Tag Archives: MacSpeech

Finishing the First Draft of a Novel

If you are the typical mystery writer or JK Rowling, you write the ending first.  Finishing a novel is all about cutting and pasting the last few pages onto the manuscript and then printing it out.  But even if you are a “seat of the pants” writer, many elements may be fixed.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that, because Lucky Numbers is a love story.  Somewhere, the heroine will go through ritual death, feeling she has totally messed up the objectives she’s had (including finding love).  But the couple will get together and profess their undying love within the last few pages.  The bad guy will get his come-uppings.

Does this make my job easier?  No.  Not at all.  If I just do a paint-by-numbers (no pun intended), I’ll be bored and so will the reader.  And, yet, I can’t go too far off the mark.

How do I, as a writer, with the end of the journey in sight, keep engaged?

First, I give myself permission to go off track.  Whatever is written can be cut or rewritten.  So, within limits, I can pretend I don’t have limits. (Get it?)

Second (and this may be a corollary to the first), I give my characters permission to do whatever they want to.  If the bad guy wants to run away and avoid facing the good guy, he can try.  (But the good guy may go after him.)  If the heroine feels neglected or angry, so be it.  If the hero makes a wrong turn on the way to the rescue because he trusts his GPS system, that’s tough.  I expect and hope for surprises, even if they end up in the bit bucket.

Third, every scene must have emotion.  This has been true throughout.  I don’t know how you can engage your reader emotionally if you, the writer, aren’t.  But the words flow too easily when you know what is coming next.  I have had to come to a full stop repeatedly as I’ve been writing the last few scenes.  This writing in stops and starts is a bit like being on a restricted diet.  I feel like I am tempting writer’s block every time I wrench myself away from the keyboard, but I’m convinced that it is the right thing to do.

I’ve also made a point in these last few chapter of walking away from the day’s work mid-scene or even mid-paragraph.  That way, I don’t go at it cold the next day.  And one more thing on finishing this up.  As much as I want to rush to the end, I also want to slow down.  I’ve come to like the characters.  I’m reluctant to say goodbye to them.  And, even though I’ll have them in rewrite, they’ll never again be as fresh and alive to me.

Notes on what else is up.

I just finished the last pages of the galley for my nonfiction book, Innovation Passport.  Blurbs are on About Peter Andrews page.  Galleys have to be about the most tedious thing in the world.  Reading for those typos, poor phrases and inconsistencies for the fifth or sixth time.  Negotiating one more time with my coauthor.  Seeing pieces that could be better (but it’s too late).

Blurbs, on the other hand, are fun.  By definition, they are all positive, so it’s like asking folks for compliments you can put in print.  Even better (for me), several people said nice things beyond the quotable blurbs.  And the time so many people dedicated to the reading and evaluation really humbles me.  I am immensely grateful.

Drama has gone down the tubes.  I have been totally rejected by four consecutive festivals.  (And the readings I’ve had with my two drama groups have made me want to apologize to the actors.)

On the other hand, I’ve sold another short story, one of my favorites, Peter’s Shell.  This puts me into double digits in my current foray into SF and fantasy.  In fact, with a bit of tuning, I’ve been able to sell almost everything I have written in recent times.  It puts the pressure on to finish some material that has been yelling at me from the sidelines.  Art Nerds is now on my to-do list.

Finally, an unexpected consequence of using a dictation program.  For my current work, I’ve had to edit out, “oof! ouch! hey!” and other expletives.  No.  I am not writing for DC Comics.  The problem is that the smaller cat, Kyoko, has decided that my dictation is an invitation to get close.  In the middle of a paragraph, she’ll jump into my lap (oof!).  Unpredictably, the claws will come out (ouch!).  Or she’ll decide to poke me with sharp paws (hey!).  All this is dutifully captured by MacSpeech, in one form or another.  Now it is not as bad as when I failed to turn the mic off when I got a call from a salesman, but it is pretty weird all the same.

