Writing Anxieties: Finishing Things

They say to beginner writers that the first, hardest step is starting, putting pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard. That to take that first bold stroke is what separates you from those who write and those who don’t.

I’m going to call bullshit on that. Because frankly? Starting something is easy. It’s the seeing it through and finishing it that’s the hard part.

It’s the same thing in other parts of life as it is with writing. Half begun projects of arts and crafts varieties litter many a house. Schemes of various corporations, think-tanks, universities, schools, and the rest of them, grand ideas that ultimately go no where.

Exactly the same with writing.

Ideas are easy. I can sit of an afternoon and have half a dozen, and even come up with a decent plot in the confines of my head. But it’s the putting it down on paper, structuring it, making it coherent to someone who is not you…that takes time.

What often happens with me is this: have idea. Put aside current work-in-progress that I’m slogging through. Type up notes for idea. Get into idea, and decide that it is going to flow brilliantly and smoothly and the process for this is going to be perfect and amazing and will work out so much better than any other project before. Keep writing. Hit wall. Freak out that this is not in fact the most perfect and amazing process of creating a piece. Assume this means there’s something wrong with me as a writer. Put work aside…or get distracted by another idea. Repeat.

And you can see what happens as a result. Work doesn’t get finished. And as much as any writing can be practice, the act of seeing something through to the end is part of that. I learned that when I properly won Nanowrimo a few years back. Two years before that I pounded out 50,000 words of what I now call draft 0.5 of the Dragon Novel, and while that large amount of words was an accomplishment, there was still a sense of not having quite made it. It was only in 2008 when I actually finished the story itself in 50,000 words that I felt that sense of having made it. Of course, it was a flawed piece, and needs a massive amount of revision, and may ultimately be a ‘trunk novel’ (I live in hope it will not be), but still, it was a sustained, complete story.

I’m still trying to get into the practice of finishing things. Getting better with it, but still, there is that anxiety of all the works in progress sitting in my writing folder. That I wonder will I ever finish all the works I have there, will I get back to them, will the work I’ve put into them before mean something. I am starting to learn that an unfinished work isn’t the end of the world, and that some ideas don’t just work as well as others, and that perhaps I did learn something while I was working on a piece that ultimately lead to no where. But it’s finishing stuff in the meantime too that needs practice. It can be like punching through concrete, or waiting for your forehead to start bleeding, but after that, the feeling is way better than the fretting over the unfinished.

Then I think about that really great idea I had while at work…

Dragon Day: Why dragons?

I was tempted to begin this blog post series with ‘what is a dragon?’ but was very quickly stopped when I realised that that question is worthy of a book all of it’s own.

So I decided to go for something a bit simpler; why do I have an interest in dragons?

Unlike many people, I didn’t start the Dragon Novel from a prior love of them. Even now I don’t have what one might call a ‘fannish’ attitude towards them. That I didn’t have one before may be because of the sheer ubiquity of the dragon image. In fantasy art, in everyday symbolism, in designs on old buildings, or, to take an Australian, the image of the bank St George, dragons are everywhere, and, seeming to be something that everyone was into, well, that was necessarily off-putting, but not really something I wanted to pursue.

Diverging from a moment, I think that it is this very proflicacy of the dragon image that renders my initial question ‘what is a dragon’ extremely difficult. When something is so widespread, its meaning becomea highly fractured. The European/Western dragon has had a long association with evil, a beast to combat for a righteous cause, but that has been upset in most interesting ways in modern times. From the late 19th century with humourous accounts such as Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon, whose presence terrifies the locals but who personally prefers poetry, to the dragons of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books who, while intimidating, are ancient and wise rather than agents of terror. I wonder sometimes if it is this particular interpretation that tends to dominate, at least amongst readers of speculative fiction, who respond to the potential power and awesomeness in the most literal sense of the word, who imagine themselves not so much as dragon-slayer, but as either a rider of a dragon or perhaps the dragon themselves. There are people to better answer these questions out there, I think, and I would be most curious to hear from them.

But for me, the interest came at a very precise and identifiable moment. In a bout of procrastination during my honours year, I found myself on Wikipedia (as you do). I’m not sure precisely how I found myself on a the page about dragons, but there I was, reading away, when I came across the story of Smok Wawelski, the dragon of Krakow. It wasn’t the story itself that intrigued me, though, but rather, how people have remembered it. The article had just two lines on the fact that a statue of the dragon had been built and place at the mouth of the cave it once dwelt in, and that it was constructed to breath fire. Furthermore, tourists to Krakow could buy a whole host of dragon related paraphernalia if they wanted.

My thought on this: hmm, that’s interesting, but imagine how you’d feel if you were the dragon, being reduced to tourist kitsch?

And that was it. The spark of an interest. In many ways it’s an academic one, seeking out meaning and reason rather than basking in the pure joy of them, but I suppose that’s not a bad thing. It’s led me into interesting places. Let’s hope that it long continues.

Writing Anxieties: Will I Make It?

