I don’t suck as a writer…really I don’t (or let’s learn about LaShawn’s Writing Process)

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been driving myself to finish editing a short story before the next Writers of the Future deadline (3/31/11). I’ve been working on this story for several months, and until Thursday, had worked on it solid for nine days, including weekends.

On Thursday, the day of the deadline, my mind went on strike.

I knew what I wanted to do. I have the outline of how the story went. I knew where it was going. I just…couldn’t…put…it…down. It was like my creative processes said, “That’s it. No more. We’re shutting down and refuse to do anything until we get some sleeeeeeep!”

I looked at the remaining ten pages I had left to edit, and reluctantly conceded that I would not made the deadline. I then spent the next 24 hours in an absolute funk.

I know in my head I did the right thing. Even if I did sit down and forced myself to finish editing those last ten pages, it would have been very sloppy edits. On Wednesday, I looked at one of my scenes and thought, meh I don’t need it. Yesterday morning, while thinking on it more (because my mind refuses to stop thinking about the story, even though it won’t let me work on it anymore), I realized it had been a key scene that sets up the main characters actions for the rest of the story.  If I had left it out, readers wouldn’t understand how she goes from acting one way to acting another. It’s little mistakes like that that makes a difference between an Honorable Mention and a Finalist.

I still felt like a failure, though.

Today I thought why I felt so sucky all weekend and what went wrong. I realized that part of the fail was not realizing where I was in my writing process.  Although I’ve been writing professionally for almost seven years now, I never wrote it down because I was still in the process of figuring out what it was. Well, now’s the time. So here’s how my writing process goes:

1) When I get an idea for a story, I write it out either longhand or in the notebook section of Writer’s Café. I don’t even consider it a first draft. I just want to put the idea down on paper.

2) I write up the first draft in Word. Usually it involves cutting and pasting, but I also flesh out parts that needed. I use the commenting section to make notes.

3) I use Scrapbook in Writer’s Café to look at the story from the outside, figuring out the theme, the characters, everything I can think of. I do a lot of freewriting in this stage. I also identify what research I need to do.

4) I let the story rest while I do research. I give myself about a couple of weeks for it.

5) I look at how my research impacts the story and what, if anything, needs to be changed. I use Storyboard in WC to draw up a second outline.

6) I write another draft incorporating all the research and changes I’ve decided to do. I also flesh in details and make the prose stronger. Out of all the processes, this one takes the longest because I’m thinking about how each word, each line, each paragraph impacts the story; how it fits with how I want the story to go and the characters to act according to the rules I’ve set up. It’s usually here that characters may act differently than the first draft, certain plotlines become stronger while others get weaker, or even get dropped altogether. Strangely enough, this is also my favorite stage, although by the end of it, I am absolutely sick of the story and just ready to send it out.

7) I send the story to beta readers to make sure that what I wrote isn’t crap, which I usually think it is by the end of the previous stage.

8 ) When I receive feedback, I either adjust the story accordingly or leave it as is if I feel it’s important. Mostly, I revise for clarity.

9) I do a final revision which cleans up grammar, spelling, work with few last stubborn sentences that don’t sound right.

10) I submit it.

Looking at this, it all makes sense. I would say that my story is still on Stage 6, which is the longest stage in the process. I should’ve recognized that the story wasn’t nearly ready as it should’ve been, but at the same time, I could see why I pushed myself. It’s usually in this stage that I get impatient to finish the story, and oftentimes I have to force myself to slow down to think things through.  If there are certain events coming up that take away from my writing time, the urge to finish the story gets stronger.

Such as OdysseyCon happening this week. And in two weeks, my 40th birthday. And Easter. And Daniel being on spring break…

That was what made me push so hard to finish the story. And that was why I got so burnt out. I simply do not do well being rushed. Especially during stage 6. If I was in stage 8 or 9, I probably would’ve made the deadline. But I’m not.

So. Deep breath. I have to stop beating myself up over it. I don’t suck. I need to rest my brain. Refill my creative cup. Then start working on the story again tomorrow, but go back to my regular schedule, not the crazy write-every-single-chance-I-get schedule.

Maybe I’ll finish in time for my birthday.

Starting 2011 the right way: FAIL

In December, I decided to knit myself some fingerless gloves.  I have grown enough in my knitting skills that I wanted challenge–or I got sick of knitting scarves. Take your pick. I didn’t want any fancy cabling or patterns, because I figured knitting gloves would be challenging in itself in that I would use double-pointed needles, something I’ve never tried before. but I was eager and more importantly, my hands got freaking cold in the evening, so why not do something constructive.

Thus, I scoured online for the most basic, easiest to do pattern I could find. Then I got my equipment. Double pointed needles, a stitch holder, and yarn. And I started my knitting project.

On January 3rd, I finished the glove. I looked at it. I put it on. Then I took it off and completely ripped it apart.

