Monday, May 12, 2008

Beware the wrath of an Angry Penguin

I got back from Australia and realised that the Waterstones story cards were meant to have been completed and returned by last Friday. They were sent out on April 14th, but, due to human error, mine didn't reach me until I was in Melbourne last week, and I didn't even look at the date, just read it hastily, went "Well, that can wait until I'm not touring Australia any longer and I'll have lots of time to think about it...".

But, I discovered, I didn't have lots of time. I have about 24 hours, as it has to be in London at the end of the week. I looked at the card, guessed that I could fit about 250 words on it, and wrote a 250 word story (using the Pelikan flexnib that Henry Selick gave me from I'd been waiting for something to write with it, and this seemed perfect). I have two more cards, in case of disaster, and I might do a second draft tomorrow before FedEx comes. Or I may not. But I find myself, for the first time, a bit envious of Margaret Atwood and her Long Pen...

In response to your bee picture, my eleven year-old daughter said "It looks like an angry penguin." (Me)"Are you sure it doesn't look like an angry bee?" (Her)"Nope, an angry penguin."

Take care!


I love my job.


I have a question about writing. I read your advice, and the thing is, I don't do it like that at all.

For one thing, I don't write a first draft completely, then edit it several times. I work with scenes. I write a scene, I correct it, a re-correct it, I edit it and so on. I usually have a story planned out in my head entirely, so I end up writing the scenes in any order, really, although it's mostly chronological.

I'm guessing your advice would probably be "whatever works for you", but the thing is, I don't know if it works for me. I've never finished a novel yet. Actually, my first novel (which is uncomplete) is resting right now because I met my husband, who's Canadian and couldn't speak French, and I stopped writing in French. I just though, what's the point of writing if the person I love the most can't even read it? I want him to read it /before/ everyone else, not years later.

So I started writing in English, and man is it hard. You think you're fluent in a language, and next thing you know you're struggling to find synonyms or words that have the right connotation, and your characters all speak the same way, because that's they only way /you/ speak. So I'm extremely slow.

I'm just worried that my approach might just be plain wrong, and lead me to never finish anything. I don't know who to ask for advice so I'm turning to you.

I guess my question really is, should I make sure to finish a first draft as soon as possible, even if what I write is crap and has to be rewritten later, or can I polish each piece, put them all together, then polish the result? Is it very important to have a whole to work with, and can that whole be in your head rather than written? (I always spend several months just thinking about a story for hours every day before writing it. By which I mean, that's the way I did it for the only two "real" novels I've started)

Sorry I wrote that much. Feel free to take an aspirin.

The biggest problem I can see with the way you're doing it is that it doesn't seem to give you anything finished. (If it was working for you I'd have no suggestions. There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays and every single one of them is right, after all.) The second biggest problem is that if you're writing a novel scene by scene, trying to get each scene perfect, you don't get to see how anything works when you put it all together, and that's important. A novel is more than just a sequence of scenes put side by side. It has its own rhythms, and you have to bow to them; a novel, or any long story, is something that has to work when you put the whole thing together.

If you're being forced by the nature of what you're doing (episodic comics or serial television, or even writing a novel at 200 words a day online or in a newspaper) to just write and hope it all works out, that's one thing. But if you're writing a novel determined to make each scene perfect before you go on to the next, and you're writing the scenes out of order, then you're making something that's either going to work or not work when you put it all together. (That's still "write the first draft any which way".)

But it won't excuse you from doing a second draft, because you'll get to the end, and put all the scenes together, and then you'll still have to do a second draft, if only because when you read it you notice that you've got two Wednesdays coming together, and someone's name or eye-colour changes between scenes. Or your heroine seems like a bitch, although that wasn't your intention, because you don't have a scene there that shows her humanity. Or a great scene you wrote and rewrote and honed and rewrote and polished till it shone just doesn't fit anywhere because the thing that's happening at the same time loses all vitality if you cut away from it.

I guess that's one reason I like things like NaNoWriMo -- it makes people write and finish things, helter-skelter and however. And once something's finished, you can always fix it. (The first draft of Good Omens took about 9 weeks. The second draft took MONTHS. And it wasn't until we came to rework it a little after that for the US edition that we realised that we had indeed, without noticing, created a week with two Wednesdays in it.)

Incidentally, I'm in awe of anyone who would even attempt to try to write fiction in a language not her own.

As for thinking time versus writing time, well, that's up to you. But -- and I wish it were otherwise -- books don't get written by thinking about them, they get written by writing them. And that's when you make discoveries about what you're writing. That's when you get the happy accidents.

So think all you like, but don't mistake the thinking for the writing.


Remember the National Doodle Day doodles? (I talked about them at This just came in...

The National Doodle Day auction has begun. Proceeds will benefit Neurofibromatosis, Inc. ( Gillian Anderson's (Scully of The X-Files) brother suffers from NF. Click here ( to read about Gillian's involvement with the cause.

We have 175 doodles on the auction block including many from The X-Files "gang": David Duchovny, Chris Carter, Annabeth Gish, Mark Snow (composer of the well-known X-Files theme music), Mitch Pileggi, and various XF Alumni.

You can easily check out all the available doodles by looking at our Doodle Guide at:

And it's a family affair for Gillian. We have doodles by her sister, Zoƫ, her 13 year old daughter, Piper, and Piper's Dad, Clyde Klotz who also used to work for The X-Files.

To immediately access the eBay auction --

Direct Links to Neil Gaiman's doodles plus his fave doodles on the auction block:

Ebay link to doodle #1

Ebay link to number 2

Kendra Stout: Ebay link here

Cat Mihos: Ebay link here

Fred Hembeck: Ebay link here

Sergio Aragones: Ebay link here

Gahan Wilson: ebay link here

There are some other pretty nifty ones as well I'd not seen the last time I posted about it (Simon Pegg! Robin Williams!). I was vaguely happy to notice that my first doodle, of something vaguely ifritish, seemed to be attracting more voters than the sort-of-Sandman I did next (thinking, they probably expect a Sandman).


This is cool, and I can't wait to read it:


And finally, from the Sandman 20th anniversary poster, P. Craig Russell's Lucifer and Mazikeen...

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