DDsE: Easier Except for Being Harder

Back in 2008 or so, when serialized fiction returned to vogue, I decided it wasn’t for me as a reader or a writer. I mean, I don’t even like Dickens, probably the most famous serial writer of all time.

The latest wave of serial authors seemed to publish with little or no editing. No, thanks! I want to read your best – not your first – writing.

Many writers will tell you that editing is the most important part of writing. I’ve always been in that camp. I edit my own novels heavily. This painful tedious work yields little of the satisfaction of writing but almost always improves my drafts.

And yet.

There’s no denying the power of spontaneous ideas, nor the impacts of intuition. All my best ideas materialize, simply and suddenly. Perhaps I tap the unconscious and they rise up. Perhaps they drop from the wild blue. I include countless spontaneous ideas in my novels but I’ve never let them steer a project – until now.

A few months ago, I was miserable about my writing or lack thereof. I’d been editing the second book in the FRAMES series for what felt like forever. Weird about that. Even in rough draft, I knew Book 2, Nica of the New Yorks, was stronger than Book 1 – and I’m quite proud of Book 1, Nica of Los Angeles. Yet Book 2’s editing was interminable. No wonder, when so many pages went like this:

editing

Edits to a page of Nica of the New Yorks (Frames Book 2)

No matter how many words you change, though, editing doesn’t feel like writing; and as the editing went on, the way I missed writing became as physical as a toothache. But I couldn’t risk starting a new project that might derail or distract me. For the foreseeable future, finishing FRAMES is my main event.

Meanwhile, I became a fan of an amazing improv comedy group, The Improvised Shakespeare Company, which invents 2-hour plays on the fly. Watching those plays inspired me to write more improvisationally. I began writing short bits (about 300 words) daily. For the first time, I wrote without planning or conscious knowledge of the story, characters, themes, format, or genre. Just let it go and see where it takes you.

The writing was joyful and easy at first. But as the installments added up, I realized I liked them. A lot. Then a varied group of beta readers responded with enthusiasm — and the stakes changed. Suddenly the outcome became important. I wanted to stop and plan, I caught myself pausing to ponder. I wasn’t stuck, mind you, but I had begun to fear mis-steps. My conscious mind was trying to regain control, to follow the usual procedures, make a map to a destination.

But I’m not ready to end the experimental wandering. So I’m forcing renewed focus on the journey, not the endpoint. My experiment has become DDsE, a young adult paranormal horror romance. Each installment is a diary entry by Ella, a 16-year-old who despises her life until two mysterious allies enter it: a strange boy with a dangerous family and a feral cat that seems to get inside Ella’s head.

And now I’d better get back to writing DDsE. I’m very concerned about where I left Ella yesterday…

My Writing Trends – and a Couple Cartwheels

First, the cartwheels. I have just finished a very rough first draft of the first book in my fantasy detective series, Frames. Now I set it aside for a week, and remind myself to savor the sense of accomplishment. Then the real work begins, as I read through it, make notes, then revise.

This is my fourth novel.

Having completed this draft of Frames, I see some encouraging trends:

TIME NEEDED TO FINISH THE FIRST DRAFT:

Longest time: first novel – 7 years!!  I had issues with writer’s block. Eventually forbid myself from rewriting or rereading the prior day’s work.

Shortest time: fourth novel – 8 months – aided by time in bed recovering from surgery, where I wrote the second half in 7 weeks.

LENGTH OF FIRST DRAFT MANUSCRIPT:

Longest first drafts: novels 1 and 2. Editing required deletions.

Shortest first drafts: novels 3 and 4. Editing required additions.

 My novels, in reverse chronological order, are:

Frames, Book 1: Nica of Los Angeles. First book in a fantasy detective series that is a missing person case in this dimension, a battle between good and evil elsewhere. Available probably by the end of this year.

Scar Jewelry. A coming-of-age drama about a family with secrets, set in the present and in the 1970s punk scene in Los Angeles. Now available as an ebook and trade paperback.

?Was It A Rat I Saw?, a psychological thriller involving a series of murders, real-life split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.  Now available as a serial, soon available as an ebook and trade paperback. A few hardcover copies from the first edition are still findable on-line but I hope you buy one of the new editions instead!

Headliners, a character study about rock fans who travel the country to follow the tour of a life-altering opening band. Coming next year as an ebook.

A Novella of Unknown Trends

I also wrote a detective novella, which I cannot add to these trends because I remember nothing about the writing of it, except that at the time I was the mother of toddler twins:

C.R.I.M.E. Science, Book 1: The Beginning follows a misfit group of scientists and techies who investigate the death of a volcanologist. Set in Eugene, Oregon circa 1999. Available as an ebook and trade paperback. Next book in the series will be in Los Angeles in 2014.

The Lost(?) Art of Editing

I write this at risk of proving myself  to be a total creaking dinosaur.

Those of you who read or produce serial fiction, impromptu flash fiction, NaNoWriMo, book series that publish at the rate of a novel every month or two — and any other writing that  publishes right after inception. Please help me understand its appeal.

As a writer, I see much value to it. Writing quickly helps with flow, tapping the subconscious, and discipline. But — why publish without much or any editing? Doesn’t a pause to edit always improve the piece? (By editing I mean more than proof-reading and tinkering. I mean the act of making changes, some of them wholesale and sweeping.)

As a reader, I don’t want to read an early draft and I only want unplanned ideas when they come from inspiration, not haste.  I like writing that feels crafted. What am I missing?

Hmm. I don’t mind reading a first draft blog post and for that matter I rarely do more than proofread my own posts.  Maybe I’ve just got fiction on a pedestal when nobody else still does. Is that it?