Hitting the Brakes


When I was a kid, I went tubing on the Nantahala River. For those of you who may not be familiar with this activity, it involves sitting in a giant inflated inner tube, with your arms and legs hanging helplessly over the edge, and letting the river’s water take you where it will. On a gentle river it’s fun and relaxing. On the portion of the Nantahala we were on, it’s a terrifying death spiral. You’re completely out of control and moving way faster than you’d like, and the only way to stop is to throw yourself out of the tube and hope you don’t drown.

Right now, that’s exactly how my life feels. I have three writing deadlines to meet and two more days of dancing at faire. Between all that, I still have to show up for my day job and at least pretend to do it well. Which has left my brain somewhat numb. So today, I’m throwing the door open. Ask questions. Anything at all, even if you’re worried that it might sound goofy or has already been asked a million times. Ask me, ask us all. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll either throw it to one of the others, or I’ll make up something that sounds good.

Ready? Go.


32 comments to Hitting the Brakes

  • Can’t think of a question, but I know the feeling. I frequently take on far more than I can deal with. I’ve got a short script I need to look at and fix, got a super short to rewrite, a feature length I said I’d look at and update, I need to go through my own novel and try to start checking it over myself, Christmas is coming and I need to start making gifts, got housework glaring at me, got another novel I need to get back to, and at the moment I have a 3 year old in my lap and this took over 10 minutes to type.

    “Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.”

  • “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”

    I love that movie. I may have to watch it tonight, just to clear my head! *laughs* πŸ˜€

  • Emily

    Okay, here’s a simple question (ha!):
    I’m a little less than 1/2 way through my novel draft (first draft). I like the story a lot. I’ve outlined it chapter by chapter (I want to be a pantser, but on a global scale, I’m not). Right now, I feel like my writing is crap. Utter crap. Now, I know that I can revise and will revise, but what I need to know now are some strategies for getting through to the end of the draft, despite the crap. My word count has slowed HUGELY (like from 1000s of words to 100s of words). So, how do I get reinspired, back on track, whatever? Or, I suppose, if/when this happens to you, how do you get back on track?

    Oh, and I’d love to hear how you balance your life, too… what with work and everything else. ‘Cause I’m up to my–well, body part varies by day–in my work, too. (End of the semester, lots of drafts and papers coming in from students.) It’s the kind of job I can’t just leave as 9-5.

    Thanks… And good luck getting everything done…

  • Oh, honey, I know what you’re feeling. When I lived in the Lowcountry, we used to happen onto stretches of plough mud, a thick black marsh mud that collects under the sand. If you walk into it too far, you can end up stuck. Writing is sometimes like walking into a stretch of plough mud. The closer you get to the end, the harder it is to take another step, and the more you feel you should just lay down and forget moving at all.

    When I’m stuck, I’ll get up from my chair, pop the iPod buds in my ears and practice whatever dances I’m learning. The physical movement will shake loose the mood that’s consuming me. Or I’ll stop working on whatever is driving me crazy and turn to some other project for a little while. If you write on a keyboard, go buy yourself a spiral notebook and a shiny pen, and try using it for a day or two. Just the change in tools can be enough. If it’s worse than that, I’ll take a day off. But only one – it’s way too easy to decide to take a day and suddenly find you haven’t written for a week!

    For reinspiration, think about what got the idea started in the first place. Something made your heart start thumping, right? What was it? Try to reconnect with the idea you fell in love with. If you have a spouse/relative/good friend you can bounce your thoughts off of, enlist him or her to listen to you talk the ideas out. I have a wonderful time talking to my husband, and very often he shows me new paths for my stories, ones I never noticed because I was so focused on the end.

  • Whenever I get stuck near the end, thinking everything stinks, one trick is to go back and read the last twenty or so pages. Usually, you’ll find it’s not as bad as you thought and it might even be good. That often can get you excited again. After all, when you write only 100 words a day, a simple two page scene will feel like an eternity to write (it’ll take you almost a week), but it’ll read fast. Obviously, the question pops up, what if I read it and it sucks? Well, then you can fix it (whatever the problem might have something to do with why you’re stuck). Now, you’ll be on the right path and, with a little luck, the writing will flow once again.

