Thursday, April 25, 2013

The pen, the sword, and the . . . highlighter?



Yesterday was my blog day, and it took until noon to remember that it was Wednesday and I was supposed to have posting something 12 hours ago. So let's have some Thursday fun, for everyone else out there who is also struggling with the day of the week (and those of you who do have your head wrapped around which day it is, are welcome too, even if we stare at you like aliens and pat your heads to figure out your secret).

Last week I printed out my whole current manuscript. I've been revising so long I've lost sight of the bigger picture.  I can't remember when clues have been revealed, or what the character's reactions are supposed to be at any given moment.

So I printed out the whole thing and sat down to read it.

In the way of general advice, I've heard over and over again that when you sit to read your manuscript, if you're goal is to read it in one setting or get a big-picture view, you should not be holding a pen. No pen, no pencil, no highlighter -- no taking notes or jotting ideas or fixing words.

Just read, and read it straight through.

This is amazingly hard for me. On the first page, I was immediately struck by one little word change that will perfect the whole scene and if I don't write it down right now I will forget it and never ever get it back. Right? So I cheated and jotted down one note.

Then on the next page, there was one little error that of course I had to mark because who knows if I would notice it next time? I obviously hadn't noticed it the previous times through, and this may be my only chance! So I cheated and jotted down that note.

You can see where this is going. An hour later, I was 10 pages in. I was not getting the big picture. I was being bogged down by the minute wording changes that always bog me down.

Back in college, I was one of those geeks on the speech and debate team. College debate has all these funky rules, left over from the 17th Century British Parliament, where audience members pound the table and yell "for shame" when you offer up a weak argument. One of those rules is that you cannot be holding a pen in your hand while you debate. Apparently, back in the day, when pens were the kind you dipped in ink wells, they were sharp enough to do some damage. Debating with a pen in your hand was the equivalent of waving a sword at your opponent.* After all, you might lunge and pierce them through the neck if you couldn't think of a clever response. But even back then, setting down my pen and leaving it alone was hard for me. I wanted to fiddle with it in my hand while I talked. Which of course, lead to me losing points. Then, like now, my pen was getting in the way of my goal.

So no pens. Got it. Next I tried highlighters. Surely if I have a stack of multi-colored highlighters beside me, I can just highlight the section quickly in the right color and keep reading. Pink if it's a character problem, green if it's a wording problem, you get the idea. But still, I was focused on watching for mistakes and identifying how to fix them, not on how the arc of the story was progressing.

Finally, I laid down my sword, er, ballpoint pen and multi-colored highlighters, locked them away inside, and sat on the sunny deck and read the whole thing. After a few painful moments of going past errors without stopping, I got sucked into the story and the next 200 pages flew by. And it worked - I have a solid sense of the big picture now. It lead to some obvious conclusions about the ending, and gave me the motivation and context to outline the entire new ending and get started. 

What about you? Do you struggle to read your own work without making constant corrections? Does it kill you to see an error and just keep reading without fixing it? What do you do when you need a sense of the big picture? And for our philosophical questions of the day, which is mightier, the pen, the sword, or the highlighter?

*Those days are pretty hazy - I have no clue if any of this about pens and swords is accurate, but it's what I remember. If anybody has more accurate info, I'd love to hear it!

12 comments:

Marnee Bailey said...

I have the same problem reading without pens, etc. So, my last story, I uploaded it to my Kindle. I took it on vacation.

Worked wonders. Obviously I can't write on my Kindle. And my kindle is a couple years old. So, it's not easy to highlight on it. SO, I gave up and just read.

I did write some big picture stuff down on a notepad, but I kept it kind of short. There's no real way to reference pages or whatever on the kindle.

:)

Glad you've got the big idea again, Hal! And a revised ending! Yay!! GO you!!

Terri Osburn said...

As a person who doesn't do all that much revision, I can't imagine revising the same book for years. Kudos to you for the perseverance and determination. Of course, I do have an editor who points out all the revisions (over 3 rounds) that I should have made, so that helps.

I don't have a problem reading straight through once it's done. In fact, I'm starting to think I'm not a very diligent writer. Hmmmmm.... Do I need a new complex? Not really. Think I'll pretend for now. LOL!

