Tag Archives: infernal editor

Comfort writing

There’s something to be said for comfort writing.

(Psst. I’ll have you know that that first line, and these as well, I typed without looking at the keyboard.

Wait! That might be more impressive if I tell you something else first. Once upon a time, long long ago, I took a typing class in high school. The old fashioned kind of typing class, on electric typewriters. We were tested for speed on the first day of class and the last. The first day I managed a mighty seventeen words a minute. On the last, a somewhat less than stellar thirteen.

Yes, I was typing more slowly by the end of the class than I was at the beginning. We’ll ignore the fact that neither number held much promise for my future as a typist.

Anyway, when I started writing after my hiatus, I was a four finger typist and I watched the keyboard. Four years later, I don’t look. Only it’s a little like learning to ride a bicycle. If I remind myself that I’m not looking, I lose my balance and type something like absuhnc kenruhvj aseinincf kiawhid, which is very rarely what I’m trying to say.)

So, comfort writing. I still haven’t figured out this whole publication thing. I understand the “writing is communication” piece, and I’ve learned to be a brave writer and send things out, and I do my part to continue to grow. But the Infernal Editor still owns prime real estate in my brain, and the publishing part of writing can serve as a reminder of that fact. When things are going smoothly, I can ignore her. Other times, when I’m clever, I can type around her.

Sometimes, though, she just dances on my bones.

That’s where comfort writing comes in. Ninety-seven percent of her power comes from the threat that other people will see what I write. Take that piece away and she’s got no leverage.

This is what I do. I go back to the beginning, back when my writing was more or less a private fortress, with a moat, and crocodiles, and a dragon, just for good measure. I write because it makes me happier, and nicer, and gives me something to do with my fidgety fingers and even more fidgety mind. Lately I’ve written about what it means to be a Mender when to mend is to cause pain; about what the Undertakers do for a planet; about the sometimes nonexistent space between magic and science, and what happens when neither works for a dying girl; and about a man who falls in love with a grizzly when his plane crashes into the mountains. Next up, I think, is a girl stowaway who gambles with the god of the ocean to save her only friend.

It’s comfort writing. It’s mine. I don’t have to do anything with it unless I choose to, and I can change my mind at any time. It’s an exercise in writing what I love, rather than what I think I should write. It’s better than mashed potatoes.

And I’m doing it without looking at the keyboard.



How I write (part two)

Picking up where I left off, I’m clean, exercised, and I have an unedited draft of a novel. By novel, I mean a document somewhere between 100,000 to 124,000 words (yes, one was that long), made of mostly connected story. Next comes the the process called either revision or unbearable suffering, depending on how I’m feeling about my writing.

That piece right there, the bit about how I’m feeling, that is the crux of things for me. The truth is that I enjoying revising, or drafting, or most any other part of writing, as long as I’ve got my head in the right place. There other truths too, though, things like the fact that it’s easier to keep the Infernal Editor at bay when I’m in the flow of drafting, and that when I start to think critically the head games begin.

Who is the Infernal Editor? She’s the one that tells you that you’ve failed in some catastrophic way, the bit of your mind that tries to shred your writing to bits. I suspect that most writers have vulnerable points, places that despair can seep in all too easily. For me, it’s while revising.

What do I do? I hang on to my support people with both hands. When it starts to feel like it’s just me and a giant pile of words that looks suspiciously like…debris, I go looking for help. Have you ever watched a horse race? More specifically, have you ever watched the horses going out to the starting gate? They’re ponied along by a rider on another horse, a calm horse that doesn’t freak out at the antics of their highstrung companion. Support people can be that for a writer, the steady presence that gets them to the starting gate to do their thing.

Okay, I prepare my support, and I sit down and read. I read the whole story, often in hard copy, though I have no printer currently, so Wren is stuck in pixels. I cross out lots of things, and I write little questions, and I make lots of faces at really bad prose. I get a sense of the overall shape, and how things move along. Sometimes I discover things I like more than I thought I would. Other times I feel like it’s all a irredeemable mess, and I cry on people’s shoulders.

Then, I go through chapter by chapter. I cut and reword and buff things up. I take out really boring bits of action that are more or less stage directions inserted to remind me what’s happening, and I replace them with somewhat less boring bits. Sometimes it goes quickly. Sometimes I spend a day or so stuck on one line. I try to think of it as working on a puzzle, and that helps. When I finish a chapter, I read it aloud to myself. If it seems to work, I pass it on to my first reader.

And so it goes. At some point I reach the end, and I read it again, and I have other people read it, and then I read it one more time, also aloud. With each pass, I change less and less. Sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes I make huge changes, but as I’ve gotten more adept at figuring out what I’m doing, those huge changes tend to come earlier in the process.

The most important piece to these final passes is to not overdo things. I find it far too easy to edit the voice out of a piece if I spend too much time on it. That’s been one of the best lessons writing short stories has taught me, and I’m working on carrying it over to the novels. At some point I’ll write more about short stories, but this is long enough for now.