September 21, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Write Like A Shark

Two years ago, stuck less than half way through a SF novel I’d started writing three years earlier than THAT, I ran across an article in the January 2006 issue of THE WRITER. Kelly James-Enger exhorted me to “Get your novel written in 3 drafts”.

Glancing at my stalled book, I read the short, sweet article.

Stunned by its three simple steps, I plunged back into INVADER’S GUILT and finished the 500 page, 150,000-word behemoth in less than six months. I wrote a couple of short stories as well and then started a YA novel sparked by an agent’s comment rejecting a MG novel: “While I really liked your informative (and flattering) query letter, I did think this project was lacking the edge and tone of YA.”

My response – not to him, but to myself – and James-Enger’s exhortation, spurred me to dive into VICTORY OF FISTS and write it through to the end without a break in twelve months. (I write mostly on weekends and during my four weeks of summer vacation. I am a teacher…and “No, I’ve never ‘taken the summer off’ – I’ve worked one or more other jobs for twenty-seven years.”) I am now working to pare INVADER’S GUILT down to a saleable 100,000 words. I will begin editing my first draft of VICTORY OF FISTS in a few weeks with the target date of submitting it to the agent whose comment sparked the book in January of 2009.

Kelly James-Enger’s advice was profound:

1) Draft 1: Write like a shark
2) Draft 2: The big cleanup
3) Draft 3: Where every word counts

I found myself a picture of a great white shark.
Why a shark? A somewhat obscure fact is that most shark species must keep moving so that oxygenated water flows over their gills. They can’t “pump water” like a goldfish does. If they don’t move forward – they die.

The analogy is clear to me: if I don’t keep writing the story…it will die. INVADER’S GUILT was dead and Kelly James-Enger saved its life. Now let’s see if I can clean it up and sell that…puppy. (Another little-known shark fact is that baby sharks are called “pups”.)

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