Revisions, What Is Working For Me And What Isn’t

Revising a novel isn’t like revising a short story.  I’ve read a variety of different pieces about how to do revisions.  The consensus seems to be that there really isn’t a consensus about how to do them.  It seems like every author has a different way of revising.  There is some advice I’m taking, and some advice I’m not taking.

I’m not setting my novel aside and waiting a while to do my first revision.  This would make sense if I only intended to do one revision, but I am doing a large revision focused on plot and character, and then I intend to give my story to alpha readers.  I will work on writing other things while my alpha readers are reading for me.  And then I’ll set it aside and do my final revision with fresh eyes.

I’m trying not to line edit as I go along, but this is easier said than done.  I know that I might end up taking chunks out, or adding whole chunks, or moving things around depending on what my alpha readers say.  But I’m a line editor by training.  Line editing is a huge part of my ‘real’ job.  And it’s hard not to do it as I’m going along.

I was going to try to do one revision focused on plot, and one revision each for the two point of view characters.  I’ve sort of amalgamated this into my original revision, because every time I see a character continuity error, I can’t help but correct it.  The characters solidified a lot more in my mind and became a lot more distinct as the story went along.  They’re particularly rough in the early chapters.  I can’t just let it go.

So where I’m struggling between how I intended to revise and how I’m actually revising has to do with being a perfectionist.  I know I can’t be, I know I shouldn’t be, but it’s something I’m really struggling with as I’m going into this process of doing my first revision of my first completed novel.  It’s definitely something to work on!

Why I Hesitate to Talk to Non-Writers, Part 2

In a previous post, I talked about why I sometimes hesitate to talk to non-writers.  These are some common things that I hear from downers that make it very difficult for me to want to talk about writing with people I don’t really know about:

Statement: “You’re never going to make any money at that.”

Response: “Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Also, so what?”

This is probably the most common one that I hear, and it really bothers me.  First, I’m not really sure why you need to make money at something to make it worthwhile.  I would absolutely love to sell my writing.  But that isn’t why I do it.  I do it because there are stories in my head and I want to see what they look like on paper.  I do it because I enjoy writing them, and people enjoy reading them.  Making money at it would be nice–I mean, who doesn’t want more money?  But this statement automatically equates an action (writing) with a motivation that may not exist (making money).

The underlying rationale behind this statement seems to be that not many people “make it” as writers.  And it’s true that not many people turn into super rich and famous celebrity writers.  But I go to bookstores a lot and they are just filled with names.  There are plenty of people who write professionally and even make a full-time living at it.

Writing is a skill you hone with practice.  These kinds of statements make me depressed about the prospect of ever being published as a writer.  If I don’t hone my skill, I really will never get published, and it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Statement: “Let me know when you get a real book published.”

Response: “My short stories are writing too.”

There is this perception that writing short stories is not doing real writing.  Let me tell you something–writing short stories is hard.  You don’t have time to flop around and try to find your way to the story.  There is a level of precision you must have to communicate your plot, characters, and setting, all in a digestible chunk of less than 15,000 words (the common place I see people start saying they are accepting novellas.)

Besides, I get offended that you have judged the qualities of my writing without ever consuming it.  Who knows, you might like my book that I haven’t managed to finish or get published.  You might even like my short stories, even if you’re not the kind of person that reads short stories.  But even if you don’t, that doesn’t make my writing somehow less ‘real.’

Doing responses to a couple of statements took longer than I thought it would and I’ve run up against my self-imposed 15-minute time limit.  Also, I have to go to work.  I’m sure there will be a part three.

Why I Hesitate to Talk to Non-Writers, Part 1

A lot of my acquaintances are surprised to learn that I’m a writer.  This is because I always engage in a mental cost-benefit analysis before I decide whether to tell someone that I write.  It isn’t that I am shy about discussing my work.  Though I used to be extremely hesitant to discuss what I’m writing, now that I have a bunch of rejections under my belt, I have stepped past the point of caring whether people think I have a stupid idea or not.

