The curse of fast fingers

Some good news last night regarding my current rewriting project:


Yay! Ten down, twenty-eight to go. ^_^;;

That sounds like a lot, but actually it isn’t. Even though my progress has been a bit slow since I started this project, that has largely been due to my own procrastination, as well as several other projects taking my time and attention. (See also: The weather has been FANTASTIC here in Knoxville lately, so I decided to start a garden. Anyone who’s ever tried their hand at gardening–no matter how casual–will know how much time/energy that takes) So even though the hard numbers might sound a bit daunting, I’m extremely confident and happy that things are going well. Despite breaking a much-lauded writing rule with this project, I continue to feel it was absolutely the right decision, and I regret nothing.

Yesterday, I spent a bit of time looking back on what caused me to break this rule in the first place. Those who read the original post will already know that this happened because I got badly off-track with my plot, writing myself into several corners that I just couldn’t seem to get out of. It pretty much killed all enthusiasm I had for this novel, which was a shame because my outline was perfect and I never should have deviated from it.

But what I realized is that said deviation didn’t happen slowly, or even deliberately. In fact, it almost happened for a second time while I was rewriting Chapter 8. I got off on a tangent and my fast fingers took off, skittering over the keys and pumping out nearly 1,000 words before I realized what I’d done. I had to go back and carefully prune what I’d written to keep it in line with what I wanted, because as soon as I looked at it, I realized that if I followed this tangent it would ruin the sequence of upcoming events in a way that would have me firmly back in Square One. It was an easy fix, but if I hadn’t caught on to it right away, it might have ended up being a lot more difficult.

Me, plunging headfirst into an endless snowdrift of words. (image originally from a friend's FB page)

Me, plunging headfirst into an endless snowdrift of words.
(Thanks to a friend for posting this adorableness on her FB page <3)

As I pondered this event, it occurred to me that I do this a lot. I’m an incredibly fast typer–I think I clocked myself at 90 wpm once–despite never being formally trained. I can pump out a 6,000 word narrative in about two hours if I know what I want to say, or I’m under the gaze of a timer. (Word sprints are my jam… particularly when I’ve had a lot of caffeine. >.>) Now, whether or not those 6,000 words are any good is another matter entirely. But since I pretty much learned how to write from participating in year after year of NaNoWriMo, (and listening to a lot of podcasts) it’s become my habit to follow those tangents, pump out the words no matter what they’re like. This feels great at the time…but afterwards, it’s more like getting into a sports car, assuming an incredibly fast speed, and plowing straight into a snowdrift made up of my own imaginings.

And it’s a tough balance, too, because sometimes those tangents are wonderful. Many writers, myself included, have had that moment of “Wow! Did I just write that?” when something unexpected comes out of our fingertips. Maybe a character goes off and does something we weren’t expecting, or our subconscious selves patch a particularly glaring Plot Hole without us even realizing that we’ve got the sticking plaster in our hands. Obviously, I don’t want to slam down the gates and forbid myself from ever doing this. BUT, it’s also not a good idea to get into sports cars and plow into snowdrifts. It’s bad for the paint job, the insurance, and Future You who is going to have to edit all of this shit at some point. (That is, of course, assuming that you don’t end up like me, and write yourself into awful corners before you even get to editing.)

I mentioned NaNoWriMo earlier, and I’d like to mention them again to say that they’re a big reason why I’m the writer I am today. But I also learned some bad habits from them. Don’t take this as me bashing NaNo. (And none of that in the comments, either! I know how some folks feel about NaNo, but do me a favor and just cool your jets) I don’t regret a single moment of my time spent participating in NaNo, not at all. They were reckless, they were fun, and the friendships I formed (or strengthened) were precious to me back then. And like I said, I probably never would have kept writing had it not been for NaNo. My dad, in his desperate efforts to mold me into a “successful” author when I was younger, would have pretty much squeezed every last drop of joy out of the writing process. NaNo helped restore that for me, and I’m eternally grateful. But they definitely taught me a few things I need to unlearn now that I’m having trouble.

