This video of Harley the cockatoo screaming into her plastic cup toy is hands down one of my very favorite things on the internet.
I just sent my manuscript off to my developmental editor and, y’all, I don’t know what to do with myself all of a sudden. I just completed a second, quick pass of the thing and managed to cut over 3,000 words, many of them unnecessary adverbs, some of them whole paragraphs that weren’t pulling their weight. This six month sprint to rewrite my novel has eaten up so much of my time and energy since March that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to not be digging into the project nearly every day. What will I do with myself with all of this newfound free time?
Well, that’s a lie. I’m still just about as busy as ever. This month, I’m teaching a query letters 101 workshop for the writers’ group I run, celebrating the end of the Novel in Six Months project with said group, sewing a costume for the Maryland RennFest, and attending Capclave, where I’ll learn if I placed in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Amatuer Writing Contest (all I know is that I’m a finalist, whatever that means exactly) and where I’ll be teaching a micro fiction workshop with friends. I’m also gaming or running tabletop RPGs basically every week, sometimes multiple games in a week.
I’m so confused by not having the stress of the rewrite on my shoulders that I actually couldn’t fall asleep last night. I was up until 3am doing beta reading for a friend because it felt weird and wrong being released from this aggressive time crunch I’ve been under for the past six months. My brain really has no idea how to sit still and just be (I’m working on this with mindfulness and meditation, but boy howdy is that a slow journey). I’ll suddenly have my lunch time at work back so instead of eating at my desk and editing, I can take walks or run errands or do something other than bolt down food over my keyboard.
I haven’t decided how I’m going to celebrate this milestone yet. Any suggestions? What would you do if you finished something big like this?
Here’s the thing about finished first drafts: they’re generally not very good.
It’s okay if you didn’t bleed out the very best prose that you, as an artist, have to offer; if you had, I think we’d all be pretty shocked. Here’s a great blog post from Chuck Wendig on first drafts, called Your First Draft Does Not Require Your Faith In It. Pounding out that first go at your book /blog post/essay/research paper, etc took a lot of work, to be sure, but now you’re at where the real work begins: revisions.
You need that shitty first draft, my friends. You need it for many reasons, but here is my favorite: you cannot improve upon a thing that does not yet exist. How can you have a great second, third, or fourth draft if you never even got that first one off the ground? You can’t. So even a Not Very Good finished first draft is a thousand times better than one that lies fallow indefinitely.
Finish that first draft, my friends. Finish it, and then really get ready to shape it into what it was always meant to be.
Grief is, in a strange way, a gift. It shows us that there is someone in our lives whose presence we will miss keenly. It is a sign that we dared to love.
I had to say goodbye to my feathered companion of eleven years the other week. She lived a long and happy life by parrotlet reckoning, but age, stress, and too many illnesses caught up with her all at once. Goodbye, Princess Midori, Heir to the Throne of Featherbuttia. Our time together was a joy.
I’m going to share with you one of my favorite videos on the entirety of the internet. It’s a recording of two baby cockatiels as they hatch and grow up for 30 days. It’s amazing to watch them change so quickly! Also, baby parrots are the kind of ugly-cute that I just can’t get enough of.
A story without a good character is nothing. It is nigh-unreadable. It is uninteresting and it will not leave an impression on its audience. A lot of the other rules of fiction writing are negotiable (especially in flash or micro fiction, but that’s another thing entirely), but without people that we want to see either succeed or suffer, a story isn’t worth reading.
One of the tools that I have found to be the most helpful when it comes to character work is actually tabletop role playing. It’s a mix of character writing, combat tactics, creative problem solving, and improv acting. My Novel in Six group recently did a one shot game with original characters in the system Don’t Rest Your Head, in order to challenge ourselves to get in a character’s headspace.
There is something about being forced to think like this character in real time that creates a kind of intimacy with them that doesn’t exist when writing and re-writing. The spontaneity breaks down walls of reservation and over-thinking; it forces you to make a gut check and just go with your instinct. And now you’ve reacted, you’ve said something, and you’re committed to an organic, evolving character.
I’ve been playing in a weekly Dungeons and Dragons game since mid-April 2017 with the same character, meaning I’ve spent well over 200 hours living inside of her head. That’s no small feat! Recently, another player retired his character (my elf’s best friend in-game) and introduced a new one. Between games, I took a week to reflect on how this would affect my elf, a loner who’d only recently opened her heart up to new companions Since then, I’ve sent her into a rather self-destructive spiral of poor life choices.
A popular D&D stream recently had a beloved character die, and I think it shook the fan community up pretty badly. For me, though, I think it set me free; I’ve decided to push my elf to a breaking point, where she can go out in a blaze of glory, protecting her friends. I’ve even got a back up character fairly well planned out and discussed with my Dungeon Master. I think I’m ready to finish up her character arc in the near future. It’s been great to spend time with her, but it’s about time to move on.
I’ve been saving my coins and in a jar for the past few months. Skimping and scraping change together, in addition to cutting out basically everything fun or indulgent in my life, I’ve managed to save up the money for a developmental editor to take a stab at my manuscript.
And stab she should! That’s why I’m spending a good bit of money on a professional stranger to take Wilder Blood to task. I’ve had friends and cohorts from Columbia Writers beta read an earlier draft and it got high praise, but when I queried it all over, I got no results. So, clearly, it can and should be improved.
I want her to thrash it, to rip it apart, to take no prisoners when giving me feedback. I believe in this project enough to drop big bucks on it, but I’m too close to it to know how to fix the problems that I see in it.
It’s time for a professional, who is not worried about my feelings, to rip my manuscript a new one. I’ll be sending it off around Labor Day and then trying not to panic to death for a few months while she works. I’ll be plugging away at some short fiction in the meantime, and seeing if I can’t get a few more sales under my belt while I wait.
Wish me luck!