In today’s edition of the Mirage Weekly Newsletter, I discuss our progress preparing for next year’s convention appearances, yet another funeral, and a lay of love that has stood the test of time.
First drafts suck and there are no exceptions. I’ve read that these days Stephen King pens only a single draft that is edited a couple of times before it hits the printers. While I do not believe the validity of this statement, even if it is true, I would never endorse such wayward behaviour. Remember, Stephen King has written over 200 stories, and even if his process has grown lax of late, more than a couple of them still suck. I wonder how long he spent on Lisey’s Story? I bet it wasn’t long.
I believe a first draft is something altogether terrifying, mystic, and beautiful beyond on any spectrum. It is an opportunity for a writer to go nuts; to weave convoluted metaphors that would never go to print; to act a bit careless with colourful dialogue; to experiment with character actions and motivations; to do things an editor would likely frown upon, without any repercussion. And if something doesn’t work? Who gives a fuck? It’s a first draft, just keep on writing until it all comes together! It’s also really the only time you have an excuse to say “I’ll fix it later” without sounding lackadaisical. How awesome is that?
Some might even argue that this doesn’t classify as a draft, and I’d probably agree. “Proto-draft” might be more appropriate, yet my point still stands. It sucks.
The idea is great, and the thematic elements perfectly align with the final product. Some of the prose is even preserved, such as an overview of Ralph’s prodigious delivery history, yet does this proto-draft have any business in a published medium? While the story and a few ancillary details remain the same, virtually nothing about the final execution matches the initial messy scrawl. And there is a reason for this.
One of the details that is noticeably lacking from the proto-draft is the model of Ralph’s truck. In Prime Mover it is a Kenworth, yet the proto-draft boasts nothing more than a lonely, empty line where the name of the model should be. I find this poignant. Why the line? Why not simply name any model of truck? Even if it isn’t a great choice, surely it can be changed later?
True. It can be changed later, and that isn’t the problem. When I was pumping out the proto-draft, I had a salient image in my head of Ralph’s truck. Something tall and proud, almost like an effigy of sorts. I always wanted the truck to be a character onto itself—which is even more evident in the intermediary drafts—and while I knew exactly what she embodied, I couldn’t immediately verbalise those thoughts, not to the extent of jotting down the name of a model. I left a vacant space there because I didn’t want to waste time flicking through my mental index of trucks until I found the right one, or even more calamitously, wasting time on the internet, browsing for pitch-perfect solutions. If I’d stopped to figure out the finer details at such an early stage, I probably never would have finished.
It’s a great allegory for any draft: It doesn’t matter if it sucks—it doesn’t matter if elements are lacking or even missing—the only thing that does matter is getting it done. An empty canvas is nothing but a lack of content and a deficit of tangible ideas. As long as there’s something there, no matter how bare, it can be moulded into something magnificent.
There’s no limit on how many drafts it takes to produce something worthwhile, which means you have all the time in the world to fix the failings of early attempts. If you sit there and wait for perfection, however, it will never come. Don’t obsess over minute details, they can be patched in later. Just write. That’s all it takes.
Stayed tuned—I really don’t know if that metaphor applies anymore, but you know what I mean—for the third entry in Scrawling a Short Story! It won’t be as big of a gap this time, I promise. Things are finally on track over here, and you should be seeing a lot more content over the coming weeks and months. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.
Happy reading, happy writing, happy life,
If there’s only one question I see more than “How do I write?” it is: “How do I keep writing?” I would like to preface this blog by saying I do not possess the definitive answer to this question, because there is no answer. Every writer will have a different experience, and no amount of goodwill preaching can crack the quantum code. Don’t listen to those overly-charismatic e-commercials that promise to make you the next Stephen King with This One Simple Trick! Writing has always been a journey of discovery, and if you press forward long enough, in the end you’ll find something magical. My only hard advice is to keep writing, no matter how hard it might seem, and do not be thwarted by a lack of immediate success: a small success should still be seen as a success.
With that being said, today I’m going to introduce the first in a series of blogs where I intend to detail the process of writing my latest short story, Prime Mover. From its initial conception, to the drafting process, to finally publishing it on a very poignant day, it is my intention to offer some insight into the life-cycle of a short story. This is not a How To Guide or a Writing Short Stories For Dummies book. Remember, if you want to write, then write. Nothing I say is going to make you want to pick up your pen. This blog series is more of an exposé; a chronicle of the process, which is more educational than instructional. At the very least, there will be a few cool tidbits along the way, so I hope you’ll join me.
If you haven’t read Prime Mover, I won’t spoil too much. It’s not mandatory—this isn’t Short Stories 101, there are no textbooks, nor a final exam—but I encourage you to give it a read just the same. If you email me and cite this blog, I’ll happily send you a complimentary copy. How’s that for a good deal?
