As I’m sure most of you know by now I participated in the Clarion Write-a-Thon this year with the aim of writing 50,000 words between June 22nd and August 2nd of this year. I’m pleased to announce that I hit my goal (with about 100 words to spare) and raised $600 for the Clarion Workshop, thanks to your help! I really appreciate the generosity of everyone who donated and the support of my friends to keep me motivated and writing. I feel tremendous about being able to hit my word count, and contributing to Clarion in my own way.
I managed to finish three short stories through the Write-A-Thon; I wrote “chapters” to two other short stories and made it pretty deeply into one more. The three finished stories have been put into a drawer where they will next see the light of day only when I’m ready to face the ugly lump of clay I vomited up onto paper. It’ll be exciting, actually — a little time capsule I’ve sent to some future self of the things that interested me months ago. I’m sure I’ll scarcely recognize the writing as mine, for better or for worse.
The “chapters” of the other two stories are up and around the Internet in various haunts, and I plan on collecting and editing those too, once I have enough. It’s a bit more collaborative in nature than straight single-teller fiction, but I doubt there’ll be too many people following my thread. The sixth story that I was writing will be finished and sent off to the person who commissioned it; once that’s been approved and edited, that will end up in other places as well.
I’ve learned quite a bit about my writing process over the summer — it’s hard to write 50,000 words in six weeks and not learn a thing or two about the way you write. The experience has given me the confidence to move forward, while letting me know at the same time that there’s so much more work to be done before I feel like I’m in the same league with the other folks in my writing group, or the people I’ve been fortunate enough to rub elbows with recently. And that’s fine — I like knowing where I’m at, and looking forward to getting better. If nothing else, the Write-a-Thon has shown me that I’m willing to put in the work to do so.
Here are a few of the other things I’ve learned:
I need to read a WHOLE. LOT. MORE. Seriously, there are so many great stories out there being told by an astonishingly vast galaxy of writers with a dizzying breadth of experiences, interests and perspectives. At the same time, there are so many classic stories that I haven’t been exposed to waiting for me to pick up. This is not just true for the sci-fi/fantasy genre — there are a number of black writers I need to visit and revisit, and furry fiction has an interesting history to be mined. A lot of these stories and perspectives will speak to me personally, and a lot more will challenge me from a perspective that I will never quite meet. But it’s all engaging, and exciting, and in order to become a better writer (and a more complete person) I seriously need to get started on all this wonderful stuff that I’ve been neglecting.
I write truly shity first drafts. But that’s OK! I think that being among the writers I talk with has given me weird expectations about my own fiction and process. Ryan is especially lucky in that his first drafts are pretty close to what he submits as a final draft — he has a great way with language, a wonderful wit and sense of humor that translates well to the page. I watch him write, and I think that it should be that easy for me, too — when I sit down, I should be writing near to my finished draft, with only a few minor tweaks here and there.
But that’s just not me. I write long and dirty, with lots of asides and muddled ideas that only bubble up to the surface once I’ve taken a step back and seen it from the long view. Writing first drafts are like digging holes in the weeds, hoping that you’re getting the good, strange stuff you’re striving for. I tend to work extremely close in, paying attention to small details, with not that much regard for how they flow together. Editing, for me, is going to be the process of elimination; clearing away the weeds to cultivate the landscape I know is there. That’s going to be scary, but exciting, and it’ll teach me to look at my writing in a whole new way. I’ll need to be critical, but encouraging. That’s not something I’ve been able to do with my own work, traditionally.
Pre-writing preparation makes telling the story so much easier. For the very long story that I’m still in the process of writing, I went through the trouble of breaking down scenes, themes and characters in Scrivener, and it really helped me to clarify what I wanted to do with it and exactly how to do it. I’ve been getting into the idea of project management lately, and the art there is to take this huge thing and break it down into chunks that allow you to put your nose to the grindstone confident in the knowledge that these small details fit a larger vision in a specific way. I know that a lot of people will just sit down and wing it with their stories, and work magic right off the top of their head. That’s great; I wish I could do that, but I’m not that kind of writer. I need to have a map of where I’m going, if only to take a bit of the anxiety out of the journey.
It feels really good being down in the trenches with fellow writers. I had the extraordinary good luck of visiting Ryan while he was at Clarion this year, talking to his fellow students and the teachers that were there that week. They’re all AWESOME people, holy cats! I also had really great discussions with Kyell Gold and the folks at Sofawolf Press about the business of writing, and the more I learn the more I want in on all parts of it — not just being an author, but being an editor, a curator, a signal-booster, a member of the community. There’s a lot of weirdness and quirks and issues that need to be addressed, but now more than ever I’m convinced that sci-fi/fantasy writers are My People and I’d absolutely love to be among their number forever and ever, amen.
So there we go: I now know that I’m someone who needs a bit of structure in their writing to feel confident about what they’re doing; that my first draft is likely going to suck anyway, and I’ll need to revise heavily in my second draft; and that I’m ready to embrace the SFF community and all of its fiction.
Now I have an entirely too-large stack of books to pore through, so I’ll need to do that next. For now, I’d like to hear from you — what sort of writer do you see yourself as? Are you careful with your words right up front, or do you get it all out in a frenzy and pare it down later? I’m curious.