Archive for May, 2011

Edits Away!

Posted: May 24, 2011 in Writing
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Edddiiitttingg…UGH.  Let’s get this out of the way.  I hate the editing process so much, I dragged my feet to write this blog post.  Who wants to edit when you can create?  Move onto the next story, your next scene, new characters!

To bring us back to the home building analogy, editing is sanding the drywall joints on a ceiling, or cutting 400 tiles to lay a new floor, or masking off an entire room before you paint it (and dontcha hate when the paint gets under the tape despite your prep??)  I thought hard to come up with something redeeming about this process–and drew a blank.  While I don’t have anything redeeming, I do have our first rule:

NO ONE’S GONNA TAKE IT SERIOUSLY IF IT AIN’T EDITED

Seriously, like, who’s giong to take you’re story seriously if you, like, mes up a bunch of things?  What editor or agent is going to put their neck on the block for something replete with errors.  And, no, your editor or agent isn’t  the person to find the mistakes for you.  Regardless of how much we dislike the process, truth is that if we ignore it, or half-ass it, things will never look right in the rest of the book.  If you don’t sand the joints down, or cut the tiles right, or mask off the room properly, your entire project is going to look like a joke.  This leads to our second rule of editing:

IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE RIGHT…THEN MAYBE HAND IT OFF TO A PROFESSIONAL

I am one of the ultimate DIY guys.  It comes from a mixture of wanting control over all the details (read–OCD) and being a bit of a cheapskate.  Hey, if it saves me some dimes, those will be handy down the road!  There comes a time though, where it makes sense to pony up and bring in the big dogs.  Point in case, do you know whether to use toward/towards, anyway/anyways, alright/all right?  (That’s just a few examples, don’t get your hopes up!)  Can you really read your book, the one you just spent a year or more of your life writing, and pick out all the errors?  Are you a grammar maven?  If you answered no to any of these, thennnn maybe you ought to consider a pro.  If you answered yes to all of them, then I think you’ve got a rewarding career in the scintillating field of editing in front of you!

If you’re like me, and you had to Google whether to use alright or all right (it’s all right by the way), and then go back and change all of those damn errors in your entire book, you start to realize that the $500 or so bucks it would take to have someone professionally edit the book may not be that expensive after all.

There’s got to be another side of the coin, right?  Sure, sure, sure.  Rule number three:

YOU CAN’T RELY ENTIRELY ON THE PROFESSIONAL EDIT

The initial edits should be your own!  Those are the edits when you’ll find yourself saying, “Man, that sentence is really awkward,” or, “Whoops!  One of my characters died earlier in the story and here they are again!”  Funny what you forget when you get 60, 70, and 80 thousand words into a story.  As a suggested process, run edits with certain goals.  First edit, spelling through your spell checker.  This will also eliminate those annoying red squiggly lines  (go ahead, do a “define squiggly”).  Second edit, grammar, punctuation, etc.  Third edit, start digging into the meat of your book.  Style, flow, character development.  Read sections out loud–or if you have a really patient dog, read the whole damn thing to it.  Your readers will read the book “out loud” in their heads, so how it sounds is critical.  Speaking of readers, here’s the final rule of this section:

GET TRUSTED, CRITICAL PEOPLE TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT

I can’t tell you how valuable the input from my four readers was.  There will be aspects of your book that make sense to you, because  you’ve been married to the thing for so long, that defy common sense.  Your readers should be people that will point these issues out to you.  Choose wisely though.  You don’t want people that will crush your hopes and aspirations into oblivion.  We’re a delicate bunch, and while some of us have thick skin, it still hurts to get scathing feedback.  So, save that for all the rejection letters you’ll get from agents and editors!

Kind of like swallowing “cherry” flavored cough medicine, you’ll have to get down to editing at some point.  Tastes nasty, we hate to do it, but it’s critical to the health of your story.  Consider getting the manuscript as polished as possible, have readers give you their input, and then send it to a professional editor for a final gander.  Then we can move onto more exciting things–like getting published!

We think of something and our gremlin says, “That idea is stoopit; no one will like it!”  B.S.  Kill the gremlin!  Point in case?  Was watching a documentary last night about John Lennon and he was explaining where the song and title “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” came from.  Everyone suspected that he (and the other Beatles) were on some psychedelic trip when they came up with the song, but John said it actually came from a much more innocuous source.  A drawing his son made at school.  John asked his son what he called the drawing, and his son said, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  You can imagine the chorus of gremlins howling with laughter when John thought to himself, “Fancy I’ll turn that into a tune.”  But, he put a slug through each of them and went on to write one of the best known Beatles’ songs.

Bottom line: keep that journal and pen with you at all times, and be open to any ideas that come your way!

From time to time, when I think of something that doesn’t fit neatly into a full-blown blog, I’ll just create a separate, brief writing tip.  Today’s writing tip has to do with word count.

