Rebellious inspiration

If I believed in Muse, like many people do and I don’t, I would say that I have a rebellious, non-conformist muse now. Or, well, for the sake of this blog, I might still toy with this idea and imagine a mist-bodied muse enveloping me and luring me to adventures which are or not good for me… but they are definitely good for the story!

Actually, I have never believed in anything else than creativity and writing skills – which sometimes are drained when the mind is preoccupied with something else, and a return into the writing mindset helps with starting writing again. If the inspiration is lacking, but I have the quiet moments needed for writing, I am powering through, and I know I’ll meet that elusive inspiration a bit later, over the corner.

I have extensively written alone before discovering RPGs. I like more writing with others, though. The thrill of sharing the creative process with a partner or more, of discussing ongoing and future scenes, of choosing together the path the story would go, of toying with several alternatives and choosing the best one, of bouncing ideas and creating together a better story than each one would have separately.

I would have liked also (even if less) the second alternative, of me writing but having it discussed with others in the process. It was how I was writing some of my stories in high school (I was writing, my friends were reading and discussing actively the current chapter and the upcoming ones) and in Uni (with my deskmate, at the beginning we wrote together, but we ended discussing together and me doing the writing).

I make sure not to owe posts to anyone for more than 2-3 days (the time I would like being let to wait too), while trying to post every day (which doesn’t mean in every thread, since people post in sprees, and there are days I owe no posts and days I find myself owing 10+, so it is clear that I won’t succeed to post them all in one day).

But some people are not like this. Some like making people wait for several weeks for a post which doesn’t even contribute significantly to the story, leaving me to lead it in everything. They simply react to what happens around. Or they don’t post their characters exactly where they are needed most in the story.

I do my best to lead and compensate… but sometimes it is tiresome to be the only one who makes the effort when it should have been collaborative. It affects my enjoying the story like it would affect you if your favourite soap opera had an episode at 2-3 weeks only. And this is the reason why I got a moody, rebellious inspiration lately.

I think it is different when you write alone knowing from the start this is what you would have to do and not expect any help, vs. knowing it shouldn’t have been a lonely endeavour. I had no such problems when I was writing my stories, but this was probably because if I didn;t know what to write next, I could write another upcoming scene for which it wasn’t time yet, and bridge the gaps later, or take a break and research without having anyone waiting for my next instalment.

OK, so I don’t write outside the forums now, and my problem is not that “I am bored waiting for posts and I should join another board“. Not at all. First, I am never bored, I always find something to do/ something to write. Secondly, I shouldn’t have joined my latest board either… if we speak in matters of time, and this was why I am not a member of any other board than mine now.

My problem is that I am frustrated at those who are stalling the ongoing stories, as there are several ongoing threads – chapters of our story – which are progressing at snail pace, and I feel I can’t come only by myself with ideas for ALL the ships and islands, if the others don’t – and yes, I have asked. And for this reason, lately it seems that I have more ideas for threads/ stories involving my own characters (and NPCs eventually) than for those involving others…

How bad is this? How bad is that I wish to be the one to follow a plot suggested by someone else, instead of doing always the opposite – me finding the ideas and getting the others to follow?

Writing-related musings

I think my frustration with missed opportunities, to which my brain returns and returns, is based on the fact that people do write for different reasons.

There are people like me, who write because they have a story to tell. The story is there, in their brain, it is turning its wheels and writing itself, bits and pieces, while waiting in the station or riding a bus/ subway to or from work, or in bed before going to sleep. Bits and pieces scribbled on a paper while in a boring meeting or waiting at the doctor’s.

I couldn’t live without writing. OK, maybe one month or two, at the maximum, and even then, usually my brain is busy cooking new stories (or pieces of them, because yes, often my imagination functions in bits and pieces which need bridged later.). I was playing with toys too as a schoolchild, but I was also playing with words, writing – because it got to a much wider playground than the toys could give me.

When I am sad or angry, writing is another way to channel or soothe my feelings – be it a fighting scene or, by contrary, a comic one. When I am happy, my excess of energy is also channeled in writing.

