Liberation Adorable

So after a lot of back-and-forthing, and desperate attempts to write a dead book even though it made me physically ill…I no longer have to write the dead book. I don’t even have to attempt it. Instead, I can work on something that doesn’t make me stress-vomit each morning.

Needless to say, this is a welcome development, and when I got off the phone with my agent yesterday after making sure this was the case, I almost collapsed. My knees haven’t been that rubbery since I heard from my lawyer that the divorce was final. Pure relief and liberation tends to knock me right over, whereas pain just makes me more stubborn. (This, I’m sure, surprises none of my regular readers.)

As a result, this morning I feel liberated. Like the prison doors have opened and I’m free. The relief is intense enough to make me a little silly. Along with more snow dumping last night and both dogs deciding to be EXTRA adorable today. They’re always super adorable, but some days Miss B puts her paws on my chest and sneezes, and Odd keeps bringing me toys in order to bribe me to get out the door for walkies, and the adorbs is turned up to eleven. Especially when Miss B rests her chin on my knee and deploys the Big Doggy Eyes of “Yes, drink your coffee, I’ll just wait here. Patiently. See how patient I am? I am REALLY patient. Just waiting for you, Mum.”

Like that.

I’m excited to get to work today, which I haven’t been for a while. I’m flat-out gleeful to go into a book that won’t make me retch with stress.

But first, yes, finishing the coffee. And walkies. Before liberation, walk dog and drink coffee.

After liberation…walk dog and drink coffee.

Zero Drafts

I finished the zero draft of the first Combine’s Shadow book last night. So today is kind of an off-day, though I still have to get out the door for a run. God knows I’m feeling the pressure to get a whole chunk of Beast of Wonder out of my head today, too.

Every once in a while I get a rash of people asking “what’s a zero draft?” so I thought I might as well do a whole post on it, since I just finished one and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have another soon. (Beast of Wonder really, really wants to be written now, and I need it out of my head.)

It’s been said that all good writing is rewriting, and like all old chestnuts, it contains a grain of truth. Certainly there are occasions when a chunk of text falls out of my head and needs only minimal polishing before it’s ready for primetime, when I fall into a fugue state and churn out something beautiful. (The Muse does have to give me random rewards in order to keep me addicted, after all.) Those gifts are Easter-egg sprinkled through every draft, hidden hinges and visible ones for the story to hang on.

Zero draft means the work is done. It has the beginning, middle, end, there aren’t any places saying [[shit happens here]] or [[why isn’t this working, figure out the muppet here]] or [[jesus christ I have to kill this character soon]] or, one of my favorites, [[sex scene here?]]. It’s in recognizable book/short story/novella form; the corpse is whole and laid on the table. Celebrate, get a beverage of your choice, soak up the congrats of all your writer friends. You’ve given birth!

Now comes the hard part. Nobody else sees this draft. Oh, no. Are you kidding? It’s not even ready for mew writing partner or beta readers yet.

The zero draft is the raw steaming lump of creativity. I set it aside, for at least a week. More difficult works sometimes have to marinate for longer. This serves two purposes: it helps ease the snapback, and it gives some slight but critical emotional distance from the big, messy word-baby you’ve just laid. You need that distance in order to make the word-baby better, prettier, more appealing, truer to its shape and intention.

Once it’s marinated for a little bit, you can go back and do the initial revision pass. You can fix typos, you can trim and craft better sentences, do continuity checks–basically, the initial pass is for arranging the corpse prettily on the table, embalming it, fixing structural problems, changing your dialogue tags to action or description tags, and the like. After that pass, it becomes a first draft.

Now other people–writing partner, beta readers, etc.–can see it. Now you can let it marinate for a little while longer before another revision pass if you can tell it needs more. A zero draft is the skeleton; a first draft is that skeleton with padding and clothing added. (Yes, I’m gleefully abusing metaphors here to make a point. You’d think I was a writer.) Work doesn’t stop at a first draft–I know writers who get to at least the third before they even consider letting an agent or editor near it. I tend to work hot and lean even in my first drafts, so I need agent/editor feedback on where the lacunae are, those things I can see so clearly in my head I forget the reader doesn’t have that image as well. It’s rare that I keep a book until the second or third draft.

Why don’t I call a zero a first draft? Because it’s finished, yes, but it’s not quite arranged, painted, or aesthetically where I want it. The brute work of typing is done, but it’s the cut and polish that makes it better. Still, the zero is a thing to celebrate. You’ve got to give yourself a break and a reward or two for finishing the damn story before you can gather the energy to make the corpse ready for the viewing.

It doesn’t mean the work is over, but you’ve got to take the good things where you find them.

Up for Air

Humpback Whale in Body of Water
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Finished the copyedits. It took four passes, one of which was a page-by-page compare-collate with the actual final draft. By the end, unwashed, glaring, exhausted, and ready to kill the next person who tossed a semicolon where it didn’t belong, I sent the entire package off.

