The Joys of Copy Editing

Joe’s Post #181

Who knows more about great suffering, I ask you?

June 5th, Yager’s War was finally sent to an agent who’d requested it. Like most things worth doing, this was not achieved without great suffering. Or at least great silliness. Especially when it comes to the copy-editing,

The writing of the novel was fun. The rewrite a lot of work.  A LOT. Then I did up the first final draft and sent it off to my trusted readers. They came back with suggestions, ideas and concerns. I dealt with them all.

Then came the dreaded copy edit. Now, some people have minds fo copy-editing. Smart people. People who can do the NY Times Crosswords in pen. The people who beat Jeopardy winners to the questions. People who can quote Shakespeare instead of Snoop Dog.

Not me. I am like that dog in Up. I get distracted very easily. My mind’s always thinking of something. Like where did I put my Def Leppard tape from the 80’s? Or why did Ares try to convert Wonder Woman when clearly, she wasn’t all about the whole ‘let’s kill mankind’ thing.

But I got some help from my friends and did the best I could. I went slowly. I used Gammarly. I blew up the font to be so huge, it could be read from space (so I wouldn’t start actually reading the story and get all lost in it.)

And then, after a freaking month, 459 pages, I finished.

But for laughs, here’s what I found.

I had to look up the crazy stuff like is adam’s apple capitalized? Well, it turns out, yes, yes it is. Adam’s apple. (I’ll take stupid things the English language does for 200.

Or you can ask Bill Maher. Wait, too soon?


I found that I had written gate instead of gait. Oh, I knew the difference, but somewhere in my brain, gate came out. I did the same thing with hanger and hangar that my critique group still giggle about.

I actually wrote, “bowels of soup” instead of “bowls.”

Looked up if herring should be capitalized (grammarly said yes, but google says no, so, I, ah, guess it’s kinda dealer’s choice.) I went without.

I wrote, “at the there.”  Yup. Dunno how, but that came out.

Later, I wrote, “on the table above the table.” I had to wonder if I’d been drinking that night. Or just up too late.

But seriously, WTF!?!?

Then I found that I’d written, “whipped the anger from his face.” which made me giggle.

From the Huff Post. They know their women’s bits.

I spent an hour, I kid you not, trying to find good words for lady bits. Then another hour reading about the time-line of genital slang. Then briefly thought about using stiff deity instead of erection. But, my cop, being from Chicago and all, would probably not have used that term. Makes me want to write a novel using that as a title. (See how I can get distracted.)

I made lots of comma errors, plenty of ‘he’ instead of ‘the’ mistakes, buggered up the paragraphing somehow from one document to another, and even accidentally copy-and-pasted a deleted chapter back into the final draft.

Oh, fun times.

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

But it’s all done. Yager’s War, 109,000 words is out there. A story set in Amsterdam in 1940 about a Chicago Detective who races against the clock to find his missing sister before the Germans invade.

It’s the best writing I’ve done.

Wish me luck.

(Copy edited by the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world).

Falling in Love With Your Own Writing

Joe’s Post #177

Listen to what Boromir says.

Listen to what Boromir says.

Is there anything better than falling in love? What about falling in love with your writing? Is that a good thing?

Well, no. No, it’s not.

It’s something I’ve been struggling with as I rewrite my novel, Yager’s War, for submission.

Set in 1940, it tells the story of a Chicago detective in Holland trying to find his missing sister before the Germans invade.

When I first wrote it, it had more of a mystery feel. Dead bodies. Gun battles. Lots of tough guy talk. Some hot sex. But from my writing group and my dedicated readers, it became clear that I needed to shift it a bit, and focus on the humanity of the story. Less Jack Reacher and more Gorky Park.

Why? Because I’m trying to write a deeper story. A story with emotional weight.

I spent a TON of time reworking my first 50 pages to see if I could hit this goal, and after many tears, much staring off into space, and a lot of bugging a published writer friend of mine, I think I finally got the right feel to the story. Good pacing. Some heart. Compelling characters in a compelling story.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

For most of 2017, I’ve been hard at work recrafting the rest of the novel to be as good as those first 50 pages. It’s been hard and, frankly, a lot of the novel has been totally rewritten. It’s sort of like doing a kitchen renovation where all you want to do is replace the sink and end with redoing the counters, cabinets, floors, lights and adding a 75” TV, cuz every kitchen should have one.

But perhaps the toughest part has been letting go of some of my best writing. There was one scene that I loved. I loved writing it the first time. I loved reading it the second time. And the third.

It was powerful. It was emotional. Hell, I think I even gotz all the grammar right.

But here’s the horrible truth, a truth that we writers must face sometimes.

