Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Struggle Goes On

This post will go down on record as the first and last multi-day post I will ever write.

(August 24, 2013) Re-writing is even more difficult than writing the first draft. One would think that wouldn’t be the case, but it is. The difficulty in reorganizing the manuscript lies in reorganizing the content according to a suggested revised table of contents. There are three dimensions to the task; the first is to find all the information scattered through the manuscript that applies to the new suggested sections, and second is to sequence the information, and the third is to smooth the transitions from paragraph to paragraph.

The reorganized TOC suggested by the developmental editor makes sense, but it is only a skeleton to hang the meat of the body of my work. As I write, I continue to struggle with reading my text as an outsider, although that is becoming easier with time. As I work,  I ask myself if it is possible to overwork and overwrite a text? I suspect that is true, but lack the experience to know if that is what I am doing. When is enough going to be enough?

I’m writing this on a train traveling from Montreal to Toronto, after a few excellent days in celebration of my birthday. The whole trip was my wife’s gift to me. As time marches on, the experiences of the visit are now a part of the repertoire of my experience. I’m going to sit back and enjoy the trip home and some recollections of the last few days for a few hours before I return to completing this post.

(August 29, 2013) I’ve been back from Montreal for a few days, but have been out of communication with the internet. Whatever you do, do not download the beta version of Windows 8.1. It has taken this long to get back to an original form of Windows 8 that was working just fine. Sometimes one just has to fight that nerdy urge that comes up from time to time.

When I left off I was pondering the idea of overworking one’s rewrite (and perhaps one’s self) to death. I still don’t think I have the answer, but I have some ideas. When one prepares a first draft manuscript, some specific ideas drive the process. When an editor suggests a revision of the sequence of content, it becomes problematic. The flow of the whole work dictated the flow of whole sections of the book. Back references to earlier ideas and foreshadowing of ideas to come are now completely out of register. As I began the rewrite task, a sense of being overwhelmed descended like a black cloud. The suggested revision of the TOC pushed me in the correct direction, but it left a great deal to my imagination.

The original introduction was geared to the original sequence, so an entirely rewritten intro is going to be required if I include one. It is likely the last part of the book to be written since one needs to know the full extent of a revised manuscript before an introduction can be prepared.  I decided to approach the rewrite as  if there will be no official introduction, since I am not writing anything so formal that an introduction is likely to be required. Once this idea guided my work two important things happened; first I was able to start writing a revision in earnest, and second, clarity and simplicity guided my writing in an effort to overcome the need for an introduction. The whole task seems less daunting than it did at first.

Next post . . . Flow In non-fiction writing . . . until next time

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Could’ve – Should’ve – Would’ve

Life is full of should’ve, would’ve and could’ve moments. The problem is not that they exist, but what one’s response is to those situations.  What did you learn from the situation? What are you going to do about it? If you say “fagetaboutit”, then you missed the point of the opening few lines of this post even before you read them. While “polishing” the content of the second part of my manuscript rewrite, I had a “should’ve done” moment. I was losing track of my ideas as the word count increased once again. At 5000 words, there was a distinct danger of either repeating myself or missing out important content. NOT GOOD!

The rewrite was progressing well until the end of the second section when the path already travelled started to fad from sight. I needed to resolve this issue post-haste or risk losing valuable time. It would be a tragedy (the no-fiction sort), if my rewrite was no better than my first draft.

Even though I had an outline to begin with, a system of keeping track of where my writing was going was needed. When I revisited the initial outline drafted at the beginning of the project, the reason my first draft wandered around idea-wise and included some repetition of material was due to the vagary of the initial outline. In fact, I was more of a web diagram than an outline. All the ideas were there but there was no structure or sequence included in the planning, a major oversight indeed. I just “flew by the seat of my pants” as I wrote according to the logic in my head. Clearly a less than adequate approach.

The other problem with my initial outline was not the outline at all. The problem was with me. It is easy to deviate from the plan as one gets wrapped up in an idea or explanation. Since the author knows were he or she is going, it is easy to get back on track. The reader has an entirely different problem, since they have been led astray and are not likely to return to the path the author is following with ease. They might even put the book down in frustration. I can deal with a reader putting my book down for any number of reasons, but frustration is not one of them.

The “should’ve done” moment for me was understanding that once one generates an outline, it needs to be followed carefully.  The outline should stand up to the same scrutiny as the text itself. Questions like:

Does the content of a part of the book lead to the next?

Is all the content listed in the outline necessary or is some of it redundant.

Will the content engage or disengage the reader?

etc. etc. etc…….need to be asked.

The outline in question is a prospective outline. Once the first draft is completed it “could’ve been” carefully checked against the prospective outline for its scope, content and sequence. Better yet, the first draft “should’ve been crosschecked with the outline after each section was completed. If that had been done in the first place, the rewrite “would’ve been” less of a task than it has become.

