Wiggle Your Big Toe

This morning I went on a banzai run with the Selkie; it was an estate’s worth of books that we packed and hauled down to the store. We work well together both as writers and as book haulers–we exchange information with glances, read each other’s minds, and just plain get stuff done really fast. It’s a joy to work with someone who anticipates and understands.

Several times I was surprised by just how much I could lift and carry–the running and the shovelgloving are working out. I suppose I should do the Obligatory Check In about that here, because I do talk about it a bit…and weren’t there resolution-like things at the beginning of the year?

I do believe there were.

I’m down by sixty pounds, 23 of which I’ve lost since the first of the year. I’m wearing clothes literally half the size I’m used to. I have about another 20-21 pounds to go before I ease up on the calorie restriction and start looking to fine-tune and maintain instead of running my body to shed weight. It is, in a word, bloody amazing. (That’s two words. Oh well.)

The biggest changes, however, have not been physical at all. They’ve been mental and emotional. The sheer scale and intensity of Life Changes and emotional change I’ve weathered, particularly in the last six months (yes, I marked it on the calendar, I am a nerd) have been staggering. I have reached a sort of detente in my relationship with food. I don’t eat to comfort myself nearly as much. My stress level has gone down from OMGPANICALLGOINGTODIERUNRUNRUN to pretty-calm-with-occasional-freakouts.

Which is a nice place to be.

Yes, I’ve had help. Cognitive therapy and a couple of books (this one and this one) have really helped. (However, this book and this book have been MORE helpful; the internal changes are the big deal.)

I’ve also had a lot of help and support from the people who really love me. That’s one thing about one’s life going down in flames: you learn pretty quickly who will be on the other end of the phone line at 4AM; you learn who will help and who will run away.

The upshot is, I feel good. I handed over my ID today (long story) and the clerk did a double take and said, “You’ve lost some weight!” She sounded at least as delighted as I felt. People who haven’t seen me in a while get a strange look, like they can’t quite place me, before comprehension hits. I won’t lie–it’s nice to see that. I get a little glow of accomplishment. I preen a little. Considering I’ve spent most of my life frantically trying to get people to look anywhere but my body, it’s a step up.

So, long way to go. But when I reached the day marked “six months” on my calendar, I looked around. And I felt like, “Okay, hard part’s over. Now let’s get these other piggies wiggling.”

Tomorrow I’ll return you to your regularly scheduled Lili. But today…I’m basking a little in the glow of accomplishment. I feel like I’ve Done Something. Clawed myself up out of a big dark hole, at least.

It’s a nice way to feel.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

I Get A Day Off

Yesterday I finished the zero draft of Strange Angels 4, tentatively now titled Defiance. I thought it would take into the middle of this week at least, but yesterday 3.5+K bolted out of my head and took me to the finish line. Sometimes a book does that–sneaks up on one. The zero draft is clocking in at a shade over 62K, which means it’ll break 68-70 when I get the first draft revisions in.

Now my brain, she is broken. I’ve talked before about this–the dynamo inside my head, my energies bent on finishing the book, is now spinning aimlessly. You’ve got to give it time to slow down to a reasonable speed again.

So today is that most rare and magical of creatures, a Day Off. I’ll poke at a trunk novel to keep my hand in, but I won’t look to achieve much.

I scored a DVD of the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoons. It’s hysterical, especially since I watched it when I was young. Like Monk noted, “It’s amazing they did a D&D cartoon with no sharp things.” There was an episode with Lloth the Spider Queen; I snorted and actually yelled, “If they put Drizzt Do’urden in here I’m just gonna DIE!”

The kids both said, “Huh?” And I felt old and geeky. Not a bad combination, since when I told Monk about it he immediately cracked up and agreed. I may be old and geeky, but at least I’m not alone.

Now, I’ve got some relaxing to do as the dynamo in my head slows down. *twitch* *twitch* Because tomorrow it’s wordcount on the short story due…eep, at the end of next month! Oh, Lord. No rest for the wicked.

Catch you later.

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Do That Thing

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames

First: Do you think you could build a model Herkimer Battle Jitney? Jay Lake and I both have this thing for Mystery Men. And that’s all I’m going to say.

