Tag Archives: Manuscript

Managing the Mushy Middle

If you woke up this morning thinking, “You know, I’d really like to hear an incremental progress report on the collaborative work of two unpublished authors” then today is your lucky day, my friend. It is my pleasure to announce that the rough draft of our “aliens meet clockwork robots meet romantic fantasy” story has just crossed the planned halfway mark of fifty thousand words!

Since we’re here at the halfway point, I thought this might be a good time to bring up something I hear a lot of authors out there struggling with. It’s a little condition I like to call Midpoint Malaise.

Based on the data derived from me sitting here and thinking about it for about thirty seconds I believe that I can state conclusively that Midpoint Malaise is the single biggest reason novels don’t get finished. It’s that part of the story where you’ve started to fall out of love a little bit with the idea of writing your novel. Maybe the plot has started to go astray from what you thought you knew. The map has gone fuzzy, and you’re not sure which road is the right road to take you through to your grand finale ending.

So you get discouraged. You stop writing for a few days. And a few days turns into a few weeks, and after that you go back and look at your manuscript and think, “Unholy Cthulhu, did I write this? What was I thinking? This is terrible.”

And so you quit.

Well gents and lady-gents, I’m here to set you straight. First, and possibly most important, it’s okay to hate your manuscript. In fact I’d say at some point it’s inevitable. You know why? Because your manuscript sucks. Not all of it, probably, but parts of it? Sure. It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck.

The problem isn’t that you’re a terrible writer. You may be a terrible writer, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is that you stopped. You got bored. You lost your momentum. And now you hate your work so much you may never finish it.

Because, lets face it, the middle ain’t sexy.

Beginnings are sexy. You’re full of the flush of new ideas, and you’ve got it all lined up in your head, and when those first words spill out onto the page it’s pure magic.

Endings are sexy. There’s stuff blowing up, the bad guy finally gets vanquished, the hero gets the girl, and the world is saved.

But middles aren’t sexy. You’re developing characters, working through plot points, struggling desperately not to get sucked into the gears of the machine that is the story you’ve created.

But there is a cure for Midpoint Malaise, and it’s a healthy dose of So What? Cream.

So you’ve started to fall out of love with your story? So What? So you dread the time you have to sit down in front of the keyboard and think through those words? So What?

Because if you’re gonna do this writing thing, you need to know that it isn’t all going to be fireworks and unicorns. Some of it is going to be boring, menial, mundane work.

Most of you know this already. But maybe you needed to be reminded. I know I need my butt kicked into action every now and then.

Don’t get discouraged. Keep fighting the good fight. And whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep that momentum rolling and you can accomplish great things.

A Problem of Perspective

Yesterday, I told you about my experience with my editor and how wonderful it was. I extolled the experience of being edited as something uplifting and refreshing. And my conclusion was simple:

You should do it too.

But maybe you’re still skeptical. Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s all well and good for Albert, but really what does he know? Just because he needs an editor doesn’t mean that I do.”

But you’re wrong my friend, horribly wrong. And here is why:

1. You haven’t explained enough.

You know your story backwards and forwards. You know exactly what is happening and why. But nobody else does. Which is really why you’re writing that book in the first place right? Because you want to tell people the story in your head. But sometimes you don’t get it all out.

So you’ll get your editor saying things like “Why is the dog thinking about eating the brains of this zombie. Is he in the habit of eating purifying grey matter? Is this the kind of thing his owners leave lying around the house? This makes no sense.”

At which point you realized that maybe including the detail that the dog is ravenously hungry might be somewhat enlightening to your readers.

2. Hey Bub back off on the explanation!

What’s that you say? This is the exact oposite thing of what we just discussed? Why, how astute of you.

But it’s still a problem. Because clearly you’re not trying to be obscure. You want your readers to understand what’s going on. And sometimes you tend to include to much detail, just in case they don’t quite get it.

The line between too much detail and not enough is razor thin. So you need an editor to say, “You don’t have to say ‘She reached for the can.’ Anyone over the age of four is capable of understanding that if the can was in the cupboard in one sentence and being opened in the next that it did not in fact magically teleport itself through the aether. Cans are not in the habit of doing that.”

3. Everything else

Because, lets face it, there’s way more than three things wrong with your manuscript. An editor can help you with everything from structure to weak verbs.

And please don’t misunderstand. It’s not because you’re a bad writer. You’re just too close to see everything that needs fixing.

You’re a little like the woman I met yesterday who was looking for a way to lock her daughter’s bedroom window shut so that she couldn’t get out in the middle of the night and go out galavanting with her boyfriends. (And by “galavanting” I mean “having sex”.) She looked me straight in the eye and said “When I was her age my parents screwed my windows shut, but my boyfriend just took out the screws.”

You know, on second thought you’re nothing like that woman. But you have a similar problem, which is that you can’t see the absurdity of what is literally right in front of your face. You’re too close. Too involved. You need someone who’s not involved with the situation who can step back and say, “If your daughter’s doing exactly the same thing you did at her age maybe your husband shouldn’t be calling her a whore. And exactly how did you two get to know each other anyway?”

Before I close, I wanted to give a quick caveat that all the edits I included, even though they were inspired by problems in my actual manuscript, were my own wording. My editor, the lovely and talented Ellie Soderstrom is far too nice to say things so harshly. Which was one of the wonderful things about working with her. She was able to tell me what needed changing without making me feel like a douche for getting it wrong.

I’ve already thanked her privately, but I wanted say it here where everyone could see. Thank you, thank you, thank you Ellie. You don’t know how much you encouraged me.

