On Writing: Writer Hazards

If you take writing seriously, odds are, people will look at you funny.

No, really. Beyond the whole, “What do you mean, you got up at 4 AM and it wasn’t to go fishing? I knew it! You’re seeing someone else! How long has this been going on?!?”

Which, if you’re an honest writer, is going to be hard to answer both accurately and politely. Because you are “seeing” someone else; likely quite a few someone elses. The fact that they’re completely fictional may cut no ice whatsoever.

Assuming you manage to negotiate that conversation without either A) breaking up or B) your significant other committing you for psychiatric observation, then you have the broader real-world hazards to deal with. Such as your internet search history.

If you write action at all, you’re going to have a very… interesting… search history.

What do different guns look like? What happens when a car/plane/ship blows up? Where are people likely to have an “accident?” What are the symptoms of disease X, poison Y, injury Z?

Your search history, to be blunt, is going to look like you’re plotting something horrible to do to somebody.

Which, again, you are. Just, a fictional somebody. Hopefully the FBI will understand.

(I have visions of some newbie agent charging into a room with, “I’ve got a live one!” And the rest of the squad looking at what he’s pulled up from someone’s search history. “Poison, how fast a body decomposes, fastest way to kill someone… bronze age metalsmithing?”
Older agent: “Wait. What month is it?”
*Checks the calendar. Groans.*
“Probie, we need to talk. See, every November, there’s this thing called NaNo….”)

For a real life example of this, look up Tom Clancy. Apparently after he published The Hunt for Red October he had a lot of conversations that went something like this:
Government Agent: “Who told you about this?”
Clancy: “Told me about what?”
Agent: (Beat.) “…We can’t tell you, it’s classified.”

Though if you do write and publish, the FBI may be the least of your worries. Make even one penny from your writing, you count as self-employed. Be very, very sure you get all the 1040 paperwork and (multiple!) associated forms right. The IRS has no sense of humor.

Last but certainly not least, there’s the danger of being a writer out and about in the environment, especially when you have a little time on your hands to start picturing how characters might interact with the spot you’re standing in, and why they might be there. For example, there’s one particular spot of live oak scrub with greenbriar and saw palmetto underbrush I know of that you would think was very public. It’s between a highway, a mechanic’s shop, and a dentist and separate other medical complex. But if you actually walk the edge of it… get a foot or so in, no one can see you. The noise from various pneumatic drills and the highway would cover any small sounds. You can back right up to the underbrush if you pick your spot right. And given the nature of the various businesses around it, they’re closed after sunset… and while there are security lights and may be some cameras, they’d all be focused on the businesses themselves to catch break-ins. Not the edge of the parking lot.

If you write mysteries, or even read mysteries, you can already guess what potential a bad guy might see here.

Fortunately nobody was around watching me pace out the area and scribble notes. It might have been hard to explain!

18 thoughts on “On Writing: Writer Hazards

  1. Have you seen the post about idea of a dating site that pairs people based on their search history? A hitman and a writer end up on a date and comparing the various ways people could wind up dead. I know the writer at least is oblivious.

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    1. *Rolls saving throw versus “they fight crime”*

      Not been a good day for those.

      Talking about the other one increases my chance of talking myself into it, and I’ve already done more than enough of that with mess in progress.

      I think I could easily list a dozen things off the top of my head that could be dropped, that I haven’t convinced myself to drop.

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      1. Have you read anything by James H. Schmitz? You seem to be throwing everything including the kitchen sink into your WIP, and then running into problems because it’s overly complicated. Schmitz’s solution to that sort of problem was to just have a large setting, but write short stories that are all part of the same setting while focusing on just a small enough part of it that they were individually fairly simple. Not everything is shown in every story, so while you still need to figure out how stuff “actually works”, you don’t have to force it all to be visible on-screen at the same time (which has the benefit of actually being more realistic, too).

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      2. Problem is the design choice I made to have a plot at all.

        *spoilers*

        The plot hangs on Kirito, and is based on the conflict between his desire to fit into Japanese society and his drive to solve necessary problems immediately. The resolution is that the necessary act he thought would put him forever outside of Japanese society, is also an act that Japanese society has changed to be willing to tolerate while he was not aware.

        I need to convince Kirito that he truly has no better choice than killing a specific man, in public, without him realizing that Japanese society is desperate enough to be willing to sign off on the killing.

        I defend the necessity of killing the man by making him too dangerous to be left free, and impossible to keep imprisoned. Establishing that danger involves Xanatos chess and magical terrorism. Japanese prisons are also proven not entirely useful. He also needs to believe that no one else has the knowledge and ability to act.

