Thursday, July 2, 2015

Easing into it

Camp NaNoWriMo progress: 7856 words

It's been a little over two years since I've drafted a novel (and that was the book I wrote in eight days). Since then, I've revised and polished two separate novel manuscripts as well as written a dozen or more short stories. All of that is significantly different from drafting.

I like writing fast. I find that no matter how quickly I write my first drafts, revision always takes the same amount of time, so I like to pound them out pretty fast. It keeps me focused on the story to the point where I'm almost living in the novel even when I'm not writing it. Writing quickly is like a lot of things, however. It takes practice to do, and when you're out of practice, you really feel it.

Author David B. Coe wrote in a essay in How to Write Magical Words about being an "inertial writer." When sitting down to start a new project, he is lucky to get a few hundred words. The next day, maybe a couple pages. It takes a while until he finally reaches his usual daily word count.

I remembered this essay as I was facing the first draft of this novel. I was rusty, and I had gotten into the habit with short stories of revising as I wrote, and only producing 500 or so words a day. To tackle my own writerly inertia, I put together a plan. On the first day, I would write only 500 words. The next, 750. Then 1000, and then 1500. On the fifth day, I would hit 2000, and that would be my daily word count for July. (With this strategy I had to start Camp NaNoWriMo a few days early, so that on the first day I could hit my 2000 word count.)

It worked beautifully. When I sat down the other day write those first 500 words, it was like I was asking myself to write a ten page essay on the meter of Shakespeare's sonnets. It took a solid hour, but I got those words.

Funny thing is that the next day, it took an hour to write 750.

Every day I got faster as I eased myself into drafting, and today I got through my 2000 words without too much trouble. For those who are just getting back into drafting, whether for Camp NaNoWriMo or their own deadline, I highly recommend this approach. Easing into it can avoid putting too much pressure on yourself to suddenly start writing a lot everyday.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Camp NaNoWriMo

I've never done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before. I love the idea of it: writing a 50,000 word manuscript in thirty days. It just hasn't worked out to do it, since my schedule usually means drafting during the summer and revising through the fall and winter.

This summer, however, I am setting off to Camp NaNoWriMo. Here, you get to pick your own word count, get together with your cabin mates, and write a full manuscript of something during July.

I have a new project that I've started this past month that is perfect for Camp NaNoWriMo. I'm aiming for 60,000 words in the rough draft, which comes out to about 2000 words a day. The goal is to finish by the end of July, because I leave for Indiana on August 1 (cue nervous grad school screams).

I've written fast before. The last novel I wrote took eight days. That was an exhausting adventure. I'm hoping the pace this summer will keep me on track, but leave time and energy for things like packing.

I'll post progress updates here as I push forward. Have any of you done either NaNoWriMo before? Have any good experiences or tips?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Book Haul

I've never done one of these kinds of post before, but I love reading them, and I figure that I buy enough books that I won't run short on material, so here we go!

My high school friend and I went to Half Price Books and Barnes and Noble last week, and I just have no self control.

From Half Price Books:

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl (which I've already read-it was okay.)
Weight of Stone by Laura Anne Gilman (Book 2 in the Vineart War trilogy-book 1 was super good!)
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Heart of Stone by CE Murphy

From Barnes and Noble:

Codex Born by Jim C Hines (Book 2 of the very excellent Magic ex Libris series)
The Ripper Affair by Lilith Saintcrow (Book 3 of the also excellent steampunk Bannon and Clare series)
Thieves' Quarry (sequel to the wonderful Thieftaker historical fantasy novel)

Two days after that I went to San Antonio last week to visit my brother, the computer engineer, and I came back with a suitcase full of books. Also, a Wonder Woman throw. See lack of self control above.

Wolf Captured and Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold (Books 4 and 5 of Firekeeper's Saga)
Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers (First two books in the His Fair Assassin trilogy-I've read Grave Mercy and it's incredible!)
Silent Dances and Shadow World by AC Crispin (Books 2 and 3 in the first contact sci fi series Starbridge)
Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
Ms. Marvel annual comic book

I'll post about them as I finish them. Let me know what you guys are reading.

On Equality

I normally don't write about these kind of things, but I just wanted to say something quick. I was overwhelmed yesterday when the Supreme Court declared that marriage is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, no matter your sexuality or gender identity. It is amazing to know that I can now get married in any state. Married, not "civil-unioned." And it's about far more than marriage. There are hundreds of rights that come with a marriage certificate: visitation in hospitals and prisons, joint taxes, citizenship for spouses, to name a few.

