Bumps and Bruises: My Twin Careers in Rugby and Writing

Nick Kennedy, Gonzalo GarciaThe day my new husband and I moved into our first apartment, he viciously provoked a water fight over the meager boxes of our possessions.  In the interest of saving the defenseless computer, I fled out the door and across the field at the back of the building, snarling about an annulment.  The school’s women’s rugby team happened to be practicing in that same field and, impressed by my rage and my sprints, invited me to join them.  Robert went back to the apartment.  I hared off to play rugby.

Thus began my love affair with the greatest sport on earth.

Rugby hasn’t always been kind to me.  I’ve broken fingers and ruptured a bursa.  I’ve torn my quad and sprained just about every joint in my body.  I’ve dislocated my shoulder repeatedly and been so bruised and battered that coworkers started gently offering me safe havens.  I love, love, love ruby, but I can’t even say I’m all that good at it.  I’m not particularly fast and I have a hard time memorizing plays and my kicks always seem to go awry.  I’m skinny and fragile and can’t seem to reliably throw and run at the same time, which is kind of an important skill in a game that involves a lot of running and throwing.

But still I love it.  I play whenever I can and I watch hours of tourneys online and I delight in teaching my boys how to take me out at the ankles while I run in slow motion.  Rugby pleases me in a way that is both deeply satisfying and wildly thrilling in the same instant.

I feel much the same way about writing.  Writing intoxicates me.  I write whenever I can and I read and research a lot about writing and the specifics of my stories and I always squee for joy when my children tell wonderful stories about rock climbing adventures and zombie attacks and magical foxes at wishing wells.

There is, however, one large difference between the way I think about rugby and the way I think about writing.  With rugby, I’ll never be anything close to pro, and I am totally okay with that.  I want to play my best game and I have a great time doing it.  I get some bumps and bruises and I go home happy.  Knowing I’ll never be pro does nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the game.  With writing, however, I have a hard time letting myself be so carefree.

Maybe it’s a matter of focus.  When playing rugby, I have a laser focus on the ball.  I know where it is and I itch to get my hands on it and nothing outside the boundary lines matters.  When drafting, I can often find that nothing-matters-but-this focus, but the minute I start editing, something changes.  The story becomes not just what pleases me, but something that could potentially please others as well.  And just as surely as it could please others, it could displease them too.  What if nobody likes it?

What if nobody likes me?

I was thinking about this after practice last week, during which I let some sneaky Samoan guy blitz right past me to score the winning try of the scrimmage.  It didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder if my teammates were mad at me, whether they liked me or not.  I’m sure some of them were disappointed, maybe even annoyed, but I’m just as sure that they knew I was doing my best with some serious disadvantages.

Maybe I should give myself the same accolades while writing.  Nobody can deny that I’m giving it my best.  Thing go awry and I mess things up, but any time you put your heart into something, there will be injuries along the way.  If I don’t get a few bruises, I’m probably not trying hard enough.

In this vein, though, I’m doing a lot better with the rejections goal than I thought I would be at this point- I’m only slightly behind.  But more importantly, I’m learning to take them better.  I think choosing to look at rejections as the goals themselves has made them a lot easier to swallow.  (Because you all know how I am with check boxes.)  Maybe this is a good first step in growing that thick skin professional writers are always talking about!

I’m getting better at this game.  (Not at rugby.  At that one, I’m just getting older, haha.)  I can usually spot my weak points.  Self-editing, although not exactly what I’d call fun, is less excruciating than it used to be.  I’m getting better and better at using feedback.  These are all signs of improvement.

I want to be the best writer I can be, but I always want to enjoy the process.  After all, the thrill of telling a good story is what got me into this addiction hobby in the first place.  Even if I never go pro (although I hope I do some day!), I will always love to tell stories.

And I will always love rugby, too, even when it beats me up.

Happy writing!

PS- Watch some rugby! Go, Eagles!

Reblog: On Author Responsibility

This month of madness slogs on, now with a new achievement unlocked: Plague! (Oh, wait, haha, this is ME and I unlocked plague a loooong time ago. *weeps*)  But in the light of this month’s craziness, I’ve scheduled a reblog- and lucky you! It’s from Madison Dusome, who is in every way fantastic!  Enjoy!

