Archive for the 'Day In the Life' Category

Monday, September 26th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
On Daydreaming and Word Counts

I spent some time a couple of weeks ago thinking about word counts, which got me thinking about the purpose of daydreaming.  What’s the connection?

Recently, I was asked if I was able to write a lot more after I quit my day job.  And the answer, shockingly, was no.  I seem to write pretty much the same amount now as I did before I became a full-time writer.  In the couple of years after I sold my first book and before I quit my day job, I wrote about two novels and a handful of short stories per year.  After I quit working — about two novels and a handful of short stories per year.  I explained that my output doesn’t necessarily depend on the amount of time I have to write, but on the number of stories my subconscious can deal with.  What I think happened:  my low-intensity administrative day job meant I spent quite a bit of time on the job daydreaming and woolgathering.  I’d make notes, and when I came home from work, my writing for the day would come out of those notes.

Over the last couple of years I’ve learned that I still need that time to daydream.  I still need to sit around, make notes, churn through ideas — woolgather — to have anything worth writing.  I probably only spend a couple of hours a day actually writing.  The rest of it’s a muddle, building up to writing.  But the muddle has to happen, one way or another.

On my personal blog, I wrote about word count, in response to Jay Lake’s post about word count.  Namely, many writers post their daily writing output in terms of word count on their blogs, twitter feeds, whatever.  The numbers are often astonishingly impressive (at least to me):  two, three, four or more thousand words per day.

I always feel deeply inadequate reading these.  My average daily word count?  800-1000 words.  Maybe 1200 if I’m on a roll.  2000 words is a fantastic day for me.  (This is one of the reasons I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo — I know my average daily word count isn’t up to the challenge and I have no desire to push myself in that kind of marathon.)

It turns out, 800 words a day is enough.  It’s more than enough.  It’s two novels and a handful of short stories a year.  I have no reason to feel inadequate.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if writers who don’t post daily word counts are like me — in the three figures and embarrassed to admit it.  Well, if you are like me — don’t worry about it!  There’s a club for us!  If you finish your book — if you’ve finished multiple books — it really doesn’t matter how you got there, just that you did.

What does this have to do with daydreaming?  I’ve started to wonder if people who write a lot of words at a time do their woolgathering before they start writing.  They’ve got it all in their heads and it just has to get out.  On the other hand, those of us who don’t write more than a thousand or so words at a time do our woolgathering while we write.  I know I have to stop a lot while I’m writing and think about what I’m doing, and that a bulk of my writing time is spent in this thoughtful muddle.  I don’t think this is the same as the “panster/plotter” divide.  Because I do outline.  But an outline doesn’t put words on the page.  For that, I need to daydream a little.

This actually makes me feel a little better about all the time I spend staring at the screen, or out the window, or shuffling through old files and blog entries for no reason at all.  I may not look like I’m working, but my subconscious is churning away the whole time.

Monday, September 19th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Authorial Adventures You Never Hear About Due to the Secrecy Oath We Take, Part 2

It’s all lies, you know.  The Mad Dog 20/20?  I just mixed Sterno and generic fruit juice and slapped on a fake label.  Don’t tell Ken.

I should also mention that hobo-ing was not the spur-of-the-moment impulse that Ken makes it out to be.  I come by my hobo impulses honestly.  My great-grandfather rode the rails for a time after going AWOL from the US Army in Cuba.  But that’s another story.

Ken also forgot to mention how we knew we’d reached Wyoming.

I decided I wanted barbeque.  The train slowed down as it pulled into the next town, and I took my chance to hop out of the car, letting my momentum carry me away from the tracks.

“Hey!”  The shout echoed behind me, crawling farther away.  I’d sort of forgotten to tell Ken that I was leaving the train.

“Jump!”  I shouted back.

He did, letting loose an impressive Wilhelm scream as he sailed through the air, hit the ground, and rolled.  I shook my head.  We’d discussed how to jump from a moving train.  But he was fine.  He dusted himself off and hopped up beside me, grinning.

