Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBT+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: writing downswing

A Creative Writing Downswing

This has been a “slow” year for me, writing-wise. I’ve spent most of it in one writing downswing or another. These have, for the most part, been productive, though. My creative mind hasn’t gone on complete hiatus during these periods, which has been good.

Most of the time when I’m in a writing downswing like this, I focus on existing stories or projects which I’ve had in mind for a long time and want to start, like with ALON1. This story has been on my mind since January or earlier, and is the primary reason why I pushed so hard in previous months to finish TPOM3 so that I could work on it. I’d like to write it during Nano, and it currently looks like I’ll be able to do so.

But this writing downswing has been odd in one way. I’ve been getting brand-new ideas. The main one I’ve been fiddling with, in my head, is set on Chraest—a sort of tie-in to another story set taking the character from the Empire to a new member country to help establish a Temple of the proper Gods of Chraest there. I’d like to make it one long book instead of the duology it seems like it’ll be, and I have no problem with such long pieces.

I don’t typically get brand-new ideas during writing downswings. I don’t know why. It’s one of the creative endeavors my creative mind decides not to focus on. I’ve just been glad to be working even the inching little big I have been on ALON1.

There are a few other odd ideas drifting around in my mind. Mostly concepts I’d like to employ in future stories, matching them up to existing ideas. A couple of these concepts have been inspired by a movie I saw last night, and I’m seeing places where they can fit on Chraest.

One thing I’m glad of is that the world of Chraest seems to be my main focus at this time. And I mean I’m feeling particularly enthusiastic about working on projects set in that world. I hope this doesn’t change before Nano, because I’d really like to start on ALON1.

In a way, it’s been good I’ve been in this writing downswing. It’s given me an opportunity to absorb things from the rest of the world in a more attentive way than I usually do. I’ve really been doing my best to pay attention to the world around me. That awareness has definitely fed into my creative mind, and I’m looking forward to finding out just what else I can come up with for ideas.

Symptoms of a Writing Downswing

I’ve posted before regarding my writing downswings, but I don’t think I’ve listed the symptoms of them. I’m currently in another writing downswing, so I’m acutely aware of the symptoms, so I thought I’d write about them today.

I rarely ever recognize I’m entering a writing downswing until I’m in the thick of it. That’s because generally write most or every day. Just not as much as previously. This downswing was preceded by me writing multiple scenes each day, and that changed rather abruptly. I didn’t write for a number of days, then I stopped working on my stories altogether.

The first thing that usually happens that makes me aware I’m in a writing downswing is that I lose interest in my writing. I may even go through a period where I’m disgusted by it all, no matter what genre it is. Usually, I moon over my own writing, constantly rereading my stuff while I work on it, so this change in feeling about my writing is pretty obvious to me. This can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It always passes, but it may come back. I spend a lot of my writing downswings cycling good and bad feelings about my writing.

Another symptom of a writing downswing is having ideas, if I’m pantsing something, but not being able to articulate them in a way which enables me to write them. Right now, on all the stories I was working on, I have clear ideas what I want to do with the stories, but I can’t “grasp” the ideas firmly enough to write them. I can verbally describe them, but that’s a different method, and even with that, I still can’t touch them mentally in such a way that enables me to write them. This distance between me and the ideas fluctuates as well. There are days during writing downswings where I feel absolutely certain I’ll be able to write a scene, but never do, because no matter how “close” to I feel to it, I still can’t grasp it well enough to articulate it clearly. When I try, the scene sucks, is mostly telling, and generally doesn’t do anything to push plot or characterization forward.

Even if I have an outline, with a detailed description of the scene, I can have difficulty. Sometimes, if I’m in the mood to write and I have an outline, I can write a halfway-decent scene, but that’s no guarantee. And the scene, no matter how good it is when I’m done, needs more work than the rest of my writing does. See, there’s a distance between me and the outlined scene as well. Though with the outline I can see it more clearly, it’s still difficult to grasp, so I don’t get as deep into the the scene as I would if I weren’t in a writing downswing.

