Monday, February 9, 2009

Beating My Head Against the (Fiction) Writer's Block Again

Yeah, I know. Last week was kinda light here on the blog. Sure, my little Twitter widget went up on the sidebar and some wordage would periodically occur there. (And again: “Little Twitter widget”? That’s just fun to say!) But as for posting? Shamefully absent. One post on Monday. (Less than 400 words long.) And one post intended for Friday that (despite being dated February 6th) didn’t actually go up on the blog until today. Yikes.

And while I didn’t actually put “(or Excuses, Excuses)” into the title, I do have them.

Zeitgeist the Clown vs. Fiction Writer’s Block

Back in November, I posted a piece entitled “Writer’s Block” that talked about the fact that – while I can blog this free-form essay kind of stuff ’til the proverbial cows come home – I lost my ability to write fiction a little over ten years ago. Sure, there’s been a small gap or two in that period where a piece of fiction has oozed out here or there, but for the most part, my creative life has been ruled by writer’s block.

I’ve always got some fiction project that I’m trying to work on – for the past few years, they’ve usually been erotic or pornographic projects. And I do feel like I’m starting to make some actual progress toward getting some of my ability back. But it’s been (and continues to be) a slow, mind-numbing climb out of the deepest, darkest hole I could possibly have ever imagined.


Which brings us to the current project. Every year for the past I’m-not-sure-how-long, has had a contest called “Literotica Survivor”. Prizes vary from $500.00 cash for 1st place to $25 gift certificates to for 6th though 15th places. Anyone who comes in 16th place or below . . . well, everyone just points and laughs at them.

Lit Survivor isn’t really a contest of quality. It’s a contest of quantity. Whomever racks up the most points wins, and you get points by getting stories published on the site. So, ignoring for a moment the bonus points for writing X number of stories in X number of categories, it basically comes down to the winner being the one who wrote the most stories that year.

I’ve always wanted to enter this thing. (I’ve always wanted to win this thing.) Every year I check out the official rules for the year, see what’s changed from last year, and tell myself that I’ll start trying to write stories for it, “once I’ve finished doing such-and-such”. After which I either try and fail, or find another excuse to postpone the attempt.

Should’ve Asked Sooner

You can’t get to through the content filters on the computers I use up at the library. So I didn’t check out the new rules right after the 1st, like I normally would. Instead, I waited until January 24 when it occurred to me to post a thread on FetLife asking if someone could copy the rules into the thread for me (or e-mail them to me, or something).

The next day I went up again, and found that some helpful soul had done just what I’d asked. There were a number of changes that had been made to the rules, some of which pleased me, some of which pissed me off.

And then there was the change that would force me into action . . .

Literotica has 35 different story categories, and Lit Survivor has always matched the site’s story categories for contest categories. But this year, the contest also has a category for the six seasonal/holiday contests that Literotica runs each year. 5 points per contest you enter. 30 additional bonus points for entering all six over the course of the year.

Whenever I muse about what I’d write if I were to ever enter Lit Survivor, my obsessive-compulsive brain first makes me look at the bonus points available, and figure out how many stories I’d have to write to be able to get them ALL. Then that becomes my baseline. Racking up the bonus points are what gives you the edge.

So, if I was going to participate in Lit Survivor this year, I’d also have to submit stories to all six of their seasonal contests.

The problem was, I had no idea what this year’s contests were . . . or when they took place.

The Valentine’s Day Contest

On January 30th I discovered that the first holiday contest of the year was the Valentine’s Day contest. Which was open to submissions from January 20th through February 5th, with winners to be announced on February 12th. (And these contest dates were apparently announced back in mid-December, so some of these people had no doubt started working on their stories for this contest a month and a half prior to my finding out about it..)

This left me with less than a week to get something that matched the appropriate criteria written and submitted. (And accepted.)

Also, to be an eligible contest entry, the story must accumulate at least 25 votes from readers. (Most stories on Literotica have a ‘vote on me’ bar at the bottom of their page, where you just click on one of five stars.) Because of this, it actually states in the contest announcement to not wait until the last few days of the submission period to get your entry in, because it sometimes takes over 72 hours for a story to get approved and go up on the site . . . leaving very little time to rack up the required votes.

