Sunday, July 29, 2007

How I Got Into This

So, what the heck do people write when they've just started their blog and know that no one's reading? I guess it doesn't really matter -- I can blather on about whatever I like and no one will ever know. :)

Let's see. I've been writing since I was a kid, some time in elementary school. I don't remember my "first story" or anything like that, especially since I'm one of those writers who starts stories left and right but only actually finishes a few; I've left snippets and shreds and random beginnings littering my path since the beginning. I'm more likely to actually finish now, but it's still nowhere near a sure thing.

My first novel (the first I started, anyway) was fanfic. It was a Trek Classic monstrosity which pretty much defined the Mary Sue genre, begun when I was thirteen. (I'm not really ashamed of it because thirteen is the perfect age to commit Mary Sue.) I worked on it fairly steadily until I was fifteen, then wandered off to other things. I hauled it out again when I took a creative writing class in college which was run workshop-style [facepalm] but didn't really do anything new with it. It's lost to the sands of time and the world is the better for it.

Most of what I wrote after that was original fiction. When I was fifteen I actually sent out this horrifically treacle-ridden Christmas story to... McCall's I think it was, or maybe Family Circle. Whichever it was, the editor had the good sense to send me a xeroxed rejection. I started a contemporary novel at seventeen, based on me and my friends, although the protagonist was an original character. If I'd rooted out all the Tuckerizations it would've actually been a decent story, but of course that was the main attraction from my POV at the time. [sigh] It was decent practice, though, and a writing teacher (same workshop mentioned above) said the dialogue sounded realistic so at least I was learning from it.

A few other bits and pieces popped up in my twenties, including the first few chapters of a Regency romance, and a short story (actually finished, yay!) which was a fanfic of the old Phoenix TV series with Judson Scott. Actually, the fanfic had an interesting plot device which might come in handy again some day. [scribbles note]

I started an SF novel, actually sort of an SF romance, of which there are a number of examples today but at the time (mid-eighties) I hadn't run into any others. It was a far-future story with vampires and bio-terrorists, sort of, but I wrote myself into a corner about twenty-six chapters in. I still liked it, though, so I decided to fix it. I stopped and analyzed what I had, identified the main plot lines and drew up a table of all the characters with their functions within the plot. I crossed out a few, assigning their functions to other characters, and started over writing an outline. (Mind you, I'd never been into outlines, not even in school where they messed me up more than anything else, but I really wanted to salvage this novel so I gave it a try.) I eliminated some superfluous subplots and planned the whole thing out, outlining clear to the end with a nice neat wrap, then went back to rewrite from the beginning.

Except I couldn't. It was as though doing all the planning and thinking and writing the outline had squeezed all the life out of the actual story. It didn't want to flow and when I forced it, it looked forced. I was incredibly bummed out. I had everything in a three-ring binder -- the first draft, the outline, the character list, a chronology, and a ton of worldbuilding notes -- and I put it away, figuring I'd try again later on. I never did, and the binder was lost along with everything else back in '90. I have a vague memory of the plot and the main characters, and might go back to it some time and try again.

Somewhere in 1986 I got online, first on Compu$erve, but there's a reason everyone who's ever been a member spells it that way -- $12.50/hour, ouch. GEnie was much cheaper, only $6/hour during evenings and weekends, so I moved over there and stayed pretty much until the place shut down. (GEnie rocked, it was the best online service of its time, but management was a pack of idiots and its corporate parent, General Electric, never cared about it, so management ran it into the ground and then wandered away.) Online I found other writers, which was massively cool. Writing-wise I hung out on the Writers RT, RomEx (the online home of the RWA at the time) and the SFRT, all of which had online workshops although IMO RomEx had the best one, with published pros and hopeful amateurs all tossed into one box, reading and commenting on each other's stuff. It was all great, though, and I learned more about writing there, both in the workshops and in the discussion topics on the bulletin boards, than I ever have in any classroom. I learned how to polish my own manuscripts and I became a brutally thorough critiquer. Some people couldn't deal with it but the ones who could appreciated it quite a lot; critiquing for people who want to learn and are eager for feedback is always satisfying because I feel like I'm really helping someone out.

I got into poetry for a while and that was interesting, although I prefer structured poetry, which isn't terribly popular these days. Throwing words at a canvas like a monkey flinging paint doesn't appeal to me, as either a reader or a writer.

I started another Regency in there, and a couple of SF novels. I got into the whole posting while you write thing, which can be encouraging if you're getting comments while you go, but the down side is that once something's posted it's pretty much set in stone; there's nowhere to go but forward. I started a short story -- another vampire story in the same universe as the novel I mentioned above, but set in the present day, with a pair of gay main characters -- which was wonderfully well received and expanded into another novel-length piece, although again I ended up at a roadblock. Another one I'd like to take another crack at some time. (BTW, have you ever noticed how incredibly stupid "gay vampire romance" sounds when you have to say it out loud to someone? [headdesk] I liked it a lot, and so did a lot of people who read it, but I absolutely loathed having to describe it to anyone. :P )

Around this same time, I wrote my third piece of fanfic, although it only counts on a technicality. One of my friends from RomEx and the Writers RT was involved in Misty Lackey fandom and she had a category (or maybe two, I forget) for her fans in the SFRT and she allowed a certain amount of fanfiction within fairly strict guidelines. Morgan sort of dragged me over and I ended up hanging out in the Modems of the Queen area for a while, and I wrote a story with an OC protagonist (one of the requirements) who wasn't even a Herald or anything, doing something completely away from everyone else. It's another story I finished, though, so it's notable if only for that.

