February 2016

In addition to trying this whole blog weekly thing, I’m going to try this thing where I keep you updated on what I’m working on. If nothing else, it ought to give me a headspace where I keep organized and keep things going. And possibly keep me from getting as behind as I did last year. Oops.

The Long Road – Oh my poor baby. This story’s been with me a while, but I think I might finally have figured out how to write it in a way that I’m happy with. So I’m drafting this story based originally in the premise of: if one of the oldest forms of magic is name magic, what do you do when a valuable heir to a faerie empire doesn’t have a name? The young prince grows up completely unaware of his heritage, makes friends, lives a very long life before his father comes looking to bring him back to his purported kingdom. But by this time, he’s not any sort of prince the faery kindom would recognize.

White Lightning – The long put off sequel to Black Ice because I had no idea how hard and complicated writing an entire anthology on my own would be. Hint: Very. I don’t recommend it. I do, however, recommend Black Ice because it’s fun and there are premeditated moose. White Lightning takes place a short time after, dealing with a different set of characters and focus mostly on the fae and how they interact with the world today. This anthology is mostly drafted, I’m just working on edits at this point. Long, long edits.

Will Shakespeare: A Play – A group of college students, still living in the same area after school, find themselves somewhat adrift. To combat this, a few of them decide to write and stage a play to bring them back together and remind themselves that despite the grinding monotony of their day jobs, they are still brilliant at the creative work they used to do and still love. The play, of course, stars Will Shakespeare as an aspiring playwright, and the main authors of it are a young couple named Romeo and Juliet. I blame tumblr for this entirely. And various friends for encouraging me. This isn’t even in drafts yet, so I wouldn’t look too hard for it.

Sandborn – A novel of the Blasted Lands, a world where magic was the ruination of the land and the people in its path, reducing everything to desert with more and more viable land being used up every generation. Unto this wasteland a child is born with the stubbornness of her father and the insight of her mother and the magical ability of both. Not that she knows it until someone comes a-hunting and the only folk standing between her and an unpleasant death are the wandering carnival she just met. In the final stages of edits, and hopefully to be out soon.

The Queen and her Parliament – This was originally supposed to be a novella for paid release. But after January, that doesn’t seem right. The serial numbers have been fairly well filed off, but the origins of this story lie in what should be a very recognizable movie. Your clue: a parliament of barn owls.

It’s Got Anxiety

I am doing too many projects too close together, in too much of a state of near-readiness (okay to be fair one would be in too much of a state of near readiness) and I am taking all of these self-imposed deadlines way too hard. I can tell this because I’ve turned myself into a living embodiment of the “it’s got anxiety” meme. Do not do this.

It’s not as though I didn’t have warning. The entire back half of last year was spent doing twenty things in a day and muttering to myself that this incessant need to be productive, to justify things that are not productive (watching TV, playing Diablo) with finishing absolutely everything beforehand. It’s not even as though this is uncommon! I don’t know off the top of my head what any of the technical terms for it are, but I know it’s not uncommon. (Editrix: f we’re talking SUPER technical that’s totally in the OCD family of anxiety; workaholism, superwoman complex, my desperate need to go stab John Calvin in the face?) (Thank you, my dear, the swords are in the garage loft.)

Let’s have a breakdown, pun entirely intended, of what’s going on now. I’m writing this blog post so I don’t have to look at Sandborn and deal with the last few edits before it goes off to the Editrix for a second pass. After which it’s entirely possible that all the major structural edits will be done and all that’s left is typos and word choices before it goes to publication, so there’s that anxiety. Then there’s White Lightning, which is so far behind schedule it’s come all the way around to potentially be on schedule a year later, plus trying to balance this with finishing the draft of Long Road so that can sit and percolate. I’m studying Arabic and Hindi and making slow progress, which is great, but I’ve started these languages for the third time. All of last year was wheel spinning. Not the crafty fun kind. I’ve picked up guitar, which is going fine except for not managing to do regular exercises in the exercise-a-day book the way I want to, I’ve started drawing which… no, actually, that may be the one thing that doesn’t have a caveat attached to it. So I have that going for me. But my online course in bio is semi-comprehensible at best and I seem to attach the same kind of importance to that as I do to classes I took in real live school, so that’s not helping. We’ve got a fair amount of blog-work to do that, given the timeframe, is not awful but needs to be addressed before it becomes so. Plus martial arts, plus eating healthy, plus dressing myself and keeping a budget, plus plus plus.

And part of this is almost definitely that I’m still wobbly on time management and the very small margin for exhaustion I leave myself. And part of this is that no, I do not have a deadline on the progress I make in the umpty-million languages I want to progress in, I do not have a deadline on the guitar or the drawing, if I do not get the practice in every night it’s fine. If I take a night to do nothing but write and play Diablo, that’s fine too. If I go to bed early and skip Arabic and Hindi for a night, that’s okay. If I decide to up and quit either or both of those languages, no one is going to penalize me but me.

This is where one of those we are our own worst enemies. We give it coming and going, coming with the scheduling and going when we inevitably realize that we’ve fucked ourselves over and there is no room to breathe here, we forgot to allow ourselves time to be human. To have nervous fits, to have bad days, to catch colds, to have something break. Ourselves or the material we’re working with, pick one. We’re not machines. We get tired.

