Genre Bending and Storytelling

What genre are the Horizon books? I’m often asked that question, and while they solidly belong on the shelves next to other science fiction novels, they’re actually much more! I first heard the term “space opera” at a pitch slam a few years ago. A pitch slam is like speed dating with agents. The writer gets three minutes, live, in front of an agent, to enthusiastically rattle off all the important facts about her novel, while making it sound so compelling that the agent simply must ask to see the manuscript!

“Ah, you have a space opera,” one agent nodded at me, smiling.

“Yes. Yes I do,” I agreed, and then proceeded to google space-opera at the next break!

Turns out space opera is a sub-genre of sci-fi, hence the “space” part, that also contains elements of warfare, drama, and adventure. Think Star Wars! Horizon and Infinity certainly fall under this category. But even with this added scope, I still struggle to classify the series as such - mostly because I think the story will appeal to readers of many genres, not just sci-fi.

I was once asked to describe my story in ten words, and here’s what I came up with: Science fiction meets romance meets survival fiction meets military thriller! It’s a human story, painted on a science fiction canvas. But to tell it the way I wanted, I had to worry less about genre and more about authentically creating my characters and their worlds. The relationship between Caeli and Derek, the two protagonists, is central to the story. I didn’t want to water it down or put less of a focus on it to please a segment of my audience. On the other hand, I didn’t want to lose or disappoint readers who were counting on a sci-fi action adventure.

Ultimately, my goal is always to tell a good story, and I think readers are willing to give something a try if they believe that’s what they’ll get. So, step aboard the starship Horizon, and join Caeli and Derek as they fight for their lives, their people, and their love. And, please, let me know what you think!

             

I'm in There! - Authenticity in a Fictional World

I’m often asked where and when my personal experiences influence my writing, and how they add authenticity and believability to my work. Since I write science fiction, obviously much of the material comes directly from my overactive imagination! However, there’s a good deal of survival fiction in my novels. Although I haven’t had to run for my life through the uninhabited wilderness, like my protagonist Caeli in the Horizon series, I did draw on my own experiences growing up in a rural area and my later experiences hiking and camping.

As kids, my friends and I would explore acres of forest, gather berries by the bucketful, and spend entire days outside, returning home only when the sun set. The smell of pine needles and dirt still conjure memories of childhood. When Caeli was hiding in the forest for a significant part of my first novel, Horizon, and then had to cautiously trek through that same wilderness to find the resistance movement’s hidden camp in the second book, Infinity, I knew this part of the story needed to be particularly authentic. I wanted readers to squint at the bright sun, feel the biting wind on their faces, smell the muddy river water, and hear boots crunch across the frosty fields.

Like Caeli, I’ve had to find water, make a fire, set up camp, and search for food. Unlike Caeli, I wasn’t fleeing from a ruthless army at the same time! As an adult, I’ve camped on the uninhabited islands off the coast of Maine all the way down to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I’ve summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and I hike locally every week with a group of friends. Every one of these experiences informed and inspired my writing. There’s a particular scene in Horizon where Caeli is teaching Derek, the pilot she’s rescued, how to carve a spoon from a chunk of wood. I have a drawer full of hand carved spoons from my own adventures, and I actually imagined this scene for the book while I was sitting around a campfire whittling utensils. 

Another aspect of the Horizon series that I felt needed to be well researched and accurate were the medical scenes. I chose to keep my characters human, with physical anatomies similar to ours, so when I made Caeli a healer, and had her dealing with emergencies on a regular basis, I drew from my own experiences as an EMT. And here’s a little secret: I’m a medical school dropout. Attending med school with young children proved, for me, an impossible task. I don’t regret my decision at all, but I’m particularly vigilant about describing authentic trauma scenes in my stories. And when I’m not sure about a treatment or procedure, I call my brother-in-law, who did finish medical school and is a practicing physician!

I have great latitude as a science fiction writer. The worlds I imagine aren’t real. But to bring readers along for the ride, and ask them to suspend their belief for the duration of the journey, the places I create must feel authentic. I’ve tried to infuse my writing with color and life drawn from my own real-world experiences to do this. You’ll have to let me know what you think!

