Writing to Scare Yourself

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Reading Simmons on the beach.

(Still love this pic. Wish I was still there)

 

I have one finalized and unpublished novel, four finished rough novels, forty eight unfinished projects, seventeen research files, and countless lost projects. My titles are, from my first novel project in 7th grade to now (including fanfic): Dinotopia!, Elementals, Lucky Sevens, Spark, the Mindgames Trilogy, Inhabitability, Infallibility, The Willow and the Sycamore, the seven Reverberant high fantasy novels that followed, the four planned Littrell sequels, Symbiosis, Of Salt and Wine and the six sequels planned, The Acorn King and sequel, David and His Shade and four sequels planned, Pris(m), Alexandrea, Nautilus, and Corpus Paradiso (my NaNo project).

I started my writing life piggybacking off other writers and other worlds, learning my basics by simply parroting. My parents told me my writing work was great. I won second place in 7th grade and first place in 8th for a pair of short stories written across two pages. When I was young and learning to write I was afraid just to put a word down. Words written meant you owned them. They meant you had an idea and you put it out there for others to read.

The Mindgames novel was the first project I actually finished, start to finish. Five high school kids fighting an evil force that took over their dreams and tried to kill them, while simultaneously showing psychic or magical powers. It had all the standard Animorphs/Power Rangers feels: unlikely (and sometimes unwilling) leader, misunderstood cheerleader, misunderstood outcast, misunderstood skate punk, misunderstood everyone. These guys were aspects of friends of mine and myself.

I was afraid to write about them because I might write them wrong. I still wrote.

High school ended, college began, I found myself desperate for more English insight and input. I continued writing. Little things: Inhabitability about a boy with angel blood abducted by alien were-animals half-prepared to destroy humanity, half-prepared to exalt it. My girlfriend at the time told me the main character didn’t make any sense: how could two people like him? He’s a cool guy but two women simply couldn’t… it scared me to hear, but I continued writing until I lost passion for the project.

I wrote two chapters on Willow and Sycamore, about two Chinese twins who grew up in separate places in the world. One stereotypically martial arts, one stereotypically math smart, dropped the project because it was too far away from what I understood, and I did these characters no justice.

Reverberant was about epic quests across a magically intensive planet twice the size of Earth, filled with strange curiosities and danger. This was escapist. I wrote a scene where a sentence was spray painted across a dead city, in a strange language, and someone said “Don’t read it. It might have killed everyone to put those words to sound.” It was a scary concept; nobody wrote about that kind of thing. Nobody wrote about dying gods, save H.P. Lovecraft and a few fringe elements. I wrote about it anyway.

College brought about intense scrutiny, but I seemed to always be above it; professors loved my writing work, loved my poetry. Students didn’t understand it more likely than not but understood the depth, perhaps. I got lots of critique but mostly critique about individual word choice and diction. Nobody understood my voice, from where it grew.

Unable to be published (finishing Acorn King and the like), I needed further critique, so I submitted my work to critiquing threads online. Showing my work to total strangers for the first time was frightening. Scary. Yet I did it anyway because I needed input. People would submit critiques for points, and with enough points they could submit their own work. Some of the critique was very helpful. It seemed, more often than not, that people wanted to impart their own voices to my work, telling me to change how people talked, or moved, or discussed problems. I realized the critiquing was shaky at best, where some people said they hated one thing and to change it, and the next would say they loved the thing and not to. I learned how to take criticism properly, and without frustration, and understand where people were coming from.

I also learned most of my writing is inaccessible to the average reader. This is a frightening concept: I knew I had grown out of the Twilight-esque, Eragon-esque writing in high school, but exactly how far I had deviated from that cookie-cutter style was a painful surprise. I recognized I’d most likely never be picked up by a big-box publisher for this reason, and I bucked a lot of the going climates in fantasy. It was, and continues to be, intimidating on a fundamental level.

I recognized I don’t have a platform of support: those who read my work like it. Some even love it. I do not have a group of people writing like me that I can send my stuff to and get stuff in return. I do not grow off my peers because their work isn’t mine. To feel alone in the writing world seems counter-intuitive. Indeed, it is. No person exists in a vacuum.

I learned I must read great writers to improve on my writing. Constantly read. Learn. Grow. Understand what gave them staying power. Understand that Lovecraft was not particularly famous when he lived. Understand the great writers alive even today aren’t appreciated like they should. Understand some people will never have heard of Joyce, Milton, Tennyson, Eliot.

When I sit and write, I do not write for the masses. I gave that up a long time ago. I do not write for myself, particularly, although I am my greatest support and strongest critic. I do not write for money or fame, for I am famous to myself. I write to scare myself, to find the boundaries inside, to stretch and explore and light up the darkness inside my head. Even if it’s a love story. Even if it’s non-fiction. I write to be uncomfortable, to stare at something new in the face and recognize it as something I birthed, Shelley style, into the world.

I currently write a novel about a post-apocalyptic world, where a character collects stories of the dead, reconstructing what happened to make the world burn. This novel is a series of stories, dreams, insights woven into survivalism and the often cruel nature of ungoverned society.

Will you read it when it’s published? Will you like it enough to pass it forward? Perhaps some day, after study and improvement, I will write so inaccessible that I will become accessible again. Where my words are not only understandable but the movement is inspiring and breathtaking and beautiful and horrible.

Maybe some day I will have words worth inspiring, worth scaring someone new.

Chris

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2 thoughts on “Writing to Scare Yourself

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your journey Chris. I’ve stopped wondering why I write the stories I write, especially the urban fantasy series (just finished #4 – the first three are on Patreon.com/Renoir if you’re interested): the stories appear in my head and my job is to write them down before they disappear. If someone else likes them, that’s a bonus.

    Actually, if I like them it’s a bonus. Some story elements/characters/events I really don’t like. But I understand why they’re there.

    The writing of others can be a joy (Pratchett, Fforde, Hobb, Shakespeare), or a challenge (Jonson, Coleridge, Poe). Some I’ve never found appealing (Dickens, Joyce – sorry!) but my great fear as a writer is that if I write while, or too soon after, reading, then my own voice is distorted by theirs. It’s like picking up the accent of a place you’re visiting.

    That’s a long-winded ‘thank you’ – but I appreciate your making me think!

    • Thanks for stopping by!

      Joyce isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that in itself seems to dim his light as a “great” writer, don’t you think? You aren’t in the minority. No need to apologize. 🙂

      Writing motivations can be as simple as “I have a story to tell,” or as complex as, “I want to change the way the world sees the English language.” I know a few living writers trying to do this right now. It is a monumental undertaking, often with mixed results.

      One of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had is reading my work and finding it better, for my tastes, than anything else I’ve read. It’s also a little scary–will anyone else agree? Hahaha

      Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll check out the Patreon neck of the woods here in a little bit. After I finish my Christmas books.

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