Tag: personal

The Myth of Entire


The Myth of Entire

“My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years.” I love Tolkien (and Lord of the Rings has been a huge formative experience), but in my head, I’ve always been arguing with this quote.

There is a persistent myth going around that I call “the myth of entire”. Its most common form is that to be a true artist, and write masterpieces, you have to devote your life to the art, without the constraints of financial rewards (else there is the risk of writing cutrate potboilers to pressing deadlines), a day job (which holds you back from having enough writing time), or children (because children eat books and childcare is an all consuming activity).

This is bullshit.

We are not whole. We are never whole. There are always other demands on our time, other things we need to do. I am an engineer and a writer, a mother and a child and a grandchild, a friend and a helper and a volunteer. My life is made of broken and small pieces, of snatches of time where I write or grab moments for myself. All our lives are made of snatches and pieces, because most of us don’t live in ivory towers. Because we are in the world in multiple places, with multiple people, doing multiple things–and that is the wellspring from which writing comes. We don’t write about writing. We write about life.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write for pleasure rather than money (and it is true that writing to too punitive deadlines isn’t always conducive to producing quality work, though in my admittedly limited experience there is little correlation between the amount of time in which something is written and the quality or appeal). I’m not saying you shouldn’t leave your day job (because jobs are time consuming, can be crushing, can have expectations that you need to devote your life to them), if that’s what you want. I’m not saying that you’re a failure if you decide to set aside the writing for a time to take care of children (because children *do* eat books, and because while modern society expects us to juggle everything, it’s abundantly clear that we can’t be super parents, super employees and super writer at the same time). But to imply that people aren’t dedicated/motivated enough if they choose to do other things besides writing? That is harmful beyond belief.

And on that last… I could run on the other subjects for a bit (hey, future blog posts!), but let me talk about motherhood for a while. It comes pre-burdened with a set of powerful expectations, not least of which is that entirety: that it is a threshold beyond which you become a parent (and especially a mother, because let’s not kid outselves that is an ungendered thing) and should be only that–that you’re a bad mother if you don’t take care of your children 24/7, and that there will always be time for your own personal pursuits when your child(ren) is (are) older. That, in other words, you have to be an entire mother, or an entire writer, but that you cannot be both things at the same time.

At this stage I’m going to insert a series of choice curse words, but you already knew that.

See… the thing is, it is time consuming, to be a parent. There are periods when you don’t sleep more than a few hours at a go (aka the first few months). There are periods when you can’t keep your eyes off the child for fear they might inadvertently commit suicide (and it’s amazing the number of ways that kids can find to come to harm. It’s like they have a sixth sense for the worst thing to do at any given time). There are periods when they need you; periods when you play with them, read with them, talk with them, help them do homework… All of these are times when no writing happens.

But. But…

I’m a parent. I gave birth. Of course life is never going to be the same. Of course it’s going to be different; and so is the writing. Things get thrown out of whack for a while, but you know what? After a while, they settle in a new balance, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Do I write the same way I did before I had kids? No, quite honestly. The days of binge-writing for days at a time are not going to be back for a while, unless I take a writers’ retreat (and even then, those require arranging childcare). Do I have less time than I had before? Of course. There are no miracles, and I still need to sleep. But time is… different. I manage it differently–in smaller snatches, in stolen moments–stories in bits and pieces, novels written scene by scene on my commute (where I can be sure of not having to childcare), blog posts hammered together in minutes or hours spent in stations or in airports.

I write at night, a lot, after the toddler is in bed and I can breathe collapse for the day. And some days I just stare at my screen and decide I should go watch a silly (in the sense of “not engaging brainpower I no longer have”) TV series, or just hang out on twitter and chat for a bit. I’ve found that I can revise or blog or tweet quite successfully on small snatches of time, but can’t do that with my first drafts, which require more mental investment on my part.

