marthawells: (Default)
(repost of something I wrote earlier this year)

I wanted to do a blog post about getting through writing slumps, because of something someone said on Twitter. (I can't remember what it was now, but that's how my brain rolls lately.)

A lot of people talk about the mid-book slump. Writing the beginning of a book is exciting, everything is new, you're creating the world, meeting the characters for the first time. The end is also exciting, because all the plot threads are tying up and you should be done soon.

The middle is the hard part, where you have to make the magic happen and start pulling things together, increasing the complication but starting to find answers to mysteries. You have to make all the cool stuff you came up with in the beginning make sense.

Sometimes it feels like a slog, and that's when you want to quit and go write something else. You want that really, really bad sometimes. If you do that with every book you write, it's going to be a problem and end up getting you zero finished books. (This, by the way, is why agents, and publishers who take unagented submissions, only want to see finished books from new authors. It's a lot easier to start a book than to finish it, and they want to make sure you can finish.)

So if your book middle feels like a horrible slog and you'd rather go out and shovel snow or haul rocks or dig holes in the back yard, it isn't necessarily a problem.

One thing I've noticed about myself is that if the writing doesn't come easily (and it's not just because I'm tired or unwell or stressed etc.) then the chances are good that there's a problem that part of my brain is aware of even though the rest of me is willfully trying to ignore it. Figuring out what that problem is can be tricky, but first you have to figure out whether it's actually a problem.

*I think you do need to ask yourself if it's just that you're tired and need to apply more hard work?

* Or is there an actual problem? Is it a pacing issue, are things moving too slowly?

* Are the characters still in character, are you making them act in ways you kind of know they wouldn't just to make your plot work?

* Is there something you're trying to do now that needs more setup earlier in the book? Did you forget to put in something you know you really needed?

* Or are you actually getting bored with your plot? Because if you're bored with your plot, readers may be bored with it too.

If you're saying: "I have to write this part and I don't want to." Ask yourself: Do you really have to? Is it necessary for the plot, characterization, the story? Why don't you want to? Is it not right for the pacing, slowing things down when it should be speeding things up? Maybe it doesn't need to be there.

If you don't like it anymore, it's okay to make something else happen instead.

You can always take a step back and re-imagine your plot. You should know the characters better at this point; maybe your plot needs to change to accommodate that. (It's often hard for some writers to create a character in a vacuum. It's only when I write characters interacting with other characters that I start to get a real sense of who they are and how they behave under stress.)

What is the coolest, most exciting thing that could happen here that will still fit the story you want to tell? Maybe you should be writing that instead.

Your plot is not carved in stone, even if you did an outline. One thing I've found out over and over again is that plot points can sound great in the outline and it's only when you start actually writing those scenes that you see the flaws.

This is where experience and understanding how your own writing brain works is important. The only way to get experience is of course to keep writing through those middles, no matter what you have to do to conquer them.
marthawells: (John Green Trees)
Every time I've done a panel that gets into the topic of finding time for writing, there's always somebody who asks what to do if someone they know actively discourages their writing, or goes out of the way to interrupt or stop them while they're doing it.

Everyone's situation is different, so it's hard to give an answer to that. Hopefully it helps to know that this happens a lot, to a lot of writers.

(I had an ex-friend/roommate once who tried off and on to stop me from writing. She wanted to write movie and TV scripts, and that was great, but me wanting to write novels not so much. It was okay if I wrote fanfic, but not original fiction. Once when I was at home working on The Element of Fire, she saw what I was doing and said, "Oh, you know you'll never finish that."

Well, I did, and it was published in 1993 by Tor Books.)

Another question that's impossible to answer is why do people do that?

It's hard to answer because it's all different reasons.

Some people probably don't know they're doing it and/or couldn't explain why if you asked them. Some people might feel jealousy that you're writing, annoyance that you're paying attention to a screen or a piece of paper rather than them, or they're uneasy because they don't understand your desire to write.

Sometimes it's about power and control. Stop doing what you're doing and do what I want you to do. Stop writing what you're writing and write what I want you to write. Or else.

Sometimes it's about the type of writing you're doing. Writing literary fiction is great, but people will try to discourage or stop you from writing SF/F or mystery or romance or fanfic. I've had that happen to me. Or writing fanfic is great, but people will turn abusive if they catch you writing original stories. I've had that one happen too.

(Your fanfic is great but your original writing is worthless. Original writing makes you a hack, you're a bad person, you're disrespecting other fanfic writers who don't want to write original fiction. Stop, just stop. Or else.)

If you're a woman, sometimes people just want you to stop.

Sometimes it's concern. If you write, you'll be rejected and it will hurt so just stop. Sometimes it's concern trolling. Oh, I know you'll be rejected and you just won't be able to handle it, you're weak because I tell you you're weak, so just stop.

