Tag Archives: editing

Vacation

Yesterday, I returned home from a 9-day vacation. I had some homework I had to do for the online classes I’m taking for my master’s degree, but other than that, I let my mind take a vacation from any kind of creative effort. Besides the typical vacation activities of sight-seeing and eating out at too many restaurants, I did more reading than I’d done in the last several weeks. I’m not sure if it was the change of scenery or the reading, but this vacation was exactly what I needed for my writing.

I had hoped to write every day in August as part of my handwriting and short story writing challenges, but I didn’t even have a chance to think about what type of short stories I want to write this month. As I took a deliberate step away from the story world I’d been working on for the last four years, my characters and the plot caught up with me when I least expected it. I had one of those major breakthroughs that made me excited to work on the story again.

The timeline of the series was holding me back. Fixing it requires a lot of work, but it’s going to make everything better. When I was freed from my own setting, I learned not to consider my books’ settings as set in stone. Since they’re still works in progress, the settings exist only in my mind, and I can change whatever I want about them. I’m giving more thought to the living arrangements of the characters and where and how they spend the majority of their time. I don’t need to rush them from one scene to the next.

I love to travel and I’d recommend vacation to everyone, writer or not, but I realize it’s not feasible for most people to take long trips. If I hadn’t taken half the days as unpaid, this one trip would have used up all my vacation time from work for the next year. If you can’t put yourself in new surroundings physically, immerse yourself in a book.

Reading is its own kind of magic. Two people could read the same scene and picture the room or the atmosphere or the characters differently. The author has done most of the work, but you still bring the story to life in your mind when you read. I always have several books in progress at a time. I would read a chapter or two, and even if I was still interested in the book and excited to read it, something new would come along and I would abandon the older book for a while. One of the books I finished on this trip was one I started reading in April. I’d averaged about a chapter a week until I spent some uninterrupted time with it. I traveled deeper into the universe of the book by focusing longer stretches of uninterrupted time with it. I connected more to the story than I would have otherwise.

Now that I’ve returned home to my usual distractions, it’s going to take some effort to maintain that kind of concentration, but I’m determined. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to be obsessed with whatever book I was currently reading and want to return to it. It’s been an even longer time since I felt like that about my writing, but I hope that once I get back into it, I’ll find that joy again. I’m seriously considering rewriting the whole series. I had rejected that idea months ago because I’ve already put so much work into it, but I want it to be my best work. All these previous drafts are practice, and they all taught me something in the process.

My next step, whether I start over or continue trying to add in missing scenes, is to write out all the major plot points on index cards. My goals for the next week are to have Volume 1 plotted out on cards and to write 5,000 words for a short story. I’ll see you in a week with an update!

How Do You Measure Progress: Camp NaNoWriMo Week 1

I had entered Camp NaNoWriMo with a goal of editing my current work in progress for a total of 30 hours in the month. After the first two hours, I realized my word count had increased only by about 100 words.

In the editing phase, a low change in word count is not a problem. You’re switching out weak verbs for stronger ones, restructuring confusing sentences, and taking out filler words and sentences. You’re exchanging more words than adding new ones. If I were at the editing phase for the entire novel, I wouldn’t mind having little to show as far as my changes in word count went.

However, there are still huge chunks of the story that I haven’t written. I entered July with 57,009 words written for Volume 3. I anticipate this story ending up around 65-70k. The beginning chapters are stronger, because I start at the beginning of the story when I start a new round of revision before losing the energy to think of ways to fill those plot holes. So, I’ve changed my goal for Camp NaNoWriMo to use this month to fill in those holes and complete the stories for Volumes 3, 4, and 5. I aim to add 25,000 new words total for these three novels.

I had a slow start for Week 1, with changing my goal, writing the two final project papers for my classes, and celebrating Independence Day. I have a total of about 700 words written, with 24,300 to go.

I often use the terms editing and revising interchangeably, but that’s only because in any one in-progress novel, I’m at the editing phase in some places and the revising phase in others. (And the drafting phase in a few, which is what I’m hoping to change this month.) These are the steps to my writing process:

  1. Planning. I need to know where the story is going before I begin writing, but even if I manage to write out a sentence description for each chapter, it is still not enough for some parts of the story and I flounder a bit. When going into a challege like NaNoWriMo, I need to know at the minimum my main characters, the setting, how the story begins, what the characters want, and how the story ends. I’m afraid to spend too much time planning, though, in case I never get around to writing the novel or lose interest in it.
  2. Drafting. Also known as writing. This is the part where I actually write the story. I’m a “bare-bones” writer, which means I usually have to go back in subsequent drafts and add in details and whole scenes. If I’m not sure how to get the characters from one plot point to another, I’ll often skip ahead to the scene after that, although I try to write in order as much as possible.
  3. Revising. The version of the story I write in the drafting step is my first draft. I’ll go through 6 or more drafts of revising. This is the step where I go back and fill in the plot holes. I cut scenes that aren’t necessary. I move events around. I begin new drafts in the revision process when I’ve set myself a challenge to see how much I can get done in a certain time period (like Camp NaNo), or I have to make a huge change and want to keep a copy of the previous draft before that change was made.
  4. Editing. This step is more detail-oriented than revision. This is where I’m fixing up sentences, adding in description, and basically making things pretty. If revision is amount changing paragraphs, editing is about changing words.
  5. Proofreading. Checking for typos. This is my favorite phase because it means most of the work is done. This phase gives me one more chance not only to find any errors, but to add or take out anything before someone else reads my work. The novel is done but not done.

