Audiobooks as Editing Tools

In my effort to write more this year, I got my latest manuscript out to my beta readers a draft or two sooner than I normally would have done. We’re all busy people and I wanted to 1. Give them as much time as possible to read it and 2. Free myself up for the next project. I have a core group of people who pretty much read all of my novels but that number is steadily declining. Like I said, we’re all busy people so sometimes even though I know the mind is willing, they just don’t have the free time to actually do it. So I was a little surprised when one of my beta readers said to me “if you had this in an audio book, I could knock it out in a week!”

My first thought was of course it’s not in an audio book! It’s barely past the rough draft stage. What a ridiculous request. But the more I thought about it, the more it made a kind of sense. I mean, I listen to audio books all the time. Why wouldn’t they? And wouldn’t it be sweet if it was an audiobook? But that means more editing and polishing, thus defeating the purpose of beta readers and taking away time from other projects, so the two major reasons I was even doing this in the first place! But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if that needed to be so …

I have a Tonor TC-777 mic my wife bought a while ago to start doing podcasts with but eventually changed her mind. I kept it instead thinking that one day I too wanted to do some podcast work. I’ve always loved making things and usually wind up in a hosting position on a variety of other peoples’ projects, so I thought why not. Anyway, this was a perfect opportunity to dust the box off and give this a try.

I told my beta readers, here’s the deal. I’ll record myself reading the book but it’s going to be rough. You’re not getting a polished audio experience, but it will exist. I’ll do my best not to flub lines, you’ll probably hear my kids in the background at some point, and I may or may not did voices. Spoiler alert, I totally did voices.

So I got to work. With my manuscript pulled up on my computer, I began recording myself reading it, making each chapter its own file. It took maybe 40 minutes of frustration when I decided that the Windows Voice Recorder just wasn’t cutting it so a quick internet search later brought me to Audacity. I love Audacity! It’s super easy to use and it’s free! With a mic and an editing program, I was off to the races.

At first I was a little frustrated. I mean, here was time I wanted to devote to other projects but I was pouring more of it into the book I’d decided to take a break from. I kept telling myself it would be worth it because this way I would actually get people to engage the story. Sure, I was hoping for a reading experience, but I have another editor friend for that and these readers are very much for story content notes more than anything else. In the beginning I thought of it like a balance equation, the faster I do it, the faster I get results and the effort I’m putting in will eventually pay off. But the more I recorded, the more I started to genuinely enjoy it. Not only was it like it’s own little podcast, but there was something fun about the method itself: using the mic and working chapter by chapter to monitor progress. Oh I never messed with balance levels or diminishing background noise. Told you, it was rough. But I definitely have a newfound appreciation for audiobook narrators!

Here’s the real kicker … you know how everyone tells you to read your story aloud? Well, they’re right! After initially cutting like 15% of the story from drafts 1 to 2, I easily snipped another thousand words and tightened up a ton of phrasings, because if me, the author, who was trying to record this book was like “what the heck does that mean?!” then you know it was a clunky sentence. I stopped plenty of times to tighten things up or clean up some bad prose. Not only was I going to get their listening reactions later, but I was getting an immediate benefit for my efforts. This was not wasted time at all.

I found the whole process really interesting. If I ever do a Patreon one day, maybe I’ll post the rough files for people 🙂 It only took about a week to record so I could see including this into my regular editing process. I mean, If I’m going to read the work aloud looking for clunky phrasings, I might as well record myself in the process. And if I can throw in some character voices while I’m at it, all the better, right?

The Joys of Editing

I have a love/hate relationship with editing. I love how it makes my prose better, my stories stronger, and my characters richer. I hate … having to do it. OK, that’s not entirely true. I don’t mind a few passes in, but it’s that first pass after the rough draft that’s a real slog. I’m a quarter of the way through that very pass right now.

The other day I cleaned up an entire chapter and then realized that I think the whole thing may have to get axed altogether. I’m really trying to streamline this story down to bare bones and while I think the chapter is great character building and shows what’s at stake personally for my main two characters, it may not be fast enough. I’m on the fence. It might be a judgement call once the beta readers get their hands on it. In the meantime, I’ll probably make two versions and see if that changes how I feel.

That’s still progress of a sort, though.

Today, I’m crawling through because I’m at a scene where my main character introduces her partner to who’ll be their crew for the book. So not only am I revealing four new characters, but going through to make sure their speech patterns are distinctive is exhausting. Oh and there’s still things like basic dialogue, blocking, and exposition to do too. When I write long conversations, I tend to just write the conversation and leave most of the blocking for Future Dan. Well now I AM Future Dan and I’m a little peeved at Past Dan.

But that’s editing, right?

Back into the grind, I go!

New Mission Statement

So it’s been a few months again. Time keeps on slippin’ slippin’ … you get the idea.

