Writing advice you’re not going to like.

People sometimes send me Asks wanting writing advice.  I suck at it.  I don’t really know how I do the writing, or how one should do the writing, or what one should do to get better at the writing.  All I can ever think to say is “write a lot of stuff and you will get better at the writing.”  Which is true, but hardly a bolt from the sky.

Well, as it turns out, I do have one piece of Legit Writing Advice, and I am going to share it with you, right now.  If you were in any of my writing workshop groups at a con, you’ve heard this advice already.

Warning: you’re going to fucking hate it.  But if you do it, you will thank me.

If you have a piece of fiction you’re serious about, something you might want to actually shop around, or just something you really are into and want to make it as good as you can…do NOT edit it.

Repeat.  DO NOT EDIT.

REWRITE.

As in, print out the whole fucking thing and re-enter it, every word (or use two screens).  Retype the whole thing.  Recreate it from the ground up using your first draft as a template.  Start with a blank page and re-enter every. single. word.

I hear you screaming.  OH MY GOD THAT’S INSANE.

Yes.  Yes, it is.

It is also the most powerful thing you will ever do for a piece of fiction that you are serious about.

Now, let’s get real.  I don’t do this for most things.  I don’t do it for my fanfiction.  But if it’s something original, something I might like to get to a professional level - I do it.  You absolutely COULD do it for fanfiction.  It’s just up to you and how much time you want to sink into a piece.

You can edit, sure.  But you WILL NOT get down to the level of change that needs to happen in a second draft.  You will let things slide.  Your eyes will miss things.  You will say “eh, good enough.”

The first time I did this, on someone else’s advice, I was dubious.  Within two pages, I was saying WHY HAVE I NOT BEEN DOING THIS ALL THE TIME.  I was amazed at how much change was happening.  By the time I got to the end, I had an entirely different novel than the one I’d started with.  When you’re already re-entering every single word, it’s easy to make deep changes.  You’ll reformat sentences, you’ll switch phrases around, you’ll massage your word choice.  You’ll discover whole paragraphs that don’t need to be there at all because they became redundant.  You’ll find dialogue exchanges that need reimagining.  Whole plot points will suddenly be different, whole story arcs will reveal their flaws and get re-drawn.

You cannot get down to the fundamental level of change that’s required just by editing an existing document.  You have to rebuild it if you really want your story to evolve.  You will be AMAZED at the difference it will make.

It will take time.  It will seem like a huge, Herculean task.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  It isn’t.  But it is absolutely revolutionary.

Try it.  I promise, you will see what I mean.

*PSA: Tipsy!Lori wrote this post.  In case you couldn’t tell.

14 May 2014 ·

760

professorfangirl:

saathi1013:

I do not believe that dudeslash is inherently toxic. It serves several important functions as a (massively popular) subset of the transformative works [sub]culture, and as an outlet for individual creativity and expression.

I do, however, believe that dudeslash fandoms cannot truly call themselves “safe spaces” for women while simultaneously being spaces where female characters are consistently dragged through the mud, and narratives about/involving female characters are treated as unimportant/useless/”in the way.”

Dudeslash does not inherently equate to anti-female-characters, but in a lot of the large slash-centric fandoms, it is difficult to see that, and it would be nice if such fandoms could be more positive in their treatment of female characters in their pursuit of their preferred dudeslash ships.

If I have been unclear on this point, I apologize.

Right on, that’s perfectly put. Dudeslash may make up a majority of slash works because it’s in a way part of readers’ sexual practices, and those readers desire men. But to desire men doesn’t mean being disgusted by women, and dudeslash fans who reinforce or validate their pleasure in men by denigrating or negating female characters damage the fandom and taint it with misogyny. Since you raised this issue earlier this summer I’ve read and recced more femmeslash, and while my pleasure in doing that is different—less erotic and sexual, more academic and emotional—I’ve found some drop-dead beautiful writing.

It should be noted that you don’t have to write femmeslash to avoid bashing female characters.  Slash…surprise…can INCLUDE female characters who are awesome, who have their own agency, who don’t exist just to get fridged, or to be the designated bitch so that the slash ship can happen.  Slash fics can still be a safe space for female characters.  There is a place for women in the lives of the men we choose to write about, and they can also be characters we care about and respect even if we’re not writing their ship in that particular story.

18 September 2013 ·

On self-correction and a writer’s confidence

I see a lot of writers, here and elsewhere, bemoaning that when they read their own work, they see flaws.  They see the rough spots, they see the awkward phrasings, they see the info dumps and the adverb abuse.  This, they find discouraging.

