Beta Readers and the Next Project

You may recall that this year I’ve been working on my horror story The Deconstructor as my primary side project to help avoid burnout as I continue to chip away at Through the Black. Well, at the end of last week I got the first draft finished! Woo hoo! So what now for it?

I was originally planning on it being put on the shelf and sitting, since I didn’t think there would be much interest for it yet and I’m focusing on other things. However already I’ve got a couple of volunteers who want to beta it – a promising start. So I’ve decided to see if anyone else is interested and then send it out with questions in a few days’ time. This will be useful in the long run as when it’s time to look at it again I can start right away.

As you can see from my projects page, I’ve got a good few open and a bunch of them that I’m excited to work on right now. Continuing with my theme of trying to tie up loose projects—let’s face it, I’ve got more than enough!—I’ve decided to work on The Fishperer. I’ve got a full rough draft which puts it next in line as most complete. I’ve let my list of open projects pile up way too high and for my own peace of mind I really want to work on at least getting them to beta ready stages. That way they feel less of a loose end, ready to be sent out when the time feels right.

The Fishperer doesn’t have its own page yet but I will be changing that before the next post is due out in two weeks, so you’ll be able to read all about it! It’s a project I’m very excited about, set in an ocean world where it’s not uncommon for people to be able to talk to fish and an aging, hydromancing bounty hunter is chasing the score of a lifetime. And it comes with a nice change in tone from working on The Deconstructor, easily the darkest and most serious long work I’ve written. It does however also require an obscene amount of rewriting. The joy of NaNoWriMo drafts! At least it’ll keep be busy?

If anyone else is interested in being a beta reader for The Deconstructor, either send me a message on Twitter or leave something below in the next couple of days and I’ll get back to you!

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Programs For Editing Part 3: Paper

It’s time for the third and final part of my editing theme. The last program in my editing essentials isn’t a program at all – it’s the good old pen and paper. Some things really are just irreplaceable. So why, despite all this fancy technology and stuff, do I still rely so heavily on the tools it all started with?

The honest answer to that one is I really don’t know. There are some awesome benefits that I find when I give up on technology and just start writing but I could not tell you empirically why certain things are just easier with a pen and paper. There’s just something about it that gets the brain in gear, at least for me. So, what specifically do I get out of working on a hard copy?

My first comment would be that it’s pretty therapeutic. The feel of the paper under your hand, the glide of the pen, it’s all very soothing. More often than not I find it much easier to focus when I’m working like this rather than on a screen. Plus, I defy you to find a laptop that looks as good as these.

 

Notebooks

Be still my beating bank account.

 

When you’re reading along a sheet of paper, it’s super easy to quickly scrawl in a note or fix a typo and then keep going without losing too much of the flow of things. My poor, slow brain can keep up with scribbling down a note far better than when navigating a computer to fix an error. It keeps me in the moment and that allows me to work faster while still keeping sharp.

 

Commas

I still don’t know.

 

Another benefit I find is that I tend to read it more like an actual story that I’ve picked up off the shelf and that helps my brain pick out bits that aren’t right. Think about reading a novel – typos and errors are often glaring and obvious, and that’s partly due to not having read the piece a hundred times before. You become blind to these things and I have found that a printed out version can help to minimise this effect. As you can see from the below, I’ve a lot of issues – issues that I’ve completely glossed over while looking on a screen. Trust me, this is not the first time I’ve gone over this section. And still all the red.

 

Paper Edits

This isn’t even its final form.

 

So I’ve covered the print outs but often way before I even get to that stage there is already a notebook full of editing plans. Plans are good. Having them all in a handy notebook makes it easy to flick through them while you’re at your computer going through things. And as I mentioned before, there’s just something nice and also inspiring about them. They’re great to take about the place for when you’re thinking about your novel when you’re supposed to be interacting with the real world. Pfft. Reality.

 

Notebook Edits

Fear my amazing Paint skills.

 

So that’s me and my editing tools! I hope you all enjoyed hearing about them and I’d love to hear your methods in the comments below!

Programs For Editing Part 2: Word

Carrying on from last time, today I’m going to be talking about the features I like to use in Word while editing and revising my writing. Today I’m talking about Word 2013, just in case you notice any differences with features or how to access them.

Long before all the fancy stuff I’ve used like Scrivener and Storify, there was Word. Ever since I had my first computer it’s been an essential for me. No matter what new fancy programs come out I’m fairly certain that Word will never be replaced. If I’m writing anything that isn’t a novel, it gets written in Word. Short stories, blog posts, you name it. In my experience it has the most useful and comprehensive spelling and grammar check, has a good layout and most of the features feel fairly intuitive. Probably worth noting that I said none of these things while writing my dissertation but nowadays I don’t need to worry about tables, graphics or citations so the rose tinted glasses have gone back on.

