A little healthy comparison

As artists, there are a lot of reasons why we should never compare our work to everyone else’s. Every person has a unique take, and every creation we bring forth will reflect what is ultimately incomparable.

But I feel like some writers take that notion too far. Instead of holding up their work beside another and seeing where they could strive for improvement, many of them declare their piece finished with no greater judgement. They don’t assess what makes a story good, so they can’t apply that knowledge to their own creation.

We’ve all heard the stories. A writer who’s rejected by every agent and publishing house turns around and says they all missed out on something great. They drop a pile of money on self-publishing, only to prove they had been submitting an unpolished draft. No wonder it wasn’t picked up; the story wasn’t ready for publication.

Instead of being really honest and hard on themselves, these people abandoned reason in a glorious spray of egotism. They might’ve had a real chance at traditional publishing if they’d only been willing to compare and see why their story wasn’t up to snuff.

Criticisms of certain popular teen romance novels are only damaging this mentality more. “If that crap got published, I can too!” Simple fact is, most big books have a specific audience and appeal, and had a professional, experienced editor make it into a very readable piece. The writing is intentionally simpler for the younger market. Hate it all you like, there are no outrageous, book-breaking errors in the vast majority of traditionally published works in the YA range.

As with all “rules”, there needs clarification. Don’t compare yourself to others; they will have a different output, a different situation, a different career. They will sell more than you, or less than you. They will have a bigger fanbase than you, or a much smaller, yet more dedicated one than your own. They will have a larger marketing budget, or a smaller one. There will be differences, and you cannot compare yourself to those; they are outside of your control.

But you can compare your technical skill. What makes other books good? What makes you read your favourites? What stands out, what do they do, what don’t they do? Learn. Learn as much as you possibly can about the technical side, and compare your work in the most vicious, heartless way you can. Tear it down. See what emerges from the rubble. Start again, do it right.

There are also stories of people who were rejected by everyone, self-published a very good book, and are now international best sellers. Because they made sure their work could stand up against the other greats.

~A

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Oops

I guess it’s been a while since I updated. I have a perfectly valid excuse! No, I really do.

I spent the final four days of 2011 editing. Almost non-stop. Thursday and Sunday both came and went in a flurry of words. Reading, cutting, adding, cutting, changing, reading reading reading. For me, editing fiction is a very particular activity. I have come to terms with the fact that it will never be a tidy process.

On New Years Eve, I ran around outside with some sparklers at approximately 9pm, Perth time. I have more of a tradition of celebrating New Years with Sydney, who are three hours ahead of us at this time of year, than anything else. This is simply because I would normally be asleep for any celebration here! This year, I greeted the turn of midnight in my hometown still editing. Approximately twenty minutes later, I touched the last line and declared it a success! I’d reached my goal!

I woke to the first day of 2012 with my mind buzzing; I knew something I needed to go back and modify more. I often wake up with story ideas, since my subconscious is very well trained in making adjustments and working through problems in my writing. My sleeping mind was totally right, and I spent all of yesterday editing even more.

Last night, I provided my beta readers with their copy of the story. I hope to hear back from them pretty quickly about their initial impression, and just hope I haven’t overlooked some kind of atrocious error! But honestly, I am confident in the place my story has come to, and I am really looking forward to getting right back into drafting book two.

At the end of the second draft, traditional means of word count estimation puts TDM at 54,500 words. Yes, that breaks free of being a novella by 14,500 words. I knew when I began editing that this story would stretch to become a short novel, and I simply had to accept the fact. It changes what I will do with the series, slightly. I haven’t made any firm commitment to how I want to publish TDM, and won’t until the final edit is complete!

In the meantime, I have a sequel to write.

~A

A time for responsibility

It’s one of those words, isn’t it? Responsibility? Even we who are well into adulthood and are already used to taking care of things tend to baulk at life’s requirements every now and then. Not least when we have conflicting responsibilities!

