Novel Progress, 5/17/20 – in which writing resumes and critiques continue
It has somehow been nearly a month since I last posted, claiming I would be resuming active work on the novel. And I have! Yay, me.
I took that small-fonted, thin-margined printout I mentioned last time, and read it cover to cover. I found a few consistency issues, some ways to trim it down a little, and bunch of little typos. I marked those in pen on the printout, and am about 70% of the way through fixing them in the manuscript. That separation of reading from writing, of not being able to edit it as I find issues, definitely helps me focus. Having a full printout was nice, but I’ll probably go back to PDFs for the next pass. Using even the minimal paper I squeezed this onto still makes me feel too guilty.
I have a couple of things going on the critique front: the critique partner I’ve been working with is willing to try switching gears to higher level beta-reading. I also signed up for Scribophile, and have poked around a little to learn how it works. Their system of “karma” and various kinds of “spotlights” seems overly complicated, to the point that I’m surprised there are so many people on there, seeming to know how it all works.
I also received the critique I bought with my entry in the Writers’ League Manuscript Contest. I haven’t fully processed that yet, but it pointed to more work on the opening scene along the lines of what I’ve heard from others. Which I thought I’d addressed, ha ha, but that’s okay.
That critique also reinforced a realization I had during my own recent re-read: the genre for this thing isn’t urban fantasy, despite its occult magical aspects, it’s more of a thriller! My confusion about the genre has been nagging at me for a while, so I’m really glad to have finally realized this.
I’ve done pretty well at spending at least a brief time each day working on this (80% over the past 30 days, according to Streaks), and that’s been a big boost to a feeling of momentum. There’s a long way to go, but I’m going.
How about this pandemic, huh? I’m grateful to be on the really lucky end of the spectrum so far: healthy, working remotely at my relatively secure job, an introverted homebody with plenty of company in the form of a family that includes zero school-aged kids. That acknowledged, the stress of this crazy time is not nothing. My mental capacity for spending time on an amateur work of speculative fiction has, you know, seen better days.
But I’m back, or at least I’m going to try to be. After the initial mondo sprint of NaNoWriMo, I’ve never really put huge chunks of time into this, but I’ve been pretty regular. The slow and steady tortoise, carving out a couple of mornings or evenings each week to sit down at the laptop and open up Ulysses and chip away at this thing. Those have fallen off, but I’m going to try to get back to them. In fact, I’m going to try to spend at least a little time on writing every day (I know, resolutions, bleh, but I’m aiming for a “most days, that’s fine” attitude more than a I’LL DIE BEFORE I BREAK THAT CHAIN one).
The Writers’ League hasn’t officially cancelled or online-ified June’s Agents & Editors Conference, though I can’t imagine it will go ahead as planned. So that’s a big milestone for my year gone. I submitted a synopsis and first however-many pages to their manuscript contest; I hope to still get feedback from that, regardless.
I’ve given the full manuscript to a small number of people, and haven’t had any of them finish it yet, which I’m trying to be cool about. It is a very small sample size, and I knew all along that reading this whole unpolished, unprofessional rough draft was a big favor to ask. I have gotten feedback that it has a slow start, and I’ve been worried for a while that there’s more going on than there needs to be. So I’m thinking that before continuing with lower-level edits – I want to bring the narrative voice closer to the protagonist’s point of view – that I should read it over from a higher level. Try to judge the pacing of the story, character introduction, world-building, etc., and not get bogged down in touching up the words and sentences. To that end, I just exported a PDF with a really small font and margins, and sent it to the on-demand printers at Office Depot. Tomorrow I’ll pick up 70 double-sided pages crammed with text, and start it all over again.
I haven’t checked in here for a couple of weeks, but my efforts toward publication continue. I finished that pass of copyediting I mentioned before, and with a drink or three to bolster my courage, I posted the first few chapters of it online, along with an invitation to read the whole thing. It was only to my small circle of online pals and acquaintances, so response wasn’t staggering, but it was a step, and I took it.
I also attended a second meeting of the critique group, including bringing printouts of my first chapter to be read. That was another big step, exciting and somewhat mortifying, but good. I got some worthwhile feedback from it, and see some ways to improve the story. I think that having other writers focus on a single short chapter (the group works in roughly 2,000-word chunks, which happens to match my chapter sizes pretty well) will give me a different kind of feedback than I hope to get from more casual reads of the whole thing.
I have another meetup with that group again tomorrow, and have my second chapter printed out and ready to go. This time it includes a short statement with introductory context, and I’ve stapled the pages; I’m learning how this works. However, my whole novel is 83 chapters, and this group meets about every other week, so I don’t think I’ll spend the three-plus years it would take to run the entire thing past them.
Which is partly why I’ve also gotten in touch with a possible critique partner. We haven’t quite managed to arrange an introductory meeting yet, and even that is just to see how we get on and if we might be able to help each other out. But I found his contact info in a listing in the Writers’ League’s “classifieds” (which is a Google Sheets doc; not fancy, but workable), and his interests and genre sounded like a fit, so we’ll see.
Last but not least is something I feel pretty self-conscious about. But it’s a small step that I took partly for the symbolism of it, and if I’m documenting my journey here then I guess this is part of it. After last month’s Third Thursday panel talk, I met a guy who had attended the Agents & Editors Conference last year. He said he wished he’d had business cards to hand out to the, well, agents and editors he met there. So I looked into it, found that for $15, Vistaprint would sell me a box of 100 (probably about 98 more than I’ll ever give out), and decided, what the hell. I thought I was official before, when I used my Writers’ League discount at BookPeople, but forget that. Now I have little cards that say it: Chris Grayson, Author.
also I finished my most recent editing pass of my novel (and have had a few drinks) so I’ve put an invitation to read an early draft on my site, ok bye ?
