Thursday, November 29, 2012

Revision Day Three: Mulling

My somewhat-less-rough draft! I'm so irrationally proud of its size that I had to post two pictures. Shh.
When last I left you, I was compiling my giant revision list of doom and preparing to run headlong into my draft, changing thing after thing after thing until there was nothing left. What really ended up happening is that I changed all the big things-- I wrote the new scenes I needed and edited the ones that needed heavy editing, and then what I was left with was a checklist that looked something like this:

1. Edit voice throughout.
2. Make sure group conversations aren't confusing throughout.
3. Etc. etc. etc. throughout.

Basically, I was left with a list of global edits that need to be applied to the entire draft, not just certain sections. So, rather than go through the draft once for all those global edits and then again for my basic line edits, I decided to do it all at the same time. And so: the mulling!

(Mulling: verb, meaning "to consider carefully.")

Without exception, every rough draft can benefit from a slow read-through, which is what I mean when I say "mulling." I want to emphasize the word slow because I tend to read my own drafts very quickly and in very short time frames, which means that I only read faster as I go because I just want to get it done. If you are like me, you could benefit from some mulling too, I think.

Some tips for the slow read-through:

1. Force yourself to read slowly. Set a goal like "I am only going to read one chapter an hour, and I'm only going to work for X amount of hours a day." Some of my chapters are only four or five pages long, so my limit will probably be something like three chapters an hour.

2. If you start to find yourself rushing, or annoyed with the whole process, STOP for the day. Rushing defeats the purpose of the slow read-through. You want to be careful, thoughtful, and thorough. If you can't do that on a certain day, put the draft aside and do something else. Read a book! Work on something else! Give your brain a break and come back to it the next day.

3. Keep a notebook nearby. Every time I do a read-through, certain parts of the draft remind me of later parts that need editing. At that point I am tempted to flip forward and edit those later parts first, which makes me lose my read-through momentum. Instead, I make myself write those reminders down and edit only when I reach that part of the story in my read-through, and that helps.

4. Print it out. You can send your manuscript to your local printer, pay to print at your school library (if they charge for that), or absorb the cost and print at home-- but whatever way you do it, printing the draft out can be a good way to make yourself read slowly if you tend to rush through words when they're on a screen, like I do. Also, it's fun to hold a fat stack of paper in your hand and say to people "I WROTE THIS!" (Not that I do that. *cough*)

5. Read tricky parts out loud. It will help. (I actually recommend reading the whole thing out loud, but sometimes that's just not practical.) You will notice awkward phrasing or inconsistencies better, and it's a lot easier to edit for voice if you're saying the words.

6. Decide on a good "input" plan. The point of printing the draft out, for me, is so that I can take notes directly on it-- but that means eventually, I'll have to input the changes in the actual word document. This can be tedious and annoying. My plan for this Mulling is to leave time each day to make the changes, rather than trying to do it all at once. But maybe you want to make a long day of making the changes-- that's great! Just make sure you know what works best for you.

Now I am going to stock up on chai tea and rice crackers and red pens and knock this baby out next to my Christmas tree.




Happy Mulling, everyone!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting Festive

We're going to get a real Christmas tree sometime this week, but I couldn't get rid of the itch to start decorating, so we got the lights today. These are the globe lights that will cover our Christmas tree:



I've always had a thing about lights-- when I was little I was allowed to decorate my bedroom for the holidays, so I always put up white lights on my walls or wrapped them around my furniture. Now that I'm an adult I get to do it to my living room instead! (AND I CAN EAT ALL THE CANDY I WANT AND STAY UP LATE READING BOOKS IN BED. So there.)


Last but not least: we've had this skeleton hanging up on our door since Halloween. His name is Phillip. (He has no lower jaw. It's very sad.) I thought it would be amusing to give him a Santa hat rather than take him down completely. There's also a small ornament hanging from his wrist:


As I said to the husband earlier, "Even during the holiday season we should be reminded of our own mortality." (Morbid jokes. I make them.)

Our neighbors are going to think we're so weird. And they're going to be right.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Some Changes of the Internet Nature

Let me say this up front: I love interacting with readers online. I love hearing your feedback and your stories, and answering your questions, and being open and honest with you. However, as things change (and they have been changing, rapidly), I am forced to come to terms with what I can and can't handle.

