Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I think we should get to know each other first

I've decided to slow down my relationship with my writing.

2010 was the year of Dean Wesley Smith disciplery. I with both relish and zest followed Dean's advice on speed: i.e., I agreed with Dean's thesis that the statement "writing slowly = writing well" is nought but a myth, and, therefore, permitted myself a furious pace of composition, editing, and submission.

This was an incredibly important development in my work as a writer. In particular, it broke my fear: the fear that I could not finish a story, or several stories, and submit them to serious 'zines and editors. Dean's "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" radicalized the way I wrote, and from June to December - the period during which I was a Deansciple - I think I must have written two or three hundred thousand words at least.

It allowed me, in effect, confidence; it is what made me a writer.

However, lately, I've been unsatisfied with some of my production: I frequently rush the endings of my stories, cobbling them together, assuaging my worries by telling myself, "writing quickly does not mean writing poorly." But, despite the axioms - and despite my continued theoretical agreement with Dean's theory - I was still worried.

Worried, in short, that - in practice in general, and my practice in particular - the theory might be subject to disproval.

Then, Alex Kane pointed me toward Christie Yant's (Assistant Editor at Lightspeed Magazine) blog post at Inkpunks, "Lessons From the Slushpile: Good vs. Great." What struck me in particular was this passage:

"We see so many stories where if the author had taken a little more time, taken a step back from it, come back with fresh eyes and put in what was missing, it would have made all the difference. As writers, we're in such a hurry to get it out the door that we get it to Pretty Good and submit. Pretty Good isn't good enough."

And this struck me particularly because getting it to Pretty Good is exactly what I do, basically all the time.

I want to share my flavours with you.

But no longer! I've started taking more time with my writing: sweet-talking it, buying it gifts. And the payoffs? Nice. I just finished one of the tightest, emotionally-heaviest stories I've ever written. And another story I wrote, filled with great ideas but burdened - like many of my tales - with a poor denouément, has received the boon of considered-revaluation, and thus its plot and character arcs have been renewed. All that remains is rewrite two-thirds of it.

I still don't think speed and quality correlate directly. Some of my best stories were written very quickly. But, due in particular to my "end-of-story-stylistic-narrativistic-and-creative-depression," far too many of my stories have gone down the gutter or will end up in the trunk, because I didn't pull back and take the time to consider a better finale.



  1. A couple of thoughts.

    First, by fast writing, Dean doesn't mean moving your fingers more quickly across the keys. He simply means don't screw around with a lot of revision. He himself admits he only writes about 750 words an hour. Thus for Dean FAST = LONGER TIME BUTT IS IN CHAIR.

    Second, what I've come to see is that Dean's discipline allows a writer to develop into the writer he/she needs to be. The hardest part of learning how to write is learning how YOU write, and what makes Dean's advice so great is that by writing, finishing, submitting, you write so damn much that you literally pick yourself up by the bootstraps and hit the next level. Six months of following Dean's advice is worth more, I think, than six weeks at Clarion.

    For me, this means a line-by-line edit -- something Dean doesn't advise. But, I write fast and furious and therefore loose prose. So a line by line edit helps me tighten those things. But it was only after writing so much that I began to see how I could improve my stories.

  2. I especially agree with Jeff regarding "Hours Count" vs. "Word Count". I reckon if every once in a while after you discovery wrote something you then spent a couple hours reverse outlining it and considering motivation and essentially picking your story apart and rebuilding it into a glorious new story, it couldn't help but be a learning experience.

    In my experiment, though (and this is laden with a heavy "writers write in their own way" disclaimer), it takes my perfectionist nitpickery more time to edit than for me to just force myself to let it be and write another, better story. And then I've got two stories!

    (If I want the story to be perfect I can expand it into a book and justify nitpickery.)

  3. Excellent points, gentlemen!

    I guess I wrote this from memory, and I can't remember exactly what Dean says, but how things manifested for me actually was never hours in the chair (even though I spent many) but words on the page and stories in the mail. That's the sense I took it in: being a productive writer, as in one who produces stories for market. And it really worked well: I wrote a lot and I created a nice fat library of submissions.

    The main thing that I've realized I have to correct about this now, is that sometimes - and, like David said, every writer is different - a single story CAN be better than two. I have a lot of stories in the mail now, but there are a good number that I don't expect will be bought, and just as many I wouldn't feel confident self-publishing either. And that's mostly because, like I said, I have a tendency to push out endings that just trickle away in an unsatisfactory manner. This isn't because I've written them fast or only done loose editing; it's because I've focused on producing stories for the market, instead of focusing on making a story that's great from point A to point B.

    So... perhaps I was taking Dean's lessons the wrong way all along. But it doesn't really matter, because they made me a better writer nonetheless; and now, I plan to spend a little more time being certain that a story is Perfect before I send it out.

    Oh, yeah. Actually, this whole ramble should probably have focused more on Christie's post. Because really, that's the problem: I send out Pretty Good stuff, not Great stuff.

    That's the problem. And, frankly, that's not something Dean's lessons address; they sort of shove it aside. Kind of like how Stephen King ascribed good writing to Nothing You Can Do About It. M'eh.

    Onward, to Perfection!


  4. I had the same reaction, man. Making the same changes to my own process in light of her blog post.

  5. It's certainly true that there's no direct correlation as I've written a few things that, even after considerable time, I felt needed very little tweaking, but then I have other stories that reach 9 drafts and still aren't right. But I definitely recommend setting them aside for a while--during which time you write a first draft of something else--and then coming back to revisit it. But the most important part, which you seem to understand already, is that you've learned about yourself as a writer. And that's the best thing you could have gotten from any experiment.