Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Call Is Coming From Inside The House

Earlier this week I was editing a short for submission that my editor had returned with the note “You need to write this from the other guy’s point of view.” I promise, the only thing worse than realizing you need to write a few thousand words from the other person’s point of view is realizing you need to write about fifty, seventy thousand words in the first person instead of the third. Rewriting sucks. Rewriting that kind of massive work sucks the monkey’s left nut off. And this is where it’s so easy to fall down, to throw up my hands and say fuckit, I’ll write something else from scratch and maybe it’ll be better. Or even, fuckit, I clearly can’t write.

I didn’t do that, of course. If you know me at all you know I’m an incredibly stubborn bitch. I dug my teeth in and I bashed my head against my mental walls, and I rewrote the damn story.

Writing is hard. As art is hard, as life is hard, as anything not involving instant gratification is hard, and even some things that do involve instant gratification (such as resisting it). It’s a struggle, and there are all kinds of obstacles you have to get over by any means you can. Get over, or get around, or crash through. You keep your goal firmly in mind, you plot your way there through the obstacles, and you make it eventually, right? Well, that’s the idea. In practice, it’s not even that simple. In practice, and a lot of the time, we’re the ones scrambling to find obstacles to put in our way and then realizing how far it is to to goal, and how thorny our path. And no, I’m not kidding.

But Kitty! I hear you say. I’m doing everything I can! I’m doing the work and I’m making the contacts, I’m taking the classes and I have really good teachers!

There are a lot of things you have to do to succeed. The first thing you have to do is define success. Are you a Real Writer when you’re published? Are you a Real Writer if you’re trying to be published? When you get that first rejection note? Are you a Real Writer when you make a shiny new blog and get your first comment or your first RT or your first person blogging about your blog? Are you a Real Writer if you make it onto the NYT Bestseller list? In which case there are an awful lot of us fake writers out there. I have what some might call really low and what I call really simple standards for who is a Real Writer, and I hate that fucking qualifier anyway: writers write. It might by my linguistic background talking, but I feel like it really is that simple. Writer is a noun derived from a verb, meaning, one who writes. If you write, not as in committing words on paper but as in putting together sentences to create a finished piece expressing an complex idea, if you do that? Then you’re a writer. Writers write. And you can take the classes, and you can make the contacts, and you can add all kinds of qualifiers or specifications to your title of “writer”. Published writer. Aspiring writer. Fanfiction writer, original fiction writer, essay writer, book writer. NYT Bestselling writer. But if you write, you’re a Real Writer in my book, full stop. 

Which brings us back to, writing is hard. You have an idea in your head of how you want this thing to go, but ideas so rarely match the execution, right? We don’t start out with the strings of words unspooling from our brains, we start out with, oh man, wouldn’t it be an awesome thing if clones had this social structure based on their purpose, like, the ones for organ donation were at the top and no one talked to those guys because everyone knew they were going for, like, jello. Or the one where you read an article about Jim Wilson flights and think that’s an awesome idea for a story but you have no idea what the plot is or how it starts. Or you have about five lines of a scene but nothing to go with any of it. And all of these have happened to me. I don’t have a damn thing more than that, I have to make the story match up to the brilliance of the initial idea. It’s fucking hard!

So, as with all the other hard things we do in life (and everyone I know has admitted to this with things that are not their writing) we put it off. We find things to do. I will, as I previously mentioned, go get my hands dug into slimy cold raw chicken before I willingly sit down to write promotional copy. Other people clean their bathrooms. Other people exercise. Once a year you get to use “I have to do my taxes” as an excuse. Anything to avoid writing, even writing your best ideas, because writing that brilliant idea that thrilled and inspired you a moment ago and having the finished product turn out looking like crap? That hurts. A lot. So you find other things to do rather than try and be disappointed in yourself, angry with yourself. Sick at heart that this brilliant idea didn’t live up to its potential because you suck.

And getting into this habit extends it to other aspects of your creative life. You put off writing that story you had the brilliant idea for because the time isn’t right, because the muse isn’t there, because you’re not inspired. Let me tell you, inspiration as a necessity for writing is bullshit, there will be at least one blog post about that later on. It’s helpful if you have inspiration. It’s far from necessary, especially when finding that inspiration, that feeling, that passion, becomes an excuse not to plant your butt into that chair and get writing. Because anything and everything will become that excuse. You have to do dishes. You have to do laundry. You have to pay your bills, write your folks, go to work, go to the gym. Clean your bathroom. Prep your dinners. 

This becomes, there are reasons you can’t submit to that short story market. Like, you have too many projects on hand right now, you’re keeping a much larger house and you have to clean it and do the DIY. You don’t have time because you have half a dozen other projects on. You have to do this other thing. The market will close sooner than you can get a story prepped. It’s too small, it’s not worth it. It’s too big, you’ll never get in. Shut up, stop whining, schedule yourself some time to sit your ass down and write. No, it’s not as glamorous as being inspired by divine muses, but if being a published writer is something you want to do (and note that qualifier, published writer; if being a published writer isn’t something you aspire to then by all means, write in the way that fulfills you best) then you need to submit to publications. Or self-publish. If you want to be a thing, you have to do the actions that lead to those consequences. If you want to be a noun related to a verb, you have to perform that verb’s actions. Writers write. Published writers submit for publication, or self-publish. Aspiring writers follow their aspirations. You see where I’m going with this?

Finding reasons not to do a thing that will fulfill your goals becomes an art form. The most common reason that I see for self-sabotage, at least in the people around me, is the crippling fear of success. Impostor syndrome’s a bitch, and it never goes away, not that I can tell. We look at the thing we want to do, we look at ourselves, we go holy fuck that’s a long ways off, and we find reasons not to submit to that magazine. Not to try out for that play. Not to sign up for that music course. Because god forbid we try and fail, nothing’s worse than failure, right? Nothing’s worse than public failure, than having all your friends and loved ones standing around seeing you face down in the mud where you fell. No, there’s something worse, there’s success. How scary is that? You could succeed, you could succeed yourself to death, build yourself up as a successful published NYT Bestselling writer and then people would have expectations of you. And what happens when you then fail to meet them, because you know in your heart of hearts that you’re just faking this, right? So why set yourself up for that? You can’t write that story, anyway, you lost that inspiring feeling. You can’t submit to that market, anyway, they close in two weeks, and you just don’t have time.

