Yin, Yang and Yahoo

It’s amazing to me to see the flowers pushing up through the gravel of our desert rock garden. All through the hot days of last summer, the warm fall and sere winter, there was no sign that there could be tulips.

Suddenly, there they are!

Lots of writing pushes going on right now for some reason. Maybe everyone is realizing we’re already through the first quarter of 2010 and wondering what they have to show for it. Now the sun is warming, the flowers blooming and all that work you figured you’d get done in the dark days of winter? Not so much?


So the RWA PRO group is having a 50K challenge this month. And there’s this Thor’s Challenge of 25K in 25 days. Another gal announced she’s 200 days into writing at least 100 words per day. Everyone wants to beef up those wordcounts.

Speaking of which, I discovered this week that my scene break set of symbols “* * *” actually count as three whole words in MS Word. When the clock is ticking and the words aren’t flowing and you’re struggling to hit your 1K for the day, it’s really tempting to stick in a few extra scene breaks. Everyone loves a scene break, right? Maybe I should develop a fancier scene break indicator, like

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Isn’t that pretty? And it would be SEVEN words!

Of course, that’s not really the point. Which is the thing to bear in mind. Wordcount goals and challenges can be great to motivate a writer to keep her butt in the chair and put the words on the screen, but what truly matters is what words they are. Even if you do fast draft and edit later, eventually quality trumps quantity. The NaNoWriMo folks are all about pushing you to finish a novel, which can be a valuable exercise. (Of course, they count 50K as a complete novel, which it isn’t — you need at least 80K, really — but I’ve complained about that before, so I’ll shut up about it now.) So, one thing the NaNoWriMo folks say is that, if you’re stuck, you can have your characters sing something like American Pie. I haven’t heard how many words that ends up adding to the story, but it’s a considerably long song.

What, that’s cheating?

Depends on what you’re trying to do. If you want to prove to yourself that you can put down 50,000 words to form a storyish type thing, then sure. Is it a novel when you’re done? Well, I can tell you right now that you’re going to have to cut out the song lyrics, since the royalties to directly quote songs are off the charts, so to speak.

Yeah, in the editing phase.

My point being, why put something in to pad the wordcount if you *know* you’re going to take it out in the final product? That’s just indulging yourself as a writer and not really working for it.

This has been a slow writing week for me, wordcount-wise, largely because I’ve been going back and reworking. KAK has been giving me great feedback on the Sterling New Novel.

(Did I mention that one of the agents who read the full of Obsidian and was *this* close on it loves the concept of the New Novel? She called it a “sterling idea.” So I think the new code phrase for it is Sterling. Even though that has nothing to do with the story. It makes me happy to look at it.)

So I’m working it up, hitting plot snags because this world is complex and – oops, I violated my on physical laws already in Chapter 8 – so I had to fix that thread. I’m shifting a few scenes around and adding in important information. I’ve made a lot of progress this week, just in a way that can’t be measured by rising wordcount.

It’s easy to value yang over yin. You know the concept I mean: the Taoist symbol of balance. Yang is active, male, thrusting out and growing; Yin is resting, female, drawing in and nurturing.

Accumulating wordcount is yang, then. Editing, the trimming back, in yin.

Those dark days of winter when you didn’t do much but eat and sleep? That’s a restorative time. The resting and rebuilding allows for the explosion of Spring yang.

The tulip bulbs hid under the rock for nine months or more, then burst through in a blaze of red.

Both phases are equally valuable.

Guerilla Marketing

This morning, when I signed onto my laptop, an incorrect password error message flashed — and I realized I’d typed in my main character’s name from the New Novel, instead of my password.

I’m taking this as a positive sign. Or at least, a sign of the right kind of writerly craziness.

It feels good, actually, once you reach that level of immersion in the novel. That’s the point where it starts to feel more like it’s writing itself instead of you eking out each word, begging it to move forward. Forcing things to happen. Once the momentum kicks in, it seems things begin to happen on their own and you’re just there explaining it to the reader.

Which is fun.

