The curse of the plot bunnies

When it rains, it pours, I’m telling you. And not in the bad way, either. Ever heard the phrase “plot bunnies”? It’s a story idea that refuses to go away until it’s written.

Here’s what I mean:

I’m working on revising the sequel to The Unwanted. (No, it still doesn’t have a title. I’m hoping that by the time I reach the end, I’ll have thought of one, otherwise I may just put a bunch of random words in a hat and start drawing them out.) At the moment it’s eighteen chapters long, and I’m just about finished editing the sixth chapter. This doesn’t exactly mean that I’m a third of the way through the novel; there are broad narrative stretches in later chapters where I’ve scattered random bracketed notes that say helpful things like [MORE HERE] and [FIX THIS]. I think by the time I reach chapter thirteen, I’ll be pulling out my hair. (And since I’m growing it long again to donate, pulling it out’ll be so much easier! But anyway.)

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Do I repeat myself? Very well then, I repeat myself.

If you ask anyone who knows me (especially my partner, the poor guy), you’ll know that when someone starts to tell me a story I’ve already heard, I start nodding, sometimes in a bit of annoyance (I’m an awful person) and will quickly rattle off the end of the story they’re telling me. Of course, this gives them ample opportunity (not to mention justification) to say to me, “Oh yeah? Well, you repeat yourself all the time!” And they’re probably right.

Okay, they’re totally right.

I worry about repeating myself. Like, a lot. Any time I sit down to write something like this blog post, I’ll get to a point where I pause and ask, “Wait, have I written about this already?” This leads to an extended period of scrolling through old blog entries, journal files, and whatnot to see if whatever topic I’m writing about has come up before. This is its own form of procrastination, I suppose.

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All writing advice is suspect—even my own

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the writing advice I give. Specifically, I’ve been wondering, Why the hell would anyone want to listen to advice from me? I mean, what do I know?

During my social media sabbatical, I read a book of advice on revising the first five pages of your manuscript. It’s called (appropriately enough) The First Five Pages, by agent and former editor Noah Lukeman. It was written in 2000 and, if you ask me, it could do with a bit of a refresh. Still, it has some good advice in it, even if its examples of what not to do are a bit obvious. Because my writing group asked me to lead a workshop critiquing the first five pages of their manuscripts, though, I figured it behooved me to read this. Anyway, my point (yes, I have one) is not to offer a critique of Lukeman’s book—hey, it’s a bestseller, so what do I know, right?

Ah yeah, there’s my point. What do I know? And why would anyone think they should listen to me?

Since then, I’ve been reading a couple other books on writing: Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit by Steven Pressfield and On Writing by Stephen King, and I like two of the main messages in these. The first one gets it across in its title, and King gets it across in his introduction when he says most books on writing are filled with bullshit.

I have no doubt there’s a certain amount of—um, fertilizer in the advice I give, but here’s the thing: all the advice anyone gives is mainly what’s worked for them, or what they’ve seen work for others. Especially when it comes to writing, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. For every problem you might have with character or setting, there is a multiverse of possible solutions. If one person’s advice doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean your problem is insurmountable. You just might not have found the right advice yet.

For me, advice books work best when they remind me of things I already know, or when they articulate something I’ve been trying to put my finger on but haven’t quite found the words for. When I have that “a-ha” moment.

A-ha

(Hang on. Wrong A-ha.)

Anyway, maybe I do know a little something. But chances are you do as well, and hopefully if I offer advice, I’ll just remind you of what you already know.

Wednesday links, last one ’til August

Just a gentle reminder, I’m taking the month of July off social media. I’m going to pause in my writing here so I can concentrate on writing on the page—or, actually, on the screen, but you get my point, right? Right.

Another gentle reminder, I have a mailing list you can sign up for here. Anyway!

I managed to fritter away a good portion of my morning by looking for an old friend online. I do this periodically; I don’t know why. We fell out of touch maybe ten or fifteen years ago, and what’s remarkable—and maybe a little admirable—is he seems to have no presence online, not Facebook (blergh) or Twitter or anything of the sort. For a while I wondered if he might even have, as it were, left the planet. But I found his dad’s obit from a couple years back and he’s mentioned in it, so I think he’s still out there.

There’s not really any point to my telling you that, except how many people do you know who have no trace online? I can count maybe three people, two of whom are friends I’ve lost touch with.

I sometimes think I’m a bad friend. I need to do better.

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Know when to take a break

Ugh, isn’t July the worst? I know they talk about the dog days of summer being in August, but to my mind, the seventh month of the year barks a lot louder. Here in flyover country (also known as the Midwest) the air sits still, the humidity rises to the point that you could wring out the air, and the overall effect could be called “steambath.” You just want someone to keep bringing you an endless supply of iced tea so you don’t have to move.

It’s a perfect time to take a break, believe me, and that’s just what I’m going to do.

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Wednesday Links, or “There’s coffee in that fanfic”

You know what’s an awesome way to procrastinate? Get lost in Memory Alpha.

Captain Kathryn Janeway

“Coffee. Black.”

Let me back up a bit. The literary magazine The Mondegreen is accepting submissions for “To Boldly Go: The Star Trek Issue.” To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the series, they’re putting out a special issue on September 8 (the importance of that date will be obvious to fans) and are seeking, among other things, nonfiction, poetry, and—wait for it, wait for it—fan fiction.

You might have heard me squeal a little when I found out.

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Breakthrough

Sometimes as a writer I’m my own worst enemy.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been struggling with the second draft of my young-adult fantasy novel, the sequel to The Unwanted (which you can totally still buy, by the way!). I’ve been working on it for about three years now, but of course if you added up all the time I’ve spent actually working on it, that would total much less. In the in-between times, I was writing my thesis, starting a completely different book, and working on maybe ten or twelve different stories, both new ones and revisions of old work. I was dragging my feet, and I wasn’t sure why.

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Wednesday Links, the “I’m still not feeling it” edition

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not having a very productive week, for obvious reasons. Probably why this is late. So I’m just gonna put it here and try to get something done, even if I don’t feel like it.

Via Lee Wind, 6 LGBT Books That Help Spread the Love. Which we could use right about now, yeah?

I’m looking forward to reading Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Here’s an article at the CBC about how he came to write it.

How do you know if your writing is any good?

I don’t know why, but I’ve been repeating this phrase in my head all morning:

wrecka stow

Perhaps our mantras choose us, not the other way around. Speaking of Prince, Mr. McGee had something to tell him.

The most poetic cities in the world?

Safe

rainbowballoons

I think I was nineteen or so when I set foot inside my first gay bar. (Which makes it sound like an alternative playset for Barbie, doesn’t it? Barbie’s First Gay Bar. Hopefully she won’t find Ken in there with GI Joe.) They were complicated places for me at first, gay bars, since I felt like an outsider and like I belonged at the same time. As an insecure twenty-something who still acutely remembered being an awkward, chunky adolescent, I wasn’t great at places where you were probably going to be judged by how you look.

I don’t remember how I got into that first gay bar since I was, obviously, underage. I didn’t have a fake ID. Still, that had never stopped me from getting into Shattered, the nightclub in downtown Columbia, Missouri that was where my friends and I spent Wednesday nights dancing to new wave music. It was a basement bar where the music was always way too loud, the drinks were cheap (in my memory, at least), and the dance floor could be hazardous if one of the cramped toilets backed up.

Good times.

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