Category Archives: Writing

Beginning/Finishing

Couple of quick-fire topics tonight, as Can*Con approaches and I increasingly feel as though my head may be on fire.

This past weekend we saw the first episode of Doctor Who with the new actor portraying the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. I’m not going to get too in-depth, partly because ‘spoilers’ and partly because ‘head on fire’ but in short: I thought it was really fun.

Whittaker was great and seemed very comfortable in the role. It will be interesting to see how much of her manic energy level will be a temporary artifact of the regeneration process and how much will be a permanent element of the character. Either way, it was a treat to watch, I thought the new cast looked like they will be fun and bring a variety of different perspectives on travelling around with an itinerant mad scientist.

I have seen some criticisms of the episode arguing that it was an overly simple plot and not grand enough for the introduction of a new Doctor. I agree that it was a pretty basic story, but I applaud the decision for a couple reasons. First, although I have enjoyed the last few seasons of the show, it is also true that I have found the increasingly labyrinthine and obscure season-long puzzle arcs to be less and less charming. A season that isn’t trying quite so hard to weave an intricate mystery out of a bunch of enigmatic hints and just has some straight-ahead tales will be very welcome.

I also think it was a wise move on the part of the writers, because it would have been reasonable to anticipate a bunch of new viewers tuning in for this one. You want something accessible, not something that requires exhaustive knowledge of years and years of Doctor Who lore to appreciate. You could tune into this with very little background at all, understand what was going on, and jump on the ride.

It looks like it’s going to be a good one.

—-

Also, as Can*Con approaches, I achieved one wee little goal I had set for myself. I had planned to finish the third revision of Heretic Blood in time for the convention, in part so that it was ready to pitch to a couple people who I’m hoping to have a chance to talk to, and also because (as I’ve mentioned), I like a deadline. We are juuuuust under the wire, but I can say: Mission Accomplished.

All of the revisions so far have been fairly significant, and although that’s not always easy (what do you mean it wasn’t perfect the first time?), I think each rewrite has made the story significantly better. Right now, I have a story I’m quite proud of, that I will be pleased to share with a wider audience, and that I know not everyone is going to like.

That’s ok. There is probably some Platonic ideal story out there that will please every reader. I haven’t created it yet, and I haven’t read it yet. I think Heretic Blood has its strengths, and I feel confident that people will read it and like it. Some people will find it not their cup of tea, and I’m all right with that. I think the story needs to be the way it is. Pushing it to be something else might eventually work, but then it would be a different story than the one I wrote, and although it might then appeal to people it wouldn’t in its current form, we’d probably lose some of the people who might like it as it is currently written.

You can, I think, chase the broadest possible appeal forever. I think Heretic Blood is pretty darn close to being exactly the story that I want it to be. (It isn’t, by the way, the story I thought it would be when I set out to write, but that’s also more than fine.) At a certain point, a piece of art is what it is going to be, and you have to send it out into the world and let it try to find its audience.

I hope to do that soon.

Thanks for reading.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Side Jobs

Short one again this week – I’m kind of running around with the start of the new semester, all the things that need looking after, and my consequently declining energy reserves. A new term is always exciting, but there’s so much to do!

And yes, as you will probably already have deduced from reading this blog or my social media, that does mean that I have a job besides that of being a writer. Writing is, in fact, very far from providing a significant part of my income, so though I love it and think of my writing as the most important thing that I do right now, it’s not paying the bills.

Many creatives are in similar situations, a fact that our society sometimes decides is a funny joke or something to sneer at. Recently (as you will no doubt have seen) a couple media outlets tried to shame an actor for having a job at a grocery store. Man, if you look the guy up you’ll see that he’s been working steady, he’s been getting jobs, it just doesn’t pay the bills. Fortunately the overwhelming response seems to have been that no-one should be made into a public spectacle or made to feel bad because they’re working a couple jobs. Just as fortunately, the actor himself seems to have a pretty good attitude about it all and may even have scored some extra work.