For those of you who have read Prime Mover, you’ll know that it begins as a relatively grounded story, and becomes more and more incongruous as the narrative progresses. This is a great metaphor for the writing process, which always has humble beginnings before it pirouettes out of control and becomes nothing like you originally conceived. All of the best stories grow organically. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan ahead, but you should always allow the characters and events to come alive and sway your hand, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
The following picture is the hand-written first page of Prime Mover:
And the back of the page for proof:
For those of you who don’t know, for my day job—which is actually done at night—I work as the manager of a small logistics company, delivering newspapers. The first embodiment of Prime Mover was scrawled on the morning of Wednesday, 11th February, 2015, on the back of the previous day’s invoice for my Daily Telegraph delivery pallet. I can’t exactly say why inspiration struck at that particular time, except that I had nothing else to do. This is by no means my normal modus operandi. I usually do my best thinking when I pace around my office, but for some reason, my inner-voice spoke to me that morning.
I’ll transcribe the page for those who can’t read my hasty penmanship:
Ralph Mortimer had clocked over 1.5 Million kilometres in his ________ truck, and she sailed the bitumen roads as if she was only a week off the lot. Nineteen years it had been. Nineteen years of pallet-drops, poultry, pig faces, newspapers—not for a good decade now though. He was one of the many blood cells of the Australian body, zipping to and fro along the spiderweb highways, hauling the weight of worlds for petty cash.
He picked up his last load on November 19th, at 2:16 from Chullora, and by the 6 o’clock news that night all of Australia knew his name.
Compare this to the opening paragraphs of the published version of Prime Mover:
In thirteen years, Ralph Mortimer had clocked over more than one million kilometres in his Kenworth prime mover. She was a twin-stack, blood-red, 15-tonne mistress, and he had spent more nights with her than his own wife.
Ralph had carted everything from company cargo; to live poultry; newspapers; furniture; even pallets stacked with pig faces and festering with maggots, due to be churned into gelatin and stuffed into roadside pies. He operated as an independent contractor, so when his services were required, he offered them without query or complaint. He was half-convinced the trailer he’d picked up from Wilcannia some years ago had been brimming with marijuana—the sweet aroma far too reminiscent of his misspent youth—but he hadn’t asked any questions, and his eventual fee had been handsome. So long as Ralph was paid his dues, he didn’t really care. Not too much.
Of course, there was the all-too-frequent bastard who cheated him out of more than a few bucks, and once in a while the man (or woman) he was working for would vanish, never to be heard from again. He had lost thousands in his time on the road, and there was shit all he could do about it. It was just the nature of the beast. You took the good with the bad, the bad with the ugly, then you got on with the job. That was all there was to it.
It’s amazing what two years and a dozen drafts can do, eh? As you can see though, while there are a lot of notable differences, the core of the narrative is still the same. I’ve taken the brief bouts of exposition from the first draft and expounded upon them, giving depth and character to Ralph’s experiences.
I have a lot more to say about the changes therein, but I’ll save them for another blog, as they’re quite extensive and definitely warrant a more thorough examination than I can offer now.
I hope you enjoyed the first entry in Scrawling a Short Story! It’s great to be able to share this experience with you, and if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.
Happy reading, happy writing, happy life,
I was doing my rounds of the internet earlier today—investigating a few writing forums, clicking through a couple of resources, employing an iota of effort to network—when I stumbled upon what claimed to be a resource for burgeoning writers. Great! I thought. There can never be too many resources to help nurture growing talents and tighten the bonds between those with common interests. Let’s face it, writing is a solitary art. Sometimes you just need someone to give you a good piece of advice; a positive word to motivate you to the next chapter; a little something to let you know that all this time and effort you’re expending isn’t in vain.
Alas, while this particular website—which I won’t link to—might have once provided some fertile soil and a little bit of love and care to budding plants and blooming flowers, it seems to have devolved into a cesspit of negativity, where virulent weeds and cutthroat briars strangle the life out of any spot of greenery. Essentially, instead of offering some heartfelt advice and respectful writing tips, the regular prowlers of this website opt for an all-too-common attitude of accentuating the negative, forgoing all the worthwhile traits of a talented beta reader in favour of under-the-belt punches to make themselves appear superior. From nitpicking petty grammar mistakes, such as a misplaced comma, to belittling a young writer for having the audacity to not proofread their draft, not one piece of criticism on the website was worthwhile or warranted. It was all quite violent to be honest, and unforgivably hostile.
When selecting a beta reader, no matter how far along the writing process you are, even if you’re picking up a pen for the first time since Creative Writing in Year 8, you need to find someone who is objective, yet carries a degree of benevolence. Unfortunately, the internet is swarming with (what I call) pseudo-grammarians, who have no credentials to their name, yet hand out criticism like a card dealer at a casino. They think they’re providing a service by pointing out an absent apostrophe, but at the end of the day, they lack the finer skills to offer any kind of guidance, and only exist to boost their own digital ego.
