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Friday, December 23, 2011

When "Waste Not, Want Not" is a Bad Thing

Don Rocko and I are avid recyclers. Paper, cardboard, plastic ... we even have a compost. It's one way that we're lessening our collective carbon footprint. That's not all we do, but that's besides the point. For related reasons (the "reuse" part of the 3 R's), I'm a bit of a packrat.

And that's not a terrible thing, especially because I find it's often a useful money-saving trait. But as a blanket mentality, it's definitely a problem.

Because I am doing the same damn thing with my writing.

Rewrites are a necessity. A colleague of mine, whenever I tell him that I'm working on rewrites, likes to say, "writing is rewriting". And he's right, of course. Novels never spring fully formed and perfect from our heads. Rewrites will happen when we fix what our beta readers point out, when the agent asks us to make changes, and again when the publisher does, too.

The problem is that I've been rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and getting bogged down by the process.

The original SIGN OF THE STAR took me just over a year to write. But it was a 100K behemoth and desperately in need of a makeover. What's worse, the makeover involved splitting the manuscript into three. It's definitely a much better story for it now, but an overhaul of that magnitude took forever. An additional twenty-one months, to be precise—and that's just Book 1! Part of the reason why was that I didn't want to delete what I'd already written.

Now, I have my own valid concerns and mild phobias about forgetting and/or losing what I've created. But that packrat mentality has been holding me back, and I've only just realized the source of my frustration.

Digression: I have a trunked set of manuscripts (let's just call the whole lot "Takara", after the world I set it in) that I know are salvagable because I spent thirteen years, between the ages of twelve and twenty-five, pouring everything I had into them. Takara is my greatest heartsong, one I've given so much time and energy to that I know I will one day de-trunk it. (I love it enough to recognize that it's gonna stay trunked for some time.) Anyway, what strikes me is that when I was younger, I didn't hesitate to start over every few years and re-tell it better. Fresh. I recognized as I grew up with it that it needed work that a bit of tweaking wouldn't solve. And I was okay with that because I wanted to tell the story right.

So why did I stop doing that?

I don't know if I can pinpoint a single reason. Maybe it was that, as I got older, I started to think I was ready to seek publication. And that put pressure on me. (Read: I put pressure on myself.) I couldn't bear to start over, not when I felt so close. Oh, little did I know ...

So when it came time to break apart the original Janni story and craft the first volume of the trilogy, I took painstaking measures to save as much as I could, to build around what I had and enhance it. I was a packrat with my words. A miser. Trying to fill in the cracks of my work rather than starting over. And you know what that meant?

I no longer had a way of gauging how my writing has improved.

Don't get me wrong. I feel confident about SOTS now. I'm just saying that I went about it completely the wrong way.

I also haven't been engaging in nearly as much fresh writing as I'd like. In my drive to be published, I haven't taken as much time for fresh writing. I can be very crotchety about my writing time, given that I have a beloved but intense day job and other committments, like sword class and reading and oh, I don't know, friends and family. So some foolish part of me decided to categorize things like writing exercises and writing not related to SOTS as a waste of time.

This past Nano, I very quickly recognized that I was going nowhere with my attempts at STAR CHILD (SOTS #2). I was trying too hard to make my writing fit what I thought existed, and even just using that as a rough outline wasn't helping. (Especially since the story has changed so much.) So I started a new project, one whose ideas have been on the backburner and that I recently realized I wanted to bring to life. And it felt good.

Fresh writing is important. Even if it's just the same project, retold instead of tweaking, the way I did with the Takara stories. The point is that it's the creation of something new. And exercises, writing practice, don't take away from writing time. We've gotta lift weights to build muscle.

Realizing this has been a load off of my shoulders, to say the least.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First, you have to milk the tiger ...

Note: This recipe has been updated. Please check here for the newer, better version.

*blinks* Hi! Wow, is it December 20th already?

I think at this point, the rest of my SiWC 2011 notes can wait until after Christmas. I have some vacation days coming up and the holidays so far have been crammed with festivities, sword class (where I passed another assessment, yaaay!) and fudgecrafting. The most latter is the topic of this post, because I only make one kind of fudge, and it's been getting a lot of attention lately: tiger butter.  Simply put:

Tiger butter: white chocolate and peanut butter melted together and swirled with milk chocolate.

I've always had a thing for the stuff since I first tried a square of Purdy's Chocolates' version as a kid. It was one of my guilty pleasures. But about five or six Christmases ago, I came across a recipe at that seemed simple enough, so I made it (and I would love to find the link to give credit where it's due, but it doesn't seem to be around anymore).

