Category Archives: the silver thorn

“Slightly” and Other Topics

The power I feel when I pick up a pen is incomparable. The simplicity of pen and ink has brought nations to heel and toppled kings. Words have power.

When I pick up a pen to write, for a moment I feel connected to that power. Sometimes when I go back to revise, I think that power blew a fuse.

In the writing of my second draft, I have come across several little foibles and idiosyncrasies that befell my vomit draft. I suppose that’s why it’s called a vomit draft. (Technical term.) One of the most far-reaching and intrepid of these is the adverb. To be specific, the word “slightly.”

I’m not sure why that particular word has been so insidious in my story. And yet there it is, hiding behind compound verbs and sneaking around in front of adjectives. As I rewrite, I’m hacking at them with a scythe every time they crop up.

“Aaaaah!” My brain screeches every time a new one appears. “Go away! You’re not welcome in the second draft!”

It’s like weevils in multigrain bread. You might think it looks fine and dandy until you get an unwelcome crunch that wormed its way into your food. So here I am, picking out the “slightly” weevils and filled with dismay.

In spite of the small army of obnoxious adverbs peppering my vomit draft, most of it still does what it’s supposed to. That pen channeled whatever force it uses into building a world.

Most of the time when I pick up a pen, I’m not vying for world domination. I’m striving to forge a connection. I’m trying to send sweeping tendrils of creeping words into someone’s psyche, searching until they kindle that spark that makes fingers turn pages into the wee hours of the morning.

I want to take my characters from the bare bones of basic structure and add sinew, muscle, layers of fat, and skin. Flesh and blood and beating heart. I want to tie them with bonds of paper and  ink to readers hearts so that when my paper-crafted people laugh, readers laugh. When the characters hurt, readers feel it. So readers can feel that my ink flows through the veins of my characters, pumped by their paper hearts.

That is the power of pen and ink. Halfway done with my second draft, I can feel it crackling. It’s up to my little network of readers to help me make it sizzle.

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An Ode to Revision

I spent a long time dreading the task of revising my novel.  I think every writer has at some point dreamed of creating a flawless first draft that will liberate her from criticism and have a Pulitzer waiting as she types the final keystrokes (or scrawls the final words with aplomb).

No one really likes criticism. It never feels good for someone to point out flaws, even if they’re being constructive about it. In all the writing groups I’ve been to thus far, there has been this structure of “point out something you like so you can say what you don’t like.” I don’t think I’m alone when I say that after a while of living in that structure, the compliments all start to ring a wee bit hollow. The old ego can really take a bashing when people start digging through your words, picking some out, and tackling others with sledgehammers.

All that said, I’m fixing to add a big however.

However.

(There it is.)

Criticism is how we grow. Even if it’s put rather unkindly, the meat of what’s there could make you a better writer. I have a huge issue using the word “stare.” Why, I don’t know. So-and-so stared at other-character. A stared at B. Asswipe and Poo stared at each other. I also struggle with passive voice and that wormy little creature, the adverb. Sometimes I’m oblivious to my quirks as a storyteller, and I need someone to just say, “Dude. Knock it off with the staring contests already.” Or, “FIND A MORE DYNAMIC VERB!”

If you want to be published, you need all sorts of readers. You need the Parental Figure. They’re the one who loves whatever you wrote simply because you wrote it, and you’re the obvious choice for Best Writer Ever because you are you. They’re the ones in your corner, picking you up when someone bloodies your nose or knocks you out, telling you to get your ass back out there and write. You also need the Eagle Eye, who will go through your work with a fine-toothed comb and circle all your comma splices and thoughtless typos with a fat red pen. You need the Arrogant Richard. That’s the guy or gal who knows better than any Nobel Prize winner what makes good writing. The one who will tell you what sucks and why. Who won’t pull a single punch because they are so damned sure they know better than you do. And you need the First Fanbase — they might be the most important of all, because they read it, get to know it, tell you what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately will tell their friends to buy it off the shelves.

You also need yourself. Stephen King likes to put his manuscripts away for weeks or months after he finishes them, then goes back to read them with fresh eyes. It works. It’s shocking how it can make you exclaim, “Oh my god! I wrote that!” or “Oh. My. God. I…wrote……………that?”

The point of all of this is that revision is a great way to find out what your skill set needs as a writer, whether that’s a crash course in plot or pacing or a return to constructive dialogue and exposition. Let’s face it: that perfect first draft is the writer’s version of finding a winning lottery ticket in a gutter. Part of what makes writers great is the ability to push themselves to make their work better all the time.

So get your vomit drafts. Read them. Revise them, and love what you’re doing.

(Sidenote: I am now 180 pages into the first rewrite of Primeval. And loving it all over again.)

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