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Writing Update July

Saturday the 5th is my last day of work.  Starting next week, I’m launching into being a full time writer (well, and student once that starts, but it is for writing, so it hopefully won’t slow me down too much).

So it is time for an update on what I’m working on and what I intend for the next 6 months or so.

Things That Need Doing:

Dangerous novel rewrite/2-3 months.

Poetry chapbook for school funding: I meant to do this, still might.

Monsters short story rewrite: By September

Delilah short story revision: End of July

Bladebearer short story rewrite: By September

Projects that will be started and/or finished in 2008:

Bad Day graphic novel (the written part at least, we’ll see how Law School treats my artist). This is about half done now (the writing part).

Past Dark graphic novels (started hopefully, definitely not finished since that could take a long time).  This is partially done, not sure when/if it will be finished (the writing part).

Werewolves in Space novel: outlined fully now, will be started next.

Chwedl novel: outlined fully, have about 200 handwritten words so far.  I think this will be my “when tired of staring at computer screen” project since I’m crazily writing it by hand.

Why Speculative Fiction: Attempt #1

Recently, as I was explaining to a friend the plot of one of my novels, the question of why I write speculative works came up.  It is one I’ve been tossing around for a while as I face the scary unknown of Graduate school, a place  not generally known for its tolerance of the pulpier lit.  I think my desire to write science fiction and fantasy stems from a few different reasons.  And I’m not sure I’ve figured all of them out as yet, thus this is only the first attempt to answer the question of why I like to tell the stories I tell.

First, and most obviously, I tend to read science fiction and fantasy by preference.  I like exploring vast worlds and finding out about things I will never encounter outside of vague dreams and dusty mindscapes.  I also look for strong, character driven work and have found that good speculative fiction delves deeply into what it means to be human or alive in ways that ‘reality’ tries to prevent in lit fic.  I like to read it, therefore why shouldn’t I want to write what I enjoy reading?

On another level, I write speculative fiction because I am not a subtle person.  The very best of literary fiction, in my opinion, either has speculative elements to it or else has very subtle explorations of character and place.  My writing is, like its creator, not a subtle thing.  I paint with a wide brush and have learned to let the details present themselves to the readers as needed.  Perhaps this is a weakness, I’m not sure.  I like to make broad strokes of character and to leap into the vastly strange landscapes of my mind without having to worry overly much about whether or not something is real as opposed to just plausible.  Fantasy, especially, gives me that freedom.  I don’t have to over think the details, instead I’m free to wander and dream.

And finally, well, I’m a bit nuts.  I have a very visual/sensory brain.  Everything in my head is either conceptual or else runs like a  constant incoherent movie completely with smells, touch, tastes, sight, and sound.  This constantly bleeds out into the real world around me in the form of hallucinations.  My existence is a constant filtering of real vs not real.  So my writing becomes an outlet, a way to slow down and stop having to run at doublespeed.  This is why I need so much time and space physically and mentally to write.  I have to be able to cut off from the constant and instant decisions of real/not real and turn the senses loose to channel my inner/outer world into something others can share.  Speculative fiction lets me be free to delve into the sometimes alien landscapes of my brain so I can express the oddness of my second senses.  I have no stats for this, so it is a random guess based on author’s blogs I’ve read, but I think that probably highly visual people would be more attracted to science fiction and fantasy (and horror too) than to straight lit fic or something more literal like crime/mystery.   If I had an ounce of artistic talent/ability in me, I’d probably mostly give up writing novels and just write/draw graphic novels.  Or if I were rich, I’d make movies.  But I’m not rich, and I can’t draw well at all. So I write.  And I write the fantastic in all its familiar and imperfect forms as they come to me out of the writhing, crying dark.

Quickies (1)

I have an adviser.  This is both a good and a bad thing.  The good is that I have an adviser.  The bad is that his area of specialty is in 19th/20th century American Lit.  Which I generally hate with a burning unreasonable (or entirely reasonable if you’re me) passion.  So, um, I’m doomed.  Though if I write War Witches for my thesis project, he might like it if he gets past the, you know, magic part.  After all, it is about 19th C. America.   Just, better.

