The Weekly Sheldon
The Friday Update & Weekly Sheldon
Still working on the revision of Ohio 3. It’s going well, but it’s going slowly — there’s a lot I want to change to make these stories both tighter and richer.
I love what I’m getting.
And I have quiet company while I get it. Sheldon is right in here with me.
Civilization Versus The Full-Body For-Keepsies Panty Raid… and The Survival Value of ADD
When I was a kid and my family lived on the western tundra of Alaska, my dad took me hunting and fishing with him. We were bringing in food for the table in a place where agriculture was impossible.
I loved tagging along and helping out. I was nine, so for hunting I was just a pair of extra hands carrying stuff home. I actually got to participate in fishing, and was pretty good at it. In later years, in Ohio, I fished in a nearby lake for bass and bluegills, right up until I turned sixteen and would have needed a license.
I inherited certain traits that made me a good hunting and fishing companion, the primary one being the ability to sit still and quiet for long periods of time without falling asleep — a survival skill that with fishing requires you to keep a tiny portion of your attention on a single spot of undercut at the outward bend in a river or stream under which a big bass is probably waiting, watching for food to drop into the little corner of the waterway he’s staked out for himself. (Or to sit utterly still in a boat over crystal clear water while waiting for one of the shadows moving beneath it to hit your bait.)
To maintain this necessary stillness, you have to set the bigger part of your mind adrift, letting it wander wherever it will and entertain itself as best it can, while you keep just the tiniest bit of your awareness hooked through your fingertips to the rod and reel, and your vision aimed at the tip of the rod, so that when you see the twitch and feel the first tentative nibble, you bring your awareness back to what you’re doing. If you’re quick enough, when your prey takes the bait, you can set the hook and reel it in.
(I’ll note that if you’re sitting in a kayak, and you pull in a Northern pike, see two rows of dagger teeth coming at you, and flail your fish and all those teeth straight at your dad, the danger of the kayak tipping and dumping both of you into permafrost-chilled water is extreme. We did NOT tip the kayak, so we also not freeze to death and drown the day I did that. However, it was a near enough miss that I also did not get to go fishing in the kayak again.)
Hunting for your dinner (at least the kind of hunting you can do with a nine-year-old in tow) is the same process. Both of you mark the point in the sky where the ducks or geese will come from. And then you sit utterly still and silent behind the cover of overgrowth, set most of your mind adrift while staying awake, and keep the pinpoint of your attention on the direction from which you expect incoming motion.
Hunting (or at least being a good hunting companion) and fishing and the fact that even at the age of nine, I was good at these: That’s Exhibit One.
* * *
Exhibit Two is civilization as embodied by five hundred years of representative government in the Roman Republic (and the additional two hundred years of the increasingly awful Caesars of the Roman Empire). These are the origins of my husband’s people. Germans and Romans, the rule of law, a long and impressive representative government that deteriorated into god-kings and debauchery, as republics tend to do when people forget why representative government has to actually BE representative.
My husband’s ancestors were Germans and Romans. They had a civilization that was agriculture-and-domesticated-livestock-based, so that food grew on patches of ground that folks owned and tended, and it didn’t try to get away from you (or kill you), or in the case of livestock, could at least could be herded by shepherds and dogs. There was no need for the hunter mind, for the long stillness and the utter silence of waiting, for the need to set a tight focus on the single point of your objective while letting the rest of your mind float around, entertaining itself with amusing thoughts and daydreams.
My ancestry is Scots and Vikings.
The Scots are descendants of the blue-painted Celts who were so terrifying the Romans ceased their northern expansion and built Hadrian’s Wall so they could sleep nights behind something sturdy…
My ancestors are also the inventors of haggis. You win some. You lose some.
The Vikings were poets, explorers, and inventors of the full-body, for-keepsies panty raid, in which they went viking for wealth and replacement women. Some bits of it might have been heroic. Some bits were horrific.
Down at the baseline, though, it was a necessary population replacement maneuver essential to their continued existence.
Childbirth is a deadly bitch for mother and child alike in pre-medical cultures, and when you throw in the long winter darkness of high-latitude Scots and Viking terrain, inevitable food shortages, and brutal vitamin D deficiencies, you’re going to need to get replacements for the women and children who don’t survive.
My ancestry, and that adaptation for grabbing all possible Vitamin D during the short sun season has left me with practically transparent skin, and a tendency to burn, blister, and peel even in even relatively moderate latitudes. I sunburn in OHIO.
* * *
But my forebears also gave me the hunter adaptation. The ability to focus long… to set a tiny attention flag on the object of my interest, and then to disappear into stillness while waiting for my future meal to trigger the flag I set to bring me back.
Which was great when I was in a world that needed hunter skills.
When I came back to civilization— to riding a school bus and sitting still in a box for a bunch of hours a day, and being talked at by people who insisted that I not fidget, not talk, and not get up and run around, the adaptive stillness of the hunter kicked in, my mind set its tight focus on the object of my captivity (the teacher in charge of the class) and the rest of me went Viking through the realms of my imagination. When I got the inevitable sigh, the “Earth to Holly” remark from the teacher, and came back, I’d answer the question (after it was repeated, anyway)… and then vanish again back into my own much more interesting world.
THAT is ADD. It is an adaptive survival mechanism that does not mesh well with “Everybody stand, everybody sit, everybody watch this board, everybody pay attention to these boring-ass numbers…”
It is not a disorder.
It is not a fucking disease.
It does not mean you’re broken, damaged, or an object to be pitied.
