Finished?

This afternoon I finished the first draft of Silent Symmetry. I’m happy with it. To celebrate, I had lunch. At 2.15. Over the last couple of days I’ve been excited to find out what was going to happen. Okay, that’s not true; I knew exactly what was going to happen, but I was excited to see how it would happen. Most of it has been a lot of fun to write, and I take that as a good sign.

My main problem was not rushing it. The ending of a novel isn’t an easy thing to write, especially the first one of a trilogy. The main plot is usually over, but there are always loose ends to tie up and you don’t want to gloss over them too quickly and leave the reader unsatisfied or take too long and have the reader think, “Come on! I know it’s over and you know it’s over, so just get to the last page!!”

But of course finishing isn’t really the end. It’s only the beginning of the end. Rewriting is what separates good writing from average writing. I do a fair bit of rewriting as I go, always re-reading the previous session’s work and tweaking it before I continue. However I find that the only really effective way to rewrite is to set the work aside for a chunk of time, then come back to it fresh. It’s almost like handing it to a new reader. The number of times I’ve reread something and think, “Wow – why on earth did I say it like that? It seems so obvious that this way is better!”

So I’m going to finish the last of my short stories and get to work on formatting them for ePub. That should take a month or so. Then I can return to the mysterious events of Silent Symmetry and give it that extra bit of mysterious magic.

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Write as people speak

There’s a place for florid prose. And there’s a place for wordplay. But if you’re not trying to do either when you write your story, you should always keep in mind whether what you’re writing reflects how people actually speak in real life. I don’t just mean dialogue; that’s a given. I mean the prose that describes actions, people and places. Even the prose where you waffle on about some pet-theory-you-have-that-doesn’t-really-have-a-place-in-this-work-but-you-can’t-help-yourself, like most writers do.

Because the thing is, when people read a book they have a voice in their head. And if that voice doesn’t skip along the lines effortlessly, you’re probably not doing your job right. Even government agencies and banks have begun to realize that turgid texts make readers go through the same process as reading something in a foreign language. If you have to keep stopping or backtracking to figure out what the writer wants to convey, there’s a problem. Or maybe you should be a lawyer instead.

So why do fiction writers do it? It’s probably the legacy of the classroom, a teacher telling them that they shouldn’t write in a certain way. That starting a paragraph with because is wrong. That ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong, even thought it’s perfectly good English to say, “What’s this made of?”.

This isn’t just about rules and uncommon vocabulary (“five-dollar words”), it’s about rhythm too. Punctuation. Repetition. And more punctuation. See? I repeated that last idea for emphasis.

The only way to really find out whether your prose passes the talking test is to… talk. Read it aloud. Slowly. My trick is to do it in a funny accent so things don’t get boring. It’s also a great way to proofread. It doesn’t matter whether your Irish accent turns Scots or your Tennessee drawl sounds like a hillbilly – read ’em and weep. I mean, smile.

eBook publisher

I had a great meeting on Saturday afternoon with my publisher and illustrator/cover designer. And… that’s about all I can say because my publishing contract stipulates that I can’t talk about it. Maybe I’ll sneakily drop a few hints and reveal a few details over the next few months, but here’s my situation: I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Silent Symmetry, my YA (young adult) novel that I will be self-publishing as an eBook using Smashwords. In parallel,  a different, already completed novel of mine is being prepared for publication this fall as an eBook by a Montreal publishing house (the one I met on Saturday). The latter novel will also be released next year as an interactive app through the talented guys at Inkle in Cambridge, England, so that makes me feel a lot cooler than I am in reality.

But there are several hurdles to cross on the road to epublishing success. One of them is the very real possibility of sinking without a trace in the ever-growing tidal wave of eBooks. So that’s where marketing comes in. Fortunately, I work in marketing. Unfortunately, that probably means nothing. All I can do is research what has worked for other writers through sites like Kindleboards, then strategize and execute what I think is the best plan for my eBook.

Part of my plan is to release a collection of short stories in between finishing my first draft of Silent Symmetry and performing the rewrite. This will serve as a technical test of the epublishing process as well as an exploration of timing (when and how to use social media to promote the eBook) and pricing variation. Drinking scotch will then serve as a non-technical test of the intuitive side of the process.

Where I live, it’s a public holiday today. Right now, it’s a sunny, breezy 20 centigrade, so I’m going out for a run. Sometimes the writing can wait…

The imaginary boss

As you’ll have read if you clicked on the bio tab above, I’m writing a YA (young adult) novel called Silent Symmetry. I set myself a 3,000-word weekly target when I started back in January, and I’ve stuck to it apart from one vacation week and one insane work week (when I actually did spend time plotting out the ending). I find that the only way to get any real work done is to have an imaginary friend. Except that this one isn’t your friend – he or she is a horrible boss. And you signed a contract with this boss to churn out X number of words or pages per week. If your imaginary boss is slightly less horrible, your contract may be to work for a certain number of hours per week, but, as it says in the title of this blog, sitting at your desk isn’t work. Just like a real boss who prowls around the cubicles, if he or she isn’t demanding measurable output, you’ll work as though you’re sitting in a cubicle. You’ll do research that slides into surfing. Or to take a “reward break” on Facebook that slides into YouTube. Or create a blog about writing that slides into tweaking a colour scheme…

Writing is easy. People write stuff every day. But if you actually want to produce a written work, you need to hire yourself an imaginary boss. The good news is, they work for free. The bad news is, so do you. For now.

A single step…

They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Well, actually Confucius said it, but although he was a totally bad-ass ancient sage, his knowledge of trademark and copyright law was sketchy at best, so he often doesn’t get the credit he deserves when people quote his quote.

But had parachuting existed back then, Confucius might have had to say something different, because a journey can also start by jumping out of a plane. The funny thing about writing is that it’s like both kinds of journey. The kind where you know you’re in for a long trudge through the wilderness and the only way you’re going to make it is by taking one boring footstep after another, and the kind where you have to set aside all your fears and take a giant leap into the unknown yelling “Geronimo!” or some other more politically correct exclamation.

So, like I said, the funny thing about writing is that the only way you’ll accomplish anything is by combining the insane leap and the plodding footstep.

Here I go.