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Posts Tagged ‘revising’

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

February 26, 2010 1 comment

After an intense writing blitz, I finished my short story, revised it, and sent it on its way. It took hours. And hours. I far surpassed the 60 minutes a day I’ve been aiming for. On Sunday night, I worked for over three hours. On Monday, a full 90 minutes, on Tuesday, Wednesday and today I put in two hours a day.

All of that time spent was due mainly to the fast-approaching deadline. It was a strain, but I wanted to meet this mini goal. I wanted to do more than just finish a story – I wanted to polish it to the point where I felt it was worth spending the $5 to send it out for others to read and critique. I know that the story could have been better with more time, but it is what it is.

Two interesting notes cropped up over the revision process. My wife, who has been a rock for me throughout this process, read the story twice and smothered it in comments. Many professional writers advise against having loved ones read unpublished work. They fear that it will cause more tension than anything else. I found it to be a tremendous help though, and I don’t think that my wife is ready to kill me yet. She did, though, say that it was very hard to know how others will see the story because she was so involved in its creation from the beginning that she was unable to read it as a reader. She could only see it as an editor, and could not fully gage the sheer entertainment value and storytelling charm of the piece. That’s why I chose the literary journal I did. My story will get a blind reading and will be returned to me (in three months) with commentary. I hold little illusions about the likelihood of publication, but I hope to grow from the commentary.

The other point of interest is a bit less heady. Over the course of writing the story, each day I would save it as a new file, so that I could go back to older versions if needed. I enjoyed watching the size of those files slowly grow over time. The first day, the file was 11 kb. Day two saw the document more than double to 23 kb. By draft 11 – the day that I finished the full telling of the story – the document was 87 kb. The file that I printed and mailed today was 79 kb. The steady rise, then the slight fall, in the file size is exactly the pattern I hoped to see. My daily regimen yields slow but consistent progress, and the editing process reduces the file size because I’m cutting the worst 10%-15% of the content before the piece is submission-worthy.

For now, I’ll take the next two days off to celebrate my daughter’s 5th birthday. On Sunday I’ll return to my novel. I am excited to get back to that story.

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A Finished Product, Sort Of

February 22, 2010 Comments off

It was a productive weekend, on the writing front, and I’ve finished a draft of my short story. I am not pleased with it yet – it is over-written, too long, and it lacks a center – so there is much yet to be done. In a perfect world, I would let it rest for a week or two, then return to it with a fresh pair of eyes for a heavy re-write. That can’t be the case, though, since the deadline for the journal submission is March one. I’ll need to keep plugging away and rely on the trusted criticism of my wife and friend to get this thing into a submit-able form.

It does feel good, though, to have a completed work. I sat down two weeks ago with an idea and a character, and a story grew from there. There were days when I knew that the direction was off, or that the writing was less than stellar. On those days I almost just scrapped the whole piece and went back to the novel. But I stuck with it and forced myself to finish for finshing’s sake.

I ended up with a 20-page story, and a fully resolved little plot. It is not great – maybe not even good – but I have something to work with.  Even if the piece I submit to the journal next week is not what I want it to be, I’ll still have a story that I can come back to at some later date to continue revising and polishing.

Today, I hope to take out 10% – 15% of the words. I need to re-work the opening to make sure that it more fully sets the emotional state of the narrator, and I need to weed out the elements that don’t lead to the conclusion the story found. That should fill an hour easily.

It will be the first day of this experiment that I spend editing. As an English teacher I edit constantly, so I I’m hoping that I’m good at this.

We’ll see.

A Long Weekend, and a Good One

February 16, 2010 2 comments

It has been a long time since I have posted here, but the writing is going well. I am well into the short story that I will be submitting next week. I have perhaps seven pages left to write on that story, and then I’ll need to do some heavy revision. I’m both nervous and excited to submit this piece. I won’t know the decision of the journal’s editors for three months – by which point I hope to have completed most of my novel and perhaps an additional short story.

The big news of the President’s Day weekend writing experience has been how successful I was at writing at home. It was the first weekend where I was proactive and worked with my wife to schedule in time that I would isolate myself and focus on writing for at least an hour. The kids find this very interesting. With the support of my family, I’ve been able to get in a good writing groove every day. The story is improving and I am still finding the whole experience to be very enjoyable.

I do wish that I had a completed product at this point. I was hoping to have finished the initial draft of the short story and to have spent the weekend revising. I am finding that the pace at which I write can’t be rushed. I need to allow for that and remember to build that into my scheduling in the future. As it is, I feel a bit under the gun as far as the submission deadline for the short story goes. The deadline looms.

