When the Gate Opens

So I was SOCMOB (Standing on Corner Minding Own Business) one day when suddenly two bad dudes showed up in my head telling their story.

Actually I’m lying.  First of all I was sitting… erm… er… not on the corner and second, one bad dude showed up in my head, telling me his story.

Wait, telling is a misnomer too, or at least a white a lie.  He was in my head, and his story was flowing through me.

I was on my way to a local con, fully dressed, with war paint on (I put make up on when I’m about to go out to a con because I’m an introvert.  Putting the makeup on symbolizes putting on the outdoor face.  If I don’t put make up on, I’ll hide under the panel table looking at you with terrified eyes from between those curtains they hang in front.  And the one of you who just thought he’d like to see that is going to bed without dinner.) and I told my husband “I just need to go pee.”  And then of course, in the two seconds quiet dark of the bathroom it hit.

I was, needless to say, in the middle of another book.  (Needless to say because it’s always when these things hit.)

Ten minutes later, my husband dragged me away from the computer, but not before I’d managed to get down the first two paragraphs of the novel.  This was “Enough to recover it when needed.”  And this is an important point — and we’ll talk about it later — because I didn’t get back to it till three months later, though when I did, I finished it in two weeks, because this type of experience is like opening a faucet.

So, what do I mean by this type of experience?

Don’t know.  We don’t talk about it a lot for reasons of not being that fond of “I love me” jackets.  Among writers, sure, particularly late at night at a con bar.  That’s when we say things like “And the damn thing dictated itself to me”  Or “I’d never planned on killing the character, and damn, she was dead, and there was nothing I could do about it” or the truly freaky “And the story was done.  I had another ten pages of outline, but no, it was done, this was the right ending, and I wasn’t going to be allowed to change it.”  Other things you will hear about: writers who see/hear their characters/plot/events in the book.  Now, this can range from anything like what I have — thank Bob, no Visual/audio hallucinations.  Yet. — which is just thoughts, at the back of the head, in a voice that is definitely NOT mine.  (Important: Terry Pratchett was absolutely right when he said “always remember which voice is yours.”  Otherwise you DO need that “I love me jacket” or at least some really good drugs.)

However, if my colleagues aren’t bullsh*tting me, (come on, these people lie for a living) the experiences range from “just knowing when the story is right” (which is actually where I operate most of the time, which means there’s a lot of fumbling and wasted writing.  Some of my books have twice as much in removed stuff as in published stuff.) to full on visual/audio hallucinations.  (Though sometimes just of parts of the book.)

The thing is, I don’t think my friends are bullsh*tting, and I don’t think it’s that unusual, because if you scratch deep enough and read a lot of artists’ bios (I do. Mostly to reassure myself I’m not nuts, I think) you find that every artistic profession has this, including but not limited to illustrators and composers.

So if you’re experiencing any of the above, do not adjust your set.  For a given definition of “normal” (you do know you’re not in Kansas anymore, right?) you are perfectly normal.

Now, how do you manage it?  Because whatever the heck it is — I DON’T KNOW what it is, I just have created this image of something large and loud broadcasting in the center of the universe, and some of us are receptors, in certain frequencies (keep that qualification in mind, it too is important.) — it is not designed to make your life easy.  And it certainly doesn’t make your career easy.  (I’ve read of tons of writers who don’t have this, who just wake up one morning and decide to have a writing career, learn the stuff, outline, write to outline, figure out what they want to write next that makes career sense…  They’re usually the biggest successes (though not all the biggest successes are like that) and I think “It must be nice.”)  Having this “thing” — my friend Kate calls it “gateway” — and trying to have a writing career is sort of like trying to accomplish a long journey by car while being driven by a crazy person who also happens to be drunk and suffer from occasional seizures.  You can sort of steer by talking to the crazy person or, in extreme cases, grabbing them or pulling on the wheel sharply, but you have to KNOW how and when to do it.

