Category Archives: Writing

Planning to edit versus editing proper

I lost some steam the last week or two, and I didn’t even touch my computer for editing. But this week (OK, so like three days), I’ve pushed myself to get back to it. This story isn’t going to edit itself.

My story, when I left it, was filled with notes on what to do in certain spots and things to fix, and how to fix them, and just all sorts of would-be scribbles, if I were doing this by hand on paper. What I’ve noticed as I’ve started reading through the story yet again, is how many of those notes took as much effort to write as it would have required to just make the change and move on. I have to confess, I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in planning the edits and, consequently, allowed myself to neglect the actual editing process.

But the actual process can be hard. When you write something, or at least when I do, I get attached to it. And when it’s something that I’m revising, or an idea I’m moving somewhere else, I’m not convinced I won’t need that first attempt anymore. It’s hard to erase, to delete words that you spent time on. There’s the sneaking suspicion that once you delete them, you’re suddenly going to need them again, but you won’t be able to remember them. So then the challenge becomes allowing myself the freedom to recreate things. If I erase something that is bad, then can’t remember the idea I was going to use, did the idea belong there in the first place?

This whole process right now is for me to learn how to edit my own work. I have no deadlines, no demands for when it needs to be done. I have the luxury of taking all the time in the world to work my way through. And if I have to stop a time or two to think hard about where my story should go, that’s OK. Better now than when I’ve published or self-published it and there’s no going back, right?

So I’ve got some big pieces to edit, the ones I mentioned in my last post, the new plot ideas to weave in. The goal I’m setting for myself is to hurry up and wrap up the little things, and choose one big piece to work on. Because then I’ll have something good to write about next week, instead of something boring like how I changed a passive sentence into an active one. It’s important, but most of you don’t really care.

So as I’m wrapping up this week, I’m prepping my editing for next week. As I go through, I’m making notes of places where I need to work in something about the student’s civil disobediences, or key places to start implanting the people who claim to be his family, and the questions surrounding his mental health. That way, when I get to strapping in for the big editing, I’ve made it a little easier for myself. Maybe then I’ll make a dent in the proper editing.

Stories are like onions…

Seeing as I’m no expert in editing, I’ve been mostly making it up as I go for the past month or two. I feel like I’ve had some measures of success, and now that I’ve put on an editor’s hat, I’ve been looking at my story with a different kind of gaze.

First, as I’ve read through it a few times, I’m discovering some inconsistencies. Like which mental hospital the first rumors of Vale originated in. I’ve got it both ways in my story, so there are several comments in the margins of me asking myself where exactly this has taken place. But the inconsistencies aren’t the exciting part; what is exciting are the new layers of intrigue I’ve developed just in the last few days from rereading my story and asking myself if they way I have things happening is really believable. For some cases, the answer has been no, and since I’ve put in time to solve those problems, I’ve come up with more interesting layers to add.

I don’t want to give too much away, but who knows when, if ever, this story might see the light of day. So, here goes.

Because the story is about a man who escapes from a sheltered society and no one on the outside knows it exists, it’s entirely plausible that people think he is making it up and believe he is mentally ill. I thought it would be an interesting psychological twist if Mason himself begins to question what is real and what isn’t. In my first draft, I didn’t even really get there. But as I’ve read through it again, I’ve been struck with a new train of thought. In order for someone to begin to question whether what they know is real, something would have to happen to be a catalyst. Enter a couple whose 5-year-old son went missing 20 years ago. Now here pops up a young man of the right age and physique. If given a nudge or encouragement, a bereaved mother might claim a stranger to be her son, because she believes it to be true.

So now Mason has people claiming to be his parents and a psychologist who is prodding his brain trying to uncover what hidden trauma has made him create an alternate reality to hide from his past. And if everyone believes it to be true, and tells him it is true, it’s now possible and plausible that Mason–unable to prove the truth of his story, and distanced now from it–begins to wonder if they are right, if he did make it up.

