Feb. 3rd, 2017

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Appropriately enough, after the chronological trainwreck that was the previous volume, I never actually numbered this notebook. Because it was the one I was in the middle of using when I took the time to number the previous ones? Because I started using it after that? Not because I gave up on trying to fit it into the chronology; this one is remarkably coherent. Judging by the stories I was working on and the class notes that appear sporadically, this starts around the summer after my junior year, continues through senior, and fetches up in early grad school, without any huge skips or bits of Doppelganger showing up at the end.

I don’t know why, but I went through another phase here of writing a lot more stuff longhand — which is nigh unheard-of for me. I did it in high school because I spent all day in class and had to look like I was paying attention, but in college and grad school? Class occupied much less of my time per day, and I was taking much more in the way of actual notes. Not sure why I went on a kick of it here, but I definitely did; I have an almost-complete draft of “Such as Dreams Are Made Of,” a good-sized chunk of “Beggar’s Blessing,” and the entirety of “A Thousand Souls” — the latter with its wordcount helpfully written in the margins, because apparently I wrote it somewhere I didn’t have access to my computer right away, and that was the only way to figure out how long it was. (760 words in the first draft; counting wasn’t a very onerous task.) I have lots of planning for the still-unwritten novel that goes by the acronym TIR, including the page where I stumbled through a lot of phonemes on my way to the main character’s name. I have snippets from another unwritten Nine Lands novel, because I had an idea for an interaction between three characters and wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it. I have other planning for Old Project C, because this apparently coincides with another spate of work on that.

But the most interesting things in here, from my perspective, are the bits related to two novels that did get written. The first, from the standpoint of what shows up in the notebook, is Sunlight and Storm, the trunked novel I mentioned before. On the very first page I wrote:

I feel like I have this inability to tell the difference between an honest need for a break and simple procrastination.

Am I stuck on Sunlight and Storm? I don’t think so. Could I be writing something more powerful if I stopped and took a break and made some deep meaningful connection? Maybe. Or is that just laziness talking, uncertainty, stupidity. Who knows?

I can’t swear that taking a break would have produced any great improvement in my situation, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that powering through (which is what I did) left me with a completely lifeless first draft. The story had no energy; it was preachy and colorless and not at all what I wanted. It remains the one novel draft I have never tried to revise. Instead of attempting to clean it up, I wrote out a scene-by-scene outline of the story in its first incarnation, scribbled a few pages that I think are the single time in my life I’ve ever explicitly written out the themes of my story, and then started a white-page rewrite. I’m not sure I even looked at the original draft again, after I wrote that outline — I’d have to compare the files to see whether I kept any original text. My recollection is that I didn’t, but that could be mental erasure talking; that’s how much I disliked my first attempt.

Nor is that the only novel outline in this notebook. The other one is similarly an accounting of a book I’d already completed; I’ve never been much of one for outlining stuff before I write it. In 2001 I went to WorldCon in Philadelphia, and found that an editor I’d been submitting to was on a panel, so I hatched a plan to try and talk to her afterward. She’d written me a personalized rejection letter for what eventually became Lies and Prophecy, so I figured that would be my hook: introduce myself, remind her about the book, thank her for that encouragement, and then get out before I took up too much of her time.

I got as far as my name.

She remembered me. She remembered the book, before I even said anything about it. She remembered that I had another novel (The Kestori Hawks) in her slush pile. And she asked whether I was doing anything else in the setting of Lies and Prophecy. When I stammered out something to the effect of how I was thinking about revising it, she asked me to send it to her once I did.

And I know all of this because I wrote it all down in the notebook I’d taken to the con. 😛 (Though the memory is pretty vivid, too.)

So after that I have an outline of Lies and Prophecy, wherein I made a lot of progress in tightening it up and eliminating the stuff that was more just about the characters hanging out at magic college than anything plot-related. (I’ve mentioned before that Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin was one of the inspirations for the story; the original draft was waaaaaaay more Tam Lin-y in that respect.) Which means this notebook very thoroughly documents the period where I learned to be a lot more aggressive about my revisions, not just polishing up the story but going in there and hacking stuff apart to put it back together again. It’s a key skill, and one I didn’t have in the early days.

There are other bits and pieces in here — me poking at a story based on one of the only dreams I’ve ever remembered, research notes for my paper on Minoan bull-leaping, a quasi-journal of my first trip to Ireland, notes from a class with Henry Glassie the Most Amazing Lecturer Ever, a brief stab at my second Latin grammar/Irish phonology mashup conlang (for Tir Diamh, one of the countries in the Nine Lands) — but those two things, the Sunlight and Storm and Lies and Prophecy revision notes, are probably the most significant things in here.

Well, that and the seedlet for a novel that may never get around to writing. It’s entirely possible I’m going to repurpose it for a short story I promised to write this spring.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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