The Narrowing Process

So there I was. I had blog posts I needed to write (including a week-long series I’d been procrastinating on—wait, ‘researching’ IS spelled ‘p r o c r a s t i n a t i n g’, right? Hmm. Never mind.) But now all I could think about was getting some porn stories written.

Fuck it. That was the decision I made. ‘Fuck it’. I was going to (more or less) take the week off from blogging, and devote my time and brain steam toward getting stories written. If I could get a story in and accepted for the Valentine’s Day contest, then this would be the year that I’d participate in Lit Survivor. And if I couldn’t manage that in the five or six days remaining to me, . . . well, ‘there’s always next year’.

I’d actually come up with two new story ideas while walking home from the library that day that would have worked for the contest. But both of those seemed like they would end up taking longer than the amount of time I had to write them (especially with the fucking writer’s block sitting monolith-like, directly in the path between idea and completed story).

[Another thing that I mentioned in my “Writer’s Block” post is that I’ve got a shit-ream of ideas for erotica stories. I used to have individual word processor documents containing notes for each one. The majority of those are either outright gone or badly out of date thanks to last year’s major hard drive crash. I was able to retrieve the other story idea document (the one from where all of the one-file-per-story documents were generated), which contains a very short synopsis for each story – anywhere from a single line of text to a short paragraph. (That document? 108 pages long.)]

I needed to figure out just what it was that I was going to try to write. So, I made a duplicate of my massive erotic story notes document, retitled it ‘Potential Valentine’s Day Contest Stories’, and got to work. I went in and started deleting every idea that was either not a decent fit for the Valentine’s Day theme, or that would no longer be eligible for points for Lit Survivor under this year’s new rules.

And thus I was able to whittle down over 1300 story ideas to 43.

But not being sure that I was even going to be able to get one story written, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to crank out 43 of them in the following few days. So I went over my now much shorter but still too long list.

I was now being much more selective. I can’t really explain the criteria I was using, other than to say that I was looking for the story ideas that leapt up and sang out to me. (Turns out, there were twelve of those.)

After yet another revision of the list, I finally ended up with five potentials. They were – according to the Literotica story categories – a BDSM piece (“I Fear You”), a Lesbian Sex story (“He Just Wasn’t My Type”), a Sci-Fi & Fantasy tale (“Chemical Spill”), some experimental work for the Letters & Transcripts category (“Love Letter”), and finally, a little something intended to receive a Humor & Satire label (“The Check-Out Line”).

Like a lot of my stuff, all of these were stories that I’d had rattling around in the back of my brain for what seems like eons now. And in various stages of development, from “I Fear You” really being just a vague idea, to “The Check-Out Line” being a fully developed thing that needs only to be written down on the page at this point. The others falling between those two extremes.

I wanted to write three of these five stories before the deadline. That was my goal. [Spoiler warning: It didn’t happen.]

Nothing But Interruptions

By the end of January 30th, I pretty much knew what I was doing. Due to my need for the library to be open when I want to go online, the actual day-of-deadline wasn’t going to be a writing day. There wouldn’t be any of the classic ‘writing until 11:45 pm and getting it submitted just before midnight’ for me. So I had from the 31st to the 4th to get this thing done. Five days.

Two of those five days ended up being completely lost to me. Just one of those things where when you really, really need to concentrate on a project, suddenly nobody will leave you alone. Heh. ‘Nobody’. I can actually narrow it down a little more than that.

I don’t want to start bitching about my Dad. (Well, that’s not true – more accurate to say I’m not going to start bitching about my Dad. It would probably be cathartic, but if you thought my posts were long before . . . ) Suffice it to say that he shanghaied me twice during the five day period I was trying to get this writing done, and drained all of my usable energy from those days for stuff he wanted to get done. (Thanks, Dad! . . . jackass.)

