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Posts Tagged ‘shitty first drafts’

Yup. I’m off to New Orleans today to visit my in-laws, eat po’boys, and thaw out post-arctic cone of shame (or whatever it was called..)–that is, if the freezing rain in Brooklyn and thunderstorms in New Orleans don’t result in a cancelled flight 😉

I plan to spend the time at the airport and en route writing. Or, so I hope. This has been a frustrating week in the novel-drafting department. I’ve been spending hours sitting around thinking about my novel. About where it’s going. About what the next chapter is going to look like. About specific lines of dialogue and character dynamics.

Actual writing accomplished after all this thinking? Oh, about 300 words.

Gah.

I know thinking about writing is sometimes as important as putting pen to paper. But still, GAH.

Perhaps a change of scene will be the trigger I need to escape my own head. If not, I suppose I can drown my frustration in fried food and booze. It is, after all, New Orleans.

We shall see.

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Good morning!  It’s Leap Day!

Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on: Today I’m putting the finishing touches on the first three chapters of my newest novel, a secret project involving viruses, magic, and murder.  This 8k sample will be my submission for a writing workshop I’m attending in Dallas in March.  Here’s a sneak peak from Chapter One:

Snippet from the screen:  Aaron Rooney’s eyes bulged with dislike.  “You keep your mouth shut, you little freak, or I’ll have you up on charges.”

I was getting all ready to snarl back when Daniel settled his hand on my leg.  Time was I would have opened my veins right there, bathed the pickup with my blood, persuaded it to turn into a monster, and sent it chasing Sherriff Aaron Rooney all the way down to the Port Townsend ferry.  But that was before I’d met Daniel.  I took a deep breath.  

“Apologies, Sherriff.”  I tried to smile winsomely.  Problem was, I hadn’t felt winsome in about three years.

In my mug: It’s an English Breakfast type of morning, so naturally I’ve got a cold mug of green tea with honey.  Sigh.

On the iTunes: my playlist this morning features an eclectic mix of moody tunes.  Right now Solomon Burke is crooning “Cry to Me”; next up, “Losing my Religion” as sung by Dia Frampton.

Keeping me company: His Royal Highness, Sir Ramses the Displeased, has parked his majestic behind on my desk.  He insists on sitting on top of my mouse pad and mouse and biting me every time I attempt to dislodge him.  Please send help.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: an interesting read here, from Jody Hedlund’s blog, on the importance of story over perfection, the latest podcast from Writing Excuses, and three pudding recipes that are sure to make you fat (and happy).

How are YOU taking advantage of our temporal bonus this year?  What’s on tap for your Leap Day?

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I’ve been writing casually since 2004 and seriously since 2009.  In that time, I’ve written three novels (plus some short stories).  The first novel is a shiny mess I’ve relegated to the filing cabinet, the second is finished (well, except that I can’t stop tweaking it) and I’m shopping it, and the third is on its second round of revisions.  Pretty much the only thing these three books have in common is the fact that when I first sat down and wrote the initial drafts I did very little organized planning.

Oh, I’d worked out the basics of the plot and done some character development and so on and so forth.  But, in essence, I took a deep breath, dove in, and let the story unfold.  Basically, I pantsed the first draft of each novel.  As a result, each came out in fits and starts, with lots of backtracking and reworking, and plenty of “oh, I should do THIS” going on.  For the second draft of each novel I had to knuckle down, rip the first draft into the birdcage fodder it was, and more or less re-plot the entire thing.  It was fine.  I’m happy (more or less) with where each novel has ended up.  But maybe, just maybe, it was time to try something new.

So I’ve spent the last 8 months doing exactly that.

Yesterday was the dawn of a new era.  I sat down to begin drafting my fourth novel, a novel I had (wait for it) plotted, outlined, world-built, and character developed in detail, in advance.  In fact, for the better part of a year I’ve been working on the ideas, places, conceit, and characters behind this novel.

Did it make a difference?  So far the answer is a resounding YES.

Sitting down to finally start writing was like opening the kennel door and letting a pack of vicious, feral dogs who’d been fed nothing but blood loose on the page.  To borrow a rather crude phrase, they tore that shit up.  I didn’t have to write a sentence, sit there, scratch my head, ask “how would the protagonist react to this?”, scratch my head some more, and then write another sentence.  Instead, the words were flowing.  I knew exactly what the protagonist would do.  Her voice has been battering around inside my head, growing louder and louder, for months now.  I could close my eyes and see every detail of her surroundings and every nuance of her supporting characters’ thoughts and actions.  I knew where she was going, what she was doing, and (most importantly) why.

