Different Effort

Good morning, dear ones. Welcome to the regular Friday post, written on a new MacBook Pro that is, no doubt, smarter than I am. (But I’m learning. If I can figure out how to jump to the top and end of a MSWord for Mac document on a keyboard that has no “home” or “end” key, I think I’ll be all set.) A new laptop always makes my brain hurt during the transition period, and I don’t think i was particularly smart to switch over to a whole new operating system as well while I am struggling with a couple hairy deadlines. Ah, well. It will force the neurons to make more connections, always a good thing.

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running right now. I am nowhere near Murakami in terms of talent or in terms of running stamina–he does a marathon every year, I guess–but it’s interesting to read and see how I feel about running and writing echoed or in some cases, disagreed with. I’m not quite sure I agree with him about talent being the major prerequisite for being a novelist, but then, I’m a hack. I don’t feel like I have much talent. I feel like I’ve worked so hard for so long that certain things have become easier.

But that is (as I often say) another blog post. One of the things Murakami noted that resonated with me was the fact that writing is a grueling physical job. It may not look like it, since there is a lot of sitting at a laptop involved, but writing is a whole-body act, and the brute typing of 60-100K words (strenuous in and of itself) is not the whole story. I’ve written before about the state of focused wonder; that takes physical energy too.

I have never openly admitted this before, but writing action scenes often tires me out as much as the characters I put through hell. I often–almost invariably–develop body aches and actual bruises in spots where a main character has been injured. My jury is out on whether it’s psychosomatic, a reflection of the tension and identification I feel with my characters (though I am categorically NOT my characters, thank you) or just plain crazy.

I am comfortable not knowing.

But that’s not really what I wanted to write about. Today I wanted to make the point that there are different kinds of effort involved in the writing/revision/publication process.

Reader Amanda asked last week:

I am making it through the editing, I am even up to handling the rejection-go-round. What I AM having difficulty with is after printing off my manuscript and editing it, putting the edits back into my computer.

My brain just doesn’t seem to… well. Handle it. After looking at the page and looking back at the screen and typing in stuff bit by bit for an hour I’m spent. My brain does not compute the tedious process. Any tips on how to handle that or make it easier? I don’t have a scanner or anything, and of course there’s no one else but moi to do this grunt work.

Am I just being a super-wimp or what?

You’re not a super-wimp. Editing and revising, particularly of your own work, uses a totally different set of mental and emotional (I would be willing to add physical, too) “muscles”. This is part of why I advocate a cooling-off period after finishing the zero draft and going in to make it into a reasonable first draft. The act of creation, of pulling something out of nothing, is very much like digging a well. the act of editing is like trimming trees, and the act of revision is like self-surgery. They are completely different, and they require different emotional fuel AND different ways of tricking yourself into the work.

A lot of new or novice writers make the mistake of thinking that since they’ve horked up a reasonably finished manuscript, the revision should be no problem. This is so, so wrong, and it’s one of the things I try to tell my writing students. You absolutely must treat revision as a different animal and do what it takes to acquire just a bit of emotional distance from the work you’re going to be cutting up and trying to prettify.

Here’s what I do: first of all, I schedule in time to let a book or short story sit. A short can take a day or two, a book needs a week at least. I ask for and make sure I get this time, I do what’s necessary to pad my schedule around it. That gives me time to stop looking at the piece like a new baby.

The second critical thing is this: I change the formatting.

I write in print layout in Word, single-space–somehow the idea that there are sheets of paper there helps me. When I go back to revise a work I put in page numbers, the provisional title and my last name in the header, and I double-space it as if I’m going to submit it.

For some reason, just those few little changes in the way the document looks helps me shift over into considering the book as a finished piece that needs work instead of a baby I’ve just given birth to and now need to cuddle. I have even occasionally printed out a troublesome book and gone through it with pencil and red pen and Post-Its, making notes and changes that I then feed one by one into the electronic document. After a few of those, my brain caught the idea that double-space meant we were in surgery instead of creation mode.