It no longer works.

The story has evolved in such a way that this beautifully written passage was no longer relevant.

It’s very sad.

It was hard to let it go.

But then I remembered what someone told me about letting go of things I’d collected in my house. You know, the sentimental things – the ashtray that my mom used to use, the chair my grandfather made that was now nearly in tatters, the 10,000 VCR tapes that I’d collected over the years… the things to which you attach memories, the things that have meaning but take up an awful lot of space and you no long need.

Well, someone said take a picture of those items so you’ll always have the memory. And, you know what? That worked like a charm. A friend saved me from being a hoarder.

So I applied the same principal to that nice bit of writing. I didn’t take a picture of it, but cut it out of the story and pasted it into a file called, “Things Joe Can’t Delete but Loves.” Like my original Sim City from, like, 1989 which hides somewhere in my computer games file.

Doing this allows me to move on.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

In my mind, I imagine my kids looking at this after I die and saying, my goodness, Joe REALLY could write. Who knew?

Rest in Peace, Good Writing.

Rest in Peace.

The dilemma of choosing POV

Karalee’s Post #105

I’m well on my way writing my next manuscript.

My main character is a displaced detective trying her hand in a new business venture. I’ve written many of my major scenes awhile back and over the last couple of months I’ve dedicated time to early preparation for my daughter’s wedding this summer. Alas, my story has sat mostly idle.

That means that I’m catching up with it again and glad to say that I’m loving the story! It amazes me when I leave my writing and come back to it and I get excited all over again. I feel like shouting, “Damn, I can write!” The feeling feeds my passion, and us writers need a boost once in awhile to keep going.

But now I find myself toying with character POV. I know you are probably saying, “Isn’t it a bit late? Why didn’t you decide before starting to put words to paper?”

Well, I thought I had. Rather, I started writing in third person because that’s what felt the most natural at the time. I didn’t really decide up front in my outlining. I guess I let my muse decide at the time.

While rereading my manuscript I’ve realized that, although I’ve written the story in third person, I have my main character in all the scenes and in her POV too. Not even my antagonist has a scene in his POV.

My story could easily be written in first person.

I didn’t consciously do this. I’ve written many stories and all in third person multiple POV’s. All that is, except one. The last novel I wrote I tried out first person. I enjoyed the close in-your-head perspective and maybe I continued in this manner without actually planning it.

Now I seem to be in-between the two! Should I make the switch to first person? The reader would be closer to the main character. But then I’m restricted to only her POV, although I could still write my antagonist in third person without a problem. That could be a good option.

I need to give my story more thought and decide if I want another POV character. Will I have a better story if I do? Should I give the antagonist his own scenes? One thing I can say for sure, writing is never an easy task!

My options are still open.

How do you decide what POV to choose when you write?

As it happens, Nathan Bransford has a post today about POV called 4 tips for handling multiple perspectives in a third person narrative. It’s worth checking out.

Next week I will address another perspective to be aware of in our writing.


Writing Progress: Good progress reviewing my very rough first draft. Considering my POV choice.

Writing Distractions:  

  1. One thing leads to another and I found myself with paint brush in hand and touching up the baseboards and door-frames in my old and now my new office and the hallway between! Not in my original plans for the week, but it looks great!
  2. Vancouver’s winter is so mild that the crocuses and daffodils are blooming. The garden called very loudly and I spent a day cleaning out old foliage to make way for new. Oh, I also went to a garden shop and got some primulas. Gardening is my other passion….
  3. Ongoing photo project. I’m digitizing old photos at home on a scanner and have sent video tapes off to be digitized through Costco.
  4. Got my tax stuff done. Awesome!

Treats eaten: homemade apple crumble after said tax stuff done!

Movies/TV watched: Happy Valley on Netflix, catching up on Downton Abbey.

Books reading: Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, books on writing. I’ve downloaded a few from James Scott Bell.

Perspective Photos taken this week:









venza mirror







Happy writing!

Writers, how do you kill your self-editor?

Karalee’s Post #102

I’ve put my writing aside over the last few weeks. In November and December I’d written a fast first draft, well, nearly to ‘The End’, and I find it’s helpful to put my work on the back burner for a while before readdressing it with fresh eyes.

I’ve also put something else on the back burner for over twenty years that has to be addressed ASAP! My only daughter is getting married in July, and I have 40+ video tapes that I’d taken during my 3 children’s childhoods that need to be formatted on to DVD’s. Technology is amazing. So is the amount of time it takes to watch them. I’m not done yet either…. Then comes the editing….

I’m also committed to have a finished manuscript this year, complete and ready to publish. That includes formatted, edited, book jacket done, marketing platform up and running, etc., etc., etc.


