And now we come to the portion of the year where I offer hopefully-interesting blog posts of links, resources and images with very little commentary for about two months, because all of these have been created in advance while I'm off at Odyssey.
To start us off, a recent post by maverick musicion Amanda Palmer, famous for her $1 million kickstarter campaign and generally revolutionary approach to making music and getting paid for it. She talks about being an artist in a commercial world. It's a long read, but a well worth it.
Monday, 03 June 2013
I haven't been doing as much techwriting at my day job lately. The company is experimenting with a web app project, and when our initial developer's contract ended, I, as resident Wearer Of All Unclaimed Hats, took over development.
That's not quite as crazy as it sounds - I have a comp sci masters, I used to teach programming at university, I've dabbled with my own projects and the company had sent me on a weeklong course to learn the library I was going to be using. Still, it was a very big shift to go from techwriting-and-occasional-coding to full time all-day all-brain coding.
And at first you notice the achievements. You write some code, and hey - pretty! Look at what I built! Look at that hilarious thing I just made it do because I forgot to put a negative sign in. Look, I fixed it! Look, I added features! I must admit, our initial dev got most of the fun of that; when I inherited the project it was fairly close to release-state on mobile. My job was to create a version that can work on desktop (browser compatability can be an issue), can switch between a mobile and desktop layout depending on the screen size, and polish it to a releasable state.
That last one has shown me a really crucial difference in the psycholog of productivity between coding and techwriting.
When techwriting, if you write for nine hours, you (generally, barring interpreting something incorrectly, hasn't happened to me often) end up with nine hours' worth of document. You come to work, and when you leave there has been a noticable increase in the amount of stuff.
Coding, especially at this, the nitty-gritty-itty-bitty bug fixing end, there's no guarantee. I come into work, and when I leave there have been perhaps three lines of code added (and a few hundred added and thrown away because they don't address the issue, or they do but they break something else". Sometimes I go home and I've made no improvements to the code at all, merely determined a whole lot of ways that don't solve the problem. (That happened a lot this past week with a particularly pernicious iOS browser bug involving the on-screen keyboard and the device reorienting. Which is, in fact, a slightly different bug in every iOS device / OS version I test. And don't even get me started on the hideousness that is the galaxy tab. No glower can express the hatred I have for on-screen keyboards.)
Working in an environment where the main task of the company consistently produces output for hours input, and where I know other people's billable hours are being leveraged to pay my wage for this development time, I get increasingly angsty about a lack of visible progress. And there is always, in the back of your mind, that little running calculation that constantly wonders at what point you should just nuke a particular piece of code from orbit and refactor it into something better-constructed.
I love the quick and decisive achievements that coding offers. But I do also enjoy the steady evidence of productivity that techwriting offers, too. Especially when it's on someone else's dollar.
In related news, an awesome, awesome tumblr my brother sent me: DevOpsReactions. Priceless.
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
I've been trying to think of that word for forty minutes, now. Galvanised. I was describing how another writer was responding to the news that Clarion had rejected her - she'd (according to her) done her share of sooking that morning, but by the afternoon she was a blaze of determination on twitter. (The word that kept coming to mind instead was 'garnished', which just makes me visualise plated-up authors with little sprigs of rejection emails on their shoulders. Brain is weird.)
I, sitting mercurially on the Clarion waitlist (yay! they didn't reject me outright! Crap, more waiting! Double-crap, my boss is going to hate me if I get accepted with two weeks' notice!) and knowing my own tendency for not taking failure or rejection particularly well, admired her strength to turn a setback around like that. Both of us were waiting for the response from Clarion West, and I hoped (and didn't believe) that were I to be rejected, I could cope with the same grace she has.
Well it came this morning. As you might guess from the post heading - no, I didn't get in. And yeah, I was pretty crushed: I've long-adored Gaiman's work, and was ecstatic to hear Margo Lanagan (whose work mine has been compared to several times) would be joining the lineup. In the way that we all get slightly superstitious over something we really want that we don't have much control over, it seemed simultaneously 'meant to be' and too good to actually happen. I worked my arse off on the application stories, I took a chance on the application essay in an attempt to stand out. But no banana.