Of course, the journalist in me functions best under the pressure of a deadline.

Student > Teacher

February 9, 2010 2 comments

The tables were turned a bit on me today, and my writing benefitted as a result.

Not many people read this blog (yet), but I do have a small handful of subscribers. Among them are a few students of mine. I’m sure that their reasons for following along with my ramblings have much more to do with their late-night laughs about dorky Mr. Van Hof than with any genuine interest in what I write, but it is nice to know that they are out there.

It was especially nice today when one of those student subscribers stopped me in class to mention last night’s post. To tell the story, I need to explain that I just finished an 18 week semester of AP Language and Composition with this student. I gave the class buckets of work, including summer readings. One of those readings was “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. It is a fantastic book that gives thoughtful and funny insight into the world of being a writer. In her book, Lamott gives prospective writers some basic instructions on writing. Her central rule is to simply get something written, then to revise heavily.

All of which leads to class today, when my student told me she had read my post.

“What did ya think?” I asked, turning down my U2 Pandora station.

“I was going to leave a comment, actually, but I was reading it on my iPhone and it would have been a pain to type in the comment box,” she said.

“Oh, right,” I said, wishing I was the one with the iPhone.

“So anyway, I thought I could just tell you in class. Remember when we read in ‘Bird by Bird’ about the ‘shitty first draft?’ Well that’s what you need to do…”

“Right !” I was glad she remembered the book at all, let alone the tips Lamott gave.

“Just get out a shitty first draft,” she said.

She was right. That’s the point I was trying to get to in my previous post. Getting something – anything – finished needs to be my first goal. The revisions will come, but the story and characters will be at a point of no return.

It’s a strange feeling, ten years into a career as an English teacher, to take writing advice from a student. But at the same time, it’s validating. Writing is a challenging craft, and I am by no means an expert. I’ll turn to any source for a nudge in the right direction – even to a teenager.

Word Up

February 5, 2010 Comments off

After yesterday’s excitement over the action scene, I’m back to Earth. I re-read the section, and asked my wife to have a peek too. The scene is good, and it will stay in, but it needs work. The action moves too fast, and the reader can’t picture the scenario as it unfolds. I need to revise heavily, and in so doing, I’ll need to add more literal description.

That’s the real problem. I need to get better at finding the balance between exposition that the reader can understand easily and creative prose that is open to some interpretation. I want my audience to be able to visualize my scenes, but I don’t want to spoon feed them. It’s a tough balance, because while I want the narrative to flow at a quick pace, moving it along too fast limits the vividness of the setting.

What I find is that this manifests itself by taxing my vocabulary. The voice and syntax I’ve employed for this novel require an almost poetic diction that relies on single words or short phrases to set whole scenes and paint the characters in three dimensions. Add to that the fact that this is intended to be a young adult novel – a novel targeted at an audience with a high-school vocabulary – and I find myself often fighting to find the right word.

That fight can become a frustration because I want to move forward. I feel a very real desire to get as much of this novel on paper as fast as I can. I don’t want to lose the momentum; finishing the manuscript in any form will be a big step toward having a publishable novel. Besides, I trust my ability to revise with purpose and intelligence once the first draft is done. Too often, though, my pace stalls because I know that there’s a better word and it won’t come. The thesaurus can be a help, but it often squelches my voice and leads to clichés.

One problem might be that I’ve been reading a rather lousy book lately (you might have heard of it – it features a certain clan of sparkly vampires and their melodramatic misadventures with a teenage buffoon). The language in that lovely little book reads like an eighth-grade spelling test. (Which is not to say I don’t respect Stephanie Meyers – I do. She’s made a killing with those books, and clearly filled a substantial niche in the YA market.) I finished “Twilight” last night, though, and have moved on to a much more intelligent collection of short stories (“Oblivion” by David Foster Wallace). Reading the work of a linguistic genius – a work that forces me to spend as much time with the Oxford English Dictionary as I do with the text itself – will, I hope, be one way to enliven my vocabulary a bit.

After yesterday’s excitement over the action scene, I’m back to Earth. I re-read the section, and asked my wife to have a peek too. The scene is good, and it will stay in, but it needs work. The action moves to fast, and the reader can’t picture the scenario as it unfolds. I need to revise heavily, and in so doing, I’ll need to add more literal description.

That’s the real problem. I need to get better at finding the balance between exposition that the reader can understand easily and creative prose that is open to some interpretation. I want my audience to be able to visualize my scenes, but I don’t want to spoon feed them. It’s a tough balance, because while I want the narrative to flow at a quick pace, moving it along too fast limits the vividness of the setting.

