Writing Process Blog Tour

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I was invited to join this blog tour by the lovely Bran Mydwynter, and it’s the perfect sort of thing to get my blog kicked off for this year. (Heh, yes, I have been lax about blogging as of late!)

The basic premise is that these posts work as a sort of chain letter. One writer posts, tags three others, and the tagged writers post and then tags three other writers writer. And on it rolls.

This blog tour focuses on writers and their writing process, as the title suggests. I answer the last question in a rather detailed fashion in the hopes that it might help other writers who are still learning their own process, or struggling with elements of their own. With that in mind, onwards!

  1. What am I working on?

I am completing the second draft of a fantasy novel. It’s working title alternates between Hearth-Song and Harvester of Light or something of the sort. It’s set in a predominantly bronze-age fantasy world, though different cultures are at different places with their technology depending on their way of life (ie, farmers versus hunter-gatherer groups).

The story is told from the perspective of a transman, Sivas, who would also be what we call a person of color. He has spent most of his life wandering from place to place.  In the novel Sivas tells the story of how he was marooned on the cold, northerly island of Skare. There he meets the warrior woman Rigan, and her husband Meldwyn. Through his relationships with Rigan and Meldwyn, Sivas learns about the hard work of loving both himself and others, and the hard work of creating a family and a home in an often hostile world.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I use the framework of fantasy similar to the way authors like LeGuin, Delaney, and Butler in their speculative fiction: I am interested in interrogating social and cultural norms.

Or, as they say in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog: “The status is not quo.”

(For the record: I am not saying I am remotely par with any of these writers. I am just saying I have learned a lot from them, and that my writing takes a similar approach to using speculative fiction.)

Additionally, I don’t just want to take traditional fantasy staples and drop in a person of color lead, or a queer lead either; I fully intend to write fantasy where the structure of traditional fantasy has been completely turned inside out, ruptured, or destabilized. I tend to think of my work as a delightful form of anti-fantasy, in which I actively challenge, subvert, and nullify the traditional (Westernized, heterocentric, white, etc.) tropes, themes, motifs, and structures of fantasy literature.

My work is very influenced by the idea of queerness as well, and explaining queer ideas about family, time, sexuality, relationships, bodies, and genders. Difference, and queer difference, is important and not shameful, and it needs to be spoken about and explored.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

There is a great quote in the film Shadowlands, in which a student of C. S. Lewis, the writer, states: “We read to know we are not alone.” I began writing to tell myself that I was not alone, and, as I have grown older, I began writing to tell others they are not alone too.

In college, when I began the process of understanding and examining my identity as a queer transman, I set out to find mythology and history about queer people and found pretty much . . . squat. There are some things, such as the Stonewall Riots, and the AIDs Crises of the 80’s in the US, but anything further back is incessantly questioned, interrogated, or outright dismissed, ignored, and erased by most historians and archaeologists.

So since there was no queer history or mythology offered to me — and therefore, no understanding of what my history was, and no way to place myself in the context of human history as a queer person — I decided to build my own.

I write what I write because I never want another young person to go to a university or public library and be faced with the disgusting paucity of sources related to queer people and history, and to feel the agony of understanding that you — people like you, who have lived and breathed and laughed and loved and fucked as long as we have been a species — have been willfully and erased from the records of human history and mythology, and kept from knowing their own history. That they have been taught shame and silence instead, and told they do not belong not only as contributors to their culture, but as fully realized human beings.

Writing is also my way of protesting and even “fixing” this, really, and it suits me quite well.

Thus, I use fantasy as a framework to start anew and present historical and mythical pasts in which queer people are front and center in creating and shaping their lives, their bodies, and their stories.

  1. How does your writing process work?

I begin, for the most part, with a shitty first draft. My shitty first draft is no more than stream of conscious word vomit that I write rather quickly, over a period of days if it’s a short story, or months if it is a longer work. I don’t worry about structure, plot, character arcs, sentence level grammar, anything really, except finishing that shitty first draft. The only purpose of this draft is to exist. It gets me excited about the story and teaches me things about the characters and the world of the story.

After I finish the shitty first draft, I put it aside for a period of time. For shorter projects, that could be a day. For longer projects, like my novel, I put it aside considerably longer (my novel needed to be put away for about nine months). I work on something else instead. The point is to get space and distance from the project, and to allow the ideas to ferment in the back of my mind.

When the time comes, and I have enough distance from my project, I pull it back out and read that shitty first draft. I might mark some things, like passages which were significant, or sentences I liked, recurring themes or images or symbols, or turning points for the characters. But I don’t correct grammar, and I don’t mark more than a few pages in a document.

Once I have done that, I pretty much scrap about 60 – 80 % of the first draft and start over.

In starting over, I have to glean what is useful and what the essence of the story is from that first draft.  I also have to decide what I wanted to accomplish with this story, and how to shape the story to better accomplish that in the second and subsequent drafts.

When I have decided that the story is about in a brief, one sentence statement, I then ask myself what the major or recurring themes are. I limit myself to two to three. These ideas help me shape and develop things like character arcs, which I move on to next. I ask: what do these people struggle with, and how do they change in the course of this book, and why?

Once I have the themes and the character arcs nailed down, I go back and restructure the story. I outline. I try to ask myself: what is the best structure for communicating the character arcs, and the themes, to my readers? What point of view will be most effective, and why? What narrative tense and why? Etc.

I also simplify, simplify. I simplify the character’s stories so that they make sense for the narrative, fit with the themes, and create more tension. But mostly I dump a lot of extraneous character backstory to streamline things.

After I have an overall outline of the project I can then get down to the business of rewriting the thing. For each chapter I do a little prewriting and a bullet point outline, ie, a list of scenes or things that need to be addressed in that chapter, but not in great detail.

This is my structural rewrite, meaning I get the overall structure of the story down. In subsequent rewrites I will be going through this current structural rewrite and fixing things in each chapter by category, such as: decluttering and simplifying prose, description, dialogue, character consistency, thematic and symbolic things, narrative tension, world building elements, etc.

And only after all that is done that I will “edit”, ie, work on sentence level rewriting and tweaking grammar, spelling, mechanics.

This has mostly been the process I’ve used for longer works, ie, my novel, but I use pretty much the same process for shorter works, just in a condensed time frame, or dropping some of the steps.

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Well, that’s my writing process. Thank you for stopping buy and reading :). Next up on our Writing Process Blog Tour, in alphabetical order:

Everett Maroon is a memoirist, pop culture commentator, and speculative fiction writer. He lives in Walla Walla, Washington with his partner and two children, one of whom really wants to get a dog. Everett tweets at @everettmaroon and blogs at transplantportation.com.

SJ Sindu is a writer and activist who focuses on traditionally silenced voices—the immigrant, the poor, the queer, the female-bodied, the non-Christian, the non-white. Sindu writes literary fiction, and dabbles in creative nonfiction and poetry.

Rose Yndigoyen is a writer and archivist from New York City. Her short fiction has been featured in T/OUR magazine and the anthology Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South. She is currently at work on her first YA novel, a queer, girly love story. Rose is totally obsessed with Pretty Little Liars and co-hosts the podcast Pretty Little Recaps. Rose lives with her wife in northern Manhattan; they are the proud foster parents of two awesome little girls.

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