Moments in Editing: That Paper-Wasting Stage

I’m back to that paper-wasting stage of editing, where I print out the whole danged novel, read it out loud slowly and scribble directly on the paper. As I’ve said in the past, this has always been the best way for me to get my thoughts out, and also to make sure I actually fix the mistakes I see rather than just let my eyes pass over them. I need it, so I don’t feel bad, plus I recycle everything afterward, so I feel even less bad.

I like this stage of my editing. I’ve gone through already to fix plot and character problems, I’ve already did the really hard parts of trying to make myself as clear as possible. So now, as I read, I find the little things. Weird spacing, misspelled words, changing the wording a little when I need a pronoun instead of a proper noun or I accidentally rhyme.

wp-1470924179811.jpgThere are some times when I cross out sentences and paragraphs, because I can see where they aren’t needed, or I rewrite a phrase to make it sound just a tad bit better. But mostly, I find myself enjoying my story, feeling satisfied with the flow of the words, and with the emotions that it seems I just maybe finally got across clearly.

I like this stage of my editing because, for now at least, it feels like the hard work is done. I can enjoy what I’ve written, and feel confident that this is something that other people will like, that other people will read, that other people will publish.

And that’s why I have to hurry up and finish editing, so I can send this puppy out before my self-esteem comes crashing down again.

Moments in Editing: Move Your Body, Find Your Words

I’m sitting at my desk, staring at my screen. Specifically, staring at one paragraph in my novel. A paragraph that sort of gets at what I want to say…except, not really, no. The idea is firm in my head, but the words that will make it clear, understood, those are out of reach.

Or maybe, I’m beginning to suspect, they don’t exist at all.

I delete. I type. I write in my notebook. I write again. I stare out the window, flip through Twitter, pet my dog. Nothing helps. I don’t know what I want to say.

sweet pea outside writingMy water cup has run dry, so I get up. Go downstairs. The rain has stopped, so I open the door and stand on the porch. The dog runs past my legs, and I breathe deep the smell of warm wet grass and dirt.

And I know what I want to say.

Just like that the words are in my head, perfect — or at least, perfect for now. I write them out, plug them in, and with a little bit of jamming they fit into the story. Not a one hundred percent fit, but I can sand them out later, when they’ve settled more, and I’m not quite so proud.

Right now it’s a relief to have found something workable. I sigh, and take a satisfied sip of water.

And I look at the next paragraph.

Writing Problems: I Want to Be Done

So a couple months ago I finished polishing up my manuscript, and sent it to my critique partner and posted it in my critique exchange group. I’d finished inputting criticism from the last round of critiques, and I thought to myself, “I’m in a good place.This will be easy.” Not that I believed that there wouldn’t be problems — of course there will be problems, there are always problems — but there would only be a few. Things I could fix in a few weeks. Then I’d clean it up again, and boom, off to agents I go.

Well, no.

While problems of plotting aren’t getting mentioned (thank goodness) and there don’t seem to be overwhelming instances of my characters not being up to snuff, my to-do list for this manuscript keeps growing, and growing, the more I read my criticisms. And I realize my original goal of being ready to ship out by the end of June was laughably naïve.

20160531_100635
This is not what a page from a manuscript you’re “almost done with” looks like.

 

I know I can’t let myself get hung up on everything that critique partners tell me. Sometimes you just have to leave a piece of advice behind.

 

But, you have to take some of it, too. Especially when there are persistent problems — wishy washy character, descriptions that don’t go far enough — that you know about your writing, and that people are still noticing when they read it for you.

I want to be done. Not because I’m sick of my story (I wouldn’t have gone through this many revisions if I was capable of getting sick of it), or because I have other ideas (I do, though), or that I just don’t want to do the work (though yeah, I’m lazy). No, I want to be done because I don’t want to do it forever. I don’t want to be caught spinning my wheels, rewriting and editing the same things over and over again, never reaching a real stopping point. I don’t want to put of getting published. And I don’t want to keep finding so many problems that I decide my story is unfixable and quit on it altogether, burying it as far into my drawer as I can.

I don’t want to get frustrated, and leave my story unfinished. I want to see it through to the end, and make the best attempt that I can to put it out into the world.

To do that, my story, my characters, my writing, have to be as flawless as I can make them.

Which, unfortunately, means I’m not done, as much as I wish I was.

Critiques: What to Take, What to Leave

As a writer, it’s really wonderful to have people who are willing to take on the time consuming task reading your work and giving you feedback. Outside eyes can see where things aren’t working, can look without sentiment on the parts that have become too precious to you to know if it’s really good or not, and they can reaffirm decisions that you were hoping, hoping, hoping were the right ones when you put them to paper. And, possibly most important, they can give you a perspective you didn’t know you were missing, rounding out your stories, and your characters.

But it can also be a little too much.

20160606_105650The problem with so many new voices is that there are so many new voices. If more than one person is looking at your story, you’re bound to get more than one opinion on different parts. Or one reader will find they don’t like one bit of your story that you always thought worked, that reads to you like one of the best bits of the manuscript. You get a list of things you feel you should change, to the point that you feel you’re rewriting everything every time a new critique comes in. It’s overwhelming, and makes you feel as if you’ll never, ever get this damn story finished.

