Posts Tagged With: Editing

Plotting and Revising

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It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’m gonna say it’s because I found this REALLY awesome book by Cathy Yardley called Rock Your Revisions.  Her proceeding book, Rock Your Plot, detailed a first draft process that is REALLY similar to the one I already use.  That gives me all the hopes that Revisions will work for me as well as Plot does.  And we all know I’ve been looking for a way to streamline things.

So far, Revisions has lived up to the hype.  I feel much more in control of Easterbay than I ever have, and I know what I need to do to move forward.  It feels freeing, and I’m moving through things rapidly.  Yardley claims that her revision process takes twice as long as writing the first draft.  So if I go by her estimates, I should be ready for alpha reads in two months.  To say I’m excited about that would be an understatement.  All we can hope for now is that I stay motivated enough to make it happen.

I’m mentioning this for two reasons.  One reason is because if you’re looking for a writing process, Yardley lays out a good one.  The second reason is that it is Nanowrimo time, and we could all use a little extra help in the planning process before diving into a novel.

That’s basically all I have to tell you.  I’m also diving into Nano this week, and expect updates to the blog to remain intermittent until December rolls around.  We’ll see, though.  Sometimes avoiding the morass of a Nano novel leads to more blogs instead of less…

Hence the need for motivation.  As always come November, cross your fingers for me.

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Writerly Things

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It’s that time of year again when I have to decide if I’m doing Nanowrimo.  I am, as usual, swamped beyond belief.  And I am, as usual, planning to do Nano anyway.  I’m slightly worried that my loss last year broke my 6-year streak.  But since I failed due to giving birth, I think I get a pass.

How will you Nano with a small baby in the house, you ask?  Well, he’s recently started napping in his crib (!!!!!). It’s a small miracle, I know, but it has given me my life back.  Or, you know, 2-4 hours a day of my life back, depending on how much he sleeps.  I now have time for daily writing.  As an aside… I had no idea how much it was affecting me to not write until I started again.  Wow, do I feel like a human being again or what?

Besides, this year I’ve decided to be a rebel.  I won’t write a whole new novel from scratch. I’ve been thinking HARD about my writing process and how I can streamline it a little more.  Blue Gentian was five diligent years in the making and taught me a lot about my writing process.  But even if I were to get out a book a year, that’s not quite best for a Self-Published author…  I should be aiming for a book every six months.  While I’m not in it for the money, I have grand visions of bookshelves filled with my titles.  That means I’ve gotta get on it.

So, Nano this year is going to be an experiment on how I can get myself working faster.  Here’s what usually happens:

I do Nano, and then return to whatever manuscript I was working on previously.  A year later (maybe… sometimes it’s longer), I pull out the manuscript.  It’s not in order. My plot has gone off the rails from the original outline.  I have weird placeholders instead of names and the pacing on everything is Wrong.  Obscure things don’t work correctly because I didn’t do any research.  It’s disjointed and wrong. The story is also, at best, the main plot line with no other deeper meanings woven in.  And sometimes you’re like “uh, wow.  That main plot line sure took a nosedive into a dirty, dirty swamp…”

So, I do my best to take the thing about 5 chapters at a time, and basically rework those chapters until they’re polished.  Then I move to the next set.  I stop a lot of the time, sometimes for weeks, to ponder deeper meanings.  I read history books about the time period, I realize that I need xyz foreshadowed in earlier chapters or that I’m off the revised outline.  I go back and fix the beginning again before moving onto the next few chapters.  It takes FOREVER, and there’s a lot of down time while I’m faffing with things.  It results in a good book, but it takes a long time to get there.

So, for Nano this year I’m trying something else.  I’m going to print out and completely re-type a novel.  I’ll put the scenes in order and expand or rewrite when needed (without excessive polish).  I’ll add blank “scenes” in Scrivener when I need to add a piece of the story that isn’t there yet.  I’ll get from start to finish as quickly as possible.