You guys know I have anxiety problems, right? I've mentioned them before, though I haven't shared that much detail about them. For the past year I've gone to therapy in the hope of better coping with the stresses of my job-- namely, my ability to receive constant feedback from others without letting it affect my love of writing. (I am one of those writers who requires total isolation in order to be truly creative, otherwise I find that the voices of other people-- even if they're positive voices!-- crowd out my own voice.) Therapy concluded several weeks ago, and since then I have noticed that I have much better control of my anxiety, I've been happier, I've been enjoying my writing. But only while I've also been on Internet hiatus.

Soon after I returned from my Internet hiatus (a couple weeks ago, when I finished the draft), it all started again, just as bad as it was before: the difficulty sleeping, the constant nervousness, and worst of all, the fear of writing. That's what really gets me-- the feeling that one of the activities I love most in this world, and the activity that helps me to process my own experience of the world, is now a source of dread? That feeling has got to go.

Therapy helped me with my anxiety, yes, but it also helped me to realize that I'm not superhuman. I have to operate within my own limitations. And that's why I've come to the difficult decision that I'm going to be disabling comments on my blog, and keeping my Tumblr ask box closed for the forseeable future-- not because I don't like to hear from you guys! (Because I so do.) But because I need to take care of myself, and by doing that, take care of the people around me and the work that I do. For some authors, this isn't necessary--they can leave everything open without many negative repercussions. I admire those authors very much for that! But they are not me, and I finally feel like I'm okay with that.

I hope someday this will change. Until then, you are still welcome to e-mail me (I try to read all my e-mails, even if I am unable to respond--e-mail address is on the FAQ page of this blog). And I will still be blogging-- telling you what's happening in the world of Divergent, handing out unsolicited advice to fellow writers, and being as open with you as possible-- I'll just be a little less available than I have been in the past. I do, however, look forward to hearing your feedback and your questions and all of that at events or conferences or wherever we happen to meet face to face.

-V

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Revision Day Two: The Giant List of Doom

In the interest of providing insight into my revising process (which is always the same), and possibly ideas for others trying to revise, I am blogging about revising as I go. This is a continuation of yesterday's Revision Day One: The Read-Through.

So I did my read-through, I noted all the problems I noticed as I went, and I made my giant list of solutions to the problems that came up as I read or that I identified later. At this point, I probably should be feeling overwhelmed, but since I've had a can of orange soda and half a bag of Baked Lays, I'm feeling okay, actually, if slightly ill, and ready to move on to the next step.

What do I do with my giant list of doom, you ask? First, I group my solutions into two categories: global issues and local issues.

Allow me to explain:

Global issues are problems for which solutions need to be applied to the entire draft, or to large sections of the draft, like "the dynamic between these two characters needs to be different in this way" or "the main character needs to think about this issue periodically throughout the story until this point."

Local issues are problems for which solutions apply to specific scenes or specific groups of scenes, like "I need to add this plot development right after page 154."

Local issues become global issues when you, say, add a scene and then have to edit the rest of the draft to reflect that scene, or when you delete a scene and have to remove all subsequent mentions of that scene.

After I've divided my list into those categories (and this will usually involve writing more global issues down, because usually when you change a local issue you create a global issue, if you know what I mean). I open my handy dandy Scrivener, but you can also use a notebook or another Word document, if you choose to use this method. (By the way, what you see in my screenshots is an early version of Insurgent, with all details removed. This is not my first rodeo.)

I divide the manuscript into "movements" or sections to make things easier, and for each section, I write a list of the global issues that I need to address in each section. Maybe I won't need to address them in every scene, but I do need to be aware of them for each section. (The reason I divide into sections in the first place is that a particular global issue may only apply to the beginning or the end of the manuscript, or something like that, so they won't be the same the whole way through.)



Then for each scene or chapter, I put a list of local edits on the right side, in the box labeled "document notes." (In Word or OpenOffice this can easily be replicated by putting a "comment" next to each chapter heading. That's how I did it before I got Scrivener.)

the arrow is pointing at the document notes box. You can type in there!


Then I usually go back to my list again and think about what the most difficult section of the draft is going to be, or what the most difficult issue I have to address is going to be, and I tackle that first. The reason I do that is that the fear or apprehension related to the most difficult stuff will usually haunt me through the rest of the draft, and it's much better for me to just get it over with. Rip off the band-aid!

I don't worry about editing out of order, either, though I will usually proceed through one section at a time so as not to get confused. Then, when I finish each scene in a section, I label it with a color to make myself feel good about it, and I delete the local issues I typed in the document notes box. (It's like checking off a box!) (Note: with Word you can just...delete the comment before each chapter you finish!)



When I finish with a section, I delete the extra document listing all the global issues for that section.

