This is the blog of Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison, a professional writer of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Sarah Monette is my real name; Katherine Addison is a pen name, intended to be transparent.
If you've found me here, odds are pretty good you're looking for something to read, so the following is--to the best of my knowledge--a complete list of everything I've written that's available online:( STORIESCollapse )( ESSAYSCollapse )
If you know of anything I've missed, please leave a comment!
Another thing that doesn't work with writer's block? Punishing yourself.
This one is tricky, because there are
times when what looks like writer's block is really a screaming howling toddler temper tantrum case of the Don't Wannas. In that instance, the right thing to do is
to sit yourself down in front of the manuscript and be firm about the fact that you have to work on it. Even if you'd rather poke pencils in your eyes or tow the African Queen through a leech-infested swamp
But it's easy--at least, it's easy for me--for "discipline" to slide over into "punishment." Case in point: I've been staring at a scene in the wolf book for the best part of a week, stuck like a thing that is never going to move again, and all the while, I knew that I knew what happened in the next
scene. But, no. This was the scene I was stuck on; therefore, this was the scene I had to write Finally, last night, I caught up to myself, said, "Dude, stop being an idiot," and skipped ahead to the scene I knew. And wrote a page and a half. Which isn't, you know, a lot, but in comparison to the parched and barren misery of the previous several days, it's beautiful
Stubbornness is one of the most valuable character traits a writer can have, but you have to be mindful about it. Be sure you're channeling it constructively, and not just using it to hurt yourself with. And I point to myself as Exhibit A.
Thank you to everyone who has commented on my last couple posts about being stuck
with sympathy and support. I appreciate it very very much, and it does help--if not exactly with the problem at hand, then definitely with my attitude toward it.
A couple people have suggested externalizing the voices (which, I should add in case you are becoming concerned about my sanity, are not literal
voices; they're sock puppets for the dialogues I have with myself, which is a pretty much constant feature of the inside of my head), and I thought I should point out, for those who are interested, that I already do that, from time to time
. And it is
helpful, if only because it lets me make fun of myself. But this suggestion also reminded me--as apparently I needed--that I do better as a writer with a certain amount of ongoing meta-dialogue, and that's been pretty much shut down for the past few months.
It feels like the punchline to a joke: "The good news is, I've started talking to myself again." But hey. Whatever works. And I may have figured out how to fix one of the stories that has been most frustrating for me, because I finally asked myself the right question about the split between the main character and the protagonist.
Socratic dialogue is not my favorite pedagogical technique, but sometimes it really is the only game in town.
One of the most useful things I learned from Victoria Nelson's excellent book, On Writer's Block
, is that you can't let writer's block present itself to you as a reified monolith. Which is to say, without the fancy words, writer's block is not an ineffable thing imposed on you from the outside. (Well, okay, with different
fancy words.) It is not the monolith from 2001
. It's a problem, or a set of problems, you are having with the interface between your creativity and what I call the front office--the conscious "I" that frequently suffers from the delusion that it's running the show.
Treating writer's block as (1) monolithic and (2) reified--I have WRITER'S BLOCK! Woe! Woe is me for I cannot write!
--only makes it harder to figure out what the problem is. It also feeds into a number of toxic myths about writing, which we may call either Shelley's Revenge or the Hemingway Trap, depending on whether we want to see it as yet another hangover of Romanticism or as the thing that killed Hemingway. But the idea that creativity controls the writer--which is EXACTLY the idea behind the pernicious anthropomorphism of The Muse--cannot help but lead to mystification and reification of writer's block, turning it from a problem into an insurmountable, career-ending disaster.
So the first thing you have to do with writer's block is analyze the living fuck out of it.( WARNING: this is going to be long, narcissistic, and probably more than you want to knowCollapse )
Plus: New bread pans!
One of my old ones has gone from non-stick to stick, so it was clearly time. And these are very pretty. And red! I'm very curious to find out what the loaves they produce are like.
Minus: I've figured out why I'm not getting any writing done. It's because every time I go to work on something, some part of my brain says, quietly but very emphatically, This is a stupid story.
Now, rationally, I know that's not true. The stories I'm trying to work on right now are neither more nor less stupid than any of the forty-some stories I've published--which is to say: No, they aren't stupid. But knowing
that and feeling
it are two different things. I'm not quite sure how to deal with this, because it's a really neat piece of self-sabotage: not only does it make working on stories seem pointless, but it makes asking anyone else for help seem equally pointless. What can they do except tell you it's stupid?
I suspect this is partly fallout from having Ace dump me last year--and although Tor was very careful and kind and explicit about the fact that they love my writing and want to publish me, it still hurts like a son-of-a-bitch to know that my career is so fucked up that the only way to do it is to give up my name. I know
that it's not a judgment on me as a person, or on me as a writer, but I can't help the fact that it feels
like one. And that, in turn, makes it hard to have any confidence in my stories.
