Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Only mostly dead

It seems that I'm doing a lot of apologizing lately for radio silence here. I could make up an interesting excuse (it was the zombie apocalypse!) but really, the fact is I was too busy to make up interesting posts, and there wasn't really anything more serious I was ready to talk about.

So. Here's your State of the Kat update: It's almost the end of the semester. It's been great. I've been teaching two classes that I love to amazing students. It has also been a lot more work than I anticipated. So I am really looking forward to the long winter break and then only having one class next semester. (Chaucer. We're going to have such fun.)

Writing-wise, I am still struggling with my relationship with my internal perfectionist. So in November, I tried something new: I wasn't allowed to abandon a story. I wrote some really crap first drafts, but now I have revisable prose. It was an interesting experiment, and a useful one for me. I'm also trying to read more (I'm always trying to read more) and read more widely, so as to make my brain go explody, and thus generate interesting story ideas. And once classes end and I get my grading done, I'm going to experiment with putting myself on a slightly more structured schedule. 

I am also going to try to get back into regular blogging habits. I miss you guys.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yes. This.

"Here's something else I believe: if you're going into a very dark place ... then you should take a bright light, and shine it on everything. If you don't want to see, why in God's name would you dare the dark at all?"
                          -- Stephen King, "Afterword," Full Dark, No Stars

Seriously, you know it's a good book when the Afterword alone is worth the price of admission.

And though I truly believe that we are in the End Times indeed if you need me to tell you that Stephen King can write a damn good story, I will go ahead and say that aside from having the best title I've seen in a long time, and an afterword that is like candy for a writer, Full Dark, No Stars also has four marvelously dark stories that will remind you just how good King is. They'll keep you from sleep while you're reading, and stick in your brain after you've finished.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Learning by going

I've been thinking a lot about writing process lately. Well, I think a lot about writing process all the time, to be honest. I'm fascinated by it - I read other writers' blogs, and books on writing, and that type of thing on a regular basis. 

I started doing that when I first began writing fiction seriously, sort of like an independent study project. It was my attempt to do an apprenticeship, to figure out what worked for people who succeeded in the field. What I learned wasn't so much a method (I write with pen, usually fountain pen, because there are very specific colors of ink I like) or a style (I'd been writing academically for years, and won awards, and felt pretty confident in my ability to turn a sentence), but that while there were similarities (pretty much everyone seems to have a moment where the book turns on them) the most important thing was to just sit down and write.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, but that's because at some level it's the only thing to say: the only necessary part of being a writer is that you write.

It's what puts the words on the page, and what teaches you the best way for you to write (this is, I've learned, a thing that may change over time. It certainly has for me.) Right now, I am the kind of person who needs to write every day. There are people who spend months thinking about a book, and then sit down and write it all in one explosive burst. Thinking looks like thinking, for them. For me, thinking looks like writing. This means that I've had to get used to not knowing when a new character is going to show up, when there will be an obstacle to deal with, or even what happens in the next scene. It also means I've had to get really comfortable with the fact of revision, and that I may wind up cutting huge swathes of text. It's not that I didn't need to write them, I did. They just don't need to be in the story.

At least on the zero draft, I need to start at the beginning, and write straight through. I can't write scenes out of order, or start in the middle and work back.

I don't outline. For me, outlines are the devil. They fool my brain into thinking I've already written what I've only sketched out, I become too preoccupied with what needs to happen instead of how it needs to happen, and I honestly don't see the point in telling a story I already know the end to. But for some people, an outline is a support system, not a cage.

But that's me. And that's me right now. I want, for example, to write a procedural in the next book or two, which means I am going to have to get much more comfortable with the idea of plot than I currently am. And really, the reason that I'm fascinated by process is because I'm constantly trying to become more aware of what I need to do when I write so I can help myself show less of that process on the page, so that I can get out of my own way, and all that's left is story.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The earth-shattering Ka-Boom

Last night on twitter (and yes, every time I write that, I hear the tv recap voice in my head. You know: "Previously, on Alias...." I digress. And I still want to be Sydney Bristow when I grow up.) I asked for people to recommend things that would make my head explode. Although I wasn't specific, all the suggestions were things to read. (I'm actually not surprised by that - I'm a writer, many of the people I follow are writers, many of the people who follow me are writers. It's the way of things.)

