A land forged from the fires of strife, blood of heroes, and touch of the gods.
Where deeds of great valor, vile evils, and blazing passions intertwine
to shape the course of elven and human history within.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What To Do When The Saga Is Complete

You're done with it. All of it. Complete and published, on the shelves, selling like the proverbial hotcakes (hotcakes... mmmmm...). Reviews are great, readers are hailing the final installment as a great finish for a series that spans nearly a hundred years of book-time and scores of characters.

Births. Deaths. Victories. Defeats. Intrigue. Betrayals. Love. Romance. Sex. More sex. (yeah, we like sex, right?) It's all been part of the story, and now it's done. You bask in the glory, the adulation, the accolades. You raise a glass, propose a toast, and celebrate 'til the cows come home. 

Now what?

I find myself approaching this very point with The Ardwellian Chronicles, as Book Six is nearly complete and will be ready for the bookshelves next Spring. So like I said, now what?

First of all, I expect to feel a bit of letdown. Heck, I'm already feeling it, to be honest, because I know this is IT! The final book in the series, the last installment, the final roundup, The Last Huzzah (which is the title of the last part of Chapter Twelve, by the way). 

Oh, I have four more books planned in the series, but they're NOT in the sequential timeline like these six are. A couple will be collections of short stories that fill in some blanks, one will have essays and reprintings of some Elf Stuff, and one might even be a graphic novel, or an illustrated novel. But I don't have a schedule for those books... yet. Why? Because I want to (a) take a break from Ardwel, (b) write some other stuff, and (c) think about what's ahead in other areas of life.

By the time Book Six, Breath by Breath, is complete and available, I'll have been writing Ardwel for thirteen years straight. Six novels. Three compendiums. About a million-and-a-quarter words. And my brain is tired. 

Any time creative people complete a work, we always feel a sense of accomplishment, but a bit of melancholia as well, because that work is done, and we'll never have the satisfaction of doing it again... until we find the next challenge, the next project, the next... outlet. Because that's exactly what writing is to me, an outlet for my creativity. We need it, we crave it, we MUST HAVE IT! If creative people don't get their "fix", they become lethargic, dull, unmotivated, unhappy. Hell hath no furry like an unfulfilled artist! 

When you, a writer (or artist, or musician, or sculptor, or any other type of creative person) complete a project, be sure to take a bit of time to recharge and refresh. But my best advice is, BEFORE that time arrives, be sure to look around and find something to pique your interest that you can keep in mind, for when your project in hand is done. That way you'll have a fresh start all lined up and ready to go. You'll be chomping at the bit, straining against the reins, ready to release the brake and go screaming down the track once again. You know you will. It's what we do.

The best cure for an old love is a new love.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What's It All About?

So you want to be a writer? Good. Let me tell you a story (pun intended).

My writing for the last twelve years has been a serious hobby. I've written and published five novels of two hundred thousand-word average length and three compendiums. Now I've begun the steps to seriously get things moving, not with the fantasy novels I've written, but in SF short stories. So I guess you could say I needed a hobby away from my hobby.

Something most of us never really considered when we started writing, whether a short story, a novel, or a full series: writing is hard work. It separates you from your family and friends for long periods of time. It requires immense concentration, focus on not only the scene in process, but the work overall and how that scene integrates into it. You have voices in your head all yelling for their time and exposure in the story. Sometimes they stop talking to you because you're trying to get them to do something they don't want, or you won't let them do something they want to do. This is the real definition of writer's block, when your characters stop talking to you.

You’ll go to bed at night exhausted from your daily routine; work, the kids, the family, other activities, whatever. Your head will hit the pillow, then it starts. The voices again. Why is it we can’t hear those voices during the day and write down the things they’re saying then? Why do they wait until you’re tucked beneath the covers and drifting into dreamland? Because only then do they have your undivided attention. And they won’t let up on many an occasion. I’ve learned, if the muse decides to visit at 3:00am, you’d better (a) have a recorder in arm’s reach to dictate to, (b) a notepad you can scribble illegibly on, or (c) drag yourself out of bed to type up a few notes so you won’t forget “the best scene ever”. Just do it, as the advertisement says.

Once you've finished your first draft, the real work begins; editing, trimming, tightening, polishing, making a rough manuscript into a real story, something you can show to others with pride and say "see, I wrote this, and it's pretty darn good!".

If you're going for traditional publishing, you will need an agent, or a publisher who will take submissions without an agent. Then you wait, and wait, and wait. In the meantime, if your creative juices are renewed, you want to start working on the next installment, or a new story, or something entirely different. But in the back of your mind is the one you just sent out, and you can't get it out of your head.

If you're self-publishing, you must put a cover together, do the formatting for the service you've chosen, write your back blurb, lay it all out and go through the process several times when you catch errors. You become the publisher, and you suddenly realize, it's all up to you how this book looks on the shelf and whether or not readers will even pick it up.

Patience will be tried, nerves will be frayed, heartstrings will be plucked, anger will be piqued. And there's nothing you can do about it. Except carry on.

