Category Archives: Editing

On abstract and out-of-context glimpses

The Heron Maiden by Tsunetomi, ca. 1925

It has been a very busy past two weeks, and I’m happy to report that I have, after much effort, found a rhythm that works (for now *fingers crossed*). I have been waking up to write at 5:00 a.m. every morning, come rain or shine (or protests from the part of my brain/body that continues to hold out). I get up, make a pot of tea, take a seat in my not-so-comfortable chair, and don’t get back up again until after 7:00 a.m. (when I switch hats to day-job-mode).

Now that I’m getting used to the schedule, everything else is falling into place. Every day it gets easier to get up and slip back into writer-mode. Those first few days were very entertaining (for me, at least), with one foot in book world and the other in the real world. At this point, I’m plotting in my sleep. I got some much-needed research done (on cross-cultural similarities for a certain type of myth), perfected (and outlined) my sub-plot, and got a good amount of writing done.

Contrary to what happened two weeks ago (see previous post), I didn’t have any meltdowns. I’ve tried to write without going back to revise, but it’s just impossible for me. If something isn’t flowing right, it sticks out like a sore thumb and I can’t move forward until I smooth the edges out (to illustrate my point, this post is now going on 25+ revisions and counting). I know the second I read it that something isn’t quite right, but trying to fix the problem can be an odyssey in and of itself. The most recent example of this little quirk is my newest prologue for Book Two, and I say “newest” because it is now in its third iteration (and hopefully its last).

But before I get into that, let me give you a little background.

The prologue for Book One wasn’t “written” until I was finished with the book. I had written a prologue initially, but I always knew it wasn’t going to work. (If you’re curious about the details, check out my previous entries on the subject: here and here). I knew that whatever I would write needed to be abstract, yet somehow capture the essence of the book. It needed to be Magic; to give the reader a glimpse of the world they would be stepping into. It turned out in the end that I had already written the perfect prologue, half way through the book (I just didn’t realize it until the end).

With that in mind, I wanted the prologue for Book Two to tell the same kind of out-of-context, abstract-but-essential story. I don’t know why I tried to write it at the beginning of the process (in spite of previous lessons), but I’m going to chalk it up to the glitches in my brain. For whatever reason, every time I sat down to write I kept going back to the empty space between the prologue and chapter one, and felt the need to fill it.

I had about two false starts.

The first attempt is saved on my computer for future use. The second attempt was far better. I was actually really attached to it, so much so that I forced kept it for months (until last week). I knew from the second I reread it that it wasn’t right, but I was having trouble letting it go. It had everything I wanted (third-person omniscient perspective, the right tone and feel, excellent flow), but it didn’t have that temporal element; that abstract, out-of-context glimpse into the essence of the book. So, what did I do? I ignored the issue. I figured I’d do what I did last time; wait for it to magically appear in the middle of the book.

As tends to be the case with most of my writing process, things didn’t go as planned. The prologue magically appeared some time in the middle of last week. One minute there was nothing, the next a well-formed abstract, out-of-context glimpse. It’s only 622 words long (shorter than this post), but it took me days to get just right. Of course, it came to me just when I’d decided to let the issue go, but I’m glad it did; it has done a lot for me process-wise.

For starters, it reminded me that the writing process is always evolving. What might have worked for me two years ago may not necessarily work for me now. The method will be different for everyone, and it shouldn’t be static. I kept comparing my process now to what it had been then, and got in the way of my own progress. I was also reminded to follow my instinct, especially if that instinct happens to be different the second time around; how else can your process evolve? More importantly, the new prologue gave me something to latch onto as I continue to write, because it gave me an exciting glimpse of the world I would be stepping into (as I hope it will for my readers).

Like I’ve said before, I know where the story begins and where it will end, but I have no idea where the journey in between will take me (true of writing and prologues alike).

Regarding the image above, it is a print of The Heron Maiden by the artist Tsunetomi.  The Heron Maiden is a Japenese folk-tale and well known dance role in Kabuki. You can read about the story here. It is the kind of story and imagery that constantly fuels my imagination.