There are a lot of reasons for this and sometimes even if you know the person very well, you can't tell what their reason is. But sometimes there's only one thing you can do about it.

Don't stop.
marthawells: (The Serpent Sea)
lukamender from Tumblr asked:

I love your books, especially the Raksura series. If you're still taking writing/publishing questions, I wanted to ask you about any advice you might have on writing non-human/animal-ish-people, with more unique social structures, as the central characters in the story. Are there any special tricks that really make this work? Are there challenges in pitching material like this (they're not human, they have different than normal genders, etc.) to publishers?

Thank you!

Are there any special tricks that really make this work?

Point of view is incredibly important anyway, but I think when writing from the perspective of non-human characters it's super-duper incredibly important. You have to think about how the physical attributes you've given them will affect their culture, social structure, interactions with each other, interactions with other groups. The culture and social structure is going to inform the choices they make, the way they feel about the things that happen. You need to try to be as consistent as you can, and try to get into the characters' heads and see your world through their eyes.

Sympathizing with a non-human character is usually not a problem. (For most readers, anyway. Some people just won't do it but they aren't your audience so forget them.) You can sympathize with an amorphous blob as long as it has issues that engage you. When I'm talking about this, as an example, I bring up the first Pixar trailer with the desk lamp. It turns to look at you, and suddenly it's a person. It's easier to do that with text, since we have the option of showing the audience the living desk lamp from its own perspective.

Are there challenges in pitching material like this (they're not human, they have different than normal genders, etc.) to publishers?

For a novel, usually it's an agent who you'll be pitching to. The right agent for you will be the one who will get what you're trying to do and like it, and she'll be the one pitching to a publisher on your behalf. Whether the agent likes it or not is going to depend more on your writing ability, your story-telling, how compelling the story was. (If it's your first book it should be complete before you start querying agents. Lots of people have great ideas and can write first chapters, but the only way you can prove you're one of the people who can finish a book is by finishing a book.)

You don't usually pitch short stories, so you'd just be submitting the complete story to the magazine and hoping they like it.

I hope that helps!

I'm still taking questions, general question about publishing (how it works, agents, etc), or a writing advice question, or a question about my writing, or my books, or cats, or anything else I've been doing, ask in this post and I'll try to answer it.
marthawells: Cover for the Cloud Roads, Art by Matthew Stewart (The Cloud Roads 2)
These are a few things that I try to bring up when we're discussing basic worldbuilding:

If you're writing a culture with a lower level of technology, or with a different emphasis on technology, you have to re-think your automatic assumptions.


If your people don't have clocks, or anything else that measures minutes or seconds, or if time-keeping devices aren't commonly available, they are not going to say things like "I'll meet you in fifteen minutes." Even if there's a water clock somewhere, they still aren't going to worry about how many minutes and seconds things take to do.


If there is no light source, no moon, no stars, and your characters aren't nocturnal, then they can't see in the dark. In modern cities and suburban areas, we're used to a lot of ambient light from street lights, cars, building lights, etc. If your city doesn't have those, or your people are out in the country or inside an enclosed space, it's going to be difficult to impossible see. Your characters (unless your people have physically different eyes) are not going to be able to make out a lot of detail or color at night without a light source.

When you make mistakes like this, like having someone who's never seen a clock say "I'll meet you in fifteen minutes," it's like your world is slipping out of character.

It can also show that you're not paying enough attention to thinking from your character's perspective, and what their specific experience would be as a person raised in the culture you created. It can also be a sign of a mistake that newer writers will make, especially if they're pushing themselves to write quickly: you aren't thinking of what the character would do or say in that situation, you're thinking of what you would do or say in that situation.

Thinking is pretty much the key. If you have a plot or character point that feels awkward or forced, or a situation that can only work if your world slips of out character for the duration, then focus on that and think about what you could do differently. The chances are really good that your solution will be more interesting than the boring thing you thought you had to do.


All stereotypes are bad. Not just the obvious demeaning racist and sexist etc. stereotypes, but all stereotypes, any stereotypes. "Funny" stereotypes and "positive" stereotypes are not funny or positive, they are offensive, personally offensive. If you use them, there is someone who will read it and think you are an asshat and that they will never read your work again. They are a sign of sloppy writing and sloppy thinking.

Think about every character, even minor characters, as real people, with feelings, attitudes, a past, a future, a perspective and an agenda of their own. You don't have to tell the reader all of that, or even any of it, but you have to know it, because it should color how that character speaks and acts.


Someone posted this on Faceplace, I think: Are you really, truly an author? Try this little test This is not really a test, it's a list of characteristics and traits sort of uncannily accurate in most respects. At least in my respects.

