This week, a friend from LA came to visit. She picked the best time, too. We had just enough cold and grey to make it feel like Vancouver, but none of the snow we often see in November. This trip was, actually, exactly why I decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year. This November, I decided to write a bunch of shorts for a bunch of open calls. A kind of practice for writing short and writing fast. I submitted five stories before she arrived last week. So far, I’ve sold two. That feels like winning NaNo.
Visiting another city is fun, but I love having friends visit my city. It’s a chance for me to play tourist and guide at the same time. It’s an excuse to wander through the busy streets to find the empty ones. It’s a reason to try new food, to drink new cocktails, to travel far, or to see a familiar part of your city, but during the wrong season. Parks in the winter are fascinating in their contrasts.
It’s a time for stories. I’m always collecting stories, whether I recognise it in the moment or only after, after a debrief on the couch with a cup of tea.
When we were younger writers, we were told to write the familiar. But Canadians are also told to write about America. You can’t sell a book about Canada to America, they say. I think my next book will be set here, in my city. I have a lot of stories to tell.
My publisher, Dreamspinner Press, dutifully sends me reviews of Home Team. They even screen them beforehand, only sending on links to the positive reviews. I don’t read them. It’s nice to know they’re out there, I’m happy people are reading my books, and I’m grateful, but I’m just trying to make the next book better.
Here are a few of the people who have enjoyed Home Team, and I thank them.
Beginnings are fun. The story is still new and exciting in your head. You get to build the world. You’re still figuring out the characters. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how it works out yet because this is just the beginning.
Endings are hard, but my favourite part to write. I love the agony of that last sentence. I love a happy ending. I love being able to look back and think, Wow, I didn’t know we’d end up here.
Middles just suck.
The middle is where the work is. You could skip the beginning and write the middle first, but without the middle, there’s no getting to the end. It has to be written. You have to write it. You have to fight it, every sentence, one after another. You think you’ll never find a rhythm. You believe you made a big mistake ten pages back. You can’t imagine any reader would ever slog through this mess.
The middle is where the story is. We don’t even start to care about these characters until we’re stuck into the middle, and we don’t want to leave them in the end. This is what the middle does to all of us, writers and readers alike. We slog through the middle together. We find the dark places and hide our secrets. We protect each other and work our way towards the light. Can you see it?
I’m stuck in the middle right now, but that’s the secret. We’re always stuck in the middle of something. Keep writing. You’ll find your way though.
For most of my writing life, minimum word count was my nemesis. I struggled with school papers, with writing assignments, with anything more than a few pages. It just wasn’t the way I wrote. A friend called me precious, not cute, but the way I treated words. Each one had to be perfect and each sentence cut to its bare bones.
This month, I’m not doing the thing a lot of writers do in November. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m practicing the short story. I wrote a 30k novella last month. This month, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to write short, blowing past 5k. And that’s the maximum word count.
I still catch myself acting precious about the sound of my sentences. But my writing has expanded over the last year. I have a better grip on plot to explore the characters I love to write so much. I’d rather write too much and cut the weak parts than write too little and deprive the reader of the story I want to give them.
My NaNoWriMo is More Words. I may not be writing one big novel, but I’m still playing by some of the rules. I’ve bumped up my daily word goal to 2,000. That’s a lot of short stories. And even more darlings I’ll have to be brave enough to kill.
Have we talked about finishing? Today, I will finish the first draft of my next book (which also happens to be a sequel to my last book). It was about this time last year that I finished my first book—the first piece of long narrative fiction I ever finished. In my entire life of writing. The very first thing that was more than a few thousand words. It was 65k words long, it took me more than a year, and it felt so good.
This one is 27k (at this moment), and it took me 22 days.
There’s a kind of black magic in finishing a book. Even when it’s crap (those particular 65k words will never be published). Especially when it’s crap. Because we all know when something is crap. The difference between writing a book and knitting a sweater is that you can fix a book after it’s done. With the sweater, you should probably stop and go back and fix your mistake before you get too far.
Don’t go back and fix your mistakes while you’re writing. That way lies madness. Push your way to the end. Trust me on this. When you turn back, you get lost on the path. You lose your way. But if you continue to the end, then you can make yourself a map, and the next time through won’t be so hard.