Self-sabotage. It happens more often than you think. It’s an insidious little fucker who sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear and gives you all the reasons why you should play it safe. And then you wonder why you’re not getting anywhere.

And yes, if you try, you will fail. And you’ll succeed. And you’ll succeed and then you’ll fail. And sometimes you’ll fail your way right into a success you weren’t expecting. I put off self-publishing all last year because I was buying a house, and felt like crap at the end of it even though I got my house of awesome, because I had failed to both buy a house and publish a book. And somehow I failed the self-publishing while buying a house thing, failed my way right into a group of contacts and a helper and more encouragement and, well. You get the idea. But in order to achieve either success or failure, you have to get your ass out there and try. Or, in the case of writers, get your ass in that chair and write. Do what you have to do, flick the self-sabotage goblin off your shoulder and tell him to fuck off somewhere else, you’re busy getting shit done. Because you don’t have time for that crap. You’re busy being awesome.

Words Mean Things

I’d say there’s been a lot of talk about a certain issue in a certain town (or couple of towns) lately, but the truth is there’s always been a lot of talk about some issue or another. Some hot-button issue where people on both sides see things very differently, and my own particular views or where I fall and on whose side, if anyone’s side, are irrelevant to this post, except in that this particular issue was the cause of my pondering the power of words.

I’m not talking about the power of words to convey us to lands of imagination; as writers of fiction, we’re all aware of that. And a little bit afraid of it, I think, mostly of harnessing that power imperfectly. This power of words that I’m talking about is also the power of labels, names, the things we call our actions and ourselves and the terms we use for one thing or another.

Here’s an important word, “but.” It’s a word that comes after you’ve tossed out an idea, and maybe that idea’s a good one. Maybe it’s stark and brilliant in its simplicity. And maybe it’s an important idea, you want to get it out there so that others will know it exists and some will agree with it. Maybe you hope this idea changes something you think needs changing. And then when you say it you realize, wait. I don’t want all this color and brilliance. I don’t want to put myself out there that far, and I don’t want to stand out, I want to be quiet and not be recognized. And so you attach a “but” and chop off some of your first statement, put a qualifier on it. What comes after ‘but’ limits and de-powers what comes before, and a lot of times it’s not even on purpose. Taking a stand or making a bold statement is scary. Using “but” takes away some of that fear, because then you have an exit door you can duck out of if things turn out less well than you want.

“If” is another good one. “If” means that what you’re about to say or what you just finished saying is true only in a specific set of circumstances, and the more specific you get, the less likely it is that that “if” will come true. It’s not quite as much of a backpedal or a mute button as “but” but it’s close. Depends, as with all words, on how you use it. When volatile issues come up a lot of people bring out the “if,” for this reason and also because “if” implies control. It implies that there is something that didn’t happen, that might have happened, that meant you could control the situation. That may not always be true, and clearly wasn’t true because that situation clearly got out of control. If X had/hadn’t happened… you see? That makes “if” a very tempting word indeed.

There was a movement recently in fanfiction writing circles. Well, not relatively recently, but recently enough that I remember seeing it. Previously, people would “warn for” certain contents of their stories, or put warnings in the headers of their fic. And this led to a number of other writers pointing out that warning for something implies that there’s danger or distaste in the contents of the story, leading to potential denigration of certain subject matters. Nowadays a lot of authors are using the terms “contains” and “content notes”, which achieves the same result of telling a person what’s in the story that they might be interested in reading or avoiding, and removes the value judgment.

I’m a writer. Apart from the medium by which I choose to write, my only other tools are words. Syntax and grammar, synonyms and descriptors and different languages in one sentence, they’re all different tools in the same overall category. And by and large when I’m writing fiction, on the first draft I don’t pay as much attention to the fine details of word choice so much as I do to the plot, the pacing, trying to get as much of what’s in my head out onto the page as possible. It’s when I go back for the rewrite that things get dicey. Then I have to look at every line, look at my editor’s notes, look at all of the places where what came out doesn’t convey what I had in my head or isn’t clear or something else, and I have to change it. And out comes the tool box, and I have to find different words, put them in a different syntax, sometimes even go to a different language for a different set of words describing a concept so I can bring that non-English point of view back to the original story. That’s a whole other essay, by the way, the theory that different languages influence a person’s mind to different ways of thinking and behaving. It’s called the soft Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or linguistic relativity if you want to look it up.

I’m a writer. I have been for a very long time now. At first I only needed to concern myself with childish things, as the saying goes, but then as I grew up I found myself tackling more and more adult subjects. And alongside my growing up, the internet grew up as well. I found myself communicating in a medium I was supremely comfortable with. For what feels like the longest time (proportional to my expected lifespan it probably isn’t) I was pretty careless with my words. Then, as time progressed and the internet became more of a regular thing, so much a part of so many people’s life that it became invisible and taken for granted, I started to become more aware of how I was communicating. Part of it was the overwhelming tendency of my corners of the internet to focus on social justice, but part of it was also living through several kerfluffles at least exacerbated by if not caused by poor communication. And, dammit, I’m a writer. I should be better at communicating via text than that.

So, I started watching, and paying more attention, and trying to do better. And explaining what I was doing as best I could when called upon to do so, or when I felt moved to ask someone to change their words. This whole post started out by my feeling moved to ask someone to consider that they had appended a “but” to a statement that I felt the first part of it was the most important. I felt that adding “but” was placing conditions on a thing I felt was unconditional. We had a brief discussion, and I think we both came away happy. Because, again, words have power. They are important, they matter. And I’d much rather use mine to help and teach and heal than to excoriate or chastise.

Selling Yourself. (No, not that way.)

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. There are also elements of do I really have to do this shit. In writing, at least in writing for publication, every published or aspiring to be published author I’ve ever talked to has said in one form or another that the shit parts of being a writer are the promotional copy. Except the ones who are lucky enough to have people to do it for them.

