Baby on board: taking care with language use

Yesterday as I handed the baby over to her father, I said, “Be a good girl for Daddy.”

That pulled me up short, because it so easily translates as, “Be quiet. Be biddable. These things are what makes a girl ‘good’.”

That’s not what I meant, of course. I wasn’t even really talking to her. I was using my voice as an attempt to reassure and soothe her through this transition of cuddles, but my words were directed to Mr Dee. “I hope she won’t kick you or scream in your ear,” I was saying, “but to be honest I’m not hopeful, because she’s quite cranky at the moment.” I was saying, “Thank you for being here to take her, I’m so grateful for the break.” I was saying, “I’m glad you’re with me on this crazy ride.”

But I was tired and frustrated and lazy, so what I said was: “Be a good girl for Daddy.”

I do want my daughter to grow up with an understanding of appropriate behaviour, so that when she screams and kicks it’s not because she doesn’t know better, or can’t control herself, it’s because screaming and kicking is warranted. It’s her choice. But I don’t want her to grow up thinking that “good” girls have to be quiet and biddable, especially for men.

Do I think one stray line from me will make the difference? Of course not. But hundreds of iterations of it from me as she’s growing up, and thousands of variations on it from her relatives, her peers, her teachers, the television, society as a whole… yeah, that’s going to start adding up. The least I can do – in my position of considerable influence – is counteract that pervasive messaging. I want to try not to parent unthinkingly.

Let’s see how I go.

An announcement! (and some querying don’ts)

Now that the dust has settled, the paperwork is signed, my sleep deficit is somewhat reduced and I’ve had a celebratory beer (or, well, a third of a beer, but breastfeeding, y’know) I guess I can announce that I have an agent! I am now represented by Kurestin Armada of P.S. Literary. She is splendid and I am tremendously excited.

I will eventually do a “here’s my full querying story” post, because I read half a hundred of those over the past few years and found them reassuring, inspiring and generally interesting. (EDIT: I haven’t, because so busy, but you can read about my querying process – and read my query – in my QueryTracker success interview!) But for now, a few key lessons from my experience of the past few months:

Don’t get too hung up on formulas or rules. I workshopped my query with a few different audiences, and got a number of varying “a query must have x format” responses. Don’t get me wrong: query structure formulas can be a fantastic place to start understanding the work a query letter has to do so you can put your own together. And you should make your decisions to deviate based on solid reasons for your book. But don’t be afraid to deviate when you have those solid reasons, even if internet wisdom seems to say otherwise.

Don’t be discouraged if your query doesn’t set the world on fire. So many query-to-call stories seem to be full of excitement – oodles of requests and eager agents falling over each other. But to a certain extent, I think it depends on what you’re writing and what’s hot right now. At the moment YA seems to be getting more attention than writing for growed-ups, and of course what you do and how you do it isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. You really, genuinely, absolutely don’t need every agent you query to request. You only need one. (But I admit, it’s nice to have more.) At the end of the day, I had a 25% request rate on my book, and it happened sloooowly over the course of the months I was querying (until the end, when everything happened in a flurry).

Don’t rush agents if you can help it. After my first offer of rep came through and I started nudging with a need to decide, a number of agents who I would’ve loved the chance to consider (…obviously, or I wouldn’t have queried them) bowed out because they couldn’t review my manuscript before the deadline.

And truly, seriously, desperately, if you can avoid it at alldon’t go into labour the same day you get your first offer of rep. I’m not even kidding, my life has a terrible sense of humour. More about that in due course, though!

Writing this week: 3rd October 2015

This week I… continued to putter along, getting a little done every day, but not a lot. There’s been some good movement and other works on Notorious Sorcerer, which is a better taker-upper of time and energy than some things. But mostly, it’s been a pretty strenuous napping schedule getting in the way. As I get into my last couple weeks of pregnancy, I’m being a lot more lenient with myself, even though I know that the next few months are probably going to be a desert of productivity. That’s just the way things go.