I called my mother, we had a bit of a chat, I had an almost-cry. I was down to single-syllable mumbled responses and "mm"s, and definitely not winning any awards for 'cheeriest acceptance of a rejection'. But then something happened. I started talking about actions, what I could do. What I was going to do, even with just today. And of how I knew that, as a writer, the biggest thing I had to learn was how to not let rejection affect my work and work habits. And my little inner-three-year-old, the one we have on video stamping her little foot and insisting "I can do it myself!" came to the fore.
I don't need Clarion. This is not the dismissal of bitterness - I dearly, dearly wanted to get in. If they turned around and said "oops! we sent you the wrong email by mistake, our bad!" you'd hear my shriek of joy in Canada. But not getting in doesn't prove anything, and it doesn't set me back anywhere I wasn't already. And as much as I wanted to get in, I can get where I want in life without it. And it helps to remind me that, as an author, I can work as hard as humanly possible and still not get what I want. That's just how the world works.
Clarion would have been an awesome opportunity, but there are others. I've just made a bunch of connections with other Clarion-applicants (accepteds, not-accepteds and waitlistees) that I hope we can forge into something beyond April first - I think in honesty I owe quite a bit to them for how I've managed to respond to this. I've just submitted all the application stories I wrote to contests and magazines (don't ask why I hadn't done it before; waiting and hoping for something you really, really want is sometimes rather paralysing.) And the places where I've submitted previously, though they aren't publishing me yet, like my work and ask me to send more. And while I would have learned a lot, no writer whose work I love actually went to Clarion, or anything like it. Clarion is not an essential step in Becoming A Writer.
So I'm going to go now do the only real essential step: write.
Monday, 25 March 2013
Some links to random things of interest that I found over the last two weeks:
A great article on the different kinds of episodic writing. While they're mostly using television as the examples, it matches perfectly to serial writing (which is something that is really starting to interest me.)
Women giving up their femininity to be the man in the family in Albania. I think this is fascinating, though tragic that these women felt this was their best option.
Neil Gaiman's new year's wish for 2013, because he always makes them awesome.
And in case you need more incentive (and not because I'm on a Gaiman kick), Neil Gaiman says you should be writing.
Lastly, here is an absolutely gorgeous piece of fan-art depicting the entire story of the hobbit, stain-glass-window style. I adore this - how bloody amazing would it be to see talented people create things like this inspired by your work?
Tuesday, 08 January 2013
Today's post is taken from a comic called The Oatmeal, which has an awesome (though sweary) strip about being a content-creator (ie writer, blogger, etc, especially on the 'net).
Sunday, 02 December 2012
My brain is not in a writing space right now. It hasn't been for a while - about two months, in fact. Story ideas do not strike me at random times, or often at all. I find it near-impossible to immerse myself in a story long enough to construct a sentence, and the idea of thinking about a plot or emotional arc is just exhausting. The space that is normally filled with writing and story has been hijacked by decisions and ramifications of a Big Life Event, and now that Big Life Event has happened, the energy that I would use to think about story is, I suspect, being used to Not Think About the Big Life Event.
I tried to have a writing afternoon with a friend of mine today. The story I had planned to write didn't work at all. Admittedly, I haven't written in about two months, but even by those standards it was stilted and info-dumpy and I couldn't get into the story that I cared about. I just couldn't make the emotional connection to it.
My brain is running away from itself because there are bills to pay and dinner to cook and and you can't do those things if you're busy falling apart, so instead of writing it insists we have to fill all the holes that were just scooped out of my house. Because that's a problem I can solve, but writing would involve sitting down and being quiet and listening to my thoughts because that's where the writing comes from and above it involves all not running away.
It's goes something like: in order to write, you have to expose yourself, you have to be sensitive to emotion and pain and passion, because otherwise you can't tap into it to communicate it. So to get on with life after Big Life Events, you wall a bit of yourself off so you can deal with it a bit at a time. But to write, you have to tear the walls down.
