I’m not going to lie. Writing is hard. For a long time last year, I thought I’d given it up forever. I knew, deep down, that I probably hadn’t, but sometimes you have to quit for a little while so you can keep going in the long run.
I’m drafting a new book now. It’s not easy. I just started, so every day, I have to give myself a little pep talk to get started. If you’re like me, it’s difficult every single time. It doesn’t exactly get easier: people say we never learn to write books—we learn to write this book. Every time we begin, we really are starting at the beginning. It would be so much easier not to try than to start all over again every single time.
But we writers are masochists, and sometimes not trying isn’t an option. Instead, we torture ourselves with our own perceived inadequacy, the book’s general suckiness, the difficulty that is this art. We don’t write, but we spend our time agonizing over the not writing, and the end result is a miserable writer with no words on the page.
Luckily, we can conquer those feelings. I’ve learned few things that help me get going. I’ve been known to write these on Post-Its and put them on my bulletin board. Maybe they’ll help you, too.
- It’s just a first (or second or third) draft. If it sucks, you can rewrite it later. But you have to write something now if you’re ever going to rewrite it and make it better.
- No one will write this book but you. You, right now, sitting there at your computer. The you who will write it ten months from now isn’t the you who is compelled to tell this story as it is in your head right now. If you want it to exist, you have to do it. Now.
- When you’re putting words on a page, there’s only so much that can go wrong. Typo? Big deal. Comma splice? Who cares. Saggy midpoint? Fuck it. Yes, it’s your dream, but the truth is, you’re moving pixels on a screen. If it’s bad, you can fix it.
- You WILL fix it… later.
Now go get to work.
Since SHAKEN came out yesterday (and a HUGE thank you to those of you who pre-ordered and ordered yesterday — you guys made my day!), I thought I’d share a few fun facts about its inception and creation. Wheeee!
- The San Francisco where Mitzy lives is pretty significantly different than the San Francisco in this world. I won’t go into too much detail about this here, since I wrote about it on Spellbound Scribes last week, but Mitzy’s San Francisco includes some fictional locations and some cemeteries that are no longer in use. Because magic is a part of the physical landscape of Mitzy’s world, I needed to restructure San Francisco to reflect how that might have shaped history.
- I worked as a reporter in Berkeley, covering Oakland and a little bit of San Francisco, too, and the Bay Area is one of my favorite places in the world. My very first job out of graduate school was working as a reporter, first as an intern and than as a police-beat reporter, in Berkeley. That job was difficult and fun and exciting and terrifying, and I think it shaped the trajectory of my entire career. I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, but working as a reporter in Berkeley and elsewhere made me a significantly better writer than I could have been without that time of strict word limits, careful research, and tight deadlines. It also instilled in me a love of that area and its residents that I’ll never get over.
- When I first thought of SHAKEN, it wasn’t an urban fantasy: it was a straight-up detective novel. And it didn’t involve a serial killer. Actually, it had almost no resemblance to the book that you can now read. I thought I’d try writing mysteries to get the hang of plot and structure, but I kept getting stuck on the lack of magic and fantasy elements. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I wanted to write fantasy. I’ve always wanted to write fantasy, and I don’t think I’ll ever not write fantasy.Somewhere along the way of writing SHAKEN, I got the idea of a world where everyone has magic. Urban fantasy was peaking right around then, and, well, put those elements together and you get the odd little book that is SHAKEN. I’ve since gone on to write a cozy mystery (no magic! really!) and thoroughly enjoyed it, but fantasy will always be where I live.
- I set out wanting to write about a female addict. This was a part of my vision for the character of Mitzy from the beginning, pre-magic, pre-urban fantasy. I knew she would be from a privileged background and be forced to deal with letting go of the advantages given to her by birth. The addict-detective trope is actually pretty familiar to anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes, but that character is usually a man, not a woman. Women are addicts, too, and have to face the consequences of the choices they make while under the influence. Mitzy is my exploration of these issues.
- I have a Pinterest board where you can see a bit of my vision of the novel. I used it to collect faces and items and locations, and sometimes I like to peek at it and remember back when I was a baby writer and hunting for the perfect pictures of Eva Green and Nestor Carbonell. I never found my Li, sadly, but I’ll bet she’s out there somewhere.
- There’s also a Spotify playlist of music I listen to while writing in Mitzy’s world. This list has evolved since I wrote SHAKEN and includes some of the tracks I listened to (on a loop!) while writing DIRTY, book two of the series.
- I finished SHAKEN as a NaNoWriMo project. I distinctly remember starting the book in the summer–this was in (gulp) 2011?–and then it languished for a couple of months around the midpoint. I decided to buckle down in November and get it wrapped up. I’m pretty sure it took me a month or so into December, but “cheating” at NaNo and writing 50,000 words on a project I’d already started gave me a HUGE boost. You absolutely can’t beat NaNoWriMo for giving yourself an exciting, encouraging environment in which to write, and I try to at least dip my toe in every year. I suspect I’ll be NaNo-ing again this year with my current work in progress.
