Writing Journal 5 October 2022: Strange end to September

So, taking a look at my numbers for the last week, they appear to indicate both good and bad news. Let’s just get to it.

Writing statistics for the week ending 1 October 2022:
3,038 words written.
Days writing: 4 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 3 of 7 for 390 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 4 of 7 days.

Writing statistics for September 2022:
Words: 15,558
Revise/Plan: 630 minutes
Daily Writing Goals Met: 75%

It was weird all around both last week and last month. The total word count was a bit of a drop from the levels I was at this past summer, but I’ve had at least two months with a lower count this year. This month was easily the most that I put in for revising and planning work, topping the second-highest month by at least 250 minutes. Finally, the number of times I met my daily writing goals was the best it has been for the past five months, so I’m happy about that.

As for my yearly goals, I am, as of the end of September, at 165, 604 words for the year to date. Despite the weird last week, that puts me more than 15,000 words above pace to match my goal of 200,000 for the entire year. I’ve also met my daily writing quotas an average of 74 percent of the time, above my goal of 70 percent for the year. I’m not even going to begin to declare victory with three months remaining in the year, but I definitely think these goals are within reach and it’s only going to be a slip-up from me that will make me miss it. I am working to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Well, I’ve been glad that I’ve been as active as I was this past week – a lot of material made it on this blog and the Substack blog, so I feel accomplished there. I’ll end up having to do more revisions this week, but I’m going to try and balance that with some new writing, so I’ll have a better week this week. My hope is to really kick it into gear during the next two months so that I can coast into December and the holiday lulls without much worry, like how a cyclist in the Tour De France will coast along with the peloton down the Champs de Elysee in Paris because they’re so far ahead on time.

I would love to coast into Christmas like that. Well, only time will tell. Writers keep writing and everyone keep safe.

Writing Journal/Random Notes 7.22.2018: Revision City

In looking at last week’s numbers, you can tell that I’m getting deep into the revision game.

+1,303 words written.

Days writing: 2 out of 7.

Days revising: 6 out of 7 for [EDIT] 510 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 7 out of 7 days.

I’d have to look, but this might be the best week I’ve recorded regarding revisions, and I’m nowhere near done. It’s definitely the first time in a long time that I met my DWGM every day of the week.

The thing that kicked off this spurt of activity was the feedback I’d gotten from one of my beta readers I really respect. That and some of the other comments I’ve received made it very clear where I should be going with this revision on The American Nine.

The good thing is that to give my character more of a struggle along this path, I’m not going to have to add any additional material. (Version 3.0 of the manuscript is hovering at around 93,000 words – I’ve said before about how I want to keep my finished manuscripts at a maximum of 95,000-100,000 words, preferably on the lower end of that scale). It’s just going to be a matter of me rewriting scenes to show more uncertainty and struggle. I realized that while I wanted to create an idea of the American Messi or Maradona with this character, the character is 17 at the start of the book and like Messi and Maradona, they had to work and rise to the top to get where they were. I have to show that process in this book.

Two random notes to close things out:

  • How much of a soccer fanatic am I? I’m seriously following the International Champions Cup that started this week. Also, it’s transfer rumor silliness time…
  • Trying to get into some new TV obsessions. Starting to pick through Stranger Things. Also saw a new trailer for the Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans MC. I’m going to be hyped for that in September.

Anyway, more later.

On Revising, Part 5: Raising the stakes

I think I’m ready for the big “Deep Think” revision on my project, The American Nine, and I’m super excited about it.

Whenever I get to about the third (out of four minimum) revisions I like to consider it to be my “Big Idea” revision. That’s when I take a look at everything about my story and see if there is anything structurally the matter with the piece. Are my characters (especially the MC) compelling? Does the story flow? Does my plot have any leaks or dead ends?

Thankfully, I had a chance to show my manuscript to some beta readers, and one in particular, a published author I’ve gotten to know well over the past couple of years. And she was nice enough to give me comments, the whole nine yards.

There’s a type of critique that really puffs you up and there’s a type of critique that pulls you down, pulls you down so hard it either breaks your will or you totally disregard it. The critique I got was a third kind – the kind that excites you with the possibilities that you didn’t see before. It’s the type of critique that shines a light onto something you didn’t realize and lights the way to a better story.

There was a lot to it, but the essential part of the critique was this (I’m paraphrasing here): “Well, it’s all good to have an interesting character going through interesting experiences. But it’s not like he’s in danger of losing, is there? Not the way you have it written. The way you have it written, I know he’s always going to succeed. There’s not the suspense there, is there?”

