Monthly Archives: April 2013
For a number of years, I Should Be Writing has been both one of my staple podcasts and an inspirational mantra. Personally, I’ve found it useful in re-directing my focus. Facebook’s hold is a lot easier to break when you can exclaim out loud, “Wait a second—I should be writing!”
It’s a principle we hear a lot. Writing every day keeps you writing, every day. A writer is someone who writes. Write or die. Don’t break the chain. The first rule is write. BIC: Bottom In Chair.
Again, all good ideas. If you’re spending your time on the Internet, TV, and random chores that really could wait a few hours, and getting a few hundred words every few days, your chances of finishing that story/novel/script are about nil.
However, this write-at-all-costs mindset overlooks the fact that sometimes, you really shouldn’t be writing.
I learned this the hard way. Looking back through the archives, I realize that I have been blogging about Strix/The Next One for far too long. This book has taken me too long. Partly, this is because I couldn’t find the way into the story. Partly, I realize in hindsight, I was writing when I shouldn’t have been.
Let’s rewind. Exactly one year ago, I was in New Zealand, starting Strix. I was experiencing culture shock. I was homesick. I was adapting to a new university. I was in a somewhat-difficult living situation. Then I was backpacking, never in one place for more than three days, writing in noisy hostels after being outside from sunrise to sunset.
The book I wrote was not very good.
When you look at how it was written, that’s perhaps not terribly surprising. Of course, I don’t want to pin all of Strix’s problems on the circumstances—realistically, I just didn’t do a very good job—but they certainly didn’t help.
While I was editing Strix, a lot of family stuff was happening. At one point, I was overwhelmed enough to stumble into a priest’s office.
A week after that, my dad died unexpectedly.
And yet, I still tried to edit the damn thing. I gave myself an extra month, ignored everyone telling me to take it slow, and churned out a first pass before fleeing to Virginia for a few days.
My first real, slow sinking feeling occurred when I realized I’d forgotten to include chapter twelve…and my first readers hadn’t noticed.
I sent Gabrielle an apology, and worked feverishly on a new first pass. A few weeks later, I got this DM: “I finished Strix. Can we chat?”
End result? I’m all but starting from scratch. And yes, Gabrielle was absolutely right (I cannot stress enough just how fortunate I am to work with her). It will be a much better book this way, and where before Strix felt like an obligation, now I’m actually excited to write it. And yes, she not only gave me permission to share this, she suggested it.
Hindsight is a powerful tool. Again, I take responsibility for Strix’s problems; I chose to keep writing in the face of advice to the contrary. However, it’s possible that if I had waited, I might not have found myself in the current situation.
Sometimes, it seems like we think we can push through anything, write through anything. After all, suffering feeds art, right? We can write through pain, turn it into grist for the mill, and ignore all stress and exhaustion in the name of our art.
There’s a guilt that builds up around not-writing. It can be blessing and curse: it keeps you writing, but sometimes it creates anxiety over “not being a writer” where there really isn’t cause for it. As regards to turning hardship into story…yes, this can be done. Writing is cheaper than therapy. However, there is a caveat. One of the best pieces of advice that I received (which I nodded at, agreed with, and then promptly didn’t act on) came from my ever-wise friend Blythe:
“You shouldn’t use things until you’ve dealt with them.”
Homesickness in Dunedin and grief in Toronto. Both colour Strix—neither did so in terribly effective ways. Mentally, psychologically, spiritually, I wasn’t ready. And that’s ok. If you are not ready, if you are not able, it is ok not to write. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be writing. It is easy to think in absolutes and hold writing above all else, but it can be damaging, and that hurts the quality of your work.
If you are in great physical or emotional pain, you may not write well.
If you are undergoing major life changes, you may not write well.
If your environment lacks stability, you may not write well.
If you have other major upheavals happening—work, family, whatever—that must be dealt with and require a great deal of energy, you may not write well.
Really, it’s ok. It’s natural, it’s human. But it’s worth recognizing. Know your limits, and know that waiting in the short term may save you lots of work in the long run. Sometimes, admitting, “I can’t” is braver than saying, “I’ll try.”
I’m still not functioning at 100%, but I know that I am functioning well enough, and that my current circumstances are peaceful and stable enough, to try Strix again. For reals, this time.
