#WhyNaNo?

For anyone who missed it, there was a pretty incredible National Novel Writing Month chat on twitter today: #WhyNaNo. It’s part of #NaNoPrep — a chance for veteran Nanoers to talk about what keeps us coming back and to convince the potential newbies to join in the madness. The conversation was lively and inspiring, and it got me thinking about my own reasons for Nanoing over the years.

Why (quoteymcquote)Why did I start to Nano? To show off. 2001, senior year of high school, and I mostly wanted to prove that I could. And I did! Though it was far from good — a lot of self-indulgence, a lot of waffling, a lot of fanfiction muddled with original stuff (not that there’s anything wrong with fanfic). But I did 50k in a month, and it felt good. My friends and I read bits of it aloud at lunchtime and giggled a lot, and their encouragement kept me going.

Why did I keep Nanoing? I discovered how much I liked it. And I wanted to keep showing off. In college, it was pretty easy. For as much as college students complain about overwork, even at William & Mary (where your best hasn’t been good enough since 1693), I had free time. And finals weren’t till December, which left me days after Nano to write those papers. So I kept pounding out stories that, in retrospect, weren’t very good. But some of that went to creative writing classes as well, and one of them held the seed of a project that I still turn over in my mind every couple of years, hoping to find the right angle on it. And someday I will.

Why did I stop Nanoing? Graduate school happened to me. And a working adult life happened to me. Man alive can those things, however wonderful they are, suck the ability and the energy for creative writing out of you. Particularly, in my case, because I was doing so much academic writing (and still do, at work), which is an entirely different skill set. My graduate thesis left no room in  my brain for creative endeavors, and for the first year I was working, it was just too hard to come home and make myself sit down in front of a blank screen again. I gave up on Nano for a couple of years the same way I’d given up on almost all creative writing.

Why did I start Nanoing again? Because I hated that I’d given up on creative writing. I knew I still had stories in me. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was eleven, and I hated that I’d lost sight of that. So I used Nano as a kick in the ass to find it again. And it worked. Aven began life in Nano 2011. It bears little resemblance now to what it was then, but that was the start. I immersed myself in a new world for the first time in years, and I gloried in it. I got back into the habit, and I’ve managed to keep it up in the three years since. 1667 words a day no longer scares me. 3000 words a day is a stretch, most of the time, but I know it’s not impossible, so it doesn’t scare me either. One Sunday during this past summer of revisions, I managed over 6000 words in a day. That Nano was a major step on the path of turning me into a working writer, not just someone who daydreams about being a writer. I made myself do it, discovered that I could, and decided that I must.

Why do I keep Nanoing? For the joy. It’s still a great activity. I’ve Nanoed and Camp Nanoed these past few years, with varying degrees of success. I used the Camps of the Summer 2012 to finish Aven‘s first draft, so those went well. But sometimes I fall on my face — life gets in the way. Or, it’s been a month where editing and revising Aven took precedence over creating something new. I don’t beat myself up about it — I know I have the habits now. I know I can’t write 3k or even 1k every single day of my life. But Nano got me into the pattern of doing it regularly, of always working on something, new or old. I do like being able to participate properly in November, though — there’s a delicious energy to it, the mania of keeping up, the excitement in the forums, the challenges and sprints and encouragement on Twitter.

Why will I Nano this year? If I do, that is. It will depend on where Aven is, really. It’s likely that it will be out to editors, and I’ve learned that the very worst thing I can do is look at the manuscript while it’s out with others, because that will just make me crazy. So, if that’s the case, I’ll Nano, for the joy, and for something to keep me occupied while we’re waiting to hear back. It’ll be a challenge this year, since I’ll be spending the first week of November at Disney World — but I’ll give it a go anyway. Just to see what I can do.

So how many of y’all have Nanoed before? What drove you to it? What have you gotten out of it?