The remaining three days (which weren’t all in a row), I spent trying to write. My early efforts at trying to write “He Just Wasn’t My Type” let me know two things very quickly. One was that I needed to put more thought into that specific story before I actually attempted to write it. The other was that (surprise, surprise) the writers block was still right where I’d left it last time I tried writing.

I thought that I had a fairly decent grip on “Chemical Spill”. So I turned my attention to that. I probably wrote twenty pages or so, but since it was mostly all: write, read what I’d written, declare it crap, delete, then start over . . . I’ve only actually got about a half a page to show for all that work.

And then it was late at night. The next day was the last day I had to actually write something before hitting the final submission day after that. Two stories hadn’t worked. I chucked “I Fear You” because I knew it would take more development time than I had left. I had to write something tomorrow. I knew “The Check-Out Line” better, but “Love Letter” would be shorter, and probably easier to write, just because of what the story was and how it was to be written.

That next day I needed to make a decision.

That Old Deadline Magic

Even back before the writer’s block hit – way back prior to 1997, when my writing abilities were available to me whenever I wanted to use them – I never really actually wrote anything unless I had a deadline right in front of me.

I wrote stuff for fanzines and the zine level of small- or self-publishing. I did zines myself. I wrote an original novel once that a friend published in a great big zine of ‘space’ based sci-fi stories (a follow-up to his ‘time-travel’ based zine which I’d written some Doctor Who fan fiction for – this would have been back in about 1989 . . . God, I feel old. And kinda geeky.) But never ‘with plenty of time to go’. Always just right before the deadline hit. (Or sometimes right after.)

Casper and I went to a sci-fi convention once, where author Steve Perry was on a panel talking about the craft of writing. He talked about how some people would get a novel contract, write the novel at a leisurely pace, and submit it to their publisher long before the deadline was even close. Others would wait until the last possible minute to even start the thing, and then write like a frenzied madman, staying up all hours for days on end to get it done in time. That second type was called a ‘burst writer’. (They write in bursts – and only when they can’t put it off any longer.)

I looked over at Casper, and he was already pointing his accusing finger at me, mouthing the words, ‘That’s you.’ Yeah, that was me, all right.

I got up on February 4th, and sat down at the computer. It was, for all intents and purposes, Deadline Day. I opened up a new file titled “Love Letter”, put my fingers on the keyboard, and . . . and . . .

And sat there staring at the screen until I thought I was going to start bleeding from every orifice in my head, I wanted to write so badly.

I decided to write the last half of the story first. (As I referenced earlier, it’s what I like to classify as experimental fiction, and writing that particular piece last half first actually makes more sense than writing it straight through.) That didn’t really help. Not immediately, anyway.

I knew what some of the character dialogue was going to be, but I was having difficulty getting the characters out of my head and onto the page to actually speak it. But I needed to write something.

So, I started writing the dialogue.

There was another sci-fi convention I was at where this author was explaining how he writes his novels. About how his first draft is nothing but dialogue. He sits down, and writes down all of the dialogue that his characters say throughout the course of the entire novel. Then he goes back and puts in things like descriptions and actions in subsequent drafts. At the time, I remember thinking, “Wow . . . buddy, you’re a nutball!” Nevertheless, it’s something that I’ve tried several times since the writer’s block hit. It’s never worked for me before. It did this time.

I wrote all of the dialogue for the last half of the story. Put the dialogue through a second draft. Then went back and put in quotation marks, and words like ‘he said’ and ‘she said’. Followed that up with a little bit of description, a little bit of action, and was astonished to discover that I had a reasonably functional half a story.

Well, fuck me.

Then I wrote the first half, which was a little more difficult than I’d expected, but I managed to get through a first draft, and from there, managed to polish it into something that I didn’t hate.

Suddenly I had an entry for the Valentine’s Day contest.

The Intervention of Destiny

So, on the 5th of February I put my story on my flash drive and went up the hill to the library of the Catholic seminary where my internet access lives. I had the plan all worked out. I needed to e-mail my name and password to Zorch (with my story included as an attachment), then call him on the celphone and have him get it posted for me, cleverly bypassing the ridiculously sensitive content-filters that won’t let me do anything ‘fun’ on the internet (yet strangely, still allow me access to FetLife – which is just weird).

