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bear by san

March 2017

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spies avengers steed and peel needed

full moon lures the waves, waves of desperation, empty hearts and mouths wither away

Well, the bout of reasonably normal neurochemistry was nice while it lasted. Maybe if I take my supplements and get enough exercise, it will come back once in a while. I kind of like it.

I kind of shocked the Viable Paradise students, I think, when I told them of my complete and utter loathing for most of my own work. This has actually gotten worse as I've become a better writer, because at this juncture, my critical skill set is good enough, and my standards are high enough, that all I can see about one of my own stories anymore is how it fails. I'm experiencing this now, actually, because I am thinking about the two stories I'm going to start revising soon, and how unutterably inadequate they are, and how much work they need, and how incompetent I am to give it to them.

And then starting tomorrow, I'm going to pick one of them up and start picking it apart at the sentence and story and structure level, trying to rebuild it nd make it faster and stronger and more like a functional machine. But all my prose seems to me at best workmanlike, my combat scenes are uninteresting, my POVs don't reveal motive or characterization. The exposition is clunky, the resolutions crudely handled, and the whole thing goes over like a lead balloon. It's all full of structural issues. The few sentences I do like, nobody else does.

Also, thematically, it's all just shit.

I've become such a freaking whiner. I can't stand myself.

And it's such an odd thing, because my editorial hand with other people's work has gotten reasonably deft. I'm pretty good at critique, and I can spot what's working, analyze structure, complicate a plot. I can usually even find things to praise.

But when it comes to writing my own stuff it all feels like dross, and all I can see is where it could be better.

Some of it, I think, is that I since I learned to write, I've lost the ability to just write. It's all hyperintellectualized, thought through, and every sentence goes through a series of wringers trying to make it tighter and smarter and harder-working. It's all got to pull its weight. I can't slip into that trance-state I used to anymore, and emerge with 1500 words on the page and no clear recollection of how they got there.

The downside to this, of course, is that those easy altered-state words were lousy words, in rotten stories.

On the other hand, now I can write stories that people understand. Because back in the day, I wasn't so good at translating the weird pattern-building of my nonstandard brain for others. And actually, I suspect that's why, these days, so much of what I write feels flatter to me, even though it gets better critical and reader response. Because I have trained myself to translate from how I think to how other people think, to put stuff in linear order and make sure there's a clearly-defined through-line rather than a pointillist series of events that makes what is to me a subtle and inexprable pattern, but to everybody else looks like a bunch of random dots.

That through-line thing is hard. Easy to recognize, when something doesn't have it--or doesn't have the right kind of through-line for your own particular thought patterns to pick up on. It seems to lack causality. There does not seem to be an evolution of motive and action that brings each character though the story.

But so much of it, for me, is what I sense--the shape of the story--and those things that seem perfectly obvious and inevitable to me often make no sense to others. So I worry about belaboring the point.

I'm very good, naturally, at induction. Not so good at deduction or following rigid sequences of things. But I've learned, and in the process, that part of my brain that sees stories as a gestalt has gotten very frustrated with the writing. Because these new stories are not webworks but chains, I don't love them, because I am predisposed to love webworks.

So I'm trying to figure out how to do things that are both--chains for you guys, and webworks for me, and it's hard and frustrating. And I'm pretty savage to myself when I think I've made an inadequate effort. Which is, of course, in everything I do.

Intellectually, I know I'm pretty good at this. And yet--all I can see is how it's never good enough.

(Yes, I pretty much bring this attitude to every endeavor in my life. Is it any wonder that I'm single?)

Comments

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It's all real suck.

You fix as much of it as you can, and the unfixable stuff, you shrug and move on.
A friend of mine was talking about how she wanted to just go back to being able to write without overthinking it all. She would like to go back to some point, I guess, when it was just fun all the time. I was horrified when I realized that either a) it's never been like that for me, or b) I passed that point when I was 11 or 12 and have been hypercritical of my own writing ever since.

I have worried that it makes me unusual to actually dislike the act of writing itself. I want to like it, I really do. Somehow, I do like making stories. But, when I put a sentence into a manuscript, the inevitable result is that it is not nearly enough *something* to not just be bland, boring, and probably pointless.

In the end, I come around to suspecting that it all just means I'm lazy.

So... in less whining back at you terms, good luck on the chains and webworks.
Don't judge your process.