And to be honest, I think I'm doing okay in the circumstances. I'm "not okay", but I'm okay with that. I'm functioning, I'm making my life work - the bills are paid, the dinner is cooked - and frankly it's quite healthy and normal to be not okay just yet. We set a lot of store by people 'being okay', like if someone isn't okay after something like this, then that's something that has to be fixed. But it isn't. It's something that has to be walked through. This is part of the process. Everyone goes through it and gets through it and we all have our own individual journey, but it's pretty much the same.
I was a little disappointed, because the last time I had a life event like this (admittedly, on a much smaller scale and impact) I threw myself into writing. I wrote 8000 words in an afternoon and finished my first novel. I was, perhaps a little mercinarily, hoping for the same thing, that I could throw myself into the novel.
But no. It is apparently of monumental importance that I buy the right couch.
Monday, 26 November 2012
Oops. Life has been rather hectic lately, to put it mildly, and I must admit that I managed to completely forget last week's posts entirely. First time since I've started this blog that I actually forgot to post... I've sort of been in a place where there's too much in my head, and everyday things - even writing - has been pushed aside for a while.
My novel remains unwritten - it still needs a good going over of the synopsis again, because there are holes. I signed up for nano, but that's a lost cause this year, I think. Life's just taken over. But I'm going to do a similar challenge, just one more suited to my current state. I'm not sure what the time or word limits will be yet, but it's going to be X-Thousand Words Of Play.
Not set writing to get something written that I need. Just playing. Writing whatever. I haven't done that in far too long. I think my brain needs an allowance to puddle around with its shoes off for a while.
Monday, 12 November 2012
I don't read anywhere near as much as I would like to. My pile of to-be-read books long since ceased being a pile; it grew so large that it now in fact outnumbers the books I own that I have read, and now they're all mixed in together in my bookshelves. I keep mental tabs on which ones I have read, it's easier. It also means I can rejoice all the more when new books come into my door, because the list of "things I have to read" doesn't actually get any bigger - I'm not tracking it anymore.
It's just hard to make time to do it. When I have spare time that isn't eaten up with housework or cooking, I'm working on writing. And then it's bedtime.
This is compounded by the fact that even when I do read, there isn't really anything to do with the experience afterwards. I don't really have 'book discussion' friends. I don't have a book club because I already do too many things.
One of my dearest friends found herself (and several other people she knows) in a similar position - would like to read more, but the lack of external motivation means it's so easy to sneak out of it. She suggested starting a virtual book club.
Now, this isn't a new idea - goodreads (and probably every other social-book-reviewing site) has a mechanism set up for exactly this, with thousands of groups already using it. But the notion of book clubs is something that, at least to my mind, belongs more to the previous generation than to mine. I was quite taken with it - discovering new books, and having an external reason to get around to reading the ones that I should, talking about them - but virtually, so there's no time-sensitivity. It's brilliant.
If only we could think of what to name it.
Monday, 22 October 2012
Week 2 of my story challenge and I have yet to write an actual bloody story, but my other projects are going swimmingly. My RP campaign (zombie apocalypse) is settling in, my programming has just started getting itself together again, and my 15-post-it-notes-a-day attempt to actually get the events and finer details of my novel plotted out is actually happening:
Yes, it's all carefully blurred out so you can't actually read anything. Mwahahaha.
I'm not too worried about the lack of story challenge, really. The past week (fortnight, really) has been the end of a huge project at work, and I've been coming hope absolutely wrecked with the stress of getting everything out the door on time. The fact that the other (arguably more important to me) projects have finally started moving again more than makes up for my dithering with the shorts, here.
Monday, 08 October 2012
I had a writing session with a buddy of mine not long ago, and it came to my attention that the number of stories I have sitting waiting to be written is probably not normal. And probably not healthy.
I'll admit, I'm a natural hoarder. I took my grandmother's war-years attitude of "this might be useful someday" and ran with it, and while I'm managed to cull it in response to physical things (mostly by realising that I had to pack all that crap when I moved house) I can't let go of an idea. I love them. And they do come in useful. They mutate and mature and change and merge and turn into new ideas (which also need to be hoarded). My preciousssses.
