The Instant Gratification of Writing

I know what you’re thinking. There is no instant gratification in writing.

First you have to get the idea. Then you have to write your story. Then you have to revise your story. Then you have to revise it again. And probably again. Then you have to shine it up real nice. Then you have to sell it. You shop it to the pubs or agents and rack up the rejections. If you land an agent, then you probably have to do more edits before they shop it around for you. Then you finally land it somewhere. Then you have to edit it again because whoever buys your story likes it, but it just needs a little (or a lot of) tweaking. Then it finally gets published and you have a finished story in your hands that someone actually paid you for.

There is nothing instant about this process. It takes months, sometimes years from start to finish. It is an arduous journey that can be frustrating as well as exhilarating. And it takes forever.

One thing that’s always been a challenge for me is getting an idea that I know is dynamite and then making peace with the fact that it’s not going to be done NOW. I’ve got this neato idea in my head and I know how it’s going to look on paper and I just need it to go straight from my brain to the page without the time consuming middleman of actually typing and agonizing over word choice. I need to project the images in my head onto my docx.

And that is not how any of this works.

I know there is a distinct chance that I will cool on this idea before I even find time to get the first sentence written. I know that it might turn into a slog. I know that it could take days or weeks or months to get the first draft written. I know that, for me, I have to have a cool down period between a first draft and the revisions. Depending on how I feel about the first draft when I revisit it, the revisions can take a couple of days for a short story or a couple of years for a novel. It just depends.

And even after all of that there’s no guarantee that it’ll ever see the light of day. I may not be able to sell it. Or I may self-published it and it will never sell on its own. All of that time and effort…for nothing.

I know all of this and yet, I also know there is a sort of instant gratification when it comes to writing.

Let me tell you, that first dynamite idea is a rush. When the bits and pieces of character and plot and setting all comes rushing together and you can see certain scenes and you can hear bits of dialogue…holy hell is that a high. Things just click and you jot it all down and you’re excited at the prospect of living in this universe for a while. That is an instant gratification of writing.

When you’re working on a first draft and everything is just zinging and you get in the zone and time just zips by and you surface an hour or two hours or even fifteen minutes later feeling like you’ve just come up from a deep water swim because you were so immersed in your story, that is an instant gratification of writing.

When you’re in the slog of revising and you untangle some plot knot and everything falls into place, that is an instant gratification of writing.

When you’re reading over the story and you hit on a description or a turn of phrase or a bit of dialogue that just thrills you and you can’t believe you actually wrote something so good, that is an instant gratification of writing.

Okay, maybe it’s not really instant gratification in the classic sense, but it is something that happens in an instant, a bell ring of a successful note.

Those instant gratification moments are scattered throughout the long, maddening, entertaining journey. Those moments of immediate satisfaction that tickle those dopamine receptors and make you go, “Ah, yes, this is worth it” are the dots you connect that keep you going from one point to the next until the drawing is complete.

It’s what makes you do it all over again.

The instant gratification of writing.

What Has Shaped My Writing

flame box elder penThe lovely Trinae Ross, who has a blog called Writing While Wearing a Straightjacket, tagged me to write a blog post about what has shaped my writing (you can read her post on it here). I will eventually tag someone else to do this, but first, my words on the subject.

I wrote my first word at three, my first story at six. From the time I was little, I was always coming up with stories and plays. I once wrote and produced a radio play using the kids in my mother’s daycare and the neighborhood, recording our voices on a blank tape on a radio. It was a murder mystery. I even attempted a retelling of Sleeping Beauty using nothing but pictures I’d taken on one of my little cameras. This was in the days of film, kids. I had no idea how good it was until my mom finally got that roll developed.

Storytelling has always been a part of my existence, a thing so ingrained in me that it might as well just be another chromosome. Even if I didn’t write them all down, I was still telling them, either to others or to myself.

So, what has shaped my writing?

I gave this question a good long think and I came up with three things.

1.) Fanfiction. I wrote mounds of it for several years, from the ages of about 18 to 21. The nature of fanfiction at the time and where I was posting it allowed for instant feedback on what was working and what wasn’t. It also taught me the very valuable lesson of writing for myself first.

I tell this story a lot because even after all these years later, it still resonates. One of my most popular stories started as a one off. It was just supposed to be that one little thing. But people begged for more and so I gave in and wrote a much longer story. It was a soap opera romantic thing and everyone loved it. Meanwhile, I HATED writing that story. HATED IT. I had never been so happy to finish anything in all of my life and I don’t think I’ve ever received a louder applause for anything I’ve ever written since. But that applause was so empty because I hated the story so much. That was when I recognized the importance of writing for myself first. And if other people read it and enjoy it, then that’s the bonus.

Another great lesson fanfiction taught me was that not all stories need happy endings, but EVERY story must have a SATISFYING ending. The readers will disagree, but the writers will know.

2.) NaNoWriMo. NaNo taught me the discipline to write every day. It taught me that I could complete a novel-length work of fiction. It taught me how to write by the seat of my pants, how to meticulously outline, and how to find a happy place somewhere between the two. It taught me that first drafts are supposed to be garbage and that the real magic happens in the revisions. It taught me everything I needed to know about how I operate as a writer, my habits and my weakness and my strengths. Basically, NaNo taught me about the nitty-gritty heavy-lifting that gets glossed over a lot in favor of inspiration and muses.

