Week 3 of National Novel Writing Month has begun, and, as always around this time, I’m feeling kind of wrung out with the entire enterprise. Buckling down and pounding out words for a rough draft isn’t exactly new for me. I can’t say that it’s always been easy, but it can be done. I know because I’ve done it before. I did it for (most of) Ravens and Roses, the first book in the Mariner Sequence. I did it for my Dark Crystal novel contest entry, “Search of the Sun-Child.” I did it for the fantasy / romance / steampunk / political intrigue hybrid that is Courting the Moon.
So why is Seahawks and Storms giving me so much trouble?
Maybe I’m actually getting done more than I think I am, but it doesn’t feel like it. I feel like I’ve filled more of my word count with fan fiction than original prose. That’s not a good thing. I have to get the Mariner Sequence books done. I want to finish them, I really do. But I’m having a hard time locking in the plot and characters for Seahawks. I just don’t “feel” or “know” Samuel and Amaris like I do Scion and Ryn. And as much as I like Nathaniel, Shakti, and the many characters in Courting the Moon, to me they don’t feel nearly as fleshed-out as the cast of Ravens.
The problem is that Ravens feels that way because I’ve been working on the book regularly since 2010. (The idea for the book was conceived in 2006.) Even when I wasn’t actively writing for it, the characters still percolated in my subconscious, adding layers, motivations, and nuance. But I cannot afford to spend a decade mulling over a single story. That just ain’t gonna cut it! Not when I have so many books knocking around inside my head, and I would really, really, really like to get as many of them written down before I keel over. I want all of my stories to have that depth of feeling that Ravens has, but within two or three years rather than seven to ten.
But that requires steady, deliberate work. Work that I’m not doing. Or don’t think I’m doing. I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me. Ever since I finished Courting the Moon, it’s like my brain went, “Okay, you finished a book! You’re done writing now!” No! I am not done! Why am I not feeling the intense drive of obsession, joy, or even fear, to keep going steadily forward? Right now I’m so mentally fragmented that frankly it’s astonishing that I’m getting anything done at all. I’m trying to stay in a maritime mind-frame conducive to Seahawks, but feel an equally strong draw towards Star Trek (thanks to Enterprise and Discovery) and Marvel (thanks to Thor: Ragnarok and a fresh batch of Doctor Strange comics). Plus, even though Star Wars Rebels dropped out of my life before Season 4 aired, I’m sure The Last Jedi will pull me back into that universe pretty soon.
I can’t afford to be pulled off course, but it’s happening, despite my best intentions. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough. Maybe I’m actually doing better than I think I am, but can’t see it because I’m too close to the project. Maybe I’m just making excuses for my own laziness or lack of willpower. Maybe I’m too stressed with the insanity of 2017 to have any brainpower left for writing. Maybe it’s easier to create grand plans and then complain about how hard they are to implement than it would be to follow through. Maybe I expect too much… or not enough.
Either way, I’m going to keep going. Hopefully the reality of my output is better than my perception of it. I’m currently marshaling the forces of inspiration in the form of movies like Captain Blood and Damn the Defiant! Books like Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe by James. M. Ward and Arabella of Mars by David Levine. And music by Josh Groban, David Arkenstone, and Enya. (Also borrowed a copy of Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner. Maybe that will help me in the weeks to come.)
Have you ever been in a position like this with your work? How do you increase output without sacrificing quality? What do you do when you get stuck in a creative rut with a story you believe in? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.