The middle of the pass… And facing the hard stuff…

Two weeks ago I talked about the “one and a half pass” editing pass. And, 345 manuscript pages (73,500 words) later I’ve dug through the reader feedback, made my notes, and found three things that need more than a one word fix or altered point of punctuation.

Two of the three are relatively easy. I need to move a little character description earlier in the story. There’s work involved, but it could be worse. The first fits in with my heroine’s natural way of going and the second is easily dropped into my ‘rather particular’ (aka anal) antagonist’s running commentary about the people around him.

As I think about it, it’s kind of weird I missed them in the first place… But that’s part of the challenge of writing fiction. You have to get the story in your head onto the page in a complete form that the readers will want to read. It takes practice and training, but if you’re willing to do the work, you can get there (And if you think you’re there… Check anyway).

The last change is big. It’s the hardest change to make. It means the most work. But, it will pay off in the long run.

Part of the stress on my heroine comes from two videos that show up in the middle of the story. Initially, I thought the same character shot and posted both. But, the videos need to be on two different accounts, and have different styles and kinds of content. It feels like more than the original perpetrator would do. Generally, things don’t feel right.

The videos are important. They help put pressure on the heroine and drive her toward making a mistake. They need to be there. But, the way they were initially conceived didn’t work. So, I borrowed some teens I know and had a talk about embarrassing videos. And yeah… I’m making some changes.

And, the changes are more than just inserting a different name. Two different characters are putting up the videos now. One of those characters is the original. His video was put up on a false account and the two characters didn’t get along well in the first place (and the account hasn’t been tied to him yet). So there’s not much change to be done.

But, the other video is now being put up by a female character that the heroine knows. It will change some interactions between those characters, which means I have to work through all the references to that video, all the interactions with that character, and stuff relating to that character and rework things to fit her being the video poster.

It’s a lot of work. But, it focuses and increases the pressure I wanted on my heroine. It gives my antagonist something to be mad about (in his mind he’s protecting the heroine). And it fits. It’s a lot of work; it means digging through, thinking, and reworking, but makes the story better. Making the story better matters.

I’ve already put in a lot of work. This is supposed to be the last go ground. And, I’m lucky; there’s only one significant change, and it’s a fairly manageable one.

Taking your story apart and reworking pieces can be a pain in the butt. It’s not something we like to do. But, if you want the story to work, sometimes you have to rework a piece or two. And, that work extends beyond just rewriting a sentence or two. It can mean making changes across the length and breadth of the story.

It’s not something you have to do; it’s something you have to do if you want the story to be right. It’s something we all need to do from time to time (Ask Steven King if you don’t believe me…). It’s rewarding. It makes your story right; it helps your readers love your work; it matters.

Telling a good story should be a goal for any fiction writer. And revision is part of that. It is worth the effort.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Do your revisions. Make your stories great. And, I’ll see you next post.

The “one and a half pass” editing pass

The day this post goes live I’m collecting the last of my reader feedback for Unintended Consequences. That means Monday, June 3, 2019, I am starting what will, hopefully, be my last pass on the book before the whole thing gets submitted to the ‘big’ editors for publication. It’s time to give the whole manuscript one big once-over using everything I’ve learned, just to make sure it’s ready.

I’ve said it before, one of the best things you can do to develop as a writer is to read about writing.  A while back I read Steven King’s On Writing and learned something important….

One of the most helpful (to me at least!) things in that book is the simple statement that when Steven edits, he makes notes on themes. When I read that. I realized I should do the same thing. It would help in longitudinal (through story) editing. I tried it, and my system’s grown from there.

This new and evolving system has really helped me pull the book together. Since I’ve developed the “one and a half pass” editing pass I honestly get more done each time I go through a manuscript.

Why a “one and a half pass” pass.

Well, that’s because the first pass isn’t really a complete pass. The first time through, I might fix little things: typos, little bits of formatting, etc. But I’m spending a lot more time marking the bigger stuff I need to work on and making notes. What this does for me is it helps focus on the themes important to the book (and the ones that need to be edited out). It also helps identify problems in continuity within the book (and between books if you’re doing a series…) and gives me time to think about those big fixes and insight about how to resolve them in the context of the whole book.

