If you’re trying to get through a maze and you come to a dead end, you go back and look for the first wrong turn you took, you don’t stand there pressing your body into a hedge trying to will the pathway to appear. –Martha Wells on Plot Stalls
It’s taken me this long, 10+ years since I started writing again, to mostly be able to tell the difference between procrastinating and waiting.
Procrastinating is when I have something to write, but it feels too hard, or I’m being lazy, or I just can’t get started (because writing is scary, yo!).
Waiting is when things need time to come together in my mind, thought A colliding with thought T; the idea for a scene that’s not quite right yet because I’m looking at it wrong or because it’s default, it’s boring, it needs to be turned on its head or twisted 30 or 125 degrees before it’s right for what I’m working on; or it’s something I’ve got wrong and until I figure out what it is and go back and fix it, I can’t go forward.
The things I do when I’m procrastinating look very, very similar to what I’m doing when I’m waiting, but the internal feeling is very different. If I’m procrastinating there’s an edge of irritation, of impatience, directed at myself, that I’m not writing and I should be writing. It might take a bit for me to notice, acknowledge and act on it, but it’s there.
When I’m waiting, I have to wait. I can’t rush it. I can’t force it. I can coax it, by feeding the garden inside me where my writing comes from, by reading fiction and non-fiction and watching TV (sometimes really great fiction and TV, sometimes really bad fiction and TV), exercising, hanging out with friends. Whatever fills the well.
Sometimes I still get it wrong. Sometimes I’m procrastinating when I think I’m waiting, and vice versa. But slightly more often than not, I’m finally figuring it out.
I’ve just been tagged by Alison Cherry to do the 777 Challenge. The rules: post seven sentences of your work, start on page seven, seven lines down. The following is from my inspired by the Byzantine Empire meets 1910s suffrage NYC meets bio-based technology science fantasy that may or may not be YA:
My grin felt like it would break my face. “We won!” I shouted at him and his face did crack, his mouth and eyes open wide, his usually unflappable bay mare jigging under him. I allowed myself to believe it was surprised amazement but a cold worm of worry turned over in my stomach. “I told you,” I crowed, “I told you I could win.”
“What have you done?” He shouldered into me and seized Red Nettle’s reins, pulling cruelly at his mouth to halt him, and that more than anything brought home to me the depth of his horror. Magister Peres did not abuse his horses. Ever.
I’m tagging Casey Blair, Tam MacNeil and Shawn Anderson, but only if they want to play.
Just because. (Or because I’m procrastinating.)
With a Shield, a person could not be augmented without their knowledge and consent; parents told their children stories about the poor unfortunates in Zyxx who didn’t control their own Shields and the wretched victims in the Land of Those that Speak, where they didn’t have Shields at all. Children whispered stories of the wild blending of animal, plant and human there or the cruel augmentations the stronger forced on the weaker.
The idea of not having my Shield was very disturbing.
Also, I’m on Tumblr now at The Fourth Gorgon.
Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything new here AND it’s almost time for the new VP class so I thought I’d mention a few things I wish I’d known beforehand:
The topic of the one-on-one sessions are completely up to you. You can take the opportunity to ask for specific feedback on your submission or you can ask anything at all (within the bounds of polite behavior). I wish I’d gone in a little more prepared, but my sessions were still awesome (probably due to the quality of the instructors, not my tongue-tied, shy questions). They are there to help you improve your writing.
You can ask the staff anything (even if it seems slightly beyond the bounds of polite behavior). If you’re having trouble adjusting, let them know. If you unexpectedly get your period (or whatever the manly equivalent is) they will go out and buy you supplies and it will be no big deal. They are there to help. They are also writers and attendees of previous VPs and know lots of things.
I never used my laptop during the sessions but it was still important to have. I took handwritten notes and two of my classmates recorded the sessions and made them available to the rest of the class. Two years later I still go back and listen to them, but it would have been great to have my own–especially of the group critique sessions, where a certain person with the initials PNH speaks at the speed of light. Just saying. YMMV.
It’s ok to ask the instructors if you can follow up with them after VP is over. I am terrible at this. I’m still kicking myself for not following up with Uncle Jim.
I brought an eye mask and ear plugs and I used them. I could have brought the whole pack of earplugs and shared them with people who didn’t. They were crucial for me to get to sleep.
Everyone is telling you not to go in sleep deprived: DON’T GO IN SLEEP DEPRIVED.
And don’t forget to have fun.
ETA suggestions from the VP community: Get a flu shot! If traveling from overseas get a travel health insurance policy to cover you.
What am I working on?
