A to Z Challenge: Junk

If you’re a new kid, this thing you need to know about writing will probably take you by surprise. Unless you’ve been hanging with us old hands for a while, you’re probably buying into one of two myths. Or, if you’re really warped, both.

The first myth:

Really good writers only ever write one draft. 

The second myth:

My words are perfect and anyone who tries to say otherwise is just plain wrong. 

Warped version:

Really good writers only ever write one draft. I’m a good writer, therefore my words are perfect and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong. 

I can see the old hands nodding. We all know the guy.

DO NOT BE THAT GUY. 

Oh, you are that guy? Sit down, kid, or your plot bunnies get it.

Yes, dear, I love your plot bunnies with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. *makes slurping sounds*

Ahem.

So here’s the truth:

Your first draft will be junk. Your second draft will suck a little bit less. Once you’ve revised, your manuscript will look better. And it will keep looking better with every successive round of edits you put it through.

And then, when you’ve polished it until you’re proud of your baby and you can see your reflection in it, you’ll publish it.

And you, or someone else, will find a typo somewhere. 

In other words: You’re human, and therefore, nothing you create will ever be completely perfect. If you think your story is, you’re either delusional, or you’ve been editing so many times that you’re no longer seeing your own errors.

This holds true for all writers. I know some people like to brag about how pretty they write and how easy it is, but this is like (to borrow from an interview I heard, but I can’t remember the writer’s name) the stunning looking Hollywood starlet who’s prancing before the cameras and saying: “Oh… this? I just threw it on.”

Or maybe, it’s the fact that there are very few people who really can remember pain.

Really. I’m one of the lucky ones. I like editing. You might feel like it’s stabbing yourself in the heart every time you have to delete something. In fact, if you’re that guy it’ll definitely feel that way.

Which is really the reason I’m telling you not to be that guy. Yes, they’re annoying as hell. Especially when they ask old hands to critique but really only expect praise. But all and all, not being that guy is better for your emotional welfare.

So repeat after me:

Right now, I’m writing junk so I can edit it better later. It’s all part of the process. 

And keep repeating it every time you open your rough draft. You’ll thank me for it later. For so many more reasons than I can tell you here tonight.

Are you that guy? Were you that guy? What made you realize the truth? 

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A to Z Challenge: Ideas

Usually, the whole writing journey starts with a single idea. You’re probably going to get that new idea while you’re innocently reading a book or watching a movie. 
Maybe you already have the first beginnings of an idea forming in your mind. That stirring in your soul when you close the book. That thought about: This can’t be the end. What about so-and-so? What will happen to them if something or the other happens? 
And then, the next thing you know, you have an idea. Some people dismiss that idea and open a new book. Some of us, though, are consumed by that idea until we just want to write a few pages to get it out. 
But a few pages isn’t enough. So you write a few more. 
You fall in love with the idea. With the characters. With the sheer joy of exploring your newly created scenario. With the joy of pure creation. 
At this point, my friend, you’re screwed. 
The muse has you hooked, and she’s a cruel cruel mistress. You’ll be grumpy and agitated when you don’t write. And often wracked by fears and doubts as you do. And yet somehow, you’re still simply not happy unless you’re writing. 
And then, as you settle into the routine (you know, the way people who ride a roller coaster again and again eventually can sleep on it.), things become complicated. 
Because while you adore the story you’re working on, a new idea comes to you. 
Now suddenly you have a choice. Most new kids (me included when I was there) let my inspiration and ideas carry me from project to project. But the thing is, it’s a real risk that you’ll end up getting lost in your million new ideas. So lost that you won’t know which one to pick up and which one to let lie. 
That’s when the new kids start crying something along the line of: “Oh I just can’t finish projects!” 
Well… no. You haven’t taught yourself how to see anything through. Trust me on this: your muse is a terrible enabler. She will give you five new ideas for every single one you start. And five for each of those. And so on. 
It’s your job to say: “Thanks muse, but can we please finish this story first?” 
It’s always a choice you’re making, even if you don’t realize it yet. But if you ever want to get done, you need to commit to finishing one thing. Then the next. And the next. 
Or, you might be like me and you’ll learn how to actually work on seven projects at any given time and still finish all of them in a year. 
But that’s a skill I learned first by learning how to finish one book, and then two. So focus on that first. Focus on finishing your stories, or your ideas will remain ideas only. 
Where did your first idea strike you? How soon after that did the second idea hit? 

A to Z Challenge: Help

This is probably one of the more important things that writers should know about writing. We all need help at some point.

This can possibly taking the form of getting your spouse to do the dishes so you can steal some writing time. Other times, it’s when you’re stuck writing and the only person who can help will be another writer.

When I started out, (long before I started blogging) I was lucky enough to have a published writer in the house. However, I started moving over to the spec fic dark side and my Gran just isn’t all that interested in it (she writes poetry and romance.) Also, she publishes exclusively in South Africa and I focused more on foreign markets, so it just meant that… well… I needed a lot of help from foreign writers.

Sometimes, that makes for… interesting… dinner conversation.

