An Education

I attended NorWesCon42 this year, and while there were a number of amazing panels, insights, readings and friendships, what I want to talk about is education.  Specifically, an education in writing.  I have not had a formal education as a writer, and often at my lowest, I feel like I have had none.  That is a lie. My education is pieced together from a thousand places, and disseminated this way, it is easy to overlook it.

I attended a really helpful panel this year on where writers come from with authors Craig Laurance Gidney, Kat Richardson, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Yilin Wang. All of them had different backgrounds in their writerly education, and the most important thing they stressed was that there is no correct path to a career as an author.

And because it has taken me so long to accept that I am not alone, that I have built an informal education for myself out of conventions and books and time in the chair writing unpublishable nonsense, I want to pass this key on to you, whoever you may be.

However you got here, whatever method you used to learn your craft, and wherever you are on the path right now YOU ARE VALID.

Fanfiction is valid. Writing books are valid. Workshops are valid whether they last one hour or six weeks.  Your friends who read your work and give you feedback, whether or not they are also writers; they are valid resources (and golden and beautiful souls and you should hug them next time you see them.) Writing awful things and tearing them up and making them into new things is valid and necessary.  You are learning.  You will never stop learning.

If you have been waiting for someone to give you a certificate that says Now You May Write Because We Have Decided You Are Educated Enough To Do So, stop waiting.  There’s no certificate as important as the next finished story.  Because writing in itself is an education in writing.

(and so is reading)

 

I’ve read some really great things lately, so I’m going to share three of them.

Holly Heisey’s article on medium sparked the thought behind this blog post, and my time at NorWesCon only fed the fire. Speaking Up (When You’re Not Perfect And Never Will Be)

I got to hear Carolyn M. Yoachim read the first part of her story The Archronology of Love at the convention, and I just managed to read the rest today. It was beautiful and the construction was so clever and I need other people to read it so I’m not the only one holding all these feelings.

And while I did not get to hear Chimedum Ohaegbu read her story Toothsome Things at Norwescon, Erik did, and he told me as soon as he saw me that I was going to love it. I did. It’s frightening and quick, and it mashes up all the stories you know into something so much bigger. He knows my tastes so well.

 

 

 

Finish the Work

I like planning a story. Drawing maps, designing costumes, sketching character profiles. At my most extra, I will make touchstone objects for a story; a character’s favorite sweater, a pair of goggles with wire mesh lenses, a tee shirt stamped with a swarm of bats. At this stage, before everything coalesces, it is easy to play with a story’s design. The beats aren’t cemented in place, the thing is nebulous and sparkling. It’s easy to love a dream.

The writing is harder. First drafts are especially difficult, because I am forced to confront all the spaces the dream washes out. How does character get from knowing their antagonist to hating them? How does their sidekick go from annoyed acquaintance to best friend? Outlines will provide some structure, but there are places in the story that I won’t know about until we get there.

There are places in the story where I will have to hang a curtain between this world and the one I am writing, and ask that you not look behind that curtain. There are some things I can’t import into the story’s world. Many more things that I wish to exclude. As much as I am writing a world, one woman can’t be an entire universe.

I can only masquerade as one.

When I begin to pin down my story in a first draft, it loses its depths. It looks as thin as that curtain, and I worry it will tear at its first reading. My big nebulous shining thing, with all its maps and props, looks very little like the thing I wrote.

But notes and props and maps are very boring without a story to go along with them. And I can’t edit what isn’t written.

Because the trick to story telling isn’t in the props. Depth comes later, when I have a first draft, and I can tease its structure into three dimensions. I need to finish the work, and then its time to share.

#

I’ve listened to some really great stories lately. Keyan Bowes wrote a beautiful love story about research funding and the intelligence of octopuses. You can listen to Octonet on Escape Pod.

And I am Fire, I am Tears by Wendy Nikel is on Podcastle. It’s got cursed sisters and dragons and untrustworthy husbands. It felt like a lost fairy tale, a favorite one, that had just been rediscovered.

Props and Costume

I am gathering objects for a new story.