The next type or outline is a “retrospective outline“. I am generating one of those after each section of the book is rewritten. Think of this form of outline as a type of homework assignment requiring one to outline a text. The purpose of a retrospective outline is two-fold. First, it serves as a quality check on the content. Second, it serves as a way to keep careful track of the content of the rewrite as it unfolds. It is a kind of final checklist for the writer.

Once the rewrite is complete it will go back to the publisher for a content edit. There will be a blog about what that entails when my project reaches that stage.

I plan to write about the idea of taking too much owner ship of one’s ideas and not enough ownership of the content in my next blog. Until next time . . .

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What to inlude, what to cut, and what comes next?

I tried writing this post on a Blackberry Z10. It is possible, but only when no other technology is available. I’m back to the tactile keyboard for now.

I just finished a copy-edit (to the best of my ability and with the help of on the fist completed sect of my rewrite. As I stated in a previous post, my intention is to follow the suggestions of the developmental editor closely. If material is considered superfluous, it is cut. Whenever the editor suggests that an idea needs more support or requires clarification it is done. The most time-consuming aspects of the rewrite process is keeping the content sequenced correctly and copy editing.

One has to give serious thought about how to begin a section of the book and what needs to be included. I’m discovering that some of the supporting content suggested by the editor, actually shows up in sections of the book other than the one I am working on at the moment. I looked back on my planning sheets prior to writing and discovered that many of my problems resulted from deviating from the plan and not asking myself the correct questions.  Reflecting on those planning sheets suggests a different approach might have been useful.

The next time I generate a plan for writing a work of non-fiction, I will include the following processes:

1. Establish a content development line, analogous to a plot development line in a novel.

2. Each time an idea or topic is included on the development line, the following questions should be posed:

a. Is this the next logical idea or topic that should appear in the book?

b. What do I need to know to write about this topic or express the idea?

c. What do I want the reader to understand from what is written?

d. What information or clarification do I need to provide to the reader?

e. Have I considered my audience as I am writing a section?

f, Am I leading my reader painlessly from paragraph to paragraph and sub-section to sub-section?

g. Have I included all that is necessary and cut out all that is superfluous?

3. Keep referring back to my plan and keep track of where I am.

4. Be consistent in following my plan, but don’t be married to it.

I think this checklist of questions would have been useful in the preparation of my first draft. If anyone reading this blog has a comment on the list of guiding questions provided, or anything they would like to add, please comment.

Until the next post . . .

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The Small Blue Dot

A recent photograph taken by a satellite based camera showed us what Earth looks like from the vicinity of Saturn. The post from shows this image. I remember the sense of awe that accompanied the famous photograph taken of Earth from the moon. I remember the impact on our understanding of how much life depended on such a thin layer of atmosphere. How we, and all other life forms, were interdependent. The image of a small blue dot (the Earth) hanging just below Saturn’s rings should become another of those iconic images, which reminds us of how miraculous life on earth really is.

Despite these powerful images, we don’t seem get the message. That small blue dot hanging in the black vastness of space harbours an organism so violent that some groups are forever bent on annihilating another. It harbours an organism that is so dependent on toxic substances for its survival (pesticides, herbicides, and petroleum products) that it willfully poisons the very air it must breath and water it must drink. It generated a species so arrogant and self-centred that it would endanger every other species on earth just so it can have what it wants, do what it wants, and destroy what it wants without regard to the natural balance of life on earth

That species, dubbed by C. Linneus in 1758  as Homo  sapiens  is not very wise at all. We, as a species, seem more intent on death and destruction of the environment than we are on life and preservation of the environment. Politics, profit, and protectionism reign supreme in a world gone mad, Governments exist for themselves, not for the people they are supposed to represent and protect. The developed world is content to have the third world manufacture all they need at wages that are so low that it is an embarrassment and even a sin, The third world is content to work for slave wages since that is their only means of survival.

What to do? What to do? What to do? We need a real United Nations, not the emasculated shame that cannot seem to stop the murderous regimes in the world from murdering. The wealthy nations of the world depend on the labour of individuals that should be in school getting an education. What a crime.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are many people trying to do the right thing. I know that there are individuals who put forth enormous efforts to improve the lives of others. However, that small blue dot hanging so elegantly in the blackness of space is very precious, and I fear that all the good intentions in the world will not save it in the end. I ever there was a time for a world wide revolt against the insanity that is killing us, it is now. I hold the sanctity of that small blue dot under my dome of heaven.

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Serching for my voice – a major search and rescue mission

My Voice as a Writer

Writing comes naturally to some, and writing  may also be fun

But when you are new at it and may have to stew a bit, writing can make someone glum.

My voice is somewhere in here for sure, but buried so deep, I hope I don’t bore

My words and ideas in sentences and paragraphs galore, require a map and a guided tour.

As my fingers fly across the keys, and my words spill onto the screen with ease

The voice in my head is clear as can be, but emerges in the text, muted not free.

Will I ever find my voice?

