This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.
One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is writing steadily and consistently. Looking back through my blog there is plentiful evidence of this – I have often gone months without posting, and my posts seem to cluster around a few weeks of activity at a time.
Most writers will have felt the instinct to wait for inspiration to strike, to write when the ideas are flowing most readily. But sometimes ideas have to be wrung forcefully from our minds, so that there is at least a terrible first draft when inspiration does strike – a rough skeleton that a better version can be superimposed on top of.
Lately I’ve been putting a bit of thought into the role names serve in fiction, about how they give a first impression of a character, place or culture.
One of the Star Trek franchise’s major alien races are the Ferengi, who began as accidentally comical characters in The Next Generation, developing into overtly comic characters who played a major part in Deep Space Nine. I was surprised to encounter a variation of the word ‘feringhee’ several years after first hearing it in Star Trek, in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, set in 19th century India. The alien species’ name came from a derogatory word used by Indians for foreigners, apparently particularly directed at white foreigners.
Production staff on the show have confirmed that this was the genesis of the word, with producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe stating that “Ferengi is, after all, the Persian word for foreigner, particularly for European.”
It’s difficult to work out the reasoning behind making this choice (particularly as not many of the target audience, in 1980s America, probably would have been aware of the meaning of the word) but it was a conscious choice to reference this meaning.
This is intended to serve as my introduction to the Insecure Writers’ Support Group – a group ran by Alex J. Cavanaugh over on Blogspot, to give other writers and would-be writers the support we need to get past our debilitating and often idiotic insecurities.
I’ve written a few times in the past few weeks about my often irrational insecurities, so it’s something that definitely makes sense to me.
I’ve wanted to write fiction as long as I can remember, and even started writing a few scifi epics when I was a kid. Even back then, I don’t think I was great at keeping my focus all the way to the end. Though it may be because back then my plans had the habit of expanding much faster than I could write – as a writer’s hint, the other way round works better.
Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten into the habit of beating myself up when the quality of my writing doesn’t meet the standards I want.
The characters don’t ring true. I’ve not set the scene properly. The plot doesn’t make sense.
While all of these are valid problems that need to be fixed (or compensated for with other strengths) for a long time I’ve allowed them to paralyse me. For instance, I’ve had an idea for a series of space opera short stories that I keep abandoning, and a sitcom pilot script that I’ve returned to again and again but never finished.
I’ve written a few short things of course. There’s a couple of thousand-ish word short stories here on my blog (under Read My Fiction); flash fiction; and short things for various competitions. There’s even been a couple of times I’ve started to write a novel chapter by chapter. My hope was that, by not being weighed down by the theoretical potential of the stories I’ve invested a lot of time and emotional effort into, I’d feel freer to write what came to mind.
Unfortunately, this idea didn’t really work out.
I’m much better at plotting than I am at actually writing, using formats like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet and the like, and a piece of software called Anthemion Storylines to plot out a fairly detailed story structure. (If you’ve ever seen stories plotted using a series of post-it notes, or little pieces of paper attached to string, that’s basically what Storylines is. But it has the added benefit that the notes don’t fall off the wall.)
I’d even been using a character building idea to put together a detailed picture of each of my main characters.
So by November, I had a detailed story arc to follow, and I knew a lot about my characters, ready to use NaNoWriMo to get this thing finished.
Though the plan was in place, I actually waited until November 4th before starting. Because, as I’ve detailed above, I’m an idiot.
But, I got underway, finding the time to write, sometimes as much as 3,000 words in a single sitting. For those with more consistent writing habits that may not seem like a big deal, but to me it is.
I got close to the end of the first draft, over 20,000 words, after three weeks, but left it another week before going back to finish it off. That instinct inside of me, that says all my cool ideas should be left alone in case I ruin them, just wasn’t giving up.
But, at the weekend, I returned, adding the few more details needed to the end. I then went through, rewriting what I’d done, and finding myself pleasantly surprised at the quality of what I’d written.
I now have a 28,000 word short-story, and I think it’s pretty decent. There’s a central mystery-action story, character conflicts, betrayal and deceit, enemies being forced to work together, moral dilemmas, a dramatic confrontation at the end.
I don’t want to get big-headed, but I think this story’s pretty decent.
It’s something that infringes on a number of copyrights, so it won’t be publishable, but it’s good to at least have written a coherent story from start to finish.
However, I actually think that this may be the longest piece of fiction I’ve written from start to finish for over a decade, so I’m pretty chuffed about that.
Once I find the time, I’m pretty upbeat about the next story.
PS To anyone from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group who’s found their way here – I may be away from my desk for a large part of Wednesday. Apologies if I don’t get round to reading many other posts on the day, but I promise I’ll read and comment on the blogs of anyone who posts here!
I’ve been writing something for NaNoWriMo.Although I’ve been plotting and doing background work on character motivations for a while, I started actually writing quite late. It was the 4th (Sunday) when I started, and I feel like I’m picking up a little speed in my overall daily word count.
I do get bizarrely self-conscious in my writing, and, though it’s a cliche, it makes next to no sense. It’s something I enjoy, messing around in created worlds with created characters is probably my equivalent of gaming. (I’m atrociously bad at games like Skyrim and the like – in two different games in the past few months, when attacked, I’ve accidentally managed to switch camera angles when trying to hit back. It’s not a very effective fighting method.)
The format won’t end in a 50k novel at the end of the month; more a series of short stories based on an existing fictional world. (Classic Simpsons did it with movies, West Side Story is based on Romeo & Juliet, so I will accept no criticism of my plagiarism.)
I think I’m writing about 1,000 words a day now (albeit not all of them originally mine), and with a bit more focus, sitting down to speed write for half an hour or an hour, I’m sure I can up this.
But the little bit of nagging remains – that what I’m doing is daft, a waste of time. But I’ve already written one scene – entirely my own – that I think is pretty cool, and I’ve got a couple more that I’m excited to get to.
Writing is fun. That’s pretty much the most important thing to remember.