Monthly Archives: August 2013

#510: Falling out of love with your creative work and losing momentum

Thanks, Captain Awkward. 🙂

Captain Awkward

Dear Captain and Crew,

I have a lighter question for you. What do you do when you are nearing the completion of your creative project, and it just feels weak? In my case, I have been working on my first novel on and off for just over a year. I am in the privileged position that I both have friends in the arts whose expertise and honest opinion I can rely on, and am able to afford a non-biased editor. With their support, this thing has been battered to hell and back, and I am now in a place where I can look at it and say that this is the story I originally set out to write. There are a few minor gaps still to plug, and then it needs polishing up, but, essentially, this is it. The problem is that, now that it actually exists, I’m less than…

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A Life that Reflects Your Values

Zen Pencil offers this cartoon from Bill Waterson.
So very, very much worth remembering.
 

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Writer Problems – My Main Character is a Douche Nozzle.

So I finished my Novel Skeleton, and have started slotting actual word-count into the framework. In some cases, this means writing new content while, in others, it means finding stuff I’ve already written (because why waste it, seriously), slotting it into place, and editing it for fit and continuity.
I read my first scene to my wife the other day.
She said: “I would read that. It’s a great start. I hate her already.”
 
Which gives you an idea of how much of a freaking douche-nozzle my MC is.
 
I’m one of those people who always wants to write NICE characters. Which is, perhaps, really dumb. I want to write characters that readers empathize with and *like*, even if they do less-than-honourable things. (Think: Cassel from the Curse Workers series, or Leah and Rachel from The Poisonwood Bible).
Right now, what I have is a character who is an asshole. She’s irresponsible, takes advantage of her friends, and is so freaking entitled that I want to smack the bitch. And I created her! O.O
 
And that’s fine, that’s the point, the whole idea is to start with this useless, self-absorbed little twit and smarten her the fuck up over the course of the novel.
 
The trouble is, having written this character – this scene, just one scene – this way (which is the way that she actually IS), I am now more than just a little bit worried that she is incapable of developing into even a redeemable human being, let alone a human being who is actually redeemed (in which “redeemed” means functional adult capable of caring for BOTH herself AND for people who are not herself).
 
I mean, presumably she is.
 
But, even with my spiffy novel skeleton to guide me… I’m really, really, REALLY not sure how I’m going to get her there. O.O
 
Wish me luck. O.O

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Reading Out Loud – Follow-Up Post

So, as-you-know-bob, I read at Reading Out Loud yesterday. The pieces I chose went over really well, and I had a lot of people come up to me afterwards to thank me for reading.
 
It’s a weird thing to be thanked for performing someone else’s words.
Not because I’ve never done that. As a singer (who, granted, hasn’t done much singing in the past decade or so), I’ve had a lot of experience performing other people’s work. Part of me is very aware that the performer has as much to do with how the work is received as the writer/libretist/composer does.
And yet… It’s still weird for me, as a writer, to perform someone else’s work and recieve the same kind of praise as I would if I’d written it myself. “When you said you felt [X], it really resonated for me.”
 
And the thing is, I did feel X. It’s why I chose to read the pieces I did. Because what they expressed was something I had felt, too. Maybe that’s part of why this feels weird. That I’m using someone else’s words to express something I, myself, have felt – like I’m plagerising or something, even though everyone at the event knew I, and the other readers, were performing work by authors who inspired us.
 
Anyway. Regardless of feeling weird about reading someone else’s work, I’m still glad that it found a home in people’s minds and hearts. The number of femmes (and fems) who talked to me afterwards and said “That bit you read about XYZ? That’s true for me, too.” was significant. I think a lot of us – and there are sooooooooooooo many of us – who don’t get to see our full selves (or even part selves) reflected all around us[1] tend to go looking for things that show us who we are, that say “you’re real” and “it’s not just you” on some level or another.
 
I think maybe that’s part of the point of Reading Out Loud.
Gods know I lent out all the books I read from, inside of ten minutes after the show ended, and had a few other people ask me for titles and author names so that they could go and look them up for themselves. 🙂
 
If you want to look them up, I have links to each of the books available here, as well as a bit of an explanaition about why I chose to read works by the authors I did. 🙂
 
 
Cheers,
A.
 