The problem is that I’ve found that the vast majority of non-writers that I talk to writing about fall into two camps: (1) you’re not ever going to get published and you’re going to make any money at it so why bother, or (2) oh that’s so cool can I read what you’re writing.  In other words, they’re either a downer or a supporter.

Talking to supporters makes me enthusiastic to write.  But I don’t like to talk with downers.  They approach the whole idea of writing from a place that is completely foreign to me.  I usually find the conversation depressing.  A conversation with a downer about writing usually ruins my ability to sit down and plug away at a draft for a couple of hours at best, or ticks off a malaise that keeps me from writing for weeks or months at worst.

How people are going to react to me telling them that I’m a writer is a complete toss-up.  The old adage ‘appearances can be deceiving’ is extremely true when it comes to trying to figure out which camp a person falls into.  I’ve had people that look as nerdy as I am unexpectedly turn out to be downers, or they might even be hostile to the very idea of someone presuming to try to write something.  And I’ve had people that look like non-readers wax enthusiastic to me about their favorite YA authors.

As a result, my default is that I wait to talk to people about writing until I have a better idea of whether they’ll be a downer or a supporter.  This entire process would be a lot less complicated if the downers would refrain from doing certain things.  The next time I get a few moments for a substantive post (nanowrimo is still alive and well in my house), I’ll give a few examples of statements from downers, my personal answers to the statements, and why the statements are hurtful.

Wrestling with Young Adult

One of the things I’ve had to wrestle with involving my current story is that, because the protagonists in my novel are teens and young teens, I’m writing in the YA genre.  On the one hand, that doesn’t feel fair to me, because I don’t think ‘young adult’ is a genre in the same way that fantasy is a genre.  In my opinion, it’s not a genre, it’s just a marketing category.  In some ways that’s freeing, because it seems that YA writers more freely cross genre boundaries.

In another way, it makes me grumpy.  I’m writing a story I would want to read.  I’m twice as old as the protagonists in a lot of YA fiction.  I read the crap out of current YA and enjoy it immensely.

So why do I care?  I care because it’s going to change how agents and publishers approach my story.  It definitely needs to be something that young adults can read an identify with.  Does that mean I need to dumb it down?  Absolutely not.  First, I don’t think it’s necessary.  So my story is dark and violent.  A lot of successful YA right now is dark and violent, so that shouldn’t keep me from selling it.  Besides, the things I used to read when I was 12, 14, 16… lots of Stephen King and Christopher Pike.  Talk about dark and violent.

Besides, I enjoyed those stories because they didn’t dumb it down.  So I’m going to shoot for believable and identifiable characters, good storytelling, and an interesting plot, rather than focus on the fact that my work will probably be marketed to teens.

Combatting Writer’s Block With Revision

I’ve never been a fan of rewriting in the middle of writing, because the process starts to take over my life, I stop writing writing, and I start obsessing over little nitpicky details and mistakes that I made early on.  That being said, one of the things I’ve been using to combat writer’s block and get myself excited about telling the story again (even though that part I’m on right now is really hard for me to write) is going back and reading some of the earlier chapters.  So I’ve been doing a little bit of revising lately while I’ve been struggling with Chapter 21.

Which is good, because some things that I thought were in the story, I had told instead of shown.  There were some little scenes where I knew what happened, but instead of showing the scene, I said ‘this happened’ and left it for the re-write.  Mostly this happened in parts where I didn’t have a handle on a character that was in the scene, or hadn’t quite researched how X or Y should look and I didn’t want to write an inaccurate description.  Having characters inaccurately interpret things is different than having them inaccurately describe them, but that is a topic for another day.

Anyway, my point is this: I think that reading and adding some of those fun little scenes I sort of glossed over has really helped me combat writer’s block.  And maybe most of these scenes are unnecessary fluff and they’re going to go into a deleted scenes file on the re-write, I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is, I’m excited about writing again, and that’s really what my hangup was.