I'm way behind on things I want to post, including a kitten report, the Clarion West Write-a-thon, book recs, and so on, so I'll try to catch up next week.
marthawells: (Jack and Teal'c)
Links to things I have been meaning to link to:

* Patrick Rothfuss' Worldbuilders fundraiser for Heifer International ends Feb 7. Donate for a chance to win great prizes.

* The Mogg Pocket Map of London 1806 You can zoom in to see lots of detail.

* YouTube: Every Doctor Who Story 1963 to Now - A Babelcolour Tribute

* Kelly McCullough said nice things about The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea

* WriterBeware: Delmont-Ross Writing Contest: The Saga of a Fake Literary Competition and a longer article on the perpetrator: Marietta author accused of ‘circle of lies'. (Remember, sometimes online con artists don't want your money, they want your belief and attention so they can use you to support their story when they go after other people's money.)

* Anthology Unfit for Eden is out, with stories by authors Jessica Reisman, Lavie Tidhar, Michael Bishop, Neal Barrett, Jr., and many others.

* Ecstatic Days: Things I Know? After 25-plus years in the book world, I will admit I don’t know as much as I should, I suppose. In a way, I don’t want to have Things I Know, because the terrain shifts and you spend some portion of your time adjusting to the current even as you try also think strategically about how you can find the space and opportunity to create what’s most personal to you—and make it a success career-wise.
marthawells: (Teyla)
Evan Ramspott asked I have a question - how many people do you have review your work before you're satisfied it is ready for submission? Follow-up would be how many revisions do you usually go through? Thanks!

It depends. Usually there's at least three or four, and my agent also reads it and gives it comments. Number of revisions is a harder question, because I usually don't write a draft straight through, I revise it constantly as I'm going along. I'll probably do at least one or two revisions after it's complete but before it's submitted, depending on what comments I get, how much time I have, and so on. And there's usually at least one or two revisions after it's been bought by a publisher.

David Zampa asked You have a LOT of named characters in the Raksura books. I love how it never feels crowded, with each having his or her individual place. What goes into character creation? I'm especially curious whether you profile each one. Also whether you create all of them before you begin writing, or add more as a need for them arises.

Thank you! The main ones I come up with before I start, but all the others are generally created as the need arises. I don't do a lot of outlining in advance, so I'm not sure what characters I'm going to need/what kind of people they're going to be/how they're going to react to the protagonist until I develop the world and the plot a lot more. I have to know quite a bit about the world, their particular place in it, to decide what their personality is going to be like.

I don't do character profiles very often, I just take a few notes about each one.
marthawells: Cover for the Cloud Roads, Art by Matthew Stewart (The Cloud Roads 2)
I think I have one more set to answer after this one.

[personal profile] mkellis asked: Leading question, but: are you going to put up a thread for Serpent Sea discussions (including spoilers)?

I don't think I will, mostly because having it on my LJ would mean I'd be sent the comments and be responsible for moderating (if it needed moderation) and I really don't have the time. But if someone else wants to do it, let me know where it is and I'll advertise it here.

Also: about 1/3 of the way in, and so very, very good. I'm reveling in the sensawunda of the settings.

Thank you!

[profile] puddleshark asked: How do you keep track of what's going on in action scenes? Do you just have a very good visual memory, or do you have to have notes'n'plans'n'stuff?

Usually my action scenes aren't complicated enough to need plans. Because I stick to a tight personal POV, the character in the action scene only sees the portion of the scene they are interacting with. That character may have a vague idea what the others are doing, but she's mostly going to be focused on her part of the action, her goal, staying alive, etc. The fragments that she sees of the rest of the scene may make the whole thing seem a lot more complicated to plan than it actually was.

If you have multiple viewpoints in an action scene, which I hardly ever do, that would probably need a plan.

Okay, off to the recycling center, the post office, and the grocery store. Then I need to take another whack at this chapter.

One more reminder: I'll be doing a book signing for The Serpent Sea and The Cloud Roads at Murder by the Book, in Houston, Texas, on Saturday January 7 at 4:30, along with authors Kimberly Frost and Jaye Wells. Use this link to order signed copies online.
marthawells: (Jack and Teal'c)
I think I just had sinus issues yesterday; I feel much better today. Though I can't believe it's already Wednesday! This week is flying by.

Here's the next two questions:

[profile] kriz1818 asked: I enjoyed The Cloud Roads, but it left me wondering: Do you have a deep background explanation for why any planet (apparently magical or not) would have so many different intelligent species on it?

