You guys. Let me tell you what my brain is like.

I dreamed I was an intern in a museum. In my dream it was called “the Metropolitan” but I am very sure, having visited the Met once, that it was nothing like this shambling pile of secret passages and crammed-together dusty antiques. (Well, at least, not the parts I visited.) Anyway, that wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was the chili.

You see, there was a mummy-zombie thing roaming the back halls. The top front third of his head was gone and his teeth were stumps; there was just a hole and the hindbrain left, plus the ruined caverns of his sinuses. Which probably explained why he was shambling around with his hand-things in front of him, spindly fingers waving. He could smell the chili, but he couldn’t find it.

You see, it was the interns’ (I was one of a crew of six) job to find the mummy and feed him the chili so he would stop roaming, so he would settle down and wouldn’t upset the patrons with his fleshless self. The trouble was, we were new interns, and nobody had bothered to tell us. So we had to figure it out, which we did, but somehow the security guys were new too and hadn’t gotten the memo. So we had to save the poor mummy from the rent-a-cops in order to feed him his chili so he would quiet down. The problem was, we had to catch him first.

So I woke up, with a cat snoring in my ear and a dog snoring near my feet, and I thought it was the mummy. There was this moist breathing on my ear, and all I could think was, where’s the damn chili? Followed by, dammit, I can’t make this a book, there’s not enough tension structurally to build it. Maybe a short?

So, yeah. Here. Go read Chuck Wendig on why writers are bugfuck nuts. I’ll, um, just be locked up in my house. Alone.

Looking for the chili to feed to the museum mummy.

Yeah.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

I find myself hesitating to write what happened next in the Saga of SquirrelTerror. I don’t know if I’m ready. *looks thoughtful* It’s a sad tale, but I guess I should have thought of that when I started writing about the little fuzzballs.

Anyway. It’s Friday, and I haven’t done a Five Things post for a while. Here’s three things I wish aspiring authors wouldn’t do on social networking, and two I wish they would. All usual disclaimers and mileage-may-varies apply. Let’s start with the DO NOTs. (They’re more fun.)

Please, for the love of Crom, don’t:

* List yourself as “Author” in your name field. When I get a Facebook/Goodreads friend request from JANE SMITH, AUTHOR, or AUTHOR JOHN SMITH or JANE SMITH, WRITER, I wince and die a little inside. It has everything to do with my experience of 95% of those requests that I approve inevitably end up with me being spammed, repeatedly and at great length, with desperate self-promotion. It’s unprofessional and just plain annoying. So you’re a writer? Great. You’re newly-published? Double great. You’re self-pubbed? Okay. You don’t need to put it on that particular billboard. Put “writing” in your interests, put a link to your website in your profile, and start interacting like a human being instead of a marketing machine. Hysterical insistence that everyone call you AUTHOR X is not going to gain you an audience or endear you to other professionals. Interacting like a human being and sharing neat things takes you further in the long run.

* Hard sell or spam. I’ve covered this before, but it can always be said again. Spamming me with fifty links during the day about your NEW BOOK OMG, especially when I’ve just approved a friend request, is the way to get yourself unfriended in a hurry and put in that little mental drawer of “Oh, God, I never want to meet this person IRL.” I try to keep to 5-10% marketing at most on my social networking streams, with the rest being interaction and fresh content. I am willing to say one can go as high as 15% without driving away potential readers and professional acquaintances screaming. The trouble is, I see a lot of new/aspiring authors reversing those percentages, and then getting frustrated when they don’t see a return from all this effort. When it comes to this sort of thing, bigger is not better.

* Monopolize the conversation. This falls more under interpersonal faux pas than marketing disaster, but I’ve seen it so much I figure it counts. Even if you’re excited to be in a Google+ hangout or a Twitter conversation with another author, one you might be a fan of or who you might think is a potentially good contact, try not to make everything about you. Do not keep bringing the conversation around to You And Your Hobbyhorses. Don’t try to one-up with better stories. Don’t, for the love of Henrietta, talk over other people who might be shyer than you. Do not lecture, and do not get invested in “getting the last word.” Interact, certainly, but try to interact on the principle that you are interested in what the other people have to say. Not only will this make you look good, it gives you a higher chance of people wanting to talk to you more than once. They won’t run the other way when they see your name pop up onscreen. You will acquire precious reputation as someone who is actually fun to interact with, and that goodwill is worth GOLD.

And now, the Two Dos!

DO:

* Start as if you are a professional with a reputation to lose. From the very instant you step into the wide carpet of kittens and rainbows that is the Internet, you need to be prepared for the fact that it is public. Not only is it public, but if you make a misstep, it lingers. Everything you have written on the Internet is on someone’s server somewhere, and you do not have any goddamn control over it. Solution? From the very beginning, act as if you’re a professional, and think before you hit “send.” There may be things you feel strongly enough about to risk offending people over, but you want those things to be chosen with care and thought, not just mushrooming because you opened your stupid mouth one day and something fell out. If you have Silly Internet Things in your past, it’s never too late to say mea culpa, tighten your belt, and make the commitment to act like a reasonable professional from this moment forth. Also, remember: pseudonyms do not make you anonymous. You are NEVER really anonymous on the Internet, most especially if someone really truly wants to find you.

* Chill. You’re going to find things all over social media and the Internet that make you want to vomit. People will say things that make you want to scream. There will be so much stupid your eyes will bleed and it will BURN. But if you get all het up over every little thing, you will burn out your emotional insulation, your emotional energy, your stomach lining, and quite possibly fuse a couple synapses. There is stupid and nasty and bigoted all over the Internet, and you will not be able to slay that hydra. Plus, sooner or later someone is going to get pissed off and troll you. It is unavoidable, especially if you are a “public” person. Your best defense is to chillax and practice the art of Just Not Engaging, with a side order of Banning Where Possible. Not only will it save you a pretty penny in ulcer medication, but it also makes you look like the Bigger Person and makes the trolls writhe in agony because they’re Being Ignored. And really, what better revenge is there? (Answer in comments. Cheap story prompts FTW!)

There it is. Three and two make five, and I’m done dispensing Possibly-Useless Advice for the day. (Well, not really, but it sounds good.) Stay cool, my chickadees.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jun. 17th, 2011 09:21 am)

Hello, dear Readers. I’ve been visibly neglecting the blog for a while–I hit a burnout stage with the Friday Writing posts, and after my personal life fell apart in flaming fragments, well, the time and inclination was seriously lacking. I had very little energy, and what I had I had to spend on deadlines. (Speaking of deadlines, you can find an announcement about Bannon & Clare here.)

But things are a little better now. I was out at 7AM with Miss B., ran a respectable three miles in just a few minutes over a half-hour. Running outside is very different than slogging away on the treadmill–harder on the knees and lower back, certainly, and I wouldn’t be running outside if I didn’t have the dog. The companionship and protection factor is not inconsiderable at all.

While I ran, I was putting together the Ride of the New Guard, which is to say, a particular piece in the book I’m working on now where I want the rhythm of a gallop to come through the words. It’s going to require some specific music, and some breathing, and some reading things out loud to get it right.

I am always amazed by people who say they don’t read their dialogue aloud to check for rhythm. Often, problems with dialogue or the “scan” of a piece can be fixed by looking for rhythm and breathbreaks–those places where one runs out of air and naturally take a breath. Reading is most often a silent personal activity, but the flow and ebb of speech is still the most natural framework for a story. Emphasis and stress, the upward inflection of a question, the cadence of education or dialect, all these things are a richness just begging to be used, as well as a forensic tool. Often, when you can tell a sentence isn’t right, saying it aloud will show you where the catch is. (Diagramming the sentence sometimes works too, but only in a small number of cases. YMMV, of course.)

Reading your work aloud to yourself (I add the “to yourself” because reading aloud to others is a special sort of hell for me personally, one I avoid whenever possible) also helps with immediacy–feeling it in your own corpus, and therefore being able to bring it to a Reader.

So, while running this morning, I was thinking of the cadence of a gallop, and how to bring that through. Which will mean a lot of muttering as I stare at my screen today, fingers tapping, and my body remembering what it was like to ride a horse. Of course I’ll look crazy, but that’s beside the point. Crazy’s pretty relative if it pays the bills.

Or so I keep telling myself.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

This is what the end of a zero draft looks like:

* Every piece of silverware in the house is either dirty or in the dishwasher, which I have not unloaded. The sink is piled high with dishes. Good thing tonight’s pizza night. Except we won’t have plates if I don’t deal with the kitchen.

* Three baskets of laundry are behind my writing chair. I don’t remember putting them there. I think the last time I did laundry was…Wednesday? No, it had to be before that. It was while I was writing the cave scene. In other words, who the f!ck knows?

* Just ate two slices of leftover cake. I NEEDED THEM. Now I feel slightly sick, but my brain is yelling MORE CAKE! I WORKED HARD, I NEED GLUCOSE! I am resisting valiantly. Plus there’s no cake left.

* Found myself bent over this morning, hairdryer in my hand, staring blankly at my toes while I forgot I was drying my hair. Thankfully, nothing was too scorched. Well, at least some of my hair covers the bad bits.

* There is a stabbing pain between my shoulderblades. Need to figure out the memory foam padding in the chair. Also, should stretch more. Yeah. Will get right on that.

* Was in bed before 8:20PM last night. Informed my darling children that I was tired, therefore THEY were turning in early too. They wisely did not quibble.

