Friday, November 27, 2015

Final NaNo thoughts

I know, I know. It's not the end of November yet. Neither have I "won" NaNo, with 50K words added to the wordcount of my NewBook.

But I'm officially wrapping up the posts now, because I've gotten what I wanted out of the month - forward momentum on the NewBook, with a sense (finally!) that I know where it's going and I know what I need to do to get there. Plus also, more words written on it, and better ones. Plus even more also, I have gotten my feet back under me, short-fiction wise - this month I've written, cleaned up, polished and submitted stories again, some from nothing, some from previous drafts that my brain hadn't been ready to wrangle with before.

I'm not sure how much sitting down and telling myself that this was the month to do this helped. I didn't keep a tight record of my wordcount, so I can't say what it would have been like to "officially" see that meter move (or not). My guess is, knowing myself, and knowing the way I felt at the beginning of the month in particular, having a low wordcount day could have really messed with my head. But I also know there were days when I kept writing, just because I wanted to hit that next round number of words in the file.

Basically, I feel much more like a functional writer again than I did at the beginning of the month, and that, for me, is a huge win.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Guillotine Fantastique

Just look at this.

Completely beautiful, right? And available today, for those of you who enjoy tiny heartbreaks of fiction, handbound into a chapbook. You can find all the ordering information here.

If you've never read Sofia's work before, well, here is an excellent chance to change that. I will warn you now that you will then want to read her entire back catalogue - she's a brilliant flame in the field.

Here, taken from her blog, is an except from "Meet Me in Iram":

I remember when I was a kid, on long car trips, I’d imagine a giant saw was attached to my side of the car. The saw could cut through anything. It sliced fences, it sliced trees. The fences gave a swift groan and exposed the hollow insides of their poles. The trees went snick and fell over with juicy ease, the tops of the stumps left gleaming moist and pale, like a wound before the blood comes. I was leveling the whole country from my seat in the back of the car. I don’t know why it gave me so much pleasure. 

Here's a bit from "Those Are Pearls," which is about curses, and sisters, and seeing things.

There are rituals. Traditions. A curse, once broken, breaks easier a second time. Death becomes one hundred years of sleep, becomes one thousand and one nights telling stories. We know what our curses are when we see them, and we know their undoing.

But there is a catch. We may know how to break curses, but they knew how to bind us in the first place.

I'm so pleased to be part of this project, and I can't wait for you to read these stories.

Monday, November 16, 2015

NaNo update; openings for clients

So, we're halfway through November. If you're writing right now, whether for NaNo, or for project finish your draft, or you're trying to write 1000 words this month just because, whatever it is, I hope things are going well for you.

I am still making forward progress on my draft-finishing. The scenes are still small and bare, but there are more of them every day, so I am happy. I also got a short story into draft yesterday, and I am pretty excited about this. I am trying to let myself remember to celebrate the small victories at the same time that I keep my eyes on my larger goals. 

I also wanted to take a moment and let people know that I am open for editing clients, both now, and for your NaNo projects. 

Here's the basic information:

Here's who I am: I have over 30 professional short fiction sales. My work has been performed on NPR, included in year’s best and best of anthologies, and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the WSFA Small Press Award. My novella with Maria Dahvana Headley, The End of the Sentence, was chosen as one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014. I am a graduate of Clarion at UCSD, and am represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. My debut novel, Roses and Rot, will be out from Saga Press in 2016. Additionally, I have a Ph.D. in English Literature, and have taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels at the University of Minnesota, and Stonybrook University. I have also taught an Intro to Writing SFF course with LitReactor.

In other words, I have experience, both as a writer, and in helping other people make their writing better.

Here's what I do: I help you edit for content - so, this is not copy-editing, or line-editing, or the kind of thing where you have someone read over your manuscript for typos. In fact, unless I can't understand it, I'm going to leave your sentence-level prose alone. What I will do is offer you feedback on character, plot, theme, overall story, that sort of thing. I'll also be sure to include feedback on any specific questions that you have. 

What you need: A completed manuscript. This can be anywhere from your hot mess of a NaNo draft to something that you think is polished enough to start querying with. While I primarily write SFF, I'm happy to work with writers in any genre. I've worked with people who have self published, and with people who have successfully pursued traditional publishing. You do not need any previous publications or credentials - I am happy to work with writers at any career stage. I really mean this - there are always people who worry that they need writing credits, or to send me a writing sample, or to edit their manuscript again before I see it, and that's just not the case. I'm not here to judge your writing, I'm here to help you find ways to make it stronger. 