I don’t know why this is such a hard concept for me to grasp. I try to comfort myself by telling myself this isn’t just me, I’m not the only one that does this. Whether or not I believe myself is a whole other story again, because see also anxiety and the chaos in my head tends to eschew sensibility in favor of whatever is most dramatic at the time. Normally this would also be the part in the blog post when I offer a pithy solution, but I don’t have any of those either.

The only solution or saving grace I have to offer is this self-examination. Good habits, and several years of reminding myself that downtime is just as important as productivity. More so, because it gets left by the wayside so often. Sleep, as my doctor recently reminded me, is essential to good health. Rest is, also. Anxiety and memes and compulsive need to measure up to ridiculous standards aside, my worth as a human being is not measured by how many amazing and useful things i can get done in a day, and neither is yours. We can be our own worst enemies, or we can breathe and take a moment and be our own allies the way we would for any other friend.

There are enough things in this world trying to tear us down, tear us apart. Let’s try and not be one of them.

Make It And Break It, or Drawing Lessons

As part of my whole new year new me plan — that’s sales pitch speech for I took advantage of the collective concept of transitional space to fold in a bunch of new lessons and skills into my day — I picked up some drawing supplies and drawing lessons. No particular reason, it was a thing I have vague memory of enjoying and decided to try doing again.

It’s going pretty well! For a given definition of well, I mean, it’s going, I’m persisting. But I’m running into the same problem I did when I was a high school student, I can’t draw what I see in my head, I certainly can’t draw up to the degree that other people I know can, therefore what’s the point in even trying, and I put it down. Or I stop, or I put off practice and I put it off and I put it off.

This week I haven’t been doing much of it because it’s been a very rough week and I haven’t been doing much of anything, so I expect to run into this again. But on Sunday I had a fit of wanting to avoid it somewhere on the scale of I was almost more ready to pay the monthly bills than I was to do drawing practice. And this was something I was excited and ready and bouncing to do even before the appointed time of starting regular practice, so clearly something was wrong. I didn’t even have to do much mental digging to figure out what was wrong, this idea that if I can’t do it perfect right the first time I shouldn’t bother trying at all is far too familiar. In a lot of kids it happens because they’re told they’re gifted. They’re told they’re smart, they’re brilliant, they should live up to their potential, they should do ten different things in a day in addition to their regular schoolwork and they should be brilliant at all of them. I wasn’t told I was especially brilliant, especially gifted, or put in any G&T programs. I still got a good-sized dose of the everything is easy and perfect the first time or it is crap.

That whole concept is crap. It is bullshit of the first water.

I didn’t get the full dose of this toxic crap and I still have to remind myself that making mistakes, drawing a thousand bad things, awkward people and poorly shaded lilies and bowls of things that might if you squint real hard be fruit, all of these things are what makes a good artist. Making mistakes, writing stories that I look back on ten years later and twitch, this is what makes me a good writer. Playing Wish You Were Here or, heh, Ziggy Stardust and Space Oddity right now, playing them a thousand times, in bits and pieces, and making twanging sounds that made me glad I picked guitar instead of violin (seriously, have you ever heard the beginning stages of getting beautiful music out of violin, it’s not fun), this is what will make me a musician. And that means making myself draw the feather, shade the lily, sketch the stupid damn fruit. And watch myself doing it. And learn from my mistakes, and try not to get into the habit of making them, but do better the next time. And better again. Bit by bit, in slow steps that will be noticeable later even if they aren’t right now.

It’s hard. I hate it. I hate failing. I hate having to push through it to get to where I want to be. It’s hard and it’s exhausting and I hate making myself do it even more when I’m tired, when it’s been a rough week. But I do it, I make myself do it even if it’s just for five minutes because five minutes usually turns into fifteen as I start to do it and enjoy it even when I know it’s not going as well as I want it to, and I remember why I decided to make myself practice regularly in the first place. I make myself do it, we all have to do it, even educated fleas have to do it to get that treasured ‘educated’ status. Making mistakes is how we learn, it’s how we get a thousand sayings that all mean that, from “fail better” to “anything doing is worth doing badly.” A lot of badly. A thousand times of badly.

So I figure I’ll give myself a thousand days of drawing practice, and we’ll see where I’m at at the end of it. That’s a little under three years, isn’t it? Give it three years of trying, and failing, and learning, and trying again. And then we’ll see.

The Stars Look Very Different Today

So. David Bowie.

I didn’t believe it for about an hour after my boyfriend told me, half awake and staggering towards the shower, and now all I can think is, this isn’t right, it’s not supposed to be this way. We’re not meant to live in a world without David Bowie (Yes I know we managed perfectly well for many centuries but dammit.) I don’t get how this happened. He’s supposed to be here floating around with that little smile of his, showing us all how to be serene in our differences. We’re … I don’t know. He didn’t die, he just changed incarnations. This one happens to be the first one not on this earth.

