How Far We’ve Come

It’s eminently frustrating when you can feel the story vibrating like a jet engine, just aching to go somewhere, but a measly trickle of words is all that comes out. Part of this is that the story isn’t finished “cooking” yet, and that jet-engine sound is the rumble before everything is unleashed and I start frantically trying to keep up with the download. But for right now, everything’s sort of in abeyance.

If there’s a part I like least about writing, it’s the frustration of knowing that the process is in a certain stage, one can’t rush it, but one does need to keep knocking away, disciplined and irritated, so that when the magic happens you’re Ready and Waiting. I have to say, this stage is only about 20% of my writing days…but it feels like a much higher percentage. I don’t have the luxury of not writing, so I spend these days fine-tuning and poking at different scenes like jigsaw puzzles, a little here, a little there. It all adds up to wordcount in the end.

In other news, last night at dinner the Princess asked me what Labor Day was all about. I explained the ideals behind organized labor as well as I could. The thing that made the biggest impression on her was the child labor laws. “You mean they would make [the Little Prince] work in a factory?”

“Yes,” I said. “Look, every advance in working conditions hasn’t come about because companies or corporations are magnanimous.” (Yes, she knows what “magnanimous” means. It was a word of the day not too long ago.) “They came about because people protested and fought. Nowadays a lot of people are saying we don’t need organized labor…but I don’t agree. You’ll learn more about that later. For right now, we celebrate people who work and look back at how far we’ve come.”

“Oh.” She thought about it for a while. “They would have made me work in a factory too?”

Or worse, I think. “Possibly. We’re not rich. For a long time, we weren’t even middle class. It’s very likely you would’ve had to work hard in a factory so we could survive.”

She digested this. “How would I go to school?”

“You wouldn’t.” I didn’t even want to tell her about how recent an invention compulsory schooling for all social classes is, even in the First World.

It was a good thing too, because she looked at me with undiluted horror. “No school? At all?”

“Yep.” I took another bite. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to school either, not for very long. We might not even know how to read.”

Well, that did it. She let out a gasp. “I had no idea this was so important! I just thought it was a day off school!”

“Well, you can go look up the labor movement. We can get some books, if you like. Be warned, though–some parts of the story aren’t very pretty.” I was thinking, in particular, of the story of Wesley Everest, as sung on Washington Notebook.

“I’m glad I get to go to school,” my good little Princess says. And from there we were on to other things. I figure consciousness had been raised enough for one day. Hers–and mine, because saying these things out loud to her made me think about them a little bit more. It reminded me of how lucky and privileged I am.

A lot of people moan about unions and the like, even as they reap the benefits of coffee breaks, lunch hours, the eight-hour day, overtime, or vacations. A lot of people will badmouth unions in one breath and move onto bitching about how their rights are violated in the workplace in the next. Unions aren’t perfect–no group of human beings is going to be perfect. But, again, no advance in human or worker’s rights has come about from the noblesse oblige of those in power. The advances are fought for, sometimes tooth and nail, sometimes shamed and driven into the social fabric. Stumbles and all, those advances are worth celebrating, remembering, and endorsing. The effects and fruits of those advances, those fights, are something plenty of Americans feel the benefit of every day.

Things are deadly rough right now. People are frightened, hungry, and angry. Paul Krugman is making comparisons to 1938. (Unemployment benefits came about in the US in about 1932. Just something I found out today.) For a long time jobs have been exported to places where the workers don’t expect–indeed, don’t even know they can insist on, or may not even be able to insist on–decent treatment. But a lot of people in the US don’t give a damn about that, because they’re suffering, hungry, and scared right now. Tea-party xenophobia is on the rise, fanned by demagogues who peddle hatred and fear while reaping obscene profits.

This is when things get dangerous.