I’m hoping this new method will do several things.  First of all, I won’t be tied to language I’ve already written.  I’ll be free to retype whatever words I want.  Second, I will have the main story line all laid out nicely so that when I do start to polish, I won’t have to worry about forgetting elements or about the story line changing on me.  Third, I will have the main story line firmly in my head from start to finish, making secondary story lines and deeper meanings easier to weave through. I can ponder that stuff while I type, hopefully doing away with the weeks of faffing.  The weeks of research will still probably have to remain…

Right now, it takes me about 6 months to go from draft 1 to draft 2.  Subsequent drafts are faster, of course, but I needed about 10 for Blue Gentian… I am hoping that I can cut draft 2 down to a month (maybe 2) with this new system.  You know, if I can make it work.

In about two months, we’ll know how I fared.  I picked Suffrage because it’s the only novel I have that’s currently untouched.  Everything else has either been through a bit of edit or I have deemed it too bad to be salvageable.

I will, as always, report on how it’s going as I’m doing it.  Cross your fingers for me.  And if you have any tips of your own on how you streamline your writing process, I’d love it if you’d forward those along.  I need all the help I can get!

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Is a Galley Worth It?

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Another publishing update.

I decided on a whim to order a galley copy of Blue Gentian.  Kindle was telling me that my cover photo was too small for the book, and I wanted to see (and maybe better control) what readers would have when they purchased my title.  At the bargain price of whatever it costs Amazon to print the book ($4 in this case), how could you go wrong?

You can’t, basically.

I’m THRILLED I decided to go that route and shell out the bucks for the galley.  It wasn’t the photo on the front that was the problem so much as the lettering that looked a little pixely.  I fixed that and we’ve moved on.

But honestly, that’s not the real reason I’m so relieved that I decided to order a copy.  The real reason was twofold.

One: there were a TON of typos that I just didn’t catch in the e-copy proof of the book.  There’s something about holding the item in your hand and reading through it that makes you catch those stupid periods that are duplicated, or the five times you’ve used “the world” in a single paragraph.  There were so many issues that I think it would have been pretty obvious to someone that the book was self-done.  By getting the hard copy, I was able to remedy that.  There may be typos I still didn’t get, but they’re not GLARING now.

Second: the book didn’t FEEL like a real book.  I was using the same document for the Kindle version and the print version, and so I had done all the stuff you’re supposed to do for the Kindle version – no extra pages up front, many links to my sites, etc.  By putting everything in the back of the book, I made the print version seem like a fake book, I think.  I now have formatted the print version to feel correct.

So, in case you were publishing a book and wondering if it was worth shelling out the bucks for the hard galley copy, I would 100% recommend it.   We’re looking at approximately 3 weeks until this thing is officially released.  I can’t wait.

And in case you’re wondering, I AM ordering a new galley of the updated book.  You know, just in case.

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Nanowrimo 2017 Update

Nanowrimo is in full swing, and it’s been a nice distraction from being pregnant.  Which, PS – the symptoms just got REAL, guys.  Like, the crap that was happening before feels like it was just an inconvenience.  If I’m up and around now, you can pretty much assume I’m not pain free.  Not even Tylenol cuts it anymore. And then there’s the witching hour when, at 7:00 pm on the dot, my right leg decides to get restless to the point where I sometimes can’t sleep.  Couple that with a kid shoving his fists into my hips and I’m basically a wreck.

The good news is that we’re at 18 days and counting until this kid is due.  I don’t have to suffer for much longer.

Nano has given me something else to think about for a while, which has been nice.  Instead of beating myself up about all the stuff on the baby list I have to still do and worrying about my hips, I can instead agonize over the fact that I haven’t been able to get a good word count together for Nano.

I have 450 new words so far.  That’s it.

I’ve never failed this badly at Nano, and I’m not 100% sure what to claim as the cause.  I’m relatively certain it isn’t the pregnancy, because writing isn’t physically onerous.  My brain is working fine.  I think it might be that I’m just SO rusty.  I probably haven’t written anything new in over a year.  I’ve been editing things instead.  It feels like I don’t know how to go back to creating things from scratch.

Of course I DO know.  The reality is that you sit yourself in the chair and you force yourself to put words down (however bad) until you have a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Then you go back through and make it something that won’t embarrass you to show to others.  I’m just feeling such an aversion to it right now.

