lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jan. 13th, 2012 01:01 pm)

If you aren’t reading The Fox Sister or Girl Genius, dear God, hie ye forth and do so!

It’s a bright cold morning, and what isn’t frozen is close to it. Including me. I find myself in a curious abeyance today; Miss B is quiet and watchful as if she senses a change in the weather. Of course, it could just be that we’ve been too busy to be believed lately, and she’s been right with me during all of it. I bless the day I visited the shelter and saw her sweet doggie face. I know every owner thinks their dog is the best, but I’m sorry, my girl has them all beat.

Anyway, the Bandit King revisions proceed apace. I am really wishing I could have killed this protagonist early and saved myself all this fuss. I normally don’t like my heroes much (there’s an exception in Jack Gray, who I actually kind of admired, and Darik isn’t bad but he still has a long way to go) but it’s rare for me to dislike them to this degree. My mild irritation with this hero has turned into outright flaming hatred, which means my notes for revision are covered in little Post-Its saying I can kill him, please tell me I can kill him!, or Idiot asshole or even, Why did I think writing from his POV was a good idea? In the time it takes me to scribble one of those little notes, I could be making changes…so I suppose it’s just another avoidance tactic.

This career is full of those.

Anyway, it’s time to dive back in. If I can’t outright kill this guy I can stab, burn, heartbreak, and eye-mutilate him. He won’t be nearly as pretty when I finish with him, dammit, and it serves him right. *quietly fumes*

Over and out!

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I’m in Revision Hell at the moment, chopping up and messing with the first Bannon & Clare book to get it from zero to first draft status. So I have the map of Dickens’s London out, a sneezing cat on my shoulder, a dog flopped at my feet with several long-suffering sighs whenever I move in the slightest, and a head stuffed full of story structure, plot arc, character cross-references, and things to look for in the zero draft.

As you might suspect, this makes for some exotic thoughts when I’m not actively revising. Like the peculiar, highly-colored, anxiety-ridden dreams I’ve come to expect during revisions. They rarely involve the story; instead, they’re some version or another of the old “here I am in class, naked and missing my homework” dreams. Last night’s featured Martians.

Seriously, you don’t want to know. In any case, here’s a selection of Things I Think While Revising, different than the normal oddness inside my head only in that the anxiety makes them much more vivid than usual ho-hum “how would I do a shootout in this stairwell” thoughts.

* “I have a tumor. I’m going to die.” This morning while running I had an amazing bolt of pain lance through my head. Wednesdays are my easy days, only three miles and no double in the afternoon. So there I was, trucking along at about two miles, and I had to stop and screw my eyes shut. The dog was confused, and as soon as the bolt passed I wondered if I had a brain tumor and I was going to be felled by it in a matter of weeks. Then I realized I was being ridiculous, and started running again.

* “Pancakes and watermelon are an acceptable dinner, right?” The kids agreed enthusiastically. However, I don’t really like watermelon, so it was grapes, pita chips, and Brie for me. That was when I realized I had grabbed “light” Brie. Let me tell you, such a thing is an abomination unto the gods, and shall ever be, world without end, amen.

* “A hansom only needs one clockhorse, thanks.” Said to the nice lady checking my groceries at the supermarket. She knows me–I’ve been shopping there for a decade now–so she just said, “Another book, huh? I’m gonna give you this coupon, honey. Go home and get some rest.”

* “Armored squirrels. With red eyes. Can I fit them into this draft?” Sadly, I could not. Altered rats, sure. But not squirrels. I’m sure there were squirrels in Victorian London, but I don’t want to dig them up. Let them rest in peace, for Chrissake.

* “I can climb tha–THUD.” It’s not that I overestimate my abilities. It’s that I throw myself at the wall and see what sticks, and while I’m in revision I’m tempted to do the craziest things because they sound good at the time.

* “Oh, God, if I just had a submachine gun right now…” Pretty standard, right? But when in revision hell, the ensuing mental dwelling upon the likely consequences are Technicolor vivid. I…won’t say more.

