This post is actually one I wrote sometime last month, maybe earlier, and never posted. I wanted to give it some time to gel and apparently just let it go, but since I’m actually still thinking a lot about this and it holds true to my current situation, particularly in how I’m learning to approach larger works on the whole, I’m just going to post it for the most part as is. Without further ado then, a blast from the fairly recent past, this blog post:
It’s funny how often I’m asked for advice that I can freely give and yet will not follow myself. If asked, I could tell you the signs of a good spiritual life, yet find myself with an often dismal prayer life, could tell you how to be a disciplined writer, yet am constantly strung up with Facebook and Twitter (conveniently linked, if you don’t follow me yet, by the way), etc., etc., but perhaps the worst travesty of all of these (prayer life notwithstanding as work in progress), is the irony of having actually, officially taught on editing and still finding myself such a dismal example of the craft. And while I might argue this to be yet another mark of God’s divine timing in my writing life rather than just a mark of my own laziness/pride, acknowledging once again how terrible it would have been for me to have met with success beforehand, I must admit that now, so late in the game, I’m finally starting to clue in on the importance of the editing advice I would so readily give (that advice having developed only recently itself in no small way as a direct result of having struggled so long and hard myself previously to now) given the opportunity.
You see, despite a decade of buffing, shearing, dusting, pruning and even sometimes flat out hacking, I still have a lot of questions about Machine and its world, questions my writing group will (thankfully) call me out on if I don’t do it myself (or if I choose, as I have so often done in the past, to ignore them), and problematically, I don’t always have the answers. World mechanics, certain characterizations, even large pieces of history have previously been unaccounted for in this, my largest and most worked over work, and the longer I try and have tried to ignore them, the more I have realized that my readers, to say nothing of myself, will not stand for such a passing over.
The problem stems in no small part from the fact that this is the book I learned to write in (as mentioned before), and am still, in many ways, learning to write in. I started my writing career all those years ago as a large fish in a small pond, self-assured of my success by lackluster criticisms from fellow students and far less lackluster, but by equal necessity not as in-depth as an editor criticisms of teachers, to say nothing of my own confidences. With such guarantees of success as my own naivete and good creative writing grades to gird my mind against criticisms (and by the same unfortunate conditions, a great deal of good advice) of any kind, it took me years, at least a dozen read throughs and several rejections from agents before I even started to realize that editing might be more than smoothing out the kinks of a (so I thought at the time), near flawless skeleton. It took me even longer to realize I should be taking pieces out entirely, and now, ten years down the line, it’s strange just how often I still finding myself trying to dust off a crooked spine and hips and wondering just where the problem started.
Of course, if I’m being strictly honest with myself, I know where the problems are, the reason Machine still limps along like a retired racehorse in places where it ought to be stretching its legs to soar. They’re in the same questions I’ve had all along, the ones I’ve ignored, looked past, or simply not put the work in to solve.
So what am I going to do about it?
I’m finally going to solve them.
Scrivener, I will say as a completely free plug, has done wonders towards this already, even when I was only just starting to find the usefulness of taking notes (for those unaware, it’s a program for creating and organizing drafts and resources, it’s plenty affordable for what you get [$40, though I got mine for sale at half off through AppSumo] and is a wonderful thing). Writing down facts about my world, my characters, and even keeping track of questions I still have (or being forced to answer the other ones people put to me) have all been incredibly useful strategies to help me towards this end as well. A lot of my problems stem from not knowing enough about my world (at least on paper), so writing them all out, facts about the world, the politics, the economy, history, or even a map, all of these will help me to figure out whether or not certain things are realistic or not or even flat out possible within the world I’ve created.
This TED-Ed video from Kate Messner talks a lot about what it takes to create a logical and consistent world.
Big surprise, previous til now, I haven’t really done any of these things for any of my books, at least to a large degree.
It’s just not how I ever functioned as a writer. I’ve always just written what comes into my head as it comes, and up until fairly recently, I never thought I needed notes. I thought my head was big enough to hold all of that stuff, which if I’m being fair, is at least somewhat true.
Now, I don’t say this to discourage any potential agents who might be reading this from working with me (in fact, feel free to reach out if you’d like), but rather to encourage, to encourage myself to follow through on fixing these problems, to encourage myself to be honest with where my work stands and the steps I will need to take to get it where I want it to be, and to encourage any other writers to do what they have to do to get their work where it needs to be (and to let them know they aren’t alone if they’ve missed a few steps as well).
Because the thing is, I do have the answers. Maybe not on paper, but I do have them in there, somewhere deep inside. I’ve just never taken the time to write them all down (or dug deep enough to find them), and that, more than anything, has been my mistake.
As someone who is for the most part self-taught in her craft (in the higher education and or mentored sense, not to give no credit to the positively phenomenal teachers I’ve had in grade and high school, college professors I liked and tremendously helpful teachers and authors at the conferences and workshops I’ve recently started attending), I will admit that sometimes it is very easy for me to get discouraged, to be frustrated that it has taken me so long and cost me so much heartache to get where others have gotten with what often appears to be little more than classes and helping hands (bitterness and jealousy too are problems I face, as you can see, problems I have in fact had to apologize for even recently), but there is also a certain beauty in self-discovery, a certain untouchable scope to see something you have so singularly poured into finally bloom. And while I wouldn’t dare to say I’ve done this on my own, or that God, my family and friends (to say nothing of teachers, readers, other authors and the countless others who have touched my life) haven’t helped me get here, I will say I am finding a new level of appreciation for the time it has taken to get here, an ability to treasure the process I would heretofore have so disdained.
So, yes, I have a lot of work left to do, yes I do need to finally take those steps back and put in the higher level work no matter the cost to those fine details and frills I’ve spent years in crafting and carving, but it is also totally, totally going to be worth it, and I can’t wait to get started.