The Struggle of the Artist – Who cares?

It’s easy being an independent author.

You get to write what you want to write. The subject matter is up to you. You don’t have a big bad corporation leaning over your shoulder, shaking its head saying, “No, no, no. That won’t do. You need to have more werewolves. Vampires are so 2014. This won’t sell.”

Who cares? It’s your book.

Pfft! Who cares…?

If you want to kill off your main character, go right ahead! If you’re stuck for a plot point, deus ex machina is a viable option. Who cares? It’s your book.

Pricing and distribution is fine, too. With facilities like Smashwords and Lulu, you can push out your book at pretty much any price that suits you to pretty much any distributor. Do you care? After all, it’s your book.

There are no deadlines except for those you impose upon yourself and, hey, if you’re out by a week or a year, who really cares? It’s your book.

Tell you what, it’s easy being an independent author.

No, really, who cares?

Who cares? Who cares? The audience cares. They care a lot.

If you are writing the book for yourself, then go right ahead and do whatever. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation and spelling. Ignore typos and editing. Ignore those tics, those cliches, those repetitions. Chuck everything into one great big sodding sentence, no breaks, and be done with it.

Writing for others means obeying conventions, like grammar and spelling, and it means putting a lot effort into editing, refining, sweeping, checking, double-checking, proofing, making sure the damn thing is what it’s supposed to be.

Sure, it’s your book, but it’s written for someone else and, when they’ve bought it and read it, it’s their book, too. That’s why they care.

Deadlines become real: If you say you’re going to have a book out by December 2016, then that’s what the audience expects. Sure, the audience can’t sue you or fire you if you don’t deliver, but they can get miffed if you keep pushing the date of release back.

Being an Indie means many things, but one of the main things is that the thick layer of abstraction between you and the audience is not there. It means you have to be the big, bad corporation. You have to be the one whipping yourself to get things done. You have to exercise self-discipline, take any issues on the chin, handle complaints and emails.

All marketing falls on your shoulders. You don’t get to have the big, bad corp telling you what’s currently trending, nor do you have banner ads, and YouTube videos, or sponsorship, or endorsements, or reviews, or Oprah.

All you have is you. And even if everyone else in the world doesn’t care, you should care.

Geez, it’s hard being an independent author.Mini Jeztyr Logo

About that Red Pen…

It’s a very nice red pen, isn’t it? The ink is smooth, the grip is light but firm. The colour is vibrant. How are you using it? Are you liberally applying ink to the page or are you more reserved when gracing the paper with your nib? Do you write whole sentences, or underline a word, or make a bunch of arrows surrounded by exclamation marks and stars?

That all depends on you, of course, and also to what sweep you’re on and what system you’ve got in place.

There’s a System?

Yes, otherwise your scrawls are just that. What’s the point of sweeping through your book if you can’t understand your own editing when it comes time to sitting back down in front of the screen again?

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A sample editing page

I’ve made my own little system for the various sweeps. Take the Language sweep, for instance. The featured image shows how I’ve gotten rid of words that did not need to be there – just cross them out.

This doesn’t mean that I must get rid of the word or sentence, only that, under the cold light of editing, I felt that it didn’t belong. I make the mark and move on. I’ll fix it later. LATER. As in, when I’m done editing and I’m sitting once more in front of the monitor.

I’ve made suggestions with a scribble of a possible alternative. It’s not a full alternative, and there were many others that came to mind, but it is enough that when I look over it again, I can think, “Ah, yeah, that’s what I was getting at.” Once again, I mark it so that I can look at it more closely later.

Misspelled words, suspect words, erroneously placed words – treat them all the same. Circle, squiggle, underline, cross out, surround them in parentheses, whatever. Just bring it to your attention to look at later.

So long as you can understand your marks and squiggles, you’re golden. If you’re doing this for someone else (can I borrow you?) or they’re doing it for you (can I borrow them?), you’ll need to settle on a system.

Keep Sweeping

When you’re in the editing ‘zone’, it’s damn easy to get interrupted. And distracted. And sidetracked. After all, you’re reading not for pleasure, nor for relaxation, and, let’s face it, there’s not going to be a twist halfway through.

Remember how the pages were to be bulldog clipped? Remember how I said (only about a bazillion times) to get a decent red pen? No interruptions, you can do this… Damn! Yup. There’s no hiding.

You’re going to get a tap on your shoulder regarding that important report, or a ring on the telephone from your friend who wants you to help them move their fridge, or a knock at the door by some pushy electricity salesman who won’t take no for an answer, or a little boy crying for a hug because fell down the steps (because he was wearing his Daddy’s boots and they were too big for him).

Then you sit back down and… you’ve lost where you were. You’re out of the zone. Did I correct that bit? Perhaps? Um. I think I read that bit there. Maybe.