I have some ideas, but I really like to keep my world-building open-ended. I did a panel once with Warren Spector, about world-building in novels and game environments, and he talked about building your world one section at a time, leaving space for new ideas and discoveries, letting it grow organically as you go along, like you're exploring it rather than building it. So the world feels as complex as a real world, for both the reader/player and the writer.

That's a technique I've always used, because even as a kid reading old library books, I really didn't like stories that set boundaries for their worlds. When the story tells me there's nothing beyond this valley, or that there's no other intelligent species in the galaxy, it really feels like the horizon that started out limitless is now closed in and claustrophobic.

I know a lot of people really like to do more scientific world-building where you have everything worked out in a lot of detail before you start writing, and that's what really sparks their creativity. But for me, I like to feel like I'm working in a tiny part of a huge canvas. Basically, when/if I get to the point where it's important to the story to explain why there are so many different species, then I'll find that explanation.

I hope that makes some sort of sense and answers your question. Usually when I talk about this it's in person and I can gesture a lot and that seems to help. :)

[personal profile] thanate asked: You've mentioned co-writing with someone else a couple times-- can you share anything about the logistics of that, or how it differs from your normal writing process?

I was co-writing with Aaron de Orive, and we wrote a middle grade fantasy novel. He came up with the characters and plot and a general idea of the world, and wrote the first chapter. Then I took it and went over it, made changes, and wrote the second chapter. He took that, went over it and made changes, and wrote the next chapter. As the book went on, I think the only thing that changed is that our sections of of writing the new parts got shorter and shorter, so we were exchanging them much more frequently. At one point, after some feedback, we went back and made some serious adjustments to the world-building.

(Email make co-writing much easier now. We live in different cities, so back in the 80s we would have had to mail each other sections and it would have taken forever.) The book has been making the publishing rounds but nobody has bought it yet. But it was the first attempt at a middle-grade book for both of us, so I think when we try it again, we'll have a much better handle on it.
marthawells: Atlantis in fog (Atlantis)
I feel kind of sick this morning. I really hope I'm not, because a) I don't have time and b) can't afford it.

Questions from this post.

I'm going to do about two a day, in the order I got them:

[profile] princejvstin asked Is the ending of Serpent Sea intended to be a close to Moon's story as currently written? Do you have plans, desires or ideas for further stories involving Moon (or perhaps a completely different set of characters or even species) in The Three Worlds?

The book I'm currently working on now is about Moon, Jade, and the others, and takes place a few months after The Serpent Sea ends. At this point, I don't know if that will be the last book about them. I would like to do other books set in the Three Worlds, about the Raksura and/or about different characters, (like the crew of the Wind Ship Escarpment from this story), and I have a couple of books set in other worlds semi-started, but I have no idea yet what I'm going to work on next.

Eric Francis asked In today's market do you have a feel for whether short or long fiction is a better way to establish one's self? In other words, should I keep writing and trying to sell short stories, or should I focus solely on a novel?

I think it would depend on what your skill and inclination is. Some people are short story writers and never do novels or only do one once in a blue moon. Some people are novel writers and don't do short stories, except very occasionally. Some people can do both at will. If you write good short stories and they get published by pro magazines, get award nominations, etc, that will certainly establish you in the genre, but you probably won't get or be known by as many readers as a good novel would attract.

Writing the thing that excites your creativity the most, whether it's a short story or novel, is pretty much always the best way to go.

And there is a slew of exciting things this morning:

The Cloud Roads is a Salt Lake County Library Reader's Choice Book Salt Lake County Library patrons can vote on it or the other reader's choice books and enter to win a drawing for a gift card.

Three signed copies of The Cloud Roads are also prizes in the Worldbuilders fundraiser by Patrick Rothfuss Donate $10.00 to Heifer International and you'll be entered to win one of hundreds of prizes.

Paul Weimer of SF Signal has a review of The Serpent Sea yay, four stars! (beware of spoilers)

Keith West at Adventures Fantastic has a review of The Serpent Sea (not very spoilery at all)

Kate Elliott says nice things about me The Serpent Sea, Martha Wells, & talking up the books you love
If, in this age of social media, you ever wonder if talking about a book online, in person, over the phone, or anywhere, really — whether writing a review on your blog or up on goodreads or LibraryThing or Amazon — makes a difference: It does.

Visibility matters.

Visibility particularly matters for writers who don’t often fall into the territory of bestsellerdom or persistent critical or award acclaim. It’s hard to buy a book if one doesn’t know it exists.

This is very true. Sometimes people ask what they can do to help their favorite writers, and the answer is talk about their books, online or offline, in whatever venue you are comfortable with. All the advertising money (and unless the book is a bestseller there is zero advertising money) doesn't matter if people aren't talking about the book. Whether you buy your books or check them out at the library, this is a power that readers have now.
marthawells: (Teyla)
Let's do this again:

Taking questions: Ask me questions, about writing in general, about publishing in general, about The Cloud Roads or The Serpent Sea or my other books, about whatever, and I'll try to make some coherent answers, either here or in a later post.

