Joyful Work

Those of you who enjoyed Magic Most Deadly will be happy to know that I am currently hard at work on revisions of the sequel (thus far, the working title of Magic in Disguise seems to be sticking). You might remember me posting here a few months back that I had finished the first draft? Now I’m filling it out, deepening it and padding it, putting events in their proper order, inserting clues (now that I know both the point of the crime and the criminal, two things I was clueless on when I started the first draft), creating a few red herrings, all that fun stuff.

I know some writers who dump everything into their first draft, and then spend subsequent drafts pruning, cutting away words and tightening it all up. That is not how I craft my stories. No, my first drafts are always the barest of bones (as a teen, I used to write my first drafts as scripts – just dialogue and a few terse “stage directions”), which then have to get filled out a little more in each draft. Right now my chapters stand at about 2500-3000 words each – I need to get them to 4000-4500 by the final draft. Whew!

It’s fun, though. And it’s fun to challenge myself by seeing if I can include enough background details in each scene to keep my beta readers from saying “more details! We need more details!” (I’ve never yet managed it, but it’s a goal). Today, for example, I spent some time figuring out the layout and general decor of Len’s London flat. While the readers of Magic in Disguise won’t necessarily need to know that the flat has two bedrooms, and the exact location of the cloakroom, or what the color scheme is of the dining room, having all that information at my fingertips will make it easier to sneak in subtle details to fill out the story and make it more vivid.

More vivid! That’s what I hope for with all my stories – that they live. I have a hard time re-reading Magic Most Deadly these days – my fingers itch to start editing, to fix all the flaws I see in it now, to make all these improvements. But one thing that does still satisfy me with it is how alive it is. Flawed though it might be (hey, it’s a debut novel), creaky though it may be in places, it does live, and that gives me great joy.

I hope that Magic in Disguise, when it is finished, not only is an improved book craft-wise from MMD, but is even more alive than its predecessor. A joyous, laughing, living book (as much as a murder mystery can ever be those things!), which brings as much delight to its readers as it did/does to its writer.

And now I’d best stop talking about writing it, and get back to actually writing the thing …

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Camp NaNoWriMo Thoughts

A little under 10,000 words to go on my Camp NaNoWriMo project … I can totally do this.

(Except not if I keep having days where I barely manage to squeak out 400 words, and all of them likely to get cut in the next draft because they’re only filler and/or meaningless dialogue.)

(Taking days off for traveling and sewing is probably not the best plan either.)

I’ve enjoyed my two stints of Camp NaNo this year – in April and now during July – but I’m not sure I’ll do them again. The discipline to write every day has been wonderful, as has the companionship with other writers. On the other hand, the pressure of it meant, back in April, that I wasn’t able to write anything at all for a few weeks after finishing up, and I suspect I’ll have to take a lengthy break in August as well. Which undoes a lot of the good from the month of writing, productivity-wise.

But, like I said, the discipline for writing every day (or almost every day, when I’m not traveling or sewing – sometimes even when I am sewing) has been wonderful, and that is something I am hoping to keep up even after this is done (and after whatever break I need in August). To sit down and write, even if it is a measly 400 words that will get cut in the next draft.

Which is kind of funny, because I’ve talked on my blog here about how the mantra “write every day” isn’t one that works for me. And it wasn’t – at that point in my life, and in my writing journey. And once school starts back up with the kids, it might not be feasible once again. But right now, for where I am at this moment as a writer and as a person, writing every day (within reasonable limits) is right for me.

Isn’t that one of the beauties of being human? We grow and change, and shift, and things that once worked for us do not at a later point, or we might return to them again years down the road. We grow, and our needs and goals grow right along with us. It’s kind of exciting, actually.

So, that’s my main take-away from Camp NaNo this month. That, and writing would be a whole lot easier if life didn’t keep interfering. But then, what would be the point in writing?

Paper Edits and Tomato Soup

The nice thing about having printed out your MS to edit, is that it’s much easier to haul a stack of paper around everywhere you go than it is your laptop. For me, anyway. For instance, at Joy’s violin lesson. Or in the car while I’m soaking in the (rare) sunshine during Grace’s ballet class. Both places where balancing a laptop on my knees would be awkward and uncomfortable.

As a result of this papery delight, I’ve been moving along at a surprisingly (for me) rapid pace on the edits to From the Shadows, and this afternoon, I finished them.

