New Draft, New File

Howdy, howdy!  Another week gone by in the blink of an eye.  It seems like the only way I can keep up with the days is by the difficulty of the crossword, and that’s not a reliable measure.  Maybe I’m just being over-dramatic.  Anyway, this week, I wanted to talk about another new-to-me revision technique that I’ve been trying.  It’s another suggestion from the same book I mentioned last week, The Last Draft by Sandra Scofield.  Basically, you type up the new draft in a blank file.

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Yes, get into it.

In pre-word processor days, writers had to type up each new draft with their trusty typewriter (or write them out by hand if you want to go back that far).  There was no copying and pasting.  No saving the source file under a new name and making changes in the text you’ve already written.  Sure, they had the hardcopy next to them, but still… it sounds like a long and tedious process.  But it’s worth a shot when you’re having trouble getting into the revision flow.

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t followed Scofield’s advice as thoroughly as I could.  She suggests printing two copies your first draft and doing a bunch of exercises and making notes on the hardcopies and all of that, then revising into a new document from there.  That’s too much work for me.  I’m not being lazy, just mobility-impaired.  Why struggle with shuffling a bunch of papers around when I can use track changes in Word to make notes and achieve similar results?  Technology makes my life easier and more independent, so I try to make use of it when I can.  If I get stuck in the revision process, then I’ll back up and try it another way.

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That’s when we try something new.  Also, panda butt!

However, I did decide to follow her advice about typing the new draft up from scratch.  I open the first draft, highlight the next 1,000ish words (because it gives me a visual of how much I want to get through that day), then open my current draft file and get to typing.  Even though I was skeptical at first, it has been super helpful.  It allows me to focus on the voice of the narrator, which was shaky early in the first draft, and to fix things in my head as I type up the new version.  I’ve added stuff and taken stuff away.  I play with paragraph breaks and punctuation.  It just feels more acceptable to change things around on a blank page than it does on a completed draft.  I’m not disrespecting what I’ve already written, I’m making it better.   Even the stuff that I’ve sworn I was going to type up verbatim ended up getting tweaked to fit the new flow.  It’s been a freeing experience.

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Okay, it’s not as cool of an experience as this, but it’s pretty close.

I, personally, like starting at the beginning and working through things paragraph by paragraph.  But even if you like to jump around and work on different scenes in different orders, typing everything up in a new file could be helpful.  I know people who write their first drafts by hand and type their second draft from that.  There are so many ways to do this whole writing thing.  I’m constantly tweaking my own method, in case you haven’t noticed.  So, if you’re stuck or just haven’t found a way that consistently works for you, don’t be afraid to try a new process.

As always, feel free to share your own methods, comments, or questions here or on my social media pages!

Making Timelines

Howdy, howdy!  How is everyone’s August going?  I’m still on track with the goals I posted last week.  Writing and revision are slow, but I’m doing something every day.  As far as books go, I’m currently reading Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it as a craft book.  It’s not bad, but half the time she seems really into genre fiction and the other half it seems like she’s looking down on it.  I’m just getting mixed messages from it.  However, I have found many of the exercises in the book useful!  I wanted to talk about one of those today: making timelines.

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It’s not bad as far as craft books go.  I’d recommend trying it.

In all of the fiction writing classes I’ve taken, there’s always been at least one hardcore plotter (sometimes, it’s even the teacher).  These are the people who swear by creating outlines and timelines of every little thing before they even begin writing.  I’m not one of them.  Sure, I plot things out in my head, but writing it down feels constrictive.  I like to let my first drafts form organically.  There’s no theme in my mind, no worry about subplots, none of that.  I know point A and point B.  Getting from one to the other should be an adventure.  That’s just how I like it.

I admit that my approach makes revision difficult.  I have nothing but the manuscript to work with, so trying to rework it into something readable can be a daunting task.  That’s why, when someone in my writing group suggested the above-mentioned book, I decided to give it a shot.  And you know what?  It offered suggestions that I had never thought about before.  Did you know that you could write your first draft with no guidelines and then make timelines and outlines and all of that plotter stuff after you have that shitty draft finished?  Because I had never really thought about it.  And now I feel like a complete idiot for not thinking of it sooner.

