All Was Well.

24 Mar

“All was well.”

– J.K. Rowling | (The final sentence in the Harry Potter series.)

And, indeed, I imagine all was well with J.K. Rowling as she settled on those final words, those ten little letters, last in line behind the several million letters that spelled out the story about a boy, a scar, how he got it, and what it meant.

Work like hers does not happen by accident.

Letters don’t just fall into place, and ideas — no matter how magical — don’t just tumble, fully formed, beautiful, captivating, onto the page.  At the end, all is well.  In the beginning?  An idea.  Then, a first word, then many more words, until words fade into story.

But what about in between?  What happens, if not magic, between the first word and the final sentence, to make something special out of mere words, something logical and coherent out of ideas, something empathetic and captivating about characters?

I don’t know yet.  Whatever technical skill is involved, though, I’m inclined to believe that patience and determination are the yeast that make the whole thing rise into something great.

Before my long hiatus (spent in the unseasonally warm and disappointingly un-snowy Minneapolis, Minnesota), I promised a post about editing.  I thought it only fitting to start talking about this overwhelming process with a little bit of inspiration: even J.K. Rowling had to start somewhere, with a single word.  Everyone is a beginner at some point, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Some beginners quit, and some beginners end up writing seven Harry Potter books.

I’m a beginner.  Specifically, I’m a beginner who is determined to learn how to do this thing, to do it well, and to end up more toward the second category (and definitely far away from the first).  This is my latest post on what I’m learning, and as I warned in my pre-hiatus post, it may be a long one.  After almost two weeks of not posting, though (Not a trend I intend to keep up, by the way.  That was just due to Minneapolis.), I don’t feel too bad about the length.

The Problem

Editing a novel?  It’s a little (okay, a LOT) overwhelming, to say the least.  I thought I was more prepared to tackle this part of the project, but as it turns out, I was only somewhat prepared.  Though I’ve read loads about what to look for while editing, and have even done a great deal of actually looking for, and finding, those things to change, I noticed a problem.  How, exactly, was I supposed to go about changing things?

After making pages of color-coded notes for each scene, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin with them: do I start chronologically?  Or, with major issues and plot changes?  Do I switch the scene order first and then start with the changes?  I had stellar ideas about what actually needed changing, but was clueless when it came to physically making those changes.

The Solution

My Novel

Index cards.  After staring at the various iterations of my notes for a while, I finally figured it out: a stack of 336 pages of black on white is not the easiest thing to navigate.  I needed something tangible, an outline I could hold, a deck of scene cards.  At a glance, each scene needed to be as recognizable as aces or spades; one look at the whole hand, and I’d know in an instant the layout of that section.

The Process

Here’s what I’m doing, step-by-step, to begin physical editing work.  I’ll start with the cards, and move on from there.

  • INDEX CARDS. | One card = one scene.  Title of the scene goes on the front, in bold black.  On the back, I wrote the scene number and listed the pages on which it currently appears, for easy reference.
  • SECTIONS. | I read through the deck of index cards, scene title by scene title.  I grouped them into logical sections of varying lengths, each one ending in a climax of some sort.  This project currently has nine sections.
  • TO-DO CARDS. | For each of my nine sections, I created “TO-DO” cards.  They are hot pink, and I placed them at the beginning of each section.  Each one is flagged with a post-it flag, so I can easily flip between sections.
  • POST-ITS. | On the back of each “TO-DO” card, there are three small post-it notes.  From left to right, there is a pink, a green, and an orange stuck to each “TO-DO” card.  Starting with Section One and ending with Section Nine, I evaluated each section’s major issues.  On the pink post-its, I made notes regarding those issues: which scenes need to be moved/cut, where new scenes need to be written, what problems need to be dealt with first when dealing with that section.  On the green post-its, I made notes on plot and continuity issues.  On the orange post-its, I made notes about pacing, language, and other things that need general smoothing-out.
  • FEELING PREPARED. | Dividing the novel into sections, and figuring out what needed work within those sections, helped me feel more prepared to start physically editing.  My novel in deck-of-cards format helped me make notes about specific preparations I need to take in order to make major changes.  I feel confident that I can go chronologically now, because I’ve planted notes for myself wherever later-in-the-book changes need to occur.
  • MARK THE PAGES. | Starting with Section One, I completely obliterated my pages.  They already had red pen on them; this time, I went in with pink and orange.  Red, I used to mark general observations; now, pink marks specific changes to make, while orange is for thoughts and other ideas.

