Revision = Perseverance

I’ve spent the last month revising my Sci-Fi book Rifted. My last draft was 114,400 words, but I’ve whittled it down to 99,962. I chopped 14,438 words from this thing. I killed off a lot of scenes that I liked, but they had to go. I dumped a whole chapter. I fixed dialogue and cut tags. I murdered widows (those single words dangling on their own line at the end  of a paragraph).

Yep. I killed lots of widows by rewriting or cutting sentences.

Overall, I cleaned this manuscript up a lot. I’m happy about it, and I feel satisfied with the result. I think it’s probably ready to shop, but I’ve thought that before. So I’m going to give myself some time. I’ll sit on it, reread it, and re-evaluate. But later.

Right now, I’m going to enjoy the sense of satisfied euphoria at accomplishing what I feared was an impossible task when I began. I knew I needed to get the word count below 100,000, but I didn’t believe I could possibly cut that many words.

Still, I buckled down and did the hard work of revision. And I proved that I could. Self-doubt is the most debilitating kind, and I proved mine wrong.

#Perseverance

From Revision to Querying

This evening, I finished revising my fourth novel this month. In my last post, I talked about how I revised and reduced the word count of my first novel, The Lesser Betrayal to under 100,000 words. Well, after that feat I went ahead and revised The Betrayal of Hoqra, Incursions, and Rifted. It seems like revising never ends. I find things to fix every time I read one of my manuscripts, whether its reworking a sentence or restructuring whole paragraphs.

All four novels feel pretty solid to me right now. But, in the past, I’ve felt that way about my novels before revising the heck out of them. If I don’t stop, I’ll revise forever.

It’s probably time to set the revision process aside for a while and query like mad. I’ve done some agent research, and have several candidates who might be interested in The Lesser Betrayal.

Time to write some emails and hit send.

~Christopher

The Read-Through

I finished the rough draft of my first Science-Fiction novel, Rifted, a few days ago. I was ridiculously happy to finish the novel (my fourth, by the way!) and celebrate another Draft Day. I started the novel on November 1, the first day of NaNoWriMo, and finished my 108,100 word draft EXACTLY 100 days later on February 8.

A novel in 100 days. I think that’s pretty cool.

But the thing is, my novel isn’t done yet. In fact, it’s far from complete. At this point, I would be embarrassed to let another human being read it.

When I finish a novel, I set it aside for a few days. Then, I begin my first read-through. For me, this is where some of the hardest work happens. My first reading of a rough draft is always a close reading. I look at the content and craft hard enough to burn a hole in my computer screen. I cut and rewrite. I tear things apart. Sometimes I rebuild, and sometimes I let the pieces lie.

I tend to slip a lot of passive verbs into my rough draft. And that’s okay. In the rough draft, my main goal is to get the story out of my head and shove it onto a workable medium. The rough draft it where I let myself be creative more than correct. Sometimes the result isn’t pretty. Not yet, anyway. That’s why we authors revise. The purpose of the revision process is to find, flag, and fix those pesky passive verbs, overuse of participles, and other bad habits of writer craft.

(I have a lot of bad habits of writer craft).

My first read-through is always painfully slow. I flag sentences in a chapter. Then, I go back and examine every sentence I’ve flagged. I consider how to fix the problem, whether it’s clarity, content, or craft. It requires me to think about the words I’ve chosen and how I’ve used them.

Sometimes I come across larger issues. I’ve said before that one of the most difficult lessons to learn about the revision process is nothing is sacred. I don’t care how great a scene is. If it doesn’t work for the story, it has to go.

Check out this post to see what I mean.

By the time this read-through is done, I will probably have cut somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 words. But I’ll likely have written an additional 20k to 30k words. Maybe more. I’ll heartlessly chop out the scenes that don’t work, and lovingly embellish the scenes that do. I’ll work until I think it’s perfect.

But I know it won’t be perfect yet.

I’ll set my new first draft aside for a few days. I’ll probably ask a few people to proof it for me. I’ll see what they find and make those corrections. After that, I’ll print it off (paper, I know, but it seriously helps me to have a hard copy) and go through the draft again.

