2022 Clarion West Write-a-thon

Breanne Boland

June 6, 2022 12:00am - July 30, 2022 12:00am

My Writing Goals

This Write-a-thon is all about revision for me. I finished another first-draft novel on May 30th, and I've spent the last couple of weeks doing 1000 Words of Summer, trying to find a sense of play after having worked toward a specific goal for five months. Through blog posts, essays, and fiction work, I'd say I found it, but I really want to spend some weeks working on the third draft of the first novel I wrote during the pandemic. I love it very much and am ready to make it work (and I think I'm better equipped to do so than I've previously been).

Usual stakes apply: if you sponsor me for at least $5, I'll make you a zine at the end of this with an excerpt of what I worked on.

I'll also aim to write another Deviation Obligatoire post in all this, because it is fun.

Write-a-thon Blog

Bringing it home

For the last days of the Write-a-thon, I continued working my way through my post-its. As of the end of the day on the 30th, I've worked through 21 regular post-its and one MEGA post-it, which is like ten stuck together because they were all pointing at the same need/issue from different angles. There are still plenty to go. I estimate I have about a month of this work left. It feels good.

Thanks for reading along with me. If you've also been working on something, I hope you made excellent progress and are proud of where you are. If you're a writing spectator, then THANK YOU! We need you too, and I'm grateful to have you along.

26 July, day thirty-nine, and 27 July, day forty (whoa)

I got my second booster yesterday, and let's just say it's colored my existence for the last 24 hours. I felt mostly ok until late yesterday, until my arm started to hurt. Today's been more of a shitshow, with body aches, fatigue, and a general sense of oh no. During one meeting, I realized I'd started playing with my hair in a weird way; it took me a moment to realize I was doing it because the roots of my hair were sore, and it felt interesting. So I'd like to dedicate today, more than usual, to ibuprofen and to the map of dull ache across my body reminding me where my lymph nodes are. Thx, nodes.

Nevertheless, I revised. Three post-its yesterday and three today, starting to map out broader changes across the story: better establishing my main character's professional ambition, sketching her manager out more clearly, and more pedestrian things like "her bag keeps disappearing in this stretch of scenes, and actually that is a problem." It's a pleasure to dive back into. Daunting to start, joyful to continue. I look forward to my stamina growing with more practice and with my body calming down. Vaccines: I'm a very big fan of them, and also I'm grateful I mostly work at home, so I could distract myself with work while slouching against my trusty heading pad.

A sentence: "He dressed to match their ragtag office; while he definitely owned a couple of sharp suits, which Sarah knew because he’d worn one when he married his wife a few years before, he tended toward plaids and soft cardigans when he had the choice, which she was pretty sure he chose because they led people to underestimate him in useful moments."

24 July, day thirty-seven, and 25 July, day thirty-eight

The goal for Sunday was organization: I needed to get my broader post-its in order so I could go through them in a semi-deliberate way. First, I went through the doc and turned most of the comments into post-its too, collecting new stuff I'd thought of during the first ordered runthrough of the draft. Then I took those plus all the ones I made during the initial read for this phase, and I grouped them into categories: $character's work, easy fixes, $otherCharacter's whole deal, $character and her best friend. Mostly they don't affect the same individual parts, but it gives me the option of addressing similar stuff in groups, which makes the next (arguably harder) phase less daunting. After that, I did another bit of housework and wrote 1,873 words in the voice of my other main character; I've felt like I was drifting from understanding his whole deal a bit lately, and this was good anchoring. He's pretty close, usually; he's been a main character in two other novel drafts I've written, 1.5 of which were from his POV, but even familiar things need maintaining sometimes.

On Monday, I got into the easy win post-its, which I put on deck on purpose: we like a shallow entry to tough things. I started updating small things and making it make sense again. Good progress. I'd meant to go out for a bit tonight - a li'l spooky dancing - but realized I had staying-in energy instead. So I listened to the webcast instead. Not the same, but also good.

21 July, day thirty-four, through 23 July, day thirty-six

And lo, on Saturday night, listening to industrial on Twitch, I finished my Write-a-thon goal of getting through all the initial edits in the printed ms of my novel. I'll start the next phase tomorrow: working through the post-its that note wider changes needed, anything broader than a single post-it or note written on the printed version of the book. I hoped to push through to the end today, but I never assume anything in this era. Energy is weird, anxiety is weird, and what my brain is capable of at 3 pm can be very different than what it can do at midnight. (Midnight is usually better and certainly was today.)