As with Scrivener, discussed last time, Word has the feature of comment bubbles and again as mentioned last time I make liberal and possibly excessive use of them. They serve the same purpose and benefits as discusses last week. Big thumbs up.

Now, UNLIKE Scrivener Word also has the track changes feature which I love for so many reasons. Track changes does exactly what it says on the tin – it shows you in a different colour what has been added, deleted, moved, and so on. This is especially good for if you’ve sent it out to someone and they have suggested certain tweaks and changes, you can see exactly what’s being proposed. It’s awesome. It can be great for identifying problem zones and for making sure what you’re changing is actually an improvement before doing any final changes.

Track Changes

On most of my short stories, pretty much all of this is normally red.

Not only does Word let you see changes as you look through the document, it can also collate all your changes and comments into a revision panel at the side (or the bottom, if you prefer) of your screen. This can be used to quickly jump from one change to the next if you’re reviewing your alterations. I also like to use it to judge how ready a story is for viewing by others. Lots of changes and I know it needs at least another pass. Just a handful and it’s probably ready for a second opinion.

Reviewing Panel

This is just the first paragraph. Editing is important.

Possibly my absolute favourite feature of Word for editing is the ability to combine documents. Send a short story out to multiple people and want all of their notes and adjustments in one place? No problem for Word. This was a feature I had no idea existed until last year and I have no idea how I stumbled across it but my goodness I’m glad I did. And what’s best is that it’s so easy to do. Sent out your document and got it back from people? Great! First step, open any document. Just any one. Then go to Review –> Compare –> Combine. Into “Original Document” I select one of the commented upon files, and into “Revised Document” I put another. This first time I tell it to create in a new document and hit the go button. BANG! All the comments are in this new document. If you have more to add, just repeat but make sure the new document you’ve made goes into “Original Document” and that you change the Show Changes option to “Original Document.” You don’t have to but it saves you ending up with lots of docs to delete after. This is just brilliant because it means you’re just working from a single document and all of your changes and feedback are right there. It makes things much easier to keep track of and decreases the number of times you have to go back over the same bits.

Combining

This is the combining screen. Very simple, just browse for required files.

In the new document, at first you get a scary scene with a window for each document. You just need to close those until only the combined document is left and you should be left with a standard looking page with all your comments there for you. Quick, easy and super handy.

Are the any features I haven’t mentioned that you consider essential? Have you forsaken Word all together for another program?

Programs For Editing Part 1: Scrivener

Editing your novel is and always will be a huge job but there are ways to make it easier. Three ways to go about lightening this load is with beta readers, a strong plan of action and the right tools for the job. Beta readers are essential to know what works and what doesn’t, to see where your specific problems are and to just get a good feel for how the story reads as an outsider. Without a plan you can end up going round in circles, changing one thing only to mess up something else that happens before or later. By planning out your changes it becomes much easier to keep track of all it all and keep consistency without undoing your own work multiple times. Finally, that leaves us with the tools of the trade whose very existence is there to make things easier for us.

I’m going to dedicate a post to each of my three favourite tools for writing and editing: Scrivener, my most used method of writing; Microsoft Word, my go to for short stories; and good old pen and paper, which I don’t see being properly replaced any time soon.

Today I’m going to talk about Scrivener and mostly just about how I personally use it for editing, so many of its vast wealth of features will go unmentioned. I’m certain that there are even more fantastic features that would make my life easier that I simply haven’t discovered. It’s that kind of program, where there is just so much you’re constantly discovering new things. Just a heads up – I use the Windows version, which I believe has some significant differences to the iOS version.

Let’s start with the Information panel.

Doc Notes

I couldn’t find any ones with writing that didn’t make me look like I have no idea what I’m doing.

This is a panel that each individual document in a Scrivener file has. Starting from the top we have: a title; a box for a summary; metadata allowing us to indicate what type of document this is as well as its current status; and the final panel at the bottom which has six different tabs to switch between. As I’m specifically talking about the features I use, I will only be discussing three of those. The tab shown in this first image is a general comments section, which I like to use for notes of tone, transition and other alterations that effect the whole scene. This is great for keeping the general information out of the in line edits and so that it’s always available at a glance while working through a scene. As you can imagine, it’s also a great tool for doing first drafts as well to remind yourself what needs to go in a scene.

Metadata

Not only are these super useful but they are also pretty fun to fill in. Or is that just me?

