On Loving What You Write

New writers are often told to ignore the market and focus on writing what they love. It’s solid enough advice, for what it’s worth, but I think there’s a flipside to that. At some point, no matter what the project, you need to figure out how to love what you’re writing.

There are probably writers out there who can write a whole novel without coming to loathe or fear the manuscript, but I do not come across them all that often. What’s far more common are the conversations where doubt has seeped in, or an idea that was once exciting and shiny has grown worn down with use and the realities of sitting there and putting words on the page. Ideas move away from their Platonic ideal as you write them, because execution is harder than imagining. The set up of the first act is significantly more exciting than the delivering on that promise in the second and resolving it in the third.

My first attempt to write a novel suffered horribly because of this. I wrote four seperate first acts, pulling in fresh ideas without thinking through their resolution. The things I write today still struggle with the impulse. As I hit the second quarter of a book I start creating things that need to be excised from a story, tucked away for something else because they’re pulling focus.

I had to step back and focus on the thing that started it for me: why did I want to write this? Why did it seem fun?

I need to figure out how to love the project all over again, instead of asking it to be something it wasn’t meant to be.

What You Deliver, What You Sell

The folks over at Writer Unboxed recently put up a pretty good post about what going to a writers conference really buys you. As someone whose in the thick of organising a major writers conference myself, it’s always good to see these things discussed and get some idea of how other people are placing value on the conference experience.

It’s also a useful reminder of something that’s been true ever since I first started working with writers: writers will map their future success onto some pretty weird-ass things. Which means there’s a big difference between the things that will have the most benefit for attendees, versus the things you actually have to sell in the marketing to get them at the conference.

I make very little secret about my personal belief that networking and discussion between writers is the most valuable thing an event like GenreCon can offer the writers who attend. Attending a course or panel where you learn something important is great, but the long term benefit of having a broad pool of other writers who are aware of your ambitions and your work is significantly greater.

Your network is a source of advice and support, and it can be an incredible source of work if you’re engaged and active in the community you’ve built up. I’ve sold a novella because of my network, and first got my gig at the writers centre because of it. I’ve had blog posts turn into paid work, taught workshops, and landed freelance gigs. And I’ve learned far more talking to other writers over lunch or drinks than I have in the vast majority of the workshops I’ve attended, because workshops trend towards the general out of necessity and your friends can be very specific in their advice

But the thing about networking you keep in mind as an organiser is this: it’s not sexy. It appeals to no-one, particularly among a community with more than it’s fare share of reclusive introverts who prefer not to talk to people. It doesn’t have the immediate appeal of, say, pitching your work to publishers or doing workshops. You spend a lot of time focusing on those things when selling the experience, knowing that they’re thing that will get people through the door.

And every time someone contacts me, stressed out about the details of pitching or workshops, I find myself having to hold my tongue. They’re often freaking out because they see these as the big opportunity, a chance to get discovered and have their work launched into the big time. I just want to sit them down with a cup tea and say, stop stressing about the pitching, just focus on talking to people about things that aren’t your work all weekend. 

The idea of having your work discovered is strong, particularly when the wall between you and editors feels impossible to breach, and no-one likes the idea of networking. It feels too much like business cards and cynical interactions, nothing at all to do with art.

Networking, done right, is none of that. It’s just taking a deep breath and forgetting what you want for a while, focusing on finding out about others. Spending fifteen minutes talking to an editor about the books they love will do far more for your career than a short, five-minute pitch. They’re going to hear a lot of pitches over the weekend. They’re going to have significantly fewer conversations about how awesome Georgette Heyer is, and it’s not like they’re going to be unaware of the fact that you’re a writer when you meet at a writer’s conference.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I’m moving forward on a range of writing projects at the moment – I basically kick off my day by opening five different scrivener files and working in each in order of importance. Project Beeman remains the top priority and it’s moving pretty decently now that I’ve managed to get unstuck on a plot issue. The secondary projects requiring big chunks of word-count are a novella for my thesis and a personal essay.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I did a pretty good job shifting my focus over to refilling the well this week, and I’ve absolutely adored reading Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory. I’m a pretty big fan of Bear’s at the best of times – she’s a great short fiction writer and an intriguing novelist – but Karen Memory is the first of her novel-length works where she’s busted out a strong narrative voice and a first person narrator (despite it being a strength of her short fiction work). The novel itself is a kind of steampunk western, although it doesn’t borrow too heavily from Western tropes in the way that most people think when they hear the term. Really intriguing worldbuilding anda . lot of fun to read.

What action do I need to take?