    Section One

  • MAKE THE CHANGES. | After marking up Section One, I will make the actual changes on my computer.  This is where I am right now; I finished marking the pages right before my trip, and plan to start making the changes on Monday.
  • RINSE + REPEAT. | My plan, obviously, is to work my way through all nine sections.  I never intended for what I’m working on to be a final edit, so I’m sure I’ll have to go back once I’m done and tweak some things.  However, I think it will be much better after this pass.

So, there you go.  I’ll let you breathe, or eat, or sleep, or theorize about LOST now.  Just thought I’d share what I’m doing with you guys, because for all the what to look for when editing posts I’ve come across, there haven’t been too many that deal with the order in which to work those changes in.  As always, I reserve the right to humbly change my process, should it become mind-numbingly terrible.

For now, though, all is well.

26 Responses to “All Was Well.”

  1. J.C Wednesday / 24 March 10 at 8:36 pm #

    Wow! that is one detailed description of the process you’re embarking on – good on you!

    Everyone seems to do editing differently, and I think it’s a matter of finding out what works for you. You sound like you’re on the right track for yourself though which is the main thing 🙂 Good luck with it all!

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 9:41 am #

      Oh, man, has it ever been a process of finding out what may/may not work. I love seeing how everyone works in a different way, then taking the things that seem good for me and making my own unique process. Thanks for the good luck! 🙂

  2. Merrilee Wednesday / 24 March 10 at 9:33 pm #

    Awesome post Kayla, great to read about your process!

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 9:42 am #

      Thanks, Merrilee! I’m excited to dive back in today, now that I’m back from all vacations…looking forward to catching up on your most recent blog posts, too. I’m so behind! 🙂 Hope all is well with you!

      • Merrilee Tuesday / 30 March 10 at 1:40 am #

        All is well, thank you, although I am a frustrated writer at the moment, as I have a manual to finish which means no fiction until it’s done! Aargh!

  3. Megs - Scattered Bits Wednesday / 24 March 10 at 9:52 pm #

    That sounds awesome! It’s remarkably similar to the HTRYN course, but in a completely different, less linear format (I love nonlinear thinking, as I tend to think that way :grins: ). Your process actually sounds fun. Except the notecards. I seem to like notecards in theory but have the hardest time in life actually using them. :shakes head at self: And I cannot figure out why.

    I should write more, but brain needs loooooooong rest. Have fun and enjoy your journey!

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 9:50 am #

      It is fun! I still haven’t checked out the HTRYN course, only the one-pass revision method. The notecards might actually work for you – I like notecards in theory, too, but also have a hard time actually using them. Seems my notecard love breaks down whenever they become more work than they’re worth (i.e. filling the cards with tons of info). Therefore, I’m pretty spare with the details – just a title, scene numbers, page numbers – and write only what’s necessary on the to-do cards. Makes them easier to maintain and use.

      Happy writing!

  4. Lynsey May Thursday / 25 March 10 at 2:53 am #

    I used to love editing, that was way back before I think I was really able to judge whether the things I was writing were really ang good or not! Now I’ve been finding it just the kind of mammoth task you describe!

    I really enjoyed reading about the way you’re tackling it, I’ve been through a few similar phases too (this being the latest –, and I’m sure that all your hard work will pay off!

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 9:53 am #

      Thanks for your encouragement, Lynsey! I’d love to read the post you linked to, but for some reason it keeps saying “Error” whenever I click on it. Is there another way to find it?

      Good luck to you – are you writing/editing a novel right now, too?

      • Lynsey May Monday / 29 March 10 at 10:07 am #

        ohhh, that’s weird – I didn’t notice the url was all funny, sorry about that! This should hopefully work?

        I am also at the editing stage, although I think I may be on the third or fourth pass now – I wish I’d been as prganised as you in the early stages!

  5. joyofdawn Thursday / 25 March 10 at 1:27 pm #

    I love post-it! They come in so handy. Glad to hear your back from your trip with planty of inspiration for editing. Quite a process you have going there! Hope it works out for you!

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 9:54 am #

      Oh, I am such a sucker for office supplies. Post-its, notebooks, index cards, fun pens and highlighters…love them all. How’s the writing going for you?

