Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Speed and First Drafts Are Not Your Enemy. Fear Is.

The reason this post is late today is I'm reticent to stir the controversy pot.

I can hear what thinking. Since when, Suzan?

It's the issue of speed when it comes to drafting a story.

Please understand that I'm not talking about physical limitations. And before anyone goes off on me in comments, yes, I do understand certain impediments. I'm in the early stages of arthritis thanks to the self-destructing chemical soup that is my body, and I'm losing my eyesight, even though my doctor has been running an a battery of tests since March, he can't figure out what the problem is, and he's more frustrated about the situation than I am.

Maybe it's my own impending problems that spurs my need for speed. I've got so many ideas in my head that demand to be told. I started watching how many books were put out per year by my favorite authors. The only one who really talks about his process is Dean Wesley Smith.

When I started writing with the intent to publish back in 2004, I was doing great to get down 250 per hour. At the beginning of the year, I could do 500 words per hour. Dean's 7500 words per day seemed an impossible thing to achieve unless I went without sleep, food or potty breaks.

So instead of the impossible, I went for the possible. I'd done NaNoWriMo before. 50K words in 30 days comes out to 1,667 words per day. What if I bumped that up to 2K per day?

And it worked! Despite the craziness of homeschooling and packing, it worked. I finished five novellas, three short stories and the infamous novel Blood Sacrifice since January 1, 2013.

Which brings me to the other problem--rewriting. Maybe it's the flippant answer I gave in a recent interview. Maybe it's something Dean said in his blog, but I've given up on rewriting pieces ad nauseum.

Why? Because when I do, the book doesn't sound like me anymore. It reads like every piece of pablum coming out of New York these days. Oh, there's definitely times when I, my editor or beta readers say, "Hey! This piece here doesn't match the rest!"

But to me, that's content editing, not a complete rewrite. And I'm not saying a rewrite is never necessary.

Blood Sacrifice is a prime example. I started it in 2009, and I had to scrap it after seeing Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull because Steven Spielberg and I had the same frickin' plot. In 2010, I tried again, but I realized I had a problem with who the Big Bad was. It needed to be someone worthy of Alex and Phil.

I sat down for a brainstorming session over pumpkin lattes with my friend Jody in 2011. "The Aztecs and Mayans are overdone right now," she said. "Go farther south."

She had lived in Peru during the 1968 military coup. (I really think she needs to write about her life, but she thinks she's boring. Goddess, she so is not!)  She had a ton of books (most of which I couldn't read because they were in Spanish) and native music recordings she let me borrow, but it was her photos and recounting of the the Day of the Dead festivals that caught my warped attention.

Again, I started Blood Sacrifice. Again, I ran into a problem. I set it aside and concentrated on Alter Ego's career. This year, as I was wrapping breakables for packing, the solution popped into my head.

The only other time I rewrote a novel was to satisfy the bizarre whims of agents. (Zombie Love if you're curious. The published version is very close to the original version once I gave up trying to please a bunch of strangers who didn't give a shit about my story.) It's one thing when my perfectionistic streak comes into play. It's another when someone arbitrarily dictates changes.

Anything else I've written and published is the first draft. Including the short story "Justice" which I sold to Elisabeth Waters, the editor of Sword and Sorceress 28.

I can go into all the psychology of why writers think slow drafting and multiple drafts are a good thing, but I won't since Dean covers it pretty well in his Killing the Sacred Cows series on his blog.

It all comes down to one word--fear.

It's amazing how good writing feels once you let go of that fear.

So I challenge all of you to write FAST, write FEARLESSLY and have FUN!


  1. Good post, Suzan. I'm sorry about the chemical soup though, that part sucks. Wishing you all the best.

  2. Sorry, Whisk! I wasn't trying to complain, but lately I've gotten several "That's easy for you to do! You're young and healthy!" And I'm like, "No, and no."

    I've been dealing with this from twelve days after my thirty-fourth birthday. I can whine and bitch about the hand I got dealt, or I can live my life and have fun.

    Which means figuring out how to upload photos from my iPhone to my laptop so I can show off my latest Ghoulia doll and her friend Skelita.

  3. I don't find you to be complaining at all. It's a blog. It's your blog and about you and that's why I come here. Sure I like the indie news and fun videos, but if your personality wasn't here, I wouldn't be either.

  4. Funny how there's always an excuse why you're special, why you have it easy, why they can't be expected to do the same thing and it's offensive to even suggest that they think about trying. [eyeroll] I have major health issues too, but I wrote over 13K words last week. When you think about it, that's really not a lot for a whole week -- I have no children, no day job. But I've run into I-don't-know-how-many writers who come across as bragging about how slow they write, like it's some kind of virtue.

    So... we're special and lucky if we can write "fast," but writing slow is better anyway. Okay. Uh huh. :P


  5. LOL But, Angie, tell us how you REALLY feel.

    No one's a special snowflake, as Lilith Saintcrow would say, Shit, look what happened to Minnesota Viking Adrian Petterson this weekend. You can have so much and still lose the most precious thing in your life.