Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Risk With Revisions

Since September, I've been engaged in this wonderful thing called revisions.

No, I'm not a sadist (or is it masochist? which one likes to be punished? I forget). I really do enjoy spending time with my characters in my story world.

But there are risks with revisions.

If you're like me, when you finished your first "this is it!" draft, you got your manuscript out to a handful of beta readers. They probably picked up a few (a thousand or so) mistakes.

If you happen to have a couple of extra bucks (or euros, or Thai Baht, or whatever you use) you might have even hired a proof reader who found every single stray comma, adverb, or you-name-the-offense that reared its ugly head in your manuscript.

But then something else happened... you discovered that you had holes. Or you could do some scenes better. Instead of telling the reader "He was pissed," you showed, "He pulled off his belt and bit into the leather, yelling until tears burnt his cheeks."

This is the area of risk.

The moment you make updates to the story, whether a line, a paragraph or a whole new chapter, you have introduced the possibility of silly errors. We are human after all, are we not?

What's my solution to this? No, I do not want to bother my eagle-eye readers, or pay a few hundred drakma to an editor again (apparently, my children have expectations of being fed).

Read Out Loud

When you are done, reread that chapter out loud. It may seem odd at first, but this is the most effective tool a self-editor must use. In fact, reading out loud is a critical piece of my revision process. I read the entire manuscript out loud and as I read, I find mistakes, and more importantly, lines that don't sound right.

Let Technology Work For you

Although you should (must) read out loud, you will not catch everything.

Sometimes, your eyes overlook the obvious. Example:

  • breath or breathe
  • through or though
  • lighting or lightening

We've all seen it happen. That one little letter gets passed us, just to embarrass us. After all, you've written the darn thing, and if you're like me, you know those lines so well that you can almost recite it without reading each word. Unfortunately, I am not able to turn off my automatic read-ahead mind. I'm not that disciplined.

As I've said before, I use (and love) Scrivener.

[Soap Box: If you don't use Scrivener, I don't understand. At $45, it is the single most powerful tool you will ever use as a writer. Visit my friend Gwen Hernandez's site to learn how to use it. Even better, sign up for her class.]

When I'm done editing, I highlight the paragraph in question, right-click and choose "Speech" --> "Start Talking."

(Note, you can do this in MS Word also, but I'd rather pretend that everyone uses Scrivener)

On the Mac, the voice of the reader is fairly decent. The beauty is that you hear the mistakes immediately. As I listen to the narrator, all I do is highlight words, or sections that sound odd. I don't edit right then and there. I don't want to miss other mistakes that the narrator may pick up.

In Scrivener (or Word) highlighting is fast. So you won't miss more than a micro second at best.

Or you can do this with hard copy of your manuscript at hand. Listen and follow along on the printed document. When something catches your ear, highlight it.

When you hit the end of the chapter. Correct the mistakes. But wait, you're not done. Listen to the corrected section one more time. Yes! Do it. Be picky. This is your work. Listen again. Make sure you didn't just introduce another mistake.

I use the computer narrator all the time. It's a powerful feature. And although listening to the whole book is time-intensive, it is invaluable. The things you hear, will surprise you. Also, the experience of hearing your story read back to you is fresh and powerful.

I highly recommend it. Give it a shot.

Do you have any special tricks? If you try this technique, let me know if it works for you.

Fight the good fight!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Give Yourself a Promotion

"How can I get promoted?"

ACMA 1333 Samian decree 2
Secret handshakes go back a few years...
I hear this all the time at work. Everyone wants to know how they can get to that next level, then the next, and the next one after that.

Implied in that question is that there may be a secret handshake, a magic book, or fraternity that if they joined, then "it" would all come together. Whatever "it" may be.

I don't have the heart to tell people the truth -- not everyone is promotable.

Sorry, but it's true.

So when someone asks me that question, I tell them, "If you want to be a leader, then lead. If you want to be a project manager, then manage a project. You don't need the title to make it happen."

Show me. Don't tell me that you want to do something. Do it!

And when you do it, you'll show us all two things: you have the desire and the will to achieve even when you don't have the official title.

We must mentally promote ourselves to the role we aspire to hold. The answer is within us, waiting to be tapped.

No one wants to hire a project. But I can guarantee you that everyone wants to hire a winner. That person who has shown desire and will to do the hard work even when there is no guarantee of payoff.

Sound familiar?

So you want to be a traditionally published author? Then do everything that's consistent with "being" a published author. Show the professionals in the industry that you're also a professional. You have to be the baddest badass out there. You are not competing against the slushpile. You're competing against those on the bestseller list. That's what the industry is looking for. Elevate your game. Give yourself a mental promotion--now!

Or maybe you will self-published. Then behave like a professional author for your readers. Give them your best work. The beautiful cover, the professionally edited novel, and build the personal connection with your fans who will spread the word for you like the plague. You are trying to win their trust. You're trying to establish a sacred agreement that if they take a chance on you, then you in return will honor their valuable (and diminishing) free time. You will give them the ride of their life.

By the way, these habits are not mutually exclusive. We have to do all of the above and then some.

Eliminate "good enough," or "pretty good" from your vocabulary. Only the best qualify. The good news is that it's all up to you--me. The bad news is that it's all up to you--me.

If we want to win at any game, then we must play the game as if we've already won. Believe in yourself, so others will believe in you.

Bad things happen to good people all the time. Lady luck shows up on the wrong table sometimes. But in the end, if we play the game fully, with passion and excellence in heart and mind, then on my scoreboard, we've already won, haven't we?

Believe in yourself, then do it. And when you do, the rest will believe in you too.

Fight the good fight!
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