The Writing Process: Editing
Remember that Jameson and water I mentioned in my Actually Writing post? This is where I pay for it. I am TERRIBLE with typos. Especially when I use a touch screen tablet instead of a keyboard. Especially when I'm drinking Jameson instead of Caribou Coffee.
But editing isn't all copy-edit grammar and typo fixes. When I start to edit and re-write I first like to take a step back from the work, for at least a few days. Then when I'm ready to really dig into it I tell myself, "Okay. Now make it awesome." That's all the editing and re-writing really is: taking something you've done and ramping it up to the next level.
That's where my beta-readers and writing group come in. Without them, I'm flying blind. Until my writing sees the light of day, I truly don't know if I have a dud or dynamite. Fortunately, I got some good feedback. "Good" meanwhile, "Hey, this is pretty good," but also, "Here's where you could make it better." That second kind of feedback is the really good stuff. If all I was looking for was a "Good job!" I'd just have family and close friends read it. You know, the kind of people who will tell you that everything you write is just wonderful, amazing, Hugo-worthy masterpieces. I'd never get published, but I'd never get my feelings hurt either. Now, I won't say that kind of feedback is worthless. I think we all need an ego-boost every once and a while. However, if you're looking to get published and maybe one day get paid for what you write, it's not really helpful. What every serious author needs is other good authors who are willing to tell the truth. "This could work if..." "This doesn't work at all." "This part fell flat." "I didn't see much of an arc." "Where's the hook?" Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes it is demoralizing and crushing and maybe even enough to convince you to give up, almost. But listen, if you want to write you have to have thick skin and the professionalism to see critiques for what they are: other people doing their best to make you a better writer. This real, honest, sometimes harsh feedback is invaluable in the writing process.
If you don't have a writing group that can do this for you, get one. If you don't know where to start, I recommend Litreactor.com. It's an online workshop full of talented writers who will provide that brutally honest but constructive criticism necessary to forge your writing into something better. If you have a writing group that does that for you, great. If not, get one. Now on to the next step, actually listening to them.
Not everyone who comments on your work will be brimming with good ideas. There's plenty of bad advise and some feedback will be off the mark. But watch for trends. Keep an keen eye out for different readers giving you similar advise, either on your style or about a specific piece of writing. Because, let's face it. This isn't about writing one story. It's about getting better with every story you write. Sure, good feedback will help you tweak your current work, but great feedback will make all your future writing better.
Re-writing is writing. Editing is writing. Cutting out what doesn't matter is writing. Like a sculpture with a chisel, chip and hammer and polish until whatever story you started with is the best it can possibly be. Editing might not be as fun as dumping that initial flurry of imagination onto paper, but it is required work. Let me phrase the first sentence of this paragraph a little differently: If you're not really re-writing, you're not really writing.
So I re-read my story. I read it backwards. (Seriously, it's a good technique.) I hunted out those typos with a little (maybe A LOT of help) from my friends. I carefully considered each critique and took the advise nine times out of ten. I re-wrote. A little spit and polish and I'm feeling pretty damn good about this little tale I created.
Now on to the real soul-crushing work: Submitting.
What are your tricks and tips for taking that rough draft and turning it into a final draft? Comment below!
Writing Process: Actually Writing
I have my inspiration. I have my idea. I have my outline and some characters in my mind. Nothing is concrete yet and I have no clue whether or not it will turn into something worth while. But, I have all the things I think I need to make a story. Including: The Vibe.
The Vibe is my own term for how the story feels. It's something between theme, style, voice... all those loose, slippery, intangible elements that go into writing. Without Vibe, a story has no life to it. It's all just telling.
But I got Vibe. Really, this story started with a Vibe: that bizarre, empty drone of that song. The lyrics repeating in my head, "Baby, can you hear me?" sounding so forlorn and desperate. I heard a story completely separate from the story the song writer was trying to tell. Now it was my job to relate that story to you, the reader.
But first, a confession: I have used and will continue to use performance enhancing drugs. Strictly large quantities of caffeine and moderate amounts of alcohol.
So I settled down into an easy chair with my tablet and a whiskey and water. Jameson on this particular night. I had my outline already open in a word doc. I hammered the Enter key four times to move the outline down the page, and I got to work. I already the hard stuff figured out. Now it was just a matter of making it cool.
I came out the gate quick, hard charging and wrote for a solid couple of hours, all the time I had to write on that day. I saved my work and went to bed satisfied.
