The Benefit of a Writing Vacation

Last month I escaped from my house to Costa Rica and spent a couple of weeks hiding in a sunny place with my novel manuscript. As a writing sabbatical goes, the time was short. As vacations go, I was bringing a big chunk of work to digest. I came home extremely satisfied on both counts.

I started every day with a cup of coffee and my pages and set to work. I am in the story editing/re-writing of massive chunks phase, so I worked by hand—pen on printed page, combined with re-writing by hand on the backs of rejected pages and a few borrowed fresh ones. In the afternoon I changed into my bathing suit, walked down the block to the beach, and swam in the Pacific. Some days I took the manuscript with me to the beach and spent a few hours working seaside at an outdoor cafe, sipping some kind of drink served in a coconut, my feet dug into the sand. Does this sound non-productive? Not at all! I plowed through three-quarters of the novel by the time I returned home.

Last year I took time off to write at home, mid-winter, and failed. I did write, but I suffered from the double yoke of winter blues and lazy distraction. This year I decided to go for sunshine, and came home at the end of it happy and accomplished.

I think that forcing myself to completely relax while writing made a phenomenal difference to my focus.

I returned to work the day after my escape, and am back to my narrow margins of writing time. I am forgiving myself some down time, as this has been a tough year, with trying to find a new place to live, and saying goodbye to several loved ones. The boyfriend needs some attention, too. We are already talking about where to sabbatical next year. One last reflection to bear in mind—make sure the boyfriend brings enough to do to keep himself busy during writing hours!

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Mister, Can You Spare the Time?

I haven’t gotten my head around the right ways to promote a book, or how to find the time. I barely have enough time to write. But the truth is promotion deserves equal time to writing, if a writer has any interest in finding readers. Which I do, or I wouldn’t be putting in the effort of multiple drafts to get the story right. The time has come to consider hiring one of the hundreds of promotional services vying for my few dollars—one that comes recommended. Goodreads forums for indie authors provide some insight, though a bit of digging is required.

I have learned something about timing from my mistakes. So here’s some advice to my future self: don’t release a book during NaNoWriMo in the heat of cram-writing a new one. Also, don’t bookmark the time immediately following a first draft spew for promoting the previous book—you will be too exhausted with burn-out to bother.

I’m still grappling with the promotion of the last book, and what happens to it when I move my focus to this new one. I hate how I feel like I’m letting my characters down when I abandon the old book for the new (I hate how I miss them sometimes). It’s been a year and a half since I let that book loose on the world and I’m lost as to how to do right by it. Is there a promotional time-limit after publishing? The book doesn’t feel new anymore, and yet it would be new to most people, as few have read it. Common advice seems to dictate letting the previous book(s) piggyback on the promotion of new reads, and as the time to promote the new book is fast approaching, that role is already set.

Meantime, during the day I’m designing train cars for a TV series and at night I sit down to 18th century London. I’m lucky if I get an hour a day in London gin joint times, but at the moment I am in the back halls of a Covent Garden theatre trying to find a little privacy. I know what happens there but I’m not telling…

 

 

 

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Editing: Better as a Hand Job

First I apologize for the gap in posts. I started a new job which always presents time challenges, then a dear friend died, then I got offered a short contract on the other side of the country, starting this week. There was hardly time to breathe let alone blog.
I wrote the final sentence of my completed draft about a month ago. After a one month break, the time has come to begin the big story edit. I need to do the first big edit myself before handing the manuscript off to a different set of eyes. This will officially become the third draft, having designated the post-NaNo run-through—where I made notes in the margin and took a year to complete the big gap in the second half of the middle third—as the second draft.

I started a few weeks ago—okay, I started over a month ago—when my boyfriend and I planned a camping trip that provided a perfect opportunity for a few hours a day without distraction to peruse the draft and make notes. Only trick was: I’d have to do the work by hand. I printed out the first part in its entirety, double spaced, and took a pen. The camping weekend was a rain-out disaster. I did some work on the manuscript while we were sequestered in the tent, but only got so far as halfway through the prologue before misery prevailed and I read a book instead.

Part of the lesson there was don’t expect to get any work done while spending time with someone who needs a lot of attention or whose miserable state of mind can so easily effect one’s own. That part I already knew. The second part of the lesson did not reveal itself until this weekend.

