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From the Dark Days to the Light at the End of the Tunnel Part 2

February 16, 2011

The years prior to when I started this blog, were filled with a series of personal disasters that served as major set-backs in my writing.  But as painful as they were to bear, they were the catalyst for some serious self-examination about the quality and direction of my work.  It’s the sort of honest self-assessment that I would advise every writer aspiring to publication to go through – though I generally don’t advise having to go through misfortune to reach that point.

This is the part where I wanted to have some easy-to-refer-t0-titles for my various writing projects, as I relate the story of my own re-examination of my writing.  From the time of the car break-in up until the point at which I started revising “PFTETD”, my baseline assumption was that I would continue to work on “Project SOA#1″.  My notebook was populated not exclusively but predominately by ideas and thoughts relating to “Project SOA #1″.  There were, to be fair, a handful of entries about potential short story ideas or novel seeds.  But I was most interested in in pursuing my long-time novel project and finally finishing that book that I’ve been writing since forever.

But somewhere between there and here, my thoughts have slowly changed.  I have not at any time revised my desire to complete “Project SOA #1″.  It remains - in my mental schematic of my own body of work both real and imagine, past and future – my “magnum opus”.  (Intellectually I know it’s rather vain to self-categorize my own magnum opus, but in the world inside my head it doesn’t matter, because the world inside my head isn’t subject to the critics of the outside world.)  Conceptually, “Project SOA #1″ is truly epic in scope.  It is a work, I reason, that is not merely fantasy, not merely epic fantasy, but something more… a work of mythopoeia.  (I’ll be talking more about what I mean by that in future blog posts, but for now, here’s a sample.) 

But besides that, it’s also the one story idea of mine that’s the most handicapped by over-reliance, in prior drafts, on commonly used tropes and clichés of the fantasy genre.  At least in that prior draft, I’d have to answer “yes” to an embarrassingly high number of the questions on the “Fantasy Novelists Exam” (never mind that as a gauge of the quality or merits of a fantasy novel, the aforementioned exam is pretty crap, but it does serve to  highlight if you’ve used a lot of clichés or not).  And revisiting those clichés and tropes, and either cutting them or finding where I actually, genuinely have something new or different or meaningful to say or add regarding that trope… that’s a lot of work.  And I increasingly became aware that my current skill level, as a writer, was not great enough to allow me to do this level of analysis on the story, to break it down and rebuild it in a way that reflected my growing vision for the story.

In short, I began to realize that I wasn’t good enough to execute on this vision, and the result would be a awful, unpublishable mess if I didn’t make some changes.

I began to wonder if I needed to take a step back, and try something just a little less ambitious – something that was still challenging but which would allow me to hone my skills.  Something that, if I failed at it, the failure would not be quite so spectacularly bad.  I also began to wonder… am I a “one-hit wonder”, so-to-speak (alright… more to the point, am I a no-hitter?) – that is, do I only really have one worthwhile story to tell, or can I come up with enough truly solid ideas to make a career’s worth as a writer?  So, I began thinking through some of the ideas in my notebook.  I became increasingly confident that, yes, several of my ideas were strong enough to carry a whole novel.  But as I reread the first entry for “Book of M”, I came to realize that this was the novel I should next try my hand at.  It’s challenging.  It’s interesting.  And I felt that I had more productive thoughts, and more of the plot and character worked out than for any of the other ideas that were not “Project SOA”.

The history of “The Book of M” actually goes back to my role-playing days – but it is decidedly not based on a role-playing game I’ve ever actually played. I enjoyed designing campaign settings – especially drawing the maps and coming up with the names of places, their histories, and their cultures.  Most of these campaign settings never actually saw play-time.  In one particular campaign setting, I had drawn a map in which I’d labeled a vast desert region with a particular name (the same name that is currently the working title of this book).  Something about the name of that region continued to tug at my imagination.  Why was this place called that?  What  had happened here?  What was the history of this people?

In imagining the story of this place, I happened across the idea for some characters, and a very basic framework for a plot.  Then something else I was reading at the time triggered another idea, and it was a natural extension of the simple framework I had first fleshed out.  Soon, the idea began to take on a life of its own.

But deciding to turn my attention, temporarily, away from “Project SOA” and toward “Book of M” instead wasn’t an easy one.  I’ve long been plagued by the fear that I can’t finish anything I ever start writing.  I’ve never finished a complete draft of “Project SOA #1″ – the twin disaster of hard drive crash and vehicular break-in saw to that, but I’ve never been convinced that my own inability to complete a novel wasn’t also a factor.  After all, it took me six years to make it two thirds of the way through that last draft, before those disasters stopped me in my tracks.  And successfully completing “PFTETD” hasn’t quite given me the confidence that I have what it takes.  Still… pursuing “Project SOA #1″ even now means a total rewrite from scratch, so shifting gears into a new project doesn’t change the difficulty of what lies ahead, in terms of completing the project.  In the end, I realized this is what’s best for me and my development as a writer.

And that’s how I got where I am.  Although, as writing time eventually will permit, I intend to focus primarily on short stories initially, I’ll be slowly ramping up production on “Book of M” with the goal of beginning actual writing on it sometime in 2011.  There’s a lot of preliminary work to be done, first.  There are character profiles to write.  There’s the plot to map out.  There’s the history to clarify.  There’s the world to map out, at least in some detail.  But I’m excited about this project, and I think it’s going to be great.

In the mean time, “Project SOA” is not dead.  I’ll continue to come up with many ideas pertaining to this project, and continue to refine those ideas and the story that I want to tell.  And as I pursue “Book of M”, I know that I will be honing the skills that I will need to really do “Project SOA” justice someday.

Now, as soon as my time opens up, it’s: Ready; Set; Write!

Happy writing.

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