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Phooey on Convalescence

I’m feeling very out-of-the-loop. I haven’t visited my dryads in nearly a week, thanks to surgery and recovery, and it’s really strange. Even without my physical limitations, though, I’d reached a bit of a natural lull.

You see, I’m waiting to hear back both from my editor on the short story I’ve sent to her for review (with the goal of submitting it several places, one of which will hopefully publish it) and from my CPs on a complete (though not polished) draft of the novel. On the one hand, it’s great to feel like I’ve got some things off my plate—”woo hoo! mini vacation!”—but on the other, I’m at loose ends. It’s like I’m going through Dryad Withdrawal or something.

Obviously, the most straightforward solution is to move ahead with the next project. I’ve got a second novel (and eventually many more) planned; I should take this opportunity to begin outlining the plot. Since I plan to take advantage of the pre-existing motivational structure of NaNoWriMo to power me through the rough draft here in a couple of months, having the important details sketched out in advance should help me make less of a hash of that initial draft than I did out of the current one.

Welcome back to Square One, where I have limited mobility/access to a useful computer for the next N days. Convalescence is a tricksy bugger, and I’m having a hard time predicting just when and for how long each day I’ll be able to be upright—that is, what kind of time I’ll have to commit to such brainstorming. So far, those moments have been brief and infrequent, and dominated by such daily minutiae as eating.

I can see Square Two on the horizon, though. It looks like several hours restlessly awake in bed, too much an invalid to sit for long at my computer, but too bushy-tailed just to stare unthinkingly into space. Maybe those pending hours will be the ones I can bend to the task of letting my mind wander the paths of Mabel’s next adventure.

And hey—at least I’ve got a voice recorder.

How ‘Bout Now?

I hate that moment when I’m revising to address a CP’s (completely valid) concern about the believability of my protagonist’s reaction to a certain situation, and I realize I need more feedback.

I don’t want to pester my CPs at all hours, yet I don’t know whether or not what I was trying to achieve in the first place came across at all, or is still coming across in the way I’ve changed the passage. I need my sounding board, but it’s not available.

“Hey! Does this work? No? How about now? Or now? … Can it be now yet?”

It’s a really weird combination of working in a vacuum and writing to my audience. And I’m feeling lost.

Inferiority Gremlins

Here they are, back for another fun-filled day of making you feel like shit: it’s the

Inferiority Gremlins!

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PlotSpackle™ and Revision Sanding

Ever notice how revisions keep applying to smaller and smaller details? I start with the PlotSpackle™, then sand it down with a low grit abrasive, then use a finer grit, and ever finer for innumerable iterations after that.

Before I even started writing the initial draft of my novel, I knew I was going to have to do some serious editing. As I really got into that process, I deduced that I’d probably have three major rounds of revisions before I was ready either to self-publish or shop the manuscript—Round One: make something I’m not ashamed to show to my critique partners (CPs); Round Two: use CP feedback to make a coherent, mostly polished draft; Round Three: get feedback from a professional editor to make a shop-ready draft.

Counter to my own expectations, I’m in middle of Rounds One and Two simultaneously, though R2 is several chapters behind R1. (Funny how what we think the process will be like rarely matches with how things actually pan out.) Within each major revision round are also several smaller revisions, each version polishing the work to a slightly higher shine. I keep going back and finding just one more tiny thing to fix before calling it good. I think I understand now why some authors say their books are never really “done.”

Anyway, R1 has now made it to one of the climactic chapters, and it’s really making me tear my hair out. I’m pleasantly surprised at the amount of action and tension that I somehow poured into these pages in those initial throes of creativity. On the other hand, there are so many minor details that no longer fit in with how I’ve changed the story leading up to this point that I hardly know where to start.

It’s maddening. I’ve got some great stuff—a shape-changer’s shift described in detail, a couple of different types of magic being used in battle—but not all of it works. This person shouldn’t be attacking that person in the manner depicted; this magic mechanism needs to be clearer and modified to match the new reasoning behind it; my protagonist’s reactions need to be more calculated to match her own plans… It’s a mess.

Even so, it made my heart race a little the first time I reread it in months; I know there’s a great scene buried in there. Now I just have to figure out how to sand down the high spots left by all that PlotSpackle™.

Writing Is Not Easy

Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing is easy. It’s not. Sure, anyone can put something down on the page and come up with some sort of story, but some vast majority of the time, it’s utter crap. A Writer recognizes that the first dross vomited onto that page is always going to be utter schlock, and endeavors to make it less schlock-y.

Okay—maybe not all of it is schlock; there’s usually the nugget (possibly more than a nugget) of something good there, but a first draft is inevitably flawed, sometimes disastrously so. This, then, is where real writing comes into play. Writing is not the creative burst of ideas flowing forth like some sort of divine nectar; no one’s novel enters the world like Athena. It is with good reason the analogy is so frequently drawn between birth and the creative process.

My latest chapter is demonstrating all these truisms. When I gave it to my critique partners (CPs), I really thought there were maybe only one or two paragraphs that were suspect, and likely to be pounced on by my ever-vigilant friends. To my dismay, my inability to interpret the plot from outside my own head has—once again—come back to bite me in the ass.

But that’s why I love my CPs; they don’t pull any punches. They show me what works, and then turn around and tell me where I don’t even have a plot yet. They provide me with polarized schlock-glasses that cut out the glare of the pretty words I like so much and expose the remaining image for what it is: incomplete, vague, undisciplined.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing is easy. It’s not. To do it right, to make something that someone else will appreciate and enjoy takes skill; blood, sweat, and tears; and a boatload of perseverance. It takes a damn lot of practice, a commitment to constant improvement, and the ruthlessness to cut vast swathes of carefully crafted text from a manuscript with extreme prejudice when they simply don’t serve the story. A Writer keeps at it until they have something that is 98% schlock-free that they are proud to share with anyone who cares to read.

Some day I want to be a Writer.

Critique Partners

I’ve been writing for a very long time, but I’m still really new to fiction. I can’t even express how wonderful it has been to have found some kick-ass critique partners (CPs).

I met my CPs when we were all taking a writing class together. The best part of the whole course, as far as I was concerned, was when we had the chance to read a piece of our work and get feedback from our classmates. Luckily, there were other fantasy writers in the class, and a couple of them were willing and able to form our own little CP group after the class ended.

My CPs have been an absolute blessing. Not only do they see my work from outside my own head (extremely important) and tell me when I haven’t shared on the page something else that’s buried in there (also important) or when I’m just not making sense in terms of either plot or character (vitally important), but they also share their works in progress. It’s awesome! I get to read engaging stories that don’t exist in the wild yet!

Through our workshopping, I get better at critiquing my own work, too, so it’s more polished before it even makes it to them. It’s win/win, and no matter how long we spend in a session, I always come out feeling revitalized and eager to get back to my own story.

What greater gift could anyone give a writer?