Another unexpected turn

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I was getting a new proof of my in-progress novel, due to the changes and other work I had done on the manuscript during December and January. I was looking forward to receiving it. I wanted to see how the color change to the cover worked out, but more importantly, I wanted to read those troublesome scenes I had worked on and slayed.

When I received the proof, the cover wasn’t exactly as I’d hoped, but the corrections I need to make are simple. The manuscript, however, was a disappointment. It’s a curious thing; two sections I believed I had made great strides in, turned out to be awful. Another portion was about what I thought it would be; not great, but not terrible, it would need some fine tuning. The last thing I worked on ended up reading the best, surprise, surprise. Go figure.

The real tragedy in all this, though, is that I have developed an intense loathing for the work. I despise it. The sub-par drivel I read smothered all creativity and interest in writing anything at all. I tried to focus on a different story. I thought about it for a day or two, it’s an interesting little tale, but my interest waned the minute I tried to do any kind of work on it, no matter how simple.

My inner critic is a harsh, blunt, bitch who pulls no punches. Hack is a favorite taunt, which always puts me in mind of Sade’s advice that those “who wish to write but have no aptitude for it would be better off making shoes for ladies and boots for men.” Hello, I’m considering becoming a cobbler. The quote, by the way, was part of a scathing rebuttal to a critic, whom Sade deemed a hack.

With a lack of enthusiasm, I turned my attention to another project, one in need of extensive work. The plan was to gut about 80%, rewrite most of what remained, and come up with fresh material. I started a new document, copying and pasting certain chapters from the original draft, nothing more than busy work, really. I ended up transferring more chapters than I thought were salvageable, as well as new notes I had typed up several months back. In all, a little over 98,000 words. Of course, a lot needs to be deleted or changed, but looking over those notes, I felt that sliver of excitement again.

I’m a slow writer, I work when I can, but that means living with a project for a very long time. For me, the adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ applies to my situation. As much as I may love a work, I need to step back once in a while. In some ways, it’s like family on major holidays; you enjoy spending time with them, for the most part, but it’s exhausting, and you can’t wait to get the hell away from them and hang out with other people.

 

Manuscript organization

As a story grows and becomes more concise, the working manuscript can become difficult to navigate. I find this especially true the deeper I get into a project. I have a few methods for keeping track of things and getting them where they belong.

Transcribed audio notes. I’m big on recording, whether it’s quick thoughts on a bit of dialogue or flash of inspiration for a scene, to marathon brainstorming sessions for working out plot points or sorting through an obstacle. Early in a project, I’ll type them in a separate document, then copy and paste into the relevant chapter. These notes can include dialogue that needs little to no reworking, and anything from basic to heavily detailed ideas on how a scene needs to play out. I sometimes discuss subtext. The great thing is that I use the notes as writing prompts. Repetition occurs often at this stage, but it gets addressed later.

Highlighting. Ninety-nine percent of the time, those notes aren’t perfect. When I put them in my working manuscript, I need to differentiate them from the well thought out, well written parts. Enter highlighting. I’m partial to ‘classic blue’ from the old days, so that’s my go-to (hint: the hex color code is #CFE7F5). I highlight notes, half-formed paragraphs, or portions that need work. I like the light blue because it’s easy on the eyes, yet still easy to spot when scrolling through page after page of text. When I order early proofs of my incomplete book, I leave those highlighted paragraphs in place. The color isn’t so dark that I can’t read the text on the page, but the light gray boxes are noticeable when riffling through pages.

The shuffle. Remember how I mentioned repetition before? That’s where what I call the shuffle comes in. Since those partial ideas are highlighted, I can scan over them and begin to put similar ideas one after the other by cutting and pasting. I also put things in the logical order they’re meant to occur. After that, I start to eliminate the duplicates, choosing the best written, or combining elements of several. I refer to this step as either winnowing, whittling, or parsing down, removing the highlighting when appropriate. It’s not unusual during these two steps for me to start writing; as things become more cohesive in written form in front of me, I’m prompted to continue the thought.

Highlighters. Not to be confused with highlighting, discussed above. I’m talking the physical highlighter markers. When proofing a hard copy, I’ll use one color to mark the easy items; simple punctuation, a word to cut, etc. If need be, I’ll write a quick correction in pen on a sticky note with a number, which I’ll jot in the margin of the sentence in my proof. If I have something pitiful that’s in need of work, I generally make a bracket around the paragraphs that need surgery.

