Downside and Up

Today has started out being one of those days where I think I should have stayed in bed.  Not only have I been dragging, but my computer decided it was going to go all Orac on me and be really crappy about coming up right.  I started booting this sucker about seven AM, and here it is seven thirty-six.  Just remember:  I can always replace you, and you can’t tell me to sod off.  So there.

Yesterday was a tiring day.  I made it through work okay, but the moment I got home I felt like I was going to crash and burn.  I really didn’t want to write last night, but somehow I managed to hammer out seven hundred forty-five word and run the count over ninety-four thousand.  All this done while I had A Beautiful Mind playing in the background which is a good movie even if there are huge chunks of it that are pretty much BS, and Jennifer Connelly’s character is whitewashed to hell and gone.  Hollywood–what can you say?

The mantra is always “Keep Writing”, but that’s always easier said than done.  Thursday night I wrote over fourteen hundred words; last night only half that amount.  Sometimes the win comes from just sitting down and getting the words out even when you want to kick back and fall asleep in the big easy chair, and you take those as they come, because you know there are better moments ahead when you’ll knock out fifteen hundred words without breaking a sweat.

My mindset is grounded in the fact that I know this will be a long story.  Maybe another thirty thousand to finish just the first third, then what?  Another two hundred thousand to do the remaining two thirds?  Yeah, this is a year-long project, interspersed with moments of attempting to publish some of my slush pile.  2014 is shaping up to become a busy year, and I either get down into the work and do it, or shuffle off to Montana and start a dental floss farm.  I’m coming up on two-and-a-half years on this writing thing, and there’s still a lot to do.

I saw a comment on Facebook the other day that asked the question of other writers, “What sort of demons drive you?”  My demons have nothing to do with my writing:  that’s all me.  That’s what I decided upon decades ago.  No, my demons are around to screw with my mind, though they’re starting to lighten up on that shit these days only because, much like on Facebook, I pay no attention to their poking.  Though if I had to talk about my favorite demon, I’d say she looks like Gabrielle Union, has Michelle Rodriguez’s attitude, and speaks with Penelope Cruz’s accent.  She’s pretty nice for the most part, save for those times she goes all Michonne on me and stalks me with her katana.

Seriously, love, we need to work on our communications.

It’s a beautiful day.  Cold, but beautiful.  What’s a poor girl to do?

Work on her novel.  What else?

Sense of Doubt

Some days it is difficult, if not impossible, to stay positive about the work one does.  Try as one might, there are a multitude of things throughout one’s life that keep the daily struggle fresh.

Writers suffer from doubts–well, most do.  There are probably a few who sit at the computer and crank out a few hundred words, then sit back and go, “Yeah, fantastic work, I’ve got a best sell a-brewin’.”  For the rest of us who craft words into sentences, and then into stories, there have been more than a few moments where we look at a computer screen, or a piece of paper, and think, “Damn, this is total shit.  Why am I doing this again?”

I get this a lot, and I’ve talked about it more than a few times.  I’ve spoken with other writers I know, and they get into the same funks as well.  I even had one person tell me the other night they were looking at a story and the thoughts they had were, “This is shit.  I should give up.”

For the last month or so, during the lead up of the self-publication of Her Demonic Majesty, I was hit with all sorts of doubts.  Am I doing this right?  Am I doing that right?  Should I even put this sucker out?  There was a point where I was going to give up and just keep the story in the bin and submit it to a few more houses just to see if I’d get a nibble or two.

This morning, as I was laying in bed thinking about the bad dreams I’d had, I also wondered about my sense of doubt as a writer.  I thought about my current story, Fantasies in Harmonie, and Her Demonic Majesty, and wondered why I bother to write.  Then I got out of bed, my head fuzzy from the medication I took last night.  It was while I was walking from the bedroom to the computer room that I understood something:

It’s okay to think you suck.  Because that is the natural order of things for those who care.

There are all sorts of reasons why I get down on myself about my work.  It’s a struggle to get noticed, and I want so much so fast these days.  The struggle is getting old, as am I, and I want to move on.  Hell, that’s my life these days:  keep moving forward and build a new life for yourself, girl.  Story of my life, let me tell you.

But without the struggle, there isn’t a need to grow.  I’ve been there as well.  I spent thirteen years with one company and fell into the trap of not wanting to move on and do other things because the place was comfortable, it was, as I thought then, secure.  So I didn’t need to feel differently, I didn’t need to learn anything, I didn’t need to write.

In the end it was, as we say in the software biz, vaporware.  A lot of things were promised, and nothing was delivered.

