burnt-oranges replied to your post: salviag replied to your post: “Writ…

question: how do you know if that raw material is bad and whether to feel confident in it or not? that’s something i struggle with

Yeah, me too. That’s why I started exploring ways to pin the story down as a whole, before I wrote it, to get a good look at it. That’s why I’m so big on outlining. I need to get the idea in a form where I can stand back and get a look at the whole thing so I can evaluate it.

Sometimes people talk as if the only way to see and feel a story is to write it all out. I’ve been looking for other ways to do it, and while reading and writing it is probably the closest to it you ever come, I can experience it in other ways as well. At least enough to know whether I’m going down the wrong path.

I write long stories, it’s just my rhythm, but I can’t keep a long story in my head all at once, so I can’t just pore over it inside my head. I need to pin it up to see all of it.

There are many ways to do this, and I keep experimenting with new ones. Post it notes, a long list of events, drawing a graph of rising and falling emotional heft and action, a big, sprawling mind map…whatever fits the project.

I need to pin the story up. Then I look at it and walk myself through it with this bird’s eye view. Then I need to evaluate it the way I would evaluate any story, I guess. Is it just like something else, am I just copying something I like? Is it a series of cliches? Am I repeating the same event over and over? Have I done this before? Does it make sense? Are there plot holes? What are the alternatives? What else could logically happen?

It helps to take someone else through it too, which is another advantage to pinning it up. Someone else can see into your head that way. You can pin a story up and get a beta on that, too, before you’ve agonized over word choices.

That’s the direction I’ve been going, anyway. I don’t know if it’s the best one, but I’ve found it helpful. It certainly makes me more confident in my story by the time I sit down to turn it into words. I find it also makes the writing stage really fast.


salviag replied to your post: "Writing is a two-stage Process."

I may not have read the entire thread, but the part about ‘creative imagination’ and ‘technical imagination’? It’s more of a mindset/approach than a step in the writing process. My guess is that your creative steps are 1 & 4, and the rest technical

I wasn’t referring to this creative/technical split, I was referring to “writing is a two-stage process,” not that.

However, I disagree with your assessment of which parts of my process are creative and which are technical. But then, I might disagree generally with the division of creative and technical in the first place. 

"Writing is a two-stage Process."

I just read that line as part of this thread, and did that screech-to-a-halt thing they do in cartoons. Two stage process? TWO?

Wow. Writing is a six-stage process for me at the moment.

  1. Brainstorming;
  2. Outlining;
  3. Revising my outline;
  4. Writing;
  5. Editing;
  6. Revising based on feedback.

Having worked this way, I have no idea how I could possibly condense it down to only two stages!

Though some years ago, writing was a one stage process for me. 

  1. Write.

How times have changed.

On overthinking.


Rambling about the writing process, beneath the cut.

Read More

Last night I came across a single fic I’d written just after my first fandom (HP), before the many years of writer’s block I had before Sherlock. It remains unpublished for many reasons, mostly because at the time I wrote it, I didn’t want to throw my hat into another fandom ring — and I still don’t. Anyway, I ended up re-reading it. 

It’s 22k (which I didn’t know, because I didn’t count words at the time I wrote it). Unbeta’ed, because I never had betas until Sherlock. It was written with no outline or planning at all. It’s juvenile, full of cliches, incredibly cringeworthy, and yet? It has a flow to it. A certain effortless sense of fun. Clearly I didn’t care about the cliches or even how good it was, I just told a story. I don’t even remember much about writing it, I must have plugged away somehow, but that fic wasn’t painful. And I’m looking at it thinking, why? I’ve worked SO much harder on my writing since I wrote it, and I’d like to hope I’m getting better. So why did this fic just… happen, and why did it accidentally achieve some of the things I’m working so hard to achieve on purpose?

What an amazing experience, Mars! I’m sorry to hear you sound so troubled, but I think I can see the silver lining here. 

For the last few years I’ve been dissecting my own process, and realizing that the language really gets in the way, because there are all kinds of different parts of the work of “writing” that all need to be understood separately (as well as collectively). For the same reasons you’re remembering, the one part of the whole thing I haven’t tinkered with too much is that sheer act of sitting down and putting words on a page.

But then, I’ve always gone at this for two reasons: 1) I wanted to get better, and 2) I want to enjoy the hell out of every part of the experience, because this is my free time and I’m doing this for fun. 

I didn’t tinker with the “putting words on the page” part of writing because I find it hella fun as it is. I’ve come to see any feeling of unpleasantness as a sign that there’s a problem with my process, because if I’m not having fun, it’s not going to happen, let alone result in anything good.

If your process is not letting you just write in that free flowing way that’s fun and uncomplicated, then let’s have a look at that process. If it’s tripping you up, something’s wrong.