Flair pens. This is a new bit of fun for me. My most recent proof copy (already obsolete) had a lot of notes that were all over the place in a couple of chapters. It was getting a bit overwhelming. I picked up a couple packages of different colored Flair pens for some precise organizing. I needed to arrange the sequence of events in those sections, but with the notes scattered, I had to easily identify what went where. I sat down with the proof and my pens, combing over the pages. I assigned a specific bracket color and letter to sections that belonged together for one part; for instance ‘A’ in sky blue. The next section was ‘B’ in magenta, followed by ‘C’ paragraphs in green. With that sorted out, I could quickly shuffle the paragraphs on my computer file by referencing the physical book.

It may seem a bit meticulous, but it’s a system that works for me. Over the last two months, I’ve made great headway, inching ever closer to completing the novel.

Next proof

It’s getting to be that time again. Since about Christmas, I’ve done a decent amount of work on the novel; minor edits and corrections, more substantial revisions, and writing necessary scenes that only existed in note form. Since I don’t work on chapters in chronological order, it’s easy to forget what I’ve changed or written. The novel is a lengthy one, and I’ve mentioned before how buying proof copies proves more economical in the long run. Even though I got my last proof at the very beginning of December, I’m already in need of another.

I’m looking forward to this one. Reading the important changes I made on paper, instead of a computer screen, will be beneficial;  easier to read, proof, and polish. Last time out, I tried a glossy cover instead of matte. Scratches became visible very quickly, and the laminate was peeling from the book edge on the back cover.

I decided to change the colors. Instead of a black background with gold text, I’ve moved to blue with silver. This next proof, which I’ll order in about ten days, will be matte. There’s still a lot to be done with the manuscript, but I continue to make headway.

 

Making progress

It’s a fact; when writing, an author always comes up against obstacles. Some of these can be relatively small things, easily resolved. Coming up with the ‘just right’ name of a town, or character, for instance. Other things are more weighty; trying to figure out how to get from point A to point C when point B is eluding you. Some time and thought will eventually solve that issue. Then there are those things that you know are in dire need of revising, reworking. You have the notes, the ideas, you know what changes need to be made, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it, because the early draft of that scene or chapter provokes cringes you didn’t think were humanly possible. What to do?

I’ve been running up against that last situation for a while now. I had a scene, a rather important scene, nay, a very important scene, the first draft of which, in retrospect, was trash. Embarrassingly bad trash. A few months ago, I made changes to the very beginning of the chapter, that was the easy part, but every time I attempted to work on what followed, I managed to find something else to do. Finally, I bit the bullet. I decided no matter how painful, no matter how many times I might wince or roll my eyes in disgust, I had to do the work, distasteful as it would be.

I took advantage of the four-day holiday weekend. After catching up with small edits to preceding chapters, I confronted my nemesis, my personal Goliath. I was determined to get a workable, readable draft of the chapter before the weekend was out. And I did it, finishing up late Christmas afternoon. When I read the early draft, written years ago, I realized it had a crudeness and ugliness to it that may have worked, initially, but the story has evolved into something else. Something far better, and the revisions I made completely change the tone of the scene, so it now aligns with both my overall vision and other existing chapters, not to mention, it dovetails perfectly with the following scene, a pivotal point in the book that ends the chapter.

By the end of the three day endeavor, I was exhausted, but it was worth the undertaking. Slaying that giant, moving that boulder blocking my path, sorting through the clutter of words, keeping what was useful and discarding the rest, was a great way to wrap up the year.

 

KDP Cover template generator

Lately, I’ve noticed more people on forums or message boards talking about print book cover errors or sizing issues on KDP Print. They ask for help and more often than not, the answer they’re given doesn’t solve their problem. I find this strange, since the most straight-forward answer is out there, if you take the time to look. I’m talking about one piece covers, not separate jpgs uploaded to the Cover Creator.

CreateSpace had a book cover template generator, in which you’d input some basic information, and a template for a one piece wrap around cover would be created for download. It would add in for the bleed, and take the guesswork out of spine width, making it an easier process for the author and/or artist. KDP Print has a template generator, too, but it’s a little bit buried on KDP’s website. Below is both a step-by-step with screenshots, and a quick video explaining where to find the template creator.

First, go to kdp.amazon.com. On the upper right hand side, click on ‘help.’ You don’t need to log in to your account. Or, enter kdp.amazon.com/cover-templates then skip to the third paragraph down about the Paperback Cover Template page.

