Trapped by Details: an Epiphany

One of the side effects of a medication I’ve been taking for a couple of months is insomnia — serious lack of sleep. There are moments when I think this could be a good thing because the hazy state between sleeping and waking is often the source of ideas and insights — and there has been a lot of hazy state . Alas, those ideas and insights seldom carry over into the daylight hours. If I could just lie there in the dark and dictate into a recorder, who knows what marvels of novelistic fiction I could create. Well, that’s never going to happen, but once in a while, something worth pursuing does survive until morning and daylight.

A recent night was one of those frustrating on/off sleep/wake stretches that had me wanting to just get up, wander around the apartment, find something to do, and forget about sleep altogether. But I stuck it out and let my mind do the wandering. And what happened was that I had a sort of vision. I haven’t been able to write at all for the last two or three months, so part of the night’s mental meandering is often about trying to select the ongoing WIP most likely to have a chance of sucking me in and getting my fingers back on the keyboard. Gift of the Ancien is always one of those being considering — and discarded.

But last night, I saw that novel in an entirely new way. It was as if I was standing off from an actual, physical construct, and seeing it as an object independent of details like voice or characterization, and stripped of my personal interest in and attachment to it. I can’t regain much of the feelings I had about this new view, but the image itself is still fairly clear in my mind — and its meaning. Although I can’t reconstruct or explain how I came to it, the meaning of the image is that this particular novel (and several others), has been a challenging puzzle to work out, and that challenge is completely independent of the novel’s importance to me. In other words, I’ve been sucked into an ongoing attempt to solve a puzzle (or a handful of puzzles), fascinated by the challenge just as certainly as any game player. It’s the intricacies of that particular story that I’m attempting to work out, without any consideration of whether it has enough value to me to justify the time and energy I’m putting into it.

I also had brief glimpses of a couple of the other WIPs being bounced around as possible ways out of the black hole of wordlessness. Most of the insights are gone, damn it, but there was the sense, however vaguely I can see or express it now, that those WIPs had value apart from the details. Their value — their meaning — to me, personally, was more important than the puzzles they represent, or the working out of the puzzles. Ancien, on the other hand, even though it would have value as a published novel, and possibly of more value than the others, has no other value to me.

On a superficial level, this all boils down to the question of why I write: for money, or for myself. But now I can see it isn’t that at all. The real question is: is this a story I really care about, for its own sake, or is it just a container for intriguing puzzles? I turns out that anything I write for myself has a boundary far beyond me. It’s an idea or collection of ideas, that I hope will draw readers looking for more than entertainment. Of course, every novel is a series of puzzles to work out; maybe that’s a big part of the appeal for writers, especially writers who aren’t particularly successful in the fame and fortune arena.

I still haven’t settled on a WIP to drag me out of the creativity black hole, but at least I have a better basis for making that selection. Ancien, as strongly as its puzzles fascinate me, needs to be put aside where it can’t tempt and distract me. The same is true of several other WIPs in various stages of development. Maybe if I can get them shoved under the carpet and use the imagery from my vision, I’ll find the piece that will inspire me to get back to writing.

 

 

Theme and Variations

One of the topics currently under discussion on a writing forum is theme. The post’s author stated that she sometimes feels as if she’s writing the same book over and over again.  I can certainly relate, having recently taken note of the overwhelming presence of various kinds of oppression in my stories. You can probably make a good case for the presence of a dominant theme in the work of many writers. After all, any theme you choose — or that chooses you — can probably be explored endlessly in all its complexity and variability.

My particular concern, when looking over my published work, with an eye to writing projects still in process, is whether I am, unconsciously, telling the same story over and over, merely changing the settings and the names of the characters. I can see that I concentrate on the character suffering oppression, whether as a prisoner, a slave, or someone caught up in the gears of a society suffering the strains of unanticipated and extreme changes.

But what about the people or the social forces responsible for the oppression? They are the source of the novel’s necessary conflict, but I think a closer examination of my published work might show that I sometimes allow them to remain shadowy figures that aren’t fully developed. The source of conflict in a novel can’t be an abstraction; the protagonist must be doing more than punching the air against a mysterious figure that fails to reveal itself.

