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Craft Talk

The Curse of the First Draft

The first draft used to be a horrible, mentally draining aspect of the writing process for me, before I decided I wanted to be a professional writer. I was so caught up in trying to be perfect from the moment I put words on the page that I never let myself relax enough to enjoy letting everything happen organically.

I think that’s a holdover from my childhood. I had this overwhelming need to project this perfect image of who I should be. That wasn’t taught to me, it just sort of appeared over time.

As I got older, I realized I don’t give a fuck what other people think of me because this is my journey. No one is the star of the Guilliean show; I am. When I finally accepted this (and it really wasn’t that long ago), I realized that I don’t need to be so damn hard on myself. There aren’t any deadlines, and to have fun.

The most maddening part of writing the first draft is the story in my head doesn’t translate to the page. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I will have a really awesome story in my head and think, “okay, I’m gonna sit down and write it, and it’s gonna win the Nobel prize for literature!”

Then I get to the end, scratch my head and think, “that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

When I originally “pitched” Electric Angels, it actually ended up as something other than what I hyped it as. It was supposed to be a short story, maybe 10-15 pages, but then I got carried away because something else came out while I was writing it. I ran with it because that’s what makes the first draft exciting. I let the characters frolic at their leisure.

I don’t think there’s anything mysterious about the first draft. It feels silly to elevate the simple task of a first draft to some higher, ethereal plane of thinking.

Just shut up, sit down and write it.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

The Art of Revision

Writing to me has been cathartic, throughout my entire life. There has never been a time when I wasn’t writing. I would write a poem, short story, or similar, and then hide it away from the world because I was afraid of people seeing who I really am. Or I would let my friends see my writing, but of course, their biased opinions never helped me grow. As I got older, I realized that writing is more than therapy for me, I enjoyed it for the artistic process, and I loved entertaining people in my own way.

As such, a revision was never part of my process before. It never occurred to me that what I wrote should be polished, fine-tuned like a piano, to be something better than what I puked on the page.

One of my fears when I first started this program last year was that I wouldn’t be able to take constructive criticism. But as I sat and critiqued others in workshops, and had them critique me, I realized that the only way I could be the best writer I am capable of being is to be open to it all.

What’s great about our workshops is that sometimes you’ll get feedback from someone about a plot point or characterization, and you think to yourself, “that’s ridiculous. It’s right there on the page!” Those, I tend to acknowledge politely, but never incorporate because I don’t want anyone to be prescriptive to my work. That’s why I never pursued journalism.

Everything I ever submitted for the school paper was changed in such a way that it didn’t sound like me anymore. I wanted full control of whatever my name was slapped on. I saw that creative writing would be the best way to do that, and still allow my demons to be expelled from my brain.

I think the most difficult thing about revision is finding the time to do it. When I get my critiques back from a workshop, I put it aside in the closet. I don’t even want to see it right away. I like to let the verbal and written criticisms percolate for as long as possible.

When I do block the time to revise, it’s because I’ve stepped away from it long enough to see it with brand new eyes, or I shared it with someone who gave me excellent criticism that I’m eager to incorporate into the work while keeping my voice.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Creative Prompts

Inside My Head

I found another freewriting piece. I think the prompt was to write an entire story with a clear beginning and end only on 1 page. It was an exercise in limiting yourself to a small space. It was for my humor class as well. We could choose any topic, and I chose the topic I was most comfortable with: the secret agent world.

I went through the Farm like it was a candy store. Top marks. My psych evals showed great temperament. Marksmanship? No scope, bitch. I trained hard. I got sent Over There because of my gift of tongues. I was thrilled. It didn’t occur to me until later that I was leaving my family behind and I might not come back. TDY was my rote answer. They didn’t question it. It wasn’t like they had the clearance. We shut down a money-laundering scheme from a certain enemy of the United States operating There. Can’t say more than that. Sorry. For my hard work, I got “awarded” a desk job. My cunning linguist skills were needed to translate any and all reports coming up over Echelon. I could feel my physical talents grow fallow. The guys at the gym noticed. It got back to my superiors. Went through a refresher course. Fails across the board. I lost my swag. I’d never seen so many red marks on a redacted report. Went home and cried like I lost my dog. The powers that be believed in me. They sent me abroad again. Something was different. I could feel it even as the agent scanned my passport of the woman with my face but not my name. I was pleased that my reflexes were quick. I saw the muzzled gun blast in the shadows of the Burj Khalifa. I feigned death. I always was a great actress. It was almost too easy. Whomever this guy was, he wasn’t very good. He didn’t do a very thorough investigation of my supposedly dead carcass. No double-tap. He sent proof to Them and buried my body in the desert. I let my training take over. Was buried for 12 hours before I thought I was safe. I went underground. I wasn’t mad they eliminated me. My name would go on their wall of fallen heroes. My family would get a nice funeral and the American flag for the mantle. If anything, it freed me to find a better version of me, one that wouldn’t fail. Their mistake.