Inside a Writer’s Mind – On Editing

I actually like editing. The bones of my book are already there, and at that point, I know I have a good story. I’ve worked out the major plot tangles and character arcs, defined the conflicts, and sorted the ending. It may not be smooth yet, but I know where I’ve started, where I’ve ended up, and I have a lot of good, if raw, material in the middle.

It’s out. I’ve birthed a novel. Well, I’ve birthed a manuscript anyway. I know it’s a long way from the finished product.

Editing will take that raw material and refine it, smooth out the flow, and create balance. I know that my fantastic editor will see the things I can’t and cue me to fix them. I know that when I’ve finished this process I will have a much better book. I know that I can get through it because I’ve done it before.

And yet, when I turn in the draft of my manuscript, after months of intensive work, I don’t even want to think about touching it again. I’m exhausted, and the thought of tearing it apart and reassembling it is daunting. It’s also the time where I am plagued by the most crippling self-doubt. What if it’s terrible? What if I have to scrap the whole thing and start over? I’ll never write again. I have no talent. And so it goes…

Inside my head, it’s a strange and dark place during those few weeks. At first, I’m elated that I’ve finished writing, and can confirm with myself that yes, I did it again. I wrote another book. Almost immediately, the doubt sets in. See above. Then, I actually receive the manuscript back from my editor. Let me say this about my editor before I go any further. She’s incredibly skilled at her job. She gets my vision for the story and helps me define it more clearly. She works with the structure of the whole, while digging into the subtle, fine details. She’s masterful and I love her.

But when I get her five-page editorial document filled with commentary, and my own manuscript, covered in red-ink, back from her, I want to cry. I want to call her on the phone immediately and beg her to tell me she loves me and I don’t suck. I’m sure she’s pleased when I refrain from doing those things.

Instead, I read what she’s sent me thoroughly, and then I put it aside for a few days, maybe a week. I let the ideas percolate. I begin to see the places where what she’s suggesting resonates with what I already knew. I take it seriously when she reacts to something in a way I didn’t intend. I recognize my own bad writing habits.

Creative ideas for how to fix things start to flow, in the same way they did when I wrote the draft. I scribble notes everywhere, from the backs of napkins to the little pad I keep by my bed for middle of the night inspiration. I form a plan of attack. Then I call my editor. We talk. We even laugh. And I remember that I love writing, and I’m reassured that I might just have some small bit of skill at it.

Handle With Care - Author Inside

Something unusual has happened to me since I started writing. I find myself feeling rather vulnerable, and with some regularity. I had a different career before this - one where I was confident in my abilities and proficient in my day-to-day work. Of course I made mistakes, and I grew and learned from those mistakes, but this isn’t the same thing. This vulnerability is raw and unsettling.

The First Draft

"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." - Terry Pratchett

I've been thinking a lot about this quote lately and I have come to see the truth in it for me as a writer. When I started my first manuscript almost two years ago, I basically downloaded the contents of my brain into a word document. Every detail, every tiny piece of character history had to be included. During this creative phase I kept a notebook with me everywhere so I could capture that one thought, plot twist, or bit of dialogue before it disappeared into the ether.

I wrote at strange hours. I sometimes forgot to eat. I ignored my husband and kids. But by the time I came up for air, I had a story. A full-length novel actually. And I knew it intimately. I understood my characters, the inner workings of their hearts, the things that challenged them, the things that made them laugh. I knew the complete history of the worlds I’d created. I could smell the air, taste the food, and walk through the forests and city blocks. I dreamed of my creations.

When I wrote the final sentence I breathed a huge sigh of relief (and I’m sure my family did as well). It was out! But it wasn’t even close to finished.

Now I am editing. Editing is mostly not fun. It requires you to take huge chunks of painstakingly crafted writing, writing that may have taken hours to perfect, and delete it. It demands you view the adverb, a previously benign and seemingly helpful part of speech, with suspicion and hostility. It demands you chase your spouse around the house reading bits of dialogue from your manuscript asking, “Does this sound natural?” 