It is just Hunter Brain, and it means that if you’re in an everybody-stand-up, everybody-sit-down, everybody-be-the-same situation, you’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing — that you need to change the kind of work you do, the kind of play you do, the kind of life you’re leading to give yourself things that you can focus on in stillness, in quiet, away from the constant low-level chaos that is “Multitasking, Bells, Stand-Up, Sit-Down, Everybody Do Everything All at the Same Damn Time in the Same Damn Way Because We Said So” bullshit that is most of education, and most of life outside of education.
Hunter Brain is really, really useful for writing fiction. Total body stillness, focus on that one pinpoint of attention (the plot, the character, the conflict — whichever one is at the forefront at the moment), the patience to let let that idea come, like the shadow of a fish under the water moving toward the lure, like the shadow of a V of ducks coming in over a lake, with the one that will keep you from starving for another couple of days somewhere in that aerodynamic formation swinging around to land.
It’s a good brain for folks who like to work alone. Forestry, Fish and Wildlife Management, or exploring.
It was pretty good for nursing when I was working ER (it was great for emergency situations), and not too bad for Med-Surg while having a single set of patients who were mine for twelve hours.
It’s not so great for office jobs, for water-coolers, for constant interruptions, for multitasking.
It’s not, in other words, the best brain for most modern-life jobs.
But for sitting in silence plotting fiction, for finding the story, for spotting that shadow beneath the water that is your plot, and luring it in, being still, being patient, letting it come to you…
Fucking awesome for that. For that, it is a significant advantage, and not a deficit, and not a disorder. It is, in fact, a damned useful tool.
The Ohio Novels: Sheldon, Because…
It’s a process. I’m doing back-to-back read-throughs of five novels (over 500,000 words of fiction, and then I’ll be doing the work to make them the books I want them to be).
First draft is where I explore what the story can become. That’s all finished.
Revision is where it becomes the story I love.
Here’s the problem: I’m not going to have anything to say about writing for a while, because I don’t do spoilers or hints, and I do all of my revision working offline on a paper copy of the book, where even if I were inclined to demonstrate progress (and I’m not, because again, I don’t do spoilers), the medium isn’t amenable. So…
Sheldon. Because once a week, I can post a picture of him, confirm that I’m making progress, and then get back to making the novels I wrote about my very odd version of Ohio into their best versions.
To 169 on the write-in of Ohio 2
Today went better. I love a LOT of Ohio 3.
I made it a nice chunk of the way through Book 3, and there is, in fact, a whole lot of story that’s worth saving — that’s funny, and in places moving, and overall very strange — but which fits the world I’ve built and the characters I’ve put into it.
So after a few stressful days, there’s actually a whole lot about Ohio Three that I’ll be keeping.
Cannot even begin to describe what a huge relief this is.
Replotting Ohio 2… The Experiment that Went BOOM!
Book 2 has a lot of salvageable material. A lot of awesome world stuff, some wonderfully funny scenes, some pretty scary scenes.
It was fun for me to read, and I made myself laugh a bunch of times, got a little teary-eyed, did a light revision and passed it off to my Editor.
Matt, however, is really, really good at what he does.
And he discovered that while the story is a lot of fun, what it doesn’t have is a strong story through-line.
Here’s the thing…
I had a line-for scene plot for the book built out.
It, however, lacked the sort of epic sense of wonder that made my heart beat faster while I was writing it.
So… when Epic Sense of Wonder crept past me while I was being a good girl and following the plot, my hunting brain caught the scent…
I got some great stuff out of the chase. The plot, however, got eaten by volemarines and vile scunners in the process.
So now, I’m going back and figuring out how to keep all the epic stuff, the sensawunda stuff, the glorious terrifying magic and the really creepy evil…
WHILE STILL HAVING A DAMN PLOT.
Today… plotting worksheet and tight focus.
There are folks saying, “But you teach classes on how to write novels.”
Yup. I also invent and test new processes, because if you do the same thing every time, you get the same results every time. And to get BETTER results, and consequently better novels, you have to experiment.
Many experiments… um… explode.
And the person looking at the new processes, and experimenting, is the one upon whom they explode.
THIS process is not going to be in any new class coming your way from me. You can thank me later.
And more of the same… OHIO 2 (NO… THREE) Revision
I’m going through all five novels.
At the moment, I’m tearing apart Book One, which I got right, to find out where I need to take Book
Two THREE in the revision.
It’s a complicated process, and I’m managing to give myself regular headaches going through it. And all of this is my own damn fault.
I have a good process for plotting and writing novels, but somehow, I was having so damn much fun with these that I didn’t use my process. I essentially pantsed my way through Books 2-5, having built out my four line-for-scene outlines for each of the remaining four books… and then ignoring the damn things to chase “better ideas.”
Well, if you know what works for you, and you decide to ignore your proven process to go rabbiting after “Ooooh, SHINY!!!”, you deserve what you get.
And here I am.
Still replotting, still restructuring on Ohio 3
There’s damn little I’m going to be able to save. Ohio 3 is lost in the weeds.
So at this point, I’m barely even looking for things to save. I’m just looking for the story I wanted to tell but didn’t, and if I can use any of what I already wrote, great. If not… well, that’s okay, too.
This. THIS is what happens when, instead of using my system, I go chasing after that alluring “ooh, awesome” better idea.
Today’s objective: Save what can be saved…
Over the last thirty years, I’ve gotten really efficient at revisions. I have my simple, streamlined system, I go through once, I go through fast…
And all that shit broke down with THIS book, because I wrote the wrong novel.
I got sidetracked by a character who is wrong for the book, wrong for the world, wrong for the worldbuilding, wrong for the plot… and very, VERY wrong for the future of the series.
Worse, I centered the novel around that character.
This isn’t case of removing some ancillary stuff. This is a case of saving what can be saved (IF I’M LUCKY, about a third of the manuscript), totally replotting new story into the places where the old story was, and tying what I can save in with the new stuff smoothly.
Done for the day, but today was progress by inches.