Thursday, August 07, 2008

Submission, Submission

I'm beginning to believe I'm actually an odd sort of writer. (have you all finished laughing?)

We all know I'm odd, stop already.

What I mean is this: I'm learning that a lot of writers really work at writing. I don't mean the business of writing, I work at that. I'm talking about the actual sitting down and writing part of it.

IF I have a day, or half a day, or a couple of minutes while water starts to boil, and I have something to write, I sit down and write it.

I honestly think most of my stories are written long before I write them. Like, they're all just swimming in my mind--written, edited just right, with all the characters developed, their worlds just tangible enough to convince us that it all just might be real.

A great deal of the time, when I have the beginning of a story--the first line or few--bubbling at my fingertips, I have absolutely no idea where it's going. Sometimes I don't know what's going to happen until the very end of writing it. I sit, and write, and most times I'm completely surprised. Sometimes I have a whole story in my head and I just have to type it out. But really, a lot of the time I don't know what the twist is, or where the characters are headed.

I'm learning that this isn't the case with a lot of writers. They plan, and deliberate, and plot.

I'm not at all knocking anyone's creative process. I think that if a writer is working really hard at telling their story, and they tell it, and sell it, then they must be doing something right. I'm not anti-plotting. I'm just noticing that I don't do that.

Here's the rub: Apparently, at a certain point in my pre-written tales, I go boring. I'm starting to think that that's the part I am thinking about. I wrote a novel a long time back. The stories were there, and they absolutely wrote themselves. But I know the beast needs editing. It needs 20,000 words worth of editing. Maybe 40. And I'm sure my writing has improved since I wrote it. And now, having learned, I'll bet that 20-40 thousand word edit is going to involve deleting all the boring stuff.

So I'm wondering: Is it because I don't start out knowing the whole story? Is it that whoever originally writes those stories and sticks them in my head is a bit tedious? Should I be plotting and planning more? Can I?

Another sort of example: I ran across an anthology being built by Permuted Press. I found the call for submissions on the third of August. Subs opened on the first and close on the thirty-first. I thought, "I can write a rad zombie story for that, I'm in the mood."

I opened a new document and the first line flew from my fingers. In a moment I knew all the characters, their day-to-day, and reasons to be. But it wasn't until the final scene that I knew the whole story. Once I wrote that, I went back to check and see if I'd done what my dear friend Gay told me needs to be done in a story. Mostly, I had. There's a few things missing from her list of what makes a story, but a lot is there. Without thinking about it.

So now I'm wondering, did I absorb the stuff Gay taught me about the mechanics of a story and apply them as I wrote unconsciously? Am I editing that astral writer with his touch of boring without thinking about it? Because I sent the story to a fellow writer (M.) who really loved it. And I think it's pdg myself. It's got the elements of a story, it's got a great deal of what the characters need to be characters. It's got misdirection, and justification, and all the stuff that will hopefully keep a reader's attention. I didn't try to do it as I wrote it. I just wrote it like I always do, but it came out without the boring exposition and philosophic meanderings. But all that stuff is still there.

I told you, I think I'm odd.

I'm on the edge about this submission. It's some sort of mutation. We'll see if it sticks.

I have another zombie story (I know, I'm late with the zombs, but that's what's coming out lately) that's searching for a home. It took a while to decide where to send it. It's been done for two weeks. I sent it yesterday. If this mag doesn't buy it, I'm not sure where I'll go with it. Who publishes funny zombie stories? (you're laughing again, aren't you?)

So, what do you think? Am I the odd writer? Do you all plot each scene as you go, develop characters manually, outline, and think ahead? Is it hurting me that I don't? Do I need to do more of that as I go, or can it be edited in later? I know firsthand how hard that is. I'm working on two stories with a big dose of boring in the middle, trying to add plot points and backstory without killing the action. Trying to rearrange sections, scenes, and subplots. It's a bitch.

Is that what I'm missing, though? Is writing a bitch and I'm just tra-la-la-typing a great mound of shlock that could otherwise be literature? Or at least a good shoot-em-up sci-fi-western-fantasy?

Sorry to involve you in all this.

Thanks for reading.

Have rad days.


Blogger Gay Degani said...

Phew! You wrote a mouthful and the first thing I want to say is that although you may consider yourself "odd," I consider that being a writer. We are all different and it sounds to me like your process allows you to get quite a bit done up in that bean of yours. You have great characters, unique situations, and great voice. And you DO tell stories well. But while each writer's process is different, so is each endeavor. Somethings flow from the fingers and have it all, some don't. And we have to roll with it.

The experience you just had with your zombie story may or may not have had anything thing to do with what this gay person said. It just might have been one of those occasions when the muse was sitting on your shoulder. But I do think we are all aware of what goes into a story that really makes it work. We see it when it is missing in other people's work, we love it when it shows up.

I believe that every time we sit down and write, we are adding a sliver of experience that eventually becomes expertise. Each one of us by nature is better at one part of the craft than another, and it's thinking about our weak areas that leads us to writing better stuff.

Think about it. Every time we hear something new, or better, something we know in a different way, we've added another sliver. That is what's so cool about committing to something. When you do, you allow yourself to experience everything and then apply what you know. Those are the steps to becoming an "expert" no matter if it's writing, pole-vaulting, or becoming a hit man for the mob.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Shameless said...

And all of that is part of why you are so great.

Thank you.

12:44 PM  
Blogger K.C. Ball said...


You're not alone. As Gay says, we each have our own process; but I believe there are styles that writers share.

I am not a very structured writer. Neither is Steve King, for that matter.

I've told you before; I don't sit down to write, whether flash fiction or novel, until I have first sentence and last sentence in place.

But then I start to figure out how to get from one to the other, and, wow, that path can meander.

Sometimes, it's a straight, four-lane expressway. Bam! And other times, it's a rutted, narrow bridge and hard curve roundabout.

I will say this. Focusing on flash, these past few months, has pushed me more into a process. I wouldn't call it detailed plotting, but I do find myself muttering, as I type, "Now I need this and now I need this and now I need this."

So, you're not odd, you're just a little weird. Waylon Jennings, that craggy-faced country-western philosopher once sang, "I've always been crazy; it's kept me from going insane."

6:45 AM  
Anonymous MSherlock said...

Everyone elses comments were long and i just read something long. I dont want to read them YOU CANT MAKE ME!

Anyway, your gonna have to show me this humour story sometime. I did start to write a novel thingy which was a survival handbook for zombies depicted how to ru nand survive and zombie invasion (how to kill or avoid a human...human culinary advice etc)

2:06 PM  

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