* “Could I teach the dog to bring me a glass of wine?” I actually spent a good ten minutes contemplating this. Then I ran up against the fact that Miss B doesn’t have thumbs. And decided it was time to go to bed, for I was getting silly.

* “What if it was an alien driving that car…?” One of the things about revision is that new stories start crowding the brain, the what-if muscle working overtime, begging to be used. I have not decided if this is a method of procrastination or a natural result of the creative faculties chewing on the bone and gristle of a zero draft, looking for something a little more tender. Who knows? In any case, I lose myself in little what-ifs like this an awful lot during revision. Even more than I normally do, which is saying something.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Here, have a trailer for a movie about the invention of the vibrator. Hat tip to the Selkie for that one. See, there’s a taste of the random that happens when it’s revision time.

Speaking of which, I’ve got to go back. I’m trying to find chapter names that don’t sound like coffee brands. *headdesk*

Over and out.

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

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there’s tons more writing advice, contests, and pie! (Okay, maybe no pie.) Check us out!

Every once in a while, I like to sit down and think of about five things to make a post. Since I’m exhausted and stare-eyed after a long, very busy week that went straight through the weekend without even pausing to nod, I see this as a very good strategy for today. So, without further ado, here’s Five Things Writing Will Teach You, Or, Valuable Skills Learned By Telling Lies For A Living.

Read the rest of this entry » )

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First, a couple things: the Little Prince is bright and perky again. That’s the thing with kid stomach bugs–they show up in the middle of the night and are gone pretty much right after dawn, and the kid is all energetic again while the adult feels like she’s been hit by a bus. Yesterday was…well, pretty stabby. But he’s doing all right.

Plus, I’ll be participating in a Book Country Twitter chat tonight. (The hashtag will be #bookcountry.) The topic is: “Author blogs & websites: what works, what doesn’t, how to maintain a balance of personal and professional, and how not to become an annoying book marketing machine.” I’ll be there with Colleen Lindsay and Dan Blank; it promises to be fun.

So. You’ve made it through the process of writing a novel, and your brain feels like three-day-rotted cheese. What does the recovery process look like?

Read the rest of this entry » )

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So the new YA is gathering steam. I’ve reached the point of excavating the world instead of feeling my way around in the dark, and I can tell the long dark slump of picking at the book like it’s a scab is just around the corner.

I have, over the course of writing a few books, become pretty comfortable with how that process usually works for me. Familiarity, while not getting rid of the frustration factor OR the sheer amount of work necessary, does help one plan, and it does help one get through the more uncomfortable parts of writing a book with something resembling grace. (Or at least, you can stumble through without stubbing your toes too much.) Being able to say, “Oh, this is the slump part of the project, I can just keep chipping and eventually I’ll get to the dead heat phase,” is a lot easier than saying “OMFG this book is going to kill me WHY AM I DOING THIS?” Note, however, that one can say both at the same time, and the former does help to ameliorate some of the sheer ARGH of the latter.

For me, writing a book goes somewhat like this:

Read the rest of this entry » )

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Neat stuff–I’ll be participating in tomorrow’s TorChat!

Also, Chicks Kick Butt, featuring an Eleni and Tarquin story, Monsters, is now out. I love Monsters–I very much wanted to tell a vampire-hunting story from a vampire’s point of view, and Tarquin has been knocking around in several unfinished stories for a very long time. He and Leonidas are great characters, Eleni surprised me as a protagonist, and I very much like Wolf. Maybe I’ll get to go back to them someday.

In other news, still going full-bore on the alt-Renaissance-France story I can’t really say anything about. Keeping it under-hat is pretty much killing me, but there it is. Anyway, I came to a fresh realization yesterday about how much writing freaks me right the f!ck out.

It was another instance of a secondary character, one I didn’t much care for, suddenly becoming incredibly useful and necessary to the story. I’ve learned to obey that little tingle that tells me just wait, this is important, leave it in. Sometimes I don’t even notice, I’m in that creative fugue state and when I look back over the wordage, I flat-out have no memory of writing it or inserting some detail that turns out to be incredibly important later. This is particularly eerie when I’ve reached an impasse and have backed up to take a look at the bigger structure of the story–and I find, half-buried in the sand, a priceless artifact I had no idea even existed.

