Writing When the World is a Flaming Trash Can

It sometimes feel so silly to put so much importance into something as intangible as writing when the world seems to be falling apart around you. I know it matters, because to get my words out there might give someone else a little hope in the future. But today? Does it really? There are so many problems in the world that I wish I could help with, and other ways I could help them, now. Not just later.

But then again, I know how much hope helps. I know what it’s like to live without it.

Hope gives you a way out. Hope give you a way forward. Without hope, there’s no possibility of change, or fixing
anything, or making a difference.

You writers are bottlers and distillers of hope.
Your words were a hand held out when I thought there was no way forward.
Your words  built armor for my soul when there were no arms to hold me.
Your words are important.
You are necessary.

Sometimes hope seems like such a fragile thing, so intangible.
But it is also everything.
Keep going.

September 2016 Recap

Editing: Draft 5 done and sent to beta readers

Writing: Began a new novel. Surprise? This story feels like an unexpected birthday gift glittering in pretty paper. I already have almost all the key points fleshed out, and even an intro written in the mad zeal of a new idea, plus a few scenes. I wish I could talk about it, because it’s so much fun. I’ve drafted up 16,000 words that feel like pure play. Maybe this is me procrastinating, I don’t know, but I’m not going to stop now. I’m not foolish enough to send back gifts from the universe.

Books Read:
The Forest for the Trees by T. Nielson
Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning
Faefever by Karen Marie Moning
Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning
Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

I pushed through the last of my revisions and then I had to sit on my hands for a few weeks, going nuts. I know that my writing brain needed a break and a recharge, so I dove into books, specifically outside my usual comfort zone. Hello again, romance, and nice to meet you paranormal (which I have never read before).

Okay, so I do tend to go on binges of things, and if there’s a series, I will keep reading and reading like the hungry girl I am. The library is my <3 forever. It’s an enabler when you have no space to keep a lot of books, and not enough $$. And now there are e-books I can borrow so I don’t even have to walk sometimes.

Lately I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around series endings, and I haven’t formulated any particular thoughts. I haven’t written a trilogy or a series, so I don’t know what kind of forethought or planning might go into something like it. Here are a few random ones:

I do feel that Moning found her feet in the last 2 books, and think she improved quite a lot in her writing style as the series went on. I was pleasantly surprised at how she managed to tie everything up at the end, and making the resolution feel hard won.

I was also impressed by Stiefvater’s ending to the Raven Cycle books. It fit perfectly: tone, mood, expectation, payoff, while still surprising. The ending didn’t leave me feeling like pieces were missing. It left me feeling like the characters grew, changed, and earned the endings they got.

The endings of  both series left this little nub of hope that makes you think that the lives of the characters go on, and have adventures without you. If I were to end a series, I’d want it to feel like that. Not a forever ending, just one, that the characters are bigger than a book.

Endings are a hard thing to pull off, and I think there’s no real formula. Maybe writing a satisfying ending depends on whether the kind of story you’ve been trying to tell matches the story you actually told. I really do think that at least these two authors must have thought out the end game from the beginning of their series’, because there were enough dropped hints woven through to make it feel like they didn’t come out of nowhere.

Maybe one day I’ll write a series, instead of “stand alone’s with series potential”. Maybe one day I’ll have to figure out how to wrap things up, or go on with the surety that I will be given the opportunity to finish a story. I’d like to have the kind of time to expand, and explore a little more, go a little deeper.

Also… currently adding a million books to my ‘for later’ shelf. Yeah, it keeps growing.

Go Forth and Read (Writing References)

More awesomesauce links for writers.

Brief Analysis of the Alphahole trope in Romance Fiction – Oh this is a good one (also hilarious) and it doesn’t matter if you don’t write Romance. This trope shows up everywhere. Bruce Wayne? Totally an Alphahole. More on that if you read it.

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions – A long list if you’re thinking about a new story. Not just useful for fantasy, but any story that’s not set here and now.

Writing With Color – Ways to describe skin color without resorting to those dreaded food analogies.

Names of the World – A starting point for finding names common in different countries. When baby name websites aren’t enough. via Tam MacNeil who also posts tons of writing resources and happens to write cool books too.

Useful stuff. Do you have any links to share?

Being the Protagonist

Writing often bleeds into living, and the lessons go both ways. Just thinking about things I wish I knew when I was younger, but that I understand now.

When I was a kid and then a teen, I used to wish that amazing, wonderful things would just happen to me. I kept waiting and waiting, and wound up disappointed. Why did no portals ever opened in my closets? Why couldn’t I talk to animals? Where was the white knight or fairy godmother to rescue me from the drudgery? (I didn’t like being a teenager)

But one thing that gets repeated often in fiction is the need for ‘agency’. The protagonist has to be the one making things happen around them, rather than purely reacting to them. It’s the protagonist’s foibles should drive the plot for better or for worse, and that’s how they grow as characters.

What I wish I knew when I was younger: you need to act like the protagonist of your life, because it’s the only one you’ve got.

When you’re young it feels hard to be in control, because so often you’re not. But as adults, we have the chance to shape our lives the way we want.

Still, sometimes I still feel like I’m waiting. Sometimes it feels like a positive thing, an open thing, because amazing things are still possible. Other times, I’m just restless.

But this is my story, it’s my life. I better make it a good one. And I want to keep hearing about yours too.

August 2016 Recap

Editing days:  14
Draft 4 in-progress. (Draft 9 of the first 8 chapters *weeps*)

Books Read:
The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh
Wanderlust by Roni Loren

Yup, I’m still editing. Work was a little busier this month, and I took a holiday the third week of August so things have gone slowly. I keep reminding myself that this is fine and that I should take all the time I need to fix things.

