Self-Improvement

Writing About Writing

The Writing Challenge

Everything was to be finished no later than Monday the 7th of July. I woke up at 0800 on Sunday the 6th. About 6000 words still to post, though many of them already written. I was on-call that weekend and expected to spend half the day doing my job. Between calls, I scribbled furiously. My time divided, roughly equally, between working on the challenge and getting some coding done for a separate deadline. The end of my shift came and went and I was still writing and coding. Dinner was inhaled over the course of a 25 minute break. Midnight came and went. At 0430 I decided I was done for the moment. The coding was complete enough and the writing was, more or less, done. Though rough and unedited.

It was too late (well, early) to go to bed. So I relaxed a little and then headed off to work for the day. I spent my train rides napping and my lunch break editing. Got home and quickly edited some more whilst scoffing down a meal before my weekly gaming night (two rounds of DotA 2. We lost both. By a lot). We played from 1900 through to about 2100. I dove straight back into editing after that and ended up re-writing a considerable portion of the terribly named and woefully written “A Breakfast Lecture”. It got to 2330 and I realised that there was no chance I was both out of time and just making things worse in my sleep-deprived state. So, I hit publish and passed out on my bed.

I’ll call that a victory.

Learning About Writing

I learnt a lot about my writing in the past few months. Much of it came from writing, editing, getting feedback, and writing some more. Even more came from reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a fantastic book, with personal anecdotes and stories woven around device. It’s more conversation than instruction manual and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I didn’t agree with every piece of advice he gave – and he basically tells you not to, the book is full of “this worked for me, but it might not be your style. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” – but it sure as hell got me thinking a lot more about writing and in ways that I’d never really considered before. Also, some of his stories are sufficiently poignant and well-written that it’s worth the read even if you aren’t a budding writing.

One of his major pieces of advice is:

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.

I’d started to come to realise this myself as a result of the writing challenge, but his section on this topic helped me put what I was thinking into words that made sense. I did a lot of things whilst writing the parts of the Longest Eulogy that you see here that I didn’t really want to do. Worse, I didn’t do a bunch of things that I wanted to do. I was always aware that the piece I was working on had to be posted in more-or-less the form it was currently in. I took less risks, I forced things to happen faster than they should’ve. The shooting probably should’ve been on the second or third date at least, but I didn’t have the time (or skill) to write a few dates and keep people’s interests. Ideally, I’d just have written those dates and then fixed any boring parts during editing. But after discounting major social functions, I basically needed to post a piece a week and so I always felt compelled to just write something that can be posted straight away. Which is why Dedorak’s Lands ended up on the list, even though from a world-building perspective it would’ve been much better to leave for quite some time. But it was a standalone piece and thus both easier to write and less of a hassle if I fucked it up.

I think having the challenge also sucked a lot of the fun out of writing. It became like a uni assignment and I procrastinated a lot more than I had been when writing for myself – and a lot more than I have been now that the challenge is over.

Having learnt this valuable lesson, I will not be posting any more of the Longest Eulogy on here until the first draft is done. I’ve not decided yet if I’ll edit it piece-by-piece, posting as I go, or if I’ll edit and re-write the entire thing and then post a draft e-book version for those who are interested.

Winner, winner, steak dinner!

A number of people were helpful. Sewnerd mentioned on more than one occasion that she enjoyed reading my stories (and I do always like my ego being boosted). My main drinking buddy served as a sounding board one Friday night when I was pre-occupied with some plot points when we were supposed to be getting drunk. My sister had some insight into romance stories (though I’m less and less convinced that that’s what I’m writing) – as well as a list of books she thinks I should read. My frequent running partner listened to my world building ideas and asked insightful questions. My oldest friend, and frequent world building collaborator, also listened to me ramble a lot, provided some great insight, and helped winnow down lists of names.

The most helpful person though was the one person who consistently read my work – even being crazy enough to apologise for not getting to it fast enough. She provided feedback on a number of occasions and, at times, in great detail. She gave me lists of books to read that could show me how to or how not to do some of the things I wanted to do – and brought some of them over from interstate for me. She was always encouraging but never pulled her punches when criticising or, at least, it never seemed she did – maybe I’m actually even more terrible than I imagine 😛

For all her troubles, she gets a steak dinner from me. Which should go rather nicely with the one she got from helping me with my first challenge. Many, many thanks Hannah.

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