The Never-ending Story

I heard once that Walt Disney’s least favorite of his animated features was Snow White. He spent so much time working and reworking the story that by the time the film was released, all he could see were the flaws that still remained.

Two weeks ago, I finished the first round of edits for HIS GOOD OPINION. Since then, I’ve gotten congratulations from all my friends and family, but each time someone comments on how much work I’ve done, I feel a little more like a fraud. They don’t know how many errors still remain, especially in the last five chapters.

Editing is a never-ending process. I finished one revision on the 18th and started back in with the next round on the 20th. That won’t stop until I publish the book in November or December, and even then, I’m sure I’ll find little things I wish I could fix.

However, at some point you have to let the project go. That’s what I’m learning right now. Even if there’s still work left, I need to allow myself to feel like I accomplished something. And when I release the book… that’s it. Unless I find major errors that need to be corrected, I won’t continually pull the ebook down for corrections.

How do you know when a story is done? When do you know to let it go and move on to the next thing?

A Different Kind of List

About a year and a half ago, I started the Day Zero Project. The idea is simple: Create a list of 101 things you’d like to accomplish in the next 1001 days… and then do it. I blogged on my list for a few months, but I was never very faithful about it, even though I did keep the list in mind.

I decided this week to bring the list over here. I just don’t have time to maintain two blogs, on top of work and writing. My tentative plan is to do a 101 Things blog post on the last Monday of the month, to recap what I’ve accomplished.

I started on February 2, 2010, and my last day is October 30, 2012. I am almost exactly halfway through my 1001 days. I’ve finished 18 items and started another 23. That’s not quite half, but I still have time.

Do you have a similar list? What kind of items would you put on yours?

Legend:
plain text–not started
italics–in progress
purple bold–complete

Writing
1. Join/start a writing group
2. Spend at least 70 hours a month writing, or 60 in February (3/31)

3. Keep a writer’s notebook every day for a full month (0/30)
4. Do a writing prompt from creativewritingprompts.com every day for a month (0/30)
5. Read five books on the Regency period (2/5)

6. Finish His Good Opinion
7. Begin another fiction work

8. Write 100K in NaNo
9. Read a book on professional blogging

10. Start a writing blog

11. Read five books on writing/publishing (0/5)

12. Self-publish His Good Opinion

Health
13. Lose 25 pounds
14. No fast food for a month
15. Buy a bike–and use it

16. Walk to Rivendell
17. Exercise at least two days a week for two months (0/8)
18. Sleep eight hours minimum every night for two separate weeks (0/7)  (0/7)

19. Go to the dentist

20. Give up soda for three separate months (1/3)
21. Try pilates at least once a week for two months (0/2)
22. Use my pedometer again
23. Use My Fitness Plan to keep track of diet and exercise
24. Take vitamins daily for one month six times (0/6)

25. Order something healthy 6 times (0/6)
26. Take one day off from the internet each month (16/31)

Beauty
27. Take care with my appearance every day for two separate weeks (7/7) (0/7)
28. Get a mani/pedi
29. Get a LBD
Cooking

30. Make a custom recipe book
31. Attend a cake decorating class
32. Try at least one new recipe a month (3/31)
33. Bake a loaf of bread
34. Trade out all my most used spices for Penzey’s
35. Try five new dessert recipes (0/5)
36. Learn how to make a soufflé

Fun and Relaxation
37. Spend six rainy days watching films in my PJs (1/6)
38. Have one lazy Monday each month (17/31)
39. Have a traditional picnic in a park
40. Go ice skating
41. Go to the zoo
42. Buy myself flowers
43. Finish a 1000+ piece jigsaw puzzle
Arts and Crafts
44. Finish afghan
45. Finish senior year scrapbook
46. Finish baby book
47. Get my NaNo prints framed

Personal and Spiritual Development

48. Don’t complain about anything for a week
49. Identify 101 things that make me happy (0/101)
50. Create a list of ten flaws I have
51. Create a list of twenty things I like about myself
52. Journal every day for a month (0/30)
53. Write down one thing I’m thankful for every day for a month (0/30)
54. Blog about something positive every Wednesday for two months (0/8)
55. Memorize 101 new Bible verses (0/101)
56. Read through all the Psalms, noting each name used for God
Travel
57. Go on a random day trip to someplace I don’t usually go
58. Go hiking three times each summer (3/9)
59. Spend three days in Portland as a tourist (1/3)
60. Take a road trip
61. Go to Disneyland

