Embrace your Early Drafts, and your Suckosity

February 24, 2012

Last Sunday was the last day of the San Diego version of the Southern California Writers Conference. I got up bright and early, did the shower thang and got dressed…and noticed that I’d forgotten to rinse the conditioner out of my hair. Good grief. Never done that before. So, I reversed the dressing process and rinsed the *&&% conditioner out of my hair, cursing like a truck driver at my stupidity. I only had two glasses of wine at the banquet the previous night…

I tossed my soaking locks in a towel and got dressed. Again. It wasn’t until I started drying my hair that I noticed that my tank top was on backwards. Good LORD. I took off the sweater and turned the damn tank top around, then put the sweater back on. The locks were finally dried and I now looked like I hadn’t been dressed by a myopic pygmy loaded on sour mash. A quick brush of the pearly whites, and I was off to breakfast. Except I noticed that the toothpaste I’d dumped onto my toothbrush smelled like my face cream. *facepalm*

One could say that I was having a “first draft” morning.

And that’s what first drafts are – it’s the safe place where you make all your mistakes and “Oh hell, what was I thinking?” Obviously I wasn’t thinking at all Sunday morning, and neither should you when you’re writing the first draft of your manuscript.

Your first draft is YOU telling YOURSELF the story.

I see many writers who have an idea brewing in their melons but are scared witless to actually put fingers to keyboard because, as Michael Steven Gregory would put it, they are afraid to suck. You need to lean into your suckosity because our words don’t come directly from the hands of The Great Cosmic Muffin.

I praise any author who has the guts to write their first draft without worrying about their suck factor because they are doing something many talk about, which is, “Oh, you’re writing a book? I’d like to do that.” To that, I’d reply, “Yeah? Well get off your rusty dusty and do it.”

First drafts are the only way you can get from your head to cyber paper and work out the plot kinks and character development. When I’m doing a first draft, I don’t worry about pacing and flow because I know I’ll hit that up once I have a solid foundation in which to build upon. For now, I simply need to barf it out there. It may not make sense, but you’re basically purging your brain of all the teensy details that have been building dust bunnies in the crevices of your brain.

When to Collect Crits

Many writers would rather have their eyelashes plucked with a rusty pair of pliers than allow anyone to see first drafts because they feel it’s too early, too raw. Backing up that notion are some conferences that suggest authors only sign up for advanced readings if they have a finished draft. Fartbaggery, I say. Conference goers pay a pretty penny to attend, and I see no reason why editors and agents can’t offer advice that will help writers gain some perspective from a knowledgeable source.

Many writers are curious as to whether they actually have a solid plot and good characters. As raw as these early drafts are, we are able (or darn well should be) to see the diamond in the rough and advise accordingly. And this is one of the things I adore about the SCWConference. Their goal is to see writers “don’t suck as much as they did when you got here.” That’s a direct quote.

Molten Lava

I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to spend time with my favorite peeps and see their faces glow and eyes light up over an observation I made regarding their writing. Early drafts are molten lava – they are easily changed and reshaped. Once the lava begins to cool, it really does feel like you’re killing your babies when you have to remove brilliant writing or scenes you loved, but have zilch to do with plot movement.

The trick is to treat your early drafts with great respect because they are the launching pad for something brilliant downstream. The problem I see is the writer who fails to recognize early drafts for what they are and, instead, decides to begin the query process or, after crushing rejections, take them to DIY.


Writers who appreciate the validity and importance of early drafts are peeps who will hopefully create a better end-product. As with anything, there are no guarantees. I’ve seen revision 20 on some works, and I knew they’d never see the light of day. The important thing is to have fun and be grateful that you had the guts to take the first step and write a book.

If your sole goal is to be published, you’ll probably spend some time being frustrated. If your goal is to write a story because it’s burning a hole in your lower intestines, then you’re acting instinctively and will be more apt to enjoy the journey. With each story we write, many probably belong under the bed, BUT the learning process is immeasurable.

Always remember that you learn something vital every time you write a new book. Nothing is ever wasted as long as you don’t keep yourself on Writer’s Island and attend a writer’s conference or are a part of a good critique group.

Never forget that your first drafts are your safe place where sucking is encouraged because as you refine and revise, you have nowhere to go but up.

