Writing has a lot to do with first choices. We write from the tips of our fingers, trying to get down all the words running in our heads. When we sit back and take a read through what’s on the paper or screen, we can start to second-guess those words. I’ve written enough first drafts – enough words – to know it’s okay to trust my first choices. They’re usually right. But, sometimes, they’re not.
After I’ve finished a story, I’ll let it sit a while. For a short story, maybe a few days; for a novel, sometimes as long as a year or more. When I go back and read it again, it’s easier to see which first choices were right and which ones were, well, not so right as I’d originally thought. That distance is important. It grants us a fresh eye and fresh mind. It also grants us greater honesty with our work. Hopefully, we’ve grown from that first draft, using other stories. The distance, honesty, and experience work together to help us see that draft in a new light. If we’re ready, and inclined, it puts us in a better place to cut, weave, and create a more perfect story than what used to be there.
All of this is just me saying that I’m back in editing mode again. I’ve pulled up Fearless and have started to go through it piece by piece, chapter by chapter, conflict by conflict, to make it a better story than it was, even if it’s never perfect. I loved the story then and I love it still. I’ll likely be doing some more off-the-cuff writing while I edit this time, though, because I learned from the From Hell edit that I get a little lost when I’m not creating anything new. But I’m ready for this next challenge. Let’s see how good my choices were the first time around.
To celebrate this new chapter in my own journey, I pounded out another short-ish free-write set in my “Finding Mister Wright” universe, where the Wrights and McAllisters talk about, fret over, and celebrate their own first (and second) choices.
“First Choices” (~2700 words/9 pages; PDF will open in a new window)
Have you made any first choices lately with your writing?
I just got back from a work conference on television technology and production (that’s my day job). I had a great time, as I always do, connecting and reconnecting with colleagues from across the country, and learning new lessons from faculty, staff, and students working in video. I also attended a great session on reality TV production, presented by April Lundy. I’m not a big watcher of reality television – the closest I get to it are cooking shows or travel docs – but I was riveted by Ms Lundy’s session. Because so many of the points she made were about the importance of storytelling.
“Storytelling is everything,” she told her attentive crowd, and I grinned as she said it, because it’s true. Whether in television, film, poetry, or prose, the story determines the success of the medium. Ms Lundy spoke a lot about the ups and downs of conflict and arcs within a successful reality television show season or series. I could only think how much that applies to my own writing and editing; throughout the entire editing process of From Hell (A Love Story), I kept reminding myself to “keep to the arc” and “push toward the conflict,” and how each chapter – just like a television episode – needed to fulfill a thematic point in the ongoing story. When I spoke to her after the session, she said, “I kept looking at you, because I could tell you understood [how important story is].” Do I ever.
I wasn’t able to write much more than a fluff piece for my wicked gunslingers while I was away, but I thought about my writing craft a lot. And I’m already itching to get back into it, conflict, plot building, character nuances, and all.
I love it when my work and my passions converge. Have you ever had two parts of your life cross paths in an unexpected way?
I’d felt pretty down on myself the last few days. It happens: every so often, I look at my various hit statistics and comment numbers, and I start to doubt my skill, especially in comparison to other writers. It always seems like everybody else is getting hundreds of comments and thousands of hits per day, while three likes or just one comment on a story will send me into a dopamine-fueled fit of happiness.
Dopamine, dear dopamine. How do I love thee?
But those low-to-non-existent numbers were dragging me down, so much that I couldn’t even pull it together to put a few words together on the page, no matter how hard I tried. The only thought going through my head was, “I suck.”
Social media is particularly damaging during these downswings, because like-minded individuals tend to cluster together on these outlets, and I’ve never really been a like-minded individual with anybody. I have interest groups and fandoms I follow, but I’ve always been on the fringe of them: the oddball, the rebel, the outcast, the geek. The closest I’ve gotten is with my writer friends, though even they know how weird I am. Of course, all writers are odd, to an extent. I think we have to be, to want to sequester ourselves away to focus on getting just the right phrase down onto a piece of paper. And, to keep doing that over and over until we’re happy with what we have (which is almost never, by the way; there simply comes a time when enough is enough, and we have to let go).
