Of writing, procrastinating, pandemics and missing muses

I began writing on my current book, Opus XXIII, on March 2, 2020. Do the math and you realize this was just a couple of weeks before the world shut down, locked up and someone seemingly threw away the keys. Obsessed with the devleopment of this scary beast, with daily newsconferences, hourly updates on a dozen websites on infection rates, mortaliy and the number of people in ICUs, as well as trying to assist my elderly neighbors with grocery shopping, my creativity took an indefinite leave of absence. Writing became suffering, a struggle to get even a handful of sentences down on paper. For someone like me who’s always been able to write fluently, typing shorthand what my characters were whispering into my ears, this became painful. I even began to outline ideas just to have anything to write. Unheard of. The outrage within my self-esteem! As the pandemic progressed, I added very few pages to the manuscript, and weeks, even months could pass before I opened the document anew. Would I ever finish another novel? Would Matt become my final oeuvre?

Author Hans M Hirschi with the book that was the inspiration for Opus XXIII

My previous books wrote themselves

I am an avid listener of podcasts, and one of my friends, Wayne Goodman, has a weekly show, Queer Words, where he asks his guests if they are plotters or pantsers. I was invited to his show back in 2019 and my answer was given: “I’m your traditional pantser.” If there had ever been a pantser, point all fingers at me. I mention in my conversation with Wayne, who by the way is an accomplished writer in his own right often writing about faraway places, that I once experienced my main character’s death half-way through writing the novel. It was quite a shock, but alas, this is how I used to write. My subconscious would guide my fingers and type whatever the characters were telling me, and so I sat there, in front of my laptop, reading what appeared on page. Call it stream of consciousness, and it was not unlike the infamous episdoe The Muse in Deep Space 9 where the evil alien sucks the life force out of him. That was me, minus the evil alien and the nose bleeds. I could write up to 10,000 words a day, and my first two novels were both written (first rough draft I might add) in less than two weeks, each. Alas, along came opus XXIII. It’s been 598 days, and I am done-ish with my first draft. So what happened?

The pain of writing or what the experts tell you to do

Part of every writing podcast is the obligatory question of “do you have any advice?” to aspriting authors and writers. I have been asked the question, too, and I believe I have answered it, too, although less from a writing perspective but more from a “make sure you get feedback perspective”. It’s been a while. Prove me wrong. LOL However, I notice that some writers are dead set on “my way or the highway!”, an approach which invalidates any other writing process or approach that differes from their own. I’ve heard things like “make sure you write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences.” That is the most common advice out there. Picture me with big eyes and and my RBF expression along the question “why? What good does that do?” Sadly I’m never around when that statement is made, so I’ve never really been around to question it. Great if it works for you, but don’t presume that one size fits all. S’all I have to say.

Writing is often painful and slow, sometimes fast and exhilarating

I finally got out of my slump a few weeks ago, and I wrote 35,000 words in less than a week. In fact, I was so thrilled about my progress that I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I did it while cooking, I did it in the morning before Sunday breakfast, I did it before joining my husband for some evening R&R (oh, not what you think. We’re talking Netflix here.), and I even wrote while my son was doing his homework. I couldn’t not write, if that makes sense. But until that moment came along, and my writing stars had aligned, it was painful. My characters were silent, and procrastination was the blanket to wrap myself into when inspiration failed. I often felt bad, depressed at the lack of progress, throwing myself into other projects, other things to do. Yet is it really to procrastinate if you don’t actually have anything intelligent to write? I know for sure that “writing for the sake of writing” will never be my tune, so rather than giving myself grief over the lack of inspiration, I should relax. Oddly, I have a hunch that I’ve said this before, but I guess this is a lesson that this pedagogue hasn’t fully embraced yet. Because could it be, maybe, just maybe, that I’d have gotten my mojo back faster if I hadn’t been so freaked out about the lack of progress, the lack of inspiration? Who knows. Hindsight may be a great teacher, but it sucks at the what-if-game.

Opus XXIII – What it is and other valuable inormation

This is the first cover that Natasha designed for me, still a favorite of mine.

So where am I with this latest novel? It’s somewhere in editing but also still in writing. I’m not entirely happy with all aspects of it, and given the difficult topic, I need to make sure I find the right balance. Opus XXIII will likely be named “Michel”, and it is all about the story of Michel, the amazing young man who tragically passes away from AIDS in November of 1986. He briefly appared as a side character in my novel The Fallen Angels of Karnataka from 2014, and he has been haunting me ever since. So, Michel finally gets to tell his story, and while it’s challenging to make sure I stick to canon, it’s also liberating to finally learn more about this character who has always held a special place in my heart, both for what he does for Haakon’s personal grown, ultimately kick-starting his traveling, but also for his spirit and character.

In this story we learn about his coming out, still a central theme for the LGBTQI community. But the story alsolooks at the coming of age for this one individual, his exploration of his own sexuality, and touches some difficult subjects such as sexual abuse, rape, and sexual addiction. I’m sure you appreciate how challenging it is to write that, and do justice to the character’s experience without taking away from the grand scheme of things. You’ll be the judge whether or not I’ve been successful. It’s a difficult book, both to write and (will be) to read, and one where Her Majesty had to work hard to pull off her magic of a hopeful and happy ending. Given that Michel has been dead for thirty-five years, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

I hope to finish the manuscript by the end of this year, and if all goes well, the book should be out in the spring of 2022, as always from my amazing publisher Beaten Track.

Thank you for tuning in!

Hans