24 February 2014

A to Z in Under Two Minutes

Are you doing A to Z this April? I think I am? I am. I didn't do it last year and I was sad about that. The signup list is already HUGE, so, you know, should be a great month.

20 February 2014

That Page / Day = Novel Thing: Update

Okay so earlier in the month I wrote about this thing I'm trying, this page a day writing experiment which should, if all goes well, result in a short novel draft by the end of April. The plan in case you are opposed to clicking that link and reading my previous post is to write a hundred pages in three months, one page per day with the occasional two-page day thrown into the mix (12 two-page days total, so I'll be done drafting before the beginning of May), which will give me a 50-60k manuscript.

Rule to keep it interesting: stop at the end of the page (or two pages on two-page days). Stop mid-paragraph. Stop mid-sentence if the sentence isn't over at the end of the page.

The idea is inspired by the Graham Greene Challenge and by the numerous cheery observations made in sundry books of writing advice that if you just write a page a day, by the end of a year you'll have a novel! Well I'm not looking to go all Stephen King with my length here, and one of my handwritten pages is quite a bit more substantial than the average typed page, so three months will do.

So, how is it going?

AMAZINGLY. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is AWESOME. Here are some reasons why:

It is so easy to write this way. I've written 20 pages, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11k words, so far. I'm twenty percent of the way through my story, and I am not worried about it. I'm not worried about what's going to happen next. I'm not worried about whether my stamina will crap out. I'm not even worried about getting my daily page done in between finishing this post and heading out for the evening to teach tai chi. I will have time, because it will only take me about twenty minutes to write that page, a bit more if I dawdle or pause to Google something. I'm especially excited about the next page because there's a big reveal coming that will be nice and juicy to write about and cause my main character plenty of distress.

I don't hate my story and I'm not doubting my story. This could be coincidence: sure, maybe this particular story is especially strong. I tend to think I still like and trust my story because I have plenty of time to think about the long game, the short game, what will happen in the current scene, what will happen by the end of the first act, what will happen in the rest of the sentence I left off writing yesterday. Vast oceans of time. Not-writing is as important as writing. Or something similarly Zen.

I have time and energy for other projects, even though I'm writing a novel! Right now I'm combing through my back catalogue of short stories, editing them to the best of my ability, and prepping them to send out. I'm talking about correcting some pretty serious story flaws in stories I wrote before I had a good handle on structure and craft. I'm slowly working my way through edits on a (deeply flawed) novel draft I wrote a few years ago. I've also spent time writing some flash pieces, prepping April A to Z, blogging, and working on my craft. And reading.

I want to work on other writing tasks. I'm excited about working on other writing tasks. Committing to that one page a day is just enough to dip my toes in the writing water. Some days, that's all I have time or energy for, but most days, it whets my appetite for those other projects.

I feel like I'm achieving a much better balance of raw word count and editing. I've long theorized that I need to do some raw first drafting on a regular basis to keep my attitude toward writing fresh. I find that if all I do is edit, I end up feeling a bit jaded. On the other hand, I also find that editing a story can take much longer than drafting. The page a day gives me something to work on that's fresh, while keeping me interested in editing and leaving time for editing.

A lot of people who I've told about the page a day project have had strong objections to it because of the challenge it poses to flow. The objection goes, that if you're about to have a brilliant moment, you simply CANNOT! DAHLING! STOP! (STAHP!)  What if you forget that EXACT RIGHT word between today's amazing writing sesh and tomorrow's?  What if you forget what you were going to say? What if? What if?

I am wondering at this point what it is about we writers and our precious precious words. What makes us mistrust our amazing minds and talents so much, that we can't imagine that we will know exactly the right way to finish that sentence tomorrow? Or at least a close enough way that we can fix in revision? At the beginning of this experiment, I did make some marginal notes about what I wanted to include in the next day's writing if it seemed important. I stopped doing that once I realized that my brain would happily squirt out some solution to what I had written the day before, whether I remembered exactly what I had intended to say or not. As my friend Chris put it when I was first talking about doing this experiment, "What if the word you come up with tomorrow is much better than the one you would have written today?"

I am learning to trust my mind to do the right thing, have the right word, know what to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. I don't know if that is making me a better writer, but so far it is making me a happier writer.

13 February 2014

Teddy Has An Operation

If you're a creative type, you should probably know about Ze Frank's An Invocation for Beginnings. (Seriously, go watch it now. Watch it every day before you start work if you need to.) He's done a lot of awesome stuff with his YouTube account, including the hilarious "True Facts" series. (True Facts about Morgan Freeman is one of my personal favourites.)

Lately I've been finding myself returning to watch Teddy Has An Operation. Basically, it's a tidy little horror short that mixes adorableness with grossness. Warning? There is gore. And candy. And plastic toys. And silly string. And gore.

08 February 2014

Women Destroy Science Fiction

No wait: they destroy all genres. Perhaps you've heard it before: women can't write insert spec fic genre of choice. We make it all unmanly like. Or something. I believe it is a minority of old guard weirdos and embittered geriatrics who still think this way, but the fact is that this attitude has had a lasting impact on science fiction, fantasy, horror, bizarro fiction, and other sundry spec fic genres. The fact that we are still having to talk about this at all is...well, it is what it is, and what are we going to do about it?

Here is something you can do.