But the consequence of that is that the 'Ideas' on the Trello board I showed you yesterday outweighs any other list on that board by at least a factor of ten. I didn't screencap the whole board - the ideas list runs much further down the page.
I just counted. More than forty story ideas sitting there. Some of them novels, some shorts, some novellas, some series. Waiting to be written. And more keep being added. I get ideas much faster than I do anything with them, but it's getting to the point that I never know which story to write because there are so many and as soon as I'm writing one, I'm not writing all the others. Classic sweet deprivation, to paraphrase Pratchett.
So I have the idea to set myself a challenge, to write X number of those shorts in a given time frame. Something like NaNoWriMo, and similar to Dan Wells' NaShoStoMo challenge from last year, but for existing ideas for short stories. I haven't yet decided on the particulars, but I suspect it's going to work out to one a week, because it's something I probably can manage with a stretch at the moment, at this end of the year. Stay tuned for updates.
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
You know what? This is exactly how I feel about my story ideas... (XKCD).
Tuesday, 18 September 2012
I wrote this post last week, but a perfectly-timed thirty-second DNS outage ate it, and in frustration I that instead of rewriting it, I'd sulk and put a post of videos instead. But now it's next week, and hey, I'll write it again. And this time I'll press Ctl-A, Ctl-C before hitting 'save'. I need to see if Joomla has an autosave plugin somewhere, you'd laugh if I told you how often this happens... Anyway...
I love alien landscapes. When I travel and I go looking at a new country, that's what I'm really looking for. Ancient ruins are a good second; the less-anglo the better (well, the less known about them the better. I like a blank canvas for ideas). But nothing gets my writer-mind flowing like standing in a place that looks like it could double for Mars or Titan.
For a long time, I thought I wasn't going to find that on my trip. Don't get me wrong: California's pretty, but it's a very terrestrial prettiness. Yellow-brown earth with tufts of black-green trees. Mountains of more of the same. There were stunning vistas down at Lake Tahoe, and gorgeous trees and rocks (don't judge me, I like big rocks and I cannot lie...) at Yosemite, but while that was fun for Holiday Brain, it wasn't what Writer Brain (who is always running the show in secret, I suspect) was really looking for.
When I was little, my uncle painted alien landscapes as murals all over the interior walls of his house. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing ever (though spending months and years completing such a project was inconceivable to a six-year-old. That was, like, forever.) I wanted the same - I wanted rooms that were other places, other worlds. Something of the extroadinary in living. Never mind the fact that I was still drawing people as two blobs, four sticks and a belly button (even when they were wearing clothes, I really had a thing for belly buttons.) I wanted alien murals.
This was before I discovered my love of story, before I knew I wanted to write for a living: I wanted a house filled with the wierd and wonderful, the things that would make me imagine, things that would make me create stories to explain them. I still want that.
It's a minor setback that I never really bothered learning to paint. And also that the Australian housing market and my chosen career mean I won't own a house I can paint the insides of until I'm fifty. But hey. Goals, man.
I love cacti and weird plants as well, and coral reefs and bizarre sea creatures like nudibranches. I'd keep a cactus garden, except I've managed to kill every plant ever given to me (including two cacti), but for one which was saved by the intervention of my mother (and has become really-not-my-plant-anymore, since I moved out and completely (honestly) forgot to take it with me. It's happy where it is. It has a balcony view, and shelter from the wind, and someone who actually remembers to water it more than once a year. It's better for everyone, really. Mum, I don't want the plant back. Don't tell my uncle. Yes, it's the same uncle, he gave me the plant. It's a nice plant. But it won't stay a nice plant if it comes and lives with me.)
I think we're perhaps a little egocentrical when we consider alien life - that "life unlike our own" somehow translates into still having limbs and mouths and eyes somewhere, just with a different coloured skin, or maybe some antennae.
We really don't stretch ourselves that much, we don't even look at some of the truly bizarre things on our own planet. I suspect it's partly because we had to limit ourselves to alien creatures that could be performed by a man in a suit, but we're well beyond that need technologically, and I'd really like to think we'll start reaching further ideologically soon.
