darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
What's the best and worst criticism you've ever received? And how did you assimilate it?

I'm thinking mostly of feedback on writing, but I'm interested in experiences of any kind of critique you may have received on any kind of activity.

Here's why: In September I'll become a certified Story Grid Editor. There's a big discussion among Story Grid course-mates about how to make sure the client is ready for the editorial work.

Well, receiving feedback is a skill, and I want to write a little book or cheat-sheet for prospective clients to help them build that skill. I've managed to acquire it, but I don't know how I did it.
  • Do you have the skill?
  • How did you get it?
  • Was there a particular turning point?
  • Or do you avoid critique altogether? If so, why? And is there any ideal situation under which you'd be open to it?
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
Beta-reader notes on the final draft of Restraint have started coming in. This is the most nerve-wracking process!

The feedback so far is excellent: constructive, knowledgeable, and detailed. Nobody so far hates the novel. But the silences! Do the non-responders dislike it too much to comment? Were they too bored to finish? Are they too nice to say so?

It's impossible to get my ego out of the way. These people are doing me a huge favor and I don't want to press them, but only the fact that I have acrylic nails is keeping me from biting those nails off.
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
Happy New Year to the few, the strong, the loyal who are still here at Dreamwidth.

2016, like 2015, has been about my homemade MFA program in creative writing. My "thesis"--which was due on December 31st and should be done this week--is a publishable final draft of Restraint. I expect 2017 to be about writing, too.

My program of study has revolved primarily around story structure and editing. As I approach the finish line, here's a roundup of the changes my studies have wrought:
  • Word count: Fanfic 230,000, Profic 145,000.
  • Character names changed: 15
  • Characters cut: 2
  • Subplots cut: also 2
  • Subplots added: 1
  • Scenes cut: I've lost track. A lot.
  • Scenes added: about 10
  • Average sentence length: Fanfic 16 words, Profic 14 words
  • Reading ease score: Fanfic 69, Profic 72 (higher is easier)
  • Number of drafts to get here: 8
Here's a rough and improvised heat map of the restructured novel, scene by scene. Green bars are scenes that end positive; red, negative. Height of bar approximates scene intensity:

a bar graph with green bars rising above the centerline and red bars descending below it, representing scene-by-scene valence shifts in the novel Restraint

Three fellow writers have volunteered to read and comment on the final draft. Assuming they find no major failings, I'll polish it up and start sending it out in March.

In other writing news, I'm taking Shawn Coyne's Story Grid Workshop in New York City in February. It'll be three days with the story structure master and 25 other writers who are ready to go pro. Since Restraint will be finished by then, I'll be applying what I learn there--and everything I've learned in my Homemade MFA Program--to my next novel, which is currently in the proto-outline stage.
darkemeralds: Jensen Ackles in Regency Attire (Restraint John)
Yesterday evening I went to a lecture at the Oregon Astrological Association* and then, because it felt like my day was just getting started, stayed up reading and goofing around till 4:00 a.m.

Of course, today I didn't wake up till almost 1:00 in the afternoon, and only a good hard stare at my phone told me that it was Saturday.

I've written 5000 words of backstory for two secondary characters who need work in the Restraint rewrite (Uncle Martin and Mr Braithwaite--I really wanted to find out how they met). This has meant revisiting old research into the Napoleonic Wars, George IV, Brighton, and smuggling on the Channel coast.

In other words, I'm basically just goofing around and enjoying myself.

Who here uses Scrivener? Can anyone describe to me what its advantages are? Other writers wax fannish over it, but I'm frankly finding it unintuitive and more frustrating than exciting. I'm limited to the Linux version, which may be hobbled compared to the IOS and Windows versions, but before I give it up, I'd like to know what I'm failing to appreciate.

And now it's 2:00 a.m. Almost bedtime. :D

*The subject was the Tea Party and the GOP, and it was fascinating.
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
One day a couple of months ago a coworker of mine decided that she'd like to write a middle-grade novel (that is, a novel of interest to a "tween" readership--the coveted Harry Potter audience.) Ten vacation days later she had a first draft, and invited me to look it over.