Next week I’m looking to… continue slow and steady. I’ve given up on the idea of having a complete first draft by the time I pop – see above – but having as much as I can will be important. I’m leaving myself lots of notes as I go, to try and avoid loose threads and sure-I’ll-remember-this-idea moments that will have evaporated by the time I can come back to the writing. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you had a great idea but having no idea what it was. Even if you come up with something else great, you’ll always wonder if the other one was better.

Writing this week: 26th September 2015

This week I… didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I did manage to write every day – yay – but some days it was only a couple of hundred words. I only managed half a chapter all up, which is a bit demoralising. Considering-just-giving-up-until-after-baby demoralising. But that sounds like a great way to achieve nothing and feel terrible about it, so enough of that nonsense.

Next week I’m looking to… keep up the every-day-writing habit. While I would like to do better than I did last week, if I plug at that long enough, even a few hundred words a day start to add up.

On which note, I’m going to relax my demands on myself a little and not have a “I want to do X much” this week. Anything I get will be good. Let’s just do the best we can.

The weather is also getting a whole lot nicer. Maybe I should look at some outdoor writing sessions. Gets butt in chair and it’d be good for my vitamin D.

Writing this week: 19th September 2015

This week I… did a bit better. I’m settling into a last-few-weeks schedule that includes napping (v. important) which is making it easy to nail down some other routines. Putting at least one word to paper every day, I managed to finish off the chapter that’s been plaguing me, with significant satisfaction about how most of it turned out. Hooray!

Next week I’m looking to… consolidate on and continue this progress. Daily writing is a goal yet again – I want to nail that habit down, even if it will get completely messed up by arrival of baby – and I’d like to complete another chapter this week, possibly two if I can manage it. If I do hit Thursday (or even better, Wednesday) with a chapter completed, then I might cheat slightly to accomplish the second. Deadlands has two strands of story – the present time and the pertinent history – which are alternating in the telling. I’ve been alternating in the writing as well, because this is such a strong “told” book (it’s first-person, conscious narration, very much a “I am telling you this story” style) that I wanted to build the two parts side by side as I went. But it does require a certain mind shift – even if only that one is present and the other is past tense – that can interrupt the flow a little. I might skip over the other storyline and write two chapters in the one arc if that becomes an option.


Writing this week: 12th September 2015

This week I… really didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I suppose it’s to be expected, as the pregnancy gets to the really-not-pointy end (I am so cumbersome; baby is so prone to bulge) that things are going to be more time-consuming, impedimenty and nap-prompting, but it’s still a little annoying. After my mammoth Tuesday (no time for writing), Wednesday became about follow-up housework and napping, and Thursday was more involved than expected as well. I did manage to get back into actually putting words on page, though, and have about half of a chapter written. I’ll take whatever I can get – some words are better than no words.

Next week I’m looking to… continue getting at least some words down. I have errands or appointments on every day, but nothing enormous, so hopefully I will be able to at least get a little bit done very day. That daily habit has been key in previous productive phases of work, so I’m keen to establish it. (My personal experience being that establishing daily habit is harder than growing said habit once established.) I’d like to finish this chapter that’s had me stuck for so long, and be in a position to be considering the next chapter over the coming weekend so I’m ready to launch into it the following week.

Writing this week: 5th September 2015

This week I… finished my scene outline, as scheduled, all except for the one scene where I got hung up that sent me back to the planning board. I don’t know what it is about this thing that makes it apparently so impossible for me to come up with the details, but it just isn’t coming. I’ve tried edging up on it from all sides. I’ve made lists of considerations and elements. I’ve thrown everything aside, stopped thinking about it, and let my subconscious simmer. But I’ve still got nothing. Time to get out the big guns: discuss it with the Mister.

