Prep the adrenaline cannon… FIRE

Edits, man. I have friends who cheerfully say, “rewriting is writing!” and love the edit process. I think these people are also the kind who enjoy putting laundry away. My approach to edits is different, and something I constantly struggle with. Picture a conversation, if you will.

Conscious mind: Your work needs other eyes. Your work has always, always benefitted by an editor’s hand. Most of the time the requested edits are pointing out unconscious repetitions in your work, or unintended cliches, or just misuse of a word. In short, editing is good. Editing makes the story better. You should feel grateful an editor has taken the time to suggest improvements to your work.

Subconscious mind: OH SHIT AN EMAIL HAS ARRIVED WITH “EDITS” IN THE SUBJECT LINE, FIRE THE ADRENALINE CANNONS, PREPARE THE SORRY-FOR-MYSELF HUGGY BEARS, AND MAKE SURE THE WEEPING CLOSET HAS FRESH TISSUES.

Conscious mind: Um, Drama Mama? Can you hold it down and stop flooding me with the desire to run away screaming that no one likes my writing? I have work to do here. And edits have never been bad, or personal. It’s about the work. So let’s edit the work.

Subconscious mind: WRONG WRONG WRONG THERE WAS THE TIME. THE CHOAD* TIME. YOU KNOW IT. RPG EDITOR SEND REDLINES BACK WITH THE WORD “CHOAD” WRITTEN AMONG THE EDITS THREE TIMES. ONCE AS A VERB. OR MAYBE AN ADJECTIVE. “CHOADING.” WE DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.

Conscious mind: That was over 10 years ago! You were a baby writer! And besides, he was still commenting on the work, not you. Your writing was choady. You were fine.

Subconscious mind: You’re serious? Is this a joke? Choady writing is just fine as long as we don’t have Choady Mur?

Conscious mind: You haven’t been treated like that since! Get over it! Every time since then the edits come in, and you freak the fuck out, and then I have to spend days making you get up the courage to look at the edits, and how often are they more than an hour’s work?

Subconscious mind: Only on novel-length work.

Conscious mind: What’s that?

Subconscious mind: Only on novel-length work. But STILL. SCARY THEY DON’T LIKE US OR OUR WORK FEELS.

Conscious mind: Do you remember how good you feel when it’s done? Do you remember how we always say, “Why did we dread that so much?”

Subconscious mind: Fires the adrenaline cannon at Conscious mind, runs off to the weeping closet.

Conscious mind: Well. That was fun. Now I’ve got adrenaline all over me. Anyone got a towel? Maybe I’ll edit this afternoon…



Meet my subconscious. She’s kind of an asshole.


* Most people I’ve told this story to don’t know what choad means. It’s slang for penis. For more information, that link right there is text and descriptive, and safe for work unless people looking over your shoulder also like to read over your shoulder. And then they’ll only be reading about penis. Fun fact, according to the link above, choad was The Mavens’ Word of the Day, 2000 May 31, Random House.

A look into the scary mind of Mur. And some confidence I found.

I’m going to go all stream of consciousness on you right now. Hold on tight.

[Something happened, which I will explain after I discuss the emotions involved.]

  • Huh. That happened. That’s interesting. I should blog about it. It’s a look at the writing life I’ve not experienced before.
  • No, I shouldn’t blog about it because it’s bragging.
  • What the hell is wrong with you? You’re only allowed to blog about your fears and anxieties? You can’t proudly say that you feel good about something? DON’T YOU SEE THAT THIS REACTION IS WRONG IN SO MANY WAYS?
  • …You’re right. 

So here I go.

I was solicited to do a novella. I spent the last week researching and brainstorming, and last night I wrote my outline. As I was writing it, I felt good, it went a lot smoother than any other outline I’d experienced. So i have a character in a setting. What happens to her? What next? What next? What mistakes does she make? What next? How does it end? BOOM- 1000 word outline. Done. LIKE A BOSS. (link NSFW)

I checked it over a couple of times, all the while feeling a slow sinking feeling. This was drivel. It was predictable and weak and trite and lacked any depth at all. They were going to hate it and regret asking me to write for them. They would take my gin away. And my puppy.

Then I had an epiphany. I realized the following things:

  1. The text was predictable because I FREAKING WROTE IT. Of course I knew what was going to happen. The damn thing happened in my head. I knew the beginning, the end, the twists, etc.
  2. It was trite because I had to write it in my own style. I don’t think my own style is exciting just like I don’t think I’m particularly pretty and I think my voice is lousy. This is the same me, same face, same style, that I wake up with and go through my day. Of course it’s trite, contrived, and appallingly boring — to me.
  3. And lack of depth? It’s a freaking OUTLINE. Outlines don’t have depth, as a rule.