I can’t figure out which weirds me more: obeying the internal tingle that tells me a minor character or detail will be important later, or having absolutely no memory of writing something that turns out to be critical to the later parts of the story.

Of course, I could just be losing my mind or amnesiac. That’s always a possibility.

Oh well. Back to the word mines…

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jun. 13th, 2011 09:51 am)

There’s an interview with me and a giveaway over at My Bookish Ways; there’s also my Top Five Methods To Determine You’re A Zombie plus a giveaway of a one-of-a-kind Jill Kismet-inspired necklace over at CJ Redwine’s place. (The necklace, made by Tasha Falene especially for this giveaway, is so awesome, and it’s strictly a one-off. I wish I could enter to win it.) I think I’m going to be part of a Tor chat on Twitter sometime in the near future too, stay tuned for details.

In the category of Other Cool Internet Things, there’s Flavorwire’s How To Drink Like Your Favourite Authors and information about a stunning movie based on Diaghilev and Nijinksky. Which makes me wish I still had a VHS machine AND a copy of it. *sigh*

I spent pretty much all of yesterday in a fugue state, the story pouring out of my head and onto the screen. It’s weird to surface from a wholly different universe and find out that an hour has passed since you last shifted your weight of (seemingly) blinked. Of all the varied states of consciousness, that one has to be in my top five. It’s so bloody satisfying; it scratches some deep internal itch nothing else does.

Anyway, I am nervous and twitchy this morning. A good hard three-mile outside run with Miss B worked out some of the fidgets, but nothing will cure the rest but sinking into the story again. This is what I live for, really.

So it’s an espresso shooter followed by 500-Mile Chai (hell of a boilermaker, right?), my sword loose in its sheath and my eyes on the horizon.

Come on, story. Let’s tango.

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Nothing much to report. I’ve got a nobleman on the floor with an assassin and a knife, both of them outside a Queen’s door, and I’ve got to figure out what the assassin wants out of this. So that’s going to take some digging through my music library and finding his story. Of course the assassin’s got a story, and I’ve got to find it before I know what he really wants out of all this. Possibly it’s just expediency, but still, I need to know.

This is something I don’t talk about often. What a reader sees is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a massive bulk underneath that lifts it up into the visible. That bulk is what I know of the characters, their motivations, their world, their needs. The bulk is necessary, the labyrinth must be plumbed. It that huge mountain of ice and rock underneath that gives the visible its shape and depth, its internal consistency. Writing is often striking the balance between looking at that bulk and shaping the contours of the visible. Shaving little bits off here, tweaking what lies underneath so that the visible takes the shape one needs.

There’s so much more going into a book than what you see on the page. Sometimes I with the technology was available to invite the reader even further in, to give the full sensory experience I get, the sheer visceral pleasure of living in that alternate universe. Words carry the experience to you, but sometimes the limitations of the medium are so bloody frustrating. That’s why there’s a craft and an art to it, I guess.

Anyway, that’s where I am. Stuck in the heart of an iceberg, chipping away. Shivering and wiping my nose, numb fingers on the chisel…and a huge, stupid grin on my face.

See you in a bit.

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The current book has taken a screaming left turn into dark territory. This surprises me every time it happens. I will think I know a book, I will think I have it all planned out, either in my head or on paper (I have recently, under protest, started outlining. But that’s another blog post.) or what-have-you, and then all of a sudden…this.

The book starts behaving organically, like it is its own creature. The critical mass point is reached and as it coalesces, suddenly the book is a living thing and I am no longer solely creator but also midwife. It’s a funny thing, to have one’s brain taken over in such a manner. Even funnier to admit to it in public, despite the risk of the nice men with the white coats being called.

Anyway, the book just decided that the handwavey holes I had in the outline are of course places for thus-and-such to happen, even though I had no idea thus-and-such would fit neatly into the hole. Almost as if made for it. It’s faintly creepy, you know–my job is just to show up, and the Muse drops these custom-made pegs into these very specific holes. The fairy dust happens reliably when I do what I’m supposed to–sit down, shut up, and write.