(For new friended people, I have a section on my website listing Links for Beginning Authors, with links to articles, resources, etc.)
marthawells: Cover for the Cloud Roads, Art by Matthew Stewart (The Cloud Roads 2)
New post at the Night Bazaar: Martha Wells: My Last Year
This year, 2011, was supposed to be my last year as a writer. In January of 2010, I was in a really bad place. It had been five years since my last new fantasy novel, three years since my last published book. This is the post where I talk about how I had planned to give up professional writing in 2010. I think I've mentioned it before but not really gone into detail.


Contest winners: All the Wheel of the Infinites were mailed out last week, and I know some of the US ones already arrived. Most of the copies of The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea have been mailed out, except for one US address and two international ones which I'll take to the post office tomorrow morning.
marthawells: (Reading)
A few people have asked, so I thought I'd address it here: No, I am not getting paid for the free kindle downloads of The Cloud Roads on Amazon US. Just like I don't get paid for sales of used copies or pirated copies. So being number one on the Kindle sales rank doesn't mean I'm rich now. It doesn't mean much of anything, except I should probably take a screen shot and save it as I'm unlikely to see my name there again. :)

The drawing for the free copies of The Cloud Roads or The Serpent Sea is still taking entries today here.


The Night Bazaar: Kameron Hurley: 10 Things I Learned About the Publishing Biz The Year My First Novel Was Published
This year, after writing and submitting stories and manuscripts for 15 years, 10 years since attending Clarion, 9 years since I went to my first SF convention, 7 years after I started blogging, and 3 years after my first book acceptance... my first book was published. Followed six months later by the second.

The Writer Unboxed: The Darkness Within Ann Aguirre has a post about writers being stalked and receiving violent threats because someone didn't like what their characters did in a book or because of how the book turned out. This isn't that uncommon, unfortunately.

Nnedi Okorafor has a post on Lovecraft’s racism & The World Fantasy Award statuette, with comments from China Miéville On Sunday, a friend of mine wanted to see my World Fantasy Award statuette. When he saw it, he was taken aback. He looked like he’d seen an ugly ghost.


I used to collect writing quotes, though I think most of them got lost several computers ago, but I found this one yesterday and had to grab it:

"...poetry isn't the outcome of personality. I mean by that that it exists independently of your mind, your habits, your feelings, and everything that goes to make up your personality. The poetic emotion's impersonal; the Greeks were quite right when they called it inspiration. Therefore, what you're like personally doesn't matter a twopenny damn; all that matters is whether you've got a good receiving set for the poetic waves. Poetry's a visitation, coming and going at its own sweet will."

"Well, then, what's it like?"

"As a matter of fact, I can't explain it properly because I don't understand it properly, and I hope I never shall. But it certainly isn't a question of oh look at the pretty roses or oh how miserable I feel today. If it were, there'd be forty million poets in England at present. It's a curious passive sensation. Some people say it's as if you noticed something for the first time, but I think it's more as if the thing in question had noticed you for the first time. You feel as if the rose or whatever it is were shining at you. Invariably after the first moment the phrase occurs to you to describe it; and when that's happened you snap out of it: all your personality comes rushing back, and you write the Canterbury Tales or Paradise Lost or King Lear according to the kind of person you happen to be. That's up to you."

"And does it happen often?"

"Every day. Every year. There's no telling if each time, whenever it is, mayn't be the last... In the meantime, of course, one gets dull and middle-aged."

Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop

(Oddly, this novel was published in 1946 and contains a scene sort-of-almost-identical to the climactic carousel scene in Strangers on a Train (book 1950, movie 1951). I'm just sayin'.)
marthawells: (Miko)
[profile] occamsnailfile asked: In the spirit of the month of writing process: Do you work from an outline, or write scenes of interest first and then connect them or some other method?

I don't usually work with an outline. I did with my two Stargate: Atlantis novels, which was actually where I learned how to write a synopsis before writing the book. I hadn't done that with my seven previous fantasy novels. I generally like to wing it, by figuring how the character and the world, and sort of a vague maybe one-sentence idea of the plot. Then I hunt around for a first scene and just start and see where I go. Sometimes that works and I go all the way to the end, sometimes I end up hunting around for the right spot to start the book and do a huge amount of revising before I get really going. It's taken me so long to finish the third Cloud Roads book that I ended up writing a synopsis as part of the proposal for the publisher, but the book was already at about 80,000 words then, and writing the full synopsis did help me figure out the ending.

