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Critique, round 1: Bruised but standing

women sparring

Ever taken a punch to the face? I have.*

Reading comments from my critique partners (CPs) on my latest manuscript can be like going a couple of rounds in the sparring ring. I’m a bit bruised. And I need a nap. And maybe some dark chocolate.

Well, I did ask them to be honest.

Taking criticism isn't easy. Even when you ask for it. But that’s okay. I must deal with it if I want to create a good book. My trusted cadre of writing friends wants the same on my behalf.

The difference between a helpful critique and a TKO is intent. 😉

I’m lucky my CPs are honest with me. Their insights are gold. I’ll take their punches and ask for more.

They can see the issues that I can’t, the things I’ve failed to address because they’re clear in my head if not on the page, the threads I dropped three chapters back because I was so focused on writing a kick-ass finale.

But my friends don’t leave me bleeding on the mat. They brainstorm solutions and tell me what they like, what’s working, and what made them laugh or cry (in a good way).

A CP/editor/beta reader is sort of like a trainer. They break you down to build you up. They reveal your weaknesses and force you to grow stronger. In the end, they help you become the best you can be.

The pain is worth the result. I’d rather get beat up by my friends now than in the ratings and sales after I publish the book.


*While sparring in Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu, just so you won’t worry. 😉

 

Revisions in Scrivener

proofreader's marks

With my debut romantic suspense novel releasing next week, you can bet I’ve been spending a lot of time in revisions over the last few months. Everyone has their own process for handling edits in Scrivener, but since some of you have asked, here’s mine.

I make all of my changes directly in Scrivener. I prefer to work with two monitors when I’m referring to comments from an editor, beta reader, or proofreader. If you can beg, borrow, or buy a second monitor, I can’t recommend it enough (unless you have a mammoth one already, in which case you can probably just view both windows side by side).

There are three main tools I use when working on revisions: annotationssnapshots, and color-coded labels. (The links will take you to my posts with more detail on using each feature.)

Annotations

Annotations are a pre-revision tool for me. I use them to make notes to myself about areas that need something (e.g. more research, a conversation I’m not ready to write), usually while I’m writing and don’t know what to put in a specific spot yet. I also use them to make notes where I’m not 100% happy with what I have, but haven’t figured out how to make better (e.g. catchier opening line, better chapter-ending hook, snappier dialogue).

When I’m ready to deal with all of my annotations, I can just go to Edit—>Find—>Find By Formatting and step through them. Or, I handle them as I'm doing a read-through of the manuscript.

Comments work in a similar way. If you prefer to be able to see your notes in the sidebar, and don’t want them embedded within the text, comments might be a better option for you.

Finding Annotations

Snapshots

Now, before I actually address an annotation—or a note from my beta reader or editor—I (try hard to remember to) take a snapshot of the document I’m about to edit.

A snapshot (Documents—>Snapshot—>Take Snapshot) is a record of the document as it is right now, that gets saved as part of the document’s meta-data. It’s a great way to keep track of different versions of a scene or section without muddying up your binder with versions. I rarely go back to an old version, but I like knowing I can find my original words, if necessary.

If you’re worried about forgetting, you can select all of the documents you expect to work on that day and use the Take Snapshot command to capture all of them. The snapshot for a document is viewable in the Inspector. Just click the camera icon at the bottom.

Snapshots in Scrivener

Color-coded Labels

When I’m in the early revision stages—essentially before sending to my editor—I don’t really bother to keep track of my editing passes, though you certainly can. If you’re very methodical about it, making one pass for emotion, one for setting, and so on, you might want to use my post-editor method for all of your revisions, using additional label values.

Once I have my editor’s comments in hand, I want to make sure I know which documents I’ve finished and which ones still need work. I accomplish this by changing the use of the Label field from POV (what I generally track when I’m writing fiction) to Edit Stage (I didn’t actually rename it or get rid of the POV values, but you could).

Then I create labels that apply to each of the rounds I intend to make. In the case of BLIND FURY, I had three values: one for each of the editorial rounds I went through, as well as one to show that I had completed the proofreader’s fixes.

Revision Labels

I always have icon colors turned on (View—>Use Label Color In—>Icons) so I can see the editing status of each chapter and document at a glance.

Colored Icons in Binder

Working in Full Screen Composition mode

I like to work in Full Screen Composition mode, so to start, I select my first document, enter full screen, and click the Inspector button to view it and moved it to the corner (in Windows it looks more like the standard inspector).

Full Screen Composition Mode

Then it goes something like this:

1. Make edits to the document.

2. Change the label value in the Inspector to show that the document has been edited.

3. Use the Go To button to navigate to the next document I want to edit.

4. Repeat.

This process means I don’t have to exit full screen composition mode every time I want to label the document and switch to a new one.

Any questions? Want to share your method?

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session.


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Old work

I'm at least better than this guy.

I’ve been working on Scrivener For Dummies nearly non-stop since the end of February, but I finished edits last week, which means I can finally focus my efforts on my fiction again.

I have four completed manuscripts under my belt, but I have at least as many that I’ve started and not finished for one reason or another. My plan is to go back and look at those unfinished works with a fresh eye and figure out how to get the story moving again.

Last night I stayed up too late reading a manuscript I started almost two years ago. It was fun to read words that I didn’t even remember writing. Like doing a critique for a friend.

