Monthly Archives: January 2014

The INTJ Pregnancy: Trimester 2

I am sitting here on the eve of my change-over to trimester 3, so I figured it was a good time to recap my thought process/learning curve for trimester 2. If you haven’t read my thoughts on the first three months of pregnancy, they might offer up some context or explanation for why I’m not discussing certain issues.

First things first, let’s bust some myths.

Things People Tell You About Trimester 2

1. The “honeymooon phase” of pregnancy – that wonderful story about how you will get an energy surge in the second trimester and just feel GREAT, so healthy and glowing and full of energy and life. THAT STORY IS A FUCKING LIE. Sure, you get an energy boost compared to the first trimester. I got most of my brain back and most of my energy. I’d say probably 80% of both. But not 110%. Not even 100%. Just comparatively more than the 50% I had the first few months.

This means that my day job remains a crushing burden for me, especially with regard to my personal projects (like writing). It means that I wear myself out for two days doing things that I would normally not even notice doing the next day.

I recommend not mentioning that you are tired. The only response from smug already-parents will be to point out how much more tired you will be when you are chronically sleep-deprived as a new parent. These statements piss me off, ESPECIALLY from men. You know what? I haven’t been there yet, so maybe they’re right…but where I *have* been in are situations like, oh, say, my last three semesters of college where I was averaging about 35 hours of studying after my classes and another 20 hours of actual work on top of that and somehow managing to party and see my friends and my boyfriend all the time. I managed this by getting about 6 hours of sleep every night for 18 months. I know what chronic exhaustion feels like, and I know what pushing myself to my physical limit feels like, AND IT IS NOT THE SAME THING AS WHAT BEING PREGNANT HAS DONE TO ME. There is a different kind of exhaustion to just being short of sleep and busy all the time than from not having the energy you should because your body is expending so much of its energy on an automated process you have no control over and cannot stop your body from spending its resources to do.

So all you can do, even once the horrific exhaustion of the first trimester wears off around week 14, is plan to be about 75% of the person you used to be. For me, alas, this has translated to putting day job first, husband and friends and family second, and any other ambition or hobby I have last. I should be using the last child-free months to write like mad. Instead I’m spending them wearing myself out at work physically and mentally and then mentally collapsing (if not physically anymore) the second I get home.

2. Now that you’re past the first trimester you won’t worry so much about something going wrong and can finally start to love your baby! Wrong. I am just not cut out for loving abstractions and likelihoods. Up till the 20-week anatomy scan turned up normal, there was every chance some medical deal-breaker could happen (any of the things the retard test scans for, severe deformation, etc. I was not going to deal with any of that.) Even after we got normal results, I have not felt a whole lot of certainty. I don’t feel uncertainty, either – I know that the likelier outcome is a baby – but there wasn’t some magical switch that flipped in my head like suddenly I’m having a baby and I get all excited about this specific baby. Eh. No. I’d be very sad if I lost it, but not devastated. It remains an abstraction.

Since I crossed the 24-week viability barrier, I have gone back to percentages. (The gone-back-to is from when I told my friends I was pregnant: I said I was 93% pregnant, bc that still allowed for the 7% of pregnancies that end in miscarriage between 6 weeks and 12 weeks.)  Starting with 24 weeks: I have 39% of a kid. I have 50% of a kid. I have 70% of a kid. Right now I have 90% of a kid…almost the same probability as a term pregnancy yields. So my baby has gone from a likelihood to a probability, and that is comforting. Perhaps I can finally let go of some of my emotional guards?

3. Feeling your baby move will be some special life-altering moment. No. For about a month I wasn’t even sure if what I was feeling was the baby, because the way it felt to me didn’t match the way it was always described (either, like a butterfly or like a gas bubble that never descends to become a fart). To me, the first movements felt like a muscle twitch – one of those involuntary spasms that you sometimes get in your thigh, or your cheek, or your eyelid. Maybe I’m a freak and no one else gets those or notices them. Most of the time the baby still feels like that when it moves, although the last week or two it’s gotten some good wallops in. Oh, and for a month or so some of the movements have felt like a tail whipping through liquid (okay, those are a bit weird). But even after I realized what I was feeling was definitely the babe, none of the movements have been either supremely beautiful sources of wonderment or extremely horrific alien sensations of some Thing that is not me being inside me. Just prosaic twitches that feel right at home with things I have felt many times before, or pops and twangs that are gone almost before I register them.

