For a variety of reasons mostly having to do with dissertation work, the Sunday Linkdump is on hold, though I anticipate being back to it by next Sunday. I’ve recently completed the final draft of my dissertation proposal (I defend on the 14th) and I gave myself the weekend off on account of the brain needing a recharge.
But today I’m back on the writing horse, so of course I’m putting off doing any actual work on anything with a blog post.
I’ve talked a lot about my writing philosophy, and even some about how my personal stages of novel-writing work, but I’m not sure that I’ve really outlined the details of my particular process. So, to that end, here’s how I usually do what I do.
I’ve been publishing SF for almost half a decade now, but I still feel like I’m only just figuring out what the hell I’m doing. Therefore, it always makes me slightly uneasy to put myself in a position where I’m giving anyone else advice about writing and how to do it – both the mechanics and the practical elements – and even more uneasy when I’m talking about definitions of anything. and I’m sort of intrinsically uneasy with categories anyway. Given all of that, please let me go into this with the caveat that this is just my understanding of a thing, and it shouldn’t supersede anyone else’s understanding of a thing that may differ from my own.
All that said, I think “how do you know you’re a writer” is a very interesting question to consider.
I’m not sure when I first started thinking of myself as a writer, but I know that I was long before I started getting stories published in places. What changed is that I started to be more comfortable calling myself a writer, and doing so in mixed company. What I wrote for a long time before original fiction was fanfiction, and I think most of us know and would agree that fanfiction is still verboten in many circles, and a thing to be looked down upon. And I don’t think that’s entirely fair.
I do think it’s fair to call fanfiction a different kind of writing from original fiction in a number of fundamental ways. Those differences are subtle and not necessarily clear across the board – as with any system of categorization I think we need to leave room for a lot of boundary-shifting and liminal space – but I do think they’re there.
Different is not worse than.
So what does a writer write? I’m pretty much with John Scalzi on this one:
A writer…chooses written words, and chooses them not just for mechanical and practical reasons, but for (or also for) esthetic and artistic purposes. Writers want to write, rather than have to write. In presenting an idea, the medium they intend for it to be in is the written word.
Intent is what matters here, to my mind. Not publishing – necessarily – and not whether you’re writing with characters you made up. I think insisting anything else is categorical gatekeeping, and I’m not really a fan of that practice because it makes our collective world smaller and narrower, and therefore less fun. It also makes it more hierarchical. Hierarchy is generally bad.
So besides intent, what – in my estimation – makes someone a writer? Here are a few things:
I got my start writing fanfiction.
Actually, that’s not completely true: I got my start in writing as a six-year-old by putting together a series of stapled colored-pencil picture books about a magic flower. Also by concocting long and extremely involved epic storylines with my model dinosaurs and my Lion King action figures. But after that: fanfiction.
I get the sense that writing fanfic – in one’s past and even more in one’s present – is still a somewhat sigmatized activity among professional fiction writers. Probably less so than it used to be – more and more authors are coming from backgrounds in fanfiction, or are at least willing to talk openly about it – but still, I feel like admitting that I’m one of those amounts to making a slightly uncomfortable confession. Oh, you’re one of THEM. Like it’s something that I should be embarrassed by.
The truth is, fanfiction taught me a lot. The truth is that fanfiction has probably played a huge contributing role in getting me where I am now. I met my Line and Orbit co-author through a pan-fandom roleplaying game on Livejournal; we learned to write together through playing with each other’s characters, and we learned that we enjoyed it enough to embark on something original and novel-length. So it hasn’t been a waste of time, and it hasn’t been without value.
But the truth is also that there are several very important things that fanfiction didn’t teach me. That it couldn’t teach me. And I think anytime we’re discussing the value of fanfiction in writing fiction in general, we also need to be very clear about its limitations.
So here’s some of what it taught me – and some of what I had to learn on my own.
I’ve been kicking some short story-writing into high gear again as I shelve a couple of longer projects for the time being, and that means that the amount of time I spend writing every day has increased a bit. One of the things I’ve found most helpful in pushing me through longer working stretches – keeping me inspired, keeping me motivated – is music. So here are some of my favorites and reliable go-tos, especially for anyone who might be looking for the same.
Today I’m pleased to welcome Very Special Guest Star Line and Orbit co-author Lisa to the blog-like object. She’s going to talk about our book and how we made it happen. EVERYONE PAY ATTENTION BECAUSE SHE IS AWESOME
Lisa here, Sunny’s lurking-in-the-shadows co-author on the forthcoming Line and Orbit. Sunny is far better at marketing and interneting than I, so I’ve been mostly clinging to their coattails throughout the entire publication process and watching them work. When they offered me a guest spot on their blog, I was hard-pressed to find a topic I thought would be interesting for you guys. But, after explaining the book to my mother (and, eventually, I’ll probably have to explain it to the Priest and Rosary Altar Society in my home town, as that’s who she’s recommended it to), I realized that the fact that we’ve written and published a book together is, in and of itself, kind of unusual.
