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Long weekend + writing process thoughts

This was a particularly sweet long weekend because, up until Wednesday, I wasn't sure whether I was going to get it -- there was an event on Monday that I originally thought I would have to be present for, but my boss got me off the hook. Fabulous. It was too short, as such weekends always are, but it was still the break I needed to recover from the rush to get ready for the new quarter. I'll have to hit the ground running today, of course, but I might actually have the energy to do that now.

It was pretty low key -- Friday night was the school staff holiday party (yes, in January; that's the tradition at my school. In December there would be too many conflicts with finals), which was fun, if too loud. Saturday was be-lazy-around-the-house day. On Sunday, SE and SF came up for an excellent crab dinner. Monday I had made tentative plans for lunch and a movie with SE, but the long-promised winter storm blew in that morning and we decided it was too icky to go out, so I spent most of the day writing instead.

Writing Aftermath.

Anyone who has talked writing with me lately knows that Aftermath has been much on my mind in recent weeks, largely as a source of frustration. There is no question that this has been the hardest story for me to write ever: I started setting it down in October 2006, the first chapter was posted in February 2007, and it has continued to be a slow and painful process. Every year since 2007, "finish Aftermath" has been my primary fic-writing goal for the year to come, and every year I have failed to do so. Sometime, I pull it out, look at it, and put it away again; sometimes I pull it out, make edits, and put it away again; every so often, I pull it out and add a few words, get an inspiration for one scene and set it down, then get stopped dead by the next and put it away again.

Until yesterday, when I started writing, futzing around with ideas, took a couple of false starts, then suddenly hit on the right direction. And the next thing I knew, the chapter was nearly finished, and I knew not only how it was going to end but where the next chapter was going, which has been a problem throughout with Aftermath: I finish one chapter, segment, or scene with no idea what's going to happen after that. Aftermath is the first long story I ever started without a clear vision of where it was going to end. I have complained about writing endings in this space before, but that's in the context of shorts. Normally, when I start a long story, I have the image of the last paragraph in my head. It might change in the meantime, and I may have no idea how it's going to get there, but I have a destination. Aftermath began life as a short -- the first scene of the first chapter, Beclem at Operation Mi'ihen, was going to be the entire story -- but as I was writing it, the vision of the second scene (Beclem finding Nooj, who is on the run from the Travel Agency) appeared whole in my brain, and suddenly I was writing a novel. I knew from that point that Aftermath was going to be the story of the Youth League, but that was all I knew. Inspiration has come slowly, it has come in fits and starts, and it has come from talking ideas through with people, but the true leaps forward have only ever come from actually sitting down and writing.

This is a truism of writing, at least for me: inspiration may or may not come from writing, but it will never come from not-writing. I don't know why I have to keep re-learning this fact, but I do. And yet I continue to find ways to distract myself from stories that aren't coming easily -- catching up on Google Reader, chatting with people, getting sucked into the latest metafandom conversation, betaing and working on fandom projects. I don't want to give any of those things up, and I don't plan to (betaing, particularly, I think helps me to become a better writer, and so I think it should at least partly count as writing time), but I need to better learn when I am genuinely taking a break and when I am avoiding working on a story. Maybe if I hadn't avoided Aftermath for so long, it would be done by now and I could move onto the next major work with a clear conscience.

So I ask you, dear writers on the friends list: how do you tell the difference? How do you get started when the blank screen is staring you in the face and the weight of your own expectations for the story seem too much to bear? And how, short of tearing the Internet connection from the wall, do you shift your focus when the time comes? (I have thought of going offline, but I actually find the lack of a distraction to be more distracting than the distraction itself, if that makes any sense. I keep wondering if I'm missing anything. It's similar to my inability to concentrate in total silence.)

By the way, I finished the rough draft of Chapter Four this morning, and, in a first for this story, set down the first few words of Chapter Five, which ought to be the last. So the end is, possibly, in sight. Wow.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
Hoorah for productivity! As an aside, have you thought of beta-ing original writing? Not necessarily in terms of style, but for technical continuity, like grammar or tense?

Writing productivity:

First, I do better when I get rid of other lingering obligations. Homework or whatever.