I don’t get it. I disbelieve. I spent the first hour of the morning disbelieving and then the second hour a sobbing mess on the couch instead of doing my morning routines. Really, it’s amazing I got dressed and got something for lunch and got out of the house at all, at this point. I’m kind of amused and touched and comforted to see so many people also going wait, David Bowie’s dead? he can’t die. he’s not mortal like the rest of us. Someone on Twitter had a good quote:

And that’s exactly how I feel. I’m not yet used to a world without David Bowie actively in it, and I don’t know if I ever will be. Hell, I’m not yet used to a world without Christopher Lee or Leonard Nimoy actively in it. I was watching Stargate last night and realized how much I missed Don Davis. I’m still not sure how Robin Williams is gone.

There are these people, and they are so influential in so many people’s lives, their presence is so big that they’re everywhere. And then they leave us, and we’re all left staggering. As a global collective, we reel and wonder, where do we look to now? Here was a giant part of our lives, now gone, what do we do? How do we keep moving after we’ve been gutted like that?

Well, but he’s still here, isn’t he. We still have all these hours of video, all this music.  We have the moment we saw him on stage and couldn’t believe anyone would do that, could get away with that. We have the moment we saw him on screen and didn’t entirely believe he was real. We still have Jareth and Nikola Tesla and Thomas Jerome Newton and the walk-off from Zoolander. We still have this.

I’ve been doing a lot of looking back this morning and boggling at just how much of my writing is influenced by him. (And mostly Labyrinth, to be fair, me and at least a third to half of the girls in the English speaking world around that time wanted the Goblin King to come and take them away.) The entire Sorcerer, Sam, the mysterious gentleman of manners and deep, deep issues who was so very bad for you and yet kind in some peculiar way, who touched you in the core of you and made things all right again and who could break you just as easily, that was all Bowie. And I don’t know how to deal with the real-world person being gone, it feels like all that stuff that he inspired in my head should be gone too even if it isn’t. And it isn’t. See above.

I think, from what I know of him (he was not that cruel in the last decades of his life and I don’t think he ever really meant to be although let’s face it, he had issues for a while), that he’d remind me that what’s in my head isn’t gone. That he’d like to remind us, this is still here. How we felt, how we responded, what we made of ourselves. What I built with his words, his music and his image, that’s not gone. And that’s how people live on, isn’t it? They live on because we remember them and carry them with us, so there’s his immortality.

So I’m going to close my eyes, and I’m going to sit down and have a talk with the Bowie in my head who maybe looks more like the Thin White Duke right now, but give it an hour I’m sure that’ll change. What’s the point of having your own head-Bowie if he doesn’t go through whimsical and yet carefully thought out transformations? And we’re going to have a good cry. Tonight I’m going to eat my feelings, they taste like buttercream frosted sugar cookies. And then, when we’ve had our cry and gotten the most of that out, we’re going to pick up and keep on being weird and bizarre and alien, keep on being proud and confident and defiant, keep on being a rebel. Keep on being a hero.

We love you, David. We always will.

The Mule

I had occasion to dig up Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk recently on your elusive creative genius. And I don’t remember where I found this in the first place, I don’t generally subscribe to TED talks as a thing although like any thing they can be useful. I found her talk to be extremely useful to go back and remind myself of from time to time. And so I dug it out again and sent the link to a few friends in case they wanted to watch it, and put it on again myself.

Periodically, usually around Nanowrimo, I see a number of usually forum posts about how writing is hard, how do I (the general and more personal to the poster I, not I, Kitty, in specific) write, how does this work, writing is hard. And my answer in my head whenever I read these is oh my sweet summer child. And then if it’s a general question I try to come up with an answer on paper or screen that at least is concise and hopefully applicable and helpful to their point of view, or at least some alternatives to encourage.

A funny thing about her TED talk: she describes her process in terms of discipline, but also in terms of connection to something other or divine. She calls it a genius. Stephen King calls it, I think, the Basement Muse, which is a term I like and appropriated for mine when I’m not calling him “that asshole.” I’m not terribly polite to my muses, no. My muse is a little more complicated than a single entity. I’ve discussed it elsewhere, I think? My muse is a workshop with looms and clay and things, and each type of project whether it’s worldbuilding or writing the actual text or discovering and shaping a character is a different skill. And in my workshop I have workers, like the Basement Muse, or the Tiny Goddess, or the Anteater of Death, or various other characters who wander in and out of things. And there are times when I’m juggling many projects, and I have too many ideas and I have to close my eyes and start hanging them all up on hooks. I have to look inward and gesture at all of these hooks with all of these projects and “Okay, can you come give me a hand with this? Make sure this stays here, build on this somewhere back there, make sure it doesn’t go away? This, I have no idea what this is, see what you can do with it, though, it looks promising. I’m going to be over here, working on this, I’ll check back with you soon.”

I like this idea that she describes, that many many people have had over years and centuries. Separating the worker from the work is something that happens more often in non-creative enterprises like car assembly or grocery cashiering. Not that grocery cashiering involves as much individuality and interpretation as ballet, or better yet choreography or writing, but still the accountant gets the benefit of being separated from her work in a way that the artist doesn’t, necessarily. She can put away her books and go home, and no one will ask her how the accounting was with the expectation that it was hard, grueling, she had to struggle to do three columns of sums, In the arts, however, people have the strange dichotomy of insisting that artists must be tortured and insisting that writing or drawing or what have you must be easy, and in order to put out good work you must be talented rather than skilled.