* Miss B. is shedding. Drifts of white undercoat everywhere. Even if I hoovered every day it would build up. I haven’t hoovered since last weekend. You’ll have to send in the Saint Bernard with the little cask of rum around his neck to find me in the White Wastes.

* My TBR pile looks like a tornado hit it, teetering dangerously on the small table next to the couch. The research books are scattered around, all open to different pages, dog-eared, underlined. The series bible is torn, coffee-stained, stepped on, and generally ragged.

* Only decided to go to post office and bank today once I figured out that due to automated tellers and the automated postage kiosk, I did not have to speak to a single living being.

* Forgot to put my shoes on twice this morning. Only realized it once I had taken a few steps outside. Okay, fine, half a block.

* Woke up this morning and was unsure if I had really finished the book or just dreamed it. Had to check. (This happens far more often than you’d think. I’ve never been wrong, but the idea that I MIGHT be makes me check each time. What? Neurotic? Me?)

* Bedroom is strewn with clothes, for the simple reason that I would be dressing and suddenly drop every article of clothing to run to the keyboard and vomit up another chunk of text. Then I would start shivering and try to figure out why I was cold, and realize I was just in a tank top and one sock. It’s a mercy I work from home, and that I have an alarm on my phone reminding me to be decent before everyone comes home from school.

* I had to ask my daughter what I’d made them for dinner last night. It was waffles. And bacon. Thank God. I’ve never forgotten to feed the children, but I worry.

* Realized yesterday that I could not remember showering at all for the past day or two. Leapt in the shower. Had the shampoo in my hand before I realized I had indeed tried to shower an hour and a half ago, but I had turned off the water and wandered out to get more of the book set down. At that point another chunk of text appeared, so I turned off the water and…yeah. Two hours later, wrapped in nothing but a towel, I wondered why my teeth were chattering.

* The inside of my skull feels like it’s been scraped clean by an enthusiastic Baskin-Robbins employee. With a really cold scoop.

I am proud to report, however, that the zero draft of the first Bannon & Clare book is finished, and buried on my hard drive to age a little bit before I polish it and turn it in. One down, two to go before the end of the year.

God help me.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

You know, dry pants do help to civilize one.

This morning I ran several errands with Miss B. along. She still isn’t too sure about car rides, but one of the errands was a 2+ mile walk in the rain, and she was glad to get back into the car after that and spent the rest of the errands snoozing.I did not think of myself as the type of high-energy person who could wear out an Australian shepherd, but apparently, I am. My vision of myself as a sedentary, ambitionless lump is taking rather a hard knock or two.

However, breaking up the errands with that walk meant that for about an hour and a half I was wandering around soaked from mid-thigh down. My feet were okay–wool socks and combat boots, so my toesies were damp but not cold–but my jeans were absolutely dripping. I’m sure I left a trail of moss behind. I have to say, peeling out of wet clothes and into dry is one of the most sensual, civilizing experiences I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. It’s right up there with hot tea, good Thai food, a glass of Sangiovese, and the ability to press a button and hear Beethoven.

Ahhhh.

Anyway, it’s Friday. I’ve grown away from doing Friday writing posts. It’s not that I ran out of things to say. Far, far from. There just hasn’t been a lot of bandwidth available, what with three books due this year, another few books in revision and proofs and copyedits, gah, plus the constant chaos of two kids, now with extra dog.

*time passes*

I wrote all that this morning, then left for afternoon errands. Now I’m here trying to pick up the train of thought that derailed when I looked at the clock and thought oh, dammit, almost late! It was very White Rabbit of me. In any case, I have limited time now before the set of evening tasks rises up to gnaw at my ankles and demand my attention, so let’s get on with it.

To quote Stephen King: Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

It is really hilarious to have a herding dog. This morning she tried to herd some crows. They laughed at her, she kept bellowing “HEEEEEERD IT!” and I was laughing too hard to step in as soon as I should have. Also, this morning’s three-mile walk was full of squirrel reconnaissance. They kept poking their heads out of shrubs and mumbling into their walkie-talkies. I was concerned, but Miss B gave my fears short shrift. “LET ‘EM COME! I’LL HEEEEERD THEM TOO!”

After the exciting walkies, Miss B is all knackered, with the result that whenever I go into another room she follows me, then flops down heavily with a sigh and stares at me like you’re not gonna make me move again, are you? Poor thing. I didn’t think I could wear out an Aussie, for heaven’s sake.

So I’m settled in with a cuppa and a metric ton of triple-ginger gingersnaps. (I have absolutely, positively no self-control when it comes to these gingersnaps. I will eat a whole tub of them in a day unless I hide them from myself, and sometimes even then.) And it’s time for a Reader Question! I had planned to put this in the podcast (still working on #2, sorry) but it’s probably better to do it here. Today’s question is from Reader Anna C:

I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a writer, although in everything I try to write, I hit a stumbling block after thirty pages or so.

Your blog has helped me immensely over the months but I keep getting stuck at The Hole. I’ve got the idea and a chunk of writing down and it’s very shiny and golden and the style is exactly how I want the rest of the book to go. But then I fall into The Hole and the writing steadily disintegrates from there. The style differs greatly from when I’ve begun and it just seems to get worse and worse.

Your advice so far seems to consist of putting my head down and plodding along and its seeming to work (I set a New Year’s Resolution of at least 1K a day). I was just wondering if there was anything else I could do to help it along, or whether I should just finish the damn thing and work on revisions to get the style right. (Reader Anna C., from email)

Try to consider this idea: perhaps your “style” isn’t changing. Perhaps your perception of your “style” is changing. You may just hit the Slough of Despond part of writing a novel. Every time one sets out to write a novel, there’s the “oooh shiny!” in the beginning, and then, sooner or later, it becomes The Book That Will Not Die No Matter How Many Times You Stab, Slash, Hack, Burn, Or Otherwise Try To Murder It.

The interesting thing about the slog, for me, is that it started out being at the end of the first third of a book. Nowadays, it’s reliably after halfway or at the very latest, two-thirds of the way through that it will hit me. Working through it time and again seems to have inoculated me, at least slightly. Total immunity, I’m afraid, is not really possible.

Your perception of your “style” changing from “golden” to suckage is not unique. This alchemical reaction happens to every writer (indeed, I’d bet money it happens to every artist, no matter the medium) and, like puberty, it’s overwhelming and robs you of perspective. I haven’t found any cure for this. The only thing that helps me is the snarling stubbornness. So it sucks? Fine. I’ll make it be the best suckitude EVER. Take THAT, self-doubt! Nyah!

Not very adult, but it gets me through.

Above all, keep writing. If you have not finished a piece yet, you need the experience of finishing in order to gain some small amount of perspective on the process, and to prove to yourself that you CAN. It wasn’t until my third or fourth finished manuscript that I began to see the pattern and the various ways I would try to trick or sabotage myself out of getting the damn thing well and truly done. Like facing any fear, the first time is often the hardest. Then you know you’ve done it at least once, and you have object proof that the world didn’t end and it perhaps wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be.

When faced with this, I am reminded of something Stephen King had Adrian Mellon, a minor character in IT, say. “It may be a terrible novel,” the writer remarks, “but it will no longer be a terrible unfinished novel.” That’s always stuck with me. Whether the book sucks or not is not important. You can’t hope to get better at writing a complete book without writing complete books, which means finishing. Just try to keep in mind that the perception of your “style” changing and suddenly sucking may not be the absolute truth, and if it is, well, you’ve a better chance at fixing it when it’s seen in relation to the whole, finished story.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

My ankle is colorfully bruised and still swollen. I seriously haven’t had bruises this awesome in a long, long time. I can move about on it, and the brace helps, but it looks like I’m not going to get back to running as soon as I thought I was. This makes me somewhat cranky. Anyway.

When I’m questioned about writing combat scenes, I think today’s post is the sort of answer the questioner expects. Unfortunately, to get here, one has to build on everything that’s come before: why you would want to beat the shit out of your characters; reason, stakes, and cost; getting a zero draft; and big-pixel revising. Now we’ve reached the fine-tuning revision, where one breaks down a scene sentence by sentence (not as much fun or as much dreadfulness as it sounds) and polishes it to give the reader the illusion of a (hopefully) seamless combat scene.

Here’s a (not definitive or comprehensive, but hopefully helpful) list of the sorts of things I do when I’ve hit the fine-tune revision of a combat scene:

* Pick the best sensory cues. Remember earlier when you jammed in every sensory cue you could find? Here’s where it pays off–you get to look at each one, and decide which is best. (This is why I save a draft right after the big-pixel revision; sometimes I go back looking for a sensory cue from an earlier draft.) This requires you to be ruthless–sometimes the cue that’s best isn’t the one you like most, and you also have to juggle the scene as a whole and make sure you’re not hitting just one particular sense (say, hearing) over and over again. You want the reader to be pulled in, hopefully with full-body sensations. (Seducing the reader is easier if you make it holographic.) Not only that, but different readers have different sensory needs/preferences. You want to maximize your chances of hitting at least one sense really well for the reader.

Deciding which sensory cue is the best is something that will be different for every writer, and the only way to learn it is by writing–and reading. I’ve written elsewhere about why reading is so important if one wants to write–it will teach you, once you’ve done it often enough, a sense of what works and what doesn’t on the page. A certain Blink-style judgment will result from a critical mass of reading, and the pure practice of revising your own work will help too. There is no easy shortcut.

