Phase Two Edits–Complete!

Photobucket Today I made it through the last of my editing notes, added the last bits that I knew were needed, and called it a wrap on phase two of the novel edit. I’ve added about 7000 new words during this phase, which was good.

One more phase to go–the one I call “making it pretty.” This means I’ll be line-editing the whole thing and looking for places to add description and sensory images, deepening characterization, and just basically polishing the entire thing until it (hopefully) shines.

I’m getting tired of looking at it, but I find this upcoming phase of revision is usually very satisfying, and not as much hard work as the last phase. It’s a strange mix of right-and-left brain work that I generally find invigorating. I have the school book fair and a school visit coming up in the next week and a half, though, so I don’t expect to have a lot of time to work through it until those things are over. I’m going to posit another two to three weeks to get to the end, which is not bad. I’ll be quite pleased if I can make that deadline.

Revision Paranoia

Photobucket I’ve come to the point in this revision where I’m hearing voices in my head.

They’re saying things like, “This novel stinks,” and “It’s brilliant but not marketable,” and “It has more holes than last year’s socks,” and “This is a big waste of time you could be spending on other things.” In other words, it’s getting to be hard work, and my brain doesn’t want to do it any more.

Which is not to say that any or all of these things are not true. They could be. But I’ve come to the conclusion, through my own writing and by reading what other writers say about their experience, that I am not the best judge of that at this time. My job right now is to finish the thing, and show it to someone else–probably several someone elses–before I even start to think about it solely on its merits.

And before I can do that, I have to finish it. So off I go.

A Word on Definitions

No progress on the revision today, as I expected. However, we did have a productive Third Person Press meeting tonight and discussed some rewrite requests.

I also began writing a page of extended guidelines for TPP. One thing that we have noticed with some regularity is that many writers do not understand what we mean when we talk about “speculative fiction.”  Our calls for submission have always included the further clarification that we are looking for “science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, and paranormal (for example, ghost stories).” Despite this, we still get quite a number of submissions that contain no speculative elements at all.

To address this problem, we’re adding this page of extended guidelines to the TPP site, and encouraging writers to read them before submitting. I know, I know. We will still get submissions that are not speculative. But the hope is that this will cut down on them to some extent.

I started in writing with a good will, but soon discovered why it’s so damn difficult to come up with a definition of speculative fiction that everyone agrees on–it’s even difficult to come up with one that serves our very narrow purpose. We’re not attempting to define the genre for everyone, just setting out what we are looking for vs. what we are not looking for, and even that’s hard. The field is so very broad, the sub-genres so very many, the possibilities so multitudinous, that one can’t include all the possible permutations. On the flip side, it’s also difficult to define what is not speculative fiction in such a way that we don’t accidentally preclude stories that we would like to see. The best I’ve come up with so far on that front is, “There is nothing in the story that steps outside the boundaries of accepted reality.” I think that might be too broad and too vague to be helpful.

I expect I will be working on this guidelines page through several drafts. Maybe I’ll have it done in time for our next project!

Writing Log Update and Phase Two

Photobucket The writing log did not, as I suspected, end up in any better shape by the end of Sunday than it looked on Friday. I logged 294 out of a goal of 630 minutes of writing time. Discouraging. But–on to a new week.

Thus far things are looking better. Today I dove into the revision first thing this morning (well, after I slept in), and worked on it intermittently through the day. Thus I have 194 minutes logged already, and I’m through eight scenes incorporating changes and adding things. It’s flowing well, and despite the weekend break I still feel I have a good handle on the novel in its totality and what things need to happen. Interesting things I had to do in relation to the revision today included reading poetry by T.S. Eliot and Percy Bysshe Shelley, investigating brain function, and considering the possible side effects of an invented medication (being married to a pharmacist came in extremely handy at that point, as you can imagine).

Tomorrow will be school library day, and then I believe a Third Person Press meeting in the evening, so it is not likely to be nearly as productive. In fact, I will feel lucky to get any revision time in at all. But we’ll see how it goes. I am not revising my goal time back down after last week’s poor showing; I’ll stick with the new time until I get it.

On a side note, I spent far too much time today (and yesterday) trying to figure out and keep up-to-date on the Amazon and MacMillan brouhaha. I’m still in the My Head Hurts Trying To Fully Understand it All camp, and likely to stay there despite reading many illuminating blog posts and commentaries. My only conclusion is that the ebook battle has scarce begun, and there looks to be no clear end in sight.

ROML* Rolls Over Another Week

Photobucket While I still have two days left to log writing time for this week, they will be the weekend, so I think it’s highly unlikely that I will get to my goal hours this time around. Maybe it serves me right for getting cocky about how well last week went (614 minutes) and upping my goal by half an hour. When I think about it, though, it was mostly *Rest Of My Life issues that kept me from writing.

I’m really not sure what I can do about that except try to plan better (the things I CAN plan) and try to find catch-up time when the planning doesn’t work.

~.~.~

In other news, I came to a huge and sad realization last night. I need to get rid of some books.