There's an old joke about writers who like writing, and writers who like having written, and it doesn't matter which you are as long as (if you are the first kind) you eventually quit futzing with the freaking thing and release it or (if you are the second kind) you actually sit down and write the damned story, revise it, and finish it.

It doesn't matter what route you map. Just that you get there.
My conscious mind also does webwork; but it doesn't seem to be quite the kind yours does.

There are several writers whose writing might be profitable for you to study. One problem: William Blake was the sanest of the lot.
Oh, bah. That kind of thing sucks. I am currently trying to turn multiple perspectives into one, say, career - and why did I have to have so many interests anyhow, universe? - and I forget what I was going to say in this half of the sentence, but anyhow. I applaud you, because is really, really hard, and the temptation to give up is, for me, extreme. So go you.
It is hard. And I used to quit every three or five years, like clockwork.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) nobody else is going to support me, this is the only work I'm fit for, and I'm too obsessed with stories to *stop* for more than three years at a time.

And that nearly killed me.
Ow! This is how I feel about essays! (and life).

I can reconcile myself to essays needing a (boring) structure, and having to hand them in after hacking all the fun out of them. Life... don't know if I want to hack the fun out, really.

ahhhh, that's why

reading one of your novels sometimes is as exhausting as a chi gong lesson and I have to stop to make a break every five pages: my brain is hard at work, forming new neuronal paths. Sometimes, reading your stuff I get the impression of something I do not quit understand, something going on in the background, a pattern far away at the horizon, a whisper, barely audible. Interesting experience.

Re: ahhhh, that's why

I'm trying to get those damned things more out into the light.

Some of it is that I'm primary-kinesthetic, and I've somehow plugged that into my writing engine. (Not my speaking engine. I'm MUCH more comfortable with communicating through my hands than mouth. I'm a stammerer in real life. :-P ) So I feel stories as shapes, webworks of tension and structures that hold themselves up like suspension bridges or lie round and quiet as stones.

And none of it is linear. It's all happening simultaneously. If that makes any sense at all. Four-dimensionally.

And trying to get that into a shape where it can make sense to a linear/primary visual reader, is sometimes like trying to translate into a language I don't speak.

It's especially evident in my early drafts, I think, where sometimes I'll just run one cable across the width of the thing to strap it together, and I'll know it's there because I can feel the pull of it--but if anybody else can spot it, I'll be damned. So I've got to turn it into a visual element on the rewrite.
You know, the day the epiphany comes, when you weave a web out of chains, you are going to be one happy camper. :)

Until then, repeat the mantra: We are our own worst critic. We are our own worst critic. We are our own worst critic.

And yes, you have copious free time I know, but how about finding something new to do from time to time that can satisfy that trance like state?

Best of luck.

Catherine
I also have to read your books quite slowly, cogitating the while, and I know that I always miss subtleties: but that's what makes re-reading you such a joy. *hugs*
It's such a silliness. I really want to make this stuff accessible, you know? And then I look at things like the Eddas, and realize there's a whole thematic argument across those three books that nobody is going to get, and people will find it confusing, and the stresses and counterpressures within the story that are the most important part, to me (all that stuff I talk about when I'm writing about Criminal Minds, for example--the way things pull across multiple seasons and episodes) is to most people completely opaque and might as well not exist at all.

I really did understand what a nonstandard-issue brain I have until I started trying to write for people who are Not Me.

Silly brain.
You need to cut yourself a large slice of break.

Part of the reason you are producing so much work - that people are buying (check out your recent year's summary to remember your achievements) - is that you are highly driven, and as this post suggests, a perfectionist.

Consider this for a moment: would you ever look at anyone else's work in the way you've just savaged your own pieces? Would you give advice to anyone else in the way you give yourself advice? I very much doubt it. Imagine what would happen if you took that attitude with the people you edit? Be kinder to yourself. If other people deserve it, then you do too.

Writing can always be improved. The fact that you strive to make your writing better is admirable. But in your drive for stronger! better! prose don't put the hate on the work that has brought you so far.

Keep the hate for the true evils of the world.

Maybe you need to write stories in your own style that are comprehensible to you without any pressure of selling them or showing them to anyone else. Stories for you. Get back to the joy of writing those pieces. Continue with the important food and cat-paying pieces too. Over time, you may see the way to marry the joy of the first with the practicalities of the latter.

But, you know, a stray compliment here and there for your own work would not be undeserved. ;)
Well no, of course not. Especially if I thought it was pretty bad, I'd spend hours trying to find a little honest sugar to mix into the critique.