I'm all "What? Ten days? What?" I'm lucky to write a chapter in ten days. I'm doing well to write anything at all in three years. Once I got over my speed-envy, I asked her about her moment of inspiration. She said she'd been reading a middle-grade novel to her kid and thought, "I should really write one of these." Then she read a bunch of other novels in the category, dissected them for their components (number and type of characters, types of conflict, number of scenes, acts or beats, etc.). Then she started constructing her own.

I just...gah! Does not compute. I work so differently. She has a box of Legos that she wants to put together. I start with a whole thought-ball, a story-sphere that have to find an opening in. I'm dependent on the damn thing falling on my head from the sky and have never figured out how to make more of them hit me.

How do you get your ideas? And how do you turn them into actual writing?
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
For those who contributed ideas, suggestions and lots of great discussion to my editorial dilemma yesterday, I'd like you to know that it was hugely helpful to me--both as an editor and as a human being (which I love to forget I actually am).

I haven't done justice to everyone's excellent advice, but here's how I patchworked all your tips together.

Edits from a much nicer person )

Though I've already sent this to the author, your comments are still welcome for my own further self-actualization. This has been one of the most valuable conversations I've had in ages. Thank you all.
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
Once up on a time, I took a Clarion workshop in which the instructor, a published author of speculative fiction, did That Thing to a friend of mine.

The friend submitted a promising story in a style beyond her skill level--a good idea naively executed. The instructor singled it out as the one submission in the class that was simply too bad to be critiqued. As far as I know, my friend never wrote anything again.

Anyone who loves stories enough to try to write one deserves better than what that lazy, thoughtless published author did to my friend all those years ago. That's why I felt compelled to spend three hours last night commenting on the novel whose author was spamming us all yesterday.

Now I need advice. When the author solicited "comments" I think she meant "praise and encouragement". When I asked her to clarify, she said she would welcome any feedback I wanted to give. I think my comments provide a concise fiction-remediation course, but she might see it differently.

Here's a representative sample of my remarks. Should I send them or not? Too harsh? Don't bother? Waste of electrons? Give it a shot? Helpful? What do my fellow writers think? How would you feel if these were comments on a story of yours? Would you get any value from them, or just feel bad? Am I wasting my time? Tilting at windmills?

Feedback is genuinely welcome.

Fiction Writing 101: What Not To Do With Your Interesting Story Idea )
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
I've been asked to edit a manuscript, and after much deliberation I've decided to go ahead. The writer, who's a stranger to me, has been willing to put her (original fiction) rough draft out there with a sincere request for comment and critique, and I admire that kind of openness and courage (and enthusiasm and self-confidence). I said I'd give her a free hard edit of the first couple of pages (because I'm guessing that problems I see there represent a pattern throughout the work).

She replied very quickly. I'm not 100% sure that she actually accepted my offer of a free editorial scalpel-ing, but I'm going to go ahead.

Old Peanuts comic panel showing Lucy at her psychiatrist booth, with the overhead banner changed to say Word Help Five Cents

ETA: I understand that this budding young author has spammed pretty much all of DW--including the DW Powers That Be--with her request for reviews. I'd like to think she's sincere if a little mistaken in her approach, and I wouldn't want to see her shot down for it. We were all young writers once, and, speaking for myself, not all of us had this much chutzpah.
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
My first professional (well, unpaid, but professionally-tending) editing job has been instructive. I'm learning to spot common non-fiction prose problems in a flash. I'm getting better at explaining them to a client who is not primarily a writer. I'm finding a path for myself between line-editing and ghostwriting.

The manuscript as submitted was a hodgepodge of good but loosely-related ideas, a bowl of unpolished stones that could grow up to be a necklace. Polishing them is easy: SPAG, style, sentence structure, rhetoric, rhythm, cliche patrol, bullshit detector--clarity, basically. I'm good at that.

But the stringing! The sequence, the overall structure--that's hard. The client herself doesn't know what it should be. I wasted a fair amount of time polishing beads that don't even belong on the string. (Note to self: insist on seeing an outline first.)

