First Drafting

On Saturday, I posted about zero drafting. Logically, the next thing to talk about would be the actual first drafting.

Conventional wisdom dictates that you write the first draft. It may seem odd to you that we have to even say that, but there are writers out there who don’t write. I doubt very much that they will ever be published writers if they don’t write, but you know these folks. I’m not sure what causes this disconnect of ideas to words on the page, but in my experience with students, the issue can be everything in the spectrum between procrastination and perfection. Anyway, if we want to write a book, we do have to write things down.

I know I can find all sorts of things to do to prevent myself from writing. In creative endeavor, it is often the case that we delay. A writer on limited time, like one of my students, or me, full-time job writer, has to make an effort to stop waxing the cat. I can fritter my writing time away, and there’s not necessarily a guarantee that I’ll have that time again.

One thing I suggest to my students, and that I do is make an appointment with my writing. I block off a certain amount of time to write and try to keep that sacred appointment. This has taken me from having no time to write to becoming a submitting author. Prioritize. You do have time to write. Maybe not every day. Maybe not as often as you want. The matter is far from hopeless if you plan and prioritize.

Many would be writers withdraw from the arena when they begin to examine the prose they write when they do finally get their fingers on the keys. Lots of my students edit their work too soon, and they comb over the introduction, or throw multiple pieces of paper away because they expect their words to shine gloriously on the page. It’s at this point we pull out the adage that there are no good writers, only good re-writers.

As a zero drafter, my work is often at several stages at one time. However, my goal is to get through a complete telling of the action of the plot. My goal is to get to the end of the story, no matter how ugly that story’s shape is in the first draft. A mistake many writers make is becoming too worried about the ugliness early on.

That first draft is not the time to become too critical. I do go back to the beginning and write forward several times as I progress toward that first draft, but only when I find the logical center no longer holds for my plot arc. Some writers find it more useful to make notes, such as “From here on out, Character X is a woman”. Whatever you do, expect the draft to be ugly, to have incongruity, to sound awful.

Make your peace with that. It’s okay. This is your time to play and let the magic happen.

On the other hand, how do you know when it’s time to abandon a project? If there’s no excitement or creative spark, maybe it’s not the best project for you. And if you’re not under a deadline, it’s possible. I’m not the best writer to talk about what you have to do if a book you’ve proposed isn’t sparking, and I’d love to hear what people suggest under those circumstances.

Let’s pretend, then, we have an ugly draft, full of error and maudlin sentences. Yay, us. We wrote a book, however ungainly it is. The important thing is not to stop here. Next stop, revision.


Planning: The Zero Draft

There is one great thing about this darned troll story–it has caused me to think about my writing process. I’m also teaching Composition One for the last time this summer, and that’s caused me to think about what I’m telling my students about composing. I’ve been getting really reflective.

One of the things I do that is useful to me is write a zero draft. These exploratory excursions into a story help me form my characters, plots, and settings. Many people do this planning as they outline and work on their characters. I find that I prefer the improv approach, at least initially.

What I’m interested in doing is seeing how characters interact and bounce off one another. I’m interested in their motivations and relationships. I am also interested in sketching settings and basic plot. I’ll write kaboodles of these words.

I’d say I throw 80 percent of this away at the beginning. Later, as I progress through the draft, I’ll throw away less and less.

Does this sound wasteful to you? If you’re quantifiable (like being certifiable, only with numbers), you may well think so. Why write words you don’t intend to keep, at least in some form?

The zero draft is my answer to the outline. I’m pretty sure that the ideas I form during the zero draft are the ones that form my real first draft of a scene, the one I’m going to keep. The first scene of the troll story was a batch of faeries stealing the princess away. The only piece of that that stayed was the main idea. Grant started life as a kid, rather than a teen. There was originally a father, rather than a sister, tracking the baby down. Quartz had a much larger role in the first two drafts.

The zero draft gives me ideas. I’ll find that I don’t like something, but even as I’m writing it, I’ll have the idea that I really want to use. I’ll write the new scene, the new first draft which wouldn’t have happened without the zero draft.

