Monday, April 6, 2020

E is for endurance

Endurance you say! Yes, revising is an endurance sport. Like long-distance running or lake swimming (as in swimming across a lake - a wonderful sport beyond my ken at this point). Once begun, one must endure, even if you feel your energy lagging. It helps massively to have a deadline, even if self-imposed and without any threat to health or property. I have one, this time around, as I've engaged an editor to help me get this ms in ship-shape for selling. I will have had roughly seventy days to get this from first draft and details (beat sheets, character analysis, and back story)  to 2nd draft. I have about forty days to go. Eep. At that point I will send it off to the editor and she will go through it with a comprehensive edit. Then back to me for changes, and I have a few worthy types who will give it a copy edit. Then, hopefully, out! During these few months of the revision, I have to keep plugging, day by day, making sure I'm not spinning my wheels in the mud of weird plot points, and moving towards that finish line. 

I did the Dublin marathon when I was fifty - walking, but it is just as long. the main struggle is with your mind. My body can walk that long, but my mind tries to convince me it can't. Working on a novel altogether is an endurance sport. I can write a poem in a couple of days - maybe revise it a few times and done. Even a full-length play can be done fairly quickly. A short-story takes awhile, but truly - no comparison. With this novel I got 80 thousand words done in two months. But it has been simply years of frigging around since then. Now I can see the finish line and I must keep my pace steady - work in my splits - I know near the end I'll have more energy, not less, so might get more done. I've figured it out intuitively so far - that I will slowly build up to working longer each day, and give myself time to fall, get stuck on a plot point, etc... by building in more time than I need. Endurance is a mental game - not panicking and working too hard and burning out, but developing a pace that suits my temperament, age and desire!  
Here is a photo of the Dublin 2002 race. I'm in there somewhere. I'm wearing green if that helps!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Detail in the A to Z of Revising

Detail is something you need to pay attention to when revising. When I'm doing a first draft I move along, making the broad strokes, trying to find the large shapes, the rough form. Now, revising, I work at a snail's pace, taking all the time I need to find just the right word, checking my facts, layering in themes and motif. A near approximation isn't going to cut it. It might be close enough for jazz, but it isn't nearly close enough for a revision. When finding the story, I say to my inner critic "later". When revising, later is now.

Diary of a woman on the verge of a zombie apocalypse: doing this A to Z challenge seems idiotic right now. I might not do anymore. Everything seems so surreal and, at the same time, ordinary - or familiar. The beating you were expecting has finally happened - no need to worry about it.

Friday, April 3, 2020

C is for Character Studies in the A to Z of Revising

haracter Studies

The second tool in my revision process is my book of character studies. Like my beat sheets these are hand-written in a coil-bound notebook. Now these are de rigeur for most writers, I'm sure - but maybe most writers do them up before they start their first draft. I can't do that as I'm writing in the dark in the beginning. I don't know a thing about my story before I fly at it. I don't even know the genre. I'm a pantser. But if there is one thing I've learned during this novel writing time - whether you do it before (plotters) or after (pantsers) it requires the same amount of work. Obviously, by the time my first draft is done, I know quite a bit about my characters - but not enough. So, I go back into my notebook and write down everything I should know before beginning my revision. I use Elizabeth George's tips in her book Write Away to make sure I'm capturing everything needed. George is a true plotter - she basically writes a book before writing a book - and gawd knows it works for her. 

I have to have a little aside here - I truly think being a pantser  or plotter is no more a choice than our gender. So, I can see that it might be truly satisfying to approach things so meticulously and not have to take apart a whole ms because I didn't know something at the beginning of the draft that I know at the end - but I could no more be a plotter than grow wings. 

Back to character studies - there is something so helpful about doing them when I do. For instance, in Crooked Knife, the mystery I'm revising right now - I discovered something about one of the characters that led to another suspect in the murders - and I needed another suspect. I write the character studies with the same not-knowing as  I write the first draft and allow myself to be surprised. Then, along with my beat sheets, and my backstory, I go to work. George uses something in her character studies that is so helpful - she finds out what each character's core need is and there pathological maneuvering to meet that need. Very helpful! 

Okay, time to get to work, see you tomorrow. Keep well and I promise to never tell you to wash your hands. Look where it got Lady Macbeth!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

B is for Beat Sheets in the A to Z of Revising

eat Sheets

What is a beat sheet you may ask, and how does one use it in revising a manuscript. A beat sheet tells me at a glance what is happening in every scene of my book. I don't make them until I have that first awful draft - because that is what it is for. It shows me the bones of what I have. I became a convert after reading a book by Roz Morris called Nail Your Novel. I write my beat sheets by hand and use all sorts of little codes and arrows and colours to show me what is happening (and more importantly - what is not happening). Each scene tells in very short form - the action and its purpose. As I wrote the first set of beat sheets (I have six for this novel as it is a mystery and has, therefore, some tricksy bits), I didn't write what my changes would be but I would write - change this! or  tighten this! or toss this! I colour code certain things (yellow for change warning) - maybe red herrings or a main characters arc - whatever I think will help me see at a quick glance what needs to be done next. Using that, my background story (what happens that isn't explicit in the book but needs to be known) and character studies, I go in and start to revise. Today I decided to do a second set, at least as far as I've revised (more than mid-way). This one is on bigger  paper and it has several columns - When/ What happens/Purpose/ ?s Arising/ Possible Changes.
The Questions Arising column is very helpful. As I go through the ms I get these ideas or questions - this is a perfect tool for capturing them. Why do I do them by hand - I do lots of things by hand. It just helps me think in a different way - then I can have my digital ms up in front of me and all these bits and bites around - helping me through. I wish I had a cork wall - that would make me very happy - but in this time of not going out much, we are also attempting to make do with what we have - seeing skinny times ahead. So - this will suffice.
That's it for today! Runners up for the letter B were Boys in the Basement (check my 2015 Abcedaria of Revising) and Bum Glue.