But I digress - I found what I was looking for, not in California, but Nevada. I went purely for the Grand Canyon, and just booked a tour somewhere else because I was there a few days and really not sure what I was going to do in Vegas otherwise. And I'm glad I did, because while the Grand Canyon is, y'know, Grand, it's still really just a great big hole in the ground. It's pretty enough, I guess, but it was more of that brown-and-yellow-with-green-scrubby-bush that I was (I'm sorry) getting rather tired of after three weeks of driving through nothing but.
But the Fire Canyon (right). That was Roadrunner-and-Wile-E-Coyote country. Red sandstone (actually, very reminiscent of the red earths of Aus) carved into shapes by millenia of wind, set against the yellow natural rock-soil and black granite mountains. And within it, Mouse Canyon (above) named for the Native-American version of Ned Kelly, Mouse, who would retreat here where there was a waterhole and the land was unbreachable.
The silence is unbelievable. Silence and heat aren't two things that I would normally put together. It was silent in Kirkenes, when I was watching the Northern Lights dance over an empty snowfield, but that was different. Like sound completely muffled, rather than the absence of it altogether.
In Australia, there's always noise, though we don't always consciously hear it. Our outback is a desert, but it's full of life and movement. You'd be amazed how much actually lives out there. There's rustling of leaves or dirt shifting in the wind, the skitter of small creatures, even the cry of distant cicacads. (On a side note, I now understand why American literature describes cicadas as singing, as even something pleasant to listen to. As with everything else, Australia's version is bigger, badder and has an Attitude.)
But here, the American desert, there's nothing. You're alone - nobody lives here, they just drive by to look at the scenery, and the sand and rock swallow the sound of them, bury it. You're miles from anyone, and the silence is a presence, like the desert itself is watching you.
The land, in places, is carved into tiny valleys and rivulets like a maze, and you can easily imagine the desert-labyrinth testing heroes, separating the worthy from the not. Or narrow your eyes and lose the scale of the sandstrone sculptures, and they're suddenly massive cliffsides where entire communities live, burrowed into the rock.
This is the kind of stuff I travel for. Not the museums and galleries and libraries (though they can be fun, for a change) and certainly not to "be seen" (as was explained to me by my hair-dresser, who was horrified that I was travelling for three weeks and had only taken hand luggage. The look on her face as she whispered "but... outfit repeating", like I was planning on feeding small children to bears. Priceless). To find the places on our planet that pull me out of the ordinary, that have secrets to be discovered or invented.
Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Not much room for story - in fact, no room at all, which is generally my idea of a nightmare. But not in this case - the novelty (and freedom!) of trakking around solo like that, facing entirely different challenges from my usual life, was enough for my mind to play with.
I found something interesting when I got home, though: Within 36 hours of stepping off the plane, I'd covered my giant whiteboard in my office with the solution to a major problem that had been dogging my novel/series for months.
There's a "background plot" that runs behind all of the novels, influencing them, but only really tying together in the final books. When I left for California, I had only the vague notion that it was going to be a bit of a kludge to write each book not really knowing what that plotline was, but I didn't think I could plan it to any real accuracy without scening-out all nine books in the series right now. Now, I have it. I know what's going on. No more kludge. It's not scened-out in detail, but it's enough so I know what's going on there at any point in the 'other' story.
We often think of writer-breaks as time to get away and write, but sometimes the break can be to get away from writing. And I don't mean just decide not to write for a while - that can help, but it's not really what's going on here. Put yourself in a situation where you really can't think about it, because whatever you're doing is too new and exciting* to leave room for it. Your creative mind will run off and make new connections under the surface, break old and tired assumptions and be able to approach the whole project refreshed.
*I don't recommend trying to have a writing break by just filling up your life with mundane things, like overworking, or highly stressful environments. At least in my experience, that results in your creative mind shutting down completely, rather than wandering off on its own to have ideas without telling you.
Monday, 13 August 2012
I must admit, I'm feeling particularly uninspired for blog posts this weekend. Plus I owe people critiques that I haven't finished yet. Thankfully, other people wrote interesting stuff that's worth a read.