This then leads me into creating a more plausible background for a fairly crucial, albeit small character. Fisk originally was the director of the Mayfield Asylum, where Mason stays when he first leaves Vale. However, even as it wrote it, it didn’t quite make sense to me why the director of the hospital needed to be in on the secret of Vale (not to mention some serious issues with medical files, the same ones that I’m not sure where they belong. There is a serious thread here that makes things fall apart). But now it comes to light that Fisk is perhaps just a government contractor linked with Vale in some way, a handler or supervisor, perhaps, and he is friends with the couple that lost their son 20 years ago. So when someone who fits the bill needs to be reintroduced to society, Fisk has the perfect plan ready to go. He tells his friend that there is a man, approximately the same age as his lost son, who needs a home. The man (Mason) is confused about his past. Perhaps Fisk convinces his friend that it’s possible it’s his son, or perhaps the friend knows it isn’t, but takes the opportunity to try to ease the burden and pain for his wife. Whatever the case ends up being, Fisk is now the catalyst, the encouragement behind the couple coming forward to claim Mason as their son.

This, now, is more solid footing for my journalist to reach out to Fisk. Instead of randomly calling the director of the asylum, who may or may not know anything, she can interview the “parents” and get Fisk’s name from the wife, who naively tells Callie the journalist that Fisk brought their supposed son to their attention.

And finally, with this as grounds for Callie getting on the trail of a conspiracy, if need be, it eliminates the need for those pesky, ever-moving medical records that probably wouldn’t still exist in the first place–especially not if they were top secret and the hospital was run by the government people controlling the top secret project.

I don’t know if it’s that I didn’t write as solid of a story this go around, or if I’m using a new mindset, or if it’s just the result of more experience and knowledge, but the times I’ve tried editing before, it was never this easy or exciting. I’ve never looked at my story before and seen pools of potential instead of plot holes. Maybe I was too young the last time (admittedly, probably 7ish years ago), or maybe I was naive and thought my writing was really wonderful (highly likely, I think). In any case, all my whining posts about how awful editing is are now moot. The only thing awful about editing is that I wish I could do it all by hand on paper. But printing 90 pages off for editing is a little excessive, and I’ve got bills to pay. Can’t be wasting all my money on ink and paper if I don’t absolutely have to.

A new beginning (editing is going to take a while…)

The most important part of a story is the beginning. If the first sentence or paragraph doesn’t grad a reader’s attention, they will put it down and move on to the next book. For me, beginning is always one of the hardest parts. Whether it’s writing an essay, journalism article or a story, I can always feel the pressure to start well. Throughout college it served me pretty well to just write something and get the words flowing. If I wrote a good beginning, great. If not, usually by the time I finished whatever I was writing, the beginning was easier to write because I had the whole picture now.

With this story, it’s been more difficult. I’ve decided to work my way slowly through my story so that I can dedicate significant time an energy to problem areas. I probably should leave the beginning for the end, but I focused on it this week, and I feel like I’ve already made some improvements.

I’ve been challenging myself to think about the way other stories begin, both books I’m reading and even from my own writings. I’ve started a little journal, where I write how it begins, and then what kind of story that technique is good for. For example, some stories have one major event and the author weaves narrative strands around it, such as A Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Steadman. Though I’ve just started the book, I know how the writing is going to go. The story begins with the couple finding the baby (not a spoiler, you find out that much just from reading the back cover), and the rest of the book is telling the story. It’s jumped back in time and is telling the events leading up to finding the baby. And once we reach that point, it’ll shift gears and tell about life after the baby. Plenty of stories have this kind of plot set up, and the technique of giving the action scene, or a hint of it, then giving the background before dealing with the aftermath makes the story flow easily. But my book is not like that. Mason (I’ve finally named my character, hooray!) doesn’t encounter any one particularly pivotal moment that I can use as a teaser introduction.