This would be a good time to mention that the library had been having some problems with the computers for the past week or so. Internet problems. Network problems. Gremlins napping on hammocks inside of hard drives. All manner of technical difficulties.

Well, as it turns out, they’d had to take the network down earlier that morning. The librarian tells me this as I walk in the door, and I’m thinking, “Yeah, that’s about right. That’s about how my week has gone.” But then she concludes by saying that the network is back up, and internet access is there, but everything is running a little slower than usual.

Okay. Fine. ‘Slow’, I can deal with. Instead of immediately loading up my usual seven or eight tabs on Mozilla Firefox, I just open three.

I need to check a different email account before I open the one that Zorch recognizes as mine, so while that’s loading, I log into FetLife. And at some point, before ever starting to write an e-mail to Zorch, I click a link on FetLife that takes me to a porn site. It’s not what I was I was interested in, so I hit the back button, but it raised an interesting question.

So I go to the Google search page and look for Literotica. Click on the link. Up comes Literotica.

The network is up. The internet is up. The content filter is apparently not. Heh heh heh.

So, I post the story myself. I post the story, I sign up for Lit Survivor, I hit a couple of websites that the search filter won’t let me go to and ‘SAVE PAGE AS’ them to my flash drive, then run (okay, limp) down the hill toward home, cackling like a madman. Whee-hoo-ha-ha-ha!

“Love Letter” Needs Votes

I submitted my entry on the 5th. I figured that – if Literotica even accepted the thing – I’d be lucky if it went up on the site by the 9th. But I went back up the hill the next day, and discovered that “Love Letter” was up on the site. Listed as an entry for the 2009 Valentine’s Day Contest.

Now it just needs to get the 25 votes to qualify. You notice how the name of the story in the above paragraph was a clickable link? Yeah . . . would you mind going and voting on the thing for me? Either when you’re done reading this post, or even right now if you want. I’ll wait.

Literotica Survivor 2009

So now . . . I’ve entered the Valentine’s Day contest. And I’ve entered Literotica Survivor 2009. I’ve committed myself. I’m in it.

And if I’m in it . . . then I’m in it to win it (as the saying goes). Oh, I’m not going to be crushed if I can’t manage to bring home that $500 grand prize (although, it would be nice . . .). But if I don’t at least get one of those $25 gift certificates to Amazon I just know that I’m going to berate myself as a loser for quite some time.

This means that I need to continue writing.

I have to go back to the list of 1300+ story ideas and do some more weeding and sorting Oh, and the change in this year’s Lit Survivor rules that fuck me the most? No multi-part stories. Each story has to be a done-in-one, completely self-contained, enjoyable on it’s own piece of work. I can reuse characters and settings, but each story has to be able to stand on it’s own.

The vast majority of the synopsises on that long, long list of mine end with the following notation: “[Multi-part Story]”. Hmm. So now I need to see how many of those ‘multi-part stories’ can be converted into single stand-alone stories with multiple stand-alone sequels, and how many have to just be abandoned for now.

The one piece of erotica that I’ve managed to get some real work done on (this being my NaNoWriMo project of two years ago) is completely useless to me due to it’s inherent multipartedness. 116 thousand words of a project I’d really like to finish . . . but unusable for Lit Survivor. (Yeah, I know . . . bitch, bitch, bitch.)

Even as a burst writer, I know one thing: with five more holiday contests coming up, I’m going to write at least five more stories. Sure, I need to write dozens and dozens to make any real progress, point-wise . . . but I’m almost assured of getting at least those six holiday contest stories, because they all have attached deadlines.

Look out, world!


camelia said...

Dear Mr Zeitgeist:

I have read your story and I wanted to vote for it but I really didn't find how to do it. Could you please explain?



Zeitgeist the Clown said...

Near the bottom of the page (after the story, but before the comments from readers) there should be five stars. These are clickable. Move your mouse over them until the option you want is there (these range from "hated it!" to "loved it - one of the best!", then click on that star.

Thank you for reading it, and I hope you enjoyed it.