Simple Link Soup

Today is Take Your Middle-Schooler To Work Day. Since I work at home…yeah, there was pleading. The Princess is usually so good, and she’s worked so hard, that I am allowing her to “come to work” with me today. Which basically means running errands with me, and hanging around the house while I bonk my head against revisions. The lucky little chickadee.

I’m deep in the wilds of revision and making a final push today, plus I have a ton of people who really need answers and correspondence from me. They’ve been very patient, and I need to get right on that and start cracking. So today it’s just a couple of links:

* Yes, health insurers want you dead. Or at least, very ill. Why else would they have $2 billion in stock in fast food companies? (h/t to Mark Morford.)

* Lucienne Diver with three things every writer should know.

* And something I’ve found helpful lately: 50 things you can control right now. In this vein, Thich Nhat Hanh on the here and now. Deeeep breath.

There now. That’s better.

See you on the other side, dear Readers.

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

Worry Well

I’ve received a lot of very good advice in the last six months. Some of it I can’t keep in my head because too much has been swirling around. The remainder I repeat to myself daily. Like this:

If you must worry, don’t worry in quantity. Worry in quality. Worry well.

I am a champion worrier. Apparently a key component of my makeup is the phrase, “why be happy when you can brood?” I wouldn’t even hesitate to call my propensity for worry downright Olympian. Or even pathological.

Part of the problem is that I was trained as a child to anticipate and care for the needs of everyone around me before even thinking about my own. Part of it, I suspect, is inborn. Another part is my habitual insomnia. Sleeplessness breeds worry like food and oxygen breed Tribbles.

There’s been a lot of changes lately, not the least of which occurred yesterday and involved a metric ton of paperwork as well as some serious cash. I collapsed at home afterward and thought, my God, what have I done? My writing partner saved the day: “It’s called buyer’s remorse, and you should ignore it. This will make you and your kids safer. The way things were before wasn’t sustainable.”

She was right. This is just another instance where I have to worry well.

I often worry that my career will evaporate and I’ll be left with two little ‘uns to support and no means of doing so. It takes a physical effort, sometimes, to remind myself that pessimistic thinking has never really gotten me anywhere and can be downright unhealthy. I have to tell myself, sometimes out loud: If you think about that, Lili, you also need to think about what you’ll do if it doesn’t tank. What if you have a long, successful career? Focus on that, and what you need to do for that. This is healthier and strengthens your odds.

It’s that last part that really convinces even my muscular, overworked Inner Sceptic. I strongly believe that I got published because I work damn hard and I’m willing to learn. Discipline and teachability (in other words, the ability to admit I’d made a mistake and do better next time, which is critical if you’re thinking of getting published) are things I have some control over, and they’re incidentally things that up my chances.

I can’t control what happens tomorrow. I really can’t. But I can control how hard I work today, what priorities I set, and I can definitely control whether or not I admit I’m wrong. Those things happen to maximize my chances of having a good career–or, if the writing tanks, they prepare me to do other things.

I don’t honestly expect my writing career to tank. Sure, tomorrow the publishers could decide I’m not a good risk or readers could decide en masse I’m a hack who isn’t worth the cash spent on a paperback. It could happen. But it’s far more likely that if I keep my head about me I will eke out a living by the written word, seeing as how I’ve come this far. And there is a great deal of this that is up to me.

You see, worry is only very rarely about what you’re actually worrying about. Just like anger is most often about perceived or real helplessness, a lot of worry revolves around control. (Which is, I guess, another response to perceived or actual helplessness.) Realizing that is a huge component of worrying well and effectively instead of flailing around at three in the morning, exhausting yourself and just generally being an idiot.

So now I have to go worry well over these revisions. The book doesn’t suck as much as I thought it might. Then again, I’m only halfway through and there’s plenty of time for things to go wrong…

…or really, really right.

See what I mean?

Over and out.

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

Harumph.

I feel like a cranky old granny today. “All you kids get off my lawn!” As I rattle my cane and glare balefully.

The weekend was busy. Fortunately, a huge personal disappointment isn’t throwing me into the slough of despond; I think I’ve reached the point where I’m actively expecting to be treated well. And when that doesn’t happen, I’m cutting my losses sooner. I used to think that if you just loved someone hard enough, everything else would work out. Now I’m slowly learning that loving someone does not have to mean sacrificing every last bit of myself only to have them disdain me in the end for being too easy.

So. This weekend there was much glee, because the couch arrived. I didn’t get a couch before now because, well, there was a lot of cleaning-up I had to do after people and seriously, I did not have time to even THINK of cleaning a couch. Now that the living space has calmed down immensely and I’m picking up after just two reasonable children instead of several over-18 children (oh, don’t even get me started on man-boys!) I felt like I could have something nice. So…I got something nice. And I spent a half-hour with a ratchet putting the sofa arms on.

It was the first time in my life I had actually used a ratchet. I felt quite, quite manly.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, but I didn’t mow the lawn. I probably should have, but it was my friend Monk’s birthday. So there was a new recipe tried for dinner, much laughing and talking, and a generally great time was had by all. Plus, Monk got to crash on the new sofa instead of the laundry pile or the air mattress I used to drag out for him to sleep on.

Sometimes it is just the little things.

The most helpful part of the weekend was reading Jennifer Crusie’s most awesome essay on protecting the work. I realized that I’ve let a lot of Life Stuff impinge on my working in the last six months. Granted, they’re the sort of life stressors, both positive and negative, that can really throw anyone for a loop. But now it’s time to buckle down and really remind myself that people who don’t value me are people I can do without, and people I don’t need to drain myself to take care of.

This is a huge realization for me. I’ve spent a lot of my life taking care of people, and it’s liberating to narrow the field to the people who I WANT to take care of instead of anyone in perceived pain I wander across. Healthier? Yes. Sometimes exhausting because I feel the pull of old bad habits? Oh, hell yes.

Which is why I think I might print out Ms. Crusie’s excellent essay and read it every day for a while. If I have to be a cranky old woman to protect my work…

…well then, I guess I’ll have to buy a cane.

See you tomorrow, dear Readers.

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

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.