I am so used to living with this monkey that I might forget to tell you some of the tricks.  If I do, don’t be shy about asking.  Because I’m going to give you all I can think of:

1- It always hits when you’re in the middle of another novel.  PREFERABLY it hits when you’re in the middle of another novel and are contracted for a three book series.  Of course it does. I don’t know why.  Perhaps you’re secretly masochistic.  Or perhaps the panic in your mind sends off a signal to the great transmitter.

How to deal:
Try to finish the novel/series you’re in the middle of.  Yes, it will feel like yesterday’s newspapers, but if you let the beacon sidetrack you, you’ll NEVER finish anything.  TRUST me.  Also, when the novel is finished no one will know how it felt to you while writing.  And it won’t read like yesterday’s newspapers.  TRUST ME.

2- It won’t leave you alone.
When I was young and a fairly hot dish, I had guys who out of the blue and for no reason I could figure out decided they wanted to marry me.  (Of 8 or so proposals I had only two were from guys I knew I was dating.  The others were from guys I’d friendzoned — though we might do things together like go to the movies — and two were from professors I’d only seen in a school setting.)  Some of these novels (short stories I just stop everything and write) are like those guys.  They call, they send flowers, they send chocolates, they will be waiting at my door, when I get up in the morning.  They will follow me through the city like lost puppies.  They’re creepy beyond belief.

How to deal – particularly when you have this other novel to write:

This is tricky because it depends on the novel/series that has started dictating itself in your head and how clear it is.

If it is a beginning, dictating itself in words, be aware it will hold, and wait, intact, in some corner of your mind.  The thing is, you need something to “rappel back into it.” Usually that is a page or two, but in the case of my dragons-in-WWI series (rolls eyes.  Yes, it’s still there) it took three chapters.  You’ll know when it’s anchored so it won’t drift off.  Just try it.  But you have to be firm, or you’ll end up writing the whole thing, and unless you can write an 80k novel in three days, which even I only managed once, you simply can’t do that.
SOME novels (I’m dealing with one of those right now) are insistent but are idea/concept more than story narrating itself (In fact, I don’t have the character who will narrate it yet.)  AND some of them, when they require heavy research will allow themselves to be foisted off with research and not actual writing, which means you’ll be writing in the morning, researching at night or in the afternoon.  In crazier instances, you might find yourself writing a novel in the morning and one in the afternoon (AKA what I’m doing now, and weirdly not in my world.)

3- It’s something you don’t know how to write

This one is tricksy, at least if it doesn’t arrive in your head fully written (sometimes even if it does.  Because writing some things WILL break you) because it might be a matter of you being at a level/place where you can’t write it YET or it might be a matter of its being something you would never write.  Take me: writing porn would probably break me, and I have serious issues with certain types of horror.  Do I get ideas for those?  Oh, hell, yeah.  I think we’re receptors within certain ranges, and sometimes we get things at the edges, that aren’t really right for us, but the “sender” doesn’t know that.

How to cope:

Identify what type of wrong it is.  Is it just “I don’t know how to do this yet?” In that case write an outline and maybe what you can, then file it.  You’d be amazed how “I can’t write this” changes in a few short years, with experience.

Or is it “OMG, NO.”  If it is “OMG, NO” do your best to forget it.  Tricks that work to get rid of it include but are not limited to: giving it to a friend whose style it is.  He/she might not even ever write it, but it gets it out of your head! Also neutering it, i.e. changing it so it will fit in a short story, then writing that short story, whether or not you ever send it out.  In last resort, write out the idea/outline.  There’s a good chance if it’s really wrong for you you’ll forget it.  If not, maybe in a few years it will be right for you.  Who knows.

4- You were sick/moving/all of the above for a few years and these damn things arrive one every three months, and you now have a list of 30 or so all of them hopping.

