One of the most appalling things I’ve seen in writing is the piece of advice spoken everywhere: “All first drafts are crap!” It’s often accompanied by the advice to write your first draft straight through and not go back and fix anything until you get to the revision.
Craft Thoughts has an article on why writing straight through and NOT editing as you write is a bad idea.
When I started writing, I eventually gravitated into moving around in the story and adjusting things as I went along. Not revision, and not editing–but still writing creatively–and there is a difference.
And I did have to come up with rules. Like when I caught myself getting stuck and moving back in the story to tweak sentences. It was more busy work and didn’t improve the story … and didn’t solve the problem I was having.
That problem kept showing up. I couldn’t identify what it was, except it caused me to stall out at certain points in the story. So I decided to try the write straight through advice. I thought if I could just get the first draft done, I could fix any problems on the revisions.
Bad, bad, bad.
What I didn’t realize was that so many parts of the story are interconnected that if I left something broken in the first draft, it would ripple through the entire story from that point on. I’d get to the revision and fix the thing I’d left for later, or in one case, skipped over. That would trigger a cascade of changes that I had to make throughout, and each of those changes triggered yet more changes.
All because I didn’t do one simple thing in the story because I’d left it for the revision.
I like the analogy the Craft Thoughts article uses:
A better metaphor might be building a house. When you build, you want your foundation to be as strong as possible or else everything else is going to be warped and ready to collapse. Sure, it’s possible to just slap up a structure as quickly as possible with whatever materials are around, and replace every single thing piece by piece, but it’s going to take a lot more work. And, frankly, you are going to be a lot more likely to say, “Fuck it, who cares if the floor is at a 20° angle and the toilet is connected to the oven? Let’s call it a day.”
If the story’s foundation is built broken, it’s going to be broken. Why do writers do this to themselves unnecessarily?
Having started to go stir crazy, I went out to Panera today for lunch. There was a family of four there, husband, wife, two girls. The wife had a boot on her foot like me, but was getting around on a cane. Clearly a little more advanced in recovery than me.
Anyway, her boot was different than mine. So I’m ordering from the kiosk and I feel this touch on my boot. It was one of the little girls. She kept circling back around to check out my boot!
In every film with military aircraft–particularly from the 1960s and earlier–I’ve heard the pilots say “Roger Wilco.” I never knew what it meant, but it lies in the military phonetic alphabet.
Because so much of military communication is over a radio, and often one where it’s hard to hear, it’s easy to mix up letters. So each letter has a word associated with it that can’t be misheard. R was always Romeo to me, but it turned out another word was universally used until 1957. You can read about it here.
I broke my foot last Saturday while I was in the Everglades and have been on crutches, no weight bearing, and with a boot.
I’ve been on them before, when I was in the military, and they don’t get any easier with time. In fact, one of the things I learned with this round was that I get up and move around a lot. I didn’t realize how much until I wasn’t able to do as much.
The first day I think I managed to spill something on the floor about three times, then fell in the middle of the night trying to get to the bathroom. There’s a sharp turn from the bedroom door into a much narrower bathroom door. Balance checks all over the place. Yup, I’m pretty dangerous.
I’m keeping up on my exercise, though no lower body exercises and no lower body cardio. I’m revisiting my Jack La Lanne videos, since he was all about doing the exercise at home. Most of them can be done with a chair, standing, or the floor, and I can substitute something else where feet are required (i.e. running in place might become swimming).
The worst places
- Kitchen. Hands down, it’s a horror story. Everything that is conveniently located normally is hard to get on crutches.
- Did I mention I have stairs and hills? If I go outside, it’s down a flight of stairs, down another flight of stairs, down a hill, turn the corner, and down another hill. We have a hill of doom out front that eats buses and tractor trailers and cars when it snows.
Things I’m doing
- Peapod for groceries. The deliveryman came last night and brought it in and set it on the kitchen counter for me. Thank you! I was trying to figure out how to ferry the groceries to the kitchen from the door. I was figuring I’d move the items that required refrigeration and leave the rest where they were.
