Writing Break

I finished a novel a few weeks ago, and I’ve barely been able to write anything since.

It’s frustrating. I want to write, I’ve got dozens of stories waiting to get worked on, but I open one up and start typing and just immediately get bored.

Is this choice paralysis? Is this “I’m intimidating myself b/c I just finished a really solid second draft and now everything else looks like garbage”? Is this “I have real-life Things happening that are about to change my core themes in a pretty major way”? Is this just how I always feel at the beginning, and it’s been so long since I started something new that I forgot?

I don’t think it’s possible to figure it out. Most likely, all of these things are happening all at once, and I can’t really do anything about it.

I mean, I could just push through it. Lay down a wordcount goal, pick a story, and hammer out words until I’ve got more story. I’ve done that before. I ended up with word soup.

So, I don’t know.

I know you can’t wait for inspiration to come to you. It never will. That’s not how inspiration works. But I’ve tried writing without inspiration before, and… it kinda sucks? I don’t really want to.

I know I’ll get through this. I’m a writer; “not writing” is not an option. It’s really more a question of how to get through this faster.

I have a ghost of a plan. That plan consists entirely of consume as much media as humanly possible.

Fiction.

Non-fiction.

Fanfiction.

Cartoons.

Film.

Paintings.

Everything.

I don’t know where inspiration is hiding, but i’m going to find it and I’m going to catch it and I’m going to take it home.

And I’m not going to beat myself up about stagnant writing in the meantime.

WTF, Workplace: Health Edition

<Trigger Warning> Encouragement of restrictive eating follows. I’m railing against it, but I’m including direct quotes from the thing I’m railing against. </Trigger Warning>

I participate in my workplace’s health initiative. I do this purely because it gives me free money, and take great pleasure in doing whatever the fuck I want while checking “Yes” on all the “Did you do the thing?” questions. You want me to walk 50,000 steps in a week? Sure, I’ll tell you I walked 50,000 steps in a week. I might have. I walk a lot. No way in hell I’m interrupting my life to count it for you, though.

Want me to be TV free for a week? Way to try and take my wind-down activity from me, workplace. Yeah, I was totally TV-free this week. Netflix doesn’t count.

Eat a healthy snack? I mean, I have a disordered eating problem, so literally anything is healthy as long as I’m approaching that elusive “enough calories to live” moment.

Speaking of disordered eating problems.

Speaking of disordered eating problems.

This week’s challenge was this. If my “problem” was a full-on “mental illness”, I’d be having an episode right now. Lucky me, I’m just pissed.

Bonus Challenge: Check Your Condiments

How To Do It: We hate to see health-conscious people ruin a perfectly healthy salad by dousing it in dressing. This week, focus on what you put on your food to make sure your decisions are as healthy as possible.

Why You Should: Proper, healthy nutrition is a delicate balance, and the key to achieving success is taking stock of everything you eat. That includes condiments — ketchup, mayo, salad dressing, and even too much salt can take a dish from healthy to fattening in no time. For example, a single tablespoon of mayonnaise has 90 calories. This week, swap those empty calories for hummus, which is only 27 calories per tablespoon. Trading creamy salad dressings for olive oil-based ones will also save you plenty of calories.

First, we’re going to talk about that bullshit with “ruin[ing]” things and “tak[ing them] from healthy to fattening”. I’m a little emotional about this, so hold on to your hats.

What the fuck are you idiots thinking? I don’t even have an eating disorder, and this is upsetting for me. For someone who’s just trying to get a free $15, and has an eating disorder? Sure, they could just not participate in this week’s challenge, but, uh, they’re still going to read the challenge rules? And they’re going to want that reward, and restricting is much, much easier than being healthy under normal circumstances, let alone when you’re getting paid for it.

Health really is a delicate balance. Blanket encouragement of calorie restriction as the be-all end-all of health? The nuance-free equation of fewer-calories with more-healthy? That is not delicate or balanced. That’s smashing a warhammer on one side of a see-saw.

Okay, so, I’m going to pretend that too-many-calories is a real problem, just for this post. It’s not, but we’re going to pretend. That assumption in place: it is wildly fucked up that my company is so invested in making fat people eat less, that they completely disregard people whose health absolutely depends on them eating more. Sure, there’s more fat people than anorexics in the world, but: disordered eating causes immediate health problems, which become more serious quite rapidly, while “continuing to be fat” carries a risk of developing problems sometime in the nebulous future.