It was then that I realized:

I needed to raise the stakes in my novel.

Let me try to explain this a little.

One of the deadliest things that a beta reader, or any reader, really, can say about a book is, “Well, who cares?” If you want readers to care about your story, you have to make that story involve struggle.

If I was going to define what stakes were, I would lay it out like this. What does your MC have to gain if they succeed? What do they have to lose if they don’t? Are they the type of things that other readers could relate to, even if they don’t find themselves in the same situations as those characters? Could they relate to them, at least?

The problem was, my MC was always winning. Even that’s OK, but I have to make sure that it’s tough for them to do that. There has to be doubt in the readers’ minds that your character is going to succeed and some consideration of where the character is going to be if they fail.

Essentially, the premise of my book is, what would an American version of Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi look like? What would that person’s path be to soccer glory, and what would they have to overcome to make that happen?

In reading over my beta reader’s comments, I realized that I had dedicated most of my time to ensuring that my MC would reach those heights and not enough time putting obstacles in his path. For example, Diego had to overcome poverty, and Lionel had to overcome hormone deficiency to become the soccer gods they eventually became.

What did my character have to overcome to reach his goals, especially as a 17-18 year old kid starting to learn about life and what it takes to succeed? I had to show more of the building and less of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, essentially. I had to show the struggle, the climb to the top, to make sure that people cared about what happened to my MC.

That’s the challenge that I’m going to face with this next revision. I have to admit, I’m almost grinning at the challenge. There has to be a struggle, and there has to be a payoff, in life and on the page.

I’ve got some work to do. I can’t wait.

 

On Revising, Part 4: The Subject of Beta Readers

One of the cool bits about writing is how much of it is an activity that doesn’t require a lot of collaboration.

Unlike, say, movies, you don’t require a lot of collaboration from actors, directors, producers, and technical crew, not to mention additional writers. The financial budget of producing a novel, no matter how you classify that, is going to be insignificant compared to the budget of even a grade-Z film going directly to digital distribution. It’s not a coincidence that George R.R. Martin first started writing his A Song Of Ice And Fire series after being frustrated with the technical and financial limitations television had put on his ideas as a Hollywood screenwriter, ironic since that series would inspire one of the most expensive television programs in history. 🙂

Being your own boss as a fiction writer has tons of advantages. You don’t get into any arguments over whether a character or plot twist makes sense, or whether your story should be set in Los Angeles rather than an undersea colony, for example. You set your own deadlines, as well as the size of your work (within reason unless you are willing to pay to get it published).

However, one area where collaborative effort can play a significant part in writing is during the revision process. Whether you call them peer reviewers, first readers, or, as is now the fashion, beta readers, having another set of eyes to read what you’ve written can be the difference between an OK revision and a great one.

Why is this? Simply put: you as a writer are not going to be able to find every plot point not wrapped up, every unrealistic characterization, and every unfinished scene, not to mention every misspelled word. You don’t need a village to write a book, but I think you do need more than one set of eyes to revise it.

Where do you find these beta readers? Unfortunately, most of us don’t happen to live in the household of Stephen King, which wound up producing four different published authors.

So, you have to look around. I’m lucky enough to have a local writing group that I participate in. This next month, I’m actually hoping that some of them will do me the honor of reading my latest WIP. There are many online groups that have people willing to look at WIP’s, although the quality of this help can vary. I’d recommend developing acquaintances with members online before asking them to beta read.

Sometimes you can be lucky enough to get a professional critique. I’m hoping that my visit to a local writing conference will provide that to me later this month. Unless you have the resources, however, I wouldn’t spend a massive amount of money doing this.

As far as when in the revising process this should take place, I would say it should happen before you seriously consider adding and/or subtracting major portions of your manuscript. By that, I mean the heavy lifting.

Whatever form it takes, having more than just your eyes and viewpoint revising your work is key to making sure you don’t leave anything needed out and that you don’t keep anything that you don’t need.

On Revising (Part 3): Regarding word count and the joys of cutting words

I think that I reached a new level of maturity as a writer a couple of years ago when I cut 1,000 words from the manuscript I was working on at the time and I was as excited about that as I was writing 1,000 new words.

For several years, I taught writing either primarily or as part of my other language arts instruction in the general education classroom. Now, I teach special education, but I do advise many of my students regarding their writing, and some of them have writing goals that I work with them on.

