11 March 2008 by Published in: writing 5 comments

Which is why I am not a psychic.

No news yet, on anything subbed.

So let’s talk about something else, shall we?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to Michael A. Stackpole’s “The Secrets” podcast. I think I downloaded it a long time ago, having seen it recommended (maybe) in Merrie’s blog. Anyway, it mostly raises my hackles and makes me roll my eyes, but it also makes me think, and I’m of the suspicious notion that thinking is a good thing.

To be fair, he says some things that I couldn’t agree more with, such as your writing should not be a black box. You should think about your writing and know how it works so you can fix things that break in your creative process. Granted, I’ve a tendency to overthink things, so of course I think it’s great to spend lots of time and energy thinking, whether about writing or anything else. Maybe it isn’t. But on this point, even if mistaken, Stackpole and I are in complete agreement.

He also gave me the great benefit of telling me what Cualcotel is. He was positing that the magic system in any fantasy must be introduced in the first chapter, because otherwise readers will wonder about the fantastical aspect. He said (and I paraphrase, the podcast episode is long since deleted), “If there’s not magic then it’s not fantasy, it’s just a history of an imaginary land.” And while his tone was derogatory, my heart flip-flopped with joy, because now I have a one line description for Cualcotel that’s just perfect: a history of an imaginary land. According to Stackpole, no one wants to read these, but that’s a problem for another day, isn’t it?

But he’s also irritating. For example, he does first chapter analysis on one of his own books, and claims you must run out and buy and follow along to get what he’s talking about. Meh, that sort of self-promotion rubs me the wrong way. Worse yet, he claims he uses his own book because he can’t know what another author was thinking when they were writing their first chapter. But the fact is, his analysis is of included elements, and you can clearly see whether the main character and conflict and such are presented in the first chapter of anyone’s work. You can tell whether the book has enough tension to make you want to keep reading. It’s just bogus reasoning. I’d have felt much better about “I’m using my book because I want to, that’s all”.

One of the thing he talks (and talks and talks and talks) about is not editing while you are writing. I’ve heard this a lot, and I sort of believe it. That is, I believe editing is capable of squashing forward momentum. That seeing what you have to fix can paralyze you from finishing. But he uses this writer/editor duality I see all the time (and now I’m moving from picking on him to the more general received wisdom of the writer/editor divide). This model, that one part of you writes and another part of you edits, is ubiquitous and it’s a model I’ve thought about a lot, and I just do not think it works for me. The argument goes that your editor side kills your writer side and the two should not be in the same room together and you should be doing either one or the other but never both simultaneously. This extends to advising people to physically write and edit in different places, or with different props or at different times of day (and Stackpole advocates this methodology) to reinforce which role you are in and keep the two better separated.

Now, I don’t know if it’s because I’m neurologically left brain/right brain balanced, or because I actually have no clue what I’m doing with this writing thing, or because I don’t fully understand the model as posited, or what, but this construct is useless to me. It’s an artificial divide. My writer and my editor are the same person. They aren’t divisible. Now I can see a mode of operation, yes, where one aspect dominates the other, but the interchange between the two sides (if it’s two sides, which I’m not completely convinced about) is continuous. It’s synchronous communication, not asynchronous. The corrective force, which I think is what people mean by their editor, must always be present in tandem with the output force, which is maybe the writer side, or nothing gets done for me. It’s like this river and these banks and dams and locks, and if I’m not sticking in the dams and locks and levees as I go then the whole thing breaks its banks, spreads across the land and ends up a shapeless bog. And you can’t put the bog back into the river. If I come to the end of writing something and I have a bog, I’m done with that. There’s no pushing the water back into course. I edit while I work because I think about what I’m doing while I do it. I wouldn’t know how to not think about what I’m writing while I write it. And maybe this is a basic sign of why I’ll never get anything published (as Stackpole says), but I tend to believe that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and that if the model of splitting off writing and editing doesn’t work for me, then I might just succeed at writing with a different approach. In fact, I just had an epiphany about editing, which is that maybe I don’t like it because it seems too one-sided. I’ve told myself there’s no writing involved. But there clearly is. Rewriting is writing just like writing is writing. Gah. This model is just terrible for me. Damaging. I’m done with it.

I also wonder how much of this writing blather is going to seem totally cute in that “I was so wrong” kind of way someday. But I don’t mind that.

