Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tales, slow-roasted to perfection

Ever since getting back on this horse, I've been writing mighty slow. You might accuse me of deliberately engineering that sentence so I could sound like a cowboy, and you'd be right, pardner. But, in all seriousness, slowness is king.

Now, you might also accuse me of engineering that sentence so that I'd have a good reason to insert a doom metal video at the end of this post; and you'd be wrong, since in fact it's a rather lucky organic outgrowth of this post's vocabulary and my personal tastes. But going more slowly with my stories is really paying off.

The slowness is not in the composition. Churning out a story is still a relatively vomitory task: work the pump and water flows into the bucket. Rather, the slowness is in the revisions. For a long time, everything about my writing was about volume, about cranking out stories as rapidly as possible. This was a result of the Dean Wesley Smith school of writing, or, at least, the way I interpreted various teachings (if you will) of Dean Wesley Smith. That was an important part of my development: it took me from being a nubile writer with little sense of the tools I needed to succeed as a professional (or a hack, depending on how you view my writing career thus far) and turned me into someone who could say, "I'll accomplish Goal X in my writing career by undertaking Activity Y." And for a long time, Activity Y was... absolute, mad-insane churn. Write, revise immediately, submit right after revising, and repeat with as little interruption as possible.

That worked great, until it didn't. I think last year was the year when I rejected that method, but I had nothing with which to replace it. I also got into some seriously weird stuff, like Michael Cisco and D. Harlan Wilson, and I was more interested in playing with language than playing with story. But I still didn't have the right sense of craft.

I don't know what made me do it, but deciding to get critiques and take them seriously is paying off. Granted, my sample is pretty small at the moment, but, for example: I just finished off the revisions on a story I submitted to Codex for review, and the difference is night and day. It's not just that I got critiques: it's that I took those critiques seriously, put them together, meditated on them, put together an action plan, and applied it to the story. That story kind of used to suck; now, it's kind of awesome, and I'm proud of it.

I can't say too much more just yet (because, again, of sample size), but the ideas I've put together for a few little works-in-progress suggest that I'm going to awesome-ify a few more stories yet. To wit: I decided to pull out a story I wrote back in 2009, one of the first stories I ever wrote from start to finish. It's really neat to look back on something so old: there's this naiveté in the telling that I will probably never be able to reproduce. And it's a cool, simple, near-SF concept. But by taking it to task in the way I've been taking others to task as a participant in various critique groups (namely Codex and Critters), I figured out a way that I could make this story - which was pretty good, considering its age, but still suffered from a ton of beginner's mistakes - totally awesome. And I'm on my way to doing that.

(But of course, I'll submit it for critique next!)

This is all really weird for me, as if I'm not the me (as a writer, at least) that I used to be. I mean, that awesome story that got critted at Codex? It's done revisions, but now it's back in a box to ferment so I can re-read those revisions in a week (or two or three - when I'm ready, as it were). Like, I never would've done that as early as six months ago. I dunno. Maybe it's the MBA. Maybe it's the 4 months I took off. Maybe I'm growing up. I'm seeing this too in the fact that I feel a lot more kinship with other writers than I ever did before. It's like... it's like there's an author writing me... and that author has decided it's time for a little character development.

Okay, that last line was engineered - and executed - very poorly. But maybe I've just finally broken through and realized that, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen by being, not good, but by being great.

And on that note, here's a not-entirely related but really great post from Christie Yant at Inkpunks.

And here, you worshippers of the black flame, is some doom metal, from my buddies' jam band, Wandering Druid:


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