I suggest to you that if you can see the flaws in your own writing, this should be encouraging.  Seeing where I am going wrong is what gives me confidence, because when I know what’s wrong, I can fix it - and the fact that I know that it’s wrong in the first place means my writerly compass is pointing north and not spinning wildly.  Seeing where you are going wrong shouldn’t make you less confident, but more so.

You cannot see what is wrong with your writing unless part of you knows what it should look like.  You can’t hear the flaws unless you can sense the presence of your ideal voice.  It’s when you can’t see what is wrong that you ought to worry, because that means you’re deaf to the standard you want to strive for.

I know I’m in trouble when I sense that the writing isn’t what I want it to be, but I can’t see the mistakes.  It’s when I can go back and hear the false notes, see the missteps, that I can be more confident in my writing.  You can’t fix it unless you first know what’s wrong.

So don’t despair if you read your own work and see flaws.  That only means you know what you want it to look like, what it’s supposed to look like, and that’s an important step. 

 It’s those mistakes you don’t see that’ll get you in the end.  A big part of a writer’s development is honing your ability to discern the flaws.  You should welcome every flaw that you see.  They’re not your enemies.  They’re your teachers. 

22 July 2013 ·

On fanfic and IC vs. OOC

professorfangirl:

emmagrant01:

Two recent comments on A Cure for Boredom

→ “I’m pretty new to the Sherlock/Johnlock thing and a lot of fics I find Sherlock to be somewhat…. out of character. Sometimes a little, sometimes a whole wonking heck of a lot. I think this is the best characterized Sherlock I’ve ever seen. I love it.”

→ “While this was certainly really hot, the characters, for me, felt OOC. I still liked reading it. But it could’ve been anyone, really.”

And two on Just a Kiss:

→ “Ahh so brilliant!! This is definitely one of my all time favourite fics, it’s just so awesome and very in character.”

→ “by the end your John was an out of character asshole and there’s no two ways about it. Normally I don’t bother saying anything if I don’t like something I’ve tried to read, but this was just ridiculous. I don’t know why people even bother to write in fandoms if they’re going to turn the main characters into out of character wankers who deserve to be slapped with sexual harassment suits. […] at the very least for those of us who care about characterization MARK YOU WORK AS CONTAINING CHARACTERS WHO ARE BEHAVING OUT OF CHARACTER!

I’ve talked about this before in various venues, but it really amazes me how widely people’s ideas about characterization in fanfic can vary. What is completely OOC to one person can be perfectly IC to another. How can that happen when we all watch the same show? Assuming that most* people who write fanfic are actually writing the versions of the characters that are in their heads and are convinced that their version is as in-character as they can possibly make it, why is there so much variation? 

Read More

"To me, this highlights the fact that, despite what many critics of fandom so often say, fanfic writers actually do quite a lot of character development in their work. This is especially true in fandoms where the canon is a visual medium and we don’t have access to a character’s thoughts and feelings….I’d even argue that a lot of fanfic is a form of character analysis."

YES.

This is a really good discussion.  I’ve had the same thing happened…one day I got two reviews of Alone on the Water, the first of which said “Wow, this is really in character” and the second of which said “Shit, this is so out of character.”  Which is when you throw up your hands and say whatthefuckever.

When someone says “this is out of character,” they almost always mean “your headcanon and mine don’t match.”