From the first scenes that feel right to me, I’ll begin to take some time to plan. The planning process, the minimal outlining I do also changes often as old scenes are replaced by better ideas.

At a given time during the writing of a novel, I will have zero draft scenes. Somewhere in my brain, ideas are being sifted, discarded, and created. I don’t think this is uncommon for writers.

The zero draft also makes me a shameless writer. I’ll write tons of horrible crap. From that fertilizer, I will grow something passable, a first draft. As I move through the revision of the first draft, we begin the zero draft process with new scenes.

It’s important for me to also get people to look at the crap. It’s not that I think the book is ready for prime time. I want to see if the ideas I like float with other people as well. It helps me make some sifting choices.

On the whole, then, I find the zero draft helpful to me. I understand Cherie Priest also writes a zero draft, although I don’t know if her zero draft is similar to mine.

Writing handbooks talk about the zero draft as a perfectly valid way to plan, right up there with clustering, outlining, and listing. How do you get yourself started? Have you identified your planning process yet? If you’ve yet to find a way of planning that works for you, you might give this one a try, especially if you have a high tolerance for ambiguity, and you don’t mind throwing some things away.


Birthday Thanks, Bits of This and That

Thank you all for the birthday wishes yesterday. I spent most of my birthday in meetings for the glory of the college, and every one of them ran late. Bryon took me out for dinner and dessert, and darned if that didn’t take some time too. And well, I won’t talk about afterwards, but yes, I didn’t have what you would call a productive day yesterday. It was a wonderful day nevertheless. It’s always a good day when you get roses.

Interesting birthday trivia. Even though we roomed together for a week at Viable Paradise, I did not know that Chia Evers and I shared June 10th as our birthday. That’s cool.

Today I’m waiting for Russian lessons, but something must have come up. Olga has a Russian friend who’s in the hospital with a serious affliction, and I could well imagine she’s translating somewhere. I have a meeting with the Iowa City dean and my dean about expanding ELA offerings down here, so I would have been here anyway. Yes, I know it’s Friday. That’s why I took a large chunk of Wednesday off to write.

And speaking of writing…O-Taga-San still needs clean up. I’ve gotten some great feedback, and I’ll get that in there. I received a yes to my query, so now I have to send in the story.

Early next week work will be killer, as we have some students coming for a summer program. I expect to have Wednesday afternoon, Thursday morning, and all of Friday to write, however. I’m in Kaz Mahoney‘s summer camp. This troll novel will be done by August. Enough is enough.

I’ll see you all again after my story is off.



I like the birthdays with fives and zeros. This particular birthday has the bonus of being divisible by 9, which happens only, say, every 9 years. 🙂

I also finished O-Taga-San last night. A little polishing, and it’ll be ready to go out.

I have to admit, I feel pretty good this birthday. My lost weight is making me feel more zippy, and writing always makes me feel less compressed.

How are you this fine June day?


Last Day of Wiscon

I’ve been working on a short story that someone has invited me to send for an anthology. The working title is Kitsune Girl, but it will probably end up being called O-Taga-San. This is kind of cool, using my familiarity with Japanese culture in a very different way. And it’s stretching me. The relationships in the story have thorns, much like they did in Sister Night, Sister Moon. However, I think the outcome of this story will be less tragic than the other.


The last day of Wiscon I had a good time lunching with Catherine Lundoff and her wife Jana. We had some good breakfast, and we talked about Catherine’s upcoming guest appearance at Akon, which went pretty well for her last weekend.

There was the sign out. Let me tell you, signing books is pretty cool. Caroline found us some great seats. Ellen Klages sat on the other side of Caroline, so it was a rollicking table.

Wiscon gives each author a bag of goodies and takes orders for munchies. It’s really something.

The most moving thing I saw all convention was when Lisa Cohen asked Caroline about when her new book was coming out. Lisa has had a very hard year. Caroline’s response was to give Lisa the copy of the book she had at the table, even though the book isn’t out yet (June 10th, folks!). Yup. I really am impressed by Caroline.

