Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Taking the Next Step March 4, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:13 PM
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I’ve done the bulk of my revisions. I’ve gone through chapter by chapter, reducing 1059 ‘was’s to 432, which is quite an achievement. I’ve glared at awkward sentences and rewritten them until they sound awkward in a slightly different way. I’ve occasionally read dialogue out loud to make sure it flows right, even though my dialogue can sound pretty strange out of context. (A complete read through will have to wait.) I’ve messed with the story arc, forcing in extra scenes and hoping that characters don’t end up in two different places on the same Wednesday. The book is finally, to a great extent, done.

Now, naturally, I need it to be ripped apart again. And for that I need beta readers.

I’ve used my mother and brother for beta readers, and they’re… all right. But let’s get real. Your mother will never tell you, “This is awful. The plot is cliché, the conclusion is preachy, your characters are flat, and this should be used to line the cage of an ill-tempered gerbil.” She just won’t.

Meanwhile, my brother will occasionally begin “Oh yeah, my sister wrote a book where…” and I’ll have to throw something at him or rapidly deny everything. This has happened multiple times.

Inkpop served as a great place to get good criticism, but now that’s over. I thought about moving to Wattpad, but after seeing this in a guide to newcomers, I decided that I’d be better off on my own:

When you really want to leave an honest critique, it is better to ask the write…r if it is alright. Even after you critique their story they still might get offended. You haven’t done anything wrong and neither have they. They just don’t understand that you would be saying anything negative about their story.

Nice. I don’t do sugar coated, and I don’t like getting it either.

This leaves friends. Friends aren’t ideal, but they’re not blood relatives and I can at least hope that they’ll be honest with me. So now I’ll be considering candidates, typing up emails, and hitting send to the people I’ll feel least embarrassed to have read what I’ve written. This number is very small.

Then I’ll go to work on something else and probably forget all about it. I’ve been working on this manuscript for almost a year now. I kind of hate it. But someday – maybe a few weeks later – there will be an email in my inbox. My pulse will start racing. Potential criticisms will flash across my brain. I’ll realize that I care slightly more than I thought I did. And then the glorious, horrible process of revisions will start all over again.

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Word by Word December 9, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:05 PM
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Revision is both exhausting and exhaustive.

I’d never embarked on a full revision before. I’ve reread old works, making a few tweaks along the way, but nothing to this extent. With my current project, I’ve gone through sentence by sentence, word by word, teasing out the perfect way to say each line. This seems to be taking, as one might imagine, forever.

There’s so much to keep track of. Do the characters’ personalities stay consistent, or do they have a good reason to change? Plot threads – do they run all the way through, pop up too late, or never resolve themselves? Am I using too many ‘was’s, or too few ‘said’s? Did Myra die one or two years ago? It’s enough to drive a girl insane.

Have any of you gone through an entire revision process? How long did it take? How did you survive? Feel free to comment.

 

Was Is Dead To Me November 30, 2011

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 8:39 PM
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My novel-in-progress Strange Bedfellows weighs in just over 68,000 words right now. I’m quite pleased with it. At least, if you define ‘quite pleased’ as ‘savagely ripping chunks out, rewriting them, sticking them back in, smoothing the edges, and fixing all the details that just changed’. I’m basically performing open heart surgery on this innocent, unsuspecting piece of writing. It’s for its own good. I recently rewrote all 6000 words of the climax – in pen, no less. Carpal tunnel is headed my way.

You might be wondering what my strangely ungrammatical title means. I shall explain. I was happily paging through a writing advice book when I came across this tidbit:

(paraphrased) I’m a publisher, and one of the things I hate to see is overuse of the word ‘was’. To be, in all its forms, is a weak verb, and I’ve sent manuscripts back if there’s too much of it.

Hmm… I thought. I’ve probably used ‘was’ somewhere in there. I should go take a look and replace all of them.

I cheerfully and naively pulled up the Word document, imagining that this would be the work of ten minutes, tops. Using the Find and Replace function, I decided to get a rough estimate of how many ‘was’s I needed to cull.

A single click, and the message that would cause a spike in my blood pressure arrived. “‘was’ appears 1,059 times in this document” it informed me.

I believe my response was a combination of “Ack” and “Nng”. Honestly, I’m surprised a headdesk was not involved. Oh dear. I just used two ‘was’s in this line. …

As you may have gathered, this is not going to be a ten minute job. It’ll take me ages before I remove all the ‘was’s – and some really can’t be removed. Sometimes that’s just the best word for the job.

And if a publisher rejects me for that, I guess he wasn’t the one for me.

(Now excuse me as I chip away at the current 935 ‘was’s remaining.)

 

The Terror Diaries, pt 2 July 13, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:28 PM
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The time of terror is (for now) over. And I only had to hide for about three hours. Despite the heat, with the ceiling fan on it wasn’t too bad. The YA writing book explaining just how difficult it is to get published/make a living/do much of anything kind of dampened my mood, but you can’t have everything.

The feedback was mixed. Although I have a page of notes on things to improve and a manuscript peppered with pink post it notes (that was some unintentional alliteration for you), I managed to scrape some compliments as well.

My mother noted that “It’s not Pulitzer Prize winning literature like War and Peace – not that I’ve read War and Peace – but it’s good.” I haven’t read War and Peace either – I’m not sure who has. However, I think it’s over 500,000 words long. Didn’t Tolstoy’s editor tell him that shorter is better?

Still, all is not lost. I even managed to come up with a name for the character enigmatically known as ‘IDK’, although by the time I was done that alias had come to look like a real name, at least to me. Currently he goes by Ian, although some strange peculiarity of the Find/Replace function has put it in all caps. I’ll fix it later.