The next chance I had to write, things went a little slower. Less 90's-movie-hacker-key-hammering and more contemplation and Delete button. Still, I got some things down. Some good things. Some things that felt okay...?
By my third session I was struggling. I suspected I was working on a dud. A stillborn confused mess. A lot of times I can write a whole short story in one session. I'll sit down and three or four hours later I'll have a completed rough draft. This was not one of those times.
As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for this blog series, I may have put it aside. But I'd already made the first entry, already tweeted about it, already bragged about my ability to pull a compelling story idea out of a random pop song. There was no going back. I had to finish this beast whether I wanted to or not.
I spent sometime back at the mental drawing board. Usually, when writer's block creeps up on me, it's because I've lost faith in the idea. And sometimes for good reasons. I think that sometimes I can sense a dud coming, and once I'm convinced of that harsh truth, why waste any more time writing something that's not good? But I was committed to this, and so I reminded myself, I don't always know what will work and what won't.
After some time at the mental drawing board, I came up with a fix, an extra punch for my ending. And that was all it took. One more writing session and a little more coffee and I completed a 5,100 word first draft!
But is it any good? Is it salvageable? Spectacular? That is yet to be seen. Stayed tuned for the next post where I discuss bringing this creature I created out of the darkness and into the light. Comment below!
So I have my inspiration, (thank you Miley), I have my idea, I've had a long car ride to flesh out the idea inside my head. Now it's time to finally put things down on paper and really take a look at it.
Step One of creating any story: get an idea. I think the best ideas come out of the either, unprovoked, prompted or even asked for. I love it when a story idea comes to me fully formed, ready to be written. These are the kind of stories that just write themselves and seemed to do really well. But I could be biased because they also require the least amount of effort on my part.
Most ideas require more work than that. Sometimes, that fickle muse is stubborn and just won't cough up that precious "good idea." Prompts are useful in these times. For me, prompts with a deadline are particularly helpful. If I know I have to write a story in two weeks about a golfer with a time machine on the run from the FBI... I can do that. Might not be any good, but when push comes to shove, if I have a deadline and a need to produce a product, I can do it. Sometimes these result in duds and sometimes they're gems. This is also why I believe in writing a lot of short stories and throwing them at the proverbial wall. It's a great way to learn what sticks.
This particular story I'll be writing in the coming days was the result of a prompt, albeit, a very loose prompt. I was listening to a Writing Excuses podcast (www.writingexcuses.com or on Twitter @writingexcuses ) when they gave a writing assignment to brain storm story ideas from various sources. One source was media: movies, books, music, etc. I love music and have been inspired by new unfamiliar songs fairly regularly, so I pulled up my Apple Music and found an album that I'd never heard before. Didn't matter what album or what kind of music. I'm a metalhead, but I'm open to other genres. Rock. Punk. A little reggae or rap every once in a while. My favorite new-to-me-bands right now are The Dirty Heads and Rival Sons. They're both great. I highly recommend them both. But what would Apple recommend for me? I tapped on the first "recommended" album to come up.
What's the worst that could happen?
Miley Cyrus' "Bangerz."
I pinched the bridge of my nose and whispered with deep resolve, "You can do this, Joe. You can do it."
I had a long car trip and a full finished cup of coffee. I turned off the podcast and let Miley rip. The first song on the album was a tune called, "I Adore You." I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it was a run-of-the-mill love song, but it has this haunting vibe to it. Real eerie and empty, like she was in love, but there was definitely something empty and missing about it all.
And low and behold, an idea came. Something that might even be a "good idea." That might be a little premature. We'll see what comes out of it. But I think I got something I can sink my teeth into.
Now the real work begins... fleshing out that idea, adding some characters, creating a setting, building a structure and eventually actually writing. Follow along and let me know what you think of my idea-generating technique. Comment below!
Over the next couple weeks, I plan on writing a short story, and to detail each step here as I go. When it's done, you'll be able to read the final product here on the site.
I know every writer has a different writing process and there is no "right" way to do it. My intent isn't to say "this is the perfect way to do it and everyone should do it exactly this way," but rather "this is A way that I did it this one particular time." Next time I write a story, I know some things will change, and some I'll probably do the same. My intent is to refine my own process by articulating it here, and to hopefully start a discussion amongst us writers along the way. Please chip it if the mood strikes you! I'd love to hear other writer's take on my process.
