Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Like Hats Upon Your Crazy Heads

I recently developed a raging writer crush on Jandy Nelson (whose novel The Sky Is Everywhere should be at the top of your to-read list). On her website, she features several quotes she loves. This one grabbed me by both shoulders and hauled me up to the stratosphere.

So today, all I want to do is share it with you. Please enjoy.

“To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must write dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfume and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories—science fiction or otherwise. Which means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

–Ray Bradbury

Are you feeling deliciously mad now?

- Liz

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Vacation Round-Up

(I'm totally waving at you from the beach)

Things I Did Right
1. Stopped at Walgreen's to get some "I know he'll eat this" stuff for the three-year-old on the way to the hotel.
2. Packed the perfect amount of toys and managed to bring them all home in almost the same condition.
3. Didn't overpack my own clothes for once.

Things I Did Wrong
1. Got sunburned, but only on my left shoulder.
2. Didn't drink enough water because I'm a cheapskate who wouldn't pay $4 for a bottle of Fiji water, thank you very much.
3. Shouted the word Pornography! in a ballroom full of my husband's business colleagues. (I had a good reason, I swear)

Things I Learned
1. My three-year-old is a better traveler than I would have given him credit for.
2. The contents of an adult stomach can fit neatly into a disposable kid's cup in an emergency.
3. There is NOTHING GOOD in walking distance from the Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan, Florida.

Obligatory Weird Vacation Occurrences
1. Met a reality-TV star.
2. Tripped over a highway in the ocean.
3. Landed at an airport with no radar.

It's good to be home.

How was your week?

- Liz

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Track Changes Have I Loved

Yesterday, I told you all about my torrid affair with Scrivener. Lest you think I am a brazen, convention-flauting hussy, today I want to tell you about my favorite feature of that tried and true elder statesmen of the word processing world, Microsoft Word. (Gentlemen, you might consider removing your hats as a sign of respect.)

Let's face it, Word is still the standard for the publishing world. On those occasions when you have to send attachments to agents and editors, you're going to be expected to send a .doc. Same holds true for most critique partners and beta readers.

(For those of you who are considering the switch to Scrivener, fear not--you'll be able to save your Scrivening as a .doc without any trouble.)

By far, my favorite feature of Word is Track Changes. When you're getting all those valuable notes back from CPs, betas, or--god willing--and agent or editor, this is the BEST way to get them, hands down. Here's why.

Open up a document--No, go ahead, I'll wait. Go to Tools on the Menu Bar, and scroll down to Track Changes. Then Highlight Changes. I always select Track Changes While Editing, and de-select Highlight Changes in Printed Document. You can also use the options menu on this little pop-up to personalize your color scheme and so on.

Here's the brilliant part: Start making corrections in the original text. That's right, just plow right over whatever's already there. Delete things, add words, correct spelling or punctuation. Each change will cause a little bubble to pop up on the right, recording what you did. (Yes, this is the part where you make your precious story look like it's bleeding to death. Or blueing to death, depending on what color scheme you're using.)

Don't worry, any change you make can be restored.

You can also make comments. Select any word, sentence, or even just leave the cursor where it lies. In the Reviewing Toolbar, which should be at the top of your window now, click the New Comment button. It's a little yellow Post-It with a green plus sign in the corner. It will open up another of those bubbles on the right where you can type away to your heart's content, telling your critique partner exactly what you think of something and why. I'm a huge fan of this feature. Probably too fond of it, frankly, but if this blog has proven nothing, it's that I like to be long-winded and find myself fascinating.

But, I digress...

If you've been lucky enough to receive a document that's already been through Track Changes, you have a new set of instructions. Each of those bubbles has a tiny check mark or X in the corner that allows you to accept or reject the changes made. You can also do a sweeping Accept All Changes if you agree with everything your reader has noted. Or, even select large sections of text and accept just those changes.

In other words, you can get all those precious grammatical and spelling errors corrected with the press of one button.

I am telling you, this is the single greatest way to get or give corrections to a writer. If you're not already using it, try it with just a few pages and a trusted writing friend. I can pretty much guarantee the light will dawn in your brain in a matter of minutes.

This isn't a special feature, it doesn't only work on Macs or PCs--Track Changes is patient, Track Changes is kind. Track Changes does not envy. It does not boast.... Well, you get the idea. Best to quit before that crack in the earth gets any wider and sucks me directly into hell for my blasphemy.