About the only part of the movement myth I agree with is that it is comforting to feel the baby moving and know with certainty vs. a lack of evidence otherwise that I have not accidentally killed it since my last appointment.

Things People Don’t Tell You About Trimester 2

4. The financial burdens of childbearing begin when you start having the regular 4-week appointments.

Maybe for some people this is not true. But I work a day job where I punch in and out on a time clock and get paid to the minute for the time I am on the job. My prenatal appointments are excused absences, but they are time I am not punched in on the clock. My OB, whom I selected because she is natural-birth focused and by all accounts the best advocate in the city for a natural birth no matter what the circumstance (breech, twin, VBAC, etc.), is worth the wait. But sometimes that wait is 3 hours in her office…plus, of course, commute time to and from my place of work. That’s a full half-day I sometimes miss for a routine check-in. WTF. It’s way too much time to make up on other days in my current state of tiredness (in fact some weeks I can’t even manage 40 hours without an appointment, yet another financial blow), and it frankly sucks. Nobody warned me about that.

5. Sitting at your desk at work becomes torturous. I always thought the middle trimester was supposed to be minimal in terms of physical symptoms – you’re over the morning sickness and not yet weighed down with 20+ extra pounds on your belly and back. Wrong! If you sit at a desk all day, no matter how much you have to get up and walk, your back will hurt. You will get stiff and arthritic. Oh, and you’re farting for two, which you can’t just let go of in an office, so your intestines will swell up and get tight and crampy since, inevitably, by the time you get to the bathroom the bubble has worked itself back up into your intestinal tract and won’t descend now that you’re in private.

6. Your co-workers will start to get oddly invasive of your personal space and philosophy. The first thing I think is weird is that co-workers want to know how you plan to deliver – if you’re going to induce, if you’re going to have an epidural, if you’re going to have your husband in the room with you. In the first place, why is it any of your business?, and in the second place, why are you asking if you’re only going to (1) smirk when I tell you I am planning on a medication- and intervention-free birth and say, “Yeah, you say that now” and (2) tell me your (or your wife’s) horror story about how awful and hard childbirth was. I guess it’s the culture of trying to prepare someone, but I personally find the whole “let me tell you our war story” pretty distasteful. It propagates fear of a natural process and sows seeds of doubt about whether you can make it through the experience without giving up and asking for help managing pain. I am not suggesting that I think childbirth will not hurt or that it will be easy, but I am not afraid of it, and I know that my mother did it twice, and I’ve always felt like if she can do it, I can do it (in terms of dealing with pain/trauma/endurance/etc.). But those are intensely personal feelings, and they are hard to articulate in a way that can convey my conviction to someone who/whose partner chose a different path. Inevitably that smugness creeps in, that “I’ve been somewhere you haven’t, and I know better than you what you’re up against.” No. You know what YOU were up against; you have no idea what I will be up against.

Beyond the philosophy, it’s kind of awkward and, again, intrusive, to hear stories about my male colleagues’ wives’ busted up vaginas and know that on some level my male colleagues are thinking about where mine will be in a few months.

Once you start showing, people around you also feel so free to make all kinds of comments/physical gestures they would never dream of doing if you were not pregnant. Everything from comments on how big you’re getting to how fast your belly is growing to actually reaching out to touch you when you do not have that kind of friendship. The weight comments just make you feel self-conscious, even though you swore to yourself you wouldn’t be bothered by the fact that you’re getting bigger – you’re pregnant, after all – maybe because they make you feel like some sort of freak. “Oh my God you’re that big already!? And you have 4 months to go?!” Well…guess what. If you’re not some skinny little petite thing who stays skinny with a round belly, or someone so fat you really can’t see an extra 20-30 pounds of belly, you’re going to get big. I don’t know if y’all (my readers) have seen Away We Go or not, but I am carrying like Maya Rudolph in that movie: my 6 months is someone else’s 8 1/2 months. And I’m watching both my overall weight and my backfat…it’s not me putting on weight. It’s baby and accouterments. Just how I carry, how the women in my family carry. But the comments about it make me feel…uncomfortable. They make me worry about how big I will get before the end.

