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Writing is rewriting

This is my third post in a short series on how I write. In the first post I talked about how I generate story ideas. In the last post I explained how I sequence them into a plot with a timeline and a three act structure. In this post I will share how I actually do the writing. The picture below shows my writing tool kit. 
recorder and notes

My writing kit

I have a pretty old Windows laptop that makes a lot of noise and generates heat, which is good in winter as my writing room gets cold. I used to write in Word as most people do but I found the way Word deals with your book as one monolithic chunk of text too cumbersome. Once you get beyond the 10,000 word mark you need something a bit more flexible. I’ve come to use Scriviner which for these who don’t know it is a mix between a word processor and a writing project tool. I’ll talk about how I use Scriviner in another post but for our purposes here lets just say that it is how the words get stored in story form. It’s the end of the process I am going to describe below. 

Start by hand

I am a lousy typist; 60 wpm and 40 mistakes and this gets in the way of my thinking so I can’t do a first draft on the computer. The first draft is always handwritten, usually on the back of a printed draft of a previous work. The plus of this approach is that I can and do write anywhere. In pubs and coffee bars, on station platforms and in public libraries where they won’t let you plug into the mains.  When I get into the flow there is a joy in being able to race ahead in the story without the computer pointing out all my spelling mistakes and poor punctuation. I don’t let the grammar get in the way of revealing the story. Rewriting is where that gets fixed. A consequence of handwriting is that my productivity will never get beyond 4000 words in a session. That is about half a days handwriting by which time I am physically and mentally done in. I usually average 2000-3000 words although sometimes it can be half that. My target is not to complete the word count but to finish the scene. There is a sense of achievement is being able to tick off one of my post it notes and to look at my timeline becoming more marked up. This is what it looks like at the end.

scene edits

Timeline showing scene edits

Each line on the note represents an individual draft and the circle says I have incorporated comments from my beta readers. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Because of my lack of typing prowess I dictate my hand written draft into the computer. I use Dragon dictation software to transcribe the recording from my little Olympus dictation recorder.There are lots of versions of both and I would recommend going for the cheaper models especially if you are not sure this is for you. Argos and Amazon often have offers on both. I use a small lapel mike so I don’t have to hold the recorder to my mouth and this works fine. I find speaking the first draft helps me to pick up on anything that sounds odd or poorly phrased. I don’t correct it on the recording I just note it on the draft. It takes about an hour to record 3000 words and about the same time for the computer to transcribe it. You train the Dragon software to understand your pronunciation and it does get better over time, but there are still typos and it won’t put in any punctuation you’ve missed out. I’ve tended to wait until I’ve completed the whole book as a hand written manuscript before I start dictation. This means there are limits of how much speaking I can do before the voice starts to go and then the Dragon software makes so many mistakes that it is not worth using it in the first place. Usually I can record 10,000 – 12,0000 words a day and while I am sitting in front of the TV in the evening the Dragon software is transcribing those scenes in about three hours. I can finish a book in about a week. (The recorder has a huge capacity and can easily hold a hundred thousand word plus book in its memory. You can also download the MP3, WMA or WMV files to your hard drive via a USB link to your computer. (I plan to try recording my first audio book version with the recorder but that’s another post.)

Editing on screen

My next stage is to edit the transcript on the screen. I’ve saved the Dragon files as separate work documents titled by the main action in the scene as described on my post it notes, e.g. `Hannah and Tito are kidnapped.docx‘ I copy and paste these scenes into Scriviner and get the running order (see the left hand margin on the pc screen in the picture). I start to read and edit the story in its running order. This will be the first time I have run through the story from start to finish. I may have created the manuscript draft out of sync, especially where I want to make sure that I tie up the consequences of what happened in Chapter 2 with the results in Chapter 7 even though the intervening chapters have not been written. In this edit I discover that: I have called the same person by different names or different spellings; I have repeated the same dialogue in different places; I have gaps in the plot that need new scenes to fill; I have a killer bit of text that now seems out of place and should go into the out takes file (nothing is ever thrown away). I address the errors, punctuation and fact checking issues and then I print out a Word version and leave it for 24 hours. This first computer edit can take as long as the dictation to produce.

I come back to the Word document with my readers hat on. I read the story for enjoyment and ask myself is that what I wanted to write. If it’s not I make a note on the typed manuscript of what needs to be fixed. By the end of this read through the text is a blood bath of red pen and post it notes. There is probably not a page without some comment on it. This is where the real writing starts. I start my rewrite in Scriviner dealing with all the comments I have made. When I am finished I take a snapshot (version) of the each section of the text, add some on line notes about what I have changed and change the colour of the flag for the document. This approach allows me to assemble a draft using any versions of different scenes. All this happens in Scriviner. I don’t think that is possible in Word. I leave this third draft for a week before I read it again. I make my final changes and than that is the end of the book I set out to write.

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Next it is over to my beta readers to find out if it is the book they want to read. From Scriviner I output a Word manuscript version and then do some global edits. Scene titles are replaced with chapter numbers, page layout is titivated etc. I produce a pdf of this version to send to my beta readers. I’ll talk more about the challenge of beta readers in another post. It is nice to know what they liked but it is more important to me to find out what they found Confusing, Unbelievable or Dull (CUD). My next draft is about taking the CUD out of the book. There is a real challenge in dealing with this feedback and not just about being over sensitive to criticism of your baby. If the reader is a friend rather than a fan of the genre they you have to try and mediate what they say, although they will help you to spot gross errors.

I will let the de-CUD’ed draft sit for about ten days before revisiting it. This is my last read and a final sense check before it goes to an editor. To be honest I am a  bit bored with it by this stage and my enthusiasm is moving towards my next project so I am looking at this one in housekeeping mode making sure that all the ancillaries for publication have been completed. This is really checklist stuff. What comes back from the editor hopefully the comments are about points of detail not questions about plot and structure.  Once I’ve taken those on board I use Scriviner to product the publication versions in various formats. But that’s another story.

Well that’s my process, what’s yours?

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