How to cope: If you find out, tell me?  Right now my hope is that as soon as I get my medicine in some sort of balance I can actually start writing these at one or two a month to catch up.  Failing that, I don’t know.  Set up a bunch of collaborations?  Start wearing tinfoil hats?

You figure it out, be sure to let me know.

Meanwhile I’m going to write chapter two of a fanfic for my blog.  Sigh.  Because. Stupid gateway.



  1. My subconscious–I’m clinging to a belief that the stories are internal, because they’re what I most like about myself–has only once gotten mad enough at me to do the hallucination bit. Killed the MC’s girlfriend at the end of one story and was having trouble making him angst even a tiny bit in the next.

    So he leans on the back of my office chair. “Angst? You fell for the ‘must kill someone important’ bullshit. So you invented a super cool girlfriend, shoehorned her into an already finished novel just so you could kill her. So no. I’m not going to angst.”

    Fortunately I had not yet published Empire, so I could go back and write what turned out to be an excellent hospital scene. Apart from an occasional snicker, Xen’s been quiet since. It’s sort of like a horse I had once. We both knew who was boss, and it wasn’t me. But I can’t give Xen away to a big cowboy, he’s too much fun and rarely bites.

    1. When I was riding, I took lessons on this old schoolmaster horse (an equine grizzled sergeant-equivalent). I knew I had become a competent rider when I could *make* him do something he didn’t feel like doing at the time 😀 We had a good, mutually-respectful relationship that continued past that point, but I had become the “young lieutenant who actually knows what she’s doing once or twice a day” vs. “too ignorant to pour piss out of a boot”. It was a very nice feeling…and he was a good hoss. I should put him in a story. I swear he could trot while napping.

  2. If it is a beginning, dictating itself in words, be aware it will hold, and wait, intact, in some corner of your mind.

    Yeah. I’ve got that going on, but, not being of the writing persuasion, I don’t know what do about it.

    Coupla months ago, I was reviewing a document for one of our technical writers. Came across an interesting typo. Well, not really a typo, but the wrong word. An unusual word. And it was actually appropriate for the sentence it was used in, but it stuck out like a sore thumb. Well, “sore thumb” isn’t right; it stunk out like an elegant raised pinky in an otherwise workman-like document.

    And a picture popped into my head. Well, not really a picture; more like a situation. A situation conveniently summarized in a couple of paragraphs that *also* popped into my head.

    So in my review comment, I pointed out that this was probably not the word he was thinking of and also plunked down the paragraphs.

    From then on, whenever I found an error in the document, a paragraph or two of this *story* would pop into my head, with a connection to whatever error I had found. And I’d dutifully plunk it down along with my note about the error.

    And it. just. wouldn’t. stop. Paragraphs kept arriving over the weekend. The only way I made it stop was by not writing them down.

    But the story’s still there. I can feel it waiting to pounce.

    Not sure it’s a good story, though. Best indication is that the technical writer hasn’t asked for more.

    1. mwahahahaha! And so it begins…. Welcome to the Dark Side! Your introductory cookie package is on its way!

      1. And I’m convinced part of my problems with depression during the last 30 + something years have been due to the fact that I kept fighting the stories. I would not let them out by writing them down, so they stayed there, taking up valuable space I might have used for other functions.

        If that makes any sense.

        So you should let them out if they come to you, or process through them in some other way. They will never leave you in peace otherwise, and I don’t think that’s healthy.

  3. I usually write a couple of thousand words, give it a title, and save it. Right now I’ve 10-15 story openings in my “hopeful monster” file. Then when I need a new project I dig through the file looking for something that looks workable. I’d estimate that 80% of them are pure “What was I thinking?” when I get back to them, but sometimes I pull useful work out.

    1. I do that with my dreams. (I have a tendency to dream in narrative.) Once or twice I’ve gotten something really good out of it. Bit of a problem when you’ve got a complete beginning, but you can’t make out the motivations of a critical character. Especially when he’s a trickster.