Contribute to this fabulous Kickstarter campaign:

Donate $5 or more to get some goodies and help this along if you're so inclined, and help Lightspeed publish an all-woman-authored special issue chock full of science fiction. Now that the campaign has reached $28k, funding will also go toward the release of an all-woman-authored issue of Nightmare Magazine, Lightspeed's horrible sister (and my favourite). One more major stretch goal remains: if they reach $35k before the campaign closes on February 16, they'll release an all-fantasy issue. I would love to see that.

Read more about it in this essay by Christine Yant, guest editor of the Lightspeed special issue. If you can't donate, you can always signal boost. Bless your little heart if you do.

ETA February 13, 2014: The reason why this Kickstarter is so important might not be evident to some of you. In the comments I've pointed to some of the more recent events that might have inspired this campaign, but the best place to go to learn more is the Women Destroy Science Fiction update list, which contains many amazing essays by women about their experience writing and reading science fiction. (You don't have to contribute to the campaign to read the updates.) Like horror, science fiction is considered by many to be a man's domain. The attitudes of many who create, publish, and consume these genres is often hostile to women.

If you ain't got time for that, please just take a look at Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff's essay in which she discusses the reception of some of the fiction she published in Analog. Here's an especially salient bit if you don't want to click through:
ANALOG’s longtime editor, Stan Schmidt, has told me he’s lost subscriptions over my work. I knew this before I attended my first Worldcon in 1992 and was still gob-smacked when a couple of fellows cornered me at a party and explained, at length, why I had never written a word of real, hard science fiction in my life and, therefore, did not belong in the pages of ANALOG. This was after only half-a-dozen stories. I’m at two dozen and counting.
I don't want to be in the business of accumulating proof that this Kickstarter is a wonderful reaction to a sad, longstanding problem, but I get it if you've never encountered this issue and you don't know how to research it, I do want to help. As I writer, I'm all too familiar with how just the act of writing alone is hard enough, without worrying about how your stuff will be received or if it will be perceived as less valid because you fall into a certain category of personhood. As a reader, I am very invested in reading genre fiction that expresses a diversity of opinions. I already know what I think, and we all know what sort of story a male-dominated industry thinks is good (hello, Hollywood filmmakers). I want to know what you think. Yes, you. If your stuff is being blocked for being "too different," that's a tragedy as far as I'm concerned. I'd like to see that changed.

04 February 2014

One Page / Day = Novel

In the crazy history of crazy ideas about how to get your stuff done, this is not the craziest: writing your novel one page a day.

I have always been a NaNoWriMo style sprinter when it comes to first drafts: my style is to stock up on caffeine, plan to get much less sleep than usual, pick up my pen, shut my eyes, and run screaming down the paper track until it's done.

This has worked beautifully for me in terms of getting out a first draft. It has also left me wondering if there isn't some way to do a first draft that doesn't leave you physically devastated at the end. It has also made me wonder what happens if you write a first draft much, much more slowly, taking enforced pauses at various times.

Writing at breakneck speed is a great way to create a sort of frenzied intimacy with your plot. You can see the whole thing really well because you don't have very long to go until you hit the end. I typically have very intense dreams involving imagery, if not themes and characters and plot points from my novel. Again this is great but I wonder if there's a more subtle way for a book to be present in your mind.

(Sidebar for the woo woo crowd: Last July during Camp NaNoWriMo, this intensity was so powerful it transferred over to Dave: one morning on our regular commute he told me about this bizarre dream he'd had. It was the scene from my novel that I'd written the night before, while he was sleeping. I hadn't told him about the scene ahead of time.)

So I'm trying this other thing. Something similar to this. Here's the infographic version of that very important and swear-word filled piece of gloriousness, courtesy also of Chuck Wendig:

So I'm doing a modified version of this, although I love the plan, and it looks ideal for someone who is just having a really crappy time fitting any writing at all into a week. I'm writing a page a day: a nice, tidy unit of variable word count. I draft by hand, so this works for me. One of my hand-written pages is 500-600 words, most of the time.

I'm not giving myself weekends off. Saturday is my busiest workday in terms of my teaching, and almost always will be, so a weekend isn't a weekend in my week. I'm planning a shorter book - novella? novellette? No idea of the designation - 100 pages in first draft. I started writing February 2, and I'm planning to finish on the last day of April, so I'll be doubling up on pages twelve days between now and the end.

Here's the really experimental fun part: I plan to stop at the end of a page, regardless of whether I'm mid-scene, mid-paragraph, mid-sentence, mid-murder, mid-kiss, mid-shenanigans, or what.

What do I expect to get out of this? Darned if I know, but when Sarah Van Den Bosch did a similar challenge (precisely 500 words per day, or "The Graham Greene Challenge"), this is what she had to report:

Forcing yourself to stop before you feel you’re finished keeps you thinking about the story and when you’re thinking about your story, you can’t help but to keep pushing it forward even if it is only in your mind. Not only that, but I found myself scrutinizing more over word choice. What would be the best fit for that sentence? Is that really what I want to say?
So far (three days in), I'm finding the writing a wee bit hitchy. Putting in an artificial stop, especially at the beginning of a story when there's so much stuff to work in, feels a little like a lurch, a little harsh. During my non-writing 23 and a half hours a day, I do feel my story churning away in the background, a sort of low-key hum, even when I'm not actively thinking about it. I'm looking forward to having energy to keep working on other projects at the same time as the novel develops. I'm curious about how much brainspace the story will take up, and I'm wondering about the potentially magical full-sleep / novel-writing combo.

I'll let you know how it goes.