Maybe I tried to thrust myself too far into the deep end.  I don’t know.  But I do know I’ll need a new plan if I’m going to make this work.  I still have time to turn it around.  I’ve done it before six days into Nano, and sometimes longer.

Alright, I’m off to regroup and get some writing done.

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Short Stories Galore

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I haven’t done a post on how the writing is going for a long time, so I thought I’d do an update.

My attempt in June to write a bunch of stories based on cool photos I found mostly hasn’t panned out, because I’m flighty.  And because everything I’m writing these days has somehow ended up CRAZY, unsaleablely long.  I’ll maybe finish them someday, but right now I’d rather spend energy on other things.  Especially since it’s now the end of July and I’m no closer to making my New Year’s resolution than I was in January.  I mean, I guess I’m 2 dozen rejection letters closer, if we want to get technical…

In lieu of completing anything new, I ended up taking that time for administrative organization: I cataloged all the pieces of short stories that I have lying around, the full stories that were too problematic to print and needed re-writes, and organized the records of where I’ve sent everything I’m currently shopping.  Not fun, but a necessary part of this ‘trying to get published’ stuff.

I did drastic edits of 2 imperfect short stories, and am now doing rewrites on another 2 unfinished works that I’m hoping to get rotating.  Right now, I have 4 things on the market.  That’s at least twice as many as I’ve had at any given time before now.  I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

I’m on draft 3 of my novel synopsis, too.  Which is just as hard to write as all they say it should be, if you were wondering.  Legitimately awful.  I’ve given myself a tentative finish date of August 1st.  It’s coming up quick!

So, no real news to report.  Just the ongoing tide of stories out and stories in that has become my regular course of things.  I’m feeling good about movement, though.  At least I’m being productive.

Now on to all that editing.

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An Office Behind Toontown

I always have worked best under deadlines.  Which is why I’m excited to have one for Blue Gentian now (entering it into the Other Half contest).  It intellectually feels weird that I will re-write 4 more chapters and then call it done.  I’ve been working on this thing for 5 years now.  But creatively, it feels almost done.  I’m even sorta proud of it.

Is it wrong to admit you like your own work?

I have just 3 weeks for those chapters, so I’m plugging along at a rapid pace.  No thought space for the blog, just for fires in churches, archers in empty buildings, a dancing queen, and a surprise murderer.

So, to tide you over is this essay I wrote a bazillion years ago about my job at Disney, as an assignment for my very first creative writing class.  I’ve been gone from Disney for 3 years and I’m sure it’s all different there now.  But this is a good approximation of how it was, or how I remember it was.

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AN OFFICE BEHIND TOONTOWN:

My desk is exactly three feet wide. There is just enough room for me to tuck my legs underneath the gray plastic top. I have managed to stuff a small space heater below the desk because it is always cold and I sit underneath the air conditioning vent. Between the computer and the large black conference telephone that sits on the desktop, there is room for nothing else on the surface. I brought in a lime green clock from home and hung it on the wall next to my computer screen. It is a personal item, with its cheerful tick and scrolling black numbers, and therefore it is illegal.

My desk is shared because I am a Costumer’s Assistant. The lady who trained me three years ago made it very clear that assistants don’t get their own desks. Still, I am the only occupant of this tiny island of plastic countertop. I know this because my papers are always where I left them. The stack of unfinished paperwork and the notebook with my “to do” list covers the top of the black telephone. Shiny fabric swatches that glitter in the fluorescent lights litter the base of the monitor in the same heap as the day before.

The walls around my clock are surrounded by white papers detailing how to make Costume Style Numbers, showing the Fiscal Calendar, lists and lists of phone numbers. Just above the desk are two cabinets, one on top of the other. They are packed full of empty binders. The bottom one also holds paper trays, staplers, and all the things that would be on the desktop of there was room. Behind me is a large walkway. People who don’t even work in the office go strolling in and out, staring at the Excel forms that are always open on my computer screen.

I ship costumes and fabrics to China sometimes, which requires me to leave my desk. When an order is ready to ship, I print out the checklist of everything I’m supposed to send. Then, I walk through the costume warehouse, down the concrete stairs, and into the shipping bay. Boxes stacked on pallets obstruct the middle of the room, and the walls are covered with metal racking. I go to the fabric holding rack and I count everything on the checklist twice.

