Progress Update

As I mentioned in my Monday post, I’m presently doing some recharging of my creative batteries. This doesn’t mean that I’m entirely inactive as a writer, though!

I’m catching up on some YA and short-story reading, preparing my talk for the CCWA (more on that in Monday’s post), and meeting with my resurrected writing group on Sunday. I’m also still trying to decide what to prep for NaNoWriMo. Right now, I’m leaning Plague Novel Sequel, though continuing or finishing the Touchdown novel is also a possibility.

Revisions Process–Reading Through

This is the second post in my series about how I’m revising and resubmitting my novel in response to a R&R request from an agent. In my first post in the series, I talked about how I made myself a schedule to live by. This post will be about the next step in my process–reading my old manuscript.

One of the suggestions I live by for general revisions is to set the manuscript aside for a while and read it with fresh eyes. I found this of limited use on the first few passes. I just hadn’t forgotten enough of the story or grown enough as a writer for it to be more than a slightly useful refresher.

But this time, my manuscript had been sitting for months. Not only that, but I’d written a completely different novel and started a third novel in the interim. This time was much more useful.

I decided not to read my novel in Scrivener because I knew I’d be tempted to make ongoing, immediate changes while I was reading it. But I wanted to get a full, macro view of the story before deciding which changes would be necessary and how best to do them. I knew I would have to fight that temptation.

So I exported my novel to my Kindle, pulled out my legal pad, and decided to do things the old-fashioned way: notes by hand.

I do this a lot for the day job and it seems to really help with focusing on bigger picture. I first reviewed the feedback from the agent and noted things down in differently colored pens–purple for likes, red for needs improvement, and blue for my attempts to read between the lines. I wanted to have that as a quick reference while reading through the novel.

As I read, I took notes. Not massive quantities of minute notes: I tried to only make notes when something was questionable, a good area for a change, or was a typo. Again, I had out my whole set of colored pens. My brain just works better in color!

Chapter numbers went in purple boxes. A context note went in blue ink, so that I’d know where the change needed to go. The types of changes each merited a different color: red for typos, pink for possible changes responsive to the agent’s suggestions, and green for questions that I had for myself (usually about consistency). I knew that I wanted to save black for later strike-throughs on ideas I implemented or rejected.

The end result was 32 pages of handwritten notes.

Colored pen notes.

It was pretty intense. But in the end, I had a road map for the changes that I needed to make on revision, which proved invaluable in not getting myself bogged down in tiny details for the first pass of major story-level revisions.

Which I’ll talk about next week!

Writer Brain

I’ve made a couple of trips to the bookstore recently and picked up some new things to read, both fiction and nonfiction.  I have really been enjoying myself with these books.  This probably isn’t surprising to anyone who knows me, because I really enjoy reading.  But it is surprising to me, because when I started writing seriously it became harder to read as a reader.

It’s the writing version of what my lawyer friends know as “lawyer brain”–the complete inability to shut off that part of your brain that looks at everything in a legal context.  When I’m reading another writer’s work, writer brain kicks in and sometimes I find myself unable to stop analyzing it.  Instead of just reading along, I will pick apart everything from structure and pacing to the nitpicky aspects of language.  I’ll wonder why the writer structured a scene a certain way, or how smoothly they marked the passage of time, or I’ll be extensively looking for foreshadowing and trying to predict where the story will come out.

This can completely ruin stories for me, and for the first time I’ve found myself putting books down.  Some things just completely ruin my immersion.  One of the most annoying things that happened recently was clearly seeing the author’s hand manipulating something in the third chapter of a book.  The situation the main character was in didn’t make sense.  It was like they were only there because it was necessary for X to happen so that Y could happen.  This really annoyed me, and I don’t intend to return to that book.

However, I’ve discovered that writer brain has a couple of positive aspects.  If I really enjoy a book, I can look at it with a more critical eye and pick up tips and tricks for my own writing.  It also seems to affect me less when I’m reading nonfiction, so I have found myself reading more biographies and historical works, which really gets my writing ideas flowing.  Finally, I think this form of peeking behind the curtain allows me to really be able to appreciate all of the artistry that goes into a well-written story.

With this recent trip to the bookstore, I picked up some genre fiction.  I was a little bit leery about it because I was worried about the writer brain, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve reached a point where I can just ignore it, sort of like I can ignore the lawyer brain when I’m out socializing with my friends.  And I’m glad that the in-your-face-writer-brain issue seems to be passing in favor of something a little more selective.  I really missed reading.