That was my weekend. I know some people have weekends that are actually relaxing, but mine are for catching up, especially since salaried publishing folks (not the writers, never the writers, give them a salary and they might be able to pay their bills, forsooth!) tend to clear things off their desks on Friday, dumping them into freelancer laps. Which wasn’t how the CEs landed on me, but I’ve gotten in the habit of the weekend being just like the work-week.

I did manage to get some housework done, and of course, Odd Trundles got his bath. Have you ever seen umpty-scrump pounds of bulldog practicing Gandhi-like passive resistance in the face of warm water and soap? It’s as amusing (and as hard on the lumbar spine) as you’d imagine. I have to carry Odd from his hiding place to the bathtub, scrub every crusted inch of him–oh, the crusts? Well, bulldogs are yeasty, and I can only wash him once a week or he gets skin problems. So, there’s a daily session with a sponge and a warm washcloth to get creases and folds cleaned out, as well as baby wipes (and, let’s be honest, hemorrhoid wipes) to deal with the more delicate valleys. Things have gotten way better since we switched to a sulfur shampoo, but still, every morning there’s various secretions to be worked free of his surprisingly sensitive skin.

I’ve talked several people out of getting bulldogs just by detailing Odd’s vet bills and the daily routine that keeps him clean and unscabrous.

Anyway, today is for rest and renewal, coming up for air. Knitting. Finishing my meander through Antonioni’s trilogy. An easy run with Miss B at my side. Looking through the projects I have left on my docket and arranging them. I’m not supposed to work today, I’m supposed to rest so I can be more efficient and energetic tomorrow.

But I’m sure I’ll steal a few minutes to write on Beast of Wonder. Or something else. If I go without writing for a day I’m uneasy; two days and I’m uncomfortable; any more and the urge becomes actual physical pain, fingertip to hair-end to toes. I have never understood writing as a hobby; for me, it’s an outright need.

In any case, today is for being gentle with myself. And, possibly, for dancing around the office a bit. Needs and projects are good, yes. But dancing is another matter entirely.

Happy Monday, my friends.

Beetles In Braids

Peekaboo.
November is upon us. I just looked up and realized as much.

I also realized that the novel I chose for NaNo has a process that is slightly uncongenial to the whole NaNo goal. *sigh* Of course, I’ve hit around 20k, so it’s time for retrenchment–going back and reading the first bit so I can see the shape of the rest lying under a blanket. Feeling around for the story’s contours is vaguely unsettling–you can’t tell what’s going to move under the sheet, or when a tentacle or cold fingers will suddenly clasp your wrist–but necessary.

So most of the wordcount today has been filling in the hills and valleys I can see from my vantage point in the story. There’s some moving bits I haven’t accounted for yet, and I want to make it more complex than this world perhaps needs to be. On the other hand, it’s the YA my agent wants, so she’ll get teenage-protagonists-dealing-with-adult-bullshit. At least it won’t be sent out on submission.

Small mercies.

Other things that happened today: I washed a dead beetle out of my hair and Miss B tried to kill me. Apparently running on windy days will fill my mane with all sorts of crap, even when it’s braided. I may have shrieked in a less-than-dignified fashion as soon as I realized what the holy hell that knot near the ends actually was. Fir needles I can live with, dead leaves or grass, rain, that’s all fine. But I draw the line at beetles, Mother Nature.

I suppose I should be grateful it wasn’t a bee. I’d feel awful is a bee died in my hair, instead of just hitching a ride for a short while.

I did take B on my run, and she didn’t really try to kill me then. I should have known her halfhearted attempts meant only that she was saving herself up for a larger challenge. While the kettle was heating up for my second cuppa of the day, I did a little stretching–got to take care of your body, the old corpse needs flexibility, stretching’s good for you, right? Except I may have made a noise that led B to think I was dying, and she launched herself at me in an attempt to save her beloved owner.

And knocked me over. Onto the tiled floor. And stepped on me several times while trying to ascertain just what was wrong with me. I may have used some unbecoming language during that whole episode.

At least I didn’t hit my head on the oven. There’s that. And life is never boring with a hyper-charged herding canine around.

So now, sore, full of adrenaline, and with a fresh tankard of tea, I am all set for the afternoon’s games.

Wish me luck.

Working Time

I’m waiting for the coffee to settle before I go on a longish run, and thinking about the day’s work. There’s Beast of Wonder to get decent wordcount in on; the book wants to be written piecemeal with a dialogue skeleton first. Which is my very most un-favourite way to write a book, but since this one probably won’t see publication, I can let it take the shape it wants over however-long. There’s also the YA my agent wants. Which makes two projects that will perhaps never see publication. It’s not a good use of my working time on the whole, but the next bit of Roadtrip Z needs some thought. I know what happens, I just need the proper entry into that phase of the story. Which requires thought.