So, I’m back at my manuscript again, intending to read it from start to finish, intending to lock my self-editor where she can’t find the key.

No such luck! I find it very unfortunate that I’m one of those writers that rewrites way WAY before I should rewrite. And I tend to keep rewriting, ESPECIALLY the first few scenes.

My self-editor seems to have a life of her own and can go on and on until I feel like this skeleton picture. Really.

Boy do I want to, but I haven’t yet found a way to kill her or even maim her until she can’t function properly.

2001 A Space Odyssey

My self-editor is like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. She takes over, looping my story around and around,  rearranging words from here to over there, adding sensory stuff and emotional ties to my characters before deleting it and adding something else, and on and on……. She takes complete control, stifling much of my creativity and ignores me like I’m not even there.

Do you get stuck like this too?

Believe me, it’s not a romantic relationship, not even a love-hate and let’s-kiss-and-make-up relationship. It’s a war. And I must win!

I would love to take my self-editor and tie her up like this (or worse) and force her to sign a contract that said, ‘Do not touch until your creative half finishes reading, digesting and getting excited about the manuscript again.’

Then I would have a chance of making progress.

And of course, once the contract was signed, I would tie her hands behind her back to make sure she behaved.

What do you feel like doing to your self-editor?


Progress this week: not much. Need to kill you-know-who.

Pies, cookies, cakes and muffins eaten: none, but felt like going to our neighborhood bakery and not coming home to you-know-who.

TV/Movies watched: Last half of Downton Abbey Season 4. Did not invite you-know-who to join me.

Goal next week: skip first few chapters in my manuscript in order to ignore you-know-who and get my work done.

Book I’m reading: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. First book of his I’ve read and I love his humor and the style of his writing.

Happy Writing!



Basically, you have to write

Karalee’s Post #90



Our writing group is busy preparing for our fall two day retreat meeting starting tomorrow. We do have a long to-do list and it does have a lot to do with writing fiction.


On the other hand, we need to stay focused in order to make sure the list doesn’t remain in the to-do category.



I’ve recently gone back to the basics in outlining a new manuscript and already feel a bit stuck.



If you believe in karma, meant-to-be concepts or in sheer luck, it does happen at times.

I follow a blog by C.S. Lakin called Live Write Thrive and she sent a title today called ‘Ramping Tension to the Max in Your Novel’. Now I don’t know if you experience this phenomenon, but when I’m stuck, or on the verge of understanding a concept, or need to learn about something in particular, often the solution arises from unexpected places. Sometimes it is downright eerie, but maybe every so often my stars align or something.

So when Live Write Thrive popped up in my inbox today it must have been meant to be. Not only does it address the topic of tension, and the concept suddenly became clearer to me, she also gave a her checklist at the end of the blog to go through in designing and writing your novel.

All in one place! My lucky day, but then, I was ready to delve into the whole topic and much deeper than before as my learning continues.

Her checklists are as follows and each are definitely worth a close read:

  • concept with a kicker
  • protagonist with a goal
  • conflict with high stakes
  • theme with a heart
  • plots and subplots in a string of scenes
  • secondary characters with their own needs
  • setting with a purpose


I’ve discovered that learning about writing also teaches yourself much about, well, yourself. Me, I have a whole book in my head at once, but have difficulty talking it through out loud as well as having my story flow like a movie on the page.


So thank-you this week C.S. Lakin, I will definitely work through your checklists!

Last week I touched on the release of Kindle Unlimited. This week in the blog Build Book Buzz  readers are encouraged that when they download with Kindle Unlimited to read 10% of each book. Why? If they don’t then the author doesn’t get paid.

Just another little point for us aspiring authors to understand in the self-publishing world.

Happy writing!


Creating something from nothing

Karalee’s Post #77

The last three weeks have been out of routine for me as I’ve been helping my friend care for her hobby farm while she is away taking her 96 year-old invalid father to Cuba. Silk was saying that 60 is the new 40, but once you are in your 90’s it’s pretty hard to look or act as a 70 year old.

I take my hat off to my friend knowing that she’s in the rare group that would tackle such a task of organizing beforehand and taking care of her father while away. It is definitely a trait to consider in a character I may develop one day.

I’ve taken time to write and I also offered to build a couple of vegetable boxes so my friend can have her first outdoor garden since moving here a good 20 years ago. It is for her  to enjoy as well as her adult children and grandchildren when they have their yearly vacation on the farm.

Today I literally made something from nothing, much like the writing process and starting with the infamous blank white page.

