Stuck in phase space

It would be ‘another day, another dollar’, but sadly economic conditions haven’t been favourable so it’s ‘another week, another dollar.’

Yup, I have another job to fill my time, But that’s okay because I’m getting to read tomorrow’s stories today. And anyway, I’m stuck on Breathing Fire.

It’s a simple thing. I’ve reached the end of a section and don’t know whose head to hop into next. I’ve been rotating nicely through my cast of POV characters. And I know generally where my story’s going. But, for some reason, I’ve hit a hump and can’t think where to go next.

This is where first person has the edge. You’re always in one person’s head and there’s no choice: if you’re writing chronologically – as I do – then the next action is always the next significant experience of that person. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to work out what’s significant and there are plenty of difficulties therein.

But I have about seven different perspectives I can choose from. Which I opt for – well, I really shouldn’t say this, but oftentimes it’s pretty much random. Who hasn’t said much recently? Who’s most interesting? Who’s most active here? There’s just too much choice and often I find myself thinking ‘well, just commit and make it work.’

Have I discussed phase space in these pages before? It’s a concept in physics which is remarkably applicable in storytelling. Put (over) simply, it’s every possible outcome to anything. Start with a great ‘space’: this represents everything in your world of story. Then draw a dot in it: that’s your starting point. Before you lie infinite options. Narrow the choices by selecting genre, setting, mood. Start writing and trace a line across that infinite plane. Ahead of you is everything, but only certain everythings will make sense. Phase space collapses. Options coalesce. The further you get, the more you commit to a plotline or a trope the smaller the arc of infinity that can be chosen from.

This is what I mean when I say ‘phase space collapses’, which I do remarkably often in the privacy of my own head.

If I haven’t rambled about this before it’s because it’s devilish hard to communicate meaningfully, concisely. And I am an idiot. And all I’ve just written is probably entirely incorrect. There’s also no useful – or pretty – images of it either, which is why you’re getting space pics instead.

Anyway, I bring this up because I am stuck. I am nearly at the end of my novel and so phase space is a fairly narrow beam. It should, therefore, be easy to see a way forwards – and, on the broader axis, it is – I know exactly where I’m going.

But it’s like a torchbeam shone upon a distant object: I can see it, the destination, perfectly clearly. But there are mantraps and ditches and tangling roots right at my feet. Do I take my eye off the prize in order to light my path?

Also I am so close to the end that I just want to get there. I want to leap all these obstructions and land hard at the finishing post. But I can’t. I won’t let myself. I have to earn the journey, not skip the effort on the train like some of the first riders of the Tour de France did.

Any now I am stuck. I have too many options. I just need to make myself commit and then run with the consequences. But for now my narrow arc of phase space is open in front of me and, combined with the white blank page of my word processing software, I am frozen into inaction.

Maybe I should just go back to my editing. Plenty to get on with there.

A necessary delusion

I believe in myself. I have to have some sense of self-worth to show the public my face each week, writing and publishing this blog; I have to have some sense of self-belief to submit my writing to publishing houses and agents across the world. Each attempt is a little part of me craving for attention. ‘Look at me! I can do this – in a way that no-one else can.’

Every writer that puts their work out there is the same, and that’s no bad thing. You need a little ego to survive, to push yourself onwards; it’s a bold step, trying to get yourself published, and you need to be bold to make the attempt. But I’m worse.

I read a lot of proofs of novels that are about to hit bookshops. Some of them take my breath away, are so accomplished, so innovative, that I’m in awe of the authors. I read these. I work on them, try and give them that final spit-and-polish so the final product is as perfect as perfect can be. I go through all this, I see all these wonders, and I still think I’m good enough to sit on the bookshelves alongside.

Problem is that self-belief and self-delusion are very hard to distinguish between. I do believe in myself. But I’ve got to weigh that against the fact that I’ve been rejected by hundreds of agents over the years. I just can’t cut it, on that front at least.

So maybe I am delusional.

As time goes by it seems to me that my chances of being taken on by either the publisher of my dreams (to whom I submitted Oneiromancer in their yearly open-submissions period), or the agent with whom I got a personal recommendation, are inexorably slipping away. The former has silence equating failure; the latter… well, no news is bad news?

So: I am delusional. And that’s fine. I will take that delusion and use it for the betterment of mankind. Or at least it’ll make me persist, to keep thrashing on, to keep sending my work out into the world.

The problem is that I believe. I believe in Oneiromancer, even if it has a shonky title, even if it turns out to need a good editing. It’s better than anything I wrote before. And in my belief – in my arrogance – I want it to be read.

