Rebuilding the Story – CoronaLife Day 208

With me, my daughter, and my husband all fighting for bandwidth on a DSL line all day, we were running into problems. So we finally broke down and got cable internet. Hopefully the increased bandwidth will erase the problems we’ve been having. We are also keeping the DSL as backup in case our cable goes down, which it seems to do with regularity in our neighborhood. I think I may just stay on the DSL and let them have the cable—the DSL is sufficient for what I need.

I’ve been chipping away at Veritas again this week. I am into the part of the story where serious rebuilding will happen, as the new seeds I planted in the opening bear fruit. So while the general direction of the plot won’t change, how we get there most definitely will. I am trying, among other things, to make my protagonist more active, driving the story more than being pulled along by events. It’s difficult because she is literally trapped in her mind for a significant portion of this section, so having her more active is a bit head-scratching. But I have some ideas to play with.

I know very well that even with all the work I am doing on this editing pass, I will need to do at least one more. Whenever you go in and work on a nearly-complete manuscript and copy, paste, delete, insert, there are going to be continuity issues. So I need to do that, and I need to make sure that all the new stuff hangs together with all the old stuff and that it all makes sense. So still a long way to go, but I am confident I will get there in the end.

Also, I got my ballot in the mail this week, so I am doing a shout-out to everyone to make sure you vote, whether by mail or in person, depending on your state’s procedures. Your vote is your constitutional right and the foundation of our country, so make it count. If you don’t know how or where to vote in your area, call your County Clerk or Board of Elections office, and they will tell you where to go. Make a plan to vote and let your voice be heard!

Goals for 2018

If you missed last week’s Top Posts of 2017, check it out!

January is traditionally a time to re-examine your life and set goals for the new year.

Last year in early January, I had looked back at my 2016 productivity and been pleased. My intention was to keep up the good work through 2017 and churn out more work.

So how did I do?

I was only about 13,000 words below my word count for last year (405,116 to 417,914). I also had 20,000 more words in the time-consuming category of Rewrite/Revision (defined as a major reworking of already existing words), which may have accounted for the overall deficit. So I am pretty pleased with myself, considering how frazzled and unproductive I felt, particularly at the end of the year.

What plans do I have for 2018? I would like to keep my productivity on par with the past two years, and also pursue 3 other goals.

1.  I am going to query my middle grade novel to 50 more agents. I put a list together over the Christmas break, so I am ready to go with that.

2.  I am going to finish my YA SciFi and then query. Another month should see the edits finished. I compiled a list of 50 agents for this book, too, and am working on the query letter.

3.  This one is a little harder to quantify. Last year, especially the last 4 months, I felt like I was running nonstop yet not getting anything of substance done. I was exhausted and stressed and it was no fun. I am not quite sure what to do to fix this one. Probably less social media and more self-discipline.

So those are the broad strokes of my year. All those goals are attainable, and in my control,  so hopefully I will reach them.

What plans do you have for the New Year? Good luck for achieving them,  and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2018!


Pre-Summer Progress

Nothing like a looming deadline to spur on the writing. In my case, the end of school creeps ever closer, and the knowledge that I will no longer have 6 free hours a weekday pushes me onward. And so I have buckled down to try and get my current Work In Progress in shape before my days are filled with Mommy-duty events and my creative life takes a vacation.

Of course, I will have SOME time to write over the summer, but it will not be in the same volume as now. It will also likely not be in the large chunks of time I prefer, but in snatched moments here and there, at swim practice or waiting to pick my daughter up from day camp. Perfectly fine for blog posts and even line-editing, but not conducive (for me) to deep writing or big-picture revision.

Knowing that, I’ve been focused on making progress on Veritas, my YA sci-fi. I am coming into the home stretch with these edits, and I want to finish before summer stifles me. I also have a July deadline to give it to my editor, in case I need further urging.

This round of edits focuses on two things: sensory details and voice. Sensory details because I am terrible at putting them in. As a reader, I’m okay with minimalist description, and I take that to the extreme in my writing. So I have to go in and add appropriate sensory details.

Those details go hand-in-hand with voice in that point of view determines exactly which details a character will notice. But I also need to make certain my 3 POV characters don’t all sound alike. My antagonist (a 300-year-old spirit of a queen) can not sound like my main protagonist (a 16-year-old girl who only wants a quiet life and her father’s love, and seems destined to have neither) nor her twin brother, who wants desperately to be a warrior but fears he doesn’t have what it takes.

