Feedback Friday: Lessons Learned

Posted: October 10, 2014 in Feedback Friday
Tags: , , , ,

Last week I snuck in a reference to a post that I intended to write when Love in the ZA celebrated its first anniversary, where I was going to go over some of the lessons I’ve learned since starting the book and the blog; you may not remember this, since it was a loooooong time ago, but in the beginning I was up-front about the fact that a) I’d never shared my work with anyone, not even my husband, before I started putting it up here, and b) I had zero experience with the serial format. A little more than a year later, neither of those things is true anymore, and the process of getting from Then to Now has been….interesting. I thought it would be fun to dissect it a little bit.

Then I dropped the ball and disappeared and missed the 1-year anniversary, and we didn’t even have cake. I really wanted to have a cake, you guys.

Well, it’s too late for the cake, but I do still intend to write about the lessons and whatnot. I tried putting everything into one post, all neatly bullet-pointed and organized, and then it got crazy long and even I didn’t want to read all of those words dragging on and on down the page, so I’m breaking things up. At the moment it’s looking like it’ll be a six-week series, encompassing the following “lessons”: Approaches to Writing, Continuity, Research, Responsibility, Romance and Fatigue. I might think of more as we go along here, we’ll have to wait and see.

Since I touched last week on the issue of linear writing, which falls under Approaches to Writing, we’ll start there. As I mentioned before, under other circumstances, I tend to write scenes for a book as they come to me, jumping over and around areas that are blocked and coming back to them later, or leaving them out altogether, depending on how the final manuscript shakes out. Other writers take the linear approach every time. Either way is valid – provided you have the time to piece things together into some semblance of order before putting it out there for someone to read. Unfortunately for me, writing a serial doesn’t give me that kind of time. It’s zero percent helpful that I (think I) know how the book will end, or that I have scenes from later chapters already scripted in my head and ready for the page; what I need is the NEXT chapter, RIGHT NOW. My brain is less than accommodating on this score.

Outlines, I’ve heard, can help a bit with this issue; they allow you to lay out major plot points, so you have a better idea of where you’re going, and then you just write so you travel from point A to point B to point C. I tried that.

 No spoilers!

Super fucking helpful.

Another issue I’ve encountered is determining what, exactly, constitutes a chapter. Due to my writing style, I never break things into chapters until I’m done with the manuscript; scene follows scene, and then I go back through, read it, and figure out where it would be appropriate to do a mid-chapter scene break (you know, usually delineated with a ***) and where a chapter break would make more sense. Only a handful of Love in the ZA’s published chapters have scene breaks – most of them feature just one scene, in the interest of getting something up to be read, and also for ease of use; I can’t remember where I heard this, but somewhere I read that readers tend to abandon blog posts that require them to scroll down too many times in order to read it in its entirety. Chapters in a serial aren’t exactly the same as blog posts, I guess, but I’ve still had that tidbit in the back of my mind every time I’ve decided how far to write in a given chapter. In some cases I think I made the right call; in others, I’ve erred. I had Staples print me out a copy of all the chapters I have written so far, for editing purposes, and a single pass through led me to cut things down from 32 chapters to 24, just by changing chapter breaks into mid-chapter scene breaks instead. (33 and 34 weren’t written when I had that done, but I would totally combine them for a final draft.) Sometimes I make the conscious decision to break a longer chapter up into two, due to the format here, but plenty of these changes only made sense to me long after the work was done and I’d gone several chapters ahead. It’s the kind of editing that can only be done once the finished product is all laid out, which makes it impossible to do on a week-to-week basis. I find that immensely frustrating.

The last two things I’ll talk about are editing in general, and time management, which go hand-in-hand for this type of project (or any project where there’s a deadline, and you’re not just banging shit out in the privacy of your own home, free to fiddle with it until you decide to send it out for scrutiny). My typical method is to handwrite everything – EVERYTHING – for my first draft. Then I type it up, surface editing as I transcribe. Then I print it out, edit for language and clarity, print it out AGAIN, edit for grammar, print it out AGAIN and make sure there’s nothing else I want to change. In case you missed it, that’s four drafts, potentially five, depending on whether that last run-through yields anything (and it usually does, because writers generally can’t resist ripping their own shit apart, even if it ends in tears and a mangled piece of crap that was probably better off left alone). How much time would you guess that takes?

Any guess shorter than “Too fucking long” is incorrect.

I started out adhering to this method, which I love and am hugely dependent on. Then I realized I was spending upwards of 15 hours a week laboring over a 1500-2000 word chapter, in addition to all of the other shit I have to do every day, and something was going to have to give. Since I’m paying for school and legally required to tend to the needs of my children, the process had to change. So I gave up an edit. Then another edit. Then I had to concede that spending 3 or 4 hours handwriting a rough draft for a chapter was probably an unreasonable use of my time, and I cut it down to handwriting until the juices started flowing, at which point I now switch to my laptop, type out the rest of the chapter quickly, and then go back and transcribe the first part. My wrist is happy with the change, but I’m not. I’ve tried to make sure that the work itself hasn’t suffered, but I can’t make an unbiased judgment on that; I vacillate between loving the hell out of (almost) everything I’ve written and wanting to throw the whole manuscript into the fire.

Although now that I think about it, I feel the same way about the 100,000-word fantasy novel I’ve been working on for nigh-on 15 years now, so maybe I just have a love-hate relationship with my work, regardless of the time invested.

Some of my gripes about editing are related to issues of continuity and research, so we’ll save those for later posts. Next week we’ll tackle the topic of Research, wherein I’ll explain how I came to read the entirety of the New York City fire code and watch so many YouTube videos about Glock handguns that I’ve surely ended up on some kind of watchlist.

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Comments
  1. […] At any rate, I’m mostly refreshed and ready to go, so let’s dig in to part 2 of the lessons I’ve learned since starting this project (part 1 can be found here): […]

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