Write, re-write and repeat
I haven’t been writing much about writing here, lately. That’s mostly because I haven’t been doing much writing lately 🙂 As I believe I mentioned sometime back, I have finally realized the need to rewrite "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog".
It began as a simple rewrite because I realized that my story wasn’t as interesting as I’d thought at first. But then I began reading Donald Maass’ "Writing the Breakout Novel" and I realized that the problems ran much deeper :p You see, here in Sri Lanka, writing is not really taught. English at best is a link-language or the third language over here and you don’t get much grounding in using English for writing (professional writing that is) at school. There are no courses (that I know of) which teach creative writing at the university level either. So what you write (and how you write) is totally up to what you pick up along the way.
Then, if you do manage to land a writing job – for instance writing for a local paper – and you are any good at writing, you get told so – over and over again 🙂 But the editors usually don’t do much in the way of actually editing your stories or telling you what you need to do to improve your writing. (At least, that has been my experience so far) So again, you are basically left to learn on your own. And that is what I did all these years till I started work on my first novel. Having not had much editing and being told all the time that I wrote well, I thought writing fiction was going to be a piece of cake – it took me a while to learn how wrong I was :p
Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t jump in thinking that what I wrote was the greatest thing since Shakespeare and that it was going to be an instant classic. I wasn’t that delusional :p But I did think that whatever I wrote was going to be good enough for publishing. It took me many months to see the error of my ways 🙂
First, it was all the rejections from agents and publishers. But I told myself that they hadn’t even seen a page of my writing – that they were rejecting me based on my query and that perhaps they just weren’t interested in humorous science fiction. I asked around and was advised that perhaps it wasn’t a wise idea to be so specific about genre. So I went back and polished my query and queried again. Still I got rejections based on query alone. So I went and asked a couple of people to take a look at my query and polished the query further. Resubmitted and again, rejections.
I was now convinced that my brand of science fiction just didn’t work. Then I read a few humorous science fiction novels by Simon Haynes. He was getting published (and he was brazenly calling it humorous science fiction never bothering to hide the "H" word :p) – so why wasn’t I? I looked a little deeper and realized that perhaps I needed to make my stories more interesting. Sure, I was interested in my main character but was anybody else going to be interested in a guy who’s on the run from his wife’s wrath after selling her dog? It wasn’t as if it was going to be the end of the world if his wife caught up with him, right? (Well, maybe the end of the world for him but why should anybody else care?)
So I began planning how I would make the story better, make it more interesting. In the process, I realized I had too many characters and too many plot threads – I needed to prune and to consolidate. I needed to make the main character’s story stand out more – the reader had to be invested in the main character, not be swivelling back and forth between the stories of four or five different characters. I had come that far on my own … and that was when I read "Writing the Breakout Novel". That opened up a whole new vista of possibilities and things that I needed to look out for. Of course, it would take me a whole new blog entry to talk about all that I’ve learnt in the first three chapters alone. So I’ll reserve that for another day 🙂