Writing, depression, and why they’re not necessarily compatible

So one thing I’ve never made a secret of is that I suffer depression. The other thing is my feelings on the subject of “writing through it” and the cult thereof (for example, see my previous post https://wp.me/p2t3xw-Sg for an example).

Well let me draw you a picture of what I mean. Because for … I guess it’s been a week and a half? I don’t know, I’m rubbish at maths except when I’m not … since last week Tuesday (there, you do the maths) I’ve been dealing with one of the absolute worst episodes of depression I’ve ever had. And this is someone who’s medical records list a diagnosis of “major depression” and for whom, since around 8 years old or thereabout, suicidal ideation has just been normal part of more days than not. I’m fine, if you care, but the thing is that … well … let’s actually work our way through whyit’s hard enough for someone who’s going through this to even just get out of bed and brush her teeth, never you mind “just write through it”.

You see, let’s start with Tuesday. I had a breakdown. Maybe there’s a better word for it, I just can’t think of one right now. I spent almost that entire day crying my eyes out. I had reasons, and I also didn’t. I was far worse off than those reasons warranted; I was “overreacting” (is that really one word?).

Now, it should be pretty obvious that I could hardly write if I could hardly see, but you’d be amazed who needs this spelled out for them so let’s just knock that one out. Sometimes having depression includes getting depressed, and just like anyone else who’s depressed, we cry, and when we cry there’s tears and seeing through them is a wretch. I’m sorry but I’ve never had the greatest patience with stupidity, but right now I have less than no patience for much of anything (another depression thing we’ll probably get to in a bit if I can stay coherent enough).

Now, the difference between depressed and depression … this is why I say English is rubbish for talking about this. We’ve lost too much subtlety, especially with that quip about what a synonym is. It doesn’t help that taking mental health seriously is a tremendously new thing. I mean, ADHD is still centred around how it annoys and affects everyone around you rather than, necessarily, yourself (so there’s plenty of meds out there to help you concentrate on boring stuff, and even trigger our hyperfocus, but not a single one attempts to sort the hyperfocus that is what normally bothers us).

So let’s see … how do I explain a sudden utter apathy to things I love? Even, perhaps, a sort of loathing? See, this is a Thing That Happens. In my case, I am happy to report that I did not delete all my work. Well … I guess I hope that’s happy news. We’ll call it happy news, I’m better off, right now, if I think that way. I simply “didn’t want to write anymore”.

Some of you just read that last question and asked “why” or “why not”. Congratulations, you probably don’t have depression. At the time, I think, I had a why, but the thing is I literally couldn’t articulate it. The “reasoning” such as it was had a sort of … fog … to it. The more I tried to focus on the reason to explain it the harder it was to find. Which was, in turn, not helping the depression because the last thing you need in a moment like that is MORE frustration. But that’s just it. The all-powerful and amazing “why” is answered with: brain chemicals went a bit off spec. That’s it. There’s nothing more I can hope to convey. My brain just was thoroughly convinced that this was a Good Idea. And thing is, it’s still hovering just this side of that. Which all … that s-word for transition that I can’t spell at all apparently.

Depression is a brain chemistry thing. Depressed is a fun way to say you’re sad. Oh, yeah, there’s more, but this is where things Matter. See, depression doesn’t have to mean crying. Often it doesn’t. It’s depression, it’s exhaustion (you’ve no idea how tired I can be sometimes for no apparent reason), it’s rage, it’s apathy, it’s frustration, it’s hate, and sorrow, and an entire gambit of emotions. What’s worst is that sometimes it’s several at once. When things get really fun it decides to be all of the above and then a few we don’t have good words for.

In short: depression is a shitstorm of biblical proportions.

It affects so much of you. It’s not just the exhaustion, it’s not just the lethargy. It can be as rough on memory as a migraine. You know, the thing that a common side-effect of is retrograde amnesia? I could describe it as the apathy and ennui that everything resets into until the chemistry gets itself sorted out properly means you don’t care enough to bother forming new memories. And sure, why not, we’ll go with that. It’s wrong, but we’ll run with it. But … seriously … it’s very difficult right now for me to form new memories and old ones are – how to put it? – hazy.

And, no, honestly, between the stigmas and misunderstandings around many mental health matters a lot of us don’t want to talk about it. And maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t. I’ve very mixed feelings on talking about it, but the thing is that we’re … afraid to. I try to talk casually about it, even the suicidalness because it’s a thing that needs better normalised. But I do it online. I don’t talk about it in life because … because it’s very hard. People … it’s like it’s one thing to be an out trans woman on this blog, on my Twitter. I am not, repeat NOT, out to the people in my daily life. People treat you differently. Also the stigmas and such embed themselves into us just as much as everyone else. You’ve probably seen the PSAs about us “not wanting to be a burden”. Well, it’s stupid asinine PSA talk, but it’s true in a warped and nobody ever thinks/talks/acts/whatever like anyone in any PSA ever does, but we’ll humour them.

But the key is that for over a week I’ve been, as the kids say, A Hot Mess. I’m fried. I can’t think straight (yes, ha ha, get the queer humour out of your system, I’ll wait … … … … better? Moving on now?), I can’t … I don’t know what day of the week it is. I know but I don’t know. If it’s more than 5 minutes between times I have to say it (and assuming I said it right which is so-so odds) there’s no promise I can say it without having to stop and cognitively work it back out. Yesterday I simply couldn’t remember Tuesday so with absolutely no duplicity said I hadn’t been somewhere then-yesterday that I absolutely had been. But I didn’t know that. And I mean at like 2:30 in the afternoon of yesterday I couldn’t have told you I’d been … anyway not the point, the point is I’m like that ‘brain on drugs’ PSA and the strongest thing I take is gabapentin (because I don’t like my Ritalin I don’t generally take it … migraines suck).