Still taking writing questions in honor of NaNoMoWri week. I answered a few questions in my post yesterday here. Some are a bit spoilery for Cloud Roads but don't really get into plot specifics or anything I'd consider a real spoiler and I hate spoilers. There is a one sentence description of the plot of the third book that I'm working on now, so it might be considered spoilery, but I suspect that if the book is published, that would be revealed in the book description, so your spoiler mileage may vary.



An excellent rant by Charlie Jane Anders at IO9: Why Science Fiction Writers are Like Porn Stars
I didn't want to write about Glen Duncan's nerd-baiting book review in last Sunday's New York Times. The one that starts, "A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star." And just goes downhill from there.

The whole thing grossed me out, and felt like such a cheap shot that the only proper response was a sort of inchoate rage — the very response, I felt sure, that Duncan was counting on to prove his point. So I figured I'd interview Duncan about it, find out what the hell he was thinking, but he never got back to me. Here are the questions I wanted to ask him.

Q: Have you ever dated a porn star? How did it go?
marthawells: (Reading)
In honor of NaNaMoWriMoMo:

Taking writing questions again: Ask me questions about writing in general, about publishing in general, about The Cloud Roads or The Serpent Sea or my other books, about whatever, and I'll try to make some coherent answers, either here or in a later post.

I may finish chapter sixteen on the third Books of the Raksura today, so yay. Of course, that just means I need to start on chapter seventeen.

ETA: for new friended people, I have a section on my website listing Links for Beginning Authors, with links to articles, resources, etc.
marthawells: (Reading)
I decided yesterday I had to paint the dining room. It hasn't been painted since we moved in, and was starting to look it, since enough things get moved around in there for the walls to be pretty banged up. I also had some paint left over from the first failed attempt to make the foyer and stairwell light gray. The paint that didn't work in those darker areas works much better in the dining room. And I'll be able to use up the rest of the can, so it won't be sitting there in the garage slowly solidifying and glaring at me resentfully.

I was cleaning out the guest bedroom closet before 7:00 am this morning (as you do when you have an anxiety disorder) and found a box of stuff from my parents' house (both are deceased) that I had forgotten existed. It was a heavy box and only one end was open. When I stuck my hand in it trying to figure out what it was, I felt old house shoes, and knew immediately that my father had packed it.

I've been clearing out a lot of stuff for a rummage sale at the very tiny private school a friend of mine teaches art at. The school had a bad two year run with incompetent headmasters, and the current competent headmaster is trying to bring it back to where it was. It has very small class sizes, so is very good for students with issues and students who don't speak English (whose parents came from other countries to teach at or go to the university and who otherwise would be dumped in a public school with no time or facility for them.) So I really hope this stuff helps a little. (I also know a few grown-up adult people who I met when they were tiny babies, who went to this school.)

Today is Why I Write: A Celebration of the National Day on Writing.
The urge to write can be a mysterious calling. There are so many different ways to understand not only the why of writing, but what one gets out of it. To celebrate the National Day on Writing, the NWP has joined The New York Times Learning Network and Figment to collect the thoughts of people from all walks of life—scientists, reporters, poets, teachers, and students—to discover why they write.

There's a twitter hastag here for #whyiwrite where people are posting their reasons. Mine was "Because books saved my life when I was a kid, and it would be awesome to do that for someone else, even if I never know them."
marthawells: (John and Ronon)
I've had real problems writing this week, partly due to sinus headache issues, and partly because I had an attack of the "I can'ts" and I didn't realize I was having it.

It's kind of like imposter syndrome, where you're convinced that you're just faking your ability to do your job, despite massive piles of evidence to the contrary. The "I can'ts" is where you are convinced that you can't figure out the details of the next sequence of scenes even though you've already written 90,000 words of the book, plus a bunch of other books, stories, etc. Yes, it's illogical, no, it doesn't make any sense, but neither does imposter syndrome and writer's block and a lot of other things. (Things that are also aggravated by OCD and anxiety issues, both of which I have.)

And it doesn't help that sometimes you really do get stuck in figuring out a plot, because you're going in the wrong direction, you haven't set things up properly, because something is really wrong that needs to be fixed somewhere else.

So you know, there I am, with a sinus headache that is distracting anyway and convinced that this book would never be finished because I am suddenly rendered incapable of figuring out a sequence of action scenes even though I have done it like a million times before. (And of course, you don't articulate it to yourself because if you did, it would sound stupid and you would realize how stupid it is. It's just there in your head, an unexamined conviction that's paralyzing you, an invisible obstruction on a dark road.)