Zombies, Chainsaws, and Your Friendly Neighborhood Editor

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed I’ve been talking a lot about zombies lately. If you’re not a regular reader of this blog, um…what’s your problem? Get with the program, man.

You may have asked yourself, “Why is it that Albert has chosen this time to bombard us with pointless facts about fictional monsters?”

To which I say, “Pointless? POINTLESS!? You won’t think its very pointless when they’re ripping your guts out now will you?! Of all the ungrateful…”

No, wait. Sorry, got a little carried away there.

What I actually meant to say was that I am working on putting the finishing touches on an upcoming novella called, “A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw,” a story about a dog who faces the zombie apocalypse. I’m hoping to attract readers to the site who might have an interest in that kind of thing. (If you think the title sounds a little familiar, you’re not going crazy; the story was originally conceived as a shorter work which is available here for anyone who’s interested.)

I’ve been working on this thing for a while, first writing, then editing and polishing. And finally that moment came when…I had to let it out. I had to let someone else read it.

And not just anyone else, but someone who was going to look at my story and try to find something wrong with it. Someone who would rip it to shreds with a red pen. Someone who would attack its weak points and slash at anything that didn’t quite work. Someone who was going to take a chainsaw and carve up my precious baby in a spray of blood and shredded flesh.

In other words, an editor.

It wasn’t easy letting go. But I knew it had to be done. So I gritted my teeth, repeated Chuck Wendig’s “Do Better, Suck Less” mantra to myself twenty times, and hit that send button.

And then I realized I had forgotten to, you know, actually attach the document to the email, so I had to go through the whole process again.

When I finally got my story back…I was afraid open it. What awful things must this person have said about my work? But finally I did manage to take just a little peek. And then, maybe another page, and another and another, and…

Before I knew it I had blown through every page of that manuscript, checking changes and reading notes.

And let me tell you something. It was fun.

See, I had been spending all this time thinking that reading those edits would be a horrible experience. I thought for sure that those changes would be a blow to my ego. Because really, none of us like to be criticized. None of us like to hear, “This passage right here just doesn’t work.”

But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t all have to be negative. Not if you approach it the right way; not if you have the right editor.

In fact there’s something almost magical about looking at a change and thinking Yes! That does work better that way! Ha!

You need that extra pair of eyes. Someone who knows what to look for.

It’s not because you’re a horrible writer.

It’s because you’re way too close. Even after you’ve let it sit for months. Even after you’ve gone over and over it yourself until you’ve started to become nauseated by your own words.

It can be better.

So let go of that fear. Stop worrying about your ego. It isn’t important anyway.

What’s important is the story. In the end, it’s the only thing that matters.

Lost Love and the Art of Editing

The first time I fell in love I was sixteen years old. It was the kind of love you read about in story books, a fierce flame burning bright in my heart to the darkening of all others.

And it didn’t last. Because hey, I was sixteen. Well, eighteen by the time it ended, but still.

Of course I did not have quite such a pragmatic view of the situation at the time. I was heartbroken, utterly devastated. I thought that my life had somehow lost meaning. I told myself that if true love meant risking this kind of pain it wasn’t worth it to love at all.

Yeah, I was a total emo kid back then.

But in a way you can’t really blame me. I was eighteen. I had lost what I believed to be the love of my life. I didn’t have any perspective. Looking back though I can see the problems, the fault lines in both of our psyches that might have led to even worse heartbreak if the relationship had continued.

But back then I was too close to the situation to be able to see the potential problems it might have been forming. Then, two years later, when I was finally starting to get over that relationship when it happened again.

I fell in love. And I was too close to see the problems that were right under my nose. Only this time it wasn’t a girl. This time it was my manuscript.

My first manuscript. I can still see it in my head. I can see myself sitting in that college library between classes pounding out a fantasy epic that was sure to be the next big thing in young adult fiction. And when I finally finished that first draft I went to the story, bought a three ring binder and put all those printed pages inside. This was it, the moment I had been waiting for. I was finally holding all those hours of hard work in my hands.

I knew it needed editing. I had read all the books I could get my hands on. I even knew I was supposed to wait, to let my work sit for a while before I came back at it with the red pencil. Only I knew better. Maybe other authors needed to wait three or four months before they could look at their books objectively, but not me. I was special.

Except I wasn’t. No one is. If you ever learn anything in life, learn this: you are not special. That’s a whole blog post of its own, but I’m just dropping it in here for good measure. Trust me when I say it’ll save you some heartache in the long run.

And speaking of heartache guess what I got? Yup. I edited and edited until I couldn’t edit any more, and when I sent those first five pages off to an agent, and…nuthin’. Just a cold form letter advising me that my work was “not right” for whichever agency I had chosen.

So I got discouraged. I stopped writing for a while, and put my manuscript in a drawer somewhere.

Only I couldn’t turn my back on it. Because writing is like a drug. You tell yourself you can walk away any time you want, but you really can’t. It’s up there in your mind tweaking at you with story ideas and sentence structure.

So eventually I went back and looked again. And wouldn’t you know it, there were still all kinds of things that still needed fixing. So I worked and I worked and…well I’d love to tell you that this story end with my book being published, but you all know that’s not how it goes.

But I did learn a valuable lesson. When you write a book you invest so much time and emotional capital into it that there’s no way you can be truly objective about it. You need to step back, put the story in a drawer for a few months and let the embers of passion cool a little. Then you can go back to that draft and see it for all of its flaws.

And who knows? You may go back and find that that passage that you hated writing actually reads rather nicely. The pendulum swings both ways.