After the sign out, Ellen seduced Cassie, Dan, and Lisa with her iPad. I admit to getting pulled into that and all the Space Babe merchandise after checking out the Rothfuss baby. Cassie, Dan, Lisa, and I had lunch, and then I went back to Iowa with the other two musketeers.

A good time was had by all, and I look forward to making the pilgrimage again next year.

I may be a bit sparse for a bit. Interviews are heating up at work, and I need to get some writing done. Of course, just as soon as I say that, I’ll figure out something I need to tell you about.


More Readings: Sunday

Urgh. I enjoyed the Aqueduct Reading Sunday morning, although I am sure I looked like Victorian zombie (actually, any era zombie.) Before the reading, I had breakfast with Kathryn Sullivan.

At Aqueduct, great readings. Suzy Charnas read from Dorothea Dreams. Eleanor Arnasson read from Tomb of the Fathers. Andrea Hairston read from her upcoming Redwood and Wildfire. Nisi Shawl read a Michael Jackson and voodoo story. Claire Light read from Slightly Behind and to the Left. While I’m not certain what Timmie Duchamp read from, it was horrifying and involved whole sale reproductive organ removal.

That was a pretty feminist and literary morning. I stumbled out, sleepy, but thoughtful, and grabbed lunch at a wonderful Tibetan place while reading some more of Pierre Pevel’s translated The Cardinal’s Blades. I was desperate for some introvert time, and it worked out nicely–delicious food and a good book. I came back to the con, looking for more books and more trouble.

And I found it! I went to, you guessed it, a reading! This time the theme was YA, and we were back at the Inn at the Park. This was a very different kind of reading from the previous one–intellectual feminist with a dark twist versus an intriguing variety of YA and MG well-crafted work. We started with Sarah Prineas reading from Magic Thief: Found. Jenn Reese read from Above World. Greg Van Eekhout shared some Kid vs Squid. For her first time reading, Rae Carson rocked the house with a terrific historical piece. And, God help me, I can’t remember the name of the Australian writer who read the fantastic piece about the girl who discovered her dead brother. Any help you can render would be greatly appreciated…

Nnedi Okorafor read from Who Fears Death that afternoon, and I left thinking even more deep and broody thoughts.

I bought some more books. Dan, Lisa, and I had some dinner. We went to the dessert salon. Some guest of honor speeches. Some Tiptree awards. The best line of the evening: “I did everything James Joyce did, except backwards and in high heels” from Greer Gillman, one of the Tiptree winners. .

There were then some parties. I spent most of my night hanging out with the Canadians, very low key and tired at this point in the con.

One more day, and it’s a wrap.


The Con of Many Readings: Saturday

The previous occupant of our room left the alarm set for 5:30 am. As the alarm went off, I reassured Lisa it wasn’t me as I scrambled for the alarm in a sleepy stupor, and after a few comments we went back to sleep until, for me, about 6:30. Off to the exercise room for a conversation with some other college teachers about our glamorous job. Andrea Hairston was one of them, so I reminded her that a friend and I were really looking forward to Redwood and Wildfire, and she let me know that it would be available through Aqueduct next year. That was a good thing.

After a quick shower, I threw what we needed for our reading into a bag, and I headed out to the farmer’s market. I had breakfast, and then bought cookies and honey sticks for our reading over at the Inn at the Park.

Keyan story snippet featured a valley girl selkie, Carolyn read a piece from her new book Magic Below Stairs, and I read a snippet from Hulk Hercules. Kater Cheek, however, had the best piece of the day. She read this wonderful piece of a young adult novella that was spot on perfect voice with parents and kids, and even mind-controlling hamsters. If there is a god of publishing, we’ll be seeing that one out there soon.

The reading went well. Carolyn and I went off to lunch with Dakiwiboid (whose actual name I’m not using, because I’m noticing she doesn’t use it on her site, so we try to be sensitive to things like that) and her friend. After that, full of vegetables, I headed back to the hotel.

