We had a lovely warm day on Saturday, and I got out the lounge chair to do a bit of sunbathing. Jackson elected to go with the package deal: sunbathing AND affection. He leads a pretty good life. Good thing I’m not concerned about my tan lines!
Otherwise I’m deep into revising THE FIERY CITADEL, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE, the first two books in my Forgotten Empires trilogy. This is the series – totally new world and characters! – that I’m doing with St. Martin’s Press. I turned in the draft of book 2 in April and my editor, Jennie Conway, sent developmental edits back to me while I was at Nebula Conference. She’s a terrifically insightful editor and gave me great feedback on tweaking the story. That’s a primary reason to go with traditional publishing, if all goes right (and some of this depends on having a good agent and serendipity), then you get to work with a fantastic editor who really brings out the best in your work and helps you to grow and move the story into the next level.
But… you know what they say: growth is painful.
I’m one of those writers who loves drafting. I used to say I hated revising – and I did – but now my feelings aren’t so strong. I don’t love it as much as the freefall rush of drafting, but it feels like good, necessary work now. Some of that is working with a good editor.
I used to have a critique partner who was the opposite of me: she *loved* revising. She called it “God’s work.” For me, revising always felt like fixing the mistakes I shouldn’t have made the first time. I’d tell her she had the wrong deity.
What’s funny is, now that I’m writing full-time – and theoretically have more bandwidth, hours, and concentration for my stories – I’ve become less demanding of myself that way. I no longer regard revising as “fixing mistakes,” but as part of the process. If we compare sculpting to writing, then my first drafts now are the rough of the figure with the surrounding marble chiseled away. The figure is recognizable, perhaps even showable, depending on your standards. In the revision stage, however, is when I bring out the shadows and highlights, when I polish the features so they have the perfect expression. I layer in the surrounding details, giving the figure context and deeper meaning.
Huh. Kind of does sound like God’s work.
Talking about my towering TBR pile today. I pose a quiz question for my listeners, too. What should I do??? I’m talking about revisions, how I’ve changed my view of them, along with my progress on THE FIERY CITADEL. Also thoughts on Mary Robinette Kowal’s THE CALCULATING STARS and THE FATED SKY.
The amazing and delightful Liz Argall, who draws the comic Things without Arms and without Legs, draws while she listens to panels. She did this wonderful sketch of one panel I was on at SFWA’s Nebula Conference. All the panels I was on ended up being wonderful, but this one was particularly amazing. The topic was “Burnout: How to Recognize It and Maybe How to Avoid It Next Time.
It’s a somewhat clunky title, but really wonderful for the topic. Because something that came out of the discussion – moderated by Laura Anne Gilman and including RR Virdi, Tina Connolly, and Rachel Hartman – was that creative burnout is really difficult to extricate ourselves from and not so easy to avoid.
Laura Anne, who did an amazing job of moderating, asked us all to tell our stories of creative burnout or coming close to it, and the commonalities were striking. This was mine:
For twenty years I balanced a career day job as an environmental consultant with writing. I usually wrote 1-2K words/day before switching to the day job. I slowly built my career, making more money each year, and I kept thinking that eventually I’d make enough to quit the day job. Every writer’s dream! Then my team got cut, and I was laid off with decent severance. My company offered to help me find a new job, but I wanted to see if I could make it as a full-time writer. I figured that, ,without the day job absorbing my attention and energy, I could easily double my daily wordcount.
(At this point, the entire room groaned. It was kind of hysterical that this collection of all writers foresaw the error in this.)
I was writing 4-5K/day, building up a self-published series and working up new stuff for trad – and the money was okay – but by July I was feeling ragged. I was sitting in the sun in San Diego, at the RWA Conference, having wine with Thea Harrison. She asked me how I was doing saying, “I hear you’re a full-time writer now – how exciting for you!” And I started to cry. Because I wasn’t having fun and I didn’t understand why. She told me I was starting to burn out and that I needed to get a grip and fix it, that she’d burned herself out and it took years to recover.
The remarkable thing was, for each and every one of us, someone else recognized the burnout and said something. A friend or family member had to point it out. Also, there was crying mentioned in every case, except for RR Virdi, who manfully laid claim “only” to deep depression.
We discussed ways of recovering and avoiding creative burnout, which mostly involved rediscovering play, and the simple joy of creating. Which meant divorcing it from monetization. Sometimes that meant something creative that was NOT writing, or at least, not writing anything that someone else expected or would evaluate.
At the very end, Laura Anne hit us with a statistic from the Mayo Clinic. The number one cause of burnout? Self-identification with your work.
So the final thing we discussed is keeping the boundaries clear, that we are not our books and stories. That’s one reason I try to be very careful to say “My book is a finalist” or “My book won an award,” rather than me. Small measures add up.
Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Lit Cons, Fan Cons, Comics Cons: What’s Best For You?
I imagine there will be a variety of replies to this topic – and maybe someone will take on defining each – but I’m taking a bit of a slant and talking about the stance I’ve taken on conventions in general. Come on over to find out more.
Last week I attended SFWA’s Nebula Conference and got to meet our 2018 Grandmaster, Peter S. Beagle. I legit teared up when we talked and he signed my battered old copy I received forever and a day ago. I felt like a teenager again and all those feelings that led into my early love of fantasy rose up and swamped me.
The conference in 2019 will be at the Marriott Warner Center in Los Angeles. I highly recommend it! It’s become my absolute favorite gathering of SFF writers and industry professionals.
Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is “Where do you get your ideas – the least popular question ever.” Come on over for three avenues I rely on for ideas.