Friday, April 30, 2010

Plans, mice, men. Blah, blah, blah

Back in January, I made some plans for things I wanted to accomplish during 2010. Timing aside, these weren't New Year's resolutions. It was more a response to the mental realization that, for the first time since I started kindergarten, I was under no obligation to anyone other than myself. No deadlines, no schedules, just personal responsibility. 

Oddly enough for a woman who currently has four to-do lists and a vast panoply of post-it note reminders blanketing her desk, I didn't write them down. (I did write down one post-it's worth of advice to myself: "Get your shit together." But that's sort of an ongoing goal.) I do remember what I was going to do, though: 

Move. I love my friends, and do not love Minnesota. Especially in the winter. Neither does my dog. As a writer, I am portable. I thought I might aim to leave sometime in late summer or early fall.

Finish a draft of The Novel What Ate My Life, The Widening Gyre, you know, that, suitable for sending to beta readers, by the end of May.

Find an agent, querying with Linger.

Since I wasn't in grad school anymore, read more broadly, both in fiction and in nonfiction, so my brain didn't atrophy.

Maybe it's strange, at the end of the fourth month, when the year is only 1/3 over, to realize that much of this has to shift and change, and I cannot even think in terms of January's goals anymore, but there you go.

Because I am moving, but in three weeks, not three months. I'm moving because I got a fellowship I didn't honestly expect to get, and a job that hadn't really even been on my list of possibilities. So now I have classes to design and prep for, and a book length non-fiction project to work on. 

The Widening Gyre got trunked. And I've come to terms with that, largely because Seen is still being so lovely and cooperative. (And oh, my Clarionmates, I have found a novel in which to write my Tam Lin origin story. You know how happy this makes me, right?) Also, it has the Gabriel Ratchets. 

I wrote some short fiction and sent it out. In fact, all of the short fiction that I have written this year is under consideration right now. I am very, very proud of this. Not because it means I have written a large amount of short fiction, but because I have made myself look for homes for it.

The query process is on hold. I am revising Linger. The pieces of the story clicked together in my head, and I know how and where I need to shift things. It was interesting, sorting through the feedback from my beta-readers on this - I was able to think about why they wanted the changes they wanted, and use that as a guide for how to revise, rather than just trying to shoehorn the specific things that were asked for into the story. I feel like this means I've gained experience points as a writer.

And really, I'm fine with the fact that, one-third of the way through the year, my goals have shifted and changed. Because if that doesn't happen, I'll only ever be the person I used to want to be.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Velveteen Writer

If you ask me what I do, I will tell you I am a writer. I will not hesitate when I say this, or feel it is only a partial truth. It is not an effort to make myself sound more interesting or sexier or more like someone you ought to invite to your party. In my heart, in my bones, in my soul, I am a writer.

This has nothing to do with the amount of money I've made from my writing, the number of sales I have to my credit, or the response my manuscript has received from readers or agents. Knowing that I am a writer has everything to do with the fact that writing is what I do. It is my avocation and vocation, united. This is who I am.


Tomorrow I will be guest lecturing in a course on King Arthur in Literature, taught by the woman who was my dissertation advisor. She had her students read some excerpts from Linger, and asked me to come in and speak because she thought it would be interesting for the students to get the chance to talk to a "real writer" about her work.

One of the professors in the English Department at Stony Brook emailed me yesterday, about a student who is coming back for a Master's. She asked me if she could put him in touch with me - she thinks his fiction is good, but that he would benefit from contact with "a real writer."

Suddenly, I began to wonder if I am real enough. Will the students in Becky's class be disappointed that the excerpts they were assigned were from a work in progress? (and fuck, even though I reread the manuscript eleventy billion times, there is a very professional looking typo on p. 23.) I've made two sales, and I'm so proud of them, but is two enough to be "real" to someone else? Someone who doesn't know how many hours a day I sit in front of a notebook, or how many laps I wander around the lake in search of the next plot point, or the fact that if you cut me open, I will bleed story?