I try to set goals like "this week I will finish with section 1, which means I have to do one scene every day and two scenes on one day." This ensures that I stay focused and motivated.

I should note that I didn't always do it this way-- it depends on how many "global issues" you have. When I have written drafts that have very few global issues (like Divergent-- most of my edits for Divergent involved adding new scenes), I have just written a long list of scenes to write or fix, arranged them in order of decreasing difficulty, and went through the draft item by item. That is simpler and will work for some drafts-- it just depends on how you work best, and on what your manuscript requires.

And that's it for the Big Edits, folks. Next time I post about this I'll be talking about smaller scale edits, like on the sentence level, and with grammar and punctuation, and special read-throughs you might want to do (reading for specific problems, etc.).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Revision, Day One: The Read Through

After writing four complete manuscripts and several manuscript fragments, I can tell you with reasonable confidence that this is my drafting process: whatever works. Outline, no outline, partial outline, writing at home, writing away from home, writing in the morning, writing at night, having people read as I go, refusing to let people read as I go, I have done them all, and when I find The Thing That Works, I do it until it stops working and find something else.

Despite the wild variations in my drafting process, however, my revising process is always the same. I thought it might be interesting to share it with you in the next few weeks as I experience it with my initial Book 3 revisions (to be followed by several other rounds of revisions). I want to emphasize that I'm not advocating a particular system of doing things-- every writer is different and is allowed to be different. But, every writer is also welcome to try new things to see if they work, and it is in the interest of providing hopefully-interesting insights and also suggestions that I will write these posts. (Also, if you're participating in NaNoWriMo, and you're not sure how to revise once you're done, you can consult these posts later for ideas!)

Approaching revisions, especially the first round, can be pretty daunting. (Although perhaps not if you are DAUNTLESS, eh? Eh?) If your rough drafts are anything like mine, they are a "festival of crap," as I described it to a friend earlier. There are a few parts that are well-thought-out and put together, but far more parts that are poorly written or lacking in focus or just plain wrong for the story. There are also missing pieces-- scenes you didn't write but should, or characters you left out, or plot elements that require more development. There may be extraneous scenes, characters, or whole plot movements.

At this point the first thing I can usually coax myself into doing is a read-through. It may have been several months since I last read the first scenes I wrote, so it's a good idea to get a sense of what's actually there. Plus, while I read, I'll be able to jot down problems and possible solutions to those problems.

That there on the screen? It's a draft of Insurgent open in Scrivener. Just so you know.

I usually write a hasty list of issues right when I finish a draft, because I don't let myself edit as I go and I don't want to forget the problems I already know about. So for Book 3, I already have seven or eight large issues in my "problems" column. Some problems to watch for:

-Do all the characters, major and minor, have some kind of arc or clear, defined presence in the story? If they are supposed to be missing, is this something that is explained or wondered about by the main character? This is one of the problems I always have, because when I draft I focus very much on the major characters and forget that there is a large cast of minor characters waiting in the wings. In the rough draft of Insurgent, Christina disappeared for over 100 pages. Not good.

-Have you built to the ending effectively? Most of the time I discover the ending of a book when I'm right in the middle of it, so the first half of the book may be building toward a completely different ending.

-How is the pacing? Are there places where it is too fast or too slow?

-Are there any sections with "infodump"? (Meaning, sections in which information is unloaded on the reader all at once instead of revealed slowly and through plot movement.)

-Are there any extraneous characters, scenes, or plot elements? You can identify these by asking yourself (honestly) "if I removed this event or character, would I still be able to build to the end of the book without losing too much?"

-Are there any characters, scenes, or plot elements that you must add for the book to be rich enough or to make sense?

-Are there any logical issues or inconsistencies with the world-building or plot?

-And the lesson I learned from Insurgent: are there any inconsistencies that resulted from writing scenes out of order or from author confusion? (Like magically disappearing guns, characters who are in places they shouldn't be, characters with two different names, etc.)

With those questions in mind (and more of your own, I'm sure), I read through my draft quickly. I say "quickly" because it's not useful, at this stage, for me to address sentence issues or take notes about sentence or paragraph-level problems-- this is just the first read-through. What I want to notice are BIG things, and a quick read-through is good for letting me do that while helping me to set aside smaller concerns.

While I'm reading, I'm looking for both problems and opportunities. When I notice a problem ("Christina disappears after page 30"), I jot it down in the left column in my notebook, along with page numbers or other references. When I notice a place in which a problem can probably be addressed (like: "Christina could be present in this scene on page X, and this one on page Y"), I write it in the right column with page numbers or other references.

