Writing goals for 2017 (revised)

OK, so I caved. I couldn’t resist making actual wordcount-related writing goals. I mean, yeah, I still think my initial goals are good. It’s just that they’re not so… trackable. I don’t like to mix time goals and wordcount goals in the same spreadsheet, and having two spreadsheets doesn’t work. However, I will try to stick to my initial rule about writing days, to try to get into some sort of habit, and the basic idea is pretty much the same.

The new goals are divided by content. Since my blogging motivation is unstable at best, I decided to include blogging as an actual writing goal. My blog posts seem to average around 500 words, and I figure once a week is a minimum for each of my three blogs plus one extra post per week. Then I have my novel projects, and my short stories, which are basically stories written for the web, or just for fun.

  • Blogging: At least 2000 words (4×500) per week
  • Novel writing/editing: At least 6500 words per week (if I stick to my four writing days per week this will be 1625 words per day, i.e. less than NaNoWriMo).
  • Short stories and snippets: At least 1500 words per week.
  • Total writing, everything put together: 10 000 words per week.

This means:

  • Total writing on each writing day (Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday): 2000 words (1625+375) of fiction.
  • If blogging is included in the above, total wordcount goal for each writing day is 2500 words.
  • Any extra words or writing time is a bonus, not a must.
  • The NaNoWriMo goal is not included.
  • So during the rest of 2017, including this week (47 weeks in total), I’ll have the following figures:
    • 94,000 words’ worth of blog post (roughly 63 new blog posts per blog per week, if counting 500 words per post)
    • 70,500 words’ worth of short stories and snippets (though the figures also include editing, so perhaps half that in reality)
    • 305,500 words’ worth of novels, again including editing/new drafts, excluding NaNoWriMo
    • 355,500 words’ worth of novels including NaNoWriMo

I’m excited to see how well (or badly) this will work, particularly since I haven’t set aside time for worldbuilding and planning. I’m two days into week one, but yesterday wasn’t a writing day. I still wrote 400 words, and cleaned up at home. Did the dishes and everything! I almost feel like an adult.

I also received an orchid yesterday. If anyone wonders, I don’t have green fingers. I’m very curious how long it will last – but I did take very good care of the little note that states how to care for it. I might actually have to start letting some sunlight in instead of having the curtains drawn every hour of the day though…

Anyway. I am now done editing the first chapter of Rogue Sorcery, and things are going well. Slowly, but well. 3349 words in two days, after months of nothing at all. Here’s to keeping up the momentum!

Writerly resolutions

January is the time of the month where plans are made, and you enter the new year full of determination and drive. Well, unless you start the year with mental and work-related chaos and can’t see the point in planning anything. However, while it might be refreshing to work without a deadline, I absolutely suck at it. I need deadlines. But if there’s one thing my stress levels don’t need, it’s more deadlines. On the other hand… I’m getting increasingly sick of being just as far away from my dream as I was last year, or the year before. Aaand it turns out that not having a project to work on, a goal to aim for, is really bad for my mental health. How on earth do you combine all these things?

The answer might be obvious to most other people, but for overachiever and burnout-prone me it’s definitely not. Realistic goals, what’s that? Cutting out something to make time for this new thing I want to do, is that possible? Wow.

Frankly, what do I find more rewarding? Writing, or spending my precious spare time watching mind-numbing stuff on Youtube? I’m sure I can live without watching the latest Buzzfeed video on people testing something that’s not even remotely relevant to me. Maybe.

I could start by having a deadline for the next revision of Rogue Sorcery, or for the plot revisions and the timeline file for the updated plot, but I’m not sure. There’s been so many deadlines for the past year, and while it works well for NaNoWriMo, it hasn’t worked at all for the remainder of the year.

I think I’ve realised why. While the end goal is 50k (or more, in my case) for NaNoWriMo, it’s not what I focus on. What I focus on is my daily goal. Your 1667 words per day, or 3334, or 5000. That’s what I look at in the NaNoWriMo stats, in my spreadsheets. It’s making that particular day green in my wordcount file, not red. Because I know that if I reach or even surpass this target most days, I will reach 50k, or 100k, or 150k. There’s no need to worry about it. Finishing a draft is a completely different beast.

