The dragon roared as it died, shaking the ground beneath our feet. We could see the arcing lights of whatever high-born magic killed the giant lizard as they stained the sky and burnt the clouds. We just didn’t care. That was the high-born, doing their best to waste our world. We weren’t them, follow?
No, we kept up with what we were doing. Well. The others kept up. I kept watching them. They beat on Ken a while longer and then just got bored, drifting away in little clumps. I took notes. Technique: who favored which arm, who liked to kick, to bite, that sort of thing. It came in handy to know.
My parents had been high-born, but fell from grace due to serving the crown too well. No one talks about it, that sort of thing couldn’t happen, they’ll say, and so we moved down the hills and into the dirt and I don’t even really remember a different place.
The high-born had schools. They learned things: Magic, courtly dress, how to use a sword and be insufferable, yet always boring. We had the dirt and the air. We had the few years until we started working for the rest of our lives. So this, watching Ken get used like a sack of flour, this was school.
They were taught how to ride horses. We learned or we fell off. They were taught how to duel. We were taught how to bite through a cheek. Though, to be fair, I say “we” and meant “the boys.” No, I was supposed to learn how to wash chamber pots and polish silver. Something like that. Lucky for me my parents saw the world a bit different. A bit clearer, really.
“Enndolynn,” my father told me while teaching me how to hold a knife, “people are people. They don’t want you to know that, but it’s true. And people,” he grinned, “bleed.”
“Enndolynn,” my mother chided, “pay attention.” She held the needle out and let me inspect it. “You will need to know how to sew, and where best to stab with a needle should you need to.”
I wasn’t strong and I don’t consider myself smarter than everyone else. I’m smart. So are a lot of people. No, what I am is prepared. The thing of it is, prepared people look at angles different. We look at costs, and we see outcomes. So we’re put to the side as strange and left alone. The low-born didn’t want me and the high-born wouldn’t know what I even was. I was myself. Simply born.
Being apart from everyone had advantages, anyway. Like I’ve said, I was prepared and I saw things. I learned how to use it when I was seven. Doran sat alone, as he often did, and studied his feet seriously. Curious, I asked after his problem. It turned out Dain and Kaylein had stolen his hat. Kaylein just liked to attack Doran, yelling that he was a Moor, as if anyone with a dark skin couldn’t possibly have been born here, and Dain, well, Dain liked to hurt people.
Doran’s mother spent time on that hat and she wouldn’t take kindly to making another. Kaylein wouldn’t care about it, but Dain would wear it as a trophy. So I told Doran I would get his hat back. I didn’t know it at the time, but that stupid hat set my course.
Dain wore the hat all right. He wore it all around, telling people where he’d gotten it. But I knew that he couldn’t take it home. Taking a hat like that home meant explaining where you go tit. No one would believe Dain had made the hat himself, no, and if he risked telling his parents he’d stolen Doran’s hat things could go bad. Sure, they might laugh and be proud of their twisted child, but they might also beat him and not want the possible trouble.
So he wore the hat all day and then, well I thought I knew. So I followed him home. I didn’t have the high-born’s animal familiar to track him, nor a House Tracker to use. I had to simply be quiet, be unseen, and not get caught. Easy. Or so I told myself as I sweated my way through following Dain into the wood. Chances were I could take him in a fight, but not without crippling him. I would, but the trouble wouldn’t get Duran his hat back and wouldn’t do me any favors. To put it mildly.
Dain, anyway, went to a tree and shoved his hand, hat clutched in a fist, inside a large knot. Then he turned and went home. I made sure to be able to watch him get the hat and store it a few more times, making sure he always used the same place.
“But Enndolynn,” Doran said, whining through his nose when I told him, “why didn’t you just grab it?”
“Do you want him to beat you worse for taking it back? No. Listen, just over the next few days agree with whatever I say to Dain.” I fixed him with a hard stare. “Don’t embellish, just agree. I say the sky’s pink you say ‘Sure is,” got me?”
Doran agreed, because what else would he do? and the next day I strode up to Dain, looking at the hat in wide-eyed terror.
“Dain,” I said, keeping a grim lock myself, “don’t you know that hat is cursed?”
“Cursed? Oh hey,” he said, “it’s little Endy, scared of a hat.” He laughed, along with most of his friends.
“It’s true, Duran’s grandmother worked for a high-born and stole an enchantment so that if anyone else wears the hat they’re in trouble.”
“I been wearing it for four days now, Endy,” I hated to be called that, “and nothing bad’s happened to me. Duran, she telling the truth?”
“Y-yeah,” Duran said. He took a step back just in case. Some people.
