailer for the upcoming sequel, I thought it would be a nice experiment to try to guess its plot. I haven’t read any of the comics so what follows is technically not a spoiler, even if I guess right.
I think this movie will turn into a battle between two women. The first one is obviously Queen Gorgo (played by our favourite queen Lena Headey), defending home and hearth and all that is good and pure in this world. The second is Artemisia (played by Eva Green whose immense green eyes have persuaded me to base a character in a story of mine after her). In the trailer, Artemisia shows an interestingly intense hatred towards the Greeks. A shot of a little girl watching a city in flames suggests that that is a young Artemisia, watching the destruction of her home. The grown Artemisia is seemingly out for revenge. Since Artemisia was originally a queen from Karia?, it would make sense that the Greeks burned her home in the beginning of the war (for example, Sardis was burned by Eretrians and Athenians which provoked Xerxes’ predecessor Darius to respond with an invasion of Greece).
As for the plot of the new movie, it is my opinion that Artemisia seduced Xerxes and then talked him into attacking Greece since she herself was not strong enough to attack it on her own. In the trailer, you can see that Xerxes returned to Babylon. It would make sense that he softened the target for his mistress. He also granted her command of the Persian navy so she could exact her vengeance. My guess is that the primary target of her revenge is Athens. In the first movie, Athenians are harly mentioned but it is peculiar that Xerxes offers Leonidas dominion over Greece and especially over the Athenians. So Leonidas and the Spartans were nothing more than an obstacle to the main target. Also, historically, after winning at Thermopylae, Xerxes marched on Athens and burned it. This could very well be used in the movie as the revenge of Artemisia. As for the Athenians, they ran to Salamis which is where they fought the naval battle against the Persian fleet. From the trailer, it looks like Artemisia will come herself to finish the job.
So suddenly this movie is not about manly men fighting in hand to hand combat, it is about one woman that manipulates a man in the name of revenge, and another woman that inspires other men in the name of defense (and possibly revenge since she is a widow). I’m not sure why this sounds like I’m a woman-hater. It seems to make a sensible plot for a movie where physical strength of male characters is the primary trait. Unless they throw Xena in there, female characters can’t fight physical confrontations. What’s left is the psychological battle. And it would make a nice twist that in the heart of both war engines sits a woman.

That would be my guess, anyway. Now let’s wait and see the movie.

Tribal Wars: Act 1 finished

16,140 words for the first act. A bloody start to a rather large story that is the historical foundation for the upcoming series A New Kind of Warfare (three of the nine books are already written but editting proves to be a real bitch; there are some that might be familiar with the Warfare stories though I suspect they do not visit this blog).

Damn but I have to find a faster way to write this. I may be a veteran when it comes to writing but I’m a complete noob about finishing and publishing this stuff.

NaNoWriMo report #1

Yes, I was wrong. 50,000 words do not come easy. I’ve been getting emails from the NaNoWriMo team, saying things like “Skip to the scenes with meat on them, and laugh in the face of linearity.” Ah, but this is exactly what I’m trying to avoid with this story. If I did what they wanted me to, I would have another Arena on my hands. Arena was written precisely in this way, writing just the interesting bits. And you know what? The boring parts that you eventually stick in between are so boring that you lose your readers. I’ve been patching and repatching Arena for four years now and still I’m not done. I’m not making the same mistake with Tribal Wars.
One chapter is done. 30 pages in 10 days? I’m calling that a success. Now it’s time to get my bearings for the coming chapters. I’m not doing this blind and disorganized again. In the meantime, let’s see what Prison World will turn into.