Friday again, and I got nothin’. My brain is broken, mostly because I’m in the last stretch of Dru 4, now provisionally titled Defiance. This is the point at which I actively resent pretty much anything that tears me away from writing–exercising, eating, loo breaks, bathing, anything. If not for the kids I would probably try to pull an epiphyte and live on air. Fortunately, feeding them is non-negotiable, and it makes me remember to eat. And occasionally bathe myself. *makes face*

Sometimes I think the fierce end-of-book concentration is the “jolt” that keeps me coming back to writing. Sometimes I think it’s starting a new book and having the New Shiny to play with. Sometimes I think it’s the slog in the middle, where the only thing that keeps me going is the craftsman’s pleasure of building sentences and fitting them together. Sometimes it’s rereading a scene and feeling that heart-in-mouth reaction, where I’ve swung for the fences and I know as soon as I hear the crack! that I’m not stopping until home plate.

Did I just bust out a sports metaphor there?

Anyway. Each part of writing is good, for me. Even proof pages and copyedits are good. Even getting the revision letters that make me scream like a little girl in a horror movie are good. They’re good because I’m doing the thing I really feel I was meant and made for. I’m making a living at the one thing that makes me unreasonably happy; my work is also my joy.

It took a lot of hard work to get here. A lot of rejection–and it takes a lot of rejection on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’m making a living. I don’t ever complain or kick too hard. In fact, most days I wake up and think about the day’s wordcount goal and deadlines looming and I think, How in the hell did I get this lucky?

Recently writing has sustained me through a broken heart and huge, stressful Life Changes. Writing has been my solace, my guide, my distraction, my security blanket, and my escape. If you’re lucky to have that one thing you love, it can be your boat through Hell.

Your thing, that thing you love, might not be writing. You’re the only person who has a chance of finding out what it is. Here’s what I want to say this bright, beautiful, raining Friday from the chair where I pull words out of the air and string them together:

Don’t stop. Even if it’s just five minutes a day, or just ten, do that thing you love. It’s cheaper than therapy and more fulfilling than junk food. It can save you from ulcers and restore your faith in whatever needs restoring. It can carry you through the shocks flesh is heir to and celebrate the good things that come along. Do it because it needs doing, and nobody can do it quite like you. There’s a reason it makes you feel That Good–because your way of doing it is unique, and the world needs it.

Do it because you’ve go to. Do it because you feel like you’ll burst or slowly die inside if you don’t. Do it because it feels great, do it because the world needs another chuckle or two, do it because it siphons off all the crazy that would otherwise come out at 3AM in the Circle K parking lot. Just take a couple minutes and do.

After all, our time here is so short. Way too short to not indulge a few minutes a day in the thing that makes us so unreasonably happy, the thing only we can do the way that we do. Let me encourage you, dear Reader. If you need permission, encouragement, absolution, or dispensation to spend a few minutes doing it today, consider that you have it.

Enjoy.

After all, it’s what I plan to do today. One could very easily do worse.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

News, Events, And Links

Good morning, all. First, the news.

* There may be a 6-10K-word story dealing with Selene and Nikolai’s reunion in Saint City in the works. I’ll have details when everything firms up, but for right now, I thought I’d let you guys know.

* Events! I will be at the Ooligan Press Write To Publish event on May 23, 2010, at 2pm. I will also be signing in conjunction with Devon Monk and Ilona Andrews at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s on May 25, and by my lonesome in the same location on August 19 to celebrate the release of Jealousy. Details of the Powell’s signings will be forthcoming; they’re usually around 7pm.

* Release news: Heaven’s Spite, the next Jill Kismet novel, is due for release in November 2010. I just confirmed this with my editor yesterday (or was it the day before?) Anyway, now I know, so now you know.

And, linkspam:

* Post-Healthcare Fatigue Syndrome. Don’t worry, the Republicans are still tirelessly working to make sure only the rich have healthcare. Oh, and stirring up their nutwing base to terrify the rest of us. It’s unsurprising, even if it is enough to make one sick enough to need that public option.

* A great Tor.com article on my very favorite fairy tale. Seriously. I collect versions of Beauty and the Beast. I even wrote my own take on it, as yet unpublished.

* Tim Burton might direct Maleficent’s story. OH PLEASE OH PLEASE. Maleficent is my very favorite villain in any Disney movie. The horns! The shapeshifting! The elegant black cape! The sneer! Oh, please, let this come to pass.

* If you’re not reading the Comics Curmudgeon, you’re missing out. I check in with Josh daily to see what the hell he’s come up with now. Comics snark is pure LOVE.

I think that’s about all. I’m on the last push to complete Dru 4, have a detail-round of revisions due for Kismet 5, and there’s a short story in there somewhere needing to be written. I bought a hat to cover up the fact that my hair is at an awkward length. I’ve stocked up on coffee, because the way things are going, it’s going to become one of my major food groups through the month of April.