I’m aware that I am very lucky. I have a supportive husband who’s quite ready to take care of the toddler when I’m travelling to cons, or when I need to hammer out a draft. I have family nearby and a support network to fall back on. I have fabulous friends, offline and online, who support me and read me and urge me to go on and on, even when I feel like giving up. And I know not everyone has that and that some people have a much harder time of it, but still? If you have children and you’re writing or painting, or doing any kind of creative work? This is your right. This is your leisure time and what gives you joy. And people who try to tell you otherwise can %%% right off.

(and again, there’s no harm in
a. not having children. This is an entirely personal choice.
b. taking a break from wiriting if the entire combination writing/parenthood is making you be perpetually out of spoons. If writing feels like a drudge and you’re exhausted all the time–and believe me, I have been there–then you don’t have to do it, and you’re not a failure if you don’t. Again, it’s a very personal choice)

This blog post is part of a roving blog tour on parenthood and writing/editing–a crack team of us have lined up to post on the subject, and I’ll be linking to other posts as they go live!
Follow us on twitter too, the official hashtag is #parentingCreating !
1. On Being a Creative Parent, Leah Moore
2. Writing and Parenthood: Scenes from an Exhausted Land, Patrick Samphire

Deadlines, layered writing and breathing space


Deadlines, layered writing and breathing space

So… a lot of what I write today is to deadlines–and I know I’m not necessarily in the majority here, but I like deadlines. I’m one of the world’s natural procrastinators, and without the focus sheer existential dread of a deadline, I would be writing a lot less.

Thing is… it’s very tempting to think that, with all the time in the world, I could write a novel/short story that I would be happy with, rather than having to rush to meet a tight delivery date. I’m also aware, because I’m one of the world’s natural pessismists, that the correlation between the time I have to write something and the quality of the thing is actually weaker than I’d think.

For starters, “happy with” is a complicated thing. I’ve read a quote somewhere that writers don’t finish stuff, that we merely abandon it, and that’s certainly very true with me. There’s always something I could do to a piece, always some revisions I could do that I feel would make it better. I’m not convinced that they *would* make it better, in the sense that I’ve also edited pieces to death. The late Jay Lake used to say that voice is the easiest thing to edit out of a manuscript, and he’s right. Prose shouldn’t be unformed, but equally being too polished is a sure sign that life has been taken out of it–I’m a big believer in the rawness and energy of it. Which is to say: I do edit my prose, but I’m careful not to go overboard. I also tend to think my stuff sucks whatever the stage it’s at (except possibly those very early stages when it’s still fresh and new and exciting)–yeah, impostor syndrome–and part of the reason I love the H is that he will just prod me into delivering the freaking thing already even if I feel terrible about it.

Of course, if the delivery date is ridiculously tight and I’m under high pressure to meet it, there’s going to be a strong temptation to do a hack job–to deliver for the sake of delivering what really is inferior work (and not what I consider to be inferior work, which isn’t necessarily representative, see above). “Inferior” means “not finished” to me, and my biggest “not finished” issue is complexity and layers.

My writing process is all about layers. I build my stories and my novels that way, on the slow accretion of completely unrelated elements–I just throw everything in, and at some point the magical alchemy happens and they all come together for a story (I’m serious about alchemy. My subconscious is in charge at that point, and it really does feel like it miraculously coalesces from a mess of unrelated things into an actual story). For that to happen, I need space, and some research reading, and some cogitating, before I can have the piece click for me–before it can unfold in all its glorious (and sometimes) messy complexity.

For a short story, I generally need two completely unrelated ideas: for instance, the latest one I wrote started with the image of a Vietnamese dragon flying out from the sun, and over it I layered the idea of a messy and protracted war between two nascent space federations. For a novel, I need more: I need a good idea of the setting, a bunch of characters I feel comfortable with, and a plot that has enough content and twists to keep me happy. The House of Shattered Wings‘s setting started as the confluence of Fallen angels whose flesh was being used to make magical drugs, and of a big, WWI-style magical war in turn-of-the-century Paris. But it didn’t actually gel together until I got all my characters lined up (most significantly, Philippe, the unexpected Vietnamese ex-Immortal and general wrench in the works), and my plot sketched in (I’m not going to give spoilers, but one major plot point involving the death of a visiting dignitary in Silverspires turned out to be the lynchpin on which I could hang part 1–and part 2 was, in turn, hung on a vivid image of Notre-Dame ruined in a very particular fashion). Accordingly, if I haven’t had time to get those layers/unrelated things, or to integrate them properly… Yeah, then it would be a problem.

