Tag Archives: editing

A Whiff of Distraction


You probably already know that the sense of smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. You catch a whiff of something that smells like it might have been the perfume your grandmother used to not so much dab as douse herself in, and all of a sudden you’re five years old again, playing trains in the basement while she watches The Price is Right upstairs.

But did you know why?

It turns out that as the human brain evolved (and yes, I know, the “human” brain wasn’t a human brain until we were humans and categorizing evolutionary changes can be arbitrary, just roll with me), more and more layers were added on to the pre-existing brain tissue. In other words, as we grew “smarter,” we had to keep growing more and more brain to support it. This makes sense. But as we grew bigger brains, the sensory inputs grew with them. Each sense developed its own area of the brain, and like a sulky teenager moving into the basement room, claimed that space as its own.

But not the sense of smell. Your sense of smell stayed put right where it was, in the primordial lizard brain that handles things like breathing and balance and whether to run from that weird sound in the bushes or attack it with an axe. This has kept the sense of smell in relatively close contact with other brain functions — especially base functions — which is, incidentally, why we still use smelling salts, of all things, to rouse an unconscious person: the sense of smell continues to function even while you’re asleep. (This is also why your significant other can sometimes wake you up in the middle of the night with their, uh, emissions. Not that I would know anything about that.)

I know all this courtesy of an article I read (or rather, that I am in the process of reading) on Wait But Why, which is my latest internet diversionary tactic. Tim Urban, the proprietor, does these deep dives (and I mean, drilling through the bottom of the Marianas Trench) on all kinds of topics, from science to futurism to philosophy, and it makes for fascinating reading.

Which is a great way to keep yourself away from a project that’s giving you the screaming willies — just pretend that, you know, everything is probably fine in that particular Scrivener file; certainly the problems in the draft aren’t compounding and spiraling out of control, or coalescing into an insuperable plot monster while you’re keeping your head down and trying to finish out the school year, probably I’m not losing all the momentum I spent the year spinning up, almost definitely my neglected characters aren’t concocting my comeuppance. Nope. Definitely none of those things are happening.

Of course, the problem with spending time on a site like Wait But Why is that it fills your head with all kinds of crazy ideas for other stories you’d like to write, which is also great for your current project, and not distracting from it in any way. You’re trying to puzzle through your current set of #writerproblems and you keep thinking about that awesome idea about two police officers sharing a brain, or a terrorist group weaponizing mosquitoes with Crispr technology,  or or or…

You know, because you don’t already have two first drafts in desperate need of editing right now.

*looks around*

*tries not to think about the current edit*

*sets the computer on fire*

Two more days of school, y’all.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

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Turns of Phrase


The great thing about having taken about nine months in between drafting this novel and now running through it for the first edit is that I really get to read it with fresh eyes. I’ve totally forgotten some of the gems and turns of phrase that I used the first time around.

My favorite from today’s session?

In the late afternoon sun, the towering house loomed dark and silent, its shadow spilling down the hill and toward their feet like the runoff from a broken sewer line.

I mean, come on. I’d read that.

Other notables, maybe not so awesome or thematically coherent:

Trees “…thick and gnarled and knotty as the hands of a retired coal miner.”

something “…as stealthy as a camel in clown shoes.”

“perfume that reminded you of your next door neighbor, who somehow smelled like the fifties must have smelled, all cigarettes and sock hops.”

I mean, I don’t know if any of those are going to survive the edit. But they’re sure fun to rediscover.

 


Hey, That Thing I Wrote Maybe Isn’t Total Crap


The first step in an edit is re-reading the thing you’ve just written. Looking at it with fresh eyes, eyes unlikely to look favorably on the darlings you coddled through the first draft; eyes more likely to attack those darlings at the eyesores they really are. Eyes that don’t give even the first hint of a sharknado how inspired you were feeling when you wrote it, eyes that only see the frayed edges where the stilted narrative is struggling to hold itself in one piece.

Problem is, that’s next to impossible.

But you wade in anyway, because if you don’t, well, then it was all a waste of time, wasn’t it?

I’m trying something a little different on this edit: I’m just reading the story first. Not going through with pencil in hand and notebook at the ready. Not with one eye on the adverb-elimination cheat-sheet on the wall. Not with my spell-checking and grammar-sensitive goggles in place. Just reading.

And maybe it helps that I’ve spent about nine months working on another project? Or that I mentally divorced myself from the original beginning of this particular story right around the time I reached the halfway point? Or that the past few months of drafting have worn me down as surely as desert sandstorms have blasted the face from the Sphinx? Or, maybe, and yeah, this is probably an ocean liner sinking under the weight of wishful thinking, but maybe I’m actually getting better at this drafting thing?

But it’s not that bad.

I mean, it’s raw. And it needs cleaning up. And I’m fast approaching the point where the bridge washed out, where I stopped worrying so much about making sure every little bit fit together and focused instead on telling the story that wanted to be told, that the screaming ego monkey wanted to tell. There’s pain ahead on this journey, no doubt.

But what really jumps out? It’s actually kind of fun to read. I mean, it reads like a book I wouldn’t mind reading. Sure, I know what’s coming and I know what glue fills in the cracks in the facade. But all the same, it feels like I’m just kicking back with a good book. Which is the goal, right? Don’t they say that in therapy? You have to love yourself first, before anybody else can?