What I’ve done for myself is separate out the planning and major plot construction from the act of putting words on a page, but what I give myself are small goals (usually scenes, but sometimes not) that I can just let go and have at when it comes to just free-wheeling writing. I build stories out of these smaller goals, and each is basically defined by what I can comfortably write in a single sitting.

So when I sit down to write, I look at my plan and say, oh, okay, today I’m in X place, and I need to get from point a to point b. Sometimes there’s lots of detail, often there isn’t. This is where I get to just go to town. My plans generally don’t go down this deep, so when I sit down to write I get to really dig into the feelings and details, and what’s around, and what’s everyone thinking and saying, so I still feel like it’s a brand new world and I can do whatever I want. I give myself such small goals from day to day that it mostly feels like what I used to do with a seed of an idea for a fic. Just sit down and explore it. 

That’s what’s worked for me, but of course no one process works for everyone. I would love to chat with you about your process and where it’s hurting. No process should ever hurt. If it hurts, lose it. There are plenty more processes out there.

If there’s no joy in writing a story, I’m not sure how there’s meant to be any joy in reading it!

Call me, Mars. I find your case interesting. It’s at least an 8.

writin’ stuff


All I want in life, is to be able to write a book/series that’s as beautifully written as The Infernal Devices. I’m currently studying to become a vet, & as much as I adore animals… I want to be an author so much more. But I can’t write an interesting sentence to save my life. I’m sure you hear it everyday, but you are amazing, & authors like you are what keep my dreams alive. — jessikweh

First: thank you.

Second: If you can’t write a sentence of surpassing lyrical beauty right now on command, don’t worry about it.

One of the most common comments about books I see is “I don’t like the writing, I’m just there for the plot/the characters/the world-building.”

The thing is, all that stuff is writing.

Creating characters: that’s writing. World-building: that’s writing. Plot: that’s writing.

Being able to write sentences that drift down gently upon the reader like beautiful crystalline snowflakes is a hell of a skill. But it is a piece of a skillset, the screwdriver in a toolkit full of tools. If you are freaked out about your sentences, concentrate on world-building or character creation for a while. Being able to create characters people care about is hard. And it is also writing. You are bringing a person to life with nothing but words on a page. You have to give them a life, a heartbeat, goals, despairs, risks, blood. That is the alchemical magic of writing, just as much as we beat on, boats against the current, drawn back ceaselessly into the past or The barefooted drummer, beating a folded newspaper with whisk-brooms in lieu of a drum, stirs the eye’s ear like a blast of brasses in a midnight street.

Beautiful prose makes us feel all sorts of feels, but characters we love make us laugh and hurt, and plot that engages makes us gasp and flip pages. The ability to create any of these things is a talent. And like the development of any talent, we learn by example. If you want to write beautiful prose, read a lot of beautiful prose. (Read poetry. Poetry is all about the distillation of language into the specific and the beautiful, and it isn’t obscure or incomprehensible, I promise. Try Elizabeth Bishop: “One Art” or “Insomnia.” )

Learn the rhythms and the echoes of prose you admire. Take a month and read only beautiful prose; you’d be surprised at the effect it has on your own work. It’s like a language immersion class. We learn to speak by hearing; we learn to write by reading.

But don’t think that stylistic loveliness is all there is to writing. (There’s nothing particularly poetic about the prose in, say, Harry Potter, which is actually one of its strengths. You can mainline plot and character because the writing is so undistracting and straightforward. That’s not a bad thing. The “I don’t like the writing but I like the plot/characters word” thing is something I first saw said about Harry Potter, and even then I thought, but characters are writing.) Plot and character are the bones and skin of a story, style is like designs drawn on that skin. Work on the bones, the skin the design first, whatever makes you comfortable. Ideally, they all work together.  

Words are the tools that get the plot and the characters behind the eyes of the reader, right? They have one job. Haha! Undistracting prose is the best prose!

Though of course aesthetic appreciation for language is also enjoyable. So my facets to this writing thing. There’s room for everyone!

What a joyous thought.

Stage Next: Queries and the Unknown

The short version of how traditional publishing works, as I understand it so far, is:

  1. find an agent who’ll represent you;  
  2. here there be dragons;
  3. your agent helps you find a publisher;
  4. dragons. Also magic. And probably jaunty hats.

My understanding is a bit limited so far, as you can see. I’m focussed on the process of finding an agent, since that’s basically the only thing I know for sure I’d have to do. Here’s what I know about step one:

  1. Write a query letter stem, including a paragraph synopsis of your story, a hook, and a bio;
  2. research agents who might be interested in your story and are accepting query letters;
  3. determine how to query these agents and what they expect in a query;
  4. Personalize your query based on each agent;
  5. Submit query letters;
  6. Wait.

Does that look about right? I’m a newbie here. This is what I’ve learned thus far.

So what’s a query letter?