Other beginning techniques include writing a prologue to set up a world or town, giving the history that explains what you need to know about where the character is. This, I think, is the one I use most often. I’m a fan of prologues. But, while I could do that for this story, the challenge with the prologue is that you need some kind of action to engage readers. You still need that pivotal event that sets the character up. And the history of my story is more broad than that. What I’ve decided to go with for the time being is a description of a scene that encompasses a major theme of the story; in this case, a description and encounter between Mason and his father that shows readers life in Vale is all about science, and a person’s value is inherently linked with how well they fit the expectations of society. As an example, I’ll show below the initial beginning I wrote for this story, and the new beginning I’ve been working on this week.

Dying didn’t seem nearly as dramatic as everyone made it out to be.

He had just turned 25, and the pressure he faced was unbelievable. He wasn’t just a late bloomer, his family had given up on him—no one believed he would prove to be an asset to society.

It was unbelievable either way—that other towns could exist, that Vale could be the only town. The town’s leaders were very strict, no one was allowed to explore beyond the town limits, curiosity and questions were no tolerated. Everyone clung to a religion of science. It was science that made them great, science was all that mattered. And science was his downfall.

Mason had never had an affinity for numbers, formulas, and the other complexities that went into the science, technology and engineering fields. He was much better at drawing—landscapes, people, animals, anything. But that wasn’t the kind of thing Vale valued. His drawings wouldn’t save or improve lives, they said, so by their very nature, they were worthless. Mason didn’t agree, but, dissent wasn’t valued either, so he did his best to swallow their context.

Life in Vale was all about society’s good…

Even I look at that and think I probably wouldn’t keep reading. The whole entire first chapter didn’t have any action or dialogue. Too much scene setting, explaining how the society functioned. It’s something I need to show, and maybe not all right off the bat. Here’s a bit of the new one in progress:

All his life, Mason knew science would be his downfall.

Every person in his hometown of Vale clung to a religion of science—it was science that made them great, science was all that mattered. Each child was raised from birth to believe scholastic achievement and worth were inherently connected.

But from a young age, Mason—and everyone else—knew he would never measure up to anything scientifically great. He was smart enough, but he couldn’t compete or compare with the waves of peers surrounding him that, in another place, would be hailed as geniuses and prodigies. Compared to them, Mason was worthless. And how he compared was all that mattered.

When he was about 13, he sketched his house and his sister Mel playing in the yard. He spent all day working on it, trying to get it just right.

“What have you been doing all day?” his father demanded when he returned from his day at work.

Mason proudly held up his drawing. “It’s our house, and Mel out front,” he said.

But instead of pride, excitement, or even interest, his father scoffed. “You’re well past the age of foolish past times, Mason. It’s time you put your mind to something worthwhile or you’ll never amount to anything.”

I’m not going to say it’s golden, but I think it’s far more likely to entice someone to commit to reading a few more chapters, so it’s a start. As always, the key to remember is show, not tell. After this bit that I’ve just shown, I fall back into the telling, telling how life in Vale works. I’ve still got a way to go on this, but, for the sake of anyone reading these blog posts, I’ll move on from the beginning this coming week so that you don’t have to read another post saying all this same stuff again.

Onward into the rest of the story!

Baby steps in editing

I have made good on my determination to begin editing.

Over the course of the last week, I read through my project from April (yes, the one that has no title, and wherein the main character still has no name…). I’ve made some notes of inconsistencies and some issues to address.

But the hardest part of editing, as I’ve come to experience, is that too often I can’t see the crappiness in my writing. As I read through it, noting stood out as bad. While I’m tempted to be excited by this, I know  it’s not quite true. Perhaps it has potential, but it’s not perfect, not yet.