Writer’s Block

I’m experiencing some “writer’s block” lately, and it’s pretty hard.  The problem isn’t that I don’t know what I’m going to write.  The problem is that I don’t really have the drive to just write it.  The only solution is that I need to just sit down at the keyboard.

A lot of stuff is going on in my life that is distracting me.  My dad is having a scary medical issue, we’re re-framing our windows because the sills were rotted out, my boss is retiring so work is a mess, I’m getting a new job, we’re getting a dog.  When I’m stressed out, I never necessarily feel stressed out.  It manifests itself in different ways.  I’m not really sleeping, I’m definitely not eating properly, and I’ve been spending most of my nights on the couch watching Food Network shows on Netflix.  I haven’t even been writing on my lunch breaks because I simply don’t have lunch breaks.  I’ve been going in early, working through lunch, and just happy if I can get home on time.  Because my writing group changed to a time that I have a scheduling conflict, I haven’t even had a writing group to prompt me along for the last two weeks.

I’ve decided that, today, I’m going to write during my lunch break.  I’m going to remove myself from my office so that I can’t answer the phones, emails, or get sucked into a case.  I’m going to take myself to a break room with my tablet and my lunch box and just write.  I don’t need to write well; I do need to start writing again.

Brainstorming Endings

I’m writing this ahead of time in preparation for being on vacation next week.  And while I’m sitting here, I’m trying to decide how I intend to spend my extra writing time that week.  I can only write as fast as the story unfolds in my head, which means I can typically put out about a chapter a week without starting to hate what I’m writing.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you might be asking yourself what I’m going on about.  Because I’ve said elsewhere that I’m writing to an outline.  And I am!  But the thing about the outline is that it’s very general, and my chapters are very specific.  I can’t write a very good chapter if I’m not seeing it unfold in my head the way I see professional authors’ stories unfold when I’m reading them.

I’ve decided that while I’m out of town I’m going to spend some time trying to brainstorm some other endings.  I’ve talked about this with my husband, and he thinks I’m insane.  He’s definitely more of an outline writer than I am, and the thought that I was tooling along without having a specific ending in mind made him do a double-take.

I do have a specific ending in mind.  It’s right there in my outline.  I’m hopefully foreshadowing away.  The ending I initially thought up three months ago when I started writing this novel is a solid ending.  It makes sense given the characters.  It certainly fits in with the themes that are developing in the book.  And the plot is driving itself in that direction quite nicely without a lot of course-correction from me.

But here’s the thing: there’s maybe a better ending out there.  And don’t I owe it to myself, my characters, and my (fingers crossed) future readers to try to find it?  I think I do.  So I intend to go looking for it on my vacation, and I’ll let you know how it goes.  Even if I don’t find a better ending, maybe I’ll come up with some fun ideas to throw in my Folder of Random Ideas Waiting For Stories file.  Any which way I don’t think the time will be wasted.

Writing Groups

I’ve seen a lot of benefit from doing a workshopping-style writing group once weekly.  It forces me to actually think about how to improve my writing, and also forces me to produce over the week so that I have something to bring.

But the internet-based writing group that I do over TeamSpeak seems to be dying.  We started with four writers, which was a good amount for workshopping everyone’s things and getting varied feedback without running for 8 hours, but the group has dropped off to where it’s just me and another guy.  I’ve tried to find something local, but the downside of not living in or near a city is that I don’t have a lot of selection in terms of in-person groups.  There is a group at the local university that looks more like a writers’ support group, when what I’m actually looking for is a workshopping group.  The nearest workshopping group is about 1 hour 20 minutes away, which translates to 3 hours of driving on my writing day.  I just can’t justify that.

I’m thinking about attending the support group once to see what sort of writers are there, and if anyone would be interested in forming a workshopping group at a different time and day.  And by ‘thinking about’ I mean that I’m trying to work myself up to it.  One of the downsides of being an introvert is that going new places gives me a mild form of social anxiety.

