Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, who you should really be reading. Because we’re awesome.

Instead of the Snowpocalypse we feared (and that Seattle is currently suffering under the spike heel of) we’ve got rain. Lots of rain. Well, this is the Pacific Northwest, and I happen to like rain, but I wish the weather would make up its mind. Heavy wet snow yesterday, melt and easily an inch of rain today, branches down everywhere and my morning run more like a swim–oh, I know I could have used the treadmill, but Miss B was inside all day yesterday, which meant it was either get her out for a run or go to the dog park and stand in mud up to my knees. An appetizing choice, indeed.

Plus, the Little Prince became, once more, Sir Pewksalot last night. All of which is a roundabout way of saying my temper and nerves are equally frayed, and I decided on a Three Things post because if I start on a rant or two now there will be nothing but a smoking crater left where my computer used to be. (Expensive.) Not to mention with all the biting and snarling going on all over the Internet about Authors Daring To Speak, so to speak, and a rant doesn’t seem like a good idea. For lo, if I strap on my armor now and go all Don Quixote after Idiot Entitled Jerks On The Internet, I may never stop. And I’ve writing to do, so…yeah. Three things. Let’s see.

* Kickass is not a prerequisite. It’s not even a requisite. I swear to God, someday I am going to write about Milquetoast von Constipated, a potbellied, balding vampire with bowel issues who lives in Minnesota and, whenever there is an incident of violence, he *gasp* alerts the authorities! Together with his werecow buddy, Milton Morton (who is not only vegan but gets tipped every full moon), they do not fight crime willingly. Rather, they sort of bumble through and the police take care of things on their own. (As to why he has bowel issues when he’s on a liquid diet, I’ll just say, have you ever tried to live on protein shakes? HAVE YOU?)

Sounds amusing, doesn’t it? But it’s sparked by a frustration of mine: where is it written that I can’t write anything other than kickass leather-clad wiseacres? I mean, I’m very glad people connect with my kickass heroes and heroines, but that isn’t all I write, it isn’t all I am. It isn’t all the world consists of. I dislike it intensely when I write a character whose strength is internal and am immediately subjected to a “but your fans won’t recognize…” Screw that. They will recognize, and those who send me venomous screeds about how I should just stick to writing kickass chicks even though I don’t do so very well (seriously, it’s like the writers of these things all got together in a room somewhere) can just go…fly kites. Yes. fly kites.

The point of this is: If you’re used to writing one thing, and you want to write another thing, go ahead and do it. You may have to attempt a couple times before you get a salable piece, but it will teach you things about writing that staying in your comfort zone will not. I’m fairly okay at writing angst and violence, but you know what I would really love? I would love to be talented at writing comedy. Comedy is hard effing work, it doesn’t come naturally to me. (Unless it’s bleak black macabre humor. Heh.) It doesn’t stop me from wanting and trying, and from seeking other types of characters and stories to play with. What you’re good at writing and what you want to write may be two different things, but you should try them both.

* The Levenger catalog is pure crack. I mean, their 3X5 cards are incredibly useful while revising or making grocery lists, both things I do at my computer. My bag lust is inflamed every time I see their briefcases. And, oh my God, the desk sets. The desk sets. It’s nice to reward myself with some lovely tools after slogging through a zero draft. I nerd all over their paper, and one day, one day, I will have a Levenger desk. I’ll save my pennies, by God, and I will have it.

Other things I keep within easy reaching distance while I’m writing: a statue of Ganesh writing, some Climb On creme, cell phone, tarot cards (Rider-Waites, for those curious), Moleskine notebook, a couple pads of paper both legal and Levenger, scissors, pens and sharpened pencils, rubber bands, a Keep Calm and Carry On paperweight, two pink plastic flamingos, six dictionaries, two thesauri, two visual dictionaries, assorted other reference works from encyclopedias of military arms to herbals and Jack the Ripper books. Also, two copies of Jane Eyre, plus six or seven DVDs of different treatments of Jane Eyre, and a few Wuthering Heights. (Don’t ask.) Also, tissues, ibuprofen, and Carmex. Because you never can tell.

