Productivity and the author-athlete

Today I was taping old roller-derby posters to my office walls for inspiration and I found this quote I’d ganked off the interwebs from a meme:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase: they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through. – Ira Glass

My observation of my own craft progress, and the craft progress of many, many other authors, is that an author figures out how to write a novel without scratching her head and wondering how the heck she painted herself into this craft corner only after she has written six to eight novels. If she hops genres, it can take even more novels.

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Learn to Fall!

I fell off my bicycle right in the middle of a city street last Sunday. My pedals locked up, which was caused by a combination of operator error (I started to downshift too late going up a steep hill) and the fact that I have a mediocre bike.

Fortunately, no cars were coming (there’s a reason I prefer riding on quiet streets), though I jumped up as fast as possible just to make sure. And it was easy to get the gears shifted properly so I could get back on the bike.

You want to know the best news? It didn’t hurt at all. I don’t even have any bruises from where I hit the pavement, much less a more serious injury like a banged up shoulder, concussion, or broken wrist. The only damage I did was a scrape on my leg where the pedal hit it as I fell, and I didn’t even notice that until the next day.

If I were a little kid, this would be normal learning-how-to ride falling, but I’m not only not a little kid, I’m old. I’m at the age where doctors start to tut-tut about the dangers of falling. And I was never flexible and now have cranky knees and other stiff joints.

But here’s what saved me: I know how to fall. Continue reading


The Duchess Rants – Waiting for Various Godots

It is said that part of the life of the writer – a big part, perhaps the biggest – is WAITING. Once you’ve done something and it’s out of your hands, you wait. You wait for an editor to send it back. You wait for a copyedit. You wait for cover art. You wait for publication. Most often, heartbreakingly often, you wait for money to come in from somewhere. You’d think that this would teach the human being who purports to be a writer a modicum of patience. But no. When God was giving out patience I must have been stuck in a different queue somewhere. I have very little patience with waiting, and particularly with waiting for other people to do stuff that needs doing before I can get on with doing my own tasks.

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A Terrible Beauty is Born

I had meant to write more about Ireland and Dublin (as if you haven’t already heard enough, but I’m still processing), but I was going through my trip photos and stopped at this one, taken through the window of my return flight.

It’s a good photo, though it misses some details because the plane was moving and by the time I realized what I was seeing we were past the point where I could capture it.

That’s Greenland, much coveted by the current occupant of the White House. That misty river dead center is  what I think must be a miles-wide spill of slowly melting snow, the source of the white dots that speckle the sea like candy dots. They are chunks of ice and snow breaking off to melt, gradually, into the ocean and swell the rising waters. Continue reading


Making an Edwardian Dressing Gown 10: Finished!

Have you noticed that this project has taken a couple of hard left turns, in the journey from inspiration to completion? I am deep on the pantser side of the creative spectrum, so this always happens to me. I welcome it, the work telling you what it wants to be. That green cording, for instance, remember that? Now it is made up and I can wear it I can see that this dressing gown is already so heavy, adding eight yards of heavy cording would have been a truly lousy idea. And frankly a corded hem is excruciating to execute, worse than lace insertion (which is so difficult I have vowed to never do it again). I’d have to do it over and over to get the garment hanging evenly at the right length. How much energy and aggravation I have saved by ditching the idea!

And hemming it up reveals that pushing a needle through the heavy brocade of the lapels is a pain. Suddenly those frogs (still too small!) do not look like so much fun. They’re always a bore to fasten, too. Remember how this project was to be a stashbuster? I rooted through the vast hoard of miscellaneous fasteners, and found this!


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There’s Value in a Schedule

“How do you find time to write?

“When do you write? Morning? Evening? Middle of the night?”

“Do you have a goal of so many words per day?”

“Does it work when you force yourself to sit in the writing chair for a minimum of 2 hours?”

Scheduling tactics I have used over the years:

1.) Mood

For the decades I was an experienced moody young person, I needed an emotional jolt. The most prolific writing times were between boyfriends. Heartbreak and depression generated ALOT of words.

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The Rambling Writer Takes a Detour to the San Juan Islands

Join Thor and me on a getaway through the beautiful Salish Sea and the islands of my native Pacific Northwest.

NOTE: I’ll return to my latest Greek Islands journey in next week’s blog post as Thor and I explore the sacred island of Delos. But, meanwhile, a very different island!

Seemingly out of the blue, a former Paleontology colleague of Thor’s contacted him, years after Thor had lost touch with him. Seems that Norm had retired from academia and made a bold move to work for years at Microsoft. Now he and his wife Susan had retired and bought their dream home halfway up the mountain on Orcas Island. And they wanted us to come stay for a few days. Some of my fondest early memories are of family camping trips on Orcas Island, and I’ve always loved taking the Washington State ferries through the San Juan Islands, so off we sailed! Continue reading


New Worlds: Hallucinogens

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

Last week’s discussion of opium leads us naturally around to another category of drugs, which is hallucinogens.

These have a long and venerable history, and also a rather bad reputation in the modern world. They’re associated with hippies, with raves, and with wacky scientific experiments of dubious methodology and value. Much as with marijuana, after an initial surge in popularity LSD became demonized, and only recently has research into its therapeutic applications been revived.

But we’ll get to the cultural side of things soon enough. First let’s look at what hallucinogens are.

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Thinking About Racism

The Last Black Man in San FranciscoRacism is at the heart of almost everything that’s wrong with the United States.

Last week I saw two powerful movies: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, an excellent documentary, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, the most unique and creative film I’ve seen in years.

The Morrison movie left me even more in awe of one of our great writers, even as some of the things she experienced made me shake my head. Early on, reviews praised Morrison’s writing, but said she needed to move on to more “universal” topics to be considered a major writer. They meant she needed to write about white men. I’m so glad she stuck to her own vision.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco broke my heart. It’s hard to describe why, because it’s hard to explain what the movie is about since it is in many ways a surrealist work — not quite fantasy and based on real life, but not quite real either. On the surface it is about a young man’s fixation on the old house his family once owned, but that’s just a starting point. Continue reading


Desires and Dreams and Powers, an Interview with Rosamund Hodge

On the YA fantasy front, author Rosamund Hodge has been making quite a splash with her moody, dark, intensely atmospheric reworkings of myths and fairy tales. So when I had the chance to review this collection, Desires and Dreams and Powers, I pounced.

As in her novels, Rosamund Hodge takes images and ideas from the classics and fairy tales as well as more modern works and refashions them into multifaceted stories short on wordcount but long on punch. You know, with titles like “And Her Eyes Sewn Shut With Unicorn Hair” that these stories are not going be fantasy fluff. As for the neutral-sounding “Situation Normal,” I do not recommend reading this sfnal fantasy before bedtime.

One recurring element that grabbed my attention is sisters. There is a wide variety of sisterly relationships in these stories, some of which go very dark indeed. As for actual darkness, the Persephone myth shows up more than once, most directly in the lead story, “Desires and Dreams and Powers.” But there are echoes in others, as these complex, intense stories examine recurring themes from several angles. Continue reading