They are not all physical.  Some can’t be, because their magic does not manifest properly in this dimension.  Most won’t be, because I don’t have the stamina to learn blacksmithing or gem cutting or bonsai for a novella.

But I am collecting descriptions of these objects in a notebook, so that I will have them when the story needs them.

I love important objects in stories. I know I’ve written about them before in the blog.  I’ve even written a short story about their makers. Physical objects give weight to a story. You can feel a crystal doorknob in your hand, or a warm jacket around your shoulders, or a favorite tee shirt with a collar that rests just right below your neck.  I want things that can be touched, because that touch will ground me in the fantastic.

So I’m building a prop shop.  Or, rather, I had built a prop shop about two years back, and now I’m restocking it.

Crystal Doorknob with spotty brass fittings.

Robins egg blue suit jacket, double breasted, cut perfectly for a 5’11” heavy set woman in her fifties. Very dashing.

Costume tiara, bent, missing three of its plastic jewels.

Comb disguised as a flick-knife, one chestnut hair caught in its hinge.

Soft gray cotton tee shirt, worn thin from countless washings, patterned with a colony of bats in flight.

Space suit, far future, made for someone very tall.  Sanitation department badges on chest and sleeves.

 

I get lost in scenes sometimes, unable to write down what is important because in your head it all seems very important.  But it helps to have something specific to look at.  Something that will catch a character’s eye, center the scene, and allow the action to unfold.

And sometimes it helps to get into character, when you’re wearing a soft tee shirt covered in bats, and a silly broken tiara.

 

 

A few notes from my phone:

I wrote five and one half stories over the last five weeks.  Heavy drafting always results in half-formed story ideas on my phone typed out in the middle of the night, and sometimes I really like how they look separated from their stories.  So I’m going to share! Here are, without context, some of my favorites.

“Dripping Moon, wobbly soft boiled moon, void moon, sucking light from the stars.  Super blood wolf moon with a triple axel, every night a new performance piece…”

“Do fifth dimensional spider women like ice cream?”

“The night sky stuck to his fingers,  beautifully dark. He used his handkerchief to wipe it away.”

“Eyeball sale pyramid scheme.”

“I put smiles on faces faster than hot chocolate on a snow day.”

Most of their stories have a long polish before they can be sent to magazines. I hope they’re not too weird to find homes… But if the weird is too great, I can always make trash magic out of a super blood wolf moon and publish it on youtube.

I had two stories published in the past month-ish. Both very short, and both from last year’s stint of writing five stories in five weeks.

We Have Always Lived in the Barbie Dream Castle is podcasted at Toasted Cake (and I love the narration dearly- Tina Connolly did a great comedic read for this one.)

and

Quilting With The Rejects at Flash Fiction Online (which is a little bit of a love song to my favorite coffee shop in town, as well as to the textile arts.)

The Difficult Year

It’s difficult pinning your person to a verb.  I am a writer who has not done enough writing this year.  Or the year before.  I haven’t published enough, haven’t built a following, haven’t engaged enough with potential readers.  I haven’t built my brand.

I wrote seven slim stories to completion this year, and started the first paragraphs on dozens.  I followed those false starts out to different paths and found every one of them well trod and trite and boring.  I don’t want to be bored by what I write.  Stories are meant to thrill.

It has been a difficult year.  It seems it’s been that way for many.

I don’t know how to make the next year better.  I want to write more.  I want to publish more.  I know that the megan from this year would be impressive to the one from ten years ago, but perspective is hard in the middle of the forest.

Next week, I will finish a story.  Maybe I’ll write the end and work backwards from there.  The week after, I’ll do another.  I’ll be okay if it sucks.  Maybe I’ll try to make it suck.  I think I work better when I don’t care about the outcome.  I want to fall back in love with writing.  It will be difficult, but the work is important.  Not to the world at large, no.  I think the earth will keep turning if I don’t manage to find an end to a well read fairytale princess building a Studebaker Avanti.  But it’s important to me.  I hang my hat on fairytales.  I’d be lost without them.