2 July 2013 ·

[rebloggable by request]
Well, first of all, WELCOME TO ONE OF MY PET PEEVES.
A female character does not have to be “strong” (whatever your definition of that is) to be a good character.
Women can be strong, or wussy, or emotional, or stoic, or needy, or independent, and still be legitimate people and interesting characters.
In our totally understandable desire to see portrayals of strong women (in reaction to decades of damsels in distress and women as appendages), we’ve somehow backed ourselves into this corner where the only acceptable portrayal of a woman in the media is a strong, kick-ass woman.  That is not doing women any favors.  It just leads to the attitude that you have to be ONE WAY ONLY to be legit as a woman.  You shouldn’t have to be Natasha Romanoff or Xena to be considered a good character.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Buffy as much as the next person, but that should not be the only acceptable portrayal.  It should be okay for a female character NOT to be strong, too.  Let’s take Molly Hooper as an example.  She is not the stereotypical “strong” woman.  But hell, she went through medical school, didn’t she?  She’s smart, and she’s funny, and she serves a story function - she is not a major character, but she doesn’t have to be.  But her character gets criticized because she pines after Sherlock.  What, you never pined after somebody?  Did it make you invalid as a person?  You never got a bit silly over a crush?  I know I did.  And I still consider myself a strong woman.  It should be okay for Molly to have a crush on Sherlock without getting the “oh, she’s so pathetic, what a terrible example, what a horrible female character” thing she so often gets.  Yes, because it’s so terrible that a female character should reflect an experience that like 99% of us have had.  
Screw writing “strong” women.  Write interesting women.  Write well-rounded women.  Write complicated women.  Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner.  Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband.  Write a woman who doesn’t need a man.  Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks.  THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN.  Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people.  So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong.  Write characters who are people.
The only bad female character, if you ask me (and you did), is one who’s flat.  One who isn’t realistic.  One who has no agency of her own, who only exists to define other characters (usually men).  Write each woman you write as if she has her own life story, her own motivations, her own fears and strengths, and even if she’s only in the story for one page, she will be a real person, and THAT is what we need.  Not a phalanx of women who can karate-chop your head off, but REAL women, who are people, with all the complexity and strong and not-strong that goes with it.
This is why I disagree with the “damsel in distress” criticism of Irene in the last scene of Scandal.  Here’s the thing about being a damsel in distress…it’s only bad if that’s all she is.  If the character’s defining characteristic is being a damsel in distress, that’s bad.  But if an otherwise complex character with lots of other agency and actions happens to be in distress, then…that’s all it is.  She is in distress.  That happens.  Characters are often in distress, or there would be no plots.  Should a female character never be allowed to be in distress, at ALL, to be valid?  No.
A strong female character is one who is defined by her own characteristics, history and personality, and not solely by the actions or needs of other characters.  She is a person in the story, not a prop.  That is the best definition I can come up with.  Note that my definition did not involve martial arts. 
That was probably longer than you were anticipating!  I’ve had that percolating for a long time.

[rebloggable by request]

Well, first of all, WELCOME TO ONE OF MY PET PEEVES.

A female character does not have to be “strong” (whatever your definition of that is) to be a good character.

Women can be strong, or wussy, or emotional, or stoic, or needy, or independent, and still be legitimate people and interesting characters.

In our totally understandable desire to see portrayals of strong women (in reaction to decades of damsels in distress and women as appendages), we’ve somehow backed ourselves into this corner where the only acceptable portrayal of a woman in the media is a strong, kick-ass woman.  That is not doing women any favors.  It just leads to the attitude that you have to be ONE WAY ONLY to be legit as a woman.  You shouldn’t have to be Natasha Romanoff or Xena to be considered a good character.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Buffy as much as the next person, but that should not be the only acceptable portrayal.  It should be okay for a female character NOT to be strong, too.  Let’s take Molly Hooper as an example.  She is not the stereotypical “strong” woman.  But hell, she went through medical school, didn’t she?  She’s smart, and she’s funny, and she serves a story function - she is not a major character, but she doesn’t have to be.  But her character gets criticized because she pines after Sherlock.  What, you never pined after somebody?  Did it make you invalid as a person?  You never got a bit silly over a crush?  I know I did.  And I still consider myself a strong woman.  It should be okay for Molly to have a crush on Sherlock without getting the “oh, she’s so pathetic, what a terrible example, what a horrible female character” thing she so often gets.  Yes, because it’s so terrible that a female character should reflect an experience that like 99% of us have had.  

Screw writing “strong” women.  Write interesting women.  Write well-rounded women.  Write complicated women.  Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner.  Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband.  Write a woman who doesn’t need a man.  Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks.  THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN.  Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people.  So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong.  Write characters who are people.

The only bad female character, if you ask me (and you did), is one who’s flat.  One who isn’t realistic.  One who has no agency of her own, who only exists to define other characters (usually men).  Write each woman you write as if she has her own life story, her own motivations, her own fears and strengths, and even if she’s only in the story for one page, she will be a real person, and THAT is what we need.  Not a phalanx of women who can karate-chop your head off, but REAL women, who are people, with all the complexity and strong and not-strong that goes with it.

This is why I disagree with the “damsel in distress” criticism of Irene in the last scene of Scandal.  Here’s the thing about being a damsel in distress…it’s only bad if that’s all she is.  If the character’s defining characteristic is being a damsel in distress, that’s bad.  But if an otherwise complex character with lots of other agency and actions happens to be in distress, then…that’s all it is.  She is in distress.  That happens.  Characters are often in distress, or there would be no plots.  Should a female character never be allowed to be in distress, at ALL, to be valid?  No.

A strong female character is one who is defined by her own characteristics, history and personality, and not solely by the actions or needs of other characters.  She is a person in the story, not a prop.  That is the best definition I can come up with.  Note that my definition did not involve martial arts. 

That was probably longer than you were anticipating!  I’ve had that percolating for a long time.