Then I *do* tend to go offline. I download my research, as much as possible, and I take my computer places where they don't yet have wireless. I also find that a timer helps me. I race my words against the clock, and though much of it is tossable, something useful and interesting comes from nearly every session, which I can sharpen and nurture in subsequent sessions.

There's also an app for mac aimed at productivity that restricts your internet for a certain amount of time to whichever sites you designate. A dictionary, for example. Haven't used it myself, and unhelpfully and am on my way out the door and don't have time to look it up, but perhaps it's something to look into? I leave the task in your capable librarian hands! :D
Jan. 20th, 2010 04:15 am (UTC)
I have beta-ed original writing, a couple of times (one novel, an essay of creative non-fiction that was being prepped for publication), and I continue to be interested in doing so. It's a little different from fic, in that you do focus on technical issues rather than characterization, although in longer works I find that you learn the characters and can start looking for inconsistencies and such.

I really don't think that cutting off Internet access, even in a limited fashion, would work. It's one thing if I'm in a place where I'm used to the idea that I have to be offline -- say, on an airplane. But if I'm on a computer, I know that the 'Net is there with all these great people and shiny toys, just waiting for me. I find it terribly distracting when my Internet connection goes down, for example. I know many other people who do either shut down or limit their Internet access, and I can see in theory how it would be helpful, but not for me. It's easier when I know that I can dip in or out as I please.
Jan. 19th, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
"I have thought of going offline, but I actually find the lack of a distraction to be more distracting than the distraction itself, if that makes any sense."

This. When I'm offline, I'm miserable, even if I'm often using online not to get things done.

I definitely know what you mean about the weight of a stuck story making it hard to get going.

Sometimes I reconnect through the game. Also, for good and for ill, I have Blue Laguna's avis and the Crimson Squad avis, and sometimes I put those in VLC and have them going in the background while doing housework or cooking to get back into it. The danger is that it calcifies-- I know the story too well and I'm not hearing it anymore. The usefulness is that it gets the voices back in my head. It allows me to drop in all sorts of tiny details.

Unfortunately there isn't a complete archive of X-2 story cutscenes as there is for FFX.

Anyway. I would love to see where Aftermath goes. For my secondary ship of course *points at icon* but also to see what you do with it. X-2 is your world, the Youth League is Nooj-canon, and if anything could do great stuff with it, it's you, the way (I hope) my Lady Ginnem story will be if/when I get back to it.

And there's one that's sat forever, because LHAD demanded to be written.
Jan. 20th, 2010 04:25 am (UTC)
Sometimes I reconnect through the game.

Sometimes I do that too, although not as much recently because I've been so focused on the FF12 replay, and I don't want to disturb the images from that game that are still settling into my psyche. Also, I loaned FFX to a friend, which was a minor problem yesterday when I needed to know the layout of the Macalania Cloister of Trials! Thank god for the Internet. Although that's another way I distract myself from a story: researching a fiddling detail, like whether it's lifts or a ramp in Macalania Temple, or (in the case of the Lulu/Rikku I wrote last year) how many braids Lulu has.

Unfortunately there isn't a complete archive of X-2 story cutscenes as there is for FFX.

Yes, this would be totally handy. Too bad/good thing I don't have access to the software to create such a thing; otherwise I would be sorely tempted.

I have always meant to finish Aftermath; I've never even considered abandoning it, not even in my most frustrated moments. I've put too much time into it to give up on it now! I can't promise that there will be *much* of Lucil or Elma ;) although I do intend both of them to reappear -- it wouldn't be a Youth League story without them, especially not Lucil. I'm just glad that I think I have a direction.

I know what you mean about stories demanding to be written, although it's not always the stories that I wish would make such demands!
Jan. 20th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
Focus: My writing software has a fullscreen mode. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Hit fullscreen mode. Go.

Other than that, I have no helpful advice. My writing process consists of faffing about uselessly for a while, going like bloody blue blazes, and winding up with something workable.
Jan. 22nd, 2010 01:47 am (UTC)
Full-screen: now that is an interesting idea, and one I haven't tried. Would the distractions be less tempting if they were less visual? (Flashing chat app icons, new email alerts, etc.) Which is not the same as unplugging the Internet, because I know they're there when I actually want to take a break. Another thing I haven't really tried is imposing writing time limits, although that may be more useful when the daily writing habit is more ingrained.

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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