Editing, Video Games, and Vaccination: Too Many Metaphors

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Editing: it’s important.

For me, editing is the hardest part of writing. And it is a part of writing. It’s the part that takes whatever you produced during the other part of writing and makes it suck less.

But editing hurts. It kicks your ego right in the fun bits. And it can be really, really fucking frustrating.

A thought: if writing was video games, first drafts would be like fighting games: AAAAHHHHH HIT THAT GUY NO NOT HIM THE OTHER GUY WHAT’S HAPPENING BUTTON MASH BUTTON MASH. You’re hanging on for dear life, just trying to make it to the end of the round.

Whereas editing is a puzzle game: okay, if I move this block, that door opens. But if that door opens, then that torch goes out, and I need the torch to see the block, so I need to find another torch or another block…or maybe a lever? Maybe…

…followed by ninety minutes of moving things around and then rage-quitting to do literally anything else.

Drafting is flying high; editing is patiently grinding away on the ground. But you need both, and of the two, editing is usually the one that gets neglected.

And you know what happens then?

You produce shit, that’s what.

This is the problem with bad self-published works. No one edited them, so none of the rough edges have been worn off. It’s like the author crapped out a first draft and, instead of hitting ‘save’, hit ‘publish’ instead.

Which is a shame, because I’ve read some fantastic self-published works. But they’re surrounded by festering clumps of toilet-bowl manuscripts. And those unedited crap-piles make it harder for people to take self-published works seriously.

To shamelessly switch similes, editing is like vaccination: yeah, it hurts a bit, but if you don’t do it you’ll get rubella.

Wait. No.

If you don’t edit your stuff, you’re letting your story be that unvaccinated kid wandering around Disneyland: they’re not as strong as they could be and you’re compromising the effectiveness of everyone else’s work.

So, for the love of whatever Invisible Beard In The Sky you believe in, edit your work.

And vaccinate your kids.

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Round and Round: How To Re-Outline A Writing Project Because You Made A Terrible, Terrible Mistake

GOTG

Spin me right round, baby, right round.

1. Write down what happened. In your current draft, anyway. Simple sentences, scene by scene. Cover everything. Everything important. Hint: if you leave it out of your outline, it’s probably something you should think about cutting, because you couldn’t be arsed to write one goddamn sentence about it.

2. Code them. If you’re using Scrivener or Trello or some other index card maker thing, then mark the scenes somehow to indicate different metrics. I mark plots/subplots and viewpoint character. Then I lay them all out in order and see how they stack up. Does one of the subplots disappear, only to reappear at the end? Or never reappear at all? Am I spending more time inside a secondary character’s head than I am inside the main character’s? Cast the augury of the cards. They will reveal your weakness, through which your enemies may strike at thee.

3. Patch and fill and cut. Move stuff around, change viewpoint characters, create some scenes that resolve that subplot…or cut it altogether. Make it count or flush it.

4. Write down what should have happened. New set of cards, writing down what needs to happen now that you’ve changed fucking everything. This is the worst. It’s okay. We’re almost done.

5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Mark up your new cards with pacing elements: action, exposition, character revelation. Does the flow work now that you’ve added in things? If not, get more cards. Oh god, more cards. Keep working at it until it flows like sweet, sweet bourbon. Which reminds me: you might need some bourbon.

6. Mark the scenes as Stop, Go, and Slow The Hell Down. I use the Label function to turn my cards green, red, and yellow. Stop is a new scene entirely. Go is a scene that can be taken 90% verbatim from the old draft. Slow The Hell Down is a scene that needs to be tinkered with in order to fit. Try not to freak out over the amount of red and yellow cards.*

7. Begin. Again. This time with a plan.

*For example, I sat down with a huge coffee at the local caffeine pusher and worked my way through all these bloody cards and here’s my breakdown: 13% Stop, 55% Go, 32% Slow The Hell Down.

The Point of No Return

REPENT

Found this carved above the toilet in a public restroom. Even the can judges my writing choices.

A question today, for all you writers and readers: how far down the dark road can a character go before they’re completely irredeemable?

It comes up because I’m doing some rewrites, and, man, some of them involve a particular character going to a bad place. I think it’s necessary, but this character, who is already not a great person, is going to do some stuff which might make them irredeemable to readers.

Which could be a problem, since I intend to redeem them. Eventually. You know, after they’ve suffered for a bit.

Writers really are such assholes.

Note that being irredeemable is not the same as not liking a character. I might dislike a character for plenty of reasons, including but not limited to whining, passivity, entitlement, meaningless brooding, and just being a little shit. For a character to cross into irreversible damnation, they have to commit a pretty big sin, and most of the characters I dislike don’t think that big.

