Tag Archives: writing techniques

Questions Answered About My Writing

Cooper Lee Bombardier tagged me in some author chain mail thing, and normally I’d avoid a meme but first, he’s a really nice fella, and second, it’s about writing, so heck, I could bloviate about that all day. Here are my answers to four questions he posed:

1)     What are you working on?
I’ve got several projects right now; in all honestly, probably too many. But here they are—a novel about four different gender non-conforming people from different eras in the United States, who by chance come together to build a high school for queer and trans youth. I’m trying to look at LGBT generationality, invisible history, the fracture lines across our communities, as well as more general themes of redemption, struggle, the fallibility of memory, and what indebtedness we have to each other.
I’m also in the middle of revisions to my followup memoir, Bumbling into Baby, which as it sounds, is about Susanne and my attempts to start a family. It’s told in the same tone as Bumbling into Body Hair, so it’s a humorous story, even as it makes some criticisms of the medical system, reproductive politics, and ideas about family.
And then I’m working on a non-genre short story about a trans man with Alzheimer’s who forgets he’s trans. This is a story I’ve wanted to work on for a long time, and I’m writing it in reverse chronology (apologies to Chip Delany, who loathes structures like this). I’m not sure which market will work for it, but right now I’m just focused on the story and the writing.

Read More…

What We Talk About When We Talk About Revisions

Editors signNational Novel Writing Month is upon us, and whether or not we’re keeping up with our word count, we probably keep hearing the advice to put all edits aside and just lay down the first draft. This is good advice, because 50,000 words is impossible to achieve if the writer is focusing on perfecting the first 2,500. And yet people may not know what we mean by revisions or edits. How will we know when to start editing? More importantly, how will we know when to stop?

The answer to the first question is relatively easy–when the first draft (what I like to call “pass through”) is done. And by “done,” I mean every scene that needs to be in the document is written. I point out the scene inclusion because when I’m writing my first draft I often put in place holders like this:

<<STORMY goes to ALLISON’S house, steals her car>>

So when those are all filled in I mark it as ready for editing. Revisions begin as soon as I’m ready, in the next minute, a few hours later, or after a break if I think I need one. Generally I jump right back in after a coffee, because I’m not fond of getting back up to speed on a book; I’d rather stay swimming in the characters, storyline, and themes. Before edits can begin though, I need to think about what my goals are for the second through twentieth pass throughs. Yes, twentieth. Revisions are the real work of writing, as the first draft is the feel good phase. This is the heavy lifting, but look at it this way: you spent this much time building up momentum, you can’t let the project crash and burn now.

At least that’s what I tell myself. Read More…

What Would Ev Do?

Dear Abby photoA writer friend of mine sent a question to me, suggesting I should have a column. So let’s pretend I have an advice column for writers. Feel free to add your own advice in the comments! Here’s our exchange:

Dear Ev–
I’ve been working on a science fiction novel for most of the summer, having fun and seeing where it goes. I’ve got about 20k words, two fleshed-out protagonists, and an endpoint in mind. My usual approach to writing is to just plow ahead and get it done, then go back and revise for plot consistency, etc. But! I recently had a realization about the plot that will completely change what I’ve already written and will change how I proceed. Should I go back and change it now and risk getting caught up in endless polishing ruts? Or make a plot outline that reflects how I will re-shape the plot in the second draft and push forward? I’m leaning towards the latter.
Thanks a bunch!
Rachel

New Writing on an Old Story

story time for 3-5 year oldsLet’s say you stepped away from a project for a while–anywhere from 2 months to a year, or thereabouts–and now you’re ready to dive back in. How do you do it? It’s an intimidating prospect. The names of the characters are fuzzy, or you can’t remember which was the daughter of the failed violinist, and which has the secret dream of finding her long-lost brother. Or you’re ready to deal with and extend the main story arc, but there are two subplots that annoy you. It could be that you’re no longer in the head space to continue the original tone of the piece for that matter, but whatever the issue, the story is haunting you enough that you’re ready to sit back down and give it another chance. If the pressures of real life have made you step away and you love each and every inch of the manuscript, it’s still cumbers0me to get back into the groove. Here are some of the things I do to re-start the engine on a languishing project: Read More…

LGBT Themes and Science Fiction: Fast Friends

This post originally appeared over at GayYA.org.

