Afterglow Blues

I finished writing a book.

And I’m still recovering.

It took about three days of solid writing to get it done. That final push is necessary for me because I get caught up and excited, and really become quite useless at life in general because the Muse is riding on me to get it done. So it moves faster and faster, and then ends in a spectacular explosion of grammatically questionable paragraphs and coffee and a great deal of nonsensical babbling at my husband and cat.

But it gets done.

Now I have a sweet little 70k draft to work on for a few weeks. The hard part is that I was so very, very excited about it, that I desperately want someone to read it and tell me that they’re excited, too. But I know that’s a bad idea. Because while I was writing, I couldn’t look back. Couldn’t revise. Couldn’t edit. The result is a little bit, um, riddled with holes, and errors, and some inconsistencies.

Therefore, this is a lament at how unfair it is that I have to sit on it until it’s decent for other people’s eyes. And the past two days my brain has been a bit like a deflated tire, so no chance to do any editing.

Ah … I shall pine away in misery … Weep for me, o cruel world.

Where do you write?

I used to imagine that writing involved cafés, dappled meadows, and heavy mahogany desks set under the window in book-walled studies. The writer locks herself away from the world, surrounding herself in oddities and curios that help ease her mind into new worlds and new paths of thought.

Perfect, I thought. Once my first mega-ultimate-bestseller is sold, I’ll find a place just like I imagined: a big stone house full of stuff, with a nice backyard and a café down the street. I’ll never be at a loss for places to work.

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My imagination tells me a lot of things.

Not surprisingly, several years went by and these plans never quite made it to fruition. One of the most striking examples of this is that the only time I can devote to the craft is tucked into the nooks and crannies that exist around other activities. And I know I’m not alone in this. I’m sure I’ve just described one of the most common conflicts that writers face (other than conflicts in their plots).

Marisa and I got together to discuss how, where, and when we find the time to write.

At home

Marisa: In bed with my cat. I kid you not. Near the end of the holidays, I woke up one morning, plunked my laptop on the bed and started typing. I didn’t want to leave the coziness of the blankets, plus my darling cat was lying down with her paw stretched out towards me. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.

Leona: Me too, though not so much because of coziness and cats. My internet connection is strongest in a corner of the bedroom, so I build a little nest and settle in, listening to oodles of atmospheric music. There are also no windows, which means that fifty percent of the time I sit in a dim, lonely place, cut off from the real world and free to play in the world inside my head. The only problem with working at home is the wealth of distractions. Cat, spouse, housework, television, games…If I’m working on a tough scene, there are plenty of ways to avoid it!

At the day job

Marisa: Don’t underestimate the power of your lunch break. Writing in the middle of the day can really invigorate you and get you excited between long work hours. More than that, I use the opportunity because evenings and weekends can get busy and I don’t want to go too long without working on my book.

Leona: Compared to Marisa, I’m a terrible employee. When I work retail I restrict my writing to break times, jotting things down on my phone. But when I was corporate I would basically take any opportunity where I didn’t have any pressing tasks and no one was looking over my shoulder…

In transit

Marisa: No one knows better than writers how the imagination can help you travel somewhere far and exciting. I once edited my novel on my phone while crammed onto a shuttle bus between subway stations (there was a power outage). I had one hand on the pole for balance and the other scrolling through the text I’d written just before leaving the house. I find that if I write something and re-read it at least an hour later, it’s almost like I’m reading it for the first time, and it gives me a truly fantastic opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t – even on the bus.

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Leona: I love writing on trains! Crushed in with other people, afraid of making eye contact, and listening to music. The mental walls come up and form a “quiet” internal space more effectively than any physical walls. Sometimes I get my best raw work done typing away on a Blackberry and praying that no one sits close enough to read what I’m writing.

In a group

Marisa: I’m still waiting for Team Tweak to get together for a writing session (kidding, guys!). I can just imagine how writerly it would feel to type away in a café with food at one’s side, knowing that your fellow writers are tapping away just as productively on their keyboards.

Leona: This is a good way to stay on task. It’s not as easy to waste time when you’re surrounded by people who know what you should be doing. Also, if you get stuck on a word or idea, they are a convenient sounding board. We’ll get together soon, I hope!

Out and about

Marisa: When I was little, I got a lot of inspiration from the creek near my house. I even wrote half a novel that took place in that lush, natural neighbourhood. I absolutely love nature and the idea of scribbling away in a notebook under the sun. I actually got a lot of my writing done while on vacation during my childhood! The only downside is having to type everything up on the computer later…Different environments always offer fresh perspectives.

Leona: Sometimes you just have to get out of the house and away from the pressures and distractions. My favourite café is a ten-minute walk, they play jazz music, they have $1 refills on coffee, and they know who I am and what I’m going to order before I even make it to the counter.

