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.

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:


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

The Writing Log (update)

Photobucket I have a squeamish feeling in my stomach that this writing log idea was both good and bad.

Last week’s total was 185 minutes out of my goal of 600.

Completely pathetic.

I was telling myself that last week was an anomaly, because there were several ROML (Rest of My Life) things that I had to attend to, but this week is not shaping up much better. So far I’ve logged zilch on my personal writing. Some of it is ROML, some of it is Third Person Press, but the upshot is no minutes yet. I am considering the possibility that I have been deluding myself and that in actual fact I spend a ridiculously small amount of time on my writing. However, I am not concluding that until I have a month of logging under my belt.

That’s the squeamish part. The upside is that this is raising my awareness, so that I will be able to improve those numbers in the future.

*photo credit, sideshowmom

Writing Log

Photobucket You may notice a new item in the right sidebar–a progress bar for “Writing Time Logged This Week.” Part of my plan for the new year is to implement time-logging for my writing time, because I am interested in seeing just how much I work on it, and how that can be improved. In other words, I’m trying to cut down on my procrastinating and move to a higher level of writing focus.

To start, I arbitrarily chose 600 minutes (ten hours) a week as a goal. It may turn out that I already work more than that on average, so I`ll be making adjustments for the first while. That`s two hours a day, five days a week. Honestly, I feel sure that I`ll be able to make that easily, although this week it`s already Wednesday and this is the first day I was able to spend time enough to bother logging, so I could also be wrong about that. At any rate, I`m hoping it will be an interesting and informative experiment.

Also, I`ve made note of the fact that I am logging only time I spend actively working on my own writing projects, although it could be writing new words, revising, or editing. This doesn`t include time I spend editing or critiquing others`work, for Third Person Press or for my writing groups.

For weeks I don`t make the goal, maybe I`ll post my excuses. That should be amusing and embarrassing!

About that Sparkly Thing

Photobucket Yes, this is a blog post about sparkly vampires, but it might not be what you’re expecting.

A disclaimer first: I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer‘s Twlight series. I did see the first movie.

Meyer has come under a lot of fire for her portrayal of vampires (I’m sure she’s crying all the way to the bank, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about). Her vampires fall outside the “norm” of traditional vampires in many ways, including the way their skin sparkles. People who aren’t fans of the books really seem to hate that and poke fun at the idea quite relentlessly.

I’m neither a fan nor an anti-fan, and I think Meyer is simply following a piece of writing advice that gets handed out to writers (especially genre writers) all the time, and it’s this: take an old idea, and put a new spin on it.

We’ve all seen or heard about those lists–there are only seven plots, there are only twelve plots, etc. We’re told there are no new ideas, there are no new conflicts, there are no original stories. There are only new takes on old stories. It’s up to us to take an idea and set it in a new light, twist it, change it, give the reader something different.

Isn’t that exactly what Meyer has done?

Okay, granted, maybe the sparkly thing was not the best execution of this advice. Maybe it flew too directly in the face of accepted vampire lore and the things that dyed-in-the-wool vampire fans were going to be looking for in her stories. Maybe it set the author up for too much easy criticism from those who didn’t like the books. In a way, it’s so different, so “out there,” that it makes for an easy target for such criticism.

On the other hand, there are now a lot of readers out there reading vampire fiction–all sorts of vampire fiction–that they would never have picked up if Meyer’s books hadn’t introduced them to the dark seduction of the vampire mythos. If nothing else, it certainly hasn’t hurt the books’ appeal or sales.

I think genre writers would be wise to look at this an example of a writer taking a piece of standard writing advice and using it to very good effect.

Busy Times In Writerville

Lots going on in my writing life these days!

  • Last week’s presentation on “Writing Speculative Fiction” seemed to go over well. I think folks were interested, and the simple story-idea-generating exercise I did with them was fun. Soooo much more I could have covered, but I think what I had fit well into the time frame.
  • I sent out four stories last week (as I said on Twitter, “applying for rejections all over the place!”). That makes two novels and four shorts out at the moment. Might be some kind of personal best.
  • Yesterday morning a story idea I’ve been mulling over seemed to come together for me. I sat down and wrote almost a thousand words, so it’s a good start.

“Where do you get your ideas?” writers are always asked. The questioner is usually disappointed with the vagueness of the answer, so I’m always glad when I have a couple of concrete examples to give. This new story will fall into that category.

My brother called me a few weeks ago (okay, maybe a few months ago) and said, “I just heard this piece on Spark, and it gave me a story idea. You should write it.” He does that every once in a while. We had the usual exchange–Me: “You should write it yourself.” Him: “I’ll never get around to it.” Anyway, it was an intriguing idea, and I put it into the idea processor (my brain) to spin around for a while. I think it’s ready to come out now, so we’ll see what the next few days bring. I’m planning to try and write at least 500 words a day for the next two weeks, warming up for NaNoWriMo. The story doesn’t have a title yet, though. I hate that. I like to have the title from the outset.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, the month of furious noveling is fast approaching! I’ve been doing some planning this year (imagine!), using the neat little mind mapping program called FreeMind. I showed my daughter how to use it yesterday and we both spent a lovely few hours working up ideas. I plan to blog my progress here this year, as well as tweet my first line every day, which should be fun.

Next post, I’ll give you a few hints about the story. Stay tuned! Continue reading