Voice is more than just tweaking, but I have already gone in and physically re-written each scene from scratch. Now I’m polishing the voice—especially the boy’s, as his voice took the longest to become clear in my head. In this go-round, I added many details to his scenes, some to the antagonist’s scenes, but very few to my protagonist’s scenes. I hate when that happens. I’m never sure if I am not making tweaks because what I have is really good, or because I’m just sick of the project. My editor will tell me.

I finished that round of edits earlier this week. Fantastic progress, to check off that last chapter! But I have one more round to go—trimming word count. The last round of revision pushed my count to about 101,000 words. Not out of the ballpark for a YA science fiction, but more than I am comfortable with. So I am hoping to trim 5,000 to 10,000 words at least. It’s no secret that I can be wordy, and I am sure I will find plenty to tighten. I hope I can finish that before D-Day on June 21st.

Once I finish that edit, that’s all the progress I can make on my own. I will have revised the manuscript about 5 times, and I will be so sick of it that I will have lost all objectivity. At that point it will go off to the editor, who will no doubt make it bleed.

Here’s hoping for pre-summer progress for all you writers who are parents!

The Editing Puzzle

My smartph Move it! Free - Block puzzle- screenshot thumbnail one has a game on it called Move It! by AI Factory. The game is a spatial relations game, where you have pieces of various shapes on a board, and you have to move them around until you can guide a red square into the upper right hand corner. The game is fun, frustrating, and highly addictive.

Move It! is a lot like editing—at least the stage of editing where I am now. IVeritas-Cover-Art-231x300 have a WIP that I just finished putting through my critique group. I have reams of helpful suggestions that I cannot wait to get moving on—but there is so much work to be done, I find myself faced with a plethora of pieces scattered on a board of unknown dimensions.

Move It! specifies a target number—the least moves required to clear the board. Alas, my editing does not come with a target number.

My editing notes include checking for conflict in each scene, making sure Scene A leads logically to Scene B, noting my character goals for each scene. I need to follow character arcs, plot arcs, goal arcs. I have 3 POV characters, so I plan to separate their scenes out and listen to voice, check for character consistency, and make sure they are three-dimensional.

I also want to check continuity, symbolism, and rhythm. My ending needs some help, and the entire book needs a language overhaul because it sounds too middle grade and it’s YA. And of course there’s the nitty gritty of grammar, punctuation, and formatting.

Even with the target number, your game can run away with you. I had one game with a target of 72 moves and ended up with 265. I’m hoping to avoid that problem while editing, but you never know because when you change one story piece that changes them all.

At this moment, I am looking at the board, wondering how I can move those manuscript pieces in the most efficient way to get my book to the final position. I’m a bit overwhelmed and unsure where to start.

How you begin in Move It! sets you up for success or failure. A false start will get you to 265*. A good start narrows your available moves until only the successful path is left open to you.

Let’s hope I choose the right starting move with my manuscript.

How do you organize a huge editing project like this?

*My current score on that target 72 game is 76.

Final Edits While Failing NaNo

I said a couple of weeks ago that I was “sort of” doing NaNo. That I would be trying to finish the final 23 chapters of my book (around 23,000 words). Here’s how it’s going.

I got a good deal of writing in two weekends ago. I now have 17 chapters left to write. It felt good to break the 20-chapter barrier, I’ll tell you!

But I don’t know if I will make it by the end of November. Why?

Because in that same blog post, I had said that if I got my edits back from my publisher, it would derail my WIP’s progress.

And I got my final edits back from my publisher last week! YAY!!

While the edits were relatively minor, I still am not finished. I printed out the manuscript Monday morning and am now giving it a final read-through with my trusty red pen. I am reading it aloud, so where I can do this is limited (my daughter’s dance class was not an option). I have completed reading 30 pages of 190.

This is going to take a while.

And that is why I’m not sure I will finish my WIP by the end of November.

However, I am so excited about these final edits, because that moves us closer to the book being “real.” Once the edits are complete, it can be placed on the publishing schedule. We can start working on the cover. We can finalize the title. We can start getting blurbs. We can talk about marketing strategies.

It’s getting real, folks. The crazy ride that is a debut novel is starting.

Strap in and enjoy the ride!

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Culling the Artistic Output

I have a four year old. Anyone who has a 4-year-old in their lives knows that kids of that age are pack rats. My daughter refuses to throw away ANYTHING. Every rock she finds, every leaf, every scrap of paper, every junky toy from fast food restaurants. I do believe that our house holds the world record for empty toilet paper rolls—my daughter insists on keeping them because she wants to paint them. So my house is flooded with piles of “stuff.”

