Looking Back

April was an interesting month. It started off with absolute conviction–I was going to write War of the Hex immediately. Its first draft would be done in time for Age of Ultron and that was going to be awesome. The idea was, “I finished the first draft of Memory in a month, so why couldn’t I just do the same with Hex?

Turns out I couldn’t because I kept hitting a really emotional writing wall every single time I sat down to work on Hex. The total rewrite of my one long-time project actually erases nearly everything I created for its world in its Prologue. A page or two into the rewrite, I find myself introducing a character… and stopping to think, “Hey, couldn’t this be Kysius [one of the many obscure characters from the previous versions of the book]?” And the answer was always overshadowed by the immediate rush of the realization that, “It doesn’t matter. Even if this is Kysius, Kysius dies anyway because this character dies.” And… okay–one character dying when they hadn’t before is no real problem.

But my brain always followed up with the reminder that, “Everyone dies. Everyone you created who isn’t a protagonist dies. The towns you made–your map of Ashaiden (the background for your blog)? That’s all gone.”

Oh… Yeah. Right.

I was expecting to have a few thousand words done within the first few days of Camp NaNoWriMo. I tapped out (officially) at 733 words.

People throw the term around comically all the time, but April really was just too soon. Especially now that I’m back in the vortex of, “Am I doing the right thing with this story?” I think I am–I really do; every time I think of how War of the Hex unfolds, it makes me happy and excited to write it. But that excitement immediately comes with so much… mourning.

But, taking a step back, there are none of those problems with Memory, so, despite just dropping out of Camp NaNoWriMo, I still spent the rest of the month working on worldbuilding for Memory, which is just about done. For a while there, I didn’t think there would be an end; my casual worldbuilding file is 74 pages long at this point, fueled by me neurotically deciding that yes, I need to describe every single facet of everything in Panthius. I make it sound like horrible work, but of course it wasn’t–I’m a nerd. Why wouldn’t I enjoy establishing the Empire’s strange currency and totally over-analyzing the social weirdness that comes with it?

Regardless, May is The Last Draft of Memory Month. It absolutely has to be because brainstorming has dropped enough ideas that I’m starting to write when I’m not even at my computer; I started an additional scene earlier while washing dishes and was on the verge of just dropping plates back in the sink–maybe angrily shouting, “Rinse yourselves!” at them before rushing to my computer.

But, my well-established weirdness aside, I have a handful of prominent settings to flesh out today, and then tomorrow I get back to working on something that makes me feel amazing again.

What I took from April–failures and all? Three things:

First, no matter what happens with it, War is always going to be a tough topic for me. Even when I finish War of the Hex, I’m sure I’ll still look back at War of Exiles and lament how I couldn’t just save all of the great parts of it because they’re attached to so many bad parts. But, at the same time, that’s just who I am. I have to move on, which means getting a new background image for this blog.

Second, this month, I’m going to write outside, because even just going out for coffee made me really, really want to write. 30 Days of NaNoWriMo broke me; the leather armchair demands my enthusiasm for all things as the price for its comfort.

Third, I’m not trying to work on a bunch of projects at once anymore. It’s just not how I work. I said it once before that I’m out of time when it comes to getting published, and that still feels true; I feel like I’ve passed the point where I should’ve been picked up–like I’m living in a failed, backwards life, the pitch of everything strangely warped as it all shoots past me. But I’m still here–still writing. Still trying. And, in no way does that mean that it’s a time for experiments; I work with what works and that’s it. I will come back to War (of course), but for now, that Progress Bar is shrinking to two active items–at most–and submissions. From now on, it’s just the novel I believe in, the short story I believe in, and all of the rejections I’ve accrued.

Full Disclosure

I sometimes imagine the different me’s that exist across the multi-verse.

Disclaimer: I swear this is going somewhere. Somewhere extremely important actually.

On the grand scale of weird things that I think about, this is one of the most affirming.

Maybe that’s not what you were expecting. Maybe you thought that this would be a whole depressing thing about how down I am about my place in life. It’s not. This is, instead, about the choices we make and feeling confident about them. Because there’s choosing medium or mild salsa.

And then there’s choosing whether you want to give up on a project or not.

Instead of asking, “Where do I even start??” I’ll clarify that I’m not scrapping one of my stories… Well, not exactly scrapping. March was all about making a brutal decision concerning one of them, however.

To put the right context on it, I’m going to take a moment to talk about the Louis Santiago’s in alternate universes.

There’s Something About My Face

I don’t know what it is, but something about my face screams both “lovable” and… “immature”? “Directionless”? Maybe it’s just because people always think aspiring Fantasy authors are insane and destined for failure. Either way, people always try to save me and it’s possibly a matter of my cheeks; I look way younger than I am. In the same way that kids just naturally love me (as if I’m some kind of cartoon character) friends naturally want to hug me and help me succeed. Which is awesome…

Until you get to the part where “helping” is “making you like me” or “deciding for myself that I’m your mentor and I teach you now.” Because this always leads directly to friends trying to slap the pen out of my hand.

“No! No! Bad!” they might say, as if chastising a pet. “No! You edit music videos instead, like I do!” followed immediately by, “WHY U NO CARE ABOUT MUSIC VIDEOS!?”

