Writer's Block

Writer’s Block is often only a failure of nerve, but don’t let that bother you.

I did something foolish last night and went back to re-read what I’ve been doing from the beginning.

“Now how can re-reading your writing be foolish?” I hear you ask. Or would if I could hear what people not even in my house are saying when the air conditioner’s white noise interferes with me being able to hear my son…


We were talking about foolish, weren’t we?

The writing method I use is basically to go hammer and tongs at the first draft until it is done — not bothering to re-read more than yesterday’s work to get my mind in gear. I do this because without a first draft to rip apart and edit, you’re kind of screwed.

I found myself wanting to tweak stuff here, add a scene there… all the crap I knew I’d be tempted to do and would prevent me from that lovely -30- which means I can sit on it then go back and edit.

I did resist. (Aren’t you proud). And now I’ve got to put all that stuff out of my mind to finish That Damned Book.

Yeah, it’s That Damned Book again. I’ll love it later. Not now.

Handling Rejection and Criticism

Sent out a couple of queries to At the Foot of the Throne to agents today.

I always feel a little anxious when I send these things out, though mostly not.  I’ve a fine collection of rejection slips, so it’s not a huge deal to me.

People say you need a thick skin to break into writing.  I don’t necessarily know that’s so in the early stages.  A pre-printed rejection form doesn’t have the zing, I think, that a detailed analysis of why you suck would.  While a novice in the industry, I know the detailed analysis means you’re getting close, so I’m not so sure that would get to me all that much!

I often wonder how I’ll deal with the “yes”.  I mean, the rejection forms?  I’ve gotten plenty.  But critics?  That, I’ve never dealt with — or at least not much.   Wearing my other hat as a polyamory activist, and writing a weekly column, I do get people who disagree with my stuff all the time.  I cheer that, to be honest.  It means people are reading it, thinking about it and reacting.  I mean, sure, I get the occasional feedback that makes me grind my teeth a little.

How’s that gonna be with a published book?  No idea.  I’m often curious how the pros react.  <grin>

Creating the Ca-CHING!

I just wrote a synopsis for At the Foot of the Throne1. Since I’m trying to find an agent, of course, the first thing in my mind is, “Will this be interesting, entertaining and make the sound of a cash register ding in the back of the mind of the agent reading this?”

We all know that 15% of nothing is nothing, so you gotta make it marketable. Miss Snark used to say that good writing trumps everything. She’s right, of course, but I think that the “good writing” has to be in the sales pitch, too.

I’m too keenly aware of my own inexperience in this, too. On the one hand, I am a writer, an artiste. I create Great Art, dammit!2

But the creative person is also an entrepreneur — or needs to be if he doesn’t want The Dreaded Day Job.  Oh, I love to write.  I fall in love with my characters, I growl when something Just Doesn’t Soar.  The creative process… Well, it’s fun and glorious and so very glowingly alive.  Nothing in the world like it.

Where I think a lot of creative people fall down in trying to make a living at it (and me too), is that we forget that we have a great product — something people want.  That experience of being alive with the heart soaring up and down in the leaps and dives of the ocean of consciousness?  You help people feel that.   That’s worth a lot.  What a wonderful thing to be able to give when you can.

Don’t be modest or reticent about it — get the people with the printing presses and the distribution systems excited, too!  We all need it.

1And by the way you guys do realize that the working title usually doesn’t wind up being the sales title, right?

2 Or at least try to…

Chickening Out

I feel like I am chickening out a bit.

I’ve been having a hard time making my word count. Part of it is that I don’t start writing until nine at night. Now, by then, I’m tired.

Lotta people with day jobs who are morning people1 will get in their word counts the second they get home from work, and not emerge from their creative caves until they get their writing done.

I did that on my last book, but my living situation was a little different — for one, I had more time with my kids than I do now. I’ve been saving my writing time for after nine in the evening because of this.

I have several options. I could choose to write 500 words a day. That’s an easy word count to make, let me tell you!2 I could go back to hitting the word processor the second I get home, doing my word count, then socializing!

If I cut back to 500 words a day, I don’t get my first draft done until sometime in February.   My original schedule had me done in late October/early November.  If forcing myself to meet the more intense goals meant I was writing crap, though, I’d be cutting back and screw how long it takes.  Thing is, when I’m forcing myself to write, I write better.   It goes against a lot of fluffybunny “writer advice”.  Funny thing is, I don’t see the professionals I actually read giving it.   <snerk>  Which is really my answer, innit?

1 And oh, God, am I a morning person!
2 I seem to recall it was James Michener’s daily word quota, and he seemed to do all right in the prolific department, I think.

