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Crisis of Writing... - Elf M. Sternberg
Crisis of Writing...
So, I'm having this crisis of will, if you will, when it comes to my writing. I'm not entirely sure why, but for the past couple of weeks I've been butted up against two distinctly different emotions, neither of which has been very productive.

On the one hand, I'm starting to think that a lot of my current crop of ideas would make damn fine novels. Madships, Manumission, The Rock of the Cat, Empire, Embrace, Extinguish, and Janae are all novel-length, even serial-length ideas.

On the other hand, I'm intimidated by the prospect of actually writing a novel. The last three novels I wrote were straightforward, plot-driven things, but the authors I really admire don't just write great plots, they write fabulous, multi-layered, multi-themed wonders that I feel I'll never get close to matching. Every time I think about writing, say, Manumission in its entirety, I read a book like Use of Weapons (about which I recently commented) or Singularity Sky, which shows me how it should be done and I go back to quailing against the rising notion that, hey, I can write a book too. Once upon a time, I knew "I could do better than that," and I like to think that I was part of the small cadre' that, if we didn't succeed at banning really bad fiction from the net's erotica banks, at least we raised the bar and demanded a certain amount of skill. But "I can do as well as..." against the people I admire and adore... that's hubris I don't know that I feel.

The very idea that, in the final analysis, I might be as bad as S.M. Stirling or Kevin J. Anderson, leaves me feeling as if I might be sitting on a porcupine, rather than a good idea for a novel.

Current Mood: perplexed
Current Music: SweetS, Tears like Lemon Drops

13 comments or Leave a comment
poetpaladin From: poetpaladin Date: August 31st, 2004 09:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey, I liked the Draka series! I have Marching Through Georgia, Stone Dogs, etc.
mothball_07 From: mothball_07 Date: August 31st, 2004 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)


Pat Califia says in the forward to one of his books "sometimes the only way I can get myself to put the story on paper is by promising myself I will never publish it." (I've paraphrased.)

You don't *have* to publish (or share) your novel, but if you don't write it, you'll never know what it could have been.

shadowfey From: shadowfey Date: August 31st, 2004 10:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
That sort of crisis of self-esteem is one I've faced before, and I've come to the conclusion that the only real way past it is to write past it. (Logically, this makes sense; it's only through continuing to write that we really ever do improve or broaden our skillset.)

I don't think it's hubris to state that you're going to try to attain that level of skill. It's only hubris to state that you are 'the greatest'. And, really, you should know that you're certainly a /good/ writer; you are a coherent writer, which does not always match up to being a good one, but certainly means you've got the basic skills necessary to be or become one.

Saying that you 'will' do 'as well as' might be necessary for you; I don't know. But you can certainly say that you hope to achieve that level of skill, and in the meantime you are practicing your craft.

Just my two cents, y'know? I know the panic of 'I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that'. It's very discouraging, and it's hard (for me, at least) to believe the people who like what I write and want to see more. It's as if by liking my stuff they're automatically biased in their judgment. But I have to at some point take it on faith that there is enough of something in my writing which is 'good' that it's not a flash in the pan.

I would say by now that time and your output and reader response have proven that you have that something. It isn't a waste of your time to keep polishing it.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 1st, 2004 07:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Working through

This is exactly the sentiment that got me through my thesis... I wasn't writing to be the next Field's medal winner, I was just writing the next theorem, the next result, the next example. Distilling the best of what _I_had_ to put onto the paper. It's not groundbreaking, or ring-shattering :) but it's _mine_.

Joshua C. Sasmor
elfs From: elfs Date: September 2nd, 2004 11:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I guess my problem is that I've always perceived my limitations as solid, and haven'nt tried much to get past them. It's something I want to do, but I guess visualizing how to get there is harder than I thought.

Besides, I hate doing re-writing. I do it if it's needed; some stories have been through four or five re-writes. But doing that on a novel is, well, intimidating.
shadowfey From: shadowfey Date: September 2nd, 2004 11:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah yes. I'm with you there. I very often put something aside to age since I can't usually rewrite at the time of completion; I need a little space before I can do so. The bigger it is, the harder it is for me to edit it then and there. But if I put it aside, the difficulty is working my way back to it.