I definitely run the risk of going off topic, so what I’m trying to say is, I’ve been given a lot of weird choices. Choices that have created many weird parallel universe Louis Santiago’s. I am the Louis who chose writing–at every turn–to my detriment. I’ve stalwartly chosen writing and my life sucks. Not in a, “Boy are my feet tired; today was rough!” kind of way, but in a, “I’m single, still living at home, and I genuinely have no money because I pushed away a few opportunities to write instead,” kind of way. It’s own horrible decision, I know, but I’m definitely not claiming to be the smartest Louis in the multi-verse.

That said, I’m still not the Louis Santiago who toils away at rap music videos and wears the clothes that my music video editing friend wore (it actually got to the point that he told me to go shop where he shopped so I could look fresh). That’s an extreme case, but that idea–of me actually working a job I absolutely hate because someone told me to (because I let the pen be slapped out of my hand)–is actually worse than this. And that makes me feel bad for the Louis Santiago out there in the multi-verse somewhere, extremely tired as he records groups of men throwing up their hands endlessly at his camera.

I feel really bad for Rap Video Editor Louis and absolutely, horribly grateful that I’m not him.

Even though I’m not as depressed by him, I’m also glad I’m not Ruin Hunter Louis (who’s actually pretty awesome) or Food Scientist Louis, because none of those decisions felt right to me. In my thoughts about all of the alternate me’s, I always imagine them thinking wistfully about writing–that one dream they had to give up. Ruin Hunter Louis doesn’t have the time to write. Food Scientist Louis possibly delved into Sci-Fi, but, unaware that no Louis in any alternate reality could possibly write good Sci-Fi, he got burned and quit early.

Anyway…

My Point

There is now, in that ever-expanding multi-verse, a super unfulfilled Louis… who’s still pushing War of Exiles.

The end of March was really, really rough for me. Not specifically because I got my first rejection letter for War of Exiles; that rejection is something I expected. Because, of course. It’s rejection, the very middle name of the writing game.

No, what bothered me are the thoughts that came with the rejection. Because there was the usual torrent of thoughts you’d expect, “Does is suck?” “Am I a bad writer?”

But somewhere in all of that, there was a low, frustrated whisper of, “How are you ever going to make this novel sound good?”

And I blinked. With a deep breath, I turned an ear to that question and heard others like, “How can you convince the next agent that this isn’t a mess?” “How can you focus your synopsis to make it sound like there’s an awesome, composed story in here?”

And it led to one of the most brutal writing questions I’ve had to face in a long time: “Is there an awesome, composed story in War of Exiles? And if there’s not… why am I trying to sell it as one? Is that not going right in the face of everything I’ve ever aspired to do with my work?”

Because, with Memory, yes, there is absolutely a composed, entertaining story. Memory is this quick, fun piece with definite themes and clear characterization. But War of Exiles… I don’t want to make it sound like I wasn’t intent on making quality or characters or settings that I love, but I’ve been working on WOE for 10 years. And, along those 10 years, it’s picked up influences from every writer I wanted to write like. There were bits of George R. R. Martin intrigue and brutally human drama mixed with Sanderon-styled fight scenes. There was a need to make a logical, believable, Rothfuss-like magic system even though it was a story featuring giant, magically-animated monsters and necromancers. And, there was all of this, mind you, painted over the original, extremely campy base I wrote in 2005; because when I rewrote War of Exiles, I used the same general plot structure of the original (a story that took heavy influences from the most generic Fantasy you could find; one of the many problems I had with the book but just ignored).

It’s weird to be on the other side of another quality wall–another transition where I realize that all of February was me struggling to work out a single plot twist without realizing that a plot twist that I had to struggle to work out–for a month–was a horrible idea. It’s weird to realize the massive, unfix-able holes in something you’ve worked on for so long. To realize that what I should’ve done was scrap all of it and try to find the story I wanted to tell in the world of War of Exiles.

But, regardless of hindsight, I’ll finally just say that totally scrapping the original plot is what I’ve done.

It was… obviously not an easy decision. Just about every day after PAX was spent contemplating. Could I seriously just drop this thing I’ve been working on for ages? Was I going to just drop the project altogether and focus on Memory instead?

In the end, I began looking for that story I wanted to tell in the world of WOE. I had no idea if there was one, but–full disclosure–I really wanted there to be. So, even though I felt super defeated, I made an adorable relationship chart for my story elements. Just a simple, stupid file in Photoshop to separate my style from all of the styles of different writers. To find my book.

And it was after staring at that stupid, color-coded chart that I got it. I got up, walked to another room, and that magical writing thing happens where the pieces come together on their own–only the pieces here were massive chunks of a trilogy, falling together into a very different, neat, composed plot that is immediately, indicatively me. Not Martin-esque or Sanderson-esque. Not pulling influences from everywhere.

Not dressing like anyone else.

Not doing what anyone else says is cool.

Not letting anyone else so much as nudge the pen in my hand.

~~~

It’s called War of the Hex now, and, instead of being a trilogy, it’s going to be my second standalone. It is, to kind of bring this full circle, more of an alternate reality version of War of Exiles (not even a reboot).

I am also, as of this posting, already writing it for Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve thrown it up on the Progress Bar, where I’ve also added my editing progress on Memory, which (I promise) only appears to be going nowhere because I’m still going into world-building overdrift with it.

Thanks for reading. This one was definitely more personal (I’m sure plenty of other writers have had no problem writing what they want to write [I’ve had a strangely affected life]) but if this resonated with anyone, let me know with a Comment, Like, or Follow. Or just pass by again when you have a chance.

Until then, take care and write well.