Monday, April 14, 2014

Sorry? Excel is a whatnow?


I came across a blog through my agent’s blog that's full of all sorts of goodies for writers. One of my favourite posts is about the process and — for lack of a better word — technique of revision. Check it out here.

The blogger, author Laurie Halse Anderson, and I have a very similar approach to revising, save for one area: the actual "roadmap" itself. While she prefers using large sheets of paper to outline her roadmap, I find an Excel spreadsheet to be most effective. Aside from being an organizational lifesaver, a digital spreadsheet is portable. Woo hoo! I just email it to my iPhone and I can refer to my roadmap wherever I go. (It came in very handy this morning when I was trapped on the subway for half an hour. The power was off and transit supervisors were searching the tracks for a dead body, but I was revising on the go, so who cares?)

I don’t think I’ve used Excel as it’s meant to be used more than a dozen times. I remember my husband casually mentioning that it's just a big calculator a while back, and I was all “Get the fu%$ out!” And now that I've discovered Excel art (see Mega Man above), it's safe to say that I'm going to be moving farther and father away from the software's raison d'ĂȘtre.

I don't do anything fancy on my spreadsheet roadmap. I just break my book down into scenes, making note of the most important events. I also use colour coding, which helps me with stuff like this:

1. Pacing my story
My book has a bit of a magical realism bent to it, but I don't want to overdo it and annoy my readers. To ensure that doesn't happen, I colour those moments orange. This way, I can easily see if there’s too much "magic" in any particular section.

2. Organizing locations
I like to keep my characters on the move. For example, my main character’s apartment is assigned the colour blue. Too much blue clotted together on the spreadsheet? Scenes will need to be shuffled to keep things interesting.

3. Periphery characters
I want to spread these guys around and colour coding helps me do that. For example, I’ve assigned Steve red and Margaret yellow. That way I have an instant visual map. Too much red in one area? Again, that’s a sign that scenes need to be shuffled. You get the drift. Now here's some more Excel art for you, you clever drift-getter you!


Source
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Monday, April 7, 2014

I still want my $100 back, Phil.


I went to a postural cleanse workshop* on the weekend and the guy running the show, Phil, kept talking about mantras. At first I was all like, "I paid you $100 to tell me how to stand up straight, Phil! Can you shut up about mantras already?" When I calmed down I realized there was probably something to all this mantra stuff since Phil has a spine as straight as a rod and could stand in the same position, without fidgeting, for a week if he were so inclined.

Later that night, as I slouched in front of The New York Times, I came upon a book review by Scott Sandage. And get this! I found my mantra! It has jack to do with my dreams of standing tall like a ballet dancer but everything to do with finding a modicum of pride in the ego-burning existence that is a writer's life:
"'Managing the gap between vision and work, which often looks to others like being swallowed by failure, is a lifelong process.' Failure is ever present in the unending drift towards mastery."
- from a review of The Rise (Sarah Lewis)  
All together now: "Failure is ever present in the unending drift towards mastery." Ahummmmm.

It's probably too long to be an actual mantra, but because I'm more crusty than new-agey, it's as close as I'm going to get. So thanks Phil -- you sort of helped me find my sort-of mantra. But I still want my $100 back.

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*Some of my crusty takeaways from the workshop include:
1) Don't sit, like ever.
2) Be a nerd and buy a standing-desk.
3) If you have to sit, even though you should never ever ever sit, move your ass every 20 minutes. Also, don't even think about crossing your legs.
4) Move to Taipei for a year and find an old man who will teach you old-school qigong. (Only one move, though.)
5) Get an earthing mat and be prepared to alienate yourself from your electrician father-in-law.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Writerly stuff I like right now (that you may like, too)

WATCH: Authors Anonymous
My writer friend and I rented this movie from iTunes last night and, when we weren't nodding our heads and sighing at how true it rang, we were roaring with laughter. It's not exactly Oscar-worthy stuff, okay, so keep your expectations in check. But if you're an aspiring fiction author -- especially if you've ever been part of a writers' group -- you will enjoy this movie, I promise. (I know; I can't believe it either!)


READ: "Found In Translation"
While I normally abhor any reference to a film made by Sofia Wake-Me-Up-When-It's-Ovah Coppola, this article by Michael Cunningham is an exception. Here's a sample:

"Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire."

EAT: Chia Pudding
If you're like most writers I know, emotional eating -- especially sugar -- is an issue. Whether you use ice cream to soothe yourself post rejection or reward yourself with Swedish Berries for a completed chapter, too much bad food is happening to good writers. I've recently come across this recipe that has helped me kick my sweet tooth not just to the curb, but down a flight of stairs and through a pane of Venetian glass. I opt out of the sweeteners and add two tablespoons of low-fat coconut milk and some cinnamon for flavour. Writerly bonus!: Its strangely gooey consistency makes it tough to spill, so it's an ideal snack to munch on by your laptop.