On Author Responsibility

Months ago now, a reasonably successful fantasy author was accused of (and apologised for) some instances of abuse/manipulation/other bad behaviour.  As a result, he lost readers/followers, sales and other opportunities (some publishers dropped him, some retailers stopped selling his works, etc).

This is something that seems to be happening more and more frequently, possibly because people are more aware of/active against abuse, and/or because authors are increasingly more in the public eye.  Simply put: authors’ behaviour affects the reception of their work, and to become an author is now akin to becoming a celebrity or a politician: people care about what you say, what you do and especially about your scandals.

Why and how much?  Is it right or fair?  Is it possible to avoid?  Let’s discuss!

Want to read more?  Go to Madison’s beautiful blog with this elegantly crafted link!

Bunny Makes Friends

Sorry about flaking out last week.  But after not missing an update in over three years, and then I and every person in my family being sick in between (and during) two different family visits, I allowed myself to just miss the week.

Here is the comic brainstormed and drafted by my writing students from last month.  I thought it was sweet and worth sharing.

bunny-makes-friends

In a to-the-last-moment race against time, everyone in our group squeaked across the finish line! *rattles pompoms madly*  I definitely showed the way with my will-she-won’t-she last couple of weeks.

stats

Boy, that illness really knocked me back a bit!  And a somewhat harrowing doctor’s visit for an unrelated injury didn’t help either.  So I didn’t make my stretch goal of 70k, but I got the minimum 50k and feel alright about giving it my all.  It was great to get back into writing regularly, especially since the summer was so off.  Seriously, when I don’t have deadlines, I’m pathetic.

Speaking of deadlines, I’ve a poem to finish and a pair of short stories to clean up.  Thanks for your patience, guys!  Until next week (for reals this time!), happy writing!

Reblog: Writer on the Road

I’m still traveling (and this is the first time I’ve had internet in over a week! augh!) and it’s been super de duper hard to find writing time since we left home in May.  This has become extra irksome now that it’s a NaNo month (double augh!).  But at least now that it’s a NaNo month, I can inundate you with reblogs and silly garbage instead of actually working on a somewhat thoughtful post.

Here’s a neat article by Peter Korchnak I read recently at his and his wife’s blog Where Is Your Toothbrush? about writing while traveling- hopefully useful for someone more than just me!

Writer on the Road: How to Write while Traveling

One of my main personal goals for the round-the-world trip was to work on my writing career. By getting away from the daily grind of a commute, a job, and a mortgage I meant to spend more time doing what I love and hone my craft. Before departure I had started building a foundation for an eventual book with the blog American Robotnik and self-published Guerrilla Yardwork: The First-Time Home Owner’s Handbook. On the trip I intended to keep the momentum by

  • writing this blog to develop material for a book about how to feel at home anywhere in the world;
  • writing a memoir of becoming a man in Czechoslovakia during the transition to democracy; and
  • freelancing.

Aside from a growing blog, it didn’t quite work out that way: the memoir is out and a mystery novel in; I’ve concocted a couple of other long-term writing projects; I only managed to land a handful of freelance articles and only had two literary non-fiction pieces published, albeit one as a winning piece of a prestigious contest. The biggest lesson: Writing while traveling is much, much harder than I thought…

Ready for more?  Go read the rest of the article, and tons more, at Where is your Toothbrush?

Swag Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

On WritingI’m not the biggest Stephen King fan in the world, and I don’t write novel-length horror, so I wasn’t sure how useful I would find the much-lauded On Writing.  But it had been recommended to me countless times so I figured I’d get around to it some day.  Then the inestimable M Elizabeth Tait got me a copy for my birthday and I was plumb out of excuses.

This book was not what I was expecting.  Part memoir, part craft treatise, On Writing really hit that sweet spot for me between narrative and technical.  It skirted right between being a grammar book- which I love and own zillions of- and being a biography- which I love and own zillions of.  Both engaging and informative, heaven help me, I was hooked. *melts*

The book is split into three sections, but the first and last are both pretty autobiographical, so I’ll lump those together.