Financial

62. Build an emergency fund
63. Pay off my credit card

64. Pay off Mom and Dad
65. Pay off Dr. Lewis
66. Make no extraneous purchases for one month
67. Shop for a week of groceries using only coupons or sales four times (0/4)
68. Save money by not going out to eat for a whole month
69. Save as much spare change as I can, not touching it until the 1001 days are complete
70. Track daily expenses for three months (0/3)

Learning
71. Learn Italian
72. Learn Elvish (Sindarin)
73. Watch ten documentaries (1/10)
74. Try something I might be terrible at

Reading
75. Read The Hobbit again

76. Complete current reading project
77. Read half of Shakespeare’s plays
78. Read all six of Austen’s major works (5/6)

Organization
79. Get an iPhone

80. Sort through all my papers; bin/shred the ones I don’t need, file the ones I do

81. Change our phone/internet service
82. Backup my computer–flash drive or external hard drive

83. Be to work early every day for two separate weeks (0/5) (0/5)
84. Throw out or donate clothes that no longer fit or are worn out

85. Set up my home office

Do unto others
86. Pay for the person in line behind me
87. Send a letter to a friend once a month (1/31)
88. Send someone a care package
89. Finish sending Christmas cards
90. Have ten dinner parties (0/10)
91. Have five tea parties (2/5)
92. Convert to entirely reusable shopping bags
93. Randomly give flowers to three people (1/3)

94. Send someone an encouragement card

England
95. Get my passport

96. Take a trip to England
97. Take high tea in England

98. Decide details regarding my move to England

Meta-tasks

99. Donate $5 to charity for every task I don’t at least start
100. Blog the results of this list
101. Evaluate after 1001 days are over: Was this good/fun/profitable?

Winchester Cathedral and Jane Austen

It’s a beautiful sunny day in March, and I’ve just landed in England. I made it through customs and caught the train to Winchester, where a friend met me. She knew immediately what I would want to see first: Winchester Cathedral, the place where Jane Austen is buried.

It was after 4:00 PM when we started the self-guided tour, and even my jet-lagged brain could appreciate the beauty of the afternoon light coming through the stained glass windows. Sometime I might do a blog post just on the stained glass I saw in England–I have even more pictures of that than I do of the willows.

The various altar pieces were beautiful. This one in particular struck me, with the gilded paintings and the beautiful masonry.

After seeing the cathedral in all it’s glory, you finally come to Jane’s grave. This is the actual stone marking where she is buried. I still find it a little odd to think of people being buried inside a building–can anyone explain this to me? I realize it was something of an honor, as not just anyone gets space beneath the transept, but beyond that…?

(Please forgive the slightly blurred picture–the batteries in my camera were dying.)

Jane’s gravestone makes no mention of her writing–it’s simply a commemoration by her family and friends of a life well lived. It wasn’t until several years later that this plaque was erected on the wall of the cathedral, honoring “Jane Austen, known to many by her writings…” Above the plaque is a gorgeous stained glass window of St. Augustine, as Austen is an abbreviated form of Augustine. (I do have pictures of the window, but they turned out even worse than the pictures of the stone and the plaque.)

I find it a little ironic that my first stop in England was Jane’s last. I don’t attach any great symbolic meaning to that, but I know my trip over all grounded me more in her life and her way of thinking. The chapters I’ve written since I’ve come back have flowed more easily, with less time wondering how exactly something would work.

Visiting a grave site leaves you with a greater appreciation for what the person accomplished in her life. Jane Austen didn’t live long–she was only 41 when she died. But in those short years, she created six of the most-loved novels in modern English, and she left us with numerous remnants and pieces of juvenilia. She worked hard at her writing, frequently sitting for hours a time at her little writing table. That kind of consistency and dedication inspired me to do the same.

If you could visit the grave of one person, whose would you choose and why? What lessons would you take away from the trip?

May I Have the Envelope, Please?

