Sanding down the rough spots

This post is approximately 500 words.

I speak regularly with others about writing, many of whom love the idea, but don’t have the desire. As such, it can be challenging to find common ground – common understanding, I should say – when we talk.

I’ve found that analogies are helpful and I’m always looking for a good one. Today, as I wrote and re-wrote a chapter-end that I lamented about nearly a month ago, it occurred to me that sanding wood might be a strong analogy.

If you had woodshop in school or you’ve done a home improvement project, you’ve likely done a bit of sanding. I’m not much of a craftsman, and I always have rough spots on cut wood. So I’d sand-sand-sand-sand-sand, and then feel the spot. Sand-sand-sand-sand-sand, feel the spot.

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I learned early on that focusing only the one spot led to more uneven places on the wood. Perhaps I sanded too far down or accidentally used a different grit paper. To check my work, I would place my hand a few inches before the sanded spot and run my fingers over the entire surface, beginning to end, feeling for consistency. Sand-feel-repeat.

I do the same thing in my writing, though I’m unsure the two things are connected. Maybe unconsciously.

The aforementioned chapter-end was a single paragraph of about 120 words. Mechanically, that’s a rather simple thing to edit, but as I tweeted in May, it wasn’t a great end to the section, much less the chapter. It certainly didn’t make me want to immediately start reading the next chapter, and I’m the goram author.

Each time I touched it, I went back a few paragraphs and re-read the whole ending. Edit-read-repeat. It’s a technique I’ve used in all my writing for years, including the piece before you now. Here are three benefits I appreciate:

  1. Maintains consistent feel and tone: You don’t want heavy emotional passages accidentally transforming into happy scenes.
  2. Ensures word variety: If you used the word ‘bewildered’ in paragraph 7, you wouldn’t want it to repeat in paragraph 10.
  3. Prevents a surprise plot device: You probably don’t want your ending to include something that comes from nowhere or to have accidentally removed a key point for which your reader needed resolution

However, both sides of my analogy share a similar danger: that of removing so much, the piece is reduced to something unusable. While it might be easier to salvage a mangled paragraph than a block of over-sanded wood, in either case, I’m usually inclined to scrap the affected part to start over.

The current evaluation of my chapter-end is what led to this quick blog post. I’m finding myself close to the point of starting over. I have three little mysteries that don’t feel like they’re compelling enough together, and none are strong enough to stand alone.

Time to get back to some literary sandblasting.

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For future you and me: it’s the end of Chapter 18. When you’ve eventually read that and this, let me know what you think.

–Mike

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, June 2017

Writing Is Pre-writing

This post is approximately 400 words.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, you’ve probably heard the phrase “writing is rewriting”. This is absolutely accurate. I’ll probably write a future post on this, but for now, I wanted to establish that I am talking about something different here.

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When the hours of the day are comprised of varying combinations of family, friends, work, and other activities, writing time can be limited. Precious, really. The last thing you want to do is take that jewel and toss it down the drain.

Many writing efforts are like that. If you’re a writer like me, you’ve logged hundreds of hours staring a blank screen, jaw and fingers slack. It’s frustrating to think you’re squandering that rare opportunity to conjure some magic from a keyboard.

But what if you could take that wasted time and expend it elsewhere? Continue reading

Writing Update: March 12, 2017

This post is approximately 600 words.

Last night, the clock on my computer screen read 11:48 pm. Including the last two hours, I’d spent six or seven hours yesterday working on Chapter 14, a 4000-word section which in hindsight, should have had a working title of “The Long Walking Chapter Full Of Exposition”.

I required this chapter to do a lot of heavy lifting for the story: the one being told in the current book, but also in the greater overall tale I wanted to tell throughout the series.

