Writing is Rewriting

Excuse the language (or don't), but his words are true ... for me at least.

My first drafts are written quickly, and just for myself and my beta-reader. I tend to know my stories so well by the time I begin writing that I leave out chunks that readers will need; leading to fixed/rewritten/finished products that are longer than my first drafts. Other writers (like Stephen King) often go the other way, writing too much in first drafts, and ending with stories that are much shorter than the rough drafts initially were.

First drafts are messy incomplete and certainly lacking in polish, but they serve a number of important purposes.

I write my first drafts as fast as possible, on purpose. In the summer I write my novels over the course of a month, during either July or August; during the school year, I carve out chunks of time to write novellas and other, shorter, works during short bursts of frenzied typing.

Before my fingers get to work on the keyboard of my laptop, I will have been working on my plans for the story over the course of weeks or months ... mapping things out, and getting to know the characters and setting and story arc.

Once I begin typing, I try to let my knowledge of the story carry me along, and when things are working perfectly, am just listening to the characters tell me what happens.

When the rough draft is finished, my fingers are tired, my brain is fried, and I'm left with a mess of words ... exposition and dialogue jumbled together, with too much in some places and not enough in others.

The important thing is that I've told myself the story ... I can/will/do polish it later.

It sounds trite, but the worst novel sitting on your desk, printed and red-markered and post-it-ed to death, is a thousand times better than the novel that exists only in your dreams. Once you've written something - anything - you can set it aside for a bit, share it with a trusted reader, take look at it yourself, and then try to figure out what you need to do to the monstority in your hands to get it from where it is to where you want it to be ... what you want it to say/mean/evoke.

If you can write it, you can fix it and eventually make it great. If you're brave enough to write, and share, and look at, and edit your own stuff, then you can produce quality writing ... you cannot, however, skip the first, crappy, draft, in the process.

So write, even knowing that it may be, will be, horrible the first time ... write!

Rewriting your stuff is hard work at every step.

I am so happy with, and proud of, my first drafts, seeing my ideas enter the world for the first time is magical; then my beta-reader points out their shortfalls and deficiencies, and I wonder why I bothered. A bit of time to lick my psychic wounds, along with some honest reflection (and a read-through of the story) always ends up with me agreeing with the beta-reader. I then work, sometimes with her, sometimes on my own, to try and figure out how best to share the story and feelings in my head with readers.

I chop and prune and graft and add words/sections here and there throughout the story, and give it back to my reader to see if we're getting closer. I often have to 'fix' sections of my stories multiple times before it reads the way that I imagined it to my beta-reader and me.

It can be intensely frustrating, to feel your work, out there, just over the horizon, needing something to land it as a successful story, but that's the job.

"Writing" isn't just writing ... it's writing and sharing and reading and troubleshooting and rewriting and rereading and analyzing and rewriting and polishing and trimming and editing.

Mostly, writing is rewriting.




Story Drift in Process

I'm in the middle of writing a short story for an anthology to be published by a group of Indie writers I hang out (hide) with in a private group on Facebook. It's different, experimental even, and loads of fun to write.

The setting and characters and conflict and story-arc are radically different from the style and stuff that I usually write, which is part (most) of the point for me. Writing in under 10k words is much tighter than I'm used to, meta-fiction is a whole new thing for me, and I'm purposely coloring outside of the lines as regards my regular process.

The cool thing (or one of them) is that it's working ... the story is coming together in an interesting way, I'm enjoying the unusual and somewhat unlikable cast of scoundrels, and it all feels as though things are working together in a way that will make people scratch their heads, look up at the ceiling, and think (in a good way).

The surprise for me is that although I had envisioned a story with some reversals and twists, the words and scenes coming out on my laptop are not what I saw when looking down the road ahead of my flying fingers. The story is changing as the characters grow to fill, and then escape the corrals in which I originally housed them.

This story (which I hope to finish this week through the application of a few stolen hours here and there), is schooling me on what the writing process actually is, and what my role is in the creative process.

When complete, my hope is that the story will imply more than it tells, suggest more than it states, and leave readers peeking around the corner of the final page ... hoping to see what comes next for Richard and Pepper.

I've been having a blast, and as is true for every word I write, I feel that working on this story makes me a better/stronger writer regardless of the actual final product I'll serve up to readers sometime early in the new year.




Seeing my writing from another person's point of view

 I love talking with, or hearing from, people who have read my writing ... and not just to feed my massive ego either (although, to be honest, that's a part of it).

I love hearing about their experience with my words and thoughts and the people and place who live and exist in my stories.

I am continually fascinated by the complex interplay between reader and writer and story. Having only switched from the reading side of the equation pretty recently, I am always fascinated by the way readers interface/interact with my stories, and to hear their reactions to the things that happen between the covers.