So I’ve decided to make a new type of goal. It might be what everyone has been doing for ages, but it’s new to me. It’s inspired by what you often hear in fitness and/or weight loss circles: Focus on the process, not the goal. Sometimes things happen despite the best of intentions, and you can’t control the outcome nearly as much as you’d like. But you can control what you do on a regular basis to influence the outcome.

I have made the following little set of rules, or perhaps “steps” is a better word. My main idea is to turn one into a habit before I start on the next one, until I get used to making time for writing:

  1. Write something every Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. I don’t care if it’s just a sentence, a 5-minute sprint, something you’ll never look at again, write something on any kind of story.
  2. Spend a minimum of 15 minutes writing (actual writing, not plotting or planning) every Tuesday and Wednesday, an hour every Saturday and Sunday. Some of this hour can be used for plotting and/or planning, but minimum 30 minutes are reserved for actual writing. This equals two and a half hours every week, which is the main goal.
  3. Write at least 10k every week. This should be doable within the allotted time periods with my max writing speed, but most days it might require more time.
  4. Resist the urge to increase the word count goal (even if it’s fine to actually write more – it just shouldn’t be a must).

I admit it’s tempting to plan on writing every single day of the week, but frankly, with my timetable, mental health and other projects, it’s just not feasible. For example, on Thursdays I usually don’t even have time to make dinner before I have to go to bed. Insisting on writing on those days anyway would be asking for a disaster.

So there it is. My new 4-step program to actually getting the book (and my other projects) written. Do you have a plan for your writing this year?

A teeny tiny little update

I finally found back to this blog after my unplanned three-month hiatus. Some things have changed – for the better or for the worse – and instead of writing paragraph after paragraph, I decided to go for a simple list of news, resolutions and other updates:

  1. I won NaNoWriMo 2016 as well, with barely more than 50k. I had very little energy and focused on the class challenge at my gym (which I nailed, btw, I even won a backpack and some other stuff). But I won, and I’m happy.
  2. Rogue Sorcery is just as unfinished as it was when the autumn began.
  3. But I have fixed some fairly important plot issues. And made some more work for myself, but that’s to be expected. I really like the changes. Should also be mentioned:
  4. Without my writer friends I would… well, I might have gotten the same ideas, but it would have taken much longer. They are awesome people, all of them.
  5. Mental health took a nosedive and is now on its way back up.
  6. I finished the Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2016, but not without drastically reducing my goal. Still had to read a lot for the last two days of the year to make it, so I’m happy.
  7. Stuck in a job I had high hopes for but which is less rewarding and more stressful than I thought, becoming a writer – an actual, nearly full time writer – has become more important than ever.
  8. As being a writer has gone from something I want to do to something I desperately need to do (not because I think it’s particularly lucrative, but because it’s what I want), I’ve realised that I really, really, really need to make time for writing, and get the ball rolling again.
  9. I would really like to make the literary version of a webcomic (literary as in “just words and no pictures”, not because a webcomic by default isn’t literary – I’ve seen several examples on the contrary). At least something ongoing that I can keep adding to and which I can share online with minimal fuss.
  10. Aiming to start setting aside more time to write during the week. Surely I can cut down on some of my “watch pointless stuff on Youtube” time.
  11. Also aiming to blog more. Granted it doesn’t take much to blog more than once every three months, buuuut still. I’m hoping to be able to blog once a week or so. I have missed blogging. And writing. Frankly, I’ve missed lots of stuff.

I don’t remember if this was all I had intended to say, but here it is. What have you guys been up to? (If anyone is reading, still)

NaNo Prep, a.k.a. WHAT?!? Only five days until November?

As you can probably tell from the title, I am not prepared. I am not even less prepared than I usually am and less than I planned (which is par for the course, really), I’m spectacularly unprepared. I don’t have a story that I can rewrite that’s not either already rewritten and being edited, waiting for the previous novel in the series to be edited, or postponed indefinitely. Well, unless you count Underhanded Deals, but I haven’t been able to sort out the huge, enormous problem that is the plot. It’s the kind of story where you need to know where it’s going, or you’ll end up with a huge mess, which I have already tried. Twice.