Back to the point (I’m afraid I’m REALLY good at digressing.)

Sometimes, you might simply need to have someone who knows read your story and tell you it doesn’t suck. And if it does suck, to tell you what’s wrong.

Sometimes, you will be so tired of looking at your own story while editing it that you can’t see your own mistakes anymore. Or you’ll need someone to read your query. Or to say “There there” when you got your hundredth rejection (trust me. Non-writers don’t EVER get it).

No writer is an island. At some point, we all need some advice or a helping hand. So get yourself involved in the writing community.

Just remember: Be the friend you need. 

You want to be helped down the line? MAKE SURE YOU HELP OTHER WRITERS RIGHT NOW. 

What do you usually need help with? 

A to Z Challenge: Guts and Glory

So you’ve decided to write a novel. Congratulations! You have more guts than you’ve ever imagined. Oh, you don’t know it yet, which is why I’m informing you of this.

If you’re going to be vocal about you writing aspirations, you’re going to meet with people (who I will be writing about later if my Internet holds) who are going to tell you that it isn’t a big deal.

They’re wrong.

It’s a very big deal.

Huge.

Because the one thing that characterizes those vocal masses is that they’ve probably never even written anything themselves. And therefore, they have NO clue about what it takes to actually write anything.

They don’t understand the fear of failure, the insecurities, the doubts, the wondering if your idea actually sucks and no one’s telling you, the feeling that you *might* be a fraud and everyone but you is sure of it.

When it comes to the trials and triumphs of being a writer, they don’t know jack squat.

So just ignore them and write that dang thing. And know right now that it’s a great thing that you have guts enough to start, because it’s going to take guts to keep writing.

You’ve (hopefully) written my other posts. You know by now that writing isn’t a cake-walk. So you’ll probably have figured out that writing takes guts. Lots and lots of guts.

And for some of us, there will be glory. Lots of it. But you need guts to get there.

Do you have it? 

A to Z Challenge: Failed Drafts

Isn’t it just wonderful how life just screws over our best-laid plans? Almost exactly five minutes after I updated the first round of posts, my Internet Connection failed completely, and I was stuck without it all day.

So I’m still a day behind, which is sort of a theme for me at the moment. I’m also a day behind (give or take a few hundred words) for Camp NaNoWriMo. That said, I’ve written 12k words and edited half a book in a week, so I’ve got nothing to complain about.

Hopefully today, if the Internet holds, I’ll catch up with the A to Z Challenge. I should be caught up with Camp NaNo by tomorrow.

Now, I’m going to pretend this isn’t a bit of a non-sequitur and say:

Speaking of writing and NaNo, do you realize how many rough drafts you won’t finish before you finish one? 

My number is seven. Yep, I tried – and failed – to write a rough draft seven times before I managed to get through one.

I think all writers have at least one “failed” draft.

Ah. You picked up on the quotes there. Let me explain them.

See, the same people who think that writing is a journey filled with bunnies and unicorns also think that it’s incredibly easy to finish a rough draft.

Most of those people haven’t tried writing as much as a short-story. Never mind a novel.

NEW TANGENT! Not saying a short story is in any way inferior to a novel. Once you get past the how-the-heck-do-I-fit-this-in-less-than-10k-words jitters, it’s a significant amount easier to finish than a 50k, 60k, 80k, 120k draft. If only for the reason that 10k is so much faster to write. Fewer odds of your muse or anything else distracting you, for example. Or the what-the-hell-am-I-doing-I-can’t-write-shit jitters to hit home, for that matter. It’s for this reason that I usually recommend that new writers who don’t have a particular idea for a novel try their hands at various length short stories first and work their way up. It’s a wonderful way to get into the habit of putting thoughts into words without the word count intimidating them.

TANGENT TO THE TANGENT: I omit the truth that I find short stories devilishly difficult to write as well. No use scaring the minions before converting them to the dark side. MUHAHAHAHA!

Ahem. Enough digressing for now.

The point I’m trying to make is that if you’ve never even tried writing any sort of fiction, you don’t know how fiendish it is to actually write it.

So when you’re new and haven’t any idea about what it takes to finish  a story, you’re going to have a few (or quite a few) unfinished drafts and possibly a significant chunk of your ego as collateral damage. This, my friend, is not failure.

It’s part of the process. No amount of me or any other writer telling you how to write will teach you how to finish a draft. You learn by trial and error. This naturally means that you’re going to make mistakes, and those mistakes will mean that you won’t be able to finish a particular draft just yet.

Oh, you noticed the “just yet” too. Sharp. You’re very sharp. See sometimes, you’re going to realize that your idea just isn’t panning out. So you shove that draft into a drawer (or some forgotten place on your hard drive) and move on to the next idea.

You better be moving on or all your plot bunnies will meet with some unfortunate accident. 

You’ll keep putting away unfinished ideas, but all is not lost. First, you’re learning, and you’re probably going to take what you did like from one unfinished draft to the next story you try to write. This way, your skills keep evolving until one day, you write “The End.”