As dry and didactic as this post is, I hope you learned something. If you're already using Track Changes, I'm sure you've slipped into a coma of boredom by this point. If you're not, you're probably intimidated. Trust me, try it.

So, my writing friends, what other time-and-energy saving shortcuts am I missing in my life? Educate me in the comments!

- Liz

Monday, July 12, 2010

If You Love Scrivener So Much, Why Don't You Marry It?

Believe me, I would if such a thing were A: legal, or B: practical.

This is my promised post in which I laud all that is good and holy and perfect about Scrivener. Before we get started, there are a couple of things I would like to note. The first is that, I am in no way affiliated with Scrivener, nor are they paying me to (or
even aware that) I'm writing this. The second is that I am in no way an expert on this software, and I suspect I am barely scratching the surface of its capabilities.

Let's begin with a love story.

Once upon a time there was a writer named Liz, who had a wonderful relationship with Microsoft Word. So wonderful, in fact, that after she converted to the Mac religion, she paid good money to keep her Microsoft Word. They were like an old married couple--she knew all the keyboard shortcuts, could format a manuscript within an inch of its life, and had even mastered the art of creating folders for each project so all related documents could stay together.

Then, she met Scrivener. Their eyes met across a crowded Internet, she could see his demo video. Her mouth went dry. And she knew in an instant that she was no longer a one-word-processing-program woman.

So, why do I love Scrivener? Well, I could retell you all of the things you can learn from the demo video in the program after you download your free (fully functional) 30-day trial at Literature & Latte, but that would be redundant. I'll just give you the top seven things I love about it.

1. Organization, part 1. It allows me to divide my manuscript into folders. Each folder holds one chapter, and in the first draft, I divide each chapter into scenes. Each scene can be named for what happens, or by number depending on what floats your boat. I'm a namer. The names will never appear in the final document. Then, when I want to look at something in an old scene, I can quickly skip to it, without scrolling through thousands of words.

2. Organization, part deux. When I did my revisions on my last project (see my series for THAT whole story), I added a new text to each folder called Final. It allowed me to keep all my drafts together by chapter, and when I compiled the manuscript at the end, I just selected the texts entitled Final. Easy peasey.

3. The final product. Speaking of compiling, there are so many options when you do this it just might make you weep with joy. Or maybe that's just me. See, you can do all your formatting right there, regardless of how your texts look while you're in the midst of the writing process. And if you've ever had to meet very specific formatting requirements for an agent (Colleen Lindsay is one who has VERY specific ones, for example), you can do most of the grunt work right there. From changing italics to underlines, to eliminating typesetters quotes, it's all one click. AND you can pick your file type right there. .doc, .rtf, name it, Scrivener's got it.

4. Organization, part C. I started with Scrivener in the early stages of my rewrite process. It was a MASSIVE undertaking to copy and paste each scene into an individual text, but it was worth it. I'd actually recommend moving an old document into Scrivener if you really want to learn about it. Now, however, I am starting a brand new project (only 40 pages in) in Scrivener, and the folder/text system is working brilliantly.

5. The Research Folder. If you're anything like me as a writer, you have scads of research for each project. I have Internet Favorites folders for each project to save all those relevant web pages. And scattered all over the rest of my harddrive used to be folders with everything from pictures to old drafts to query letters and synopses. Now, I keep it all in Scrivener, in the Research section.

For my WIP, I have a text in the Research folder for my Character List, my MC's class schedule (she's in High School, and I've already mentioned several classes by their period), a list of locations I've mentioned by name and what chapter they're in, a list she made in the beginning of the story that will continue to affect the story, and other miscellaneous facts that I need.

6. Split Screen. If you're doing major copy-paste work, you can split the screen in Scrivener and scroll independently in each half of the split. Drag and drop goes between panes without a problem.
7. Instant Motivation. Each text has its own side column for various things--I don't even use all these features. But, one of the items is called Document Notes. You can put anything you want to see in there: a list of things you need to accomplish in that chapter, you can even put a picture. For my last revision, I wanted my MC to be a little more kick-ass throughout the story. So, I had a picture of an anime warrior, of all things, to remind me I needed to be taking names and kicking booty in each chapter.

Hey, whatever works, right?

