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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Screwing the Pooch

Before I begin: I was honoured to be interviewed this week by Angelina Hansen as a "Partner on the Path". Check it out! If you want to know more about me, that is. *grin*

* * *

It probably seems counterintuitive to be writing a blog post when I'm already a tiny bit overdue in finishing my [EXPLETIVE REDACTED] WIP and sending it off to the professional parties who have requested it. But this past week I had a ... um, I won't call it an epiphany, because part of me has had a feeling I was headed that way anyway. And "slap in the face" implies that someone slapped me. Realization? That sounds so ... lame. But yeah, "realization" is probably the best way to put it for now.

It started with Monday's Magical Words post, on Revisions and Editors. I asked, "Is it possible to reach a point where you can’t see any more problems and you *need* to send it to the editor/agent? (Or in the unpublished case, where hopefully it’s decent enough that an agent will take it on?) I’ve been held back from sending out my WIP by this constant vicious cycle of 'it needs more work', but it’s starting to grate on me."

The response I received?

Laura, yes, there is absolutely a point after which further revision doesn't do you any good. [...] No matter when you sell your book, and no matter who you sell it to, you're going to have an editor who wants to make changes to the book. Every editor is different; every editor will identify different strengths and weaknesses, and there is no way for you to anticipate every criticism. At some point you just have to send it out and trust that while the book is not perfect, it is good enough that an editor will recognize its potential.

I posted the link to my personal Facebook account, as I often do with articles I like. (Hi, total MW groupie here. *waves* ... *blushes* ... *hides*)

For the third time in my life, I received a piece of advice that because I've heard it so often, it feels like old hat and my brain glazes over. Three significant times I heard it where I distinctly recall the advice actually registering.

The first time was ten years ago, when I went to see Science Fiction author Spider Robinson give a talk on his latest novel, THE FREE LUNCH. (And thus began my addiction to Spider Robinson ... but that's a tale for another time.)

The second time was my very first Surrey International Writer's Conference. It was 2006, so a solid 5 years had passed. Robert J. Sawyer gave a keynote speech and included it in his "best advice for writers".

The third time that it actually registered, though, was Monday. One of the fantasy authors I'm honoured to be friends with, John Hartness, commented on my link and recited the advice there, which originally came from the Grand Master himself:

ROBERT A. HEINLEIN'S RULES FOR WRITING
    #1. You Must Write.
    #2. You Must Finish What You Write.
    #3. You Must Refrain from Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order.
    #4. You Must Put Your Story On The Market.
    #5. You Must Leave It On The Market Until It Sells.
    #6. You Must Start Working On Something Else.
And every time I heard that advice, a part of me thought, "Well, I *am* writing something. But it's not ready yet." (Don't get me wrong; I did send a few things out over the years, just not as much as I could have.) I even laughted it off on Monday because of course I've heard that.

But this time, it started to naggle at me. I'm not sending it out yet because I keep trying to fix it, to make it sparkle before an agent or editor's eyes see it. Because I have ongoing issues of worrying whether I'm "good enough" yet.

To continue the thought started in that post: in bracing for the answer once again being no, I've been screwing the pooch at sending things out.

Fear of failure again?

Or worse: fear of succcess?

See, one thing that has been consistent lately over the last few years has been positive feedback on what I've submitted. So if I've been very moderately successful, what's holding me back?

And I meant what I said at Magical Words on Monday. I'm starting to get a bit sick of my heartsong. So why the heck am I dithering about finishing this piece?

Failure won't exactly mean "going back to the drawing board", either. The last few times I failed, I took one rejection as failure, and scrapped my work (or at least stuffed it in the proverbial drawer). This time, and once again thanks to the sage advice at (you guessed it) Magical Words, I know better than to take a single "no" as "you suck". I can keep sending it out. (Oh, hello RAH Advice #5.)

I may be a little bit afraid of success. Can't deny that. But I'm more afraid of being the one who never succeeds because she never tries. That's what the contest entries a few weeks back were all about, right?

So. Here we are. I have a list of scenes and fixes that need to be written to deal with any glaring plot issues. There are 17 changes (not all of them whole scenes, thankfully) that need to be made. I am going to aim for at least 2 per day.

