Mondays are my favorite day because I am able to share with you the writing related articles that I’ve discovered in my surfing this week. This time, I was focused on general writing subjects such as book length, book launches, and a little science fiction fact vs fiction. Enjoy!
This week, the writing links feature articles about hooks, Scrivener, and general writing tips. A few of the articles are about life as a writer. I hope you relate to these as much as I did. Grab your cup coffee and settle into your chair for a good read.
I’ve always been a writer. I started my first book in early grade school, all written in child’s scrawl, pencil on paper. It was a fantasy story about mermaids from a child’s point of view, not to mention from a child’s mind. I did three drafts of the story, of which I thought of at the time as being a novel, but now in my adult years can properly label a novelette.
This story never got beyond the rough draft stage. In my child-level experience, I thought that you sat down and wrote what came to your mind and when you finished the draft, that was it. You could send the novel out into the world. For the sake of the planet, it is fortunate that this story remains locked in a file drawer where only I will see it. Trust me. It was the right choice.
I know now that this is far from the truth; a novel is born in the revision process and fine-tuned in editing. Yet, in that singular experience as a child playing at being a novelist, I had the right idea. Rough drafting is a matter of sitting down and writing with abandon whatever comes into your mind and getting it down on paper as fast as possible.
The results are often a mess.
I cringe when I read my raw roughs. The adverbs leap at me. The passive voice drags me down. I wonder how this mass of jumbled words will ever appeal to a reader and become a book I could be proud of. Yet, it does happen. I have published a book and sold short stories to magazines. More books will come in the future.
Below are four books on the rough draft process that I personally have found to be excellent guides for me. Through them, I have relearned the spirit of drafting that I stumbled upon as a small child and tap into my creative muse to good effect.
No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty
It is fair to say that my relaunch as a writer during my mid-forties is due to Nanowrimo. This is a writing event that pushes the aspiring author to compose 50 thousand words toward the rough draft of a novel. I attempted Nanowrimo for a few years without success. I wondered if I would ever break through the writer’s block that held me back for almost a decade and be able to tell stories via the written word again. In 2010, I had an idea for a science fiction book that grabbed me. This epiphany combined with an Alphasmart 3000 to write with and the purchase of the Nanowrimo guidebook: No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty. It is what allowed me to write my first 50 thousand word rough draft of a novel.
Baty describes in the book his idea of writing a rough draft in the space of a single month and setting up quotas to propel you to finish. Quantity is the goal, not quality. You are to turn off your “inner editor” and write. This allows your inner muse to break through and get your ideas down on the page. If you are a writer who is not sure how to get started, No Plot, No Problem will teach you how to develop an organic style of writing.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I want to say up front that I am not a fan of Stephen King. I do not read or enjoy horror as a genre and I have only read one or two of his books. That was enough for me. However, his memoir about being a writer is fascinating. I do not have a single writer friend that has not recommended this book to me when learning about the fundamentals of writing. King touches on his life and people and places that have inspired him. In many ways, this memoir is also a master class on learning to write and living as a writer. If you are wondering how to begin writing, this is one of the main books you should add to your personal library.
Outlining Your Novel by KM Weiland
This book is a late addition to my writing library, but it stands tall among the other volumes. When I first started drafting, I was a pantser who wrote by the seat of my pants. My work was organic and the characters did what they wished. In the end, I hope that it all made sense.
During my second year of writing, I realized that meandering through a story did not create the tension and conflict that makes for a great plotline. I needed to learn how to plan or outline the main elements of my story first. The resulting first draft was easier to revise and edit, speeding up the process of my publication flow. Outlining Your Novel is both a book and a workbook to teach you methods to create concise outlines for your stories. Weiland gives many great tips that I’ve found helpful. I read her blog regularly.
The 90 Day Novel by Alan Watt
As I prepared for Nanowrimo in 2012, I had a particular problem. I was returning to my original science fiction world that I created in 2010 and wanted to work on its sequel. The sword-wielding engineer and champion of the book, would not speak to me. I could not picture her. I didn’t know her background. I knew where she fit into the story, but without being able to envision her, I was dead in the water.
