Month: August 2017

Finding balance as a writer.

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This post is kind of a Part 2 (yesterday’s post was Part 1). I’ve been thinking more and more on what I want out of life and out of my writing career in particular. Today, I was eliminated from the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, which leads me to more thinking. Any hopes of a near-future writing career were dependent on success in the competition. That obviously didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean I should give up.

But I think it may also be a sign that I need to find balance in my life again. I’ve put a lot into writing, to the point that it has almost become an obsession. That’s the surest way to burn out. I need to dial things back a bit and approach writing from the standpoint of having fun again. All this worrying about the success of my writing career has completely killed my writing productivity, oddly enough.

I also think this could help me do better. The more fun I have writing, the more fun my readers will have reading, and that’s the most important thing to me.

Am I pushing myself too hard?

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Just less than two months ago, I published Empire of Chains, my first published novel (though not the first I’ve written). Since then, it has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions. On the good days, I love what I’m doing. On the bad days, I get demoralized. This happens most often whenever a bad review trickles in. I worry that people will see that review and no one will buy the book.

At the same time, I have a set of deadlines I want to meet to get more books out there. As it is, I’ll go from one published book to seven within a year. All of these books are written, so they only need to go through editing, and I don’t anticipate having too many issues meeting my various deadlines.

Where¬† I run into trouble is producing new material. I’m halfway through the second book of another trilogy right now, and I’d like to have the entire thing written by March, when I’m getting cover art done for the series. But lately my depression has been hitting me hard, and I’ve barely been making any progress. Part of this is my normal depression. Part of it might also be worry about my overall writing career. I’m putting so much pressure on myself in writing my books, and my perfectionism is rearing its ugly head. I keep thinking I’m just not good enough, and that paralyzes me as a writer.

I need to reclaim the sense of fun I used to feel when writing, but I’m not sure how to do that. Choosing this as a potential career has not had the effect I thought it would, and that leads me to think that maybe I need to back up a bit with my expectations.

I need to have fun writing. I need to publish my books because I’ll be happy if just a few readers really enjoy them. I’m currently in school for electrical engineering, and that’s a worthwhile career that I should also find interesting. There’s no reason I have to go all-or-nothing on the writing thing.

My goal is not to slow down in my writing. It’s to take some of the pressure off myself and just enjoy the writing process again.

Cover Reveal: The Shadowed Land

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I now have a cover for the second book in my World of Chains series. It’s another great cover from the talented designers of Deranged Doctor Design.

As for the book itself, I’m still anticipating a release date toward the end of September.

Without further ado, here’s the cover:

2017-414 Ryan W Mueller b02

Depression and writing

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Like many writers, I have my struggles with depression and anxiety. In my case, it’s a product of my bipolar disorder. Most of the time, I get along just fine. Life’s a little bit harder for me, but I can manage. Then I have periods like the last three weeks or so. I’ve been depressed most of August, and that has destroyed my writing productivity.

This shouldn’t affect my release dates for anything, but I need to turn things around before I start having trouble meeting my deadlines. It’s not always so easy to figure out how to do this, though. The general advice is to push through and write, but that can be hard when you’re in the grip of crippling depression and self-doubt. Usually, my depressive periods don’t last that long, and I can make up lost ground when my mood swings back the other way.

Some of my recent struggles might also come from trouble with one particular project. Maybe it would be in my best interest to write something else right now and do a little more planning to figure out where the second book of my God War trilogy is going next.

At the same time, though, I don’t want to spread myself too thin. I don’t want to end up chasing shiny new ideas instead of gritting my teeth and pushing through the tough parts.

If nothing else, maybe writing this blog post–that is, writing anything–will get me back in the swing of things.

Characters: sympathetic, interesting, or both?

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This post is partially inspired by John Gwynne’s epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen. I’ve read three books of the series, and overall I have enjoyed them quite a bit. If I had to make comparisons for the series, I’d say it’s what you would get if you crossed the Belgariad with Game of Thrones. Somehow, that mix works. I recommend it for those of you who want to see a modern update on a more classic type of fantasy.

But there’s one aspect that trips me up a bit as I’m reading it. There is a significant amount of point-of-view time given to characters that quite simply are not sympathetic at all. Some of them are still interesting characters, but I don’t care what happens to them (other than perhaps rooting for them to die). This results in an uneven reading experience for me, and when I’m reading these chapters, I simply want to get back to the characters I like.

This brings me to a larger question. What are readers looking for? Would people rather read about sympathetic characters or unsympathetic characters who are still interesting? As a reader myself, I don’t mind occasional time spent in the head of an interesting but unsympathetic character. But then there are books that take this to an extreme. An example of this, for me, would be The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker. The characters are all complex and interesting people, but I couldn’t stand reading about them because I honestly wouldn’t have cared if they all died.

On the other hand, you can give me a flat character who’s sympathetic, and while I might not love the story I’m reading, I’ll still root for them. Maybe that makes me a heretic. After all, it seems these days that the trend is to write about antiheroes. For me, antiheroes are good as a spice. Maybe you have one or two point-of-view characters who fit that description. In Gwynne’s series, it still generally works because you don’t spend nearly as much time with the unsympathetic characters. A lot of that time is meant to reveal what the antagonists are up to, which can be difficult to establish when you’re using third-person-limited point of view.

This same issue has been my biggest struggle with some of the bigger fantasy series out there (A Song of Ice and Fire, Malazan, The First Law trilogy, The Broken Empire, etc.). I don’t hate the books by any means. I see what others like in them. But when I read them, I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as something by Brandon Sanderson or Jim Butcher, authors whose characters may not be as complex. But I like them.

In my own writing, I have to be careful to strike a balance between what I enjoy as a reader and writer and what other readers will enjoy. Most of the time, it isn’t too hard. I know my audience is more Brandon Sanderson readers than George RR Martin readers. My books have a fair amount of violence in them, but they wouldn’t be considered Grimdark by any stretch of the imagination.

Modern fantasy has influenced me in some ways, however. I will admit that I kill my fair share of characters (perhaps some GRRM influence there). But I still write in a world where there’s at least a fundamental theme of hope, where heroes screw up but still try to do the right thing. And, yes, I do sprinkle in a few antiheroes (and anti-villains–they’re so much fun to write).

So I’d say I strike a balance on this spectrum. I want my characters to be both interesting and sympathetic. Of the two, I’d say I lean more toward sympathetic, but I don’t want to write boring characters either. It can be a delicate balance, and to make my characters interesting, I make sure that they make mistakes. A perfect hero is a boring hero. Flaws are what make us (and characters) human. And yet I believe a hero can be flawed without being a terrible person.

Now I fear I’m rambling on. What are your thoughts on this question?

Handling Bad Reviews

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One of the scariest parts of being an author is the fact that people will be judging your work. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. When those reviews are good, it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling. Somebody enjoyed your story. That’s a great feeling.

But inevitably you’re going to run into those one-star or two-star reviews. Your first reaction is that feeling of being stabbed in the gut.

However you might feel, this is not the time or place to be defensive. The only way to engage with the reviewer is to thank them sincerely for their review. If you start attacking the reviewer, you are sure to undermine your credibility as an author. People are going to start viewing you as one of those authors who can’t take criticism.

The best thing to do is take it in stride. If reading the review bothers you too much at first, don’t read it. Wait until you’re in a place mentally that you can look at things with a more objective eye. Perhaps the reviewer has some good points you can use to improve your writing in the future. Perhaps they’re completely off base. Either way, there’s no point in arguing with them.