Now, this round of editing mostly consisted of notes saying “fix this!” or “this scene will need to be moved” or “hey, you have world-building now that changes this.” All of which needs to be actually implemented. But the hard work, the thinking part of it, is done. All that remains is to write out the changes I told myself to make. (And yes, for me, the writing is generally the easy part. Figuring out how to make the writing work is the hard stuff.)

This is exciting on multiple levels. For one: yay, another step forward! For another: after I finish implementing the changes, I can send it off to my actual editor. For another: once I reach the sending-it-to-editor stage, I consider the book officially done (everything else is polishing), and THAT means I can purchase The High King.

See, way, way back when I finished my first novel, I was so shocked and pleased that I felt I had to do something to celebrate. It wasn’t a publishable novel, so nothing that anyone else would consider party-worthy, but it was mine and I had finished it. So I celebrated by buying The Book of Three in hardcover, a splurge since I always buy paperback.

Collecting the Chronicles of Prydain one by one, each book marking the completion of one novel, because a milestone for me. Despite the fact that I’ve only published one book (and some short stories, but those didn’t count as novels – though I’m pretty sure I bought The Prydain Companion to celebrate those), I have written four (not counting novel-length fanfics, of which there are Many), and so I own all but the final Prydain book.

Finishing – not publishing, but finishing – FTS will be the fifth. After that, there’s The Foundling and other tales, and then … well, and then I will either no longer need to have that private celebratory milestone, or else I’ll have to start collecting a new series.

~

After I finished the paper edits, I was fizzing with creative energy. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches were on the menu for tonight’s dinner, so I turned all the creativity toward that. The tomato soup recipes I had were all great for crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, even diced tomatoes … but I’ve had a terrible time finding good recipes for soup from tomato sauce, and that’s all I usually have on hand. So, I made up my own.

And I have to tell you, it turned out to be the best tomato soup not from fresh tomatoes I’ve ever had. To my taste, of course, which might be quite different from yours. But just in case it isn’t, I’ll include the recipe here. Because – yes! I actually remembered to write it down, so I won’t have to rack my brain to remember it next time.

2 TBS Butter

2 TBS Flour

Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Basil, Salt (to taste)

3 Cans Tomato Sauce

2 Cups Chicken Broth

1 tsp Baking Soda

Pinch of Brown Sugar

2 Cups of Cream/Milk

Salt, to taste

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add flour, stir and let cook 1-2 minutes. Add spices and tomato sauce, stir until well mixed. Add chicken broth, stir well. Sprinkle in baking soda and brown sugar, stir until foam has settled. Bring to a simmer. Add cream or milk (I used 1/2 c. cream and 1 1/2 c. milk), stir until evenly combined, let heat through. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Not too bad for a Tuesday afternoon’s work!

(I am sorry there are no pictures of the soup: we ate it all.)

Humble Editing Pie

I have a confession to make:

I always thought the whole “print your MS out to edit it” was a bunch of hooey. Sometimes that would help, I suspected, sure, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. How can it really be all that different from editing it as a document on your computer?

Hello, heaping great portion of humble pie.

I printed out From the Shadows a few weeks back, just to see if it would make that much of a difference. And because I love love love this story and want it to be as close to perfect as I can make it, so I’m going over it with a fine-tooth comb.

Has it ever made a difference. I’m only about a third of the way through, but already this round of editing is making such an improvement. To the story development, to the word choices, little details that yes, would have slipped my notice if I was just reading on a computer screen, to big picture issues that suddenly make much more sense when I can actually physically compare pages to see “oh yes, this needs to go here instead of here,” or something similar.

So, I am eating my words (not really, since I never talked about my opinion – eating my thoughts?), and humbly accepting that sometimes, the accepted practice really is the right one.

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Awesome First Drafts

I understood last week one of the main reasons why I dislike the insistence many people put upon the notion that “the first draft is crap,” and that one must always just get everything down first, and polish it later. Especially the firmness with which those people insist one must never, ever go back and edit in one’s first draft, that once one does that one will never finish.

One of the reasons, of course, that I dislike those statements is that I’m not a huge fan of dogmatism about a process that is deeply personal and individualistic. No two people write the same way, so why would you insist that everybody’s first drafts must all look alike?

