On Writing: Point of Viewpoint, Or Different Mindsets for Different Styles

You’ve heard me (and other writers) talk about being ‘in the mood’ or ‘in the right mindset’ to write whatever projects they’re working on.  In the past it’s ended up being a crutch; I’d waste a good twenty minutes digging through my music collection trying to find the perfect album to listen to for a particular writing session.  I used to be really bad with that, but I’ve gotten better.  Most of the time now I listen to whatever newer release I happen to have close at hand, or if a specific album if I want to give that one another listen.

Actually, this post isn’t about that.  It’s about something I was subconsciously aware of for years, but just recently started monitoring, and it’s kind of interesting.  At least to me, anyway.

This one’s about where my mind is while working on whatever project I have in front of me.  At present I’m letting my imagination run rampant within the confines of my created world for the new Mendaihu Universe story…I picture novels as one long story of character evolution, where the the only rules are that nothing remains static and that consequences just as important as the actions.  I tend to let myself get well and truly lost in my created world; that is, ‘lost’ in the sense that if my brain suddenly and unexpectedly comes up with a doozy of a plot twist and I know it’ll work as part of the whole, I’ll let it take center stage and not hold back.  I think of it as writing for an audience of myself, though with full expectation that others will want to read and understand it as well.

Writing nonfiction is somewhat similar, only the boundaries are much tighter…at least that’s been my experience with Walk in Silence.  The focus is on the subject matter’s evolution within the confines of reality…thus imagination is reined in considerably, only given to the prose itself.  This is also true with my blog posts.  Not counting the more personal entries over at my LJ where my writing is more freestyle, I try to give my writing at least a little bit of professionalism.  When I’m writing nonfiction, I’m writing for an audience other than myself.

Poetry and song lyrics are a different beast, where I tend to be more emotional with my style.  I started writing poetry and songs back in my late teens as a release, but also as a playground for words, where I’d let myself come up with odd metaphors and weird imagery.  There’s really no rules here…I just riff it from start to finish.  This stuff is totally a personal indulgence, though I’ve been told by listeners that my Flying Bohemians and jeb! lyrics were pretty cool, so I’m fine with that.

The fascinating thing is that, now that I’m working on the new MU story, writing blog entries and (soon) working on Walk in Silence again, I find myself conscious of how my mind will shift from one style to another.  It can be tricky, especially if you have a lot of disparate writing ideas milling about in your head, but after all these years I’ve managed to make it work.  I think part of it is what I call the ‘going in’ phase of the session.  For instance, if I’m about to write the MU story, even before I put pen to paper I’ll start thinking about the characters, get in their heads and emotions for a few minutes to remember where I was.

[Noted, this is where the writing session soundtrack often comes in, and why I’m often a sucker for a certain mood in the songs.  The music helps me set the tone of the section I’m writing.  This is also true for nonfiction, or at least with Walk in Silence; for that I’m actually listening to the music I’m writing about so I can connect with the subject more clearly and emotionally.]

I think now that I’ve made sense of how my creative mind shifts from project to project, I’ve become better at giving each project a tighter focus.  I know how I’m doing it, so I’m less worried about whether or not I’m doing it right…as long as I’m doing it my own logical way, then that’s all that matters.

On Extremes and Evolution

I’ll note this now: this is not necessarily a post on violent extremism, like the kind we often see in today’s news, but about how far a character will go to hold onto their beliefs, and why.

One of the themes that I’ve been thinking about for this new Mendaihu Universe is extremes.  I used it to some degree in the Bridgetown Trilogy, wherein many characters have their beliefs and emotions tested.  Is what they’ve always felt really the truth?  Is the kind of peace they’re fighting for really what is needed?  And what if what you perceive to be the truth actually is the truth, at least in your own reality?  How far would you go to fight for what you believe to be the right thing to do for everyone?  These were the universal questions, set upon a group of people.  I wanted not only to show how they progressed as their own person, but also as a collective.  Actions do affect everyone involved in one way or another.  It’s not just about the action itself, however…it’s about the consequences.

For the new Mendaihu Universe book, I’m looking at the same themes again, but this time on a personal level.  After the spiritual revolution that took place in the Bridgetown Trilogy, we now see its outcome, some generations down the line.  Without going into too much detail (partly because I’m still pretty much at the beginning of the story anyway), I want to examine how the actions of the past affect the beliefs of the future.  I want to see how these beliefs and rituals have changed, now that they’ve been commonplace for a significant amount of time.

The idea of extremes for this new project came to mind after watching a large number of historical documentaries about Britain, and a lot of Time Team episodes with my wife over the last few months.  Specifically:  today we have believers of various faiths, many of them reinterpretations or reimaginings or revolutionary versions of older ones.  Some faiths raise imagery, idolatry and destination to holy statuses, for instance.  I started pondering about something I’d thought of much earlier in my life, back when I was taking catechism classes.  I started thinking about what life was like when these Biblical stories took place; not just what the stories tell us in description or what’s given to us over the years with tapestries and paintings and whatnot.  This is where the Time Team episodes were coming in:  while watching Phil and Mick and Raksha and all the other Time Teamers troweled their way into the past and tried to reconstruct what ancient buildings may have looked like, I started thinking about the Bridgetown Trilogy from the same point of view.  What we see now, as we’re excavating the past, may be something completely alien from the original idea, changed and mutated by time and evolution.  It’s only when we take the time to not just look but understand what that past moment was about, do we get closer to the truth of that point in history.

