I don’t suck as a writer…really I don’t (or let’s learn about LaShawn’s Writing Process)

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been driving myself to finish editing a short story before the next Writers of the Future deadline (3/31/11). I’ve been working on this story for several months, and until Thursday, had worked on it solid for nine days, including weekends.

On Thursday, the day of the deadline, my mind went on strike.

I knew what I wanted to do. I have the outline of how the story went. I knew where it was going. I just…couldn’t…put…it…down. It was like my creative processes said, “That’s it. No more. We’re shutting down and refuse to do anything until we get some sleeeeeeep!”

I looked at the remaining ten pages I had left to edit, and reluctantly conceded that I would not made the deadline. I then spent the next 24 hours in an absolute funk.

I know in my head I did the right thing. Even if I did sit down and forced myself to finish editing those last ten pages, it would have been very sloppy edits. On Wednesday, I looked at one of my scenes and thought, meh I don’t need it. Yesterday morning, while thinking on it more (because my mind refuses to stop thinking about the story, even though it won’t let me work on it anymore), I realized it had been a key scene that sets up the main characters actions for the rest of the story.  If I had left it out, readers wouldn’t understand how she goes from acting one way to acting another. It’s little mistakes like that that makes a difference between an Honorable Mention and a Finalist.

I still felt like a failure, though.

Today I thought why I felt so sucky all weekend and what went wrong. I realized that part of the fail was not realizing where I was in my writing process.  Although I’ve been writing professionally for almost seven years now, I never wrote it down because I was still in the process of figuring out what it was. Well, now’s the time. So here’s how my writing process goes:

1) When I get an idea for a story, I write it out either longhand or in the notebook section of Writer’s Café. I don’t even consider it a first draft. I just want to put the idea down on paper.

2) I write up the first draft in Word. Usually it involves cutting and pasting, but I also flesh out parts that needed. I use the commenting section to make notes.

3) I use Scrapbook in Writer’s Café to look at the story from the outside, figuring out the theme, the characters, everything I can think of. I do a lot of freewriting in this stage. I also identify what research I need to do.

4) I let the story rest while I do research. I give myself about a couple of weeks for it.

5) I look at how my research impacts the story and what, if anything, needs to be changed. I use Storyboard in WC to draw up a second outline.

6) I write another draft incorporating all the research and changes I’ve decided to do. I also flesh in details and make the prose stronger. Out of all the processes, this one takes the longest because I’m thinking about how each word, each line, each paragraph impacts the story; how it fits with how I want the story to go and the characters to act according to the rules I’ve set up. It’s usually here that characters may act differently than the first draft, certain plotlines become stronger while others get weaker, or even get dropped altogether. Strangely enough, this is also my favorite stage, although by the end of it, I am absolutely sick of the story and just ready to send it out.

7) I send the story to beta readers to make sure that what I wrote isn’t crap, which I usually think it is by the end of the previous stage.

8 ) When I receive feedback, I either adjust the story accordingly or leave it as is if I feel it’s important. Mostly, I revise for clarity.

9) I do a final revision which cleans up grammar, spelling, work with few last stubborn sentences that don’t sound right.

10) I submit it.

Looking at this, it all makes sense. I would say that my story is still on Stage 6, which is the longest stage in the process. I should’ve recognized that the story wasn’t nearly ready as it should’ve been, but at the same time, I could see why I pushed myself. It’s usually in this stage that I get impatient to finish the story, and oftentimes I have to force myself to slow down to think things through.  If there are certain events coming up that take away from my writing time, the urge to finish the story gets stronger.

Such as OdysseyCon happening this week. And in two weeks, my 40th birthday. And Easter. And Daniel being on spring break…

That was what made me push so hard to finish the story. And that was why I got so burnt out. I simply do not do well being rushed. Especially during stage 6. If I was in stage 8 or 9, I probably would’ve made the deadline. But I’m not.

So. Deep breath. I have to stop beating myself up over it. I don’t suck. I need to rest my brain. Refill my creative cup. Then start working on the story again tomorrow, but go back to my regular schedule, not the crazy write-every-single-chance-I-get schedule.

