Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Category: Writing Life (page 2 of 3)

Anne’s Awesome, Synchronous, No-Rest, Very-Intense Two Weeks

For the last two weeks, I’ve been working pretty dang hard, y’all.

I attended AWP in Minneapolis and tabled with Minor Arcana Press, as mentioned last post.

What does that look like?

Interior of the Minneapolis Convention Center main hall.

The Thunderdome, apparently.
Photo credit: Laura Lucas

So our table was in the waay back of the hall. But still attractive and exciting!

Photo of a woman (Laura) sitting at the con table at AWP.

We survived on coffee and manic cheer.

“We” was me and the fiction writer/poet/all-round lovely human being Laura Lucas (above), who helped me table and kept me sane through the three days of 14,000 people circulating about the hall.

And then I flew home. On the flight I sat next to a woman who was a friend by the end of the flight: a writer on Whidbey Island. We processed our convention experiences, what we were working on, what it’s like to write both in and out of community. I think our three-hour conversation wins at Top Plane Conversations Ever. There’s something really beautiful about the liminal space of being on an airplane. This was a conversation that perhaps could not have reached such depth without the lovely in-between-ness of being suspended in a metal tube miles above earth for three hours.

This month has been synchronicity central. I was a Bad Pagan and ditched my Ostara (Spring Equinox) ritual, but dang if the Pagan Themes of Spring aren’t whacking me upside the head every other day. Those themes, for the record, include embodiment/germination/hatching of dreams…realizing that you have been occupying too small a space and getting out of your shell. Growth. Wing-stretching.

And nothing has helped me with that more than the Artist’s Trust EDGE program. Holy Business Boot Camp, Batman! For those of you unfamiliar with Artist’s Trust, they are a statewide Washington program that does many things including grants to individual artists of all stripes and professional development, like the EDGE program. The EDGE program is sometimes an intensive residency (one week with class 9-5 most days) and sometimes done as weekly workshops on the weekend or the evenings. My understanding is that next year’s visual artist EDGE program is going to be run both ways.

Alexander's Castle and madrona tree in field, Fort Worden State Park

Fort Worden is out by Port Townsend. It’s a State Park, a historical site, and a conference center. It’s real pretty, y’all.

I spent the week in the beautiful Fort Worden, chilling in a cabin, hanging out on the beach, and learning giant piles of information about topics like professional presentation, business plans, IP law and copyright issues, marketing, and more. This is the part of writing life that I think most MFA programs (particularly, bless their hearts, the low-res ones) fail to cover. So a fairly vital part of what was missing in my life as a writer has been filled in. Now to implement it all…

Incidentally, it was Laura is the one who originally encouraged me to do the EDGE program. See? Synchonicity abounds.

***

Next week: Less about me? More about writing? I might just rant about spreadsheets forever? Only the future knows.

 

 

On Showing Up

hand holding a ballpoint pen, writing on paper

I don’t much hold with New Year’s resolutions. For one thing, I rarely heard people talking about their resolutions in say, November. For another, I see folks get into the “eat better exercise more keep a spotless house floss and live all my dreams right now” version of New Year’s Resolutions, which I think are practical for exactly one (1) hour, usually midnight-1AM on January 1st before you have time to actually try doing all of that at once. This being said, I do like goals, because goals are less about “do or don’t do this thing and then if you screw up, abandon it all until next January” and more about “work towards this thing.” I like goals and I like themes. And my theme and/or goal of the year is this:

SHOW UP

That’s all. It’s simple. It’s also a lot.

When I say “show up,” I mean show up on the page. I’m asking myself to show up on the page during the traditional work week, whether that’s morning pages (Julia Cameron style) or more. I’ve done a good job showing up to this blog every week, which has been a great practice that I know I can expand to other areas of my life, like all those comic book reviews that I am in theory writing.

When I say “show up,” I mean to the writing groups I attend and/or host. One of the groups I attend goes like this: we meet at a coffee shop, we sit, we write uninterrupted for 45 minutes, we read what we just wrote without commentary. If that’s not raw showing up to the page, I don’t know what is.

When I say “show up,” I mean literally show up to things I have committed to do. My unhappiest moments last year were when I said I was going to do something, and then either forgot due to incompetence and poor schedule management (sorry, awesome poetry class!) or wimped out going to because it was scary (sorry, comic drawing session!). That being said, this Show Up thing is not about having no boundaries and trying to make it to every Seattle literary event. That might be possible if I was some sort of fifth-dimensional time creature, but no. Even if I were, I’d still want to have healthy boundaries and make strategic choices about which events I attend.