I've found having a beta helps, but obviously that requires finding one who's reliable and that you can work with - who has the skills for the job. Not always as easy as all that.

Limitations are rarely solid, though. Even when they're there, very often there's a way around them. Using myself as an example, I'm fairly seriously hearing-impaired, which though I love music has hindered my ability to /make/ music; thanks to programs like ModPlug and similiar, I can compose and score music of my own (which I have done).

While I'm not saying that they're going to develop an 'Enhance Writing' genetic patch, I would say that there's ways. If you're having trouble visualising, start by verbalising exactly what it is you want to achieve and then asking for input? It doesn't need to be in as open a forum as this.
shunra From: shunra Date: August 31st, 2004 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
It seems to me that the multi-layering, multi-theming might possibly happen in more than one pass - that writing and then refining, reviewing, restructuring are part of the process that gives us those really wonderful novels.
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kyriani From: kyriani Date: September 1st, 2004 06:50 am (UTC) (Link)
IMNSHO, just do it (as others have said above). I go through the same thing with my art, and I know so many people who go through the same thing with their writing (and great things still come of it!), its not just you. You are a very good writer in my (admittedly not expert) opinion, and you just keep getting better. Maybe your first novel won't be quite up to your own standards, but it just makes for experience for your second to be even better. ^_^
I feel very strongly the same way about my art, likely even moreso. I have so many friends who are much much better artists than I will ever be, and yet I have promised myself I will keep trying. The only way I am going to get better and even have a hope of matching my own high standards is to keep trying. In August I restarted the comic I have been working on since I was 12. Maybe this time it will be close enough to what exists in my head to make me happy about what I produce (this is the 4th or 5th time I've tried). Maybe not, and I will have to try a 6th time, but at least I've gotten a lot better through the process every time, even if its frustrating to see how far short my skills are of where I want them to be.
I'm sure the effort you put into it will not be wasted. :)
blackcoat From: blackcoat Date: September 1st, 2004 02:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I recently met Kevin J. Anderson when he attended a booksigning at the store where I work. When I asked him why he put out so many mediocre books, he responded with a very telling comment. "Remember. I'm not an artist, I'm an author. I get paid very well for doing this." He doesn't *care* that his books stink on ice to people with even *semi*-decent taste. Because there are a hundred people with no taste for every one of us with taste.

On the other hand, I've liked alot of your stuff. Not as many of the novels, but I think that's just a lack of practice (Note: IANAAuthor) on your part.
elfs From: elfs Date: September 2nd, 2004 09:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, I can respect that. There has to be a group of bricklayers that just wants to lay bricks and go home at the end of the day, rather than lay down the next Via Dolce or whatever. My problem with Anderson is both the inordinate attention paid to him and his unwillingness to do anything but drek.

(Deleted comment)
elfs From: elfs Date: September 2nd, 2004 02:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wasn't thinking in terms of a serial, but a series.

Charlie Stross, whom I admire, once put his career plan this way: "I was going to write novels. Each novel would be the first volume of a possible trilogy or series, and each novel would target a different sub-genre within the field. (The space opera, the lovecraftian spy thriller, the alternate history novel, the post-cyberpunk thing ...) Sooner or later one of 'em would stick, with a UK-based publisher, which would get me to stage #3: get an agent based in the US to push me in the market where the real money is."

Sounds like a trick to emulate. I just don't know when I'm going to be done.

Yes, Cheyenne is the character you're thinking of. And in my case, I wouldn't be starting wholly from scratch, but much of my audience would. My fans would know what the "minor conflict" at the opening of Madships would be about, and why Misuko doesn't want to talk to her mother-- it can't be because she's gay, not in the 32nd century, right?-- but the audience wouldn't, and hopefully they'd appreciate the twist at the end of the chapter. Characters like Miranda and Toby have lived with me for a long time. I just haven't had time to write much about them.
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