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.

 

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.

 

What’s coming up

A very brief update to say that a more substantial post will be coming soon. I’m awaiting the arrival of a DVD I’d like to review of a movie I haven’t seen in over thirty years. It will be interesting to revisit it. There’s also an interesting history attached to the title, which I’ll include in the review. With luck, I may have the review up by this weekend. If not, the holiday weekend for sure.

I’ve finally transcribed the notes I had for a second novel and have ironed out many of the kinks I had in the early planning. There are still plenty of things to be sorted out, but the hurdles I’ve overcome have put me in a positive frame of mind. I think this second novel is going to be more challenging since I’m falling into my habit of non-linear story telling. Thankfully, there are only two sections that deviate, and they’ll be easily identifiable as flashback sequences. I’m also pleased with the evolution of a particular character; they’ve become more layered and nuanced, hence, more interesting. In addition, I’ve settled on a cover image that I believe captures the essence of the story. At least I have that cleared from my mind.

I’m in desperate need of a new proof copy of the first novel. The one I have from ten months ago is basically useless now. At least the first half is, since I’ve made so many changes to, and beefed up, the early chapters. There’s still so much to do, but I never feel like I have enough time, and I haven’t gotten into the right frame of mind to continue. The lack of substantive writing nags at me, I feel like I’m being neglectful.

I surprised myself by finding an audio note file for a third novel that I accidentally stored with the notes for the second. Some good stuff in that. The mistake was understandable; the three novels are connected. My goal is to publish three novels, not a trilogy, but a trio of books that can be read as stand alones. However, reading all three would provide a much richer reading experience and, depending on the order in which the books are read, a different reading experience. Each novel has a self-contained story, but there are people, places, and events that feed into the other two. It’s an exciting idea, but ambitious. I could really use a burst of unstoppable creativity and inspiration for about two years to finish the project. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, so I’ll muddle through inch by inch.

Changing course

There’s always so much to do in the self-publishing world, and it’s exhausting. It also pulls you away from what you want to do most, write. Sometimes, I use these other things, these necessary evils, as a way to procrastinate.

The first was in finding the perfect image for the book cover. I became obsessed with it. Once I found it, I toyed with how to use it, slightly modify it, and looked for the perfect font. This was over a year ago, the book still incomplete. But I had a cover.

I distracted myself with re-issuing earlier, unrelated, books using my own ISBNs in order to have a little more control over my work. This involved learning the ins-and-outs of Bowker and IngramSpark. Easy enough, except, IngramSpark has different requirements for cover files. Another distraction, which included upgrading from Photoshop Elements to Photoshop and re-learning how to do certain actions in a more powerful program. And hey, I also switched aggregators to distribute my e-books wide. Fortunately, that’s an easy system to use, except…you know, I really need to add an active, hyperlink table of contents to those books. Let me distract myself with that for a week or so.

Okay, book cover? Check. Reissues reissued? Check. Understand how Bowker and IngramSpark work? Check. Understand enough of Photoshop to do what I need? Sure. E-book hyperlinks? Got ’em.

You know, I should really try and have an online presence. It’s what all the kids are doing nowadays, can’t be a dinosaur, can I? Yes, it’s already tough trying to get a blog post up twice a month, but, go for it. So, I created a Twitter account, which I avoided for years because I didn’t think I was succinct enough. Turns out, I am. Found some great people to follow, too. It’s so entertaining to distract myself and procrastinate reading those tweets.

Hmm, I hear about AMS ads. I should really look into that. Warning: start trying to build a list of keywords for ads and you’ll be at it for days. Or weeks. And, wouldn’t you know it, as I search for relevant words, authors, and book titles, I find books that interest me. I should order this or that book and distract myself from my writing a bit more. True story, last night, I had some books in my cart but wasn’t logged into Amazon. I closed the browser and thought, you know, I don’t really need those books. Besides, I have a stack of titles I haven’t even read yet. Screw it.

Well, after all those diversions, I’ve come to a decision that’s going to require a lot of willpower. I’m not sure I’m up to it, but, damn it, I’m going to try. No more distractions, no more procrastination. I’ve got to focus on the novel. I don’t care how small the progress, as long as it’s progress. To that end, I’ll still try to update the blog twice a month. I’ll still be checking in on Twitter, but not to waste time or procrastinate. The book is far too important.

Organization and epiphanies

Yesterday, I worked on organizing a scene in an early chapter of the novel, adding some new dialogue along the way, and deleting the duplicate, triplicate, and sometimes quadruplicate notes I had (yes, sometimes I’m like that). Of course, it’s not perfect, but at least that scene is now in the proper order. There’s more, similar, work to be done in the chapter, but it’s all coming together.