Other than that, I’ve been swamped by work.  Sigh.  But I’m slowly doing at least somewhat writing related things like editing and idea generation.  I also have yet another idea for a yet another novel.  It is going to take a couple lifetimes at this rate just to get this stuff into draft form, much less completed.

I think I can. I think I can.  I think I can.

Real Life Intrudes

My paying job, as I like to call it, is giving me plenty of extra hours lately. This is good on the whole paying for grad school front, but very bad on the whole editing three short stories and rewriting a novel front.

I worked a couple 61 hour weeks followed by food poisoning followed by a horrendous cold/fever. Needless to say, I’ve done very little writing in the last few weeks. Fortunately, I seem to work in binges, so hopefully as I feel better and my work schedule regulates, I’ll get more of the unpaid work (ie writing) in. I realize that many writers have full time jobs. I don’t think I could do it, however. Even working 36 hours a week takes a huge toll on my writing productivity and free time. I suppose for me it is a matter of priorities. I do tend to read a book a day (or every two or three days depending on length), as well as hang out with my husband and roomates and play videogames or watch DvDs. It’s about finding balance, as with anything in life.

Writing always seems to suffer first, however. I think that is because I really do require a certain amount of space and alone time to listen to the things in my head for the production of coherent stories and ideas. All work and no play, etc… I have three print outs full of comments on my stories as well as a word doc with comments from my online workshop readers. They are waiting for me to have the brain power and the time to deal with them.

I think I’m going to make a 500 a day rule until I am no longer working an extra 16 hours a week. 500 words of either revision or writing, every week day. It isn’t the two hours a day I was managing before, but with the extra days of work, I think this is a more reasonable expectation of myself. Hopefully this won’t last more than a month. Money is all well and good, but at 500 words a day, finishing a 100k word plus draft of a novel will take, well, forever. (Or actually 200 days, which might as well be forever and is certainly not going to get me to my goal of polished novel by Dec. 31st).

Time to go get those 500 words done before I have to leave for work.

Too Many Ideas?

I’m in the middle of a discussion with a friend about being trapped with too many ideas. I have four or five (or six if you count the sequel to one of those) good ideas all outlined and ready to go. I want to write all of them. Right Now. Of course, I don’t have the time or even the multitasking ability to pull that off. I might be able to work on two, maybe. I think the writing might suffer, however.

So what should I do? How do I pick which to work on? I’m inclined towards the Dangerous novel since some interest was garnered from that novel by a major publishing houses’ editor. However, the others are speaking to me as well. I find myself daydreaming entire scenes and character exchanges for the Werewolves in Space novel, or literally dreaming about the quest part of the Welsh fairy tale novel. I watch Handscio and Brynna train together and fight in my head, watch her change from a sickly, overweight selfpitying teen into a resourceful and powerful young fey. I dream of dragons and flying and know that I am Jax from Werewolves in Space, dreaming of the same things. And I see Radiant from Bladebearer raising his new sister and new tribe as they form new songs and evade hunters while his other sister seeks both him and the sword. (Stupid short story that wants to be a novel, sigh). I see also a slave, a holy man, escaping and being rescued during the American Civil War by twin witches in Appalachia. I can feel the mists that they call to confuse the soldiers and lead them away from their lands, I can hear the axe as it goes into the threshold cutting the pain of a childbirth.

They are all there, my stories. Waiting, wanting out, begging exploration.

How to choose? What to write? I have an embarrassment of riches. Where do I begin?

Rewriting and Feedback

I’ve been collecting feedback on the short stories I want to submit places from both friends and the online writing workshop over at sff.com. So far the reviews of the work is positive, which is comforting. It isn’t the things that people like that I find most helpful, unsurprisingly. While I like hearing that people enjoy my stories, the things that don’t work are the things I’m most interested in.

Which brings in today’s topic. How do you know what criticism is worth taking and using? I’ve gotten a few suggestions for changing things up in all three stories that I’m currently editing. I think to best answer the question of how do you know, I’m going to just go through the crits and the process here for each story.