So that particular situation seems to have resolved itself decently well, but it is an uncomfortable reminder of the position creatives often find themselves in in society. People often assume that doing art is easy money (people have genuinely asked if I make all my money from my books), that the artists whose work they have enjoyed are set for life, and are doing nothing but work on their art all day every day. Would that it were true.

The odds are very good that your favourite writer has at least a side job or two. That singer you admire may be working a full-time job around practicing Russian pronunciation. This isn’t a cry for sympathy, not exactly – everyone has to work and lots of people work more than one job these days. In a lot of ways, creatives are exceedingly lucky to be able to make anything at all doing something they love.

On the other hand, since we (as a society) do like art so very much – and we do – perhaps we could at least not poke fun at whatever work artists find themselves needing to do to earn their bread and cheese. There’s nothing noble in not being able to pay the bills, and whatever work you gotta do, you gotta do. No job is shameful.

It also puts the complaints about artists not having their work be free or the next thing to free in a different perspective. We love art, on the whole. We shouldn’t try to wriggle out of paying the artists.

That’s it for this week – thanks for reading, as always.

Tagged , ,

Pots

Just a bit of a progress report-y entry this week. As I’ve mentioned a couple times recently, I (relatively) recently finished a complete draft of Heretic Blood, which I hope will become my next book, and have been working away on revisions and edits. It’s going ok, as I continue to get invaluable feedback from the Eager Volunteers, but it’s also true to say that I find editing to be less fun than creating something new (I think most people do) so my brain keeps straying away to what the next project should be.

I have several ideas, which is another kind of challenge. First, I need to keep as on-task as I can editing Heretic Blood so that it’s good enough to try to find a home for. Second, if I’m going to do anything useful on new work, I need to pick one new project and focus on that. Having multiple ideas is certainly not the worst problem to have, but I’ve already learned that trying to write more than one thing at once doesn’t really work for me. So, I’m somewhat waiting to see which idea I end up having some real sustained interest in; that can then become the next new piece of work while I continue making Heretic Blood presentable to the world at large.

I am also in the midst of rereading (after many, many years) the Prydain stories by Lloyd Alexander, and enjoying them a great deal. I had forgotten just how charming they were and I may write about that some other week. However, I’ve also just gotten to the part (in Taran Wanderer) where Taran discovers that a) he really likes making pottery but b) he’s not skilled enough to make a living at it.

From time to time I wonder, as I imagine a lot of creatives might, if I’m in the same sort of position with my writing. I really enjoy but, but maybe I’m not quite good enough for it to ever be more than a hobby. I suppose that a) the jury may still be out but also b) at some point you have to decide how much that matters – is it worth creating the art because you love it, even if it never really becomes much beyond that?

I have my moments of doubt about it all, but I know that when I’m able to get some stillness and put the world away for a while that I decided this long ago. I’m gonna keep making pots.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Back to It

Just a very quick note this week as I don’t really have a great topic idea while also getting a bit busy with the impending start of the fall term and doing some programming work for Can*Con. I also just got home from a vacation up north a bit where I was able to spend some time tending a fire again. As I’ve written about before, I find that deeply satisfying and it was a very nice break. Now back to it.

Primarily right now, “it” is doing revisions of Heretic Blood to get ready to try to find a home. I always find it a strange experience going over my own work. I wrote all of it (honest!) but I will find mistakes that I absolutely cannot believe I made that make me cringe (discovered today: three consecutive ‘Chapter Seven’s) along with word choices and phrases that strike me as awful. I can’t believe I wrote that, yet I indisputably did.

I will also find those parts that make me smile, I’ll read a turn of phrase and think it clever, and every once in a while I will read something that gives me a little chill or flare of excitement. I can’t always believe I wrote those bits either, yet I indisputably did.

Part of this is just to say how important it is to revise thoroughly and find a process for it that works for you. When I sent out the first ‘complete’ draft to my Eager Volunteers, I thought it had most of the rough edges knocked off it, but both they and I have found really glaring errors. They’re in there. Edit your stuff.

