Writing can be Puzzle Solving – Three Books in a Series

I don’t know how other authors of series do it, but at the moment I’m working on three books in a series at once. It started when my book discussion group agreed to schedule the discussion of French Impression, book one of the series, in April. I took that as a good reason to revise book two so I’d be able to incorporate any suggestions they had that affected the characters’ arcs. Then it seemed a good idea to start outlining book three to write in November during NaNoWriMo since I was very involved in the characters day-to-day lives and had ideas about what happened after the end of book two.

I didn’t intend to do more than correct a typo or two in book one and change the font size so the book didn’t cost so much to print. Once I’m revising a book, it’s tempting to read through and look for things that can be improved. They’re usually minor things like the same word used too close together, a way to make something more active voice, or just an overused phrase that I suddenly realize is peppered throughout the book. (My brother recently pointed out how many different characters ‘snorted’ – kind of a laugh and a weird noise. It’s all right once in a great while but I had several characters snort in the same book.) I like to clean those up, and I often don’t see them until I’ve been away from the novel for a while.

Book two is up on critique circle so I’m getting feedback from other writers, as well as reading it while I walk and noting things to improve. It’s going well, and the feedback from the book discussion, as well as ideas for book three are influencing the scenes and character arcs in that novel. Rereading book one carefully is helping to ensure I made the characters consistent between the novels. And, since I’m looking at book one, I can make a minor change in the first novel to help set up the second or third novel.

If this sounds complicated, it helps that I like math and solving puzzles, which is what working on three novels in one series at once is like. I want each book to stand on its own, but also work for people who read them in order. It’s a challenge, but I like challenges.

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Print Version Isn’t for Me

I write the type of books I like to read, and for years I was releasing the print version in a twelve-point font because I don’t like trying to read small fonts. A larger font has the drawback of the books requiring more pages, so the minimal price I can set on Amazon is higher. And when my book discussion group chose my book, the fact that it was 400 pages was a negative.

I read (to check and revise) my novels on the Kindle, in whatever size font I want. So there’s no need to release the print version in larger font than most people are used to. Putting French Impression in ten-point font dropped it to 250 pages.

I like to release a print version since some people like it that way, and because I believe it helps me produce a higher quality ebook. But the print version isn’t one that I read. I look it over, making sure there aren’t empty pages, and that the cover looks right, and things like that. But I don’t read it. So I’m going with a smaller font, so I can have a lower price.

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas

My writing group has started a path based on the Writing Excuses podcast exercises for the year. The first exercise was coming up with five story ideas based on: a conversation, research, exploring space, a media, and a song. I’m late getting started—I was really focused on editing last month for the Editing Path I led—and I’m not really interested in writing a short story, which is the path’s goal. But, I am interested in coming up with good scenes for book three in my series, French Influences.

Yesterday, when I prepared to edit, I found myself wanting to go into work instead. Years ago, I started work at 7:00, so I could work my five hours and pick up my daughter for the afternoon. But those days are long gone, although I am back to working part-time. Most of the people I work with arrive at nine or later, and early morning is my prime writing time so I like to use it for my fiction. Lately, that’s been editing French Immersion. But yesterday I started working on the exercises. They were a lot of fun, although not exactly action-packed, which is something I should work on, I think. Since the next series of exercises refines the original ideas, I hope that will happen.

The idea that I like the best came from an article on color that I read about how having words for something shapes reality. Some languages don’t distinguish between blue and green. The Himba of northern Namibia have six color categories compared to the English eleven. In a color study by Debi Roberson and Rick Hanley of the University of Essex, the Himba could find one green square in a circle of squares that was slightly different from the others. The Himba have different words for shades that in English are classified as green. However, the Himba language doesn’t distinguish between blue and green. They have a hard time finding the one blue-green square in a circle of green squares. But the blue-green square practically leaps out for English-speakers.

Since Miriam is an American living in Paris, I can use differences in French-English to highlight differences the American living in Paris has found. (She speaks fluent French.)

Interesting how that one idea has led to several more.