There are many ways to approach theme, and that includes discovering it after you’ve written the first draft, and then developing it more fully. Chuck Wendig, bless his foul-mouthed heart, offered some valuable views of theme in an old post. Go there. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/09/26/25-things-writers-should-know-about-theme/

Short Break from Long Stuff

I just started a revision and expansion of Refuge, one of my short stories. It’s currently around 4,500 words, and I hope to get it up to between 6,000 and 7,000 words. Why, when I’m trying to get Bentham’s Dream finished, am I veering off again? There’s certainly some burnout here–really good progress for a while, and then the wall. Maybe jumping from getting Camp Expendable out of my hair right into another big project wasn’t a good idea.

One reason to switch off is the nagging need to publish, to start making up for the last two dead years. Even a short story is a right step in that direction, and it can be done comparatively fast. From that point of view, it can relieve the pressure to get Dream written and published as fast as possible. Fast doesn’t work for me, so some downtime is never a bad thing. As long as it doesn’t turn into nevernever time. I’m always going to be switching back and forth between projects, but maybe using a short story for burnout breaks will keep me from switching to one of the long WIPs and keep me on target with Dream.

I’m thinking all this through as I’m writing, and I think I see how spending some time with short stories might break into my dysfunctional pattern of jumping constantly between novels, which just delays finishing any of them. That’s probably a big contributor to that period of publishing nothing at all. So a new pattern would be: work on a novel or novella until I reach burnout. Take time out with a short story, and then go back to that novel or novella. Repeat until publication.

It could work. Something has to work, before I’m too old and feeble for it to matter any more.

Damn Plot Bunnies

As if I need more story ideas, I was apparently dreaming one, because it was solid in my mind the instant I woke up a couple of mornings ago. Usually, my dreams just leave a trace whiff that they’d even existed, so this was a very weird thing to happen. And even bitching about it, I’m glad it happened because maybe it’s a signal that the prison stories that have been accumulating and wanting to be a book are still a thing.

It might just be something that’s peculiar to me and my peculiar mind, but I think immersion in research for a nonfiction book may need some kind of outlet other than the book itself. So the research on the death penalty, as well as other aspects of criminal justice, keeps engendering fictional variations. The original intent for those stories was to have them anchor Bentham’s Dream, which is becoming a novella — a long way from the short story I’d intended it to be. Then I thought it would probably be a waste of time and energy to publish anything like that. Who would read it? It’s bound to be mostly depressing, fodder for a masochist, or for the very few strange souls who take criminal justice seriously enough to want to read about it, even in fiction. But the damned thing keeps creeping back, and now a new story has presented itself to me.

A lot of what comes out in the stories is my own feelings about prison and the death penalty. It’s reality-based–solidly reality-based, but it’s an outsider’s view still. Well, I’m stuck with that, but I’m just realizing that this new story is not just a view from the outside, but a view of someone who has been outside the inmate mentality and then finds himself inside, part of that mentality. That’s a fascinating idea to explore. A kind of doubling of the outsider view — his view of the work, where he was an insider, and of the prisoners, which he would never have anticipated seeing from the inside, all seen through my eyes.

One (at least) of the stories is entirely first person, present tense dialogue. This one will be entirely third person omniscient without any dialogue at all. It will be an unrelieved look into the head of a prison guard who lives by the rules, not just on the job, but also in his everyday life, is persuaded to do something that is very much against the rules, and winds up in prison, as an inmate.

Maybe someday I’ll figure out why I’m compelled to write fiction that almost no one is interested in reading.

Pantsing Experiment

I’m not sure whether the election results have had anything to do with the last week of not being able to write. But when I find myself thinking about getting back to work and saying “What’s the point?” something is going on. Despite having supposedly finished Camp Expendable and on the verge of converting it to an ebook, I started going through it again because I’m just not happy with it. But that came to a screeching halt in the middle of the second chapter. I’ve had periods like this before, so I’m hoping it’s very temporary.

But, as usual, being in the midst of a serious down period, the ideas don’t stop coming. One has been nagging at me for a few weeks, and seems so much more important now, with the US taking a turn toward something ugly, and the rest of the world crumbling around the edges. The current title is A Small Bright World of Sorrows. The premise is that an observer has been sending alarming reports home about a world and its inhabitants, and now two “adjudicators” have arrived, tasked with determining what’s going on, whether this world is dangerous to the rest of the inhabited universe, and if it is, what to do about it.