You’ll see a greeting, Hi, can we help you? On the right hand side, under the section Prepare Your Book, click on ‘See all formatting resources.’Screencap1

The next page will have three blocks of information. We’re concerned with the middle one for Paperbacks. The first thing you’ll see is Free Tools and Resources  with a bullet ‘Try our manuscript and cover templates.’ Click on the word ‘cover.’Screencap2

You’re now at the Paperback Cover Template page. On the far left is where you input your information. First, enter your trim size (the finished size of your book) from the pull down menu. Next, enter the page count. This is another area where some people make mistakes. This is for the entire number of pages in your document, including all front and back matter. Your word processing program will have a page count (in LibreOffice it’s in the bottom left of the Writer application). Or, if you’ve already exported to PDF, your previewer or Adobe reader will tell you how many pages. Enter the total page count. Finally, enter the type of paper you want for your book’s interior. This is important, since creme is heavier than white and will affect the width of the spine. Once all your info is entered, click the yellow Download cover template button.Screencap3

The template generates immediately and downloads as a zip file. Open that and you’ll find two files in your folder, a PDF and a PNG file. You can open either one in Photoshop, Illustrator, or other program to create your cover.

When you set-up your title on KDP, make sure your trim, page count, and paper color are the same as you entered for your cover template. KDP Print defaults to 6 X 9 trim size, for instance, and you’ll notice in the above photo, the template creator defaults to white for the paper color. Make sure everything matches, and you shouldn’t have a problem.

Two projects and KDP

I’ve been at something of a stand still with the novel for several months. As a result, I focused on other things as a means to avoid and procrastinate. Recently, however, I started focusing on a second project that, frankly, is a mess. I spent a good amount of time doing some brainstorming and dictating notes, and I’m happy to say the new material and direction is very much to my liking. Of course, with this being another very old story under heavy revision, there’s a lot of old material that needs to be discarded.

I may have mentioned before that when one of my manuscripts gets to be a little long, I order proof copies. Full disclosure: I’m a slow writer and write longer novels so the page and word count gets up there. When figuring the cost of material (reams of paper, inkjet cartridges) and time needed to print, it’s not economical to print a copy from my computer. In fact, for the price of about two reams of paper, or a little less than half of one inkjet cartridge for my printer model, I can get a proof copy in less than a week.

Some have complained lately about lengthy wait times for proofs from KDP, especially since CreateSpace is in its death throes — or perhaps they’re already planning the funeral. Here’s my recent experience.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to order a proof each for my still-working-on-it novel Iniquitous Desires, and another book I’m planning. The second one is an amalgam of the story’s first incarnation, portions of another, abandoned, story, and new notes. I ran into an issue with Iniquitous (which I detail below), but the other book upload went off without a hitch. I requested a proof and waited until the following day, Black Friday, to order (TIP: if you don’t want a paltry $9.00 or $10.00 charge on your credit card, buy an Amazon gift card and use that to purchase your proof.) The order confirmation said I’d receive my book the following Thursday. Fair enough. Imagine my surprise when I had an e-mail Monday morning saying the proof had shipped and would be delivered Tuesday. And, sure enough, it arrived.

On all my previous books, my play and the episode guides, I opted for glossy covers. When I ordered my first proof of Iniquitous from CreateSpace early this year, I chose matte. I went with matte for this new title as well and, although everybody and their cousin insists glossy is gauche, it has its merits. Observe:

Notice what appear to be white smudges? That’s after handling the book for maybe a half hour. Matte is not a dark color’s friend. The red also reads better in a photo for some reason than when holding the physical book. This cover was submitted with a CMYK color profile (something that’s necessary when using Ingram Spark, at 240% TAC no less, which deadens the color even more). KDP is more flexible. You can upload a cover in RGB and they’ll do their best to color match when converting to CMYK, usually with good results (some colors, like vibrant blues or purples turn out terrible). Here’s the cover in RGB (font change pending):

Corvid Cover copy

Snazzy, huh? Next time I order a proof, it will be glossy to compare. Now, about that Iniquitous proof…

As I mentioned, I had ordered a proof for ID through CreateSpace at the beginning of the year, then left it as a draft. Somewhere around March or April, while I was madly updating the episode guides, CreateSpace was in the beginning of its downward spiral. The writing was on the wall for anyone paying attention. Fed up with books being suppressed and requests to prove rights, I began moving my small catalog over to KDP. It was a painless process, but the only thing I couldn’t do was transfer my ID draft. I didn’t view it as a problem since I wasn’t using a free ISBN. I closed my CreateSpace account.