And then I decided to look at another file I was completely stuck on despite the fact that I worked on it yesterday, got distracted by something on TV, wrote a sentence and then wrote three pages before I really noticed what I was doing. Which made me start to suspect that what I was actually having was a case of "I can't do this" rather than a complete systems failure of my writing brain.

Then I went back to the book and forced myself to write the two sentences where I actually knew what was going to happen, and ended up blocking out the scenes I needed in about five minutes.

So if you are stuck, you really do have to learn to examine the reasons you're stuck, and see if there is actually a real issue that needs to be dealt with, or it's just an invisible roadblock that dissolves once you bang into it hard enough.

In the bad news department, I still have a sinus headache.


In case anybody missed it:

The Serpent Sea is available for preorder and there's new short story on the web site set in the same world as The Cloud Roads.
marthawells: (Default)
It looks like some of the biggest fires are finally under control, and the fire map looks better this morning: There's a slight chance of rain on Friday, but I'm not holding my breath. They've said the drought is probably going to continue through next spring.

I may have jury duty tomorrow, bleh. I woke up at 2:00 am congested, and couldn't get back to sleep, so I don't know how productive this day is going to be.

Someone on Google+ had asked me a couple of questions:

If you care to answer, how has it changed your life, getting published? Being an author is full-time for you?

My first novel was published in 1993, but I didn't become a full-time author until 2004. That's 18 years as a professional author, 7 years as a full-time professional author. I had my career crash in 2006, so 2004 was a very bad time for me to go full-time. But a friend had just passed away of cancer, and I realized my day-job situation had gone from unpleasant to toxic and borderline abusive, and I decided that life was too short to wait for better times.

It changed my life in that it made my paychecks extremely irregular and makes me prey to all sorts of anxiety and insecurity, but I don't want to do anything else.

Speaking of which, the friends of writer Ed Bryant are asking for donations for his health care and so he can keep his house. The long-term plan is for Ed to sell the house and move into managed housing, but for the moment, he needs help to keep it. This is one of those situations where if a lot of people give a small amount, $5.00 even, you could really help a lot. There's a paypal donation button at the bottom of the site.

CoolVibe has some neat Stargate art

Courtney Schafer was on Suvudu: Booked!
marthawells: (Zoe)
Got back from ArmadilloCon late yesterday afternoon, and I'm still tired. It was a great con, but after the rain we had last week, the temperature shot up to over 108 here and in Austin for the past few days, and has left everything lightly fried, if not dead.

Very worried by all the hurricane news, too. There's a three other tropical storms pointed towards us at the moment, and one about to descend on Taiwan.

All four panels I was on went really well, especially the cover panel on Sunday morning with Lou Anders, Paolo Bacigalupi, Brad Foster, Rockey Kelley, Rick Klaw, and me. Lou Anders had us send covers to him that we wanted to talk about and assembled a power point presentation (so we could actually show the audience the covers) and also some slides showing how covers are developed from sketches, with the publisher choosing which versions they want to go with.

Also pointing out that authors rarely get input except sometimes towards the end of the process, and talking a bit about how books get face-outs in bookstores, and the placement on the "new books" tables at the front. (The publisher buys those spaces from the chain bookstores, then has to convince the chains which of their books to put there. The chains want the ones with the covers they think will sell best, which is not always the books the publisher wants most to push.)

And I have a link:

Writers and Pellets by Tobias Buckell

The neurotic behavior persists at all levels of writing. It isn't necessarily the writer's fault.

The reason for this is writing, as well as many of the arts, are fundamentally (but accidentally) designed to create horrible psychological atmospheres that are very conducive to creating neuroses if you aren't paying attention. Because the reward systems for artistic success aren't predictable. Which really fucks with the animal brain.

It really doesn't help if you're already neurotic. And it's also a reason why writers can be so vulnerable to depression.
marthawells: (Miko)
Still working on the revisions to The Serpent Sea. I wanted to talk a bit about how I do revisions, since I'm not sure if it's idiosyncratic or not.

When I get the editorial letter, I copy it into a separate WP file -- this is easier with email; with paper editorial letters I used to have to re-type them and then make notes on the original -- and put a lot of space between the paragraphs for notes. Then I go through and take care of the ones that are quick fixes, changing a word or adding a phrase or sentence for clarity. I make those changes directly in the manuscript file but I don't do them in any particular order, and I don't do them all at once. I usually just scan the editorial file until one catches my eye and then do that one.

With the editorial notes that require new scenes, I'll actually write the scene below the note in the editorial file. At first I'll basically just be thinking of what I need to add. For example, if the note is something like: "this later scene would work better if Moon knew why such and such character had done such and such; it seems like he would ask him about it somewhere in this section." Okay, that's a good point. So I start writing that conversation, focusing just on that point. As I'm writing it, I'll start to figure out where it should go in the manuscript, and add some set dressing to it. When I'm happy with the new scene, I'll copy it into that spot in the manuscript and start blending it in with the original text. Sometimes at that point I'll realize it won't actually go into that spot and needs to be moved, or that it needs to be broken up a bit and the individual pieces worked in throughout the section. But usually it does fit, though I'll often end up changing it as I read over it and weave it into place.

