Sum up

So…it’s been a while since I posted regularly here isn’t? 2017 was not a great year. 2018 was kind of tough too. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good times, but I didn’t have too much extra energy for blogging. But 2019 will be the 10 year anniversary of this blog, so I thought I’d try to resuscitate it by trying something new.

Since I’m dipping my toes in this self publishing thing I thought I’d post about some of the things I’ve learned and mistakes I’ve made. They’ll probably be short. Hopefully they will be of interest to someone besides myself.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a much better year.

I just looked at my blog stats, and since people seem to still be reading my posts about gender, poetry and books, I’ll try to keep doing those things too. 😉

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Stalled Again

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

The Difference between Procrastinating and Waiting

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.

State of the Writer

Hello! I haven’t been around here much.

I was struggling with my WIP that I’ve been working on, on and off for the last two years. I have a full plot arc for the main characters but the subplot involving a third character just hasn’t been gelling into anything. A few weeks ago, Tam challenged me to write a short story with a writing prompt of strange place names and I wrote the big climax for my WIP in a fit of inspiration. I thought maybe that would get the rest of it going too, but instead I wrote the short story, which turned out to be a chapter of a book I wrote the opening chapter for two years ago.

Since then I haven’t been able to stop writing the shiny new YA biopunk* science fantasy thingy that I started. Words have been coming like they haven’t been coming for months. 1000, 2000 even 3000 at a time, when I’ve been lucky to get 100 lately.

*Apparently this is a thing, but it’s not the thing I mean. I’m thinking more how Kameron Hurley talks about her God’s War books as bugpunk.

I think I’ve been working on the wrong thing. Or the shiny new project has been sitting in the back of my brain for long enough that I’m ready to write it. And the WIP, which I made a lot of progress on before grinding to a halt (like my first car, which leaked oil like a severed artery until it ran out, seized up and blew smoke all over the highway) needs to sit in the back of my brain.

I just hope it’s not for another two years, but I begin to detect a pattern. Two years here, two years there. I fight against it. I don’t want to be a slow writer. I don’t want to wait and flounder around wondering what I should be writing and not writing, which makes my unhappy and cranky. On the other hand, I love the feeling of flow, of the knowing what should be next, without having to strain so much for it. My subconscious has obviously been doing the work while I went about life.

And this one feels different (what a joke, each novel I’ve written or attempted to write has felt different), like it’s less of a rough draft than it usually is, with more of the details there. With maybe, dare I say it? slightly better writing than I usually have at this point in the process.

Everyone says don’t compare yourself to other writers. It’s hard not to when it seems publishing is speeding up exponentially and writers are writing two books (or four) a year (though not necessarily publishing them). But I’d have to say don’t compare yourself to yourself either. Just because the last book was hard doesn’t mean this one will be. Just because the last book was easy doesn’t mean this one will be. And maybe I was reaching too far beyond my capabilities with that WIP and I have to wait to grow into it (which isn’t a bad thing). Sherwood Smith told me once she is still waiting to grow into a story she wants to write and she’s been writing for decades.

Meanwhile, I’ll just chant my litany of other writers who have said they are slow: Franny Billingsley, Libba Bray, or um, that’s the end of my list. Who else has said they’re slow?

And a question: Anyone have a favorite scene from a book or movie where one character threatened another? It’s for the shiny WIP. I’m trying to figure out how I want a scene to go.

Learning to Write, Again

I’ve heard it said ‘You don’t learn to write; you learn to write each novel.’

I’ve written out of order and re-ordered scenes. I’ve written chronologically. I’ve cut out important secondary characters. I’ve cut the last 30,000 words and rewritten the end; I’ve cut the first 10,000 and rewritten the beginning. I’ve written longhand and on a computer; revised longhand and on a computer.

This is the first time I will change the names of one or both of the main characters when I’ve already written the entire story arc. It’s the first time I’ve decided that I don’t have enough POV scenes of a third character and I’m writing an entire story line to layer in on top of what I’ve already written. It’s the first time I’ve thought so analytically about what that story line has to be, rather than going on instinct and subconscious promptings. It’s the first time I’ve thought, “I want to mess with people’s heads with this one.” It’s the first time I’ve been so ambitious. It’s the first time I’ve really doubted I could do this, that I had the skills to do this—that sounds like I never doubted I could write a novel or never doubted my writing skills. That’s not true. But this is the first time I’ve known the kind of emotional impact I want to achieve and doubted that I could do it. With previous novels I wanted to tell a fun story. I want to do that now, but I want to give the reader a specific taste in their mouths, a flavor of emotion, when they close the book and I don’t have a map for that.

