I learned a lot from the Seymour Agency’s 2017 Writer’s Winter Escape. This has made me want to reinvent my blogging experience completely and I haven’t entirely worked that out lately. I’m still doing a lot of reading.
So very soon you can expect a post on a book I read and loved (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) and board games we’ve bought over the past few months (Back to the Future, Mysterium, and a few others).
On the topic of board games, my husband and I went to MACE West a few weeks ago and I was exposed to some wonderful board games that I can’t wait to share with you:
– Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
– Defenders of the Realm
– Cave Trolls
– Fury of Dracula
This year has been full of changes but I”ll soon catch my rhythm.
Last year one of my critique partners, Richmond Camero, gave me several ebooks.
Two of them were written by the bestseller Dean Wesley Smith. One of them was on Heinlein’s Rules.
Heinlein’s Rules, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are:
1 – You must write.
2 – You must finish what you write.
3 – You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order.
4 – You must put it on the market.
5 – You must keep it on the market.
These rules were penned in the 1940s and are controversial in the writing world because they seem almost impossible to follow despite their simplicity.
Dean Wesley Smith breaks these down in his book Heinlein’s Rules. Smith swears by these rules and attributes them as a game changer for his career.
Rule Number 1 makes sense. Who can argue with “You must write“?
Rule Number 2 is one that according to Smith trips up most aspiring writers: You must finish what you write. It makes sense. I have a ridiculous number of projects that I’ve lost steam on and not finished. Because of that I’ve picked up an old project and I’m working on it now while I wait to gain some perspective on my last project, Dark Fate. Because I plan on rewriting it.
Rule Number 3 is where I think many of us have a problem: You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order. It’s easy to get caught in an endless loop of rewriting and rewriting. After all — first drafts usually aren’t the best. This is when you’re telling yourself the story and have to work the kinks out. I have to admit that Threads of Fate went through five drafts before becoming what it is now.
By rewriting Heinlein does not mean avoiding fixing typos, according to Dean Wesley Smith. The intent was to avoid endless loops of revision. He says, “Everybody in this modern world looks for ways and reasons around this rule”. Guilty. He later comments, “If you’re rewriting, you are not finishing”. Can’t argue with that. I can only try to do better and one area in particular where I am committing to keep rewriting to a minimum is short stories.
Dean Wesley Smith also reminds us that an agent is not an editor, and a paid editor is not what Heinlein meant either — he meant an editor that will pay you from a publication/publisher.
It’s easy to take criticism from a professional like an agent, or an amateur like a beta-reader, and immediately want to change your story. The problem is that you can’t please everyone and that your book will never be perfect. You have to decide when it’s good enough.
If you’re like me and plan on breaking rule number 3 (at least for my novels), here’s a good article on how to do so with grace and hopefully less rewrites than Threads of Fate: How to Know When You’re Done Revising.
Rule Number 4 should be the ultimate goal of a writer: You must put it on the market. I have to admit with the screenplays I’ve written and the other novel and short stories I wrote that this has been a breaking point for me as well. I have only queried one agent for one piece of fiction that I’ve written. I have had such a fear of rejection that I haven’t queried. Now querying still frightens me, but I’ve learned that the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no and if you don’t ask the answer is already no.
Rule Number 5 is another breaking point for me: You must keep it on the market. With that in mind one of my goals for this year is to start writing short stories, but not so many that they interfere with my other writing. I would like to start putting the short stories on the market. If that’s a goal for you as well, here’s Where to Submit Short Stories: 23 Website and Magazines that Want Your Work. Since joining the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is also a goal of mine, I’m going to focus on this list.
So all in all, Heinlein’s Rules seem simple yet difficult to follow.
Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts”.
Why? Writing is hard enough. It’s hard not to have a fear of judgement when writing in general, why open oneself up and share one’s darkest moments? Isn’t it good enough to just craft a good story, follow a decent outline of some sort, and just write?
One of my favorite words is chiaroscuro. It means simply the contrast between dark and light. It in particular applies to oil paintings, but I like to think it has anagogical applications. In honor of the season I’ll include a picture that has excellent chiaroscuro:
Including painful moments or negative emotions gives depth and character to your work — just as the painting would not be the same without the dark.
In Threads of Fate I included dark moments from my life fictionalized. It was hard to write about my life at first. I’m a private, introverted person and I don’t share my innermost thoughts usually. Why should I fictionalize them? I suggested recently that one of my friends start a blog and he said that sharing his life on Facebook (which he does) was the most he felt comfortable doing. Was writing Threads of Fate cathartic? Not exactly. It caused me some anxiety due to the personal nature of a few of the scenes when I sent out the rewrites and started receiving feedback from beta readers, especially since I actually do know some of my beta readers and interact with them on occasion socially. Then I got over it for the most part.