      And nobody gets his sense of humor.

  4. Or perhaps the panic in your mind sends off a signal to the great transmitter.

    No, I have reliable information indicating that panic sensitizes your receiver. The transmitter is always on.

  5. “First of all I was sitting… erm… er… not on the corner and second, one bad dude showed up in my head, telling me his story.”

    Gotta watch out for all these bad dudes in your head, Sarah.

  6. It totally does work this way. For me, usually what happens is a character shows up in my head out of nowhere (or since my books have strong romantic storylines, the two characters who are the couple) and demands I tell their story. Sometimes it all comes pretty much intact, and sometimes I have to do some digging.

    One of my books has a very prim and proper and stuffy professor and his lovely and talented assistant who translates old books for him. The book was stuck for years, but the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally I had this vision or imagining of the start of a love scene between them which was much earlier in the book than I intended it to be and also the dynamics were totally different. I played this scene over and over in my head, watching closely, and realized 1) the woman was taking the lead, which gave me a big insight into her character and their relationship, and 2) the professor was scared to death. Why was he scared? Because she was going to rip his shirt off and then she was going to see the tattoos and the scars. (What tattoos and scars?!?) And then he was going to have to tell her where they came from.

    Which led to discovering this whole backstory for him that I honestly had no idea about until he started telling me. His story was horrifying, but it finally opened up the character to me and showed my WHY he is the way he is, why he does what he does, and why he is going to make the choices he does in the story and fight for the things he fights for. And it’s all stuff I never would have thought up on my own.

    Another story, a 117,000 word fanfiction I wrote back in 2001, just flowed through me like it was being dictated. A complicated story but one of the easiest things I’ve ever written as far as getting the words out and knowing what happens next.

    I have no idea where these came from – my subconscious, or some external ether where stories and characters live their own lives independent of us writers, or what. But it’s a really amazing feeling when it happens, and I’ve learned to go with it.

  7. The first book I ever finished writing came about because I wrote a scene for a different book, realized it didn’t fit that book,and then spent several wonderful/frustrating hours figuring out who the hell these new people were, and what their story was. And I have whole worlds floating inside my head, some of them recognizable, some of them some crazy mismash of things I don’t know if I’ll ever get down.

    And yes, the timing is a huge problem. Anyone have a good way to get a story down while driving? I’ve tried a voice recorder, and listening to myself is too weird somehow.

      1. I’ll give it another shot, I guess, because I have an hour commute each way, and I get great ideas that somehow evaporate when I open the car door…

        1. It does get easier. I’ve had to do that myself more than once. (I also have an hour commute each way). Just focus on the story and not your voice.

        2. Once, I recorded a description of my observations under the hood of my car after it broke down, just to kill some time while waiting for a ride. Imagine my surprise when I played it back, to hear that my hillbilly accent had REALLY come out while I was talking. Normally, it’s just a little hint, when I’m talking to people, unless I get excited.

            1. I do when I get in a heated discussion, or if panic is close to setting in.

              The people I grew up with don’t have the heavy drawl that a lot from further south of me have, but they definitely have an accent. However, TV showed me the “Standard Midwestern American” speech, which I consciously emulated to speak professionally, and it usually is how I speak in general conversation.

          1. One time I was talking to someone, and what came out sounded just like one of Zane Grey’s snippets of dialect. Although that’s about all I’ve read of him. I suppose you could say that I come by it honestly, being a native of Arizona.

        3. You could try running your dictation into Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Warning: even after training, it will make odd mistakes. But it does a pretty good job IF the original voice is clear enough.

      1. Once I get past the fact that my voice has less resonance, I’m usually okay with my own voice. I also used to work in radio, so I had to.

