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'11 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
From Inspiration to Publication
Writing the First Draft
Seduce Your Reader
Be a Real Writer
Sexy Writing Partnerships


Kill Electrons, Not Trees
by William Gaius
What Does It Mean...?
The Decision to Self-Publish
The Decision To Self-Publish, 2
Printing ... for Self-Publishers
A Copyright Primer
How to POD, free (almost) Part 1
How to POD, free (almost) Part 2


The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Three Top Tips...
Not Writing Erotica
The Importance of Being Colin
Dream Writing
To Boldly Go
The Unforgivable Taboo
Managing Multiple Projects
Doing it in Public
Nil Bastardum Carborundum
Workshop Insights


Assorted Attractions

Meet Robert Buckley
Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister

Cooking up a Storey

by Donna George Storey

Be a "Real" Writer:
Slowing Down, Seeing Anew,
and a Fresh Take on America's Favorite Entrée

 

Cooking up a Storey by Donna George Storey“I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.”
 ~James Michener, courtesy of The Quote Garden

Congratulations—you’ve faced down the Void and finished the first draft of a story that has plenty of hot, authentic sex in it.  What do you do next?  Naturally you send the story off to The New Yorker and start searching for a hotshot agent, right?

Alas, all too many new writers, not to mention those who yearn to write but haven’t actually done it yet, seem to think the faster you push your inspired masterpiece into marketplace, the faster you’ll achieve the fame and fortune that all “real” writers enjoy.  But as our feast continues, I’d like to propose a model to challenge that potent myth.  In fact, only after you have your first draft finished does the real writing begin.  I’d even claim that a thoughtful re-vision and rewrite is the most crucial step in finding—in fact deserving—an audience for your work.  I’m not just talking fixing the typos and commas, I mean stepping back and challenging every element of your story.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “slow food movement,” which is everything fast food is not—grown and prepared with care and an awareness of what nourishes the earth, our bodies and our spirits?  The more I write, the more I’m coming to support “slow writing,” by which I mean a writer who cares about the conception and crafting of a story, thus offering a polished, powerful, richly-layered experience that respects the gift of the reader’s precious time.

Back when I first started writing, I often pondered the question of when I would be entitled to call myself a “real” writer.  Was a single published story enough or did I need a hundred?  Did I have to make a certain amount of money from my writing or was a prize or two enough?  Even as I won some awards and began to pay taxes on my story sales, I still didn’t feel I’d earned enough external validation to call myself a writer without someone rightfully ridiculing my pretension.  After all, had I won a National Book Award?  Did my literary income rival J.K. Rowling’s or James Michener’s?

Yet even in those early days, I felt in my heart that I was using the wrong measure to determine what makes a “real” writer.  Fourteen years later, I’ve come up with an answer that feels very right for me.  A real writer is simply someone who is willing to put in the significant time to shape a raw first draft into a story where every image, every line of dialogue, and every scene has purpose and emotional power.  I believe readers can feel this care and attention, even if they are not consciously aware of it.

All human beings are storytellers.  We tell each other stories with every word we speak.  We have a running narrative in our heads, whether we’re sleeping or awake.  That’s why almost everyone—except those who’ve actually tried to write down a story—think it must be easy.  However, anyone who has tried knows that taking a good idea and bringing it to life on the page requires lots of work and skill.  Therefore, a writer who brings this attention to his work is a true member of the guild whether he’s made a fortune, won a genius award or never even published at all.

My reverence for revision has a very personal foundation.  That’s because, truth be told, my first drafts are really, really awful.  They’re pocked with wooden prose, clichés, unbelievable dialogue and actions.  I would rather die than have anyone read them.  When I first started writing, I might spend a year or more editing and polishing a story. Today the editing process usually takes weeks rather than years, but I’m still surprised and relieved at how different the final product is from its very embarrassing beginning.

This might be the sign of a detail-oriented temperament, but although I do enjoy the dreamy rush of creating a first draft, I find my greatest pleasures in the revision phase.  This internal “editor” is very different from the abusive voice that tells me I have no talent and am always on the verge of being found out as a fraud or a has-been.

This editor is actually a better writer than I am.  She is both a mentor and a friend who shows me how fun writing can be.  She loves to play with words like pretty seashells or costume jewelry, choosing the perfect combination for a dazzling effect.  She likes nothing better than weaving a pattern of images through a story, subtly, so a second reading is rewarded.  This editor reads every line of dialogue aloud for rhythm and authenticity.  She actually feels joyful and light when she cuts redundant scenes or lops off a few pages at the beginning or end to make a story lean and lithe.  She also insists on getting to know my characters intimately, making sure every action and impulse—in bed or out—is believable and relevant.

Revision, literally looking at your rough draft with new eyes, doesn’t have to be a chore.  It is the vehicle by which you imbue your story and your prose with your unique voice and sensibility.  Stories with style and substance are the ones editors buy and readers enjoy reading so much, they’ll seek out more by the same author.  And that, I believe, is what represents true success for a writer. 

It is beyond the scope of one column to discuss the many steps and possible approaches involved in transforming an intuitive “discovery” draft into a craft-conscious “meditation” draft (to borrow the terms used by Robert J. Ray in The Weekend Novelist).  However, I can share a few basic, practical tips for how to shift perspective from one phase to the next.