And, hey! For some folks, writing with reckless abandon might be something that works really, really well for them. (Go for it!) For me, it’s dangerous. Maybe it’s because I write too fast, or my imagination likes to go off on too many tangents. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s something that I’ll be able to control more effectively with practice. But for now, I think it’s time to rein myself in a bit. And in the meantime, this situation seemed like a good opportunity to talk about how the writing process can change for a person, and how that’s not a bad thing! :) It’s also a good reminder to examine your writing habits from time to time, and make sure they still work for you. And hey, if something isn’t broken–don’t fix it! Writing is a very subjective process with a very objective goal. It doesn’t really matter how you get there, as long as you do.

Four Things About Men and Women I’ve Learnt From Being Neither

Originally posted on a gentleman and a scholar:

I think part of it is a family trait, of being treated as a safe person to talk to – several relatives have had similar experiences – but part of it is most definitely being publicly genderqueer. Since I came out, nearly half a lifetime ago, I’ve found that so many of my interactions with women and men* have been marked by them designating me as something like safe territory. Someone they can talk to about gender, sex, sexuality, identity, who will both understand where they’re coming from and give them another perspective – like a gender translator and diplomat – and, crucially, listen and respond without judging them along strict binary lines. Because I’ve already transgressed those boundaries, and won’t try to punish them if it turns out that they’re transgressed them too.

This isn’t anything more than anecdotal evidence and personal experience – in generalized, anonymous terms and…

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Friday Flowers

Originally posted on Gwirrel's Garden:

This week we have a mixture of blooms from my parent’s garden and my own.

Mum bought a number of Hellebores earlier this winter and they seem to be happy, large plants with plenty of blooms – unlike most of mine which have kept me waiting.

Another plant which has been stuck in a pot, I’m undecided whether to plant it for shrubbery when removing my plants or not.

I love how the Aubreita has begun to grow through the Pheasant’s tail grass. There’s also a Narcissus in there… I think it was there first, and the grass seeded itself there. It’s quite nice actually, almost like my very own teeny tiny little meadow… or not.

This shot is purely because I was very surprised to see a Tulip blooming, especially as this one is in…

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You Don’t Have To Be Pretty – On YA Fiction And Beauty As A Priority

Originally posted on The Belle Jar:

“I’m not trying to be self-deprecating,” I say, “I just don’t get it. I’m younger. I’m not pretty. I –”

He laughs, a deep laugh that sounds like it came from deep inside him, and touches his lips to my temple.

“Don’t pretend,” I say breathily. “You know I’m not. I’m not ugly, but I am certainly not pretty.”

“Fine. You’re not pretty. So?” He kisses my cheek. “I like how you look. You’re deadly smart. You’re brave. And even though you found out about Marcus …” His voice softens. “You aren’t giving me that look. Like I’m a kicked puppy or something.”

“Well,” I say. “You’re not.”

- Veronica Roth, Divergent

These might be some of the most revolutionary sentences ever to be written in a young adult novel. In fact, they’re pretty incredible no matter what the genre. These words may not look like much, but trust…

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A brief trip down memory lane

Today, I got an unexpected confidence boost thanks to a quick trip down memory lane.

I have to be careful when I open it, because otherwise I start sneezing from how dusty it is.

I have to be careful when I open it, because otherwise I start sneezing from how dusty it is.

Whilst cleaning out her office, my mom found this big green binder full of paper at the bottom of a storage bin. Turns out, that binder is the hard copy of an old novel of mine, circa 2006. (Wow, has it been that long already!?) It’s the first draft, and upon seeing it I remembered instantly that I’d printed it out in order to edit it, because editing hard copies is what the writers I idolized at the time said to do. (Back then, I think the forerunners for “how to become successful” in my brain were Holly Lisle and Michael Stackpole. Despite having never read a single one of their books, I followed their advice to the letter…no pun intended.)