So as I begin going through it again (good thing it’s short), the question I must keep in the forefront of my kind is, “is this engaging enough to read?” “Will this capture a reader’s attention and hold it?” And when I move in to allowing others to read and give feedback, I need to remember to be open to it. Sometimes, I tend to get protective. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into my work. But, my family and friends are going to care more about it than an editor who doesn’t even know my name, so the feedback I get before I even think about publishing is so incredibly valuable.

The other thing I need to be watchful for is logic. There are one or two spots already wheeler I wrote myself a little note, asking if the way I’ve set things up even makes sense. Why would a crucial character be in a crucial spot? If it’s just because I need him to be, that’s not good enough. And why would there be 100-year-old records for something that needs to be kept a secret? Does their existence make sense, or do I need to revisit that as well? This will be the place where my journalism schooling helps, looking critically to find if unanswered questions are hidden within my story.

So, I’ve done a preliminary reading–the first I’ve done in probably five years. My story isn’t awful, I don’t think. It needs work. It probably needs more to it. But I think it is something to be proud of, and I think it’s something that could go somewhere. And that hope is exactly the encouragement I need right now.

“I’ll get around to it tomorrow…”

Ah, remember that feeling when you accomplish something, that high, when you dream of other things you’re going to accomplish? Like when I said I was going to take a few days off and then dive into revising my April novel…

Yeah, I’ll give you three guesses as to what I haven’t been doing for the last two weeks.

You guessed it, I’m writing yet another blog post about not writing. I feel like I do that a lot… but no longer. Due to a foolish use of vacation days (instead of just asking for my usual days off), I’ve ended up with what feels like a bunch of time off. Two days with my husband, which are much needed, followed by another two days off while he works 12s both days, so, I’ve got some time.

And starting something late is better than never, right?

I’ve found myself thinking a lot the last few days about something I wrote a while back, about wanting to put my effort into accomplishing a dream, since so many of my goals and aspirations seem to be on indefinite hold. And after a few days/nights of anxiety, depression, tears and staring into the void known as the future, I’m trying to reel myself back in.

No more Scarlett O’Hera for me. I’m going to start thinking about it, and start doing it. For myself, because I need something to remind me that there is more to life than working until I’m dead. Even if I’m not where I want to be, I can still do things I want to do. No more looking st other people’s lives and being jealous. I don’t have their life, I have mine. So what am I doing with it?

The answer, lately, has been not a whole lot, excluding the thankless tasks I have to do. I throw myself into reading and blogging book reviews because it lets me forget, and while maybe a handful of people like reading my stuff, I doubt it’s really putting me ahead, and I’m not going to hold it up as a shining example of self-motivated progress and success. I guess I’ve written enough “I didn’t write” blogs that I’m not so proud of my blogging anymore. We’ll work on it.

So for the zillionth time, I’ll try to make a commitment to doing something for myself, to finishing a project because it’s something I have to do. And this time I will actually do it. It’s not like I have anything else worthwhile to do.

The gaping, empty hole

I finished! When you read that title I bet you were expecting something much more… not happy. Like, I failed and I feel miserable and I’m falling into a black hole of sadness or something.

But, that’s not the case. I finished my story. I wrote a little more than the 35,000 words I wanted to. And I even wrapped up the story, so it’s finished and everything. That almost never happens. Usually it takes like another year before I come back and truly finish, but not this time. This time, I’m really done with the first draft.

It’s exciting to be done, and I’m currently reveling in the joy of being done, and the excitement for the editing process (haha. I’ll tell you why that’s funny later). And, of course, I’m looking forward thinking, “now what am I going to do?”