  • Okay, I got one. Yesterday, I was asked for help sending out query letters, by a fairly talented 15 yr old writer and my answer (Honey, you are *not* ready, repeated several times in several different ways) didn’t satisfy her. So I’ll ask you, and any of the others here who want to take a crack at it. What do you tell someone who wants to be published so desperately, but whose work is still amaturish? How do you convey that need to wait (for years, maybe, while she grows up) before attempting to swim in New York’s waters? How do you do that and not break her spirit? I made her cry. That was *not* my goal.

    What should I have done? I *know* I didn’t do the right thing. Because when she cried, I gave in. I gave in and provided her a 6 month goal for learning how to be a better writer (books to study, etc.) and promised her access to a New York agent for her query and synopsis. I told her that I would ask him to bleed all over her query and synopsis, and show no mercy. I know that in 6 months she will still not be ready to swim with the sharks. My only hope is that with my help, she will not bleed alone. What should I have done???? I don’t have kids. Help me here, y’all. I need a Dr. Phil.

  • As for balancing my life, that requires an awful lot of saying ‘no’. As in, “No, I can’t spend an hour on the phone with you again tonight,” or “No, I don’t want to rent movies and spend the weekend on the couch” (even when I really do want to!) This is why October and November are so tough on me – suddenly I’m spending weekends dancing at faire or going to football games and having to catch up on the normal weekend chores during the week. Whew!

    I’m lucky that my son is grown, so he can do his own laundry and wash the dinner dishes for me. Even so, I do best when my life is boringly scheduled. I rather love January for that reason – the holidays are over and all those random parties and shows that pop up to tempt me are out of the way for another year.

  • Amy

    I’ve got a fun one for everybody.

    When you write, what kind of music do you listen to? Which artists? And does it depend on which character and scene you are writing?

    Okay, maybe that was more than one.:)

  • Faith, honey, I know you didn’t want to put her in a situation that made her walk away from writing forever. It occurs to me that if she’s meant to be a writer, she’s got to grow that thick skin sometime. If one slapdown by a professional agent will make her walk away from something she claims to love doing, then better she figure that out now.

    I don’t think you did anything wrong. Giving her a goal is a good taste of working under deadlines. And then telling her that the agent will pull no punches is just being honest. If she’s meant for this life, she’ll cry, then she’ll suck it up and take the lesson to heart. If she’s not, she’ll cry, call the agent (and maybe you) ugly names, then turn her dreams toward being a teacher or a computer analyst or an opera singer or whatever. She’s young, so she has plenty of time to make these decisions. And no matter what you say to her, it all comes down to her skill, her talent and her determination in the end.

  • QUOTE: What should I have done?

    Yikes, Faith! I got no idea other than to say that maybe in some cases experience is the best teacher? If she really isn’t ready and the agent does show no mercy then she’ll maybe, hopefully understand that she needs more practice before she starts diving off the high board. That’s a rough one and I probably would have caved in the situation too. I’m too easy and tend to want to be helpful to everyone (probably why I have so many things I need to get done now).

    We’ve all talked about having a thick skin on here and maybe she needs the professional rejection to start building that skin. She’ll probably cry a few more times before she finally gets it right (or she’ll quit, but then she’ll know she don’t want it bad enough). Heck, I may do the same thing (cry, not quit) if I get rejected my first time. πŸ˜‰

    I’d definitely let her know that handing the thing to an agent is no guarantee or a free pass into the Kingdom of Novelistia. If the agent doesn’t want to accept it then hopefully she’ll realize she’s still got some road to travel.

    That’s bout my two maravedi.

  • Amy, for a long time I wrote only to classical music. Beethoven mostly, but some Bach as well. Then I was given an iPod, and learned how to make playlists. Oh joy! Oh bliss! I have two playlists right now that I use – one for Kestrel, and the other for the New Shiny.