Toni McGee Causey tells us why, even when the publishing industry is imploding and exploding at the same time, we still need writers. Baldur Bjarnason (who also wins this week's prize for Most Awesome Name I Have Come Across In Quite A While (And I Just Watched A Pixar Movie) has a great post on how the publishing industry is setting us all up for a wonderful world of piracy, just like the comic industry, the movie industry and the music industry. And no, it's not that piracy is inevitable.
Dean Wesley Smith has a great post on ebook pricing, the bane of indie/self publishers everywhere. And Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a must-read about the pitfalls of critiques and edits and the notion of 'perfection' in our work. If you go to one link from this page, make sure it's this one.
Tuesday, 03 July 2012
I swear I'm not lazy, there's just been some really cool stuff out there. I'm carefully going to ignore the whole DOJ Settlement stuff until someone much more lawyer-ful than I comes out with an analysis, because if there's one thing that whole scandal has shown, it's that people really shouldn't mouth off about legal matters they don't fully understand because it rapidly becomes apparent that they're morons or in somebody's pocket. (Seriously, you should read some of the letters being send about the settlement and lawsuit. Misunderstandings of law aside, the sheer contortions of logic required to support their arguments are hilarious.)
2. Some stuff on the legal notion of unconscionability (say it drunk, I dare you. Now try to spell it. Ugh. Lawyers.) in contracts by J. A. Konrath, a discussion on whether the we-all-know-it's-fan-fiction 50 Sahdes od Grey actually violates Meyer's copyright at Passive Voice, and Hugh Howey talks about how his self-published novel WOOL became 'hot movie property'.
And lastly, an entertaining look at a writer's "billable hours" by David Barron.
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Starting things is hard. Starting a novel is near-impossible (just ask all those friends you have who want to write a novel "someday", "when they have time"). Sometimes it seems like actually inventing magic / faster than light travel / the perfect murder would be easier than writing your words today. You should see just how much time I spent procrastinating before I sat down to write even this blog post. But I have a secret:
If you keep doing it, it gets easier*.
In early March, I started writing my novel, mostly because I was getting really, really irritated by the fact that I hadn't started writing it yet. I'd had it outlined for six weeks now, and it was just sitting there. (Well, technically I started in January, with 500 words, and didn't write anything else for six weeks, but that version of the truth has much less fizz. To make a better story, sometimes you need to prune your facts.)
As a challenge to myself, I decided I'd write something every day, without fail. No excuses, no 'oh, I'll write twice as much tomorrow", or "but I'm too tired", or "I'm not really in the mood". Every day. Even when I'd gone straight from work to a hen's night and come home at 1am and had to get up in six hours to go to work the next day. Even when I'd spent the day with my head in a bucket. Because, to paraphrase the great Sir Pratchett, it was important. And if you opened the door for little excuses, like sleep or illness, you opened the door for big ones, and soon you wouldn't write all week.
I must write every day. Even if it was just ten words (on one day, when I was horribly ill, it was a grand total of four. And two of them were speech tags.) In an odd way, I'm prouder of the days I wrote only ten or twenty or even four words, than the days I wrote a thousand or more, because they show I was still writing every day, even when it was tough.
I started out the challenge, not sure if I could do it, and made it my goal to do a whole week of writing every day. When I managed a week, I tried for two. Then for a month. And after about six weeks, something odd happened.
I didn't have to remind myself that I still needed to do my writing for the day.
I stopped having to poke and prod myself to get it done.
I'm not saying I didn't procrastinate: I lost my internet for two hours last week during my writing time. Without the ability to tab back to the 'net, I slammed through a thousand words in twenty minutes, thus proving to myself that the best thing I can possibly do for my career at this point is to learn to turn my laptop's wifi off. But each day it's becoming much less of an ordeal. Less of the challenge of talking my butt into the chair. Much more of a fact, of something I do every day, like showering, eating and teethbrushing. And much more about the story.
When that happened, I decided to up the challenge: a minimum of 500 words a day, averaged over a week. If I missed a day, I could make it up later in the week (or earlier) but I had to hit 3,500 by Sunday. I met that target (and exceeded it) two weeks running. 500 words suddenly became not that much of a challenge. I upped it to "aiming for 1000 with a minimum of 500". This week, I upped that minimum to 750.
