Bandit Girls second draft complete

tesarajalanaThe second draft of Bandit Girls is now complete. One more pass — or half-pass — should do it before I send it to my beta readers.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

I learn something with every book I write and this one is no different. In this case, I have a better understanding of what I want each part of the book to do. Every scene has to have multiple purposes; it must advance the plot and our understanding the characters and the world in which they live. While this may appear formulaic, the point is that it’s not about me and what I want; it’s about what will engage the reader and pull them through to the end.

Writing the ending

I’ve often said that I usually know the ending of my books about two-thirds of the way in. In several books I’ve written the ending, and then gone back and written toward it. Bandit Girls was a little different; I didn’t write the ending in advance, but I knew where it had to end up. And lo, although at that point I was writing organically, it all came together with a great satisfying conclusion.

Outlining vs. Pantsing

I am beginning to see the virtues of outlining. I’m not saying that I will do a formal outline for my next book (although I’m leaning that way), but with the minimalist outline that I did for BG, I could see where it kept me going on the right path instead of allowing the story to deviate from where it should go. The proof is in the pudding, or rather the cut file; it’s probably my smallest cut file to date. Note to aspiring writers; save everything you cut from your working draft in a cut file. It’s not a question of if you will need it, but when. A small cut file means that these deviations are fewer, saving time, and making the first draft go more smoothly. As a former died-in-the-wool pantser, that’s the kind of improvement I can get behind.

Does an outline make a work less imaginative? I used to think that, but talking with friends who are staunch outliners, and reading their manuscripts, I have changed my opinion on that. Their work is wonderfully inventive.

Writing The End

The two most important words a novelist — especially an aspiring novelist — can write are: The End. It signals a project completed and a commitment kept. You learn more from completing a novel that doesn’t work very well (note: there are no “bad” novels, just novels that don’t work very well) than from dozens of fabulous novel starts. Remember that, even when the middle-of-the-book-suck has you in its merciless grip.

But when it comes right down to it, The End is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of the editing process, the redrafting, the polishing, and possibly, the publication process. No matter how many novels you write, The End is a mighty accomplishment. Embrace it! I do.


Cons and writing workshops

Writing is solitary; workshopping is collaborative
Writing is solitary; workshopping is collaborative

The summer convention season is in full swing, and I will be appearing at two cons — ApolloCon in Houston and ArmadilloCon in Austin. I will post my schedules as soon as I know them.

I’m running the ApolloCon writers workshop and teaching at the ArmadilloCon workshop (run by the able Stina Leicht). This translates into a lot of critiquing in addition to my usual writers group critiques and so space and time to write my own words is at more than a usual premium. I am not complaining. Workshops are difficult but they are so worthwhile. If you are an aspiring writer or someone who makes time to write as part of your day, consider workshops. It may be difficult to put your work out there before your peers and pros, but the feedback is invaluable.

Writing is solitary; workshopping is collaborative. I learn a lot from reading other people’s work and having them read mine.

This year, I’m trying something new with the ApolloCon workshop. I set it up as a master class, although it was open to anyone. My focus is on getting work ready for publication. I specifically asked for only short stories or the first chapter of a novel, which is exactly what a pro editor would be looking at. I specified that work should be as polished and professional as possible. There are six students, so the class is a good size — we won’t have an overload of manuscripts so we can give everyone’s work some serious attention.

Ideally everyone will come out of the workshop with a plan of attack for making their work as submission ready as possible. Even more ideally, workshoppers will feel energized and excited about creative possibilities rather than feeling like they got a drubbing.

If you missed the deadline for the ApolloCon workshop, there’s still time to sign up for ArmadilloCon.

Zach Gilford should win an Emmy for Friday Night Lights

Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen, Friday Night Lights
Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen, Friday Night Lights

Zach Gilford put in a tour-de-force performance in last week’s Friday Night Lights. He is the most underrated actor in the series and this episode gave him the chance to shine. Two scenesĀ  showcased his talent — the dinner scene conversation in which he completely breaks down, and the eulogy he gives about his father, and the one, single, thin little story he has to tell about a man who abandoned him years before. The anecdote he tells is embarrassing in its inadequacy, and all the more poignant for that.

I’ve said it before about the writing on this show — it’s smart, emotionally grounded, compelling. For a series about high school football, it sure has a lot to do with relationships, families, pride, loss, love. Sure, sometimes there is inexplicable melodrama, but the genius is in the little touches. I learn something new about story telling with every episode.

Man, I love this show.