Part of it is also what is for me a helpful reminder that even though all the missteps, large and small, are in there, the good stuff really is in there too. Finding a flaw in the work isn’t a sign that it needs to be abandoned, or burned to the ground and started over. It just needs more work.

Revising is not nearly as fun for me as creating something fresh, but it’s at least as important if I’m going to end up with something that people actually want to read. If ‘being there’ is a significant factor in success, so is being willing to do the grind. Most any field that I have any experience with whatsoever has some kind of grind associated with it, and if you want to work in that field, you gotta do the grind eventually. Put it the work, get it done, and that’s how you get back to the fun parts. And it is satisfying, in its own way, to look back at what you were just able to grind on through, know that you took care of that, and did it the best you could.

I have comments in from another Eager Volunteer. Back to it.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , ,

Not Insane

From time to time I meet up with some other local authors and we sit in a place (it varies) and do some writing. It’s very slightly social (the idea is not to talk to each other the whole time) but mostly the idea is to be productive. I find doing it in a group useful mostly from an accountability standpoint, i.e. I will feel guilty if the others see me goofing off on Twitter instead of writing the thing I’m meant to be writing. Also, going to a different place to work from time to time (although I deeply value my Writing Deck time) is useful because it stops me wandering off to do laundry or pet the cats instead of staying on task.

So the group writing sessions are very useful. I got refocused and back on track with the first draft of Heretic Blood by going to a bunch of them, and today I got a nice little bit of the new project hammered out by just going to a room with some other writers and sitting there and getting shit done. Well worth getting out of my pjs for.

Today’s session was also useful in a different kind of way: during one of our ‘get more coffee’ intermissions, we got to talking about how we work and I mentioned that thing I do (which I have written about here several times) where I write the first draft of my stories out of order. I think I’ve also mentioned that when I explain this process to other people, I get a strong feeling that it sounds insane.

Today though, one of the people I was writing with, who happens to be a thoroughly legitimate professional (and, in fact, I suspect that after a few more years go by, people won’t believe me if I claim to know him) said that he does the same thing, for many of the same reasons. I don’t mention this to argue that this means I am doing things Right (I still don’t believe that there is a Right way to do things), but because it was really very validating to have another writer say that yes, they do things that way too.

I think it’s very easy to convince ourselves (especially those of us prone to Impostor Syndrome) that however we do things is a massive ongoing disaster and that people will think we’re insane for doing it. So it’s almost a relief to hear that yes, other people use the same methods. I would go so far as to speculate, in fact, that no matter what method any individual writer is using to get the words on the page and their stuff completed, there’s a whole bunch doing the same thing. Because it works for them.

So what I’m doing isn’t insane (or at least no more insane than the endeavour of ‘creative writing’ is as a whole), what any of you reading may be doing also isn’t insane, and what matters is that the shit gets done.

Man, that’s dangerously close to advice again. We’ll call it there.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , ,

Plan?

Revisions are underway for the first draft of Heretic Blood, which I hope will become my third novel. I had one set of notes from an Eager Volunteer already, and have done one editing pass/rewrite based on those, and I’m waiting a bit for others to come in. I will do my own revision as well at some stage but I’m giving myself a little distance from the the thing before I do. Given the mistakes I missed in composing the first draft, I think this is for the best.

While Heretic Blood is on temporary pause, I’ve started the groundwork for what will be the next WIP. Unusually for me, I’ve spent reasonable chunk of time planning without really beginning to write. (Ok, yes, fine, I’ve already written the first and last paragraphs, leaving only all that tricky stuff in between to do.) With the other books, I largely just started writing the bits of the story I had clear in my mind, and worked out how it was all going to fit together, and what the other bits needed to be, as I went along.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m approaching it differently this time. Partly it’s because the story (as I imagine it now) will have a more complex structure than the ones I’ve written before, with flashbacks interwoven with the main narrative. I feel like I need to figure out what all of those are going to be before I start my work.