How about you? Where do you write?

Book Review: In Our Hands, the Stars

Title: In Our Hands, the Stars
Author: Harry Harrison
Publisher: Arrow Books
Genre: Science Fiction (Hard)
Length: A comfortable 217 pages
Series: None

Rating: 5 tweaks out of 5

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One characteristic of great science fiction is to leave the reader asking questions of themselves, their societies, and human nature. The fiction aspect, whether a new planet, a new technology, or some scientific advancement, merely allows the author to provide a catalyst that prompts these questions.

In Our Hands, the Stars is an example of science fiction at its best. I should mention, though, that it is hard science fiction. There are no big adventures, fire fights, or creepy aliens. The fiction aspect of the narrative is relatively small: A physicist in Israel invents a device that can allow interstellar travel, using something like an anti-gravity field. The physicist, knowing that the device can be easily weaponized, flees his own war-torn country. He goes to Denmark, where he and a colleague perfect the device and put it into use for the benefits of the entire planet, not just their own nation. The device, called the Daleth Drive, is eventually implemented for travel to and building of a base on the Moon and Mars.

The real meat of the narrative, though, is not in the new technology, but in the way that the world’s nations react to the sudden advancement of one very small, very quiet country. The Danish people fight violent incursions by spies, hide their activity through subterfuge and bait and switch tactics, and fend off political pressures from supposed “allies.” The people who are involved in the development of the device are threatened as well. The wife of the ship’s captain is an American citizen, and is pressured by her government to obtain the secrets of the Daleth Drive. Harrison explores her relationship with the captain in how he deals with this conflict, leaving me with the sense that these were real people needing to cope with a real issue.

Harrison gives us a conclusion that some may find unsatisfactory. The original creators of the Daleth make incredible sacrifices in order to protect their technology and keep it out of the wrong hands, but the sacrifice is, in the end, ineffective. I found this ending insightful and unsettling, as Harrison points out the flaws in our current security-focused society.

I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates well-described hard science fiction, slow-building tension, and who asks difficult questions of themselves and their society. This book is not for anyone who wants a light-hearted adventure with a tidy conclusion.

Author Bio:

Harry Harrison began writing science fiction in the 1950s and is currently one of the top-selling SF authors around the world. Best known as the creator of the cosmic thief the Stainless Steel Rat, and for his Deathworld and West of Eden series, he is also the author of Make Room! Make Room! which was turned into the movie Soylent Green which starred Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. His novels have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and in 2009 he was awarded the Damon Knight SF Grand Master Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

Website:

http://www.harryharrison.com

Industry Q and A: Amanda Jean, Editor

Amanda edited both of my works that were published through Less Than Three Press, and I am infinitely grateful for that. I learned as much reading through her comments and suggestions as I had through numerous workshops and classes. She also has a humorous and kind way of leaving those comments that I truly hope to emulate when I give critiques. I consider Amanda to be a great friend and a wise teacher, and I am so pleased to introduce her to you. She has some fantastic advice for anyone hoping to get into the industry.

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Name: Amanda Jean
Company: Less Than Three Press, LLC
Position: Editor
Genre: LGBT Romance
Astrological Sign: Cancer

Q: What is your relationship with the book you work on and the writer of that book? We’d love a brief description of what you do and how it pertains to the author.

A: I wear many hats when I edit any given project. Each requires a slightly different approach; the relationship I form with a five hundred-page high fantasy novel is different from my relationship with a thirty-page short story. My hat also depends on the strengths of the writer. Some have a great grasp of world building, and some are more character-driven. A major consideration of what my primary focus will be is the author’s level of comfort with the English language. If I’m spending most of my time correcting comma splices, fixing dialog tags, and nagging them about run-on sentences, developmental editing takes a second chair. Writers comfortable with English language rules receive a lot more nitty-gritty content edits on the first pass as opposed to those who need more help.

My personal strengths are in developmental and structural editing. I catch contradictions, weak spots in the narrative, inconsistent characterization, and even factual errors (I love research. Ask me how!). Redundancies are another big one with me. Because my focus is heavily on the content and stylistic aspects of stories, authors tend to have two reactions to my edits: great happiness or great displeasure. There’s rarely a middle ground. Editors who don’t give extensive content suggestions tend to receive less extreme reactions, although some authors do feel very protective of their comma placements.

Q: How can an author help in this process?

A: By having a history of receiving and utilizing critique, honestly. Authors new to publishing are sometimes taken aback by how thorough and unforgiving editor comments can be, though we all do our best to soften the blows. I use emoticons. And feeling words.

