To be a writer…

In one of my top ten favorite books, Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, the main character, Jenny Waynest, often thinks of a phrase her old mentor taught her: To be a mage, you must be a mage. But unlike her mentor, who gave himself wholly over to being a mage and nothing else, Jenny struggles with balance in her life the way so many of us do: she is constantly torn between her ingrained need to perfect and increase her magic, and all the other concerns of life, especially her family, though she has done all she can to keep her love for them at arms’ length.

One reason I think this book speaks so much to me is because I know that struggle so well. It would be easy to say things like “to be a writer you must be a writer” but the practical truth is that most of us have other demands on our time and attention. We have to fight to balance our lives, and that’s a fight we’ll be having until the day we die. For me it’s the battle between the demands of my writing and art, versus things like work, friends, parents and sisters, and all the mundanity of keeping myself clothed, fed and clean.

I think most people driven by some passion feel this way, be it art, or music, or engineering, or astronomy, or whathaveyou. I sometimes think I will never love another human being as much as I will love art and writing. Which is not true, of course, I love my parents and sisters and friends beyond words, but in the moment of writing a scene that just pours from your fingertips, or drawing something that seems to leap from your pencil fully-formed… There’s no describing that feeling. It’s euphoric. Addictive. So intense as to be beyond words. Physical pleasure seems shallow in that moment, and the rest of the world falls away, greyed back by the vibrancy of your vision.

I suppose that is why I keep coming back.

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Concerning languages

Taiver: This place smells. Ellius: huh??

One element of worldbuilding I love is conlangs, or constructed languages. I really admire those who create full-fledged languages for their worlds, and I try to at the very minimum come up with sound-sets for my names, if not a little more than that.

I’m no linguist, and I mostly just go on gut (or is that ear?) instinct, trying to make sure things really sound like they’re from the same language. I’ve read stories where you get something like Bob and Drzzel supposedly from the same language. And while I won’t rail against a logical apostrophe, there’s too many times where I wonder what exactly the author wanted from that apostrophe. Was it supposed to be a glottal stop? A contraction of two words? A missing letter due to some sort of mutation (er, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind, but this sort of thing)? Or did they just think it looked cool?

Knowledge-wise, I tend to be crow-like, just picking up little tidbits here and there. I’m like this with languages, too. I learned a smattering of Sindarin from JRR Tolkien, a tiny bit of Finnish from a childhood friend, a little Welsh from another friend, know some French and Chinese due to my background, and a little Turkish and Russian just because I thought they sounded pretty. I don’t think I know even enough to be dangerous, but it’s fun to incorporate the little things I have learned to make my languages not just randomized English. That said, I sometimes worry that people won’t know how to pronounce something. They’ll run into a strange combination of letters and maybe they’ll even think I just did that to look cool.

I’ve really had to wrestle a lot with conlang issues in my new novel. In Empire there’s not one but four proto-conlangs behind the scenes. The main character’s primary language is just done as English, but the initial setting is a huge trade and travel hub, so there are many, many languages that can be spoken there. In addition the action references three other countries with three different languages. So I’m faced with a few problems:

– When characters speak in a tongue that is not the main one–how best to provide a translation.
– When characters speak for an extended time in another language–how best to handle that.
– How to indicate pronunciation, or if it’s better to just abandon that entirely
– How to avoid confusion with many different sounding placenames and character names, to avoid what one of my writing group described eloquently as “blah blah went to the spring of blah with his blah blah mc BLAHBLABLAH” (This is tricky because different kinds of readers have different tolerances)

For now, I’ve dealt with the first point by having the translation soon after; the main character speaks several languages, and though he’s not effortlessly fluent, he can translate them in his head. Eg.

Anli gripped the dagger at her hip. “Sū àb kĕlé?” she demanded–what’s wrong with him?— forgetting silence in her suspicion.

or

With no space to draw his weapons, Taiver seized on words. “Wait! We’re friends. Er– Cu duris ert felis suinla Kosmir. … No? Nerudhan, then? Kedh dann er faihrût èsoinlat Kosmir.” He executed the closest thing to a bow he could manage in the space, ducking his head, and hoped that he had said something to the effect of “Kosmir sends his greetings.”

