trimming the fat

Update on the writing front:

I’ve managed to trim down the first third of my book to under 100 pages! This is something of an accomplishment, as the first draft weighed in at a hefty 475 pages – long even for historical fiction, and inexcusable for a first time author. I’m currently rewriting the second third–if I can slim it similarly I’m on the right track.

Mr. Incredible measuring his waist and liking what he sees
Getting there. Courtesy Giphy

Cutting has been remarkably easy. Because I wrote the first draft out-of-order many chapters wound up with “last time on [book]”- type introductions. Rewriting in order makes these obvious, and they’re the first to go.

Also: anything that bores me. The first draft adhered too closely to the historical record which includes a lot of pedantic to and fro and preparation. Such interludes hobble the story, and if I’m tuning out I imagine my readers will too.

Speaking of which, the day job and other amusements have impeded my going to my local critique group. As such I joined Scribophile at the recommendation of a HNS acquaintance. I’m getting good feedback, in record time and in the comfort of my own home. Gotta give to get though, and I can only hope I’m as helpful to my fellow writers as they are to me.

I’m not going to have the second draft complete by the HNS conference in late June, but I’m further ahead than I thought I’d be, simply because there’s so much I can get rid of!

How are everyone’s works in progress (writing and not)?

 

eating the elephant

I’m sitting at my desk in the early AM at a total loss.

I wrote at least 200 words every morning for the past 2(!) years. Good, bad, or indifferent, I could count them and call it progress. Now I’m sitting on a 110,508 words/446 page first draft (!) and I don’t know what to do next.

elephant on dinner plate

Mark Tompkins, my mentor at the HNS conference, made excellent suggestions for the opening scene (start with black magic) and POV (I can have more than two and they don’t need equal time). I’m tempted to start rewriting now, but I read Alison Morton’s advice and wonder if I should read the whole thing through first.

Vanity isn’t holding me up. My comments so far include repeated “show, don’t tell”, “subtext this” and “backstory, delete”. Nor do rewrites intimidate – if anything I had to throttle my tail-chasing impulses to get to the end.

Fifty pages at a time is all I can manage – beyond that I’m overwhelmed.

How do you break your rewriting process into manageable chunks?

critique week

I’ve hit a roadblock.

The mood and emotions in my latest section keep eluding me. I’m still hammering out 200+ words a day, but none make me happy and I’m falling into another editing tail-chasing cycle trying to get it just so.

I could continue this flailing or get feedback, painful though that might be.

I’m a member of two critique groups: one local and one online, and I don’t take advantage of either as often as I should. Part of it is nerves, certainly: good test readers don’t sugar-coat their criticism, and will likely advocate killing darlings I’ve sweated over for weeks.

But more than anything else it’s my stubborn “if you want it done right do it yourself” urge to work alone. Once I get deep into a particular thing I forget that the writing process isn’t inherently solitary. In fact, I need to share with others to improve, or at least figure out if I’m on the right track.

As both groups require reciprocation I’ll be critiquing more than writing this week, but that’s ok. I’m not making much progress and I don’t see this changing without a swift kick in the pants. Besides, sometimes it’s good to just walk away for a bit.

switching gears

My writer’s group critiqued my work for the first time last night.

I spent most of last week preparing the short (~1000 word) chapter I was submitting for review: writing, editing, rewriting, running through Autocrit, and editing until it was as perfect as I could make it. This is pretty standard procedure for me (every post you see on this blog has gone through a dozen iterations, including this one).

I have always worked this way because most of my shared writing has been episodic role-playing and fan fiction: once a chapter is out in the world I can’t take it back or edit it, so I aim for a finished product every time.

By the submission deadline I still wasn’t pleased with what I had. I wasn’t getting across the mood and clarity I wanted and feared my chapter would be seen as lazy writing, or just plain crap.

It turned out that nobody expected a completed work. Everyone could tell it was a first draft and liked it very much for what it was, offering some excellent tips how to fix some of my clunkier phrasing and ideas for giving it the emotional punch it lacks (more show, less tell – but that’s another post).

They also advised me against “over-polishing” because it hinders progress on longer (novel-length) works. Plot developments in later chapters mean I might have to rewrite those “finished” pieces or simply cut them, translating to hours of work down the drain. Besides, sometimes it’s good to get the blueprint on the page and then let it sit for a fresh look later.

It’s going to take a hell of an effort for me to write something and leave it in draft form – it goes against all my prior work habits and grates on my misguided perfectionism besides! But in the name of efficiency I’ll write my next chapter give it a once over, and then…stop.

It’ll be easy to stop typing. Stopping my mental editor when I should be working on the next thing will be the real trick.

On the upside, they liked my ideas and general plot. It’s heartening to know that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks a mixture of espionage, magic, alchemy, and madness would be a good read!