I’ve been fighting against it for almost two decades now. I’ve wanted it for nearly three. Over the last two years I’ve realized that it’s my only choice.
Life, for me, is meaningless without writing. I’ve tried to deny it. I’ve tried to fight against it. I’ve tried to relegate it to this secondary or tertiary concern behind the things that we’re supposed to pursue in real life. I’ve contented myself with a blog or the occasional stab at writing a book.
Writing was always this thing I’d do later, after I’d already figured out the rest of my life. It was always a luxury. It was always somehow less important.
My entire life I’ve been angry. Well, probably not my entire life. I’d guess it started somewhere in junior high or high school when I started to realize that there’s nothing beyond the curtain.
I was terminally uncool. Girls didn’t pay any attention to me. When I finally got girls to pay attention to me it was because they wanted things from me. I couldn’t figure out how to get someone to give anything to me.
I think that’s because I couldn’t figure out why I deserved to receive anything.
My entire life I retreated into fiction. I told stories. In those stories I made sense of my world and created a space where I, as the creator, was actually important. I rarely, if ever, shared those stories with anyone. I rarely, if ever, shared the existence of those stories with anyone. They were mine and mine alone.
Please don’t ask about those stories. They’re more like waking dreams than anything coherent. There were consistent characters and places, but the localities were worlds I created that intersected in strange and copyright-infringing ways on the universes created by others. It was, I suppose, a form of fanfic that I created in my own mind and for my own consumption long before the internet brought the term to me.
It is, I think, a way that I taught myself to tell stories. It’s the way I found my voice, alone in the comfort of my own mind. My stories were the only places where I wasn’t angry. They were the only places where I was in control.
Not so long ago I read an article about writing. I forget where I saw it, or I would gladly offer attribution and a link, since I loved it and immediately took it to heart. The central point of the article was simple, though. It argued that writers paralyze themselves with ideas. Writers build up ideas and stories faster than they can write them and eventually hit a point where they can’t do anything because there are too many ideas all crammed together and unable to get out all at once.
Writers feel they owe each and every one of those ideas something.
I’ve spent my entire life paralyzed by fear that if I made my own decisions I would be unable to pay a debt I owed to someone else. I needed to hear that not only about my writing, but about my life. I’ve been afraid to leave jobs I hated because I felt I owed someone something. I’ve been afraid to push my own agendas because I’ve felt I owed someone my support.
I needed that in my own writing, too. The people in my stories are real to me, sometimes in ways that are more tangible than actual people I meet in everyday life. I started writing a novel some ten years ago right on the heels of finishing Second Chances because I had a dream that, I shit you not, ended with one of the characters breaking the fourth wall and saying to me, “Now tell my story.” The next day I had the characters and the setting and the plot all assembled in my head. But I could never actually tell the story. Every time I tried to write anything but small scenes that were crystal clear in my head it fell apart.
I once spent Easter Sunday creating a religion. It was for a science fiction/fantasy story set in post-apocalyptic America where the people are only starting to move back to the old cities. They found old sports stadiums and assumed that these were the places where ancients gathered to worship the gods. I created a class of technomages who were simply people who knew something of old technology and used that to frighten people into respecting them. I created Lestran Green-Eye and his search for his kidnapped love Amaea.
There were bits and pieces of other stories that built up and threatened to crush me. They lived inside me and because of that I felt I owed them something. If I did not tell the stories no one else would. No one else could.
This, I think, is the work of writing. When writers talk about writing they talk like it’s this terrible burden, like it’s the most impossible thing. I think that’s just because they, because we, cannot discern the difference between the thing we want to say and the thing we think we should say.
The writing process is often backbreaking. The editing process is often heartbreaking.
Writing itself, when freed of all of the weight of expectation, is joy.
In the end it all comes back to Nightwind. I set out the critique the original book and, at the same time, figure out how to rewrite it into something that made more sense. I quickly realized that I could either critique the original or rewrite it. I couldn’t do both, since in focusing on what I did wrong in the original I couldn’t move under that weight and figure out what to do right instead.
Then I read the article about the pressure of all the stories left unwritten and I realized it was so, so much simpler than that.
All of the sudden the universe opened itself up to me. New locales appeared on the map. Old characters moved to places where they actually felt like they belonged. New characters introduced themselves. The old book disappeared because all of the sudden the events in the old book were a distant, faded memory.
So here’s what we’re going to do. Wednesday and Thursday of this week I’m going to get back to the whole Nightwind Wednesdays thing. Then on Friday I’m going to introduce you to a new character. Next week I’m going to do the same thing, but on Friday I’m going to introduce you to a new location and, hopefully, give you a glimpse of the conflict that’s brewing.
Because Nightwind has never been a weight on my shoulders.
It was actually something of an interesting conceit. Lestran’s green eyes mattered because some sort of phage had nearly wiped out green eyed people so whenever one popped up they were considered special. A technomage, who were, for the most part, both social outcasts and itinerant holy men, found him and realized that his green eyes were special not because they gave him powers, but because people thought they did. From there on out it was your standard hero’s journey stuff. The technomage was killed by people who also kidnapped the girl Lestran loved. He rescued her, then taught her the ways of the technomage and the pair went off to worship Bennie the Bull in the remains of Chicago.
I, um, I don’t remember exactly what the end game of that story was. Something about a war with Cleveland, maybe?
Also, I strongly doubt the green eye thing actually makes a bit of sense, scientifically speaking. I just thought Lestran Green-Eye was a cool name.