Monday, September 08, 2008

The Writing Life

Book checks.

They are a tricky thing.

Everybody tells you not to rely on them coming on time -or even at all! -but there's this part of you that's always planning and scheming and hoping and budgeting, regardless.

I've been putting off some purchases for awhile because I keep thinking, "You know, it would be better to wait for my next book check." These things, at various points in time, have included: a digital camera, a home elliptical machine, a printer, an HD television (not seriously, but it's fun to think about), $100 in books from, and a dog (yay!).

Thing is, with the way publishing works, well, this isn't going to work. That is, if I want these things within the next, let's say, 2-4 months. So I continue to budget and accrue these things piecemeal as money allows.

See, I got my first book check when I signed the deal, which arrived roughly 30 days after I signed the contract, which arrived roughly 30 after the offer was made (this was blazing fast, in my opinion). That was pretty awesome, and that's how I was able to move into my own place and pay off a credit card. Have I mentioned how awesome that was?

In any case, the next one is due "on delivery" of GW. But though I have actually delivered GW, it's not "officially" considered delivered until my editor gets back to me with edits, I fix all the edits, she approves and is happy with the edits, the check goes through the check things it does, the check goes to my agent, my agent sends me the check minus commission, and tra-la. This could be a really long, drawn-out process. Probably 2-6 months from the time I see edits to the time I see a check (based on what I've heard from other writers).

Back in May, the plan was that I would have edits for GW from my editor in July. My sekrit wish was to then have a check by September. And then, you know, put half toward the CC and the other half toward a digital camera and Amazon books and.. and...

Yeah, I know. Ha ha.

It sucks when you realize that all the things people told you about being a writer are basically true.

In the meantime, I'm going to go buy a cheap printer.

The Cutting Will Continue Until the Book Improves

I'm not much for books that ramble. Some may argue about the short attention span of the internet age, but really, look back at something like Zelazny's Amber books, or the pre-90s Stephen King novels:

They're pretty short.

They are not 1500 page epics. They do not hem and haw and circle and backtrack and spend 10 pages talking about underwater farming in Australasia while the protagonist repeatedly tugs on her braid. Mainly, this is because folks were writing on typewriters. I'm also thinking short books sold better. These days, you pay $30 for a hardcover, and goddammit, you want 900 pages, because, seriously, $30 for a hardcover??

I haven't been able to get through Hobb's sequels to the Assassin books because Fool's Errand just goes on and on and on. It's two characters having long conversations about their bitter lives and regrets - this is how the book opens! It's like a hundred pages of the author trying to figure out what the characters are supposed to do during this book, and summing up the boring 15 years of their lives between this book and the last, which I really, really doubt is ultimately relevant to the climax of the novel.

I don't write like this.


I mean, yeah, OK, I write first drafts like this. They are long, and wind-filled, and people are always drinking tea (I was delighted when I realized that they actually had a high tea in my fictional Tirhan. Nobody in Nasheen in the last book actually sat around and drank tea. You have no idea how many stupid, pointless scenes this eliminated in GW. I had to be careful about my tea scenes in BD).

When I'm writing a first draft, I'm generally bouncing around trying to figure out where the characters are going to go, and - if they're new - what the hell they're about.

So there are these long, pointless passages about trauma and heartache and growing up in a farming community at the edge of the desert, and the economics of the Bashinda River. And when I revise a book, the first thing I do is say, "OK, do the economics of the Bashinda River have anything to do with this plot? No? Cut it out." And out it goes.

It is incredibly satisfying, after you murder the first few darling paragraphs, to watch paragraph after boring, clunky paragraph recede into the wastewater that was your first draft.

Ultimately, I'd like to cut about 10K-15, which would get this back to 95K at the most. 95K feels like about the right length for the bel dame books. I can't tell you why that is, but it is.

Different books tend to have different lengths and styles that just feel more appropriate. I've had to go back and chop up a lot of the long sentences and rambling paragraphs I wrote in the first draft, too. Nyx books are short sentences books. Curt, snappy dialogue. Bleeding roaches. Sand-caked wrinkles. Calloused feet. And, of course, heads getting chopped off.

And revision time is when you get to make sure all the shit that was supposed to be there is there. And all the shit that's just shit... well, that's what you chop out.