First, Monsters. This short story involves a man and his slightly odd wife and a monster and a mean prince. The feedback I’ve gotten is basically that the beginning feels too different from the second half and that the connection between the monster and prince isn’t clear enough. Also, the naming constrictions are weird and that I either need to remove all the names except the odd wife’s or name everyone. I feel all this criticism is valid. The story’s first half is different in feel than the second mostly because I wrote the first half years ago and my writing has evolved and frankly, gotten better. Since none of my readers seem to have picked up a clear connection between monster and prince, I think this is valid too. Clearly it isn’t a case of one person missing the obvious, it is more likely a case of me not showing things the way I mean them to be shown. As they say, if one person has a problem with you, it could be them. But if five people have a problem with you? It might not be them. So for this story, taking the crits and using them is fairly easy.

Next, Delilah. This story is a retelling of the Samson and Delilah story from the bible. I posted it on the writing workshop as well as sending it out to my usual victims. I’ve gotten fairly positive reactions to it, with one reviewer kindly going through and bolding awkward sentences, typos, and fixing my strange comma usage. This kind of nit picking crit is really useful if a story doesn’t have any major problems. It saves me tons of work in the revision process if I have the stuff pointed out for me. Another reviewer suggested that there was too much fate feeling in the story. I’m not sure I want to remove the fated feeling, since that is a part of what I like about the story. I am, however, going to add a little more active thinking and awareness on the part of the main characters since I think that will help keep them understandable.

Then there was a crit on the story that I’m not going to go with. Mind you, it isn’t always this easy to see what doesn’t work for you about a suggestion. The crit in question was to change the story so that one of the Philistine leaders is a true villain in the tradition of Othello’s Iago. I can sort of see where the person is coming from, but to create a villain to fight against like that would completely change what I want to do with the story. This, I think, is the most important way of knowing what is good and useful criticism. It has to pass my “does this communicate what I want to communicate” test. If you don’t know what story you want to tell, then you probably aren’t ready for the feedback stage. Once I know the story I want to tell, I can use it as a meter to judge the feedback. Does this thing help me tell the story better? Am I getting across what I want to get across? If not, what are they suggesting might work better? It helps too if you can have a dialog with the readers so that you can point out what you were going for and ask them for what might help them get there as a reader.

The third story, Bladebearer, is the hardest one to figure out the good from the chaf.  The story is about a young alien who gets stranded on a planet and has to survive.  So far I’ve had two readers decide this would be a great first chapter of a novel (because I need another novel project like I need a bullet in the ass, really). My imagination is trying to run with that feedback. I found myself sitting in bed the other day outlining chapters in my head. I had to put a stop to that right quick, heh. Another reviewer said she got bored in the middle of the story. I’m not sure what to do with that crit. I’m filing it in the ‘reread and evaluate” drawer. The story is a bit longer than I usually write them at 5107 words. I could stand to trim a bit, though I’m also going to be adding a little on the advice of another reviewer. He wanted clarification on what was happening in the beginning of the story and I think I see a way to make things more understandable. Reviews have mostly been positive, which is comforting. The hardest part about this story, for me, is that I really like it. I wrote the whole thing in an insomniac rush at work one night after being inspired by George RR Martin’s Dreamsongs to try my hand at a little genre bending science fiction/fantasy. I also wanted to write something happy for a friend of mine who suffers through my writing even though she really doesn’t care for the subject matter, endings, or feel of it. (She’s the only friend to make it through my first novel attempt).

Maybe someday I’ll turn Bladebearer into a novel for her.

But because I really like the story, I find it harder to take criticism about Bladebearer.  I get a bit defensive and want to argue instead of listen.  This is a personality issue of mine as much as anything, I think.  But it is one of the obstacles I work with as a writer.

So, to sum up. For me a good crit is one that helps me see how I can make the story I want to tell come across clearly to the reader. It points out the things that work and the things that don’t work. Useful feedback shows me how to improve as a writer and a communicator.

Not very useful crits are the ones that suggest changes that don’t fit with the story I’m trying to tell, or ones that are clearly stemming from some sort of reader bias (these are hard to tell sometimes, sometimes not so much). Also in the not useful category are people who just say “oh, nice story.” Grr. Those people get no gold stars. Saying you liked it doesn’t help me as a writer. If my only goal was to write things and hear “I love you” from the reader, I’d hand them to my mother (who still, by the way, hasn’t gotten back to me on the last story I sent her). The whole point of rewriting is to make things better, clearer, stronger. My feedback readers are my coaches, my cheerleaders, and my workout partners all in one. I can run on my own, to stretch this metaphor a bit more, but I’ll go farther in less time with help. “Good job” or “stop running” aren’t help.

