Glenn A. Bruce's Blog: RITR (sic)

August 13, 2020

When is a Piece Done?

I hear this asked often. How do I know it's ready to be sent out? Or how do I know when to stop? The simple answer is: When you can't find anything else to change.

But how do you get there? Well, there are a few ways.

First, never send out your rough draft. I have to confess, when I started out 41 years ago, I did not follow this advice. Why? Because I was writing on a typewriter. That meant mistakes had to be corrected with White Out. Further, since I was writing screenplays, I had to worry about keeping the format. Adding or deleting more than a few words could cause a page to run on into a new, partial page or leave a large blank space on the existing page. This was unacceptable, visually. In screenwriting, format is pretty much the whole game, at least visually. Structurally as well, since each full page with a balance of white and black - ink and space - is the rough equivalent of one minute of screen time. So, format is important.

But I was new and eager and, well, lazy. Lucky for me, or maybe not, my first screenplay found an agent within a few weeks. (That hasn't happened since - and that was 1979!). Because of that incredible luck, I believed that I could write until it was done and that was that. Send it out!

Wrong. It never worked again.

It took me decades to get to the point that I could do multiple sets of revisions without whining. (Thanks to computers!) But then! I learned the value of that work, as I have discussed in other posts.

However, another "problem" emerged. Okay, now that I am willing to revise as much as is needed... how much IS needed? How do I stop? How do I know WHEN to stop?

So, full circle. Here are some ideas that I shared with my students. #1: Put it down! Once you get through a draft, whether it's a short story, screenplay, or novel: Put it down! Walk away. Work on something else. You need that distance to get a perspective on what you have done. So, it is REALLY important to work on something else, even something short, for a week at least. Totally get away from what you wrote - even better if you can get to the place where you forget what you wrote! That way, you really can see it with fresh eyes. It works.

In my case, I always have several projects going that are in different stages ON the rare occasion that I don't, I create a new one or go back to an old piece and work on that. Anything to break my "dependence" on the piece in question. I use that word because we become dependent on its success. That creates a relationship with the piece that is hard to ignore - impossible if we don't get away from it completely for a while.

How long? That depends - on the length of the piece, how much work you've put into it already, how much time. I.e., how "attached" you are to it. The idea is to break that attachment so that you can be fair and honest about the writing when you go back to it. I'm sure the length of time is different for everyone, but for me it's something like this. For a short story, I will wait at least a few days, maybe a week or two if I have the time. For screenplays, which typically run 105-115 pages for me, I wait at least a week - a month if I can spare it. For a novel, at least 2-3 weeks before going back - preferably a month or two. And again, I ALWAYS work on something else in between. Sometimes, I wait to go back to the first one until I have written another completely, a rough draft, which can take months and months. At that point, it really is interesting to go back to the first piece as I truly don't remember much of it. Sometimes MOST of it! So, it's fun!

So, how do I know when I can do no more? It isn't science; there is no set formula. I think over the years, the longer you do it, the better sense you gain of what that moment is. For me, it's when I go through it, a full Page One rewrite/revision, and feel that I have solved all the plot issues, and the story flows; the dialogue is as it should be, tight and effective; and I have PROBABLY caught all the typos and errata I can. Hint: you can NEVER find them all. But you can find most of them. I use every trick Word offers me: green lines, blue lines, red lines. Not all of them mean there is an error, but most of them do. When there are few of those, and I have checked every one to make sure it is not a problem, I feel that the manuscript is as clean as I can probably get it.

Another trick I taught that has always worked for me, especially with screenplays, is a speed read. I just let my eyes fly over the text. You will be surprised at how many missing words, misused words, etc., you can find doing this. Again, the object is a clean read.

But what about overall? Is it ready to go out? This is of course a subjective call, or can be. But you can also be objective about it. Ask yourself if there are any large changes you feel might be needed. Obviously, if the answer is yes, you are not ready to send it out. But if you feel relatively confident that you have dealt with all the large issues, then allow yourself a sigh of relief.

Ask yourself if you have been honest about finding and fixing all the little stuff. A sloppy manuscript is going to be a rejected manuscript. But even the harshest editors know they too miss things on occasion. So, if you are relatively sure that you have it as clean as it can be, another sigh.

Finally, ask yourself a simple question: Do I like it? Are you, for the most part, happy with the work? Is it what you set out to do? Is it the best you feel you CAN do OVERALL? Are you excited to have someone read it now that you have done all this work? If these answers are yes, let it go. Send it out. Move on.