On my birthday, I received three blog awards: The Versatile Blogger Award, One Lovely Blog, and The Stylish Blogger Award. The rules for receiving a blog award are:

  1. Thank and link back to the person that gave you the award.
  2. Share seven things about yourself.
  3. Pass the award to fifteen bloggers that you think deserve it.
  4. Lastly, contact all of the bloggers that you’ve picked for the award. 

At the time I’d only been blogging for a month and I didn’t really feel qualified to pass the award on. Now it’s been almost six months–I might not be an Experienced Blogger yet, but at least I’m no longer the new kid on the block. Besides, I finished my draft on Saturday and what better way to celebrate than by throwing an awards ceremony?

  1. Thank you Charissa! Those awards gave my confidence a definite boost, and they were a fantastic birthday present too.
  2. Seven things about me:
    1. I am completely addicted to chocolate.
    2. I have a cat named Smokey who might actually be smarter than I am.
    3. I’ve traveled more extensively than the average American, both within the US and abroad.
    4. My love for Austen is rivaled only by my love for Tolkien. The one disappointment of my England trip was the complete lack of Tolkien geekery.
    5. Some might call me an obsessive planner. I like to think I’m just prepared for the coming zombie apocalypse.
    6. I organize things by date–either when I last used them, or when I will need them. Thus, when my roommate straightens the house, I cannot find a thing.
    7. Like Charissa, I too am a pastor’s daughter.
  3. Fifteen people to whom I gift these awards:
    1. Jessica at Narniamum
    2. Jennifer at Skidding in Sideways
    3. Rebecca at A Word’s Worth
    4. Kaydee at For the Love of Austen
    5. Debra at English Epochs 101
    6. Kals at At Pemberley
    7. Julia at wordsxo
    8. Sarah Allen at From Sarah, With Joy
    9. Amber Rose at Laughing With Broken Eyes
    10. Jen at Neptune Butterfly
    11. Austen in Bath at Austen in Bath
    12. Rosita at A Writer Forever… 
    13. Shannon at Jane Austen Says…
    14. Susan at Loves Jane Austen
    15. Alexa at First Impressions
  4. I’ve contacted all these lovely ladies (and they are all ladies, interesting!) via Twitter. If you’ll notice, I’ve linked each of them not only to their blogs but also to their Twitter accounts. Please take a moment and follow them–you won’t regret it.

Success by the Numbers

I told you last Thursday to come back today for an announcement on my revision progress, so here it is: I’m not done yet.

When I realized I wasn’t going to make it, I had a mini-melt down. For one thing, I hate it when I don’t achieve goals I set for myself, and for another, I needed a celebration and a break. The first revision pass is always a long haul, and I’m ready to be done.

I started beating myself up, wondering why I hadn’t been able to do this. Then I looked at the last four weeks since I declared I would finish by June 15th. Here’s what I came up with:

102 Number of days I have gone without taking more than one day off in a row
25   Number of hours, on average, I have written each week since May 19
10   Number of chapters that required a total rewrite, rather than simple revision
3     Number of surprising and exciting emails I’ve gotten this week
25   Number of chapters, approximately, I had left on May 19
8     Number of chapters, approximately, I have left today

I’m counting this as a win. Did I complete the draft? No. However, I did work as hard as I could to get as much as I could finished. The number of chapters that needed to be rewritten took me totally by surprise. Those require way more work–way more time. If I’d known that number, I never would have aimed for June 15.

I’m still very, very close. Tonight, I’m wrapping up the section where Darcy confronts Wickham in London. That brings me to the final quarter of the story, and back into territory that’s fairly clearly outlined by Pride and Prejudice. I believe I will finish on Saturday; I’m going out to celebrate even if I don’t.

The Big Picture

On my first morning in Winchester, the proprietor of my bed and breakfast recommended I walk up a small hill that overlooks the city. Even though in the back of my mind I was thinking, “I really don’t have time–I have to see the cathedral and the house where Jane Austen died and-and-and,” I took her advice. 

When I reached the top, I could see why she’d suggested it. The entire city of Winchester spread before me in a gorgeous panorama. I could see the back of the cathedral, the ruins of the old Bishop’s Palace, Winchester College, and so much more. That first overview of the city helped me understand where exactly I was when I wandered the streets later.