Best wishes to all of you on your own journeys—and remember to rest, if you need to.
One play that I’d really like to see in its entirety is Carol Shields’s Arrivals and Departures. Once upon a time, when I was a wee teenage drama student, we did excerpts from it in class. It’s a series of vignettes: slices of airport life.
I like airports, better than I like the actual flying part. While I can think of a million ways that flights can go wrong, airports appeal to my slightly neurotic side. Everything has signs, everything is scheduled, labelled, and ordered, and the rules are quite clear. Then there’s the notion of airports as liminal space, in-between space. That concept of the way-station, the passing-through point, appeals to me.
Plus, I write really well in airports.
Over the last year, I’ve been in a lot of airports. So many that when I tried to tally them up, it looked kind of obnoxious, and I wasn’t even sure if I remembered them all, and it just seemed better not to try.
You get good at airports, after a while. You learn their individual quirks, and how to adapt to new ones. You also learn to entertain yourself, which is what I’m doing right now as I sit at yet another gate. And so…
THINGS AIRPORTS TAUGHT ME
– Proximity to outlets is the most important factor in determining where to sit. Sometimes this is the floor. That is ok.
– It is also ok to wear dirty jeans and lug a giant backpack around, even if everyone else has a suit and briefcase.
– Jaffas are not the healthiest lunch, but you will survive. And if it is your birthday, you can eat all the Jaffas you like (yes, I spent most of my last birthday in an airport, but it was Auckland, so I can’t complain).
– I am generally pretty awkward, but I am getting good at whipping out my laptop, finding every last coin in my pocket, and shucking off my coat in no time.
– Sometimes, you know best. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:
- “Ok, dear, come through.”
- “Wait, I haven’t taken off my belt!”
- “You don’t need to.”
- “But it always beeps!”
- “You can leave your belt on.”
- “No, trust me, it—”
- “Come through, dear.”
- Beep. Beep. Beep.
– Everyone has a story.
– Random things distinguish airports. I remember that Dulles has a Starbucks by the baggage claim. Wellington has the weird pay-as-you-go computer terminals (or was that Auckland?). The Island Airport has the awesome lounge of free things.
– Stressed-out, sleep-deprived people are not the brightest.
– The mantra of air travel: I guess we’ll find out.
– Departures is more fun than Arrivals, unless you’re arriving home after six months.
– Window or aisle? is a more revealing question that you’d think.
– Information travels best by osmosis.
– Free wi-fi is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
– Sometimes, looking young and helpless is not necessarily a bad thing.
– Air New Zealand rocks.
– Responding to “Purpose of visit?” with “A science fiction convention!!!” will, in fact, get you weird looks
Time to board!
I finish my undergraduate degree tomorrow.
After eighteen years of schooling (hey, I’m counting kindergarten), it all comes down to a two-hour exam covering the last term of a subject I realized too late I wasn’t entirely passionate about. I really hope I pass.
For a little while now, people have been asking me, “How does it feel to be almost done? Are you ready?” My answer has been an unequivocal, “Oh God, yes, get me out of here, I’m done.”
See, for the last year, my heart and mind have been elsewhere. I have a job. I have this writing thing. Never one to have a single posse, I have friends and associates from various spheres of my life, most of which do not involve school. I’m done. I came to the classes, and I learned stuff about history, and I learned to write essays the way people at Black Creek learn their trades.
But then, last night, as I looked at a map to figure out where this exam actually is, a twinge of wistfulness startled me. My four years at university were not necessarily the idealized vision of ivy, uni jackets, and tree-lined footpaths. But they were, on the whole, good. I have been accused of being the “most nostalgic person ever” (with good reason), but still – there’s a certain safety in the university years. There’s the safety of venerable buildings and terrible food, readings and registrars, midnight baking and those very deep, profound conversations that happen in the wee hours of the morning.
University is, I think, about potential. These four years have all been about potential. Even the ubiquitous question “And what will you do with that degree?” is based on possibility. What would you like to do? What do you dream of doing? What do you imagine beyond the walls of this quad? Possibility is intoxicating. And so, I see, somewhat, why schooling acquires such a golden haze in retrospect: students can peer over the cliff and glimpse the lands beyond, but no one’s asking them to climb down among the rocks just yet.