But the comments don’t bother me nearly as much as the urge to touch my belly does. I am not a touch-feely person in general. I have a handful of people in my life with whom I am truly physically comfortable, but I do not extend touch casually, even to people I consider friends. Best friends only. And I find it offensive that I have to draw, sometimes rudely, boundaries around myself now that I would never have to draw if I were not (obviously) pregnant. Why is it that our culture seems to think it’s okay to touch and fondle the body of a pregnant woman whom we would not touch like that were she not pregnant? Unless you are one of the 5 people on this earth who could just come up to me and rub my belly under normal circumstances, you had better not fucking touch it now that it’s sticking out in front of me like a train engine. My belly is not community property. My body is not suddenly owned by society; it is mine, and just because I don’t have “no trespassing” signs posted doesn’t mean I am inviting everyone in the world to share my property.

I haven’t had an actual stranger accost me yet, but I’ve had to point out to at least one co-worker that I “don’t know you like that.” It wasn’t a big deal, but the fact that I had to say it at all is just weird and wrong.

A Few Other Observations

If you are a married INTJ, chances are you have a husband who is equally rational (anecdotally, most of the female INTJ’s I know or know of who are married are with other INTJ’s or INTP’s). This is both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, he has no expectations about things you should be feeling or wanting, so he won’t think you weird or insufficiently excited about your pregnancy for expressing any of the above opinions. On the curse side, if you have actual over-emotional episodes he may not deal with them particularly well…first, because it’s not who you normally are so he doesn’t know how to deal with you in that state, and second because he is skeptical of pregnancy actually causing that kind of symptom vs. women using it as an excuse. Oh, yes, we had that argument, where mine was basically like “I think you’re making up symptoms the media tells you you’re supposed to have.” Let me tell ya, it’s bad enough going through some of the weird things that stereotypically happen – even ones you thought you’d be safe from – without having someone suggest you’re trying to milk an excuse.

Overall at this point in my pregnancy I feel shockingly zen about everything. Maybe I am in denial about how much my life will change, or maybe I just have a better perspective because I still have not been struck by the baby-bug. We really haven’t done much to get the house ready…to acquire things for the baby…to change our space or routines. I dunno. I just feel like there are very few things you actually need with a new baby and an awful lot of things people want to try and sell you. The needs can be acquired in the last month, and the needs you can’t anticipate can be acquired at the point they become needs. About all we’re doing is saving money and talking about things we should research (like childcare providers). I am going to take a childbirth class, but I’m doing the two weekend afternoons version, not the 8- or 12-week prep class. I am just not that worried about it. Maybe my own ignorance and lack of preparation will slap me in the face later on…but that’s for Future Lily to deal with. Present Lily just wants to get through the goddamned week.

Three more months.

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1445 Words of Heaven

I would have titled this post “My Thinking About This Case Had Gotten Way Too Uptight,” except that I’ve already used that line for a post title. (Ironically, I have no idea what story I wrote that one about. I was so obscure I hid the answer even from my future self.)

I actually wrote today, for the first time this year with any amount of success, in part because I was trying to perform some positive procrastination (I am avoiding a sewing project with a deadline of next Saturday) and in part because I just effing felt like writing today. I’ve had a couple breakthroughs on stories in the last couple days, one major and one minor but both new and interesting and applicable right at the point where I had stopped working because I was either a bit stuck for what happened next or a bit bored with just playing out the scene in an expected way.

The “what happens next?” stuck was of long standing – over a year – and a non-romance story I wanted to pick up just to see if I was struggling to write because I was burned out on romance. I read back through everything and found myself obsessing over the corner I had painted my protag into. How did she get herself out of it? I could see no possible way to overcome the constraints of the situation, just as I hadn’t been able to a year ago. The difference was, I had lost any attachment to a particular narrative that might have blinded me back then. This time I let my imagination explore other paths, and the answer came to me within a week. I knew how she got out of the situation (with help rather than on her own), and the consequence of the rescue. Boom. Done. I wrote the opening scene of the newly conceived section this afternoon.