When I’m writing, and earnestly writing, it becomes pretty consuming. I’ve been working on my current read for like two weeks. That’s not really normal, even for a historical non-fiction book. And one night, when I didn’t want to write or read, I started watching Broadchurch on Netflix, so I’m excited to get back to that too. So on the one hand, you’ll read this and think, right there I just said two things that I can be doing. And I will, and it will be wonderful, but I think most writers can agree with me, it’s bitter sweet to come to the end (or at least an end) of a project. You’ve written it. You’ve said what you want to say. Sure, you can polish and fine tune, rewrite some stuff, probably add in new stuff as you read it through and think, ” wouldn’t it be cool if….” But it’s still true that a certain part of the project is over. The fervor of writing is over. As a general rule, you’re not going to discover something mind blowing during the editing process (though let’s be real, how would I know, I’ve never done it. This is all based on my experience editing college papers, and at least during undergrad work, I think we can all agree we really hope we don’t discover something mind blowing during the editing process of those).  There is just something special about having the idea in your head, before you’ve put your ideas down in writing. There is something special about having an idea so full of potential, and knowing that even if you’ve planned for it, surprises will still abound.

And then you’ve written it, and it’s wonderful, and you have this kind of completed thing to be so proud of (but no, you can’t read it, it’s not done yet). And maybe you’re excited because it was everything you dreamed of. Or maybe you’re disappointed, because you wanted so much more from your idea. But either way, it’s done, and you know that is something to be proud of.

But everyone tells you “wow, are you going to publish it?” as though word vomit is gold right out of your brain. But then when you sit down and think about editing, it is a little overwhelming. You’ve already written it. You have nothing else really to add. Or maybe you do, and that’s great. But you’re attached to your story. You’re attached to the dumb joke you wrote in at 3 am that made you laugh like a lunatic, and you know the publisher is going to have that as number one on the list of things to go, but you just can’t bear it.

I think, for me, the editing process is hard because I’m so proud of my creativity, and I’m just not ready to start looking at it critically and asking myself, is my creativity worth sharing? When you’re writing, you’re encouraged to just get it out, get it down on paper. But then when you edit, you have to sort through the garbage and mistakes. And sometimes it’s easy, other times it’s really hard (OK, I’ve tried editing like once or twice, now that I think about it).

In part, it’s scary, because editing makes you look at your work and ask yourself, honestly, if you’re writing is worth sharing. Are you good enough that anyone would want to read it? (I say read and not publish because I’ve seen some of the garbage that gets published, and in my opinion, no one wants to read that.)

But with the completion of this project, I have…. seven projects that have a completed draft, eight if we want to count my collection of stories from volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium. I think it’s time I tackle those scary questions. If my writing isn’t good enough to share, that’s OK. I write first and foremost for myself. But if it is good enough to share, I’ve got some more work to do, and it’s time to start.

So, I’m going to take a day or two off, then dive into some editing, because by then I should have a coupon code for software that I’ve heard makes the editing process easier. And I’ll fill that gaping, empty hole with a new process. Instead of feeling sad that the story is over, I’m going to stick with it until the story is completed, and then I guess I’ll get to see what that feels like.

The final days

I’ve finished week three and I’m down to the final days of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m proud to say I’m still caught up, and almost every day this month I have been writing. I count that as a victory.

I never did name my main character, I guess that will have to wait until May.

I’m quite excited for the ending. I think it will be interesting, and fun to write. That being said, per the usual, now that I’m down to the last 10,000ish words, it’s a long slow slog to the finish line. I’m not sure why my steam runs out right around this time, but it does. Part of it is that I know exactly how it needs to go to end, but part of me thinks I still need more.

Whatever the reason is, every day is a new chance to write, and I’m going to make the most of each day I have left this month. And then I’ll start again in May doing something else. Maybe I’ll try my hand at editing this story (I know, I always say that, but maybe this time I actually will). I think I will set myself a goal, between now and November, to get some substantial editing done on a project. Maybe this one, maybe another one, or maybe I’ll get really in to it and get a couple done (ha! But, maybe).

As challenging as it is to balance reading a book a week for blogging, writing, full-time work and being an adult, it’s been worth it. It has felt very good to set myself a task and work toward it, a task that I’m doing only for me.

Here’s to finishing strong, and doing a few more things just for myself.