She describes herself as a mule. I like that; I’m a mule too, I’m obstinate and I persevere in the strong and sincere belief that writing involves ass in chair, fingers on keyboard. (Or pen on paper, whichever floats your taco.) I try, I’m not always successful but I try to write a certain number of words per day, to only juggle a certain number of projects so I don’t start twenty things and never finish them, to keep track of everything in a spreadsheet so that I know what I’ve been working on and what could use some more focus. It’s less work than it sounds, honestly, and it’s worth it to keep me from starting twenty things and never finishing them.

But there’s also the work. There’s the work, and there’s the work. There’s the labor, and there’s the inexplicable source of the sequence that goes from idea to planning (if you’re a planner) to drafting and the choosing of words, to realizing that doesn’t at all line up with the plan and finding out where it diverges. Taking a brief detour through the boggy middle of this was a stupid idea why did I ever think it would work. To the realization that this could work, to more choosing of words and editing and taking this out and finding time to write this other piece and cram it in sideways, to finished product. It’s a bit like watching a tree grow. You started out with an acorn and an idea, and somehow over time little barely tangible things like water and sunlight and the fertility of the earth combined, and one day you blink and realize you’ve got a fucking sapling in your backyard. Hey, where’d this novel come from? Days and weeks and months and sometimes years of work.

So, okay, fine, I’m a mule. I plod along. I do my thousand, two thousand words a day, I put one word in front of the other if I have to, reminding myself every five minutes that that is how things get written. And if I don’t call the more nebulous part of what I’m doing in any way divine, I will call it ‘other,’ because I have no idea how my brain is able to seize upon a collection of news articles or words or ideas and smash them together and call them a novel idea. I doubt the most knowledgeable neurosurgeon does. It is an Other. Sometimes I’m on good terms with it. Sometimes less so. But it does help to give me a degree of separation to the process to where I can put it down, walk away, and play Diablo for an hour if I have to.

(P.S. The obvious caveat here is, for all that the inspiration or idea process may be other, I am the one choosing to put the words down and put them into the public view. These words and works are ultimately my responsibility, the Basement Muse is not holding a gun to my head. If he were, I would have infinitely more problems. Starting with the fact that a fictional character would be holding a gun to my head.)

Post Camp Nanowrimo 2015

Well, that happened. That was a thing that I did.

And I learned something about myself! I learned that I can, in fact, draft a novel in a month. I would probably have been even more able to draft a longer novel in a month if I hadn’t come down with flu for four days or had to work a day job. Which is moderately terrifying. Of course, the idea of churning out 12 novels in a year is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that no, this novel is in no way shape or form ready for publication, and you do have to sit down and edit the thing before you do publish, and that will take a few months at the very absolute pushing-myself-ridiculously least. But I guess it’s gratifying to know that I can do that? Maybe that puts it at three novels a month, one for each Nanowrimo, and then I can spend the rest of the year editing and putting out dime novels. Certain People are going to kill me for saying that now.

Anyway. So. Nano happened. I wrote a little over 80k, eighty thousand words, which when put together with what I’d already written before I started this, makes almost 100k. A good sized novel. And about a third of that is going out the window already, because it’s filler, it’s me kicking stuff around while I get to know the characters if not the world in and of itself. Insufficient prep! I mean, at this rate by the time I write Long Road for the third? Fourth time? It might even be worth something, or very close to a final draft by the end of it, and on the other hand oh dear god you mean I have to cut 33k of the Demon Hunters draft and write it all over again?

This is what it’s like to be a writer, folks. This is why they say, if you can do anything else, anything at all, and get the same kind of fulfillment, do that instead. You get the elation of having finished a draft followed by the horror and dread of realizing that you have to rewrite huge chunks of it. This is also why, not incidentally, I put off editing until six weeks minimum after I’ve finished a novel draft. Because in the moment of being elated and in despair and over-emotional, I’m likely to cut out the wrong things. Or just scrap the thing entirely when there was a workable novel there.

(I wonder if agencies and editors have the same problem with Camp Nanowrimo as they do with Nanowrimo, given that the focus is more on writing in general and less on writing a novel. After Nanowrimo has become known, as Nano has become more famous, as the month of the killer slushpile. Poor agencies and editors.)

Right now, post Nano, I have a frillion and one projects. It’s almost comical. I’m picking up a dime novel I had mostly drafted and finishing it, I’m finishing up the edits on Sandborn where I’d gotten line edits done and now I have to filter in some scenes I’d only elided before. I’m picking up White Lightning and shaking it out for what needs written and what needs edited. I’m prepping for two more things including my next Camp Nanowrimo novel, and I’m eyeballing another dime novel I was in the middle of that I was trying to get out as quickly as possible, which naturally means that it’s coming along slow as uphill molasses and half of what’s coming out is wrong anyway.