Then I switched tracks to what had been my NaNo project – the romance that I still don’t know much about beyond the ridiculously long prologue. (Seriously. The prologue is over 11,000 words as of today, and I still have about four scenes to write before it’s finished. Ridiculous.) I have gleaned a few glimpses into the hero and heroine later on, but the main arc remains elusive. I am still not sure how to burn down the barn, as it were. I did just make the bonfire a little brighter, though, and laid a reason for one of the subplots later. I wrote about 1100 words on that piece, all prologue, plus a few hundred more in notes and conversation sketches (sadly, all also part of the prologue).

It felt good to write. It feels good to sit here and feel like I accomplished something today. I hope I can do the same tomorrow. We shall see….

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On “The Death of Davy Moss,” Author Branding, and Nonexistent Recommendation Engines

Over the weekend I read The Death of Davy Moss by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. She brought it up in her article on branding, and her calling it out as a romance when it looks nothing like a romance intrigued me enough to look at the premise, the premise interested me enough to sample, and after I started the sample I knew I would buy and finish that same night. I was glad to have a KKR book speak to me enough to buy; I get a lot of insight and perspective from her business posts, and have looked at many of her books to buy in lieu of hitting the tip jar…but none were quite the right mood or premise for my tastes.

Davy Moss isn’t really my normal sort of reading (it’s contemporary, and it’s about a celebrity, of sorts, at least), but I liked the set-up in the description – it fit my reading aesthetic. And I loved it. I would like to read more books like it…and I have no idea what they are or how to find them.

Herein begins my discussion of the other issues from my post title.

First, author branding. One of the frequent discussions I see among indie/self-pub writers is whether to use one name for everything or a different name for each genre. A lot of writers write in more than one genre, just as most readers read in more than one genre. When I see the argument for “use one name and brand the books to their genres, and let the readers pick what they want” it resonates. I think, As a reader, I would want to know about everything my favorite writers published. As a writer, I think, It would be so awesome to have readers aware of every piece of my writing oeuvre. This was the argument that Kris was essentially making in her post. Reading that post, I agreed.

Then I finished Davy Moss. I wanted a similar book. First thought: what are KKR’s other romances?

I went to Amazon and searched her name, which brought too many results to sift through. She has many genres attached to her name in the Amazon results that I can narrow the search to, but romance isn’t one of them. Therefore, I had no idea how to find her other romances in that moment. Had I been on my laptop rather than my phone, I could have done an advanced search on Amazon or checked her website. Since I was on my phone, with its annoying mobile versions/limited screen, I found having to do anything more than a basic vendor site prohibitive. I did not buy another of her books that weekend.

This is the problem with being both prolific and multi-genre: if a reader is in the mood for one of the genres but not the others, having all of it mixed together is not going to result in an additional sale; it’s going to result in a pissed-off reader who buys someone else’s book because your 200-title catalogue is too hard to sort through.

Now, I have never been entirely comfortable with the suggestion of writing under 1 name for all genres when considering applying it to my own writing, simply because I know that while some readers will be interested in all the same genres I am, not all of them will be. For every reader of romance who likes fantasy there is another who doesn’t, and for every reader of fantasy who likes romance there is another who doesn’t, and I don’t serve 2 of the 3 fans in question by mingling both genres under one author brand (name). My thought has always been to either acknowledge pen names openly (one website with sub-domains, or state the AKA’s clearly in author bio) or to use variations of a name. My reading experience with Davy Moss reinforces that I do not want to use the exact same name for all genres, if I do write in others. However, in the interest of making them accessible to all readers, I think the answer is to use iterations of my name: Lily White LeFevre, Lily LeFevre, Lily Emily LeFevre, L. W. LeFevre, L. E. LeFevre, etc. Similar enough to pop up in a search/obviously be the same person but yet distinct names that searches can be limited to. This is what Iain (M.) Banks did, using his middle initial for certain types of his books but dropping it for others. It helps readers identify in a glance if this is the brand they are looking for.

