My Book is Much Better. Would Endless Delay Improve It More?

I recently put the brakes on the novel I had “finished” because I realized suddenly that I don’t know what the word “finished” means.

I thought it was the novel I wanted to write, but it wasn’t. It was incredibly flawed. I was introducing an author’s voice that I didn’t want to introduce and some of my characters were just flat-out not enjoyable.

I began gutting the work last weekend and have spent all of my extra available energy to right the ship and get the novel back on track. I think I’m succeeding, as far as I can tell.

One thing I noticed is that the more I read my writing, the more I want to change it. It truly is never done. A published book is only the final manifestation of the author’s work before he or she didn’t want to look at it anymore. But what if he or she did, look at it again, that is. Would it even be better?

I suppose the answer to that is ‘yes.’ There is no limit to re-writing and editing. I’m finding phrasing that I find appalling in my “finished” book. What was I thinking? The last time I read it it sounded great to me.

I suppose it has something to do with subjectivity consistently changing. What I think of on one day is completely different from what I think of on another day. Even my vocabulary is in constant flux. It grows, it shifts, it remembers things one day that it forgets another day. Nothing is consistent in the human mind and therefore no novel editing is consistent as well.

I’m glad I’ve decided to re-do this novel. It twill be better for it. Will it make a mediocre novel great? I have no idea. But it will make a mediocre novel better. And that’s all I can hope for.

Of course, if I had the patience of Job, I would re-do it several more times. But I’m not that righteous. So I guess I just have to live with the best I can do. I’m just glad I realized that what I did, was not my best work.

Here’s to learning!

Ready to Move On, But Another Revision Awaits

I’m a firm believer in letting a finished work sit for a while before giving it its final revision prior to its final editing.

But there is a problem that arises as well – or at least it does for me – and that is my brain has already moved onto other interests.

What to do?

I’m referring to my fourth novel, A Love Story for a Nation, which I actually really like. It’s quite different from any novel I’ve ever written, and those of you who know me, may be stunned to find out it doesn’t even contain the world Vietnam. It doesn’t contain any reference to any country in the world. It’s unique in that way.

I finished the first draft of it in August 2014. I took the next couple of months revising it until finally in October I sent it out to some beta readers. I have since received some feedback and now am ready to put it through the grinder one more time — except for the fact that I don’t feel like it!

In all that time that has passed, I’ve moved onto other ideas. I’ve written 2/3 of my fifth novel. Just the last couple of days I’ve been struck with the idea of a new play – I came up with the premise while watching “Into the Woods” in the cinema. I’ve also started production on a musical I’m directing for May. And now out of the past, comes my 4th novel, hobbling towards me like an orphan, reaching out in anguish asking to be brought to a finish once and for all so it can be released this summer.

Hmmmph!

If only I worked as a full-time writer!

Back to reality.

The grind of authorship can take no shortcuts. It must be done. I have always told myself that I will not release a book half-heartedly.

It needs one more revision. I need to suck it up and do it. My other creative ideas will have to wait.

So here I go.

Indie Authors: Embrace Correction

I have had some wonderful book reviewers in the past who have taken the time to compile mistakes in the books I have written.

It’s rather humiliating and frustrating – BUT – I’m so glad they have done it!

The honest truth is, I have not perfected my revision and editing process, but I am constantly striving to improve. Perfection is the goal. One I may never attain, but that matters little. What does matter is that I haven’t given up trying to improve my process.

Let’s look at these words one at a time: humiliating.

When a typo is pointed out to me, I humbly have to accept it. It’s not something that can be argued. I can’t say “a awkward” is correct in certain West Virginian hillbilly clans when a blue moon if followed by moonshine party. (I don’t know what that means either.) But the point is, “a” doesn’t go with the word “awkward” – it would be, well, awkward. When I search for the word and line that the reviewer pointed me to, the error is there – black and white like the checkered floor of a 50s diner. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. The whole world knows it – or at least they would know it if they read my book.

Word two: frustrating. Mistakes in manuscripts are so darn frustrating because I go to extraordinary lengths to get rid of them, but perfection is elusive. I write draft and draft. Revision after revision. I have layers of readers and good editors whom I can’t fault. And after all of that, someone still might miss the fact that a painter paints on a canvas not a canvass. So easy to miss. Frustrating to know end.

What can be done? Here are a few ideas:

1) Welcome edits and critiques from ANYONE!

2) Work to improve your own editing skills. I’ve come a LONG way since writing my first novel. I’ve had to bone up on my grammar and syntax. This is a must step in helping to eliminate the possibility of typos or miscues.

3) Read your work out loud. This will slow you down when you revise. It will force you to go word for word, and you’ll be more likely to hear mistakes as well.

4) Improve the process. Work with your editor and make sure appropriate timelines are in place which can ensure a thorough process. This is especially important if you can’t afford to hire different layers of editors who focus on only one aspect of the book.

5) Find readers with keen eyes and see if they will read an advanced copy and help spot problems. Actually, my mother is really good at this. She should have been an editor.

6) Update your book! This is a glorious day and age we live in. If you are doing print-on-demand publishing, your manuscript can be changed and updated in a matter of hours. Those Kindle books can be cleaner than ever the next time one of your promotion comes along. Always keep your final drafts up to the minute concerning new mistakes or issues which have come to your attention.

I won’t be satisfied until all of my books are 100% error-free. Hopefully, I will get there someday, but for now, I’m still an indie author striving towards perfection.

Is Writing Your Priority?

I ran into this question recently: Is writing my priority?