I worked through the last two sections of the book today, with substantial rewriting of parts. It's a good sign; it's like a handshake between my present and past selves, working in tandem to make this story work. In this era, it's a gift to feel like I can improve anything at all.

A sentence from today: "Someone her brain threw the word love out about now and then, but it wasn’t time for that yet." A nice moment from almost the very end of the story. Hardly a spoiler since the last two years has robbed me of my ability to dally with anything other than a proper happily ever after.

14 July, day twenty-six, through 20 July, day thirty-three

Just me, revising. 67 more pages of revisions done, plus 2,591 words in new scenes. I took a night off from this project on the 18th and wrote what I recorded as "2472 of surprise personal essay." That day also held 100 words of flash, which came from a Drabble class that morning via London Writers' Hour. I spent last weekend in a two-day class on expanding and contracting fiction, and we talked a surprising amount about flash fiction as a tool to see a lot of the mechanics of fiction at once in one short piece, rather than scattered and stretched through something longer. I usually freely cop to being someone who writes long, so that even short stories feel fairly out of my reach, which I'm comfortable with (so long as I don't use it an excuse to not try things), but having flash fiction positioned in this way made me curious. I want to do more of it; I think it'll be a good exercise in making the point as hard and clearly as possible.

The last week was a pretty shitty one for sleep and general wellbeing, hence the quiet here. I kept the writing going, but the nice extras became elusive. Sleep has gotten better, and I have food in the fridge, so I'll be ok. It's just hard is all.

13 July, day twenty-five

Small efforts today. I started writing one of those stubbed scenes and got 455 new words down before realizing that the glitter needed for that scene is not in me today, and that's just fine, actually.

12 July, day twenty-four

31 pages of revisions processed, with placeholders for two new scenes added. It's very nice to feel this thing still so alive in my head.

11 July, day twenty-three

A day of writing other things: outlines, research, blog posts. I got to revising late and got 11 pages in. Still this rearranging of the larger things. It makes things go slower, but it's the good, necessary work, and I will take it.

10 July, day twenty-two

34 pages of revising, plus a pause to rip out a chunk of dialogue that never quite worked and replace it with something that doesn't make me cringe. I did a Writers' Hour, mailed my sponsor zines from last year, and took a long siesta midday. An ok Sunday, all in all.

9 July, day twenty-one

THE HALFWAY POINT. I did another 27 pages of editing, bringing me to 137/326 as I work my way through the handwritten edits on my printed ms. I also hosted my very first writing sprint today, which I'll do again at 2 pm PST on July 26. I offered a prompt about finding the less-obvious character for your POV, because I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I tend to intuit my way into it, because my stories always start with a moment and go from there, but it's useful to think about. I wrote 624 words of flash based on the new stub draft that's hung out in my head and then 1,400 words for a new scene the revision needed. It feels nice to have things click into place in new ways on something so familiar.

Today's sentence, from the flash piece: "And considering they took me and shoved me against a wall and showed me a shiny weapon and basically did everything in their power to make me feel as small and helpless as they could, you know, I wasn’t warmly inclined to help them with whatever their mission was."

July 8, day twenty

Surprise drafting today, sneaking in between bits of work at my regular job, resulting in 1,324 words that did not exist before today. This is that idea I found the entry point to yesterday, and now that I found the door in, I really want to run forward. I'm going to keep more of my energy on revising, but it's always happy to have a thin silver thread of exciting drafting at all times, sewing the days together. I did five pages of editing late-late, after going to see Thor, having burritos in San Francisco, and dancing at a Depeche Mode night for a couple of hours.

Today's sentence: "That clapping-arm thing that men did instead of regular affection, touch that comes with a bit of a slap so no one can be accused of being soft enough to actually like someone else."

July 7, day nineteen

30 pages of editing, bringing me to page 104/326, plus the need to pause evening yoga to write out a fiction stub. I might have found the entry point and the early tone for a story that's hung out in my brain for years; maybe it can be my next first draft, because I know a lot of things about this world already. I also wrote the cover words for the zine of last year's Write-a-thon work. One inside cover lists the places I wrote during those six weeks, which includes:

  • A rather shitty hotel in the Lower East Side where I got spider bites on my calves

  • A better Airbnb in Fort Greene with no bites but a frequently shirtless (and also harmless) host

I liked writing in New York, despite the interesting lodging. I felt very industrious, waking up for 11 am Writers' Hour, getting my work done, and then going to sweatily explore the city for hours and hours after more than a year of being mostly contained by my apartment. It feels like a different world this year in both good and terrible ways.