Revise. Set aside. Repeat. Eventually, it’ll be ready.

I’ve finished another rough draft, and that’s awesome. It’s an accomplishment. Draft Day is always worth a little celebration. But it’s only the beginning. Now, the hard work begins.

Christopher

Forced Labor

I just finished a week of forced labor, locked in a basement, alone. I had no way to contact anyone. My mind groped in the semi-darkness of fluorescent lights, struggling for words. At times I stared blankly at bare cement block walls, or the single glass of water allowed to me, desperately trying to figure out what to do next.

Occasionally, the sound of laughter found its way through the floorboards, or piped its way through the vents and duct work, reminding me that life still existed above my dungeon-home. But for me, there was no way to ascend without being forced back. My captor thwarted every attempt at escape. She wanted results from the task at which she set me.

So, like a good prisoner, I complied.

You see, my wife made me take a vacation.

Actually, it was a stay-cation. And it was a really, really good week. I needed time away from the hectic craziness that working as a pastor can be. Honestly, I haven’t taken time for myself – just for me – in years.

My wife demanded that I do it. She knew I needed to deflate the bubble of stress building up inside of me. Advent and Christmas had been incredibly busy. A string of funerals during that time had given me double duty for preaching for some of those weeks. (It takes time to craft a sermon. Mine are typically around 1,800 words). I hardly had any time for my novel writing which, as my creative outlet, is my personal therapy.

I needed a break. Big time.

So my wife, Joy, made me take a week off, a Monday through Sunday, so I could focus on writing.

Joy made rules for me during my vacation. No smartphone (she kept it so I wouldn’t be tempted). No email (my inboxes are entirely out of control). No social media (I have about a hundred unchecked notifications on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Yikes!).

I was to drive our kids to school, go into our basement with a cup of coffee, boot up my computer, and write.

So I did. I poured myself into my Sci-Fi novel, Rifted, and I wrote. I got roughly 17,000 words written over the course of the week.

(I probably could have gotten more than 17k words, but the house fire on Monday put a bit of a kink in things. The fan in the hood over the stove decided to go out with a flame. Yeah. Fire department and all that).

The off-the-grid time I was able to take for myself and my novel allowed me to focus. I worked through some difficult parts of my novel. I took a closer look at the structure and made decisions about some things I need to do to improve it. And now I’m looking at the end of the story. It’s within sight. My current word count is 91,035 words. As soon as I’m done hammering out the rough, I know exactly what I need to do for the revisions. I’ve got a plan, and it feels good.

I also read another YA fantasy book just for fun. I like to read other stuff when I’ve finished my own writing for the day.

All in all, it was time well spent. Maybe invested is a better word. I got more words down than any week during NaNoWriMo, which is when this novel began. I feel refreshed. My novel is taking shape. Life is good (Even with a partially burned kitchen!).

But none of it would have happened without my wife taking me aside and saying, “You know what? You need a vacation. You need to spend time writing so you can relax. This is what you’re going to do…

So I owe a big THANK YOU to Joy. Thanks for making me take time. Thanks for encouraging the writer in me by imprisoning me in our basement. Thanks for forcing me to labor at something I need. You’re amazing, and I love you.

Christopher

Back to Pen and Paper

Notebook

After my NaNoWriMo win, I was pretty excited. It had been a struggle to force that many words out of my brain that fast, but force them out I did. I took a short breather after I won. I didn’t write much in the following days. I tried to write again after my break, but recognized a case of writer’s block settling in.

I knew why the block was there. I knew where I wanted to go with the first part of the novel, and that’s what I wrote for NaNoWriMo. The problem was, I hadn’t really taken the time to line out what I wanted to happen in the second half of the novel. So of course I couldn’t write it.

I figured I would sit in front of my computer to write some scene notes, outline things, and hash it all out. But I couldn’t. I was stuck and stumped.

