Rotating the Crops

The last week of novel writing looked like this:

Monday: 2095 words
Tuesday: 2151 words
Wednesday: 1055 words
Thursday: 2011 words
Friday: 1174 words

Looks okay, right? Three target days, two days I didn’t meet target – fairly standard, and, at 8486 words, the most I’ve written in a single week.

Except Monday was boosted from some writing I did in the weekend. Wednesday was a scattered day of diminishing returns. Thursday I made it over the line – by staying in the office until 8pm, until I staggered past the target. Friday, I stayed until 5pm, said fuck it, and went home, having written 28k in total on The Voices of Gods.

The fallow period has begun.

It happens during most of my novels – somewhere between 25k and 30k on the first draft, however long that takes to write, I start lagging. The set up is done, I’ve finally established some character voice , I’ve got some exciting events coming up and my misty ideas of the ending are beginning to solidify… and I don’t want to write this right now. There’s no life here.

The story needs to rest, and so do I.

It’s all fine. Were I on a tighter deadline, I might worry. I wrote the bulk of While We Run‘s first draft under contract, in ten weeks, and pushed through the fallow period in a blind panic. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I had to do the most rewriting on the words I wrote during that fortnight of misery. This time, I’m not even a month into a six-month residency, and I’ve got 28k.

On the other hand, I’ve got the time and brain to write. And I want to write – just not this thing, at this moment.

I haven’t talked about this much, but before the residency began, I sent my agent a co-written fantasy novel, the first novel I’ve completed since I started teaching. Since my current novel’s in fallow, we’ve started writing a novella set in the same world.

I’ve written 3000 words on it today.

Ursula Bethell: Day Six/Seven

No post yesterday because I was super sad about Metiria Turei resigning as co-leader of the New Zealand Green Party, after she had the AUDACITY to point out that people on the benefit are suffering in a horrible, dehumanising poverty trap. She noted the horrors of this punitive system, and argued that many of them will indeed lie to government bodies to scrape an extra twenty dollars a week out of their budget for such things as feeding their kid, by admitting to the fact that she had done just that as a young, single mother. Her story is the story of thousands.

Also, she enrolled to vote in an electorate she didn’t actually live in. Like. You know. Ex-Prime Minister Sir John Key, while he was RUNNING FOR ELECTION in the electorate he enrolled in, but did not live in.

It turns out you shouldn’t tell lies to government agencies or commit electoral offences (unless you are male and white and RUNNING FOR OFFICE, naturally). Also, no former 23-year-old who is currently a member of Parliament, other than Turei, has ever done anything illegal or unethical, like get drunk and drive home, or have an accountant do shifty things with their taxes, or profit hugely from neoliberal policies that disadvantage and dehumanise the poor, or assault a waitress by pulling her fucking ponytail on multiple occasions when she had very clearly exercised her right to bodily autonomy and told Then-Prime Minister (not yet) Sir John Key to fucking stop doing that.

Documented skeevy assault on multiple occasions by actual Prime Minister = hilarious jape, why would anyone think he should quit?

Lying to WINZ by young, brown single mum who would eventually become Member of Parliament = DISGRACEFUL SCUM.

Turei quit because the bullshit her whanau was facing was breathtakingly terrible, and getting worse, and because she felt that the shitty, awful response was making her continued presence as co-leader a hindrance to the Party. She wasn’t fired. The Greens did not remove her. I hope to everything I hold powerful and sacred that she will return to New Zealand’s political scene, because we desperately need her.

Also, I wrote some words.

Yesterday’s progress: 1718 words
Today’s progress: 2061
Overall progress: 12370 words. Broke the big 10k!

Ursula Bethell: Day Five

I’m making up a city. This is always fun, particularly when magic collides with architecture and design. Especially when the magic is failing, and people don’t know how to fix it.

The problem is names. I can toss down random syllables (and more or less have, for easily-replaceable people names), but sooner or later I need to work out naming conventions. So far, the setting is called [City]. Square bracket replacement comes when I’m not pushing the words.

Mesa City Project, Plan, by Paolo Soleri

Progress today: 2026 words
Progress overall: 8596 words
Average progress: 1719 words/day

Ursula Bethell: Day Four

What happened to Friday? I went to Wellington and drank flaming drinks with lovely friends and ate ludicrously well.

From left: Me, Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Knox and Delia Sherman. Photo by Fergus Barrowman.

With other lovely friends, I played the Star Trek version of Settlers of Catan. I won, with the longest supply route and a large number of space stations. All the supply route ships were Constitution-class, which I did not think terribly realistic.

I could have a day off, and not feel SEARING GUILT, because I was coming back to writing.

And lovely administrator Pieta found me a footrest! My hips thank her.

Progress today: 2109 words
Progress overall: 6570 words
Average progress: 1642 words/day

Ursula Bethell: Day Three

Today I got to work at 11:30am, had a long, useful, fun lunch with a friend-slash-linguist, and left at 5:30pm with 2000 more words in the bank. 2k a day is what I’m aiming at in this messy, get-it-out, fix-it-later first draft. I hit that goal for the first time today, despite starting late, despite feeling my way through character and voice and (let’s be honest) plot.

It helps to have an office. It helps to have very little *in* the office: desk, chair, computer, and the work that needs to be done. It helps to have my writing girl gang on G-chat – they’re in the US, and write at night, which works very well with my new schedule.

It helps, so much, that this is the only thing I have to do now: show up and write, five days a week.

Progress today: 2011 words.
Progress overall: 4461 words.

Ursula Bethell: Day Two

This residency involves pigeons. They roost outside my window, cooing and billing. The Brutalist concrete of the Karl Popper building is probably the closest architectural equivalent to the rocky cliffs that were their perches before the smart monkeys showed up, so it’s no wonder they feel at home.

I will remember this in summer, which is not here yet. I watched clouds roll in over the hills this afternoon.

One of my protagonists is country-born, migrated to the city to pursue her ambitions. Another came in childhood, moving with her parents to escape the memories of a lost sibling. The last was captured and brought there against his will.

Strangers see things citizens do not.

I wonder if I can justify a road trip somewhere as “research”.

Progress today: 1386 words
Progress overall: 2450 words

Ursula Bethell: Day One

I am fortunate enough to be spending the next six months as one of two University of Canterbury Ursula Bethell Writers in Residence, which is definitely the longest job title I have ever had.


This is due to the generosity of the university, of Creative New Zealand, and of my excellent dayjob employers, who gave me six months leave. My colleagues also gave me new post-its when I left, because they get me.

Today, I got my security card, key and parking permit, bought stationery, set up my computer, and plotted the first part of a novel on post-its. Then I wrote a thousandish words.

This is going to be good.

Progress: 1052 words.