Not so fun is this phenomenon I’m witnessing about the iPad, which is supposed to be the new tech toy. I’ve being seeing lots of stuff like this. Note that the headline is “iPad Killed Kindelnomics.” Then remember that, oh wait, iPad hasn’t been released yet. And then note that this a guy’s blog. This “article” is no different than me proclaiming that no one is buying chocolate ice cream anymore because everyone likes this new flavor of pistachio better. Never mind that very few people have even tasted the new flavor.

A lot of these sorts of these have been circulating through Twitter and various publishing venues. Some even have these graphs that supposedly show how Kindle users are giving up their Kindles and buying iPads. The statistics behind them are indecipherable. I’m starting to wonder if they’re not completely fictional.

Maybe everyone knows this but me, but I think Apple has been encouraging an army of tech bloggers to push public opinion in favor of the iPad. It keeps hitting me wrong because I have a Kindle 2, which I love. I have absolutely no desire to acquire an iPad. Actually I have no interest in it at all. I have a laptop (two, actually, one for work and one for personal), a Blackberry, a Kindle and an iPod. Their overlapping functionality more than fulfill all of my tech needs.

What I love most about my Kindle is it feels more like reading a book instead of being forever on the computer. I love that the screen is not backlit, so I can read for hours without eye-strain. I love that using my Kindle is only about reading, not multitasking.

Wasn’t that the point?

I mean, a few years back, I remember answering surveys about an ebook reader and what would it take me to convert from paper to electronic. Those were the major points that it seemed all readers offered. And Amazon developed the Kindle exactly along those lines. Everyone I know with a Kindle loves it. One person, a prominent blogger, doesn’t like the lack of organization of the books on it – which is an issue I don’t get because I can always find what I want.

So, the always-evolving, always-competing tech world wants to convince me that what I wanted most in an ereader isn’t what I wanted at all, that I’m not satisfied. Despite their creative representation of the world, I don’t think the techies will convince most readers either. The editors and agents may want greater ability to annotate, but the mass of people out there who just READ, who love BOOKS and not computers, don’t think this way.

Of course, none of them read techie blogs, either.

It seems to me to be the one thing forever being left out of the equation: the reader. Which is ironic, since we all started out that way. Writers may love to use the saw “I wrote my first book when I was seven in purple crayon,” but they should really mention when they read their first book. Or when it was read to them.

My mom used to read to me, every night. She stopped when I started reading over her shoulder and correcting her when she missed words. She finally handed me the book – I remember it being Charlotte’s Web, but that seems awfully pat – and said I was ready to fly the reading nest.

That opened the world of books to me. Any book would fall before me. I could consume it at will, yanked away only for meals and school.

Isn’t that where we all started? Nose buried in a book.

Don’t offer me a better way to multitask. I just want to read.


I take a lot of photographs, to get the one I want.

This is something I learned a long time ago, from professional photographers. Back then, I thought, well this is something I’ll never do, because film and developing were expensive and was a kid. Seriously. I remember being disappointed in my photos from Girl Scout camp because I could never really capture how things looked. So, I had no funds to devote to getting the right picture and when I did have funds, I still didn’t care enough.

I’m an impatient person. My greatest flaw perhaps? David thinks so. Or at any rate, if he could change one thing about me, that would be it.

Of course, if I got to pick, I’d probably have him be ready to go on time, so there’s a lesson there. Draw your own conclusions.

Still, I’m just not patient with doing one thing multiple times. If I can get away with doing it right the first time, I will. If I can get away with doing it mostly right, or close enough the first time, I will.

The beauty of the digital camera is, I can take lots of photos and easily review and delete them. The downside is, I’m accumulating images. The sunset pic from last night is one of eight I ended up keeping. I had a hard time deciding which to show you.

I don’t like rewriting, either. It feels like retread to me. Back when I typed my papers for college on my Brother Correctronic, I did just that: composed as I typed. One time through and I was done. In my perfect world, I’d write a novel that way, too — beginning to end, one time through.

I know, I know. It’s not a perfect world and I’m not queen of it. Much to my chagrin, I assure you.

