Feeling My Way Forward

Novel’s currently at 7,787 words.

I’ve only written the first couple of scenes, and I’m already at a point where I’m a little undecided about which way to go.

I have the words ready to go to start toward the next scene, but I’m not sure what to do once I get there.

So do I pause here and outline out what happens next? Wait to write more till I know what’s going to happen? Or just let the words flow, and find out what happens as I write it?

The latter instinct terrifies me. The former path makes me worry I’ll spend too much time plotting, and not enough time writing.

I guess I can always go forward now, and fix any mistakes later. It just feels like a wrong turn this early could force a lot of extra rewriting later.

Slowed, Not Blocked

Not much progress this week: only at 4,180 words.

I’d like to say that I didn’t get to write much this week, as if writing time were something that were doled out to me by a woman with a hairnet and an ice-cream scoop.

But that’s not the case. The truth is I didn’t take as much time to write this week as I needed to. I chose other things — morning exercise, staying a little longer at work, going out with my family — and that’s ok, but I need to remember that it’s a choice.

That means I’m on the hook for not getting as far as I should have this week. It also means it’s in my control to change that, to make different choices and get more writing done.

So my writing slowed this week, but I haven’t stopped, and I’m not blocked altogether, thank goodness. It’s just a reminder that I have to carve out the time I know I need to make the progress I want.

It’s Begun!

Started writing the new novel July 1st, as scheduled. Already 1,600 words in.

It was an incredible relief to write those first 250 words. I had such a hard time outlining the book that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to put anything down, that the magic would fail me this time.

But it hasn’t yet. I’m already adding things to the world, color and details I didn’t think of before, just by writing about it.

I forgot how much fun this can be, making things up and seeing where they lead. It’s addictive.

I don’t want it to end.

How to Read Any Online Magazine on a Kobo eReader

I’ve been trying to read various magazines — for example, The Economist — on some form of eReader for a few years now.

At first I couldn’t do it because they didn’t have electronic editions. Then they did, but only online. Then they offered electronic versions you could subscribe to, but only for Apple products.

Now I can find a lot of them in online bookstores — for Barnes and Noble, or Kobo — but the subscriptions only let you read them on each bookstore’s tablets.

But there’s a workaround for the Kobo eReaders that I wanted to share.

It takes advantage of Pocket, which lets you save web articles for later reading. Turns out that Pocket is integrated into all of Kobo’s eReaders, so any articles you save to your Pocket account will show up on your Kobo.

Here’s how you can read any magazine or newspaper that has an online version on your eReader:

  1. Sign up for a Pocket account.
  2. Download and install the Pocket plugin for your web browser.
  3. Go to the homepage of the magazine you want to read (e.g., economist.com)
  4. Subscribe to the magazine (if you haven’t already).
  5. With your subscription, navigate to the “print edition” version of the website.
  6. Now you can start saving articles for reading. Either right-click on the link to the article and select “Save to Pocket” or open the article and click the “Save to Pocket” icon in your browser’s toolbar.
  7. Wait for the popup that tells you the article has been saved to Pocket.
  8. Go to your ereader. Navigate to the “Articles from Pocket” section.
  9. Sign in to Pocket if you haven’t already.
  10. Your saved article(s) should sync to the ereader. Tap any one of them to read it!

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

An excellent book, but one I wouldn’t have been able to finish without spoilers. It’s got a very slow start, and even 100 pages in I couldn’t tell most of the characters apart, or match character names to titles to dialogue.

I almost quit the book, but then I reread the essay in Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great that got me to read it in the first place. By giving away the ending, and filling in some of the gaps in a modern readers’ knowledge — for example, in 1936, when the book was written, if a college-educated woman got married, she could no longer teach at the university, making the family-or-career choice a stark one — Walton’s essay opened the book up for me, and let me pick up on the multiple ways gender politics is woven throughout.

