Trollbooth Blog #3

Last week was a bummer in just about every way. I lost two pets on Monday and an aunt later in the week. Needless to say, most of my time was spent working through grief and taking care of the family. It left only a little time for writing; the follow is how I feel about what’s been happening this week.

If you haven’t be following my Trollbooth bloom, you can catch up here.

Regularity may be the most important part of my writing process, but the reality of life is that it’s not always possible. I’m trying to accept that as I move from one week to the next. Now I’m feeling guilty about the coming week, where I’ll be on vacation. I’ve been planning for a couple months now to take a concurrent vacation from my usual work – which is currently Trollbooth – and simply write a story or two longhand. I’ve done vacations before where I’d go camping or halfway across the country, and leading up to them I’d have this believe that I could write my usual work and suffer no difficulties even though I’m out of my usual environment. It never worked. At best, I felt like I was writing to put words on the page, or revising under duress, I’d get something solid accomplished, but it was slower and more tedious. I don’t know about all of you out there, but that’s not the way I want to experience my vacation. To that end, I spent some time this winter contemplating what I had done well on vacation, and that was simply write a story, from scratch or a plan, but with a pen in hand and a bunch of blank paper ahead of me. Old–fashioned? Sure. It also works. I’ve learned not to argue with what works when it comes to procedure.

And so I have eight days ahead of me where I don’t have to sweat the small details. This week is about the creation part of writing, the birthing of an idea from thought to something others can understand and enjoy. Work on Trollbooth will recommended next week when I’m back at my desk, with my hardcopy and my usual keyboard and double-monitor setup. I believe I can finish the second draft in under 2 weeks, and that’s judging by the typing speed I was averaging on the few occasions I actually was able to write this past week. Now at I’m in the groove, both in the muscle mechanics of typing and the growing confidence I’ve developed in the story. I can actually see my first draft evolving and taking shape on the page. It coincides with the memories of writing I have from that period, where I was holding large chunks of story movement in my conscious mind, even when I wasn’t at my desk. That let me work on smoothing out the rough edges, since I was almost always aware of the sequence of plot events. I know what I’m doing when I sit down each day to write. It’s a good feeling; old as my writing career and fresh as a lecherous first date. Add in a week of swimming in pure story-ether, and I call this a period of refreshment and renewal.

Trollbooth Blog #2

It’s been a little over a week since I started work on the second draft of my new novel Trollbooth.  Last week, I promised to keep a journal of the process of shaping this book into something that’s entertaining and readable.  Here’s what I’ve learned in the past seven days:

First, I have to silence my inner editor.  I know it sounds crazy, but if you take a look at my writing process, I’m at the stage where I’m translating my handwriting into the computer.  This means it’s boring work, for the most part, and when I’m already getting up at 4 a.m. to write, that’s hard.  The key to getting through this, just like any other less-than-stellar (yet necessary) task in life is to get it done as quickly as possible.  Therefore, I’ve been teaching myself not to worry.

That’s hard, especially at the beginning of a book.  For one thing, I didn’t know Trollbooth was a novel until I was 50 pages in with no end in sight.  For another – and I think this is true with most authors – the first few days of writing with a project are very uncertain times.  I didn’t yet have the rhythm of the language, the command of tone, or even a clear, specific sense of the sequence of events.  In the first draft, I just write to get it all out there, and now, as I force myself to just type what I see like a secretary, I’m noticing every little bit of imperfection, ugliness, and/or error along the way.

I want to halt when I see those things.  They offend me, even if I’m responsible for them in the first place.  I want to stop and restructure, or add detail, or take a passage I know doesn’t have relevance to where the story eventually leads, and fix those things.  They bother me the way a toddler leaning way over a staircase would bother me (and I know all about that, too!).  The thing is, the second draft is not the place to fix those things.  The second draft is handwriting-to-computer.  Nothing more, and the reason is simple: there’s too much to fix.  I could stop typing and change things, start again, realize that I changed something that affects other things back 10 pages, and get myself caught in a scenario where I’m doing the grunt-work typing very, very piecemeal over a period of months rather than weeks.  Since the second draft is a necessary evil to me, boring as hell, I’d rather get it over with the way I shovel dog crap in my yard.  All at once, do it and get it over with.  I’ve tried other ways in more variations than I can remember, and none of them do any good for my creative self, or my overall mood.  This is the only way.

But still…I have to shut up that editor in my skull, and that’s a bitch.