I tried to write today. Nothing important, I wasn’t up to that, but a little catharsis WIP I have, a fun thought exercise about a potential future of a character who’s currently 7 years old. A scene played around, growing, and revising in my mind. But as a picture. I sat down to write it … nothing. Not a damned thing. And not ‘I can’t find the right words’ can’t, no, it was ‘the whole thing dissolved like so many soap bubbles’ can’t.

Depression is a … struggle? … it’s a war with your own brain. It’s being able to actually doubt the validity of your own emotions. And I don’t mean justification, I mean validity, as in authenticity. As in it’s possible to ask yourself questions like “do I actually know what happiness is? Have I ever actually felt it? Or all those times I thought I was happy was I just parroting happiness I knew I should feel and how I should react?” That sort of thing. Second guessing you own emotional states and, sometimes, being right. Sometimes, emotionally, it’s all hollowness and everything is just so much mannerism. What’ll cook everyone’s noodle later is trying to work out when it’s one or the other. Because yay, as we’ve discussed, it plays merry hell with your memories.

Oh, and just no. “What’re you depressed about?!” Yeah, see previous about the annoyance with word similarities okay? Don’t go there, don’t be that person, just NO. Stop right there and just back up.

Point is, I’d been doing well. I’d ended up with 9 works in progresses and piling on word count and everything. And then suddenly … I’m Wile E Coyote faceplanting right into that cliff face with the tunnel painted on. I guess, using Looney Tunes for a basis, I could say depression is when the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t turn out to be an oncoming train but rather turns INTO an oncoming train. I’ll get better, I always do. And when I do I’ll probably obsessively write some 60k words in a couple of days or some such. But until then I’m probably going to be scarce. I mean not that I’m not already kinda scarce on the blog a lot of the time (oops) but on Twitter, too. Not absent, not yet anyway, but scarce. I’m probably going to spend a lot of time vegging in front of familiar films, and curled up with favourite books … to somewhat overstate the matter … trying to rediscover pleasure and joy.

But … yeah, this is why I have no truck with the bullshit of “just write through it” and all the other cheerleadery crap people like to vomit all over the internet. It’s not that damned simple, Becky, I’m sorry.

PS I have absolutely no illusions that I speak for Depression Sufferers Of The World. That’s laughable. Thing is … yeah I know things from research, from experience, and from the fact I interact with other DSotW. And thing is … we’re all of us different. This was ME and those discussions and researches put to you through the lens of my experience. This was that catharsis that some folks get from therapy. I do this instead and I can’t take antidepressants, they don’t agree with my brain in a very – no exaggeration – terrifying way.

Neurology and the #WritingCommunity

So I wanted to do a post today RE Western Society & the Cult of mediocrity and it making people unable to understand spectrums or statistics. But I’ll save that for some other time (why, yes, I did just do that so I won’t forget. You may get a biscuit 🍪).

Instead a Twitter conversation led (is that the right one or do I mean lead? Bollox, migraine aura, English is hard enough without it!! 😱😭) to me wanting to speak my mind about the way the culture of writing is beyond ableist into a whole new realm of discrimination. Now, before we begin I want to make perfectly clear that the conversation in question simply put my brain down this path. Anyone who thinks for a moment I’m saying the person with whom the conversation was with was anything but marginally mistaken for a moment before gaining clarification, from me, and otherwise gave understandable encouragement can just piss right off into a volcano 🌋 or something. I’m sick of histrionic outrage and hypersensitive evangelical fundamentalist activism, too, but I can’t actually blog about that, and see no point vlogging it since it would just be me screaming until my voice or lungs give out. There’s sub-genres of metal if you wanna hear that.

Now that we’re clear I’ll put a link because it’s a good conversation & should be both shared and should be easy to find again should it be wished. Now … short codes … you’d think I’d know them by now …

Thing is, y’all, the whole “Just write! At least you’ll have written! You can just scrap it later!!” Besides my personal bias against the waste that is, there’s this: It really isn’t so simple.

I mean if you’re just a perky cheerleader type of personality putting that out there for someone who actually finds that motivational or whatever people who don’t have brief visions of violence flash through their minds when presented with perkiness feel when they see “motivational cheerfulness” or whatever the devil one calls it, it’s cool. You put anno—er helpful? vibes out there in the universe for people. Keep scrolling if it ain’t for you. I mean someone who says it a LOT maybe needs a little reminder that it’s not always that simple, and anytime it’s their go to answer to a person rather than the universe … now we have a problem.

And that’s the thing, it IS. Like seriously, these people just toss that around.

“😭😭 My cat has spleen cancer and has only a week left, I tried to write but I just start crying. Going to go watch Kurt Russell films with Fluffy for the rest of his week”

Someone is going to come along spitting this perky “just write!” attitude.

Thing is, depression is real and can be pretty draining. It can be debilitating. It can be a lot of things. It can be a source OR a detriment to creativity. I mean I can be creative when depression strikes, I guess, if you like the stupid 90s goth White Wolf Interview With a Vampire ennui crap (I’m not really a fan, myself).

Migraines. Those are neurological. “Just write through it!” Bitch! I can barely hold a pen. My eyeballs feel like they’re being used for atomic testing grounds. My head is throbbing. Thinking is, literally, painful. No! I will most certainly not write through it thank you! And that ignores the neurological aspects. Some migraine folks (moi included) do stuff like lose words. For me the only noun that exists is often ‘thingy’. There is no writing through that. What am I going to write, pray?!

Dyslexia. Dude, newsflash, it rarely works the way pop culture says. If it were just that we could just work it out and all would be swell. It don’t. A) for a fair chunk of us it isn’t always happening and when it is there’s just no way to tell. B) Many forms of it include random bouts of pure illiteracy. There’re times when, assuming I literally am capable of seeing that the text exists in the first place, that I simply cannot comprehend a single letter in front of me. For a mental picture, you don’t know one single kanji and the entire universe has just had the language settings switched to Japanese, and the UI moved the settings function.