Maybe I’ll finish in time for my birthday.

Starting 2011 the right way: FAIL

In December, I decided to knit myself some fingerless gloves.  I have grown enough in my knitting skills that I wanted challenge–or I got sick of knitting scarves. Take your pick. I didn’t want any fancy cabling or patterns, because I figured knitting gloves would be challenging in itself in that I would use double-pointed needles, something I’ve never tried before. but I was eager and more importantly, my hands got freaking cold in the evening, so why not do something constructive.

Thus, I scoured online for the most basic, easiest to do pattern I could find. Then I got my equipment. Double pointed needles, a stitch holder, and yarn. And I started my knitting project.

On January 3rd, I finished the glove. I looked at it. I put it on. Then I took it off and completely ripped it apart.

On January 3, I also got my bottom left back molar pulled out. It’s been on a slow decline for the past few years now. I had a deep pocket that affected the root of that tooth, and the dentist told me there was really nothing they can do but slow the deterioration of that tooth. It was basically a ticking bomb, and it went off right around New Year’s Day.

Two weeks ago, I got my latest rejection from Writers of the Future. For the first time, though, I didn’t make the Honorable Mention list. I had always made the list. Always.

So. FAIL.

Except, I expected that to fail. In looking at the story, I knew it might not pass because I’m starting to get a feel for what WOTF is looking for. The rejection verified that. So I know not to send mundane SF to them.

It’s like the fingerless glove. I had no clue what I was doing when I started it. I picked black yarn, which is hard to see if you screw up. I made a lot of false starts when I realized my method of knitting (knitting into the back) couldn’t work on such small needles. And I didn’t read the directions right, putting my stitches on only one stitch holder instead of two, which meant the finger holes wound up going places they shouldn’t go (I wish I had some way to knit interdimensional vortices.) So after I ripped apart the glove, I started over again, not repeating the same mistakes.

I finished the second glove a couple of weeks ago. And this time, it looks like a glove.

Bottom line: learn from FAILs.

Not all of this year has been FAIL. In the writing realm, I’ve been shockingly busy. I got a poem coming out on Every Day Poets on February 20. I’ve also been working on some non-fiction works that I’ll be announcing soon. 

As for the tooth, well, it’s gone. There’s a gaping hole where it used to be. And I got figure out what to do with it, and how am I going to pay for it.

Reckon I better get to work on Willow.

Thoughts on Wiscon and MoonFail

Update: Moon’s GOH invitation for Wiscon35 has been withdrawn.

I am not a feminist. I’ll concede that fact. I am aware of women’s rights and will advocate for any wrong doings I see. But I just don’t consider myself a feminist. I love to support other women who are, and who have a better handle on it than I do. I just spent the weekend with my best friend from Chicago who’s going to seminary and who is a champion of women’s rights within the church, including getting them on leadership. That so rocks–I’m so excited she is going through with this opportunity. But I’ve always prioritized myself as Christian first, African-American second, woman third.

When I went to Wiscon this year, I didn’t really care that it was a feminist convention. I was more intrigued at so many people of color who were there. For the first time in my life, I got to hang out with other black women who were into reading science fiction novels, who liked Dr Who, who had the same interests as I did. I got to hang out with a whole bunch of black people who understood what is was like to be the only black person in the room, to have different tastes from what “normal” black people was supposed to like. It was like finding

I say all this because of the flap that’s happening over Elizabeth Moon being one of the Guests of Honor at Wiscon next year.

For those of you who don’t know, Elizabeth Moon, a science fiction writer, wrote a blog post that boiled down to immigrants needing to conform in order to fit in. It has caused all sorts of uproar in the LiveJournal community, so much that there have been calls for Wiscon to rescind her GOH and/or Moon to step down. Unfortunately, neither has happened yet.

This morning, I read Nojojojo’s post about leaving the Comcon and possibly not attending Wiscon next year. Since then, other posters have expressed their dismay and in some cases, said they’ll come to Madison, but not attend Wiscon. And in the comments section, there are people who have said they considered coming, but now won’t.

If this had happened a year ago, I think I would have said the exact same thing.