Now, the second problem that came up reading Davy Moss and wanting another like it was unrelated to KKR’s catalog: I could not get a decent recommendation for ANYONE’S book that would be similar in content and tone. This lack of good recommendation engines for books has been discussed in many places at length. The basic problem, as I see it, is that no one has a vested enough interest in creating a database and/or analysis program for books the way Netflix or iTunes Genius or Pandora did for movies/TV and music. The project of tagging, categorizing, and describing a significant subset of books available is manpower intensive. It would require thousands of hours and clear rubrics for when something qualifies for a tag or category. Once a database of consistently applies tags is built, Boolean inquiries can get a reader to a manageable subset of books. For example, with Davy Moss I would have searched “contemporary” + “sweet” + “not inspirational” (aka Christian-oriented) to start with. If that turned up an unmanageable list I’d have added “character driven” and/or “not small-town” to the search.

Library catalogs attempt to do this – certainly the applied tags and categories are standardized, at least among Library-of-Congress-approved cataloging programs – but I personally find library searches to be clumsy tools that turn up too many results, especially in fiction (because the categories are strictly fact-based, and lack any subjective descriptors like “sweet” or “character-driven”). Google Books has a much more effective search for specific strings of words, but if you are looking to browse a swath of books it is too limited…great for research but, again, terrible for fiction browsing.

The really sad part, in my opinion, is that ebook distributors/retailers actually have a chance to crowdsource the tagging and categorization of books but have chosen not to standardize it or provide clear guidelines for either publisher- or reader-generated meta-data. Fanfiction communities have managed to create and adopt community-wide standards; it is entirely possible to accomplish…the site just needs to publish clear standards and perhaps a tag cloud of “official” terms. That way you don’t get variants like “steampunk,” “steam-punk,” and “steam punk” that should all show up under a search but wouldn’t, expressed three different ways, or “sweet” as a euphemism for either Christian or G-rated (in terms of violence, theme, and language) romance.

As a reader I hold hopes that a true recommendation/curation/limitation database will hit the consumer market and be open-source enough that self-published works can be included. As a writer I am focusing branding efforts on clarity for readers, so none of mine end up frustrated by not being able to identify which of my books they actually want to read.

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If Writing Isn’t “Fun” Then Why Do It At All?

One of the most annoying memes, to me, that pops up over and over again in writing circles is the notion that writing fiction is supposed to be “fun” and not some kind of “work” even when the goal is for writing fiction to be your day job. If the statement is an implied comparative (more fun than any other kind of work you could be doing), then I can’t disagree with it. But to suggest that if writing is not fun, then you shouldn’t do it is…asinine. The most recent place I’ve seen this is Dean Wesley Smith’s new year’s post about how to set goals and approach big projects in realistic ways. I admire Dean’s experience and work ethic, and I use him as an inspiration/kick in the pants motivational speaker (it would pretty much make my decade for him to talk about living in a van down by the river), but sometimes his point of view skews too far from my own for me to take seriously.

Writing being “fun” is one of those times. Writing is not always fun for me, and having fun is not my motivation for writing.

There are parts of the writing process that are extremely fun – my discovery process of figuring out what happens is generally one of them (although if I am on a time crunch it is not fun at all), but while that’s part of my writing process it’s not time I am actually writing, because I do not discover as I write, I write only after I have discovered. If I am just scene sketching something that popped into my head (usually a conversation or a really salient plot point or perspective), then writing is fun because it’s transcribing something already there and totally easy. When I actually write out scenes in long form, however, it’s a deliberate slog through a bramble-infested marsh most of the time. Every now and then I find a beautiful flow when the angel choir swells around me, but that’s the exception and not the rule. Editing satiates my sadistic side; perhaps that can go in the fun column, too. But generally? Writing time is not fun time; it is work time.

So if writing isn’t “fun” for me then why do I do it?