On January 3, I also got my bottom left back molar pulled out. It’s been on a slow decline for the past few years now. I had a deep pocket that affected the root of that tooth, and the dentist told me there was really nothing they can do but slow the deterioration of that tooth. It was basically a ticking bomb, and it went off right around New Year’s Day.

Two weeks ago, I got my latest rejection from Writers of the Future. For the first time, though, I didn’t make the Honorable Mention list. I had always made the list. Always.

So. FAIL.

Except, I expected that to fail. In looking at the story, I knew it might not pass because I’m starting to get a feel for what WOTF is looking for. The rejection verified that. So I know not to send mundane SF to them.

It’s like the fingerless glove. I had no clue what I was doing when I started it. I picked black yarn, which is hard to see if you screw up. I made a lot of false starts when I realized my method of knitting (knitting into the back) couldn’t work on such small needles. And I didn’t read the directions right, putting my stitches on only one stitch holder instead of two, which meant the finger holes wound up going places they shouldn’t go (I wish I had some way to knit interdimensional vortices.) So after I ripped apart the glove, I started over again, not repeating the same mistakes.

I finished the second glove a couple of weeks ago. And this time, it looks like a glove.

Bottom line: learn from FAILs.

Not all of this year has been FAIL. In the writing realm, I’ve been shockingly busy. I got a poem coming out on Every Day Poets on February 20. I’ve also been working on some non-fiction works that I’ll be announcing soon. 

As for the tooth, well, it’s gone. There’s a gaping hole where it used to be. And I got figure out what to do with it, and how am I going to pay for it.

Reckon I better get to work on Willow.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? …or Don’t be such a jackass in the comments section…

So ever since RaceFail, I’ve been keeping an eye on what people are buzzing about in the writing world. The latest is an anthology to be published by called The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF. Take a look at the table of contents. Notice anything about them? Now take a look at the comments.

Mind-blowing indeed.

When I was doing the 31 days to Build a Better Blog, one of the things they suggest is to contribute to the comment section in blogs you like. But sometimes, when I look at what brews there, it’s like looking at shark-infested waters. Ain’t no way I’m sticking a toe in there, much less my opinion.

Part of that may be due to my own insecurities. When I was younger, I used to think that no one would value what I had to say. That’s why I wrote stories. Much easier to hide my opinions in them. But another part is that I dislike heated arguments. Especially when they stray from intellectual debate to name calling, F-bombs, slurs, nastiness, etc. It happened in RaceFail. It happened with the whole ROF cover thing (and for a great summary of what happened with that, check out this visual summation here. Hilarious!). It’s almost becoming a cliché: a post appears that makes a bunch of people comment, then an idiot makes a knee-jerk comment, people get up in arms, more commenters defend the slanderer, and soon we got FAIL this and FAIL that.

That’s the ease and the curse of the internet. It’s so easy to type something out and hit enter. You don’t think of consequences. The people you’re writing to are faceless. You don’t see them laugh. You don’t see them flinch. You don’t see the anger, or the hurt on their faces. They’re voiceless until they put their own fingers to the keyboard.

What really gets me in all of this is that, well, aside from those who contribute or read such things,  no one else really knows…or cares. I can go up to my mother, or my co-workers, or people at church and talk about RaceFail, and they’ll give me blank looks, or politely just nod their heads. For all the talk and hype and brouhaha we do in comments and LiveJournal, it’s all so insular.

And the real sad thing is, these are legitimate issues. They deserve to be discussed. For instance, someone asked a question on a reading list I’m on: "Should we, as consumers, make it mandatory that every SF anthology, no matter how small or archaic, include female and POC writers?" That is a very good question. And from what I’ve seen of the discussion so far, it’s been very insightful. So it is possible to express one’s view with intelligence and respect.

I know. There will always be jackasses who will say anything they want, flamers who just want to stir up controversy for the fun of it, and folks who say stuff that they’d wish they slept a night on instead of posting right off.  But I guess the best way to counter stupid comments is to take Mur Lafferty’s advice. Don’t be an ass. Be polite. Don’t say anything that will haunt you later on. If you disagree with someone, say so. But don’t slander. Don’t call names. It’s really not that big of a deal. If the greater world don’t care about it, it shouldn’t get our panties in a wad either.

And frankly, in regards to the all-white guy anthology, I don’t think it ever entered the editor’s head to include any females or POC, because, well, it didn’t really occur to him to do so. He just wanted to get some of his favorite authors together and print some stories of them. It’s what he considers the best science fiction. It reflects his tastes. Me? I looked at the table of contents, and the only author who looked interesting to me was Robert Silverberg, because I like his Valentine series. Everyone else…meh. But see, that reflects my tastes. I like to read stuff with more diversity.

Now…if you excuse me, I’m going to finish reading Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen so I can dive into my Dark Matter: Reading the Bones anthology. Not only has Link’s book blown my mind, it has smashed it to smithereens, then took all the mushy bits and mashed them together into a likeness of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Surreal, yet impressive.