The most common advice after you’ve finished a manuscript of any length is to let it simmer for a while, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. Strange Bedfellows now inhabits my desk drawer, where it will remain for several months before I deign to look at it again. You’ll be spared hearing more about it for that length of time, at least. Fear not – I have plenty of posts planned, concerning where one gets ideas, why female characters are more likely to be wielding weapons than cooking pots, and when you’re allowed to use obscenities, just to name a few. See you next time.

 

The Terror Diaries, pt1 July 11, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 1:34 PM
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I am currently hiding in my bedroom.

This is not something I typically do. However, I think I have reasonable cause. You see, yesterday I finished printing my novel rough draft of Strange Bedfellows. There was one unfortunate paper jam resulting in an interesting diagonal-type effect, but other than that things went smoothly. I was not pleased. That meant I had to hand it over.

The day of judgement arrived, and no one mentioned it. Neither my mother or brother, my appointed beta testers, seemed to remember I was going to let them read anything I’d written. After all, I never did. I almost talked myself out of it three times as the blind panic mounted.

At about ten in the morning, my blind panic was temporarily diverted when my mother announced that I was going to learn to drive on the highway. Although I’m well past sixteen, I despise cars and all of what they stand for, and dislike driving more than thirty miles per hour. A different kind of blind panic set in.

However, once I realized I wasn’t dead on the interstate and that my novel would never see the light of day if no one read it, I steeled myself. Feeling the same sense of fear and inevitability as I had behind the steering wheel of a car going sixty-five miles per hour, I walked downstairs, clutching my manuscript to my chest. Under the neutral gazes of my family (probably highly amused at my panicked state) I explained:

1. I was completely terrified, and planned to hide in my room once the manuscript was handed over.

2. There’s only one hard copy – there’s no way I’m letting my little brother loose on my electronic version. If they found bits they liked, disliked, or found confusing, I’d supplied handy post-it notes to mark the areas.

3. As I explained in my last post, the current state of my manuscript is very rough. I’m only handing it over because my strange almost-courage might desert me.

After imparting my wisdom, I threw the manuscript down and ran upstairs, where I currently reside sprawled on the floor, with a laptop and a book on writing for young adults. The book is kind of helpful, even though it was written in 1995 and devoted a chapter on what the internet was. The laptop, in my opinion, is an evil machine bent on my destruction, with a distressing habit of devouring my files and losing them somewhere in the depths of cyberspace. But here I will remain for as long as possible, too embarrassed to come out. I’m not sure what I’ll do about dinner yet.

Perhaps I’m overreacting just a tad. Still, thoughts keep chasing themselves around my mind. I could have polished it more. I could have shown them something else. ANYTHING else. One of my normal novels. This one’s too weird. It’s awful. Ugh. Maybe I should jump out the window and run for Canada.

Hopefully in a few hours I’ll have calmed down. Hopefully this will be the hardest time, and after this I won’t be afraid to share my work. I hope so, anyway. Otherwise I’m going to be pretty hungry in a few days.

 

The Victory Lap of Pain and Humiliation July 7, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 1:01 PM
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Second order of business:

Over the last few weeks, I’ve mentioned a ‘project’ I’ve been working on. This project – which takes the form of a novel currently entitled Strange Bedfellows – is finally done. This makes it my first novel completed without the aid of NaNoWriMo. I’ve had dozens of starts in the last few years, but this is the first to make it all the way. I started in mid April, so it took about three months all told, including IB hell for a month and a half of it. Like a proud parent, I will now brag about my child/creation ceaselessly.

Voila – my wordcount. Quite beautiful, is it not? At least, that’s what I thought for a while. More on that later.

Anyway, after the euphoria of my hard earned victory wore off, it was replaced by the crushing weight of fear and panic. You see, in a strange episode of madness, I told my mother and brother that this time I’d let them read it. Not just the primped and polished 27th draft, either – the original hot off the press version.

Why would I ever do an insane thing like that? I’ll explain. Usually, I guard whatever I write with a protectiveness usually reserved for nuclear missile codes or secret underground cities containing lost alien spaceships. My writing is mine. As Gandalf says, “You shall not pass.”

However, I eventually (during this same flash of madness) realized that I never let anyone see my stuff – it’s never polished enough for my liking. So I should just grit my teeth and let them see a crappy version before the craziness wears off, because letting a crappy version be seen is better than fixing it  up and keeping it under lock and key.

Basically, after a whirlwind revision session just to fix a few little details and smooth out obvious awkward bits, I’ll be printing off all 224 pages and handing them over before I can change my mind.

Now – to explain the wordcount thing. I am a writer trained by the fires of NaNoWriMo. Sometimes this is a good thing. It allows you to actually finish something, to work on deadline, and to silence your editor when you just want to write and let the words flow. However, NaNoWriMo focuses on quantity rather than quality. Unfortunately, I’ve let that bleed into everything else, when I really should be thinking ‘quality over quantity’ when I have no time limit to worry about.

This was brought to my attention rather harshly yesterday evening. All this time I’d been gloating over my growing wordcount. I opened a book on revising I’d found in the beautiful 808 section of the library and winced at the cold, harsh truths it presented me.

The most important rule of revision: cut. Cut everything that’s unneccessary. The best sentence is the shortest. Concise, concise, concise.
I knew this was true, but it was still hard to swallow. However, I won’t have to worry about it for a while at least. For now I just have to shiver in horror as my family members actually read my stuff and wonder what they’re thinking. If they decide they hate it… I always have my trusty lampstand.