It’s much easier for me to edit other people’s work than my own. (Gee, what a surprise.) But a few sessions of editing exhaust me more than daily wordcount, mostly because it’s more like clearing hurdles or doing schoolwork than writing. All my critical faculties are brought to bear on the piece in question, without fear or favor, and it uses my brain very differently. The thing that helps me when I’m doing a lot of editing, believe it or not, is trashy movies. I watch a LOT of B-movies if I’m doing edit work; any film or book that requires effort instead of just-plain-watching just doesn’t happen. The movies are to let the flywheel in my brain slow down, I guess.

So, Amanda, this is normal. Try figuring out what you need in order to replace the type of mental energy you’re spending. The good news is, once you find out, you’ll be able to revise a lot more easily. The bad news? It will require just as much, or more, energy than the outright writing of the piece itself.

But then, if this was simple, we wouldn’t like it so much, would we.

Over and out.

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

Regular Blogging Will Resume Shortly

I am writing this on the shiny new MacBook Pro that was delivered yesterday, a full day ahead of schedule. Yesterday was a day of lucky breaks, from the Coyote showing up just as I was leaving for errands to lunch in Portland at PF Chang’s. (Verdict: OK wine, garlic and sauces good, service all right, not sure it’s worth what they’re charging.) I got to wander around Powell’s for a while, and just as I got home what should show up but a lovely little box with this new laptop in it?

My brain hurt with the switch between operating systems, but I’m doing OK today. Thanks to everyone who gave me help and advice! I’m sure I’ll be flailing with other things in the future. Right now I’m trying to make my MSWord display the way I like it. I like the print layout view, but with one page at a time at 100% zoom, the rest of the screen a blank Word window. For some reason this little Mac doesn’t seem to like that. So it’s button-mashing for me for a while. I seem to learn everything on a computer by just playing around and pressing things at random until I get the effect I want. It makes for some interesting times.

So now I’m settling into an afternoon of writing, since I just got home from getting the first hip tat shaded in. Yowch. Generally the easier the outline, the harder the shading is, and vice versa. My other hip tat is outlined, but the shading won’t be so bad. At least, my tattoo artist swears it won’t be. Funny thing, though–these are the easiest tats I’ve ever gotten. The back was gruesome, to say the least; the ribs were ZOMG painful.

Anyway, I doubt you want to hear about my Adventures in Body Modification. I’m still whacking away at that short story. It will be a lot easier now that my workspace has settled down. I can work just about anywhere, I know…but I don’t have to.

It’s a bright sunny day and I have smut to write. Catch you tomorrow for our regular Friday post, and next week more in-depth blogging should resume. For right now, though, let’s see how much trouble I can get these characters into…

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

Just Not Happening (Much)

Am I really undertaking to write 4-5K of solid smut?

Apparently I am. But being in a pissy mood means that every single word of a sex scene has to be pulled out with pliers. Not really very sexy, so I’ll just link to my old advice about writing those smexx0rs and call it a draw.

Today was a day of errands and waiting and more errands and a haircut and turning the scene over and over inside my head, trying desperately to find the hook that will let me step in and catch the flow. Some days one keeps reaching and reaching, and the words come out only in dribbles. Like Devon Monk recently wrote, I’m turtling toward a dream today.

Oh well. The characters want to fall into bed, I want them to fall into bed, I just have to arrange things so they will.

*cracks knuckles*

All right. Let’s tango.

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

Oh, Monday.

Oh, Monday. Just when I thought my week couldn’t get any better, you come along.

Thankfully I don’t have to visit the dentist for a while now. I mean, they’re nice people, and the nitrous is okay, but the less time I spend there the better.