When I was in love (because yes, I know enough young people who, once they are in love, they spend all the time with the lover and stop writing), I used my feelings for writing more enticing love scenes too. Still now, at  13 years and a half of wedded bliss and 22 years together (well – still in love, but in a different way than the first butterflies), some of my male characters get certain reactions inspired from my husband or I ask for his opinion directly. But I kept writing all the time – only that he received more love letters too – full folders! (And before my husband, when I had an unrequited crush on someone who never knew, it was also materialized in filling notebooks with stories and verses, and inspiring somehow from him a character in a story).

So, yes, writing is my hobby (albeit not my only one, but my main one) and I would always make time for it. Especially when writing with others and knowing that there are people waiting for my contribution.

Given that I am writing mostly historical fiction, by researching and re-creating that environment, I also get to live it for a while, in my imagination, through the various characters, but returning, at the end, to my hot bath directly from the tap and full fridge. (Yes, each character has his own distinct personality, so I am not them, therefore I am not living vicariously through them. They do horrible things I wouldn’t do sometimes.) I also get to explore with my imagination situations and mindsets which I wouldn’t like to be confronted to in real life. (Or which aren’t suitable anymore for our modern life).

Unfortunately, many of my writing partners aren’t this way. Yes, writing is a hobby for them, but one of many, and never a priority, even if they are writing with others. (Because for me it wouldn’t be a priority only if writing alone, which I had done extensively before discovering RPGs, and some day I will return to it).

Some refuse to acknowledge the fact that writing with others is a collective hobby (yes, this is a RPG-oriented site, so I will focus more on writing with others), where all the team is affected when one is missing from the match/ training session, and they compare it with more passive things like “It’s like a good book which I can leave on the couch and pick it up when the mood strikes” –  but in your book reading, all the characters aren’t waiting for your creative input!

For some people, it is a social outlet mostly – they prefer to chat than to write, and to make friends. Once they get friends in real life, they forget about it. And even if not, the discussion with the writing friends is more important than the actual writing of the story.

And in some people’s minds, once they made a character, the story continues in their mind in their own way, without the need to be written out.

Some people are writing just against boredom, because they can’t do anything else in those moments (they have no money to get out, they aren’t allowed to get out, etc.) and writing wouldn’t be their choice if they could do other things. These are people like the co-creator of my site, who once starting college and away from her parents, gave up writing completely and vanished in the mist. Or they find a love interest and don’t feel the need to write anymore while in love.

And all these don’t feel the need to follow a story, to write consistently, to finish what they start. They don’t have that feeling of accomplishment when finishing a thread and passing to the next episode in the story. As if there is a disconnect somewhere in their mind, and they can see only tree by tree, not the forest.

If I enjoy a story, I want to build on it post by post, I am excited by every turn, I want to contribute to it, to see it advancing and to move to the next chapter… Most people seem so… I guess PASSIVE is the right word.

The existing plots have all the potential to become great stories, there is openness for many other plots which would come from individual initiative, and, in 3 years, it has been extremely rare that a plot idea was rejected totally. Sometimes it was slightly modified in order to fit better the setting or to incorporate more people, but it was not rejected, so people can do almost everything they want (reasonably for the setting.) Why this passivity? Why nothing sparks their enthusiasm to keep writing consistently?

From here, my frustration with plots which should have ended long time ago if they received 1-2 posts a week from everybody involved, with characters and stories caught in limbo for several months. (Yes, I am not that impatient to dream about rapid fire – actually I hate rapid fire/ posting volleys, which create too much pressure for me).

They say: “People seem to be having fun in general, even if it’s more occasional fun…” But this “occasional” is bothering me the most. We are a writing community. A story should go on at a steady pace. Steady might mean once, twice a week… but constantly.