1. Start with an idea and toy with “what if’s” and “where it can take place” and gather information and tools as you start to outline (or write if you are the type that delves right in)






2. Start developing your characters and start building the foundation of your story.







Often at this point for me ideas come fast and furious and it’s exhilarating to start writing and see where they go. During these creative bouts it doesn’t take long to get a good number of scenes written and feel some accomplishment. That’s how I felt when I had my first vegetable box finished. Full of enthusiasm, I sent a picture to my friends on Facebook, much like sending a submission to my writing group.







My visions of grandeur were short-lived when I got feedback that the box wasn’t in a spot that suited everyone that uses that space, so I found out.

That’s what happens in submission in our writing group too. Some things work, others don’t, and not always the same feedback from everyone.

So back to the drawing board and I take down the newly constructed box and move it farther up towards the back of the garage. I also put the second one beside it. Back here is a good spot too as it still gets lots of sun. It’s less convenient for watering and tending to, but on the other hand they are now visible from down in the barn, so the perspective changes and adds to the enjoyment of the property.

The foundation is now complete.

To me this would be like finishing my character development and outline of a book.




For this garden, next comes the soil which needs to be the right texture and mix of nutrients. Then one needs to decide what to grow and plant the seeds or transplant seedlings. When the garden grows, it is for all to enjoy.

In writing a novel, next comes the actual writing and editing, more submissions to our writing group, more re-writing, etc. until I have a finished product. At that point, it will be for readers to enjoy.

I’ve had a day of physical labour. I feel good although tired and I have a blister from screwing in screws.

That’s like writing for me too. Have you ever written so much in one day that the tips of your fingers are a bit sore and feel like you’ve worn the skin off?

Happy writing!




To outline or not to outline

Joe’s Post #74

hamletThat is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of rewrite after rewrite or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by outlining end them.

Thing is, it’s not like there’s a right or wrong answer here. No really. It totally depends on the writer. Both ways – outlining or not outlining – have their good and bad points. Very quickly…

No Outlining – More creativity. Easy to get into the flow of writing scenes. Maximum inspiration. See Writer’s Digest take on it. Downside – You will need to rewrite the whole novel – sometimes more than once – unless you’re super amazing (and there are writers out there like that). It’s a TON of work to rewrite a whole novel. Like remaking a piece of Ikea furniture without instructions and forgetting to attach the noobler to the wookweiner. And then redoing it again cuz like you forgot the wankdinger has to slip inside the bagvik. Yuck, right?

Outlining – Easier to keep a complex plot organized. All sorts of wrongish things can be spotted and fixed. See Joseph Finder‘s take on it. Downside  (a big one) – it can suck the life out of your desire to write that story. Like writing Ikea instructions. In your own blood. While it’s raining. It’s hard, blood-soaked work. And isn’t writing supposed to be fun?

left right brainIt’s the classic left brain vs right brain. Logical, analytical, objective vs intuitive, action-oriented, subjective. Spock vs Kirk.

Now, I’ve tried both outlining and not outlining, but for the last novel, I settled on a hybrid make-a-rough-outline-then-write system. Sort of like a Frankenstein’s monster that tried to marry creation and order. 

That system, which I have dubbed, the ‘it looks like someone threw up sticky notes all over my table’, resulted in a surprisingly hole-filled plot. Oh, I remember the critique well. “Joe, you forgot about Blahblah the Dorfmaster who appeared on page 67 and then was forgotten.” Or, more embarrassingly, “You have no ending. No climax.” Or “You forgot to bring coffee to the critique session.”

Not good. Not good at all.


Now all of these things, (and many, many more), I could have solved by a more detailed outline… but a detailed outline that SOMEONE ELSE READS.

That’s why we’re looking at doing up a detailed outline for our next big 5/5/5 meeting. It’s one thing to write out one of those things, to go through it yourself and try to spot errors or omissions or a propensity to overuse the word ‘blood-soaked’, but another thing entirely to have someone else look at it. Where are the high points, the low points? Is there action or tension or sex in enough scenes? Have I lost a character or two in the journey? Is my plot so tight you could bounce quarters off it?

See, none of us have done a detailed outline and shared it. The hope is that by doing so we’ll learn a little more about plot, character, story-telling, emotion, pacing… well, pretty much everything. I’ve been fortunate enough to critique an outline by a great outliner and have found that I can often get a better idea of the story than if I read the whole novel and certainly better than reading 30 page chunks at a time. It’s like looking at the whole pizza and seeing if it needs more cheese, or pickles or whatever. It’s way easier than judging it from just one bite (or 50 bites over a year).

Who knows if we’ll all turn into dedicated outliners? I suspect Silk will never be one as she is such an amazingly creative person. I suspect Paula, having done such a great job with her last novel, will continue to outline as a way of keeping her from running after shiny new things. Karalee and Helga could go either way.

