Why write right now?

Wow, what a week.

I normally try not to get political when I write these newsletters (although it could be argued that, as a writer of fiction primarily with a queer bent, my work is inherently political). I like to have a focus, and that’s usually on the things I write, the things I teach about writing, how to help other people write, and why I write.

And then this week happened, and well, you know. Now I’m trying to figure out where writing fits into a landscape that looks like it could very easily collapse.

A lot of people might be surprised to hear that I consider myself an optimist. (Hey, stop laughing. No, really. I said stop.) I think that’s surprising mainly because I’m also pretty curmudgeonly. A curmudgeonly optimist? Is that a thing?

In any case, that sense of optimism has been sorely tested already over the past year. I think the last week pretty much shattered it. Which is not to say that I’m surprised at how the election turned out. Never underestimate the ability of a group of paranoid, prejudiced people to make poor choices.

So now I’ve started asking myself, in a climate like this, what’s the point of writing stories?

pen to paperphoto by Aaron Burden
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What's it worth?

These days, I admit to feeling more than a little guilty if I’m not spending every spare minute I have working on my book. Which is not to say that I do spend every spare minute working on it, just that whenever I do something other than write (which is often), I feel as if I’m somehow betraying something. That I’m not really a writer. That I don’t want it badly enough. That the idea isn’t compelling enough to try to get out on paper.

But then I look at what I’m working on, and it looks like this:

wip

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A beginner’s mind at 47

47

I’m not going to lie, 47 sometimes feels pretty old. Joints are creaky, I can’t jump as high or run as fast as I used to, and eating a whole pizza in one sitting is far behind me. (I probably shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place, but yes, there was a time when I could eat a whole pizza, usually thick crust, and not feel even the least bit sluggish the next day. That was probably the only good thing about my twenties, however.)

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They can't steal it if you give it away

This is a post about pirates. No, not pirates of the “arr matey” and “shiver me timbers” and walking the plank variety. These are the digital kind. I’ll explain.

It probably seems pretty egocentric of me to have a Google alert set up for my name, right? Not so fast, though. First of all, I don’t think Google’s algorithms for this tool are very good; most of the time, they don’t even pick up the posts on my website. But anyway, the real reason I have it set up is for things like this:

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-7-37-47-am

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How revision looks from here

As you know, I’ve been revising the as-yet-unnamed sequel to The Unwanted. Actually, it’s gone through several different potential names but I’m still not happy with them. I’ve thought of a Wrath of X title but a) would that give away too much? and also b) Khaaaaaaaan! So maybe something else.

Wait, where was I? Revising, right. I’m about at the halfway point in the novel right now, and this is a section that I was having a bit of trouble with while I was writing the first draft, so I wrote it in script format. It’s a trick I read about on Chuck Wendig’s blog so I wanted to try it out, and it really helped me maintain momentum. I knew it would mean extra work in revision, and sure enough, I was right.

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Stay on the horse

I’m always impressed by artists in one medium who can excel in another medium as well. This recording by Philip Glass (Spotify link) has got me thinking about playing the piano again.

I’m not sure why I’m drawn to this so particularly. I’m pretty sure it’s in a minor key, and I’ve always felt more like a minor than a major; there’s something sort of conditional about the minor keys, like they’re getting away with something and they’re trying to keep you guessing which way they’re going to go next.

Sounds kind of like writing, to me.

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Do the difficult thing

I’ve been thinking a lot about revision lately, mainly because I’m in the middle of a big one. When I do my revising, I always start with a hard copy. This is probably old-fashioned—really, I’m not a Luddite; no, I mean it, stop laughing—but it serves a purpose, I’ve discovered. First, I think it allows me to step back from the actual process of writing. When it’s literally on paper, I treat it differently than I do when the words are on screen. You’d think I’d approach them with a greater sense of finality, right? I mean, it’s concrete when it’s on paper.

Instead, I end up doing things like this:

edits

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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.