- Next time I order groceries, I’m going to head for precut vegetables. More expensive, but I’m not trying to juggle a knife, cutting board, and crutches.
- Drinking water is hard! I put a glass in the bathroom and one in the kitchen so I can easily access the water.
Breakfast is smoothies, lunch is a salad, and I’m still working out what I need to do for dinner.
That’s been a little challenging. I’m not getting as much done—think it’s just because, until I get used to the crutches, they’re very tiring. More important that the writing is to take care of me.
I came back from the cruise and broke my right foot in Florida. I was coming down a steep wheelchair ramp in the Everglades. It had this small speed bump at the end. I stepped on it, my ankle over-rotated, and I fell. The outside of my foot slammed into the speed bump.
It’s a clean break, but I have to be careful not to tear any of the tendons or that means surgery. So I’m on crutches, no weight-bearing … oh yeah, lots of fun /sarcasm. So my productivity is on the slow side. Especially since I didn’t realize how much I need to get up and move around.
Meanwhile, I ran across a writer asking how to define success. The writer asking the question was defining it as “best seller” or “number of sales.”
I tried not to wince. It’s a goal that we, as writers, have absolutely no control over. We can write good books, but it’s up to the readers to buy them. And it can be also influenced by outside events. I still remember some writers getting suck in the Twilight Zone because their books had the misfortune of being released the week of September 11.
I think a lot of people see a best-selling book as an escape from the day job they hate … sort of like the same people who want to win the lottery. Those are usually the ones who haven’t thought much beyond ‘quit the day job.’ Success to them is making enough money to quit the day job, not finding something they like to do.
The problem is that it takes a lot of time learning skills to be a better writer, especially getting out of the beginning stage where people start to notice what you are writing. How many books or short stories is that? How many years of writing? That’s usually where people who think in terms of quitting the day job give up writing. It’s just not we see on TV where the character writes one bad novel and it becomes a best seller and he goes to parties with hot girls.
I write because I enjoy doing it. When I started writing, it was all about the cool adventures I could have on paper (in real life, they aren’t that cool). I could solve a mystery like Nancy Drew or chase bad guys. I’m writing a story set on a spaceship. A spaceship! How cool is that? It’s like being on Star Trek, only better because it’s my story, my characters.
On the other side, which I’m keeping separate, I want to make enough money that I can one day, hopefully soon, write full time and do even more adventures and have more fun. It doesn’t matter to me that this book sells a million copies or why that book isn’t selling. It only matters that the accumulated sales of all the books is enough for me to do what I want.
How do you define success?
I just got back from my cruise–a very long day yesterday flying back! Anyway, I ran across this article this morning on “sensitivity reader” to look for offensive content and was horrified that the industry is doing this.
It’s a form of censorship, plain and simple.
It starts with the simple thing of avoiding stereotypes, which sounds reasonable.
And there is a problem with that. Most of it, in my opinion, comes from the media. The news tends to focus on what sells and that often crosses into stereotype territory. Films, TV, and even commercials tend to use stereotypes as a shortcut because of time limitations. If you were, say, a soldier in an all-male company and grew up without any sisters, you might think the images of women being helpless victims on every TV show are true.
However, let’s suppose I create a nasty individual–character’s well-drawn and the motivations for the nastiness is obvious in the context of the story. It’s even something that’s the heart of the story. And maybe I decide to make the character a woman.
Enter sensitivity reader, who gets offended that I made this woman such a nasty person and publisher tells me I need to change the character. Yet, if I’d done the character as a male, no one would had noticed any problems. That’s just plain wrong.
People can be offended at pretty much anything. Maybe I get offended because someone mentions rabbits. Does that mean writers should jump and change their rabbits to cats because one person is offended at rabbits?