      • joyofdawn Tuesday / 30 March 10 at 8:14 am #

        I’m not exactly sure how my writing is going? I have mixed feelings about what I am writing. Sometimes I love it and other times I dispise it. So I am working on whatever comes to mind. Most of what I have writen this past few weeks is descriptive. I don’t plan to stop writing, just change my tactics! I don’t think that I am ready to commit myself to one story.
        Christi Craig had a great post up on balance. I think some of the things I have been going through lately have to do with that. I didn’t relize it at the time until I read that post. The link for that post follows.
        Other then that I’m drafting a new post… 🙂

  6. islesam Thursday / 25 March 10 at 1:40 pm #

    I am honestly blown away ath your process. So detailed! I am an organizational freak as well, but I fear I just don’t have time to do something of this scale. Well, I don’t feel like I do. I’m sure I could make time if I really sat down and thought it out, but even that intimidates me right now.

    Then again, I am complete inundated at work with this sort of thing at the moment, and doing it “for pleasure” kind of makes my brain hurt.

    Either way, huge kudos. It’s fantastic that you’ve found a system that works! Hopefully I’ll be that lucky once I’m done with this rewrite… if the rewrite ever manages to happen. Oi.

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks, Melissa! 🙂 I can totally empathize with your fear of not having time to do something of this scale – I’m thinking it has something to do with being an organizational freak. I’ve always been a fresh start kind of girl, waiting for a Monday or a first of the month or a first day of school before I start something; then, when I start it, I like to do it allatonceornotatall.

      Writing a novel (and being a wife) is teaching me to go ahead and start things when I have time, because by the time a fresh start rolls around, the project is so huge I won’t have enough time to work on it. Little by little, I’m getting better at this, though the tendency to wait until I have more time is an ever-present temptation.

      Good luck staying above water at work, that sounds overwhelming. Give that brain some rest, and don’t feel guilty if that means you don’t write for a while. Better to have a rested brain and a project on hold than a burned-out brain. 🙂

  7. Kathleen Wall Thursday / 25 March 10 at 6:22 pm #

    Wow! That’s quite a process. Good for you! Having revised and edited my MS until I wouldn’t mind not having to look at it again for looonng time (and in no way so organized a fashion as you), I can now understand that writing it was actually the easy part. Best of luck!

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 10:08 am #

      You’re so right, writing was the easier part. Making something great out of what I wrote? Way harder. Thanks for the good luck! How’s everything going for you?

  8. Laura Friday / 26 March 10 at 11:14 am #

    I am on the absolute opposite end of the spectrum. I edit whatever is bugging me, shotgun style. Once in awhile I print out the whole thing and go through it start to finish. I’ll probably change that system once I’m finished with the first draft (hopefully by August), but it won’t be nearly as carefully thought out as yours.

    I’m not a naturally organized person, and reading about your post-its and index cards and colored pens makes my head spin. I don’t know how you do it!

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 10:12 am #

      That’s what I love so much about writing/editing – there are as many ways to do it as there are writers. If I tried to do it shotgun style, I’d probably be overwhelmed because I wouldn’t have a big-picture view to think about – for me, this kind of organization is actually easier than it would be for me to just wing it.

      I’m excited to read that you’re still working on your first draft, and that you have a hopeful end-date in mind for it! That’s wonderful. I’m proud of you for starting, and continuing, and having a goal in mind! 🙂

  9. Linda Cassidy Lewis Saturday / 27 March 10 at 10:21 am #

    You amaze me! You’re writing a how-to book on your blog, you know.

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 10:15 am #

      Thank you, Linda! As for the how-to book…that’s yet to be determined. It will either turn out to be a how-to book, or it will be a how-not-to book, haha. 😉

  10. Laura Best Saturday / 27 March 10 at 7:35 pm #

    I’m totally amazed at how organized you are, amazed because I would NEVER think to do it this way. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m not just muddling through.

    • owlandsparrow Monday / 29 March 10 at 10:22 am #

      Aw, thanks, Laura.

      Well, whether you feel you’re muddling or not, you turned out a published novel that people are enjoying! I can’t wait to read it. Having been out of town a lot over the past two weeks, I’m not up-to-date with things – is it out yet in the US?


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