In case anyone’s interested, my academic alter-ego wrote a post for Cyborgology the other day that deals with my complicated and problematic relationship with print and ebooks in the context of seeing Line and Orbit through to publication.
When I write a manuscript, it should be real to me; I brought it into being, shaped and manipulated it until I was happy with it, put it into the words that I chose. And yet it’s not really real to me until someone has paid me money to publish it, and it’s still not as real as it could be until it’s in physical, tactile form. A lot of this, again, is about external validation, but most of it is how I personally navigate what I perceive as different orders of real. Not necessarily physical/digital and real/unreal, but rather a spectrum along which this thing that I made moves.
Woo navel-gazing. And navel-gazing in which I work in a plug for my book. Shameless.
Listen to Wesley. He knows what’s up.
A “this was very close” story rejection today got me kind of in a meditative mood, especially given the reflective nature of the New Yearish time of year, and I found myself facing something that I come back to a lot these days when successes are immediately followed by things not working out the way I want them to.
So I’ve been tagged in the Next Big Thing blog hop that’s been going around, by the marvelous Catherine Lundoff – who you should really be paying attention to. I just finished her novel Silver Moon and enjoyed it hugely (menopausal werewolves; you can’t imagine what a breath of fresh air that is).
So here’s me.
I’m in the process of my first read-through and first editing pass of A Murder of Crows, which I don’t think I’ve talked about much here if at all, and which is a dark fantasy novel that I began at the beginning of October and finished at the end of that same month. My instincts were correct: I underwrote. A lot. My goal is to get this from 65k words to 80k or more, and as of right now I think that’s eminently doable, given that there are many scenes that need fleshing out and other scenes that need adding.
Here’s the thing about novels: every single one is a different writing experience. Line and Orbit was this massive, sprawling, slightly fragmented thing, at least partly because it was coming from two imaginations instead of one, both working in excellent sync but both with a novel’s worth of Novel Stuff to go into the project as a whole. The result was a book that was in excess of 145k words long – two entire book-amounts of novel. So the task there was whittling it down to a manageable, publishable size, and that task was a mammoth one. It took about two years.
That book was also only roughly planned beforehand. It grew organically as we wrote. That was another reason for the length.
An earlier version of this post appeared on my Dreamwidth
So I finished Harbinger yesterday, or at least a draft of it. It clocks in at about 79k words, which is respectable. There’s still a lot of work to be done on it, but it feels good to be done.
I suppose. It honestly doesn’t feel like much of a big deal. Which is weird. It should. I’ve been working on it for nine months now. You guys it has literally been like I’ve been pregnant with a book.
And now it’s done–or at least a draft of it is–and I just feel tired. And disconnected from it. I wrote -end- at the bottom of the page around 1:30 and then went to eat lunch and didn’t really think about it all that much for the rest of the afternoon. Granted, I had the first lecture of the semester to deal with yesterday evening and that always makes me nervous and preoccupied but still. I realize that it’s kind of the height of callous assholery to be all like oh yawn I finished another novel but I honestly do feel a little like that.
And I look back on the other two books I wrote/co-wrote–Line and Orbit and Communion–and I think about the differences in the two. At the end of L&O I was fucking elated. I was almost dizzy with joy. I had also written about 10k words in a single day so I was just dizzy, period. And then at the end of Communion I was considerably less excited but it still felt like kind of a Thing. And now… yeah.
Maybe some of it is just that I have more visceral sense of how far from done a draft actually means–from being in publishable shape and then actually being published. It took us about two years to sell L&O, from completion to signing the contracts, and this was after it took a good year or so to write. And then there’s been the edits, which were extensive, and it still won’t even come out for another few months. And I still haven’t sold Communion. I’m sure I will but it might take a while longer.
And now there’s Harbinger. My third baby. I love it but it’s got some defects that need fixing, and that’s work that has to be done before I can send it anywhere–and even then the work won’t be done.
That’s the thing about writing books: You’re never done. Not really. You take a breath and then you’re shoved back into it again. One of the reasons why I was so set on finishing Harbinger this week is because I want to start the next thing (which I’m very excited about but am not ready to talk about yet). And there are other things after that–I have a wonderful/awful feeling that the next thing is actually the first of three things, and there are another couple of things that might come after L&O… and I guess finishing just isn’t enough for me anymore. Which feels kind of sad, even though I guess I should be mostly pleased about what it means.
So. On to the next one.