 

Memoir

Not sure how I missed the whopping huge hint in the subtitle, but I was not expecting a memoir!  Go figure!  This part was wonderful, particularly his childhood.  A little sad, a little funny, I found a lot to relate to.  There were struggles I’d never had, and other struggles lacking that I’d known, but it felt wonderfully real and sincere: the same sort of quirky, bizarre, magical childhood I’d had, stuffed with childlike ambitions and adult problems only half understood.

And then adolescence and adulthood.  Again, I felt I could relate- at least right up until the checks started pouring in, haha.  But still, it gave me hope.  Like maybe I just had to keep hustling and I too would eventually get my break.

 

Craft

Ahh, the meat and potatoes.  This is what I had come for, and On Writing didn’t disappoint.

Framed within the analogy of a toolbox, which I loved, Mr. King sets out the skills and rules that a writer will need to write a good story.  Personality and a sense of humor enliven this how-to section in a way that my other grammar books always seem to lack.  (Possible exceptions: The Pen Commandments by Steven Frank, which has a refreshingly light tone, and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, which is just too absurd to be taken seriously.)

What are the tools Mr. King recommends?  Frankly, the same stuff we always hear recommended.   I don’t think there was any advice here that I didn’t already know or hadn’t already heard elsewhere.  Simple things- like reading other books, respecting grammar conventions, and writing what you love- that we all know already.  But as King himself points out, this isn’t an advanced course in creative writing.  This is the baseline stuff.  This is crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s so that some time after you’ve put years of your life into this, you have the foundation necessary to write amazing stories that grab your readers and never let go.

The craft section did not change my style or my process.  It didn’t give me some magic potion to make me sell books, or teach me the secret code for making publishing houses fling money at me.  Quite the opposite. This book, if nothing else, set my expectations straight.  And we all need that sometimes, that slap in the face to get us thinking right when it feels like the plane’s crashing down around us.

It will be hard.  Most of us will never make it to King’s level of success.  But the journey is worth the effort.  Love of writing is reason enough.

 

Conclusion

The thing that makes this book so unique on the craft shelf of my bookcase is the ‘memoir’ bit.  This isn’t just about how to write.  It’s about being a writer.  It’s about what it feels like to have stories bubbling out your fingertips, what it feels like to ask the bizarre questions, the creepy questions, the inappropriate questions.  What it feels like to get shot down over and over again, what it feels like to have that first tiny success.  It’s more than about the writing craft.  It’s about the writing life.

So my whole-hearted recommendation: Read this book!  Even if you don’t write horror and even if you don’t read his other books.  Read this one.

Free bonus?  Mr. Stephen King himself gave me full permission to read and write for 4-6 hours a day, every day.  I can get behind that.

 

Unrelated, but I’ll close this week on an ominous warning.  Tomorrow, I and my beloved family will fly out for the start of our entire-summer-long road trip.  I’ll try my very bestest to keep up with the Monday posts, but I cannot guarantee reliable internet access all over the country.  (Heck, I can’t even guarantee reliable internet access all over my house.)  So be ye warned! There will still be twelve posts in the next twelve weeks. Just… maybe at weird times.  Your safest bet is probably to subscribe (there’s a button over on the sidebar and I promise, promise, promise not to spam you), or just check back every now and then and scroll through the archives.

Wish me luck! *clutches dramamine*

How I Blog, Pt. 2: Drafting, Brainstorming

HeaderSketchColor

D’awwww. Mommy’s sleepy li’l man-eater…

Look at all the pretties!  As you can see, I’ve made a few changes to the site: mostly superficial, but hopefully nice to look at.  If you have any other ideas for improvements, please, please, please let me know!

In the meantime, on with part two of my blogging system.  (If you missed last week, you can find part one here!)  Last week, I talked about how I do my scheduling.  But what is a schedule without the drafts and the ideas to back it up?

The Drafts

Directly following the schedule, I have the drafts, each separated by double-spacing and an all-caps title.  The drafts come in all degrees of doneness, from a rough outline, to just an introductory paragraph, to a final draft ready to be posted.  I have them written out chronologically, with the top of the queue at the top of the page.  It makes it easier for me to tell at a glance how much more work I need to do before posting, and how soon that work needs to be done.

