Unattached to the Work

So the recent website follies have me thinking about attachment. (Very Zen of me, I’m sure.) It doesn’t bother me that much to have lost, let’s see, about three years’ worth of blogging about five days a week. At an average of 1K words per blog post, that’s…eh, a few words. (I am too tired to do math.) I know it’s archived on the Wayback Machine, but cutting and pasting to that degree is one of my ideas of Hell. So…there it is.

Which brings up something I think doesn’t get addressed in a lot of writing books: the quality of detaching from one’s own work.

Obviously this can’t be done in the throes of creation. A small amount of detachment is needed even in the white heat; otherwise one runs the risk of turning a good story into a bathetic abomination. But one must care one way or the other for one’s characters, if one wants to have someone else give a damn about them. It’s an odd dichotomy, caring intensely for the characters and yet being unafraid to hurt them in order to serve the story. There are tricks to that, but that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Once you have a whole corpse–the zero draft–the first phase of detaching commences. Revising calls for becoming progressively more detached each successive time. A scene you loved during the initial writing seems overblown when you come back to it, and needs ruthless pruning. You do the best you can, but the first revise is a little like splinting a broken arm–necessary, but it takes more time to fix the problem.

Your editor (if this story is intended for publication) helps with further phases of detachment, simply by telling you where the holes and weak spots are. This is where the phrase “Murder your darlings” becomes most applicable and useful.

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. (Quiller-Couch)

Now, there will be cases when your editor is wrong about a certain weakness in the work, or a certain character’s actions, or even some dialogue that raises a red flag. There will be cases when the writer cannot see the work clearly and is wrong. My rule is: 99% of the time, my editor is right. The other 1%, I stick to my guns. (Or, as Ilona Andrews so pithily puts it, “Pick the hill you want to die on.”) If I find myself fighting on something more than 1% of the time, I have to take a step back and reconsider.

This presupposes you trust your editor. I am lucky in that I’ve only been revenge-edited[1] once or twice, but each time was incredibly painful. I doubted my ability to string words into coherent sentences each time, and had to ask a second source for an opinion before I held my nose and turned back, politely prepared to do battle for a good 60%+ of my manuscript.

If editing doesn’t force a certain detachment, copyediting certainly will. Copyeditors are those brave, blessed souls who comb every goddamn word and punctuation mark, looking for typos and errors. Sometimes a copyeditor tries to do editing, which never works out well for me, but that’s exceedingly rare.

Incidentally, if you find a good copyeditor, tell your editor. A lot of CEs work freelance and the feedback helps them get rehired. On the other hand, if you have a really bad copyedit, don’t bitch overmuch to your editor. Content yourself with saying, “Wow, this one was rough.” Because you can’t ever be sure that you’re not just worn raw by having to stet or keep a zillion changes on a story you’re already so sick of you wish you could stab UNTIL IT DIES.

You’re still not done at that point. Further detachment is required when you proof the damn thing, going through it for the final time before it hits print and looking for typos and dropped words, last-minute minor cosmetic changes, and the like. At the proofing stage, I am usually so sick of the book I just want to set it on fire and stamp on it to make sure the goddamn beast is dead, which is wonderful for helping me disentangle myself from my emotional investment in the characters.

Then there’s release-day nerves, and the hell of waiting for reviews, and the hell of actual reviews. By the time a book hits the shelves, I’m excited because it means I won’t have to go through the fucking thing again looking for holes. I very rarely reread the books once they’ve been published; usually it’s only a refresher skim while I’m working later in the series.

Each book requires me to develop a fresh emotional callus, so to speak. Maybe there are some writers who detach more easily. There are things that make it easier, yes.

  • Time. Putting the zero draft in a folder and forgetting about it for two weeks to a month is critical, and the wait between edits and CEs and proofs and release day is actually ideal to force you to view the work with a fresh eye each go-round.
  • Bitching. Bitching relieves some stress, if you have a good crit group (is there such a thing?) or a good writing partner (yes, there is such a thing; I have one.). Allow yourself a bit of it. By “a bit” I mean ten minutes TOPS, closer to five if you still want friends. And that’s not per day. That’s per week. But do not bitch publicly about a certain editor or copyeditor. The place for that is in the bar at a convention, not on the Internet where it makes you look like a jerk.
  • Physical activity. Writing is, despite its reputation, a physical job. It’s hard on the wrists and the back and the legs to sit and type for long periods of time, and it makes your brain calcify in odd ways too. Getting up and walking away from the thing, setting a timer and taking a break, is a good way to regain some crucial millimeters of perspective. It’s not much, but it helps. I run and climb my stress off, but you don’t have to. A brisk walk, a few jumping-jacks, a five-minute dance to your favourite jam, even just pounding on a pillow and screaming for five minutes counts. (And is immensely therapeutic, let me tell you. Heavy bag is also good, but watch your hands.) Moving around can help your brain shake free of the story.
  • Understand it’s not just you. Every writer deals with this to some degree. It is not a reason to stop writing, or to allow bitching to cut into writing time, or to be an asshole to your editor/copyeditor/marketing department/spouse/children/friends/passing strangers. This is part of the price of the art, and part of the drawbacks of publishing being, you know, a business.