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The Great Dictator: A secret weapon for words on paper

How do you get 10.000 words on paper in a week?  My answer has been to mix up typing with dictating.  If I just did one or the other (as a friend did), I suspect I’d end up with carpal tunnel or laryngitis.  I’ve been at this now for 10 weeks (100,000 words), so I can say my process works for me.  It may not work for you.

  1. Have something to say every day.  I usually try to work this out at least the day before.  It is always good for a writer to be making notes anyway.  Might as well make sure a few are aimed toward upcoming writing.
  2. Put the outline right in front of you.  For the nonfiction, this is pretty easy.  The structures for essays, articles and books are well known.  If you’ve been at it a long time, the appropriate shape for the outline is second nature.  For the novel I’m doing with Susan, a synopsis was part of the deal.  I didn’t write write a word of the text until we both were happy with what the book would (generally) look like.  I will add that I have reservations about working from an outline with fiction.  I’ve been much happier in recent years “winging it.”  And during this period, I’ve done a number of flash fiction pieces where I started dictating (didn’t type any of them) with only the title in front of me.  But, in each case, it was a title I loved.  BTW, Zombie Chic was just accepted by Bards and Sages.  It will appear in their October issue.
  3. Don’t get hung up with the outline.  It is there to make you productive, not to tie you down.  I never know exactly what I am going to write, even with nonfiction.  With fiction, the characters sometimes take over and make things crazy.  Which is the way I like it.  If they surprise and delight me, they are more apt to do the same for readers.  At least, that’s what I believe.
  4. If it is dictated, look it over as soon as the scene is finished (if your characters don’t dash right into a new scene).  I love my MacSpeech dictate.  I can consistently write, er, speak, five pages an hour.  But these are not perfectly transcribed (even though I have an options window in front of me throughout).  Careful reading right after dictating can save a lot of effort playing Sherlock Holmes with garbled text later.
  5. Do rewriting the old-fashioned way.  Trying to dictate corrections is technically tough.  And I’m suspicious of it anyway.  I think taking on the text with fingers on the keyboard is necessary.  And I’ve never printed out a page without seeing something that got by me on the laptop’s screen.  I still like pencils.

Again, what works for me may not work for you.  But with my 10,000 words on Lucky Numbers drafted and a story placed in the last week, I do have some evidence on my side.  (For those who care, about 7,000 of those words were dictated.  And note one word of this blog was.)

Some odds and ends:

Got a marketing call this week on Innovation Passport, which made it seem more real.  I also did a word count on the ms as a whole.  82,000.  No kidding.  We were shooting for 70,000 and thought that was ambitious.

There was some drama in the drama group.  We heard a reading of the first act of a new play, and all the comments were about the spelling and grammar.   (No kidding.  One attendee, script in hand, counted 70 things that needed correcting.)  We all need to use the tools of language, but it is a waste of a group to just do proofreading.  I made some pointed suggestions (like dump the first scene).  I thought I did so politely.  I hadn’t critiqued this guy before, and I got a lesson when I asked him to read a part in one of my works.  The character is comical with lots going on, including a cheating wife, an alluring neighbor and a battle with a business.  The playwright I’d critiqued can handle humor well, but slumped in his chair and muttered the lines without expression.  Painful.  (Overall, the piece went over well anyway.)

What do you say when a young writer asks for things she “should” read?  Beats me.  I complimented a terrific poem by a woman I’ve known since she was about nine.  I actually was geared up to read it because I’d been captivated by Wilfred Owen all weekend.  (Wonderful stuff I finally got around to reading.)  But what “should” be read?  I’ll need to ask some questions before I can say anything sensible.

With Innovation Passport mostly on its own, I’ll soon be turning my attention to the next nonfiction book, “The Innovation Underground: A Subversive Guide to Grass Roots Innovation.”  I’m excited by this, but dusting off the outline and making sense of it hasn’t been easy.  The experience from Innovation Passport is telling me to remix what I have so it will actually be interesting from page one.  Time to take a deep breath, square my shoulders and pretend I know what I’m doing.