What I find is that this manifests itself by taxing my vocabulary. The voice and syntax I’ve employed for this novel requires an almost poetic diction that relies on single words or short phrases to set whole scenes and paint the characters in three dimensions. Add to that the fact that this is intended to be a young adult novel – a novel targeted at an audience with a high-school vocabulary – and I find myself often fighting to find the right word.

That fight can become a frustration because I want to move forward. I feel a very real desire to get as much of this novel on paper as fast as I can. I don’t want to lose the momentum, and I trust my ability to revise with purpose and intelligence once the first draft is done. Too often, though, my pace stalls because I know that there’s a better word and it won’t come. The thesaurus can be a help, but it often squelches my voice and leads to clichés.

One problem might be that I’ve been reading a rather lousy book lately (you might have heard of it – it features a certain clan of sparkly vampires and their melodramatic misadventures with a teenage buffoon). The language in that lovely little book reads like an eighth-grade spelling test. I finished that novel last night, though, and have moved on to a much more intelligent collection of short stories (“Oblivion” by David Foster Wallace). Reading the work of a linguistic genius – a work that forces me to spend as much time with the Oxford English Dictionary as I do with the text itself – will, I hope, be one way to enliven my vocabulary a bit.

Feedback Loop

February 3, 2010 Comments off

Holding myself to a strict daily regimen of writing is producing results. A week and a day into my little experiment, I’ve written the first 5,000 words of a young adult novel. The prologue is done, and I should finish chapter one by the end of the week. At this pace, it’s plausible that I’ll have a novel by June, before the school year is out.

That’s an exciting prospect for me. I’ve written on and off for the last few years – more off than on – but have never had anything to show for it. Actually producing a readable manuscript will be rough, but it is now seeming doable.

When I realized that, I started to have some people I trust read what I’ve written so far. This may have been a mistake. Part of what I’m doing is just trying to hammer out a manuscript, so there are some very rough edges. My two readers both see flaws in the work – structural, grammatical, stylistic flaws – and I agree with most of their concerns. They know me, and when they see me writing something inconsistent with myself and my capabilities they are both very adept at pointing redirecting me. I value their voices, and make the changes they suggest. But at the same time, I don’t want to get hung up right now on minutia. I have a very real sense of needing to let this novel just happen – to get it out on paper.

It’s not all that different than painting a room. After the first coat, the walls look worse than before the Dutch Boy was poured. But a second pass makes all the difference. When my wife (who, by the way, is my most frequent and honest editor) and I redecorate a room, we don’t invite the family over to see it until it’s fully complete. We share in the creation process together, addressing small problems and inconsistencies of design as they arise. The end result is a cohesive, comfortable space that we’re proud to share.

I’ve mimicked that process in my writing. The project is mine alone, but I’ve allowed two people – my wife and my best friend – into the inner circle to see the process as it unfolds. They provide me just enough support to keep me on track, and they understand that at times I may need to ignore their voices altogether. (An interesting side note – their aesthetics are both so different that a sentence one loves is trash in the other’s eyes. Either I’m hitting the mark, or I’m so far off it there’s no audience whatsoever for my work).

My hope is that by June I can let a larger crowd in on the action – extended family and more colleagues at work. Who knows, maybe some day what I’m doing will be on full public display.

I sure hope so.

Backspace

January 27, 2010 1 comment

Reading what I wrote yesterday was a painful experience. What was I thinking? I am embarrassed that some of those phrases came out of my head. Re-reading it made me see what a huge task getting to a finished piece will be. It’s the reason there aren’t more writers.

I’ve made a resolution to do this, though, and I’m sticking to it. So, I embraced the delete key, left in the stuff that wasn’t total crap, and pushed forward. I’ve read that writing breeds writing, and I started to feel that about 40 minutes into the hour today. I had gotten beyond the horror of seeing how awful I can be as a writer, and I found the flow again. If what I generated in that flow was any good still remains to be seen. There’s a definite sense of two steps forward, one step back.

The good news is that I was just as excited to get writing today as I was yesterday. It’s a good feeling, to have produced something tangible each day. Even if the product only lasts until I open the document tomorrow.

That feeling of productivity is not something I get as a teacher. Completed school work is a stack of graded essays that I give away or a lesson plan that is never anythinig more than an idea. There is nothing concrete, nothing in my hands, nothing that makes me want to laugh or puke the next day.

Writing as a craft is, to me, fast becoming a valuable pursuit. It’s slow, but not agonizing. It keeps me intellectually engaged. It makes me more aware of the life around me. It’s fun. I know this because I talk about it and think about it and dream about it and it’s only day two.

It’s also probably going to drive my wife nuts.