Writing in a Vacuum

The last few months of writing have been incredible. This is mainly due to my eldest daughter’s influence.

Since she returned back to the family fold less than a year ago and moved in with us, we have settled in as a family, sharing cooking and cleaning chores, along with errands and a host of other benefits one gets with a third adult in the house.

And after the settling in and getting used to each other after nearly a decade of living apart, we both found ourselves circling about, inspired and creative.

Dee felt her creative muse renewed and started dabbling in writing and art projects that had been shelved for a while. I had been mucking my way through my fifth book and, as fall and winter approached, was determined to finish the project.

I felt as if I were slogging through knee-deep mud. This was the first science fiction piece I had ever attempted and was a fusion of two ideas, a dystopian tale of a virus that kills off the world’s population and a spaceship packed with colonists flying to a new world with a saboteur aboard.

This time, however, was also very different. For the first time, I had someone right here, in my home who I saw every day, who was a writer as well.

“Would you look it over for me?” I asked Dee, “You know, edit it?”

She gave me a long look.

We had been talking for a long time about writing, the process, and more. She had already knocked out a few pieces, including a 100k (or more) fan fiction sequel to The Labyrinth (yes, the movie with David Bowie). Her writing style had not just improved, it had blasted through the ceiling.

This was in no small part due to the writer’s group she had worked with for over five years in California. Comprised of talented (and in some cases already published) writers, she had honed her skills consistently as they met, discussed and examined each other’s work.

Finding the right fit in a group has always been hard for me for a number of reasons:

  • Group settings, especially when I’m just getting to know people, are stressful and intimidating for me. The idea of diving in and letting the equivalent of a stranger review my writing is absolutely incapacitating.
  • I’m not looking for writing assignments or group activities. The “challenge of the week” does nothing for me. Probably because I’m NOT a team player (I’m probably not supposed to admit that, but there you go).
  • When it is something I deem important or close to my heart, I far prefer one-on-one interactions.
  • In editing, I’m typically looking for a mentor/mentee relationship – see reasons above.

In any case, I was nervous and so was she. But we dove into it anyway. I finished my first draft, some 73,000 words and handed it off, waiting three agonizing weeks for her to review it and return it to me.

Reading through it, seeing all of her notes, I will admit, I panicked a bit. I went through the “what the hell am I doing” stage and came out on the other side determined to improve the manuscript.

I worked on it, added chapters, swore a lot, had several more mini-crises, and returned the second draft to her. It now stood at 86,000 words.

The second edit went faster, less than two weeks, and then it was back with MORE notes and edits.

I felt sorry for myself, wailed, gnashed my teeth, and swore a lot more. I resolved to ignore everything and then added three more chapters and nearly 20,000 words and took just about all of her edits and considered them seriously. What she said made sense.

The manuscript is now in for a third review. I imagine it will be at least a week before it returns to me and I have resolved to stay this course. It is feeling better and better each time.

Writing in a vacuum is hard. Without any frame of reference, you write what you write and hope for the best. In my head are all of these characters. I know them, understand them, and write about them forgetting that, while the details might be there in my head, I may not have conveyed them adequately on paper. Or I may lose a reader with too much exposition and not enough dialogue. And don’t get me started on my habit of telling and not showing.

These rounds of edits – I swear, it feels like my brain is growing. It is as if there are neural pathways being built, and now, as I read books on my Kindle, I find myself examining how they are worded. What tense did the author use? Did the story elements make sense? Was there anything unbelievable or questions at the end of the story that were unresolved?

I have learned so much from these edits, and the subsequent discussions, that my mind is reeling. I haven’t felt this good about the writing process since my teachers allowed me to swap out grammar for creative writing in high school!

The one thing that does not exist here is ego. I don’t have time for that nonsense. I fully admit that at 45 (nearly 46) I can learn from my 27-year-old daughter. So learn I will, although not without some measure of whining, swearing and feeling sorry for myself.

All of this is to say – I’m still learning, but I’m mostly enjoying the process.

p.s. And I’m considering re-writing War’s End and putting it in one volume.