I looked around.  This wasn’t much of a town.  In fact, the only building in sight was an A-frame with the letters “KOA” painted on the roof.  A couple of rows of RV’s and tents behind the building revealed the truth:  this was a campground.  I wondered if they sold barbeque.  I wondered if they’d sell barbeque to someone dressed like a hobo.

A road ran alongside the train tracks, and I walked up it a ways, until I was past the windbreak of trees protecting the campground to the plain beyond.  I looked out to the moonlit horizon, and my heart sank.

“Well, shoot.”  I said.

“What?  What?”  Ken looked around wild-eyed, as if he expected something to jump from the shadows.

“Look at that.”  I pointed to the steep rock formation rising up in the distance.  Vaguely columnar, with even vertical ridges running up its sides.

“Whoa.  You don’t mean–”

“That’s right.”  We’d jumped off at Devils Tower.  Because you can’t put a couple of speculative fiction writers in Wyoming without ending up at Devils Tower.

Ken gripped his hair as if to pull it out.  “This is terrible.  We’re going to get abducted by aliens!  I can’t start my alien abduction novel until I’m done writing Requiem!”

I looked at him, brow furrowed.  “You’re writing an alien abduction novel?”

“Well, not yet.  But if we do get abducted it’ll be great research.”

“It would be,” I said.  “But it’s not the aliens we have to worry about.  It’s them.”

I pointed to the shadows among the trees, the very ones Ken had previously been looking at in trepidation.  That was when he noticed the ninjas.

Little known fact:  Ninjas can be lulled into a deep, catatonic trance by reciting Emily Dickinson poems at them.  I’d write a story about it but no one would believe it.

Anyway, Ken was starting to miss Jen and the girls, and I can’t say I blamed him, so after scrubbing floors at the KOA store in exchange for a couple of packs of Hostess cupcakes (they didn’t have barbeque, which was just as well), we caught a box car on a train heading the other direction, and reached Portland again after a couple of days, none the worse for wear.

So the next time you see Ken, be sure to ask him how that alien abduction novel is coming along.  And remember, when you ask an author, “Where do you get your ideas?” and they give some vague response about how “ideas are everywhere,” or “Schenectady,” they’re totally lying.

Monday, August 29th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Recovery Mode

I’m back home from 12 days of traveling:  two conventions, two signings, and many late nights in the bar talking until my voice gave out.  I now have four days to get my voice back online before the next convention.  Then, I can take a break.  I think…

Anyway, I’d meant to post something last night and failed utterly.  So this morning, I’m going to make you all do the work for me by asking a couple of questions:

What are you working on now? (writing-wise)  What has surprised you about your current project?

I’ll start:  I’m working on Kitty 11 (along with a couple of other things, but this is the big one), and I’ve been surprised at how going back to some of my original source material (notes and inspirations for the very first book in the series) has helped me solve a couple of plot problems.

Monday, August 22nd, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going (Or, I engage in a bit of time travel)

By now, I know whether or not my short story “Amaryllis” won a Hugo.  But since I’m posting this a week in advance, I really don’t know.  I probably won’t be able to update with the news because I’ll be flying to Michigan for a signing.  Whichever way it goes — went, rather — I’m incredibly happy about the nomination.  It’s one of those external benchmarks that ends up meaning a lot because this is such a crazy business that doesn’t always give us concrete feedback.  I think this is one of the reasons we have so many writing and book awards: it’s a way to provide concrete feedback, or to impose some kind of order on the mass of books and writing that appears every year.  That may be a discussion for another time.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my writing and the progress I’ve made in the 22 years since I sent out my first short stories.  Because I think “Amaryllis” is the kind of story I tried to write in high school and college and couldn’t.  A thoughtful, solid science fiction story like the kind I grew up reading.  As a teenager, I didn’t have the experience  — the emotional experience, the raw life experience to draw on (John Scalzi touches on this in in his advice to teenage writers).  I didn’t have the ability to write about several threads and plotlines at once, which is one of the things that makes for good stories.  (I could barely write one at a time then.)  I didn’t have the ability to craft, to take the feedback I got on the story from a very trusted reader and use it to shape the story into something more powerful.