        Japanese society is desperate because there is a low grade civil war, with strings pulled by a guy at the PRC embassy. The adults have had time to realize that the PRC is planning an invasion, and two days prior to Kirito waking up a person was elected to the US presidency who will keep the US military from stopping the invasion. The campaign of terrorism is partly insuring one of several possible supine Japanese PMs, and partly ensuring the destruction of assets that Japan might be able to resist the invasion with.

        I’d need to force myself to come up with a significant change to get a single simple story.

        Right now, I’m chasing a path of less internal resistance, trying to break it into smaller stories that I can work on as pieces. I have possible separate books or volumes in 1) the third that is a very condensed Fairy Dance, taking just under two weeks 2) Kirito becomes aware of the terrorism, and more occult problems over two weeks while in the middle of RETCO management turmoil, due to Sugou fall out, and the need for Japan to develop certain military technologies 3) the day is just barely saved from a complex set of occult rituals.

        The basic problem is that I am crazy, and that a lot of the current plan was made while my thinking was disordered, even by my standards. Right now I am trying to find out the parts of the outline between Kirito waking up, getting introduced to the ALO card game that will be key to getting Asuna free, and Kirito killing the OC forty days later. I have a huge amount of details I have assembled by matching patterns, but haven’t made the decisions that will force me to get rid of the stuff I cannot use. And a temptation to do a multi-viewpoint epic plot, instead of a tight focus on Kirito, because epic might let me retain more of the details.

        There are a few “wouldn’t it be cool” that I forced myself to discard early, and I’m sure I will need a lot more discarding to make anything viable. Beyond discarding, I do plan to retain details that will simply not be included in the story. For example, I’m pretty sure the alternate timelines where all the earths are destroyed are completely unnecessary for anyone to know about.

        I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to basic process. I could simply abandon the project as flawed, but my track record suggests that I will need to over come the same problems for just about any other creative writing I try to do. I definitely do not have the skill to pull this off, but will never have the skill to pull off anything, unless I start carrying out projects to the end.

        I have several reasons not to want to take much longer to get this plotted, and in actual progress. Finishing in the next two or three years would be lovely. At the same time, I have been trying to manage RL well enough to push myself seriously for an entirely unrelated set of skills. Because of that RL effort, I’ve definitely been shorting the creative writing project.

        The sane answer would be to drop one or both of the creative writing and RL projects. I don’t yet really have the organization or discipline for what I want to do in RL. Before I started the RL thing, I did everything I could do to convince myself to drop it, short of getting started and having the effort itself convince me. I’m a little bit OCD, and have decades now of not being able to kick the story habit. The RL life thing might well be in ‘cannot give your heart for your heart’s desire’ territory.

        If I can’t just go with the simple obvious fixes because I am not well, this will probably never amount to anything. (However, I cannot at this point empirically tell the difference between madness and artistic intuition. I understand that if one has a process where the subconscious does a lot of heavy lifting, you will kill that process if you try to make intuition conform to the standards of others.) As likely as this now seems to go down in flames, perhaps I should have kept it in the category of stuff I do not talk about.

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      3. Part of what I was meaning with the example of Schmitz’s stories is that he figured out he doesn’t need to do all the worldbuilding and setting exposition in a single story. Not just “have bite-sized pieces”, but more “normal people don’t think about most of the details of their world, and even when they do work out the logic-chain to justify a course of action, they usually don’t actually tell themselves the whole story all over again”.

        You described several different features of the worldbuilding in your explanation up there, several features that you note that Kirito _doesn’t know_ at the time. Schmitz handled that in his stories by having short-stories focusing on different characters, each of which could be used to show the audience one of those worldbuilding features in a natural way, so that by reading all the stories you get the entire set of worldbuilding, but each individual story _uses_ some things without _explaining_ them because they’re not being thought of or known by the other characters.

        Of course, there are times when all the features need shown (at least to some degree) in the same story (such as when Kirito is actually finding out about them), so I’m not saying you can’t have more than one worldbuilding thing in a single story. I’m just noting that you seem to be running into the forest/trees problem, and trying to put all of the trees in the forest on-screen.

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      4. Many short stories, if I want to outline in advance to keep consistent, and to maintain design freedom until I know I can carry out the main objective, does not seem that much better than outlining a multiviewpoint epic trilogy.

        He sees an awful lot of the important stuff in person. He and Asuna become targets for the bombing campaign soon after Asuna is free from ALO. Kayaba’s tech for NERV gear, included as adapted into Amusphere by RECT Progress, is potentially useful for various military radars. So the reorganized management is getting pressure to help out, and Kirito also sees a lot of that, even if he doesn’t understand the why.