What's fun though, or at least what's satisfying, is transforming your story from a rambling, exhaustive, stream of consciousness draft, to a work that has structure, flow, and even some artistry. I am learning when to reveal a detail and when to let it unfold. I am learning how to create authentic dialogue. I am learning the difference between telling myself the story and showing others the story. I am learning to be patient.

I'm now on my third and hopefully final round of editing this manuscript. Sometimes the process makes me cranky. Often it makes me frustrated. When that happens, I come back to Mr. Pratchett’s quote and I'm reminded that telling myself the story was part of the process, but only the first part. Now, I have to continue the work for it to become both a good story and a good piece of writing. 

Everyday Storytelling - The Art of Reframing by Amy Hawes

Today's guest blogger is Amy M. Hawes. Yes, the same Amy who has been my best friend since we were twelve years old, and yes, I have a guest appearance in this post as the terrified pal on the rollercoaster! Amy has a terrific blog that chronicles her journey as a writer, and features her funny, insightful reflections on writing and on life. This one in particular made me laugh out loud, but also reminded me that so many things are what we choose to make them. You can visit Amy's blog, follow her on twitter@amymhawes, or catch up with her on Facebook. Enjoy!

The mind is a funny thing. More funny, strange than funny, ha ha. Although, it can make you laugh (hopefully at yourself). And it can trick you. Oh, man, can it trick you. But guess what? You can trick it right back. It just takes a little imagination . . .

I’m not going to tell you exactly how much weight I gained this last god-awful winter. Let’s just say it was enough to make my loosest jeans feel tight. When you are too fat for your fat jeans it’s a problem. Since I normally don’t have to work hard to stay at my ideal weight it was quite unpleasant to stick to a slimming program to take off those pounds. I felt deprived, hungry and, yeah, a little sorry for myself.

But with a little imagination I found a new story to tell myself. . .

THE NEW STORY: I’m on a spaceship traveling to some super-cool destination (probably through some sort of wormhole) and, of course, I have to eat rations just like the rest of the crew. If I eat more than my fair share I could cause a mutiny. Not good. I think I can live with my reduced caloric intake. I don’t feel sorry for myself at all. All I can think about is my destination (and not being the cause of a spaceship-wide uprising). Undiscovered planet and aliens here I come!

My best friend and I went to Six Flags for a self-titled rollercoaster fest. If you ask me, their best coaster is Bizarro. If you’ve been on Bizarro you know it has a very slow, very vertical ascent. As we ratcheted up to its precarious apex, my friend looked over at me. Yup, her face was that classic why did I get on this thing? shade of rollercoaster white. She murmured in a quite rational voice, “Um, I’m not sure I’m enjoying this.”

THE NEW STORY: Okay, just pretend you’re doing astronaut training. Preparing for experiencing G force. (You really can experience G force on Bizarro, by the way). She laughed. “Okay, that totally works. Astronaut training it is.” Super awesome ride commenced.

Yes, you’re right to suspect there’s a space theme involved in a lot of my reframing. But you can find whatever “story” works for you and fake your mind into seeing an uncomfortable situation in a more pleasant way.

These are both rather inconsequential examples of reframing. Let’s try something more serious.

Your kids are outdoing each other to win the title of “most annoying human ever". Everything that comes out of your husband’s mouth seems meticulously designed to aggravate you. And, it’s your turn to cook tonight and you really, and I mean really, don’t feel like it. 

THE NEW STORY: You pour yourself a glass of wine because you can’t even think about reframing without some sort of sedative. Honestly, they should all just go away, then you can curl up with a book and have another glass of wine. You’ll throw a salad together if you get hungry. Screw them. But, hey, the wine is kicking in a bit and you might be willing to try this imagination thing. A long forgotten memory creeps in. You remember playing house. You know–when you actually believed you wanted a husband and kids and you happily cooked on your pretend stove for them. Back then you thought all that crap was fun. It didn’t feel like work at all.