A lot of people have asked me if I’m angry about all that work being gone. Eh, it’s on the Internet, it’s not gone. Plus, now when I get dotty and start repeating myself, it’s less aggravating. (Hopefully.) But above all, those posts are far enough in the past that I’m pretty detached. Better to start semi-fresh, I guess. And besides, it gave me something writing-related to blog about.

Silver linings, I guess. But if you do want to hunt down the hackers that have been messing with author sites lately and administer a beatdown, I won’t complain. Detachment doesn’t mean I’ve lost my rage.

Over and out.

[1] Revenge-editing is the practice whereupon an editor takes out their personal hatred for an author on the manuscript. This happens exponentially less often than one might suppose.

Sunday at Ikea

We stood there, a crowded Ikea throbbing behind us, for about twenty seconds. Then, I breathed, “Oh, my GOD,” and we looked at each other, in perfect accord.

“It’s…” He shook his head, obviously lost for words.

“It’s like all my childhood cartoons come to life,” I supplied, helpfully.

“Yeah.” He assesses the crowd with a quick glance over his shoulder. “Damn. It’s behind glass.”

“My hands are full.” I stare for another few seconds. “Take a picture.”

“…you know, I thought you were gonna tell me to break the glass and take it. And I would have met you in the parking lot.”

A giggle escapes me. “I don’t want to get arrested, or come up with bail money. Next time.”

“You’d come up with bail money?”

“I’d feel responsible. Take a picture!”

“Okay, okay…”

That was my Sunday at Ikea. It was GREAT.

Now it’s Monday, I’ve got a ton of work to catch up on since I spent the weekend getting the site restored (and finding out I’m missing my Sports Bra of DOOM post, which saddens me) and tearing my hair out over importing what I could save. (I never in a BILLION years thought I would use LJ as a backup. This is me, shaking my head.) So yeah, this makes twice the site has cratered…but now I have twice-daily backups running. NEVER AGAIN. It only took twice, right? I’m not a complete dolt.

So I finally get back to The Red Plague Affair and kill that sodding monkey, which was left in purgatory over the weekend. I feel sorry for the little beast, but it has to die. If I work like a demon for a couple days I should get back on track. Unless some damn thing ELSE happens. *shrugs* I’m ready. But I tell you, if something does happen…

…we might need that bail money after all.

Hand me the machete, darling.

Well. So, my site got hacked. It was up briefly…then down again. And now it’s up to stay…but I’ve lost everything before December ’09.

That’s okay, really. *sigh* I’m sure I can recreate any writing advice I had lying about. I’ve spent the day re-organizing and cleaning up categories and tags, and figuring out the skin to use in the theme, and all that sort of stuff. Plus, the Books pages. All over again. *headdesk*

Anyway. What a first-world problem to have, right? There is a silver lining–this means that the site redesign in mid-March will have a nice fresh slate to work with. Until then, please pardon the dust and the mess while I get everything situated just so.

ETA: If the site isn’t showing up right for you, pop me a line or comment and let me know. I can’t fix what I don’t know about, dahlinks.

Over and out…

Death By Rodent-Chasing Canine

So my dog tried to kill me this morning.

Well, really, it wasn’t her fault. She saw a squirrel across the street and twitched, thinking to bolt in front of me to go get it. Unfortunately, this was right where I tripped and fell last time. So down I went with an odd sense of deja vu, tore up my hands nicely, jolted my shoulder and my right knee this time. Just to change it up.

We run with the leash wrapped around my waist; I thread her collar and the leash through the handle a few times to make a pretty secure knot. It keeps it short enough that she can’t get far enough away to hurt herself, but it also means that her darting in front of me is a hazard. She’s gotten a lot better about it, true–most of the time I run right through her, not to be mean but just to teach her that she is not to get in the alpha’s way. But every circuit in her little doggy head fuses when she sees one of the little tree-rodent bastards. It would be funny if it hadn’t ended with me bleeding and actually crying from frustration and pain while lying on the sidewalk.

Yes, you read that right. I burst into tears. The pain wasn’t really that bad, but I was running off some frustration from earlier in the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. It’s just…some days, a killing spree seems like a good idea just to get things all cleared up and moving. Especially when I get horrendous and frustrating career news and other silly, stupid, complex problems pile up on me before 9AM.

So we ran the rest of the day’s mileage and I limped home, still bleeding but drained of adrenaline. Which has been a boon today, honestly. Other than just one (totally justified, because hey, I was BLEEDING) crying fit, I could have had several and a psychotic break too! Big fun. As it is, I have just taken to calling Miss B “Killer of Joggers” to add to her other honorifics, and she doesn’t care because she enjoys the accompanying chest-skritches and pets and loves. In fact, she rolls over and grins, panting happily, while I scratch her belly and recite her long list of titles, including “Mighty Squirrel Chaser” and “She Who Will Not Eat Dry Kibble.”