To prevent this, go back to that trusty Red Pen of yours. Every time you complete a slab or text, make a little wedge mark under that line. There, the document has been swept up to that point. Boom! Interruption. Fine, whatever, crisis averted. Where was I? Look for the last wedge.

A word of caution here: Use a separate marker, like an ^ or a * to indicate a point of interruption. That is to say, “The last wedge is there, and I was interrupted somewhere around ^ here”.

Why? Because interruptions in the real world aren’t like software interrupts. They generally have a lead up time, that period of time where your brain is torn between doing its duty and tending to the emerging crisis. Yes, I know there’s a ruckus outside and yes, I know there is most likely going to be a football thrown through the window in a second, but if I persist I can get through this last sentence – Stop. Put the ^ marker there.

It’s a big red flag for “You may have read this, but you weren’t really concentrating. Read it again when you’ve fixed whatever needs fixing.”

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Little Boy gets hold of the Red Pen

Another word of warning: All the editing in the world won’t make a lot of difference if you leave your manuscript and glorious Red Pen lying around where little fingers can get at it.

Sigh. In this instance, it’s best to salvage what you can by printing out a clean copy of that page, and separating your annotations from the spider web.

And keep your Red Pen in a high place.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Watch your Language!

The first sweep (or sweeps) have landed your book in a nice spot: It makes sense, it says what you want it to say, and it starts and ends properly. You’ve checked the continuity and all of that in the previous sweep, and you’ve made the appropriate corrections by moving slabs of text about or getting rid of them altogether.

Now take a break, not too long, maybe a day or two, then print out the manuscript again. Go on, print it out. You’re about to start the second phase. It’s gritty. It takes brain power. It takes numerous cups of coffee to get through it.

The finer points

The second sweep in my set is the Language sweep. This is where I check thing like the rhythm, paragraphs, vocabulary, vernacular, emotion and overall flow. Consider these the fittings and furnishings of your house, the stuff that goes inside each room to make it a particular room.

You can spot a kitchen because it has an oven. A bedroom has a bed. A bathroom has a bath. One doesn’t expect to find a rocking chair in the shower, carpet in the kitchen. Likewise, one doesn’t expect to find a long, descriptive, adjective and adverb filled sentence while two guys are fighting. Nor does one expect every character to have the same intonation, vocabulary and vernacular.

When reviewing each character talking, I have them ‘speak’ inside my head. This way I can hear if my naive-yet-advanced-in-age child sounds like a naive-yet-advanced-in-age child, or that my arrogant-sumbitch-gunslinger’s vocabulary is that of an arrogant-sumbitch-gunslinger.

Speaking of dialog, I find that long running conversations need a little prompt to remind the ready who is saying what. The prompt could be with a tic that that a character has, or their speech, or even a quick “, said John. This is especially true when the dialog is between three or more characters. That said, I also like to make sure I’m not mollycoddling the audience with indicators in every line: I like to give them a bit of credit, and too many ‘he said, she saids’ can break the flow.

Sometimes its what the character doesn’t say, or shouldn’t say, that rings alarms. Tough guys don’t say sorry, unless it’s sarcastic. Sometimes they don’t say anything at all. Passionate lovers don’t tell their partner how they feel, they show them. Children can’t always articulate the finer abstractions of the emotions that they’re feeling – sad, happy, angry, or sick are all fine words for a kid to say.

Don’t lose the flow

Keep the reading going. If you find that you have to go back and re-read a sentence or a paragraph, then something’s not right. OK, you might well be tired from all the editing, and this is a good indicator that it’s time to stop, stretch, get a coffee, feed the cat, whatever.

If you come back to the sentence again and it still makes you do a double-take, consider revising it into smaller parts, swapping the bits around or even ripping it out altogether.

Complicated sentences may be the order of the day, especially if your novel is slow paced, descriptive or abstract. If your sentences become overly complicated, that’s no good. Lovecraft does have a tendency to waffle on, that doesn’t mean you should follow suit. If you end a sentence having forgotten what the start of it was about, you lose the flow, you break the illusion, you annoy the audience.

On that note, while you’re examining sentences, be sure that your paragraphs are holding their own meeting. For a good while I was reluctant to add a hard-return after a single sentence because a teacher in high school once explained that ‘a single sentence does not a paragraph make.’

In my humble opinion, and with all due respect to my former teacher, that’s tosh.

If sentence Paragraph A pertains to the description of a dog, B pertains to how it was demolishing freshly washed clothes and C to Aunty Betty running out the back door to whack┬áit with her rolling pin, why should I bundle B into A or C? It doesn’t belong, and, what’s more, the second paragraph is very important in its own right.