“Oh sure,” I said over my shoulder as I left the field, “be cavalier about it, Dain. Good luck with that.”
That night I did nothing. Two days later, when Dain grew even more convinced that I’d either lied or he stood so powerful as to defeat curses, I snuck out to the tree he kept the hat in, a linen bag tight in one fist. I took out the hat and emptied the bag into it.
The next day Dain started to scratch at his head. He ripped the hat off and Kaylein cackled. “Fleas!” she laughed and pointed, “Dain, I guess the curse is real, or your mother can’t keep house, huh?” The laughter rippled through the assembled group but Dain just stalked off to wash the hat undaunted.
The next day he reached his hand into the tree to get the hat and drew back as the hornet’s nest I’d carefully, oh Lord so carefully, put inside the knot burst. He showed up without the hat, but welts everywhere. That day the laughter grew. But still, Dain wanted that hat.
It was the fourth day, when the tiny bit of fresh meat I’d tucked into the hat attracted the dogs to chase Dain for hours, that he threw the hat at Duran, cursing the whole time. Later, Duran thanked me, but seemed taken aback when I asked for payment.
“But you were doing me a favor!” he said, the nasal whine growing.
“No, Duran, I was doing a job. It’s done now.”
“I can’t pay you!”
“Your family grows good potatoes. Just arrange some. Call it a gift. Tell your parents you feel pious, they’ll buy that, and your mother will be so glad you found your hat—”
“You got it back, I didn’t—”
“Duran, so help me. You found. Your. Hat. I had nothing to do with it. But it made you feel pious and you took pity on my family so you are thanking the Lord by giving us potatoes.”
“That makes no sense, Enndolynn.”
“It’s religion, it doesn’t have to make sense.” Duran bought the potatoes and his family were none the wiser.
My family, however, well. They sighed, both parents, and told me to stop whatever it is I’d done to the poor boy. So I explained. That’s when they started training me in earnest. If I was going to solve problems and be a sneak about it, I needed to not get caught.
Quietly, despite my intentions and instructions, word spread. I got asked to help with all sorts of things. Cases, my dad called them. Cases, I said to myself, liking the sound of it. And I didn’t get caught, not in a way anyone could prove. Oh, I was often shunned because no one wants a snoop around, not when the information from just knowing me could be used against them. But I never got caught.
That lasted a few years, until I was 11. Until the high-born needed my dad’s help. Until Mage Emeline got involved. Then things got messy.
Stop it. Right now. Stop editing. Look, if you’re writing then your job is to write. That’s your only job. Because here’s the truth:
Over 95% of people who try to write things never finish.
This is the key to getting where you want. As silly as it sounds it is as simple as: Finish your story. Write. Keep writing. Finish. Then you can go back and edit.
I’ve known too many people who want to start writing and write a page or two and then stop and go “Well let me fix that before I move on.” They will, chances are, never finish. Because they don’t move forward. They just move backward. Every half step they take they take two back to “fix things.”
When you are writing your job is to write. When you have told your story and it is time for edits your job is then to edit. Do not try and do both jobs at the same time. You will do both poorly. Instead focus on the job at hand.
Look, I know when you’re writing and you need to change something because you want to move forward but that motion depends on this change back there and maybe if you just go back and – nope leave yourself a note. I like to make a hashfile for those notes. “Fix chapter 7 so that the rhinos are plaid” sort of thing. I’ve also left them in brackets and bold or fun colors, in the document itself. Whatever works for you. So long as you do one job at a time.
I work as an editor a decent amount again these days, and I tend to focus on working with newer writers. Mostly because I love the enthusiasm they have, and partly because if I can help just one of them finish a story then I’ve really done my job. I’ve helped create an environment for them to just do the work in. And then a comic comes out (let’s just say) and I can spend a bunch of my day shouting congratulations at someone. Because they finished their story, and that opened the door to everything else.
Do your job. Write. Focus and don’t lose sight of it for the fixes, the tweaks, the changed mind or the “making it better.” Let your first draft be shit. It’s a first draft! That’s what it’s for. You’ll go back, hell, you’ll go back so many times you’ll learn to hate life, so why rush that? Write, just write, and when you’re done – then you can edit.
Until then – don’t you dare.
I used Grammarly to grammar check this post because I’m a neurotic space monkey with enough spare time to test tools and report on them for you to enjoy. Meanwhile, I remain a monkey, in a capsule, in space. Oh god, I’m running out of aiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrr… But why did I use Grammarly? That’s part of a bigger discussion.
Editing is a funny thing. Most pro-writers I know extol the virtues of working with an editor. A lot of self-pub authors, not to bag on them but…, they tend to shun editors. Editors are pricey they say. They can just edit themselves all the way start to finish they say. It’s close enough they say.
