This slipped by me when I was busy celebrating my 35th wedding anniversary (yay!) a couple of weeks ago…
It’s an essay I wrote for Readers Entertainment Magazine, called “The Quiet Inspiration for Writing.” Here’s a small snippet:
“No writer works in true isolation. Every conversation a writer has, every book she reads, every job he has ever held, every movie they watch, everyone they’ve fallen in love with, is fodder for the creative process. And most writers, I think, would acknowledge some special influences in their lives, people who touched them early on, encouraging them or maybe trying to discourage them. In my own early life, there were many… [read more]”
I had an entertaining chat with Pen for Hire host Matthew Harms not long ago, and he’s posted it on YouTube so that you, too, can be entertained. (Well, I hope you’re entertained. If you’re not, I guarantee your ticket price back.) You can see it here:
In more upbeat news, I recently was featured on a talk show called Writers Corner Live with Bridgetti Lim Banda and Mary Elizabeth Jackson. They run a very polished operation and were great, welcoming hosts. I had a lot of fun talking to them. You can view it right here, or visit the Writers Corner Live page on Facebook.
Here’s the YouTube link to the interview if it’s not displaying properly for you.
Retreat, Day 4. I’m feeling a bit more like my old self, don’t cha know. And I have, in fact, figured out a couple of important key points about the new story that had been eluding me. Which I think will help make it a story worth telling. I think.
Here are a few more pix. Yesterday, I biked the 6.5 miles to this railroad lift bridge, which was great. Then I biked back, into a stiff wind, which just about put me 6 feet under.
Today, I repeated the trip, except I drove to a park only 1.5 miles from the bridge, and rollerbladed the rest of the way. And then bladed back (into the wind, of course), which just about kilt me.
I must either stop doing this or get into better shape. I rewarded myself with a gentle stroll along the Sandwich board walk down to the bay. After first passing this sign.
Okay, here I am at the actual shore.
I have to admit, I feel a little guilty enjoying myself like this, knowing what folks out west are going through. Oh well, tomorrow I head home!
Even before the pandemic hit, I was having trouble getting traction on the new book. Lots of notes, more than a few false starts. Feeling like a blind badger trying to find its way through unfamiliar territory. Since we entered Covid-world, it’s only gotten worse. I’m sure you all have your own reasons why it’s hard to get things done these days. Add to that a degree of discouragement over how hard it’s been to get Reefs / Crucible of Time noticed within the SF readership, and the result has been a creative malaise that I’ve found very difficult to shake.
Allysen to the rescue. The moment certain outside stressors let up enough to allow it to happen, she seized the proverbial bull by the you-know-whats and made the call to get me a retreat-spot on Cape Cod. Sending me kicking and screaming, that sort of thing.
And now I’m here in Sandwich, near the sea, land of great bicycling and even greater seafood. I’m loving it. Her instructions were explicit: “If you can write, that’s great. But you are not going there to get writing done. You are going there to shed all this and find yourself again. You are going to rediscover what it means to you to write a book, and why you want to do it.”
So, here I am. Too soon to be sure, but from preliminary signs, I think it might be working. (And I did write a bit last night.)
Here are some pix from the motel and the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.
Beyond the Trope is a weekly podcast about writing, hosted by the lively and welcoming Michelle and Giles. This week, they pick the brain of moi, and we talk about writing in general, touching on research, teaching, and television hosting. I just listened to it, and I was not disappointed! Hopefully you will be, too. Er, not. You know what I mean. Check out all of their podcasts!
A few weeks ago, I had a really good phone conversation with Kristine Raymond for her podcast Word Play. We had fun talking and laughing, especially when we were trying to redo the open after searching for a better cell signal in my house. We talked about some of the ins and outs of writing, and compared notes on our methods. She’s put it up in a bunch of podcast channels, and you can listen to it on any of the platforms she provides links for. (And a lot of other podcast channels, she assures me.)
Check out her page =here= and maybe see who else she has interviewed, as well.
My guest spot went live today on Edward Willett’s podcast series, The Worldshapers! Ed is a writer of over sixty books, and his podcast series has included a slew of great science fiction and fantasy authors talking about their writing process. He has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish an anthology of stories by authors who were guests on The Worldshapers podcast in its first year. Take a look! Give them some love!
Meanwhile, you can listen right here to the interview, or go to the podcast site.
Lest you think that veteran (i.e., experienced, tempered, refined—don’t say old!) writers are immune to beginning writer mistakes, all I can say is, think again. It’s confession time here in the Star Rigger foundries, where we labor 24/7 converting raw words into story for our ravenous audience. I’m going to share some revealing facts.