If you got this same prompt, what would you write? Let me know in the comments!

Let me know in the comments!

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

One Story in One Sentence

We had a tradition at my high school on the last day of school. You’d dump all your papers from your locker in the main hall. They tried to stop it when I was preparing to graduate because it was a safety hazard to have loose papers on the floor in a hallway that everyone has to walk through. I still did it. It’s a tradition! No one has ever been hurt, but I know they were being proactive. Adults. Always taking the fun out of being a kid.

I found a freewriting piece from earlier in the semester from the workshop. We were supposed to tell a story in one sentence. My professor took volunteers to read what we wrote, and in an effort to try and participate, I read mine. She loved it, and the feedback I got was that it felt more like spoken word. So whatever.

I like freewriting. It tends to unlock things in your head that never seems to appear because you’re trying too hard. You have to do that a lot for the Artist’s Way. I don’t know if I should restart it or just keep going from where I left off. It has been a minute since I’ve looked at the book. I should probably start fresh.

Anyways, here’s the piece I wrote:

The tone of her voice remained unchanged, her eyes were wild and she was ten sheets to the wind – I’m pretty sure – to harp on it because she was so insistent that it was wrong, like all the people who came before her thought wrong, were wrong, y’all motherfuckers need Jesus, but if she could just shut that logical part of her brain down she’d know that the sin of pride was deadly and she needed to chill the fuck out, but that’s what happens when you’re new and you’re learning the ways that make this country great and I’m totally defending her now because I’m too empathetic to her, ’cause I was there once too and it’s hard to realize that no amount of knowledge or training will prepare you for the unknown.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

The one where I meet my thesis instructor for the first time

In case you haven’t realized, I’ve been sharing some old posts from Raconteuse that are writing-related the last few Wednesdays. I think they’re relevant to what I’m trying to achieve here with Writeropolis, and I hope that you enjoy what’s here.

Her feedback was vital. I’ve been jumping the gun too much about the cinematic lens in my stories. I’m more worried about bringing forth the cinematic part of my craft to remember that I still have a story to tell. I’ve gotten that feedback before (film geek for life!) and while I cherish it, it’s also been working against me. 

She advised me straight up that I need to let go of controlling the story so much. I never knew I did that. I’m glad she called me on it. I’ve learned quite a bit about how my craft works in front of an audience because the workshop is essential.

But I don’t like the setup. You’re not allowed to speak when people are critiquing your work. You sit there, take your punches and edit the holy shit out of it. I definitely want a more collaborative nature in a workshop. Besides, it’s not like I have to incorporate everything they bash me on. But by asking questions during the session I can gauge where the story should go. 

It’s like they say: “All advice is autobiographical.” It’s so much easier to ding someone else for your own sins than to see them when they’re in you. 

I oftentimes have a hell of a time ending a story. It never comes naturally, it just sort of dies. I often know where I want a story to end BUT I never know when to walk away so it tends to end abruptly. I’m like “fuck it, I’m done with you. Blahhhh.” And I’m not doing the story justice.

There’s this rich, cinematic movie that plays in my head when I write. All I want to do is capture that in the story. But the actual craft of the story is lost in the process. So I definitely need to fine-tune my style that way. I’m simply too excited to share the movies in my head to focus on the story part.

She said my strengths were my humor, how I give away clues to move the story along in my dialogue and how “voice-y” I am. I’ve gotten that feedback before but it’s nice to be reminded.

Well, it’s true what they say. Writing is a very solitary career. I want to see what’s going on in the world, and not just in my head or on the page.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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