The hardest part about writing is that so much of a story lives in a writer’s head, and it’s hard to translate it into words that will conjure up the same images and feelings for someone else. Sometimes I’m so afraid of writing something “wrong,” something that doesn’t match what I’m imagining, that I avoid writing it. That’s how I came to be on draft 8 of Volume 3 and still have so many missing scenes.

Does anyone else often find themselves at different phases of the process within one manuscript? How do you measure your progress when editing or revising–by words, by chapters, by hours, or something else?

9 Tips For When You Want To Give Up On Your Novel

Revision is my least favorite part of the writing process. I second-guess myself the entire time, flip-flopping between word choices or settings of various scenes or the names of secondary characters. I have trouble with the drafting process as well. I’m on draft 7 of Volume 3, and the plot still has big, gaping holes, evident by chapters with headings and only half a page of text before jumping ahead to the next chapter and next plot point. I know where I need to go but not how to get there.

What part of writing do I like? Proofreading. By that point, the story is done, the prose sparkles, and if I’ve done my job right, this phase of the process is spent diving into a world filled with characters I love and doing nothing more than fixing a few typos. At times, it feels like I’ll never get to that stage.

The writing life has been difficult this last month. I’ve been feeling so devoid of solutions to my plot problems that I considered setting all my work aside (all 327,000 words I have so far, which have been written and rewritten over the last four years) and starting over. I would start with a magic system first, since that seems to be the biggest source of my troubles. Still, it would require building six novels from the ground up. That thought was overwhelming.

Rather than making any drastic decisions like turning my back on everything I’ve already done, I made a list of things to do when I feel stuck like this.

  1. Step away from the project. Sometimes you just need a break. You can return to the project with fresh eyes, and sometimes solutions will come when you’re not actively looking for them. However, it’s important to set a time limit on your break or you might never return to your book.
  2. Visualize what you want the project to look like when you’re done. What kind of story did you want to tell? What type of world or mood did you want to create? This is something I do before beginning a project, but it’s important to remind yourself what you set out to create.
  3. Work in another medium. If you normally write on the computer, try handwriting a chapter or typing on a typewriter. When I do this, it tricks my brain into thinking that if what I write isn’t any good or doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story, it doesn’t have to go in the actual draft. Even working in a new document with a different font than I typically use makes me see the story in a new light.
  4. Write the back cover blurb. Blurbs are my major weakness in writing. It’s hard to sum up a book in a few paragraphs. You need to have a good grasp of the major plot points. Sometimes, writing this can be more frustrating than fixing the holes you’re avoiding, but other times, it can help you clear up some of the issues in your plot.
  5. Do the interior formatting for the print copy. Of course, this only applies if you’re planning on ordering a print copy and don’t hire someone to do the interior formatting for you. This is my favorite thing to do. I love playing around with different fonts for chapter titles, seeing how many pages the story stretches out to with different page sizes, and formatting the headers and footers with page numbers, the book title, and my name. I like seeing what the manuscript will look like as an actual book.
  6. Create an e-book of your draft to read on your e-reader or phone. I use Draft 2 Digital to create e-books of my drafts to read on my Nook. Sometimes reading my stories in that format, as if they were a real book, helps me think about them in a new way.
  7. Watch, read, or listen to whatever it was that inspired your project in the first place. I get a lot of my ideas from music. Many characters in projects I wrote in college were loosely based on musicians from my favorite bands. If a favorite book or movie sparked the idea for your current project, revisit that inspiration.
  8. Do some research. Two of my characters are historians studying the founding of their town. To write their scenes, I need to know a bit about the time period they’re studying. I’d also like to mix some Celtic mythology into the “otherworld” of my series. There’s a lot I need to learn, but I have to remember not to get bogged down by all the information available. For the drafting phase, I might settle on 3-5 key details gathered through my research to mix in and get me over my mental block.
  9. Make a list of all the questions you need to answer in your plot. You don’t need to answer them right away; just make a list. What do you need to know to write that scene? When you are ready to start writing again, take a look at the list and work on answering one question at a time rather than trying to do it all at once.

Remember, the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling lost or frustrated is to delete your story. Even if you don’t intend to share it, revise it, or ever work on it again, it is worth storing an extra file on your computer or an extra notebook on your shelf to keep from feeling the regret you might have over the loss of all your hard work.