Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.