 
[1] Straight, white, cis people get to see their desires reflected and approved of far, far more frequently. Even when they’re kinky or poly. Even when they’re not conventionally/officially “attractive”.

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Reading Out Loud

So Venus Envy is hosting their annual Reading Out Loud show tonight. It’s a show where influential-in-some-way members of the local QUILTBAG community perform readings from books that influenced them.
 
In my case, I suspect I’ve been tapped to perform due to my work with Voices of Venus. I’ll be reading a few sellections from the writings of Kathryn Payne and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
Both authors appear in Brazen Femme, but I’ll also be reading from another of Leah’s essays plus a poem by Kathryn.
 
I’ll be reading with:
Kandace Price
Rukiya Mohamed
Jess Freedman
Eddie Ndopu
and
Margo MacDonald
 
I’m hoping it all goes well.
 
I’m also hoping that there will be refreshments available, but I put that down to my needing to eat lunch. 😉
If you’re local, I hope you’ll swing by VE tonight and take in the show. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
A.

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Poetry is Not For Rushing

Trying to push-pull towards poetry again.
Worked on the novel this morning – making notes on how to structure a scene, how to take it from a broadly-themed first sentence down to a very specific set of words and actions at the end – but have spent the afternoon, or part of it, pouring over the archives at AGNI.
 
Poetry isn’t something you can skim.
I’ve tried.
I’ve tried to breeze through these marvelous, short pieces and I can’t do it. I either give them my full attention, or I miss everything.
 
Novels, you can breeze through. Especially the kind of genre fiction that I love so much. Even with rich, thick descriptions in every paragraph, even when the dialogue is full of symbolism and metaphor… you can still read a novel as a for-the-hell-of-it thing. But I try to do that with poetry, and I have to make myself stop, slow down, pay attention to every line, every word.
 
That doesn’t mean that I “get” a given poem any more than I did before. I have days – bleak days? – where I look at (capital letters) Good Poetry and see… nonsense. Write nonsense. Mix observation (exterior) with expectation, supposition, meditation (interior), throw in some aliteration, and there you have it: Poetry!
I’m still learning how to craft these pieces that can be read on more than one level.

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Scene Weave

So. I have the tendency to write “what happened next; what happened next” and to fill in time with scenes of… just stuff.
That’s why they call it “filler”, right?
 
And today I tried something new.
I got to the point in The Anatomy of Story where the author talks about “scene weave”. Now this seems to apply a whole lot more to script-writing (where you can cut between locations and points of view and overlap the sound from one scene with a completely different set of visuals – i.e.: actually weaving scenes together) than it does to novel-writing, at least from a first-person-singular-limited perspective. But it gave me something to go on. I realize this is a total no-brainer but: Don’t write what happens NEXT. Write what happens next that is relevant.
 
So I took my 12-month story duration, and I worked out how many ~1000-word scenes (single-events; single units of narrative) I would need “per month” to wind up with around a hundred thousand words by the end of the story.
I worked out that I would need about nine scenes per story-month, assuming they were all about a thousand words long.
 
They won’t all be a thousand words long.
 
I mean, I could be wrong about that, but chances are good that there will be a few scenes in there (“bridge scenes” that have more to do with letting the reader know that time is passing, even if they do (and they must, oy vey) move the story along as well) that will only be, like, 200-300 words. But there will be other scenes (the book launch, the awkward holiday meals, the fundraising event, the big verbal show-down at the climax) that will most likely be quite a bit longer than that. I’m hoping that it will all work out, word-count wise. As it stands, I figure that I’ll probably wind up with closer to eight thousand words per story-month than nine thousand. But that’ll still land me at ~96,000 words by the time I hit “The End”, so I’m okay with that.
 
As an aside, I’m thinking about word-count because… heh, no. Not because it will help me sort out things like timing and narrative arc (I’m getting to that bit… I think). I’m thinking about word-count because I want to know how many scenes I have to write in order to get something that’s “novel length” enough that, even if I cut out a big swath of it during the editing and the re-writing processes, I will still have a “novel length” manuscript by the time I’ve polished it enough to try submitting it somewhere.
This doesn’t mean that I’m trying to pad the story with filler (gods know I’ve got enough of that going on already, and this whole “follow the 22 steps” business is meant to curtail that problem) so that I can cut it out later. It just means that I want to write a book-length book, not something that runs the risk of turning out to be a novella.
 