My editor, in the course of a long email full of editorial suggestions, helpfully provided me with a list of words and phrases I used too often. Now, all writers have verbal tics—that is to say words and expressions that they use habitually, without even noticing. Turns out, I have my fair share. And with my editor’s list in hand, I used the Find functions in Scrivener and Word to, er, find them and see if I could root some out. Turns out I could—by deleting, by using other words, by recrafting sentences (usually making them stronger in the process). Here’s part of the list, followed by the number of times I used the expression initially (in the 268,000-word book), and then the number after I’d gone through and cleaned things up:
indeed 50 / 14
very 323 / 96
draw(n, ing) 68 / 28
drew 89 / 29
further 76 / 27
farther 31 / 43 (some furthers got corrected to farthers)
clench(ed) 27 / 7
knot(ted) 25 / 9
. And 546 / 209
Did I really use “very” that many times?? Turns out I did. Usually in phrases like “very much want to…” And the last one, in case it’s not clear, is sentences starting with “And”—not unlike this one. Sometimes that’s a very—um, an effective usage. Other times, it’s just lazy habit. I still haven’t gone through and looked for excessive em-dashes—or ellipses… but I will.
I spent literally days of the most tedious editing imaginable doing this. But it was necessary, and you will all be happier for it when you read the story, though if I did my job right, you will never notice.
Most of this happened when I was in Florida helping my brother. I was intending on my flight home to sprinkle all the deleted very’s and And’s and clenched fists out the window as bread crumbs for the birds and the fish below; but alas, I did not get a window seat. I’ll sell them to you for cheap.
With my completion of a challenging rewrite of Chapter 65, “To the Death,” I have updated my progress bar on the rewrite of The Reefs of Time. I am now 91% of the way to completion. Let’s hear it! Thank you; you’re a wonderful audience! I’m a little startled, though, to see that the total length of the book, in double-spaced manuscript pages, has grown to 1299! Yow. That’s one big stack of paper!
This is what happens, sometimes, when I am rewriting, and cutting and trimming, and trying to make it all tighter, leaner, and clearer. Because sometimes rewriting for clarity means you need to add detail and texture, or even new scenes—not because you want to compete with Stephen King or George Martin for length, but because sometimes that’s what the story needs to make the action clearer, the motivations more palpable, the inner logic sounder, or the emotions more powerful.
It’s unnerving, because all this time I’ve been rewriting (years!) I’ve been aiming to make the book leaner and tighter (tight buns and abs!) and thus—I was hoping—shorter. And in fact, I’ve cut a lot from these pages. Lots and lots–zzzzzt, gone! Despite those cuts, the book has grown from 968 manuscript pages in the first draft, to 1299 pages in the second, or from roughly 223,000 words to 262,000 words.
By comparison, Sunborn is 144,000 words. The Infinity Link is 180,000 words. Eternity’s End is 224,000 words. Those were all pretty big books. So I guess this one is honking big.
So, what, am I failing at my job? No, I hope not. Because you know what, I’m starting to think this might be a really good book. Perhaps you’re not supposed to say that about your own book. But if at some point, you don’t start to feel that kind of burn, you may be in the wrong profession—or at the very least, you’re not having enough fun. I wasn’t so sure what I had when I finished the first draft, because I was aware of many, many thorny issues marked “Fix this in rewrite.” Usually when I add that notation, it means I have no friggin’ idea how to fix it, whatever “it” is. It just means I know there’s a problem.
And the solutions come slowly, and sometimes involve days of circling the delinquent chapter, trying to find the pivot point that will make the plot work, or the character spring to life. Often it involves asking What is this chapter here for? What happens that makes it important? This can be a troubling time in the life of any chapter’s rewrite. Because sometimes it seems to call into question the entire book. If this chapter doesn’t make sense, none of it makes sense, and I’ve just wasted ten years of work.
But slowly or not, the solutions do come if you just keep at it. And as I’ve ironed out one problem after another, after another, and another, I’ve found myself developing an attitude about this book. A remarkably positive attitude!
I’m feeling it particularly after finishing this chapter, currently numbered 65—in which, by the way, someone we care about dies. My problems in rewriting it weren’t about the death itself, but about the events leading up to the death. They just didn’t make sense, even to me. I’ll reveal here that parts of this book get pretty cosmic and space-time reality-stretchy—a favorite theme of mine—and this chapter is one of the most like that. It’s a kind of narrative I really enjoy when it’s well done, and groan miserably over when it’s not. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a lot of groaning. But then, bit by bit (or Bird by Bird, for you Anne Lamott readers), I found my way through it. I think I sorted out why it wasn’t working and reshaped it so that now it does. And I think it carries a pretty good punch, or at least it does for me. I guess I’ll know more when my writing group has looked at it.
It occurs to me as I write this that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has just kicked into gear. Go, all you writing-heads, write those stories! And if it doesn’t feel like it’s coming out right the first time, just remember, rewriting is most of the fun! That’s where the gold starts shining through.