A winnar is me.

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

Esther is just behind me in this, but I figured I’d post my thingy to be all thingy now.

So, I won Nano.  And I feel cheesy even saying that.  “Win” is a word that usually refers to a competition.  It implies that I somehow accomplished something.  But as I said in an earlier post, all it means is that I shat out 50,000 words of a novel.  It’s by no means complete; I haven’t even written the final chapters yet.  I don’t have the rough draft of what I would call “a novel,” just most of one.  But still. I win.

Hooray?

This whole experience, to me, feels as through I just wasted a month.  Going into November, I could have been working on the revisions to book 3, a novel I’m actually proud of.  I could have been drafting short stories for the upcoming sequel to Beer Saves the World, or the new anthology for Campcon.  I could have been doing anything but mickey-mousing the plot of this ridiculous book in order to complete an artificial word count in an artificial period of time.

When are you going to get to read this novel?  Never, most likely.  It needs burning, and badly.  It’s 50,000 words, and almost all of them are crap.

So, I promised an update on my perspective by the end of the month, and here it is:  my perspective is largely unchanged.

Nano, I believe, can be a wonderful tool for those who have never completed a novel.  It offers a massive support structure, and a lot of assistance getting through those 50,000 words.  I am sure that, had I participated in Nano before publishing two novels, and before I signed a three-book deal with my publisher, I would have appreciated it for what it is able to do:  teach people that finishing a novel is possible.

That’s really step one to completing the novel.  Ass goes into chair, and typing begins.  And Nano does that, and for that it has value.

But I’m looking at the dreck I produced in my slapdash effort to make it to the end, and I’m realizing that Nano teaches you to complete the novel.  It does not teach you to make the novel worth a damn.  In fact, when the finish line (today) loomed near, I stopped doing any kind of creativity or quality control.  I work a full-time job, and completing Nano on top of that and going to Orycon meant I had to bear the hell down when it came to getting this thing done.  And the result is?  Nothing I would ever care that the public read.

So does Nano have value?  Absolutely.  But it has value for an author at a certain stage of their writing career–namely, the very beginning.  Does Nano have value to me now?  No.  I would go so far as to say that it has a negative impact on my writing now, as I could have been working on something good, but instead I did this.  Will I be participating in Nano 2015?  Hell no.  Been there, done that, got the “winner” logo to post on my blog, was offered the ability to purchase a t-shirt.

I left open the question, at the end of my last Nano post, as to whether or not Nano was a cancer on the indie publishing community.  That question remains open.  I say “cancer,” because I believe the analogy is accurate.  A cancer is a growth that uncontrollably grows, depleting the bodies resources for no function.  My Nano novel, which is still titleless, grew uncontrollably, and uselessly, and took the resources that could have otherwise been devoted to healthy writing pursuits.  I feel like it might be doing the same across the industry.

Still, it has value for beginners.  So if you love doing Nano, then good on you.  Enjoy it.  Post the graphic and call yourself a winner.  I have.  A winner is me.  But I’d prefer to be working on things I can be proud of, instead of being proud of that.

 

On Shirtgate, and the response thereto.

Let me begin by stating that this is Frog writing, not Esther, and my thoughts are not necessarily our thoughts.  This one is all me, she can respond if she so chooses.

The shirt thing is getting crazy.  There’s an inflationary thing the internet does, where one person has a thought that might make coherent sense, and it is taken to its completely irrational extreme within the space of, say, thirty seconds.

1.  That shirt was wildly inappropriate.

Come on, dude.  You’re going on television.  Have the sense to dress appropriately.  I’m not talking about the women, by the way; I’m simply talking about representing yourself as a professional while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.  Maybe it’s because I wear a suit to work every day, but really?  Hawaiian shirt?

That said, it’s not like he really needed to impress anyone with his attire.  He’d just led a team that landed on a comet.  That was pretty impressive, and I’m willing to give him a pass on bad taste.