So, this Labor Day, I’m hoping we can all be a little more Mother Jones. I’m hoping we’ll take the long view, and I’m celebrating just how far we’ve come. I’m damn grateful that I’m in a position where I can be reasonably well-educated and send my kids to school. With those benefits comes the responsibility not to forget those who raised hell, fought, and shamed society into taking those stumbles forward.

Happy Labor Day.

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

The Cost Of Writing

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

I am jacked up on sugar and caffeine this morning. Well, actually, I just took down a serving of dark-choco covered espresso beans for my midmorning snack. (I have decreed that today is a day of inappropriate food choices. Every once in a while I like to throw caution to the winds. I guess I’m just a party animal that way.) So if things get weird halfway through here…well, you know what to blame. Also, I have Depeche Mode going at jet-takeoff decibel levels in the dining room. The Mode is good to write to, especially when I’m in a Certain Mood. (For example, this is Japhrimel’s song. It’s one thing he can never say to Danny, but ironically the one thing she might understand…)

First, links!

* Emma Silver on why she won’t buy an e-reader. As someone who is utterly in love with the sensual aspect of the reading experience, I wholeheartedly agree. I might be just wired funny, but I prefer the paper experience. This is why I generally request hardcopies of things–I see things on the paper that I just won’t on the screen.

* Christopher Hitchens on Unanswerable Prayers. Generally I don’t like Hitchens’s style. However, I’m reading both him and Richard Dawkins on atheism, and this link popped up in my feed this morning. So, food for thought.

* Slacktivist with a very short, very pointed thought on Social Security.

* Last but not least: my writing partner sent me this early this morning, and it’s made me chortle at odd moments ever since. (Be sure to mouse over and read the alt text, and LAUGH YOUR ASS OFF. Also, this works with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”) As I have this on my TBR stack, it was also a lovely little synchronous goose.

I’m moving more toward link salad on Fridays. Occasionally I go through periods where the Friday writing posts just wear me out, and I haven’t been blogging much lately. (I flatter myself that some readers have noticed.) I go through periods where I pull back into myself, usually when I’m doing a lot of flooding out new wordcount and revising at the same time. This brings up something I think a lot of new and aspiring writers don’t really grasp.

Writing takes energy.

“Oh, for Chrissake, Lili, I knew that!” you might say. But I would submit that a lot of new and aspiring writers do not understand the sheer amount of energy, and different types of energy, that writing–especially for publication–requires.

To have a writing career, you must have excess emotional and physical energy to pour into the physical act of brute creation. To arrive at a zero draft, you need to type 70-100K words. These must also be words you consider, words that string together in sentences, paragraphs, chapters. The words require emotional energy–the extended act of imagining yourself inside your characters’ worlds, the exercise of empathy both for your characters and for your potential reader, the emotional energy to stay committed to the manuscript and make it a priority, the endurance to finish a book that there is no assurance of anyone ever liking, the emotional energy to keep yourself on a reasonably even keel during the process and not, oh, say, eat your own young or scream at the Love of Your Life. (I avoid those last by reminding myself that I can’t possibly hope to recoup the calories I’ve spent on my young by preparing them a la Grecque, and not dating. *snort*)

And that’s just to get to the zero draft stage. Revision requires an investment of time and energy as well–the physical energy to sit and read critically, weighing the words; the emotional and mental energy to consider this thing you created as coldly as possible, in order to spot its potential flaws and fix them. Then there’s submissions, which also require physical energy, not least in the form of postage (you’ve got to pay for it somehow, even if it’s with a monthly bill for Internet connection) and emotional energy to endure multiple rejections and/or conditional acceptances.

Revising for publication requires a whole different mental set of mental “muscles” than the act of initial creation, and in some cases it’s longer, more drawn-out, and more terrifically exhausting. Looking over copyedits and proofing require yet different skill sets and an investment of time and energy–not least, the emotional energy to keep your cool when confronted with yet another person who has fucking marked up and savaged your precious manuscript KILL KILL KILL.