Disability doesn’t even have to be drastic, or even permanent. The person whose cat has spleen cancer will probably feel better … eventually. Maybe you’ve got a nasty cold, or the neighbour’s dog has kept you up half the night three days running so you’re exhausted. Dude, it’s cool. Don’t write. What’s the point?! You’re not doing yourself any favours.

Go, hold Fluffy & enjoy Big Trouble in Little China one last time together. When the movies are over & you’re done crying the story will still be right where you left it. It’s not going anywhere.

Why write if what you’re saying is “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” but what you just wrote was “Banndrt houpl 8$&mop gerpl!” Especially if tomorrow, when you’re feeling better and are looking it over you can’t recall what that nonsense was supposed to be. Now you’re frustrated and angry and that’s not generally a good place for creativity, creates these blocks from frustration. There’s studies. I’m tired and feel ill so I’m not about to go looking for them. You’re on the Internet if you’re reading this. DuckDuckGo is a Thing That Exists.

If your fever is too high to recall by the end of a sentence what’d been the beginning of it, lie down, get fluids, play … Pokémon or something.

And y’all perky cheerleader sorts? Context matters. There’s a time & place for “Ra Ra! Go Team! You can do this!” And a time to say “Wow, here’s a hug and a cup of tea. I’ll just make sure your novel is put away neatly & safely while you go have a quiet lie down”. Relax a little bit with the “at least you’ve written” line. I mean … I didn’t even touch how that affects those with anxiety issues, that’s its own post all by its lonesome & I don’t even have anxiety. Assuming it isn’t just a catalogue of profanities, a person with anxiety could likely manage a series of posts.

So, let the watchword of 2020 be “chill”

Today in stupid advice

I can’t even pretend to be polite about this. It’s ridiculous.

Yes, some of the greatest SF/F writers out there love to read SF/F, some don’t.

As a writer you should love to read. If you don’t read you … it’s hard to explain but consider it Furthering Education or whatever the devil that modern phrase for it is when teachers are required to go back to college every few years kinda thing.

But reading should be something you love.

This and it’s myriad copies (seriously, I find it both terrifyingly cult-like as well as exceedingly telling that these are always worded nigh identically) are phrased in a way that clearly implies “so you known what is selling right now and you can write that”.

I call bullshit.

Don’t believe me? Follow editors and they’re all wanting to see something new and different and lament all the agents who’re only accepting the tried and true.

Look at how many clones of Twilight failed to garner its numbers. The Harry Potter knockoffs. Too, look at the insane number of people of all ages who prefer YA because it’s where they can find something different … to say nothing of YA not actually needing a special genre tag for “this isn’t depressing, dark, etc”.

In short the people like Ms Dawson who say this are horribly out of touch.

You want advice on writing? Look to the successful writers: Ed Greenwood, Neil Gaimen, Terry Pratchett, Spider Robinson, J K Rowling, Saladin Ahmed, Jeph Jacques …

What do they all have in common? They didn’t look at their own genre for anything. Not really. Pratchett’s Discworld stuff started out parodying Dragon Riders of Pern which is a fantasy novel, but I’m pretty sure that is not what the Dawsons of the world mean.

In many cases they utterly defy genre. Ben Bova acknowledges that Spider’s stuff is not, strictly speaking (and doubly so back when Ben was editor of a major SF magazine!) SciFi, but where the hell else could Spider’s stuff find a home?! It definitely wasn’t Romance, Horror, Mystery, or Western. It could be called SF/F if you squinted and turned your head upside-down … so, what the hell! True, Spider reads SF/F … because he likes a good Heinlein, not because it has anything to do with his work.

Ed Greenwood is a librarian whose home is packed to the gills with tens of thousands of books, all of which he has read. So, okay, yeah he reads Fantasy … and cooking, and architecture, and biology, and mystery, and horror, and poetry, and … he just likes books. And that diversity of tastes influences his work.

The thing is, do your thing. Whatever that thing may be. Try to sell it to an agent if you like, but agents are … no one’s sure why … a bit obsessed with finding the next big clone of the current hot trend; like it costs them anything to accept something great and just actually do their flippin’ job! But publishers won’t let their editors accept unagented stuff anymore. But luckily traditional publishing is really just great for an advance which is pretty paltry and for being distributed by Ingram which I probably misspelled and don’t care but is also pretty much the distributor for All Things Book for US audiences (sad but true, Reagan & Bush’s dismantling of antitrust laws was a Bad Thing … not that publishing much got enforcement of them anyway).

Still, as truly awful as they are (and words can’t express how awful they are) it’s as effective or more so to be available on Amazon which is easy enough to do. Though I’ll be damned if I’ll engage in the modern day slavery of Kindle Unlimited (exclusivity to Amazon and I make a piece if an arbitrary sized pie made of pocket change that Amazon sets?! Fuck that.)

But read what you like, write what you like. And remember: Ursula Vernon doesn’t read SF/F. But she writes it and can’t seem to stay off the bestseller lists 🤷‍♀️.

Romantic Inclusivity

Now, I’ve said before that Romance is not a genre I’m well acquainted with. It mostly bores me and drives me up a wall.

To be fair I do watch good rom-coms like Imagine Me & You, But I’m a Cheerleader, For a Good Time Call …, Pretty Woman, etc.

But it isn’t something I read I’ve tried but I can’t get into it.

I realised today, thanks to @NeolithicSheep just what the problem I have is.

She decided to tweet-stream a book. And I mean zero criticism to the charming Comrade Shepherd herself; she’s merely a catalyst and her tweet-stream is quite entertaining … far more so than I find the story itself.

And I may have made a brief subtweet on the subject of today’s blogpost but there’s zero point linking to that because I’ll say the same thing here with LOTS more words.

