1. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Robert Musil's Diary

    Discussion in 'Progress Journals' started by Robert Musil, Jan 11, 2016.

    Today's WC: 4025

    A disclaimer right at the top: this isn't actually a diary, as I have no intention of writing in it daily. But everyone seems to call their progress journal "progress journal" and I just wanted to mix it up a bit.

    I plan to use this space to hold myself accountable for finishing my current novel-length WIP, a work which uncomfortably straddles the line between alt-history and fantasy. I assume this means it will be unmarketable, and perhaps simply incomprehensible, but they say that the first million words you write are just practice anyway. So if this one turns out to be a burner, oh well.

    The issue I'm wrestling with right now is religion. So far there are two religions in the setting I've created, which are (meant to be) pretty clear analogues for Christianity and Judaism. The question is: should religion fall on the fantasy side, or the history side? I.e do I leave them as fictionalized versions of their real selves, or just use actual Christianity/Judaism (tweaked a bit for the other historical differences). While they're pretty close, my fictionalized versions are more than just a paint job, by which I mean that the differences from the real religions might be interesting enough to leave in for thematic purposes. But I'm just not sure why I need to have those differences, at the moment. My hope, I guess, is that this resolves itself as I write through, because I've been thinking about this for months and am no closer to making up my mind.
     
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  2. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Today's WC: 6224

    I should point out that that's a cumulative, to-date word count, not how many I wrote just today.

    The bad news: my dilemma last week about religion, I'm realizing, applies to everything else as well. In my current draft I'm using names of the actual historical characters, but should I change them to fictional versions? Likewise, my geography is a mash of actual places and fantasy. This is really vexing. I've got all these (what I think are) cool, fantastical religions/locales/societies, but what's the point of any of them? Are these all Darlings that need to be Killed?

    The good news: I'm pleasantly surprised by how easily I'm filling up words. I still haven't even filled in all of part 1 (of 7 planned), so at this rate I should be able to get to 70k-80k words pretty easily. I know, the first words of the first draft are always almost effortless, but I really feel like I'm getting into that groove where you write one scene, and it inspires something you didn't have planned but which fits in well. For example: there's a dialogue happening over dinner, and I realize I haven't even described what they're eating. So then I can go into what they're eating, and some quick backstory how it got on their table. It's only a couple of lines, but it's basically free and I think it's the kind of thing that readers like (detail, world-building in the moment etc.).
     
  3. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Today's WC: 10,162 (12,716)

    The number in parenthesis is inclusive of a block of text I copied over directly from an actual historical primary source. It needs editing to fit with my alt-history story, and probably some trimming down, and I didn't write it myself so I feel kind of bad including it. But technically it's on the page.

    Finished roughing in most of part 1, and got a decent start on part 2, although it still needs a lot of work. I also have a better idea of what scenes are missing from part 1, so I can go back and fill those in. Probably my biggest achievement is finally figuring out how to introduce the Big Bad. It helped once I figured out he only needed to be one character instead of two. Isn't this incredible? I'm always so insistent that I'm a "plotter" and not a "pantser" but then I get into something like this and I don't even know who my main antagonist is.

    I guess the writing is still going smoothly, as I'm still not having trouble coming up with scenes to add. I'm running into more and more continuity problems as I get deeper into it, though. Right now about half of part 2 is highlighted passages whose fate is still uncertain. I imagine I'll start cutting stuff out sooner rather than later.

    Still no progress on my main problem, i.e. exactly how to balance the alt-history and high fantasy elements. I freaked out about it a bit this week actually, thinking that I've set myself an impossible task, it'll never work, what's the point etc. But then I realized I'm not doing this because I want something out of it (a salable manuscript, the respect of my peers, etc.) but just because I feel like I have to. The purpose of writing this thing is intrinsic, not instrumental. Anyway I felt a bit better after that, weird as it may seem.
     
  4. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Today's WC: 12,415 (14,969)

    Random thought from my notes: Those who don't foresee the future are doomed to create it; humor doesn't have to be transgressive to be good, it has to be transgressive in order to be humorous at all.

    So if anyone can tell me what ^^that^^ means, I'd appreciate it.

    I was really hoping to have part 2 roughed out by now, but that doesn't seem to have happened. Although looking back, I have another scene or two to write in part 1 as well, so maybe I should finish both of them before moving on. Of course these are just scenes I know about--I have at least a couple more POV characters with their own subplots to add.