YOU AIN’T ABOVE A WORD COUNT LIMIT

Once you get to the point of seeking out a traditional publisher, or self-publishing, the importance of word count will promptly surface.  Why?  A simple equation: Word count/words per page = number of pages in your book.  Number of pages, in turn, drive cost.  Cost, obviously, underlies profitability.  In short, the greater the word count, the harder it is for your book to be profitable.  The harder it is for your book to be profitable, well, you get the picture.

But many authors don’t!  I was just talking to someone who is starting a new fiction novel, his first.  I asked him what type of a novel it was going to be.  That matters because different genres have different word count ranges.  He told me, and I suggested that he at least pay attention to how many words he writes.  Nothing to kill that “inner muse” referenced in my full blog post, but it’s certainly something to be cognizant of.

Again, why?  Well, say you get your first draft done, and lo and behold, you are 15,000 words over the top end of the range for your type of book.  You know how hard it is to cut 15,000 words from a story?  If you don’t, I’ll tell ya–HARD!  You know what’s even harder?  Selling a book to a traditional publisher that is way too long.  If you wave this off as not meaning anything (i.e. the old, “My book is so good, those rules don’t apply”) then think again!  Remember, more words means more pages means more cost.  More cost, lower profitability.

So, don’t let this get in the way of putting that story to paper, but remember that the rules apply to you too!

Getting it Down

Posted: May 13, 2011 in Writing
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Pen in hand, or fingers poised over keys, or a dictaphone in your hand–however the heck you intend to produce–it’s time to get writing!  What’s a perfect first word, first line, you wonder to yourself.  You strike ten iterations of an opening.  STOP!  First rule of Fight Club, er, Getting it Down:

THERE IS NO “PERFECT” ON THE FIRST DRAFT

Seriously.  Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  Think you’re better than him?  I thought I was after getting the first draft of my book down.  Then, I went back to do the first edit and I was like, “Man, this is shit.”  Misspellings, flat characters, wordiness, inconsistencies in the story.  Two drafts later, still shit, but maybe not as stinky.  Here’s the point, to return to our home building analogy–the first draft is just your foundation!  You need to get it down, get it pretty close to correct, but it ain’t gonna be pretty, and people ain’t gonna see it.

Need another reason to avoid “perfection” on the first draft?  You’ll kill the story if you agonize over every word, placement of punctuation, and other tedium at this point.  That leads to the second rule of Getting it Down:

DON’T KILL YOUR INNER MUSE

Huh?  Inner muse?  The most beautiful part of writing a story is when the story writes itself!  Basketball players score 60 points in a game.  Baseball players hit four homers in nine innings.  Hockey players score Ovechtricks.  We creatures of mental athleticism (I had to build us up a little!) can get into the “flow” too.  When your eyes are closed, and your fingers glide over the keyboard typing words that you see as action in your head–that’s your flow.  When your head is inches away from the paper you are writing on, and you see nothing by word after word trail your pen–that’s your flow.  Where this comes from, don’t ask me.  No need to get philosophical.  But, it’s beautiful, gorgeous, momentous.  It’s the reason I write.  The muse is your anti-gremlin, and you will kill it if you try to be perfect.

Still don’t believe me?  You’re a tough sell, but so many of us crave control and perfection in what we produce that it’s understandable.  Third rule of Getting it Down coming right up:

THE CHARACTERS WRITE A GREAT STORY, NOT YOU

“But, but but, I write my stories.  They’re MY characters.”  Yes, my friend, sure.  They’re yours. Try to control them and see what you end up producing.  Crap!  It’s better to consider your characters like Sims Gone Wild.  You can set up their appearance, and give them little pats on the tush in certain directions, but please, please, let them do their own thing!  This has been a little amorphous, so let’s get more specific.  When you flow, when you are simply a conduit through which your story gets put down on paper, the characters drive the story themselves.  Countless times my characters said, “No, sir, we’re gonna do this!”  And, it was crazy and scary and I said to them it wasn’t gonna work–but then it did.  Not only did it work, but it fit them.  Maybe not me, but who cares if it fits the author?

Okay, you’ve gotten out of your own way.  You’re flowing like Michael Jordan in the 1992-1993 playoffs.  Time for the fourth and last rule of Getting it Down:

NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Writing is work.  Anyone that tells you differently is lying.  Now, you can enjoy your work.  Nothing wrong with that, and hopefully that’s why most of us are writing.  But, it’s work.  And, you need to dedicate yourself to that principle.  Set a daily goal for number of words written and stick to it no matter what.  750 words a day is a breeze, and in 100 days you’ll have a manuscript.  I can’t emphasize sticking to your regime enough.

