The Aussie Spec Fic scene is interconnected enough that even if you don’t know someone, you are friends with people who do. I have to be careful sometimes, there are people whom I have heard so much about from my friends that I feel like I know them and when I do meet them or interact with them online I have to restrain myself from being overenthusiastically effusive and treating them like we are bosom buddies (my apologies to people that has happened to!).
While I hadn’t met Tor Roxburgh in person, there was a pretty big overlap of friends,and I had definitely heard the name. In fact, the week before I did meet her, I had just had two separate lunches with people who had mentioned her, and praised her highly as a writer, and as a person. So, when we caught up at a book launch there could have been two problems – forgetting that she would have no idea who I was, and being disappointed if the reality didn’t match the reputation!
Fortunately, Tor not only proved extremely approachable, but was even nicer in person than I had been told! And, as I chatted to her, I could immediately see that here was someone extremely passionate not only about her writing, but about her artistic pursuits in general – to the point where she had moved in part because her local council was not supportive of the arts. I’m really pleased to have Tor here today, as she talks about a subject every writer can identify with.
Hiding From Your Writing
June hasn’t been a great writing month. It began with an allegedly work-related viewing and reading binge. I was on a couple of panels at Continuum 9 in Melbourne and wanted to be better prepared than I had been the year before.
I’m not one of those lucky people who can remember plot lines and characters so I decided to revisit some of the narratives that the other panellists and I had decided we’d focus on. I watched six movies and a season of Game of Thrones. I also read a couple of Tamora Pierce’s books and lots of scholarly articles on fantasy and mediaevalism and on female warriors in speculative fiction. And I made notes.
It all sounds really worthy but, honestly, it wasn’t called for. Continuum discussion panels are relatively informal and friendly affairs and they don’t demand the sort of preparation that calls for you to halt your writing.
I spent the post-Continuum week getting ready to open my new shop, which was necessary, but which also stopped me writing. I then spent a couple of days on writing-related activities that didn’t actually involve writing (meeting up with my writers’ group and then attending a social media master class). I realised something was up when I found myself reading four of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novels in a classic on-the-couch-wrapped-up-in-a-blanket-feeling-guilty binge.
Before I go any further, I’m going to show you a breakdown of my 2013 word count:
January – 4,547 words
February – 4,363 words
March – 22,497 words
April – 6,406 words
May – 3,915 words
June (with two working days left) – 2,477 words
The obvious stand-out months are March and June.
Productive March is easy to explain. I woke up one morning and decided I was getting lazy. I recalled my late twenties when I used to produce three teen romances a year and I compared that with my most recent fantasy novel, The Light Heart of Stone, which took about five years to write. I resolved to do better, pushed aside the other tasks in my life and wrote.
It felt good but there is a difference between writing a light and simple teen romance and writing a deeply plotted, YA, sci-fi/murder mystery in a fully resolved future world. There is more imaginative work involved in the latter so I wasn’t upset that I couldn’t keep up the pace.
But what about Unproductive June? Well, there was all of that busy, busy stuff that I’ve already told you about, but that wasn’t the real problem. The problem was I lost my vision for my novel and my vision of myself as a writer. Both states are familiar to most writers. Personally, I can manage one or the other but combined… Well, it was a challenge.
A writer friend of mine once told me that when you’re having trouble writing it can be a signal that there is a specific plot, character or a world-building problem. I realised my novel had all three. I forced myself to keep working on the novel while I tried to find the solution (because there’s nothing worse than stopping and having to restart) but mainly I just thought.
I lay in bed and wondered about the world I’d created. I imagined being one character or another and I thought about how I’d feel and what I’d do, what I’d believe in and what values I’d hold. I dwelt on the world itself and took little logical steps: if this, then that. I remembered what that same writer friend had once said to me: think about what’s happening off-stage, when your protagonist isn’t around. In a realistically drawn world there is a momentum beyond the actions of your protagonist and supporting characters.
It all helped, but my plot problem refused to resolve. In the end, my characters had to creep forward, word by word, into the problematic territory that stood between the written story and the envisioned end. Soon enough, things started to order themselves and the problem disappeared. Such an act of faith can be difficult for a hard-line atheist.
The good news is I discovered that losing your vision of yourself as a writer clears up when you find yourself back in the grip of your novel. Evidently, that sort of existential pain only hangs about when you’re disengaged from the sweet siren of narrative.
Tor Roxburgh is a writer and artist. Her non-fiction includes Taking Control, one of the first successful Australian titles about family violence, and The Book of Weeks, a tale of the complex story of the weeks of pregnancy. She was senior writer and researcher on the National Inquiry into Youth Homelessness. She is also the author of 12 teen romances.
Tor’s latest book, The Light Heart of Stone, is an epic fantasy novel that explores many contemporary themes. The Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Prue Bentley calls it “very Australian”.
You can find out more at www.torroxburgh.com