I write to let the words and stories out, to share how I feel with the world (or at least the small portion of the world that reads my stuff), and to imagine worlds and people and problems that otherwise would only exist in my mind. In this manner, I get to experience life twice, but when talking with someone who has read my work, I get a third crack at life ... albeit from a slightly different angle.

When you stop to think about it, reading and writing and the sharing of stories is magic, but it is so often seen that we take it for granted ... like the agility and grace and beauty of grey squirrels in the park.

I have a special feeling every time a piece of my writing is released into the world, knowing that whatever I had in mind for it, the story is now in the hands of readers who will experience it differently ... each of them from the others, and all of them from me.

This morning, I listened to the first 20 minutes of my first novel, "Here Be Monsters" as an audiobook, and it felt entirely new to me (although I've read the book a number of times since first writing/publishing it). The voice talent is superb, and breathes a new and different life into the story with his spectacular reading of Tyler Cunningham's first full-length mystery.

This actor's superpower is to transport the audience (in this instance, just me, but in a few months, hopefully many more people as well, I hope) with his reading. 

My superpower (and it's relatively unimportant how super it is) is to change thoughts into words, which can later be turned back into thoughts and dreams.

Your superpower, as reader (or listener), is to take the written (or spoken) word, and transform it into spectacular picture shows in your mind's eye.




My 7 Rules for Writing

I finished writing and editing my third full-length novel this weekend, so it may well be time to throw my hat in the ring as regards a set of rules for writing. 

In the last three years I've written and polished hundreds of thousands of words of fiction in novels, novellas, short stories, and poems; so I feel comfortable offering my rules for writing ... that is not to say that they'll work for you, but they have, and continue to work for me (so read on, or click elsewhere). 

W. Somerset Maugham was at once right and wrong, joking and serious, in his assertion ... nevertheless, there are many lists of rules that have worked for great writers, and over the years I've come up with a similar set that seem to work for me.

As the pirate said ... take anybody's rules, including (especially?) mine with as much salt as you feel will help your writing.

Rule #1: Read lots of great stuff

The biggest contributor to my being a writer is a lifetime of reading. I have always read anything that grabbed my eye, and make a point of reading everyday (I think this is more important than writing everyday). Fill your brain with great books and articles and novellas and poems and textbooks.

Rule #2: Write the kind of stories that you want to read

If you can picture yourself as a willing and enthusiastic audience for the stories you're writing, you're halfway to success (well, not really halfway, but it's a good start). Assuming that you're a lifelong and voracious and discriminating reader (see Rule#1, above), you'll have a good target audience.

Rule #3: Write fast, edit slow

I'm a big believer in writing a first draft as fast as you can, without worrying about getting it right the first time through. The first draft is telling the story to yourself (and your first reader). There will be plenty of time to take plenty of time when you are fixing and polishing the story in later drafts, but the first draft is a good place to hurry.

Rule #4: Keep your dialogue simple & direct & spare

What the characters are saying should carry the dialogue in your writing, not how the writer says it ... to that end, you should generally use 'said' when characters said something, and try not to modify 'said' with an adverb describing how they said something (let what they said speak for itself).

Rule #5: When in doubt, use less description

I think nothing bogs a good (or even a great) story down like too much detail. It's important for you, as the writer, to know everything about the scene, setting, and every single character in the story ... but it's your job not to burden readers with all of those details; only the ones absolutely needed to advance the story.

Rule #6: Trust your beta reader ... and yourself

When the first draft is finished, give it to someone you respect and trust (and think is at least as smart as you are) to read. They'll be able to see through the crapiness of your rough work to the framework/skeleton of your story. Trust them to know what works and what doesn't, what you need to expand and prune and move/graft; just don't trust them to know how to fix it ... that's your job, and is author-magic.

Rule #7: Work hard at writing, but know when to walk away from the table

Writing fiction is hard work ... anyone who tells you otherwise is promoting their course or book or simply hasn't done it. The way you become a better writer is to write and write and write. The flip side of that is knowing, as a writer, when you are heading towards burnout and brain-melt ... that's the time to take the dogs for a walk, watch a movie with your kid, start a new book/article, or go camping for a couple of days.

Bonus Material!!!
Rule #8: Start, keep writing, and finish your writing

Rule #8 is a combination of the previous seven rules, but is worth mentioning anyway ....

My rules for writing can help you produce a great book, but only if you start, keep writing, and push through to finish your book.

You have to be willing to take a chance on making a fool of yourself, writing crap, and disappointing your mom ... if you can live with those things, and just keep putting one word after another, you'll eventually get to:



9 Super Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing!

Everybody, every writer, has days (or weeks ... sometimes months) when the words and ideas just don't want to come, or flow. A sane person might take this as a sign that they should find some other calling, but writers are driven to get past the slump/block/lull.

I have a bunch of tricks that I use to force myself through the tough stretches, and figured that roughly a week into NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to share them. Explore, enjoy, and feel free to ignore any of them that either don't work for you, or don't appeal (although why not give it a shot, if I you're bogged down).

