Friday, January 22, 2010

Organizing Chaos

For over twenty years, I've written nonfiction and have become set in my ways, following techniques I learned in college to write research papers, mixed with my own anal organization skills to complete a job. I won't bore you with the details of this process, but I will mention that I originally used this method to write fiction. It didn't work.

Now, transitioning from a full-time nonfiction writer to a full-time fiction writer is one of the greatest challenges in my career. Sure I've gotten plenty of advice from other writers. Have also read lots of good and bad books on writing fiction—thank God for the library. Unfortunately, my search for just the right steps to write fiction still haven't come together for me yet.

I thought I might of found my routine when I read On Writing by Stephen King, and the lightbulb above my head turned on. Unfortunately, it appears to have a dimmer switch.
Incidentally, a few of my other favorite books on novel writing are Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon and How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey.

Mr. King makes it simple when he says forget everything you've learned and just sit down and write your first draft, committing to writing at least 2000 new words a day with no editing. So I tried it. Finally, after ten years of planning, I finish my first novel in four months but changed just about everything I'd previously written. Then the second novel spilled out of my head in a month. Eureka! He's brilliant...or so I thought.

I started editing the first novel two months after it sat untouched, just like Mr. King does. He also starts a new story and continues to write new words daily. This was easy enough, considering I had worked on editing short stories while I wrote the second novel. But silly me decided to change it up a bit. And so began the telling of The Courier in a serial Twitter novel, which started out to include writing and editing a new part daily, along with editing the first novel.

When you break the rules, you inevitably create obstacles, and boy did I create some major stumbling blocks. I've basically come full circle. You see, I stated writing The Courier as an experiment, not expecting it to become more than fun to read novella. Seven months later it has turned into a series of short novels that comically poke fun at corporations and organized religion (boy is that guna piss off a few people). By the way, the editing of that first novel got dropped months ago.

I've had to return to my research writing roots to create an elaborate corporate structure of angels and demons, while also planning out second, third, forth, etc. sequels. Also mix in my recent discovery that comedy writing follows rules...huh??

Now go back to my first nonfiction writing process doesn't work for my fiction writing. Damn head is spinning!
The best thing I've ever done was start a journal, twenty some years ago, for all the story ideas that come to me. I average between five to ten new ideas a month, some good and some horrible. I've got enough material to last a couple hundred years. Is there any way I can will them to myself in another lifetime?

So here I end this weeks post with a beginning, me trying to bring organization to my chaos. I can't tell you where I'm headed, but you can drop by my blog on Mondays (seems a appropriate day of the week to whine) and read more about my journey to figure out yet another process for writing fiction.


  1. CJ: Present tense first person POV is a tough sell. If you need some inspiration, check out Hank Phillipi Ryan's contemporary mystery, PRIME TIME. Hank uses that POV so well to convey the immediacy and urgency of an investigative journalist's life.

    Greg: On the topic of letting family read your book, my teenage sons read my first drafts. Adolescent boys have NO patience for flabby writing. If they tell me, "Mom, that scene really dragged," I know I either have to rework the scene or ditch it. I think I've raised a couple of editors.

    Supriya: You're definitely a plotter, not a pantser. My hat's off to you.

    Steve: You have the right idea about the first draft. NOT salable. The purpose of a first draft is to get to the end.

    Wendy: Writing styles evolve. I used to be a pure pantser. Now I'm a hybrid pantser/plotter. After you're firmly lodged on the publishing wheel, your writing style *must* evolve to accommodate the rigors of simultaneously promoting your most recent novel, editing the next one in queue to be published, and writing the one after that.

  2. [...] the Wicked Writer’s blogged about our writing process, with me wishing I had one in my post Organizing Chaos. Read about the other writers [...]

  3. Hmm, that is an interesting though, Suzanne. I used to let my family members read my stuff, but one of two things usually happened:

    1) They weren't into sci-fi, read it to be supportive and couldn't get into it or...

    2) They were so busy with their own lives that they kept putting it off. A more plausible possibility as we all get older.

    Your sons are probably going to become editors (or your harshest critics under aliases).
    Good luck with those Christmas dinners and thanks for taking time to read our little blogs.

  4. Nice post. You hit on some very important points. First, no matter how much you learn someone will invariably find something wrong with your work. If you just write with an absence of some sort of framework, you are leaving yourself open for problems (some irreversible) to your work.

    Stephen King is a great author. I admire and respect him, but his writing style may not necessarily match mine. For my self, I combine every morsel of information I've acquired on the years, accepting what works for my style, trashing what doesn't until I am satisfied that my book is well rounded.

    Write, show the reader your story and before long you'll do fine. You see, you have a trait that will help you succeed. The need to learn and grow as an author.

  5. Trust me Suzanne - I learned that one already. And yes, I do plan to pick up Hank's work. I've followed her on Guppies and am excited to see how she progresses! Wait until you read my post next week and the part with the rejection I got from my first query! Parts of it are hysterical!

  6. Re: family members who cannot get into your SF, been there, done that. My first series was SF. (It remains unsold.) One reason I switched to writing mystery was that my family would read mystery but not SF. Not even my SF. Another reason I switched was the size of the markets. It's tough enough to make it as a mystery author. SF authors have a much smaller market.

    Re: my sons as editors, I think I warped them that way. When they were little, I'd read to them at bedtime, and we'd discuss the story and characters. That transitioned to the three of us passing around a YA book we'd checked out from the library, then discussing its plotting and characterization, what worked and what didn't work. We do the same now for movies and non-YA books. (Downey and Law's "Sherlock Holmes," for example, we considered a halfway-decent, re-imagined steam punk flick, evenly paced, hero and villain a good match.) Okay, maybe this isn't every mommy's idea of a fun, family bonding activity, but we sure enjoy it.

  7. The best rejections you get are the ones that arrive *after* you've sold the book. LOL