Writer’s Workspace: 11/5

Welcome to this writer’s workspace. Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk.

What I’m working on: Today is an editing day. Final edits on two short stories I’m about ready to start sending out to markets and some edits on the latest draft pages of PROJECT AWESOME. Edits and tea. Yup. That’s what’s up today.

Snippet from the screen:

I let myself in and continued on through the entry to the living room. I expected to find it empty–mom was usually out in the garden this time of day and dad would be at the University. To my surprise, though, my mom was sitting in the living room, dressed to the nines. And she wasn’t alone.

She appeared to be hosting the Stepford wives for tea.

There were three of them, all frosted blonde hair and afternoon pearls, plus my mom. I leaned against the door jamb, unhappily aware that I’d left a smear of blood on the cream paint.

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses is perched, as per usual, in his Tower of Terror, looming behind me with baleful eyes….(okay, maybe that last part is a minor exaggeration)

In my mug: a steaming cup of Harney and Sons Palm Court tea. So yummy 🙂

On the iTunes: Anyone Else but You, by the Moldy Peaches

Out the window: winter. It is apparently now winter. Cold, grey. You get the idea. (makes a frowny face…)

Procrastinators Paradise: if you haven’t already checked it out, I have a book review of Jenna Black’s YA book REPLICA up on Adventures in SciFi Publishing. Good book. Fun read. There’s also an interesting post up on Jody Hedlund’s blog about deals we writers make with our readers and the consequences of breaking them. Though, be warned, the post contains spoilers for Veronica Roth’s Allegiant.  Also, IO9 has got a bit up on some yummy F/SF books coming out this month. Check it out!

Alright. That’s all from here. Back to editing!

So it begins…

Summer! It’s here at last. The semester is over. My Cold of Doom is finally gone. And I’m back from what was meant to be my summer kick-off, a writing retreat in the Colorado Rockies.

So far, the summer’s been a little inauspicious. I was sick for most of the writing retreat (which didn’t prevent me from enjoying myself, but which was kind of a bummer). We’re facing down a long weekend of rain, rain, and more rain here in Brooklyn. And, as per usual, I seem to have packed the next few months so full of travel that I’ll probably have less time to write than I did during the semester. Silly me.

Next week a good friend of ours will be visiting us from Germany. Then it’s down to Philadelphia to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary (yay!). Then I go to Kansas City to spend some time doing work with my archaeology colleague at his campus. Then my mother-in-law is here for a week. Then we’re in Seattle for two. Whew. I’m getting tired just thinking about it! At the same time, I know it’ll be fun. I always ask, ‘why do I do this to myself’ and then I remember the answer (‘oh, right, I can’t help it!’). Plus, as of now, we’re not going anywhere for the whole of August. Which will be weird. And wonderful.

Anyway, if I can get writing done during the rush of the semester, I can squeeze some in during summer craziness too. I’m currently on the last editing pass for ABSENT, and have started drafting my query letter. That will be out the door very soon, happily. I got a lot of good worldbuilding and plot arc notes on my newest novel idea at the Colorado retreat, as well as some great discussions to resolve a few issues that have cropped up in PROJECT AWESOME. There is no shortage of work to be done. I’m feeling optimistic, though. As I prepare to send ABSENT out to agents, I can really see the improvements in my writing since the last novel I subbed. They are substantial and bridge everything from prose to structure to general confidence in my craft.

Maybe this will be the one.

Wait, who’s driving this thing?!

…oh, yeah, that’s me. Whoops. Sorry the bus exited the freeway, took the back roads, and ended up in a ditch with its wheels in the air. My bad.

Driver’s back now, though. Never fear.

I’ve been busy in my absence from the blog. In the category of YES FINALLY, I wrapped up edits on the latest (and hopefully last) major rewrite of my archaeological time travel novel, ABSENT, and shipped it off to my faithful and deeply awesome readers. That’s a huge burden lifted and frees me up to work on new projects. Yay! New projects 🙂

I have two short stories drafted that I’ve really been wanting to get back to and clean up. I’ve also got a lot of wonderful feedback on PROJECT AWESOME from PLIII that I want to incorporate so I can carry on with drafting.

Fortunately, my schedule is about to open up. This last Wednesday was my final day of classes and next Wednesday is the big day for final exams. Right now I’m buried under a pile of research papers and exams so deep I can’t see daylight. But a red pen and a bottle of wine should see me through. And then, soon, I will be released into that magical land known as Summer. I’ll eat mint gelato every day and dance in the park under a big moon and swim like a fish. Well, maybe not. Probably I’ll do a shitload of traveling, write as much as I possibly can, and try to re-acclimatize myself to NYC’s patented summer scent – the aroma of hot garbage.

Also on the horizon is a writing retreat with new friends and old in Colorado. I’m really looking forward to this one. We’ll be flying into Denver and taking a train deep into the mountains to some crazy little town with hot springs. Our hotel looks like it’s straight out of The Shining. Nine writers at a historic hotel in a backwoods town in the Colorado Rockies…what could possibly go wrong? 😉

Ha – that’s a good short story in the making!

ABSENT is, at last, present

Yesterday afternoon I finished the most recent (and hopefully final) major revisions to ABSENT, my archaeological time travel novel. It clocks in at 95,700 words. This version was the third full rewrite of the book, coming on the heels of an extensive round of reader feedback.

There’s no denying this is an important milestone in the life of the project, but finishing up yesterday felt anti-climatic–I suppose because I’m still facing down several editing passes.

I’ll do one for word and sentence level issues (10% Solution-style), one for character consistency and body language, and one for white-room correction and description issues. One section of the book is set in the 1920’s so I’ll also do a sub-pass on that section for period details. Then the novel will go out to a smaller group of readers for minor tweaks and, barring large plot-level issues cropping up, I’ll start prepping it for agents.

