Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Time as the Healer of All Slights

This week, my biggest writing task is to work my way through the second round of edits for my upcoming short story collection.

Thank you. Your waves of sympathy are greatly appreciated.

On my first slog through the edits, I found the experience easy in some places (as if) and horrifically painful (more like it) in others. I asked myself many of the typical insulted-writer questions:

How could the editor so totally miss the point of my story?

They didn't miss the point. They were simply making a note of a particular aspect that wasn't as clear as it could be in the story since it didn't make the entire journey from my head to the page.

Of course that character did "X"! What else could they have possibly done under the circumstances?

Plenty, apparently. Perhaps the reason the editor was thrown from the story is because the gut reaction of my character wasn't gutsy at all, more like totally out in left field.

This suggestion isn't a copy edit! There's no way I'm changing the voice of the story. It will be completely ruined if I do. Right?

Not exactly. Because even though this edit feels like the most egregious edit of all freaking time today, on second (or tenth?) pass it actually is a tiny fraction of a good idea. Sort of. I guess.

This story was published (some more than once) or critiqued already. Many, many eyes have smoothed it over, so I'm certain it's perfect. Why mess with a good thing?

Because even a good thing can be a little better. Kind of like a dapper suit on a handsome man. He's gorgeous even when he first wakes in his flannel PJs, but put him in a Hugo Boss tuxedo and wowie! Hold the phone!

I've read this story out loud for many audiences. If I change it, won't they be disappointed, or claim that it isn't the same story at all?

Alienating your audience/fans is a legitimate concern. But chances are if I make the story better, then my readers will be happier. They might even send me fan mail, telling me how amazing I am and how much I've grown as a writer.

Yeah, I know, wake up Suzanne. You're dreaming!

Better is the key word to keep in mind. Everyone, from the publisher to the copy editor, to you, the writer, wants to put out the best possible product. The old adage is true--that's why it's endured: practice makes perfect.

The first time I worked through the edits, I experienced nausea, stress, frustration, incredulity, and a whole host of emotions. Just ask any of my writer friends because I think they all heard one (or more) of my many rants during the process.

But I took my time. I pondered. I changed passages, reverted them back, then changed them again. This process is completely normal.

The process of a successful edit takes time.

Lots of time.

Time is your friend. If you're working your way through a major edit, don't rush the process.

Sometimes shelving a work-in-process for a while will give you:
- fresh eyes
- perspective
- ideas you wouldn't have though of on first (or fourth) pass.

So give your project the time and consideration it deserves. And make sure you complain to your friends and not your editor, because you don't want to be labelled as difficult to work with.

Oh, and make sure you wait a couple of days and read over all your comments and edits one final time before you email the file back.

Because it's harder to take words back than to swallow your tongue.

Do it now
If you've been working on a project you're sick of, save it and leave it for a week. (If at all possible.)

Say out loud, "We're all trying to make the story better." Oh, and mean it.

Apologize to those of your friends you've been ranting to over the last while.

Okay, people, this is my official apology. I've been a pain. Thank you for your continued patience and support.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reading is as Writing Does

To be a great writer, you must read.

Seems simple, doesn't it?

Most writers fall in love with books long before they decide to become writers. So reading should be as easy as breathing.

Just as a writer should write every day so should they read every day.

Five Reasons to Read Every Day

1. You can claim the cost of books and magazines as a business expense. So save your receipts every time you visit the bookstore (or buy a book online) and then claim them as supplies costs on your tax return.

2. Studying how the pros write will help you to improve your own writing. So read in every genre: Literature, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thrillers, Chick Lit, Romance, Historical, even Non-Fiction. But don't spend all of your time reading Non-Fiction, because then people will accuse you of being a research whore, and you won't necessarily absorb concepts on style, characterization, and theme.

When you read, keep a pencil nearby. If you like the way a writer coins a phrase, or introduces a character, or jacks up the tension then make a note in the margin and then note the page number on the first page so you can find the reference quickly later.

Now don't scold me for writing in a book. I know you're all freaking out right now about marking up your favourite book. If you use a pencil, you can always erase it later. And if that still upsets you, then keep a journal where you store "book tidbits". Make sure you note the edition you're referencing, so you won't waste time looking through the wrong version of the book. In this day of ebooks, the "book tidbit" journal might be the only way to track these gems.