It was, in a word, awesome.

There were still surprises.  Of course there were.  My fingers still lay down words I wasn’t expecting to write and I still encountered scenes where I had to go back and revise because what I’d written was taking the characters in the wrong direction.  Even with a good outline, it’s still writing and it’s still hard.  Nevertheless, the difference was substantive and satisfying.

So, I may have become a come-to-Jesus plotter.  We’ll see how it goes in the long haul, but for now I have to say that putting in all that development work upfront has given the first chapter of the first draft significantly more richness and complexity than any other first chapter first draft I’ve ever written.  I’m hoping that, down the line, it will also mean fewer major overhauls of the plot.  Only time (and my outline) will tell.

So that’s my testimonial as a born-again plotter.  How about the rest of you?  Any experience switching from pantsing to plotting, or vice versa?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  tomorrow is the first day of the semester for me (eek!) and I still have an appalling amount of course prep to do, but I’m trying to sneak a little writing in as well.  I’m working on crafting the final chapters of ABSENT (yay!), which means the draft will soon be done and revisions can begin.

Snippet from the screen:

“Emily glanced down at the old photograph.  It showed five people, all dressed in 1920’s style clothing.  Two men stood against the exposed face of an excavation trench, bands of stratigraphy clear behind them.  Panama hats shaded their faces from the sun and one had a pipe clenched between his teeth.  But Emily’s eyes were drawn to the two women seated on the ground.  One of them was thin and regal and had her head turned away, as if she was looking at something out of frame.  The other stared straight at the photographer.  Emily gasped.  The woman gazing out of the picture looked exactly like her.

     “So you see it, then?” Reid asked.  He sounded relieved.  “It’s not just me?”

     Emily nodded, slowly.  “This woman could be my twin.”

     “And the man, the one standing to the left of the pipe-smoker?” 

     Emily held the photo closer, narrowing her eyes to try and make out more details.  “My god,” she whispered.  “That’s you.”

One the iTunes: I’m chillin’ to the sounds of silence today.

In my mug: Numi Aged Earl Grey, hot and steaming.

Out the window: in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the Brooklyn streets are slick and filled with debris.  Our neighborhood got a lot of rain and a little wind, but avoided any flooding and downed trees.  After all the build-up and waiting, this felt at once like a let-down and a relief.

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses enjoyed all the extra attention he got this weekend (some friends who were forced to evacuate stayed with us during the “storm”), but now he has to catch up on his snoozing and loafing about.  No worries, though — he’s a professional loafer.

I’m pretty busy today, so no time for procrastinatory links!  Sorry.  Feel free to share some of your own in the comments, though.  And let me know what you’re up to today.  Writing goals, anyone?

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Another month, another monthly run-down.

1. I’m happy to say that June saw me bring the thunder on my rough draft of ABSENT.  I hammered out nearly 25,000 words this month.  Most of those words were of the craptastic variety, but as Chuck Wendig has rightly said: the draft is for writing the words, the revision is for making the words not suck.  I’m almost done with the novel, but finishing it will have to wait until I return from the field in mid-July.  As will the aforementioned ‘making it not suck’.

2. I started a new short story this month–a steampunk/horror mashup set during the Second Seminole War that focuses on skull collectors and the nefarious uses they put to their macabre prizes.  It’s threatening, though, to turn into a novel on me.

3. I’ve got 5 other shorts, plus BLOOD RED SUN, out to markets and agents.  Lots of waiting on that front.  World-building and outlining on my urban fantasy novel has stalled; set aside in favor of trying to finish ABSENT.  I hope to return to that in July.

4.I did a bundle o’beta reading this month: one novel for my crit partner, Eric, which I finished, and another that I’m halfway through.  In addition, I did three short story crits this month.  All told, I read and critted well over 180,000 words in June.

5. Even with all that beta reading to do, I managed to squeeze in a fair amount of pleasure reading, making my way through Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (a re-read), The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, Hexed by Kevin Hearne, The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

6.  School’s out, so no day job to weigh me down.  Ah, lazy, lovely summer.

7. In the travel department, I journeyed to Miami to visit a friend and am off tomorrow to Honduras to work on my archaeological field project.

So, June was busy, as every month seems to be, but it will pale in comparison to what’s coming down the pike in July.  I’ve got the aforementioned archaeological expedition for the first half of the month, then a trip up to Boston to attend Readercon, and then the hubby and I are moving into the apartment we’ve just bought.  So, deep breath….here we go!