I finished NaNoWriMo and was more methodical than ever with my spreadsheet keeping thanks to a class I took recently. Seriously, I was adding formulas crunching numbers left and right just because I could. It was wonderful. The excuse to whip myself like a workhorse and hit 50K words in a month didn’t finish the book like I’d hoped, but it was darned close. So I kept at the spreadsheet and 20K words later it was finally done. That’s my ninth novel in the can for those of you counting at home.

Usually now, I take a month of two off before I begin editing, but I’m diving back in after only a week this time. My New Years Resomolution was to write two books this year instead of my annual one. The book I just finished doesn’t count as one of the two I plan on writing this year by the way. To do that, I need to be more productive all around. I’ve got almost all of the brainstorming done for the next novel. There are still a few kinks to work out but then I’m close to the outlining stage. I discovered a while ago that I’m not great at working on two projects at once. Well, too bad. This is going to be a learning year for me as I decided not just to write two books, but to also push myself as an author from craft to business.

I felt like most of last year I was floundering just to do what I wanted to do. I’m sure many can relate. So this year, I’m kicking it up a notch.

But I’m still in a good place. My natural rhythm the past couple of years had me starting a book around September. So I’d finish it by the end of the year, spend the spring cleaning it up, begin querying in the summer, and start a new book in the fall. Rinse and repeat. If I can get this new one started by February, though, that’ll shift my whole time table. Devoting more time to writing means devoting more time to editing later, but that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with. I’ve got some new writer goals now, both big and little picture, and I need to get a move on so I can begin sharing them all with you!

Feel the Burn(out)

Well, it’s week two of NaNoWriMo. So far progress is going pretty well. I’m ahead of schedule and I plan on keeping it that way as the week around Thanksgiving is kind of a black hole. Historically that week alone makes or breaks my entire month of NaNoWriMo. This year, my plan is to front load my words so much that if I miss a day or two — or end up with a lighter word count — I’ll still be in the clear. What that means is right now is that I’m writing. Writing a lot. And boy are my writing muscles feeling it.

You know this segues perfectly into my real theory about working out. This applies to when you are either just starting out or you’ve taken significant time off and are getting back into your old regimen Anyway, it goes something like this …

Make it to Week Three and you’ll be fine. Week One is hard, yes, but its still new so you’re kind of energized and can keep pushing yourself. Week Two is hard. Just hard. It’s like February. You’ve come so far, but there’s still too much more to go. Your muscles are tired and you don’t have the practiced stamina to know how to live like that as your new normal. This is when people are most likely to give up. Week Three then is when the new habit becomes routine. You’re much more likely to be able to work through the bad days and the stuff that was so insurmountable only a week before doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

I think that works for writing too. Well, it probably works for any new thing actually. My usual word count is a thousand words a day. Obviously, for November, I’m increasing that number and since I’m trying to potentially finish early, I’m really putting on those weights. So, yeah, if I can just make it to Week Three I’ll be okay.

In other news, I played Mario Kart on the Switch with my five-year-olds for the first time the other day and it was so much fun. Good old Nintendo has family fun figured out, so I was able to turn on automatic racing and the inability to leave the track and basically just hand the controllers to my kids. I even turned off all computer opponents for safe measure too. Picking the character and car is like half the fun for them, but being able to race as well … they felt like they were playing video games with daddy. A good time was had by all. My son even figured out how to use his items and now asks me almost daily if we can play again. I think that’s a pretty good problem to have.

What I’ve Been Watching: Well, when there wasn’t new TV for a while, my wife and I have been rewatching How I Met Your Mother. We were big fans of the show the first time around and I think it still holds up. The first season was a little rougher than a remembered and I feel like no way would anyone get away with a Barney Stinson character in today’s climate, but he becomes so over the top, it’s like South Park or something and he’s just a parody of a parody.

What I’ve Been Reading: I tried getting into Wool by Hugh Howey and just couldn’t. I think that’s because I didn’t know the “book” is a collection of novellas. So I liked the beginning, but then when it changed novellas but didn’t restart the chapter count, I felt like it had lost all tension. Because it had. So I never ended up finishing it.

I did read Soulsmith by Will Wight and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a much tighter story this time around so it felt like I read it in no time at all.

I’m currently reading Adventurers, Assassins, and Samurai; Shoguns and Emperors by Christopher Glen about the Meiji Restoration. I get the sense that it isn’t the most academic work on the subject matter, that’s kind of why I like it. I’d been reading a very academic work and at times felt myself getting a little lost in the minutia. I think Glen does a good job of laying out the bare bones so to speak with the side effect of enhancing my knowledge of the movie The Last Samurai with what they got right and more often than not, what they didn’t.

