From the Zodiacal Light, or, Writing Full Time Rules

There’s something to be said for doing something full time as opposed to having to do it part time. There’s this ability to focus, to not have to worry about everything else, to not have to place an important project on the back burner because of “work.” For the past month or so I’ve been able to sit down just about every day and just write. Just write, not deal with things I don’t care about, not worry about late payments (okay, not true on that one, people still owe me money!).

I’m still doing other things, but they aren’t my main focus anymore, they are my part time, on-the-side thing now and it feels great. There have been days when I sit down and think, “man, I am starting late, I’m not going to get anything done,” then in a few hours I realize that I’ve just written over 2,000 words. It’s kind of crazy to think of what I can accomplish in just a few short hours when everything is fresh in my mind and I’m on a roll.

Being a part time writer, for a lack of better word, sucks. This awful feeling of dread everyday knowing exactly what I want to be doing, but that I couldn’t do it, instead I had to wait to do it after I’ve already spent at least eight hours in front of my computer. It’s hard for most people to imagine not being able to write on the side, but try going to your day job, then coming home and doing a variation of your day job for another few hours while your mind feels like it is overheating.

In the past month I’ve been able to write just about 30,000 words, which if I round is just about the 130 page mark. That’s a lot of writing. A part of me wishes that I had done this a whole hell of a lot sooner, but at the same time I’m okay with this happening now. I’m incredibly close to being done with my second novel at this point (done as in done writing, not done reading, re-reading, editing, re-editing, etc.) which is incredible considering when I was toiling with the idea of quitting everything and just writing for myself instead I was nowhere close to being done.

I guess the moral of this story is; people will often say that it’s tough to drop everything and do what you want to do. It is. It is very, very tough. I’m nowhere near done and I know that things will inevitably be shitty at some point, maybe even in the near future, but who cares? I’d rather have things be crappy while doing something that I care about than be frustrated every night by doing something that I don’t care about.

Money is important, but sometimes there is more to life, right?

Just a Thin Line Drawn Between Being a Genius or Insane

If you’ve done anything even remotely creative in your life before, you probably know the astoundingly frustrating ups and downs that come with it. When you have a great idea (or at least think that you do) the entire world is your oyster. You are firing on all cylinders and everything that you are churning out is gold and diamond-encrusted. You can’t be stopped.

That is the ups.

The downs are where you are working really hard on creating something and you begin to doubt everything that you are doing. Is it really good? Does it really have value? Will anyone really like this? Do you even like what you are producing? It’s this mind-numbing internal struggle that occurs to derail you when things are starting to move in your favor and will always be maddening.

Does it mean that the stuff that is being worked on is actually subpar or shitty? Not always. Do your sneaking suspicions mean that you might need to tighten something up somewhere? Probably. The process of coming to either conclusion can be really, really obnoxious, though.

That is sort of the problem with creating fiction. Creating fiction is taking a blank page and making a world and characters come to life. It is creation in its broadest, most pure sense. It also means that there isn’t a whole lot to fall back on if things are going wrong. How does a writer convey something about this world and the characters to the reader that they can understand without the reader really knowing the world and characters? So it is the writer’s job to make the reader care about the world, the characters, the struggles and to make it all believable, entertaining or whatever else you can do with fiction.

Another big problem with creating fiction is that there are times when there is this stark realization that the stuff at the beginning of the book was written almost two years ago and that there might be some weird shifts. I don’t mean tense shifts (but god am I guilty of those), but tone shifts. I’m not the same writer that I was in 2012 when I began work on my current project and sometimes I begin to wonder if maybe it will show.

The first novel that I ever started with serious intent for finishing was in 2006 during my last semester in college. My goal for my last Creative Writing Workshop? To churn out a novel — or at least as much as I possibly could — before the semester was over. This is the kind of stuff that I always do to myself. I always think that I can conquer the world and do whatever that I set my mind to, even if I’m really not sure how to accomplish it. At this point I had been successful in writing short fiction that had captivated anyone who could get their hands on it, how hard would it be to transition to a novel?

I’ve still never finished that book, although I’ve worked on it ever since I started it back in 2006. Part of the problem with it was that things changed over the years, I changed over the years. The tone was stark, depressing, nihilistic and just pretty miserable. It was a reflection of where I was at in 2006 and a place that I no longer inhabit, nor have I for quite a while. The basic story and characters are still great, I think, and it’s something that I one day want to finish, but if I look back to that 2006 – 2010 manuscript I’m well aware that it’s just garbage.

I’ve rewrote that book — from the ground up — no less than four times now, never quite getting close to finishing it. I had grand visions of narrative structures, intricate form and everything else over the years, but never quite had the chops to live up to what I wanted it to be like. In part it was because it wasn’t me. Imposing a mathematical series of numbers into chapter and subchapter length seemed like a brilliant idea at the time minute one thing — I fucking hate math and am horrible at it.

