Welcome back to the Saturday Q&A column! Oof, between you and me, has it been a week! Not in a bad way, I’m happy to report — but in a really good way.
You see, I’ve been slowly ramping up this blog (okay, not slowly, just all at once) and was really, really hoping that it would get near a thousand views this month. Turns out, thanks to yesterday and the day before, that it’s not too far off! I started writing in a dedicated fashion about two weeks into May, and if I’d had those two weeks, the blog would’ve gotten more than a thousand views. We’re still pretty close, fellow travelers, so solicit the help of friends.
This week has also been great because I got to help some new friends (mostly sourced through Reddit) with their writing! To that end, I’ve included two questions in this week’s Q&A column that I think pertain to intermediate writers working on or finished with their first drafts. Question one, what’s my writing process, and question two, where are some good places to get critique on your writing?
I also have a couple more questions and answers for you. Some are of a more serious nature, because some serious things have happened in the past week that demand discussion. Others are a bit more lighthearted. Most of them have something to do with a long-form post or story that’s scheduled to appear here in the next week. So you can think of this week’s Q&A as a quick flash forward.
1. What’s my writing process?
I’ve spoken a bit here and there about the writing process, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone over mine in detail. Here’s one thing you should keep in mind: the writing process differs from writer to writer. In fact, no two writers have the same writing process.
My writing process is pretty straightforward. It starts with a story premise, usually in the form of a few characters, a setting, and at least one plot point. That might sound like a lot, but it pretty much boils down to who’s there, where are they, and what are they doing? If I have more than one plot point, it’s more like who’s there, where are they, what are they doing now, and what are they going to be doing later on (or what will have happened to them). However, I try to avoid the “what will have happened to them,” because I want my characters to have agency.
I’ll give an example from my mystery novel, Blue and White. The story premise that first came to me involved three characters: Matt, Isabella, and Christopher. With the three characters came a set of relationships between them — they were all friends, but Matt and Isabella had recently started dating; Matt had always been in Christopher’s shadow, but now he felt a little vindicated because he’d “gotten the girl.” He was suspicious, though, that Isabella was cheating on him with Christopher.
The setting that came to me was inspired by a lake in Arlington called Spy Pond. You can read more about the setting of Blue and White in my first sneak peek post. This lake has an island in the center, and it commonly freezes over in the winter, and I thought that the frozen lake and the island would make for an interesting setting.
And I knew that the plot involved an arrival at the lake followed by a murder, though I wasn’t quite sure whose murder yet… or how many murders… but I won’t give that away!
Story premise to story. How does this happen? Some writers plan their novels, but I don’t. I start writing and see where the characters lead me. With a strong story premise, I always make it through the first draft. When I’m first-drafting (or second or third-drafting, for that matter), I write between 2,000 and 3,000 words per day until I get to the last act, and then I speed up to 4,000 to 5,000. This means that I have a tendency to rush my endings, so I pay a lot of attention to this during final revision.
After finishing a draft, I let the story sit until I feel compelled to pick it up again and re-draft. This might be two weeks, it might be a month, it might be four months. I read through the draft, then begin to work on a second draft, drafting clean. That means no referencing the first draft! I bring new ideas to the table, move scenes around, drop boring scenes, raise tension, attempt to smooth out transitions, play around with the timeline and chapter formatting, decide whether certain characters are necessary… The second draft is a lot of work, and I sometimes bring a few too many new ideas to the table and fall down a rabbit-hole. If this happens (usually about 3/4 of the way through the second draft), I’m not opposed to laying the second draft aside unfinished, so I’ll have time to parse through what I’ve done and start a clean third draft.
If my second draft goes through as intended, though, I usually write a semi-clean third draft, which means I reference the second draft in places — the scenes I thought I really got right, bits of wording that I love… It’s during the third draft that I begin to solicit the advice of a singular reader whose opinion I trust, to make sure I’m not missing anything crucial.
After I’m finished with the third draft (which needs to be a complete draft) I let it sit about two weeks and then revise it from start to finish. Revision can sometimes take longer than writing a draft itself. I’m a quick writer, but a slow reviser — sometimes I need a lot of time to deliberate on a particular scene or decision.
Once that revision is done, I enlist the help of a few more trusted readers, who’ll give me a sense of what I’m looking for in the final, final revision. Once they get their feedback to me, I start the final revision, which usually takes the form of a new “draft” based directly on the old draft. When all that is finished, it’s time to edit and send the manuscript off to more beta readers.