On January 1, I picked up a hard copy of my draft and started editing–or at least I tried to. I didn’t get past the first page before the sheer enormity of the task struck me. There was no way I could read through this story and edit it. I could barely remember what happened in the middle.

After some thought, I put the entire file on my Kindle. I spent the next three weeks reading it and taking notes, which I’ve then used to guide the editing process. Going through the story from start to finish allowed me to see the big picture; now, when I’m editing, I know where I am in the story and I don’t get lost.

I blogged last Monday about paying attention to the details, and that’s important. However, as writers we can become a little myopic–so obsessed with what is going on right now in our stories that we fail to see how that fits into the whole.

So if your editing is giving you grief, why don’t you join me on this hill? I guarantee you, the view from here is worth it.

When to Adjust Your Goals

Three weeks ago, I announced to the world* that I would finish my draft on June 15th. For those who don’t remember my editing process, that means I committed to completing two editing passes–big changes in purple ink, and smaller adjustments in pink.

June 15th has drawn ever closer, and my progress did not keep up with the steady march of time. Other things fell to the wayside, things like sleep and exercise. I forgot a promise I made to a friend, because I was so focused on finishing this draft. I had a sneaking suspicion that I had bitten off more than I could chew.

Yeah, something like that.

So, Tuesday night I made an executive decision. (As an indie author, I am my own executive.) “Finish the draft” now means getting through the purple revisions. That’s the hardest part anyway–I’ve been flying through the pink edits like nobody’s business. If I can at least make it the whole way through my novel and  have a solid, working draft, I will be happy.

Tune in next Thursday to see how I did.

*AKA Facebook

The Devil is in the Details

The trickiest part about HIS GOOD OPINION is getting all the details right. I’m not concerned about the major plot arc–I’ve read Pride and Prejudice enough times to be comfortable with the story line. It’s the little niggling things, like… Was Darcy in the room when that happened, or had he already retired for the night? Could he have seen the expression on her face, or was he looking away?

And, did the Netherfield Ball take place on Tuesday or Thursday?

The answer to that question, dear readers, is Tuesday. However, thanks to the comment in Pride and Prejudice that nothing but a ball on Tuesday could have made the days from Thursday tolerable, I got the days switched around in my head.

Is this a big deal? Not really. It did mean going in and changing all the references to days that followed, and there happened to be a lot of them in that chapter. However, my mistake didn’t dramatically affect plot or character–this time.

You may roll your eyes and chuckle about my obsession with details but what if it had been important? What if I’d put Mr. Darcy in the wrong place at the wrong time, or what if I’d forgotten who was in the room or who said what? One small error can snowball into something that takes ages to work out, or even worse, into a huge pile of inaccuracies that never get caught.

I have read fanfiction (published and online) that makes that kind of error, and it loses all credibility when I catch it. I’m determined not to be one of those authors, so I’m obsessing over little things like days of the week. It makes me a little crazy, but at least readers will be able to trust my story.

Need a Motivational Mantra?

I’ve got one: Done is better than fun. I shamelessly stole this from Erin Blakemore, author of The Heroine’s Bookshelf. Even if it is stolen, I think it’s excellent advice.

I’ve blogged more than once about my attempts to focus and get actual work done. I tried the Cone of Silence, I tried balancing my schedule so I didn’t feel overworked, I tried avoiding the computer so I wouldn’t be stopped by pain. None of it really worked, and here’s why. I kept putting off editing in favor of fun.

Now, before you jump on my case and tell me I shouldn’t be writing if I don’t love it, notice I said editing. I do love to write, but if you find someone who says they love to edit, I will say you found a liar. It’s certainly rewarding to see your raw story transformed into something fit for human consumption, but it is not fun.

But here’s the thing: The only way I can publish this book in November is if I buckle down now and do the work. That won’t happen if I watch a movie, or read a book, or check in with my Twitter friends. Done is better than fun.

I’ve been trying this for a few weeks now, and it seems to be working. At least, it doesn’t seem to have slowed me down any. I need to finish this draft by June 15th–that’s less than two weeks away. Repeat with me, friends: Done is better than fun!