Category Archives: Editing

Draft Zero (or perhaps, Orez Tfard)

Lots of smoke, lots of shrapnel, lots of life changes over the last year, but I’m still here trying to put one word in front of the last word, whether or not those two words are friends, regardless if the second word once said something bad about the first word’s mother… DAMNIT, it’s MY project, and I’m going to make those words get along.

I’ll write more about the demise of my last  project, but tonight, I have to talk about the status of my new endeavor. For years, I’ve wanted to write a Southern Gothic novel. The fact that I had only lived in the south for a year when I first decided this meant nothing. The fact that I wrote primarily magic realism or fantasy with modern twists (the Dwarfs with Steampunk technology) also meant nothing. This might be linked to my early, impressionable years spent reading Stephen King and John Irving (New England Gothic, if that’s a thing) and my early writing years with Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. No matter. After a couple more years of working on a lot of different things, including moving and traveling for a living and spending my time with three people weirdly creative and respectful of my introversion, I picked up a pen last August and wrote 100 pages and four chapters about a family in northern Georgia, where I’ve hiked since first moving to the south, and kept going until I wrote into a hole. So I decided to read it from the beginning.

It sucked.

A vacuum cleaner running Windows Vista in the middle of a black hole could not have sucked harder.

But writers are nothing if not stupid… I mean, persistent, and I kept that on the back burner. After sending another project to oblivion, I went back, and thought, “I need to outline my characters and chapters and try again.”

Ten failed pages.

“Okay, how’bout I set this in northern Michigan, where I grew up? Okay, well, where I spent a lot of time about three hours to the north of where I grew up.”

Fifteen failed pages… wait, NO!

The prologue, all twelve and a half pages of it… which somehow emerged from my head after simultaneously thinking of The Brothers Karamazov and The Princess Bride… actually worked, when I reread it. It worked well. I yelped and jumped for joy. Actually, that was the other way around… I live in a house with low overheads. If you’re 5’13” like me, don’t ever jump for joy in such a place. Anyway, there I was, with a satisfactory prologue in front of me, and “Chapter One” at the top of the page.

Then at the top of another page.

Then at the top of a third page, with three pages of blah blah blech in front of it.

I’d thought that cutting out the first two chapters of my original attempt would help. I could start the story where the action started, and only insert those details that needed inserting, something that editing coaches and Lower GI Tract Doctors both advise. But that still didn’t work. I felt like I did the second day I drove a stick shift in San Francisco on a hill in stopped traffic… I was stalled, gunning the engine, and rolling backwards. At least in that case, I figured it out. I learned how to drive a stick shift in about two seconds. In this case, I think I have it.

There’s a writing technique called “Draft Zero,” though I’ve also heard it called “Expanded Outline” and I think I called it “Summary Outline”  myself, once. The object is to write out your story as absolutely fast as you can, skipping details unless they’re immediately there in your head. The result is something like a long outline (like, half the length of your finished project) or a stripped down draft. Then, you go back and rework it into a proper rough draft. I myself have usually called my first draft “The Raw Draft” and the second pass-through “The First Clean Draft.” (If nothing else, it’s clean because all the profanity I sometimes scribble in the margins doesn’t make it.) I thought… maybe if I try this technique and do a Draft Zero, or a Raw Draft for my Chapter, it will…

Well, it didn’t. I couldn’t even get out a sentence.

But something else stuck in my noggin. A lot of things do. By the end of a writing day, my superior temporal gyrus looks like the underside of a bus seat. A lot of it is crap, but just like that bus seat, some of it is tasty and useful. (Hey, I’m willing to try anything to get a book out.)

A few other writers, Margaret Mitchell among them, wrote backwards. Not word for word, but chapter for chapter, or even scene for scene. “What if,” my Muse suggested, “what if you write a rough outline-like raw draft for your first chapter, starting with the last scene?” Because, I knew how the chapter was supposed to end. I could see that vividly in my mind, and there was even a possibility that it was vivid enough for other people to see it as well, leaking out of my pores. But getting there… every time I tried, I just wrote around in circles. But… write what you know, right? And so, I did just that.

I doubt I’m the first person to ever think of that, but I’m definitely glad that I did. I now have a stack of index cards numbered from 0 to -5, and I’ll keep writing them, backing up a scene each time, until I’m at the place I think my reader wants to begin. Each card has about three sentences on it… I didn’t completely fill them up. Next step is to write a zero draft of the cards, probably going in the same reverse order… I still need to work from that ending. But then, then I’ll get to write from the beginning to the end in my manuscript, and for the first time since first thinking “Southern Gothic sounds fun,” I don’t dread working on this project.

It feels nice. Frighteningly nice.