Submission Angst

Other than to school lit mags, I’ve never submitted anything anywhere in my life.  I realize that if I want to be a published writer, I’m going to need to submit things for publication.  I’ve read the books, the writer’s essays, the blogs.  I know that everyone in the history of writing has been rejected at some point by somewhere.  I know that once I get off my ass and do it, the jumping from high place sensation will kick in and I’ll be okay.  But now I’m teetering at the edge of the abyss, thinking that it is much too far down.  There is still time before the leap and the ‘too late now’ sensations.

It isn’t exactly a fear of rejection that stops me.  Part of me fears being accepted and then hating the work that I’ve done.  Fears getting out there and having what I write not represent what I want it to.  Every year I get better as a writer.  Every time I write something it is better than the thing I wrote before it.  While this progress is nice, it keeps me crippled in many ways.  If I can build it stronger, faster, better with only the technology of time, then nothing is stopping me from waiting until I am at the unnameable peak of my talent.  (Until, as a friend pointed out, I’m likely dead.)

I can see the progress.  But I want it to be perfect.  I want things to be better than good enough.  I don’t want the reading worlds’ first impression of me to be less than I am.

I know I just need to take the leap.  To step out over the edge, hit the ‘send’ button, and let my darlings fly away from me.

I’m trapped in the eternal human gap between knowing what we need to do and taking the necessary action.

My Writing Issues Part 2 (Million)

As always when I’m reading other writers’ blogs, reading writing forums, or even just comments on my own blogs, the differences between myself and other amateur writers strike me. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of similarities. I think having self-doubts and times of uncertainty and difficulty with the creative process comes pretty much packaged with the territory. But I also have problems that have nothing to do with this doubt, this overriding uncertainty. (Well, not more than anything that is directly tied together via my brains can be unrelated).

So, common writing issues I don’t have:

Voice- I gots one. All my writing sounds like me. Sometimes it all sounds a bit too much alike, which is something I’m working on. My writing has a surreal tone to it, however. I’m good with that, though I am working on varying character more.

Ideas- I has them. Many writers often complain about getting the question of “where do you get your ideas from?” constantly. I don’t think I’ll ever ask someone this question. In fact, I’d put ideas under problems in some ways. I have too many. I don’t know if I will ever get all the stories inside me out onto a page in coherent fashion. Some of the ideas are no more than an image, a quick clip of film in my head, or perhaps a character standing alone on the black screen of my mind. (She’s there right now, dripping blood all over everything from a pretty nasty looking gash in her left arm. Don’t know who she is, but someday I will.) I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block in the traditional sense. The ideas are always there. I always have images and stories in my mind to work with.

Internal Editor- Not really a problem. During NaNoWriMo I love to read the forums even when I’m not participating. People constantly whine about not knowing how to turn off the internal editor. I found NaNo to be no issue at all because I’m pretty sure turning on my internal editor is the hard part. My novel might have gone better if I’d been listening the quiet voice inside of me instead of rabidly smashing words into the computer.

Getting Discouraged- It happens. It also isn’t a huge problem. I tend to decide I’m going to quit forever about once a month. Like my wrath, this feeling generally passes within minutes, often followed by another stream of those plaguey ideas. In fact, if anything discourages me it is the flow of ideas around me constantly. I feel like a cheetah stuck in a stampeding herd of zebra. Too many ideas, too many images. So hard to choose just one to bring down and bleed out. That can be quite discouraging. And sure, I never know if I’ll be good enough to satisfy myself. I write because something inside me compels me to do so. I don’t think I could stop, I’ve certainly never been successful at stopping in the past.

Those seem to be the main issues people write about with writing. So many books are dedicated to helping beginning writers work through these issues.

And now, writing issues I do have.