When I say “show up,” I don’t entirely mean about writing. I also mean showing up to my own body: in the gym, on the yoga mat. Showing up to be present with my partner. Showing up in the world. One of my former bosses, a remarkable woman who helped my personal growth immensely, would ask us “How do you show up in the world?” This wasn’t a question about vanity or clout. This was a question about what you’re bringing to the world every day. What you’re doing, how you’re being. It’s a good touchstone question.

In my martial arts practice, I mostly don’t feel nervous, not even cold demonstrating a tricky form, because I have worked on the art of showing up to practice. Martial arts are great because they get me out of my head. I show up, I practice, things are in my body or they aren’t, in which case I work on them. It’s not connected to performance anxiety or shame or guilt. I don’t beat myself up if I screw up, um I mean add creative flourishes, to a form. It’s a matter of showing up and practicing. Again and again. Knowing that some days I will forget basic forms and some days I’ll nail tricky techniques. The art and my body get to occupy the same space for a set amount of time. And because martial arts is an out-of-my-brain-space type of activity, showing up comes pretty smoothly.

My challenge this year will be to apply all of that nice showing up to the rest of my life. To let the art and my body occupy the same space for a set amount of time.

I don’t need to show up and

show up and be brilliant
show up and shine
show up and somehow manifest perfection
show up and impress

Nope.

I just need to show up.

Reading Habits

I’ve always been a ravenous reader. I think often of the type of reader I was as a little kid (precocious), school-aged kid (my consequences for neglecting chores was that my mom would take away my Redwall books), and a teen (avid). I certainly thought often about reading as a college student or grad student, because school more or less prescribed a major portion of my reading. My first semester of grad school reading list still makes me swoon a little bit.

But I’m not only out of school at this point, I’m no longer in a 9-5 day job (or a 7:30-4:30 one, in my case, for many years). I’m thinking of all the times and places I read as an adult: I used to read over my lunch break. Currently I read before bed for 10-30 minutes pretty much daily, and in sporadic larger bursts that sometimes get coupled with naps. I read at coffee shops. I read for my comic book review podcast, Trade Secrets!

And honestly, I don’t read a whole ton these days, which is sort of sad. Not fiction, anyway. I read the heck out of some comics. But! I have a lovely reading challenge that I will attempt for 2015, to try and spice things up, give me some blog post fodder, and serve as a reminder to read a dang new book every now and then instead of having the unread pile of shame and the sad pile of borrowed books that I haven’t yet gotten ’round to. Also I went to Elliott Bay the other day for actual research for design purposes and ended up with three books following me home, so…yeah. I know the hunger is there. I need to strategically feed it, instead of durdling around endlessly on the Internet.

reading challengeNot a perfect list, but a fun one. (I promise to read fiction for at least half of the list.) So here’s to more reading in 2015! It’s a beautiful way for a writer to stock the pond and fill the well, as Natalie Goldberg puts it.

I’m one of those ridiculous people who enjoys “reading like a writer,” i.e. breaking stuff down in terms of craft. So when I write about these books, expect one part me viscerally reacting to them, and one part me breaking down some specific craft things that I find interesting.

Sparring Drills for your NaNo novel

I’m having a hard time with NaNoWriMo this year; I’m about 5K behind at this point in terms of my word count. This is still recoverable. I’ve been a bit distracted this weekend by things like my small press releasing the fantastic deck of shuffleable poetry, Shufflepoems by Lydia Swartz.

Also this weekend, I did the once-a-month fortifier to my martial arts training that is the Open Sparring that’s held at the Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu kwoon in Seattle. This is a gathering of martial artists of all genders and arts for a well-run sparring session. You start out the four-minute round by making agreements with your sparring partner (speed? level of contact? any off-limit targets? takedowns?). After  minute and a half you check-in briefly to make sure everything is ok and continue. Last Sunday there were three flavors of Kung Fu (origins in China), Tae Kwon Do (origins in Korea), Kajukembo (origins in many places incl China, Korea, and Japan), and my art, Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen (origins in Indonesia and China). There were about two dozen folks. I think I sparred someone from every one of those arts.

Two Women Sparring with a Speed Bag   credit: Wikimedia Commons

Two Women Sparring with a Speed Bag
credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sparring teaches very directly principles about the give and take of energy, hardness and softness. You can come in like a battering ram. That might work. Better with some body types than others. When I try hard, quick attacks, I often telegraph my movements and get blocked with bruise-inducing force. But that’s where I’m at right now in my training, and there are plenty of other approaches to try. You can sneak into your opponent’s guard. You can flow with their energy and try to turn some of it back on them. You can catch their strikes and counterattack. You can try working on different angles or levels or trying to throw something your partner’s way that they’re not sure how to deal with.