I have to say that while it might have felt like a non-event yesterday, being done with the rewrite portion of the draft feels pretty fab this morning–as if a hairy, three-toed monster with six eyes and bad breath has finally been banished from where he was lurking over my shoulder. This revision took longer than I planned or wanted, and I have a number of other projects in varying stages of completion that have long been angling for my attention. It’s glorious to know I’ll be able to turn to them soon.

Spring break starts at the end of this week, which means I’ve got seven days of beach time coming up. This beach, to be exact:

Spring Bay Beach, BVI
Spring Bay Beach, BVI

This offers the perfect editing deadline to shoot for, as well as the perfect opportunity to load the finished draft on my Nook and give it a proper look for readability. Plus, if I identify serious problems, there’s always a bottle of Caribe to drown my sorrows in 😉

So, yes, at long last I am done with major rewrites on ABSENT. I would be amiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to my Beta readers. The changes I’ve made to the novel are substantial and many were inspired by the insightful feedback I received on the previous draft. So, thank you Steve, Cath, George, Micah, Christian, Eric, Kris, Barbara, and Phil — as well as my crit groups from the Vegas workshop and Paradise Lost II.

Okay. So, my reward for finishing the draft is a weekend spent grading exams, followed by heavy manuscript editing…thus, no time to waste!

Back to work.

Edit me: tricks for revising

As many of you know, I recently finished my second novel, BLOOD RED SUN.  Part of this process involved a lot of serious revising and editing.  Awhile back, I wrote a post about some of the changes I felt I needed to make and how I approached revising as a process.  Today I follow up on that post by sharing the revising and editing tricks I used.  I make no special claims at expertise here,  but merely share things I found useful in the hopes that you may too.

Revising and editing a novel poses two major differences from revising a short story: 1. keeping track of of all the different threads in the novel, and 2. getting through its not-inconsiderable bulk without losing focus.  For the former, the use of a diagram or spreadsheet can be really useful; create rows for each chapter and columns for its setting, the characters present, the action that occurs, the character development that occurs, and so forth.  I use strikethrough and different colors to keep track of changes.

When it comes to keeping focus, I create a hierarchy of revisions – big stuff (plot changes, character development, and so on) first, followed by smaller changes (improvement of setting, fine-tuning description details, etc.), and, finally, editing.  Then, for each type of revision, I make multiple passes through the manuscript.

In the final revisions of BLOOD RED SUN I had several areas I knew I wanted to revise.  One was to improve the textural feel of the world (the sights, sounds, tastes, and so forth).  Another was to work on bringing out my protagonist’s thoughts and feelings; showing her emotions through her actions and reactions.  Doing both of these things at once seemed daunting, so I separated them and gave my full attention to each in different passes through the novel.  This might seem like it would take more time, but it actually speeds things up — you move through each chapter more quickly because you are working on just one thing, and one thing only.

Still, during an editing pass I sometimes find I can maintain clear-eyed focus for only a few chapters.  At that point, I stop being able to edit and just start reading.  When you’re reading, your eyes tend to skip over small errors and you forget exactly what it is you were supposed to be looking for in the first place.  Worse, you get fatigued and the earlier chapters end up being much more highly revised and edited than the later ones.

One way to overcome this challenge is to break the novel up into non-contiguous sections.  A trick I found effective was to revise randomly.  I wrote all the chapter numbers on little slips of paper and put them in a bowl.  I’d draw one, revise whatever chapter was listed, and then draw another.  This kept me from getting pulled into the story and allowed me to focus on the book in little sections, really honing my editing knife.

When I draft, I also often leave bits unwritten.  These bits are peppered throughout the novel, written in brackets, and colored red to remind me of their languishing and unloved state.  An example: [insert DESCRIPTION OF THE CAMP here] or [look up SPECIES OF SNAKE].  During revision I have to go back and fix all these bad boys.  Many of them tend to be description related and it can get tough to think up beautiful new descriptions off the cuff.

To solve this problem, I create master documents with descriptions of the world.  BLOOD RED SUN was a desert world, so I had fifteen different ways of describing the sand, twenty-five different ways of describing cactus (plus a list of all the species of cactus), ten different ways of talking about the way morning light hits the mountains, how the air smells after it rains, and so on.  As I went through the manuscript, I’d use these descriptions in appropriate places, marking them off on the master sheet so I wouldn’t repeat them.  This worked so well for me that I actually ended up doing separate sheets for descriptions of the various cities, of the clothing people wore, and of the food they ate.

Finally, for the smallest level stuff – fixing typos, excising excess words, and tightening the prose — I used the method laid out in the 10% Solution (a genius little book).  Here you use the search function in your word processing program to focus on a single word (“that” or “of” or “was”, for instance).  You go through each and every instance of this in the novel and decide whether to revise, remove, or keep the offending sentence.  This is sooooo tedious, BUT it really works because it forces you to focus at the level of the sentence without any other distractions, something you could never do if you were reading as opposed to using ‘search’.  The method is called the 10% Solution because it usually results in you axing about 10% of your word count (all of it flab).

So, those are my tricks:

  • Using a spreadsheet to keep track of your plot lines, characters, and arcs
  • Making multiple passes, each focused on a very specific type of revision
  • Chopping the novel up into sections and editing them randomly as opposed to reading through them in order
  • Using master sheets for world-building (descriptions, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc)
  • Using the 10% Solution to hone the manuscript into a lean, mean machine

What do you think – do any of these things sounds helpful?  Are you already doing some of them?  What other editing and revising tricks have you found effective?

Do tell.