I just don’t know how to help that come to pass.

The publisher of my dreams achieved that status by having a great network of nice writers and an excellent social media team. I want desperately to be part of that world. Ego again?

I just want to be read. I desperately wish I could do something to make that happen – something that, hopefully, involves other people doing the marketing work. I’m just no good at it, as can be evidenced by the lack of sales of the otherwise excellent New Gods.

I believe in myself. I am delusional. I just need someone in the business to take a risk on me.

All these things can simultaneously be true.

Days of grace

The major life event has occurred. I am in an odd period of calm, balanced with anxiety, as I try and finish up as many little outstanding jobs as possible before the anxiety becomes overwhelming I really get into the new task that lurks on the horizon.

Thus am I back, for a short period of time, in the Editorium, working on a structural edit and trying to squeeze in the odd half-hour on Breathing Fire. Yes, I still have ambitions – though, now, I feel like I’ll be lucky to get it done this side of 2023.

It’s nearly finished! It really is. I have written – or loosely drafted, at least – the pre-climax, the first bit of action that precedes the final conflict. Now I’m just at the little valley that runs between the two sections; a place for emotional regatherings, a catching of metaphorical breaths before I try and pick up the pace again before the end.

And then it’ll be time for the denouement which, in my mind, will involve still more death and destruction, because I’m just like that. Because that’s what the story is telling me it needs.

But I have a lot of other things on my plate right now. The major life event has major consequences and the family needs a presence beyond the merely physical. Then there’s paid employment – I’m so busy with this writing life that sometimes I manage to forget I have a day-job at all.

This is good. Things are positive (apart from the aforementioned anxiety). I just need to get on and do.

Which is why I am, as ever, trying to make hay in this grace period I find myself in. I don’t know how long it will last – not long enough – and then inevitably I’ll have to reprioritise and the writing will have to take a back seat again.

Such is life: the reward for hard work is, has always been, will always be, more work.

Anyway, I’m tired and I have a lot to do. So be off with you. I’ll catch you again next week when hopefully I have more to say.

Turn left

Things have changed, and the change, as such things often do, happened quickly. Last Thursday I was a moderately unsuccessful writer, a wannabee, a striver with a nearly completed second trilogy I’ve been struggling to place, and a freelance editor. Then, come a series of DMs on Friday, I find myself as a (paid) writer on a computer game.

How did this happen? I guess it comes down to ‘friend of a friend’ thing. Or networking. Or being, to some extent not for me to judge, ‘nice’. Put another way, I got lucky.

What does this mean? Well, that’s a little more complex – I don’t really know. In simple terms it means that I have to combine a new job alongside my existing part-time employment, my editing, and my childcare duties and general familyship. I’d also like to keep a little time for working on my own projects, but we’ll have to see how it all breaks down. Basically I’ll be writing to order, composing text on someone else’s outline and characters.

But I had to accept the invitation. Not just for money – in fact, money was one of the least considerations, so long as I’m not being exploited or doing other writers out of their fair share – but for my own ambitions. It’s a new opportunity – a chance to learn, to experience a new form and field of writing.

When I was a teenager, besotted by all things Games Workshop, it was my deepest dream to be a games designer. This is not that job. But it’s the closest I’ve come, writing dialogue and helping shape plot on what will hopefully be a not inconsiderable commercial release. It’s a chance for me to trial the field, see if it’s something I want to delve deeper into.

It’s also my first real experience of team-writing; of being part of a group all trying to be heard and to shape the narrative together. How can I turn down the chance to test these waters and see if it’s for me?

Part of me feels like I’m betraying myself, and betraying you, dear readers. This might wipe out my own ego-driven ideals and ambitions and ultimately – for a year, at least – halt my attempts to get a release with my name on it. That’s still what I really want.

I’m still me. I’m still going to be doing my best to get this blog out each week – hopefully finding interesting things to say (no promises). But today feels a little different. Like I have, in fact, been changed by circumstance; hard to quantify the qualia but it’s there, like it never was when I became a published author. Then I was just another jobbing author whose primary emotion was disbelief that anyone could take a chance on me. Now I feel like all the certainties have been washed away.

The job won’t start in earnest for a few weeks, so for now it’s time to finish up on the deadlines and try, try, try to get Breathing Fire at least within spitting distance of completion.

it’s down to me to make sure I’m not taking on too much, that I still have time for my family, that I don’t ignore my own writing brand on the journey.

However things go I’ll do my best to keep you posted, my wonderful friends.