Today, I have Cassidy Frazee visiting the blog. She has been kind enough to put together a post talking about her writing process. I am out of town today, so I turn my blog over to Cassidy willingly. Next week, I have a spectacular interview with the absolutely down to earth Elizabeth Yon.
Please give a warm welcome to Cassidy Frazee, who blogs at Wide Awake but Dreaming.
Wisdom of Words
When I was asked to do a guest post, I felt honored because it’s been a while since anyone’s asked me to work up something for them. Then I was asked to off a few bits of wisdom on writing, and . . . huh? Me giving sage advice?
What comes next, world? Stock tips?
It’s true, I’ve been writing a while. I’ve mentioned from time to time that I started writing in high school, then gave it up, then started again in the 1980’s, then gave it up, then again in the 90’s and gave it up . . . and you’re probably noticing a trend here. It wasn’t until after a online writing class I took in 2010 that I was encouraged to write and keep writing, and I’ve been at it ever since. (I should note that said encouragement did not come from the instructor, who actually wasn’t aware of the famous “clocks were striking thirteen” opening line from 1984 and didn’t know why I’d use something similar in a flash fiction.)
In the period from 2011 to today—July, 2014—I’ve published three stories: two through self-publishing and one sold story. At the moment I have plans to publish more, starting later this year, and by this time next year I hope to put out at least two large works. I’m in the middle of a huge novel that I’ve been working on almost every day since the end of October 2013, and I don’t expect to finish until early next year.
I do this because it’s my dream to make a living as a published writer. I also have stories to tell, and I want to share them with others.
What have I learned from spending time writing?
1: It’s pretty much a second job.
My schedule during the week is like this: I get up at six AM and blog. I even do thing on the weekends, though I might not start writing until maybe seven, seven-thirty. Then I go to work and stay there until four PM. Then I go home, relax, and usually about seven-thirty, eight PM I start writing. I usually write until ten-thirty or eleven PM, and then I save off my work to an external drive and go to bed. Rinse, repeat.
Now you may read that and say, “You only write for three hours? That’s not a lot of work!” Let’s then take a look at my Monday of this week, the 21st of July:
Got up and blogged. Got ready for work. Went to work for two hours. Came home and changed. Drove two hundred miles into New Jersey to see my doctor. Spent a half hour with her going over a few things and then let her watch me give myself an injection. Went down the road and got lunch, and, while eating, read my email. Drove two hundred miles back home, stopped to get dinner. Ate dinner and wrote five hundred words of a new scene at the restaurant. Went back home and wrote another two hundred and fifty words for the same scene. Examined an upcoming scene and decided I could merge it with another, and decided I could move a scene in one chapter to another. Saved my work and went to bed.
What you don’t see in there is me spending some of that time driving going over scenes for my novel in my head. You don’t see me going over my story in Scrivener thinking about if a scene is really needed, or—if like I just did in the last chapter—may need to add a scene. You don’t see me thinking about something that’s going to happen not in the scene I’m in, but the next one, where one of the main characters has something interesting happen to them.
If you’re writing, you’re putting worlds down for the story. If you’re not writing, you’re always thinking about your story, or another story to come. You’re working on notes, or building a time line, or developing a character outline.
You are working all the time even when you’re not. And if not, you should be.
2: If you don’t like to edit, you need to learn.
Editing is your friend. It really is. These days I go over a story again and again. I even do that when I’m building my first draft. There were times when I used to write three, four, even five thousand words a day. Today I usually do about a thousand, but it’s a clean thousand, because I edit as I go along. I can’t leave a misspelled word in place. If something sounds wrong, I fix it. If I don’t like the word I used, I find another. I remember once spending twenty minutes working on a fifty word paragraph because it didn’t feel right.
And when you’re done with the first draft, go back over and do it again. Maybe again after that. And maybe once more, because you never know what you might find. And then make sure you don’t have plot holes big enough to drive a starship through, too, because readers love to find those and remind you how much you messed up.
3: Don’t let your ego get in your way.
Writers have egos; make no mistake about that. We build worlds, we create characters from nothing—as I used to say in when I was running a lot of role playing games, “The game is my world, and I’m god. Don’t mess with me.”
However . . .
On my current novel I had someone read over parts of it, and what they came back at me with was one of the main characters seemed . . . passive. They seemed like instead of being a main character, they were there to smile and be lead around by the hand. They didn’t like it one bit.
I saw it differently, however, and, unfortunately, I got pissed and kinda blew off the advice, which resulted in that person getting pissed off and letting me have it. When it was all over, I was hurt, I was angry, I was sure I was right.
When I stepped back and looked at their advice in the cold light of day, they were right and I wasn’t. I started redoing the character, working up their background and giving them a whole different personality. And in doing so, I started changing my other characters, because they, too, also seemed wrong.
Are they right now? I feel they are. But if I’d let my ego tell me, “Yo, don’t pay any attention to her, you’re the god here, yeah?” I’d end up with weaker characters.
The ego is nice to have, but never let it cripple you.