When I’m in a writing downswing, I tend to hyperfocus and become obsessed with my own writing, whether or not I can bear to look at it. Others’ writing doesn’t interest me as much, and it takes a great deal of effort for me to force myself to read, and then I can’t focus on the book I’m reading. When I can bear to look at my writing, I read through everything obsessively. Sometimes everything I have, sometimes everything in one genre. Over and over. I reread projects I’ve most recently been working on in hopes of being able to grasp the ideas I have for them when I reach the point where they’ve stopped.

The last and most telling symptom of a writing downswing is that I don’t feel like writing at all. I’d rather do other things. This isn’t a consistent feeling, but its the one most prominent throughout my writing downswings. I’m no longer enamored of the act of writing, and can’t be bothered to try. If I do try, I’ll usually feel like my writing sucks—all of it, from stuff I’m doing at present to what I’ve already done, to the ideas I have.

This status may last for a day or two more, or a few weeks. During the month I was planning on using to prep for Nano. LOL Oh, well.

Reading

I don’t read as widely as I used to. Most of the time, I’m focused on my writing, and it takes Herculean efforts of will and determination to force myself to abandon my computer for someone else’s writing. And, recently, I’ve been reminded how much I enjoy reading.

It’s relaxing. Not to the point of putting me to sleep, and I’ve read some books that would put other people to sleep in an instant. No, while relaxing my body, reading invigorates my mind. Sometimes this is a good thing, because I see the words I’m reading form pictures, like a movie, in my mind. I can sometimes hear the voices of the characters in my mind’s ear. It’s passive, so I’m not putting forth the effort necessary for my writing, but I get the same pleasure from it because it requires many of the same mental faculties writing does.

Sometimes this is a bad thing. Rarely, I’ll come across a book I think is so bad I can’t finish it because it inspires me to write better than the book I’m reading. Occasionally, I come across books I can’t finish because I simply lose interest; in one book I recall, the most interesting character was a side character who didn’t have a pov, but who I wanted to follow instead of the actual MCs; I’d purchased this book and the second in the trilogy (the only ones available at the time; the third hadn’t been printed yet) based on the back cover synopsis and my reading of the first few pages of the first novel; it had an interesting concept and I thought it would be much more fascinating than it ultimately proved to be; as I recall, I made it through two thirds of the book before finally giving up on it because it wasn’t telling a story that gripped my attention. With much more frequency, I discover books that send me right back to my own writing because they inspire me to write a story just as good as the one I’m reading, and my progress through these is understandably slower. Even more often than that are the reads I find that grip my attention but aren’t particularly inspiring of either detestation or an urge to write just as well; these I can generally get all the way through in a reasonable amount of time.

The annoying (in a good way) books are those which alternately entertain me and inspire me to write just as well. They drive me batty because I can never predict just what I’ll feel upon reading the first few lines of a page after picking them up any given time. I may be drawn in, immersed, and read a few or more chapters quite happily without thought of my own writing. Or, I may read the first line, think of something similar in one of my own stories, and set the book down to look at my own writing.

Mostly, though, I find reading relaxing.

I have a (very) limited amount of print books in my home these days. When I moved to a smaller apartment—the living room here is a little less than half the size of my last place’s living room—I got rid of one of my bookshelves and a lot of the print books I’d had lying around. These included books both read and unread. I culled my hardcovers and trade paperbacks to fit on one tall shelving unit, have reduced my paperbacks to one shelf of a three-foot-high bookshelf, and had to use the other tall bookshelf and the other three-foot bookshelf for my writing binders and DVD movies respectively. I don’t just get a movie streaming service like Netflix because I don’t watch movies or TV enough to warrant that monthly fee, and I rarely go out to see new movies these days ’cause I don’t see ads or commercials because my TV wouldn’t pick up even the local TV channels even if it was hooked up. TV and movies don’t interest me like writing and reading do.

But even so, I’ve been making mostly ebook purchases recently. If I feel like trying a new author or series of books that happen to be traditionally published, I go to the library (now that I live two blocks away) to check them out. Otherwise, I pay attention to what my friends—both online and local to me—are saying about the books they’re reading. Most of my reading for the past several years, in fact, has been ebooks. I’ve rarely touched a print book that wasn’t some sort of nonfiction I’d purchased specifically for research purposes for my own stories. Otherwise, if it’s an ebook, it’s generally cheap enough I’m willing to risk my money on trying something new by an unknown author, and I’m usually well-rewarded.

