Blog for Stephanie Bryant, a writer with too many hobbies and not enough time.

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“I didn’t ask for your help.”

Ask any person with a disability, and they will probably agree that this is one of their favorite sentences, and it’s one of the most powerful ones you can employ.

“I didn’t ask for your help” is a great sentence. It establishes and reinforces your boundaries. It encourages you to try something for yourself. It gently but very firmly resists someone else from taking control away from you.

“I didn’t ask for your help” is also an essential sentence for writers. We often encounter people who want to encourage and help us, but who, for various reasons, have no idea how to go about it.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I read the story of a NaNoWriMo participant who had a well-meaning non-writer come by and look at their novel-in-progress and make “helpful” comments.

Writing a novel is often compared (often erroneously) to giving birth. These analogies often describe the long process of incubation and pondering, and the difficult process of actual delivery, and the frightening prospect of watching your little loved one toddle off to make friends with scary people who might not appreciate him or her.

Now, you all must understand, whether you’re a novelist or not, that at this particular stage of novel-writing, 28 days into a frenzy of word-spillage, that the novel resembles not something that comes out of your womb, but rather something that comes out just a little further, uh, back, shall we say. Whether your novel is going to be something good and readable or not is immaterial. Even the best first drafts do not hold up well to initial scrutiny, and a draft written in NaNoWriMo isn’t a full firtst draft. It’s really more like a .5th draft.

Here’s my disclaimer: Sometimes, you ask for help. When you do, it is on your shoulders to be gracious and thankful for it, and to take it with the grains of sugar and salt that all criticism needs to make it palatable. And also: this post has nothing to do with the previous one containing my excerpt. Nobody said anything bad about that, and I’m glad you all bore with me while I excitedly ran around singing its praises. Don’t worry– I haven’t written anything even remotely decent since then, so you’re saved from any further zombie-loving excerpts. For now.

I have written a lot of indecent stuff, though, and I’ve discovered that the words I use for a zombie attack (moan, groan, scratch, bite) are the same words I use in describing an explicit sex scene. Who knew? Zombie love, all the way.

Anyway. I’ve been surfing the Internet this week, finding ways to avoid writing, and a random Internet search for “I hate NaNoWriMo” brought to my eyes a number of blog posts and rants about how bad peoples’ NaNoWriMo novels are, how NaNo novelists aren’t “real” writers (as if– and please, don’t hurt yourself laughing, folks– as if you have to do something special to be a writer! People, let’s be clear: to be a writer, you must write. Period. End of sentence. But I digress….) And so forth. To my brain, these posts and rants all struck me rather like telling a pregnant woman “your baby is ugly.” Not only is it unnecessarily cruel (and a dangerous thing to say to a woman who is packing twenty extra pounds and 500% her normal hormone load), it’s utterly irrelevant. Of course the baby is ugly. The baby isn’t even born yet! But dear lord, it has nothing to do with how the baby’s going to look later!

Now, the other part in which writing is a lot like having a baby is the part where everyone and their cousin seems to believe they are qualified to tell you how to do it. And novelists really need to develop a thick skin that permits them to shrug off this unhelpful parenting advice and do their own thing.

Anyway, I would like to arm all would-be novelists with these six, very helpful words. Whether you’re writing in November, or December, or February through June, you can use these words to protect your fetal novel from unwanted editing and critique until you have had the time and space to develop it into something beautiful and graceful, worthy of stepping out and taking the world by storm:

“I didn’t ask for your help.”

Whoa. A NaNo08 excerpt.

35,000 words into my NaNo novel, and I finally get something worth reading! Holy crap! Here it is, unedited in its raw form, and all its errors and mistakes. Do not correct, chastise, or otherwise make suggestions. Words of praise are appreciated, but otherwise, this is just more work in the progress:

Imagine some person, some character, with red flaming hair in the bright sunlight. Her hair has faded from the blaze of her youth to a rich copper, streaked with silver, but it is a flame nonetheless. She stands in the bright green and yellow of the Australian desert, a wide brimmed hat pulled low over her eyes, while the men bring into the village the thrashing, writhing form of her fevered husband.

His weathered face, which she has loved and kissed every day for thirty years, is as red as the earth on the hills in Africa. His skin is hot to the touch, but he has ceased sweating entirely, and she pours water by the liter down his throat, hoping that she can stabilize him in time for the hospital.