All the other glitches and problems identified in my planning have been solved and folded back into the scene outline, so once I get this one nailed I feel pretty good about running through a first draft. Which is good, because I’m now on a definite deadline: baby is due 13th October, and that’s if it cares about punctuality. I’m well aware that I could go pop any time. (“Have you packed your hospital bag yet?” the midwives keep asking. “What about now? Pack your damn bag already.”) I’d like to have the first draft of this project more or less done before routine and getting stuff done become the topics of hilarious nostalgia for a while. So with that in mind…

Next week I’m looking to… start writing. I think my ideal pace is going to wind up being two scenes a day (~2000 words) but I’d like to give myself a chance to ease into it this week. Not to mention that Tuesday’s going to be a challenge – I have a double driving lesson, a doctor’s appointment and a childbirth class – and Thursday might be tricky as well, since it’s earmarked for taking care of the last of the baby shopping. I’ll aim for a scene every day except Tuesday, which means by next weekend I should have a chapter done.

Provided, of course, that between us the Mister and I can solve my little details problem. *glares at it*

Planning from experience

Recently, on one of the fantasy fiction/writing discussion boards I participate in, there was a discussion of how much we all plan before we sit down to write. It’s a misleading question, really, because it draws an artificial boundary around what constitutes writing (isn’t all that planning also part of “writing”?), and perpetuates that distinction between planners and pantsers (whereas I suspect both sides do all the same thinking, it’s just when the thinking is done – before or during – that varies).

In any case, I found myself – as always – more interested in the why and how than the what. Specifically, I realised that what and how I plan now has been heavily influenced by the sorts of things I did in revising two previous novels. Which makes sense: that sort of structural work is something I’ve identified as necessary, and it’s super frustrating to have to do the heavy conceptual earthwork at a point where I’ve already spent weeks and thousands of words in directions that are now being bulldozed. Much more efficient to get that all nailed down first.

The results are undeniable. I had a rough plan for Notorious Sorcerer, and that still led to spending weeks meandering through false starts on some chapters, only to get to the end (eventually, after a year or so) and have to trash whole sections because I needed a different focus. I had a very strict, down-to-scene-level plan for my 2014 NaNoWriMo project, and I banged out the first draft in November. I’ve recently had a first glance at it, and while it needs a lot of polish, I’m not sure it needs much in the way of big-picture lift-and-shift.

Is this because of my planning? Maybe. Is my improved planning because I now have the experience of two other novels behind me? Undeniably. Continue reading Planning from experience

Writing this week: 29th August 2015

This week I… was somewhat interrupted by an unwell Mr Dee, but still managed to get a fair amount done. My goal was to scene-outline Deadlands, and while I’m not quite finished, I’m nearly there.

In the process, I’ve uncovered a few more need-to-solves (which are highlighted for now on the outline) and a few more bumps in my initial chapter-outline that I’ve smoothed over at a scene level. These include places where the flow of story from one chapter to another looked good in brief summary, but once I teased out the details just wasn’t going to work. A few twitches see it put right. Payoffs for getting a little more detailed: now those glitches are solved before I get to the writing – or closer to it, because I’m sure I’ll find more as I write. It’s also been handy to note how often supporting and lesser characters are reoccurring. A brief note of “Events happen” having now been teased out into a more detailed description of what sort of events, and how they happen, I can see that character X and character Y are involved in the story a lot more than I had been expecting. This is good to know from the outset, so I can develop their details and relationship with the protagonist and other characters from early on – the more I do now, the less I have to try and wrangle in during revisions.

Next week I’m looking to… finish the scene outline, and solve the outstanding problems. Update my world-and-plot wiki as needed. In short, make sure I have everything I need to write smoothly once I get going. It’s tempting to push myself to get back to rough-drafting next week, but I want to make sure I don’t skim or skip over the problem-identifying and -solving parts. It’s tempting to do, because that’s the hard stuff and my brain is like water, seeking the path of least resistance. But that’ll just land me back in Stuckville further down the track, so I need to do the hard yards now.

to put the viscera (the guts, the emotion, the details) back in — a little like making sausage, more like finding that devil in the details and making him spin you a tale