Who’d'a’thunkit?

For extra fun and games today, here’s Chuck Wendig’s Six Signs It’s High Time To Give Up Writing.

Enjoy.

*dives back in*

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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.

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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.

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A busy day looms ahead of me! First off, I’m over at Tynga’s place with an interview and giveaway for Paranormal Spring Break. Also, neat stuff: how pain and the sense of smell appear to be linked.

We’re right on the cusp of spring. The plum tree out back is dragging its feet over blooming; the snowball bush down the road only has a few lone petals standing out like white rags on a sinking ship, the birds are going nuts but the squirrels are oddly quiet. It feels like the world’s holding its breath before the plunge into blooming and growing again. I’m okay with this.

…I just deleted a whole long entry about how terrified I am about taking on yet another project that involves a type of book I’ve never written before. Going outside my comfort zone is good; I think I can do this, I think it will stretch me and I will (hopefully) grow. Of course, I could end up in a flaming wreck on my living room floor, sobbing and drooling with my cerebellum fused, my agent and editors and readers dumping me in disgust. Too soon to tell. Of course, the fear threatens paralysis, and sheer stubborn bloody-mindedness is the only way through.

Good thing I’m good at that. Or at least, well-practiced.

With that cheerful thought, I’m going to go get started on the rest of the day. Yea though I walk through the valley of plot tangles, I shall fear no revision, for I’ve got the Muse chained up in the basement and neither of us are leaving until we’ve given this our best shot. *cracks knuckles* I may end up a drooling mess, but at least I’ll have tried it. That’s all I can hope for.

Over and out.

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I just got one of the Best Presents Ever: a stack of handwritten thank-you notes from my daughter’s English class. They were writing to thank me for coming in to talk to them about being a working writer. Among the highlights was one earnest piece of advice: “If the zombie apocalypse happens I’m going to Costco, you could live FOREVER there.” There was also an anonymous piece of (quite good, certainly memorable) short fiction involving wolves, and certain kid wrote that when I admitted I had trouble with spelling, she realized she could be a writer too. (Which made my Grinch heart swell three sizes.) The notes are absolutely adorable.

I broke down and cried. In a good way. *sniffle*

I also want to point you to Chuck Wendig’s The Writer’s Survival Guide. (Best part: the lava vagina.) He and Stephen Blackmoore talk a little in the comments about viewing writing as a craft; something I wholeheartedly endorse.

One of my writing students asked me recently if one ever gets over the fear of showing my writing to other people. I can’t answer for anyone else. All I can say is that I’ve found different ways of ameliorating the fear slightly so I can cope around it. The fear doesn’t go away, but my strategies for dealing with it are in a constant state of refinement. That’s about the best I can say.

Honestly? At the moment, I’m terrified.

I’m branching out, you see, writing something I’ve never tried before and hoping like hell that I don’t finish and send it to the editor and get a “Well, this is crap, can’t you do better?” in return. My anxiety, always high at this stage in a book’s creation, is given an exponential increase by the fact that I have literally never attempted this sort of book before. I don’t mind admitting this scares the hell out of me. The habit of sitting down and putting my hands on the keyboard is serving me well. The only cure for this anxiety is to just put my head down and go through.

Normally I’d be running to help cope with the strain. Chin-ups and crunches aren’t cutting it, neither is the walking I’m allowed to do until my ankle fully heals. Climbing helps, but only for a few hours. So I’m a spiky ball of restlessness most of the time, but I am not going to quit. I do not like turning away from what scares me. If the beast is coming for me, I want to face it head on, fists up, boots on. The only thing that is going to get this over with is finishing the damn book. In order to finish I need to pull my hood up, stick my hands in my pockets, and just keep slouching toward Bethlehem. (In a manner of speaking, that is.) The important thing is to keep swinging.