    Kestrel’s includes:
    Swords Crossed (PotC soundtrack)
    He’s a Pirate (PotC)
    Click Click Boom (Saliva)
    Strike the Bell (Pyrates Royale)
    Barrett’s Privateers (The Corsairs)
    A Drop of Nelson’s Blood (Jolly Rogers)
    Hungry For You (Police)
    Rogues In A Nation (Lost Boys)
    Wonderwall (Oasis)
    Everybody Knows (Concrete Blonde)
    and quite a few more.

    The New Shiny has:
    The Distance (Cake)
    Graceful Ghost (George Winston)
    Just Want To See (Cowboy Junkies)
    Fragile (Sting)
    The Sheriff’s Revels (Lost Boys)
    Mad World (Gary Jules)
    The Road To Hell (Chris Rea)
    Lucifer Goes to the Circus (Djinn)
    Cemeteries of London (Coldplay)
    Supermassive Black Hole (Muse)
    among others.

    They probably look like odd combinations, but all the songs blend in my head to form the soundtrack to my worlds. πŸ˜€

  • Thanks Misty. Thanks Daniel. I feel better, just knowing you didn’t say, “Hey, dummy, *here’s* the obvious answer.” And point out a simple, easy way out that I didn’t see or understand because I am a childless dweeb.

    You guys make pretty good Dr. Phils.

  • QUOTE: When you write, what kind of music do you listen to?

    For everybody? I listened to a lot of Gundam and Robotech instrumental music for the sci-fi novel I finished my first draft on. The characters didn’t matter so much as the tone of the scene did. I set up action scene music and then just listened to the full set of music when the normal scenes were being typed.

    For my urban fantasy I’ll probably listen to some Midnight Syndicate, which is a group that does dark horror/adventure mood music.

    Pretty much for me, the music has to be instrumental to meld into the background/subconscious or I’ll end up singing to it and not typing.

  • I find with my fourteen year-old that telling her the truth really is the best way to go, even if the truth is not what she wants to hear, even if it makes her cry. The fact is fifteen is too young to write a book that will capture the full range of human emotion and experience. What’s more, unless her work is preternaturally good (and I gather it’s not) no publisher on earth will give her a contract. She needs to hear that, even if her response is to cry or scream or call you names. Teenagers are children — their bodies are maturing and they are capable of communicating at a sophisticated level compared with their younger counterparts, but they are still children. And for the most part, I believe that children should be treated with respect, spoken to truthfully, and given emotional support as they deal with the hard truths they have to confront. I agree with Misty: If she is resilient enough to handle the truth in this case, then she may go on to become a writer. If she’s not, then maybe she won’t. But better she should face reality than lean on false hope. You may have felt bad making her cry, Faith, but by being honest with her, you did her a great service.

  • Well, no question really. Just dropping by to say I love the Nantahala River. Went rafting on it awhile back, and it was awesome.

  • Amy

    Misty, thank you so much for sharing.:) I’ve read and loved Mad Kestrel and knowing the playlist (which has some awesome songs on it, btw) makes it more enjoyable.

    Daniel, yeah, I meant everybody. And, dude, I love Midnight Syndicate.:)

  • David said, >>The fact is fifteen is too young to write a book that will capture the full range of human emotion and experience. What’s more, unless her work is preternaturally good (and I gather it’s not) no publisher on earth will give her a contract.>>

    Thanks, David. That is so true, and I tried to tell her that. Honesty I gave, then I caved. God knew what he/she/they were doing when they didn’t let me have kids. (laughing)

    I’ve met your kids, however, and they clearly have a good dad.

  • Faith, the secret about being a parent is that none of us know what we’re doing any more than our child-free friends would. We make it up as we go along and hope we’re getting it right. πŸ˜€

    Daniel, Midnight Syndicate sounds yummy! I’ll have to investigate.