The good news is, there’s a certain pattern to the promotional copy you need to write. If you’re trying to sell it to agents and publishers, generally they’ll want something that’s either one or three pages. If it’s one page, they’ll want a summary, if it’s three pages, an outline. These are all different terms for the same basic thing, what is your story from beginning to middle to end. Including any twists you might have at the ending, because you’re trying to sell them on the whole of your story, not induce them to read what’s on the next page. Regardless of what the agency or publishing company wants, you’re going to have to write a cover/query letter, so you’re going to need to distill your work down to one to three sentences. This may or may not have a closed ending, and I’d actually recommend writing several different versions of it if your work is big enough that you can vary it that much. The odds of you having to write over five different query letters are pretty high, if your courage holds out. Finally, you’ll also want a couple paragraph synopsis from beginning to middle to end as well, in case your submission requirements permit a longer query letter, or in case you want to vary your one page summary some.

That’s your selling to agents copy, but there’s also a school of thought that says you might want to self-publish someday, so you might want to write some promotional copy. As the room lets out a collective groan, yeah, I hate promotional copy too. I hate selling myself in text, I can write fiction till my wrists go numb and my hands fall off, but ask me to write promotional copy for my own work and I will do laundry or empty the catbox before I sit down to do it. I will cut raw cold slimy chicken, that’s how much I hate it. But it’s a good thing to have. Once again, there will be places (Twitter comes to mind immediately) where you’ll need to summarize your work in the shortest terms possible, so figure this out first, because it’s hard. Not only do you need to summarize, you need to do it in a way that will make people want to click and see what it’s all about. Write several variations, then run them by your circle of first readers (you do have one by now, don’t you?) to see which ones are accurate, which ones are most interesting. Hopefully the two will be the same, one thing you do not want to do is alienate potential readers by promising them one thing and handing them another. You want to have several kinds of accuracy: tone, factual, focus. Bait and switch very rarely works, so my best general advice to you is don’t. You can put up these short blurbs on Twitter, on Nanowrimo, on your social media profiles preceded by “Author of [Your Title Here], [blurb].”

Next you’ll tackle the longer blurbs. You’ll need a back of the book style blurb, maybe a paragraph of plot that trails off before you reveal the ending and with the goal of inducing the person to want more, and then you’ll want another few sentences summarizing the mood and setting. This will go either on the back of the book, in any flyers or postcards you might be passing out. Some publishing companies want you to submit them a back-of-the-book style summary in addition to your summary, they want you to sell them on the book. You might also put it at the closing of guest posts on blogs, “Author is currently writing [blurbspiel]” or hand it out for other authors to put on their blogs following a review “the book is [blurb]”. If you’re very lucky, you might be able to construct a book trailer using this type of blurb as a script. Fortunately, this is where this type of promotional copy stops, because promotional copy meant to be seen by potential readers rarely gets longer than that, and only in specific circumstances. Still, you should have a back-of-book length blurb, and, again, at least two variations. If you don’t know how long to make it or how it works, look on the back of books similar to yours, see how it’s structured. Then apply it to your own work.

That’s the what, now for the tricky parts, the how and the when. Personally, I hate doing this like poison, so I get it over with as soon as possible. This means after I have the detailed outline of the work, because I’m a planner, and at the latest after I’ve started the novel and am still in the wild and crazy beginning, when I’m brimming with enthusiasm for the project. This gives me the momentum of new-project glee as well as the structure of having that outline, therefore knowing what the book is going to be. I cannot protest strongly enough against writing a book blurb based on that idea you have. When you outline it in detail, your chances of it becoming a workable idea in the same form as the inspiration drop drastically. Once you have an outline, you have a structure, and your chances are much better that the finished product will resemble your promotional and query copy. And if it doesn’t by the time you have a first draft, you can go back and edit that copy while you make your first round of edits. Because you wouldn’t send an unedited manuscript to a publishing house or agency, would you?

That’s for planners. For panters, as Nanowrimo calls them, I’m afraid there may be nothing for it but to write the copy after you’ve written the first draft. But do it immediately, straight out of that first flush of holy crap I did it all and, again, for the momentum. The advantage this gives you is that you can see what shape your work takes, and your chances of your copy text matching the final work are about the highest they’re going to be. So write the copy down, and then go back into edits flush from the success of having done all that tedious shit already!

Right now, I’m working on a project called Black Ice. It’s less of a novel and more of an anthology or, as I heard Mike Stackpole once call it, a braided novel. You may have seen me bitching about it on Twitter in various places. And it’s something I’m self-publishing, so unless I have the money to hire someone more interested to write the promotional copy for me (hint: I don’t) I have to write all the damn promotional copy myself. I still hate it more than cutting up cold slimy chicken. But in my folder of documents for Black Ice I have a file called “Black Ice Outline and Support Docs,” and in that file on each page for however many pages it goes on is my chapter/story outline, an editing checklist of how far into it I’ve gotten, and my support docs. In this case, it’s almost all promotional copy because I haven’t tried selling this to an agency or publishing company, since it’s not a traditional book model. So I have a one-sentence summary of Black Ice, a few sentence summary, a back of the book blurb, and eventually I’ll fill it up with copy for the rest of the more idiosyncratic promotional type things I end up doing. The sequel project to Black Ice, called White Lightning, doesn’t even have a full, finished rough draft yet (the bulk of it does, and I have the outline, but not the revised first draft), but it already has a “White Lightning Outline and Support Docs” file that consists of mostly outline right now. Thus do I remind myself that there are shit tasks ahead.

If you are one of the people who enjoys and can easily write promotional or query copy, I bow before you because you are a better person than I am. If you’re like the rest of us, well, scutwork comes with every job, and there’s not much to do but accept it and slog through the mud till we can get to the really fun stuff. Like editing. Oh joy.

And We Do Not Fight Alone

I had a revelation the other day. And why is it that so many of the, or at least my, revelations about mental state things and emotional things are accompanied by “… if only you had realized that ages ago. You idiot.” Or words to that effect and to greater or lesser degree. But that’s another blog post.

This one has to do with Natasha Romanova punching her fears in the face, and something about that that I missed the first several go-rounds with that idea. An intrinsic part, and the part without which the badassing would not be possible. It starts with the very simple fact that she was afraid. Sitting on the ground in the corner in the shadows, huddling and tear-stained and probably wishing someone else would come rescue her for a change. If she hadn’t been afraid, we wouldn’t have noticed her badassing her way through the rest of the scene. She would have simply been Natasha Romanova, doing what she does, and it wouldn’t have been  as resonating because superheroes badass their way through life. People like us sit in the corner and cry like babies.