So, the New Novel is coming right along, but I’m feeling aggravated with it from time to time because it keeps wriggling and changing under my hands. I thought I was molding one story and it keeps mutating into other things. This is okay, I know. The other writers keep telling me to go with it, let it be what it wants to be, this is magic and so forth.

But what annoys me is: I’m going to have to revise the beginning. Probably multiple times. Gah!

At least I don’t have to do it on paper. Small mercies for an impatient writer.

Breathing Water

This is from Valentine’s Day. Love this dramatic window of sunset. There’s probably better ways of photographing the sun dead on like this, but clearly that knowledge is not mine.

Alas. Still on my list to take a photography class.

Not more important than writing my novel at this time, however.

So, after two days of being full-time writer girl, I haven’t written more than I would on a normal day. I figure if I write about 1,000 words in two hours on a normal day when I also work the day job eight hours, then with six hours of writing time, I should be able to write 5,000 words.

Yes, yes — I know the math comes out to 3,000 words, but I have this dream that the block time will make the word count expand in this glorious exponential way. See, if I could write 5,000 words a day, then a five-day work week would give me 25,000 words, which means I could draft a 100K novel in a month. Give me another month to revise and that would be excellent productivity.

What? You already knew I was a dreamer!

Anyway, I’m not coming close to 3K words, much less 5K. But I am finding that the New Novel is coming together in my head in this most marvelous way.

See, I’ve been bemoaning (mostly to myself) that I haven’t yet written the truly complex novel I want to write. I want to have written Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Avatar (which means I would have written Kushiel’s Dart and Kushiel’s Chosen, too, then brilliantly capped the trilogy with Avatar). I want to have written A.S. Byatt’s Possession or Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game & Speaker for the Dead.

And I have this idea that, in order to write books like that, you have to be able to dreamthink them for long periods of time. Like diving into the lake and living underwater in the mermaid city until you learn to breathe there.

At any rate, that’s what’s happening for me now. Though I spend a fair amount of time staring at the screen and not typing, I am learning to breathe. And this novel is taking shape.

Deep breath.

Me Time

I made the mistake of showing my mother my writing schedule last night.

As I mentioned, I’m practicing being full-time writer this week. I have vacation from the day job and need to get the New Novel underway. It’s a good opportunity to see how I’d set up a professional work schedule without co-workers or daily hours expectations.

One of the main things I’m trying to do is make sure I don’t dink on the internet all day. So I’m allowing myself online windows to check email, talk to people on IM, catch-up on Twitter and Facebook, read blogs and articles, etc. Which is why my mom asked, so she’d know when my online windows are. I pasted her my schedule into IM and she freaked.

Now, granted, people are often taken aback by my spreadsheets. I try to explain it’s that little wedge of Virgo peeking through all the Leo. When I was a grad student, there was a blackboard over my desk that I would draw the semester’s calendar on. I filled it in with all of my classes, office hours, and so forth. One professor, glimpsing it, said it looked like displacement activity to him. Some of it might be. But the practice helps me to get my head around what I want to do.

That’s the key to me: this is all about making sure I’m doing what’s most important to me.

One writer friend, Jeri Smith-Ready, announced on twitter recently that she created a screensaver that scrolled the message: “Is what you’re doing right now more important than writing your novel?”

My mom thought my schedule sounded sad, lacked joy and human contact. She wanted me to show it to David, so he could weigh in on whether I’m crazy. He looked at it and said, “She just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do.”

Which she confirmed this morning, apologizing via IM during my online window.

I suspect a lot of the full-time writers out there would look at this and say I’m still spending too much time online. I wonder if I’d whittle that down over time.

But then, while I told my mom that David counts as human contact, my online time is the bulk of my social life these days. Quite deliberately so. When we moved, I decided not to join any organizations yet. Which I’m wont to do. I love to join. Then I inevitably end up volunteering to be in charge of stuff and suddenly I’m spending my non-work time on planning charity balls and not writing my novel.

When we moved, I sold my sewing machine and all the fabric I’d stored up, because when I’m quilting, I’m not writing my novel.