The only conclusion I could come to is that it doesn't matter, as long as I am real enough for myself. There will always be people that I won't be real enough for. I don't know yet what my career will look like, but I know that there will be something in it that people will be able to point to as a weakness, a sign that I wasn't good enough, or serious enough, or whatever enough to be a real writer.

But I know that I am.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree"

The first time I read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, I did it all out of order. The first of the five books I read was The Grey King (which is the fourth book), followed by the last book in the series, Silver on the Tree. Then The Dark is Rising, (and I was young when I read them, young enough that I spent my entire eleventh birthday wishing with my whole self that I would learn I was an Old One), then the two books that star the Drew children, Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch.

These are books that made me. The Grey King was the first Arthurian story I ever read, and made me want - so desperately I wrote him into my own first novel - a dog named Cabal (Cafall, in the Welsh.) They made me begin to think about different ways of telling a familiar story, were the start of my obsession with finding more and more obscure variants of the story of the Matter of Britain. I wanted to be Bran Pendragon, and even though now, as I reread them, I understand why the story required he choose as he did, I know that I would have made a different choice at the end. I have attempted to learn Welsh because of these books. They are amazing.

The most amazing part, for me, is how well they hold up. I am shocked, now, as I reread them, at how short they all are - the longest probably only 65K words, Greenwitch half that. There is just so much in each of these books. Cooper never assumes that her audience of children is stupid or incurious, or will be thrown out of the story by strange names and funny language. 

And yes - they are plot coupon fantasies. The goal of each book is to find the magic thing, or things, first, and get them to the right place or use them properly. But the simplicity of the plot structure doesn't mean these are simple books.

In her book, The English Romance in Time (highly recommended for anyone interested in thinking about the roots of modern fantasy), Helen Cooper notes that one of the things that made the medieval romance an unique genre was its interest in stories about women with agency. (NB: This does not necessarily mean that we, as modern readers, would call these feminist stories. What it does mean is, for the culture and the time - England, beginning about 800 years ago - these were stories about women exercising power.) Cooper uses Greenwitch, the middle book in the series, to tell a woman's story, to explore female power and magic in the middle of a quest narrative.

Cooper also makes clear that the Light can be as harsh a master, and as unconcerned about normal human consequences as the Dark. The Light wins, but the victory is not without cost, and loss. This strikes me as a brave choice for a writer to make, but also the right one - if the object of the quest is worth winning, perhaps the winning should not leave those on the quest unscathed. She shows that being the Chosen One can be as lonely as it is special, and that great responsibility is sometimes a burden.

And it is The Tempest that makes the mountains sing. Is it any wonder I love these books?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Everything's alright, yes, everything's fine

Since, in the wake of this post, a critical number of people have called or emailed or used some form of communication to make sure that I am not actually in the Pit of Despair, I thought I ought to provide some reassurance. So. I'm much better than I was, and my intent wasn't to worry anyone. Thank you for checking on me - feeling loved is one of the reasons I feel better.

Early last week just happened to be a Confluence of Unfortunate Events - I got hit with moving stress, having to deal with someone and something that I wish I didn't, not having luck finding good homes for my two cats that need them (Seriously - if you or someone you know would like a very sweet cat, please get in touch.), and then on top of all of that, I was failing at writing.

But my parents are helping me with the move, both from an organization standpoint, and a financial one. (I don't actually get the moving stipend that goes with the fellowship until after I move. I'm not complaining - at least I get one.) And I'm not failing at writing anymore. I have put new words on the page for three days in a row now. I know what happens next in Seen, and I've got a good handle on the overarching conflicts for the book. Due to the assistance of some wonderful friends, I've figured out how I want to revise Linger in a way that I believe addresses what needs to be addressed, and still feels true to the character, and the story I want to tell.

The other things will take care of themselves, and I am reminded that I am not alone. Thank you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Currently reading, iteration the second

I tend to have bookmarks in a wide variety of things at once. Here's what I'm currently occupying myself with. (NB: Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven will join this group as soon as it arrives this week.)