July 6, day eighteen

Another 22 pages of editing, which included moving a scene to a week later than where it was originally set, blending two others together, and getting some facts straight about an important bit of setting. This is very different revising than I've done before, and feeling whole scenes move around like Tetris pieces in an effective way is pretty great. I guess I retained something from all those revision classes I took last year.

July 5, day seventeen

During Writers' Hour, I worked through more revisions: 22 pages today, bringing me to page 54/326. I restored something I took out in an earlier revision with a different focus, leaned on a theme some more, and dug into what I'm thinking of as more foundational work: things that first change on page 40 but will matter on page 200 too.

I also printed the guts of the zines I owed people who pledged my campaign for last year's Write-a-thon. The good news is that my recently acquired printer (and better coping skills in a terrible era) mean that the one for this Write-a-thon will go out in August 2022, not sometime in 2023. Pledge now! Words soon! Yay!

July 4, day sixteen

It's a day off, which means I did like four completely separate writing tasks, which means it was a good day.

At Writers' Hour, I worked on the main goal of this period of time: more novel revision. It's slow going, which I'm taking as encouraging; I love this story and it means a lot to me, and also I know there are a lot of things that need to move around to make it work. I made it through ten pages today, to page thirty, which is deceptive because what I actually did was moving a scene to later in the book, combining two scenes into one with some extra material, making certain character stuff more solid, and updating the evolving outline to reflect things that still need to be done.

Beyond fiction, I worked on a blog outline for work and an outline for a very different professional project, and out of nowhere I wrote a 1,362-word essay about caring for my once-abused cat and how it relates to caring for friends who also have had a hard time with the world. Genuinely did not see that coming, and it feels like magic when it happens. I'll revisit it in a week or two and see what needs to be done and where I might decide to direct it.

Today's sentence: "When Chita growls to tell me she’s had enough petting for now, I know she’s been taught that a more demure noise won’t be respected."

July 2, day fourteen, and July 3, day fifteen

Diving into the revision. On July 2, I did some freewriting on what I know needs to happen in this revision as well as some reading about story structure, because it's time for that to come into this draft in a more deliberate way. I reserved a couple books at the library too. Thanks, Oakland. On July 3, I worked through my written edits for the first section of the story, 21 of the 326 pages. Part of this is getting my bearings; I'm adding more stuff than I expected and finding the broader differences I want to bring to this draft. It's good and fun, actually.

There'll be fewer new sentences as I move along, but here's one I liked from Sunday: "He could’ve rode onto the scene on a pegasus accompanied by angels singing of infinite orgasms, and the answer would still be a hard no."

June 30, day twelve, and July 1, day thirteen

Revision progress: on the 30th, I did the last 51 pages of revision review, so the writing-on-the-ms part of this is over. (Kinda too bad; I like that part a lot.) So I have a beautifully drawn-upon and post-itted piece to work through. And on July 1, I wrote out a new outline, complete with highlighted parts to add and change, and I moved the more overarching post-its (think: change this in three places, rather than just one) into the form they'll stay in for the coming weeks, stuck to printer paper, which is clipped together in a weird little sheaf. It'll get raggier and raggier as I rearrange, group, and work through them.

I can't wait.

June 28, day ten, and June 29, day eleven

More revision review. This is the part where I read the print-out, write lots of notes, and write post-its for broader changes to make. I went through 60 pages yesterday and 51 today. I think I might finish this part up tomorrow, which is good, but the next parts are harder.

June 27, day nine

I did it: I finished the novella. I got to the end, I made notes for what I want to accomplish in the second draft, and lo, I rested. Well, ok, not really. I don't so much do that. But it's an amazing thing; I had this idea from nowhere on Thursday the 16th, and today I wrapped it up. I have a pretty robust output of words even in regular life, but it turns out that, on weeks where I don't have to work, I get even more done. Figure that one out! I hope to find another kinda lightweight project in the next few weeks, because writing a story where two young goofballs who mostly want to watch movies, laugh, drink, and go dancing are forced to be serious and fix a big problem so they can go back to being goofballs was rather beautifully therapeutic for me.