First thought of course being: how would Denni Johnson, awakened as the the deity, the One of All Sacred in its last iteration, be viewed by those who follow the One some fifty to a hundred years later?  One of the first mentions of Denni in this new book is when a character sees an eight foot statue of her, complete with angelic wings, hands reaching down to all those who look up at it, near the same corner of the warehouse where she’d ascended to deity status in the first place.  I followed up with a few other ideas: new characters taking the names of those in the trilogy, following in the footsteps of their ancestors.  The human-alien relationship on Earth becoming closer in some respects and more tenuous in others.  And so on.

This is what I think about now when I’m watching a documentary or reading a book about something historic.  I’m not just being told a story about something that happened in the past; I’m also being given an idea of what thoughts, ideas and emotions may have been like as well.  I’m being given context to go with the story.  And this is what’s been going on with this new Mendaihu Universe story; I’m writing about a far future that’s trying to remember what the past was like, in order to learn from it and move forward in the right direction.

Changes in Writing Habit

My writing habits seem to change about every two years.  I’ll find something that fits with what I’m working on perfectly, and I’ll stick with it until it doesn’t work anymore.  Sometimes I’ll retain it for far much longer than I probably should, but I’ll eventually change it up.

I came to the conclusion a few weeks ago that this new change is going to be rather significant.  The whiteboard that I’ve been using for the last few years has suddenly been cleared off, with only the blog post schedules showing.  I’m even putting off continuing the daily 750 Words for the time being (though I may be continuing the ‘secret project’ I’ve been using those words for, using a different format).  In fact, I’m pretty much backing away from the internet for a while, because it’s been a distraction.

It came to me when I first started writing the new Mendaihu Universe project longhand.  I’ve mentioned this over at my LiveJournal, but I’ll mention it here: I felt a need to return to my old writing habits.  And more importantly, I felt a very strong need to back away from the internet, maybe even backing away from writing directly to PC for a while.  I’ll keep the computer on by having some music playing in the background, and I’ll keep it handy for when I need it for research or to check on an older manuscript or something…but I felt the need to create more organically.

I came to this conclusion via many different ways, really.  I think part of it came to me last year when I started writing a personal journal entry almost every day, It also surfaced in October when I’d bought art pens and took part in the Inktober meme.  Interestingly, my ‘secret project’ also had a hand in it, even though I was typing it as part of my daily 750 Words.  The point being:  I was writing swiftly and fluidly, forcing myself not to self-edit, and this included the personal journal.  There’s a few entries here and there in that moleskine where I’ll stop midsentence and write “No, let me reiterate that” instead of crossing it out.

And that’s the key.  In the years working on the Bridgetown Trilogy rewrite/revision, the Walk in Silence project and the aborted Two Thousand, I realized that I’d been stuck in the mode of internal revision as I was writing, and working solely on PC has that effect on me.  That is because it’s always been like that.  I wrote about ninety percent of The Phoenix Effect longhand in two spiral notebooks — no revision, just pantsing it as I go — and transcribing and revising it on the PC in the Belfry in the evenings.  I consider the Bridgetown Trilogy a major revision/rewrite of that same book, even though it contains mostly new passages that were never in TPE.  Pretty much every other project I’ve worked on since then was straight to Word.

I wanted to change that with this new MU story.  I realized that most of those post-trilogy projects were tough slogs because I’d never turned my Internal Editor off.  Plus, now that we’re in the Space Age and can jump online any second of the day if we so choose, that gave me all the reasons to procrastinate.  At first I thought a strict whiteboard schedule would help…and indeed, it has, to some extent.  Because of that schedule I got rid of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality.  I’m back to the point where I want and need to write something every day, even weekends.  But I felt it wasn’t enough.

That’s why I chose to start this new project completely offline, like I did with TPE.  I wanted to see if I could recapture my old writing habits, without all the distractions and the internal editing.  Just pick up the notebook and the pen and start writing.  No worries if I mess up or make a continuity error; this is not the place to fix it right now.  This is the time to write the story purely as it comes to me.  No focusing on word count or anything else…just let it ramble for however long it would take during that session.  I’ve even taken this “new” old habit to an extreme; instead of writing at my desk, I put some music on my PC and sit across the room on the love seat instead.  It’s a little better for my back (I think?), and I’m able to stretch out a little more.  I can also take it elsewhere: I can write in the living room while A watches a movie.  Or as I did last weekend, I can write at our hotel (both in bed and in one of the chairs) in the middle of New York City, as well as during the flights to and from said city.

Suffice it to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed just how amazingly well this recaptured habit was working out for me over the course of a month.  The story is still evolving and I’m sure I’ll be completely rewriting the beginning at some point (as I always do), but it’s moving at just the speed I like for first drafts.  My average over the last few days has been about two pages in a half hour, which is about right; I used to hit five pages in the hour I used to spend writing TPE back in the late 90s.  Once I become more involved in this new MU story, I’m sure the time spent writing and the page count itself will extend itself.  I haven’t even planned on when I’ll start the transcription, and I’m choosing to leave that wide open.  I’ll start it when I feel I’m ready for it.

Is this for everyone?  Who knows?  Each writer has their own best habits and rituals.  It took me a while to realize it, but I seem to have rediscovered mine.


Fly-by: Doing Site Research


Well, here I am in Midtown Manhattan on a mini vacation. You didn’t think I was going to pass up doing site research, did you?

We’re only here for a few days (visiting coworkers and A’s aunt), but I thought this would also be a perfect time to really get the feel of a bustling city so I can ensure that I’m describing Bridgetown correctly. Pictures are being taken, but more so, I’m paying attention to those surrounding me, how each person interacts with those around them. And it’s been a very interesting and eye-opening experience.

Oh–and I may have also gotten a good number of handwritten pages of the new MU story done whilst in flight. Yay, go me!