The great thing about sparring, and about multidisciplinary sparring in particular, is that there will be stuff you don’t expect. It’s not like learning a form, where you can practice on your own, where you know what’s coming next. It’s not like a planned drill. It’s a spontaneous dance with a partner. And the best sparring bouts I had yesterday were ones where I had no idea how to deal with what my partner was throwing my way. I had a conversation with one of the Tae Kwon Do guys afterwards, who was there for the first time. He was in a state of wonder about how Wing Chung Kung Fu actually works, and how all the things he was trying were so deeply ineffective. (Wing Chung. Yep. That’s a darn powerful art.) His world had been turned upside down by the things that he knew to be powerful in one context being irrelevant in another context.

 

Which is all a great metaphor for writing! Hooray! It’s good to shake up your context. With that being said, I offer you a few context-shaking-up writing prompts for helping/rescuing your word count:

  • Write a piece of in-world text: a newspaper article from your world about your characters, or a blog post by your character, or a letter, or a poem that one of them wrote.
  • Risk: What could happen to your characters that would be impossible to un-do? What are their personal points-of-no-return? (Examples of points-of-no-return in film: Luke’s aunt and uncle get crispy-crittered, Sarah decides to save her brother and enters the Labyrinth, Katniss volunteers as tribute)
  • Write a scene, in a separate word file, that feels to out-of-character or weird for your characters to actually do. Put them in higher-stakes circumstances than usual, or experiment with changing their usual reactions to stuff.
  • Interrupt the scene.
  • Mix up your routine, or a Ze Frank would say, Bust That Cycle. Try writing at a different time, under different circumstances, in a different Word file or on actual paper with a pen. Try varying your routine of how you take care of your home, prepare your meals, etc. (And that doesn’t mean take less care…) Figure out which times of day (and night) are electric for you.
  • Pretend you are James Franco, and therefore not only is everything you have to say already sort of hip and interesting, but the literary community is going to automatically pay attention to you. Then submit what you write to the James Franco Review.

What else y’all got? Particularly poets, memoirists, cartoonists…what would you tell someone writing a novel to try?

 

Shufflepoems!

We’re in a brief respite from Stock Photo Hell, which will continue in its icy glory on Monday. Meanwhile!

 

Shufflepoems back of cards RGB

rad art by Blue Sparks

Imagine a book that was not really a book. A book of poetry designed to be read randomly, the stanzas mixed up and read in a different order each time for different effects and influences. This book would be like a beach, with agates and dead jellyfish being washed ashore, tumbled, resorted by the sea. This book would be like going to a poetry reading in Seattle and watching Lydia Swartz shuffle up her stack of 3×5″ index cards and read them in a different order every time. This book would, in fact, be a deck of cards.

Just like this one.

We’ve taken four of Lydia’s poems and created a deck of 100 cards, that’s 25 cards in four “suits.” They can be read individually or together, and they’re delightfully non-sequitur, witty, thoughtful, beautiful, and intriguing. Lydia is a poet, a dancer, a performer, and a hard-core zen practitioner. (I’m not sure if she’d call it hard-core zen. I’d call it hard core. Multi-day sesshin counts as hard-core in my book.)

If you’re intrigued, please check out our Kickstarter, which is functioning like a good physical-media-Kickstarter should, as a de facto preorder with other exciting prizes as well. So if you think you might want a copy anyway, um, why not back us?! Also if you back our project, you can see a truly ridiculous video of me showing the casual viewer how to Odalisque in your own home (although I am wearing clothes at the time, unlike most Odalisquers).

So in case it was not obvious from the preceding:

I’m the Associate Editor for Minor Arcana Press, a small press out of Seattle, WA.

logo designed and painted by Sergio Coya

logo designed and painted by Sergio Coya

For those of  you unfamiliar with a small press, here’s the run-down. (My parents, adorably, were like “where’s the press?” and I was like “um, there are books in my basement?!”) Between one and ten people work together to solicit content, edit books, design books, and find printing and distribution for said books. My focus is mostly the “design” and “find printing and distribution” bits. Our Editor-In-Chief, Evan J. Peterson, does more of the “solicit content” and “edit books” end of things, although we also print rad anthologies with guest editors like Drawn to Marvel: Poems From the Comic Books. There’s also a whole bunch of stuff that’s less romantic and exciting, like “run a small business,” “figure out taxes,” “fulfill orders,” “do accounts,” and “publicize your books so that people know they exist and stuff.” Thankfully, the press is not entirely Evan and I; we have many rad volunteers, interns, and board members who do everything from consulting about business practices to writing and sending press releases.