The 90 Day Novel saved my bacon. The first 30 days of the system are a series of questions to help you write about the hero of your “hero’s journey” story. I used this book to develop my heroine starting in the beginning of October. On November 1st, I started Nanowrimo and not only was the heroine clear in my mind, but I had plenty of plot points figured out to propel her to her destiny. While I have not used the rest of the system, it mirrors much of the experience of Nanowrimo with a few individual twists. If you are looking for a guide to help you develop a main character and a general storyline for a rough draft, this could prove to be an excellent resource for you.
Deborah J. Ross writes and edits fantasy and science fiction. Her work has earned Honorable Mention in Year’s Best SF, Kirkus notable new release, the Locus Recommended Reading List, and James Tiptree, Jr. Award recommended list, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and nominated for the National Fantasy Federation Speculative Fiction Award for Best Author, the Nebula Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. She’s a past Secretary of SFWA and currently on the Board of Directors of Book View Café, an online writers coop. Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.
I grew up in California and Oregon, coming of age in the 1960s, so of course, I grew my hair long, protested everything, and have the tie-dyed t-shirt to prove it. I accumulated various academic degrees, including a BA in Biology from Reed College and an MS in Psychology from Portland State University, before realizing the true “work of my heart” was storytelling. Now I live in a redwood forest with my family, which includes three cats and a retired “seeing-eye” German Shepherd Dog. In between writing, I’ve lived in France, worked as a medical assistant to a cardiologist, taught parent-child gym classes at the Y, revived an elementary school library, studied Chinese martial arts (tai chi and kung fu san soo), classical piano, and yoga.
When and why did you begin writing?
Well before I learned to scrawl my name, I made up stories, and once I could form proper words and pictures to accompany them, I began putting together whole books. My father was a printer, and our home was amply supplied with paper and ink. In my teens and twenties, I began many novels, even finished a few of them, but never knew what to do with them next, nor did I know any writers beyond a few school friends who were just as clueless as I was. I knew I loved to write, and I occasionally dared to hope that someday, my writing would be more than a secret pleasure.
In my early thirties, just after my first child was born, I hit career burnout and decided to work part-time from home. A friend invited me to join a women’s writing group. Although none of us knew what we were doing, I came home from the first meeting so exhilarated that I drafted the story I’d been playing in my head for the last year. No one told me it was crazy to write a novel in 6 weeks with a new baby and a part-time career. The real break came in 1991, when I lived in Lyons, France. A couple of months after I returned to the States, I sold my first novel.
How did your writing relationship with Marion Zimmer Bradley develop?
Somewhere around 1980, I wrote Marion a fan letter. To my surprise, she wrote back, three pages of single-spaced typewriting. I’d been studying martial arts and we began a correspondence about women’s empowerment, story-telling, family, and a host of related topics.
At that time, the Friends of Darkover held periodic writing contests and published its own fanzine. I sent her a couple of stories and received encouraging comments (and, as I remember, an award for one of the stories and eventual fanzine publication of the other). When Marion began editing the first Sword & Sorceress, she suggested I submit a story for her. I was as elated by the invitation as if it had been a sale, and threw myself into writing the best story I could. It was a modest little story, a respectable first professional sale, but more than that, Marion showed me that I could take my writing seriously.
When I submitted a story for the second volume, Marion telephoned me. “Now Deborah,” she said, “I’m going to take your story, but I’m sending it back to you for revisions.” With that, I made the leap from all-or-nothing sale-or-rejection to working with an editor. My manuscript came back covered in red ink, with comments like, “All thuds are dull!” and “Overwritten.” Don’t just fall in love with your words, she was saying, make them serve the story.
Marion didn’t buy every story I wrote, but she saw most of them. More editorial notes followed, although not as extensive as that first round. I like to think I was improving, but it may also have been that Marion understood when outside critical feedback is helpful, and when the act of writing itself, story after story, is the key to development. She often said that the first million words are practice, and I was well on my way.