So, yeah. If anybody needs me, I'll be over here fainting in coils.
After you have admitted that the book is currently a plate of dingoes' kidneys (which is apparently the step in my process after "finish the book"), the next thing you have to do is find the things you did right.
These are your bones, your bedrock. These are the things you're going to stand on while you try to figure out why the rest of the book has wobbled and capsized and is now collapsing like a flan in a cupboard.
In the particular case of Corambis, I know the ending is right. No, sorry. I know the climax is right. The ending is still very much a case of Magic Eight-Ball Says Ask Again Later. But I know the solution to my protagonists' several dilemmas is the right one, even though I now have to go back and set up the dilemmas properly. That's okay. It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards. And the middle of the book has good stuff in it; whether it's right or not depends on what happens to the beginning and the end, but any scene with bog bodies is a good scene to have, just on general principles.
But the beginning. I've made a list of the things I know are right, and there are five of them. Only three of them are actual scenes; the other two are things that I know happen, but right now they're not happening the right way. The rest of it--and this is the first six or seven chapters--inspires in me a vague, squeamish embarrassment, which is the feeling you get when you know that what you've written is wrong, that you've only been faking the story. (Notice that shift from first person to second, even though I'm obviously still talking about me and my writing and my
promise process. [Huh. Would you look at that? Freudian slip.] That would be a distancing technique, and it is another sign that several levels of my brain are very unhappy with the current draft.) So now I take those five things and I stare at them and spin them around and have them do handstands and try to see what the shape is of the story they're giving off. Not the story I've crowbarred them out of, but the story they belong in. The story I'm only now beginning to see, like knocking a hole in a plaster cast (with your crowbar, right?) and seeing the gleam of a bronze elbow.
Yesterday, my editor emailed me her editorial notes on Corambis
. I need to sit down with my inner twelve year old, I think, and explain that, no, the edit letter is never
going to be an affirmation that I am a beautiful, unique, talented, and sparkly snowflake. Especially the edit letter on something I already knew was severely flawed.
But it was still kind of ouch-like, reading her comments and seeing from them just how far the book I turned in was from the book I want it to be.
(I am having a really hard time not devolving into LOLcat:
I HAS EDIT LETTER
DO NOT WANT
Because not only is that factual, it also sums up pretty nicely the emotional register of my response. :P )
In the broadest terms, what's wrong with the book is two things:
1. The first half is not commensurate with the second half. It's like the front half of a pantomime horse yoked to the back half of a mortar. (No, THIS
kind of mortar.)
2. As with The Mirador
, the first time through this story I was patently thinking with my genre conventions, and that is wrong wrong wrong.
Oh, and one more:
3. There's a scene in the middle which is psychologically
true, and which has been bumping around in my head since I started working on this sprawling monster of a story (I don't really see the four books of the series as four separate stories; that's why I can say decisively that book four is the last book, because I've known the arc, in vague and frequently obfuscated forms, all along), but which I did a fairly rotten job of making narratively inevitable. And I somehow forgot to think about aftermath and consequences and all the stuff that makes a scene part of a story instead of an isolated event.
In even broader terms, the book is a quagmire.
Unless I crack and beg for an extension, which will involve throwing off the production schedule, I have to have the damn thing cleaned up, complete with shining canals and habitats for rare species of waterfowl, by December first.
I may be a little tense and irritable for the foreseeable future.
Just so y'all know.
No words today.
Or, rather, probably 200-300 words of a false start on Chapter 13. Happily, I realized it was a false start within 300 words (The false starts on The Mirador run into the hundreds of pages. Yes, really.), and thus spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to get from point A (the end of Chapter 12) to point B (the climax of the novel, which I do actually know!) in the approximately 77k left to me, minus however much I need for denouement and wrapping up and things like that. (You know you've reached a watershed in your novel when your remaining wordcount looks uncomfortably tight instead of agoraphobically vast. I'm not quite there yet, but I can feel the pole-reversal coming.)
And I have figured out, if not how to get from A to B, then at least from A to A1. Which is better than nothing.
I prefer tangible progress, but I'll take intangible progress if it's the best I can do.
Chapter 12 finished, at 8897 words. I have NO IDEA what the next scene is.
My boring health problems, which are never anything if not inconvenient, have chosen this week to resurge. So let's not talk about how many words I wrote today, all right?
98,000 words of Summerdown written, and I think the rest of tonight had better go to the
outright lies synopsis I need to send to my publisher.
2,034 words. More than I needed for today, less than I needed to make up for yesterday.
I'm going to confess. I'm in the middle of Chapter 12, and I have only the vaguest idea of what the rest of the book is going to look like. I am proceeding in fits and starts*, from one bog of writer's block to the next. If you think this is an uncomfortable situation to be in, you are 100% correct.
*As the old Beetle Bailey cartoon puts it, "He doesn't start 'til I have a fit."