Fasten your seatbelts, kiddos, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Book Must Flow

Linkspam, because I’m deep in it today. I’ve got the White Stripes on loud and like spice, BOOK MUST FLOW!

* So those deep meandering conversations about Life, the Universe, and Everything? They can actually help make you happier. I think I need to call my friends and get a couple bottles of wine.

* Oh, Luc Besson, you complete me. Lady adventurers and steampunk dragons? I’M SO THERE.

* Here, find out where earthquakes are happening.

* As I have often told my kids, the separate compartment for dessert in one’s stomach is AWESOME. (This is usually right before I’m called “best mum EVER!” for about five minutes, or however long the ice cream lasts…)

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Gotta run.

*dives back into showdown*

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A Weekend Refuel

I never, ever thought I’d be addicted to running. Of all the things to get addicted to, I never thought a physical effort that qualifies as exercise would be possible. I’ve had to take a couple days off because of hip and knee pain–looking back through my training log I see I jumped my mileage by five miles (or about 40%), which was WAY TOO MUCH. So it’s back down in duration for a while, then a reasonable mile-every-2-weeks increase for a month or two.

As long as the zombies don’t chase me for more than four miles, I think I’ll be all right.

The weekend was restful. On Saturday I took the kids to the community centre. We spent about four hours shooting pool (I taught the Princess how to rack, break, make a bridge, and sight) and playing table tennis. I was exhausted afterward. I mean, come on, table tennis? But apparently that burns a helluva lot of calories. We were all tired and cranky afterward, so it was Thai food and a retreat home to watch movies and fold laundry.

Sunday was equally uneventful. I didn’t leave the house all day, except for a spring amble between rainshowers down to the store to fetch necessaries for dinner. The Prince resented being pulled away from his video game, and we talked about how we might need to limit his time on the games if he keeps up stamping and sighing when he’s called away from them. After that discussion he was noticeably more sanguine about interruptions.

All weekend I could feel my emotional reserves being refilled. Now the next two scenes in the book are ready inside my head, which means ready to go out my fingers and onto the screen.

But first…I’ve got to run. As addictions go, I like this one. I think I’ll keep it.

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The Room And The Will

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames

A friend of mine is considering moving. “I just want to live on my own,” she said to me this afternoon, while the wind made my chimes ring like rattlesnakes. “I want to be able to sit in my underwear with pizza and a beer and a book. I just need it, you know.”

“Oh, honey,” I said, squinting in the sunlight, “I know.”

Virginia Woolf said that money and a room of one’s own is a prerequisite for woman writers. I tend to agree. Certainly getting one’s career to a place where one can comfortably support oneself, or not having to worry overmuch about food and rent, is a marvelous thing.

But I didn’t start out with it.

I have learned to write in any situation imaginable. I started in school writing furiously at every moment I could steal from classes. One of my teachers let me keep a box of spiral notebooks in her classroom over the summer, since I didn’t have hiding places at home. I exercised my youthful ingenuity to hide my diaries and stories at home when I lost that opportunity, used friends’ houses and employee lockers to keep my words safe from prying and punishment. When I left, I hid my notebooks in closets and other places, just to be safe.

I stole moments to write plot outlines on notepads at several jobs. I spent my lunch hours and breaks writing furiously in spiral notebooks between bites of whatever I could afford–or just writing because I couldn’t afford a snack. I learned to write with toddlers around, one half of my brain scanning constantly to anticipate their needs or any danger to them. I learned to write in a house full of shrieking “LOOK AT ME! I DON’T EXIST UNLESS YOU LOOK AT ME! LOOKLOOKLOOK!” (Note: only two of the people screeching that were under 10. The rest…well. Whole ‘nother blog post there.)

I’ve written on trains and planes, I’ve written on buses and in parks, I’ve written in libraries, I’ve written in casino bars, other bars, in bathrooms late at night while the people I’m staying with are asleep. I’ve written in classrooms, coffee shops, head shops, cafes, community centres, all-night restaurants, even in the closed-down delis of major supermarket chains. Finding a space to sit down and whip out my notebook–or lug my laptop to–has become somewhat of an art form.

