Preamble

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Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.  Geoffrey Chaucer said that about 600 years ago as part of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the first writing we would recognize as English.  I believe it.  What would life be worth if it weren’t a pilgrimage?  Every day.  I hope you will join my pilgrimage.  I’m writing a book … well, several.  Writing is pilgrimage, and I’ll need sustenance along the way.  I hope you will follow along, comment, help lead me.  C’mon, it will be an adventure …

Editing And Playing Tennis Solo

I believe there is a version of the 5-stage Kübler-Ross model of grief related to editing: Denial/Surprise/High Dudgeon/Fascination/Damn, I’m glad I did it.

Kubler Ross Model

The Kübler-Ross Model

I’ve often been told that every writer needs an editor. Of course, my grammar and syntax are impeccable, so that admonition was easy to ignore. Pay for advice that I surely didn’t need? On my budget? Really?

Of course, I was in the first stage of the model, Denial.

A writing group friend caught me up short when he said, “Writing without an editor is like playing tennis with yourself.” My second novel is in draft and is being pummeled by my writing groups. But maybe the first novel needs … help?

Finally, I decided to dip a 50-page toe in the ocean.

When the manila envelope bearing the edited product arrived, I opened it wondering why I felt a little like the moment right before I ripped the paper off a present from my certifiably loony aunt. (You never knew what was coming. When I was ten, it was a heat lamp. Just the bulb.)

This is a waste of time. He’ll only be able to argue with word choice.

 First page: 4 marks. I gasped. Second page: 8. Third page: 9. Surely, he must be wrong.

Surprise threatened to become High Dudgeon.

I put the envelope aside for a couple of days and pretended to be too busy to look at the other 47 pages.

Then the fourth stage, Fascination, saved me. I don’t (well, didn’t) know the convention about single quotes, and the editor’s word choice suggestions were excellent.

Over the last several days, I have achieved the fifth stage, Damn I’m Glad I Did That. Guess I have to adjust the budget.

Click-thru, Substance and Internet Marketing

So, let me ask (rhetorically), would you put the pictured cover on a book? ‘Sell … Like Wildfire,’ emblazoned (pardon me) over a book of matches? After several years of  devastating wildfires set by arsonists? And would you name your website startawildfire.com?

Apparently, the desire for a cool, attention-grabbing, clever cover trumps … umm … thought process.Wildfire

I am sure that I will be thrust into the black hole of crotchety old guys by Internet savvy folks and, in particular, Internet marketers. After all, the brave new world seems to be driven by click-thru activity rather than substance.

I got an e-mail advertising a ‘free download’ on book marketing.  That interests me, so I punched through to a page that wanted me to sign up for info on a self-publishing house. No free download. Intrigued, I e-mailed the publisher. Several days later, I got the appropriate web address and clicked on the ‘article.’ It turned out to be a book chapter. Presumably, I would read the chapter and buy the book.

So, the net result is a plus for the marketing database (several click-throughs).  They didn’t really lie. The only down side I see for the marketer is bitter experience tells me those hyper-energetic, hair-on-fire promotional efforts are usually a thin coat of paint covering lack of substance. Oh, and there is the fact that the slightly misleading but relatively harmless come-on is the only data I have to go on when and if I self-publish. That doesn’t convert to very many future click-throughs.

Finding the good and the bad in writing

I have been dilatory in my blogging.  All of the reasons are good, but like intentions, they pave the way to hell (in the form of low readership).One of the several delaying factors was the success of my writing groups.  More people, more writing and more time spent critiquing.  I’m learning that bad writing is perhaps more helpful to me than good writing.  Don’t get me wrong. I love reading a beautifully-crafted paragraph or watching another writer’s character do something that explains a volume in a few words.  That writing adds in an ineffable way to my skill as a writer.  But the bad writing, the times when the narrator becomes a blowhard, or the writer has the character tell us something we already knew, or the sentence is just too ugly for a simple ‘k’ in the margin … those are the times I see the same weaknesses in my own writing.So, long story, but the critiquing I’m doing now is doubly time consuming, because I spend as much time fixing the embarrassing parts of my own writing as I do critiquing.Wait a minute.  That’s what it’s all about, right?

Bring/Take and the Surrender of Grammar to Chaos

This morning, the Sunday New York Times delivered a shot upside the head before I even read about Ebola or the insanity that is ISIS.NYT paper bagThe bag.  It was the bag.  There, in the upper right corner

NYT closeup“Bring it Back” from the NYT. Bring it Back? Really?  Not “Recycle it?”

Since the delivery person already brought it to me, it has no further place to be brought, does it?

Seems to me (and very few other curmudgeons, apparently) that we are in an era of grammatical entropy. Articles on the subject seem to concentrate on the reality that language evolves (Duh…), that grammar really needs to represent what people speak, and so on. Maybe it’s that the brave new 140-character thought processes we seem to be bathed in so much of the time just can’t contemplate fine distinction, but the bring/take distinction is, it seems to me, different than, e.g., the who/whom distinction. Making all mentions of movement become ‘bring’ loses an important distinction, possibly … no, probably … causing confusion. Who/whom rarely does that, because it’s usually obvious to whom we are referring in a sentence. (And then there’s the issue of ending the sentence with a preposition.) (And sentence fragments.)

