Tag Archives: finishing a manuscript

Myselves in the Bottom Drawer

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“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.” -Julius Charles Hare

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” -Henri Bergson

I would think it a great shame, and a waste of life, to mostly be who I was at, say, twenty. Some of the seeds of who I am were there, largely unknown to anyone but me. Other parts of now-me came out of experience or friends or the changes in the world that I accept or reject.

This, perhaps, is a problem with revising one’s older works. I’m not that person any more, including for the changes in me that writing that novel wrought. It’s almost an advantage, like editing someone else’s work, except all the issues are so personal and all the images were long ago burned into my brain. The story seems old because I’ve known it so long.

So that’s why I keep writing new novels. It’s not to pay the rent. It’s to capture the now-me the way those novels preserved in amber bits of former-me. Some things will remain the same, reappearing book after book. Others come out of so specific a time that after a few rounds of glacial editors, they’re no longer marketable. (There’s a reason I never write contemporaries any more.)

This isn’t the issue I hit before on having “outgrown” a story. That was a matter of your plotting and story-telling skill, maybe your handling of tension and pacing, maybe a learned aversion to cliche. Here, I’m trying to talk about changes in self, not skill. Maybe you’ve become more or less spiritual, and it shows in everything from your plots to the advice given by mentor characters. Maybe you’ve swerved toward Hemingway in style leanness and writing some required scenes for your old heroic fantasy done in the style of Eddison is like trying to write a pastiche.

That’s probably just the way to think of it. Unless you are willing to take it down to bedrock and rewrite it in you new persona — redescribe everything in the herofy and grey out characters, or reboot the characters and maybe themes of the other — your only way to get older books out of the bottom drawer is to pastiche your old self. Depending on what the differences are, it may be a fun little trip down the Memory Lane of yourself. Otherwise, think of it as editing work for the estate of a dear old friend.

That School of Holy Map-Making

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A boffer would have been handy the other day to hit myself in the head with. (Why do we punish ourselves for having just solved the problem?)

One of my big projects had been hanging fire because I had to make a continental-scale map to lay out the states and climate and the military campaigns.

Now, let me say that if your story is about a couple of wandering rogues, you can lay out a map in half an hour — I’ve done it on lined paper during a lecture class. As soon as you bring in military campaigns, you are looking at days of work because you have to either decide on the terrain and make the war fit it, or you have to work out the strategy in detail and make the map suit.

But, whoa, there — why are we laying out maps in any case?

Because someone told us we had to.

Because someone said that without one we will have the city north of the river in this story or chapter and south of it in another.

No, we won’t. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03d: The Plot Indecisive

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Sometimes you reach a point in a story and you can’t figure which way to go. Sometimes, oh allergic to writing things down pantsers, we forget what was supposed to happen, after a hiatus. Sometimes we read a blog that decries our choice we haven’t even written. Sometimes we have too many ideas.

If you can’t remember what your plot was, the grim reality is that if you can’t recover it through meditation, free-writing, or hypnosis, it’s gone. Take the pieces you have and make a new plot, cursing all the way, because we always know that the one that slipped our minds was just fabulous. Except it probably wasn’t or we’d remember it. It probably just seemed clever at the time. Very often, after you’ve written a new version, if you find the steno book or disc with the missing plot notes, you find they’re just so-so and you’ll be happy with the new one.

If the markets and your ideas conflict, you will discover one of two things. Either you are the kind of writer who can enjoy working to plan and modifying your ideas to suit — you lucky dog! — or you are the kind who is stuck writing what you have to write. (This does not excuse bad plots, junk characters, or derivative settings as being what you “have to write.”) What you will likely find is that after you have written one complete draft, you can put that away as “the true story.” After that, you can write “the fictionalized version” and feel free to modify it any way it needs to go. That, or you may find that you were thinking of the wrong market for this, and it’s really some other genre.

Sometimes you reach the middle and you know your ending, but you just can’t decide by which road to get there. Sometimes you reach a point in the manuscript where you realize that, at this point, you could go for one of two endings, either of which is good. Or a character could be one of two things. In all cases, both are good — it’s not like one is soggy or undramatic or unsatisfying — but it makes it a very different book.

Worst of all is when the character, as you’ve been writing, has revealed itself to be something you’re not sure would be in some planned plot situations. Even though you had been decided on the plot, the character has made it all questionable.

Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03c: Ant on Mount Everest

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When you look at the place a scene needs to go and go blank, suspect this. I don’t mean a weary turning away from boredom: I mean where part of your brain is admitting “I don’t know how to do this. I want the scene to do these things, but I don’t know how to make it happen.”

Everything has a learning curve. Just because you can mix colours doesn’t mean you can paint a real likeness in a portrait or make a landscape not only convincing but dramatic. Equally, just because you can write sentences and paragraphs and have a good vocabulary doesn’t mean you know how to make a scene work dramatically or make a dialog zing.

Alas, the only way to learn to write a scene is to write it. If you don’t like what you get, keep the parts that work (not necessarily the cleverest bits) and rewrite it. Over and over. Trying again in a new way is what all creative artists do to get it right, to approach closer to their vision for the work.

