As I embark on a new teaching assignment, I’m grateful for any reminders that I’m also still a writer. The pandemic has taken its toll on many areas of our lives, and I for one have barely written lately as my story well appears to be dry and my energy is drawn outwards into the creation of educational materials for both my day job as a university instructor and a side project intersecting tea, writing, and witchcraft. That is to say, I feel far removed currently from my own work as a fiction writer, so it was nice to see this shout out from Tor.com in their list of short fiction recommendations for December 2020, where I was surprised to see my story “Separation Theory” from the most recent issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet included.
Thanks to Tor and to all the spec-fic loving weirdos hanging out there/in there somewhere in the ethersphere~
Writing a book is one thing, editing another, and publishing yet another thing entirely. Throughout roughly the past ten years of my life, during which I’ve considered writing my career (monetary input notwithstanding), I’ve gathered some information and experience that may be helpful to other writers. Here are answers to some common questions about what comes next after you complete that first draft, and how to get it ready to share with the rest of the world.
What do I do after finishing my first draft?
Edit, edit, edit. Preferably after you’ve given your manuscript some time to breathe, a couple of months, maybe longer—it really depends on what works for you. When you’re ready to dive back in, make sure you take the time to look at your story from a macro level—Are my characters consistent? Does the plot flow organically? Are there any continuity problems? Is this really the best POV for the story? Is my voice consistent?, and a micro-level—meaning sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, consistency in naming conventions, etc.
Edit the whole damn thing, then edit it again. Join a critique group. If you don’t know where to find one, try Meetup.com, night classes at a local college, your local bookstore, or online. Take the good feedback, leave the rest.
Edit it again.
Think you’re done?
One more time.
And it won’t be your last. If you’re serious enough to seek a publisher, you’ll be editing the manuscript a few more times with them. If you’re self-publishing, seriously consider hiring an editor (if you’re looking for an editor, try upwork.com) before you publish, no matter how good you think you are. If you’re really experienced and have workshopped your full novel with other eagle-eyed, experienced writers, then perhaps you don’t need an editor before attempting to publish, but it (usually) never hurts.
How do I publish?
There are dozens of articles out there on how to get your book published, and what works for you will depend on a number of factors such as who your audience is and what you want and expect out of having your book published. Are you in it for the money? For fame? If so, you’re in the wrong industry, my friend. Yes, big successes do happen, but they are few and far between. Are you in it because you love writing, love your story, and want to share it with other people? Good. Keep reading.
A friend of mine has this quote oft attributed to Hemingway framed on her wall: “Write drunk. Edit sober.” While I’m not much use writing drunk and do most of my writing and editing sober (though the occasional glass of wine, can, of course, spark sheer brilliance at times), there is something to be said about the parts of our brain, our hearts, our spirits, everything that makes us, that get kicked into high gear during these seemingly contrasting components of the writing process: writing and editing.
When my writing is at its best, I am writing from the heart. I am expressing something universal that I’ve always known is there, and I am not thinking about it too hard. A meditation teacher in a group I attend was recently discussing the idea that the heart has a brain—how the heart, in essence, has thousands more neurons than the brain, and these neurons can sense, feel, and learn. As I am a science fiction writer and not a scientist, I often share pseudo-scientific information I find fascinating, so feel free to research this on your own and try to debunk it if you must—but the idea that the heart knows things, and even more, knows things innately that the brain would have to think hard about to understand, is something we’re all familiar with.
My writing is most enjoyable—and I believe most successful—when I’m not really thinking about it, when I’m writing from my heart and spirit.
In contrast, editing is an experience of the inferior head-brain, a left-brain exercise that can feel more like math than art. It is a labor of love, but make no mistake, it is labor. It may be different for you—I know some writers who love editing. For me, yes, there are moments of clarification, even wow moments within the editing process, but for the most part, it is Work. It is spending ten minutes wondering whether to leave in or remove a comma. It is moving a paragraph or chapter to a different spot, connecting the pieces, then moving it back again. It is realizing a character’s dialogue isn’t realistic, or that the character lacks the catalyst to perform the action they are doing. It is reading through your entire manuscript for the fifteenth time as the words on the page began to blur, it is tossing and turning in bed, it is solving plot problems in the shower, it is self-doubt, it is asking ‘why am I doing this?’
Is it, perhaps, because of love?
Yes, it is.
I love writing.
But I do not love editing. I edit because I love writing.
Writing gets me drunk on love, gets me into a heart space. It keeps me sober, keeps me wide-eyed, keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning.
I began writing The Rise of Saint Fox and The Independence in December 2013, or so my computer tells me. That I don’t remember. What I do remember is when I got the idea for the book, driving up to Northern California to visit my best and dearest friend from high school. While listening to Bowie’s “Scream Like A Baby” (he is, of course, one of the most excellent among storytelling songwriters), the characters from that song began to take on a life of their own for me. I found myself having to pull over onto the shoulder of Highway 5 to jot down ideas, a scrawled rush of character names and details on the back of a gas station receipt. I hadn’t intended to write this book, but here it was.
I have always been inspired by music and musicians. Though not much of a musician myself, only able to squeal out basic chords on my little Fender Strat, it’s in music, and particularly skilled lyricists, that many of my ideas for writing take shape. When I was driving up that highway five years ago, a sort of narrative began to weave itself among the songs coming through the speakers. Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” was obviously a war cry, a place to begin. Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army?” showed me what the fictional band’s fan base, my own army, would look like. And throughout it all, the heart of the book, the motif that repeated, was and is this:
What if we could take the passion of music, that universal energy, that gorgeous, glittering feedback loop created between spectator and spectacle in live shows, and channel all that energy into something tangible, into changing the world?
What if fans really became an army? What could that army do? Think of the kind of change we could affect with that sort of universal power that emanates from us, from the speakers, from the squeal of steel strings, the battle cries of a hundred thousand voices as they shout out, “This is what you get, when you mess with us” (a pinnacle moment during “Karma Police” at any Radiohead concert). Generate that energy, that strength, that oneness. Bottle it. Sell it. Change the world.
I have always been partial to performers who do just that—perform, drowning myself in everything glam rock and energetic, bright and illuminating, favoring rock icons of old, your Bowies and Jaggers, over those staring at their sneakers up on stage.
You know, in any of your rock icon archetypes, there is a ready-set revolution leader.
In writing Saint Fox and The Independence, the concept of a rock n’ roll army ended up colliding with a financial revolution.
The way I write, I let the story lead me, so when I started this project years ago, I didn’t know that’s where this was headed, but it was where it was always meant to go. Cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was only on the periphery of my knowledge, but somehow it made its way to the forefront in this story as the salvation of a near-future, rainy, glammy England—home of so many of the greatest rock bands, and the story began to really take shape.
So there you have it—a bit of how the book was born, from the stage, the road, from a few scribbles on the side of a highway. The book is set to be released in June by Unsolicited Press, who came to me at just the right time as I turn my gaze now towards future projects, in the midst of working on this book’s sequel, among other things. Here I’ve included a pdf excerpt of the book if you’d like a sneak peek at what’s coming. If you have questions, are interested in reviewing the book, or just want to let me know which rock n’ roll band you find most inspiring, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Oh, and I’ve also been tweeting (into the void) the playlist that helped me write this book, and compiling the songs in a list on YouTube as I share them, since these songs and artists have played such a big part in this creative process.
That’s it for now. Next time, (maybe) the editing process—how to take your gas receipt scribbles and strangle them into something cohesive and intelligible.