Then, after you’ve celebrated. Or after another “failed” draft, you’ll get some insight into what will make that one draft in your drawer work. Then you’ll start that one again and actually finish that. (Or it might take ten or so further lessons, but hey, you’re still learning.)

In other words. There are finished drafts or unfinished ones.

NO FAILURES. 

The sooner you learn this, the more fun you’ll have.

Veteran writers: How many unfinished drafts did you have before finishing your first? New kids: You are moving on, right? 

A to Z Challenge: Examine Your Motives

Well this is annoying. Yesterday I was stuck without Internet yet again. The problem this time being that I now don’t have an open day in which to catch up. I guess I could just be a day behind on Sunday, but suddenly, I just don’t trust my Internet to be there on the weekend.

So instead, I’ll be doing (or trying to) two posts today. One now, and one later. (And the same on my other blog. Yeah no. I’m nothing if not determined.)

For this post’s thing writers should know about being writers:

Why do you write?

This might sound like a silly enough question, but really it’s incredibly important. As you might have gathered from my previous posts, writing is almost never just smooth sailing.

In fact, it might probably be the most challenging thing you’ve ever tried in your life. I think that quite a few people who’ve been reading my more recent posts will have wondered why I even put myself through the process of writing.

It’s a good question. A fair one, I suppose. And one I need to return to every now and then like a touch-stone that keeps me on course.

Like when my publishing house and I split ways. (Not going there, but let’s just say it wasn’t a nice break-up.) Like when I queried over two hundred agents and got way more nos than I got eh… maybes. Or like when my book gets published and it simply doesn’t seem to reach its readers. Or it does, and the readers don’t like it like you’d thought they would (which actually implies they weren’t your readers after all.)

When these sorts of things happen, the question actually pops up all on its own. Why am I putting myself through all this crap?

And if you’re doing it to become rich or famous or infamous, or to show everyone around you how good you are at writing… You better hope you get it right the first time around, because if not, being a writer will make you a miserable person. In fact, if you’ve reached this stage and you’re still writing, I applaud your determination.

Simply put: I wouldn’t be able to go through all this if I didn’t love writing. Not the moment I get a “yes” from an agent or publisher. Not the moment when someone lets me know that the read and loved my book. Not the moment when the first monies start rolling in. Not the moment Oprah (or whoever it is these days that makes a book “matter”) lets the whole world know she likes my book.

Don’t get me wrong. Those other things are awesome.

They’re just not the reason I write. And that’s a good thing, because I can’t count on any of those things to actually happen to me when I’m busy with a story.

My love for my story, for losing myself in worlds of my own creation. For actually creating a story that’s my own instead of experiencing someone else’s creation…

That’s constant. 

Maybe your reasons will differ a bit from mine. Many people use writing as a catharsis. Many people just love to escape. But all of us enjoy at least most of the process of creating our stories.

The rest of it, is (and should be) secondary.

So why do you write? 

A to Z Challenge: Discipline

So… I know this might be the way to madness, but I never (ever ever never) schedule my A to Z Challenge posts. I really do, and always have, write all of them off the cuff on the day they’re supposed to go live. (Or, in this case, as soon as possible after.)

It’s a system that works for me.

Usually. Yesterday my internet connection went just as I was preparing to open my editor page to get this post written. Luckily it’s on now, though. So I’m quickly writing this while hoping that the connection holds.

Continuing my theme of Things Writers Should Know About Writing, I’m back to my old habit of destroying dreams and sharing unwanted reality checks.

This one’s a biggie.

A lot of people (and I will, if the internet holds, devote an entire post to them) think that writing a book is this wonderful trail with bunnies and unicorns and inspiration and stuff. They think that every morning, writers hop up out of bed saying:

“Oh boy! My heart is all a-flutter because I am inspired to write! I love this book to death, so fa-la-la-la-la write writerly write write write. Oh look! I finished another story. Query!”

The reality, I fear, usually is something closer to this:

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

Dorothy Parker

Not very bunnies and unicorns, is it? 
That’s because the rest of humanity thinks of muses as these smiling kind creatures. And they think that writers are blessed among men because they get to have a love affair with their muse. 
The reality… 
Very. Very. Different. 

Writers’ relationships with their muses tend to be more love/hate. We love them to death, but sometimes we’d really just like to kill them. 
So no, it’s not inspiration that gets us through the story. It’s not love either, I’m sad to say. (Although writing without loving your story sets your story up for failure anyway.) Even if you love your story idea, it’s not going to go anywhere if you’re going to wait for some sort of magic moment when all the stars align and your muse decides s/he likes you after all. Trust me. That is the road to madness. 

No, dear. Discipline is what finishes stories. Sitting down and writing even when you’re suddenly in love with a new idea (because your bitch of a muse has seen it fit to “inspire” you with something different. Don’t do it. It’s a trap.) Even when you feel like watching cute kitties on YouTube. Even when you don’t see bunnies and unicorns on your writerly road today. (Because let’s face it, you won’t for most of your writing days.) 
Have you written lately? No? Then what the heck are you doing on the internet? Go now. Go go go. 

Every second you don’t, I’m shooting a plot bunny.