In my plethora of hard SF, there's one story I've wanted to tell properly ever since I first got into writing the stuff. It's the first novel I ever wrote; it took me about four years of painstakingly scribbling text longhand to get it all down on paper, and it was--of course--some of the most godawful shit ever extruded onto paper. It could not be otherwise: it was a first novel and it was written by a kid starting at age 12 and ending around age 16.
Now, with the wisdom and experience and practice that the intervening decades provide, I can actually tell the story I originally wanted to tell. The problem is how.
As constituted right now, it tells--as a loose grouping of short stories--the life story of a political scion who abandons the future his parents have carefully planned for him, and enters military service. He serves with distinction during the second interstellar war fought by Man against a race of xenophobic sauroids; he rises from fighter school to command a battle group, and in fact his leadership ends the war.
The story is full of all kinds of neat things--a fighter assault on a deuterium refinery floating in a gas giant; the tale of how he escapes from his parents and their Secret Service detail; his relationships with various important figures in the story universe; and a bunch of others besides--and it ought to be easy for me to write.
But it's not. And I don't know why.
The original story is almost completely useless. It has a rambling plot that never really does anything--it's just this guy talking about all the neat shit he's done--and nothing in it ever happens for any reason other than, "This is neat!" But it contains the germ of something useful, a tiny shard of something worthwhile in a vast conglomerate of slag.
The problem isn't knowing what to cut; the problem is knowing how to use what I keep. Do I do X? Do I do Y? How about Z? What works best for this? How do I convey the sense of what it's like to be there?
Rule number one is always just tell the damned story. Too many writers forget that part; they get so wound up in symbolism and metaphor that they forget: the entire purpose of fiction is to tell a story. You can spend all the frickin' time you want on making your novel a metaphor for Man's struggle against ennui, but if the story is boring the only people who will like it will be literary critics and the hopelessly intellectual. (Read that last as "stupid people".) And only the members of one of those two groups actually pay for the novels they read.
Rule number two is get out of the way and let the reader enjoy the story. The more you make your reader think about what you've written, the less immersive your story is. You don't want to jar your reader out of the story; you want him to be incapable of putting the damn book down. Throw all kinds of jargon or purple prose at him and he's going to have to stop to decipher each sentence; it's a mistake to think that convoluted sentences and tangled descriptions somehow make you a better writer. The best writing is that which ends up being invisible to the reader: he doesn't have to think about it and the stuff you wrote goes right into his brain without slowing down.
Rule three: If the story's not holding your interest, it won't hold anyone else's. Everyone's taste is different, but the best way to make a story interesting to others is to tell a story you're interested in telling.
...but I'm having trouble obeying those rules with this story, and--again--I don't know why. Heck, I can't even seem to quantify the problem I'm having with this.
But I learned years ago that wanting to write isn't the same as being able to write. Right now I could open Word and maybe add a few sentences to whatever project I selected...but they wouldn't be good sentences and the story wouldn't advance anyway. (See rule #3.)
I've tried doing the "discipline" thing and making myself write a certain amount each day; but if my heart's not in it, the stuff that comes out is crap. (If my heart is in it, then it's effortless, and it sings.)
So, to answer my own question: no. No, it doesn't. Misery may give me the desire to create stuff--if only to get away from reality for a while--but it takes away the ability even while it enhances the desire.
* * *
Several months ago, I alluded to this awesome idea I had for something salable. What it is, is a series of vignettes about a hapless wizard, the mage he was once apprenticed to (who is now a talking skull) and the former master's cat.
I banged out about twelve vignettes and was really happy with it...until a fatal defect occurred to me: for a humorous story, it wasn't exactly funny.
No, strike that. It's hilarious--but it's not "laugh out loud" hilarious; it's wry and dry and ascerbic. There are a few LOL moments; but for the most part, the humor comes from the disdain in which the storyteller regards everything going on around him. (The story is told from the cat's viewpoint.)
My target market for this bit of fun is Knights of the Dinner Table, a comic about a bunch of tabletop RPG players. Only about half of each issue is comics; the rest is various columns about RPG stuff. Each vignette is about a page of text, and it should be very easy to slot into a magazine like that.
But the fact that it's not really HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! funny gave me pause. I stopped adding to it; there have been too many times that I've let someone read something humorous that I generated and which garnered zero laughs--solely because the humor was written to amuse me and my dry, wry, ascerbic sense of humor.
What I've got is probably enough to send to them and say, "I can keep doing this for as long as you want to print it." There's a ton of story I can tell; after twelve chapters I've barely gotten started. Further, my first sale ever (only sale, so far) was to this selfsame magazine, and it was pretty much the same kind of humor that is in this story.
I am fairly confident that if they decided to pick it up, I'd have no trouble resuming my work on it. Money is the ultimate validation.
* * *
I've been writing since 1979, and I still don't know WTF I'm doing.