Friday, October 27, 2006

Novel Ideas

I've been feeling like a very negligent parent for the past few weeks, which is strange seeing as I don't even have a child. I do have a novel, though, and I don't think I've written more than five pages in it since I've gotten here. That's pretty depressing, because I'd hate to think that something I care about so much could be dead. I know; it's just a novel--it can't actually die. But it can fade into oblivion. I believe it was Stephen King that said if a book is dead in the author's mind, then there's no salvaging it. I don't want that to happen to my work.

But I'll start from the beginning here. As you know I'm an English major. I love the written word in nearly all its forms, and ever since I was a child I've wanted to be a writer. Why? Ayn Rand said it best: "Not in order to save the world nor to serve my fellow men, but for the simple, personal, selfish, egotistical happiness of creating the kind of men and events I would like, respect and admire." Or, to put it simply, because I enjoy it. ;-)

I wrote my first novel, entitled Whaler, in high school, and it took me the better part of Junior year to complete it. It was a fantasy novel, but I made sure it was devoid of castles, dragons, elves, and whatnot (Tolkien did those best, so I think modern writers need to leave them alone). I would go into the details of the plot here, but I'm not sure how copyright works on blogs (and I'm sure you wouldn't be too interested, anyway ;-). I will say that it was a blast to write, though. I wanted to make it surreal and dreamlike, so I didn't hold back with my imagination. Whatever extraordinary images leapt into my mind, I put them on paper, and I tried to connect them with a plot. It's probably not the best literature in the world (though I can proudly say that it's over 50,000 words), but it was fun and it definitely made me think of writing as a possible career (or at least a long-lasting hobby).

So, in Senior year I started what I thought would be my magnum opus. I know--it's dumb to want to write a magnum opus after only one novel, but come on, I'm a teenager and ambition is definitely up there on my list of characteristics. I had already figured out that I enjoyed writing fantasy as much as reading it, so I decided to write one gigantic fantasy epic--incorporating all the images and half-formed characters that were floating around in my head. But unlike Whaler, which started out as a vague concept and then worked its own way into a more definitive plot as I kept writing, this magnum opus was much better planned out.

Having always been a fan of American folklore, I really wanted to incorporate it into this novel. But I didn't want the incorporation to be too overt, otherwise people would be able to directly pinpoint influences (as can be done with a lot of Tolkien's European-based works). Generally, I just wanted the setting and the characters of my novel to have an overall American tone, reminiscent of the frontier and Old West in some places, and of Turn-of-the-Century industrial cities in others. And of course this is all set against a fantasy backdrop which still incorporates magic and mythology. The title for this magnum opus is the name of its central character, Asher of the Desert.

So that's what I've been working on for the past year or so. Word-wise, I'm 50,000 words in, so my pacing is about the same as it was on Whaler, which also took a year. I just haven't written anything in a while, and that can really mess up the flow of my work (not to mention, since in true fantasy fashion I've tried to make my world seem as real as possible, I've lost track of some details, which can lead to continuity errors down the road).

Basically, I'm just praying for some motivation. I've had time to work on this, but I get so easily distracted here. I used to use every spare moment to write, but now, even when I'm not doing anything with friends, I find myself wandering around the Internet or doing something else trivial. So, the title of this post isn't about the ideas for my novels exactly. It's more of me asking for any tips on how to motivate myself to do this task. We all can procrastinate sometimes, it's just it's strange that I'm putting off doing something that I really enjoy.

(Oh, and I have two more exams this week. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers ;-)



tilts_at_windmills said...

I know exactly how you feel right now. I wrote a novel when I was about your age, and have now started on another, "better" (I hope) novel, but stopped dead about four months back. I really love writing, and yet I find myself surfing the net or watching TV instead of working. My mom's a painter, and she says she does the same thing. I've seen a lot of the best painters I've worked for over the years do it, too.

I think for many would-be artists (like me) it's the fear of failure that makes us stall. If you don't work on your piece because you're "lazy," you can always tell yourself it would be great if you did finish it. If you pour your time, energy, and passion into it, on the other hand, you run the risk of finding out that even your best work isn't good enough.

The most prolific painters I've known were the ones who did as a hobby, because they loved it, and who didn't care much if it was any good or not. Same for novelists, really.

I don't know how useful my advice is, since it isn't currently working for me, but when I was writing, I set a particular time every day, even if it was only a half hour, and had it on my schedule. I write best late at night, when everyone else is asleep. Other writers do best in the early morning. Just pick a time when you won't be distracted, and be consistent about it, and force yourself to sit there, no matter how much you don't want to. Change of scene can help, too. I often write more easily in coffee shops than I do in my apartment. Good luck!