It’s really important, when working with critiques, to take readers’ opinions of your work seriously, to accept that you’ve made mistakes that other people have found, and now you have to take the time to fix them.

But it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to take every single bit of advice you’re given. When your book finally makes it out in the world, it’s basically an impossibility that it will be universally beloved. No matter what you do, or how you change it, someone will think that it doesn’t work, that it fails, even if others love it. Some of that opinion will have to do with your own skills and the quality of the work, and some of it will have to do with that person’s point of view and life experience and how that causes them to relate to what you’ve written.

I have a problem with internalizing every critique I get, and trying to apply a fix to my manuscript. It’s how I wind up with stories that get rewritten too many times, that get changed one way and then back again, stories that never feel quite done. I love getting all of these opinions, knowing what’s boring or preachy or what is good or clear or exciting. But I also have to trust my own self on some things: that this bit of word choice is what I want; that this flashback does add to the development of my character; that the timing of this joke works just fine. When I agree with the criticism, when I can’t ignore it, I’ll change the wording, I’ll work out the puzzle — it’s something I actually enjoy doing, after all. And I’ll give every bit of criticism its moment, analyzing it, weighing whether or not it will make my story better.

But I won’t make it perfect for every individual who ever picks it up — it’s not possible, and it’s not something I would expect when people take in my critiques. I’ll take what works for me, and make my story the best in my own eyes.

How do you deal with critiques? Do you ever have a problem with suggestions you disagree with? How likely are you to change a large chunk of your story based on what a critique partner says?

 

On Critiquing (It’s Nice to Know You Can Be Honest)

Once again I’ve sent a manuscript off to be read by my critique partner. I trust her to tell me what’s working, where I’m doing well. But I also trust her to tell me what isn’t working, where I’m failing and flailing, to type in clear language whether this story is ready for me to suit up and fling into the world.

And it’s nice knowing she expects the same from me.

Sometimes when I’m critiquing, I’m worried that I’m being mean, even if in retrospect, and when comparing my critiques to others, that never appears to be the case. It’s what I want from other people, to flatly say “I don’t understand” or “This is boring”, “I don’t believe your character” or “This whole page needs to go.” I need to know how someone outside of my brain is effected by my story, and that’s what a good critique partner wants right back.

20160501_093218Still, I’m so anxious about making people upset, about having someone angry at me (I will stress for days if I say something weird in a text message and a friend never responds), and I too often equate my being honest with being mean. It’s how I wind up being too passive-aggressive from day-to-day. But, there’s no being passive-aggressive, or pandering, when you’re critiquing — none of us have time for that. We need to know what’s wrong, so we can fix it, editing and rewriting and scribbling circles in a notebook until the solution snaps in our heads like a firecracker.

It’s wonderful, to find other writer-people that you can be honest with. People who trust your opinion, who know the difference between constructive criticism and petty meanness.  People who you aren’t overly concerned with hurting their feelings (they’ll get hurt eventually) because you’re focused on helping them mold their story into the most near-perfect shape you can.

And if you can trust them to give the same back, that’s a pretty good deal.

Writing Updates: April 2016

QKNVDENHQPAfter getting comments back from my critique partner and a couple of people from the fantasy critique group I’ve joined, I’ve been spending the last couple of months editing my middle grade story. I think I’ve finally got it polished up to the best of my ability, and had planned on getting it ready to send out now….

…but, things never work out how we want. I haven’t changed the main plot, but I’ve made alterations to some character motivations and reactions, and I want to make sure they work for people other than me. So, off to the group for one last go!

Hopefully I’ll be able to get this out to agents in June, so while I’m waiting for comments I’m going to work on my query materials: the letter, the synopsis, the list of agents that I hope against hope will accept me.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my new adult WIP that I put aside a few months ago, to let it stew, so it’s probably about time to pull it out again and fix it up. Maybe I can get some comments on that this weekend, too.

I’m also trying to keep up with two posts a week on this blog. It’s been working for a little while — but I need to do a better job of coming up with content, and of writing posts ahead of time so I’m not struggling to get one out.

That’s what I’m writing — other writers, anything new for you?

Joy in Every Stage of Writing

I’m sitting at my desk, reading through my manuscript one “last” time (you know, before the next “last” time) before sending it back to my critique partners before (hopefully) prepping it for query. And I’m thinking to myself, “I really like this part.” Reading through my story, making only minimal changes, sometimes in awe of a paragraph I can’t believe was actually written by me. Surely this is the part of the writing process that brings me the most joy!

Except, every part brings me the most joy, all for different reasons.

Editing and writing and editing…

Read More »

Dealing with Crits (A Fear of Looking)

I have a fear of looking at critiques when I get them on my work. I have enough confidence in what I do to know that the thing I sent out was not bad. Really, it’s the best I could possibly make it on my own. Still, I worry over what might be said.

Did a character come across in a way that I did not want?

Do they not believe the turn in the plot?

Do my sentences make no sense, or are my descriptions boring and cliché?

