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?
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?
No deep thoughts this week. I’m working hard on the ending of my sci-fi western, so I’ll offer this recent conversation with Twitter buddy George McNeese:
(click to enlarge)
George is one of my favorite Twitter users because he always has thoughtful things to say, often about his own writing journey. That usually leads me to think more deeply about my journey, too, even when I’m in a tough place, as I am right now, re-crafting the ending of my current story. Especially when I’m in a tough place.
I write sequentially, which I enjoy doing because the story feels like it has more natural rises and dips that way. It also pre-empts issues like my current one, where the ending I wrote a year ago – the initial impetus for the story entire – doesn’t fit with the story that’s been built to come before it. It’s not the worst place to be, of course: the characters have grown a lot from that initial writing, too far into themselves to make that ending work. I think that’s a good thing. But it also means creating an almost entirely new ending moment that has the same emotional resonance as the one I first wrote 400 days or so ago.
A story needs to be strong on all counts: beginning, middle, and end. Finding that right (write?) balance for us is the tricky bit. What’s your favorite part of the story to write?
I did manage one post for June (my flipping the coin villain backstory post), but the rest of the month was a wash, blog-wise. But, I did have some excitement. Drumroll, please….
My husband read one of my stories!
Some of you out there are likely thinking, Big f***in’ deal, but this was a huge deal for me. My husband hadn’t read anything of mine since university, which is…well, let’s just say it’s a long time ago, now.
I’d left my original story “Finding Mister Wright” in a file folder on the dressing table a few months back, inviting him to take a look whenever he felt like doing so. I left it up to him because I don’t like when other people force their writing on me. But, as the months went by, seeing that folder left untouched rankled me. So, when he messaged me one evening and mentioned he’d read it, I was walking on clouds!
I know it doesn’t look like I’m excited, but I was.
We spoke about it in some more detail, and I’ve gotten to bounce some ideas off of him, for how to make the third act come together with more punch. One thing he said that made me nearly burst with glee was, “I like how you keep writing these characters after their main story is done. It gives them a much ‘fuller world’ feeling. Like they’re real.”
Honestly, a lot of my characters are real to me, even the fantastic ones. That’s what makes writing so joyous for me. It’s also why I get sad whenever I come to the end of a story. The characters and their relationships grow on me after all that time and effort of pulling their world and all of their conflicts together.
So, as of today, two people have read that first draft of “Finding Mister Wright” (Hi, JM!). Each of those people, with their timely feedback, has made me think about not just this story but all of my writing in a more focused way. I’m still undecided on the best way for me to get my stories out there – querying and sucking up to agents and houses, or hiring an editor and publishing on my own – but I feel like this little boost has fanned the flames of my spirit to be even stronger than before. Brighter, if you will. And each little bit of extra brightness makes the darkness of defeat seem not so foreboding.
I hope everyone out there is having a great summer (or whatever your local season may be). I’m looking forward to sharing more stories and steps forward in the months to come!
Earlier this week, LimebirdVanessa over at Limebird Writers posted the 25th edition of their Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest. The series in itself is full of great opportunities for writers of all genres, interests, and skill levels, but one of them stood out in particular: the Confettifall Christmas Contest. Head on over to the Limebird Writers post to get the full details (and more!).
You back? Okay.
As you’ve read, the Confettifall Christmas Contest is to create a 140-character story. Confettifall’s site says there is no particular theme for this contest, so we could write whatever we wanted, with a few caveats (no profanity, no pornography, and no poems this time around). Ordinarily, these guidelines alone would hamper my ability to tell a story, but with only 140 characters to do the deed, I couldn’t waste my character count on foul words or play. I’m wordy enough as it is!
I wanted to have a very simple theme – romance/revenge – and a moment from my past struck me. On a lark, I’d gone to a palm reader with some friends of mine. We each had our pasts/futures read, with varying degrees of accuracy. The experience was mostly just a five-dollar jaunt into something silly we’d never done before, a fun way to pass the time while we waited for the guys in our party to show up. But, one line from my fortune teller stuck with me that night, and has continued to stay with me for many years. You’ll see what I mean….
Below is the process I took for this particular challenge. It’s pretty standard to my normal challenge process, though I’ve put in some of my internal monologue, just to keep things interesting:
Goal: Write a story in 140 characters.
The tarot reader had been spectacularly wrong on most counts: she had no children, no white picket fence, no important job. Certainly, the loving, faithful husband bit was a joke. But, the old woman had said one thing that had resonated with young Cecilia: “That which you cannot create, you are destined to destroy.”
Jace, her “loving” and “faithful” husband, never saw the shot coming.
Character count: 386. Okay, that’s way too long, but I’ve got an idea going. Now, to start whittling.
While wrong on most counts, the psychic had made one correct prediction: What Cecilia couldn’t have, she’d destroy. Shame Jace didn’t hear it, too, or he’d have known about the gun.
Character count: 181. Not bad, but it doesn’t punch. And, 41 characters too many.
What Cecilia couldn’t have, she would destroy. That had been her tarot reading.
Jace had called it cryptic nonsense. Maybe if he’d listened, she wouldn’t have shot him.
Character count: 167. I like this one better. It’s closer, but STILL too many characters. Need to whittle it down by 27.
“What you can’t have, you will destroy,” the psychic said.
Her husband called such advice money-grabbing malarkey.
Maybe. She still shot him, though.
Character count: 147. I’m drifting into slightly more black comedy territory, here. Maybe not a bad idea.
Fifth try (Starting to wear thin):
“She told me, what I can’t have, I’ll destroy.”
“Bull,” her husband said, swinging his wandering eyes back to her.
“Really?” she said, and shot him.
Character count: 146. I’m starting to hate this contest. And my writing.
“The psychic said, what I can’t have, I’ll destroy.”
“Bull,” her husband said, swinging his roving gaze her way.
Maybe. She still shot him.
Character count: 140 (tested in a Twitter window). Huzzah! Perhaps this isn’t prize-winning material, but I’ll leave this one where it stands. While fun in terms of a contest challenge, it’s not quite worth it to spend any extra time on.
The whole exercise took me about an hour, from first initial draft idea to what I came up with at the end. Even though this is an “official” contest with a prize and everything, I decided I wouldn’t spend more than an hour on it, just so it wouldn’t distract me all day from the rest of my writing projects. But, it was still fun.
What do you think? What sort of process do you go through for prompts/challenges like this? On a less writer-y note, have you ever had your fortune told?