So it starts with that, realizing that maybe it’s okay to have bad days. And it’s okay to sit in the corner and curl up with your hands over your head and want someone else to rescue you for a change. But then I got to thinking, because we’d been addressing my Superwoman complex the other night. I’m sure a lot of you know that one. It’s the one that says if I fuck up in any little way I’m obviously a failure because I’m supposed to be strong and powerful and do things correctly. It’s the one that says you’re privileged, you’re lucky, therefore you can’t complain. The one that says other people have it worse, so stop whining. The one that says no one wants to hear about your problems, if you go and bug someone for help you’re just imposing, so shut up and keep moving. We have to be Superwoman, Superman, Superperson all the time or we’re nothing. We get this for various reasons due to gender roles in society, class roles, occupation, or squirrels. (I may be lying about the squirrels.) It’s all bullshit whichever way it comes.

So I was thinking about that, and following the scene along in my head because the Barton-Nat fight scene is among my favorite parts of the movie, which reminded me of something else. In the Avengers, Nat comes into the job at all because Coulson asks her to, and she goes and storms off to beat the Loki out of Barton because her friend needs her help. And of all the times I’ve thought over this scene, it finally sank in that if it’s all right for Coulson to ask Nat for help, or Nick Fury to ask Cap, or Nat to ask Cap, or Barton to need Natasha’s help even if he’s not at that time capable of asking for it, why is it not okay to ask me for help?

It’s one of those revelations that’s simple, seems small, and yet triggers an avalanche of comprehension right down into your forebrain.

Let’s look at some other folks. Delenn is one of my heroes, we already know I’m a big Babylon 5 geek. And if she needs something from Sheridan or Lennier or even Londo, she asks for it. Audrey Parker isn’t shy about calling on Duke or Nathan if she needs backup. If Sherlock Holmes can admit to Molly Bloody Hooper that he needs her help, you’d think I could. And going back even further, the movie that influenced my thinking possibly out of proportion, even Sarah had no qualms about admitting to her friends, “Every now and again in my life, for no reason at all, I need you. All of you.” Why is this right for all of them but wrong for me?

Sometimes there is no help available, no backup, no friendly neighborhood assassin, no wee little brave pomeranian-fox knight. And that sucks. It just plain does. But sometimes, if you kick the notion that you shouldn’t need help to the curb and look around, there is help there strolling along, waiting for you to ask. Sometimes there’s friends there watching you struggle and thinking about dragging you out of the muck whether you ask or not. And you just have to remember, it’s okay to need help, and to ask for it. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you crap at what you do, it doesn’t mean anything except that, for whatever reason, you need some help. If Phil Coulson can ask for help when he needs it, so can you.

In Which We Fight

It was a fucking awful day yesterday. It’s been a fucking awful week already. I’ve been pulling whatever I can to help myself get through The Next Thing, because there are way too many Next Things for someone quietly sinking under a miasma of bad feelings. Today I pulled Sucker Punch and Natasha Romanova. Lots of women I adore!

There’s a thing that keeps circling around on tumblr, a phrase that I found and loved. “Natasha Romanoff [sic] punches her fears in the face.” I like that image. It’s a good image. I like to imagine that I do that with my fears and little voices that tell me no one wants to hear it, my problems aren’t that bad, I should be able to fix them myself so stop bugging everyone. I like to imagine I walk up to those fears and insecurities and self-aggrandizations, rationalizations, all meek and submissive. Hi, how you doin. Walk up to my fears, shake their hand. Then punch them in the face.

I spend a lot of time inside my own head. Okay, I spend all my time inside my own head, because until they develop telepathy treatments we can’t exactly by in other people’s heads, but I do. Possibly because I’m a writer, or a creative person, or any number of bullshit reasons but I do spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming. It’s a thing. It helps. Especially when things are shit and my head is full of thoughts like the above, like whatever I’m doing isn’t any good or isn’t even good enough, which is one of those depressive oxymorons because if you don’t matter, how can it matter that what you’re doing isn’t any good or isn’t good enough? Hell with that, your depression says, the point is that you are a bad person and you should feel bad. And fuck that, I say, and picture myself in Hollywood commando black with a good set of kevlar and some badass boots, maybe a set of brass knuckles, and punch depression in the face.

You can’t always fight. Sometimes you have to recharge. That’s where the whole routine of taking care of yourself, enlisting other people to help remind you to walk around, drink some water, eat something healthy and tasty (please both your physical body and your senses), get a good amount but not too much sleep, and do something quiet that helps you, where that comes into play. Sticky notes and alarms and things. There’s a mental recharging, too. We can’t always be Sweet Pea with a machine gun and a broadsword hacking down orcs, robots, and Axis zombies. Sometimes we have to turn to ourselves and go “Look, honey. Things are bad right now, okay? I know it hurts. But I love you, and I’m right here with you, and we’ll get through this.” And sometimes when I do that I’m an older woman (well, a woman older than I am now) and sometimes I’m, um, Thorin Oakenshield, and, you know, whatever works, right? Being kind to myself. Hugs and comfort and it’ll all be okay.

(I mentioned living inside my own head a lot, right?)

I have mental subroutines. I have had for a long time, I don’t know when it started. Subroutines is the programming term because among the many things I grew up with, computer programming was one of them. You can call it brain hacking. You can call it dissociation even though that’s a misleading term, it’s not as harmful as that implies and it’s not nearly as drastic. I call it headvoices, to distinguish from brainweasels, or sometimes patterns or paradigms. When I’m writing I call them characters. When I’m working, which is to say all the time, I pull out the ones I think will best help. And I turn to Eve, my profiler/assassin/mercenary operative, and I tell her “Okay, you work logistics. Figure out how I can get all the shit I need to do done in this amount of time. Here’s the essential list, here’s the optimal list. Go.” And I turn to Sam, my oldest character, and I shove him into my mental Workshop and go “Okay, here’s the list of worlds I’m going to be playing in when Eve finds me some writing time, here’s the sections I need to get done, here’s the parts where the stories are weakest. Go fix.” And I turn to Alan, my half-Sluagh nigh on immortal really old bastard, and I go “Okay, here’s the list of insecurities and brainweasels. Here’s the battle axe of empirical confidence, here’s the broadsword of skillsets. Go kill. Go punch something in the face.” Alan likes punching things in the face.

