I started writing fiction around 1988. My best friend, Joyce, started a writing group out of our circle of friends. If I wanted to play, I had to write. All of us (who are still living) are still writing, too.
The first piece I wrote Joyce said was like “waltzing with Frankenstein” — it’s clumsy, but I got there. It was science fiction. In that future, people had beepers. Just goes to show you about failures of imagination, doesn’t it?
While waiting for a response, Gilbert’s beeper made a raspberry sound. He calmly moved his hand to silence it, and, in his haste, knocked it to the ground. It shattered with a last mournful wail. Gilbert’s faced turned raspberry, no doubt to match the sound.
And so, my literary (non-) career began.
I remember spending an inordinate amount of time looking stupid shit up. Like punctuating dialogue.
My next novel I wrote on a typewriter. Way. I started it — and given much of the slush I’ve read, this is not an uncommon place to begin — by having the character wake up. I wrote three novels of it in first person. It bit. I wrote a short story set in the same world. It also bit. Marion Zimmer Bradley said it had “no sense of wonder” back when she used to send personal rejection letters. I have always wondered if that was more her problem or mine. (I’m not an idiot: at least part of it was indeed my problem.)
Somewhere in there, I tried to write some Trek fanfic, but I really wasn’t inspired. That’s because it was before Riker grew a beard, I think, and before I dated the guy who kinda sorta looked like Riker.
Then I fell into a rough crowd, literarily speaking, and wound up with contracts for twelve adult (read: porn) westerns in four different series. Yippie-ki-yay. Wound up being half my income for that 18-month stretch, mostly written when I lived in Fort Lauderdale in a studio apartment with a roach problem, dating a guy who had a magic ability to rescue and repair televisions. I know that not all twelve wound up being published; I know at least one was, and no, I’m not telling you the names. Move along.
Oh, and my late husband, not realizing what the stash of books was all about, burned them one evening. Just. Great.
I started writing technical books and chapters after that, including a book about (Macintosh) System 7 for Que. They came with prompt checks and contracts (and really prompt deadlines; I had three weeks to write my first book), but eventually I realized it was coming at the expense of writing fiction. Fiction writing makes me happy; technical writing does not.
I got turned down for Clarion a couple of times and realized I needed to try harder. I went to Odyssey one year, but our year is sort of a lost year, unfortunately. Some of us are really only just now starting to get some success.
In 2001, I started my MA in Writing Popular Fiction (now an MFA program), and learned a lot. I was accepted for Clarion in 2002 (don’t ever do that mid-MA/MFA, it was a stupid idea), and then went on to do Viable Paradise in 2002 (see previous comment) and again in 2004.
Then I got into the doldrums, where I was lost for years. I’m not usually a fast writer and I am fairly easily discouraged when I hit a wall. Nanowrimo has been really a successful endeavor when I’ve been able to commit to it.
Last time I wrote a whole novel draft (2009), it was only in a few weeks, but I wrote it out of order and it is an unholy mess. Let’s just say that, like E.L. James, it is an erotica riff that launched from Twilight in its own way, but the resemblance ends there.
She strolled by, smelling like a hot Texas night where lovers cling under the magnolia tree wrapped in dense humid mists, fireflies twinkling with excitement. Only she was two thousand miles from Texas and blocks from even a single magnolia.
It’s not that I wasn’t writing, but I wasn’t doing enough of it. There are reasons, and some of them are good reasons. Let’s just say it’s part of the past.
In 2010, I decided to go for my F (MA->MFA upgrade), but decided quickly that it really wasn’t for me. For the first time, I felt like I knew what I was doing as an author, and what I needed was more story seeds, not more education. Instead, I set out and fixed some long-standing obstacles in my past, including mending a long-broken relationship with a good friend.
So I had an idea for Nano last fall, and I decided on a project I’d been wanting to for a few months, so I started on it on Nov 1 dutifully. In a few days, I fell over.
Why? Because my writer brain had been waking up every day for months, without fail, working on fanfic. So I said, well, what the fuck, we’ll write some fanfic then. I started doing that on the 6th or so.
I got the 50k done in November. The piece is somewhere around 70k now, but I haven’t yet taken the machete to some places that need it, and I cut 10k out of it one day.
I started posting it. Any of my Clarion classmates can tell you this: I’m really really not a one-draft writer. So seriously not. I under-write. I leave out important stuff. My first draft is really more like making clay for the final pot without any pot-like shape to it.
But this is fanfic. You can make it as polished as you want — or not. I’ve decided to mostly post first drafts, flaws and all. However, my first drafts are far cleaner than they were in my Clarion days. First, I’m not as tired. Second, I’ve grown as a writer. However, I’m aware of my limitations, but I decided I wanted to play now, not six months from now.
I’m glad I did.
I got fan mail. (As of today, I’ve gotten fan mail ten days in a row.) Fan mail is incredibly addictive, folks. It will keep almost anything going.
But that’s not what’s most valuable about it to me.
I’ve discovered a lot of things about how I write. I’ve always known I’m a plot writer, and characters don’t really talk to me except when we’re in media res together. I can’t do those character sheets ahead of time and have it mean anything. But fanfic comes with complete characters (hopefully not so complete that you don’t have room to grow them somehow), so that wasn’t a problem for me this time. Because of that, it was easier to keep going because I felt like I had a feel of what the characters would say and do that I don’t get when I’m writing the early parts of my first drafts.
So I can start characters first. I just never have been able to with original stuff.
There are spaces in between scenes where things can happen, and those interstitial moments can be very cool.
Other people are writing the same characters and using them in different ways with different moments, memories, and lines. You get to look at those choices and figure out if you agree more with them or your own interpretation — or if you want to write another piece that takes advantage of what you’ve learned from someone else’s interpretations. It’s interesting how much even four people can diverge on interpretations yet agree in the main.
Fanfiction.net also offers some very nifty traffic stats. I have a reader in Kazakstan. How cool is that?
But mostly, the other people writing in that same world will amuse you and you will learn from them — and they from you.
Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.