Last week, as I merrily set up the title on KDP, I hit a snag. KDP kept throwing up an error message that the ISBN I was entering was a CreateSpace owned number. It most certainly was not. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts and some muttered profanity, I couldn’t continue setting up my book. KDP politely kept asking me to fix the errors so it could process my title. I sent them a message, explaining about the previous draft and my inability to transfer it at the time I closed the account, and that the ISBN was from my imprint. I received a prompt reply, sympathetic to my plight, and assurances the web and tech team would be put on it and I’d hear back in two to three days. Since it was a long holiday weekend, I allowed for extra time.

Surprisingly, I received an e-mail on Monday from the same customer support person informing me the situation had been resolved, and it had been. My most up-to-date proof of ID should arrive early next week. At the last second, before submitting the request for a proof, I backtracked and changed the cover to glossy. We’ll see how it looks.

The most interesting thing is that now that I have a tangible, albeit chaotic, version of Scarlet Corvid to look through, I’m now more interested in working on Iniquitous. I suppose it’s a mind-game, a little psychological trick I play with myself to get motivated. Iniquitous is actually in fairly good shape compared to the shambles of Corvid. Sorting out the disarray in SC can give my mind a break from ID, and ID will be, for the most part, an orderly respite from the insanity of SC.

 

Level of engagement when writing

While doing a stream of consciousness recording last night, I began talking about my novel-in-hiatus, as well as another project, and some valuable insight emerged. I started talking about the new approach I undertook to rework another old manuscript.

Several weeks ago, I sat down with a notebook to brainstorm ideas to develop an early draft of another book (I plot or plan a story to have a good foundation, the skeleton and muscle, so to speak. Once that exists, the fleshing out and dressing up can occur more spontaneously). I made the decision to be methodical, clinical, and, most importantly, dispassionate as I worked. This approach helped. I’d write something down and was able to coolly and logically say, “that’s good,” “no, that’s not right,” or “this has potential and could possibly work.” At one point, I remember becoming excited about an idea, the old “yes! That’s awesome! I’m really — ” Disengage, my analytical brain said, be more workmanlike, and I listened.

This was an interesting process, not being emotionally invested. It’s because of that investment that I believe I (and other authors) flame out. In my case, I put the characters in my hiatus novel through the wringer; it’s emotionally and psychologically grinding. It’s exhausting for me because I became so invested in their world and their “lives.” I believe I have to be emotionally invested if the story is going to have any semblance of legitimacy or plausibility. That insistence on my part may be detrimental, along with an annoying perfectionist streak that only appears when writing.

I write third person omniscient; that fly on the wall, observing events and characters, but also possessing the ability to jump inside their heads. I see what they do, but at the same time, know their motivations, and what they think and feel (physically and emotionally). It’s a lot of baggage. Not for me, personally, but when writing, I’m carrying theirs all at once. I’m the porter, the bellhop, weighted down with however many characters’ burdens, machinations, doubts, fears, etc. That takes big shoulders, but even so, I have to shake that off and take a break (and none of them tip!).

Still on the hiatus novel, it’s not like when I was doing the earliest draft, when the ideas came fast and furious and I just wrote them down. Now, it’s the hard work, rewriting. A lot of good came out of the rewrite, but it’s become a much more complex story. It’s draining. I was on a writing high when working that early draft, filled with yeah, this is good! enthusiasm,  (for what it was, it was okay). I didn’t have the long-term investment like I do now with this incarnation. I went deeper, into the heart and soul of it, burrowing down into its core. I realize I’ve been working on it for so long, with so many detailed notes, it’s become difficult to approach this novel dispassionately. I may have to detach myself from it in order to complete it, but even that’s a balancing act.

I used to see the advice of “write for yourself.” If I follow that, I can always let the novel lie and die. After all, I know how the story ends.

Utilizing audio in your writing

I was going to write a post about my grand plans for adding an external monitor to my work space. It’s a nice one, but it’s not working out the way I wanted or hoped. All that effort comparing models, price, etc. wasted. Perhaps it’s just a period of adjustment.

I was beyond pleased the other night when I discovered some items for the novel written out on a couple of legal pads. I’ll be adding those things today and also wanted to take a look at another chapter that needs notes crafted into actual, readable, prose. I have some recordings about that chapter that I’d like to revisit, I just have to find them.

