Writing By Inches

Misery talked about the games writers play to keep words flowing.

Here’s one I once used.

Before my first workshop, during my browser window years, I’d write a sentence or two between tasks in games; while my character recovered from scorpion stings in Shadowbane, or troll throwing-axe wounds in Wacraft’s Hinterlands. I’d pause my anime every five minutes to tap out a sentence, and then unpause. If I’d kept it up, Naruto alone could have netted me fifty shitty stream-of-consciousness novels — I didn’t keep it up, but ignore that.

I imagine “real” writers — the serious, tweed-clad men my professors idolize — stare out the window, cradling a Marlboro spent to its filter as their brilliant minds find “just the words”.

Yeah, so fuck writerly, I’m here to do a job, not bask in cult-of-the-author mystique. Also, that whole last paragraph should be past tense, because them ivory-tower types don’t admire us what still breathe. The Staring Out The Window Method’s for indolent trust-fund pussies, not folks whose writing time and fuck-off time make a five degree complementary angle on daily life’s 24-hour pie chart. Besides, those quiet pauses are what drove Medieval hermits to martyrdom.

So I get to go slow and not feel like I’m wasting time. In going slow, I lay no tracks that just need tearing up again. Ever knifed your kid at 7 because it sucked at 1? That’s what I go through each time the protagonist wouldn’t have acted like that, but I made them do it anyways — except with less pedocide. Wow, what an awkward and depressing metaphor…

HEY, I MADE SOME FLOWCHARTS, ANYONE WANNA SEE THEM!?

The Writing Process
Only real writers use Courier Bold.

Making dog shit’s tough work, just ask your Terrier. Making dog shit from nothing breaks every law of thermodynamics and might get your ass sainted, pedocide and all. First-writing is like that — except with less dog shit — so layering even a sentence of terrible writing between small definable tasks is still a goddamn miracle: kill X NPCs, clean one tiny bit of the kitchen, load the laundry, etc. helps take the pressure off the job everyone works themselves up over. An hour or two goofing off like this nets me between 500 and 1,000 words, basically a scene or blog entry or something, which then needs edits.

The key is whatever needs editing must stand alone. But if I don’t stop and do it now, if I wait until the end of a chapter or novel, I’ll lose the moment, lose the thread, and might risk taking a whole new direction — a path fraught with Terrier shit and pedocide.

My editing process looks roughly like this:

The Editing Process

Editing is easier, in that it defies no laws of nature. Terrier shit, suitably, ahem, enriched can become gold. Or a stinking pile of irradiated slag, if you’re imprecise.

So be precise. Add wordplay and literary devices. Google or wikipedia necessary resources. Consult notes. Ensure that the lens character’s perspective is consistent. Ensure you used ensure instead of insure. Fill out imagery. Eat beef jerky.

In yesterday’s entry, editing birthed the “parts of the brain” joke, not writing. Even if it’s just a throwaway joke, I still consider it the best bit I wrote yesterday. Here’s a simple how-to I use when I edit:

How to Edit

The term “necessary” is goddamn ambiguous, but — and here’s some writerly dogshit to fill my quota — it feels like the right word.

In fiction especially, it’s hazy what exactly is necessary. But what I say it means — I’m a writer, I can do that — is that the sentence provides additional information that aids immersion, story-advancement, or characterization.

If it doesn’t hurt a story to replace the sentence, replace it.

Why replace, not delete? I don’t know. In my experience, deletion screws a story’s pace harder than a pneumatic sexbot, so I only do it if I can’t find a good replacement sentence, one that doesn’t lead me down the dogshit-pedocide path.

So the sentence is necessary. Spifftacular.

But the sentence still needs to be entertaining. It still needs some English on it, so it’s not the same stock everyday shit people see in e-mails, on Facebook walls, and at their hair stylist. Jazz it up, motherfucker!

Now as I’ve said before, I’m by no means an expert. This way helps me, so maybe try it out if you’re stuck. I’ll be using a similar method to this from now on, because this works better than the dour literati tricks that writing workshops hammered into me like a pneu — no, I am not signing off with that visual.

That’s all for tonight. Carry on.

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