Admittedly, I wasn’t idle in those writer’s block days. I read through my current 58,062 words and revised things. I chopped, edited, and improved. But I wasn’t getting any further than the current place in the book.

So last night I pulled out the composition notebook that I’ve used for all of my novels thus far. Something about it felt comfortable. For some reason it’s easier for me to plot out my thoughts with pen and paper. This is especially so when I’m stuck.

I always seem to be able to write my way out of writer’s block with a pen in my hand, scribbling and slashing my way across a page. There’s something artistic about it, like a painter slapping paint on a canvass to create something beautiful.

Now, I’m forging my way forward in the story. I’ll keep working with my notebook until I feel ready to start writing again. Oddly enough, it will be just that: a feeling, something innate and within that will let me know when it’s time to type my notes into Scrivener and and proceed with the story I’m trying to tell.

I’ve actually learned to trust my writer’s block. It flares up when I need to do more preparation work.  It’s a warning from the writer within to slow down, take my time, because something more needs to be done. I do that best with pen and paper. To my writing, a notebook and pen is like comfort food, or wrapping up in a warm blanket by a fire.

Sometime after I post this I’m going to push my keyboard back, make room on my desk, and bend over my notebook. I’ll pour myself into it. I’ll paint a picture with barely legible words. And somewhere along the way, a story will form from the mess of pen on page.

Christopher

My NaNoWriMo 2015 Win!

NaNoWriMo2015 Winner

Last night, on Thanksgiving, I won NaNoWriMo. My validated word count was 51,859. I wrote an average of 1,995 words per day in those 26 days. The fact that I won on Thanksgiving Day is probably appropriate. I have a lot of people to thank.

My writing is never something I do alone, even when I’m sitting by myself in our basement. I’m so thankful to my wife. She allowed me long stretches in the evenings to write. I could never have been a NaNoWriMo winner without her support. Thanks, Joy! You are, and have always been, absolutely amazing!

I also need to thank a group of teenage girls in Fort Wayne who gave me constant encouragement, and even wrote threatening letters demanding I complete my first novel so they could finish reading it. Beyond encouraging me to write, I’m immensely proud of who they are as people. I can hardly wait to see all the things they accomplish.

I also need to thank God for getting into that argument with me at the beginning of 2014 and suggesting, none too gently, that I needed to start writing. I lost the argument (obviously), and haven’t looked back. I love writing.

NaNoWriMo was quite a challenge. It’s a lot of words to throw out in 30 days. The thing is, I know my novel is, at this point, just guts. It might take another 50k words or more to actually finish it. My wife asked me if this is a single novel or if it’s a series. That got me thinking, because there is a LOT more story to tell. It might require more than one book, but we’ll see. Either way, Rifted is going to take lots of revision to flesh the story out into something that’s great.

Excellence requires revision.

One thing I learned about myself as a writer is something of my writing style. I tend to write-and-revisit. I spit out a lot of words and ideas over the course of a few days. Then, I’ll go back and read over what I’ve written and revise for clarity.

Try as I might to make a plan (and sometimes I get really detailed in those plans), I tend to write a lot of material by the seat of my pants. Especially at the beginning. Stuff just comes to me as my fingers are raking across the keyboard, and I’ll roll with it. Then, I’ll go back through it to make sure it all fits.

When I do this write-and-revisit thing, I come up with new lines of attack, new ideas to add, new roles for characters, new arcs for the story, new ways to tie this into that, new ways to deepen the plot and increase the tension, etc. There were several days in November where I wrote several thousand words, but the story didn’t advance from where I had left off. And while it might seem like a chaotic way to write, it tends to work well for my ADHD brain.

The thing is, we’re all different. We all have our own writing style, and we each find our own groove. I’m glad I’ve found mine.

In the end, it’s pretty amazing what we accomplish as writers. I’m still floored that I get to write stories that others come to love and enjoy. It really is a beautiful thing.

Today I’m enjoying my National Novel Writing Month win. I’m proud of my 50k in 30 days. But I’m still a long way from being done.

Rifted is still waiting to be written. Time to get back to it.

Christopher