Do I really have the right to call myself a writer anymore? (In a way, I have never had that right, since I’ve never been paid for anything I’ve written, but that’s a more narrow definition than I intend here.) Other than the myths I’ve haphazardedly re-told for this blog — and a couple of odd short stories for Missing Letter Mondays — I haven’t written anything for many long months; no significant amount of writing since Camp NaNo in April, and even that wasn’t all that significant. (I think I set my goal to about 20k.) And I’m not even sure if I’m going to take part in NaNo this November. (Though admittedly that’s because of time concerns more than anything else; I have two research papers due in mid-December, one 25 pages long, the other 5,000 words long, which comes to about 20 pages, as far as I can tell (based on the length of my 1,000 word papers for the same class). So in November I will be neck-deep in research. I also have a presentation to do at some point that month, I think.)
I’m not sure exactly why I don’t seem able to write anymore. It may be due to any number of factors. I can think of a few possibilities, off-hand.
1) Following the successful conclusion of my quasi-YA novel series in the first draft stage, I told myself it was time to buckle down and do some re-writing, first on my Trojan War novel — which the quasi-YA novels are kinda-sorta a sequel to — and then on the series, to try and get them all polished up in the hopes that I might someday (self-)publish them and maybe get one or two people to read them, and maybe even to pay me for them. But I’m no good at re-writing, and actively detest having to scrap scenes/sequences/chapters/et cetera and start over, which I had to do at several places in the Trojan War novel. (In fact, I still haven’t finished the do-over on the Telephos chapter.) However, since I was supposed to be re-writing, I felt guilty about writing anything else.
2) Last year’s NaNo project is still hanging over my head, unfinished. Well, not “unfinished” as in I never got to 50k, or even that I didn’t finish the book, sort of. It expanded from a single book to the first in a trilogy, and I finished that first book, but I still haven’t been able to make much headway into the second book. I think it’s about 20-30k, but I’ve barely even made a dent in the plot. Dent nothing, I’ve barely even scratched it! (In addition to the fact that my characters are always far too chatty, the series has way too many of them, which makes it very long without accomplishing as much as I’d like. It’s hard keeping up with what so many people are doing, but due to the way the story and plot are structured, there really aren’t any I can safely cut. Well, maybe I could cut the reincarnation of Antilochos, but that’s about it.)
3) Two characters from the backstory for last year’s NaNo project have utterly taken over my imagination’s life, but I have very little I can do with them. (Though I have written three (contradictory) short stories about them, and a…I have no idea what to call it. I was taking a course on oral history last year, and thought the oral history interview was an interesting potential mode of story-telling…and I ended up writing an “oral history interview” with these two characters. Though not with their actual life story for the backstory — in that they both die young — but in a continuation from one of the short stories.)
Okay, while I blame all three of these situations, I think #3 is probably the primary culprit, so I’m going to go into it in more detail. (Though I’ve said some of this before. I apologize to anyone who’s already read that stuff, because there’s going to be old news mixed in with the new stuff.)
So that NaNo novel was an anime-inspired sci-fi piece, quite literally Mobile Suit Gundam meets the Trojan War. Not that it’s a fanfic cross-over, mind you. It’s just the Greeks and the Trojans reincarnated into the far future, which has giant robots and operates on a very Gundam-style set of story rules. (Though there’s also a tiny bit of influence from Macross and Martian Successor Nadesico.) Because the reincarnation of Cassandra could remember all their previous lives, I had to know what they all were, so I could have her talk about their past lives consistently, without relying exclusively on their original lives. But for some reason the versions of Achilles and Patroclos who were killed in the 1972 massacre (mass hysteria in a snowed-in ski lodge) really struck a chord with me, and have refused to go away. I’m not sure why, exactly. It helps that 1972 is only slightly outside of my own life experiences (born in ’75) and thus something I’m more readily able to imagine with some degree of realism, unlike the 1880s, or the French Revolution, or the future. (Okay, I can imagine all kinds of futures, but…they tend not to be terribly consistent.) Possibly more important is that in the 1972 version, for whatever reason, their love is exclusive. I mean, in the actual NaNo novel, the reincarnation of Achilles has sex with four or five people, or rather, three or four women in addition to the reincarnation of Patroclos. (And the reincarnation of Patroclos does have sex with one woman in the course of the book, though not much attention is drawn to that fact. Even most of the cast assumes that he’s not interested in women, only in his boyfriend, and he’s always very annoyed that he has to explain that he does have girlfriends, it’s just that he doesn’t have one at the moment, and what with the fact that 95% of the people he’s ever met just died, he doesn’t really think this is a good time to be dating. (Not that that stops the reincarnation of Achilles from chasing every skirt he sees. (Not that they actually wear skirts, mind you. That’s just a figure of speech; they all wear identical jumpsuits.))) This is typical of their relationship in all the lives — including the original one — except that one in 1972. There, instead of being bisexual, they both become homosexual, planning to spend the rest of their lives together. And, technically, they do. It’s just that in the original version, “the rest of their lives” is three days. That’s probably one of the other reasons they’ve taken over like this, too; the extra tragic nature of the brevity of their love hits the “fanfic” nerve in me, the “I’ve gotta fix this story!” nerve. (Though another part that’s important is the fact that this particular reincarnation of Achilles is much nicer than the original Achilles, and less shallow than the one in the actual NaNo novel. Though the fact that he’s nicer was only really set up as I started writing those short stories, so they had kind of already taken over by that point, or were starting to, anyway.)