My tiger butter has evolved over the years as I messed with ingredients and proportions. I won't bore you with the nitty gritty details, but suffice to say, this year, I feel that I've perfected the process. And I know what people say about not sharing a secret recipe, but I personally believe that this is something everyone should be able to make, so here it is:

L.S. Taylor's Nomtastic Tiger Butter


- 4½ cups Foley's White Chocolate Melting Wafers

- 1 cup Foley's Milk Chocolate Melting Wafers
- 1 cup smooth peanut butter
- ¼ cup smooth no-sodium, no-sugar added peanut butter (I recommend Kraft)

Tools required:
- 2 saucepans, one much larger than the other
- 2 spatulas
- 1-2 baking sheets
- Waxed paper

Prepare the baking sheets with the waxed paper. Depending on the desired thinness of the squares and the size of your baking sheets, you'll need either one or two. In the larger saucepan, melt the smooth peanut butter with the white chocolate on very low heat (I don't have a double boiler and you don't need one either). In the smaller saucepan, melt the milk chocolate wafers with the no-sodium, no-sugar added peanut butter.

Stir both mixes frequently, each with their own spatula, to help them melt together, and to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When both mixes are completely melted and the mixtures smooth, pour out the white chocolate mixture onto the pans, using the spatula to help spread it out into an even layer. Next, drizzle the milk chocolate mixture over the white. Finally, swirl the mixtures together with a spatula, like so:

Allow your creations to cool, then place flat in the freezer for at least 2 hours. Once frozen solid, break them into shards by peeling back the waxed paper. Dropping the sheet on a solid surface from a height can jumpstart the process, if you don't mind the small mess involved. The size of the pieces can vary and is ultimately up to you.

Best made on a full stomach.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thank God It's Over (But It's Not)

Thursday marked the first of the month. The sun had set on another NaNoWriMo; we gathered to celebrate our happy exhaustion. Because it was the first of December and for the most part, we had all survived. Today being a Saturday, some of us will gather again, because not everyone can make a weeknight event, given that it's December and all. And the events are called Thank God It's Over, because hey, it's been a wild and crazy journey. It always is.

Battle-weary, we stumble into a restaurant to celebrate our success — because even if we didn't achieve fifty thousand words, we still tried. We put our fingers to the keyboards and together, we wrote.

And next week, some of us will keep writing like this.

We call ourselves The Other Eleven Months, because for us, writing is not something we can simply stop doing, and we like the energy that being in a group can bring. Once a week (or more) throughout Greater Vancouver, we gather for coffee or tea or (if you're a chocoholic like me) cocoa, and we talk about plot points, characters, and ideas. Every so often the conversation wends in the direction of pop culture or current events, and we discuss related topics. But most importantly? We write.

I've heard a lot of arguments against NaNoWriMo. I've heard that it cheapens the craft of writing, that it clogs the mailboxes of agents and publishers, that it is a waste of time, focusing on quantity over quality. I've also heard the unecessarily defensive rebuttles (that it's meant to encourage newcomers to the craft, that it's meant to be something anyone can try once, that "real" writers are participating these days). I don't want to point fingers or dwell on either side because I've heard enough of both sides this past month and a half and anger over this has no place in my life. So I won't.

But I will say what I know.

I know that sometimes, my internal editor is so harsh that I feel frozen at the keyboard.

I know that being forced to focus on quantity rather than quality helped me unfreeze.

I know that the sound of silence and a dozen keyboards is pretty amazing.

I know that this group has been a source of energy and inspiration.

I know that I've regained a new appreciation for the rough draft.

I know that before I joined NaNo, I was scared of rough drafts because rough drafts are, by nature, crap, and I'd somehow convinced myself that I didn't need them.

I know that NaNoWriMo has evolved beyond itself, and that many more writers, both aspiring and published, are taking part.

I know that I can adapt the challenge to my needs, that all that really matters is fifty thousand words of new writing.

I know that our weekly gathering keeps me going even when things are at their worst.

I know that I find laughter and cameraderie and joy in a craft that is, at its heart, a solitary act.

Of course, that's pretty much the point of our group: we don't just write as a novelty one month out of twelve. We write because we want to. Some of us just for fun, some of us to learn, and some of us because we're actively pursuing writing as a career.

Whatever the reason, we write.  And that's what really matters, no matter how you feel about NaNo.

This year, for fun, we had some temporary tattoos made. To celebrate ourselves, we chose a semicolon (a bit of an in-joke), but I think it fits:
(And you wouldn't believe the exhausted discussion we had about font! But it was worth it.)

So like any sane NaNoer, I am thankful the insanity of writing fifty thousand words in a single month is over. But I am also thankful for The Other Eleven Months, because frankly, for me writing is something that can not be contained to a single month. I wouldn't want it to be. And the people I've met and the friendships I've made through TOEM are something I wouldn't give up for the world.

Do you have a group like ours? Let me know in the comments! I would love to hear about more efforts like ours. Community matters.