* Look at sentence length. The gaze moves on the page, commas provide a pause, periods halt the reader’s eyes for a moment. Learn to use sentence length to give the reader cues. Short choppy sentences pass quickly and can give a reader a sense of speed or of jerky motion. Run-ons can be used to drag the reader along breathlessly. “Breathlessly” is a big clue–if you want to work on the pacing of a combat scene, read it out loud. Notice where you take breaths, notice where the natural “breaks” in each sentence are, and think about how you want those breaks to actually run. Reading it out loud is actually one of the best tools for getting to a respectable combat scene.

Don’t be afraid to really get into it. Get histrionic while reading it aloud. The exaggeration will lay bare every place where it’s not as amped as it could be, and every nook where you want the reader to slow down and savor. Getting a reader through a combat scene is kind of like satisfying sex–a balance between breathless urgency and slow savouring. Sometimes you shift the toward one extreme or the other, depending on your mood. Paying attention is mandatory.

Yesterday’s description of how I sprained my ankle used different sentence lengths in different places, from the run-on describing the bouldering route to the short, staccato “I didn’t listen” to the ending broken up into three short words with a period after each to slow the reader down and provide the terminus. I revised it deliberately to be an illustration of this principle. Kudos and extra credit if you broke it down, dear ones.

* Maximum clarity. It should be utterly clear who is doing what to whom, what the stakes are, who has a dog in the fight, what that dog is, and what every dog wants.

* Maximum weight carried. The fine-tune revision is where you ask yourself at every damn point, “Is this sentence necessary? Is it carrying its own weight? Does it advance the action, provide characterization, or give a sensory cue? Can I make it do two of those things at once?” The good news is, once you’ve developed this set of mental muscles, you start asking yourself these questions even while writing, which is nowhere near as panic-inducing as it sounds. It makes your writing better once you’ve gone through a couple fine-tune revisions and start getting a sense of what combing through a scene this thoroughly entails.

Sometimes you may decide that a sentence isn’t necessary, but you want it there to slow the reader down, or it will become important later in the work that you have a detail there. That’s all right–just be prepared for your editor to call you on it. Which brings us to an important point:

* Getting edited is still going to hurt. Even the pickiest fine-tune revision you do on your own work won’t match the brutal objectivity of an editor’s take on it. You are too close to your own work to be that objective. (This is a good thing. Your involvement with your own work is necessary for you to be vulnerable enough to touch the core of human experience and transmit that core.) Your editor’s job is to make the book as awesome as it can be, and it is going to hurt your tender pride. Get over it.[1]

Why bother with this sort of fine-tuning if the editor’s going to catch you anyway? Simple. You are doing a disservice to yourself and your readers if the book is not as strong as you can make it going out the gate; sometimes you can even catch yourself before you commit a boner move in front of your editor when you fine-tune this closely. Every little bit helps.

* Burn any dead wood. Dialogue tags. Passive constructions. Unneeded detail. These things are your enemies in combat scenes. You want punch, you want adrenaline, you want heart in mouth and jaw on floor. If a sentence isn’t pulling its weight, make it do so or kill it. You can always add later at the request of an editor (within reason). Get every single sentence in the scene working as hard as it possibly can.

Yes, I know I just told you above that a sentence might not be “necessary” but you might want it to slow a reader down a fraction. That means it’s functioning deadweight, and you have to be crystal clear about why you want the deadweight in that particular place. I call this the Copyedit Principle–every time I reject a single copyediting change, I am thankful that I have to stop and think about precisely why, and if I do not have a good defensible reason I am not allowed to be a whinypants and scrawl STET. If you want extra weight anywhere in a combat scene, you must justify it satisfactorily.

* The finish line. The closer a combat scene gets to its culmination, the less deadweight you want. Unless you chapter-break in the middle of the scene (you may want to do this for varying reasons, including maximizing tension or because you want the reader to get into the next chapter before they set the book down to go cook dinner or whatnot) you want to get to a white-hot dead gallop by the end. Think of a good car chase scene in the movies–by the end of it, the car should be busted up and everyone else involved should be breathless and possibly bleeding. The last paragraph(s) should tell us if the hero/ine (or anyone else) has got what they wanted out of this interaction, and should also bring the combat scene to a close in a way that allows the reader to feel satisfied. It doesn’t mean you can’t start ramping up the tension again soon, but you do need to give the reader a chance to catch his/her breath and look back over the mountain she’s just climbed with your characters and say “Dayum, that was good.”

* Get rid of repetitions. Repetitions, unless handled very carefully, are deadweight. Sometimes an editor will say “What happened to X? Mention it again, because we forget about it here.” This is probably necessary if they’re asking for it, but during the fine-tune revising, be on the lookout for your particular word-tics and mannerisms. This is difficult and one will never, ever manage to do it perfectly. Still, during the fine-tune revision, spot and kill as many of them as you can. (Beta readers often will catch and highlight these.)

I warned you that this list wouldn’t be exhaustive or definitive, just (hopefully) helpful. Now for the bad news: I’m worn out, so I’m going to take a short hiatus from Friday writing posts-probably two weeks, maybe a month. The good news is that when I come back, I will do a couple catch-up posts of the best questions asked in the comments of this whole combat-post series. So, go ahead and ask. I may not get around to answering every question, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Right.

Until then, dearies, keep writing. Over and out.

[1] I leave out the tricky morass of revenge edits and editor agendas here.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there is even more advice, and giveaways too!

It’s Friday again. How on earth did that happen? Before we get started, here’s Philip Pullman: “Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value.

There are a couple new-this-week interviews with me, one at Reading Awesome Books, and another over at CJ Redwine’s place, where I am interviewed by Captain Jack Sparrow. You can also enter to win a signed set of the first three Strange Angels books at CJ’s until Sunday.

It’s time for another in my ongoing series about writing combat scenes. So you’ve figured out why you want to beat the snot out of your characters, and you’ve got a grasp on the reason, stakes, and cost. Now it’s time to write the damn scene.

The bad news is, writing a combat scene is just like writing any other damn scene. It requires your ass in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. The not-so-bad news is that the key to combat scenes is revising; but in order to revise you must have a chunk of original text to tweak. The good news is that there are ways to make it easier, and if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve watched enough action movies to have some idea of how to visualize a good combat scene.

The usual disclaimers (every writer’s process is unique, some of this advice may not work for you, your mileage may vary, beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot) apply. Given that, here’s a few things that may help while you’re writing a combat scene.

* Research, research, research. I like research. Plus, it can save one from making embarrassing mistakes. Research can be: reading a forensic pathology study guide, or a guide on combat psychology and physiology; going to the range and taking some handgun classes to understand just what it feels and sounds like to fire a gun; swinging a dress-metal katana in your backyard as you work out a fight in your head; asking a hobbyist about their passion for stamps/kung fu/military history; interviewing a cop/firefighter/martial artist. Most people love to talk about themselves and their passions or their jobs. A writer can learn a lot by listening, and buying a few drinks. There’s also the Internet, which one can use as a research tool only if one applies a strenuous bullshit test to every piece of information found on it. You get the idea.

The danger with research is that you can mistake it for the actual work of writing. I’m a magpie for knowledge–my TBR stack is actually an overflowing bookcase, and I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting little facts and connections. I’ve fallen into the trap of getting so interested in a small research question for a book that I’ve lost a day or two to chasing down more and more about a subject, finally blinking and looking up and giving myself a good headsmack. Be open to serendipity, but give your research boundaries. And always, always, go about it safely. I do NOT recommend going out and getting into fights just to see if it’s true that they hurt. That’s stupid and dangerous. Please just take my word for it.

* Blocking. I found out about scene blocking in high school. I wasn’t in drama–I wasn’t pretty enough for the drama teacher to have as a protege–but I was an extra in a play or two, and the concept of blocking out a scene felt very natural to apply to combat scenes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out in the backyard (or in the field that used to be behind my house) swinging around a dress-metal katana or cracking a bullwhip at a pile of something, blocking out a fight in my head. Something about the physical movement gives the visual inside my skull pegs to hang on, and informs them with a great deal of immediacy for me.

If you are concerned about looking like an idiot while doing that, you’re just going to have to let go of that. I love ballet, but I had terrible anxiety in class until my teacher said, “Nobody is looking at you funny. Everyone else in here is worrying about their movements. I am watching, but even I can’t watch you all the time, and I’m watching you in order to teach you. So relax. Everyone else here is worrying about the size of their legs too.” By and large, nobody’s watching. If they are, well, you can just tell them you’re a writer.[1]

* Music. Music is a very integral part of my creative process. To get myself in the mood for a Kismet fight scene, for example, I would often listen to the Cure’s Wrong Number with my eyes closed, watching Jill clear a hellbreed hole. I play certain songs for certain scenes, and I spend a lot of my morning runs in what seems to be a trancelike state, the music accompanying scenes inside my head while my body’s occupied with running one mile after another.

* Sensory cues. Most fights are chaos. Tunnel vision happens when an average person gets adrenaline really going. These two things can make it difficult for a writer to tease out how to describe a combat scene. Blocking the scene out will help immeasurably, but once you have, get some detail on the page. Tell me how the blood tastes, that the punch to the gut huffed all your air out and brought your dinner up in an acid rush, that the sound of the damned screaming as bullets plowed through their unholy flesh was a chorus of glassine despair. Don’t worry that you’re giving too much–that’s what revision is for. Get as much sensory detail as you can into the fight scene so you can pick the best of it later. Here is where the ability to visualize is worth all the practice you can give it–and if you have trouble visualizing, find the sense you have the least trouble using. Some people are auditory writers, some are tactile; I’m very visual and olfactory. (Writing about death and decay sometimes makes me physically ill, since I smell what my characters do.)