In a sense, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t something that I’d normally write, but it was me wanting to make a big impression on the world. The fact of the matter was that I was sacrificing some of the basics to try to weave an intricate sub-world and symbolism into the book while I still wasn’t sure what the main character should be doing or where he should end up. It’s 2014 now and I’m pretty sure that I do know where it is all going, but that’s not what I’m working on right now. The fifth beginning currently sits at a paltry 4,885 words and will probably stay that way for quite a while.

I feel that I have the ability to make some of the ideas that I wanted to do happen now, but now, in retrospect, those ideas aren’t really all-that-great. You live and your learn, I guess.

This all came back to me when on Tuesday I went back to the beginning of the current novel that I’m working on and found myself less-than-pleased with the first few paragraphs. So I did what any neurotic writer would do and I just went in and wrote them all over again. Was there actually anything wrong with the intro paragraphs? Probably not. In fact, they were fine. I’ve actually edited and re-edited them a few times now, as writers are prone to doing, so I knew that they were okay. Yet I just got sick of seeing them for the thousandth time and decided that it was time for them to have a facelift.

Then when I got to the point where I was comfortable leaving it as-is, I had to face the fact that I had just introduced some of this stuff in those new, pristine paragraphs that I just wrote. Meddling never does anyone any good.

After ensuring that everything was patched up and linked up properly, the fear kicked in; is this book really any good? My god, what if everyone hates it? Have I become a better writer since I started, do I need to redo the entire beginning, the entire first half, where did I get good and where did I stop sucking? Did I ever really suck?

This is part of the problem with something that is going to be released to the public, though. It takes up a lot of time, effort and it can be emotionally draining. It’s hard for people to understand just how draining it can be to inhabit a character’s mind to bring that character to life. That character also inexorably contains bits and pieces of you. If people dislike this character, well, they dislike something that you created, they dislike you.

I’ve made peace with all of it now, but damn, does the process sometimes take a ton out of me.

Can I Start Over?

There are as few agonizing decisions that you can make in your life as deciding to do something purely for yourself. It’s the kind of stuff that will drive you mad and feel so wrong, even if its what you’ve been clawing at for years. That’s what I was forced to do last week after months and months of being so amazingly burned out, stressed out and depressed over my work. It was all just too much for me, especially when I broke down how much work I was doing, how I never took days off and how when I did the math I was still making less than I did stocking shelves at Sam’s Club when I was in college.

In a way the whole thing was dehumanizing. I worked — a lot — almost endlessly, but the deluge of outstanding invoices, delayed payments, broken promises and investing all of my time and effort into a marathon session on a hamster wheel led me to feeling the cracks in my sanity. This was an ongoing process, to which I felt had reached its breaking point in January. Apparently not, though, because it’s August now and I finally decided to clear off my table completely and say “fuck it,” it’s time to do something different. Then again, I’m just stubborn, as my wife Lori will readily tell you.

It flew in the face of what I had promised myself that I’d do after I lost my job in December, 2010. I hated that job. I worked really hard at that job for years, my personality being such that when I do something I want to invest as much of myself as I can into it. So I did. Then things changed, I changed, the job changed, everything changed, but the expectations of me, a person who was fundamentally broken and damaged, didn’t change. They were exactly the same and I felt the need to continue forth with the grand charade. So I kept burning the candle at both ends and — amazing enough — I had burned out to the point where I loathed that job and had a grand plan to get the hell out. Grand plans are always grand, aren’t they?

So the past few years I’ve spent doing freelance writing, PR and journalism. It has been good, it has been bad. I guess people kind of know who I am in some circles now, which is a positive thing, but my main areas of expertise have become trying, dull, excessive, if not utterly worthless. I’ve turned down prestige jobs that don’t pay well enough, I’ve worked with some great people, I’ve worked with some terrible people. I’ve made some friends, I’ve also dealt with some awful, awful people. I’m over MMA, though. It’s over. I can’t do it anymore. What’s worse is that I’ve felt this way for a very long time.

When I released “The Godslayer” I had always intended for that to be it, for that to me saying goodbye to a sport that I grew up along and watched blossom into whatever the hell it is today. You could make some crass connections for Alek Turner to famous fighters, but the core of the character was always the ongoing internal monologue. Sure, many of those opinions were echoed in myself, although I personally don’t find much of myself in Alek Turner, but his thoughts on the development of the sport were, of course, very much rooted in my own beliefs.

What does all of this mean, you ask? It means over the coming weeks you’ll see less and less Dave Walsh bylines out in the wild, less unsigned press releases with my style stamped discreetly on them and my focus will instead be where I’ve always wanted it to be; on writing fiction. Does this mean no more 60+ hour work weeks? Probably not, honestly. I always work too much, probably always will, but now this work is for myself, not anyone else. I’ve got a really good chance to make a go of this right now, so I’m going to do everything in my power to make this fiction thing work out.