When I'm finished, I make sure that I have a solution planned for each problem I've recognized. If not, I brainstorm them. Then I arrange my solutions into a big long list, and...well, I'll save the next step for another day.

So there you have it: the "ah crap, this draft is le terrible" revision read-through.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rough Draftiness

So, I struggle with Tumblr cross-posting-- I know some people think you should put different content on all your respective social media sources, but I also know that there are different people consulting either place, which is why I generally shift the same content back and forth. Just a random aside.

Anyway, there is a gif-packed post about the rough draft of book 3 on my Tumblr today, if you want to check it out: http://theartofnotwriting.tumblr.com/post/34834588269/the-end-of-my-torment-a-k-a-melodramatic-author-is

It's good news.

Have a good day, everyone.

-V

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNo, Tool for the Perfectionist Writer

Note: to those of you who are not writers or who don't know about such things, November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, or NaNo). It is an event in which manymany people sign up to write 50,000 words before the end of the month. That is what this post is about. You can find more info at http://www.nanowrimo.org/

Dear NaNoers,

Last year I wrote you this letter about maintaining momentum, so I'm going to re-post it here in case it helps: http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/some-nano-advice-dont-look-back.html

This year I'm also helping out with a cool endeavor of YA Highway, which is a daily NaNo newsletter that we'll be sending out for the rest of the month. It will include writing advice and cute animal pictures and links to helpful stuff. If you're interested, check it out here: http://www.yahighway.com/2012/10/introducing-carpool-lane-inspiration.html

And now, onward to my thoughts!

I wanted so badly to participate in NaNo this year, but as has been the case for the past few years, my schedule just didn't allow it-- I'm going to be working on Book 3 for the next several months, and I'd like to really focus on polishing it and getting it right, so it doesn't seem wise to undertake something so involved at the same time.

The reason I'm so eager to participate is that I think NaNo is an activity particularly well-suited to writers like me, who live in paralyzing fear of drafting. (Or in other words: a particular kind of crazy perfectionist.)

For my entire writing life, I have tried to be any other writer but the one I am. I have tried to mull things over and to be very careful and deliberate as I work and to proceed slowly through drafts. I have tried detailed outlines and planning and story mapping. All that these attempts did for me is give me more time to doubt myself, more space to second-guess things, and the result was drafts that were just as messed up as all the drafts I had written quickly, that required just as much revision.

Some people need time and space and a slower pace. Other people need to churn out a fast, sloppy draft so they know what their story is before they try to make something of it. Some people relish their first draft. Other people pretty much spend all their drafting time with the fear of imperfection chasing them to the end, and proceed through revision with a much clearer head.

NaNo, I think, is an amazing opportunity for writers like me, who need to tear off the band-aid of first drafting so they can get to the sweet stuff-- the revising. NaNo is an exercise in daily forgiving yourself for the wild imperfections of your first draft. It can teach you to allow things in your life to be "good enough...for now," instead of feeling the frantic desire to tweak and prod and push before you even know what you need to tweak and prod and push. NaNo can give you a community to cheer you on when you're down, flail around wildly with you as you celebrate, push you when you lose your momentum, and give you directions when you feel lost.

It is a safe place to flub it all miserably the first time around and then-- shock of all shocks!-- celebrate at the end, which I think is a truly valuable lesson for life. Life is full of imperfect things--imperfect works, imperfect stories, and imperfect moments. You won't be able to fix them all, especially not rightthissecond. And I think us perfectionists need to learn to stay in that uncomfortable place where you know something needs work but you aren't going to fix it yet. There is a space between starting and finishing, and it feels a lot like when you notice that a picture frame is crooked but you can't straighten it yet, and that is where much of LIFE takes place. NaNo is like a tiny, condensed version of that experience of imperfection, and it will teach you to be patient with the flaws of your work (and yourself!), and I love that.

So NaNoers...use this month as a tool. Use it to help you get words on the page, to make friends, to make mistakes, to learn things, to make plans to revise, and to celebrate the hopelessly imperfect but wholly amazing accomplishment of writing a whole crapload of words.

The usual warnings: don't convince yourself that you don't need to revise at the end of the month. Don't submit your NaNo novel to agents in December, or even January, or February. Don't shy away from completely gutting your NaNo project and beginning fresh now that you understand the story better. There's no such thing as a wasted draft-- each one shows you your story in a new way and helps you with the next one.

But the encouragements: WRITE! Be imperfect! Be determined! Go forth and totally kick your draft's butt. I will be here, cheering you on as I beat the crap out of book 3 with my words.

-V

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