The issue with “a lot of time between posts” is twofold: a) the story is stalled and b) by spending so much time between posts, one gets out of the flow for that specific story, and no wonder that they lose inspiration! In such cases, I have to read the whole thread several times to find the initial inspiration/ mood to answer, because in between, the story went further and I am more in the mood of the current most active ones.

I have read somewhere that writing discipline (writing constantly, even if it is only one page/ one post) is important for any writer in order to keep the inspiration flowing. And yes, this is what I am trying to do, but far too many people don’t bother to do it, writing only occasionally.

Constantly might not mean every day (even if I try my best to do it, without stressing about it). I am trying to keep posting every day (or almost every day), to make a good example, I am trying to come with new ideas… but sometimes it is very tiring when 80% of the ideas are only mine. Given that it is a collective hobby, it should have discussions and contributions from everyone… And sometimes, yes, I am at loss of ideas myself… and when I ask my writing partners and I receive the answer “I don’t know”, “I have no idea”, “How you wish”… my frustration increases.

It also seems that people have interest in writing only certain characters, or only certain aspects of the characters’ lives, while a story implies writing several character types in several circumstances which make sense for their lives.

E.g. a Navy officer has in the story not only the role to charm ladies at a party, but mainly to take part in battles or to lead work scenes as well… to show only a few aspects. He should interact also with his superiors, with allied officers, he can lead an exploring team, enforce the law under his competence, etc. And among the Navy officers, if they were chosen for example, there can be (and should be) a diversity of  personalities as well: the ambitious perfectionist, the drunkard/ gambler who can be blackmailed or can blackmail others into betrayal or extorsion, the womanizer (or soft lover, because he can be sincere too) who spills a secret to his lover by mistake, the one wh o isn’t professionally good but he has the right upbringing and patronnage and power thirst in order to advance stepping on corpses….

So if the story needs these aspects/ scenes/ characters and nobody else is willing to write them… somebody has to. We are all here, first and foremost, to write an interesting story together, immersing ourselves in the right setting through this. it seems I will always be this ‘someone’, because I could never say/ think ‘I have no interest in writing this character/ scene.’ if it is a part of the story i love and it makes sense in our setting, then I should clearly do all research and everything possible to make the story happen. :)

…And this is how some people get with more temporary characters than others, and with writing for more NPCs than others who don’t have interest in them or who see them less of a character because they have less writing time. They aren’t less.

There had been a while when I was regretting everything others didn’t do, just because I was convinced that, since i am writing with others, everything should be shared. Now I don’t care anymore about this, neither about other people’s rants that people shouldn’t have so many characters or NPCs. They are there because they are needed in the story and nobody else was willing to write them. That’s all, folks. Somebody has to do it in order to have a well-rounded story, a well-rounded portrayal of the world we are writing about.

Sometimes, I can’t help thinking that if I wrote the story “Before the Mast”alone, it would have been finished long time ago. Other times, I remember the wonderful people I met with this opportunity. But I am still frustrated by snails, who have time to update Facebook, to knit, to chat, to play video games… to do anything else… but not to write when not only I am waiting for their contribution for… weeks and weeks.

Frustrating missed opportunities

Those who are character-focused, say that the character is making the story; those who are story-focused, like me, say that the story can’t go on without certain characters. And both of us are right in our way.

The problem of missed opportunities has troubled me for a long time too.

There are people who post only once in a blue moon, or who have problems and have to take time out. It happens. But their characters need no time out, by contrary. A story can’t wait for those who remain behind by their own will; it has to go on, for the sake of those who work together in crafting it. Ultimately, the story is collective, so those who miss their opportunity… have a possibility to take it back when they can, if they want. If they don’t want to dwell in the details, they are in the story anyway, and the story goes on, with or without their active participation. But it is still a pity that they chose not to participate actively, not to enrich the story more.

The characters are there, in the ship roster/ civilian census/ character masterlist, and, therefore, in the story; they have great potential to affect any of the threads. (I see each thread as a story chapter). What about the missed opportunities, just because a writer:

– is in hiatus

– lacks muse (despite me highlighting the several opportunities)

– can’t post consistently, but only once in a blue moon

– complains about being in too many topics

– is focused only on 1-2 of the many characters she has, neglecting the others, who have their distinct part in the other side of the story?

