Clarion West Write-a-thon report: I have finished the 20,000 words I committed two six-ish weeks ago! Bow down in awe, or, better yet, sponsor me!!
I have finished my first complete start-to-finish story written on the iPad, 8,500 words of urban fantasy, drafted on paper and entered into a simple text app called Simplenote and then, when it was far enough along to need formatting, in Doc2 HD. The latter let me back it up to Dropbox, so it wasn’t just resident in the pad’s memory (and therefore vulnerable) for very long… it hits the cloud and my laptop very briskly.
How well will this work when I’m revising an 85K word novel? We’ll have to see. In fact, we’ll see starting this very morning! I had thought I couldn’t search the text in a long document, which was just about a dealbreaker. I need to be able to hop back and forth to specific points in the story… however, I’ve just figured out that Doc2 does do this.
Other things about the tech side of this…
–iPad, keyboard and cases being three pounds lighter than the laptop, my upper body is much happier about hauling it around.
–The tablet has spoiled me, somewhat, for typing on the iPod with my thumbs. So my hands are happier too, especially as I have been trying to give them a break by texting less. (Sorry, Tweeps.) However, there’s a two hour window on Thursdays when I used to get a ton of blogging, teaching, and article-writing done on the pod, and now I’m pretty disinclined. I will need to find another way, as those two hours on the bus are a necessary work window, and the ride goes faster when I’m busy. (Probably this will end up being me writing longhand and dictating the text into Dragon later.)
–The fact that the pod fits in one hand still makes it nicer for a certain amount of casual web surfing and reading. I have smallish hands, and the pod is a good size and weight for them.
–I have two stands for the iPad. One is the origami keyboard case that essentially transforms the thing into a teeny tiny laptop. The other is a six-legged Gumby type spider thing, which Rumble considers his mortal enemy. We mostly use Gumby for watching Netflix in bed. So we’ll get set up and start watching an episode of, say, Leverage, and a few seconds later the screen will start sliding away from us, as Rumble attempts to drag Gumby off to his lair for punishment.
–I am still waiting for someone to recommend the two dollar app that will make me rich, famous, taller, interested in fashion, obscenely athletic, capable of flying a helicopter and spiritually enlightened. Bueller? Neo? Anyone?
First: Clarion Write-a-Thon Word Count: 1,417 out of 20,000. (More info here).
“And I do not play this instrument as well as I should like, but I have always thought that to be my fault, because I would not take the time to practice…” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Some of my students have accused me, obliquely, of being too picky. “I see lots of books where writers do this,” they say, when they get an MS back from me and in addition to the structural critique I’ve marked twenty eye bookisms, a bunch of passive verb constructions and noted that one of their perfectly good phrases has been around since Shakespeare, and that while it does the job maybe there’s a way that suits their characters better…
They’re right, to some extent. Part of what I do as a teacher is point out the strengths and the flaws in a person’s writing… even when that writing starts to be of publishable quality. I know new writers want to learn what it takes to sell their fiction, of course, but I hope they also want to just plain be better. There’s a lot of room between just barely salable and outstanding. I have yet to stop finding fault, even with my best students, even as I praise ’em to the skies.
Storytelling is engaging readers in a dream. You are taking them from the here and now and enveloping them in another world. The novel as a work of art offers its audiences the chance to be at once themselves and another person, just as dreams do, as fantasies do.
The thing about dreams is that some are shallow. Think of a night when your sleep was easily broken, by the slightest noise. The dreams of light sleep are the ones that most fleeting, that they’re the ones that vanish like vapor when your eyes open.
Such dreams are just fine. You might say they’re just barely publishable. But I think what most of us want, as writers, is to create deep absorption–compelling, vivid, engaging on a visceral, emotional level, and impossible to forget. It’s a lofty goal, but what I hope people are going for in this racket… not immediately, but eventually, if they’re very good and very hardworking and very lucky, is to be life-altering.
There are a couple ways to instill deep dreaming. One is to have a story so suspenseful that the reader simply can’t put it down–we’ve all devoured books whose line-by-line writing is shaky, because we got hooked; we had to know. Stieg Larsen’s The Girl Who books were like this, for me. This cartoon, My Lost Weekend in the Meyer, says the same about the Twilight saga.
