Before and After

This summer, I’m trying to buckle down and get through a complete rewrite of my fantasy novel, Immortal Bond. It’s been slow going, not just because of our upcoming bundle of joy, but because of the growth I’ve experienced as a writer since last summer.

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I started my rewrite by analyzing my characters in each scene, noticing that I didn’t know some of them as well as I ought. This has made for countless hours of me just pondering them, their individual likes, dislikes, wants, fears, and any desires driving the current scene. I was forced to reconsider things I’d made them do before. The outcome of this exercise was twofold. First, I realized some of their previous actions and behaviors were too dramatic or extreme to be believable which forced me to cut countless lines of dialogue and whole chapters I used to think essential to the story. Second, characters that weren’t my favorite are beginning to feel more real and likable to me.

But all the cutting necessary to evoke this change hasn’t dropped my word count. My next task was to expand my scenes by adding more detailed descriptions of people’s actions and trying to utilize the environment to evoke character emotions instead of expositioning everything to death.

After meticulously implementing these changes in one particular key scene, I went back and compared my before and afters. The difference is dynamic. So much so that it’s embarrassing to look back at the writer I used to be. I keep thinking of all the manuscripts I handed out to people, hoping for feedback that never came, and wondering if I should just call them up and offer to pay them to burn it.

 

Yet, there are really no downsides to realizing this. Even those six or so query letters I fruitlessly sent out were not a waste.

For one, I needed to start somewhere. My inexperience with querying and the life of a writer couldn’t forever keep to my home. Each step forward was a step of learning, even if it required me to trip and fall.

Two, I knew in my heart back then that my novel wasn’t really good enough to be anything to anyone but me. I read too much not to see the difference between solid writing and someone who, though trying hard, is not exactly Random House material. (The difference I am now seeing makes me think I was barely brand-new-small-time-desperate-for-anything indie press.) That was one of the reasons I was such so nervous about handing out manuscripts to friends and family. I knew it wasn’t great, but I also knew I needed all the help I could get. I needed someone to help expose me to my blind spots. Most of those helpers ended up being my professors and classmates. I guess everyone else was too embarrassed to give it to me straight.

I don’t think I’m going to reach my goal of finishing the rewrite before school restarts. (I’ve spent too much of my summer staring vacantly into the void with narrowed eyes, wondering why or if a character would do or not do the thing.) What’s nice is that I no longer care. It doesn’t matter to me anymore how long this process takes, so long as the end product is something I’m truly proud of. Considering my growing love for my characters, and how impressed I am with the difference between my first drafts and my latest, I think I’m a lot closer to that end goal today than I was when I started this journey four years ago.

That, I think, is something to be proud of. 🙂

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Best Laid Schemes…

I’ve been meticulously methodical about sending my novels out for representation to the point where, last month, I called myself out for being utterly ridiculous. And, as J.R.R. Tolkien said,

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”

IMG_5062So, I decided to take March off from writing new things and focus on querying for Us. I knew it would be hard and that I’d be scared and maybe even polish off one or two containers of antacids before April rolled around, but this thing won’t happen on its own.

I started out well. Then one day I unwittingly began to mull over some old cut material from a first draft of my fantasy trilogy. They were scenes I liked and plot points I enjoyed, so I hoped that one day I could resurrect them in something else. I chewed on bites and pieces of them over the next two days until something lit a fuse and my brain exploded.

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It was madness. It was fever. In the space of a week I had over 90,000 words in a document, over 50,000 of that are brand new. And that word count doesn’t even take into consideration the 10k+ that I scribbled into my paper journals. One day I wrote for almost 10 hours straight. When I rose from my desk, I wandered the rooms hardly present, my head was clouded with voices and scenes from another world. I lost tons of sleep, had difficulty entering into conversations that did not involve me talking through the rough patches of my story outline, and ignored my husband when he called me to meals.

Thankfully, it’s dying down now, as I’ve rough drafted all the scenes in my head and thought through the outline enough to know how the story is shaping itself. I’ve got three new characters I adore, one of which is probably my most morally complicated character to date.

So my departure date for the long trip that is the publishing process is pushed back again because I love what I do too much. I sometimes have this morbid sensation that I’m going to die with over 20 completed novels sitting in files on my laptop.

…that being said, I think I’ll work on query letters after I finish writing this blogpost. 😉

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text © Rachel Svendsen 2016

“Replace All”

Autocorrect. Spellcheck. Tab stops. Cut and paste. These are a few of the little things in word processing that are a mixed bag of blessings and curses. They may help us if we perpetually misspell “disease” but sometimes they may cause us to accidentally send a text to our mother to inform her that Dad’s hysterectomy went smoothly. I do most of my writing on my computer, and make regular notes on my iPhone, so I am constantly in a tussle with some smart technological device or other.

This includes the “Find and Replace” feature.

I only used this nugget of blessing once or twice in high school. I wasn’t very computer savvy, so most of my editing was accomplished with a printed copy, pencil, and eraser. Even now, I don’t have the feature quite figured out, except that I know it’s a tricky devil.

When I was working on Immortal Bond, my first novel, I spent the first few drafts trying to think of a decent name for the capital city and country of my setting. Until I decided on one, I just had the words “The Capital” as a place holder. Once I decided on “Cathair,” I opened up the Find and Replace box and found and replaced. This box has a deceptively helpful looking button labeled, “Replace All”. (Beware the Replace All button people. Beware!) I smiled benevolently at it. How sweet, I thought. Some programmer is saving me time. I clicked. I printed.