Two (Wonderfully Feminist) TV Recommendations

This past week, I’ve been taking a brief break from writing as a sort of brain-cleanse, now that the manuscript is off with Connor and my betas. As such, I’ve been letting television occupy my attention, and I wanted to pass some recommendations on to y’all:

Bomb_Girls_S2First up is one I actually watched a couple of years ago: Bomb Girls. This is a Canadian show about women working in a bomb factory during World War II — the real riveters. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds — typical middle-class, working-class from the Canadian prairie, and one blue-blooded girl through whom we get the “fish out of water” perspective. It’s a tight-knit group — protective but competitive, exploring the challenges and freedoms of having their own incomes and their own lives.

The second I just started this week and have been binging every chance I get: Call the Midwife. It’s set in the insular and impoverished neighborhood of Poplar in the London East End in the late 1950s and follows the stories of the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House. It has a feeling sort of like a post-war ER: few patients appear in more than one episode, and each one has its own little mini-arc rather than the larger, season-wide arcs that are in Bomb Girls. The midwives don’t just deliver babies; they provide almost all the medical care in the neighborhood, including prenatal and geriatric, and they also often serve as de facto social workers and therapists. As I gather, it’s based on a book of true stories in an area where, before birth control pills were available, the neighborhood saw 80 to 100 births a month (and less than a dozen a month afterwards).

Despite the differences in location and era, these shows seem to be in conversation with each other in a lot of ways. Both are primarily concerned with the lives of working women. The desires that matter are theirs. The pride and dignity that matter are theirs. We see family life and working life through their eyes. I don’t think I can overstate how important that is. Women are often so overlooked in history, as are their contributions in both the public and private spheres. In one episode of Call the Midwife, a character outright talks about how much women’s health matters. It doesn’t sound anachronistically feminist — it’s simply the natural result of a show focused on female characters who are, themselves, primarily concerned with women’s lives. There are male characters, of course — but they’re all in support roles. The husbands and boyfriends of the main characters are all portrayed as recognizing the amazing qualities of their wives and girlfriends, and the ones who don’t get it are shucked off unceremoniously.

Call the Midwife … 'We don't go out on bikes.'They also both tackle a lot of tough issues — including many that are still relevant, generations later. Abortion, access to contraception, PTSD, workplace harassment, equal pay, mixed-race relationships, abusive relationships, physical and mental disabilities, and so forth. And they all get handled with compassion and grace (which isn’t to say that all of the characters always do — but the storytelling does). Bomb Girls does better on the racial diversity front on the whole, with a major recurring theme surrounding an interracial relationship. Call the Midwife doesn’t have a diverse main cast, but has a few episodes that deal with racial tension of the late-50s. More of its focus is on deprivation and socio-economic divides. For all that Call the Midwife takes place in an Anglican convent, too, it’s remarkably free of slut-shaming narratives. Women who get pregnant out of wedlock are pitied, not in a condescending way, but because it’s hard enough to raise and provide for children with help — doing it alone in those conditions is nigh-impossible. Neither the nuns nor the nurses chide their charges for how they got “in the family way”, and more than once, they physically put themselves between pregnant women and aggressive or abusive men. They stand up for the girls and women entrusted to their care — and they encourage them to look out for themselves and for each other.

Both shows are also unflinching when it comes to the physical realities of their depicted careers: Bomb Girls involves several injuries and mutilations at the factory, and Call the Midwife doesn’t shy from showing the gore and fluids attendant upon childbirth. Bomb Girls has a darker tone overall than Call the Midwife, which is almost relentlessly optimistic. It takes some getting used to, as someone who’s grown up steeped in the “dark and gritty” era of storytelling — but it’s nice, actually. Bomb Girls makes no promises that all will turn out well for the people it makes you care about, but in Call the Midwife,  you’re almost always left with a good sense of hope. People tend to end their stories a little bit better than they started. Even when tragedy strikes, there’s always an uplifting message attending it. Not quite as realistic, perhaps, but I’m actually okay with that. I prefer my fiction optimistic.