(Quick note: I don’t actually believe that last thing. Obesity and risk factors are complicated.)

IMO, immediate development of fatigue/lethargy, difficulty making decisions, irritability, anemia, inescapable cold, depression/anxiety, food obsession, not to mention all the symptoms of active eating disorders (like, for example, debilitating muscle weakness and  the highest death rates of any mental condition (source: NIMH)), are combined way more of a problem than “might develop diabetes at some point”. And I’m pissed with my workplace for having a bullshit “health initiative” that doesn’t remotely take individual variation into account in any way. Way to go, guys.

Furthermore.

Furthermore. And this deserves its own blockquote.

“the key to achieving success is taking stock of everything you eat”

So um, I don’t know if you know this, but if you are taking stock of everything you eat, you by definition are exhibiting disordered eating behavior. Is… is that healthy? Does my workplace seriously think that disordered eating behaviors are healthier than being fat?

I mean… yeah, they do. I can’t really argue with the literal text of their health initiative. That is what it says. And that’s why this sort of thing bothers me so much. It makes me ask, who is writing these things? Who is in charge of this health initiative? Does blanket prescription of “Pop Science Health Behavior of the Week” to thousands of people actually sound like a good idea to any actual health professionals?

No, seriously, does it? Because it sounds like a terrible idea to me, and I’m kind of afraid that an actual health professional is in charge of this, and does think this is a good idea. Because they are wrong. And I have no way of looking up who is running this initiative.

No easy way.

I’m no investigative journalist, but I’m seriously considering trying to figure it out.

“Don’t edit while you’re writing!!”

This is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of writing advice, but I’m starting to think it’s not entirely helpful. Not for all of us.

See, I have a really, really hard time with first drafts. I’ve scrapped almost all of the novels I’ve ever written, because by the time I’m done with the “first draft”, they’re such a mess I can’t fix them. Maybe 10% is actually usable. Maybe someone else could whip them into shape, but I can’t. It’s too much. It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. It’s discouraging, too, to look at something you thought was a coherent novel and see four or five different novels in there, and have to tease out which one you actually wanted to write, knowing full well that the re-write is just going to end with an entirely different set of unrelated books tangled together and you’re going to have to do it again and you don’t know if it’s possible to ever actually stick to one storyline all the way to the end.

Sticking to one thing is a problem for me, okay?

But I did something crazy recently. I started re-working an old piece this February, planning on a ~25,000 word piece with a very simple, single-thread plot that was driven entirely by angst.

I ended up with 40,000 words of solid novel with multiple plot threads and a very strong subplot that doesn’t really tie into the plot very much, but supports the theme so strongly that the entire story falls apart without it. When I hit 40k, I thought I’d gotten in over my head, but when I read it, it… actually made sense. Sure, it had weak spots, and some inconsistencies, and the conclusion was a total fabrication and needed serious support work, but it made sense. It was all the same story. Not five different ideas loosely wrapped around the same setting. Just one. After a beta read that kicked my ass, it bumped up to 50,000 words, and I’m pretty sure Draft 3 will be even longer.

I’ve never made it to Draft 3 before. I’ve never made it past Draft 1.

I did a lot of things differently on this one. For one, I didn’t force plot. I let the characters carry the story, and dropped plot twists on their heads when things got boring. For two, I added a whole lot of side characters, so that emotion could be carried through conversation instead of endless angsty monologues. For three, I went back and edited in the middle of the writing process.

What?? my writing teachers are all saying. You’re going to derail yourself! You’ll never move forward that way! You’ll get caught up in minutiae!

Yeah, well… I didn’t?

When I hit a character moment that completely contradicted the main character’s personality in the first half of the book, I went back and fixed the character’s personality immediately. Same events, but I took my cringing coward and turned him into a terrified but obstinate fool. It blew up my wordcount. He created conflict, instead of just getting pushed around by the plot, and entirely new scenes emerged to deal with the backlash. But the book didn’t get derailed. Once I was done fixing his “coward” scenes, I went right back to where I’d left off and kept going.

