Back up

I write regularly in coffee shops and libraries. I am more easily distracted at home, so I am constantly carrying my netbook around. I am paranoid about losing my novel through either theft of my netbook, or from a computer crash that I can’t recover from. I don’t want to imagine losing my first novel. I don’t know if I would have the strength to write it again.

I have been using the online service DropBox. Dropbox is essentially an online drive where you can store and backup your information. Not only is the information backed up, but you can you access files from any computer or Smartphone. When you sign up for the (free) service, you place a folder on any device you use regularly. When a file is saved to the local folder, a copy is stored online, and the folders on your other devices are updated as well. You can also access the folder on any random computer by going to their website and signing in with your password.

When I was writing the first draft of Share the Road, I backed it up after each session. And either through paranoia, or to create a road map of how far I got each day, I sent a separate file each day leaving all the previous ones intact. There are 30 versions of the first draft, one for each day I wrote. I did the same thing for each of the edits, so there are more than a hundred files, each with a slightly different version of the book.

I doubt I will ever go back and pour over each version to see what each contains, but it is sort of interesting to look back on the file dates to see how long I took on each round of editing. I probably won’t even open more than a few of the files at any time, but it is nice to know they are there, backed up on another server in case my computer fails.

And of course, most everything is backed up on another external drive in case the cloud fails me. You can never be too careful.

Painting a better picture

I enjoyed the first read-through. I found good bits and pieces that I had forgotten about. I could see the occasional a-ha moments that happened as I wrote my way into the story. I saw again how random things I put down early in the story popped up again later. And after reading it through, I finally had a title I liked. It was really rough, but it only made me want to make it better.

And it needed a lot of work. There was rambling, repetition, and lots of typos. Though it is not a story where lots of things are happening (think Cast Away), it was in desperate need of fleshing out. I had pictured the scenes in my minds eye, but I had not brought that clarity to the page.

During the first round of editing, I primarily focused on bumping up the descriptive parts, painting a better picture of the world my character was passing through. Since this was not a plot driven book, I needed to be able to pull the reader into the world if it would have any chance of getting them to keep turning pages. I would work on polishing the story on the second pass-through.

This approach to editing is the reverse of most recommended methods. Why bother fleshing out the scenes in a story if you aren’t even sure if they are going to remain in the book. But for some reason this is what appealed to me. I needed to be pulled into the world as well, to find reasons to be there, to find details I previously missed.

And I found that I enjoyed editing.

I was surprised by a couple of things. Editing was as slow or slower than putting down the first draft. As hard as I struggled getting the story down on the page, I couldn’t imagine going any slower. But in a way editing was more difficult. I wasn’t pouring over every word, but the focus was definitely finer. Just as I was trying to notice more details in the imagined scenery, individual words and sentences clamored for attention.

But I found that I enjoyed the tweaking. It still felt like I was discovery writing even though I knew the story already. By taking a closer look at the scenery passing by, I found more inspiration, and so did the main character. The story still wasn’t worth showing to anyone else just yet, but it felt like I was headed in the right direction.

First read

My first novel, written in a rush in just over a month. There was pride, there was elation, there was computer screen eye fatigue…now I had to read the thing.

One of the many lessons from On Writing was to shelter away your first draft and show no one the work in progress. It is just too rough, and you are already filled with enough self-doubt that you don’t need anyone else reinforcing that feeling. You just need to lock yourself away until it is all done.

When I say no one had read the book, I mean even I hadn’t read it. Part of the NaNoWriMo challenge is to turn off your internal editor. I was not entirely successful as my fingers hovered over the keys too long before striking them.

But I did resist going back and messing with what was already down on paper. When I opened the Word file each morning, I would go back a couple of paragraphs to see where I left off, but no farther. Part of it was the time crunch and not having time to rewrite anything. Another was I was worried that I would read it and see how horrible it was and get discouraged. But now it was done and it was time for the first read.

On the advice of many, I intended to set the book aside for a while. Wait for at least a month to distance myself, maybe start reading it in the new year. But I didn’t wait all that long. I was home for Christmas, and had some time on my hands. I reasoned that it had been almost two months since I wrote the first chapter, but it was just an excuse. I wanted to read the damn thing.

I went to Fed Ex/Kinkos and printed it out. Bought a shiny new binder and a fresh highlighting pen. I went to a coffee shop, bought a strong cup of coffee and dug in.

And then I stopped.

I started making corrections and pausing over paragraphs all over again. I was getting too bogged down, obsessing over phrases and punctuation. The highlighter was messing it up and I wasn’t reading the story.  I wanted to read it once through without critiquing it (or at least taking notes) to see if it held together.

I ended up setting the notebook aside. I found a program online that would convert my Word file to a mobile format, and downloaded the book to my Kindle. There are ways to make notes on the Kindle, but it is more cumbersome than with pen and paper. Reading it as an eBook made it easier to just read. No real notes. Some judgment.

Parts of it were painful, but there were certain points or turns of phrases that brought a smile to my face. It needed a lot of work, but I enjoyed reading it for the first time. Now it was time to edit the thing .