Don’t tell me how to write

So, I skipped a blog post. I know you didn’t notice, and odds are very good that you don’t read many of them, but I still need to talk about the last few months and why blog posts have been fewer or book reveal substitutions.

First, it’s because I’ve been releasing books from The Book of Carter every month since November, and that’s been exhausting. They weren’t all written, when I started which has also been a new experience for me – I have always had a book tucked away for a long time before I published it, before now, because it gives me a lot more space to think about it and be ready for editing and revisions. They say that you (the author) know what’s supposed to be there, so you don’t read what’s actually there. And to an extent, that’s universally true. If you mis-use idioms in your everyday speech, you will mis-use them in your writing and never, ever catch it. If you use homonyms and don’t know one from the other, you need to read with a list of those puppies in the very front of your mind and actually go look them up – every single time – when they show up in your writing. (Pallet/palette, I’m looking at you!) But there’s a rule among people who write software for a living that holds true, too, that I don’t ever hear authors referencing:

If you wrote that piece of code more than six months ago, someone else may as well have written it, for all the good your own memory is going to do you.

And that’s so true for me. I read sentences and go… I have no freaking clue what those words were supposed to mean. Just none. Something about an old woman and a boat and a goat and a bale of hay, and yeah, I know what the reference is (it’s a riddle I like), but how in the world did I think it fit into the story here?

So I pull it. And figure out what else was supposed to go there.

It works for me.

(It’s also why I have so many novels sitting on my hard drive – and my inbox and my jump drives and a buncha other places – that haven’t gone out yet. That and because covers. Covers are hard.)

So I’ve been releasing Book of Carter novellas, and that’s taken a huge amount of focus.
More than that, though, I’ve been going through the three most productive writing months of my writing calendar. They start with November (the beginning of my writing calendar, which I wrote about here) and NaNoWriMo, and they culminate with JanuWriMo (completely unaffiliated) with December sandwiched there in the middle with all this momentum and goodwill and days inside, and I just go for it. This year has been no exception.

I got so much done.

One of those things was not routine blog posts.

This is not an apology.

It isn’t even a very good explanation.

This is a very long-winded open to my topic today.

November and January are community writing months. This is massively motivating to me, and I do several more of them over the course of the year because of how much more productive I am and because of how much happier I am while writing. Having people around, for writers, is novel. I pounce on that.

The other thing that happens when you get that many writers together in one place talking about writing, talking about productivity, talking about words and stories and ideas, is that you get writers asking each other for advice and posting pieces of fiction for consumption and critique.

And mostly this works out pretty well. Authors who are nervous get confirmation, other authors get a chance to read from an outside perspective and think about how they’d do what they’re seeing, to pull apart the process of writing just this bit and see what’s going on inside of it. This is healthy and a great way for both sides to learn. (Let me open with that, quite emphatically. I’d be breaking my own thesis if I said that this is bad.)

That said, I hate posting ‘snippets’ because, first, I don’t think they capture the flow of a story and all of the structure that leads up to that piece of fiction. (Obviously first lines don’t have that: they have their own drawbacks.) Second, though, I don’t like people telling me how to write. And I don’t like watching people tell each other how to write.

(A few of these are specific examples I’ve seen, but I’m going to try to bury them in generic examples to try to keep my personal grievances out of it.)

First person/third person.
Past tense/present tense.
Adverbs.
Outlines vs. freeform (pantsing!)
Dialogue tags.
Split infinitives.
Commas! (Some commas are mandatory. Not many. I believe in the Oxford comma, but… okay, I won’t drag that out any more.)
Expletives.
Volume of description.
Exposition.
Show vs. tell.
Fast vs. slow.
How characters should behave.

I think that there are times an places when any option may be the right one. I really do.

When you look at the classics, at the most popular books today (completely different set of books), at the things you really enjoy the most (another set of books), you’ll find stuff that’s all over the map in terms of how the words fit together, and I can just about guarantee that you’d find all manner of processes on the parts of the writers.

