Oh my god, proof-reading is literally the worst

proofreadingLiterally!

I am about to begin proof-reading the manuscript of This Beautiful Fever for what is at least the third and might possibly be the fourth time. When I write a text straight through, without revision, it’s usually pretty perfect, in terms of spelling, grammar, usage, punctuation, capitalization, etc. But the moment I start revising it, the text (whether it’s an email, tweet, blog post, story, or whatever) immediately goes to hell.

I am sure it’s this way for everyone, but the more I revise, the more dropped words and bizarre usages enter the text. The result is that revision actually makes the text harder to read and less beautiful. When I revise, it all gets sorted into a good order in my mind, but the mind isn’t good at deleting the fragments of the way it used to be. So I read it through and think, “Hmm, that sounds amazing!”

When, reality it it sounds if this.

I have a pretty good proof-reading method. I’ve downloaded a program that reads text out to you. I let the computer speak the text to me as I read it. Since the computer voice lacks any preconceptions, it carefully pronounces all the misspellings and fails to add in all the dropped words. I catch a lot of stuff like this.

Doesn’t help with the commas, though.

Working with an agent completely changes the emotional dynamics of writing a novel

imagesEver since signing with an agent way back in April, my novel has been chugging through revisions. They haven’t been particularly major ones, but the novel has been much improved by alterations to portions of the backstory that had previously felt a bit thin or implausible. I have to say, working with an agent is really weird: it completely changes the emotional arc of writing a novel.

When you’re unrepresented, finishing a novel or story is an act of faith. It’s an assertion that this is done. And it’s a pretty major deal. No one is ever going to tell you that something is done. You’re never going to send it out to readers but that they’ll send it back with a bunch of suggestions. One of the main dangers that faces a writer is that they’ll never reach a place where they’re ready to let go of a novel. And one of the main fears of a writer is that they’ve sent out the work too soon.

When I first submitted this novel (which is, to date, the only one that I’ve completely finished), in my mind it was done. I’d swept through it five times. I’d sent it out to readers and revised according to their comments. I’d gone through it sentence by sentence, tightening every line. And it was time to send it out. Jesus, I think that was back in December of 2011. So long ago.

My agent has a stake in it too. He won’t send it out to editors until he feels comfortable with it. And since I can’t submit it without his help, the responsibility for saying it’s done has, in a way, been transferred to him.

There’s something very comfortable about that, actually. I never thought it was possible to shift the emotional burden of composition in this way. I’m sure that in some ways it’s a bad thing. One can easily imagine some awful wrangling over edits. One can easily imagine novels held up and careers stunted because of artistic disagreements between writer and agent.

However, for this particular novel, I haven’t had any complaints with the (pages upon pages) of edits that I’ve received. (Actually, they’ve been really insightful). So the situation is actually pretty nice. I still have to do the writing, but I don’t have to do as much of the worrying.

 

(On a sidenote, this is the kind of post that you don’t normally see on author blogs, which makes me wonder if I’ve somehow strayed into a topic that we’re not supposed to talk about. However, I can’t see any reason why that would be. But if I’m committing a horrible faux paux, I expect one of you to tell me!)

There’s no way that this is not going to somehow screw up this blog

I really do not like WordPress’ internal text editor, so I usually compose my posts in Word before copy-pasting them to WordPress. However, on a whim, I’ve decided to test-drive the Microsoft Word feature that lets you propagate posts from Word directly to your blog. I have a strong belief this is really going to screw up the blog, since, well, it’s Word. But it’s also easy (where is where somebody will pop in and tell me about some third-party application that is the greatest thing since sliced bread and will do everything I want, and then I will put off using it for years until I finally do use it and it turns out to be awesome.

Also, is there some popularity threshold after which your blog’s spam filter breaks down? For years, WordPress’ Akismet system NEVER let any spam comments through. And it still manages to screen out 95% of them, but now hardly a day goes by when one of them doesn’t slip through. So far, I’m going in manually and marking them as spam. I hope that this is just a temporary thing that WordPress somehow learns what is and isn’t legit. To me, the spam comments seem super obvious–you’d think a computer would be able to spot them. I hope I don’t have to do that thing where every comment has to go in for moderation. I hate that.