Training yourself to go into a story like this strikes directly at the heart of what most of us are told when we’re kids–to stop daydreaming, to pay attention, to not space out. It’s a balance, like so much about this writing gig. Keen observation and paying attention are necessary (and they can’t hurt when you’re trying to cross a street or walking in a bad part of town); finding that little “click” and stepping into the hallucinatory space of daydreaming a story, that focused creative state, is necessary as well. You need both in order to do this well, so practice both; they will feed and inform each other in startling ways.

* Get in and get it done. I don’t leave the keyboard in the middle of a combat scene unless there’s an immediate physical emergency. Sex scenes, dramatic scenes, bridging scenes I can all walk away from, and sometimes I even let sex scenes marinate a couple days. (Again, YMMV.) But a combat scene depends on me sitting down, having it clear in my head, and getting out a chunk of text. Knowing the reason, stakes, and cost before I go into it helps.

These sessions are usually the ones that leave me soaked in sweat or shivering, adrenaline copper on my tongue and my body aching in sympathy for my hero/ine. These are also the scenes where the house could quite probably burn down around me and I might not notice unless I had to rescue children or cats. I am not quite deaf to the world during them, but it’s close. I like this, it’s one of the perks of writing as a career. But if I get up in the middle of it and go away, I lose steam and sometimes it’s hard to find the hook to get back into the fight. I get exhausted if I stop or slow down. (Or, God forbid, use the loo. Forget Kegels, writing combat scenes straight through is great practice for one’s perineum. Ah, the glamour of this career!) As an aside, this is related to my practice of not leaving the keyboard at the end of a scene or chapter. For some reason, I find it easier to regain momentum if I have even just a couple throwaway lines to begin the next chapter/scene before I walk away from the writing.

* Have fun. Fighting in real life is deadly serious. It is a last resort, not to be engaged in unless one or one’s loved one is in direct dire physical danger. But fighting in fiction is fun. Action movies are fun to watch. Writing a combat scene, especially one in which you can bend the laws of physics a little, is a blast. Yeah, there’s cost and stakes for your character, but you should be having a ball. Don’t forget Steven Brust‘s invaluable little sentence to tack up in your writing space: And now, I’m going to tell you something REALLY cool. You’re telling someone something really goddamn cool. Get into it. Have a ball, have a blast, have some fun. If you aren’t, it’ll be even more difficult for your reader to. You don’t ever want that.

Okay. So, those are things that help you squeeze out the zero draft of a combat scene. But your work isn’t finished yet. Not by a long shot. To really make a combat scene pop, there are specific ways to revise that lovely zero draft of that scene that made you go “ooooh!” We’ll go over those ways next week.

Class dismissed.

[1] I really think this saved me from getting arrested once. (Suffice to say I was blocking out a fight with a dress-metal katana and a cop noticed and bounced his car up into the field. Once I told him I wrote romance, he just laughed and told me to be careful.)

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there’s advice, giveaways, or cool things every day.

It’s time for another Friday writing post! I promised I’d talk about fight scenes, didn’t I. Well…it turns out I have more to say about action scenes than I thought, so I’m going to break it up over a couple Fridays. Today I’ll be talking about why you would possibly want to beat the shit out of your characters.

*pause, evil smile*

It’s not just because it’s fun. Or because one is sadistic. (Although those are considerations.) There are several reasons why you might possibly have to write a fight scene.

* Raising the stakes. There’s nothing quite like fisticuffs or a blaster battle to tell the reader that things are Getting Real, or Getting Desperate. There’s nothing like a surprise attack for making two characters who might loathe each other realize they have common cause. Pacing and tension pull a reader through a story, and several little crises along the arc of tension keep a reader interested. If you are not raising the stakes throughout your story, how are you planning on holding the reader’s interest? Sure, raising the stakes can be done in other ways…but a good fight is sometimes the best way.

* Breaking a character. When I set out to write a Jill Kismet book, part of the process is figuring out just how to break her. How physically tired and miserable I can make her, how far I can push her, and what a person’s mind and body does under that sort of strain. I’ve written before about how fascinated I am with the mechanisms of the human mind and body and how they react to extraordinary situations, how the mind breaks down or is reinforced by training. (If you’re interested, a good place to start researching might be Grossman’s On Combat.) I don’t think you really know a character until you break them, and I am perennially fascinated by the question of endurance and why and how some people endure.

Without risk, no reward, for the character or the reader. Pushing a character toward (or over) the edge, especially when that character is the reader’s point of entry into the story, makes the risk higher and the reward, when it comes, that much sweeter.

* Because life isn’t fair. Life is not all rainbows and ponies and butterflies. Bad things happen. Every human being knows that sometimes, shit just happens. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it’s the way it is. Art is a way of transforming the world, and a lot of the impetus for art, for that transformation, is the fact that the world is messed-up and sometimes shit happens. Being relatively honest about this fact will give your story depths it might not otherwise possess. If there is no real risk, if you create a world on the page where everything is fair and there are no real consequences…well, you can write that story, you have a perfect right to, but I prefer not to. Writing that sort of story doesn’t feel real to me, and reading that sort of story doesn’t generally set me on fire.

* Unresolved issues. This is a tricky subject to talk about gracefully. Sometimes, writing a combat scene can help a writer process a trauma. For example, a few Decembers ago I was in a car accident (twisty road, dark and rainy, a deer with a death wish, voila) and it gave me fuel for nightmares (never a huge trick) until I wrote a car-crash scene or two. Something about writing that helped my brain and heart say, okay, that was awful, but it’s over and we can put it on this shelf now.

I’ve had some dreadful experiences, and writing has been a chain to pull me through the soup of nasty lingering trauma plenty of times. Exorcising my demons on the page hasn’t always been fun, but it works. And afterward, those experiences became much less scary for me to think about, because (this is my personal theory, YMMV) I had exercised control over them through transmuting them into words, and I had found a meaning in them. (Thank you, Viktor Frankl.)

* Pacing and practice. You may need to speed a story up, get its heartrate revving and build momentum for the big finish. Alternatively, you may want to trip your character and send them sprawling so you can get a word in edgewise and slow things down. Both are things a fight scene can do. Fiddling with a book’s pacing is largely a matter of practice, and combat scenes are great practice for both for intra- and interscene pacing, as well as overall.

There are other reasons you might want to kick the everloving hell out of your characters. But only one more bears mentioning, and it is the single most compelling reason. All the other reasons are in addition to this precondition, without which there is no combat scene:

* The story requires it. It’s nice to have combat scenes and they’re fun to write. But, just like sex scenes (which, I suppose, a lot of the same skill set for writing combat could be used for), they must be germane to the plot.

Here is an Ideal Law of Writing Well: every piece of dialogue/sentence/paragraph/chapter/section/book must ideally do three things: build character, give the reader a sensory cue, and move the plot along. I call this an “ideal” law because it’s something to aim for even though we live in an imperfect world and are working with imperfect tools. (If you can manage to do at least two of the three necessary things consistently at the sentence level and above, you’re a frickin’ genius and you don’t need any bloody advice from me. I’ll probably read your books and weep with grinding envy.) It will not always be possible to do this, but (especially when you are revising) this is a wonderful clarifying concept to keep in mind.

A combat scene is no different. It must give the reader sensory cues, it must show us something about the characters, and it must also move the plot along. If it’s just thrown in for the hell of it, or thrown in the wrong place, or shoehorned in because “all these types of books have to have a combat scene”, the scene (no matter how beautifully written) has a virtual certainty of failing for the reader. We don’t want that. We want to maximize the reader’s chances at every turn. So first, critically and crucially, before you write that combat scene, take a second to think about if it’s necessary and what kind of pacing you’re trying to accomplish.

You are the best judge of this while you’re writing. If you’re going hot and heavy and a fight scene falls out of your head, don’t sweat it. Take it as a gift and move along. If you decide you need a combat scene but haven’t the faintest idea of where to begin, don’t lose hope. Next week we’re going to talk a little bit about what a good combat scene consists of.

Can’t wait. Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jan. 7th, 2011 10:08 am)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames! There are giveaways and tons of other cool stuff. Check us out!

First, the news! The Jill Kismet series is spotlighted during January over at Barnes & Noble. And I am considering–only considering, mind you–how to turn the Squirrel!Terror chronicles into a paper book. (I have to look at what editing, formatting, and a cover would cost and decide if it’s worth the time investment.) I’ve also spent the last couple weeks talking with Audiobook People about pronunciations for the Valentine series. Tres exciting!

So this morning, I had no idea what I would do for a Friday post. I made the mistake oferm, had the bright thought of asking for questions on Twitter and Facebook. I only have time for two or three answers, so here goes:

* Steelflower and Cover Models. Many of you asked about Steelflower. I appreciate the interest, and there are two more Kaia books in my head. (One deals with Redfist’s homeland; the other deals with G’maihallan under siege.) The problem is, I am contracted pretty tightly for other things. Kaia is on the back burner for the time being.

Many of you also ask me about cover models, for example, the lovely lady featured on the Strange Angels covers. I am not the right person to ask, because I have about as much control over the covers as I do over the weather in Russia. The best way to get that question answered is to ask the publisher, they’ll be more than happy to help you out.

* ARCs. I get tons of requests for Advance Reader Copies. I hate to break it to you, but I don’t generally get ARCs of anything other than the very first in a series, and I normally only get two or three of those. When I do get copies of my books, it’s usually slightly after bookstores get them, or, more often, when bookstores put them on the shelf. I also, as a matter of policy, do not send out e-versions for review. (Blame the e-pirates for this. Seriously.) If you have a review blog, if you want a review copy, please contact the publisher of the series in question. Ask for their marketing department, explain that you’d like to get on the list for review copies, and see what happens.