The flamingos are for practicing dialogue with. (But that’s another blog post.)

* Beware of great ideas. “A million cat clocks! That’s a GREAT idea!” Then some of them started looking a little odd because their tails weren’t moving. And I had to find more batteries. This just goes to show you, great ideas are only great until one gets to the care, feeding, and administrivia involved. (Note: I have six cat clocks, all on my living-room wall. And I want more.)

What does this have to do with writing? Simple. Beware of great ideas. Sometimes they happen halfway through a zero draft, and you either have to go back and alter what you’ve already written to account for the Great Idea, or you just go ahead and write as if the Great Idea has been there all the time, which means the first half of revising the zero draft is likely to send you to the booze cabinet sooner rather than later. Sometimes the Great Ideas happen during revision, and one should be careful because they are like pebbles thrown into a quiet pond. (BOOT TO THE HEAD!) The ripples spread throughout the entire book, which may mean you have to go back and deal with tweaking everything before and after in subtle and overt ways. Rippling tweakage is another thing that will send you to the booze cabinet during revisions. Or to banging your head against a brick wall, whichever is handier. (Also, Rippling Tweakage is my new indie band name.)

Great ideas are great, but there is no Great Idea that fixes everything without a lot of work. If the Idea is Great Enough, the work, while frustrating, is also a process of simplification. If it’s a Mediocre Idea masquerading as Great, or even just a Garden-Variety Idea Of Some Magnitude But Hardly Greatness, well, booze cabinets and brick walls, or whatever coping mechanism works for you, STAT. It doesn’t make the Rippling Tweakage any easier, but it can dull the gnawing pain between your temples somewhat.

…I just looked at that last sentence and cannot believe I typed that. Some days, I really love my job.

Over and out!

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

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 22nd, 2011 11:10 am)

Well, I finished the zombies-and-cowboy trunk novel last night. At least the zero draft. It weighs in at 65K, which is a little large for a zero draft, and means it’ll be closer to 80 after I revise it into a reasonable first draft. That’s not going to happen for a while, though, since I’m going right back to proof pages for Bannon & Clare (due the first week of 2012, I weep for my sleep schedule) and another round of revision on the new YA (after the first of the year) plus the drop-dead date for starting the zero draft of the next Bannon & Clare is New Year’s Day. Begin the year as you mean to go on, I guess.

So last night, sweating and excited, I typed finis at the end of DAMNATION. There’s a sheriff with a hidden past, a schoolmarm with a secret, a gold claim, and zombies. Lots of zombies, and some bonus vampire action. I need to go back and layer in a lot of stuff now that I know the shape of the finished work, and it may be a crappy trunk novel nobody will ever buy, but at least it is no longer a crappy unfinished trunk novel nobody will ever buy. Plus, it features a death by skillet and the immortal line “He ain’t gettin any fresher.” Also, horses, and a group of “frails”–saloon whores–who want to learn to read and figure so they can open their own fancy houses OR stop being cheated by the saloon manager.

…Yeah, I had fun.

I am also thinking of getting bids for help in putting some of the SquirrelTerror saga into, say, a nice thin trade paperback. It would need editing and copyediting, and perhaps an index, and I’m sure I would want to add some footnotes. And a map. So editing, CE, and formatting/design. I’m not sure if it would be viable; I’d probably spend more on the editor than I’d ever make on the damn thing, but it would please me. At the moment, it’s just a thought.

I have further decided I’m not going to run until next Monday. I’m told that every once in a while you have to stop beating on the flesh and give it a slight rest so you can shock it more effectively when you restart. I am sure my body will appreciate this, though the rest of me will be cranky.

And that is all the news that is fit for something, I guess, or at least all the news I can give right now. Next year promises to be very exciting. Maybe another trunk novel will fall out of my head?

