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When Editing Becomes Tinkering

by Jonathan 0 Comments

Hope you didn’t come here to find out where that line is. I suspect it’s different for different writers.

I finished the fourth draft of my novel a few weeks ago and have jumped into what I hope are final edits (at least until someone tells me otherwise). I am no stranger to revision and trying to make my work the best it can be, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to make it better.

What I worry about is that I will delve deeper into things as I look for spelling, punctuation and clarity errors. It seems like things can always be improved and I worry about slipping into full revision mode.

I suppose when it comes down to it, there are worse things that can happen, but there’s that line between improving and ruining that’s hard to define. It’s like over-mixing your pancake batter and getting rubbery disks, that, while edible, are hardly memorable.

Here’s a pretty cool take on How to Stop Making Yourself Crazy with Self-Editing from Coppyblogger.

Once the brain makes enough mistakes — and corrects them — it now has a database of information that it can call upon at any time. Your brain has now reached its level of competency in that field, be it walking, talking or writing.

Makes sense.

And there you have it. Writers write and all that. Now, off to make more mistakes.

The Word of the Day is Snow

by Jonathan 4 Comments
New River Gorge Bridge and Train in snow.

Just over the hill from the writing shack.

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Don’t know if you’ve got snow in your neck of the woods today, but we’re getting plenty of snow blowing in on bitter wind here in southern West Virginia. Here’s a video that captures the vibe, with a little steam and driving sixties groove thrown in for good measure.

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This weather brought to you courtesy of Snow Miser.

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I’m hunkered down in the writing shack trying to keep my feet warm and finish up this draft of Shadow of the Black City. I broke 100k yesterday and hope to wrap things up by the end of the week.

Send the Artist Out for Coffee

by Jonathan 2 Comments

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They say a kiss is just a flower that a bee might return from
And do his little dance at the hive
Perhaps it’s worth mentioning as I write this song down
I am the happiest f*cker alive
Because the seashore cries out for a painter to paint it
And the wind whips the water and the foam
Because I am sad, sad, sad, sad
And I’m far away from home.

Peter Mulvey – Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad (And Far Away From Home)

In that verse, Peter Mulvey captures what, for me, is the nature of my writing existence. My psyche suffers from whiplash during the struggle that is all but silent to those outside my mind. Almost every day I’m at the keyboard, working and writing, experiencing the joy of creating, the pleasure of a well-turned phrase. And also every day, I despair of my incompetence and my struggle to capture with words the images in my mind and my inexpertly woven story.

Then I tell the artist to go out for coffee or a walk or anything that will get him out of the house.

As soon as I hear the door close behind the poor wretch, I pick up my cell phone and invite the other guy over, the one with the rolled up sleeves, the pants with the greasy sheen on the thighs, and the utilitarian hands. He’s far less mercurial than the artist and doesn’t mind plowing ahead and taking time to build and tear down and build again. He can take whatever wreckage the artist created in frustration, slowly pull it apart, assess the value of the parts and begin putting them back together. This time the story may sit a bit lower than before, but I can climb it and jump off without worrying that it will collapse. I can look at the simplicity of the work and appreciate the structure as opposed to appreciating the complexity of the work and trying not to see the suspect framework.

And after the hard work is done, me and the builder, we have a beer and sit in silence and satisfaction at what we’ve created. The worker leaves and the artist arrives, a little ashamed. He takes in what we’ve done while he was gone and he nods. He knows the builder must come and that it’s better if the he, the artist, is not around when that time comes. Because the artist knows that he will again have his turn to make the work shine in the morning it is unveiled and every morning thereafter.

I like to think I’m not the only one.

Layers and Texture – Revising Your Writing

by Jonathan 5 Comments

Hidden portrait is seen under the Vincent van Gogh painting ''Patch of Grass'' from 1887

Check out the cool Van Gogh picture to the left. Using high intensity X-Rays, Scientists discovered the face over which Van Gogh painted Patch of Grass. Cool. Even cooler is, unlike scientists at Delft University, you’re the one adding the layers and your readers get to uncover them.

I’m a little over a third of the way through the second draft of my novel and it reminds me of  creating amazing textures in Photoshop. Like Photoshop, the writer begins with pretty ordinary stuff: A story, some words, some images floating around our imagination. By themselves they don’t amount to much. Heck, even your story is a collection of bits of stories that have already been told.

Good thing it’s the telling that sets your story apart.

My first draft, which I recounted here, left much to be desired. Through the first third of my second draft, I am focusing on getting the story down – tighter story arc, fewer characters, plausible motivations. I’m looking to write something that I can build on during my next round of revisions. And you can be sure there will be more revision.

So far, I’m please with the results. As I write, I’m conscious that my prose is pretty bare at this point, but that’s okay because I’ll be teasing out the tone and moods I want to create, as well as character story arcs and the characters themselves. Carol Benedict over at The Writing Place blog offers this perspective on using revisions to add layers to your story:

Adding layers to the basic story serves several purposes:

1.  Characters can be fleshed out so they become more realistic.

2.  Foreshadowing can be inserted to give the reader clues about what lies ahead, so when events occur they make sense and seem believable.

3.  Relationships can be strengthened or clarified so they are easier to understand.

4.  Descriptions and sensory details can be expanded to make the setting more authentic.

5.  Word choices can be refined to elicit the desired tone, and make the dialog more realistic.

Having a solid foundation to build upon is crucial, but adding in layers of subplots, exposition, and specific details can transform a basic plot into a complex, unique story.

The endgame is to provide a richness to my writing that not only compels the reader to turn the pages, but also resonates with said reader after the book has been put back on the shelf – or better yet – passed along to the reader’s friend with whom they want to share the experience.

Part of the effect of layering can result in what Donald Maas calls bigness over at Writer Unboxed. As he puts it at the end of the post:

Crafting a big novel is a big commitment. But then, who wants to write small?