Inspiration:

1 a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions2: the act of drawing in; specifically : the drawing of air into the lungs

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Yesterday was not a writing day, in that I managed to find absolutely no time whatsoever to edit the book, and instead shuffled around doing grown-up things including working and grocery shopping, and some wonderfully not grown-up things like playing D&D with our awesome group of new found  friends. However, by the time I got home, well past my bedtime, I collapsed into bed.

So, technically, I didn’t make any progress in the novel.

However, as odd as the day was and, at first sight, too busy to be thinking of anything else than being a mom, an employee, and a friend, I had an oddly imaginative day.

I’m not sure how my brain does this, or why. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, when I’m overwhelmed by the day-in, day-out drudgery or something. But in the middle of some of the most repetitive, bland work, my brain suddenly turned on. I don’t remember what I was doing exactly, but I got a really cool idea for a series of steampunk short stories. A really, really cool idea (that, if I manage to pull off will be shared of course.) I don’t usually think in short-story bits. By nature I tend to think in book length, so this was a surprise (even the short story here is really just a kitchy little take on a character already in my book).

Then right smack-dab in the middle of our game last night (I had the most abysmal rolls last night–although I love the game, there’s something really annoying about being completely ineffectual during a fight… there was no love for my warlock) something started to crystallize in my brain.

First, there was the seed. A situation. A question. I asked myself a question in my head about a character in the Aldersgate Cycle, Ellinora (the princess), and suddenly I realized I’d been a) writing situations in book one that would be much more suited for book two b) had made her too young c) hadn’t given her enough background to make her as strong as the rest.

I also realized that about 30,000 words of this book in another two narratives needs to be moved out. It’s not like losing it, per se, because I know it’ll be used later. But one of the hard things about juggling a multi-POV narrative is balancing plot with character. I do mean with and not and, too. Unlike a normal, single POV novel, where you only have to worry about one plot, I am in essence balancing about 8. Some of the characters progressions are easy to plot, and their stories simple to intertwine. But as I move out of the Territories characters (Emry, Cora, and Brick) and into the Queensland characters (Kaythra, Ellinora, and Sylvan) the challenges become more intense. I’m dealing with political intrigue now, and plots that are part of years, decades, and in some cases, centuries

Deep. Breath. (Inspiration, perhaps?)

Anyway, essentially there’s a lot of work ahead of me in the weeks to come. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s exciting. These little seeds of thought often sprout into amazingly lovely flowers, if given the time and care.  But it’s a lot of maintenance and perseverance. As a writer in the “flail around in the dark until you find some plot” school, and not the “write everything down in a spiral notebook” crowd, I definitely need to find some way to organize myself more thoroughly.

But I’m not overwhelmed. I’m excited. This process has proved to me that I can challenge myself, which is important. Hopefully, the finished project will challenge the readers–albeit in a different way–as well.

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Isabella and the Pot of Basil by John KeatsCompulsion is described as:

1.
the act of compelling; constraint; coercion.
2.
the state or condition of being compelled.
3.
Psychology. a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, esp. one that is irrational or contrary to one’s will.

Writing is a strange habit, and certainly not one too many people engage in. There are lots of reasons for this. It is extremely time consuming; it requires focus, drive, and endless creativity; it is something done, with some exceptions, in near solitude.

And yes, it is, as Chaucer might say, “passing straunge.”

I have strange days when I open up Scrivener, and stare at the words–the words upon words–and can’t imagine where it all came from. I know, of course, that I’ve done it, that I’ve written the words and have told the story. But I can’t tell you where inspiration comes from, and I certainly can’t explain the magic formula involved when it actually goes right. Because, with writing–for me, at least–there is very little in the way of planning. Precious few are the days, hours, minutes, that I set aside for pure writing actually successful.

In spite of the loss of 10k words this week, the proof to me is that: hey, I wrote. I didn’t feel like I was, but I managed 10k in two weeks. 5k a week isn’t too shabby, that’s for sure, considering most of this “edit” has been a complete rewrite.

It’s rare that I go out of my way to share much of my writing. First of all, explaining fantasy novels–let alone steampunk fantasy novels–to anyone is trecherous territory. You either get it or you don’t.