Oh, I should explain that. See, it’s been one of my…hmm, what to call it? It’s not a “writing technique” as such, but I’m not sure what else to call it. A way in which my writing bleeds into my real life? Well, whatever it is, it’s been the case at least since college — and probably, in a slightly different manner, far longer than that — that I tend to think about the primary romantic couple in whatever I’ve been writing lately. All the time. See, my life sucks. It always has. Being me is no fun, so whenever I’m not actively doing something that requires my attention, I have a tendency — and this is not a conscious thing, it just happens — to imagine myself as the woman in whatever is my current pairing, whether it’s a pairing out of something in pop culture, or a pairing from something original I’ve been writing. At some point, this switched me over from making up new stories advancing the plot to making up stories that are alternates to the plot. (I blame my Final Fantasy VII period; there wasn’t a lot to do with that pairing in “advancing the plot” because the further you get in the “official” story, the more convoluted and yet pointless it becomes, not to mention the fact that characters are not terribly consistent from one game to the next, so it was more satisfying to make up completely alternate stories, simply borrowing the characters.) So in taking over my mind’s “primary couple” position, these two also activated my “fanfic” senses in a big way, and instead of advancing the plot, I end up making up new ways for them to get together romantically, never really advancing any new plots much beyond that. (And I won’t go into how awkward it is that suddenly I’m imagining myself as a guy. It’s fortunately an unconvincing bit of imagination, but…still not one I’m entirely comfortable with. I just can’t seem to get it to stop!)
So, lately I’ve been wondering if I should excise those two from the backstory of the sci-fi novel — I can easily enough make up a new story to go there (in fact, I have one in reserve that suddenly snuck into something unrelated I was writing, though that was originally set around now, but shifting it back to the 1970s wouldn’t be that difficult) — and give them their own story, their own book, in the hopes that that will exorcise them from my mind, and let me move on to other things.
No idea if that’ll work or not; I’ve never had anything quite like this happen to me before.
Of course, the problem is that despite the book they’re part of the backstory for being rather silly and outlandish, these two characters are very down-to-earth and their story is supposed to be grim and highly realistic. (Not that it would be if I ended up trying to write the original story of the slaughter at the ski lodge. I don’t know what it would end up being, but realistic would not be on the table.) So it’s hard to imagine them in the kind of weird stories that I generally write. And there’s no hope of writing a realistic “what sort of suffering would a newly gay couple have gone through in 1972” because I have no idea what that would be, don’t have the time to research it, and even if I did, I don’t know what it’s like to be a man, and any attempt to imagine what it’s really like to be a gay man would definitely come out flat and unconvincing, and possibly unintentionally offensive. (Not in the usual, mocking ways, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my imagination failed so spectacularly that it ended up giving offense.)
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t have any ideas of what to do with them in a NaNo novel for this year. I did have an idea, and I think it has some potential…if I can ever move past their role in it to think about the rest of the plot.
It would be a bizarre thing where they’re in a chopper over Vietnam (it was part of their original backstory that they served in the Special Forces in the Vietnam War) in 1970, and then the helicopter gets sucked through a vortex of some sort, and crashes on an island, in a very Island of Dr. Moreau kind of thing. (Not that I’ve read that book yet…) I have one other character in mind, the main go-between for the mad(?) scientist and everyone else on the island, but only the sketchiest of ideas for everyone else. To the extent that I have no idea how many other people were even on their helicopter. My file of plot ideas for this is a couple of thousand words long by now, and most of them are about how the no-longer-reincarnation of Achilles is going to confess his love, and how it’ll play out from there, and what their new backstory is, but only where their romantic relations are concerned.
The irony about this seeming monomania for the love stories is that they rarely feature heavily in anything I’ve written. Despite my personal obsession with them, they tend to be low key and not very important to the plot. (For example, I wrote a vampire novel — intended to be the first in a series — quite a long time ago, maybe 2005ish. The lady vampire intended to be the overall heroine of the series isn’t even in the first book, though she’s discussed a lot, and the fellow intended to be the overall hero of the series is only a supporting character, and the fact that he’s in love with her is only vaguely hinted at. In a short story taking place between book 1 and book 2 (and I did actually start book 2, for what little that’s worth) I did have scenes involving both of them, but aside from some flirting, the romance really didn’t come up at all; in fact, the main drive of the story was him getting involved with another woman, little knowing that she, too, was a vampire. (He’s never been willing to act on his love for the heroine because she’s a vampire, you see. Well, and some other reasons — including that she’s his employer — but that’s the big one.) They weren’t going to get together as a couple until book 4…which was going to be the next time that the hero even showed up. And yet these two were my “pair” for a long time.)
Despite that I’ve started coming up with this plot for a NaNo novel for this year, I doubt I’ll really take part in NaNo this year. Given how little of my research I’ve done so far for those final papers (I’ve got tons of library books sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to read them) I have a feeling that I really won’t have time.
And I’m no longer sure if I’m even capable of it. I feel like my writing muscles have atrophied. It’s very distressing.