I've been exhorting the client to go back and outline, but it wasn't happening. So this evening we had a phone meeting. (Note to self: in this business a lot of clients are going to be phone-talkers and think-out-loud-ers. Better get used to it.) Turns out, she didn't actually know what an outline is.

It never occurred to me that a person could get through high school without knowing that. Is it just me? Is that something that only a super-logical Spock-like person would retain? I mean, not fancy I, A, 1, a, i, a) stuff, but just your basic Heading 1/Heading 2/Text type thing? Is that uncommon knowledge?

So we had a little tutorial on Microsoft Word's outlining function, and I sent her what I think are the high-level headers to get her started. She just emailed me back to ask my opinion about a webinar she took called "How To Write A Transformational Book In Three Weeks". One of her webinar notes: INVITE DIVINE GUIDANCE FOR ORGANIZATION AND TO SHOW YOU WHAT PEOPLE NEED.

Seriously, I'm losing confidence in myself as an editor. I can't compete with Divine Guidance. Not in three weeks, anyway.


Jul. 7th, 2013 08:01 pm
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
I sent my first edits back to my first editing client this afternoon.

The author is a healthcare practitioner and the piece falls generally into the category of a diet book. Editing it is very different from editing fiction written by a writer. It's also very different from editing non-fiction (for certain values of "non-fiction" that include training documents) written by me.

After spending hours slogging through the manuscript, mapping its concepts, trying to figure out exactly why it wasn't working, and not knowing the best way to proceed, I think I've developed the skeleton of an editing process:
  • Start a fresh document
  • Mine the source document a few paragraphs at a time
  • Rewrite them
  • Ruthlessly cut bits that are redundant
  • Ditto bits that just don't have a home
  • Store the cut bits in a parking lot document
  • Show expertise by doing a little fact-checking
  • Tread a fine line between adding whole missing concepts and asking the author to add them
  • Lather, rinse, repeat until I can't stand it anymore
  • Send it off with a cushiony email begging the author to understand that no original manuscripts were harmed in this process, and that everything in the edit is my opinion (leaving elegantly unstated the fact that my opinion is superior to hers when it comes to grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and clarity because that is, after all, why she hired me), and that all I really want to do is provide exactly the level of support the author feels she needs

It seems to have worked. She just replied with "This is great, you are so good at this, I like your writing style [ed note: whoops--it's supposed to be her writing style], I agree with your comments, and here are a couple of counter-suggestions."

Now, a few more rounds of this, and we should have a diet book!


Jan. 5th, 2013 11:20 am
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
[personal profile] ravurian, one of those rare birds who is an accomplished writer and an incisive editor, has been helping me face the editing of Restraint for publication by breaking the massive project into a series of approachable steps.

Three tasks and some help from the cat. )

So, thanks to [personal profile] ravurian (and Graydie), I'm on my way.

(I need a project name. Hmm. "Project Publish"? "Project Cut 100,000 Words"? "Project File Off The Serial Numbers"? Suggestions?)
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
I've spent the entire day slogging through a series of events and motivations in the novel. Character A does this, and Character B reacts, causing A to step up his actions, which in turn cause B to freak out, etc. I'd written the scenes at widely disparate moments, and not in linear order, and I was pretty sure they weren't flowing logically.

I'm pleased to report that after ten hours of wrestling, I've got them lined up, and the causal links smoothed out, and everyone's character intact. (I did this by identifying the ten key scenes, then making each of the main characters tell me what happened from his perspective, in the first person. They took their sweet time.)

So I'm gonna have a bowl of ice cream. Haagen-Dazs coffee, with hot gianduja sauce. Then I'm going to write some more. Because it's torture, but it's a good torture, you know?
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
Editing a printed manuscript with a pencil is turning out to be amazingly useful.

I know, I know, go ahead and laugh at my amazement. It's been years since I last did it and I forgot, okay?

It took me a while to figure out what the big difference is: I can X-out whole paragraphs, whole PAGES, if I want to, and they're still there! It makes it much easier to be ruthless, and ruthlessness is what my damn prose needs.

Thanks to LazerQuick and Pentel, I'm making fantastic strides in tightening up and clarifying this little 145,000 135,000 123,400 word behemoth.

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