Could you try to bring a sliver of that sentiment into your current predicament? The feeling that this isn’t work but a choice? Can you pretend the maddening beings around you are just characters in the story? You’re not concerned about them. You’ve got your own pretty little fantasy and you’re sticking to it even if the “facts” contradict your fairytale.

Please don’t roll your eyes. Try it. You might be surprised by the results. Make up your own stories. Trick your mind. Fire up that imagination. And most importantly, don’t ever, ever grow up.

Write A Book Already

A little about my journey…

I wanted to be a writer when I was a girl – also an astronaut, an archeologist, and a doctor. I almost got there with the doctor thing, but medical school with small children was, for me, an impossible balancing act. I still dream about it sometimes. I mean really dream, as in when I’m sleeping. And I’ll occasionally wake up in a cold sweat believing I’ve missed a biochem exam or I’m lost and can’t find the anatomy lab.

I’m not going to return to medical school. That ship has sailed. And you know what? It’s ok. The timing was never right and I’ve been able do other meaningful work over the years.

Still, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that every female protagonist I’ve created thus far is a doctor of some sort. I guess it’s my way of processing. One has super empathic powers, and the other is an obsessive-compulsive forensic doc, but really, I’ve moved on.

Now I am a writer, and I often find myself reflecting on how I got from there to here, because this destination feels both unexpected and exactly right at the same time.

For years my husband would encourage me to write. His encouragement sounded something like this: “Honey, write a book already!” I would think about it and answer that I just didn’t have an entire story in my head. I’d written content for websites and ads, some blog posts, a little poetry, and correspondence for work over the years, but nothing truly creative since my college days, and even then, not a full-length novel.

I think so much of my energy was taken up raising my kids, working, and running a household, there just wasn’t much left over for creativity. I am not implying you can’t have young children and write. I know people who do it very successfully, but after my workday, their activities, homework, laundry, cooking, etc. I really wasn’t interested. It was all I could do to string a sentence together. Reading a good book felt much more doable than writing one.

Then my children got older. One even moved out. And when the dynamics in my family shifted, I began to consider changing careers. While I pondered what was next for me professionally I took on a yearlong writing project thinking it would give me the change of pace I needed.

Turns out it was one of the most satisfying things I’d ever done in my career. Since I was in the habit of writing every day for work, I challenged myself to write creatively every day as well. A year later when the report was finished, so was the first draft of a manuscript.

Maybe I could do this writing thing? It seemed as though I'd freed up enough creative space in my head for interesting stories to sneak out. In fact now there are so many, I have to order them to wait their turn!

The artist side of me is someone I haven’t recognized or honored in a long time. She feels like a slightly different version of the person who wanted to practice medicine and fly spaceships (I write about those too!), but she’s been in there all along.

I’m learning to embrace the writer’s life with joy and gratitude. There are certainly challenges like agent rejections, endless editing, and not enough time in the day, but I’m willing to work through them in order to do something I love. So here I am at my kitchen table conversing with the characters in my head and telling their stories, and my husband’s new form of encouragement sounds something like this: “Write the sequel already!” And I will.

Ten Things I've Learned Along The Way

There’s a lot of advice out there for writers. I spend a considerable amount of time during my workweek reading articles and blog posts on everything from marketing strategies to writing craft. Much of it is helpful. Some doesn’t resonate at all. But I do believe it’s dispensed with a generosity of spirit and a desire to be helpful that is characteristic of the writing community. So with that in mind, I’ve created my own list of (hopefully) helpful tips for writers new to the job. Here goes…

1.    A completed manuscript is a draft. It isn’t even close to the finished product!  

Typing the last word on the last page of my first novel was one of most satisfying things I’d ever done. Writing a book had been on my bucket list of personal and professional accomplishments for years, and when it was finally finished, I was giddy. But, wow, I look at that manuscript now and cringe! Clunky writing, character issues, and loads of info dumping littered my pages.

The thing is, that’s okay. That’s a first draft! But thinking the first draft is ready for the world to embrace, well, that’s a rookie mistake. Don’t get me wrong; completing a first draft is an accomplishment of epic proportions! Celebrate! Rejoice! And then proceed to edit!