    Actually, it's probably better I took this week to do more thinking that writing. I really think part 2 is better for it--I've ironed out at least one continuity error (my first deletion!) and added another somewhat-main character to the months-long (in story time) "journey to the imperial capital" subplot, which of course will take a substantial amount of rewriting but I'm sure will be worth it.

    Speaking of, now I really need to resolve my dilemma about whether to use the real setting or fantasy one. The imperial capital is supposed to be an analogue of Constantinople, which IRL of course is on the ocean, but in my pointlessly idiosyncratic made-up geography I have it at least several miles from the coast. And since so much of this chapter takes place there, I can't very well write many scenes without knowing which one it is.
     
  5. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Today's WC: 14,933 (17,487)

    A bit disappointed that I didn't completely finish blocking out the scenes I have so far in parts 1 and 2. Of course there will still be a lot of placeholders even after I'm done with that ("The old prince and the monk dispute some point of history", etc.), but the scenes I have down should be easy enough to get done in one sitting. I guess I've just been too busy with other stuff this week. At least I'm still making progress, I was honestly afraid I might not have any time to write at all until next weekend.

    Of course, that's only for the plot lines I've got thoroughly thought out. There are whole other plot lines ("introduce the main villain", "the old prince visits the capital to plot something") that are still just placeholders in and of themselves. But I'm probably going to put that off until I've done the zeroth draft of the ones I have.

    I think I've decided to mostly abandon the alt-history angle and make this almost sheer high fantasy, with possibly one or two intrusions of history for those with keen eyes and a good knowledge of trivia to find. There's a theoretical and a practical reason for this:

    Theoretically, I was thinking of all the nit-picking people can do about historical fiction, and it just sounds exhausting. The period I'm writing about is right at the beginning of written history for this part of the world, so it's not like there are many definitive answers one way or another. But I'm sure people would take issue with my interpretations, and yammer on about why such and such could never possibly happen, and it just seems exhausting. So why go through it if I don't have to?

    Practically speaking, I also realized that so many key plot points require counterfactuals, not just events and people but settings, like volcanoes where they shouldn't be etc. that it would just be too hard to write around that now. I suppose most of it is still close enough to the original history that I could go back that way, if I find I need to, but for now we'll call it "high fantasy (subject to change)".
     
  6. furzepig
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    furzepig Member

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    Hey, I'm doing the same thing! No idea when, if, or how my story will see the light of day, but I'm writing it anyway. What period of history is your story about/inspired by?
     
  7. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ditto. Mine is non-fantasy fiction but historical fiction. Took a lot of research to get the settings and actual characters of the era, but then found I still had a lot of flexibility about how I thought these people might be personally, how they dealt with families, etc.
     
  8. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Medieval Ukraine/Russia. The story as it stands now starts with the accession of (fictionalized) Sviatopolk II to the office of Grand Prince of Kiev (occurred 1093 CE in real history) and ends with the accession of Vladimir Monomakh to that same office (1113 CE). The story basically takes the POV of Monomakh, his family and their allies against a variety of opponents (rival cousins, foreign invaders...this period in eastern Europe was pretty chaotic and violent, so there's no shortage of antagonists). There's a secondary plot about a scholarly monk who's trying to compile the first authoritative written history of their dynasty, that part of the story is more talky and philosophical.
     
  9. furzepig
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    furzepig Member

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    That sounds like a fascinating project, Robert. I love that kind of combined researching and worldbuilding. And it's reassuring to hear that other people have undertaken similar things . . . I was worried I'd be the only one.
     
  10. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I'm struggling with this in my work as well, so I feel your pain.

    The story sounds interesting. I'm in the middle of Russia with my WIP now too (heading up the Volga), but my target date is 600 BCE.
     
  11. Robert Musil
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    Today's WC: 18,932 (21,486) (Huh. Just one word shy of 4000 words since last time.)

    Random thought from my notes: Powerful people are only powerful because they are surrounded by those who enforce, through a number of means—money, or violence, or simply peer pressure. The individual at the center is almost like a hollow, only there to give the coterie something to surround and give it definition. The great man himself isn't really important. The collective body of followers and hangers-on is more important. Also, the spooky action at a distance, both geographical, interpersonal and temporal--everything is about anticipating what the great man wants, but his followers enforce this on themselves and others more than he himself does. They also enforce is on him himself—they are all trying to handle something bigger than any of them.

    Got a decent start on part 3. I'm running into this problem, as I get farther into the story, that my notes on these later sections are more in the manner of separate, book-length arcs, and therefore aren't in chronological order (that is, I've written out notes on one character/story arc, and then what I thought was next chronologically turns out to be another character/story arc meant to be running at the same time).