  8. Yup. I’ve got a paranormal romance that started backwards, probably because I’d been reading some recent (kinda PC) scholarship. Was driving down to meet the Grants, Old NFO et al and listening to Gordon Lightfoot and the story emerged, the new MC glared at me from under a cavalier’s hat and I had the basis of the correct story. Which is now waiting for me to finish researching and writing the first of the Raj-world novels. Its a story I could not have written a few years ago, because the female lead is too close to the edge of becoming the prototypical victim of a Really Bad Relationship. Except for a ghost with a grudge and a conscience, and her own remaining backbone.

    _Blackbird_ came about when Mattias Corvinus appeared in the jump seat in my pick-up as I was pulling into the library parking lot and informed me that I was going to write his story. Not exactly a true visual hallucination, but I felt the character, knew he was there and who he was, and what he wanted. And thumped my head against the steering wheel with frustration. I was DONE with that world! Yeah no.

  9. Let’s see #1, all the time. In the past I’ve generally had several projects going at once so I could switch between them as I got stuck on one. Lately, I’ve been finding that not as successful a strategy as in the past. But whether I’m working on one or three it doesn’t really seem to matter. Others will keep intruding. (And to think, I once worried that I’d run out of things to write.) I’ll usually just write a brief snippet to get a feel for the new idea then set it aside to come back to later. Or not. Not all of these intruding ideas turn into stories.

    #2 I’ve had happen from time to time. Generally I would just put them in the “current batch” rotation. Sometimes they’d take off. Sometimes they’d fizzle. Now I just treat them like #1–get something down and put them aside. (Beating them back down with the flat of a shovel if need be.)

    #3. Oh man. Lately I’ve been having ideas for “paranormal romance” stories. I don’t know how to write romance. At all. Part of that is I have no idea how romance works. At all. To this day I haven’t figured out how my wife and I got together. Of course “real world” romance may (probably) bear little resemblence to fictional romance so perhaps I just need more genre study. Still uncertain on that one. (But, damn it, they’re good ideas and I really want to do something with them.)

    1. David, read Heyer. No, don’t really care. Read Heyer. Dave Freer made me read her. Best thing he did for me being able to put romance in my books. Read Heyer romances. The mysteries suck.

      1. Heyer is the BEST, bar none, at minor characters. Some of whom I have wanted to adopt, they are so wonderful. Her sense of the rhythm of banter and dialogue is also superb. And, her romances are not just search/replace copies of each other. Very, very different situations, tenor, main characters, setting.

        The mysteries…vary. Penhallow should, like the third Matrix movie, be generally agreed to Not Have Existed. I tried reading one of the historicals and suddenly remembered I had to alphabetize my sock drawer. I love Duplicate Death, though, and Death in the Stocks is great fun.

        And listen to Sarah. We need more Children of Heyer romances. Come on, David! I will if you will! I can’t write romance either…

        1. That’s not true. I loved the romance in Sequoyah. It met my criteria: cool people doing cool things (that are super hard) who fall in love. And, I knew they were Meant to Be very early on. All good.

  10. Sometimes the really insistent stories come out to stop me writing in the WIP when I’ve gone the wrong direction. A few days of “will NOT shut up” and then when I reread the WIP it’s obvious were the problem lies.

    And some times it’s just a story that won’t shut up.

  11. > something large and loud broadcasting in the center
    > of the universe, and some of us are receptors

    “A Scourge of Screamers”, Danield F. Galouye, 1968.

    I read a *lot* of science fiction before the SJWs took over.

    1. They still think they’re pulling the levers. But we’ve been crawling around under the floor, disconnecting the levers. That’ll keep them busy while the rest of us completely re-imagine and remake publishing.

  12. I had a couple stories that downloaded themselves directly into my brain. One that I had to beat off with a stick because nope.

    Most of my stories start with a character who introduces themselves and the vision won’t go away. A woman standing in a window with a see through night gown made of stars, a wolf that’s really a woman, a woman falling off a ladder into the arms of the man of her dreams. They tell me just enough of their stories to get started but then they just stand their, waiting.

