Internal Notes

alla nazimova I’m back in my body again, mostly. I can feel the edges of “me” and the edges of my physical parts aligning. I’ve never endured quite this sort of thing before, and was busy taking internal notes. Who knows when a character will need this particular sensation?

All things serve the work.

After writing for a while, there’s always a section of your brain thinking, “okay, going to have to remember this, a story might need it later.” Heartbreak, car accident, joy, panic–everything serves the work, everything goes into that hopper inside your head. Everything is material. Maybe there’s a bit of self-protection in there too–when you’re taking internal notes about the exact sensations and what the other parts of you are thinking and doing, you aren’t losing your shit over what’s going down.

Of course, motherhood means you can’t lose your shit, either. When there are small humans depending on you, you just can’t afford to let go, no matter how satisfying it might be to have a monkey tantrum. I can’t count the number of times a good old-fashioned screaming meemie fit would have felt luxurious, but if Mum starts losing her cool, the little humans will lose theirs, and then everything is just so much more difficult. Who has time for that?

So, yeah. The interesting thing is, as my writing partner suggested, that this may be how I deal with severe stress when I have meds to even everything out and make the anxiety manageable. It’s preferable to a half-dozen physically exhausting “I am going to die” panic attacks per day. Some research suggest a feeling of derealization or depersonalization is common with high anxiety and can trigger panic attacks, so maybe this is what it feels like when it doesn’t? It wasn’t painful, or even really distressing, it was just…odd. Allowing myself to experience it, knowing it was more than likely temporary, turned out to be the best way through.

It’s more Cormorant Run revisions today. I think I have to write a whole new scene, and expand another in a new direction. I knew the complexity of this book was under the surface, but my first run through it I was too busy getting the bones down to really dive. Now I have the luxury of uncoiling the strands and peering deeper, and it’s turning out to be fascinating. Sometimes I am a little chary of the worlds that apparently lurk inside my head. It’s an odd thing, to think that maybe one is simply channeling or taking dictation from somewhere else. There’s a certain submission to the shape and the strictures of the work, difficult for anyone stubborn to practice. Especially when that stubbornness must be fed and grown monstrous to keep you writing day in, day out.

First, though, Miss B needs a walk, and so do I. Maybe it will clear my head and bring me fully back into my body. You never know.

Over and out.

Run, Think, Write

bang. Afterwar is taking a direction I don’t want, don’t like, don’t care for, and one I almost don’t understand. It wants to be a much bigger book, and it wants me to get inside the head of a banal evil. Part of me knows it’s the next step in my evolution as a writer, but the rest of me is digging in its heels for several reasons.

I haven’t yet reached the point of no return, where the story punches its spurs into my sides and pulls my hair, refusing to let go. Once I do, I’ll have to finish the damn book, even if it takes staying up nights because I’m working on paying projects during the day. There’s plenty of fear involved–fear of doing it wrong, fear of not serving the book well, fear that it will be the thing that breaks my career. Every step forward is accompanied by these wrenching feelings, and it gets…well, not precisely old, but I heave an internal sigh and think okay, so we’re on THIS merry go round again.

The only path is straight through, the only cure is work. So I’m taking this week to do all Afterwar, all the time, except of course for those moments when I’m chasing down people who owe me things. (Including money. The least-glamorous part of being a writer: submitting invoices and politely but firmly demanding they be paid.)

Miss B’s leg is better, but I’m not taking her running for a while yet. She, of course, despises this turn of events and grudgingly accepts ambles with Odd Trundles as better than nothing. I’d forgotten what it was like to run without her, really, and I miss my partner. On the other hand, I don’t have to drop my center of gravity and keep going nearly as much, and I don’t have to do fancy footwork to avoid her getting tangled up underneath me when a delivery vehicle or another dog passes by. It’s much calmer, and I fall into the peculiar trance of effort and sweat, things shaking loose and my subconscious busily putting together the next few scenes for when I sit down and focus.

So for this week, I run, and I think, and I write. It should at least give me an idea of where and what this book actually wants to be when it grows up. And after I spend some quality time with it, I can turn to Cormorant Run with fresh eyes and insert all the things I glossed over in its messy, very quick birth. That particular book tore itself out of my brain like it was on fire and needed to get to a lake. Now that I have some distance from it, I can see where the holes are, and fortunately I know everything that goes on inside those holes.

Which means at least there’s something I know how to do coming up. It’s a small comfort, but I’ll take it.

Yes, Something’s Afoot

109ram_icons004 I stepped out on the back porch with my coffee this morning, and a crow landed on the deck railing. She looked at me sidelong, I straightened under the inspection, Miss B for once did not decide to go scrambling after something new and quite probably chase-able…

…and Odd Trundles, wriggling between my ankles, threw himself at the railing. Which held up, thank goodness. The crow rode out the shuddering, cawed sharply three times, and flew away with a wingsnap and something suspiciously like laughter.

