Thursday, April 24, 2014
Just like last week, once again I’m going to blame/thank Stormy Glenn. Maybe it was her latest bestseller that lit the fire under my butt, but I finally finished my own slave market romance. Mine’s the one with a woman in it, so readers can tell them apart.
Let me clarify: I finished the first draft, which, from around Chapter 6 to the end, wound up being in longhand. Now I get to write the whole thing again when I type it up. Please hold all disparaging comments. I’m well aware of how much extra work I’ve set myself up for. I know it would have been easier and less time-consuming if I’d written it on the computer in the first place. Too bad for me.
All writers have their quirks and rituals. Stephen King chews dry aspirin. I write a minimum of three drafts. I’ve had a couple of books where I probably should have written more, but three’s generally my magic number.
For the record, I have written books and stories on a computer—and on a typewriter, back in the Paleolithic Era—but I still can’t fully break the habit of pens and notebook paper. I find it relaxing to sit in bed with a cup of tea, pen in hand and notebook on lap, and scrawl stories about shapeshifters and vampires and aliens having sex. Sometimes even with each other. ET and the Vampire may end up as my next M/M.
Okay, back on topic. Writing longhand also gives my eyes a break from staring at a screen all the time. I hear desktop computers are either gone or on the way out and that laptops may follow, replaced by iPADs and tablets and even your phone. I hope not. I need a full-sized computer with nice big letters on the keyboard and a screen large enough so I don’t have to squint at it. I already wear bifocals. The eyes ain’t gonna get any better.
Another advantage of handwriting: you can make the letters as big as you need to. Like shouting. I suppose if I’m still writing at 80 I’ll be down to one huge word per page. Or one of these days I’ll say screw it and get voice recognition software and just dictate my books into the system. Or we’ll all be linked in to Skynet through the chips in our heads and we’ll just have to think at the computer and the words will appear. That would save time for sure.
Until that day arrives, however, I’m sticking to what feels right to me, and that’s usually pen and paper. This is my first draft.
Because I’m a pantser, the first draft’s the experiment. A lot of times I don’t know when I start where the plot is headed. Make that most of the time. In London Werewolf I was three chapters in before I realized, “Hey, somebody’s trying to kill this guy. Might be helpful if I figured out who.” I didn’t answer that question until another two chapters later, and even then it took me by surprise. It’s a good thing I’m not trying to write murder mysteries for a living.
First drafts are fun drafts. Every wild idea, every inspiration, every twist, gets tossed into the pot. The second draft is where you sort it out. That sudden revelation I had in Chapter 12 concerning Mariposa’s bastard cousin? Now I have a chance to set that up. If I’m doing a mystery, I can go back and sprinkle in the red herrings, or strengthen clues so the Big Reveal doesn’t pop up out of nowhere. In my current book, I decided a couple of chapters in to change the main characters’ names. A quick search and replace and voila, it’s done. This is where the computer really earns its keep. No more whiteouts or retyping whole pages. Need to move a paragraph from page 6 to page 10? Cut and paste! The computer still can’t read for content, but it will catch most of your typos. Let’s see a typewriter do that!
Even here I’m still making extra work for myself. My second draft gets typed on the ancient computer, the Troglodyte 1000, because that one’s got a printer. I need that hard copy for phase 3, the final read through. Here’s where I (hopefully) spot typos, fix awkward sentences, shore up shaky characterization, and otherwise polish up the words to a high-gloss shine. My second drafts look like a football playbook, with Xs, arrows, notes and doodles everywhere. It’s like my first draft, but more legible.
Now comes the third and usually final draft. Because Troggy’s incompatible with all current systems, and because almost all publishers want your books emailed, I have to type it all up a third time, into the laptop, because that’s the one I get my Internet on. Why don’t I just write my books on the laptop to begin with? Because the laptop has no printer. I’m afraid I’ll finish a 100,000 word opus and the system will crash and I’ll have lost everything. Anyway, that would be too easy. It isn’t art unless you’re suffering.
Besides, even after two drafts and a polish I’ve still caught mistakes in the final typing, or had an inspiration that led to a new scene (or the axing of an old one) that led to a better book. That’s not to say the book’s perfect by the time I send it out, but it’s as perfect as I can make it. After three passes and a cleaning, it damn well better be.
One other thing: how-to manuals advise you to let your deathless prose cool off before you start editing, anywhere from a week to six months or longer. Because I’m such a slow writer, the beginning of the book has had months to sit fallow before I write The End. With the ending still fresh in my mind I can go back to the start with an editor’s eye. By the time I get around to the end again, several more weeks have passed. My second draft doubles as the rest period. I know, I know, if I wrote faster I could let one book cool off while writing two or three others. Get a whole assembly line going and have a release every month. Let’s not make this process any more stressful than it already is.
And that is how this writer creates a book. Now, if only I knew how to sell them …