It’s okay to doubt, because if you know you’re good, you’re going to doubt your skills.  You’re going to agonize over what you created.  You’re going to find yourself thinking, “This isn’t worth my time, I could be making blue glass like Mr. Heisenberg”–only you won’t because Mr. Heisenberg is a fictional character, your chemistry skills suck, and in the end you’ll blow up that fancy Jasper Country double-wide you use as a crash pad and meth lab.

Then again, at least you know your customers, which is more than I can say . . .

Climbing Up the Cafe

In the course of writing, there are times when you find your body starting to do its best to disobey you.  Sometimes it’s a headache that robs you of the ability to concentrate.  Or your back hurts and you can’t sit right for more than ten minutes at a time.  Or it’s your eyes, or a cold, or any one of a hundred damn things . . .

Last night, for me, I was being hit on two fronts.

There are times when, after I’ve been typing for a few hours throughout the day–as I had to do with my job–my fingers start to swell.  It not only becomes uncomfortable, but it makes typing a difficult endeavor   Where once you feel as if your fingers are flying over the keyboard, they are now feeling like not just two balloons, but eight.  It’s like typing in gloves without the gloves.  You can motor through the discomfort, but you find you start making more mistakes than your ability to correct them allows.

There was something else, however:  a nagging pain in my lower abdomen.  Some people would call it “bloating”; I called it, “A tiny creature that has taken up residence in my bowels, and won’t sit still for more than fifteen seconds at a time.”  This one, more than the puffy fingers, was giving me fits.  It wouldn’t go away.  I’d head for the bathroom to “do something” to get rid of the discomfort, and within minutes it’d come back.  It was like that all the way up until the time I threw in my towel and headed off to bed.

The body:  can’t live with it, a festering pile of goo without it.

I resolved that rather than waiting until later in the evening, when I don’t feel as tried as I do when I first arrive home from work, I should write early on.  That way, I can power through what needs to be done, and get my thousand, or twelve hundred, or whatever words in before my fingers and body and brain all scream, “Viva la Vita!”, and start walking my ass to the guillotine.  Thanks, guys:  you’re real pals.

With all that going on, I still managed six hundred fifty words for the evening, with my musey sisters having their late get together, and Talia, one of the muses, remembering the last time she’d sat with her sister Erin–a time four years before, in a cafe in Austria, not far from the banks of the Danube River.  She remember the good parts of that conversation, and the bad parts–you know there’s going to be bad parts . . .

It was easy to imagine them sitting there, because I’ve done something similar.  In 2006, I had lunch in Arnhem, Netherlands, at a Turkish cafe situated on the banks of the Rhine River.  It was a gray day, a little rainy, an very quite.  As I ate my meal of beer cooked in stewed tomatoes, with a side of rice and cucumbers, and a Dutch beer as a beverage, I watched the river slowly flowing by, while directly in front of me, maybe a half a kilometer away, was the John Frost Bridge, a duplicate replacement named after the commanding officer who’d once held A Bridge To Far against overwhelming forces.

I can imagine how my muses felt, because I remember that ninety minutes or so I spent relaxing, imagining that there was no one else but me enjoying that moment.

Maybe I was meant to, because I’d write about it later?

Waiting For the Good Things

The month of WirMovember is finally behind us, and it seemed that if, for some, it could have lasted a few more days.  Last night I saw friend after friend post up on Facebook that, yes, they’d reached their fifty thousand words, and they’d won!  Yah!  How much did they reach their fifty thousand words by?  50,023.  50,102.  50,048 . . .

You get the idea.  They made it across the line, and I gotta give them props for it, because nailing fifty thousand words in a month isn’t always the easiest of things.

Which brings up a couple of conversations that occurred last night.  One was with The Muse—yes, she was around last night, mostly wondering what I was going to do next, as by “next” she meant, “You aren’t going to spend all your time trying to model space stations in 3D rendering programs all the time, are you?  I thought you were a writer.”  Of course she’s correct, I am a writer, and I can prove it—

We were discussion the frustration that comes from being creative:  how people around you don’t understand what you do, how you work in a vacuum, and how you have to spend so much time waiting for something to happen.  For example, how do you get people to buy your self-published works?  Or how long do you wait for someone to get back to you, letting you know that they’ve bought your story, and in another few months you’ll see your words appearing in print?

It’s not a lot of fun to be in any of these situations, not really knowing what to do next, and what’s going to happen if it doesn’t come.  You keep pressing on, in either case, but sometimes the very act of pressing on is a killer, because you feel a bit more isolated each time something doesn’t happen.