4: Own it, right and wrong.
In the same story, the same person found a few things they didn’t care for—namely the fact that I use the metric system throughout the story. When people talk, they talk metric. The majority of the students are not from countries that use the Imperial System—of the new students in my current novel, only two people out of thirty-two come from the U.S—so it doesn’t make sense for them to speak in feet, miles, and pounds.
I got called on it, saying it was going to confuse people, that if you had to do calculations in your head then people were going to stop reading. I say that since only three countries use the Imperial system, and my school is supposed to be run by an organization that is all over the world, it would be ridiculous to have everyone using a measurement system that isn’t used world-wide. To do everything in Imperial measurements would not only pander to the U.S. readers, but would get me crucified by a lot of other readers who’d think I wasn’t making sense.
In the end I just flat out side I’m doing this my way and it’s not up for discussion. I owned it. Right or wrong, it’s mine, and I’m sticking with it. If I get this published and it burns me with readers, so be it. If it’s the wrong call, be ready to own up that it was, and move on.
You should also be ready to own your mistakes if you do something that doesn’t make sense plot-wise, or even goes so far as to bust up the internal logic of your story. As David Gerrold once pointed out, if you set the rules of your universe so no one can use their left hand, and in the last act your hero used their left hand to get out of a jam, you’re so busted. Be ready to own that, and own it hard.
5: Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable.
One novel I wrote two years ago was Couples Dance. I’ve sent it out to a couple of places, never heard anything back, and will probably self-publish it one day. It was probably the hardest thing I’d written because it’s what I like to call “erotic horror”, which is to say it’s strange. It’s also a bit ugly in places, mostly due to the characters not really being all that lovable. And there are a couple of scenes in the story that just sort of make you go, “Ugh!” and leaving you with the feeling you should just walk away.
At the same time I was proud of myself for writing it, because I knew how bad some of the scenes were, I knew how unlovable some of the characters were, I knew it was going to be a story without a happy ending. And to do all that, I had to make the decision to go there, to get uncomfortable with what I knew how to write, to simply tell the story and not worry if the haters were gonna hate.
It’s not just horror that makes you feel that way. I have one story that, when I got to the final few pages, I was crying almost non-stop. Why? Because in writing what the characters were feeling I pulled upon memories that I didn’t want to relive, feelings I didn’t want to feel. It was a killer session, and I finished the story—and even now, if I reread that part, I start crying, because I know where their feelings for each other arose.
Sometimes you just gotta go there, you gotta open the vein and let whatever you didn’t think you had inside of you drip out onto the keyboard. What you produce might be crap—or it might be something great.
You won’t know until you cross that line.
6: If you wanna be a writer, write every day. Or at least work at your writing.
Clive Barker once made the comment that writers write, and any writer who isn’t writing, or at least working towards their craft, isn’t a writer. His analogy was having a person talk about how they’re a boat building and yet never having taken the time to actually build a boat. No planning, no constructing, no putting in the sweat to make something that floats: no boat you have, no boat builder you are.
It’s the same with writing. If you talk about all the great stories you’re going to write, but you’ve yet to write them, or even plan them, or plot them out, or develop a character, or come up with a name for your story’s locations, you’re not a writer. And please don’t say, “I’m a pantser; I wait for the muse to strike,” because if that’s the case you gotta get that muse out of the bathroom so they can kick you in the butt, because you can only use that “waiting on the muse” line so many times before it sounds like recycled BS.
This was me for a long time. I talked about writing, but I didn’t. There were a few things I started and then let them fall by the wayside because I didn’t know where to go. It took me a long time to actually finish a story, and once I did, I wanted to do another, and another, and another, and . . . you know how this goes.
And that’s an important thing for me: if you start, don’t stop until you finish your story. Since 2011, when I finally became serious about writing, of everything I started, there is only one piece I put aside and said, “Nope, not gonna do.” I was about two thousand words into it when I sat back and said, “This is gonna suck, why waste my time?” and I put it away.
Since then if I decide I’m going to write a story, I think it over carefully and decide if I really want to write it, because it could become a monster, and once I take hold of that monster, I better be ready to grab it by the throat and hold on until it’s finished. There’s no point in getting in the middle of this and deciding I want to do something else. And if another idea comes to mind—put it in your Idea File and work on the notes in your spare time.
This is how I do things. It doesn’t work for everyone, and I’ve had to develop this over the years. I’m still working on it, more or less, because I’m developing as a writer, which means I’m finding different ways to do things, and that leads to new habits. And if I seem to spend a month or more plotting out a story—that just means I don’t have to do it later.
That’s when I make the magic; that’s when I write.
Cassidy Frazee is a writer from Indiana currently living in Pennsylvania. At the moment she’s driving herself nuts with the first draft of a monster novel, and she’s planning on digging into her slush pile and getting stuff out for publication. She is the author of Her Demonic Majesty and Kuntilanak, written under the name Raymond Frazee.
Thanks for stopping in! Please use the Contact Me form on the left sidebar if you are interested in sharing your writing process or any part thereof with my readers.