Small presses! They sure are small businesses. If you want a sweet deck of poetry, hit up the Kickstarter. Otherwise, we’ll return to your regular infernal programming on Monday.

Blogging on Tour

Blogging on Tour: My Writing Process

I was graciously invited by the luminous Ti Kendrick Hall of What if the Shape is a Rose? to join in a blog tour that explores writing process. It’s a bit like a chain letter except vastly more interesting and full of tasty tidbits of writer’s obsessions and processes. A few of the others on tour have included:

 

Without further ado:

1) What are you working on?

Currently, I’m working on a short story for the forthcoming pen and paper role-playing game, Strange Voyages, which has been described as “Star Trek meets the Age of Exploration.” I’m writing a story set in Cuba in 1544 during the height of triangle trade and the beginnings of Santeria.

In 2013, I finished my MFA thesis for Goddard College, entitled Behind the Magic Mirror, an ambitious combination of short stories and comic scripts that each retold a fairy tale. Two of the short stories have been picked up for publication: “Iron Henry” appeared in the Fall 2011 Pitkin Review and “Lilith’s Mirror” appeared in the 2013 anthology from Dark Opus Press, Tell Me A Fable.

I pretty much always have some sort of retold fairy tale going on, either in the form of a short story or a comic. At the moment I am working with several artists on short comics that retell tales from the Grimm brothers, Nez Perce legend, and The Arabian Nights.  I’m always on the lookout for artists who have the same obsession with weird fairy tales that I do.

I have also been working on a superhero comic, which is one part love letter to superhero comics and one part critique. A Teen Titans/X-Men-esque team of teenage heroes defeated this menacing alien invasion…this story is set ten years later, when the heroes have grown up, settled down, and really, truly, deeply suck at young adulthood.

2) How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre? 

In terms of fairy tale retellings, my tales are not blithe parody (Cinderella doesn’t need a man so she opens a shoe store omg!) nor simple setting-shifted retellings (Snow White in SPAAACE!). Oftentimes I find hidden content or untold sides of the stories to explore. Why is Rumplestiltskin so obsessed with babies? What’s with all the maimed women? Can anyone else see these tales’ queer content? Sometimes my tales are more like sequels to the original tale, sometimes they are like hidden facets of the story. I strive to maintain the open-ended weirdness that the original tales have.

As for the superhero comic…it’s not Watchmen. It’s not The Incredibles. It’s not Promethea. It’s not even a convenient combination of the three. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a superhero comic like the one I’m writing, which is more or less why I’m writing it.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Aside from the above?

I write comics because I have profound love for the medium; I think comics can tell stories in ways that no other genre can. I also enjoy the collaborative aspect of making comics; as someone whose drawing skill is…say not as developed as my writing skills…I’ve had a good time working with others to realize my comics.

I write about fairy tales and superheroes because I obsess over them. I find both examples of profound cultural mythology that affects the way people tell themselves the stories of their own lives. I like looking at culturally ubiquitous literature like Dante’s Inferno as well, as you may have guessed from Stock Photo Hell. Watch out for me on Twitter (@AnneBeanTweets), because I have been live-Tweeting Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Fairy tales and myth in particular have this bizarre and tasty weirdness to them. They are simultaneously empowering and problematic. They are psychologically profound and lasting, sources of cultural commonality. At the same time, there’s straight-up weird imagery like a bear with iron fur, a young woman dressing in the skin of an old woman, a killer butterfly, a goddess who returns to her scorned ex-husband buckets full of all the semen he’s ever spilled in her… Furthermore, I marvel at the recurring themes that transcend cultures and continents: the countless women with missing hands or limbs, the animal husbands, the miraculous babies. Once you start digging into fairy tales, I’ve found, you open a well into deep cultural consciousness. It is, as the old woman said, turtles all the way down.

4) How does your writing process work?

I have recently re-engaged with the Julia-Cameron-brand morning pages, i.e. three pages of longhand brain drain writing in the morning. These are great. They reduce the amount of time I spend hyperventilating and staring and a blank page or blinking cursor by at least half.

I write most of my drafts longhand. I like to sketch out character arcs and story structures for longer pieces. I find writing in groups to be helpful; I have several groups dedicated to writing practice, and I host a group that does focused exercises and timed freewrites. I edit on the computer, usually with the input of beta readers. Frankly, it’s harder to write when I’m not in the comfy structure of an MFA program. Self-imposed deadlines are tough. This is why I write with others.