The person in shipping used to save me boxes, but there’s a new girl now.

She has decorated the shipping desk with puffy stickers and her pens are planted in a lurid red cup of clay that her daughter made. The keys to the receiving bay currently sport a Hello Kitty key ring. She got rid of the boxes because they were too much clutter. Now, a box of just the right size and condition is almost impossible to find. I end up peeling off a lot of stickers and scratching out a lot of names with a thick black sharpie. Sometimes the shipment is several rolls of fabric and I don’t have to worry about a box at all. Instead, I have to drag the clear plastic bags full of cloth around and pretend I am strong enough to handle them.

My life at Disney is governed by rules, by sheets of paper that say can or can’t.

I wanted a special nametag, and so I filled out the application for a language pin.

I had to go in and take a test in the fancy yellow building where only the executives work. I walked into the hot pink lobby and climbed three flights of sprawling stairs. A man in an office with a gigantic window that looked out on a tree lined courtyard quizzed me in sign language. Once the test was finished, he handed me his business card, and a small blue pamphlet with glossy pages titled “Guest Services for the Hearing Impaired.” He informed me that I would receive my new nametag in two weeks.

Four months later, it arrived.

It is exactly the same as everyone else’s nametag, except that it has a little gold plaque at the bottom where two white hands have been inset.

The hands spell “S” and “L” in American Sign Language.

I was thrilled to have that name tag. I pictured myself strolling through the park on a sunny day. As I passed by the path near the Matterhorn, a family poring over a map, brows furrowed, would look up at me and notice the shiny white letters beneath my name and they would smile. Gesturing in perfect American Sign Language, they would ask where they should have lunch. Matterhorn is near Tomorrow Land, and the Pizza Port has great food, I would suggest. They would beam as they strolled off to Tomorrow Land and they would have a wonderful lunch because of me. It would make their entire Disneyland day.

This has never happened.

I like to attribute this to the fact that I never actually stroll through the park on a sunny day. I don’t do anything but sit at my desk and fill out paperwork. And ship things like fabric and costumes to China.

The man in the office doesn’t care that I don’t ever use my nametag as it’s intended.

If I want the plaque, I have to take the test. Those are the rules.

My boss e-mails me a list of eight different sample costumes that need to be shipped to China this morning: 1. Jelly Fish Girl, 2. Chimney Sweep, 3. Main Street Piano Player, 4. Department Store Santa, 5. Mardi Gras Showgirl, 6. Scuba Diver, 7. Thin Pirate, 8. Jungle Stilt Walker. China will look at them, paw them over, ask how many we want, and then give us a price for making them.

This can only happen if I send them to China in the first place.

I print out the e-mail list to use as a checklist. Then, I pull all the costumes off their racks, and throw them in a pile on the concrete warehouse floor. Once I have every single item of clothing on the paper, I pick up the heap and cradle it against my chest. The lump of clothes stops just below my chin. I walk down stairs to box it up, label it, and give it to the girl in Shipping and Receiving.

She prints out all the paperwork that I have meticulously crafted for her.

It has to be detailed and correct or it won’t pass Chinese customs. A box without the proper paperwork is in purgatory. It can’t go back to the United States, but it can’t arrive in China either. Instead, it waits for months in the damp warehouse on a foreign pier.

With the correct paperwork, Rocky takes it to the large shipping distribution center at Disney.

They weigh every item inside the box, note the weight on the paperwork, and then send it to China.

This is where I end and begin, in a cycle of boxes and papers, rules and regulations. The contraband clock on my wall ticks. The letters on my nametag gleam. I tape the brown box closed, I hand Rocky the paperwork. She takes the box to the shipping center and I climb the stairs back to my desk. I play my part, a cog in the works, governed by papers. I open my e-mail and the journey starts again.

Categories: Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Casey’s Guide to Not Critiquing Like a Jerk

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In its latest iteration of editing, the book is on Critique Circle right now, and I am getting the most infuriating critiques.  For those of you who don’t know, Critique Circle is a members-only online critique group.  You can post things to the Story Queue for 3 credits, and you get 1 credit for every story of someone else’s you critique (more or less).  For those who don’t have a writer’s group, it can be helpful.  I find it’s mixed in the best of cases.  Sometimes I get REALLY GOOD critiques.  Sometimes it’s wishy-washy – not outright bad, but not deep enough to help much.