Katherine Briggs, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature. Story research for Seen. Briggs is a giant in the field of folklore, and rightly so. 

Catherine Fisher, Incarceron. I started this because I'd seen so many people recommend it (including Laura Miller, who is my favorite book critic) that I couldn't not read it. So far, I'm more impressed with the political intrigue sections than the prison sections, but I believe that to be a result of my own preferences as a reader, rather than due to any flaw in the text. And at 133 pages in, I'll definitely add my voice to the chorus of recommendations.

Samuel R. Delany, About Writing. I really like reading writers on writing. Even when I disagree with their advice or find it inapplicable to what I am interested in doing, I love reading what they have to say about the process of writing. And I find it particularly useful at times when, like now, I am consciously trying to rethink my own writing. Reading Delany's thoughtful discussions of writing makes me even more jealous of this year's Clarion students, who get to spend a week studying with him.

Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone. The plan is to reread (for the eleventy hundredth time) all of her The Dark is Rising  series this weekend. I love these books. They began my love affair with all stories Arthurian. I'm guest lecturing for a King Arthur in Literature course this week, so rereading this series counts as lecture prep.

Jedediah Berry, The Manual of Detection. Smart, and beautifully written. A fantasy noir. I picked it up due to the jacket copy: "... a string of crimes committed in and through people's dreams." I'll finish it because the prose is so elegant I can't not read the next sentence. I'm wickedly jealous that something this skilled is a debut novel.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Six impossible things before breakfast

Often when we write, and - I think - particularly often when we write speculative fiction, we talk about the willing suspension of disbelief. The ability to ask the reader to, for the moment of the story, believe that something impossible is true.

For me, this willing suspension of disbelief is not just something I ask of my readers when I give them stories about a woman who loses her bits of herself in the pages of someone else's stories, or statues that disappear, or nightmares that become corporeal. I also ask it of myself every time I sit down to write.

From a writing perspective, this week has been fairly rubbish. To be honest, from an everything perspective, this week has been fairly rubbish. I've been dealing with some unfortunate personal business that has taken up large swaths of my daylight hours, and left me wrung out, irritable, and exhausted by dinner. Up until yesterday evening, I hadn't managed to write anything this week. It was almost worse than being stuck on a story, because at least when I'm stuck, I'm sitting down in front of the open notebook and trying. 

I couldn't even bring myself to try.

Finally, I told myself that even a sentence was better than nothing. I wrote 250 words, and figured out an Important Plot Complication. A moral victory more than anything else, but enough of one I no longer feel lost.

Every time I finish something, part of me worries that is the last story I'll be able to tell. Not that I'll run out of ideas, but that I'll lose the ability to turn an idea into a story. Particularly on days when I haven't been able to write, or write well, recently, sitting down at that notebook, and picking up the pen, is an act of blind faith It's an act of conscious imagination, perhaps not a willing suspension of disbelief, but a willed one. A decision to jump, and trust the the story will be there to catch me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who knows where that might lead?

Clarion was my first experience of a writers' workshop. Or writing group. Or really any situation where my writing was critiqued outside of turning in my dissertation chapters to my advisor. As far as learning to take criticism of my work, it was pretty much trial by fire.

Here's how it worked: When it was my story's turn to be critiqued, I would sit, silently, while the seventeen other participants in the workshop each had two minutes (with the option of asking for thirty seconds of extra time) to say what they thought about my story. Then, when that was done, the instructor (or instructors, in the case of the last two weeks) had as much time as he or she desired to say things about my story. When you have that little time to speak, you normally do not begin with, "I loved this." Or if you do, it is quickly followed by, "having said that..." and a two minute list of all the things that were not loved. Only after all of that was finished, could I speak. I don't remember who it was who suggested that the person being critiqued should write down what people were saying rather than trying to remember what was going on. I do know, some days, that's what kept me from breaking down.

I think I only cried once.

But as difficult as some critiques were, once I understood that people were motivated not by a desire for cruelty, but a desire to make the story better, it got easier to sit through them. The thing that became difficult was knowing what to do after, when it came time to revise.