30 May 2013 ·

Comparing and contrasting

Reblogging some old writing essays just cuz.  And no, I never figured out the reblog-yourself, Gerty reblogged it for me so I could reblog from her and isn’t THAT just perky.

madlori:

One thing I always overhear a lot around fandom, whether it’s about fanfic authors or (more commonly) artists, is that old “I might as well just stop writing/arting/vidding/whatever because this person is so gooooood.” I’d like to address that phenomenon, wrt writers (although everything I’m about to say applies equally to other kinds of creative expression).

Anyone who writes will tell you that reading the work of others is a necessary part of the process of producing your own. I’ve been a reader far longer than I’ve been a writer; as I think is probably the case for everybody, it was my love of reading that led me to writing in the first place.

The problem is that once you start writing, especially after you’ve been doing it long enough to have acquired some competence and a critical eye, reading is never the same. The “analytic gaze” (a phrase I heard once and love but can’t recall the origins of) takes up permanent residence in your brain and you always read with half an eyeball towards an assessment of the author’s skill, usually relative to your own. We writers are an insecure bunch. We are forever comparing ourselves to authors whose work we read. Over time, from my own experience and from talking to other authors about this, I’ve developed some thoughts about this effect that I’d like to share with you today.

As far as I can tell, there are five general levels in an author’s assessment of authors they’re reading: Much Worse than Me, Worse Than Me, About the Same as Me, Better than Me, and Much Better than Me. Now granted, we might not always have an accurate assessment of our own skill. But in my experience, while we might not always be correct about who’s About the Same, we’re usually correct about who’s better or worse.

Each of these five levels inspires a different emotional reaction.

1. Much Worse Than Me = Frustrating. These are the books we don’t finish, the ones we throw across the room in disgust. The predominant thought is always “This hack got published! Why not MEEEEEEE?” Now, whether or not we’ve actually even attempted to get published is irrelevant here. It’s the principle of the thing, dammit! Because you just know that even if we haven’t been rejected by the industry (yet) there are other talented authors who have been, and yet this monkey with a typewriter has his/her picture on a bookjacket. As I have recently become fond of saying, that shit is bananas.

2. Worse Than Me = Illuminating. In some ways, reading the work of an author whose work isn’t terrible but in which you can still see flaws is the most educational. You don’t have to throw the book across the room or grind your teeth in horror, you can still enjoy the work, but you can see where they’ve gone wrong…and it can help you to avoid those problems in your own work, especially when you can recognize them. I’ve often read books like this thinking “Boy, this author’s really got some pacing issues…I ought to be careful of that” or “this turn of phrase is awkward, and I know I’ve used it. Note to self: don’t use it again.”

3. About the Same As Me = Encouraging. When you find an author whose work reminds you of your own (whether you’re actually right about their relative skill, see above caveat), it’s encouraging…they got published, so maybe you can, too. When you’re reading something that you could picture yourself writing, it can give you hope.

4. Better Than Me = Inspiring. These are the authors whose work can motivate you to the greatest change. While the Worse Than Me category might make you see what to avoid, the Better Than Me authors make you see what you could achieve. When you admire an author’s descriptive subtlety, or their dialogue, or their character strokes, it can put you in mind of how you can improve those things about your own work.

5. Way Better Than Me = Discouraging. This is the most counterintuitive, but show me a writer who says they’ve never felt this way and I will show you a liar. Sometimes, when reading something that is so amazingly written that you can’t believe it, all you can feel is “I will never write like this as long as I live, and I might as well just quit now.” These authors’ skills and achievements seem so far out of reach that they might as well be impossible, and just the existence of writing like this makes you at once proud that such artistry exists in your medium, but also despairing that you’ll never get there…probably.

That last category is a bitch, especially in the fandom arenas. Back in my BBM days, I read every last word of the prodigious output of a particular fanfic author who, honestly, made me want to hang up my jock and hit the showers. I read her work and I know that I could never produce work like that if I tried for a thousand years. [incidentally don’t bother asking; her fic is no longer available]

What I had to keep reminding myself is that…well, that’s okay. I shouldn’t be thinking that I ought to be producing work like hers, I ought to be concentrating on producing work like mine. She and I were very, very different as writers. She was way more stylistic than me. I’m not a style-driven writer. I’m a nuts-and-bolts, plain-talk kind of writer. If there’s a form-versus-function balance in writing (and I believe that there is, definitely) then she’s on the form side while I’m firmly on the function side. I remember reading nine chapters of her work in which…well, not much happened. It was beautiful, haunting and all very stream-of-consciousness (which she can turn on and off like a faucet, another skill I envy). I read it and I don’t know how she can conjure those words, ordinary English words, to paint such vivid emotional portraits and evoke such powerfully felt moods.