*shakes Magic 8 Ball*

Ask again later? What kind of crap is that?

Over and out!

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

Good morning, dear Readers. No, I haven’t forgotten about you–it’s just that the kids are going back to school, and last weekend I finished a brand-new YA book. (At least, the zero draft.) I can’t say anything about it yet, which just kills me, but just know that I’m hard at work on the next New Thing now that I’ve said a fond farewell to Dru.

For those of you asking about the Defiance audiobook, I did a Google search and turned up this. Really, when it comes to audio editions, I do not know when they will come out or anything. About all I can do is hit up our overlords at Google, just like you. Sorry about that.

I’m happy to announce that Orbit short fiction will be bringing out my “teenage Antichrist” short story, Unfallen, this fall. I must admit a great deal of the genesis of that story was reading Slacktivist’s awesome blow-by-blows of the Left Behind series. (He reads so we don’t have to! And really, we’re grateful for that.) Slacktivist articulates a number of things that have always made me incredibly uncomfortable about evangelism and Dominionism, and especially the current craziness swallowing evangelical Christianity in America as a whole. All that aside, however, the short story came from a very simple question: what if the Antichrist was just a teenager who wanted to be liked?

Also included will be a bonus story–The Last Job, featuring a character I love, the private detective Izzie Borden. She’s very unlikeable, and her stories are very short–I think I give myself 5-6K max for her, mostly because I use her as an exercise in building shorts. Anyway, The Last Job is the first Izzie story I ever wrote, and I’m happy to have it see daylight.

But wait, that’s not all! Also included in the bundle is a teaser for The Hedgewitch Queen. Which, again, I can’t say very much about until my editor gives me the okay, the announcement, and the cover art. But just know that I’m excited, and I can’t wait to finally share these things with you.

All that aside, there’s not much to report, since I’m in the zombie stage that follows finishing three zero drafts in short order. I didn’t realize how hard I’d been working until I finished the YA zero draft (working title: WHITE) and opened up my calendar to search for the next fire that needed to be put out…and found out it was revisions instead of all-new drafts. Which is sort of a relief. As soon as my brain gets back to where it’s crunchy enough to start working on new wordcount, I have a project or two I’d like to smack around a bit…

…but I hesitate to promise anything. So, there it is, the full report from chowder to cashews. I’ll be interesting again very soon–I have to pen the tale of Neo and Steerpike, and Steerpike’s Fall From Grace, and the story of Loretta the Crazy Hawk.

Just as soon as I can string words together again in a reasonable fashion.

Over and out.

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

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.

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, 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.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 21st, 2010 02:05 pm)

I literally have not stopped running since I climbed out of bed this morning. I even braved the post office, picking up a package–now there was an inspiring moment. Everyone was quiet, calm, smiling, and well-behaved. Considering that most trips to the post office during the holiday season are brutal survival-of-the-fittest scrums, I felt lucky to witness a half hour of strangers standing in line and making small talk, grinning at the antics of a small child, and actively helping other people out.

Today is for beating on a zero draft to finish getting it in respectable shape. I already know two major changes I have to make, but they were things I suspected would end up changing when I wrote them, so I’m not stressed. The most difficult part of this is saying goodbye to characters that have occupied my headspace for multiple years now. That part is never easy, especially when one suspects one could have told their story better, if one had just known.

Anyway, I finally managed to eat something and get some more coffee down, and now I have a whole afternoon to spend in the laborious process of revising and bidding farewell. I probably won’t cry until I get closer to the end.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m going to be a leaky spigot. Fetch me the Kleenex and pay no attention to the sobbing. This is still the greatest job in the world.

Over and out.

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

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 3rd, 2009 12:18 pm)

I feel like I’m out of the chrysalis, sunning my wings. New hair, new shoes, fitting into clothes I haven’t fit into in at least a decade…I’m not quite ready to fly yet, but I’m getting used to the bright colors and the sunshine. Admiring those wings, and stretching them. We’ll see if they carry me in a little bit. Right now it’s enough that they’re there.