I’ve been buying books since I was in university and the city offered a variety of used book stores, of which I would make the rounds almost every weekend. The book acquisition habit has continued over the years, and although I do get more titles from the library these days (especially when trying an author for the first time) I still like to buy books. Part of me would like to count the number of books in the house–and part of me is afraid to do that.

However, when I was doing some pre-housecleaning housecleaning in the bedroom last week, I realized that I have at least 50+ books in that room alone waiting to be read or in various stages of being read. And when I do read them–I have nowhere to put them if I want to move new to-be-read books into that space. Every bookshelf in the house is already packed or over-packed. I don’t see us adding a new room to the house just to hold books. Sooooo…the only conclusion is that I have to get rid of some. And while we’re planning a Great Purge of the house this spring, the idea of sorting through the books and moving some them out of here is more daunting than all the rest of the things that I know need to be done.

*Sigh* I wonder if I could convince my husband to add on that extra room…

Photo courtesy of mzacha @ sxc.hu

End of Revision Phase One

Photobucket This morning I arrived at the end of this phase of the revision process. That means I have a well-marked-up manuscript and approximately twelve handwritten looseleaf pages of notes on changes, scenes to add, inconsistencies to clear up, and things to check.

I have a feeling that that was the easy part.

All told, I logged fourteen hours of time working on this part of the revision. I expect the next phase will take much longer.

For this phase, I’ve been working at the kitchen table, because it offered me lots of room for my laptop, the various piles of manuscript pages, the notes binder, etc. Also, I’ve always found it helpful to do editing work away from my usual writing space. I don’t really know why that is; could have something to do with the different kind of brain activity, I suppose. I like to sit down away from the computer with the printout and red pen to do that kind of work.

At any rate, now I’ll be taking my pile of pages and notes and heading down to my office, to do the typing-in and new writing at my desktop machine. I’ll likely have to do some desk-cleaning first, but I think that will provide a good mental buffer while I switch from pure editorial mode into a sort of combined editor/writer mode.

The Perils of Discovery

Photobucket In my last post, I mentioned being a “discovery writer.” Now, it’s not all that long since I came to the realization that there’s a name for writers who write the way I do. Previously, I thought I was just “a writer who doesn’t write outlines.” “Discovery writer” sounds oh-so-much more interesting.

Although it still boils down mostly to the fact that I don’t tend to write outlines. Before anyone protests, let me be clear that I have tried working from an outline. In one notable effort, I outlined the second and third books in a trilogy I was writing, in which I had to that point written only the first book. The second and third books have never been written, even though I still like the characters and the story.

Why? I mean, I have the whole outline written! It should be easy!

Except that, now that I’ve written the outline, and I know how the story goes–I have no further interest in writing it.

And that’s why I don’t write outlines.

Which is not to say that being a discovery writer is not without its perils. Working without an outline is maybe a bit like being an acrobat without a net. If I fall into trouble with the story, there’s nothing to catch me and put me back on track. And to tell the truth, it makes revision work–on a novel, at any rate–quite hellish. There’s the potential for a lot of inconsistencies, dropped storylines, characters who disappear and reappear randomly, and plot holes big enough to drive a semi through.

On the upside, it makes writing first drafts a heck of a lot of fun.

And to be clear, I do make a lot of notes on a story, both before I start it and while I’m writing it. I write down everything I know about the story and then I ask myself questions about what I don’t know, and jot down possible answers to those questions, along with any other corollary questions, ramifications of the possible answers, problems and drawbacks, character notes, etc. It’s not anything I would call an outline, though, and very often I never go back to the notes once I’ve written them.

I have a great respect for story planners and outliners, and perhaps just a bit of envy, because I have to admit that it seems like it would be easier to work that way. Discovery has its own joys, however, and as a storyteller, I appreciate the inherent value of a perilous journey.

The Revision Process (part 2)

Photobucket I could title this post “Into the Wilderness,” because that’s sort of what this part of the revision process feels like. It isn’t quite wilderness, because I have come this way before, but the path ahead looks challenging and unforgiving. Well, that’s because it is.

We left off last time at the point of picking up a colored-ink pen and starting to read from the beginning of the manuscript. I’ve done the preliminary work of gathering all my tools and setting up my StoryLines document, and now I’m beginning the first phase of the revision process. I’m doing two things on this read-thorough. I’m noticing problems and making note of them, and jotting down any ideas I have right then about how to fix them. Some of the things I’m looking for and how I’m dealing with them:

  • If it’s a simple matter of sentence structure, grammar issues, word substitution or the like, I make inline edits.
  • If I think a few more lines of narrative or dialogue are needed, and I know what they are, I write them in, using the back of the page if necessary.
  • If I need to write a new scene, I mark an asterisk in the margin and number it, then turn to my binder and write down the asterisk and number and as much detail as possible about what I think the scene needs to contain or address. I am not writing these new scenes right now.
  • If I notice an inconsistency, I may mark it with a margin note or with an asterisk and number, depending on the seriousness of the problem. For instance, if a character has inexplicably disappeared for a number of scenes, I’ll make a note that says ‘where’s X?’ I will not stop right now to figure out how to fix a problem like this. That will be for phase two.