And that’s really the key thing – I feel like I need to spend some time planning this one. I can’t clearly say why, but it has been very clear to me that I need to hammer some stuff out before I’m ready to write. Perhaps this is because the WIP is a story I began once before, and ditched – I need to understand what I’m changing, and what I’m keeping, and get it relatively straight in my head before I start writing.

The reason I mention it is that, whatever the reason may be why I feel like I need to plan this time before I write, it serves as a really good example of how there is no One True Way to writing a story. I’m doing this one very differently than the last time. I can’t say for sure that it’s going to work equally well (for me), but there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to try it and see. Maybe it’ll be fantastic and I’ll plan from now on. Maybe it somehow is particular to this idea and I’ll never plan again.

The point is you gotta try and see what works for your process. Stuff that works, keep doing. Stuff that doesn’t help you, don’t worry about.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , , ,

And We’re Back

Last week, for the first time in a very long while, I missed a blog entry. There were reasons.

You may recall from the previous one that I was away on a trip overseas, and last Tuesday was the day I was travelling home. In theory it was all supposed to work perfectly – I would get home in the evening with enough time to sit and write something for this. I even had a good idea of what I would write about.

Didn’t go according to plan. Due to a huge flight delay, my trip home ended up taking just under 23 hours, door to door, and I didn’t arrive home until the early hours of Wednesday. Not a great way to end what had otherwise been a splendid trip, but (as I have reminded myself several times) if my problem is that there were problems with my international travel, I’m really doing pretty well overall.

However, the blog didn’t get written. One might argue – with some fairness – that I should have had lots of time to write something while I was waiting around in the airport, but I was a) jealously conserving my battery power so that I could monitor what was going on and communicate with people; creating a tiny illusion of control or agency in a situation in which I could really do nothing at all. I was also b) grumpy, increasingly tired, and running on bad airport food and thus not in a mood to write anything at all.

So the blog didn’t get written, but what I wanted to do today was not present a bunch of excuses (or at least, not only that) but to use this as yet another example of how sometimes, no matter what our intentions are and what plan we have, the world intervenes on us and things do not get done as we hoped they would. Probably well-meaning writing advice often insists on writing every day, or writing set amounts or at given rates. Sometimes this is very useful advice, but sometimes it isn’t.

Sometimes, life is not on your side, and you’ve just gotta let things wash over you, and when it’s done you get back up and you get ’em the next time. A plan is good. Recognizing that sometimes the plan needs to bend, and that that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, is better. Ideas like ‘write every day’ or completion schedules are useful to us only insofar as they help us be productive. If they become a thing that adds to stress or becomes a way for us to beat ourselves up, then they’ve stopped serving any good purpose, and it’s perfectly okay to let them go. It doesn’t mean you quit. It doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean your work is any less legitimate than anyone else’s. It just means that man, sometimes you have a day, or two, or several.

You get back at it. Writing the blog is something I enjoy and doing it every week is a way to make sure that I don’t find that three months have passed without me doing any entries. However, it wasn’t the end of the planet that I didn’t get an entry done last Tuesday, and doesn’t mean anything other than that it was a really bad day. I’m back at it with this, and back working on revisions for Heretic Blood and planning the new WIP. The work is always there when you’re ready to get back to it.

So, starting a new streak of ‘every Tuesday’s today, and as always, I thank you for reading.

Tagged , ,

(Not actually) Finished

I’m pleased to have as my topic for this week’s blog that I finished a complete draft of Heretic Blood today. I’ve been working away at it, at varying rates and to varying degrees of success, for what feels like a very long time. There have been numerous challenges (many moaned about here on the blog) and I think this book may well be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written.

