Hi Kat! Thanks for being with me on SlipperyWords. You have a number of exciting releases coming out soon, but…we’ll talk about those as they arrive. And of course, there is the famous Greywalker Series.
Today, let’s talk about writing. The art of writing. The psychology of writing and the craft and business of writing.
First question…1) I was thinking about one of the hardest things I’ve found about writing. The waiting. The waiting for the story to take shape as you struggle with it. The waiting to hear about the story from beta readers. The waiting to hear from a publisher. It is all a waiting game. How do you deal with that? Any advice?
It’s easy to fall into the idea that the current project is the Whole of Everything and let just that one thing dominate your life, but writing as a career can’t focus on just one project at a time. You’ve got to have longer-term plans. Trite as it sounds, the thing that works for me is to have other things to work on, other projects in the hopper, other personal goals to achieve, and–this is important–the ability to switch off and enjoy non-writing things, like family, exercise, hobbies, travel… Publishing now responds to some things faster than ever. Back when I started, no one did anything by email, for instance, and all manuscripts had to be printed on paper and mailed the old-fashioned way–that is, by strapping it to the back of a tortoise and pointing the beast toward New York with a carrot dangling from a stick in front of its nose and hoping the critter made it. But, no matter how fast things move, they can still sit for a while and you need to have other things to rely on. If you get a “yes” on a submission, that’s cool, but you still need things to do after the initial excitement winds down. And if you get a “no” you need to have something to do so you don’t drown in self-recrimination. There’s always more to do: more phases, more projects, more options, more work….
That’s not to say this is easy. I finished some major work on a huge project earlier this year and had to put it into other peoples’ hands for a while. I’d been so immersed with those characters and issues, that focusing on something new was hard, but I had a bunch of other projects waiting, so I forced myself to work on those instead of just sitting and waiting. Now I’m having a lot of fun with those other things–they’re challenging and different from what I’ve been doing for so long–and I’m not as worried about what will happen with the first project. If it bombs, I have other things, and if it flies… I still have many other things to play with for the future. That’s how you keep from losing your mind during the waiting–you turn it into an opportunity, instead of a slog.
2. When you begin to write a novel, do you outline in detail? Write character biographies? I know everyone’s style is different, but I want to know what Kat does.
It depends. I usually have a rough idea and a roughed-in character, or a character and a situation and I story/write/spiel a bit until I either hit a wall or the idea starts to have some momentum on its own. Then I pull back and start analyzing, outlining, making notes, etc. (Well, except for the screenplay project–that really needed a synopsis and outline.) I used to do a lot of things like bios and background development and then I’d write from a fairly vague outline (or none). Then I stopped using that process and went into a heavier outline mode with less of the backgrounding and character bio stuff, but a lot more research–Greywalker had a 32-page outline (though most have been a lot shorter than that). And it’s interesting that the first thing I was ever able to sell was based on an outline, rather than free-formed, and all the Greywalker novels have had outlines–even if they were a bit shorter than the first book’s.
I switched to Scrivener last year and now I’m currently doing a lot of loose outlining and then shuffling things around afterward because Scrivener makes that very easy. But I’ve started doing bios again (another thing Scriv makes easy) and then writing lots of vignettes and short stories about the characters doing things that don’t happen in the main novel, but help me understand them, their quirks, their history, their world, and their problems much better. I store all that stuff in a project folder called “Scratch” along with everything I take out of the main manuscript–just in case I want it some other time. I’ve also taken on a screenplay and a lot more short stories recently as a way of challenging myself to write in different modes, or different types of characters, different styles, and so on. My current goal is for each project to be new in some way that will hone my craft or stretch my limits and that often means that the whole process is new for me each time.
3. You were just very open about a project you submitted not getting interest on the first try. I haven’t had that experience yet as I’m working on my first novel now, so it was truly inspiring when you so were honest and shared that. I know the answer is to get back on the horse and try somewhere else, but how do you motivate yourself to do that? And do you start writing something else in the meantime?
That particular situation was rough, I admit–I had to manage some pretty harsh circumstances last year and in the early parts of this year, so that rejection threw me harder than I should have let it. But, writing is my job and I can’t let a normal part of the process derail me–and rejections are normal. Rejections can make you downheartened–that’s just the truth of it. If you didn’t think well of the project, you wouldn’t have submitted it, so having someone you really wanted a positive response from say “no” hurts. But here’s the thing: it’s not you who is being rejected. It’s the work right now, in this state, and with this editor or publisher. That “no” may have very little to do with you or the project, but whether it does or not, it’s an opportunity to try something else, to learn, and to improve. So I take the same view I take with losing out on a job opening–it might not have been a step up. While its not always true, I prefer to think so, and then I go on with other projects and the rest of the submission or publication process, and I strive to do better every time. Notice I don’t say “while I wait.” I don’t wait. I’m always busy doing other things while I have various projects on submission or at different points in the publication process. I–and every other writer or creative professional–have to be ready to go forward when the opportunities are there and use the “downtime” to make ready for those opportunities. In the long run, that perpetual state of readiness will pay off. Several people–from Samuel Goldwyn through Thomas Edison–have been credited with the quote “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” and, no matter who really said it, that’s how I see it. Work hard; get lucky.
