The Five Stages of Writing

I hope to become a published author. In the meantime, I write short stories after work. I’ve been working on one story since January and gone through four revisions. My first and second drafts were awful. And, unless you have supernatural powers, yours will be too. But by the time you finish, it will be your precious little baby. Here is how to take a story from awful to precious.

  1. Write anything that can fill the page. It will be so bad you’ll want to burn it and stomp on the ashes. It will take all your willpower not to close the document and start something else. Again.
  2. Cut and trim. Go through and fix what bothered you in your first draft—like a gardener pruning hedges.
  3. Shake it up. Your story’s all dialogue and no action? Yeah, better fix that.
  4. Show it to someone else. Don’t hang over their shoulder while they read. It’s awkward.
  5. Final edits. Whoops, your first paragraph does have a typo.

When you finish, you will want to both hug your computer and never type another word (that story was hard!). But you will. Because that’s what writers do. We sit in front of our computers and jump whenever someone speaks to us.writing revisions

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How to Survive a Sci-fi Story

I love sci-fi. I can use a phaser and I know to bring a towel when I hitchhike. These tips should help you survive the most dalek filled of sci-fi stories. Unless you’re in this one movie where they massacred everyone in the last fifteen minutes, then you’re toast. They even killed the funny robot. Who kills the funny robot?

  • Never let the cyborg into your mind (duh). But there’s always one character that looks at the shiny microchip and thinks it’s a good idea.
  • If something goes kaboom, ignore it. You’re explosion proof.
  • If you go back in time, don’t kill yourself, parents, or grandparents. Because of the grandfather paradox, this makes things complicated for the writer and confusing for the reader. Also, you die.
  • Don’t sleep or the pod people will get you.
  • When the villain puts on a gas mask, don’t stare at them. Hold your breath and run.
  • When an alien race comes to earth with a book called “How to Serve Man,” run away. They’re not talking philanthropy, they’re talking well-done or medium rare.

Finally, along with your towel you should bring a pocketknife, plenty of food and water (who knows what aliens eat), and a memento from home. These hitchhiking trips always last longer than you think they will.

Pictured: Me staring at Data’s head at the EMP Museum in Seattle.

data's head

Frustrations of the Writing Life

Writing is hard. It’s like doing push-ups. Your arms quiver and you think “dear God why”, but if you work at it you get amazing arms. Only with writing you get carpel tunnel and a sixteen page short story. This post deals with some of the “aargh” moments of the writing life. The moments that make you want to become an accountant. Only not really because you hate numbers.

  • You write some truly horrible stuff. Even worse, you write some truly boring stuff. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written the sentence, “I had a good day at work today.” It’s my journal, but still.
  • You won’t find that obvious typo on page ten. You read it until your eyes hurt and you still don’t see it. That’s when you commandeer a relative to read it for you.
  • People reject you a lot— cliché but true. Anything less than thirty times and you’re not doing it right.
  • You get jealous. Other writers put out really good stuff and half of you wants to crumple it into a ball and set it on fire. The other half wants to hear it again.
  • There are pieces you can’t show people because you based a character on them. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used in a short story.

Eventually, when the moon is full and you’ve scrapped two drafts, inspiration will hit. Until then, make like The Little Engine That Could and remember how much you hate numbers.

How to Survive a Gothic Novel

I’ve read a few Gothic novels in my time—the kinds that take place in deserted moors and eerie old manor houses. This is a list of tips on how to survive them. It isn’t a Gothic novel until someone catches the red death or gets murdered by a re-animated corpse.

  • Sleep on the ground floor. If there’s anyone the least bit unstable in the house, then they will burn it down.
  • Stay away from the amontillado. Enough said.
  • If there’s a room you’re not allowed into, that’s the room where the crazy first wife is. That guy you’re sponging the blood off of—he came from there.
  • Sometimes you have to flee across the heath until you collapse on the doorstep of the nice family who takes you in—lest you end up in the room where the crazy ex-wife is.
  • If you see a monstrous hound with glowing paws, don’t worry. It’s only your neighbor trying to murder you. The paws glow because he put phosphorus on them.
  • If it’s dead, stay away. Ghosts, vampires, living cadavers, they will all try to kill you.

If all else fails, head back to the city. But be careful, that’s where Jack the Ripper lives.

How to Survive a Murder Mystery

I’ve been a fan of mysteries ever since my sister introduced me to And Then There Were None. Afterwards, all she had to do was turn off the lights and speak in a creepy voice to make me put my hands on guard and dive for the switch.

Since then, I’ve developed a few tricks on how to survive. You know how in a horror movie you shouldn’t investigate the creepy noise? This is like that for mysteries.

  • Don’t use taxis. The driver will turn out to be a serial killer who will dismember you and leave your body in the woods.
  • Just because they’re your friend, doesn’t mean they won’t put cyanide in your drink. If the author needs a third death, the author needs a third death.
  • If you think it’s weird that someone got brained with a hatchet the day after they said someone else was murdered, that’s because it is.
  • Don’t meet a murder suspect on a dark night next to a cliff. You’d think this was obvious—but not to some characters.
  • If you murdered and got away with it, there is someone waiting for revenge. If you’re lucky, they’ll throw you out a window. If you’re unlucky, they’ll eat you alive.

Lastly, never investigate the creepy noise. There is no situation where that turns out okay.

How to Survive a Fantasy Book

I’ve been a fantasy book junkie from a young age—ever since I followed Annie and Jack up the ladder to the magic tree house. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks for how to survive inside them i.e. you have to be a woman to defeat the ring wraith. Enjoy.

  • Don’t go on a trip with a druid. They leave with forty and come back with five. The math isn’t good.
  • Bring a magic sword. It doesn’t matter if you have no experience fencing, or even if you know which end to use. The magic sword will make sure you survive.
  • Don’t leave the path to follow the shiny lights. The dwarves did this in The Hobbit and they almost got devoured by spiders.
  • Never go underground. Underground has dragons, gnomes, and balrogs. None of which are fun to meet.
  • One protagonist is equal to ten antagonists. If you think you’re outnumbered, you’re not. Note: This only works for minions and flunkies, not for the dark lord.
  • Never go into the forest. It’s called the Forbidden Forest for a reason. There are giant spiders in there (see tip three).
  • Don’t assume someone is dead until you’ve seen their dismembered body. In fantasy books, falling off cliffs and getting impaled with a spear are minor inconveniences.

If you follow these tips, you should be fine. Simply pick the last place you’d want to go and start heading towards it.