I’m probably going to miss my self-imposed deadline for finishing TDM by the end of the year. The sheer amount of things I have left to do in preparation for Christmas is certainly enough to keep me busy, and then there are always other obligations and vital activities to attend. Yesterday, I helped a relative move house. Today, I finished a number of Christmas gifts. Tomorrow, I need to do more. When will I fit in writing, or editing? When will my mind slow down enough to let me dedicate my thought to the deep processes necessary for critical editing?

I like Christmastime, but man, is it busy.

I’ve considered a daily schedule of sorts, to try and fit in all my projects, but I know how I am. If I’m on a roll, or making something specific, I prefer to finish what I’m doing before moving on, not just stop at a designated time and come back to it later. This is the same for all my work. I’m not very good at schedules, regardless of how flexible I make them.

Writing is usually relegated to the “lesser responsibility” pile, unfortunately. Grocery shopping is more important, cooking meals is more important, sleep is sometimes more important. Finishing Christmas gifts is getting more important, as I need to send a number of them overseas ASAP, then going to the post office to wait in line for half an hour will proceed to become more important than my editing time. And while I might be able to write snippets while standing in line, or in the car (as I’m always the passenger), I most certainly cannot edit in those garnered moments.

If nothing else, I will try and put aside an hour every day, whether it be first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, or any other time I can be reasonably assured of few interruptions, and actually stick to editing a little each day. I know how much progress you can truly make as long as you keep chipping at something daily. I’ve used that technique to great success before! So it’s just a matter of being responsible to myself and my passion, as well as everything else I’ve taken on. My story is definitely that important.

~A

On being a relentless recluse

I just realised it’s after 9:00PM on Sunday night. There was a lot I intended on doing this weekend, and I suspect I only got a small fraction of it completed. Nothing new in that sense – I frequently find my plans disrupted by other activities, or in this case, repressive weather turning me incredibly lethargic.

Summer isn’t exactly my season, particularly here in Western Australia. In the general Perth region, we don’t get it too bad, but the older I am, the lower my temperature threshold creeps. Even this early, just a few days into official summer, I just want to sit in a cool, darkened room for most of the day.

Aside from reading a lot thanks to the awesome birthday gifts I received, I’ve still been busy. I can honestly say I’m more interested in my story, and the lengthy process of editing it, than I am in almost every other form of entertainment at my disposal. Considering the vast quantities and especially the new release video games I’ve been waiting for, that really says something. So if I’m not glued to the very nice screen of my Kindle, I’m on the computer, engrossed in ever more editing.

When two days pass without my notice, it suddenly hits me that I have been holed up in my room for almost that whole time. And days before, except for essential departures; work, groceries, and so on. If it weren’t for the internet and all my exceptional, multi-national buddies, I wouldn’t have had much contact with the outside world.

In the heat of my room, despite the valiant efforts of my freestanding air conditioner, I’m sleepy and just a little content with being away from the world for a while. It’s humid and even warmer outside. I’m too distracted and tired to pay attention to other people, and forgetful besides.

All that’s missing is another rain dance.

~A

The results are in!

On this fantastic December first, I will take the time to reflect back on the month of editing I (sort of) accomplished! I have technically been editing for five weeks, but during that period, I missed enough days to constitute an entire week. November has never been the best month for me to work…

I haven’t made it all the way through the story. Indeed, these past ten days have been editing the same chapter, over and over. It’s kind of an important part of the story, you know? I think I found my rhythm, hit my stride, and whatever other clichéd expressions you’d like. The only problem there, is, my style is repetitive and mildly obsessive. Read, edit, pick at each word, add detail, cut everything remotely superfluous, keep only the sharp and essential and the very carefully written. Do it all again tomorrow. Stories, I’m finding, are a very special kind of compulsion.

Every pass I take, it gets better. I can assure you of that much. But I’ve also discovered editing this closely means I often need to go further back, re-read, make sure the connections are all there, the references all make sense. So it takes a very, very long time to make even minor progress. Naturally, every time I do go back, I find something small to change. A little edit to make. Something which might not make quite enough impact gets altered.