Maybe I need to find the address of the presumably long-suffering NYT delivery person and add to what must be a mountain of plastic bags in his/her living room.

Of course, it’s possible that all material things are meant to be brought to that black hole where odd socks and occasionally car keys are said to reside, from which they can never be taken out (of). Now, that’s entropy.

Show Me!

I was privileged to hear jazz singer Kate McGarry interpret Show Me, the Lerner and Loewe classic from My Fair Lady.  Most of my thoughts these days turn to writing, and these lyrics seem to me worth several pages explicating the admonition to Show, Don’t Tell:

Don’t talk of stars Burning above; If you’re in love,Kate McGarry
Show me! Tell me no dreams
Filled with desire. If you’re on fire,
Show me!

Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don’t talk of spring! Just hold me tight!
Anyone who’s ever been in love’ll tell you that
This is no time for a chat!

Rewrite

GorillaI’m learning the wisdom in the writerly saying, “You never finish a novel, you just send it off when there’s no time left to rewrite.”

I’m in my eighth or ninth rewrite of Hack the Yak, still finding words to change, emotions to outline better, little plot quirks.  You know the old phrase, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?  I’m afraid I may be in the ‘If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway’ phase of writing this novel.

Oops … an ellipsis where there should be an em dash.

Oh, well.  Per aspera ad astra.

Critiquing: Electronic or Paper?

My writing has been enriched by my friends in writing groups.  I’m in three groups, and I think I see a trend toward electronic critiquing.  Two of the groups use MeetUp, which allows us to post files in advance of a face-to-face meeting.  The standard way of critiquing is to download and print the file, mark it up and review the markup at the meeting, then pass the marked-up copy to the author.  The other option is to download the file, use Word’s review function to make notes and then send the file to the author after the face-to-face meeting.

I would be interested in how other writers view the process.  For me, once the printing is done, hand notation is easiest.  On the other hand, for one monthly meeting recently, I had to print 105 pages.

What do you do

If you edit electronically and have tips on best practices, I’d love to hear them in the ‘Comments’ box.  For instance, do you make changes directly in the text or limit your comments to notes in the margin?

The Internet Pareto: 98/2

Pareto PrincipleThose of us of a certain age are used to being bludgeoned with the Pareto Principle: 20% of {some cause} accounts for 80% of {some effect}. The 80/20 rule. It’s often treated as received truth.  It’s sometimes true.

I’ve been knocking around the Internet a bit, looking at all sorts of resources for the poor, unpublished novelist. (Me.) At some point, I realized that Moore’s Law (computing power doubles every 18 months) has inseminated the Pareto Principle, and ungodly spawn is the Internet reality that 98% of what’s out there is dreck. 2% is inspired, wonderful stuff. The new Pareto is 98/2.

There are absolutely marvelous apps, excellent websites for writing and so on. They exist as tantalizing possibilities, often buried under great piles of manure. (When was the last time a website was honest about the cost of what it offers?  Ever?)

Which brings me to my final realization on this subject: The amount of valuable intellectual property has probably been expanding at about the same rate since, oh, that Cro Magnon guy looked at a burning ember and thought up barbeque. I’m guessing that probably holds for writing, too. (OK, not entirely a constant rate. Blips at Aristophanes, Chaucer, Shakespeare.) The marvelous technology we have is entirely non-judgmental and allows geometric, nay, exponential expansion of the manure layer. I don’t think I’m part of it, but it looks like a 2% kind of guy (ego, be still) is going to have to have a big shovel to get noticed. Better start on that marketing plan, right?.

 

 

The Blasted Backstory

I took a great short course on backstory at the Cape Cod Writer’s Conference last week. Michelle Hoover, the teacher, is a fine writer (literary fiction – The Quickening) and knowledgeable instructor. I really needed the course.

She remarked to us that we control some part … maybe 60% … of what the reader gets out of a story, and that we ought to embrace the creativity and life experience the reader brings to the reading. That’s something I forget, particularly when wrestling with plot. Her notes for the class remind us, “The biggest mistake most beginning writers make is the belief a reader must know this or that about what occurred before the character’s present moment. The fault is generally due to the following: 1) the author’s distrust of the reader’s intelligence; 2) the author’s distrust of his/her own writing ability; 3) the author’s inability to give up control; 4) the author’s nervousness about beginning his/her own story …”

Ouch! I suffer from all of the above. Does the reader really need to know exactly what stop loss insurance is and how it’s calculated to fully understand the plot line of Hack the Yak? Or am I just a lazy, controlling author?

There. 1,000 words gone. Easy. Just like a good healthy …

stoploss insurance