    I'm trying to rectify this by coming up with a matrix of chapters x POV characters, and putting what each POV character is supposed to be doing/seeing during a given chapter in the corresponding boxes. It's...given me a structure, although my instinct tells me I still don't have it quite in the right order. But at least it's an order, so I can get a start, write these plot beats down and then rearrange them later if I need to. Another one of those "write through it" problems, but at least this one is easier (hopefully?) to fix than if I messed up the entire setting from the start.
     
  12. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Today's WC: 21,016 (23,570) (Oh, thank God I managed to stick to my self-imposed minimum of 2k words per week. I had so little time this week, I really thought I wouldn't get anything done.)

    Not much really to report. I filled in a bit more of the beginning of part 3, but most of this week was actually spent blocking in a sub-plot back in part 2 that I finally was able to fully visualize and get down.

    The problem is that now this thing has gotten complicated enough that I'm worried the subplot creates a too much out-of-character moment for old Vladimir. I've been thinking of him as this patient, scheming sort but here he gets what he wants basically through naked, brute force. The kind that would cause a scandal and bring down the whole kingdom (er, bring it down even more) if anyone found out about it. But maybe that's the ultimate sort of scheme, to be able to do that in total confidence of your ability to hide it? And he is established to be a veteran of many battles, fights etc. so it's not like it's beyond his ability. It's just, would he break the rules that brazenly? Doesn't he have some sort of sense of propriety, that would make him hesitate even if he did know he could get away with it?

    This is the rub of writing a novel-length work, you have to be so systematic, I think. You pull on a loose thread in one place and something completely unexpected pops up 50 pages later, or earlier.
     
  13. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Today's WC: 22,216 (24,770)

    1200 words. That's the entirety of what I've managed to accomplish in the last two whole weeks. This sucks. I suddenly just have no time anymore. I think the new job is partly to blame, but that can't be the only reason, and it bugs me that I can't figure out why I'm not making time for this the way I was just a few weeks ago. I guess I mostly feel bad because I think it's a sign that it's getting too hard, or my heart's not in it anymore, or whatever. I've also been sick with a cold, maybe that's it. Who knows, maybe I'm getting depressed again.

    Anyway, this is a legit difficult section to plot out--now that all the princes are together in one place so they can fix everything, I need to figure out exactly what all in this society needs fixing :whistle: Fixing a whole society, obviously, is a pretty tall order, even if you're God and the society is completely fictional.

    But I haven't even been doing any thinking/outlining/note-taking. I feel like this whole thing is just passing me by.

    I guess I also figured out another subplot that needs to happen, but I started it back in section 2, which is now getting pretty top-heavy with beginnings-of-subplots. But hey, at this point that's the kind of problem I wish I had more of; figuring out where the text goes is easy compared to coming up with it in the first instance.
     
  14. Robert Musil
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    Today's WC: 24,515 (27,069)

    I came up with a solution I'm pretty proud of for the "solving all of society's problems" problem--all the princes just talk about the problems but don't actually do anything. This hits three beats that I wanted:

    a) Do a bit of world-building, i.e. what exactly are the economic, social, political issues etc.
    b) Establish that the ruling class is venal and useless
    c) Foreshadow the problems in point a) that will end up biting the rulers in the ass later on, in the denouement of this story

    Also dropped some flavor text back in part 1. Note to self: research parchment manufacturing techniques, for inclusion as more flavor text.

    I guess part 3 is pretty much done, even though it's only got one POV at the moment. Or at least it's as done as I can get it at this point. Looking back, this whole middle section really could've used more planning out. So much for being an architect, not a gardner, blah blah...
     
  15. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Parchment originated in Pergamum, m0dern Turkey, hence its name, as a substitute for papyrus paper. As to how it was/is made, I defer to Wikipedia, always a good go-to resource for historical facts

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parchment
     
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  16. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Thanks--I get so many ideas surfing through Wikipedia. I'd only be half joking if I said it deserves a co-author credit on this book, should it ever see the light of day.
     
  17. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Certainly does for mine! I stalled out for years on this not knowing what to write about China in 100AD.... from Wiki I got Emperor He, his wife Lady Deng, his former western military commander Ban Chao, who died during the period covered by my story, Lady Deng's chief of staff and head eunuch Zhong Zheng, and a complete government organization with proper Chinese titles for that decade.... my soldiers had detached from Legio XII Fulminata (12th Thunderbolt) and I found they had been stationed in Baku in 97AD, and even the name of their CO at that time, Lucius Lulius Maximus! Also the battle of Ilkh Bayan in 93AD, which broke the back of the Xiong Nu and figures in the life story of two of my characters.
     
