technique

Knowing When to Hold ‘Em

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No, this isn’t a Kenny Rogers homage (I got that out of my system early in my career—and you can read it here, if that’s your sort of thing). I’ve been thinking of the relationship writers have with ideas, and the differing schools of thought. I read one author’s answer to how he kept track of ideas—I forget if it was King, or maybe Konrath—which was basically Write them down so you don’t lose them. But the ones I had to write down in order to remember usually ended up not being very good. The best stories grabbed ahold of me until I wrote them.

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. I can see the value in writing down ideas for later. I have a plain-text document with snippets of ideas going back 6-7 years. I have half-finished stories as old as that. I’ve gone back and reworked years-old partials into complete stories that were completely different from the original intent. I’ve also probably forgotten more ideas than I have recorded. Were most of them crap? Perhaps. Some of the recorded ones are crap. I also have a couple of ideas I’ve neither written nor recorded, but which have stuck in my head for years. I’ll write them one day. I know it.

My wife and I discuss my work sometimes. There are things she’d like to see me do, because she thinks the result will garner more attention and money for my art. I don’t think she’s wrong. A talk she and I had last month yielded what could possibly be a breakout mainstream novel for me. I’m stoked as Hell to get to work on it. Right now, though, it only exists as the merest of outlines in my head. That’s OK. I know I won’t forget it. And according to the guy I paraphrased earlier, that means it might be Real Frickin’ Good. And every so often, the missus asks me why I don’t write one of these Right Frickin’ Nao.

I’m not in a rush to write it, though. Doesn’t that sound strange as all get-out? I have a theory of my own that I’m following. I don’t think I’ve seen it championed elsewhere, though I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’ve actually Stumbled Across Something No One’s Ever Thought of Before. I’m going to hold off on writing that novel, and a couple of others I have in mind, until I’m even better at my craft than I am now.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been trying to sell you anything that I didn’t feel was solid, entertaining work. If you can buy it, I think it’s worth your time. But I am still growing as an author. When I started writing for publication, 1500 words was my norm and 20K seemed like an epic. As I’ve grown, my stories have naturally grown in length—novellas come naturally to me now. I’m getting to the point where I can comfortably crank out a novel. I have a finished novella right now that both of my pre-readers say needs to be a novel, so I’m laying it aside and going back to it after I finish some contracted work.

Stephen King wrote several novels before selling Carrie—sold them eventually, under the name Richard Bachman, but they got a bunch of rejections when he first tried to move them. I’m sure he revised them prior to re-pitching, taking advantage of the experience he gained writing The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, etc. Joe Konrath wrote ten (give or take a couple) novels before he landed a contract for the Jack Daniels novels. My buddy John Everson just released his sixth novel, which has been in the works for something like a decade.

I don’t think I’ll end up scrapping five novels before writing a salable one. I’m too tenacious and willing to hack and revise for that to happen. I do seem to have a good instinct for when to bail on a sinking ship and just toss a piece into the Recycle Bin. But a few of these ideas, like the one my wife put in my head—I don’t want to still have my training wheels on when I knock them out, you know? So I’ll be holding on to them. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe longer.

If it’s any consolation, I’m itching to write them a thousand times more than you are to read them.

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Editing Techniques

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Author’s Note: Here’s another taste from the archives, a guest post I did earlier this year for Ms. Janice Gable Bashman during my blog tour in support of WILD. In case you’re wondering, this “archive thing” is something I’m doing, purposely, for the holidays. The next two weeks of writing output will be almost exclusively dedicated to finishing a novella. Also, I have an anthology to wrap up, doncha know. I hope you like it.

Hi! I’m Lincoln Crisler. I play G.I. Joe for a living and write scary stuff in my spare time. Janice has been good enough to let me climb aboard and share a bit of my magic with you and suggested my editing techniques as a possible topic of interest. This is what I do; if you’re looking to try something different, it might be worth your time. If you’re a reader looking for a peek behind the curtain, this would be that. As wiser men than I have said, your mileage may vary. Just for fun, I’ll name the segments after songs from the best rock band ever, RUSH.

Leave That Thing Alone. [VIDOnce I’m done writing that bad boy, whether it’s a short story, a comic script, flash fiction or a novella, it goes to sleep for awhile. If I’m still lucky to have blocks of writing time in the days that follow the completion of a story, I’ll usually move onto something else. I’m always working on more than one project at a time; I’m ADD like that. Sometimes I’ll take a break from writing altogether, either because I can’t find time to write for a few days or because I need to do something else. The most important reason for putting a finished work in a drawer for a while (I recommend two weeks, but sometimes my impatience wins out and it’s only one) is so that the next time I look at the work I have a fresh perspective and will catch things that I’d miss if I edited right away.

The Main Monkey Business. [VIDSo, with a couple of weeks between me and the story (and hopefully with another completed story to shove into the drawer, ideally), it’s time to pull that puppy out. I read every single sentence, as you might expect, and if something doesn’t seem quite right, I read it out loud. If it sounds awkward when spoken, it needs a rewrite. I also look for signs of slop like excessive adverbs (words ending in -ly) or one of the biggest indicators of passive voice, words ending in -ing. Sometimes I’ll get a jump on that two week break by critiquing with some fellow authors whose opinion I value. I can usually implement their advice right away, since it’s not tainted by lack of objectivity. There’s been one or two times when I’ve been up against a deadline and needed to forgo the break. I depended solely on the advice of my critique group and didn’t go wrong. It’s very important to have some good people around you, for a variety of reasons. I also pay particular attention to the dialogue portions of my work. I’ve been complemented on numerous occasions on how natural my characters’ dialogue seems, and by and large it comes naturally, but that praise makes me paranoid. Now I have something to live up to. Every so often somethng won’t roll off my tongue as well as it did off my pen, and I err on the side of caution in those instances.

Working Man. [VIDBasically it’s business as usual at this point; find some decent markets, write a good cover letter and push that bad boy out of the nest! I’ve had editors come back at me two or three times requesting further editing; a couple didn’t like my curse words (and honestly, the stories weren’t harmed by their removal, either!) and another noted a slight difference in writing style at a certain point (coincidentally, the same point where I set the story aside for a year and a half!). All that’s essential at this point is deciding whether you want to make the changes, and then getting word back to the editor in a timely manner. Other than that, the only thing I should point out is that asking for revisions usually isn’t a guarantee of acceptance. That’s okay, though; I have a list of ten things you’d be better off doing than worrying!

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