And over those past three (ish) months, here is the result:
Monday, 28 May 2012
I was discussing rejections with a friend lately - bemoaning (in jest) the fact that today's rejection letters are actually more often rejection emails, and therefore the old chestnut of wallpapering your office, bedroom and later your entire house with your received rejection letters (or creating other such art sculptures from them) no longer really applies. Somehow, printing them all out to do it seems rather more self-defeating than merely getting creative with the universe's blurt response to your work.
She mentioned several of her writer-friends found the very notion of rejections quite intimidating. That surprised me, so I thought I'd post one of mine up here. All the important information (like people's names and the story title) has been redacted just in case anyone gets upset about anything or goes emailing anyone they shouldn't. But one rejection is pretty much like any other, so here:
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
Yeah, that last one was a bit of a stretch for the 's', but alliteration is a seductive mistress. Once again, a blog post full of other people saying interesting things, because I've had a week long headache, and computer screens are unfriendly beasts at the moment. Except my laptop, because I can write novels on that without having to actually look at the screen. Anyway.
Subtext is a wily beast. We'd all like to feel our writing's rich with it, and occasionally we mistake our pen for a sledgehammer and it wanders onto the stage and starts flashing the reader through your dialogue, making little "woo-hoo!" noises while the trenchcoat's flapping in the breeze. Subtext is not a sledgehammer - and it can often weave itself into the work without you even realising (especially if your book is being read by literature students, whose marks depend on finding the damn stuff everywhere). It can add a lot of 'subconscious body' to a piece - make a scene feel more 'real', more accessible, more emotive and visceral, because we can sense what's going on under the surface. But it can be tricky to get right, especially the first few times. Over on QueryTracker, Stina Lindenblatt has some tips on creative subtext in your work.
Something all writers struggle with is figuring out how they actually write. What works for them? Should they outline first, or does that take all the fun out of it? Or, if they don't outline, maybe they'll wander around for five years not really achieving anything except massive plotholes and impossible events. Should they set aside some time every day sacred to writing? Mix it up and write at different times? Write only on weekends? Never write on weekends? Snatch time whenever they can, or wait unti they have hours to dedicate to a good sprint of writing? Do they need to get a book down fast, or does writing before the story's ready kill it in its sleep? Another QueryTracker post by Danyelle Leaftyl has some options to think about in finding how you work.
Once you've put all that imagery into the novel, however, you might find it a tad overlong. Or maybe you're in the editing stage and need to cut it down anyway. Rachelle Gardner talks about cutting your novel down relatively painlessly, but looking for words and phrases not pulling their weight. I'd add to her comments:where you find adverbs, you've probably chosen a weak verb. (Ie, one that isn't very descriptive, like 'run' or 'walk', and has to rely on an adverb to give it presence). Fix the verb, remove the adverb. ditto adjectives - if you're using two or three for a single noun, find a better noun, or find an adjective that combines the tone and visual you're looking for. if you're spending long passages describing a character's thoughts, consider an action to sum up those thoughts - what would a character do that shows us that's what he's thinking. That's often a lot more powerful, as it lets us put ourselves into their shoes more. repetition - re-explaining, re-describing, summarising, stop it. Trust your reader. over-explaining. Again, your reader's not in kindergarten. Trust that they can work it out. Most readers tend to enjoy working it out, it makes them move involved with the story.
Cutting down can be a difficult process. I also like to look long and hard at each sentence and paragraph, shine a torch in its eyes and demand to know what, exactly, it's adding to the story. If it can't answer me promptly and succinctly, it goes. Waffling at this point is a definite indicator that it's there for my ego reasons (eg, because I think it's really clever or awesome) not for story reasons.
Monday, 30 April 2012
I haven't forgotten about the what-to-do-with-your-new-novel series, I'm just writing a few easy topics because it's been a hard couple of weeks with illness.
I wrote yesterday about how to keep yourself writing. One of the key factors is recognising the pattern - realising that it isn't the book, it's just "what you do" at this point in your novel. The way to recognise patterns is to record them in the first place.