I have been doing more sewing lately though. Sewing is my zen space, because it requires all of my attention. I can’t look away or something might go wrong. It’s tactile and it’s noisy, and it can get messy (my rug needs a serious vacuum). But there aren’t high stakes involved. Something either fits, or it doesn’t. Sometimes I can fix it, but sometimes I can’t, and that’s the end.

In all, I’m in a good place. I’ve got a draft query and draft synopsis done. Now all that I have to do is finish everything. Soon my pretties. Soon.

Also, ROMANCE. I’d forgotten how much fun it is. If you’re looking for ways to figure out how to make your writing more visceral, read it. And its all about character motivations. Seriously, if you want a master class in character, read romance. I think I need to read more… yes.. for educational purposes. Of course, it also makes me grin from ear to ear. Just saying.

How was your August?

Giving a Character ‘Agency’

This is by far the best description of ‘agency’ that I’ve ever read:

It is characters who create problems, who escalate the problems, and who inevitably complicate and then fix the problems. Characters want things, and in pursuit of those things, they fuck up and fail and then succeed as heroes. ~ via Chuck Wendig

Everyone always says you need to ‘give your characters agency’, or ‘the characters should drive the plot’, but in concrete terms those descriptions of agency have always been pretty meaningless to me.

I’ve struggled with it in my past novels, because the characters were too busy running from or reacting to what was happening around them to drive the external plot. I was going with the ‘chase character up a tree then throw rocks at them’ model of plotting, which left something missing.

It’s simple now that I think about it this way:

Have your characters create their own problems and suffer the consequences for good or ill. Let them fail once in a while, let them make bad choices, then fix them. Bonus points for snowballing problems.

Cue light bulb.

Character agency, decoded.

*YMMV, but it works as a mental model for me.

Writing, Self-Worth, and Burnout

Some lessons take a long time to sink in. In this case it was years. During one lecture at Viable Paradise, Steven Gould warned that it’s dangerous to tie your self-worth to the success or failure of your writing. This bit didn’t really resonate until I heard an interview with Cindy Crawford. She explained that she never got caught up in the craziness of the modeling world, because modeling was always something she did, but wasn’t who she was. Her sense of self has always been separate from her work.

This can be a fine line to walk when you’re a writer and you’re hoping and hoping for your first sale, your next sale… There’s so much you can’t control and success is fickle, even for established writers. It can be crazy-making if you tie success with sales or publication or good reviews.

But you can still take pleasure in the writing, in the craft, and not how the writing is received. You can choose your milestones, and reward yourself for without waiting for anyone else. I repeat: you don’t need anyone else to reward you. Treat yourself, for finishing a chapter, or reading, or a good scene, whatever you decide. Just make sure it’s something you get to pick, and don’t have to wait for anyone else to give you.

And when writing is what you think about all the time, and what you’ve called yourself your whole life, it can be hard to separate where you begin and the writer ends.

But even if you are a writer, it is not everything you are.

I will still exist even if my writing is never read by anyone but me. And I want to enjoy writing, because that’s why I write.

I’ve been burned out most of my adult life, being totally over-scheduled, working full time and studying, and dancing, and sports, all at once. It took me years to get out of the utter exhaustion, which requires (above all) time to heal. I swore I’d do better at not letting anything eat me up like that, and that I need to control my time, my deadlines, not let my deadlines and commitments control me. It’s a fine difference sometimes. I still get it wrong and overestimate what I can handle, but I’m better at stopping myself from getting too carried away. Maintaining boundaries requires constant refinement. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

My life still goes on. I don’t want to miss living it, because I have a finite time on this earth. I want writing to enrich my life, not suck it out of me.

Writing is about life. How can you write if you haven’t lived, if you aren’t fully alive?

July 2016 Recap

Stuff Accomplished: Draft 2 (the structural rewrite). Clocking in at 50 short chapters, and 82,000 words, up from 67,000 in draft 1.
Books Read: Monstress Vol 1 (SO GOOD! SO BRUTAL! SO BEAUTIFUL)
Sleepless Nights: Too many

This month, the edit monster stole away my writing brain so there wasn’t much left for social media time. Writing this novel feels like I’m outrunning a tsunami, and I can’t stop or I’ll drown.

This is an unusual feeling. I’ve always viewed edits as a necessary evil, but this time the 2nd draft was just as all consuming and compelling as the heady days of a first draft. I don’t know why I want to get this done and out of my hands so quickly.

But this feeling worries me too. It feels like a thin shelter against the real world, and there are some days I don’t want to leave the fictional one behind. Maybe it’s just that I have so little time to myself that writing feels so necessary to my survival.

I love my baby to bits, but as an introvert I always end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day. The little bean is basically an energizer battery who never stops moving (even when she sleeps). Writing helps a little, but it’s still not enough. Whatever time I get, I’m swigging down greedily, and I’m still thirsty after.

I know these really hard days will end eventually. I will sleep again eventually. I don’t want to miss anything either, so I want to give her all the attention I can. It’s both amazing, and frustrating both at the same time. Yes, the good parts make it all worth it, but it’s still tough being a full time working mama, with writing as pretty much the last priority on the list.

In the meantime, I will write on. I’ve already started draft 3, where I’m focusing on cleaning up the language, and I feel myself slowing down. The beginning of the book is as tricky as always, and I’ve already written 6 different versions of the opening scene. If you’re counting, I wrote 8 for the last novel so this is an improvement.

The pressure’s starting to build, even if it’s just in my own head and I’m not sure how to ignore it. Do you get stressed out when you’re writing sometimes? How do you deal with the ‘I think it might suck’ phases?