I should remain indifferent, I know… only that I am writing because I have a story to tell, and all these missed opportunities hurt terribly. I don’t know why some people are focused only on a character or two. I love all the characters, and I am focused on the whole story’s “overview“ – this is why it hurts.

I have always been like this since I joined my first RPG, 4 years ago. That one was one year old already, and in the first days I read the whole archives, because I needed to know the whole story so far, to have the exact picture in my mind. (And when I became a moderator of that site, one of my first concerns was organizing properly the archives, for easy reading/ finding).

The characters are in the roster, and they should be in the story too. Acting bravely, protectively, cowardly or recklessly, but there, involved in the story, making their mark. Silence and leaving some things to imagination is far too often painfully frustrating.

Do you want examples of missed opportunities which would have been great to be explored? Brothers of different allegiances meeting; the interaction of certain characters, together with their crewmates, when stranded on a desert island with opposite factions ships; presence in other threads where they had the chance to change the story and leave their own mark…

If their presence is needed and they aren’t writing, besides warning them (which isn’t effective when they are really busy or ill), the only solution is NPC-ing the characters along, in order to be still in the story when the other can pick it up. By having them kept in the story, some things are considered to have happened offscreen, and the story can go on until the other comes back to write.

And these missed opportunities also interfere, sometimes, with my enjoyment of writing and my inspiration, because from a ship full of men, some threads which should be exciting, are carried out only in a handful of characters and NPCs, ie in 2-3 writing partners only. Who, at their turn, might have inspiration or not.

Yes, I know also that you would say it means my creative resources and imagination are put more to use in order to find creative solutions for damage control. To write in 2-3 for a ship full or 2… This was one of the reasons why for the (still unopened, unfortunately) Viking site I arrived to this concept, meant to solve a lot of missed opportunities problems.

I am doing what I can: leaving hints that others might follow or not, having my characters’ journals or dialogues mentioning things which happened offscreen because nobody bothered to write them, etc. These are my attempts at restoring the normal opportunities, besides writing around the missing characters and slightly NPC-ing them in the threads where they are needed.

 

But how can one overcome frustration and regret?

Yes, I know, one would say “be happy with what you have/ actually is, instead of focusing on what you don’t have/ what should have been“. But is it so easy?

 

We do have some amazing stories going on “Before the Mast“. But they could have been better, and I can’t escape this thought.

There are threads which are going on in 3-6 characters and NPCs, written by 1-2 people, when they should have involved 10+ characters and NPCs, written by 5-6 people, just because there are people who keep away their characters from threads where it would be natural for them to be a part of (or post 1-2 times then vanish). Their characters whom they keep away from the story won’t leave a mark on it, when for the character’s personality and/ or role in the story it would have been normal to do it.

Nevertheless, even if they aren’t explicitly involved, they still are involved “somewhere in the background”, ie passively the outcome of the story the writers didn’t want to introduce them into will affect them too. If the whole ship is taken prisoner, they would be numbered among the prisoners, as long it isn’t written that (and how) they have succeeded to escape believably. They can’t be two days later happily chatting in a tavern scene, as if nothing had occurred. One doesn’t live in a time bubble.

But most often, they aren’t chatting two days later. Those who are counting their number of threads and don’t take more, even if it would have made sense for their characters to be involved, at least are good at keeping track of what happened and this doesn’t happen. What happens more frequently is that a writer’s hiatus (or vanishing without words) is usually lasting longer, and the characters are nowhere to be found when they are needed. I keep imagining how the ongoing adventure threads would sound if everybody was there, as they should have been, and it makes even lonelier the endeavour of writing it alone or with only one writing partner.

And the “It shouldn’t have been this way!” gives a bitter taste to stories I actually enjoy, the taste of  the the frustrating missed opportunities. (Then others come and say that roleplaying is an activity which should have been done with others, not alone… as if I preferred it alone vs. with others!)

