What do I even want to write?

For most of my life, I thought that the genres I wanted to write in were science fiction and fantasy – primarily science fiction. As I got older, genre conventions and limitations became something I cared less and less about, and I shifted to saying that I wanted to write speculative fiction. Speculative fiction covers science fiction and fantasy as well as a few other genres, so essentially anything I wrote could fall under it.

About three weeks ago, I had a thought. What if what I want to write can’t really be considered science fiction? I honestly thought I was fine writing speculative fiction and not science fiction. Despite my best efforts, this thought took hold in my brain and has not let go.

I know these labels are a marketing tool. I know they don’t actually matter while I’m writing. But I can’t stop thinking that maybe what I thought I wanted to do isn’t what I actually want to do.

Then, a week ago, I had some more thoughts that furthered this problem: what if I don’t really want to write speculative fiction, either? What if I actually want to write weird fiction or literary fiction? Is that why I’ve been able to finish so few of my stories? Is it why I lose interest so quickly?

I seem to be going through the writer version of a mid-life crisis.

A possible new writing format

In November, I started writing Samael. I already knew that I wasn’t going to be writing a traditional novel. Instead of having chapters in my outline, I had “issues”. Just from the outline, it was obvious that most of the “issues” would end up being more than 2000 words – some substantially more.

It wasn’t until I actually started writing that I decided what I was going to do: break up each “issue” into parts. I then also decided that I’d add in things like character profiles, locations, information, etc. Back when I drew comics, I always had the last page of a chapter be some kind of informative page. This is essentially the same thing. And Samael was originally envisioned as a comic – I still think it would be great as a comic! – so it feels quite right to do this.

As an example, here’s Issue 6:

  • 6.1 – Entr’acte #1
  • 6.2 – Entr’acte #2
  • 6.3 – Miroslav Radic
  • 6.4 – Entr’acte #3
  • 6.5 – Entr’acte #4

That’s two “chapters” of writing, followed by a character profile, and then two more “chapters”. Not all issues are this long – Issues 3 and 7 are only have two parts.

So far, I like this. I don’t know how well it would work with other stories, but I think it’s something interesting to experiment with.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Results

2021_11 nanowrimo

This month did not start off well. I wrote a grand total of 148 words on day 1, which increased to 418 on day 2. I got caught up by Sunday night (the 7th) by writing 5771 words. It was not a great experience and I do not want to repeat it.

What I also realized by the end of Sunday the 7th was that I did not have enough in my outline to reach 50,000 words. Since I’d been outlining Broken Sword before I set it off to the side to work on Samael exclusively, I thought that if I got through all of Samael and couldn’t think of a good way to continue the story, I’d write the beginning of Broken Sword.

I…did not get to do either of those things. I outlined more sections of Samael, but I also ended up not reaching 50,000 words despite it.

But let’s look at week 2 first. The week 2 slump actually hit me pretty hard this year. I wrote during the week, but it wasn’t enough. By the end of Friday, I was 4k behind.

I actually did pretty good in week 3 – I was one day behind until Friday. I got super tired, then my computer crashed and wouldn’t boot. I panicked, fixed it (the video card was loose. That’s it) and then was too tired to do anything else, so I went to bed after writing about 600 words.

By that Saturday, I was only 500 words behind. Things were looking up…but I was going to run out of outline, so I spent most of week 4 (Thanksgiving week) working on more of the outline. This meant I fell behind during the week. I did start seriously writing again that Friday.

And then…I just kinda stopped? I got to 42,083 words on November 28th and decided not to write more. I definitely could have reached 50,000 words, but I thought it would be best not to write 3-4k for three days straight.

The length of stories

I first seriously started writing in 2008. I’d just learned about NaNoWriMo and has just read The Lord of the Rings, so I wanted to write a huge, sprawling epic. That November, I started writing a novel, Runes, that ended up being 168,305 words. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written. I guess I succeeded.

I think a lot of writers want this: a huge magnum opus that they can be proud of. But not all stories are meant to be long. Runes was, in my opinion, a fluke: the second-longest novel I’ve wrote (the initial draft of The Book of Immortality) only clocks in at 100k words. The final version of The Book of Immortality, the one that I posted here on this website, is 75k words. That’s a much more normal length for one of my novels.

So where did those 25k words go? Well, they were padding, so I removed them during editing. And why was that padding there in the first place? Well, that’s because the bulk of my writing used to happen during NaNoWriMo. For better or worse, NaNoWriMo really encourages padding out your writing. Other novels I’ve edited (that were written during NaNoWriMo) have also had quite a lot of words removed. One novel went from around 50k to 30k.

Even if you want a story to be long, a lot of the time, the content just isn’t there. That’s something I really realized about five years ago. Some stories are better off at a shorter length. There’s no shame in writing novellas, novelettes, or short stories instead of novels.

Sometimes I think that National Novel Writing Month being such a major part in my taking writing seriously hindered my ability to understand and accept that.

I think I’d like to work on a few shorter (less than novel-length) stories in the next few years. I’ve written a few novella-length works in the past, and I can definitely do so in the future. Short stories…maybe not so much. Every time I try to write a short story, it’s either barely over 1000 words, or ends up being a novelette at minimum – and not due to padding, but due to me misjudging the necessary word count to actually finish the story.

Where my story ideas come from

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how they would like to write a story, but they don’t have any good ideas and don’t know how to come up with them. This is a pretty weird thing for me to hear, becuase I come up with ideas all day, every day, and I will definitely never be able to get around to them in my lifetime. I have an entire word document (and a text document, and random notes in a Google doc) full of ideas, plot points, characters, etc. that I’ve never been able to use. 

So where do my story ideas come from? Well…everywhere.

Sometimes I’ll watch a movie, and think it could have worked better if it had gone in a different direction.

Sometimes I’ll read something that was so poorly made that I get offended and set out to create a better version.

Sometmes I’ll read about a historical event, and wonder how something similar would work in a similar setting, or what would could happened had things gone differently.

Inspiration is literally everywhere! Ideas are a dime a dozen.

I’ve also found that “ideas” are given a lot of weight that they really shouldn’t have. This, I think, comes from non-writers more than it does from writers, and all it’s really done is discourage people from writing because they think their ideas are too similar to prior work, or too derivative.

An idea may be the inspiration for a story, but it’s barely anything. The “idea” isn’t what makes a story good – it’s execution! If you give ten different writers the same prompt (the “idea”), you’ll get ten different stories. Good stories, bad stories, all sorts of stories in between. Ideas are not what make stories great. Really!