When it’s not a NaNo month (because NaNo months are lazy months), I try to have first drafts done a week before posting, and final drafts done the day before posting.  That way, I have a bit of a buffer if something happens and I can’t write, or if the schedule needs to change with little notice.  It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s way less hectic for me when it does.

There are usually two to four active drafts in this section.  Some sit there for weeks or even months before I’m satisfied with them.  After a draft is finally posted, I delete it from the document to clear room for a new draft.

The Notes

Ideas

Down at the bottom of the document, I have the notes.  These are the ideas that are too ugly and vague and newborn to even have a scheduled slot yet.  This is the area I come to when I am scheduling a new quarter.

Filling It-

But how do you generate a robust notes section?

Any way you can.  Whatever gets your brain ticking, do those things.  I try to do my brainstorming- both for fiction and for blogging, depending on the mood- when I’m doing otherwise brainless tasks.  Washing dishes, chopping veggies, folding laundry, exercising, showering, etc…  We all have chores we have to do that don’t take too much thought; use that time to think about other things.  Keep track of interesting dreams, weird happenings at the supermarket, funny scenarios in the police blotter, whatever.  And whenever possible, have the means to write those ideas down immediately.

Another tactic to keep in mind: other writers probably have a lot of the same questions you do.  Quite a few of my blog posts have come about because I had questions- about craft, about querying, about social media- and spent a lot of time finding answers.  Why not write a blog post about those answers?

Whenever you attend writing events- critique groups, conferences, writing guild meetings, book signings, etc- take a some paper with you.  Jot down notes throughout the event, and then take the time to talk to the presenter(s) afterward.  Get permission to write up a blog post, and then ask other questions that may have been left unanswered.  You suddenly have not only a write up of the event, but also an exclusive scoop.  Similarly, think of field experts you can interview.  Other writers you know?  Book shop owners?  Reviewers?  Acquisitions librarians? Writing teachers at your local schools or universities?  Come up with as many as you can before you even start to think about feasibility.

You can also look into what other bloggers are writing about.  If someone you follow had an article about diversity that got you thinking, why not write a blog post about your thoughts?  If you read another blog that got tons of great comments and you know people are interested, why not write your own take on the same topic?

Whenever I get a new idea, no matter how stupid, I write it down.  Truly stupid ideas can always be erased later (Alas, Brandon Sanderson probably won’t grant me an interview just because we both write and are Mormon); but I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to delete an idea only to stop, and tweak it, and suddenly have something I can work with.  Never decide an idea is too bad to work the moment you have it.  Sometimes those ideas just have to stew a while until you can find a better angle.  Write everything down, and keep it all in one spot.

Using It-

When it’s time to schedule another quarter, I first skim through the archived schedule to get a good idea for what I’ve already written recently, and to maybe get a sense of any gaps in the topics I’ve covered.  Then I come to the notes section and start stewing.  I cut/paste the workable ideas from the notes section into the new schedule, again with more refined ideas toward the top and less refined toward the bottom.

After I pull out all the good stuff, I am left with a stinking heap of terrible ideas in the notes section.  I do not delete any of them.  A bad idea will sit in my notes section for nine to twelve months before I let it go, sometimes longer.  But I never delete them in batches, and never after a scheduling session.

The notes section is only useful if it is full and active.  Constantly add fresh ideas, constantly tweak old ideas.  Nearly everything I write about on this blog spends some amount of time in the notes section.  It’s like the slush pile for my blog, but I work really hard to make sure it’s all useable eventually.

 

And that’s about it!  The ideas support the schedule supports the drafts, and it all comes together once a week on the blog.  I think blogging makes me a better writer for two reasons: it forces me to constantly come up with new ideas; and it forces me to constantly write new material.  I don’t usually have a schedule for my fiction and it’s easy to let that fall to the wayside.  Blogging ensures that I don’t ever step completely away from writing.

So for those of you who blog, what do you do to keep yourself on track?  What’s your blogging system?