Keeping the reading flowing can also come down to getting rid of annoying tics, cliches, repetition and beats. Because you’re still sweeping this at a higher level than at the coal-face, but not too high so you can’t see the details, funny little quirks like always starting a sentence with The, or putting ‘softening’ adjectives or adverbs in for no reason (He had a little rest, she stole a quick breath, it devoured a bit), or using the word ‘harangued’ too many times in consecutive sentences.

Once you’ve swept through, marked all your scribbles down on your printed paper with your (now very tired) red pen, it’s time to put those corrections in and, you guessed it, print out the next draft!Mini Jeztyr Logo

Sweeping Your Manuscript Clean

So you’ve bought yourself your red pen, good, and you’ve printed out your manuscript, even better, and you’re ready to get correcting. This post is about how I go about editing and correcting my work. Now, to give you a bit of insight and a frank confession, my first attempt at editing was an utter shambles: I re-read the manuscript on the screen, made corrections in place and lost where I was up to a bazillion times as I was interrupted again and again and again.

Net result? Sub-par editing, a bad neck, burnt eyeballs, and the need to go back and do it all again properly.

Sweeps

The first thing to know is that you’re not going to get it all done in a single sweep. It’s just not going to happen. Get used to the idea that even though your book is written, it’s far from being finished. Once you are reconciled with that, you can move on at a slower pace.

Break up your goals into parts and perform each in a separate sweep. A sweep is a single iteration through the book with a single goal in mind. This way you can concentrate only on a specific set of issues.

That’s a waste of time! I want to get my book out now. We all do, Tiger, I get it, but what I’m yapping on about here is not plucked out of thin air, it is borne from (painful) experience. Stick with me, OK?

Why can’t I look at spelling and grammar right off the cuff? Because the words, the sentences, heck, whole paragraphs an chapters can change from the first sweep to the last. Trying to do it all in one sweep means that your brain is working overtime on each and every sentence, every word, while at the same time making sure the voice is correct, checking for tics, and remembering what it was you said in the last chapter about the protagonist’s wife, all while juggling work, cooking dinner, settling the child to go to sleep and booking your stay at the asylum.cleanSweep

If, on the other hand, you are looking solely at a high level perspective, you needn’t slow yourself down with the gritty details. Likewise, once you’ve got the macro nailed down, you can afford to ignore it when you’re looking at the micro. Kind of a ‘take care of the pennies’ approach. But not quite. You’ll see what I mean.

The House Built by Many

Still not convinced? Let’s build a house. The civil authority and architect comes on site to inspect. They care that the house is on a solid foundation, that it hasn’t extended its boundaries, that it’s actually being built in the proper orientation and according to standards. They do not care, and do not waste time, checking to see if the front door is brown, or that the cornices have been cut at forty-five degrees. They’ll drive up with the plans, check the essentials, make some recommendations and drive off.

That’s all.

The carpenter might need to be called in to make some modifications, the plasterer then has to re-do that back wall now that it has been moved two feet that way, and close off the second dining room.

The painter, who comes in after the wood and plasterwork is done doesn’t have to worry about anything except what colour goes where.

Now, let’s take the same example, and get a multi-skilled architect/plumber/carpenter/plasterer/painter to do everything, all at once. It’d be a shemozzle.

That’s why I recommend that you print, sweep, edit, print, sweep, edit, etc. until your goals are met.

My current set of sweeps, going from the macro to the micro, looks like this:

  1. Story
  2. Language
  3. Correctness

But you could easily break these up into finer goals if you’re inclined, or if you have people who are particularly good at certain things. For example, getting a member of your target audience to check your story is great: so long as they understand that it’s a draft and far from perfect, they will be able to give you valuable insight into where the story falls down, if it’s gripping or tantalising or entertaining (or the antonyms of these).

Likewise, if you know a stickler for grammar, grab them by the scruff of the neck and help distribute the load. If they refuse, you can always bait them into helping you out:

You – “Hmm. I might have put the apostrophe in the wrong spot. And is it right to end a sentence in a preposition?”

Stickler – “Huh? Where? Wait, is this just a trick to rope me into correcting your book?”

You – “Never! But, now that you mention it…”

My only rule here is that you cannot perform the sweeps in parallel. Well, as you get to the pointy end, it ain’t so hard and fast, since the structure isn’t going to change a lot, but if you try and do grammar and spelling and language and story all at once, you’re going to need to do it all again, anyway.

One idea I have been toying with, to ease the pain somewhat, is using a versioning tool like SVN to track changed between ‘versions’, much the same as I would track changes in software. I’m not sure how it would work, or if it would actually provide any benefit, but I’m willing to give it a crack on my next book. I’ll let you know how I go.

So what do I mean by Story, Language and Grammar? I’ll fill you in on my next post.