 

 

Almost 1/10th of the way: A Crafter’s Observation

Well, Story #5 is done save for the final polish. I took this one down to the wire but I was able to finish it in time. Maybe Friday or Saturday I’ll sneak in and edit it a little but the point remains that I was still able to hit my goal of writing a story a week. And next week’s is virtually finished; in fact, one of the problems I had was pulling myself away from the hot new idea I had and finishing the one I’d started.

I also learned that I don’t want to put up one of my old stories in place of writing one a week, if at all possible. I might write two this week so I have something in reserve, but that’s different. Around about Monday evening, when I’d not yet started on this story because of OH MY GOD IT ITCHES IT ITCHES and other concerns I had, I started going through my files, thinking that I had good cause to do such a thing. But for some reason, it just didn’t seem right. Probably an adverse mental reaction to the medicinal cream I’m using.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that, more than before, I feel like a craftsman as I write these stories. Since I first set out to write (and finish) novels some time ago, my method was always:  Write a set amount every day; Let it rest; Edit and rewrite. Yet there were problems with this method, problems I’ve seen for a while but am just now paying attention to. For starters, I always sucked at editing. Oh sure, I could find tonnes of problems with the manuscript. I just had trouble sitting down and fixing them. I’ve since come up with a few ways of addressing that, and I think my current novella is all the better because of those changes.

But the other thing I realized is that charging ahead, blindly committed to word count and finishing the book led to sloppy work. Whenever one of my Muse’s editor friends would stop by my head and start flipping through the pages I’d written, I’d slap him or her away, and scream my commitment to write ten pages/ two thousand words/ whatever my commitment was. No. Matter. What. And yes, sometimes I’d be stuck but I’d keep writing and keep writing, hoping to get out of the rut. Sometimes this would work. Sometimes it led to sloppy piles of camel dung.

Writing a story a week makes me use my craft in an entirely different fashion. I have two to four days, tops, to write a rough draft. That’s more than enough time from a typing perspective… my raw writing novel days taught me to be able to write four to ten thousand words in that amount of time. Ten thousand words is about the top end for a short story, so physically, I knew I could do it when I began this project. But now, all of a sudden, I have other considerations. I have to consider plot, and character, and intertwining the two, making one push the other and carry both to a resolution. I have to make every line of dialogue mean something. I have to have a damn good idea of where the story was going, something I didn’t always have when I was writing a novel. More and more, I’ve begun to feel like I’m taking an item and turning it over and over in my hands, adding something here, removing something there, and slowly letting it become a work of art beneath my fingers. By the time I finished “A Shaggy Dog,” I realized that I feel like I’m making things, not just spitting a long story out of my noggin until it looks like it’s finished.

I also realized that it’s a pretty cool feeling.

Alright, back to my final polish job and then perhaps more time alone with the cat and my book.

Workshop Wednesday: Manuscript Makeover

I’m still plugging away at revising the novella about Agata and her unfortunate misfortunes on a merchant’s wagon train, though despite a horrible headache that’s lasted for going on three days, now, I also have tomorrow’s story up and scheduled. Hopefully, my brain stops stabbing my eyes long enough for me to make sure that is fit to post on time tomorrow morning.

In the spirit of Workshop Wednesday, though, I’m linking to one of my two favourite books about editing, Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover. I’ve ditched most of my editing books (my desk has this, The First Five Pages, and Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition on it) but this one survived the purge. It may not be the be-all-end-all tome of manuscript perfecting, but she spends a good amount of time not just discussing editing (which I define as correcting mistakes) and refining (which is taking something that may be adequate and making it good, or taking something that’s already good but making it good in a way that appeals to you, your readers, and your cat. Highly recommended.

Writing is ReReReReReReWriting: An Agony

I have a long weekend, so I’ve taken it upon myself to rewrite a novella I wrote last October. That was the weekend some of you remember when I decided I was going to write a 100 page novella in 100 hours. (That’s 100 hours straight, counting time for note-taking, eating, walking the dog, pulling out my hair, shoving it back in the follicles because I really can’t afford to lose more, coping with the sudden ability to smell colours, and all of the other wonderful things that accompany the task of writing 25,000 words in a four-day weekend. Yes, of course I’m thinking of doing this again. Why do you ask?) It’s been hanging around since then, mocking me with its two well-rounded characters and a bunch of paper dolls, an awesome and explosive beginning, a weak and arbitrary ending, taunting me with the fact that I know how to fix it, now, and could actually fix it, if I, you know, sat down to write the bloody thing. So, this weekend, I decided I was going to buckle down and get as close to a final draft as I could on this damn thing so I could either submit it for publication or do something to free it into the wide, wide world, because it sure needs to get out of my head.

Alright, in other words I just spent ten minutes taking a break from writing so I could write about how hard writing is. Yes, I’m definitely in the colour-smelling stage of my word-induced insanity. In fact, I’m considering naming them. This shirt I’m wearing is a lovely shade of Bob, which smells like anxiety and imagination.

