Escape Collective

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Archive for the tag “novel”

How To Make Yourself Crazy, Part One: REVISIONS

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

I picked up a novel that I’d tossed into the filing cabinet over a year ago.  It should be perfectly safe, right?  It’s cooled off and I should be able to approach it with a fresh perspective.  After all, I’m a different, better writer/editor than I was back then – an entirely different person, right?  Well, not so much.  Ten pages into the review and I can see the good and the bad.  Fifty pages in and all the angst creeps back into my mind.  One hundred pages in and I can’t even remember my own name.

This is how you drive a writer/artist/editor absolutely crazy:  Make them read their own work.  Especially long fiction.  Oh my.  It’s like a tour of your own subconscious mind, but only the bad parts.  All the insecurities and cringe-worthy habits come bubbling back to the surface.  Terrible turns of phrase and paper-thin characters leap from the prose and bludgeon you with their awkward presence.  The entire work seems to be a Frankenstein monster, built out of the demented portions of your imagination.  Every horrible thing you’ve ever written, every weak trope you’ve used as a crutch, they seem to have found a home in your once-precious so-called ‘book’.

Like the fool that you are, you roll up your sleeves and get to work though.  You start by making notes and comments.  When you examine the structure and find out where the big gaps are, you figure out how to build it up and flesh it out.  You brainstorm and come up with a way to tie up all the loose ends.  If you listen to your characters, they’ll tell you how they want things to play out and you discover the obvious solution to that nagging, missing element.  Yes, you dive in, because you can’t NOT do the work.

It burns your mental fuel and drains your reserves of patience and energy.  The narrative climbs in through your eyes and makes a nest in your active mind.  The story interrupts you while you’re taking a shower and making dinner, when you’re at the dentist and when you’re trying to fall asleep.  Like an invasive weed, it wants all the territory it can take root in.  And what do you do?  You let it.  Because you have to.

Here’s the good news.  It happens to all of us and we have a good chance of survival.  All you have to do is get through it.  The work is what seems important because it is.  When you’re in it and the engines of creation are at their maximum power things get accomplished.  Don’t fight it, work with it.  Yes, it makes you crazy.  Yes, it might destroy your social life.  But it’s for a good cause.

Revising our work is almost as intense as the initial writing, but it’s so much more important.  If the first draft is like giving birth, then the road to the final draft is like raising a child.  To do a good job requires active, constant attention, and the right set of tools.  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Anybody can have a kid and anybody can write a book.  The good kids and the good books have a lot in common; you have to put in a lot of work and they are guaranteed to make you insane. 

In the end, however, it’s all totally worth the effort.  Now, get back to work.

 

When he’s not giving others the advice he so badly needs to hear himself, Patrick Jennings-Mapp is working on the third revision of that damn novel.  No, not that one – he stopped that one – the other one.  Yes, the one with the crazy people.  (sigh)  No, the other one with the crazy people…

 

November is Almost Here!

The logo for National Novel Writing Month

Every year, when October rolls around, I find myself talking about National Novel Writing Month (the cool kids call it NaNoWriMo, I guess).  I talk about it with my friends who are writers, to see if they’re crazy enough to do it this year.  I talk about it with my wife, to see if it would rock the boat too much for me to do it.  And I talk about it to folks who have never heard of it before, which is a lot of fun.  It’s a really neat exercise and I’ve found myself drawn into it a couple of times.

For those who don’t know, it’s just an annual, month-long event to encourage people to write.  The one-size-fits-all goal is to hit (or surpass) 50,000 words in one, original, continuous story.  There are thousands and thousands of participants, of all ages, from around the world.  There are cool badges you can get, progress spreadsheets you can download and lots of active forums for people to support each other.  All in all, it’s a fantastic idea, with lots of potential.

The reason it’s so much fun to talk to new people about it is the variety of reactions I get to see.  Some are horrified by the idea of writing so much, so fast.  A few seem genuinely hungry for the challenge.  Most of them probably dismiss the whole idea as being too difficult.  It’s hard to argue with that last point.  Everyone has a job, or school, or yoga class, or a wedding… lots of ‘stuff’ to do.  And there’s that Thanksgiving holiday at the end of the month.  But my response is pretty blunt:  That is bullshit.  If you want to be a writer – an actual, professional writer – you will have to deal with this issue every month.

Now, I’m not going to advocate that everyone dump their responsibilities and do this wacky thing.  I don’t even think NaNoWriMo is a good idea for everybody (more on that in a minute).  But there is one, indisputably great thing about the event.  It shuts up your internal editor.  Everyone has one and some people let that nagging critic ruin most projects before they can get started.  The best thing you can do for your ability to write is to silence that editor for a while.  There will always be time to review and rewrite and reject your work later – but there has to be something there in order for that to happen.  NaNoWriMo gets a muzzle on the editor and pushes down on the accelerator.  That is a damn good thing.

