Having a lovely time. Hanging out with chrysanthemums.
I have two events today:
Rachel Hartman: Dragons and Shapeshifters at 12pm in the Asian Civilizations Museum, River Room. There’s a book signing afterwards, also at the ACM.
Dragonlore and More: Worldbuilding Workshop from 4-7 in The Arts House, Living Room. This one requires tickets, I believe, and is a workshop intended for teens 15 and up.
Tomorrow, I’m on a panel:
“Instalove” – Romance and the YA Novel, again in the ACM River Room, with a signing afterwards.
If you’re not already in Singapore, you may not have time to get here. If you are in Singapore, however, please come by and say hi!
[This is not the speech I gave at McGill Library in Burnaby last night. This was my attempt, the day before, to put my thoughts in order. My thoughts, as I spoke them, were distinctly less ordered, which is rather a pity]
It’s NaNoWriMo time, so here’s a shout-out to the intrepid writers attempting it this year. Bravo! You are boldly taking that first step on the proverbial journey of a thousand miles.
There are as many different reasons to write as there are writers writing. Personally, I write because I want to make art, and art is one of the finest, most humane things we can do. It’s also one of the most intimidating, and it comes with a lot of baggage. We’ve all been told that we didn’t have enough “talent,” or been mocked for being sincere or enthusiastic in public, or been asked – sometimes nicely, sometimes not so nicely – to stop singing. The world tells us all no, over and over. The easiest thing is to listen and obey – to give it up – and most of us do.
To quote Carla Speed McNeill: anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Art is abundantly worth doing, whether you have expert skills or not. I’m in two choirs. For years I danced. Am I fabulously talented at either? Nope. But once I figured out that I couldn’t die of looking silly, there was no stopping me.
My favourite thing about NaNoWriMo is that they’re convincing people that it’s ok to try. I applaud them for that. We all have something to say and we are worthy to say it; art is not and should not be exclusively the domain of “experts.” In my dreams, art is a verb, something we all do for the love of it, and for our own sakes.
I’m kind of an artistic anarchist, to be honest, and I’ll tell you a secret: in art, there are no rules.
Now this is something of a paradox, because in fact art has lots of rules. You learned a bunch at school — how many syllables in a haiku and feet in each line of a sonnet; rules of spelling and grammar; musical keys; colour theory; dance steps. Viewed from a certain angle, art is nothing but rules, and this is not a bad thing. If I decided to sing in whatever key I wanted, I’d be kicked out of choir; if I eschewed spelling and grammar, no one but me could read my novel (and I’d be faking it, trust me). We need art to have rules so we can understand it.
What I really mean is “art has no rules that can’t be broken.” We get to choose what rules we’ll follow, understanding that there may be consequences to these choices (like getting kicked out of choir). If any rule is hindering instead of helping, we are absolutely free to let it go. Every rule is voluntary, and has to pull its weight.
I mention this because NaNoWriMo is a month of intensive rule-following. The letter of the law is straightforward: write 1667 words per day for 30 days and end up with a novel-length chunk of text. But what’s the spirit of the law? Why do this at all? I can’t get on board with arbitrary rules unless I understand what they’re for.
The spirit of the law, to my mind, is twofold: one, if everyone’s doing this at the same time — keeping track of word-counts together, having writing parties, egging each other on — then there’s a nice camaraderie there that one doesn’t often get in writing. Misery really does love company, and I think that goes double for writers.
Two: writing quickly, without editing can keep the mean shame-Grendels in your head at bay. They are nothing but the echoes of the world telling you no, telling you you suck too much to do this. Nothing stops writing in its tracks so effectively. We all have them, and we all have to find ways to shut them up. NaNo offers one specific way: work so fast and furiously that you don’t have time to listen to the haters in your head. It’s a clever strategy, and it works for lots of people.
However: if you find these rules don’t work for you, you are not a failure.
This is something I feel really needs to be said, among all the cheer-leading and pep-talking. Not everybody works this way — and that’s good, right? We’re all different; it’s going to be reflected not just in our art but in our processes. If you find you can’t NaNo, it doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.
True confession: I’ve never finished NaNoWriMo. The first time I tried it, I’d already written a novel, so I knew at some level that I could do it. And yet, I couldn’t NaNo: the pace was doable, on a per-day basis, but I require down-time. I couldn’t write that many days in a row without a break. The well ran dry. The pressure of it weighed down on my heart, and I felt like I’d been chained to my keyboard. I was having a miserable time.
I got really depressed. It felt like everyone could do this but me! If I hadn’t already had a novel under my belt, I’d have thought I was no writer at all.
It’s hard when “the rules” are passed down from on high, with testimonials from Published Writers. It’s hard to go against the voice of Authoritah when you’re just starting out and trying to do things right. But let me raise a second, parallel voice, a descant over the main melody — because I’m an Authoritah too, friends — reminding you that all rules are voluntary. None of them are set in stone.
If the strictures of NaNoWriMo help you, huzzah! I’m glad you found something that works. If they don’t, give ’em the finger and kick ’em to the curb. Do not make NaNoWriMo a stick to beat yourself with. I’ve tried it; it hurts.
Now go out there and art!
Sorry it’s been such a long time since I posted anything. The second draft of Tess in Boots (which is destined to be re-titled, so don’t get too attached) is finally done, however. It completely ate my brain for the entire month of October, although judging by the last posting date, it was munching pretty much all the way through September as well.
