Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Known Unknown

The Unknown Known

On writers’ chat boards, these questions and their variations come up a lot:

*How do you know the story is finished?
*How do you know if it is good, i.e. publishable?
*How do you know which revisions suggestions to take and which to pass?
*How do you know you have done the revision right?
*How do you know if a rejection is global (the manuscript is a hopeless mess) or just one person’s opinion?

Basically, all the above amount to how do you know if you should be writing with the hope to find readers who are not friends and family.

And the answer?

You don’t. You don’t know, but this sort of knowing is not the right goal.

The questions are a testament to the self-doubt that plagues artistic people right after the creative high wears off. It’s part of the process, and thinking some affirmation will settle it is part of the delusion.

I figured that as long as I use the doubting voices to create rather than paralyze, I am in the right place doing the right thing. That’s about all I know.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Machinations of WORD

The title refers not to word machinations, but to the Microsoft writing program WORD.

Writers know not to count on its spellcheck to find every typo. We certainly know not to trust its grammar check, which while helpful, is flawed.

But recently I’ve encountered some new bugs. On an R & R, I agreed with the suggestion to change the name of a character. In the past, whenever I resolved to do so, I entrusted WORD to help.

So the first thing is to use the Find function, and then the Replace function. Say, for example, that you wish to change the name Amy to Lucia. Ask WORD to find Amy, and it will tell you it found, say, 237. Then ask it to replace all with Lucia. Next, ask the program to find all the possessive Amy’s, such as in “Amy’s hat” and replace with the possessive Lucia’s. It will find fewer, but some, and you will command WORD to replace all. Done.

Well, not really. You still have to go over every line in the novel's manuscript, because there may be references to the old name that would not fit the replacement. For example, if someone says, “I suppose you are named after Amy Adams,” the line would not work as “I suppose you are named after Lucia Adams.” Then there are the part-name mentions, such as someone calling out “Am...” when the change would require it to be “Lu...”---
Or if a character says, “Amie, do you spell it with an ‘ie’ or a ‘y’?” it would not make sense in the replacement.
Thus, while the WORD program has made it easier/faster. All changes still necessitate a read-through.

But the other day, working on a name change with a thorough read-through, I encountered something I have never seen before. The first mechanical hiccup was that half the replacements were followed by four blank spaces, not the standard one space between words. And worse, WORD didn’t flag these extra spaces. I figured I must have done something wrong. I mean, a mechanical machine can’t mechanically make capricious decisions. Maybe I pressed on something. Who knows?

But then I discovered that in two places, and only those two, WORD simply failed to replace the old name. There is was. What in the mechanical brain of this mechanical beast would make it come up with such mischievous machinations?

Bly me. But it was a good reminder that there is no find and replace for the human proofreader.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Listening to Books

Do you like Audio Books?

My experience is both limited and mixed.
I listened to a few books on long drives. I can firmly state that they helped me get through the long commutes. I have a friend who swears gardening and house cleaning are much improved with a good book in her ears.

But it is a different sort of experience. It is not reading, as the content and plot are absorbed, I suspect, by a different part of the brain.

For one thing, the complete focus that reading while not doing anything else is gone. Paying attention to the traffic or the weeds is not trivial. For another, the emotional flavor of the words is colored by the reading voice, and the reading voice is rarely the inner voice inside your head.

In other words, (pun intended) the reader makes all the difference.

Here is a link to a good post about writers who are tempted to produce/read their own audio books.

So far, my personal experience is that for less demanding commercial books, audio books are fine. Especially with a good reader. Exquisite literary fiction still needs my reading eyes.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Revise & Resubmit

Last week I posted about the sad writerly R. (Rejection L) This post is about the happy one, the Revise & Resubmit Request, known as R&R. J

R&R requests can come from agents, editors, or even critique-partners. For the purpose of this post I will refer to them as Publishing Professionals, or PP for short. Their suggestions can be detailed and clear, (which means specific) or brief and general. They culminate with an invitation to re-submit the revised manuscript.

R&R are happy ‘R’s, because they are another chance to improve. They may turn into a contract, but mostly they are a chance to make the work better, and maybe take a leap in the craft for years to come. A good thing.

I take these seriously, always, no exceptions. I also admit they cause trepidation. Can I manage a revision successfully? Do I understand what the issues are? Is there even a point to try to tackle this thorny thing?
Calm down, now. Take a deeeeep breath. Sleep on it. And then...

...And then I tackle the clearest most manageable suggestions first. I check the issues off as I go, though I will re-examine my checked-off points at the end, again.
One at a time, step by step. The fog clears, and the road is visible.

What if two R&R from two PP come at once, and they are contradictory? I don’t mean somewhat, or generally pointing to different things that need changing. I mean specifically.

Example: PP #1 says the main character’s name is spot-on, and part of why they were immediately drawn to the story and the allusion of the name to a notable cultural phenomenon is brilliant. PP #2 says the main character’s name must be changed, because the allusion to that same specific cultural phenomenon is undesirable.
I give this example, because it has happened to me.

You could choose to make the change and return the manuscript to the one who suggested it. You could choose not to. You could re-submit two different versions to two different PP. You could go and stand on your head for a while until enough blood rushes in and you see more clearly.
My point is these occurrences are reminders that as happy as R&R are, they are not created equally and there is more than one-way to milk a cow.

But please don’t take this as advice about milking, for which I only know one way. For storytelling, there are many ways and then there’s your way. So that’s my final piece of cheese for today: remember the story is yours. Take advice from PP who respect this and treat you as the good writer you are.