Discovering a new revision process

August 2, 2013

It’s often hard for writers to figure out what process works for them. Natasha posted to a blog chain sharing a few thoughts on her process a few weeks ago, and Storywonk Sunday devoted most of their podcast last week to talking about process, including their concept of the ‘Frog Box’, which I love; it’s a feature on their website that prompts you with process ideas to try, that other Wonks have sent in.

I stumbled across something new in terms of process for revising while I was at Odyssey, and apparently it’s stuck with me. The first thing you need to understand is, I’ve done a lot of critiquing before going to Odyssey, but aside from the few in-person writer’s circles I’ve gone to, most of it has been with electronic manuscripts; the novel swaps forum on Nanowrimo.org and the CSSF short stories workshop rely on email, and critters.org has a hybrid system where you can get manuscripts emailed to you or download them off the website, and send them in either way as well.

At Odyssey, everything was hard copy. You printed out your story when it was ready, Jeremy the work-study writer made fifteen photocopies, stapled them, and handed them out to everybody at the morning lecture. We made notes in pen on the hard copy, typed up and printed our overall critique of the story, and handed in the critiques and the marked-up manuscript back to the author after everybody had said their piece in the circle.

It’s a system with a lot to recommend it; there’s no confusion over possible multiple copies emailed out, or any possibility of somebody not getting the manuscript critiqued because the college wifi decided it didn’t like their laptop. Also, it means that it’s a lot harder for anybody to keep copies of somebody else’s work, which I can understand a lot of workshoppers being concerned about.

I have issues with pens. I’ve been holding them an unusual way ever since I was little, my handwriting is horrible to read, and for most things, writing in pen on paper saps my creative energy like a black hole sucking up everything that comes near. But marking up a printout in pen is never the worst thing. I’ve been able to critique in pen on paper before, and I did some of my Block Revision last summer with pen and paper–but when I needed to write long passages I had to switch over to the Alphasmart.

When I was working on a story to submit in week 2 of Odyssey, after I’d come up with a first draft, I was having a hard time looking at what I’d written on the computer screen and figuring out what changes I needed to make before I submitted it. So, somewhat whimsically, I printed it off and tackled it with my official Odyssey pen as if it were somebody else’s story I were critiquing, and that worked quite well. Like with Block Revision, I wouldn’t write many words on the manuscript, but generally with just a short scribbled phrase I could tell myself what I needed to know to expand on a scene or insert new action. I did that with every piece I submitted for the rest of Odyssey, and for the story I abridged to read at the Flash Fiction Slam in Nashua.

I guess I hoped that after being home from Odyssey for a week, I could go back to editing by staring at the computer screen. Either that, or I entirely forgot about this new approach. But I went back to the paper and pen approach for my new revision of ‘Masterpiece’, and it’s still working great. Something about having a pen and a printout really brings the best out of my Inner Editor; who’d have thunk it. Maybe he’s just trying to find his own thing and emphasize how different he is from my Inner Pantser, who’s all about fingers on the keyboard. Whatever. As long as he’s willing to perform, I don’t mind killing a few trees for him.

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A revision pass on the Kindle

February 15, 2013

So, I’m in the middle of my last read-through for the How to Revise your Novel course by Holly Lisle. I’m actually a little off the track of the standard lessons at this point, because of how much working with paper and pen saps my creative energy. The standard plan is to do four passes with pen and paper:

  1. Block revision (Lesson 17)
  2. Line editing (Lesson 18)
  3. Polishing (Lesson 19)
  4. Scene Beginnings, endings, and pacing (Lesson 20)

Then Lesson 21 is “The Type-in”, where you take all those pages and update your digital document with the changes, typing in the new stuff that you’ve written out in long-hand.

I would not have survived this process with my sanity intact. 😉 I did Block Revision with a lot of printed pages with pens, but also used the Alphasmart to type in new scenes or segments. After Block Revision was finished, I did the type-in, (though I didn’t really realize that was what I was doing,) and did the next 3 passes on the netbook, in Microsoft Word with ‘track changes’ turned on so that I could see what I was changing at each step, and copying to a new MSword file and accepting changes in the new document before starting the next pass.

So, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach lesson 21 at first. I shared my story on the Holly Lisle boot camp forums, and somebody suggested reading through it one more time, ‘on a different device or at least a different font’ so that I’d have a fresh chance to notice any possible issues, and then move on to a few final exercises in the lesson. So I converted the book to Kindle format and I’ve been proofing it that way.

It’s been interesting. So far, I’m a little less than half-way through, and I’ve already made over 300 annotations on the Kindle. And I’ve noticed I see to be developing a particular shorthand that’s different from the sort of notes I make when I’m reading on the Kindle to critique somebody else’s work. For one thing, I’m using the word ‘cut’ a lot – either by itself, when I’m cutting the word that the cursor is on, or with a little more context: ‘cut 5’ to delete a phrase that’s five words long, (generally trusting that I can figure out in what direction to go,) ‘cut comma’ or similar for eliminating punctuation. If I’m not quite sure what changes need to be made, I might just note ‘rephrase’ or something like that.

I’m pleased with the way this is going, and hopefully it’ll keep going quickly: both the reading and updating my manuscript with the changes. ‘Children’ is already out for Dedicated Readers at critters.org, though so far I’ve only received one reply and that was by someone asking what the plot of the overall book was; I probably should have included that with the first chapter, but considering that I don’t have a proofed copy to send back yet, I’m in no hurry to reply.


More about the Monastery playlist

January 29, 2013

I’ve mentioned the ‘Monastery playlist’ a few times on this blog before, but since Nanopals has a post up today talking about the writing process and mentioning music, I thought I’d go into a bit more detail about the music of the monastery, how I found it, and what part it plays in my writing.

First off, generally I love writing to music. Finding a great song to write to is a gift, but if I like a song, generally it’s seldom ‘bad’ music to write to, especially during Nano or when I’m otherwise pantsing my way recklessly through a first draft. Editing is a bit different, it needs a bit more concentration, and for a while that was something that wasn’t quite falling into place with my writing process; editing in silence was too quiet, (unless I was reading my own work aloud as part of the editing process,) but most music was too distracting.

When I was going through the Holly Lisle ‘How to Revise Your Novel’ course last March, I got to the Monastery exercise where you leave a lot of the everyday world behind, and your last draft of your novel and your notes, and just sort of meditate your way to the perfect revision outline for the book. 😉 It’s a really great process, and one of the things Holly prescribed to leave behind was listening to music… with lyrics. She also seemed to be biased against a variety of instrumental music, and suggested leaving Classical Gas on an endless loop if you wanted any music in the monastery, but I couldn’t face any one tune that much, so I started putting together a list of all the instrumental music that I love. That was the moment my Monastery playlist was born.

The playlist was a great comfort to be on that first trip through the Monastery, both while I was actually working on my outline and as I walked the streets of my neighborhood trying to figure out what I wanted my book to be. I brought it back when I started Block Revision on “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children”, and gradually I’ve started to rely on it more and more whenever I have revision or editing to do. This particular collection of music just seems to be a really good fit with that task.

Some of the highlights of the playlist:

  • Mozart Concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra
  • The Firefly soundtrack and Serenity score
  • The Simpsons movie soundtrack
  • Any piano solo by John Sheard
  • Natalie McMaster on the fiddle
  • Selections from the ‘Pickin’ on’ Bluegrass series
  • “The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe.” (I think the Serenians of Zeta Cygnus deserved to make the cut, but anyway… 😀 )
  • Bach Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
  • A few orchestral versions of Madonna and REM songs

And on and on – there’s quite a bit of Leahy, some Rankin family, and a bunch of random instrumental tracks that just happened to turn up on albums that were otherwise conventional pop vocals.

I’ve become such a fan of my Monastery playlist that I even have versions of it on a couple of different devices to make sure that I can get at it when I need to. It started out on the iPhone, and is still there. Was on the desktop tower for a while, to sync with the iPhone, but the tower is with us no more. Sometime in the fall, I started copying the monastery music to an SD card that I could play in my Palm TX PDA, and then in December I loaded it onto my 1 gigabyte Sandisk Sansa player. (Well, as much of it as could fit. The entire playlist is around 1.2 gigs now.) And I’ve got it on the red netbook now too, in iTunes so that I can sync changes to the iPhone still.