Because honestly, I'm ready to be done.

And #6 is looking mighty tasty right now ...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Poking the WIP with a stick (stalled work)

If you've been following me for any length of time, you'll know that this blog isn't exactly regular. I'm capable of dropping off the face of the Internet for weeks at a time. Well, the face of this blog, anyway. Facebook and Twitter ... eheheh ... *blush*

This time around, it wasn't just because I was trying to focus on edits to the WIP. No, lately the WIP has felt like this lump that I'm poking at with a stick to see if it'll move. Parts of it have felt glommed together and they need to be teased apart so that the story has breathing room, but the lump has remained a lump and it has not been fun. When my eyes glaze over at a story that I'm in love with, that I believe has the potential to be great if I can just get it right, then I know that something isn't working. But I just couldn't figure out what. I've banged my head on the proverbial desk often this month.

Thankfully, last week, things changed.

First of all, I picked up a book from my TBR shelf. My TBR shelf is massive and would sag under the weight of unread books if it weren't so sturdy. I've been having a bit of trouble reading lately, something I'm trying to work on but which is still taking time.

Thankfully, this book reminded me why it's important to keep reading. Sometimes a good book can jumpstart my creativity. Sometimes a good book can remind me of why I write. Sometimes a good book has the power to make my heart sing, and this one did. I can learn a lot from reading, and this particular awesome book, THE ENCHANTMENT EMPORIUM by Tanya Huff, was exactly what I needed. (Magic in Calgary. Canadian in-jokes. Fantastic premises. Lots of humour. Yes, I needed that!)

The second important happening was that a few contests came my way. One I knew about and didn't think I'd enter, but an entry took me by surprise (it's a poetry contest, and I suddenly found the words for what I wanted to say). The other was a contest in a completely different genre that I'd love to write in, but which I have only toyed with when not working on my YA fantasy novel. With the latter, I was asked to submit a first chapter and a synopsis.

Boy, did I need this.

Even if nothing comes of either entry, it felt good to write fresh words, not just edit existing ones. I wasn't just polishing or fixing or unglomming. I was creating.

Yesterday, after a weekend off from writing, I finally cracked open the WIP and started working on the glommed lump. I have a plan, and I feel very good about it. See, this time, I've sharpened the stick.

And this time, I'm going to make the lump move.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Writing vs. Talking About Writing

I love the writers communities I belong to: the Compuserve forums, Magical Words, my beta group, the #wipmadness group on Twitter, and the larger #amwriting Twitter community, too. And of course, my TOEM* in-person writing group. I love it because we can chat about different writing issues, celebrate and commiserate, check in with goals, and just plain connect with kindred spirits.

But lately, I've been more aware of how much of my limited writing time I am devoting to actual writing (currently, this includes editing), as opposed to just talking about writing. It can be so joyful to share with other writers, because they *get* what you're talking about, and if you're a storyteller, sharing with others is practically instinctive. But how much time am I spending *talking* about my novel, and how much time am I actually writing it?

I'm not just referring to the pitfall of talking a story to death, where you spend so much time talking about an idea or a story you're working on that you lose the momentum, the energy to work on the story. I'm talking about spending time talking about the craft with other writers, to the point where most "writing time" ends up going to the discussion, instead of to the actual writing (or editing). It feels like going to the gym and standing around chatting, rather than working out which is what you're supposed to be there to do. (Or even like having extended conversations with another person on the treadmill or elliptical. Seriously, if you can talk that much, how much of a workout are you actually getting?)

This is in no way a complaint about writers being social with one another. This could just be me, too. All I'm saying is, as much as I love and am grateful for all of the groups I participate in and the wonderful people I've met because of it, I personally need to recognize when I'm spending way more time talking about writing than actually writing itself.

The irony that this inspired a blog post, which also robs me of "actual" writing time, is not lost on me. But I've noticed that I'm getting itchy about finishing the rewrites on SIGN OF THE STAR, and I think this is worthy of sharing. So, back to work.