If you think you're interested: Contact me at We'll talk about exactly what you're looking for, my rates, and the turnaround time for your manuscript. Please note that these last two are based on manuscript length, so if you know your approximate word count, that will help me answer your questions. I'm happy to answer any questions.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I mean, I'm not the only one with "How do you write like you're running out of time?" playing on a closed loop in their head right now, right?

The thing about something like NaNo is that even if you don't hit the 50K wordcount that signals winning by the end of the month, you've still got more words than you started with. More words is good! (looks at grammar of preceding sentence, shrugs, moves on.)

I have stopped considering my relative wordcount. I am pretty sure that defeats some of the purpose of NaNo, but here's why. I'm not necessarily looking for more words - though I'll have that, too, at the end of this - I'm looking for more story. I need to get the events of the book closer to the end of the book. Because of that, I have spent the past few days writing a lot of scenes very very fast.

Objectively considered, theses scenes are mostly crap right now. They're all telling instead of showing, or all dialogue. Almost none of them have any setting to speak of. There are no subtleties of character, no efforts at including theme. 90% of what I'm writing right now is me writing towards plot beats.

I could go back. I could fill these scenes out, and get my wordcount, no problem. I am one of those writers whose drafts always grow in revision under normal circumstances, and the way I'm writing now is even barer, more stripped down, than normal. But if I went back and filled out those scenes, I'd be losing the forward momentum on this book even if my wordcount said otherwise.

And I hate leaving those scenes like that! The only way I can turn off the part of my brain that says, "You know, these are really not quite" is to keep a list of notes - scenes that I need to add in earlier to make what happens later make sense, and emotional beats I need to hit, and also maybe some setting, somewhere, anywhere. If I have that list of notes, then I can trust that I'll fix it in post, and I can keep writing.

My goal for this month is to get to the end of the draft. The only way I can do that is to not look back.

Monday, November 9, 2015

State of the writer: when you can't write

Here is the latest in my ongoing series of posts about finishing my novel draft this month in a somewhat NaNo-like fashion. Previous posts can be found by checking the archives for November.

The first thing I want to do is call your attention to this post from Mary Robinette Kowal, "Sometimes Writers Block Is Really Depression." It's a good post. Go read it. I'll still be here when you get back.


I don't have depression, but I do know what it's like to have mental illness get in the way of my writing. I have anxiety. It's been officially part of my medical profile for about three years now - I see a doctor, I take medication. I have made some behavior and lifestyle changes. All of these things help; none of them are magic cures.

(I am turning off comments on this post, but please, if your kind and helpful instinct is to email or tweet me with hints as to how I can manage my anxiety, know that I appreciate your thoughts, but I am asking you to refrain.)

It took me a while to get help. I wish I had done so earlier, but anxiety is a jerk, and wouldn't let me. It wasn't until I literally couldn't write - because the idea of starting something and getting it wrong filled me with such terror that I couldn't open my notebook, even though I had deadlines and editors waiting on things, even though I had bills to pay, and if I didn't write, I wouldn't be able to pay them - that I finally was able to ask for the help I needed.

Mary is right - sometimes there are story-based reasons for writers block. Sometimes, you get the don't wannas, and you have to ask yourself seriously how much writing, or writing this particular project means to you. But sometimes, there are days that you can't write. Sometimes there are days that you can't write, even though you want and need to be writing that day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes circumstances out of your control get in the way.

It can be really hard when that happens. First, there's your own feeling of disappointment or grumpiness at not hitting your goal. But there can be the outside pressure hearing that real writers write, that professionals don't have time to get blocked, that you should be writing every day, of the feeling that everyone else is succeeding faster. Hearing those things - even the parts of them that may be good advice, or worth considering, or standards to motivate yourself against on a good day - well, they can be less than useless on a bad one.

I'm a person who is generally happier when I am writing on a schedule. I have wordcount or pagecount or project goals. I make lists. I do this everyday. Not - anymore - because I believe I have to do these things to be a Real Writer, but because I have learned that this is the way I work best.

I have also learned that there are some days that - even though I have tried, even though I have put my butt in the chair at the appointed time, and turned off the internet, and tried all the tricks to jumpstart things - that I am not going to make those goals. (Please see yesterday's post on my current wordcount.) I've learned that beating myself up over this isn't helpful. I try, on those days, very hard to allow myself to see the things I did accomplish, and then to let go of the ways that I fell short, so that I can keep moving forward.