* Broken stories. The most interesting question was from friend and Reader Monica V:

Might be neat to hear your take on whether or not a story can be “fixed.” I say sometimes? No.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on where it’s broken. If it’s a question of the story being too thin to hold up the amount of wordcount you’re expecting, the fix can be turning it into a short, a novella, or a vignette rather than a novel. It can also be a signal that you need more conflict, or you need to discover the deeper conflicts and motivations that are already there.

If it’s a question of one writing oneself into a corner, then the fix is a little harder. If I hit one of these (and believe me, I have) I usually set the story aside, work on something else, and sleep on the problem. Usually, upon waking the next morning, I find my unconscious has been busily chewing over the whole thing and will either present me with a relatively elegant solution that takes into account little details I didn’t remember writing before (always fun) or a less-elegant solution that involves me getting rid of a chunk of text.

If the latter is called for (which is infrequent, thank goodness), here’s a tip: save the chunk you’ve lopped out in a separate file. I title mine “title of work BITS”, and stick it in the same folder with the master draft I’m working on. Sometimes that chunk is just in the wrong place because I got excited; sometimes, with a little alteration, it can be pressed into service elsewhere. Stick it in the graveyard and let it ferment, don’t totally erase it. (And don’t ask me how I learned that unless you’re prepared for a bitter, bitter rant. Heh.)

Of course, this presupposes that a story is truly “broken” instead of laziness or fear being the problem. How can you tell if a story is broken?

This is incredibly difficult, because you are too close to it to see it clearly. The only way to figure out when a story is broken is to have practice in finishing stories, so you can understand your process a little better. Practice will help you distinguish between a truly-broken story (one you cannot write because there is no fixing it) and a story you need to work around (characters without motivations, motivations that don’t make sense, plot holes, plot painted into a corner, characters behaving without rhyme or reason, the list is endless) to find the proper way of telling. Each story is unique, your process is unique, so you are going to have to practice to learn the art of distinguishing “broken”.

Generally, I try to rule out everything else before I decide a story is irretrievably gone. I tend to view a roadblock in a story as a case of user error instead of bad programming, so to speak. To use another analogy, I treat it as if the story is being broadcast, but my decoding of the transmission is off in some way that causes error or, more frustratingly, creep. Once I’ve ruled all that out, and once I’ve banged my head against the wall of the story enough, I’ll either ask for help from my trusty beta, or I’ll move on. There are stories I thought were broken, but when I come back to them on my periodic runs through the graveyard I’ll find out they were actually pretty okay, I just needed time/distance/a little more maturity to successfully deal with them.

Whew. That was a long, circuitous answer. It’s an interesting and difficult question, with many layers. (Like ogres. Or pie.) I’ll probably come back to it later and chew it over some more, but I’ve got to jet.

Tune in next week for talking about fight scenes! That was another question this morning, and one that deserves a whole post to itself…

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 31st, 2010 12:15 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where it’s a party like it’s 1999 ALL THE TIME!

2010 was a watershed year. ’09 sucked pretty bad, but ’10 has more than made up for it. That’s the thing about learning: it’s sometimes a painful process.

I plan on greeting the New Year sound asleep, actually, because I need sleep more than celebration at this point. For lo, I am old and boring. But, to mark the fact that I made it through another fifty-two weeks and have largely gotten things Under Control and Well Situated, here’s three things I learned about writing in this last year. (Because one can always learn something new about writing, I think.)

* Changing creative fuel doesn’t have to be hard. “Creative fuel” can be different things for different artists. Some writers use emotional drama to fuel their writing. Messy personal lives are a good source of fuel, it’s true–but the cost of using that fuel can make it unsustainable. It can provide an occasional “kick”, too, and I’m a firm believer that there’s no better way to process something than to strip-mine it for material (that car crash in ’06 was priceless, let me tell you) but constantly using conflict or emotional drama as fuel is not a happy cupcake. Letting go of using that fuel is scary–it’s reliable, it’s fast, it plays into the create-more-drama loop, and it’s got a hell of a rocket kick. But one needs longer-term sources of fuel, especially if one wants to have a longer-term career.

The good news is that other sources of fuel are available pretty much by default, and one is already using them, since one can’t write by drama alone. I can categorically insist and promise with a clear conscience that the other fuels are there, they provide just as much kick, and the hangover from using them is way less intense. You don’t have to worry about whether you’ll have Things To Write About or fuel for writing if you move away from the drama. You will have more Things To Write About, and fuel that doesn’t make your life look like a smoking crater afterward. Which is really a pretty good deal.

* Trust the work. This is more in the nature of recovered or confirmed knowledge instead of “new” knowledge, but it bears repeating. I’ve been terrified over the past year that I wouldn’t be able to produce (due to a number of Personal Reasons we won’t go into until I can make the Public Announcement and get it over with) or that if I did, it wouldn’t be my usual quality. “Terrified” is not too strong a word for how much I’ve feared that.

But my editors are happy. They say I’ve actually gotten better. (Readers’ opinions may vary, of course. I’m okay with that.) And I’ve made every deadline and to spare these past two years, no matter what was going on or how I felt about it. The habit of just Sitting The $&#% Down and Doing It has never stood me in such good stead; and I’ve found comfort and solace in the things I’ve finished. Being able to crawl inside another world, one where I have a measure of control and free will that I might otherwise lack, has been a lifesaver. If you commit to the work, it will help you.

* Physical movement helps. Again, more in the nature of “recovered” knowledge here. I hadn’t realized, until I started losing weight, how physical a writer I truly am. Once my body gets over the “Christ what did I do to you, why are you DOING this to me?” moment at the start of every run, I settle into a peculiar meditative state where plots germinate, characters speak, and things just generally shake into place. I’ve come to depend on that time (see, an alternative source of fuel! I’m so sneaky!) as a part of the creative process.

I am not saying you have to run however-many miles in the morning to be creative. Far from. I’m saying to never underestimate the power of some kind of physical movement to shake things free inside your brain. Got a plot tangle? Character giving you trouble? Go for a brisk walk, do some jumping-jacks, put some music on and dance around a bit. More often than not (okay, a ridiculously high percentage of the time) this will shake it loose, make the character behave, take the work in a new direction. Plus, it’s good for you. We tend to forget how physical an act writing truly is. The brute work of typing 60-100K words for a zero draft of a novel (not to mention however many thousands in revision, dear God) is hard on the body. It’s hard on the fine structures of the fingers and wrists, it’s hard on the forearms, sitting for that long is hard on the back and the legs and your core. Moving around is good for you and will help ameliorate the purely-physical cost of writing.

There you have it, three things 2010 taught me about writing. They’re maybe not new things, and other people found them out way before I did. Still, I gained what feels like a greater understanding. And, you know, I’m stubborn. Mostly, people can’t tell me a damn thing. I have to run into it and bark my toes (or other more tender places) before I Figure It Out. Oh well. There’s always next year.

Assuming I want to change that about myself, that is. I’m not so sure. But that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

So, a safe happy New Year’s to you and yours. Enjoy, be responsible, have some fun, and let’s do that time warp again

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 24th, 2010 02:12 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Have a great holiday!

I honestly couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t string a thought together inside my noggin until I realized I hadn’t had coffee before I left the house this morning. Now, safely returned and soaking up caffeine, I’m amazed nobody got hurt. It’s a big ol’ zoo out there. I’m glad to be settled in now, listening to my windchimes rattle and watching rain speckle the window.

This Friday, instead of a process post, I thought I’d get into the holiday spirit (so to speak) and list a few things writing has given me. It’s difficult for me to understand how people get on without writing, but a lot of people find it just as difficult to understand how I get along without watching telly. Fair’s fair.

Writing is what I was made and designed to do. I suspect that when I was being made someone poured a dose of graphomania into my bones. I cannot conceive of not writing, I know I would not have survived a few things if not for the act of stringing words together. That act, an old and deep magic, has saved me uncounted times, and it continues to save me every day. These are a few things writing has given me, or taught me:

* Endurance. I’m a big fan of stubborn endurance anyway. Well, maybe not “fan”. Maybe “unsuspecting idiot who can’t do anything else”. Writing, especially writing for publication, has fed that deep-down stubborn refusal to quit I’ve carried around like a load of lead in my bones my entire life.

Example? When I was learning to ride a bicycle, I didn’t get that you had to pedal backward to brake. It just made no sense to me. So I simply got up to speed, and when I wanted to stop I just picked something to run into. This was a bit uncomfortable (it’s a miracle I didn’t break anything, really) and it took a month or two before the “click” happened and my body figured out about the pedaling-backward-to-brake thing. I could give another hundred examples, but I think that one will do. I approached publication basically the same way: I kept going until I found out how to make it work. And the several iterations a book has to go through before it’s publishable (draft, draft, draft, copyedits, proofs, ARGH) are a test of that stubbornness. Good or bad, writing fuels it, and in doing so, writing has taught me a lot about just picking up and carrying on.

* The habit of observation. The world can be a cruel, malicious, terrible, nasty, brutish place. Human beings seem to love nothing better than helping it along down that path. Or at least, that’s what I was convinced of decades ago, growing up in an emotional desert and struggling to survive. The habit of observation to gather material for writing, however, has crept in and loosened some of that. Yes, the world is a nasty place sometimes. But it is also good. Things work out a ridiculous amount of the time. Not only that, but the act of observation is critical to the act of art, which is (to me) the act of transforming the world. Observing in service of writing has taught me that yes, life is suffering (thank you, Buddha) but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Beauty lies under the surface, and the potential for beauty can be seen and made.