I think one of the most important skills a beginning writer can have is the ability to take criticism. I also think an important corollary to that is that knowing when not to take criticism is equally important.

Sometimes the when not to point is easy to see, because your beta-readers will agree that something is wrong, but split, and in diametrically opposed ways, as to how the wrong can be fixed. But sometimes the fix that is being proposed, that nearly all the well-meaning and helpful people who have read your story agree on, is actually wrong. It will break your story. Learn to recognize that. Learn to trust your story.

But don't ignore the critiques. Even if you know something won't work, or you hate the fix that is being proposed, take the time to think about why the solution is unworkable, why you hate it. You will learn more about your story, and maybe an entirely new solution will appear.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Things fall apart. It's scientific.

I sat down at the computer to write this post two hours ago. I think that sort of proves my point.

Here's where I was going to start:

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of a work/ life balance. The first thing I decided, is that I hate the phrase "work/ life balance." It conjures in my mind a series of scales in equipoise, with Writing in this one, and Day Job work (being a professor) in that. Over here is Sleep, and that one contains Doing Things What are Fun.

Of course, I have already forgotten to include things like eating, walking the dog, taking a shower.

So no. My life is not balanced. I cannot come up with a schedule that will balance my life, because I hate schedules. They make me really, seriously pissy. So no "write for two hours, then one hour of research, then three hours of packing" for me. No, what I need, like Teresa Jusino, is a way to keep my ideas from killing me. (Or a TARDIS.)

Because even on a normal day, there is so much I want to do. And the big problem, is that my life is not normal right now. Not even close. I am moving across the country in approximately a month. This September, I am starting a new job. I cannot put my life and my work into a series of scales and make it balance because someone keeps coming along and adjusting the mechanism.

I do not have a work/ life balance. I have a work/ life evolution.

It has taken me a really long time to begin to come to grips with the idea that, at the end of the day, the only one who has to like the way my life looks is me. (And the "to begin" is not verbal hesitation. It is exactly what I mean. I am, to borrow Cat Valente's classification, a Fat Buddha who feels guilty when she doesn't behave like a Skinny Buddha. I'm working on the guilt thing.) So I've been trying to  think seriously about what I want my life to look like, and what I need to do to make sure that it does. To know what I want, and to be flexible about the way that I get there. To realize that it's okay that I am lucky enough to be doing what I love, and that just because I enjoy doing something doesn't mean it is not work, and that maybe I need a break from it. (And that there is a difference between giving my brain a break and being lazy, and that the first one is actually good.)

Things happen. Schedules go awry. There are unexpected good and bad things that just pop up. Things may fall apart. I'm trying not to.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The foul rag and bone shop of the heart

There's this scene in Linger. A series of three scene, to be specific. A death, a funeral, and vengeance taken. I hate writing it. Absolutely hate it. It's an emotionally and physically brutal thing to put my pov character, Aislinn, through.

It's also the thing I'm most proud of having written.

One of the hardest things for me to do when I write is to put the emotions on the page. It's a difficult thing for me to do in real life, too - to make myself accessible enough to my friends that they know what I'm feeling. I don't want to burden anyone with my difficulties. So when I write, it's easier for me to use my skill with language to obscure the lack of emotion than it is to wallow in the messiness. And perversely, the times when I most need to make things real on the page - during the difficult, wrenching scenes - are the times that I'm most likely to feel that it's all too much.

This scene was the first time I didn't do that. Where I looked at what the story needed, and how it needed it, and then sat down and wrote that. I remember shaking while writing the scene, and feeling nauseated. A small part of me was really disturbed that what I was writing had been in my head. Most of me was just cold, watching things unfold, and knowing I had just found one of the foundational moments in my book. When I finished, I hugged my dog and cried.

Then, of course, I got scared. I didn't even reread that part of the book when I went through any of the previous rewrites and revisions. I knew I had gotten it right, because I remembered how horrible it was to write. There was no reason to put myself through that again.

