Sunday, February 6, 2011

Silver Linings

Upon reflection, I'm actually glad this carpal tunnel flare-up forced me to step back from my writing for a bit.

Before it happened I was barreling ahead, feeling like the single most important thing in the world was to write FAST. You see, I've already sold two of the three polished manuscripts I've written to Carina in The Sergeant's Lady and A Marriage of Inconvenience. The third went out on an extensive round of submission to agents last year before I accepted that it needed more reworking, reworking I'm just not ready to do right now, having already written and rewritten that story so often that I've gone from thinking of it as the Best Idea I'll Ever Have to That Thing I Never Want to Look At Again. Maybe in a year or two I'll be ready to revisit it, but not yet.

Mind you, writing fast really is important, and it's still a goal of mine to improve my pace. But I was going about it the wrong way. Mr. Fraser, who recognizes my fondness for military analogies, asked me if any of my favorite Napoleonic-era generals would just go charging into battle without surveying the ground or reconnoitering the enemy's deployments. I said of course not, to which he replied that was how I was writing. And he was right. I wasn't thinking through my stories long enough beforehand before starting to write, and it showed. I call myself a pantser rather than a plotter because I don't outline or write character bios or any of that stuff. But I do daydream about my stories for months before starting to write--long enough that I could tell you all about my protagonists' childhoods and have multiple key scenes planned out. When I don't do that my writing comes out slapdash, and I'm too quick to go to cliches. All my villains come out of the same kit. All my secondary characters are straight from Central Casting.

With almost two months off, I got to think about my stories without the pressure to churn out 5000 words/week minimum. I made a playlist for the historical fantasy and took my protagonists horse shopping online--which made me realize my heroine loves to dance and really wants a gorgeous Andalusian or Lusitano with the most luxuriant mane and tail possible, which I thought added some nice dimension to what had been a purely tomboyish fighting machine in my first attempt at a draft. I asked myself why my general's emigre French chef was little and fussy when I could just as well write him big and badass, a sort of 1810 edition Anthony Bourdain. I asked myself why a certain character was being the Gay Best Friend, complete with an interest in the finer details of tailoring and dressmaking, when I hate that cliche to begin with and when it's so clear he'd be far better as a Frenemy with a well-rounded and individual personality. I rethought my heroine's background a bit and walked away from some personal cliches that were starting to show up way too often in my stories.

Basically, I made it better. And the same thing happened with my novellas, when I realized I was approaching the whole concept of a novella all wrong.

Who knows how long it would've taken me to figure all this out had my hands not forced me onto the DL? And you know what REALLY slows your writing down? Having to go back to square one when you realize you've completed a bad manuscript. At least I spared myself that.

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