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Author of queer, quirky sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Your Book is a Phoenix: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Revisions

Hello hello!

So, not long ago, I finished and published Bad Things that Happen to Girls, which will also end up in Braindemons, my next personal anthology. When is Braindemons coming out? No clue, but it's going to be a while - I need a nice big stack of stories to fill it, first. And in the meantime, that means I am preparing The Meaning Wars (The Meaning Wars, book 3) and Monsters and Fools (The Nightmare Cycle, book 2) for your eager, grasping hands, claws, and tentacles.

But BTtHtG did not arise fully-formed from my forehead, like Athena - far FROM it.

Stage 1: the bare outline of an idea 


I knew I wanted to write about two sisters, a love story with a young man from an Indian background - inspired, I must admit, by my own teenage love for a math tutor at the time - and about an abusive mother figure. I wanted at least one of the girls to be an artist, I wanted to capture the culture of suffocating, toxic religious families, and I wanted a happy ending. Snippets of scenes came together, but I couldn't get the whole thing to gel. Frustrated, I picked it up and set it aside as I worked on other things, hoping that somehow, some day, I'd be able to make it work.

Then a computer crashed and I lost my progress. I was desperate not to lose the file, even though it was corrupted beyond repair, and I rewrote as much as I could remember of the story. And there it sat for years. I pecked at it occasionally, but made little headway.

Then I had the idea of renaming it and of adding more to it, and of complicating the events. I knew I wanted the father character and daughter characters to spend time on the road, I knew I wanted the daughter in love with the young Indian man to have a second chance with her love, and I knew I wanted the other daughter to be queer. But where would I take them? I had no idea at the time. The girl in love would suffer from depression, but in high school, I had a very rough, broad idea of what that was like.

Stage 2: putting meat on the bones


The biggest problem I had with Bad Things' first drafts - back when it went by the name 'Foreverland' - was that I thought I needed to have events happen slowly. How could my readers get the sensation of a family slowly unravelling unless the pacing was equally slow? I didn't have events and revelations condensed enough, so there were these long stretches of dead space where basically nothing was happening. I have had that problem in a lot of books, so I think that's one of the reasons I've become such a parsimonious writer.

 One thing I did for Bad Things, though, to deal with the problem of the time jump, was - I DIDN'T look at my notes. It's been really useful; I based that technique on your advice to rewrite things using the original as a basis. I discovered, though, that it was better for me to just have the idea, and work from that - otherwise I tended to choke. My attempt to adhere to details was actually suffocating me.


Stage 3: doubt and denial 


Never trust the demon doubt. I've spent a few years in the trenches now, with battle scars from publishing, and one of the worst things I ever went through was a batch of negative reviews on GR. Apparently, dropping the word "cunt" under any circumstances means I have to hand in my feminist badge.

I almost stopped writing.

Finally, I published again, and moved on. I put together a collection of stories from multiple authors, and another, and entered a third collection, then a fourth.

I tried working on a story, and had an anxiety attack at the thought of publishing. My writing gathered dust for months. Even my blog had only a few peeps and snippets.

Stage 4: screw it, time to get back on the horse

Then, last month, I decided to tackle a story I'd been struggling with. I wrote 6K in one day and fired it off to my editors and mentors. Armed with their feedback, I let it sit a week, eagerly read over their critiques, and decided I'd finish the second draft by the end of the week. By the end of September, I'd finished my first draft of The Meaning Wars. 

The point of this story is: there will always be ups and downs. These stages may be inevitable. You may want to put your pen down. You may have to decide that writing needs to be a part-time thing. You may think it's time to quit, and that you can't do this. Mental health issues may leave you curled up and whimpering in the bathtub, rocking back and forth under a blanket, unable to verbalize your feelings.

But you CAN do it, oh writers and penmonkeys. You can. And eventually, the next book will stomp into your brain and demand to be written.

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