*sigh* It’s going to be a long spring…

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It is bloody cold. So cold I am cuddled up next to the heater wearing a hat. So cold my tuxedo kitty doesn’t even care to go outside. So cold…well, you get the idea. I’m drinking gallons of tea. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to run so many errands. Leaving the house is like embarking on a Siberian holiday; I bundle up in multiple layers and I still arrive home chilled straight through. It probably doesn’t help that I lost so much weight. I’ve got no damn insulation, physically. It’s interesting–the better I get at insulating myself emotionally, the less I need the physical padding.

Anyway, bitching about the weather isn’t what you’re here for, is it. (I’m also cranky because they’re resetting routes in at the rock wall, so I’ve missed a couple climbs. We’ll be back on a regular schedule next week.) I did make it all the way through the new Duffy CD yesterday, and the slower numbers improve the whole thing, but…that pop thing just isn’t what her voice seems to be for. I went back to Rockferry and have been humming along with it ever since.

As far as writing…here, have a link, Theodora Goss on writing every day. WORD. I don’t think it can be restated enough. But we all know how I feel about that.

I’m back at work, revising into a second draft of the final Strange Angels book. There’s also the sorceress and mentath to consider and gear up for, and I’m being taunted by both the trailer-trash fae book and the cowboys-and-zombies book. So I’m going to have to do up a schedule and stick to it for a few months if I seriously want to get all this stuff done.

Oh, Lord. Did I just say that out loud? Guess I’m committed now. In one way or another…

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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)
( Aug. 9th, 2010 02:13 pm)

Five things this Monday morning!

1. I know I’m supposed to give my body a day off to rest and repair itself. The trouble is, I’ve grown to need my daily running fix, and I get cranky if I don’t have it. Yesterday was my rest day. I woke up angry this morning, bounced through my morning run, and hit the climbing wall. That anger is great fuel, but I don’t like it. I have a healthy fear of the destructive power of my own rage. Thankfully, now that I’ve sweated and hauled myself around like a piece of baggage (seriously, I threw myself at the wall today, it was epic) I am reasonably serene. Now I just need to settle down and steady myself for the task at hand.

2. I had this urge to get a CD playing thunderstorm sounds. So I’ve been playing this since Sunday. What the Muse wants, the Muse gets, and I’m apparently needing to hear thunder and rain. At least the Muse isn’t requiring Eddie Rabbit. You know, I used to have Alvin and the Chipmunks doing I Love A Rainy Night on vinyl. I’m old-skool, yo.

3. I knew, when I walked away from my email this weekend, that I would rue it come Monday morning. *glances at inboxes, weeps* I suppose it’s better than coming back to dead silence…but still.

4. Today’s Girl Genius made me about pee myself laughing. This webcomic saved my life about eight months ago, and it continues to throw in a chuckle or two every week. Nicely done, Agatha and crew!

5. I really need to write some fight scenes. Or, more precisely, I need to go out to the heavy bag and work it a little to get some fight scenes clear in my head. I’m in the mood for writing some old-fashioned fisticuffs. In a bar. Or something. Hey, it’s better than actual fisticuffs in a bar, right?

That’s it, the Monday five. Welcome to my brain this afternoon. It’s a weird place to be.

Over and out…

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

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

It’s been a rough year. To say the least. Major Life Changes, some I talk about here and some I don’t, have come thick and fast. Eight months ago I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Three months ago I saw light at the end of the tunnel. A month ago I decided I was, in fact, okay and going to stay that way.

I’ve been writing all the while.

On Wednesday I finished the zero draft of the fifth Strange Angels book. I never leave the keyboard after I finish something, whether it be a chapter or a whole piece, so I opened up the next Jill Kismet book and tinkered on it a bit. Then I dragged my weary self to bed, nerves jumping and the flywheel that was powering the story still sparking and fizzing inside my head. Finishing a book is like that, for me–there’s a nervous sense of all that energy and focus bleeding away but not nearly fast enough to let me rest, everything in me raw and quivering. It’s kind of like the adrenaline aftermath of a crisis, before your body gets the memo that everything’s over and it can collapse.