Me, I’ll just be happy to try something new.

What I hope, though, is that I’ll become a better story-teller like the guys who wrote Up. Sadly, I’m still a lot more like Dug the dog.


Confessions of a NOP


Silk’s Post #63 — I’m looking forward to outlining my next book the way a cat looks forward to a visit with the vet.

Can someone remind me why I thought it would be a wonderful idea to start outlining, and even worse to make outlining the focus of our next 5writers challenge?

That’s right, in the first week of February next year – the 5th to the 8th, to be precise, if all goes according to plan – the 5writers will be hunkered down somewhere ripping apart each other’s outlines for our next books. Hopefully someplace warm. With a well-stocked wine bar. And another one of those giant bowls with half a candy counter dumped into it like the one Paula brought to Whistler. I estimated the bowl contents totalled about 15,000 calories.

See? I’m already wandering off the subject of outlining. That’s because – I admit it! – I’m a confirmed NOP. No Outline Person. Uncouth people call us “pantsers” – as in “flying by the seat of your pants.” And the closer our new deadline gets, the twitchier I’m becoming. By January, I’ll be hiding under the bed with the cat.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Suck it up, Silk. If anybody needs the discipline of an outline, it’s you – the 5writer who still hasn’t finished her book from last year.

I know you have a point. And I’ve listened to all the arguments about why outlining is the way to go.

Paula became a convert last year, whipping out her first action-packed YA novel in, like, two weeks thanks to her well-planned outline. Okay, maybe not two weeks, but fast. And no one has more story concepts than Paula, so the faster she can write, the better.

And Joe is keen because he’s tired of rewriting rewriting rewriting all his books. But then, Joe – our resident overachiever – has actually written many books (note the plural), so no wonder he’s tired of rewriting. I’m still stuck at one-and-a-half books, myself.

Karalee is enthusiastic too. But Karalee is congenitally enthusiastic – don’t I wish I had her energy! And she has the determination of Superwoman. She runs, she rows, she climbs mountains, for Pete’s sake! She’ll take to outlining like a duck to water.

And Helga … well, no one loves a cunning plot more. She aims high, emulating her idol, John le Carré, whose plots are famously complex, dense and intellectually challenging. Outlining is the perfect methodology to combine Helga’s favourite story ingredients in a meticulous recipe for intrigue. 

Yes, I get the logic, I really do. The case for outlining as a writer’s discipline that will help us get the plot job done – hopefully the first time. My angst about it isn’t coming from my cortex. It’s radiating up from my limbic brain. Feral fear of captivity. And, if I’m honest, a streak of cat laziness.

We all started as NOPs. Following the scent of our stories with our noses from the opening lines to sharply – or hazily –  imagined endings. But at some point in all our books, we’ve occasionally lost the trail and become mired in the Swamp of Saggy Middles. That’s why we’re trying to become OPs instead of NOPs. At least this once.

In his indispensable book Plot & Structure, writing guru James Scott Bell looks at the “longstanding feud between the NOPs and the OPs.” Here’s what he says about NOPs:

“The NOPs are the … happy folk [who] love to frolic in the daisies of their imaginations as they write. With nary a care, they let the characters and images that sprout in their minds do all the leading. They follow along, happily recording the adventures.

Ray Bradbury was a NOP. In Zen in the Art of Writing he says:

footprints‘Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. That is all Plot should ever be. It is human desire let run, running and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.’

The joy of being a NOP is that you get to fall in love every day. But as in love and life, there is heartache along the way.

The heartache comes when you look back and see nothing resembling a plot.”

Okay, so the OPs must be doing it right then … right James Scott Bell? He says:

“The OPS … seek security above all. They lay out a plot with as much specificity as possible. They may use 3″ x 5” cards, spread out on the floor or pinned to cork board, and rework the pattern many times before writing.

Or they’ll write a plot treatment, 40 or 50 pages written in the present tense. Then they’ll edit that like they would a full manuscript. And only then will they begin the actual novel. 

Albert Zuckerman, an OP, says in Writing the Blockbuster Novel

house-plan‘No sane person would think of setting out to construct a skyscraper or even a one-family home without a detailed set of plans. A big novel must have the literary equivalent of beams and joists strong enough to sustain it excitingly from beginning to end, and it also must contain myriad interlocking parts fully as complex as those in any building type.’

The value of the OP approach is that, with experience, one can virtually guarantee a solidly structured plot …

The danger, however, is the lack of that freshness and spontaneity the NOPs are known for. An OP may get to a place where one of the characters is screaming to do something other than what’s written down on a scene card. The OP fights the character, whipping him back into submission. But in doing so, he may have missed the exact angle that would make his plot original.”