2.  Sexual Objectification is, generally, wrong.

Can we agree to this?  That treating people as sex objects and nothing more is a bad thing?  Good.  And there’s no doubt that shirt screams I likes me some ass and titties.  It is one step away from simply glue-sticking the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to one’s torso.  The shirt, therefore, was doubly wrong; tacky and misogynist.

3.  That said, the reaction to the shirt was over-the-top.

That shirt is undeniably tacky.  But so was the response to it.  I’m sorry, feminists, but there are better battles to pick.  A passing comment along the lines of “Wow, dude hit a comet.  Not a great shirt, but still, cool guy.” would have been about right.

That’s not what Rose Eveleth did.  Her tweet, in its entirety, reads “No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt.”

That dude was not making any comments about women in the scientific community.  He wasn’t there to engage in this conversation.  And by referring to him as “the dude in this shirt,” she made it look as though his accomplishments were less important to her than the shirt.  Which leads me to my next point:

4.  Accomplishments do not justify misogyny.

Let’s start there.  I do not believe “landed on a comet” means “gets to be a dick.”  That said,

5.  Minimizing accomplishments does not lend itself well to the cause of feminism.

Here’s the problem:  It’s not that I support the shirt.  It’s that ranting about the shirt without at least tipping the hat to the purpose of the clip in which the shirt was worn just looks ignorant.  It gives the impression that you think your thing is more important than his thing.

His thing?  It’s pretty massive.  Referring to him as “the guy in this shirt” without even naming him?  It says more about you than it does about him.  Oh, sure, you’ve thrown some meat to the feminists who already agree with you, but what good has that done?  None.  At all.  Instead, you’ve given every cockbiting asshole out there all kinds of ammunition to use against you.  Bravo.

I don’t think that was the intent.  I think this was a quick tweet, minimized for character count, and sent on its way.  That’s all this is.  But being very careful about how you phrase such things is pretty important, because it gave the impression to many that it was the only thing in that clip you cared about.  And that clip?  It was about some shit that may damn well change the future of humanity.

In other words, nobody who wasn’t already a feminist was looking at the shirt.

And when you refer to him as “the guy in this shirt,” as though that shirt is what he’s known for, it makes you look like an idiot.
6.  As a result, #Shirtgate/#Shirtstorm has done more harm to feminism than good.

Look at all the feminist articles out there.  They are in damage control mode.  The one I linked at the top?  Pure DC.  Meanwhile, in conservative crazy land, the opponents of feminism are taking a victory lap.

7.  Maybe pick your battles next time.

In short, I think feminists had a point on this one.  This was a wildly inappropriate and offensive shirt.  But in bashing the guy, and not trying to be polite and informative, they hurt themselves.  They attacked someone for something in the zenith of his 15 minutes.  Not a good call.  Bad PR for feminism.

If you want to change the culture, you couldn’t have picked a worse way to do it.  Pick your battles better, next time.

Halfway through Nano

So, this weekend marks the midpoint of November.  It also marks the half-way point on my NaNoWriMo word count.  I’m recovering after Orycon, which set me back in my word count, but I’ve managed to make up ground this weekend.

So far, I’m learning some things from the experience.  I’ll try and condense it down, but there’s a lot of thoughts I have mulling about and I’m going to try to crystallize them here.  Before anyone jumps down my throat about what I’m about to say, I recognize that this is a hot-button issue amongst writers.  There are some who are die-hard fans of the practice, and others who wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.  NaNo is, undoubtedly, a force in the writing world, and there are many who take advantage of it and ride that wave to help them create something great.  There are many who think it interferes with greatness.

Me, I’m of two minds about it.  So here’s my musings, such as they are.

Positive Things I Have Learned:

1.  I can throw down some serious word count

Twice, now, I have topped 10,000 words in a day.  That’s over three average-length chapters for one of the Gift of Grace books; for my NaNo project, it’s about five chapters.  When I’m on a roll, the dam breaks and the words hit the page.  My word count is quickly approaching the 30k mark, and I have only really devoted two weekends to the pursuit.  By the time my four-day Thanksgiving expires, I will have stuck a fork in this thing easily.