It changed, or at least my impression of what it needed to be changed, at least twice as I was writing, requiring some extensive rejigging of things both already done and yet to be created. There are also some challenging things in it (that I’m not entirely ready to spoil just yet) that go beyond what I’ve tried to grapple with in my fiction before. In the end I have something that (even reasonably deep in the Statler and Waldorf process) I think is reasonably good and should only get better as I begin the next phase of the job, editing and revising.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I wrote this book just as I pleased. I picked the words I wanted to pick, wrote each sentence the way I wanted it, and gave more or less zero thought to any of the rules of writing that you’ll encounter on any typical cruise around the internet. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure there really are rules, or at least (as one writer put it on Twitter recently) not in the sense that there are rules for how to assemble an engine. There are, of course, principles that will work somewhat more often than they won’t, and approaches that have succeeded for a great many writers. When it comes down to it, though, what you’re left with is you, the page, and getting words on it. You have to do what works for you, and you’ve got to make it your story. That’s what I think I’ve done with Heretic Blood, which may or may not be an unreadable mess, but it’s my unreadable mess, and I like that.

Editing will probably demand a lot of this changes, and that’s good. My hope is that I’m starting from a place that has a strong voice and tells a story the way I would like it told. I’m sure it won’t be for everyone; with luck it will resonate with some audience, of whatever size. I really do look forward to hearing what my Eager Volunteers think of it, and then hopefully what more of you think of it when and if the book gets to you.

I hadn’t expected to finish today. I knew I was reasonably close, but then this morning I was working on rewriting a scene, took a look to see how much more work there was to do it total, and realized that I could just do all of it today. I changed the plan for my afternoon a little bit, pushed on, and got it finished. It was somewhat like that feeling towards the end of a race when you see the finish line and realize you can sprint to the end. Just: wow, yes, we can get this done!

I made a lot of progress in the last couple of weeks. I think a lot of it was having a stretch of days to devote to writing, and really focus on it, to kind of get my legs under me. I hate to continue the running analogy, but there are things I don’t properly realize until I’m doing them. When I’m running, I need to be able to feel the right stride for me to use – the one that feels slower-paced, but with bigger strides that digest the kilometers, not the quicker, shorter one that burns my cardio and ends up a more frantic, slower movement. It really is similar with my writing; I need that block of days to feel myself settle into a good steady rhythm, and then the pages fill themselves.

I think I hit that over the past week, in particular, and now this job (or a phase of it, anyway) is done. I need to carry this momentum on to another project, and I have a couple of ideas.

Finishing is a lovely feeling.

Now to start something new.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Pentecost

I was a bit thin on something to write about for this week, and then I was rescued by the calendar. This past Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost. Among the other reasons it is important in the Christian religious calendar, Pentecost was also the day on which (according to Thomas Malory’s version of the stories, anyway) King Arthur required all his knights to attend his court and renew their oaths.

(It’s interesting, or at least sidebar-worthy interesting, that it’s Malory who seems to have put this in. We’ll get back to it.)

Arthur’s knights all swore to do no outrages or cruelties, to give mercy to those that asked it of them, to serve the weak, and to support no causes that they knew to be wrong for any worldly gain. Even all these hundreds of years later, it’s still not such a bad standard to set for ourselves. There’s a reason this story has lasted for as long as it has.

Of course, if you know the stories, you also know that basically none of Arthur’s knights (excepting Galahad, who is No Fun), not even Arthur himself, live up to this standard. Many times when I teach about the concept of chivalry and codes thereof, one of the ideas the students enjoy kicking around is to what extent anyone ever did. And we’re probably right to be fairly sceptical.

Now, does this mean that Arthur and his knights are a bunch of hypocrites and the whole thing is hollow? I don’t think so, necessarily, and this is why I think it’s interesting that the Pentecost feast seems to have appeared in Thomas Malory’s version of the story. Malory wrote during the 15th century, a time when knights in England were behaving in anything but a chivalrous fashion, and Malory himself spent a great deal of time in prison. It’s not easy to unpick exactly what he was genuinely guilty of, but it’s clear that he got himself into a great deal of trouble.

