Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Next Book?

Today's question for Stephanie is:  
What would you do differently if you were to write another book?  Her response gives us some cool insight into her writing struggles and what she's learned.

I started working with an editor, Jennifer Baumer, after I’d been writing ‘Scarlet Begonias’ for about a year and found out that I’d written the first 150 pages using a frack’d up point of view.  I was using a 3rdperson narrator, but I wanted to be inside everybody’s head at once, and that just isn’t allowed.  So, I ended up assigning each chapter to a character, and allowed my narrator to be privy to the contents of one head per chapter.  I also only allowed the reader to hear the internal chatter (written in italics) of a character if it was ‘their’ chapter.  I spent months of backtracking and cutting in order to clean up the POV issues.

Also at around the 150 page mark (after cleaning up the POV), I bought Noah Lukeman’s book ‘The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile’ (or did you buy that for me?  yes).  This book made it abundantly clear that I had to re-write the first 150 again.  I started with the first five pages, and re-wrote them for about a month.  Sometimes I would spend an hour on a paragraph.  But, after implementing the POV lessons and the lessons from Lukeman’s book (as well as those from ‘The Elements of Style’ by William Strunk, E. B. White and Roger Angell), I had transformed myself into a real writer.

So, for my next book, I think I can trim about a year or more off of the 3.5 years it took me to write (and re-write, and re-write) this one.

One thing that I won’t change is the need to craft and stick to an outline. Without it, I would have been a rambling idiot.  When I started, my outline had about 25 chapters, each with distinct settings, characters, and a basic description of my goal for plot development.  I initially kept my chapters short, and only tried to accomplish the goal of moving the story forward, not caring if the dialog was shallow or my sentence structure sounded like a 5th grader was writing it.  My goal was to write five pages per chapter, which was a very realistic goal on a chapter by chapter basis.  And then, before I knew it, I’d written 125 very crappy pages!

But, once you poop out those first 100+ pages, and let it just be stinky poop, then you’re really rolling.  It’s all downhill and super-fun after that.  I love editing.

OK, another thing that I would change is to be more organized.  I wrote on my laptop on the train and copied stuff to a flash drive to save at work so I could email it to my editor and emailed little blurbs of wiki research to myself and rammed post-its into my backpack with single words to jog my memory about something (my memory is AWFUL). After writing this, I realize that it just won’t be possible.  I am a scattered writer – period. Even now I have a bunch of email addresses, and a website, and facebook, and linked in, and create space, and the cosmicpals blog, and twitter – staying organized is very hard.

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