All to say that there are multiple ways to fail with your plot – all of them easy to see in retrospect and easy to describe. But how to build a successful plot is much more elusive and difficult to prescribe.

What I know is that I’ve signed up for the outlining tour-of-duty and I’m going to march forward with determination towards that goal. Just the idea of 3″ x 5″ cards literally gives me hives, though, so it looks like I’ll be writing the 50-page plot treatment.

Hopefully I won’t have to have someone put me into an overlarge cat carrier, stick me on the back seat, and drive me – yowling – to the Great 5writers Outline Retreat in February.

That candy bowl better be there, though.

Hell is multitasking

iStock licensed image

iStock licensed image

Silk’s Post #56 – As you may have already surmised from other 5writers’ posts last week, our October meeting to plan a new collaborative project took us in an unexpected direction. Oh, we had lots of good ideas … some great book concepts that I hope do get written. But as we kicked them around the room and imagined the logistics of how we’d actually, specifically, functionally write a book together, it turned out that the best idea of all was not to. At least not right now.

Dodged a bullet, I’d say.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my handful of writer friends. We’re probably as close as any writers’ group anywhere. And even though we have much in common, I think one of our great strengths is that we’re all so different. It keeps us from becoming an echo chamber. But it also means that a writing collaboration might well turn out a Frankenbook, or possibly  occasion a mass murder.

The good news is that instead of nailing our collaboration project, we hit a different bull’s eye altogether – one that better suits our collective and individual needs right now. And what we all really need is simple enough: get the projects we’ve already started finished and polished, get them out into the marketplace, and start new projects. Duh!

So we’re all going to start the clock again on 5 new books after the New Year. But instead of holing up in our writer’s nests and crashing them out in secret, then submitting the first drafts for critique, we’re going to marshall our collective resources to overcome the pantser’s worst nightmare: the outline stage. Yes, we’re going to critique outlines, for the love of Mike. Probably as weird an idea as collaborating on a novel, but – like many emerging writers – we all find plot and structure to be among our biggest challenges.

Now, all of us have always sketched out our stories in some manner, and Paula had a good experience with her first outlined novel last year. But at heart, we’re all more like NOPs than OPs. For myself, outlining has always felt too mechanical, like training wheels. I want to get to the fun part – the words. However, I’m now acutely aware that a wonky structure is hard work to fix once a book is all written, no matter how good the concept or the characters or the prose.

Life is for learning. So this time we’re going to try building the bones of five great stories before we put flesh on them.

The objectives: No blind alleys or dead ends. No forgotten characters left up in the attic, never to reappear. Less sag to the middles. Stronger character arcs. Fewer “huh?” moments. More satisfying endings. Above all, fewer rewrites. And – who knows? – having good road maps may actually free our creativity, since we’ll hopefully avoid the constant angst of getting lost too often in a bad neighbourhood.

There’s only one problem with this plan: it means that over the next few months I will be multitasking three different books at different stages. It’s going to be like doing a triple mountain climb on three different continents.

First I have my 5writers challenge book to finish, a mystery-suspense, working title Catch and Release, starring my feisty protagonist, Sunny Laine, versus a very creepy antagonist. Yeah, I know. The first draft was supposed to be complete last February, ready for the critique in June. Well, it wasn’t. Too much procrastinating and writer’s block last winter, and too much travel this past summer. I’m slogging my way through the dreaded middle now. Getting to “the end” is my first priority.

Second, I have to come up with a new story concept and draft outline for our next writers’ retreat in February. I already have a few concepts in my file to mull over, but that’s the easy part – the part that puts a smile on my face. The outline will be the root-canal part – the part that makes me scream for mercy. I guess the good news is that if I can’t make the concept work in outline form, I will have spared myself the future pain of writing a whole book that doesn’t hang together.

Finally, I have my first novel, Saltspring Bridge, to rewrite. It’s now been idling on my drive for a year, and my file drawer still hosts a two-inch-thick folder of month-by-month critiques to review, weep over, heed and learn from. This is the book that was in my head for 15 years before I wrote the first word. I rewrote the first 30 pages 10 times during the three years I was sniffing around the writing life … going to writers conferences and wondering whether I was really a writer, or just someone who liked the idea of being a writer. It’s the book I took the plunge with, and it’s totally a pantser effort. It’s flawed as hell, and maybe in the end is nothing more than a practice book. But it’s my first baby and I can’t abandon it. Gotta finish it, which will require a serious rewrite.