My workspace is massively disrupted at the moment, on account of swapping out my big roll-top desk for something that will fit into my tiny apartment a little better. Lots of tools are currently boxed up until I do the actual physical moving of furniture on Wednesday, but I’ll need to rapidly unpack and reorient myself once all of that is done to get back into a writing routine as soon as possible.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Still working on Project Bee-man this week. I’ve been stuck on a particular scene for a few days, unable to get past it, which is usually a sign that there’s a problem earlier in the draft that makes the current action unbelievable or narratively weak. The fact that I’ve let it bog me down, to the point that my brain is starting to noddle around on other projects and focus on admin-stuff, is probably a sign that ploughing on through has probably stopped being the best approach and it’s time to start looking at the previous scenes to figure out what needs to change.

What’s inspiring me this week?

My major narrative consumption this week has been The Defenders, which is a somewhat welcome return to form after the disappointment that was Iron Fist. It’s fascinating to look at this through the lens of series, as it’s the pay-off for all sorts of things that have been set up in prior Netflix series for half the characters. To see them take things that have been central to Iron Fist and Daredevil, then weave them into the storylines of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage which tend to be more self-contained and stand-alone, is the kind of narrative challenge that very few writers are ever going to face outside of comics-style, shared-world narratives.

I’m also impressed with the cinematography. One of the strengths of the Netflix series has always been their look and the colour schemes, and that doesn’t go away now that they’re an ensemble. Scenes focused on a particular character share the visual motifs of their original series, and when they start interacting the colour palates are blended in interesting ways. It’s a nice consideration that impacts on the way we read the story without being overt.

What action do I really need to take?

I’ve outlined one in my weekly plan, but that’s kinda secondary this week. What absolutely needs to start happening is putting some focus on refilling the well again, as most of my media consumption this week has been He-Man cartoons and old pro-wrestling episodes. I’ll be sitting down today and outlining some overt consumption goals, identifying a handful of books/shows/movies to consume over the coming week.

When In Doubt, Start

I’m sitting at my desk thinking I should probably write something, but it is a chaotic kind of morning on a chaotic kind of day, and my brain is focusing on everything but the task at hand.

I keep projecting into the future, looking at all the things that need to get done in order to finish off any given project. Even when I sit down and apply the various management tasks that are meant to stop you doing that – Getting Things Done, the Pomorodo Technique – I am still projecting forward and the resistance is building up and the subtle, low-key panic of so-much-to-do-and-I-am-not-enough builds up.

My conversations with my psychologist often revolve around the fact that my brain is not my friend, and it’s surprising how often they’re the one telling me that despite the fact that get your fucking brain out of the process has been my writing mantra for years. I’m meant to take a deep breath when this happens. I’m meant to focus my attention on starting something, instead of getting lost in the mire of a distant, unknown quantity that is finishing.

This seems simple, but it’s not. Most people’s lives are a melange of competing priorities, but the moment you engage in any kind of creative work you’re likely to find yourself becoming a hybrid of competing jobs and tasks. On any given week I’m trying to balance long-form fiction work, my short story drafts, my university commitments, and my commitment to running GenreCon. I’m trying to keep my apartment to a sane level of organisation and run a weekly RPG session for my friends. I’m trying to balance being a good partner to my girlfriend and support my friends and family members.

My brain rebels at the idea of starting something because even the decision to start means picking something from that list and saying This! This is the most important thing on this list right now. 

So I set my timer for thirty mintues and I close my eyes and point. I start on the thing that I’m pointing at and work that the timer is done. It may be wrong, but there is movement, and movement is better than stagnation. Stop panicking about the writing and it will come back, one way or another.

And if it doesn’t, set the timer again. Get started on another task and move on.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I’ve still got a little fine-tuning on the GenreCon program this week. Topics and panellists all exist in draft form, but there’s a handful that I’m not yet sold on and want to take another run at before we release them to the public. I’m also moving forward on Project Beeman again – had a lot of luck putting together detailed daily plans that are capturing all the busy work on any given day, which opens up more writing time than I would have thought.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m in the middle of my yearly re-read of Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative and his various follow-up books, rethinking processes and soaking up new details. I read these every twelve months and every time I pick up something new – Henry advocates a process with a lot of moving parts and it takes time to get some aspects down before others make sense.

This year, the part that’s particularly resonating is his sections of creative stimuli, refilling the well, and looking for connections between works that aren’t really connected. They mesh particularly well with some of the reading I was doing from Cal Newport at the start of the year about the way to make academia work.

What action do I need to take?

Updating the banner for the Sunday Circle to bring in the replacement question. For some reason I hesitate to do anything that involves Photoshop or InDesign at the moment, and all the tasks that pile up as a result of that keep eluding me.