So: be suspenseful. Check! The other way to deepen the dream of a given narrative, once the basic story’s working, is to up the quality of the prose. To have undertow within the words themselves, to be compelling, seductive, to beguile and even drown. We each have our own way of pulling this off, and when it happens, it’s a powerful thing. Heck, there are stories where it’s a superpower in its own right: seizing or changing someone’s sleeping world.
So yes, I’m picky… because I think it’s a skill worth developing.
I have just signed up for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon… they’re trying to get 100 writers joined up for the summer, so I thought I’d play along. If you might like to sponsor me, there’s a link here. Clarion’s a terrific workshop and a good cause. I got to meet some of last year’s class and their excitement about writing and general enthusiasm for SF and fantasy writing was infectious and delightful. You could be paying to teach your next favorite writer evar.
I’ve never done this before, but it’s pretty straightforward. The site says:
Sign up by June 18 to participate as a Clarion West Write-a-thon writer. Pick a writing goal: something that’s a little stretch; something that motivates you. Shadow the workshop from June 19 through July 29. Then write, write, write! Write 15 minutes or 4 hours a day, 250 words a day, or maybe 8000 words a week (we call that a “Swanwick”); revise a story or a chapter of your novel every week; complete a story, novella, or trilogy; submit three short stories to professional markets; or do something else completely different.
My goal is to write 20K of fiction between June 19th and July 29th. Ideally this will wrap up two half-written stories in progress and get me a little further into the current novel.
There is a catchy phrase that comes up in various types of motivational speaking:
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
I’ve known this one for awhile, and as far as fortune-cookie delivered Life Lessons go, I agree with the underlying philosophy. But K and I were walking in the West End last weekend, and we came upon a commercial sandwich board with this taped on it:
“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”
Also catchy, and in some ways the exact same message, but I’m fascinated by the difference in nuance that comes with the altered wording. The first has such a freight of passivity: the ‘you’ is getting something–presumably something they no longer want, or maybe never did. My imagination is offering up a steaming bucket of something from a stable-mucking, delivered weekly to your door.
The second, meanwhile is about wanting something new. It’s about running to, rather than running away.
Both get the general idea across quite succinctly–but the latter phrasing is more positive, more of a call to action. In comparison, the first is a bit of a finger wag, a lecture from a judgmental imaginary parent figure. “If you’re just gonna insist on playing your electric guitar in the hot tub, young fella, don’t come crying to me when you do the electric boogaloo.”
It is easy to imagine the one phrase as a draft and the other as revision, the one as good enough wording and the second as a perfected version, as final copy. It’s especially easy because, as writers, we frown on certain types of linguistic passiveness. In reality, they are two different takes on the same idea, gleaned from different sources.
Still. It may be useful to think of them that way, perhaps especially when we talk about making our characters more active. Are they getting what they always got when they’re meant to be pulling a novel forward? Do they want something they never had? Do they want anything at all?
Finally, how do you shift them to chasing their desires, if what they’ve really been doing is just opening up the door every morning to see what life has handed them?
On another topic, word metrics on the current wip: Saturday, 450 words. Sunday, 822.
I have been corresponding these past couple of days with an aspiring writer who followed the Harry Turtledove interview to my teaching page, and saw that I sometimes take students for one on one mentoring. He’s newly out of university and hasn’t written seriously before; he’s been researching how one goes about developing a novel, but is afraid of diving in, writing 50K, and ending up with something that can’t be turned into publishable work. That’s the part that’s really stopping him, the What if I spend six or twelve months of my life writing this thing, and it turns out it can’t be polished to a professional level?
These are the economics of art: especially when you’re new, you do it on spec, for love. You put in the time and you don’t know if it will ever pay. You have to hope the process is in some way gratifying, that the artistic growth feels good, that there are discoveries that pay for the lost time, sleep, and social opportunities.
So I’ve told him that some first-timers write salable books, some write fixable drafts, and some write books that may have been really good learning experiences, but otherwise oughtn’t to see the light of day. And I’ve asked him if he’s afraid he won’t enjoy the process of writing something he may well have to trunk. It seems like a good place to start. What do you all think?
A few days ago I drafted up a post about how I thought I’d start posting word counts for the current project: at that point, I was up to 20725, which meant I’d written 1200ish words over the long weekend. I have about another chapter in hand but not all of it has been typed; I’ll report again soon.