How was your month?

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I’ve reached a point in the first draft of my novel “Absent” where I’ve had to stop and ask myself:  is this absurd, or is it brilliant?

It’s not a question of shitty first drafts, in which you give yourself permission to suck in order to plow ahead and finish the wretched thing.  The quandary I’m talking about is a different animal altogether.  With a shitty first draft, you know the story is a mess.  You recognize its awfulness and choose to ignore it for the time being.  What I’m experiencing is a complete inability to objectively assess whether the story I’m telling is laugh-out-loud ridiculous or utter genius.

In all probability, it’s somewhere in between.  The fact that I’m incapable of determining this, however, makes me nervous.  I’m usually pretty good at working out whether a story has potential or not.  And while I can step back and identify certain structural problems with the unfolding of the narrative, point to places where character development is inconsistent or where plot holes might be forming, I just can’t  suss out if this damn novel works or not.

This has happened to me once before, and looking back I think I’ve nailed down a possible culprit.  In both cases, when I couldn’t determine if the story worked or not, the underlying problem was a scientific improbability I was struggling to make seem plausible.

In the case of “Absent”, the improbability is time travel.  In the other example (a short story still languishing in a file folder) it was near-future space travel.

Speculative fiction is all about creating worlds where the improbable (and often impossible) seem real.  The trick is to avoid obvious hand-waving in making your speculative elements believable.  I think I have a tougher time doing this with sci fi than with fantasy.  Upon reflection, I suspect this is due to a lack of confidence.

Unlike anthropology (a discipline I think lends itself particularly well to the creation of fantasy-based worlds), science has never been my forte.  Even when I engage focused research on a specific scientific topic, I come away feeling tentative and unsure of my efforts to spin it into a believable speculative world.  This insecurity is surely transmitted when I craft the plot and write the story, calling attention to itself like a big red winter nose.

To solve my problem, I know I need to simply keep at it, to dig in harder with my research and read and dissect more science fiction novels to see how they succeed where I fail…assuming, of course, that a lack of confidence and practice are my problems.

As I write this, it strikes me that another element in the mix might be basing a story in the real world and inserting just one speculative element in it (as opposed to creating a largely speculative world).  Getting readers to accept a world just like ours except for this one, single, crazy thing might be much harder than selling them on a completely speculative world.  Perhaps I haven’t yet accrued sufficient writerly skill to pull this off.  In which case, practice and study still seem like the appropriate route forward.

So, has this happened to anyone else?  Have you ever started into a novel or short story only to realize halfway through you’ve got NO IDEA if it’s working or not?  And, if so, why do you think it happens?

Tell me I’m not alone in this…please!

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Congratulations!  You’ve had a genius idea for a story.  You’ve even managed to get it all written down, more or less in order.  You’ve gone over it once or twice, tweaking the wording, deleting pesky adverbs and restructuring awkward paragraphs.  You went so far as to print it out, read it aloud, and fix everything that sounded stupid.

Awesome! You’re ready for feedback.

No, I’m sorry my friend, but you are not.

get out your editor's pen!

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way several times.  It’s natural, of course, to finish up a newly drafted story and want instant feedback.  Or, worse yet, to want to cross “submit to market” off your to-do list.  Natural, but a big mistake.

A better strategy is to set that story aside.  Forget it exists.  Do this for a minimum of a week, two if you can bear it–solitary confinement in the filing cabinet.  Then pull it back out and give it a read.  Chances are the first line will strike you as horrible.  If you make it to the third paragraph you’ll probably have found at least five instances of “that” you can cut.  You may have also realized nothing happens on the entire first page.

Crap.

This is why patience is a virtue.  Draft.  Set aside.  Revise.  Repeat.  Then send it out to your writer’s group.  Only then will your story be at a point where higher level feedback will be valuable.  Plus, your writer’s group will thank you for doing the extra revisions 🙂

This one is always hard for me.  I love my new stories (after all, their newness makes them awesome by default).  They’re like perfect newborn ducks, fluffy and delicate.  I want to send them into the world so that everyone can see how amazing they are, how brilliant.  But I’m too close to them to recognize their awkwardness or see that they aren’t yet capable of swimming, let alone flight.  Maybe, just maybe, if I nurtured and fed them and waited for them to grow a little they might not get eaten by the neighborhood dog.

Just sayin’.

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