2.    Beta readers are critical.

Beta readers see things in our manuscript that we don’t because we know our story so intimately. With my first book, for example, some of my beta readers had a problem with the male protagonist. They didn’t like him at all! I had to figure out what they were seeing in him that I wasn’t. In my mind, he was in his early twenties. But once the plot got moving, he needed to make decisions and have a certain authority in his own world that required him to be older and have more experience. The character I had written was still too arrogant and immature to be the hero I needed him to be, and I think this is what my readers recognized. So I did a major edit of his scenes, attempting to keep the essence of his character, but giving him more depth and maturity.

3.    Rejections, and lots of them, are part of the deal.

The first time someone said “no thank you” to my manuscript was the worst! But the thing about rejections, once you recover from the sting, is that they can sometimes be helpful. If your manuscript isn’t polished enough, you may need to work with an editor. If the story isn’t pulling people in quickly, you may need to spice up your opening chapters. Usually there is a common thread, and if you are open to hearing it, you can make adjustments and move forward. My first round of rejections, which included one R&R (rewrite and resubmit), suggested that I had a good story, but the manuscript needed more work. I hired an editor, and after months of rewriting, I had a much-improved draft.

4.    Everything takes longer than you think in the publishing world.

If you take the traditional publishing route, some of the timeline is out of your control. Acquiring an agent, sending a project out on submission, negotiating a contract, and proceeding to production all take time (think years). If you are independently publishing, it is on you, the writer, to manage the timeline. But either way, a quality product takes time! It took me three and a half years to bring my first book to print, and that’s considered quick. But I’ve learned you can’t rush the process. I wanted a finished product I could be proud of, and it required a lot of time and effort to make that happen.

5.    Independent publishing means starting and running your own small business. It’s a viable option - for the right reasons.

I think there are compelling reasons to self-publish. But if you choose this path, it’s an investment. You are essentially starting a small business and you have to treat it as such to be successful. First and foremost your product has to be good, and you have to be willing to put in the time, energy, and funds to make it so. You also have to build an audience, and then promote and market yourself, or be willing to hire others to help you do it. You have to take ownership of it all. For some writer’s, this is exciting. For others, it’s terrifying.

6.    Good editing and good cover art are a must.

The first thing a reader sees is the book cover.  An eye-catching cover can mean the difference between a potential reader flipping to the back cover blurb, or waking away without a second glance. Likewise, a really good editor offers just the right cues to improve the story. My editor found those places where my characters or plot weren’t working and prompted me to fix them without imposing a solution. I can’t stress enough how important these things are when bringing a book to life.

7.    Don’t read the negative reviews!

People like different things. Not everyone is going to like my story. Logically, I understand this, but it still hurts to have my book baby slammed in writing! Early on I received very solid advice: Don’t read the negative reviews. Once the book is out in the world, the time for helpful critiquing is over.

8.    Writers are wonderfully supportive of other writers.

I love the network of writers that surrounds me. I’ve met lifelong friends at conferences and received valuable advice and guidance from the writing group I belong to. Writers want other writers to be successful, and this sentiment is pervasive and authentic.

9.    Go with your gut. There will be decisions to make, and once you’ve done your research, it may come down to trusting your instincts.

There are a lot of resources and good advice for writers out there. Not all of it applies to every person or every project. Whether the advice is about your daily word count or the best path to publishing, there is no one right way. I do my research, ask people I trust who are industry professionals - or who at least have more experience than I do, and then I weigh their information against my own instincts and go with my gut!

10. There still aren’t enough hours in the day.

Two years ago I left a job I loved to do something I loved more – write. Turns out, even though writing is now my full-time work, there still aren’t enough hours in the day! I struggle to balance writing creatively (making up the new stuff), with promoting my existing book, networking, blogging, editing, etc. And there is still a household to maintain!

When I was working full-time outside my home, I made time to write and I protected that time fiercely. Now, other things weave their way into my day and cut into that valuable time. It requires real discipline to stay productive. Writing has to remain a priority.

