I haven’t seriously worked on any of my books in a while now, mostly because I have had literally no time, but also because I’ve noticed something, all three of the books that I have in progress, I’m just stuck on. That wouldn’t matter so much except that I’m finding myself unable to put those projects aside and start writing something new. Every time I try, all I can think about are the stories I already have in various states of completion and I’m unable to focus on anything new or different.
I suppose this came up because I’ve spent more time than usual lately speaking with some of my professional writer friends about writing. While they all know that I write, they also know that I’m not interested in being a professional writer, but most of them have read and enjoyed my work in the past and they ask about my latest works from time to time. Unfortunately, I have none of any note. As I said, I’ve been insanely busy for the last couple of months, but even when I sit down and try to write, when I try to work on something new and original, I end up staring at the monitor thinking about getting the old stories finished.
I am not a quitter. I hate not completing things. It drives me crazy. Knowing that I have three full-length novels that are incomplete, some of them for years on end, bugs the crap out of me. I hate it. Unfortunately, every single one of these stories have hit a wall and I know that most of these walls are self-imposed but that doesn’t help me get over the hurdle.
So what are those hurdles? Let’s take a look.
Unnamed superhero book: This is kind of a weird one, I’ve had it at some stage of completion for 6-8 years now, it’s the story of a kid who develops essentially godlike superpowers, but learns over time that with great power… well, you know the drill. The first draft of the book worked out fine, although originally, I had the pivotal plot revolving around the 1972 Munich Olympics, where the Palestinian terrorist group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and eventually killed them. After I wrote the draft, I realized that setting it in the 60s and 70s probably wouldn’t work well for modern readers so I wanted to redo the story with different setting. It would actually work fantastic in the modern day now, where terrorism is commonplace. So what’s stopping me? The story format. I had originally crafted the entire story around what turned out to be a failed format. The book told the story of a boy from birth to the age of 18, so I was going to name all of my chapters 0 to 18, each one being a year in the kid’s life. Great idea, it just doesn’t work. In the first draft, the first 8 chapters were ridiculously short, sometimes under half a page long. Not much happens when you have a baby without any powers because they don’t manifest until age 11. I realized the format was never going to work. I know I have to completely rework the format. The problem is, this story is so closely wedded to that format, I can’t do it. Every time I have tried to revisit the story, I fall back into that format no matter what I do. I know it doesn’t work but I am entirely unable to think about the story except in those terms. It’s frustrating.
Joe Orokamono book: This is, perhaps, the least problematic story because I know what I need to do, I really love the characters, I love the format, I know what’s going to happen, I just can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B, no matter how hard I wrestle with it. I know that Joe is being hunted by his old special forces company. I know that he has one part of a puzzle that unlocks a tremendously powerful alien artifact. I know what all of the puzzle pieces are, I know how the story goes, I just can’t figure out how to get from one piece to the next convincingly. I’ve tried it a dozen different ways, all of them sound promising but in practice, they just don’t work out believably. I have close to 45,000 words written, I just can’t get work out how the puzzle actually operates logically. I know that each piece points to the next piece, it’s what allows his old crew to find him in the first place, but everything I’ve tried reads more like magic than technology and I hate magic with a passion. So I’m stuck.
Forerunner book: The oldest by far, I started kicking this one around close to a decade ago. I actually completed the second draft once, but after letting it sit for a while, I went back and re-read it and realized that it doesn’t really fit the setting like I wanted. You have to remember that most of my stories are set in a fully realized science fiction universe that I created for roleplaying in. I know everything about the universe like the back of my hand and the story just didn’t fit into the universe seamlessly. So I went back and reworked it. I added the elements that it needed to have and took out all of the extraneous garbage. I re-wrote it and gave it to beta readers and, without exception, they all said it was a great story but there were elements that they simply did not understand, elements that were absolutely essential to the story, but that I had no way of explaining better without doing some massive exposition dumps. In the years that have followed, I am no closer to figuring out how to explain it than I was. If I can’t explain it, the story doesn’t work at all. The reader must understand the technology, but in the distant future, the technology is so ubiquitous and commonplace that I can’t figure any way to get characters talking about it, any more than we’d expect modern day characters to discuss the inner workings of a ball point pen. But if your readers are thousands of years behind the tech curve, explaining how something works that nobody even notices in the future, that is an invisible part of every day life… I am hopelessly stuck. Every time I’ve gone back to try to solve the problem, I walk away frustrated. I even went to my writing group with the problem and their only suggestion is to change the technology, but I can’t do that because it’s already a well-established and integral part of the entire universe. It works the way that it works because that’s how it works. Therefore, I’m stuck banging my head on the desk.
I have other ideas for stories that I’d love to write, that I’m excited about telling, but every time I sit down to write, I pound out a few pages and then my mind drifts back to these stories and I can no longer think about the new stuff. I have spent literally hundreds of hours working out all of the details and until I can get these finished, I just can’t move on, but until I can work out these problems, I can’t get these finished. It’s a catch-22. Therefore, I just don’t write and that’s another problem in and of itself.
Let me get back to my desk now, I’ve got a divot to wear with my head.