Some of them have been eager writers, and some of them I’ve had to figuratively drag onto the page. But one common problem many of them have had was that they considered the process of writing to be:

  1. Get an idea.
  2. Write it down.

As I explained to you at the start of this series, that is not the case. Personally, I have come to believe that the revision is where the true heart of the writing takes place, a lesson I have tried to impart on my students and something I have worked to structure my instruction around. At the junior college level, for example, I always found that more essay peer review and instructor review had more value for the students than any live lecture that I gave.

“Liegois, you must have always been a great revising wiz, then,” you might or might not say. Or, it might be the voices in my head. I don’t know or care. However, I would have to respond to this statement by saying – Reader, there were a few holes in my game. *

Specifically, the one hole that I am thinking of is that I tended to write a lot more than I needed to. A lot more.

You’ve got to remember, I was the guy who turned a relatively simple journalism thriller into a 160,000-word opus. After I wrote it, I began reading all of the writing advice articles that said to avoid anything bigger than 100,000 words unless you were Stephen King or George RR Martin or whatever. Obviously, the idea of cutting more than one-third of an existing novel horrified me.

Until, that is, I actually did it.

Reader, you will never be as hyped as you will be when you cut that 1,000, 2,000 words from your manuscript and realize that nothing of value has been lost. Oh, my goodness, the relief you will feel from having all of those unnecessary words fall away from your work will be nothing like you’ve ever felt. It will be like the old lumbermen of the Mississippi River clearing a log jam from a bend of the river and watching the logs flow into the main channel. (I get to use the river metaphors because I live on the river, got it?)

I may have told this story before**, but I realized something about myself in my former, unfettered form, when I wrote and never had a care for how much I wrote – I wrote a lot. People tended to tell me I had an ear for dialogue when they read my stuff, which was nice – I’m a massive admirer of Elmore Leonard, so I was down with that. The only problem was, I wrote pages and pages of it. I wound up writing three pages of dialogue in a situation where one page of dialogue would have done. I realized that I should have taken in the example of Clint Eastwood when he cut out much of the dialogue from that one movie of his when he realized he didn’t need it.

The point is, when I actually started to look at what my characters were saying, I realized that they only had to say it once (maybe twice, if they were nervous), but no more than that. Once I realized that, my manuscript started to shed words 1K at a time without too much hassle. After several months, I was down to a manuscript that I could live with.

I know I am not alone in having this problem. And when I say this, I am referring specifically to one author I am a big fan of, Laurell K. Hamilton. I’m such a fan that I have, at this minute, something around a dozen paperbacks of her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series on my bookshelves. When she started getting complaints about their being too much sex and not enough crime-solving in her books, and she wrote a book that was all sexual and romantic relations and no crime solving in it, I laughed out loud and bought a copy. Trust me, I am a fan. #

But she goes on and on. There’s sex scenes that could fit into one chapter rather than two, dialogue that could wrap up after a half-page rather than three pages. None of this makes me want to not read her, don’t get me wrong. However, I want to try and avoid the same pitfalls in my own work. (Kids and peoples, that’s what you should be doing whenever you read someone else’s work, whether it’s something you like or not. You should be looking for what you should avoid just as much as what you should copy.)

When I started writing my latest project, The American Nine, I had word count in the front of my mind the minute that I started to write the rough draft. I quickly realized, as I went through my notes on the project and started to judge what could fit into less than 100,000 words, that I had more of a trilogy on my hands than a single work. I remembered the stories about how J. R. R. Tolkien shopped around his manuscript of Lord of The Rings around to his buds on the University of Cambridge campus and that they were horrified at the size of the manuscript. He wanted to put the entire Lord of The Rings story into a single volume, can you believe that? Finally, his buds on campus managed to talk some sense into him and get him to turn it into a trilogy and avoid boring generations of lit students and #SciFiFantasy fans to death. $

The point is, I’m likely not the first one that ever used the phrase make every word count, but I consider that to be an axiom in my own work. Words are important. Use them wisely. Artistic restrictions can be good for you more so than they can be bad. Just as Roger Corman or William “One Shot” Beaudine about that, and they’d tell you the same thing.@

That’s it for now; more later.

*Statement should not imply that no further holes in said game do not exist.

** Famous last words.

# Laurell, email me at liegois.writing@gmail.com. We’ll talk shop; it’ll be cool. We can talk about what it’s like to live in a Mississippi River town and what not.

$ I know I told this story before.