        I’m not quite sure what part of the occult mess he sees in person, but Asuna is basically drafted into a leadership role in the ad hoc response.

        Definitely a forest/trees problem, but that doesn’t fully capture the root cause. Think of plotting a route through the Black Forest. I know at a very high level that I want to get from a ‘here’ to a ‘there’. At a very low level, I have a bunch of details, trees, that I could use, and could find or generate the rest if I knew the path that would be traveled. I can keep notes to track both of those sorts of information. But there are intermediate levels of information, and I have not figured out my way to put that on paper, or a computer, so that I could have something to look and and manipulate. I’m definitely not smart enough to do all this stuff in my head, and I’ve been spinning my wheels in my latest attempt to figure it out in notepad. I need a way to record and change things like landmarks and roads. So I can play around, see what features allows which paths, and decide which paths fit my needs best.

        *facepalm*

        That mean’s my goals are basically a) get my eating and sleeping back to regular b) manage to be unfazed by levels of home life insanity c) continue or improve RL efforts, which are for me more or less burning the candle both ends* d) continue working on the project by experimenting with software applied to plotting

        I had been focusing project efforts on just try to work out plot for this little section, not finding the right tool. (White board I can’t get, and big tablets of paper feel a little pricey.)

        *Results aren’t impressive, but neither is my baseline.

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  2. Speaking of writing, I’ve been wondering if Ryuuken knows about Hei’s appetite. I’m kind of under the impression that he does and is way more accepting than any of the doctors at the clinic where I work would be.

    Do you have a mental image of how that went down? I don’t yet have an image even though I’ve spent years reading progress notes.

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  3. The point is that short stories are episodic. You can be finished with several self-contained short stories (and get the woohoo! dopamine hit of completion) in the time it would take you to just write a chapter. And then, you put all the short stories together, and it’s an episodic novel.

    And if you file off the serial numbers, you make money.

    I’ve seen a lot of indie fic lately that is pretty obviously based on anime or manga, but with the names changed to protect the innocent. Given that your AU is fairly different anyway, and crosses over so many different things anyway, you might as well write about “This Japanese guy who just got out of a computer game” instead of “Kirito from SAO.” This might also alleviate some of your problems with fitting crossovers together — you just make them native and original to your story instead of being crossovers.

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    1. Three issues with that argument: 1, I’ve never been able to function as a fiction writer without an outline, and a reason to /need/ the story written. I’m pretty sure I’m stuck as a plotter, for now. I can’t produce the plots and reasons for component short stories without a lot of the same intermediate structure which I need and lack for the novel case. I can tell that short stories make a lot more sense for my skill level than anything else. I’ve been trying to develop in a short story direction for a a few years with no luck, never able to generate any stories ideas that grip me enough. After I first read Swain, it started seeming plausible that I knew enough of what was going on with plot to expand an interesting project seed into an outline. 2. I know how to establish characters if I can rely on reader knowledge, but I’m not sure how to do this project with OCs and original material. I’m not sure how to do the Kirito thread, which I’m mentioning because it will definitely stay, and that it can be summarized simply and coherently. I’m very much needing a bunch of other heavy lifting from canons, which I’m not certain I can replace. Putting enough establishment in that I can support an unfamiliar reader is a goal, but I think a fanfic reader’s expectations are a little looser than an original reader’s. The plot has to seem chaotic and paranoid, perhaps thriller paced, and Kirito cannot work out all the moving parts, but a careful reader may be able to work out the deeper structure of events. Switching to an original means I cannot drop a few names here and there, and count those as sufficient proof to the careful reader that the events are not purely random. 3. Original would be a significant re design, and as of yet, I lack sufficient emotional cause to resolve to go forward with any significant re design. Part of what is pulling me to this project is the sense of fixit tied to the properties in question.

      Weeks ago, I deleted a comment here in which I dropped a bunch of names relating to the political situation. These were references to Assassination Classroom, Darker than Black, Tokyo Ravens, Persona 5, and Otokojuku, and maybe a couple I’ve forgotten. This story is fixit for the first four. P5 is backstory, but Shidou escapes from prison and takes part in the political crises I have plotted. DtB S1 is the scandal that brought down the previous government, and the scandal wrt to the true nature of the Syndicate has not yet moved through the US. (S2 and a lot of DtB fanfic are profoundly unsatisfying from a perspective that looks at political confidence.) Tokyo Ravens has that thing where Genji Kurahashi is part of a conspiracy that puts him in the place of and imprisons his former boss, Amami Daizen, and manages to stay in power for two years, and is consolidating power after the time skip. It is possible that future volumes of Ravens would include details that I would find persuasive, but my reasons for wanting Ravens fixit are more than just finding canon unsatisfying WRT WWII. Otokojuku doesn’t inspire fixit, but in the sequel series, Momotarou Tsurugi, MC of the earlier series, is Prime Minister of Japan. I want to tell a story of him becoming Prime Minister, and as the author, I would feel confident in his ability to manage the after effects of the crises. Plus, “Otokojuku gets selected to be SAO survivor school” is one of the little black dresses that I think goes with everything. A PM with courage and moral clarity obviously could be part of a fixit for AC.