I looked at it again last night. I had to. One of the goals of this revision is to make the emotion on the page more obvious. I knew I would be betraying myself and my story if I only did that where it was easy. So I revised the scene, making it better (worse?). It was horrible - not the scene, the writing of it. But I couldn't just leave that part of the story alone, because it was hard to live in those emotions, because I hated writing it, because part of me still can't believe that came out of my head. It is, perhaps, the most horrible thing I've ever put down on paper. And the one I am proudest of writing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shiver and say the words of every lie you've heard

Sorry I haven't been blogging regularly. I have discovered that revisions are like zombies: they eat brains. By the end of the day, I can barely speak in coherent sentences, much less think about blog posts to write. Also, revisions hurt. I am definitely buying a new desk and a fabulous (and ergonomic) desk chair when I move. (Which, by the way, will be sooner. The closing has been moved up a week, to 21 May. Um, yikes?! Twin Cities area people - or nonlocals who want to stop by - there will be a Going Away Shindig.)

But life is not all slaving away over a hot manuscript, so here are some things I have recently loved:

The Sorcerer's House, by Gene Wolfe. An epistolary novel! By Gene Wolfe! Gene Wolfe is one of the most precise writers I have ever read. Every word in the text is important, and is exactly what it should be. His characters are often people I wouldn't allow in my house, but I cannot stop reading about. He is an excellent, excellent writer, and this book is brilliant. Also, epistolary novels are perhaps my favorite literary form ever, and it is a form that is perfectly deployed here. 

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum. Seriously, do you need anything other than the title to decide to read this? I tore through it in a day. It's that good. I picked it up for research for a future book I want to write (spec fic procedural, not to be begun until I have a better grip on writing with plot). It's full of grisly and wonderful detail, and Blum's writing gives as much insights into the people as the science.

Terminal. Peter Gregson. I'm not sure exactly the technical music term to describe Peter Gregson's music. Avant-cello, maybe? But as far as I'm concerned, the best term for it is amazing. I've been a fan of his music since the first time I heard it, and this album is so good it blows his others (which, let me be clear, are fabulous) away. It's so beautiful, that I stop thinking, "holy cats, a cello can do that?!" and just listen. (And I forget that I have a rubbish shoulder, and think seriously about taking up cello.) Available in limited release, only through the end of this month. Terminal is music to think to.

Evelyn Evelyn. Evelyn Evelyn. I had my doubts, serious serious doubts, when I first heard about this project. I love Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley. They make brilliant music. But I really do not love concept albums. I think they are like idea stories - they often crumble under the weight of their own conceit. This one doesn't. It's lovely and sad and smart and snarky and very, very knowing. Oh, and the music is great.

Finally, my friend Megan wrote an extremely lovely poem

Monday, April 12, 2010

Would you stand up and walk out on me?

I have begun to hear back from my beta-readers with feedback for the revision of Linger. I have a love-hate relationship with getting feedback on my writing. (Not with my beta-readers. For them, all I have is love. Seriously. Anyone who takes time out of their life to give me critical feedback on a novel-in-draft rocks. Hard. Let me know which kidney you want, guys.) But for actually getting the feedback.

I mean, look. I know the novel isn't perfect. I know this because no one has yet shown up to deliver unto me by fiat the Nobel, a Pulitzer, and a Hugo, wrapped in a shiny film option. But the thing about critical feedback, is it's critical. I didn't ask these people to give me warm fuzzy pats on the back and praise my elegant turn of phrase and piquant deployment of metaphor. I asked them to read my manuscript and be ruthless, because I want it to be better. To be as great as I can make it.

That doesn't mean there isn't a part of me that secretly wishes that someone would love the novel, just as it is. Or that I don't get a little discouraged when my literary inadequacies are illuminated. Because I tried, as hard as I could, to get it right the first time, you know? But there's that gap, between the shape of the story in my head, and the words that are on the page. And I'm too close to the story in my head to see when the words on the page don't tell it. Sometimes when I thought I was leaning into the blade, I was just giving myself a papercut, and I need someone to stand behind me and push.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This is not my beautiful house

The big news here is that my house is sold. I signed the purchase agreement last weekend, and the buyer's inspection was this past week. No repairs were requested, so everything is official. Closing will be 28 May, at which point I will leave for Stony Brook, NY. 