This is the first time spoilers for a mystery not only didn’t ruin the story, but positively enhanced it for me. If you plan on reading the book, I’d recommend reading Walton’s essay first, if only to equip you with the knowledge of the day that Sayers assumed all her readers had.

I noticed two interesting things about the way the book was written.

First, almost all the action is conveyed through dialogue. There’s a few scenes where Sayers describes what a character does — flicking on a light, for example — but most of the time, Sayers lets her characters talk about the action, or lets us guess that action is taking place by having them describe it. It makes the dialogue feel more real to me, somehow, when we don’t have to interrupt the character’s speech to say something as mundane as “he put on his hat and coat.” Instead, we can let the character’s personality shine through by having them talk about their hat and coat as they put it on, or mumble about how they need to get that elbow patched or complain about missing buttons. However, it doesn’t seem to work well when the reader isn’t familiar with the actions involved; there was a scene in Gaudy Night where the main characters were boating down the Thames, and I couldn’t picture anything that was going on.

Second, the way in which the theme of gender politics gets echoed throughout the book felt masterful to me. It comes up in multiple conversations, it lies at the heart of the mystery, and it’s the core of the problem Harriet Vane (the main and only perspective character) wrestles with throughout: whether to marry Peter Wimsey, or rejoin the scholarly world at Oxford?

I think it even shows up in the structure of the book itself: most of the characters are women, all of the suspects are women, and it’s a woman that leads the investigation for 3/4 of the entire book. It’s a Peter Wimsey Mystery without much Peter Wimsey at all, and the only men that show up most of the novel are adjuncts to the narrative, distractions from the main events, rather than principal players. It’s something that’s all-too-rarely done today, and it must have seemed radical in 1936. I think it was also done deliberately, to make the book not only contain discussions of gender politics and the roles of men and women, but be a shot fired on the side of equality.

Off to Camp

I’ve joined Camp NaNoWriMo this year.

NaNoWriMo gave me the motivation I needed to start — and then finish — my first novel last year. The target word count for the month, the daily emails from professionals about their writing process, even the simple bar chart showing my daily progress, all pushed me to see it through.

I’m hoping to get the same kind of kick in the pants from Camp NaNoWriMo. It starts July first, but there’s no set word count goal, no restrictions on what you can work on, like for regular NaNoWriMo. I’ve set a personal goal of 30,000 words for the month, enough to challenge me but not enough to feel like a mad dash toward the finish line.

They’ve also got the idea of cabins, where they group you up with other writers for the month. I think the idea is that we band together to reach our writing goals, by maybe sharing snippets of what we’re working on, or just talking about our own writing experiences. In any case, I’m looking forward to finding out who my cabin-mates will be.

As for the outline, it should be ready to go July 1st. I’ve got the flow and basic challenges set, nailed down the start and finish, and am getting the characters personalities and voices set in my mind.

I’m still nervous about starting the actual writing of it, but I tell myself that’s normal, and that I have permission to suck on the first draft. But there won’t be a second draft unless I finish the first one, and I won’t finish unless I start, so there’s no getting out of it.

Refilling the Well

Every couple of weeks, I have to do what I think of as “refilling the well.” It’s something between relaxing and recharging, pouring equal parts inspiration and motivation into the well of my brain so I can keep writing, keep creating.

My primary means of refilling the well is going to bookstores (my current personal favorites being Mysterious Galaxy and Villainous Lair). I’m as big a bibliophile as anyone else, enjoying the smell, the touch, the weight of books, even the sight of them, but it’s not just that.

I look around the store, and marvel at all the different books that got published. Books about the history of the telegraph. Books about a fictionalized War of the Roses set on a world that’s not Earth. Books about minotaurs and paladins going on quests together.

Seeing so much getting published, across so many different genres and styles, reminds me that there’s room for what I want to write. There’s room for my characters, for my worlds, for my stories. Every one of the books on the shelves started out as someone’s pencil scratch of an idea, and they found room and space to be made. If they can do it, I can too.