- SHAKEN isn’t my first novel. Or even, technically, my second. But it is the first book I wrote to completion and recognized as worth editing for readers. The first book I really completed is a 250,000 word monstrosity that takes place in a pseuo-steampunk fantasy world. It’s about a pair of thieves who get mixed up in a political conspiracy. Someday I’d like to rewrite it, but I have too many new projects I want to pursue.
- You can get SHAKEN now from Amazon!
Some of you may regard this post as rank heresy, but I assure you, it’s all meant in good fun.
My husband and I like to play a silly and very geeky game I affectionately call, “Would You Live In That Universe?”
Okay, I don’t actually call it that, and it’s not really a game, just an ongoing discussion we pick up every few weeks or months, usually when we’ve read or watched something new and interesting. It basically just involves analyzing whether or not we’d live in a particular universe and why. Neither of us would live in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica universe, for example, but we’d both consider living in the xxxHolic world. We’re iffy on the Star Wars universe, and we’ve agreed to steer well clear of Westeros. I’d pick up and move to Hyrule, though, and Drew would probably tag along.
But the Harry Potter universe is a point of contention.
I, with my Deathly Hallows tattoo and yearly reread of the books, would obviously be down with living there—at least, if I got to be a witch and not a Muggle. My husband isn’t really in favor of it, though, and after my most recent reread… well… I’ll admit he has a few points.
- Wizards have a shockingly lackadaisical approach to basic education and real world skills. How on earth did someone like Ron learn to read? And Mr. Weasley can’t even identify basic British currency by the numbers written on the notes? That’s some frightening ignorance, right there. We get the impression that wizard children don’t have much exposure to the Muggle world, and while I’m not a huge fan of public education, I can admit it has its values. Socializing children and teaching them to recognize basic numerals and, you know, LETTERS, is pretty important.
And it shows, guys. It shows.
- Every single witch and wizard is packing. Seriously. Think about it. Wizards describe guns as a sort of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other. Wands = guns. Every single person in this universe is carrying concealed (or waving the damn thing around in the air). At any moment, someone could hook you into the air by your foot or stupefy you or silence you or much, much worse.. If that’s not a recipe for disaster and serious bullying, I don’t know what is.
“Oops.” Yeah, right.
- Animal cruelty has been institutionalized and is taught in schools. We don’t hear a lot about what happens to those hedgehogs that are getting transfigured into pincushions, but we do know they feel pain—a poorly transfigured pincushion will curl up in fear. How sick is that? And what happens to the disembodied rat tails and vanished kittens? How do we know that tail isn’t feeling unbearable pain? I don’t know about you, but I’d feel really uncomfortable transfiguring another living creature without its consent or a confident, scientific assurance that it’s not feeling any pain.
Killer chess pieces? Barbaric. Disembodied rat tails? Totally fine.
- A huge percentage of wizards are classist or ableist or racist. Okay, this one isn’t that much different than our world, but it’s still disappointing. Ron is constantly bullied for being poor. Hermione is called Mudblood how many times? Squibs are essentially disowned and banished to the Muggle world. And Muggles are regarded as precious oddities at best and disgusting animals at worst. I’ll admit that our heroes are far kinder to these subgroups, but a huge number of wizards we encounter take a very poor attitude to people who don’t look and act exactly as they do. Birth is everything in this world. Pity the Mudbloods, man, but pity the Squibs even more.
Manners matter, Malfoy.
- The government is everywhere. Everyone is magically tagged until they reach the age of 17, and after that point, the magical government is still watching to make sure you don’t take one step out of line. Characters are imprisoned at the drop of a hat, or just to make people feel better (Hagrid in Azkaban? SERIOUSLY?), and the government has a hand in everything from education to medical care to journalism. I know the books are set in a time of war, but the whole question of the Trace makes me feel a little iffy about just who would be watching me.
…because we’ll sure as damn hell be listening!
- Everyone seems to get married, have kids, and die really, REALLY young. Lily and James were, like, 20 when they had Harry. And in the epilogue, Harry is 36ish with three kids. That’s awesome, and great if it’s what you want, but where’s the magical birth control? Are witches and wizards at least being taught how to practice safe sex? And while it seems like Hermione and Ginny go on to have interesting careers, we don’t hear a lot about what other generations are doing. What’s Fleur doing after her marriage to Bill? What did Lily Potter do? And where on earth are Harry’s grandparents? Life expectancy in this world can’t be much more than about 50—and that’s with people like Dumbledore and Bathilda Bagshot throwing off the curve. I’d be a little concerned about burning the candle at both ends, if I lived in this universe. I’m 30 and I’m not an Auror OR a parent yet. What am I even doing with my life?
With middle age comes… bags under the eyes?
See what I mean? Would YOU live in this universe?