I was supposed to take the past week and a half as a celebration of just how far I’ve come. Instead, it feels like I accelerated the change to warp speed. I’m really looking forward to after the turn of the year, when everything should calm down into a reasonable routine.

So, the celebrating…not so much. But the feeling good, and feeling like I can handle things? Yes. And opening up the zero draft I’m revising and finding out that, gee, it doesn’t suck as much as I thought it would?

Oh yeah. That’s awesome.

I hit this point every time I revise a zero draft. The book isn’t as bad and ugly and messy and nasty as I thought. We might actually have something here…got to fix that, and fix this…oh, this will work better like that, which will make that have to work like this… Next comes the Book That Will Not Die, after I get an edit letter or two…

…but I can let that happen when it happens. In the meantime, I can admire my wings. They’re tissue-thin, of course.

But if I hadn’t struggled out of the chrysalis, I wouldn’t be feeling the sun on them now.

Over and out.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:52 am)

I’m currently in the wilds of revision. Can I make a book better in 18 days? Or will my head ’splode? We’re going to find out.

I’m also reading Outliers in between gulps of manuscript, and washing it all down with Foreign Affairs. Is it just me, or has the tone of articles in FA substantially changed with a new administration in Washington? (Bloodcult, I should email one of the articles to you; it links to what you were talking about the other day with the credit crisis. Or do you get FA? Oh, hell, I’ll just link it. Enjoy.)

So, blogging might be spotty for a few days while I tear the innards of the book out and tell the future I mean, ah, rearrange them. No divination by revision here.

See ya around…

Posted from A Fire of Reason. Please comment there.

Cross-posted to Deadline Dames. Go on over and read more writing advice there!

A writer’s life is made up of largely arbitrary goals. As in, I will submit ___ stories, to ___ presses, and I will give myself ___ months to finish that novel. The goals that come from outside–the publisher’s deadline, or the revisions deadline, and so on so forth, might as well be arbitrary, but you the writer ARE consulted about them and expected to speak up about your needs so you can turn in a quality product.

Setting goals, revising them, and living with them is what every successful professional writer does. Setting your own schedule may sound like an awesomely sweet deal…until you actually start doing it. All of a sudden the responsibility for it rests nowhere but with you. Some people can ignore that and procrastinate all day. Others can’t, and it becomes something to flog oneself with in the absence of productive work. Most of us fall somewhere in between on that continuum, or alternate.

Small confession time: I used to swear by just the timer, and thought it was a bit silly to use wordcount as a goal. That was back before I had actual deadlines; it was in the phase of my writing life where I was just looking to produce, nothing more. (You may or may not be amused to know I refer to it as “my throat-clearing phase”.)

A kitchen timer is great for the throat-clearing phase and beyond. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but here are the things that a cheap kitchen timer can do for your writing. (I bought four of this kind, for various uses around the house. I also love these little timers from Ikea, but they don’t seem to sell them online. Quelle disastre!)

*A timer focuses your attention. In our time-conscious culture, a ticking timer cuts away a lot of distraction and engages a reflexive focusing of attention.
*A timer sends a signal to others. In other words, I am serious about this. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “When that timer rings I’m all yours for a little while. Until then, leave me be. (This works for husbands, children, friends–unless someone is throwing up, bleeding, or dying, the timer rules.)
*A timer makes it easier to be consistent. Ten or fifteen minutes a day, consistently, will do more for your writing than long stretches of neglect and weekend-warrior spells of however many hours. The name of this game is consistency.
*A timer forces you to prioritize. Your day is not so busy you cannot spend fifteen minutes writing. That fifteen can turn into twenty or thirty once you’re in the groove and have actually sat down and taken the trouble to put your hands on the keyboard. Having the actual, physical timer sitting there has guilt-tripped me into writing many a time.