The harder ones are changes that need to be made more globally, where something needs to be added that needs to be referred to at a few different points in the manuscript. I do those pretty much the same way.

Once all the new stuff is in and the quick fixes all done, I'll go back and read through from the beginning, to make sure everything new is blended in and isn't contradicted or redundant anywhere, and at this point I'll usually make more changes to the new scenes as well as little fixes throughout.

So how is this alike or different from the way other people do it?

One other thing I'll be doing today is waiting for the air conditioner repair guys. Our ac unit has been having trouble keeping up, even though I try not to let it run too much during the day. We got lucky with an overcast day yesterday, but it was 86 at 6:30 this morning, and it's just going to get worse.

Writer Beware: Farrah Gray Publishing
When publishing relationships go bad, the writing was often on the wall long before the author signed on the dotted line. Perhaps there were nonstandard business practices, such as a hidden fee or a book purchase requirement. Or there might have been a large body of author complaints, easily found by doing a basic websearch. Maybe there was an association with an unsavory parent company, or a name change to escape bad press. Or the publisher may simply may have been too new to have proven itself--a major risk for small-press writers, given the high attrition rate for new small publishers, especially if the owners don't have a professional writing or publishing background.
marthawells: (Tatooine)
[personal profile] sorka42 asked When writing, if you have a vague idea of where you are going in a chapter, but its not fully fleshing out, do you leave it unwritten or do you write a summary so you don't lose it while working on other parts of a story?

I definitely write a summary. Whenever I come up with a plot point, or a way to work something out, or bits of dialogue, I try to write it down as soon as possible. It's very frustrating to me to be sitting there with a blank page and know that I came up with something that I really liked and now I can't remember it. I forget things like that a lot more easily when I'm stressed out, and I'm pretty much always stressed out.

[personal profile] surreul had some questions: I just recently read the City of Bones (and loved it) and my guess is that you don't intent to return to that world. But I was wondering, when you were writing it, if you had thoughts on how the lives of Elen and Khat would turn out and if you had any other idea or plans for the krismen or even that world in general. Would love to hear it.

I was also blown away by the original world building, not because I didn't expect it from you but because you've also built so many other original and fascinating worlds. I was wondering what is it that motivates you to keep creating new worlds instead of sticking to one universe the way some other authors do.

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! I did plan a sequel to City of Bones, and actually did offer it as a proposal to Tor, along with a proposal and the first few chapters of what later turned into The Death of the Necromancer. They turned down The Death of the Necromancer but did make a not very enthusiastic offer on the Bones sequel. But it took so long to hear back from them, that by that time I'd written a big chunk of Necromancer, and I didn't want to drop it. So we offered it to Avon instead who was very enthusiastic about it, and I dropped the idea for a City of Bones sequel.

The plot was that Elen would come to the city where Khat and Sagai were living, and make them a very good offer to come along on an expedition to find the exact center of the Waste, which was where they thought the original magical event happened that caused all the destruction. They were going to go, and find lots of strange things, and take refuge with Khat's relatives among the krismen at one point. But that's about all I remember of it. I've looked for the actual proposal, but it was lost in computer transitions long ago and I can't access the disks it was backed up on. Hopefully, I have it printed out somewhere and I'll rediscover it at some point. But there were never more than a couple of pages of it written, and that was mostly notes.

As to motivation, I just really like creating new worlds. And while the ones that are based on historical time periods (like the Ile-Rien books) are fun, creating weird worlds with strange stuff is much more fun for me. And I like pushing my creativity to try to come with even stranger stuff, which is why I really love writing The Cloud Roads books.

I think this is one of the reasons why I've never felt much urge to write an urban fantasy, even though I'm a big Buffy fan and I love mysteries with supernatural elements. A setting that was based on the modern world, any part of the modern world, would just not be that much fun for me. And like I said the other day, if you're not having fun, there's no point in writing it.

(A selfish note, I have City of Bones available as an ebook reprint from Amazon Kindle US, Amazon Kindle UK, and Barnes and Noble Nookbook, and if anyone hasn't read it already and is interested in it, purchasing it there will help defray the large amount of money I had to spend on doctor's appointments and stuff for my achey knees this week. Or The Element of Fire, which is available in those same places. Oh, and the Black Gate Blog recently did a very nice review of City of Bones.)

Still taking writing questions on this post.


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