But. But I’ve written stuff that was brilliant in a couple of days, and stuff that sucked over a period of nine months; so, again, it’s not like more time necessarily results in more brilliant stuff? I think past a certain incompressible time period I need to get the story together, more time just either gives me: a. more time to procrastinate (and lose some of the original passion and drive for the project as the excitement dies down), and b. more time to make the story into a Frankenstein mashup of intractable complexity. At some point I just need to put words down I guess? They might need to be heavily edited (or deleted), but they’re here. They’re not some abstract notion of what the story should be, which I can never do justice to in any case, because the story I write is *never* going to be as perfect as the vision in my head (it never is). They’re real, and they’re on paper (or on the screen), and I can work with that.

(yeah, my other motto is “you can’t fix what’s not written down”)

So, yeah. Mostly I work with deadlines and I love them (honest!). From time to time, of course, I need a break: I need some space for a personal project that I don’t feel I owe to anyone. Works like The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, the Xuya novella with the twined four POVs, or Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship, the courtship/caper between two characters of The House of Shattered Wings–I just write them for fun, and for a while it feels liberating not to have a deadline or the perpetual feeling I’m late. But only for a while, and because it’s a change–I need my deadlines, and if they didn’t exist I suspect I’d make them up!

What about you? How do you handle deadlines? Do you like them/hate them with a passion? Does it not make a whit of difference to you whether you have one or not?

(image credits: Shepherd gate clock at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, UK, retouched by CarolSpears, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Nebulas and darkness notice


Nebulas and darkness notice

(Picture: Fran Wilde, Navah Wolfe, Alyssa Wong and me)

Just a quick note that I’m still around but completely completely buried in explody real life (aka “not serious, but time consuming” events).

I had a lovely time at the Nebulas; and finally got to see Mad Max: Fury Road with Navah Wolfe, Fran Wilde, Alyssa Wong and her boyfriend Don (and it was great, OMG. First off, the last movie I saw was Interstellar, which a. wasn’t *very* good from my point of view, and b. was a long time ago! *sigh* toddlers). Now I feel like I’m all caught up with what everyone was saying on the internet! Also, it’s a fantastic 2-hour chase movie with a couple great leads (Charlize Theron is badass awesome, and Tom Hardy too, in a different way!).

And then there was this:

(Kat Tanaka Opoknik, Alyssa Wong, Ken Liu, Liu Cixin, and me)

Yes, there was tailcoat goodness :) (for those who haven’t been following the adventures of the tailcoat: I basically got it for my book launch, aka “cosplaying my own characters”, in this case Selene, the head of House Silverspires and a dab hand with tailcoats, men’s clothes and general bad-assness. This was my first serious spin with it, and it went very well. Except I had to google how to tie a cravat because it’s been so long since I last did it ^^)

Didn’t actually win a Nebula, but had a great time at the banquet (Sheila Williams organises awesome table seating!) and was very happy for the winners.

Now I’m back in Paris, looking with apprehension at the mass of things I’m supposed to be doing (do not overcommit do not overcommit etc.), and gearing up for the summer before book release (*gulp*). More when my head is above water (hahaha who am I kidding).

RIP Terry Pratchett


Terry Pratchett has died, and I feel like there’s a big hole in the world. I didn’t know him personally, but I knew his books–I taught myself English (and puns on British life) with the Discworld (one of the very first books I bought when we moved to the UK was Hogfather, still a perennial favourite), and came to the fantasy and science fiction bookshelves of Waterstone’s because that was where you could find his books. His books followed me from teenager reader to adult writer of SF, and I always enjoyed reading the latest one (and I did the embarrassed fangirl thing at Interaction in Glasgow, too). It’s hard to state how much his writings have shaped me and what I write today.