The Over Under on Overwriting

Hi all, it’s time for another infrequent blog post! I jest. I mean, well it is time, but I’m hoping that these will become less and less infrequent. After all of the topsy turviness in life, I’m finally settling into something of a routine. It’s only taken … counts on fingers … seven months? Oh, is that all?

Anyhoo, today I want to talk about underwriting versus overwriting.

I’d say that I was primarily an overwriter in the beginning as I tried to describe every little thing to help set the scene. But then I did some work, read some articles, and tried to really just put down all that was necessary. That seemed to work for a while until I read some more articles and did even more work to hone craft and that latter practice stressed the addition of concrete images and sensory details. You know, stuff to really set the scene … wait…. Isn’t that where I started?

Yes and no. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but usually, in the beginning of our writing careers we’re all overwriters. We list every little thing in the room to help with layout, we double explain just about everything, and at least I was (am), an exposition overwriter where we really want to make sure the reader gets what the character is feeling right now. All of that leads to long, drawn out paragraphs and slows down the pace.

So back to my original question, if less is more, then why are we adding more again? Well, it comes down to those concrete sensory images. We still need to hear sounds, smell smells, and see what your characters are looking at, but rather than catalog the contents like a museum, why don’t you just give me the highlights instead?

I had a book return from a publisher recently that was generally well received, but had the note that it was overwritten. I was confused at first because it had started off at 133K and I’d trimmed it to 119K before they got their hands on it. How was it still too wordy?

My usual editing process involves around a half dozen drafts that are me fiddling with this or that and all the while also chiseling away at the marble to get to the statue inside. There comes a point where I’m happy with the prose, figuring its as slim as can be, but I’m realizing now that I need to take it one step farther. Once I think it’s slimmed down, that means it needs at least one more full pass. Just because I could keep a word, a sentence, a paragraph doesn’t mean I should. I’ve started an experiment where I cut it out and tell myself I can go back and put it in again later if need be. Spoiler alert, after a few seconds of grief, I realize that eh, the scene still works just fine and there’s no need to pad it out again.

So that’s where I’ve come to in my overwriting/underwriting journey. I’m a self-acknowledged overwriter, but as long as I know that, that’s a good thing, right? To switch metaphors on you, I’ve started to treat my prose like a Jenga tower. Once it’s built, I keep removing support blocks to get it as lean as possible … this metaphor doesn’t exactly work because I’m not putting all the blocks back again but you get where I’m going with this … If the tower falls, well I’ve officially broken the story and it’s time to add to some of the support. But nine times out of ten, whatever I remove not only isn’t missed but ask me a few days later and I couldn’t even tell you what I’d cut to begin with.

Still Here

It’s been a while. I’m sure you’ve noticed.

Writing from home during the pandemic has been a lot more difficult than anticipated. Read any book about writing or talk to anyone who helps train other writers and one of the rules they’ll all have is the importance of routine. Set a routine, a designated writing time, and stick to it! Well, thanks to everything going on, my writing routine has not just been interpreted, but ground to a halt.

Both my wife and I have plenty of commitments during the day demanding attention as we try and do our jobs from home. Also, three kids under five don’t exactly look after themselves either. If all of that wasn’t enough, we finally found our new house after years of searching so we ended up moving! Throw in my graduate school work and … well … to say I’ve been busy is the king of all understatements.

Just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I’ve given up, though. I’m using this time to figure out what went wrong with a lot of my older work, do a little editing, and even get about 13K words into a novella. I still have the outline ready to go for my next book, but I don’t want to start that one until I know I’m going to have at least some consistency again. Probably going to wait until August and the start of the school year.

It’s been interesting to say the least. And frustrating. I’m not one to sit still for long. More than that, as someone who’s trying to break into the professional author scene, I always feel like if I’m not producing, well then I don’t have anything worth selling. As my writing fields are growing fallow, I like to think that my creative juices are reinvigorating themselves. So we’ll see how that goes.

For now, most of the writing is going on in my head — I can’t even keep up a weekly blog — but I know it’s not going to last forever. It’s a hard thing to even complain about with people experiencing really dark and scary times out there. So I keep going and plan for the future. My day job is keeping me at home for the foreseeable future and I’ll be looking after the kids when my wife goes back to work in August. But with work comes routine and I know this crazy free for all isn’t going to last forever.

Hope everyone is happy and healthy out there!

NaNoWriMo 1

Not going to be a long post this week. Now that NaNoWriMo is in full swing, every word counts and as per my rules, these posts do not.

So far so good. I’m a little behind, but that’s okay. I can make up a lot of extra words during the week. Chugging along on Partners in Crime and haven’t had to resort to additional content but with only 5k out of 50k completed, the night is still young as they say.