    The woman in the window has been waiting for 6 years now. She’s not a nice person but she’s patient and willing to wait for me to get her story right.

    1. “Most of my stories start with a character who introduces themselves and the vision won’t go away. They tell me just enough of their stories to get started but then they just stand their, waiting.”

      Yup, that’s how it usually goes for me, too.

  13. I have found that the good characters always come back.

    Corbett “Cobb” Russwin started out as a minor character in the first novel that I used the title “Gingerbread Wolves” for, then as the main character in a screenplay called “What The Thunder Said” before finding a home in the novel series that I finally published.

    Stuart Dogs started out in a project called “Malengines” before I recycled him.

    Both of those characters were basically the same in everything. Agony Delapour originally started as the character who became Dr. Samuel West, the Pale Surgeon, then I stole the name for a number of different projects and she kept changing, becoming more cold and less human, before settle down in her current version.

    So I don’t sweat writing the characters down at once. If they are meant to be, they will return.

  14. Would anyone have suggestions as how to deal with a combination of being blocked and getting new stories? I got stuck there some years back. I could not finish a story, I started writing another to get back into writing, got stuck with that, then started writing yet another…

    It seems to be getting easier now, right now I’m alternating between three different stories, I still get stuck but at least now I can get going again with the second one, then when I get stuck there I can work with the third, and once I get stuck there I can go back to the first, but this is slow going, and I’d rather not end here, especially that part where I could not continue with any but kept constantly starting new ones, again.

    1. That’s a trap that’s hard to get out of. All the fun, not much of the slog. Try to identify a specific cause of this reoccurring problem.

      I find, for instance, that my writing enthusiasm wanes as soon as I figure out how they solve the problem and then the ending. My back brain says “Ah! Good story! And here the next.” Totally doesn’t care if it isn’t written, or worse, is outlined.

      If you’re an outliner, try not to outline the whole thing. Or not at all. If you’re not an outliner, try it and see if the structure enables you to write the rest.

      Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and plow through the dreadful middle. No matter how much your subconscious wants to do something more fun.

      1. I seem to be mostly a pantser who can do some slight outlining a little bit ahead. I do get unconnected full scenes well ahead before getting to that part though, then need to figure how to get there from here. Most often those scenes I get full are ones which will stay in the final version, I haven’t dropped more than a couple so far, the interconnecting pieces are where I get stuck. And figuring out the endings, both beginnings and endings are sometimes more of a problem than what is between. Weird, huh?

        1. You have to tell yourself that this is the part that, although boring to you, is necessary for whatever reason and put it in. Or, you have to say, I’m stuck because I don’t want to finish this, and then force yourself to write. You may feel no soaring emotion for that bit, but that’s ok. This is the part where writing is work. You might be surprised later at how much you like it, or, you may say, “that’s all wrong, but now I know what’s right.” The short answer is to write anyway. Write something. I have mountain lions in the suburbs of Washington, DC because I had to write something. I kept them.

          I think National Novel Writing Month is tremendously helpful for getting over the whole thing about stopping. You have to write 1700 words per day (more in the U.S. because of Thanksgiving and cooking or travelling). And you do. Because of the graph.

          1. I’ve been unhappy with my speed, and unhappy with my professionalism at writing. I have had an increase in my spoons budget, and a bunch of other concerns that need addressing. So I’ve set myself a very small target daily word count.

            1. I’ve done that. And the days where you can exceed it are great, but otherwise they do add up.

        2. It’s not about the process, it’s about the finished product.

          The outliner builds to a map. But a pantser ought to be able to go back and map her story out when she’s finished.
          That’s the “quality control” step where she makes sure all the necessary bits made it out of her head and into the finished product.

          I’ve read *way* too many books that were poorly pantsed, nobody read the stories before they went to the publishers, and the publishers apparently couldn’t be bothered with reading or editing the text, so at the tail and of the chain I’m left holding the finished product and thinking “WTF?!!!”