On the bright side, I have nearly three of ten chapters written and rewritten. I had to go back and rewrite a few sections, but I feel like this story young Ms Agata (a teenage girl on a wagon train through a rural medieval country, along with her Uncle, her foster cousin, and a few friends) is finally coming together. Because that’s what rewriting is. My Muse runs up from her basement study with a handful of papers and says, ‘CJ! You HAVE to listen to this!!!’ And I do, writing down everything she says for posterity. But she’s a storyteller, not a writer. And much like how your Mom edits your Dad’s stories (or vice-versa) so people who weren’t there can actually understand them, I have to go through and write out a new version of things, a translation, if you will, for those of you who don’t live in my head. And if I can tell this story in such a way that it resonates with something you yourself think about, I’ve done my job.

See? I came here to talk about how writing sucks, and I convinced myself otherwise. Yay editorializing.

Y’all have an awesome weekend. Wish me luck. And yes, there will be a new story on Thursday.

Inspiration Tuesday

Today’s the day that I try to post things that inspired me and/ or are inspiring me. In the past, I’ve posted links, pictures, memes, and quotes. I had meant to do that this morning but my cat meowed me awake so she could go outside and I wound up sitting on my back porch with a hot mug of tea and a book or two and, of course, Señorita Mija Kittypants until just before I had to leave for work.

Originally when I wrote that last paragraph, I was going to say “I failed,” but I changed my mind. Today, you’ll just get a list of what inspires me. Or at least, that’s what I’m inspired to post today.

Trees — Yes, they’re the primary reason I hike. Sure, staring off the edge of a cliff and seeing for miles over the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains is nice, but any time I’m hiking through a grove of trees, I’m excited. (Maybe not so much during Atlanta’s pollen season.) And even though most of my publishing is done online these days, I have a deep personal relationship with paper. Anything I write has to be worth the trees that were pulped to print it. (Or the energy used to power the server that hosts it.) Many a time there had been when I realised that I didn’t want to explain to the ghost of a grove of trees that it died so I could print something I didn’t proofread, or edit properly, or didn’t work on hard enough.

Writers — My blog roll lists a few that I like. One in particular published my work when no one else would (you can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad) in addition to making sure my reading list is never boring, and one was inspired by me to embark in a blog project and in turn inspired me (read:  guilt-forced me) into sucking it up and bringing this blog back on line and up to date. But I’m not plugging them this time. This time, I want to say that seeing anyone writing anything inspires me (yup, I mean guilt-forces me, again) to pull out my notebook or laptop or tablet or bar napkins, or even just ask my pub companion to hold really still while I write on his or her back. Yes, even the ‘WRITERS’ who populate coffee shops (not often on the business side of the counter… that’s where you’ll find those writers and artists who actually write and, err, art) and proclaim to all unwilling to tune them out that they will rework the very definition of fiction… once they get past page 51, at least, or such petty bourgeois concerns like ‘plot’ and ‘character’ and ‘holding the reader’s interest… even they inspire me. Even if what they’re creating is less written fiction and more oral storytelling tradition about how they too will be a great writer someday, they are creating.

Food — Rather, the preparing of food. Sometimes when I’m blocked I will walk about with a notepad, bereft of words but begging me to be able to put something down. Sometimes I’ll play with the cat, or walk the dog. Or walk the cat, which leads to confusion all around. Sometimes I’ll chew on my pen, hoping that I can squeeze the words out of my head, down the ink barrel, and onto my paper. But few things are able to really push me past that point of being unable to write like not being able to write, even if it is for only twenty or thirty minutes while I chop the onions and garlic and broccoli and garlic (never is there ever too much garlic). Sometimes I’ll even eat what I cook. And yes, sometimes I just can’t keep the words in and I’ll run madly from the range top to my table and start scrawling my ideas down with a wooden spoon lately used to stir something that will definitely leave a stain before realizing that the pen the cat knocked off the table when she jumped up there to get away from the dog who ran into the kitchen because someone was making noise in there and that someone just possibly might be able to give her some of that food, or perhaps all of it… perhaps that pen will work better, and I grab it and write down whatever it was that hit me. Often it’s only slightly more lucid than the notes I jot down between dreams (last week I sent a text message to myself that says ‘Your mission is to rescue your Uncle from Computer Rehab…’ Any ideas what the hell that means?) but it doesn’t matter, because in the process of creating sustenance for my belly (and entertainment for the pets) I almost invariably create sustenance for my head. Or my Muse’s head, maybe.

Maybe when I get home I will post a few quotes and sound bites, but really, what good is Inspiration Tuesday if I don’t talk about inspiration?