What Do You Do When You're Stuck?

I don’t know how many people who read this write on a regular basis or have specific writing goals. I can say that because I do have a production schedule I don’t always feel inspired when I write. Oh, sometimes I do, and it’s glorious. I love it. Those moments are genuinely the reason why I write because it’s so very good. Nothing is good always and all the time. Sometimes, I get stuck. These are things I do when I’m feeling uninspired.

  • Just 100 more words
    I have a writing goal of 1,000 words a day. Sometimes, this goal comes in 100 word bits. If I write 100 words more into the story, I’ll permit myself a sip of coffee, or a break to check my email or something else. This is useful when I’m mentally tired.
  • Writing in public
    Somehow, it’s easier for me to be committed to my word count if I’m out writing in public. There are fewer distractions around the house — no kitchen, no excuse to go get a book for awhile, usually no wireless connection to the Internet. For extra points, I’ll just write in public on my Palm Pilot and little keyboard, which has no Internet connection at all, so no temptation.
  • Theme song!
    Sometimes a scene has a particular song that “fits”. I’ll put that on repeat until I’m done with the scene.
  • Candy Bar Scene
    This is actually a tip from Holly Lisle, and it works well. When you’ve plotted your novel, there are going to be scenes you’re looking forward to writing. My own writing method involves keeping a list of scenes I’m to write in the order I’m putting them in the novel at the bottom of my word processing document. I can count down to the scenes I’m looking forward to. This can be a motivator!

What sorts of things do you find useful to keep you motivated on your projects?

Time to Write

“Oh, I’ll write that novel when I get the time.”

This actually makes me grind my teeth a little. Not because I think everyone in the world needs to write a novel. Hell, probably all novelists don’t need to be writin’ ’em, if you know what I mean. (Yes, yes, possibly me among them, so hush!)

Like anything important, though, you don’t find time to do it. You make time.

I didn’t always. I’d write when the Spirit moved me, and often it was good stuff — fun vignettes with interesting quirkiness or a tasty idea.

What I never do, unless I have a production schedule, is complete a novel.

At the Foot of the Throne was not actually the first novel I ever completed. The first was one called To Ride a Black Dragon (not fantasy — it was a contemporary piece) back in 1994. It was crap and unpublishable because there were points about plot and pacing I did not understand, but I did finish a novel, by golly.1 At the time I was not working full time, so I had a 10,000 word a week goal for myself. Doable if that’s all you’re doing, which in my case, it was.

These days it’s 1,000 words a day, but I don’t take weekends off, so you’re still looking at a 7,000 word week.

I’ve had people question the idea of just getting the work out like that. My reason for doing it is simple. When I have a challenging word count goal, I finish the first draft. I have something to edit and work with.

And at 1,000 words a day, you find yourself making time to do a little writing here, or a little writing there. Can you write 100 words while waiting for the water to boil for pasta? What about waiting for the bus?2

I used to have a writin’ ritual to get myself into the creative “mood”. I’d get up, have breakfast, make myself a latte, turn on a specific series of CDs and then settle down to write. The problem was that if, say, my then husband stayed home from work, or I didn’t have the equipment for a latte or something, the ritual was spoiled and it would throw me off my writing mood.

I stopped doing that and decided that as Frank Herbert so quaintly put it, “Mood is a thing for cattle or loveplay.” The goal, a finished product, was the important thing, so screw mood. Just write.

I’ve read more than one interview with journalists who turned to writing fiction who said that the deadlines and the pressure to put out copy were excellent training for the writing of fiction. With my own self-imposed deadlines, I’m inclined to agree.

‘Course it could be I’m completely talentless and will never make it anyway. But trying is fun!

1 It’s also salvageable, so it’s possible that I’ll go back and edit it pretty heavily, or even do a re-write, after Stoneflower.

2If you think that’s absurd, I promise you that if you go to a writer’s convention, you will find people who find weirder places to write than a bus stop!

Occupational Hazard

A big problem I have when I’m working on a first draft is weight gain. I tend not to be as fitness-oriented when I’m hammer and tongs at a first draft. You know how it is, your mind is on the book, and you’ve got a million other things to get done. The last thing you want to do is take time out to work out.

I’m actually really bad about it. I’ve not been working out like I should.

Thing is, if I’m going to have a sedentary profession, I really, really need to make sure my physical needs are taken care of. After all, you do think more clearly when your body is healthy. It’s the brain that’s the important thing as a writer, right?

I do have a pool membership and have decided to store my bathing suit in my locker there so that I have No Damn Excuse not to get my lazy butt into the pool on my lunch break and get all red in the face good and proper!