    Atsiko, the Nantahala was so COLD! I haven’t done a lot of white-water, but I liked the Chatooga better, because it wasn’t so cold. ‘Course I was in a raft then, instead of the tube. That could have made the difference. πŸ˜€

    Amy, thanks so much! For liking the book and my taste in tunes. *grin*

  • Misty — don’t laugh — I was thinking about the dog whisperer and what he might say about talking to a kid… But people are not dogs, and I was lost! I did, momentarily, think about calling *you* because you do such a good job encouraging your son’s artistic drive. But I knew you were in school. I felt so alone with it all!

    You are brave. The Nante’s water is 46 degrees in mid summer, colder in winter, and the gorge lets in sunlight only about 3 or 4 hours a day. It is a very chilly spot. I would never tube it. Never! I’m too cold natured. Paddling a duckie requires a wetsuit, and hardboating it, a splash top and wetsuit. Even in summer.

    And Atsiko, for sheer rafting excitement, try the Upper Pigeon Ri. (the Dirty Bird in paddler lingo) in Tenn, after a good hard rain. OMGosh. Outstanding! Beats the Nante hands down! Okay — paddler shutting up.

  • Oh,yeah, Faith, don’t worry. Like Misty said, We’re all clueless. I always say to my wife, “I wonder what Gabe will hate me for when he grows up.” I know it won’t be for anything horrible I’m aware of doing. It’ll be for something that to me was a throwaway statement, but to him, it was the end of the world. So if you made this girl cry, don’t worry. She’ll not hate you for that (it’ll be for something you never saw coming! πŸ™‚ ).

  • Stuart said, I always say to my wife, β€œI wonder what Gabe will hate me for when he grows up.”

    When the Beetle was little, whenever we gave him presents I’d say “Remember this when you’re a teenager and you hate me.” *laughs*

  • What’s the “better” plan for short stories for an unpublished author to use them for? Trying to get the Short Story published (and where/how/ect) or use them for a contest (like Writer’s of the Future) that might result in an anthology?

  • Actually, I think both courses are good. When I was starting out, the internet wasn’t the same as it is now. I bought The Writer’s Market every January, scoured it for every possible market and started sending stories out. The information was often only good for three or four months, because of how quickly small mags can go out of business. I was paid in copies or in small amounts of real money, and one short story got a passing mention in Locus. But the experience was valuable. I learned to see rejection as nothing personal, and I began learning how to work with editors. I never entered any of the big competitions, but these days they seem to be pretty prestigious. So submit to both, and good luck!.

  • Axisor — my short answer is send it out and send it often. There are plenty of anthologies that don’t involve contests, btw, but Writer’s of the Future is a well-known contest, so you have to decide if the entry fee is worth it. As for where to find info — check out ralan.

    — my longer answer is coming Friday the 20th!

  • Robin

    Two comments:
    Misty, I’ve been waiting for the next Mad Kestral book FOREVER!!! As sympathetic as I am with your crazy life, I am filled with crazy hope at the thought that one of your deadlines could be the next book…?

    Faith, I think you did the right thing. As right as David is about 15 not being mature/experienced enough to understand enough about human emotions, I very much doubt that any 15-year-old will ever understand that (has to do with not being experienced enough, no doubt :)). My father critiqued one of my high school short stories by asking simply what would be different about it if I had, well, written it when I was older and more experienced. I still think that was a horrible thing to say because, of course, there’s no way to answer that–no way to work toward that goal. By giving her a task to complete and doing your best to explain to her what was naive and immature about her writing, you at least put her on the path to being a good writer someday when she can understand what you meant when she was 15.

    One question for Misty (et al): how do you force yourself to take BIC time everyday when you have a full-time job, a family, community responsibilities, and a pressing need to watch The Princess Bride (again)? I know how important it is, but after my own 8-5, helping with homework, dinner, bedtime, and other various activities, all I can motivate myself to do is curl up with someone else’s book. Do you have a reward system or have you somehow been able to foster an internal NEED to write?