Doing something for me is actually why I started writing fanfic. I can be sloppy and uncritical about it, because it's just there for fun.

The problem with complimenting my own work is it feels pretentious, and besides, there's always somebody around to tell me I'm wrong. (I kind of love reading reviews for Blood & Iron, which is the book of mine that got out of the house the closest to the way it is inside my head. Because people either get it, with a resounding click, or they *loathe* it with the fire of a thousand suns, or they find it utterly confusing. Revealing! At least reading those reactions has helped me make other work more accessible.)

I suspect part of being an artist with literary pretensions, alas, is railing at the inadequacies of one's craft and/or talent.

Silly books. All flawed.
I have all four seasons of The Man From UNCLE....

And somebody made me cinnamon rolls yesterday.
This was a very timely post for me. For some unknown reason, my critical faculties became much more finely honed recently and, as a result, the beginning of the novel that I'm supposed to be writing looks like utter dreck.

It isn't, actually, it's perfectly adequate -- it's just that "adequate" is no longer good enough to satisfy me. But I've been letting it stop me from writing, and I shouldn't do that. So thank you for the reminder that an artist is usually the worst judge of their own work. :)
The apocryphal story is that editors and agents react with FEAR! when a writer says "I really love this book! It's my best book ever!"

Because it means they've fallen out of hypercritical mode.

And that way lies, well--

--we won't name any names, because it's rude.
*pets the bear*

*offers brownies*

ooo. brownies.

If you were all happy...

You'd have nothing to strive for. There would be no drive improve yourself, and there lies stagnation. Humans seem to have this knack for making themselves miserable, and I wonder if it's tied in somehow that we are at our best when facing a challenge.

I remember a study that claimed that reward was a much better modifier of human behavior because punishment made the punished want to avoid the punishment, not the act it was associated with. A lot of the history of Christianity (for example, Archbishop Turpin carried a mace because men of the church were forbidden to shed blood) is some clever boy sitting down and asking "how can I get around this?"

And creatively, we monkeys seem to do best when we're trying to get around something. Look at what happens when, say, someone as creative as Peter Jackson got to do the film he always wanted to, with an enormous budget.

So consider that your dissatisfaction with your work is making it better.

Because, really, what [i]else[/i] do you have to complain about? You are living on your own terms, you are expressing yourself well enough to get paid for it.

Re: If you were all happy...

;-) Oh, I have plenty to complain about. But most of it isn't the sort of thing I whine about on the internets.

I'm not complaining about my job, mind you (not today, anyway.) and even when I am complaining about my job, it's still the only job I want.

But, you know. One trades up on problems.
Wow does this resonate. Including being better at spotting the splinter in others' eyes and not seeing the log in one's own.

The way that translates out for me has to do with emotional engagement. Because I am a dork, it takes me decades to learn what others get in a year or two, and some of those lessons have been: my emotional turmoil in writing a bit doesn't automatically translate to the reader; that being inside the story means every sound, touch, and flick of light has resonance but to the reader who is neutral and looking for reasons to engage with the story those might sail right past; that the toughest part of rewrite is to try to build that investment from the start. Readers start cold, and no matter how much I wait, or squint, or change the font, or hate myself, I'm not starting a rewrite cold. [Then there is the question of crap-scaffolding prose invisible to a visual writer...] Yada.

But I think that all those points that work against one in one's own process can be benefits when approaching someone else's, because one does have all those tools, yet really is starting the read cold. So one can have the regular reader experience, but is able to spot likely reasons why something works or doesn't.
Yeah.

Lately the thing that is *killing* me is that I feel like *nothing* I write has *any* emotional engagement. Started about Undertow, and it just keeps getting more intense.

...apparently, I am the only one who can see this problem, though. And my first readers are telling me that Dust is one of my strongest books in terms of character identification.

So what the heck do I know?
I kind of shocked the Viable Paradise students, I think, when I told them of my complete and utter loathing for most of my own work.

I don't think you shocked many of us. Everyone is plagued with thoughts that everything they do sucks, sometimes. And students have these thoughts as least as often as teachers.

On the other hand, now I can write stories that people understand. Because back in the day, I wasn't so good at translating the weird pattern-building of my nonstandard brain for others.

I think I mentioned this before, but did you know that you and I have a lot in common? :)
Darn brains. So recalcitrant.
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