These things I do to keep me busy after Nano, and also to keep my mind in shape for writing. When I go for a week or more without writing, the muscle gets atrophied and the discipline gets tossed out the window, and with every day it gets harder to start again. I may not be able to focus on writing directly, not as much after several days of 5 and 6k per day. But I can do writing related things. I can world-build. I can do edits, I can fill things in, and I can sort through and read over and make notes. Slowly, over time, I can build back up so I’m writing 3 and 4k per day again. As with any muscle, once you give it a hard workout you need to let it rest and rebuild. So too with writing.

And for that matter, I can write down what I’ve learned. Writing, as with most skills, is always a moving target, there is always something you can learn from what you did and improve on the next pass. Editrix spent Nano looking over my shoulder every now and again and pinpointed one of my problems for the third time, which means it’s likely a recurring problem I’ll need to work on for future novels: Get to know the world and the characters before you start writing. In a way, I need to prep by writing fanfic of my unwritten worlds, I need to have the patterns in place before I can start writing decent stuff, so I don’t spend half the time spinning my wheels on the page. So I guess one of the things I’ll be doing to rebuild my writing muscles will be drablets and flash fiction to figure out who the characters for the next Camp Nano novel are. Ah, my life.

The Great Grumpy Mire

So, that story I just finished is definitely one of the reasons why writers sometimes dole out the little gem that, if you can do anything else, do that instead.

I’d love to blame the endless string of shit that’s been piled down through January and into February (long, tiring story) and that I only managed to climb out of in March, but in reality it’s also just the writing process. The sad reality that sometimes, the inspiration doesn’t last, what you’ve written down isn’t enough to keep you energized through the whole thing, and all you’re left with is the notes and a hope that when you’ve put it all together and written it out, you’ll have something people want to read. Right now that’s a fainter hope than I’d like to run with. Which means it’s going to be a long, painful editing process. And no one likes that either.

By contrast there’s two other things I’m working on that are flying out of my fingertips, and not only are they easy, I’d judge that they’re actually pretty good. I’ve got the rhythm of it, I’m managing to get words on paper at a pretty good clip. Well, on screen. And I’m stringing words together in a way that’s not repetitive, that’s true to the setting and the characters, and that seems at least to be engaging enough to keep going. It’s a good sign when you’re interested enough in your own book to keep reading it and writing!

This doesn’t, by the way, have anything to do with fleshing out the world or the characters. In fact out of the three stories, the one I’ve been struggling with is at least as detailed if not more so than one of the two that’s chugging right along. If I knew what this endless mental morass and slog did have to do with, well, for one thing I wouldn’t be slogging through any of my stories anymore. I don’t think anyone does know. It’s just One Of Those Things.

This is the part where discipline comes in. This is why, whenever anyone asks for advice on how to write or finish a thing, my first advice is always, get your ass in that chair and write yourself into a routine. The only way to know, ultimately, if you’ve got a winner or a jumbled mess in your hands is to finish it, go back, look at it, and try and bash it into some sort of shape. Sometimes you do that and look back and it isn’t worth the struggle. Believe me, there are works I’ve drafted that I wish I’d abandoned halfway through. Sometimes, I had this happen to me recently, sometimes you get half or three quarters of the way through and it’s been a hell of a slog through the mud and the suck, and all you want to do is give up. And then everything falls into place, not just because you’re close to the end but because suddenly you know exactly why she did that, you know why he’s being an asshole, you know everything and you can’t get it onto the page fast enough. Sure, you have to rewrite the first 30-50 thousand words, but who cares? You’re on fire! Sometimes that moment happens in rewrites. Or on the third draft (had that happen recently, too), and sometimes it never happens, you finish the damn thing, put it out there, and fifty people swarm all over it claiming it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. That’s another thing you should do, if you have something but you’re not sure about it, show it to a few other people and see how they feel. I can’t tell you how many authors go “Huh, they picked the one I was least excited about.”

People, man. You can’t predict what they’ll like, you just have to do the best you can, put it out there, and hope they enjoy it.

But this is why I stress discipline as a part of writing for serious hobbyists, career writers, what have you. This is why people say, god, why would you want to be a writer. Do something else. You don’t even have the benefit of tangible improvement the way you do if you’re a craftsperson or an animal trainer or an underwater basketweaver. You can’t look at a line of baskets and say, yeah, the first few sucked, but that last one, man, look at that work of art! After a while you get the mechanical details of the craft down but that doesn’t insure you against screwing up epic-time in one of the big details down the line. Or just writing something that never, ever finds its audience.

The thing I do know, though, is that you will never find any of that out if you don’t at least get a few first drafts you, even if you hate them. Even if you look at the editing process and think “oh god I would rather do my taxes than deal with that” (go on guess what I did the morning I wrote the first draft of this). You don’t have to finish all of the drafts, that’s a pernicious lie that even I tell sometimes, you can’t edit what isn’t there but sometimes, yes, it is better just to put it down, say ‘screw you, story’, and walk the fuck away. And sometimes you have to push through it, and push through it, and keep pushing, and use that discipline to the fullest. And only you can make that judgment call.

