Writing fiction is mentally exhausting

I worked a bit more on my novelette this weekend, The Cliffs of Oakenrah.  The wordcount is now up to 5,600.  I’m still on scene 5 of 21 though, but it’s a rather long scene.  Perhaps it is because I am out of practice, and I haven’t been forcing myself to write everyday whether I feel like it or not (as some writers do), but I am finding the process to be mentally exhausting.  Some of it is because of the actual writing; trying to find the right words, trying to describe things as simply as possible, trying to make sentences flow easily together.  But some of it also has to do with the internal imagining of the world.  If I were just going to sit and daydream, it wouldn’t be very hard; I could probably go through scenes in my head as if they were parts of a movie.  But when I have to write down everything that happens, I have to always slow it down, play it over again and again (and of course it’s always a bit different each time), and pay attention to the details.  Not that my writing is overly detailed, but it’s easier to imagine travelling through a mysterious cave than it is to describe it in words.  It’s easy to imagine the look and movements of fantastical non-existent creatures than it is to describe them in words.  I find that process to be very mentally exhausting.

Dialogue can also be annoying, because as the author I know what I want the characters to talk about, but if they’re talking about something completely different, I have to find a way for them to flow into the desired topic, without it seeming completely forced.  And I have to continually change world-view perspectives in my mind.  The story might be from the point-of-view of one character, but I have to know the world-view and motivation for every character that says something important to write his or her dialogue believably.

And then of course there’s always the balance of info-giving.  Especially since this is a fantasy novelette, there’s a lot of other-worldly stuff I could spend time describing.  But I don’t want to “info-dump,” which might bore readers.  On the other hand, I don’t want to leave too much out, which would confuse readers.  Finding the balance is tricky, especially since it’s something I don’t really think about directly while writing; it’s more an element I just have to get a feel for through feedback I think, since my world is always completely clear to me, the writer.

OK, that’s enough blather isn’t it?

By S P Hannifin, ago

Ten thousand hours might mean nothing

At this point I’m fairly sure I will indeed do NaNoWriMo … sort of.  I’m going to start writing, that is, but I’m not really going to try to win, I’m not going to strive for 50,000 words in a month.  I’m just going to see how much I can get done, but I’m not going to push myself.  That way, I can’t lose!

I spent an hour today finally continuing work on my fantasy novelette, The Cliffs of Oakenrah.  I’m on scene 5 of 21, so there’s a ways to go.  If I finish, it might become longer than Dreamgiver, making it the longest work of fiction I’ve ever completed.  Which, I suppose, is pretty lame compared to most writers, but very superior compared to people who never write anything.


I was listening to a writing podcast the other day, and I heard the concept of the “ten thousand hours to expert” come up once again.  I think some writers and artists in general are interpreting the concept in a ridiculous way, taking it to mean that an artist’s art won’t be any good until the artist has ten thousand hours of experience, and that artists who do have ten thousand of experience are objectively better because of it.  But I think the arts are a bit too subjective for that, and I think people forget that there’s a difference between experience and practice, as I mention on the Book Quotes Blog.  Even I have used the terms synonymously, when they’re not exactly synonymous.  Getting more experience doing something you already know how to do well might not help you much, might not make you that much better.

Really, though, it just comes down to the subjectivity of an art like writing.  It’s hard to argue that you’re a better chess player if you keep losing games, or a better piano player when you can’t play anything by Chopin.  But there are no games or rules in writing.  And we don’t have “author’s experience hours” stamped on the back of books to help us decide whether or not it’s something we’ll like.

So please please just stop applying the ten thousand hour rule to something as subjective as writing fiction.  It actually doesn’t mean quite so much in such a context.  I’m sure there are plenty of inexperienced writers whose first works I would find brilliant, and plenty twenty-thousand-hours experienced writers who might make me want to jump of cliff to end the torture of knowing their work was deemed by someone else to be publishable.

Nor does the ten thousand hour concept apply to walking, eating, sleeping, daydreaming, etc.

I still think about this post by writer John Scalzi (especially since it was brought up in the podcast I mentioned as being a “painfully honest post”).

While I agree with a lot of what he says, I also think he is making the mistake of thinking his own experience counts for a bit too much.  Experience does not make your opinions more valid, not in the subjective art world, as he (and many others) seem to think.  I believe that that is a snobby way to think.  Sometimes people compare writing to fields in which opinions aren’t subjective, like medicine.  (“I want my doctor to have experience!”)  Well, duh.  There is right and wrong in medicine.  Writing, not so much.  Yes, there is some, but not nearly as much.  Writing is based on our desires, the rules come from our opinions.  Medicine doesn’t work that way.  Experience writing also does not automatically make you a better writer.  You have to practice … you have to work to understand the conventions of our time, understand how you as a reader respond to other people’s works, understand how the authors you enjoy write the way they do.  So, yes, I do agree that inexperienced authors (including me) tend to not be as good.  I still don’t have any sense of how a plot should arc over the course of something novel size, as I have never finished writing a novel.  But that opinion comes from me, not some scientific objective rule about novel plot arcs, and not from writers who are more experienced looking down upon me judging my work.  And I’m not going to get better (which is also subjective) without getting feedback from others, including publishers who reject my work.

It’s not science (well, technically it is; it’s psychology, but it’s nothing we can currently objectively study).  It’s definitely not medicine.  And authors are not doctors.

And that’s all I have to say today.

By S P Hannifin, ago

I can’t take that kind of rejection

Yesterday I got my fourth rejection letter for my short story Oberon’s Paradise, so I’m going to give up writing.  It’s just not worth all the trouble if I can’t get published.  No, actually it was a personalized rejection letter, so it was rather encouraging… I mean, an editor actually took the time to comment specifically on the work; I think that’s a good sign!  And helpful too, as it pointed out what specifically the editor had issues with.  (They didn’t request a rewrite, however, so it’s not stuff that can just be edited and sent back.)

I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with the story now.  I could continue to send it out to other editors.  However, I sort of want to try dramatizing it… making some illustrations for it (not that I’m much of an artist; I stink at drawing, but you gotta start somewhere) and writing some music for it.  I think that would be a really fun project.  It would take forever though.  Hmmm… not sure.  If I start it, I probably won’t be able to finish…  (You know what they say… “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” (Much better than the atheist version: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him you believe in God.”  What, huh?))

The fantasy short story I’m working on now is called The Cliffs of Oakenrah.  The first line of the story is:

“Never go near the Cliffs of Oakenrah,” her father said.  “Something makes children jump.”

Lots of story possibilities with that I think.  So the story is about those cliffs, or really what’s beyond those cliffs.  I’m almost at 4,000 words and the story is just beginning, so it will probably end up being another novelette instead of a short story.  Which kind of stinks, because there aren’t nearly as many publications that accept unsolicited manuscripts for novelettes… but oh well; the story has to be as long as it has to be, and no shorter or longer than that.  Maybe if it gets to be around 25,000 words (still can’t predict how long it will be at this point) I can try to get it published as a self-contained book… obviously a very short book, but it’s been done.

By S P Hannifin, ago