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Shadows Beneath - Why You Really Are A Good Author

Hello friends.  I had lots of reasons why I shouldn't write a blog post today, none of which were legitimate enough to give myself a pass.  I'm labeling this as a review even though I'm only halfway through the book (Reason #6 or 7), but I think you'll forgive me.

My husband has been getting into blade smithing over the past year, which has put me in a position to learn new stuff without really trying.  I love it when that happens.  One of the main impressions I have gotten from catching the occasional snatches of a youtube tutorial or seeing him out in the garage working is:  making knives is hard work.  It takes lots of time.  It takes lots of practice.  Some mistakes can be corrected.  Some mistakes mean that you have to scrap your project and start completely over.  While it might save a lot of time to cut your knife blank out of your steel billet in the exact shape that you want the finished knife to be, its terribly impractical.  #1 - We have neither the money nor the space for a plasma cutter.  #2 - If we did we'd be putting it to use in other ways.  #3 - That takes an extremely high level of precision, like plug the dimensions into a computer and press start level.  And that level of sophistication means high expense and less personal attention to detail, less craftsmanship, which was the whole point of making your own knives in the first place.

In reality, knife making means roughing out your knife blank on the steel (once the steel is ready, the analogy holds if I push it in that direction as well, but I am not as accidentally knowledgeable in that area) and gradually removing extraneous material until the knife is ready to take an edge.
This guy drilled all along the outside of his knife pattern, then took a hacksaw and cut through the holes.  The husband says don't do this unless you have a drillpress, otherwise you will burn up your drill and those bits.  Anyway, back to the point.
 That's right, the knife can't even cut yet.  It's just a fancy shaped piece of blunt steel.

As I read through Shadows Beneath I am reminded of the knifemaking process.  Or, more accurately, I am reminded how much the work of crafting a finished story is like making a knife.
I guess I should talk about the book before I discuss my analogy farther.  This is an anthology created by the authors behind the Writing Excuses podcast that I've given tons of fanservice to here on the blog.  They discussed an idea for a story from each of the authors, then discussed the first draft of each of the stories, then edited them.  One of the most valuable parts in this book for any aspiring author is the first drafts of each story that are included.  Being able to watch a story taken from raw amorphous ideas to a polished product, with all the intermittent steps included, is a huge ego boost.  That might sound like I'm not recognizing my rightful humble place as an unpublished aspiring author, especially when compared with these SF/F giants.  But before this I was comparing my first drafts to their finished ones.  Now I can see how they shape their stories.  And my first drafts are pretty good when compared to theirs.  It's just up to me to do solid edits on my stories to bring my final versions up to where they could be publishable.  (<-- It sounds obvious reading back through that sentence, but it's true to me now in a way it hasn't been before.  That's where I am right now.)

On to the analogy.

Start with the right kind of steel.
When you're making your knife, you don't have to have something super high carbon, or fancy pattern welded steel (if you've ever seen Damascus steel, it's a type).  Or you might.  It depends on what you want the knife to look like.  It depends on what the knife is going to be used for.  I've seen some pretty cool looking (though not practical) knives made of old railroad spikes.  You can even make a knife out of a file used to grind angles on knives.
As previously discussed, you don't have to have incredible ideas to tell an incredible story.  But you should be sure that you are starting with the right kind of ideas for the kind of story you want to tell.  You don't have to brainstorm in a group the way the Writing Excuses authors did, but if it sounds like a good idea to you, give it a try.

Make your first cuts.
In knife making, cut out your knife blank.  In writing, get your first draft down.

Put in the work to finish it right.
Once you have the blank cut out of the steel, then you can start doing your secondary bevel (if you are having two), then heat treat it and put on your primary bevel.  It takes as many strokes as it takes to grind that edge.  There is no prescriptive amount of work to do; you keep working until it is done.
This is the editing phase of writing.  It doesn't mean just spell-checking (although that certainly has a place).  It means comparing the story you have with the story you want.  It means making the changes necessary to get the story there.  You don't technically have to give your story to a writing group to be workshopped, the same way you don't have to technically give birth in the presence of a medical professional.  To me, either situation would be a nightmare.  It takes as long as it takes to get the story to where it needs to be.  I feel like this is honestly the part that takes the most work.

I am encouraged as I read through this book.  Writing a first draft that needs work doesn't mean you're a bad author.  It means you're an author.  Everyone has things that need to be changed in their first draft.  The real work comes after, to make the story sharp enough to cut through tomatoes as easy as breathing...

Ok so it was supposed to be a review, even though I'm only halfway through.  I recommend it for any aspiring author in the SF/F or speculative fiction genres.  My only critique is the layout.  The book is organized with the finished stories in the front and then the "behind the scenes stuff" after grouped by author.  I prefer to read through each story "chronologically," so beginning with the brainstorming session, moving through the drafts, and finishing with the final draft.  This allows me to watch the process take shape from start to finish.

In conclusion, give Shadows Beneath a try.  And don't quit working after your first draft.


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