Ignoring the option of rewriting something for now (not editing, by the way), I usually have at least a few new ideas that I would like to try out, except that this year I don’t. I have what I think of as the Kitchen Sink story, where I throw in pretty much everything I think is cool, but I haven’t got a plot yet. Not sure I can get one in so few days, when I only have a very vague idea of the setting and barely any characters. I do have some other ideas, but I tend to get stuck after just a few thousand words, so I need to work on them some more before I attempt to write them.

So that’s basically it. One story I need to work on before I can write it without getting stuck, and one idea I really need to flesh out before I start writing. In other words: I’ve got some work to do in these five days. Or three, since I’m busy all day today and tomorrow. And half of Saturday. And most of Monday. Let’s try again: I have a LOT of work to do on Sunday. I guess tidying and cleaning my apartment before NaNoWriMo just went out the window. The annoying thing is of course that I will probably have to plot both, just in case. I am aiming for 100k this year, maaaaybe 150k if I reach 100k very early, so I might very well need to write more than one story. This year I won’t have time to plot as I go either.

The reason I’m not pantsing this year is because I have so little time. Not only do I have a new job with slightly longer work hours, but it’s also a full time job, so I’ve lost an entire writing day all of a sudden. I don’t have my usual November vacation. I can’t skip dance classes as I’m one of the instructors now. I work out a lot more. In other words, if I am to write lots of words, I need to be able to make the most out of what little writing time I do have. That means spending as little time as possible thinking about what needs to happen, and knowing what comes next every time I sit down to write.

I guess I technically could have lowered my goal, but where’s the fun in that? At least I have the sense not to try to beat my personal best from last year, which was 211k. At least not yet…

Hopefully I can figure out a plot for my Kitchen Sink novel. If any story’s fun to write, I think that would be it. It has vampires, werewolves, sinister and not-so-sinister sorcerers, creepy old mansions, a bit of romance, a bit of everything, really. Hence the name. Basically, the only thing it doesn’t have is a plot. But I think I’m going to find one of my trusty writing books (I’ve read a few lately) and simply pick a method and follow it to create the plot. Or find my own method. Who knows, it might be fun!

Are you prepared for NaNoWriMo, or are you flailing like a headless chicken like I am?

 

Getting things done

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, writing a post with this title. While I can be quite good (at times) at getting things done, and getting them done fast, I am even better at not getting them done. *ehem*Rogue Sorcery’s third draft*cough* I am hopeful that things are about to change, though.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Rachel Aaron’s blog, and in a recent entry either she or her husband mentioned managing your time as a writer and/or freelancer. I cannot remember the exact topic or title, because I had an epiphany halfway through and started googling “project management for writers” and similar variations instead. And then I realised I needed a plan for getting through all my translations as well, and continued my search the day after. I plowed through websites and forum posts and software and whatnot, and here I am, with a brand new plan and a brand new strategy. Here are some of the things I realised.

First, you need to treat your writing as a job even if it technically isn’t yet. I’m not thinking about how seriously you take it, or how much time you dedicate to it, but treating it like you would a huge task at work. For example, when we host our two-day AGMs at work, we can’t just figure out what to do as we go along, or we’ll end up with the wrong amount of gifts, too little control over registration and participant lists, and so on. We need to write down every single thing that needs to be done, when it needs to be done (for example, the papers must be sent to the delegates a certain amount of days in advance), which tasks are most important/urgent and who is responsible for doing each. It’s not enough to know what week or days you’ll work on it, but I often feel like that’s what I’m doing with my writing or painting. I focus less on what I’m going to achieve, and more on just getting the quantity down. You can do a whole lot of writing without getting anywhere.

Because of that, you really need a plan. I’m not necessarily talking about outlining or knowing what you need to edit – those should be a given – but making a reasonable estimate of when you will be finished, while making sure you can fit your writing and your goal into your daily life.

For me, that has entailed making similar plans not only for my writing, but for my other projects. I’m not willing to sacrifice everything else to get my novel done, but I’m not willing to wait for years before it’s finished or to burn myself out (again) either. Since I’ve had quite a bit of translation work lately, I’ve needed to factor that in as well.

Point one on my agenda was to find project management software that could work for a freelancer/writer who is only one person. It needed to be free, it needed to be able to group tasks into different projects/groups, and preferrably have subtasks as well, the possibility to set repeating tasks, and a calendar. I ended up with Asana, which does all the above, but there were several good candidates.

