Second Draft

Let’s Hear it for Technology

Posted in Writing by Michael Skeet on Sunday, May 30, 2010

The weather in Toronto today was/is gorgeous: sunny, hot, and not so humid that I can’t stand it. So Jill & I have been indulging ourselves by writing face-to-face (normally we telecommute, as it were) under the Dread Gazebo in hers and Do-Ming’s back yard.

I don’t know that this face-to-face thing makes a huge difference to our writing technique (which I fully realize I have yet to describe properly, as I have been threatening to do), because we haven’t said a whole lot, and most of what we have said we’ve said using IM, just as if we’d been telecommuting. But this al fresco writing thing does seem to have affected our productivity: nearly two thousand words between us this afternoon. Trust me: for us that’s a good day.

I have been working on my travel notebook, a tiny perfect Sony Vaio X. This is the perfect tech for backyard writing, in fact: as a word processor it has a battery life of over ten hours, and a screen resolution that allows me to look at about thirty lines of text on a browser. As far as I’m concerned, this beats hell out of using pen and notepad, the way I used to write.


How We Do It: An Interpolation (and cautionary tale)

Posted in Writing by Michael Skeet on Thursday, April 15, 2010

Some of you, constant readers that you are, will have noticed my recent silence. There’s a story behind that…

Jill and I are writing Demon Gate using Google Docs. There are advantages to this (and disadvantages, of course), and they will be the subject of a future How We Do It post (I promise). I can, however, speak very clearly to one perceived advantage of using Google Docs.

I have, until recently, been spending a lot of my free time working on the final revisions to a project that predates Demon Gate. My agent has, in fact, been waiting for the last draft of this novel since late December of last year; various interruptions caused by my day job have prevented me from spending as much time on these revisions as I wanted.

As of mid-March, however, I was finally able to make the time to do the work, and was making very good progress.

Now, I’m somewhat nervous about backups, so I have a tendency to do so somewhat excessively. I’m not precisely scientific about it, though: what I do is work on a file that lives on my USB drive, and every few days I copy that file onto the hard drive of my of my computers. Yes, I use several computers (four, at last count); doesn’t everybody?

Anyway, at the end of last year my business bought a couple of new machines, and these new machines run Windows 7 and Office 2007. I am still learning some of the ins and outs of the way my normal practices work on this new software. And so it came to pass that, on 17 March, I went to back up my novel…

…And accidentally copied the destination file onto the source file. In other words, I replaced the current version of the novel with a version that (thanks to my rotation of backups) was over two weeks old.

I wiped out some 200 pages of revisions.

It’s easy for me to write about this now, a month later, because in the interval I have restored (more or less) the lost revisions, and finished the final draft of the novel. And I’ve become a lot more careful about the way I back up my files.

The point of this post, though, is that with Google Docs the whole back-up issue sort of goes away. Or at least it mutates into a different sort of issue (who ultimately has possession of your work?), but that’s an issue for a later message.

Writing Retreat

Posted in Collaboration,Writing by Jill Snider Lum on Monday, April 12, 2010

Twice a year, the Cecil Street Writers’ Group organizes a writing retreat. We take off on Friday morning for a cottage-camp on a lake in the Kawarthas, and we stay until Sunday afternoon. This past weekend was one such retreat, and it’s spurred me on to recommend this kind of thing to anyone who writes.

Let me describe what we do; maybe it can work for you and your fellow writers as well.

We rent a cottage, or cottages, for the weekend, depending on how many of us are going up. This April there were only four of us, but I’ve been on retreat with as many as eight writers together. Splitting the cost makes it affordable for everyone. Michael loves to cook (and do we ever love to eat his food!), so he does most of the cooking and provisioning for meals and we all chip in accordingly with the cost. Helen always makes the excellent Saturday breakfast crepes, we take turns doing dishes, and drinks and snacks are brought up individually and shared collectively.

We wake up between 7 and 7:30 a.m. on average, eat breakfast together in the same cabin, and then go back to whichever cabins we’ve slept in to write. Some people like to repair to their rooms and write alone. Others gather in the living-room area of their cabin and write together. I am one of those latter, because I find it easier to concentrate on writing fiction in a room where other people are doing the same thing. The enthusiasm, or you might say the energy, in a room full of writers writing is a powerful force. I find it impossible not to be carried along by it, and contribute my own energy to the stream.

We don’t talk much; we’re there to write. Now and then one of us might get up and walk down to the lake, to stretch our legs, or to brood (Dave is a great brooder-by-the-lake on these weekends, and he says it helps him a lot). Sara and Helen have a traditional walk they do, to the weir and back, to watch the rushing water and have it clear their minds. But mostly, we write.

A full writing day up there is eight to ten hours long. After the workday is over we have dinner together, and spend the evening talking, drinking wine, and relaxing until we’re ready for bed. Then we do all it again.

When you go on retreat, your household stays behind. There are no pending chores to distract you, no family needs to attend to, and unless you turn your mobile phone on, no phone calls. You’re in a room full of writers who have the same goals as you do, and the only distraction, the lake, requires that you get up and go outside and walk to it. You can’t help but accomplish a lot, under those circumstances.

This weekend I wrote 8000 words, and rearranged and edited a great deal more in addition. I’ve revised two shorts stories, which are now almost ready to submit (pending one more glance-over by a helpful critique friend), and reached the point of being 85% finished my novel — I mean, the Frankenbook. The rest of us all had similar successes.

I don’t think any of us have gone on a single retreat and come away thinking, “This was a waste of time”. If you write, I recommend you try retreating. You won’t regret it either.

Write What You Want To

Posted in Writing by Jill Snider Lum on Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I’m working on a story for an anthology right now (in addition to the Frankenbook, Son of Frankenbook, and of course, Demon Gate).  I got the story completed, after long and arduous effort… and disliked it.  My excellent critiquing tribe, the Cecil Street writers’ group, read it, and of course helped me to see a lot of what was wrong with it.  Usually this experience galvanizes me into a fresh approach to a story, leading to a piece of work that I like much better than before.

This time I just wanted to chuck the entire story.  And after a certain amount of cogitation, I figured out why.

I’d started out wanting to write a Japanese ghost story — I had ideas for it, it would be much different from the last one, but still, Japanese.  I decided not to, because the last two pieces I’d had published took place in Japan, and I thought it would be a bad idea to be known as the person whose writing always has Japanese themes… like someone with only one string to her bow.  So I decided to write something else instead.

Now, I don’t know if this applies to any of the rest of you who write, but for me, it was a mistake.  I’ve learned that I have to be pleased with what I’m writing for it to turn out even halfway-decently.  The Something Else Instead just wasn’t what I wanted to do, and my subconscious knew it, even though my conscious was trying not to think about it.

Obviously there are restrictions on what we write about in fiction, including things like the market we’re after, the demands of the editors, the guidelines for submission, and so on.   But within those restrictions, I’d advise you to write what you know you want to write, rather than what you feel you ought to.  It will make for a much better story.

I’m revising the original piece I wrote, but I’m also working now on the one I wanted to write.  It’s coming along much better, and taking hardly any time at all.  And I know that even after the helpful flensing it’ll get from the Cecil Street gang, I won’t want to toss it in the trash.  The brain is an interesting thing; it’s amazing what it can do when you jolly it along a little.