The setting started out with wagons. Halfway through, I decided cars would be cooler, and went back and eliminated all the wagons. Some characters gained dimension because of the kinds of cars they had, or whether or not they hired a driver. The story didn’t get derailed.

There was an attempted-seduction scene that started causing problems, because later on, some characterization happened that made it really clear that this attempted seduction? Can’t be attempted. If the MC attempted to seduce this person, sex would happen. And it was really, really important that it didn’t. Reworking that took a while. But I had to figure out what actually happened before I continued, because “doesn’t attempt seduction” isn’t good enough. I had to know what process he went through to decide not to. And yeah, it turned out really, really important later on. If I hadn’t known those motivations? That “later on” would have been an unfixable mess. Not to mention a total waste of time.

By the end of that 40,000 word first draft, I could have immediately sent it to my beta reader. No edits. I mean, he wouldn’t have been super impressed with me if I’d done that, but it would have been readable. I’ve never had that before.

New story! “Change Battery”

There is grime under the espresso machines. There is milk on the walls, in the cupboards, smeared across the windows. The drains are clogged with Splenda packets and broken straws. We are too busy to clean. We have to be ready, if customers come.

I worked at Starbucks for a solid two years, and I tell you, that kind of work fucks you up. You push yourself so hard in pursuit of profits, suffer so much, but no matter what you do or how committed you are, no matter how much money you single-handedly bring in, the greatest reward you can ever hope for is a pat on the back. But if you don’t work your ass off and get milk in your hair and burn your hands making Americanos too fast, you lose your job, and best of luck getting a new one without a good reference.

I had a really, really bad day. I got fed up. I wrote this. I showed it to my whole store, and they laughed and groaned and said “yeah, this is about how it is,” and now that I don’t work there anymore and can’t get fired for talking shit about my employer, I’m showing it to you.

Profit is an unfeeling god. The siren is an eldritch horror. That part is 100% factually true.

Change Battery

Intro

I guess it’s time for an intro post, now that I’ve been on air (so to speak) for five months. Hello! I’ve been putting this off because I’m stone terrified! I’ve been a lurker for the entire fifteen years I’ve been on the internet, and having an actual presence is scary! Who knew! But, you know, fuck it. I can’t lurk forever. I want to create something that will be remembered, and that’s not going to happen if I keep hiding.

I mean, to be honest, it’s probably not going to happen anyway, but there’s no reason to doom myself to that fate. I’m only twenty-seven, I’ve presumably got a long, long time to give this a shot.

To get basic information and history out of the way, I’m Emily, I was born with a black eye in Texas, moved to Oregon, grew up as The Weird Kid in a suburb with no sidewalks, went to high school in a warehouse, made the biggest mistake of my life (going to college while using the Bootstraps Method of Depression Treatment, do not recommend), and worked in food service until I got sick of smelling like milk. Now I’m in an office. It’s a living.

Throughout all this, I’ve been writing. My first novel made it a good four chapters before it was mercifully put down by The Great Hard Drive Crash of 2003. It was called How I Got My Horse and that tells you everything you need to know. By the time the crash happened, I was thirteen, and very, very ready to move on to plottier ventures.

I dove directly into anime fanfiction. This was way back in the day, when steamy stuff was called “lemons” and really steamy stuff was called “limes” and I probably shouldn’t have been reading any of it, let alone writing it, but a small collection of my Inu-Yasha fanfiction spent about two months on the internet in 2004 before I got a very kind, thoughtful piece of concrit and immediately (read: after crying all the water out of my body) obliterated all trace of it from existence. I vowed never to write fanfiction again. I was fourteen. I vowed a lot of things.

Fortuitously, that happened in October. I left fanfiction behind to write an epic romance about gay centaurs for Nanowrimo. The timing was terrible. I was ready to get serious, but I was going to Japan for two weeks right in the middle. I could do that, right? Write 25,000 words before November 8th, fly to Japan and have an amazing time, then come back and write 25,000 words in my remaining seven days? No problem. I didn’t tell anybody what I was doing. I barely planned anything before day one.

You guys. I fucking did it. Apparently I looked like a zombie and my mom was dead worried about me the whole time, but I wrote fifty-two thousand words of epic gay centaur romance in fourteen days. I’m still damn proud of that, to be honest. Not of the book. The book is unreadable. But I knew I’d get better, if I just kept doing it.

