I’ve been a writer all my life. I started inventing worlds and stories when I was in first grade, and I started learning the mechanics of it all even before that, when my granddad taught me touch-typing on a battered old typewriter.
I first started thinking of myself as a writer in a sixth-grade English class, when I was supposed to write a one-page story incorporating a least half of our vocabulary words, and I wrote eight pages and used them all. I made that the first in a series of absurd detective stories that I developed over the course of the year. When I was twelve my family moved to the big city, and I dealt with the frightening upheaval in my life by writing my first novel. I wrote my classmates into the story to make friends.
When I was in high school I spent an afternoon patiently explaining to my dad that I didn’t need to go to college. My only goal in life was to be a writer, and I already knew how to write. I was well into my second novel by then, and I was marking up my Creative Writing teacher’s noir mystery in my free time. My dad’s wisdom prevailed, though, and when I got to college, I discovered not only the limits of my understanding but also the real value of others’ ideas. I chose Oklahoma Christian University for its creative writing program, and took a writing class every semester for four years.
In the process I learned the rules of the craft, I learned to develop my narrative voice, and I learned how powerful a diversity of styles can be. I’ve since had the opportunity to coach my dad in creative writing, and I was able to teach him using some of the same methods I learned in that college program I’d once assured him I would never need.
Those methods have become more and more important in my life. They include everything from the intensive character development and plot architecture that I’ve used to build my Ghost Targets series, to the minute attention to mechanics and detail that makes me such a good Technical Writer (and pays for my two houses).
When I first started in the industry, I hated that I was selling out and getting a day job, and I spent a lot of energy separating technical writing from creative writing in my head. All I got out of that was a lot of heartache, and a couple novels that languished as unfinished drafts for years. I’ve recently come to appreciate the similarities in the two disciplines, and learned how to play to my strengths in both fields. As a result, I’ve got pretty much the same writing process for both.
I start with as much prewriting as I can reasonably do, whether that’s real-world research or rough scene lists, but I always limit the amount of time I dedicate to that. When I’ve got enough material to put together a draft, I stop researching and start writing. I do a first draft start to finish, with as little editing as possible. When I’m done, I take a quick pass through the document to smooth some of the roughest edges, then hand it off to one or two test readers to get feedback.
From there, I go through multiple stages of dedicated revisions. I’ve talked about that elsewhere, but it’s critical to the process. It also usually takes two to three times as long as the prewriting and writing stages combined, so I’ve got to dedicate time and energy to the review process from the very first, or I’ll find myself in a real bind when deadlines start looming.
Honestly, I end up applying that process in nearly every type of writing I do. That includes my journal entries here, emails to my friends and coworkers, and my articles on Unstressed Syllables. I’ve used some of my training to create some extremely effective tutorials, and to prepare business letters and queries for all my many projects. I end up doing a lot of editing work for friends and family, too. All of it is good practice, and all of it depends on my continued dedication to quality writing.
It’s rewarding, too. Just last week I was skimming through an old draft of an unfinished novel, looking for an illustration for my blog, and I accidentally got caught up in the narrative. Half an hour and two chapters later, I remembered what I was supposed to be doing, but I came away from that with a determination to get that novel cleaned up and in the hands of some readers. That’s an incredible experience, stumbling across some long-forgotten scene and rediscovering the magic and creativity that helped make it happen in the first place.
Currently, that’s where most of my energy is focused: getting all my old, unfinished projects up to code, and getting them in the hands of readers. That has me working simultaneously on a utopian near-future sci-fi and a dystopian near-future sci-fi,on a dry political think-piece masquerading as traditional fantasy and on a juvenile emo romance masquerading as traditional fantasy. And, of course, through it all I’m constantly creating new stories. I have a fourth Ghost Targets in the works, and half a dozen story ideas spawned from dreams or debates. I have a handful of non-fiction works germinating, and a rather significant investment in UnstressedSyllables.com. Oh yeah, and then there’s the full-time job. No question about it, I am a writer.
(I prepared this post according to the assignment description in this week’s Technical Writing exercise over at UnstressedSyllables.com. I also posted a link in the discussion board there, so you can feel free to leave comments here or there, depending what you want to discuss. I’d love any feedback you’ve got to give, though.)