He is the father of her three children, and she loves him fiercely. She loves him enough that she has willingly followed him across the ends of the Earth, into close-knit Muslim communities with rancid butter and cloistered women. She has tracked cultural patterns and icons through the enormous lands of India, the wide steppes of Russia, even, thankfully, the structured, civilized tea times of London. She has ridden horses, camels, Jeeps, a yak, and once, a very hefty goat for him. She has ceased to see the color khaki, and instead makes distinctions in her mind between light khaki and dark khaki, olive, dark green, light green, lime, sage, and all the shades of the desert in between.

She has seen more desert sunrises than most people see movies.

She is the kind of woman who espouses a love of luxury. She adores SCUBA diving, and is thrilled that her son Chris is interested in marine biology as a career. She would rather spend an afternoon having her fingernails and her toes attended to by a well-paid professional than a week sitting in a mud hut, even though the mud hut might provide, comparitave to the hosts’ means, a higher standard of hospitality.

But she follows him, and she takes with her a camera, which she uses to explore and document her world. In many places, the lens is unwelcome, and she contents herself with an intense and ongoing study of the flowers in the garden, or the rugged landscapes surrounding. But sometimes, in places like this one, the camera is a welcome intrusion into the world which has not moved forward into the 21st century, or a world which may be a curious blend of the modern and the ancient. Mud huts with satellite dishes sprouting from them like mushrooms, for instance. A thousand tin roofs bristling with antennae.

She sits now next to her husband as he shakes and moans, the bite on his shoulder severely infected. She sent for medical attention three days ago, but the trip to the nearest hospital is 2 days away by Jeep, and that’s only if nothing goes wrong with the vehicle. She has sent an email to her children, reassuring them that all is well, and she does not know that at this moment, her daughter is proposing to her future son in law that they elope, speed the process of union and get it over with, parents or no.

If she knew, she would smile and be grateful. Death is in her husband’s eyes now, and she can see the world of grief opening to her, a world of loss and abandonment which she is not looking forward to. It will be nice to have new hope and a new marriage in the future to nurture and be glad for, but she would not want, in this coming sorrow, to partake in its creation.

He groans again, and she thinks for a moment that the wheezing rattle in his breath must be the “death rattle” she has heard of. The wound in his arm stinks. It’s beyond infection. Yellow pus oozes from it unabated. For the first several days, she tried to bandage it, but it was soon apparent that the nasty infection needs to breathe– the pus has saturated many bandages before she learned it was best to leave it uncovered and let the wound breathe and dry out.

“Eliaabeth?” he croaks, unable to fully form her name with his dry, cracked lips.

“Yes, Christopher?” She squeezes his hand. “I’m here, my love.”

“Don’t…. Eliaaabeeeh” He seems to try to swallow, but fails to get enough spit to wet his lips, his mouth.

“It’s all right,” she whispers. But it won’t be all right. Not ever. He’s dying.

He exhales, and she imagines that she can already smell the stink of rot, the smell of death on his breath.

His chest doesn’t rise.

She watches.

His chest does not rise.

She places a hand on his chest. Her tears– she has shed many of them in the last two days, when it became clear he was not going to recover without immediate help– and that help was a long way away. Her tears streak down her face in well-worn paths, paths that burn with the caustic salt of her grief.

His chest does not rise.

She leans down next to his chest, still listening, hoping.

His chest does not rise.

She rests her head on his breast, the tear wiping against the cotton bed sheet she draped over him this morning, after she cleaned his wound.

“Oh, Christopher,” she whispers. “Good bye, my love.”

His chest rises as he sits up, unbreathing, his heart no longer thumping, his mouth open and yearning as he sinks his teeth into her neck– at first light, like a lover, then savagely sinking through the flesh on the back of her neck, tearing through skin and flesh and bone and the bitter spinal fluid.

As the sun sets over the aboriginal village, two rise.

More will follow.

Sock-in-training: 1st one complete

This is the finished sock I’ve been knitting on. I was almost done with it yesterday, then frogged back to the foot because the ribbing I was doing on the cuffs made the cuff pull in far too tight, and I knew from measuring it that it would slide down Andrea’s ankle.

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RV Jail

We are here, in beautiful Anthony, Texas. In a parking lot. OK, it’s a glorified parking lot– we have hookups, after all. But our rig spent 2 days at the local Camping World service center getting a few repairs done, and it’s probably going to be back in the shop all next week. With two […]

Originally posted to Life on the Road. Read the rest of the entry there!.

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