I am completely thrilled. For the small reason that, oh dear Lord, having the house on the market was the most annoying thing ever. I had a great and patient realtor, who didn't make me do a lot of staging or any of that sort of silliness, but there were people who came through who were not awesome. Even though it was only on the market for 13 days, I was ready to be done.

I'm thrilled for the larger reason that hurrah! now I do not have to pay a mortgage and utilities on a house I am not living in while simultaneously paying rent on Long Island. My fellowship is a good one, but it is not a never-empty bag of money. It's also nice to be able to just go, keeping only the ties to this place that I want.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nobody knew what kind of magic spell to use

The always excellent Jim C. Hines is hosting a not-a-raffle to raise money for rape crisis centers. The prize in a signed ARC of the next book in his Princess series, Red Hood's Revenge (But wait! A second prize has been added, since over $1000 has been raised! A signed copy of Heroes in Training.) RAINN is an organization that helped me a lot, and is really close to my heart. The not-a-raffle ends on 16 April. I encourage you to make a donation and participate if you can.


I figured out the second writing project that I am going to be working on while I write Seen (which is still cooperating. Hurrah! I am not broken.) I am revising Linger.

For those of you who do not yet have the various and sundry details of my life memorized, Linger is the novel that I finished at the end of last year, and have been querying agents about. Recently something happened that for now I'll call interesting, as I don't quite feel comfortable going into detail about it. As a result of this interesting development, I am revising the manuscript.

Here's the thing. When I started sending out query letters, I had made the story as good as I could have at that point. I had already done two substantive rewrites, two manuscript-wide revisions, and one focused revision. I had sought and incorporated feedback from a very large number of readers, both of the writerly sort and of the normal human variety. It was the best that I could do. Then.

Now, I'm making it better. The temporal space has given me enough distance that I can see flaws that I couldn't before, and it's less painful to fix them. And I'm also a better writer now. It's the reality of learning any skill - your early efforts are unlikely to be your best. 

Does this mean that I shouldn't have sent the manuscript out when I did? No. Because I needed to learn how to do that, too: how to put together a query letter, and a synopsis (oh, bless you, agents who do not requite a synopsis) and how to think about having something larger than a short story out and under consideration. Because I was done telling that story, and needed to move on to the next one.

And mostly because I think that writing never actually gets to be perfect. I think there's always a gap between the shape of the story in my head (shining, lapidary, and perfect) and the shape of the story on the page. I think my duty to the story is to get it as close as I can to perfect at that time and then to know when to let it go. I don't think this is being lazy, or settling. It's just that there are a lot of stories that I want to tell. Too many to spend all of my life polishing one.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reading the entrails

Rejection is a major part of being a writer. Not just for beginning writers, and not just for the less talented. Rejection is so common that it's very nearly a stock part of the story of any wildly successful book or writer to mention how many places passed on the book or didn't sign the writer.

Generally, I think this is fine. I want to live in a world with a wide diversity of literary tastes. I want to place my work in the markets that are most enthusiastic about it. When I get to the point of having an agent and a publisher, I want those people to be as passionate about my project as I am. 

But there are different kinds of rejections. And that's where the crazy begins. Because when being turned down is a major part of your career, you learn coping skills. Rejection letters become chemistry experiments: The Distillation of Hope from Despair.

The basic form rejection. There's not much you can do to parse those, although I am sure there are writers out there who try. "Best of luck in my future endeavors. Hmm. Does that mean that he thinks I need luck? Does she want me to have future endeavors?" "The promised response time was 80 days. It took 79 to reject this. Maybe they came really close to taking it?" 

The rejection with feedback.  A good rejection! My story made it out of the slush pile, and into the hands of someone on the masthead! But wait - what do you mean, you just weren't intrigued by my sparkly zombies? The sparkly zombie was the heart of the story - a comment on the gilded decay of today's society. 

