I am having one of my periodic wrestling matches with insomnia, which, in my case seem to be related to the same part of my brain that does the heavy lifting for storytelling. For me insomnia is invariably a can’t get my brain to stop whirring problem and one that feels like it feels when I’m processing story.

There are variations:

The worry whirr, in which I can’t get my mind off some care that I can’t do anything about.

The engineering whirr, in which I am working on a project of some sort and end up spending hours on design issues that I could solve in minutes with a piece of paper a pencil and some measurements.

The genuine story whirr, in which my brain picks away at some aspect of the current w.i.p. and won’t let go even once I solve the problem.

And tonight’s special joy, the what if whirr, in which my brain gets its teeth into constructing scenarios in which things are other than as they are–in this case the cascade was triggered by the ongoing work left by my grandmother’s rather abrupt departure from the scene.

None of it is terribly fun and I have found that the best response is to get out of bed and do something that is not sleeping for a while–hence this blog post. Now that I’ve done that for a bit I’m going to wander back to bed and see if I have successfully distracted the story-telling part of my brain enough that it will shut up and let the rest of me get to sleep.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog April 28 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)


Difficult Things

The most difficult things I’ve attempted as a writer are to write funny and to write poetically well—i.e. in a way that doesn’t look overwrought or overwritten.

I’m not actually sure which is harder, but I know which I’m better at. The books where I’ve written poetically are none of them in print yet, though I’ve had more than one editor say very nice things about them. Mostly that they like them but don’t think they’re commercial enough. I’ve even had editors try to put deals together for them, but as yet they have all gone boom at some point.

Funny on the other hand. Well, even my more serious books get reviewers saying nice things about the elements of humor. I’m good at funny. I have the checks to demonstrate it. Poetic…well, I think I’ve done it well when I’ve tried, and the lurkers* support me in email—I have the very kind rejection letters to demonstrate it.

The thing that I occasionally find frustrating about this is that if you’re doing comedy right, it looks effortless. The reason this is frustrating is that when it gets really hard, as it does sometimes, you feel a bit of a jerk for saying “Hey, this is hard, and I’m stressed about it.” Whereas, no one thinks twice if you’re known for writing beautiful, poetic prose, and you say “Hey, this is hard, and I’m stressed about it.”

This is because, when you’re reading along and you come across a long beautiful poetic passage, you generally think something like “wow, that’s gorgeous, I wish I could write like that,” or “wow, that’s gorgeous, they sure can write.” It’s obvious that what the poetic writer is doing is hard, and people acknowledge it without even thinking about it.

OTOH, when you’re reading along and you come across something really funny,** you laugh and keep right on moving, because that’s what a good joke does. It makes you laugh and it makes you feel a little lighter and more ready to go on. It acts as a lubricant for life, and lubricant is something you generally notice most in its absences.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather have the book contracts and the money that comes with them and make people smile when they read than be able to get more sympathy when I’m feeling whiny. But it was something I was thinking about, and when I’m feeling thinky I generally end up writing about it, because, hey, writer—that’s what we do.

One final note here and I shall go back to attempting to make the very difficult look like slipping on a banana peal. Neil Gaiman. Among the things that make Neil one of the best writers in our field is his ability to simultaneously do both. He writes things that are beautiful and poetic and funny, which makes people say “Wow, that’s gorgeous, how does he make it look so easy,” and then laugh about it, which is amazing.


*In this case lurker = editor.

**There are exceptions, of course, mostly in the realm of socially relevant humor, where you laugh because it hurts, or because it’s uncomfortable. But the kind of humor I write is mostly there to make you feel like your day just got a little better.

Slow Going

2013 Update: This is part of my reblog series, though it’s one I waffled about throwing in. I don’t think it’s all that useful in terms of being a helpful process post, but I do think it’s probably worth throwing in as an example of things that don’t change. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at this or how fast you normally write. There are always slow times, and they’re always frustrating. Witness my past three weeks. Sigh.

I don’t think there’s a writer alive who doesn’t find themselves wishing they wrote faster. If not in general, then on this or that day or project. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a slow writer or, as in my case, a relatively fast one, you always wish you could go a little faster. That’s how the third WebMage book has been going for me.

Last week and much of the week before that I was sick.

The week before was a travel week with three days eaten up on the road.

The week before that I was getting the final draft of my previous novel off to my agent.

The week before that was spring break and Laura was home instead of teaching. Even after 18 years, having her around distracts me from writing–I tend to spend a lot of time just being happily aware of her when she’s around.

And that’s a month of slow production, and there was another slow month before that. I’m just under half way through the novel after 3 months which is a bit over half the rate I’d hoped for and a third of my max production rate. It’s very frustrating.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog May 1 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)