There is still so far to go before true equality is achieved for the LGBTQA+ community. But this is such an important step for us, so celebrate!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Graduation! and June reads

This is a couple weeks late, but I graduated! From college! At this point, it's still a little hard to believe. I think it will really sink in once I start packing for Indiana. I leave for grad school on August 1, which is actually pretty soon...

On to the books I've read recently:

Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight

Oh my goodness, this is the Marvel heroine I've been waiting for. I've read Carol Danvers as Ms. Marvel, and while I did love her, she never quite had the nuance and depth that Kelly DeConnick gives to her as Captain Marvel. This collection has an old-fashioned comic book plot complete with robots, time travel, and aliens, and it'll take your breath away. Highly recommended for all superhero fans, as well as anyone who's looking for a way into reading comic books.

The Kingdom of Gods by NK Jemisin

I've raved before about Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy before, and now I finally got around to finishing it. This third book was extraordinary. Jemisin catches the point of view of Sieh, a child godling who is slowly losing his immortality. The stakes of the trilogy are raised, and subtle plot lines from the first two books are brought in to make an incredible ending to the series. The world building in this trilogy is among the best I've ever seen in fantasy. Five stars, highly recommended.

Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flewelling

The second book in Flewelling's Nightrunner series, this book really ups the action and the stakes. Alec and Seregil are master spies and thieves working for the crown who must stop an enemy from bringing their god of death to the battlefield. What I enjoyed most about this book was the natural development of the relationship between the two main characters, from strangers in the first book, to friends, and now to the beginnings of a romance. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl

This book tells the story of Elana, a new agent working for a powerful Federation of planets who take care of Younglings, worlds that are not as developed. To the people of a medieval Youngling planet, she is an enchantress. While the story, characters, and dialogue left something to be desired, being often wooden and predictable, the combination of fantasy and science fiction elements and the blending of those genres really made me think. So, it's a good brain book, and the story is fine, if not super memorable.

Friday, May 15, 2015

On Beginning

And, I suppose, on ending as well. This week, I completed my capstone project for my creative writing major. I graduate from college in three weeks. To say it's hard to believe is an understatement. These past three years have been incredible, and to know they are coming to an end is a weird mixture of relief, sorrow, and excitement.

For beginnings, I have started working on a new project. It feels odd. I have been in revision mode for so long, and when I wasn't revising, I was writing short fiction, or creative nonfiction, or poetry. To start a new novel looks a bit daunting now. I'm trying to remember what my process is, and I'm also trying to take what I've learned from working in various genres in college and apply it to this novel.

Right now, I'm a teaching assistant for a Beginning Fiction class. The professor, when speaking about creating narrative, said this: "Take a character. Put them up a tree. Throw rocks at them. Then get them down."

I keep this in mind as I think about beginnings, about crafting a narrative for a 300 page manuscript. It keeps me from getting hung up on the small details that don't matter until later. At its core, there is a simplicity to storytelling that's easy to forget about. Peel back the layers, the nuances, the experimentation, and you have a character, some rocks, and a tree.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Speculative Fiction in the Classroom

This term, I have the opportunity of assisting a professor with a beginning fiction class, and that includes presenting several short stories to the class in a discussion on craft. Last week, my first story came up. I gave the class "Cloud Dragon Skies" by NK Jemisin, who is one of the best speculative fiction writers today, in my opinion. Her work constantly challenges the tropes of speculative fiction, and her first novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is nothing short of marvelous.

The discussion went extremely well as the students picked apart the story to see how to world build within the constraints of a first person narrative. Halfway through, I was struck by something: no one had brought up the genre of the piece, and no one had questioned its place on the syllabus.

After three years in an undergraduate creative writing program, I've gotten the same sentiment over and over again: genre fiction isn't real writing. Sometimes, the message comes from professors; sometimes it comes from fellow students. I only write speculative fiction, and in workshop, I've had people tell me that a story is bad because it's fantasy. My professors constantly question why I write fantasy and science fiction, but they never ask anyone why they write realist work. Workshops encourage focus on realism, but never ask students to try more speculative stories.

Speculative fiction is not inherently simplistic or "unliterary." We delegitimize it by constantly shoving it under the rug. I didn't have a genre story or novel on a syllabus for any of the writing classes I've taken. When professor do include speculative fiction on their syllabus, and they do, it's speculative nature is never brought up. Think 1984, The Handmaiden's Tale, The Odyssey. If students are never shown that speculative fiction (or any genre fiction) is as relevant and distinguished as its realist counterparts, then they are left with the idea that it is inferior and therefore they shouldn't waste their time writing it.

In my beginning fiction course, Jemisin's story was put on the syllabus right alongside Lori Moore and Raymond Carver, and no one thought twice about it. I'm hopeful that this will encourage those who want to write speculative fiction that those stories are worth writing.