Keep in mind, you can always go back and work on it some more, later - after you have worked on one or two other projects and completed them at least as rough drafts. Often, I find this is the perfect time to revisit an older piece. I have some distance and I don't feel any pressure to finish it on any schedule. Just loll about and enjoy it! And, when you see that damned typo you missed, fix it. You will likely find some sentences that could be better, a piece of dialogue, a description - something unnecessary that can be cut. Be happy. You have made it better and the next time you send it out, you will feel even better about it.

Should you worry about the one you already sent out now that you know it had a few minor problems? NO! Fuggedaboutit! It's out there. They will either like it or not - and most likely their decision will have nothing to do with the minor changes you made or errors you found. They will be interested in the content, style, and story. If they like or hate your writing, it will have little or nothing to do with your minor errors. If they are looking for a reason to reject it, you never had a chance anyway. So relax and move on.

To recap. The idea is to get your piece as clean as you can with a story as effective as you can make it. You have to be objective and subjective at the same time; but mainly you have to be honest about the writing. How does it work? DOES it work? Do you LIKE it? Is it as good as you can get it RIGHT NOW? Do you want to send it out and see what happens? Do you have something else to work on so you don't drive yourself crazy in the meantime?!

If you answer these yes, send it out - and write, write, write the next stuff. As time goes by, as the years of experience pile up, knowing when it is ready will get easier and easier. It is inevitable.

One last thought. If what you have written is not working - if you just can't make it work - let it go. It happens to all of us. It just happened to me this late in the game. I have a novel I have been piddling with for five years. I put it away, go back to it a year later, start at Page One, get to Act II - and it just stops. No matter what I have tried, I cannot get it to continue. Finally, just the other day, I said: Fuck it. It ain't gonna work. Let it go.

Now THAT is a sigh that feels good.
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Published on August 13, 2020 15:02

February 6, 2019

Working with an editor

Finding an editor who suits your needs is somewhat like finding a golf pro who can actually improve your game (without ruining it).

As any golf pro worth his salt will tell you, the best way to help a golfer (at any stage of his/her progress) is to zero in on strengths and help them along by changing as little as possible. This is so because every golfer has a unique swing; changing it can wreak disaster. So a great pro watches then offers suggestions to smooth out any issues in the swing without changing it too much. This working with a client serves the golfer's needs and keeps the relationship with a positive.

So it is with editors. There are many wonderful editors out there, and some bad ones. My first criterion is always cost analysis. How much do they charge and what do they provide for that service? A great way to calculate this is to see a manuscript they edited - before and after. Even just a few pages. This will allow you to see what they have done before, how they helped the writing - or didn't. It's a good start if the editor will share.

Of course, a good relationship is based on chemistry. This should go without saying; but if you don't "hit it off" with an editor somewhere near the beginning, you should probably move on. However, if you find you don't get along with ANY editors...maybe-probably - it's you. That said...

An editor's job is to help your writing. To help it to be clearer and more effective - basically to do what you intended to do but maybe didn't quite get to. The rub can come if you disagree on an edit, of course. It is within editorial-relationship etiquette to question a suggestion, with respect for the intent. A good editor will answer your concern with specifics. A not-so-good editor will get peeved that you question their "authority." It follows that if you find yourself asking questions of too many edit suggestions, either you are being too defensive or your editor is being too picky ior even arrogant - or some combination of both.

So this comes down to basic sensibilities. If you are not clicking - you are not clicking. And it may be time to try another editor. But be sure that YOU are not the problem. I.e., always be open - at least in the beginning - to anything an editor suggests. You can decide as you go along whether or not you desire to continue.

Of course, we are talking about editors that you seek out; not editors that are provided by a publisher. Whole different can of worms. In the former, you have control; in the latter, you do not. That said, professional editors assigned by topnotch publishers are most likely great to work with because of their extensive experience. In the case of HIRING an editor yourself, you may not have any idea of what you are getting into until you are into it.

A tip: Try having a prospective editor work on a short story. Pay them to edit a short piece to see how they approach your style. If it goes well, move on to longer pieces.

A note on my personal experiences:

With magazine editors, I cannot recall having an issue once they decide to run a piece. I have found their editorial comments to be both respectful and accurate. Or at the very least inconsequential - as far as my concerns to "protect" my work. They usually have a reason for the edit (and usually tell you what it is); and it usually does not impact your writing as a whole in any way. I.e., if you are overly sensitive to mini-edits, you might reconsider YOUR approach, not theirs. I cannot recall ever saying no to a magazine editor's suggested changes. In some cases, I couldn't even identify what they had done! So: no room for complaints.