I’m working on something new. It’s such early days (not even 40k words) that I don’t even know what it is yet, but I’m going with young adult epic science fantasy for right now. Whatever it is, I’m having fun.
My WIP is about a young woman named Kel. She discovers her world is not as egalitarian as she thought it was after she wins a horse race and is fined for racing while female. The penalty is so high, her parents tell her the only way out for everyone is if she becomes a candidate for the Perfectors, a group of women with a special kind of biological augmentation, who serve the emperor directly. Only half of the candidates survive the process. Plus her new bodyguard is an old friend she hadn’t seen in ten years, her best friend leaves the country on a scientific expedition in the jungle and the other Perfector candidates have their own set of problems. Kel tends to leap before she looks when dealing with all these people and it keeps getting her in trouble.
How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I really like what Blair MacGregor said about novelty being overrated. I see myself as part of a (really loosely defined) younger generation of writers who are exploring what it means to have a diverse cast of characters, to take fantasy out of pseudo-medieval Europe, to bring science into fantasy and to play with the idea of cultural and technological change. I feel like I owe a lot to writers that have been writing for while, like Martha Wells and Kate Elliott, and newish writers, like Alaya Dawn Johnson, Rae Carson and NK Jemisin, to name just a few. But it’s also the zeitgeist…we’re all a product of our times, and my generation is diverse, is tired of pseudo-Europe (the popularity of Game of Thrones notwithstanding) and is steeped in science and cultural and technological change like no other. This is what our lives are like, and so what we write reflects that.
That said, I could no more write like any of those authors than they could write like me because we all write through a prism of our own personal experience. I like writing about women who are righting wrongs, who are doing things, but not necessarily swinging a sword and killing people, about the places where cultures rub up against each other and about the consequences of violence and imperialism and oppression.
Why do I write what I do?
What I write is a reflection of me and my beliefs about the world. I also write the types of stories I would like to see out in the world. I write what I want to read. But even more, I write because it satisfies a fundamental need, and what bubbles up out of my subconscious often surprises me. That’s where most of the fun is…
How does my writing process work?
Every one of my stories has started from an unconscious amalgamation of things/people/places I’m reading or thinking about or seeing somewhere and my own experiences, which creates the impression of a person in a place. The two are linked and are equally strong and if I have one but not the other I don’t have the beginnings of a story yet. As soon as she entered my mind Kel was Kel, she had always been sneaking into a horse race and had always lived in a semi-arid eastern Mediterranean-like land. I write down that initial sense, sometimes just a line, sometimes an entire scene, and I sit with it. Sometimes I sit with it for a long time. Kel’s been waiting in my head for almost two years while I worked on other things.
Each scene I write leads to something else, though not necessarily in chronological order and not necessarily quickly. At this stage I write morning pages every day and a lot of my ideas for scenes, conflicts, plot and other characters come up organically. Others I work at, writing/asking myself “What happens next? What does it mean that she’s just been sold to the Perfectors? What does her best friend do?” sometimes there are whole weeks that I don’t know what happens next and I have to wait, journaling and reading other things (and watching a lot of TV), until I figure that out, or figure out my subconscious is telling me I did something wrong that I have to go back and fix before I can keep going forward. About the only time I go back and read what I have written is when I have to fix something.
At about the almost halfway point I start to get a glimmering of what the ending is going to be and I consciously start steering towards it. (Usually there is a lot of panic until I figure this out, along the lines of “Is this going to work? Will I figure out a way to end this? Has all of this writing been a waste?” “What kind of writer am I if I don’t know the ending to my own story?”) Once I have a full draft I start putting the pieces together (Scrivener actually makes this pretty easy) and then I revise and revise and revise, 18 or 20 times until I have a book and not a barebones bunch of unconnected scenes. I think of this part as what an oyster does when it creates a pearl—layers and layers of fixes and meaning and improving. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I do the first draft longhand in a notebook. The second draft is when I type it into the computer, fixing and fleshing it out, and I do that as I finish each scene or, more realistically in one long go over the weekend.
When it’s ready I send it out to a few special critique partners who tell me everything that is wrong. Usually I’ve overlooked some ridiculously important plot point, or a character’s reaction to something is totally not in character, and then I have to fix it. Once I agonize and journal and write and rewrite those fixes I send it to a whole bunch of beta readers to get reactions to tweak the story and fix any other problems that come up.
I’ve had this poem stuck in my head for a few days now.
It has echoes of childhood for me–this is nose and the mouth and the eye–but the topic is anything but. It gives us all of the particulars, but never the whole; our understanding has to supply, maybe immediately or not until the end, what the whole is. That’s very much what poetry is to me: a naming of parts that adds up to something unstated, supplied by the reader.
Naming of Parts
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.