For some unknown reason, I sat down with a notebook this morning and started writing. Pure pantsing without the distraction of the internet. I gave up paper and pen a long time ago, but two pages came so easily that I’m seriously considering just keeping on with the story this way, whenever the notion strikes. Looked at objectively, writing a novel in longhand is a potential nightmare, so I don’t know whether I will just go on that way, or transfer the material to Scrivener every few days–or when there’s enough to be worth taking the time. Right now, I like the idea of just letting it pour out of my head however it wants to, and knowing that it will be much harder to read if I try to do any editing. So this will be a truly “rough” draft.

One Thing Leads to Another — Sometimes a Sequel

When I wrote Hidden Boundaries, it was intended to be a complete novel–no cliffhangers, no unanswered questions. But it turns out that unless you’re writing a story in which there’s  a specific goal, and that goal is achieved, then there’s always more that can be said. Because, just like real life, the story doesn’t always end with The End. So I wound up writing Crossing Boundaries.

Now, several years down the line, I’ve been working on a novel that’s intended to end with The End. The only problem is that The End of A Well-Educated Boy doesn’t want to come into focus. It shifts, recedes out of sight, comes back looking pretty good, and then disappears again. There are two ways to look at this. I simply can’t make up my mind how I want the story to end because I don’t know Hart, my protagonist quite as well as I should by now. So he can’t make up his mind about what he wants to do.

Or… There’s a story beyond this story, and its existence means that the first story has to lead into it. Hart’s decision about what he’s going to do next depends on that story. Hart’s story is originally the story of his town:

Growing up and going to school in a company-owned town isn’t something Hart Simmons thought about much. He didn’t have any reason to. Until his best friend disappeared. Came back. Killed himself. Hart was always a bit of a trouble maker, the kind of kid who shoved back at rules, just because they’re rules. But he didn’t really know what he was shoving against. Zach’s death woke him up. And then his troubles started.

Burgundy is a nice town. Almost idyllic. Clean. No crime. Good jobs. But Hart doesn’t live in Burgundy anymore, and he probably can’t ever go back. Because he knows where Zach disappeared to and why he killed himself.

Dystopias can hide in plain sight. Right under your nose.

Where is Hart when the story ends, and what is he going to do now? The feeling that the story is about more than Hart’s life in Burgundy has been getting stronger lately, but that didn’t break through until just yesterday, when a new story idea popped into my head. It didn’t actually pop; it evolved out of an old idea that I was looking over and nudging here and there to see if it was ready for a little more development. And it turned out to be the answer to the big questions Hart has about Burgundy, and what direction his life might take. A sequel, durn it.

What it looks like so far:

Privatization had taken over many cities. particularly in one state. A group of owner corporations agrees to cooperate in a “utopian” plan, which includes testing for desirable qualities. The “failures,” those who don’t measure up, are trained to do unskilled and semi-skilled work. The “elite” are educated to enhance their abilities and are treated almost as a separate species of human.

Starts as a humanitarian project to ensure the survival of desirable traits and to benefit the human race in a time of extreme instability, but becomes a more far-reaching enterprise as corporations and later, governments, realize the advantages of controlling a population trained to obedience and a work ethic.

This concept is still sketchy, but it both answers questions that are hanging right now, and adds a complication. How do I end the first novel without leaving readers hanging? It needs to point to where it might go, but not with a frustrating cliffhanger.

Turning Dry into Drama – Bentham’s Dream

This is an unplanned followup to yesterday’s post. It may be somewhat disorganized, even a little incoherent, since I’m thinking with my fingers. Bentham’s Dream was originally intended to be part of a short story collection about prisons, from about the early 19th century to the 2060s or thereabout. Somehow, Bentham’s Dream took over and shoved the other stories out of sight. Credit the last few years of research about the death penalty, solitary confinement, and other aspects of criminal justice. The story has grown, from some 8,000 words to 26,000 words and is still a long way from being finished.

I think it was at about 25,000 words that I realized I had a problem and needed to do some very deep thinking about where the story was going. More important, and I think yesterday’s question about why anyone would want to read it was a trigger, the problems coalesced into one question: how do I turn a somewhat dry subject and two talking heads into a story that will fascinate rather than send readers off into slumberland.

This might serve as a metaphor for any subject that might grab a writer, but seems to have little potential for attracting readers. Fortunately, science fiction allows a lot of latitude in topics, and any serious sf reader probably has fond memories of books dealing with subjects that they never would have considered worth their time. This is worth thinking about in this age of formula writing. How many Hunger Games clones can you bear to read? How many zombie novels or post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world reruns?