My line, such as it is, is fairly simple: in order for a character to be morally dead to me, they have to punch down. In other words, they have to choose to hurt someone who is weaker than them or unable to strike back and know it. Strike the helpless, abuse an animal, verbally cut someone you know is already hurting just because you can…choose to do those things when you damn well know better and you are on thin ice, friend. Do it twice and you are on thin ice while wearing a seal costume with a big hungry polar bearheading your way.

These metaphors got really Canadian all of a sudden.

Where’s your line, dear reader? What thing can a character do to make them just the worst? Or do you think everyone, from the most minor sinner to the Darkest of Dark Lords, can come back to the side of the angels? Tell me your thoughts.

In the meantime, I’m going to go ruin this character’s life. Again.

Health Aids That Live At Your Desk, Because So Do You.

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Home sweet home.

Bonus: none of these are location dependent. Work in a coffee shop? You can do this! Standing desk? Sure, you hipster douchebag!* Hunched up on your bed with your laptop? All this shit fits on a nightstand, next to the lube and that serious book you want your one-night-stands to think you’re reading.

Tennis Ball. Use it for self-massage, releasing whatever that shoot pain in your hip is, rolling your probably overworked forearms and hands on, and throwing at people. Really, for a couple of bucks a can, you can’t get a better multi-tasker. Plus, apparently there’s a game you can play with them or something?

Water. Not coffee. I’m sorry, coffee, you know I love you, but you are not a replacement for water. Bonus: drinking more water makes you retain less water, so you feel less like a bloated sack of crap when you leave your desk to go be human among the humans for a while.

Fitness Tracker. Entirely unnecessary, but it does add a certain “futuristic cyborg” element to the day. Mine reminds me to move occasionally, presumably because it thinks I’ve died. My selection process boiled down to “this one looks the least like shit, so I’ll probably actually wear it.”

Eye Drops. Working at a computer leaves me with eyeballs that feel like marbles covered in sandpaper and then dipped in hot sauce. Get some drops so you can stop peering at people like you were just accidentally awoken from cryo-sleep.

Stretches. We’re all going to be hunchy gargoyles before too much longer. Stand tall above your peers and stave off vulture neck by occasionally doing some stretches and exercises.

*I did the standing desk for a while. I liked it, but found that it only worked for certain types of work. First draft writing was great, editing not so much.

The Totally Objective Ranking Of Things To Eat At Your Desk

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FunDip is not included in the ratings because it’s not food. It is awesome, though.

1. Fresh Fruit. “Nature’s candy”, as natural food enthusiasts will tell you when you ask, and even if you don’t. Pros: Infinite variety, tastes good, pretty colours, actually fucking good for you. Cons: sticky juice hands, obnoxious crunching, equally obnoxious sense of superiority to those inhaling Cheetos around you.

Rating: 3/5 Hungry Rats

2. Vending Machine “Cookie”. This isn’t a real cookie. Real cookies don’t hang out in a metal box waiting for your willpower to drop at 3 pm. At best, it’s sugar glued together with vegetable oil and boiled hooves. At worst, it’s already home to a cockroach which you will discover only when it’s half a cockroach. Pros: Sugary, quick energy, can be dipped in coffee, comfort food if your idea of comfort is being kicked in the lower intestine twenty minutes from now. Cons: expensive, tastes like regret and cardboard.

Rating: 1/5 Hungry Rats

3. Trail Mix. Suitable even if the closest you’ve ever been to hiking is that time you got an allergic reaction watching Naked and Afraid. Sweet, salty, both…there’s a mix for everyone. Or you can just throw a bunch of chocolate chips and almonds in a bowl and go to town. Pros: Tasty as fuck, customizable, probably not deep fried. Cons:People with allergies will stab you in the neck; also, everyone’s got that friend who picks out the stuff they like and leaves everything else, which clearly violates the social contract.

Rating: 4/5 Hungry Rats

4. Chips. Like cocaine to us salt addicts. Pros: Available fucking everywhere*, cool regional varieties, enough salt to de-ice a road. Cons: Salt bloat, that asshole who “just wants one” and then takes a handful.

Rating: 4/5 Hungry Rats, minus 1 for having to go up a belt notch.

5. Coffee. As a starving student I learned the age-old truth: with enough cream and sugar, this can be a meal. These days I drink it black because I lost my taste for sweets. Plus I’m lactose intolerant and soy milk is a crime against nature.** Pros: Keeps you awake, cool mugs, your only friend on lonely nights when your face is lit by the neon glow of your laptop screen and you can pretend you’re in a noir movie. Cons: NONE DON’T YOU DARE SAY ANYTHING BAD ABOUT MY BELOVED I WILL FUCKING CUT YOU.

