I am just beginning to know Jaine Fenn because we’re both members of SF Novelists. She is a British SF writer who studied Linguistics and Astronomy and had a career in IT before swapping financial security for the chance to tell tales about how the future might be. Her Hidden Empire series is published by Gollancz. Downside Girls is hot off the presses as of two days ago, and is a set of interlinked stories set in her Hidden Empire universe. Here’s the cover:
Today, on Off My Lawn, Jaine talks about the advice, often give to aspiring writers, to write every day.
One piece of advice commonly found in writing ‘how to’ books is ‘Write Every Day’.
Okay then! Soon as I build my time machine I’ll get right onto that.
Apparently Stephen King writes every day. This grand master has lots of
So if a ‘Write Every Day’ regime is good enough for him then surely it should work for you and me. Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me.
Firstly, there are not enough hours in the day. Most writers have families and/or day-jobs. We like to see our friends, to engage in hobbies and go on holiday. We generally require more than two hours sleep a night. For many of us, if we don’t cook/clean/shop/child-wrangle then we’ll end up starving/drowning in kipple/unwashed
underwear/feral children. Finding a significant amount of keyboard-time in our schedules isn’t always possible.
Ah, you may say, but you have to make time. Fine. I refer you to the second paragraph above. And if you’ve already got a time-machine, I’d like to borrow it please.
Often we end up snatching the odd hour or two, and if writing isn’t our main source of income, even that can be fraught with guilt. But yes, an hour is better than nothing. Of course it is. And even if you don’t make it to a keyboard, you can – and should – still be developing stories in your head.
Which brings me on to the second reason I don’t write every day, the one unrelated to excuses and a chaotic lifestyle. The one that comes down to how creativity works.
The act of creative writing has been likened to drawing water from a well. If you keep taking the words out – if you make yourself produce several thousand words every single day – you may well find that after a while all you’re bringing up is mud.
This isn’t true for everyone, but for those of us not blessed with Mr King’s prodigious talent, the well of creativity isn’t bottomless. It needs time to refill.
When up against a deadline, I can write three thousand words a day. But if I do that for too many days in a row then, deadline or not, those words are not going to end up in the finished story. They’re just noise. For some people, making that noise is a good thing, especially when they first start out. You might subscribe to that school
of thought, and write every day despite the sure knowledge that some days you’ll only dredge up mud. But that doesn’t work for everyone.
For me, it’s frustrating when what turns up on the page is wastage. I might learn some lessons from it, but it won’t earn me a living – nor should it, because no one wants to pay for mud. And I could have used that time to clean the bathroom.
Every few days, even on deadline death-marches, I’ll find myself vacuuming the stairs, or digging the garden, or just going for a walk, but in my case this isn’t just writing avoidance. I’m waiting for the well to refill. Ideas need time to ferment, plots to coalesce.
On a Venn diagram of ‘writers’ and ‘OCD sufferers’ you’ll find a big overlap. Writers are good at setting up, then knocking down, mechanisms allowing them to almost write every day. We reorganise our lives, then find creative reasons not to write, and often punish themselves for not doing so. When I was writing Queen of Nowhere I was in the interesting position of writing about an obsessive while behaving obsessively, and I found a few insights there, I can tell you.
Fortunately, it being my fifth book, I had my coping mechanisms in place. I did not write every day, and I did not punish myself for not doing so. I still made my deadline.
So, if you’re someone who has learnt enough of the craft to get the basics down and has a busy life, instead of “Write every day,” the advice I’d give is to write regularly. It might just be a few hours on Saturday mornings, during your lunch break on days when the job isn’t too crazy, or an hour or two while the kids are at school,
but schedule it in.
If you’re being paid to write to a deadline you’ll be able to justify that time, but even if no one is paying you to write your story put aside some time, regularly, to write. Just not every day.