Do it where you gotta has been by mantra for a long time. Now that I have a house and a chair and a lapdesk, where I can sit cross-legged and pound out text while the whole place is silent because the kids are at school…

…well, it’s been a shock. I’m used to concentrating fiercely in the face of distraction. The silence of the house is a type of distraction I’m not insulated against. I used to keep music on to provide a thread under the other sounds I could jack into and ride while I typed. Now I play it because sometimes the empty house makes me start up in almost-terror sometimes, thinking the kids are Altogether Too Quiet and Up To Mischief.

My productive hours are in somewhat of a flux now. I used to be a champion insomniac, first because I’m built to be a night owl and second because the wee hours were the only damn time nobody needed anything from me. Now I’m finding different chunks of my “day” to be productive, because I finally have space and solitude.

Which brings me to something I consider a Rule. All applicable disclaimers, etc., etc., but here it is:

If you WANT to write, you will more than likely FIND TIME to write.

Yes, I know. “I’m too poor/busy/tired/something! I don’t have time! I can’t find a space!”

Often I hear this from people who are overscheduled or who don’t set boundaries instead of truly being unable. I am willing to concede that whoever, whatever their situation, may be too tired/busy/whatever to write. Billions of people don’t write, and they get along just fine.

I am not one of those people who gets along fine without writing.

I wrote while effectively homeless. I wrote while being a single mother working full-time and going to school. I wrote while raising two small children and cleaning up after a Very Large Child. I think one of the main reasons I’ve achieved a sort of quiet success is because writing has always been a priority to me. I felt I would go mad if I didn’t write. I put writing in with my basic needs of food and shelter, and that is a component of the psychotic persistence several writers (don’t really) joke about being necessary to get published.

It was necessary for me to continue writing. Being paid for it is where I’ve ended up, and that’s just fine by me. I like it that way. I would still be doing this if I didn’t have a room of my own and a lock on my door. In fact, for the rest of my life, putting words together is something I’m going to be doing. I can’t help it.

I say this so you will understand the advice I am about to give. This advice is free, so take it or leave it.

Finding time in a day to sneak writing in, learning to pick up a story and dive in when you only have five or fifteen minutes, getting your wordcount out rather than watching the telly or playing that video game, is essentially saying “This is important to me.” I don’t promise that you will get published if you train yourself to make writing a priority and set boundaries around your writing time. I can promise that your chances of getting good enough to have a reasonable shot at being published will go up with every minute you spend making writing your priority.

If that’s where you’re aiming, okay. Do it where you gotta. Write down the activities you participate in on a daily basis and figure out which ones are essential (like paying rent or eating), which are very desirable (like maintaining your relationship with your real friends, or what-have-you), and which are just desirable (playing a video game, watching television. Note these are just MY examples, yours will be different.). Move writing from the “just desirable” category into the “essential” category, the things you make time for because you’ve just plain got to–or even into the “very desirable” category. Find the time by cutting it elsewhere, if you’re serious. If you’re not serious, it’s OK. There are plenty of other things to do in this wide varied world of ours. Go do them and be merry.

This is why I say I “tend” to agree with Virginia. Of course, I have the benefit of being in a culture and of a socioeconomic section where I have certain advantages, and I realize that. However, I was not always in this socioeconomic or cultural slice, and many other successful writers I know weren’t (or aren’t) either. The room of your own is nice, and the money is damn nice.

But it is the will to find a way that is essential. Without it, the room is just a room.

It’s up to you to fill it.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Tuesday’s Child Gets Distracted

Some linkspam this Tuesday, since I’ve spent the day running all sorts of errands. I did break for a lovely lunch, and came home to find a picture had arrived. So all in all, a good day. But still, I’m itching and aching to get back to the story, and resenting the interruption of Life Stuff That Must Be Done.

Onward!

* Realthog on Swiftprobers. When Thog (otherwise known as John Grant/Paul Barnett) gets out his katana to face down some idiocy, it’s always a good time.

* If Star Wars was an Icelandic saga. No, really. Really. The Selkie gave this to me a couple nights ago, and it about broke my brain. I replied with Monty Python moose jokes. I, uh, guess you had to be there.

* Phillip Palmer asks if urban fantasy is REALLY all about sex. While I don’t quite completely agree with his analysis of the Valentine series, I don’t disagree with some points he makes. And hey, there’s room enough for all sorts of different analyses of Danny and Japh’s relationship and its importance in the series, so there it is.

There you go. If you trek on over to those places, play nice in the comments, mmmkay? I’m off to do some cleanup on the 4K I wrote yesterday, most likely while I drink some coffee and ruminate on just how good lunch was. Nummy.