In terms of comics, I write scripts with pages and panels, but I don’t mind if my artists ignore the paneling and make up their own. About half of the time I write whatever script has popped into my brain; the other half of the time I write specifically for an artist who has agreed to work with me.

***

Next Wednesday, July 16th, check out the next group of radsauce writers:

Mick Harris

Mick Harris is a poet living in the SF East Bay. They have an MFA, but their education is far from over. They’re mostly friendly, and definitely happy to be here. You can find their work in Pink Litter and the Up, Do anthology available from Spider Road Press (http://www.spiderroadpress.com), as well as forthcoming in Fruitapulp, Deep Water Literary Review, and Digging Through the Fat. They share poetry and general brain dump at http://www.positivelysocialsix.wordpress.com.

MM Jordahl

M.M. Jordahl is a writer, blogger and feminist endlessly fascinated with the intersection of social issues and popular fiction. She has a degree in creative writing from the University of Washington in Seattle, and primarily writes science fiction and fairytales, with frequent deviations to complain about TV shows on her blog. You can find her at mmjordahl.com, or on Twitter at @mmjordahl.

 

Con Report: AWP 2014

This past Thursday through Saturday was the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention, a.k.a. AWP. I come from a background of comics and video game conventions, so it was interesting to see what this writer con was all about. The closest thing I’d been to AWP was Wordstock in Portland. I was tabling at AWP for Minor Arcana Press, where I am the Associate Editor.

Anne and Evan at the Minor Arcana Press Booth

Me and Evan J. Peterson, Editor in Chief, at the Minor Arcana Press booth.

 

The first thing I noticed about the con was that everyone was dressing and acting their Writer Persona, myself included. “Everyone here is cosplaying as a writer,” I joked on Twitter, but it was true. There was a lot of tweed and bow ties and classy shoes and red lipstick. The networking aspect of AWP is huge. Sometimes by “networking,” I mean meeting the amazing amount of poets and poetry publishers that are associated with Minor Arcana Press, as well as chatting with artists who are interested in submitting to Minor Arcana Press’ forthcoming journal, Monster Fancy. But I also got to see a great deal of lovely Goddard people and writers I know and love and haven’t seen in far too long.

Some of my dear Goddard pals.

Some of my dear Goddard pals.

Technically I see this fierce poet all the time, but hey, still exciting to see each other at AWP.

Technically I see this fierce poet all the time, but hey, still exciting to see each other at AWP.

Networking and table-minioning is mostly what I ended up doing for the three days of the con; this included giving people single-card Tarot readings, which was a lot of fun. There was a long lovely list of panels and workshops, but sadly I only made it out to one. Still, it was a great panel, and a rousing defense of genre fiction. It was funny going to a con where genre fiction was a thing to be defended rather than a default. It felt good to be repping a huge book of speculative poetry.

Getcher comic book poetry! Get it while it's ekphrastic!

Getcher comic book poetry! Get it while it’s ekphrastic!

Minor Arcana Press’ flagship product at AWP was our brand-spankin’-new book of poems inspired by comic books and superheroes, Drawn to Marvel: Poems From the Comic Books. It was a truly triumphant launch for the book; people ate ’em up. Many of the poets and one of the editors, Bryan D. Dietrich, were on hand to sign. Drawn to Marvel is a honkin’ book. At 139 poets and something like 300 poems, it’s a force to be reckoned with. It spans nearly five decades of people writing poetry about superheroes and comics, everything from Popeye to Storm to Batman. It everyone from epic names in the poetry world to wee poetry padawans like me. Some of my favorite poems include “Oya Invites Storm to Tea” by Tara Betts, “Luke Cage Tells It Like It Is” by Gary Jackson, “Sex Life of the Fantastic Four” by Michael Martone, and “Haikus from Supervillains to the People They Love” by Ryan Bradley.

four poets at AWP

Poet Stephen Burt, poet/editor Bryan D. Dietrich, poet Gary Jackson, and poet/EIC Evan J. Peterson

At the Drawn to Marvel launch event at the local geek hangout Raygun Lounge, I read my li’l Swamp Thing poem (“The Decomposition of Alec Holland”) next to Michael Arnzen, Stephen Burt, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Tara Betts, and more. Swoon!

 

Really, for a book release, AWP made all of my wildest dreams come true. The poetry industry is a weird place, and it was great to sink deeper into the weirdness. My secret hope is that projects like Drawn to Marvel advance the cause of speculative poetry and encourage people to look at the connections between poetry and popular culture.