And then I come out of my head and get dressed for work, brush my teeth, put on my earrings and my rings and my shoes and grab my lunch and head to work. And in the back of my head, Alan and Sam and Eve are hard at work, busy little subroutines or dissociative whatevers, but mostly, the back of my mind is working on the things I set it to work on so that when I have time to sit down and look at it again, it’s more solid. Morebetter. Usually. Call it guided meditation, if you like. Or patterning, or spellcraft, or selective thought process, or whatever. It helps. It helps me, it helps some people I know, too.

This week is not going to get better any time soon. I am not expecting this. I’d like it to! But somehow, I don’t think it will. But that’s okay. I have a vivid imagination, and right now as I get ready for work, I’m balling up all the shitty stuff that’s been happening, putting a physical semblance on it in my head, and punching it in the face.

Like Natasha fucking Romanova.

Shabby Crap Up With Which I Will Not Put

Well, that pissed me off.

I read a blog article just now in which self-publishing a book was compared to forming a start-up company. There’s some shreds of truth to that, honestly. Self-publishing a book is taking a huge gamble. It requires you (or very close and very tolerant friends) to wear many hats: author, first and foremost, but also editor, proof-reader, first reader, cover artist, marketer, and accountant. You might be capable of wearing all of these caps at once, you might not and have a number of aforementioned very close and very tolerant friends. Or the money to pay professionals. It, like so many things, depends on your circumstances.

But then I got into the rest of the article and I have to say, there were so many points on which I disagreed with the author, the corporate folk described, and all of the quotations within that I have to wonder which of us is doing something wrong. Given that I am not alone in my frothing rage, I’m going to go out on an egotistical limb and say it’s those fuckers.

This is your first and only warning for copious and melodious swearing.

The first thing that pissed me off was the corporate executive who referred to the authors as “content containers.” Excuse me? Where the fuck do you get off reducing authors to a corporate phrase describing nothing specific to our fucking field of work and shoving us in the same box as every other goddamn person who has an idea and makes a thing? You call us content containers, okay, fine. You know what else is a content container? Boxes that have contents in them. And you know what that leads to, right? If your job title is fucking content container, I cannot say that with enough vile contempt, you are reducing the people who work for you, reducing huge swaths of the population to cardboard fucking boxes. So, straight off right there, you’re robbing the authors who you claim to be doing all of this for of their respect and humanity. Gee, thanks a fucking lot. You think we wouldn’t notice? This is our goddamn craft, putting ideas into words in a way that conveys emotions, pictures, sensations. You think we wouldn’t notice when you use words to reduce us to goddamn boxes? Thanks. So much. For that little bit of contempt. Either that or you actually have no idea that words mean things, which means you more than likely don’t understand what the fuck it is we do in the first place, and get the fuck out of my playground until you can come back with some humility instead of this shit you call a proposed business relationship and can ask us to explain what it is we do.

We’re human beings. With feelings. Are you human? Do you have opposable thumbs? Show me your fucking thumbs.

Second, oh, second, let’s deal with second. Writers overestimate their abilites, okay, fair enough. Everyone overestimates their abilities at some point. I spent several years overestimating my ability until it became my ability, so, there you see one thing overestimating can get you. But what I suspect they’re trying to mean is what I said above, that you have to wear many hats, and in order to improve your chances of success you have to wear those hats damn well. And not everyone does. And you might not know that this isn’t a good hat for you until after you’ve tried it. That’s the kind of overestimating everyone does sooner or later. That job that you thought was a good fit turns out, not quite so much. That thing you did and felt good about it and triumphant and on top of the world? Now do that fifty times over again and see if you still like it. That other thing tangentially related to what you do and do well, that looks small and insignificant and you should be able to crank that out in an hour? Turns out, not so much. That happens to everyone.

So where the fuck do you get off, Mr. Corporate Person, singling out writers for being the incompetents who can’t figure out that they need to do things other than write? It’s because we’re so-called creatives, isn’t it? You think that because we’re writers we’re all full of daydreams and puppies, and we can’t come down to the real world and plan and execute a business action. That house I spent half a year fighting with banks and insurance companies and more banks and filing paperwork and doing everything really damn methodically and ruthlessly would beg to disagree with you. And it’s bigger than you are.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m an aberration for being good at math and programming, and comprehending logical things as well as creative things. Or maybe, you know? Just maybe I’m a human goddamn being who is capable of operating in a couple different modes as needed. Maybe I’m an actual person, with fucking learning abilities, and I can look at a task and size it up and try it and decide that I need someone more specialized at that task, and maybe, ooooh. Here’s a revolutionary idea for you. Maybe I’m capable of interviewing and finding someone who can do it for me. Fucking seriously? Authors are fuzzy-headed boxes for appealing daydreams and you goddamn corporate bastards are the functional folks who do everything else? Yeah, that was funny when Warren Ellis wrote it, and in that case the author in question was a drug-addled half-functional journalist who damn well knew he needed filthy assistants, so, wait a second. That doesn’t actually apply at all. Because human beings are, on occasion, people who are capable of realizing they need fucking help and then going out and getting that help. And it’s incredibly asinine to suggest otherwise for anything less than a specific person with evidence to back it up.

The third thing that pisses me off is, the underlying concept isn’t bad. Go go content container corporate person, or whoever came up with it, because having a place where people can go “I have a need!” and other people can go “I have a skill!” and they can all slot up with each other till they find the perfect fit, that’s a good idea. You know where I have a problem? This is not a new or revolutionary idea. All major writing associations or guilds have market directories where they list editing services, publishing services traditional or otherwise, and they make these available to authors, some for pay and some for free and some if you pay your membership dues. Several authors have forums where people can advertise their services or communicate with other authors about who’s good and who isn’t, and who’s trustworthy and who’s a condescending jackass like that fucker over there. These things exist. If you really want to aggregate them and sell it as a product, you’re going to have to do a damn lot better to sell me and mine on it than “Oh, hey, you’re just a box who doesn’t know how to do anything but exude flowers and rainbows.”

