Concept art for Somnolence.
The manuscript hit 75,000 words last week, which was a personal milestone. I’ve filled in a lot of the gaps in the backstory, and I’m working on finer details. I expect the word count to keep going up for a while, but I’ll start weeding out the unnecessary bits, too.
I’m reading Revision & Self-editing, by James Scott Bell this month, which is quite handy. I look forward to discovering all the exciting ways I’ve screwed up as I begin this next round of revisions.
My absolute favorite book on writing is Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brand. It isn’t about the technical aspects of writing. Instead, it tackles the stuff that blocks people from writing in the first place. It’s a really nice read, too. I picked up the audiobook version, and I find it very soothing and pleasant to listen to, in addition to being super helpful. Her style is just really charming.
Brand wrote her book on writing quite a while ago; she actually talks about picking the perfect typewriter, but everything else in there is still pretty relevant to the average writer. This is the book a lot of writers are really searching for when they go through all sorts of other sources looking for inspiration. She isn’t there to help you polish your sentences, or figure out how to define chapters, but she breaks down what really stops people from just getting in front of a blank page and making progress, and offers practical solutions and encouragement.
I first heard about her on Chris Brecheen’s blog, Writing About Writing. Which is also a great source for encouragement, and a well placed kick in the butt, when you’re stuck. I’d suggest this book as a good first, second, or last resort for someone who wants to write but is feeling discouraged and frustrated.
I always enjoy good books on writing, but I’m trying to be more intentional about honing the parts of the craft that I struggle with. I’ve decided to make sure I get through one book a month, to see where that takes me. This month my book on writing is literally titled, The best punctuation book, period., by June Casagrande. I’m pretty sure that the title is meant to be annoyingly difficult to punctuate.
So far, it’s pretty awesome. I’ve got some weird punctuation habits, and I was taught some rules that are preferred in the UK but aren’t standard in the US. I stubbornly clung to them because I think they’re more aesthetically pleasing, but I’m gonna have to get over myself to publish in the US.
This book settles a lot of confusing issues. Googling often turns up conflicting advice, and it can be hard to tell which source you should follow for your style of writing. Casagrande breaks the rules down by the dominant styles: news, science, book, and academic; and makes it easy to figure out which to use. When there’s a gray area of punctuation, she consults a group of experts who vote on the best solution.
I’m sure that I’ll need to refer back to this book often, but it’s surprisingly engaging just to read through. It’s no thriller, but it can be an interesting subject. I’m about halfway through, and I’m hoping that in the latter half she’ll expand on the history and context behind English punctuation guidelines. It might make it easier for me to remember where to stick all those extra commas I like to sprinkle into sentences.
Borrowed from Kim Chance.
1. What do you eat or drink while writing?: Tea, fizzy juice, water, and that’s mostly it. Snacking tends to distract me, so I usually take a break when I need to refuel.
2. What do you listen to while writing?: Not much. I can’t focus with music on, but I do end up singing to myself when I’m feeling kind of pumped up. There are some old songs that I habitually sing when I’m alone and in the zone. I don’t really notice doing it.
3. What is your biggest distraction while writing?: The TV. If it’s on, I’m either making no progress, or very little. The only thing I can sort of ignore is Friends, because I’ve seen all of it a zillion times and I usually put it on for background noise while I’m cleaning or drawing.
4. What is the worst thing that has happened to you while writing?: So far? A couple of people didn’t love a short story I posted for feedback. Nothing bad has actually happened with regards to my writing. I realize that this is a very temporary state of affairs, and I am reveling in it while I can.
5. What is the best thing that has ever happened to you while writing?: I finished the first draft of my first novel. The truth is, it’s all sort of a personal triumph. I’m a perfectionist, and incredibly easily embarrassed, and the emotional effort involved in letting myself struggle through writing is kinda ridiculous. Talking about it is even harder, because I’m putting myself out there where judgement is unavoidable. Yay!
6. Who do you communicate with while you’re writing?: I chat and text with people a bit, usually my partners and my siblings. If I do it too much, though, I’m usually just procrastinating. I talk to my dogs a lot.
7. What is your secret to success, or your biggest writing flaw?: I haven’t put the writing down and not picked it up again. No matter what, that means I’ll eventually get somewhere. Biggest flaw, I’d say, is that I didn’t start when I was younger. I wish I had been writing when I was a teen, because I feel like I’d be way past the level of skill I’m currently at.
8. What is your inspiration/what makes you productive?: A weird combination of general defiance and a desire to reach out to other people who are going through experiences similar to mine. I was a lonely, depressed, pissed off kid, and even though my life is better now, I’ll always probably struggle with my mental health. Books have always been there for me, and they’ve helped me form healthier coping mechanisms and a wider world view.
9. What is one thing that you do, or other writers do, that is super annoying?: I complain about being stuck and then get cranky at people who give me advice, because they don’t know my life. In other writers, it bugs me a little when people talk about writing as if they’re not in control, like when they say their characters have minds of their own and won’t do as they’re told. It’s a valid approach to the creative process, because it clearly works for a lot of people, but I’m more inclined to call that making a difficult creative choice in order to make the story more effective or authentic.
My biggest flaw might actually be nit-picking, now that I think about it.
10. Are you willing to share something you’ve written?: I’m gonna be a smart-ass and point out that I wrote all these lovely responses. But no, I don’t really have anything in a state I’m ready to share right now. When I do, it’ll surely get posted here.
In Somnolence, Orane and her retinue are attacked by ghostly wolves that come out of the mountain mist.