The process is exactly like working out.  Getting started is the hardest part.  Once you get rolling though, once you start seeing results, I promise you’ll be addicted.  A personal example will show you how easy it is to get out of your regime.  When my wife and I were in Peru, believe it or not, I was putting down about 1000-1500 words per day.  There was something about being on vacation, basically detached from the constraints and demands of everyday life in the US, that helped my productivity.  Got back to the US on October 15, 2010, and didn’t write meaningfully on my second book until March 2011.

What happened?  Work built up so much that there was no time to fit in writing.  (Read, excuse).  The holidays sapped a bunch of time.  (Read, another excuse).  I would start writing again as a New Year’s resolution.  (Yep, another one!).  And, that’s how your productivity can go down the drain faster than a half full glass of water.  Same thing happens if you skip a week of working out.  Bottom line, writing is work, and like anything work related, writing takes discipline.  Commit yourself to a daily word count that you can achieve, and do not skip your daily goal for any reason!

All right!  Foundation is in, you’re grinding away at your ultimate goal for a word count, and you’ve got a proverbial six-pack of writing going.  What’s next?  Start to Make It Look Pretty.  Some framing and drywall for you construction types!

Building a Book

Posted: May 5, 2011 in Writing
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Building a book.  Seems like an alright idea.  I’ve built rooms in homes, bikes from scratch, 20-inch high Jenga towers and model railroads.  A prior incarnation of my soul built Caesar’s Palace.  The one in Vegas.  So I ask you, why not build a frickin’ book?

Answer 1: ‘Cause it’s frickin’ hard.

Still chompin’ at the bit?  Well, then take the following poll and let us know where you’re at–tell the truth!!

This blog is gonna start at idea conception and go through sales.  Think of the process like building a home.  Excavate, pour foundation, start framing, electrical/plumbing/HVAC, drywall, roof, interior work (i.e. floors, wall finishes, appliances, cabinetry, etc.), interior finishes, landscaping, and finally, selling the damn thing.  Once we get deeper into this blog, I’ll figure out how the hell to analogize cabinetry to writing, but it’ll happen!  At this point, let’s start with excavation (Idea Formation).  Next blog, we’ll get to pouring the foundation (Getting it Down).

Idea Formation

Perhaps one of the most daunting tasks of the entire process.  That little gremlin inside your head aches to scream out, “Tu no tienes nada para escribir!!”  (My gremlin is Mexican, with glasses and a shabby beard.  Kind of a Mexican Gremlin Professor).  Translated: You got nothing to write!!  But you do, we all do.  I don’t paint.  I don’t play musical instruments.  I was never in dance or choir.  Wouldn’t really call myself artsy.  But, boy could I imagine fight scenes and car chases and sex scenes.  (Last one probably isn’t that special).  I promise that you have these ideas in your head too–whether it be a non-fiction DIY book, a book on programming, a romance novel or a historical fiction.  The goal is to capture those ideas, which leads to Tip #1:

KEEP A JOURNAL AND PEN NEXT TO YOUR BED

You know when you wake up and you’re startled and sweating and breathing heavily?  Was probably a good story.  Probably enough to scare the crap out of you, but that’s a basis of a good story.  I can’t tell you how many ideas come from dreams.  If we use, conservatively, 5-6% of our brains, imagine what else is going on in there!  Usually, we don’t capture our dreams, or we write them off as outlandish.  That damn gremlin again!

A wild thing starts to happen after you pay attention to those dreams–they become more vivid and more frequent.  Like by cracking the door open just a little, and letting your mind know that you aren’t going to repress all the crazy shit that it stores everyday, the proverbial floodgates open.  I promise that you’ll start to fill up that journal.  Some ideas you may want to run with, others may simply become a scene in a story you’re currently writing.  If you’re “stuck” in your current story, you may come up with the “solution” in those dreams.  The bottom line is to take away that damn gremlin and let your mind go wild!  Leads us to Tip #2:

THERE ARE NO DUMB IDEAS

Let me take a step back and say this–there are dumb questions.  I hate that saying, “There are no dumb questions,” which is usually delivered with a condescending look and said slowly.  It’s meant to ease the embarrassment of people that ask stupid questions.  It lowers the bar, invites all sorts of silly crap.  If you’re married, you know there are dumb, really damn dumb questions (from both sides of course!).  However, there are no dumb ideas.  Start with that premise.

*A cavaet is necessary here.  I’m talking about ideas for writing.  Not ideas like, “Derek said there are no dumb ideas.  I think I’ll go drag race on the local highway!”  Ain’t talking about that!

Soon after you start filling up that journal with ideas from your dreams, you’ll want to carry the journal everywhere you go.  Why?  Because the ideas will start coming at all times of the day.  Again, you are opening a dimension of your mind that is normally suppressed by the tedium of daily existence.  Bills, complaints, clients, projects, deadlines.  Idea formation is like a faucet that’s normally rusted shut.  Break out the PB Blaster, tell that gremlin to STFU, and watch the ideas flow!