But then I came to a situation where three characters have a conversation in the main character’s mother tongue (about four exchanges), which he understands but with a little effort, and it seemed like a LOT to translate over and over. I wasn’t sure how it ought to be handled. Would it be better to show the first line in that language and translate the rest? Or translate everything and just say it’s in that other language? Or render it all in that language and have the character translate by his thoughts and reactions? When does it go from enriching the world to just plain being obscure?

For now I’ve abandoned indicating the pronunciation. I find it disruptive when there’s an exchange like, “NEE-man?” he said, frowning. “NAY-man,” she corrected him. Once is okay, I suppose, but it just feels like the author telling us how to read the word.

And on the last problem, I think I’ll just have to deal with on revisions, after some beta readers have had a stab at it.

How about you? Do you conlang? How little or much do you do? What challenges have you faced, and how do you tackle them? If you do have your own conlangs, share a little with me! I adore them, and would love to hear yours!

(Oh, and PS, happy year of the Dragon!)

Need some writing fibre…

I feel like I have writerly-constipation. I’ve got a bunch of ideas in my head. I can see the upcoming scenes. I’m excited for them. I just need to get there. I won’t skip ahead because I’ve had too many times when I’ve skipped ahead and when I go back and try to write up to them, I end up not really ever using those scenes, because the story veers elsewhere.

I hate being jammed up like this. I know why I’m stuck, why the inbetweens are difficult–because I haven’t figured out some little detail. Because I’m finding a few logistical errors in what I’ve already written and they’re blocking me up, as the urge overwhelms me to go back and fix them.

I never know what’s better. Write through it, or pause to consider? Writing through it can sometimes mean I get thousands of words down the wrong path. Pausing to consider sometimes means I get stuck forever and the story never finishes. I’ve yet to figure out what I should really do.

Do you ever find that the words won’t come, even though you’re full of ideas and inspiration? What do you do to un-jam yourself?

Breaking things

So from 8am-8pm this blog was blacked out in protest of SOPA/PIPA. Here’s why:

Five reasons the Internet’s still protesting SOPA and PIPA (Washington Post)

The Oatmeal.com’s to-the-point animation (NSFW, probably)

An Open letter to Washington from Artists and Creators

Today the US Senate is considering legislation that would destroy the free and open Internet. (WWDN)

EFF’s petition

As a creative person, I support people protecting their intellectual property. I don’t support broad, thoughtless, uninformed bills that could be used to crush creativity and censor the internet. There are better, smarter ways to stop online piracy.

More header art

So I’m trying to sort out what exactly happens next in this scene for Empire since I think there are some logical fallacies in what I was planning to do, but that means I’m not writing. Instead I drew a little; some more header art! This time, the casts of The Red Box and The Motley Star. These were actually drawn together, in a sketchbook, unlike the other which was patched together from a notebook and I had to strip out and photoshop the lines back in.

Still, I want to write tonight, so I should really think about that scene.

Writing in my sketchbooks, drawing in my notebooks

The Empire of Hunger characters: Idrich, Anli, Bajyer, Taiver, and Ellius

So I’ve been a bit stumped on the writing front lately, after getting to around 15000 words in The Empire of Hunger. Rewrote a scene about four times only to roll back to the first version for now… It’s tough to push on knowing there are little problems here and there. Revising something this long is really something I’m going to have to get used to.

But in the meantime, I had an idea for a header for the site. so I went ahead and made it! I love doodling in my notebooks–and then when I was sick, I was writing in my sketchbooks–and thought it’d be fun to do something doodle-like for my header. It might be nice to handwrite my title too… Hmmmm.

For some reason I prefer doing cartoony style drawings for these characters. Like with little dot-eyes. I guess because they look pretty specific in my head, and it’s hard for me to draw them correctly. Then again, in the text they are drawn with verbal “broad strokes” too, so maybe it all works out. I just don’t like to spell appearances out too much, since I know you’ll imagine something different anyway.

Humpday linkday

I know Wednesday is usually “hump” day, but today it’s link day! (On account of there being a lot of interesting links going around my various friend-feeds today…)

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There are several good slushreader posts out there, but here’s one from recently.

http://saraheolson.com/2011/12/06/the-slush-readers-advice-for-writers/

Although it makes me sad to hear that cannibalism is an overdone subject, because I like writing about cannibals. … I’m not kidding. Sort of. I mean, it does seem to turn up a lot in my stories.