 

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On rare moments of free time

cherryblossomsbynight
“Cherry Blossom in the Night” by Katsushika Oi (1800-1866)

Very rarely these days do I get a chunk of free time to dedicate exclusively to my writing. Even rarer still is the instance when that serendipitous chunk of free time is devoid of interruption. This morning was meant to be one of those rarest of rare moments. The planets magically aligned and for at least four hours I would have the house all to myself, without any pressing issues that spilled over from the week or housework looming over my head. It was the perfect opportunity.

After seeing the hubby off, I excitedly got down to business. I cleaned up my work space. Turned on the computer. Changed into more comfortable clothes. Prepared my tea. Opened the window shades for light (but not wide enough to be a distraction). Sat down. Found the file on the computer, opened it and began to read. (I usually reread the chapter I’m on before I start writing, if I’ve left it partway through).

Three paragraphs in, I found a little something I wanted to edit; a single (arguably insignificant) word. I’d read the passage plenty of times before without ever concerning myself with it, but for some reason today my brain got stuck on that one word. I changed it back and forth several times, read it out loud once or twice, and then went ahead and committed (after all, I needed to get through another 4,952 words before I could pick up my writing where I left off).

Moving along, I read paragraph four without a problem (cue false sense of security here). In paragraph five, my brain got stuck on comma placement; I decided to leave it alone. In paragraph seven, my sentences started to sound too wordy (a sure sign I was not in my right mind). In paragraph eight, I questioned a descriptor I had painstakingly considered and chosen before for the sake of my narrative voice. By the time I got halfway through paragraph nine (and my brain got stuck again, this time on using the proper name for an important place), I realized something was off (me) and decided it would be best to walk away.

In less than a half hour, my perfect opportunity had been squandered away.

Suffice to say, I’m just a little bit frustrated. Four hours of ideal solitude and I can’t write (I can’t even get past re-reading). Normally, I would advise sitting in front of the blank screen until the words come, but there are times when you can’t do that. I know that if I continue today, I’ll massacre the progress I’ve already made. So I decided to use the free time to write this post instead. Now that it’s done, I think I’m going to do a little gardening. The weather is cooperating (somewhat), and it’ll help clear my mind.

I might not have a rare chunk of free time later, but I’ll be fine with a little inspiration.

On the image for the post, it’s by Katsushika Oi, one of the few female woodblock ukiyo-e painters of the Edo Period. She was the daughter of the artist Katsushika Hokusai. Her identity, of course, is inspiring, but so is the image itself.  A large part of Book One takes place in Japan, and the feeling invoked by the painting reminds me of the setting.

On completing appendices and hoping for spring

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Drum bridge at Kameidô shrine Tokyo, woodblock print by Yoshida Hiroshi.

I am thrilled to report that, after much work, I am at the tail end of completing my appendix. It is far more detailed than I ever considered making it, but I’m happy to say that most of the issues I raised in my last post worked themselves out on their own.

Contrary to my original intent, I did not divide the list by culture or pantheon. Doing so would have required the reader to know in what section to look, which might not always be the easiest task (especially with a ‘miscellaneous’ section). I did, however, compile the list in the divided format, since it made the task much easier for me to keep track of and revise.

The appendix itself ended up being much more detailed than I anticipated, since I decided to be as inclusive as I could rather than just focus on main characters and important places. The most recent draft includes minor characters, terms essential to the storyline (for quick reference), and definitions of non-English words.  I could have chosen to make it a little less comprehensive (middle ground?), but I felt it was important to include anything that would come to bear on the series as a whole later on. Character descriptions were a bit of a toss up; some with only a basic explanation of who/what they are, and others with important details on appearance and personality (surprisingly, the choice came down to pantheon). I’m still on the fence regarding the family tree(s), but I’m leaning more toward adding them from the second book onward (for purposes of not giving anything away).

Right now I’m in the middle of revising and editing. That means I’ll pour over it a million times before handing it off to my husband for the final round. The last decision I’ll have to make will be the page set-up, aesthetically speaking. Seven months after moving, my books are finally out of their boxes and up on their respective shelves (just in time for me to pour over them as reference). I spent most of the weekend looking through a good portion of my book collection to see how they presented their appendices.

If all goes as planned, I should have everything ready to go (and sent off) in the next few weeks. On a side note, Facebook remains on my “to do” list for now (and will stay there until after I send the book off for publishing). My Pinterest account, on the other hand, is alive and well. Since my last post, I’ve created Pin boards for the first three major pantheons in the series and two more characters. I’m currently working on a board for a supernatural character that’s proving difficult to channel (he’s lived for centuries and hasn’t completely assimilated with the modern world), so stay tuned; his board should turn out fun because he can be a little cheeky.