 

 

 

Short version of the story: Minor Arcana Press is so hot right now. Be sure to keep up with us on our website, and submit to Monster Fancy*, ya weirdos.

Mugatu says: "That Minor Arcana Pres...So hot right now."

Although I was working, that didn’t stop me from getting out and spending a tad more money than I should have on shiny books and journals.

books! so many books.

Swaaaaaag.

One of my favorites was Spork Press, which has beautiful, bizarre hand-bound books. I got “Saturn,” which is basically the most satisfying David Bowie fan fiction possible. They’re beautiful and well-designed products; I’m a huge sucker for sexy book design, thus my torrid love affair with Wave Books. I also really enjoy Two Sylvias Press. Aside from carrying two of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s poetry books, they also print the Poet’s Tarot, which is a fun tarot deck with poets as the major arcana and court cards.

In conclusion, an AWP well-spent. Yesterday I hunkered in my fortress of introversion, read a lot of comics**, and I’m ready now to return those emails and continue this lovely mad writing life.

the Minor Arcana Press table at AWP

 

*Monster Fancy: A journal of high-brow, low-brow, and no-brow art and writing for the discerning monster enthusiast.

 

**Finally read Locke & Key: Alpha and Omega by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, cue all the feels oh god read that whole series at once

Hermione Granger Marriagegate and Authorial Control

jk-rowling-ron-hermioneJ.K. Rowling is an interesting author in the public eye. Recently, she was interviewed by Emma Watson and said that she regretted pairing up Hermione Granger with Ron Weasley, and wishes she’d put Hermione with Harry instead.

Reactions to this were flailed all over the internet at once and ranged from:

“Well duh!”

to

“Ron is Actually Pretty Awesome”

to

“It Doesn’t Actually Matter Who She Marries”

to

“Nobody is Cool Enough for Hermione”

to

“If she’s gonna get paired with anyone it should be Tamika Flynn.”

to

 

Hermione-GrangerWhat I want to say about all this doesn’t have much to do with my opinion of who I think Hermione should be with or not with. I want to talk about the relationship between authors, readers, and fictional worlds.

I think J.K. Rowling was affected in a profound way by her own rags-to-riches experience and the rampant fan-base for her books. How could you not be, with the frothing fandom surrounding your characters? Rowling calls the Hermione/Ron pairing “wish fulfillment,” about which author Will Kostakis points out: “Guys, this is the closest we’ll get to JK Rowling admitting that epilogue was total rubbish. Cherish it.” If you’ve read the epilogue of the seventh Harry Potter book, you know what he’s talking about. It’s a laundry list of who’s married to whom and who has how many kids named after which dead people. It reads like bad fan fiction and feels like Rowling is struggling for control over the ultimate destinies of her characters rather than stopping the words on the page when the story ended.

Other authors have struggled for control over monstrous stories that they’ve created. Take George Lucas and the infamous Star Wars prequels. Lucas had vastly more editorial control over the prequels than he did over the original films; fame had made him a “sure thing,” so he felt he had carte blanche to make movies just the way he wanted… and we all know how that turned out. He let his fame and power go to his head and made a mediocre product. I feel similarly about the ending of the Harry Potter series, and I rolled my eyes a bit at J.K. Rowling’s commentary. She no longer controls her characters, not really. They have fled into the wide world and have taken on a life of their own.

So what’s a poor author to do? One cannot simple toil in exile, never reading the work of others nor caring if anyone is reading what you wrote. I mean, you can up until you land that contract and have to think about readings and promoting yourself and getting that fan base. There will be a relationship between you and your readers, your written world and the world you shop for groceries in. Especially in the last 20 years, your public life as an author is inevitable and necessary. Your fans, critics, and/or haters have an increasing amount of access to your public face. And if you’ve achieved the legendary status of J.K. Rowling, the British paparazzi would probably like to track your napkin scribblings and/or bowel movements, if you’d let them.

979_102743-004-EC818A89I don’t have any real answers to the question of balance in your private and public writing life. I guess the writers I see navigate most successfully sort of float around their creations like a mechanistic god, one who has created and is now leaving well enough alone. At least, that is their public face. Privately, I imagine they have (as I do) a group of more salon-like, intimate writing friends with whom they can discuss their writerly regrets and aspirations. Many of my favorite creators also use Twitter and other social media to sort of bum around and be themselves–not discussing craft details, but often talking about the struggles of maintaining a writing life…and stuff like fart jokes and the joys of explaining football to Canadians. The line between private and public face is there, just increasingly blurry with the advent of social media as a dominant marketing force.