This recent writing downswing—since Bryce’s death—I’ve been reading much more. I’m finding a kind of solace in my reading that I’m unable to attain sitting at my computer trying to get my creative mind to work. They say in order for creativity to come, it must find you working, but no matter how much I try to work on my writing, I can’t find the desire most of the time, so I read. I have a pretty big TBR pile on my Nook, too, and I replaced it just yesterday because of several issues with my old Nook 1st Edition that I’d bought years ago; it was a tough ereader and survived many drops, but there were just too many issues with it and it was time to replace it. It says something that I hiked myself up to my local B&N to buy my new GlowLight—and not just the fact that I had $75.00 worth of B&N gift cards to cover most of the purchase price of the new Nook itself.

I needed a new ereader right now because there are several books I want to finish on that thing! LOL

Writer’s Block or Project Block

If you’ve followed my blog any length of time, you know I suffer from an unpredictable, periodical, and severe form of writers’ block, driven by my bipolar mood swings, which I call “writing downswings.” I happen to be in the middle of one of these right now, and while it hasn’t been completely dry creatively, it has pretty much wiped out my creative mind. What little progress I have made, on my 2yn15 project, has been stilted at best; I’m in the middle of a series of exercises meant to help me build the world of Mukhamutara, and it takes me days to figure out how to meet the expectations of the lessons given.

But this is, for me, inherently different from another, milder form of block which affects specific projects or, more frequently, all the projects on one particular world. I’ll call this Project Block, and I think it may be just as driven by my bipolar as my writing downswings are, which means it’s never going to be controllable.

Typically, in my writing, things go like this: My writing swings “up” out of a downswing with a focus on one particular world. Sometimes with a focus on one particular project in any given world. Regardless, this does not permit deviation from the particular world I’m focused on. So, if I come “up” out of a downswing focused on, say for example, TPOM3, I’m unable to work on anything besides other Chraest stories.

I may read every single stalled project I have set in each and every world I have a Scrivener file for. This includes even those Scrivener files where I’ve just copy-pasted old wips from years before that I plan on looking into completing at some later date. I will frequently even come up with ideas for the storyline, characters, or other things related to those stories, and I write these notes down. But I don’t actually write on these stories, or in these other worlds.

So, typically, my focus remains either TPOM3, or possibly some other Chrest project or two.

Rarely does my creative mind provide me ideas for plotting/writing on projects set in two different worlds; that’s generally when my writing is running a bit manic, and it’s more frustrating in some ways than it is helpful, because it makes it impossible for me to focus on one or another particular project enough to make decent progress on anything at all.

Much of the time (though not all), I’m happy with my creative mind’s willingness to focus on one particular project or a number of them set on one particular world. That’s when I make the most progress on anything. So, for the most part, Project Block is helpful. There are times when it isn’t, but those are rare, and that’s typically when I have the desire to write, but no ideas for plotting or handling plotted out scenes, and this is something I can’t get moving even if I move to a project I happen to be pantsing for the most part (I do have a project or two for which I have no outlines—but they usually have notes and other background work).

The frustrating thing is when my Project Block migrates from world to world. This happens pretty frequently—sometimes even more frequently than I post about on Twitter or here on my blog. I’ll be happily writing on one or more projects on a given world, then, over a number of days, I’ll lose creative focus, then come out of the fugue with a focus on another world.

I’ll be honest here. I really wish I could be like those writers who can focus on one project from beginning to end before moving on to something else. I’d probably have a lot more books done if I could do that. And I have tried to do that. More than once. Each and every time, I ended up hating my writing, and I stopped forcing the words so I wouldn’t drive myself into depression. I do not want to be depressed and in despair over my fantasy writing. It’s my first love in writing, and the work I really want to make work, so I’ve learned to go with the flow. If my creative mind doesn’t want to work on something, I don’t force it. I know I’ll eventually come back to it, and I’ve learned to accept that.