The problem is compounded by the fact that my daughter is an artist. She loves to draw and paint. And since many of her pictures are, shall we say, modernistic in their swirls and colors, she can draw many pictures in a short amount of time. Her output is tremendous. However, it leaves us drowning in paper—paper that my daughter will not part with.

So I use the time-honored parental trick of waiting until she is out of the house to clean up. I admit sadly that many of her works of art find their way into the recycle bin. I spent seven hours this weekend digging out from the art-drifts. My daughter will never notice the pictures are gone, because I kept the ones I knew were close to her heart.

Scouring my house and having to decide what art to keep and which to pitch reminded me of the editing process all writers have to go through. Each sentence is a work of art, yet we have to cull them. We need to keep the ones that resonate, and send the rest to the recycle bin. And that’s hard, because each sentence contains a piece of our heart and soul.

Sometimes, we have to employ an outside editor to come in and scour our manuscript for us while we avert our eyes. We need the objective eye to help us separate the art from the mindless squiggles. We need them to dig us out from under our own art-drifts.

It’s never easy, paring down our artistic output. But the culling is necessary to bring out the best of our work and connect with our readers. The lesson learned from all this? Our art is more than just knowing how to polish what we leave in.

Sometimes the art is in knowing what to throw out.

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Editing: We’re Never Finished; We’re Just Done

I once had a non-writer friend of mine ask, “Aren’t you EVER done editing?”

The answer, as every writer knows, is: “No.” Every published author I’ve spoken to has told me that even when they pick up their published books, they see things they want to change. One said when he does readings, he’ll change the words to what he wished he wrote instead.

We’re never finished—but sometimes we just have to be done.

When you’re on deadline to deliver a finished product, there comes a time when you have to be done, whether you like it or not. But what about before you’ve got that book deal? You could theoretically edit forever.

But you don’t want to edit forever. Eventually, you have to get your work out there—self-published or sent to agents or publishers. If you don’t ever send it out, you’ll never reach an audience. If you don’t stop fiddling with book #1, you will never write a book #2. So at some point you need to declare your book “done.”

For me, that’s usually the 7th or 8th version of the manuscript. There are many more revisions than that, but I usually do “small” revisions with a version, and only change the version number when I’m doing “large” revisions. My revision schedule goes something like this:

Version 1: First draft

Version 2: Clean-up of first draft to make it readable

Then I often do a storyboard to see what scenes I need to add, delete, move around.

Version 3: Draft with all of the above incorporated

Version 4: Do a clean-up, tighten, find typos, etc.

Run it through my critique partners and beta readers

Version 5: Make changes per their suggestions

Version 6: Another clean-up edit, try to make sure hit word count, read aloud

Send to professional developmental editor

Version 7: Make developmental edits. (Often includes banging head against wall and/or crying, “I can’t do this!”)

Version 8: Read through version 7 silently for continuity. Do clean-up edit. Then read aloud for final polish.

So that’s roughly my process. By the time I hit version 8, I am emotionally and mentally done with the book. I know I have done all I can do without further professional input. So I send it out into the world, to agents and publishers, and hope I’ve done my job well enough to attract their attention.

So, no, my non-writing friend, I am never finished editing. I am just done.

How do you know when you’re done editing?

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Slogging Through

Last week I discussed the “black moment” of writing, and Greg Frost commented that author Maureen F. McHugh said that the dark moment was followed by “slogging.” Well, my black moment has passed, and I am thoroughly in the midst of the slog.

My first 7 chapters needed the most revision. Luckily, my husband and preschooler went away for the weekend, so I was forced to move past my dark moment and jump into editing with both feet. No time to wallow in self-pity when you have childless writing time available!

Thus the slog began.

I have been slogging ever since, plowing though a chapter at a time, making sure everything fits with the revised first 7 chapters, as well as deleting repetition (a big one for me) and unneeded inner monologue (another biggie for me). I also need to deepen some setting and make my protagonist’s reactions a little more relateable in spots. So, a long way to go (238 pages as of this writing).

The good news is, having taken the plunge with those first chapters and wrestling them into shape in a 10-hour writing marathon, the slog is getting easier. It’s less like plodding through waist-deep mud and more like wading along the edge of the ocean. My feet are getting wet, sometimes up to my knees, and the water pushes and pulls at me, but it’s more pleasant than torturous. Finishing those first 7 chapters has made the revision of the rest of the book much clearer. I can see the focus of each scene better now, see why it works or doesn’t, and how to make it forward the plot strongly.