I keep wondering how to deal with it… How not to think anymore at how the story should have been developed and what chances the others were missing.

Perceptions

Once I believed that there is one truth in everything, and all the other perceptions are wrong. This was how I was educated, and how my mother still believes. (But she also believes she is right in everything, when she isn’t, and often what she knew isn’t applicable at the current society).

As I grew up and gained experience, I understood that there is no absolute truth, everything being various shades of gray. Whiter or blacker, but still gray. And that, unfortunately, everyone has his own truth, his own perception we can’t fight. We can give arguments towards our version of the truth. We know sometimes we did this, we wanted (or sometimes even harvested) these results… but to some people they are seen completely different. Some of our efforts and deeds are missing, some results are seen totally different, and the arguments don’t hold because… simply their perception is radically different, and they are conviced it is the correct one.

The problem is that feelings and perceptions are something personal, and they don’t take into account the others’ realities, the others’ different perceptions. So people who would have cooperated, can’t, remaining each one in his own world. Ultimately, the two people with irreconciliable opinions would part ways, each one holding to his own piece of reality, to his own perception, both feeling wronged or disappointed by the other. And unfortunately it is nothing to be done with it, even if I wish it was.

Others succeed to make the effort to see the other perspective too. To agree with it or not, but to extend a hand, together with an acceptaince that the other point of view can be sincere and valid too, even if it doesn’t invalidate his own feeling.

Do you believe there can be different realities, different perceptions for the same facts or results?

I feel like the strangest exhibit in the window

Yes, I do, every time I read certain posts on a resource site – be it this one or another. As if I am the oddest being among the others…. who think in a hivemind. And I am still trying in vain to find a writing buddy to match my way of seeing things. It is impossible to be the only one, since my opinions weren’t created in a void, but after reading enough creative writing articles from various writers.

It is impossible to not find somebody who is also story-oriented, who loves discussing plots and characters alike, who sees challenging himself not as stressful, but as the natural way to evolve as a writer, somebody who isn;t flimsy, but dedicated to finish a story once started…  They should be somewhere in the mist, but how can I meet them and let the mist courtain fall?

Is everybody saying “just a hobby” as if a hobby shouldn’t involve the desire to evolve, to improve, to meet the same standards and rules of creative writing and to integrate in a collectivity, be it a virtual one? (And of courtesy too, since we are not writing alone, but with others, so we should be more accomodating and less selfish).

Also, for me, challenging myself is not stressful, but inspiring, mobilizing me to achieve something. I need challenges to overcome. It just means a goal more to strive for, ie an achievement more after a while. The satisfaction of having overcome a challenge and to have learnt something new.

(Exactly how some people have found that having a deadline is stressful and determines procrastination. By contrary, for me setting myself deadlines if nobody else does gives me structure and direction. If I know x thing has to be ready in x days, I know how to plan to make it possible and I avoid procrastination, while if it should be ready “whenever you have time”, it is too vague and I might procrastinate to never make time for it…)

I am setting myself goal after goal, challenge after challenge to overcome. I think, for the analogy with video games (which I don’t play) it is… unlocking a next level. This comes with the satisfaction of having won – but having won against a computer is nothing vs. having won against yourself. The satisfaction is much more. If I like something, I do it with pleasure and I strive to be better at it. Researching and learning more about creative writing, practicing, experimenting and challenging myself are part of the fun of having writing as my main hobby.

The fact that I like writing and I like immersing myself in other centuries and countries, with their adventures, doesn’t necessary mean that I want to escape my life and this is why I am writing. I like returning to my regular life, even if it has a different kind of challenges (which I don’t necessary like, because I don’t like everything I have to do in my daily life). I am writing because I can’t live without writing. And I like to have the readers immersed in the environment and adventures I am describing.

Still… there aren’t any people like me, and everybody looks at me as if I am the oddest being, totally different from them. :( Really, am I? Have the others like me just vanished, and only published writers, famous in their circles, have remained to share these opinions and characteristics?

