Yeah, well, it’s been a little strange here. Between the crows yelling at me to be careful, the thunderstorm yesterday (Miss B is still a little jumpy, she hates that shit) and getting the Princess prepped for upcoming international travel, it’s a wonder I still have my sanity. (Such as it is.) The crows cluster me when I leave the house, keeping an eye on proceedings. Yesterday they settled in the grocery store parking lot and set up a racket while I was picking up eggs. (Quelle ironic.) Then, at home, they chattered from the treetops when I took the dogs out. BE WARY, they caw. LOOK OUT. WE CAN’T WATCH ALL THE TIME, THERE’S WORMS TO EAT.
Plus, I just realized I finished two zero drafts, one after another, so no wonder my brain feels like it’s been put through a blender. And yet, the next set of books has jumped on me and it will barely let me breathe, let alone rest.
Not that I’m complaining. I just have to shepherd my strength a little more carefully for, oh, let’s see, the next six months? Possibly the next year? *headdesk* Certainly. Sure. I can be a reasonable adult for that long. Can’t I? Right?
The crows are at it again. I’m glad they’re looking out for me, but unless they’re going to descend and peck the eyes out of this trilogy, they’re really more of a sonic hindrance at this point. I am on my guard and armored, my hand to the hilt and my senses all aglow with caution.
* “Amazon doesn’t care about you,” we said. “But they do!” some idiots replied. No, they don’t. They fucking don’t. Kindle Unlimited is just another way to get screwed. It’s just like Amazon to drag their feet in dealing with scammers. I want to yell “I TOLD YOU SO,” but I’m going to be more polite and just leave that link there.
* I’m not sure what to think about this method of dealing with asshole gamers. I mean, I’m glad it seems to work, but I can’t help wondering if it really does work or if it somehow gets circumvented. Because plenty of assholes spend a lot of time and energy looking for ways to be assholes. Imagine, if they spent all that energy learning to be decent human beings.
* Why yes, I’m a bit of a pessimist today. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CLUE? It must be finishing two zero drafts in a row. I feel like my brain is made of Swiss cheese. And not fresh Swiss cheese, either.
* For my fellow runners: looks like paper surgical tape can help with blisters. I haven’t had a blister since I switched socks, but you bet your bippy I’m going to be looking for some of that stuff just in case. BE PREPARED is not only the name of the writing game but the running game as well. Now if only I could find something reasonable for chafing…
And that’s Five Things that make a Monday post. I swear to God, if Monday even BREATHES wrong on me, I’m going to use my machete.
The genie story is being…troublesome. I finally figured out the problem, which was that it wanted me to go back and braid in the villain POVs it had merrily tossed by the wayside earlier. This led to me stamping about the house snarling, “You could have told me so,” at the Muse, who just laughed and selected another bonbon from a pretty pink-wrapped paper heart.
Some days, I think she does things just to spite me. Other days, I know she does.
Crappy writing days happen, and this week’s been a string of them. They come in different shapes and sizes.
There’s the “everyone will hate this, it’s full of holes, you’re not a real writer” days. There’s the days when you have to drag words kicking and screaming from your cerebellum, chip them free of old leaden rock. There’s the “cat videos are so much better than this” days, and the “Jesus fucking Christ what have I got myself into, we’re all going to starve because I think I can write” days. There’s the days you have to fight so hard to preserve your writing time from the internet, from friends who think “well, she works at home, of course she has time” or from the stupid machinery of living–you know, the stuff that forces you to do Other Things like shop for groceries or take the rubbish out.
After a long run of bad writing days, one can question one’s commitment a tad. This is when habit and discipline save you. Even two hundred measly words and a bucket of frustration is more than one had yesterday. (The frustration’s great fuel for running. Silver lining, I guess.) This is why I tell people who come to me for writing advice that it’s crucial to write every day, even if only for ten minutes. Set your smartphone or tiny kitchen timer. Carve out that space, and use it. It will save you when the bad writing days (inevitably) come along.
Sooner or later a good day will hit. You just have to be ready for it, and it’s a lot easier to be ready when you’re in the habit of showing up.
So I’m stubbornly going back to it. I thought I’d finish the genie story this week, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards. Today is for revising and knitting in more of the villain. Gutting it out, one day at a time, waiting for the magic. Sometimes it only happens in dribs and drabs, but those accretions add up. And finally, at last, you’ll have a whole zero draft on your hands.
It’s bad enough that Frau L left, and does not appear despite his yodeling down the stairs. Thankfully, the intervals between said yodels are growing longer, as he grasps that she may not just be down there ignoring his sad self. There was also Spring Break, during which the Prince and Princess were home to distract him from missing the lovely young lady who learned how to rub his ears despite their relationship getting off to a rather rocky start. (It was rom-com worthy, let me tell you.)