In my long first career in design and advertising, I did nothing but multitask, and I got pretty good at it. I was somewhat famous among my staff as the Queen of Spinning Plates (birthday and Christmas presents at work often picked up this theme in myriad amusing ways). I must admit I’m feeling a bit out of practice, but I seem to recall it required massive amounts of energy, a rapier-like memory, a high tolerance for tedium, a keen sense of timing, an unnaturally thick skin, and eyes in the back of my head.

Hellish, in other words.

iStock licensed image

iStock licensed image

Each of my book projects is like a greedy, squawking fledgling in the nest, craning its scrawny next past its siblings with mouth open wide to get the first worm. “Feed me!” they all cry at the same time. Feed me your time, your ideas, your talent, your life – just gimme everything you’ve got. And now! Feed me first. Me, me, me. Feed me or I’ll die.

Alright, already! Having been, as always, inspired and energized by our 5writers meeting – and the prospect of starting something new and exciting – I will muster my multitasking skills and start digging up worms.

With luck, and not too many diversions, I will keep all three projects alive and healthy and growing until they’re strong enough to fly.

The technology tether


Desolation Sound, BC.

Silk’s Post #50 — Remember the title of the first essay many of us ever wrote? “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” springs to mind. I was lucky to spend six weeks this summer out on our boat, cruising the waters from Puget Sound to Desolation Sound. But one thing I did not do on my summer vacation was stay plugged in. The contrast between being tethered to technology versus being off the grid was truly stunning.

At a personal level, it can be a delicious taste of freedom, assuming you’re able to leave your worries at home. When I used to run a business, it was actually a stressor, since I was always desperate to “touch base” in case I had to deal with some crisis or other (there’s usually at least one a week, even in the best run companies). But as a writer, unplugging is a whole different set of problems and opportunities.

The opportunities:

  • I got a lot of uninterrupted reading time. (Yes, Joe, I finally started the Song of Ice and Fire saga and then cursed myself because I only brought the first one). No TV. No yelling at the TV because of crappy news or crappier commercials. No radio. No phone. No internet. No emailsgame-of-thrones
  • I had lots of free time just to think. Imagine. Make up stories. Invent characters. Standing at the wheel for hours. Floating at an anchorage all day. Lying in the sun. Hiding from the rain.
  • I spent lots of quality time in nature, aka “the real world.” Saw lots of wildlife. Watched the patterns in the water. Smelled the fir trees. Fished. Got banged around occasionally in rough seas.

The problems:

  • Being out of touch can feel like being lost in outer space. I’m used to being able to connect with things and people, aka “the human world.” Hence, my mental “to do” list for stuff I had to catch up on when I got home grew longer and longer.
  • No internet means no google. No research resources for writing. No blogging. No email. No NY Times online crosswords.
  • Limited electricity (we were plugged in to power maybe a 30% of the nights we were away, and underway most days) means limited laptop time.

The dream was: I’ll have all this writing time onboard. Spinning out the words in quiet coves (yeah, until the battery died in the middle of a chapter). Writing in the sun while lounging in the cockpit (sure, if I could have seen the screen in the glare). Plenty of time and inspiration for insightful blog posts (uh huh, if only I could have gotten online). The reality was: my writing output over the summer was pitiful.

It all made me think about how dependent my writing really is on technology. Not just my electronic writing “instrument” – my computer keyboard – but my whole writing process. How I research. How I fact check. How I find inspiration. How I edit by cut & paste. How I connect with the bigger Writing World. Even how I think. In short, my entire writing life is tethered to technology in ways that I don’t even notice until I unplug.

I’ve always thought of writing as the ultimate portable profession. An independent calling that can be done anywhere, anytime. Alone. Just a writer and her thoughts. Oh yeah, and her laptop. And her internet connection. And an electrical outlet.

It wasn’t always like this for writers. I’m old enough to remember what the writing life was like before computers. But not before typewriters. Hell, not even before electric typewriters. And before that is almost unimaginable.

Zounds! How did Shakespeare do it?

quill penLet’s not even go back as far as cave paintings or clay tablets or drawing patterns in sand or hieroglyphics. The very first handwriting is believed to have appeared in Greece some 3,500 years ago, and Cadmus is credited as the inventor of written letters.

But it took another 1,500 years for handwriting in ink on paper to become a common technology, and the quill pen didn’t come along until the 7th century. It was the writing instrument of choice for the next 1,000 years (so that’s how Shakespeare did it). Pencil technology evolved after the discovery of a huge deposit of pure graphite in Cumbria, England in the mid-1500s. The fountain pen was patented in the mid-1800s, and ballpoints didn’t become popular until the 1950s.