I always run the full gauntlet of emotions: Relief, amazement, exhaustion, then I move into the happiness, joy, pride, and it usually ends with "dammit, did I forget something???", and I immediately start soul-searching about what I might have left out.

Then I settle back into reality and set it aside for a while, feeling a deep emptiness and sense of loss. But also a feeling of freedom, that I don't have THE MANUSCRIPT chained to my ankle anymore and I can focus on getting away for a bit. I work in my yard, ride my bike a little more, do domestic stuff I've put off for months, and spend a little more time with friends and family. At last I realize I've completed the task and at some point, dive into the editing/rewriting/polishing phase, which can take longer than writing.

Then I start it all over again with the next book...

Any artistic endeavor is a journey, and that is what draws us to it; the process itself, not so much the end product, but the creation of our ideas and bringing them into physical reality. Holding a book in your hand, that you have written, with characters you have created, and words you have penned, is not like any other process. You have brought people who never existed to life, born of your own mind and heart, living, breathing, real people with hopes and dreams of their own.

And it's nearly impossible to let them go. They are children of your soul, and you have raised them from beginning to where they are now.

And sometimes you cry. Not of sadness, but joy, like any parent seeing a child leaving home to make their way in the world. And if you've done your best, that's all anyone can ask of themselves.

Relax. Take a breath. Raise a glass.

You're an author.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What to do When Your Work Disappears

“Wait a minute. It was just here! I just pulled it up to make some changes! Now it’s gone?”
“It’s gone???”
If you’ve never experienced the above scenario in your writing, you are fortunate. And yes, that’s about how it usually goes. Surprise. Shock. Denial. Panic. Tears.
Late last year I had the supreme excitement of finishing my fifth novel. A couple of days after typing the closing scene, I decided I wasn’t quite finished. So I wrote another closing scene and was happy with it. Next day, it was gone. Poof. Disappeared. Apparently the victim of a mini-crash.
Three weeks ago, I completed the third chapter of my sixth novel. Ten thousand words. Seven or eight days of work. A few nights later I pulled it up again. I was multi-tasking; watching streaming sports and arguing with someone on FB about politics (hey, we all need a hobby, right?). Somehow along the way, I deleted the whole chapter. All ten thousand words. Not just deleted, but lost. No trace. Gone forever.
Yes, in both cases, the scenario was true and followed script.
Anytime you are working on a computer, there is a chance all your work will be lost. Hard drives crash. Files get misfiled. Stuff gets highlighted and deleted by mistake. It happens to all of us at least once in our writing careers. So what to do?
The first thing, of course, is realize you will panic. You will weep and wail. You will be angry, in denial, furious that such a thing could happen. Hopefully, you will stop before you hurt someone, hurt yourself, or damage your computer beyond repair. Please, don’t do these things. It’s not worth it. Again, speaking from experience.
But anger is fine. Frustration is OK. Sadness will come. Rage is not acceptable, however. You’re an adult. You can be mad as you want, but rein it in when you’ve shed your tears and shouted at the walls.
You will likely find yourself numb for a while. This, too, is normal. You may not be able to immediately start reconstructing what you’ve lost. This is probably a good idea. Get away for a bit. Go for a walk. Direct your attention elsewhere. Yes, it will linger in your mind, but give yourself a break and, once the initial shock has passed, move to acceptance. You’ve messed up. Your computer messed up. The gods were angry. Whatever. “Cast out anger”, as the Vulcans say.
In the case of my missing scene last year, I slept on it; however badly, I slept on it. Two days later, I started the new last scene. It wasn’t exactly the same. It wasn’t exactly right. But it would do for now. And as the week progressed, I tweaked it a bit, and it ended up fine.
My theory about writing is, your brain is ROM (read-only memory), and your story resides in it. Once you’ve downloaded (written) the story to the page, it’s gone from your mind. It then exists as RAM (random-access memory) that you can look at and change as necessary. But the original story, the words you wrote initially, are gone. After all, you have your page, right?
That’s why we can’t reconstruct things exactly as they were. And this is the real source of our panic. We’ll never have those words again; in that order, in those phrases and sentences, with those inflections and meanings. And when we lose them, we’re crushed beyond belief.
Your characters will likely stop talking to you, for a day, a week, maybe forever, who knows? But if they’re dear to you, then you, the author, are dear to them. And they’ll come back.
For a while, it will be a tenuous relationship, like after a serious fight with your significant other. Trust has been broken and must be reformed. Hearts have been wounded, deeply. Give it time. No matter how much you want to start pounding the keys again, give it a chance to heal first. Then begin again.
You will find, as I did, the real meaning of your story, then. You may decide things were really not going as you had planned and need adjusting. Maybe the pace was too slow, or too fast, or in the wrong direction. Consider then, you have a chance to make it better. Not the same, for certain, because those words are gone. But difference isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And for all the pain you’ve just experienced, consider it a lesson from which to learn. You’re a writer, an author. You have the ability. You can rebuild it. You can find the trust again.
And you’ll smile when you realize you passed the test.