Tuesday, May 8, 2018


One of the things about going through a dry spell as an author of historical fiction is that getting back to writing involves more than simply ass-in-chair hours. When you leave behind a work involving masses of research, world-building, and characters who possess entirely different mindsets than the modern American cube-farmer, you become desaturated.

Writing fantasy or histfic or sci fi (just a few examples, I know) means world building. And when you stop building - researching, occupying, *knowing* a place and its denizens - you become desaturated. It's extremely difficult to be in that world again on a dime, when you have neglected it for a long time.

To the exclusion of much social life, and to no complaint of any kind (I would have been nowhere else), I have focused on my family for a good six months now. With my stepfather's decline stretching across eight years, my immersion has been NOTHING next to my mom's. (To say nothing of the man himself, which seems cruelly self-involved.) But, as family circulates through all our lives, so has his failty.

And, yeah, I saw that typo. But it fits. Let's make it a word: failty. (Perfectly cromulent.)

A loved one's failty is the job and the beloved duty of those who care for him - caring, in the emotional sense, inevitably comes with caring in the custodial sense, if we live long enough. And writers often are alive, and love other people (often - not always!), and so we get distracted.

Hell, writers get distracted easier'n magpies, we all know that. How else would writing blogs ever survive?

Coming out of distraction ... there are levels, for a world-building author. You can still write about the peculiarity of someone's gaze (har), or some contained scene that exists within the greater context, but doesn't require reference to the context, with all the researched or invented knowledge of the world within easy recall.

Still, sitting down to the manuscript as a whole is terrifying. "I don't remember the context for the earliest anti-semitic riots in Christendom" or "Oh geez, how OLD was this character at this point?" I'll be frank: I can even forget who was alive when, and continuity in historicals can get so detailed you can screw up some other part of the book even noodling with what you think of as a contained scene. Containers leak, and sooner or later you've piddled your continuity all over. And cleanup can be death-defying.

(Literally - see also, that bit about forgetting who's even alive when.)

It's been a LONG time since I was doing the "W" part of the WIP.

It's always been the case with me, that I can read something I wrote and, if enough time has gone by, it won't even feel like reading my own work. Even being able to recall constructing a scene, the product of the work put in still seems fresh to me, unfamiliar. There is much brain science here, underlying the way authors say "I am a conduit" - but basically, the stream of consciousness we navigate doesn't always seem like it runs through our brains as it does a greater dynamic in which our souls are mere passengers.

(Yeah, and WOW on that piece of work. I *told* you I haven't been writing! Be forgiving, please. I'm making up lame pun-words at this point; you knew the risks, reading this.)

This unfamiliarity can be freshness, but it's also symptomatic of losing the headspace. The fixtures of research and writing are important as you keep going, but are all too easily rewired incorrectly, or even lost.

As long as it's been since I was writing the WIP: it's even longer since I was researching it.

And there it is, perhaps ...

Perhaps my "in" is with research, rather than writing.

Sometimes the ass-in-the-chair isn't scripting out a scene ... sometimes, it's mapping what happens where. What to use, and what doesn't serve. Who needs to be where, rather than the dialogue they provide once they're in situ.

Maybe I need to get myself in place - remember the place - before I try saying what happens in it.

A thought. I'll think about that, then.


Anonymous said...

In contrast to this is my circumstance. I've been so immersed in my fathers and sons characters and their fictional lives that I took up writing something altogether different from them as a break. It's working just fine, but those earlier characters keep checking in to see when I will return to them.

I've had the phenomenon as well of coming to my writing after a long, long time away and not recognizing it as my own. I can remember the fact of it, but I cannot recall how I came upon a given turn of phrase or plot point. I suppose that's healthy in a way.

DLM said...

That unrecognition - yes, I think it *is* healthy, particularly for the story (but maybe also for an author, to find objectivity?). Like: if we could recall every nuance of the sausage-making, and were absorbed in that, would the sausage be as good? It seems a brain-chemistry way we can maintain at least some sense of objectivity with the writing. Maybe also a symptom of being lost in the work, not lost *to* it ... ?

Hah on the characters checking in! I do know that feeling. Writing the WIP has been so unlike writing the now-trunked manuscript, my first. I was always involved in that, at least to some degree - for over a decade! The WIP was born out of the research for that, and so it was always backburnered in my mind, and perhaps it's been too easy to backburner it now, for life (etc.).