So I made it through the black moment and am making progress on the slog. And at the end of it all, I will have a stronger, more marketable product. But most of all, I will have completed the work to the best of my ability–and that is a victory in itself.

Where are you in your project? Slogging or soaring?

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Overload Paralysis

A few years back, when my daughter was still an infant, we lived for a time on the island of Chincoteague, VA. Since I still had commitments back home, I would make the trek up and down the Eastern seaboard twice a month, my car filled to the brim with all the ridiculously large items a tiny baby seems to need.

Almost every time I needed to start packing up, I experienced a strange phenomenon: I couldn’t do anything. I would find myself standing in the middle of the living room, frozen. My mind whirled with the long packing list I had, as well as with all the things I needed to do other than packing—cleaning, bill paying, etc. I had so much to get done that I couldn’t do anything at all. The overload would paralyze me.

I sometimes get that way about writing, too. I end up with so many projects going on at once, that when I do get some free time to work on something, I end up doing something totally unrelated to writing. The overload of work can paralyze my creativity and my motivation. Right now, I am editing 2 novels, polishing up 2 short stories, have 2 blogs due every week, and have to maintain the constant round of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads… Not to mention reading the dozen or so blogs I follow regularly.

It can be overwhelming enough that I want to hide from it all.

There is a way to break the paralysis. The answer is both easy and hard.

Pick something.

Do it.

That’s the big secret. Do something, anything, on your list, and you can advance into productive work. But what to pick? Hardest thing first? Easiest thing first? It depends on your mood and your personality.

If I have a very long list but most of it is little stuff, I will do the easiest first and work up to the hardest. By doing the easy things first, I get the instant gratification of checking things off my list and seeing the list get shorter quickly. If I have a shorter list but the tasks are more complex and time-consuming, I will usually do the hardest one first. That way I know the most difficult (and often the most time-consuming) one is done and the rest will be easier and usually take less time than that first one. So, sometimes I inch my way up to the top of the hill, and sometimes I start at the top and coast down.

Of course, there are always things that are not on your To-Do list that crop up and need to be done. Those you just have to incorporate based on their necessity. I immediately need to take care of my daughter when she falls off the bed and hits her head, but the crayon drawn on her closet door can wait until I have more time. The phone call from my family needs to be answered, but the one from an unknown number can leave a message.

Do you experience overload paralysis? Do you have a different way of busting out of it? Or do you have a method of organization that bypasses this overwhelmed reaction altogether?

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The Fear of Writing Badly

I have heard many writers say that part of writer’s block may be the subconscious fear of writing poorly. Of turning out dreck. And this is also the reason some people never start writing in the first place—if it’s not going to come out perfectly the first time, it’s too much work.

I can honestly say I have never been plagued by this particular writing demon (which is rather shocking given the plethora of anxieties I DO have). My key to freedom is twofold:

1) I cannot help but write poorly.
2) Anything I write can be fixed.

Number one is important because nothing we write will ever be perfect. There are some days the writing flows, but then there are the days when every word is a struggle and what comes out is utter blech. It is unavoidable that you will write poorly sometimes. Worrying about it is rather like worrying that the sun might come up in the morning. It’s going to happen no matter what you do.

And that’s okay.

Did you hear me? It’s okay to write crap. We all do it. And why is it okay? Because of statement number two: Anything I write can be fixed.

I am learning and growing as a writer all the time, but there are still things I need to work on. There are still facets of the writing craft I don’t fully understand. And much of my poor writing comes from these gaps in my continuing education. I make mistakes I don’t know I’m making, or even mistakes I know I am making but do not know how to fix.

Sometimes I learn what I need to know and can fix the poor writing myself. More often I need crit partners or editors to point out to me just what went wrong with the writing. By the time I have finished taking all of the feedback from my readers, crit partners, and editors and put it into practice, a wonderful thing occurs: My poor writing improves! And the more I work—the more I learn—the more it improves!

So don’t let fear of writing poorly hold you back. Write. Write well, write poorly, but just write. Because once the words are on the page, even the worst writing can be fixed. But if the words stay in your head, you can’t improve them. You can’t learn from them. You can’t transcend them.

Don’t fear bad writing—embrace it as a necessary step toward excellence.

Bad writing is never a failure—unless you don’t learn from it.

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