The market-fail rejection. As is, "this story was very well done, but too [fill in the blank] for us." (Still a good rejection, because hey! feedback from an actual person.) Note to self: Do not send your lusty pirate story to a market that does not like stories about lusty pirates. Even if your pirates were the lustiest ever, that market will not buy your story. Arrr. 

The rewrite request. Excellent! Not a rejection! (yet.) Now, I just need to turn these lusty pirates into sparkly zombies.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I am a jester in the ancient court

Switching to a new project seems to have been the right idea. As I noted on Twitter yesterday, I got more writing done in one eighteen hour stretch than I had in the previous two weeks. (And then I wrote some more after that.) What feels even better than then simple act of being able to actually sit down and write again is the fact that I don't feel like I'm constantly pushing myself out of my way as I set things down on the page. I can see enough ahead of myself to feel like I am writing towards something, rather than desperately trying to just keep up with where I am. I've also settled into a comfortable voice and vocabulary for the project, current working title, Seen.

I'm also thinking about going back through my notebooks of ideas and unfinished beginnings and seeing if anything else catches my fancy. I work much better - less emotional drama, more efficiently - when I am working on multiple projects (and maybe that was part of my problem with The Widening Gyre as well, as, except for occasional bouts of short story, that was the only major project I was working on). Currently I'm poking at doing course prep for the fall, but that's a thinking project, not a writing one, and the Shakespeare and Sandman nonfiction thingie (yes, that is the technical academic term) is still in the research stage. (Current working title: Kings of Infinite Space.) Because I am an enormous nerd, research never feels enough like work to me to mentally qualify as an alternate project, and it especially won't right now, as I've gotten through the main secondary texts I wanted to look at and am about to commence rereading Sandman. (Yes, yes, my life is hard, that this is what I do for my job.) So I think I need to add one more thing to the mix in order to be balanced.

(Or maybe I could just put in another parenthetical, as this post is rife with them.)


Monday, April 5, 2010

Running to stand still

I hate not finishing things. It feels like failure. Like if I had just tried one more time, found a different way of looking at things, just worked a little bit harder, I would have found the magic and succeeded. Instead, I took the easy way out, and quit.

I've been working on a novel for a while now. The working title was The Widening Gyre. I loved the world I was writing in,  and I had good, interesting characters. Except, when I got about a third of the way through, I started writing  in circles - good scenes that had only the most tenuous connection to the story I was telling, digressions that moved ever farther away from the main line of story. So I stopped writing. Looked back over everything. Chopped things out, tightened characters put the plot in. And started moving forward again.

Then, a little bit ago, I started having the same problems again. My word count started slowed to a trickle of only a couple hundred words on a good day. For a while, I ignored that - I had just put my house on the market,  my fall book orders were due, there was some family drama - there were enough legitimate reasons why writing was more difficult than I would have wanted it to be for me to not ask why I wasn't making progress on the story. 

Sitting down this weekend to transcribe the words from the notebook into the computer, I realized there was more to the problem than I had let myself see. It wasn't just that I was writing slowly, it was that what I was writing was flat. Technically competent but nothing more. The problem was, I didn't really care any more. Oh, sure, I cared about the act of writing, the idea that I had started something and I ought to finish it. There were some good bits. But I didn't really care about the story itself. I no longer knew what my characters wanted, and I just wasn't interested enough to find out.

If it had been a short story, I probably would have finished it. It's good to finish things, better to finish them and see why they failed, instead of just quitting. But I was just a little over a third of the way through a novel that would have been between 90-100K if I had kept going. That's a lot of time to waste, to spend banging my head against a wall. So I stopped.

I'm not proud of doing that. But if I don't care about the story that I'm telling, no one else will either. And I didn't burn the notebook, or delete the file. Because there are good bits in there. Because it is an interesting world. Because one day I may see the way into the story that is supposed to be told about those people and that place.

And then I sat down, and thought about the story I do want to tell right now. I opened up a notebook, scribbled down a working title, and wrote the opening.