Will they discover a problem so big that I can’t fix it with a few simple tweaks?

The answer to those questions, every single time, is a certain yes. There are problems I didn’t see, characters I need to clarify, and problems that involve either an overhaul or a rewrite. It’s hard to face this, to know that my hopes that this time the draft was perfect turn out to be unfounded. There are many things to fix, and many of them are not easy, and it’s like a million tiny pains every time I see a new comment box on the edited draft a critique partner emails my way.

But it’s always wonderful, after I’ve read the comments, after I’ve made my notes. I see the story fresh through another person’s eyes, I know where I failed, I know where the story isn’t strong. And then I start to think.

Those comments, as hard as they are to read the first time around, are like continuous shocks of caffeine into my story-brain. I keep thinking about it, how to fix it. I pace the room, scribble pages of ideas. I become so excited that it fills my brain while I’m at my job, or doing chores, and I keep writing even during the times when I would normally feel burned out.

The comments fuel me, even — especially! — when they show me how much I have left to do. The story stops being something I’ve driven straight into a wall; it’s a puzzle that I can pick at and work out. The critiques help me see exactly what the problems are, and once I know what the problem is, it can be so much simpler to find the solution.

I’m afraid of my critiques, but I love them, because they make me excited again about whatever it is I’m trying to work on. Without them, I don’t know how many things I would ever, truly, finish.

2016 Goals for Writing, Reading, and Life

Happy New Year, all! I’m pretty bad at making New Year’s Resolutions, partly because I never take the time to really think about it. What do I want for myself? How to I want to become better, or what good do I want to continue doing?

I came up with a few goals for the year. Some might change, some might get replaced by new goals as the year stretches on. But right now, these are the hopes I have for myself.

  • Keep on writing. Boy, that sounds obvious. But, I feel like I have to keep reminding myself that writing is a thing that it’s okay for me to do, that it makes me feel more whole and probably makes me an easier person to be around when it’s done. It’s hard to push away the thoughts that I should be doing other things: visiting people, working more hours, folding that laundry already. But writing is something good that I keep managing to get away with that makes me happy, so I want to make sure that I keep a place for it in my schedule, no matter how my life shifts and changes.
  • Don’t get pissed if I don’t write. The above being said, life happens, and I don’t always write/edit every day. Sometimes I’m really busy. Sometimes I’m just having a relaxing day lying on the couch with my husband. Sometimes the words just aren’t coming, and I really should start folding that laundry instead. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, it’s not the worst thing to miss it every once in a while.
  • Widen my reading. I feel like I read a big variety of books. But, there are genres I wish I read more of, like memoir, or that I want to get back into, like epic sweeping fantasy. Or books I want to try out more of, like narrative nonfiction or handy-dandy self help books.
  • Read more children’s books. A specific one, but also, I feel, necessary. I don’t feel I read enough children’s books last year. And I’m trying to write children’s books. So I really need to work on that.
  • Stop dwelling on things. Oh, this is actually really hard. If I’m left to my own devices for too long, I start thinking about all the things I’m angry or sad or regretful about, and oh boy that just ruins the day. These include events that happened way back in my childhood that probably no one remembers except for me, and I really need to move on and stop letting things ratchet up my anxiety and send me crashing into the ground.
  • Deal with my anxiety better. I got much better at dealing with anxiety last year. I’ve started removing myself from situations, I breathe, I exercise more (especially when I know I’ll be entering an anxiety-inducing situation). Now I want to get even better at it.
  • Stop being so critical of other people. John and Hank Green have a quote that I’m massively paraphrasing, that one of the problems with the world is a failure to imagine others as complexly as we imagine ourselves. I’ve started to do that with little made up stories of why that person yelled at me at work, or thought it necessary to cut me off on a rainy highway, and that keeps me from being so mad. Which keeps me from dwelling. Which is good for my anxiety! (It’s all coming together.)

Those are some thoughts for betterment I have for myself. What about you? Any resolutions about writing, reading, or life in general? Are my goals ridiculous? Let me know, and have a great year.

Moments in Editing: When You Can’t Sit Still

After so many days of staring at the file on your computer, you finally get over yourself and open up the critiques on your story. The comments are positive, but there are problems, you knew there were problems, and you’re glad that people are pointing out the things you can’t see on your own. You see the difficulty you’re going to have reworking parts of your story, but most of the solutions pop out to you.

Then, you see that one comment. The one that makes you think, the one that makes you realize that maybe you didn’t figure out your characters as much as you thought. The one you know requires changing more than a couple of sentences.

There’s no easy solution to this, but your brain starts sparking and firing. New ideas pummel you from the inside, so you can’t sit still. You jump from a chair, you walk in a circle, you move in a way that will actually match your pounding heartbeat so your brain can slow down for half a second, and you start to see it. You start to see your answer, and with that answer you start to see your story and your characters clearer than you ever have before.

Maybe you don’t see how to fix it… but you see how you can start to fix it, you see how if you follow through and do this right, your story will be better and more true than it was before.

Because of that comment that you finally took the time to read.

You take a deep breath. You go back to your chair. You pick up your pen, and you begin to writ.