  • Thanks Misty and Stuart Jaffe. I eagerly look forward to the post on the 20th for more information.

    I’ve heard in chats and such that “Short Stories Don’t Sell” but I’ve also read articles where they are “the thing” for people to read in this busy, fast pace society. I have a prequel (almost a series of prequel shorts, actually) to my novel I’d love to share with the world. I’d then want to be able to pitch the novel related to it to an agent as saying “see–look, other liked it too”…. but I also see that as a crazy bit of logic that might only apply to my current field–chemistry. Anyways… I’m hoping all will be revealed in a fleshed out future post. Thanks again!

  • Emily

    Thanks for the response Misty! Life’s been so hectic that I couldn’t get back to read them until now! πŸ™‚ I have to get back to writing EVERY DAY (I’m down to once a week, which sometimes is the only way I can do it, but I need to be writing at least 3 times a week, if not 6-7…) Plus, I need to exercise, so that advice of getting off my tush is great…

    Faith> You did the right thing with her. Though I deal with college students, they aren’t THAT much older, and I’ve had to look at some and tell them they would really struggle with grad school and I wasn’t sure it was the best idea. One student freaked out, but hey, that’s life. The work the student was doing wasn’t up to grad school (nothing is ever GOOD enough for grad school, but you can be good enough to maybe someday be good enough, heh). The student never spoke to me again–certain that I was just being “mean.”

    I also don’t read my students’ fiction if they ask me to. (Not that I’m remotely qualified in terms of success). I tell them to go to the fiction teachers in the dept. That’s fobbing ’em off on someone else, but sometimes that works because the other teachers know how to say the right things better than I do! Do you have someone on which you might fob her?

  • Hi Robin! Oh yes, the most important deadline is to turn in that novel – and I’m sorry I made you wait. I hope the story convinces you to forgive me. πŸ˜€

    It takes effort, especially during the school year. I’m very much a morning person, which means my energy level drops around 2 in the afternoon. During the summer break, it’s less of a problem, since I get up and write when the sun is still just peaking over the edges. When school’s in session, I have to write at night, and the evening has to be structured. I plan the week’s dinners and I sweet talk the teenager into doing some of the chores I’d normally keep for myself. He’s getting good at laundry! Once dinner is served and eaten, I leave the cleanup for the guys, and head straight to my desk to work until bedtime. (That’s when I let myself read other people’s books! I’m reading Boneshaker right now. So far, very exciting.)

    I’ve used the reward system in the past, and it really depends on how much I want whatever I’ve designated as my reward. I bought Witchblade on DVD, and I keep it on my desk to remind me that I can’t watch it until I’ve turned in the novel. I can’t stand to be late with things, so the most effective tool for keeping me writing is a deadline. I need to see that point of no return getting closer and closer to drive me on. If you don’t have an actual deadline from an editor, get a writing partner or beta reader to set one for you.

  • Axisor, I’m looking forward to Stuart’s post myself! As far as people saying ‘short stories don’t sell’, just point them at Mary Robinette Kowal, last year’s Campbell award winner. She won on the strength of her outstanding short story work.

  • Faith, let me echo what Misty said: As I parent I get it right one time in three. Most of the time I stumble along hoping that my mistakes don’t destroy my relationships with my girls and doom them to a lifetime of psychological problems. Those times when I get it right are golden — Nancy and I have talked about this. Once in a while you just think “Oh! That was a moment of good parenting!” And then it’s gone.

  • Robin

    Thanks, Misty. Just visiting your world again will be fun! [Does happy dance.] Of course, I’ll have to re-read Mad Kestral, since I’ve probably forgotten all but the most major points! πŸ™‚

    I work really well with deadlines, but even at my most delusional, I can’t believe any publisher will set one for little old unpublished me. So I’m trying to learn the fine art of self-motivation. (Did I mention my love of sloth?) I have a partner, but he’s worse than I am. Maybe I’ll set benchmarks and have my husband hold prizes for me…. He’d be more than happy to withhold books, but I can’t just stop reading completely!