How Do I Start Again?

Bakuman struggle.png

Recently, Arc II of Greysons of Grimoire finished, and Arc III began. I took a two-week break between Arcs II and III, as I did between I and II. Both times, I found the break challenging. Both times, I found it difficult to start up again, but it was this most recent break, after the end of Arc II, where I found it most challenging to get started again.

I had set up Arc III really well in the final chapter of Arc II, “Family.” I knew so much of where I was going – there are many, many exciting scenes in Arcs III and IV that have not yet happened.

But I couldn’t open with those scenes. There was a sort of “regrouping” that had to happen. Characters weren’t in the places they needed to be for the excitement. And nearly everyone had just come out of a huge, climactic challenge. They needed a chance to recover, and I thought I did, too. I know more of how Arc III, and even Arc IV, goes ahead of time than I’ve ever known at any point before in Greysons. And yet…

I hit a wall.

Ending Arc II, it was so exciting, so climactic, and (in my opinion) some of my strongest writing and storytelling yet.

And I was excited to keep moving forward for Arc III, until, a few days after finishing Arc II’s final chapter, I sat down to write, and one forlorn question filled my mind.

“I have to keep going?”

While I know that Arc II’s climax couldn’t serve as a total end to the entire story – there’s so much more to do – to me, so much of it felt final, climactic, complete. It was an ending. That was something I hadn’t dealt with in Arc I, where the last several chapters, including the final chapter, focused on “here’s where we’re going next.” And I like that about Arc I, I wouldn’t change that. I think it fit that very well, and it made it easier to dive into Arc II.

But now I ended something. Chelsea, Delilah, Lorelei, Gwen, and Isabelle spent the entirety of Arc II in one place: the Library of Solitude. At the beginning they were uncovering the mysteries of what happened to the place, and at the end, they had saved it from darkness. They had won their biggest battle yet.

And not only that, Shana came to join them with Maribelle and Annabelle. Caleb came to join them in the final hours with Mister Midnight. Almost every main character was in the same place, involved in the same major conflict.

And then…

It was over. They had won.

But I hadn’t. The battle wasn’t over for me, not for a long shot. There was more story to tell, and while I was excited setting things up in the final chapter, excited taking notes on all of the ideas popping into my head for the coming challenges in Arc III and beyond…

Actually writing it felt almost wrong. Maybe I needed more of a rest than my characters, but I couldn’t. I had a deadline I had set for myself, and the story had to keep going. But how? I know where the story goes, but… how do I do it? I can’t start off climactic. I didn’t end in a way that allows that, but it also wouldn’t be right, there should be a break between one major conflict and the next. The characters and story need room to breathe.

But… how do I do it?

After over 100 chapters, after more than 300,000 words, after all this time with these characters and this world, I realized…

It was almost like starting all over again. In a way, I have to build something new, from the ground up. Not entirely. I have the pieces, after all – the characters, the ideas, the world, the story so far – but I can’t jump right into the things that excite me most. I finished, in a way, and yet the story is far from done. I can’t keep riding the high of Arc II’s great ending. I went out on a high note, then dropped back down to earth, and now… I have to build back up to something like that again. Not the same, but capturing the same excitement, tension, and emotional stakes as the battle for the Library did.

I love this story, these characters, but it was very difficult to get Arc III going. I suppose I could have gone to a remote island village to find myself, like the protagonist of Barakamon (where the image above comes from), but that didn’t seem all that practical. And, frankly, it would have been overkill. Maybe someday I’ll be in such a state where such drastic measures are necessary, but I hope it doesn’t come soon.

I originally planned to write and post this the Saturday after Chapter 3 was posted, and that probably would have been better and seemed more honest. Because Chapters 4-6 have been wonderful for me, and I hope they have for you. It’s been wonderful to write them, and wonderful to see that this part of the story, this part of Chelsea’s story, could only happen now, after so much time with her, after the journeys she’s been through and the ways she’s changed.

But I’m still struggling a bit. I’m picking myself back up, and things are easier than the first three chapters. But I apologize if the first three chapters felt weak. I’m proud of them, I like how they really are a breather, a moment to recharge, to get these characters where they need to be for the next conflict, and to prepare you, the readers, for what’s to come. But I know I struggled to write them, and that very likely came through in the finished product. And I’m struggling to write Chapter 7, so we’ll see what happens next. Arc III’s been a real doozy for me so far.

I don’t often write very negatively. But the reason I wanted to share this wasn’t out of the unfortunate social media trend of over-sharing, of the desire to let the whole world know everything about oneself, one’s life, and especially one’s struggles. I’m not sharing this to throw a pity party.

I’m sharing this because I think my lessons learned in this challenge will help other writers. This is the longest story I’ve ever written, and it’s still going. Arc II’s climax was the biggest battle, the biggest challenge, I’ve ever written for characters. I’ve never had to face this kind of “I have to keep going?” mentality.

But I do have to keep going. And if you’re writing your own story, you do, too. No matter how difficult it is, I’ll tell you this, for me at least… the two week break should not have been any longer. Though it was hard to write the first chapter of Arc III, and the second, and the third… it’s good that I didn’t put them off any longer.

When you feel you can’t write, when you feel you can’t continue, it’s good to take a break. But don’t stay in “taking a break.” Take a short break, and take a very defined break – make the deadline for the next chapter or page very clear, write it down, and stick to it. You’ll come back to it, and more likely than not, it’ll still be hard to write.