Being new to the whole con scene, I understand that not every function goes nice and smoothly behind the scenes.  But even before the whole Moonfail, I was surprised at just how much drama happens at Wiscon. I got a small taste of it when I moderated the Black Kids in the Cafeteria panel. Can’t imagine what 35 years of that would be like. But I find myself growing more and more dismayed about it, especially with this whole Elizabeth Moon fiasco. Not so much her presence—frankly, I never heard her name before until they made the announcement at this year’s Wiscon. But how this must be for the other Guest of Honor, Nisi Shawl, who I deeply love and respect. I hate seeing so many people say they’re not coming, because they’re going to miss out on meeting Nisi. They’re gonna miss out meeting other people of color, and having deep intelligent conversations, all because an author couldn’t keep her opinions to herself.

This saddens me.

I think that had this happened a year ago before I attended Wiscon, I would have done the exact same thing and wouldn’t go. I would have been scared off by all the negativity and the brouhaha.  I absolutely don’t like drama. I had my doubts when RaceFail came along. But I also had a bunch of friends who told me that Wiscon was the absolute bomb and I would have so much fun there. I believed them, I went, and it was true. Perhaps I had fun because I got a chance to experience it unhindered by past bias. And I was ecstatic to learn that Nisi would be the GoH.

So with that said, I’m going next year. I’m going to support Nisi, and be with my friends. I also respect those who say they won’t go because of Moon. I’m still trying to decide how to respond to that–if I should boycott her speech, if I should not just show up on her panels. I don’t know.

I wonder, and I feel like an absolute heel for suggesting this, if  now would be a good time to consider creating a con for people of color. As much as I dislike the thought of separating ourselves, it feels that too much is being crammed into Wiscon. ‘Course, I don’t know what exactly is involved in creating a con, and there’s nothing to suggest that there won’t be drama behind the scenes there too. But after reading Tatum’s book, I can’t help but wonder if that would be a good thing.  I don’t know. Just throwing the suggestion out there.

In the meantime, I’ll do what I’ll keep on doing—keep quiet and watch what’s going on. There’s a lot of pressure on the Wiscon committee to rescind Moon’s GOH membership. While it might be too late to change some people’s minds to attend Wiscon next year, I think do so would be the right thing to do. Or as Nojojojo put it: A con that honors a bigot is not feminist.

Guh. Too much drama. I’m going to go watch Sailor Moon and eat Doritos.

Update: Here’s an excellent timeline on Trinker’s blog on all the posts on MoonFail so far


Dealing with Fantasy of a Different Sort (or I would reject your reality to substitute my own, except my fantasy is nicer than my reality…)

So last week our dryer broke down. Just stopped working on us. You would think that would sadden me, but it didn’t. For me, No dryer meant that I could actually dry our clothes outside.

Now let me tell you something–I’ve always had this weird desire to do line-drying outside. Call it a idyllic vision from my past: running past flapping bedsheets, hiding in their billowy folds, smelling the sweet fresh scent. Hearing Mrs. Sykes yell at us to get out of her laundry before we yank it down. Yeah, that’s right. It was my babysitter’s line-dry laundry I remember most. I honestly can’t remember if my family did it. Which is odd because I’m sure we did. At least, we had one of those drying racks…didn’t we?

Anyway, line-drying laundry in the sun. I always wanted to do it. When we got a house in Chicago, it was frowned on because it being the suburbs, anything that marred the ‘perfect’ landscape was a no-no. So when we moved to Madison and saw all these houses with laundry flapping in the wind, I knew one day, I’d be doing the same. Except it’s a little difficult to put up a clothesline at a rental apartment?

When our dryer broke down, I wound up putting our much-needed-to-dry washing on our fence, which worked pretty well, provided that I brushed off all the splinters when I collected it. And I had to turn the clothes around so that they would dry evenly. And I had to make sure none of the neighborhoods made off with my underwear (“Hey! Put that down! It’s already stretched enough as it is!”) And just yesterday, I learned the pitfalls of drying laundry when there’s a 40% chance of rain.

I’m learning that my little idyllic fantasy doesn’t come close to matching reality.