There is no right answer.

As far as I’ve been able to come up with, there are two rules to writing.

1. It must be clear.
2. Characters must have agency.

I’d love to add other things to that list, like ‘it must be entertaining’ or ‘things should happen’ or ‘the plot should make sense’, but I can’t stand behind those statements. It’s entirely possible to write a good story without them. It’s actually possible to write a good story that is unclear, and it’s possible to write a good story with characters who don’t have agency (agency: an agenda of their own that they are following), but those are truly elevated writing techniques that can ignore my two rules. You want your mousy, four-foot-flat wallflower to decide at the end of the book that she wants to be an MMA fighter? Do it. But earn it. You want to use bunches of adverbs? Do it. But be clear.

And then.

And then.

Realize that some people may not enjoy it.

Realize, also, that exactly the rule that someone is trying to tell you you’ve broken may be the one that makes you who you are, as a writer. Own your own voice.

I don’t like it when other people tell me how to write.

They can tell me how they reacted to my writing. Cool. (Awesome.) But it’s my job to take what they have to say about what I’ve written and either change or not, based on it.

I don’t like when writers try to tell each other how to write.

Our world is made up entirely of guidelines.

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2017: a sneak peak!

I got so much done in 2016.  Despite a lot of other things going on that I had to work around, the backlog of work that I have ready to publish is huge, and I’m so excited to get some of it out in 2017.

I do a calendar every so often, just to try to keep a grip on what I’ve got going on, and I put in a special effort this December to work through what I’ve got coming up in 2017, and I wanted to give you a peek at everything I am going to try to do in 2017.  So here goes.

If you are on my mailing list, you’ve been getting notices that I’ve got work available on Instafreebie that is only available to newsletter subscribers (new or existing).  There is my Isobel sample, a unique short story in Isobel’s world that will continue to be available, and there was the Christmas short story that is still available but that is going to come down around the middle of next week, but the rest of the stories that have been cycling through Instafreebie have been novellas from The Book of Carter.

I’m really, really excited about these, because there’s so much of Samantha’s story with Carter that I only got to tell by reference, in the Sam & Sam main series, and these were really important stories for Samantha.  And, well, Carter is a character I was terrified to write, because he’s got his own agenda all day, every day, but they’ve been a whirlwind of fun, sort of getting dragged along behind as Carter does his thing.  I’m actually planning at least one more Book of Carter novella, in early 2017, that right now I expect will stay up on Instafreebie as an exclusive bonus for mailing list subscribers, but the rest of them are going to come down one by one and get published to Amazon.  I’m still working through the final (non-Instafreebie) covers, which is what’s delaying this today, but I’ll get them sorted out, and they’ll start showing up on Amazon through January, February, and March, culminating in a Book of Carter release sometime before the end of April.  Stay tuned for cover reveals as they get finalized.

Working my way through to the end of the year, I’m planning a Portal Jumpers release, a Sam & Sam release, a His Dark Mistress release, and a Sam & Sam companion release.  Like Isobel, there are a lot of other characters in the Sam & Sam universe that I think deserve to have their own stories told, and this one is one I didn’t really see coming.  Becca is special to me because she has created a set of images for the year that are really just showing up everywhere for me.  It’s like when someone you know gets a new car, and then all of a sudden you start noticing just how many of that car there are out there.  Becca’s world has started showing up in unexpected places for me, and I’ve bought art, toys, and clothes because they remind me of her.  I’ll release more information about her as we get closer to her actual release in the middle of next year, and I’ll have a cover reveal for that probably in April, if my guiding winds stay true.

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This is a clue.  He’s also gorgeous.  That is all.