When I started the Pinterest account for the series, I never imagined it would inspire me as much as it has. Pinning as my characters has become another form of expression and exploration. I’m learning things about them that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Evius, for example, can’t resist Pinning images of animals that his wife or child would like. Mr. Muse is drawn to ceramics. Cataline loves Pinning photos of the artists whose work she just Pinned, and Bryce loves anything fashion oriented and just a little macabre. The easiest board, of course, has been Elena’s, which is where the artwork above has come from. Like me, she’s hoping for spring.

On the perpetuity of my endeavor

Beauty Walking on a Snowy Day, woodblock print by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (Japan, Edo, 1786-1865), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Writing and publishing a book (be it through traditional or self-publishing means) is a perpetually arduous task. It is not as simple a process as just writing, editing, and publishing. It is a multi-layered beast that is ever-changing and exhausting…”

When I wrote those words last month, I was certain that by this point in January I would finally be ready to pull the trigger. The editing was done. The book cover agreed upon (albeit with much less ceremony than I had anticipated). The blog was on its way. Pinterest was becoming addictive. All I needed was a few finishing touches and away we go.

Give or take a holiday or two, and I now find myself knee-deep in constructing an appendix (not at all a simple task) and trying to navigate the inconspicuously convoluted reality that is creating a Facebook presence for authors.

I am a good ⅔ into my appendix, and I’m still not certain how it’s going to ultimately look. Do I divide it by culture/pantheon or make one large list? Do I set it up as a table or in outline form? Do I include definitions of non-English words or just focus on characters and names of important places? Regarding the characters themselves, do I keep the description at a basic explanation of who/what they are or do I add details (about appearance and/or personality)? What about family trees; do I add them and, if so, how far do I go with that (pagan pantheons can be extremely convoluted)? I’d like to think I’ll be done with it soon, but I have a sneaking suspicion this might take a while.

As for Facebook, I left this task for last because I figured it wouldn’t take long to create a page (it took me a half an hour to create the business page for my private practice, not to mention how quickly I set up my personal account years and years ago). I thought I would create the page, send it to everyone I know, and voila! Between that and linking the page to the blog, everything should fall neatly into place, right? Wrong. While creating a page might be easy, choosing the right option for you is not (“What do you mean, I have options?” my brain screams in protest). An author profile vs. a book page vs. an author page vs. everything else I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around, plus the added stress of accommodating the use of a pseudonym (not easy when initially relying on social networking built on your personal identity). I’ll admit that after reading a few blog posts/articles on the subject, I filed it away in my ever-growing “to do” file. We’ll leave that little round of stress for later.

For now, I’ll keep focusing on constructing a kick-ass appendix, getting in a few more blog posts than usual, keeping my Pinterest addiction at a reasonable level (I’ve added new character boards!), and going back to writing Book Two. At least once the appendix is finally done, I’ll be ready to hand over the reigns… I hope.

On end-of-year reflections

Chrysanthemums_by_a_stream_with_rocks
Chrysanthemums by a stream, with rocks. By Itō Jakachū. Part of the series Doshoku sai-e.

It’s the end of the year, the time of year that inevitably brings with it much reflection. For me, specifically, it’s the time of year I finished the first major round of editing on The Butterfly Crest and began considering what to do next. I also happen to have just completed a another substantial step in that journey. So, it’s only natural that I currently find myself obsessively preoccupied with evaluating my progress.

Looking back at the past year, one thought constantly rises above the others:

Every step of the process, no matter how large or small, is equally as important and laborious as the last.

I started out this journey thinking (naively, I admit) that writing the book itself would be the hardest part and that everything after that would be, in a sense, “down hill”. Having finished the book, I felt that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. That was almost three years ago. I am done with writing. I am now (thank the gods) done with editing. My list of things to do, however, has only gotten bigger, and the road has become no less uneven.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

The editing process, for me, turned out to be a three year endeavor, after first thinking that I was done in just a couple of months. I can’t tell you how many times I looked back thinking, Okay, this is it, and then it wasn’t.