The Trouble With First Drafts - Ron Delaney

This blog is written by a friend I met at a writing conference. He is currently writing high concept, middle grade fantasy. Good stuff. We regularly read and critique each other's work, and his input makes my writing better, no question. (I hope he feels the same!) When I read his post about writing a first draft, it resonated immediately. I am currently writing the first draft of my second book and, while some things have gotten easier, it is still a labor of love. Emphasis on labor. It's nice to know I'm not alone in my creative struggle! You can follow Ron on twitter @RonDelaneyJr and check out his blog "Ron Writes Stuff" at www.rdelaneyjr.com. His Friday Morning FYI's are worth the follow! 

I believe with all my heart the most important thing about writing a novel is completing the first draft.

It’s just math. It doesn’t matter how great or original your idea is. A great, original idea does not equal a book. It doesn’t matter how long your outline is. An outline does not equal a book. You have to complete that first draft. A first draft is a book, albeit (for many of us) a bad book, but a book nonetheless. Or manuscript, if you prefer. Then you do a ton of editing to make it a good book, or even a great book. If you’d like to see it spelled out, here are some formulas (to keep the whole math theme going):

no first draft = no book

first draft = book

(first draft + editing) = second draft = better book

(second draft + A LOT of editing) = next draft = good book 

Simple? Good. But that brings me to a unexpected problem…

I assumed (yes, I know) that as I developed as a writer, completing a first draft would get easier. I mean, the more you do something, the better you get at it, right? Writing should be no different.

(more writing) = increased skill = faster, easier first drafts 

But I’ve found the opposite to be true.

I’m currently working on a first draft, and while it’s coming along nicely, I can’t say it’s easier to write than the first drafts for either of my other two books. In fact, I’m finding it more difficult than my first (the other having been done at the speed of crazy during NaNoWriMo). The above formula doesn’t work.

In pondering this, I arrived at several possible answers:

Writing never gets easier – I think this is only partially true. I’m not saying that after a book or two you’ll be able to bang out quality first drafts in a week (though some writers are so gifted), I’m saying you should get to a point where you’ve refined your process enough to be able to work faster and with less stress than when you started writing.

You didn’t learn anything from your earlier efforts – People from all walks of life do this every day. They struggle through something, get it done, and the next time struggle through again rather than analyzing what could be done better. Example: If you’re wrestling with character inconsistencies in your first draft, you’ve probably had that problem before. Did you do anything to address that before you started your new book?

You’ve forgotten what a first draft is – What does that mean? It means you’re too focused on making the first draft as good as an edited version, rather than focusing on getting it written. See, the partner idea to ‘Complete your first draft’ is ‘Don’t focus on making it good–that’s what editing is for’. If you write a paragraph and then spend more than a minute tweaking it, you’re editing. Why is this a problem (at least for me)? Because you’re going to have to edit the first draft later anyway. Why not just get the whole thing written first? (note – I’m not saying you put garbage on the page just to have something there. That’s a different problem.)

After some consideration, I realized I was doing the editing thing. A lot. And I know why: it’s because I jumped right into this project after completing extensive, months-long edits on another book. That one I wrote with little sense of what was good and what was bad, and just put one word down after another. Then I went back and made it better. And better. And… you get the idea. And that book is something I’m quite pleased with. So now, after so much time polishing text instead of writing, when working on the new manuscript my brain doesn’t want to leave an unpolished sentence on the page.

Oh, brain, you wonderful devil!

Since recognizing what I was doing, my productivity is way up (eight-thousand words this week, and it’s only Thursday!), and the extra editing is way down.

What a wonderful thing creativity is. And self-examination, too.

So, to sum up: Finishing your first draft should be you’re number one goal, but that won’t necessarily get easier over time. Awareness of bad habits can help keep you on track, though. (And no, I'm not claiming I'm breaking new ground, here. Just relaying personal experience.)

tl;dnr version: Stop editing and finish that first draft :)

Thanks for reading,

RDj

Real Writing Is Revising - Randy Ribay

I met Randy at a Writer's Conference last year (these events are terrific for networking!), and I've been following his journey as a writer ever since. His perspective on the revision process is spot on. As I tackle yet another round of edits, I've learned that most of the work in writing happens after the first draft is complete. And you know what? That's okay! The end result is a much, much better story. So thank you, Randy, for sharing your words of wisdom.
Follow Randy on twitter @randyribay, and check out his website: www.randyribay.com. He is thoughtful, funny, and super talented. His young adult novel, An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, will be on shelves this October and I can't wait to read it!