There are five core components to any successful novel: Characters, Worldbuilding, Story, Style, Execution. It is learning these core components, and learning them well, that is the hard task. Grammar and punctuation do not matter, at least in the beginning—they come with time, providing you read and write as much as possible. No new writer needs to be lectured about a spliced comma, most definitely in the drafting stage of a tentative book. It’s insulting. Editors exist for a reason, because even experienced writers aren’t infallible. Funny that, eh?
I wrote this blog not so much to disdain this particular website, but to offer a word of warning: Choose your friends wisely, and employ even tighter parameters for your beta readers. I can’t help but pity the fresh writers who offer up their work for criticism, expecting an intelligent, well-formed response, only to have their legs torn off before they even learn how to walk. I only hope they can take a little inspiration from the adorable axolotl and learn to regrow those limbs.
Before the turn of the Century, independent authors—more colloquially known as self-published authors—were near-universally regarded as amateurs. There was little pride in pronouncing yourself as an unsolicited author without any professional representation, such as an agent, a business manager, or a publisher. Times are changing, however. The 21st Century has seen a digital renaissance, and the analogue world has passed intro obscurity. This new wave of technology has allowed authors and readers alike to break free from the unitary mould that has prevailed for a hundred years. There are still rules to learn and customs to uphold, but they are easier than ever to learn, and with a little bit of research and creative ingenuity, the time is ripe for independent publishing to stand as a respected entity.
For independent publishing to succeed, the model of distribution must be malleable to the expectations of the modern reading audience. There is a high degree of presumption for content to be complimentary on the internet. Whether content is consumed through proper channel or via illicit means, the reading audience—as well as all consumers in general—are for more easily swayed toward digital content if it doesn’t rely on an immediate monetary commitment.
Independent authors must subscribe to the new model if they hope to survive and thrive in a digital world of infinite possibilities. By offering complimentary content, they are establishing a pretence of respecting their reading audience and they also widen the scope of their potential readership. It is then the prerogative of the independent author to offer a means of donation, via equitable services like PayPal or Patreon, for willing readers who wish to give some monetary support.
A clever way to benefit readers who offer a donation is by offering exclusive auxiliary content that enhances the reading experience. Some tact must be implemented with any additional content to ensure it is not offered at the expense of the free audience. Independent authors cannot offer a freemium service where revelatory chapters are locked behind a paywall, as this only serves to frustrate and alienate the audience. Additional content must be entertaining and worthwhile, but it is imperative that it always remains auxiliary.
It must be understood by all creative artists—especially those who stand independently against the tide—that the model of consumption has changed, and rather than aggressively rallying against any kind of metamorphosis, it is the duty of each and every artist to adapt. Consumers all across the world do not want to pay for content, and while this attitude might seem pretentious at first, we as artists must understand the ideology behind it. The world is inundated by entertainment, and most of it is mediocre, yet the consumer is still paying for it. If the modern consumer disdains parting with their hard-earned funds for solicited content that, by every right, should maintain a sense of value, how can we expect them to be favourable toward the independent market? It is by eliminating the expectation for remissions that independent artist might earn the right to be respected, and eventually compensated, by the consumer.
An independent author’s duty to their reading audience does not cease with easily-accessible content, however, no matter how salivating the concept might initially appear. The independent author must provide a ubiquitous experience that never draws the reader’s attention to the copyright page so they might scoff at the publisher who thought this was a veritable narrative. The publication must possess a professional facade, including, but not limited to:
- A low proportion of proofreading and copyediting errors.
- An attractive cover art that maintains a degree of finesse.
- An engaging narrative with entertaining characters.
With due diligence, plenty of rewrites, some varying advice from family and friends, and some dedicated self-education in proper syntax, independent authors can hope to forge a publication that is seamlessly integrated into the literary world.
Currently, there is too much disparity between the independent and professional industry, and it is the sole duty of independent authors to bridge the gap by being cognisant of their abilities. If you understand literature, then you will know in your heart and mind when you are ready to unleash your writing upon the world. The age of information provides an accessible toolset for any burgeoning author to understand the finer details of the publishing world and earn a professional tenor. It takes a long time to learn how to write well, but with perseverance and a lot of trial and error, the stigma of the egregious world of self-publishing can finally be lifted.
Independent authors must cast away the notion of earning thousands of dollars, immediately quitting their day job, and becoming a household name. Any artist worth their weight in gold knows that true art is about passion, and if you want to make a million dollars, you should consider becoming an entrepreneur instead. Everything discussed in this article is about establishing a self-sustaining system, one where the writer trusts the reader and where the reader trusts the writer. The best-written books might not generate a lot of income, but the audience will have a far better experience. Remember, a small success should still be seen as a success. A constant and faithful audience is built upon trust, and once that relationship is solidified, an author no longer needs an exorbitant marketing machine in order to sell their words. So long as the independent author endeavours to provide their audience with something worthwhile, then the author can hope to have a future.