I spend a lot of time on social media, trying to promote and connect the best way possible. I also spend time writing blog posts and mulling over new ideas. But what about writing? I don’t mean revising or editing or anything like that. I mean writing – creating – putting the metaphorical pen to paper and laying down some serious words which have never been strung together before in the English language? As a writer, shouldn’t writing be the top priority over all other tasks?

As I went into my holiday break and my three weeks of vacation, I answered ‘yes’ to that question. A resounding yes.

Writing new works is even more important that working on an unreleased work, or at least that’s how I prioritized my three weeks of writing time. My fourth novel lies dormant at the moment. It’s finished. Of course, it needs more revision and a final editing stage before it’s ready to be an ARC. I had planned on working on the third revision over break, but it hit me one day, why not push it back a month so I can write something new while I have a lot of free time.

With that new thought bursting forth from me, I have been furiously writing novel number 5, somewhat of a darker, different novel for me in some ways, but once again I have been drawn into my story, and the characters are yearning for me to continue; they are waiting to discover their fate.

By  prioritizing writing over revising, I will then have 2015 to work revisions and releases for two books instead of one (though it’s entirely possible that novel 5 won’t be seen until early 2016.)

I’ve found it’s important to push the creativity out once it’s flowing, so I best get back to it.

Remember: writing is an author’s main priority. If you ever ask what you should be doing, writing is never the wrong answer.

Now what? Novel four in a waiting game.

This is an exciting time for any novelist – a second draft of my latest novel is complete and I am now sending it off to some trusted readers for feedback.

Exciting, yet scary.

No one else has even seen a word of this novel, and now about eight people will be receiving it, tasked with letting me have it: the good, the bad, the ugly.

Honestly, I have no idea what I’ve created. It makes sense in my mind, but as a prior post expounded, my mind can be somewhat uneven. Who knows what others will think about it?

Luckily, I have some really shrewd readers who have agreed to take it on. Many of them have extensive backgrounds in literature, so I feel confident they will be open and honest with me about what works and what doesn’t.

Then it’s up to me to not be defensive. To take in their criticism and look back at the manuscript to make the final determination of whether, in my opinion, their ideas need to be addressed. Probably, they do. Initial feedback is oftentimes the most helpful. It helps shape the final draft and helps ready it for the editor to once again pick it apart.

But it’s also at this point that I can start thinking about my next novel. What should it be? Actually, I have the first chapter of a different novel already written. I will take a good long look at it as it will most likely be my next one – set in a imagined tropical island in southeast Asia. Yeah, I know. Asia always calls me home.

So, thank you readers for taking my baby and giving me your honest feedback. It will allow me to move forward and try something new. But I know that in a couple months, I’ll be back at novel 4 one more time to get things ready for my editor.

I must admit that it’s awfully fun to be a writer. May the creative processes never cease! Here’s to four, five, and beyond!

Slicing and Dicing the Script

The musical I’m directing is three weeks away from opening. Today we had our first mega-rehearsal – 8 hours which included two complete run-throughs from start to finish.

I know now that I had been over-optimistic about the musical’s length. I was confident that we could get it done in 2.5 hours which would have included a 15 minute intermission.

About halfway through our first run-through, it became obvious how wrong I was. When the running time finished, we had clocked in at 2 hours, 45 minutes with no intermissions.

Too long. It was time to slice and dice.

As a writer of theatrical works, I tend to write a little long, thinking that every little explanation along the way is crucial to the plot.

As a director of my own work, then I begin to see where the “fat” is and what can be easily cut. It’s not that what I cut was bad writing – far from it. I cut out some witty and interesting dialogue. But, I realized that the same amount of information could be presented in a condensed version.

In the theatre, time is crucial. People get tired of sitting no matter how fascinating the dialogue is. Musicals, in general, tend to be longer than plays because of the music and choreography and so I was comfortable with a 2:30 run time. I was NOT comfortable with a 3 hour run time.

So I was brutal on the script. I kept every song and all the choreography because that’s what musicals are about. But the dialogue was sliced, condensed, re-written, and streamlined. By the time we did our second run-through of the day, we had shaved off an amazing 30 minutes from the run time. I was ecstatic! We are now on track for 2.5 hours with an intermission, if not a little shorter.

Condensing one’s writing is a brutal task. Not particularly fun because you are, in essence, saying that what was written was a waste of time. (no exactly, of course) But this process is crucial.

I actually had fun doing it today and our musical will benefit greatly from it.

Only three more weeks!

George Orwell on Writing

“If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.” – George Orwell, 1946

I recently came across this gem of an essay by George Orwell. It’s on writing and political discourse. You can Read the essay HERE!

Granted, this essay is specifically speaking of political language and he points out that he wasn’t talking about the merits of the literary use of language. However, I think there are some solid advice that a writer in most any setting can gladly follow and learn from. Here are a few of his highlights (the NOTES are my thoughts):

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.  (NOTE: This will force us to keep our language fresh!)

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do. (NOTE: As my former professor used to say: KISS – Keep it simple, stupid. It’s not always necessary to sound so pretentious.)

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (NOTE: Why be unnecessarily wordy? Words should be purposeful, not painful.)

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active. (NOTE: OK.)

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (NOTE: OK, I’ll remember that.)

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (NOTE: I must remember this one, too.)

Don’t you agree that these simple rules will help anyone’s writing?

In closing, I’d like to go back to the opening quote:  “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.”

I agree that simplified English can in fact do this. I once had a proofreader, very talented one, who was still too close to their AP English classes to be able to understand how I broke the orthodoxy of English. She would often say, “That’s now what my teacher says”, etc … Writers are meant to be free from constraints and conventions, to express simple truths with simple, straight forward ways which can be profoundly easy to understand yet challenging to ponder.

George Orwell says the way to go is to simplify. I agree.