Monday, October 22, 2012

Climbing The Mountain

On last week's episode of the AtT Podcast Tyler asked me about my writing. I gave a muddled answer, due in large part to the drunks yelling in the background. Since then I've thought about it a little bit more. I'm not going to talk about my process so much as my evolution as a writer. Though I am still young in this passion of mine, maybe my perspective can help others out there.

I started writing a few years back. Around the end of 2007. I took a stab at it. Played around with it for month or so and then didn't write much of anything over the next year. After that I got a little more serious about it. I started learning about it and tried to practice it more often. There were still periods where I didn't write anything for months at a time. Seasons alternating between being knee deep in it and forgetting about entirely.

Over those years I tired to get myself to write more and more frequently. I eventually got it to where I was writing one a week at least. I had studied it in depth, read countless articles and listened to countless interviews. I had thought about the craft from every angle I could think of. I finally started to feel like I got it. Like I was a writer.

I was of course wrong. My writing was still terrible. I cringe to even think of going back and reading some of that stuff. Around the winter of 2010/2011 something strange happened. Out of nowhere I took a break from writing that lasted almost two months. It wasn't intentional. I had gotten promoted to a supervisory position at my crappy retail job. I flew back home for the birth of my niece. Life seemed to have gotten in the way, and my writing fell by the wayside.

However, something else came out of that time. Something that would forever change me as a writer. That was the period when I came up with Icarus. That sci-fi project of my started as an exercise. I'm interested in all mediums and genres and try to experiment with them whenever I can. Especially if I'm in a period where I don't have an idea I'm super excited to work on. That was more of a problem then, not as much these days.

I sat down one day with the thought of "If I were to do a sci-fi story, what would it be?" That was it. A simple lowly thought, on par with a writing prompt. Nothing special about it. But it was in chasing that question down it's impossibly long rabbit hole that I came up with Icarus. Before Icarus, I never worried about Worldbuilding. Most of what I wrote was either modern or so close to it as to not warrent much thought. I never thought about characters, most of them were normal people with normal backgrounds.

Icarus changed all of that. The political and economic landscape of the world required that I knew where my characters stood on the important issues, and therefore, was backgrounds informed those beliefs. Icarus forced me to think of worlds and peoples and technologies, of details that I would have never bothered to think of. It elevated me to a new level of writing.

Over the last year, I challenged myself to write every single day. I don't always meet the challenge. I seem to still miss a handful of days a month. Most often when I've just finished a draft and we have a podcast to record and edit.

The Mountain

I find and interesting pattern in other writers, and in myself. It seems that when we fist start out we know how bad our writing is. We stumble in the dark, attempting to learn the trade and hope that someday will get better. We might sit with a grin on our face as we pound the keys or as the pen scrawls across the page, but in the cold hard light of editing we realize how bad it is.

Then we reach a level of comfort. We know writing. We've settled in for its challenges, for its ebbs and flows. We eagerly look forward to the day when we will be battle hardened vets of it's corpse strewn fields.

I've found though, that at certain points I reach an entirely new stratosphere, a new league where it seem like I'm back on the bottom. Like I am once more the rookie learning the ropes. Sure I have all my lessons and experience from before, but up here, in these new realms it doesn't seem as important, as powerful as it did before.

I'm talking about when you see other writers who are better. No matter how good you get there's always a writer you look at and curse your own inability, wishing you could be better. I had that recently with Rian Johnson and Looper. Or Nolan and Inception, or Whedon and the Firefly pilot. Things that are so masterful, you wonder if you will ever get as good as them.

No, I mean with yourself, with your own assesment of your skill. You reach a point where you realize of far you've come and how far you have yet to go.

I was thinking about it in terms of hiking up a mountain. In the beginning you're lost in the woods, the sun blocked by the leaves overhead. Distracted by the chirping of birds and rustling of rabbits. You walk for what feels like forever. Eventually you become one with the woods. You know the animals and the sounds they make. You deftly step over fallen branches and gnarled roots. Nothing on the forest floors can trip you up.

Then there comes this moment, when you exit the woods. You find yourself on a plateau of rock. Stretched out in the valley beneath you is and endless forest. You can see a wide river snaking it's way between the trees.

The entire time you had been walking you failed to notice the subtle incline, failed to notice how high up you were getting. Yet here you stand. Seeing the miles and miles in which you traveled. You feel a huge since of achievement, seeing the distance you covered, knowing you've done on your own power. The advice of those who had made the journey before you echoing within your mind.

You turn away from the valley, eying the summit of the mountain stretching up into the clouds. You think of the masters that await you there, and the long journey still ahead.

This is the life that awaits us as writers. This is joy that we get to feel as we create worlds and twist lives. We stride alone in the valley of the gods, comforted by the whispers of those that had traveled there before us.

I took my first steps on that journey a few years ago. I didn't intend to take my last for a very, very long time.

No comments:

Post a Comment