In fairness to the authors of these stories, I do not have the faintest idea how monochromatic they are. For all I know the were-bears are Iroquois, and were-tigers are Nepalese, and … stuff. Which, I’m sure, Tumblr-folk (look, they haven’t settled on a new platform so the name can’t change yet) will complain “that’s so problematic!” but there’s a reason nobody takes the Tumblr crowd seriously: They’re the looking for reasons to be offended sort and I’ve no patience for that; won’t even argue with it, occasionally contemplate slapping the snot out of it but mostly I roll my eyes and move on, because there’s no discussion or debate with that sort. They’re basically the alt-left, the liberal-Nazi … you know, the opposition’s morons. But to return to my point, the cast may be if divers skin tone, accent, religion, and nationality 🤷‍♀️.

But, you know, despite my wife’s cruel sense of humour including reading about all these crazy subgenres of Romance she never hits a single lgbt+ example?!

Not among were-erotica romances, not among the 50 Shades knockoff garbage (I abhor 50 Shades as much or more than Twilight), none of it. The Romance shelves are barren of a Red Sonja-esque Fabia with a damsel draped in her arms. Of a Sean Connery kissing a Valentino. Of … gimme a break, Romance covers don’t get very creative.

I mean, if you’re diligent enough you will find a het-romance with a male POV character or a 3rd person that is either over his shoulder or includes his perspective in the omniscience. That bends the mould a little.

But where’s the shattering?!

I mean, literally – near as I could determine it after weeks (months?) of scouring both trad & self pub – Now & Forever is either first of its kind or damn-near-so as being gay fiction that’s happy. I wrote the Male POV Bodice Ripper of Gay Teen Romance (note: Both girls’ bodices remain intact in the only occasion any bodices are worn).

Now, I’m probably going to have were-things in Færie Patrol because why not. And they’re going to be anywhere on the gender spectrum and anywhere on the sexuality one as is my wont.

But where’s the cliché, formulaic nonsense about A Woman and a Were-Tigress? The Alpha-Bitch taming the New York Banker Man? The (oh gods, I can’t not go here) Were-Bear Bear Couple? (Sorry, not sorry) The Trans Marine Time-Traveller and The Viking Princess/Prince?

Nowhere to be seen! Even in the nightmarish dregs of Smashwords‘ strangest tags (not for the faint of heart, it’s safer to go have tea with a Lovecraftian Horror) I found nothing.

I’m sure it exists. Schrödinger’s Novella mandates it must; but then again, Law of Cliché Themodynamics may overrule and state that no one has actually tried to counter the cis-het momentum in any meaningful way! thus it actually does not yet exist! Which, of course is in keeping with Schrödinger’s Novella because quantum cheats by maintaining strict neutrality.

Why, my dears, must we all suffer at the hands of [Insert culturally stereotypically masculine animal] were-bro of muscles, machismo, misogyny, and let’s collectively vomit 🤮 now wins the vaginal canal (surely he wouldn’t know a clitoris if it bit him on the pecker … oh! An Akira twist! I love it!) of the Lovely Lady With Humdrum Life (or sometimes a bit Kardashianesque Life) which the author conflates with her heart and they all live abusively ever after, amen 🙏?!

I say bollox to all that. Go forth, my lovely minions! I say: Subvert, pervert, and anything else ending in -vert all the Romance Genres! Flood them with lesbians, Enbys, aces, bisexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, drag queens, bears, and twinks, a veritable Pride Parade of queery awesomeness 🏳️‍🌈! Drape the cover models in rainbow flags! Have the Naga Queen with the mostly nude virgin in her clutches from behind have her hand upon yon maid’a crotch and breats the embrace rapturous rather than terrible!

Why? Because it’s getting boring around the genre. I used to boggle at the “plot” crap my wife would torment me with from this stuff and now I just shake my head and finish washing the dishes.

Let’s shake things up like the megaquakes that broke Pangea!

P.S. I proofread this twice. Any typos have earned the right to live via natural selection.

In other news

Book 3 needs a bloody title! 😩

So I’ve rather got back into writing of late! It’s crazy, I don’t have a lot of time for it because of work but I’ve been getting some squeezed in, even a little at work! (Thank you tiny quiet offices!)

Sadly little of it has been book 3. Three side project quirky … I don’t even know what they ares … have been eating at my attention instead.

One is a quirky telepathic girl from another galaxy meets a young space rat (think street urchin but on starships, in spaceports, and on space stations) orphan and … it’s a very weird pile of twists on the old princess falls for the poor street waif sort of story. Along with a sort of reverse Cinderella or Annie if you twist your brain into a tasty pretzel 🥨.

Another is a young half-human and half-not girl from Earth and her family fleeing the world and it’s social hostility to her existence, that of two other of their children, and none too kindly to the parents either … it’s poignant but it’s relatively happy and funny despite that.

And a young alien girl from an alien world joins a student exchange program by the Terran government to come to one of their worlds and attend school there for a term. I’m worried she’s going to try to start a revolution 🤭.

But my steam for those has waned so perhaps I can concentrate on Book 3 again soon.

I know how late it is. Exhaustion, Depression, and … Time … I work 6 days a week and at times am 13hrs or more a day spent working + commuting for said work.

But I have an interview Thursday coming for a promotion! That will mean MORE time. It’s also going to mean a chance to buy a big beautiful house (a specific one I have my eye on, to clarify), and other niceties.

And … bollox … how does one categorise and tag posts in the WordPress App these days?!

Oh found it … the the three dots, Post Settings. Makes sense.

Rant over modern series writing

(Sarah is a cuckoo—a breed of human-looking cryptid that’s biologically more like a giant wasp than any sort of primate, and telepathic to boot. Evolution is funky sometimes.)

Excerpt From: Seanan McGuire. “Midnight Blue-Light Special.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/midnight-blue-light-special/id592216584?mt=11

So, at the moment, I’m rereading Midnight Blue-Light Special.  And it made me have to say something about why I don’t read a lot of newer series.

There are 3 fundamental approaches to series.