There are thousands of possible topics waiting for the science fiction writer with some imagination, someone who’s willing to take some risks and walk away from the clones and clichés. But it won’t be easy. It’s probably been well over a year since I started writing Bentham’s Dream. My original concept was fairly limited, but turned out to be nothing more than the skeleton from which to hang something much more complex and, I hope, more dramatic. Something I discovered about my writing is that I tend to place my characters in very restricted circumstances. Well, there’s nothing more restrictive than a prison where there is zero chance of prisoners causing any problems for the staff. So, no riots, no murders. None of the clichés that we associate with prison stories. Just two people wandering around the prison, observing the prisoners, and talking about it. How in the world can I introduce action and drama into such a setting?

Originally, the main protag, an inspector for the region’s penal system, does his job and then leaves, trying to decide how he wants to slant his report. He and the warden have had an interesting and enlightening discussion, but never touched base with each other as human beings. Dull, dull, dull. After much backing and forthing about POV, I’m writing the story in first person, from the point of view of Jerry Stanton, the inspector. This puts us closer to him than third person would be, but also limits what we can know about Chandler, the prison warden. Since Chandler starts off as an efficient bureaucrat, Jerry’s point of view is important if we want to see him as a human being, possibly with doubts about his job.

As the story evolved, Chandler turned out to be the key to the drama, and to a very different ending than I had planned, one that will be, if I do it right, a shocker.

Slow Learner or Slow Processor?

When you’re editing, edit. When you’re proofreading, proofread. Never the twain should meet. (With apologies to Mr. Kipling.) It was Chapter 6 that made me stop and think about what I was doing. In the first paragraph, I moved one sentence around for smoother reading and added some new text. Then I rewrote the first sentence of the second paragraph. For the first time, it really registered that I do this every single time. I get to the supposedly final stage: proofreading, and make it another round of editing.

I don’t know if keeping editing and proofreading is meant to be a hard and fast rule, but it’s one that has an excellent reason for existing. With every edit, you take the chance of adding new, unnoticed errors. The way I changed one sentence meant that I had to be sure to close a newly split-up quote. Oops. Almost didn’t notice that. Editing while proofreading means that I have to be even more attentive, more alert, doing work that is  already exhausting if I don’t take enough breaks to rest my eyes and brain.

More seriously, from my point of view at least, is that it makes me question why I’m still editing when the book is supposedly finished. When I look at the changes I’ve made, I have to wonder why I didn’t see the need for them much, much earlier. Am I just obsessive about details that readers won’t even notice? Or am I such a slow learner that even after writing a half-dozen novels, and having read innumerable articles, blog posts, and books about the craft of writing, I haven’t learned nearly as much as I should have by now?

There’s another possibility that’s discouraging because I can’t do a thing about it. Which means that I will always be editing while I’m proofreading. I know that my mental processing speed is slower than normal. I’m not fast on the uptake, a problem that can be compounded by auditory processing disorder. In a conversation, I may recognize that someone’s statement has something wrong about it, but I won’t be able to pin down what the problem is. And I’m having enough trouble keeping track of everything that’s being said, so there’s no chance to think about it. Hours, or even days later, it will come back to me and I’ll know exactly what was wrong.

I have the same problem with text. It may take days to understand what bothered me about something I’ve read. Once my brain makes it through its snail-pace processing it has no problem. I know what’s wrong. I just can’t access it immediately. Obviously, or I would have given up writing a long time ago in sheer frustration, I do gradually learn well enough to access important knowledge with less delay. But it’s a very slow process, and the amount of craft knowledge you need to have under your belt is seemingly endless. Also, much of it is abstract and thus harder to grasp than proper punctuation or spelling.

For now, I have to decide whether I can simultaneously edit and proofread, or whether I’l have to torture myself with an eye-blinding, brain-burning final proofread. Because there will always be something that I can improve.

The Writer’s Life for Me

Maybe a writer’s life isn’t as exciting as a sailor’s or a pirates, but it more than makes up for that with crazy-making. Every morning is a time for momentous decisions about what writing project to work on. When I was considering it this morning, I came to the conclusion that juggling three major projects might somewhat contribute to my periods of severe headaches. What in the world am I doing to myself, and why would I not want to find a way out of the mess? Because I don’t want to find a way out of the mess; I just want to handle it better. Alas, I doubt there is any “better.”