But it’s not productive to try and make your writing like someone else’s, or bemoan the fact that you can’t. You shouldn’t write like someone else, because every author has their own voice and style. I can’t undergo a total style transplant NOW, nor would I really want to. I ought to concentrate on improving my own style and doing what I do better. There are probably readers who preferred my writing to hers, which isn’t to say that I’m wrong to declare that she was way better than me, just that my style is more to their taste.

I always think that writers should stick together. Try and support each other’s work, and encourage each other’s growth. It can be hard to look at someone whose work you worship like a graven idol and remember that they have authors that they admire, too, and they’ve had those feelings of I-will-never-write-as-well-as-X. I don’t think any writer ever really thinks that they’re good. You can’t write well if you think you’re the shit at it. You have to have some confidence that you’re at least competent at it, or else you’d never be able to put your work out in front of an audience, but secretly, you always suspect that you suck.

And precious are those moments when you forget that you’re a writer. When you can manage to let that go and immerse yourself in someone else’s work, even someone who’s Much Better, and let their skill transport you into the world they’ve made and shared with you without always thinking about the writing. There’s plenty of time once you close the book to obsess over whether or not anything that you’ve written will do that for others.

(via billiethepoet)

5 April 2013 ·

teachingliteracy:

amandaonwriting:
The Top 10 Writers Block Quotes
1. Writer’s block? I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living. ~Warren Ellis
2. I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done. ~Barbara Kingsolver
3. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it? ~Philip Pullman
4. I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place. ~Jeffery Deaver
5. You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block. ~John Rogers
6. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write. ~Terry Pratchett
7. I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen. ~Jennifer Egan
8.Writer’s block doesn’t exist…lack of imagination does. ~Cyrese Covelli
9. Writer’s Block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing. ~Giando Sigurani 
10. Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch. ~Lili St. Crow

I love all of these, but #7 was like, right between the eyes OMGYES.

teachingliteracy:

amandaonwriting:

The Top 10 Writers Block Quotes

1. Writer’s block? I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living. ~Warren Ellis

2. I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done. ~Barbara Kingsolver

3. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it? ~Philip Pullman

4. I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place. ~Jeffery Deaver

5. You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block. ~John Rogers

6. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write. ~Terry Pratchett

7. I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen. ~Jennifer Egan

8.Writer’s block doesn’t exist…lack of imagination does. ~Cyrese Covelli

9. Writer’s Block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing. ~Giando Sigurani 

10. Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch. ~Lili St. Crow

I love all of these, but #7 was like, right between the eyes OMGYES.

(via epubagent)

2 September 2012 ·

Comparing and contrasting

One thing I always overhear a lot around fandom, whether it’s about fanfic authors or (more commonly) artists, is that old “I might as well just stop writing/arting/vidding/whatever because this person is so gooooood.” I’d like to address that phenomenon, wrt writers (although everything I’m about to say applies equally to other kinds of creative expression).

Anyone who writes will tell you that reading the work of others is a necessary part of the process of producing your own. I’ve been a reader far longer than I’ve been a writer; as I think is probably the case for everybody, it was my love of reading that led me to writing in the first place.

The problem is that once you start writing, especially after you’ve been doing it long enough to have acquired some competence and a critical eye, reading is never the same. The “analytic gaze” (a phrase I heard once and love but can’t recall the origins of) takes up permanent residence in your brain and you always read with half an eyeball towards an assessment of the author’s skill, usually relative to your own. We writers are an insecure bunch. We are forever comparing ourselves to authors whose work we read. Over time, from my own experience and from talking to other authors about this, I’ve developed some thoughts about this effect that I’d like to share with you today.

As far as I can tell, there are five general levels in an author’s assessment of authors they’re reading: Much Worse than Me, Worse Than Me, About the Same as Me, Better than Me, and Much Better than Me. Now granted, we might not always have an accurate assessment of our own skill. But in my experience, while we might not always be correct about who’s About the Same, we’re usually correct about who’s better or worse.

Each of these five levels inspires a different emotional reaction.

1. Much Worse Than Me = Frustrating. These are the books we don’t finish, the ones we throw across the room in disgust. The predominant thought is always “This hack got published! Why not MEEEEEEE?” Now, whether or not we’ve actually even attempted to get published is irrelevant here. It’s the principle of the thing, dammit! Because you just know that even if we haven’t been rejected by the industry (yet) there are other talented authors who have been, and yet this monkey with a typewriter has his/her picture on a bookjacket. As I have recently become fond of saying, that shit is bananas.