I have made each story a separate project, and I also have projects for pretty much every other major thing I do that’s not related to work or just daily life. I have projects for organising my photography, revising the website, for my translation, for my conlangs, and a Project Flexibility for my dancing. Most of these have specific end goals and specific deadlines, and those that don’t, are projects I haven’t quite managed to fit in with the others yet, such as my conlang projects.

The first thing I did was to make a list over every step I needed to do to reach my goal, which was finishing the main project goal. The first goal for the Sorcery Duology project is to finish my third draft, which is broken down into one subtask per chapter. The next task is to give the draft to Cicilie, and so on. I listed every single thing I could think of, but of course there’s always something you haven’t thought of. Perhaps it will need an additional round of revision, and then I need to adjust the project for that. No biggie.

The other thing I did was to make sure that every task/subtask was manageable. It’s impossible to tackle the whole iceberg at once if you only have an icepick. Take off one piece at a time. Make sure that you don’t, when seeing the task in your calendar, dread starting it. Make it small enough that it won’t feel impossible to do; after all you can do tomorrow’s task early if you finish quickly and haven’t run out of steam.

Third, I set due dates for everything, at least for those things I know I’ll focus on now. One of the principles for good project management is apparently to work with a sense of urgency, according to a website I just read. What incentive do you have to write if you might as well do it tomorrow? I think that’s part of the reason why NaNoWriMo works so incredibly well for me. You also reduce the amount of time you spend deciding what you’ll focus on today, because you have already planned it and set due dates for it.

The only functionality I wish existed was to make one task’s due date dependant on the completion of another task. For example, that the “edit chapter 2” task’s deadline would automatically be set to the day after I ticked off “edit chapter 1”. But that’s a minor thing, I think.

Only time will tell whether or not this will work. I am optimistic, though, and I think it will work far better than the “write this much on those days” approach I used to (try to) follow. Perhaps I’ll write a second post when I’ve followed this for a while and know how well it has worked. It has certainly had one benefit: I have finally updated the blog again (yes, that’s also a project).

Ready for Camp?

Since it so happens that my deadline for writing the next draft of Rogue Sorcery coincides completely with the deadline for Camp NaNoWriMo, I have decided to officially participate in it, even if it’s not a full rewrite and definitely not a first draft. To compensate, my goal is 80k, not 50k. In order to prove that I am sometimes a responsible adult I won’t even make any super-ambitious goals this time around. Mostly because I cannot bend the laws of time to my will yet. (I wish!)

Perhaps participating in Camp will help me stick to my deadlines. Because so far this deadline thing isn’t going very well. (I’ve only committed myself to following the main deadlines of my plan, right? Right?) I am supposed to have revised the ending of Rogue Sorcery fully by April 1st, but considering I also have two translations due before the weekend… Yeah. No.

I can plot an ending by then, no problem, but a good one? That’s a bit more problematic. Same goes for figuring out the problems with the old one. Currently it’s a bit too “whoops, look who happened to be in the right place at the right time!”. I feel a bit hesitant to change things around too much at this point, especially since the rather vague changes I have in mind will add a lot more words, but I might have to. The main question is: Will they all end up in the same place in the end as I had planned (which is a bit too convenient, really), or will they actually do stuff separately? But then what will Group B do (the ones who are not fighting the main baddie)? Are they even travelling? Perhaps something happens in Village A that means they will go back there? But then who does that? Does it have something to do with the plot in Forgotten Sorcery? Or perhaps C’s background, which has been sort of an unresolved issue? Do they even go to Fortress A? Isn’t it a bit too convenient that they reach the city where Group A is exactly at the right time?

Clearly there are some issues going on here. I could of course just say that it’s my good old perfectionism that rears its head again, but it’s better to tackle potential ending issues now rather than later. My gut feeling isn’t happy about it anyway. Besides, I have a couple of ideas. Some are rather easy to implement, others are more extensive and require changes to be made almost throughout the book. And some carry more weight, plot-wise, than I would really like. Still, everything’s up in the air right now. I haven’t found any one idea that really work, that ties everything up nicely while leading into book two, that is sufficiently dire and not too conveniently neat… Why are endings so difficult?