But now Spring Break has ended. The children are back in school. And Odd Trundles cannot bear it. The house is empty, he moans. His breakfast was not adequate and the house is empty. Mum is watching the glowing screen and tapping as usual but the house is empty. He did not get nearly enough pets (only a half-hour!) this morning and the house is empty.
He is a dog and the house is empty.
Which means he’s making a bubbling groaning whine at irregular intervals, and I have grown unsympathetic. Occasionally he trots to the stairs, burp-barks, and then cowers and yells because the noise echoes. Which means I have to come out and interrupt his terror at the BIGNOISE OHMUM BIGNOISE SNORTWHISTLE BIGSCARYNOISE by going half down the stairs and reassuring him there’s nothing there.
Dogs. Miss B is much less trouble right now, she’s just nosing me every once in a while because she knows this is a day for RUNNING and she wants to RUN. Her leg seems to be just fine, and today is only a short jaunt, so I may very well take her so one damn dog gets what they want today.
Of course, when the kids come home, Odd will have sort of forgotten they live here, so he will greet them as if they’re NEWFRIENDNEWFRIEND SNORTWHISTLEFART before he foggily realizes they are, after all, familiar unto him. Miss B will watch his excitement and glance at me as if to say, “Really? Seriously? What is wrong with this kid?”
Ah. As I write this, Odd has performed his last barking ritual at the stairs. He has retreated to my bed, where he glares pitifully at me as I pass the door to grab my running togs out of the dryer. Clearly I am not coddling his grief and confusion as much as he thinks I should.
Poor Trundles. To add to the problems of piloting his corkscrewed body through space, there’s separation anxiety and the fact that there is never enough breakfast to suit him. He’ll take his morning nap, certainly.
But he won’t enjoy it. He may even have to take two naps, in protest.
If you look carefully, you can find a Mad Tortie under the lavender. No, she’s not dead. She’s just resting. Basking in the sunshine is heavy work, after all. Emphysema Joe is to the left, offscreen, humming a little Dead to keep her company while he tends the green. She doesn’t even twitch when Norbert yells at Moxie for digging in the compost. (“GET OUT OF THERE, YOU’LL CATCH A COLD!” “I AM THE SQUIWWEH WHO HAUNTH THE NIGHT, I HAVE ANTIBODIETH!” You can imagine.)
I may have, after taking this picture, crept up to make sure she was still breathing.
She was. She blinked at me, breathed a small kitty “leeme loooooone, Mum,” and went back to sleep.
Gather close, my chickadees. After a long while of not dispensing writing advice (really, most of what I wanted to say is here) I’ve had a question–or a set of related questions–reach critical mass, and will take a shot at answering them at one go.
These are things I have heard recently:
“I don’t think my work is complex enough, and that stops me from writing.”
“I don’t have a theme, and that stops me from writing.”
“My plot’s been done before! And that stops me from writing.”
“I get to the halfway point and then I can’t think of anything else to say, and that stops me from writing.”
“I’m not sure about the quality, and that stops me from writing.”
You get the idea. These are all related to a particularly insidious attempt on the part of what Julia Cameron calls “the Censor”. That’s the asshole inside your head who prefers you to keep everything safe, so there’s no chance of rejection, because rejection fucking well hurts and nobody likes that sort of pain. To do that, the Censor attacks you right in the self-worth–or the perceived worth of your writing/painting/basketweaving/other art. It’s a song of “this isn’t good enough, so why even try?”
Normally I would advise kicking the Censor right where it hurts and taking a chainsaw to it, but: One, it’s an invisible psychological contract; two, it exists for a reason, even if it’s misfiring; and three, I’ve been working on my anger issues lately. So chainsaws are not allowed, for at least the rest of this week.
The Censor exists to keep you from getting hurt, in some twisted fashion. In normal functioning mode, it’s the same mechanism that might stop you from handing your beer to a friend and saying “Hey, Earl, watch this!” before you land in the hospital if you’re lucky and the morgue if you’re not. The trouble is, the Censor can so easily go haywire, and decide the best way to keep you safe is to cripple you before you try anything new or risky at all. Besides, our Censor has a couple of insidious little buddies–Anxiety and Misplaced Economy of Energy. (The latter is the sort of laziness people mistake for efficiency.) Together, they fight…well, you, and your art. (They can fuck up your life in other areas, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post.)
All that being said, the Censor has a point. Unfinished drafts are ugly creatures. This leads us to the solution, and the best way to roll the Censor in broken glass and set it on fire.
Set your kitchen timer, set your wordcount, keep digging into what comes next for as long as it takes. But finish it.
Finish the damn book.
Complexity? Theme? Well, you won’t be able to get away from either of them. Themes will pop up in your work because you’re a human being interested in certain things, and those things will show up in any art you do. You can’t get away from it. But in order to find those themes and layer in complexity of character, plot, or the dinner-party menus your characters are discussing, you need a whole word-corpse on the table. You need to be able to see the arc of the story before you can correct it and trim here, pad there, and paint over that to make it purdy.