Discover your own method for coping with difficult edits (I suggest booze and/or .gifs of kittens) and come at the edits as objectively as you can. Do this even if you feel like the editor has it out for you and is going to ruin your vision. Really sit back and consider why the editor made the suggestion they did. If it’s an inconsistency, don’t hand-wave it away; readers will notice laziness. If it’s poorly developed character motivation, dig deep and find a way to communicate what’s going on in their head. Some authors do basic patch jobs to fix holes—expositional dialog, how I loathe you—and others use the opportunity to enrich their story and take it to entirely new places. If you do the latter more than the former, I guarantee your editor will adore you for it.

We don’t make suggestions to hear ourselves talk. Even if we do secretly hate your story, our time and energy went into it too; why would we want to risk it being picked apart upon release? Editors want the story to thrive. That’s why we’re editors.

Q: How did you end up in this field?

A: My original career goal was to do something in abnormal psychology, but the long and short of it was that I realized that clinical work wouldn’t gel with me. I reassessed my skillset. My knack for the written word, along with my history of informational article writing and editing, academic editing and tutoring, and nearly a decade of experience as a beta reader all added up to one potential field. I changed my major from psychology to communications and consulted a few people I knew in the industry. Journalism is not for me, so that left fiction.

I joined up with LT3 when a friend of mine who publishes with them discussed an editing experience she’d had with the company; she thought I would be a good fit, and so I sent a query letter and joined the team within a month.

Q: Do you have advice for others who want to get into your field?

A: Be sure this is the avenue you want to pursue; even in what is considered to be a niche corner of the wider publishing world, the reality is that the work is hard, the hours are long, and the opportunities are limited. With the Big Five publishers, editing positions are fiercely competitive and require novel-length resumes just to get a foot in the door. My niche, digital-based publishing and specifically LGBT fiction, is not nearly as cutthroat (and doesn’t require me to relocate, bonus!), but I got lucky; I was hired with around a year and a half of industry-relevant experience, despite the fact that most companies call for at least two, and that’s for entry-level work.

As for how to get said experience? Take every composition class, every technical writing class, every esoteric class that deals with words. Depending on location, finding opportunities to develop editing skills may be difficult; online workshops are useful, if pricey. Freelance. Beta read. Academia is a great place to start. Join college literary magazines, newspapers. I never had to take an unpaid internship, but nearly everyone I encountered recommended it to me. If the world of academia is long gone, learn independently, and find small digital publishers to get involved with—zines are great for this. Poetry, straight fiction, stories long and short; any experience is good experience. When I freelanced, I wrote and edited a lot of copy for internet-based businesses. No paying gig is too small when you’re learning to navigate professional editing and building your resume accordingly.

More generally, my advice would be to read widely, as it keeps you sharp. Develop an appreciation for pedantry. Understand that editing is a craft entirely apart from writing, and that talent in one area does not necessarily denote talent in the other. Learn a swift work ethic if you haven’t already. Have patience and empathy for the emotions of authors. Buy copies of TheChicago Manual of Style and become intimately acquainted with its hefty pages. And send query letters. At worst, they’ll say no.

Q: What is your favourite aspect of your work?

A: Receiving the manuscript back after the first round of edits is usually an interesting time. It’s when the evolution from a rougher draft to a more refined story that is starting to resemble its ultimate form begins. Seeing my nit-picking comment or suggestion spark an idea that improved the narrative in an unexpected way? Cool feeling. Probably my favorite.

I also like the part where I get to hold paperback copies of something I’ve edited in my hands. That’s super nifty.

Q: What do you listen to while working?

A: I’ve made several “editing” mixes, and the key to a good one is including music that is already very familiar to you. Low-key tunes don’t hurt, either. My staples include Elliott Smith, Neko Case, Rufus Wainwright, and a lot of instrumental soundtracks. But sometimes dead silence is the best ambiance.

Team Tweak’s Tips: Writer’s Block and Empathy

It’s been a busy week, but the weekend is finally here. Friday night, while everyone else is out socializing, you’re at home with your True Love: writing. You have adventures to take your characters on, worlds to build, relationships to develop … And then nothing happens. Your cursor blinks at you, and you blink back. Riveting stuff!

The Great Enemy has come to your door. Writer’s block.

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But … is it an enemy? Or is it a warning sign? Your body feels pain and fatigue when you’re doing something you shouldn’t. I suspect that your creativity feels writer’s block to let you know when something isn’t right.

This can be as a result of other things, but today I’m talking about empathy, how important it is to writing and how sensitive it is. And how your writing can suffer if you’re not careful …

Character-driven writing requires empathy. As writers, we step into the shoes of our characters, know what they’ve done and what they’ll do, understand their motivations, know how they’ll react … And it must be consistent. Not only that, but we do it for Every. Single. Character. Whether they’re a major player, the cashier at our protagonist’s favourite shop, or an elderly gentleman waiting on a bus bench.