2.  My non-collaborative work is pretty organic

Esther and I are working on two separate projects, and that means I’m free to take these characters and this world and run with it.  My characters pretty consistently surprise me with the crap they pull, and I have absolutely no idea how this whole thing is going to end.  I know it’s going to end in 20,000 words, give or take, but I don’t know how yet.  That’s a little terrifying, but it’s a lot of fun totally pants-ing something.

3.  The less revision you do to yourself in your zero draft, the better

This one I’ve preached many time, and so this is more of a confirmation than anything else.  I’ve said it before, but the absolute best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received is “Put Your Ass In the Chair and Keep Typing.”  I am, in fact, taking this opportunity to coin the following term:  PAIC, for PUT ASS IN CHAIR.

asschair

 NaNo, by enforcing a word count on me, has actually forced me to PAIC.  I’m not concerned about revisions; if I get to the end of this book, and it’s something that I feel like is worth pursuing, then I’ll go back and polish it.  Right now, I’m shitting out a word count as quickly as I possibly can.  Most of those words will, eventually, need to be changed, but the rough cuts of a story are taking shape very, very quickly.

I’ve been on a couple of teams for writing workshops, now.  This will probably be a blog post all its own, but I want to mention it here.  Twice, now, I’ve critiqued a Chapter One for someone, and in speaking that person have found out that they have ceased roughing out their story to focus on making sure they got Chapter 1 right.  This is pure lunacy, as what you decide to write in Chapter 14 may very well completely change what needs to happen in Chapter 1.  NaNo drives home the need to get your word count in first, revision later, and I really appreciate that because it is absolutely the correct way of doing things.

And now, the not-so-positive observations:

There’s a false sense of completion at the end of NaNo.

Get 50,000 words done, and you “win” NaNo.  Win.  There’s no competition, mind you, but you get to claim a “win.”  That’s all you need, is that word count.  Write 50,000 words? Then:

a_winner_is_you20110724-22047-1nd3wif

 

But remember when I said I was just shitting out word count as fast as I could?  I called that a good thing, and it is.  Revisions are pointless until you’ve got the whole thing roughed in, and you know what your story looks like front-to-back.  Getting the whole thing roughed out is absolutely the first step, the thing that enables your revisions to be worth a damn.

But I used the verb “shitting” very intentionally.  Doing this?  It is only step one.

Roughing a story is a hell of a lot more fun than revising it.  Word count is fabulous, really, and driving that word count home feels great.  It feels like you’re doing something.  But it is the most emotionally satisfying and least difficult part of the novel-drafting process.  Revision is an excruciating, tooth-pulling nightmare of a process, and it is absolutely necessary to complete your novel.  We use the terminology from the art of sculpture; “roughing” and “polishing.”  So let’s extend the metaphor a little bit.

Here is your novel at the end of the rough-draft process that NaNo gets you through:

unfinished

Note, if you will, that while you can basically tell what the statue is going to look like, it is by no means complete.  Michelangelo never finished this thing.  Now, because of that it’s currently worth a lot, but that only works if you get (1) really famous, and (2) dead.  If (God forbid) GRRM eats it before finishing Volume VII of Song of Ice and Fire, you can be damn sure that unfinished draft will be worth something to someone.  But your NaNo project?  Not so much.

Making the rough cuts on a statue is the easy part.  You take a big-ass, heavy chisel, and you get some stone the hell out of the way.  Woo!  The marble chips fly and shit is getting done.

But the art, the true beauty, isn’t achieved that way.  It’s achieved with fine-grained rasps and with pumice and cloth, polishing the stone into a perfect smoothness.  It’s meticulous, painstaking work, and hours can go by without a significant change to the statue as a whole.  But therein lies the true art:

David_von_MichelangeloSee the difference?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and therein lies the problem.  There is this persistent feeling that, once you’ve got 50,000 words in a file, you have written a novel.  That’s so far from the truth it’s laughable.  Getting a rough draft done is great, but you haven’t written a novel until you’ve actually finished the revisions.  NaNo glorifies the easiest part of writing, and gives a hand-wave to the rest of it.