New writers are advised not to wait for inspiration to strike. That way can lead to paralysis and a lifetime of “wanting to write, but doing it. At the same time, inspiration is sometimes what gets me going when I’m stuck with eenie, meenie, minie, mo. Which of the three projects should a start the day with. This morning, that had already been settled in the middle of a sleepless night. The middle of the night usually turns out to be a reliable source of inspiration, but only if I resist the temptation to go back to sleep without turning on the light and making notes. No matter how many times I’ve convinced myself that I can and will remember in the morning, I’ve been forced to accept that it’s take notes or lose it.

So this morning started out with some new entries for Set Me Free, and a somewhat clearer idea of how to organize the material. And–a pat on the back for me–the only delay was checking the weather and my email very quickly. Set Me Free is beginning to look a tiny bit less like an impossible mess and an equally tiny bit more like a book.

On to proofreading Camp Expendable, which I expect to consume most of the day. Finally, if time and energy allow, some more wrestling with A Well-Educated Boy.

Currently reading: Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. It’s been many a year since I originally read it, so it’s like a first-time read.

In the Home Stretch

I’m down to the last chapter of Camp Expendable, writing new material and editing at the same time. It was a last-minute decision to break this chapter off from the previous one, which would have been an absolute monster in size. The chapter also picks up from the open end of the previous chapter and finishes everything off neatly. But it’s only about 1,400 words, while the rest are anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 words. And there’s still stuff to be said.

I was just reading a blog post by another writer, about the left side/right side concept of where the brain comes up with the creative stuff. He knows as well as I do that the brain isn’t actually divided as neatly as that, but it’s a handy way of thinking about it. I don’t see myself as terribly creative, and since my approach to writing has a strong logical slant, maybe I’m either predominantly left-brained but still manage to squeeze out stuff that’s moderately creative, or I’m straddling a tightrope in the middle. That could be why it’s easy for me to create and edit more or less simultaneously.

That’s what I do during National Novel Writing Month, while all the other experienced writers are screaming about how you have to kill your editor, or at least shove it in the closet so it doesn’t get in the way of churning out those 50,000 words. Not only is it easy and natural for me to write that way, I’d probably go nuts if someone told me that I absolutely wouldn’t be permitted to edit until the whole thing was written. The result is, that while everyone else is bemoaning the pile of crap they have to show for 30 days of sweat and agony, I have something I wouldn’t be ashamed to show around — if I were the kind of person who likes to show my work around.

Different strokes, folks. And the blog post is: The two brains of the writer (or really any person/artist)

Of Novellas and Hop, Skip, Jump

No matter what writing project is currently top priority, there are always at least two or three other WIPs engaging my mind, on and off. The entire time I’ve been soldiering away on Camp Expendable, I’ve dipped into other projects to expand a scene, add a bit of dialogue, or make some notes.

The Darkest Prison isn’t a WIP. It’s a very long short story (or novelette of about 12,000 words, that I published four years ago. I’ve always wanted to expand it, and go deeper into the horror that is Brian’s life after being condemned for a crime he didn’t commit, but it remained very low on the must-do list. I don’t know what it popped back into the front of my mind recently; maybe it’s simmered without my being aware of it, and the time is now right to give it some attention. It’s an extremely claustrophobic story that needs to be opened up, if only to give the reader some relief from the tension now and then. I expect it will grow to novella length and that’s fine. It’s the kind of story that doesn’t need to be dragged out into a full-length novel, and I don’t think I would have the patience for it, anyway. New plot points have already presented themselves to me, so I now have the pleasurable problem of squeezing it in among all the other which demand my attention unexpectedly and intermittently.

The Passive Voice posted an excerpt from an Independent article today, which relates to my growing interest in writing novellas when possible, rather than novels. The article celebrates novellas for reasons that I find quite superficial. But I’m not one of those people who are so time-challenged that I can’t commit to anything that takes more than two or three hours to read. Judging from too many similar articles, I suspect that most of those people would simply rather watch TV or a movie than make a “serious commitment” to something that can be described as “excess baggage.”

In fact, the author spends most of her time talking about movies and the novellas that have been adapted for the screen. Maybe I’m reading too much into what she does say, but I get the impression that reading the classics is something she does as one of those things that makes you appear educated. So she’s willing to read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illich, but didn’t make it through War and Peace. All that extra baggage, you know. Does that have anything to do with the growing inability of writers to wrestle with the English language? “Patterson’s BookShots, by contrast, are unabashedly fleetingly.” And then there’s “Novellas are confidentially self-contained…”

“There’s something deliciously daring about a book that says no more than it needs to.” Really? Could that statement have come from anyone except a person who seems to approve of James Patterson’s statement about his new “book shots:” “’You can race through these — they’re like reading movies…’”

As a writer, the novella give me an opportunity to develop a complex plot in a comparatively compact space. As a reader, I’ll take the “excess baggage” every time.

