René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.


Leave a comment

Revising the First Draft—My Story

I read online about Revising the First Draft. Those online people make it seem really straight-forward. They must know what they’re talking about. They’ve got books published and writerly looking profile pics. I follow their advice.

I decide to print out my draft, rather than edit it on the computer. That’s going to be a lot of printing. I’ll need to buy ink. And a binder to put the document in. And blue and red pens for editing. Because literally every single pen I own happens to have black ink. I can’t use black ink for editing—every writer knows that!

I go to Target and get a binder, a new ink cartridge for the printer, as well as blue and red ink pens for editing. Supplies are ready…

Good thing I got that back-up ink cartridge. The print job got all streaky at around page 138. No biggie. I’ll reprint those 10 pages or so. The printing is done. It took forever. It’s a 292-page brick. A real door-stopper. Why didn’t I print double-sided? I’m a tree-killer. How am I going to get all of these pages in the binder? By using my old three-hole puncher that only allows me to punch like five pages or so at a time. That’s a lot of punching. The little, white whole-punches are flying everywhere. I can recycle them—that sort of makes up for all the pages I printed. I get a little light-headed from all of the hole-punching, but my triceps feel really toned.

The advice I read online says that I should be done reading the draft in one or two sittings. I’m on my fourth sitting, and I’m not done yet. I have this cozy chair that I love, and I curl up with my draft and my blue pen. I read and edit some, and then I get sleepy. I take a nap. I wake up and gnash teeth over the fact that I fell asleep. (Does this mean my novel is boring?) I read some more, and then gnash teeth over what I’ve written. I get sleepy again and give myself a pep-talk. “It’s only boring to you because you wrote it,” I tell myself. I make tea so I don’t fall asleep. I use self-torture device so that my eyes can’t close. Device proves to be effective.

20180111_091716.jpg

 

I make edits on the pages, mostly line edits. I start a separate sheet and divide it into columns to help identify structural issues—columns titled, What Needs to be Further Developed, What’s Missing, and Plot Holes. As I read more of the draft, I realize that I need more columns. I notice lines that could seem like foreshadowing techniques when they’re not. It reminds me of the saying, “If you have a gun in your novel, you have to use it.” Well, I don’t have any guns in my book, or under my pillow. But I add a column called Smoking Guns and list all of the bad lines, because I’ll know what it means later.

I add another column, because I’m starting to notice terms that appear over and over and over in my draft. How many times can a character lean forward, blush, or be surprised? I have “purr” a lot, too, which is odd because I’m not even a cat-person. I recall an article that I read years ago about a book that shall remain nameless (Fifty Shades of Gray), which noted that variations of “bit her lip” were used dozens of times. I do a Find search in my document. Luckily, I’ve only used “bit her lip” twice. I label the column Overdone Descriptions, as opposed to Bit Her Lip.

The columns are getting longer, and my manuscript has blue ink on every page. I gnash more teeth, which are now down to nubs. I put in a mouth guard to save what’s left. My mother will be upset next time she sees my nub-teeth. She spent a lot of money on my teeth back in the day, on braces and such.

I think I scare my husband when he comes home from work. I’ve been in a bad state these last four days of revising my draft. Me with my eye-opening device and mouth guard, lips dribbling tea, and murmuring, “It’s only boring to you because you wrote it.” But he doesn’t ask questions. He just hugs me, and I hug him back with my blue-ink-stained fingertips. And we say, “It’ll be over soon.”


Leave a comment

Bird by Bird, Word by Word

my_tweet-6

The phrase “bird by bird” has been running through my mind a lot lately.

If you recall—or if you don’t, or if you’re unaware—the phrase came to be 50-something years ago while a boy was overwhelmed with the task of writing a report about birds. The boy was author Anne Lamott’s younger brother.

“We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

It’s funny how the brain recalls things. I haven’t read Bird by Bird in years. Yet, that short scene of father and son is so powerful, and its’ resonance has rippled throughout the writer community, that it’s no surprise that it came back to me—especially now.

I’m at that place, at the kitchen table, “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.” But instead of “unopened books on birds” before me, I’ve got a file of my sh*tty first draft open. On my computer, I also have a growing list of edits to review when I proof the draft later, and a running list of things to research for historical accuracy. And there’s that deadline I gave myself, because I don’t want to meander around the pasture too long.

“Bird by bird.”

I have been saying it out loud to myself on those days where I feel sluggish, those days that I feel overwhelmed, the days that I feel less-than, the days where I go from, “Yes, my end goal is to find an agent and become a published author” to “perhaps I should just self-publish something just for my friends and family to read,” those days of self-doubt, of nitpicking, of not feeling good enough.

There’s something cathartic about the term “bird by bird,” when you give it all the power of its’ intention. It can become cathartic, hopeful, empowering, and even whimsical. And there’s more force behind it when the phrase is said aloud. You start to claim it and own it.

The last time I said “bird by bird,” I added on “word by word” to it. Yes, I’ll admit that I probably said it haphazardly at first, because of the rhythm. But when I thought about it a little more, I realized that there was depth to it. That little add-on reminds me how far I’ve come. To get to the place I’m at, to get to this sh*tty first draft, I had to write word by word.

If I keep doing what I’m doing, bird by bird, then I’ll get to the second draft, and so on and so forth…

I decided to revisit the book that made the phrase so famous. I pulled the copy from my bookshelf. The copyright date is 1994. I seem to remember buying it within a few years of publication. I had underlined some sentences, dog-eared some pages. This was around the time that I started to take this whole writing thing more seriously. I wanted to study the craft of it, understand it better, understand why I felt the way that I did about the process–immobilized, afraid, enthused, excited. The book helped with all of that, and then some.

Twenty years later, it’s still helping.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash