Impostor Syndrome, My Old Friend

One hopes, when one is an “aspiring” writer, that once one gets within sight of being published, impostor syndrome will go away.

No such luck. Here I am with a contract, and the stupid brain weasels are still very much wrapped around my brain.

I just sent in my author homework.  And now I’m utterly convinced the editor and other staff are going to be rolling their eyes, convinced they made a bad deal and they need to do whatever they can to rid themselves of this idiot.

It’s nonsense, I’m sure.  If there are problems with what I sent in, I’m sure they’ll let me know and work with me to fix it.  But even knowing that, I keep expecting the worst.

The thing with Impostor Syndrome is that you can’t let it paralyze you.  Sure, feel inferior.  Go ahead and believe that you’re a terrible writer and nobody will ever like your work.  But don’t let it stop you.  Tell your brain to shut the hell up and get back to work.  Eventually, you’ll come out the other side and recognize the BS for what it is.

And then be prepared to do it over and over and over again.  I do it all the time as a teacher, and as a writer. It stinks, but what else are you going to do?

Revision: How A Book Gets Better

So, I’m pretty sure this is a good book that I’m writing.  I mean, I don’t know for sure that it’s publishable, especially in the current condition, but I know it’s at least almost there.

And it’s getting better.

I’m now in Chapter 3 of the revision pass.  Last night, I saw that I ended one scene with the character leaping onto a vehicle and heading off to pick someone up, and then in the next scene, I begin when he gets there.  In reading these scenes, I realized that there’s a problem, and it’s kind of a big one:  The character makes a life-changing decision in the space between scenes.

Well, that’s clearly not going to work.  So I started writing what Jim Butcher calls a “sequel,” that is, a quiet scene in which the character reacts emotionally to the previous scene, works through his possible options, and makes choices.  They also allow (and even encourage) the reader to connect emotionally to the character.

In the process, I added several hundred words.  And I’m not even finished, yet.

It’s this ability to easily insert the scene that is why I love Scrivener so much.  Sure, I could do the same thing in Word or some other word processing software, but the way that Scrivener makes it easy is really something, and it doesn’t require me to reformat anything, move any text, or anything other than insert the scene where I want it and write.

The most important thing about this, though, has nothing to do with the tool I’m using.  It’s that even recognizing the lack means that I’m getting better as a writer.

And that’s precious.  That’s what I got from Viable Paradise, and it’s why I’ll keep telling people to apply until the day VP stops happening (may that day never come!).

VP Novel First Draft: DONE

Yep.  I did it.

Not the first novel-length thing I’ve done, but certainly the first that has ANY chance of being seen by other people.  Lots of work remains before that point, however.  I need a revision pass, then beta readers, and then another revision pass.  Then I’ll consider submitting it to agents.

This may not be the novel to get my career started, but I’m going to give it a shot.

I owe thanks to my Viable Paradise instructors, who enkindled in me the confidence to work on this novel with purpose, and not just fart around with it every once in a while, as I did before VP.

I owe thanks to my fellow students of Viable Paradise 17, who have steadfastly encouraged me and commiserated with me over the last year or so.  I realize I have a tendency toward the dramatic, but it is no exaggeration that without their encouragement, I may well have given up the very idea of being a writer over the past year, as I have so many times before.

Let this serve as encouragement to friends and other fellow writers who might be thinking of applying to VP: It’s well worth the money.  All in all, the week at VP cost me about $2000, between airfare, my room cost, and tuition.  And it was worth every single penny, and more beside, because not only did I get a chance to hobnob with people whose writing I’ve adored for years, but I got encouraging advice and critique from editors who are near, if not at, the top of their field, but I met 23 people who will be friends for years to come.

Viable Paradise 19 will be held 18-23 October, 2015.  Applications are accepted until 15 June 2015.  Go to www.viableparadise.net for details.

The Power of Diverse Authors and Stories

When I first started reading Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, I commented to a friend that I didn’t like the “linguistic trick” of using “she” for characters the narrator KNEW were male.  The ambiguous gender of the narrator didn’t bother me. And the story was amazingly good, so I stuck with it.

As I continued to read, I started thinking about why the pronoun issue bothered me, and I came to realize that what I was feeling was probably the same thing women feel when they encounter words like “mankind” or the use of “he” in most literature, though of course I could close the book and not see that anymore.  This, to me, was an important revelation.  I’ve always sort of rankled when people got pissy about words like “mankind,” because to me it’s always been obvious that this means ALL humans, not just men.  It’s right there in the definition, right?  But when I really thought about it, I saw how privileged that was.  As a male, I can say “Mankind means ALL people, not just men! Everyone knows women are in it, too!” and mean it–precisely because I’m male.  It doesn’t take anything from me.  And it occurred to me that if someone said “We don’t need to SHOW black people in the future, everyone knows they’re there,” I would think that person was a complete fucking idiot, and a racist dickbag, too.  And then I had to face that even I, a supposed feminist, have some sexist ideas I needed to examine more.

Having realized all this about halfway into the novel, something snapped, and it didn’t bother me anymore.  I’m not stupid enough to say that that’s it, I’m not full of sexist ideas anymore.  But I am willing to say that I won’t be casually dismissing anyone who says “That was maybe sexist,” or ignore my own privilege.  I’ve always been a staunch ally of women and People of Color, but I think sometimes I forgot that meant I had to examine my own attitudes as seriously as I looked at the attitudes of others, and that sexism doesn’t always mean “thinks women belong in the kitchen.”