As I finish each scene, I turn to the StoryLines program and fill out the cards for that scene. If I were an outliner, I would probably have done this work before I wrote the novel, but since I’m a discovery writer, I’m doing it at this point as a checking system. It’s a great way to get an overview of the structure and internal consistency of the story.

I’m also using the Notes section of StoryLines to keep a style sheet for the novel. This idea came from a post that appeared recently on Mary Robinette Kowal’s journal, in which she very kindly shared the style sheet her editor created for a recent novel, and talked about why such a thing is important for copyeditors, proofreaders, and typesetters in keeping the novel consistent. I thought this was also a good idea for writers in making sure the novel is consistent through the revising and editing stages, so I’m taking note of unusual words, spellings, etc.

Also in the interests of consistency, I’m taking note of little details like hair and eye colors, descriptions of recurring settings, and other items that I might have inadvertently changed through that fast first draft.

I mentioned that I’m using several different colored inks as I do this read-through and markup. This is one of Holly Lisle’s tips. Using a different color for each working session makes it easier to find the notes that belong with a particular section of the novel.

So in this fashion I am rolling through the novel, marking, cutting, fixing, jotting, noticing, thinking, assessing, and mapping. This is the first part of the process, and I expect I will have it done within the next few days. This part needs to be done fairly quickly, because I am attempting to read the entire novel into my head at once to see where the holes are. That’s why I am not stopping to work on complicated fixes at this stage. They will come in the second part of the process. And the second part will likely be more difficult…

…to be continued…

Photo credit: VinnyPrime at stock.xchng

The Revision Process (part 1)

Photobucket  I’m now a solid week into the revision process on this novel, and since I’ve recently had questions about how to tackle a big revision, I think I will detail the procedure I’m following here.  It may or may not be helpful to those undertaking their own revisions, but it might offer a starting point or help you figure out your own method.  I’ll have to break this down into several parts to provide the kind of detail I’m going to get into.

I had already read through this particular manuscript a couple of times looking for things to fix, but I had not tackled anything major.  My general impression from these initial read-throughs was that it was basically okay, but ran a bit short, needed a few more scenes, concluded too quickly, and needed some further development of the world and the magic system–at least for my own understanding.  There were inconsistencies requiring attention, a long section of chapters where a particular character seemed to disappear (I don’t mean he disappeared in the story, I mean he disappeared FROM the story), and I felt that the world and some of the characters needed deepening.

Before I started, I reread two Holly Lisle articles I remembered reading a while back: they are here and here. While I`m not following either method exactly, I do use a lot of her advice from these articles. They are well worth the time it takes to read them.

I`m also using a piece of software to assist me: Writer`s Cafe, particularly the StoryLines application. StoryLines “is a multi-storyline planning tool that helps you weave a set of virtual index cards into a finished, formatted story.” You can see a screenshot of it here. You can download a free trial of this program and see if it works for you; you could also do essentially the same thing with a big stack of index cards (but not as neatly).

In addition to the software, I started with:

  • all previous notes, character sheets, and jottings concerning the novel
  • a binder with looseleaf
  • colored pens, pencil, and highlighter
  • a clean printout of the novel manuscript, including all notes I`ve made in the ms while writing or reading it. In my case, these have each printed out (instead of inline) on their own sheet of paper, so I have to figure out how to deal with that.
  • an area big enough to hold the binder, a couple of different piles of manuscript pages, and my laptop, on which I`m using the software

I set up StoryLines to keep track of three things: a scene-by-scene breakdown of the action of the novel, which characters appeared in each scene, and a timeline of when and where each scene took place. Especially because this began life as a NaNoWriMo novel (which means it was written in a very fast first draft), I knew that there were probably inconsistencies of time and place. Here`s what my StoryLines sheet looks like:

Photobucket

You can see that the chapter numbers and titles appear in the black ovals, scene numbers in little white boxes, and that I have three horizontal rows of cards: purple for `Scene-by-Scene,` mauve for `Character Tracking,`and green for `Timeline and Location.` I can see at a glance what happened in a given scene, who was there, and where and when it took place.

So with that all set up, I choose a pen color to start with, and begin reading from the first line of the manuscript.

…to be continued…

*Photo credit: ladyheart at morguefile.com

This is working so much better…

Photobucket After the poor showing of the past two weeks with regard to writing time, this week I’m taking a different approach. I’ve blocked off time each day that is my “work time.” I have told my family that during this time I should be considered to be “at work” and more or less unreachable (emergencies notwithstanding, of course).

And it seems to be working. Today I had to re-arrange my schedule to deal with some ROML* stuff, but I still got the time in on my revision and a short story. Although it’s been only two days, this is very encouraging to me.  I am finding much to clarify, add, or improve upon in the novel revision (more than I’d hoped?  Admittedly yes.  But nothing I can’t handle, so far).  I am doubtful I can accomplish the revision in the three week time frame I was aiming for, but the plan is to simply keep working through it at a reasonable pace and see where that takes me.

In other news, the Destination: Future anthology (releasing soon!), which includes my story “Encountering Evie,” received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly! In case you don’t know what that means, it’s a good thing. :)

*Rest Of My Life