I lay in bed, and I realized with a start that I’d actually finished three books since my life began to implode last May. I was afraid during each one that I wouldn’t be able to get to the end, that the crises would rob me of needed energy to finish or that without the fuel of adrenaline and pain I wouldn’t be able to write something good. This is a perfect example of the irrationality of severe stress, because I was afraid of contradictory things at the same time. Telling myself it was irrational did not help, because then I felt crazy. The only thing that helped was the habit of looking at what needed to be finished first, putting my head down, and plowing through. Breakdowns, crying jags, and dealing with the minutiae and paperwork of a life undergoing massive changes was all very well, but I had wordcount to achieve.

I was so afraid I wouldn’t make my deadlines. There’s no shame in admitting I was terrified. Would I lose my edge or my empathy for my characters if I wasn’t miserable? Would I have to find another job because the writing would suddenly fail? Would my editors look askance at the manuscripts I turned in and gently tell me, “This is unpublishable…just go away”?

I was afraid of all that, and more.

Yet I finished three books. My editors liked the first two as much as they’ve liked anything else, revisions were just the same as they always were. The third has to rest before I can make any judgment, but I suspect it will be no worse than any other messy, terrible, hole-filled zero draft.

Time and again I keep coming back to the simple fact that writing is what I was meant and made to do. I can’t imagine living without it. And writing keeps saving me long after it feels like the rest of the world’s given up. All I have to do is show up, and the Muse is there. As long as I suit up and start swinging, she keeps feeding me the balls. My end of the bargain is simply to make writing a daily priority, and writing takes care of the rest. It is my life-raft, my safety line, my rope, my net, the way I make sense of the world and the way the world makes sense of me.

At the rock wall on Thursday, one young man could barely get four feet off the ground. Shaking, sweating, but grimly determined, he would clip in and climb those four feet. The belayer on duty encouraged him each time. “It doesn’t matter how high you climb. It just matters that you get on the wall. It’s okay. Take your time. It’s not a race or a contest.”

Watching that, I thought of where I was months ago, too frightened to reach the top of the wall. Clinging, terrified, to any hold I could reach, despite marked routes. Just getting into my harness and clipping onto the rope was a victory. Just putting my hands on the wall was another. The actual climbing? A series of small victories. And I thought, as I dusted my hands with chalk and glanced at my belayer, real courage isn’t fearlessness. It’s trusting yourself despite the fear.

I keep coming back to this essential fact, over and over again. Writing has taught me this much, and writing keeps patiently reteaching me when I forget, as I frequently do. Sometimes I feel like an idiot when I realize that once again, I’ve proven to myself that all I have to do is show up and be ready to work, and the writing takes care of the rest.

I suppose I’d feel a lot more idiotic if I actually quit.

So here’s what I have to say this morning. Do that thing you love. Don’t stop. It doesn’t have to be writing. It’s whatever your thing is. But do it. Show up and swing. Get into the habit of doing it during the good times, so it can carry you through the bad. I can promise you that you will surprise yourself. You will eventually get to the top of the wall. You will eventually get to the end of the book. You will eventually get to wherever you need to go. That thing you love, that thing you do, it’s endlessly faithful. As long as you’re in there swinging, the Muse or whatever else will be right there with you. It’s not a contest; it’s not about winning. Or if it is, winning might not be what you think it is.

To me, right now, the winning is just showing up. It is looking back and realizing that once again, writing has saved my life, because I cared enough to show up every damn day. Even when I was half-dead of heartbreak, even when bathing or feeding myself seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, even when I didn’t know how I was going to get through another five minutes without the pain eating me whole, the writing was always there. The writing, for me, will always be there.

I kind of feel like a goober for doubting it.

Over and out.

Or actually, NOT over and out. I promised a giveaway of Jealousy, due to release on July 29. So here’s the rules: comment over at the Deadline Dames, by midnight PST on Sunday, July 11, (do NOT comment here!) and with the help of Random.org I will pick two winners to receive signed copies of Jealousy. I can only ship to those in the US; sorry about that, but that’s the way it is.

Good luck!

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

How can I have a cold when it’s a hundred degrees outside? I ask you, how? Maybe it’s the mosquitoes. Several people have mentioned how the little buggers seem to be particularly bad this year. I believe the term used was “MUTANT ZOMBIE MOSQUITOES FROM HELL, Jesus!” And I heartily agree. I’m welted up all over.

