Monday, October 19, 2009

Failing Upwards, From Sloppy Copy to The End

I'm reading Lani Massey Brown's thriller, A MARGIN OF ERROR right now, and can't put it down. Great imagery, wonderful characterization, it's a real page turner. I asked her to write a piece for us on the writing process, and she kindly obliged.
- Aaron Lazar

"Failing Upwards" from Sloppy Copy to
The End

copyright 2009 Lani Massey Brown

“Anyone can write. It’s just syntax, right?” That remarkable comment comes courtesy of my first fiction-writing professor. I chose her class as a lark, a slam-dunk for an easy few credits. The course was certain to be a breeze. After all I’d been writing big-time in the business world for years.

“Ah, but not just anyone can imagine.” She smiled her wicked little smile as she eyed all seven of her students, one by one. Then she set us on the grueling task of reaching inward to places, people, events, feelings, some of which quite honestly I choose not to recall.

I did have an edge though. Or so I thought. Early on I learned never to dwell on the beginning. Simply jump into the middle of a paper without concern for the first sentence or paragraph or sometimes even the first chapter. I doubt my long-ago business instructor knew he’d given me the gift of a lifetime with that technique.

Much later, I received yet another gift. Each chapter in even the heftiest novel is no more than a short story. Important stuff when your stack of empty manuscript boxes looms higher than Mt. Everest.

There’s another technique that was important for my own personal writing process. I must give myself permission to fail. There are writers who knock out the perfect document from beginning to end in one sitting. No editing, no changes. Perfect. I am not one of those writers. I splash the ink across the page and then wait to see how it falls. I like to taste my words, feel them, read, read and re-read. Tweak and twist and squeeze every phrase until it feels just so.

As long as I can do the sloppy copy, writing’s the easy part. And in the writing, with that physical process of committing words to paper, no matter how horrible or mundane those words are, the imagination kicks in and I tune-in to that inner world of the mind, failing upward ever closer to the tale I want to spin.

It’s the editing that kills me.

- Lani Massey Brown

About the author:

Lani Massey Brown writes fiction and non-fiction. She draws on personal experience as an election official for her novel A Margin of Error: Ballots of Straw, the political thriller about a corrupt governor’s lust for power and the woman who discovers his plot to control elections, all of them. A Margin of Error: Ballots of Straw is available in paperback and Kindle.


Harvee said...

Love to read about how authors create.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Welcome to MB4 today, Lani! Thanks for guest blogging with us. ;o)

Kim Smith said...

I agree! writing is the easy part... it is the editing, revising, rewriting, and promoting that is hard :) -- good to have you today on Mb4

Lani said...

Thank you, Aaron and Kim. Funny you should mention promotion, Kim. I've learned so much from MB4 already. And now one more thing. This blogger format is a new experience for me.

s.w. vaughn said...

I feel your editing pain. *groans* A few weeks ago I was juggling revisions on three manuscripts at once. That was fun... ha!

(And wow, you had a class with SEVEN students? That must have been really interesting!)

Sheila Deeth said...

That was fun. Thanks. And interesting that you'd view chapters as short stories - it tends to be what I tell myself when I start my editing phase. Can always edit a short story - that won't take too long.

Lani said...

Thank you Shiela. But then to the editing of all those short stories and I forget who did what and when. So I write it all over again. Hmm. Four novels for the writing of one. Would that it could be that easy!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story, Lani. It's always fascinating and fun to learn about other writers.