While I do have an Otterbox and waterproof earphones, I’m laying off using them in favor of using the time face down in the water to work on Stoneflower, getting my brain in gear for the night’s writing. I figure it’s a decent moving meditation. When I was a kid, I would often plot stories while riding my bike around Kennedy’s Pond, then beg permission to go out into the woods behind my best friend’s house where I’d soak my feet in the stream and actually write the story. (Oh god, if only I’d had a laptop or my Palm and keyboard then! I never did much like writing longhand).

I know of lots of writers who like to walk, and often use the time to work out stories in their minds as they do so.

I also like weights because I’m lazy. It doesn’t take very long with a pair of dumbbells to get in a decent strength-building workout. Heinlein, if I recall correctly, liked to do stone mason type work around the house to keep in shape, but still often bitched about the fact it was easy to get out of shape while working on a novel.

It’s rough, sometimes. What I really want to do is to park my butt in my writin’ chair with an appletini to get my writing done. What I really need to do is make sure I eat right and work out so that my body supports that brain I need for work. I ain’t slender and I’m naturally pretty sedentary. A serious writing project makes it that much worse!

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Hello World!

This is going to be my writing blog, even though I’ve populated it with a few other rants and raves on other topics — articles I liked and things like that.

Right now, I’m working on a novel tentatively titled Stoneflower. They say if you cannot describe your novel in twenty-five words or less, you’re off track and don’t have something marketable. As an exercise, I did it, but I’m not going to post it here, because it gives away the ending. It is fairly old-fashioned Good v. Evil and is in part an answer to a lot of the writers that are so popular today who say that Everything Was Wonderful Before All the Damned Patriarchs Came Through.1

The first draft should be done sometime around the end of October, first of November.

I’ll also be talking some about the marketing of At the Foot of the Throne, a fantasy novel I wrote last year, for which I am still trying to find a home. I’m waiting another month on the publisher where it is now, then I have to go through the whole pain in the ass of slogging it around again. I’m doing this without looking for an agent. Sometimes I think I’m being smart, other times, wondering if I am being lazy. Real Live Professional Writers seem so mixed in their advice on whether or not to try to find an agent early in one’s career. Steven King says you shouldn’t try to get one until you’re making enough to steal from, others say that you haven’t a hope in hell of marketing your stuff to anywhere good or getting a decent contract unless you do have an agent. Me? I’m just some goofy dreamer whining about her production schedule and word count. How could I have enough information to have an accurate opinion?

Anyway, Hi. It’s me…

Stoneflower Progress

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33,015 / 120,000

1Yes, I’ve read a lot of MZB in my time, why do you ask?

Cookin' Cheap

I’ve really become distressed lately at this idea that cooking/eating healthily is expensive.

Let’s give Ramen a score of ~$0.50 a package. (I’ve seen it on sale for less, yes)

For $.50 a serving, I can have (according to this week’s local grocery story circular):

  • Two Apples, or
  • A serving and a half of fresh broccoli or
  • Two servings of rough cut oatmeal or
  • Five ounces of chicken (if I’m willing to cut it up rather than buying pre-cut parts, and that’s gonna keep you full longer than the fucking ramen)
  • Four servings of brown rice or
  • A serving of flavored yogurt or
  • Four ounces of grapes (which is a lot of grapes)

Sorry, I don’t buy that a crap diet is cheaper. I’ll grant that there are plenty of people who don’t understand how to make a menu, or how to use leftovers well, or how to employ home-made soups and a freezer to prevent product waste, or don’t understand how to use fat healthily to promote saiety (read: Olive oil is your friend). But I don’t buy the idea of a crap diet being cheaper.

A Grammar Public Service Announcement

Your = possessive. i.e. Your car, your boat, your rotten grammar.

You’re = a contraction for “you are”. i.e. Your rotten grammar makes you look like you’re an idiot.

This is not aimed at the casual blogger. This is for people in professional fucking journals who, at least in theory, have fucking editors to catch shit like that.

You writers out there really oughta1 figure this stuff out, too, ya know. In theory, your tools are your words and you’re making yourself look like an idiot if you cannot employ your tools to your advantage to show you’re a professional.

Just sayin’.

1Yes, yes, yes, I’m aware when I write, I use colloquial terms. You’ll also note that I’m specifically doing so as a technique to mimic folksy speech on purpose. I am perfectly capable of writing formally when necessary. It is more often necessary in the course of my own work to create a rapport with my audience. This generally requires a certain rhythm to my “voice” best expressed by my native accent and speech patterns. If you think it is not a specifically-chosen technique, you’re sadly fooling yourself about the thought a writer puts into her craft!