If I can't write something worth reading, I try to get up and out and do something worth writing about ... a walk in the woods with my dogs, a paddle on a quiet pond with my son, winter-camping with friends, or exploring a ghost-town with dogs/boy/buddies ... all of these make worthwhile breaks from failing at writing, as well as providing good fodder for future fiction.

I have an idea book, and also an app on my iPhone, and I try to have one or both of them with me wherever I go (and whatever I do), just in case an idea strikes and I (wisely) decide not to trust myself to remember it.

I also use them for journaling when I'm having trouble getting my writing started ... this may seem funny (it does to me, and it's me), that I write to help my writing when I can't write, but it's true. I start by writing about my day, my plans for the weekend, the shopping list for recipes that I want to try, and before long a creative thought wanders into my brain and (sometimes) onto the paper, priming the pump for less list-y writing.

I'm generally too much the introvert to be much good in/at face-to-face creative writing classes, but I do enjoy finding this sort of group online, and spend a fair amount of time talking with the people in them for the simple reason that they're crazy in many of the same ways that I am. Sharing my thoughts and problems and hopes and dreams and ideas and plans with a population in similar circumstances is a great way to keep my writing output 'regular' and/or act as a healthy dose of creative-writing fiber (to push the metaphor just slightly too far) to get my head/writing unplugged. 

If your significant other comes home, or your parents call, and they find you asleep on the couch, feel free to tell them that I said it was OK ... it won't help, but might give you time to think of something better to say.

I often find that if I run into a roadblock in my writing, that taking a break, sometimes in the form of a short nap, gives the minions in the back of my head the time they needed to figure things out ... this will often allow me to start writing again much more productively than I could have before my nap.

I don't think that it has anything to do with being tired, but is much more about focus and relaxation in problem-solving.

When all else fails, I read. Reading has been a constant source of comfort and refuge and inspiration for me, since long before I became a writer. I generally have a number of books going at any one time, and switch back and forth between them as the mood strikes me.

Besides offering your brain a chance to disconnect from the stress of creative output, reading also (hopefully) provides good exemplars for the sort of work you'll focus on once you're done reading.

I drink coffee when I write ... lots of coffee. I don't do this because I'm tired, lacking sleep, or need to wake up; I do it because the stimulation, the altered state of my consciousness, helps my writing process. 

If the flow of my writing is blocked or slow, I generally stop to stretch and make another cup of coffee (maybe two).

I have worked over the years to perfect the proper level of caffeination ... too little and the words stumble over my conscious self on the way out of my brain, too much, and I'm jittery and the writing comes out fast and loose and messy. 

I will switch to Coca-Cola on hot days, although the sweetness bothers me in the quantities I like/need to drink. 

Sometimes during extreme word-stoppages or when I'm almost done with writing for the day I adulterate my coffee (or coke) with bourbon, which gives both my writing and my caffeinated beverage an interesting flavor.

Writers tend to spend most of their time in one camp of the other when it comes to pre-writing and organization ... I'm an architect, a planner, I like working off of a general plan or roadmap. When I get stuck or stopped in my writing, though, I will often take a hard turn off the map and into the unknown.

The shift will generally jog whatever was jammed loose, and eventually allow me to get back to the story I had planned to tell. Similarly, I would recommend that someone who tends to write by the seat of their pants, but finds themselves temporarily without either seat or pants should try laying out the next few scenes that they want to write in meticulous detail ... whether or not you/they follow through is unimportant, when compared to the hoped-for benefit to your writing of the forced shift in procedure.

During the last few years of writing, I've found a couple of tricks that work for me to help 'tip myself over and let the beautiful stuff out' (as Ray Bradbury puts it). I noticed them working by accident, and while these particular ones may or may not work for you, if you pay attention over time, you'll learn the things that let you tip yourself over.

Going for a drive the window open enough to fill my car with the smell of the world passing by is one. Another is walking with a camera in my hand, looking for pretty things to take pictures of. Experimental cooking (exploring new/weird foods/flavors from the market or the depths of my pantry) also seems to tweak whatever is needed to jostle my brain enough to let spill some of the good stuff when creative writing is tough to do.

The tips above mostly deal with things that I do (to) myself in order to get things moving in a creative sense, but sometimes I can take a hand in things by forcing a change in the story I'm working on. 

Everyone knows that 'bad decisions make good stories', but perhaps even more important and interesting is the lesson learned from (or at least offered in) the quote above. 

Have a character in your story exhibit bad (even horrific) judgment in some instance that takes place within or outside of the context of your story. The events surrounding their poor judgment will often make for an interesting sidebar, and may even help you understand/form/develop the character (and/or your story) in ways you hadn't imagined previously.

I hope that these tips can help you to climb out of a writing slump, and to keep pushing through to your writing goals for the day/week/month/year!