Anyway, I have great news and some links.

I’ve officially finished the zero draft for Strange Angels 5. This is the end of the series, and I cried like a baby last night when I wrote the last few chapters. My laundry pile is threatening to eat the living room and I just spent a couple hours weeding through email correspondence that I literally haven’t had time to touch for the past week. The race to finish the book meant dumping 4-5K out every day for the past four days–not that I’m under serious time constraints, because the first draft isn’t due for a couple months at least, but the story had taken me over and it wanted out.

It’s called a zero draft because it needs work before it turns into a reasonable first draft that I can send to my editor without cringing. Of course, I’ll cringe anyway. That’s just how it works–the instant I hit the “send” button, I am assailed by the “what if they don’t LIKE it?” tsunami. But before I can do that work and regard the zero draft as just raw material, I have to set it aside. I’m thinking this book needs to be completely out of my head for at least a month before I will have enough emotional distance from it to go back and see some of the flaws enough to correct them.

Now I’m firmly in the snapback phase, which is what happens to me after I’ve focused all this emotional, mental, and physical energy on finishing a book. I’m pretty much exhausted on all three levels, but the engine in my head is still whirring and pulling. It hasn’t calmed down yet; I’m still feeling the reverberations. So I’ll need a day or so to let the force bleed off and return my brain to normal. (Yeah, I know. Or as close to normal as my brain ever gets.)

The other news? Guess what arrived the other day. Go on, guess.

Some shiny new copies of the third Strange Angels book, Jealousy, due for release on July 29! Which means tomorrow there will be a giveaway for two signed copies on my Deadline Dames Friday writing post. Plus, I’ll be sending out a newsletter soon (I haven’t sent one out in months–sorry, Dark Siders! It’s been a bit crazy here.) And, because my faithful Dark Siders are so awesome, I’ll be running a giveaway for signed copies through the newsletter as well. Exciting, no?

Now for the links:

* Mario Vargas Llosa on why literature isn’t dead yet.

*Chapman/Chapman on failing harder.

* And in honor of Jealousy coming out, Graves appears on a list of hot boys over at Suzanne Young’s excellent blog. There’s also a Facebook release e-party gearing up.

That’s all I’ve got, dear Readers. My brain is mush. See you tomorrow.

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

I do have errands to run. I’m not going to run them. As a matter of fact, I am in full-fledged revolt against the idea of leaving the house today, not least because I suspect I will hurt someone if I go out. I am incredibly cranky today. I suspect I may be coming down with a cold, which only adds. So, today is short but sweet.

There’s an interview with me and giveaway for Strange Angels over at Tynga’s Reviews. Also, Issendai posted a followup to the sick systems post, in which s/he points out that it’s our virtues, not our vices, that keep us trapped in sick systems. Which is a good point.

There’s also a cranky agent cherrypicking the worst sentences out of his/her slushpile and putting them anonymously on Tumblr. I won’t lie. This amuses me mightily because I worked slush for a while. There will no doubt be another queryfail tempest in a teapot over this. We already know how I feel. In addition to being comedy gold, this is valuable advice, offered for free, about what NOT to do on a query. Nuff said.

I’ve got wordcount and proof pages to kick ass on today. One thing about being incredibly cranky: it makes me awful productive. Off I go, then. If you hear screaming, it’s just the Muse as I throw her in the traces and get out the whip. We’re taking no prisoners today.

Over and out.

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

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

I’m on Formspring now, if you want to ask me questions. I can’t promise to give spoilers, but between that and the fan forum, you can find out a lot. Tempty, tempty.

I am currently in the doldrums of Dru 5. It’s the end of the series, which means I have a lot of threads to tie in. Plus, there’s always this spot near the end of a book when I’m physically and emotionally exhausted by the damn thing, everything feels like it’s pure crap, nobody’s ever going to like the book, and the desire to just give up wars with the stubborn angry urge to kick the book’s ass and wipe the floor with the Muse’s knowing little grin. Every time I hit this point, it’s the habit of writing every day that carries me through. Well, that and chocolate. And bitching to my writing partner about the damn book.