Several much better and more experienced writers have spoken on the subject. Here are a few examples, though there are many more out there:

http://thewritepractice.com/empathy-story/ “Why Empathy is the Key to Story”

http://crimsonleague.com/2013/06/08/creative-writing-and-empathy-how-writing-fiction-helps-you-connect-with-others/ “Creative Writing and Empathy”

http://www.tayarijones.com/on-writing-with-empathy/ “On Writing With Empathy”

What I want to talk about is one of the down sides to this requirement.

I recently visited my hometown to spend time with friends and family. My husband and I spent two weeks with three or more social engagements each day. Prior to our trip, I thought I would have time in the evenings or mornings to work, but no such luck. I sat in front of my computer, completely incapable of connecting with the story. It took me a few days to figure out why: The empathic muscles I would use to write were being used to socialize.

I would call this empathic overburdening. In a social situation, I try to empathize with the people I’m with, much like I would with my characters. How is my friend feeling? What would make my grandmother feel better? How can I bluff and win this board game? By the time I got home, I couldn’t empathize my way through a wet paper bag.

After making those observations, I have this advice to give: If you’re having trouble writing—in particular in the arena of character development—then I recommend reorganizing your time and giving yourself the mental space to work. If your muscles are working overtime trying to keep up with a social life, you may not be giving yourself the chance to understand and channel your characters.

If you’re experiencing writer’s block, this can be a factor. Take a look at your life–does it support your writing aspirations?

Like grammar, dramatic tension, plot points, and all the other tools, time management and understanding the space you need for writing is just as important!

Carver’s Cuts: Part Two

Here we are again, with some of those pesky critters found while going through an intensive editing process. Keep an eye out! These words can potentially weaken your writing.

As always, if you’d like to add some words or discuss the ones I’ve listed, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Feel / Felt / Could feel, etc:

I know I’m a perpetrator, but I actually see a lot of other writers doing this as well. Once I noticed it this became a definite Pet Peeve (I have kennels full of peeves, honest). For me, the issue is that you don’t need to say that your character felt something, not unless your character usually doesn’t feel things, or the fact that they are feeling it is unusual or noteworthy in some way. For example:

No: “Tara felt a cold wind, making her shiver.”

Yes: “A cold wind made Tara shiver.”

Yes: “Although everything seemed perfectly still around her, Tara felt a cold wind, making her shiver.”

I suppose it’s a question of passivity … If you’re describing something as an experience, you could throw in as many “feels” and “felts” as you’d like. But I’m beginning to join the school of thought that every action has a perpetrator, and actions will be more immediate and engaging if described from the “point of view” (sort of) of that perpetrator.

Other senses:

“Feel” and “felt” were the big ones for me, but what I said above goes for the other senses as well. You don’t need to say that your character saw or heard something, you can just describe the sight or the noise. The fact that you’re describing it is a strong indicator that your character observed it. Exceptions to this would be when the sensation is unusual in some way, or if the narrator is third person omniscient and you need to specify what your character can and cannot observe.

Started / Began:

Unless the fact that they started to do something is extremely important, I do not recommend using these words. They take up space. For example, is there a difference between these two sentences:

Example A: “Tara started walking to school. Upon arrival, she grimaced at the sight of so many brand name jeans.”

Example B: “Tara walked to school. Upon arrival, she grimaced at the sight of so many brand name jeans.”

I suspect that I (and maybe we), use “began / started” because we are watching our narratives unfold as we write (I believe that’s called “Seat of the Pants” writing). When our characters begin an action, we don’t know if they’ll be interrupted right in the middle. So watch out!

Updates and Critique Announcement

Howdy! Carver here, with some updates about the Team Tweak goings on and an announcement:

Updates:

  • Our very own Marisa will have a piece published in CommuterLit early next week! Keep an eye out for her, and go enjoy the other pieces CommuterLit has to offer.
  • The team’s YA novels are going very well. We’re all reaching the end. Next step: querying! Remember that Gina posted a fantastic set of pointers for those of us taking that step. Leona jump-started the process, and it may have been … ill-advised. Read more here about an agent-querying pit fall here.
  • In early 2014, Leona will have a novella out through Less Than Three Press. About mermaids, magic, and love. More information here.

Announcement:

Is there a page giving you trouble? A few paragraphs or a bit of dialogue? A query letter, summary, or synopsis? Maybe there’s some plot outlining that you want to talk out with someone.

Go no further, my friend. Team Tweak welcomes you to submit a section of 250 words (give or take a few) for critiquing. Every week, we’ll post one of these critiques, so you’ll need to be comfortable with a public discussion on your piece. After posting, we’d be happy to talk about our comments and suggestions.

If this sounds good to you, then please submit your piece to teamtweakto (at) gmail (dot) com. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!