Anyway, while slogging through that quagmire of depressive doubt, a familiar link popped up on my Twitter feed:
I’d read Guy’s article on Why Blog Hits Don’t Really Matter before, but it felt serendipitous that I happened to log in to my Twitter and saw it that day. I read it again, and it resonated with me, as it usually does. I talked with a few of my writer friends about it, too, and I remembered (again, because I’m a slow learner) that my writing isn’t about being popular, or publishing books, or trying to make a living from my writing. I already have a job I enjoy, that luckily pays my bills. I self-published my From Hell (A Love Story), and I’ll probably pull together a book of some more stories, but I’m never going to be a “successful” author. And, I’m okay with that. I write because I want to share the unique, silly, sappy, sexy stories inside me. Even if somebody doesn’t look today, they might find a story of mine next week, or next month, or next year. If that story makes them smile, laugh, or think, then it’s done its job. And, I’ve done mine. Once I remembered that, and put that realization back in my heart, I could write again. I sat down and wrote another vignette for my “Finding Mister Wright” universe basically in one go! And, it felt great.
I’m sure I’ll have more down days to come. But when they happen, I’m going to try to remember to look back at this time, when I felt depressed about the ridiculous merry-go-round popularity contests conjured by my defeatist brain, and remind myself why I write what I write, and why I love what I write. You’re welcome to join me, whenever you’re ready.
If you’d like to read the latest “Finding Mister Wright” vignette, you can click the link below; the PDF will open in a new window. Don’t worry – it’s not nearly as raunchy as the last one.
“Synchronicity” – Another “Finding Mister Wright” short story
What techniques or motivations do you use when you doubt yourself?
Anyone who’s read my longer works is likely well aware of my penchant for, shall we say, raunchier material. Admittedly, writing sex is a relaxing outlet for me. It puts me in touch with my characters in ways unmatched by any other technique I’ve yet found. But, like in real life, sex isn’t all about the sex, but about what we learn from it.
A few months ago, while I was in the middle of editing, I really wanted to write a sex scene. There’s just something very visceral about the experience of writing two people engaged in the physical act. So, I wrote one, using the characters from my “Finding Mister Wright” universe. At the time, I enjoyed the process: it helped me loose some of my writing energies, and that got me back on-track with the very different chore of editing a long work. But, recently, I went back and read that scene and had a new reaction to it.
I didn’t like it.
I found the progression and action passable, and I liked the ending, but the middle section – the actual sex scene – didn’t sit right with me. I realized it was because it wasn’t true to those characters. I’d forced them into a situation that served my own purposes but didn’t speak from their hearts. And I felt like it showed.
So, I rewrote it. I had to. For them. It’s not like anybody’s going to read the story, but I was compelled to re-imagine and re-do that interaction regardless, because I felt like I wasn’t being true to those characters otherwise. And – and this is going to sound weird and crazy – it felt like they approved. They flowed so much more naturally on the page, with their words and actions, it was like they were speaking not just to me but through me. I often feel my characters’ influence while I’m in the middle of writing a story, but rarely after the fact. That’s how I knew I’d messed up with them. Luckily, they’re generally an easy and forgiving bunch.
I guess the moral of this lesson is that writing is just as much about listening to a story – your characters’ story – as it is about telling it.
EDIT: For anyone interested in reading the story in question, I’m sharing it here as PDF media, which will open in a new window by clicking the link below. Please note that this scene involves two people engaging in sexual situations described in fair detail. Their story tends to run sappy and silly, but if you are at all uncomfortable with or offended by sex, please do not click the link for “Mirror, Mirror,” A “Finding Mister Wright” pre-fic.