It’s been a startling revelation, that I actually seem to have learned something, or internalized something.  I mean, of course I have, I should hope one wouldn’t work at an art or craft for twenty years and not learn something.  But I felt a strange time dilation, considering that I have written something, without really realizing it, that my teenage self aspired to write.

Whichever way the award goes — or went — I got a great dress for the ceremony, which is/was co-hosted by our own Ken Scholes, and plan(ned) on making an event of it.  If I get internet access I’ll try to pop in and say how it went.

Monday, August 8th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
State of the Writer Report

Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve been up to, my current state of work, and how my time management is going.

It’s been another massively busy summer with extensive travel.  I went to BEA and the ALA conference for the first time as a writer, as well as a number of small conventions and workshops.  Oh, and Comic Con.  Still recovering from that one.  These are all great opportunities to meet readers, editors, publicists, booksellers, librarians, and convert many of them to my cause.  I always have a good time.  But this much traveling, this much being “on,” wreaks havoc on my writing schedule.  It seems to take me a day or so to spin back up to writing speed — and by then I’m leaving on the next trip.

This summer especially has been complicated by my moving house at the beginning of June.  I had hoped to be all moved in before the traveling started, but that didn’t work out.  I’ve been struggling to get the new house set up and unpacked between trips.  Unfortunately, after four days of something like ComicCon, the last thing I want to do is unpack.  I want to relax.  The house is great, but I’ve felt half-moved for about three months now.  I did get the desk and office set up second thing (after the bedroom), so I’ve been working fairly steadily from my first day in the new place.  Win!  Lily has not appreciated the unsettled life.  She’s getting better, but she had a few days of hiding in the closet, there.

Fortunately, my next novel deadline isn’t until December.  I’m at the halfway point on Kitty 11, so I have plenty of time to finish.  Which is good, because right now it’s at the “Oh crap, how am I going to tie this mess together?” stage of the draft.

I’m still working on my goal of learning to say no.  To projects, to invitations, to requests, to inquiries.  My hustling-to-break-in days are recent enough that I still have an instinct to grab at every opportunity I can.  Over the last few years, I’ve realized I just can’t do that.  Not if I want to maintain some of my own space for working on what I want to do.  Not to mention my sanity.  So I’ve been turning down a lot more guest blogging invitations, anthology invitations, convention appearances, and so on.  I just can’t do it all.  Even though I have a little voice in me that keeps telling me I ought to be doing it all.  The thing is, I’m happier when I say “no,” because it’s usually the right call.  I’m still doing too much, so obviously this is something I need to work on.

Though it occurred to me this week, after years and years of collecting rejection slips, I’m now the one doing the rejecting, which is kind of funny.

I’ve been a little more successful on keeping my fiction commitments under control.  I just signed a new contract for four more books in the Kitty series, and on this one I set up deadlines every ten months instead of every six months.  An extra four months per novel may not sound like much, but it feels huge.  I’m going to be able to take a little more time, and have more freedom to work on other projects in the meantime.

For example, the other big project I’m working on this year is a young adult novel that I don’t currently have a contract for.  I haven’t worked on a novel that I didn’t have a contract for since 2005.  It’s making me a bit giddy.  I can work on it when I want to, or not, with no stress that it has to be finished now.  That one is also about halfway finished, and I set it aside in order to start on the next Kitty novel, but I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the year as well.  This is something I really want to do more of — work on completely new, different projects that don’t necessarily have a specific market in mind.  I have a whole list of non-Kitty novels I want to write, and they’re only ever going to get written if I give my imagination room to cook.