3.) Stephen King’s advice. On Writing has been a brilliant guide for me and I’ve waxed poetic about that book before. But I’m going to focus on one particular bit of Uncle Stevie’s advice here: Read a lot and write a lot.

I am notoriously awful at reading for a writer. I know I don’t read enough and I struggle to read more. My only comfort is that when I do read (and I try to be consistent about it even when it’s often interrupted and I’m very slow), I try to get as much out of it as I can. In addition to reading for pleasure and enjoying the story (or trying to, depending on the book), I try to read with a critical eye and learn from other writers, particularly in my areas of weakness. If someone effectively describes something or transmits an emotion or has a clever way of conveying some idea, I take note of that and try to put it to use in my own work. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. But I’m always looking to learn.

I do write a lot and I think it’s been the writing a lot that has done the most to shape my writing. It’s helped me find my voice and my style. It’s allowed me to build my confidence. With millions of words written over the course of my writing career (remember, I started this in earnest back in 2007), I can actually look back and see my growth. I can see where I failed. I can see where I improved. I can see where I still need more work and development. I couldn’t have done any of that if I hadn’t put the words down somewhere.

I think there are probably other things that have shaped my writing. I think just about everything in my existence could be said to shape my writing, for better or worse. But I think these are three things that had the biggest impacts.

And I think they’ve all been for the better.

Writing–My Writing Process

Rainbow paperThis post is part of the My Writing Process Blog Hop, which is  pretty nifty. I’ve never participated in a blog hop before, so I hope you’ll be gentle.

Anyway, I was drawn into this by my lovely, long-time internet friend Helene Kwong, a writer of novels, short stories, blogs, and reviews. Helene and I achieved internet buddy status through LiveJournal, Twitter, and NaNoWriMo. She’s delightful and I could hardly say no when she asked me to do this.

So the premise of this blog hop is to answer four simple questions and then tag three more victims writers to do the same. Groovy. Let’s go.

1.  What are you working on?

At this precise moment, I’m currently rewriting/revising my novella The Timeless Man, the second novella featuring my fat-girl private investigator Ivy Russell. I’m also prepping one of my old NaNo first drafts, (Vampires) Made in America, for revisions. It features another one of my frequent characters, happy-go-lucky vampire Stanley Ivanov.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I imagine it differs because I’m lousy at genres. My short stories are usually very easily defined as horror, but the longer the story goes, the harder it is for me to slap a nice, neat label on it. I suppose the one thing that sets me apart no matter where I’m at is that my female characters don’t necessarily end up with a male character, even if the story line would strongly indicate such a thing happening. If my female main character enters a story single (Kim Ales in Night of the Nothing Man, Ivy Russell in Cheaters and Chupacabras, Edda Blue in A Tale of Two Lady Killers), then she’s probably ending the story the same way.

3. Why do you write what you do?

When it comes to fiction (I’m still experimenting with non-fiction so I can’t really answer about that), it’s what comes to my head. It really feels like this is just what I was programmed to write. I seem to do better when there’s some kind of horror/paranormal/supernatural element to my stories. I’ve tried to write straight stuff and it doesn’t feel like it’s as good to me. I was not meant to write literary fiction, my friends. I just don’t have those chops. But if you want something quick and entertaining and don’t mind getting creeped out, I can help you.

4. How does your writing process work?

Slowly and sometimes with many hang-ups. I keep hoping that the more I do this, the more fluid and faster I’ll get, but so far, that hasn’t happened. I tend to do a lot of the first drafts for my longer works (novellas, novels) during NaNoWriMo because I’ve become incredibly disciplined in the context of that contest. For me, the worst part of writing is the first draft, so the quicker I get it all down on paper, so to speak, the quicker I can get to revising, rewriting, and editing.

There’s almost always at least two revising passes on any given manuscript and then a polish. Some stories I find don’t need a lot of work and some need tons. I probably revised A Tale of Two Lady Killers ten times over five years before I decided it was done. As a self-publisher, I’m a stickler for good editing, particularly the technical stuff, but when it comes to the story, I just know that I got it right and it’s done and I can stop revising. Then comes the polish, which is just correcting errors and spiffing up the word choice.

So which writers do you need to check out next week because they’re answering the same questions?

Johi Jenkins, who’s published Resurgence, The Thirst Withinand Margarette (Violet) (Volume 1) (with K LeMaire). She’s a Chicagoan and if you ask her, she’ll tell you that she writes young adult paranormal romances because she’s clearly immature. Ha!

Shana Hammaker,  author of creepy stories like Charlie (I love this one, so it gets shout out) as well as unflinching memoirs The Cookie Dumpster and Hieroglyphs. She writes shit, reads shit, drinks shit, and talks shit, and she does it all like a pro.

Lisa Fernandes is a long-time friend of mine. I think we’ve known each other around fifteen years or so (let’s not say longer, otherwise we’ll start looking our age). She and I have both struggled through this writing life together, walking different paths, but still in the same forest. In addition to fiction, she also does some really fabulous reviews.