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Me. Stupid face and all.

So, guess what I did!  I bought a bunch of sticky notes and wrote out the main plotline, filling in stuff and taking stuff away as needed.  In other colors, I took certain characters/groups of characters and wrote out what they were doing and important tidbits that needed to show up in the novel.  Dad stuck them up all over my mirrors and now they taunt me every day until I do my work.  I can’t say I did it correctly.  I didn’t give each little plot point its own Post-It (only the major ones got that honor).  I’m sure I could’ve used different colored pens for different plots and all that crap.  But for my first time, I’m happy with it and it’s working for me so far.

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Why?  Why is this so true?  Timelines as well.  So hard.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because you’re not a plotter doesn’t mean you can’t try their techniques during the revision process.  The book offers a lot of different suggestions, some of which I skipped in favor of others.  I’ll read about the ones that I know don’t work for me, but it doesn’t mean I have to do them.  If you’re having trouble finding a toehold in the revision process, pick up a craft book and try something new.  Make timelines.  Use sticky notes or index cards.  Have fun.  See what kind of pretty pictures your story makes.  Or keep it simple like I did.  Whatever works for you.

Speaking of things that work for you (or don’t), how do you go about revision?  Do you make timelines before or after the first draft or not at all?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and techniques here or on my social media pages!

August Goals!

Howdy, howdy!  Can you believe it’s already August?  I feel like I’m still stuck in June.  Time just keeps getting faster and faster.  Am I alone in this feeling?  Yeah?  Well, okay then.  I don’t really have much to talk about at the moment, though I am trying my hand at some revision techniques that are new to me.  If they work out, I’ll probably talk about them more next week.  Anyway, since this Wednesday actually falls on the first, I decided to simply share my August goals with you.

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It’s a pretty picture.  That’s all.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you…

August Goals:

1. Submit stuff 8 times (2 every Monday) to semi-pro markets or higher.  This is one of my goals for the year (submitting two stories to magazines or anthologies every Monday) and I’ve been doing really well with it.  I haven’t missed a week yet, though I do believe I submitted stuff on Tuesday a couple of times.  Sometimes, I’ve dreaded submitting or felt like I’ve submitted everywhere I possibly could, but I pushed through it and found new places anyway.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep it up!

2. Write 50+ words OR revise 1+ pages EVERY DAY.  I’m back to the small goals every single day thing.  It’s just really helpful to me when I feel like I’m between projects.  In my head, I know I’m prepping for in-depth revisions on LR, but if I don’t keep track of words or pages, I don’t feel productive.  This goal might change once I find my rhythm with LR.  For now, though, it’s good for me.

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George R. R. Martin

3. Read 2 books.  This is another one of my goals for every month this year.  Honestly, I’ve kind of lost track of how many books I tend to read in a month because some overlap months and others I deliberately read over a longer period of time (almost always craft books).  But I do know I’m up to 18 books this year (thanks to GoodReads tracking feature), so I’m ahead of schedule.

4. Make time for people.  I’ve been a bit reclusive recently, though I still try to answer every message I get.  I just don’t initiate as many conversations as I should.  This is nothing new.  It’s something I struggle with all the time (as you know if you’ve read earlier posts).  I’m just far too comfortable not talking to people and stalking them on Facebook instead.  Yes, I’m creepy like that.  My friends know this and many of them do the same.  But I really do want to be better about socializing.  I swear.

5. Finish timeline for LR.  This is one of those new-to-me techniques I mentioned earlier.  There’s about one more day’s worth of plotting before I have a timeline that I can work with (I’m plotting it on the computer before I write anything out).  I even bought a bunch of Post-It notes in pretty colors to make everything easy to differentiate.  I just have to figure out where to stick them that’s easy to see.  Then, I have to recruit Dad to do the sticking.  I bet he never thought my novel writing would include work for him.

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That’s a lot of Post-It notes.