I can see how this sounds joyless. But for me it’s about making deliberate choices to do everything I can to get to the point of being a full-time writer. Once there, I can judiciously add back in all of those other things.

It’s difficult for people to understand, I think, the need writers have to build fences around the writing time. I suspect it’s because a person writing looks like they’re doing nothing that can’t be interrupted. Just a quick question. Can you do this one thing. The non-writers don’t know how long it takes to get the flow going and how the voice breaking in totally disrupts it. Soon to be published writer Allison Pang is facing this now. She’ll be doing revisions on her current novel, plus outlining and drafting the next two, plus working on a totally different story that she loves. All this while working her full-time job and raising two young children with a husband whose job takes him away from the house a lot. I keep telling her she’s going to have to get mean (not in her nature), carve out that writing time and fence it off. That probably sounds joyless, too.

What it comes down to is, when you want the big prize, you have to sacrifice to get it. Not a lamb or a pound of flesh. What you sacrifice is some of the other things that you decide aren’t as important as writing your novel right now. What will those things be? Individual and carefully chosen.

It’s the question wanna-be writers ask all the time: how do I find the time to write? The short answer is, you don’t. You have to scratch and claw it out of all the other things in your life that compete. You make what other people see as joyless choices.

Fortunately, in the end, the writing itself is a surpassing joy.

Playing House

Kind of a playful sunrise, with all the little swirlies.

It’s the common wisdom that the young of all species learn through play. Right? We know this. Kids play house and doctor. They play war and cops & robbers. You can watch kittens stalk imaginary prey. Puppies nip and wrestle for dominance. All of the developmental types love to do studies on this: how play develops the mental and physical structure we need to be effective in the world.

For the next week, I’m going to play Full-Time Writer.

Believe me, this is the funnest game ever! I hope so, anyway.

Things are slow at work. Predictably slow. as we’re in the doldrums between the crashing waves of last year’s projects winding up and just before the long voyage that will be this year’s projects. One advantage of my super-busyness last Fall is I’ve got a fair amount of vacation and unused holidays built up. Our company is really great that way — you can work on a holiday if you’re pressed and save it for another time.

This is that time.

Don’t worry — I’ll go on real vacation later this Spring, when David gets his two-week break from school and we’ll go to VIRGIN GORDA! Did I mention we’re going to VIRGIN GORDA?? Well, we are. (Thanks to Guavaberry Spring Bay for the pic!)

But for now, I want to use the uninterrupted time to get the scaffolding up on the new novel I’ve been noodling on. I need to think up a way to refer to it. I don’t really have a title. I know how *I* think of it, but I don’t want to put it out there in the world just yet. I’m feeling protective of her young and tender self. And you know I hate the term “WIP.”

Hell, I guess it’ll just have to be New Novel.

Once I did a writers retreat, at Ucross Foundation. An incredible experience that went a long way toward making me feel like a “real” writer in my early days. For two solid weeks I had a room, a writing studio and an actual staff that fed me. (And some other artists, too.) At midday they would creep up and leave a gourmet sack lunch outside your studio door, so they wouldn’t disturb the incredibly important work going on inside.

Of course, being a writer, I would long for the interruption. Listening for the lunch elves so I could quit agonizing and have a legitimate reason to stop writing. I don’t know what it is about writing that, once you have large blocks of time to do it, it becomes overwhelming. But, over the two weeks, I got better at it. There was no clock in my room and I didn’t bring one, so I tended to wake when the sun hit my pillow, around 7. The only scheduled event in my day was dinner with the other artists every night.

When I returned, a friend asked me if I’d found my “perfect calendar.” After a moment of thought, I said yes. Yes, that was a perfect schedule for me.

I’ve done the “at home” writers retreat once or twice before. But at those times, my writing habits were less solidified and my life was crazier. I ended up spending that time writing very little and napping a lot. Or catching up on other stuff.

This time though, I want to really test out what it’s like. I want to set up my perfect calendar as a full-time writer and practice for when it’s real.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

What’s Your Game Now – Can Anybody Play?