So, the “first” pass isn’t really a complete edit. It’s a list of what I need to work on in the edit. The second pass begins armed with the notes I’ve made and helps me fix the things that need to be fixed, drop the things that need to go away, and focus on the story as a whole.

That “second” pass is really a complete editing pass, but I couldn’t do it without the first ‘partial’ pass.

Why not just make notes and edit everything in one pass? Because, that results in lots of little mucking about with things that will change again (possibly back to the way they were in the first place!). The point of the first “half” pass is to find the stuff that needs attention in the big picture of the story. If I’m giving up a bunch of time just focusing on the section I’m in, I miss some big stuff.

When I come back on that second pass I can fix the stuff I need to with an improved understanding of how it meshes with the rest of the work.

Is it really that simple?

Umm… We’re talking about a manuscript over 50,000 words long (73,571 words for this specific manuscript at this specific point…) simple isn’t the first word I would use to describe any effective editing process for a document of that size.

The idea is really that simple: make notes about themes and the editing to be done, then go back and do the rest of the work. But, the practice can (and does) become more complex.

There are tools to be assembled. There is a mindset to be developed (and possibly habits to be broken). You have to figure out how to adapt the process to the way you work, and the manuscript you’re working on.

Tools?

Well, we’re talking about making notes. So, you need a way to make notes. That could be the comment feature in Microsoft Word. It could be a feature in Scrivener. It could be a separate document on your computer. Or, it could be an actual, physical notebook. Myself, I go with the actual notebook because sometimes I like to work and think away from my computer.

You also need tools and a system for marking within a text. Again, this could be a software solution or physical tools, but you need a way of working that makes sense to you (and any co-authors and editors working with you).

I use a ‘dead tree’ edition of the manuscript and a collection of colored pens (yep, the weird colored ones you can’t use on official, legal documents). The colors help me recognize at a glance what the notes I’ve made refer to. Usually my color system goes something like this:

  • Blue: actual edits to the text (fixing typos and immediate edits). It’s old school classical editor stuff (though in the old days it would be a blue pencil…)
  • Black: notes on themes and general notes on stuff to be worked on in the second pass (this color gets used more in the notebook than in the manuscript)
  • Purple: Voice issues. Honestly, if I feel like there’s a problem with the voice in a section, I put a big purple circle around it. That way when I come back later I can figure out the right way to do the voice in view of the whole story.
  • Red: Continuity stuff. Red ink helps me make note of things that differ or shift between one section and another. Before I developed this technique, there were times the calendar and time of day started to feel more like suggestions than facts. And, that’s saying nothing of who did what to whom issues…
  • Green and other colors: I add other colors when necessary to reflect issues and needs within a specific project. For instance, in Unintended Consequences there are several points where texts and online chats are used for character communication. I used green to mark things that should have been in my text/online style but weren’t.

The tools I use (and the ones you develop for yourself) should make that “second” pass easier and more effective. When you get it right, a “one and a half pass” pass can easily get more done than three or four passes doing the “just focus on this chapter” method.

Summing up…

It’s really about productivity and improving your story (both interesting and readable/salable). Yes, the “one and a half pass” pass takes more work than a “single” pass. But, because you can look at the whole work with the help of your editing notes, you can get a lot more done in a pass than you could otherwise.

Nobody said this stuff was easy. The truth is writing takes work.

This method is a way I’ve found to make that work easier and more efficient.

And today I’m sharing it with you dear reader. Use it if you will. Adapt it to your own needs and process. And, I’ll see you next post.

(As usual, if you have something to say, leave a comment. Thanks)

Hear what they’re saying

Two weeks ago I said Unintended Consequences was in the hands of some teen readers. Well, we’ve got the first reports back and I have to say I’m happy, and I learned a thing or two.

One of my teens is a very avid reader, and claims he can usually guess how the story will end. He didn’t see this one coming. I won’t say the ‘twist’ got him, because there is no intended twist. Instead, we have a natural flow of events that doesn’t come out quite the way he expected. That’s both fair play and a surprise ending!

