on rewriting

David Gerrold wrote a book called ‘Worlds of Wonder’, focused on fantasy and science fiction writing. I enjoyed reading it– he had a very friendly style, and it was easy to empathize with him… especially once he started out by telling a story about how a terrible writing professor told him he wouldn’t amount to anything in the field, and his first published works were inspired out of rage. This isn’t of course to say that I agreed with everything in his book, but two of the points he made stuck with me, which is fairly good considering I’m an overly critical skeptic.

I’ll paraphrase his sentiment.

The first million words are for practice. Don’t worry. It doesn’t count. Practice writing your book. Practice editing it. Practice sending it out. Don’t worry. You’re just practicing. Practice receiving rejection letters. And if someone is foolish enough to publish one of your practice novels, that doesn’t mean anything either. Practice cashing that check. After those first million words, then you can start taking yourself seriously.

Perhaps this is something personal, perhaps not. I found this passage extraordinarily liberating, probably because I get anxious before I start writing or drawing. Am I starting in the right place? Is this really the way I want to present this? I have such a hard time shutting my inner editor up. NaNoWriMo was one of the best things I’ve done– it let me finish the 0-draft of my book, with the knowledge that I would be going back and rewriting everything. Like doing small thumbnail sketches in art, the terrible, rushed version still told me where I was going, what elements I would be using. I got out a blank sheet of paper for the second version and rewrote it more concisely, longer, emphasizing some of the right details. And I’m planning on starting almost entirely from scratch a second time before I get into editing the prose itself. I need to get all the elements correct first before I start polishing my piece. And I might be overly optimistic, but I think my writing is getting stronger with each pass.

Don’t worry. It doesn’t count. It’s just for practice.

I’m going to make this book shine.

writing craft, a list

I decided to make a short list of the essays on writing and blogs that made me really think about this field. I only picked out a few of the sixty-five writers I follow (and I disagree with every one in at least one small way). Hopefully these will be useful.

E.E. Knight’s Journal has over a dozen useful links to craft essays that he’s written. His April Fools Day joke post on writing is also twitch-worthy.

Full Throttle and F**k It – A slightly less than polite title, but Steve Malley has written some of my favorite articles on craft. Especially worth reading are his comments on sequel (not a second-in-the-series sequel, but the follow-up to a scene to ensure smooth flow), and the post on how the body reacts to sudden and persistent dangers has been a great help.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, by J.A. Konrath. While most of the advice is down-to-earth and practical, I find myself bristling at some of his comments about letting genre standards define what you write and not breaking out of the box. This may be why I’m in fantasy…

Paper Cuts! Glorious Paper Cuts!, by Elizabeth Jote (a literary agent). Brutal, funny, and usually advocating good sense and common courtesy. (If ever there was a longer way of saying ‘don’t be an idiot’…)

The Life of a Publisher, by Echelon Press Publishing. Informative, and a good industry reference.

Are there any really stellar craft-journals that I might have missed? Feel free to post your favorites; I’m always looking for more sources.

finishing chapter one

The second rewrite of my first chapter has just been completed. It’s much stronger, the setting is firmly in place, it’s terribly long (7,500 words), it sparks with tension, and it just may be the best thing that I’ve ever written. I am thrilled, exhausted, and slightly terrified, because I’ve printed out copies for my four test readers. Once they finish, it goes to my writing critique group. I am now ready to continue with the first rewrite, with has languished for the last few days while I’ve slogged on this piece. Expect my word count meter to start climbing again soon.

I will say this much. Wyrren Jadis is an amazing character. I’m terrified that I’m going to handle her badly. She’s frustrating to direct, stubborn, impossible to express. But when I can use her correctly, she outshines them all.

I love this book.

writing chapter one

I’ve been writing the second draft (third version) of that first chapter prematurely to give to the artist I’ve mentioned. It’s gotten me thinking of what a really good first chapter is meant to accomplish, what it should contain ideally. What I’ve come up with is a bit different than what I’ve seen other writers discuss on craft, and I thought that I’d share.

Everyone talks about ‘hooks’. … You know what? Forget the hook. Forget the clever first line. You’re not working on a magazine ad. Write material that’s gripping and worth reading, something that starts strong and dives in without waiting for permission from the reader. Let your skill be a ‘hook’.