@ This might be the most hyperlinks I’ve ever used with a blog post.

On Revising (Part 2)

How often should you revise your work before it goes to a publisher or agent?

My advice on that is this; pick a number that seems reasonable, then add at least two more to it.

One of the things that I noticed about software is how they keep putting out new versions of older programs. Windows 1.0 becomes 5.0, Firefox is 1.0 first, and now, I believe, it’s on to 42.0 or something of that nature. (I remember a joke in Douglas Coupland’s novel Microserfs, his study of Silicon Valley tech culture in the early 1990’s, where coders call their kids 2.0. That’s still one of my favorite books of my 20’s.)

Inspired by this, I decided that whenever I write manuscripts, I will stick to this numbering format to keep track of which versions are which. With The Holy Fool, I am now technically on version 3.6. That reflects four revisions of various levels and depths from the original rough draft.

As far as your work goes, I think there should be a reasonable medium between the one revision that kids might reluctantly do for a school project and the 20 different revisions that happen to some Hollywood movie scripts. (Part of the reason behind the latter situation is that those often have multiple authors).

I think that four revisions is a decent number, a good minimum if you are doing the primary work of revision on your own. Each of those revisions should have a different purpose, as well. You should never try to do everything in a single revision, or you could easily lose track of problems you have with the manuscript. Here are different types of revisions that I go through on my projects.

  • Word count. There are plenty of writing advice articles on how big your manuscripts should be. The general consensus is that genre books and most fiction should be under 100,000 words or less. If you haven’t been watching your word count, that could result in a lot of sentences, paragraphs, or even scenes and chapters that have to depart from your work. You might think it’s impossible to cut a 160,000-word manuscript down below 100,000, but trust me, it is possible.
  • Continuity issues. I remember a scene from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando where a car is trashed rolling onto its side, Arnold rolls it right side up, and he drives away in a perfectly maintained car. You want to avoid similar silliness, which can come from calling one thing by two different names or having one thing in two different places. I changed the name of a soccer club halfway through my rough draft, so I wound up having to change pages of description. It was worth it, but you have to be meticulous when you do it.
  • Big ideas. Is your main character unlikable? Do you need to give more or less background on your story? Are there subplots that are just fizzling out? This is where your heavy lifting happens.
  • Editing and proofreading. Basically, all the mechanics, grammar, and formatting. (I actually consider this to be part of the separate editing process, although I include it here just so people remember that you have to do it.) If you can get a good reader to help you out with this, it is a part of the writing process that truly benefits from another pair of eyes.

I’ll get into the ins and outs of those different processes in a later post. For now, just keep in mind that revising is truly the heart of the writing process and the most complicated part of that process. It’s not something you’ll be able to knock out over a long weekend, that’s for sure.

Writing Journal/Random Notes, 4.1.2018: Special Easter Edition, yada yada…

OK, Spring Break for me has been a lot of time at home, but a relaxing time. Also, it’s been a great time to get revising done. To the weekly totals:

0+ words written.

Days writing: 0 out of 7.

Days revising: 5 out of 7 for 600 total minutes.

Daily writing goals met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 5 out of 7 days.

A slight improvement on the number of minutes revising, but one extra day I decided to screw around on. So, what does that mean for what I have been working on?

As it turns out, I am almost finished with the first revision of my rough draft. This is simply me reviewing the work for any continuity errors, such as what might occur when I change the names of people or organizations halfway through the book.

I’m also looking for the ability to cut any unnecessary wording or sentences. I think I’ll have to run that revision piece soon, because the only thing that comes close to writing something cool is cutting out an entire paragraph of material and realizing that I didn’t need it.

OK, let’s move on to Random Notes:

  • We are hosting Easter this year, so it might be a little bit of chaos today; that’s why I wanted to get this post out early. There will be some other posts this week, I am hoping.
  • I was glad with my progress during Spring Break, as I hadn’t expected to not only finish up my first draft, but get well into my first revision as well.
  • As for this week, it may be a situation where after I finish the first revision of the work in progress, I may let it sit for a week or so before taking another look at it. I am now tempted to pick up work on another WIP that I started thinking about last year to pass the time.
  • I’m not at the point where I feel I can announce anything, but… I did plan to have The Holy Fool published at some point this year. This is going to happen. When things get more solid, I will let everyone know and I’ll give people the opportunity to pick up a copy. I think it is past time for me to publish something if I am going to insist on calling myself a writer and continue to write a writing blog.
  • Somewhere last week I hit the 50-subscriber mark to this blog. Thanks to everyone that follows me and who is keeping up with what I’m doing; I appreciate all my readers.
  • There is a good chance that this April will see the 100th post on this blog. I’m surprised it’s gone this far, but proud that I’ve stuck with it like I have.