Professional (or would-be professional) writers are working against a vast cultural current that says writing is “easy” and “less important, a luxury” because it is creative work. And somehow a lot of Speshul Snowflakes hear the “creative” and completely disregard the “work” part of the equation. How many times has someone said to me, “I always thought someday when got time I’d write a novel…”

I am always tempted to reply, “Yeah, what do you do? You’re a dentist/brain surgeon/IT whiz? I’ve always thought that someday when I had time, I’d come into your office and do fillings/neurosurgery/IT. Because, you know, it’s the same fucking thing, right? Can’t be too hard if you’re doing it.”

I haven’t said it yet, but by God, am I ever tempted. This is work, people. Getting paid for it is work too.

And now that I have by-Goshen professional deadlines and a fair handle on my creative process, I find I’ve shifted away from the timer and toward wordcount as my arbitrary goal of choice.

Wordcount is tricky. My usual goal is no less than a thousand words a day, but typically I run between two and four K. That, to me, is a good day’s work. I have the regular six to eight K days during the end of a novel phase when things are coming together, and once in a blue moon a memorable 10K day will come along and run through me like bad moonshine[1]. Those days are nice because I’m so completely sunk in the story it never feels like work while I’m doing it, but they’re not so nice because it destroys my brain until I fall into bed and think, gee, I really should have eaten today…and I should have gone to the loo, too. And taken a shower.

I’ve had the 200 word days, and the 500 word days. Those suck like gigantic sucking things, but they usually occur because of crisis in other parts of my life–ill children, hospital visits, things like that. On those days the timer comes out and it’s usually all I can do to sit still long enough to get SOME wordage out.

There are people who have issues with the wordcount goal. A lot of them will ask, How do you know the words are any good?

My reply to that is, that’s not my job. That’s the Muse’s job. My job is to show up and write. Worrying about whether or not it’s good enough in the just-write-zero-draft stage is like shooting yourself in the kneecap to prepare for a marathon. The point is to get the words OUT so you can have something to trim and tweak. Books can be fixed. A blank page, however, is still a blank page at the end of the day. After the throat-clearing phase, you have to just put your head down and work through stuff. Getting better will come with consistent practice, just like playing a musical instrument.

Consistent practice will not turn you into a Perlman or a Gaiman. But it will make you a better writer and astronomically up your chances of getting published, which in turn ups your chances of making a living at this thing.

Another objection I hear to wordcount is that whatever count you set yourself (perhaps in response to a published author giving advice?) may be unreachable and hence, will actually stop people from writing. This is heard a lot from Speshul Snowflakes who desperately want to avoid the act of consistent writing and practical advice leading from or to such an act.

Look, if 1K doesn’t work for you, 500 might. 250 might. Setting the goal high for the day and not getting there is okay. Not writing at all is not. Life happens, and nobody understands that better than the self-employed professional. Setting goals is an art–breaking a big goal (getting published) into smaller, manageable goals (developing a writing schedule, sticking to it, producing chapters, producing a manuscript, learning grammar and usage and applying it to said manuscript, submitting over and over again, working on new manuscript…get the picture?) and setting daily goals is part of that art. You want a goal big enough to spur you on to make some progress, but small enough that you don’t throw up your hands in despair after beating your head on a brick wall. Like any skill (and goal-setting is a life skill), practice is key, and consistent practice makes you better.

I have to be honest here. (Big surprise, I know.) All the well-adjusted professional writers who have good careers that I personally know set themselves goals, and I don’t know of a single one who doesn’t use wordcount as a metric. They may use other metrics, but wordcount is a professional’s goal. It’s easily measurable, gives you an idea of where you are in a short story/longer work, and functions as a great measurement during the zero draft stage. (Revisions are something else. Heh. Aren’t they, though. Snort.)

The last objection I hear frequently to wordcount is that if you have to rip up a couple scenes by the roots and lose wordcount, you might get so discouraged you don’t go back to the story. This relates to the “what if the words are the wrong ones” above, and it relates more closely to the “what if I’m just blocked and I’m trying too hard and I damage something by sticking to my wordcount?”

