Holly Lisle and First Drafts

I just stumbled across Holly Lisle’s novel-in-progress, Talysmana. Holly is an established fantasy writer who is sharing the first draft of her latest novel scene by scene, as she writes it.

Incidentally, she is currently running a contest, if anyone wants to become a character in her book. Not my cup of roiboos, but it’s an interesting idea.

Full disclosure: I’ve never read anything by Holly Lisle. My love affair with fantasy is hit-and-miss (although I’m currently enjoying Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger). And seeing as how I just signed up for the Talysmana mailing list moments ago and haven’t received a chapter yet, I can’t comment on it as a story.

I’m going to read it, though.

I liked Holly Lisle’s post on what constitutes a first draft. As as writer, I’m impressed and not a little grateful that she’s willing to share hers, because it’s always helpful to get a window on someone else’s work process.

My first drafts tend to be skeletal, heavy on action and dialogue and light on setting and texture. My plots get messy. However much time I spend outlining before I write, by the time I reach the midpoint, things have usually diverged enough from the outline that I’m no longer sure of the ending.

I have novels that have been in progress for years; the shape consolidates after a few drafts, as they get closer (I hope)Β to being finished, but they bear very little resemblance to what I wrote in that first draft.

I’m not likely to post a first draft here anytime soon. I share them with my critique group, and sometimes a draft is so sketchy that even my critique group must be spared. But I appreciate that Holly Lisle is willing to share hers.

It’s not a bad promotional idea, either. I’m already planning to read the finished book when it comes out, if only so I can compare it with the draft. One new reader, just like that. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

On the downside, she has already been criticized by one reader who apparently didn’t understand exactly what ‘first draft’ meant. That’s unfortunate. Kind of like going to the first reading of a play and then asking why the costumes weren’t pretty and no one knew their lines.

As an “emerging” (that seems to be the polite term for rookie) writer, I hear more and more about the importance of building a platform and reaching out to readers. I think Holly Lisle has chosen an interesting way to do that. I’ll be watching to see what happens.

Anyone read or can recommend any of her published novels?

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8 Responses to Holly Lisle and First Drafts

  1. Holly says:

    I’m another skeletal first-drafter. All my books get longer in revision.

    And I’d recommend TALYN. No matter what the paperback cover art suggests (ugh), it’s not a cheap knockoff of Jacqueline Carey’s KUSHIEL books.

    • admin says:

      @ Holly Lisle
      Thank you for commenting! If you recommend Talyn, I’ll check it out. Can’t get a much better source than the author herself! πŸ™‚

  2. Mike Soulier says:

    “However much time I spend outlining before I write, by the time I reach the midpoint, things have usually diverged enough from the outline that I’m no longer sure of the ending.”

    As a software developer I have little choice but to compare this to my process for authoring software, and I must chuckle at the similarity here.

    I have many projects that bare little resemblance to what I envisioned when I started. I think that’s a normal part of the creative process.

    • admin says:

      @ Mike
      Er… aren’t you supposed to be writing to spec? Sigh. You coders. Drove me nuts when I was a technical writer. πŸ˜‰

      Seriously, though, I think you’re right. Maybe it’s the same all over. A little change here means a bigger change there, and before you know it you’ve got a whole new creature. Maybe a better one. Probably more organic, because the decisions that you make when you’re in the middle of things should (hopefully) flow naturally from what came before.

      At least that’s the theory. Not sure it always works that way.

      I do know that writing brain and editing brain are two different entities, and have little in common with each other. Heck, they barely even talk. Same for coding?

  3. Mike Soulier says:

    Writing to spec? You’re so cute. You’re assuming that the spec reflects reality in some way. πŸ™‚

    Yes, the “waterfall” model was broken five minutes after it was conceived. Creation is iterative. I’m sure that God would back me up on that one. πŸ˜‰

    Analyzing code after it’s written does often point out issues that were not seen when the writing process was under full sail. I find that for me, they do talk though.

  4. Shayne says:

    I would second the recommendation for Talyn. I haven’t read it all, but what I have read I really like. The only reason I haven’t finished it is because I got the first three chapters as a handout in Holly’s How to Think Sideways course, but then couldn’t get the book at Chapters and had to order it online. By the time I received it, I was neck-deep into writing a novel of my own, and just haven’t had the chance to get into it yet. I don’t dare, because once I get into a good book, I just can’t leave it alone. πŸ™‚

    Oh, and btw, How to Think Sideways is an awesome course. It’s all about how to have a successful career as a writer – she’s had 32 books commercially published in 18 years, I think it is – rather than be a one-hit wonder. I’m on lesson 21 (out of 26) right now, and I would recommend it to anyone.

    • Erin Thomas says:

      Thank you! Two recommendations for Talyn, then. I’ll have to look for it! πŸ™‚
      I’m taking Holly’s “Crash Revisions” course right now. Only two days in, but it looks great so far. I like her organization. I’d love to take How to Think Sideways, too–just a matter of time and money.
      Thank you for commenting, and for the recommendations!

  5. Shayne says:

    Crash Revisions? Over on SavvyAuthors.com, right? I’m signed up for that, too, but I haven’t checked it out yet, ’cause my English paper isn’t cooperating with me.

    And no problem. It’s the best course on writing that I’ve ever taken – and definitely the most value for my money – so I’m happy to pass along the info. πŸ™‚

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