 

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the blogger, the corporate heads, the people writing and quoted in the article didn’t mean to come off as condescending arrogant douchenozzles. Maybe they’re doing this with the best of intentions! Pat them on the head and give them a cookie. But fucking hell, be very careful when dealing with someone who thinks of you as a product-puking spout on a machine, because this is not a person with whom you will be able to communicate the way you need to. The people who call you content containers are the people who look at their work force and see drones to push buttons on, stack together to build a Wonka machine, and if they push the writing buttons out will pop an Everlasting Harry Potter. Call me a crazy air-headed daydreamer incapable of planning my way out of a paper sack, but that doesn’t sound like a winning proposition, being a cog in a Wonka machine. That sounds like an excellent way to get myself exploited. Thanks, but no thanks.

The article in question.

On Editing

I hate editing.

What a shock, I know, right? After years of being smacked in the face with the rule no one is above revision, not to mention being asked to read over other people’s writing and render judgments (which is its own kind of squirrelly) I have come to the conclusion that what I hate most about editing and revising is that it’s effort. It’s work, and it’s hard work, and it’s a pain in the ass. Not only is it effort, it’s soul-crushing, sometimes repetitive, often ego-shredding effort that leaves you limp and sweaty and not in the fun way, wondering why you ever thought you could do this or bothered to try in the first place. I hate it.

Writing is effort too, but it’s a much more accustomed effort for me; I’ve been writing for at least 25 years so it bloody well should be!  It’s also a hell of a lot more fun. It’s creating, it’s storytelling, it’s sharing all those cool ideas with the rest of the world. Look, I had this idea and then I did this thing, isn’t it cool? Chances are, no matter how terrifying it is to actually put it in front of real eyeballs that aren’t yours, you still feel that element of bouncing around going look what I did. Editing is ripping all that apart again, and even if you put it all back together and it’s much more better afterwards, you still have to do the ripping. It hurts. A lot.

So, that’s the biggest chunk of the effort. It starts with tearing your own work to pieces, which then makes it easy to succumb to the brainweasels, and fighting them is an uphill battle with boulders strapped to your arms. If you don’t know what brainweasels are, they’re the little jackasses that crawl into your head and make their little weaselly nests and whisper that you suck, that you’re not worth it, this isn’t worth it when everyone’s going to hate it or, worse, ignore you. Brainweasels come in all shapes and sizes, speak all languages, and swarm around any small accomplishment that you manage because they hate success. Of course you’ll fight them, and you’ll push through it and get your work edited and rewritten, and you might even manage not to cut or change anything that didn’t need to be cut or changed before the brainweasels got to you, but it’s freaking exhausting work. Like I said, much more effort for a much less cool reward.

I didn’t start editing my own work till I was in my early twenties, when I realized that maybe not everything that came out of my fingertips was pure gold. Yes, I was that arrogant bitch. At least in private. And then when I started editing my work, I was hard on myself. Maybe harder than I needed to be. My pages were covered in red ink, maybe a third of the sentences were left untouched if that many, and there were large swaths of writing involving phrases like “the hell is this?” and “this is clumsy, redo.” Sometimes I’d take a wild hair and go on a tangent, scribbling down the margins at an ever increasing angle until it was almost illegible and going down ninety degrees from how it started. And it wasn’t good odds that when I went back I’d remember what the hell I was talking about, so that’s twice the effort for half the end result. Paragraphs got cut. Scenes got cut. If anyone reading this has suffered through my reviewing and revising their work, be assured, I’m just as hard on myself.

So, that happened, and then I stopped editing again because why bother. And I stopped pushing myself within my writing because why bother. And eventually I just stopped trying. To write, to do much of anything.

The reasons I started up again are complex and require far too much backstory. I did pick it up again, I got better at writing, and my best friend got better at editing which made for an ideal pair.  90% of the time she knows, just from knowing me, what I’m going for and is able to pull out some alternate phrasings. Apart from that and other aspects having to do with knowing each other for 10ish years, we communicate back and forth a lot when we’re working on a project. I give her the specs, deadline and word count and rough themes, and then I go write. When I’m done, I toss her the draft, she marks it up in one color and tosses it back to me. I mark it up and fix what she’s noted, add in some notes of my own and toss it back at her for review. If the changes work, she strips out our notes and leaves in only the ones that still apply. Plus new ones for whatever I broke trying to fix things. Throughout all this, we IM or email if there’s a question on a note or a piece of prose. And it works, not just because we clarify with each other what we mean if things are murky, but because she trusts that I’ll listen to her edits and I trust that she’s trying to help and make my work better, not tear it down. And that she has the detachment I can’t manage.

Editing is a pain in the ass. And there’s no getting around it. I’ve made major edits to this blog entry at least twice already. Nothing comes out a hundred percent the first time; it takes an amazing amount of luck to even get it eighty percent the first time. But there are things you can do to make it easier. Find a first reader, or a couple of them, who you trust not only to read you and get what you’re trying to say, but also who you trust to be both fair and gentle enough to tell you the things you don’t want to hear in the way you’re most likely to hear them. Don’t do it all at once, do a couple pages or a few hundred words and take a break, get up, get a glass of water, stretch, reset your brain a bit. Treat yourself kindly while you edit, fix yourself regular healthy meals, small desserts or other kinds of treats to keep your spirits up, stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep. Mind your medications, if you’re on them. And while you’re editing, try and keep in some kind of contact with the elements of your work that you loved in the first place. Because you’re going to get so deep into your work’s flaws that you’re going to come to hate it, and you’ll need to remember why you tried in the first place.

It’ll come out better in the end, though. Editing, for all the jokes about pages bleeding ink, isn’t about tearing down, it’s about building it up more solid and more beautiful than it started. It’s just a matter of putting forth the effort to get there.

Reposted: How The Hell Do You Write So Fast

(This was originally posted after Yuletide 2011, on my LiveJournal. Still, it applies.)

For those of you who don’t know me, kick back and relax for a second and I will tell you (for possibly the umpteenth time but this time I’ll bookmark it on my links) how Kitty came to be a Speed-Writing Freak.