They are wrong.
A good editor is worth double whatever you pay them. They do more than spell check and grammar check. They help you tease out the truths you want to say, but subtly miss in your own work.
But that’s prose, and comics and the like. What about blogs. Have you ever known of a personal blog with an editor? And yet some of them make money off their work, and you would think they would want to put their best foot forward. I am a huge supporter of editors, and yet I don’t hire one to proofread my blog entries.
We’re lax about it. We feel these are informal places and so why use an editor, and I get that. But once you use it for professional purposes, shouldn’t you, well, be a professional about it and treat it like you would anything else you’re serious about writing? Probably.
Then you come to realize you would need to pay an editor. For blog posts, you aren’t making much money on at all. Still, it would improve what you did, I’m willing to bet. Your writing would read sharper, and your ideas would end up better expressed.
It comes down to a simple question: What is your blog worth to you?
And this is where Grammarly might come in. Honestly I am not sold on it yet. I’m intrigued by it but far from sold. It’s a service you can upload writing to and check it against a bunch of rules and such (it’ll even do plagiarism checks) to improve the look and feel of your writing. Which is awesome – in theory. There are a number of filters for checks (depending on the type of writing) and, generally, it seems to work.
But it isn’t an editor. Mind you, they are sort of paying me to review their product, but really I Wanted to fold it into a much bigger discussion about editing and blogging and how we perceive it. I mean as a platform to make money it is a professional thing and should be treated as such. But as an expression of just a person, lounging and chatting that happens to also bring in some money – where do we land?
I think we need to talk this out, a bunch of us. I’ll tell you though – I will be offering an Editor For Blogs service, probably soon. Tiered and so on. So mail (adampknave @ gmail) if you want super cheap rates or to discuss it. Because this sort of thing needs to happen for the community, I think.
Most importantly how do you feel about Blog Editors for personal blogs?
Do not compare yourself to other people. This isn’t easy to do. It really isn’t. But it can be crucial.
I can not put out a book and look at the sales and think “Well, Stephen King would have sold more.” – of course he would have. I am not Stephen King. Sad for me. But here is the other truth: he is not me and that is kinda sad for him. I like being me, but that means being me and not someone else. My stuff doesn’t sell like Person A, Person B or Person C. It sells better than Person D, Person E, and Person F.
What matters, all that matters, is if it sells enough for me. Did it do better than the last thing? Is it a better bit of craft? Have I learned from it? Will it be a good platform to make the next thing even better? Those are the questions that matter.
But everyone else in my field has a different set of experiences, relationships, and career paths that make comparison utterly useless. The only thing such comparisons can do is weigh you down and make you feel bad. If feeling bad about yourself is you goal – go for it. But it won’t help your work.
Instead of looking at your situation and being sad it isn’t like someone else’s situation I try to (and lord knows I fail some days!) to look at where I was, instead. So long as I am moving forward I am happy. Is it as fast as someone else? Who cares. I’m moving forward. And intend to keep moving forward. The speed is up to me and my efforts, not up to the person over there doing their own thing. If the speed isn’t fast enough than I have to work out how I can speed it up – not just see that someone else is on a different track.
Every track is different. Every career is unique. That includes mine. And yours. So don’t consume yourself with “But she did…” or “But he gets…” because it will get you no where.
Breathe. Make sure you are doing right by you. Then get back to work.
This should not be a shock, but I am not the best writer I know. The truth is I am often not the best writer I know who sits at my desk. And I’m the only person who uses my desk. That’s just the way of it.
Most times I can feel every word, every phrase and idea that didn’t translate right from my brain to the page – and it’s almost all of them. I will sit and struggle and fuss and worry about how bad a writer I am.
Until I’m actually writing. See when I am in the process of laying down words I am the best writer who ever lived. In my head at least. For exactly as long as I’m working. Then it’s back to doubtsville.
And that’s right. That’s the correct way of things, really. When we’re not actively doing the work we can see the seams and we always see them distorted because we’re too close. So we glimpse our flaws in a funhouse mirror that makes it look like macrocephaly run rampant.
Oh, but when we work we must be Gods among people. Otherwise the spice won’t flow correctly and we’ll be left in an adaptation with Patrick Stewart holding a pug.
This, by the way, is why writers tend to drink. Wait no, I mean this is why writers tend to chat to each other endlessly. We know we can say to each other “Oh my god I suck” and it won’t be taken too deeply, any more than the overflow moments when we declare ourselves rulers of the Little People and High Lord of the Wheat. We’ve each been there, and worse, it is our job to be both places back and forth, in an endless cycle.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tend to the Wheat and Little People a while…