This is, I believe, why we need diverse books, written by and about diverse people.  Literature, and more specifically stories, have a way of getting past our defenses, the walls we build between us and the Other.  Stories can force us to confront, even gently, our own views of the universe, our own distorted ways of thinking, better than a thousand arguments from others.

We all see the world from our own particular window, and none of us have exactly the same window.  Mine shows me how the world looks from a relatively privileged place.  But mine is not the same as the window of my friend Mike, who fled Cambodia at five years old, whose last sight of his grandfather’s home in Pnomh Penh was as it was hit by a mortar shell, and who has had to learn to fit in to white American culture.   And my window is not the same as my sister’s.  And it isn’t the same as my friend Brian, who has to deal with racism and homophobia both.

We need stories from authors from all over the world, from every race, from every group and social class, marginalized or not, to show us the view from their window.  Because only by combining our views can we widen them.

 

It’s been a while. Here’s what’s up with me and my writing.

So, I finally got that sleep I’ve been needing.  And I’ve been writing. Around 40,000 words now.  

I realized yesterday, however, that I have a secondary character who needs to go. Poor Takeshi comes on the page for a few statements, then disappears for chapters even though he’s in the same fairly small starship.  I thought about beefing him up, inserting him a bit, but the fact is he’s superfluous.  He’s an unimportant character who, in this version of the story, serves no purpose.  

He used to have a purpose, but that subplot got removed, as it A) was too maudlin, and B) undercut the protagonist’s likability.  But once I’d removed the plot, I had nothing for him to do.  I suspect he needs to be cut.  But I haven’t got time to look back, so I’m going to keep working forward, and if I’ve got a place for him I’ll use it, and beef up his appearances in the first half.  If not, I’ll excise him in the editing phase. 

I’m also concerned about one of the other secondaries; he serves a purpose but I’m not sure having him where he is serves that purpose.  And that I need to figure out before I get to the next chapter, because he’s much more important to the plot and I’m not sure I’m using him right.  But maybe.  Wait… processing… processing… oh.  Yes, that’s what I’ll do with him.  Excellent; thanks for the help, people!  

A conversation between brain, hands, and heart.

“Dudes, what’s going on down there?”

“What do you mean, Brain?”

“There’s no writing going on.”

“Well, you see, the words go through us, but they come from you.  So answer your own damned question.  We’re busy steering a starship, here.”

“But Tajen and his crew have arrived in the Sol system!  They’re about to discover the remnants of the Earth defense forces in the asteroid belt!”

“That sounds good.”

“And then the zhen will jump in-system, and there will be a long game of cat-and-mouse in the outer system and the belt!  And then the zhen will nearly kill the Antares and her crew!  And they’ll crash and discover the horrible secret the Empire’s been keeping for hundreds of years!”

“That all sounds great!  We’ve finished this mission; let’s fire up Scrivener and go!”

“… I can’t.”

“… Why not?”

“Well, you see, I taught all day.  Freshmen.  And they totally sapped my energy. I got ‘nuthin.”

“Oh. Ok.  Well, there’s some Maas shipping out by the Touchdown L-Point, so we’ll go relieve them of their goods, then.”

“But we need to write!”

“And this is our problem how?”

“Well, you’re the hands.  I already came up with the story, just write the scenes!”

“We can’t, dude.”

“Why not?”

The words come from you!  Not just the ideas, man.  The words!  We’re just machines; you’re the goddamned brain!”

“But I’m tapped!  I literally have nothing left to spend on storycraft.” 

“Uh.. excuse me, guys?”

“Yes, heart?”

“I got this.” 

“But your job is just to push blood through the system.  And aren’t you tired from that recent arrythmia episode?”

“Brain. Seriously.  That was weeks ago.  I’m better now.  And hands?  You know, Brain does a lot, but he doesn’t do it alone.  We work best when the words go from me, to him, to you, right?”

“Well, yeah, I guess so.”

“Good then.  Hands, get ready.  Brain, get your whining over with and get in gear.  We’ve got words to write.  The books won’t write themselves, and we won’t be signing any unless we start publishing them first.  And we won’t be publishing any if we don’t write the goddamned things. And seriously, do you want this story still stuck inside your head for the next five years?”

“No, not really.” 

“Right.  So get your ass in gear!  Not you, Butt.  You stay in that chair.  Now, let’s WRITE!”

(A thousand-or-so words later)

“That was a good night.” 

“Indeed.  Goodnight, hands.”

“Good night, brain!”

“Good night, heart.”

“G’nite, guys.  See you tomorrow.”

Nebula Awards Weekend

I’m planning to attend the Nebula Weekend (though probably not the awards banquet itself; haven’t decided, yet).  I figure, I may still be only an aspiring author, but it’s an opportunity to learn more, and that can’t be a bad thing, right?  And I just realized Ann Leckie will be there, so yes, I’m going, if only to get to meet her and maybe pick her brain a tiny bit.  

Anyway, if any VP alumni, from any class, will be in attendance, I’d love to meet up at some point.  Perhaps we can do a VP dinner, or breakfast, or what-have-you.