on taking breaks and why robin hobb is my new favorite writer

After taking two months off, I’ve managed to write almost exactly 70,000 words so far in September. That’s a pretty solid amount! It’s not a record for speed, but this has always been more about endurance, which, previously, I’ve never had. The last time I wrote something even near this long was way back in January of 2013. In that month, I wrote about 130,000 words. Then I took a month off, and that month persists to this day and may stretch on for the rest of my life.

But this novel, I’m determined to finish it, if only to prove to myself that I can work consistently at a project, gradually chip away at it until it’s finished.

captureIn the past, anytime I took a break of longer than three days, it usually meant I was never going to finish that book. I have about a dozen of novels in various states of completion because of this. Way back in January, I thought that would be the state of this novel as well. And for nearly half the year, it was. Then I pushed into it, wrote about 120,000 words over two months. Then took a month off which became two, and now I’m here, my wordcount now tipping past 200,000, with so many more words to left to write.

It’s interesting to have written about 70,000 words so far this month. It’s roughly the length I thought the whole novel would be. As it stands now, it’s about one third of the novel. I’ve been able to push and fight and chip away at the novel, form it into what I want it to be.

I mention this because I’m taking the day off. It’s not the first day off I’ve taken this week. I’ve missed maybe three or four days. Usually because I was driving for 6-10 hours during those days.

I want to finish this before my birthday still, but there’s just no way. I have about twelve days(?) and just too many words to write. I’d have to average between 8,000 and 12,000 words a day, which isn’t impossible either. I’ve done it before! But it just won’t happen. I have a wife, a job, and a life I need to live, so I can no longer hole myself up with my computer for 20 hours a day. Now I’m usually lucky to have five uninterrupted hours to write spread throughout the day.

In some ways, that’s been useful. Quick, big creative bursts. Taking a break is useful to any creative process [assuming you come back to it], whether it’s a month or an hour, and so I’ve been able to hit 4,000 to 7,000 words pretty regularly, even with a truncated amount of time to work on the novel.

But that’s not the real reason I’m taking today off. And I may still come back and throw some words down later. The day off is because I only slept about three or four hours last night. I spent most of the night sneezing due to the most annoying kind of cold. I could have slept in, probably, but cats wait for no man and he slept like a baby while I suffered.

Anyrate, because I couldn’t sleep, I went back into the Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb and finally finished the third book in the trilogy.

Not that it took me long to read, but it feels like a long time, considering how quickly I read the first two books. Those first two books, incidentally, are why my break from the novel kept extending. I couldn’t put them down! And I finally willed myself back into my novel, but I still read from the third book in the trilogy almost every day. So instead of reading 1,000 pages in a few days, it took me a few weeks.

The kind of self control I’m not known for!

But, man, Robin Hobb. I think she’s my favorite fantasy writer.

You can find my thoughts on her Farseer Trilogy:

1

2

3

And the Liveship Trilogy:

1

2

3

These books are inexplicably amazing. The Farseer Trilogy is maybe my favorite reading experience of last year. FitzChivalry is my heart. He’s all my hopeless romanticism, my teenage foolishness and recklessness. That trilogy is all from a single perspective, in what amounts to a more or less european medieval society. It’s full of so much power and heart and beauty. Failure stands at the core of those novels. How we fail and in failing find success, even if it’s never the success we hoped to one day achieve. It’s the bittersweetness of understanding the harm you did when you believed you were doing your best. It’s accepting all that we’ve done. All the chaos and pain and torment. Rather than push that away and move past it, it forces us to embrace all the terror that we are.

I love it so much.

Because I loved it so much, I didn’t want to read The Liveship Trilogy, which follows it. It’s in the same world, but quite a far distance from the events of the Farseer Trilogy. Further, there’s a follow up trilogy that goes back to FitzChivalry. That’s what I wanted to read! But I was afraid I’d miss something important in the overall story of the world, so instead of choosing, I sat in indecision for almost exactly a year.

I finally picked up the Liveship Trilogy and literally could not put it down. It’s stupid for me to have waited so long. The setting is a bit different, showing a much more complex world with much more depth than you might have assumed from just reading the Farseer Trilogy. The focus is much wider. Rather than centering on one hapless hero who narrates his life, it bounces through a cast of about ten main characters. Most of them members of the same family.

I love it. I love it so much I can’t believe it. I almost want to skip the next FitzChivalry trilogy and move onto the follow up of the lives of these other characters in their corner of the world.

I won’t, of course, but that’s how good this trilogy is. Everything is so real. There are big ideas here. Bigger ideas than the Farseer Trilogy deals with. But there’s the same depth of emotion. Maybe even deeper. You come to know these characters–all of them–as intimately as you know FitzChivalry.

What I find most interesting about it is how hope suffuses so much of it. Failure is still key here, but this is a much more optimistic work, I think. However, there is some serious darkness here. Some moments that will haunt you and gnaw at your bones. It’s not as brutal a story as FitzChivarly, but it’s not exactly an easy life we come to know through these characters.

Also of interest is the shape the world begins to take. The Liveship Trilogy begins in a land that once had gender equality, but is currently as patriarchal as just about anywhere in our own reality. As the story moves forward, women must navigate this in a variety of ways. The world’s peril is not solved by the men who created it. Rather, the women of the novel take the world in their hands and work to make it better. By refusing to allow men to control their lives, they do more than find personal freedom. They save a nation (or four).

There’s so much I could say about Robin Hobb as a writer. She’s so confident. Handling action and adventure or political intrigue or family drama all with such skill that it feels effortless. Her plots are intricate and beautiful and dark and twisted but so full of love. Love love love.

And I love her writing. It’s astounding to me that she’s not known in the way that some of the other big name fantasy writers are. Surely it’s because she’s a woman, yeah. But she stands head and shoulders above so many of her peers. Her unflinching and grim reality with characters so real I can see them in my head the way I can recall the faces and voices of old friends. And her world is as rich and deep as anything any of her contemporaries have done.

Robin Hobb is a marvel and I cannot wait to keep reading her. Part of me wants to parcel it out, take on a new trilogy every summer, but I may end up jumping ahead into the next one before the end of the year.

Anyrate, she’s someone you should read if you have any interest in fantasy fiction.

 

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