Possibly the best part of the review was that he wanted to see the second one already (which is sitting on my desk in slightly edited first draft form).  I’ll get it to him when I’ve got this one further down the road and that one is ready for people to see it.

Initially, I was just interested in feedback on the story. While I agree with Steven King and prefer to fix spelling/grammar issues when I find them, I wasn’t looking for feedback on grammar and spelling from the teens. But, they’re giving me some and its giving me something to think about.

My readers picked up on grammar and punctuation differences between sections, and could tie those sections to the correct point of view character. They’re telling me that my characters, and their reader experiences with those characters, are distinct. After a chapter or two they can tell who’s speaking/experiencing the action with no section header to tell them.

This is good. But, they also told me that some of the punctuation/grammar use for one character was annoying. Which is good, because the character is supposed to be annoying. But, it’s also a warning sign. I have to walk a balance. If the annoying punctuation/grammar helps make the character distinct and adds to the feel of the character, that’s good. But, if the annoyance is so great that the reader stops reading, that’s a problem. If the grammar and punctuation are annoying enough to drive the reader away, my stuff isn’t getting read.

There’s some good there, but I have to be aware and walk the balance.

Listening to reader feedback can tell you a lot. But, you have to put the work in and really see what they’re telling you.

The good stuff we want to hear.

The bad stuff (if given and received constructively) can be helpful.

The unexpected feedback leads us to new learning and discoveries.

If we’re not hearing new information, of finding new ways to apply that information, we’re not growing as writers. And, growing is how we get better.

Listen to your readers. Learn from them and become better.

As always, if you have any feedback, responses, or arguments for me, leave a comment.

Be successful dear reader, and I’ll see you next post

Well dear reader we’re at one of those ‘fun’ points in the universe. And this time it really is going to be fun.

Within the last week or two I’ve finished a major editing pass on my second novel (it’s out for other people to chew on as we speak…); I’m finding myself in a new and exciting world of equipment maintenance (Yes I can actually replace a hard drive… But now I have this weird little nylon buffer that sort of decided to be a three piece set…), and I’ve been asked to be an assistant den leader for the local Cub scout pack. It is a time of finishing old projects and picking up new ones (including a few projects I’ve tabled for one reason or another).

One of the projects I’m starting on is a book about making your own ‘beach’ glass and using it in art projects. And…I’m asking you to join me!

Here’s the plan… I’m writing most of the book and making a bunch of cool glass in the process. What I’m asking you to do is accept some of the glass and try making something with it. The glass and the something are yours to keep, all I’m asking in return are a few pictures and answers to a couple of easy questions.

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Basically the last chapter of the book is a show and tell chapter where the stuff you make can be showcased and some of your thoughts and experiences can be expressed (naturally you get credit for all of your creations!).

This is the offer dear reader, you get some pretties, the chance to play, and the chance to show off what you made. I get to finish my book and the opportunity to share some of the goodies piling up in my workshop.

As far as kinds of projects…I’m open to anything: Jewelry, mixed media art, painted glass, diorama/miniature stuff, or anything else you want to try using some of this glass with. It’s all on the table dear reader.

If you’re interested, if you like playing with stuff and want some pretties to play with, contact me at Forevermountainpub@gmail.com and we’ll go over the specifics.

Play is a good thing dear reader, and I’m offering you a chance to join in my play.

If you want to play shoot me an email. Either way I’m going to have some fun! And, I’ll see you next post.

NANOWRIMO as a Tool

A few weeks ago I wrote about NANOWRIMO and why I wasn’t doing it this year. Well, things change.