I got into group stories on GEnie too and was involved in story (basically vampire erotica, before there was much of that actually published) called "Eternally Yours" which completely rocked. There were three of us who were the main writers (including the woman who got me into Modems of the Queen), one other writer who wrote one of the major villains and came in as needed and as she had time, and another woman who was a friend of the third main writer and mostly churned out badly-written smut. She kept her characters in their cabin screwing, though, and let the rest of us get on with the plotline so we let her do her thing and otherwise ignored her. The story was great, though, and we got a lot of feedback. These days it's incredibly unusual for group stories (which are called "RPGs" now, for some unknown reason) to get any notice at all beyond the group of participating writers, and even comments from fellow writers (those who aren't involved in the particular plotline you're writing) are pretty rare. EY got dozens of comments from readers every time a scene was posted, both on the bulletin board and in e-mail. I loved being involved and missed it very much when it lost its home and eventually broke up.

Through most of the late eighties to the mid-nineties, I worked for a company that does online RPGs and that sucked up most of my creative energy for a decade or so. I got a lot of practice ad-libbing, writing dialogue on the fly, as well as describing actions on a few seconds' notice. I also got a boatload of practice writing setting descriptions. Ever written twenty different descriptions of bare stone corridor? I have! At the very least it's good exercise of one's creative faculties.

In the mid-nineties I focused on writing for submission and started building a collection of rejection slips. I got one of the "good" rejections from Realms of Fantasy (although now I can't remember which color that was :P ) and one from George Scithers at Worlds of Fantasy and Horror had a personal note saying that the story was too much like one by Octavia Butler. I'd never read anything by her at the time but I'd heard enough about her to take that as a compliment; it was very encouraging.

In the mean time I'd gotten married and transferred to Long Beach State University, where I did quite well except for completely bombing out of two semesters after getting sick -- which was mostly depression -- and missing a month in the middle of each of those two semesters. I could usually handle that so far as catching up with the material goes, but professers tend to get touchy about attendance when your absence is that long. :/ After the second time, my husband made an appointment for me with an actual psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It explained so much! I'd seen a couple of therapists before but no one had ever caught on to the other side of it, nor had anyone really taken it seriously, despite one episode which left me with a scar on my wrist. Probably just as well, since meds prescribed for monopolar depression tend to make bipolar people worse, but I'd never gotten more than mild sleeping pills from a doctor before. My new doctor started working with me seriously and one of the first things I was put on was depakote.

Unfortunately, one of the more common side effects (among others :/ ) of depakote is that it kills your creativity. Dead, like cutting it off with a knife. It's not universal but I got lucky, yay. While I was on the stuff, and for several years after I stopped taking it (it wasn't helping and there were other unpleasant side effects as well) I couldn't do anything creative. I couldn't write, either fiction or poetry, couldn't draw or play music, couldn't even do needlework except the occasional project done strictly to a pattern. It sucked and I hated it.

By the time the stuff finally wore off and I started feeling like I could write again, I was feeling pretty hesitant about it. So many years of being completely unable made me want to take some baby steps to get back into it. A friend of mine had been talking about how much great fanfiction there was for Harry Potter (after I asked what Harry Potter was and she explained and I actually read the books which were out at the time) so I thought I could check that out and maybe write some fanfic at first. Writing something that came with pre-made characters and settings sounded like a good way to ease back in. [wry smile]

I poked around on Google and found some archives and some personal web sites and some pretty good stories and the usual amount of drek, and started a story of my own. Of course, having never been really into the fanfic crowd and not having been into it at all in most of a decade, I went about it all wrong, not realizing that the traditional fanfic fandom scorn for Mary Sues had grown to encompass pretty much any original character. [blinkblink] Ummmm, okay, whatever. I did meet a really nice lady through HP fandom, though, who explained that most people were posting on LiveJournal and helped me get one of my own. While doing that, I kept poking around and found some multi-fandom archives which had Lord of the Rings fanfic along with the Harry Potter stuff, and I expanded my reading in that direction. By the time I had my LJ set up I'd also run into this Lord of the Rings "RPS" stuff (if you don't know, you're probably better off not asking [wry smile]) which sounded incredibly weird and creepy at first. There was so much of it, though, that I finally tried some and got thoroughly hooked. I spent the next few years -- up until now, actually, and I'm not planning on stopping yet -- writing fanfic, mostly RPS, along with a couple of Harry Potter stories and one Fantastic Four story based on the first movie.

There's a lot of incredibly good stuff in the fanfic community, some excellent writers and wonderfully well written stories; you just have to know where to look for them. There's also a lot of crap cluttering the landscape, but then there's a lot of crap no matter where you go, including the bookstore. People who aren't into it tend to heap a lot of scorn and mockery on fanfic, but saying all fanfic sucks because of some badly written Mary Sue thing is like saying all horror movies suck because of The Evil. It's a ridiculous argument to make.

At any rate, my little experiment in "easing myself" back into writing certainly worked, and I've learned a lot and gotten much better over the last few years. I've finished more stories than I have ever before in my life and I have more control over my plots than I used to. I still love fanfic but I think it's time to expand back into the writing for professional markets.

Angie

3 comments:

Camilla Bartley said...

Just anything that comes into your head.

Camilla Bartley said...

Oh, and welcome to the blogging world.

Angie said...

Camilla -- thanks! And yeah, that's pretty much what I've been doing so far. :D

Angie