The Trouble with Editing

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I’m almost finished with a quick, by-the-seat-of-my-pants edit of my 1st draft manuscript. It goes into beta with about 7 people in just 3 days!! I’m thrilled but also feeling vaguely menaced at the same time. That’s not a lot of time to edit. Welllllll…

To be honest, I had this whole month to edit the 65,000 word piece (which is really very good odds, overall – less than 2,100 words a day to review!) but spent the first week of February celebrating the completion of my manuscript and the next week and a half sewing like a panicked woman for a hard deadline. That left just 13 days to edit the whole piece (more like 5,000 words to deal with per day). Only, wait! I also do freelance web copy writing and suddenly I had TONS of work. So now I was spending 7 hours a day doing freelance work and almost no time at all working on the novel.

Editing, one friend has said, is like being trapped in a gilded cage of my own devising.

I can’t wait to get out.

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Hellsgate, New Mexico: Haberdashery Part 1

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Sometimes folks arrive in Hellsgate, not entirely sure why they came. Or how how they got there. Or when they left home, if they had even done so.

Margaret and Charles Winslow were one such pair. Newlyweds, they had been traveling to Chicago by rail. They were roused from their sleep by the conductor, who announced their arrival at the final stop. They would find their bags outside, he said, leading them from the train.

When the Winslows stepped outside, however, they found themselves face to face with cracked and peeling Jackson Saloon. The young couple turned to object at once that this was not Chicago but the conductor was gone. As was the train and any sign of the tracks.

“Well,” Margaret straightened her shoulders and stood tall, “one must make the best of circumstances. Let’s find lodgings and figure out how to sort this out.”

“Ever the optimist,” Charles grumbled, following his wife as she marched on The Jackson, he dragging their trunk along behind him. He could feel dozens of pairs of eyes upon him though he saw no one on the street on this late afternoon.

“Barman. Barman!” Margaret called out, waving as she crossed the table-laden floor of the saloon itself. A few shady characters occupied seats. Margaret would, at this point, find it strange that she could not remember them well enough to describe even one of them later.

A withered old black man, wiping out glasses with a questionable towel, stood behind the bar. He nodded slowly as Margaret approached.

“Sir,” she threw her shoulders back once more, “could you direct us to the train station? Somehow there’s been a mix up an we need to return to Chicago, Illinois.”

The barkeep narrowed his eyes for a moment before nodding at the woman once more. Recognition dawned on him as he chewed the words, “No train station in Hellsgate, ma’am.”

“Then how did-? But we… we arrived by rail! Just now. I swear on the Holy Book.”

“Oh, that’ll happen from time to time,” the barkeep nodded. “Best just accept it – you’re residents of Hellsgate now. May as well figure out some way to pass the time and make yourselves useful to the town.”

“Why that’s just silly. Don’t folks ever leave Hellsgate?”

“Sure. All the time. But never in ways you can come back from.”

Margaret swallowed hard. A woman of the Good Book, she understood very well what the dry old barkeep meant.

“I suppose we’ll need lodgings, then, my good sir.”

“First night’s on the house for new folk,” the barkeep spat in (Margaret hoped) a vessel behind the bar. “You can call me Shoeleather. Call if you need anything.”

Charles arrived at the bar, huffing and dusty from the haul. He dropped their things, only to have them swept away by two silent young men. He watched the trunks as they were carried upstairs to a room with a yellow door. The two boys didn’t reappear immediately, causing Charles a little distress.

“Shoeleather?” Margaret blinked in surprise. “What a dreadful nickname. I’ll have none of it. What did your mother call you?”

“Oh, much worse thing,” Shoeleather smiled a moderately-toothed grin at the Winslows, eventually sweeping his hand toward the stairs to their room.

————————————————————

“I suppose I’ll have to contact the sheriff or whomever tomorrow and see what we ought to do about being stranded here,” Charles paced across their cramped room, wringing his small hands. “Oh, and I shall have to write to cousin Frederick about our delay. I hate to disappoint him.”

“Cousin Frederick can take his dull little shop and drop it into the ocean for all I care, Charles,” Margaret stood suddenly, stopping Charles mid-pace. “We will open our own harberdashery here in, hrmm, in Hellsgate.”

“But, wife of mine –“

“Don’t you ‘wife of mine’ me,” she scolded, “I will show this strange little town that there’s nothing a good hat cannot fix.”

Tear It Down With Your Perfectly Manicured Robotic Hands

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Ladies, you have a little less than 4 weeks left in which to destroy Science Fiction. I wish you luck and only good hair days.

Check out Lightspeed Magazine‘s upcoming June double-issue called Women Destroy Science Fiction and consider submitting your own work. Let history remember you as someone who fought to tear down the long-beloved and (apparently) male owned and dominated genre known as sci-fi. Read the editor’s note about the issue and learn about the submission guidelines.

I’ll be submitting a Weird West tale called Widowmaker 1898, which I of course hope will be considered for publication. Won’t you join me in destroying science fiction?

Show Up. Shut Up. Put Up.

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(OR An Accidental Part 2 to Remind Your Brain Who’s Boss)

Having examined how the creative process works inside of the brain (at least briefly and from the standpoint of a severe laywoman), it’s time to figure out how better to train the creative mind to be more productive. As someone who writes as a profession, I really should be writing every day.