My condolences to his family and friends. The world is a darker, hollower place without him.

Year-End review


Year-End review

The brief version…

I wrote a bunch of short fiction. I sold a bunch of it (and “The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile” will be reprinted in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction, which makes me very happy as it’s a story I’m very proud of). I finished 2014 with three pretty big sales (I don’t think I’m allowed to make announcements yet; I’ll do so when I have permission). I also sneaked in the completion of my Xuxa novella, “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls”, under the wire; and made a pretty big conceptual addition to the Xuxa universe (basically the local order of Bene Gesserits, which should be fun to write).

“Heaven Under Earth” was a Tiptree Honor nominee; and “The Waiting Stars” won a Nebula and was a Hugo and Locus Award finalist. I also had my first editorial gig, as a reprint curator for Strange Horizons, who published “Chambered Nautilus” by Elisabeth Vonarburg; and I published a print edition of “On a Red Station, Drifting”, which has been doing pretty well considering it’s an old book and a lot of people already have the ebook version.

I was a GoH at Mircon and had a lovely time (see my report here); I also had a lovely (but slightly more hectic) time at Loncon3 (aka, “we’re not taking a baby under a year old to a con ever again”); and a great writing retreat with friends in Brittany.

And, hum, I wrote a novel set in post apocalyptic sort-of-Belle Epoque Paris, with Fallen angels, a Vietnamese Immortal with a grudge and rival Houses fighting over the ruins of Notre Dame, and I sold it to Gollancz for an August 2015 publication. (and I’m still kind of shocked that, not only have people signed up to read it on goodreads, but that it also got pre ordered on amazon by a bunch other people).

The snakelet turned one, and I learnt that a lot of infant life is running after the baby; and I got one of my recipes featured in the cooking section of The Guardian. I think that’s about it in terms of big events :p

I’m kind of writing this entire entry in a state of shock, to be honest. Thanks everyone for a great year, and see you in 2015.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that it’s not all positive and that 2014 was in some ways a very sucky year. Friends left, way too early; and others got very bad news–and sometimes I did feel like I want to hit something very, very hard. Cancer in particular can go f%%% itself)

Shopping for baby clothes


Today is the first day of the summer sales in Paris, so naturally I braved the crowd was foolish enough to drop by a baby clothes’ shop to pick up a hat for the snakelet. The following conversation is depressingly familiar when buying clothes:
Me: “Do you have this model in size 51?”
Saleswoman: “Let me look. It’s for a–” she peers at the hat I’m holding up (red with stripes)–“girl, right?”
Me, biting down on a desire to lecture her on gender essentialism, “Boy, actually.”
Saleswoman, turning to a bin where everything is some shade of blue, “Hum, I’m not too sure–”
Me, pointing to another bin where everything is a shade of pink or red, “Maybe in this bin?”
Saleswoman: “That’s for–”
Me: “I know. Do you have anything?”
She looks at me, at the hat, and at the bin again. “No, everything is pink, I’m sorry.”
At which point I gave up and went foraging into the darn bin for girls’ hats myself. They had another red hat, which was actually the right size for the snakelet–I snagged it immediately.
Seriously. This is for a baby who’s not yet a year old. I can predict some intense frustration as the snakelet grows up…

Brief update


In case you had any doubt, not much writing is happening–snakelet is a bit of a full time job…

Desultorily planning my novel (I know how to fix my plot problem, I just don’t have the time to tackle the chapter–each time I sit down too write there’s a scream from the bedroom…).

PSA re email


I’ve just discovered that there’s emails I haven’t answered to, so if you sent anything to me from 1st Sept to 10th Sept and are still waiting on an answer, would you mind poking me? I didn’t have email access while in hospital and obviously misplaced a couple things when we got home with the snakelet…