I have two methods I use to record:
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Even Neil Gaiman has these kinds of days. A lot of authors (and editors!) have written about what happens at some undefined mid-ish point of the first draft, when what you were really excited about yesterday is complete dross, the plot's totally nonsense, the characters are dull, unbelievable and barely drawn, the writing is stodgy, stolid and bloated and anyone who ever thought you had any kind of writing talent was clearly delusional or perhaps a bit too kind. You might as well pack it all in and go learn accountancy, because nobody would ever want to read this book, and there's just no point in finishing it.
There's a story of an author - I now forget which one, because so many have repeated the same story - who was pleading with their editor to let them not finish the book, that it just wasn't going to work. And the editor calmly replied "oh, you're at that stage of the draft, are you?"
It happens to everyone. If it hasn't happened to you yet, just put this in the back of your mind for when it does.
It gets easier the second or third time around, I'm finding - because I know what's going on.
I need to write fast. When I have a story, I need to get it on paper before my brain gets bored with it. This isn't really a problem with short stories, but it's proven a fairly large problem for novels. I can't write fast enough that I don't get bored before I get through it. Well not "bored" exactly. But I hit the "my god this is a piece of drivel" wall. It's not a set time-limit, it happens whenever I'm taking too long to get through the story. The past three weeks, due to illness, I've been lucky to average 150 words a night. I'm not going to berate myself for that - I managed to write a little something every day, even when I'd spent most of that day with my head in a bucket or over a steam tin (or both). But it meant I was getting through the story far too slowly, and that made it feel too long, too dull, too boring, unnecessary. I was still here when I felt I should be there, by now. And that called the whole plot into question.
There are methods for getting over this (there have to be, or there'd be no books). Depends on the kind of writer you are.
Some opt for cheerleaders - people they can talk about the novel to, or to whom they have to report their writing. They may send chapters to them as finished, so their cheerleader can read them and proclaim the awesomeness of the story. They may jsut describe what they've written, what's coming next, what they're thinking about. I have something of a cheerleader in my mother; she rarely reads my work, now, but she's all enthusiasm whenever I announce that I've maintained my writing-every-day streak for another week.
Having somebody else give a damn that you're still writing can help a hell of a lot. Even if they never see anything you write (I never show anyone first drafts, especially incomplete ones - I'm far too aware that the story can't really stand up for itself yet, and too protective a mother to let it get someone else's icky judgement all over its face), knowing they're cheering on your act of bum-in-chair-making-stuff-up can make a world of difference.
Writing in a different location, or at a different time of day can also help. I've started taking my laptop into the lounge, where a) it's a lot warmer than my office, and b) I can't secretly watch movies instead of writing. Yes, thanks to cloud computing the internet has to come with me, but the tinyness of my macbook's screen makes extended browsing annoying more than anything else, so I tend to write.
As a measure that I'm not officially advocating, a glass or two of wine or your poison of choice can really help. As Hemingway said - write drunk, edit sober. It's not the actual liver-damage that's useful, it's the lessening of inhibitions - to that end, you could also write directly after meditation or yoga, freeform dance, vigorous exercise, party-games-requiring-improvisation, charades, or some freeform warm-up writing. All of which are a lot healthier for you and your wallet (and far less likely to turn into a crutch).
The method of last resort - but the one that, honestly, I usually end up falling back on, is sheer bloody-mindedness. Recognise that this is just a phase, and dog through it. Stop trying to second-guess your own book while you're writing it, just get the words down. You can't judge whether a scene belongs in the overall book until you have the whole book to judge it against. You can't judge a character or a storyline until you see the whole arc. You can't judge how tall a tree is while you're still bloody climbing it, so just sit in the chair and make the words happen until you get over the ridge. Because you will get there - you'll reach a stage where you've got an interesting scene to write, or a cool little reveal, or a thrilling twist or decision, and your will to write returns. The story is magic again, it flows from your fingers.
It's a cycle. Get yourself through the lows so you can enjoy the highs.
Monday, 23 April 2012