The Discworld Model:

This is for series like Bernie Rhodenbarr, the Rita Mae Brown & Sneakie Pie Brown mysteries, Discworld, Mithgar, and similar.  In these (and Mithgar is, quite possibly, the most amazingly perfect example) the books stand alone.  There’s little reference to the prior events, or they’re referenced in off-hand manner if relevant to the moment in the same way you or I will make off-hand references to our own pasts.  Other than that the book of the moment is pretty thoroughly divorced from the books before and after.  You can literally pick up at any point in the series and not be missing anything besides the fun of the other books … which you can just pick up and enjoy as you go.

The Serial Model:

This is the classic Book 1, Book 2, etc model.  This is Now & Forever, this is Harry Potter, this is – frankly – most series.  This is “To Be Continued” through to “The End”.  Sometimes you can muddle through if you pick up part way in.  Harry PotterLittle House, and others aren’t nonsense if you pick up later than the beginning, but it helps.  Well … Little House might be more of a Discworld Model, now I think of it, but humour me.

The thing with these is that you write them assuming that the person reading book 2 read book 1.  If you write something that was explained in book 1 you don’t explain it again, you move on because you’re not worried about confusing anyone because they read book 1 or bloody well best have done.

The Modern Model:

This is one I really don’t like.  I’ve read things, namely InCryptid, that use it.  But it annoys the hell out of me and the stories have to be very good for me to let it slide and keep going … or you have to not do a very good job of it, thus begging the question of why the author bothered instead of sticking with the Serial Model (possibly the actual case with InCryptid … I’m not actually 100% certain).

In this you try to do the bastardisation of the Discworld Model and the Serial Model.  Your books are very “to be continued”, and rely heavily on what came before, but you try to accommodate the ones who are coming in a bit late.  Now, some series are a blending of these. Mithgar has Serials (duologies, trilogies, etc) tossed in amongst the larger tapestry of things.  Shannara too.  But series of Serials is a whole other kettle of popcorn.

I don’t like this one as a reader, nor as a writer.  It’s this philosophy that your Serial should be accessible to any and sundry who walk in 5min before the closing credits.  That really doesn’t work.  You have to insert little obnoxious infodumps that irritate those who have been there since the curtain went up, and unless you want to make your books exponentially thicker by basically reprinting the prior book into the following books –building them into an omnibus edition as you go – you’re going to annoy the mid-streamer who is like “well, she explained this, but why doesn’t she explain that?!”

There.  Was I going anywhere with this?

No, not especially.  Just saying that I don’t grok the modern method of serialising and it irritates me when I encounter it.  All the other crap about the other 2 methods was to illustrate what I meant.  Now, back to the book; it has Aeslin Mice in 😍

Writing advice

Yeah, I’m back on this.  But it’s important.

So, when I tell people I’ve published a book I get some very odd questions, but one that comes up often is “so how did that happen?”

How does one answer that?  I usually go with “I went through most of a pack of paper and several ink cartridges.”

Thing is, that is how it happens.  I know a lot of writers, but I don’t know many authors.  The difference?  The former have ideas, and they write … a lot … but they never finish anything, or never put it out there when they’re done.

Some don’t want to publish, they write for their own pleasure.  This is well and good.  Just as there are plenty of people, some of them brilliantly talented, who paint or draw just for the pleasure of it and others who sell their work so the same should be with any art or craft; writing is no exception.

For the rest, just get to work.

Now, some myths:

You must write every day, no exceptions and no excuses!

Bullshit.  This is so very much not true.  This seems to be more prominent among Americans.  For those in other countries, America is a barbarism where paid sick leave (or even unpaid!) isn’t always available and rather than rise up in revolution against it we developed “the American work ethic” and it’s as perverse as it sounds.

No, art suffers if you do it when you’re not up to it.  Now, you must be self aware enough to know the difference between “I’m just not feeling it today” and “I really don’t want to write this scene”.  The former is fine.  There is no point spending an hour staring at the paper writing nothing, or in writing for an hour a few thousand words that you’ll throw away tomorrow.  The latter … get it over with and move on.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block; it’s all in your mind!

Mmmm … yes and no.  There can be a number of things that are preventing you from moving forward in your story.  Maybe it turns out you need to backtrack and rewrite something, but until you discover that you’re stuck and you can’t move on.  Maybe your dog died and you just can’t concentrate.  Maybe you’re a chronic depressive and you’re having a low day, week, month, year … and you can’t seem to write anything or write anything you want to keep.

Writer’s block is no superstitious concept.  It’s a simple lack of inspiration.  It can have a billion and one causes and reasons, and it can have two billion and five solutions.

Find your solutions, but don’t let anyone tell you that all you have to do is plant your arse in the chair and write (unless, you know, that actually works for you).

You should write like … / Never use …

Just … no.  No, definitely not.  Proof?  Look at the criticisms of any wildly popular work.  I mean the stuff that lasts, like Harry PotterThe HobbitAlice in Wonderland, and so many many more.  They break rules, some break every modern rule.  Bill Shakespeare broke the rules, his contemporaries did not; who do we remember?  Ms Rowling was writing in a “dead genre”, among other “writing faux pas”; who is the best selling author of all time (no Bible comments, please)?

Don’t take thou shalt and thou shalt not from any author, even the most successful ones.  First off, Stephen King said to avoid adverbs, not to never use them; he uses them.  Thing is, it makes a kind of sense for the pacing and tone of his books, but that’d be horrid advice for Lawrence Block to follow.

I mean “thou shalt write thine own damned book” and “thou shalt finish what thou starts” and “once it’s bloody finished, bloody publish it” and so forth, those are fine.  “Thou shalt find thine own voice/style”, etc. this is good.  Absolutes suck, but “absolutes” are good reminders that we’re creating art.  We’re not building and designing nuclear reactors here, there is no precise science to follow; this is art, it’s all about imperfections, experimentation, creativity, and doing whatever.  Well, unless you’re trying to put out a cheap dime pulp in a hurry that’s deliberately formulaic and such … but that’s a complete other kettle of popcorn.