So: If you’re interested in television that fights against some of the most common gender-related complaints about the medium, check out these shows. The women in both are all fully-realized characters with their own identities, all strong in their own ways, all vulnerable in their own ways — like, y’know, people. And it’s just delightful.

Word Cloud for the Current Draft

Aven5

Reflections on Revisions

So remember those revisions that I started way back in June? Last week, I finally finished them. This draft took longer than some earlier revisions had, because it involved a lot more restructuring — that “Come to Proserpina” moment did its job and forced me to really rethink a lot of the shape of the book. I had to spend a couple of months moodling — looking at my outlines, shifting scenes around, deciding that wasn’t going to work, making false starts, hitting snarls, trying again. I think the right word for the process is “detangling”. I had a lot to smooth out, particularly after I’d made the initial cuts.

Samwriting

Yeah, it went pretty much like this.

Only in the past month or so did I really start producing new material at a good generative rate. I’m estimating that I scrapped something like 70,000 words, maybe more, from the last version of the manuscript — and then added about 63,000 new ones back in. And that’s not counting the minor changes I had to make to nearly every scene to reflect the adjusted timeline and other little ripples. In a lot of ways, this revision felt like writing most of an entirely new book — and yet that wasn’t what I was doing. The characters and the world are the same; I just had to find a different angle on them.

Someone over the weekend asked me if I like this version of the book better than the last draft. It’s a weird answer to find. I’m in love with this book as it stands now. I was in love with the earlier version, too. I was in love with last year’s draft, or I wouldn’t have inflicted it upon agents. They’re just all differently shaped beasts. As the book now stands, it’s shaped much more like a fantasy novel than it used to be — and that’s good, since we have to sell it in that genre. It has more rapidly shifting highs and lows, more exciting incidents, particularly earlier in the novel, and more intense “high-stakes” moments. The magic is also a lot more front-and-center than it used to be, and that was fun to play with, because I love dabbling with thaumaturgical theory. The earlier drafts were written much more like historical novels — and I liked that about them. I like the idea of treating the magic in this book as just another component of the world, and otherwise going about as though this is straight historical fiction, with the somewhat slower pace and deeper introspection that that genre embraces. But that runs against the grain of the industry as it currently stands, and part of being a working writer is knowing how to maneuver within the system without sacrificing your story, vision, and creativity. For me, it meant not losing the important character moments (something that historical novels display so well) amid the more energetic plotline (critical to moving a fantasy novel along). I think I’ve hit that sweet spot now in a way I hadn’t before.

I did lose some material that I really adored. One major chunk took out close to 20,000 words in a single, devastating blow. It was a major event in the earlier draft, but with the changes I made to the timeline and the plot, it became entirely irrelevant. As I’ve said before, though, I almost never actually “kill my darlings”. I just defer them. I’m sure I can use at least some of that material in the second book. That’s definitely the case for another big scene that I cut, an emotional confrontation between two characters — it no longer fit with the flow of events here, but it’ll definitely make its way into the next book. Other things may not even stay in this story, but might get revived for a later project.

Revisions like this are a lot of work. Since the end of August, I think I’ve spent as many hours on this as I have at my day job. The “I can’t; I have rehearsal” mantra of my youth became “I can’t; I have revisions.” I spent two entire weekends glued to my chair (which made me viscerally aware that I need a writing chair that isn’t straight-backed and made of hard, uncushioned wood), not leaving the house, mainlining black tea and Diet Dr Pepper with nature documentaries running unobtrusively in the background. I’m super-pleased with the results of all of this focused grinding — but I am also, I confess, a little relieved that now I get to step back from the story while my agent and beta readers have at it.

Oh my goodness, I’ve found the holy grail of describing things

Majnouna’s Tutorials.

People. Hands. Feet. Posture. Faces. Horses. Cats. Birds. Dragons. It’s meant to be a drawing guide, but the way Majnouna breaks down all the anatomical components of what make a living creature — it’s wonderful.

What Happened To Jennifer Lawrence Was Sexual Assault

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on this topic, and this post hits them all with eloquence.