I vote the pen is mightier. What someone puts into writing can last an eternity and sometimes screw up society for centuries.

MsHellion said...

YES, I have a big problem with reading for the big picture but stopping to pee every fifteen seconds...you never get there. And you're way too obsessed about your bladder.

I think if I did it, I'd want to print it out and look at it. Which I did do a Kinko's pre-test of how much it'd cost to print my current WIP (which isn't finished) and right now it's about $40. That makes me feel rather awesome--I've written $40 worth of words...I know that's weird...but what are you going to do?

haleigh said...

Marn - the Kindle on vacation. What a great idea. I don't like to read on the computer screen itself, but prefer to read in a format that looks different than it does on the screen, so I usually print it. But I've found that reading on a Kindle is almost comparable to reading a paperback. I'll have to try that! It may also be more like reading a published book, rather than a draft I printed at home :)

And thanks! The end is near . . .

haleigh said...

Ter, at this point, my perseverance is hanging on by a tread. I have daily battles over whether or not I should give up. But it was my master's thesis, and the student loans have kicked in, and the knowledge that giving up would be wasting a degree and all that money keeps me at it (I know that's not really true, education is never a waste, but telling myself that keeps me motivated. Nothing like a personal guilt trip).

And no, I don't want to give you a complex. Think of it not as being un-diligent, but as being further evolved than the rest of us :) But I'm the same way - someone has a problem I don't have? Surely it's because I've just missed it and I *should* have a problem!

haleigh said...

Hellie - that's hilarious. Bladders have run amok.

Don't tell, but I printed mine at work. It's like 400 some odd pages in double-spaced, Courier New. I did some ninja formatting and got it down to 120 pages of text, then printed 2-sided. Got it down to 60 pieces of paper. Of course, I have to squint, but . . .

$40 worth of words does feel awesome. It feels very hefty. Writing so often feels intangible, that it's amazing to have something so real and worth actual dollars :)

Terri Osburn said...

I'm evolved. Not true, but I'll take it. LOL! I have 2 degrees I'm not really using, though I find elements of each apply to just about everything. Student loans are my driving force too. I'm holding out for the day I can write a few large checks and pay those puppies off. Hoping to do that next year.

Which means, pray for big sales!

irisheyes said...

My husband is constantly on me about this and my daughter used to be until she realized it was to her advantage! She totally takes advantage of that now and has me proofread everything she writes. LOL I cannot read what they give me for content without making corrections and if I don't have a red pen handy I get twitchy!

I'm surprised I don't read all of my romance novels with red pens at the ready, but amazingly I don't. I see a ton of people complaining about editing errors on review sites now and the errors don't really pull me out of the story as much as I thought they would. I do still catch the errors but they don't offend me like they do some and I'm not compelled to e-mail the author with the corrections. LOL Maybe with fiction I get so wrapped up in the story I forget about everything else. School papers are easy to scrutinize.

Maureen said...

I do 90% of my editing/revising on my laptop and if I see something that needs fixing, screw it, I fix it. Especially with this Caribbean Spell series. I've read these dozens of times, I know the story, the arc, the everything.

With that said, I'm currently doing a print edit on the second half of the third book and the biggest problems with pens is that my handwriting is barely legible anymore. Several times I've hit the enter into the laptop stage and stared at the scribble I made...what?

Sigh.

At least I know something was amok and I can generally figure it out.

Haleigh said...

Irish - I'm the same way. I do a lot of editing and grading for work, so if you hand me anything that's not fiction, I'll critique it instead of reading for content. Fiction has to really hold me in the story for it to turn off in my head.

I love that your daughter has learned to use that trait to her advantage!

I don't think it's ever occurred to me to write to an author and correct their work! haha.

Haleigh said...

Mo - yeah, once you've read them so many times, I'd think it'd be difficult to go back and read again, and not nearly as necessary. I'd forgotten the first half, basically, which is why re-reading was so necessary for me.

I have a similar hand-writing problem, which is part of the reason I was trying colored highlighters. But then I kept losing my key for which color meant what, so couldn't remember what I was trying to tell myself . . . did blue mean a plot problem or a research problem? *sigh*

Maureen said...

I'll stick with black...usually, just scribbling clues me in to pay attention and I've fixed things differently as I edit on laptop...It's all good...