I’ve struggled with this book since its beginning, just a flash of a scene during NANO in 2011 when the book I had set out to write fell flat and short and I doodled to meet the word count to “win.” A boy and a girl, jumping into a canal and breathing water, scared, worried, awed. I was awed that I could write anything at all, after a year of death and worry and a marriage that felt like it was on the rocks and money worries and illness and no writing at all, at all.

It took a long time to figure out what it was about, to figure out the world, to figure out who the characters were and stop them from randomly murdering people I didn’t want them to murder. After Viable Paradise I couldn’t work on it at all, with too much new stuff crammed into my head to think about and work through. I took a six-month break. I rewrote an older MS that I still loved. I came back to the twins book (almost everyone in the MS is a twin—why not? I get to make the rules and it’s a cool idea) and it’s not as bad as I thought. Well, parts of it are soul suckingly awful. But other parts are kind of amazing and I think, “I wrote that??”

So I’m making color-coded index cards and re-arranging them (even though I’m using Scrivener which has color-coded index cards that can be re-arranged) and sometimes just holding them and thinking and procrastinating and panting after a much better shinier idea that will just be so much easier than this…And I’m learning to write this novel.

Hair, Glorious Hair

More than a few people have asked me why my characters in The Desert Wall (one of my WIPs) are so obsessed by hair. But aren’t we all obsessed by hair?

If your hair is curly you want straight; if it’s straight you want curly. Your mom wants you to cut your hair; your boyfriend doesn’t want you to ever cut it and couldn’t you grow it longer? You might have “good hair,” in which case you will probably be praised for it even though you had nothing to do with it, or “bad” and then you will probably spend lots of money, time and pain trying to make it “better.” (I don’t agree that white-looking hair is good and Black-looking is bad, but these words are still used a lot and I’m using them to make a point.) The book Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron is still banned and challenged in some places. Chris Rock made a movie all about hair. Maybe you’re a blond in a world of brunettes, maybe you’re not a blond but you dye your hair to look like one. Maybe you are a natural blond and you worry that it will darken as you get older. Maybe your hair has turned gray when you’re too young. Or just turned gray. Or maybe you’re a redhead and you always stand out in a crowd.

If you cut it and you’re a girl, you might be called a lesbian; if you don’t and you’re a boy, you might be called weird. (This was true when I went to high school. Is it still true? I hope it isn’t.) Hippies grew their hair out long and Black people in the 70s cultivated Afros, and there’s a song about that.

People cut a lock of hair from babies and put it in a book; when you join the military (if you’re a guy) it all gets cut off. My friend cried once because she’d been growing her bangs for years and a hairdresser cut them off. Maybe you’re balding because you’re a guy and you worry about that. Maybe you’re bald because you have cancer and you cover your head with hats and silky scarves. Maybe you shave off all your hair in an offering to your religion and then that hair is sold thousands of miles away to other countries where you wear someone else’s hair on your head in a weave, an extension, a wig.

I never understood the story of Samson and Delilah, I wanted to know why Rapunzel’s hair didn’t get ripped out at the roots when the prince climbed it, and I really liked Golden, a retelling of Rapunzel, by Cameron Dokey because Rapunzel is bald.

While I was writing TDW, I cut my hair for the first time ever above my ears. Really, really short. For most of my life I had long hair. I was told the pixie cut made me look younger, it made me look older, it made me look professional, it made me look hard, it made me look good. Everyone had something to say.

I also moved from a neighborhood in NYC that was mostly black, US-born Latino and white, to one that was very mixed: Hasidic Jews and old Russian immigrants, South Asians from Bangladesh and India, Mexicans, Tibetans, Caribbean Blacks, African-Americans and whites. But my block was mostly Hasidic Jews and Russian immigrants and Bangladeshis on the next block over. Some days I was the only person walking down the street without my hair covered by a snood, wig, scarf, hijab, veil, turban, taqiyah or kufi. So yeah, I was thinking about hair. But so is everyone else.