After the bees the other day and every cat in the neighborhood coming out to greet me on my 5K yesterday, I’m beginning to suspect Something Is Afoot.

Yesterday I tried cooking eggplant for the second time, and the results were…unsatisfying. I think when I eventually get a grill, I’m going to have to just grill the snot out of some eggplant and hope for the best. So far, though,it’s like okra–I never want to put that in my mouth again, world without end, amen.

This morning I tried the new habit of sitting down at the piano just after breakfast. Hava Nagilah is still difficult, but it’s not making me cry now. I can limp along through it, so not it’s just a question of brute practice. I’m up to the seventh piece in my Bach book, too, and either they’re getting a little easier or he’s just trying to fake me out before dropping something full of sixteenth notes on me.

At least it’s not Mozart. I get the sense that Bach really wants you to succeed and is pulling for you, where Mozart is sort of a bro who really loves adversarial music, deliberately trying to trip you up. I hate rigged contests, so I don’t think I’ll ever like playing Mozart.

In the “really good news” department, B was allowed to accompany Odd Trundles on his daily constitutional yesterday. A very slow, very gentle, very short walk did wonders for her nervous twitches, and stretched out her injured leg. Consensus is it was a simple sprain, and the only thing to do is keep her activity level down until it heals, and watch her carefully for a long while before she can be my running buddy again.

In short, it will be torture for her, but Odd Trundles’s slow ambling is the only speed available for her silly furry butt right now. Every time she gets snitty with me about not going on a run I just tell her, as Hyperbole and a Half so memorably said, “DOG, YOU DO NOT MAKE GOOD DECISIONS.”

That’s all the news from this side of the fence, I think. Now I go back to work revising Cormorant Run and knocking down my List of Things To Do Today, which has grown to truly massive Wednesday proportions. I’m sure whatever the crows, bees, and cats have been warning me of will hit soon.

*sigh*

Proprietary Imperative

victory The mason bees are back! I checked their little house recently and found a female busily filling one of the tubes with mud to seal up her freshly laid eggs. It feels like a small victory, even though I’ve been worried the little fellows won’t have enough to eat since it’s been so warm but the flowers aren’t really out yet. I hope they haven’t hatched too early.

They probably know what they’re doing, and all my worry is for naught. Still, I can’t help but feel proprietary.

Cormorant proceeds apace. Why is it that a book only heats up when I have fifty million other things going on? It’s like the Muse only wants to show up when she knows you only have a few minutes to steal, because time you’ve specifically set aside is so boring. Everyone has that time, but it’s the heart-in-mouth, slightly sweating, sneakthief moments she’s after. Maybe she’s only attracted by that heart-pounding sense of doing something forbidden.

She’s a bitch, but she manages to get the job done.

So we’re down to just the characters for the last half of Cormorant‘s third section, and as far as I can tell, the book is just about to heat up to the point where I can’t think of anything else, the point where I lunge for the end of the zero draft and pretty much everything that isn’t writing (or dealing with children’s critical needs) gets tossed out the window. This book would choose the week we have an exchange student and several events that require my complete (and maybe somewhat grudging) attention.

I keep telling myself I can just stick to the wordcount for each day and not go over, just get up and walk away when I’m finished with the day’s minimum quota, but that never happens in the last third of a book. The goddamn things worm inside my head and beat in time to my pulse, a swollen-sweet pain.

I wonder if that’s how the bees feel when it’s time to hatch. An imperative, so to speak. There comes a time when one has to struggle out of a mud-caked hole and fly, and when that time comes, nothing but testing your wings will do.

There’s no point in staying safe when there’s living–and writing–to be done.

Today, Adulting

Escribano An incredibly productive day yesterday means I’m probably going to fail at adulting today, but them’s the breaks. If I manage to get to dinner without my head exploding, I’ll count it as a win. Especially for a Tuesday.

I’m liking transcription work. It exercises a different part of my brain, and doesn’t use up the emotional energy I need for writing. It’s a good palate-cleanser, and the best thing is, it’s really cheap dialogue training. Listening tot he rhythm of how people talk is great for one’s stories.

I’ve shelved the amulet-maker story, and am concentrating on the smartmouth genie and the rationalist insurance adjustor. (At least, I think she’s an insurance adjustor. She doesn’t want to talk about work right now, having many other things on her mind.) This story is fun, I’m mostly writing it for my writing partner. It’s also taking a pattern different than other books. Normally I write somewhat sequentially, but this book wants the arc for the two main characters mostly done before I go back and take a whack at the villains. (Who kind of aren’t villains at all, just selfish assholes who want shortcuts.) It’s very rarely that a book does this, demanding to be told somewhat out-of-order even though I know pretty much what happens in each scene.

The bulk of my effort, though, is reserved for the Rifters story, which is now titled Cormorant Run. My homage to Tarkovsky and the Strugatskys is growing into its own peculiar beast inside my head, and invading my dreams as well. I love this book, weird and brutal as it is, with the fierce love of a thousand fiery suns. It’s wanting to be written sequentially, unlike the genie book, and more excavated than written. Each day I brush away a little more dirt and debris and find the shape of a room underneath, a room needing to be emptied with a shovel or a spoon, depending. I love the books that are a whole organic thing under the surface of your brain, but the labor to excavate them is sometimes backbreaking.