As to hiring an editor for a longer work: totally different story. I have only tried it twice, but neither time was successful. In one case, I was referred by a publisher to a particular editor because my story "needed fleshing out" - which it absolutely did. So I was happy to get suggestions. However, after getting paid, the editor's only comment was: "Your story needs fleshing out." I asked how, and was told that I would have to pay LOTS more to get that advice. I reported back to the publisher who was surprised - then fired the editor. Not really a win for anyone.

The second time I tried, the editor simply never edited - never started the work. I checked back in for months but nothing had been done. Fortunately, I had not yet been asked for money, so I was able to walk away.

On the other side, I have edited lots and lots of material for many writers and have always - as far as I remember - been received well. I think this is because I take each writer, and each piece, separately on their own merits. I have had to be "cruel" - i.e., some pieces needed a LOT of work. But I never spoke cruelly to the writer. For this, I received little to no resistance, and writers most often took my advice - or at least they used my advice as a jumping-off point to improve their writing their way.

Final tip: Listen. A good editor - in some cases even a mediocre editor - will point to a problem and usually offer a suggestion on how to "fix" it. Feel free to discuss what changes might be appropriate. Don't badger the editor and NEVER argue. Even if you don't agree, take the comment in and consider it. If it doesn't ring true, put it aside for a little while then go back to it. Often, letting time (and your ego) slide a bit will bring you to your solution.

So, as with golf, not every suggestion is a total winner; but there is usually some truth to any suggestion given by a professional - as long as respect goes both ways. You must know that they are serious about helping you, and not just making a clone of themselves; and they must know that you are open to improvement. It goes both ways - which is probably the single most disregarded notion in most of life, eh?
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Published on February 06, 2019 11:04

January 17, 2018

New Short Story

My short story "Fear and Ice" made the over of Open Thought Vortex. Great pic and presentation. Check it out.

https://notsodeepthoughtsbyshareenman...
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Published on January 17, 2018 06:55

January 5, 2018

2018! Who knew.

I have finished "final" revisions on both "Banana Republic: Richie's Run" and "Chad," the latter coming in at just over 220,000 words. My opus! It only took 36 years to finish! (Well, to get it the way I wanted it.) And I am very happy with the way it turned out. The work was worth it. The lesson: Never give up! I managed to fix Banana Republic as well. That one only took about 15 years. Normally, I finish one novel per year. But these had been hanging on for a long time. Happy to finally crack the issues and get them ready for a publisher - that being the goal of 2018: to get my catalog sold with the new two. I have several others in the works, and I am looking forward to... working on them! They all have promise. When things have settled down this year, I will choose two and move ahead. I always work on at least two at a time, usually with one screenplay as well. Keeps me off the streets. Hope everyone has a happy and productive New Year. Keep writing!
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Published on January 05, 2018 13:37

August 19, 2017

Next Novel

Completed final edit on Banana Republic: Richie's Run yesterday, proving the need for patience. I wrote the screenplay for this in the early 90s and it was immediately picked up for option. In the mid-2000s, I started to adapt it for a novel - but that did not come as easily as the screenplay. In the past 10-12 years, I have done five or six versions of the novel, none of them pleasing me. This year, in January, I decided to find whatever was wrong with it, fix it, and finish it. Project: done! And, I am happy to report, it came out much better than I had hoped. In fact, I am excited about it. I always liked the story and characters, but I couldn't get the writing just right. Now, I have. The tension never lets up, other than for the humor inherent in the situations and the nature of the caustic characters. Hope to be shopping it very soon. So the lesson is: Don't give up! If you like a piece of work - the elements, especially - keep working until you get the words in the right order. You will be that much happier for it.
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Published on August 19, 2017 07:37

May 27, 2017

Essay published

Got a nice birthday present, today. My essay "Existence in Metals - A history" was just published - after three years of submitting it. I always liked this one and felt it would find a home - and it finally did. Thanks to Shareen Mansfield for seeing the truth in it.

The essay reflects my connection to our family property through all of the weird pieces of metal I have turned up in the soil over the years - which serve as a grounding influence. Nice publication. Proud to be in it.

https://otvmagazine.com/2017/05/26/ex...
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Published on May 27, 2017 07:49

January 5, 2017

Time

"Time Marches On," said Dr. John. And so it is. I have been on Goodreads for years and lots of people have friended me, but it shows on one (1!) follower. This is sad. Not beautiful at all. Despite that, I need to add to my blog. So:

I have just published #8, "Race! A Colorfuel Hei$t Story" and folks are liking it, as usual. I say "as usual" because I get a great deal of joy from people emailing me to say how much they enjoy each book. (I wish they would leave glowing reviews on Amazon.)