        3. Flip a coin, or a dice. Do they get between these scenes with a fight, with romance, with a joke? umm Travel involved? Packing? Losing luggage? And there’s always family trouble.

          Don’t feel like you have to cover every step, either. A transition can be as brief as “Fifteen hours later she vowed to never get on a plane again.”

      1. I suppose part of the problem is that I do want perfect, or at least good, and when I can’t get even close to that I stop writing. And worse after the first novels I wrote because I wanted to do better with the next ones, the first three were kind of “good enough if I just can write all of it” but I did, and do, want to improve, and I was also scared of doing worse instead of even staying on that same level much less improving.

        This is scary. Especially showing the stuff to others. I am convinced I will see what I write now five or ten years from now as thoroughly embarrassingly bad (if not sooner), especially if I actually will get better. I’d just want to wait until it’s perfect, but of course it never will be. And I keep moving between “hey, not bad” and “oh my god awful” when I read my own writing, sometimes between reading the same piece on consecutive days.

        1. I go back and dig around in my trunk every so often to see how awful I was in the 1970s. With practice you will improve. Keep your old material and review it periodically to remind yourself how far you’ve come.

            1. Funny you mention that. While culling duplicate copies of things in the trunk last fall before we moved, a typewritten set came to light that contained an early scene involving Stypek the Spellbender…which I had utterly forgotten about. I mean, I literally had no memory of ever writing it, granting that it was on my Selectric and probably from 1977. How useful it may be is unknown, but it made me wonder what else I had forgotten about.

        2. This looks like the problem. You are judging while drafting. First, write it. Then fix it. But you’ve got to let the creative part happen, so that all the little links can form themselves, your characters can tackle awful things, react, plan, carry on and otherwise create a draft. Then read it, fix the inconsistent stuff, and write the next one. You might want to tell yourself you are not allowed to worry about whether it’s good in the first draft. Instead, you need a first draft.

          1. The first thing I wrote that I was really happy with and willing to let other people read was pantsed from beginning to end. I had no idea how it was going to wrap up until about ten pages before it happened. And it was far from perfect. I had a secondary character show up from out of nowhere that needed to be woven into earlier scenes so that we cared what happened to him. I had some flow/rhythm problems that needed to be smoothed. I had an extraneous scene that needed to come out entirely since it added nothing to the plot other than fan service.

            But I got it down and done before I got bored, and could then go back and make the tweaks and corrections and edits that would polish it.

            I’ve since tried to outline and plan, and I run into the problem mentioned by someone upstream here: I figure out the ending and then get bored and wander away.

            Don’t worry about perfection. There’s a reason the first pass is called a ‘rough’ draft.

        3. When I go back and re-read the original Cat Among Dragons book, I cringe. I could do so much better than that! BUT at the time, that was my best. Since then I’ve improved a great deal, but the story still attracts readers who enjoy it. They don’t know what I would change and do differently now, they just like the characters and plot. So write what you have, sell or show around what you have, and don’t sweat what it will be like looking back from 5 or 10 years.

          1. THIS is important. One of the things I do for fun — or occupational therapy — is fillet crochet curtains. I lost 8 of them in the moves, so I have to redo a lot. Anyway, it always puzzled me when people looked at them and went “Oh, they’re so beautiful, you’re so talented.” I do them while watching tv OR reading, so I sometimes miss the count and they have all sorts of mistakes. All of which I SEE. People looking at them don’t, though.
            So, give up on perfection.
            Hang over your desk “It doesn’t have to be good, it has to be finished.”
            What good is the best story in the world, locked in your head?