And you know, as long as I can still raspberry her fuzzy little tummy, things can’t be all bad. Even if she did try to murder me.

But if you tell anyone I cried, I’ll have to hurt you. *wink*

Share

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

Nice To Be Back

After a four-day weekend, sending the kids back to school means I miss them all over again, plus the house is too quiet. Except for the cat demanding to be held–and I realized, while holding her this morning, that I was swaying back and forth, patting her absently as she was hitched up on my shoulder, just like I would soothe and dandle a baby. (And I wonder why my animals are all so weird.) Miss B, after a few days of not running, was pretty much ready to explode out the gate when I took her on a nice easy three-miler yesterday, and today she had mad thoughts of chasing squirrels, and seagulls, and cars, and basically anything that twitched. Including long grass and windblown branches.

Fun times.

Plus, I dropped my gum when I went to throw it away, and every animal in the house dove for it. I don’t know what the hell they’d do with it, but they were Determined. Plus, they wanted my sweaty socks and my workout brassiere. I just don’t even know.

So here I am staring at the new Bannon & Clare book. My wordcount goal for today is 2K–not a lot, but enough to prime the pump and get me back into things. There’s a lot of interesting stuff coming down the pike, but nothing I can officially announce yet. (It just kills me to have to sit on some of it, but I am threatened with Dire Consequences if I open my big pie-hole.) I feel incredibly lazy because my wordcount dropped to around 200 a day, most of that tightening and toning other things; before the weekend it was revisions on the first book in the new YA series and some poking and prodding on the zombie-killing cowboy story. Which is, incidentally, in Bannon & Clare’s universe.

Perhaps I have said too much. *evil grin*

I have part of a new SquirrelTerror entry drafted…but it mentions Sweet Tuxedo and Cranky Duck Cat, and I can’t look at it without feeling the sick thump of grief all over again. So that’s going to have to wait. I am sure I will have other Tales of the Backyard, especially in a few months. Big changes afoot here at Casa Saintcrow!

The rain is invisibly fingering the roof, the animals have settled in their respective favourite sleeping spots, and I am about to go use my brand-new Machine Of GREAT CAFFEINATION. I swear, the thing is just like a best friend–warms up quickly, always willing to lend an ear, and dispenses sweet sweet go-juice. I could sing its praises all day, but I’d also have to talk about its belching, and a certain dog’s fear of its noise, and the howling song that has become traditional when the coffee grinder starts up. That story has got to wait, because I’m still giggling every time I think of it, and I need to concentrate to be able to tell it properly.

So, yeah. First day back at work. Quiet house. Lots of work-avoidance going on. Lots of starting up from my chair thinking it’s too quiet, what are they into now? Lots of wandering around the house looking at things that need cleaning, sighing, and dropping back into my chair and staring at a blank page that needs word-monkey juice spread on it.

It’s nice to be back.

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

Sit And Stare, Productively

I’m a winter writer. Endless gray, rainy days suit me very well. I like to sit and stare out the window, watching the sky weep, my brain tuned to that expectant humming that the next sentence will bring itself out of.

Maybe this is why I have, whenever I could in my adult life, built time into each day for dreaming, and insisted that the Prince and Princess have unstructured time each day. I’m of the opinion that it’s those moments of blankness that helps young (and older) brains catch up with themselves, and is also a necessary component of the creative process–the “creative pause.”

When you’re rushing to a solution, your mind will jump to the easiest and most familiar path. But when you allow yourself to just look out the window for 10 minutes – and ponder – your brain will start working in a more creative way. It will grasp ideas from unexpected places. It’s this very sort of unconscious creativity that leads to great thinking. When you’re driving or showering, you’re letting your mind wander because you don’t have to focus on anything in particular. If you do carve out some time for unobstructed thinking, be sure to free yourself from any specific intent. (Scott Belsky)

Part of why I prize that humming in my head so highly is because I’ve lived with people who have an absolute instinct for knowing when one’s brain is approaching that cycle, and for some reason they want to disrupt it in any way possible. (WHY they do this is a whole ‘nother ball of blog post wax. Let’s carry on.) Of course, it could be that I am picky and hard to live with. (Who isn’t?) But I’ve since become grateful for that harsh everyday annoyance. It was invaluable training in getting the creative pause in anyhow, triggering the blank expectant humming at a moment’s notice, slipping myself into that interstitial space within an eyeblink. It takes practice, but it can be done–and often, I surface knowing What Comes Next in a story.

My point (you knew I had one, right?) is that your faculties might do their best work with a little bit of white noise. Not too much–then you just drool all over your keyboard, and this, while not incredibly expensive if one buys cheap keyboards, is still annoying and embarrassing. But finding a way to fit even five minutes of just sitting and thinking, or sitting and staring (not at the television, Christ, throw that thing out the window or at least only use it for films) into your day can reap you rewards all out of proportion, especially when it comes to any creative endeavor. And getting into the habit of protecting that time will help you develop the skills necessary to protect your writing time, tooth and nail, against all comers. Which is exponentially more important…

…but that’s another blog post.

Over and out.

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