I’ve also begun the second round of agent-requested revisions on This Beautiful Fever. They’re not so bad. Novel revision isn’t too horrendous a process–especially when the points get finer and finer–because it becomes a little bit mechanical. I mean, obviously, there’s inspiration involved, but it’s not quite the crazy adrenaline- and terror-fueled process that writing a first draft is. However, it’s weird, this novel is officially much more revision than first novel. I recently ran a compare versions between the current draft and the first complete draft and it is crazy how much stuff has been changed. Like the whole beginning of the novel! I’ve gotten so used to the beginning and revised it up so many times that I forget the novel used to begin in a really, really different way. And there’s a whole character that I cut out! In fact, the whole tone of the novel is fairly different from what it was. Even though most of the scenes and events have stayed the same through all drafts, I’ve put a fairly significant amount of work into revising it. I can’t even imagine how much work it must be to take the first draft of a novel and then substantially alter its structure.

Zoomed-Out-Edits
Sometimes I like to do a compare/contrast versions and then zoom out as far as I can so I can just loo at a sea of red pages. Still amazed that I made aaaaaaall these edits.

 

All of George R. R. Martin’s child characters are off by about three years

hklgI am still making my slow, but steady, way through Ulysses. But a splitting headache impelled me to take the afternoon off and read The Hedge Knight, which is the first of the prequel novellas George R. R. Martin wrote for the world that inspired the Game of Thrones TV show. This is probably one of my favorite-ever short novels. It doesn’t really have the punch that one associates with a short story, but it does tell a perfectly contained little adventure story: basically, it has all the virtues that Martin’s high fantasy novels have and many virtues (compression, precision) that they do not. However, the kid in it is 8 years old. And, well, I don’t have extensive experience with children, but he just does not seem like a second or third grader. He’s way too witty and worldy-wise. I mean, some kids are precocious, but it just doesn’t read right. He ought to be at least 11 or so.

And this holds true for all of the kids. Does Joffrey really seem like a 12 year old? Does Robb really seem like a 15 year old? Is Arya really 9? Is Daenerys really 14? What’s weird is that all of the kids definitely seem like kids–they just feel like kids who are about three years older than their characters’ stated age. This is yet another way in which the TV series is better than the books, since–even if they kept the stated age in the same place–the actors tend to be a few years older than the characters they play. Thus, on a visual level, the actors seem to match up with our mental conception of where the characters should be.

However, the weird ages of the characters in Martin’s novels turn out not to matter very much, since almost every reader just tends to imagine them as being older than they really are. This is yet another example of the effect I noted with regards to black characters: you can say whatever you want about the characters, but you’re going to need to say it again and again and again if it’s going to override the reader’s biases (in this case, the reader’s conception of what characters of various ages sound like).

So yeah.

In other me-related news, I did only very light writing for a few days because I was worn out from finishing the novel, but then I realized that I have only eight days left before Sewanee! EEEP, I still need to do another round of edits for This Beautiful Fever. Luckily, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do, and I feel like I should be able to get it done in under 15 hours of work. But still, I gotta get cracking!

Finished the first draft of another novel: Production Diary…

Yep, I did it again. Now, you might ask, didn’t I just finish a novel six months ago? Why am I writing another one? Is that other one revised? What’s going on here?

Well, it’s kind of a pipeline issue. This Beautiful Fever still hasn’t gone out on submission yet, and I can’t really have two YA novels out on submission at the same time, so Enter Title Here probably wouldn’t go out on submission until next spring / summer (at the earliest) anyway, which kind of takes some of the impetus off of revising it. And I also kind of wanted to turn in a portion of a novel for my thesis (due this January!), but it’s a bit hard to turn in a YA novel to an MFA program. I mean, it’s doable, but how good is the feedback really going to be?

And then, last April, I got a great idea for a short story. And the story spiralled out of control and became a novella that I then turned in to my workshop. But even the novella felt like it needed to be longer, so I decided it should probably be a novel. And since I’d already turned it in to my workshop, it’d be pretty easy to turn it in as my thesis (at Hopkins, your thesis needs to be something you’ve run through the workshop).

So anyway, I know that it’s very difficult to work on anything novel-length during the semester (because you’re constantly interrupted by deadlines for short stories), so I felt like I needed to husband my resources this summer. To that end, I decided that my priorities would (in order) be: a) Revise This Beautiful Fever accorded to agent comments; b) Write a first draft of Production Diary… (the novel I just completed; and c) Revise Enter Title Here at least enough that I could send it to first readers.

