Second Draft

Writing Retreat

Posted in Collaboration,Writing by Jill Snider Lum on Monday, April 12, 2010

Twice a year, the Cecil Street Writers’ Group organizes a writing retreat. We take off on Friday morning for a cottage-camp on a lake in the Kawarthas, and we stay until Sunday afternoon. This past weekend was one such retreat, and it’s spurred me on to recommend this kind of thing to anyone who writes.

Let me describe what we do; maybe it can work for you and your fellow writers as well.

We rent a cottage, or cottages, for the weekend, depending on how many of us are going up. This April there were only four of us, but I’ve been on retreat with as many as eight writers together. Splitting the cost makes it affordable for everyone. Michael loves to cook (and do we ever love to eat his food!), so he does most of the cooking and provisioning for meals and we all chip in accordingly with the cost. Helen always makes the excellent Saturday breakfast crepes, we take turns doing dishes, and drinks and snacks are brought up individually and shared collectively.

We wake up between 7 and 7:30 a.m. on average, eat breakfast together in the same cabin, and then go back to whichever cabins we’ve slept in to write. Some people like to repair to their rooms and write alone. Others gather in the living-room area of their cabin and write together. I am one of those latter, because I find it easier to concentrate on writing fiction in a room where other people are doing the same thing. The enthusiasm, or you might say the energy, in a room full of writers writing is a powerful force. I find it impossible not to be carried along by it, and contribute my own energy to the stream.

We don’t talk much; we’re there to write. Now and then one of us might get up and walk down to the lake, to stretch our legs, or to brood (Dave is a great brooder-by-the-lake on these weekends, and he says it helps him a lot). Sara and Helen have a traditional walk they do, to the weir and back, to watch the rushing water and have it clear their minds. But mostly, we write.

A full writing day up there is eight to ten hours long. After the workday is over we have dinner together, and spend the evening talking, drinking wine, and relaxing until we’re ready for bed. Then we do all it again.

When you go on retreat, your household stays behind. There are no pending chores to distract you, no family needs to attend to, and unless you turn your mobile phone on, no phone calls. You’re in a room full of writers who have the same goals as you do, and the only distraction, the lake, requires that you get up and go outside and walk to it. You can’t help but accomplish a lot, under those circumstances.

This weekend I wrote 8000 words, and rearranged and edited a great deal more in addition. I’ve revised two shorts stories, which are now almost ready to submit (pending one more glance-over by a helpful critique friend), and reached the point of being 85% finished my novel — I mean, the Frankenbook. The rest of us all had similar successes.

I don’t think any of us have gone on a single retreat and come away thinking, “This was a waste of time”. If you write, I recommend you try retreating. You won’t regret it either.


How We Do It Pt 2: Structure

Posted in Collaboration by Michael Skeet on Friday, March 12, 2010

I envy authors who have the luxury of just writing whatever their muses dictate. When you’re working on a collaborative project you don’t have the option. Our work is (possibly) not as rigorously structured as would appeal to certain anal-retentive engineer types we know, but it has to be much more deliberately thought-out than would be the case for a project worked on by a single writer.

When Jill and I agreed that we would work on Demon Gate together, we were able to jump past some of the basic questions any writer faces when starting a new project: we knew who many of the characters would be, and we knew the milieu in which the story would be set (in both cases because Demon Gate was to be a follow-on of our novella “Beneath the Skin”).

At the same time, though, we didn’t have the luxury of allowing the form and structure of the story to emerge over the course of the first draft. Because of the way we work (more on this later), we had to lock down at least some idea of the novel’s structure before we could move on to the next phase of work.