First, my motive for writing is twofold: to create a finished product that satisfies a personal reading/idea aesthetic no one else had yet to satisfy, and to remove the narrative/idea from my mind so something else can take its place. I suppose if I didn’t find it enjoyable I wouldn’t have kept at it this long, but while the exercise of a honed and cultivated skill is pleasurable it’s not necessarily fun.

Second, I think I am the sort of person who derives fun from completion or on the finished side of a project rather than on the creation side. None of my hobbies are processes I would call “fun” in the same way I would consider something like a concert or masking on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans fun. (Perhaps the only issue I take with the meme is that for me, fun = unadulterated existential enjoyment, not some brand of masochistic enjoyment?) What do I do besides write? I cook and bake. I cosplay. These days that’s about it. Cooking is not fun; eating the delicious result is! Sewing is not fun. It alternates between being hair-pulling problem solving and endless tediosity,  but wearing the result is fun. The harder I worked on something and the better I feel like I pulled it off, the more fun it is to wear. Writing is the same way. Planning is fun, execution is miserable, getting to read the story I executed to the best of my ability is fun.

Perhaps as a process writing could be arguably fun for me, but in the immediate moment of sitting there, “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”? It’s not, and thinking to myself that I should be having fun in that moment would just be an excuse to only write when the muse strikes (ironically one of the attributes DWS ascribes to “wannabe” writers in the same post). So burn that meme to ash if you see it, Targaryen style. Just because writing isn’t fun doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

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Looking Forward/Looking Back

2013 Year in Writing

Novels finished: 2

Stories started: 4

Previously started stories touched but not finished: 2

Stories started in calendar year 2013 finished: 0

Books published: 1

Estimated words written, new fiction: 100,000

All in all, not too bad for a year which continued the heavy workload at my day job and also saw my honeymoon, my first DragonCon cosplay crunch, the horrible and debilitating first trimester of my first pregnancy, and the continuing drain on my energy through trimester 2.

2014 in Perspective

I begin 2014 in a state of waiting.

My life is going to change forever sometime in mid-spring, and while part of me feels like I should be desperately working to achieve a few writing goals in the last months I am yet childless, the truth is…I do not have the energy or mental capacity to pursue any goal relentlessly. (The second trimester energy surge is a lie! A brutal lie told by true believers who are simply too un-self-aware to recognize that their energy is merely more than it was during the first trimester but nowhere near what it was before pregnancy! I, at least, have empirical data to prove that I am still only at 75% capacity.)

Now that the stress and flurry of tasks relating to publishing a book are almost done (in direct work, I need to send review copies out to the few bloggers who reviewed one of my prior books, as a thank you for those kind and/or instructive words as much as for particular hopes of more publicity…and I still have to re-do the covers and files for the Twelfth Night novellas), I am planning to refocus on writing. I think I will have to go back to doing it in the mornings before work–I’m just too drained after work to try in the evenings–and that will mean forcing myself to go to bed early, perhaps earlier than is really comfortable for me (8 o’clock versus 10).

I am setting a few goals for myself for the year.

  • finish A Yuletide Wedding (prequel/companion to A Christmastide Courtship)
  • revise the novel I finished last spring that I know needs so much work
  • write the 4 companion short stories/novellas that go with Courtship and the other novel, so I can close those loops in my imagination and move on to other character sets
  • finish one of the other novels I have started…either the one I was working on last summer and abandoned before DCon, never (yet) to go back to, or the one I started during NaNo that is still at the forefront of my imagination

Looking at expected word counts for the various pieces, this would put my desired production for the year somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 words – an eminently achievable goal if I can stay focused for the winter and early spring, and get back into the groove of writing not too long after the baby comes (preferably before I go back to work from maternity leave!). If the work were to be split evenly across 50 weeks of the year, that would be 3000-4000 words per week. Even splitting it across only 37 weeks (giving myself a full 15 off for baby) yields 4050-5400. Those are realistic weekly word goals, if I actually put my ass in the chair four or five days a week for an hour or two of focused writing time.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found more general resolutions to be better than really specific ones (goals are not the same as resolutions!). So this year I am giving myself only two, or really it’s maybe one and a half since the second is a reprise of my 2013 resolution:

Don’t panic.

Finish it.

Finish it

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