Writing is a thing, right? People do it, people think about it, people write about it, people write about people writing about it.
All sorts of myths swirl around about this thing — it’s a great gift by supernatural beings, your god or God or their god or God instilled the desire/skill to write in your brain-meat at a young age, it’s untouchable art and people need to understand it…
But all that is wrong, and it’s all shit, and it’s all bad for you.
The fact is, at the end of the cow, when the day comes home, when the road meets the grindstone (and assorted other butchered platitudes), it isn’t about magic and mystical space beings and mythical feelings. It’s work, and work for hours and days and weeks and months. And it just gets started when you “finish” a manuscript.
Because that’s when others *gasp* see it.
Writing it is the easy stuff. Getting it chopped up in little pieces by beta-readers so you can sew it back together better is the hard part.
This blog has been neglected lately — some of this is due to procrastination. I spend serious time on each post and end up pushing it aside until later when I, supposedly, will have more time. But, also, in part because of a large project I’ve been writing.
A sci-fi serial — space opera goodness in ten parts — filled with ancient ruins and mysterious relics. It’s fun stuff, and I can’t wait to get it out there.
It’s all mapped out — as in I spent days mapping star systems, researching the effects of red dwarf stars on habitability, and whipping together a basic map to keep my shit straight when jumping from system to system.
And it was plotted and worked out in a 10k+ world bible. I didn’t go too crazy here, it’s a big world with the opportunity for a lot of stories, and 10k isn’t a bat-shit crazy as it sounds. But it took some time, have no doubt about that.
Then I wrapped up the first “episode” of 10k words in a couple of days. I thought it was pretty good — in need of work, no doubt, but the basics were covered at least.
But, alas, it sucked a lot harder than I expected.
The truth is out there, and it hurts like a bat to the head.
This is the part oh-so-many writers never make it past. Maybe they quit since getting your work critiqued sucks like a Dyson stuck to your thigh. Maybe they never show anyone their work, fear of bad news cramping them up like an old burrito. Or, maybe they do get it beta-read, but lash out at the reaction since they are artists and these other people just don’t get it.
But, in the end, this is where it’s at maaaaan *peace sign*. This is where the writers get separated from the they just don’t get it crowd.
This is when you find out what works, and what doesn’t work.
This is where your characters get tested like a monkey in a genetics lab.
And this is where my story got broke.
Facts about episode 1:
- My wife didn’t complete it. Always a bad sign, since significant others tend to slog through your crap better than most due, in part, to you knowing where they sleep and what they fear most.
- No one liked any of the characters except for the villain. No. One. Holy shit.
- More than one reader mentioned disappointment in the first part, where I promised one thing but delivered another.
- My sarcastic robot character may be a little too close to a certain other asshole robot in a certain guide to the galaxy.
- The end result: Technically, there was nothing wrong with the writing, but the story was as entertaining as a cold plate of broccoli sitting in a field.
Do you know what I didn’t know?
Any of that.
And if I didn’t risk my sensitive little writerly feelings by getting some hard-nosed readers to tell me what they really thought, I still wouldn’t know any of it. I’d be happily banging away at another 10k words of drivel in episode 2, content in my mediocrity.
But how to deal with the beatdown to your manuscript?
It’s no secret: Having your work critiqued is hard. Everything sings so clearly in your head, everything went from your brain to your fingers to your keyboard to your document and damn it all why can’t people see what was in my thoughts *shakes fist at sky*
But, it isn’t this way at all. When you are knee deep in writing, you are missing all sorts of stuff.
You aren’t filling in info others need because it is obvious to you.
You are dumping too much data in parts since it just needs an explanation or no one is going to get it, right?
Not to mention, when you are in the weeds, you go astray. Maybe you know all the little rules that make a good story — introduce characters over time, avoid data dumps, give a little physical description for readers to grasp but not too much — you simply don’t do them.
I mean, maybe some of the pros do 90% of the right thing 90% of the time, but that’s what makes them pros.
Everyone else is dropping the ball every sentence or two.
The easiest way to deal with the stresses of realizing your baby is a little ugly, maybe somewhat dysfunctional, and in need of serious work: Understand that everyone else is making the same mistakes.
You ain’t special, no matter what your mother told you. Just as you aren’t the next Hemingway, you also aren’t somehow at max suckatude because your story needs to be kicked over and reworked.
If you get insulted, you are doing it wrong. You should be ecstatic the flaws came out at this stage, rather than later.
If you are sad, you are doing it wrong. You should be overjoyed since you are at the precipice so many others fail to cross, ready to leap over to the other side.
If you get depressed, you are doing it wrong. Sure, take a day to feel a little knocked back by the setback. That’s normal. But dwelling on the exact same types of problems Stephen King, Chuck Wendig, and Brandon Sanderson deal with as part of their daily job is silly bordering on crazy.
If you get aroused, well, I guess good for you. Writing aught to be a blast then.
Here is what I plan to do with the information:
Fact: I introduce too many characters too quickly, and many of them remain faceless and unimportant.
Action: Rework the roster of characters. Cut some out, give their jobs to the important characters. This gives more “screen time” to each remaining character, and less to juggle.
Fact: The antagonist is very interesting, so much so she overshadows who we are supposed to be rooting for.
Action: Don’t change her much, since she kicks ass. But introduce her early — even in the first scene. Bait that hook, damn it!
Fact: I promise one thing with early scenes in a ruin, but don’t deliver any real treasure hunting/Indiana Jones stuff — what someone expects when they read about people delving the depths of million-year old ruins.
Action: Deliver like a boss. Time to cut out some of the space travel and spend more time planetside. My job is to entertain, and people want to see what these ruins are all about.
Fact: The robot companion of one character seems a little too similar to certain other sarcastic robots of literary history.
Action: Since, in my head, this character was nothing like other past robots, I must have failed to put a unique spin and voice on him. I need either change him, or flesh him out better for the reader.
It’s not so hard or overwhelming when you put it like this, and I would recommend you do the same. Take those comments — most especially repeat comments since if more than one reader sees the same issue, you can be sure others will as well — and write them each out in your own words. Then solve them, one by one, like you would any other problem.
Because, in the end, that’s all they are: Problems to be solved. Missing parts in an engine. Wrong numbers in a sudoku puzzle. Rocket melons in the fruit salad.
Collate, cogitate, conquer.