And I have to say, oh, please. If you’re going to get “discouraged” enough to stop when you have to rip a couple scenes out and you lose a few thousand words, writing is so not the career for you. If you’re going to use “blocked” as an excuse, writing is probably not the career for you. I do not believe in writer’s block.

There are times when I get turned around, and false starts, and having to rip out parts of stories and jam other parts in and ARGH is just something that happens. Every career has bad patches and tasks one would rather not do. That is why this is work, and if you are willing to put up with those tasks and do them in a reasonable fashion your chances of getting paid to do this work increases exponentially.

I would much rather the words pour out smoothly, in a stream of genius that doesn’t need editing or revision and that editors will beat a path to my door to make me huge offers on. And while I’m dreaming, I’d really like a pony and a rich lover who lives only to buy me presents, too.

But it’s here on the ground with rent to pay and deadlines to meet that a writer lives. Wordcount and timers are tools that can help you meet those deadlines, whether they’re self-set or set by an outside force. Like any tools, they have their uses and they can cut if used improperly. But with elementary precautions and reasonable goals set, they can also make your work easier.

And making a job a little easier is sometimes the difference between making a living…and not.

Over and out.

[1] As in, runs through you quick and leaves you with a pain. Thank you, Dorothy Allison.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. Please comment there.

Five AM this morning, I rolled over and blinked blearily. The itching was going on under my skin and sleep was an impossibility.

So I got up. I had breakfast. I went for a forty-minute run, did my shovelgloving, settled down and opened up the file for the second YA book. The words jolted free, each one of them immediately second-guessed.

That’s not good enough. Jesus, this book is going to be horrible. Please. What makes you think you can write?

Kept going. I had to keep going.

About ten minutes ago I squeezed out the last of just-over three and a half thousand words, bringing the zero draft of the book to 64K and change. It may suck like a huge sucking thing–my zero drafts always do–but it will no longer be a sucky unfinished novel.

I have to learn this each time. Three-quarters of the way through I begin to hate the book with the gigantic flaming hatred of a thousand suns. I slow down, I slog, I think this will never be done.

But then, something happens. I can only call it the Muse. She turns over, yawns prettily, and proceeds to daintily hork up a huge chunk of text. The end of the book unreels. And I sit here in THE CHAIR, blinking, wondering what the hell just hit me.

Of all the things I had to learn to let go of to do this job for a living, the need to have the work be “acceptable” in the first pass was probably the hardest. Zero drafts are messy and incomplete by their very nature. I know enough about my process now to know that setting the damn thing aside for a week or two now is my best bet. When I come back to it, it’ll look better. I’ll find things in it I don’t remember writing, pretty good things. I’ll be able to polish and shine it until I can stand to have someone else look at it.

You see, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be halfway good. You are not a good judge of your own work in the heat of creation. You’re too close to it, too vulnerable. Critique and self-edit is not what the heat of creation is for. It’s for creating, getting the raw stuff on the table. If you don’t go through this critical step, you’ll have nothing to edit and make better.

My brain’s just about worn smooth from the text dump, and I’m finding it difficult to come up with a halfway-decent Friday writing post. So I’ll just say this: don’t judge your work while you’re in the middle of writing it. Just pour it out and then worry about shaping it. Do not do yourself the great disservice of trying to hork up an Inner-Critic-approved book in the first few stages. Trying to make your Inner Critic happy is a losing bet anyway; trying to do it with a vulnerable, tender zero draft is madness. It’s one of the surest ways to hurt yourself.

So be gentle with yourself, huh? And I’ll try to be gentle with myself too. It’s something I have to remind myself each goddamn time. You’d think I’d learn, but I’ve only learned enough to stop resisting the urge to get the damn thing out of my head and onto the paper.

Maybe that is progress.

Posted from A Fire of Reason.



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