I did 56 pages of revision review and  added 1,411 words to the novella, bringing it to its first-draft length of 26,263 words, plus 580 words on my realtime essay about reproductive stuff, because would you believe this current nightmare era is really dredging my memory about all that? Every one of us now, a pundit and a privacy expert. I hate this.

Today's sentence: "This was what happened when he was left to his own devices: he let work furnish his life, all this navy blue and grey with their dumb crest that tried to make them look more like a hundred-year-old company than a ten-year-old one."

June 26, day eight

In London Writers Hour and a bit after, I wrote 1,434 words and think I maybe maybe maaaaybe will finish this story draft tomorrow. It's at almost 25,000 words, which makes it a short story for me. Calling it a novella feels accurate enough. In the evening, I went through 58 pages of my draft, the first piece of novel revision. This is the reread, the markup, the post-it making, all of which will give me the guidance I need to do the revision itself. It's still going well; I like rereading it. I generally like rereading my work, though, because I'm fortunate enough to be able to see things to improve without hating my work or myself. I wish everyone had that. In this case, I'm happy to see it again but can see more clearly what needs to happen with it than the last time I worked with it. It's all I could hope to have at the start of a revision round.

It was a nice day of no particular plans, made that way intentionally since I'm going back to work tomorrow after a week off. I never feel like I "get" everything I want out of vacation, particularly when I stay home, but it's ok. I wrote a lot during this week with more free time, and I'll write a lot in the coming week too as I adjust back to work times.

Today's sentence: "For every stupid, shitty, violent thought I have, I have to turn it over three or four times to strip the nightmares out of it."

June 25, day seven

I got up early to do something I haven't done in a long time, so long that I'm not actually sure of when the last time was: I went to an in-person writing class. I learned about the SF Writers Grotto in summer 2020, when I was searching (mostly but not entirely futiley) for writing community. The Grotto was one of those things, like the writers' group that used to meet at my library, the neighborhood writers' group, and so many SF-based reading events, that hung like a ghost in front of me. "If you'd just started writing like this a few years ago," it breathed, "you would've had shored up community for this terrible time." Yes, that and a nickel etc. etc. It was not a useful ghost, and I told it to go away.

It felt good, lovely, nurturing, reassuring to sit in a room with writers of different levels of experience and different genre interests, all sharing new paragraphs and talking about where they are in their ambitions. Tell me about writing practices, yours, and I will tell you mine. I rarely write in response to prompts on my own time because I'm usually more interested in putting work into my longer projects, but when I do, it reminds me that it does good things, actually. I got to talk to the instructor about my revising work and upcoming beta reader ambitions, and I got to hear some of her experience with it recently. This is always useful. I also got to slip away to enjoy reading and a Pancho Villa burrito in a park. The Grotto is close to where I worked for three years in the upper Mission, and I really enjoyed getting to visit old favorites. All we survivors, gathering and huddled in the bones of our old lives.

I came out of today with dates for some upcoming events that I think could be marvelous. This life is a horror sometimes, and also I have feet, energy, and money that will get me where I want to go: writing potlucks and more online cowriting sessions and these shared spaces that we all need so badly. I think a lot of us have walked off the more visible accumulated lockdown weirdness, but most of us are still pretty thirsty while trying to pretend not to be.

It was, unsurprisingly, a rather writing-heavy day: 2,120 words of the fantasy novella thing I started eight days ago, 2,140 words across three class exercises (one of which led to me explaining the nature of romance novel tropes to the uninitiated), and 788 words on my ongoing bisalp quest essay. Thus, you get two sentences today. And yep, 22 pages of initial editing later on.

From classwork: "These weeks of boredom, and now I was carrying a loaded rifle across my home, bedecked by a white scarf with red floral embroidery and fringe."

And from the novella: "I just want to go home, have happy hour greyhounds, write some more shitty Javascript, and stay out too late dancing or whatever young people do now. I’m sure I don’t know anymore."

June 24, day six

Somehow, I wrote. It happened after midnight, after a day of reeling and marching and then talking to friends to try to find some peace, but I did. I stayed up too late and wrote 1,089 words, feeling more keenly than usual the little locus of love and justice I try to make in my fiction.

I'm so tired, and we have so far to go.

