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)?

 

the valley of suck

Yea, though I walk through the valley of suck, I will not falter…At least, I hope I won’t.

It’s fair to say that I’m not going to have the second draft done by the HNS conference in June. Well and so–I work with the time I’ve got and while it’s not as fast as I’d like at least it’s steady.

But I’ve run into parts of this book that I…despise is not too strong a word. One section in particular I still hate despite acting on quality feedback, and though I move on to the next part I have to wonder if my second draft isn’t turning into just another, worse, first draft.

My plea to my regional Historical Novel Society chapter resulted in: get more critiques. Which I can’t argue with. Second (and third, and fourth) pairs of eyes catch what I can’t because I’ve been looking at the damn thing too long.

I have a local critique group but can’t always get to physical meetings. I’m checking out Scribophile on the recommendation of another HNS colleague to see if online critique exchanges are equally helpful.

Totally unrelated (or not?): my fencing game has been in the valley of suck as well. New coach, new footwork, so I’ve been clomping all over the strip like an asthmatic elephant for months.

Until this past weekend when some of it finally “clicked”.

back of bronze medal. Reads: Third Place Vet 40=49 NAC Women's Foil North American Cup, Baltimore MD
This is my best ever result in this event.

This is a consistent pattern with my fencing: I have to sweat away in the valley of suck to make a higher (how’s that for a cheesy/tortured metaphor?) I wonder if my writing progress will be the same. I’ve been fencing sixteen years and this pattern remains. I’ve only been writing for four.

Four!  (I started at the cusp of a previous government shutdown, and here I am again).Has it been that long? Or has it been that brief?

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:

fencing and writing

This whole “writing a book” thing has a steep learning curve. No matter how much I practice I might not see positive results for years. Even if I do the odds of being able to make a living at it are small. It sounds bleak and I suppose it can be – I can well understand why some people just quit.

Fortunately I have some prior experience stubbornly pursuing uncertain payoffs.

I’m a competitive fencer.

two women fencing, one with the name Thurman on the back of her uniform
Competition photo. Guess which one I am.

I picked up a foil because I needed the exercise and I’ve always thought swords were cool. What started as a less-boring means of keeping in shape became a physical and mental passion, and over the past fifteen years I’ve earned a couple of ratings (kind of like belts in martial arts) and medals along the way.

Please note that “fifteen years” thing. Fencing is about keeping calm and acting correctly in a quickly changing, physically demanding situation. I am neither a natural athlete nor reliably cool-headed and it took every second of those fifteen years to get this far.

Interestingly, the longer I work on the book the more parallels I find between fencing and writing:

  • First efforts suck. Just as the first draft is dreck that needs editing, my first competitions were practice for competing: adapting to the noise, fighting down performance anxiety/”stage fright”. With each event I got a little more confident, and performed a little better.
  • Practice practice practice. As writers must write, so must fencers fence. Damn tiredness, sore feet, writer’s block, or whatever else. Feet on strip = butt in seat.
  • Massive amounts of persistence and patience are required.  I competed for four years before getting my E rating and it took another three to get my D (the highest is A). I hope it won’t take me that long to get published. Even if it doesn’t it may still take years for my books to do well, but that’s ok, because:
  • I don’t have to be perfect to be good. I’ll never be an olympian but I’m not a bad fencer. I’m good enough to win national medals and keep my head above water with scary As and Bs. And while I’ll never be a J. K. Rowling, I hope to tell a story competently enough to entertain readers.
  • Ongoing education. Just as there is no mastery in writing, there is no endpoint at which someone becomes a perfect fencer. High rated fencers still have coaches and do drills and footwork. I expect to read books on craft, take classes, go to conferences, and the like long after I’m published. Speaking of which:
  • I can’t do it alone. Without supportive, enthusiastic club mates and a coach that prevents me giving in to my natural laziness I’d never have done this well! My writing is much the same: I need critique partners, beta readers, editors and other professionals I’m still discovering to make my book as good as it can be.
seventh place medal, USFA National Championships 2014
The result of 13 years of work.

In the next two weeks I’m in one local and one national competition, so wish me luck. If nothing else they’re good persistence/patience exercises I can fold into my writing discipline.

What about you? What “transferrable skills” do you bring to your own writing (or other creative pursuit)?

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.

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 imoviequotes.com/

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.

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.

Lying!
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.