Jay said...

That's actually really good advice, and I hope it starts working for you, too. It might be that, since I'm only doing this for my own enjoyment, I'm un-motivated because I've set no standards for myself. I'm the kind of person who needs deadlines and order. I'm not afraid of failure. To me, failure would not be finishing this story. But since I'm not a professional author I have no deadlines. A self-imposed one might work, but it's hard to keep your promises to yourself sometimes.

And your mom's a painter? So's my mom! How crazy is that? Have a good one, Tilts.

Irrational Entity said...

I have not tried my hand at fiction, but when working on research papers I make up an outline and set goals for completing a first draft of each section. The goals would be two weeks for the first section, three for the next, and so on until the first version is ready. Little rewards can also be motivational. For example I will not purchase a new game until I have my next paper ready. Then I will reward myself for a task completed and not worry as much about the temptation to slack off.

em said...

I have never tried my hand at writing anything more than essays for school, documents for work, or really long e-mails. So, I think that's great that you've got the initiative to write a novel... or two!

Hope you get some time to put your writing into gear and make some progress in the near future. Thanks for sharing the latest there.

Peterson Toscano said...

Jay, I have found my greatest motivation has come for me when I have been exposed to other artists. I once saw this film that had Picasso painting on a screen and the viewer got to see the creative process. By the end I was about to explode with creativity.

Earlier in the year I met Kurt Vonnegut and had a series of amazing conversations with him about his work, my wok, Truman Capote, Hemmingway, America, everything. It was amazing and afterwards, again I was about to explode with creativity.

I think one of the challenges in school is to enjoy reading and art for the pure pleasure of it. I find that analyzing art crushes my artistic spark.

Jay said...

You met Kurt Vonnegut and got to talk to him about literature!? I am so envious of you ;-)

Actually, I think you're on to something in your post. I haven't been exposing myself to creativity recently. I haven't had any time to read for pleasure and I really haven't seen any good movies in a while. That could be why I'm not feeling very creative right now.

Hope everything's going well,

Angie said...

Great comments from your great commenters... so I can't add much! But just a reminder. This whole "going to college" thing is a big transition - contrary to how you make it seem so easy via blogging! So, cut yourself some slack as far as a transition time. It seems to me that God has deeply planted your dreams in your heart. And to know so early... I'm envious of that. You are one of the cool ones, Jay!


Jay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jay said...

Thanks Angie. It is a big transition, but really, I have found it to be much easier than expected. When and if I start living off campus...that will be a big transition. Right now it just seems like I'm at a very elaborate summer camp. Pretty much everything is taken care of (except classes!), so I'm not feeling as independent as I'd like. Wait till I have to pay rent!

Thanks again,

Angie said...

I'd like to pre-order an autographed copy of "Asher of the Desert."

Does that help with motivation?


Stan said...

I agree with peterson that usually inspiration comes by an outside force usually another work. It's funny When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of an old classic 80's show called Knots Landing, so whenever we had "creative writing" assignments at school I would always use the stories from the show as base and add my own flavor to them.

I remember once in 7th grade we were told to write a sequel to a book we had read about and I ended up writing an entire plot of Knots Landing with my own flavor and ended up getting the best grade.

I love to write, I actually attempted to write a novel once, but I have to work on patience.

A project of mine I have is collecting family stories. the last couple of years or so, I have been going to grand parents/uncles/aunts just to collect family stories, I'm recording them and putting them altogether. It's fun.

Jay, good luck, the more you look for inspiration, the less you get it, it's very subtle, one day while doing dishes you see something and BOOM, you find inspiration.

feathermast said...

I read you post. Not so sure about whether your "lazy" or "afraid", I don't really know anything about you.


Wanting motivation doesn't cut it. Wanting to write doesn't either. Allow me to explain: Whatever you do will ingrain itself into your mind and reinforce yourself of the same. Wanting motivation will reinforce wanting motivation. It will not reinforce motivation. As a matter of fact, the more you want it, the less you will do it, because you'll start to just want it, instead of doing it.

forget about wanting motivation. An easy way is to simply pay attention to what your doing. If you find yourself falling into "wanting", then tell yourself, "aha! I'm wanting to get motivated!" immediately, the recognition of that will weaken the impulse to want. That's when you get motivated.