I am not exaggerating. There’s a reason why I open edit letters, read them, scream and curse, then set them aside for a week. I need that time to process, and that processing takes energy. Bringing a book from inception to publication is a long, emotionally and physically draining process. It requires several different types of energy and endurance, not to mention several different skill sets, at different parts of the complex process. (And let’s not even talk about the discussions over cover art, marketing decisions, and dealing with release dates and reviews, all of which require of the writer some measure of energy, restraint, and sheer bloody-minded endurance.)

When I tell people I’m a writer, I often get a blank look and a “That’s great! I always wanted to write a book, someday when I have time.” My usual response is a trill of slightly-insane laughter and a diversion of the conversation to another channel. I’ve reached the point where I kind of resent (despite myself, I might add) the idea that oh-just-anyone can just plonk down for a bit and dash off a publishable work, that all it takes is “enough time.” Writing for publication requires not just time, but effort, and not just effort but several different kinds of effort at several different points.

Like jugging chainsaws, this requires practice and investment.

Because writing is a largely solitary act, you don’t get to see the difficult, dangerous, dirty, nasty, exhausting bits. It’s like the cotton stuffed in pointe shoes so the blood doesn’t leak through and stain the satin. Some of the magic of writing is that illusion of grace, I suppose; there is a mystique about what writers exactly do and how they do it. It takes mere hours (or days) to read what might have taken a writer months or years to produce–and a publisher an additional year or two to refine, quality-check, and produce in reasonable book form.

The energy required for all these things is like a bank account: you can overdraw it, scrape the bottom of the barrel, burn out, run out and run up overdrafts. I’ve seen this happen and skirted the edge of burnout myself. It’s not pretty or comfortable, and it took time and care I had to fight to provide for myself in order to claw my way up out of. Part of the time and care means other things fall off the map–like, sometimes, daily blogging. *cough* *shameful look*

The upshot of this rather extended (caffeine-fueled) ramble is this: if you want to write for publication, you need to take a look at budgeting the energy you’re going to need. It has to come from somewhere, and often it comes from other aspects of your life. Writing down what you do every hour during the day and seriously looking at where you spend your time and energy is only a first step. Like any goal that really matters, you will have to make time and find the energy somewhere if you want to write. Nobody can do it for you, and it’s got to be something you want badly enough for it to muscle out other things that may provide more, let us say, immediate gratification. Do not underestimate the cost of writing the best book you can and taking it through the publication process. Do not even underestimate the cost of writing for yourself. Here, as in physics, there is very little that resembles a free lunch.

Over and out.

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

Wednesday Three

Three things this Wednesday, because there’s no time for more:

* I’d done about three miles on the treadmill this morning when a grayish blur caught my eye. It was a squirrel hurtling from Heaven. Or more precisely, hurtling from a rooftop. It fell through several whippy tree branches, somersaulted, hit the fence, bounced and twisted, then hit the ground and bounced again. I thought for sure the little guy was a goner. Instead, he leapt to his feet, glared at me, and scampered off. I gasped and almost fell off the treadmill. I am now told squirrels are tough little mothers, and this one was obviously a ninja. I am torn between the desire to go check the plum tree and see if he’s licking his wounds, and staying as far away from a Terminator ninja squirrel as possible for my own well-being.

* Today was, incidentally, the first day of school. The house is very, very quiet. I keep starting up from my chair, because it is too quiet, then sheepishly remembering that it’s not the silence of Children Up To No Good. I think I’m more nervous than the Little Prince and Princess were.

* I have two books fighting for the right to eat my brain first. Right now I’m settling back and seeing which one wins. They’re both under tight deadline, so I might have to send Necessity in with a baseball bat to restore order and cudgel my gray matter into behaving. That shoudl be fun to watch. *gets popcorn*

Huh. I wonder. Necessity vs. Terminator Ninja Squirrel. A fight for the ages, no doubt. I leave you with that hilarious little visual.

See you ’round!

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