4. I had a very big moment a year ago, when, not having written in years, a new friend made me practice saying, “I am a writer.” I actually couldn’t say it at first. I think there is a real empowerment that came with being able to claim that I am a writer, even without having published. Do you have any similar story? Some moment when you claimed your identity as a writer?
Oh boy do I. Two circumstances banged into each other and kind of drove me to claim the title of “writer” after many years of letting that languish.
First, I had a friend I’d worked with on a short film project and I’d thoughtlessly hurt his feelings, but he’d still call me up and pester me about getting a job. One day I told him off. I said, “I’ll get a job when I finish this stupid project!” and he said “Oh, you always have some excuse!” That hurt. But it did get me off my ass: the project was Greywalker. I finished it.
Then I let it sit and got a job working as a technical editor for Microsoft. I was making money, but not doing what I wanted. And then the second thing happened: I needed to renew my passport so I could go to a business conference. I looked at my passport and noticed it said “Occupation: Writer.” Not Editor. Writer. And I thought, “I can’t call myself a writer if I don’t do it and don’t send stories out so other people can see that I am a writer–not just a procrastinator.” That was when I decided I would be a Writer.
So I cleaned up the manuscript and started sending out queries. And someone said yes. But had it not been for my friend giving up on me and me almost giving up on myself, I wouldn’t have done it. Now I like to hold onto something Delilah Dawson said to a young woman at DragonCon in 2014. The young woman started to ask a question after a panel and she predicated it by saying “I’m not a writer, I’m just aspiring–” and Delilah cut her off and looked her in the eye and said “Honey, you’re a writer. You’re just not published yet.”
See: Writer is someone you are, not something you do. So be that with all your heart and be that all the time. Don’t let other stuff own you. Be a Writer.
5. My favorite thing about being part of a writing community is the support and encouragement everyone gives each other. I think Facebook has really changed the way authors interact with each other as well as with readers. Do you agree?
Not entirely. I love the easy contact and support among networked friends. The chance to connect to other writers and other people in the industry is useful and can be very supportive.
But at the same time I kind of hate Facebook and a lot of the social media. I find it not only a time-sink, but an easy place to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others and judging yourself wanting. We’re constantly urged to speak only of the positive things–and that’s encouraging and good business–but it also gives the impression that everyone is doing better than you and is having so much better or easier a time and you’ll never measure up. It feeds “Impostor Syndrome”: that feeling that everyone is more successful, or more artistic, or more beloved, or more literary or…whatever thing you feel insecure about in your own work. These crazy ideas are almost never true. Every writer struggles and has bad days or bad luck or frustrations, and we are often reluctant to be negative in public or to admit to failure. While it’s good to limit negativity, the lack of reality-check can give the impression that the negative aspects are yours alone–and that’s horrible.
The trick is to pick and choose your contacts and to limit your time and interaction to what is useful and encouraging for you. Not to be drawn into negativity, or time-wasting, or dead-end competition. Use the network to support and encourage and to find people you can connect to in person. That’s where it’s really good–when you can “meet” someone online who then becomes a friend and supporter in person. Connect. Don’t compete.
6. Last, what else is going on that you’d like to mention?
So many things. Wow… I’ve written five short stories this year for various anthologies, and parts of two novels–or is it three now…?–as well as working on this caper-flick screenplay. I got to work with Catie Murphy on one of those short stories and I’m part of an outrageously fun project called INDIGO with Christopher Golden, Cherie Priest, Charlaine Harris, Tom Lebbon, Chuck Wendig, James A. Moore, Jonathan Maberry, Mark Morris, and Kelly Armstrong.
I’ve been revising a big, new novel project and trying to advance my craft with every one of these projects. There’s also been some exciting developments I can’t really discuss yet, but they’re cooking in the background. I recently found out that my first three Greywalker novels came out in Czech translation. And the Greywalker novels were recently listed on the Barnes and Noble SF Blog’s “Six Gritty Supernatural Crime Novels” (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/6-gritty-supernatural-crime-novels/) list–which makes me really happy! It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, but the ride’s definitely been amazing so far. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Thanks for letting me blither all over your site. 🙂
Thanks so much for being here!