Thursday, October 25, 2012

SSBM (patent pending)

Let’s put aside all the craziness in publishing right now, shall we?...

... and get back to basics: writing. I think mine is getting better. I recently came across one of the very first stories I ever wrote and it made me realize how much I've grown. (It was a horrendous action/adventure piece that Michael Bay may have optioned had we ever met and had my skirt been short enough.)

Speaking of short… I’ve just put the finishing touches on a new short story. It’s based on the piece that got long-listed for a CBC short story contest this year, only it’s better. I’ve been in heavy editing mode for about two weeks and I’m sticking with the method that has saved my ass on more than one occasion: the SSBM (Small, Smaller, Bigger Method). 

The way it works is as follows: I write my story in 12-point font, single-spaced in Microsoft Word. Then I put it away for 24-hours, return and edit the thing on screen.

A few days later, I reread my story, only with one major change in technique: I read it on my iPhone, which means the font is very small, probably 8-point. Then I edit again based on that reading.

A few days after that, I re-format my story in Word again, this time double-spacing it. I edit it in that format, leave it for another day, read it again on my iPhone (again), change it back into double-spaced format and then KABLAMMO! The short story is, finally, good to go.

This is a technique I stumbled upon after years spent as a magazine editor at a bunch of trades you've never heard of. At one of my posts, not only was I the editor, but I was also the designer. Not because I knew WTF I was doing design-wise, mind you, but because budget dictated that I pretend to know. And AND not only was I editing and designing (and running production) but I was also writing the majority of the content. By the time it came to the final copy edit, these circumstances made it almost impossible for me to see any errors or lazy prose or omissions until…

… I switched up the formatting.

Here’s what I mean. When I thought I couldn't edit effectively anymore -- because I was too close to the words and I'd read them too many times -- I would lay out the story in InDesign. And wow! As if by magic, the mistakes and crap writing would reveal themselves. It was the same story, the same writing, but the format change from Word into the standard magaziney style made it seem completely different. It was as though I’d never read the article before, when I had likely read it five or six times. I’m telling you: it was revelatory. I could see my writing so clearly, it was as though I hadn’t written it at all.

I’ve been using this very method in my short fiction, even for various sections of my novel, and it works every time. Try it sometime yourself. I promise you, it’ll bring a freshness to your editing process that will improve your final draft.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I can't believe I lied to the CARE guy

So I was walking towards the health food store the other night, plotting out the purchases I was about to make -- overpriced gluten-free bagels and vacuum-packed tofu -- when a man approached me. He was wearing glasses, pants (of course), a bright orange vest, a name tag that read “Patrick.” But back to the vest. He wore it because he works for a charity called CARE and was on the street canvassing for donations. I’m talking “Commit now, here on the sidewalk, and pledge to pay us $10 a month for the rest of your life" kind of canvassing.

It was fluorescent orange because it was a vest with purpose: a guilt-inducing marketing ploy. If you didn’t stop and talk to Patrick, your excuse being that you “didn’t see him standing there” -- in a luminescent LOOK AT ME super vest -- well, then you’d have to live with the shame of knowing that not only are you an uncharitable asshole, but you are also full of $#it.

I stopped, of course, because I know all about these vests. Patrick leaned into his script and I nodded and he talked and talked and I pulled out my credit card and it was all moving along nicely. And then something changed. Somewhere between well-digging and microloans, and Patrick’s occasional Hugh-Grant-like stammers about some mishap at the bar last night and the fact that he was having a really bad day, the subject of my career came up.

“Oh yeah?” he said. “What kind of writer are you?”
“Well, for work I do finance marketing-type writing," I said. “But I also write fiction.”
“Ohhhh. So you want to be a real writer.”
“Actually, Patrick, I am a real writer. I wrote a book." Then I puffed out my chest and added "And I have an agent."
“Wow. When’s your book coming out?”
And this is when it got weird: “Sometime next year,” I replied.
I was amazed at how easily the lie came out of my mouth. It just rushed out of me like a breath.
“So is it going to be at Chapters and on Amazon?” he asked.
I looked at my phone as though I was very busy, a busy that my subconscious mind must have wanted Patrick to assume was a symptom of my being a published author with the kinds of commitments that published authors have. And then I looked at Patrick, laughed a little laugh, and said this: “That’s to be determined.”


Let me be clear: I do not, at this time, have a book coming out. We’re working on it, my amazing agent and I -- Okay, only really my agent. I'm just sort of lumbering aimlessly -- and I do believe that it will happen. But I do not, currently, have a galley in my purse. I have not yet received the phone call. I have not spent a Saturday afternoon scouting locations for my book release party. Not, not, not.

I’m sorry I lied, Patrick. It was a weird, sad thing for me to do. I’m not sure why I said it exactly. I was feeling defensive and embarrassed and mediocre, I guess. And there you were: hung-over and essentially begging me for money. You probably had a quota to fill, right? Or you wouldn’t get paid? You were vulnerable, emotionally and professionally, and I took advantage. I used you to feel, if only for a second, like the person I’ve always dreamed of being.

I hope, Patrick, that my $10/month donation will make up for my weird lie. That it goes towards, I don’t know, sturdy shovels and a communal goat or something.