I spoke to a writers’ group the other day, and the most interesting question I received was about how my style/approach to writing has changed since going through the publication process with my first novel. Without hesitation, I answered that it was coming to understand that most of writing is revising. I told them that if I quantified all the hours I spent working on that book, less than a tenth would come from writing the first draft.

I used to equate “writing” with “composing a first draft.” Revising and editing were necessary evils that would be tacked onto the end of that process. But, to me, the meat of the process was just getting that story down. If I could put down a good enough story, then I could be a “writer.”

However, I now understand that that’s just the beginning. The meat of the process is revision. And I no longer view it as requisite tweaking, but rather as the actual place where I take something vaguely shaped like a story and shape it into an actual story. If you were to compare it to baking, writing the first draft is not the baking. It’s not even the mixing. Writing the first draft is like gathering the ingredients in front of you.

“That’s kind of discouraging,” one of the members of the group said. “Thinking of all that work you put into the first draft.”

But I told her that it was actually freeing. Understanding that the first draft doesn’t need to be good (or even kind of remotely good) allows me to write more and more quickly. I no longer stop and torture myself searching for the perfect line of dialogue or clever twist or inspiring description. I just write, and I tell myself, “Yeah, it’s crap, but whatever. I’ll fix it later.”

If you read a lot of writing advice, this probably isn’t new to you. But I didn’t learn this by reading a quote about it on Twitter. I learned it by doing it, by revising the hell out of a story until I sold it. So if you find yourself stuck with a manuscript nobody will buy, maybe you need to write another one. Or maybe you need to actually write that story.

Because Star Wars, Of Course

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This post first appeared November 1st on the blog Martha Reynolds Writes. Martha, a fellow ARIA member, has been generous enough to feature one Rhode Island author per day during the month of November. For those of you unfamiliar with the significance of November (aside from Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving), it's alsoNaNoWriMo month. In crazy author speak, that's National Write a Novel Month. Yes, we endeavor to write 50k words in 30 days! It's a challenge for sure, and most of the madness sliding off the keyboard and onto the page must be heavily edited during the month of December and beyond. But it's an opportunity to get something down, construct the bones of a story, and get back into solid writing habits that may have fallen off during the summer months. I am furiously working on the sequel to HORIZON as we speak. So, in honor of NaNoWriMo, and in anticipation of HORIZON's release on December 1st, I've shared a little about why my first series of books is science fiction and why I enjoy writing in that genre so much...

“Why do you write science fiction?” I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count. My quick and dirty answer is, “Because Star Wars, of course!” And there’s more than a little truth to this. I saw the movie when I was seven, at a time when special effects were, well special, and a story like this one had never been seen on the big screen. Spaceships, aliens, evil villains, reluctant heroes, and a bad-ass princess - everything a girl could ask for!

I was obsessed. Every night I fell asleep to Jon Williams’ music playing on my record player (I still feel warm and fuzzy when I hear that theme song). Model x-wing fighters hung from my bedroom ceiling, the Millennium Falcon I built with my dad had a light-up cockpit, my Empire Strikes Back lunchbox still had its thermos, and my Princess Leia action figure was the one with the real buns (you know – fake hair instead of plastic, and you could never fix it after you’d messed with it). When I attended my first ComicCon many years later, I realized I should have saved those toys. My collection would have rivaled any I’ve seen.

When your work touches the collective consciousness of millions of people, then you are a true artist, a masterful storyteller. In my humble opinion, George Lucas told one of the most epic stories of all time. So, is Star Wars the only reason I write sci-fi? Of course not. But, did it awaken the storyteller in me? Absolutely.