Later in the evening, over a cup of tea, I took to my digital recorder. I often do this prior to going to bed. I relax, and babble about the day’s work, or all the things that still need to be done on the project. It can sometimes become a stream of consciousness type thing. Last night, I was talking about what I accomplished earlier in the day, noting that what began as an add-on prologue (it wasn’t in the original draft), became two separate chapters that could stand alone as a short story. Then I thought, it seems like a lot of (intriguing) stuff that doesn’t have any bearing on the rest of the book, kind of a misdirection or cheat to accomplish one, minor thing……

Until my subconscious thinking smacked my conscious thinking and I realized just how important it was. Incredibly so, in fact. I delved deeper, spelunking that dark cavern of my creativity. I realized that, because I’ve been so focused on earlier chapters of the book, I had  ‘forgotten’ later chapters, when things take some wonderfully complex turns. Last night, I reminded myself of character motivations and plot points and realized how it does all tie together.

I also rambled about some other things, which I’ve always known, but found the succinct words to describe or relay the idea. I just stopped the recorder, hit play, and scribbled those out right away. Good stuff.

The full story is always there, lurking in the recesses, revealing itself, little by little. Sometimes, parts are fully and easily recognizable. Other parts appear more abstract, until I pause, observe, think, and finally see the full, multi-layered picture.

 

 

 

This and that

Update on my goings-on.

One of the books I was reading really started to irritate me at about the half-way point, so I set it aside. It can be a problem when reading a story collection of one author. Problem is, I have two more collections by the same writer on the to-be-read list. I think it will be a while before I get back to any of his works. In its place, I started to read a novel. I like it well enough for what it is, but it’s not a page-turner. More of a slow simmer type of book.

All the re-issues are out, including e-books with active ToCs. Even better, a quick check of a couple of titles on Amazon shows the correct file in the Look Inside.

Now to the important stuff. In an attempt to jump-start my writing, I thought working on something else would help. Perhaps something in a different genre. It did and it didn’t. As I began thinking things through for the new project, I quickly realized I wasn’t feeling it. There were some elements I liked, but the story lacked a purpose. The general idea, I think, would work better as a vague, ambiguous short, with no resolution. A bizarre kind of day-in-the-life.

What did happen, however, was that I turned to my novel instead. Over the holiday, I worked solely on that. Did I make a lot of headway? No, but I tackled some of the things I had been avoiding and was satisfied with the results, at least until the next round of editing. It was a good day’s work.

 

Proofs have arrived

My IngramSpark proofs have arrived for the first two DS Guide reissues. They’re……okay. Part of it is my fault. Jewel tones look  great in RGB color for e-books, but print requires CMYK, and CMYK is a cruel bitch. Add IngramSpark’s 240% total ink coverage specs and the bitch gets even more cruel. The red of volume 2 ended up being more maroon. It’s not wholly unexpected, when I was using Lulu it ended up pretty much the same. I’m kind of past caring. And I forgot to mention, I had the wrong font size on the back of volume 1 and had to fix and re-upload. Thankfully, IngramSpark is waiving fees for resubmitted files for the next two months. The crazy thing is, I’m killing myself trying to make things right for a very, very, niche audience when I could be working on this: Continue reading

Slowly getting things done

I finally finished the changes to the volume 3 manuscript. Then I had to do the e-book version. I don’t know about others, but I prefer to write in my set-up for print books, with all my painstakingly created formatting. When I first started, I had mountains of mistakes when it came to formatting a document. After a lot of trial and error, I have my preferred templates, depending on what I’m working on. The episode guides have their own, novels another. E-books have a designated template, too. For those, I do some copy-and-paste sleight of hand from my print document.

I can’t stress enough how formatting will make your life simpler. Invest the time to play around with styles & formatting. Find what you like, then make your templates. I have a style for damn near everything. For example, the signature in a letter.

Formatting pic

With the formatting marks option toggled on, notice how there are no arrows to indicate tabs in the closing and signature? That’s because I formatted a special style with a very generous before text indent. When creating a heading style for your chapter title, add the appropriate amount of space in the above paragraph option in the indents and spacing section. I work in LibreOffice because the less said about Word the better, especially as a Mac user. But I digress…in fact, I’ve gone way off track.

DS Guide volume 3. The hard part is done. I need to make a print copy cover and get a proof from CreateSpace. Unfortunately, there are no coupons available at the moment for IngramSpark to discount or waive the upload fee. And that’s a bummer. Especially since I’ll need to buy more ISBNs as well. I’m aiming to have all the previous books reissued by early July. Then maybe, maybe, I can finally get back to work on my novel. That said, I do believe I’m one of the very few who gets away with making Leland Devore wait.