I’ve found for myself that in order to see my story with fresh eyes, I actually need distance.  Time is one way to separate.  A good night’s sleep works wonders, although sometimes a story needs a few days, weeks or even months to age properly.  I’ve also found that printing out a copy of the story, taking it to a completely different room, and pulling out my red pen, allows me to see and hear my words as a reader rather than a composer.  My first drafts, which seemed quite serviceable on the computer screen, invariably turn into a preschooler’s arty mess of lines, arrows, scribbled additions and crossed out paragraphs.  Yet each successive round of edits brings me closer and closer to what I want the story to be. Eventually, in keeping with the cooking/writing theme of my column, I came to see the first draft as the raw dough and the final piece as a fresh-from-the-oven baked cookie.  I certainly love to lick the beaters, but a cookie baked to perfection offers a far more sublime satisfaction.

I began this column with wise words from James Michener, one of the bestselling writers of the twentieth century, but his message has been echoed by countless “real” writers before and since.  While the revision phase might seem daunting at first, it is the one part of the writing process that will feel easier as you gain experience—perhaps because it is the time when the writer has the most control.  Learning how to edit your own work is essential.  However, it is helpful, especially for new writers, to get feedback from beta-readers to hone your skills.  In my next column, I will discuss my experiences working with writing teachers, writing groups and some guidelines for writing partnerships. 

Until then, remember the “slow” philosophy:  taking your time and respecting the process increases the pleasure—whether you’re talking food, sex or writing!

The hard work of revising a story surely deserves a fun and delicious dinner as a reward.  A few years ago I featured a recipe for homemade pizza dough in “Cooking Up a Storey”, but I recently discovered an interesting new dough variation—a revision, if you will—which uses beer (open an extra bottle for the cook!) and requires no kneading.  Homemade pizza is a great family dinner, but it also makes for a festive, delightfully leisurely party for guests.  Simply put out bowls of toppings and let your guests create their own masterpieces for a make-your-own-pizza buffet.

Bon Appetit and Happy Revising!

“Real” Revised Beer Pizza Dough
(2 medium pizzas; adapted from a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups semolina*
2 teaspoons (1 package) instant (quick-acting) yeast
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups room-temperature beer (12 oz. bottle)
 
*Semolina adds an authentic flavor and texture but you can substitute unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the oil and beer and knead together by hand or mixer until you've made a smooth, soft dough.  Cover the dough with Saran Wrap and let it rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 10" to 12" round.  You can also make four individual pizzas.

If you’re going to use a pizza stone, place the rounds on parchment paper. Or place the dough on a lightly greased baking sheet. For thin to medium crust, bake the pizzas immediately. For a thicker crust, let the pizza rise for 30 to 60 minutes.

Transfer the pizza, parchment and all, to the pizza stone, or place the pans in the oven.  Bake the crust for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, top as desired, and bake for an additional 15 minutes until the bottom crust is crisp and the cheese is bubbly and browned.  If you prefer less browned cheese, put sauce and other ingredients on after the first five minutes, then add the grated cheese during the last five minutes.

Suggested Toppings:

The Classic:  Spread the slightly baked crust with jarred or homemade pizza sauce.  An easy sauce can be made by draining a can of chopped tomatoes in a strainer and stirring in fresh or dried basil to taste.  Sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese—one or two ounces is sufficient for 1/4 of the dough.  Thin slices of fresh mozzarella work well, too.

Low-fat Mediterranean:  Spread the slightly baked crust with a light layer of tomato topping.  Sprinkle with any combination of Kalamata olives, feta, Parmesan, artichoke hearts, and roasted or fried peppers.  Fresh tomato slices work well, too.  Go light on the cheese.

Berkeley Special:  Fry some chopped onion in olive oil over low heat until caramelized.  Sprinkle over the slightly baked pizza crust and top with small cubes of mild goat cheese and toasted pine nuts.

Pesto:  Spread homemade or store-bought pesto over slightly baked crust.  Top with mozzarella cheese.

Donna George Storey
August 2011


Contact Donna at Donna George Storey or at Sex Food And Writing
Donna is Cooking up a Storey in ERWA 2011 Archive

______
"Cooking up a Storey" © 2011 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written

About the Author:  Donna George Storey taught English in Japan and Japanese in the United States and has finally found the work of her dreams writing erotica. If you're really nice, she'll bake you a batch of her Venetian cookies, with layers of marzipan, jam and chocolate, that take a ridiculous amount of time to make and are (almost) better than sex. Her work has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies including Clean Sheets, Fishnet, Best American Erotica, Best Women's Erotica and Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica.
Her first novel, Amorous Woman-a semi-autobiographical tale of an American woman's love affair with Japan, Japanese food and lots of sexy men and women along the way-was published by Neon/Orion. It's currently available at Amazon and Amazon UK, and from her web site, DonnaGeorgeStorey.com.
For more of her musings on sensual pleasure and creativity stop by her blog:  Sex, Food and Writing. You can also take a quick trip to Japan with Donna's provocative Amorous Woman book trailer at: www.youtube.com



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