* Value. Or perhaps more accurately, worth. For most of my life, I have struggled with an acute sense of worthlessness. I was told over and over that my value was essentially zero, or even negative. Writing taught me this was a lie. Not because I write things people eventually end up buying (though that is super-awesome, don’t get me wrong). No, it’s because the act of writing, of creating something out of nothing, has to have value. When I say writing has saved more than my life, this is what I mean: writing, creating something that wasn’t there before, teaches me in a very basic way that I have worth. Over and over again, this magic is performed for me. I just have to show up.

* Everyday increments count. This is my bargain with the Muse: as long as I keep swinging, she keeps pitching. I make the commitment to show up every day, and she brings the rest with her. I may only get a couple steps staggered down the road some days. But each inch I move forward gets me closer, and sooner or later, I get to the top of the mountain. Writing has taught me about breaking a journey to Mordor up into single steps, and taking each step one. at. a. time. Boring? Sometimes. Slogging? Yes. Thankless? Mostly. But it gets me there.

* Holding the line counts too. I got a lovely Christmas card from a reader. Inside, she wrote, “Thanks for throwing the line.”

I cried.

Writing is pursued in solitude. It’s easy to lose track of the outside world when you’re sewn up in a manuscript. When the book goes out into the world, it’s hard to remember that other people are picking it up and handling its internal world. Shouting into the void is a writer’s trade, and when the void answers…well, I can’t easily describe the feeling. I’ve had so many people write to me, or tell me at signings, of one of my books affecting their lives. Giving them strength or an escape, a shock of recognition or a few hours of release. It’s humbling and proud all at once. And it makes me ever more determined to hold the line, since you never know when someone might catch at the other end.

* Companionship. Writing has been my spur, my solace, my refuge, my vehicle, my weapon, my shield, a faithful friend and a constant lover, a source of strength and comfort, a necessary frustration and a saving grace. Whatever it is in me that searches for words to build a framework on, whatever accident or quirk that cracked the bedrock and gave me this secret spring, is a reminder that even in the desert I have an inner resource. One can be lonely even in a crowd, but writing makes my essential aloneness less lonely. Writing has never disappointed, failed, or betrayed me. It has literally saved my life and soul, and it asks so little in return–just the commitment to show up every day.

There are other things writing has given me, but this would turn into a Gormenghast of a blog post. (Can you tell what my reading project in the new year will be?) Anyway, this is just a few of the reasons why I write, why I will continue writing, why I can’t see stopping and why I say writing saved me. It has given me so much. And now we come to the point. (Yes, I had a point.)

You, whoever you are, have something similar inside you. Your bedrock is cracked too, and you have a secret spring. Don’t be afraid of it, or minimize it. Get down there and drink all you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s genius or pedestrian, if it’s novice or amateur or professional, it just doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. There is something inside you that can transform the world. It will always be there for you, no matter what. It’s yours, and nobody can ever take it away. It will remain with you always, and it is never too late to start dipping your cup.

This is a gift that is given. Grab it with both hands.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 17th, 2010 10:19 am)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

G’morning! I’ve updated the Strange Angels page for Defiance, and added a page for Taken, my Harlequin Nocturne coming out in February. I’ve been a busy little bee this morning. (I do hope to get a newsletter out by the first of the year, but don’t count on it.) There is all sorts of fantastic news I can’t share yet, but I can say that the busy will not abate. Which is good. I’m happiest when I’m working.

The alternative just doesn’t bear contemplating.

So here I am on another Friday. There’s a lot of work ahead of me today, I can’t stay long, so here’s Three Things That Hopefully Make A Post (two of them questions I’ve been asked lately):

1. How do you make a reader care about a Bad Man/Antihero/Almost-Villain? Well, first you have to be absolutely clear on what the Bad Man’s motivations are. You have to know what his glass of water is. You have to know why they are doing what they’re doing. Then, you need to figure out what the most effective way of getting that why across to the reader. Half the work in making a Bad Man (or Woman, I should add) is getting that understanding; understanding breeds compassion, as I kept saying to a certain Coyote until I was blue in the face. Once we understood Vader was Luke’s dad, a whole lot more about Vader started to make sense and he became much more than a cardboard villain. (I am not even referring to those movies with JarJar. Just…no.) Sit down and make a list of why your Bad Man does the things he does; then decide if you want the reader to care, or to loathe, or both. Then you can write him (or her) effectively.

2. What if you run out of ideas? Look, the world is a smorgasboard. There are stories waiting all around you, just aching to burst into your consciousness. I don’t believe there is any such thing as writer’s block, and I have always seen the world as literally CROWDED with stories. Every car you pass on the freeway, every person on the bus, every light in the city at night, every person you see at the mall or at work or ANYWHERE, has their own story. Thinking “What if?” and “Why?” when you observe the people and things around you is fabulous creative fuel. I will never run out of ideas. Some ideas will not be plausible, some will not be ones I can pull off in novel or short story form, some will be unable to bear the weight of story structure, some I’m just not interested in telling the story around. But running out of them? Nope. Won’t happen.

3. This isn’t a question I’ve been asked, it’s just a thing. I don’t do arbitrary. There isn’t room for arbitrary in stories. You curl your fingers around your swordhilt, you draw and make your cut, and you are either victorious or dead. I do not “throw in” romance because a particular genre “has to have a romance in the book.” I write the story first and worry about what genre it sticks in later. If I’m writing to spec, I pick stories knocking around in my head that tally with the specs. (There’s never any shortage–see #2.) But I do not arbitrarily put stuff in my books. If something’s there, it’s there for a reason. Sometimes that reason is just that I’ve made a choice, simple as that. But it’s not arbitrary. I rather resent the implication that I just throw shit into the books without any care or thought. (As if you couldn’t tell.) Right next to piracy (don’t even get me started), this is a major irritant.

And that’s three things that hopefully make a post. The current round of revisions is eating my head, and the proof pages I’ve got to get done this weekend (days off? What are those? Do they even exist?) are chuckling at me from their pile. Time to strap on the flamethrower and the red pencil and get to work.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 10th, 2010 09:57 am)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Here’s one thing about the life of a working writer: there is nothing quite like rereading five books in one of your series so you can make the sixth and final a reasonable first draft, tucking in all loose ends and making sure all things you want to resolve are nice and square, and the things you don’t want to resolve are done well.

For me, it’s kind of a Purgatory. It’s not quite hell, but it’s not comfy either.

I am not generally fond of rereading my own stuff. For one thing, after revisions, copyedits, proof pages, and reviews, sometimes I just get exhausted with a book. For another, writers are inveterate fiddlers. If not for deadlines we would continue polishing things forever. (Or maybe that’s just me.) I’m always seeing things that could be better, or catching little things I want to fix but can’t. It upsets me.

There’s the fact that while reading the book, I re-experience the emotional cost of writing it. I remember where I was when I wrote certain passages, what I was thinking about, what was happening around me. This particular series holds books that I wrote under acid-test conditions (to put it kindly) and remembering how I crawled into the story as a sharp-edged refuge is…well, a little difficult. Not only that, but I re-experience the characters’ emotional cost. Yes, I’m terrifically hard on my characters (no risk, no reward, remember,) but I suffer right along with them. Their hard-won victories make me feel good, the prices they pay for those victories are to some extent paid by me. (Though I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, my characters, thanks.)

Add to that the fact that I’m saying goodbye to a character I’ve literally bled with, and no wonder I’m wanting to take this easy. I make notes on my trusty legal pad, I fold down pages in my working copies (I keep one copy of every book to write notes in or check when I need to) I do my best to read critically, even though I’m still too close to the work to see everything. And I think about what the series has meant to me, if I pulled off what I meant to, if I didn’t punk out.

There are good things, too. I sometimes (not frequently enough, alas) run across passages I like. I usually don’t remember writing them, there are occasionally chunks where I hit the sweet spot and the words came through me without any interference. And every once in a while I am surprised into a laugh when a character makes a comment. (If one can’t find one’s own books occasionally funny, well…)

So I’m in a very reflective mood this Friday. I am bracing myself for the plunge through the fifth book this weekend; in many respects, the next-to-last book is the hardest to write, and this was no exception. Plus, I was incredibly stressed while I wrote it, and I don’t want to revisit that time. It’s still too raw. Too bad. Got a deadline. Gotta make it.

If you’re contemplating life as a working writer, just be prepared for the fact that the books don’t go away even after they’re published. They hang on your shell like barnacles, and sometimes you do have to scrape or feed them, or arrange them in different patterns, or just get them out and look at them. Wince at their imperfections, but try to be gentle with them and with yourself. Each book that makes it to the finish line is a victory; each book that makes it through the publication process is a double victory. To look back and say I could have done that better, yeah shows a certain amount of growth. That growth is a good thing, even if uncomfortable. Try to be gentle with yourself, and give yourself some credit for enduring, if nothing else.

I’m going to try to take my own advice on this. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Nov. 19th, 2010 10:18 am)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. New shiny!

It’s Friday again. How the hell did that happen?

I’m experimenting with getting up a few hours earlier so I can run, then get the kids off to school and settle down to work. This means I’m up at (wait for it) 5AM. Yeah, you read that right.

