From long before the time I wrote the first post on this high-quality Internet product, I have held to the fundamental truths that I’m not good at revisions and that I’m horrible at proofreading my own work.
I was wrong.
And if you hold to those “truths,” odds are very good that you’re wrong, too. It took writing professionally to figure this out.
I’m actually bad at a lot of things. I can’t hit a curveball worth a damn. Or throw one. I can’t do scrimshaw very well and I’m absolutely horrible at painting pictures. My long game stinks and my short game is actually worse. And if you listened to me try to play the piano, you’d double your respect for Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap.
All of these things have one very important thing in common–hitting a baseball, scrimshaw, painting, and golfing aren’t things I’ve worked at. There are people who can do all those things, and while many of them are blessed with talent in those areas, they also work at them. A lot.
Take a look at guys who play baseball for a living. They’ve practices for tens of thousand of hours. They wear out the nets they’re hitting baseballs into. They go through hundreds of balls and maybe dozens of bats. They’re the kids whose mothers call them in because it’s too late, or too cold, or raining to hard. They work at it harder than anyone thinks is reasonable and appropriate. And then when they finish that, they work on it some more.
It’s the same with revisions and proofreading. The reason I suck at revisions and proofreading is that I do what’s reasonable and I move onto the next thing. I don’t do the equivalent of hitting while it’s too late or too cold or raining too hard.
It’s quite simple. The way you do revisions is that you do it, and then you do it again. And then you do it again. And you make notes as you go through, where you call out things that might not fit with other things. Then you do compare those things. And then you fix them and read it again. And then you read it again and look for other things that might not fit together and resolve them. And then you do it again and again and again and again.
You do it until it’s as close to perfect as you can possibly get it.
And to be honest, I haven’t done those things. I guess I’ve been lazy. Or misinformed. Or naive.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what I’ve been. It matters what I know now and what I do with it.
How about you? Are you doing everything you should for revisions? Proofing? Writing?
If not, why not?
Because if you’re going to make it, you’ve got to be that kid down the street with blisters on his hands and a mom who thinks he’s nuts to be standing out in the rain hitting a baseball for the 43 millionth time.
This year’s workout detour came a little later than normal–the beginning of March–but it’s had more false starts, too. I pulled a hamstring, rested a while, pulled it again, rested a while, pulled a calf muscle, then rested a while, then started up, then got sick. So yesterday, I started in again with a P90X resistance workout–pushups and pullups.
My body looks better than ever, even to non-blind people, but I still struggle with the pushups. This time, as I got deep into the workout, rather than do half-assed push-ups the manly way, I went to my knees and did “girl push-ups.” Or, better put, I did the right exercise. I got more benefit from the supposed cheater push-ups done well than I did from the real push-ups done poorly. The burn I felt after in my arms and chest was like an old friend.
Then this morning, I did Pure Cardio, part of the Insanity series. Most of Insanity consists of a program where you bust your butt as hard as you can for three minutes, then you get a break. Pure Cardio is 14 minutes of straight exercises. I used to be able to make it through about 13 minutes before taking a break. Today I made it through about seven. And I barely made it through the last exercise. (The people on the DVD are wasted at the end, too, but they do the thing all the way through.)
- It is good to work out.
- When you start back lay off, you can’t expect the same level of accomplishment as you had before.
- Working out is a pain, but how you feel after makes the entire thing worth the effort.
- Because I’m no longer young, I need to stretch once a week for my workout.
All of these things have, of course, writing equivalents.
- It is good to write. Duh.
- When you start back after a lay off, you can’t expect the same level of accomplishment as you had before. In fact, you may trudge through and produce something you can use to grow a garden. The product isn’t the key when you first start back. The process is. Anything good you produce is a bonus. And if you have to do the writing equivalent of a knee push-up, whatever that is for you, do it.
- Writing can be a pain, but how you feel after make the entire thing worth the effort.
- Regardless of your age, you need to stretch. Write something different–a poem or even a haiku. Write a blog post or a letter to a friend. And if you’re breaking from writing, read.
Even the most prolific writers have periods when they don’t “work out.” It’s a lot harder to get back into things if you go back with realistic expectations.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, it seems. (Of course, the “grass” is really just weeds, and there’s an angry pitbull that hangs out over there–not that you can see it from here.)
But it’s a very human feeling to find something attractive where you hadn’t ought to be looking. It could be any object of your affection–a new piece of clothing or electronics you don’t need and can’t afford, a to-die-for pastry when your pants are pretty tight (and not in a sexy way), or even that person who’s just perfect for you–if it weren’t for the other one you’re saddled down with already.
Temptation is a cruel mistress. She will not, as the saying goes, be ignored.