  18. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Today's WC: 34,978 (40,069)

    With the wife and kid out of the house, I set myself a goal of getting to 40k words this weekend, and I did, sort of (using my expanded, more liberally-defined word count). So, hey, that's great.

    Got a good start on a lot of the major remaining set pieces. Including the first (possibly only?) big battle scene. It was a lot more fun to write than I was expecting, having written modern combat (tanks and machine guns, etc.) I found this to be much easier. Probably something about how your enemy has to be right in front of you to hit you with a sword (or fairly close by, even if he's got a bow and arrow). It's easier to write when a battle is just a bunch of guys in one place hacking at each other, not spread out over dozens or hundreds of square miles as modern warfare tends toward.

    Anyway, once I go back and fill out the rest of those scenes, I'll need to decide if I want to go ahead and write the ending, or start at the beginning but fill in the B, C and D plots. Since right now almost the only scenes I've got are the ones from the POV of the male, fighting-age members of the royal family, which is a pretty small slice of all the characters. I do have a bit of a start on plot B (the monk tries to write his historical chronicle), so maybe I'll try and build off that next.
     
  19. Robert Musil
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    Still mostly just filling in scenes that I started last week. Probably be at that for a while, actually. You know, I hadn't realized how much the overt violence ramps up in the last half of the book, although I kinda like the effect--it's like the symbolic or potential violence that usually holds society together has broken down, and now everyone is in a mad scramble to keep things orderly by any means necessary. I think that's sort of close to what I was going for.

    Or more precisely, the overt violence was there all along, it's just now becoming more visible. Whatever, it's a story, of course the POV is limited.

    Unfortunately most of this sort of violence takes the form of massacres or pillaging or burninating the hapless peasants--not really much in the way of pitched battles. Which I feel like is another strike against it in the "ever finding an audience" department? I mean you can create other things to be at stake for your characters besides "win the battle", but it's harder to pull off. And honestly, the upshot of all this pillaging and massacring is that my POV characters will probably come across as less sympathetic, which is also tough to pull off and still keep readers interested, I think.

    Whatever. I should quit baselessly speculating about such things, I sound like I'm trying to talk myself out of something again.
     
  20. Robert Musil
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    It just...never...ends...

    Every time I think I'm getting close to finally having the A plot sketched out, I find some other scene that I didn't quite finish. And then the process of finishing it raises a bunch more scenes that need to be written. And I still haven't even started on the final part, if I even can without going back and writing all the sub-plots first. Which I have only the sketchiest of ideas for, so who knows how long that'll take, considering the A plot was pretty well outlined when I started and look how long that's taken me.

    Basically, it feels like this whole thing is starting to get away from me. It's just an inchoate mass that keeps spewing out tendrils in every direction.

    I shouldn't complain, I know. It's better than being blocked and having nothing to write! For that matter, it's better than the inevitable agonizing pain when it comes time to edit this all down into something usable.
     
  21. Robert Musil
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    Today's pet peeve: MS Word spell-checker doesn't recognize the word "crenellations". Just how am I bloody well supposed to write a fantasy story without crenellations?!

    Today I'm reading: https://formerpeople.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/new-worlds-an-interview-with-m-john-harrison/

    Especially this: "Obviously I think it’s better to be consciously aware of the political origin of your ingrained attitudes; but I also think this core material should be handled with some restraint by the text. Your arguments shouldn’t appear on the surface but infect the whole, from setting to characterisation to imagery and on. Your logic should be poetic, ironic, quietly self-aware. Your metaphors should underlie, they should be the geomorphology that constructs every textual landform. They should emerge organically from the events you describe, like the product of relations at an earlier level. Above all, your politics must intricate themselves with the product of your deep imagination–your own deepest strata–because unless fantasy and science fiction originate down there, they are worthless as social, imaginative or even entertainment product. That’s my feeling. The best work neither shows nor tells: it says by being, not by saying."

    It's like...yes! That's exactly what I'm trying to do! BUT HOW?! Harrison is one of those authors who make me despair of ever being any good. He's just so much better than I could ever hope to be, it's like why would anyone else--especially me--ever bother writing anything?

    Yes, I know how illogical that is.

    Anyway, I should probably talk about my actual progress. Not much writing this week, as you can see, but I'm somehow not too worried about it. Maybe it's because I'm getting a better idea of how I want the subplots to go (if I ever get around to them), or maybe it's because I'm sick as a dog and can't function much under these circumstances.