 

I am also working on my website nowadays. I have an unused photoblog and I’m not too happy about the layout of everything, so I’ve been thinking heavily about it. My current idea is to have one subdomain for my art and one for my photos, with separate wordpress installations (so that they can have themes customised for the content (For example a photo header for the photo section, while the art will have a painted one) and can be reached neatly and easily), but I haven’t completely decided yet.

I could of course put everything inside my current WP installation, but I don’t want it to become too cluttered, and then I would have to find a layout that works equally well for my photos and art and writing and blog and everything. In other words, I would never actually get it done. I just discovered that there is a plugin that allows you to have a completely different theme for certain pages, but I expect there will be a significant amount of tweaking there too. For example, the gallery pages will probably not have a sidebar or many widgets at all, or they might have a featured image section and so on.

Also, wouldn’t it be easier to direct people to art.ciuva.com than to a page address? If I link from my deviantART account it would be more sensible to link directly to the art section rather than the front page of everything. I can link to the gallery pages in the menu anyway, and there will still be only one blog (this one).

Or would it be confusing with three different themes? I cannot decide! The art and photo sections will most likely have the same theme, only with different graphics, in order to look similar, but they will all look different from the main site. Unless I change that too… Ideally I would find a theme or a design that works for all three sections, but I somehow doubt it.

Of course, to add to the problem, there are no themes I am 100% happy with. Either they don’t have the right fonts, or the right colour options, or they don’t work completely right, or I get frustrated because I cannot tweak that tiny little thing I apparently really, really need. Typical.

Anyway I think I have decided to stick to the subdomain idea, now if I can only decide on a theme…

Deadlines galore

Sorry for the lack of updates here in what seems like forever. I’ve been completely buried in work and have hardly had any time off whatsoever, neither for blogging nor writing. Cicilie and I had two write-ins, I believe, but neither of us was able to write anything at any of them. On the positive side: Extra money.

Lots of work or not, 2016 is the year I’ll do things with my writing. As such Cicilie and I (well, mostly Cicilie, to be honest) have come up with some deadlines to help us reach our goals. I also made some sub-deadlines for myself:

  • Goal: Finish second draft of Rogue Sorcery. This time Cicilie will be able to read a fully finished draft. I hope…
    • Revise the ending. Something feels off, and I don’t know what it is. Finish by 1st of April
    • Write the entire draft from start to finish. Finish by 25th of April
    • Double-check the new scenes and hand the draft to Cicilie. Finish by 30th of April.
  • Goal: Publish a short story on WattPad. I’ve had an account since sometime last year, but I’ve never posted anything. Mostly because I’ve been writing Rogue Sorcery, which I’ll try to get published, and because I haven’t finished much else and suck at writing short fiction. I also suck at actually uploading my writing. Time to do something about all those things!
    • Plot the story. Finish by 15th of May. Wanted it to be on the 10th, but considering I have an exam on the 9th… Not gonna happen. (Look, I can be realistic!)
    • Write the first draft of the story. Finish by 23rd of May.
    • Revise and publish the story on Wattpad. Finish by 29th of May.
  • Write a novel to be published on WattPad. This has quite tight deadline, but the idea is to plot it so carefully that the actual editing process will be relatively short and sweet. In addition I have already started the plotting, so I might just have the first draft done well before June starts. Famous last words, I guess, but at least the actual deadline isn’t overly optimistic… I hope.
    • Plot the novel completely. Finish by 15th of May, but preferably in April.
    • Write the first draft of the novel. Finish by 10th of June.
    • Revise the novel fully. Finish by 30th of June.
  • Aaand what would this blog be without overly ambitious painting/drawing/misc. goals? They’re all related to my stories anyway. I’ll not write individual deadlines for these, but a collective one of 30th of June:
    • Finish the new version of Queen of Sorcery
    • Paint illustration of Shanni’s cottage
    • Make an artsy map of Ayamar
    • Paint Arodhi’s fortress OR Wirun OR Whitebridge OR the village in the forest.
    • Use up my sketchbook (mostly because I want a new one :P)
    • Make a city map of Wirun and/or the village. Doesn’t need to be fancy, but I certainly need to know what’s where.
  • And finally… DON’T accept so much translation work that I don’t have time for any of this, and/or work myself into another breakdown. In other words, the most important goal of them all. 

