Auri Grins. A lot.

R gave me a book for Christmas, The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. As soon as I saw the wrapped present under the tree, I knew what it was. I showed great self restraint, IMO, in not unwrapping it while he was out, reading it, and wrapping it back up again, because it was a short book that I really wanted to read and I could easily have read the whole thing while he was out to dinner with a friend. However, I did show said self-restraint, opened it happily on Christmas morning, and on the evening of Christmas Day, post- much good food and movie watching, I lit some candles in the bathroom and settled into the tub with my new book. (And a chocolate martini. It was that kind of day. 🙂 )

On page 2, Auri grins.

If you haven’t read his previous books that won’t mean anything to you, but Auri is a mysterious, mystical waif of a girl who lives in the sewers (more or less). A delicate wisp, dancing to her own beat, fragile, living a precarious life, fey and maybe even insane. Or at least that’s how I remembered her.

But she grins?

It struck me as incongruous. A grin is such a jovial expression. Grins belong to flirtatious boys, amused storekeepers, practical jokers, even maybe the bullies in a high school setting when delivered with a hint of malice. But Auri?

I shrugged it off and kept reading. Maybe Auri really is a grinner. She’d already smiled once so maybe this grin is just measuring her delight — a way of saying that she’s not just happy, but really, really happy. I can live with that.

On page 5, she grins at herself in her mirror. Okay. Apparently she’s very satisfied with how she looks. Not just pleased, but ever-so-pleased. But I paused and wondered — like a Halloween pumpkin grin? Like a smile so wide it could break her face grin? A grin is a big expression.

But who really notices a grin? Words like grin, smile, look, shrug, frown, said — they’re background words. Your eyes fly over them as if they weren’t there and if it weren’t for the fact that Auri just didn’t feel like a grinner to me, I’m sure I wouldn’t even have noticed that she was doing it again.

On page 9, she grins again. Three times. She grins and snatches up a bottle. She grins and kisses the bottle. She grins and shivers a little. On 10, she does it again. On 11, she grins in the very first line. And then she does it a second time only a few paragraphs later!

Needless to say, she keeps grinning. I didn’t keep count and I didn’t track pages, but I noticed every single one of those grins like it was a flat key in an otherwise charming melody. By the last paragraph of the book, which is six sentences long, one of them being, “She grinned.” I was ready to shout “I know!” and throw the book across the room.

But here’s what I learned from it. Words like grin are shorthand. Sometimes that’s just what we need. If all I want is to make it clear who’s speaking, using “said” is the simplest way to do so and using, ‘Luke grinned at her. “Are you sure?”‘ is about the second simplest option. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional grin.

The emphasis has to be on occasional, though. And that’s not easy. Authors learn to watch out for word repetitions, but sometimes it seems impossible. It feels essential to describe an action, to put some bit of stage business onto the page, to give the reader something to see, and as a result, we write lines like “she frowned” and “she shrugged” and yes, “she grinned”. Still, looking at this book as an editor (and frankly, Pat Rothfuss’s copy-editor was seriously asleep at the wheel), almost all of those grins are unnecessary or could be replaced with more interesting phrases.

Furthermore, “she grins” is distancing language. It’s us, looking at her, from the outside. Instead, we as readers could be inside the character. What is she smelling, what is she feeling, what is she hearing, what is she seeing? The best parts of this book do exactly that. When Auri loses something important to her, she could have frowned. Instead, Rothfuss wrote, “The thought of leaving Foxen in the dark was enough to put a fine, thin crack straight through her heart. To lose him after all this time…”

Resolution for my own writing: fewer grins, more fine, thin cracks.

500 words yesterday, as well as two blog posts and lots of emails. Today, too much thinking about writing, but two blog posts totaling over 1500 words, still on top of the email, about to go out to dinner to celebrate my son’s birthday, and I at least tweaked some stuff in my yWriter file. And it will get easier when R goes back to school and I can have my real bedroom back!