I finished the book back in 2011. The first round of editing took four months. Once that was done, I thought I was ready to roll; next up was publishing! With that in mind, I started looking into my options; traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to explore both, so that opened up several avenues of exploration (literary agents, query letters, the torture art of a well written synopsis, submissions, social media, platform building, etc). With exploration came many realizations, several of which started the editing process all over again.

To increase the chances of capturing an agent’s interest, I had to make changes to the beginning of the book. Then I shared the book with a few trusted friends/relatives for feedback; that inevitably led to round three of editing (much more in-depth than the last). After that, I got the insane idea that I could read the book completely, and enjoy it like any reader should. Not so much; that seemingly innocent goal led to the most extensive round of editing. At the same time, I was building up my newly-opened practice, executing a limited foray into submissions to literary agents, reading up on the world of self-publishing (which has changed quite a bit since then), and starting my (mis)adventures in social media and platform-building.

You can see how something I thought I had finished in early 2012 ended up taking me until November 2013 to complete.

I remember thinking to myself these past few months, Okay, this is it, after this it’s smooth sailing (sound familiar?). Once again, I was wrong. Now, while continuing to work on the social media/platform-building aspect (here’s looking at you, Pinterest), I’ve decided to revisit my book cover, something I thought I had finished in mid 2012 (around the same time I started sharing the book with friends and family). The past week alone has given birth to two new covers, and still counting; I might just end up posting them here for comment, to see what y’all think.

That all being said, I hope this little exercise in reflection hasn’t discouraged anyone, because that certainly wasn’t my intent. I just felt the need to share a little of what the process has revealed to me this time around. Writing and publishing a book (be it through traditional or self-publishing means) is a perpetually arduous task. It is not as simple a process as just writing, editing, and publishing. It is a multi-layered beast that is ever-changing and exhausting, and which for me is now impossible to live without.

On destroying your work

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“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

― Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette)

Going into this, I was certain that at some point the editing would stop.

I was convinced, by some inexplicable notion, that there would be a magical moment in time when I could flip the switch and go from author to reader; a moment where I would be satisfied and would be able to read my work with the same fervor I read other books.

That magical moment, however, has yet to come.

Every time I think my editing is finally done, something else comes out of the woodwork.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew editing would take time. I knew enough to know that I would seldom be satisfied (I have a tendency to over-think and overcorrect). I also knew that once I handed the manuscript off to my husband for editing, we would probably differ quite a bit in our opinions (he’s far from my target audience, and I’m set in my ways).

In the end, I approached editing in two ways.

First, I edited as I wrote. I know some people are of the opinion that editing while writing is a mistake, but it works for me. I would write a full chapter without stopping, review it, revise it and then send it to a trusted friend (she’d been my only audience for 14 years, so I knew she would be the perfect critic). We would discuss her suggestions, I would make the corrections and then move on to the next chapter.

After five months, I had myself a finished manuscript.

Now it was my husband’s turn. Several weeks after I finished, I handed him the first physical copy of the manuscript. He went chapter by chapter, and as he edited I would revise. Once that process was complete, I would be done.

A year and four months later, my editing is still not done.

My first mistake was editing so soon after finishing the book. You see, I made most of the corrections my husband suggested, but there were several I was unwilling to make that turned out to be absolutely critical. The problem was, I was too attached to what I had just written. Not enough time had gone by, and I couldn’t find the resolve to destroy my work.

In all honesty, I didn’t think I needed to destroy it.

Now, so many months later, I realize I was completely wrong. Somewhere between trying the read the book myself (a long and arduous process, since there is always something, some minute detail, I want to change) and getting feedback from the handful of people I’ve asked to read the book, I ended up making those difficult changes I was unable to make in the beginning.

It was a gradual process, but before I knew it I was destroying my work without feeling guilty about it. As I started trimming the unnecessary parts, and rounding out the parts that were lacking, I started to feel like I was finally close to the finish line.

But that brought with it it’s own set of problems.

With the momentum came the overcorrections. Suddenly, everything was suspect. The things I had been sure of before became uncertain. I started questioning dialogue formats, obsessing about the number of times I used the word ‘said’, and went so far as to doubt the beginnings and endings of my chapters. I became so consumed, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Moral of the story? Once you learn to destroy your work, the rub is being able to recognize that almost imperceptible moment in time when destruction becomes complete and total annihilation.