Camp Nanowrimo 2015

I think at this point every writing blog does a Nanowrimo post sometime. This gives me a case of The Olds, because when I started Nanowrimo I was in college and it was maybe a few thousand people and we were all doing this crazy thing together, and apart from the online forums there was very little in the way of support. And now I think agencies and editors fear December with a particular kind of “Oh shit here come the masses of unedited manuscripts” trepidation. They make commercials with horror music or the Jaws theme out of this kind of stampede. Never, ever, ever submit your fresh out of the gate Nanowrimo manuscript. I know you know better. Don’t do it anyway.

Anyway. So, everyone has their own Nanowrimo advice or opinion post, and this is mine!

BACK UP YOUR WORK. Back it up back it up back it up. This should be at the top of every advice post on marathon writing I make. Back. It. Up. Otherwise you run the risk of being very sad someday.

Schedule Yourself – There’s two reasons for this. One is that if you clear out all foreseeable duties you might have to deal with in the next half hour and dedicate yourself to sitting and writing, you might actually have the time to do it. Not to mention the energy, if you schedule it right. This requires having a certain amount of predictability and awareness in your day-to-day, but if you can do it, it’s worth doing. That’s the obvious one. The less obvious part is that if you discipline yourself to sitting your ass down and putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper for X minutes or at Y time in the day, you’re more likely to be able to do so in the future. And you’re more likely to be able to, not just because you’ll get in the habit and go “Oh, it’s writing time now,” but because your brain works itself around to that routine, sitting and writing will become at least a little bit easier. Even if it’s just a couple hundred words. Or fifty words. The more you make writing a part of your daily routine, the easier it gets to push through and get something done even when what you’re working on seems stale and boring and bleugh and no one will ever want to read this why do I bother. Which brings me to my next point.

You Will Get Sick Of It – That’s just a fact of writing. You will come to hate what you’re working on at least a little bit. My Editrix calls it the boggy middle. Neil Gaiman famously wrote that he called his agent to complain that this was pointless and he was never going to finish and it was a bad idea, and that she told him “Oh, you’re at that stage, everyone does it.” It’s true. Everyone does. This is why it’s important to get to a point where you’re comfortable in your own head with writing absolute, utter crap. Because whether or not you are, there is a point where you’ll feel like it. And speaking of comfortable…

Writer Comfort Is a True Myth – First, the myth: If you have that one fountain pen, or that one program, or that new laptop, or that office desk, or the perfect notebook, or even just a quiet place to curl up, you are not necessarily going to write any better or any easier. If your laptop is old and buggy and the ‘f’ key is missing and you can only open two windows at a time, maybe, yes, you will write easier. If you’ve got two screaming kids under the age of ten and a sick spouse and somehow you manage to turn the whole mess over to your BFF so you can have half an hour to yourself, you will almost certainly write easier. But having the ideal environment is not required. It is no guarantee that you won’t sit there staring at a blank page swearing at yourself because you only have twelve minutes left and you have to get the hero out from under the rolling boulder. And that said, knowing how to optimize what you do have is also important, as well as knowing what you would love to have, what you would like, and what the minimum is you need to get into the headspace for writing. Just because you don’t need the thing to write doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the thing, if it’s within your means without sacrificing other important shit. Like, you know, food.

Bare Necessities – Speaking of food. Are you fed? If it’s been a little while, do you have a small food by your writing implements to snack on while you write? Are you hydrated? Did you sleep well? If not, do you have room for a quick power nap? (Power napping is a highly underrated skill.) Have you showered? Are you clean and feeling good and ready to go? If you have to set a  timer to make sure you get up every fifteen minutes and check if you need food or water, and do a few stretches and walk around some, set that timer. I do that quite a bit. Neglect not your physical form just because the biggest muscle a writer uses is the mind. It takes maybe forty five to an hour to shower, have a food, have a stretch, and sit down and take a couple to get your head in the game.

Head Games – And that is my last piece of advice for this post: since your mind is the biggest muscle you will use for writing (apart from those pesky fingers) you should exercise it. There are scads and gobs of affirmation exercises, guided meditation, I don’t favor any particular one and use a cobbled-together sort of meditation of my own design which I’ve discussed at length elsewhere in this blog. But exercising your brain is important, however you do it. So take some time and some trial and error, and figure out how you can best exercise your brain to make it an efficient writing muscle.

That’s my advice for marathon writing. Coincidentally, it’s also my advice for people who want to make a … what’s the word for a career that doesn’t imply a living wage? Profession? Lifelong habit? We’ll go with that, a lifelong habit of writing. Basically, if you’re writing for more than just this one story, this is my advice for how to go about working it into your life. Use it wisely and well, and discard it when it no longer serves you. Okay, that’s my final piece of advice. Always discard advice after you’ve considered it against your circumstances, if you’ve discovered it doesn’t serve you. There is no one true way to do writing, and anyone who tells you there is is selling something.

Portrait of the Artist At Her Studies

I am so behind on my online physics courses I can’t even tell you guys.

The truth is, I’m not in school. I’m not required to take this for work. If I wanted I could click that button that says “unenroll” and remove that source of stress from my life at any time. (And doesn’t that sound better than drop out? It does, which is why I never phrase it like that in my head.) But no, I’m going to persevere and push through and do more every day and hope I finish by the deadline. Which is May, so I should have plenty of time, right? Of course right.