Having printed a large chunk of my manuscript for the camping trip, and finding myself heading out to Vancouver for a film job, I threw the pages into the suitcase with everything else, figuring I would have time to try again. The first week here I’ve been too exhausted in the evenings to do anything, but yesterday I found myself with a whole day to kill, and after a hike in my favourite park to a view I seek out every time I’m here, I took the manuscript to the beach. Pen in hand I began where I’d left off in the tent, making notes on the pages, noting character changes, points of arc I’d missed an opportunity for, details that I’d added later that tied into the beginning chapters, and highlighting a few awkward sentences I need to fix. Most importantly, I found myself so reinvigorated by the story and its characters that when I decided I’d had enough of sitting on the grass on a towel and headed “home” (a hotel suite), I sat down at the desk and worked away for another couple of hours.

It struck me as I worked that making the edit notes on a printed manuscript made a huge difference in the process. Something about working with a hard copy removed me far enough to grant me a wider perspective. I could turn the pages and write on the back. I imagine working with a hard copy instead of on the laptop is akin to printing out a drawing I’ve been working on and hitting it with a red pen for corrections. There is just so much more one can see with the whole than when nose to word (or line) within a screen space.
I will have to transpose the notes and rewrites back into the digital manuscript (which will become the third draft, officially), but the process is worth the extra step.

I am out with family today and more hikes per the pacific north-west life, but I can’t wait to get back to those pages!

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Finding New York in 1745

I thought that I would find tons of readily available material about 18th century Manhattan when researching for my latest book. I was wrong. I did not predict the depth and longevity of scarring left behind by the British occupation of New York during the revolution, nor did I fully grasp the minute repercussions of history being written by the winners.

I found plenty of material about Dutch-era Manhattan, as New Yorkers seem to love their Dutch history. The Dutch, after all, weren’t British. The internet boasts a plethora of maps, anecdotal stories, artwork, family history, architecture, etc. of the original colony. There is a fond collective memory of naive early days. Unless one is researching First Nations history, which is a very different story (note first paragraph, ironically).

The 17th century ends with the secession of Dutch power and most casual histories of New York give a nod in a paragraph or two acknowledging the colony was British before moving on.

The bulk of American history doesn’t start until the revolution does. Everything one might be curious about is well documented from that point on. I should not be surprised that American history starts with its inception—but it’s like there was nothing worth mentioning before 1776.

At first I grew very frustrated by the minimal resource materials available online. Then it occurred to me that if I couldn’t corroborate many of the details of my setting, then neither could many of my readers. Once I embraced this realization, I felt liberated to write whatever I wanted within the loose framework of what I had been able to research.

I was successful in finding a handful of contemporary maps, which I refer to often. I sometimes take walks in my imagination, inspired by annotations on the map of markets, palisades, ports and forts, churches and commons. (Note that the above map is from 1662.)

During the year 1741, just before my characters arrive in New York, a well-documented tragedy occurred which was not dissimilar to the witch trials of Salem. This time the hysteria developed following several arson incidents which were blamed on the swelling population of African slaves, who at that time made up 20% of New York. While this event is not directly referenced in my novel, the documentation around it reveals a fascinating glimpse into the cultural make-up of the city in that era.

My favourite research treasure (and one which I’ve been promising to dedicate a post to) has been a small collection of newspapers from the mid 1750’s that have been made available online. I suspect the interest in publishing these particular issues is the documentation of troop movements during the Seven Years War (known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War), but buried in the back pages are local news stories and a slew of advertising, all of which are priceless sources of information.

Apart from Maps and Newspapers, another favourite source of life at the time is a You-Tube channel published by a three-generation family of historical enactment suppliers, who in their own time re-enact recipes from the colonial era. They also publish question and answer videos for people who wish to make their reenactment experiences as true to history as possible, and some of the details have been invaluable.

Everything else in my novel is made up from my imagination. But my story is about two young people who fall in love, and that type of situation hasn’t changed much in thousands of years. So I think a little loose interpretation of history will be ok.

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First Draft Completed!

Awhile back I set myself the goal of finishing the gap I left in my first draft at the end of NaNoWriMo last year. I would finish the story while working up north on a contract. Nope. I would finish the story while working an easy contract over the summer. Nope. I would finish the story while I took a writing break over the winter. Almost! I challenged myself to finish the novel before George R.R. Martin managed to squeeze out Winds of Winter, thinking a little self-aggrandizing competition might provide the fuel. Success! (I have mixed feelings that there is no sign of a Winds of Winter release date.)

I feel great for having finished. The writing routine I posted about last time really did help me get to the end in good time. As I approached the finish line, I skipped the warm-up and dove right into the text. When I was done, I enjoyed a well-deserved glass of scotch.

I’m back to my 60 hour weeks for the next couple months, but I’m ready to tackle the second draft, the oodles of margin notes, and a ton of period research.

Time to get serious about learning how to market a book.

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