You must do X, Y, Z before you can write your novel / [blah blah blah] pay your dues …

I don’t know where to begin with this one.  It’s just not true on many levels.

  1. Some people just don’t write short fiction
  2. The “examples” usually given weren’t people following a deliberate career path, they were coincidences (and if you’ll notice it’s generally the same list of specific, mostly, old scifi authors.) and leaves out the numerous examples of people who are just as famous or more-so who didn’t go this route.
  3. There’s not really a short fiction market anymore.  Well, self-published, but not a “professional” short market.
  4. That “gotta write a million words” or whatever it was, wasn’t meant to be literal gospel truth and it certainly wasn’t thinking just write a million words of pure drivel.  You must always be aiming for quality and somewhere in there will be mistakes and pitfalls from which we learn and grow.  Read all of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s work from earliest to final (moment of sadness) and you’ll see it.  Heinlein, Asimov, Dickens … you see it if you look at someone with a long enough career.  Some start to lose their touch and so the opposite can become true as well.

In simple, and as always, to be blunt:  go ye forth and write, finish what you write (unless it really is garbage, but get at least a second if not twenty-fifth opinion on that subject before genuinely trashing it), find a means to get it to the world.  That’s the only sure-fire formula for success.  Everything else is superstition.

I can’t be the only one, right?

So I was reading this really cool article (with me it’d be #2 99.99999% of the time, the remaining fraction would be #7 in parallel universes where I’d go to things like that without having an anxiety attack).

It made me wonder:  how abnormal or normal am I for a writer?

I mean, am I the only one whose wife would have to drag her kicking and screaming to the RITAs or Hugos or Nebulas or whatevers if I were nominated (or gods forfend, actually win and then have to give a speech?!) to be fair I’d love the excuse to go shopping at Utsav and wear a super pretty dress, and would have to use an elephant tranquilliser to get my wife in something appropriate.

Not that I wouldn’t be honoured!  No no no no, not that.  I just don’t want all that personal attention.  I’d be happy, ecstatic, elated, and probably six other words starting with an E (happy should start with an E as well, damn it).  I mean, hello?  Authors, notoriously introverted, reclusive, anti-social, etc?  What sick mind came up with the idea of a big formal (authors, in formal dress?!) party and award ceremony?!  Seriously?

Proper award for writers: Announcement in paper that [Title] by [by-line] has won [Award] beating out [nominees with by-lines] in a few big papers, a lovely little mantle decoration of some kind arrives on the writer’s doorstep delivered by an anonymous UPS guy.  Yay!  Virtual hugs and silent clapping!  No where’d I put that damned teapot?

There are no shortcuts

Sorry for the long time with nothing but social commentary, but I’ve just not had a lot of new things to talk about.

Well, not today.

My wife, who has infinitely more patience for internet discussion forums than I (mathematicians, please feel free to correct me, but infinity is how many more times than less than nothing is something, right?), was noticing how a lot of aspiring authors, especially of an age equal to or less than our own (she was born 1980 & I 1981) seem to think there’s a secret formula to a) turn whatever idea they have into a novel & b) for it to sell.

Well, I’m here to tell you absolutely free that yes such a formula does exist!! [Try to imagine that sounds a bit like the twin sister of that bearded guy on all the infomercials]

A) Sit your arse down (you may stand if desired, but it’s liable to get uncomfortable and awkward), put letters together until they form words, put words and punctuation together until they form sentences, put the sentences together until they make paragraphs, those you’ll group into chapters, and finally you gather you chapters into a novel (advanced authors can group novels into series).

B) Put it out there, and don’t give up.

That’s all you can do.

Yes, if you want to write something as, largely, ephemeral as a Harlequin Romance there’re formulae to follow and it will turn you out a cookie-cutter story quickly and you can usually get Harlequin Press to buy it. Not knocking it, for one thing some really phenomenal authors have written that kind of thing, and some if the greatest Western & SciFi stories were that. But those authors took the formula in hand and, pardon the expression, made it their little bitch; it followed them, rather than the other way around. It set the parameters of the story, but they still has a story to tell.

There’s no special trick that will guarantee you’ll finish the thing, except not giving up.

Outlines? No, I couldn’t even outline my finished work if my life depended upon it, let alone something I haven’t written yet; I don’t really have the faintest clue how. You can try it, if you like, some authors dig it and others hate it, and still others (such as myself) are mystified and intimidated by it.

Character questionnaires? They’re fun, the better of them can possibly be a handy reference tool, but remember that you probably couldn’t fill one out completely for yourself and six friends and, even if you can, you probably won’t have an accurate picture of any of you … so they shouldn’t be your alpha and omega of characterisation.

It doesn’t matter if you sit down with Pantera at decibel levels that would shame Grand Funk and a Big Gulp full of Jamesons, lock yourself in a sound proof room with incense, try to use a laptop while sitting zazen, or spend the day on the London underground with a BIC writing on Kleenex. It’s just got to work for you. You probably shouldn’t ritualise it over much or you’ll find yourself so caught up in ritual that you lose track of ideas; really, that spark of inspiration isn’t going to wait while you to fire up the Yanni CD, brew that special herbal tea, paint your toenails, take a bath, and chain the family and neighbours in your basement (yes, I’m sort of making fun of a few people from a thread on NaNoWriMo).

There’s no secret to making it a great story, either. Doesn’t matter if you wrote it in one draft or fifty (though excess drafts can lead to a too sterile narrative, but excess is a relative quantity), it doesn’t matter if you go over it with a fine toothed thesaurus or strip out every scrap of descriptive language, axe murder every adverb or add fifteen to every sentence. None of those tricks you find touted are a magic solution. Some help in certain genres, some work for certain types of writing (non-fiction, scripts, etc.) because, contrary to a new popular attitude, writing is not the same across all things. What is necessary to ensure accurate and logical textbooks is useless to a novel, what helps keep a short story streamlined can ruin a script, and so on. All that can make a story great is a mix of perception from the reader, talent of the writer (yes, there’s such a thing as talent, and all the piano lessons & practice in the world will no more turn you into Bach than all the writing exercises in history will make you Rudyard Kipling), and some stories are more liable to resonate with people than others (according to someone, Pat Rothfuss I think, that’s going to ultimately be the human heart in conflict with itself).