I know this amount of goals seem overly ambitious and probably are. But most of the things need to be done anyway in order to meet the three actual deadlines (30th of April, 29th of May and 30th of June). I work far better under pressure, and the specific deadlines are the tools I need to ensure that I spread the work over a reasonable period of time instead of just the week before the main deadlines, as well as to make sure that I actually get the work done AND prepare properly. I won’t have time for endless rounds of editing for the Wattpad projects. Besides, I really like detailed lists (who hadn’t guessed by now…?)

To be honest I don’t intend to be too firm on the painting goals. I would like to get everything done, and these deadlines make sure that I actually work for it, but I’m not going to panic if I’m unable to paint/draw everything on the list. I do need the city maps, though.

 

Game plan, part… uh… a lot.

So! The grand manuscript exchange went mostly according to plan – it was handed over on the correct date, but alas not quite as edited as I would have liked. Poor Cicilie who had to juggle two different storylines in her head while reading – I don’t envy her that. On Sunday we met and gave each other feedback on the other’s story, also according to plan, so now I’m kind of afraid of breaking the streak. Our new goal is an edited draft by the 1st of May, which means I have some work to do.

In order to procrastinate and feel like I am doing something useful without actually doing what I’m supposed to, I’ve come up with a plan. Frankly I’m all about planning nowadays, since it has worked wonders for my work and studies, and well, if I want to avoid spending every waking moment editing before the deadline (which I don’t have the time for), I need to do this properly.

So I have created a list of what I need to do on Rogue Sorcery before handing the manuscript over again, or before I consider it to be done(at this stage, of course there are several rounds of editing left):

  1. Write down every scene in the current draft. Things always change from the plot to the actual draft, and I need to make changes to certain things anyway – but the details are kind of fuzzy. Also, note down time of year, characters involved and where they are. Deadline: 14th of February
  2. Make a new timeline from scratch, including the info above. Deadline: 21st of February
  3. Adjust the timeline according to things that came up during the rewrite and feedback. Note and implement the changes from Cicilie’s feedback. Deadline: 28th of February
  4. Note down in which scenes there are plot changes or new scenes, i.e. where the new timeline and old draft diverges. Deadline: 2oth of March
  5. Go through and write down where information or additional worldbuilding is needed. Deadline: 27th of March.
  6. Do a last check of the timeline, characters, plot, tension and so on again. Deadline: 10th of April
  7. Write a proper second draft, filling out all the missing details. Deadline: 1st of May.

No work at all, in other words… And in between this I have another story to work on.

The plan may be overly optimistic (when are my plans not?) but as long as I manage to stop procrastinating I think it’s completely doable. I have a feeling that I have said the exact same thing before, but there’s a time to stop dawdling and just get the thing done, and I believe that time is now.

Nano Prep part II

This is where the “oh my God NaNoWriMo is only three days away” panic is about to take me. I’ve done what I can to prepare for it this year, but there are only so many hours in a day, and with a busy life… well. Learning my lessons from last year I’ve tried to make sure that I don’t burn myself out before NaNoWriMo has even begun, which is why I did absolutely nothing useful yesterday. (Well, that’s not quite true. I made a healthy dinner, and I worked out for an hour. I also looked at my mandatory assignment (in the most literal sense of the word) and decided I still don’t understand a thing, so there’s that).

Below is, quite simply, the far-too-long list of things that remain to do before NaNoWriMo begins. And if that wasn’t enough… I’ve evidently decided to attempt a 50kDayOne, since it’s the first time in years I don’t work all day on the 1st of November.

  1. Make lesson plans for the two next chapters in my German class (I’m going away for a conference just as we’re starting the next chapter, so I’d like my students to know exactly what they need to do even if they have a substitute teacher)
  2. Make grammar help guides and glossary lists for my German class. Not strictly speaking necessary, but they’re a bit shaky on the grammar.
  3. Make lesson plans for my English class (far easier, thankfully)
  4. Send in the student card application (as soon as I find my passport photo)
  5. Finish plotting The Revenge (working title) – the basics are fleshed out, but I need the hows and whys
  6. Finish the mandatory assignment
  7. Clean the apartment somewhat
  8. Revise some chapters

…Yeah, I don’t think I’ll manage to finish it all… BUT I can try. Number 1, 2, 3 and 6 are the most important, the rest aren’t that critical.