But that one is done and out, so I am working on #9 and #10, plus two new short story collections - one of published SSs and one of new ones that I am too impatient to place. Who cares, anyway? They are the same stories, right? Just easier to access in one place. I have learned that over time, with enough submissions, every story can find a home. Some can even get rejected a million times then win a contest. So...as with publishing in general, why not put them out myself.

What I need is marketing skills! But, being a writer/artist, I sadly have few if any.

That said, I will continued to write and publish. When ten are out, I will be seeking a publisher to pick up from where I have solidly started. Any ideas? Let me know.

In the meantime, #9 is "Banana Republic," a hard-action tale of a man framed for murder on the run in South America who meets up with a top-shelf fashion model who has a plan to use his less legal talents. A gripper.

#10 is actually the first novel I wrote, in 1981 - on a manual typewriter. Yes. Now, in soft copy, I have edited it going on four times. A few more times and it will be as good as I initially hoped. When I reread it two years ago, I was GRANDLY disappointed. But with LOTS of work, it has come around. It has also grown. But it needed it. Now, at 185,000 words, it is my new epic - a post-holocaust, dystopian dark heist-adventure story rife with politics and religion as I imagine it in 2050. Fun stuff! A hint: politics wins - but America loses.

Look for both in the next few months.

Sorry for any typos - I'm in a hurry!
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Published on January 05, 2017 16:49

July 9, 2016

Booksigning

Today, I travel into town to sign copies of my latest novel:
"Dear Me!: or The History of the End of the World as We Knew It, Told As I See It, or More Accurately, Saw It by Daniel R. Olafson."
Big secret: I wrote it. Danny is my alter ego. Not really.
But "Dear Me!" is probably the most "me" of any of my books. Coming in as #8 in order, it is the story of the last man on earth and how he got to be there through the evil machinations of his best friend from 8th grade Arthur Mencken (no relation) who said: "Someday, I'm going to kill everyone on Earth, Danny - except you."
He succeeds - more or less. More more, than less.
I have been marketing the hell out of this one, and look forward to a good turnout - the season is right - but there is no telling on these things. You pack up books, you go, you hope people show up. Someone always does, and it's fun talking to fans, even if it's only a few. I recommend it!
Novel #9 (Race!) is already done, just awaiting a cover. I will be ready to go out with it in a few months. And "Chad" - the first novel I ever wrote, back in 1981-82, will be #10, after a heavy edit, that is in progress. So, life after an MFA continues - along with more stories and poems, articles and such. It's all good. Keep writing!
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Published on July 09, 2016 09:19

May 9, 2016

Won a contest!

I won a short story contest titled "Quick and Dirty" by online mag Also That. It actually pays cash and a "prize" of some art. Very cool! This is a challenging story. I submitted it at least a dozen times and it was never accepted. Then it won a contest! I always believed in it and knew it would get out there, but had no idea it would win. Very satisfying. It's a fast story with no set-offs for dialogue - and just rips along from one thought to another. Like I said: a challenge. Happy to see that someone loved it enough to pay me! Check it out.

http://www.alsothat.com/

For May 9, 2016.
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Published on May 09, 2016 09:33 Tags: contest-winner, short-story

February 18, 2016

Next Novel

The Maples has been selling well and the early reviews are positive - woohoo! I'm always happy that folks are enjoying the work. Next up: "Dear Me!" my post-apocalyptic dark-comedy opus: 142,000+ words in just under 600 pages - 391 (often short) chapters broken up by "actual fictitious" journal entries by the book's narrator "writer" Danny Olaf. At almost 15-years "in the making," I am looking forward to finally getting it out there. It always felt "ahead of its time," so I kept holding it back. (There were even references to Donald Trump in the first drafts.) Now, it's time. I spent all day yesterday working on the cover. Had to learn Paint.Net to learn how to do layers with different opacities; but I am happy with the evolving results. I've tried using other folks for covers and editing, etc., but end up being a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy every time. I learn, I enjoy. Also planning a book signing next month in Boone. Will advise. Hope to have some advance copies of Dear Me! but I'm thinking it may not happen. We'll see. Plenty of copies of The Maples, however, and other books of course. Always fun. So...keep writing and having fun yourselves!
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Published on February 18, 2016 06:17 Tags: cover-art, dear-me, the-maples

RITR (sic)

Glenn A. Bruce
An attempt to enter the blogosphere vis a vis the writing life.
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