The good news will probably be increased productivity. The bad news is that I won’t see the squirrels, since it’s still dark. This morning, however, I was watched by a fiery-eyed possum. It was either trying to figure out what the hell I was doing or gauging how thick the glass was between us. Not sure. This made me nervous, but fortunately I was too worried about being upright and ambulatory before dawn to really fear the possum the way I should. Further bulletins as events warrant.

So last week we talked about my first three process-stages of novel-writing–the Shiny, the Explosion, and the Hole. I’ve saved the last two stages for a separate post because, to me, they are the most frustrating, the most interesting, and the hardest stages to get through.

I’m talking, of course, about the Slog and the Burn.

The Slog comes after the Hole–that part in the writing process where it’s not fun anymore, where I wake up and stare at the novel/short story/poem/essay/whatever and I think, this is total crap, I am total crap, everyone is going to hate this, everyone is going to hate me, I will have to give the advance back and we will all starve and the sun will go out and we’ll all DIE and it will be ALL MY FAULT AUGH. It isn’t rational and it isn’t pretty, and the only way through is putting my head down and plodding on. The Hole is pretty deep and dark even at the best of times, but chipping doggedly away at it gets me past the “OMG this sucks” and into the “DIE stupid book/story/whatever, DIE STABBITY STABBITY.”

It’s a subtle change. I quit focusing on how much the goddamn book sucks and and instead start focusing on just f!cking finishing. It becomes an endurance contest, and I think by now you have some idea of just how stubborn I am on a daily basis. (I mean, if you’re a regular reader. If this is your first time, welcome, and let’s just say a brick wall won’t win in a contest with my silly head. I am congenitally stubborn, and single motherhood has only made me more so.) There are some books I’ve only gotten through because I don’t want to let the goddamn thing win, others I’ve finished because of the habit of daily writing chips through the Hole and the Slog, bit by bit.

You can tell I’m in the Slog when I start joking about the Book That Will Not Die. My writing partner actually had a couple of rubber stamps made for me. (One more reason why she is Teh Awesome.) One says “STET DAMMIT”. The other just says “STABBITY” and I have a pad of red ink for it. There is nothing quite so satisfying during the Slog as printing off a few pages of the work in progress and stamping it all over with blood red ink while chanting “STABBITY!” at the top of my lungs.

Look, we all have different methods. Don’t judge.

Getting through the Slog is not easy. But once I finished a couple novels, both the Hole and the Slog became parts of a process instead of “OMG I am never going to f!cking finish this f!cking thing.” It was a small, crucial, welcome shift in my working attitude. Each time, if I just endured through the Hole and the Slog, I would reach the Burn.

The Burn is the point where a story comes together and my writing sessions become subjectively shorter but objectively longer. I’ll sit down one morning and wake up hours later, blinking and needing the loo pretty badly. I have to remind myself to eat–I’ll sometimes feed the kids and go back to the computer, and wonder why I’m hungry hours later–and force myself to do other maintenance-y type things, like washing myself. I start working at white heat, even faster than during the Explosion phase. All my energies are brought to bear on one single point.

The Burn is, like the Explosion, pure creative crack. But it’s the kind of rush I associate with exercise–a full-body endorphin rush from effort instead of the Explosion’s more passive, cerebral high.

Generally the wordage that comes out during the Burn is very clean and lean, and doesn’t require a lot of editing/revising. Once again I have a head full of story, I almost resent anything that pulls me away from working. I put in marathon sessions–my very high wordcount days are almost always during the Burn. Everything in the book just comes together, including things I’d written earlier that I had no earthly clue how they were going to turn out.

The closest thing I’ve ever seen to a visual representation of the transition between Slog and Burn is the classic domino scene from V for Vendetta. Suddenly everything just…clicks over. I finish the book at a gallop, and the flywheel inside my head is suddenly spinning wildly, all that ramped-up energy with nowhere to go. (This is why a recovery period is so necessary for me after each book; I have got to let that flywheel slow down or it will start smoking and sparking. Not a happy cupcake. But that’s a different post.)

This is why I say it’s critical to get into the habit of writing every day and also critical to finish a couple books before you give up on writing. The habit of writing will pull you through the Hole and the Slog; once you’ve finished a couple books you will have a much clearer idea of your own process that will help make the slogging parts of that process more manageable. The “huh, I’ve done this before” is a razor-thin margin, but sometimes it’s enough space to get a handle on the entire goddamn book so you can beat it to death. (It’s not quite as violent as I make it sound. (I’m just in the Hole part of a short story today. It makes me cranky.)

It does not get easier, per se. But knowing your own process at least places the Hole and the Slog in perspective and makes them more manageable. And really, some days “more manageable” is all one can hope for.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check out our new shiny!

Good afternoon, my dears. A couple things, then a small Friday post, then off into the wild blue yonder.

* If you look at my events calendar, you’ll see I’m at the Auburn, WA, public library tomorrow (Saturday), and on Sunday I’m at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s for the SF/F Authorfest. I’ll gladly sign books at both events, though there will be no books for sale at the Auburn library. I’m beginning to get pre-event nerves (nobody will show up, my heart will stop from sheer terror, someone will throw rotten fruit, etc., etc.) so I will just content myself with saying, if you’re in the area, both events promise to be a lot of fun.

* Want to know what makes me feel really, really unclean, and not in a good way? This article about James Frey preying on creative writing graduates.

This is the essence of the terms being offered by Frey’s company Full Fathom Five: In exchange for delivering a finished book within a set number of months, the writer would receive $250 (some contracts allowed for another $250 upon completion), along with a percentage of all revenue generated by the project, including television, film, and merchandise rights—30 percent if the idea was originally Frey’s, 40 percent if it was originally the writer’s. The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book but would not own its copyright. Full Fathom Five could use the writer’s name or a pseudonym without his or her permission, even if the writer was no longer involved with the series, and the company could substitute the writer’s full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future. The writer was forbidden from signing contracts that would “conflict” with the project; what that might be wasn’t specified. The writer would not have approval over his or her publicity, pictures, or biographical materials. There was a $50,000 penalty if the writer publicly admitted to working with Full Fathom Five without permission. (Inside Full Fathom Five, p. 3)

In case you’re wondering, these are bad, bad terms. They’re the sort of terms Guy Pearce’s Warhol offered Sienna Miller’s Edie Sedgwick, only without the initial friendship. Or the sort of terms Lord Ruthven might have offered one of his victims. I’ll just content myself with noting that Frey’s earlier hijinks make me feel filthy about this in a way that James Patterson’s or VC Andrews’s ghostwriters don’t. Also, dude, if you’re a rebel, you don’t need to go around saying what a rebel you are. Henry Miller would kick Frey’s ass for presumption.

“But wait!” you might say. “Nobody’s forcing these people to sign with Frey’s company! He’s not holding a gun to their heads or anything!”

True. But Bernie Madoff didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head either; scam artists don’t have to and we still prosecute them–or at least, evince some distaste for their methods. As a professional, I cannot condone Frey’s behavior and I hope one or two aspiring writers might decide in light of that article not to lend themselves to this nastiness. ‘Nuff said.

* Also, while I’m in take no prisoners mode, there’s the same kerfluffle there is every year over NaNoWriMo. (No, I’m not linking to the kerfluffles. They make me tired.) NaNo is great for one thing: teaching aspiring writers to shut up, sit down, and make writing a priority. That’s great, and it’s just the sort of lesson a lot of people who want to write often need. But writing only one month out of the year is not a good way to maximize your chances of producing quality, publishable work. That’s like saying a two-hour class can teach you to safely be a trapeze acrobat. I’m not knocking NaNo–I’ve participated several times, and plan to participate next year. It’s a good thing, but it’s not the sole means of becoming a writer or of learning to consistently produce publishable work.

Anyway. I promised another process post, didn’t I?

Read the rest of this entry » )

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

The winners of the Heaven’s Spite contest are now posted.

I know I promised a Friday writing post about process, but I’m afraid you wouldn’t get much of any use out of me yesterday or today. I’m having one of those weeks where I question my chosen career pretty hard. If it’s not piracy (Heaven’s Spite hasn’t been officially out for more than a week and the torrents are popping up like mushrooms) or plagiarism it’s someone implying NaNoWriMo is a waste because it encourages the plebes to write. Plus I just paid some taxes, and had a dentist appointment last week and other Life Shit piling up, so…yeah. I’m not an uber-happy little camper right now, and if you asked me to write about writing, what you’d get would be a pile of bitterness.

I’m not up to a bitter screed right now. (For once, yeah, I know. Call the press.)

So I’m just going to say this.

If you love to read stories, great. Don’t pirate them, because the end result of pirating is less stories for you. Write if you want to. Understand that making a living by writing is not easy and calls for professionalism and hard work. If you’re gonna do it, do it, and let me be the first to congratulate and support you. If you’re not, that’s okay, I wish you luck. Either way, brush your teeth, get enough sleep, hug the people you love and tell them what they mean to you. Watch out for ninja terminator squirrels.

And have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

That’s right, it’s the release week for the fifth Jill Kismet book, Heaven’s Spite.

To celebrate, I’ll be giving away three signed copies, over at the Deadline Dames. I regret that I can only ship inside the US, but that’s the way things are. To make it even, I’ll also be giving away a $20 Amazon gift certificate. And what must you do to win these wonderful prizes?

Simple! Just comment on this Deadline Dames post by midnight on Sunday, October 31 (the witching hour on Samhain, even). But not just any old comment, please. You can give your favorite quote, give a Dame a compliment, tell us your favorite Halloween candy or spooky story. The winners will be picked with the help of Random.org, and I may pick a special prize for originality. You never can tell.