When Plotting Isn’t Going Well

I’ve talked about when plotting is going well for me. And most of the time, it does. I’m not going to lie and say plotting things out is incredibly easy . . . but it’s not extremely difficult, either.

Unless . . .

I’m struggling to see what’s happening next in an outline. Sometimes it’s because I’m in a general writing downswing, as I am now. Been in it for a while, and when I get like this, nothing moves. Not outlines, not writing, nothing. If I’m lucky, the downswing is a creative one, where I’m actually able to work on other aspects of the writing, like worldbuilding, adding things to the timeline, or, since I’m doing the Two-Year Novel Course, the current week’s exercise for the class. This writing downswing hasn’t been a creative one, though. It gave me a spring-cleaning bug instead. LOL

But sometimes I hit a block while still being in writing-mode—no downswing in sight. I have a few methods for dealing with this.

Thinking all I need to do is recharge my inspiration/writing mind, I will go read a book. I should probably do this more often, as it does indeed help me come up with ideas for my own writing. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll see how another author handled a particular issue I may be struggling with, whether that issue is the reason for the current block or not. Either way, I get some time away from the computer and, if I go to the coffee shop on the corner across the street, a change of scenery.

On occasion, I’ll take my laptop to the coffee shop as well, and, if there’s a table next to a power socket available, plug in my computer and write a bit. This does the same thing as taking a book or my nook to the shop to read, only it’s not as far a break away from my writing. Being in a new place makes my mind more alert, and ideas come easier, so I’m able to plot and write a little easier.

Another method I like to use to jog ideas loose is going on a walk. This is somewhat challenging in the winter (a couple different bladder issues), but during the spring, summer, and fall, I’ll take myself to the park catty-corner to the block where I live and take a walk with a song on repeat on my mp3 player. Walking or being in a moving vehicle has always helped prod my creative mind, and it’s no different these days, though it’s generally best if I’m not concerned with any particular real-life event or errand when I’m walking or being a passenger. I’m not sure why being in movement works for me, but it always has.

The last most common method of dealing with plotting issues is stepping away and working on a craft. Mostly crocheting. I’ll pop a movie I’ve seen lots of times in my DVD player and listen and half-watch it while I twist yarn into afghans and granny squares and scarves. This is soothing as well, and watching my hands work the hook and yarn calms my creative mind enough for me to focus on things better when I come back to my writing. This, however, is something I have to be in the mood for.

Rarely, I’ll make sure my PS2 is hooked up, pop a game in, and play for a while. This is my Need A Total Break method of dealing with plotting issues. One of my last resorts, I don’t often use this method, as I’m far more likely to get something out of one of my other methods before this will work for me. In fact, I get more out of watching somebody else play video games. I zone better watching them than I do when I’m playing them—it’s kind of like my idea-contemplation meditation. I don’t have to work, but it’s interesting to me—more interesting than most TV shows—and it keeps me distracted enough that I’m not dwelling on the problems I’m having with my writing, which enables me to think past the block. When I’m playing myself, I prefer “simple” games. Things which don’t require a lot of mental output, so I’ll play something like a straightforward quest-type without puzzles. MediEvil and Darkstone are good for this; I can pop it in, pick up where I left off, and bash some enemies for a bit. It clears the mind.

Writing Goals 2014

This is a bit belated, but I’ve only recently gotten myself organized enough to determine what I want to write this year. It isn’t a complicated writing goal, just a heavy one. The following are the writing projects I want to have done by 31 December 2014:

Discordant Harmonies Ennealogy

The Power of Music III: Measure of Resistance – Currently working on outline, adding one plot card per scene written.

A Life of Note I: Counterpoints – Write outline and book.

A Life of Note II: Antiphons – Get outline written.

Touched by Kalia Duology (At this point, it’s only a duology. Waiting to see how long that actually lasts.)

Book I: Unwritten Letters – Currently working on outline; trying to get two plot cards a day.

At least title book 2.

Sense of Balance Trilogy

Book I: Exemplar – Do research necessary on it and at least finish outline.

Autocrat’s Rise Trilogy

Back from the Dead – Keep up with this project’s Two-Year Novel course exercises and finish book before end of year, perhaps write at least part of it during Nano.