2. Worse Than Me = Illuminating. In some ways, reading the work of an author whose work isn’t terrible but in which you can still see flaws is the most educational. You don’t have to throw the book across the room or grind your teeth in horror, you can still enjoy the work, but you can see where they’ve gone wrong…and it can help you to avoid those problems in your own work, especially when you can recognize them. I’ve often read books like this thinking “Boy, this author’s really got some pacing issues…I ought to be careful of that” or “this turn of phrase is awkward, and I know I’ve used it. Note to self: don’t use it again.”

3. About the Same As Me = Encouraging. When you find an author whose work reminds you of your own (whether you’re actually right about their relative skill, see above caveat), it’s encouraging…they got published, so maybe you can, too. When you’re reading something that you could picture yourself writing, it can give you hope.

4. Better Than Me = Inspiring. These are the authors whose work can motivate you to the greatest change. While the Worse Than Me category might make you see what to avoid, the Better Than Me authors make you see what you could achieve. When you admire an author’s descriptive subtlety, or their dialogue, or their character strokes, it can put you in mind of how you can improve those things about your own work.

5. Way Better Than Me = Discouraging. This is the most counterintuitive, but show me a writer who says they’ve never felt this way and I will show you a liar. Sometimes, when reading something that is so amazingly written that you can’t believe it, all you can feel is “I will never write like this as long as I live, and I might as well just quit now.” These authors’ skills and achievements seem so far out of reach that they might as well be impossible, and just the existence of writing like this makes you at once proud that such artistry exists in your medium, but also despairing that you’ll never get there…probably.

That last category is a bitch, especially in the fandom arenas. Back in my BBM days, I read every last word of the prodigious output of a particular fanfic author who, honestly, made me want to hang up my jock and hit the showers. I read her work and I know that I could never produce work like that if I tried for a thousand years. [incidentally don’t bother asking; her fic is no longer available]

What I had to keep reminding myself is that…well, that’s okay. I shouldn’t be thinking that I ought to be producing work like hers, I ought to be concentrating on producing work like mine. She and I were very, very different as writers. She was way more stylistic than me. I’m not a style-driven writer. I’m a nuts-and-bolts, plain-talk kind of writer. If there’s a form-versus-function balance in writing (and I believe that there is, definitely) then she’s on the form side while I’m firmly on the function side. I remember reading nine chapters of her work in which…well, not much happened. It was beautiful, haunting and all very stream-of-consciousness (which she can turn on and off like a faucet, another skill I envy). I read it and I don’t know how she can conjure those words, ordinary English words, to paint such vivid emotional portraits and evoke such powerfully felt moods.

But it’s not productive to try and make your writing like someone else’s, or bemoan the fact that you can’t. You shouldn’t write like someone else, because every author has their own voice and style. I can’t undergo a total style transplant NOW, nor would I really want to. I ought to concentrate on improving my own style and doing what I do better. There are probably readers who preferred my writing to hers, which isn’t to say that I’m wrong to declare that she was way better than me, just that my style is more to their taste.

I always think that writers should stick together. Try and support each other’s work, and encourage each other’s growth. It can be hard to look at someone whose work you worship like a graven idol and remember that they have authors that they admire, too, and they’ve had those feelings of I-will-never-write-as-well-as-X. I don’t think any writer ever really thinks that they’re good. You can’t write well if you think you’re the shit at it. You have to have some confidence that you’re at least competent at it, or else you’d never be able to put your work out in front of an audience, but secretly, you always suspect that you suck.

And precious are those moments when you forget that you’re a writer. When you can manage to let that go and immerse yourself in someone else’s work, even someone who’s Much Better, and let their skill transport you into the world they’ve made and shared with you without always thinking about the writing. There’s plenty of time once you close the book to obsess over whether or not anything that you’ve written will do that for others.

13 March 2012 ·

Shameless plug

For those of you who’ve read my book “Zero at the Bone,” and even for those who haven’t, I wrote a holiday-themed longish short story (about 40 pages) last Christmas. You do NOT have to have read Zero to understand it, there’s a quick recap of the relevant information at the beginning. It’s a little about my hitman character rediscovering his family, and a little bit about a family dealing with teen bullying.

It’s two bucks. It is available at Jane’s website, www.janesevillebooks.com. Where there are also for-free web stories about the Zero charactres that are shorter.

17 February 2012 ·

The Stages of Novel Writing

These, I have determined through painful personal experience, are the stages of novel writing.

1. Eureka! Hey, what a great idea for a novel! You could so totally write that! The stage at which you think you might just be the cleverest person in the world. Also characterized by description of said idea, and how skillfully you’re going to develop it, to friends, family, and even total strangers.