Inspiration actually struck pretty hard on Friday for a new story. Whether that’s a short story, novella, or full on novel, I don’t know yet. I have an idea whose grounds have been tread on before. I feel like I should do some “research” first, meaning read other books like it to see what’s already out there and how I’m going to say something different. But that’s a problem for Future Dan.

Now, it’s back to squeezing out another 500 words today and getting some editing in Land of Blood and Sky done.

Happy writing!

Delirium

Today’s post is going to be short. I was up all last night with a sick kiddo. That’s not hyperbole. I was literally awake from 11pm-5:20am. I slept for a whopping total of two hours. Not even two consecutive hours. So I’m a little out of sorts stringing words together today.

I usually write first thing in the morning as a way of starting my day. I’m most productive in the morning and there’s just something great about getting the writing out of the way so I already feel accomplished well before lunch. Even in my sickest, I can usually power through, but today was one of those rare exceptions. I haven’t been this tired since the twins were born. Even then, I don’t think I ever had an all nighter this bad.

I used to keep a daily total. I’d jot my numbers down along the margins of my outline to record a positive or deficit to my average word count so I always hit my target. The only time I keep such figures anymore is during NaNoWriMo as I’ve become pretty good at averaging out. As you can imagine, writing was skipped today. I’m okay with that. I’ll just hit double the words tomorrow to make up for it.

In case you missed it, I was interviewed on Authors Interviews last week. I’ve been interviewed a couple times before for different things, but this was the first time I’d ever been interviewed as an author so I thought it was pretty cool! Hopefully you will too!

Life Update

Has it really been three weeks since my last post? Wow, well I guess I was being lazy that first week after Land of Sky and Blood edits.

Update: My mom liked it. Honestly, I’d be weirded out if she didn’t. She’s an avid reader and always wants whatever I’m working on and the dutiful son I am, I send them her way. It’s like the adult version of putting my artwork on the fridge I guess.

Then the week after, we had some illness in my house so I was taking care of everyone for a while which meant no post.

Now here we are. So what’s up with you?

I’ve been slowly working on my outline for the Altered Egos sequel Partners in Crime. This step is always exciting and daunting because anything can happen. The rails aren’t there yet and I’m still creating from whole cloth. I’m still nailing down good story beats as I take my pages and pages of brainstorming notes and massage them  into something coherent that someone besides my mother would want to read.

When not doing that, I’m avoiding working on that short story that needs finishing, but I’m reading more. I used to read all the time, but being busy at work and at home has unfortunately slowed me down. I know. A writer who doesn’t read. But I do! I promise!

I’m actually reading Dark Hollow the second Charlie Parker book by John Connolly right now. I didn’t really care for the first one – my writer brain couldn’t get past the Matrix code – but my uncle swears by this series and he’s a pretty great guy so what the heck, I’ll give it another shot. I’m glad I did because this second one is much better than the first in my opinion.

My main gripe with the first book, Every Dead Thing, is that after the setup, its basically divided into two acts except Act 1 has nothing to do with the setup promised. It’s kind of a big waste of time. I get now that for the character, that first act is more meaningful but it feels like I was forced to read a backstory before we got to the novel itself. I just couldn’t get past the structure.

Dark Hollow, though, is much more streamlined and personal (which is a weird way to describe it if you’re familiar with the premise) than the first book so I like it a lot more. Also for whatever plot or pacing problems I think Connolly has, my lord, can that man write some metaphors. His stark yet vivid descriptions are awesome. So at the very least, I feel like I’m in writing class once again looking at that Matrix code, but this time I’m studying it to see how its done.

I don’t know what it is about his writing that does this to me so I can’t just fall in and enjoy the narrative – maybe he jumps around too much – but whether I like ’em or hate ’em, I’m finding Connolly’s books to be educational.

So that’s me, what’s going on with you?

Sooooo Close!

I finished my latest read through of Land of Sky and Blood over the weekend. That’s 561 pages, 163k words, all cleaned up. I still can’t believe it turned out that long. Now all I have to do is rewrite the opening chapter and I’ll be ready to hand it off.

At this point I’m desperate to give it to my beta readers. I thought I’d be cutting things left and right Edward Scissorhands style, but I think I ended up adding to the overall word count! I feel like Cillian Murphy in Sunshine when he’s staring out the spaceship at the sun. I just can’t look at the manuscript anymore. I’m all crispy-skinned and immolated over here and need some outside opinions.

My original goal was to be done by August 1st. I’m giving myself until the end of the week though. Either way, come a week from now, you better be seeing the words: “And it’s sent!” Then maybe I can finally relax.

Keeping the post short and sweet today so I can get back to it. I’ve already pulled myself out of one internet rabbit hole once I started reminiscing about Sunshine — seriously, before me typing that reference, I hadn’t even thought about that movie in like ten years — I can’t afford to fall down another one. That chapter’s not going to rewrite itself!