We started with the idea that we would be continuing the moral education of our protagonist, Satoshi. The ending of “Beneath the Skin” was fairly ambiguous (deliberately so, I hasten to add), and we wanted to make it clear that Satoshi still had some growing up to do. With this in mind we agreed on a simple, traditional three-act structure:

  • Act I would have its own three-part structure, in which Satoshi is tempted, gives in to temptation, and then has to endure his whole world apparently falling apart
  • Act II would see  Satoshi and his brother, Masahiro, escape disaster and try to restore their fortunes from hiding
  • Act III would likewise have a three-part structure, in which Satoshi tries to defeat his nemesis without changing the attitudes that got him into trouble in the first place, is nearly destroyed, and then makes the personal leap that allows him to triumph

We settled on most of this during a single planning session. As I recall, it took only a couple of hours to hammer out the basics, including some preliminary plot sketches.

Whether or not other writers are quite this calculated at the beginning of a project (and certainly I have not been in any of the novels I’ve written thus far), determined calculation was, we thought, the only effective method available to us that would allow a fast start.

We did this work in a face-to-face session. But as Pt 3 will demonstrate, technology means we weren’t required to work this way.

How We Do It Pt 1: Why

Posted in Collaboration by Michael Skeet on Wednesday, March 3, 2010

At last year’s Worldcon in Montreal I chaired a panel on collaboration. I was, if you’ll forgive me, a logical choice, having written a fair amount in collaboration over the years, and having had two pieces (“I Love Paree,” written with Cory Doctorow, and “Beneath the Skin,” written with Jill) published.

I was a bit surprised, when the panel got underway, to learn that with the exception of those panelists from the Cecil St group, none of the participants had ever collaborated in what I’ll call an equal partnership. No offence to the others (I won’t name them, mostly because I can’t remember all of them, I don’t want to leave anyone out, and I’m too busy—or lazy—to go back through my notes), but it seems that to a one they collaborated in some variant of the following fashion:

  1. Well-known writer gets an assignment.
  2. Writer realizes s/he won’t have the time (or doesn’t have the interest) to complete the assignment.
  3. Writer recruits another, more junior, writer to help.
  4. Well-known writer puts together an outline and character notes, to varying degrees of detail.
  5. Junior writer writes the project based on these notes.
  6. Well-known writer vets and/or edits the result.

That wasn’t what I had in mind when I set out to write up interview questions for the panel. Yes, it’s collaboration of a sort. But the collaboration I had in mind was more the sort I’ve experienced, where two writers of roughly equal standing work on a project together from start to finish.

The difference between the reality I learned about at Worldcon and my own experience of collaboration is one of the bigger reasons for Second Draft‘s existence, really. And so I hope, over the next few weeks, to write out (as I work it out in my own head) the mechanics of the collaboration Jill and I are working on now, with comparisons to my previous experiences. And I may collect similar experiences from friends, because Cory, Dave and Karl have all done this sort of thing as well.

Long time, no post…

Posted in Collaboration,Promotion, Shameless by Jill Snider Lum on Sunday, February 14, 2010

… ’cause life is what happens when you’re making other plans.  Darned inconvenient, life.  But it beats the alternative; and here we are again, still working on our novel, in addition to the other novels we’re each working on separately, and the short-story idea I’m toying with, and various other projects and general being-alive things.  And you’ll be hearing from us most every day now, whether you want to or not.  <rubbing hands together and giggling maniacally>

So… about our collaborative novel.  Michael and I recently figured out the details of what’s going to happen in the last third or so of Demon Gate, a subject we’ve both been brooding on for some time.  We both knew pretty much what was going to happen, mind you, but now we also know how, which is a different matter entirely.  One of the things I like best about collaborating is the fact that when I’m out of ideas, my collaborator is likely to have one, and vice versa.  At any rate, knowing about the rest of the book will facilitate finishing the first draft… and there will be much rejoicing.  And then we get to start in on the edits.

We both have some good independent news, too.

Michael’s short story “Red Blues” is coming out in EDGE publication’s new anthology Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, coming out in March.  The book will be launched at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, UK, if you’re planning to attend.  Michael can’t be there, but some of the other featured authors will be attending.  Whether or not you’re at the convention, “Red Blues” is a damn fine story, so you ought to check it out.  Visit the Edge website for more details.