I began the task of rewriting that which I have already written. As I read my words, the only voice I heard, was that of a boring lecturer. I seem to have been writing without the presence of an audience in mind. I seemed to be writing to hear my self write, like someone who talks to hear themselves talk. Perhaps I am being a bit hard on myself, but we are often our most severe critic.

To find your voice as a writer, I think you have to know yourself. What makes you an interesting person to talk with? What makes you an interesting person to listen to? I have often been told that I am a good speaker, and indeed I find it easy to speak on a subject in a clear and orderly manner. As a speaker I have a voice (not just the physical voice) that holds the listeners attention and can at times even be humorous.

All my communication skills seem to break down when I write, except perhaps when I blog. Blogging is more like speaking to my audience. I find it interesting that speaking to an unknown, unseen, and indeterminate audience is easier than writing text to be read by an audience I have defined. The developmental edit and editor’s comments have pointed the way that may actually lead to developing a voice as a writer. Editorial direction is forcing me to clarify ideas that are vague, to elaborate on material that is thin, to cluster ideas and concepts that belong together, to sequence my content more carefully and finally to cut out the fat.

My voice is trapped amidst the debris of extraneous words, repetitive ideas, redundant material and the vagaries of many weakly formed sentences and paragraphs. My voice is somewhere here in the regions of great writing that are entrapped in regions of poor prose. I feel like I am on a search and rescue mission looking for the survivors of a disaster with the hope of restoring them to a state of health and wellness. I follow the advice of Rene Descartes with vigour as I figuratively remove all the strong sections of writing and put them back into the piece in the most orderly way possible. In the process, I plan to let those same qualities that make me a strong speaker, allow the strong voice of the writer to shine.

More on struggling with a rewrite in my next post. Until then . . .

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First things first – Writing a preface

I have been thoroughly wrapped up in working on my rewrite since my last post. It is time I competed the post about writing a preface. My original preface, as I stated, was not a preface at all. It was more like an introductory section listing some details about the contents of the book. The feedback from the developmental edit directed me to prepare a preface based on some very specific content. I was to include:

1. WHY I decided to write my book.

2. WHAT was my motivation and what I was compelled to write about

3. WHO was my target audience

4. WHY should anyone read my book

5.HOW would the reader benefit from reading my book

6. HOW do I establish my credibility with the reader

The editors suggestions read more like an assignment in Journalism 101, than my original concept of a preface. These suggestions were directed at my project, a work of non-fiction. The preface of a work of fiction was very different from the preface of a non-fiction book in my experience as a reader. However, the more I considered the essence of a preface, the more a preface in a non-fiction work and that for a work of fiction seemed to serve a similar purpose. A preface seemed to be more about the art of advertising, than the art of journalism.

I began to examine my own behaviours as I searched for a book to read. There were four aspects of a book that always catch my attention; the title, the preface, a bit of the first chapter and headings in the table of contents.

(Nota bene: All these four elements are important. The title and the cover need to attract the potential reader initially. The printed elements need to keep them interested and hopefully motivated to purchase the book. Therre is no way to predict which of these elements a perspective reader will examine first, save the title.)

Now that I had a concept of a preface, I set about to write a very good one. I had to include all the elements listed above, and in addition, it had to be a “hook” for the potential reader. It had to give them a reason to look at the table of contents, and perhaps read a few lines of the first chapter. There had to be some drama in the language, and the words on the page needed to draw the reader into the book. Every book I have purchased (new or used or as an e-book), and every book I have borrowed from a library or a friend, grabbed me at some emotional level.

I like to use quotes from various poems as I write. Poetry is so full of powerful ideas and emotional expression in an exquisitely compressed state, that by selecting the correct quote, you can set up the reader for your content in very few words. I try to use material from the pubic domain as much as possible and try to select a few lines that evoke the sentiments and ideas I plan to write about.  Sometimes I use quotes from the notably well known poet or from a section of prose from a strong author if it seems appropriate to my purposes. Once again, I try to confine myself to public domain materials. Using quotation, has always been a trademark of my writing, even in the content of material handed out to the students I taught or as a prelude to a lesson at the black (or white) board.

One of the benefits of working with a strong e-publishing organization is the editorial and consultative support that is provided. After completing my revised preface, I was able to confer with my editorial consultant and get confirmation that I was on the right track. Now, as I approach the bulk of the manuscripts, I wondered how much had to be simply rewritten and how much new material I needed to produce. I decided to use my preface as a guiding spirit for the rewrite. If I could capture the emotional draw of the preface in the content, my chances of producing a salable book were good. The preface as written, also defined those all critical WHO, WHAT, and HOW questions posed by the developmental editor. What ever followed the preface had to flow from its spirit.

I had one other important decision to make before I tackled the approximately 50,000 words of my manuscript. I had to decide on my voice and what writing style would best express it. I plan to reflect on finding my VOICE and deciding on a WRITING style in my next post. Until then…..

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