I’ve been telling stories since I could, well, string coherent words into cogent sentences. I know I’ve been writing since Labyrinth came out, because that was when I saved my pennies and bought this beautiful thing that had ‘dream journal’ printed on the cover, along with a beautiful picture. It was silver and slate blue and lavender and bits of pink, and it had cream colored paper with darker tan lines and little floral accents and I loved it to bits. And I thought it was the most elegant thing ever, so I had to put in an elegant story. So I wrote self-insert badly disguised Labyrinth type fanfiction. Also fanciful stories about my life as though it were a grand adventure.

I was really young, shut up.

The second thing I remember writing, although I know I wrote stuff in between because I have vague memories of stretching out on beds with notebooks and colored pens, I just don’t remember what any of them were. But the second thing I remember writing was a huge X-Men fanfic with my best friend of my childhood, D. We wrote this on my stationary that my aunt printed up for me on the store printer, on looseleaf, on any paper we could find. We kept it in binders (hers was leather covered and more awesome than mine) and we called it The Manuscript. And we quoted lines from it at each other all the time, and it was about Wolverine/Jubilee and Rogue/Gambit initially, only my pairings jumped around because I was so much more fickle than her. And we’d stretch out wherever and write for a while, and then read to each other or swap fic. Those are some of the best memories of my childhood, hanging out and writing fic and cracking each other up over it and plotting and everything.

After that there was a lot of fanfic. A LOT. Some of it hand-written, some of it on the computer because I’ve always had a computer in the house. In High School there was a terrible, terrible but incredibly fun thing called the Mage Wars where I ended up compiling a bunch of people’s Mercedes Lackey fanfic into an ongoing RP/collective story, the technology wasn’t quite there yet, or we didn’t have a good handle on how to use it, one thing or another. And I posted it on the web, this was my first major HTML undertaking. The really frightening thing is, there are probably still people on both LJ and DW who remember the MageWars, I’ve been running into them over the past year and a bit. Thinking back on it now, it was probably really terrible. Literate, we had all our words and punctuation marks in the right place, but very crude. But it was fun, and it was writing, and we did learn and get better. And I had fun. Also at least one of us got cease and desist letters from Mercedes Lackey’s lawyers, aren’t we proud.

My senior year of High School we all had to do our senior projects, and pick teachers to be our advisors. I picked one of the English teachers I’d really gotten along with and chose outlining and writing the first 3-5 chapters of a novel for mine. It was nice and sedate, I didn’t have to go anywhere, and I could write all the things. And actually, looking back on it, that piece wasn’t that bad of a concept. The plotting was terrible and the writing was fairly excruciating in the fine details, but it was literate. Grammar and punctuation were decent, it wasn’t nearly as strong as it could be but it wasn’t bad. For a 17 year old anyway. You know all the things they say bad about Eragon? Yeah, I did that too. 

So then we skip ahead to college. One thing I did write was a novel-sized background for a weekend-long LARP character. I wrote 90,000 words for a character I was going to play for two nights. I think I did it in about a month. Basically what happened was the Storyteller (moderator) for the LARP made the mistake of telling me, okay, sure, you can have extra points for every two pages of background you write. And then I went up to her and went O HAI I WROTE YOU A NOVEL. That rule quickly went away. But around that time I also started looking more seriously into writing for a living. And then I did a stupid, ignorant thing.

One of the advice pages I saw said that writers who really wanted to get better practiced their craft every day. They sat down and they wrote five pages or for two hours or whatever, so I was all, sure, I can write for two hours a day. But how much should I write? Because I can’t always block two solid hours off. So I thought about it, I sat down, and I wrote, I think, about 2500 words in half an hour. Which was good! I sat down, the words just sort of flowed out onto the screen, and I thought to myself, okay. So I can write about 2500 words in half an hour, in two hours I should be able to write 10,000 words. So I’ll aim for that, per day. And I did. For about seven freaking years. I didn’t realize that things will distract you, writers block happens, sometimes you just get frustrated, I didn’t realize that some writers are lucky to write a thousand words in a day. I had no concept in my head of what was a lot to write and what was more average. So I tried to write 10,000 words per day for seven. Years. 

Somewhere over those seven years it sank in that maybe most people don’t do this. By this time, though, I was writing about 7k per day on average, sometimes 10k, sometimes less. And it wasn’t just 7k of crap, I really was getting better. I could see it when I looked back on stuff I’d written a couple years previous. Over Yuletide I got a prompt that turned out to be the same damn thing I’d written almost 9 years ago, and I went back and dug the story up on FF.net, and it wasn’t terrible? But it wasn’t good, either. I’ve grown as a writer. And I’ve gotten really fast. Because for seven or so years I had no idea that I couldn’t do this.

These days, or at least these days as of this writing, I try for about 2000 words per day. I can do that in an hour, maybe half an hour, and it frees me up for other pursuits like exercise to stay healthy, cooking which I do enjoy, playing music, earning money at my day job. Sometimes I write more; around Yuletide I’ve been consistently going above 5k per day, but I’ve also dropped a lot of other things. In my opinion which, I think, is shared by some of my closest friends, I’ve gotten healthier about writing. I’ve learned where my limitations are, learned how to listen to my body and my mind and what it churns out, and I don’t think I’m the worse for it. But I also do enjoy being a speed demon when it comes to writing. Somehow, whatever the writing process is in my brain has been changed to the point that I can sit down at a keyboard (because it’s much easier on a keyboard, I type at about 100wpm) and let words flow onto the page. Because for seven years, I didn’t know I couldn’t. I knew there were words in there, I just had to get out of the way.

I don’t recommend this to anyone, at all. It wasn’t the best time in my life, and it was a stupid thing to try to do. But for those of you who see me posting my word counts and go “O.O how do you DO THAT?” that’s how. By, basically, not knowing and then stubbornly refusing to believe that I couldn’t. To the exclusion of most else. For seven years. Also, devouring everything printed I could find and just plain writing every day. The usual rules still apply.

In Which We Are Courtesans

So, last time I blogged about Courtesan School, and how it started. A couple of days later I was faffing about on Twitter and somehow this led to a discussion of exercise, which led to a comparison of what exercises we variously do, which led to what I’m coming to think of by now as the inevitable “how do you courtesan?”