I had an extraordinarily productive weekend, between tax filing, mowing the lawn (always my favorite chore, NOT) and cleaning gutters. You’d think gutters would be right up my alley. Alas, no. I loathe cleaning them. Except I put together plot architecture, mumbling under my breath while I scooped out sludge and freed up stagnant water. If that book turns out soggy, I know who to blame.

So now it’s working on that short story and waiting for my mouth to feel like it belongs to me again, while I listen to Brahms and long for a cup of coffee.

Oh, Monday. In a few hours you’ll be gone, and we’ll both be happier that way.

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

Once More, With Feeling

Cross-posted to the Deadline Dames. We’re a few steps away from world domination. Resistance is futile.

Today’s Friday post comes from Reader Cat K., who asked the Deadline Dames:

How do you find the guts to keep going? I’ve sent out some queries, did my research, and all I keep on getting is the R word – that horrible word that has the capability to break your heart,to shatter hopes and dreams.

From reading your blog for almost a year – I know this happens, and that it happens a lot. So, how is it that you guys keep on going? Don’t you ever doubt yourselves, your stories? Do you ever say “Well, shit. I’ve tried my best, now it’s time to let it go.”? Was there ever time you wanted to give up? Break down into a snivelling heap on the floor? Scream to the heavens, “Why does no one like my book!?!?!?”?

What I really want to know is this: Do I just have to duck my head, stick my tongue out at the last agent that rejected me, and burrow my way through until I finally get representation?

I am sorry to say this, but…yeah. Ducking your head, sticking your tongue out, and burrowing your way through is the only way I know how to do it. There’s another critical component, which is trying to polish your craft until you get to the point where someone tells you why they rejected your work. Listening to someone tell you why is possibly the most painful thing a writer can face, and it engages every defense a person has built up to protect themselves from pain. Plenty of people retreat from writing for publication because of that pain.

This is a reasonable response. It’s the same reason people snatch their fingers back from a hot stove, it f$%#&ing hurts.

On the other hand, if you live your life in fear of rejection, it’s going to be very goddamn uncomfortable and you’ll get rejected anyway. Rejection is a daily occurrence. People get rejected for dates, jobs, publication, recording contracts, aid, all sorts of things. Rejection is like the rain here in the Pacific Northwest. It rains on the just, the unjust, and the just-plain-weary equally. It is a fact of life.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? There are as many ways of dealing with and overcoming rejection as there are human beings. You can find one that works for you with enough practice.

One that I really liked was the Rejection Party. You get a bunch of your friends together, throw all the rejection letters in a bag or a hat, and then everyone takes turns reading the rejection letters out of the hat, using a crazy accent or acting it out with obscene gestures, you get the idea. (Shots of liquor are optional during this game, as long as everyone’s a grownup.) The game usually devolves into hysterical laughter and in-jokes, and it’s a great way to take the sting out of rejection. (It can also get a little crazy, so be warned.)

My own particular method has been a variety of near-pathological persistence. Quitting wasn’t an option; getting good enough that someone somewhere would publish something was my only option. Once I made up my mind, I became very teachable. This is, I think, crucial. Thinking that you know everything about writing, that the editors just don’t understand your geeeeeeenyus, that they owe you a chance–well, that’s the best way to get stuck with rejections for the rest of your natural born. Try, no matter how hard or how painful, to view rejection as both a crushing disappointment and an invitation to learn something.

There’s no use in lying, so I won’t. Rejection hurts. Even after you get an agent, you are still rejected by publishers; after you have a publisher you can still be rejected by readers. There is no insurance against it. There are a million different reasons why someone might not like your book. Some of those reasons may lie in your writing, some may lay with the reader, but you won’t ever know for sure. It’s the kind of question that can drive you crazy.

How do you find the guts to keep going? I agree with Matt Hughes: It’s a question of no surrender. You can make up your mind that you’re not going to be beaten. You can laugh at the slings and arrows of rejection and mock them in funny accents. You can set your chin and stubbornly plow ahead, you can make it a contest–see how close you can get each time, compete with yourself.