            1. Thank you. I’ll try to remember that. Can be a bit hard sometimes though.

              Maybe I should buy one or two of those bestsellers which are kind of notoriously badly (or at best rather below mediocre) written and which have sold a truckload anyway, and read a few samples if it seems I’m getting too critical of my own stuff. 🙂

              I guess, well, unless you really push something bad so much that it becomes one of the well known jokes most of the badly written stuff will remain safely anonymous so it doesn’t really matter that much, and if it has some qualities which will make it sell anyway even if it is badly written money in the bank can be a fairly solid buttress against embarrassment. And there is not much of anything so brilliant everybody would think it’s brilliant. So just let the readers decide if they like it or not, after you have done your best (ugh… even if I do not use my legal name on the books I guess I could always change that anyway afterwards just in case and move somewhere in the back of beyond with no internet connection or something and become a hermit).

              1. I’ve seen the ‘meme’ thing going around: Whenever you think you have a bad idea, remember someone said, “Let’s make a movie about a tornado with sharks in it.”

                1. Good meme, although I suspect that one may have come from a session of “What could we do that is so outrageously bad people will love it just for that?”

  15. Aside from being a good book, The Displaced Detective answers this question: It’s the multiverse leaking through.

  16. What I usually do is write up some notes if the project is something that could be a novel or novels and do some worldbuilding while working other projects.

  17. I always thought that was author rhetoric, and figurative… until it happened to me. and ” And the one of you who just thought he’d like to see that is going to bed without dinner.) ” ONE of us??? you don’t know us very well do you?

  18. It seems that I have a better-behaved monster in my right brain than most writers. I start a story, and for the most part, the story tells itself. I may think I have an outline, but I really don’t–if I bother to create an outline, the monster simply ignores it. So I don’t outline anymore. Most of The Cunning Blood came out of the gateway, at flank speed, sometimes five or six thousand words a day. Sometimes I didn’t know until a few hundred words before the next scene what that scene would actually be. Sometimes a spear-carrier would turn out to be pivotal, and sometimes one of the most important characters in the plot. I didn’t start with any outline at all. What I had was basically a logline–and the next thing I knew, I had a 144,000 word epic.

    The key to gateway writing is this: You don’t know what the monster is working on in there. What you have to do is open the door and let it speak. Take it down. Clean it up later. Don’t spend fifteen or twenty years editing (I’ve done that) because, for the most part, the monster knows what it’s doing and you won’t improve on its original material all that much. Purely rational editing very soon reaches the point of diminishing returns. Sarah booted me out of that trap last summer, for which I will be eternally grateful to her. I worked as an editor for thirty years. Old habits are hard to break.

    If the monster seems to be asleep some days, put on some stirring music (or at least music appropriate to the current project) and turn it up loud. My monster responds well to music. Soundtracks seem to work with peculiar effectiveness; don’t know why. (I got a great deal of mileage out of the soundtrack from Prince of Egypt, a cartoon movie from the 90s that almost no one remembers now.)

    Gateway writing. I’m glad Kate put a word to this. I used to call it extreme pantsing, but a gateway? Yeah. That’s what it is. With a monster behind it.

  19. I’ve had something kind of like this happen more often lately, though it’s USUALLY something that I can jot down some notes and then get back to the matter at hand. Sometimes I’ll have good stuff for either a future work or one I’m in the middle of pop into my head at the most inopportune times (the classic these days is while I’m zoning out on a run or in the gym). By the time I get to the notebook or the computer, it’s a LOT harder to remember the scene/outline/power map of the twisted, ever-shifting web of alliances and converging interests that tend to dominate my thrillers lately well enough to get it down coherently. Sometimes that’s bad, but I usually manage to figure something out.

    Outlines have helped immensely in keeping my stories tighter and more coherent, but I always end up going off-outline at some point. The general story remains mostly the same, but the details can change, sometimes a great deal.

  20. “I put make up on when I’m about to go out to a con because I’m an introvert. Putting the makeup on symbolizes putting on the outdoor face.”

    I call it stage make up. Partly because it makes your facial expressions more visible to the folks in the back, when you’re speaking in the front.

    But also because we humans are amphibians. All clothing is CosPlay.

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