Sure, every plot’s been done before. But it hasn’t been done by you, and even if you do revisit a plot time and again (hello, Anne Rice? Charles Dickens? Even yours truly?) each time you do so you are at a different point in your life, and have a different constellation of words and thoughts to bring to bear on the matter. Plot matters, yes. But the point is how you perform the plot, and if you like turning out a certain batch of notes there’s nothing that says you can’t figure out how many variations to play on that theme. Finish the damn book, then start refining.
I’ve talked before about the long slow slough of despond that hits between a third to two-thirds of the way through a book. This is why writing is an endurance test. This is not about sprinting, or about how fast you can vomit up a chunk of text that may or may not be a book. This is about the discipline to sit down regularly (I recommend every day, we’ve already been over that) and keep at it until you’re done. You all know how action movies go, so consider this as the buildup to the big battle near the end. That feeling of having nothing else to say halfway through? That’s the Censor and Misplaced Economy of Energy getting together and desperately pulling out the stops to keep you from their Villainous Fortress of Solitude. Getting you to back down is the Censor’s endgame; that way you can stay in the “comfortable” tar-pit of “well, I just couldn’t finish it.”
That tar-pit is familiar. It’s safe, even if it burns and slows you down. The Censor is trying to tell you that it hurts, burns, and outright batters you less than having other people judge your work and possibly reject it. I’m here to tell you the two pains are about the same, so you might as well go for the one that has a prize attached. There’s no reason to pick the tar-pit over the scorpion-pit of getting reviews. (Especially online reviews.) Or the gladiatorial blood-pit of querying. It’s going to hurt either way, but at least with reviews, queries, and the like, you have a finished book to salve the pain. You have an achievement nobody else can take away–you finished the goddamn thing, which is more than most people who call themselves “writers” have. Once you have finished that marathon, that achievement is all yours. It’s sweet and it’s a goddamn sight better than the tar-pit.
That leaves the ever-popular, ever-famous “I’m not sure about the quality,” which is one of the Censor’s most insidious asshole moves.
Look. 99.9999999% of unfinished drafts are fucking horrible. 99.999% of zero drafts are fucking terrible too, in different ways. Most first drafts aren’t all that great either, but they’re a damn sight better than unfinished ones because you’ve had a go at shaping, trimming, and beautifying the whole corpse instead of just looking at a pile of rotting body parts and throwing up your hands before retreating to the castle cellar to moan at Igor about how hard it all is. It’s work to stitch your monster together, hard work to throw the switch during a lightning storm and attend all those dials and contacts and get the horrifying creature breathing. In the end, though, when it sits up and screams, it is proof of creation itself. All you have to do is apply some makeup and teach it to dance.
Even if your finished book does not see publication, even if it’s the most horrific steaming pile of word-shit that exited the runny bowels of a diseased mind, it is still an achievement. It is a whole book. It means you went the distance, stayed the course, and didn’t let the goddamn Censor keep you in the tar-pit. You get the marathon T-shirt and the knowledge that you can do it–you can make that monster, you can make it breathe, and you can even teach it a waltz. Nobody–not fellow writers, not your parents, not reviewers–can take away the fact that you did what you set out to do, goddammit.
It can help to know the Censor only has a limited bag of tricks, and tends to use the same ones on everyone. (Much like GamerGaters and MRAs all seem to work off the same toxic little playbook.) Fellow wordsmiths, what other insidious little tricks does the Censor use on you?
 Even masochists have their limits.  Chainsaws aren’t allowed, but I’m a creative sort.
Spring Break is here. The children are ecstatic, I don’t have to worry about getting them to school or extracurricular activities, and it’s a perfect time to catch up on that huge pile of work…
…oh, man, I knew there was a catch.
Friday morning was sad, because we had to take Frau L to the airport. Her group was off to spend a few days in San Francisco before flying back home to Germany. It really doesn’t feel like she was here for three weeks. We didn’t get to do half the stuff we wanted to, mostly because of the group activities–with a significant proportion of That One Damn American Teacher Being Consistently Late and Habitually Changing Venues So Everyone Else Has to Scramble. (Can you tell I was underimpressed?) ANYWAY.
We sent her off with snacks and a triple-weighed bag, plenty of pocket money, clean clothes…and yes, I teared up a bit to see her go. (I get attached, you know. And she’s such a sweet girl.) Her parents are anxious to have her home. I don’t blame them one bit, I’m going to be climbing the walls when the Princess goes overseas this summer.
The weekend was all cleaning and piano lessons and weeding, since the weather was nice. Today, as befits the first day of Spring Break, I’m off to a late start. I did put a chunk of candied ginger in my coffee, so there’s that little zing to help me get started. There’s a morning run to get in, another fifty pages of revisions, planning out the next few weeks’ worth of scheduled work, putting in some transcription time…