You'll find more information on "what to look for while reading" in my post Living in the Shrubs.

3. A little professional jealousy is a great motivator. I try to read much of what my friends and colleagues are writing. Not only to support their career, but also to find out what they're up to. You may develop a nemesis (or three), but every time they are deluged with praises, say to yourself, "I can do that." Of course, you are still required to put in the work to write, there's nothing to be gained from jealousy that isn't used for productive purposes.

By the way, no, I will not divulge my own nemeses. But if you buy me a drink at the bar at the next convention, who knows what you'll find out! And yes, that's one of the many reasons why the bar is so busy at a writers' convention.

4. A great book will help you to remember why you chose this tedious, soul-sucking job as a profession in the first place. Many of the novels I read are research into what's current in the market, or chosen because I want to learn a specific technique, etc. That type of reading takes a certain level of concentration. But treating yourself to a great book for pure pleasure is at least as important as treating yourself to chocolate, or exercise, or other pleasurable activities.

No, I won't list alternate pleasurable activities here. That sort of naughty belongs in my novels, not my posts on writing. Why do you think romance novels are so popular?

But I will admit that right now, I'm about halfway through reading (among other books) "The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick DeWitt and it's fantastic (so far).

5. Books belong in a writer's life. Reading is a cultural activity, even though it's also a bit of a loner activity. Because once we've read a book, then we can talk about it, blog about it, brag about it (or ridicule it), all in the name of spreading the word to the world at large that reading is an important activity in life.

When you model reading to children and adults, you are essentially planting the seeds for the harvest of your fan base, as well as educating the masses to be responsible citizens in a democracy.

So read a book today. Okay, maybe not the whole book, because we are all busy people. But even if it's only one hundred words, those thoughts will get gears-a-turnin' in your brain and you'll be more inspired to get your butt-in-chair and write.

Do it now
If you don't have a book (or five) on the go, pick one to read the next time you have five minutes. That means don't play on your phone, read instead. There's an app for that!

Do a quick online search at Amazon or Chapters or wherever you buy your books and choose a "hot pick" that's outside your usual reading-comfort-range.

Read that story a friend wrote that's in the anthology/collection you bought to support their writing that you haven't gotten around to reading yet because you're always so busy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guest Blog Alert!

Today, Stop-Watch Gang member Suzanne Church appears on Gabrielle Harbowy's blog as a guest blogger.

It's another writing tip entry, on the subject of Chapbooks as Promotional Swag.

Feel free to click on over and check it out!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back to School Touchstone

Technically last week was the first week of school for my kids, but I wrote that post at Dragon*Con, so here I sit, back in a Starbucks in Canada, back at writing, back to composing my weekly writing tip.

In my Quarterly Tune-Up post, I discussed the act of checking my progress with respect to my yearly writing goals.

Well, yikes! We are more than three-quarters of the way through the year, and it's time to check to make sure I can hit all of my goals before the year is out. Because no one wants to endure the head-hanging-in-shame of missing a bunch of goals, and me in particular, because I am extremely goal oriented.

You can read the blow-by-goal-blow details at the Good Goal, Bad Goal post on my personal blog. For brevity, I'm including only a couple here, to keep you all motivated to stay on track for the rest of 2012.

Goal #2: Write, edit, and submit to market at least four NEW short stories.

Reality check: Wrote one flash piece, totally reworked an existing story to more than double its length (not sure that counts as "new"), and wrote a new story during the SWG write-in. I definitely need to write another story this week, maybe next, for an invitation anthology. So I might be able to squeak through this goal before the year is out.

Goal #7: Sign up for NaNoWriMo.

Reality check: On the roster. As a matter of fact, this morning I was discussing possible novel ideas. Looks like it's either steampunk or paranormal romance this year.

Ha! NaNoWriMo looms its ugly head. How many of you are planning on joining me for the November craziness? Because you're not allowed to write a word until the first of November, but you can be planning, plotting, brainstorming, and yummy stuff like that RIGHT NOW!

As if you don't have enough to do on your writing agenda?

I'm not in a great position for accomplishing all of my 2012 goals, but I am proud of what I have accomplished, especially the weekly writing tip blog entries.