______ Thank you, Jaine! What do you think, folks? When and how often do you write?
Here’s a little more about Downside Girls: The floating city of Khesh rests above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. For the Topsiders life is about luxury and opulence, while for those of the Undertow day to day survival takes precedence. Khesh City is a democracy by assassination, where the Angels – deadly state-sponsored killers – remove those unworthy to hold office. When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship.
I admit I was hoping to break 60K by the end of today, but to do that I’d have to be self-abusive and willing to write what–even by my lax first-draft standards–would be unsalvagable drivel. Pages upon pages of “And then McReporterpants did the thingie with the watchamacallit. Theodolite? Look this up later.”
So – today, words that are better than the above:
July 27 2,308 for a grand total of 58,378 words. Here’s what they looked like before I typed them:
I had a look at the outline and I’m not as far from the end of the plot as I would have guessed. Maybe another 15,000 words until the thing’s Frankensteined together? I’ve never been good at making these kind of guesstimates.
What I did today to celebrate the end of the Write-A-Thon was go to the Urban Tea Merchant and spend two and a half hours imbibing Royal Darjeerling tea, little sandwiches and luxurious baked goodies while scribbling the above words. It was a very enjoyable wrap-up to the whole Write-A-Thon ritual; I commend it to you all.
I plan to keep up the current pace, of course, until I finish the draft. And then go back and rewrite, and rewrite some more, and then some more.
I am going to Victoria tomorrow to do some research for the series of books and stories I’m currently writing–in point of fact, I’m going on a short day sail on a tall ship called the Pacific Grace, which is owned and sailed by S.A.L.T.S. It should be a neat experience. If I’m not clinging to a rope every minute, there will, of course, be pictures.
I am really excited about this, except in the moments when I wonder if it will involve barfing or hard labour.
But back to the current project, I have firmed up my decision to give away naming rights to one island nation on the world of Stormwrack to the person who contributes the most to Clarion Westin my name this summer. I will also have a draw for naming rights to a landmark, animal species, sailing vessel or city on Stormwrack. It’s your choice. Anyone who wants to qualify for that one need only donate something, even if it’s the minimum.
To win, you need to 1) give money; 2) tell me so and 3) give me some contact info. The Clarion site’s supposed to let me know about contributions, but this didn’t work out so well last year–I’m doing something wrong when I log in, is all I can conclude, because I have immense troubles with the site, and I’m the only one. (It’s me, lovely wonderful Clarion folks, it’s not you. You’ve tried, Chaos knows you’ve tried…)
The reason I’m clattering for donations should be blindingly clear, but if it isn’t: Clarion is a great program. It does terrific work. It made a difference in my life. I wrote six stories in the weeks before I went to Seattle (see, I had a pre-season last time too!) and 220 pages of new fiction while I was there. It helped me improve at my chosen art, it got my nascent writing career on track and introduced me to some of my best friends in the world.
But wait, there’s more, and it’s not frickin’ steak knives!
You need to know what kind of a place Stormwrack is if you’re gonna name an island, right? So as I continue to Thon, there will be posts from all the interconnected works set in this world, and they will be about the island nations I’ve established so far. For example, in the first of a series of stories called The Gales, I have this, about Redcap Island:
“It’s a kingdom,” he said promptly. “Government is stable, king’s rule is absolute. The crown passes to the eldest son upon the death of the king or his sixtieth birthday, whichever comes first. Elder kings go into a kind of ceremonial exile, along with any other sons…”
“There’s usually just one other son. They must use magic to affect the succession.”
Gale nodded. “Once there’s a healthy heir and a second son, the king’s consorts bear only daughters. The Blossoms Majestic—the princesses—run the government.”
My dreamed-of WiFi workathon with view got a bit of a trim this morning: I was going to hop aboard an Amtrack train at the crack of dawn and write about seven billion things by the time I got to Portland. However, the train gods decreed that something was wrong with the track. Amtrak told us mudslides in Everett. CBC says protesters in White Rock. Anyway, they herded us onto buses and cleverly filtered us as we went: the peeps going on from Seattle got an express bus, while the folks going to a zillion points between Vancouver and King Station got a slow boat.
