Work and Play

January 14, 2020

I first started writing a couple of years ago. I did it on a whim. I was tired of reading the same thing and wanted to try my hand at writing something I’d like.

Unlike most people (I think), I don’t always learn first what I need to do before I do it. I often try to learn the absolute minimum, then tackle the largest project I can with what I know. I then look back and ask myself, “What did I do wrong?” So long as I can figure out at least a little bit of what went wrong and why, I can then go back and fix those things.

On the plus side, I’m not the kind of person who finds themselves stuck with writer’s block, or writer’s paralysis, or the ever-learning but never-doing cycle. I write, then I edit.

The first draft of my book, which I’m currently calling “A Storm of Knives” (not final), was an absolute train wreck. I was sure there was a story there, but not even I could read it. If ever there was a newbie writer’s mistake, I made it.

So I bought a few books on self-editing, my favorite of which was “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” learned a lot about what I did wrong, and then spent the next year re-drafting the book six or seven times.

In December of last year, World Builders launched a charity auction where authors, editors, and agents would offer their services on eBay and give the proceeds to charity. It seemed like a good opportunity, so I bid on a few authors and one editor. I won the bid for the editor.

It was a stroke of luck. I’d already started to suspect I was hitting a wall with my writing. Even when I did write better, and even when I could tell, I couldn’t explain exactly why one thing I wrote worked better than another. If pressed, I might say it flowed better, or felt better, or something else equally ambiguous.

The editor changed that. He gave me the details of what exactly I was doing wrong and why. He gave me a framework from which to understand how to improve my craft and why.

I’m now working on draft… eight? nine? and I’ll probably end up drafting more after this one. So, by the time the book is publishable, I’ll have rewritten the thing something like ten times or even more.

Then I hear about new authors who wrote a book, never re-drafted, and don’t understand why nobody wants to read it. They don’t realize they need at least another ten drafts.

Some authors write new books instead of re-drafting old ones. It’s a valid approach though I feel they are missing out. I can see and compare my work directly with itself as I get better. That is valuable, and I get the satisfaction of watching the original idea come together, rather than having to get over the disappointment of letting it go to write the next new thing.

Of course, and this is important, personality matters. I have a personality skewed toward fixing things, improving them. Like an artist that starts out with a rough sketch, I enjoy seeing those lines get ever refined into something beautiful. Not everyone is like that, and it’s very important to find a way that works for you.

But no matter what you choose, it takes work. It always will. But just because it’s work, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.