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A sane, non-expletive filled post on why a certain comic book pose for superhero women is utterly silly.

http://justsayins.tumblr.com/post/14957660366/this-needs-to-stop-and-let-me-tell-you-why

Also, followup post is good.

http://justsayins.tumblr.com/post/15063906958/its-funny

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In a similar vein, with added hilarity, author Jim C. Hines attempts to mimic some poses used on his and other book covers.

http://www.jimchines.com/2012/01/striking-a-pose/

(As an artist, I understand exaggeration for effect, but I do find some poses just plain overused and dumb, and some are so in-your-face-sexual that they become not sexy at all.)

The year of workshopping

Unintentionally, 2012 has become the year of workshopping. I’ve got that short story workshop which goes for another … three weeks? And three friends and I decided to form a longer-term writing group, for sharing and writing purposes.

The trouble I’m having with both–aside from the usual insecurity issues–is figuring out what to share. I think I’ve finally got a short story I can share with the short story workshop (we workshop two stories per class, plus do exercises and have lecture). It’s an odd, odd little story which I can’t remember the inspiration for. I finished it up today, and will sit on it for a while to see if I still like it, but I’m glad to be done with that.

Next Monday is when my other writing group is to share something–up to 3000 words worth–and I’m very torn about what, exactly, to share. My first impulse is to share half of the first chapter of what’s now being called “Empire of Hunger.” I’m 14000 words deep into it, and have fairly reasonable momentum. However, I’ve got a massive fear that if I do share, I’ll get paralyzed. If people tell me the first bit is good, I’ll worry that the rest isn’t. And if people tell me the first bit is bad–well. I don’t think I’ll be able to go on. I could ask for minimal feedback, but then, is that really worth it? I am severely tempted to ask “do you like this, is it interesting” but I am afraid that is extremely loaded.

In the end I like it enough to have kept going for 14000 words in about 14-15 days. I would say that is something. Maybe no one else will like it, but isn’t it better for me to keep going?

Would it be a waste/cheating myself to be honest with the group and just say “I’d love to know what’s good about this, and if you like the characters, but at this time I’m not ready for in-depth critique?” Is that just asking for backpatting? Is now too dangerous to share it?

My other options:
1) write another short story and workshop that
2) workshop The Red Box

Pros of 1 are well, it’s easiest to workshop something that’s done and I’ve walked away from, and if I do that, I could have more stuff to keep in my submissions chest.

Cons of 2 are I’m really not inspired on short stories right now. ALL I want to write is Empire. Nearly all I want to think about is Empire.

Pros of 2 are I DO really want to revise that book this year, and it’s finished, except for needing work on the ending, so now is a good time to get feedback on it.

Cons of 2 are that by workshopping it, I highly risk diverting my momentum away from Empire, which I don’t want to do.

Ugh, I really, really don’t know.

Do you ever write AND revise a different story at once? How do you balance it? How do you not get mixed up in the worlds?

I’m so overthinking this. Our little writing group may not even be ready to go balls-out concritting each other’s work. Really, the sharing was more for milestones–just a way to encourage each other to be actually making solid work, and not just piddling around.

Overthinking, oh yes. My specialty, though.

Take that, self!

Well, despite my (literal and otherwise) bellyaching last post, I managed to hand write about four pages of text in bed the other night. Of course, then my body decided to declare WWIII on itself, which wasn’t fun, but hey! Writing got done. And now that I’m feeling well enough to sit in front of a computer, I’m typing up what I wrote and trying to get back into the groove a little.

…Oooh, typed up, and about 1600 words! And now I am feeling a bit oogy again, so back to bed for me. Maybe I’ll end up equally productive!

Aches and words

Not sick, but not exactly well-feeling, and though my head was full of words on the train, they aren’t flowing now that I’m actually sitting down. Sometimes getting carried away by the story can take my mind off random ills, and sometimes not.

It’s frustrating though, because I’ve got a scene in my mind: Taiver by the fire, carving a hunk of wood, the soft-hard feel of it in his hands. A conversation with his sister.

And then the random pain digs in and the words go away.

I think I’ll see if I can’t lie in bed and scribble things on paper.