Do you have any particular music that you like for a project or a specific stage of your writing?


TGIFBC

December 21, 2012

This acronym was offered by a friend of mine at work today, and I think it’s very appropriate. Thank Goodness It’s (the) Friday Before Christmas. 🙂

I’ll be able to work a half-day from home on Monday, for Christmas Eve, and then I have Christmas Day up at my sister’s place, Boxing Day, and I don’t need to go back into the office until next Thursday. On the other hand, I’m kind of on-call for work stuff, but I don’t expect that’ll be too bad.

On the creative front, things are going fairly well. I’ve done some Block Revision on ‘The Storm Mirror’ every morning this week except for Monday, (when I left early to take the bus and got some writing done on ‘Time Bubble Trap’,) and I picked up my art stuff with ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ today, for the first time since October.

TGIFBC to all of you, especially anybody who doesn’t need to go into work on Christmas Eve! 🙂


May the muse be with you

December 17, 2012

I feel like I’ve hit my creative stride over the past few days, for the first time since Nano, really. I already mentioned that my Saturday was productive in several ways.

Sunday, I started the block revision of ‘The Storm Mirror’, marking up the first two scenes and then rewriting the next few on the Alphasmart Dana. Then it was down to Williams on the pier, meeting up with Elizabeth Twist and Gale, where I started a new story, “Time Bubble Trap”, partially based on “Project Fast Track” from last year.

Today, I got more of “Time Bubble Trap” on the bus to and from work, writing on the eeePC. We got stuck in traffic for an extra fifteen minutes because the Hamilton Harbor lift bridge was up, but the battery was charged up enough that I could write for most of the extra time! I also read some of a Temperance Brennan book on the Kindle, “Deadly Decisions.”

So I feel like I’m well over the post-Nano crash, and riding a wave of creative energy. The next few days might be a little hard to find time for writing or revisions, though. Tomorrow evening is the Hamilton Writer’s meeting at Chester’s, and that should be fun. I’m going to bring the opening pages of “The Gnomes are Missing” again – this time other people have RSVPed, so I should be able to actually read them.

And Wednesday evening, my mother and I have tickets for the Vinyl Cafe concert at Hamilton Place, which is a holiday season tradition for us that I’m looking forward to.

Hopefully I’ll be able to fit more Block Revision in tomorrow before I have to leave for work.


A few quick updates

September 24, 2012

Had a GREAT time at the Doctor Horrible screening on Saturday – got a chance to catch up a little on ‘The Guild’, though I really need to watch some more of it, and sang my heart out. I also won the biggest charity auction lot of the evening, including the Joebot ‘Doctor Horrible’ t-shirt, which I’ve been keeping an eye out for ever since I missed it on teefury. 🙂 And I had a great time at the Pauper’s Pub shindig.

I’ve been making some good progress on my end-of-the-month goals, including making notes on the home-workshop stories to critique, and putting together the Block Revision draft of ‘Children.’ I had one scary moment when I thought I’d completely forgotten to do any revision whatever on scene 18 – there wasn’t a file on the Alphasmart called block18, so at first I figured that I’d edited it entirely on the printouts, but there was no editing markup on any of the right pages. Finally I found the content at the end of the block17 Alphasmart file. 😉 There hadn’t been a clear dividing line between the scenes so I just kept on typing.

And I’m just one story shy of my ’52 books in 2012′ goal, since I finished “Star Trek TNG: Behind Enemy Lines’ on the bus this morning.


My Nano ML’s journey has begun, kind of

September 13, 2012

I went to meet some writer friends and fellow Wrimo-ers at a new coffee shop this evening, scouting it out as a possible Nanowrimo venue. One of the friends is a many-times Hamilton ML, and I’m joining her as Nanowrimo Co-ML for the first time ever. We decided that the place, the Mulberry cafe, would be a pretty good place for a Kick-off party, because we can reserve their gallery room, but maybe not so good for a write-in as the only tables with outlets are also closest to the loud music.