The truth is, though, whether or not the novels, the stories, the poems ever see the light of day, it doesn’t really matter. I can’t stop writing, I can’t stop playing pretend. Because, really, that’s what it is. In fact, I can trace it back: I started writing novels when I stopped playing pretend with my little sister. We had an incredible world, she and I, filled with the kind of magic and mystique that only little girls can muster in the closeness and imaginative golden years of youth.

But, like Susan Pevensie, I suppose, I had to grow up. I was twelve and, at least according to me, much too old to be pretending to be someone I was not. Yet, the imagining didn’t cease. I wrote alone for a while, then brought my sister on board, and later wrote with my friend. Then when I was 15, I started the long dark years of teenaged angst, and didn’t write much (other than music, that is). And even in undergraduate school, I didn’t write much. This was mostly due to a rather stifling relationship that honestly didn’t leave any room for me. The stuff I did write was for workshops in my writing courses, and certainly not for me. I never could let go in those classes.

It took graduate school for me to revisit the book I’d started rather haphazardly when I was 18. That novel is finished, per se, but it still is lacking. I’ve probably been through it five times and I seriously doubt it can be resurrected. It’s a good story, but it’s so young. As I wrote it I could feel my writing improve, I could tell I was getting better; it’s hard to keep consistent when you’re growing that much.

Now, life is no less difficult–but it is different, in many ways. The Aldersgate is more than just my novel in progress; it was, you see, my way out of a very dark place, in the aftermath of postpartum depression. It brought me hope that I could write again, that I could create, and that there was light somewhere, even if it felt very distant. Slowly but surely, the world of the novel was revealed, in snippets, in voices, in conversations. It was as if after the suffering, the terror of nearly losing my son after he was born (and, I’m told, nearly dying myself bringing him into the world), I was given a gift.

I often say that Emry, the Bard, is the closest to me in the story. And at first, I thought it was because he was musical, and often clumsy, slightly foppish, and certainly a romantic at heart (curse me, but I am). But as I continue to write him, and to explore his growth in my novel, I realize that we share something else in common: suffering. We’ve been places that we can’t explain to people, even if we tried. And in spite of it all, we risk that suffering again because we love–not just our work and our calling, but our friends, too.

All that said, I’m feeling rather reflective since the Great Hard-Drive Explosion of 2008. Every now and again I feel as if I walk into another chapter of my own life; the light is different, the stars have moved, and there’s a new song to be sung.

So, with that, I suppose it’s time to move on along.

O Melancholy, linger here awhile!
O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!
O Echo, Echo, from some sombre isle,
Unknown, Lethean, sigh to us—O sigh!
Spirits in grief, lift up your heads, and smile;
Lift up your heads, sweet Spirits, heavily,
And make a pale light in your cypress glooms,
Tinting with silver wan your marble tombs.— Keats, “Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil”

ReginIt occurs to me that during yesterday’s very early morning post (this was before I even started work, people!) I missed out on a really fantastic comparison.

How could this be? Me, the writer? Missing a simile!?

Well, I should say, duh.

Yesterday during my Runes class (yes, I take a class on ancient Runes… and yes, that is super awesome) and we were talking about Regin and Sigurd, and how the sword Regin smithed was indeed the best EVAR, but it also took him three times to get it perfect (and good enough to slay a dragon, no less!).

So I realized, then, that gosh–the parallels in writing a novel and smithing are incredible. Yes, I’ve written novels before. And yes, they’re far from perfect. They would indeed “shatter” if used. But taking the time to edit, that’s like tempering the metal, refining it, making sure that it holds up.

And yes, it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It’s physically and mentally exhausting. But in the end, the final product will be that much more durable, because I took the time to do it.

Sure, some people can learn a craft and do it flawlessly each time. But most of us mortals have to work really damn hard to get it right. Because if you care at all about your work–whether it’s swordsmithing, portrait painting, novel writing, or invention tinkering–you have to be willing to make it better. You have to be able to say, “I wrote this, but it’s okay if I delete it, because it’s not good enough.”

I suppose in a way, I have my own characters to thank for this insight, as obvious as it might have been. Brick and Cora appeared to me in a flash of clarity almost a year ago to the date, their faces as vivid as if I’d seen them across the room. And since then, they’ve taken me on quite a surprising journey. I’ve learned more writing The Aldersgate than any other work to date, and not just about the story, either. Working on The Aldersgate has given me new insight into myself, my soul, my work; I feel like I know myself better having gone through the process.

So maybe it’s not just the sword that gets tempered, but the smith, too.