Small is Beautiful by Holly Williams

How Many Drafts? The Rights, The Wrongs, The Reasons

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I don’t write separate drafts, so it’s impossible to say how many I go through before I’m satisfied with a story. It’s occurred to me that my “method” would probably be a nightmare for most writers. There are no older drafts to go back to, just the one that has been evolving and changing from day one. I also do a lot of stopping and starting over the months or years that I work on a novel, and usually start back with chapter one, so some chapters have been revised more times than others.

The subject of drafts has been occupying my mind for quite a while because there are so many opinions about it. I have a strong bent toward picking apart the pros and cons of subjects that are more a matter of personal opinion than of hard fact, and that’s what I’ve been doing lately. There are logical reasons why some professional writers insist that you should whip that novel out and stop fooling around with multiple drafts, while others insist that you must rewrite until you have a polished gem.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I see one specific factor influencing how many drafts a professional writer considers optimum. The concept of “professional” writer has changed somewhat over the decades. By today’s standards, someone like J.D. Salinger would be considered a hobbyist because he published very few works, and took his own sweet time about it. Back when writers were paid by the word for magazine articles and stories, there was a fairly clear distinction between “hack work” and Literature. Hack work was about earning a living, and its practitioners were professional writers; Literature was about creating a body of work that would exist long after the words were put on paper, and its practitioners were also professionals.

Of course, those two categories didn’t necessarily say anything valid about quality. Some hack work turned into classics, some Literature was forgotten before its authors had died.

Today, from what I can observe, writing for a living is professional; everything else is considered hobbyist. It’s a dichotomy that leaves most writers scrambling to churn out their next novel as quickly as possible, and a smaller number fighting a rear-guard action for consideration of old-fashioned qualities like depth and complexity.

As a general rule, writing for a living is writing to entertain, and necessarily concentrates on plot and action. Writing “for the ages” strives for meaning, and focuses on style, complexity, and insight into characters. The two are’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but current debates tend to sound as if they are. You’re either a professional writing for a living, or at least aiming for it, or you’re a part-time writer, a mere hobbyist who doesn’t take writing seriously.

The irony here is that “taking writing seriously” is now defined by speed and productivity, rather than by maturing craft painstakingly learned over time. A notable change, which may be another overgeneralization, is that many of the writers who wrote for a living—the science fiction writers of the Golden Age of SF, for instance—churned out an enormous amount of crap initially, but learned how to write, on the job, and became the classic authors we still read today. Many of today’s professional writers, some of them hugely successful, write just as badly years later as they did when they started.

When I say “write badly” I’m talking about the qualities that make a book a classic and that are necessarily left out when the goal is to earn a living. These professional writers do improve their ability to plot, to maintain tension, to keep a reader hanging on until the exciting ending. What they may not bother with is style or even basic grammar. This does not describe every professional writer, and I’m not trying to feather and tar professional writers, as a group.

The real problem is that they are influential, and their advice to beginning writers, based on their own experience, and their success, makes it appear that their methods must be followed if success is to follow.

What does all this have to do with drafts? Everything. I think it was Ray Bradbury who advised writers to produce only one draft, and get the darn thing published. It’s popular advice, but I wonder at what stage of his career Bradbury made the suggestion that has, over time, turned into a rule. Was it an early statement when he was struggling to establish himself? Did he stick to it throughout his career? He wasn’t alone in advising just one or two drafts, and I suspect it’s the reason we see so many books that look exactly like first drafts: grammatically awkward, vocabulary-challenged, full of plot holes, continuity errors, and cardboard characters.

But here’s the thing. If you can write a story that hooks and holds the reader, you can get away with all that. Why? Because the majority of readers don’t see the problems, and even if they do, they don’t care as long as they’re being entertained. So, if you want to earn a living by entertaining the readers, one or two drafts will do the trick. You will rake in the bucks and it won’t bother you that your stories are read one time and then forgotten when the reader grabs another one more or less like it. It won’t bother you that your books will eventually disappear, buried under the ever-growing mountain of momentary entertainment, or that your name will be forgotten. You accomplished no more during your lifetime than the office worker sitting in his or her cubicle, but let’s hope you at least enjoyed it more than the office drone enjoys his job.