In the end, I’m not sure what to think about J.K. Rowling making large, public statements wishing she’d done different things with her characters. I think perhaps the machine of Harry Potter has become too big for her to comment on casually; perhaps this is the sort of thing she can fess up to Emma Watson in an unofficial capacity rather than in an interview. Ultimately, I think you should leave the shipping to Tumblr (which MM Jordahl brilliantly discusses here) and keep on writing what’s itching your soul.

NaNo, NaNo, What Next?

Some of you may be in the lovely, warm, glowy position of having “won” your NaNoWriMo, i.e. having written 50,000 words for fun and/or profit over the course of November. You may have written only a few thousand words, but hey, that’s more words than you had at the beginning of the month. If you wrote all 50K and won NaNo, doubleplusgood, because now you have access to the array of delicious winner goodies that NaNo’s sponsors provide.

I won! I did the thing!

I won! I did the thing!

If you wrote 50,000 (or fewer) words for fun, awesome! Well done, you. It is possible that you may have no desire to touch your manuscript ever again, and that’s fine.

 

But if you want to turn your lovingly vomited word-pile into a fully-functional novel, let’s talk. You’re probably in one of two boats: you have an actually complete story, or you’re like me, and in 50,000 words have about 85% of your story and perhaps an outline for the rest.

If you finished your story, hooray! I have good news, and I have bad news.

The good news is that you’re ready to begin the soul-crushing process of revision! The bad news is the same as the good news! And also, sitting at 50K, you’re going to have to make a choice about form. Because 50K is not a full novel. Most commercial adult novels run between 70-115K. Here’s what agent Bree Ogden had to say about word counts on Litreactor.com:

Adult Fiction:

Anything above 70k but less than 115k (science fiction and fantasy tend to run up around 100k-115k words). The sweet spot for adult is about 90k.

Middle Grade:

With fun, lighthearted, simple middle grade you’ll want to stay around the 20k-30k word count range. The average middle grade is 30k-40k.

Upper middle grade can hit in the 50k word count range (possibly longer, if it’s something really special).

Young Adult:

Young adult fiction allows for a lot of flexibility in word count. And as you’ve probably guessed… it is sitting pretty right in between middle grade and adult.

YA manuscripts can have a word count anywhere from 55k to 90k.

Picture Books:

Picture books are generally less than 1000 words. About 500-700 words is perfect.

Also remember (because there are a bunch of new novel imprints opening their doors), a novella is 40k or less.

Pro tip: Try not to completely tether yourself to word counts. Let your writing take you where you need to go.

But use good intuition and follow some of the rules.

 

Hopefully you are not filled with despair at this point, or if you are, it’s the good despair that gets you to do feats of might like write 11K words in a single day. (I saw it happen November 30th, and I was most impressed.)  In general, though, if drafting is a sprint, editing is distance running. You’ve gotta pace yourself and go a loooong way.

 

But how, cries the novice novelist, how does one go about editing a whole huge novel?

  1. If you’re not done, finish a draft. The end of the year is a healthy-ish goal, unless you only wrote 10K last month and have an epic fantasy novel planned.
  2. Do not try to tailor what you’re writing to a particular market. If you’re not writing what you love to write, then an agent will be able to tell that really, really quickly. The only exception to this rule is erotica. Apparently you can make bank off that action, especially if you write really weird niche stuff like some hot girl-on-dinosaur action. (I really wish I was kidding.) So, assuming that this novel is not actually a get-rich-quick scheme, let’s continue.
  3. Re-read your draft. I’m a fan of reading though stuff multiple times, once without notes, once with lots of notes.
  4. Find some poor sap who’s also wrestling with a NaNo manuscript and do a manuscript exchange. At least lightly proofread your manuscript first so that your buddy can make it through successfully. A manuscript exchange will be more effective than trying to get relatives to read your work over the winter holidays unless you have some really cool and patient relatives. Remember, the NaNo forums can help you.
  5. When you have a complete second draft (having dealt with issues of content, style, and mechanics, which I’ll get to in a further post), send it out to all those friends who were like “so when do we get to read it?” upon hearing you were drafting a novel. They are your beta readers. Send it to enough to get a decent feedback sample, ’cause of the 20 or so folks I sent my Goddard thesis, only about three got back to me with any detail.
  6. Incorporate reader feedback (ignore your one friend whose ideas of what your novel should be have no resemblance to what you actually wrote), go through your editing checklist again, and proofread the living heck out of your manuscript.
  7. Rinse and repeat steps 3-6 until you are so sick of your novel that you could scream. Intersperse other writing and creative practice so that you don’t rage-quit the whole process and light your computer on fire in a dumpster.
  8. After all that, a) start querying agents and/or small publishers that accept direct submissions, or b) start on a track to self-publishing. But that is, as they say, another tale to be told another time.

