Of Doubt and Fanfiction

Time gets away from me sometimes. I feel like I blinked and it was the end of September, and now we’re finishing the first week of October! I did an Instagram post a little earlier about some goals for October. I spent September alternating between being super creative and super stressed/struggling with my mental health, and it’s taken a toll. I think the biggest thing I’m experiencing right now is doubt.

Just a heads up, what follows is some self-pity; it’s a lot of what’s going through my mind lately, and I just feel like I needed to put words to it to understand it a bit better. (Spoiler–by the end, I did!)

Sneakthief is kind of in limbo right now, and I’m trying to remain optimistic that no news is good news. I’ve been in a holding pattern with it since the beginning of August, and am just being patient. But every so often doubt creeps in and I think, “This book is terrible.” or “I should have fixed XYZ before sending it anywhere.” And begin to think maybe I should just scrap the whole Ungifted series altogether.

Because the Turncoat rewrite has stalled yet again. There was a point earlier in September where I made some major headway and it was almost a state of mania to get it written and worked on. Nearly all of what I was writing in the rewrite was brand new material vs. cutting/pasting/smoothing. Creating new stuff felt good. But now that I’m past that point and at a standstill again, trying to figure out how to get around this latest block, I’m wondering what the point is.

Recently, I picked up GreedFall, a new IP from Spiders and Focus Interactive. It looked good, and now that I’m playing it, I have an energy and excitement for a game/fandom I haven’t had in a loooong time. I still love Dragon Age. Dragon Age will be a part of me forever (and I’m dying for the next game!) and I’m still very much into the lore and the world. But this has woken me up creatively again. The world is new and different, the characters pretty good (I’m absolutely Forever a Naut and total #VascoTrash), and the plot makes some pretty uncomfortable statements about human nature, greed, colonialism, and the like. And most notably, for me anyway…

I’m writing fanfiction of it.

I started writing fanfiction years ago, when I got out of college and had nowhere to place my fandom love. I joined fanfiction.net in 2003. I took a hiatus from fanfiction when I started grad school, mostly because I didn’t have the time. But after grad school, when I did have the time to be creative again and write for fun again, I tried to make myself write original stuff. I did some lackluster submissions of my MFA thesis novel, but my heart wasn’t into it. And in 2011, I discovered Dragon Age.

It made me want to write again.

Dragon Age has been one of the best things to happen to me personally and creatively. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of Dragon Age fanfic, and through that, have moved into my original work with Ungifted, and feel a passion for original writing again, something that was lacking when I was trying to do something more with my thesis after graduating.

But I’ve also been focused on Ungifted and its various parts almost nonstop since January 2018. Having new fanfiction to write, in a new world with a new story and new characters to get to know, is exciting. I love the feeling of updating and getting feedback. It makes me giddy, it makes me grin. I feel a little more fulfilled writing-wise. It does make me doubt my original work, and make me wonder if I should just stick with fic.

Then again, maybe I just need a break, doing something completely different and without any pressure, to recharge and then get back to it. I’m really close to the end of Turncoat. Finishing that rewrite is one of my October goals, along with outlining the next book, Scapegoat; and continuing work on Tempest, my spur of the moment GreedFall fic. I want to finish the game, and promptly replay it. I want to read a book or two, and get recharged.

Maybe that’s what I need. Along with considering why I’m writing. Often I’ve maintained that I write because I love to, so if I’m losing that focus, I need to regain it.

Doubt can be a bad thing, because it can hold you back. But I think in this case, what started out as a bad thing is actually good, because it’s making me reevaluate and renew my commitment to my creativity.

Readercon Recap

Back in 2011, I was two years out of grad school and finally starting to feel like writing again. I was in a new recertification cycle for teaching license, and looking for professional development opportunities. I had recently discovered Dragon Age, and was looking for chances to expand my social circle. I had time to read for pleasure again.

I was ready for Readercon.

Readercon bills itself as The Conference on Imaginative Literature, and it does exactly that. While it has “con” in its name, most seasoned con-goers might initially feel underwhelmed: no cosplay, no sprawling dealer floor with an artists’ alley, no gaming, and very little media. The focus is entirely on the written word, and it’s the content that makes Readercon shine.

I’ve been attending nearly every year since 2011; I didn’t attend in 2016, as I’d just changed jobs, or 2017, but I started going again last year, and I’m so glad I did. Even though I don’t have to keep up with recert hours anymore, I still get a lot from this convention as a writer, reader, and lover of the written word.

This year I wasn’t over-scheduled for panel attendance, as not as much jumped out at me. But as a busy toddler mom, having some time away was refreshing, and it gave me time to work on my rewrites and focus more than I’d be able to otherwise. The first panel I attended on Friday was about writing and mentorship programs, and how to choose a good one to meet your goals. One piece of information that was handy was hearing that, if your main goal is to teach writing, then an MFA program will be worthwhile; but if your goal is just to improve your writing, a workshop setting may meet your needs better. It was good advice, and affirming–I finished my MFA ten years ago, and while it was great to help me improve my writing, getting that terminal degree so I could increase my chances for further academic work was a big motivation for me to do the program.

Saturday I enjoyed a panel on heist stories, and appreciated the emphasis placed on the competence of the characters involved in the heist; I also appreciated the understanding that the characters should be flawed, and while they could be heroes or antiheroes, a heist story can be complex. One thing that stuck with me was something along the lines of, if we’re making the characters completely sympathetic and likable, they we’re just “moving the goalposts for heroism.” Where I’m working on a series that includes a series of heists, I found this panel interesting and useful.

The other panel I attended and found useful was titled “Periods of Not Writing”. I needed to be at that one and hear that. The panelists discussed the times they struggled with not writing, and the guilt that can accompany that. It was helpful to hear about the hints and rituals they have to get out of that and keep writing, but also things like giving yourself permission to not write; and forgiving yourself when you don’t write. It’s easy to feel guilty when I could be writing, but I’m not. Then again I have a family and a job, and I have other interests. I like to read as well; I like to game. I’ve gleaned a lot of inspiration from games, and have used games like Thief and Dishonored to really get into the sneak mechanics. Sometimes I’ve felt guilty about gaming rather than writing, even if the gaming is, as a good friend says, “For Science”. The nice thing about the panel, however, was that it did focus on forgiveness and giving yourself leeway; but also not to use it as an excuse. The balance was important to note, and I think this was the panel I took the most from this year.

Sunday was the final day, and I attended a discussion on ‘middle book syndrome’, which was alright, but not very earth-shattering for me or my needs (even though I’m working on my middle two books), and another “From Seed to Story”. It was helpful to hear published authors who’ve been in the genre for years discuss their rejection experience, and discuss the importance of persistence, while also giving some helpful insights about length, pacing, and plot for (mostly) short stories.

I left Readercon feeling creatively energized (and getting some good sleep probably helped a lot there!) and having broken through a tough point in my Turncoat rewrite that will help give me some momentum to keep going. I even submitted a panel idea for next year! It was nice to get home to husband and the Smol Human, as well as my cats, and I feel like I’m going to have some good energy to create moving forward.

I already registered for next year!