Worldbuilding Wednesday (on a Thursday): Religion

This is the post I never got the time to write yesterday. I had the afternoon free, and I knew what I wanted to write about for once. But when a friend you don’t see very often (but wish you did) asks if you want to come with her to IKEA, and there are things you really need there, you don’t say no. I had put off a trip to IKEA for quite a while now, but I didn’t buy a single thing I didn’t need. That must be a first! But when I came home I was exhausted, so… no blogging for me.

Anyway.

Today’s (or yesterday’s, technically) post is about worldbuilding religion. I used to find religion quite difficult. How did I decide how many religions? Would there be a true one or not? How could I make the gods (if there were more than one) believable and logical and smart? And then I realised…

I didn’t have to. Why should gods necessarily be aloof and logical and wise when so many religions have deities that are petty, rash, rather stupid, quick to anger, quick to throw aside their people or creations and so on? Most likely the religions of my conworld would not be less so. Religions and mythologies are made by people, after all, and are as diverse and strange as people are.

Then there is the question of whether there would be a true religion or not. When I say “true religion” I mean that there would be gods that actually exist in that conworld, gods who possibly created the world and keep it going. Perhaps there is just some sort of force that kicked it into gear and then disappeared, perhaps there were gods but they disappeared, or perhaps the gods were as meddlesome and interfering as in, for example, Greek mythology. I used to love reading about Greek mythology, but you do get the impression that, as a human, if you had anything whatsoever to do with the gods, you were fucked. Sometimes literally.

But then you have another problem. How does the world keep going? If the gods are fallible, how come they have created something that works so well, when there are so many conditions that needs to be met for a world to actually work? It has to be the right distance from a star/sun, the right size with the right gravity, the right composition of the atmosphere… On the other hand, there are ways around everything, and you don’t have to really bring it up (if you’re worldbuilding for a book, that is). For example, perhaps the world was there from before and the gods just used it. Perhaps the current gods took the power from wiser gods. There are many solutions that open up to many interesting things – maybe I will write another post on worldbuilding religion in the future.

In my current conworld, I decided to go for the drama. Perhaps it is my inner Greek mythology geek that’s behind it, as the Greek gods had a flair for the dramatic, but it was also what made everything come together.

Long story short: In the beginning, two gods were created, in order to create the world. The eldest wanted to plan it properly before doing anything, while the youngest went ahead and created Ayamar behind his back. It wasn’t very thought-out, and the eldest ended up creating a new set of gods to fix the mess, before killing off himself and his brother. I have still not decided whether or not he succeeded in killing his brother.

But the new gods… had their problems too. There were at least three contenders for being the god of magic, and while one was reasonable, the other two… not so much. One of them wasn’t called The Mad God for nothing, to put it that way. And there were other problems. One thing led to another, and it ended up in the Great Wars, following a period where most magicians had god-like powers that caused quite a bit of insanity. It ended up with two gods dying and the rest (except one) withdrawing from the world (only able to influence it through their priests and temples) after making so that things would work on their own, and a LOT of bitterness and resentment. That resentment, along with misunderstandings and assumptions about which gods were on which side, has continued ever since then, leading up to quite a bit of wonderful plot.

This is why I like worldbuilding. This piece of religion/history in the previous two paragraphs enabled the plot of Rogue Sorcery (it doesn’t really have anything to do with the gods or the priests, but part of the mess that was left behind. Most things were fixed, but nothing is completely fail-safe, and magic turned out to be one of those things) and several other stories.

The moral is this: Your world and its religion doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact it might be far more interesting if it isn’t, because then there are implications of that, and you would have to know how people deal with that, which would make a more fleshed-out world. It might not cause the premise of an entire series, as it did in my case, but interesting backstories are never amiss. Don’t be afraid to veer away from the standard fantasy religions or what you consider logical or realistic enough. Read a bit about real-world religions – logical and realistic are not words I would use for very many of them.