Things I’ve Learned About Writing in 2009 (Part 1)

I was reading a post from Escape Pod editor Jeremiah Tolbert entitled An Editor’s Perspective on Rejection which raises a lot of good points, and I got to thinking about all I’ve learned this year about writing. I think I finished a grand total of two stories in 2008–this year so far I’ve finished seven short stories, three pieces of flash fiction and a host of twitter stories (and one “flash script”). I’ve also received my very first rejection letters, and, as Jeremiah says in his post, those do hurt.

However as he also says, everyone gets rejected, no matter how good a writer you may be; it’s just part of the writer’s life. That’s one lesson I’ve learned about writing in general and my writing in particular since the year began–here are a few others:

(1) I Need Raw Material: I think the biggest breakthrough I had was realizing that I’m much, much better at constructing a story from a bad story than I am at generating one on the fly. I can–and still need to–outline a story before I begin, but I’m rarely able to make it work without looking at a complete first draft; I just don’t have the right perspective without seeing the entire narrative–or at least a version of it–play out. Without a complete draft, I’m like a sculptor chipping away at air.

(2) First Drafts are Allowed to Suck: I think I first heard this made explicit on Mur Lafferty’s podcast, and given lesson one above, it was such a relief to internalize. The goal with my first drafts is now simply to finish the story:  all the bells and whistles can come later.

(3) Settings are My Kryptonite: This is the same problem I had as a visual artist/cartoonist–I find people interesting, but backgrounds tend to bore me. I’m going to really need to learn a new descriptive vocabulary for architecture, design and geography… and yet I already know that most of that research will end up unused, because they’d just clutter up the text. Still, even if I don’t use the words, I need to be familiar with the concepts or all my stories will end up taking place in “verdant forests” and “dark alleys”.

(4) Writing Epic Fantasy is Hard: To do so believably requires that the writer be able to immerse himself/herself in a completely different milieu: to eliminate modern words from the vocabulary, to calculate just how much damage an iron breast plate could take or how far a quarrel might fly when bearing a weighted parchment. Mythbusters can only take one so far.

(5) It’s Difficult to Showcase Something Common: Many of my stories involve protagonists who are kayumanggi (brown-skinned) like me, and while it’s important for me to get that across, I’ve realized that’s hard to do when most of the other characters are from the same race:  why mention brown skin when that’s the default in the setting? How does one do it in a manner that doesn’t seem forced? I think I’ve figured it out, but it took awhile.

And finally, the most important lesson:

(6) Yes, Telling Stories is What I Want to Do With My Life


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