2. National Book Award, Here You Come! The stage during which words flow from your keyboard, the Idea spurs you to great creativity, and your characters jump from the page and turn into real people.

3. Or Not… At which time you discover that some part of your Idea is inherently flawed, forcing you to go back and rewrite or delete half of what you’ve written.

4. Okay, Possibly PEN Faulkner Award… During which you slog grimly forward, dealing with the remaining tatters of your Idea, determined to develop this Idea 2.0 into an even better novel.

5. While I’m Dreaming, I’d Like a Pony At which time you lose control of the story, start writing big plot tangents or extraneous sex scenes or, worst of all, introducing new major characters out of the blue.

6. The Bataan Death March At which time you regard Idea 2.0, now ALSO in tatters, and just try to find a way to get to the end. You type on with the enthusiasm of a contestant on a sadistic game show where the last person still at their workstation gets a free cup of coffee.

7. My Only Friend, THE END Whereupon you finish the book, even though you know it’s craptastically awful, and decide to put it aside for an indeterminate amount of time to “get some space and perspective,” which, once acquired, will surely enable you to rework your Idea 2.0 into the literary revolution it is destined to be.

8. Hiatus During which time you read books written by others and fume that this crap got published…or that you’ll never write this well as long as you live.

9. Back on the Chain Gang And now you bravely return to face your first rewrite. You put on an expression not unlike that on the faces of the soldiers at the Battle of Agincourt…except there’s no St. Crispin’s Day speech for you. You one, you unhappy one…you band of totally fucked.

10. It’s Not a Thin Line At All Whereupon you decide that even Idea 4.0 SUCKS, you can’t write for shit, your characters are all despicable and you have no idea why you ever wanted to write a novel in the first place. Objects may be thrown. Files may be deleted in a huff.

11. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do The thought of all that work going down the drain becomes too horrible, so you set back to your rewrite. You find that if you delete 100 pages and write 200 NEW pages that you might salvage something readable.

12. What comes after Denial and Anger? You wonder if the Devil is in the yellow pages, and if he’d take what’s left of your sorry-ass soul in exchange for the intestinal fortitude to finish this godforsaken novel.

13. Say “Comma Splice” Once More. I Dare You. You ask for help editing. You do editing yourself. You stop caring about anything except your verb-tense agreement. You develop an allergy to red ink. You despise this story, you can’t stand it any longer. If you read that patio scene or that visit to the elementary school one more time you will spork out your own eyeballs.

14. Is the Fat Lady Singing? IS SHE??? You’re done. Except not really, because you know you’ll never really be done. Even if your book gets published and becomes a nationwide bestseller and wins a Pulitzer, you’ll still be bitter about the fact that you used the word “reconcile” twice in the same paragraph on page 456.

15. She’s Dead, Jim You now fall into post-partum creative coma and do nothing but knit and watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation” for two months.

16. The Circle of Life Hey! What a great idea for a book!

27 January 2012 ·

Annoyed.

I am annoyed, and I apologize in advance if I’m a bit shrill, but I just have to get this out.

I’m probably overreacting, but this just pushes my buttons, and since I’d never say anything directly to the person in question (they meant well and did not intend any offense), I’ll just vent about it to my Tumblrbuds. You guys cool with that?

Just got a review for “Alone on the Water” at ff.net. It was very nice, complimentary, etc. All was well. Thank you, reviewer. I appreciate your kind words, and that you took the time to submit them.

Then the reviewer said the following: “You should be a writer.”

Sigh.

In what sense am I not already a writer? Because (they assume) that I don’t get paid for it? Number one, I do get paid for it, and number two, even if I didn’t, that would not disqualify me from being a writer. And if they think my writing is so great, why are they disqualifying it from being “real” writing? Because it’s fanfiction? I just…I can’t…it’s words and sentences constructed to convey meaning. That is writing. I wrote it. Therefore I am a writer. One can make the amateur/hobbyist/professional distinction, which is valid, but please don’t tell me that I should be a writer. I already am one. I wrote that thing you just read.

I’m well aware that they probably meant “a full-time writer” or “a professional writer” or whatever. But just this offhand implicit assumption that I am not already a writer? I don’t even. John Grisham and Stephen King are not the only guys who get to call themselves writers. In my opinion, if you write, you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if you get paid for it, or what kind of things you’re writing, or if it’s just a hobby or a major career track. The act of writing is what makes you a writer, just like the act of running for its own sake makes you a runner. You don’t have to be running the Boston Marathon to be a runner.

I’m really tired of having the “legitimacy of fanfiction” discussion. Raise your hand if you’re tired of having it, too? What percentage of the world’s great literary works are derivative works? Huge. HUGE. I’m preaching to the choir on this question, so just insert all the usual arguments here, okay? It’s so exhausting.