So, the edit is starting off swimmingly. The weather is gorgeous — way too gorgeous for February, to be sure, but I guess we ought not to look this gift weather horse in the mouth until it global-warming incinerates us with the hottest summer on record in the coming months. I’m running comfortably and pain-free for the first time in recent memory. And we’ve got a week’s vacation coming up; plenty of time for me to read through the book and start the real work of ripping its guts out and hacking it back together.

Things are looking up.


Seams Impossible


It was a fun week off, but tomorrow I’m back to work on that least enjoyable step in the creative process: editing. I’ve edited a novel before, but man … looking at the edits ahead of me is a little bit like staring down the craggy peaks of Everest. This stuff ain’t gonna be easy.

I’ve taken the conventional wisdom for editing perhaps too much to heart, giving myself plenty of time in between drafts. Ideally, they say, you want to come back to your work as a new reader would come to the story, divorced from any cuddly feelings the author might have for this or that character or plot point. In my case, it’s been something like nine months since the ink dried on the first draft of the story I’m about to tackle. And the parallels between a nine-month fermenting process for a story and the time it takes to fully cook a human baby (yeah that looks a little wrong as I sit here and re-read it) are probably too obvious to list.

So: the characters in the story are likely to appear pretty fargoing foreign to me, especially given that I seem to recall introducing some pretty massive shifts in their development about forty percent of the way in. Likewise the plotting, since I’m fairly certain that my past self left a note to my future self to rewrite most of the beginning of the story with a different character as the protagonist. Oh, that Past Me. How easy it must be to come up with these tremendously bold ideas when you don’t have to do any of the legwork. Wouldn’t it be cool if your antagonist were a sentient pile of roaches instead of just a really nasty dude? How about if we set the entire story in an underwater hidden city? Or maybe the story all stays the same, except that now every single character speaks a different language? This guy, I tell ya. Just because he’s pouring the magical unfiltered story-gunk out through his fingers, he thinks he can suggest just any old thing.

Of course, without those crazy ideas — not the dumb ones, mind, because you can’t go diving down every rabbit hole to see what’s at the bottom — the story feels rote, uninspired, like a cardboard sandwich slathered in gluey mayonnaise. Some of the rabbit holes have to be explored, and that’s what the second draft is for: turning down the side streets that you noticed in the first draft but didn’t have the time for. Abandoning the main thread of the story you found yourself telling and hacking into the newly discovered jungle of the story you could tell.

And then, of course, comes the real work: the part where you look around at all the strewn and scattered bits of story, littering the floor like so much discarded fabric at a dressmaker’s, you collect the bits that look the least objectionable, and you start sewing.

So: may my needles stay sharp, may my plot threads not fray, and may my eye for fashion be clear. It’s going to take all that and more to get through this one.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator:An Accumulation of Oddities


If your house is anything like mine, the stuff just sort of seems to accumulate. (Doubly or maybe exponentially true if you have kids, and doubly exponentially if those kids are particularly young.) You see this or that shiny doodad, and you think, gosh,the kids would just love that, and because we live in America we buy the thing. Or a loving and well-meaning grandparent will make a gift of some battery-powered monstrosity that belches out Christmas music if it detects movement within a square mile. Or the kids themselves will bring home toys covered in foreign guck and another kid’s nose slime. (How do they get these toys away from other kids, I wonder? My kids can sense it — and immediately pitch a fit — if I so much as touch a stray eye from a long-lost mister Potato head doll.)

But even without kids, it happens. You’re at the mall for some reason, and you think, that’s a nice looking shirt. I wear shirts. Let me give some of my money for that thing. Even though you need another shirt like your kids need another toy. Or you pick up another fancy running gizmo or some inspirational book of quotes or an odd lamp you like the look of.

And it just adds up. It’s not a bad thing, per se. But with so much stuff, it becomes easy to lose track of things. Easy to take things for granted.

hoarders

And if you’re not careful, the same thing can happen to your stories. For me, this usually comes in the form of a sentence, half-formed in my mind, that goes something like: wouldn’t it be cool if…

this minor inconvenience character turned out to be related to the main villain?

…the bad guys stole the thing that the good guys need to make their lives work?

…the mentor character’s cat starts phasing forward and backward in time?

All of which are fine and interesting and may well reach the final cut. Unfortunately, the mind, like the house cat that indiscriminately murders local fauna and deposits them on the doorstep, also drops off less-inspired idea corpses like…

There should totally be a paper-and-pen motif in this chapter.

Maybe the villain should have an electric puppy.

Feathers. Feathers everywhere.

Problem is, in the heat of a daily word-count grinding session, the gems are indistinguishable from the crystallized turds. You see them float past on the shelf of consciousness, think, oh, sure, that works for my story, and into the story sausage they go.

And again, that’s not a bad thing per se.

But just like the stuff that piles up in your house, this crap accumulates and chokes off a good story. Before you know it, you’re struggling to pick a clean path through your story, its every spare passageway littered with the half-formed iterations of these little oddities that, like the snot-caked stormtrooper my kid brought home the other day, you have no idea where they came from.

The little curiosities are a powerful spice, fascinating and interesting in moderation, overpowering and inedible if overused. Which means that, just like every now and then you have to go through the house and purge all the junk that no longer brings you joy, so, too, does a story in subsequent drafts need a brutal bit of spring cleaning.

The tricky thing, of course, is making sure you don’t accidentally put a priceless heirloom out on the curb by mistake.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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