Different Effort

Good morning, dear ones. Welcome to the regular Friday post, written on a new MacBook Pro that is, no doubt, smarter than I am. (But I’m learning. If I can figure out how to jump to the top and end of a MSWord for Mac document on a keyboard that has no “home” or “end” key, I think I’ll be all set.) A new laptop always makes my brain hurt during the transition period, and I don’t think i was particularly smart to switch over to a whole new operating system as well while I am struggling with a couple hairy deadlines. Ah, well. It will force the neurons to make more connections, always a good thing.

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running right now. I am nowhere near Murakami in terms of talent or in terms of running stamina–he does a marathon every year, I guess–but it’s interesting to read and see how I feel about running and writing echoed or in some cases, disagreed with. I’m not quite sure I agree with him about talent being the major prerequisite for being a novelist, but then, I’m a hack. I don’t feel like I have much talent. I feel like I’ve worked so hard for so long that certain things have become easier.

But that is (as I often say) another blog post. One of the things Murakami noted that resonated with me was the fact that writing is a grueling physical job. It may not look like it, since there is a lot of sitting at a laptop involved, but writing is a whole-body act, and the brute typing of 60-100K words (strenuous in and of itself) is not the whole story. I’ve written before about the state of focused wonder; that takes physical energy too.

I have never openly admitted this before, but writing action scenes often tires me out as much as the characters I put through hell. I often–almost invariably–develop body aches and actual bruises in spots where a main character has been injured. My jury is out on whether it’s psychosomatic, a reflection of the tension and identification I feel with my characters (though I am categorically NOT my characters, thank you) or just plain crazy.

I am comfortable not knowing.

But that’s not really what I wanted to write about. Today I wanted to make the point that there are different kinds of effort involved in the writing/revision/publication process.

Reader Amanda asked last week:

I am making it through the editing, I am even up to handling the rejection-go-round. What I AM having difficulty with is after printing off my manuscript and editing it, putting the edits back into my computer.

My brain just doesn’t seem to… well. Handle it. After looking at the page and looking back at the screen and typing in stuff bit by bit for an hour I’m spent. My brain does not compute the tedious process. Any tips on how to handle that or make it easier? I don’t have a scanner or anything, and of course there’s no one else but moi to do this grunt work.

Am I just being a super-wimp or what?

You’re not a super-wimp. Editing and revising, particularly of your own work, uses a totally different set of mental and emotional (I would be willing to add physical, too) “muscles”. This is part of why I advocate a cooling-off period after finishing the zero draft and going in to make it into a reasonable first draft. The act of creation, of pulling something out of nothing, is very much like digging a well. the act of editing is like trimming trees, and the act of revision is like self-surgery. They are completely different, and they require different emotional fuel AND different ways of tricking yourself into the work.

A lot of new or novice writers make the mistake of thinking that since they’ve horked up a reasonably finished manuscript, the revision should be no problem. This is so, so wrong, and it’s one of the things I try to tell my writing students. You absolutely must treat revision as a different animal and do what it takes to acquire just a bit of emotional distance from the work you’re going to be cutting up and trying to prettify.

Here’s what I do: first of all, I schedule in time to let a book or short story sit. A short can take a day or two, a book needs a week at least. I ask for and make sure I get this time, I do what’s necessary to pad my schedule around it. That gives me time to stop looking at the piece like a new baby.

The second critical thing is this: I change the formatting.

I write in print layout in Word, single-space–somehow the idea that there are sheets of paper there helps me. When I go back to revise a work I put in page numbers, the provisional title and my last name in the header, and I double-space it as if I’m going to submit it.

For some reason, just those few little changes in the way the document looks helps me shift over into considering the book as a finished piece that needs work instead of a baby I’ve just given birth to and now need to cuddle. I have even occasionally printed out a troublesome book and gone through it with pencil and red pen and Post-Its, making notes and changes that I then feed one by one into the electronic document. After a few of those, my brain caught the idea that double-space meant we were in surgery instead of creation mode.

It’s much easier for me to edit other people’s work than my own. (Gee, what a surprise.) But a few sessions of editing exhaust me more than daily wordcount, mostly because it’s more like clearing hurdles or doing schoolwork than writing. All my critical faculties are brought to bear on the piece in question, without fear or favor, and it uses my brain very differently. The thing that helps me when I’m doing a lot of editing, believe it or not, is trashy movies. I watch a LOT of B-movies if I’m doing edit work; any film or book that requires effort instead of just-plain-watching just doesn’t happen. The movies are to let the flywheel in my brain slow down, I guess.