I’m not. Most days, sure. If I had my ‘druthers, I’d love to sit and write fairly consistently for 4-6 hours a day, every day. I don’t have that kind of time most days or, if we are being honest, maybe I don’t make that time. Between dealing with a chronic illness and pain, housework, and caring for our three parrots, I don’t have much quiet and uninterrupted down time to just focus on work.

If you are a writer who sits and works 6, 7, 8 hours a day most every day, I salute you. That’s fantastic. If you’re more like me, you might also be wondering how to improve those writing habits. And that’s what they are, aren’t they? Habits. Without an office job with regular hours and pay, it’s up to the individual to just plant his or her butt in a chair and write. With no absolute promise of pay more often than not, consistently working on a writing project can seem daunting.

Being creative is easy. Being consistent is what’s difficult.

I used to work in kitchens. I’m actually trained as a pastry chef! And if there is one line of work that requires consistency above all else (don’t let Food Network fool you with its pretty, well-lit home kitchens because those are a LIE), it’s the world of the restaurant kitchen. That was a low-paying job that required showing up 6 days a week for 10 or more hours of intense physical labor each day and you didn’t have room to mess around with being creative in the grind of daily work.

I developed a mantra for myself when I was having a tough time working through pain or fatigue or frustration and I think it works here, too. If the first part of this article duo was about the physical/chemical aspect of the creative brain, then this part is about the more physical part of writing consistently.

Show up. Shut up. Put up.

It looks simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t always or we would all do it merrily and constantly. Life gets in the way – trust me, I know – but forming habits that put life on pause to be productive is the key.

Show Up.

No, really. That’s it. His is probably the easiest step of all. My illness has kept me from holding down a 9-5 but I can write and work from home! Whatever Show Up means to you, it’s time to do it. No excuses. Get there.

Shut Up.

This is where it gets hard. In the kitchen, this was very literal – no back talk, no excuses, just keep your head down and work. In this case, the question is more about avoiding distraction. Close Facebook and twitter and tumblr and all of that good stuff and just work. Reward yourself every 30 or 45 minutes if you need to (I know I do) with some silly browsing, a snack, or just dancing around your kitchen like an idiot for a few minutes. Whatever works. But when it comes to work, it’s time to Shut Up.

Put Up.

Do the work. Do it. Make goals, work toward them, and (this is the most important bit) finish things. Publishers don’t want to accept 2/3 of your masterpiece brat American novel so you had better actually complete that manuscript. Start small if you need to. Write twitter posts on a professional account. Make blog posts (hint hint!). Write flash fiction or short stories or personal essays or creative non-fiction. Decide on something to do and dot it.

Show up. Shut up. Put up. Now lets see what you can do, Internet!

Remind Your Brain Who’s Boss

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Why do we always get our best ideas in the shower? While driving? Just before falling asleep at night?

It’s one of nature’s cruel jokes, I think, but it’s undeniable fact that the brain is more creative when loosened up a bit. Neuroscientists tell us that the three keys to a flow of creative ideas (even if we don’t consider ourselves a “creative” person): increased dopamine levels, distraction, and being in a relaxed state. It’s no wonder, then, that my natural habitat during creative writing usually involves a dark room, a snuggie (don’t you judge me), and a glass of wine. 

Brains are happiest and most likely to give us the good stuff when they’re happy, too. That means dopamine is being released, much like it would be when we’re exercising, having sex, listening to music, or taking a shower. Neurologist Alice Faherty even argues that some people are built to be more creative than others, depending on “activity levels of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.” So remember: a happy brain makes a happy writer. 

Freeing up the subconscious from its usual tasks of problem-solving and stopping us from walking into walls gives it the opportunity to dig deep and find creative seeds it’s been burying all day. Something as simple as getting into the shower after a day at the office can trigger a big change in the way our brains work. With this “incubation period” for ideas in full swing, seeds of ideas can start to take root in the conscious mind instead of all of the usual worries of the day.

When our brains are jamming on alpha waves (when the brain is, or is in a state close to sleeping) we get a chance to focus internally instead of on the people and world around us. It’s not just sleep that can bring this state of deep relaxation on; soothing, familiar, repetitive tasks help us achieve this sort of mental quiet when we’re better in touch with our intuition. With the phone off and the responsibilities of the day just out of reach, we are able to better cultivate the creative ideas that have been looming just below the surface.

So. The keys to helping those creative juices flow are doing something that makes us feel good (dopamine), being distracted from the everyday (distraction/incubation), and being relaxed while doing something familiar or nothing at all (alpha waves). Whether that yields the next Great American Novel or not is no sure thing but let’s be honest here – at the worst, you’ll have just had a relaxing afternoon.

Now that’s for creative writing, might I remind you. When I’m editing or just slamming out articles, I work best in public, loaded with coffee, and jamming to some mindless music. I better crank up the EDM in my headphones since I’ve got about half of a fantasy novel left to edit and make line notes on. Bring it home, Zedd!

Articles Read, Referenced, and Otherwise Enjoyed for this Piece:

http://lifehacker.com/5987858/the-science-behind-creative-ideas

http://blog.bufferapp.com/why-we-have-our-best-ideas-in-the-shower-the-science-of-creativity

http://www.finerminds.com/mind-power/brain-waves/