Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Feel Like Cookie Monster (Results of My Revision Retreat)

Ho-ly...! I did my retreat, in a way. (Read this post if you want to know what I'm talking about.)

Instead of an overnight, I opted for the sneak-in-and-get-it-done-quick strategy. Announced to my husband I wanted to spend all of Sunday at the coffee shop revising my novel, got his commitment to take care of our son all day, and had them drop me off at the 24-hour coffee shop. Worked from 8:30 this morning to 7:30 this evening with about a half-hour break for foraging. (The 24-hour coffee shop is in the corner of a supermarket.)

Are you surprised by my long-term concentration and effort? Me too. I sat right down, coffee in one hand, red pen in the other, and did what Stephen King suggests. I went through that s.o.b. in one sitting. First revision complete! Now I have to finish typing up the revisions. I wanted to do that tonight, but I am as exhausted as if I had done--get this--a full day of work.

Gwabgwab, gwabgwab, cookie, omomomomom!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stephen King Watches

King distrusts plot. For him, it's all about the story. "I want to put a group of some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn't to help them...but to watch what happens and then write it down," he says in On Writing.

Faced with this quote, I think about the number of my characters who, eventually, didn't seem to do anything. So I had nothing to watch and nothing to write down. I tried to fix this by changing their names, love interests, or genders, or swapping them with a more interesting minor character.

But the problem didn't lie with the characters. It was the story. It was either no good to begin with, or I let it grow cold. The story withered and then the characters grew pale.

There's no remedy once this happens, at least not in the present. The idea and the characters must be killed. I must get it right the next time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reading and Writing

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around those two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."
~from On Writing by Stephen King

King suggests that if you're not willing or able to do those two things, you can forget about being a writer. His recommendations are a couple of hours a day of reading and however long it takes to reach your daily goal of writing. Given his suggested daily goal and the average time it takes him to write that amount (as stated in On Writing), and considering also how long it takes me to write that number of words on average, I'd say a couple of hours of writing is the daily figure.

Both are possible to accomplish with a full-time job. However, you have to use your lunch break or get up really early or have no household duties whatsoever or go to bed late or all of the above. I never achieved both while working full-time. But I did meet the daily writing goal for an entire month while working all day in an office and pregnant! If you've never been pregnant, never mind--but it's impressive, damnit! The thing is, I don't think I read much, if anything, that month and I couldn't have gone longer than a month without burning out.

What I'm trying to say is that, to follow King's recommendations, you must treat it as a job in its own right.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A King's Work Ethic

Stephen King worked several blue-collar jobs up to the time his novel Carrie sold: in a fabric mill, as a janitor, in a laundry. He's no stranger to a day (or night) of hard work.

Could that have something to do with his colossal creative output? When he approaches something as a job, you'd better believe he'll get it done and done well. He's written 48 novels, 8 story collections, and a screenplay. And that's not counting numerous short stories, the various roles he played in making many "Stephen King movies", and multiple other bookish and writing endeavors.

When he gives writing advice, notably in his book On Writing, he means it, by gum. Sit down and do it. There's no alternative except to give up altogether. If he says sit down and try to revise your novel all in one shot if possible, then you'd best do it. At the very most, do it in two sittings.

Ahem. Eventually I will post how it worked for me when I attempted this with my mini-retreat.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Revision Exercise Part Two

Read Part One here if you haven't already. Then take your 24 hours' free time, your loving helpmate, and your dependent and mix them together. Tell them you will be back in 24 hours, more or less. Leave emergency numbers but NOT a number where you can be reached. Bring your manuscript, red pen, alarm, takeout food, and ready-made snacks to the uninterruptable place with the bathroom.

Set the alarm for 24 hours from now. Revise. Quickly now. Revise more. Don't touch that TV! Or that phone! Don't even THINK about the Internet. Make a list of the things you want to look up or do online and do them later.

Go home when the alarm goes off. Voila! You have revised your manuscript.

Revision Exercise Part One - Stephen King Month

This exercise will help you (me) implement the Kingian strategy of reading through for revision all in one shot. See this post for more detail about the strategy. This exercise isn't suggested by King, though I think he would approve if it got the job done. Nope, it's purely from a mom's perspective, a solution to the puzzle of how to follow his recommendation when you have a toddler at home.

a child, children, dog, or other needy creature who depends daily on you
an alarm
one loving husband, partner, grandparent, relative, loyal friend, or other helpmate
a place where you will not let yourself be interrupted
your manuscript
a red pen
takeout food and ready-made snacks (caffeinated beverages optional but recommended)
24 hours' free time (which you have fought for and arranged)
a close-by bathroom

Get these requirements together. Then come back for Part Two.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stephen King Month

I've read Stephen King's book On Writing so many times I can almost recite from it. It'll be easy to sum up what I intend to do for Stephen King Month, in revision mode. (By the way, read On Writing. I don't know if it will improve your work, but I promise you'll enjoy yourself if you write fiction. Or read fiction. Or read nonfiction.)

1. Read through the manuscript as fast as possible making notes in the margins--mostly corrections of spelling, grammar, and things that don't work, like events that could not possibly happen now that my protagonist is female and a twin instead of an only child. Fix grammar and spelling and crappy sentences. Try to delete every single adverb. Have a go at some adjectives, too; why not? Ideally, I'll do this in just one or two sittings. When will I find these large chunks of time to go through the manuscript? Hunh. I'll get back to you on that one. (Probably one day--let's call it tomorrow--during my son's naptime and then a few hours after he goes to bed.)

2. Type up corrections and send off the manuscript to the people I choose for feedback.

3. Evaluate suggestions from those people and make any changes I want to make at this point. Think about theme and whether or not I can add in some meaningful frills or purposeful twists. Examine previous sentence and scoff, disdaining to even fix it.

4. Go through one more time and catch those remaining errors--I hope all of them.

5. Whew. It might be August at this point.

Tonight Is A Triumph

Woohoo! It's Stephen King Month! But I don't have my act together yet, so details are coming. Won't bore you (Jeff and any other unexpected but welcome guest) with the mundane reasons, but I haven't been posting lately due to know, crucial life schtuff.

However, tonight is a triumph. Success #1: I posted. Success #2: I've been revising my novel bit by bit; it hasn't been altogether abandoned. Success #3 (in the near future): I will post at Once Upon A Week tonight, too! Oh, and Success #4: I've been talking with a close friend's close friend who knows people in the publishing realm novel. Not a bad thing to be doing, eh?