Jamie’s Sacrifice is progressing well, but in ways I hadn’t expected. I crossed 34,000 words this week and expect to hit 50,000 before part one is finished. I sort of realized that the story needed more space and time than my initial estimate. Then I realized that if I get where I need to be at the end of the first part (here to for called ‘act one’), things in the second part are different enough that I could really look at it as a sequel story. And then the former third act shifts enough to call it a third book…

The next question was could I really do 50,000+ words in each of the parts. And the answer is: I think so! It’s really a two part question: 1) does each part warrant 50,000 words and 2) can I do it without padding. Again I think so! I’m kind of into growth and change, and there is lots of growth and change in the lives of teenagers, particularly ones in a place like where I’m leaving Jamie and company after part one. I think I might legitimately need 50,000+ words to handle the second part and I can do it without padding. And if I have 100,000+ words in the first two parts I might just need another 50,000 to tie up the loose ends and end things satisfactorily…

When combined these factors are telling me that Jamies Sacrifice could weigh in over 150,000 words. And then you add my real desire to get the story finished, so that I can get it edited and given to the world. I found myself at a moment where I might have to eat my words a bit and change my opinion. Maybe I do need to do NANO this year…

A final piece arrived earlier this month in the death of my friend Tanya, and her son’s desire to try his hand at NANOWRIMO. It’s something he wants to do, but doesn’t want to do alone, and I’m in a position to help.

For the most part I stand by what I’ve said about NANOWRIMO last time I see it as a tool, and as a way to help you finish a manuscript. What’s changed is the situation I have with my story.

I’ve learned how to write the story from Jamie’s perspective. I’ve also found that the story is bigger than I thought. I’ve found that I might have underestimated enough that this project may become a trilogy, even though I had no intention to do that. And, I’ve found that I need parts two and three in rough form at least before I can finish editing part 1. Together these discoveries add up to me having to say yes, I am doing NANOWIRMO this year. I want to finish the story and I need the first draft done now.

As I said previously, this is what NANOWRIMO is for, getting that first completed draft and sharing the writing experience. Sometimes you’re sure that’s not what you need. Sometimes it isn’t… Right up until the moment it is. In all probability I wouldn’t do NANO this year, except I find myself in a place to do so at the time it is happening.

So, I stand by my advice even while I change my mind dear reader. NANOWRIMO is a tool. Know what it is. Use it wisely. And, it might just be helpful to you.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post. Until then have success in your projects and don’t be afraid to go out and do!

When it happens it happens…

It’s a short and sweet one today because a lot of things are starting to move very fast on a couple of book projects. On the other hand… I decided to push off the post I’d planned on doing today because some of what’s going on is really exciting (to me at least…).

Some days you can’t see that far ahead…

This week I’m seriously started on Jamie’s Sacrifice, the third book in a series that started with Johnson Farm. I got chapter one written last week (at the dreaded reunion…), but that was as far as I got. So, I started this week with a hand written chapter one to transcribe, and no idea how to get to the events I knew were happening at the end of act one (apparently three act structure is a thing for this book…). I also had a ton of stuff that had piled up on my desk while we were gone (still digging out actually…).

Monday: I got the prologue and the first part of chapter one transcribed, but still no idea what came next.

Tuesday: I got the rest of chapter one transcribed and still had no idea what to do next.

Wednesday: I figured out what should be in chapters two and chapter three, but didn’t actually get to write much of it. I got about three hand written pages and conked out again because I wasn’t sure how to attack the next section.

This kind of thing can be quite disheartening. I know of more than one project that has failed at this point because the artist/writer/creator allowed him/her self to become invested in not knowing how to move forward. Things get depressing. You want to stop. But, you can’t let yourself do that.

Some days you can…

Thursday came and I transcribed the first part of chapter two. Almost immediately it became clear what needed to happen in the next section! I ‘pencil whipped’ nine pages in a burst of activity that persuaded more than one customer at my hangout of the day that interrupting the ‘mad genius’ was a bad idea…

Friday (today) started with basic (non-writing) ‘get it done’ stuff. Then, while watering the roses, I realized that not only did I know what to do with chapter three, but chapter four followed pretty logically.

By the time I could put things down and do something about my ideas I knew what had to happen in chapter five.

By the time I got inside and finished writing myself a note I knew what was happening in chapter six.

Between finishing that note and actually getting into the shower I knew what I had to do for chapter seven.

By the time I was out of the shower I had worked out chapter eight and had a pretty good idea about what was happening in chapter nine.

