Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Learning to Use a Document Map Saved My Bacon

When I first started writing a novel, I simply wrote. I had no idea of where to put chapter breaks, formatting, or such stuff as that. It all flowed into one long, frightening Word document. All 250+ pages of it. When I finished and printed it out I wanted to cry. How on earth was I supposed to edit this? I didn't want to make each chapter its own file. At that point, I didn't even know where the chapters began and ended.

That was four manuscripts ago, and while I know I have much to learn, I have picked up a few tips along the journey. Sometime last year I stumbled upon a great tutorial via Iain Broome over at the Write for Your Life website. He explained how using the Document Map feature in Word can help you organize your book. It was a revelation for this very basic Word user.

I can't afford fancy writing software at the moment, so I pretty much do everything in Word. Learning to use the Document Map feature has kept me from endlessly scrolling through acres of pages, trying to find out where a certain clue or character was introduced.

I find it also works well for my daily job. I've been able to organize 20 pages of a transcribed interview into a coherent white paper and wrestle a tangle of testimonials into a navigable document. I only wish I knew about it when I was writing my master's thesis. That would have saved me from several panicked moments. If you're a newbie like me trying to figure out how to organize your manuscript, I highly recommend heading over to Write for Your Life and checking out the video.

Do you use any special editing software? Have you learned any other tricks in Word that would help a writer out?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Putting Structure into the Self-Editing Process

Once I finished the novel, I outlined how I wanted my editing process to go:

1. One big read through of draft--general notes made on continuity, plot holes, characters, clues, etc. I also write a brief synopsis of each chapter for quick reference.

2. Substantive plot edit--fixing plot holes, research questions, making the whole thing make sense.

3. Character edit--putting the "paint" on the structure, if you will. Ensuring they drive the plot and their reactions are consistent.

4. Line edits--a tough look at syntax, cohesion, flow, etc.

5. Proofreading--check on basic grammar, punctuation, formatting, etc.

At the moment, I am supposed to be concentrating on #2. What is taking me so long, though, is that I keep trying to roll it together with #'s 3, 4, and 5. Which means the pace of the editing is going super slow. It's also unwise, I think, because I'll spend a lot of time crafting a character's reaction to a scene that might get cut.

I think I need to set some more concrete goals, time-wise, for getting through the plot edit. Any suggestions? What process do you have for editing your novel?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hearing Voices

Last week I wrote two pieces of copy. When my boss handed them back to me, he said, "They're both good, but I enjoyed this one more." I knew which one he meant before he told me.

Why? I think it came down to voice. On the one piece I had a clear picture of the audience I was writing for and exactly what kind of tone I wanted to talk to them in. I could hear it in my head. If I was speaking with them on the street, this is how I would say it, I thought. And I went with that.

For the other piece of writing, the voice was murkier and more technical. I wasn't as sure-footed in what  I was going to say. It was still a solid piece of writing, but it lacked the punch of the other copy.

I'm noticing this a lot in my revisions. I see places where the writing picks up and zips along compared to places where it's all a little flat. A lot of times it comes down to the fact that I couldn't see the story in my head at the time or even the characters. I have to readjust myself and get back into their world. This just happened to her, how would she react to it?

It's often why, before I sit down to write, I have to start thinking about the world the characters inhabit. I have a hard time sitting down "cold," if you will, and immediately picking up their voices. Even if it's just on the drive to the coffeeshop or while I'm loading the dishwasher before I get into the writing, I try to warm it all up in my head.

What do you do to grab that voice that is so important? Can you sit down "cold" or do you have to warm up to your writing?