Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Ex Libris Anonymous

When the writing stops, the cutting begins

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On Sunday, I went to a branch of the ubiquitous print shop franchise that I continue to think of as Kinko’s, although apparently Kinko’s itself hasn’t existed as a corporate entity for many years, and picked up a copy of House of Passages, the sequel to The Icon Thief. These days, my routine for reading a first draft is pretty fixed: since this isn’t meant for anyone’s eyes but my own, I cheerfully disregard the usual conventions of proper manuscript format, printing out the whole thing single-spaced and binding it all together. The former is to save paper; the latter is to keep all the pages in one place, both for convenience while reading, and also for archival purposes. This is one printout of this novel, possibly the only one, that I’m going to keep forever.

Over the past two days, I’ve read through the entire manuscript, making cuts and emendations in pencil on the draft itself, while taking notes in a separate journal (from Ex Libris Anonymous, incidentally). Some of these notes are as basic as the fact that I no longer like a certain supporting character’s name; others point out inconsistencies in the plot or areas where additional information needs to be laid into an earlier section to prepare the reader for developments to come. Because I’m cutting and taking notes at the same time, it took me longer to read through this draft than I expected. All told, it required about twelve hours, spread out over a couple of days, to work my way through the entire thing. (I was also distracted by the fact that my wife and I are buying a house, but that’s a story for another time.)

Once I finished going through the manuscript, I began the laborious work of entering all of my handwritten changes into the copy I’m saving in Word. By itself, this process of transcription can take something like four hours, and there are moments when I’m tempted to save time by reading the draft in Word and making the changes directly. Still, there are reasons why I’ve stuck with my current method. Reading close to 130,000 words online isn’t great for the eyes. There’s also something satisfying about the physical sensation of crossing out whole sentences and paragraphs with a pencil. Most importantly, by dividing the process into two parts, I’m giving myself an extra chance to think, reconsider, and amend my own changes, and I’ve often made interesting discoveries while transcribing.

The upshot, then, is that after two days of work, I’ve already cut 15,000 words from the draft, which is pretty much where I wanted to be: I’ve easily obeyed Stephen King’s dictum, which I wanted to do before showing the novel to my agent, and I still have leeway for later cuts and revisions. By the end, after I’ve sweated out the rest (to use George R.R. Martin’s phrase), the manuscript should be roughly 100,000 words long, which is about right. And as for the novel’s merits…well, it’s a first draft. I already have a long list of changes I need to make, and it’s going to change in a thousand other ways, many of them unknown at this point, before it’s of publishable quality. All the same, it strikes me as reasonably competent, occasionally readable, and only periodically confusing—and I have two months to make it better, which is a good thing. Because the clock starts ticking now.

Written by nevalalee

July 13, 2011 at 8:48 am

For the novelist who has everything

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Most writers, let’s face it, are less than wealthy. This profession has all kinds of rewards, but financial ones, unless the writer is especially lucky or the star of a reality television show, usually aren’t among them. This holiday season, then, you might want to treat the writer in your life to one of the following gifts, which will make his or her solitary existence a little more comfortable. (Full disclosure: I already own most of the following, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get me this.)

1. Infusing Teapot from Hues ‘n Brews ($25). Most writers like to sip from a cup of something while they work. For me, it used to be coffee, and, in the evening, white wine—a bad habit that I’ve mostly given up. About a year ago, I switched to green tea, and it’s been great: with an infusing teapot, I can easily make tea from loose leaves, bought on the cheap from the Chinese supermarket, and steep them for two or more infusions, which is more than enough to keep me going throughout the day. After a factory fire this summer, Hues ‘n Brews teapots can be hard to find, so if you see one, grab it. And make sure you get a thermos, too—a tip that I learned from A Writer’s Life by Gay Talese—and a nice mug. (My own favorites are these sturdy little mugs from Pantone. Mine is Pantone 292, which fans of The Magnetic Fields will appreciate.)

2. Recycled hardcover journals from Ex Libris Anonymous ($13). These book journals—which are created from vintage hardcovers, with a few pages from the original book thoughtfully distributed throughout—are among the most beautiful and sensible gifts that a writer can receive. My first Ex Libris notebook, created from a copy of Thomas B. Costain’s Magnificent Century, has served me well for years now, and includes notes, mind maps, and miscellaneous scribbles for three novels, two screenplays, and a handful of short stories. Once the pages run out, I’ll be switching to a notebook made from Tatsuo Ishimoto’s Art of the Japanese Garden, which I’m hoping will last for just as long.

3. Messenger bag from Tumi ($150). Writers tend to carry a lot of stuff with them. (In addition to whatever book I’m currently reading, I’ll usually have pens, pencils, business cards for notes, Altoids, and often a larger notebook.) In cities like New York or Chicago, where the creative class tends to rely on public transportation, it’s essential to have a reliable bag. Women have this part covered, but men will probably need some kind of satchel. My favorite, from Tumi, is no longer available, but they seem to have some nice alternatives available online. I’m also fond of this one from STM, which is large enough to accommodate a laptop and some library books. (Just don’t call it a man purse.)

4. Symphony pillow from Tempur-Pedic ($99). Back pain is a chronic part of the writer’s life. I’ll be writing about this in greater detail in a future post, but suffice to say that right chair, a properly elevated workstation, and a good pillow all go a long way. If you’re in a generous mood, you might consider buying the Aeron chair mentioned above (I had to give mine up, sadly, after my move to Chicago). But, failing that, the Tempur-Pedic pillow will make your favorite writer’s neck and back a lot happier. (After six or more hours at a desk each day, that’s no laughing matter.)

5. The Writer’s Chapbook by The Paris Review ($10 or so). This wonderful book, edited by George Plimpton from the legendary author interviews conducted by The Paris Review, seems to be out of print, but it’s still widely available online. All things considered, it’s probably the single most useful and inspiring book a writer can own. (Many of my Quotes of the Day have this book as their ultimate source.) Other good books for a writer, aside from John Gardner’s essential Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist, include Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith (apparently out of print, but very useful), How Fiction Works by James Wood (infuriating, but invaluable), and How to Write Best-Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz (also out of print, but available online for a whopping $88).

Finally, if all else fails, there’s always another option. At best, writers tend to be rich in spirit and poor in cash. Most will happily accept donations toward the advancement of art.

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