My “No Sex with Ax and Hal” 30-day writing challenge is officially finished! Only 1 or 2 people read most of it, but that’s okay. I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to write – and post – a complete vignette/chapter/scene every day for 30 days straight. (It actually ended up being 31 days’ worth of writing, and 32 chapters written, including one epilogue for each of the two mains, because I don’t like to leave too many plot threads hanging.) If, in that process, I also got to add a bit of characterization to my main Borderlands romance bros, all the better.
Not sure what I’m going to write next. I’m rather tired of feeling lonely in fandoms, so I’m thinking maybe I should return to my original fiction, like Fearless or Finding Mister Wright. Or, maybe I’ll finally get cracking on that detective story. At least with my originals, it’s alone without being lonely. Regardless, I’ve really enjoyed writing my BL adventurers over the last two years. (Has it really only been two years?!) They taught me a lot. They even found me a few new friends. I’ll always love ‘em, for that.
Heck, I’ll always love ‘em, anyway.
As of 10:22pm ET, Thursday, March 12, 2015, I finished the content pass edit of my pseudo-novel, the homoerotic space opera western From Hell: A Love Story.
Closed chapter folders in Scrivener = Finished content edit!
I started my Borderlands story of “How the Commando Got His Turret” in July 2013. It’s grown and changed quite a bit over the course of the last year-and-a-half, I think – I know – for the better. I took chapters out, I redesigned scenes, I added and deleted and deleted some more. The original version of this story ran about 112,000 words. This edited version? A little over 83,600 words, as Scrivener will tell you:
Over the course of the latest edit, I cut or reworked a tad less than 30,000 words. I’m sure a professional editor would have helped me work the story even tighter, but, since I can’t sell this story, I wanted to keep my costs down as much as possible. Still, I think that’s pretty good, for a first-timer.
Just because I’m so far happy with this content edit does not mean even my truncated version of the self-publishing process is over, though. I still have the interior line edit, the cover (front, spine, and back), the administrative logistics like ISBN details and credits, the dedication, the compile, and the submission process. But, right now, I’m riding too pleasant a wave from finishing that tough rewrite to think about all of that yet to hurdle.
I could spend a long time talking about why I chose to publish this particular story, how all the ups and downs of my life over the last two years pushed me to try and better myself as a writer, but the honest truth is that I just wanted to see if I could do it. I love this story, no doubt, and its flawed Byronic hero is one of the most fun I’ve written yet. But it is fanfiction, and for that reason alone I can’t get too attached to the men and women on its pages, at least not to the extent I might do for a cast of my own true creating.
I’m not finished-finished, yet. But, looking back on the last six months or so of editing this story, I’m glad I did it. It is a better story than it was, even if some people might disagree. I took to heart a lot of commentary I got from that earlier version, too. So, you know, it pays to tell a writer what you think of their story, because you never know how you might change a book. I’m happy with it, though. And, I’m still as in love with these characters and this world as when I’d started, something I’d feared would fade as I picked apart their conflicts and arguments and make-up moments.
Was it a difficult process? You bet. I
can’t I don’t want to count how many times I thought about giving up and tossing the whole thing out the window. Because this is a fanfiction story for a niche fandom, and I’m on the edge of that niche. Because anyone who’d be interested in this story in the first place has probably already read the first draft and won’t want to read an edit. Because it’s a story loaded with bloody violence, graphic sex, drug use and abuse, and foul language that sometimes made me, as the writer, pause to consider if I really wanted to go there. But, the one piece of advice I’ve always believed in, and that I’ve always shared with other writers around me, is to finish whatever story they’re writing. Writing “The End” on a story – even if that end is a crap and totally seat-of-the-pants conclusion – is a real accomplishment. Anybody – ANYBODY – can start a story. A writer finishes them. I viewed completing this edit as completing the story for a second time. Because, with all of those changes I’d made, it did feel a lot like a second story. And getting to write “The End” on this one made me feel so good.
Have you ever edited one of your own stories? Did you make a lot of changes? How did those changes make you feel? What would you recommend for others editing their work?