Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

This and That

Cooler weather has finally arrived after a despicably long, hot summer. I love the fall—I always get such a tremendous burst of energy as the temperatures drop to more livable levels. It's weird, but the older I get, the less tolerant I am of heat.

Anyway, this is good. Yesterday, I submitted a partial manuscript to an editor which is always exciting. Particularly when it results in you lying awake all night thinking about all the things that might be wrong with your submission. It's just like buyer's remorse: you think this manuscript is absolutely perfect until you actually submit it. Then all of a sudden you see a million weaknesses and mistakes, things you should have fixed, things that were badly done, etc. I often wonder if all the big name authors have the same sudden rush of despair after they hand something over to their agent or editor. Some of the published authors I know seem so darn sure of themselves—my mouth hangs open in awe when I hear them say things like, "Oh, I never took classes or anything. I'm a natural writer. I just write and it sells."


The longer I work at writing, the more I know I don't know squat about it. In fact, I now know that I have surprisingly little knowledge of anything. Even my day job as a supposed computer expert leaves me feeling that I know less than one of those guys lying in the alley behind the building, drinking $1-a-bottle wine. The more I know, the more I know I don't know.

How, exactly, does one become an expert? You'd think doing something for 30 years (like working with computers) would make you something of an expert—but no. Not really. And I watch those folks on CSI and I'm thinking, Geeze, these people are what? Thirty? And they like know everything about every scientific field you'd care to mention—and even all the cutting edge stuff that just came out in Wired. (I love that magazine—it's so geek-cool.) And then there's Jason at work (in the real world) who is too young to get the rental car when we travel and heck if he doesn't know everything there is to know about just about any computer-related thing you'd care to mention. Although I've done assembly language programming and he hasn't. So there, Jason.

(No one does assembly anymore, though, unless they're some geek writing low-level hardware drivers. And I stopped writing assembly language when we moved away from 8080/8086 Intel CPUs, so I guess that knowledge ranks right up there with some of the more arcane subjects like phrenology.)


Anyway. I may no longer be the bright young thing in the office, but I can sure as heck keep my eyes open. Unless you decide to just shut your brain down completely, you can always learn. In fact, I learn something new every day. Even if what I learn is that I know less than I thought I knew when I got up that morning.

Today, I go back to working on polishing up the first three chapters of Whacked!. It's a contemporary murder mystery about this guy who gets…whacked. Sorry. I couldn't help myself. The plan is, however, to fix up the first three chapters and synopsis and squirt it off to my agent to see what she thinks about it. If she likes it, then I'll polish the rest of it and we'll see if she can sell that to the guys in New York. The first draft is done, but I'm not going to put any more effort into it unless she decides it has merit.

That's sort of the point I wanted to make with this blog. I'm trying to get smarter. My current plan has several legs to it and they are as follows:

  • Keep on writing (so I might actually get better at it). This means: don't spend all my time editing older manuscripts.
  • Write the first draft and then STOP. Polish up a synopsis and the first 3 chapters and send to my agent to see if she thinks it is worth continuing. Because the first draft only takes a few months. The bulk of my work lies in the revisions. Revise, revise, revise. Since my goal is to sell to a big NY publisher, there is no point in spending a year on revisions if no one is interested in the book.
    • Oh, I don't abandon my stories. What this really means is that these unwanted manuscripts get pushed to the back burner where I edit them as time allows. The process may take a couple of years instead of one year, but when it's done, I'll try the manuscript with smaller publishers who tend to me more open to whacko things (sorry again, I just can't help myself tonight). Which brings me to the next leg of the plan.
  • Submit manuscripts that I really love, and that I think are finally good, to small publishers. It keeps my "hat in the ring" and may eventually lead to a few readers. A thousand readers would be nice. Heck, one reader would be nice.
  • Try short stories and novellas. I am so intrigued by the idea of selling shorter works and have found several publishers who are selling short stories and novellas over the Internet. This is excellent for honing writing skills and again, it keeps your name out there and may garner a few more readers. The time investment is much, much lower than writing a full novel so it's really a win-win situation.
  • Use other authors. I've begun not just studying other authors, but using their techniques to overcome my own weaknesses. I always thought this was sort of cheating, but finally conceded that it is a legitimate technique to improve quickly. It's like a painter who copies another artist's masterpiece for practice. Emulating lets you work new muscles and learn much more quickly than just trying to slog through on your own. I've been looking at other writers who I like and have a similar book. And then I see, for example, how they start their book. And then I go to my page 1 and rewrite mine using some of the same techniques. Since my story is different and has other characters and situations, it does not come out at all the same. I'm not copying phrases, sentences or words, I'm emulating the techniques. I've even been making copies of certain pages that show good examples of things I want to learn to do.

It would be nice to say I'm such a great writer that I don't have to work on my skills in this way. I'd love to say I have my own successful style and storytelling talent, but failing that, I have patience. Hmmm. Well, maybe not patience, per se. I have very little patience. But I can tolerate rejection if I have a long term goal in mind. And I love to learn.

One day, I'm going to sell more than a couple of copies of a story. I may not be famous but by God before I die, I'm going to be able to walk to my bookcase and find at least one book there with my name on the spine.


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