Best of all, I could see how much progress I’ve made since then. While my writing now isn’t perfect—whatever that means—my development is clear. I used to write super-short scenes of 300-400 words, which makes for a very choppy book. Now my scenes are usually at least 1000 words, and sometimes up to 3000.

The change is in the details of setting, internal dialog, and providing adequate page space for character actions and reactions.

I used to be horrible at grounding the reader at the beginning of a scene, so things like POV, location, and time were unclear. I’m now much more aware of the importance of the opening lines, especially when starting a new chapter.

(If you struggle with setting—or pacing, or body language—I highly recommend Mary Buckham’s classes. Any class you can take by Mary is well worth the money. She’s an amazing teacher of craft and I gladly open my wallet for her.)

The manuscript I went over last night also had a lot of procedural detail—my hero is a DEA agent—without anything to break it up. You could tell I’d done my research for this one. I’d like to think I’ve learned to be more subtle about that kind of thing, while still being accurate so the story rings true.

I learned one more thing from reading my old work. I’m not bad at this writing thing. Despite the technical problems, I got into the story, was pleasantly surprised by how I’d set up certain plot elements, and enjoyed the characters.

I needed the reminder that I’m a storyteller.

How about you? Read any of your old work lately? What did you think?

Image: By KaterBegemot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Nashville or combust

I worked at a semiconductor manufacturing plant for about two years as a manufacturing engineer. For the first 18 months or so, we were in the process of installing new tools and bringing them online while simultaneously ramping up production. The executives liked to compare what we were doing to building an airplane while in flight (per this EDS ad below).

I'm not sure that's the most confidence-inspiring way to describe your process as a company, but I see parallels to it in my revision process. Plus, the video's just funny.

I've been working almost exclusively on Diego's story for the last few weeks, and ignoring Slow Burn altogether. My thought was that giving the book a rest before looking at it again would give me a fresh perspective and renewed energy. It did, but I was in danger of never getting into the global revisions.

More than the line edit stuff–which would be a waste of time for scenes I may change/delete anyway–I need to focus on the plot changes that I came up with after a helpful critique and a brainstorming session with my CP. I believe the book will be better off with my altered story line, but coming up with the energy to tackle it is sometimes difficult.

The task can seem daunting. Yes, I've rewritten the first five scenes of my current MS three times, but that was starting almost from scratch each time. With the old MS, I'm cutting, splicing, and patching all over the place. I think I may copy the Scrivener file and start in a new version so I don't have to worry about taking snapshots or making duplicates of every scene that might change.

I'm a bit overwhelmed, but excited to get the book into shape in time to pitch it at the RWA National conference in Nashville in July. My goal is to finish the revisions and another pass at basic edits before I move in June. Revising is cutting into my word count goals, but if I can be organized enough to divide my time between both stories, maybe it'll keep me from burning out.

Either that or I'll spontaneously combust.

[tweetmeme source=”yourtwittername” only_single=false]

Almost the end

Yesterday, I wrote the last sentence of my current MS. Well, kind of. I finished the first draft (very rough). Yay!!

Okay, but now I have to add the scenes that I know are missing, fill in plot holes, plant seeds of emotion and conflict back in earlier chapters, and begin The Big Revision.

My plan is to work through Donald Maass' popular Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook in an effort to flesh out the story, the characters, the emotion, the conflict…well, you get the idea.

My biggest personal conflict is that I've decided which story I'm going to start next (not Diego's story after all, for those who've been following along), and my brain won't stop thinking of scenes and names, and dialogue.

I understand why some writers never finish a book. It's so much more fun to start them. In the beginning there are no constraints on the story, the characters aren't hampered by their past actions and backgrounds yet.

It's a wonderful feeling, but frustrating at a time when I have much more work to do on my current MS. So, I keep plugging away, with my notebook at my side to capture ideas for the next book, and hope my brain's still feeling creative when I'm finally ready to move on.

How do you handle it when your brain wants to jump ahead?

Must read for writers

If you're a writer, I highly recommend Natalie Whipple's “Stages of Editing” post from her blog Between Fact & Fiction. You will not regret the time spent reading it. I plan to print and bookmark the page, and review her list when I start revisions at the beginning of February.

One thing that jumped out at me was that she does multiple plot revisions. I thought, “Wow, so I should just relax and get it on paper, and quit worrying about getting it perfect!” Well, duh, but I've been struggling with this all week. I'm in the middle of the book's climax and it doesn't feel big or drawn out enough, and I'm not 100% sure of the best way to get my characters out of it.

I need to go back to my Rule of Six lists and just keep writing.

My favorite Nora Roberts quote seems appropriate here: “You can fix a bad page. You can't fix a blank one.”

The Daily Squirrel: swim

Her breath echoed in her head, the water muffling the outside noise as if her ears were plugged. She kicked her legs and pushed through the water, free from the sounds of ringing phones, office chatter, and her boss's booming voice.

Peace.

At the end of the lane, she flipped and pushed off the wall, weightless and swift as the water cradled and caressed her. Free of the pantyhose that left a red ring on her waist for hours after she removed them. Free from the fashionable heels that had her hobbling by the end of the day.

Bliss.

Oh, to be a fish and never have to come up for air.