Sunday, 28 June 2015

When Life Gets In The Way of Writing

If you wanna get anywhere as a writer, you need discipline. Get your bum on that seat, your fingers on that keyboard and godammit, person, write, no matter what. Don't let anyone or anything come between you and your beloved pages, there's always time to write, the successful and the professionals don't let excuses get in their way, etcetera, etcetera...

And yeah, I get all that. I really, really do.

But sometimes there are just so many things going on in your life that your poor little brain can't hold them all at once and write as well. (Anyone disagreeing with me at this point is doing so because they bloody well have backup; either a PA or a very devoted partner who's happy to pick up the slack and be Super-House-Runner whenever they need their creative space. Well, I'm very happy for you guys, but I'm afraid this post isn't about you. It's about the rest of us.)

My system for getting my arse in gear has always been to have a weekly goal of hours and word count per week that I strive to meet, and tracking my progress from week to week, month to month, with a spreadsheet. I make sure I 'clock up' a minimum of ten hours a week of writing time, and aim for a minimum 2500 words a week. (And yeah, I do realise that's a pitiful amount compared to 'professional' and 'full-time' writers. But I am neither of those things, so I have to make the most of the precious few hours I do get. Sure, I'll be slower to reach the finish line, but I'm no less determined because of that.)

But for the last couple of weeks I've been falling short of my weekly targets - not even meeting my base minimums. This isn't due to lack of inspiration or the dreaded Writer's Block, but simply large chunks of Life getting in the way.

For my first week of faceplanting short of my writing targets, my son's school had its Centenary Year. As this was such a huge event, it required not one but two completely different themed costumes, to be worn on completely different days. Supplied of course by the parents. So my wee laddie needed one schoolboy uniform from the year 1915 for Monday (suuuure, I'll just go dig that out, I'm bound to have it lying around somewhere...) and then another outfit representing 'fashion of the 1960's' for Friday.  And then once you throw in all the special events for parents to attend for the Centenary Week... well, I managed seven and a half hours and 2000 words of writing that week.

This last week has been taken up with my sons ninth birthday. Obtaining and wrapping of presents, organising and preparing food for his party and making his minecraft-themed birthday cake, to be precise. I was more pleased with this years effort...

Minecraft Ender Portal Birthday Cake

... than last years. (But only slightly, because thinking anything I've done ever approaches the exacting vision of beauty in my imagination is something that next-to-never happens... but that's a whole other post...)

It's a Minecraft Ender Portal, in case you were wondering. Nope, I had no idea what that was either, until I Google-Imaged it. But it passed inspection by my son and all nine of his party-going friends, so I guess it worked out okay in the end. But... it took a looonng time to make and ice, so even though I still managed seven-and-a-half hours of writing, my total wordcount was even lower than the previous week.

Now don't get me wrong. I do not begrudge a second the time spent on any of the aforementioned activities in either of those two weeks. I believe family should always come above writing in the list of priorities, and if that makes me 'uncommitted to the writing cause'... well, boo-hoo, this is my Don't Care-Face.

But I'll admit, not meeting my targets for two weeks in a row made me... twitchy. Like an addict deprived of her fix, it felt like something was missing from my life to make me feel okay again. And the guilt... Oh! The guilt! Does this mean I'm going cold on 'Redemption?' Am I running out of steam and destined to give up on this novel too, just like all the ones I gave up on before it? Is this nature's way of saying I should give up writing forever, because I just can't commit to any damn thing ever in my whole non-committing failing-at-finishing-a-novel life? 

Mmmyeah, I possibly went a little overboard on the melodrams at one point. But the fact remains, there was some mental self-flagellation going on. But why? Why did I do that to myself? I had some time off, that's all. Took a bit of annual leave to spend time with my family. So why is the Grinch in my head accusing me of slacking off and not having the metaphorical testicles to see my beloved writing project through?

'Cause it's his job, that's why. It's the job of all Grinches in the heads of all writers everywhere - yep, yours too. They want us to fail, and they know the best time to strike with their 'nad-crushing nonsense is when we're feeling vulnerable. And sure, we can listen to them and take their words as 'must try harder' messages. But we must never think of them as Oracles, predicting our future.

It's okay to take time out from writing once in a while. You don't 'stop being a writer' just because you take a break - any more than a doctor 'stops being a doctor' just because he goes on holiday for a couple of weeks. Sometimes a break is just what you need to fill up your well of imagination and come back to the page fresh and invigorated.

So if you ever feel the guilt of Taking Time Away From Your Writing, here's what to do. Take all that guilt, screw it up in a ball and lob it at the old circular file. And start working on the next, new page.

Oh - and give your Grinch a healthy dose of side-eye while you're at it. That should shut him up for a while.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

We Need To Talk About Sad and Rabid Puppies

Seriously. And yes, I do mean with the same seriousness as 'we' needed to talk about Kevin.