But you need to.

Keep writing, even when you feel like you can’t write anything good.

Push forward, and you’ll find yourself again. You’ll find yourself much faster in the writing, in the storytelling, in the grind, than you will in whiling away the hours and days hoping for something to change, for some spark of inspiration. Don’t wait for the spark. If I can get super cheesy for a moment, be like Chelsea. Pick up the lighter. Give it a click.

Make the spark.

It’ll be super messy at first, and start this ugly, sputtering, noisy mess of a flame that you can’t control. It’s not beautiful, it’s not clean, and it’s probably disturbing the people around you.

But tend it. Bear through the roughness, the uncertainty, the ugliness. And in time, with lots of work, with a refusal to give up and abandon this fire, it will grow back into what you had before, and then greater still.

Don’t get lost in the struggling “you” of the present. Always have hope, for the future, and then work towards that. If you work only for today, you will fail. If you work for a better tomorrow, you will succeed. Maybe not today, or even the immediate tomorrow. But some tomorrow, if you keep tending that flame, if you keep working forward, you will.

And I’ll take a step back from the sentimentality for a moment. A lot of the above was written two weeks ago, when I was driving myself crazy trying to write Chapter 1 and wondering “what’s wrong with me?” So if it feels a little messy, it’s coming from a messy mind. But I hope it helps you. And I will say, very clearly, that “the grind,” that finding yourself in the writing, can be very messy. It was for me. It took hours and hours, days and days, to write the first chapter of Arc III. Similar for the second and third chapters. But somehow, Chapter 4 and Chapter 6 came to being in a short span of hours that flew by like I couldn’t believe. Not every chapter will come easily, nor every scene, or even every book. But if you push through, you can still create something you can be proud of, and you will find those little pockets of writing where everything comes together, and it’s in those moments that you’ll be so glad you pushed through. So glad you didn’t wait any longer than you needed to.

And pulling back from that, I want to say use your breaks – both the long breaks, and the breaks in the midst of a day of work – to the fullest. Between Arcs II and III, in those two weeks, I went on a vacation. (I also built my website during that two week break and moved all of my chapters and blog posts onto it, a tedious and time-consuming process, but I’ve already discussed that in the previous blog post) I visited my grandpa, and celebrated his one hundredth birthday, and it was amazing.

During the long car ride there and back, and during down time at home, I mostly read books. I read The Hobbit for the first time in a long time, and it was even more wonderful than I remembered. Then I started re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and that’s far more wonderful than I remembered. The first chapter is a masterpiece, an amazing way of saying “yes, this is a sequel to The Hobbit… but it’s also going to be very different.”

Tolkien’s way with words has also had a strong impact on me, and encouraged me to grow and learn and change as a writer. So if my prose feels a bit different recently, I hope that it feels different in a good way.

The show I mentioned earlier, Barakamon, is a short anime series I watched during the break, and the struggles of its protagonist, Sei Handa, hit me in a big way. He’s an artist struggling through a number of things, chief among them starting again, reinventing himself. So he ships off to an island in the middle of nowhere with a single village inhabited by total weirdos, and finds a way to do his best work in a place so very different from where he came from. It’s also hilarious, and had me in stitches on multiple occasions.

I also watched episodes from the ongoing third season of My Hero Academia. It’s a superhero anime, about teenagers going to a high school for superheroes, and it’s really something special. But one thing that struck me was how seemingly effortlessly the story builds to a climax, has a super-exciting conclusion, and then breathes before moving to the next. There have been a series of amazing, exciting conflicts, and in between every single one there’s been an episode, or multiple episodes, to just breathe. After a super exciting conclusion to a tournament in the second season, an entire episode was spent with the main class of superheroes-in-training coming up with their “Hero Name.” It was silly, it was goofy, it was fun, and it was a great break from the tension that had just resolved itself.

And in a recent episode of My Hero Academia, after the climactic showdown between a monstrous villain and the greatest superhero in the world… the teenage heroes moved into dorms, and spent an entire episode showing off their dorm rooms, having a stupid competition of to see who had the “best” room.

I say stupid, but not in a mean way. It was frivolous, but in a way, it was necessary, allowing these kids to be kids after such a frightening encounter. And it contained a nice little moment between a few of the kids, where they were able to come to terms with, and forgive each other, for a painful argument they’d had, something they hadn’t been able to work through in the midst of giant battles and epic showdowns.

The heroes, and the viewers, got to breathe.

Reading and watching great stories, some for the first time, and some for the first time in a long time, is very valuable for every writer. What I listed above is only part of what I watched and read in the two weeks between Arcs II and III. It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole, though, and get caught up in consumption rather than creation – consuming stories others have told without creating your own. Both are important for writers and other creators and artists out there, so just remember – as great as the stories you’re consuming are, they’re not half as good for you as they could be if they aren’t spurring you to create something amazing of your own.

So I hope the first three chapters of Arc III felt like at least somewhat of a breather after the battle that concluded Arc II. I hope the moments of downtime don’t feel like wasted space, but instead feel like a much deserved breath. And I know Chapters 4-6 are not at all a breather, but I hope they come, for you, the reader, at the best possible time. And I hope that maybe some of my ramblings here can help other writers realize that you don’t need to be tense and exciting all the time.

It’s important to be able to just breathe.