So once I remove the watermark of MUR WROTE THIS THEREFORE IT IS SHIT that I place over every story I write, and look at the story as a standalone, it might, you know, be good.

Half an hour later one of the editors contacted me. He really liked it. Mur the gladiator got a THUMBS UP and lives to fight write another day!

So this thing I wrote might actually be OK.

So this thing I wrote might actually be OK.

And the crowd goes wild.

And then Mur stressed about whether she should blog about this newfound confidence.

Sequels are hard

I know in your world, my “next book” is The Shambling Guide to New York City. (io9 calls it one of the “astounding summer books not to miss” – and you can preorder it now! – not that I’m squeeing like crazy or anything.) But in my world, I’ve been soaking in the Palmolive of New Orleans and Zoe’s next adventure. I just finished The Ghost Train to New Orleans, the second book in The Shambling Guides.

So many sequels, so little time! Carrie Vaughn's Kitty series, I can only hope The Shambling Guides will last this long.

So many sequels, so little time! I’m on book 4 of Carrie Vaughn’s awesome Kitty series. I can only dream of such a successful series.

Sequels are hard. There are so many things that can go wrong:

  1. The beginning. You have to balance the first chapter carefully to appeal to both new readers and people familiar with the series. If someone just picked up the book, the story must stand on its own while it can’t deny the plot points of previous books. You also don’t want to deluge existing fans with boring backstory that they already know. (Small shoutout to the legendary Liz Hand and the incomparable Jim Kelly and my fellow students at Stonecoast who helped me deal with starting a sequel.) What I eventually did: Picked up one of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty books and read the first chapter again (I’d read the earlier ones; I’m a fan.) Then I wrote down what happened, roughly, in the chapter. I literally wrote down, “Emotion. Setting detail. Emotion. Backstory nugget. Detail.” This established the character in her emotion, a small piece of setting, and the backstory that put them there. Then I wrote my chapter one using the same broad road map. It helped out a lot.
  2. Sophomore efforts are often weaker than freshman efforts. You can spend years writing a first book, because no one is waiting on you. You submit it, get it rejected, tweak it, then submit again. You constantly polish it. Then, if you get a 2-or-more book deal, the time given to write the sequel(s) is much shorter. Unless you build in ample time for beta readers (I didn’t this time around, except for early chapters I workshopped at Stonecoast), you won’t have the failure/feedback/rewrite step that, while painful, was so important for the first book. You spend years trying to write a book and work toward pro, and then when you get that coveted deal, you realize that often pros are expected to turn a book around a hell of a lot faster than you wrote book 1. What to do: trust in my editor that she will help me make it as strong as possible.
  3. Expectation. Now I know I’m sounding like I’m complaining that my diamond shoes are too tight (that saying is from this scene, not this one), but here is an emotional response that I had to a recent event.
    • Kirkus reviews on SGTNYC: “The hip, knowing and sometimes hysterically funny narrative, interspersed with excerpts from the guide of the title, lurches along in splendid fashion.”
    • Me: “Hot damn! I’m hysterically funny! Yay!” … (1 minute later) “Oh SHIT that means book 2 has to be funny and it’s not funny it’s awful there’s not a damn funny thing in this** oh shit oh shit oh shit!”
    • /me falls down
    • /me cries into the gin
    • What I did? /me takes the compliment and gets over my damn self and writes the damn book.

All of that said, I’m pretty happy with the book, except when a rush of overwhelming fear comes over me and I think it’s absolute crap. But I’m pretty sure I am experiencing a very common feeling*** to being done with a book, so I just tell myself it’s natural and have another cookie.

** I admit that yesterday I wrote a scene that made me laugh out loud, which I figure was a good sign, but still, for someone like me, I suppose any early review of book 1 can paralyze your work on book 2. If someone says something bad, then OH SHIT I AM A SHIT WRITER WORTH SHIT I MAY AS WELL QUIT AND SAY SHIT AGAIN. SHIT. If someone says something good, then OH SHIT I HAVE TO DO IT EVEN BETTER THE SECOND TIME. PRESSURE! PRESSURE! You can’t win. And by you I mean me. Perhaps this has something to do with my own psyche. Huh.

*** I just spent 20 min searching Neil Gaiman’s blog for something he wrote about feeling like his books are shit every time he gets about halfway through them, but the guy has such a huge blog and I can’t remember the appropriate keywords, so I’m at a loss. If your Google-fu is better than mine, knock yourself out.

Awesome video about dealing with negative comments

I admit it. Unlike the very brave and self assured Vi Hart, I’m a fragile flower when it comes to comments, whether about my blog or books or whatever. So this email really struck home, and it’s funny as well (esp. when the video kinda goes off topic – WAX!) I love her style, and her advice is spot on.

My problem? Existential angst. Every damn time.