Right now, I am still three chapters from the end of the book. My word count total has gone up by almost five thousand words, on top of everything I’ve cut and re-written into concise, clear sentences. I suspect, with the amount of changes I’ve made, the full amount of words I’ve actually written is well over double that number.

I can’t tell how much longer this will take to finish. I like to imagine the last three chapters will zoom by, but instinct tells me they are the ones I will be prying at the most. I can get a lot done with a good chunk of free time at my hands. I will be setting aside some extra writing time, specifically so I can guarantee this edit is finished before Christmas. Things get way too crazy in this household for the holidays, and I’ve honestly started to feel really inspired about working on book two of the series.

And that means, in a few months, I’ll be doing this all over again. Oh lord. Writing really is glorious, delirious madness.

~A

How do you edit?

With only three chapters remaining until I’ve completed my second draft of TDM, I’m getting that niggling feeling I might be missing something, or going about this all wrong. I don’t know where these thoughts come from! I can’t explain the irrational doubts which enter my mind. I’ll be working away merrily, then BAM. “Do you even know what you’re doing?”. The answer to that is a resounding no, but we can all agree that none of anyone knows what they’re doing, so it’s all okay.

But to sate my curiosity, and my innate need to compare, I thought I’d just put it out there: how do you go about editing a manuscript?

I started out by reading the whole story. At least, I think I did. There’s a very good chance I got half way (or less) through it before I started making changes. I’ve been trying to work methodically, start to finish. At the beginning of a session, I will go back a scene or two and refresh my memory and get into the groove of the story before I edit further.

There have been many instances where I’ve changed something, and had to go back to much earlier in the story to modify something small for accuracy. Or worse, browse through the previous chapters to figure out what I already wrote, sometimes because I just need to verify my own memory, and sometimes because I can’t recall exactly what I changed.

It feels like a whole lot of back-and-forth. Am I doing something wrong? Is this the normal way to edit? Am I just terribly neurotic? (Yes.) Will this all get easier with practice, or am I going to be stuck with this method forever?

I’ve mentioned in another post how I love to collect and save words of wisdom and inspiration (Just half of a fully forgotten memory). One of the gems in my collection comes from INTERN’s NaNoReVisMo (another alternate to InSecDraMo). I can take a lot of comfort in seeing what INTERN deems vital during editing, because I can compare notes and see that I’m doing a whole lot of what she’s mentioned. That’s important! My feelings are being validated! I might almost be on the right track!

But let me know what you get up to when it’s time to polish your story.

~A

Half way points

In the spirit of InSecDraMo, I thought I’d stop in today and give you all a mid-November update!

Okay, to be fair, I (re)started editing TDM on October 27th, so I got five days headstart on the ol’ month of writerly work, but that goes a little way toward off-setting the problem of Halloween a couple of days later, then my wedding anniversary and birthday falling in this month and taking me away from work (rightfully so, I suppose). For November itself, I’ve missed four days. I’ve added over 3,500 words to my manuscript, and cut or changed innumerable more (meaning I have no way of keeping track of exactly what I’ve cut, re-written, or replaced).

In terms of actual editing, I am more than half way through the book. There’s no accurate measurement for editing-to-word ratio, since I know for a fact that I will be adding in certain scenes further in the story, thus upping the final count. As far as current word count goes, I’ve edited up to the 57% point. That is a VERY good feeling.

For InSecDraMo, that would mean I’m ahead of schedule, and doing a mighty fine job of it! I admit, I’m struggling a little at the moment, and that’s a big part of why I’ve missed days. This chapter is amazing and totally awesome, but still desperately needed a hard edit. There were things I’d decided I needed to change, no question about it, and it’s just hard to add those elements in when it temporarily mangles an otherwise epic scene.

The story will still need work later on, but it’s definitely getting somewhere. I am still so in love with these characters, and the situations they are getting into make me some kind of gleeful maniac. It’s all a little mean, but an author has to do these things to the ones we love best! Right now, I think I have an excellent chance at reaching my editing goal and have it ready for my betas to read at the end of the month. Exciting! I know at least one of them is eagerly awaiting this story.

~A