I know what I’ll be thinking about for most of my run. Frustration will mount, and by the time I get home, I’ll be no closer to a solution but at least I’ll feel like I’ve taken action Later today, maybe in the shower or while cleaning in between writing sessions, the opening will appear to me and I’ll wander away from what I’m doing to write it down. (Hopefully not in the shower, it’s no longer summer.) Or maybe while knitting, which means I’ll drop my yarn and start typing furiously.

There are other projects waiting, like an attempt to go back to Deadroad and maybe resurrect that poor story. Not to mention Harmony, which needs another 30k. It’s a monster of a book, but since it’s only for one person, I suppose that doesn’t matter. Today, though, I’ll write to please myself. Especially since we’re coming up on the release of Steelflower at Sea. I’m excited for the new release, of course, but I’m also…well, the book has had a long hard road to publication. I still get stress nausea when I open the mostly-done third book (Steelflower in Snow) and go back into that world. A lot of writers don’t talk about the emotional cost of people outright stealing our work. It’s damn near crippling on some projects.

I’ve my work cut out for me, but first I need to get my coffee down and get out the door. The wind it up, so my eyes will be stinging and leaves will be flying. Of course I’ll return with my hair full of leaves, needles, and possibly bees. I do try not to carry the bees too far from their territories, but if they’re going to crawl into my hair, well, they get what they get. The other day I also had a beetle nestling in my braid, for what purpose I do not know. Maybe I’m just public transport for pollinators.

I also lost some writing time last week doing the website revamp. Do you like it, fair Readers? It should load far more quickly now.

That’s all the news for today. It’s the end of the witch’s year, and tomorrow the kids are home to celebrate Samhain with me. There will be food, and fun, and baking. And not a little sugar.

Over and out.

Looking for Love

Me: I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Louis: YOU’RE A REAL PAL. OKAY, SO IS THIS A GOOD POSE?
Me: I guess?
Louis: YOU’RE NOT HELPING.
Me: Look, the last time I saw you, you were shooting at everyone.
Louis: I SAID I WAS SORRY.

Louis: SO OKAY, IT SHOULD GO, SINGLE MALE LOOKING FOR FRIENDS.
Me: Friends?
Louis: YEAH, WELL, IT’S GOTTA START THERE, RIGHT? LIKES: LONG WALKS, NATURE, COLD BEER. SHOULD I PUT DISLIKES?
Me: I’m not sure there’s space.
Louis: GOOD POINT. ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE. DID YOU GET MY GOOD SIDE? DO I LOOK RELAXED?
Me: …you look fine.

Louis: OKAY, SO HOBBIES. LET’S SEE.
Me: Well, what do you like to do?
Louis: KILL ZOMBIES.
Me: …other than that.
Louis: DRINK BEER.
Me: How about reading? Do you like to read?
Louis: WEAPONS MANUALS.
Me: *trying to keep a straight face* Cooking? Do you like to cook?
Louis: I CAN ROAST A SQUIRREL.
Me:

Yeah, poor Louis is looking for love. I’m not sure online dating is for him, but he’s insistent, and since he’s going to be living in the backyard with the rest of the crew, I might as well try to be helpful.

Different Speeds

A dream of trying to get to a petrol station with a janky old minibus told me it was definitely time to get up this morning. I’m not allowed to run today–stressing my flu-ridden body with easy 5km jogs for the past couple days was just enough to scratch the itching under my skin, but not enough to tip me back into mucus, coughing, and wishing I could just crawl under a rock. The dogs turned their noses up at breakfast, since it didn’t have bacon grease smeared on the bottom of the bowl.

They are spoiled little things. When they get hungry enough, they’ll eat.

Stories often follow the same principle. The surrealist book I’m attempting is a painful word-by-word slog, each one chipped out and deleted three or four times as its sentence is tweaked, honed, and settled like a jigsaw piece. On the other hand, I fall into Broken Profile for an hour or so, enjoying myself by just transcribing the movie in my head. And the nascent YA is somewhere between the two, a steady process of building. Each book is different, but when one reaches the point where they refuse, setting out the bowl of kibble and waiting is often the best (or only feasible) strategy.

You can’t bat if you’re not waiting at the plate. (There, that’s my one sports metaphor, now I can go for months without making another.)

In the meantime, I knit a few rows, tap a little on Abyssrium, think about the story, test words inside my head like testing a handhold while climbing. Fingertips first, the rest of my body clinging to the rock, then a decision–a slow transferring of weight, or a sudden lunge?

It’s the former more often than you’d think, though I prefer the latter.

Anyway, I’ve gotten my amnesiac narrator onto the city streets, and next comes the meeting with the bargain-basement psychopomp. Maybe I should write the bathtub scene, though–that’s what’s filling my head right now with a ripple of water and clumps of black-tar desperation.

It’s a sunny morning. Maybe, instead of fighting with this, I’ll walk Miss B around the block. By the time I get to the end of the street, the problem will be solved.

Over and out.