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A Love Letter To The Current Book

Oh, you book, you. You feisty little book. This is twice you’ve juked me out, three times if you count that outline I bowed to pressure and did. The one you’ve made me alter and throw out TWICE now.

Oh you little rascal. You just do not know who you are f!cking with.

I’m getting ready for the last big tango of this part of our relationship. It’ll be a great dance full of gunfire and merriment. I’ll get the characters through the crisis while you yawn and grin at me. I can feel the last big push of creative effort sneaking up on me. It’s a constant tickle under the surface of my skin. I can’t finish another task, I walk away from things I’m doing to sit down and eke out a few more words. I sink so deep into the story any interruption makes me blink resentfully while I return to this world of bills and responsibilities.

So just keep smiling, you book, you. I’m not so kind a lover when you tease. I’m listening to the White Stripes and getting ready to drag you out on the dance floor. No more deleting chunks of text. No more feeling around the corners. Oh no.

We’re going to do this, you and I. I’ve got you around the waist and we’re on the parquet. We’re going pedal to the metal, aiming for the horizon, and devil take the hindmost.

I might not be the best date this story’s ever have, but goddammit, I’m going to be the date this story never forgets.

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I Never Know

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

Reader Melissa P. asked earlier this week:

So MY question is, how do you know it’s good enough? Especially if you’ve never been published?

How do you know if your writing is Good Enough? How do you know if you have any chance at all?

The short answer is also the most brutal:

You don’t.

The longer answer…well. I get hate mail calling me the worst writer in the world, even though I’m making a living at it. “Good enough” is highly subjective. Plus, there’s the Inner Censor and various other considerations inside one’s own head. There has never come a point where I’ve considered anything “good enough”. Each time I’ve turned in a contracted book, it’s with the same nail-biting fear of rejection I felt when I was submitting to slushpiles. I have never felt “good enough”.

A published writer takes the critical step of submitting despite that fear. Even more importantly, this is a writer who has kept writing, despite that fear. The chances of getting published are sometimes Not Very Good, but they become Astronomically Better when you Actually Produce and Learn, not to mention Submit Your Shit Professionally.

If there was a magic pill, I would tell you. The point of this whole thing is not to get “good enough”. The point is to keep trying and learning. This ups your chances of getting published, and once published, ups your chances of having a sustainable career.

Look, every single goddamn time I send a manuscript in I’m afraid that my editor will be very quiet for a little while, then send me a request to have the advance mailed back because what I’ve sent them sucks so hugely. (This is a normal feeling, I guess, since I’ve had it every damn time.) Rationally and reasonably, I absolutely know this will not happen. (If for no other reason than my agent would strap on her bandoliers and make them Very Sorry. *snort*)

But it doesn’t stop the huge, nagging, overwhelming fear that my writing–and by extension, I–will never be Good Enough. Each time I hit the “send” button to turn in a first draft, I hear the roulette wheel spinning. It scares me to absolute death.

I’ve just learned to do it anyway. Part of it is because I have to, because, well, I like eating.

You can depend on certain markers to tell you that, if you’re not Good Enough, you’re certainly moving in the right direction. Some of those markers can include personalized rejection notes or the approval of your critique group or beta reader (though I have some mixed feelings about groups). In the end, though, I don’t know if any writer ever knows if it’s good enough; I don’t know if any writer, even the most “successful”, ever gets rid of that nagging fear. If they do, good for them–but I’m talking about my own experience here, and I’ve never gotten rid of it.

The trick is to do it anyway. You can feel the fear all you want. It’s okay (not to mention reasonable and natural) to feel fear. Writing is a tricky business, and writers get rejected. A lot. Rejection is a fact of life, and it’s dialed up to 11 when you’re a writer, especially if you submit your work to the cruel, cold world. Fear is okay.

You just have to kick the fear in the nuts and run for it. I do not know of another way around this. Set yourself the task of always learning how to be more professional, keep reading and studying your language and its rules, and try to view mistakes and setbacks as invitations to learn. Bloody, painful, messy, nasty, scar-making invitations, to be sure. But if you’re easily whipped or easily frightened, professional writing is so not the career for you.

If, on the other hand, you are stubbornly (almost pathologically) determined to do, then let the fear be itself. It can actually even turn into a friend, an engine driving you to learn more and be better. You can use it as a spur, as a wheel, as torque to pull yourself up.

Just don’t turn tail and quit writing.

How do you know if you’re Good Enough? You never do, my friend. But you can choose not to let the fear matter, and be as good as you can be. After all, that’s the way any great discovery or genius is made.

Over and out.

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