I came down with some kind of virus last weekend, and am just now feeling more or less back to normal. I had some time yesterday morning to continue my “last pass” of editing on my manuscript, but had barely started when I got paged by system alerts from work. All of which to say, I haven’t made a lot of progress in the last week.
But I did get out last night, and made the dark and rainy drive downtown to BookPeople. It was the first Writers’ League of Texas “Third Thursday” panel discussion since I joined that group last month. The subject was “Writing Great Villains”, the third-floor room was standing-room only, and I’m glad I went. They usually record these, and make podcast episodes out of them, a fact that nearly made me skip attending in person. But for whatever reason last night, they didn’t have the sound equipment, so if I hadn’t gone, I’d have missed not only the discussion, but also meeting the fine folks I met. I’m already looking forward to going next month.
The discussion of villains was interesting. My novel’s villain isn’t a richly drawn, complex one, at least not yet, even though his name is my working title for the book. Hmm. Yet I’m not really sure whether he should be more complex. I see him as a figure representing a kind of terribleness that may not deserve more depth. And this is more genre fiction than literary, anyway. Doesn’t that mean I can get away with a one-dimensional bad guy? Not completely sure about this, but the topic and discussion last night has me thinking about it.
That was my second foray out into my local writers’ world since the new year began: I also attended a critique-group meetup last week. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was a positive experience. It was small, mostly folks who have known each other for a long time, very welcoming to the couple of us who were new. I didn’t take any of my writing yet; I only read and gave poor (I’m sure) feedback. I plan to keep attending that, though I have doubts that it will be the best match for me in the long term. I also plan to get in touch directly with a couple other aspiring writers I’ve met, to see about trying some critique work with them. Man, I really need to get this pass of edits done. I feel increasingly behind and blocked by that.
This is turning out to be pretty fun and exciting, so far! I even bought a book last night (Ben Winters’ Golden State, a 2020 Tournament of Books contender) and used my new Writers’ League discount. If that’s not official, what is?
I finished Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb last night. The title seemed a little cringey and self-helpy at first, but the developer side of me has to admire a descriptive name. And I liked it a lot; it was well written and interesting. The first half, by author Rittenberg, is about getting it written, and the second half, by literary agent Whitcomb, is about getting it published.
Thinking I was closer to having the manuscript ready to send to a publisher, I nearly skipped the first half and started in the middle. But my completist tendencies, and the supposition (correct, it turned out) that the second half may refer back often to the first, prompted me to start at the beginning. Which was good, because that’s where I started realizing that my manuscript isn’t close to ready, at all.
Having an essentially completed work, and working on revisions, I’m glad to not need the advice about staying motivated and keeping momentum. One intense month, and many, many hours in the four years since, got me that far. But the parts about revisions, and polish, and “going from good to great”, those are where I’m at now.
By seeking professional feedback after finishing the first draft of a novel, you significantly reduce your novel’s chances of ever being published. Agents and editors should not be your first readers. They are looking for polished manuscripts, not rough drafts. By its nature, any novel that hasn’t been read by several people is a rough draft, no matter how often it’s been rewritten. [emphasis added]
That last sentence sums it up for me. By my own reckoning, this is version four of my novel. I’ve changed and improved it a lot since I finished my 50,186th word on Nov. 30, 2015. I’ve more than doubled the word count, for one thing. But nobody else has really read it. In fact I’m still working through “one last pass” (as I thought of it until recently) to fix any remaining typos, etc. before letting people I know read it. The point Whitcomb convincingly makes there is that this isn’t really version four. It’s barely version one.
Having other people read it, in part or in whole, is a scary but necessary phase I still need to go through. I can only imagine what it will be like to get feedback and constructive (I hope) criticism, but that’s obviously part of the process. In addition to putting this draft out to people I know after this current pass of typo-fixes is done, I’ve started looking into meetups and ways to connect with critique groups and partners. Not terrifying, no, not at all.
There are other approaches the book advises: readings, conferences, courses, and more. I plan to do a bunch of that, too, but this paradigm shift (pardon my language) about being “done” vs. having a whole bunch more re-reading and revising to do yet is one of the biggest things I’ve learned.
Happy New Year! Among my resolutions (yet again) is to more frequently post more actual words here, and not just my weekly beer photos. So I got a new URL for this here blog. Farewell,
blog.storycards.net, subdomain of a site from a short-lived Java(!) game I wrote 17 years ago, and hello,
chrisgrayson.net. I mean, what kind of author doesn’t even have their own vanity-named site, at least?
Because that’s what I plan to write about a good bit: becoming a published author. I have a manuscript, which is super close to being in good enough shape to actually let actual people read it. Rough still, for sure; like version 0.0.0.0.1, and in beta, at that. I’d had some baseless ideas that if I got it to about this point, then I could start trying to magically hit the publisher jackpot, who would work with me to fix and refine whatever it needs, based just on this rough first draft. Having now spent a little time learning how the process should go, I understand I’m much farther from that point than I’d thought.
Honestly, the realization made me consider giving up. But the more I’ve looked into it, and learned what the road ahead would take, the more I’m excited about giving it a go. So partly for accountability, and partly to share, I’ll be documenting all of that here. Eventually this novel’s getting published, one way (publishing house) or another (self published). Stay tuned.