“There’s two parts to writing, really. There’s the craft, and there’s the art. There’s the part that is a skill, which you can teach, and there’s the part that is the inspiration. The trouble is, if you have enough inspiration, you can do a decent book. And people will rave over it because it’s so uncommon to be able to do that. But if that’s all you have, you won’t ever get any better. Because the inspiration just is what it is. The craft is the part you can improve. If you start with the emphasis on inspiration, and you don’t pay attention to the craft, you’re not going to get very far.”

I’m trying to be more supportive of my brainstorming needs. I was working through some ideas using my outlining tools, but they’re all too rigid and I felt like I was getting lost in them. It felt like I was jamming formless stuff into something that wants solid shapes. So I’ve been playing around with Scapple, which is built by the same guy who wrote Scrivener. As it turns out, Scapple is exactly what I didn’t know I needed.

It’s completely structureless, like a digital chalkboard. The canvas has no lines and nothing has to be centred or aligned. I just add blips of text (I could be adding images and things as well, but I am not a visual person) and when it occurs to me what things relate to, I can join them up.

This is a story with no plot so far. It’s just got some tentative ideas, a setting, some potential characters, some world-building, and an external obstacle. There’s one orange blip in there that says “Why?” because as yet I have no idea why the external obstacle might be happening in the first place. 

Finding the right tool is like realizing your life is actually a musical. It’s so amazing, I don’t feel lost anymore. It’s right there to be toyed and built upon with instead of just a crazy jumble in my head. 

*bursts into a joyous musical number about brainstorming*


Anonymous asked:

Are you an agented writer? If so, do you have any advice for the query process?


Nope, and nope. Hopefully I will learn about those things next. I’m standing on the precipice of those questions right now, and it’s a little scary. Once I seem to be done with as much of the editing thing I can do on an amateur scale, I guess I’ll have to turn my eyes in that direction. I’m afraid that moment is probably now, or maybe by Wednesday, and to be honest I’m not really sure how to approach either of those things.

But I’ve learned how to do other things that have to do with writing, so I expect it’s another thing I will learn to tackle in due course.

If I learn anything useful, I will certainly post about it.

If anyone else has advice about this subject, anon and I are all ears.

Master List of Writing Tools

Here lies my current master list of writing tools based on my experience to date, split out by stage; brainstorming tools, outlining tools, writing tools, and editing tools. Some of it costs $$, but there are plenty of free options in each of the stages, too.

Learning to Love Editing: Taking Holly’s Advice

About twelve years ago I got advice about how to write and edit a story from the incomparable hollyblack, and I’ve finally, FINALLY managed to wrap my head around it and put it to use.

Editing Lesson #2

Once you turn your manuscript into an epub and read it on your ereader, it suddenly becomes apparent that you are only marginally literate, and your story is filled with really stupid words and really stupid sentences. Therefore, edit #3 (after the hemingway and wordle edit, and after read through #1) is happening on my ipad.

I guess this is the 2014 equivalent to printing it out. I don’t own a printer, but I do have Scrivener, which turns stories into epubs, and an ipad, so that’s how I’ve accomplished this stage of horror and revelation.

Funny how a new medium makes you see the things you couldn’t see before.

I still haven’t done the read aloud edit yet. That will be next, maybe.

One Small Lesson from my First Attempt at Editing

I am new to editing, as I’ve said before. I spent many years pounding keys and hoping that a well-shaped story would spontaneously emerge. Then more recently I discovered how to separate out all the different creative processes that go into writing, I learned more about story structure, and I’ve begun to be more deliberate with my ideas through brainstorming, planning, and outlining. Now, for the first time, I’m learning to edit a large piece of writing.

I have learned a single thing, so of course I have to document that thing. #exhibitionist



This is a very exciting moment in my life, but has no impact on anyone else. I’m sorry about that. But I am very excited, so I wanted to say so.


And now I’m terrified of the editing phase. But for tonight, for just now, I’m just going to be happy.

Learning how to Edit

I have always loved to write, for as long as I can remember. I have written novellas longhand, I have filled clothbound books with stories and poetry, I have typed out long, winding stories on a heavy old 1970s typewriter. I used my dad’s first computer to write my first novel. (It was terrible, of course.) One of the things I never learned in all that time was how to actually write a story.

You can coast on fumes for a long time. Those are the fumes of knowing a story when you see it, or luck, or whatever amount of (so-called) talent you possess. You can certainly make yourself believe that you know how to construct a story, because it seems to happen naturally for you.

But eventually you hit a wall, and you realize that your various muses are all just yourself telling you what you want to hear, misunderstanding your own creative process and just blurting it out and hoping for the best. Well, maybe not you. Me. I mean me. This is what happened to me.

That’s the realization I had exactly twenty years after finishing my first-ever novel. That’s how long it took me to realize that I didn’t know how to write a story.