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QUESTION: I've been working on a scifi/fantasy novel (I say both genres because there's such a fine line between them and my novel has characteristics of both) for three and a half years.  Earlier on, I used to be able to sit down and write for hours (all the time I had, anyway) and have seven or eight pages by the end of the day (or night, since there were a few times I stayed up until 3 AM writing!)  Of course, I had more time then--since I started, I've made the transition from homeschooling to high school, graduated, started working full time, and earned a brown belt in karate--but even when I have a full day with no other obligations, I find it hard to write even a couple hundred words.  On the other hand, I've been flooded with other story ideas (enough to keep me busy for about 56 years at this rate!) and I'm wondering if that's part of my problem, aside from being busy and tired all the time.  
Now here's the thing.  It's been "finished" several times, and then I noticed something that I thought needed fixing: first it was too short at 48K words, although the plot was complete and the protagonists were fully developed; then the worlds were underdeveloped; then the theme(s) was/were not clearly communicated; then the antagonists were cardboard, and now I'm still working on that but I'm wondering if the relationship between the hero and heroine (I know, I know, wrong terms) should be moving faster, although for plot reasons, they aren't getting married until the end of the sequel.  So I'm not stuck as to what happens next.  I'm really rewriting, which a lot of people say usually goes faster than the writing of the first draft.  The first draft took me eight months.
My question is, how can I rekindle my enthusiasm?
ANSWER: Carissa...

Wow.  Whether you know it or not, you've given me a LOT to comment upon... far more than the question of how to rekindle your enthusiasm.

First things first: Is it SF or is it fantasy?  It can't be both.  Sure, on the surface, it can appear to have elements of both.  But when it comes right down to it, you need to decide, and you need to make it clear to the reader which it is that they're reading.  And some things that appear to be one are, in reality, the other.  (Star Wars, for example, is fantasy, not science fiction.)  This, of course, could be a half-hour long discussion between us... so suffice to say that there are clear differences between the two, and you should recognize what they are.  

Next... you listed a lot of problems that you discovered during your writing process (or, more accurately, your re-writing process).  And I think this demonstrates that - especially for beginning authors - "a lot of people" are wrong.  The re-writing does NOT go faster than the first draft.  What you've described here is the process of discovering how to write, and you're discovering it by doing it.  That's what I did, too, with my first novel.  It would be "done," and then I'd think, "Gee... this bit doesn't seem as believable as the rest of the story."  Or, "Her character seems flat, compared to the other main figures."  I started my first book when I was not quite 18.  It went through three and a half full drafts.  (The half one was abandoned mid-way through, as I realized it was actually worse than the first.)  But even when all was said and done, I knew there were things about it that weren't good enough.  And I also knew I wasn't yet a good enough writer to fix them without MAJOR revisions.  And by that point, I was actually tired of the story.  So I moved on to a different one.

I was going to say that eight months is not very long at all for a first draft, to some of us.  But if, as you say, it was only 48k words... well, that's not a book.  That's barely a novella, to me.  (My first published book tipped the scales at over 300k words.  A "short story" that I'm about one-third of the way through right now is at 14k.)  

You're experiencing a lot of life changes, as you described.  Just going from homeschooling to public schooling is a huge difference.  Then from that to working... yeah.  Big changes.  Being busy and tired can be a huge factor.  There are, of course, a lot of suggestions I could make.  The most obvious would be: go to bed earlier, get more rest, and wake up and write before you go to work.  (That doesn't work for me, but it might for you.)  

Your plethora of ideas could also be an issue.  What a lot of people don't seem to understand about writer's block is that it is frequently the result of having TOO MUCH going on in our heads, rather than NOT ENOUGH.  Too many decisions.  We get overwhelmed, even if we don't consciously realize it.

Sometimes, it can help to work on more than one piece simultaneously.  You could work on "A" on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday... then work on "B" on Thursday, Friday & Saturday.  Or work on "A" until you get stuck, then switch to "B" for a time.  The goal is to write, Carissa.  Just getting words on paper.  It doesn't have to be THIS project.  Heck, it doesn't have to be a "project" at all.  Just start writing.  Write poetry, essays, letters to the editor of the newspaper.  Anything to get the words unstuck.  Lots of possibilities, but the real goal here is to clear your head of the stuff that's getting in the way of working.

One thing I'd like to ask you... Have you ever had any actual training in writing?  This could mean classes, either in school or outside of it, or even just reading books about writing.  If you haven't (or haven't for a while), now might be a good time to consider doing so.  Even if you have before, refreshers are a good thing.

I think this, along with taking some specific steps to de-clutter your head, will rekindle your enthusiasm.  I hope this has helped a bit.  And of course, if you have any questions about things I've mentioned here, just let me know.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Okay, it's really fantasy, but it looks like SF, a bit like Star Wars.  Funny you should mention that--Star Wars is what got me started on this story in the first place.  
I took creative writing courses and workshops all through junior high (I got credits for a grade 11 writing course in grade 9), and always picked the most writing-oriented projects in English in high school.  I get books about writing almost every time I go to the library, but it's starting to seem like they're all saying the same things.
I've been writing some poetry and I've started writing an 18th-century nautical novel (call it what you want, but "naval novel" sounds too weird, even if it is about the Royal Navy!) but these seem more like distractions than anything else.  Especially because historical fiction takes a lot of research.  
I almost wonder if it's just time to drop the project, but I feel like I've come too far to quit.  

Okay, I totally understand where you're coming from.  That first book I mentioned...?  I spent ten years on it, and at that point I decided I just needed to drop it.  Not permanently, mind you.  But I was burned out.  So I put it aside, wrote (and published) two other books, and now I'm returning to it.  I'm a better writer, now, and I think I can "fix" the problems I had with it when I was younger.  Not only that, but I found my excitement for the project had come back, after having been fairly sick of it.

So maybe that's what you need to do, too.  Take a vacation from it.  Allow some time to pass.  At least a couple/few months.  Maybe a year.  Then revisit the thing with refreshed eyes and see how it looks.  Likely as not, you'll either be inspired to do something new instead, or have a renewed passion for it.

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Vincent M. Wales


I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.


For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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