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The end of Editing Month, but not the end of Editing

As February winds to its slow, cold end, I’m glad that Editing Month is almost over. Not because I’m done editing French Immersion. The only time I don’t edit is during NaNoWriMo in November. Even then, it’s usually only the first two weeks where I try not to edit, and I correct stuff I’ve written the day before. It’s the way I write. I try to get the scene down as much as I can, and like to go back and fix things that day or the next day.

What I did differently during Editing Month was I focused on one book. Usually I’m doing a little with one book and a lot with another, bouncing between the two to keep motivated. This month I didn’t have that, and while I missed it a little, it was easier to keep my characters and location clear in my head if I stayed with one novel.

I revised my 85,000 word novel over two times. As in I went through it following my process of going through each scene twice. I did that going through the novel once, then I did it again. I also wrote three new scenes and polished them extra times. I also went through my ‘bad word’ list and removed most of them. I’m still working on tough words like: was, have, had.

During February, I had a chapter of the novel come up on critiquecircle.com each week, so I also dealt with people’s feedback, making corrections to the chapters, and seeing where the comments applied to the whole book such as when one critiquer expressed confusion about what my main character was working on. I had it as software architecture, but it turns out that doesn’t make sense to non-computer developers, so I changed it to wireless platform. It was a very good change, and one that was hard for me to see since an ‘Architecture Team’ makes sense to me from a work perspective. Another critiquer hadn’t read the first book in the series, so her feedback has been extremely valuable to making this novel a stand-alone book.

My plan is to continue to work on this book, mainly through critiquecircle.com. The first book in the series French Impression is the topic for my book discussion group in April. I’m hoping from that and critiquecircle.com to get extra ideas for book three in the series which I’ll draft in November. I’m not sure if I’m going to wrap up the series with the third book. I know the overall arc for my main characters, but I’m having a lot of fun writing about two incredible women who don’t get along for a lot of reasons, not just because Miriam accidentally slept with her boss’s husband on her first night in Paris. Although that didn’t help things.

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Midway through editing month discoveries and reflections

I discovered that I need to add a fairly large scene to French Immersion. Normally, I’d just write it, but I’m in the midst of ‘Editing Path Month’ where I’m trying to get the writing group to focus on editing, not writing.

Guess I’ll sketch out what the scene needs, and finish the pass I’m on. I’ve been doing my best to focus on just one novel, even though someone on Critique Circle has been critiquing another novel, and I’d love to read her comments and revise the book. I’ve skimmed the comments (to answer any questions she has) and made an appointment on my calendar in early March to address the feedback. I also have Sticky Note Empire out to a few beta readers, and got some small corrections. I think I’ll make them this weekend, since then I can send it out to another reader or two, and have it be the most accurate version.

I don’t normally focus on just one book, and I can see the value of doing that. I also don’t normally record my time, and I find it less enjoyable to do that. I can see that it does help keep me focused, though.

Just like for NaNoWriMo, I think one of the benefits of pushing for a month is knowing you can stop pushing once you reach your goal, or the month is over. And there’s a fun Thank Goodness It’s Over (TGIO) dinner at a great restaurant to look forward to. 

Also, during the cold month of February, it’s nice to focus on a book that takes place in Paris in April.

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Recording Time while Editing

I enjoy editing, but I’m not so sure I enjoy keeping track of the time spent editing. I prefer to just do it as much as I can on a given day.

As part of Editing Month with my writing group, I’ve been keeping explicit track of my editing—doing three or four hours most days. I tried counting down an hour at a time, but it works better to use a stopwatch app on the phone. Although an actual stopwatch might be better so I didn’t keep looking at my phone which interrupts my editing.

I tried using an hour-long playlist. That didn’t work since the playlist wraps around. I didn’t realize it until I got to the end of the chapter, by which point the hour playlist was half over again. I was so absorbed in my chapter, I don’t think I’d have noticed if the music had stopped playing either. The idea isn’t to stop after an hour, just to be accurate in recording my time.

While it’s annoying to track, it is helping me be more focused in my editing. That’s a worthwhile skill to reinforce. It’s easy throughout the year to ‘step aside’ to check Facebook, email, or other things on the computer. Having a stopwatch counting the time stops me from doing that.

I’m looking forward to next month when I don’t have to use the stopwatch and can just edit. But when I’m in the zone, I forget about tracking the time anyway.