6. Work on revisions of LR.  Hopefully the timeline will make revisions go more smoothly than usual.  It’s already given me ideas for new scenes and how to rework some old ones, so I’m cautiously optimistic.  I should have some updates on this in the next couple of weeks.  Wish me luck!

Those are my goals for the month.  What about you?  What are you hoping to accomplish before September?  Feel free to share your goals or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts On THE WICKED DEEP

Hello, hello!  It’s the last Wednesday of the month already.  Time flies when you’re having fun (or just going about daily life), I suppose.  Anyway, you all know what happens today: a book review!  This week, I’ll be talking about The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw.  It was published back in March of this year by Simon and Schuster.  I read it with the reading group I’m in and decided that I have too many thoughts about it to not write a post.  I usually try to keep my posts as close to spoiler free as possible (sometimes a couple will slip through), but that’s going to be impossible here.  Spoilers this way lie.  You’ve been warned.

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I absolutely love the cover.

The Wicked Deep is the story of a small town called Sparrow and the curse that has plagued it every summer for two centuries.  Why is there a curse?  Because the town sentenced three sisters to death by drowning for acts of witchcraft, of course.  What is the curse?  The three sisters possess the bodies of three girls from the town and lure boys to their death in the harbor.  Poor Penny, a seventeen-year-old who lives on an island with her not-quite-all-there mother, has accepted that it’s the town’s fate to suffer the wrath of the witches every year.  That is until Bo, an unwitting outsider, shows up and she decides it’s her mission to protect him.  Things go all kinds of wrong from there.

I have to admit that I was totally in love with this book as I was reading it.  The setting was wonderful and the writing pulled me along.  Even after I finished it, I was prepared to give it five stars.  Then, I took a breath and started thinking about it.  Really thinking about it.  That was when things got super dark, and not in a good way.

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It really did.

*spoilers ahead*

I ended up feeling sooooo bad for Penny. First, she’s possessed by Hazel (violation much?), but then there’s the whole Bo thing. I mean, there’s sex.  That means Penny is basically ghost roofied and forced into sex without any say. To be fair, Bo doesn’t know about Penny being Hazel at first.  But after everything is over, he keeps dating Penny like everything is normal and he was in love with her all along. At the same time, he keeps pining over Hazel. So, he’s not in love with Penny, which means she’s stuck in a relationship with some guy who’s not really into her.  It all just got very rapey the more I thought about it.  By itself that’s fine (not every story has to be a happy one), but there will be people who think this is a great love story and that’s what really makes me sad.

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Me after really thinking about things.

Aside from that, I also expected more from Penny’s mom.  She supposedly has some kind of psychic powers and knows when people are on her island and all that, but she doesn’t kick Hazel’s ghostly ass?  She doesn’t really do much at all.  It’s apparent during her conversation with Hazel that she knows things, but she doesn’t act.  It was just a little disappointing.

Ultimately, I had a love/hate relationship with The Wicked Deep.  I’ll still keep a look out for other books by Shea Ernshaw, though.  It was good enough that I was swept along, which makes it worth looking into other stories by her.

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Overall, my issues with it dropped my rating down to a 3 out of 5.  I definitely suggest picking it up if you’re into stuff like that, but really think about the story.  Maybe I’m making too much out of something small.  Maybe you’ll find it creepy too.  Who knows?

Impromptu Celebratory Post

Howdy, howdy!  I know, I’m not supposed to be posting today.  But there’s something I wanted to celebrate now that Dad has finally given me the go ahead.  And since next week is a book review post, I thought I’d just write this one as something special in between.  First, say hi to Dad from my Stonecoast years!

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Pretty sure this was January 2013.

That was when he was around 270 lbs.  He maintained that weight for a while after losing 60 lbs (yeah, he was 330 at one point).  Then, a week or so after Thanksgiving last year, we went to see a new doctor who came into the room and immediately said Dad was dying because of his weight and diabetes and all that stuff (dude was a real ray of sunshine </sarcasm>).  So, he told Dad to lose 70 lbs through diet and exercise.  He gave us a crappy little paper that showed what the diet would consist of (not helpful at all), said to do 30 minutes of cardio a day, then sent us away to figure everything out ourselves.