I bring this up because there’s a website out there called Where I Write: Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in their Creative Spaces. Basically, it’s a bunch of F&SF authors in the places where they work.

When I started clicking on pictures, I noticed most of them among nice rooms with lots of books surrounding them, some with art, some with their hobby. And there would be desks and computers. Some even posed with their cats. It all look so nice and idyllic, it actually depressed me a bit. I don’t have a nice looking house. Most of my books are packed away in the garage. My writing desk is currently in my clothes closet, because that’s the best place to put it in our bedroom. And instead of a cat, I have a wild, rambunctious five-year-old who constantly bursts in to demand when dinner will be ready.

It’s not the sort of thing one think of as a writer. Even when I picture myself writing, I see myself at a coffeeshop, settled in an overstuffed chair, my laptop balanced on my lap.

But the appearance of being a writer is vastly different from the actual being a writer. When I write, I don’t see the laundry piled up on my bed or the papers that need to be cleaned off my desk. I see what’s going on in my head. That’s more important than having an office of my own surrounded by books. Having a fancy office doesn’t mean squat if I’m not writing.

And the beauty of being a writer is really, one could write anywhere. Taking a look again at the pictures on the Where I write site, I like the sparseness of Harry Harrison’s writing space. Even better, I love Frederik Pohl’s space—sitting on a couch, writing on a roll up typewriter stand. Now that’s something I can relate to. (What would be even more wonderful was if there were some pictures of writers at the kitchen table with their kids in the background. Or maybe some writers of color. They’re out there…)

And hey, there are times when writing for me does get idyllic. Especially those times I get to take the laptop out to the patio with a tall glass of iced tea. Mmmm…typing in the warm sun…while the birds chirp overhead….

Birds. Birds chirping. Birds flying.

Excuse me. I need to get my laundry in. Then I’m going to place a call to my landlord so we can get this @&*% dryer fixed.

And another one bites the dust…

Realms of Fantasy will be ending with the April 2009 issue…

I was looking forward to the day when I get published in that too.

Sigh.

Why do I get the feeling that by the time my writing gets good enough for the pro-markets, there won’t be any pro-markets around anymore?

The Passing of a Great Anthology; No more Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror

In the past, I’ve done reviews for the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror that you can find on this site. Well, today, we got the news that this great anthology is no more. You can find news about it at the Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet’s Blog, and at Terry Windling’s blog.

In a nutshell, St Martin’s Press, the anthology’s publisher, has decided not to publish a 2009 edition. That means that 21 years of the Year’s Best anthology books, displaying a broad, colorful array of fantasy and horror stories from all walks of life, is at an end.

This makes me incredibly sad.

I’ve been reading posts as of late on how the fiction world appears to be shrinking, that people read less nowadays, preferring to play video games and watch TV rather than pick up a book. For the most part, I’ve always felt that isn’t the case; if anything, people are reading more, what with networking sites like Facebook and blogs and whatnot.

But when news like this hits me, I can’t help but wonder if fiction truly is drifting away.

Maybe it’s not that the fiction world is going way. Maybe it’s just that it’s changing shape from the tangible world of the printed page to the less-substantial, more fluid media of the online document. And as gadgets like the Kindle takes off, how long will it be before all books are downloaded rather than bought?

What does that mean for book publishers? For popular writers? For writing standards?

The Year’s Best Anthology was a standard for me. Everytime I picked up a book, I read the stories and thought to myself, one day, I’ll get a story in this book. It pushed me, and still does, to write my best. I studied the stories, picked them apart, wondered what made them included in the book. But most of all, I enjoyed them. I was awed by them. While some stories I could have done without (I still think back to that one story about the Calico cat, which makes me want to curl up in a little ball), still, there were some stories that made me drop my jaw in awe.

I know, I know. There are other anthologies out there. Heck, I’ve turned most of my energies to Writer’s of the Future. But Year’s Best was the first anthology that got me daring to dream of fiction in the first place. What will be my standard now? Where would I go?

Then again, maybe it’s all the recession’s fault. Yeah, that’s it. Stupid recession.