The best part of this development was that I got to Seattle an hour earlier than expected, with plenty of time to go to Zeitgeist Coffee. Kelly and I had been here in 2009 when we went on the Tucker Family Cruise-o-rama and we love love loved it. They have boiled eggs and fruit along with caffeine and bready things and Intrawebs.
The bus was completely full and though the guy next to me was nice enough, and also mostly comatose, he was taking up his entire seat, which meant I didn’t have the extra elbow room I’d have needed to break out the keyboard even if there’d been somewhere to put it. So I spent the first half of trip making myself just a leetle bit carsick by reading a book. It was a good book, and enjoyable enough to justify the nausea.
Oh! And I got a very jolly border guard.
After the coffee I got on the train, had no seatmate, and yay, the WiFi was working. Prose ensued. I got to pause thoughtfully and admire the view several times, and took many questionable pictures of same. I fancy this one is quite arty. I’m probably wrong.
The train got in and I walked to my hotel, which is all of three blocks from Powell’s downtown. After nine continuous hours of sitting, I desperately needed a real walk, so I hoofed off in the direction of the bookstore. What I didn’t know was that the Powell’s is right next to a Doc Marten’s outlet.
Some of you know I’d generally rather have arrows shoved through my cheeks than go into a shoe store, but I’ve been thinking about summer footwear lately. Thinking lots. There’s stuff about my heels, and stuff about my toes, and the general Shoe Law of Me states that all shoes must be good for at least a five kilometer walk, at the end of which they must look presentable enough to pass for girly grownup work shoes. Being shoe picky is fine if you like shopping for the things, but in my case it’s rather ridiculous.
But, having now gotten myself a pair of Docs that’ll do a 10K day and a pair of Fluvogs that’ll go that far, too, I’ve decided I prefer the Docs. So in I went, and what did I find but these?
Pretty, huh? They have the not-open back that my heel needs, and the holes in front that mean stretch–I wanted this so my toes can spread out, ducklike, in the front. And they’re pink! Pink pink Barbie camper pink!
I had other adventures, and much fun just walking around downtown Portland, a city I’m so very fond of visiting, and a pretty decent supper, but I think I’ll shelve those for now. Tomorrow I will have more adventures, with wonderful lovely people, and there will be even more pictures. Some will almost certainly be of Xerxes. How lucky am I?
I am very happy to say I’m going to be reading at Powell’s Books in Oregon (the Cedar Hills / Beaverton location) on Monday the 7th, at 7:00 p.m.
This is a genuine bucket list item for me: here in the Pacific Northwest, Powell’s is pretty much mecca for bibliophiles, and I’ve always wanted to read there. When I am out and about in my Powell’s shirt, strangers ask, often in hushed tones if I’ve been there, and when I brag that I’ve even been part of the big post-Orycon group author signings at the store. . . well, they’re impressed. You must be a real author after all, is the reaction: it’s serious cred.
I’ll be reading from the steamy and mildly hilarious “Wild Things,” and signing copies of Indigo Springs and Blue Magic, and perhaps even a few anthologies I’ve had stories in. If you’re in Portland, I hope you’ll stop by.
As prep for this first foray into BLUE book touring, I hauled out the little red suitcase Wednesday and started putting in things I’m afraid I might otherwise forget. The battery charger for the camera, par example, and a certain catnip-flavored item for an exalted Portland entity named Xerxes.
So maybe it’s the smell of the treat in the suitcase, or perhaps it’s just the obvious sign that I’m gonna be gone, but Rumble is unimpressed. He’s spent much of the past two days alternating between dragging the case around the house and rendering it inaccessible by means of passive resistance.
He was also extremely friendly on Wednesday night, and would not be deterred by the squirtgun, which means I spent more of the night awake than is optimal.