So, we did.

The doctor said 1,200 calories a day, so I found an app to keep track of that.  Dad got a new Polar A370 watch to track his exercise and that H10 heart monitor we posted about a while ago, plus the corresponding apps.  And for almost 8 months (November 29, 2017 until July 18, 2018), Dad religiously stuck to between 1,200 and 1,300 calories a day.  The calorie app would yell at him if he was under 1,200 because, for men, that’s considered starvation levels, but he rarely went over 1,250.  He walked on the treadmill 6 days a week and did some strength training as well, but had to give up the exercise for a few weeks when the doctor put him on a statin and he had some adverse reactions.  It was hard work and I’m super proud of him!  Say hi to Dad now!

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He’s strong like bull.
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A dorky bull, but still.
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He also made the curtains, in case you were wondering.

He’s lost about 80 lbs!  He weighed 191.1 on the 18th!  He went from a 2X down to a large.  He bought a new belt a few months ago and is currently in need of another new one (he’s been drilling extra holes into it as needed for now).  He did an awesome job!

Now, we’re slowly figuring out a maintenance plan.  That’s all.  I just wanted to brag about Dad a bit.

See you Wednesday!

Smashed Cucumbers and Grilled Lamb-Stuffed Pitas

Hello, hello!  First and foremost, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!  Yup, it’s the anniversary of his awesomeness as a few of my friends call it.  If you have his number, call him and sing at him.  Otherwise, post birthday wishes here or on my social media pages and I will pass them along.

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Opus and Bill say happy birthday!

And now, onto the blog.  I have nothing new to talk about, so I thought I would post a couple of recipes Dad recently tried out: smashed cucumbers (also known as Pai Huang Gua) and grilled lamb-stuffed pitas with yogurt sauce.  Both of these recipes came from America’s Test Kitchen.  Have you tried something new recently?  Feel free to share your food exploits here or on my social media pages!

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Borrowed from Google

First up, smashed cucumbers (from season 18, episode 17).  Serves 4.  We forgot the chili oil ATK suggested you use with this dish, but it was good without it.  Nice and cool and refreshing, especially on a hot summer day.  Dad also added a teaspoon of minced ginger, which was delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (14-ounce) English cucumbers
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar (or 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced to paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

Directions:

1. Trim and discard ends from cucumbers. Cut each cucumber crosswise into three equal lengths. Place pieces in large zipper-lock bag and seal bag. Using small skillet or rolling pin, firmly but gently smash cucumbers until flattened and split lengthwise into 3 to 4 spears each. Tear spears into rough 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces and transfer to colander set in large bowl. Toss cucumbers with salt and let stand for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes.

2. While cucumbers sit, whisk vinegar and garlic together in small bowl; let stand for at least 5 minutes or up to 15 minutes.

3. Whisk soy sauce, oil, and sugar into vinegar mixture until sugar has dissolved. Transfer cucumbers to medium bowl and discard any extracted liquid. Add dressing and sesame seeds to cucumbers and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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Also borrowed from Google.  We had the smashed cukes instead of a salad.

Next up are the grilled lamb-stuffed pitas with yogurt sauce (from season 18, episode 20).  Serves 4-6 (the following instructions are for 4 servings, but just add extra pitas and divide mixture by 6 if you want to serve more/have fewer calories).  The pita was crispy, the meat juicy, and the yogurt sauce was nice and cool and creamy.  Definitely worth a try.  Some grilled onions on top might be a nice addition as well.

Ingredients:

SAUCE

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup minced fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt

SANDWICHES

  • 1 onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons juice
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 pounds ground lamb (or 85 percent lean ground beef)
  • 4 (8-inch) pita breads

Directions:

1. FOR THE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Set aside.

2. FOR THE SANDWICHES: Pulse onion and cilantro in food processor until finely chopped, 10 to 12 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Stir in oil, lemon zest and juice, coriander, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cinnamon. Add lamb and knead gently with your hands until thoroughly combined.