Anyway.
So I took my nine scenes per month figure, and I made myself a chart. Three columns, and about 110 rows. The first column just lists the months. Every 10th row or so is a new month. The other two are (a) scene summaries, and (b) plot points (as per the 22 steps… sort of, but not exactly).
The chart is about 20 pages long at this point. That only translates into about 7000 words, but still. I’ve got most of the scenes mapped out and ready to start writing.
 
I don’t have all of them.
 
While writing out my “scene weave” chart, I’ve left blank spots where “something” needs to happen – often, though not always involving specific characters – in order to weave my characters closer together. I’ve made notes about those points – sometimes just “something involving Opponent 1”, sometimes more detailed than that but still hazy on the specifics.
 
I’ve noticed something else that happened as I laid my story out in chart form: A couple of peripheral characters have become more prominent, and a formerly significant character has taken a bit of a back seat. She’s still part of the story – I haven’t flat-out killed my Darling – but she’s no-longer front and center. (It does mean that I had to cut the chickens out of the story entirely, but I’m not actually too worried about that right now).
 
It’s nice to see it all laid out. I can go over it and see where the gaps are, where I need to add information, where I need to shift things around. I’ve taken events that were scheduled for November, and bumped them into February, for example, just because it suits the protagonist’s personal growth to have that particular chain of events happen later in the story.
 
I’m not following the 22 steps guide even close to exactly. But they are helping me a lot. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
A.

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Insecurities and Magical Causality

So, I recently (like, minutes ago), reblogged this post from John Scalzi’s blog. In it, just to blow the ending for you, he points out that the only question that will determine whether or not you’re a professional writer is “Do you get paid to write?[1]”
 
In my case, the answer to that one is currently (and, sporadically, for the past two or three years) Yes. Not much. Not in any kind of a reliable way[2], but Yes. I do get paid (in money, no less[3]!) to write. Go me. 😀
 
I’ve written before about how I, as an insecure writer without a lot of non-blog-related publications to my name, tend to crave the validation of having someone else (A Publisher) say “Yes, You Are Worthy” to me and my creative output. I think that (somewhere… can’t find it) I’ve also written about my own internal, and somewhat weird-ass although probably not that unusual, Hierarchy Of Writing wherein the writing I’m paid to do (content writing for websites, which makes up the vast majority of my paid writing work) is lower on that hierarchy than the writing that “makes you (me) a Real Writer” (fiction and poetry).
My mental hierarchy may not look the same as yours, or as someone else’s. Maybe your hierarchy lists “chatty magazine article for international publication” far higher than “e-novella from a small press”, or maybe your hierarchy flips those two right around and the niche-marketted but globally available e-novella is your longed-for goal. Maybe you rank non-fiction above fiction by a significant margin. Regardless, I’m sure you get the drift.
 
I think that a lot of us who make our livings as swords scribes for hire – particularly those of us who aren’t scraping a reliable living wage out of our writing (yet) – are looking for ways to Get Results Paid.
I know I am.
I write for a living. I model for a living. I sell poetry-inspired jewelry on Etsy for a living. Remarkably little of what I spend my work-time on, in a given month, reliably translates into cash in hand.
I can do every damn thing in the world – write a thousand words a day; edit carefully; join a writers’ group for peer-editing exchanges and mutual support; subscribe to call-for-submissions news letters; participate in open mics; submit my work to every market I can find; scour craigslist for content-jobs… but, while this stuff will up my output, and up my *chances* of getting published or getting a paid gig[4]… it doesn’t directly translate into getting paid-published more frequently. That bit – the bit where my work is accepted for publications, the bit where the employer decides to hire me – is out of my control.
 