Two more comments and then I’m done here. One of the other food for thought things I’ve taken away from Stackpole’s podcast is that he posits that every story must have a character arc. He is nowhere near the only person to say this, and I’ve heard it many times before, but he said it in such a way that it clicked with me differently. I think I may have a huge flaw in my writing in terms of character arcs. See, I’m always in the act of revealing a character for who he or she is, not so much in making them change, though sometimes they do. More often though, they are shown to have their true nature, a nature they may not have been aware of themselves. Often the growing self-awareness is what I use for an epiphany or a growth moment, but that seems like a cheater way to get through the growth/change bit. I have to think about this some more. Is revelation of character a valid tactic at all? It seems like what happens in a lot of lit fic, so it must be valid on some level. Even if it is valid, I should learn to do a more traditional obstacle/grow/change arc too, shouldn’t I? I should be able to do both. A direction to work in! Yay! A concrete place where I have to hone a skill.

And lastly, this is not about the podcast, but in response to yesterday’s comments. Thank you for your comments. I love comments. I’m glad that people want to be encouraging to me. However, I am amused by the perception of negativity my entry gave out. Hmmm. Well, it seems unlikely that all four things I have out will be accepted where they are. It may be that none of them will be accepted. That would follow the trend thus far, at any rate, with no sales. I know people who claim to be realists are often pessimists in disguise, but I have a feeling I’m owed a rejection from at least one of the markets I’ve sent to. I don’t believe that’s setting myself up for failure, or being hopeless, but following a natural set of statistical probabilities. I’ll admit I am wary of connecting long response times to potentially positive outcomes, because for me, at least it has never worked out that way, and a couple of times I was burned by hopefulness on markets that usually have quick turnarounds but happened to take a long time with my submissions. That burn has smarted much more than the tingly feelings, by the way. Anyway, whether what I get is rejection, acceptance, or something in between, these are outcomes I have no control over. I’ve already done the part I had control over, and if I were going to place my hopes anywhere, it seems like I’d have placed them there, in the earlier steps of the process, in the part where I could do something one way or the other. I honestly don’t know if I’m ever going to be published. Perseverance is not one of my strong suits, and is a critical aspect of success in the writing field. At any moment now, I could well declare this experiment over and done with and decide to go do something else. And, to me at least, that isn’t a hopeless sort of feeling, it’s a hopeful one. I’ve got other things I can do. I’m not stuck with this. I have an out.


Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 3:32 pm

Does George R. R. Martin’s ‘Song of Fire and Ice’ series have magic in it? I’m under the impression that it doesn’t, and it seems do be doing pretty well. Of course, it could be the exception that proves the rule.

Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 4:02 pm

I like histories of imaginary worlds. Guy Gavriel Kay does those well, with and without magic. As for the pessimist/realist thread…frankly I think you’ve been writing and subbing for long enough now that we really can’t accuse you of pessimism, can we? You’d have quit long since were that the case. Anyhow keep trying; the few pieces of yours I’ve read have this dreamy quality that really appeals to me. Your brain deserves to be in print, as it were. :)

Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 4:51 pm

Good point, Dave. I haven’t read the whole of Martin’s series, but it’s definitely low magic. There’s dragons, and some prophecies and some other weirdnesses that border on the magical — or at least on the fantastical — but it’s definitely more of a history than a fantasy and it does do extremely well.

Also Lanf, you’re right about Kay, some of his histories have no fantasy element whatsoever. And Kay is definitely good company to be in. There’s my sales pitch: Guy Gavriel Kay, but for kids! And thanks for the complimentary words about my writing. The good news is that if I throw in the towel on the publishing idea (which I haven’t yet, but may), I have a dozen or more short stories that I can put out there for friends and family to read, some of which are (imo, of course) of publishable quality. Other possibilities open up as well, such as podcasting the stories and/or the novel. Like I said, it’s not really hopeless.

Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 5:59 pm

I think Stackpole has three things going on at one time in his podcast:

1) he tells you how HE did it
2) he tells you how to do it one way that is more likely to get you sold
3) he’s not always explicit about whether he’s telling you something that will help you finish a piece or whether it will help you get published

Some of his podcasts read prescriptive when they’re really meant to be descriptive, I think.

I cannot *stand* the 21 days to a novel bit he’s been crawling his way through for a year or two. That’s where he really just lost me. But I rather like the podcasts up to that point, mostly in–as you said–the fact that they provoke thought.

Thu 13th Mar 2008 at 12:01 pm

Sorry I misinterpreted your comment – glad your outlook is better than I thought. Sorry you’re thinking about quitting – glad you have other things you want to do. Have a tingly feeling of my own that if you stick with it, the quality of your work will be recognized.

As for me, expecting rejection is a simple coping mechanism that allows me to keep trying in the face of ridiculous odds. It softens the blow when bad news comes and lets me be surprised and happy when good news comes. I thought you were using the same trick. (For me, the hope is there, btw, it’s just under a gag order.)

In all of this, there’s an element of luck. I wish you the best.

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