Rating: 11/5 Hungry Rats SHUT UP.

*Except the graduate pub of my old university, which banned unhealthy snacks but still served beer. I dunno, man, my eight pint while I drank away my thesis stress just didn’t go down right with celery sticks.

**Soy milk tastes like drinking smugness and dishwater.

Broken

Blood of Enemies

Mugs like this help, too.

You are broken.

That’s okay. So am I. So is, I assume, everyone else reading this, because if you’re of the age where you think you’ve got a story to tell, then you’ve probably got a few cracks. Whether you know it or not.

Sometimes they’re hairline fractures, hardly big enough to see, but definitely big enough to feel. Sometimes they’re fissures wide enough to let the darkness in until it seems like the darkness is all there ever was and ever will be.

That’s okay, too.

Because if you’re trying to tell a story–whether it’s with words or pictures or chords or steps–then all those broken pieces are where it starts.

We want to hide those pieces. If life teaches a lesson, it’s to keep that shit to yourself. No one wants to see that. No one else feels this way. Fuck you, you think that’s a problem, there are people starving to death, you entitled first world asshole.

But telling stories is sharing, and not in the kindergarten sharing-is-caring way. Sharing is ripping yourself open and examining what falls out of the cracks, even if it’s bloody. Especially if it’s bloody.

We’re afraid of what other people will think about it, but that shit is fuel and vehicle, N2O4/UDMH and rocket, guzzoline and War Rig all in one. And everyone’s got their own. We all come equipped to roll, but most of us never make it out of the station and into the desert.

People ask writers where their ideas come from. It’s there. The cracks and the stuff in between. The only question is: what will you do with it? Will you put all those broken parts on display? Will you drag up the stuff that’s too personal, too sharp, too real, and use it? Because if you do, you’ll tell a story that’s more you than anything else. The story only you could tell. The only one that’s worth telling.

So write about it. Write about shitty relationships and broken homes. Write about being ten years into a life you chose and not being able to sleep because what if you chose wrong? Write about struggling and falling down and not knowing if you want to get up again. Write about escaping, about fighting, about settling, about watching the clock roll over to midnight and realizing that another day is over and you didn’t do anything that you wanted with it. Write about the stuff you left behind and the stuff you carry with you into the desert.

You think no one want to hear that? Fuck you. The only story no one wants to read is “once upon a time everything was fine.”

And we don’t want that because we’re all just as broken as you.

So tell that story. And don’t worry about the judgement. Underneath we’re all held together with duct tape and rusty staples.

10 Things To Make Your Workspace Less Of A Soul-Sucking Shithole So You’ll Actually Get Some Work Done

1. A scribble pad. For all those ideas that need a place to live.

2. Something you enjoy writing with. I got my first fountain pen last year, and I heart it so hard. Here she is.

Lamy 2000

Matte black and very sharp, so I’m, like, 90% sure this is a spy pen.

Aside from being beautiful and a genuine pleasure to hold, I’ve found that it actually helped my hand pain. Less pressure to write = less pain for me. And for someone who always does their best thinking in a for-real notebook, that’s a big deal.

3. Something nice to look at. A window. Some good pictures. I have a framed blueprint of the arc reactor from Iron Man. See?

Arc Reactor

A surprising number of people have thought this was a blueprint of a real thing.

Oh, and some pictures of people or something. I don’t know who those people are. I’m definitely not married to one of them.

4. Toys.

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There are weirder episodes of Supernatural than this.

Dean: What the hell, Sammy?

Sam: I don’t know!

Nightmare Moon: EVERYPONY SHALL BOW TO ME.

Dean: Screw this, let’s just kill it.

5. Motivational Poster.

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Cross stitch by Kat Nicholson.

Or cross stitch. As the case may be.

6. Headphones. Very necessary equipment. Whether I’m listening to heavy metal, Taylor Swift, or stereoscopic thunderstorms, I don’t want to be able to hear my neighbour’s reciprocating saw while I’m working. Or his kids. They’re both loud.

7. Stress Relievers.

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These are foam and silicone, FYI. Real brass knuckles are still stress-relieving, but also come with jail time.

A d20 because I’m a nerd. Brass knuckles because I’m a nerd who can kick your ass.

8. Breath Freshener. No one likes your six-cups-of-coffee-and-two-cigarettes breath, man. No one. Not even the cat, and he licks his own butthole.

9. Places for all your shit. Corral that crap lest your desk disappear beneath a thousand thousand pen caps and paper clips.

10. You.

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S’up.

If you avoid it, it’s not a workspace; it’s just a place you store crap you don’t use. And that’s what the pit in the basement is for.