I’ve told you many things about myself; let me tell to you another: I like to learn. And I hate to fail at it. I’ve never been labeled as Gifted or Talented, or Prodigy, or any of those other labels they like to slap on kids that give them endless amounts of mental anguish in their adult lives, but I seem to have gotten a lot of the neuroses without any of the prestige of the names. I haaaaaaate to fail. I stressed out for hours and days over whether or not to do the Immunology exam, despite the fact that I wasn’t caught up on lessons, despite the fact that like the physics class, I had no dogs within miles of this fight. My self-esteem, to put it clinically and with pretension, was negatively impacted in a pervasive and continuous way by my inability to complete online classes in a timely fashion. But I do it the hell anyway, because I like to learn. I like to study. I like to know new things to me, and for another motivation I feel like it makes me a better writer not just to look up the facts when I need them, but to immerse myself in biology or physics for a little while. To know how that feels, what that sounds like, in order to write better scientists or science fiction.

So, I’m studying. In addition to taking online courses on one site in physics and, of all things, US history (why? I don’t know why, it amuses me), I’m constantly on one site or another practicing my languages. The first part of this is describing these sites, I won’t call it a review because I’m not convinced any of these sites are astoundingly good or mind-shatteringly bad, but describing. Descriptions. Different people learn in different ways, so here’s something of what I do.

Duolingo and Memrise are my go-to sites for languages. Memrise provides me with the quick vocab hit I can’t get when I have to look up a word twice in a sentence while reading a book. At that point of comprehension it’s more frustrating for me to pick up vocabulary by reading than it is to simply memorize, so I do it. It’s also good for taking a timed quiz for maybe 2-5 minutes and getting a small buzz because I scored a 98% accuracy on it. There was an article not long ago about studying languages as a tool to fight off depression, and while I don’t suffer from clinical depression I can tell you, for the situational depression that hits when relatives get diagnosed with various forms of cancer, it works wonders to give me strength to keep going. Duolingo is similar in the quiz department. But it doesn’t just give vocabulary or the short bits of information you can find on flash cards, it has a more holistic approach and is geared towards learning at least the basics of a language. It also has the wonderful advantage that it makes you listen to the language being spoke and translate from that, and translate both into and out of the written language. It’s often more difficult to translate into the new language, and Duolingo applies equal time to all directions. If you have a microphone it will even help you with your speaking, although I question how accurate it necessarily is in that specific area. Still. Short quizzes, small bites of learning, easily consumeable and good for quick dopamine hits.

Living Language is another site I’ve come to adore, I’ll be honest, because I decided I wanted to learn Dothraki. Yes, I am that geek. I had the Languages of Tolkien primer as a teen, I had the Klingon Grammar by Okuda, I am still that geek today now that I’m theoretically old enough to know better. (This is a lie. There is no better.) And I haven’t used this site to complete a language study yet, so I can’t tell you how efficiently or to what level it’s taught me, but I’m finding that so far, it’s useful. It’s very useful for helping me learn Dothraki from scratch, and for other languages that have different alphabets (Hindi and Arabic currently) it’s helping me to start learning those languages while I slowly and painstakingly master writing my ABC’s.

That’s the languages, now for everything else and by everything else I mean I look at the course catalogs and go “what am I interested in today,” there’s EdX. At least right now there’s EdX, there are also Coursera and Khan Academy, which friends of mine are currently going through. EdX pleases me at the moment because the lectures are broken up into bite sized sections, I think the longest lecture I’ve had to sit and watch is 20 minutes, and that’s an outlier. Usually they’re 12-15 minutes. You can pay for a certificate or audit the class, as I do, and depending on the teacher there may be more or fewer periodic questions and quizzes (questions are not graded, quizzes are) to make sure you understand the lesson. I have, at this point, never run into a lesson that didn’t have those. It does not give you the same dopamine hits of “I have succeeded at learning a thing!” in measured and predictable chunks as the language sites, but it is a good, bite-sized way of getting information and learning that you otherwise might have to pay many thousands of dollars for, along with variably adequate housing and Ramen for the next five years. Trust me, I’ve had a college education. These are, if not the full experience of being able to badger your teacher about the prostitution subtext in TS Eliot, a very good in-your-home, in-your-pajamas substitute.

Learning! I love to learn. I think even if I didn’t have a writing hobby I would pick up studying things as a hobby, because why the hell not. Here are some benefits to learning: it keeps your brain active, it keeps you thinking critically, which is a good thing both for staving off various age related dementias and for growing socially and as a person. It makes you more marketable as an employee whether or not you’re actively looking. It gives you a chance for a new passion, or a new interest, which leads to maybe meeting new people, which can lead to a richer life. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Here are some drawbacks to learning, especially on your own. It is on you to be disciplined and keep to your structure, which can be detrimental to your mental health if you are not the type of person who does structure independently very well but have the brain twitch I do of I-am-failing-this-course-and-so-behind therefore-I-must-be-a-terrible-person. It is very, very easy to get frustrated and say “fuckit.” You may learn better by interacting with people, at which point you are dependent on their schedules and modern technology. At least with a class you’re still dependent on their schedule, but by prior arrangement their schedule includes taking time out to sit with you and X number of other students and teach you this. Learning on your own, you can’t ask Memrise or Duolingo a question and have a dialogue with it (although on Duolingo you can have a dialogue with other students, for what that’s worth). Learning on your own takes either an ordered mind, not Sherlock Holmes level of ordered but some discipline and neatness in the thinkmeats, or a mind that can tolerate digressions, failures, and other things which are not clear success.