I’m coming to think of this as inevitable because at this point, any discussion of my daily routine ever seems to end up coming around to “how do you do all that??” Me and my fellows in Courtesan School. The short, one-sentence (but possibly not 140 characters) answer is that we are incredibly organized and four years plus practiced at rearranging our schedules in a game of activity tetris to figure out what it is we can do in a day, and what we can drop and pick up the easiest if we don’t have time or energy to do it all. Because sickness happens, sleepless nights happen, and with everything we do or try to do in a day we do need all of our energy. For me, I can most easily drop languages or music practice, and pick it up again. Dropping a day of a language won’t hurt me, even dropping a week or two when I have a deadline breathing down my neck, or every Yuletide as archive open day draws near. For Adsartha, it’s one out of her several music practices. (I do multiple languages at once, she does multiple music practices. That’s also a part of Courtesan School, learning what your specialty is, your particular talent, how to be who you are, and then being yourself as brilliantly and as much as you possibly can.) So, over the past four years, we have learned by trial and error, lots of error, how we can pack all of the things we want to do in a day, and do it without hurting ourselves.

Several sub-lessons of this were hard. Learning that downtime, rest time, is something we need to schedule in because we can’t always do everything at once. Learning how to take downtime at all. I scheduled a rest day the other day and then it took me about two hours to actually rest because I kept thinking of things I could be working on. Learning which activities are fulfilling enough to spend time on, and which aren’t. Learning which can be dropped without hurting our overall process. Learning that life is a marathon, not a sprint. That it’s okay to drop or change something that isn’t working for you, that failure isn’t a dirty word. For the first two years we had two quotes we kept coming back to: Samuel Beckett, “Try again, fail again. Fail better.” and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “If you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

We made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. Let us never again discuss the great Lead ALL the Baby Courtesans incident of 2008? 2009? whatever it was. We were too new at it to lead anyone else by anything other than maybe our good example, or possibly as an object lesson. We didn’t even know where we were going ourselves, at the time. (See those Four Important Questions.) We discussed our goals and our methods, figured out the best way to check in; at first we checked in two and three times a week, now we’re down to about once a week, and that seems good for both accountability and us taking stock of where we are. We swapped recipes, some of which were a definite “never make this again” and some of which worked so well we’re still doing it. Let us never again discuss the Great Lemon Bars Experiment of 2012. Right now, we’ve probably been in our daily routines for maybe a year, couple of years. I’ve been in mine for at least a couple of years, so I’ll lay that one out for you right now.

I get up, and then I shower. I have no idea why showering works better to wake me up than almost anything, but it does. In the winters I get up and stagger into the shower, in the summers I can get up and stagger to pull my sweats and shoes on, and then go walking or running. Usually it’s walking, because my asthmatic weakass lung capacity rarely permits running and often I lose half the progress I’ve made from summer to summer. Slowly but surely; part of CS is learning where your limitations are and how to get to or modify the ultimate goals to fit. So, I get up, shower or run, and do fifteen to thirty minutes of vocabulary exercises for my various languages to wake my mind up. Since it’s just vocabulary, it’s less strain on my sleepy mind than full on reading or grammar study would be, but switching back and forth between languages is still work. For this, I use Memrise, which is a nice easy-to-use online tool for learning vocabulary in other languages — a set of flash cards, basically. Then I go out into the living room and do my exercises, which for me consist of ballet exercises and other forms of dance, and some yoga. I started taking ballet when I was maybe six years old, and continued till I was eighteen. Exercises on machines and with weights quickly become more of a chore for me than anything else, and if you’re miserable at your exercises, it makes it that much harder to do them. So why bother? I go through dance exercises, finish with a stretch and a reverence as much for the mental as the physical, and then go grab breakfast and sit down with my computer and my Irish book. Depending on how long it takes me to do my lesson for the day, sometimes I tidy up the house after. And I post my lessons online for public accountability. I also do a statement of intent for the day for writing work and blog work; I call it a statement of intent because it’s easier for me to intend to do something than it is to not meet a goal. Again, the little things that make it easier or more enjoyable? They help. A lot. In little ways that add up to big ways.

So by now I’ve finished my morning language (it used to be Russian, which is why it’s ‘my morning lanugage’ in the overall) and tidied up where I can, so as not to have to do a great big tidying later on in the week. Little things into bigger things. And I’ve gotten ready for work, and then my aunt picks me up because we carpool in to work and she’s only a little further out of downtown than I am, on the same route. At work, depending on how busy it is, either I spend the day dealing with my day jobligations or I spend the day keeping ready for some day jobligations and working on blog writing or personal to-be-published writing. I’m very lucky at this point in that I have a job that allows me to do this. I suppose if I didn’t I’d have to find some other way to manage, and probably have to cut back my writing schedule and blogging by a lot. Still, since I can, I do. At lunch I do some more language practice; until recently this involved studying German, but since I’ve completed my German textbook right now it involves translating things from English to Russian and German in order to keep myself in practice. I finish out the day at work, get home, and either do Japanese or guitar practice depending on the day. It used to be both, but then I discovered that this took up the same amount of time while not advancing either skill in the slightest, so, greater blocks of time for each and more spread out over the week. Then I cook dinner, because I do love to cook, and because now that I have a large kitchen it’s much more enjoyable and sometimes I can keep my Japanese book and notebook in one corner while I keep an eye on something simmering, so I can start dinner sooner. After dinner it’s finishing up whatever bits of blogwork for Unspooling Fiction are left, line edits, web coding, miscellaneous other things until a last round of tidying and checking doors and windows and brushing teeth and taking my tired ass to bed.

And yes, it seems like a lot when you read it like that. But after two years it seems less like “a lot” and more like “my normal day” to me. It did seem like a lot when I started. I ended every day wondering how the hell I had juggled all of that and how the hell I could find the energy to do it all again tomorrow. My failures knocked everything out of whack, not just the area they were specific to. But the check-ins helped. Doing it with other people helped, they talked me down from my tree when I needed it, offered suggestions, other perspectives. We all did that for each other. And, again, it took me a couple of years to figure out what even the broad strokes of my routines could be, that were best for me. And now it’s mostly fine-tuning. Changing as things in my life change, like buying this house. Adapting. Learning, growing. The best thing I think CS did for me was get me into the habit of finding the goal, finding what shape best fits the goal to make it likeliest to happen, and picking a likely looking path to get there. And not giving up if that path turns out to have boojums instead of snarks.