On the writing side, I’ve got eyes bigger than my stomach, I suspect, but I’ve got a lot of things that I want to do, so I’ve basically just planned… all of them.  A standalone novel, a Portal Jumpers Adventure (a Portal Jumpers novel with the same main characters, but not connected to the main arcs going on in the Portal Jumpers series – so long as you’ve read the first two, I think you should be able to read a Portal Jumpers Adventure any time, and it should make sense), a Sam & Sam novel, a Sam & Sam companion novel…  More if I can do it.  This was a very productive year, as I mentioned, and I’m setting my sights on even more in 2017, trying to simply improve my work output for every month, compared to the previous year.  It’s a strategy that I have to use carefully, to make sure that I don’t let my goals become such rock-face mountains that I just don’t even try to climb them, but the path I see for 2017 feels very do-able right now.

The trick, for me, to accomplishing huge things is flexibility.  Set big goals, revisit them often, and adjust as my priorities, interests, and availability change, and then try (try, oh, try) to see the shortcomings as successes, because the goals were so high in the first place.  In a positive mindset, it works.  There are definitely days that it doesn’t.  That said, the magic of flexibility is being able to take new information into account, as I get it.

Information like reader feedback.

There are a few kinds of reader feedback.  The most obvious is dollars, and with all the love in my heart for my most avid readers, if they aren’t loving the stuff that is selling well, I’m going to prioritize the things that sell well, and try to find spare moments to advance the work that they are clamoring for.  This does happen.  That said, having readers who are really excited about new work and upcoming releases is more motivating than anything else I know of, so if you don’t see your favorite characters represented on either my release or my writing schedule, speak up!  I’d love to hear it.  I’ve packed out both the release and production schedules for 2017, but I didn’t mention everything I’m planning in the list above, because they’re things I’m a lot more flexible on.  It’s easy to swap out one book for another, at this stage, if I find that the one I’ve chosen isn’t the one my readers are most excited about.

You can use the contact me button up above any time you like, for anything that you want to tell me about.  Sincerely, I love hearing from readers (and other people in the industry – hello, other writers!), and I answer most of the e-mails I get.

Hope your year-end planning has been as encouraging as mine, and I’ll see you in 2017!

Dreams

This idea has been with me for a very long time. Most authors have something to say about dreams, or they’ve written something that was based on a dream, and here’s mine: I’m deeply jealous of my dreaming self. She’s so much more creative than I am – she tells better stories than I do, ones that are so removed from any of the rootstock of my own fictional life that they look and feel genuinely creative and new…

I went through a phase, maybe six weeks, when I did not dream. I didn’t do anything while I was asleep but sleep, and I would wake in the morning, clear-minded but without any sense that time had passed since I’d fallen asleep. (I am not a morning person, normally. I’m muddled and drunk on dreams.) I’d get up and go through my day without really looking forward to going to bed at night, because I didn’t get that basting time in my own mind that sleeping usually represents. The time was just… gone.

This phase terrified me. I still fear it coming back, though it was many years ago and it didn’t last that long, in the scope of things, but it was like forgetting how to speak or suddenly discovering that my best friend was imaginary. The first night that I returned to the swirling stew of dreams that is a normal night’s sleep was a relief that I can’t begin to describe, and I’ve never taken dreaming for granted, since. Continue reading “Dreams”

Tell Me a Story

It should probably come as no surprise that I am a passionate person. Most writers are, and for good reason. Caring about the details of writing demands passion if you’re going to enjoy it, and I love writing. I love the experience of it, sitting down and working at it for an hour or more at a time and walking away with a piece of a universe that didn’t exist before sitting at the page. I get moody and angry for days when I lose work to the malicious gremlins that live in my computer, and I’m a bit compulsive when it comes to my backup scheme.

My mom carries a jump drive in her purse with all of my work on it. I’m not sure she knows that, but it’s there.

More than writing, though, I’m passionate about stories.

For the last four years, I’ve participated in NaNo, the national (international, these days) novel writing month, a massive, worldwide festival of celebrating writing fast. I tell time in years by which NaNo project I worked on in that year. I can tell you what was going on in my life by book, and those four Novembers stand as signposts that tell me how far back something really was. Continue reading “Tell Me a Story”