The first time I did this, I was pretty nervous.  I owned my own business and my family kept me busy on top of that.  Nonetheless, I looked at it as a challenge I needed to face.  Before that Autumn, the longest piece of work I’d ever done was about 30,000 words, over the course of a few months.  In preparation for November, I plotted a long, winding story in my head.  I peopled it with characters and nested the plots inside one another.  There was a neat mechanism for switching between parallel stories whenever I wanted, if I got bogged down.  Just after midnight on November 1st I started writing.  I didn’t know how much or how fast I could write, but I aimed for that magical 1,500 words per day that would get me to the finish line.  I hit the ground running and kept going at a frantic pace.  After everyone had gone to bed, before work, or whenever I found a moment to steal, I was working.  Halfway through the month, on the 15th I think, I hit the 50,000 word mark.  It was an unbelievable thing, for me.  Granted, the story was only ¾ of the way through.  Also, the jumbled narrative and experiment with ‘nesting’ was a complete failure.  But I had done it.

There is a sense of wonder and awe, the first time you hit that word count.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it before or not, the relief is palpable.  It truly opened my eyes as a writer, for what kind of effort was needed to do my job.  I didn’t have to work that hard, every month, unless I wanted to.  But at the same time, I knew that I could if I was under the gun.  Up until that point, the idea of writing a novel-length piece of work seemed impossible; like a magical thing that other people could do.  And for that I’ll always be grateful for NaNoWriMo.

It's funny, because it's true. And also mean.

The whole affair doesn’t get a full pass from me, though.  For some writers, abandoning their inner critic for an entire month can be tragic.  Don’t misunderstand, I think that everyone could benefit from this kind of work, under the right conditions.  But a gimmick of a writing project is no substitute for actually sharpening one’s tools.  Writing isn’t difficult, and that seems to be part of NaNoWriMo’s message.  But good writing is sometimes very difficult and the only way to do good work is to go through the actual work.  The value for the month of November is quantity over quality.  Like I said, sometimes that is a very good thing – I certainly got a lot out of it – but please don’t ignore the other months.  Remember, once National Novel Writing Month is behind us, take the gag off your internal editor.  Who knows?  Perhaps you’ll find that critic a bit more reasonable, after a month long vacation.

Whoever you are and whatever you do, keep writing.  It’s the only you have to do, if you want to be a writer.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  He likes to write surrealist/inspirational poetry in notebooks and leave it for strangers to find.  Someday, he’ll include a character in a story that does the same – because it’s funny, that’s why.

Head: Explodey

Have you ever had that feeling?  When there’s so much going on, you can’t prioritize correctly – it’s a breakdown on task triage.  My week has been like that, except instead of a “crisis” feeling, it’s been strangely happy and manic as hell!  Quite a wild ride.  Especially after all the stress (good & bad) from the past few weeks, it feels pretty nice.  I’m sure it takes a toll on my mental and physical health.  It’ll be very little comfort if all the “good stress” kills me before the bad.  Ha!

Well, it’s in that spirit of ‘happy triage’ that I tell you about a few things.  Exciting things, for me – all of us, really.

First, both All Hope Lost and Corpus Pretereo are available from both Barnes and Noble –and– Amazon.  And I’ve already sent all the snarky, passive-aggressive emails to the customer service reps that I could handle – so there’s a decent chance that all the terrible errors will get fixed.  It’s the kind of thing I always took for granted in this kind of business; take the book, put it on the website, people can buy it.  SO simple!  Again, HA!  Anyway, here are the links:

All Hope Lost – click HERE for the Kindle, click HERE for the Nook
Corpus Pretereo – click HERE for the Kindle, click HERE for the Nook

On a related note, we’re also trying to get people to review the books.  So, ya know, if you or anyone you know might be inclined, please give ’em a nudge.

Second, we’re already gearing up for our next publishing cycle.  We need long form fiction (novels, novellas, novellettes, and, uh… novellitas…?) as well as submissions for our next anthology.  You can go to our main submissions page HERE and see the sweet details.

Third – and finally – we’re having a cover art contest for the next anthology!  I know, that’s a great idea, right?  All the details are currently on our main page, over THERE, so go check it out.  The deadline for submissions is the first of December, so there is plenty of time.

And I’m out, for now.  I gotta go find a way to let off some steam, or the next thundering ‘kaBOOM’ you hear will be my head.  I don’t like it when my head goes all explodey.  It’s messy.  Anyway, next time I want to tell you a little story.  See ya soon!

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he’s not sending blisteringly snide email messages to customer service ‘bots, he’s trying to figure out who put the bomp in his bomp bah bomp bah bomp – and who put all this ram in my rama lama ding dong?!  Sheesh…

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