The other, more personal, reason is that I am actually more likely to leave a story unfinished if I have a terrible first draft than if I’ve been tweaking it and polishing it as I go.

I had realized, while working on Magic in Disguise, that I was going to need to come up with another plot twist, that the story as it stood was both too straightforward (i.e. boring) and would not be long enough. Now, conventional wisdom would tell me to keep writing the first draft, and add in the plot twist/extra scenes in the second draft. But the more I kept trying to work on it that way, the more frustrated I got.

Why? Because every time I looked at how much I had already written, I grew discouraged. “Why get excited about hitting 30,000 words?” I muttered to myself (while sitting on a lawn chair outside the tent set up at my mother-in-law’s house, while we were camping there – I know, I lead a really rough life). “Even once I get to the end, there’s still going to be so much work to be done on this to get it in decent shape.” And then I started to get overwhelmed about how much still needed to be done on the book that I didn’t want to work on it at all.

Then an idea for the needed plot twist came to me, and first I started just writing it, then when I saw that it was working I took a quick break from the writing to adapt my outline to it, just to make sure it would fit, and then I went back to adapting my first draft, and suddenly feeling much more cheerful about the whole thing. Because now the second draft was looking like much less work, and so whatever progress I made on the first draft counted.

More work first, less work later. That’s my writing process, and I’m owning it. My first drafts are as close to the finished product as I can get them, and subsequent drafts just polish them and polish them until they’re ready. That’s how my brain works, and I don’t care if anyone tells me it’s the “wrong” way to craft a story.

It’s the right way for me.

Secret Project, Secret No More

You remember that post I wrote back in February, about the need to finish the first draft I was working on so I could get started on the first draft of the book I was supposed to be writing?

Well, I finished it. The first draft of a story that jumped into my mind sometime in … either November or December, I really don’t remember now … and I knew that I had to start writing it then and there. If all I did was outline it, I knew I wouldn’t come back to it later. The outline would just sit, and languish, and collect metaphoric dust in my documents.

It wasn’t supposed to be very long, only around 30,000 words, a short, fun, MG. Of course, me being me, that turned into 51,000 words, closer to YA than MG, and with some surprisingly deep themes woven in amidst the lighter-hearted bits. In fact, I need to make sure the light-hearted bits are as prominent as I want them to be when I go back for the second draft.

I couldn’t talk about it at all, to anyone, for fear of losing the momentum. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing it until I was halfway through, and then I finally broke down and told Carl what I was writing – but I wouldn’t tell him what it was about. Only that it wasn’t what I “should” be writing. A few weeks ago a friend asked me on Twitter what I was writing currently, and all I could say was “A secret project.” It didn’t need to be secret for any outside reasons – but I was afraid talking about it would have the same effect as outlining it. Death to the story itself.

So. It’s the messiest first draft I’ve ever had the privilege of finishing, because most of my first drafts are more like third drafts by the time I’m done with them. I break The Rule, you see, of first drafts. I am a compulsive go-back-er. I can be three chapter ahead, realize a way to make that past chapter better, and if I don’t go back and fix it right then and there, it eats away at me until I get it right. If I introduce a character that later on doesn’t fit, I have to go back and take that character out immediately, instead of just dropping the character from then on and removing it entirely later. I write a few chapters, go back and fix a few chapters, write a few, go back and fix a few … which is why I always cringe when I hear someone declare that all first drafts, every time, are junk. Because mine aren’t. Usually.

This one is, though. I just needed to get it written. So I skipped the edit-as-I-go this time (and yes, it drove me nuts, but I did it, and I’m kind of proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone. And I don’t plan to ever do that again) and just got it all done. I’m not going back and immediately fixing anything now that it’s written, either.

I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist for a while. Go back to working on Wings of Song and Magic in Disguise, the second Maia and Len book (it’s been six months since Magic Most Deadly published, and I think I’m finally ready to get back to their world). And then, once I’ve finished the initial drafts of both of those, I can drag this one back to life, tear it apart, and put it back together again better.

It’s been a fun interlude. And it was what I needed when the stories I was supposed to be writing (see previous paragraph) were not working, and I was feeling a considerable amount on ennui about my writing in general. Sure, it took me almost four months to write a draft I thought I would have done in six weeks, but hey. It’s there. It’s done. And it put the zest back in writing for me.

And now, it’s back to work.