    I added some more flavor text to the Imperial capital, I'm really pleased with how that's shaping up. I also wrote an alternate piece of the "volcanic floods destroy everything scene", it's now a few hundred words shorter but I think it flows more easily. Also, I don't think I'm going to have any trouble filling up space, if anything I need to be finding more to cut.
     
  22. Robert Musil
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    I'm starting to find the young prince's coming-of-age angle more and more compelling. Maybe that'll end up being the main plot, instead of Vladimir's schemes to take over? I had an epiphany that it would be easy to show the coming-of-age angle not through any kind of belabored narration or internal monologue, but simply by shifts in focus--when you're a young kid you only notice your parents as a sort of arbitrary intrusion into your world, by the time you're a teenager you start to suspect that they have their own motives and you start to articulate the connections between the various ways you push up against the boundaries they establish. Becoming an adult, I suppose, is finally accepting that you don't have a choice about accepting the boundaries, which your parents (and the larger society, through them) have given you.

    How is this acclimation process accomplished? Partly through naked coercion, of course, especially with younger children. But also play--a society's toys reflect its priorities more accurately than the speeches of its politicians. Incentivization (look at all the stuff you can have if you play by the rules) but also peer pressure--especially in a pre-modern society like this, where children weren't organized into age-based cohorts at some school but went through life basically accompanying and learning from their parents directly, who therefore were more of their peers than they are today.

    Anyway. Hope I can keep all that straight, I think I can wring a pretty good plot out of it.
     
  23. Robert Musil
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    Finished the big battle action set piece, which is a relief because a) it had really been languishing and I was afraid of losing momentum on it, and b) it actually turned out really well, I think, always nice when the themes that you want to be revealed end up being revealed. If that makes any sense.

    With that, I'm gonna have to call the A plot (young prince comes of age/Vladimir's plot against the throne) finished for now. It's complete through the first 4 (out of 5) parts of the book, and that's just gonna have to be as good as it gets until the other plots are in place and I go back for the first round of big edits.

    Luckily I had a breakthrough--last night at 1:30am, when my sick kid was keeping me up--about the B plot, which I'm calling "The Prophet of Doom." Here are the notes I sketched out about his character arc, for all the sense it makes--basically he goes from being a (in his view) unappreciated genius, stifled by the church bureaucracy he works for, to a kind of populist hero/agitator:

    His driving force is the rage one feels when one is sure of being correct, but is imprisoned by reality, and especially reality as created by others who are consciously choosing (from your POV) to keep you trapped. His other motivation is the hidden, shameful uncertainty of a fundamentalist, and the self-fear and loathing that it creates. This leads him to try and devise his own indiosyncratic “heirarchy” of readings from the holy book, in order to make sense of its inherent contradictions. Once he becomes convinced of the rightness of this approach, he sees the church bureacracy's unwillingness to adopt it as another in a long line of failings. He then takes his case to the people, directly, after he becomes widely revered for his divine visions/saving some sacred relics from a flood.
    So, yeah. Now just figuring that out in specificity--which is going to involve fleshing out at least one of my made-up religions, a task that I'm dreading--is what I have to do next.
     
  24. Robert Musil
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    Didn't get much done this week. I'm telling myself it's because I've been so busy with other stuff, which is partly true, but I also fear that I'm facing a case of writer's block in coming up with the B plot, or at least the ~60% I haven't thought out yet. I even tried working on some unrelated projects to see if that would loosen me up. Came up with a pretty nifty flash-sized piece about being abducted by aliens, but alas, it didn't help.

    I suppose I do have enough mapped out that I still have some writing I can do on that. Maybe that will be my project for this week, finish up those bits while thinking about the bigger picture. Slow and steady, etc., as long as I keep making some kind of progress I suppose I should be happy.
     
  25. ToDandy
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    Bozeman Montana
    I usually do pretty heavy outlining, so I don't get writers block very easily, but I recently came out of a doozy of a block that kept me hung up for about a month and a half.

    One thing I found, which helped, was to look backwards just as much as forwards. Don't just think of where you CAN go, but also think of where you SHOULD have gone.

    Am I making any sense? I found I had to delete two entire chapters in order to get the story flowing in a direction I was happy with. In the end it was for the best and got my story moving again. It may be something you can do to get over your own writers block.

    Good luck. Getting stuck can suck, but lots of times it can help too.
     
    Robert Musil likes this.

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