My works-in-progress are varied and span across genres. Likewise, my taste in reading is eclectic and my bookshelves diverse. I belong to two book clubs, write a parenting blog, and contribute to a book review blog. But sci-fi is like the default setting for my imagination. It’s where I go when I want to be inspired; to play with possibilities; to ask what if, and then create brand new worlds where I can explore the answers. For me, the sci-fi genre is also a place to consider serious, meaningful issues in a different context, slightly removed from the real world.

At a writing conference I attended, one of the speakers suggested that, through our work, we artist types like to contend with themes that are important to us. I know what kinds of questions I like my characters to struggle with: What does a hero look like? Who stands and fights, and who turns away? What decisions do we make, large and small, that come to define us when it matters? What is redemption and who finds it? I want to encounter these questions as a reader and a writer. During a most impressionable time in my life, Star Wars set the bar for the archetypal battle between good and evil, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

People have regrets in life. Besides giving away my Star Wars stuff, here’s one of mine: My husband and I were invited to a fundraiser at the Boston Museum of Science several years ago. Wolfgang Puck prepared the meal, Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) served as the evening’s auctioneer, guests enjoyed a private tour of the museum’s visiting Star Wars exhibit, and we were to have dinner with none other than George Lucas himself. It was expensive. My husband said we should do it (Editor’s comment: husband adores wife – he had my vote). I said no. We didn’t go. My regret is that I didn’t get to tell George Lucas how much he inspired a little girl with a big imagination.

Time To Stop Singing In The Basement

My husband is full of great one-liners. Last week he said, “Honey, it’s time to stop singing in the basement and get booed on stage.” He’s also a musician, so this one had a ring of authenticity in addition to the sarcasm.

I’ve just finished an intense round of editing – not a kill the adverbs and spell-check kind of editing, but a cutting out 10,000 words of text and re-working entire scenes kind of editing. It was exhausting and necessary. It took a few months and a lot of metaphorical kicking and screaming. But now I have a better manuscript, one that may not be quite finished yet, but one which I can stand behind as “good” work.

And now it’s time to let people see it - people beyond my dad and best friend. So I’ve sent out a few queries and given it to a small group of readers who I hope will give me honest feedback. Truly, I probably hovered over the send button for an hour.

I know not everyone will like it. For one thing, it’s science fiction. My mom doesn’t even like science fiction. She got halfway through and said, “I think it’s good, but I got confused by all those different planets.” I’m starting a glossary for her - maybe that will help. But seriously, I’m okay that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. And still…

Any artist in any field understands that to share our work is to be vulnerable. We’ve risked opening our hearts to strangers - with words, in images, with a paintbrush, on a stage. We’ve put something of our private self out into the world. Even my story, full of spaceships and evil villains, has some of the real “me” in it. People who know me well will recognize those pieces.

A friend recently asked if I am more or less critical of other writing now that I write. And honestly, I’m both. Because I am trying so diligently to improve my own skills, I’m acutely aware when someone else’s are lacking. And I don’t like every book I’ve ever read. BUT, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the energy and effort it took to write that book, and the spirit it took to put it out there. So when someone asks me for a critique, I always say that part first.

The writing community is extremely supportive of one another. I think it’s because we’re all in a similar space. We’re all vulnerable. We’ve all felt the sting of rejection or of a careless, biting comment. Our moms might not even like our work. So why do it?

Because we love it. Because it is uniquely human to create art. Because it is immensely satisfying to touch another person’s soul with something we’ve made. And because the world needs its painters, storytellers, sculptors, photographers, musicians, dancers, and actors. We need them not just to entertain us, but because the mere fact that they exist at all says something powerful about being human.

I don’t write my books so only I will read them. I write to share. I write so that someone, somewhere will curl up under a blanket for a few hours and lose themselves in a good story. I write because I love to.

I’m willing to risk feeling vulnerable to do something I love. It’s uncomfortable, but I know most of my personal growth has taken place when I’ve been uncomfortable. Discomfort makes me stretch. So I guess it’s time for me to stop singing in my basement and get on the stage. Please no throwing tomatoes!!!