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:

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.

saying one thing, doing another: internal dialog

I’ve started my first round of edits/rewrites and it’s a hell of a lot harder than the first draft.  No longer can I dump words willy-nilly. They must be hammered into a shape that balances action, thought, and dialogue scene by scene while still being part of a seamless whole.

Much of the first 3 chapters involves Edward setting up his con: lots of lying and making stuff up. By necessity there’s a lot of internal dialogue because it’s the best (only?) way to show the contradictions. The trick is keeping the story moving forward, but not so quickly that the reader wonders why he’s doing these contradictory things.

Internal Dialogue: A Busy’ Writer’s Guide has been a godsend for getting the balance right.

Very broadly:

  1. event
  2. physical reaction
  3. internal dialogue
  4. spoken dialogue/action

And man, just using this formula is helping the pacing a thousandfold! No more infinite rereads trying to figure out if I’m wasting time in my characters’ heads. It’s almost musical!

This is just the first edit, which my writing friends assure me will take around 2(!) years. I’m sure it would take longer if I tried to figure out everything myself. Lesson learned: Don’t go it alone – benefit from others’ experience.

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 Comicvine.com

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.

it’s too much

I’ve been having one of those weeks with the writing.

It’s been a struggle to cough up more than a couple hundred words a day, not because inspiration is lacking but because I can’t complete a thought without having to put in placeholders for something I haven’t researched yet:

…the large table in the center of the room. It groaned with food, [what kind? how much?]


He shifted to and fro in an attempt to keep his blood flowing. “Besides it’s cold as [16th c. equivalent of “a witch’s tit”]-“


Approaching the throne, Jane dropped a low curtsey [how does one correctly greet the Queen?]

And so forth. These pauses not only derail my thinking but illustrate the gaps in my knowledge that I need to place the story in a concrete-feeling time and place. This doesn’t include the list of general questions I need to answer before I know if some of my plot points are even possible.

Currently I have over 80 sources but it still doesn’t seem like enough; my fear of anachronism looms large but I don’t want to put off my narrative ideas until the research is complete (opinions on how much research to do pre-writing differ).

Even so, this often feels like too big of a project to face, as though there are too many details and dependencies to get my head around to do the story justice, and the temptation to just quit is great. But that’s not how books get written so I press on, trying to break it into manageable pieces and keeping my […] in to address in the next draft.

I’m also giving Scrivener a whirl to try to impose some order on this beast. Currently the book is in a series of Word files in a single folder on my desktop, none titled clearly enough to know their content or sequence. Hopefully this will also help with the dreaded outlining.

short circuit

I am easily distracted. There, I said it.

This is a big problem when I’m trying to buckle down and produce prose because writing is such a motionless, solitary activity that almost anything becomes more appealing if the muse doesn’t strike instantly: getting a drink, tidying my workspace, surfing the internet…

Ah yes, the internet. It’s a fantastic research tool but also a diabolical time suck that people made of sterner stuff might be able to tune out, but given the opportunity I will click through useful information to trivial amusing junk Every. Damn. Time.

The solution is obviously to turn it off, and working away from my local wireless does help but I like the convenience of working from home. By sheer luck I was reading an interview with author Malinda Lo in which she revealed that she had the same problem and provided her solution for it.

Mac Freedom is a tidy little app that does only one thing: it cuts off internet access without having to cut the connection, in time intervals up to 8 hours. No web, and no email notifications either.

I’ve been using it all week and was finally able to get a difficult scene written because I turned off interference. This isn’t an ad – I’m just a satisfied customer.

What’s your worse writing distraction, and how do you handle it?