This here is the second tab I use often for editing, a tab for custom metadata for that scene. You can create all the fields yourself and fill in as much or as little as is necessary. I find this especially good for when I’m going back and editing as weather and time of day are things I have trouble keeping track of when I haven’t looked at a particular piece for a while. I’m also really bad for two characters having a conversation and having a huge gap where another character is stood there totally forgotten by me, the other characters and probably the reader. This helps remind me to stick in reminders!

Comment Example

Again, it was tough finding one that didn’t make me look too ridiculous.

Comments are probably my most used feature for editing in Scrivener. In this tab of the Information panel, all the comment bubbles are compiled together to make them easy to click through and jump to where the comment is in the text. They are great for sticking in personal comments and tweaks as well as for putting in beta notes if your beta readers have given you back annotated manuscripts. You can also view a comment by just mousing over the highlighted text in the document.

Scrivener also allows for a personal word list which, as a fantasy writer, is fantastic. As well as getting rid of those annoying red lines under all your made up place and character names, it also means you know you’re spelling them consistently. Simply right click and select “Learn Spelling.” If you change someone’s name or tweak the spelling of anything, words can easily be removed by going to: Tools –> Options –> Corrections –> View Personal Word List. This way words can easily be added and removed, making sure your fantasy names are always spelt right.

Scrivener lets you organise a project by having different scenes in separate ‘documents,’ which in turn can be filed into chapter folders. I find that having a huge project broken down into chapters and scenes makes it less daunting and easy to keep track of. As mentioned above, each scene can be flagged as being at a certain stage of completion and viewing each scene as a separate entity helps me focus on fixing that before skipping ahead (or back, as I am terrible for).

I also make extensive use of the split screen option, allowing you to have two documents in the file open at once. This is great for having a character profile up or some world building research within easy view. Basically, I love my screen being super busy with information and Scrivener lets me have glorious organised chaos.

It’s a shame there’s no way to track changes using the program on Windows but I guess we can’t have everything. There is a way to add in line annotations but as they can’t be (or I haven’t found a way to) changed into normal text I tend to just use a comment bubble instead. That’s why I still use good old trusty Word for short stories – but more on that next time!

What’s your favourite program for editing in? Are there any features of Scrivener I haven’t mentioned that you just couldn’t live without?

 

Small Goals

Small goals lead to big rewards.

Big goals can be massively overwhelming. Consider writing a novel. First you have to write it. That’s a lot. That’s like 80,000 different words, all supposed to be making sense. Then you have to edit and revise the whole thing. Over. And over. And over. That journey can often seem insurmountable. It’s easy to look at the end game, a queryable novel, and think that that point is so far in the future that you convince yourself you’re never going to make it. I’ve been there a few times, calling myself a hack and pointless and just telling myself to give up, that I’ll never be able to achieve this enormous goal at the end. It sucks but it’s something that almost all writers will feel at some point.

Something I’ve learned the hard way is that sometimes it’s best to forget the end game. Instead break down that overall goal into lots of little milestones. It’s easier to aim for the end of a chapter than the end of a novel, just like it’s easier to jump a stream instead of a river. It’s not just writing where this is relevant either. There are so many things in life that can be made much simpler by just breaking them down.

Take for example weight – losing or gaining weight is a massive struggle for a lot of people. I know, I’m one of them as you may recall from my resolutions posts. With weight loss I’ve broken my goal (originally huge and terrifying) down into small percentage based goals. Every time I get a certain percent closer to my final goal, it comes with a massive sense of achievement and newfound motivation. With writing, I’ve been breaking down my editing process with chapters. The sense of achievement every time I complete a chapter motivates me more, helps push me onwards and reminds myself that I am getting ever closer to my goal.

Whatever minor goals set, they have to be achievable. Even if that means they’re small. That doesn’t matter. What matters is progress and being able to feel like I’m doing something.

Until very recently I had a lot of trouble finding the energy to exercise and it felt like a huge chore. I felt like a massive failure when I couldn’t accomplish it. I would do really well for a certain stretch of time then the will would collapse from beneath me like wet plasterboard and I’d be stuck, unable to get up again. I got myself a FitBit with Christmas money and it’s done me a world of good. It speaks so much more to how my brain likes to operate. There are lots of little goals to try and achieve and you can work towards them all day. Instead of having the one set in concrete objective (let’s take 45 mins on the exercise bike – my previous aim) I have the goal of a set number of steps throughout the whole day (which I’ve been slowly increasing since I got the thing). Every time I get up I go the long way places, even if it’s just a few dozen extra steps. It all adds up over time. Plus, seeing it progress pushes me to keep trying to hit these goals and achieve past them. I believe this is called gamificiation and it works wonders for me.

