Tag Archives: editing

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.

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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.


The Beer-Can Fix


Beer Can, Marine, Waste, Moss

One of my favorite moments from Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle comes around the end of the first third of the book. The dysfunctional family, composed of an alcoholic engineer father and a tree-hugging lunatic religious mother and their four kids, inherits a relatively palatial house in Phoenix. (I’ll point out that the mother is a lunatic who happens to be religious, rather than a religious person who is, by extension, a lunatic). The house has termites, though, and before long the floors become unstable, to the point where a misplaced step results in somebody’s foot going through the floor. This proceeds until it can’t any longer, at which point the father enacts a fix which is simultaneously brilliant and idiotic. He buys a six-pack of beer. Downs one. Uses his tin snips to turn the can into a little metal tile. Then hammers the can down over the hole. This process repeats anytime the family kicks a new hole in the floor, which is often. It’s the height of pragmatism — he’s going to drink anyway, so why not use it to fix the floor — and ridiculousness — picture the lovely parquet floor pockmarked with Budweisers and PBRs.

And I have a similar favorite moment in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Dude’s hog has a problem with its steering. They know that the repair that’s needed (some sort of ionized stripping installed around the axle or whatever) will be prohibitively expensive; several hundred bucks. The narrator points out that the repair can be effected — not as a stop-gap measure, but well and truly fixed — by snipping a beer can open, cutting it to fit, and wrapping the strip around the steering bits (I don’t cars, sorry NOT SORRY). The beer can, which is oxidized (or un-oxidized or whatever) on the liquid side so as to safely contain the beer, serves as a perfect insulator that won’t break down or rust over time. But the dude isn’t about to have his brand-new motorcycle, the epitome of engineering, repaired by a lowly can of beer. He doesn’t accept that it could work. So he drives it with the janky steering until he can overpay for a “proper” repair.

Why are these moments banging against each other in my head like literary pinballs? Well, I’m nearing the end of the edit on my first novel, and I’m ironing out the last few problems. Spoiler-free, the problems are: I’ve got some characters who pull a disappearing act when they shouldn’t, and others who don’t pull a disappearing act when they should. I’d been mulling the problem for a few days when a startlingly simple solution struck me.

And then today it struck me that maybe the solution was too simple. Too pat. Too surface-level. Maybe I was patching my busted floor with a spent beer can. So I find myself wondering whether I’m fixing these last few problems “properly”. Whether, a la The Glass Castle, I’m using ridiculous if not trashy easy fixes for problems that need deep, structural focus and foundational repair. Or, whether, a la Zen, I’m overthinking things and the beer can is not only adequate, but more elegant and simple than a highfalutin ground-up rethink.

At this point it’s probably impossible for me to know. I mean, I didn’t catch this mistake on my first read-through (nor did one of my readers, actually). My wife caught it. (Thanks, wife!) So the fix probably will look equally fine to me.

There’s only one thing that’s actually clear in all of this.

Beer fixes everything.

If only I liked beer.


End in Sight


I have noted to my two primary reviewers that, in the recent weeks of my latest (and, for the time being, last) revision of AI, I’ve felt less and less compelled to make any changes the closer I get to the end of the book.

I wasn’t sure if that was due to my fatigue with the project or whether the book actually got better toward the end.

Well, today, I answered that question, because today I feel compelled to make some massive changes to the ending. Well, not massive changes in and of themselves; the characters will do the same things, the conflicts will resolve in the same ways. But there are some serious plot holes toward the end of the book which are too big not to address, and that’s going to require some creative narrative surgery to fix. It’s kinda like I was so excited to put the finishing touches on the thing that I didn’t realize I had attached the feet above the knees. Then the thing tried to walk and it collapsed like a wire skeleton. Or maybe the book is like a gymnast that spends 180 pages running and twisting and building up momentum and then breaks its ankle on the landing from a back handspring.

So even though it’s a little discouraging to run into such a hurdle within sight of the end of the process, I’m at least heartened to see that my editorial lenses aren’t simply fogged with exhaustion.

Now I’m off to think about how to straighten out this gimpy narrative leg…


Increments


*Pokes his head out of the editing gopher-hole*

Advice I’ve heard more than once says that you should give your projects time to breathe in between revisions. Like, ideally, you should be able to read it with objective eyes, as if you yourself didn’t slave over it for months.

And I laughed at that advice, because I thought it was impossible. And in a panoramic sense, it is. An author can probably never divorce himself so completely from a work as to not recognize it. (Sidenote: I think that may be the first time I’ve ever referred to myself as an author. Feels cozy.)

But that’s the work as a whole. The prose? Oh my god. I’m sixty pages into the edit and … yeah, it feels like some arsehole idiot who basically knows nothing about writing wrote this thing.

And that’s coming from an arsehole idiot who basically knows nothing about writing.

It’s not bad. But man… if it feels this unpolished to me now … I mean, I have to take that as a sign that I’m getting better, right?

Right?

I’m not saying I’m an expert or anything, but … even incremental progress, yeah?

*Vanishes back down the gopher-hole*


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