I often feel like writing odes to Scrivener. It’s such a wonderful thing. The secret is in the way it fools you into thinking it is a program exactly as complicated or simple as you need it.
If you’re a writer who likes to tinker, who wants the right font, who needs sections, chapters, scenes, who plans with index cards, who keeps research close at hand, who puts pictures to characters and settings, Scrivener can be that for you.
If you’re a writer who only wants a big blank space to write, Scrivener can be that for you, too.
If you’re a writer like me, somewhere in the middle, who wants the blank space and the sections, Scrivener is that for you. Everything I’ve written in the last two years has gone through Scrivener, whether it started somewhere else (like a notebook, Drafts, email, Google Drive) to be imported or whether it was written to be exported somewhere else (like OpenOffice for formatting), I don’t write without Scrivener.
I use it like a To Do List, except that my To Dos are plot points and scenes. Every day, I write (at least) a thousand words. If a story is going to be 20,000 words long, I need 20 sections. Each section contains a few sentences of my To Do List, and each day, I make a thousand words out of those few sentences. Repeat until done.
Until I’m done, I never look at the whole book. I never see the words that came before. I see only the section I need to write today. That’s as complicated as I can handle or else I’d never make it to the end of the book. Scrivener is that for me.
I went looking for a tower defense game I remember playing online years ago, but I couldn’t find it. I did find Clockwords, though. You come up with the longest words, using available letters, to defeat the enemies coming closer. Kill them before they reach you, and you win.
I found this game last night, and I’m already bored.
Most word games bore me easily. There’s the initial fun of learning how to play, then the challenge of figuring out the tricks, then the time it takes to score big, then beat that score. I’m making it to the end of that list faster than ever before.
Clockwords has a ticker at the bottom of the scoring screen, showing you—in real time—the last words used by other online players. For a game using letters as ammunition, it’s a lot of four-letter-words. Do you want to hit your enemy with “sing” or with “surprisingly”? Maybe that’s why I grew so bored so fast. My targets were dying before they barely made it out into the open.
This weekend was Thanksgiving for us in Canada. We did the family thing on Sunday, with turkey and pie and board games afterwards. Last year, my dad had only just discovered Cards Against Humanity, and he was eager to play. This year, we played Scattegories.
The people outside our immediate family refuse to play Trivial Pursuit with us anymore. That’s one of the games my brothers and I grew up on. Scattegories is great because there’s no right answer. There are a lot of answers, and you get more points when you find the most obscure ones.
It’s a timed game with a list of categories: fruits, girl’s names, things that are sticky. Each round is one letter and three minutes to write down your best answer for each category. Then you share your list with the group. Because if someone else around the table came up with “glue”, neither of you get the point. The better “things that are sticky” answer starting with G is “guano”.
It’s something of a cliche that writers are good at trivia and word games, but it has nothing to do with intelligence. It has nothing to do with how many books I read. It has to do with our relentless search for the better answer, the lesser cliche, the idea nobody else around the table has come up with.
I play word games every day, putting down sentence after sentence, building a book. Who wants to race me to the end?
I forgot to write my regular Monday blog post. You’ll forgive me; I’ve spent so much time the last few weeks trying to get your attention, I needed a break, too. I finished and submitted a story. I’m back to work on the Home Team sequel. I’ve been having a good writing week.
But having a good writing week means I’m thinking less and doing more. Which means I have less to talk about here. Rather, I have less I CAN talk about here. I’ll tell you the what, but less about the who, how, and why. (Well, the why is because I want to.)
Writing stories is telling stories, whatever form that may take. My preferred form, of course, is writing. But sometimes, talking about a story can kill my need to write a story.
I will have other interesting things to talk about here. But it won’t be about the sequel. Not until I have a release date to tell you about.
Thank you to everyone who bought it, read it, and passed it on with a reblog or a retweet. I could keep talking about this book, but that would start to get boring for me, as well as for you.
The writing is my favourite part of writing. There is an oft-repeated maxim that ideas are easy, writing is hard. If writing is easy, marketing is hard. Marketing is putting yourself and your book out there and hoping someone looks up and takes notice. Marketing makes me want to run back to writing.
I hope I get better each time around, learning what works and what doesn’t. My ask box is always open, if you want to tell me why you decided to buy this book last week. I hope I can convince you to do the same, when the next one comes around.