I love it. The last five, no, seven (eek) years have helped me structure my mind to the point that I can do this. I really think if I had tried to do this seven years ago, it wouldn’t have worked. No, I know it, because I tried learning German and Russian on my own more than seven, about ten years ago, and I failed utterly. Now I’m working on my third and fourth languages independently, and I have every expectation of eventually being able to read Al Jazeera in Arabic standard someday. Maybe within the next three years. It all depends on what you want to accomplish by the learning, how you best learn, how well you know yourself to know either of the first two things.

And me, I’m still so far behind in physics. Crap. 😀

Go To The Moon

A friend of mine is currently making a short film, which means the rest of us get to hear him bemoaning his life choices and bitching about everything else. I have adequate popcorn, it’s fine. But, see, the problem with bitching is that it tends to be contagious. One person starts up, another one chimes in all “Yeah, and you know what else?” and then a third person adds “And another thing” and before you know it you’re writing another short story or a book. Wait, no, that’s just me.

The relevant part of this story is, one of the things he was bitching about was the advice he was reading on filmmaker blogs and websites. Don’t do this, because it doesn’t work. Don’t do this, because it’s hard. Don’t minimize your crew to save on working expenses. Don’t do oners. And there were probably one or two other things I didn’t hear about. The cycle of bitching began, although instead of a book I’m writing this blog post because sit down, dear friends, let me tell to you a thing. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, and even just because the prevailing theory is that a thing or a technique won’t work is no reason not to do it. I wouldn’t necessarily throw a great deal of money or valuable materials at something I know isn’t likely to work. But a perfect or near perfect result isn’t always the thing you want. And that still doesn’t mean that just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

(You know why we (the United States) went to the moon, right?)

Every skill and profession is full of advice. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to people who have been there and done that, because avoiding mistakes that other people have made is always a good way to start. It shortens your learning time and improves your product. But there is, and I’m not going to define it to you because it’s just one of those things you know when you see it, there is a difference between mistakes that do not need to be repeated and mistakes that need to be made so you learn why they are mistakes. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained from trying, fucking up, and figuring out where and how and why you fucked up so you can learn not only not to do it again, but a different way of doing it better and more correctly. Maybe the “right” way that someone taught you isn’t the only right way to do the thing. Maybe there’s a better way no one you met has thought of. At my family’s store we’ve been dyeing a kind of fiber and talking about and teaching dyeing that fiber that one way for twenty years, and just in the last year we learned that you don’t have to do it that way, you can also do it this way. And there was much blinking and shrugging and, okay, sure, why not.

Just because someone tells you to do a thing a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way. And just because doing a thing the other way is going to be hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. No, let me distill that down some. Just because a thing is hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we all shied away from doing difficult things the world would be a lot worse off.

And this is the problem with saying things like “don’t” or “shouldn’t.” There are very few things that come under that heading. Don’t murder, don’t steal, you shouldn’t punch people, okay, yes. That is true. But saying don’t minimize your crew to save budget, well, why? To make your life harder by having to raise more money? What’s wrong with selecting the two or three best people you know to be your crew, and accepting the consequences? Don’t use passive voice in your writing, well, what if you want to use passive voice in large chunks of your story because you think it will set the appropriate mood? And what’s wrong with trying? By blindly following the advice of “Don’t” or “Shouldn’t” you can deprive yourself of a lot of experience that will teach you why you should or shouldn’t do a thing, and possibly give you some ideas for things you can do instead.

Yes, it’s going to be hard. Disregarding someone’s advice comes with risks, you risk making mistakes that someone else has made, the stupid mistakes that don’t convey any learning properties beyond “don’t touch the hot stove you fucking moron.” On the other hand, disregarding someone’s advice also disregards their prejudices and their limits, which may not be your prejudices and limits. What they think of as hard, you might think of as “challenge accepted.” God knows my scale of response to “this is hard” runs from “ugh I’m going to go eat a brownie instead” to “well fine fuck you I’m going to do it anyway and show you all mua ha ha ha ha.” I’m not even kidding, there’s a maniacal giggle I do, I’ve been told it’s scary.

So I guess what I’m saying here is, don’t do things or refrain from doing things because they’re hard. Don’t do things or refrain from doing things because someone tells you, or do things a certain way because someone tells you. Give it a moment’s thought, first. Even me, what I’m writing here, think about what I’m saying and decide for yourself if I’m full of shit or if there’s something here that has merit towards your life. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s said fairly often around the family store that if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly a couple of times. Don’t be afraid of hard things, and don’t let anyone else make you afraid, either. I find my life is much more exciting for choosing to accept challenges rather than well-meant but “safe” advice. But then, it’s your life, and only you get to choose how you live it.