I spent the majority of the week cracking the whip upon myself.  I typed and turned pages and typed some more.  I stopped here and there for sips of coffee, but other than that I wouldn’t let myself fix even a typo.  I’m pleased to say that I’ve improved my discipline day-over-day in this regard.  I still change things here and there, and when I do I’m going with my gut feeling that I must do it, but if it takes more than a few seconds, I’m getting ahead of myself and will leave it for the next draft.  Even if this last line sounds contrary to everything I’ve been saying, it’s still true; art is about the when, the what, the how, and the who.  Why can go fuck itself.  That’s the process of creating art.

My original plan was to finish this second draft by the end of this week.  A cold forced more rest on me, since I have to be dad, husband, and maintain the day-job before being a novelist.  Some facts of life have no middle ground, and I know better than to push too hard.  I’m set on doing as much as I can this second week, and keeping myself aligned with the draft-by-draft goals I’ve set for myself.  It’ll keep me happy and working, and since I want this story to be awesome, that’s the best thing I can do.

All the Juicy Details of My Writing & Editing Process

To all those who create,
To all believe in dreams,
To those who hold pen, iPad, or laptop,
To those who make it up and write it down,
And finally those who believe in damn good story,
I offer this detailed expression of…not what I do, exactly; more like how I do it.

May it aid, inform, inspire, and upset you.
Take it, trash it, steal it, transform it.
If somehow it helps you find your own version of the following,
It’s tenfold worth the effort of defining the imaginary.

My Writing & Revision Process

Last updated: April 1, 2014

1st Draft – Handwritten
2nd Draft – Typing It Up
3rd Draft – Red Ink Revision
4th Draft – Sound, Language, & Continuity (Alpha)
5th Draft – Alpha to Beta
6th Draft – The Final Draft


1st Draft – Handwritten

 I’ve got a pretty good handle on this.  The keys are letting it happen, exaggeration, and getting out as much of what I see as possible.  I envision myself as a sculptor working with clay.  I like that medium because it can be reworked, re-smooshed,  and re-moistened, at least to a certain point.  That feels like me, with my stories.  I’ve got to have a plan, and if it doesn’t work after a few tries, it’s time to let that clay dry out or throw it back into the mental vat which is the creative-ether of the Imaginary Playground – the substructure beneath the merry-go-round and the jungle gym and the feet of all my screaming people.  It’s the building blocks of them, in fact.

There’s room for adjustment during the process, though.  I can even cut off hunks of clay and slap some fresh stuff on what’s already there.  There’s no wrong way at this point, but there are a few factors to consider:

Consistency.  Once I start a project, I need to work on it every day until it’s done, or I tend to lose the thread of the narrative, and also the details become more nebulous.  This leads to confusion later, sometimes even outright paradox.

Concentration.  My mind is always full of ideas – it’s the nature of the Imaginary Playground – but once I start listening to one, all the others have to take a number.  Sure, little bits pop through, and those go into Evernote or the journal, but the majority of my writer’s senses must stay with the tale at hand.

Commitment.  Once I’m involved in a story, I have to accept that there will be rough patches, roadblocks, doubts, and fears…and I have to let them all go straight to hell.  This draft is about getting the story out, not making it perfect.

 2nd Draft – Typing It Up

 This is where I transcribe my handwritten draft into the computer.  During this time, I may make word choice corrections  or rearrange an obviously awkward sentence.  Questions, observations, missing info, or other thoughts for later go in brackets.  I had been using <xyz> but it strikes me now that I could use [these brackets] without a shift-keystroke.  Hmmm…  Either way, they stand out from the narrative and are visually hard to miss.  That way I won’t have to worry overmuch about leaving them in when I move on to later drafts.

The key here is getting it all out to a workable form, as quickly as possible.  Backing up and saving often, off-drive is important and probably why I should start saving all drafts in the cloud.  It saves me time and gives me access no matter where I am, what device I have, and if I have a computer snafu the draft doesn’t require rescue.

By getting it out, I mean I want to type quickly, not get bogged down with trying the “figure out” the snags, rough patches, plot holes, and so on.  It’s easy to get discouraged when there’s a problem or a mistake, but fixing that schtuff isn’t the point of this draft.  It’s not getting fixed without some forethought.  To continue with the clay metaphor, you’re getting it ready for the shaping here, not doing much beyond the very obvious and minor corrections.

For those situations where I can’t do a quick in-line annotation, I’ll make a not of the page in the Evernote file associated with that particular story.  Then I’ll move on, and keep doing what I’ve prescribed here, until the whole story is a typed manuscript.