I can tell myself that my job is to put words on the page. I can, and I do, and then I go and do my job. But I’m also constantly, painfully aware of that fact that me doing my job and me getting paid to do my job are two very different things. (See: Waltzing with the broom in the Hall of Writers’ Anxiety, if you’re wondering if that’s just me). Reminding myself that my job is to create the creations… that’s helpful when it comes to standing up to (internal) questions about whether or not working on my novel, or my next collection of jewelry, or a new batch of soap, or a new poem, is “an apporpriate use of my time”. It’s not so helpful when it comes to staring down the spectre of “I can’t even pretend that my income is within my control, why am I doing this again?”.
 
Sometimes I think that’s why we do this stuff – make lists, like talismans, of “If you do these things, you will get X result” even when there isn’t actually any causal link between them. I think, maybe, we’re looking for a spell.
 
And maybe that’s just me. (Or not). Maybe I’m drawing this particular connection between (A) treating obsession as if it meant being worthy of survival; (B) a list of alleged proof of professionalism[5] that is really proof of obsession; (C) a desperate need for control in a situation where we don’t have a lot of control; (D) a desperate need for external validation in a situation where we are frequently told that our work has no value until it has a dollar-value attached to it (and people are willing to shell out); and (E) the anthropological finding that the use of magic is inversely proportional to the amount of control a given potential magic-user has over a given situation[6] because I’m also an anthropologist (of sorts) and a witch.
But it feel like we’re doing Internet Magic when we tell the world (the internet) “I Am A Professional Writer Because: Unrelated Reasons” we are offering an exchange on a magical, or magico-religous level: If I do X, Y, and Z, you, Universe, will provide Q, R, and P. Spirit workers make deals like this, negotiating with gods and spirits, setting terms, offering payment, in order to gain knowledge, or a favour, or whatever it is we’re trying to get ahold of or get done. Catholics with their novenas do the same thing. And I think this is related.
If I pour all my energy into writing, forsake my friends, starve in a garet, forget to eat… you, Universe, will honour my dedication with a two-book deal / a published manuscript / a syndicated column / a royalties cheque
 
I’m not sure what to make of all of this. But it’s sitting in my head and making noise, so I thought I’d write it down. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
A.
 
 
[1] This is rather like what a friend said to me, once, when I was having one of my “am I really a writer” freakouts. She said: “I think writing makes you a real writer, and getting published makes you a real writer who’s been published”. Admittedly, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gyst of it right there.
 
[2] I actually have to send a note to my Australian employers to discuss how (when) I’m going to be paid going forward. That said: There’s a “going forward” involved in this, so Hey! 😀
 
[3] I’ve also been paid in store credit and, occasionally, contributor copies. Both are nice. Neither buys me groceries. (Unless I want to subsist on chocolate body paint, anyway). I count that stuff as compensation because, well, it is. But I don’t think of it as “getting paid”.
 
[4] In-so-far as you get more chances of publication every time you submit another piece of work to this or that magazine/anthology/etc.
 
[5] And that’s interesting in and of itself, because “professional” means “I get paid to do this” but “professionalism” means “I behave like an adult I’m worth paying to do this” and, what’s more, the bahviour in question frequently winds up meaning “I will volunteer more hours than I’m paid for” and “I will work overtime on no notice” and “I will make this task the center of my identity”. And that is some messed up thinking, dolls, even when I catch myself doing it. :-\
 
[6] Baseball Magic.

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Pro Writing, Quizzes, Process and End Result

John Scalzi takes apart a quiz on “are you, or are you not, a professional writer” and talks about process, end results, and – to some extent – the insecurities of freelancing.

Whatever

By way of my friend Mary Anne Mohanraj, I come across this list of questions which purports to tell you whether or not you are a professional writer. The author, Lisa Morton, writes, “Ideally, you should be answering ‘yes’ to all ten, but I’ll cut you a little slack and say you can get off with 80% and still call yourself professional.'”

Well, I’ve always wondered if I was a professional writer, so I decided to take the quiz. My answers:

1. No. My workplace is messy because I am lazy, period.
2. No. I don’t write in the evenings, and I like seeing friends.
3. No. I rarely watch TV anyway.
4. Yes.
5. No. Vacations mean I am not working. If I am working it’s not a vacation.
6. No. I like my friends and care about their lives and our friendship.
7. No. My…

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