Saturday, January 18, 2014

Depression and the Writer

I struggle with depression.  This is not some bold pronouncement, indicative of some breakthrough on my part.  It is but a simple fact.  I'm a writer, and as a whole writers seem prone to depression.  Maybe it's a side effect of the unique brain chemistry that allows us to happily spend most of our waking hours alone with our own thoughts, watching the endless drama of character and conflict unfold in the theater of the mind.  Maybe it's part of the cushion that allows us to hold a dozen different conversations in our minds, with utter strangers we've conjured from our imaginations, without going insane.  Maybe depression is the outward expression of our craft, like the printer's ink-stained fingers or the smell of linseed oil that clings to painters.

Whatever its genesis, I struggle with it.  I have good days and bad, days when I feel normal and days when I feel like poor Dr. Jekyll, the monstrous Mr. Hyde lurking just under his skin.  My depression presents itself as lethargy, punctuated by long periods of brutal (and ultimately dishonest) introspection whereupon my sub-conscious expounds on its favorite topic: "1001 Reasons Why Scott Oden Sucks as a Writer."  It is Resistance at its most powerful and insidious . . .

And so, we fight, my depression and I.  It's pankration without the slenderest of rules.  We gouge and bite and throw elbows and try to beat each others heads in with rocks, with the goal being my desk and the work upon it.  I always win through, but some days I can only curl up and protect my vitals while that bastard kicks the shit out of me, then crawl to me chair while he gets his second wind.  Once I get my fingers on the keyboard I know I'm safe for a couple of hours, at least.

That's where I'm at, now.  Bloodied and bruised and feeling low, but with my hands stroking the keys -- making words from letters and sentences from words.  So screw you, depression!  You useless fucking toad!  What I write today may reek to high heaven, but you can't stop me from writing it!  Not today!

Words needed: approx. 100,000
Words written, to date: 36,660 (I edited some of what I wrote before the ill-fated Holiday Plague of 2013, trimming back a bit of useless verbiage)

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Currency of Ideas

Most writers, once the civilians around them discover they're a writer, will be treated to some version of the following:  "Oh, you're a writer?  Well, we should sit down and talk!  I have a great idea for a book!  I'll tell you the idea, you write it, and we'll split the profits!  Whaddya say?"

My stock reply is something along these lines: "Well, I only write ancient history."  That tends to end the conversation.  That's what I say; this is what I want to say:  "So, you have an idea, eh?  One?  That's precious!  I currently have a file sitting on my desktop that contains, at last count, seventy-eight ideas for full-length novels.  That's honestly more than I can write in my lifetime.  But, let me add your idea to the list, by all means.  Oh, and there's no frickin' way we're going to split the profits!  Let's say your idea is great and all, and let's say I go to work on it, spending two years -- at least! -- turning your chunk of marble into an exquisite statue.  For that minimal effort on your part, the genesis of the idea, I'd be willing to pay you, say, ten bucks.  And that's being generous!  What?  No?  You'll write it yourself?  Well, okay then . . ."

Gentle Readers, an idea for a novel is not some precious form of currency.  Every writer I know has dozens, if not hundreds, of them sitting in folders and notebooks, with more being added each week.  It's not the idea that sets one novel apart from its brethren, but rather the execution.  That's the boring part for most non-writers: the word choices and sentence structures, the techniques of characterization, the poetry of language, the shiver and hum of dialogue, the balancing act between static exposition and active scenes, the choreography of drama, melodrama, love, hate, violence and the human condition.  This is what sets the writer apart, and what non-writers don't really understand: the idea is nothing.  A novel is not an idea, but rather the technical and artistic expression of an idea.

So, please . . . stop this business of wanting to foist your ideas on us.  We have plenty of our own, thanks.

As far as A Gathering of Ravens, I'm still languishing at my pre-illness word counts.  I feel loads better, and now it's a matter of breaking the bad habits I accumulated on my sick-bed -- sloth and indolence and the desire for naps.  Time to move forward!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang Syne

The end of this year has been a rough one, but me and mine are finally on the mend -- though it's been a chore to get even a fraction of my energy back.  Suffice it to say, while the flu didn't kill me it definitely knee-capped me, stole my lunch money, and left me crying in the dirt.  But besides mortality, it's given me pause to examine this past year.

2013 was no banner year, for me.  I've made no net gains in the career department: I've started a new book, but I've not finished it; I've had a few small successes in the quest to have Men of Bronze reach the small screen, but nothing that has truly improved my situation.  I've rejoined the civilian workforce.

No matter how much I needed it, no matter how much I appreciate the chance to earn a few extra dollars to keep my little family afloat, going back to work in a non-creative capacity has been a knife to the soul.  I have dealt with it in my own way, but the year will ever have a black mark beside it to commemorate the event.  I don't do resolutions, but I DO have a list of goals I'd like to accomplish by this time next year.

1. Finish A Gathering of Ravens.
2. Start either The Damascene Blade or another ancient Greek novel.
3. Team up with my script-writing partner for an adaptation of The Lion of Cairo.
4. Get ahead enough financially that I might be able to withdraw once more from the civilian workforce and devote my time to writing.

I will not be sad to see 2013 go.  I hope its replacement holds more promise, and I can finally get back to fighting trim and start releasing books . . .

The Tallies and such will return in the New Year, along with ferocious determination (he says).  Until then, I wish you and yours a very happy New Year!