Long answer. This is the process that works for me, though I daresay it probably wouldn’t work for everyone. Still, I think it’s a fairly common form of the process (not that it’s exactly the same as anyone else’s), and if you’re a beginning or intermediate writer, I would give it or something like it a try to see if it fits your style.
2. Where are some places you can get critique on your writing?
First of all, you can always feel free to get in touch with me. (I’ve linked to the contact form, but you can also contact me via email.) I tend to give pretty rigorous critiques, so if that’s not what you’re looking for than you may want to look elsewhere, or at least gives me a head-sup that you’d like a cursory critique instead of an in-depth one.
Personally, I get critique from readers I trust — friends and family. Some books on writing advise not to source critique from friend sand family, but most people don’t have friends and family like I do! I also post my writing on Reddit’s r/DestructiveReaders, a subreddit dedicated to destroying the hopes and dreams of writers everywhere. Too much sarcasm? Jokes aside, shrinking violets probably want to avoid r/DestructiveReaders — but if you think you can take the heat, you might want to give it a shot. You’ll have to critique someone else’s writing (at least as long as yours, in words) before you post your own stuff. Make sure your critique is in-depth and thorough, or you’ll be marked as a LEECH. And ain’t nobody wants to be a leech.
You can also post writing for critique on r/Writers, which will yield you much milder feedback than r/DestructiveReaders. r/Writing also runs a weekly (Saturday) thread on which you can post your work for critique, though you can’t ask for critique outside of this thread. The feedback you’ll get there ranges between what you might receive on r/ Writers and r/DestructiveReaders.
Reddit is especially helpful in forming connections with other writers, with whom you can later share work. I’m currently testing out another forum-based platform, Best Writing Forum, where I’ve posted the first scene of Blue and White for critique. No bites yet, but I’m waiting and hoping!
3. Who is my favorite historical figure?
Erm… Well, I’ve written about him before. This guy!
That’s Alexander the Great, if you were wondering. Some great fiction has been written about him over the millennia. I reviewed Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven here on the blog, which is about his early life. And (hint, hint) I’m going to be posting a short story (really a scene, excerpted from the historical fiction novel I’ve written about him) on the blog sometime during the next week. It’s probably the closest thing to “fan-fiction” I’ve ever written. Since everything about Alexander kind of reads like fan-fiction.
4. Is the presidential election really in November?
Yes. It is. This is something I’ve been having increasing difficulty wrapping my head around. I think it’s because we’ve missed out on a lot of the accouterments of the campaign trail, not that I necessarily am sad about this fact. I was planning to cover some of the campaign and the resulting election here on the blog, but I’ve found that there’s not much to cover. In the end, this is all right with me. A relief, maybe. Let’s wait and see what happens in November. Believe me, even if I was in a place where they weren’t allowing voting by mail, I’d turn out. Voting is an American right and an American duty. See what they say when they see lines down the street. See what they say then.
I won’t be posting anything on voting this coming week, but there may be something about other American rights and privileges and the American lifestyle and how it might need to change. Look out!
5. What do I think about protests and police brutality?
Well, jeez. It’s been a rough week in the news. First that lady in Central Park… I agree with Mr. Cooper, the man she called the cops on, who said that perhaps her life shouldn’t have been torn apart over the incident. All the same, it’s clear that someone has to suffer for all the suffering.
And how do I feel about what’s happening in Minneapolis? First of all, a full three days passed before the officer who murdered George Floyd was arrested. Had the Minneapolis PD dealt with the nonsense in a timely, forthright manner — when it was pretty darn clear that Derek Chauvin had at the bare minimum committed manslaughter — the uproar might not have reached the extent it’s gotten to now. People should be protesting, for double abuse: one, George Floyd is dead. Murdered. Two, the police waited to deal a hand of justice to his murderer. Maybe even triple: three, the officer involved has a history. Yeah, it upsets me. It also raises questions in my mind about how prospective police officers are screened. It takes a certain degree of coldbloodedness to keep pressing on a man’s neck when he’s gasping for air and saying he can’t breathe, for fuck’s sake. I’m sorry about the language. But people who are out to blatantly harm others like that shouldn’t be policemen. The duty of a policeman is to first of all protect.
Once I calm down a little about it, I’ll be writing about it — so you can look forward to that somber piece in the next week. This is also a fitting end to the Q&A column — we’ll call it quits where it’s important. If you’re social-justice minded and looking for some further reading, try these articles.
Signing out until tomorrow. Stay fearless.