 

If all of this seems overwhelming, well, it is. Sorry. That being said, you do not need to go down this weary path alone. Even them’s fancy early 20th century novelists we so like to idolize hung out with each other and talked about what they were writing.

***

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, particularly about what that whole “editing for content, style, and mechanics” bit was earlier, then consider hiring someone who has, say, an MFA and is really obsessed with story structure and loves working with larger manuscripts to talk it out and do an editorial consultation. Yes, I mean me.

Yes, I would love to talk to you about your NaNo! Yes, I would love to talk anything from “how does plot go” to “where can I sell this” to “how do you sentence.” Yes, you.

Yes, I will charge you money. I am a freelance wordsmith, and stuff like this is how I buy groceries. My NaNo Winner Special is $16.67 for a half-hour manuscript consultation, $33.33 for a one-hour manuscript consultation, and $166.70 if you want me to read your entire manuscript first (and then chat for an hour). That is stupidly cheap; even the editors at a print-on-demand service charge $200 or more to read through and give you basic editorial feedback. I’m happy to meet with you via chat or Skype (or in person if I know you and you’re local), whichever feels more comfy. I also offer proofreading services and line-editing. Even if money is an issue, contact me; let’s talk.

Email me: a (dot) g (dot) bean (at) gmail (dot) com, or use my contact form on the site.

Every damn day.

A dear friend of mine once had Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman sign inside a blank book for me. I don’t know if she asked them to do writing advice, but that’s what they did, and it’s become a nice little mantra for me:

every damn day

“To Anne- 30 minutes every day. Every damn day! -Terry Pratchett”

Of course, with NaNoWriMo it’s more like 90 minutes every day, every damn day, but still. Once you’ve done NaNo and know what a mostly-daily practice feels like, it becomes a lot…easier is the wrong word. You become more likely to sit down for 30 minutes every damn day, because it’s less than 90 minutes. And you can get a lot done with just 30 minutes a day. Really. I was at a NaNo write-in, and a man near me commented something about “someday I’ll be a real writer and spend hours every day writing.” Aah, the Mythic Real Writer, who is always inspired and spends all their time composing thing after thing at a large, romantic mahogany desk, and totally somehow also has health insurance. Some real writers do spend hours a day writing, sure. But some real writers do half an hour in the morning before anyone else is up. Or squeeze in two hand-written pages per day in between taking care of five kids (Carol Shields). Or write in the afternoon before their night shift (William Faulkner). Or write poems on their prescription pads at work (William Carlos Williams). Author Joanna Penn (who has four published books and a day job and a podcast and…) talks about the “first draft binge writing phase” followed by small daily doses of writing until stuff gets finished. She also talks about the pre-writing idea-gathering phase, which she calls the “composting” phase. I think that’s delightful. I also think sometimes stuff composts for years before it gets written, but if you have a small steady stream of word outflow, it shall indeed get written eventually.

Point is, you can do a lot with just a little each day. That being said, it’s still hard as heck and sometimes you end up petering out on whatever plot you thought you had going and then realizing that you’ve just been writing sort of pointless exposition parties in lieu of actual scenes where something happens for the past three days and you’d better sort something out quick or else get very, very bored. *cough* So what I did was, I wrote a quick summary of each scene and/or exposition party that I had, in the order that I had them. This helped. I knew there was this “midpoint” thing approaching, and I needed to have a really coherent test of my protagonist’s mettle. And what that test was became clear once I’d written an “outline” of what was actually there. (“Oh, yeah, my protagonist hasn’t properly met the main antagonist yet,” I realized, among other things.)

Now, at the end of the month, I’m going to need to buckle down on Neil Gaiman’s advice:

every damn day01

“To Anne- And finish things. Then start new things. Then finish them… -Neil Gaiman”

Yes, finishing things. With NaNo, sometimes the tragic thing is that you get maybe 75% or 80% of the way through your story in 50,000 words…but the month is over. You’re done, right? You don’t want to keep going at such a frantic pace. You need a break. Yes, those things are true. But you can still finish, and after you do take some time off you can come back for the joys of editing a novel. And by the “joys” I mean the “tedious and frustrating cage match” that is editing a novel. But you’ll see more of that from me in 2014.

For now, want to watch me struggle with word count? You totally can, here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/annebean

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