With my first novel sale (Jaydium, a science fiction adventure through time and parallel worlds, complete with gigantic, intelligent silver slugs), and short fiction sales to increasingly prestigious markets (like Asimov’s and F & SF), I came into my own.
Over the years, we became friends as well as colleagues and editor/writer. My natural authorial “voice” was close, although not identical, to hers. Toward the end of her life, hampered by a series of strokes, Marion worked with in collaboration several other writers. I was one of the writers she considered because she had watched me develop from a novice to an established professional. We discussed the basic details by mail and then I drove up to see her for a personal chat. She’d been resting and was on oxygen, but she insisted on sitting up when I came in, and soon we were deep in discussion of plot ideas. One of my best memories of her was watching her “come alive” as we discussed character and hatched plot points. Her eyes “glowed as if lit from within,” to use one of her favorite descriptions, and energy suffused her whole being. I asked question after question and then sat back as she spun out answers. It was as if she had opened a window into her imagination and invited me to peek inside. She died before we started the actual writing (The Fall of Neskaya, Zandru’s Forge, A Flame in Hali). and I went on to write three more (The Alton Gift, Hastur Lord, The Children of Kings), and there are more to come.
Writing Darkover stories is much like writing historical fiction. I do research, using not only Marion’s published work, but The Darkover Concordance and her articles in the old Darkover newsletters. I try to create story lines that are true to Marion’s vision of Darkover and the themes that were meaningful to her. Since I work closely with the MZB Literary Trust, I hammer out a detailed outline before I start. Once that’s approved, I turn the process over to my creative back-brain. Because I’m not trying to distort my own intuitive style, I can then write from my heart.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My most recent Darkover novel is The Children of Kings, an action-adventure set in the Dry Towns, featuring Gareth Elhalyn, Regis’s grandson, and some nasty space pirates bent on turning Darkover into a smuggling base. I just turned in the next Darkover novel, Thunderlord, a sequel to Hawkmistress, in which the son of the defeated Lord Scathfell plots revenge by marrying a girl from the Rockraven clan, noted for their ability to control storms and lightning. It’s scheduled for an August 2016 release from DAW, under the dual byline with Marion Zimmer Bradley.
Other recent publications include the Lambda Award Finalist Collaborators (under my former name, Deborah Wheeler), and an original epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield (in which women get to have heroic adventures), all of these from DAW.
In terms of editing, I’m wrapping up the anthology Realms of Darkover. Once that’s done, I’ll dive into the next novel, The Laran Gambit, which continues the “modern” timeline and brings Darkover and the Terrans back into conflict, er – contact – in a clash between machine-mediated mind control and natural laran Gifts.
What authors have most influenced your writing in addition to Marion Zimmer Bradley? What about them do you find inspiring?
The list is very long! Some of my favorite contemporary authors include Barbara Hambly, Mary Rosenblum, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sherwood Smith, Carol Berg, Freda Warrington, Jennifer Roberson, Chaz Brenchley, Judith Tarr, Vonda N. McIntyre, Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Stross, Saladin Ahmed, Diana Wynne Jones, and Tanith Lee. I love authors who give me a new way of thinking about story or language. Once it was possible to keep up with who was writing what, but the field is so large now, I’ve given up trying. I rely on the advice of friends whose taste I trust. It’s hilarious when a friend hates what I love and vice-versa, so I go for whatever they pan. When I go to a science fiction convention, I try to buy at least one book by an author I have just met but have not yet read.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Writing is both craft and art. You already have the dream. Now you have to learn the craft. As exciting as the prospect of publication is, if you’re in this for the long haul, be patient. It takes time and work to achieve excellence. There are so many aspects of success you’re powerless over, but the quality of your work is one you do have control over. I wrote a series of essays about nurturing yourself as a writer as you wrestle with the skills, called Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life.
Deborah J. Ross
Boulder Creek CA
The Children of Kings
Welcome to No Wasted Ink Writer’s Link Mondays. This week I have a nice grab bag of articles for you to take a look at. There are ones on general writing tips, a fun look at Robert Silverberg’s past work for the government, and an archive of English Dialects that might be of interest. I hope you enjoy them!