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)?


lemonade out of lemons

A sudden illness laid me low so I don’t have a ton of scintillating prose for you this week. I’ve made good use of the downtime though:

Vintage postcard/image: When I was sick and lay abed, I had two pillows at my head, And all my toys beside me lay, To keep me happy through the day.
From the New York Public Library’s public domain image collection.

Just like the fun stuff, I journal the rough stuff. Given how writers need to torment their characters I chronicle every twinge and ache. I’m currently smacking Edward around in rewrites and a reference file saves time.

I find this works for anger too. Hell, I find arguments easy to write in general, but it clears the mind enough to write it well.

And, of course, reading still feeds the muse even when I don’t have the brain power to create anything.

Illness and other downtime is inevitable. How do you make it work for you?

year in review, year to come

Strange days, the weeks around Christmas and new years. I find it difficult to keep motivated due to the disruption in schedule (and a nice cold I’m working on – achoo!) Certainly not a time to start anything new. So I thought I’d review:

For the coming year:

  • Attend the HNS conference in June
  • Have a proper second draft in time for this conference if it kills me
    • To this end, write a bit every day, even if it kills me
  • Keep meeting with critiquers and critiquing in turn
  • Guest blog post(s?)

And this is just off the top of my stuffy head.

Happy holidays to those that celebrate. Don’t worry, I’ll see you one more time before the new year, with a tidy link dump for next Wednesday.

8-10-2016 biweekly links: the writing edition

Changes in my day job dictate that I’m spending much of my usual writing time looking for my next gig. Blogging may be sparse, but I’ll try to post bits when I can.

For this week, I share some of my favorite writing and writing business websites:

slowing to a crawl: the mental grind of editing

I got nothin’ for y’all this week. Sorry.

Well, nothing you can see yet, anyway. Let me explain.

Sloth: This might take a while
AND HOW. Courtesy YouTube

Edits and rewrites continue. Got good feedback on a rewritten chapter from my critique group. I can honestly say I look at the book every day. Nonetheless, progress is slow.

I can draft in fits and starts because it’s ok if the words suck. Butt in seat, type type type, and there you are. Unfortunately it takes me at least 15 minutes to get into “edit mode”: find my place, review what I’ve already done, and get back into the scene/character’s head…

Long story short, I’ve discovered that early morning stolen moments aren’t working. If I can get 2 uninterrupted hours I can usually complete a scene, but given day job, life, etc. I only have this luxury on weekends.

Hence this abbreviated blog post – what time I can steal goes into the book.

Once I’m published I can never work this way again. Fellow writers, how do you edit when on a deadline? Is it possible in short spurts? Any mental exercises for slipping into one’s story world easily so I can pick back up fast?

Meanwhile, nose back to grindstone.

looking back, steps forward – 2015 into 2016

Yes, another tedious “year in review” post to add to the many cluttering your feed. But hopefully something of interest:

My great achievement for the year was finishing the first draft. Tentatively titled “Fool’s Gold” (I still don’t like it, but I’ve got to call it something), I’ve spent the last half of the year learning to edit. It is a long, slow, strange slog, but worth it. On the rare days I get a brainwave for improvement the “flow” is almost as fun as rough drafting.

I’ve found John Adamus’ Fix Your Shit Month posts invaluable in identifying plot and construction holes I didn’t even know existed. I’m also finding that copying my favorite works longhand makes it easier to both dissect what makes the words work and get into the writing groove.

Concrete goals for 2016: I’m not sure how to quantify editing progress as I’ve been told repeatedly that it can take years. I do aim to do at least half an hour a day. I’m also copying a paragraph or two of good writing each day to see if I can learn by imitation.

I’m also going to seek more frequent critiques and beta reading.

the slog

Oh, I wish I had something more exciting to report.

What percentage of a plan do you have? I dunno. 12 percent.
Just about. Courtesy

I’m getting the hang of this whole rewriting/editing thing. Between Heather Rose Jones‘ comment and some direction from Helping Writers Become Authors I’m now flailing with a plan: check POV and punctuation; kill “that”s and “there is/was”s, etc. Measurable goals feel like progress, but at what cost?

I’ve become a bit of a hermit writing-wise. Nothing feels ready to put before my critique group, and I declined a public reading because I didn’t want to derail the editing process to prepare one 15 minute section. I’m probably cheating myself of learning opportunities but I’ve not yet figured out the balance for this phase.

So, back into the trenches. Imagine me banging my head against the keyboard between adverb search and destroy missions.

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?

more show vs. tell: the subtle art of subtext

Imagine a story in which everyone lies left and right, to each other and themselves.

Sounds good, right? So full of conflict and hidden suggestions, misdirections and bad decisions.

But how exciting is it if you’re told that they are unreliable lying liars?

This is why I’m going through my first draft* with my head in my hands.

Saga’s Lying Cat, courtesy

Saga (a wonderful space opera comic series I highly recommend) has Lying Cat  announce every falsehood. She’s perfect for Saga’s comedy/drama/surrealism but I can’t get away with something so obvious. I’m not that clever and clever isn’t my book’s “tone” anyway.

Hence my need to master subtext.

How can I show Edward con everyone without pointing out every time he invents a story? How do I show Jane play the gracious housewife while struggling not to slap everyone in sight? How do I show Dee’s nervousness even as he follows every insane angelic order?

I’m barely 2 chapters in and I’ve already found multiple spelled-out instances (“My name is Talbot,” Edward lied; Jane hid her anger behind a smile). I don’t want to hit readers over the head like that. At the same time I don’t want to hint so feebly that readers wonder what the hell just happened.

The Emotion Thesaurus has proved invaluable in my efforts to say the unsaid. It’s organized by emotion and includes not only definition and physical, mental, and internal indications but examples of efforts to suppress that emotion. Rage expresses through violent acting out, clouded vision, and a need to take control, but suppressed rage plays out through gritted teeth and tense silence. I don’t read body language well so having it laid out in a tidy list is helpful for me beyond the page.

So I’m going through looking for opportunities for my characters to show their inner conflicts. This will take a lot of work.

*I think I’ve finished my first draft (!) It lacks a few scenes from my outline, but on second look they seem like filler. The first draft may be a major achievement, but it doesn’t feel like one. I now have a ton of sand, but it’s still not a castle.

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!