I’ll announce the winners next Friday, and (I promise! I promise!) will have the long-awaited next Process Post then.

Thank you for reading! I’m very excited that Jill’s next adventures are out in the world.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, who have a shiny new website!

I’ve spent the last two days heaving blindly into whatever receptacle I can find. My stomach staged revolt, right when I had revisions under a tight deadline. So I’m going to bring out an old Midnight Hour writing post for this Friday’s offering. This is from April 25 of 2008, and I don’t think I’ve ever put it here before. Enjoy.

Permission to Create “Bad” Art
April 25, 2008

True to form, life hath served me my Friday post. Last Wednesday I was at a signing for for Elizabeth Lyon and saw some of my old writing students; we chatted a little bit about this very thing. And I’ve been reading f-listers’ thoughts about this particular issue all week. A lot of people seem to be struggling with it, so I’m going to give my two cents.

Coffee? Check. Comfy chair? Check. Idea firmly in mind? Check. Settle in, dear Reader.

Here’s what I want to say in a nutshell: It is perfectly okay to write dreck.

I’ve seen a lot of people lately agonising over the ‘fact’ that they write, well, crap. The plotting is clumsy, pacing nonexistent, they see the book so clearly in their heads but then go back and look at what they’ve written and it seems pale. Spiritless. Stupid. Pointless. They might as well just give it up because it’s not perfect or even very good. After all, they’ll only get rejected. Or they’ve gotten rejected several times already. And it’s horrible, but they’re starting to question this whole writing thing.

And I reply: God, don’t stop. This is when you’re getting better.

Assuming you are consistently practicing your writing, about every six months, stop and look back over something you haven’t touched for the past half-year. Open up the document and read it. And notice what you’d do differently now. When you’re in the wilds of practice, concerned with camping on the plain of the story every night, you don’t have time to notice how far you’re walking, how far you’ve come. You do have to stop and look back hard to realize it, and to realize how your ‘muscles’ have hardened and your craft grown more sure.

The willingness to engage in consistent practice is the willingness to learn. You’re going to have ‘crutches’ and things you rely on. (Like “that”–one of the most overused words in the English tongue–and dialogue tags, my particular follies. But I digress.) That’s why an editor and a good beta are worth their weight in gold and platinum. (Again, I digress.)

Practice has to start out somewhere. We all start out not knowing a story from a scene, the right verb from the wrong adverb, a passive action from an active one. And we all start out, from Chaucer to Hemingway, writing utter crap.

That’s why I call it writing “practice.” It’s just like dance class or tennis practice or even practicing your scales on the piano. You’ve got to make mistakes and stumble in order to learn.

Writing is a little odd in that we see the finished product on the shelves–the months and years of work that went into it are invisible. It takes far, far less time to read a book than it does to:

1. Write the first draft.
2. Get critique/let the manuscript sit
3. Write other drafts, from one to ten
4. Submit and get rejected a million times
5. Get accepted, wait for contract, wait for revision letter
6. Write other revised drafts
7. Arrive at final draft
8. Get copyedits
9. Get proof pages
10. Wait, biting nails, for the book to come out

That process–of a manuscript becoming a book–is so long and complex, and it allows a book to get better. It also grants a book a stamp of reality the half-finished noddles on my hard drive don’t have, the imprimatur of someone actually paid money for this.

Is it any wonder writers feel uncertain? Especially unpublished ones?

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the point I started out wanting to make. This is what I used to tell my writing students.

The first million words are practice. They can be as bad as they want to be while you’re learning. It is not important WHAT you write. It is important THAT you write, and write consistently, and keep looking for ways to make your writing better.

As long as you can open up something you wrote six months ago and see that you’ve made some progress, don’t sweat it so much.

You are going to have to accept that you may be too close to your own work to judge it for what it is. Most of the time, this leads to harsh self-judgment, not a clear-eyed appraisal of the work. Plus, the whole system of: crit readers who have egos to feed (possibly at the expense of yours, since there are bullies everywhere), toxic writing groups and classes (not all of them, but we all know my prejudices on this point), rejection by the bucketload (because publishing is a business; it is not about craft but about money, but writers often forget that and think it’s about Them Personally), even more rejection (because your manuscript may be meat to one agent/editor and poison to another), and EVEN MORE REJECTION (insert all other types of rejection here)…well, even the sanest, most thick-skinned writer could be reduced to a bleeding wreck twitching in the water by the end of it, you dig?

You have to find a way to write through all that. You have to give yourself permission to write something that may not be perfect. Even the Grand Old White Men of Litrachur had stinky-ass half-finished pieces of fanfic in their attics. We just don’t hear about those because the books they wrote after ages of practice are now taught in high-school classes. And not only that, but some of the Auld Classics are even crappy books. I can’t read Faulkner to save my life, and some of Dickens’s stuff bores me to tears. I love Dumas but I know lots of people who would rather shoot themselves in the head than read Louise de la Valliere. Even the classics are not immune from bad writing.

If Hemingway, Dumas, Faulkner, and yes, even Shakespeare (dude, have you READ some of the historical plays? YAWN.) struck out occasionally, what makes us think we won’t? Even Heinlein and Bradbury had their less-than-stellar moments. We just didn’t get to see the really horribly dreadful ones while they were learning their craft.

One of the most liberating things I ever read in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was this: you have permission to create “bad” art.

Yes, we try to be as good as we can, and a certain level of technical achievement is necessary to get published. But you will never reach that level of technical achievement if you’re not willing to make mistakes. Mistakes will teach you much more than noodling over an easy, perfect piece. Every mistake is a chance, every stumble an invitation to create a new dance step. You are allowed to do something badly while you are learning to do it.

Christ, I struggled with this. My parents were insistent that I had to do everything perfectly the first time–which is, I’ve come to learn, par for the course in abusive or dysfunctional households. Just wrapping my lips around the concept that I could write total crap and have it be okay was a brain-bender right up there with the nature of suffering and the existence of the Divine. It still is. I still get wrapped around the axle of “this can’t possibly be good enough.”

Especially when I’m about three-quarters of the way through a Book That Will Not Die, under deadline and short of sleep, and the entire world seems designed to drive home to me how inadequate I am as a writer and a human being. That’s when it’s hardest to give myself permission to just write the damn thing, get the corpse out on the table and then cut it up and prettify it.

Yeah. Like that.

But that’s another blog post.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

You can see the pictures from last night’s Educator Appreciation shindig here; many thanks to Jason of Bluewater Comics for manning the camera! He makes a great paparazzo. I got a chance to hang out with Darren Davis of Bluewater as well, who is just the most darling and scorchingly funny man since Mark Henry. (Which is high praise, believe me.)

In other news, the building that houses our very own favorite indie bookshop, Cover to Cover, caught fire yesterday. Smedley the cat is fine and currently lounging at his summer home well away from the hustle and bustle, none of our employees were hurt, and we’ll be working on getting things squared away over the next few months. It’s a hell of a thing, and if there’s a call for help from C2C I’ll pass it along here.

Last but not least, I am pleased and proud to announce that today I horked up a big 6K chunk of wordage…and finished the zero draft of Angel Town, the final Jill Kismet book. It needs work before I can turn it in as a reasonable first draft, but I have time to do that now before deadline. Which is a huge relief to me.

That’s a part of process I’m going to talk about today, but very briefly because my brain is dry and squoozled. My deadline for this book is two and a half months away, but I need that time for revision and was stressing over getting a zero draft out in time. Part of process is learning what you need in order to turn in publish-quality work, which is not just the first draft that claws its way out of your cerebellum and lands squalling and bloody on your laptop. It pains me to ask for the month of padding I generally need to let a work rest before I can go back and hammer it into first-draft form. There’s always the temptation to bow to the pressure of getting it in sooner, which naturally editors like. Compounding this difficulty is the natural aversion I have to saying “no”.

I’ve learned that a little discomfort when one is negotiating deadline dates is well worth the feeling of having enough time.

I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get this book finished, ever. That’s also a part of my process–that long trudge three-quarters of the way through the book, when it seems like the damn thing will not die no matter how much you stab it, that you’ll be writing this forever, that every ounce of your brain is squeezed dry and it’s an unfinishable monster, you’ll miss your deadline, it’s all crap, GOD THE WORLD WILL END AUGH!

The only cure I have found for this is putting my head down and bitching and moaning while I plow straight through. Discipline is essential.

At some point, I will hit a dry spot where I can only produce a couple hundred words a day, but I’ll go back and tighten what’s happened before. This phase frustrated me to no end before I realized it was my engines winding up for the big push. Because sooner or later, after a couple weeks of frustration, suddenly I’m catapulted forward and I’ll have a string of 6-10K days. This won’t stop until I hit the end of the book, at which point I sit there, blinking, and have to shake my head and stare some more to verify that I have, indeed, finished the zero draft.

The first few times, the dead spot in the middle and the frustration phase literally reduced me to tears. I thought I was Doing It Wrong. It wasn’t until it dawned on me that this had happened with every book I’d finished that I started to treat it as just a normal part of the process, for me.

This does not ameliorate the pure frustration or the tooth grinding. It just makes me less likely to give up.

I keep promising you guys process posts, and this one is rather short, but I suspect lots of other writers (or creators) have the same frustration, perhaps at different points in the arc. It might help the tender new writers–or even the slightly more grizzled–to know someone else suffers it too. So, my dears, do you have a similar frustration point, and if you do, where does it occur?

And now I need to go soak my poor head in a bucket. Tune in next week for more SquirrelTerror, and another Process Post!

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

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