from the Hubble space telescopeI write speculative fiction, usually somewhere between soft science fiction and magical realism, and often, though not exclusively, with LGBT themes and characters. I suppose I could write more mainstream stories, but I like to twist things up and mess with the universe, and besides, I’m a genre geek. I swear this is less from a God complex perspective, and more about playfulness and political intent. Metaphors for transition, coming out, family acceptance, and the like can replace a description of the real thing, and in so doing, open up some space away from angst so more time can be spent appreciating some of the other aspects of these moments.Personally, I’m over angst, having racked up enough of those moments through two whole puberties! But as a writer for young adult and crossover audiences, I’m invested in finding ways to depict all of that cortisol-inducing stress, especially as it relates to LGBT themes. So I opt to find a different geography, a reinvention of time, nifty gadgets and alien species to push, instead of resolve, tension. Read More…

My Goals as a Trans Writer

This post originally appeared over on GayYA.org, a great place to talk about all things LGBTQ in young adult literature.

Like many writers I know, I took a meandering path to this writing profession, starting out confident and then dedicating a long decade in quicksand—I think it’s called self-doubt—after which I think I found myself in the center of the earth, and let me just say, it’s hotter than I thought it would be down there. During this long break I suppose I opted to have a sex change, and then I realized that I needed to write about my transition. I didn’t want to relate a tale of anguish and grief. Instead, I focused on the ludicrous situations that popped up as I navigated through gender roles, gathered information on doctors, civil courts, and resources, and klutzed into whatever manhood I now find myself. Where I have ended up as a writer is not where I estimated I’d find myself, but I understand now that all of my wanderlust has made me a much better storyteller. And along the way, I’ve identified my audience in young adult readers, in whatever stripe of gender and sexual orientation (or questioning place) they may be. I now have a good idea of my goals as a writer of transgender and queer experience. Read More…

Love the Antagonist

Don Corleone in black and white

This post originally appeared on the amwriting blog.

Copious bubbles of advice flow out of the Internet for new writers—everything from opening lines that work to hanging in there through the middle of the first draft. Once a novel is completed, emerging writers can spend the majority of their waking hours searching for that perfect agent or press, hopeful that such recipients will go wild for their pages. All of the eagerness and pride and delicious fantasies about our future success—for we are nothing if not avid daydreamers—are blown away when rejection after rejection rolls in, clogging one’s in box. Suddenly that stream of advice looks chalky, harder to interpret, and the messages around handling professional no-thank-yous another cold stab of curtness. It’s difficult to hear the “just keep writing” mantra and adhere to it with the same level of joy as before. But take heart: this is all part of the process. Read More…

Story Scalability

pantone notebook where I keep my ideas about my short storiesThis past summer I published a short story that generated some feedback from readers, much of it the same. Happily enough, they said they wanted to see 200 more pages to the story; I’d flung a world at them that was similar to our own, but askew in several ways, most dramatically in that this world’s children all metamorphosized, sooner or later, into fantastic and mythical creatures.

Readers and publishing pros I know wanted to know why this was happening, something I knew in my own mind but hadn’t explained in the confines of the story, which only runs for 1,200 words. My goal in the story was to show the big and subtle changes that the main character—precociously named Hannah Pace—emerges with at the end of the story, but readers wanted to know what happened the next day. And the next after that. It was a flattering response. I smiled and wrote back, not communicating that this was all I’d intended. I was on the cusp of getting started on a new novel about a 500-year-old mummy in the 22nd Century (take that, genre purists), and I didn’t need ideas like lengthening a one-off short story into a long piece crowding my vision.

Well, it didn’t just crowd my plans, it upstaged them and then threw them out of the theater. Read More…

Introducing Characters to Readers

portrait of man against a city wallIn many of the books I read as a child, character description came off a bit too formulaic—what she was wearing, the color of her hair and eyes, how pretty or athletic she was, and so on. Next character exposition, same treatment. Sure, I got clear pictures on what the actors in the story looked like, but there was a problem: by using the same process for description each time, nobody in the books stood out.

I haven’t done my job as a writer if I don’t make each character distinctive and necessary to the narrative.  Read More…

Great Openings

crankshaft in the grand canyonIt’s an oft-discussed problem of writer’s workshops that first chapters get lots of attention to detail and craft, and then fall off like a continental shelf at the edge of a deep ocean. First sentences are even more the focus of early workshop experiences. While I try to pay at least as much attention to the last third of my work as the first third, I do think an opening can sink or swim a book in all kinds of ways—agents who’ve requested the manuscript will stop reading, readers thumbing through books in stores will put it back down and move to the next novel, and readers will get frustrated or have a hard time pressing on into chapter 2. In my aim to write a fantastic opening, I look to avoid certain things: Read More…

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