3. Using kitchen shears, cut around perimeter of each pita and separate into 2 halves. Place 4 thicker halves on counter with interiors facing up. Divide lamb mixture into 4 equal portions and place 1 portion in center of each pita half. Using spatula, gently spread lamb mixture into even layer, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Top each with thinner pita half. Press each sandwich firmly until lamb mixture spreads to ¼ inch from edge of pita. Transfer sandwiches to large plate, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside. (Sandwiches may be held for up to 1 hour before grilling.)

4A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter two-thirds filled with charcoal briquettes (4 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

4B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-high.

5. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place sandwiches on grill, cover, and cook until bottoms are evenly browned and edges are starting to crisp, 7 to 10 minutes, moving sandwiches as needed to ensure even cooking. Flip sandwiches, cover grill, and continue to cook until second sides are evenly browned and edges are crisp, 7 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer sandwiches to cutting board and cut each in half crosswise. Transfer sandwiches to platter and serve, passing sauce separately.

Revision Prep: The Initial Read-Through

Howdy, howdy!  I recently started the initial read-through of LR (code name for novel attempt 2, draft 1) in preparation for beginning the editing process.  Yes, I know I should’ve done that a couple of months ago, but I didn’t.  So, here we are.  This is the part of revision where I haven’t looked at the story in a while (about six months for this one), so I’m reading it mostly in reader mode.  I have to remind myself that this is not the time for my inner editor to nag at every little thing, it’s time to just enjoy the story and see how it goes.  However, there are things I keep on the look out for in the back of my mind while I’m reading.  That’s what I want to ramble about today: the five things I look for during this read-through.

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The sooner I acknowledge it’s shitty, the easier it is to tune out my inner editor until I need her.

1. Gut reactions.  What makes me laugh?  What makes me want to cry?  What do I glance over?  I’m looking to see what parts of the story elicit emotional reactions and which parts are blah.  I want to keep the former (if possible) and tweak or get rid of the latter.  Also, I want to know if I still enjoy the story as much as I did when I wrote it.  I’m only like six chapters into LR as a reader, but I’m actually super surprised at how much I love it.  Yeah, it’s a shitty first draft, but the characters and story still really amuse me.  It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, because I feel like I’m supposed to hate it at this point.

2. Continuity errors.  Have I randomly changed someone’s name?  Did I move an entire building somewhere else halfway through?  Was someone right handed and suddenly they’re left handed?  Stupid things like that.  Some are glaringly obvious while others will only be noticed by a really close reading.  I already know my main character randomly goes from fourteen to seventeen (because fourteen was too creepily young for this particular story).  One of my “bad guys” changes her race halfway through because I originally couldn’t decide what group of shifters she belonged to, but then decided on one that was completely different from how I imagined her in the beginning.  And of course there are a bunch of little things as well.

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I feel like I’ve used this before, but it’s appropriate.

3. Plot holes.  Have I left any threads undone?  Did I randomly start something in the middle with no lead up to it?  Is what the character’s doing feasible in the world I created?  Is it something they actually would do?  These are definitely things I have to make notes about so I can fix them or change them or remove them entirely.  There’s this thing with a fox in the first chapter of LR and by chapter two, it’s been completely forgotten.  I have no idea where that was going, but if I don’t figure it out by the end of this read-through, I either need to cut it or make something up.  These are important changes for me to consider as I read.

4. Useless characters.  Do I have any characters who are just there to do one thing and then they disappear?  Can someone more pertinent to the story do the thing?  Could that character become someone important?  I know most books have at least a couple of superfluous characters, but I like to weed them out if I can.  In LR, there’s the principal’s secretary whose sole job seems to be giving my main character his late slips for class.  I’m debating whether or not to combine her with another character or just giving her a bigger role in the next book.  Then again, I might keep her as she is because that’s life.  Someone has to pass out the tardy slips.

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Went looking for typo demon pictures and got distracted by manga demons.  It’s Lucifer from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.

5. Blatant typos and grammatical errors.  These aren’t things I actually look for in this read-through, but if they pop out at me, I either make a note or fix them.  I try to save this stuff for later read-throughs, though.

What about you?  Do you have anything you look for when you’re getting reacquainted with stories you want to revise?  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!