Add to that the fact that my novel-writing process for the last four books has required me to throw out a chunk of 20K or so at this point because the book’s decided it wants to go in a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DIRECTION, THANK YOU, and you have crazymaking all over.

I have two things going for me at this point. One is the habit of writing every damn day, no matter what. This is where all that daily effort pays off–it becomes more comfortable to do the damn work than to break the habit. The other is the fact that I’ve done this a few times by now, and the process is familiar. At least, as familiar as a process that changes each time you undergo it can get.

Someone once said, “You never learn how to write a novel. You only learn how to write the novel you’re writing NOW.” It’s very true. The process is also highly individual, which makes generalities even more dangerous. But having gone from a cursor blinking on a new white page in a freshly-opened file to a completed manuscript over 35 times (I had to go back and count, good Lord) and getting over 20 of those finished efforts published, I think I’ve got a fair handle on how the process generally works for me.

It’s like climbing the corner at the rock gym. Each time I go up that particular route, I do it differently. I still use the same skillset and the same tools. And sometimes I get into a difficult spot and have to hang there for a moment and think how the hell am I going to do this, now? Or finishing a long run–I face a different set of psychological and physical “problems” each time, and I solve them differently. Maybe I feel “heavy” and I don’t want to run, or maybe my brain is so busy chewing over something stressful I have to keep bringing myself back to pay attention, or what-have-you. The main idea is to keep running until I’ve finished.

Of course, I have a graveyard of unfinished pieces, or bits that didn’t make it into the finished work. There’s between six and eighteen of those for every finished piece. Sometimes I get myself into an intractable dilemma while climbing and I have to start again. An injury may force me to back off on or briefly stop running; a crisis elsewhere may mean I get off the treadmill without finishing. None of this means that my ability to finish has been jeopardized, or that the process of finishing despite the don’t-wannas is significantly, ontologically different each and every time.

This is why I say it’s so critical for new or aspiring writers to celebrate finishing their first piece and then start writing something else. One time around the merry-go-round doesn’t teach you even a tenth of what you need to know to make it to publication. I consider anyone’s first finished novel a sort of throat-clearing. It’s meant to prime the pump. Only rarely does it result in something usable or salable. After you’ve finished two books you have a better idea of your process. After you’ve finished five you have a much better idea.

But an idea, sadly, is all you get.

I do not mean to imply that finishing a set number of books will make the process more than vaguely predictable, or even significantly easier. It becomes easier only in the sense that one knows one has done it before, which is very good but not guaranteed to make the next effort any less backbreaking.

There’s the same learning curve on submissions, which is why I advocate finishing and submitting as much as possible. Dealing with rejection doesn’t get any easier. It’s still rejection. It still hurts. Nobody likes to be rejected. It’s human nature.

But enduring the merry-go-round of bringing a book to completion and enduring the merry-go-rounds of submitting, revising, undergoing editing, and critique (not to mention reviews) will give you valuable information on how the process affects you. So instead of being lost in a sea of OH MY GOD THIS NOVEL IS GOING TO KILL ME, you will be lost in the sea of THIS NOVEL MAY KILL ME BUT I’M GOING TO GIVE IT A GOOD FIGHT, STABBITY STAB STAB. There’s an inch’s worth of difference between the two.

Sometimes, that inch is all you need.

Which is why, as soon as I finish this post, I’m going right back into the fray. Twenty minutes of tweaking and trimming and I’ll have the book on a totally new course, 20K or so put in a graveyard file for going back to later should I need any good bits of it, and then I’m shifting to the next Jill book while I cool off. I’ve learned that this is how things generally work best for me–first you do major surgery, then you stitch it up and leave the book to convalesce while you go dally with another book to make the first one jealous. Your mileage may vary–but that’s what works for me.

Focus on what works for you. You won’t know until you’ve finished a few books, but that’s OK. You don’t have to know for a while. You just need to be balls-out stubborn enough to keep going.

Good luck.

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

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