So, Amanda, this is normal. Try figuring out what you need in order to replace the type of mental energy you’re spending. The good news is, once you find out, you’ll be able to revise a lot more easily. The bad news? It will require just as much, or more, energy than the outright writing of the piece itself.

But then, if this was simple, we wouldn’t like it so much, would we.

Over and out.

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Sea Change

I rolled out of bed this morning feeling actually happy.

Not just like I could stand another day, not just getting up because I had to, not just like the only thing bringing me to consciousness was the alarm and the idea that soon there would be coffee replacing my blood pint by pint. No, this morning I got up and I didn’t feel like I had to force myself to paste on a chilling little half-smile in order to face the world.

I’m still wearing the half-smile. It’s facial armor, just like eyeliner. And oh my God am I happy for the coffee. As well as utterly weirded out by this sea change.

I don’t think I’ve ever rolled out of bed willingly. I’ve done it because I had to and because people were depending on me. Today I was actually a little excited to get up and see what was going to happen. I felt like things were OK-going-on-good and getting better.

This is such a huge step for me, I’m tempted to go back to bed and think it over. (Just kidding. I’m so funny.)

Anyway, I’ve decided I’m not going to over-analyze or look for holes in this feeling. I’m going to take it as a base to build my day on. I’m cautiously optimistic that the happy will stay at least until lunch. If it stays longer, great. I intend to be a good hostess for this guest, so that we can become bestest friends. I like the idea of feeling happy more often than not.

My life has changed so much in the last six months. It’s incredible. And this is the first intimation I have that the change might stick and become permanent, that I’m not going to slide back down into the hole. There were days when it was enough not to drown. Now I’ve built myself back up from rubble and it’s enough to feel pretty OK when the alarm goes off.

I like this. I think I’ll keep it.

Of course, there’s still those revisions. They were kicking my ass yesterday, but I outwaited and outplayed them, managing to get another 2K of fresh plot thread woven in. From here it’s a gallop to the finish line, and I’m going to make it on time.

Here’s hoping your day has a little happiness too, dear Reader. Over and out.

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Awesomely Utter Zaniness Is About To Commence

I got SFF Hero Conan the Barbarian dedicated to me, first thing this morning. That will put a GREAT shine on anyone’s day. Plus, I’m getting more work done, about to see if I can bump up my morning runs to 2.5 miles, and just basically looking forward to a day that is going to kick a ton of ass.

So, while I’m off humming the waltz that was playing while James Earl Jones turned into a giant snake (oh, my God, I love that scene), you could read Scalzi’s Why Publishing Will Not Go Away Anytime Soon, a very nice little three-act play. You could try to imagine the point at which I completely lost it and started laughing hysterically while nodding vigorously and screaming “Yes, YES!” so loud I’m sure the neighbors think I’m Up To No Good.

Yes, I’m in that particular stage of hyper where I can tell a book is going to break loose soon. It’s probably going to be revisions on Heaven’s Spite, which took a left turn while I was weaving in some plot tangles. I have to think about this, and I’m sure when I go back to finish it I’ll lunge through the next hundred pages of revision at warp speed and somehow discover I’ve added another 2-3K words. That’s how these things usually happen.

So, today will be a day of awesomely utter zaniness for me. I hope yours will be just as fun.

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Song Of The Week *hic*

Philip Palmer graciously invited me over to his blog-house today for the SFF Song of the Week. I managed not to break anything or mess up the floors. (I think.) If you’re interested in more Leslie Fish, her site is here.

And Philip? Next time I’m sticking to vodka. That green stuff is dangerous.

Well, I’ve revisions to stick my nose back into and fresh wordcount to pick up on several items today, including a short story that I’m really excited about but can’t announce yet. So I’ll bid you a fond farewell. Happy Wednesday! Tomorrow is Reader Question Day, I’ve got a few from the mailbag just dying to come out and play.

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Busy. Back soon.

Today is a day for clothes shopping. No, not for me. I’d rather have my skin peeled off in strips than go clothes shopping for me. But I do like going shopping for the kids. We’re doing the midyear school clothes basics tour today–jeans, T-shirts and solid sweaters, because they keep growing and this will provide a base for them when they Go To School. It’s going to be fun.

Sadly, it must be a banzai run rather than an all-day safari, because I’ve line edits to keep whaling at. Editing makes me cranky. I’m glad someone else has done most of the markup for me and I can just approve it or insert my own changes. This is the last big push before copyedits, so it will set me up for writing Dru 4–which is taking shape quite nicely, to the tune of 2K a day or thereabouts.

So, don’t expect to hear from me a lot for the rest of the week. Unless it’s a moderate amount of bitching on Twitter. That’s about all I have energy for.

Cover me. I’m going in…

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Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.