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Endings and beginnings

I opened up my file to write today — it’s a Monday morning, the start of a new week, time to get professional again — and I didn’t even read a sentence before I was clicking on my internet browser icon to escape. Win for me, I suppose, in that I forced myself to come straight to a blog and start to write something as opposed to drifting off into news or social media or silly little quizzes, but it’s still not a good sign.

I’ve been thinking lately, but not writing. I want to give myself lots of excuses — it’s the holidays, my schedule is disrupted, I’m over-tired and in need of sleep, etc. — but none of them are very good excuses. The harsh judge in the back of my head rolls her eyes at all of them and reminds me that when I was writing Eureka fanfiction, nothing could keep me away. I stole moments late at night, after R was already asleep, and plotted constantly. Walking the dog was an exercise in dreaming out my next words. I love that part of writing and I’m just not in that sort of space right now. But I know from past experience that the only way to get back into that space is to actually do the writing. The longer I can force myself to sit with the blank page, to hammer out word by painful word like individual nails in scratchy roofing shingles, the better the chance that someday I’ll sit up and discover I have a roof over my head. Funny how literal that metaphor is, especially when what I was thinking of was not the concrete realities, but the abstract joy of writing. Is worry about the metaphorical roof-over-my-head getting in my way? Maybe.

But not entirely. In a way, that worry might be good for me. I’m at a place where it feels as if it would be easy to walk away, to decide that as a business, writing is still more work than it’s worth, and as a hobby, it stopped being fun when I started worrying about paying bills. I’ve read several blog posts recently about the death of the indie author. (Not a literal metaphor this time.) A couple were from authors, acknowledging that they hadn’t found the success they wanted. Mark Coker from Smashwords wrote about how the business has gotten tougher and he’s hearing authors talking about quitting. And Kristine Rusch wrote a lengthy summary calling 2014 “The Year of the Quitter.” In it, she talks about people losing the joy and trying to reclaim it by leaving the business.

Here’s the thing, though: in all my years of working, I’ve never had a job that provided me with joy on a regular basis. Never. Occasional moments of fun, sure. The satisfaction of working hard, completing projects, knowing I had done well, absolutely. Loads of those. Pleasant interactions with smart people, a sociable-ish life, yep, had that. But joy? Who expects joy from a job? And yet we do the work anyway.

Being able to find joy in writing is the bonus part of the job, not the nitty-gritty of it. The nitty-gritty is the nails. And it’s time for me to hammer some nails.

Endings and beginnings — it’s the beginning of the week and the ending of the year. I’m not going to make any New Year’s resolutions this year. But I am going to hammer one nail at a time, one word at a time, one page, and I am going to persist. 2014 may be the year of the quitter but it’s not the year that I’m going to quit.

Nine days later

So I took a week (and a bit) off from the blogging every day routine. I pretty much took it off from the writing every day routine, too. Oh, I think I opened up the file most days, but I can guarantee I didn’t get any thousand word days. I’m not sure why the pressure of NaNo gets to me the way it does, but it is definitely not meant for the way I work. It’s like there’s some little rebellious streak in the creative side of me that screeches to a halt when it feels pushed. When I was an editor — and really in every other area of my life — I am obsessively perfect about deadlines. If the work needs to be done on a given day, it will be done, end of story. But writer me just turns my back on the whole thing and pretends it doesn’t exist.

One day this summer… oh, bah, that’s a long story, and I don’t know that I want to spend the time to write it all out. But long story made very short — a long-distance healer told me that she thought I was more than one person. Another thing she said was that I felt to her like someone who was in a loop of “never enough”. I felt like the right answer to both those things was simply to acknowledge and accept, the “yep, this is me” response, but I think I would like to break out of the “never enough” habit.

So yesterday — 400 words. And they were enough. Also a ridiculous amount of time spent researching dogs to find out what kind of dog Rose might have owned when she was a girl. A beagle turns out to be the answer. Good Florida country dog, good 1950’s dog, and a good dog to be named Blue (because there’s a type of beagle called a blue tick beagle) which was the line I wrote without conscious planning and then had to spend hours pondering.

And today? There will be some more words. Enough to make me happy, I hope!