There’s very little you can do about it, too, because writing is pretty much a solitary sport.  Yes, you can hang out in cafes and clubs and write away—I’ve done that, and I actually enjoy it—but you’re still on your own.  You don’t have cheerleaders standing behind you yelling, “Go, Cassidy, Go, Cassidy, get that next two hundred words . . . Yaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy, Go!”  Not gonna happen, at least not in real life.

But herein lies the rub:  if you don’t write, and keep at it, you not only get rusty, you get worse.  And this brings up the second, very short, conversation I had last night . . .

It was really a pop up IM while I was on Facebook, and it was from a friend, a fellow NaNoer, who said she’s been torn apart by another woman simply because my friend had forwarded the opinion that you have to write every day if you want to become a better writer.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was insinuating that writing was a skill as much as it was a talent—which, if you know anything about any creative endeavor, that’s absolutely true.

I saw a quote pop up last night from Clive Barker, a few words of wisdom that he was offering from one writer to a whole lot of others.  It’s short, it’s sweet, and there is a whole philosophy in them:

 

Writers write. That may be an obvious thing to say but [it's true]. There’s no such thing as a potential writer, there’s only somebody who is doing the thing. It’s like saying you’re a potential boat builder. No, you’re a boat builder when you’re building a boat.

 

Stephen King pretty much offered the same advice.  If you want to get better, you gotta write.  Think of that creative portion of your brain as a muscle, and then think about what happens if you work it on a regular basis:  it develops, right?  The reverse is also true:  you sit on your ass and do nothing with that muscle, it atrophies, it becomes weak and useless.

Where do you get your writing work out?  Places like . . . here.

This is the real paradox.  You have to keep writing to get better.  After a while you’ll build up a body of work—but what do you do to get it out there for people to see?  There are no easy routes to any of this, for if you write every day, you’ll end up with a lot of stories—stories that want to be published.

All you have to do after that is convince someone to publish you.

I write every day.  If I’m not working on a story, I do posts for my blog.  I’m very good about this, because I feel the five hundred or more words I write every day allow me to work on my craft.  I need to come up with new posts, new ideas, new titles every morning.  This is the process I use that allowed me to grow, to become a better writer.

To work out at the gym, so to speak.

This doesn’t mean I’m slacking with the stories.  When speaking with the Muse, I told her what I’ve done in the last thirteen months, from the start of NaNoWriMo 2011, to the end of NaNo 2012.  When I started working out the numbers, it was a bit surprising to me, even though I’m the one who wrote all of the following.

It worked out like this:

 

Her Demonic Majesty; novel, 86,000 words.
Echoes; novella, 21,000 words.
Couples Dance; novella/novel, 52,000 words.
Transporting; novel, 45,000 words added to complete story.
Diners at the Memory’s End; novel, 54,000 words.
Replacements; novelette, 12,000 words.
Samhain in Transition; novelette, 9,600 words.
Kolor Ijo; novel, 69,000 words.

 

With the exception of the first novel everything else was written during 2012.  Adding up those numbers, I’ve written about 349,000 words.  If I throw in Kuntilanak (novella, 25,000 words) and Captivate and Control (novelette, 10,000 words), then I kick that total to 384,000 words.

When I kick in the blog content . . . I always strive to do five hundred words a day.  Sometimes I go over (like with this post), so the word count average is bumped, but for the sake of not getting too crazy, I’ll say I average 550 words a day.

So thirteen months would be 395 posts, but there have been some double posts, so lets say I’ve completed 400.  The math is pretty simple:  I’ve published about 220,000 words for this blog since last November.  Probably a little more, but I’m not going to take the considerable time necessary to look at every post to get an exact total.  That’s just crazy.

What is my final count?  568,000 words for the last thirteen months.  What does that look like in real life?  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was about 257,000 words.  Stack a couple of them together, and when compared to what I’ve written, those are still short about fifty thousand words.

Then if I add in my other stories, you could throw a Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on top of those two Order of the Phoenix novels, and that would represent just about everything I’ve written in the last year and a half.

Has all that writing made me better?  Yes, it has.  I’ve become better at researching, I know how to use my skills much better, I know how to watch out for things that can hurt my writing, and I’ve sharpened my editing skills.

You have to write every day to get better, to develop your skills, to understand your craft.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, but you need to get that in there.  And keep at it until you finish what you’re working on—

I mean, no one ever sailed off on just the keel of a boat.  And no one who ever called themselves a writer sent out unfinished stories.

Get to work on that boat; you have some travelin’ to do.