And therein lies the problem. The dress or new electronics gadget costs more than you have. The button holding your pants up could put someone’s eye out if you eat that cream puff. And the other–well, just take a look at the lovely and affable Glenn Close, ladies and gentlemen. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here.)
Today’s assignment is to put your character in just such a situation. Let them take the leap and enjoy the sensually warm water. Then let them discover how deep it is, and how hard it is to get out.
Time limit: 30 minutes
The first real short story I wrote had the word garbage in the title and that was appropriate. My critique group at the time first alerted me to that fact–and it was cool that we had a relationship that allowed them to be so blunt.
I had long dismissed short stories as training wheels, unnecessary for talented writers who could ride a big-boy bike. After all, I was the guy who kicked butt at every single prompt-writing exercise. All I had to do was figure out a way to capture that magic for 300 pages.
That’s all I had to do.
It turns out, that’s quite a lot. The prompt-writing magic was pure inspiration. It was me at my best, creating a different world out of nothing in the space of twenty minutes or so, playing upon my readers’ emotions like Yo Yo Ma. But getting from that to a salable book isn’t about inspiration. It’s work. It’s going over the damned thing again and again. It’s testing every word to make sure it’s right, then testing it again. Then, when you get done with that, you test it a third time.
Then you get to work.
That’s how you turn from 20 minutes of inspiration to a book people want to read. But life is about learning and that’s something I didn’t really learn until I got to writing short stories. The 20 minutes of inspiration were just the beginning. Even the things I wrote that I thought were good–and they were, for first drafts–had little flaws that required me to go over then time and again. Under a microscope, this character wouldn’t have done that. And that little detail I threw in to add some depth really just added confusion.
I spent five or six times the amount of time editing and changing things than I did writing. And that’s for a 1300-word short story.
There’s a reason some of the top authors around, guys like, you know, Stephen King, cut their teeth writing short stories before graduating to long fiction.
It turns out short stories aren’t just training wheels. But if your goal is to write a novel, they are a good place to cut your teeth and learn more about the craft.
It can’t hurt.
Discover the secrets of the nonfiction niche market and pitch your work at FWA’s June 22, 2013, Nonfiction Mini-Conference in Winter Park, Florida.
Workshop topics run the gamut from “Pitching Nonfiction” to “How to Monetize Your Blog” to “Self-Publishing Simplified!” and more. Interview with any faculty, including Chad Rhoad, acquisition editor for The History Press, and Katharine Sands, literary agent for Sarah Jane Freymann Literary. Ms. Sands donated one of the door prizes—review of a query and first pages of a manuscript, so you’ll won’t want to miss the door prize drawings.
Nonfiction Mini Conference
June 22, 2013 8:00am-5:00pm
841 N Park Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789
The first time I saw the headline, being politically right of center, I dismissed it as just whining. The second time I saw it, I looked into it. After that, I read the stories, but didn’t write about them.
When novelist JT Ellison, who’s writing doesn’t betray a radical political stance of any sort, linked to a story on it, I read and finally decided to write.
Men are far more likely to have their work reviewed in places like The New York Times Book Review than women.
The numbers are there to support the accusation. From summer 2008 to summer 2010, 62% of the books reviewed in the New York Times Book Review were by male authors. During that time period, of the 101 books reviewed both in the Book Review and the daily edition, 72 were by men. During this time, Stephenie Meyer’s fourth book, Breaking Dawn was released, along with a Harry Potter short story, sold separately as its own work. Barbara Walters and Elizabeth Edwards published books, along with Michelle Malkin and Sarah Palin. Jodi Picoult released two books. Mark Sanford’s wife also published a book about her life with him, the cheating former governor of South Carolina.
What got me to write about this, though, was the story Ms. Ellison linked to. I don’t normally read The Nation. In fact, given my political stances, I may not be allowed to read The Nation.
In the article, Deborah Copaken Kogan speaks about how her latest novel, The Red Book, is on the list for the Britain’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. According to some, the prize is sexist, because men can’t win. Author Tim Lott called it a “sexist con-trick.” Some of the numbers he recites support his argument to a degree. But Kogan’s story is about more than numbers. It’s about marketing and niches and what she perceives as serious inequities in the way her books are treated relative to similar work by men.
Sexism isn’t a comfortable subject to discuss. For every study that says women are paid x% of what men make, there are other studies that list some of the reasons that’s so–and many of those reasons don’t have to do with sexism. But you can’t read Ms. Kogan’s work without squirming at least a little.
I know I can’t fix this. I don’t tend to ready the New York Times book reviews anyway. I probably should, but if I did all the things I should, I would need a 96-hour day. But the complaint seems valid.
What’s your experience?