Somehow, every time “The Capital” was replaced with “Cathair” there was now an odd spacing issue. A sentence that once might have said: “Father, I can’t wait to get to The Capital!”, now said: “Father I cant wait to get toCathair !” I scratched my head, and manually fixed every single one.

Since then I’ve been more cautious.

So the other night when I changed a character’s name for the third, and hopefully final, time I was sweating.

This character suspiciously looks and acts very much like a friend of mine. In my first drafts, this character even, veeeeery suspiciously, had the same name. Obviously this would not do, so I changed his name to Don. It didn’t work for me at all. So my husband and I have been trying to rename him. Last night I decided to try Nick on for size. When I opened the find and replace box, I groaned. There was over 350.

I whined to my husband, “This is going to take forever.”

He shrugged and took the laptop from me. “Just do this.” The mouse hovered ominously over the “replace all” button. I squealed like a wild boar and slapped his hand away.

“Are you MAD?” I snapped. “D-O-N is in all kinds of words! It’ll turn all my ‘donuts’ to ‘Nickuts.’”

“Ooooh,” he mouthed and began to play with the box. A few seconds later he smiled at me. “Just do this!” He clicked a little checkbox that said, “whole words.”

I narrowed my eyes. “What will that do?”

“Watch.” He refreshed the box and the word count dropped by over 150. I turned my skeptical gaze to him.

“You sure that worked?”

“Of course.” His confidence eased my mind. I let him hit the “replace all” button then kissed him affectionately.

“You’re amazing!” I said, then skipped off to shower while he set it up to print.

Shortly thereafter, I was holding the first printed copy of my second novel in my hands. Giddy as toddler with a mini drum set, I sat down to play with my second child. I flipped open to a random page. My face fell.

“TIMOTHY YOU NINNY-FOPPER!”

Yes I did yell that for real. This is normal for me, for these are the names I call my husband. He did not respond. He was in the basement doing laundry. (See! How can I yell cuss names at a husband who does laundry without me even asking?)

He came up the stairs humming. I waited, patiently scowling at the door, until he stepped inside the bedroom. He saw my face and cocked his head at me.

You are a Ninny-fopper,” I repeated, softer and with additional menace.

“Why?”

I motioned to him with one finger. He sat down beside me on the bed. I lifted my laptop onto my lap and opened the find and replace box. I typed the word “Nick’t” into the find section and got a little grey notification that said “167 found”.

Every “don’t” in my story was now “Nick’t”.

Timothy proceeded to hug me and say “I’m sorry” while simultaneously giggling. I changed all my “Nick’t”s back to “don’t”s in my document, but I refuse to print another copy. Save the trees and all that.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

The End: Second Draft, Second Novel

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I have just completed the second full draft of my second novel! 78,895 words and I am elated! Tomorrow, I’m going to comb through the story once more and check for any silly spelling errors before I print out my hard first copy. So far, that is my favorite part of this process, having a printed copy in my hands to scribble all over in pencil. I love what I do so much.

There is no real update on my first novel, which is currently titled Immortal Bond. That one is a Young Adult Fantasy about a newly orphaned girl whose love for a mysterious king is threatened by war. I’m still seeking publishers and agents, a nerve wracking process. I thank God for my husband, who loves me enough to hold my hand when I act like a baby. He’s the most patient man on the earth.

The novel I just finished is a Literary Fiction retelling of Edmund Rostand’s beautiful play, Cyrano De Bergerac. It is modernized and set in NYC. I had a different idea in the beginning, a sort of interweaving of several couple’s stories, but I fell in love with my two of my characters and they practically begged me to tell more of their story. Who was I to say no? They are both goofy, making the book a bit of a romantic comedy. Their dialogue is playful and their story is sweet.

Granted that is only my opinion, I have yet to have others read it, and perhaps someone will read it and tell me it sucks, but at the moment I am floating somewhere between ecstasy and bliss. If the naysayers are shaking their heads, I can’t see, hear, or feel them. I am the happy one. 🙂

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

It’s Getting Real Over Here…

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My first novel is done. Or probably done… I only say probably because of the sleep stealing fear that it’s not ready and I don’t know it. From the things I’ve read by other writers in my situation, this feeling is not uncommon. Regardless, I now stand on the cusp of query and rejection letters…

I. Am. Petrified.

I also have no idea what I’m doing! I’ve been reading a lot of information on the subject yet I still feel like a lost child in the grocery store, too frightened and shocked to begin screaming.

So when my ever first copy of “Writer’s Market” arrived in the mail yesterday… well, I nearly vomited.

I’ve been trying to light a fire under my butt for a while, but I just keep staring at my manuscript. I’ve never dealt well with rejection. Now I have to daily grapple with the thought that it’s inevitable. I WILL be rejected. I MAY be accepted eventually, but the rejection is going to happen.

It’s my baby. Those words are not made up of letters, they’re made up of me, heart, soul, and the cliché sweat, blood, and tears. The Characters are my children. I love them all in a way, even the ones you’re meant to hate. I gave birth to them one night in Lancaster, PA to the glow of my iPad while my husband slept soundly beside me. I’ve nursed them at my bosom. I’ve watched them grow, eat, sleep, fight, love, live, and die, in my sleep, in the shower, in waiting rooms, when I’m at the gym and virtually every random waking hour of my life since that night.

My last step in the nursing process was to hand out several more manuscript copies to trusted beta readers. I’m hoping that if they come back and say, “you need to try” I will have the support I need to go forward. In the end I know it will only be published if God wants it to be, but that unknown future element freaks me out.

People bungee jump all the time. You know that you won’t die from it, but I won’t believe that anyone standing at the edge of the platform about to jump isn’t at least a little nauseated from the view.