For myself, I’ll be participating in an online question-and-answer session on the 3rd and 4th of March, on the paranormal book review website Bitten by Books. You can leave questions for me and other Tesseracts Thirteen authors, and we’ll log on periodically and answer them.  I’m just as curious about some of my fellow contributors’ answers to the questions as I am about what we’ll be asked.  Feel free to look in; it sounds like fun.

See you tomorrow, life permitting.  Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day!

Enhanced Perspective, or something like that

Posted in Collaboration by Jill Snider Lum on Friday, October 9, 2009

It was a pleasant, productive summer for each of us, with travelling, events, time with our families and friends, and a number of different individual projects  — you’ll have read Michael’s good news about his work this summer, and I’ve been revising a novel that I’d let lie fallow, having had my head too far stuck inside it to know how to make it better.  You may know the feeling, if you write: you realize the thing is full of flaws, you have vague ideas of what they are but can’t get a handle on them, you’re too disgusted with the piece to show your critique group, but you’re not sure quite what to do to fix the mess… so you put it away for a while, hoping to see it more clearly later on.  Well, it worked; I think a fairly decent phoenix will rise from the ashes, which I will then present to the Cecil Street group so they can help me flay off the bits that still aren’t working.

The structure of this summer had that stepping-back effect for me regarding Demon Gate, the collaborative project.  Not that either Michael or I felt it was in difficulties or had horrendous problems — but sometimes it’s really good to just slow down on a piece for a bit, to get a better perspective on how it’s looking, and on how to proceed with the rest of it.  Having both had a little distance from the book, we seem to have found ourselves more readily able to codify questions and issues we had about the work we’d each done on the first half of the story, and the effects our decisions would have on the second half.

I have high hopes for the second half.

Back from WorldCon, and busy as all get-out…

Posted in Collaboration,Promotion, Shameless by Jill Snider Lum on Friday, August 14, 2009

Since Michael’s tied up at work (odd metaphor, that), and I’ve got a little more time in between trying to get work, I wanted to write a little something about WorldCon before the headless-chicken thing gets too dramatic.

I think I enjoyed this year’s WorldCon more than any of the other five I’ve attended — well, except the one in Japan.  (Hey, it was in Japan!  What’s not to love about that?) Our families had a fine time as well; apart from the convention itself, Montreal is a beautiful city, and Schwartz’s serves the best smoked meat this side of — I don’t know, Smoked Meat Heaven or something.  And the 40-member spider colony on the hotel windows was really cool, though I realize that wouldn’t be everyone’s thing.

The Cecil Street panel and kaffeklatsch were my first experience of both (either?  Whatever).  We were all pretty amazed that so many people attended, and I hope the resulting discussions were helpful to everyone interested in creating or attending a writers’ group.  Lord knows we talked enough, which would argue some enthusiasm about our subject.

The panel on collaboration went well, and I stopped being nervous after hearing the experiences of the other panelists.  (Does everyone get nervous before doing panels?)  One poor guy had collaborated with someone who only contributed one paragraph to their story.  Tricky business, this.

Edge Publications gave a swell book-launch for Tesseracts Thirteen, which comes out this fall and is full of really creepy stuff.  I read part of “A Patch of Bamboo” without mucking it up too much, and the other five authors present read excerpts from their stories as well.  They all scared me a lot, indicating an accomplishment of objective.  Srsly, they were all diverse and well-written.  Is good book.

Let’s see, what else?  Michael’s panel on history was a success; it was very well-received and standing-room-only.  Everyone enjoyed his reading, too, which was scheduled for a disgustingly early hour on Sunday morning — I will leave him to talk more about these things.  Along with Jenny Blackford and Ann VanderMeer, both of whom I found a pleasure to meet, I told ghost stories in dim light for the children in the Kids’ Program, and had to tell my son not to interject remarks regarding continuity (good think I like him so much…).  I went to parties, met new people, re-encountered old friends, had a fine time studying my fellow humans  (mwa-ha-ha)… and when I get more of that time thing, I’ll maybe write more.

Time.  Yeah, that.  Want more of that.