Besides Kitty 11, I’ve committed to write exactly two short stories over the next six months.  This is a big difference between the five or six at a time I’ve been committed to over the last few years.  Again, I want to have more time to work on my own projects, and not on a specific assignment.  I want a chance to stretch and play with my fiction.  I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve got a relatively stable gig with the series, at least for the next few years.  I need to take advantage of the freedom that gives me to not hustle.  I don’t think of it as resting so much as experimenting.  I’ve leveled up, and I need to figure out what I can do with the skills I’ve learned over the last few years.

I’ve got Worldcon in a couple of weeks, where I’ll get to hang out with our very own Ken and many other writers.  I’m up for a Hugo, and that’ll be a new adventure.  I’ve got conventions the following two weekends as well.  After that, I’ll be able to stay home for more than a couple of weeks at a stretch.  Finish putting the house together — like installing the floor to ceiling bookshelves so I can finally get my books out of boxes.  And then write.  Ah. . . .

Monday, July 18th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Technology and the Muse

I got a question last week, and I’m afraid the answer I gave might have disappointed the person asking.  So I’m going to put it to you all, and see what you think.

The question was about what computer software and platform I use to write, specifically if I use Scrivener.

My answer:  I don’t use Scrivener.  I use Microsoft Word on a PC, same as I have in one form or another for a very long time now.  It must make me seem very old fashioned.  I always start a project by opening a Word file and just going for it.  I may have a few other files stuck in a folder for notes and things.  But really, the basic word processor program does everything I need it to do — saves my stories, and lets me format them so I can send them to other people.

The question did make me curious about how many people use some kind of software dedicated to fiction writing.  What about you?  Has Scrivener changed your life?  Or are you even more of a Luddite than I am by using Notepad, or even a (gasp) typewriter?  What tech do you use to help your muse along?

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 by Sasha White
Bits & Pieces

I was trying to think of a blog topic for today, and I couldn’t settle on any one. Settling seems to be a problem for me lately. So I’m going with it. I figure I’ll just share some of my rambling thoughts with you, since this is part of my life as a writer….pretty much everything is part of my life as a writer right now.

As far as writing and career planning I had a bit of an epiphany the other day. Planning has never been one of my strong suits, and it hit me that when it comes to story telling, the whole lack of planning skills is my strong suit. One of the things I hate most as a reader is a cliched story. I hate it when I’m watching a movie and I can predict everything that’s going to happen before it happens. So, when it comes to writing stories my lack of planning can help. Sure it can also cause me to paint myself into a corner every now and then, but hey, thats can make a story exciting, right?

I made the mistake of starting to watch the TV series JUSTIFIED. I say it’s a mistake because I am now addicted. I love the family angle, the outlaw angle, and think Walten Goggins is fabulous as bad/good/bad guy, just as he was in The Shield.

I finally found a buyer for my 4 years old iMac. It’s a great computer, which is why I wouldn’t sell it cheap, but I’ve been doing more and more photography and digital art lately and the program I use (aperture 3) eats up all the ram, so everything slows, and it gets annoying. So I wanted a new, bigger faster one., and now I get to have one! :mrgreen:

I put up a poll on my blog over the weekend, to see what readers would like the most from me. And I have to say, I’m surprised at the results so far.

Some other writer friends and I have been chatting about jealousy lately. How we all feel it sometimes, and what to do about it, How to turn it into something productive instead of destructive. Basically we boiled it down to this. You can let it eat you, or you can acknowledge, and use it to work harder, and get better.

I’m going to leave this little ramble with a favorite quote of mine. One that applies to writing, and life.

The first step is to find out what you love — and don’t be practical about it. The second step is to start doing what you love immediately, in any small way possible. I’ve seen what happens to people when they get to do what they love. They light up. They glow. They have a kind of energy that’s wonderful.-Barbara Sher