At this point I realized I had caught up to the end of the first act stuff that I’d already planned. And that I really needed to get all of this formally written before I tried to push further…

We all do have hard days and hard times on the projects we work on. Actually I have to ask… “If they didn’t challenge us occasionally would they really be worth doing?” I am not going to say “buck up and get going” because that’s both insensitive and stupid (it overlooks people’s reality and situation. It’s an attempt to get people going while not really paying attention to what’s going on). But, I will say that if what you’re working on is really important to you and one of those down points hits. Don’t give up! Hold on to the project. Hold on to what you want to achieve and keep trying to find that next step forward. If the project is worthy and you are willing to keep trying, the answers will come and you will be able to move forward.

The universe is a really big place dear reader. The answers are out there and they will come in their own time.

Until then, good luck and I’ll see you next post!

Would You Believe It Isn’t the Money (Why We Do This part 4)

Last Friday (a week before this post went live) I did a book signing thing with the cover artist for my novel Johnson Farm. The next day I got to hand deliver a copy to another beautiful and intelligent young woman who just happened to have been one of my most important helpers in this process. She was the first teen to read the manuscript (kind of important for a YA novel…). Both of these experiences are ones I treasure. Both of these experiences reminded me that there is a lot more than dollars and cents involved in being an author.

Before anyone accuses me of making excuses because my book isn’t selling… I’m not.

A first novel (like Johnson Farm) usually isn’t a big cash machine and I know that. Also, Johnson Farm has outsold my previous book already… Literally it brought in more in the first month than my first book brought in in its first year (and I’m not expecting sales for Johnson Farm to really take off until the second or third book is released). I’m not being bitter about money. I’m just saying that there are other rewards that are more important.

Non-monetary rewards…

Both of the young women I mentioned were excited to be part of something. They got to do something, achieve something that they hadn’t done before. Both got to be on the inside. Both received a tangible artifact that demonstrated that someone valued them for their talents and abilities.

And me? My reward? You could hear it in their voices. I touched their lives. I gave them something more than just paper with words printed on it. I honestly feel like I made their lives better, at least a little bit.

Actually there is no practical empirical measure of how much of an effect even a small nudge toward the good can have. A single pebble, a single sound, can start an avalanche that seems vastly out of proportion to the energy put in to start it.

If you choose to create (write, draw, paint, sculpt, whatever), or just in living your life; if your only purpose is money, yours is going to be a sad and shallow life. There are greater things out there.

In the scripture my religion holds sacred it is said: And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

It’s not about huge numbers, it is about the one.

What I will say to you dear reader is: If you choose to create, if you choose to build or make something that helps others access and understand the beauty, greatness, and power within them, then you are a force for good in the universe. And that has its reward’s dear reader, rewards that you will not understand until you see them. And even then you might not understand the true measure of what you have done.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Go, do, create, and be a force for good. See you next post.

 

When editing turns ugly…

Well, we did it! We got Johnson Farm done. As we speak the proofs for the e-book are on my desk and the physical copies aren’t far behind. It’s a success, but it’s also a point where we have to change our thinking a little as we move to other projects…

A few weeks ago I talked about editing a blog post vs edition a book. In that post I mentioned that editing a book is a much longer process. It is, and editing a book can be ugly in a number of ways.

The last day editing Johnson Farm there was one edit, a single period in a 50 page stretch of writing. The first day of editing for my next nonfiction project I had entire paragraphs that were moved or rewritten. There were quite literally more changes in the 20-30 page section I worked on that day than there were in the entirety of Johnson Farm on the last pass.

That many edits can make for quite a messy page (I’m one of those weird people who does a lot of his ‘thinky’ writing and editing on actual paper (but if you work on the computer and use track changes it isn’t much prettier…). The thing is that visually ugly editing is actually beautiful if it’s done right. You are making what you’ve written better. You’re clarifying and developing what you’re said. This kind of editing can be a lot of work, but it makes your ideas worth reading.

Eventually this editing transitions into another kind. This time the page looks fairly pretty, but the process seems ugly to me. But, I know this kind of editing is still vital.