My characters began to understand that there was more going on than a simple adventure story filled with monsters. Additionally, readers needed to know that our heroes had just one choice for sanctuary, but the destination might be only slightly less perilous than the wilderness. I had backstory about the place and needed a thorough-enough depiction so I wouldn’t have to keep describing it (I’d rather establish a scene early and as we go on, allow readers to recall as little or as much detail as they wanted to enjoy the story). We also meet two secondary characters and a few tertiary ones.

Oh yeah, and I needed to continue the character development of my three heroes. Whew.

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The Last Shard (modified image of Devils Tower)

Continue reading

Tighten Up Your Writing (or not?) #4

This post is approximately 400 words.

calvin-resolutionsIt’s the first day of a new year, which generally means resolutions and other pledges of life changes, blabbity-blah. I usually don’t hold to such traditions, uh, mostly because I forget my New Year’s promises before January ends. But as an idea formed in my head this morning, it occurred to me I might be writing such a post.

Yes and no. This post does contradict other guidance I’ve given about reducing words during a rewrite. But as with most other advice in life, just because you CAN do something, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Forsaking context or intent for the sake of brevity is an excellent way to deliver a quick read that readers misunderstand. That’s why I’m going to show the other side of word reduction. Continue reading

Tighten Up Your Writing #3

This post is approximately 400 words. There’d be 25% more, if I hadn’t…tightened up my writing. Yeah, that’s right: bad jokes and math on this writing blog.

Many of the writing questions I’m asked are in the category of “Where do ideas come from?” which usually elicits a response about “mommy and daddy ideas that love each other very much.”

But I also get quite a few inquiries about mechanics, which to this grammar nerd, is pretty cool. We can all put words on paper in a coherent order, but it’s challenging to do it crisply and succinctly. Especially the first time.  I rarely deliver a sentence that completely satisfies me after the first writing.

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It’s like making dough: you can put the ingredients together, but if you don’t massage that lump, it’s not going to taste right. As someone who’s reviewed thousands of pages, I know that many people are satisfied with the lumpy dough of first drafts. I get it. There’s that impatience factor. But just as people are discriminating about pizza joints, so they are about books. They’ll stop coming for sub-par sustenance.

Not stopping at one draft is the key. The following examples demonstrate various ways to change up your thinking as you work through the editing process. Compare my lumpy messes to the dough I’m putting in the oven (he said, reconsidering his analogy). Continue reading

Writing Update: December 4, 2016

This post is about 350 words. 

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It’s been about three weeks since my last writing update, where I mentioned that I’d uploaded the first two chapters to this website. Since then, I’ve finished up* the next three, though I’m not sharing them yet.

*As always, when I say, “finished up”, there’s a big disclaimer about reserving the right to go back and tweak them as needed. Or to change things based on revisions to later chapters. Or to fix things that have woken me in the middle of the night. Or when I realize I’m having the same delusion as Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

OK, so rambling aside, I’m satisfied that FIVE chapters are ready for reading. They have cohesion and flow, and each considers the length of the ones before (i.e. I don’t have a 3,000-word chapter followed by one that’s 10,000 words). They have transition and connection to each other, so they are no longer five separate pieces. They feel like the first act of a three-act story. And that’s about 20% of the book completed, which feels pretty good. But….

Continue reading

Building Blocks of Imagination

This post is about 400 words. 

I’m at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, sneaking in whatever writing time I can in a house with eleven people, two dogs, and more leftovers than any one fridge could contain. Despite these distractions, I’ve spent enough years writing that I have some tricks for keeping the creative fires warm. Right now, I’m sparing some time for a post that serves as writing analogy and inspiration for building creativity in your children.

Last night, our youngest son Ben brought out the blocks I played with as a child, and suddenly I was writing this post in my head as I built with him.

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My maternal grandfather made these blocks for me using 2x4s and some leftover paint. The basic blocks looked like this, though there were other lengths, too. With these, I could construct walls and forts and many other things as I played with my Star Wars figures.

But it was the oddballs that truly fueled my imagination. Call them scraps or discards, many would consider these pieces worthless. Clearly, my grandfather did not agree. Nor do I.

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Continue reading