Hope you are all doing well and enjoying the positives of this weird new world.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

IWSG and A to Z of Revising - A is for attitude and My Mum

Yep, it's another meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. As well, it is the first day of the A to Z Challenge 2020!  I didn't do this the last couple of years because of this and that, but thought this would be the ideal time to jump back in. Thirdly, it is the 28th anniversary of my mother's death, and I remember her here too.

But first - the IWSG

April 1 question - The IWSG’s focus is on our writers. Each month, from all over the globe, we are a united group sharing our insecurities, our troubles, and our pain. So, in this time when our world is in crisis with the covid-19 pandemic, our optional question this month is: how are things in your world?

Ah, how are things in my world? Well, the first thing that comes to mind, is that I cannot think of this as my world, even for a moment. We have been reminded, in no uncertain terms, that this is one world, the world, or maybe, if we include all phenomena, from the grass in the field to the mountain tops to the deer in my garden to we feeble humans, we can call it our world.  

Now that we've got our semantics straight - the thing I can talk about is me. I'm okay. I'm not sick, not even a little bit, but I'm being very careful. As a senior with a set of dicky lungs, I do not want to get this thing. And, ever since my fella and I had a five year sojourn in Labrador, I developed a longing for solitude. I don't work very much, and being a psychotherapist I had already had a practice that included skype calls, so that works out. I'm right in the middle of a revision and have 48 days to finish it - so perfect. I spend the rest of my time connecting online with family and friends, doing my Buddhist practice, quilting, and hanging out with my dear fella and dog. I can walk with Bella in the woods near our place so I'm getting daily exercise. I am worried about some of my younger connections. Their lives have been disrupted - money and safety are both issues. 

My daily meditation practice helps me with keeping my thinking clear. I'm not scared, and I can see that this might have some very long lasting benefits for our world, if the human element can learn some new (very old) tricks. The interesting thing for me is that there is no one to blame, ultimately (though people will blame) and no reason to feel that any race, gender, religion, country, political affiliation, has been hit any harder than any other. Yes, there are more vulnerable people - I cannot imagine the depth of fear in refugee camps for instance - but the disease is like the weather - it is affecting us all.

I'm sending out posts more often - I write on another blog Sojourner in Nova Scotia and email it to a list of folks - and I find I'm posting more regularly on that site as I know people like to hear.  As a writer, I'm paying attention to how people respond - in that way it is influencing my writing. I see how so much anger originates in fear, and how fragile some human systems are. I also am seeing how much kindness people have - the reaching out of people to others is tremendously touching. 

And nature heals. This morning there was a yearling in our back yard and it was there poking about for ten or twenty minutes. So pleasing. On my morning walk with Bella I saw several more deer on the road. They move like woodland dancers.

A to Z Challenge 2020

What shall my theme be? I can never think of it until I start - no theme reveals for me, as it hasn't been revealed to me. I've done short stories by picking a word in the dictionary; women writers who have influenced me, writerly tips, and I don't know what else. As this is my writing blog, I do like it to be linked to my crazy writing life in some way. I know - revision tips! That's what I'm doing at present and it might help others. I love revising so why not? Okay...

PS:when I labelled this I realized I'd done this a few years back...well okay!

The A to Z of Revising

A is for Attitude

Attitude, you say! What is attitude when it comes to revising? Everything! I really like revising - I think that is where the real writing in writing lives. Sure, I can get caught up in the white heat of laying down a first draft, but it is when I'm revising that my words begin to match the vision in my mind. So, my attitude when revising is cheerful curiosity. Or, at least that is the attitude I want to keep. Sometimes I get bogged down - what did that pesky writer mean by writing this heap of undistinguished words? But, I remember that as well as being the reviser, I am the pesky writer, and let my patience come to the fore. That is another virtue I must encourage when revising - patience - as it is needed in great amounts. I write hot and revise cool, so I need patience and a sense of detachment.  What attitude do you need to do your work?

My Mum

My mum, Beatrice Beulah, was a red-head with plenty of attitude. She was kind to the vulnerable, impatient with the ignorant, and loved to get lost in a good book. I have been thinking of her quite a bit during this pandemic. I know she would have considered what others might need at this time - whether it was a phone call or a pan of brownies.  I don't have that many photos of my mum as she was a photo-fobe - but I just found this one and I like it because she looks like I remember her - hair done, nails done, face on!