Best of all, (and this is something I’ve never told anyone about before) you can go into any bookstore and take any book off the shelf. Look at it. Heft it in your hand. Open it up and see the text. Smell the paper.

Now, think about this: The person who wrote that book was rejected too, many a time. They persisted at least more time than they were rejected. If all else fails, you can just tell yourself “one more time”. As many times as you can. As many times as it takes.

It’s the only way I know.

Over and out.

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

Let The Story Bloom

Tired today. Not sure if the coffee will help. I know I’ll sleep well tonight, but that doesn’t really help when I’m longing so hard for just a little more sleep. Maybe the treadmill will shake the cobwebs out of my head.

*time passes*

Yeah, I just started a blog post and wandered away. I’m not firing on all cylinders this morning. Or more precisely, I am, but the story living in my head is taking up about half of the cylinders. I’m in that weird in-between space where a story is germinating. It looks like it’s just laying there, but it’s actually really busy under the surface putting itself together. I can even hear it, like Morlock machinery in the dark.

Selene has changed. I guess a century or so of living on your own and working as a mercenary will do that. It’s nice to see–I could have just about strangled her, before. Poor character, wanting to control her own destiny. Doesn’t she know that’s MY job? *maniacal laugh*

It’s a sunny morning, and I’m a little tired. So I’m just going to take it really easy today and let the story bloom. Some things you just can’t rush. If there’s one useful thing I’ve learned in the past (however many) years of doing this for a living, it’s that feeling or weird breathless rumbling while the subconscious engine puts together the rest of a story, right before the rumble breaks up out of the earth’s crust and downloads itself through your fingers.

Catch you later.

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Zero Drafts And Hip Tats

I really don’t have much to report today. Yesterday was the first rock-climbing class (not mine, mine got rescheduled) and it looks like the kids are going to love it. I also visited the dentist yesterday. Big fun. They act like I’m a big baby when I insist on the nitrous, but I don’t care. It’s stressful enough enduring fillings; why suffer if I don’t have to?

Today I got the outline of the first of a pair of hip tattoos. I was kind of dreading it, but actually the hip isn’t that bad. My back was loads worse, especially around my ribs. Ouch! But the hip was ticklish-painful in a couple places, otherwise not so bad. Yes, I will probably have a couple pictures when everything heals up. I just hate looking at pictures of freshly-done tats; they look so raw. Plus, I’m pretty pale and I flush very easily (you wouldn’t think it, but I do blush at the drop of a hat) and it always looks worse on me, especially since I only get black-and-white work done.

Last but not least, I finished the zero draft of a teaser for Angel Town, the last (planned) Kismet book. I’m giving it a day to rest, polishing tomorrow, then sneaking it in under the wire for inclusion in Heaven’s Spite. Now I can turn my attention to the Selene & Nikolai short, which I planned the skeleton for yesterday. I will post more about where and how the short will appear (it will be in a print anthology if everything works out all right) as soon as we have definitive answers.

Whenever I do a short story, I usually do at least two or three “false starts” before I find the real story. Then I bang my head against the first few scenes of the real story, and finally in exasperation do a sort of halfass outline of the rest, scene by scene and planning for each scene to be 1-1.5K. Then I let the thing rest for a day, and suddenly when I go back to it everything spills out in a rush like it was just waiting for me to show up. I’ve learned not to agonize over this process too much. The false starts are frustrating, but they sometimes provide a base for other things, so I just stick them in the graveyard and be done with them.

And…that’s all the news that’s fit to print. I’m going to go back to my coffee and poking at the short story now. After that beast is zero-drafted I have a first pass on the fourth Dru book to perform, and the end of May should see me with nothing on my slate but proof pages and Angel Town.

Ahhh, that sounds like heaven. Catch you later.

PS: I am still ruminating on my next laptop possibly being a Mac. Feel free to go comment, answer questions, give me the benefit of your thinking.

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