This time has been the worst yet.  Like, one or two are good.  And then I get this thing where the critiquer wants to tear apart my word choice in nit-picking detail and tell me how all of my phrasing is obviously wrong (bonus points if they re-write the entire paragraph – badly – below).  My favorite was the person who told me they would give me a secret tip that would really punch up my writing – to use other dialogue tags that aren’t “said.”

Now, I don’t mind taking advice.  But absurd advice that is wrong?  Come on now…

It’s still worth the headache, I think.  I’m getting at least one excellent critique per post.  But I thought I also might put together a Casey’s Guide to Not Critiquing Like a Jerk.  Not because I expect anyone to follow it, but because I’d like to vent a little.

Here it is:

  • You are not here to get the author’s thing published. You are here to help the author make the thing the best it can be.  Unless you are an editor of a paying publication, don’t ever use the phrase “Editors are looking for…” or “Editors don’t want…”  Editors are looking for a good story, period.  Are there things that might help that? Maybe. But the best thing about writing is that there are many, many exceptions to every “rule.” If the story is good, someone will pay for it.  You do not need to get hypothetical Editors involved.  It just makes people feel condescended to.
  • You are not here to be a cheerleading section, nor do you need to spend paragraphs bucking someone up or massaging their ego.  Presumably, if a person has given you something to critique they are aware that there are problems with the manuscript and are going to do more drafts of it.  They will be an adult about an honest, friendly critique.  Things like “I’m so sorry, but you will probably need more drafts,” or “Don’t ever stop writing, even though you have a ways to go with this!” are useless (and another point of condescension).  Give your critique and leave the fluff out of it.
  • Word choice, phrasing, and often punctuation are reflective of the author’s personal style. Their style might not be for you, but it is not wrong. Unless you are actively misunderstanding the meaning of something, leave it alone.
  • Know the “no’s.” You don’t have to practice this, but you should probably be aware that high use of adverbs, cliché, dialogue tags other than “said” and passive voice are considered bad form by most MFA programs in Creative Writing. If the piece is working despite this, that’s okay.  But don’t suggest to anyone that they do any of these things to punch up their writing.  Most likely it will not help.  And you will look like an uneducated idiot for suggesting it.
  • Focus more on why you didn’t connect with something than on what the writer can do to improve it.  That’s the most important part.  If you want to suggest stuff, go ahead, but make sure you’re doing the other first. You’re probably wrong about how it should be improved, anyway, since you don’t necessarily know what the writer was attempting to convey.  The where and why is more important than the how.
  • Heap praise on the good stuff. Not because the author needs it after all the crap you’ve told them (although they probably do), but because knowing what’s working can be just as helpful as knowing what isn’t.  It’s so easy when re-writing to just toss everything out the window, or to toss things that are needed in an attempt at making other things work.  As a critiquer, you can prevent this tragedy.  Tell them what you liked.
  • Thank the author for letting you read their work. It takes guts to put stuff out there to be slammed, and you obviously connected with it enough to read it all the way through, even if it wasn’t perfect.  This is the only bit of fluff you’re allowed, so make it count.
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With Bonus Miscellany

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Things I learned this week:

I’m not the one losing sleep at nights, but there is something about the small red tongue and dainty fingernails of an infant (wearing a gigantic bow) that makes it seem like sleeplessness would be worth it.  Especially when she is in the crook of your elbow and opens her big blue eyes to look at you.

The ukulele is infectious.  Both my aunt and a friend of mine bought one and are learning to play it. Evidently, the infection only spreads to other females.  We’re trying to convert my mother.

You know those employees you were told you really shouldn’t trust?  Yeah, you really shouldn’t trust them.

It is not editing five chapters a week that is hard.  It is making yourself sit down to write anything at all that is the real struggle.

Bonus miscellany – How can you tell you work at Disney? My boss just sent me an e-mail in which one of the lines was: “Damn chipmunks!  Always causing trouble.”

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