Right now, I’m in a severe writing downswing. Severity in the length of time it’s been around, not depth of down it is. I’m still actually able to work on various other aspects of my writing and have had a few odd days of writing and plot card progress, but not much. Those days are sporadic at best, so I’m not counting on them. I think it’s Real Life stress getting to me, which I probably shouldn’t be surprised about, considering. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. This downswing began on about 15 January this year, and it’s lasted over a month so far. It probably won’t go away for at least a few days yet (much as I hope otherwise).

Writing Ramble

I think Real Life has finally caught up with me. I haven’t written consistently since the fifteenth of this month. As writing downswings go, this hasn’t been at all severe, which is good. It’s just taken my muse, but not so much I haven’t been able to work on any of my writing at all.

In the past two weeks, I’ve actually gotten a lot of writing-focused things done. Things which needed doing. For far too long I’d put off dealing with officially completing the first two books of my TPOM trilogy. Both had been languishing for months with missing scenes. I also needed to go through the second one to make sure I kept up with all the plot threads and had no discrepancies in characterization or worldbuilding. The latter was rather important, as I started writing on Chraest with these two books, flowing right into the second from the first in a single file because I didn’t originally see where I could cut the first book and start the second. I hadn’t built a Fantasy world from scratch in about three years, and I needed to make sure that with all the changes I’d made to the worldbuilding recently I’d kept up with things in the edits.

Since starting TPOM1 in on 21 Dec 2012, I’ve done several things with the worldbuilding. I’ve started collecting lists of spells for the Mages to perform. I’ve established some facts regarding Mage training in books like TPOM2 and a prequel novelette. Another thing I’ve done is established Chraest is not a world humanity evolved on and created a calendar and timekeeping system to reflect that fact. Since determining humans are “new” to the planet, I’ve figured out there’s a native intelligence, determined some of the humans’ history on the world, and begun building a conlang purely for fun and entertainment.

I do know the humans of Chraest, at least those on the continent where I’m writing these stories, are completely aware they’re not native to the planet, and that they’re followers of Gods who led them from the planet’s other continent where they were enslaved by the native intelligence. Part of the background is that the leader of the Gods helped free a number of humans who wanted freedom and led them back to the site where their ancestors’ ship crashed to collect knowledge and other things from the ship. They then, as per their agreement with the majority of the native race, built ships and sailed away (assured there was another continent by information on the ship) to settle where they knew they would be safe. Part of the agreement with the native intelligent race is that they won’t follow the departed as long as the Gods don’t lead anybody back over to free the humans who remained on the first continent. The native intelligence is not technologically advanced, never invented even sailing ships, and has no other way to cross the ocean. They were actually rather happy to get rid of the troublesome Gods and be relieved of the uppity humans who had enough memory of humans’ history to foment the remainder into rebellion for freedom. I may write this story in some detail at some future point, but it right now is far back on the list of stories I have planned.

I’ve decided to treat Chraest as a Fantasy world with some hints of Science Fiction for the present. This is not the first time such a thing has been done by a writer. Some many years ago, I collected the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and those are described as Fantasy with hints of Science Fiction, or Science Fiction with some hints of Fantasy. For now, the main hints of SF on Chraest will be the calendar, timekeeping, and mentions of the fact the humans aren’t native to the planet. I don’t intend to bring spacefaring humans in for a while yet, but I do have plans to do so. I need to make a wealth of decisions about it first, and I still have quite a bit of basic worldbuilding to do on Chraest before I’ll be willing to take the time to really focus on the SF aspects.

Now I’ve gotten the edits of Stirrings and the first two books of TPOM done, and have established this much worldbuilding of Chraest, I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit. There’s still a lot more for me to do, though. I need to do a lot of research of religious institutions’ organization (particularly that of Catholicism, I’m thinking) and military structure and behavior for one of my started projects. I also need to work out the timeline of my stories and the foundation and building of the Édalain Empire, Lissau’s history, and figure out the essentials of Ghulia’s governmental and societal structures for my 2YN project.

So, as writing downswings go, this has been a very productive and fun one. I may not be writing or doing plot cards regularly, but I’m getting lots of other writing-related stuff done, and I’m having a ball with it all.

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