Seeing as how it was a 200,000+ word novel, printing it out was probably not one of my better ideas. In fact, I distinctly remember being terrified at how much expensive paper and ink it was going to use, plus agonizing for days over whether or not to double space my work since that would inevitably triple the amount of paper used. Since I was only 17 at the time, and most definitely not paying any of the bills, I felt like double spacing things would be one step too far upon already shaky ground with my mom. These days, I’d never bother printing something out when I can edit it on a computer…ah, how times have changed.

(To be fair I’d never have arrived at that conclusion if I hadn’t tried editing a hard copy first.)

Since I thought I had buried all hard copies of this particular novel deep within the confines of my closet, never to be seen again, being handed this binder came as quite a surprise. Naturally, of course, curiosity got the better of me and I cracked it open almost immediately, where I discovered there was another surprise in store for me:

My work didn’t totally suck.

Like, it really doesn’t totally suck. :D

The formatting is pretty clumpy, and my grammar is questionable in a few spots. But the opening scenes of Chapter One drew me in right away, and even though it’s an incredibly tired old trope, the battle scene which followed was genuinely fun to read. (Unlike most battle scenes in fantasy novels, which bore me to tears.) I was genuinely amazed at how quality was in there, despite it being obvious that this is an early work. Even more amazing to me was the fact that, once I had set it down to go do something else, I was still thinking about reading it…just like I do with other people’s books. (When they’re good)

Can you say, “surreal”? Yeah.

This particular book has undergone so many rewrites over the years that, to be honest, I’ve completely forgotten which of my many plots I finally settled on by the time I gave up. I’m pretty sure there were at least three drafts, the final of which I left unfinished because by that time I had written myself into so many corners that I just couldn’t stand to look at the damn thing anymore. I also don’t remember the plot I started with very clearly, which is why rereading this old hard copy is basically a new experience.

Ah, yes. My plot. The plot was definitely my biggest challenge with this novel. I remember loving my characters deeply, but being unsure what to do with the plot once I started having issues. (Mostly with the question– “Why are the characters doing all of this?”) Unfortunately, I tackled this problem by adding twist after twist into it, and by the time I was done all I had was a tangled mess. This was the first book I had ever finished, (twice!) and it broke my heart that it wasn’t good enough to sell. Not long after, I began hating the book deeply, and was desperate to move on to other projects so I could feel hopeful again.

So I buried it, and did my best to forget. It must’ve worked, because I swear to you looking at this novel today was like looking at a complete stranger. I recognize the names and the places, but there’s no depth to them. I truly have no idea what’s going to happen to them next, aside from a vague outline of “Oh yeah, they do end up at that castle eventually.” It’s cool.

Reading on, I found that subsequent chapters had absolute butt tons of exposition in them, which made me cringe. But that cringing made me realize how much I’ve learned in the past 8 years. Now I know where to cut, and how to cut, and what makes a story fun to read. (Well, at least I think I do.) And that was a confidence boost, too–to look at something and know “Hey, I finally have the tools to fix this!” That means I’ve read enough (and written enough) to have finally Leveled Up my writing character. She can craft all kinds of nifty things now, often without even knowing she’s doing it! That’s even cooler.

You know, it’s funny. Years ago, I swore with the vehemence of a thousand burning suns that I’d never again rewrite this novel. But looking at it…I find myself wanting to break that rule. I still love my characters dearly. The world was well fleshed out. I had complex religions and societies built. I’m sure the notes and outlines are all lying around on a hard drive somewhere. And I finally feel like I’m in a place mentally where I’d be able to do the story justice, because I’m no longer the scared, depressed, lonely person I was at 17…I’m a young woman who finally knows, deep down, who she is. (People always told me you can’t write until you’ve had a bunch of different experiences–but now that I’m older, I think it’s actually a sense of self which is needed.)

Obviously, I won’t be putting this rewrite ahead of the other projects I have lined up right now. But the possibility is definitely there. And really, why not? There’s no reason for me to cling to the outdated fears and hatreds of the past. Reading through these old pages, I see tangible proof that I am not nearly as horrible a writer as the quiet voices in my head tell me I am. And there’s a lot of good in these pages.

I think I’ll rescue it.