How I Write
As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the primary reasons for creating HIFI Press was to publish books that I'd written. As of this moment I've written the first 3 books in a sci-fi / comedy / adventure series called Far Out Chronicles. What an attractive series title, right? I bet you can't wait to find out more about the premise, characters, etc. I understand. But, you'll have to wait for future posts to learn about those books. Why not take this opportunity to subscribe to this blog? You won't miss out because I'll email you when I post details on the series. You're welcome!
This post is about the process I used to write them. Over the years I've tried a few different processes for getting the turds out of my brain, onto paper, and then polishing them so they no longer resemble turds. Below is what has worked for me.
Step 1: Get The Damn Words Out!
Writers must produce words. That's often easier said than done. Here are some guiding principles that have helped me get the first draft out of my head:
Great books aren't written, they're rewritten. I use this as a guiding principle for most forms of written things: poems, essays, emails, ransom notes, marketing copy, etc. Keeping this in mind removes the initial "perfection filter of death" that can prevent writers from getting past the first sentence. This allows me to open the valve of words in my head and just let them pour out without worrying about their quality. I think of this as digging huge handfuls of dirt from the mind. The more you do this, the more you get comfortable with the smell of your own fresh literary turds, the easier it will be to have a heap of words to work with later on. The jewels, if any, can be separated later.
Inertia will be applied for or against writing. The more consistently I write, the easier it is to write. If I take a day off, if I break my stride, then it becomes a bit harder to start again. If I take more than a day off, I'm almost entirely abandoning the inertial power of all the preceding days of writing. So when I'm writing a book, I find it's best to do it daily. Every day. No weekends off. No vacations. Day by day, page by page, until the first draft is done.
Don't wait for the perfect writing conditions. Earth in modern times is often busy, crowded and noisy. Time is a commodity. One thing that would stop me from writing was not having a large enough block of time, or the right computer, or the right location. None of those things are actually important, and all of them are only obstacles inasmuch as we make them so. If a writer focuses on the imperfection of their conditions, they'll always have a reason to not write. Instead, if a writer is open to each opportunity for writing, no matter how imperfect, they can make good use of each one. The heap of words will grow. Being open to using any small sliver of time that arises in a busy day, or being comfortable writing on a tiny laptop or a small notepad on a crowded bus, makes all the difference between either producing a story or letting it die inside you. When I was able to make that shift in thinking, I was able to get books written.
Step 2: Polish Those Turds Till They Shine!
Once the first draft of something is done, I rewrite it 3 more times:
- Electronic "Bulldozer" Phase: The first rewrite is done electronically on my computer. This is the huge hack and slash phase where whole paragraphs or scenes are removed, replaced, or rearranged. This phase takes the longest and is the most painful. Painful? Why? Because the turds are in their shittiest form. They're my responsibility. I have to mold them and play with them until they stop smelling like fresh turds. Ugh.
- Paper "Hammer" Phase: Once the electronic phase is done, the second rewrite begins. For this, I print out a paper copy of the book, throw it in a binder, and grab a pen. I turn the pages and use the pen to markup all the changes I find. It's about taking the first step towards engaging the words as a reader, rather than as a writer. Sometimes a few big changes are made, but this phase is mostly about rewriting lots of individual sentences, correcting awkward language, and proofreading.
- Verbal "Scalpel" Phase: Lastly, after applying all the written changes to the master electronic version, I print out another copy, throw it in a binder, and grab a pen. This time I read the book aloud. Yeah, it's awkward. This phase takes some privacy in order to focus, but it's worth it. Hearing the words spoken aloud helps naturalize phrasing and tighten up sentences. My wonderful wife has helped during this phase by volunteering to be the reader, and it's been incredibly helpful.
Step 3: Let A Professional Give You A Happy Ending!
The process of writing is itself a story. You're the protagonist. In the story of writing your story, you want to give yourself a happy ending. We all do. But deep down inside you know that if you want your story to have a super-satisfying, mind-blowing, truly happy ending, then it's best to hire a pro to lend a hand.
It may be a shock to some, but I'm not perfect. My mind is an echo chamber when I'm writing. No matter how polished I think my turds are, in order to make sure they're ready for public consumption (gross), I must let a professional editor do their thing. Unlike me, the writer, they haven't been obsessing over plot lines and character arcs for months. They don't have every story detail sloshing around in their heads. They'll take a fresh look at my turd and show me all the places I can improve.
I'd say that working with a pro is priceless, but in fact it can come with a shockingly high price tag. Let's not talk about the money involved. That's a depressing topic for another post. If you've gotten to step 3 and you're broke, you should still rejoice! You've polished and re-polished a turd that you dug out of your own mind! That's more than most can say.
What I tell myself: Write every day. Write without judgement. Write without attachment. Steel thyself to polish some turds!
Hope this gives insight into where my turds come from. Put your thoughts below, or email me at email@example.com.
Time to go drop a few logs. Goodbye!