* TOEM = The Other Eleven Months. We're an offshoot of the Greater Vancouver NaNoWriMo community, and we meet year-round. I used to refer to it as O11M, but that was such a mouthful, and thanks to member Rob H., I realize that this acronym is *much* more appropriate.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Character Visuals (Artwork by Margo Perrie)

Several weeks ago, my friend David Davis asked me to describe Janni, the main character in my WIP, SIGN OF THE STAR. He said it was for a surprise, and I, not thinking much of it, rattled off some details and put it out of my mind. Between dealing with dirty laundry and struggling with rewrites, I've been a bit busy.

But then, about a week and a half ago, on the day Don Rocko and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary (at PAX, no less!), I received this lovely piece in my e-mail, drawn by Margo Perrie of the webcomic Witch and Cat:


I was floored. David (author/artist of the webcomic Cosmic Dash) has been one of my beta readers for SIGN OF THE STAR since it was very different from how it is now, so big thanks to him for making this happen. And fantastic artwork, Margo!

My amusing anecdote, aside from the awesome surprise that this was (and the silly fact that because I wasn't paying attention, there are a few niggly little details that are off which is totally *my* fault), is this:

When I received the piece, after the initial surprise, I frowned. There was something wrong with it that I could not place. Which sounds awful, because the artwork itself is amazing. It's a beautiful depiction of Janni, both when she's traveling on the road and when she gets a chance to dress up. It looks just like her, and it's even inspired me with some of her description. So what was bothering me about it?

Then I realized the problem: she's smiling.

Which is not a comment on the artwork. It's a sad fact about Janni. But then, given that she's spent most of her life in hiding from an uncle who tried to kill her and a destiny she wants no part of, she hasn't had much reason to smile.

All is not lost, however. She'll find reasons. And when she looks at her love interest, I realize that this is *exactly* what she looks like when she's smiling unguarded at him. ♥

Have you ever had the chance to have your character drawn by an artist? Has it helped the story, or given you new insight about a character?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dirty Laundry Has No Place on the Internet

And so I will not air it.

But I will say this: my personal life has been very stressful right now. No details (but for the morbidly curious, I am still happily married. Why do I think people will wonder about that? Maybe because it's the kind of thing I think of). In short, my already-limited writing time has been taken up by this stress, and the stress does not help my health. Plus it's a total downer on my creativity levels.

What it has meant, though, is that I've had to face some realizations about my craft. I have so many stories to tell, and they're not being written fast enough. I'm in what I hope is the final round of edits for my WIP, where I'm using my mad puzzling skillz to fill in some gaps in the picture that is my novel, to the point of adding characters who need to exist for the sake of the story. Most of them die by the end, but SotS will be better for their inclusion in the first place.

Don Rocko and I were away last weekend at Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), where we had a fantastic time checking out video games, enjoying the geeky panels and concerts, partying with friends, and chatting with some of our favorite accessible celebrities. Once again I got my writing notebook signed by Wil Wheaton. (squee) It was great for refuelling my geeky energy. But we also got a chance to sleep in undisturbed on a comfy bed and set aside the worries of Real Life. It was then that I had the dream.

I dreamed that I died. Turns out it was an administrative error, so they sent me back. It may have also involved the devil losing a bet, but I forget the details. But while I thought I was dead? I was so angry about the things I hadn't finished. Like my novel. There was *no way* I wanted to go back and start over from scratch. Not now. And if that's not a cosmic "get your butt in the chair" message, I don't know what is.

Which brings me back to my point.

I know I had that dream because I felt, both consciously and unconsciously, that there was too much getting in the way of my writing time. I also know that I have the bad habit of putting other people first, to the detriment of that time.

That can't happen anymore. Not when it's stifling what is most important to me (Don Rocko aside, of course). Not when writing is what makes me thrive.

This past month was a challenge. I am done with it. It is time to make myself a priority.

Today a Twitter friend of mine, @BA_Matthews, reminded me of how important this is to me. At last year's SiWC, the final keynote of the conference was Robert Dugoni, and he gave a rousing riff on Aragorn's speech in The Return of the King. The final line is, "This day, we write!"

Well, then. Back to work for me.