Sunday, February 27, 2011

How do you know when you're done?

Hello Cruel World!

After receiving what I can only call truly awesome revision notes from my truly awesome editor, I am currently working on printing out what I hope is close to being a finished revised draft. This is not to say it will be the final draft. Undoubtedly, there's still work to be done.

How do I know I'm close to finished with this particular draft? Well, I've addressed all of the issues brought up by my editor. I've reread it myself and found places I think could be stronger. I'm made my poor, beleaguered husband read it for me looking for typos, logic gaps, and places where I didn't actually finish cutting stuff I meant to.

But most importantly, the printer broke. I don't know why, but this always, always happens when I'm finishing a draft -- and the problem usually fixes itself right afterwards. I've had the feeder tray stop feeding, the ink cartridge suddenly start making crazy lines on the page. I've had it print gibberish. I've had it skip random pages. I've had it print the first 30 pages over and over. I've had it turn each printed page into an exquisite curly-cue and sent it flying to a random spot in the room.

This time, the printer jammed, and when I went to unjam it, I accidentally pushed the button that exists for no other reason than to make the side of the printer fall off. As far as I can tell, this serves no functional purpose, but the printer won't run until its side has been put back on. Putting the side back on is approximately impossible. It involves much swearing, banging, threatening, looking on-line for new printers, and brute force.

But, I finally got the side back on -- and it has now started printing away happily (although I should note that it is currently in the process of reprinting the first 60 pages and I don't know why). Tomorrow, I am sure the printer will work as perfectly as always.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Hello Cruel World:

I have a confession. I love the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is one of my very favorite pieces of scientific research. Since learning about it, every academic event I've attended has gone from being a borefest of pontification to a source of endless amusement.

Want to know more? I won't pretend to be an expert (because if I do, and if you know about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, you'll think I'm an idiot.) So instead I will refer you to my husband's blog and his very funny cartoon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Exercise 1: Kill your Darlings for Fun and Profit!

So here in my life in Santa Fe, I've been extremely fortunate to be involved in a writers' group that's been meeting for over ten years (I've only been involved with it for about 5 years, but still, that's a long time). Before that, I was involved in one via the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, which was also awesome, and which I dearly miss.

But as part of my current writing group, I have to come up with some type of writing exercise every few months or so. Initially, I was not at all excited about this. It seemed like a horrible chore that I would suck at (and I hate sucking at things publicly).

However, it turns out that writing writing exercises doesn't actually suck (I may suck at it, but that is for others to decide). Thinking of an interesting writing exercise turns out to be a really valuable way to think about the process of writing in general. Specifically, it makes me think about what I need to think about (if that makes sense).

And because my blog is generally lacking in content (ahem), I thought I would start posting some of mine in an attempt to fill things out.

Exercise One - Kill Your Darlings for Fun and Profit:

The revision process is hard. One could say it involves surgeon-like precision, ninja-like patience, and the complex-reasoning skills of a scientist who reasons with complexity. Or, more simply and less glamorously put, it involves taking out the stuff that isn't working and replacing it with stuff that is.

However, in this writing exercise, we're going to do the opposite. Look at your work in progress. Find something that you either love or feel is working well. Now change it.

The change can be simple. Take a character that is male and make him female (or vice versa). Take an old character and make him/her young. Change a character's job (instead of being a lawyer, the character is now a travel agent). You can also change a basic attribute (make a character beautiful instead of plain, tall instead of short, blonde instead of brunette, overweight instead of skinny, gay instead of straight). Take important scenes that occur outdoors and put them indoors instead. Now, see how these changes affect the entire story.

Or, for bonus points, think about making a more complex change in your story. Change a pivotal decision at a pivotal moment . Change the location of your story (say from NYC to San Francisco). Have two characters that are in love be just good friends instead. Or you can change the character's past to include something that defines him/her (Now your character is divorced or widowed. Now the character was raised in Germany instead of the U.S. Now the character has an identical twin). Make the character reluctant to do something that they were eager to do before. Change the ending of the story to be the opposite of how it ends now.

The point of these exercises is not to make the changes permanent (although if you find something that's really working for you, then by all means go ahead an leave it in). The changes are just a way of shaking us out of the idea that we aren't in control of the universe of our book. Sometimes, we start to see aspects of the world we create as permanent and immutable because they've been part of the story for so long. It gives us a chance to see what parts of the draft are actually vital to the story, and what parts can be changed. It also lets us explore how what we like best about our story might be the very thing that is bogging it down.