Continue reading “The Con of Many Readings: Saturday”

More Wiscon, Less Retrospection–Friday

This has been one crazy week. Every time I turn around, there is some life or work task that is keeping me from doing about anything. I’ve been asked to submit a story to an anthology (nothing definite, just an invite), the deadline is the 15th, and I really need to find some time to sit down and write it, so I can get some critiques before I send it out. I’m full of ideas and beans. I just need to see which idea works itself out on paper.


Last Friday, my good friends Dan and Lisa and I went to Wiscon. Even though I am now a writer seeking fame and fortune, that certainly hasn’t always been the case. I used to be a frustrated wanna-be writer, and/or an SF/F fan and academic, and the three of us have made this annual pilgrimage for a long time. Friendship is one of the most important reasons to undertake this experience. Now I have the added bonus of meeting up with other writers as well.

We three got in around 12 pm. We ran into Lisa Cohen for lunch. Lisa was crazy, deciding that she was going to be at Wiscon Friday, drive home Saturday for a couple of Shape Note concerts, and drive back Sunday night. She did follow through with her crazy plan. I met Lisa through Dan and my Lisa last year, and have gotten to know her better on LiveJournal, and was very happy to enjoy her special (and occasionally spicy) sense of humor. Because we were destined to see each other about 22,000 more times that day, we said goodbye after goodbye after goodbye.

I spent a good chunk of my afternoon lunch time visiting A Room of One’s Own, a Madison book store. It’s a great indy place full of wonderful titles. They were kind enough to sell my book in the dealer’s room. Sonya Shannon, Cats Curious Editor, was kind enough to set that up.

Then, I hung posters for our Saturday reading, and socialized around the gathering. Dan and Lisa introduced me to their friend Sumana. I ran into one of my favorite people, Caroline Stevermer, who impresses me more every time I talk to her. Oh yeah, she’s also one of the finest writers I know. Kater Cheek and I caught up through a brief hello and confirmed our reading stuff, and I met Keyan Bowes, our fourth reader, and her friend Julie Andrews, one of their Clarion classmates. No, I did *not* make any of the obvious jokes.

Other features of interest at the Gathering: Margaret Ronald and Suzy Charnas reading tarot. I indulged last year, but it felt good seeing them in action.

Caroline introduced me to David Levine. We talked a little writing. Lisa Cohen was talking to Pamela Dean, and as a result, I had a nice conversation with her as well. I ran into local writer fledgling Shannon Ryan. It was his first Wiscon, so we kept checking in to make sure he was doing okay. Saw Evelyn with whom I went to grad school, another linguist turned writer. Had a nice conversation with Mary Ann Mohanraj about teaching community college. That’s the highlights from the Gathering.

I’ll cut here because we’re getting unwieldy. More Friday hijinx and name dropping below.

Continue reading “More Wiscon, Less Retrospection–Friday”

Serious Wiscon

There will be two Wiscon posts this year, and rather than doing them chronologically, I’m going to do them thematically. This year, I felt very much like two people at Wiscon. First-time author Cath, who flitted around socially and went to readings gets the frivolous Wiscon post. Deep-thinking Cath who went to readings that she couldn’t fit a square peg in, well, she’s writing today.

One of the things that this Wiscon had going for it was that there were some fairly serious guests. Both Mary Anne Mohanraj and Nnedi Okorafor write books that no one else can write, given who they are and where they sit culturally.

I was particularly affected by Nnedi’s readings from Who Fears Death. Nnedi told us the book is about what’s happening in the Sudan right now. It also pulls in biographical experience, and is in part about the death of her father. It will be a book that matters. My innate professor sense tells me that it could be a book that transcends genre. It was a book that was emotionally wrenching to write, and she did not back away from that.

There were other authors that stepped right up to the plate, and wrote books that perhaps only they could have written–that spoke uniquely to who they were in space and time.

Continue reading “Serious Wiscon”


Card Captor Sakura fans may recognize the magical command in the subject line.

I should have written this yesterday, because yesterday was the official release day of Hulk Hercules!

But my day job had other ideas, so it’s the post-official release day of Hulk Hercules.

You could celebrate by…either cleaning out the royal stables, or buying the book. Both, if you have that kind of fancy.