I'm excited about this list, and the possibility of an exploding head. Er, the figurative possibility. Because when something blows the top off my brain, creates new pathways in there for the information to run through, makes me see things in a different light, and connect them in different shapes, well, my writing gets better.

Yet even though I know this is what happens, that a sure way to born new ideas in my fevered brain is to listen to something weird, or read something outside of my comfort zone, when the writing (or my life) is being difficult, I retreat to the literary equivalent of flannel pajamas. My comfort books are well-worn.

I'm ready to challenge myself. To experience something new and different, that will thunder through me like Beethoven's Ninth. Tell me, where should I start?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Knowledge and belief

I've gone longer than I like to without posting. But I wanted to wait until I could write this post and have it sound reflective, rather than whiny.

Here's the thing: writing-wise, October sucked. And the worst part, the thing that made it nearly unbearable for me, is that there was no good reason. Okay, yeah, I got sick, and I was crazy busy. But you know what? I teach at a university. October is midterms. Everyone is sick and crazy busy in October. And sure, there were various and sundry other annoyances and stresses, and even through all that, I was getting writing done. Pretty good wordcounts, pretty much every day.

Most of which, I trashed. Trunked. Since we're being reflective, we'll use the euphemism. Most of which I trunked.

And from the distance of having my legs back underneath me, I can tell you what went wrong. 

On Thursday of last week, I was fortunate enough to host the fierce and intelligent Cat Valente as a guest speaker in my class. One of the students asked a process related question, and Cat mentioned her "How to Write a Novel in 30 Days" post. The first rule is, "You are a genius."

I stopped believing I was a genius. For me, this was worse than turning on my internal editor and giving her a megaphone, because it infected all the parts of my writing life. For example, a personal rejection letter - with a request to see my next story - from a dream market wasn't cause for celebration, but for more thoughts of "Dammit, I still can't get it right." Nothing was beautiful, and everything hurt, and even the tricks I had used in the past couldn't shake my belief that everything I would write would turn to ashes. (That's not me being poetic there. Fire was beginning to seem like the appropriate option.)

And the worst part, the keen edge on the blade, was that my office hours last month averaged 1.5 students per day who wanted to talk to me about writing as a profession. So as I was speaking to them about what I see as the pluses and minuses of NaNoWriMo, about how to submit to markets, about why beta readers are necessary and MFAs aren't, all I could think about was how much of a fraud I felt like. Who was I, to be telling anyone else how to be a writer, when I couldn't get my own shit together?

Except, of course, that I do know all those things. I know the importance of building good habits, and finding a supportive community, and learning how to work through the bad patches, because everyone has them. It's part of the job. And if you know all those things, one day, you will wake up and believe you are a genius.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The dead, the saints, the souls

Happy New Year, if you are a Celt, a Wiccan, or just someone who feels that this time of year is more evocative of endings and beginnings than 1 January. 

I've never really seen the transition from December to January as very new beginning-ish. It is still dark, still cold, still more the thing that was than the thing that is to come. Part of this, I'm sure, is that for nearly all of my life, I have been on an academic calendar, and so the year never runs from January to December. Part of this is because, in the calendar of my religion, these days are the Days of the Dead, the Feasts of All Saints, and All Souls, and this time of remembrance, and saying goodbye, seems to me like what one does at the close of the year. The year should die on the Day of the Dead.

And because, as J.E. Flecker wrote in "The Bridge of Fire," "the wheels of time are turning, turning, turning," this is not just an end but a beginning. Resurrection follows death, and the year begins anew.