Now it is November, and I am glad. If you know me at all, you know that November is my sacred holy month of NOPE. As the days dwindle, my mood kind of goes down the drain with them, so I have found it’s a good time to be kind and gentle with myself. I can write — as long as I’m not beating myself up about it — but usually I try to be between drafts and not take on anything too stressful.
Before I depart for THE FUTURE (as I like to call the other side of the International Date Line), however, I’ve got an event on Monday, November 2nd at MacGill Library in Burnaby. I’m giving the kick-off speech for their NaNoWriMo write-ins, from 6:30-7-ish (gotta leave folks time to get some writing done!).
If I’m not going to see you either of those places, well, maybe I can manage to see you here more often. Y’know. Because I actually do like you and stuff.
This time from Ursula K. Le Guin, an interview at Interview.
If it’s tl;dr here’s my favourite quote:
There’s always room for another story. There’s always room for another tune, right? Nobody can write too many tunes. So if you have stories to tell and can tell them competently, then somebody will want to hear it if you tell it well at all. To believe that there is somebody who wants to hear that story is the kind of confidence a writer has to have when they’re in the period of learning their craft and not selling stuff and not really knowing what they’re doing. It’s like being adolescent for years and years after your adolescence.
And now I’m back to work!
Read this: “Writing Begins with Forgiveness” by Daniel José Older. It’s wise and well-said.
It’s kind of a relief to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. This has long been my complaint about NaNoWriMo, that a word-counting race to the finish too often ends in shame for those of us whose brains don’t work that way. There is never just one way to do things, friends. As I’ve said in this space before: if writers write, then I reckon I’m a thinker, and writing is just a by-product of that.
Of course, I have also suspected I’m really a dancer, or a musician, or I would be if my talents matched up with my inclinations. I think there probably are some writers who compulsively write all the time, because they love the act of writing so much. Me, I’ve got to take time to turn over the mulch in my mind, to delve and cogitate and be present in the world.
Do it your own way. That’s not an indulgence; it’s a necessity. That’s how you find your voice, and how you make it art.
Last night I dreamed that I’d invited everyone in B’s class – plus parents and siblings – to drop by our house for tapas after school. The trouble was, I didn’t know how many people were in his class, or how many family members they had, or how many of them were actually going to show up, or what kind of food they liked. I had to make tapas anyway, because I’d committed to it, and so most of the dream was spent racking my brains for things that would be good to make and would serve lots of people (I calculated that we’d need about 5 gallons of tapenade. I was going to make it in one of those big orange Home Depot buckets, as if it were grout).
It was only after I woke up and was staggering downstairs in the dark that it occurred to me that this was an anxiety dream, and that I’d been having anxiety dreams pretty much every night for a week or more. Some had been more anxious than others. The one where my husband fought 18 zombies had hardly seemed to count, because he’d defeated them (I was pretty useless, though, and I can’t pretend the onset of zombie apocalypse is a cheerful, optimistic scenario). Others were worse. I don’t remember them all, only that after each one I thought to myself, “That was weird, having an anxiety dream when I’m not actually anxious!”
How many anxiety dreams do I need to have before I set myself down and ask my brain what’s going on? Many, apparently.
A friend recently told me the etymology of the word “hypochondria,” which didn’t always signify imagined illness. It originally meant something more akin to melancholy. The Greek roots mean “under the ribs,” right where the stomach and liver reside. And that, in my experience, is where anxiety (depression’s partner-in-crime) is felt. A knot at the solar plexus, or a stab, or a fizz if it’s very light.
That last feeling is easy to dismiss. I’ve been dismissing it. My brain, always smarter than I am, has had to yell at me in my dreams just to get me to notice. I’m mentioning it here so I can’t just bury it again (which is tempting).
I am anxious. Maybe it’s about revisions. Maybe it’s about the drought we’ve had this summer (I think this under-rib fizz may have started in July, when the city was choked with wildfire smoke; it was ominous and end-times-y). Maybe it’s about upcoming travel (I’m going to Singapore!) or upcoming public speaking (I’m teaching a workshop — in Singapore!). Maybe it’s all these things, plus a few more, together in just the right proportions.
There are ways out of the labyrinth, always, but you can’t start looking for them until you fully admit you’re there.
So here I am.
It’s always hard to get back to the blog when you’ve been slacking. And I really have been slacking, although not always without reason. I cut my finger quite badly at the end of July — three stitches, I named it “Frankenfinger” — and then I had to sulk for a while, even after it healed, because it hurt to type.
I can finally say it doesn’t hurt anymore. It just feels like there’s a bead under the skin, so when I touch surfaces I don’t exactly feel them. I feel the lump of scar tissue in my finger. That hurt for several weeks, but now it doesn’t. I’m back to typing normally.
Which is good! I have a novel to revise, after all. I have you lot to occasionally amuse. I spent much of August reading, so I have a few interesting thoughts stored up. Maybe.
Anyway, I hope you’ve all been well and are ready for September. We’ve had some November-grade rain set in, here in Vancouver, and it’s such a relief after a dry spring and summer. I’m not such a fan of relentless sunshine.
More tomorrow, perhaps, now that I’ve finally broken the ice.