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Editing and Shoveling Snow

I’m leading an Editing Path for my writing group for the month of February, and the weather decided to cooperate. There’s something about editing, shoveling snow, editing, shoveling snow in a cycle that makes for a good start to accomplishing twenty-eight hours of editing.

So far I’ve done two hours of focused editing, and two turns at shoveling. It helps to have a partner who would rather shovel than edit, but is doing both.

It’s also nice that our kick-off was yesterday, before the snow started, so we had the opportunity to talk about what we wanted to accomplish, and share tips in how to gets things done.

Kick Off for Editing

Kick Off for Editing

This last week, I read through the whole novel on the kindle–noting any major changes that I need. I have one boring chapter that needs major work, but the plot flowed fine and I like the ending. Nice to reconfirm that, and to realize what I need to beef up early to make it flow better. Also, I know which characters seem weak and need the most work, and which ones I liked the way they are and shouldn’t mess with too much.

I’m starting on chapter eight–that’s where I left off in the revision about a year ago, although I’ll bounce back and improve the beginning chapters since I’m posting them on critiquecircle.com. I’m also doing some general editing of overused words and then I’ll put the novel back into scrivener and work on chapter length while revising. I may need to move a few scenes around, if I don’t cut enough since some of the chapters are a bit long.

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Weekend Cycle List

With an entire weekend to do what I wanted, I prearranged a couple of social events. I volunteered to lead a session on Editing at the monthly group meeting of writers in the area (even though no one believes me when I say editing is fun.) And I arranged for a few friends to come over. It was originally a potluck, but to simplify things we brought in Thai food. We talked and played cards.
In between those events, I intended to cycle through a number of things that I wanted to get done. I could have come up with a long todo list, and felt bad if I didn’t get to things. But I wasn’t looking to make myself feel bad, just to ensure that if I was at loose ends, I could do something that I wanted to get done.

  • Organize published writing
  • Organize pictures and backups
  • Edit Overbooked
  • Edit Sticky Note Empire
  • Wash sheets (kids won’t be home for a while, so no rush.)
  • Organize clothes closet
  • Exercise – mainly walk/bike, but maybe ski
  • Sort food – what to use up
  • Contact potential Beta readers for Sticky Note Empire
  • Format Sticky Note Empire and cover (for printing for some beta readers)

Since I find editing fun, and I can combine it with getting some exercise by either walking around the house (it was too cold to walk outside), or biking on the exercise bike, I started with editing Sticky Note Empire. Then I decided to draft a blog post. Then reformat the list of things to cycle through as a table. Now that wasn’t on the list, but it was fun to fiddle with it.

I made progress on long-term projects like organizing pictures and writing, so much that I’m thinking of cycling through the list again this weekend.

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Still on Almost-last edit pass

Today I found three things to change in the first chapter of Sticky Note Empire. Two were improvements that the book could have managed without (but are better with the changes) and one was an actual error, and not an error that I added in on the last pass. (I’m great at doing that.) Maybe it’s all right that I’m not quite done with the novel yet. Getting close though. I often read several chapters without finding anything that would sound better if I changed it. Unless, of course, I’m in a picky mood. Then I could find things to change in anyone’s writing.

Getting close to having Overbooked done with the radical cutting of words I tend to overuse. Which is good, because at one point this week, I meant to be editing Overbooked, but I ended up in the Sticky Note Empire file, and cut two uses of ‘too much.’ Now, I need to make sure the sentences before and after my cuts still sound all right. I don’t worry about that with Overbooked, as I’m on an early pass through the book. But with Sticky, I’m almost done, so now is not the time to be deleting words or phrases throughout the book.

And, sometimes, too much is just right.

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Trying to Get Editing Done so I can Edit

I often get strange looks from my writing buddies when I talk about how much I enjoy editing. But I do. So much that I’m once again leading an Editing Path for the Journey (the year long writing group connected with the Naperville Region’s NaNoWriMo group.)

The problem is, I have two books I want to get edited before I start the one I’m doing as part of the editing path. One of them has been on the penultimate version for the last three passes, the other is one I want to clean up before posting it all on critique circle. I know I can finish one before I need to get going on my February editing book. But both? I hope so.

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