In recent months, I've questioned some of my oldest relationships, my faith - and whether I care about writing. Right now, as for writing at least, I *don't* care, at least not enough to still feel it's a career I want to launch. I'll either settle into that, or forgive myself the long pause. Though I will always write, it just may no longer be with the goal of publication (self- or trad-). It might be well to try to write something else, but the WIP is the closest thing to inspiring me, and it is "the book of my heart" as some say. My instinct is, if anything gets me back to feeling like publishing, it'll be this work.

And, if not. Well. Freedom. There is a dangerous seduction in it - the longer you don't publish, the easier it is not to ...

Jeff said...

Even though I don't write historical fiction, I do understand this post: I'm seven years into researching another nonfiction book (twelve years after publishing the last one), and sometimes I wonder why. I find that I'm only truly comfortable digging back into the work after I've fulfilled my responsibilities to my significant other, family, friends, day job, and, most recently, my community—and holy crow, you're right: when you're outside a work-in-progress for too long, it's hard to dive back in efficiently.

Quite a few people think I'm nuts for spending more than a decade indulging all sorts of other creative projects (blogging, poetry, art classes, fiber arts) rather than get this potentially marketable, commercial book out there before I'm 150 years old, but so be it. We're not gonna get rich off this stuff; we may as well let the process bring us some excitement and joy. As far as I'm concerned, our projects serve us; we don't serve them, despite their constant insistence to the contrary.

I'll bet you get back into a writing groove when you're ready. When that happens, there'll be no wrong choice for what you'll do with your work or how you'll choose to present it to the world. You have stories worth telling—and maybe some you didn't realize were worth telling until recently?

DLM said...

Jeff, thank you VERY much for that. This, especially, I needed:

"(O)ur projects serve us; we don't serve them, despite their constant insistence to the contrary."

One writing friend did just suggest to me on Friday, maybe I need to write something else, but that for me seems almost like a source of guilt - like, "why aren't you writing the REAL thing, Diane?" would just lurk all over anything else I tried to sit down to.

The good news is, since the post went up, I have figured out that, the way I work, there is a LOT of research right in the manuscript right now. I have always tended to plug in ideas or information in the place in-flow where I think it will belong, so right now I can literally be "in" the WIP and in the research, taking portions of blue text, or even the images I've snipped in there, and knitting that into the text. It's extremely "draft" but it is the best of both worlds, I think: getting me both into the work and the research ... I almost want to say "seamlessly" (and it's a pun, because working the blue-research-text into black-draft-work is a removal of a seam, right?).

Yeah. So, have dipped into that just the tiniest little bit, and it feels good.

Jeff said...

I'm glad that comment helped!

After my Charlemagne book came out, a dear friend I hadn't seen in a while who was so proud of me asked what she thought would be a rhetorical question: "Did you have fun writing it?" She and I were both taken aback by how quickly I answered "no." The response was misleading, because so much good did come out of the book, including all the cool new people I met—but I told myself that if I ever attempted another big commercial project again, I was going to find more enjoyment in the writing process.

How long does it take you to get back into the "Matrix" of your actual document when you've been away from it for a while? Do you have the same fear I do, that "I'll never understand this the way I did when I was in the zone last time" sense of dread?

DLM said...

As a cockeyed optimist, I don't seem to feel I'll never understand the work again - and, as incomplete as it still is, I'm not sure how relevant it would be for me to be the same author I was six months ago when my writing was last much a part of my routine. Given the profundity of what I've been through in the real world, I have to think what I have questioned and experienced is only going to feed a better work.

My fears are more of the "do I even care about being published at ALL (and all the work/expectation that means) anymore?" variety, and I am finding myself far less concerned about that variety of endpoints now. The entirety of my interest in getting back into the WIP seems contained in the WIP, so caring about its fate outside my solitary skull is extraneous, at least for now. I seem to have excised a lot of things from my head, or my life, in recent months, and "publishing" is just not on my list ... now. Maybe I'll care about that part again, but if I don't get back there, I'm feeling pretty forgiving about it at the moment.

As to how long it will take ... I'll let you know when I am there! I deleted a research item, because it had been dealt with. Trivial administrivia indeed, but it felt good.

Right now at my job, I am taking the same approach, after life itself and a seriously bad week last week: I entered the login credentials for a system I need to use. I didn't log in, but the worst step is done - it's queued up, so I know it will get to the top of the pile. And I organized the hard copy piles. That doesn't resolve them, but it resolves the PICTURE: I know what's there, I know what I need to manage, how, and in what order I'll manage it all. So every pile is smaller.

Being in the WIP: it's smaller now than last week, when it was a looming Thing I Need to Do. I'm not scared of it, because it hasn't bitten me.

I'm logged in. The rest, I trust myself to do.

Even if it takes ten more years!