We’re done with getting the big ideas in place. For the most part we’re finished getting the small ideas in place. Now we are doing things like checking capitalization, stressing about commas and finding that period or quotation mark that seems to have wandered away.

This kind of editing has a dramatic effect on people wanting to read what you write (and how seriously they take you as an author (Myth takes c4n bee ape roblem)).

You really need both kinds of editing, but you probably only like one or the other (if you like either one…). Whether you like them or not you still need to do both kinds of editing. The purpose dear reader is to make your writing the best it can be, to make it something your reader will have confidence in and want to read.

Writing that first draft can be fun and challenging, but skilled editing is what gets you read. It is really worth doing, especially when the editing seems ugly.

Keep going!

Years ago I was reading a book about USMC machine gunners in Vietnam. That was where I discovered the ‘Marine Corps way of doing things’: an artillery barrage followed by an advance, no matter how small, and then you did it all again. Well, sometimes writing is like that too…

I know this is true because, well, I was about 10 when I made my first attempt at writing a story (I’d been telling stories a lot longer…) and now I’m a writer and I’m running a publishing label. It takes time, effort, and learning to become a writer. It takes even more time, effort, and learning to become an author, one who has actually gotten something published. And, you really do have to keep working at it.

When I started Forever Mountain Publishing it was because I had something to say to the world and I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me. I have found in the process that I would like to help others say what they have to say. That’s why Forever Mountain does some of the things we do. I know we can make it on our own (I’m doing it…), but we’re stronger with others.

Recently I’ve been talking here and on my other blog about a book called Johnson Farm. This young adult novel was the first time that I really allowed someone other than myself to have a chunk of the creative work on one of my stories. I enlisted a talented young artist named Sariah Ann to do the cover.

JSFwordswood

Because we’re a startup company we used a Kickstarter to fund the publishing of the book, and the Kickstarter failed and didn’t fund. Even this cannot and will not stop us. If you have an honest desire to be heard and you are willing to put in the time, work, and learning things will work out (even if they don’t come out the way you initially expected).

My team and I did some rethinking and replanning. We found other resources. We found a way to get the book printed and into an E-book with a wide distribution. In fact the book is going to the printer next week!

The point dear reader is that if you want to achieve in writing, or any other field, you have to keep working at it. You have to find a way. As I’ve said, I know because I’ve done it. And soon I’ll be able to tell you where to buy a book that some people thought would never be published…

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post.

You should at least try…

At some point today a Kickstarter I set up for a Forever Mountain Publishing novel (worse, one of my own novels…) is going to close without funding. Yes, it is a temporary defeat. But, you can’t let the temporary defeats get in the way (Napoleon Hill said that back in the 1930’s…). In fact, as an author and as editor in chief of Forever Mountain Publishing, I have gained a lot through this process…

Since the Kickstarter got started I managed to get the website for FMP up and running; I found and started my plan to rework the social media presence for my company; my wife (who is graduating with her doctorate in Education this semester) discovered a part of the company that she could participate in; and I got to give a talented young artist her first shot at a book cover. A variety of other positives have come out of the process as well.

But, the Kickstarter didn’t go…

No, it didn’t, but the Kickstarter was an avenue, not the only avenue. In truth my wife and I had a backup plan in place a week or so ago. We could have pulled the Kickstarter last week and still had a way to publish the book (I am starting a publishing company after all…). I let the Kickstarter run because it gave more people a chance to feel like they were participating in the launch. It was an avenue to show support that resonated with some people, and it would have felt more like a defeat to admit defeat and pull the campaign than to ride it to the end.

Even though the campaign didn’t completely go the way I hoped, I gained ground. Positive things happened that outweigh the negatives.

Yes dear reader, sometimes we fail. Sometimes we are defeated. But, if we never try we never succeed. (For those who want to pull out “Do or do not, there is no try”, or any other variation I will be dealing with Yoda and Mr. Miyagi at another time…)

The saddest defeat is self-inflicted. The saddest defeat is caused because you never tried.

There are other elements, dear reader, knowledge, planning, resources and other factors all have their place, but you never succeed if you never try.

That’s it for this one,

See you next week…