Finally, I’ll print it out.

 3rd Draft – Red Ink Revision

 This is where I refine my clay from rough shape to a much closer approximation of the final product.  Here, I work with the story, the plot, and the language, going word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, looking…not at the whole, but at the nuance, the fullness, and clarity of the tale.  Starting from the top and working through the end, I read and mark up each page with my merciless editor’s eye and a red pen.  I line-out, mark and change whatever I need to, to whatever degree is necessary for my satisfaction. Large revisions take place in the journal, not on the actual manuscript, although on the actual MS there will be a circled number with a corresponding revision handwritten in the journal.  This avoids multiple drafts and/or the further fucking up of something that was already fucked up.  Plus it lets me test out different approaches to a problem before I commit to a solution.

And – it also makes me have to take a second and third look at what I’ve written as a replacement, in order for the new text to be “caught up” to the original 2D text.

When I reach the end of the manuscript, I go back to the beginning and input the changes one at a time, paying attention to getting them in without error, if they’re small. and if they’re big, in-journal revisions, I’ll actively rewrite them as a work, according to the rules above.  New thing: I should mark those passage-sized revisions for another look, so I can stick to the plan and get it all up to the same snuff.  Let’s use the color BLUE.

 4th Draft – Sound, Language, & Continuity (Alpha)

 This is a new step, so it’s still in its evaluation period.  I can either read from the computer or I can print and read again, but either way I’m reading the whole fuckin’ thing aloud.  I want to catch missing words, punctuation, or poor language, and letting my ear have a crack at the manuscript is a great idea.

I will read aloud with a highlighter in hand [color?].  When I encounter a passage where I don’t care for the sound, or I find an error, I’ll mark it with the highlighter.  Then – and this is the important part – I will keep reading without working out the exact changes needed.  If I stop and rewrite, I’ll never develop and/or discern the rhythm of the story.  It’ll always sound herky-jerky, and that’s the opposite of the point here.  I’m looking for continuity, foremost in tone, but I think I’ll also identify plot issues, typos I’d miss when reading in my head, and inconsistencies of detail.  For those, I might have to keep a pen around for quick notes, but that’s a maybe at this point.  I might be able to do that with the highlighter.  Quick notes.

At the end of each session in this process, I will also update a ROUGH SYNOPSIS which I will keep in Evernote.  This will enable me to create a more polished version for when I send the story out (for novels), or a quick-hit for a cover letter (in the short work case).  This should take no more than 10 minutes at this point.

When I reach the end, I will go through each of my highlights from beginning to end and make changes and/or corrections.  This may or may not take a chunk of time, depending on how much modification is necessary, but IT IS NECESSARY.  The story will be better for it.

Finally, PRINT this Alpha Draft and give it to Margie (my first reader).

 5th Draft – Alpha to Beta

 In this draft, I will meticulously evaluate and fix each and every issue Margie finds with the Alpha Draft.  I’ll go page-by-page and cross off each change as I fix it.

After that, I’m going to read it – probably just on the computer – from a reader’s perspective, just to see how it swims in its natural environment.  The key to looking at the work from the reader’s POV: does it engage and subsequently hold attention?  Does the story flow without any gaps or moments where the writer knows but isn’t really getting it out on the page?  And most importantly, start-to-finish, is it fun?

I’ll also compare this draft to the synopsis in Evernote, and expand and/or alter that synopsis as I go.

Finally, PRINT this Beta Draft and give it to your Beta Readers, whom I will tell to be hones and unsparingly critical.  That’s why they get the first crack at it.  I need to negotiate deadlines with them so I know when I’m getting my feedback, and I need to be flexible in that not everybody will be able to do this for me every time.  I need to control the process so I don’t bog down.

 Potential Beta Readers:

insert here


6th Draft – The Final Draft

 If the beta readers had corrections or suggestions, those are incorporated here.  I will check Evernote and be sure all noted issues are resolved.  If I have any nagging worries, ideas, or concerns, this is the time I fix or dismiss them for good.

When finished, I back up the file, give Margie a copy so she can see the final, identify missing words and typos (there shouldn’t be many if I was diligent through the drafts), and give any last thoughts.  On-the-fly corrections can be made here, and if there are any bigger problems, they’ll be identified before the story goes out to strangers.


 Last thing: SEND IT OUT!

What the hell did you go to all this trouble for if you’re not releasing it?  It’s done, right?  That’s the whole point of getting this out there, like this.  It’s a great story.  Get it in front of people.