Dropbox

Dropbox has been great tool for me.  It’s a very simple, intuitive program that allows you to save your stories into an online server and pull them up from anywhere.  It allows me to share my stories between my writing tablet and my home computer.  My writing tablet is a great tool for reasons I won’t go into again, but my home computer is superior in some ways.

For instance, the word processor on my tablet doesn’t have a spell check, and my home computer runs Microsoft Office Word, which does have a spell check.  When I’m writing on my writing tablet, I’m usually doing first drafts.  But the tablet has a very small screen, a small keyboard, and a built-in mouse on the keyboard pad that I sometimes accidentally touch and end up writing sentences where I don’t necessarily want to write them.  In comparison, it’s easier for me to revise and edit on my home computer, because the main monitor is about three times as large and having a second monitor means that I can do research without having to tab away from the page I’m currently on.

Dropbox has allowed me to change the same version of my document between my writing tablet and my home PC.  One of the reasons I was hesitant about writing on a tablet is because they’re very portable, which means easily stolen, and the thought of losing all of my writing was just terrifying to me.  I’m also really bad when it comes to taking manual backups.  But it’s very easy to just upload a copy of something into Dropbox, and then download the copy onto my home PC and save over whatever version I have.  This means that the same version of my story is in at least three locations, two physical and one server, which is comforting to me.

I also discovered another nice feature of Dropbox the other day.  When I was writing a chapter on my tablet, I had accidentally opened up the Dropbox version rather than the version saved to my tablet’s SD card.  I’m a compulsive saver, so I had been hitting “save” every few minutes.  But when I uploaded the version of the story from my tablet’s SD card into Dropbox, I accidentally replaced the new version that I had been working with the old version that I had been working on yesterday.

Panic.  I had written an entire chapter and then saved over it with an older version of my story that didn’t have that chapter.

As I was sitting in my PC on despair, I discovered that Dropbox has a nifty feature where.  When I open my Dropbox folder on my home PC, I can right-click a file and then click “view previous versions.”  It then pulls up a folder called “revisions” on the internet, which has all of the previous versions of my story that I’ve saved to Dropbox.  In this case, it allowed me to load up the version of my story with the new chapter that I had actually been saving into Dropbox all along and had accidentally overwritten.  You can only imagine my relief.

So now I’m even more happy with Dropbox than I was in the first place.  It’s an amazing tool and I wouldn’t be nearly as productive without it.

Writing When and Where I Can

One of the hardest things about working full-time and writing part-time is just finding the time to write.  When I was in college, I used to have to spend between half an hour and an hour reviewing what I’d written so that I could get into the mindset of my characters.  If I didn’t have a chunk of a couple of hours free, I just wouldn’t write.  This isn’t a luxury I have any more.  I rarely have hours-long chunks of time just sitting around.

As I may have mentioned before, another thing I used to do was write in a specific notebook.  There were actually two notebooks, one with the character sketches and one with the story.  I would find myself wanting to write but then I would become frustrated because it’s not very easy to transport two notebooks everywhere.  I wouldn’t have them with me at all times.  So I would find myself writing when I had big chunks of time alone in my dorm room.  Again, not something that happens these days.

Now I have a writing tablet.  It’s a tablet with a keyboard attachment that I use solely for writing.  I’ll pull it out when I’m in the doctor’s office waiting room and write a couple sentences.  I’ll put it out when I’m waiting in my car and write a couple sentences.  I definitely take it to work so that I can write at lunch.

But most importantly, even if I don’t have the tablet with me, I can write things down on whatever scrap of paper I have handy and put it into the tablet later.  I used to think that writing the same scene twice was a waste of time.  But I’ve long since gotten over the idea that every sentence, paragraph, and scene I write has to be perfect the first time.  And when I realized that I can push perfectionism off to the second (or third, or fifth, or tenth) draft, and that there will be second, third, and tenth drafts, I realized that typing up a scene that I’ve already handwritten isn’t a waste of time.  Anything that allows me to convert more of my ‘wasted’ time into writing time is a very useful.