Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekend, Writing Advice, and Space Pirates

This weekend, a friend and fellow writer visited, and we discussed and worked on current manuscripts -- short stories and novels. Much progress was made.

I've learned that I can accomplish more with a one-on-one conversation than by trying to glean useful help from the writers group.

As I've mentioned in the past, I've ceased sharing my work with the group, and have recruited a small pool of readers whose comments have been far more valuable than those of the writers. If a new writer is out looking for guidance, I'd say he or she should latch on to one or two solid writers whose advice is trustworthy, but then collect a select ensemble of readers who can be relied upon to tell when a story works and when a story is best used as birdcage liner.

Sometimes, I'm the one who's so dissatisfied with the end result that I pick the work apart until it bleeds. The readers, though, may look at me like I'm crazy. Or maybe they'll split up, a few keeping me distracted while the others flank me and remove the red pen / computer keyboard / pair of scissors from my grasp.

Just as we should know what needs cutting, we also need to recognize when to leave well enough alone.

Back to this weekend's results: I scribbled out the basic plot arcs for Seasons 2 and 3 of Thieves' Honor, as well as what should happen in the next two episodes, the projected enders for Season 1. (For the uninitiated, Thieves' Honor is the space pirates serial I'm writing for Ray Gun Revival.) This method of writing -- one episode a/k/a chapter at a time -- has been a great experience. I'm not allowed to sweat the future; I just need to produce the next episode.

Yeah, there is a future to consider, because what I write now will affect what happens later in the story, but whatever corners I write myself into, I must also write myself out of, and that means no whining, and no quitting. I don't get to second-guess myself too much, or to keep talking about some nebulous someday when the (cough, cough, ahem) masterpiece is complete. Nope. Butt must meet chair, and work must be done.

I cringe to recall what a whiny "artiste" I was when starting my first novel. Everything had to be perfect. When others told me to "just write," I considered them unimaginative cretins who could not possibly understand the cerebral power one must employ in order to produce high art.


Somewhere along the plodding journey, I fell out of love with my own words and gained a greater appreciation for the overall story, and worked to achieve THAT goal: the one of telling a story someone wanted to read.

I don't know how well I'm doing now, but that's almost not the point. Any craftsman should strive to do better. Always improve the craft.

To that end, I'm planning big things for upcoming TH episodes. Stay tuned for more adventures of the crew of the Martina Vega.


Phy said...

To answer the (probably rhetorical) question, your writing for Thieves' Honor is good. It's better. And getting even /better/ all the time. Kinda has the effect of throwing down the gauntlet, even when there isn't a competition. Which means that as you get better, we get better, too. Corporate 'by your bootstraps.'

Keanan Brand said...

Yeah, it was a rhetorical question, the result of an internal dialogue. The greatest competition is with myself. I look at the stuff I wrote a while back, and I can't let it stand as the writing for which I will be remembered. Know what I mean?

Besides, I really do love the craft, and want to get better, so maybe it's a good thing I have all the bad writing to use as a comparison, so I know when the current writing is getting better.

As for throwing down gauntlets, I think Alice did that in her story, "Sky Voices", that opened the most recent RGR issue. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

"Just as we should know what needs cutting, we also need to recognize when to leave well enough alone."

I had a creative writing prof. tell me that once, and it might be one of the most useful pieces of advice I've ever been given. Finding a good editor that you can trust is rough business--and I'm terrible at editing my own stuff.

Keanan Brand said...

Well, don't know what to say about that. Do you mean finding spelling or grammar mistakes -- a fresh pair of eyes can really be useful -- or storytelling mistakes?

For the latter, pre-readers are great, especially if they are avid readers.

One piece of advice you might have heard is this: "Never rely on friends or family to give honest feedback," the concern being that they'll tell you only nice things, not what needs to be done to fix the story.

However, I've told my small group of family and friends that I expect honesty, and only their nittiest-grittiest feedback is of any real use to me. Over the years, we've had long and detailed discussions -- these mostly involve my brother and his wife, or my dad -- that have clarified problems and then provided solutions. I owe much of the strength of my first (complete) fantasy novel to my brother and sister-in-law.

Anonymous said...

Pre-reading, def.

Often what I think is clear and profound is muddy as hell when someone else reads it. It's pretty--but perplexing. I'm just young and dumb enough still to produce art for art's sake on occasion.

Thanks for the advice.