Guest Post: Writing While Broken by Julie E. Czerneda

A funny thing happened last Xmas Eve. I’d paused writing The Gossamer Mage the day before, because—holiday! The morning of the 24th, I baked and wrapped and by two pm? I was ready. Let the festivities begin!

It being a bit early for that, I bundled up, grabbed some bird seed and a shovel, then shouted to Roger I was heading out. Lovely sunny day, about 2 cm of fluffy new snow everywhere. I caroled happily as I pushed the shovel in front of me, skipping down the driveway.

Remember that line from A Muppet Christmas? “Watch out for the icy patch?”

Next thing I knew my feet were heading for the sky, my head for the pavement, and I did that thing one does and shouldn’t. I put down my hand to save my head. Which I supposed I did.

I lay there a moment, gazing skyward, as one does, to contemplate the situation. My phone was in the pocket under me. The shovel on top. Snow melting beneath. Feeling silly as well as damp, up I got. Sort of. My right elbow (I thought) was sore. Must have bumped it (didn’t). Thus I wriggled up without using hands, then wiggled the fingers of my right hand. Phew! Felt normal. (Oh, but wasn’t.)

In I went, dripping and snowy. Roger came round the corner, dressed to join me, and his eyes grew so big I wanted to giggle, but really didn’t feel like it. He pounced and in short order I was seated on the couch, in dry clothes, with an ice pack on my wrist which he told me, firmly, was most likely broken.

On Xmas Eve.

With Mage due in six weeks.

First things first. We walked the block to the hospital (love #urban life). Timing was perfect. Within an hour I was seen, x-rayed, fears confirmed, and put in a cast I was to wear for, yes, at least six weeks. The specialist would call to follow-up in two weeks.

We walked home. I returned to the couch, this time with a rum (Xmas, after all), and managed not to cry.

Because the cast imprisoned my fingers to their tips.

How was I to type the rest of the book?

The next morning, after presents and before gathering with the family, Roger and I discussed the options. When I tried, I found I could type, if not quickly, with my left hand. I could write, if not quickly, with my left as well. He’d start looking into voice-to-text software. Fair enough.

I made the decision not to spread the news, i.e. tell my editor-dear and trusty agent, until I’d more to say than oops.

Off to enjoy the festivities we went. And did.

Next day? Started back at the book. I could hit the space bar with the middle sausage finger of my now-swollen and unhappy right hand, but that hadn’t been on the list of approved things. Wiggling, a little, but not tapping. I wrote a paragraph, typing with the left.

Next day, good news? The specialist would see me sooner than expected.

Other news? Voice recognition software is ideal for business correspondence or quick texts. Fantasy?

I kept at it and reached the point where I could dictate 200-400 words, then would have to stop and edit the result--with my left hand--before I forgot what I was trying to say. It wasn’t just that the software had trouble with my made-up words such as damesen. I could get around that. It was the rest. For example:
Dictation result Dec 28th: Light to Mint such as she left with d what is the redness and puckering the pain.
What I’d said: Ointment such as she’d left with the damesen might ease the redness and puckering, soothe the pain.
I could, if grossly, get plot points down--so long as I remembered what they were in time to edit them into sense. Dictate to someone? If I thought I could, I’d help waiting. But I think up the story as I go, automatically backtracking over phrases to rework, sliding up or down a line or paragraph.

Maybe on a second draft. This wasn’t.

Still, by day 3 I’d a methodology. I’d type with my left hand till uncomfortable—it not being used to doing All The Things—then dictate using my phone and headset—then go back to correct. I won’t say the right wrist didn’t bother me, but as long as I gave it a rest, it didn’t stop me. I managed a halting pace of 500 words a day of useable material. (Some of it hilariously wrong.) Not close to the speed I needed to make my brain happy, let alone meet my deadline, news I had to share.

I decided to wait until I’d seen the specialist before revealing I was writing while broken. That way I’d all the facts, because I’d googled a joyful, deadline-saving possibility. As one does. Maybe I could beg them alter the cast, to let my fingers move so I could type with both hands again! (I also googled how to dress one-handed and a few other no-need-to-mention personal items.)