With that said, keep appendages inside the car at all times. Floatation devices are under your seat and barf-bags have been conveniently placed in front of you in the event or turbulence. Buckle in and enjoy the ride!
I swear babe, this has never happened to me before.
Only it happens to everybody. And it's okay.
I wrote a dud the other week. I thought it was a real cool hard-science concept told in a compelling way. Turns out no one knew what the hell I was talking about or enjoyed how I told it. As one of my kinder critics put it, "I think you may be on to something here, but I have no idea what. It's terribly vague."
There several lessons to be learned from duds. The first is that it's terribly important to have honest and trustworthy beta readers to tell you when you have a dud. Often, duds just need a few tweaks to turn from a chump to a champ. Beta readers and workshops will help you find the flaws and help you fix them. Even my best written work is really a dud until I've had some outside perspective to shine the light on its weak spots. So, yea for beta readers!
The other lesson that can sometimes be harder to learn is when to walk away. Sometimes I'll write a "terribly vague" monstrosity that's beyond help. Some beasts should never be born and it's important to put a bullet in them before they escape the lab. That's okay too. From those bastard born disasters, we learn what doesn't work.
And if there is one more lesson to be gleaned from the dud, it's perseverance. A few weeks ago I realize I wrote a dud. Last week I learned another story won a short story contest and will be published. Failure makes us angry, hungry, driven. One success is fueled by a hundred flops. The real trick is to just keep going. Take the lessons to heart and then try harder the next time. Keep writing!
So I have another story written, edited, beta-read, re-written, and submitted. Now that I pushed that submit button, it's on its own. Like a kid leaving for college, a birdie kicked out of the nest, like a sacrifice burnt to a god named Reader I have to wait and hope that my tribute is deemed worthy.
That's a bit dramatic. Point is, after you hit submit, there's nothing more to be done. Promoting maybe. Praying might have more effect.
The truth is, some stories are hits and some just miss the target. I'm often surprised by which ones catch on and which ones fall flat. I've had stories that I was SURE would catch the readers imagination and excitement just to receive humdrum feedback or no feedback at all. Other stories I write on a whim with no expectation and am surprised, pleasantly surprised, when that is the one that gets people excited.
I guess the lesson is to write, edit, share and see what happens. Write a lot. Submit a lot. Be ready for the ho-hum responses. (Truly negative feedback is pretty rare.) All of that's worth it to have a story finally appease the fickle god Reader.
Want to see if my latest work is dynamite or a dud? Swing on over to http://thewritersarena.com and read and vote on some of the stories there. Mine will be in the arena for Battle #47 waiting to spill its inky blood in the digital sands of he internet coliseum, all to win the favor of the great and benevolent Reader!
I heard someone at a workplace say, "I don't do deadlines." My first reaction was, "Well, how do you like being paid?" The truth is, deadlines and due dates are a day to day reality for anyone in a professional environment. But for some reason, writers tend to shy away from deadlines and commitments.
I know I, for one, thrive under a deadline. I enjoy writing my own projects on my own time as well, maybe even more so. But deadlines force me to get to work and produce. Plus, if you've been given a deadline that means that someone actually WANTS what you're trying to write! Writers with deadlines have an audience, a boss, in essence, they have a job!
So I say embrace the deadline! Seek out the short story contests, the regularly published columns, the series entries that your readers expect on a regular basis. Like the King said, "Amatuers sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work."
A couple deadlines I have coming due that you can benefit from: www.writersarena.com Writer's Arena Battle coming at the end of July
My monthly sci-fi adventure series at www.channillo.com, Vulpine One! Next episode coming the 1st of August. Enjoy!
Every character has to have an arc. Every character must go through a change. If our characters don't change, it's not a story about a character; it's just a description of an event. But how hard and fast is this rule? What about character's who are on the brink of achieving that epiphany but fail to complete their arc? It seems tragedies are built around those flawed characters who come so close to seeing their error of their ways but fall short.
And what about those stoically awesome tough guys who solve all their problems with violence? Do we really want to see an Arnold movie where he learns to overcome adversity with creative thought and the application of empathy? Or do we want to see him stick to his guns and be a bad ass until all the bad guys are dead?
Character Arc is important. So important that it should be discussed. I think there's more to it than just "The hero has a flaw, but through the course of the story, he'll overcome that flaw." What do you guys think?