I grew up watching Star Trek, the original one, when it went into syndication. There was something magical about it, seeing a woman on the bridge in an important position. As good science fiction does, it slipped in issues that could be brought up in the context of a fictional futuristic story. And it pushed a lot of boundaries that made people uncomfortable (especially judging from Gene Roddenberry’s battles with the network). But suppose a sensitivity viewer said that Uhura’s mini-skirt was offensive and GR’s response was to change the character to male?
I know the sensitivity reader idea has good intentions, but it takes control of the story away from the writer. It takes away our ability to push boundaries that need to be pushed.
Time in stories was the subject of an Odyssey online conference. I hadn’t really thought of time before, at least not until I started putting light into every scene.
When I was in Desert Storm, time was strange. We didn’t have weekends off, so it was get up each morning, have formation, go to work. It was hard to keep track of what day it was because the war interrupted the natural pacing of a normal week. It also had the effect of making time seem like it was really long even though it was only five months.
From the writing side, time starts out as a function of setting and setting is interpreted by characters, so that’s also characterization. Even my real life Desert Storm time was a function of where I was (a war) and how I was interpreting everything around me.
When I added light to the story in some way, it immediately anchored a specific time. A character is turning in for the night, or starts out on a mission as the sun rises.
But then there’s also the feel of the setting, like if you’re outside and the sun is rising, it will get hotter as the day gets later and then the character gets all sweaty. I remember in Desert Storm, during the hottest part of the day, we would all retreat to the tents and try not to move too much.
Or walking on the beach during summer and seeing the sharply cut shadows of myself sprawl across the beach. Of course, that’s also seasonal time, since shadows don’t act the same in winter.
Then there’s food. Meals are a great way to show time. Breakfast makes it obvious it’s morning. I’ve seen some books where a character is a prisoner and they have no sense of time because the meals are served irregularly. Or they identify it as a frame of reference for time.
How about the type of meal? Turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie sets its own time of the year.
The Editor’s Blog had this interesting bit about how aware we are of time:
People are almost always aware of time in their daily lives—time of day or month or year; time in relation to a job or task that needs to be completed; time in terms of religious holidays or seasons; stages of life such as infancy or teenage years, school years, years of fertility, and old age; era, such as the Roaring Twenties or Regency England or the frontier years on Mordant Five; or time as it relates to anticipation of either a dreaded or an eagerly anticipated event.
It’s both a simple and a complex topic, depending on how it’s used.
Hope Delgado has only one goal: to be an old woman. But the ghosts have other ideas. When Galactic Command comes calling with an offer–a bracelet to block the ghosts–she realizes that it might save her life. But GALCOM wants her to travel in space to another planet to fix a ghost problem that is threatening the population. To save her life, Hope must do the one thing doesn’t want to do. Things are never fair, and it’s about to get worse …
Available from your favorite booksellers including Amazon.
The Marines Corps has some growing pains with regards to women living with the men in the field. Any one of the military services are notorious for being slow to change, and this particular change is pretty glacial.
“You’re going to have sex, you’re going to have love, you’re going to have relationships, and it’s going to overly complicate the command structure,” Marine veteran, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, told the Marine Corps Times.
Army was doing what the Marine Corps is fighting at least twenty-five years ago. When I deployed with my unit to Desert Storm, our platoon stayed together in one tent. Two women, the rest men (don’t recall how many, but it was not more than eight). It did not destroy the morale of our platoon, and we did have sex. It did not complicate anything. We just put up cloth walls for privacy, which everyone did, because there wasn’t a whole lot of privacy to start with.
Eventually, as we got more women assigned the unit from the inactive reserves, then we split off into two women only tents. The other woman and I were disappointed; it was much better being with our platoon.
Yes, we did have some issues with soldiers having sex and one who got pregnant–but it wasn’t because they were living in the same tent. It was because we were there under very stressful circumstances and also because we were there for a long time. It’s one part of the war experience that military tends to pretty much pretend like it doesn’t exist, then blame the women for being there, as if only one person was responsible not the stressful situation.