      That’s the stuff pulling me towards doing it as a political thriller.

      I also have stuff pulling me towards spy thriller and towards military thriller.

      Money is not a driving factor. If money ever became the key factor, the answer would be dropping creative writing, and focusing on the RL thing. Creative writing flat out does not have the income potential that RL thing has, not that I would want to take RL thing in the direction that maximizes its income potential. Okay, Larry Corriea tier creative writing earning outperforms RL thing. Normal creative writers to normal RL thing, no contest, RL thing is a better living. It is simply that RL thing is stressful, and I don’t have an answer to that stress. Creative writing would be stressful if I was relying on it for income, and hence it mattered that I would certainly screw it up. The stuff I am trying to write is directly pertinent to some of the stuff I am exposed to through RL thing, that is upsetting me. It soothes me to try to write a story where the unplanned results of objectively good acts ultimately triumph over evil, and evil mars evil, and is hoist by its own petard. That no evil mastermind is genius enough for perfection, and that we do not need to know all the good things that will result from doing what God wants us to do.

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      1. Well, no pressure, and certainly I love writing fanfic and did a lot of it. I don’t want to violate your aesthetic and your goals, especially at the plotting stage.

        But if I had known that indie was going to come along and be so easy, I would have filed off a lot more serial numbers, back when I was younger and more energetic. So keep that in mind.

        (And if you ever get any ideas for, say, Jane Austen or Charles Dickens fanfic, you don’t even have to file off the serial numbers to make money!)

        Money doesn’t have to be your goal, but it does come in handy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Apologize to you and Ashley for being so pissy about everything.

        I’ve been frustrated for a while with this project, and with some other things. Talking it out has actually helped me get my head straightened out some. But facing it pushed a fair number of buttons. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life deep in self hatred over lack of productivity, which was caused by a semi-fixable problem that was preventing my brain from working.

        (I lost a good chunk of a month recently, where a difficult but necessary part of RL thing was concerned. From neglecting to make sure to take a medication whose effect I didn’t understand, but the lack was costing me the extra function I needed. Which is still better than last year. (All of the earliest choices on this project, all of the ‘this is cool and has to happen’, were made while too seriously ill to work. If I pull this story together, and ever tell y’all in person what I am trying to do in real life at the same time, you will never ask for further evidence of insanity or poor life choices.) And this year has been pretty bad, for getting way behind over the course of the first half.)

        I definitely have projects that are more a story collection, or original. I’ve not really gotten good enough yet at finding the plot and character for originals, but there are things I can’t say or do with fanfic.

        RL thing has a lot of stuff to it that I also think is awesome, and some of my ambitions for it may be more extreme than what is driving me to creative writing. I just came across a cool and interesting idea for it today, that I’m probably not going to do because of the other things I’m chasing.

        It is just that it involves more work with people than I really care for. If a group is large enough, someone will tick me off. I dislike not being able to take my ball and go home without serious cost. I also dislike paying the price of putting up with stuff. So Indy has a lot of things that really attract me, but it does not make sense at this point in my life. The RL thing may well go down in flames, there’s a bunch of risks that I’m very nervous about.

        Among them, that I will never get on top of my organizational problems. So, it was very important for me to realize that if my next attempts don’t work, paying $25 for a software tool that might be able to help my plotting is not too much. Because movement on the creative writing might free up something for RL.

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      3. I wasn’t offended by your responses to me, since I know that’s a standard sort of response to the unsolicited “help” I provided. I spoke up at first to offer aid, since an outside perspective can help just by being an outside perspective when caught in a loop, and I clarified my suggestion when it appeared it had been misunderstood, and then I stepped away because I know I tend to be a bit too pushy when helping (my first name means “dedicated teacher”). If this was able to help you, then that’s good, and if not, then all it took on my part was noting some correlations I’d seen that might potentially involve causation. And really, the fact that you’re trying to make the story at all is impressive; I know my limitations and I’m definitely not an author.

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