Productive reading: analysis

Good teachers will always recommend that you “read and…” Which means that you read and look for solutions for problems you have in your own writing, build your vocabulary, discover what excites you as a reader, watch how the dialogue unfolds, etc.  And one of the best ways to launch your analysis is to ask questions of the author. Ask questions Let’s say you’re writing non-fiction.  In that case, the books you’re studying will give you the stakes up front.  They will tell you what to expect, what question they intend to pose and answer, and, essentially, what they will conclude (although they might be coy about that last bit). Therefore, you can immediately ask the first question: Will this book center/expand/challenge my work? If so, keep reading and form new questions about pacing, approach, tone, organization, burden of proof, etc.  If you think the book won’t help you…move on.  I know that seems cutthroat, but if you tried to

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Planning your writing day: the thematic

Set a central question Your work will likely have a big picture idea you’re thinking about as you go.  You might not know exactly what this is immediately, but you must have some idea, or you wouldn’t be writing.  Write down whatever you’ve got—a fully formed idea or a general concept—and then translate it into a question. For example, I spent a couple months scribbling down ideas for my dissertation, and then formed my central research question after I realized what united them all—“What does this have to do with normative masculinity?” The purpose of this question is two-fold. First, it needs to fit on a post-it, short and pithy, so it sharply focuses your thoughts as soon as you see it.  I recommend posting it at your desk so you can refer to it at the start of your writing session or if your focus strays. Second, it needs to relate to every chapter, scene, or conversation you produce,

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Fiction editing: lessons from the dialogue read-aloud

I expected to have additional lessons from the back half of the first edit to share with you, but it turns out that by the time you’re that far into your piece, it’s really about applying everything you’ve already learned and picking up speed. Instead, new lessons come this time from my first forays into the dialogue read-aloud. Yet again, the learning curve has been a bit of a shock.  Yet again, I figured I would be quick about it, soaring through this new form of editing like a trumpeter swan.  After all, I’ve already edited the entire book once for major plot and character overhaul.  How hard could it be to read the thing out loud and fix a little grammar? Hard.  Real Hard.  Like, I-am-less-a-swan-and-more-a-barnyard-chicken hard. So, in the spirit of transparency and education…some further lessons. Lesson thirteen: Fill out character sheets I know.  I know I said in the last set of lessons that you would know

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Fiction editing: lessons from the first half

Halfway done! Halfway done.  …..halfway done…*collapses* And the lessons this time are about trust–of self, of other authors, of characters, of ability. Lesson eight: The iceberg metaphor I think the majority of us have probably heard the iceberg metaphor: maybe because we were emo teens with “complex” emotional lives that vibrated below the surface; maybe because our teachers had a poster up on the wall, desperately trying to drive home how much actual work goes into a project. But if not, it goes like this. For every 5% of material that makes it to the page, there is another 95% of material supporting it silently, unseen, from behind the scenes. In other words, if you don’t know the world you built inside and out, if you don’t where your story is going at all times, or if you don’t know why your characters say the things they do, based on backstory and motivation, your shit is going to get wrecked.

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Fiction editing: lessons from chapter one

I’ve been editing my academic work for years.  I’ve edited approximately a million papers, a masters thesis, dissertation pieces, and countless student submissions.  I’m good at it. I figured I would be good at fiction editing, too. LOLS Well, to be self-compassionate, I wouldn’t say I’m straight up bad at fiction editing.  But I would definitely say that I was being coy with myself when I set my expectations, and that chapter one has provided the rudest of awakenings. Awakenings provide lessons, though.  So, in the spirit of education, here’s what I’ve learned so far about editing… Lesson One: Your characters will be strangers If this is your first big piece of fiction (and maybe even if it’s your third or fourth) you’re going to look back at your first chapter and wonder what the hell is even going on with these characters you thought you knew so well. A reminder: You do.  You do know them.  But you didn’t

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