It's really easy to be cruel to yourself when you fall short of your goals. Try and take care of yourself, too.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

State of the Kat, draft-finishing month

I'm not sure exactly what it is about this particular draft that has me inspired to fire up the blog and note its progress, but here I go anyway.

(Previous entry here.)

The short answer is, my wordcount isn't where I would like it to be right now.

The more complicated and better answer is, while I wish that I had more words on the page (in the computer, in this stack of scribbled-upon print outs that is large enough to have terrified the cat when she knocked it over the other day), I am actually okay with where my progress is right now. I have forward motion on the draft again, and I can see where things are going, at least for right now, and those are the two biggest things that had been giving me difficulty. I am taking this as a win - because it is - and I am not beating myself up over lack of wordcount, because I cannot change what has happened on the days that have already passed.

It is a really drafty draft. Even the first three chapters, which I had gotten into good enough shape at one point to send to my editor as a proof of concept (this book, while not under deadline, is under contract, and I wanted to be sure that he would want it) now have new scenes and new people in. At least three times today, I had to stop and say "It's only a draft, you can fix it later" out loud to myself. I am better at trusting myself to fix things later, but that doesn't mean it's easy - I can hear my internal editor, following along just a few sentences behind me, reminding me that this scene would be better if it were more active, that I still haven't established a sufficient motivation for this character's behavior, that the end of the scene still needs another beat to close it out, and why don't I just sit here and twist my brain around it until I know exactly what that is?

My wordcount isn't where I would like it to be, but I am writing, and the book is moving. This is a win. If you are writing right now, I hope your wordcount is where you want it to be. But if it isn't, look for the progress you've made. Because you have made some. Give yourself the win. And keep going.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Some thoughts on writing and rules

I used to be a big jerk about National Novel Writing Month.

I didn't really think about it one way or another until I started writing seriously, but then, I was Very Grumpy about it. Real writers wrote all the time! Often in daily wordcounts that were more than the NaNo requirement! And 50K words isn't a novel anyway! NaNo was clearly not for real writers. I was very snarky about it. 

I want to be clear that I no longer feel like this.

Here's the thing. I like rules. They give me a lot of comfort. If there are rules, then I can follow them, and I can know I am doing The Right Thing.

When I was just starting out as a writer, I had almost no confidence that I was Doing It Right. So I looked for rules. I read process books and writers' blogs and anything I could get my hands on that would tell me how to do it. I made rules for myself - stringent ones, ones that some of my favorite writers followed, and ones that I put together on my own - so that I could have something to cling to that made me feel like maybe I was a real writer. (Imagine a tiny trademark symbol there.)

And I didn't cut myself any slack, because I didn't trust myself with it. Which meant that when I talked about writing, oh, say, on a blog (maybe this one even) (probably) I was rigid. Prescriptive. Sometimes probably a jerk.

I was, even though I didn't realize it at the time, sort of being a jerk to myself, too. By making all those rules (some of which I needed then, to help learn habits and discipline, some of which are still useful to me now), I gave myself a million tiny ways to be afraid of not doing the right thing. To fail. To let the brain goblins in on a bad day.

And, in a way, to be unhelpful to other writers. I mean, I've pretty much come to feel that there are few absolute rules in this business. Do what you need to do to get the words on the page, and know that that might change from story to story, from book to book. But I remember what it's like to see the people in the field that I looked up to talking about how they write, and I remember measuring my process against theirs, and making myself feel lacking because mine was different. Not rigorous enough. Not professional.

Which is some kind of bullshit, I tell you what. Because at the end of the day, I don't need to make anyone else's process work in order to write a book, and neither do you. We just need to figure out what works for us. For this scene. For this project. For today.

I was talking to a friend this weekend about a novel draft I've been bashing my head against, and I said that I thought the biggest change in my process since I started writing was that I trust myself to fix things now. I am not one of those writers who generates clean first drafts. Mine are hot messes, shitty first drafts. I wind up rewriting and throwing out A LOT. But I am a good reviser. And no one needs to see those hot messes of words except me.

I'm not officially doing NaNo this month, but I've got about 50K left in this zero draft to write, and so my goal is to push my way through it, and get to the end of that first bad draft by the end of November. Because that's what I need to do right now. Because that's what works for today. Because the only thing that matters is what gets the words on the page.