I think in images. And not just silent paintings moving through my head, but I mean full sensory images that I can see, touch, taste, hear, smell. Sometimes they are as real to me as the world around me. Sometimes they become almost a part of the world around me. (A lifetime of dealing with them has trained me to distinguish most of the time, and boy does my sanity thank me. Also, so do people who drive with me in my car *grin*). The flow is often fast, more of a flood swollen river than a lazy summer stream. It can be hard for me to get full pictures before things move past me and other voices and worlds crowd in for attention. I don’t always have the full story, the how and why of it. My writing shows this. I think that this is often one of its huge weaknesses. It’s clear in my rough drafts that I don’t always know the why behind the what, so things are flatter than they could be. To me this is a problem inherent in the translation of things. I have to take the ideas from my head and put them into words. Image to language. This is, for me, an actually physically painful process sometimes. I get huge headaches if I’m pushing things too hard. Then comes frustration and the delete key. (Used to be fire. I’ve burned many stories and plays). Training myself as a translator between my head and my writing is an ongoing and scary part of it. Getting the images to communicate themselves the way I see them is difficult. I struggle with this constantly. I’m not sure I’ll ever have it perfect, and yeah, that frustrates me daily.

My hatred of editing my own work. I really do starve and kick my internal editor. I’m perfectly capable of editing other people’s work. Editing while translating/writing, however, is really hard for me. I require a lot of distance and input on my own work before I can ever begin to process how to improve it beyond grammar and basics. Fortunately lately I’ve had a few people willing to read my stuff and offer good feedback. It is starting to smooth the editing process. I’m going to work on letting the editor out while I’m writing on this novel rewrite. This is definitely an area I could improve on.

Characters not ideas. Right now my characters tend to fall into pretty archetypal categories. Some of this is because I keep writing based on themes or images I get and not with the characters themselves as the focus. Part of this can likely be blamed on 7 years of college studying archetypes and themes. I’m working on getting into the heads of my characters more, of dragging it out of them instead of just letting them tell me whatever they think I need to know and leaving the rest obscure. I’m not sure characterization will ever be one of my strong suits, sadly. I hope that I’ll have some sort of breakthrough eventually on how to write the kind of unique and memorable characters I love to read about. This is definitely up there on my ‘worries about my writing’ list.

So there you have it. Those are the main issues I have with my writing and with the writing process. (Also known as the post where I use the word ‘issues’ way too many times, gah.)

Writing Projects Update

I think I’m going to do quasi-monthly updates on what I’m doing so I can later see what my progress looks like.

Right now I’m working on/time to completion:

Dangerous novel rewrite/2-3 months.  Word count: 0

Poetry chapbook for school funding/next week.

Monsters short story revision /next two weeks.

Delilah short story revision for S&S maybe/next week.

Aefryr short story revision (for S&S maybe?)/next two weeks.

Some Like it Hot short story revision (for S&S maybe?)/next two weeks.

Projects that will be started and/or finished in 2008:

Bad Day graphic novel (the written part at least, we’ll see how Law School treats my artist).

Past Dark graphic novels (started hopefully, definitely not finished since that could take a long time).

Werewolves in Space novel (started at least.)

Chwedl novel (started).

Two more as yet unnamed and undecided short stories (my goal is to write at least 4 a year along with a novel every year).

(Why yes, I do love me the multi-tasking, why do you ask?)

Accepting the Reality of Dangerous

It’s time.  Time to accept that no matter how many iron-on patches and crazyglue fixes I try with my first novel, it’s over.  This edit isn’t happening.  Yeah, I’m halfway through.  Sure, I’ve hit the 200 page mark. Woohoo.

It sucks. End of story.  My ears bleed when I read the text aloud.  The writing barely feels like it’s mine.  I don’t really care about the story, the characters are flat and noncommittal, the action without actual peril, the setting half-assed.  I can fix all these things.  But not if I’m stuck in the framework of the original novel.  It is time not to revise, but to rewrite.

I’m making a list right now.  On the list go all the things I like about the original text.  These are things I’ll keep.  I might end up with a wholly different novel than I had before. I don’t know.  I’m going to keep the basics of the plot, the setting, and most of the characters.  I can rebuild it, better, faster, stronger.

If I can’t write a whole new novel, then I don’t belong writing novels.  This is going to be a lot more work than ironing on patches and debugging the original.  I think I’ll be lucky if I’m done by July (my tentative goal). I want the novel to feel like I wrote it though.  I want to write characters I’m interested in, and I want the time to find their voices, to weave their cares and conflicts into the story.

It also means that my other two novels are going on the back burner.  I think this is good.  They can percolate in my head for a while longer.