Productive reading: the scope

Published authors give lots of advice to aspiring writers, but universal among that advice is this: You have to read a lot, and you have to read widely. Reading Within Genre My initial response to this advice was…immature at best. I was working on the first draft of my novel, back in high school, when I decided that all the classic literature I had been assigned would fit the bill, and that I would stop reading sci-fi and fantasy altogether so that no one would ever accuse me of stealing my ideas from other genre authors. That meant, in 1999, I gave up Sword of Shannara, from which I had been learning the rules of world-building.  I stopped reading Harry Potter, which had been teaching me which reader expectations could be broken, and which could be reinvented.  I abandoned my beloved Star Trek serial novels and The Wheel of Time, which were teaching me how characters can develop over a

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Self-analysis for characters

I don’t want to give the impression that it’s not OK to shift and grow and change as a writer, both in habit and in personality.  In fact, that is vital to writing, because otherwise you would produce the same story over and over. On change Usually, you don’t need to force a change.  You just grow up, you move around, you learn new things, you experience new opportunities, and you continue to analyze yourself and write what is true to you as you go.  Some of your projects might be small enough that they encapsulate your voice at a moment in time.  Others will fluctuate with you. For instance, this productivity series is very much the encapsulation of two years of concerted work on interrelated projects, and captures my voice post-dissertation while I’m trying out new types of authority. My novel, on the other hand, has spanned about twenty years of my development as a person.  It looked like

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23:32

Huzzah, it’s my birthday! The perfect occasion on which to get all introspective.  Or at least more so than other days. I must say, I’m excited to turn 32.  I much prefer even-numbered years, for reasons I can’t quite explain, and since 8 is my lucky number, this year should be especially great, since 32 is divisible by 8 four times. Oh snap. I’m also excited to turn 32 for more “real” reasons, though. Reason 1: My dissertation is in a good place I don’t want to say much more than that.  One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that if I expend too much energy talking about the intricacies of what engages me, or the excitement of it, I lose the magic.  Sort of like if I let an actual cat out of an actual bag, and the cat turned around and was like, fuck you, man, you put me in a bag!? and

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Coping with Delays

Neil Gaiman says that a successful writer must maintain at least two of the following three attributes: they must be good at what they do; they must be a nice person; they must be punctual about deadlines. My original plan was to be good and punctual, so I wouldn’t have to be nice… Then I took part-time work. Granted, I took awesome part-time work.  I receive real, actual dollars in exchange for drinking, selling, and learning about tea.  It’s a writers dream come true. But it’s also retail. And I’m coming off a year of fellowship sabbatical: hermit-like living, where I talked to more trees than people. So, that means that by the end of my shift, especially if the store is busy, I am worn the hell out.  My brain is mush from balancing simultaneous transactions, my feet are sore, and I’ve used up a month’s worth of conversation.  I come home completely incapable of producing further facial expressions,

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Fiction editing: lessons from the dialogue read-aloud

I expected to have additional lessons from the back half of the first edit to share with you, but it turns out that by the time you’re that far into your piece, it’s really about applying everything you’ve already learned and picking up speed. Instead, new lessons come this time from my first forays into the dialogue read-aloud. Yet again, the learning curve has been a bit of a shock.  Yet again, I figured I would be quick about it, soaring through this new form of editing like a trumpeter swan.  After all, I’ve already edited the entire book once for major plot and character overhaul.  How hard could it be to read the thing out loud and fix a little grammar? Hard.  Real Hard.  Like, I-am-less-a-swan-and-more-a-barnyard-chicken hard. So, in the spirit of transparency and education…some further lessons. Lesson thirteen: Fill out character sheets I know.  I know I said in the last set of lessons that you would know

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Fiction editing: lessons from the first half

Halfway done! Halfway done.  …..halfway done…*collapses* And the lessons this time are about trust–of self, of other authors, of characters, of ability. Lesson eight: The iceberg metaphor I think the majority of us have probably heard the iceberg metaphor: maybe because we were emo teens with “complex” emotional lives that vibrated below the surface; maybe because our teachers had a poster up on the wall, desperately trying to drive home how much actual work goes into a project. But if not, it goes like this. For every 5% of material that makes it to the page, there is another 95% of material supporting it silently, unseen, from behind the scenes. In other words, if you don’t know the world you built inside and out, if you don’t where your story is going at all times, or if you don’t know why your characters say the things they do, based on backstory and motivation, your shit is going to get wrecked.

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Fiction editing: lessons from chapter one

I’ve been editing my academic work for years.  I’ve edited approximately a million papers, a masters thesis, dissertation pieces, and countless student submissions.  I’m good at it. I figured I would be good at fiction editing, too. LOLS Well, to be self-compassionate, I wouldn’t say I’m straight up bad at fiction editing.  But I would definitely say that I was being coy with myself when I set my expectations, and that chapter one has provided the rudest of awakenings. Awakenings provide lessons, though.  So, in the spirit of education, here’s what I’ve learned so far about editing… Lesson One: Your characters will be strangers If this is your first big piece of fiction (and maybe even if it’s your third or fourth) you’re going to look back at your first chapter and wonder what the hell is even going on with these characters you thought you knew so well. A reminder: You do.  You do know them.  But you didn’t

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