Sometimes a little bit of pride helps to fuel the next day's work, especially if I'm facing another blank page.

As always, comments are welcome below!

Do It Now:
Look up your own resolutions and check your progress.

Don't pull out the whiskey (or the chocolate, or the box of tissues) yet. Wait...you have to do two more things.

1) Map out your time and set project goals for the rest of the year.

2) Start thinking about a novel idea for NaNoWriMo.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Chicon7 Report

You can read about my experience at the World Science Fiction Convention held in Chicago here: http://mikerimar.blogspot.ca/

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Twisting and Turning

A big THANK-YOU goes out to Nancy Northcott author of Renegade for providing this week's topic.

In my post on Elusive Endings, I mentioned that endings must:
- satisfy the reader
- resolve the central conflict
- leave room for more

While an ending requires these elements, it also requires some punch, to offer the reader an experience that is so amazing, so unexpected, that they will immediately loan your book to a friend, saying, “You so have to read this!”

Straightforward, anticipated endings don’t tend to cause such enthusiastic responses.

If the reader can anticipate exactly what your ending will be, why would they take the time to read all the way to the end?

Enter the power of the twist.

Twists are cheesecake for readers; the rich and flavourful pièce de résistance that turns an anticipated, “Okay, whatever,” ending into an “OMG, why didn’t I see that coming?” ending.

Twists must be hinted at, but not blatantly. In other words, nod your head, don’t wave a giant red flag.

An Example:

Dudette has lost her cat. She looks all over the house. She stands outside and calls Fluffy’s name. Her mother makes posters to plaster all over the neighbourhood. Dudette spends her nights crying. At one point, she drops to her knees and begs a god she barely believes in to return Fluffy.

Take a moment to guess the ending to this simple tale.

The most obvious ones:
a) Fluffy is never coming back (lost, stolen, or dead)
b) Fluffy is making a heart-warming return

But wait. Mwahaha. (Twisting my evil mustache.) Here comes the twist...

Fluffy climbs in the bedroom window wearing a spacesuit without a helmet and proceeds to explain to Dudette that she has been abducted by aliens and had her DNA altered to allow her to not only talk, but to organize a siege of the world, allowing cats everywhere the power that they have coveted for millennia.

Did you see that one coming? Pow! That’s the power of the twist ending.

“But wait,” you say, “you didn’t foreshadow the whole abducted-by-aliens scenario.”

Crap! You’re right. Time to edit my first draft.

Dudette has lost her cat. She looks all over the house. She stands outside, noticing the strange indentations in the mud near the front porch, and calls Fluffy’s name. Her mother makes posters to plaster all over the neighbourhood. Dudette spends her nights crying, her face streaked by the light of a shooting star. At one point, she drops to her knees and begs a god she barely believes in to return Fluffy.

Get it now? Your curiosity has been a little piqued by the whole “strange indentations” section. You believe that the “shooting star” is probably a bit of poetic pretty-prose. But once you make it to the end of the story, it all makes sense.

Some authors might even argue that the “strange indentations” bit was too much of a red flag. I’ll admit to the red-flag-wave there, but at the same time, it does make the story seem a little more mysterious and sets up the reader with the notion that Fluffy might have been stolen but I’m guessing not necessarily abducted by aliens.

The goal is to throw an ending at the reader that wasn’t obvious or expected, and makes them stand with their mouth agape, saying, “Whoa!”

A film example is M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, The Sixth Sense. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but if you listen to the commentary track, you’ll learn that all of the clues that help you to ready yourself for the twist ending have the colour red somewhere in the scene.

That small detail makes the viewer feel less cheated, because they can go back and look for those hints, and when they find them, they will feel as though a part of them, maybe only their subconscious might have even suspected that a twist was coming.

That, my writer friends, is a textbook example of how to properly execute a twist ending.

Do It Now:
Write a short twist ending for a story you’ve already written. Then go through the beginning and middle of the story to search for a couple of places where you could insert hints of the twist.

Note: save the results with a different file name. Don’t mess with a good thing in case the twist experiment doesn’t work.

If you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense get a copy and watch it.

If you haven’t read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, get a copy and read it.

Story sale

My story, "The Silhouette and the Smoke", is in this month's issue of Penumbra.  Check it out here:  http://eepurl.com/o8yP5.