To all the editors of Year’s Best: Ellen Datlow, Terry Windling, Kelly Link, and Gavin Grant. Thank you for inspiring this lowly writer to write. The stories you included were truly a marvel to behold. Here’s to hoping you’ll find all new ventures that will bless you greatly.

Doing the Clean/Write Juggle (or how to be a part-time writer and a part-time worker mom and still have clean dishes to eat on…)

I’ve just realized that it’s been a long time since I wrote any personal posts.

Not that my life hasn’t been quiet. Far from it. Ever since we’ve moved to Madison, I’ve been getting involved in a lot of things, personal and work-wise. It’s funny–a year ago, then only things taking up my calendar was Mommy and Me stuff: playgroup, MOPS, the occasional get-together with another family. Of course, being here, we’ve been getting to know people, catching up with old friends, making new ones, that it feels like we’ve been doing things nonstop. Which isn’t the case, but you know…

Okay, the real reason I’m writing this is to whine about my apartment being dirty.

I can’t clean it. I just can’t. Not for the lack of trying…well, okay maybe it is for the lack of trying. But it feels like ever since we moved here our apartment’s been junky. I mean really junky. Junk on the table and floor and bed junky.

Part of the problem is that there’s so little space. Our house back in Roselle wasn’t the paragon of purity, but at least it was easy to spread the mess around (or maybe I’m beginning to candy-coat our memories of the place there). Here, make a mess, and pretty soon, we’re stumbling and tripping over it, or pushing it to the side so we can eat, or dumping it in baskets so we can sleep. There’s no place to put all the piles.

Another problem is I’m procrastinating on it. Back in Roselle, I had all the time in the world to clean, because I was a stay-at-home mom. I set a schedule for myself: clean in the mornings, write in the afternoons, cook in the evening. Granted, that didn’t mean that the house still didn’t look Martha-Stewart perfect, but at least I had plenty of time to clean, have fun with Daniel and write. It was easy and fun to juggle.

Here, I work in the mornings, so my cleaning schedule is shot. I have a time window of roughly 4 hours to write and/or clean. I thought that would be easy to handle: bring him home, read him a story, clean write until 5pm, then cook. Except after I put Daniel down, I get sleepy, so I take a nap. A 15-minute nap quickly turns to an hour. Suddenly, it’s 2:30p, and I haven’t done anything. So I get up to clean, but then Daniel, who’s been puttering around his room for about an hour or so, chooses that moment to fall asleep. And seeing that I write better when he’s asleep than not, I figure, well, don’t want to waste his nap; might as well start writing now while I get a chance. So I write, and I get into a good groove, and next think I know it’s 5:30pm. I’ve written a good deal, but the house is still a mess, and I still got to cook, and crickets are coming out of our windows and…

Well, you catch my drift.

I did try to reverse it. Tried to write after I put Daniel down, but I found that I mainly waste that time surfing and checking email. I don’t get down to serious writing until at least 3pm…so logically the time after I put Daniel down should be when I clean, but it doesn’t happen.

This isn’t working.

As I’m sitting here writing this, a thought occurs to me. If Daniel’s not falling asleep until two or even three o’clock, why am I putting him down at one?

I assumed it would be the most logical thing to do. After all, it’s right after he eats lunch. I usually pick him up just as the other kids in his class are going down for their naps. I figured that would be a decent time for him to go down too. But usually, we walk home, and by the time, he’s keyed up from the walk, so it takes a long while for him to settle down.

What if, instead of putting him down immediately, I wait an hour, use that time to clean, and then put him down around 2pm? It would be more in line in how we used to do his naps–I usually waited until 2pm then. I’d be able to make more noise if he’s awake. I can even have him helping me; doesn’t hurt to start instilling cleaning habits now. And with him up and running about, I won’t be tempted to take a nap right away. Even if I did take a nap at 2, that should still give me a couple more hours to write at 3, when I’m in my writing groove.

That might work.

‘Course, this is all speculation. I’ll have to try it out and see. But I hope it does work. If I have a decent clean space by the time I write, I feel better, which means I write better, which means I don’t have to rush about to cook, which means that I’m happier overall.

Now if I can get my hubby to do the dishes every once in a while, I got it made.