I’m very excited about being a Nanowrimo ML for the first time, but also a bit nervous about the responsibility, and of having to keep up with my friend. I’ve been ML for Script Frenzy before, but that was always fairly small and low-key. I’m going to need to up my game for November. It should be a fun challenge.

I also got two short scenes finished for Block Revision, and Elizabeth Twist got a page and a bit scribbled in with her pen. (My Co-ML brought a netbook, but wasn’t able to get any writing done, blaming the music.)

So it was a great evening.


Block revision: Picking up where I left off

September 8, 2012

So, I said at the end of July that I’d resume Block Revision (Lesson 17 from the Holly Lisle ‘How to Revise your Novel’ course,) in September after I was back home from Dragon*Con. It took a few days, but I started on Thursday, and now I’ve got four new scenes blocked out, taking me up to scene 39 out of 57 scenes on my Focus Outline.

It’s going okay so far, but I feel like I’m in stop-and-go traffic instead of cruising down the revision highway. I’ll set the timer for 45 minutes, play the Monastery music, sit down, bang out one scene, look at the next… and have just no idea what I need to do with it. I think maybe I’m just out of touch with the Focus Outline, and maybe what I need to do next is review every card from here to the end of the book and let my subconscious chew on them and figure things out.

Or I may need to get the entire Block Revision layout back on the living room table. I’ve only been getting what I need so far, which includes:

  • Alphasmart
  • Focus cards
  • Completed pages
  • Pages yet to work on
  • Pens
  • Important character notes
  • Binder of not-so-important notes
  • Beverage container
  • Snacks if I can work them into the diet

Then again, maybe I’m worrying over nothing. It took me a while to work up to speed in July, even after the week of preparations I took to make sure I was ready to start on Block Revision.

I’ll get it done. I’m sure of that.


I can’t even be punctually insecure…

September 7, 2012

Or – I was so excited to tell you guys about Dragon*Con that I forgot about Insecure Writer’s Support Group until today. So sorry about that.

What I’ve been feeling most insecure about lately is storytelling and narrative. I feel that I’ve grown more capable in my use of language over the past year or two, and I’ve never doubted my creativity and imagination. But I’ve also learned that you need to have an instinct for putting together a plot in a way that it’s satisfying to other readers, and I’m despairing a bit of being able to do that, worried that every premise I come up with is cliche, or that every story structure I try to write is broken.

And yet – I keep writing, keep working on the craft, because it’s what I do, and because I know that incredible things can happen if you just keep at it. I’m not sure if I came up with anything actually usable in Camp Nanowrimo this year, but I certainly had fun. And I’m back on Block Revision for ‘Save the Children’ now – and I’m certainly learning good things there, with the HTRYN course.

Are you insecure or secure lately?


Finished with Block Revision – for now…

July 31, 2012

Well, it’s the last day of July, and I’ll be working on a new story for Camp Nanowrimo starting tomorrow. 🙂 Which means that I’m going to put the Holly Lisle ‘How to Revise your Novel’ course, and my Block Revision, aside until September, even though I’ve only finished 35 scenes out of fifty-seven.

Even though I’m still a little disappointed with my progress, I’m really pleased with the revision so far when I look at what I’ve accomplished in the past few weeks. I’ve rewritten the majority of those scenes in their entirety, because I could see what I wanted, but not find enough of the right words in my first draft. (sigh.) I’ve learned how to edit in pen on paper where the scene was ‘green’ enough to do that, with my own little markup notion of insert scenes from the Alphasmart Dana where needed.

I think that the break will do me good, and I’m looking forward to getting back to Holly Lisle in September… around the 4th or so, because for the first few days of September I’ll be much too busy at Dragon*Con to do any revising! 😉

I still haven’t packed up all the revision stuff on my living room table, (some of which I haven’t really used – the blank typing paper, the scotch tape and pens, most of the post-its, three colors of pens, and the jerky.) It’ll probably get packed up somewhere safe over the next few days.

So – how are your summer projects going. Is anybody else looking forward to Camp?


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