That way, This Beautiful Fever can (hopefully) go on submission during the spring and I can get comments back on Enter Title Here during the semester and then revise both it and Production Diary during the winter.

Anyways, I allocated about a month for each task, but everything got kind of skewed because revising This Beautiful Fever only took a week and drafting Production Diary took two months. Furthermore, two weeks ago, I got another round of comments on This Beautiful Fever, so now I’m going to revise that again.

Hopefully I can get to Enter Title Here sometime in August. (Dudes, I still have SIX more weeks of summer!)

Anyway, so that’s where I am, ta-da!

This is also my first adult realist novel. Yes, I have sold out and gone literary. I really don’t know if I like the novel, though. At several points during its writing, I considered abandoning it. Writing it was not easy or particularly fun (as opposed to writing Enter Title Here, which was an amazing rush). It’s hard to say why this is. I might’ve been in a bad mood because the novel is bad. Or it might be that I perceived it as being bad because I was in a bad mood. Or perhaps my bad mood resulted in the novel being bad, which only put me into a worse mood.

In any case, my mood picked up hugely about  two weeks ago, and I raced through the last third of the novel, which I actually feel alright about.

Not sure where this one will go, but I am glad I finished it and even if it turned out to be bad, I imagine that I learned a lot from it. Finishing a novel is cool, but what’s even cooler is the thought that this is just the kind of thing that I do nowadays.

I totally understand why people quit writing short stories.

calvin-and-hobbes-on-writing-3 I’ve only written three stories this year (and it’s half over; also, one of those stories was only 700 words long)! The last story I completed was finished on February 17th. This year I’ve almost exclusively done novel-related stuff: drafting and revising Enter Title Here¸ revising This Beautiful Fever, and, this summer, working on the first draft of a different novel.

Not only have I not been writing stories, I haven’t even been revising them. I have seventeen unrevised stories, with some of them dating back to January of 2012. Normally I take a month or two at the beginning of the year to revise my backlog. I didn’t do that this time. And my submissions pile is showing the damage. Half my stories aren’t out right now, because I don’t really have anywhere exciting to show them. If I had new stuff coming in, then I might retire old stuff, but that’s not really happening.

It’s a bit disappointing. I like to always be in a place where someone could email me with good news RIGHT NOW. And that’s not really where I am at the moment. The effort-to-reward time for a short story is really good. You can get good news within a few months of writing the story. For a novel, it’s very bad. I wrote the first draft of This Beautiful Fever two years ago, and I’m still not in the GOOD NEWS COULD HAPPEN RIGHT NOW phase. Actually, right now, there’s no chance of good news happening on that novel, since I am sitting on a second round of edits from the agent. Good edits. Sound edits. But as long as they’re hanging over me, the novel isn’t going anywhere. Hopefully I can get them done before I go to the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, but if I can’t, then I won’t be able to get them done until maybe mid-August. And the it’ll take him a month to read them. So, best case scenario, the novel doesn’t even go on submission until, like, mid-September–ten weeks from now!

And that’s for something I wrote two years ago.

The stuff I am writing now is even further from being in the GOOD NEWS COULD HAPPEN RIGHT NOW phase. Not actually clear how long their journey is, since I’ve only ever taken one novel from first-draft to submission, and that novel still hasn’t completed its revision lifecycle.

But, on the other hand, the prospect of writing more short stories is not too exciting. Firstly, because the last few stories I’ve been super excited about have gotten nothing but rejection. And, secondly, because the potential reward is so limited. I mean, I like reading short stories and I like writing them. But I also like getting readers and getting paid. And novels are where it’s at for that stuff.

And even though I’m a pretty fast writer, it does take a noticeable change in gears to switch over and write short stories, and I just haven’t felt like taking the effort.

The result is that I am in a different place nowadays, mentally. In some ways, it’s relaxing. I’m not worrying as much about submissions. I’m not tracking them obsessively. I’m not staying up at night wondering if some magazine is going to like my story. But I am also deprived of the pleasure of that kind of hope.

Sometimes I do think, “Wow, actually, the odds of an agented manuscript selling are much better than the odds of a story being accepted by Clarkesworld. So it’s not at all unlikely that something good could actually happen to me.”

But that prospect seems so remote. Any success that is further away than POSSIBLY RIGHT NOW is just too far into the mists of time for me.