As a writer just starting to get work published, though one whose been writing for a long time, this seemed like an appropriate place to start.

Will I succeed? It’s a thought that plagues all writers at some point. Even the most arrogant, because unless they are actually delusional, those who are so full of themselves and sure of their talent have their moments of doubt too. Trust me on this.

The thoughts that go through our heads on this topic are vast and numerous. Will I succeed, we think, as we read about the latest book deal for thousands of dollars or pounds for that awesome debut novel that everyone in the publishing industry is talking about. Will I succeedd, when the print and online media, writing blogs, publishing blogs, and off the cuff twitter remarks declare how hard it is to get published in today’s world, how the whole scene is changing with the uptake of eBooks and eReaders. Will I succeed, thinks the script writer, wondering who the hell amongst the people they know might have a line to someone who can get films made or plays produced, because it’s all about connections, don-cha-know? Will I succeed, when we look at the top ten best-sellers and wonder if our work just doesn’t fit any kind of marketable mould that could be sold.

Then we open up our word documents, stare at the blank page, and the fear of not succeeding, that all our efforts will be for nought, that we could put years and years of work into this and get precisely no where…and it paralyses us. (Or me at least.)

And that’s just the question of publication and production. Getting that first foot in the door is one thing, but then after that…you begin to wonder what actually counts as success. Am I successful, for instance? In some people’s eyes, yes. I’ve been published. And that is a really wonderful feeling. But then other questions come up. Will I be read? Will people remember my work in a long time to come, or will it just be a flash in the pan? Am I successful if the critics love me but my books sell poorly, or if I make piles of money while the critics groan and wish I never put pen to paper? Which of those counts as ‘success’?

Then we make a cup of tea/preferred hot beverage and contemplate these deeper questions. We wonder what our options are. Should I go for the traditional path of agent/publisher/print book? Do I try follow in the steps of eBook success stories like Amanda Hocking? Do I try for short stories, do I focus on my novel ideas, do I seek out network connections before my work is even finished? And what’s this social networking thing over here…

So many questions…but the answers will not come. Because I won’t really know if I am successful until, well, I am. Sure, I may have some predefined set of criteria that mark success, and I’ve hit the first one of those (publication), but will I be satisfied with just good feedback from people but no monetary gain? Will I be content to rake in the dollars but also the contempt of intelligent folks I respect? Will any of what I do matter?

All I can do is keep writing, keep trying to get work published, and hope.

And try not to be so anxious about this question. 😉

Site Launch!

Well, folks, here it is. My brand spanking new website and blog. Take a look around and marvel! (Or not. As you will.)

Buoyed by the news that Every Night Erotica was to publish my short piece “Ripe Fruit” (you can find it here, and with the approaching publication of the anthology Erotica Apocrypha from Freaky Fountain Press, I decided to finally get this site to a presentable state.

So, why a website and blog?

Whilst I have yet to be published in a big way – though I am proud of my small but growing publication record – the word on the winds of the internet tells me that all writers really need a website these days (how China Miéville manages with just a tumblr account I’ll never know. Wait, that’s because he’s highly decorated and critically acclaimed. Never mind.)

I’d like to think I’m not purely doing this as part of a trend/marketing purposes/because-the-king-of-the-potato-people-told-me-to. I have an instinct for archiving material, for keeping it together in one ordered place, and hey, these websites are all rather fun, right?

So, this new blog, what will it be all about? Two things mostly; writing, and dragons. I also have an erotic web serial in the planning stages, which you will hear more about in the coming weeks, but for now, here is the posting schedule.

Sunday: an update on my own writing. The length of this will vary – I foresee long rambling posts, as well as one word expletives in the future.

Wednesday: Writing anxieties. Which doesn’t sound like the most inspiring of series, but it occurred to me that all over the web are a ton of writing advice sites, you-go-get’em posts, publicity advice, how to use social media to your advantage, the perils and highs of publishing, etc. There are very few, however, about those freakouts and fears that most writers are prone to. These aren’t posts about wallowing in self-pity (though there’ll be a bit of that no doubt) but rather to express the worries and doubts and maybe reach out to people who share them.

Friday: Dragon Day. As many of my friends and family will know I’ve have years in the process of a novel affectionately referred to as ‘the Dragon Novel’, about PhD students studying dragons. The research for the novel sparked an interest in dragons themselves, and it seems that, while the novel itself is on a bit of a hiatus, I can keep up my interest by blogging about some facet of them. And there are many. Be prepared for images, film reviews, info about the most famous of the creatures, and other such flotsam so befitting your everyday draconologist.

And that’s it. Feel free to comment away – I’m leaving comments unmoderated for now, please keep things civil else I may have to change that. Which would be sad.

But before I go completely, some thanks to folks for helping me get this site up: Amanda, for generously allowing me to share her webspace. Katharina, for the photographs of me in on the Biography and Contact pages. Ana Laura, for her illustrations on “Red by the River”, and the promise of more to come.