That’s it for now; more later.

 

Writing Journal/Random Notes, 3.25.2018: First draft done, now deep into first revision

Since I like to have candles burning when I’m writing at home, I decided to have a candle pic for this entry. I’m a bit of a fan of the Better Homes & Gardens scented candles, myself.

To the stats for this week:

0+ words written.

Days writing: 0 out of 7.

Days revising: 7 out of 7 for 455 total minutes.

Daily writing goals met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 6 out of 7 days.

So, it’s obvious that this was a heavy revision week. Actually, it might be the most time that I have ever revised during a week since I began tracking my word counts last year.

I actually wound up doing a quick proofreading revision of The Holy Fool and, as I promised last week, got started on the first revision of The American Nine. In the latter case, I know people often recommend that you let a book sit after you finish a first draft. However, I consider this to be a “rough revision,” not intended for me to consider any major changes or anything of that nature. The only item this will cover trying to eliminate needless words, reducing word count as much as possible, and tying up continuity.

So, a few Random Notes:

  • It is the middle of spring break for me, so I am hoping to do some more posting than normal. I had planned on posting a short story I’d done years back, but apparently scheduled it for this week rather than the last. I’m hoping for at least two midweek blog posts this week and another midweek post next week.
  • Today I’ll get posts set up for the Facebook and Twitter feeds and some more revising done.
  • As for publishing news, nothing on that front. Yet.

That’s it for now; I’ll write more later.

On Revising (Part 1)

At this moment, I’m a special education teacher. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing, a new step in my education career. It may be the field that I end up teaching in for the rest of my professional life.

However, I got started as a language arts teacher, at the secondary level. I also taught composition at the college level. There was one, bright, shining moment where I had fantasies of working as a full-time college professor, spending my days grading papers at the local coffee shop while tooling around on a new writing project. However, opportunities for full-time work, even at the community college level, were rare or non-existent, and the economics of adjunct college teaching make it the educational career equivalent of entry-level fast food work.

I do still teach writing – not usually full-time, but in short bursts to those kids I have writing goals with, and the occasional college class, although the last time I did that was a year and a half ago. I’m still open to taking on the occasional job, but I don’t see myself doing it for a career anymore.

During the time that I taught in the college environment, I always wanted to lay out what the writing process looked like, in a similar manner that Vince Lombardi would explain to his players what a football was before beginning practice. As part of that, I’d include a graphic in my PowerPoint to the class where I would illustrate that writing process to the class. It looked like… well, it looked much like what you see as the featured image for this post.

So, kids… :). That writing process involves:

  1. Prewrite – coming up with your idea and making initial plans for what it will look like.
  2. Draft – putting the first version of your writing down on paper/computer screen/etc.
  3. Revise – reviewing your work for possible improvements regarding its ideas, organization, or style.
  4. Edit – reviewing your work for grammatical, mechanical, or formatting errors.
  5. Publish – putting your final version of your work out for the general public to see.

For most people, those who don’t study writing carefully, steps 1 and 2 are usually the only ones they do personally, or that they have heard of. You think of something, you write it down – easy enough.

But it’s not that easy, is it? Even the diagram only hints at that complexity. For example, right after step 4, we could easily loop back to step 3 for another go-around, and then yet another. Professional novelists usually go through several revisions and edits for a single book; I’ve heard of some screenplays that see a dozen or more.

For me, both my personal experience with writing and teaching writing for the past 20-plus years has left me convinced, more than ever, that revising is the absolute key step to the writing process. It’s the engine that drives everything else in the writing process. It’s where you look at all of the drivel that you’ve dribbled onto the paper and screen and try not to recoil in horror. If drafting is taking a whole stack of 3×5 cards covered in notes, flinging them into the air, and letting them scatter across a table, revising is sorting all of those cards out and seeing how they relate to each other.

Since I’m getting closer to the revising part of my latest project, I thought I’d get into some of the things that I’ve noticed about the revising process and try to discuss some of the things I do in my own revisions. This blog post will be the start of that, but I’m not sure how long it will take for me to get through all of it. It’s kind of like these book projects that way.

Anyway, check my blog for the Revising tag and you’ll see those posts. Next one will be coming… soon. See you then.