I really should scan in some of my photographs, so I don’t have to borrow pictures of my friends’ kids when I’m talking about my own childhood.

Though I love this pic of the red-headed urchin child born to one of my sorority sisters. I see a lot of my friend in this little girl’s face. Which is a lovely thing, I think.

So, I’m changing up my process again a little bit. As you may or may not recall, when I wrote Obsidian, that was a major writing transition for me. I had formed my writing habits around essays. That was a very natural way of working for me. I worked four ten-hour days at my job, then took Fridays off to write. I could generally write a full essay in that one day. Start to finish, I could hold the full idea in my head and get it all on the page.

When I went to write a longer work, which at first were a couple of narrative nonfiction books, I found this didn’t work. I obviously couldn’t write the entire thing in one day, I couldn’t quite hold the whole thing in my head and, if I wrote only one day a week, I would lose too much of it in between.

Eventually I gave in to the “write every day” crowd. At first it was quite painful. The other demands of my life didn’t lend themselves to writing at any other time than early morning. And I am *so* not a morning person. At that time of my life, though, I took or taught classes every night from when I finished work until sometimes 1 am.

Mornings it had to be.

Now it’s my pattern and it works for me. I get up early, exercise and write before starting work. Sometimes I have early meetings and that interferes, but in general, I get my words in every day. I’ve learned how to write a long work in increments, though I did it as I write essays: knowing my starting and ending point and letting the writing process wend me through it.

For a while now I’ve been wedded to that idea, that the true art of writing is letting the story emerge that way.

Several things have come together in the last week or so to change my mind. Allison is dealing with contract stuff and negotiating deadlines for her (very exciting!) three-book deal. She writes like I do, yet she’s expected to provide detailed synopses of Books 2 & 3, neither of which are written yet. The thought makes *me* nervous. I’ve realized that, not only is Allison going to have to change her process, now that writing is her job (albeit a second one), if I get a contract like this, which I want and I’m working towards, I will have to do the same thing.

I might as well start now, without the pressure of deadlines.

I mentioned at the beginning of the week that I’m taking this time to figure out what I’m working on next. I tried writing on my various projects, just to see which one wanted to flow. A new urban fantasy novel stepped forward and she’s going to be my dance partner for the next little while. I’ve been feeling like I should plot it out, but dreading that process. And maybe feeling like that’s an insincere way to approach a story

The other thing that happened was I ran across a quote at some point. I think someone tweeted it and I regret that I didn’t take note of who it was. But when I read it, I didn’t realize it would stick with me the way it did.

I thought it was Jung, so I Googled him and some of the words I recalled and found it on this site, which has a lot of really great quotes on this topic. This is the quote that caught the edge of my attention, attached itself and like a burr finally buried its way in enough to prick me:

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
Heraclitus, Greek philosopher, 535-475 BCE

On the way, I also saw this one:

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.
Carl Jung, Swiss psychoanalyst, 1875-1961

That quote by Heraclitus reminded me of my childhood games with Linda Ceriello. We would create these elaborate games with stuffed animals and model horses, such as boarding school. We spent hours and hours in prep, giving each animal a name and sometimes a family history. We created course curricula and interpersonal conflicts. In fact, we rarely ended up playing the actual game for very long because we spent so much time on the set-up.

You’re probably way ahead of me here, but it hit me (sun breaking through the clouds, angels singing) that this was PLOTTING. Something about remembering the seriousness of our play and how gloriously fun it was, showed me that I have been plotting stories all my life. I just didn’t know I was doing it.

And see? Jung wasn’t the correct source, but he has something to serendipitously add: that new things are created through play, not intellect.

This means something to me because lately I’ve been feeling like I’m not as intelligent as I once was — no, I don’t know why I feel this way — and I’m wondering if I even can create a complex world like I have in mind for this novel. Knowing that I can do what I did as a child liberated me and now I’ve been writing up this world, plotting it out.

I still seem to need the process of writing, but I’m just describing things, characters, religions, history. I throw in snippets of dialogue here and there, bits of pertinent interpersonal relationships.

The best part: it’s really fun. Thanks for those days, Linda!