I’ve written almost sixty full novels now, and each time, it’s different. Each damn book wants to be written in its own special little way, and will balk unless coaxed correctly. There are some commonalities, like the long slog in the middle with the BOOK THAT WILL NOT DIE NO MATTER HOW YOU STAB IT, but each novel teaches you how to write just-it, it alone, and nothing but it. A certain amount of submission to and trust in the process is necessary, as well as the discipline to sit down every goddamn day and get the writing done[1].

Right now my fingers are a bit chilled, so it’s time to stretch, get a cuppa–I’m trying turmeric tea right now, and with the addition of more ginger it’s actually quite palatable–and get back to the grindstone before the doldrums hit. I may fail at adulting later today, especially when t’s time for errands, but for now I have some shiny new willpower, and am going to use it.

*cracks knuckles* Tuesday? I’ll see you now…

[1] Yes, I know there are professional writers who don’t write every day. But you’re here on my blog, and I’m going to tell you the best way I know. ‘Nuff said.

Sugar and Toads

split infinitive The kids are home from school today, and this is the Monday I start the new habit of filing for ten minutes three times a week. Just filing paperwork, that’s all, from the gigantic stacks in my office. Because I am so very fond of putting things on a pile and thinking, yes, this is a good place for this to stay for A YEAR OR SO, sure!

I would like to say it’s the messiness of creativity, but it’s gone somewhat past that. When I’ve caught up with the filing there will be shredding to perform. I might even move my TBR pile–currently right behind my office chair–to a couple cleared shelves if I get really, truly ambitious. (No, I’m not holding my breath either.)

The sudden urge to clean and organize means I’ve hit a particular point in all three projects I’m working on. It’s past the “oooh, shiny!” but not quite in the “slog slog slog stabbity this book WILL NOT DIE” yet. I suspect the slog will be bearable this time, if only because of my time-honored habit of hitting a wall with one book and immediately shifting to another one to make the first jealous. (It works, I swear.)

So it is a rainy Monday on which I have to swallow a toad. I doubt I’ll do that first, though. Sweetening the amphibian with a bit of writing about a smartmouth genie and the spreadsheet-loving rationalist who just happens to own his “lamp” sounds like a much better deal. Plus there’s an entry into the Rift to write, and a werewolf attack in the third project. No shortage of sugar–or toads–this morning.

Over and out.

Empathy Drawback

psychoanalysed Rolled out of bed this morning feeling I could cheerfully hex the face off anyone I did not give birth to. The kids are now safely at school, and I (and my bad humor) are safely locked in the office, tapping at a keyboard. Of course, I have to go for a run later, but if I time it right (and since the clouds have returned) I may not have to interact with anyone. A mercy to all involved, I suspect.

It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s that I get so much overwhelming information from them, even strangers. Being hyperaware of tone, expression, body language, bracing myself against drowning in other people’s feelings or being constantly on guard in case they suddenly explode…it’s exhausting. Years of the habit of observation from being a writer have only sharpened childhood’s leftover vigilance, and a healthy dose (maybe an overdose) of empathy only adds to the problem. I spend a lot of energy in crowds or public places just keeping the wall between me and other people’s feelings strong enough to keep me from going under.

Sometimes I wish I could shut it off. The wish never lasts very long, because I’ve seen people devoid of empathy and I never want to risk that. I know there’s a middle way, but when I get tired, it’s hard to keep my balance. The anti-anxiety meds help, too.

Characters can be just as difficult, just as draining. I feel them just as strongly, even the villains. Getting so far inside their heads I understand each tic and tiny action takes a toll. I am not my characters, I just…feel them. Ache for them. Understand them, and try to translate that understanding.

The mornings when I wake up and feel like hexing, or clawing, or practicing my resting bitchface so strangers don’t try talking to me (it rarely works, they seem to find me irresistible, especially in grocery store queues) aren’t because I dislike people. They’re because I don’t have the time or energy to respond to an ambush of my empathy. The internet is a godsend, really, because I can limit interactions and hold the entire field at arm’s length. I don’t risk going under the waves of someone else’s feelings quite so much.

I should add that social media is only easier for me because of tools like the GGAutoblocker and a very tight curating of my FB friends. Muting, blocking, and being able to just not respond to certain things has managed to keep the regular harassment from being a Woman on the Internet (especially with Opinions) to a minimum, which is an outright boon for anyone with any sensitivity at all.

So I’m about to take myself and my face-hexing mood out for a run, and then settle into a long day of harnessing my weird brain chemistry to pull the writing plow. It makes me feel far less stabby and hex-y to realize this is probably the only job I’m fit for, and I’m definitely very lucky to be able to shut my office door and do it.

Over and out.