Lots of folks apply this to their writing, often with stickers for a certain number of words or something similar. I partook in this for a time but managed to let it fall by the wayside. It seems that particular method wasn’t for me, no matter how fun stickers might be.

The secret is to find that little thing that keeps you going, even if it is just a sense of progress and an imaginary pat on the back. That’s what I’ve found working for me. Not thinking of a chapter or a scene as a part of the whole giant work but instead as a thing all in itself – a thing which I’ve completed, an accomplishment and a job well done.

How do you keep yourself motivated while working? What methods have you found work for you?

Unrealistic Characters

I’ve read stories in the past where I’ve had major problems with the believability of certain characters – especially characters who are super confrontational or like to stir trouble and cause problems for no reason. They’ve always bothered me. No one in real life deliberately goes around causing trouble and drama and fights just because. There’s no motive, nothing to gain, no reason whatsoever.

Or so I thought.

The problem is that people really don’t make sense. Also that I’ve been very fortunate with workmates in the past, it seems. Obviously I’ve known confrontational people, but there have always been reasons—however poor—behind their actions. In recent months though, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with someone who just loved causing tension. They had no apparent motives, no reasons I could define. No specific targets. Anyone was fair game. It seemed as though they just weren’t satisfied when everything was happy and peaceful. They thrived on confrontation and I still can’t wrap my head around it.

The real world truly is a strange place. Quite often character interactions in novels can be written off as badly motivated and contradictory. The problem is that people can be like that. How do we work with this in fiction? How do we paint perfectly real characters who can easily get written off as unrealistic? Mark Twain nailed it with his familiar quote: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”

I’ve fallen into it myself. I have this issue with one of my characters in Through the Black. He hasn’t been called “unrealistic” yet but his motivations and attitude switches have been questioned. These are things I need to look at carefully because, while these things make sense for him, it’s very difficult to show when he isn’t a POV character why they should make sense. Some beta readers got him, others didn’t. It’s definitely something I need to poke at a bit to figure out how to solve but also highlights the other side of the coin for me. This character makes perfect sense to me, while these randomly confrontational characters didn’t before (and in all honesty, still don’t). I guess I need to look harder at my own perceptions of people and personalities in general.

I also need to remember while reading that people are really, really weird.

March 2016 Progress Report

We’re into the third month of the year already and I have no idea where the time has gone. The days have been running away from me faster than I can make good use of them. It’s been a really rough start to the year but a lot of the sources of stress have been dealt with now so hopefully this quiet period keeps up a bit so I can get down to some serious work.

So in spite of everything how has the writing been going, you ask?

Twyned Earth edits had a bumpy start due to Chapter 2 being a gargantuan struggle. There was a lot of change and problems needing ironed out. That said, I am now 19 % done and am on track with my plan to have one chapter completed every two weeks. If I manage to stick to this, I will have revised all chapters by mid September and I can go back and look through my changes as a whole and make sure everything works. After that will be the print out stage, where I’ll go through it line by line with a pen. One final read through and Beta Bothering Round 2 commences! Exciting.

Twyned Earth isn’t my only plan for this year, though it will be the priority and as such no other projects are getting goals set in stone.

As some of you may know, I’ve been working on my One Dead Prince novel over several Camp NaNoWriMo sessions, using one month to write one 50k word section (don’t even mention the cuts I’m going to have to make to this poor thing). Well, I’m currently at three out of four sections done, and I’d really like to have this rough draft finally finished just so I can put it out of my mind. This year I’m thinking that instead of doing it during one of the camp events I will split it over both, doing 25k each month to put less pressure on myself and not detract too much from Twyned Earth. Of course, if I’m behind on my main editing project, poor One Dead Prince will be getting left to sit for another year.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I can sometimes find it hard to work totally on one project without getting totally burnt out. That’s why I like to have a side project I can pick up to clear my head a bit. Normally that’s to do with world building or plotting, but this year I think I will try to focus my excess efforts on my Deconstructor story (once I’ve done a scene by scene plan for ODP Part 4). This project has sort of snuck up on me and really isn’t too far, relatively speaking, from being beta ready. I don’t know if I’ll be sending it out any time soon but it would be nice to have something else shuffling towards the mythical “Complete” stance on my project spreadsheet. It’s really important to me to get the next draft of TE finished, so not only is working hard on it important but avoiding burnout is essential. If I just so happen to eke another project within visual distance of the finish line then all the better!

So that’s where I’m out. How are your projects going? Have you hit the ground running this year or are you, like me, slowly building up steam?