Scrivener has a Facebook fanpage that gives you a tip of the day, and they're always brilliant. I won't even bother detailing them all, just go fan up and be done with it.

So, there you go. Some of the reasons I'm still having a passionate affair with Scrivener. Next up on the blog, I renew my vows with MS Word.

Fellow users: What's your favorite feature? Haters: What's not working for you? PC Users: Sorry, man.

- Liz

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vacation All I Ever Wanted...

Tomorrow morning, I set off for a week at the beach.

Fear not, your normally sporadic blogger has scheduled a surprising number of posts to pop up in my absence.

I may not be around to read and respond to all of your comments, very quickly however, so bear with me and know that I'll be around shortly.

In the meantime, I leave you with the greatest how-to manual of all time:

- Liz

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Revision Series - Part 4: The To-Do List and My Unending Love of Track Changes

So, I finished my first pass of my revisions. From Chapter 1 to the Epilogue, with only a few pitstops along the way to make major repairs.

Now, I had 23 documents from one beta reader, at least that many chat transcripts from the other, and dozens of e-mails that had flown back and forth between us. It was time to dig in
for that all important next draft.

Here, I made a mistake--I should have been working on my chapter-by-chapter To Do list all along. I did have an overall To Do list that I'd started amassing somewhere around Chapter 7, but it was a lot of work to go back through all those e-mails and chat transcripts (sidenote: Gmail has saved my ass on more than one occasion, and this was just another. Google, consider me yours.)

In the end, I had a To Do list that looked something like this:

And I started back at the beginning again ("In the beginning, there was Chapter 1...") with my beautiful, beautiful Track Changes notes, courtesy of the eagle-eyed J.A. Souders. When it was a good chapter, it was seas of white with a few helpful notes in the margin.

When it needed help, it looked more like this:

And believe me, I needed everyone of those notes.

Did I make every change they suggested? No. But I considered each one. If you want to read more about my thoughts on the suggestions that come from betareaders (a.k.a. Critique Partners), go here.

And soon enough, I had a final draft ready for the big time.

I think.

Coming up, we talk the nitty-gritties of Querying and Synopsizing. Did you just feel your breakfast urp into your throat? Yeah, me, too. Don't worry, we can do this.

Before that, though, I think I'll go into a bit more detail about Word's Track Changes and do the happy dance about Scrivener. We all cool with that? Excellent.

- Liz

Thursday, July 1, 2010

revision Series - Part 3: From Start to Finish, With Pitstops

Today is our third stop on the Revision Tour.

If you've been following along, you know we started with an overview, then I told you all about my first draft review and plot grid technique. Yesterday I talked about the experience of writing and working with betareaders as I went.

Today, I'm going to talk about what to do without all that betareading goodness. Well, part of it anyway. During the rewrites of this particular project, I was usually working about two chapters ahead of where my readers were. Not too far ahead, in other words. So, when I got notes back from them, I would review them right away. Most of the time, I could confidently say, "Okay, I'm on the right track, and I'll do those little tweaks when I go back for a final draft." Once in a while though, I'd get feedback that put on the brakes.

I only came to a screeching halt a couple of times. Notably, the ending, or at least the chapters just before the ending when one of my betas (the one who read the chapter first) said, "Uh uh, no way, this isn't risky enough, this is not dramatic enough. Try again." And she was so right.

On those rare occasions, I'd go back before I could move forward. Those changes had to be made before the rest of the story could proceed. Maybe it's because I'm a Pantser by nature (I don't work from an outline, I just see what happens), but if the Before is screwed up, I don't have an After.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about what I did with the rest of their suggestions, but before I'm gone today, I have one more sermon to preach.

IF YOU'RE NOT USING TRACK CHANGES IN WORD WITH YOUR CRITIQUE PARTNERS, YOU'RE WORKING TOO HARD!!! Yes, I love Scrivener, and I'll climb on my soapbox about that some other day, but when it comes to line edits, there is simply no comparison to Word and Track Changes. It seems too good to be true when you first use it. And when you get your first document back from a reader and the whole margin looks like it's ON FIRE with comments and corrections, you'll feel like a hack. You're not. You just have tunnel vision. We all do.

I'll show you all some screen shots from Track Changes tomorrow, so you can get an idea of how extensive my notes from my betas were and what I had to do for my final draft.

I hope you're all finding this useful!

- Liz