Indie Author Coat of Arms!

Slide6Celebrate Indie Authorship with this colorful reminder of our Independence! If we’re not having fun writing, we’re not doing it right!

Thanks to  Ali Isaac for her comment on Life Imitating Art Imitating Life…., which gave me the idea for this post.

Click on the image to print this poster, to go with your copies of Desiderwriter and the Authors’ Anthem. All handouts will be available on the Downloads page, too (see main menu, above).

Please advise if any of the PDFs don’t load or print correctly. I’ve used a large number of decorative fonts in my downloadable documents. If ugly, sans-serif fonts are substituted, it means the decorative fonts didn’t embed properly. Thanks!

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Life Imitating Art Imitating Life….

Idea_Bulb_animatedWe now turn to the last of The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing: Being led by inspiration rather than trying to control the performance of the tale. It’s at this hurdle that many writers come a cropper.

Why? Because of one word. A four-letter word. A four-letter “F-word.” Fear.

Fear of failure. Writing failure. This is not a natural fear. Many of us can recall the proud day when we first wrote one of our own ideas. (Or, our children’s first writing experiences.) Often, the first composition is an early school assignment, lovingly illustrated in crayon by the young child. No fear there. Here is what I remember:

By the time I was four years old, I had learned to read and write. Then I started kindergarten, and made my first new acquaintance: a school bus seatmate, who was a little blond boy named Danny. I don’t recall what we talked about, but it was so new to share experiences with someone my own age (my sister was almost two years younger than I) that after I came home one afternoon, I wanted to preserve the event for posterity. I found a piece of paper and a pencil, and I wrote, “Danny M. is my” but I didn’t know how to spell “friend.” I knew what to do about that, however, because the word was in one of the storybooks on my toy shelf. I found the book, turned to the page I needed, and carefully copied the word. Then I showed my magnum opus to my mother.

At age 5, I had written my own thought, and even knew how to research and edit my own work. No fear there, either.

So, when does the fear of writing failure begin? I believe it’s when a child is given a writing assignment and is told, This is how you must write. Suddenly there are many rules to be memorized and meticulously applied, to regulate what used to be private property: the voice inside one’s head. The words that were once joyfully absorbed from reading, and subsequently formed spontaneous thoughts, now must be produced upon demand of an authority figure who pronounces judgment on those thoughts – punctuated with a red pencil.

The fear grows as the complexity of the rules and the pressure to follow them increase. Soon the child must write a whole paragraph of words, and do it within a classroom time limit. Then the deadline invades the home: a whole page of paragraphs, due on Monday.

Finally, the child is tasked with producing multiple pages of writing, on a topic about which the child may never have thought deeply enough for thorough understanding, or even to form an opinion. Even worse, those thoughts that the child never had the opportunity to think, must now be presented in advance, in the form of an orderly summary called an “outline.” Neglect the requirements, and face disciplinary action, such as a failing mark for the assignment.

The result is often conditioned compliance. When I was writing my first novel, and mentioned it to a friend, she told me that she’d had a story idea for many years, but she would never have the time to write it, because she’d “have to think it all the way through, first,” and then write it down, from beginning to end.

Writing is therapeutic, and some form of writing should be a part of everyone’s life. It should be accomplished in whatever manner makes it easy, enjoyable, encourages creativity, communicates clearly, and adds to the meaning or beauty of existence. Any theory or practice that prevents someone from achieving these goals – especially, anything that inhibits writing – should be avoided.

That’s why I’m a pantser. Planning my writing is anathema: my brain just doesn’t work that way. I have outlined only under duress (while I was in public school, and for one university English Composition assignment). This means that I had to hurry and write the papers in advance, and then analyze them, to extract an outline. No teacher ever knew the difference, and because my papers were done early, I had plenty of time to proofread and polish them. I never had to outline a graduate school paper, so I pantsed all of them, too. All of my academic writing received the highest marks.

I pantsed Irish Firebrands. I wrote what I felt like writing: beginnings, middles and ends of scenes. I wrote the end of the story before I was sure about the beginning. I edited as I wrote, eventually all the holes zipped shut, and I never suffered from writer’s block.

Should all writers adopt these habits? Probably not, because we’re not clones (for which fact, people of faith will thank God, fasting). But too many writers feel rule-induced insecurity about their writing: a state of affairs that writing gurus and gatekeepers ruthlessly exploit, issuing dire warnings about undisciplined Indie Authors, and the need for their expert evaluation and control.

The only rules that matter are the ones that affect the ability of Written Art to communicate: The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing. Any literate person can master them. Writing is neither brain surgery nor rocket science, and it’s not like herding cats.

PietaMichelangelo had to sculpt Mary much larger than the life-sized Christ, in order for his composition of the Pietà to work.* This is not  considered to be an error, but is called “artistic license.” The sculpture is successful because it communicates. Authors are Artists, too, and we’re entitled to exercise our own artistic liberties. We can adopt the philosophy of the late landscape artist Bob Ross: “We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents.”

link to tcm

Click image to watch clip

I have no idea how much rehearsal went into polishing this motion picture scene, but like editing a story, it had to be a considerable amount. What I do know, is that all three Marx Brothers were well over age 40 when they made the film: gleefully cavorting for the camera regardless of possible opinions about appropriate acting roles for middle-aged men. The film might not have garnered critical acclaim, and it might not have made much money, but at least, they’d had fun trying to get a laugh.”

If Actors can have fun performing their Art, why must Authors fear performing our Art?