Today's sentence: "No need to scream, just suddenly better posture, goosebumps, the body attuned to the air differently, and—"

June 23, day five

Today in London Writers' Hour, I plunked out 1,242 words on the growing short story and passed the 20,000-word mark like I expected. I hope to be done with this in the next couple of days, as my printed manuscript keeps looking at me balefully. Excitement to revise is a nice problem to have, though.

(And then I did 27 pages of editing after midnight, because I am me. It felt very good.)

Today's sentence: '“You said people don’t die from this kind of work,” Augie said late in the evening, the woods around them opaque black, the moon hiding.'

June 22, day four

Today was dominated by finishing and presenting something based on my chapter in the cybersecurity anthology, which went well, but it meant I didn't get to fiction things until after midnight. Fortunately, I'm on vacation, so this is trivia rather than a knife to the achilles for my tomorrow-self. The weather here was friendly again to we more temperamental, melting-prone mammals, so writing went easier: 2,621 words on this surprise magic story that I started last Thursday. Tomorrow it will turn eight days old, and I will likely pass the 20,000-word mark. I wanted this six-week period to be all revision all the time, but I've also learned that we do not tell inspiration not now when it comes on like this. The revision can wait (and does, sitting dolefully in an unmarked stack of printed pages on my living room table, a little nest of fortune cookie slips on top of it), and our time will come - hopefully starting tomorrow.

Today's sentence: "Essa had actually gotten Augie three shots to psych himself up for that, and then it turned out that the blue-streaked woman in question didn’t actually speak English, but he’d tried, and Augie wasn’t always one for trying when dignity was at stake, so Essa considered it a victory."

June 20-21, days two and three

Monday, I ended up having a very walking-heavy outdoors kind of day when it was warm-warm-warm and sunny, two things my mossy self doesn't tolerate very well, and Tuesday walloped the East Bay with 100+ -degree temperatures when I started off the day feeling queasy and gross anyway. I am writing this at almost 10 pm, and it's still 88 degrees in my bedroom. (And with that, I resolved that this will indeed be an AC night in my one sort of climate-controlled room.) This is all to say: I wrote today, but the revision hasn't picked up yet. It will. On the 20th, I wrote 1,255 words, and Tuesday brought 1,211 words, a bit hard-won on both days but won at all, and that's what matters. I look forward to wanting to do anything other than lay on my couch with an ice pack or a cold metal bottle of water pressed against some of my closer-to-the-surface veins. It was so warm here it caused a partial derailment of a BART train due to track warping, so if I find my brain is like "reply hazy, try again tomorrow" when I want to do some revising, I can forgive that until the weather eases.

Monday's sentence: " Essa took another sip of her coffee, the better to convince herself that she wasn’t dying a little bit."

Tuesday's sentence: " Either she came back knowing Augie was ok, or she had to go back to her partial life and accept it, integrating that emptiness as normal, needing to dive into finding another job and limping into the future."

June 19, day one

I did London Writers' Hour and wrote for another hour after that, adding another 3,078 words to the short story that landed hard in my brain three days ago. I might try to finish the first draft of it tomorrow; if that doesn't work, I feel pretty confident I'll wrap it up on Thursday. I also printed the current draft of the novel I'm revising, and I swear there are few things as satisfying as holding my long-labored-over book as a physical object. I'm going to do some pre-review admin before I go to bed tonight, writing out the things I know need to change as well as starting a revised outline with what I know needs to stay. Tomorrow, I'll begin the readthrough the precedes revision. I use a process largely based on what Cari Luna teaches. That link is to the longer version of the class, which has to be INCREDIBLY worth it. I took a three-hour version at Hugo House last year that completely changed how I approach this stuff. I'll read it through, do a scene log with the intended purpose of each, do the usual writing and scribbing, and put other to-dos on post-its that I'll pick off one by one later in the process.

It is a lot of work, and I've been looking forward to it for the last couple of weeks in particular. It's called The Consultant, and it's a story about what happens when a work-obsessed goth bar owner ends up with an adorable consultant all up in his business. It's the thing that got me through the worst of lockdown, and I'm very excited to keep making it as good as it deserves to be.

Today's sentence: "While it was undeniably darkly funny, Essa could not really recommend needing to ask your heartbroken best friend who had spent the previous 18 months longing for you in a destructive way to please take their shirt off so you could paint symbols in blood on their bare chest and back."

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