This has led people to wonder why Malory was (evidently) such a big fan of the idealized King Arthur. One explanation, which I like (and I shamefully cannot recall who it is that I’m ripping off here) is that Malory was perfectly aware that he and his peers were not behaving as knights were meant to, or at least could, and worked out his version of the tales to suggest a higher standard and perhaps inspire the knights of his day to better themselves.

Ah, but the Arthurian knights don’t succeed themselves, so how does it work? It (potentially) works because Malory knew that probably no-one could live up to the high standards of the Pentecost Oath or other ideals of chivalry. But it was still a good thing to try. Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain and the rest are praiseworthy characters, despite their failures and flaws, because no matter what else is true about them it is also true that they try so very hard to achieve something wonderful. They fall short. We’ll probably always fall short of our ideal standards. It doesn’t mean that the standards aren’t worthwhile, and it doesn’t mean that trying is laughable or worthless.

Trying, as hard as we can, to be as good as we can be, which is what the Pentecost Oath really is when you boil it down, is tremendously praiseworthy, even though we’ll have our stumbles and missteps along the way. We can try to be kind, to help those who need it, and to use our abilities to do good things in the world. Sometimes we’ll fail. We keep trying, because we live in a better world when we do. I’m persuaded that’s what Thomas Malory was trying to encourage with his version of the Arthur stories, and I think encouraging the world to be a little bit better is one of the great things that our stories can do for us, and we don’t have to wait for Pentecost.

One last thing on the Arthurian Pentecost Feast. I also like that Arthur wouldn’t sit down to eat until he had ‘heard or seen of a great marvel’. So the Pentecost feast was also a time for stories, the telling of ones that had finished and the beginning of new ones, as knights dashed off on quests inspired by the ‘strange adventures’ that came before the King on that day.

A day when people declared that they would try to do better, and a day for the telling of stories.

Not so bad.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , , ,

On the Other Writers

Over the past week there was quite a Fuss, on Twitter especially, about a particular writer who has tried to trademark the use of a very common word in book titles. (I’m not going to name them or refer to things more specifically than that because I feel they’ve had more than enough free publicity already.) When called on it, they defended themselves as looking out for their interests and as ‘raising the game’ for publishing.

These are the kind of things that one does if one regards other writers as competition.

I do not, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is expressed really well in something Ilana Myer has one of her characters say in Last Song Before Night. One poet is afraid that he will be overshadowed by the work and abilities of his friend, and the reply that his friend wishes he had been able to give is ‘There is no shadow, and we are all one in what we do’. That’s how I generally feel about other writers. I think it’s really cool to read what other people are able to do with their ideas and their words. I find it inspirational when I read something really well done, to try to find a way to reach a similar level. We all just do what we’re capable of doing, it is unlike anyone else’s art, and the world is better for it.

I like (I guess for obvious reasons) the idea that the writers’ craft gets rewarded, so I am always pleased to see when an artist gets some manner of reward for their work. It especially helps if it happens to be one I know, or have particular affection for their work, but seeing a writer have success in their career is downright encouraging. The good stuff is out there, and that’s always a good reminder to have.

That sort of brings me to my second reason for not seeing other writers as competition. I think there’s a genuinely practical reason (as contrasted to the rather wooly stuff above) not to do so. The success of other writers can, I think, only help me. If people read cool stories, presumably they’ll want to read more, and if they look around for their next thing, perhaps they’ll hit on mine. That’s even more likely if the story they read is something like the sort of stuff I write – so yes, other fantasy writers in particular are not my competition. If they write awesome stuff, that brings more readers to the genre and that does nothing but help me.

Moreover, if their books sell well, presumably out there will be editors and agents and publishers who will see that and think ‘hot damn, we’d better find some more fantasy books’, and that makes my chances of getting my next thing in print better. Far from wanting less other writers, and less other fantasy writers, I want more, and I want them to do well.

In any case, my position in the market is, uh, fairly marginal, but those are my thoughts on the issue, and what I have for you here this week. Thank you for reading.

Tagged , , , , ,