For those who don't know, Sad Puppies (and their angrier kid brothers Rabid Puppies) are a bunch of predominantly male authors who are tired of their books and their manly mates' books not getting Hugo Awards because all these new books with - gasp! - liberal agendas keep winning them instead. You know, the kind of books that tackle things like women's and LGBT issues, or include a variety of different races and ethnic groups - and not even as the bad guys. Some of the people writing these things are even writing them from personal experience; yep, you read that right - feminist and LGBT stories written by actual women and actual LGBT people!

And science fiction and fantasy, apparently, is not the place for such subversive nonsense. It's a manly man's arena that is, so you can save all that diversity malarkey for chick-lit and online fan fiction, because that's the stuff women read and they've got to have something to think about while they're doing the ironing...

Okay, I may have taken a wee side turning into Snarksville there.  And for the past three years, the tactics employed by Sad Puppies have not been illegal or even, technically speaking, cheating (they get as many of their mates and supporters as they can to 'buy' the right to submit nominations, and then carpet-bomb-nominate only their mates and others they feel are 'worthy' of being nominated.)

It's a tactic straight out of The Old Boys Club, and there's a sad irony in the knowledge that they don't see they're replacing one form of supposed 'favouritism' (nominations allegedly being dictated by 'politically-correct agendas') with another (nominations dictated by who's rich enough to 'buy' the right to nominate.) But then politicians and those who went to public school are usually blind to that sort of thing as well. It's a shame it's starting to infect an award that was originally designed to honour those who were breaking new ground and pushing the boundaries with their fiction, but other than that the most you could accuse Sad and Rabid Puppies of was striving to turn the Hugo Awards into some sort of super-exclusive, mutual back-slapping club, where everyone sat around telling each other how great they were... but only if they were The Right Sort, old chap.

At least, that was how I'd previously viewed them. But then this thing with Irene Gallo happened, and I read some actual quotes from authors who support Sad and Rabid Puppies. Quotes like these:

“White American men simply don’t rape these days. At this point, unless a womann [sic] claims it was committed by a black or Hispanic man she didn’t previously know, all claims of rape, especially by a college woman, have to be considered intrinsically suspect.”  
Theo Beale

"I am not unrepentantly homophobic. I am nothing of the kind. It is a lie.

I follow the Catholic teaching on same sex attraction and how one deals with it. In public, I have heaped scorn on those who use a children’s cartoon, one I loved, to insinuate their pro-perversion propaganda in a cowardly and craven way.

I have no hate, no fear, nothing but respect for homosexuals.

You and people like you who use the false cloak of compassion for homosexual to lure them into ruining their lives, you are the ones for whom I have no respect. You are the ones who hate them; you are the one who urge them down ever darker paths." 
John C. Wright, in response to an online open letter from Tom Doherty apologising for Irene Gallo's comments.

Now, if I was seeing comments like this on a Reddit thread (not a place I frequent if I can help it) I might be able to just shrug them off as the rantings of frustrated trolls, trying to provoke a reaction and get their sweet five minutes of infamy. If I was feeling particularly uncharitable, I might assume they were under-achieving losers, still living in their mum's basement and yet to get past second base with a female. So while I might be riled by their comments, I wouldn't be unduly worried by them because they're reminiscent of the two-a-penny, par-for-the-course responses that litter sites like Reddit, YouTube, Jezebel and a host of others. They're generally made by nobodies - teeny little fish in the vast ocean that is the internet.

But in the above cases, these were actual quotes from authors. People with some degree of fame and - dare I say it - respect in the literary world, who write books intending that loads of people will want to read them and absorb the messages inside them.

When authors write stories, they do so with an intent to give them ideas and information in a way that entertains but also challenges existing beliefs and persuades people to think about things in a different way. That's a lot of power right there. And, like Uncle Ben said (the Spiderman one, not the rice-purveying one) "with great power comes great responsibility."

I've never read anything written by Theo Beale or John C. Wright - and after seeing these quotes, I sure as hell don't want to. Do these attitudes permeate into their fiction as well? Are they serving them up surreptitiously, hiding inside the skins of their fictional characters and giving them meat and gravy with the grimness of their plot twists? If so, the Sad and Rabid Puppies' shenanigans with the Hugo Awards start to look less like a bunch of petulant authors screaming "not fair" and more like a sinister agenda.

I know I know, free speech and all that. Banning these authors from saying such stuff, or refusing to publish anything that promotes it is a violation of their rights to express their views and that's wrong too. You can't go on some moralistic crusade to ostracise and silence the literary 'voices' of others, just because  you don't agree with what they say.

But by hijacking the Hugo awards with votes-for-their-mates every year, isn't that exactly what they're doing? Ensuring that the voices they deem as belonging to 'their club' get preferential attention over those that don't? I believe the correct term for that is 'propaganda' - and history has proved that such tactics are rarely used for the greater good. Perhaps the Hugo Awards needs to devise a new system for nominations - one that can't be played like a fiddle by a bunch of disgruntled bezzies with fat wallets banding together. Hmm, I dunno... maybe even let the people who actually buy the books have a say? Y'know - the Great Unwashed that is The General Public? And let them do it for free as well, instead of having to cough up forty quid for their special 'voting pack?'