As for selling it? Well, you’ll never sell what never leaves your hands (literally and metaphorically). Whether you self-publish or traditionally do so, you have to try.

There’re things that help.

First off, yes, having written the current popular formula … assuming you haven’t finished in a saturated market that is beginning to reach critical mass and be transitioning to something else. If you like the style of story, fine. But I suggest you not write it just because it’s what’s selling right now … not unless you’re an experienced writer who can knock out a clean manuscript to shop to an agent or to post to iBooks in only a month or three, because you’re unlikely to finish while it’s still In.

Secondly, don’t get discouraged. Remember, it took a long time for the Beatles and J K Rowling to get a contract. They both could wallpaper a room with rejections. If you’re self-publishing … remember that, by and large, people don’t read. Even NYTimes Bestsellers might only have got a thousand sales, and they probably had the help of ads that cost a couple thousand dollars each.

Thirdly, don’t give up. Taking down a story that isn’t selling isn’t going to sell it any better. If it ain’t costing you to offer it, don’t remove it. If you’re traditionally published … try talking to your agent to see if they can help you get some better publicity or something.

Finally, edit. Self-published especially, since you’re not going to sell very well if you’ve a book out that looks like it was written by a schizophrenic toddler with Tourette syndrome, but even if you plan to submit it to an agent/publisher it’s not going to impress them to look at a garbled parody of English (or French, Portuguese, or whatever you wrote it in); they’re buying your writing, not your glorious idea … besides, even if they love the idea, they’ve got to be able to find it inside all that text, and they can’t do that if it’s unintelligible.

One trick that does really help, though: read. Doesn’t have to be the genre you’re writing in (might even help not to be, but that depends on you), but read. The kind of writing does matter, it does no good to read novels to learn to be a poet, but beyond that just read for the simple pleasure of it. Don’t pull the story apart like some literature class assignment looking for themes and plots and cheeseburgers and … buggered if I know, I was never lying when I said I paid all but no attention whatsoever in my literature classes … just read. By doing so you’ll, the same way a child learns to speak by listening to people around her talking, you’ll start to get an idea how to tell a story.

Really, if the only thing you’ve ever read is a book about how to write (or books) it’ll show. There’ll be something unnatural about it to those who can’t spot the signs, and the rest of us can probably damned near say which writing manuals you used.

Stephen King, American author best known for h...

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

― Stephen King

Writing, like life, can’t be hurried and still maintain quality. Kraft Easy Mac might only take a minute in the microwave, but is it really anywhere near as good as the stuff your nana made from scratch with three kinds of real artisan cheeses and homemade pasta? Probably not, unless nana was real shite in the kitchen. And, unlike the Easy Mac which, news flash younger readers, used to take something like five minutes, there’s nothing much that can speed up writing except, maybe, spending time you could otherwise be writing doing exercises in Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. So, if you never want to be better than mid-list (if that high) forget about shortcuts, forget about tricks, forget about anything except what it takes to keep your story moving, your fingers on pen/keyboard, your characters from wandering off to play strip poker, and so that you can remember that Bridgette has curling green hair now because of that spell that backfired in the third chapter.

And seriously, folks, who besides Dean Wesley Smith actually ever wants to be known for churning out literary Easy Mac?! (don’t ask).

Beautiful characters

Have you ever noticed how often the characters of our novels and stories are beautiful?

What I find fascinating is, sometimes, they aren’t or at least aren’t explicitly described as such – we merely assume they are.

I think this has to do with escapism and romantic notions.

Too, I think it’s down to perceptions.

Now, it’s no good talking about the ruggedly handsome specimen of masculine archtypicality John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom.  I suppose there are reasons we could, he’s described in pretty fair detail so we could make and reject all manner of philosophical debates about it; especially since it’s never explicitly stated he’s supposed to be remarkably handsome, only the kind of handsome that comes from being a healthy and fit human with self-confidence.

I’m going to use my own writing for this, though, because they’re my characters so I know them intimately.

Sally, Lauren, their friends:  are they beautiful?

Oh sure, Sally describes Lauren as quite gorgeous repeatedly.  Thing is … is she a reliable narrator?  Most descriptions wherein Lauren is any remarkable beauty are (… wait for it …) from Salencia’s point of view!  Sally’s biased.  For one, Sally loves redheads.  Why?  Dunno, she just does.  My high school girlfriend was a redhead, and I’ll admit she had a certain charm, and my wife certainly loves my red hair, and for that matter a lot of women I know (men too, come to think of it) … I suppose it’s something about redheads.  Still, no one else describes her as beautiful beyond circumstantial points or when talking about her spirit and personality.

Lauren is not ugly, I would imagine, no.  Simply put it is hard not to be attractive when you are healthy, fit, and take a certain measure of care in your choice of hair and clothes not in regards to societal expectations, but rather in regard to what suit both your body and your personality.  Suffice to say, I do not have either the face shape nor personality to pull off a Pat Benatar or Joan Jett look, on me it’d be unattractive whereas on them it’s bloody stunning.  She is what she is, a petite redhead with freckles, and a demure hippie fashion sense, and the musculature of a dancer; she’s healthy, she’s trim … and it’s important to note that healthy is specific.  You can work out to the point of unhealthy, all muscle is not actually any better than all fat with regards to your overall health.  If coppertopped pygmies are attractive to you, then yes, Lauren is quite beautiful, but if you’re not into that then she generally falls into the realm of “cute”.