1873 typewriter

The typewriter: 1873

Meanwhile, of course, typewriters were automating (and democratizing) the imprinted word and putting technology at the fingertips of writers. Many of the first typing machines appear as fanciful and complicated as the early flying machines. However, the first commercially successful typewriter was produced by Remington in 1873, establishing the QWERTY keyboard that we’ve all come to love so dearly.

The electric typewriter naturally followed, with IBM as an early pioneer in 1935. When IBM introduced their innovative Selectric model in 1961, it became the typewriter of choice for a couple of decades (if you’re a baby boomer, chances are excellent that you’ve pounded out some pages on one of these babies – I used to have one that was tomato red).

And then came electronics, and all hell broke loose.

What I find so astonishing is that all the works of classical antiquity – The Iliad and The Odyssey, Aesop’s Fables, the classic Greek dramas, the scholarly Latin works and much else that forms the foundation of our literary tradition – were all written in the pre-ink and paper era. Mostly on waxed tablets with a stylus. Forget cut & paste. In fact, I wonder what sort of editing these works underwent at all. This writing method means truly committing your thoughts to history, probably in first draft stage (although perhaps after telling the stories orally many, many times). I’m no classics scholar, I’m just guessing.

Skimming over the Dark Ages, when much of the enduring literature, such as the epic Beowulf, relied on oral tradition, we come to the thousand-year quill era. This produced not only the works of The Bard (an industry unto himself), but virtually all the modern classic literature we had to read in school. Have you ever tried to write with a quill? I did once, when I was learning calligraphy. It’s damn tricky work. A writer committing words to paper with a quill is going to be loath to make many changes, I assure you.

Then think of all the subsequent hand-writers through the 19th and even 20th centuries. Scribbling, crossing out, shuffling pages, sticking newly conceived paragraphs in margins sideways. Then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. By hand. Doesn’t it make you feel like an absolute wuss – making changes and moving things around at will with our magical computer tools?

The pre-electric typists didn’t have it much easier. Remember those hard, gritty typewriter erasers? The ones that ate holes in the foolscap? I still have a dandy of an old, old Remington, with the round keys covered in plastic and rimmed with chrome. It weighs about 70 pounds, and it takes extremely strong fingers to mash the keys hard enough to strike the hammers on the paper. This is athletic typing. And don’t even think about pounding out a story when someone is trying to sleep in the next room. My romantic old manual typewriter makes me think of a Jazz Age writer in a garret in Paris, sweating through a summer night in a strap undershirt, smoking a Galouises, making literature for the new century, ripping a yellow pulp page off the carriage and tossing it on the floor, pacing and cursing. His last page of paper. He searches the pocket of his trousers for enough francs. He won’t be able to get another ream until morning.

I learned on an electric. Tame stuff in comparison. The first step away from physical writing, where the hands had to work hard. When I had to research something, I had to open a book (or several), or go see someone, or make a phone call, or get up and go to a library. Back then, before photocopiers, extra copies meant carbon paper. Errors meant erasing the original, then peeling back the carbon and erasing the copy too. It didn’t pay to be sloppy. Or thoughtless. When I was writing a story, or a column, or a radio commercial, I considered every word before I hit the keys. I sat and thought out a sentence before I committed it to paper. There might be a second draft, but there were damn few thirds. Writing for a living meant not wasting precious time erasing multiple copies.

mac-classicMy first computer in 1983 was a bulky, expensive, persnickety IBM PC clone, unaffectionately nicknamed Fang. It was used to manage the subscription list for a nature magazine that I acquired in a moment of insanity and published for three years. I didn’t write on Fang (I was still typing on the tomato at that time). I finally got my own friendly little Macintosh Classic with the 9 inch screen in 1990 and never looked back. Plug in, turn on, chill out. The excitement of joining this weird, over-the-rainbow, futuristic geek culture that I understood absolutely nothing about was titillating. Empowering.

And now? In a few short decades, democratization has become virtually total thanks to the hurtling technology that drives the writing industry and all other forms of communication. Everyone can be a writer. The writing life is a completely different experience from past eras. Vastly easier in many ways. Certainly speedier by a stupendous factor. Well, what isn’t? But I can’t help wondering whether what writers have gained in spontaneity, easy access to knowledge and productivity has come at a cost.

We’re all plugged in. And we’re all in a hurry.

When I couldn’t tether myself to the world during my vacation, I got a little more plugged in to my own brain instead. And this is what came of it.

Sunset in Henry Bay, Denman Island, BC

Sunset in Henry Bay, Denman Island, BC

Note to readers: My apologies for missing my post last week and being late with this week’s. Now that I’m tethered again, I’ll be back on sked. Thanks for sticking with us!