January 13, 2012

On guilt

This book brought to 
you by guilt.
My long-time writing mentor Tim Powers is the first to admit that he's no role model. And yet, whenever I'm looking for inspiration I find him there with his quirky and often contradictory take on the writing life.

One refreshing thing is that he doesn't claim to write every day, like most other authors. It's the accepted rule that to be a writer one must write. That one must write every day, optimally at the same time every day, maybe at the same desk. That one should struggle through the hard days, sitting there without writing a word if that's what it takes. People like Stephen King claim to write 365 days a year, and the rest of us feel a little less worthy of calling ourselves writers when we let a day or even (gasp!) a week slip by between writing sessions. Now, I'm not saying that King and the others are lying. But it is an awfully high bar to try to vault over. I mean, how many other professions insist that you take no holidays?

What I am saying is that guilt is an inherent part of being a writer. Powers says this too: when you're a writer you'll do anything to avoid actually sitting down to write; but you're also sort of honor-bound to feel bad about it when you succeed in avoiding the work.

1074 pages? There's
not enough guilt in
the world.
This is where I find myself now. Having drafted the novel, I know, deep down in that place of Truth, that I'm not ready to start revising it yet. It needs to sit, to steep, for the memory of the words I've written to drain away from my fingertips and my neurons. This too is part of the accepted rules. But the guilt is strong. Get back to work, it says.

I've written a short story, and I should write some more of them. If I were a "real" author I could do that, switching between projects like a channel-surfer with a cramping finger. But it's hard: the brain-space of the novel bleeds into any new work, suggesting ideas for revision and getting in the way of alternate narratives.

What is the answer? I wish I knew. I'd write a story about it.

January 02, 2012

The obligatory year-end post

Happy Arbitrary Marking of the Passage of Time day! It seems only fitting that I'm a day or two late with this post.

2011 in writing was an uneven year. At the beginning of the year Clarion West classmate Nate Parkes dubbed 2011 "the year of 2009" in hopes that it would be a banner year for us CW survivors. And so it seemed, at the outset. For me the year began with the sale, to Ideomancer, of my favorite story, "Apology for Fish-Dude." I got the news on January 2.

And then . . . a stall. 2011 for me was the year of the black hole, as stories just sat and sat at markets. A couple of them have been "under consideration" for over a year! I didn't score again until Rudy Rucker accepted "The Curse of the Were-Penis" for FLURB.

I spent most of the year working on novels. During the summer it was novel #2, which is kind of the bane of my existence. What I have now is close to a first draft--let's call it a .75th draft, and I know I ought to try to beat it into shape. Experience tells me that even though I hate it, others might not. And yet . . .

Novel #3 has been captivating my mind. It came to me mostly formed in a dream, a radical departure from the kind of thing I usually write. I started it during NaNoWriMo and finished the draft today. Seriously, like twenty minutes ago I typed the last words of draft one. It came in much lower on word count than I expected, and that whole 1,000 words a day thing that I said I'd do didn't so much happen, and it needs a lot of work. But it's work I'm excited to do. I think this could be the one. Surely I've written my million words by now, right?

But wait, there's more! As it turns out, I also wrote some short fiction in 2011. I discovered the joy of flash fiction and the glow that comes from starting and finishing a draft in one setting, and wrote three of those. I also wrote a story of traditional length, and revised one 10,000 word monster, sending it rampaging into the unwelcoming world, knocking over buildings and trampling frightened pedestrians.

Here's another thing that I just want to share. I'm not on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List, but a number of my friends are. Congratulations to Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Joy Fowler, Von Carr/Siobhan Carroll, Liz Argall, Andrew Penn Romine, Rudy Rucker, and Cory Skerry.

Looking forward, I have ambitions both large and small. Like a birthday candle wish, I am keeping my grand hopes a secret lest they fail to come true. So I'll end this post with a modest wish for 2012. This goes for all of you writer friends: may our acceptances be numerous and our rejections swift.