Every time I watch a show where some free spirit "artiste" goes on about what a creative person they are, I wanna throw my shoe at the TV.
I am a creative person. Most of my adult life (30 years now) has been spent creating new software, either giving new life to old programs or building stuff from specs. But it doesn't end there. You go down the list of all my hobbies, and virtually all of them are creating something from scratch. All of them except golf. I suck at golf. I love it, but I suck at it.
I'm the guy who makes the Thanksgiving turkey every year. But no premade stuffing mixes for me. No sir (or madam). I cut up the bread by hand and dry it in the oven. I pull sage from my garden and mince it. And the pumpkin pie? It's made from, you know, actual pumpkins that I bake and puree. And if I had the time and the resources to raise the bird or the pumpkins, the celery, onions, make the chicken stock, milk the cow, churn the butter, and separate the cream...I would.
Like I said, I have a dozen hobbies and all but one of them are making something from raw components. I don't have time for them all, so I cycle through them. During the winter I do 3D printing (with models I design myself), in the summer I like to build electric guitars from scraps. I like to brew beer, cook and write. Most of all, I love to write.
For me, creativity isn't some special gift. It's a beast. It's a beast that constantly needs to be fed.
I guess I'm some sort of anomaly, because I am a writer that doesn't like to read. Oh, I used to read. When I had to travel for my job, I'd bring a book to read on the plane. When the Lord of the Rings movies were in development, I took the time to read the series once more. As I delved further into Tolkien, I picked up The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, Unfinished Tales, and a few of the books Christopher Tolkien wrote about his father's stories. Then I burned through the Narnia series, some Conan, and eventually delved into the twisted world of H. P. Lovecraft. I also had a few encounters with Jules Verne, and the like.
Sometimes I'd forget a book and end up at one of the airport concessions looking for something to pass the time. I like both Horror and Fantasy, so I'd pick up one or the other. In most cases, they'd lose me before chapter five. I won't say who, but suffice to say there are more than a few New York Times bestsellers in that bunch.
Even now, the closest I'll get to a book is an audiobook on my drive to and from work. I've picked up a few, though to be fair it was less for my own entertainment, and more for study. Again, these were Fantasy books mainly - well known writers of the genre. With the exception of George R. R. Martin, the Curse of the Fifth Chapter descended and my interest waned.
I loved a good chunk of the Song of Ice and Fire series by Martin. I thought the first book was best and of that book I loved the prolog the most. He started losing me in A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, though I found that A Dance with Dragons was a return to form. Some characters I liked, some characters annoyed me to the point of skipping to the next chapter. Overall, though, it was well written, creative, and engaging to an extent. While his writing is impressive, I feel the Martin has started too many stories to end them all in two more books. But, that's a different discussion altogether.
The thing that bothered me, though, was the Chapter Five Curse. Most books for me stalled out at Chapter Five. I'd lose interest, and put them away, never to read them again. Not that they weren't written well, and not that the worlds they created weren't imaginative. I really struggled with this for a time, not wholly sure why these popular books weren't for me.
Then the beast whispered into my ear, "Why don't you write your own?"
Somewhere around 1998, I started hammering out a tale of my own. It was the story of a mortal man who was in love with an immortal elvish princess. It was, to be blunt, awful. I've long since deleted those pages, even though the seed of the idea remained with me for some time.
(Yes, I know about Beren and Luthien, and Aragorn and Arwen.)
By the year 2000, I had a story. It was about an ordinary guy who was a chosen champion - the savior of a world. Some 150,000 words in length, I thought it was my magnum opus, my own Lord of the Rings epic. This, I handed to my wife for her to read.
When she was done, I asked what she thought of my masterwork. She smiled and said, "It's nice. It reads like Lord of the Rings."
What she really meant was, "I love you, but this sucks." Undaunted, I decided to query agents and publishers, thinking I had the next big hit. What I got were 80+ rejections. There was one agent who said that I had something, but I needed to fundamentally change my writing style. Disheartened, I shelved my ambitions for literary fame.
Still, the character never left me. In the years that followed - more than a decade - his story nagged at me. I wrote a short piece that concluded his romantic arc, and put that away too, as if I was forging the happy ending of my fictional protagonist. Even that nagged at me. It was too short, the resolution too easy.
I'll spare you the details, and save that for another blog entry. Suffice to say, the beast kept whispering in my ear, and at one point, I picked up the story once more. I started at the end. You know, the short story I wrote to conclude the character's romantic arc? I gave it the attention I thought it deserved. It's now roughly 170,000 words sitting out on disk. This led me back to revisiting the first book of my "masterwork."
By then, the beast had me feeding it steak. Something clicked in my head, I'm not sure exactly what. I started reconstructing the story from the main elements, filling in pieces and bits along the way. This time, however, it was different. I was absorbed in my writing, an experience that I used to have early in my software career. It's a moment in time when you are so immersed in what you're working on, that the world around you falls away. The only thing that exists is you, the computer screen, the keyboard, and the images and designs dancing furiously in your head.
I call it "The Rush." There's really nothing like it.
When I wrote the last book of the series, the ideas were so strong, they pounded in my head, demanding to be let out. The beast was rattling its cage, and the only way it would be sated is if I wrote. Every night I wrote, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning, until the work was done.
The urge wasn't as strong as I went about revising my original manuscript. You know, the one that gathered 80+ rejections. This time, however, the words definitely came easily. Narratives reworded, dialog cut, pasted, then tweaked. I chopped the original story in half, looking to make it more digestible. I then handed the third-pass rough to my wife and had her read it.
This time, the reaction was far different. That's when I knew I finally had something.
So, why do I write? The answer is clear: I love it. I don't just love it, it literally calls to me. Between 2017 and now, I've got at least four manuscripts completed, another two well under construction, as well as a planned set of novellas that I'm eyeing to write sometime in the future. All connected in one form or another, all in the same fantasy world.
What I found lacking in the books that fell to the Chapter Five Curse was a message. Sure, they had their magic systems, and their lore, and their customs well thought out and established. And I'm sure there are quite a few people who are content to just slip into another world and be entertained. I needed more then that. I don't want things all spelled out for me, I want there to be a question left in my mind. I wanted something to come back to, like I had with Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. A message. Meaning. Something bigger than a "what if," or the long, exacting details of fantastic life lived. I found this in the books I loved (OK, not so much with the Conan stuff). Validation of right over wrong, honor over expediency. Someone rising to the occasion, becoming great despite their faults and weaknesses. That's where the real meat for the beast is taken.
I'm laying odds that I'm not the only one who looks for these things in their books. Time will tell.
Thus far, the feedback I've received has been rather positive, despite the fact that I've yet to land a publisher. I guess that's the other reason why I write: I hate making something for nothing. "Stubborn" and "ambitious" describe me to a tee. Regardless of what happens over the next few months, I'm publishing my book. Whether someone picks it up and runs with it, or if I have to run with it myself, it's going to get out there.
The beast will have it's due.