There is, at least, a hand-wave.  You can “sign a pledge” once you “win” to revise, but there’s no additional kudos given for someone who revises their novel.  No, that’s extra, a bonus.  Revision is treated by NaNo as an afterthought, when it is the real meat and substance about the art.  Can you imagine someone looking at Michelangelo after he’d roughed in a statue and saying “Wow, Mikey.  That’s amazing.  You Win!  We consider this complete.  You can, if you so choose, promise to polish it up a bit, but pretty much we think it’s great that you did this much.”  Of course not.  But that’s what NaNo has essentially done with thousands upon thousands of aspiring authors.  And this leads me to my final, earth-shattering conclusion:

NaNoWriMo may do some good, but is also responsible for a whole bunch of really terrible books on the market today.

Looking back at the time we spent struggling with the Friday Indie Review, it was God-Awful.  There was so much dreck that my eyeballs had to absorb.  Looking back, many of those novels were the products of NaNo.  50,000 words in a month, followed by a hand-wave at revision, and then a jump straight into publication.  Is it any wonder that they stank with the perfume of a thousand maggot-infested corpses?  Hell no.  I’m looking at what I’ve thrown on a page so far this month, and I’m not even willing to share the basic plot outline here.  It’s not very good, at the moment.  I would be ashamed to let it see the light of day in its current state.  And I’m pretty sure mine’s one of the better ones.

So I write this blog post.  Maybe, when I get to the end of the process, I’ll have some further revelations.  I see a lot of good coming from NaNo, but I also think there’s a chance it might be a cancer on the indie book industry.  The jury is still out on that one.

 

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received, or This Article Is Full Of It

For a website supposedly devoted to helping writers become authors, they certainly have a really strange way of showing it.

In the summer of 2012, we had just submitted Grace Under Fire for consideration.  We attended Spocon, where the madness began.  There, I received the greatest piece of writing advice ever given to me.

For those of you who have never read anything by CJ Cherryh, you’ve done yourself a disfavor.  She’s a wonderful author, and absolutely one of the wisest people I have seen doing the con circuits.  She also brooks absolutely no bullshit, and is quick to the point of incendiary to refute it when she hears it.  I didn’t ask the question; someone in the audience did.  They asked “I always start novels, but I can never finish them.  How do you finish the novel?”

CJ cut the rest of the panel off, answering before any moderator had the chance to stop her.  She burst forth with the best piece of writing advice I have ever received, bar none.

Put your ass in the chair and keep typing.

That was it.  No other response could be given.  It was that simple.  Don’t stop writing.  Even if you think the ideas are bad, don’t stop.  Even when it seems like you’re up against a wall, don’t stop.  Put your ass in the chair and keep typing.  Do not worry about whether it sucks.  That’s what revision is there for.  You may end up changing everything but love of God, put your ass in the chair and keep typing.  It is, bar none, the only way to finish a novel.

So let’s look at what Ms. Weiland, who appears to make her living giving advice on writing instead of doing it, has to say.  Actually, Ms. Weiland’s most concise statement isn’t her own; she cribs it from Margaret Atwood’s article in Writer’s Digest:

You know when you’re not ready; you may be wrong about being ready, but you’re rarely wrong about being not ready. You keep trying, but you may wait a while between the tries. … I’ve had books that didn’t work out. I had to stop writing them. … It was depressing, but it wasn’t the end of the world. …sometimes you bash yourself against the wall and you get through it. But sometimes the wall is just a wall. There’s nothing to be done but go somewhere else.

Bullshit.

Here’s the thing:  stories aren’t magically ready to be written.  There is no divine muse out there, waiting to wave her magic wand and inspire you with the muddle-in-the-middle portion of your story.  There is only you.  You and a blank computer screen, a yawning void waiting for you to try to fill it.