If we’re not having fun, we’re not doing it right.

I’ll be looking for you, on the other side of the mirror….

* Michelangelo also had to assert copyright for the Pietà. When he overheard people arguing about which artist had produced the piece, he went back that night and carved his name into one of the straps securing Mary’s garment.

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Filed under Art, Editing, Literature, Painting, Writing

The Joys of Editing

Pencil_broken_in_halfWriting gurus repeatedly issue august pronouncements, such as, “Professional editing is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.” The perception seems to be that “Indie Author” means “Independently wealthy but foolishly stingy dilettante scribbler.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The going rate for editing is 1½ to 2 cents (that’s $0.015 to $0.02 USD) per word, paid in advance. Depending on whose counter is used, Irish Firebrands clocks in at 196,131 to 199,230 words. Anyone can do the math, even without a calculator. The editing fee would be on top of three years of writing labor without pay (plus research expenses); and, mind you, this is for a service that bears the caveat that no guarantee or warranty will be made as to the subsequent merchantability of the manuscript.

Slide1This writer happens to be a pensioner who is living far below the poverty line, and hiring an editor would have meant going into mortgage foreclosure, or else having the gas, electricity, municipal services (water, sewerage, garbage collection), telephone and internet disconnected, due to being in arrears. So, if I had hired an editor for Irish Firebrands, I’d have destroyed my credit rating, and might be living in a box under a bridge – but, hey, at least I could have said that the unmarketable manuscript I was using for campfire tinder had been “professionally edited.”

Sculptors and painters are not told that they must get their works edited by others, before they can put their Art on the market. If other Artists can be trusted to know what they’re doing, why can’t Writing Artists be trusted, too?

It’s not a question of formal education: the days of apprenticeship to an Art guild are long past, and even the MFA degree is no guarantee of success in any genre of Art. If other Artists can be legitimately self-taught, so can Writers; and by extension, Writers can also be legitimately self-taught editors. The tools of the editing trade are a grammar textbook and a dictionary.

Even if you re-write as you write (as I do), when you reach “The End,” that’s the beginning of proofreading and editing. These strategies helped locate most (but not all) of the things that needed fixing in Irish Firebrands:

  1. Saved chapters as separate documents. It was much more manageable to wrestle baby alligators instead of The Big Mama.
  2. Used a spreadsheet program to track chapter word count. To do this, I made the program exhibit a color-coded bar graph. This helped keep the chapters reasonably uniform in length (roughly 5,000-6,250 words, about 30-40 minutes’ reading).firebrands stats
  3. Used a notepaper cube to jot down a brief description of each scene, flagged with chapter number. One sentence was enough. This helped find a couple of scenes that were in the wrong place, and it revealed small plot holes.
  4. Checked POV by writing down the point-of-view character in each scene, along with the sentence describing the main event. This was to see if there were any “wandering POV” problems (there weren’t), and to decide if the best character was chosen to portray the POV in each scene (one swap made here).
  5. 20 weeksPut the story on a calendar. This helped ensure continuity, as well as to keep things like seasons, the weather, and cultural stuff in context. (Irish Firebrands takes place from May 2007 to December 2008. Image shows the first 20 weeks.)
  6. Programmed the spelling & grammar checker to do only one or two tasks at a time.
  7. Converted each chapter to Adobe PDF, and used Adobe’s “Search” function to ensure that as many spelling and grammar issues as possible were found and fixed. An Adobe PDF was also easier to read and spot errors, especially when displayed book-style. The full-screen view helped with page-by-page proofing (black background, no distracting sidebars).
  8. Read the manuscript on a CRT monitor, not just an LCD screen. Trust me: it made a difference.
  9. Printed it in various formats: first as a double-spaced manuscript (and used a red pencil to mark changes); then each chapter in “book fold” format, single-spaced, to see it as it might appear on a real page.
  10. Read the chapters in reverse order. This helps prevent the brain from making a sort of Gestalt out of what’s being read. A Gestalt obscures the appearance of errors when reading chronologically, by making you perceive the whole instead of its parts.

Some specific editing flags and tasks:

  1. Failure to communicate: GUBU grammar can happen to anybody.
  2. Vocabulary: context clues lacking, or terms inadequately or unnecessarily defined.
  3. Continuity issues: Person, place, time, subject or scene out of order, or lacking follow-up.
  4. Information dump: Excessive or unnecessary detail in summary or expository paragraphs, and ruminations or dialogue that were not appropriate in content and quantity. Back-story or background information had to establish the setting or character, foreshadow or justify action, be in character for the speaker to think or talk about it, and be reasonable for one character to want to say it to another character.
  5. Couldn’t tell the players without a scorecard: Inadequate or incorrect dialogue attribution tags (didn’t find any).
  6. Typographical and punctuation errors: This included italic words and punctuation (some of these still escaped). The decision whether or not to use “Oxford commas” should be consistent.
  7. Made sure that every idiomatic expression, cliché, alternative verb, adjective and adverb maintained voice or developed characters.
  8. Checked that research truths plausibly glued together the fictitious stuff.
  9. Rooted out any possible copyright infringement and made all necessary acknowledgments.
  10. Examined the text for foreshadowing, repetition, symbolism and parallelisms, and made sure they linked (none of them were planned – they were all ex post facto discoveries).

Are you still awake? If so, go take a nap. If you have an editing project ahead of you – especially if you write epics, like Irish Firebrands – you’re going to need the rest.

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