Except, now, it’s time. I’m still done. I’m still more-or-less burned out, academically. I’m still aching to reclaim those hours spent studying and attending class and put them towards things I want to do: writing my own work, podcasting, reading for my own pleasure and self-education.
Maybe I realize a little better now that for the next chapter to begin, this one must close. We’re students our whole lives, but it won’t ever be quite this way again. I have learned a lot here. Not just about medieval kings and queens and Victorian imperialism, but about myself. And that’s kind of the point of your teens and twenties, isn’t it? Figuring out how you want to scale that cliff, what kind of person you want to be, what kind of relationships you want with other people. This year especially – well, it’s been an education.
It’s been a good run. But now – it’s time to go.
PS. NEWS AND THINGS
I’ve been meaning to announce this for a loooong time, but, well, school and life exploding.
Nominations for the Parsec Awards in Podcasting are open. If you enjoyed Hapax-the-Podcast, please consider nominating it for an award – the form is here.
If you enjoyed Hapax-the-Novel, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or Chapters. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Every review helps, every link you post helps, every person you tell earns a high-five from me the next time I see you. Thank you – it really does mean the world to me!
Ad Astra caught me by surprise this year.
It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming. I’ve known I was going since the last Ad Astra, which I missed due to being in New Zealand. But in the haze of the final weeks of my final semester, and the insanity of the last few months, I didn’t connect the dots until I was scrambling to ready my case of books.
(Actually, Ad Astra is still going on today—I’m skipping out to deal with the schoolwork a bit more.)
It was a good con. Friday was exciting because my friend and colleague Leah Petersen was launching her latest book: Cascade Effect, the sequel to Fighting Gravity. I read and loved Fighting Gravity, so I snagged my copy of Cascade Effect, right after the incredible Ed Greenwood. And then there was a penthouse party, with good food, cool people, and a very excellent reading (yes, Leah, I could hear you!). My copy is currently on my bookshelf, next to its mate, awaiting the wonderful day when I conquer academia.
Saturday was also fun. I mostly sold books and wandered around, though I did attend a very helpful panel on agents moderated by Adrienne Kress. Naturally, I knew her name, but I’d never been able to match a face to it. Plus, you know, information and such.
Otherwise—I mostly just talked to people. There was a mingling of DMP authors Saturday night, which was fun, and also really interesting. Although I met Marie Bilodeau in November at World Fantasy Con, I’d never had the chance for an extended conversation with her—and I’m so glad I finally did. We talked for a long time about how myths and stories spread and evolve (“Stories control people. That’s why I became an author!”), and then the chat turned to our own upcoming projects. And then she said something that caught me by surprise:
“You sound so energized, with this new book. That’s so good to see!”
People have called me many things in the last few months. Energized is not one of them. Nor had I really felt much energy all weekend. But it’s true: this project has nothing whatsoever to do with the Hapax universe. Exploring this new world has been such a rush, and it will be such a departure for me, and I’m still in the dewy-eyed honeymoon stage of, “This story is gonna be so awesome and I’m totally forgetting how much work it will actually be to make it come out the way I want.”
But I digress. My point, I think, is that Marie’s comment just confirms that I’m probably on the right path, in terms of writing something about which I’m passionate. Incidentally, Marie’s upcoming projects sound awesome, but I shall leave the discussion of them to her. 🙂
I’d been able to talk earlier with Robert J. Sawyer and a few other authors I hadn’t met before, but the other extended conversation of that night was with Ed Greenwood. Ed is almost frighteningly smart; the man is a fount of knowledge. But we talked about the forgotten bits of Toronto: the secret passages in the old buildings, the tunnel network under Queen’s Park and various bits of downtown (not the PATH: way older and much cooler), the phantom subway stations, the lost rivers…
All of that fascinates me. It’s the notion of the in-between space, the space that isn’t really part of anything, but links to everything, the lost space, the ghost space, the space once thought forgotten….
I’m not sure when or how all that will play into a book, but I know that it will. It’s definitely in my mental file of “Things That Keep Me Awake At Night.”
So yes. A good con.