So it’s onward for me, even if it’s a little weird. I found a title for my novel that I like. Maybe I’ll tell it to everyone soon. Maybe.

“Can I start over? And get over it.”

Word Count and Naming

Being a writer, more specifically a novelist, the concept of word count becomes a really big deal. The Godslayer was 62,679 words when it was released, which in print equated to somewhere in the 270 page range. That means it wasn’t a long book, by any means, but wasn’t short, either. It was just kind of average. When writing in longform you often times find yourself tallying up your words. Be it how many words you wrote today, how many you wrote last week or how many you have all total.

It seems silly to most people, but to me reaching that finishing stretch of a novel is an amazing feeling and is inspiration to get that final push in. This past week there have been two things that have been sticking out in my mind; word count and naming. My current novel that I’m working on, which for now I’ll just call “Gaia” is at 47,064 words. The actual name that I’m using (hint: not Gaia) is surprisingly new to me and I’m not even sure that I’m going to stick with it. See, over the weekend I went pretty crazy writing and got a lot done, most of it good! The kind of stuff that you read back again and want to keep, not delete and forget all about.

When you write novels that is pretty rare.

For those who are unaware of how word count works in a novel, depending on the typesetting there will be anywhere from 200 – 250 words per page. That means that right now I have between 188 and 235 pages, give or take. I consider myself to be more than halfway done, although I’m not quite sure yet. See, word count is important, but at the same time you don’t want to be writing with word count in mind other than “write at least 50,000 words.”

This brings me back to naming. I hate naming. I’m not sure why, but I hate naming. Sometimes it is natural and it flows, other times it isn’t and it sucks. You want to avoid using names of people that you know because, well, writers tend to write about people that they know and having a name that you are familiar with might just mean that you’ll continue to give them the characteristics of their real name counterpart. We don’t want that.

I tend to just throw whatever name that I can think of in and hope that I come up with a better one in the future, with hopes of doing a “Search and Replace” for that awful, awful name later on. At this point I feel alright about the names of the characters in my book (kind of, I guess), but the title of the book itself, the planet and the starship are all up-in-the-air right now. Why? There is so much to consider.

I’ve already made it clear that I’m writing a science fiction novel, I hope, but when it comes down to science fiction naming conventions are almost impossible. We (as in humans) tend to err on the side of using Greek or Roman mythology to name planets, so that is always a great place to start. The only problem is that many of them are already used or, if they aren’t, they are extremely generic sounding. I like the idea of Gaia, the mother of life, but at the same time, the name has been used and overused over the years to where I’m not sure I want to touch it.

Brushing up on my mythology was not part of the research that I had planned for this novel, yet I found myself over the past few days pouring over mythology to not only come up with a good name for a planet, but a name that is unique. The only problem with this is, well, I’m building this universe and maybe I should be reaching for something that is symbolic to myself, not with convention. Trust me, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’ve come up with a bunch of different names, but I’m not quite sure that any have stuck just yet.

The good thing is, I’m thinking about naming and naming always comes near the end of my process. Now I just need to finish, edit, edit some more, send it to someone else to edit and, well, there’s a lot left.

They Say Blog, So Let’s Blog

I feel as though I’ve been ignoring my duties in my primary profession, which is that of a novelist. Fiction will always be my primary concern, even if I do sort of disappear for what feels like forever from this marvelous world due to other duties. These other duties are usually awful things, things such as paying bills and working pretty hard on other projects.

The other night a dawning happened, one of those dawnings that happen when you find yourself uniformly dissatisfied with the direction that you are moving in. That’s where I was. Frustrated, upset and disenchanted with my direction (or lack thereof). So I had to make a decision, that decision was to do everything in my power to make this all happen.

The Godslayer was both a success and a failure. It’s difficult to explain that, but it was both. I love the story of Alek Turner and feel that it’s a relatable story, regardless of his chosen profession or success. It was a failure because, conceptually, it was nearly impossible to market the book. I had a lot of people in the industry tell me that they’d not be able to sell it and I felt that they just didn’t want to put in the time or the effort. I chose to move forward with it and while I don’t regret it, I do consider it a learning experience.

Since the Godslayer I’ve been working on a number of projects, varying in scope and genre. The Godslayer followed a more traditional narrative style, followed one character and so forth. It was also more in the realm of contemporary fiction. Currently I’m working on a few projects, with more of a tilt towards the postmodern or science fiction, where I feel a bit more at home. I’m not quite ready to commit to announcing which one will come next, things are definitely looking like there will be a science fiction novel by Dave Walsh coming within the next few months.

I write things, you read them. Pretty simple.