Perhaps I mentioned this before. I use a digital recorder in my writing process. This started with the episode guides. I’d watch an episode, taking handwritten notes, then I’d dictate those notes into a recorder. The episode was fresh in my mind, and sometimes, I’d recall something that I hadn’t written down, or an inconsistency, plot hole, or call back to an earlier episode. I didn’t plan on keeping any of those recordings, but they were fun to listen to because of the looseness. They were quite raw, occasionally filled with obscenities, rants, and laughing jags. I’ve saved most of them. Alas, very early ones were deleted due to the first recorder I was using not having capability of file transfer. I honestly didn’t think I’d be saving them. I lost well over two hundred entries.

On that first, inferior, recorder, I also began making notes for various works in progress. This novel, surprisingly, wasn’t one of them. I didn’t think I’d dig it out of the trunk and do anything with it. How wrong I was. With the purchase of a better recorder (stereo, Mp3 files, and USB transfer), not only was I making my episode guide recordings, but I started talking through the novel. There were a lot of things that needed to be changed, developed, or sorted out, and using the recorder was a way to do that. It quickly became apparent that I’d need a second, dedicated recorder solely for the novel. Purchase made.

recorders

I usually do those recordings at night, over a drink or cup of tea. Hit record and start talking. For parts of the story that were nebulous, stream of consciousness rambling eventually got me to something substantial and concrete. And since it’s recorded, I can listen back, and it settles in my subconscious, so the next recording is more to the point, more focused (and, sometimes, parts are worded exactly the same). I resolved two major issues using this process. The number of files was high, but eventually I got it. Unfortunately, transcribing all those files can be overwhelming, especially when some run up to forty-five minutes. Some, however, are a concise two or three minutes; a quick note to add something to a scene, or dialogue.

Part of the reason I like using a recorder is because it’s immediate; think it, speak it, and it’s there. Although I’m a fast typist, I would still lose things. Another benefit is emotion or enthusiasm. I find that when I’m immersed in a dictation, emotion, vocal inflection, and tone of voice for the characters in a given situation come through. Angry, confused, delighted, sorrowful, it’s there. And the beauty of it is, I can listen back to those files and hear what I intend to convey in the written word. My stories have plot, of course, but they are also very character driven, and tend to have a lot of layers. This method helps in those areas as well. It’s also useful to read a chapter into one and see if the writing has the right flow and rhythm, and gauge whether the words make sense and are accessible to readers.

For me, reorders are as essential a tool as pen, paper, and computer.

 

Reading, writing, soon to be reviewing

Unfortunately, other things kept me from getting much writing done the last two weekends, but things are looking good going forward; pesky, specific errands are out of the way and my calendar is clear. In fact, last night, lying in bed, I had a thought that would make for a good sentence in a paragraph I had written earlier in the day. I got up, grabbed a flashlight, and made for the next room, where I jotted it down on a legal pad. All that for one sentence. Thing is, I knew I’d forget it if I didn’t make the effort. So many words, sentences, and paragraphs have been lost in the past due to inaction. I used to do a great deal of ‘head’ writing while lying in bed back in the day. Thankfully, I’ve moved away from that, it’s only occasionally that I have an idea in those moments. I’ve successfully retrained my brain to avoid thinking plot and character developments when I should be catching zzzs.

I’m also in the process of reading a fantastic book. I honestly haven’t been this engrossed, excited, or blown away in a long time. I’m enjoying it so much, I slowed my pace to make it last. Of course, I had to order another title or two by the author right away, convinced I’ll need another fix sooner rather than later. I’m holding off on saying anything about the title until I do a review, although I’ve mentioned the book and author on Twitter.

Hoping I get at least a little writing in tonight, then, back to reading.

My subconscious strikes again

I’ve been toying with an idea for a possible novella. Over the weekend, I hit upon an idea for a scene and  started thinking it through, jotting notes, fragments of conversation, etc. Last night, I started to wonder why that new scene focused so much on a particular thing.

This morning, it dawned on me. I realized the story had an underlying theme that could be summed up in one word. One word, that can be applied in various ways. It wasn’t my intention. All I set out to do was write a straightforward horror story, leaving subtext, complexity, and deeper meaning to my novel.

But that’s not the way my mind works. This isn’t the first time this has happened either, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a new idea, so it seems a little foreign.

My subconscious always seems to be miles ahead of my conscious thought when it comes to writing. I often have difficulty catching up to it, but when in synch, the words can’t stop flowing.