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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Editing the Muse #writetip

As a writer of all lengths of fiction, I always seem to have a work in progress. My muse, who apparently has some sort of attention deficit, like to bounce between novels and short stories and back again. Sometimes, I actually finish things. More often than not, I’m editing.

I’ve learned a lot about editing and revising over the years, through books and online classes and (my favorite) reading books by authors whose style I adore. I’m heading back to my WIP for a long, hard look and I’m considering doing some editing. For those of you who are also currently wallowing in edits, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the process.

I have a huge list of bookmarked articles on the subject... and these are the ones I always re-read when I need to refocus.

Fellow writer and former Query Tracker blogger Elana Johnson recently posted an article on “good vs. done.” It’s a rallying cheer we all need to remind us of our talent and our self-worth (as well as an opportunity to visit her fun vocabulary. I love to listen to her write.)

Sometimes, an editor or feedback group will recommend edits or revisions. It’s easy for us to think it’s because what we wrote is, as Elana puts it, sucktacular. But it’s not. Changes make something that’s already good even better.(And anyways, if it was truly sucktacular, they would have told us to shred it and start over.)

So, once we’re firmly reminded that we’ve already written something worth keeping, it’s time to edit it. Dustin Wax writes that there is no good writing, just good re-writing. Having edited my first novel over the space of three years, I have to agree with him. I find this to be a splendid philosophy for anyone facing the daunting task of staring down a first draft.

Before you start, it’s important to ask yourself what, exactly, you need to do. Are you making surface edits or major revisions?  I came across Dennis G. Jerz’s article “Revision vs. Edition" and found a great quick-reference list.

While polishing a short story can be done in a manageable amount of time, editing a large volume—say, a four-hundred page novel—can be downright overwhelming. One trick many authors--and editors--use is to break the process into steps. You can find an example of a breakdown here.

It also helps to make a list of changes you want to make throughout the piece. Just tackle them one at a time and you make big progress with every small step. Take it chapter by chapter, task by task, and remember: keep going. It’s worth the work.

And then, once you think you have that WIP right where you want it, read Nathan Bransford’s advice to see how close to “done” you’ve gotten. If necessary, lather, rinse, and repeat.

But if it’s done, then it’s all good.

Right? *evil smiley because we all know done is never, ever, really, truly, done*

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde as well as WORDS THAT BIND. She also writes for YA and NA audiences under the pen name AJ Krafton. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is now available.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pulling the sword from the heart of my novel

Twenty years ago, a friend said, "I have a suit of asbestos permanently welded to my skin," and I adopted that mantra for critiques. You hate my book? Tell me why. In critique, I want to hear about one-dimensional characters, comma overusage, exactly what you think of my 96-word sentence, and plot holes big enough to hangar a 747. Even if you're nasty, it won't hurt my feelings, and then I can get to work.

So why, for six months, have I trembled every time I think about working on THAT book?

THAT book has been around for a while, and it's on schedule for release this year. I need to get it up to snuff, but I actually wrote a different novel last November rather than look at the file for this one.

Huh. My asbestos suit is still welded in place. So what happened?

Let's go back in time, back to when I was confident in THAT book and got a request from Janet Reid (who kindly gave me permission to quote her in this post.) She had already given me an R&R for Honest And For True, so I knew I trusted her judgment. Actually, I hadn't known I'd trusted her judgment, but when I'd read her editorial suggestions to my father, he'd said, "That's huge! Are you sure you trust her?" and the word, "Absolutely" slipped out before I even heard myself. (And she was correct, which is why she's named in the acknowledgments.) So this time, when she rejected THAT  book, it was kind and it was firm, very detailed, and then this:

“The rest of the tension just seems like daily living and while that's how we all live, I think novels require more of the higher kind of tension.”

It's been years now, and whenever I think of how to deliver bad news well, I come back to her rejection because this is the nicest way anyone ever told me my book was boring. And she was right. I'm not going to sugar-coat it: in the version she read, that book was boring. It was numb. Not enough happened. Sometimes a writer produces a boring book, and this time it happened to me.

I rolled up my sleeves and rewrote. I started from a blank document and re-crafted, moved scenes around, gave my protagonist a Hero's Journey, and took out the parts that didn't make sense.

[While I'm rewriting THAT book, please enjoy this scene from my college novel-writing class, taught by a bitter professor who hated the entire publishing industry and would cast his disbelieving eye upon your manuscript, growling, "This is craaaaaaap" as if he himself were in the midst of producing a bowel movement. Do not take advice from this man. I don't care how many PhDs he has or if his book was on the NYT bestseller list. Just don't.]

Once again, after the rewrite I loved THAT book. So why this year couldn't I look at it for six months?

Because in the interim, I had someone else with editorial credentials take a look at THAT book and put a sword in its heart. Not with words. I could have dealt with a critical skewering. No, it was in the attitude, in the way this person wouldn't get started, complained about having to do it, wouldn't finish, blew every deadline they themselves set, and in the end refused to understand the book at all. Blamed me. It was my fault the book was awful, my fault the person's job was awful, mine, mine, mine.

After a while, I joked with people that I couldn't even pay someone to read THAT book.

Nothing ever happened with it. I put it away. I wrote other things. I published other things. And now...

Well, for years I've told writers, "Listen to all critique. Throw out what's bad. Even if the person is mean-spirited, analyze the comment to determine if it meshes with the text."

After weeks of scrubbing toilets rather than look at my own book, I'm going to change my advice: Don't listen to critique from someone who is emotionally wrung out on the industry and is taking it out on you. Because a critique isn't all in the words: it's in the speed with which they deliver it. It's in the energy of their comments. It's in the zest of their suggestions.

You can easily dismiss "This is craaaaaap," but when someone sits on your manuscript for longer than it takes to gestate a human baby, then delivers a half-assed set of comments and expects to earn money for the pleasure, you blame yourself. Especially if you trust them: you absorb their ennui.

So back to THAT book. On January 2nd, I sent two chapters, unread, to my real-life critique group because then I would have no choice but to jump in the deep end. I closed my eyes and hit send. I asked for help and prayers from a locked Facebook group. And then, emboldened, I finally re-read THAT book.

It's funny.

It's energetic.

It moves at a decent pace.

Don't get me wrong: I have six weeks slated to edit it. My critique group found loads of reasons to utilize their red pens. BUT! But it's good! It's not this boring, dry, horrible thing you want to hold at arm's length. It's not confusing and dead. It's a book. It's got a pulse. It's mine.

I love it again.

Don't listen to jaded people. Or rather, listen for the things they're not saying, and if Heaven forbid you detect that ennui, weld my friend's asbestos suit of armor to your heart and take back your book.  Some people have nothing to say, and they'll try to make you say it for them.


PS: Janet Reid has an amazing blog for writers. Go check it out.