Writing One Novel, Editing Another

balanceBalancing Writing Tasks

It’s always good, I believe, to practice balance: between family time and work time, mandatory activities and discretionary activities, waistline measurement and that quart of fudge swirl ice cream in the freezer.

At the moment, I’m attempting to:

  • Put the final edits on my first novel, Thin Spots
  • Do marketing work, such as researching agents and publishers, for Thin Spots
  • Write my second novel, The Farthest Hour

Keeping these three plates twirling in the one hour per day , give or take, I have for fiction can be a bear, but I’m starting to get a handle on it. Here’s what I’m doing so far.

Fifty-two Card Pickup

Ever play the fifty-two card pickup joke on somebody? You get a deck of cards and ask the patsy if they want to play 52 card pickup. They say yes and you throw all the cards up into the air. Then you cry, “Okay, pick ‘em up!” It’s funny when you’re eleven. The first step is sort of like the prank. I just throw every task I can think of onto note cards, or a document, or sticky notes, whatever’s handy. At this stage, I don’t worry about the order of things, or even if the items make sense.

Order Up!

Once I’ve brainstormed the tasks, I start putting them in order by project and then by priority. The projects are the three mentioned above. The priorities are usually high, medium and low, or some version thereof. Now I have a good-looking list I can work from.

Week Mindedness

At the start of each week, I take a look at the list and pick the high priority items I think I can do in a week. If I think I can fit in some medium or low priority items, I’ll pick those, two. The selected items to into a list of things to do during the coming week.

Divide by Five

Now, I take the week’s list of to-dos and divide them into five sections, one for each business day of the week. I might decide to split a high priority item or two into five smaller pieces. I might pick one day to do several easily completed medium or low priority tasks, to clear the calendar a bit.

Why just five days and not seven? Day seven is devoted to social media tasks, like this blog, as well as to planning the next week. Day six is devoted to family, etc., but usually has enough down time in it to catch up on any fiction-related tasks from the previous five days.

Manage the Work, Don’t Let it Manage You

Whether or not you like my little method, I highly recommend you find something that works for you. I don’t believe a novelist has to write every single day to be effective, but you do need to write on a regular schedule, and pretty frequently. So figure out what works for you, and balance your way onto a best-seller list.

Got any cool ideas about time management for writers? Post it in a comment! Thanks.

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Tools for Novel Writers: Critiques

thumbsButtonsSmallerCritiques: A Treasure

Few things are more valuable in crafting a novel than critiques from other people. Critiques give you viewpoints on your work you would never have come up with. Some readers find characterizations you thought perfectly clear to be confusing. Moments of conflict you thought were dramatic are, to some, just ho-hum. Witticisms you thought were hilarious are, in the eyes of some readers, just plain dumb. And just to make life more interesting, you’re bound to get the opposite opinions from other readers.

How do you figure out who is right and who is smoking dried coconut husk? I’ve been working with an excellent critique group for over four years now and have recently started getting commentary from beta readers, so I have some thoughts on the matter.

Go by the Numbers

In my critique group, we are all agreed that if just one person recommends a change, it’s likely a matter of that reader’s taste and therefore, optional for you. If two people recommend the same thing, the issue bears close inspection and, possibly, a change. If three or more call out a flaw, the best advice is to fix that sucker.

Trust Your Gut

Even in cases where a significant number of folks call out a flaw, you’re still probably dealing with a relatively small group of opinions, so the observations you’re getting are not always going to be absolutely correct. You are the judge of what changes go in and stay out. I believe the best way to decide is to trust your writer’s gut. If a change just doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t hang with the rest of the story, and you have carefully considered it, then don’t make the change. Also, pay attention to the cases where only one person recommends a change and it feels spot on. Those are changes you want to make, as well.

Experiment

Another way of dealing with changes is to try every one that’s suggested. Plugging your reviewers’ suggestions into the living body of your story is a great way to see what works and what doesn’t. This approach can also yield new plot or character developments you might not have thought of otherwise.

Work in Community

Whatever approach you take to judging input from your constructive critics, the most important thing to remember is to avoid working in a vacuum. Enlisting the brains of others to help polish your manuscript will not only make it better, it will get you away from your keyboard (or typewriter or note pad, if you’re working old-school style) and into a supportive community of writers and readers that will keep your writing going. (Note: If they’re not supportive, ditch ‘em!)

Do us all a favor and leave a comment about how you handle input from others. Thanks, and may your pages keep filling.

Tools for Novel Writers: The Fruits of Editing

apple-treeEditing Fruits

In the title for this post, I don’t mean “the fruits of editing” in the usual sense of “the results.” Instead, I’m thinking of an expression I hear in the day-job world a good bit: “let’s go after the low-hanging fruit first.” What this means is that when you’re resolving a business issue that has many facets, it’s often best to fix the easiest things first and the proceed to the more complicated stuff.

As I work on the near-final edit of my first novel, I’m discovering the fruit-tree analogy works pretty well in the fiction-writing biz, too.

I have a list of about a hundred items that need to be fixed to make the novel its best. These are categorized as fruit, which is odd, I guess, but more fun than just calling them high, medium and low.

Low-hanging Fruit:

The low-hanging fruit are things I can fix pretty quickly, without much heavy head-scratching. For example, there’s a location called “Angels’ Common.” I needed to be sure I called it that every time, and not “Angels’ Courtyard” by mistake. That was a simple matter of search-and-replace in Microsoft Word.

Halfway Up the Fruit Tree:

Halfway up the tree are items that take some thought and creativity to fix, but aren’t likely to make me bang my head against the wall. For example, my protagonist, who is a guy with his body in a coma and his soul caught in Hell, has a brother back on Earth. I got a lot of feedback indicating that I needed some more scenes with the brother, to bring a wider variety of emotions to the book, or, as one person said, “to give it heart.” So, I’m going through and adding some scenes. It’s a moderate effort to figure out where the scenes should go and then I have to write them, but the job isn’t a killer.

Way Up in the Top Branches:

High up among the skinny branches of the tree, where my perch is the most precarious, are the things that will be hardest to correct, like plot holes. One case is a contradiction I didn’t spot until I did a read-through of the whole novel. Remember how the protagonist’s body is in a coma, while his soul is in Hell? Well, at one point in the novel, Satan wants to destroy the protagonist’s body because soul-protagonist is too powerful and killing the body will weaken him. At another point, Satan is thrilled that soul-protagonist has a body on Earth because it makes him more powerful and thus more useful to Satan (assuming Satan’s nefarious plan works out). The whole body-on-Earth deal is a linchpin of the plot, so I’ve got to figure out how to resolve the contradiction without weakening the story. I am hoping that a solution will come to me as I fix the low-hanging and halfway-up issues.

Divide and Conquer

Whether you buy the whole fruit analogy or not, I strongly recommend dividing your editing work into some sort of layers. Writing a novel is complex and editing one, I’m finding, is even more so. Whatever you can do to ease your path on the way do “The (finally all edited and done) End” is worth a try.

Leave a comment about handy editing practices for the benefit of the other readers. Happy writing!