Publishing – it’s all about what’s right for you

February 20, 2012

I had a fantastic weekend at the Southern California Writer’s Conference down in San Diego. Michael Steven Gregory and Wes Albers successfully set the tone for the conference, while their backup band of Rick Ochocki and Cricket Abbott (I know I’m missing names here – forgive me?) do some very heavy lifting of their own to make a successful weekend.

One has to try hard not to have a good time. If you’re looking for rigid or formal – this is not for you. If you’re looking for a relaxed setting where smiles and laughter are the main menu, then you need to come to their next conference in September in Newport Beach. It’s an honor for me to be a part of this conference.

I gave four seminars over the weekend, and in each of them, I brought up publishing options because I wanted to clear the air about this whole “one is better than the other.” That’s not true at all. For some, e-publishing is appropriate. For others, commercial publishing may better scratch an author’s itch. What’s important – vital – is that authors RESEARCH all the publishing options out there in order to determine what is going to offer them the most success.

I really wish I had read Jim Hines’ blog post before this past weekend because I could have added his valuable information regarding Amazon’s DIY publishing options. I had no idea that Amazon carried this much power over an author’s book, which affects their royalties. This is important stuff. For instance, if a bookstore offers a special sale price for our author’s title, they still get paid the same royalty rate. The bookstores – or Amazon – are free to sell the book for whatever they want. They still had to buy the book from us (well, our distributor) for the same price they normally would, so the royalties don’t change for our authors.

But Jim is saying that Amazon authors are at the mercy of arbitrary discounting, which WILL affect their royalties because Amazon is their publisher. Amazon decides to drop a $2.99 book to .99, and the author is only going to get royalties on .99. As Jim says, if a retailer tried that with one of his commercially published books, his publisher would draw first blood. If the publisher tried playing footsie with the royalty rates, his agent would draw first blood.

And rightly so.

And this is when going it alone means sometimes feeling alone because you have no one to do battle for you – or with you. Does anyone think one little DIY author can do battle with Amazon?

Luckily, Jim didn’t loose much money during the pricing glitch because his income stream isn’t dependent upon his DIY books. But what if he’d sold 1500 units? 5,000 units? That loss would have been higher. And who are you going to complain to? Amazon is a huge corporation – not unlike the Big Six – and they are free to make decisions that are advantageous to their bottom line. Nothing more, nothing less.

Author-friendly is a relative term, and no one should be fooled. Take care in not giving your personal feelings too big a voice. Don’t let, “Oh, they’re so benevolent” color your decision-making. Know the facts.

One conference comes to a sweet ending

September 28, 2008

I just returned from the Southern California Writer’s Conference in Irvine, and all I can say is what a fabulous weekend. Michael Steven Gregory and Wes Albers outdid themselves to ensure everyone was directed to the right conference room and had plenty of water.

This was my first time speaking is this particular conference, and I came away energized and exhausted. The attendees were articulate, educated, and passionate. Man, what’s not to love there?

Being surrounded by bright and talented minds offers its own kind of high. I must have heard twenty five different pitches while gulping down over-priced wine at the bar (whose service was atrocious. I mean, really, if I’m standing around waving money, don’t you think a server would get the idea?), and it was a treat to see the passion dripping with every syllable. That face time is something I miss when I’m sitting in my batcave reading queries all day long.

It’s also exhausting. Let’s face it, I’m not used to being that nice for so long. It’s a real challenge, and I had to come home and order the unreliable beagle to get some filing done just so I wouldn’t implode.

I can’t recommend conferences enough. This is the prime place to further a writer’s education. We writers are islands by the merits of our writing, and it’s easy to become immersed in our solitary self confinement. We need to come up for fresh air (or in my case, leave the batcave) and get some perspective.

The breakout sessions and one-on-one advanced submissions are scary, to be sure, and I respect the snot out of every single author who sat at my and other editor’s and agent’s table. It wasn’t easy, I’m sure, but they obtained some valuable crits along with learning how to take unbiased comments from a complete stranger. But it’s not all gloom and doom mixed with sweat and fear. We did so much laughing, I’m convinced I got an aerobic workout.

If you ever feel yourself getting stuck, I can’t recommend a writer’s conference enough. And if you see some demented woman sitting in the corner trying to shore up her smile with clothespins, it’s just me.

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