Doing the work

I just got back from the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs. The weekend before that was Can-Con, here in Ottawa.

I love conventions. They’re a chance to deepen friendships, to learn, to have semi-random hallway conversations about profound or trivial things with newbies and masters alike. I had more than one fangirl moment this weekend, as I got to meet some of my heroes for the first time.

Conventions can be draining, though, especially for introverts like me. I managed to catch a cold partway through Can-Con and hold on to it until partway through World Fantasy, so I was exhausted to begin with. I put in a few hours of socializing at room parties and at meals each day, but I was in bed early every night.

I also got quite a bit of writing in, stealing an hour or two and a quiet spot wherever I could find an outlet for my laptop — and not just because I needed the introvert time (although I did).

The thing is, the deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise) don’t go away just because there’s a convention on. Conventions are technically work (even the room parties). But the writing has to get done. And the two kinds of work feed each other. Sitting down and writing for an hour helps me process what I’ve learned from others, to centre myself.

I went to World Fantasy haunted by a novel revision that hasn’t been working.

In my usual process, first and second drafts are for the high-level plot problems (as I explain in this blog post I just wrote for Red Sofa Literary, the agency that represents me.)

But I have managed, this time, to get to the fourth draft with a broken plot. All the gears are beautiful but they don’t fit together and turn.

During the convention, I did the hard work of sitting down with the thing, taking it apart like a broken clock and figuring out how to make it work. It’ll take a lot more than a spit and a polish, unfortunately, but I finally have a way forward.

Doing that revision means that, once again, I’m not drafting a novel during NaNoWriMo. One of these years, I would like to. But that’s not the work that needs doing at the moment.

Learning how to be a professional writer involves more than learning the craft. It requires learning how to manage the work: how to balance drafting and revising, short stories and novels, quick-and-sure-pay versus wild speculation, networking and solitude. It means developing the discipline and wisdom to say: What is the work I need to do, now?

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