It may be you have bitten off more than you can chew. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03b: Face the Fear

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Before I could sell a book, I had to face why I was afraid to sell it. You may have to face your fear in order to finish your story.

Anyone not fearing one of these doesn’t understand what could be wrong with something as good as selling a book. Lucky them.

It’s usually about other people and your relationships. Try these on for size, and see how many apply to you.

“It will make someone I hate happy and able to brag that they know me if it sells.”
And they will, while ignoring or dissing you still. To their friends, you become part of their status. The cure: Quit cutting off your nose to spite your face. Imagine how they’ll get cornered when asked, that if they’re your great good friend, why their copy isn’t author-autographed or why their friends don’t get to meet you. Their bragging will actually boomerang on them. Smirk about it and get on with your work.

“It will make someone, whose goodwill I want, despise me for writing something they won’t approve.”
A lot of romance authors, let alone erotica authors, use pseudonyms. In other genres, serious academics may not want to be caught writing college comedies, heroic fantasies, whatever. If you’re a lay teacher at a parochial school, you mayn’t want to be associated with your Wiccan detective. This is what pen names are for.

“I’ll have to revise it and then try to sell it.”
That’s a lot of work, apparently more than you want to do. Remember, you control your writing. If it’s for fun, just do it — especially if it’s to learn how to write. You have to learn how to write before rewriting, and just learning to finish a novel is a challenge without stressing about quality. That’s what revision’s for. Have your fun, write it, and go on to the next. Revise if you feel like it. Share it with your friends. You never have to do more than you want. Really. I officially excuse you from having to do more than you are willing to do.

“It will make someone expect me to do more to meet their expectations of what I’m capable of.”
Especially a likely fear if your parents were/are perfectionists who demanded you live up to their ideals. But you don’t have to. You control your writing. If you write, sell, and publish this, you never have to write another single thing again except as it pleases you. This is another reason for pseudonyms: if you don’t tell them you sold a book, they can’t nag you about another.

If you fear you’ll never come up with another story after you finish this one, I assure you, I have never heard of someone who finished a novel who didn’t have another idea, connected or not, in a bit. If they lack sequels or prequels, they just invent a new idea to love writing about. It’s only the people who marry a series for ten years who forget how to dream anything else. That’s another reason I suggest beginners write three disconnected novels first. Then you won’t fear this.

So talk it out with a friend, your pet, or your journal. You deserve to get that story finished!

Revision 03a: Carrot or Carrot?

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My only method for finishing a terminally boring manuscript is bribing the Muse.

Mine will not be bullied. Some people can say, “If I don’t finish this, I don’t get to watch my favorite TV show, or I have to do extra exercise or scrub the toilet.” If I’m royally stuck, I’d rather scrub my toilet — and yours, too — than stare at the screen with nothing happening behind my eyes. If nothing else, when I get jammed, the house gets clean and organized and I get fitter.

Bribes, though, can be very small and cheap. Free, even. Like a sense of accomplishment.

I make a list of all the scenes and bits that need finishing. I print it out, and get to cross off completed items. This To Do list proves motion toward the goal to me. To me, that’s a reward, with a sparkly completed manuscript at the end.

But I also examine that list. It may be time to change some things.

First, I ask why I’m bored. Is it dull? The reader will think so, too, so I need to introduce something exciting or even turn the scene inside out (this can change the plot, but usually for the better). If it’s incurably dull but necessary — I cut that scene and sum things up in a Tell, if that much. You probably will find this improves the pacing no end.

If the problem is plot fizzle, then it’s time to invent some sparklers and fountains. In short, re-examine it and make it zing. This is revising the original idea, but no one said you couldn’t! That’s what revision is about: re-envisioning and changing things. You don’t have to finish a draft of a bad idea. Stop and make it good. This alone can restore the fun and re-excite you into finishing.

Double-check to make sure that you aren’t actually cringing at how bad this seems now. That’s another problem, not boredom.

When I absolutely can’t get going, I put “*****” at every gap (I’m a grasshopper, not a railroader). Then I go to each one in turn and write one sentence forward. Just one, if that’s all I’m capable of. “C’mon,” I tell myself, “you ought to know by now at least ten words’ worth of forward info.” Don’t limit yourself to one sentence if more arrives, but force at least one.

By the third time through, if not sooner, I’ll write somewhere to a scene finish, if only not to see the rest again. Then I can take a break.

Railroaders — you can stand anything not physically damaging for 15 little minutes. Pull your head together. Start the timer* and type fast for 15 minutes with no pauses whatever. Type anything to do with the scene. It doesn’t have to be pretty or salable (crafters, loosen up). If desperate, interrogate the scene.

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*Every writer needs a 15-minute timer, whether a software alarm or a wind-up plastic chicken. You will find me sharing several writing kinks that require a timer. It works because you don’t have to watch a clock, but can concentrate on the writing. Clock-watching can be an excuse to not really write, when all these involve diving in and doing nothing but writing in order for them to work.