I say this because so much stress is always put into those first few lines, and all it’s done for me is to feel like some sort of gimmick. The purpose of the hook is very valid! But going out of your way to write a good ‘hooking statement’ rather than working on the composition of the book and chapter itself seems too much like a facade of elegance, a layer of costume cosmetics, and I think emphasis on this is misleading. First learn to convey an idea.

For this project, setting was drastically important. ‘Blue Crystal’ is so much unlike any other fantasy story that I’ve ever read. I worked hard to keep the setting and idea original. It’s worked. But it also means that people just coming in won’t know what to expect, and for that, establishing the setting (place, people, customs) is vitally important. If it were just another generic fantasy I’d stick in a dwarf and set it in a bar. No description needed. Everyone and their assorted relatives could fill in the details while multitasking. Excuse me while I shiver.

The first chapter should also hint at all the other elements that will be used in the book, not only the mechanisms, but also the scenery and themes. The reader should know what kind of story this is, and establishing everything well in advance means that you have very clear boundaries on why the hero is very restricted in certain ways, that he can’t just ‘solve’ his problems with magic. Just find a realistic way to accomplish this– don’t become a contortionist writer for a few paragraphs to show things off. Fine a way to make them work.

I’m almost done with the chapter, and unlike much of my craft I’m actually very pleased with it so far. It’s starting to come into focus.

grey, by jon armstrong

There are probably a dozen things I love and admire about this novel, so I’d thought I’d take a moment to share some of my thoughts on the book.

The contrast is lovely. It’s everywhere you look around the book: the main characters wear gray (grey?) in an over-garish, over-sexed, obscene, vulgar world that feels like an embellishment of Hollywood-weirdness, and there’s a definite fight for modesty and good taste against their culture. It marks the dividing line between the protagonists and antagonists. Similarly, in a world where having sex in public is actively indulged in, lauded, the main characters have a real love without ever having touched each other. The novel makes a huge distinction between love and lust, and the understated intimacy is deeply romantic. It drives the story.

The plot is gripping. There’s no down-time, no wasted speech, no preaching. Each scene is a logical follow-up of the last, and I never struggled through any passages. Everything that happened seemed logical and sequential. It is, however, highly stylized. I can understand if the narrative isn’t for everyone– for instance, characters and places tend to be described by fashions because that’s what the hero notices. He’s very speculative, and he likes imagery, and though sometimes the magazine he loves seems overly ‘artistic’ and full of hidden meanings, again the contrast with the rest of the culture really does make it sound appealing.

My favorite stories are the ones that make me think. They leave me mulling over the events afterward like a fine dinner in a nice restaurant. This one accomplished that, and though I found this as a free downloadable e-book, I’m eager to buy it so it can find a nice home on my shelf. I’ll see if I can order it from my bookstore. If that fails, Nightshadebooks.com has it, and I’m no stranger to buying books online.

It’s also given me several ideas about how to better convey culture in my own writing. Color me inspired.

writer’s blogs

I’ve come across a post on E. E. Knight’s journal that happens to mention the urls of a number of other working fantasy authors’ blogs. So I’ve taken down the names, added them to the rss feeds that I’ll be following for a bit, and I’ll keep or delete them as I go through the list.

This is what I generally look for when I browse writer’s blogs: craft tips, but not ones that smack of a lecture– I hate hard-and-fast rules (the words Show, Don’t Tell make me twitch); experiences though the publication process, what to expect, what to look out for; personal struggles with specific craft/character/plot problems while working on a book, because it makes me feel as though I’m not alone and because I like to see how people work through these problems. I suppose that when you add all these up, what I’m looking for is a virtual mentor, someone who will neither preach at me nor whine for attention. Someone who I’d actually read, and admire at least one aspect of their style. I haven’t actually gotten to picking out E. E. Knight’s books, but his page has a nice, approachable tone to it, he’ll reply back to commenters, and he actually has a number of posts on craft that can make me stop and consider what he has to say, even if I don’t always agree completely.

Here’s hoping for the next batch of journals. I’ll keep things posted.