At the specialist, a block away so we walked, the first thing that happened? (Other than hearing someone scream loudly, which was worrying, let me tell you.) A large man with a Scottish accent took me into the room of screams where he promptly attacked the plaster cast with a power tool. He snapped it right in two and tossed it to the floor. Seems the emergency room folks neglected to tell me that part, or thought I’d know.

I WAS FREE! (No scream needed.)

Temporarily. Off to x-ray, back to meet the specialist who informed me my wrist was broken in four places but should be fine. Sent me back to the technician for a new cast. Fibreglass, elegant, lighter. And I’d FINGERS!

Best of all? When I mentioned (mayhap repeatedly) my urgent need to type, all concurred this was the ideal activity for my wrist and I should do as much as I could manage.
Little did they realize…author, deep into new book? I could manage A LOT.

I made my calls, received understanding and support, and shared on Facebook, naming my cast Excelsior partly to honour Stan Lee and also because it looked like that starship. I firmed my deadline with editor-dear. Feb 5th. The day before my cast would come off. I’d a reason. You’ll see.

The next weeks passed in a blur. I could type with both hands, but the right was cranky. It wanted to be warm all the time. Roger made it cozy. It wanted to STOP typing after 30 minutes, no matter where I was in the story. I learned to stop swearing at it and obey (or it would quit after 10). I’d go downstairs, pacify the wrist with a hot pad, and read (C.J.’s Merchanter series, as it happened) until the pad cooled. About 15 minutes. Then I’d dash back upstairs to type for another 30. Repeat. I found I could keep this up all day.

Hurray?

Hey, it worked. Writing while broken, and healing, I finished The Gossamer Mage four days ahead of schedule, giving me time to go back through and tidy bits, make the glossary etc. With the cast, I couldn’t draw well enough to finish the map, or draw more, so that would wait. I sent in Mage, took a deep breath, then went to have the cast removed.

As I’d been warned, my ungrateful wrist and hand became ridiculously balloon-like and useless for several days; that was the reason I’d stuck to finishing before. I’d lost 50% of my right hand strength and the wrist wasn’t about to bend without stern encouragement, but I’d two hands again! As I type this wee report to you at 6 months post-break, my right hand has regained full flexibility and 90% of its power, to the delight of my wonderful physiotherapist. Yup, typing was key.

Did this experience change the story I wrote? Not the words. My feelings about them changed, yes. Profoundly. I’d believed in The Gossamer Mage before. Despite, or because, of my 30 minute writing stints. Despite, or because, it seemed improbable more than once. I love every single thing about this book with an almost shattering passion and believe I always will.

Maybe the real reason I was able to write while broken?

Something kept telling me this one would be worth it.


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About the Author

What is magic? As imagined by Julie E. Czerneda, it’s wild and free, a force of nature and source of wonder. She first explored this theme in her Night’s Edge series, starting with the award-winning Turn of Light. In The Gossamer Mage, Julie goes further, envisioning magic not only as integral to landscape and history, but well aware what we’re doing with it.

That tie between us and other, the profound changes we make by connecting, have always informed her work, be it fantasy or science fiction. Mage is Julie’s twentieth novel published by DAW Books, and she couldn’t be more proud to belong to this esteemed publishing family. For more about Julie and her work, please visit czerneda.com.

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About the Book

The Gossamer Mage
Cover Art by Katie Anderson; Concept by Roger Czerneda

From an Aurora Award-winning author comes a new fantasy epic in which one mage must stand against a Deathless Goddess who controls all magic.

Only in Tananen do people worship a single deity: the Deathless Goddess. Only in this small, forbidden realm are there those haunted by words of no language known to woman or man. The words are Her Gift, and they summon magic.

Mage scribes learn to write Her words as intentions: spells to make beasts or plants, designed to any purpose. If an intention is flawed, what the mage creates is a gossamer: a magical creature as wild and free as it is costly for the mage.

For Her Gift comes at a steep price. Each successful intention ages a mage until they dare no more. But her magic demands to be used; the Deathless Goddess will take her fee, and mages will die.

To end this terrible toll, the greatest mage in Tananen vows to find and destroy Her. He has yet to learn She is all that protects Tananen from what waits outside. And all that keeps magic alive.

Comments

  1. I need some of your dedication in my every day writing - without the mishap. Congrats on finishing despite the restrictions. Just WOW!

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