Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] Learning how to write

Barring continued sidelining from the current round of chemo side effects, I’m on the home stretch with Kalimpura revisions. My revision process on this book is something I’m pretty comfortable with. (See here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] for a discussion of how it works, fundamentally.) I’m at the late stages, having gone through the book a number of times already based on first reader feedback, as well as input from my agent and editor. Saturday I finished a major line read and a minor tweaking pass with some inserted scenes. As soon as I can write again, possibly today, I’ll handle a major inserted scene, and begin addressing the pacing issues in the middle. Not sure how long the pacing adjustments will take. Then, well, a final check for fit, finish and corrosion, and I’m done. Hopefully before I go back for my next chemo session this coming Friday, as previously discussed. (I’m afraid that if I don’t, this will be the session where my writing brain checks out and doesn’t come back for months…)

Kalimpura is the seventeenth novel I’ve written. It’s the tenth novel I’ve brought all the way through the revision process to final draft and commercial production. Along the way, I’ve made numerous adjustments to my process, and a few times major redirections.

Even now, I’m still learning how to write. I could live to be 103, write as many novels as Bob Silverberg or Elizabeth Bear, and I’d still be learning how to write.

The difference between me today revising Kalimpura and me almost twenty years ago working on my first novel effort, The January Machine, is that now I have confidence. I have confidence in my ideas. I have confidence in my craft. I have confidence in my drafting process. I have confidence in my revision process. This is the benefit of having written eighteen first drafts, and (almost) ten final-for-production drafts. I know what I’m good at. (And I know what I’m not good at, which is why I’m still learning.)

However, back when I was a lot newer and didn’t have that confidence, I had a very specific problem.

Which is to say, other people’s advice and comments about the process confused me.

When another writer would tell younger-writer-me that they wrote a detailed outline before they drafted a novel, I would feel guilty that I didn’t do that. I was doing it wrong! When another writer would tell younger-writer-me that they wrote character step-sheets and biographies, I would worry that I didn’t understand my characters well enough. When another writer writer would tell younger-writer-me that they did second, third and fourth drafts of a story or novel, I would fret that I didn’t do enough drafting.

All of this was magnified when the writer offering these pearls of wisdom was published, established, someone with books on the shelf.

One of the things I had to do in learning to write was learn when to ignore advice about how to do it, when that advice seriously conflicted with my own process and outcomes. Basically, on drafting, I make it up as I go along. That’s true even when writing a novel from a detailed outline. I’m still making it up as I go along. I could no more work from a character step-sheet or a scene-by-scene outline than I could write a novel in Sanskrit, and if I tried to do so, I’d wind up in an unhappy hole of unproductivity.

The point being, it took me years to learn to filter advice and commentary so I could grab out the bits that did apply to me, and let go of the bits that didn’t, without having to agonize over why I couldn’t write like author X or workshop member Y.

As a side note, I think the first established author I knew who writes more or less the way I do is Nina Kiriki Hoffman. I’ve since come to know others, but even with our similarities, we’re all different down in the details.

Learning to write, for me, has been a process of two things: practice (“write more!”) and learning who to ignore. Ignoring good advice has turned out to be every bit as important as following it, and probably quite a bit more. The danger of the blogosphere, of course, as opposed to the coal-fired pre-Internet days when I was starting out, is there is an avalanche of advice from well-meaning writers, myself very much included, available to aspiring writers today. Back when I was aspiring, I had to go to considerable effort over the course of months to be as confused as 20 minutes with a Web browser will offer today. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

As I’ve said before, the best thing you can possibly do is ignore me and write your own stories in your own way. It’s how I learned.

It’s how I’m still learning.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

Tags: process, writing

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