I appreciate the reviewer’s intention, which was to tell me that they enjoyed the story. But I can appreciate that intention and still be annoyed.

11 January 2012 ·

So I’ve started posting Performance to FF.net

Because I can, mostly.  Alone on the Water is up there and it gets a lot of reviews and hits, so I figured there’s an audience who only reads fic there, so why not.  I can post a chapter a day painlessly since the story is finished already.

It’s been super fun, actually.  Watching new readers find the story and leave comments.  I had one reader think that chapter 6 was the end of the story (that’s the chapter that ends with Sherlock crying on the plane to London after the shoot wraps).  She asked me if I’d post an epilogue.  I wrote back and said yes, I would, but not until I’d posted the remaining thirteen chapters of story!  

Just posted chapter 7 (the big dressing-room chapter) a few hours ago.  One reviewer commented on something that got me thinking.  She said…wait, lemme quote her.

I wish to comment on a very purposeful, very pointed decision of yours: I mean you overlooking describing the most awaited on-set sex scene. I can only speculate about what your motives were for doing so, but one thing seems beyond questioning to me - that is, you avoided what’d strike as the more obvious choice and picked a different path. Once again, I can’t shake off this feeling, like you know exactly what you’re doing.

That made me go, huh.  Because I don’t remember making that decision consciously.  It seemed self-evident.  Of course I wouldn’t show them filming that sex scene.  Why would I show that?  It never occurred to me that to show it might be considered the “obvious choice.”  Describing the filming of that sex scene would be a) awkward from a writing standpoint, b) redundant, and c) would pre-empt and take tension away from Sherlock and John’s first time actually having sex with each other.

One of those oft-quoted Rules of Fiction Writing is that every scene you write should either advance the plot or develop the characters.  That scene would have done neither, since the character work was done in the scene between them while waiting to go before the cameras.

It’s just interesting to examine one’s thought process, because I didn’t really make that choice consciously.  I didn’t debate whether or not to show that scene.  It just seemed self-evident to me that I wouldn’t.

10 January 2012 ·

Kill It With Fire: The Tale of the Chapter That Wasn’t

(rebloobing because I worked really hard on writing it so there)

madlori:

Sometimes people send me messages asking for writing advice, which I’m happy to offer inasmuch as I have any worth listening to. I would never claim to be an expert; in fact, I rather think that in writing there are no experts, just people who’ve written more than others. All I can do is share what experience has taught me, which may or may not be the same things that experience has taught other writers.

Which is why I thought this (really long, difficult) post might be of interest to some of you.

Faulker once said “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” Film directors also know this; there is a filmmaking adage that says you must be prepared to cut your favorite scene. This is never easy, but every time I have made myself do it, I’ve been glad and the story has been stronger.

Last night, I cut 10,000 words from “Performance in a Leading Role.” No, I did not stick an extra zero in there by accident. I killed an entire chapter. To paraphrase Rose Tyler, this is the story of how that chapter died.

Read More

22 December 2011 ·

Kill It With Fire: The Tale of the Chapter That Wasn’t

Sometimes people send me messages asking for writing advice, which I’m happy to offer inasmuch as I have any worth listening to. I would never claim to be an expert; in fact, I rather think that in writing there are no experts, just people who’ve written more than others. All I can do is share what experience has taught me, which may or may not be the same things that experience has taught other writers.

Which is why I thought this (really long, difficult) post might be of interest to some of you.

Faulker once said “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” Film directors also know this; there is a filmmaking adage that says you must be prepared to cut your favorite scene. This is never easy, but every time I have made myself do it, I’ve been glad and the story has been stronger.

Last night, I cut 10,000 words from “Performance in a Leading Role.” No, I did not stick an extra zero in there by accident. I killed an entire chapter. To paraphrase Rose Tyler, this is the story of how that chapter died.

Read More

22 December 2011 ·

Who is the MadLori?

I'm Lori. I'm 40, a scientist and a freelance writer). Fanfiction is my drug of choice. This is where I dump all my obsessive fannishness along with whatever else strikes me. At the moment the dominant fandom is Sherlock. That can change at anytime. Be warned. Eye protection should be worn in this area.

I am also a crafter and I have an Etsy store.

You're probably after fic. My fic can be found here at AO3 or here at LJ. The LJ post is more complete for now. Moving fic over to AO3 is a pain in my hinder. I also have some stuff at ff.net under MadLori as well.

I have published one novel, a gay romantic thriller, under my pseudonym. You can buy it here or at Amazon.

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