What’s the appeal of pirate women?

What can they do what pirate men can’t? I honestly can’t understand their appeal (and I have 2 pirate men).

I am honestly exasperated. Pirate women existed, indeed. But they were damn rare, and not exactly in command position.

Yes, you’ll say Grace O’Malley, Sayida Al Hurra and Ching Shih But even they were more pirate ship owners than captains, and they had captains to actually command the ship. Pirate men were plenty. Some ships allowed no women aboard, others had 2-3 women and a full complement of men (50, 70, 100 or more). So yes, pirate women were rare.

And since I joined my first RPG, in August 2009, I have seen lots of pirate women characters. On one RPG, there was a full ship with pirate women, led by a lady captain. I know, that was more pirate fantasy than historical fiction.

And this was exactly what I didn’t want to see happening when I made “Before the Mast”. A place for historical fiction, not historical fantasy.

Still I had seen lots of people complaining “why I can’t make a pirate girl my first character? But I want a pirate girl!” As if they desperately wanted a pirate story, a man couldn’t do even more things than a girl could.

Some portrayed correctly or at least acceptably (and accepted as second characters), others so fantastic that they didn’t get approved, asking for changes the writers didn’t want to make, in order to make them more realistic and less special snowflakes.

I still can’t understand what’s the appeal. Yes, I had a sailor girl too for a while (not a pirate, a girl disguised as a boy, with a history which made sense for her – and a sailor girl while having 4 other sailor men aboard the other ships and writing NPCs for all ships too); but she isn’t one anymore for one year and a half of actual writing (and about 7-8 months in the story). And when she’ll go at sea again, probably in 2-3 years of story time and after the timeline of the actual story writing, it will be on her brother’s ship – not a pirate, not a Navy one, just a little merchant family ship on which women weren’t as rare.

Which is my problem now, you may ask, as long as I am sticking to the rule of having people first getting another character, or having a woman start as civilian and working up their story to become a pirate? This ensures dedicated writers whom one can trust, to write realistic characters. But, at the same time, it doesn’t solve the problem of pirate women being rare. :(

Because in this rhythm of having dedicated long-term members who want a pirate girl (who is well written)… I can’t deny them, but at the same time the ship becomes in greater measure exactly what I wanted to avoid: girl-filled. Then where’s the rarity? At the same time, this opens another can of worms – “why there are many pirate girls and I am still denied to make one?” (answer: because you just arrived set to make a pirate girl, without willing to work to earn this.)

My purpose is to bring the 18-th century to our people, to have the opportunity to live our adventures (as males or females, it counts less for me; the story per se counts, and the most appropriate character to make it happen will do it. If it happens this to be more males at sea and females ashore, so be it).

My main reason for keeping them as rare as they actually were in history is “but history says women didn’t fully participate in their setting in real life, so we don’t want them to do so in ours“. We are not trying to write a fantasy society where everything is possible, but to replicate somehow the real life of that time, with its society constraints. And I think here comes my problem: they were rare; when everyone and her mother wants to be one… how come are they rare anymore? And if 50-60% of the ship crew are female… how is it realistic anymore?

I have tried to encourage male seafarers a lot.

If in that setting women didn’t go on adventures, you choose the setting knowing that those were the society expectations, men to go on adventures and women to have land-bound professions. So this is where my understanding fails, because if you know these were the conditions… why do you want something different?

Let’s assume I am talking about a different setting: amazones’society, and I join it. I read the setting and the rules, then I decide what characters I want. If I want a warrior character… would I make a man? No, a woman. If I want also a male character, I would make him a slave to the amazones… but highly skilled slaves existed, so I’d make him a carpenter or stonecarver.

Am I clear enough what I am saying? Why do people make characters which don’t fit the story, instead of trying their best to choose the most appropriate characters for OUR story, not for some other one (colonial or fantastic)? Why so many try challenging the story instead of adapting to it by bringing the most appropriate character to implement that part of the story?