So I wrote a few more novels. I did Nanowrimo a few more times. I wrote a whole heck of a lot of short stories. I got published in my college’s literary journal. I put my fanfiction back online. I started a blog. I wrote an intro post. Here we are.

If I were you, I’d be wondering right about now what this chick actually writes about that she’s deliberately not telling me. (You probably aren’t thinking that; I’m projecting.) I’m kind of shy about this, because most of my favorite tropes are extremely embarrassing, but here’s the basics: I’m not married to any particular genre, but I’ve only done a few things that were firmly set in actual reality; everything else has magic, or spaceships, or aliens, or shapeshifters, or extremely unrealistic historical elements, or something.

Also, I’m way more interested in character exploration than plot. I’ve got plots, they’re in there, but they’re scaffolding, a support structure to give relationships and internal struggles shape and movement.

To give you some idea of what all this means, here’s the blurbs + cover art* of my top four most-promising works in progress.

*I also have dreams of being an illustrator, but that future is significantly further away than my authorship dreams, so we’re leaving that out for now.


SOLACE

No Solace

Where he comes from, there’s no such thing as bodies. There were no words, no touch; there were only feelings, projected directly into each other’s consciousness. That was home. He’d never thought of it as a utopia until he was summoned to this… this hell.

They want him to do magic. He can’t. He has it, they call it feelings, but it’s trapped inside his body and nothing he does will let him use it.

They either don’t understand, or don’t care. No matter what he does, they are unwilling to accept that it’s impossible. They will go to any lengths to make him do what they want. Apparently, they need his magic. He doesn’t know what for, but he hopes it’s important, because it’s torture just being alive, and he doesn’t want to do it anymore. And he will go to any lengths to stop.


BOYS

Neglected

James has a tenuous position as apprentice carpenter. Tobias needs somewhere to hide. If the woodshop master finds Tobias in the shed, they’re both fucked–but James isn’t going to let that happen. Somebody helped James when he was homeless and alone and scared, and he’s not about to let that debt go unpaid. The way the boy makes his heart fill with soda bubbles has nothing to do with it. Nothing. Honest.


 

MIRACLE

And Summon the Lambs to Slaughter

Miracle Taylor has a dream, and a nightmare.

On a good night, she’ll fall asleep and see the girl she’s been in love with since she was twelve, and the girl will push Miracle’s fleeces out of her arms, sink her fingers into Miracle’s hair, and set Miracle’s heart on fire.

On a bad night, she is back in the forest where she was born, and a monster with breath like burning tar and eyes like her mother’s laughs as she tries to run, and it’s like she never left that cursed place, and the feeling sticks to her skin even after she wakes.

Now she’s going to college. She’s leaving her nightmares, and her dreams, behind. Her nightmares aren’t real. There are other girls.

Except, the monster in her nightmares has started appearing outside of her dreams.

And that girl she’s in love with?

That’s her roommate.


DEBT

Driving Interest

Theo’s father made a habit of screwing people over, so Theo really isn’t that surprised when his father is finally arrested for tax evasion. What does surprise him is that he is included among the property seized and sold into twenty years of indentured servitude to pay back those tax debts.

The man who buys him could be worse. He’s offering Theo a choice. He’ll free him in just five years, if Theo agrees to sleep with certain powerful officials whose favor the man needs. This is obviously an insane plan–Theo grew up with their children, he was one of them, they won’t want him like that even if he was some kind of sexual god, which he is decidedly not–until he sees the letters. People definitely want him. Mostly, it’s the people who hated his father.

If he’s lucky, his friends can find a legal loophole to invalidate this whole thing.

If not, he has a long, long time to decide how much of his body he’s willing to sacrifice for his freedom.

Porcupine

0-PorcupineImage Description: A North American Porcupine standing on a tree stump, decorative black dots of various sizes all around her. Rays of grey marker strokes radiate out from the porcupine’s body.

2 hours, Sakura Micron #5, Copic Sketch N0, N2, and N4, and Sharpie (for the dots).

This is the younger of the two porcupines who live at the High Desert Museum in Eastern Oregon. She was very active the day I visited, but she stood still long enough for this. I love all porcupines but the North American variety is the most danger puff of them all and I think I stood there for forty-five solid minutes just watching her run around and bother her mom.