The Honeymoon is Over

For me, there’s always a honeymoon period for any new activity I take up.

I’m admittedly a person of passions and impulses – generally governed by sanity, but not always. I’ve taken up many new pursuits in my life – some stick, some don’t. Generally I get very enthusiatic for a few months, then the novelty wanes and either settles down to normal or fades away entirely.

I should have expected writing to be no different.

In the honeymoon period I wrote about 250,000 words in less than 6 months. That’s averaging about 1400 words a day – two and  a half novels, a novella and four short stories while holding down a middling-stressful office job (which saps mental energy). The newness of it all and my own pent-up creativity sustained me for that time.

I ate up all the blog posts and articles e-publishing, I cruised the boards, I posted pieces for critique, I offered to critique anything – I just wanted to do it all day. I would write, then edit, the read, get some coffee and do it all over again. So that was like the opening of a footrace, using up the initial energy.

There came a point, hinted at in earlier posts, when I was stressing myself out. I saw a certain amount of burnout and felt worried that I couldn’t sustain that level of productivity. I just had to accept the fact that I couldn’t, not at almost 50. When I was younger the honeymoon period would probably have been longer but the results would be the same – eventual burnout.

Now it’s time to settle down and log miles beneath my mental sneakers. Part of that is setting some goals – write a certain number of words per day for example. Be more disciplined, keep chipping away at it, eat the elephant one bite at a time, the journey of a thousand miles etc. – pile up the metaphors.


So on a completely different topic, I ran across this site recently and was impressed at the range and applicability of the different articles and blog entries about e-publishing. High-quality, well-edited, and relevant.


Had some folks over last night for dinner and the watch Inception, which is one of my all-time favorites. But it was the first time I watched it really with a writer’s eye, and I was able to recognize its strengths and flaws much more. It did not diminish the enjoyment for me, though frankly it threatened to, but constantly tempting me to think about the movie instead of experience it – but I did spend some time idly wondering how I could write a book like that – and I don’t think it’s possible. Books and film are different media. Still, I also realized before – I’ve discussed it now and then – that I tend to write in scenes, rather like a movie. Open a scene, kind of a mini-story, then close it out. Sometimes my scenes are tightly interspersed because the threads of plot are getting close to each other; sometimes they are long and relatively deep. In all cases my visual imagination tends to control the action – I’m trying to paint a word picture for the reader.

I don’t know necessarily how others do it. I’ve been reading a lot of OS Card recently and frankly his word pictures are not as good as some others. What he excels at is affective conversation and the interplay of ideas – the reader really viscerally feels for the characters, identifies with them. But his actual descriptions of things like the battle room or the actual battles with the Buggers are very sketchy.

I have met military sci-fi readers who really loved Ender’s Game but hated the sequels because “they were so different.” Yes, in one way they were very different – they weren’t about the struggles of a child in a military academy, about his “natural reactions to an unnatural situation.” And because the sequel Card wrote leaped forward to Ender as a grown man three thousand years in the future, readers felt a disconnctedness with the first, brilliant book.

But I also think they identified with Ender himself and his struggles, that they did not even realize how little of the military sci-fi there was in it at all. When I re-read it for perhaps the seventh time recently, AFTER I had started writing books myself, I realized what a lot of those guys missed – Card was setting them up for the Xenocide punchline. The clues were there, but most people miss them the first time through because of the powerful identification they have with Ender. They want Ender, and Humanity, to win! Woohoo, feel good about ourselves. But Card’s entire purpose was to deliver his punchline, that uncontrolled winning, the total destruction of an enemy, is almost as much a tragedy as losing.

For those of you who hate this reasoning, who want clean and satisfying victories, I suggest that you can have those clean and satisfying victories without xenocide, or genocide, or total destruction of your enemy.

For the Western world, World War II is a clear and simple example. We the Allies battered the Axis to its knees. We could have wiped them out with atomic weapons. Instead we turned them into our future allies. We retained the military and moral victories together and also reaped the economic benefits. All we gave up was a cheap self-indulgent sense of satisfaction – and the tragedy of continuing a slaughter of a defeated population.

Card gave Ender – and the reader – the satisfying military victory – then snatched the satisfaction away at the end in favor of a greater moral point. Extending a hand to a fallen enemy can be the greatest victory of all. But I think that’s why many military sci-fi readers end up feeling betrayed by Ender’s Game. I suggest to you it’s simply a case of mistaken identity. Card counterfeited a military sci-fi novel so well that the readers believe that’s what they are reading. But Ender’s game is no more a military novel than Les Miserables or War and Peace are really about the Napoleonic Wars.

It, and the original sequels, are about power and politics, about emotion and redemption and the complexity of family. They meander, sometimes chasing their own tails and bogging down in conversation, sometimes rising to excruciating heights of insight, laying pain so bare that as a reader I had no choice but to weep.

But at the end of the day, as much as I admire Card’s ability and enjoy those moments, I also would like to see, to have, more of the counterfeit, the illusion of Ender’s Game, with more cheap easy satisfying and morally clear victory and less anguish and angst. I admit it. I read for escape. I don’t reach for great literature to relax me. I’ve read it, and it educates me, but most of the time I’d rather read, and write, something…fun.

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