Why Else? Some of you don’t write fiction. You don’t want to twist fictions to fit any worlds floating through your heads. I challenge you that it can be as cathartic as you want it to be, and you also don’t have to share it with anyone. Sometimes writing a page and then shredding it can be relieving.
If your writing is only for yourself, then it can still be helpful. I know someone who is going through a rough time right now and writing is helping them — letter writing. This isn’t quite Collateral Beauty level letter writing, but the letters are a safe release of what’s filling the writer’s heart.
It can be cleansing. Once I had a recurring nightmare that I would be strangled in bed — someone was standing over me in my sleep and I would wake up with an unknown attacker. I fictionalized this into a short story about a young woman who is attacked by a random stranger in her car. I stopped having the dream after writing the story. How? The adage if it bleeds it leads is probably familiar to most of us. As is curiosity killed the cat. We can’t look away from the darkness. It’s an affirmation of life. I would suggest focusing on a negative event or emotion in your life and exploring it for all it’s worth. How would this event happen in your characters’ lives? This negative event or emotion does not have to be the central conflict of the story, it can rather be an internal conflict that moves the story along.
Also an emotion can have repercussions that last — in the TV show Benched Nina has to deal with the aftermath of having a very angry moment seemingly ruin her career.
Take what has happened in your life and condense it down to the basics. Once you have limited it to the simplest facts, you can then transport those facts into the confines of your universe.
A writer’s personal psychological history is a hidden treasure, because the creative imagination can take any experience and develop it into a unique story… Any emotional state that you have uncovered can be woven into your work with a twofold consequence–you’ll be purged of unresolved feelings and you’ll create an original piece of writing.
I don’t believe that we can truly be original, but at the very least we can be authentic. I’ll explain my stance on originality in a future post.
We need to be able to name where the hurts are; to be able to name our sorrows and fears; to not be afraid of anger. So often in Buddhist communities, anger is considered bad, but anger is a part of the weather systems that move through our psyches. We have to make room for these emotions, and there are wise ways to do that.
Tara’s article has nothing to do with writing, but as soon as I read those words I wanted to share them with my readers. I felt that they had practical implications. I hope you find wise ways to balance the weather system that is your psyche.
“Christmas is saying thanks for some gift you’ll return” Francesca Battistelli belts out. We all know that December 26th is a big day for gift returns and that gift giving is one of the most stressful parts of Christmas.
Writing is kind of like gift giving. It’s hoping that the reader will like this story that you’ve toiled over in quiet for many long hours. With writing it’s many people in different stages of their lives that are going to be hopefully enjoying your work. Each person reads your book differently because they have different expectations leading into the experience. One workshop I attended harped on audience and said that audience was so important that this fiction writer would put a sticky note on her computer that read, “Subject. Audience. Goal.” One teacher I had in college harped on every word in the story leading towards the mood and tone of the story down to alliteration insofar as emotional words having more vowels and intellectual words having more consonants.
On the other hand, another school of thought says to write what you love and that there is an audience for everything. With seven billion people on the planet you’re bound to find someone who will like what you write.
Don’t worry about what the reader thinks about the story. There were choices I had to make that the reader may not have wanted but they had to happen for the sake of the story… At the end of the day you have to ask yourself what is good for the story.
In Stages of a Fiction Writer Dean Wesley Smith says, “Words now are still important but only in the service of the story and nothing more. Words can be tossed away at will, just as cards are tossed away in poker.”
I read this and know exactly what stage of fiction writing I’m in because I collect words like poker cards (not a good sign). I actually have a note in my phone of words I like. I read it before I write and try to use them (and fail to incorporate them usually). I was delighted when I actually was able to use caparisoned legit.
How does one mitigate the stress of writing between these two schools of thought? In the words of the bard – to thine own self be true. If you’re a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of your pants, then stick to what works for you. If you’re a planner, then stick to the plan.
Revisions are the returns of the writer’s world. They are performed silently and no one need ever know how many times you work on a particular scene before you get it right. Waiting a few weeks to gain perspective and then picking up a piece again can be extremely beneficial. I let a piece rest for a few months – I was working on it during Camp NaNoWriMo over the summer and then put it down, but now I’ve picked it up again, and I’m excited to be working on it. That time was what I needed to gain perspective and new appreciation for the piece.
Now if you work with beta readers, you do have an audience that witnesses those painful first drafts, so you have to decide when the timing is right to send those drafts.
There is no limit to how rough a first draft can be. With that in mind, most first drafts aren’t perfect. Heinlein’s Rules say not to rewrite except to editorial request, but who can live by those rules? That will be a different post. I didn’t give myself permission to let the first draft of Dark Fate suck and I struggled writing it in parts because I wanted it to be perfect. I re-read it and noted all the inconsistencies and things that I would like to fix and expound upon and all the pieces that I would like to change in the next draft. Then after sitting on it for a while I’m going to fix those things and re-read it. Once I’ve expounded it to the second draft, then I may open it up to beta readers.