Sally, on the flip side, does trend toward more universally beautiful.  To each her own, not everyone digs the exotic skin tone, dark hair, etc.  But on general terms, while Lauren probably wouldn’t have much of a modelling career, Sally could.  She’s something between 5′ 6″ and 5′ 8″ (167 – 173 cm), proportioned like Shakira, with lots of leg, and features reminiscent of Aishwarya Rai (especially with regards to her hair); Sally could model pretty successfully (well, if she had the personality for it).

The rest actually aren’t described.  They’re as pretty or ugly as you’re comfortable picturing.  Though from my point of view the characters are all fairly attractive in that generic way that comes from good health.

I mention this because it’s an odd criticism that comes up about fiction, that the characters shouldn’t always be so spectacularly stunning to look at.  On principle, I agree.  I mean, Bilbo Baggins isn’t supposed to be some playboy with all the lady hobbits fawning over him, and maybe that puts an important detail into his character.  I also agree that some fiction goes too far and … just peruse some of the not-so-good fanfiction some time for easy access to an example (though the gods know there’s plenty of it on store shelves too).  Romances … okay, they’re given some leeway, for one thing they’re probably narrated from a POV that, like with Lauren, tends toward a bias, the rest is just tradition … for whatever reason, we’re happier with Westley and Buttercup than we are Miracle Max and his wife (whose name utterly escapes me now, even though she has one in the novel).  Still, I think, if we look strictly at the text as given, we find more cases where the characters aren’t especially pretty nor especially ugly; generally the heroes are going to need to be healthy and fit, so a measure of attraction comes with that, but beyond it … I think a lot of character beauty is perceived, not narrated.

Verity Price, for example?  Is she a Sally or is she a Lauren?  She’s in really good shape, and depending how you like the look she cultivates, you could probably go either way; but the real point is … nothing explicitly says one way or the other.  My vote is more of a Lauren.  Dominic, however, is more of a Sally.  He’s got the muscular Fabio-esque euro-hottie vibe turned up to 11 … well, until he talks, anyway.  (see: Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue Light Special.)

Now, to prove that it’s not always just the men who get to be the supreme hotties.  Let’s look at Barsoom.  Dejah Thoris is, admittedly, not explicitly described possibly to keep her look more timeless, since within Burroughs’ lifetime the epitome of feminine beauty had shifted a few times before he wrote that book.  Still we’re given enough to agree with his assessment, and little enough to fill in the blanks with our own opinion – in short, Dejah Thoris is the most beautiful woman on Mars both because you’re told she is, and because she’s put together in the right way to somewhat ensure this.  Our good gentleman, John Carter, on the other hand is described in detail.  Yeah, he’s got a lot of dashing hero tropes, so he’s going to be handsome in that fit fighting man kind of way; but he’s also described in rather generic terms.  He could be any of our brothers, fathers, sons, etc. if they only had spent so much of a lifetime relying on the strength of both their wit and arms to keep them alive.

What’s the point?  Why does it matter?

I’ve wondered that too, somewhat.  Why should it matter if there’re characters with crooked teeth, or characters with perfect teeth?  Both sides, in other words, confuse me.  Why are describing teeth unless it’s important?  At that point, they’re perfect or crooked based on the dictates of the character.  And, I’m sorry, but some people’s teeth grow in quite neatly without orthodontia (which, I might add has existed since the mummies were still being entombed in Egypt) so a pre-modern character can still have perfect teeth (just now you’ve a reason to mention it).

I don’t understand this idea of forcing “unattractiveness” on characters as some kind of Thing.  This idea that making all the characters flawless beautifies as some kind of Thing is equally strange.  Why can’t we just make characters people?  More importantly, why do we need to describe the characters in such tedious detail that the only explanation of why would have to be that we’re jumping up and down going “look! not conforming to unattainable standards of beauty!” or “lookit how pretty (s)he is!!”.  Oh, yeah, sometimes you gotta if the bloody point is how (un)attractive the character is.  But must you do so for everyone?

I’m starting to sidetrack myself with rambling.  Simply put:  who cares?!  Why should we care?  Lauren an Sally only need to be pretty to each other everything else is just decoration; Sally being so remarkably pretty was because that’s what she looked like when she popped into my head as a character … maybe I’d been looking at a lot of Bollywood and Tamil actresses at the time or something.  I mean, I don’t think it’s good writing to have every character be this flawless thing nor the opposite.  I also just don’t agree with everyone thinking someone is oh-so-gorgeous/ugly.  Even people who are considered “classic beauties”, in other words they fit the biological mould of healthy, good genes, fertility/virility, etc. like Marilyn Monroe, Aishwarya Rai, Chris Hemsworth, and Clark Gable aren’t universally adored as beautiful.  Some people really just have a thing for this hair colour or that, for darker or ligher skin, etc.  Also, Rodney Dangerfield was nothing much to look at, but as I recall the man was married and had children … clearly someone dug something about him, probably even found him attractive.

“Darling, did it ever occur to you that, if Salencia had a six foot nose covered in warts and no teeth and a squint and a great big hairy mole in the middle of her forehead, if you loved her then you’d still see her as beautiful? You’d see past the … mess to the person and heart inside and suddenly … well, very few happy and loving couples don’t think one another beautiful, quirky old songs notwithstanding.”

Excerpt From: Jaye Em Edgecliff. “Love or Lust.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/0Qu1N.l

Extremism.  It’s rarely good; not never or that’d be a paradox and therefore nonsense.  We should stop criticising works for having characters who are beautiful or not, and start looking at criticising the works that put big flashing neon signs over it needlessly.  Not even for the act itself, but rather for the sloppiness and laziness that it embodies.  Believe me, I’ve rarely met a story that was explicitly trying to make people stunning or hideous that wasn’t just all ’round badly written.  When telling a story it’s down to that balance thing.  Like Show vs Tell – sometimes you should have one, sometimes the other, generally a bit of an ambiguous blending of the two.