So what should you do when you hit a wall?  Should you “go somewhere else?”  Hell no.  That wall is an artificial construct, it’s there because you put it there.  Only you can remove it, and there’s only one way to do that.  Put your ass in the chair and keep typing.  Don’t make weak-assed excuses to yourself like “I guess this story isn’t ready to be written yet.  Put your ass in the chair and start typing.  Find ways around.  Switch your perspective character, write from a different viewpoint.  Write the end and work backwards.  DO SOMETHING.  But don’t sit there and tell yourself that, because you’ve hit a wall, it’s time to work on something else.

I did that.  I did that for years.  Do you know how many novel-beginnings I’ve written?  ‘Cause I don’t.  I have absolutely no clue how many tattered remnants of a story litter the hard drives of my various computers.  It’s a lot, I’ll tell you that, but the one thing all of those novels have in common is this:  I gave myself an excuse to stop writing them.

You can make yourself feel better by blaming the story.  “This story isn’t ready to be written yet,” you can say, adopting the stance of the pretentious artiste whose work is a living thing.  But that’s a cop-out, and deep down you know it.  In any given project, you are going to hit a wall.  It is Going To Happen.  The moment you hit that wall, you’ve got a choice.  You can take the easy path, walk away, start a different novel that will also die on the vine, or you can follow the wisest writing advice I have ever heard from one of the greatest authors I have had the honor to share a panel with.

Ass.  Chair.  Write.  Now.

Orycon 36:

Just got back from Orycon 36.  Interesting con.

To begin with, Esther had to take a different car entirely.  She got last-minute notice of a job interview.  Now, as much as we’d like to blow off having a day job in favor of being rich and famous authors, we’re not exactly there yet.  So she had to pass her panels off to me (the ones she could) and head down later.

I opened Friday with a Dark Fairy Tales panel with The Duchess Herself.  Walking into that panel next to her was…um…interesting.  I’ll quote her blog on the subject directly:

 

I ambled across to the proper venue with another panelist, and discovered that the room contained nothing but three towering stacks of chairs.  We all just assumed that, this being a Dark Fairy Tales panel, the goblins had been there before us.

 

This panel was followed rapidly by one in which we (the whole room) collectively outlined a story.  This story ended up being about a lone mermaid, away from her home, pissing off Poseidon.  I’m honestly a little interested to see whether anyone writes that up or not.  Still, Jason Andrew managed to guide the rest of us poor lost souls into something of an outline format, and all walked away pretty happy.

I’m not going to go panel-by-panel through the con.  That would take forever, as I ran (yet another) marathon of panels in this one.

Also got to hang out with a lot of old friends.  Phyl Radford, Bob Brown, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, and a whole list of others.  Saw some old faces, saw some new faces.  Finally tasted Radioactive Sludge (thank you to the good folks from Radcon for that particular, uh, delicacy).

Our marketing technique was all kinds of fun this con.  We wrote a mini-adventure for Robert and Grace, one that falls in between books 1 and 2 of The Gift of Grace series.  They came in at around 1500 words each, and combined at 3,000ish.  It’s a story of our heroes’ attempt to seal a breach in the Weave coming through in two places at once.  (Robert’s is entitled “A Day at the Beach,” while Grace’s is entitled “A Walk in the Park.”)  We then put these on stories on brochures; I carried Robert’s brochure, and Esther carried Grace’s.

“Free Flash Fiction” works really well as a pitch for people to pick up someone’s marketing materials.  But then the fan would discover that they could hunt down the other spouse to receive the other half of the story.  Throughout the con, Esther and I were sought out by people who had read one perspective of the story, and not the other.  It became something of a scavenger hunt for authors, which is about as cool as things can possibly get.

What’s that?  You want to read “A Day at the Beach” and “A Walk in the Park?”  Better catch us at the upcoming Radcon, then, because these stories are exclusively available to people who find us at cons.  Until then, I guess you’re out of luck.

All in all, I have to say that Orycon was a hell of a lot of work, and a hell of a lot of fun.  The staff was fabulous, the room setup was confusing but not overly so, and the panels were, for the most part, engaging, varied, and interesting.  A big shout out to all the cool folks who made it happen, and we can’t wait for Orycon 37.